Friday, January 31, 2014

Day 31: Leading in the Light

Reading: Psalm 18:1-6

David displays a very worshipful and prayerful character as we read about him in the midst of struggles. The leadership he portrays is strong as he sets an example to others in how to handle the hardships in life. Worship and prayer are central parts to being a good, Godly leader, and setting the example to others is a big trait. David has great confidence that God will answer when he cries out, and his faith is huge despite the constant hardships he faces.
As leaders for Christ, we can learn from David in remembering how God got us through the hardships, and thanking Him for the answers to our cries. Being leaders of worship and prayer show the faith and example of a good leader.

What kind of leader do you think you are? What examples are you leaving for others to see?

What are the qualities of a good, Godly leader in your opinion?

Reading: Matthew 21:1-17

Being a leader like Jesus should be our goal. We see many traits that Jesus had as we make our way through this reading. First and foremost, we read that Jesus rode into town on a donkey, a very humble way to enter a town as a king. As leaders, we need to follow this humble example of carrying ourselves. When we come out as humble leaders, we have happier followers. There is a level of respect for those who are humble.
We also see Jesus lead by standing strong for what He believes in. We can't be pushovers as leaders. Good leaders stand by what they believe and what is most important to them. Jesus stands strongly against the sales in the temple, turning over tables and throwing out the merchants. A good leader follows through with their passions. We need to stand strong as Godly leaders, especially in a world that writes off Christian beliefs and morals so easily. Never be a pushover when it comes to your faith.

What does humility look like to you?

What do you feel most passionate about and will stand by no matter what?

Reading: Job 19:1-21:34

Good, Godly leaders have an eternal perspective. They focus on the big picture and see things from that perspective. Job, though deeply suffering, focused on the big picture, despite what his friends told him to drag him down further. Job remembered that his Redeemer lives and is in ultimate conrol over all.
When we as leaders have this focus like Job, we can manage life better and remember our true mission for being here. Living to meet our own comforts and plan our own lives can lead to disappointment and being brought down when hardships hit. Big picture focus and keeping our eyes on God's big plan can help us to keep our true focus on the mission and keeping our plans in line with God's.

What little things in life trip you up?

How can focusing on the big picture keep your life in check with what God wants from us?

 Good, Godly leaders do what Jesus did, and learn from the examples of others in the Word who led with great faith. The example you lead will hit someone out there. Humility and standing firm are a must in leadership. We see how Jesus does this as He rides into town on a donkey, and how He stands firm in turning the tables in the temples. Focus on the big picture when hardships come. Keep your focus in check, and align yourself with His plan.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Day 30: Getting His Directions

Reading: Psalm 17:13-15

We can gain a little insight from David here. Every morning, David enjoyed the sweet satisfaction of God's presence. We see a strength he gets to face the day because of this morning routine. When we are seeking an answer from God, or direction, it is important we come to Him without distraction and be in tune with His will for us. When we are able to build such an intimate relationship with Him, we can learn what He wants for us. David awoke to his Savior everyday and found great satisfaction in Him, despite the chaos around him. Perhaps when we do the same, we can find ourselves leaning and trusting in God more and more despite our situations.

How do you spend time with God?

What happens when you haven't had that time in awhile?

Reading: Matthew 20:20-34

Sometimes when we ask for God's will and direction, we don't always get the answer we want to hear. We read how the mother of James and John asks Jesus if her sons can sit at the places of honor in His kingdom. We learn here that sometimes God's plan is better than ours. He may tell us "no", but it's because He has something way better in store for your life. His plan is laid out for us and when we obey and seek His will, and even more importantly, accept His timing, we will come out happier in the end. Jesus wants us to grow and to carry out His ministry in serving others, not seek the benefits of following Him, as He tells us that His mission was to come and serve, not to be in the places of honor and be served.
We also read about the blind men who remained persistent and cried out for Jesus to heal them. Jesus felt compassion for these men and healed them. Then we read that they followed Him. When we experience God's great power in our lives, we are to share it with others! Why keep Jesus a secret? These men followed Him and continued on expressing the news of Jesus. Don't just follow Jesus to reap the benefits of His love, but do it to serve and be a messenger of His mission!

When have you gotten a "no" from God? How did it work out?

When God does something exciting in your life, what do you usually do?

Reading: Job 15:1-18:21

We see the cycle continue with Job and his friends. Job longs for comfort and encouragement, his friends accuse him of sin and that being the reason he suffers, and Job defends himself. I can't imagine just how hopeless Job felt through the who process. However, we see him hold close to his trust in God. He knows that there is a plan for him and that God will come through. He never blames God in all of his speeches, but ensures that he is blameless before Him.
Sometimes we go through those dark times in our life and it feels like a frustrating cycle like Job endured. No comfort, only blame. But as we continue on through the book of Job, we'll see that Job's life rebounds and God reveals Himself in a powerful way. Sometimes, we just need patience in waiting for God's direction and will for our lives. We need to endure the frustrations so we can grow and trust in Him. It definitely isn't easy and it can certainly be a very frustrating and depressing time, but like Job, we can trust that God will come through when the time comes.

When have you been frustrated in the midst of hardship?

When has God's timing come through for you after a cycle of hardship?

There are many answers we can get from God when we ask Him for things. Yes, no, or wait on His timing. Sometimes we don't see the big picture, but when we don't get the answers or direction we wanted, we need to trust that God has something better for us up ahead. It is important to align yourself with Him on a daily basis so you are able to build that intimate relationship with Him. Trust in His answers and in His timing.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day 29: Oh How He Loves Us

Reading: Psalm 17:6-12

We can get through anything with the wonder of God's great love. It is incredible how much He loves us and cares for us. David expresses greatly how wonderful and unfailing God's love is. He protects us under His wings, holding us when times are shaky. We can see just how intimate and incredible God's love for us is. Make this Psalm your prayer as you face the hard days in life. Trust in God's unfailing love.

When was a time you felt the intimacy of God's love?

When have you felt God's protection?

Reading: Matthew 20:1-19

When we read the story of the landowner and hired help, we can reflect on that and feel like it's pretty unfair. How many of us want to go to work all day and get paid the exact same amount that the guy who only worked an hour gets paid? Not sure I'd like that too much. But Jesus makes the point here that the love and grace His Father hands out is marvelous for all. No matter what your past looks like, He gives you the same grace as everyone else. The person who grew up in the church receives the same grace as the person who repents in the eleventh hour and had a brutal criminal history. The foot of the cross is even. This is just another huge wonder of God's unfailing and huge love. Don't ever envy what others have, or what you think they received unfairly. No one deserves the grace we are given. You can't earn it. God's grace is free for all who accept it.

When was a time when you envied someone?

When have you received something you didn't feel you deserved? How did you feel?

Reading: Job 11:1-14:22

Even though Job had a blameless life before it fell apart, he still looks to God's great love and grace. His friends make the same mistake over and over, tying Job's suffering to sin, claiming that he lacks wisdom, however Job points out that it is them that lack the wisdom in not keeping silent.
When we go to comfort others who have experienced suffering or hardship, it is important that we remember God's great and unfailing love, instead of focusing on condemning that person. Hardship can happen to anyone, even the most upright of people. When these times come, we need to be like Job, clinging to the hope and love we have in Christ, and remembering His grace in our lives. Encourage others who are struggling with that love. Carry Christ's love to all around you, instead of judging them.

When have you caught yourself judging someone's situation?

Why is remembering God's grace and love important when facing struggles in life?

God's love sure is a wonder. It's unfailing, and His grace is for all who accept it. I just love the words to the song "How He Loves". It is a beautiful expression of just how wondrous and unfailing God's love is for us: He is jealous for me. Love's like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy...And we are His portion and He is our prize, drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes. If His grace is an ocean, we're all sinking.

 Listen to the song here:


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day 28: Consuming Passion

Reading: Proverbs 3:11-20

Opening yourself up to a relationship with Christ opens a world of wisdom, the thing that should be desired most over material things. When we see just how deeply wise Christ is, we can surely feel as if He can handle anything in our lives that we find to be the steepest mountain. His wisdom is what set the world into motion and it makes things work together in the most perfect design. If God can create such intricate and intelligent workings, what makes you think He can't handle what you throw at Him? Though we need to remember that His timing is more perfect than ours. In this reading, we are told to embrace wisdom tightly, as true happiness and satisfaction comes from His wisdom alone. (Verse 18).

