September 30, 2019 • Bonnie Haveman
Picture someone who has done a great favor for you. You thank them profusely and ask if there is anything you can do for them. They ask you to take care of their dog for the next month. You agree, so you feed, water, and bathe the dog, as well as take him for walks. When the month ends, you take the dog back to its owner, completing your obligation. Now imagine you have your very own dog. Now, you feed, water, bathe, and take your four-legged friend for long walks. Your attitude is completely different toward this dog—your dog—than toward the dog you simply took care of for a month. The first time, you were fulfilling an obligation, but now you are invested financially and emotionally. How do you see God? Is He an obligation or do you love Him? Do you do what He asks out of duty or simply because you love Him? In Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul gives a long, and even overwhelming, list of ways believers are supposed to be living. But, guess what? You can’t live the kind of life Paul is speaking of by fulfilling an obligation. The kind of life Paul is encouraging you to live requires a heart that is made new by Jesus Himself through a relationship with Him (Jeremiah 24:7; 2 Corinthians 5:17). God doesn’t desire a perfect, duty-driven servant. He desires a loving relationship with you. And that loving relationship spills over into your relationship with other believers, which is built on love, not obligation. Love isn’t a feeling. It’s about relationship with God and others. We love because we are loved by Jesus, and, in Him, we no longer live in fear of losing love (Romans 8:38-39; 1 John 4:18-19). So, as Christians, our only obligation is to love God and love others through Him. Through Jesus, what are ways you can love God and others? Can you engage in following God out of love—and then turn it into an obligation? Can you engage in following God out of obligation—and then turn it into an act of love?
Our Father's House
September 29, 2019 • Adam Aldridge
Twelve-year-old Jesus has been at Passover all week with His family, where they have worshiped, prayed, eaten, and sang. At the end of the week, when everybody is ready to go home, Jesus stays behind and heads to the temple In the temple, He sits among some of the greatest teachers of the time, having a conversation with them. Now, at twelve years old, Jesus has been training His whole childhood with the rest of the boys in His Jewish community by memorizing the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Simply put, Jesus knows His Scripture. He knows what He’s talking about. And He’s listening to these teachers speak—listening so well that He asks some incredible questions. Then, when they ask questions, His answers leave them amazed. Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ parents, eventually find Him and ask, “What are you doing?” To which He replies: “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Mary and Joseph don’t understand. In fact, they are astonished, which tells us this is unusual behavior for Jesus. *His Father’s house?* This is a pivotal moment in Jesus’ life. Jesus is becoming more aware of His identity. That feels weird to say because we often only think of Jesus as the divine Son of God. He should know who He is, right? We forget He was also the human son of Mary, and this truth matters a lot. In order for Jesus to redeem you and me, He had to live a fully human life. Which means He had to be fully a twelve-year-old boy. Jesus was and is fully God and fully man and, because of that fact, His death and resurrection make it possible for us to be saved from sin and death. This is the good news! Have you ever felt like you don’t know who you are? Where do you look to form your identity? Jesus placed His identity in the truths of Scripture—God’s Word. Why is it important that God is the source of our identity? Why is it important that Jesus is fully God and fully human?
Are You Salty?
September 28, 2019 • Melissa Yeagle
Do you like potato chips? They can be so addicting! Sometimes, you start eating them, and before you know it, the whole bag is gone. There are so many flavors to choose from: dill pickle, sour cream and onion, chili cheese, and many more. The one thing most potato chips have in common is salt. Salt gives them flavor. Have you ever tried chips with reduced salt? Did you notice they had a little less flavor than normal? The Bible calls Christians “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). In other words, we are salty. While salty can mean “bitter” or “angry,” today we’re going to use a different definition. To be salty in a biblical sense means to be thoroughly seasoned with God’s love and truth. We are called to reflect God’s love in the world by loving Him and loving others. The Bible says in John 13:35 that people will know we are Christians by how we love one another. That’s how we can be the salt of the earth. Matthew 5:13 goes on to say that salt that has lost its saltiness “is no longer good for anything.” When we, as Christians, don’t show God’s love and truth to others, we are not doing our job. But, when we remember God loves us so much He sent Jesus to die for us, we naturally reflect His love, pointing others to Jesus. We don’t have to show love in big gestures; it can be in small, everyday ways. For example, you could offer to share your bag of chips with someone nearby or talk to someone who is going through a hard time. Show people Jesus. Then, watch Him work. Do you believe God loves you? How does this help you love others? How can loving someone show them who Jesus is? What are some ways you can show love to others on a daily basis?
