Devotional Journal

Page 1

forward

52 weeks of volume 1

I CALL ON YOU, MY GOD, FOR YOU WILL ANSWER ME; TURN YOUR EAR TO ME AND HEAR MY PRAYER. SHOW ME THE WONDERS OF YOUR GREAT LOVE, YOU WHO SAVE BY YOUR RIGHT HAND THOSE WHO TAKE REFUGE IN YOU FROM THEIR FOES.

PSALM 17:6-7

Bible Reading Plan

Drop That Weight! by Pastor Dale Oquist

What Do You Want? by Pastor Matt Perkins

Stop, Contemplate, Meditate by Pastor Brad Liebe

When Following Hurts by Pastor Terry Townsend

It Is NOT About “Being You, Only Better” by Pastor Jän van Oosten

What Is God Calling You? by Pastor Dawson Oquist

Resting in the Love of Our Father God by Pastor Camelia Cross

Release Those Heavy Burdens! by Pastor Dale Oquist

Unshackle Yourself! by Pastor Jason Briesacher

Misplaced Passion by Pastor DJ Oquist Living with Purpose by Pastor Terry Townsend Hitting the Wall by Pastor Matt Perkins

Jesus Is a Team Sport by Pastor Jän van Oosten Finding Joy in Hope by Joni Oquist

Waiting Is Not Passive! by Pastor Jason Briesacher

Come as You Are by Pastor Barbara Solis

Get In the Party! by Pastor Dale Oquist

You Can Overcome the Fear That Paralyzes You by Pastor Morena Castro

Which Servant Are You? by Pastor Brad Liebe

Always Wanting More by Pastor DJ Oquist

Whisper by Pastor Terry Townsend

Run Your Race! by Pastor Jason Briesacher

Meditation
Detour Ahead
Rejection
Following
as Preparation by Pastor Brad Liebe Who Do You Say That I Am? by Pastor Morena Castro
by Pastor Matt Perkins When
Comes by Pastor DJ Oquist
6 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 46 48 50 52 54 56 58 60
table of contents

letter from pastor dale

It’s the start of something new. The past is behind us, and we are on the brink of a new year. The idea for this devotional was born out of our desire to equip and encourage you throughout 2023. What better way to do this than by creating a devotional experience for our entire faith family?

You’re invited to join us for 52 Weeks of Forward!

Our staff and leadership have prayerfully crafted a weekly devotional for you to read and share as God prompts you. Each has a powerful Moving Forward section to bring home the point so we can live out each timely lesson. We’ve also created a space to journal your thoughts and prayers. God has so much in store for each of us, and we are His light to a world in desperate need of Him.

We’ve also included a comprehensive reading plan to journey through the Bible. It’s laid out in the order that historical events unfolded. Imagine the impact of soaking in Scripture over the next 12 months! This is the first of two journals, one for January through June and the second continuing in July, taking us to December.

I pray that the Bible reading plan and devotionals equip you to participate in God’s redemptive story in your life so you can share it with others. It’s time to Move Forward, with confidence and faith, into all God has for us in 2023 and beyond!

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 5

read the bible in a year

We are transformed by reading God’s Word because it is living and active. Whether you’ve read the entire Bible before or this is your first time, we would love for you to join us as we read the Bible in a year. We’ve mapped out a daily reading plan that takes us through the chronology of events as they unfolded throughout history. Let’s commit to read and Move Forward together!

Week 1: Jan 1 - 7

Genesis 1-3

Genesis 4-7

Genesis 8-11

Job 1-5

Job 6-9

Job 10-13

Job 14-16

Week 3: Jan 15 - 21

Job 40-42

Genesis 12-15

Genesis 16-18

Genesis 19-21

Genesis 22-24

Genesis 25-26

Genesis 27-29

Week 2: Jan 8 - 14

Job 17-20

Job 21-23

Job 24-28

Job 29-31

Job 32-34

Job 35-37

Job 38-39

Genesis 30-31

Genesis 32-34

Genesis 35-37

Genesis 38-40

Genesis 41-42

Genesis 43-45

Genesis 46-47

6 peoples church
 SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT
Week 4: Jan 22 - 28 SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT

 SUN

Exodus 19-21

MON  TUE

WED

Week 7: Feb 12 - 18

Leviticus 1-4

Leviticus 5-7

Leviticus 8-10 Leviticus 11-13

Leviticus 14-15

Leviticus 16-18

Week 9: Feb 26 - Mar 4

Numbers 7

Numbers 8-10

Numbers 11-13

Numbers 14-15; Psalm 90

Numbers 16-17

Numbers 18-20

Numbers 21-22

Week 11: mar 12 - 18

Deuteronomy 3-4

Deuteronomy 5-7

Deuteronomy 8-10

Deuteronomy 11-13 Deuteronomy 14-16

Deuteronomy 17-20

 MON  TUE 

 THU

 SAT

Exodus 22-24

Exodus 25-27

Exodus 28-29

Exodus 30-32

Exodus 33-35

Exodus 36-38

Week 8: Feb 19 - 25

MON

TUE

WED

THU

SAT

Leviticus 19-21

Leviticus 22-23

Leviticus 24-25

Leviticus 26-27

Numbers 1-2

Numbers 3-4

Numbers 5-6

Week 10: mar 5 - 11

Numbers 23-25

Numbers 26-27

Numbers 28-30

Numbers 31-32

Numbers 33-34

Numbers 35-36

Deuteronomy 1-2

Week 12: mar 19 - 25

Deuteronomy 24-27

Deuteronomy 28-29

Deuteronomy 30-31

Deuteronomy 32-34; Psalm 91

Joshua 1-4

Joshua 5-8

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 7
Joshua 9-11  WED  THU  FRI  SAT
WED
FRI
SUN
FRI
SUN
MON
TUE
WED
THU
FRI
SAT
SUN
MON
TUE
Genesis 48-50 Exodus 1-3 Exodus 4-6 Exodus 7-9 Exodus 10-12 Exodus 13-15 Exodus 16-18 Exodus 39-40
 MON 
Deuteronomy 21-23  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT
 SUN
THU  FRI  SAT
SUN
TUE
WED
Week 5: Jan 29 - Feb 4
Week 6: Feb 5 - 11

