August 31, 2019 • Taylor Eising
As I brushed my teeth, I examined the reflection of my nametag in the bathroom mirror. By now, the words were so familiar I could even read them backward: “CHILD OF GOD.” I smiled as my other names echoed through my head: “Image-bearer.” “Chosen People.” “Ambassador.” “Temple of the Holy Spirit.” They each flashed onto my nametag briefly as I spat out my toothpaste before gathering my backpack and walking outside. -Today will be different,- I told myself. -Today, I will be kind. Today, I won’t sin. Today, I will remember that I am a Child of God.- I kept this promise really well…at first. I made it all the way to the school bus! Then Rick called my shoes “ratty” and went on and on about how my parents couldn’t buy me new Jordans because they were poor. I cringed as new nametags appeared elsewhere on my jacket, identifying me as “Ratty” and “Poor.” Burning with anger, I spat back, “At least my family cares about me! Your parents just buy you stuff to make you shut up!” A nametag with “Unloved” appeared on his sleeve as his fist collided with my nose. By the time the fight ended, we each had a few bruises, a week’s worth of detention to serve, and several more unflattering nametags. After school, I slumped onto my bed, exhausted. -Why, Lord? Why can’t I control myself? Why am I such an awful sinner? I sighed as “Sinner” arrived on my chest. I just need to be better. I just need to try harder. I just need…- Silence filled my head. “You need Me,” Jesus’ voice answered. One by one, the nametags I had accumulated throughout the day disappeared. With each one that left, a weight lifted off of my heart. Finally, nothing was left but my one, true nametag: “CHILD OF GOD.” Reread Today's verses. Who does Jesus say you are? What does it mean to have your identity in Him? When you sin, do you get frustrated with yourself and resolve to try harder? Or do you bring your sin to God, confess it, ask for His forgiveness, and remember who you are in Him? But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name. John 1:12 (CSB)
Sharing Jesus Without Fear
August 30, 2019 • Kandi Zeller
Sharing the good news of Jesus can be awkward and difficult, but God calls us to share Jesus in a loving and clear way. But how do we strike that balance of gentleness and honesty? Remember God’s love. Remember, God doesn’t want anyone to perish because they chose sin (2 Peter 3:9-10). God is just, and He is also loving. Reflect that same understanding with the people you meet. God is in control. The way people react to Christians can be scary sometimes. (For that matter, Christians can be scary to other people!) But you don’t need to live in fear; you have the power that raised Jesus from the dead inside of you through the Holy Spirit. God is with you, He’s in control, He’s good, He’s faithful, and one day He will raise you from the dead. Nothing can separate you from Him, even the worst of interactions with other people. Approach people in love and gentleness, keeping these promises from God in your mind. Move gradually. Truth can be hard to absorb. So be patient with people. Share truth, but don’t give people a glut of information. Give people silence and time to consider and think. Just do it! God will equip you with His Words (Exodus 4:12; Matthew 28:20). Go out in the love and strength of Jesus, and He will provide courage and opportunities. Talk to Him about it today. What questions have people asked you about Christianity? How did you respond? How would you describe the good news of Jesus? Try to get it down to one or two sentences so that you have an easy reference point if someone asks you what you mean. If someone says something mean to you about Christianity, what is something you could say or do in response instead of exploding with anger? Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Ephesians 4:15 (NLT)
August 29, 2019 • Bonnie Haverman
Isabel, at age eleven, is an amazing dancer. She has already performed with a major ballet company in several productions. Isaiah, age thirteen, just started attending college. Derek, at age fifteen, was considered one of the best BMX racers in Texas. Do you know someone like that? Someone gifted in academics, sports, acting—you name it. That was not me. I was just an average student. I was and am a slightly-better-than-average salesperson. I’m good at a lot of things, superstar at none. It used to bother me until someone pointed me to Psalm 139. When I read it, I was in awe. God—the only wise God, the Creator of the universe, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords—made you and me! Not only did He make you and me, but He loved us enough to come down to offer us freedom from sin and death so that we could be with Him forever. Whether God has given you an amazingly obvious talent or if your talents don’t seem as striking as those of your peers, live a life of thankfulness, knowing that God created you in His image with unique gifts and abilities for use in His kingdom. Try reading Psalm 139 every day for a whole year—you will be changed. It will give you a reason to praise God for His amazing creation: you! Do you envy other's abilities? What do you do well? How can you honor God with those abilities? Have you spent time thanking God for making you? And there are different activities, but the same God produces each gift in each person. 1 Corinthians 12:6 (CSB)
A New Creation
August 28, 2019 • Vicky Kaseorg