September 27, 2019 • Alyssa Roat
Your love is bigger than I can imagine. Like the oceans that rise and the tides that roar, It pulls at me. Jump in. Fall in. Your love is more important than I could understand. Like the air I breathe that keeps me alive, Without it, I would cease to exist. Breathe in. Live. Your love brings greater joy than I can grasp. Like the beat to my melody and the splendor of a worldwide concert, It moves my soul. Laugh. Enjoy. Your love heals my broken heart. Like stitches to a gash and medicine for disease, It sets me free. Be healed. Be whole. It overflows from my soul onto those around me. Like a fountain bubbling and a geyser bursting forth to drench those near, It covers the world. Reach out. Love. How has God shown His love for us (John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8)? Have you put your trust in that love? How can you express God’s love to others?
An Interview with Peter
September 26, 2019 • Julia Frontz
The man sitting across the table from me makes me uneasy. His failures bear resemblance to mine. Yet, even with his failures, he has been with Jesus. Jesus loved this man. I eye him suspiciously, wondering if he’s lying about knowing Jesus and being chosen by Him. “How can I know you’re telling the truth?” I blurt out before I can stop myself. I feel my face flush but continue speaking anyway. “Why would Jesus want you after the way you failed and betrayed Him?” I wince at my judgmental tone, but Peter smiles, neither surprised nor put off by my blunt questions. “I don’t know,” he says. “Jesus certainly shouldn’t have chosen me.” I’m struck by the calmness with which this man states that God shouldn’t have chosen him. Where is Peter’s confidence in his abilities? Where is his refutation of my claim that Jesus shouldn’t have chosen him? “I know Jesus didn’t choose me because of who I am,” Peter continues. “He chose me because of who He is, despite my failures.” This man must be crazy. No one, especially the God of the universe, would choose someone who failed them, right? I look around, eager for an excuse to leave this conversation. But as he continues talking, I become wrapped up in Peter’s words as he recounts his time with Jesus and speaks of His great mercy. “He called me by name,” Peter tells me with tears in his eyes. “He called me by name and just asked me if I loved Him. I said I loved Him, and, in the midst of my failures, He chose me.” My skepticism falters. Though it seems crazy, I can’t help but believe it might be true. I can’t keep my lips from pulling upward into a smile that mirrors Peter’s. I thank him for his time and leave. *Could it be true?* I wonder. *Could I be chosen to follow Jesus?* I begin to pray, “I love You, Jesus. I want to follow You.” What does it mean to know Jesus? Read Ephesians 2:8-10. Does God value us for our successes? What would it look like for you to live your life in light of the reality that God has chosen you in Christ?
Find God in Lonely Times
September 25, 2019 • Emily Acker
Allie sat in her room all alone. She tried to ignore the voices from the party downstairs. No one had sent Allie to her room, but the room called to her. There was something inside of her tonight that made her too worn out to deal with everyone. Her dad opened her bedroom door. “Aren’t you going to come downstairs? Your grandpa’s asking about you.” “I’m tired,” Allie said. “I think I’ll just stay up here.” Allie loved spending time with her grandfather. But she had so little energy tonight. Her dad hesitated before giving a nod. “Okay. I’ll let him know.” When she was alone again, Allie’s eyes filled with tears. Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why can’t I enjoy the party? What’s wrong with me? A quiet knock came at her bedroom door. “Can I come in, Allie?” Her grandfather’s soft voice came from the hallway. Allie found herself engulfed in her grandfather’s arms as soon as she opened the door. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” her grandfather asked. “I don’t know what’s going on. I just feel like being alone.” “Sometimes we push people away when we really need them around.” “I know.” Allie sighed. “I just can’t imagine being a part of the party right now.” “I understand,” her grandfather said. “I need time to be alone sometimes too.” He looked her in the eyes. “You’re feeling lonely?” Allie nodded. “Even when you’re up here all alone, you know that God’s with you, right?” Her grandfather spoke in a low voice. “Even if you don’t feel up for being with people, Jesus is right here with you.” Allie nodded again. Slowly this time. God is with me. Please, God, be with me. Do you ever have times when you just want to push the world away and be alone? Do you feel God with you in those times? Why is it important to talk with Him when we feel lonely?