Week 13: mar 26 - Apr 1

Joshua 12-15

Joshua 16-18

Joshua 19-21

Joshua 22-24

Judges 1-2

Judges 3-5

Judges 6-7

Week 15: Apr 9 - 15

1 Samuel 4-8

1 Samuel 9-12

1 Samuel 13-14

1 Samuel 15-17

1 Samuel 18-20; Psalms 11, 59

1 Samuel 21-24

Psalms 7, 27, 31, 34, 52

Week 17: Apr 23 - 29

1 Chronicles 1-2

Psalms 43-45, 49, 84-85, 87

1 Chronicles 3-5

Psalms 73, 77-78

1 Chronicles 6

Psalms 81, 88, 92-93

1 Chronicles 7-10

Week 19: May 7 - 13

2 Samuel 6-7; 1 Chronicles 17

Psalms 25, 29, 33, 36, 39

2 Samuel 8-9; 1 Chronicles 18

Psalms 50, 53, 60, 75

2 Samuel 10;

1 Chronicles 19; Psalm 20

Psalms 65-67, 69-70

2 Samuel 11-12; 1 Chronicles 20

Week 14: Apr 2 - 8

Judges 8-9

Judges 10-12

Judges 13-15

Judges 16-18

Judges 19-21

Ruth

1 Samuel 1-3

Week 16: Apr 16 - 22

Psalms 56, 120, 140-142

1 Samuel 25-27

Psalms 17, 35, 54, 63

1 Samuel 28-31; Psalm 18

Psalms 121, 123-125, 128-130

2 Samuel 1-4

Psalms 6, 8-10, 14, 16, 19, 21

Week 18: Apr 30 - May 6

Psalms 102-104

2 Samuel 5; 1 Chronicles 11-12

Psalm 133

Psalms 106-107

1 Chronicles 13-16

Psalms 1-2, 15, 22-24, 47, 68

Psalms 89, 96, 100-101, 105, 132

Week 20: May 14 - 20

Psalms 32, 51, 86, 122

2 Samuel 13-15

Psalms 3-4, 12-13, 28, 55

2 Samuel 16-18

Psalms 26, 40, 58, 61-62, 64

2 Samuel 19-21

Psalms 5, 38, 41-42

8 peoples church
 SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE 
 THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT  SUN  MON  TUE  WED  THU  FRI  SAT
WED

Week 21: May 21 - 27

2 Samuel 22-23; Psalm 57

Psalms 95, 97-99

2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21-22; Psalm 30

Psalms 108-110

1 Chronicles 23-25

Psalms 131, 138-139, 143-145

1 Chronicles 26-29; Psalm 127

Week 23: Jun 4 - 10

Proverbs 4-6

Proverbs 7-9

Proverbs 10-12

Proverbs 13-15

Proverbs 16-18

Proverbs 19-21

Proverbs 22-24

Week 25: Jun 18 - 24

Proverbs 27-29

Ecclesiastes 1-6

Ecclesiastes 7-12

1 Kings 10-11; 2 Chronicles 9

Proverbs 30-31

1 Kings 12-14

2 Chronicles 10-12

Week 22: May 28 - Jun 3

Psalms 111-118

1 Kings 1-2; Psalms 37, 71, 94

Psalm 119

1 Kings 3-4

2 Chronicles 1; Psalm 72

Song of Solomon

Proverbs 1-3

Week 24: Jun 11 - 17

1 Kings 5-6;

2 Chronicles 2-3

1 Kings 7; 2 Chronicles 4

1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 5

2 Chronicles 6-7; Psalm 136

Psalms 134, 146-150

1 Kings 9; 2 Chronicles 8

Proverbs 25-26

Week 26: Jun 25 - Jul 1

1 Kings 15;

2 Chronicles 13-16

1 Kings 16; 2 Chronicles 17

1 Kings 17-19

1 Kings 20-21

1 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 18

2 Chronicles 19-23

Obadiah; Psalms 82-83

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DROP THAT WEIGHT!

ANYONE WHO BELONGS TO CHRIST IS A NEW PERSON. THE PAST IS FORGOTTEN, AND EVERYTHING IS NEW.

5:17 (CEV)

Imagine walking down a pier and seeing someone tied to a weight pulling them into the water. You dive in and swim as fast as you can, going deeper until you arrive at the person bound to the weight. You work at the knots as you feel your breath running out. Determined to save them, even if it means your own life, you finally get the knots loose. At last, you free them!

As you both resurface, you take deep breaths and suck in oxygen. You attempt to ask them if they’re okay, but they swim back to the bottom and grab the weight, trying to pull it up. After they resurface again, you ask, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” You are flabbergasted by their response when they say, “It’s okay; it’s my weight. I’ve carried it with me all my life.” You would think this person is a FOOL!

Yet, we do the same thing. Our past is a weight that drags us down into the ocean of our sins. We have been SAVED, freed of our sins. Yet we still hold on to our weight because it is ours. OUR past. We own it. We have allowed our past to define us, but the Bible says the incredible power of Jesus Christ has REDEFINED us. We are His children.

You have been saved, rescued, and redeemed! Stop holding on to the weight of your sin. It is a burden too difficult for you to bear. Christ bore it on the cross and paid for it. Our past no longer matters; God has defined our future through Christ Jesus.

10 peoples church
WEEK 1: JAN 17

When we belong to Christ, we are a new person. Embrace that grace, the gift you did not earn. The Bible says you are a coheir with Christ and will share in His glory. Stop holding on to the past that dragged you toward death. Let it go, and embrace your identity as a child of the King of Kings!

MOVING FORWARD

Weighed down? Write down the things you’ve done wrong and apologize to those you may have hurt. Then take your sins and throw them away. Forget them. God has already done so.

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 11

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

“WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU?”

MARK 10:51 (NIV)

In Mark 10:51, Jesus asks a blind man named Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” This simple question changed EVERYTHING for Bartimaeus. He replied without hesitation, “I want to see.” And he received his sight immediately. Not only that, but he afterward followed Jesus. This begs the question: What would be your response to that same question from Jesus? Are you desperate for Him to move in your life?

As you journey through our spiritual disciplines in the upcoming days, weeks, and months, take some time to reflect on what you want in your relationship with Christ. What are you desperate for Him to do in your life? And when He does move, will you follow Him?

DESPERATION

The first step is admitting that we need Jesus. We need to come to a place of desperation—where we realize that we can’t do life on our own. We need His strength to get through each day. We need His wisdom to make decisions. We need His peace to calm our anxious minds. And we need His love to fill the emptiness in our hearts.

When you reach this point of desperation, you will find that Jesus is always faithful to meet you right where you are. He is waiting with open arms, ready and willing to help in whatever way you need. All you have to do is ask.

12 peoples church
WEEK 2: JAN 814

FOLLOWING THROUGH

The second step is following through on our commitment to Jesus. Once He moves in our lives and answers our prayers, we must take the next step of obedience. This might mean making some lifestyle changes or getting involved in a ministry or Bible study group. It might even mean sharing your faith with someone who needs to hear the Good News of the gospel. Whatever it looks like for you, remember that God always honors our willingness to follow Him.

MOVING FORWARD

So what do YOU want? Prioritize seeking God this week, and begin taking practical steps to ready yourself for what He wants to do in your life this year.

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 13

STOP, CONTEMPLATE, MEDITATE

THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD, AND THE SKIES ANNOUNCE WHAT HIS HANDS HAVE MADE.

PSALM 19:1 (NCV)

Some fascinating things about God are revealed in Scripture when you take a moment to stop, contemplate, and meditate. The Bible says that God spoke the world into existence and did it over six days. On the first day, He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. On day two, God separated the water from the sky. On day three, He made land and grew trees, plants, and all sorts of vegetation. On day four, the Bible says He made the sun, moon, and stars. God made light on day one, then three days later, made the object that we equate with light. The observable universe had light before the sun was created. God could have simply placed the sun first when He spoke light into existence, but His power goes beyond human thinking and displays His majesty.

Adam and Eve would have seen the stars on day six when God created man and woman, but they would never be able to see the intricate galaxies spoken into existence on day four. The vastness of the universe would elude us until the invention of the first telescope in 1608. After that, we were able to map the stars through careful study and found that the universe is more expansive than we could have ever imagined.