What intricate design in this world do you find yourself in awe of the most?

How do you go about getting God's wisdom?

Reading: Matthew 19:16-30

The story of the rich man can be a tough one for people to grasp, especially in a society that is wealthy and is richer than much of the rest of the world. Jesus tells us that it nearly impossible for a rich man to inherit the kingdom of heaven. And we are left asking ourselves if Jesus really wants us to sell our possessions to follow Him?
When Jesus asks the rich man to sell his stuff, He knows that the treasure of this man's heart is his riches. We read that where ever your heart lies, that is whom you'll serve. Jesus asks this man to put Him before all his stuff. So in this man's case, yes - Jesus told him to sell his stuff. In your case - not necessarily.
But we need to ask ourselves what is that thing that is coming between us and God? What are we putting our hearts into over Christ? Jesus is asking you to move that down your list and put your passion into Him. Not that those things you love are bad, but are they taking up your time more than spending it with Him? If you have a hard time with this, you need to assess your heart.

What is your passion for?

Why did the rich man go away sad? What would your reaction be if Jesus told you to get rid of the stuff your heart longs for most for Him?

Reading: Job 8:1-10:22

Keeping a strong passion for God in the midst of suffering can seem hard, maybe even impossible. however, as we continue to read the dialogue between Job and his friends, we learn more about His heart. Though Job cursed the day he was born, he still recognized the power and greatness. He clings to the hope he has in God and expresses the fact that God can make anything happen. Instead of blaming God and asking Him why, he praises Him.
Though Job doesn't put on the "everything is great" face, he can express great faith along with honest life struggles.

What does your passion for Christ look like when you face struggles?

How do you glorify God in these hard times? How can this be an example to those around you?

Developing a deep passion for Christ can take some time, but comes when we recognize just how great and awesome He is. We can see His marvelous work all around us, despite the struggles we face. Placing our hearts on Him over the other things we desire in life can be a hard sacrifice to make, but Jesus wants our all, not just a part of our passion.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 27: Paths to Follow

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-5

Throughout David's writings, we see a huge desire from him to stay right with God. He desires to follow the path God lays out for him, even if it means it will be hard. When we gain this desire to follow the path as well, there are some things we need to do to stay on that path. We need to assess our thought life and keep it in check. How easy is it to control our word and actions over our thoughts and what is in our heart? Thoughts are a tough thing to keep under control because you're the only one that knows what's going on in your heart and mind. (Except God of course.)
We also need to watch what we say. Those thoughts can eventually, and will probably eventually well up into our mouths. When we just blurt out our thoughts, we tend to get into trouble. Start working on your thought life by controlling what you say. Be sensitive to those around you and control your words.
Finally, we need to control our actions and where we go with ourselves. We can sometimes find ourselves in places we never thought we would - surrounded by bad influences and doing what they do. When we don't watch were we walk, we might be easily swayed by those around us.

Which of the areas above do you need to work on to keep to God's path?

How can you gain a desire to stay on God's path?

Reading: Matthew 19:1-15

We need to keep to God's path when it comes to the relationships in our life. Our culture has placed a very low view on the concept of "marriage" today. Many times, marriage isn't even considered and people just live together so the strings aren't attached. Others marry, not putting any thought into the commitment they make and figure if they don't like this one, they can just get rid of it and get a new one. Kind of like our material possessions (another topic for another day). We also have failed to take God's Word seriously when He talks about the importance of a spouse. When you get married, that person becomes more important than any other earthly relationship. God will always be #1, but your spouse is number 2. Divorce is an easy way out now for both Christian couples and the overall population. Why make it an option? Fix it if it's broken, don't throw it away.
Jesus also places a strong emphasis on children in this reading. In a culture that view children as better seen than heard, the disciples tried to get rid of the children that came to Jesus. But Jesus put the disciples in their place in welcoming and placing high regard on the children. This tells us that we too need to place our kids and youth in high regard. If we don't provide them with the tools they need to grow in faith, who will? Jesus says never to neglect the children in coming to Him. How are we doing this as a family and church?

What is your view on marriage? Are you willing to fight hard for your spouse or future spouse?

What do you do to grow our youth and kids in faith, whether they're yours or in the church?

Reading: Job 4:1-7:21

Do you have good friends on your path with you? As we read about Job and his suffering, we can see his "friends" that come to offer their two-cents. We read that Eliphaz offers his advice, essentially saying that Job did wrong and needs to go to God for his suffering, not knowing anything about Job and his life. Though Job's friends mean well, they don't offer good advice. They speak empty words and just try to sound like they know what they're talking about to Job.
I'm sure we've all been here. Either we've offered empty advice or have been given it.

Who is a good friend in your life that offers you good, Godly advice?

How are you as a friend to others? Do you offer good, biblical advice?

Walking on the path with Christ isn't always easy, in fact it can be more difficult. When we try to stay on His path for our life, we need to be sure to keep ourselves in check, in our thoughts, words and actions. As we look at our lives  compared to the way the rest of society lives, we need to decide the path we'll follow. God's way when it comes to relationships and basic living, or the world's way? Who do you have walking the path with you? Be sure they are good influences on you and the way you live. Take it, or leave it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day 26: Trials Revisited

Reading: Psalm 16:1-11

So many times in life we will face struggles and hardships, and when those come, there can be a temptation to turn away from God and find another way to be gratified. Unfortunately, many don't realize that true gratification can't be found anywhere but in God. We read in this Psalm that David refuses to turn away from God, even in the midst of his endless struggles. He says he will not even speak the name of other gods, for following them brings on a whole other slew of problems and hardships in life.
We can apply this logic to the things of today's world too. When we turn to other things to grant us happiness in life, like drinking, drugs, sex, and other "pressures" that we encounter from others, we will always be left empty in the long run, seeking more. These things can also lead to greater hardship in life. Be careful where you turn when struggles come your way. It might come back to create more problems.

Where do you turn when troubles hit?

What do you do to feel happiness in your life? How does this help you in the long run?

Reading: Matthew 18:10-35

Though our hardship is never a direct link to punishment for our sin, we can sometimes find that we brought suffering upon ourselves. Jesus points out some examples in this reading.
Abusing our freedom. We are all gifted freedom from God. We have the freedom to decide for ourselves what we want to do with our lives and what we will do with different situations that arise. We read the parable of the lost sheep, and see that when the sheep wander, they lose the protection of the shepherd. When we wander from God, we lose His protection as well. When we wander and do things our own way, we run the risk of getting hurt and facing struggles. But we also get from this reading that God will seek us nonstop until we are found again.
We can also cause further hardship in our lives when we don't handle conflict well. Jesus tells us how we should handle conflict, but many times we abuse these words and instead gossip, avoid it, or blow up. All of these poor choices for handling conflict can cause us to face harder days in that relationship and in other relationships because we then carry a horrible reputation. Handle conflict well, and it can be something that is easily put aside.
Finally, Jesus gives us quite a lesson in forgiveness. Forgiveness is a huge topic in today's world, as it is something people don't like to practice very much. But Jesus warns us through this story that if we don't forgive others, He won't forgive us. How often do we abuse this gift of forgiveness by falling into the same sin over and over again, and always count on God's forgiveness to pick us up, but as soon as someone in our lives wrongs us over and over again, we can't even look at them anymore? Though it can be frustrating to deal with people like that, can you imagine God's frustration with you? Yet He loves you so much, He'll welcome you back every time. Forgive others if you want His forgiveness.

How have you brought hardship upon yourself in the past?

How do you handle conflict typically?   

Reading: Job 1:1-3:26

If anyone in the Bible had hardship, it was Job. He went from the good life to nothing in the blink of an eye. Job, who was blameless before God, still endured great suffering from Satan. And though Job faced trial and loss after trial and loss, he never once blamed God for it. In fact, he worshiped God in the same way as he has when he had his life together. Job says to his wife, who encourages him to curse God and die, "I accept good things from God, why can't we also accept bad things?" This act of faith may seem unrealistic to you, but it's to show that trials can come no matter how close to God you are. Satan is still out there, chipping away at the closest of followers. We need to realize that in times of struggles, we can't let Satan have his way, and we must hold on to the faith we have in Christ. He will deliver us in the end and we'll come out stronger. As Job's story unfolds, you'll see more and more the man he is and the support he has.