I was riding my bike with Ragnar, my husky, running beside me and attached to my bike by a pole made especially for riding a bike with a dog. All was perfect. Ragnar was happy to be out on a cold day, and I was enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. Until... A big white dog came barreling out of his yard. Loose. Growling. Hackles raised. Ragnar loves other dogs, so I wasn’t concerned he would fight back, but he leaped toward the dog, pulling my bike sideways and dislodging my entire seat post. I fell across my handlebars, injuring my shoulder. Seemingly oblivious to my pain, my neighbor—the owner of the big white dog—just smiled, saying, “It’s okay. He’s a friendly dog.” This neighbor was also someone I had spoken to recently about Jesus. But, in response to her too-calm attitude, I was hardly a glowing example of God’s love. I was hurting, furious, and struggling to hang on to my crippled bike and my crazy husky. “Get your dog,” I demanded between clenched teeth. The rest of what I said wasn’t exactly neighborly. Was my neighbor’s casual attitude toward the accident hurtful? Yes. Could she have been a more responsible dog owner? Yes. Was it okay for me to let her know I was hurt? Yes. But did I demonstrate Christ’s love in how I spoke to her? No. Memories of my earlier talk with my neighbor flooded my mind. She had rejected Jesus because she found Christians treated her with the same rage and backbiting she could find without bothering to get up early on a Sunday morning. I wish I had taken a deep breath and considered how I could have shown Christ’s love in that situation. We’re all sinners who can be unkind with our words. But, in Jesus, we become new creations, free to reflect His love and truth in all our interactions—and free to seek forgiveness from God and others when we do mess up. If you know Jesus, you are a new creation. How does your identity in Christ affect your words and attitudes? How can you show Christ's love when you are genuinely hurt? How can you apologize when you mess up? Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (CSB)
August 27, 2019 • Melissa Yeagle
We’re called to give thanks to God at all times. But how? When I was thirteen, I had to wrestle with that question. Things weren’t going well for me, and I was depressed. My parents were divorced. My mom got remarried to a man I had trouble getting along with. Then, when my mom lost her job, we lost our house and car. We ended up having to move to a cheap apartment in another town, so I had to leave my hometown and all my friends behind. And, with no car, we had to walk everywhere we went. All I could think about was how bad my life was. One Sunday, a member from our former church came and picked us up for church so we could visit all the people we’d had to leave behind when we moved. It was such a treat to see my church friends! During the worship service, we sang a song about giving thanks. I remember grumbling in my head, I don’t have anything to give thanks about. Then, I looked down at the floor. When I did, I saw my shoes. That got me to thinking: I could be thankful because God had provided the shoes on my feet. So I began by thanking God for them, and then I began thinking of more and more things I could thank Him for. That moment, my focus changed from thinking about how bad my life was to how much I had to be thankful for. My life situation didn’t immediately improve, but my perspective did. Even when we suffer, we can always remember the promises of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus came here, experienced our suffering, died for our sins, and beat death’s power by rising again. We can go to Him with our hurts, and He will remind us of all we have in Him. What are some hard situations in your life right now? What can you thank God for, even now? Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4 (NIV)
August 26, 2019 • Harry Brown
The first time I met Freddy, we were locked in a small concrete room with no windows, no chairs, and sticky floors. He started plainly telling me about the first of two men he had killed in his lifetime. He was only twelve when the first one happened. He had saved his mother’s life. Growing up without a father had had a profound effect on the man before me. His face, covered in obvious gang symbols, told the stories of many hardships beyond his years. Later, as one of our services at the correctional facility concluded, Freddy stepped up and asked how he could be baptized while in jail. Freddy’s only religious background had taught him that baptism was essential for salvation. Baptism, however, is more like a uniform that we put on as Christians. Putting a police uniform on doesn’t make you a police officer, but if you are a police officer, you will wear the uniform and it will have meaning. Once we explained these truths to Freddy, we read Romans 10:9-10 with him. The moment we were done reading, Freddy was on his knees. “Right now,” he said. “I want to pray right now.” The Bible is clear that Christ paid the price in full for our sins, and he paid it once and for all (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 10:10). A Christian baptism publicly identifies us with the people of God through Christ, but it’s not required for salvation. I will never forget Freddy, and I know that the Lord will not either, even if he never gets an opportunity to be baptized. Read Mark 16:15-16, Colossians 2:12-14, Titus 3:3-7, and 1 Peter 3:18-22. Why is baptism important? What does it show us about Jesus and our relationship to Him? Christians do have different understandings about the timing, methods, and specifics of baptism, but we agree that Jesus is the One who saves. To learn more, talk with your pastor, camp counselor, or another trusted Christian in your life. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect. 1 Corinthians 1:17 (CSB)