In 1990, NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope to take pictures of the observable universe, and we found that it is ever-expanding.

14 peoples church
WEEK 3: JAN 1521

Since God spoke it into existence on day four, the universe has been adding 400 million stars per day or 4,800 stars per second. When God spoke the sun, moon, and stars into existence, He could’ve set the boundaries of the universe and created everything at once. Instead, His Creation continues until He declares it to stop.

The Hubble Space Telescope also has a microphone that records the sounds that stars make in the universe. They aren’t silent; the rotation of the stars makes noise. Not only does the depth of the universe reflect the glory and nature of God, but it also sings His praises!

When we stop, contemplate, and meditate, we find amazing truths in God’s Word that make us appreciate Him even more. If nature praises the glory and majesty of our God, then we should join in as well! Take a moment, look at His Creation, and sing a song declaring the greatness of our God.

MOVING FORWARD

Never forget that you are God’s masterpiece (Eph. 2:10). Take a moment to stop, contemplate, and meditate that God values you over everything else in Creation.

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 15

WHEN FOLLOWING HURTS

SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED TO NEW LIFE WITH CHRIST, SET YOUR SIGHTS ON THE REALITIES OF HEAVEN, WHERE CHRIST SITS IN THE PLACE OF HONOR AT GOD’S RIGHT HAND. THINK ABOUT THE THINGS OF HEAVEN, NOT THE THINGS OF EARTH.

COLOSSIANS 3:1-2 (NLT)

Our group of five was the only one at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. Because it was deserted, the guide said, “Take all the time you want. Any questions?” We stood pensively under a rock outcropping that looked like a skull. I asked, “If Jesus was buried in this tomb, where would He have been crucified?”

The guide answered, “Look over the fence,” so I did. The bustling, polluted East Jerusalem bus station was on the other side, nothing more than a busy parking lot. Somewhere in that mass confusion, I thought, could be the very spot where Jesus laid down His life for me.

We spent a long time in that beautiful garden, and I will always be grateful for the time with no crowds, so different from what we experienced during a later visit. Looking back, I now use that experience to ask other questions: How should this impact how I live? How should this affect each moment of my everyday life? Do I put myself into situations where the thought of Jesus being there with me makes me uncomfortable?

Remembering that sacred ground challenges me to live with a higher purpose. It calls me away from a mindset that indulges my whims and runs away from any whiff of sacrifice. My perspective changes when I remember that the people around me, regardless of how I view them,

16 peoples church
WEEK 4: JAN 2228

have been sanctified through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And since new life is a gift from God, not something any of us have earned, a point of crucifixion, for me at least, is my pride. If I believe these words, the surgeon’s knife must cut deep. I say this with some trepidation: Bring it on!

MOVING FORWARD

Ask Jesus to make you more vividly aware of His sacrifice. Then, out of that place of thankfulness, rouse yourself to take a fresh look at those around you through His eyes.

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 17

IT IS NOT ABOUT “BEING YOU, ONLY BETTER”

I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST AND I NO LONGER LIVE, BUT CHRIST LIVES IN ME. THE LIFE I NOW LIVE IN THE BODY, I LIVE BY FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD.

GALATIANS 2:20 (NIV)

There is a NY Times bestselling self-help book about becoming your “Best Self.” It touts that the author has “helped everyone from pop stars to business executives to people just like you discover the freedom to be their best selves.” Here’s the problem: Christianity is not about “you” becoming a better version of “you.”

At the center of Christianity stands the horrifying instrument of death known as the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus died to save us from sin, death, and the devil. But what was the cross? The cross was the most gruesome form of execution that the Romans could devise, and it was reserved for the worst criminals and traitors. Two thousand years after Christ’s Crucifixion, we have grown accustomed to crosses as beautiful pieces of jewelry. However, a cross sent a shiver up the spine in the first century. So, when Jesus invited people to “take up their cross” and follow Him, it probably sounded outrageous to them. It should still sound outrageous.

The point is Christianity is not a self-help religion where you pull yourself up—with the help of Jesus—to become your best you. No, it is about the old you being put to death at the cross with Jesus. Paul meant it when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.” Your spiritual death with Christ is beautifully

18 peoples church
WEEK 5: JAN 29FEB 4

represented in baptism. Therefore, Paul wrote, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3).

In Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.” So, when you commit your life to Christ, it is about the old you being put to death. Then you start living a new life that is Christ living through you. Christianity is truly all about Jesus.

MOVING FORWARD

Ask God to show you your life from His perspective. Are you allowing Christ to live through you? Realize that you are part of His Body doing His work, His way.

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 19

WHAT IS GOD CALLING YOU?

GIDEON WAS THRESHING WHEAT IN A WINEPRESS TO KEEP IT FROM THE MIDIANITES. WHEN THE ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO GIDEON, HE SAID, “THE LORD IS WITH YOU, MIGHTY WARRIOR.”

JUDGES 6:11-12 (NIV)

Gideon, the hero of this story, is found hiding from the enemies of Israel. Using a winepress to thresh wheat is covert but highly tedious. He is, by his own admission, the lowest member of the lowest family of his clan. How can this man be called a mighty warrior? This man’s actions suggest he is anything but a mighty warrior, yet that is how the angel of the Lord addresses him.

We tend to see things differently from how God sees them. Where we see weakness, God sees opportunity; where we see failure, God sees growth potential; where we see despair, God sees hope. Likewise, God doesn’t look at us the way we look at ourselves. When He sees us, He doesn’t see our paycheck, family, business, or career; He sees who we can become in Him.

God invites us into His presence. Here, we discover our true identity. God called Gideon a mighty warrior even though he was fearful, reluctant, and wrestled with low self-esteem. Nothing in his resume said he was qualified for such a title, but God saw more. Because of God and His presence, Gideon saved the Israelites from oppression and became what God was calling Him: a mighty warrior.

20 peoples church
WEEK 6: FEB 511

MOVING FORWARD

Lean into the presence of God and listen to what God is calling you. He may call you further and higher than you ever thought possible. Submit yourself to His power and presence, and find out!

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 21

RESTING IN THE LOVE OF OUR FATHER GOD

POUR OUT ALL YOUR WORRIES AND STRESS UPON HIM AND LEAVE THEM THERE, FOR HE ALWAYS TENDERLY CARES FOR YOU.

1 PETER 5:7 (TPT)

The rain had stopped, but small puddles were still on the sidewalk outside my office. Wonderful billowing gray-white clouds pushed eastward toward the morning sun. Our childcare workers guided a mini “tour group” of two-year-olds on an exploratory walk. Pausing, one little boy pointed to a bird he had spotted soaring overhead. Everyone looked up. They were delighted!

The goal was to keep everyone connected to a walking guide cord— the adults keeping them together by placing their tiny arms through its loops. Or they could just hang on to the cord (if they could remember to do that!).

I was impressed by the gentle, patient way the workers helped the little ones grasp the guide cord. A little girl who was very interested in a leaf in her hand dropped the cord, and a worker helped her reattach. The little boy who had spotted the soaring bird watched the clouds and was gently gathered back in, happy to place his hand in the guide loop. With everyone now connected to the guide cord, holding fallen leaves in their hands, the whole group resumed their walk, going just fast enough that each child could walk safely.

