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Started by Montravia, Apr 26, 2024, 07:57 PM

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You (and Your Children) Have a Friend in Jesus
September 4, 2023
by Trillia Newbell

"You are my friends if you do what I command you." John 15:14 (ESV)

Recently, I asked my daughter what makes a good friend. She answered without hesitation: "Honesty."

I thought that was such an interesting answer for a 13-year-old girl. I would have thought she would have said "loyalty" or "kindness" or even "humor."  She and I laughed at how similar we are to one another. One of the qualities I most value in a person, and especially in a friend, is honesty. When I think of John 15:14, and all the verses around it, I can't help but wonder if we might be a little surprised by Jesus' answer to the question of what makes a good friend.  John 15 starts with some familiar verses. Jesus told His disciples that they must abide, or remain, in Him (John 15:4). We get a helpful word picture if we don't abide, we will wither away and fall off the vine. The point is that we can't grow more like Jesus apart from Jesus (John 15:5)!  Then in John 15:10, Jesus explains what it looks like to abide in Him: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love" (ESV).

To abide in Jesus means to keep His commandments, and to keep His commandments means to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).  We display our love for God through our trust, prayer and devotion to Him. We abide through our relationship with Jesus. We pursue in love. We pray in love. We obey in love.  And here is the good news: We love Jesus because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We didn't choose Him; He chose us to walk out our faith in obedience to Him (John 15:16). Apart from Christ, we cannot do anything; in Him, we bear "much fruit" (John 15:5, ESV). This is also good news to the weary person who thinks she must muster up strength to pursue and know Christ and to love her neighbor. He provides the grace and the strength.  The fruit that Jesus speaks of in John 15 is simply evidence of a relationship with Him. It is a relationship that He initiates through and by His sovereign love. In this chapter, Jesus reminds us that there is no greater love than someone laying down his life for his friends. He then says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14).

Jesus tells us that we are His friends (let that soak in for a minute) if we obey His command to love, and that command is fulfilled through abiding. As we abide in Him, we will bear the fruit of righteousness. This does not add to our salvation by grace alone through faith alone, yet it confirms our transformed hearts.  And the offer to be Jesus' friend the same Jesus who is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the Alpha and Omega, the beautiful One who bore our sins and transgressions — is irresistible for the Christian.  As with all things we want to teach our children, if we want to teach them this glorious truth, we must first believe it for ourselves. You are a friend of Jesus if you obey Him. Jesus is your friend because of His great love. Because of your sin, you have failed your greatest friend, but the good news is that He has never and will never fail you.  Aren't we glad that Jesus is honest with us?! He tells us exactly how we can be His friend. Abide in Him, and He will abide in you. He who began a good work in you will complete it (Philippians 1:6). "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:24, ESV).


Trading Constant Concern for Quiet Relief
September 8, 2023
by Brenda Bradford Ottinger

"But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence." Jeremiah 17:7 (NLT)

I wonder how these same palms I lift up to the Lord in praise can grip so tightly to a thousand concerns.  Tears laced with fear often mark my face as I concede once again to overthinking and angst habits I've grown all too casual with. Soon I'm believing the misguided notion that the clutching of my cares somehow secures the well-being of my world.  Often I hold my concerns close because letting go feels like giving up, and I confuse perseverance with the restless management of my life.  Recently I spilled my heart before God, longing to know a life where I could release my attempts to manage and maintain and grasp instead the relief of trusting Him.  As I searched for guidance, time and again, the Lord returned me to this passage penned by the prophet Jeremiah: "Blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence" (Jeremiah 17:7).

I pondered those familiar words: "trust," "hope" and "confidence," trying to remove them from my Sunday-school vernacular willing them to become foreign to my vocabulary so I might understand them anew, as if for the first time.  In that moment, I realized how often I've relegated these powerful sentiments of hope and confident trust in God to a backup plan. From youth, the Lord has had my heart, yet I haven't always lived like He's my source. Everything I cling to apart from Him shows misplaced confidence in myself rather than in my God.  Oh, friend, amid the daily bustle of life, it can be easy to unintentionally place our hope in lesser things. Sometimes our automatic response is to focus restlessly on our spheres of care, forgetting that our continual concern alone is powerless to provide hope.  Yet Jeremiah reassures us that those who trust in the Lord "are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit" (Jeremiah 17:8, NLT).

