Week of April 22

Reactions to the Resurrection

Brokenness

Day 1: We’ve all blown it before; it’s a universal experience. Peter blew it, so did Judas, and to some extent their story is our story. If you just thought, “I would never…,” remember that’s how Peter’s failure began! Judas had hoped for a different kind of Messiah and King, but he was disappointed. Peter was afraid. In pivotal circumstances, neither one of them could get past their fear or disappointment. They left their Shepherd. What has led you astray this week? What emotion, attitude, or desire when combined with a difficult circumstance has taken you where you didn’t want to go? Disappointment? Fear? Anger? Frustration? Pride? Anxiety? Instead of hoping or praying not to have those emotions, attitudes, and beliefs, what would it be like to ask God to help you with them and to discover where they come from?  

 Day 2: If you have blown it, now what? How you respond may be as important as the sin committed. Judas stepped away from community and isolated himself. He responded in hopelessness; he ended his life. In the same way, Peter was distraught. We don’t know the guilt he may have been hiding or the prayers he may have prayed. Despite guilt, anguish, embarrassment and shame, Peter chose to stay in community. With that choice and humility, Peter put himself in a place to be reconciled to Jesus. Read Luke 15:11-32. As you read, put Peter in the place of the younger son. Then put yourself in the younger son’s shoes. In this parable Jesus is saying, “This is our Father!” In the same way, that is how Jesus was with Peter and how He is with us. This sacrificial love and forgiveness is available to us thru Jesus. Is there an old sin or failure that has created one of the emotions, attitudes, or beliefs you identified in Day 1? Can you take a step and voice your sorrow or guilt to the Father? Do you need to voice it to someone you have community with, or risk an apology to someone who was hurt by your failure?  

Day 3: “Come as you are” is Jesus’ invitation to us. Not come as you want to be or think you should be but as you are right now. “As I am.” That is powerful to take in. We don’t like being weak, broken, poor, or vulnerable. Culture and our selfishness whisper for us to go and hide. Read Matt. 5:3-10 and 2 Cor. 12:8-10. Jesus says there is beauty in our weakness, poverty, meekness. He says that those who embrace these qualities will receive his Kingdom. Peter ran (or swam) toward Jesus just as the younger son ran to the Father in yesterday’s reading. He has seen Jesus forgive others, heard the parables, and built enough trust in Jesus to run to him. What would running to Jesus look like for us now? Imagine a child approaching a parent in sorrow, does the parent need to hear much before they bend down, hug and forgive the child? How much more so with our Heavenly Father. Reflect on this picture with your Heavenly Father.  

Day 4: Read Rev. 3:20.You may have heard this verse used evangelistically, but in this verse Jesus is talking to his followers who have lost their way, inviting them back. He is with you, no matter how guilty and hopeless you feel, Jesus is there, actively offering forgiveness and ongoing relationship. Read John 21: 15-17.Jesus meets Peter where he is. With three stinging denials burned into his head and heart, Jesus provides him a way to confront each denial with an affirmation of following and love. Forgiving Peter, or forgiving us, is not some legal transaction, or an eraser from a sin ledger. Forgiveness is always a desired act of sacrificial love on Jesus’ part. Forgiveness is about relationship. How do you picture or understand Jesus’ forgiveness towards you? Disgruntled, forced, put out or bothered by? Is there something in Peter’s story of forgiveness that needs to become a part of your story?  

Day 5: A living, resurrected Jesus forgave Peter and changed his life. He offered Peter another chance. Jesus didn’t just forgive him, he called him back into life. A life of purpose, meaning, significance, and following. How are you living out forgiveness? Have you experienced forgiveness from God lately? Consider the last time, mustering courage, you turned toward God and admitted a sinful attitude in your heart? If something comes to mind, how did forgiveness affect your heart, your relationship with the Father? But what if you don’t recall the last time you asked for forgiveness? Why do you think that is the case? Luke 7:47 “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

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Week of April 15

Reactions to the Resurrection

Pursuit

Day 1: From the time Mary encountered Jesus for the first time, we see in scripture her seeking Him out. Mary pursued Jesus, she sought out his company and His presence. Who do you enjoy being with? Why do you enjoy being with them? Think about at least one person you genuinely enjoy spending time with. Is it the conversation that you enjoy? Is it laughter? Is it the ability to fully be yourself when you are with them? Is it just easy to be with them, doesn’t matter what you are doing, just being together is life giving? Is it all these things? Think back to the person you enjoy being with most. Write out 3-5 reasons you enjoy being with this person. Do you think any of these reasons might have been Mary’s reasons for wanting to be with Jesus? Why or why not? Can you translate any of the reasons you wrote down to your relationship with Jesus?

Day 2: Imagine you are going to meet friends for coffee and conversation. You enter the crowded restaurant and begin to look around for your friends who have already arrived. In a corner, you see one of your friends trying to get your attention. You make eye contact and you see his eyes light up as he excitedly motions for you to join them at the table. Your friends are excited you are there and you feel immediately welcomed. Conversation is flowing between the three of them, and they are eager for you to join in. This is a safe place. Now imagine these friends are God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Spirit. Does this change the scene? If so, in what way? In the Magnificent Storyby James Bryan Smith, he writes, “Members of the Trinity are intermingling, known and fully known. Each of us is designed for and invited to participate in the greatest, truest, most real, most intimate relationship that exists: that of the Father and the Son. The Spirit reveals this to us and invites us to join.”We are welcome. We are wanted. We are invited in. How might understanding the relationship in this way change how, and maybe even why, you pray? How might it change the way you interact with God? Imagine the scene described above for a time of prayer today. Consider writing about what you experienced in your journal.  

**This weekend Cory mentioned a Next Step Challenge: To spend a total of 60 minutes pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus. For the remainder of the week we have provided four different ideas to help you focus on being in His presence. 

 #1: What words come to mind to describe God? What words come to mind when you think about Jesus? Are they the same? Read John 14:9. “If what you imagine God to be like is anything other than Jesus, then you have the wrong image of God.” -Keasler. Our image of God profoundly impacts our relationship with him and Jesus. We can’t have one without the other. Spend 15 minutes reading and meditating on John 1:1-5, John 14:9 and Hebrews 1:3. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to learn more about Jesus and yourself.  

#2: Beauty is meant to draw us to the ultimate beauty, which is God himself. Take 15 minutes to listen to something beautiful. Before you begin, take a moment to pray and remember that Jesus is present with you. Listen to whatever music you find beautiful, whatever speaks to you. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Notice the sound and nothing else. You might think about what you like about it. Or you may want to think of nothing and just enjoy the sounds. As the music ends, think about how God has given us our senses, not just for useful things, but also to take in beauty. How does the beauty you’ve just heard reveals attributes of God?   

#3: Set aside 15 minutes for a “prayer walk”. The idea is to spend time in conversation with God while you engage in your surroundings. If a walk isn’t feasible, consider taking a drive or sitting on the back deck. Notice the trees, or the birds, maybe people walking by, or children playing. Imagine walking with a good friend and enjoying not only one another’s company, but the beauty surrounding you. What do you see? What is on your mind? Are there things that are worrying you? Things you are excited about? Talk to God as you would a close friend. As in all good conversations, both speaking, and listening are involved. What is God saying to you? What do you learn from the surrounding nature?  

 #4: Through serving, attending to the needs of someone else, we are following the example set by Jesus. As we love, live, and serve as He did, we deepen our relationship with Him. Think about how you can help someone today. Maybe it is someone at work overwhelmed and could use some help. Maybe it is a mom with her hands full with kids and groceries. Maybe it is someone standing on the corner in need of a meal. Ask God to open your eyes to see someone you can serve. What do you learn about God through serving another?  

One more step: Think back through the different ways you encountered the presence of Jesus this week. Was there anything that surprised you? What did you discover? Consider talking about these practices with a friend or your small group.  

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Week of April 8

Reaction to the Resurrection

John 20: 24-29

Day 1: Read John 20. Jesus’ first followers did not merely believe in the resurrection; they saw it firsthand. In fact, they were so convinced of the resurrection that many of them were willing to give up their lives for their belief. In many ways it’s easy to be envious of those first disciples. How much easier would it be to believe if you could see and touch this man who died and came back to life? Instead, we are asked to believe the impossible about a man we’ve never met in person. Did Jesus truly rise from the dead? Is He alive today? And if so, what are the implications for our lives? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Blind faith can often be a weak and immature faith, whereas a faith that is tested and thought-through will be a stronger faith. Write down doubts you have about God or the issues you have about having a faith in Him. Put it on paper.   