22 peoples church
WEEK 7: FEB 1218

The scene made me think of our Father’s tender love as He directs our walk in this life. We easily become distracted from the journey He has in mind for us, but His long-suffering heart faithfully redirects our steps. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He is determined to help us mature in our Christian walk. Being human, we’re imperfect, but when we fail or become distracted and forget that He is with us and for us, He is still there, our constant companion and encourager.

How often do we consciously look to Him as the loving Father we can trust to guide and direct our steps? How He must love it when we follow His lead, providing us with moments of awe and joy along the way. He walks with us, inviting us to look to Him and trust Him every moment.

MOVING FORWARD

Spend today conversing with God as you would a caring, close companion. Make sure to bring before Him every single care that crosses your mind. And don’t forget to thank Him for the beautiful leaves and clouds!

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 23

RELEASE THOSE HEAVY BURDENS!

THEN JESUS SAID, “COME TO ME, ALL OF YOU WHO ARE WEARY AND CARRY HEAVY BURDENS, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST.”

MATTHEW 11:28 (NLT)

The powerful ox can pull its full body weight in short bursts, but two oxen together can pull FOUR TIMES their body weight! When ancient farmers discovered animals were stronger together, they created the yoke—a piece of wood that links two animals, increasing efficiency while decreasing the burden.

The word “yoke” appears in the Bible almost 60 times, but most of its references (more than 40) are used metaphorically. For our modern minds to understand the context, we need to look at the rules commonly used by ancient farmers.

1. The animals need to be equal in size and strength.

If a farmer paired a donkey with an ox, it would hurt both of them. The ox would carry most of the weight, and the donkey would be pulled along in an uncomfortable position. The ox, with its strength, could hurt or break the neck of the donkey.

2. The lead ox must be older with a gentle temperament.

The lead ox is a trained and seasoned ox who carries most of the weight. The other ox is young and gains from his mentor the knowledge needed to accomplish the task.

24 peoples church
WEEK 8: FEB 1925

When these rules were followed, both farmers and animals benefitted. In this life, we are like an ox pulling on our own. We try to carry our burden but end up exhausted and broken-down. Jesus told us that if we are weary with a heavy load, He will give us rest.

How does Jesus give us rest for our souls? By being the lead ox carrying the majority of the burden. Matthew 11:29-30 says, “Take my yoke on you. Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Jesus is a leader with the right temperament. He won’t pull you along and hurt you. He won’t let you be unequally yoked. Jesus carried the burden of sin to the cross, which freed you of the weight. Now, because of our humble and gentle leader, you can find rest for your soul.

MOVING FORWARD

Write down what burdens your heart and give it to Jesus. The minute you feel the weight again, remind yourself that Jesus is bearing this burden for you.

52 WEEKS OF FORWARD 25

UNSHACKLE YOURSELF!

THERE IS THEREFORE NOW NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS. FOR THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE HAS SET YOU FREE IN CHRIST JESUS FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.

ROMANS 8:1-2 (ESV)

Do you feel that? Do you feel the weight lifted? If not, go back and reread the verse.

In the Old Testament, God gave us laws that would help us govern our relationships with each other and with Him. They were a road map that, if followed to perfection, would help navigate us toward righteous living. Not one of us could do that (Ps. 53:1-3), and the law was powerless to fix our imperfection. The law made God seem distant, far from being “Abba,” the Aramaic word for father (used for God by Jesus) that denotes an intimate relationship.

The law was not designed to be our savior, nor would it make us righteous. Then Jesus came and seemingly made it more challenging. He said that our thoughts are the birthplace of our sinful desires. While not every thought is sinful, every sinful action is born from a sinful thought (Matt. 5:21-22 and 27-28).

The law convicts. It is a mirror that shows where we have failed and how far we are from righteousness. A heaviness is attached to that because the weight of our sin is ours to carry. Then, under the weight of sin, we can feel like Paul in Romans 7. He said that he desires to do what is right but does what is wrong. The weight becomes heavier, and we begin to look at ourselves through the lens of our sin: “What a wretched person I am.”

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Therefore. Pause on that word for a moment. It is a word that means “for that very reason.” It signals a new thought, a new direction. Our sin was a weight too strenuous for us to bear. Our wrong choices were a burden we could never unshackle. We could never live up to the righteous standard of the law. Therefore, God sent Jesus.

He lived up to the standard. He was righteous in word and deed. He paid the penalty that should have fallen on you and me. For that very reason, there is no condemnation for you or me. Our debt was paid because the law of the Spirit of life sets us free from sin and death.

God takes it one step further, declaring that we are not servants nor enslaved people but His children. He purchased us with His blood, declares us righteous through Jesus Christ, and encourages us to live as heirs to the Kingdom of God and call Him “Abba.”

MOVING FORWARD

Often, we hold on to our past because the burden is something we’ve created. Christ Jesus wants to unshackle us so we can move forward. Read 1 Peter 5:7 and Matthew 11:28-30 and then give your past to Jesus so you can move forward unburdened.

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MISPLACED PASSION

LOOKING THIS WAY AND THAT AND SEEING NO ONE, HE KILLED THE EGYPTIAN AND HID HIM IN THE SAND.

Have you ever seen someone upset about something on social media? Maybe you have even been that person. Not every rant is terrible, but if we’re not careful, the thing we are so passionate about can take on a (destructive) life of its own.

The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites for hundreds of years, and although Moses had grown up in Pharaoh’s palace, he knew the Israelites were his people. After seeing an Egyptian beat a Hebrew, he couldn’t stand by and watch any longer. Moses was passionate about his people; he just went about it the wrong way.

Passion is God-given. We can usually tell right away whether a person is passionate about something. It’s a passion that we want to help lead us to our future careers. Maybe you have heard the saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” So wherever that passion is, we need to know what to do with it.

Maybe you’re passionate about a relationship, politics, a job, or a cause. Lean into that passion, but make sure you point it in the right direction. Whether it’s voicing your frustrations online or speaking harshly to someone, unbecoming behaviors won’t get us to our goal. The passion is good; the action we take because of it isn’t always. Take Moses, for example. Years later, instead of continuing to express his passion in murderous ways, he listened to God and became dependent on His guidance, then God used him to lead his fellow Israelites out of Egypt.

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I wonder how God wants to use the passion He has given you. It’s there for a reason. In God’s hands, it can be a powerful tool to impact the world around you. Today, when passion arises, and you want to do something about it, first thank God for it, then ask Him what He wants you to do with it.

MOVING FORWARD

Make a list of areas of passion and gifts within you. Then take a moment to ask God what your next steps should be.

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LIVING WITH PURPOSE

WE ASK GOD TO GIVE YOU COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL AND TO GIVE YOU SPIRITUAL WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING. THEN THE WAY YOU LIVE WILL ALWAYS HONOR AND PLEASE THE LORD, AND YOUR LIVES WILL PRODUCE EVERY KIND OF GOOD FRUIT.

COLOSSIANS 1:9-10 (NLT)

Living a life of purpose is a partnership. We begin with God’s part— what only He can do in us.

1. God fills us with a knowledge of His will.

He does this primarily through the Bible, which is God breathing Himself into our lives. Every time we read the Bible, it is a miracle because God speaks at the deepest level—His Spirit to ours. Far from merely reading about miracles that happened millennia ago, the very act of picking up the Bible, whether digital or printed, sets us up for a miracle.