Friend, when we place our trust in God, He doesn't just tend to our cares He tends to our spirits as well. Even when the heat of our circumstances bears down, when it feels like months of drought separate our concerns from their solutions, we're able to flourish, refreshed by the depths of the Lord's supply.  God met me in my cry for relief that day, gently reminding me of the freedom we find when we release the crumpled contents of our palms into His safekeeping, for the God of our lives can be trusted with the cares of our lives.  Dear friend, your hands weren't made to carry all the success, safety and stability of your world. Come to the wellspring of relief, the quiet ground of surrender. Meet God in the hushed pause of this moment, gently unfold your palms, and release your cares to Him.  There is rest in the quiet calm of a life of trust, for our every care is safely held in the mighty hand of God, who is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).


Planting Yourself on the Rock When Hard Seasons Hit
September 11, 2023
by Meredith Houston Carr

"From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy." Psalm 61:2-3 (NKJV)

Several years ago, God moved our family to California for an adventure-filled season. Towering redwoods and the rugged Pacific Coast enthralled me as did the terrifying prospect of earthquakes.  And during our first year, sure enough, we experienced a small (thankfully!) earthquake. I'll never forget the unsettling sense of the ground shaking and twisting beneath me a sense that stuck around long after the soil stopped shivering.  Life can feel this way, too, can't it?

Loss, betrayal, sickness, grief, conflict, pain any number of disasters can tilt our world off its axis. I've certainly been there, and maybe you have too. In these seasons, we grasp for balance and shakily go about daily routines, but nothing feels stable when the tectonic plates of life jitter beneath us.  And then difficult questions bombard our jumbled-up minds:

Will the ground ever stop moving?

Will I ever find steadiness again?

How am I supposed to live in such uncertainty?

If you're like me, you might feel alone in your struggle or even guilty because well-intentioned people tell you to "just have more faith."

But thankfully, when we turn to Scripture, we find plenty of stories about men and women who faced similar circumstances and asked the same questions.  Specifically, King David knew quite well the reality of living on unsteady ground. Loss, betrayal, defeat and near-death experiences peppered his path from pasture to palace. Yet as today's key verse details, David knew exactly what to do when shaky ground surrounded him:  "From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy" (Psalm 61:2-3).

When hard seasons rocked him, David learned he could plant himself on the solid Rock, his defender, heavenly Father and friend. Over and over again, David referenced God as his Rock a firm, reliable place of protection and perspective, soothing and safekeeping even in the darkest times (Psalm 18:2, 31; Psalm 28:1; Psalm 62:7; Psalm 144:1).  The same God who supported David wants to support you too. When hard seasons hit, you and I can face them confidently by planting ourselves on God, our Rock.

R — Remember what God has done. Scour His Word and your past for evidence of His goodness. Consider writing down a record of what you discover! Each time the Lord shows Himself, big or small, resolve to remember His kindness.

O — Open yourself up to what God's trying to teach you. Instead of asking God, Why me? try asking, What are You trying to teach me? It's a challenging shift but one that exponentially propels our spiritual growth.

C — Cry out to Him with honesty. Too often, we keep our prayers passive and polite but sometimes, we need to get real and raw with our heavenly Father. Don't be afraid to remind God of His promises! David did so repeatedly, and we can too.

K — Keep the faith by putting one foot in front of another. Hard seasons force us to take smaller steps with extreme focus, but that's not necessarily bad! Focus on the here and now, and take it one day (or hour!) at a time.

God never gives up on us. Let's decide never to give up on Him.  Dear one, whatever tremors shake the ground beneath us, we can learn to plant ourselves on Jesus. Let's run to Him today and find the security we desperately crave!


You Don't Have To Stay Stuck
September 21, 2023
by Christine Caine

"Remember Lot's wife!" Luke 17:32 (CSB)

There are times in each of our lives when we look back and feel desperate to make time stand still, particularly when change happens.  Isn't that what Lot's wife did when God sent angels to escort her and her family out of Sodom?