When have you felt your world crumble around you?

What was your reaction to the constant hardships you faced?

When trials come, they can be hard to understand. Sometimes, we may never understand. The question we must consider when we do encounter trials though, is where will we turn? There are so many things in this world that can sway us from God, but we will always end up empty in the long run, and some of the things we turn to can cause us further struggles. Being faithful to God and taking the good and bad to Him is what we need to remember when our world seems to crumble. Turn to Him and He will rescue you.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Day 25: Faith in Hardships

 Reading: Psalm 15:1-5

Many times we question the hardship in our lives and want to know why God lets them happen. Though hardships are not a pleasant time of life, there is much you can learn from them, if you allow them to grow you. When we allow our circumstances to grow us, we can find ourselves in the presence of God through our growth. We read in this psalm who can come into the Lord's presence, and these same principals can apply when we face hardships:
Acting right and blameless, being truthful, not gossiping, not hurting others, keeping your word, being generous, and being honest.
All seem to make sense, but in the midst of hardship, how many times do we want to lash out or lie? If we can control ourselves through the tough times, we can find ourselves growing and become stronger for the next time we experience those hardships. "Such people will stand firm forever."

When have you lashed out because of a hard time you were experiencing?

How can you remember that trials are a time of growth for your character the next time you are in that position?

Reading: Matthew 17:14-18:9

Sometimes we can never know what causes our suffering, and all we can do is cling to faith. We read about how the disciples failed to heal a boy from his seizures, and Jesus tells them it's because they didn't have enough faith. He says that even faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. The man's faith heals the boy.
We also get to see what Jesus does to prevent suffering as He insists on paying the temple tax so no one is offended. I've learned on mission trips to other countries that you respect the culture in wearing proper attire, even if it's not comfortable to you back home. This allows you to witness to others without putting attention on yourself. As long as what you do doesn't cross lines in your faith, respecting other cultures and people can get you far in faith.
Finally Jesus stands up against suffering by warning anyone who causes temptation or to cause someone to fall will be punished greatly. He takes a very radical stand against sin, saying to get rid of anything that causes it immediately. This can apply in our lives to the people we surround ourselves with. If it causes you to sin, cast it off as soon as you can. Sin causes suffering, and unfortunately, we usually do it to ourselves in the decisions we make. Have faith that God will take care of you and follow His direction to a better life.

When have you needed more faith in your life?

What is causing you to sin? What must you do to wipe it out of your life?

Reading: Genesis 49:1-50:26

Even through Joseph's crazy life, he recognizes God's hand in everything that happened to him. He knows there was a reason for his suffering and he is grateful for it, as it put him in the position of great power and authority. Joseph had great faith when it came to trusting that God would take care of him and allow him to see his family again. When we reflect back to today's Psalm reading for today, we see that Joseph follows the characteristics well as he goes through what he did.
As Jacob lies on his deathbed, he says quite powerful things about Joseph compared to his other brothers, showing that Joseph led a wonderful legacy through the life he lived.
We can approach our struggles the same way Joseph did in giving in to faith instead of bitterness. Remember to let the hardships grow you.

What kind of legacy do you think you leave when you react to the hardships in your life?

What kind of faith do you have when struggles come your way?

Hardships and struggles are certainly inevitable in this life. We'll all see our fair share (or not so fair share) of them and react in different ways. But to react to hardships with faith can be a hard task within itself. When we allow our struggles to grow us, rather than to defeat us, we come out stronger and closer to God. How do you deal with life's struggles?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Day 24: Communication Complications

Reading: Proverbs 3:1-10

One way to clearly hear God's voice and direction in our lives is through His Words in scripture. We start this reading right off the bat being told to never forget what we're being taught in the Word and to store them safely in our hearts. From there, we read that we need to trust in the Lord completely, and not depend on our own directions. There's a reason we're told this, and if you've ever had a train wreck sort of day in life, trying to do things your own way, you'll understand why.
Humbling ourselves and remembering that great wisdom comes from God is key. When we can accept the fact that He is in control and knows what we need, when we need it, we will follow a great path in life (maybe not easy, but better with Him). We need to open our hearts and His Word to the great wisdom and advice He has to offer us instead of trying to go about life on our own understanding.

What is your favorite passage in the Bible? Why?

When have you opened God's Word and read exactly what you needed to hear at that time?

Reading: Matthew 16:21-17:13

God knows what will become of the future. Jesus states what will happen to His disciples and Peter essentially reprimands Him for saying such horrible things will come to pass. But Jesus reminds Peter (and us) that following Him isn't always about getting our way, or about living a life of comfort. Jesus says that if we cannot take up our cross daily, we cannot follow Him. This means that we need to surrender our plans, comforts, life, dreams, hopes, careers, whatever, to be fully on board with Him, no matter how hard the road gets. Peter didn't like the sounds of a dark future for Jesus, but we are called to follow, no matter what.
Another interesting aspect about this reading is when Jesus takes Peter, James and John up onto the mountain and they witness Jesus' appearance changing. He was in deep conversation with Moses and Elijah, and God's voice came out and said "This is My dearly loved Son, Who brings me great joy. Listen to Him."
From this, we can gather that we too, can live in close communication with God. Though, it may not be as audible and earth-rumbling as this instance, we still can get those communications from the Holy Spirit. God tells the disciples to listen to Jesus, telling us that we should also follow Jesus' example from what we learn from Him in the Word.

When have you experienced a nudging from the Holy Spirit? What was it like?

When have you chosen comfort over following Christ's path?

Reading: Genesis 47:13-48:22

We see a great legacy being left by Joseph as we reach the conclusion of his story, and Jacob's story. Even after all the great things Joseph accomplished and was able to do for Egypt and Pharaoh, he still gives all praise and glory to God, and hasn't forgotten about where he came from. Joseph was in close communication with God and knew that God was leading him the entire time, even through the struggles and onto the prosperity.
When we get to the point in our lives that we can look back and see all we've accomplished, we need to remember Who got us there. Our lives are nothing without God's guidance. As we read in Proverbs, we need to "trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding." Joseph was a prime example of this wisdom being played out. He didn't trust in his own mind, but in what God shone through him.
Remember where your accomplishments and prosperity comes from. Stay close to God, and He won't fail you.

What accomplishments have you had in life? Have you taken the time to thank God for them?

How have you seen God move in your life from struggle to success?

Communication is a two-way street. It takes one side to speak, and the other to listen. We can't carry out conversation without both ends. The same goes with following God's direction and listening to His words. When we make our relationship with Christ all about our end of things, and worrying about our own comforts and relishing in our own accomplishments, we lose the point of the word "relationship". Listen to His voice and always be open to His direction, whether it's comfortable or not.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Day 23: Privilege in Following

Reading: Psalm 14:1-7

Being a Christian come with many privileges, whether we realize it or not. In this Psalm, things feel hopeless and dark. Not a single human being is righteous or good. Only Jesus, Who was fully God and fully man was the only sinless one. Even when we are a part of this dark world, giving in to temptations and sin, God still gives us this amazing gift that will grant us eternity with Him. The truly wicked will disobey God and deny Him. God is with those who obey Him, and He will protect His people. We all are human, and we will all mess up. But the true thing that separates us from the world is our acknowledgement of God and Jesus. We strive to follow Him and His plans for us. When we screw up, we run back to Him and repent. Be blessed by this incredible gift God has given us.

What privilege do you see as a follower of Christ?

How do you feel set apart from the rest of the world as a Christian?

Reading: Matthew 16:1-20

Jesus gives us as a church a powerful authority here. He tells Peter that he will be the rock in which His church will be built. Jesus trusts Peter with His church, and He trusts us with His church. We are granted a responsibility to carry out the mission and will of Christ in reaching out to those around us. If we base church on no one but Christians, what is the purpose of the church? How do we carry out the mission when we focus on ourselves and our comforts? Jesus makes it clear here that He depends on us and trusts us with His plans. When we can acknowledge that He and He alone is our Messiah, as Peter did, we can gain the right to have authority in His mission. He builds us up to go and spread His mission to others. But when we abuse the church and make it something of our own, we lose the entire purpose of what we are called to do.
Keeping in mind that God will provide and guide us through, we need to make sure we keep our minds open at all times to His will and calling, especially as a church. Don't abuse the power God has given you in being His follower, but strive to make His church about Him.