 Day 2: What happens when we die? I mean, how do we really know? What if we have created the idea of God so that we don’t feel scared and alone? What if Jesus died but never actually came back to life? 1 Corinthians 15 speaks to this. Death is our enemy. No matter how rich or happy we are, no matter how good or loved we are, we are all going to die. Yet, the resurrection of Jesus declares to everyone for all time that there is hope! Do you have a safe community that you can be real and discuss faith and doubt with? Is there someone in your life who you admire? They live a life of character and faith. How do you think they would respond to your list from yesterday? Do you know how they’d answer? Could you ask them?  

 Day 3: Read John 20:24-31. When Thomas was told that Jesus was alive, he responded by saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Can you relate to Thomas? Where is the proof? Are there areas of your faith that you say to God, “Unless I can see for myself, I won’t believe?” When Thomas finally saw Jesus alive in person, Jesus didn’t reject, shun, or push Thomas away because of his doubt. Rather, Jesus invited him to come and see, to touch, and to place his hands here. Then Jesus toldThomas, “Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” If there is an area of your faith in which you struggle with doubt, know that Jesus won’t reject you. Instead, He says, “Come see for yourself.” Take some time to pray that Jesus would reveal Himself to you today. Full disclaimer - He may answer your prayer and show up in ways you least expect.  

Day 4: Where do our doubts come from? What feeds them? Are they driven by fears or past circumstances? Add to your list from Monday. Where did these doubts originate? The more we understand our doubts, the better we will be able to make peace with them. Is it possible to believe in God yet struggle with disbelief? Go back to what you do know about God: His power, His love, and His goodness. How does your picture of God and His character affect your doubts? Read Mark 9:14-27.Consider praying back to God the words of the man from Mark 9:24, “Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus wants to work in your life, but He is looking for you to have faith in Him. Notice, He wanted the father to express belief before he healed the boy.

Day 5: Once Thomas had the evidence to settle his doubt, he was able to respond in faith, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). In one pivotal moment Thomas went from doubting that Jesus was alive to believing that He is the living God. Read Romans 6:5-14.Once we move from doubt to belief in the resurrection, our lives are able to radically change. Just as Jesus is raised from the dead, so we too are given new life, and not just new life some day in heaven, but new resurrection life here and now. Everlasting life doesn’t start someday when we die; it starts when we believe. That doesn’t mean that you will never struggle with doubt again. It doesn’t mean you won’t struggle with sin anymore either. However, it does mean that you have completely changed and will never be the same. What is next for you? Do you have enough evidence to answer your doubt? Or do you need to remain in the doubt for a time? Maybe this week you see that Jesus is asking you to believe? If so, what would that mean for your day today? 

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Week of April 1

Easter Sunday 

It Is Finished - Part II

Day 1: Read John 19:30 out loud. We know the Easter story is more than a story about bunnies and chocolate-filled eggs. It’s a time of celebrating the remarkable story of Jesus. With His words, “It is finished” Jesus paid the price in full for our sins, past and future, by dying on our behalf. The shepherd we recently discovered in our last message series, Psalm 23, He became the lamb, a substitutional sacrifice that restores the relationship between us and God. It is done. Jesus ultimate sacrifice is our renewal. Write a note to Jesus acknowledging his sacrifice. Include something that has changed in your life in the past year because of your relationship with God. This act of writing will slow you down and invite you to be open and honest with Him. 

Day 2: Easter is a message of hope, an invitation to experience the joy of taking steps to follow Jesus. We don’t need to clean up first, either. But often our issues, problems and frustrations take up all our time, keeping us at arms-length from Jesus. We get stuck. Or worse, we fall into the trap thinking we can manage our own sin. Consider the toughest problem in your life right now. Have you determined the options or solutions without seeking assistance from God? If He were to speak into your situation, what might He say? Where might you find insight from God?

Day 3: Once during a sermon, a minister presented a bottle of strychnine labeled “Poison” to his church. He then removed the poison label and substituted a new one titled “Peppermint Candy.” He asked, “Can you see the problem here? The milder we make the label, the more dangerous the poison’s presence.” His message: it’s time for all of us to put the poison label back on sin. We can make excuses or dance around our own behaviors and attitudes. Consider regret in your own life resulting from decisions you made or chose not to make. What specific emotions settled in your heart as a result? Can you recall? Avoid moving past these questions without remembering a specific instance in your life. It is acknowledging this pain that gives personal meaning to Jesus’s statement, “It is finished.”

Day 4:  Yesterday, we reflected on the issue of regret and sin in our lives. If you took time for personal reflection, you stepped back into the emotions caused by your behavior and attitudes. You experienced the shame like the day you first recognized your wrong. When Jesus finished his work on the cross and through the resurrection, He assumed the power and right to take our sin upon Himself. As a result, we can experience forgiveness. In light of your reflection of past sin, have you tasted forgiveness? What does forgiveness do to your soul?

Day 5: After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” John 19:28. Jesus did not sip the sour wine until his mission was complete. His declaration of being thirsty reminds us of his humanity. After six hours of hanging on the cross, he is physically spent. He wets his lips to declare His mission finished. Cory shared a different type of thirst on Easter morning. The spiritual thirst of a desire to be in relationship with God, both today, and for eternity. By admitting our wrongs, accepting Jesus as our Savior, and choosing to follow Him, we experience two realities. We will one-day experience heaven with God. Amazing! Second, we experience fulfillment in life through knowing Him today! Our vision at LSCC is for all of us to take steps to know and become like Jesus. We do so by actively incorporating the commitments of worship (re-centering our lives with God), community (doing life together), and service (loving and serving others). What practical next step can you take this week to build a closer relationship with your Savior? Can we support you? Email Small Groups Pastor, Patrick Patrick.hukriede@lscckc.org. He or someone from his team will respond back to you. 

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Week of March 25

Palm Sunday

It Is Finished

Day 1: Read Isaiah 53 and consider Jesus reading these words that were written 700 years earlier. Why is this Friday called Good Friday? Why not Bad Friday or Good Sunday? Jesus had been given a purpose. He was to leave His throne, to come into our world, to walk this earth, to complete a mission. His mission would include pain, hurt, trial, betrayal and ultimately death. When God created Adam, was there a moment in heaven between God the Father and Jesus (Son), when they looked at each other with an understanding of what this meant, of all that was to come? Creation. Man’s sin that would affect all of humanity and creation including you and me. Thus, the need for a Savior - a position, a mission only Jesus could fulfill. As a human, at what point did Jesus know and realize his purpose? Is there a point in your life that you realized you are sinner charting your own way? As you reflect on your life today, are there instances or attitudes you can point to where you are seeking to lead your own way?

 

Day 2:  Read John 17:5, 24. At a point in Jesus’s ministry, the writer Luke says Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem to be crucified. Jesus knew this time would come. The time was here, and He was ready. What would that burden be like to know this darkest of valleys was to come? Though we cannot fully fathom what Jesus went through, can you relate to knowing something difficult lie ahead for you or someone you care for?  What thoughts or emotions preoccupy your mind? The Bible says time after time that we are not outside of his care. Consider the Psalms or Romans 8. It can be easy to feel alone in the midst of some circumstances. Who in your life brings you back to the heart of the heart of God? Does someone in your family remind you? Is small group such a place? 

 

Day 3: On Sunday, Amy shared a story about her dad needing open-heart surgery. On the day of surgery, a snowstorm hit, and the surgeon was unable to drive into the hospital. The surgery was postponed. It was clear what needed to happen, and the family desperately wanted it to happen. The delay was a negative. The need was urgent and clear, so let’s just get on with it. What is at stake if you try to avoid or rush through the process? Although Amy’s father and family wanted to be on the other side of surgery, he had to go through the surgery. What lessons did Amy’s family learn in the delay? How about you? Where is there waiting in your life? What is God teaching you as you go through it? Consider people in your life who are in difficult circumstances. Pray they may hear from God and be strengthened by Him.  

 

Day 4:  Read Hebrews 12:1-3. Jesus was able to endure because of the depth of His love for us and for what He knew ultimately lie ahead of Him.  He was about to be reunited with His Father, to sit back down on His throne. Are you and I motivated to endure and follow? Refer back to Day 1. Do we seek to control our own life or surrender to Jesus? Know this. If we endure today trusting Jesus, we are becoming like Him from the inside-out. Do I believe the connection between my attitudes/thoughts/behaviors shapes the person I am becoming? What act of surrender is Jesus calling me to do the work of change? Are you willing? 