2. God fills us with His Spirit, bringing wisdom and understanding.

God’s Holy Spirit comes into us at salvation and wants to fill every one of us until we overflow (what we call speaking or praying in tongues). This is a free gift received as we open ourselves to Him. Think of it as God the Father wants to give us more of Himself—the Holy Spirit.

Though saved, I grew up afraid of the Holy Spirit. If I allowed Him free reign, would I become a religious fanatic? Dealing with my skepticism was a huge obstacle to receiving all He had for me. When I was

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finally willing, God filled me with the Holy Spirit, and it was wonderful—nothing like I feared it would be! I felt something unlock deep inside me, a new boldness to overcome my fears and embrace God’s design for my life. It was so much better than I had imagined!

Today, we’re inundated with unlimited amounts of data: everything from TED Talks promising to make us smarter to YouTube videos helping klutzes like me change a car battery. But God wants to give us more than just information—He wants to empower us to live with purpose through His Spirit. He promises us wisdom to interpret all the data thrown at us and an understanding of how to put it together so that we can live boldly and effectively every day.

Only He can do these things, and He does them by the power of His Spirit.

MOVING FORWARD

Are you holding back a part of your life from God because of fear? What would happen if you prayed: “God, I want all that you have for me”? Pray this, and let’s see!

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HITTING THE WALL

“LET US NOT BECOME WEARY IN DOING GOOD, FOR AT THE PROPER TIME WE WILL REAP A HARVEST IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.”

GALATIANS 6:9 (NIV)

It was early morning, and the sun had not yet peeked over the horizon. I remember lacing up my shoes, stretching my muscles, and taking a deep breath of fresh air. I was about to embark on a journey that I would never forget. I was one of 37,000 runners registered for the Chicago Marathon, and I was determined to prove to myself—and to others—that I could do it.

The first few miles were easy enough. My body was fresh, and my mind focused on the task at hand. But as the miles began to add up, I started to tire. My legs felt like lead; my lungs were on fire. I wanted to give up—to walk or even crawl the rest of the way—but something inside kept pushing me forward. Not going to lie, it was pretty discouraging when I was giving it everything I had, and at mile 23, a guy in a full Kermit the Frog costume passed me like I was standing still.

I then realized this marathon wasn’t just about physical endurance but spiritual endurance. Just as our bodies need food and water to keep going, our souls also need spiritual nourishment. And just as our bodies can become fatigued, so can our souls. But we cannot give up! We have to push through the fatigue and the pain because we know a prize is waiting for us at the end of the race. Jesus said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

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No matter how difficult the journey may be, we must persevere because we know that God has promised us a reward if we don’t give up. He will refresh and renew us, just as He did for me during that marathon all those years ago.

MOVING FORWARD

If you are feeling weary today, take heart! God is with you every step of the way. Trust in Him and lean on Him for strength.

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MEDITATION AS PREPARATION

“YET, THE STRENGTH OF THOSE WHO WAIT WITH HOPE IN THE LORD WILL BE RENEWED. THEY WILL SOAR ON WINGS LIKE EAGLES. THEY WILL RUN AND WON’T BECOME WEARY. THEY WILL WALK AND WON’T GROW TIRED.”

ISAIAH 40:31 (GW)

There once was a moment when the disciples tried to cast a demon out of a young boy (Matt. 17). They could not do so, and Jesus said, “This type of demon could only be cast out through prayer and fasting.” When we look at that passage, it would be easy to assume that Jesus, as the Son of God, did not have to pray and fast to cast out a demon. His message was for the disciples, but if we skip back a few chapters, we will see a constant pattern in the life of Jesus.

In Matthew 14, Jesus heard about John the Baptist being beheaded, so He went to a solitary place to pray. The crowd followed Him, and Jesus had compassion on them, healing and teaching them, and then fed 5,000, not including women and children. After that, Jesus withdrew from the crowd and went to pray. Then He walked on water.

In Matthew 15, Jesus withdrew again after interacting with the Pharisees, healed the Canaanite woman, and fed 4,000, not including women and children. Then He went away from them on a boat.

In Matthew 16, Jesus went away after a conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees. From there, He taught and rebuked His disciples and predicted His death. He then, in Matthew 17, took Peter, James, and John

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and had an incredible mountaintop experience that I would encourage you to read. It is the mount of transfiguration where God the Father again affirms that Jesus is His Son.

Do you notice the pattern? Before every significant miracle, Jesus had a quiet time of prayer and fasting with the Father. He repeatedly went away in meditation, a state of praying and listening. He was ready to cast out the demon because He was in a state of rhythmic fasting and meditation with the Father.

We often ask God to do great and mighty things through us, but how many of us are preparing for the answer? Those who meditate in the presence of the Lord will renew their strength (Isa. 40:31). If Jesus, the Son of God, placed a high priority on meditation with the Father, how much more should we? How much time in prayer do you spend listening? Perhaps the answer you have been waiting for is just a season of meditation, a time with God that includes prayer, fasting, and listening away.

MOVING FORWARD

Your season of meditation doesn’t have to wait for the next year to begin; it can start today. Create a rhythmic time of fasting, praying, and listening to the Lord. What is He trying to say? Write it down!

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WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

WHEN JESUS CAME TO THE REGION OF CAESAREA PHILIPPI, HE ASKED HIS DISCIPLES, “WHO DO PEOPLE SAY THE SON OF MAN IS?”

MATTHEW 16:13 (NIV)

One of the many qualities Jesus had was curiosity. He would invite a conversation before providing an answer. This made people reflect and answer for themselves.

In this passage, Jesus asks His disciples what people say about Him. The disciples offer their report. Unsatisfied, Jesus then asks them what they think. Jesus’ question may have seemed absurd to them because He had lived with them for a long time. The disciples may have thought to themselves that they knew Him well. They saw the miracles He performed and were part of His inner circle. However, Jesus’ question implied something more profound.

Jesus probably knew that if His disciples followed Him, they believed in Him and trusted His power. This question was an invitation, not for them to repeat His teachings back to Him, but to share what was on their hearts. If Jesus took the time to ask that question, it was because the answer was relevant to Him. He wanted to hear it and perhaps check if His disciples had truly learned something from all He had shared with them.

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For years we can proclaim God, as defined by the Bible, or we can reproduce passages from memory and respond mechanically. It’s important to pause from time to time and ask ourselves this question.

MOVING FORWARD

If today you found yourself face-to-face with Jesus and He asked you: “Who do you say I AM,” how would you respond? What would you say?

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DETOUR AHEAD

CONSIDER IT PURE JOY, MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, WHENEVER YOU FACE TRIALS OF MANY KINDS, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT THE TESTING OF YOUR FAITH PRODUCES PERSEVERANCE. LET PERSEVERANCE FINISH ITS WORK SO THAT YOU MAY BE MATURE AND COMPLETE, NOT LACKING ANYTHING.

JAMES 1:2-4 (NIV)

Recently, Kari and I drove to San Francisco to catch a flight. Everything was smooth sailing until we got within two miles of the airport. A highway patrol officer passed us, turned on his lights, and shut the highway down completely! We managed to get off the highway in time but had no clue where we were going. We could see the airport right ahead of us but had to trust the GPS to reroute us to the destination.