Fear of Dragons
August 25, 2019 • Kevin Zeller
When dragons still roamed the mountains, a group of merchants were traveling to market along a quiet forest road. The first rushes of wind in the evergreen trees didn’t alarm them, but the blasts grew stronger…and hotter. The trees around cracked and fell. An enormous golden dragon, eyes glowing with mischief, swept into the newly formed glade. As the merchants scattered fearfully, the bold voice of the lizard halted them. “Don’t run, humans! It will only make things worse!” Licking his scaly lips with a forked tongue, he crouched in front of a young woman. “You—what is it that you fear?” Her face twitched, but she didn’t speak. “All humans fear it,” rumbled the beast. “They dread and flee from it, but it ever finds them, chasing on the wings of darkness!” The woman squinted while all the others cowered. “I’ll give you a hint,” the dragon said. “It starts with the letter D.” “Dragon?” squeaked one of the men. “No!” roared the dragon, sitting up on his haunches. “Death, you numbskulls! I was thinking of the word death!” The dragon reared back to incinerate a merchant, when the woman yelled back at him. “I do not fear death,” she said. “Try again!” The dragon turned back to her. “Excuse me?” “I have no fear of death,” she said again. “I do not want to die, but even if you burn me to ashes, my Lord can raise my body again, and I shall live forevermore. You can do nothing, lizard. Your works shall perish with you.” The dragon raised a scaly eyebrow. “So, tell me, worm,” said the girl. “What do you fear most?” “It starts with a D!” someone shouted. Does Death make you afraid? Jesus will raise our bodies back to life when He returns. What does this mean for our perception of death? And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Romans 8:11 (NIV)
Whose Voice Is That?
August 24, 2019 • Melissa Yeagle
Every time I get a voicemail from my mom, I smile. I’ve heard her voice almost every day of my life. So if I know anyone’s voice, it’s hers. What always makes me smile is the fact that she still feels the need to tell me that it’s her leaving the voicemail. It’s not just my mom’s voice that I hear and instantly know. I have some close friends and family members I talk with all the time. They can leave a voicemail without a name, and I know who they are. But if someone I didn’t know very well left me a message without a name, I would have no clue who they were. Jesus says His sheep hear his voice and follow Him. When we trust Jesus as our Savior, we become His sheep. He is our good shepherd (John 10:11). So, as Christians, we spend time listening to His voice so we can know it and follow it. We can do this by absorbing the truth of the gospel—of Jesus and what He did, found in the pages of God’s Word, the Bible—which will allow us to know God’s Why is it important to know God's voice? How do we know if something is God's voice or not? (2 Timothy 3:16-18; Hebrews 1:1-2)? What are some practical ways to get to know God's voice? My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (CSB)
Does God Have Good Plans For Me?
August 23, 2019 • Kandi Zeller
In Christian circles, you’ll often hear the phrase “God has good plans for me.” And this is true. But what are the good plans God has for every Christian? Especially since Christians experience suffering? God’s good plan is to restore the whole universe from sin and its effects. He is our good Creator, and He intends to rescue all of His people and all of creation from the brokenness caused by our sin. In more specific terms, Jesus—who is God—is calling people to trust in Him as their Savior and Lord. He came as a human, took the just punishment for our sins on Himself by dying on the cross, and beat death’s power by rising again on the third day. He ascended to heaven, gave His people the Holy Spirit to help us, is in the throne room of God, and will one day return to make everything new—free from sin and its effects. Making everything new includes raising from the dead and restoring those who put their trust in Him. So, if we know Jesus, we are called to live our lives in such a way that we honor Him and His plans. We use our talents for His kingdom by doing our work with excellence and by pointing people directly to the truths and promises of God’s Word. Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we are called to exciting work in God’s kingdom, and that work will continue after He returns and makes everything new! When you hear “God has good plans for you,” remember that this means we can trust Jesus and His good purposes. He is making all things new and free from sin—that’s why we can trust Him with our lives. Even in the bad stuff or the stuff we wouldn’t have chosen, God has good plans for His people and all of creation, to His glory. And He is with us every step of the way. How do God's good plans and promises affect the way we live now? How can you use the gifts and abilities God has given you for His kingdom?