 

Day 5: Read John 19:1-30. Jesus knew this was to come. That His mission on earth was nearly complete. So, on the cross He declared, “It is finished!” What was finished? Punishment paid. Sins forgiven. Curtain torn. Direct access to God. Yes, all of this was true! Jesus was finished. It was over. His mission accomplished. His purpose complete. Thirty-three years of a man’s earthly life ended, and He sat down at the right hand of the Father. Jesus was home. Hebrews 12:3 tells us to “consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” This endurance can be developed in our lives as we encounter conflict, pain, regret and loss. Are we willing to trust the Shepherd and follow Him? What does endurance growth look like for you?  Where have you grown weary and lost heart? Spend some time today thanking Jesus for going to the cross on your behalf. You are invited to come to the Good Friday Experience at LSCC from 4-8pm (come and go) to reflect on Jesus’ endurance and find a renewed resolve and increasing trust in your own life. 

 

Week of March 18

Psalm 23

He Pursues Me

Day 1: Read through Psalm 23 again. As we conclude this series, think about the themes that we have learned. "My" Shepherd, He is enough, He leads, He guides us through, He restores, He prepares a table for us. What steps over the course of this series have you taken? Take five minutes to consider these messages. Flip through the past devotionals and message outlines. What conversations have you had with your small group? What have you written in a journal or prayers have you prayed over the last seven weeks? How are these steps changing your attitudes and how you live? Thank Jesus for how He is pursuing you and how you are following Him.   

Day 2: Psalm 23:6 begins with “Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…” This is a statement of certainty. Not maybe. Not what if. David knew the character of God through experience and found him to be trustworthy. On Sunday, as Cory defined “goodness” in verse six, he said, "that which is beautiful, excellent, joyful, fruitful, correct and righteous," and unfailing love as an act of kindness, love or mercy." God does not passively wait in the clouds for us to find Him, but in His unfailing love, He pursues us with all goodness. This doesn’t mean that only good will happen in our lives, but it means that if we respond to his pursuit we trust that He will work out good in the middle of our circumstances. In the creation account found in Genesis 1 & 2, God says everything He created is good! In the gospels, we learn that Jesus came to forgive us of our sin and restore our relationship with the Father, and that is very good! So today, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Phil 4:8)  

Day 3: This Psalm concludes with the phrase, “and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” Think about it in this context. He will pursue me as long as I live, but as a follower of Jesus, I will dwell with Him forever. What does forever look like? Have you really thought about what happens after “all the days of our lives” are over? In Psalm 73, the Psalmist was struggling over the prosperity of the wicked in contrast to His own experience of trouble. Read that Psalm and take note of his conclusion in verse 26. “He is mine forever.” Remember your current situation will pass, but your relationship with the good Shepherd can go on from today and will last forever.  

Day 4: We’re all being pursued by God. We might not recognize it. We might not want or appreciate it. But we can’t escape it. Being chased our entire lifetime by the goodness and unfailing love of God, none of us has ever lived a day outside of His pursuit of us. We may not sense it, we may even reject it, but we cannot be outside of it. Consider the example of Joseph in Genesis 50. Joseph told his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Joseph trusted God during his dark valleys. God showed kindness, love and mercy. How are you responding to the Shepherd’s pursuit? Do you see His goodness? Do you find yourself holding back from God in any way? How is His pursuit of you challenge or change your perspective?  

Day 5: God's pursuit of us is fully realized when, in His goodness and unfailing love, Jesus took on flesh, and gave up His life on the cross in our place. Knowing the cross was ahead of him, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) If you have believed in and are following Jesus, this sacrificial love with which He has pursued us will be reflected in our lives and to others around us. By following Jesus, goodness and love naturally passes through you to others. That is the mark of a follower of Jesus. Consider two things today. Have you taken the initial step of admitting the wrong in your life and trusting in Jesus, the Good Shepherd? If you have, how is your life reflecting a trail of goodness to those around you?

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Week of March 11

Psalm 23

The Table Prepared

Day 1: In our culture, we gather around the table. We celebrate. We talk. We eat. We drink. We sign important documents. We make big announcements. We connect with important people around our table. We do relationships. Read John 14:2-3. In Sunday’s message, Doug reminded us that God invites us – YOU specifically – to HIS table saying, "Come. Sit. Be still. Receive." Enjoy what He has to offer. Even in the presence of your enemies, He prepares a table for you and invites you to relationship there. Now think about YOUR table at home. What activities do you do around your table? Is God invited to be at your table? Talk with God about your desire to have Him present at your table. What activities do you do to prepare your heart to listen and talk to God?  

 

Day 2Read Matthew 22:2 and Revelation 21:2. In these verses, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a king preparing a wedding. Think of all the preparations that go into a wedding – the ceremony, the church, the flowers, the special wardrobe. Now think of all those preparations made on the day of the wedding itself. With everything set, no one shows up. Why? You realize you forgot to send out the invitations! God is not only preparing for the big celebration of His church (His bride) and Himself, but He invites YOU to be a part of it. You are invited to the banquet! And He has a name plate at the table with YOUR name. You’ve been offered an invitation. Have you ever felt that invitation? 

 

Day 3:  Remember back to yesterday’s devotions. Did you have some time responding to His invitation to you? Did you RSVP? If you responded with “Yes, I’ll be there”, now come the preparations! Get ready for the banquet table with Jesus. Prepare your heart and mind for the table. Read Matthew 26:26-29. This reminds us of the night Jesus prepared the table with the disciples. When we take communion, as Jesus did with his friends that night, we are to come with humbly and surrendered. Consider getting some juice and a slice of bread. Have communion with your family or at your small group this week. What did God share with you through this time of quiet reflection?  

 

Day 4: Experience a banquet in the struggle. On Sunday, Doug told the story of God’s preparation of a table quite literally in the presence of enemies. Read Psalm 23:1-5 again. He has prepared the way EVEN in the presence of your enemies. Think about a time you experienced God’s help when you have been in the middle of crisis and struggle. Consider the list from Sunday: shepherd, provider, healer, leader, protector, providential. Write down how God has met you in the midst of that struggle. Or go back to your list from several weeks ago where you identified what you have in your life to remind you of your Good Shepherd when troubles hit. Is it a small group? Prayer? Quiet time with scripture? One-on-one time with an accountability partner? Remember, God prepares GOOD things for you and you can experience His banquet even in the midst of struggle and suffering. 

 

Day 5: A while back, I envisioned a banquet table that stretched as far as I could see. It was filled with people sitting at the table, all in His presence, and there were too many to count. I remember it was a time when I felt overlooked by God and really not necessary or needed by Him. This image just seemed to prove that God has more than enough company around His table so, surely, I would continue to go unnoticed or passed over. As soon as I had that thought, God directed my eyes down to an empty chair. And I immediately sensed in my heart, “But this seat is yours. And even if I had the entire world at My table, there would still be something – someone missing.” Jesus saves a seat for me and YOU. His table is incomplete without you. So respond to the invitation. Take a seat and prepare for some time with God. Thank the Good Shepherd that He cares for you and has a place for you at the table.  

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Week of March 4

Psalm 23

Restore

Day 1: Psalm 23:3, “He restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.” He restores my soul. When has the Shepherd restored your soul? Was it recently or has it been a while? Consider how Jesus goes about restoring one’s soul. Do you remember the green pastures and still waters from verse two? For some, the green pastures are a familiar coffee shop, the back deck, a walk through a wooded trail. Others experience still waters in the middle of a song or in a scripted prayer. Wherever or however Jesus restores your soul, pursue Him. Put yourself in a place to allow Jesus to restore your soul today, maybe even right now.   

Day 2: Travis’s message on Sunday’s was titled, “He Restores Me.” Notice what Jesus does not restore here. He does not a restore a position, friendship, an outcome, a circumstance or even health. Sometimes in life restoration does happen: a relational conflict is mended, a better job is found, a debt is fulfilled, a cure is found. However, David writes that the Shepherd restores his soul. The soul runs deeper than a thought or feeling. We find the soul in our emotional center. It is where peace, love, acceptance, worth, and joy reside. Settle into your chair. Close your eyes. Invite the Shepherd to restore your soul. Play a song. Speak a favorite verse or recite Isaiah 40:31 or 57:10. Pray and allow your Shepherd to restore your soul.  