Do you ever feel like you are being rerouted due to life’s circumstances? What is your first reaction? Is it to blame God or others? The next time you find yourself on a detour, instead of getting angry or frustrated, consider it pure joy! Here’s why:

1. Trials build perseverance.

Perseverance is the ability to withstand difficulties and continue despite setbacks. Everyone faces trials in life—it’s inevitable. But how we react to those trials determine whether we will move forward. Don’t get discouraged—use trials as an opportunity to build up your perseverance muscle!

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2. Perseverance leads to maturity.

James 1:4 tells us that if we let perseverance finish its work, we will be mature and complete—not lacking anything. When we persevere through trials, we grow in maturity. So the next time you find yourself in the midst of a trial, push through and watch how much you grow as a result!

3. God uses our trials for good.

God can use hardships to grow our faith and make us more dependent on Him. He can use them as opportunities to show His power and provision in our lives. So even though trials are never fun while going through them, we can rest assured knowing that God is using them for our good! (See also Rom. 8:28.)

MOVING FORWARD

Don’t get angry or frustrated when you find yourself on a detour; consider it pure joy! Don’t waste your detours—use them as an opportunity to become more like Him!

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WHEN REJECTION COMES

SO JEPHTHAH WENT WITH THE ELDERS OF GILEAD, AND THE PEOPLE MADE HIM HEAD AND COMMANDER OVER THEM.

JUDGES 11:11 (NIV)

Have you ever been left out or picked last? In elementary school, whether it was at recess or PE, the last thing you wanted was to be picked last. It was almost as if everyone was holding their breath to see who would be picked last. It wasn’t that the person even cared about the game being played; it was just the look they would receive from being THAT person.

In Judges 11, Jephthah didn’t just get picked last; he wasn’t picked at all. Because his mother was a prostitute, he was rejected by his family and considered illegitimate. This was unfortunate because he wasn’t rejected for anything he had done. Yet, despite being driven from home by his half-brothers, Jephthah persevered in his calling as “a mighty warrior.”

Maybe you have felt this same way in a particular season of your life. You try to do everything you can, but your family’s judgments, past choices, economic status, or anything else can be holding you back. This can cause us to lose hope and walk in discouragement. Rejection can be crippling because it makes us feel so terrible. It may even seem more powerful than God’s unconditional acceptance of us.

God never promises us a smooth ride, but He does promise that He is always with us in whatever harsh or sorrowful situations we face. We

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can count on the fact that He does not judge us wrongly or unfairly and that He has taken the pain of our rejection onto Himself as we hide in Him. Consider this:

“[B]ut they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31 ESV).

Let’s be encouraged. Jephthah still worked hard as a warrior, even while cast aside, and when his family needed him, he came back to lead the Israelite army to victory. Your work may go unnoticed by man, but it will never go unnoticed by God. Our job is to trust Him, even in the waiting season.

MOVING FORWARD

Instead of focusing on rejection, reflect on God’s promises and what He says about you. What beauty could He bring out of the ashes of rejection in your life? Just ask Him!

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FOLLOWING JESUS IS A TEAM SPORT

REMEMBER THAT AT THAT TIME YOU WERE SEPARATE FROM CHRIST, EXCLUDED FROM CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL AND FOREIGNERS TO THE COVENANTS OF THE PROMISE, WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD. CONSEQUENTLY, YOU ARE NO LONGER FOREIGNERS AND STRANGERS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS WITH GOD’S PEOPLE AND ALSO MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD, BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, WITH CHRIST JESUS HIMSELF AS THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE. IN HIM THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER AND RISES TO BECOME A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD.

EPHESIANS 2:12, 19-21 (NIV)

There are two different kinds of athletic endeavors. There are individual sports like boxing, wrestling, and long-distance running. And then there are team sports like hockey, basketball, and football. Those who enjoy athletics usually like both individual and team sports. Still, there’s a big difference emotionally and mentally between boxing— facing an opponent all by yourself—and working together with teammates to win a game.

In the incredible passages of Scripture above, Paul reminds Christians that before coming to faith in Jesus, they were lonely and isolated individuals without hope. However, because of what Christ did on the cross, all Christians have entered God’s household and are joined together with other Christians to bring glory to Him. The key word is “together.”

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In contrast to our modern individualistic world, following Jesus is the ultimate team sport. We are working together and offering our gifts and abilities to achieve the greatest and most glorious task ever given to humanity. We are carrying on the actual work of Jesus Christ in a lost and hurting world. Each of us is important. Everyone has an important part to play. This is one of the reasons why gathering to worship God and hear His Word through the teaching of Scripture is vital. Gathering encourages, inspires, and builds up the family of God together.

The Bible tells us not to neglect the gathering of God’s family, and it adds this thought: “all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). The point is the “Day” is approaching, and all of us need to make gathering a priority. Do not neglect such a vital part of following Christ. Why? The reason is that we achieve far more than we can ever think or imagine. We are part of the greatest team ever created—God’s family.

MOVING FORWARD

Take out your calendar and check to make sure gathering with other believers is a priority. Ask yourself how you can play your strategic role in God’s playbook.

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FINDING JOY IN HOPE

YOU MADE ME; YOU CREATED ME. NOW GIVE ME THE SENSE TO FOLLOW YOUR COMMANDS. MAY ALL WHO FEAR YOU FIND IN ME A CAUSE FOR JOY, FOR I HAVE PUT MY HOPE IN YOUR WORD.

PSALM 119:73-74 (NLT)

My grandson recently learned to walk. For weeks, everyone in his life encouraged him along in the process. Family and friends exclaimed phrases like, “You can do it!” and “Come to me, Oliver!” as they eagerly awaited witnessing his first steps.

There’s much joy in watching a baby learn what their legs are made to do. Once the child finally does stand up, there’s the quick urge to hold on to someone or something for fear of falling. In time, however, confidence builds, and a few wobbly steps eventually become many sturdy steps. In our family’s case, we’ve gone from hoping Oliver would walk soon to hoping we can keep up with him now that he IS walking!

One of God’s greatest gifts to us is hope. The hope we read about in the Bible is much more than wishful thinking. It’s not hoping your favorite team wins or you do well on a test. Instead of wishing or hoping for something to happen, a believer knows the hope we have in Jesus is concrete evidence because it is grounded in the Word of God. Hope motivates us to use our “legs of faith” to pursue God in every area of our lives. Stepping out can seem scary at first, but knowing that God created us and knows what we’re capable of means He can be trusted.

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Just as our grandson has brought us joy learning to walk, we bring others joy as they see how our hope in Jesus moves us forward. When I see you putting your hope in Jesus even when you’re struggling, I know I can too. If I see you fall, I will encourage you to get back up and try again. With each step forward, we decide toward Jesus and away from hopelessness and discouragement. Our confidence strengthens our legs of faith, and hope lights the path ahead. We find joy in hope!

MOVING FORWARD

Is the hope you have in Jesus obvious to others? Take time to thank someone who has brought you joy as you’ve watched them pursue and serve God.

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WAITING IS NOT PASSIVE!

BUT THOSE WHO WAIT FOR THE LORD WILL RECEIVE NEW STRENGTH.