What do you see the purpose of church being?

What do you believe God intended for the church?

Reading: Genesis 45:1-47:12

We see an amazing story play out here as Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. And even more powerful - the forgiveness he gives to his brothers, even after all the hardships he endured. But Joseph recognizes a privilege he has as a follower of God. God used him to do amazing things through his hardships. We have this privilege as well. When we go through life, not knowing why things happen the way they do and left wondering about our situations, we can rest assured that God has a plan to use us in mighty, mighty ways, when we follow Him. Joseph tells his brothers that he is not mad at them for selling him into slavery in Egypt because God used him to save lives.
When we have a mentality and attitude like Joseph, we can take on almost anything that comes our way. God gives us so much authority and trust in carrying out His plan, that He is confident in us enough to know that we'll get through the hard stuff in life, and give Him the glory when it becomes great. Because Joseph followed God's timing and plan, he was able to save lives, including his family's, and bless his family with his riches and status.

What about your life do you feel God is working in for His plan?

What tough situation do you find yourself in that you are trusting God with? Could you have an attitude like Joseph's through it?

As followers of Christ, we are granted so many privileges and so much authority in carrying out God's plan for a broken world. Though we can be surrounded by those who could care less about the faith and what it means to be a follower of Christ, we are granted protection and presence from God when we obey His leading. As a church, we need to make sure we are not abusing the power Christ has given us in carrying out His mission in reaching a lost world, rather than making church about ourselves. And like Joseph, when we face years of hardship, we can hold on to an attitude of hope and awe as we see God's plan play out through it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 22: Persistence Power

Reading: Psalm 13:1-6

As David continues to struggle through life, we see the persistence he keeps as he continues to hope and trust in the Lord. He continually cries out to Him, waiting patiently on His rescue. Even though he continues to wait, day after day for God to show up and rescue him, he keeps faith that He will.
We also read that David rejoices in the Lord and His rescue and unfailing love.
As we ponder David's never-ending struggles, we can find our own hope through them. When we seem to face the same story everyday and wallow in our hardship, we can hold on to the same hope and worship that David presents here. We can continually call out to God to come and show us a way out, and to rescue us, yet worship and praise Him for His unfailing love. We all have something in our lives that nags or keeps eating at us day after day, or week after week, or maybe even month after month. Whether it be finances, jobs, health, relationships, etc., God can pull you through it. Just have the persistence of David and keep crying out to God.

What is something that has been a nagging struggle in your life?

Have you brought this problem to God as persistently as David did?

Reading: Matthew 15:10-39

We read many instances of persistence here, and we can learn to be persistent in these things as well.
First we read about Jesus teaching us to have pure and clean hearts and mouths. What is in our hearts will come out of our mouths. It is important to keep ourselves clean and pure in our thoughts and in our hearts. This can be hard, as we always focus on keeping our actions and words pure, but our thought-lives are probably the bigger part of this cycle. Our thoughts taint the rest of our being, because that is truly what is in our hearts.
Be persistent in checking your thoughts and heart.
We also read about a very persistent Canaanite woman, begging Jesus to heal her daughter. Though, at first, Jesus didn't respond to her, she continued to ask Him and worship Him. Even the disciples threatened to have her sent away, but Jesus sees her faith, and tells her that her daughter has been healed because of her faith.
Be persistent in prayer and asking God for healing and needs.
Finally, we read about Jesus feeding 4000 men, plus women and children on seven loaves of bread and a few fish. Jesus is persistent in compassion, and making sure the people get fed. He sees to it that they are taken care of. In creation a miracle, He feeds them all with left overs! Jesus cares deeply for the poor, the hungry and those in need. He asks us to do the same.
Be persistent in compassion.

Which of these areas could you use work in when it comes to being persistent? (Keeping your thoughts/hearts in check, prayer for healing/needs, compassion for the needy.)

When has someone in your life displayed amazing persistence and faith?

Reading: Genesis 43:1-44:34

The story of Joseph and his family continues to unfold in more cliffhangers and more ups and downs. This time, Joseph's father, Jacob has to put his trust in God and allow his youngest son, Benjamin to go to Egypt with his brothers in order to get food. Jacob must have felt so much anguish in losing Joseph, then Simeon, and now Benjamin, but he keeps persisting in trust and faith that God will work things out. We also see that Joseph is just as persistent in keeping his brothers close. And as we keep reading, we'll see God's magnificent plan and timing play out.
How many times have you felt the ups and downs of life, causing you anguish and grief, wondering when it would ever end? Though this may seem like an incredible amount of torture, we can trust like Joseph and Jacob have and wait for God's timing and plan to come out. Waiting and enduring can be hard in times of the unknown, but we see God's faithfulness as it comes to completion.
Be persistent in hoping and trusting in God's timing and plan. He always has one that will be worth it in the end.

Are you in the middle of an up and down battle? What are you doing to put your trust and hope in God's timing through it?

Would you be able to let something important to you go, and trust that God will take care of it? Have you before?

Persistence can be exhausting, especially if much of your time is dealing with life's ups and downs. We need to be persistent in our faith lives though. When struggles hit us, we need to be persistent in prayer, hope and trust, praising God for His unfailing love. We need to be persistent in keeping our lives whole and pure for Him, as well as showing compassion for those in need around us. God wants us to come to Him with our needs and to serve Him fully. Keep the faith and keep hoping. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Day 21: Keeping Hope in a Negative World

Reading: Psalm 12:1-8

I can't help but relate with David's words in this Psalm. The world around us can be one that doesn't care about lies and deceit. People lie left and right without a care to simply look better or get someone off their backs. David, however, compares the lies of the world with the refreshing words of God and His promises. Compared to the words of the people around us, His words are pure as silver. David longs for this sort of purity, as he is surrounded by enemies and foes. He clings tight to God's words, however, and finds hope in them.

What kind of things discourage you as you look into our society?

What attribute of God do you find hope and refreshment in?

Reading: Matthew 14:22-15:9

With Jesus, we see that anything is possible, including walking on water. We see quite and act of faith when Peter gets out of the boat to walk with Jesus on the water. While he is focused on Jesus, he does fine, however, as soon as he looks away and at his surroundings, he begins to sink. Jesus has to reach down and save him.
Our faith in this world is very similar to the situation Peter ran into as he tried to walk with Jesus. When we have our eyes on Jesus and the things that encourage our faith, we can walk with Him over circumstance. But as soon as we look elsewhere for our strength and begin to worry about our surrounding, we can easily fall away from Him.
The world can also throw negativity into our faith by placing standards on our faith that aren't from God. We see how the Pharisees try to taint faith by insisting that money be used for God instead of taking care of their parents. Jesus was all about love, not religion. Be careful in knowing what standards of faith are from God, and which are of the worldly people who only want to be impressive in the eyes of others, not God.

When has the world's view of things made it hard for you to focus on walking close with God?

What kind of religious rituals or traditions have you come across that aren't from God, but are only heavy standards from the world?

Reading: Genesis 41:41-42:38

We see how Joseph handles the highs and lows of life. Many times, we can get caught up in the world view of success and failure. But when we see Joseph's life, we can see a God-view of success and failure. When Joseph wondered for years in prison if he'd ever get out, he waited on God's timing and provision. He gave God the glory when he could interpret dreams and eventually was brought out of the pit of his life. He never blames God or curses.
And now that Joseph is top of the nation and distributing what people want most, he is not boastful about it.
When we experience failure in this world, it can be easy to turn to worldly things for comfort or to wallow in our own failure. Joseph keeps hope and eventually gets into the incredible position of leading a nation with Pharaoh. Yet when success hits someone in today's world, it is easy to let it go to their heads. Boasting and pride are big things in our world, not to mention the entitlement we feel comes with our success. But when Joseph falls into his position, he serves humbly and still gives God the glory through it.
When we have a Godly view on failure and success, we can keep our feet on the ground and our heads out of the clouds. Hang on to God's way of things and not the world's.

When have you felt lower than low and turned to the world's strategy of overcoming the failure?

When have you had success and turned to the world's strategy with it? What about when you took it humbly?