Day 3: Read Psalm 23:1-4 emphasizing the verbs – makes, leads, refreshes, guides. The Shepherd invites us along the way, along a path. This is a path He knows well. The Shepherd travels this path knowing each twist and turn. He is comfortable and sure on this path. I don’t know about you, but this is not a difficult intellectual choice for me. I want this path. He is a good Shepherd. He has shown Himself caring, wise, and faithful. Yet, I wander from this path. How about you? When in your daily routine do you find yourself off the path? Is there a particular stress or problem that causes you to drift? Become aware of it. In doing so, repeating a word, phrase or verse can bring you back. If you haven’t memorized Psalm 23, try it. If memorizing is new or difficult, start with the first four verses. You will discover, by reciting these verses, He can guide you to green pastures and still waters simply by removing yourself mentally from a situation for even a brief moment.  

Day 4: Psalm 23:3, “He restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.” The paths of righteousness, or the right paths, are where Jesus is guiding you and me. Consider these paths for a few moments. Are these paths well-lit and easy to find? How do we know if we are on the right path or the wrong one? Who or what determines right from wrong? Surely, I can. God has given me a mind to figure out life. Since we’re made in His image, his likeness, there is some truth to that statement. Yet remember the pivotal word from yesterday’s devotional. He guides. It is not God’s design for us to sort this all out on our own. He wants us to follow Him. Write down 1-2 big decisions you are considering. Ask Him to reveal His path. Pray about it several times, not for your solution but for His solution.  Share with another Christ follower who doesn’t have a stake in the decision.  

Day 5: We may be similar. I like simple, easy, straightforward. Give me a list to follow, and I’ll be happy to oblige. Are you like that or not? Maybe you find rules confining. Recall Psalm 23:3, “He restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.” In order to follow these paths of righteousness that align with God’s wishes and desires, just give me the list or the formula. What should I do? What should I not do? Just spell it out, and I will build it into my life. Unfortunately, that leads us down a wrong path. It can look right and appear we are traveling down the right road, however, Jesus warned the religious teachers of the day, that the path isn’t following rules. (See Matthew 12:1-14 for an example.) It is patterning our life after Jesus. We follow Jesus by being in relationship with Him through practicing habits like prayer, serving others, discussing Scripture with other Christ-followers, and committing to take steps together. Who in your life are you specifically encouraging on their journey of following Jesus? What is a step that you are taking? Does anyone else know about it, and are they supporting you? Following the Shepherd on the right paths happens with other sheep.  

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Week of February 25

Psalm 23

He Guides Me Through

Day 1: Psalm 23:4 says, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me” Feeling that God is with us when everything is going well can be easy, but when life gets tough, when we are scared and things seem hopeless, God can feel very far away. What is your valley? Maybe it is in the recent past, or maybe you are walking through it now. It may be on your horizon. Thinking back to our Christmas series, “And He Shall Be Called,” Read Isaiah 9:2-7. In Isaiah 9:2 we see the same Hebrew word for, “valley of the shadow of death.” It can also be translated as, “land of deep darkness.” The good news is that into our, “deep darkness” a light has shined. There is hope. God has come. Jesus our Good Shepard is with us, and we need not fear. Take some time now to be still, and acknowledge God’s presence in the context of a valley in your life. He guides me through.   

 

Day 2: David, who wrote Psalm 23, went through many, dark valleys. His enemies tried to kill him. He often had to flee or hide-out. He lost children. He even had a son betray him. Yet, even in the midst of it all, God was with David walking him through his dark valleys. As a result, David learned to trust his Shepherd. Likewise, our Shepherd has not abandoned us. Instead, He walks alongside of us, guiding us through the darkness while comforting and protecting us. Read Psalm 57. David expressed his trust to God through music. Psalms are songs in the Bible. Do you have a favorite song you can give back to God? Take some time sing or read the words of a song that reflect your trust in “my” shepherd. If one doesn’t come to mind, consider It Is Well with My Soul by Horatio G. Spafford.  

 

Day 3: Read John 10:1-18. Who is your Shepherd? Who or what do you trust or follow? When you are in trouble, to whom do you look for rescue? Often, we can look to ourselves for rescue, and sometimes we can even do an okay job of getting through things on our own. But, when we are in the worst parts of life, when we are confronted with darkness, evil, and death, we realize that we are just helpless sheep in need of rescue. Take some time to consider the areas of your life. Where are you going it alone? Become aware. Admit and confess. Ask Jesus to lead you today. 

 

Day 4: When David writes in Psalm 23:4, “…Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me,” David is speaking with the experience of a shepherd. Read 1 Samuel 17:33-37 as David pleads before the king to fight Goliath. As a shepherd, David knows the lengths a shepherd would go to in order to protect a lamb. That’s why he uses the metaphor of a shepherd when describing God’s protection and comfort. If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Romans 8:31. How we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear? Because, God Himself is the One protecting and comforting us. Consider yesterday’s devotional. In what area of life are you having a hard time trusting that God will protect and comfort you?  What would it look like for you to choose to trust Jesus, your Shepherd, today? Write it down. Be specific. Commit to do it today.  

 

Day 5: A close family member has been struggling with a failing heart for many years. This weekend he received the prognosis from the doctor that his heart is inoperable and he will die within the next week. So, he has said goodbye to his family, pet his dog for the last time, and had his last cup of vanilla ice cream. Now he waits and prepares to die. The shadow of death hangs heavily on our family. We believe that Jesus, our shepherd, will guide us along the right paths, give us comfort and rest. Yet, in the end it’s not enough. Death comes for us all and is ever-present reality for my family. Read Revelation 21:1-7 Jesus our good shepherd is not just delivering us from the fear of death, He is delivering us from death itself. In the middle of this broken world, heart disease, messed up families, school shootings and so on. He is making all things new. God our Shepherd has become a lamb, a sacrificial lamb who died for us, so that we might be delivered from death. What does Jesus’ death mean for you today? Share your response with someone today.   

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Week of February 18

Psalm 23

He Leads Me

Day 1: Read Psalm 23:2 out loud. Notice how the Lord as Shepherd knows how to make David rest when he needs it. Often our view is to live life to its fullest until we’re physically and mentally exhausted. We are starving for rest. Even our vacations are filled with must-sees and have-to-dos. Yet God’s view for us is to rest in Him each day so that we can truly live. Read Mark 6:30-32. How do Jesus’ words to his disciples speak to you on the difference between doing and being? We all like a big God that conquers, but we also need a comforting God that refreshes. What action step can you take this week to break away from the world’s busyness, recognize the lack within your own soul, and just rest in Him? 

 

Day 2: To lead means to guide or bring along. Jesus, our Shepherd, is not behind us yelling “Go!” He is ahead of us bidding us to, “Come.” Cory shared Sunday how sheep that are pushed tend to scatter while those being led recognize and respond to a trusted voice. The first emphasizes movement, the second fosters relationship. Are you responding to God relationally as He bids you to “come”? Now think of how this translates to how we can become more like Jesus when we deal with others. How are you leading the people God has given you to lead – are you pushing them to move or are you leading as Jesus would through peace, patience, kindness, love, forgiveness and care? Are those you shepherd a means to an end or lives entrusted to you to help steward toward a reliance on God? 

 

Day 3: Close your eyes and think of green pastures and still waters. What picture pops to mind? Most likely it’s a favorite location or activity filled with peace, rest and satisfaction. Now compare this picture to the messiness of day-to-day life. How many times in scripture does Jesus remind us there will be trouble, that life will be a struggle? How do those times contrast with the picture of peace you had in mind? Think of Jesus’ own life on this earth. He lost friends and family, was betrayed, arrested, beaten, faced injustice and suffered a painful death. Yet, his last words on the cross were “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” Luke 23:46. He knew and trusted the goodness of a Good Father. What do you have in your life to remind you of your Good Shepherd when troubles hit? A small group? Prayer? Quiet time with scripture? One-on-one time with an accountability partner? Remember your go-to choice the next time you need help bringing God’s perspective and His peace and rest into the troubling circumstances you face. 

 

Day 4: Cory shared from Phillip Keller’s book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” that four realities prevent sheep from experiencing green pastures and quiet waters. Fear, friction within the flock, flies and other irritations, and lack of food. The presence of a good shepherd alleviates these issues, allowing his sheep to rest. Like sheep, we face these realities in our lives. Read John 10:14-16. What do these words tell you about the type of relationship Jesus wants with you? How does this knowing you are known by Him help you rest better in the understanding you have a Good Shepherd ready to deal with the fear, friction, flies and famine you face? Share some thoughts or emotions you experience in your small group or with a friend. 