A Magical Formula?
September 24, 2019 • Bonnie Haverman
Making a habit out of reading the Bible is hard, and it can be intimidating to know how to even start. It can be boring at times, and at other times, you may be so caught up in your reading that time almost disappears. Scripture is all about Jesus, so being in God’s Word regularly—both at church and in your daily life—deepens your relationship with Him. Knowing Jesus affects every area of your life, and you will grow in wisdom as you seek Him through His Word. Reading about the hope found in Jesus can give you an anchor in hard times and can provide peace during stressful and anxious ones. Is there a magical formula for making a habit of reading the Bible? No. Remember, we’re all created differently. Jack loves to read the Bible cover to cover. I prefer a different way. I choose to read a book of the Bible, or a passage, over and over. Then, I break it down into small pieces to digest. Lastly, I put it back together and read it as a whole. Jack and Charity like music playing in the background. Joshua walks around with his Bible open, reading as he walks. Find what works best for you! What’s important is that you are seeking Jesus through His Word. Find ways to integrate it into your everyday life and decisions. Which way do you prefer to study your Bible? What part of the day works best for you? Why is it important that Jesus is the point of the Bible (Luke 24:44-48; Acts 10:43)?
The Pain Before The Joy
September 23, 2019 • Alyssa Roat
For my body is weary And my heart about to break. I cried out to You, Lord, For my pain to be relieved. You did not grant my request, But Your peace I have received. I feel Your presence; I feel You here with me. Though darkness surrounds me, You’re the only One I see. I know You are greater Than all of my fears. I know that Your blessings Outnumber my tears. Why should I resent You For the things I face today? You have saved my soul; Should I scorn You for bruises along the way? Though all evil tries to shake me And my suffering is long, I will stand firm in You, Lord. On Your promise I will stand strong. Have you ever felt like you couldn’t go on? Who did you turn to? When God doesn't give you what you want? are you still able to rest in His peace? What is the hope we always have as God's people (Romans 8; Titus 2:13)? How can you remind yourself of God's love and future for you when things get tough?
Stones (Part 2)
September 22, 2019 • Kandi Zeller
If God has shown mercy to us, how should we we respond by throwing stones at other sinners—as if we ourselves are not sinners saved by Jesus’ grace through faith. As if Jesus did not spare us from a deserved pelting of stones for our sins. In Luke 19, Jesus eats a meal with Zacchaeus, a tax collector. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors tended to be thieves, so people hated them. Because of this encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus was confronted by God’s love for him and his need to turn from his sins. After coming to know Jesus, Zacchaeus’ whole life changed, including his approach to how he worked (no more theft, and he repayed the people he had cheated). This was not an unusual story either. People were changing like this all the time when they met Jesus. With such known positive results, others should’ve been happy to see Jesus reaching out to someone like Zacchaeus. Instead, people responded to Jesus’ kindness toward Zacchaeus by complaining that “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (Luke 19:7). Did you catch the irony in that statement? All the people grumbling were sinners too! Isn’t it the same with us? As Christians, we often get so hung up on the sin of non-Christians that we don’t even try to love them. We forget Jesus had to save us from our own sin, and we try to get people who don’t know Jesus to act like they do. Just like a similar incident in John 8:1-11, we start to throw stones at people—we condemn them—even before Jesus condemns them. God is merciful, and He is patient in His just judgment (2 Peter 3:8-13; Revelation 21:1-8). Let’s remember that truth in our interactions with not-yet Christians. Let’s put our stones down and instead point to the cross, where we found mercy because the punishment for our own sins was put on Jesus. How can you show both love and truth to a friend who is not a Christian? Why is it important to remember that all people have sinned (Romans 3:23)?