She looked back and turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). What I've learned from her, and from my own experiences, is that we can't stop and look back. It didn't go well for Lot's wife, and it never goes well for us either.  What's more, looking back doesn't enable us to go back, and more times than not, it just makes us stuck. In a place. In a space. In a memory. In a habit. In a mindset.  When Jesus invites us to follow Him, we don't know everywhere we're going, how long it will take, or what we will encounter along the way but what we do know is that He will never leave us. To go where He is leading, we can't spend all our time looking back to where we once were, much as we might want to, while simultaneously trying to look forward to where He is taking us.  I understand that life is full of unexpected detours, slowdowns and surprising stops that divert our focus. If we've not prepared ourselves to move through those times, that's when we can get stuck looking back. And we can get stuck in places we never intended to find ourselves spiritually, emotionally, mentally, relationally, financially or physically. To be honest, we can get stuck just about anywhere in life, can't we?

When ....

We like where we are.  We're scared about the future.  We may not want to let go of what we love.  We're disappointed.  We're numb from the trauma we've endured.  We're betrayed. Overwhelmed. Distracted. Wounded. Hopeless.  Sometimes, when we stop and think about what we have experienced, how can we not get stuck in disappointment, unforgiveness, bitterness, offense, fear, guilt, anxiety, insecurity, indifference, apathy, comfort or complacency?

And yet, to move forward, we have to find a way to move through these exact places and more.  I imagine we all find it easier to stay stuck than to risk moving forward and what might come with it, like stepping out and feeling even more uncomfortable. It's little wonder the writer of the book of Hebrews said that to solve this problem, we must focus our eyes on Jesus:  "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2, NIV).

To continue going through the most painful part of His mission, Jesus focused on the joy that lay before Him. Because of His sacrifice, believers in Jesus won't ever have to go through the kind of suffering He did, but we will go through difficult things. To help us, Jesus mic-dropped three words never to forget: "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32).

Let's remember her and not look back. Let's keep our eyes on Jesus, the only One who can keep us moving forward in healing.


Our Greatest Source of Hope, Guidance and Inspiration
October 3, 2023
by Ann White

"For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires." Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)

When I was a child, my mom walked me down the church aisle to receive a tiny red Bible. Though much about that Sunday morning is blurry in my memory, throughout my childhood, I always sensed there was something very special about that book. As a teen, I regularly brought a Bible to church but didn't know I could easily engage with it. In my mind, Bibles were meant for Sunday mornings. On every other day of the week, they belonged on end tables to be admired and respected but rarely ever read. Unfortunately, I adopted this trend and followed it faithfully for more than 20 years.  I've met many people who describe similar experiences with Bible engagement. And many, like me, have often prioritized daily demands over time spent with God.  For most of my life, I believed that there was no problem too large for me to fix on my own. But by my late 30s, I had to accept that this assumption was far from the truth. When God allowed me to finally reach the end of my self-sufficiency, I was forced to turn elsewhere for help.  God led me to His Word, encouraging me to pick it up, read it, and start applying it to my life. So I did just that. I joined various Bible studies and, within a year, began teaching them. For the first time, Hebrews 4:12 became real and personal to me:  "For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires."

God's Word was fully alive in my life; it was separating truth from lies and giving me the power to make God-honoring and healthy life decisions.  I began experiencing what the Center for Bible Engagement calls the "Power of 4 Effect" the deep life transformation that comes when people commit to engaging with Scripture at least four times each week. My life began to look radically different; I became better equipped to resist temptation and developed a greater ability to choose a positive outlook over negativity, frustration and discouragement. Over the past 20-plus years, my life has been filled with more opportunity, purpose and joy because I've been grounded in God's Truth.  No matter what relationship we've had in the past with God and His Word or how ill-equipped we feel to approach it we must always embrace the truth that without it, we are missing out on the greatest source of hope, guidance and inspiration there is. Therefore, let us always strive to make God and His Word part of our everyday lives.