 

Day 5: To be led, we must be willing to follow. Like Cory shared in the first week, Americans bridle at being compared to sheep. Timid? Dumb? Defenseless? Come on! This is the country of John Wayne and Rambo. But Jesus is not demanding we follow Him. The choice is ours. He pursues us, like the Good Shepherd He is. Not just once and awhile, but constantly.

What in your life, your choices, your attitudes are holding you back from trusting the rest that Jesus offers? The culture pushes us to be busy, perform, produce and achieve. Does your daily rest and rhythm match the rhythm of our culture or the rhythm of God? God wants to lead us to green pastures and quiet waters. Find a quiet place today to reflect on how the rhythm of your life keeps you away from this peace. Ask the Good Shepherd to tend to your heart, to care for your needs. Get in line with His rhythm and see where He takes you.   

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Week of February 11

Psalm 23

The Lord Is Enough

Day 1: Picture this. You anxiously squirm in the seat of a small airplane quickly ascending. The side door of the plane intentionally open because you will be stepping out of it shortly. Dressed in full gear strapped to your body, you lower your tight goggles in place. Standing up, you walk toward the door. The tips of your boots creep out past the edge of the open frame. Intense wind whistles around you pushing, urging you out to the wide expanse. Then in an instant, you jump. Question: What are you placing your trust in? Your parachute. Daily, knowingly or not, we place trust in someone or something. When your feet hit the floor in the morning, when you grab your car keys, when you walk through the school’s front doors, when you flip on your toddler’s bedroom light, what are you deeply trusting in? Pay attention today. Come back to this devotional at the end of the day. Notice where or in whom you place your trust?  

Day 2: Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (ESV) Interesting verse. I shall not want; but what is it trying to say? There are things we want every day: chocolate, caffeine, nicotine, Netflix, a great deal, a listening ear, Instagram, something to complain about, to be alone; we are filled with wants. Yet, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Remember the parachute in Day 1. The parachute provides a skydiver complete trust during the descent toward the Earth, yet he or she may still want for as soft a landing as possible, or to be on target. But their safety is in relying on the parachute. Read John 10:14-16. Jesus is the good shepherd. He loves His sheep. He cares for them. They listen to him. Jesus is helping us see we can rely on and trust in Him for our deepest needs. Today as you go about the regular activities of your day, find a way to remind yourself, He is my good shepherd; He knows me, I can trust, He is good and wants good for me, it is right to hope.  

Day 3: Most likely, something in your life is amiss. Issues at work, a reoccurring conflict with a co-worker, boss, or employee. Maybe its stressed relationships with friends or family, or the house being a mess, the car dying, debt piling up. You may wish those were your problems, you just received a diagnosis that makes it hard to have hope. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. I am, will be ok. Read Matthew 6:28-34. Rest in the care and goodness of the shepherd. Reflect back on other difficult times. You’re still here. God is still good. He knows you and is with you.  

Day 4: Read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 and Philippians 4:11-13. Paul knew something of struggle, hardship and want. He learned contentment was not tied to circumstances. He trusted. He discovered deep trust and faith through struggle, injustice, and pain. Today step toward your hardship or struggle. Reach out to someone you’re in community with, share the struggle, fears, doubt. Let struggle and perspective do its work in leading you to trust and rely on the Good Shepherd more deeply. Reach out to God, share your hurt and fears in prayer, sit in quiet and trust His presence with you. Recite Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Listen to what He has to say.   

Day 5: There is freedom in following the shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not want. This freedom is available to you. Read Romans 8:28-39. These verses speak to struggles. They don’t call us to deny them, but to remember how God has acted, that He is still good, still with us in our struggles. Freedom and even peace comes from knowing I am a beloved child of God. God is saying there is more to the story than our immediate chapter. In John 14:27 Jesus says, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. This is peace that we don’t experience because of any circumstance or good break. The world doesn’t offer this kind of peace. Knowing our Shepherd is still with us can give us this peace. Do you know of this kind of peace? Try practicing a daily trust in Jesus’ words (either of these passages) as you go about the activities of your day.  

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Week of February 4

Psalm 23

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Day 1: Read Psalm 23 slowly, as if you’ve never read it before. Try a different translation. Meditate on it phrase by phrase. Pray that God would give this familiar Psalm new life and meaning to you. Read it again as a prayer to God. After you read, take a few minutes to write down the words and phrases that stood out, or may carry a unique significance in your life right now. Include any questions you have about a verse or phrase that you could investigate later. As you go about your day, remind yourself of the memorable word or phrase. When your day is over, return to what you wrote and take time to pray further.  

 

Day 2: Read John 10:14-15. Jesus knows you intimately. Just as He refers to a close relationship with the Father, Jesus knows you in the same way. In Psalm 139:1, David writes, “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.” There are no secrets or hidden places in our lives. He guides us along the right paths. He is close beside us. He gives us courage to enter the day we may be dreading. This is the kind of shepherd who Jesus is,

a good shepherd. He knows your name. He knows your heart. He knows you. With all honesty, do you believe this today? Do you believe He is a good shepherd to you? If yes, celebrate that. Think about the events of this day believing He will shepherd you through them. Pray for your children or others in your life. Pray that they may truly sense the Shepherd in their lives today. If no, it’s ok. Consider why you have doubts. Open Psalm 23 again. In what ways does this Psalm not match your view of God right now?   

 

Day 3: Read Isaiah 46:3-4. Today, let’s focus in on the first phrase of Psalm 23. David writes in vs 1, “The Lord is my shepherd.” David doesn’t say that the Lord is a shepherd, or the shepherd. He says that the Lord is MY shepherd. Before David was a king, he was a shepherd himself, responsible for the care of his father’s flock. He knew that a shepherd would be aware not only of the whole flock, but also of each and every individual sheep. In Matthew 18:12-14, Jesus teaches that the Good Shepherd will search out the one who is lost and celebrate when the lost is found. Have you ever considered what it means that God, who created the universe and all that it contains, cares for you? “I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (Is. 46: 4b) A core question we all ask ourselves is this. Do I matter? Am I valuable? Do I like myself? If we answer yes, it means that we recognize and appreciate the uniqueness that He has made. We value our attributes, our personality, our strengths, our talents. Write down the qualities you admire about yourself, the qualities the God formed to make you.  

 

Day 4: Read Ephesians 1:13-14. What do you know about sheep? A quick Google search will reveal that every sheep has a unique personality. They instinctively band together for safety. Their keen vision and hearing gives them excellent senses to know and follow their shepherd. If the Lord is my shepherd, the implication is that I am His sheep and I belong to Him. On Sunday, Cory shared that shepherds will identify their sheep by putting distinctive “ear marks” on them. Is it clear to others that you have been “marked” by the Shepherd? Journal about this question or talk it over with a friend sometime today.   

 

Day 5: Read John 10:27. Yesterday, we learned that a sheep has a good sense of hearing, which enables them to recognize and follow the shepherd’s call. How are your senses? Are you aware of the Shepherd’s voice in your life? One of the best ways to learn to hear the voice of the shepherd is to know the Bible as this is a primary way that He speaks. The Psalmist writes, “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (Ps. 119:105) As you study the Scripture, listen for His leading. While we often value self-sufficiency and the ability to figure it out on our own, we need to recognize our dependency on Him. This is a mark of true spiritual maturity. The Good Shepherd knows you, cares for you, claims you as His own, and leads you. Is self-sufficiency getting in your way from hearing God? How have you been listening to the Shepherd’s voice to follow where He is leading? As you read the Scripture passages this week, what did He say to you?  

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Week of January 28

Living Different

How To Walk Securely

Day 1: Proverbs 10:9 says, “People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed.” Regardless of where you are at in your spiritual journey, most of us can agree that it is better to be honest than to be a liar. We all want to be the good-guys in our own life story. We can all acknowledge that we aspire to lives of integrity, but all too often we fall short. There are two paths to Integrity: making good decisions and owning up to bad decisions. Read Genesis 3. When we make a bad decision and do something we’re not proud of, our first response can be to blame someone else or to try to cover up and hide from our sin. However, in the end we are very likely to be found out, and the consequences will be worse as a result. Is there anything in your life that you are afraid maybe found out? What if your boss, parent, spouse, or children knew? Be brave; take time to pray and reveal your secrets to God first. Then take some time to be still and listen.  