Confident In the Corridors of Power
August 22, 2019 • Alyssa Roat
My senior year in high school, I won a scholarship to a camp in Washington, DC. As part of the experience, we went to the Capitol Building. There were hundreds of people on tours, but many areas were heavily restricted. Tourists could look at the building, but they definitely couldn’t talk to senators! Ordinarily, I would never have dared enter the representatives’ offices or the Senate floor. (And they wouldn’t have let me either!) However, I was given a special name card. All I had to do was show it to security, and then they let me right through. I was allowed to stand outside the Senate Chamber and talk with one of our state’s senators, enter offices to speak with representatives, and see the Capitol behind the scenes. I wasn’t a senator or otherwise important person, but the name card I was given gave me full confidence to enter the corridors of power. As Christians, God has given us our own special name cards: the name “child of God.” Through prayer, we can enter His throne room with full confidence, and no one will kick us out. Though we were once sinners unable to stand before our holy God, being His children through Christ. Imagine being able to enter the Oval Office whenever you wanted. God's throne room is far more impressive, and, in Christ, you have full access (Hebrews 4:14-16). Does this make you think about it in a different way? Do you take advantage of your ability to come before God anytime you want? And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6 (NIV)
I Want to Forgive, But I Can't!
August 21, 2019 • A. W. Smith
If you struggle with forgiveness, don’t be discouraged. Forgiveness is hard because someone has hurt you. It’s okay to feel that hurt, but it’s not okay to hate the other person. Jesus knows forgiveness is hard, which is why He included it in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15). He knows we need Him in order to forgive. If you’ve put your trust in Jesus, He’s forgiven your great debt of sin, and He is with you, giving you His power to forgive others when they sin against you. But what does that process look like? Step 1: Let It Out. Pray about what hurt you. No emotion is too strong for God. Go to Him with everything, even deep anger and sadness. The book of Psalms in the Bible is filled with prayers like this. Step 2: Let It Go. After the psalmists shared their hurts with God, they remembered who God was. God is just, so He will punish every wrong (Romans 12:19; 1 Peter 2:23). If you know Jesus, He’s already punished your sins by taking the punishment on Himself when He died on the cross (1 Peter 3:18). When you remember Jesus paid your great debt of sin, you can begin to let go of other people’s sins, trusting God to handle them. Step 3: Look to God. To forgive means to stop holding the wrong someone did against them. It doesn’t necessarily mean trusting the other person, especially in a dangerous situation. Instead, the goal is to stop wanting bad things for them and to start wanting good things for them. This will be a process, and you can trust God to complete the work He started in you (Philippians 1:6). Step 4: Put on Love. As Jesus chips away at bitterness in your heart, He fills that space with His love for the person who hurt you (Matthew 5:44-45; Colossians 3:8, 12-14). Talk to God about this, and start praying for the person who hurt you. If possible, look for specific ways to bless them. Pray for wisdom and talk with trusted people to find the best ways to love the person who hurt you. How Does This Apply to You? Have you ever struggled with forgiveness? What made it hard for you? What confuses you about forgiveness? What did you learn about forgiveness from today's reading? If you're struggling with forgiveness, who can you talk with about it?
Stopping the Cycle
August 20, 2019 • Rebekah Love Dorris
Jessie hid her head under the pillow. She couldn’t take another shouting match. Her parents were just warming up, and lately the fights had lasted late into the night before freezing into a contest of “whoever talks first loses.” Something was different. Usually about this time of evening, cabinet doors would slam before Dad made some quiet remark that made Mom explode. Not tonight. Suddenly the house was still. Jessie ventured into the hallway just in time to see the front door slam. The car fired up and roared out of the driveway. Before Jessie knew to stop her, Mom was gone. Just like that. Her nightstand was empty, and so was her closet. Jessie didn’t see her mom a lot after that. She tried to let it go—this ache and anger toward her mom that sometimes threatened to sweep her away. When she had to spend time with Mom for some unavoidable reason, Jessie found herself unable to carry on a conversation without exploding in anger or freezing in stone-cold silence. Finally, after an argument over hairspray that ended in the hottest words she’d ever shot at her mom, Jessie locked herself in the bathroom. She was glaring at her reflection when the thought hit her: “I’m turning into Mom.” The realization sent her to the floor. She trembled as she prayed, “God, take this anger from me. It’s killing me. Remind me that I belong to You.” Something melted around her heart, and she knew what she had to do: “Jesus, help me to forgive Mom. Thanks for showing me how she feels when she explodes.” She paused and then continued, “Give me Your love for her in the meantime…Because I can’t talk to her right now.” Jessie hugged her knees sitting there, and peace flooded her. “Jesus, thank You for being with me even when I’m angry.” That truth gave her hope. What things does your family struggle with? What are your sin struggles? How does bringing these sin struggles to Jesus help? How does the Holy Spirit help (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Galatians 5:13-26)? If your family struggles with anger, who is someone you can talk with about it? The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