The world can offer some enticing things to help us cope and just live everyday life. God's way of coping with life gets us so much further, though. We can turn to Him when we feel hopeless about the people around us. He can get us through any circumstance that we come up against, whether it be a storm in life, or heavy religious rituals. He also keep us grounded when it comes to success and failure. The choice is ultimately yours in choosing who's way you'll heed when it comes to various life circumstances.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Day 20: The Forks in the Road

Reading: Proverbs 2:12-22

Staying on course with the wisdom from God's Word can sure save us from some awful life decisions. When we stay in His Word and remember His will in our lives, we can follow close to His path. In life, there will be many temptations and worldly things that will try and sway us from the path. If we give into these things, our lives can get quite complicated. God wants us on a path of wisdom, so we can carry those morals and knowledge through life. Maybe we hear a great teaching in church one Sunday, and years down the road, we find ourselves suddenly remembering the premise of that teaching because we are suddenly faced with a life decision that pertains to that teaching. Maybe we face a temptation and remember what to do to hold strong against it because of something someone told us.
We can go through life, hearing all sorts of wonderful sermons and teachings in church or Bible study, but when we really dive into the Word and apply it to our lives, that's where true wisdom comes out and our paths are straighter to walk.

Have you heard a teaching or sermon at some point that you found yourself remembering when faced with a struggle that pertained to it?

When have you fallen off course? How did it work out?

Reading: Matthew 14:1-21

Life can lead us to many forks in the road, and here we see an example of what it's like to take an evil path and a good path. King Herod did evil by indulging his every want. At his birthday party, he gave into temptation again, but giving a girl who danced for him anything she wanted. Because of this, John the Baptist was killed. Herod also feared people. He wanted to be accepted by everyone. He didn't have John killed at first because he didn't want people to riot against him, but once the dancing girl asked him for John's head, he had to please his dinner guests and her. Our fear of other can throw us off course. We then start pleasing others instead of God, the only One we should be pleasing.
Another fork in the road we can see here is when Jesus retreats after hearing the news of John the Baptist's death. Even though He craves the alone time, we read that multitudes of people find Him and follow Him. Though we ourselves might be annoyed by this when we're seeking our alone time, especially after hearing such horrible news, Jesus has a different reaction. He has compassion on the people. He heals them, and feeds 5000 of them! We can take this example and use it when those forks in our lives come. We may have our own plans, but sometimes God has other plans that will grow us and help us heal even better.

When have your reached a fork in the road of life? How did it turn out?

When you have your own plans, what do you do when God suddenly changes them?

Reading: Genesis 40:1-41:40

Joseph has sure seen a lot of downs in life. After being sold by his brothers, he ends up getting thrown in jail unfairly. We see this incredible gift God has given to Joseph in interpreting dreams, however. When Joseph helps out the chief cup-bearer for Pharaoh, he asks for him to mention this gift to Pharaoh, but the chief forgets, and Joseph has to spend 2 more years in the prison. Once Pharaoh has a weird dream about the upcoming famine though, Joseph is the only one who can interpret it, and suddenly he is promoted to supervise the land and the rations.
It's quite amazing how God can move in a life. One minute you feel hopeless, and the next you are on top of the world (and Joseph was literally on top). Life can throw us curve balls and sometimes they really mess with us, and sometimes they really help us out. God always has a plan. It took Joseph years to see that plan God had for him. As you see Joseph's story continue to unfold, you'll see how God moves in his life.

When have you felt like life threw you a sudden curve ball?

How did it work out eventually for you? If you're still waiting, what do you do while you wait for God's plan to unfold?

Life is full of many twists and turns. Some we choose to take and others come rather unexpectedly. We can decide what to do with those turns though. We can take them, grow from them and serve others through them. Or, we can do things the world's way and find ourselves even more lost. Remember God's timing is perfect timing, even if it doesn't feel that way to us. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Day 19: Most Valuable Relationship

Reading: Psalm 11:1-7

The most intimate relationship you can have is with God. He knows you deeper than anyone else, inside and out. We read the various emotions David goes through in Psalms, and today's reading is no different. Though David is facing hardship and pursuit of enemies, he doesn't feel the need to run, as he has already ran to God's arms, the best refuge you can have. David has a strong relationship with God, based on this reasoning alone. How many times do you continue to hang out in danger, knowing you are safe and have no need to run because God has you? It can be tough to have faith and dependance like that, even on people here on earth. But to feel so taken care of by God is a powerful relationship that you never want to lose. Run to Him in times of trouble and know that He has you.

When is a time you needed refuge? Where did you go?

Do you have faith as strong as David's when it comes to knowing God will take care of you? How can you work on this?

Reading: Matthew 13:36-58

The parables Jesus shares can be a little scary, but we can be confident that if we are walking with Him, we will be considered the "wheat" of His harvest. We also read that this relationship with Him is the most valuable we can ever have, like a treasured pearl or treasure found in a field.
The question that remains about this very valuable relationship is how much are you willing to give up for Him? Everything? Jesus doesn't just want part of us, He wants all of us. When we devote our lives to Him and make it about more than just a "get out of hell free" choice, we can experience a life full of wonderful blessing and relationship. Not to say that life will get easier by any means, but the way you go about it will look dramatically different. We should never take the relationship we have with Jesus for granted, and we should strive to do His will and please Him daily. If we give Him our hopes, plans and even dreams, He will take care of us to the end, and will come again to take us with Him before He destroy the "weeds" of His harvest.

How do you value your relationship with Christ?

What about your life reveals your true value of your relationship with Him?

Reading: Genesis 38:1-39:23

Sometimes we may be in the midst of a situation we don't care for. Maybe we're there unjustly, or because that's just where life led us, but either way, we are there. We certainly see a couple of stories here that probably felt like tough circumstances. One of them being with Judah and Tamar, and the other with Potiphar's wife and Joseph.
Judah, who tries to put Tamar to death after finding out she prostituded herself and became pregnant, learns that she is guilty because of his actions as well, making them both guilty in this act. However, later on, we'll learn that one of the sons in the set of twins Tamar gives birth to is in the line that leads to Jesus.
The same kind of situation happen to Joseph, except he does the right thing when confronted by temptation. He flees fast from it. Though he is framed and thrown in prison, we'll soon find out how God blesses him more deeply as well read on in his story.
Our circumstances at the time may not seem ideal, and we may have put ourselves in that situation by either giving into temptation or not following the path God put out before us. However, we read that He can bless us through it, whether it be right away, or in the near future. God is a God of second chances, though not always a God of second opportunities. We need to remember Him when faced with tough circumstances, and remember that He will bless us through it, in time.

What is a circumstance in your life that you are not too fond of?

Have you seen God begin to work in your less than idea circumstance? How?

Our relationship with God is the most valuable one we should have. He knows us deeper and more intimately than anyone ever will. When we face hardships, we should run to Him for refuge. As we look to following Him, we should sacrifice all we have for His mission. And when we face temptations and situations that are just bad, we can remember that He can work through it and bring good out of it. Just pursue your relationship with Him first and foremost, and the rest will fall into place.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Day 18: Expanding a Kingdom

Reading: Psalm 10:12-18

Praying for a society that desperately needs the Kingdom of God is a place to start in expanding His Kingdom. We see David cry out for God to come and change the world around him. He prays for the helpless, troubled, grieving, victims, orphans, homeless, and the oppressed specifically. We can relate with David at times when we look around our world and see people of each of these areas. It is tough to see such terror and sadness in our society, but when we pray about it and ask God to come and send His Kingdom, we have a hope of His return and His reign. Keep praying for these areas and ask God to come!

Which one of the groups of people listed above do you feel especially burdened for? Is there something you can do to help these people (outside of praying for them)?

What kind of hope do you feel when you pray for a broken world?

Reading: Matthew 13:18-35

Expanding the Kingdom is like these things Jesus shares with us. It can be tricky, depending on the soil you plant the seed on. Some seeds will hear, but never do anything to keep growing their faith, others will hear, be excited then stop growing their faith because of other worries, troubles and distractions in their lives. But others will grow until they're making huge impacts for the Kingdom as well.
Jesus also gives us a look at what His return will be like here with the wheat growing with the weeds. The enemy will come and plant all kinds of barriers in our lives. He might even turn us, and cause us to stumble in our faith. Jesus says the day of the harvest (His return) will separate the weeds from the wheat.
His Kingdom will indeed expand though, as we see from the parable about the yeast and mustard seeds. One little seed can cause so much growth. Or a little yeast in flour can spread throughout the entire loaf of bread. Just planting those little seeds can change a life in major ways.