 

Day 2: Read Ephesians 5:1-14. Because of Christ we no longer live in darkness but in light. Before knowing Jesus, we followed our own paths possibly afraid to be exposed to the light. But now we have been raised up from the darkness and filled with God’s light. We are freed now to walk with integrity. Is there a step you need to take in order to make right a wrong? Is there someone you need to confess or apologize to?  Write it down. Make a plan. What step can you take this week to make things right and come into the light? If so, confess and come back into right relationship with God.  

 

Day 3: Read Proverbs 10:9. People of integrity walk safely. That sounds great, but does this mean that if we live in integrity daily, we won’t have any problems? Of course not. Jesus Himself lived a life of complete integrity, yet He was arrested, beaten, and sentenced to death. Instead, integrity is how to live life best, even in hardship. Psalm 119:9 says, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.” God’s Word is not just a long list of rules. Rather, it shows us how life is best lived. Even more than that, it reveals a person to have a relationship with. As we enter into a real relationship with Jesus, He will begin to make us more like Himself. Integrity will be a side effect of spending time with God in His Word, and the side effect of having integrity will be a life of security even in the midst of hardship. What step can you take this week to intentionally hear from and be shaped by Jesus? Do you talk with someone daily or weekly about what God is teaching you? Are you in a small group? If you are in a group, when have you last discussed how Jesus is shaping some part of you?  

 

Day 4: Most of the important events along life’s path are marked by a sense of insecurity and uncertainty: leaving for college, finding a job, a first date, getting married, moving, losing a parent or spouse, etc. Sometimes it is ‘crooked path’ decision that cause this uncertainty. Whatever the case, it is possible to have joy, peace, and security in all circumstances. Read James 1:2-4. Is there anything in your life robbing you of joy and freedom due to some, ‘crooked path’ decisions: financial issue, secret desire, judgmental heart, sexual sin, pattern of lying, or uncontrollable anger. Who or where can you turn to help you? The support of another can help us find our way back and an honest heart before God reminds us that He has never left us.  

 

Day 5: Read Matthew 11:28-30. In this passage, Jesus uses the metaphor of the yoke. A yoke is a wooden harness for two oxen. When they are yoked together and attached to a cart, oxen can pull a tremendous load. Furthermore, it was the common practice to put a strong adult ox who knew how to carry a heavy load with a young untrained ox. When yoked together, the young ox would slowly learn how to pull the heavy load. Jesus knows that our load is too heavy for us on our own, and we don’t know how to carry it. Instead, He invites us into His yoke, to learn from Him as we grow in His strength. And, when we enter into Jesus’ yoke, the burden will feel light even though a great load is being carried. This is the life of integrity spoken of in Proverbs 10:9! As we live our lives alongside Jesus, yoked together, our paths will be safe and secure even in peril or hardship. Today as you get ready for work, school, taking care of children, or whatever He has for you, tell Jesus that you accept His offer to take His yoke and walk alongside Him. Memorize Matthew 11:28-30 or reflect on these verses during the day.  

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Week of January 21

Living Different

Gratitude

Day 1:  Unexpressed gratitude can be difficult to see in the mirror. Read that sentence again slowly. Do you believe that? We can feel grateful. As I write to you, I feel more grateful than not. However, there is a difference between feeling grateful and expressing gratitude. Northpoint Community Church Pastor Andy Stanley said it this way, “Unexpressed gratitude communicates ingratitude.” Read Luke 17: 11-19. In this story, what stands out to you? Is it the one or the nine? Write out what impressed you or what you believe to be true from this story. Share this story at dinner tonight with your family or with a friend. Ask what stands out to them?  

 

Day 2: As we think about living different in 2018, may we apply this motto, “If you think it, say it.” Our words of gratitude and encouragement don’t mean much if they remain in our own head. They can bounce around in our mind, but if we don’t express to others what we feel about them, then the kind thoughts don’t do others much good. Read Ephesians 4:29. Is this verse stated as a question, suggestion or a command? We’re given clear direction on how to talk. Every time you think of something helpful to say to someone, say it. Don’t assume the other person knows. If you feel a prompting to verbally build another up, follow it. Some may find this difficult because they don’t routinely express affirmation. In The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains five ways we give and receive love. Using words is one of them. So you may not be naturally wired to speak out encouraging words, yet we can all practice. Try this. Put five coins in your pocket. When you have spoken encouragement to another, take out a coin. Repeat until you have emptied your pocket.   

 

Day 3: Read Colossians 3:15-17. As we speak goodness, kindness, beauty and gratitude to others, it creates an attitude of grace, mercy, and gratitude in us. Speaking kindness or affirming words during the course of a day benefits both the speaker and the receiver. Remember, giving is better than getting. Think about a time recently you complimented someone (whether a family, friend, or stranger.) How did they respond to your affirming words or compliment? How did you feel afterward? Expressing gratitude is a habit that will develop us into a more caring, loving, and hopeful person. Is there a challenging relationship in your life right now? What would happen if you remained in a perspective of gratitude when you speak with them? Whether thinking about a specific relationship or in general, practice noticing the good today and recount as much as you can tonight before you go to bed.  

 

Day 4: Maybe you are struggling with the devotional this week. You don’t have a lot of gratitude to share because you don’t have gratitude inside of you. Does that sentence resonate with you in some way? Have you experienced deep pain, hurt, frustration or grief? The idea of gratitude may be just difficult right now. Don’t move past this too quickly. Can you identify the source of your pain? Is it a recent event or conversation? Is it a relationship? Or maybe is it a self-destructive habit or thought? Read Psalm 139:1-14. Now read it again as a prayer to God. Ask Him for help and comfort in your struggle today. Is there a specific step you need to take to help you heal from your pain? 

 

 Day 5: Read I Chronicles 16:34, Psalm 27, and Romans 11:36. Allow God to use these scriptures to fill your heart with gratitude and reflect on His goodness to you. Take time to express your gratitude to God before moving on to the next sentence. Now turn your attention to the people in your lives. To whom are you grateful? Who has lived their life in such a way that it has positively affected your life? What in their life changed your character or attitude? Or did their actions or words meet some deep need in you? Was it love, respect, or belief in you? Have you shared it with them recently? Have you expressed it in a way to convey the significance it has made on your life? If it has been a while, consider how you can find some uninterrupted time with them to share your gratitude.  

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Week of January 14

Living Different

generosity: The Secret To Happiness

Day 1: Stingy and closed-fisted; open-handed and generous. We each know people who tend to live more one way or the other. Which way of living do you find yourself more admiring of, drawn to or liking? Which way of life seems more alive, full, happy or blessed? Of the two groups, who seems to be living more like Jesus? Reflect on the qualities of a generous person. Does this draw your admiration? What attracts you to a person full of generosity? Is your admiration limited to their giving nature or does it inspire you to pursue generosity in your own life?  

 

Day 2: Reread the last questions from yesterday. How did you answer them? What did thinking through those questions reveal to you? A generous life is one of the clearest indicators that discipleship (or growing to be more like Jesus) is taking place – particularly financial generosity in our materialistic, security-through-strength-and-money Western culture. Generosity is about living differently with the finances given to us because we are being formed more into the likeness of Jesus. Generosity forms us in the same ways that prayer and Bible study do. It speaks to whether our prayers and time in Bible study are changing our hearts and being incorporated into how we actually live! Take some time to reflect on these statements and following questions: I am forgiven. Am I becoming more forgiving? I am loved. Am I becoming more loving? I have been given much. Am I becoming more giving?  

 

Day 3. On Sunday Cory asked the question, “Do you consider yourself to be generous”? Take some time today to sit with that question and reflect. What do you look to in order to answer that question? What do the patterns, decisions, and choices you make reveal about what you genuinely value? Do they speak to movement and growth with an increasing trajectory toward generosity, care and well-being of others? Do you find you want to cling to a handful of times when you acted generously or do you see consistent evidence of a lifestyle of generosity and openhandedness? Do you see continuing growth in your generosity? Perhaps in the past you took some meaningful steps. Have you become stuck or plateaued in living a generous life? What are some of the obstacles to becoming more generous? What is a next step you can take to address what hinders you from becoming more generous? Would you ask God to show you the obstacles and steps you need to overcome or take?  