August 19, 2019 • Lauren N. Trittin
Self-worth is something we all struggle with. Airbrushed and filtered images are plastered on every magazine, in every store, and all over social media. All the while, our accomplishments are advertised and our shortcomings are hidden. The world tells us that looking good and being successful are the two most important things to strive for and that if we aren’t achieving greatness by our looks or performance, our value as a human significantly decreases. Or does it? While the world uses these things to define value, God would say success and our looks have nothing to do with the measure of our worth. Humans have value because we have each been created in the image of God. He loves us so much that, when we were separated from Him and broken because of our sins, He reached out to us anyway. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice before we were even born, and He invites us to join the family of God through faith in what He did. There is nothing we need to earn. Each child of God has a unique purpose in God’s kingdom, and this is not based on whether their successes or beauty outweigh their weaknesses. God’s power is made perfect in weakness anyway—weakness doesn’t lessen our worth as image-bearers of God or as children of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We are each of magnificent value simply for being created in the image of God. And, as Christians, our identity is anchored in being known and loved by God. When we know Jesus, there is nothing we can do that would separate us from the love of God and nothing we can do to lose or lessen our worth. We are forever—eternally—valued by God. Therefore, we also ought to value ourselves. Treat yourself as the daughter or son of the great King that you are and give others that same dignity. When was the last time you truly felt valued by others? What did they do to make you feel your worth? How does what Jesus did—when He died and rose from the grave—make it so that you don’t have to perform to be loved by God? But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (NIV)
Loving the Lawgiver
August 18, 2019 • Alyssa Roat
I know the laws: don’t steal, don’t murder, drive the speed limit. But I don’t love them or get excited about them. Usually, if I consider them at all, I think of them as a nuisance. On the other hand, I love one particular law officer. My dad has been a police officer for more than twenty years. When I’m with him, I see the law differently. He doesn’t enforce the rules because he wants to spoil the fun or dole out punishment; he wants to keep our city safe. Why do I need to wear a seatbelt? That’s dumb. I wouldn’t want to listen to some rules on paper. But when my dad tells me to buckle up, it’s different. I know it’s because he cares about me. Why can’t I drink and get crazy? The government can’t tell me what to do. But when my dad tells stories of the awful things that have happened due to underage drinking, it makes sense. My dad keeps the law, but it’s not because he wants to ruin my fun. In fact, we have a blast when we’re together. Instead, he just wants to keep me safe. He’s seen the consequences of breaking the law, and he wants better for me. When we see our faith as a list of rules to follow, it’s easy to get annoyed, not care, or even purposely rebel. But God doesn’t want our faith to be limited to following boring rules. He wants a loving relationship with us, like the one I have with my dad. God makes the rules because He’s good. All His laws are centered on creating loving human relationships with God and others (Matthew 22:35-40). God is our Creator, and He cares about us. It isn’t about loving the law on its own; it’s about loving the Lawgiver. Can we ever follow all God’s commands by ourselves (Romans 7:4-7; 8:1-5)? Why or why not? Does thinking of God as a good and loving Father change the way you feel about His commands?
Without A Mom
August 17, 2019 • Carson D. Jacobs
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Through my father’s sobbing and slurred speech, I could piece together the message: Mom had died. It didn’t really register for me then, but now, a year and a half later, it has. In the moment, accepting what I’d just heard was impossible enough, but to even consider that a future existed seemed as likely as Star Wars becoming reality. Whether I knew it or not, life, in its entirety, had changed. As the months passed, more and more realizations set in every day. She would never see me graduate, never see me get married, never meet her grandchildren. All these life events that should be celebrated would always be shrouded by a thick set of black clouds. Even so, people approached me during the viewing and funeral, trying to comfort me with sentiments of “It’ll be okay” and “She’s in a better place.” I would have appreciated these statements if they were said after those first couple of months. When the world has crumbled, logical beliefs don’t mean much. It was well after the funeral that I recalled a verse that would bring healing and a modicum of understanding to my soul: Revelation 21:4. Reading that verse and others like it quiets my heart and soul, finally giving them a moment—even if it is just a moment—of peace and understanding. In my overwhelming grief, I’ve had one hope to cling to: Mom is with Jesus forever. We will be reunited because He rose from the grave. And then there will be no more tears. Have you lost anyone close to you? How did that affect you? Read Revelation 21:1-5. Why is the promise of the resurrection so important? He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 (CSB)