Sticks (Part 1)
September 21, 2019 • Kandi Zeller
My knee-jerk response was to cower. To live in shame. I was a sinner—someone who had broken God’s good commands. I knew God was good, and I knew Jesus had saved me. I even knew God loved me. And yet I was beyond a healthy fear or reverence of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). My mom would say over and over, “Sweetheart, God doesn’t have a big stick.” I always took issue with that statement. God is the righteous Judge of our sin. He does too have a big stick! And He has every right to use it. Therefore, I responded by cowering in fear toward Him. But here’s the amazing thing about our good God. Yes, in His justice, He has the ability and right to punish all of us sinful humans in an instant. But in His love, He took the big stick of His just wrath and turned it on Himself. Jesus died a brutal death on the cross—a criminal’s death and punishment meant for us. He took on our shame and the actual beating we deserved. Therefore, if we know Him as our Savior, we don’t have to beat ourselves literally or metaphorically. My sins were nailed to the cross. And Jesus’ goodness or righteousness has become who I am. I’m no longer a sinner in God’s eyes. I was once rightly under the stick of God’s wrath, but I’m now redeemed and made new by the very stick—the cross—that was meant to condemn me. That is God’s amazing love. God took His own good wrath on Himself, freeing us through faith in Christ. What is the difference between fearing God and fearing punishment? How does knowing Jesus help us approach God with both reverence for His holiness and confidence in our relationship with Him (Hebrews 4:14-16)? What questions do you have about the fear of the Lord? If you know Jesus, how does the fact that He took your sins and gave you His righteousness affect your life?
September 20, 2019 • Bonnie Haverman
Editor's Note: Today's devotional reading discusses sexual abuse. Matt* sang with a traveling choir from the Christian college I was attending. The group would perform at a church and then pairs of the students would stay overnight at the homes of families in the congregation. One night, Matt was sexually accosted by his traveling partner. While he changed traveling partners soon after, Matt never told anyone what happened. Lacy’s brother was raping her every night. When she went to her dad for help, he said, “Get used to it, Lacy. Women were made for men’s use.” John was on his way home from school when a group of bullies raped him. They also threatened him not to tell anyone or it would be worse for him the next time. There are more people, more events, but you get the point. Sexual abuse is a type of slavery. It violates the hearts, minds, and bodies of people who are made in the image of God. If you are being or have been abused, speak up. Ask God to show you who you can trust as you seek freedom. (See the resources below.) You are not at fault. God weeps for you. If your family won’t listen, go to a person at church or a teacher you trust. If the offender is from church, talk to your parents or a school counselor. If you are in danger, go to the police. If you know of someone who is being abused, speak up. This is not a secret worth keeping. Speak up. God hears the prayers of our hearts. He will provide a way. Is there anyone you know personally who is or may be suffering abuse? What can you do to help? God is just, so no wrongdoing will go unpunished (Psalm 103:6; Revelation 20:11-15 and 21:1-8). Why is this so important? If you are in danger, call 911 (or the emergency number for your area). If you need someone to talk to about your current situation or about past sexual abuse, you can call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time) to set up an appointment for a one-time complimentary phone consultation with a licensed counselor through the Focus on the Family Counseling Service. You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror. Psalm 10:17-18 (NIV) *Names have been changed
September 19, 2019 • P. D. Haan
I like to play volleyball. Being on the court fills me with joy. It’s fun to be on a team, to work together and win the match. When things mesh, there’s a regular rhythm to volleyball that feels so good. *Bump. Set. Hit.* I love to play volleyball. I try to play several times a week. My team is my squad. I’m an outside hitter, and I love to spike the ball. When I do, I feel strong. There’s a driving rhythm to how I play that makes me feel powerful. *Bump. Set. Spike.* I live to play volleyball. I wish I could play every day, even twice: before school and after. Weekends too. My team is my family, even better than the one I live with. Each day I improve. I can block better, jump higher, and spike harder. And when I do, I often get a kill. I lead my team in kills. I’m their star. They rally around me. When I’m on the court, I’m alive. *Bump. Set. Kill.* I can’t play volleyball anymore. I messed up my shoulder. I try to watch my team play, but it’s hard to sit in the stands when I long to be on the court. I just want to cry. It hurts so bad. My former teammates mostly ignore me. Yeah, they still know who I am, but they don’t talk to me much anymore. No more fist bumps when I walk down the hall. I’m no longer a star. My bum shoulder took volleyball from me. I built my life on playing, and now it’s gone. What’s left? What can I do? What’s my reason for living? *Bump. Set. Jesus* Read Colossians 3:1-4, 17 and 1 John 5:20. Why is Jesus worth more than anything else? Why is it important to place our identity in Him? Does focusing on Jesus mean we can’t enjoy other things? How can we follow Jesus using the gifts, talents, and passions He has given us?