   

Day 4: Worry, fear, anxiety, envy, self-protection, lack of contentment, seeking safety/security through money, contempt for others. Why would Jesus say so much about these things? What do these things do to our hearts and our minds? What impact do they have on our hope, faith, and our ability and willingness to love and trust? Jesus is showing us a way to live different - a way to live more full and abundant lives! These things consume our thoughts, erode our souls, lessen our trust in God and form our hearts in such a way that we end up living small, self-absorbed lives. It’s not mere sentiment or ideology when Jesus says, “It is more blessed to give than receive” and for us to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” Who doesn’t want to be dealt with generously, forgiven freely, loved fully? Reflect on where and when you are most likely to make choices that are small, inward, fearful. Notice what is going on when this happens and particular times when you are at risk of defaulting to one of these life stealing behaviors, attitudes, or mindsets. Does this show a lack of trust in a generous God? How does this affect your generous living? 

 

Day 5: I often feel like being generous, but I don’t always act on it. I even like to give myself partial credit for wanting to be generous. It’s one of the silly mind games I play that doesn’t lead me to an actual demonstration of becoming more generous or more like Jesus! We reflected in Day 3 about obstacles to generosity in our lives. As we did, some of us would have identified financial strain as an obstacle. Strains from unforeseen disasters and hardship, others self-inflicted by how we live. Either way, both are very real. One available step is to get into the next Financial Peace University group that starts Wednesday, January 24. You can sign up on the website (www.fpu.com/1056532) or at ConnectU next weekend. This group can help you dig out of a mess or simply find a way to live different financially so that you have financial margin to act on the desires and promptings to become more generous.   

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Week of January 7

Living Different

Mirror, Mirror

Day 1 - Cory’s message on Sunday detailed two scriptures that command us to live different by not just listening, but doing. Read the first passage, James 1:22-25. Reflect on how the mirror analogy is used as a physical description to challenge our spiritual nature. When we look into a mirror, our image is reflected back. If our face is covered with grime or our hair is a mess the mirror will reflect that. If we choose to walk away without cleaning our face or combing our hair, we might want to believe we are “looking good”, but just because we are no longer looking in the mirror does not mean the grime and messy hair are not there; we are deceiving ourselves. The same is true when we look at scripture and think, “Oh, that is truth! That is wise! Amen!” as we close the book and go about living as we did before. James boldly states that without becoming “doers of the word” all our receiving, reading, researching, and reflecting on the Word of God is useless. Ouch! Filling our head with knowledge of the Bible is nothing unless we act on it and allow it to change us. What has God already told you to do in his Word that you haven’t started doing yet? What has He revealed about certain attitudes or behaviors that you haven’t addressed? Reflect on the ways you deceive yourself. We all do it. We all have our ways of looking the other way when it comes to our own stuff. Write down an action step to take this week to transition from listening to doing. Share this next step with someone who will keep you accountable. 

Day 2:  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:25). James invitation here is to continually place our trust in God’s perfect law, the law of freedom. But laws are often seen as being restrictive, not freeing or what not to do. Do you view God’s perfect law as hoops to jump through to appease Him or to prove your love? Or do you view it as God providing us instructions on how best to live? The law of liberty provides direction on the best way for us to live, giving us a path for knowing and loving God more deeply, and to becoming more like Him. The perfect law of God is an expression of God’s character, of who He is, and how much He cares for us and His desire for us to live fully and freely. Reflect on that lasts sentence. Do you believe that? Can you sense His presence with you now, urging you to trust Him? Write down what you hear. 

Day 3: We are all headed somewhere and becoming someone. The things I do (and don’t do) determine where I will go and who I will become. Cory used a U-Haul as an example of how simply making an outward circumstantial change seldom results in an inner heart transformation. We carry our personal “stuff” with us; we just end up unpacking it in a new spot. To experience true life change we must not just listen (or know), we must do. Allow God’s Word to affect how we live and who we are. For example, I can know that the 25mph speed limit in my neighborhood is for my own safety and the safety of others, but unless I change how fast I drive in my neighborhood, the speed limit is rendered useless to me (and to my neighbors!). What attitude, belief, habit, or behavior, have I not allowed God’s word to effect change in me and how I’m living? What is something specific I can do to move from simply knowing to doing?  

Day 4:  All of us have experiences where in the middle of doing something or NOT doing something, we realized we were making a mistake. Think about a current struggle or hurt you’re dealing with. Did anyone try to warn you where you were heading? Was the situation driven by taking advice from an untrustworthy person? Or possibly a poor judgment made in the moment where you pretended the likely outcome might not happen? What rationalizations, justifications, or minimizing did you tell yourself? Think back to the ways we deceive ourselves from Day 1. What steps will you take to change these patterns and behaviors? How will you make sure you are seeing and telling yourself the truth? Spend some time with God asking Him for insights into your current situation. Share what you hear with your spouse or accountability partner. 

Day 5: The Leaning Tower of Pisa drops 1/20th of an inch closer to the ground each year because of two reasons. The 179-foot tower was built on marshy ground (pisa translation) and the foundation is only 10 feet deep. Pisa is a real-life example of what happens when you build a structure on a shaky foundation compared to firm ground. What are you building on that will lead to a leaning tower? Maybe you don’t even notice it, but inch by inch you are moving away from where you want to go and who you want to become. Read Matthew 7:24-27. Jesus is talking about how two different people chose to build their foundation for life. Both heard the words Christ spoke. Both built similar houses nearby each other. But one withstood a very severe storm and the other crumbled. Jesus is telling us by following His teachings “by living this way” (not by simply hearing), we will be equipped to weather the storms that will come. What are you building on? What attitudes, behaviors, or habits are establishing a shaky foundation in your life? What steps will you take to begin building on the teachings of Jesus? Pray for God to show you how His words can become part of your life today. Then do what you hear.  

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Week of December 31

With ALL My Heart

Before You Begin: This devotional is a year-end reflection exercise. Each day will build on the next, with the hope of God speaking as you reflect. If possible, spend additional time working through each day. Yet, do not stop half way through this week trusting God has something unique for you as you complete the week’s readings and reflections. Last helpful hint…have a journal or device available to write out or capture your thoughts.  

 

Day 1: How do we grow in our faith? Participation in a small group, regularly serving others, or a daily time of hearing from God through reading the Bible, reflection, and praying? Consider your spiritual practices in 2017. In a journal, write out all of the activities and practices you did or tried. Take five minutes to collect journals, sermon notes, bible study guides, books. Go to our website, quickly peruse LSCC Sunday messages (lscckc.org/messages), review podcasts that impacted you, and pull out your Bible. Recall the books you read and/or verses you may have studied or memorized. Are you surprised at the amount or variety of activities or practices? Do you have notes, prayers, or reflections (thoughts) you captured? Take time to reflect; which of these were most helpful in changing an attitude or behavior? Ask God to show you and to reveal Himself as you do this exercise. Set aside some additional time in your calendar this week to reflect on what is or has been most helpful.  

Day 2: Read John 5:1-7. Jesus asks a lame man if he wanted to get well. Last summer, Jack shared a message from this passage asking the question, “Do you want to get well?” The first thing that comes to my mind may be a physical healing. Sometimes, we can experience a miraculous physical healing from God. However, a more pertinent question is this; do you want to get well emotionally, relationally, or spiritually? The devotional this week is an act of ‘getting well’. On Day 1, we pulled together resources and jotted notes of the different spiritual practices we did last year. Take some time to page through and remember what you did. Pray as you do this asking God to stir you. Create a list of 5-10 of the most impacting truths you discovered. As time allows, take 1-2 of these and write down what may have prevented you from living them out. How they have changed your thinking, a behavior or relationship? Has it changed how you view or relate with God?  

Day 3: Recall the message series in Judges: Broken People, Faithful God. Read Judges 2:1-10. Cory reminded us of the power of passing on our faith. If you heard that message, you will recall three chairs. The first chair represented Joshua’s generation. The second depicted the next generation. The final chair represented a third generation, that of Joshua’s grandchildren. Was this third generation following God? See verse 10. The point? There was a failure to pass on. How does this lesson impact you? Reflecting on our own spiritual walk. How are you passing on your faith to the next generation and EVERYONE around you? In a journal, cite at 4-5 of the biggest joys or accomplishments in 2017. Do the same with the biggest struggles or sins you’ve dealt with. Tomorrow, we will reflect on them.  

Day 4: Take a few minutes to pray. Remind yourself of God’s presence as you step into this devotion. Remove distractions and give yourself time. Pull out your lists of life events from yesterday. Pick an accomplishment/joy. Describe it. Why was it a highlight? Who played a part in it? What role did God play in it? Now do the same with the struggles/sin. Consider how these events have contributed to shaping you today.  