When you look at your roots of faith, where would you say you are?

How can you keep planting those seeds for expanding His Kingdom?

Reading: Genesis 36:1-37:36

God will use our lives in bizarre ways for His Kingdom expansion. We will continue to read this crazy, up and down story of Joseph over the next few days. Today, we can learn from Joseph as well though. We read that Joseph tended to give all the details of his dreams to his family, stirring the pot in his brothers' hearts. Though God will speak to us through dreams, as He did with Joseph and many others in the Bible, sometimes it's best to keep them to ourselves and ponder and pray over them.
Even Jesus in His ministry of expanding the Kingdom only told a select few who He actually was and what He was doing there. It took faith to follow and believe, not information.
Expanding the Kingdom can be tricky business, and we should never be ashamed of it. God's work is something we should always take seriously, but to build a relationship, sometimes we just need to keep some information to ourselves and let God's timing do the rest.
Joseph's brothers were definitely in the wrong in "getting rid of" their brother and lying to their father, but Joseph could have kept a little peace as well. Remember this as you encounter different people and relationships as you do God's work.
"People don't care how much you know until the see how much you care."

 Have you ever been told something crazy by God? Did you share it? If so, what was the outcome?

How has God's timing done a better job at revealing something than if you would have blurted out something crazy?

 Expanding God's Kingdom isn't hard, but it can be tricky. We can continually pray for our broken world and work to plant the seeds, but the soil has to be right for them to stick. Many times, life's distractions can cause people to fall away after hearing about this Good News, but we can continue to plant and let God do the rest. Allow His timing to show His plan, as He is the only One who truly knows the future. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Day 17: Ripples of Light

Reading: Psalm 10: 1-11

There is so much pride in the wicked. Those who run the land and do as they please show no concern for anyone but themselves. We read some scary things about the wicked in this Psalm, and sadly, they are true today. Just turn on the news and you'll see plenty of sad stories about others taking advantage of an innocent person, or someone who stole, or murdered. It is all over in our world today, this sense of pride and entitlement. I see it from teenagers and adults alike.
One thing we can take from this reading is to check our own selves. We might not be able to change the guy on the news who took a life, but we can start with our own selves and our surroundings. The way you carry yourself in this world will shine light to others, and God will use you to inspire them to do what is right and put others before themselves.

What are somethings about our world that scare you?

How can you carry yourself in this life to reflect the attitude God wants you to have?

Reading: Matthew 12:46-13:17

Many times we hear Jesus talk about family. We are told to honor our father and mother, yet Jesus tells us to love them less than Himself. If we want to follow Jesus' mission and calling for us, we don't have to abandon our family or "hate" them, but we can't put them over what God wants us to do. Jesus is focused on His mission, and though He loves His mother and family much, He needs to keep focused on that mission. We can follow this example and do what God needs us to do, and allow our families to follow. But if a family member ever tries to get in your way of God's calling, this could be a difficult time for both of you.
We also read about the seeds in the parable Jesus teaches. The basic message here is to make sure you have deep roots in Him. When you don't plant yourself in soil that helps you grow in faith, any storm or hardship that comes around can easily knock you down. Jesus warns the people about this, and tells them to dig down deep roots, so the crop you produce will be high. Again, this can be an example to others who have shallower roots, or no roots. If you live a life with deep roots in Christ, they can see that, and want that life too.
Lastly, we can take from Jesus' teaching here that we can't let life choke us out. There are so many other things to worry about other than Jesus and His mission for us. Even in a church, things can cause us to turn our eyes away from the purpose and mission, and focus only on superficial things. Jesus warns us to stay grounded and focused. Not to worry about life and filling it up with all sorts of busy things. When we do that, we lose the opportunity to grow in Him and seek out His purpose for us.
"If you don't have time to pray and read the Bible, you are busier than God ever intended you to be."

Is there something taking priority over God in your life? How can this change?

What kind of roots do you think you have? How is this a light to others?

Reading: Genesis 34:1-35:29

This is a reading that just escalates from bad to worse. Though Dinah is raped by Shechem, a truce is made between the two families and nations. However, Dinah's true brothers go and murder every male in Shechem's land. This doesn't help matters for Jacob and his family, as this revenge has put quite a bad name on his family and people. Revenge is never the answer, and this should be left up to God. What happened to Dinah was certainly horrible, and should never be endorsed, but the way it was handled was not good. Instead of forgiveness, which Jesus calls us to do, Dinah's brothers jump to revenge.
What kind of testimony would you leave if you forgave the seemingly unforgivable? God gives us the ability to forgive and the strength to, no matter how hard it may be. It is the way we carry on with life peacefully and without the sting of guilt. Revenge will only bring on new problems and cause a bad reputation. Being a light and an example is doing the hard stuff, and that may be forgiving.

What is something someone's done to you that you need to forgive? What about something you've done that you've gotten forgiveness for?

How is forgiveness a type of testimony, example and light to others?

The way you carry yourself through this life will be the light you reflect for all to see. You can live a life of pride and doing things to fill up your life, or you can be humble and put others before yourself, and get even more full. Watch where you dig down your roots, as the smallest storm can take you down if you're not rooted deep in what can truly hold you up. Be a testimony through the life you live and the light you shine to those around you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Day 16: Heart Matters

Reading: Proverbs 2:1-11

What we put into our hearts and minds is what we typically get out. In Proverbs, we read to pursue God's Word and wisdom as if we're seeking silver. When we do these things, we'll build up our hearts in a wonderful way, and the outflow of our decisions and our hearts will be great.
The main thing you can do to get wisdom and a pure heart is to embed God's Word into your life everyday. Getting into His Word can be hard when you are trying to get other things done and have other things to do, but it should be a priority in your life. You can also start by not watching TV shows that are trash or listening to filthy music. What you put in is what will come out. The decisions you make will be influenced by the people you surround yourself with and the stuff you put into your heart and mind. Give the Word a try. See what the transformation is in your life because of it.

Do you have a set time to read the Bible everyday?

What does the outflow of your heart and life decisions look like?

Reading: Matthew 12:22-45

Again, we read about how our hearts affect our lives. Jesus says that the thoughts we think will be the words we say - the outflow of our hearts. What we put in, is what will come out. Jesus compares it to a tree that bears fruit. If you have your roots in the good stuff and in the wisdom that God provides, you will produce good fruit in life. But a life that is rooted in worldly stuff that only taints your thinking and causes you to do things against God, you will produce bad fruit in life. Jesus says those who are producing good fruit are working for Him, and being a light to the world around them. However, those who are filling their lives with junk and the things of this world will get nothing but this world, and are working against Him.
Again, this goes back to what we put into our lives and our minds. Music? TV shows? Movies? Books? Friends? Boyfriends? Girlfriends? It all will be accounted for one day, and will come out eventually. What your heart is fond of is an indicator of which side of God you're working on. Be careful with what you put in, for it will soon come out.

What kind of fruit are you producing in your life?

What is something you need to cut out of your life that is causing you to work against God?

Reading: Genesis 32:1-33:20

Our hearts will determine the kind of people we are in our attitudes. Jacob had always been a taker up to this point in his story. But after he realizes he was going to meet with his brother again and he wrestles with God in prayer, and literally wrestles with God, we see his heart begin to change. No longer does he feel entitled to everything, but he is humbled and gives to the brother he once cheated to get what he wanted.
The problem with our world today is that everyone feels entitled. This sense of deserving is tearing apart relationships. Like Jacob, we need to humble our hearts and wrestle with God about our problems, and allow Him to make our hearts new. What we put in, is what will come out of our hearts. We don't deserve anything in this life. When we think we deserve anything, we tend to put ourselves above others, and relationships have a hard time standing in those conditions. But when we are humble and put others before ourselves, that is when our hearts are softened and can grow relationships. We see a powerful mending between Esau and Jacob because of Jacob's humility and change of heart.

How do you approach everyday life? As if you deserve something, or have something to give?