September 18, 2019 • Kandi Zeller
*Yeah, but what if...?* That phrase is so common in my speech and thoughts that when I was growing up, my mom would say, “No more yeah-buts!” The worst-case scenario was where I often lived my life (and I still visit quite frequently). Anxiety is a real thing. It’s an issue that requires retraining your thought patterns and often requires counseling and sometimes medication and other treatment. These things are important to overcoming this awful part of the broken world we live in. But the central piece of any anxiety treatment and recovery is finding identity in Jesus and His promises. Jesus is our Creator and Healer, the One who restores and promises to one day resurrect His people so that they are completely free from brokenness. For me, it helped to realize that my worth wasn’t in perfectionism and never failing. My worth comes from who I am in Christ—I’ve been declared “not-guilty” of the sins I’ve committed because of what Jesus did, and I’m an adopted daughter of God, loved and called to amazing purposes in His kingdom. My purpose, then, is not to hyper-analyze, but to proclaim the truth. God already knows everything and He’s in control, so I don’t need to obsess over terrible what-if scenarios. Instead, I need to focus on who He is, what He has promised, and what He has called me to do—which He will enable me to do through the power of His Holy Spirit who dwells within me because I am a new creation in Christ. Do you struggle with anxiety? Who can you talk with about your struggle? When you experience anxiety, what is a verse or short prayer you can say to help you remember that God is with you? What things make you the most anxious? How does knowing that God is good and in control affect your perspective on these things?
Hanging Out With Sinners
September 17, 2019 • A. W. Smith
Have you ever noticed how Jesus often spent time with people who were doing some pretty bad stuff? You may have wondered, If that’s how Jesus acted, what should I do—especially if I’m supposed to avoid sin? Sometimes Christians even ask, “Can I be friends with non-Christians?” The answer is, “Of course!” In fact, one of the ways people come to know Jesus is through friendship. God will help you show His love and truth to all your friends, whether they’re Christians or not. As you interact with your friends, remember these things: • If you have a friend who isn’t a Christian, don’t expect them to act like one. • Don’t encourage friends to sin or participate with them in doing things that are wrong. • Learn what your friends believe so you can understand them better. • Talk to your friends about what Jesus has done in your life. Be bold and kind! • If a friend shares a struggle with you, offer to pray with them. They may take you up on it; don’t force them though. Either way, pray for them on your own. Then, check back later to see how they’re doing and if there’s any other way you can help. Ultimately, our friendships with others always point back to the most important friendship of all—our friendship with God. With our Christian friends, we can encourage each other in our walks with the Lord. With our friends who don’t know Jesus, we can invite them to become friends of God by showing them who He is by being a good friend to them. Because Jesus first loved us, we can show His love to others through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:19). Ask God who you can share Jesus’ amazing love with today. Trust Him to guide both your words and your actions as you do. Why is it hard to strike a balance between showing kindness and showing truth? How can you show Jesus’ love and truth? Who do you know who doesn’t know Him?
Friends of God
September 16, 2019 • A. W. Smith
Relationships of any kind—family or friends— are important to God. From the beginning, God made us to live in community. Shortly after He created Adam, the first human, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him” (Genesis 2:18). So He made Eve, Adam’s wife and the first human friend in history. Besides Adam and Eve, there are lots of amazing friendships in the Bible. David and Jonathan, King Saul’s son, were best friends and took care of each other when they faced tough times. Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, were very loyal to each other, even when they both lost their husbands and faced poverty. Jesus had friends too—He had twelve followers called disciples who were especially close to Him. And do you know what’s really amazing? If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are a friend of God (John 15:15; James 2:23). That’s because Jesus is God’s Son, and He made a way for you to be close to Him by taking the penalty for your sins (John 14:6). If you know Jesus, not only are you a friend of God, but you also have a whole family of friends—other Christians! All those who trust in Jesus are adopted by God and are brothers and sisters in Christ. They make up God’s family. Throughout the Bible, God encourages His people to love and care for one another and to tell others how they can be friends of God too. Simply put, community matters to Jesus, and it should matter to us too. What does it mean to be a friend of God? What are some ways Christians around you act as a family? How can you act like a brother or sister toward them?