ISAIAH 40:31 (EHV)

We live in a fast-paced world that wants everything instantly. We can order food, and it arrives at our doorstep. We have information instantaneously at our fingertips. But if we are to love the Lord our God with all our minds, we need to practice biblical meditation, a word that means turning over to gain a deeper understanding.

Our relationship with God grows when we practice these things, and our understanding of Him will change as we continue to turn things over in our minds. We want our relationship with God to form instantly, but deep relationships take time.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. While one person may be overpowered, two may defend themselves, but the third strand strengthens it. A rope intertwined with three cords is not easily cut. We actively participate in a cord of three strands when we pray. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is praying for us (Rom. 8:26) and that Jesus is interceding for us at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34 and Heb. 7:25). When we pray, we gain new strength.

Isaiah 40:31 seems passive. Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength. While it looks docile, it is the Hebrew verb “Qâvâh” (kahvah). This word encourages us to sit, linger, expect, and hope. But one

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more definition makes it an active expression: to collect, bind, and twist together over time.

When we wait on the Lord, we bind ourselves together to Jesus and the Holy Spirit as we lift our prayers to the Father. We learn to hear His voice and answer His call as we talk and listen. We are developing a stronger relationship with God that takes time to develop. As we grow stronger in our relationship with God, we are not easily broken because we no longer fight alone but stand firm as a cord of three strands. You will not be easily damaged when you choose to wait (Qâvâh) on the Lord.

MOVING FORWARD

When you pray today, ask God, “What do you want to say to me?” Then write down His responses. He is waiting to speak. Are you ready to listen?

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COME AS YOU ARE

“BUT GOD DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE FOR US IN THIS: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US.”

ROMANS 5:8 (NIV)

Accepting an invitation requires no effort on your part. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? And yet, people often seem drawn to religions that require them to work to earn acceptance. It’s difficult to believe that we don’t need to fix ourselves or clean up our messy lives before coming to God—or even to church. It’s natural to focus on the issues or sinful habits we may have. After all, we’re very familiar with them, and we know what a problem they pose to our lives. We would do better to focus on God Himself—the only One who can free us from the mud and muck we get stuck in.

In God’s infinite compassion, He saves us. So don’t get hung up on appearing acceptable to others. We’ll never be able to make ourselves “good enough” to receive God’s blessings. Simply admit your need for Him, and watch Him do what you never could.

In His unfailing love, He invites us to come to Him as we are. Each of us is made holy and clean by the blood of Jesus. Our loving Father is eager to call us His own. He will cause every addiction, failure, hurt, sin, and shame to lose its hold on you. Don’t buy the lie that you need to do it on your own. Come to Him and ask His Spirit to work in you for His glory.

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Are you ready to take Jesus up on His offer? Come to Him with all your mess. God loves you just as you are and loves you too much to let you stay in your mess!

MOVING FORWARD

Make it a point to testify all that God has done for you to those who are struggling. Being real with others will give them the courage to come to God as they are, too.

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GET IN THE PARTY!

THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US. WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, THE GLORY OF THE ONE AND ONLY SON, WHO CAME FROM THE FATHER, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH.

JOHN 1:14 (NIV)

Being a tax collector was a precarious profession with physical, emotional, and spiritual ramifications. Those who chose this lifestyle did so because they valued wealth over relationships.

Not surprisingly, tax collectors were treated with contempt as traitors. Friends and family ostracized them because they would take more money than required and became wealthy on the backs of their neighbors. They were also not welcome to worship in the temple; their sins could not be forgiven through ritual sacrifice. This profession, according to the Jewish leaders, condemned them to hell. Reading through the Gospels, you’ll find a notable distinction given to tax collectors. It will say, “Tax collectors and other sinners.” All other sins were lumped together, while tax collectors were a class of their own.

While others rejected them, Jesus bent Himself toward them; one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, Matthew, was a former tax collector. His first act as a disciple was to invite Jesus to a party at his house with his tax collector friends. The Pharisees refused to go inside the party. They stayed outside because they didn’t want to be associated with that level of sinners. While Jesus was inside the party, He said, “It isn’t healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus went to Matthew’s house and spoke the truth about the spiritual condition of the tax collectors DIRECTLY TO THEM.

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Just think of how Zacchaeus, also a tax collector, had a complete change of heart, abandoning his lifestyle simply because he spent time with Jesus.

To imitate Jesus, we must stop standing outside the party. Jesus loved them enough to go inside. Do you?

Now, we cannot act like them when we’re around them. This would not lead them to Jesus. But we are called to love and share Jesus, who is full of grace and truth. He will save them and help them change once we share His love. His mission was accomplished on the cross. Our mission is to make more disciples. So let’s head inside to the party!

MOVING FORWARD

Who is your Zacchaeus? If you’re not actively leading someone to Jesus Christ, ask God to put someone far from Him in your path. If you have someone, pray that God will speak words of grace and truth through you.

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YOU CAN OVERCOME THE FEAR THAT PARALYZES YOU

SO DO NOT FEAR, FOR I AM WITH YOU; DO NOT BE DISMAYED, FOR I AM YOUR GOD. I WILL STRENGTHEN YOU AND HELP YOU; I WILL UPHOLD YOU WITH MY RIGHTEOUS RIGHT HAND.

ISAIAH 41:10 (NIV)

Is fear knocking on your door?

It comes around all too often and assaults us with overwhelming feelings of panic and desperation—often about things we have no control over. At certain extremely difficult stages of life, it can even seem that there is no way out and no point in hoping for one. Fear puts a terrorizing pressure on us that causes a sinking feeling in the soul.

When fear knocks, we have two possible responses: Flee it or face it. If we try to ignore fear, we risk falling into unhealthy coping mechanisms that temporarily distract us from its pain. This avoidance is not what God wants for us. He wants us to be overcomers through Christ Jesus.

There was a time when fear laid a tight grip on me. I found even the most minor things to be paralyzing. Under such circumstances, dayto-day life can seem unbearable. But during this excruciating season, I found refuge and strength in the Word of God. Isaiah 41:10 gave me the boldness of heart to face and overcome these fears.

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Ultimately, the solution to fear is love. Perfect love. God’s love. We learn in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” When God’s love enters your heart, it drives out fear. Friend, you can find in Jesus the strength you need to face your fears!

MOVING FORWARD

Reach out to a brother or sister strong in faith, and ask for prayer and perspective. Remind yourself daily of how God has protected and kept you, and that He will continue to do so!

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WHICH SERVANT ARE YOU?

WHATEVER YOU DO, WORK HEARTILY, AS FOR THE LORD AND NOT FOR MEN, KNOWING THAT FROM THE LORD YOU WILL RECEIVE THE INHERITANCE AS YOUR REWARD. YOU ARE SERVING THE LORD CHRIST.

COLOSSIANS 3:23-24 (ESV)

One thing I love about Jesus’ teaching is that it is timeless and told compellingly. He told stories because He knew that stories would stick with us longer than a list of rote principles or rules. On top of that, we can look at a parable from various perspectives and gain different points of wisdom. Because they don’t tie into any historical person, we can easily apply them to ourselves. It’s beautiful!

In the parable of the Talents (Matt. 25), there was a master who gave talents (15-20 years’ worth of day wages) to his servants for them to care for while he was away. One received five talents, another two, and another one.