What is a relationship that can be mended if there was just a humbling of the heart?

Our hearts say a lot about us. We can try and hide our lives all we want, but the truth is whatever is in our hearts will be revealed sooner or later. We need to keep watch on what we put into our lives and minds as that will be what guides our hearts and decisions. Things like music, friends, shows, movies, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc, can really influence how we go about life. Facing everyday as if you have something to give rather than you deserve something is the attitude that can mend relationships. Guard what goes in, because it will affect the outcome of your life. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Day 15: His Many Attributes

Reading: Psalm 9:13-20

We serve a God of both justice and mercy. These things wouldn't seem likely to go hand and hand, but God is a God of impossibility. We see an example of what God can do here when David cries out to God to rescue him from his enemies. He begs for mercy from God, that He may seek justice from his enemies. Here we see that God is able to do both of these things. This is a lot of what He did when His Son went to the cross for us. We needed to serve our punishment for our sin (justice), but God paid the price Himself (mercy). We actually can see this theme weaved all throughout the Bible. The amazing thing about God is that He's full of Justice and Mercy, Truth and Grace, and a combination of other things you wouldn't picture together. He is just God.

What is a time in your life you were seeking both justice and mercy, like David?

What other attributes of God have you found amazing?

Reading: Matthew 12:1-21

We see yet another example of an unlikely combination of God come out here. One of the greatest commandments is the keep the Sabbath Day holy. And we also have read that on the seventh day of creating, God rested. Here we see Jesus get approached a couple times because His disciples were caught working on the Sabbath Day, and Jesus gets questioned for healing a man. Now, many of us will heed this Sabbath Day rule by resting and taking a break from working. In fact, it is good for us. Yet Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are way off here. They could care less for the disciples and Jesus resting for their own good. They want a way to make Jesus wrong. Jesus doesn't pressure us with all of these rules in life. He doesn't put the burden of rules on our shoulders and make it near impossible to do right by Him.
Sometimes life will be daunting. For me, Sunday mornings can be one of the most daunting and even frustrating days of the week. Though I find this unfair at times, I know I'm serving and doing what I need to do to get the job done for the sake of the service. Should I not be working and say "no" now and then...? Yep. But we know that Jesus won't hold it over our heads if we do right by Him. Jesus lived in a ministry that was full of both truth and grace. He approached teaching this way and ministry this way. Jesus kept the truth in His words and stood strongly by them. But when grace was needed (like in the case of feeding the disciples and healing the man) Jesus did that as well, and used truth to back Him up.
If we just use this truth and grace approach to church and to reaching out to people, we could truly do what Jesus did.

When have you felt the need to express grace when others thought it was wrong?

When have you had to stand up for truth, when others felt like being lenient was the right approach?

Reading: Genesis 31:1-55

There is a lot of craziness about this family. When you read Jacob's story and see how hard and unfair Laban was to him throughout the years though, you can't help but feel bad for the guy. Jacob, however, isn't fully innocent either, as his leaving was probably not done in the right way. It was quite unfair of Jacob to take Laban's daughters and grand kids and leave. Not to mention the flocks he manipulated to be his. But we see God again, show mercy to both of these deceivers. Though God told Jacob to run away and flee back to his original land, He still allows Laban to see his family, though with a stern warning. We again see justice and mercy here from God.
We also see God show quite a bit of mercy to the family, considering Rachel stealing idols from her father and lying about hiding them. Maybe she gets that from her dad and Jacob. But God upholds the promise He made with Abraham years ago, and prospers the family line, no matter how deceptive they've become. We have a God of promises and mercy, yet will be stern.

When have you experienced a time in life that seemed just unfair and hard?

Have you ever deceived someone to get your own way? How did that go?

God is quite a marvelous God. Full of justice and mercy, truth and grace, and many other attributes that can both keep you on your feet and bring you to your knees. His ways are always perfect and 100 percent.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Day 14: Just Let God

Reading: Psalm 9:7-12

There is something very comforting in knowing that God will take care of you when you need His help. We just need to trust that He will and not worry about the things that we can't control. David says that when he cries out to God, He will hear his cries and that justice will be served. We can count on the same results when we cry out to God. The biggest thing is trusting in His timing and His work. We may not see the result we want when we want, but we can bet that God will take care of us and move in to rescue us from the things in life that seem to take us over. Instead of trying to take matters into your own hands when things are out of your control and timing, let God handle it in His timing.
We see Him take care of David over and over through the hard life he faces. What makes you think He won't take care of you?

What is something in your life that you just need to let go of and let God handle in His timing?

When have you tried to handle something out of your control yourself? How did you feel afterwords?

Reading: Matthew 11:16-30

As a Christian, there are so many things to worry about, and yet we are told that we shouldn't. Jesus tells us in this reading to come to Him and let our burdens go. Jesus isn't into the religious rituals that may come about in churches or because we think it is the thing to do. In fact, He condemns the Pharisees for placing such heavy rules on people. Jesus says to just come to Him and see what He can do in your life. No strings attached and no frets about doing the right things.
The comforting thing about Christianity is that you can't earn it. You can't do a check list to ensure you're going to heaven. It has already been done for you. All you have to do is accept the great gift that God has given us, and allow Him to come into your life and make a change. It's  more than sticking a Jesus fish on your car, but it's not something you can do. Don't let the traditions, rituals and "things" of Christianity wear you down. Those things aren't bad, but they are not the basis of your salvation.

What are somethings Christians do to "earn" their salvation?

How does Jesus' words lighten the load in this reading?

Reading: Genesis 29:1-30:43

Talk about your sibling rivalry! After Jacob has numerous children with 2 sisters and their maids, we can see that this wasn't the healthiest way to follow the plan God had for him. So many times we worry about our lives and where it'll end up, so we again, take matters into our own hands and try to make something of ourselves, when God already has it in the works. Jacob deceives his father in law by breeding the sheep for his own flock. Apparently there is a lot of deception in this family. Even though we see Jacob, Rachel and Leah all mess up and do what they want instead of what God would have intended, we see God still use them to do great things as the family line carries on. God never wants us to do things our own way, because He is the One that is in control of our lives. We should always check on His timing and purposes before trying to pursue our own ways. But, even when we do take our own way, God can still make good from it. It will just be harder for you in the long run.

What is something you did the hard way?

When have you deceived to get your way? How did that work out in the long run?

Many times we'll try to do things our way, and take matters into our own hands. We may worry about our lives and try to make something of ourselves, when all along, God has something in the works that we just need to be patient on. We are told not to let the rituals of religion burden us, as they are not the things that matter. We are to turn to God and know that He is sovereign and in control. What do we have to worry about when He has the reigns and has the best plans for us?  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Day 13: Our Closest Enemies

Reading: Psalm 9:1-6

We know full well by now that David had many enemies pursuing him. Unfortunately, God never promised us no enemies. He actually tells us to expect enemies and opposition in His Name. (Matthew 10:36) We see David handle his enemies with stride though. He praises God for pulling him from his enemies and glorifies Him for rescuing him.
There are people in the world even today who have to face opposition in very violent ways because of their faith. They trust that God will pull them through and know they shouldn't fear man or death. Though we may not face such opposition in our lives, we should remember that God will pull us through, and praise Him for it. Even if our enemies are those who are closest to us - a family member, friend, coworker, etc. We will face some sort of opposition for our faith. But hold tight to God, for He will pull you through.

What kind of opposition have you faced because of your faith?

How can you pray for people around the world today who face horrible opposition because of their faith?

Reading: Matthew 10:32-11:15

This reading is full of some pretty radical words when it talks about following Christ. First we are told to love anyone else less than God. The exact translation is to "hate", but when translated, it means to "love less". So when Jesus says "if you do not hate your father or can not be my disciple," He is saying, if you put them ahead of Him. Still, this can be a hard concept to grasp in our worlds. But really, an enemy to your faith in Christ is one that you put priority on over Him. That could be your father, your mother, a sibling, friend, job, habit, etc.
Then Jesus tells us to lose our lives for His sake. Though many people in the world do lose their lives for Him, the translation means to give up ourselves for Him. To live everyday following His will and direction in our lives. When we do this, we will find life.
This leads us right into Jesus telling us to take up our crosses daily for Him. Many have interpreted this verse as carrying Jesus' burden, as He did with the cross, but really, when you are carrying a cross in Jesus' time and culture, you were walking to your death. When Jesus tells us to take up our crosses and follow Him, He is saying to die to ourselves everyday. When you are getting ready to die, you are no longer planning, dreaming, or hoping. When we die to Christ, we give up our plans, dreams and hopes to His plans, dreams and hopes for our lives.
So many things can get between us and Christ. These things become our enemies. Jesus even says that our own families and closest friends can end up being our enemies. The same goes for those things we live for instead of Him.

What is something  or someone you put before Christ?

What does "losing your life" for Him look like to you?

Reading: Genesis 27:1-28:22

Sometimes our own worst enemy can be ourselves. We see how Rebekah and Jacob take matters into their own hands and trick Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing meant for the firstborn, Esau. Because of this, the family is divided and left broken.
We may fall into this same trap when we are determined to get what we want and don't trust God enough to provide for us. In fact, we probably do this more than we would like to admit. Many times we may do with when seeking a spouse, or if we want a promotion at work, or to be financially successful. We may take matters into our own hands and lose credibility to those around us, and even God.
But one thing we can see from this is that God still uses us and holds on to His promises, even when we mess up. He still will grant us blessing and provide for us, even if we've messed up in the past. We see Him come to Jacob after he's flees from home, and tells him he will be blessed as He promised Abraham and Isaac.
Even if you've taken matters into your own hands and feel the regret of it, know that God still can use you to move.

What is something you've failed to trust God in for provision?

How has God still blessed you despite that mess up?

There are many things that can stand between us and God. Straight-up opposition and those who are against us can really take a lot out of us, and crush our faith. Even those who are close to us can come between us and God if we place them before God and decide that they are more important than Him, or if they fail to agree with us and our faith. Or, we can put ourselves in the way of growing in God by not trusting in His provision and timing, and taking matters into our own hands. Just remember to seek Him first above all else, and to trust Him to carve out your path. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Day 12: Defining Fear

Reading: Proverbs 1:20-33

To fear the Lord can be a misunderstood concept. When people hear the word "fear" they think of shuddering in a corner because of God's wrath, but this isn't what "fearing the Lord means". When we find a strong reverence and awe of God's power and holiness. When we fear the Lord, we show Him respect and honor.
Proverbs talks all about how to "fear the Lord" and show Him honor. In this reading, we see how we are to pursue and heed wisdom that comes from the Lord. We read that when we follow the wisdom God shows us, we will experience a life of fulfillment and of support. But when we choose to go our own way in things, we will have to "taste the bitter fruit of living" later. "Fools are destroyed by their own complacency", meaning when you're content with where you are, and refuse to grow and get wisdom, you will self-destruct.
Allow God to work in your life and to pour wisdom into you. He wants us to live lives in His instruction and to succeed. But when we refuse to respect His direction, we will have to taste that bitter fruit later.

 What does "fearing the Lord" mean to you?

What is a time you've tried to do life your own way, without paying attention to God's instruction? How did it go?

Reading: Matthew 10:1-31

We are told to be fearless toward man. As Jesus sends out His disciples, He gives them many warnings about what to expect from the world as they go out to proclaim the Good News, as well as heal the sick. These warnings can be well-heeded today as well.
He tells them that there will be persecution and people rising up against them. How true this is in today's world as Christians proclaim and demonstrate God's love. Many times, Christians are just shut down before a word gets spoken. Jesus tells His disciples, however, not to fear man. If we are persecuted, just move on to the next place, but never give up spreading His word out of fear of man. He is greater than all of them, and He will take care of us, as He values us highly.
We don't even need to fear even about what we'll say, because Jesus says we will be guided. If we carry the wisdom He grants us into the work we do, we have nothing to fear.
Don't fear man, fear God.

Why is it hard to share the message of Jesus at times?

How does this reading help you in those fears?

Reading: Genesis 25:1-26:35

We don't have to read about it to know that fear can sometimes get us into trouble. Isaac, like father-like son, ran into the same fear as his father, Abraham did when he lied about his wife actually being his wife. Because he was afraid he would be killed so Rebekah could be taken. But just like in Abraham's case, he is found out and luckily spared for lying.
Because he feared, however, he lied so he could avoid it.
When Esau and Jacob were born, we see the rivalry of siblings begin. Esau is forced to give up his rights as firstborn to Jacob so he can get something to eat. I could imagine that Jacob felt a little fear in not being the firstborn, which led him to be so manipulative.
We read that despite Isaac's fears, he is blessed, and the Lord reminds him over and over not to fear, because He is with him. This is something we can remember before our fears drive us to sin. Running from our fears and lying because of them will only dig our sin deeper. But when we remember that God is with us when we're in doing what's right, it makes it a little easier to deal with.

What fears have led you to sin in the past?

How can you be reminded that God is always with you, even when those fears arise?

We'll face all sorts of fear in life, whether it's something as small as spiders, or something as crippling as fear of death. But as we read today, we are reminded that God has our backs. He will never leave us or forsake us. The only thing we have to "fear" is God. Being in reverence and respect of Him will help us overcome any of those fears that grip us. Don't let your fear drive you to sin. Call on God to build you up and to remind you of His presence.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Day 11: Your Incredible Value

Reading: Psalm 9:1-9

We read such beautiful description of God's work here. David is in awe of God's work, and in disbelief of the role God has placed us as man in. Everything else in creation is so marvelous and gorgeous, and David can't believe God even gives us a second look, let alone put us just under Him and above all else. We can see how incredible our value is as David sees the big picture of God's creation. We can be sure that He values us and loves us so.
There isn't any better way to put it than Psalm 9.

What do you find beautiful about God's creation?

If God makes all things marvelous, what does that tell you about you?

Reading: Matthew 9:14-38

Jesus had compassion on all people. He valued their lives and souls. We see Him heal many throughout this reading alone, showing that compassion to all around Him. He knew everyone He came into contact with. Even though a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years simply touched Jesus' robe in the midst of a crowd, Jesus knew. He knew this woman's faith and her heart, and she was healed because of her faith. Jesus had compassion on her.
Jesus also tells us to have compassion on others. He cares about the needy and poor. We read that Jesus feels for the crowds because they are lost. And He tells His disciples that there is much work to be done in reaching those that are lost. He tells His disciples to pray that workers will come to harvest. Jesus cares about our hearts and our souls, as well as our physical health, as we see from Him healing. Our hearts should also be compassionate to to all people, as we live with Christ's love in us.
We are to do as Jesus did and heed the call of being workers of the harvest. He values us. We should value others.

How do stories like Jesus healing all sorts of people make you feel about His love for you?

How can you heed Jesus' call to have compassion on others? Who can use some love today?

Reading: Genesis 24:1-67

We can see the value God places on us in the perfect provision He grants us. Isaac and Rebekah were brought together so perfectly as God had chosen Rebekah just for Isaac. As Abraham's servant prayed for direction and success in finding her, God made it very evident that Rebekah was the perfect wife for Isaac. The whole story just comes together beautifully, as all the signs Abraham's servant asked for were there. Rebekah agrees to go back to meet Isaac and Isaac is deeply in love with her.
Every girl dreams of such a beautiful love story in her life. The problem is that she usually tries to take matters into her own hands and dates any guy she can find to see if he's "the one". Here, we see a perfect match up because of God's timing and work. We should value ourselves deeper than trying to find our match through a "date around" strategy. We should know that God knows who is out there for us. He created us, He knows us better than anyone else (even better than we know ourselves), and He knows what the future holds. Why not let Him provide for us?
Our value is greater than what we give ourselves credit for. Why not take the pressure off our own shoulders and let God take the reins in our lives? If we know how much He loves us, and we tell people how much He loves us, why don't we trust Him?

What kind of provision has God placed in your life that was divine timing?

What do you need to let go of and let God take over in life?

We are valued immensely. God created humans just below Him and above all other creation. He sent His Son to die for us and our mess-ups. We can see over and over again in Jesus' ministry how much we are loved by God. Jesus had compassion on the people, and called us to show compassion on others as well. Yet there are times when we insist on taking matters into our own hands and not trusting God to provide and take care of us. But we can learn from Isaac and Rebekah's story that He cares deeply about our needs and His timing is always perfect. You are loved and valued by a wonderful God!