The first two servants were diligent. They doubled their talents through hard work. The master left them with seven talents, and they were returning seven more. They knew the master would be thrilled with their work, and they eagerly awaited his return.

The third servant, however, was described as wicked and lazy. He buried the talent in the ground, where robbers could take it, and did nothing.

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When the master returned, the master was very pleased with the first two servants. He planned to put them in charge of many things and then invited them into his home with joy.

The third servant immediately blamed the master. “You are a hard man and steal from others, so I was afraid and hid your money.” The master was furious and took the servant’s talent and gave it to the first servant. Then he cast the wicked servant out into the darkness.

The difference between the first two servants and the last one is stewardship. Our attitude when we observe God will determine our faithfulness and diligence. Do you complain about what you don’t have and compare it to others? If you do, you won’t be focused on what God has given you. You won’t be focused on His calling because what He has given you “isn’t enough.”

Take this out of the realm of money and look at your gifts and talents. Those are gifts from God as well. He gave us everything we have, including our money and possessions, and asked us to use them to further His Kingdom. Are you doubling the attendance of heaven with the talents God has given you, or are you burying them in the ground?

MOVING FORWARD

Take a moment and write down all that God has given you and then thank Him for it. How are you utilizing His gifts? Ask God to help you use what He has given you to reach someone for Jesus.

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ALWAYS WANTING MORE

I KNOW WHAT IT IS TO BE IN NEED, AND I KNOW WHAT IT IS TO HAVE PLENTY. I HAVE LEARNED THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN ANY AND EVERY SITUATION, WHETHER WELL FED OR HUNGRY, WHETHER LIVING IN PLENTY OR IN WANT.

PHILIPPIANS 4:12 (NIV)

We live in a world where the next and newest best thing is constantly changing—from cars and clothes to currently trending fads. Refined and redesigned technology comes out every year. The upgraded model of whatever you just bought comes out when you get yours out of the box. This revolving door makes most of us feel behind in some way, causing us to always want more than we have.

We already know this, of course. You may have heard the once-trending term “First World problems,” but let’s take the concept from our head to our heart. Although something in us pulls us toward the new, what we know is this: Constantly pursuing what we want only leaves us wanting more. This chasing after the wind causes us to feel dissatisfied and unhappy.

Paul says he has learned the “secret” to this problem: being content no matter the situation. He had been shipwrecked, stoned, and beaten, and he even wrote this letter while in prison. (None of those are First World problems, by the way!) Yet none of this daunted Paul, who lived for something beyond this world. Instead of wanting something material, he learned to be content no matter what.

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This is not to say that wanting something new is necessarily bad because, at one point, Paul did have it all. We need to understand that no matter the season of life, we can be content.

What’s the secret?

“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

This verse recognizes that your desire for something is a desire that can be filled only by God. The difference between God and this world is that the world promises us temporary happiness, whereas God can give us lasting joy. It’s just a matter of what or who you desire to pursue.

I wonder if the problem you are facing today has nothing to do with wanting more but with what you allow to fill that hole in your life. I can promise you one thing: Pursuing God will never let you down.

MOVING FORWARD

In what area of your life do you feel dissatisfied? Take a moment to ask God for the strength to be content in whatever season you find yourself.

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WHISPER

SO ELI TOLD SAMUEL, “GO AND LIE DOWN, AND IF HE CALLS YOU, SAY, ‘SPEAK, LORD, FOR YOUR SERVANT IS LISTENING.’” SO SAMUEL WENT AND LAY DOWN IN HIS PLACE.

1 SAMUEL 3:9 (NIV)

Have you ever been bold enough to pray Samuel’s prayer? As Mark Batterson puts it, “God has an outside voice, and He’s not afraid to use it, but when God wants to be heard, when what He has to say is too important to miss, He often speaks in a whisper just above the absolute threshold of hearing.” While Jesus is God’s full and final revelation, we can also see that God speaks through six secondary languages consistently in Scripture.

1. Desires.

“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). As we follow God, He births new desires in us.

2. Checks in the spirit.

These can be God’s red lights: an uneasiness that won’t go away, a lack of peace, a sense something isn’t right.

3. Dreams.

God can use dreams to confirm His direction for you.

4. Doors.

Closed doors can look like a failure but can also protect you from going the wrong way.

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5. People.

Someone can say something to you that unlocks your understanding in a new way.

6. Promptings.

Mark Batterson writes, “When we have a thought that is better than our best thought on our best day, it might be from God.” The Holy Spirit is our guide. If we ignore His promptings, we miss the miracle!

7. Pain.

I don’t know about you, but some of my most significant life changes have come from deep pain.

The pain of being removed from a country we loved (Indonesia) led us to a strategic new adventure in Russia—right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. If it weren’t for that closed door, we would have missed an opportunity to launch something new in a nation that was starting over. You must pray about your decision if you want the Holy Spirit to check your impulses. Pray for both open and closed doors, and be thankful for both.

MOVING FORWARD

In which of these seven communication modes do you feel the need to grow? How about praying this prayer with me: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!

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RUN YOUR RACE!

THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY A HUGE CROWD OF WITNESSES TO THE LIFE OF FAITH, LET US STRIP OFF EVERY WEIGHT THAT SLOWS US DOWN, ESPECIALLY THE SIN THAT SO EASILY TRIPS US UP. AND LET US RUN WITH ENDURANCE THE RACE GOD HAS SET BEFORE US.

HEBREWS 12:1 (NLT)

Grit. Determination. Perseverance. They are born when you push yourself farther today than yesterday.

These character traits are desirable, but are they attainable?

A study was done with college cyclists. They were placed on a stationary bike and asked to pedal hard for 30 minutes. They were exhausted at the 25-minute mark but INCREASED their cycles per minute as they approached the 30-minute mark. They saw the finish line and pushed harder than before. During the second phase, the cyclists were placed side by side. Over the 30-minute exercise, their cycles per minute doubled. Finally, a crowd was brought in to watch the training. Their production tripled!

This study teaches us that mental fortitude causes grit, determination, and perseverance. The race God places before us is more important than anything else we will ever do. One day, we will stand before Him, wanting to be proud of our race. So, how do we increase our perseverance?

First, we must look at the example of those before us in the race. Hebrews 12 tells us that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith! He ran the race perfectly and, even under

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extreme stress, including His death on the cross, ran with endurance. He is our example and trainer, helping us run with proper form.

Second, we need someone to run with us. We need an accountability partner—someone who can help us become more like Jesus while running the race. We were not meant to run this race alone, so find an accountability partner!

Your accountability partner will be someone you know who follows Jesus. Be honest with them and encourage them to do the same. It will take some time for the relationship to develop into one of loving correction. Share a struggle and ask them to help you stand firm when facing temptation. They will do the same. An accountability partner enables you to push harder in your walk with Jesus.

Finally, we need to remember there are witnesses everywhere. People are watching you, whether you recognize it or not. Let us strip off the weight of sin that slows us down and run with endurance! We will not only finish the race strong, but also inspire others to do the same.

MOVING FORWARD

Don’t give up! People are counting on you to run your race well. Find someone intent on the finish line and run with them. You’ve got this!

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THE LORD IS NEAR TO ALL WHO CALL ON HIM, TO ALL WHO CALL ON HIM IN TRUTH.

PSALM 145:18

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