Day 5: John 20:24-31. What does verse 31 say? Those who believe that Jesus is the Christ may have what? Life! Having life means having joy, peace, purpose, love, healing. Remember last Easter service at LSCC. Several people walked across the stage holding pieces of cardboard. One side gave words of pain, regret, loneliness, or sin. The other side revealed healing, gratitude, inward change, life! Having authentic faith in Jesus changes us. Reflect on how Jesus has worked in your life this year. How will that impact 2018 – your relationships, your career, your heart? Now think of how these changes will affect the next 10 years and those around you. This is how legacies are formed. Take time to thank and praise Him. Jesus is working in you and through you to reveal Himself to those around you.  

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Week of December 24

And He Shall Be Called...

Prince of Peace

Day 1. “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is. 9:6) When Isaiah wrote this prophecy about Jesus, he was writing about things to come. We now live in a time in which Jesus has come. Isaiah was looking to the future with hope, we can now live in that hope. Jesus is here! As we close this series, think about the last four weeks. How has your perspective of Jesus changed? How have you seen Him as a Wonderful Counselor? Mighty God? Everlasting Father? Prince of Peace? In response to these messages, are there any steps that you desire to take in the coming year? 

Day 2. Read Isaiah 9:6-7. Jesus was described as the coming Prince of Peace. But what does this mean? Was Jesus’ birth intended to end all wars and conflict? Clearly this is not the case, or we would have no hope at all! In Colossians 3:15, Paul encourages the reader to “let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.” His peace is in our heart, not in the world around us. Our peace comes from a confident hope in the truth of who Christ is. He is the one who saves us. He is our mediator and the only way to God. He is a good father, one who will always be by our side. How does your life reflect these truths? Are you living out of a peaceful heart or a distressed heart? Where are you troubled in your life? Reflect on this for a few minutes. Acknowledge your distress to God and ask Jesus for His peace.  

Day 3. Read Philippians 4:6-7. Are you anxious? Let your requests be known to God… Pray about it, and He will give peace beyond reason. While we usually think of peace as the absence of conflict, true peace is found instead in the presence of Jesus. Peace is not the alleviation of difficult circumstances but is a state of being that happens when you’re in the middle of it. We can have peace in spite of circumstances; This peace comes in the form of the presence of the One who is the Prince of Peace. Paul encourages us to have “God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” When do you have trouble accessing Jesus’ peace? If you wrestle with anxiousness, what are the symptoms or signs (in your behaviors or your words), which could help you become more aware?  

Day 4. Read Luke 2: 13-14. On the night of Jesus’ birth, the angels declared peace! In God’s plan, the presence of Jesus on Earth is the only thing that can bring peace and deliverance from the distresses we experience in life. Read John 14:23-27. These are Jesus’ words shortly before His death. How does Jesus say that we will receive this peace? See verse 23 again. God will make His home in us. Somehow, someway if we follow and love Jesus, He will be in us and the Holy Spirit will remind us of the profound peace of Jesus. If we pursue in obedience, He will provide peace. If we trust, He will provide peace. Can you recall a time when you felt this kind of peace? If so, describe it by writing in a journal or sharing with a friend. If not, ask God for help. If you search, He will answer.   

Day 5. Read Isaiah 26:3. Do you stand in need of peace? Have you experienced the Prince of Peace? If not, it may be because you have not recognized your sin is a barrier between you and God. If you want the peace that Jesus gives, it begins with a simple yet life- changing decision. Jesus came to give us peace – to relieve the consequences of our shortcomings (our sins) – and to walk this life with us. If you are in need of this “perfect peace,” tell God the following: First, recognize that there is not one of us who is without sin, including you. Be honest with Him. Then submit to Him acknowledging that you will follow Him going forward. If you have already trusted Jesus, recall the first time you experienced the Prince of Peace. What difference did that make in your life? If you just made a decision to trust Jesus with your life now, do you have a sense of peace? Whether you’re a long-time Christ-follower or you just made the decision, share your thoughts from this devotional with a person of faith, a friend or family member, maybe with a pastor. Here is one who would celebrate with you, LSCC Small Groups Pastor, Patrick Hukriede Patrick.hukriede@lscckc.org  

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Week of December 17

And He Shall Be Called...

Everlasting Father

Day 1: Read Isaiah 9:6 and Psalm 27:10-14. Think with me for a moment about your father or authority figures in your life. What has characterized your emotional relationship with them? Do you find yourself wanting to please, appease them, hide from them, and work harder to make them proud? Did you fear them or feel safe with them? These questions are difficult, but they help us understand our deeper behaviors, attitudes and motivations. Since we have all had an earthly father, we all have had an imperfect father. Take a moment to consider one way your dad missed the mark (it may or may not be difficult). Don’t minimize it. Don’t run from it. Recognize the impact it has had on you. How have you handled this pain? Have you minimized it, rationalized it, or spiritualized it? Have you held it, felt powerless by it, or argued with it? Have you grieved it and forgiven it? Whatever your answer, how has that pain affected your view of God the Father?   

 

Day 2: Read Isaiah 44:2-5 and Isaiah 46:4. While Christian men, fathers, and husbands ought to reflect God, God is never a reflection of man. It is our job to be like Him not God’s job to be like us. Not ever. He is God. He stands alone. No one can compare. Let’s not get this backwards. The realities of our father’s shortcomings do not impact who our Everlasting Father is. There is a temptation to use an unrealistic measuring stick on our earthly fathers. (Not to excuse instances of abuse or neglect, which are serious issues that need careful and most often professional attention.) Are there ways you compare your earthly father to your heavenly one? How do your behaviors and attitudes toward God affect how you relate with Him or with people in your life?  

 

Day 3: Read Isaiah 49: 15-16. Our Everlasting Father knows our stuff. He is aware at all times of the condition of our hearts and souls. He knows where we are weak and vulnerable. Your walls are clearly evident to Him. Do you see God as one who is safe or do you see Him as a harsh father pointing out the messes you’ve made? How does Isaiah 49:15-16 describe the Everlasting Father? He is all in. He is invested in you. He has you engraved on his hand. He is not absent, clueless, unaware, withdrawn, or angry. He knows. How could these thoughts shape how you think about God? Is it mere information or can you relate to Him at an emotional level? Consider attributes or qualities of God like love, forgiveness, patience, kindness, boldness, respect, generosity, compassion. He desires to show you how to live these qualities out in real, tangible ways. Pick one quality. Praise God for this attribute of Himself and pray for Him to help you to further develop it in your own life.  Write your quality on a 3x5 card and put it in a visible place.   

 

Day 4: Read Romans 12: 2-3 and Galatians 6:7-9. Because of a childhood hurt or negative experience that we received from our father (or parent figure) we can, at times, revert back to those feelings and behaviors as if we are still under their control, influence, power and authority. Yet as we heard on Sunday, our Everlasting Father desires to influence and impact us more than any other voice or negative experience. He has set us free. To live in this freedom takes prayer, study of God’s Word and people to journey with. Do you know the heart vs. head knowledge idea? We can intellectually know our Everlasting Father is strong, loving, kind and for us, however, our heart or emotions don’t believe it. Who in your life can you have these kinds of conversations with? Does this kind of conversation come up in your small group? If so, discuss as your group. If not, can you think of someone who you could discuss this devotional with and meet them for breakfast?  

 

Day 5: Read Zephaniah 3:17. This has been an intense week with opportunity for some heavy lifting by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We will always be our Everlasting Father’s little girl or little boy. We will never outgrow the need to be his child; to immerse ourselves in the Father’s love, to receive an embrace, to be reassured. Think of the word everlasting; that is a long time! God is a Father who does not go away, does not abandon, does not give up, does not disown. He is here for you and me. A Wonderful Counselor and an Everlasting Father, He models fatherhood: comfort, love, correction, instruction, an ear to listen and a voice to call us to step out. Take some time today to worship the one who shall be called Everlasting Father. Consider an expression of worship that is out of your norm and acknowledge Him.   

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Week of December 10

And He Shall Be Called...

Wonderful Counselor

Day 1: Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” We live in a broken world. Darkness is all around us. Sickness, lies, violence, cruelty, and selfishness are everyday commonplace things. Even worse, we can become so used to this darkness, that we become numb to it. We can become blind to the brokenness all around us. Recollect several examples of darkness you have seen, read or heard about in the last day? We can even become blind to our own brokenness too. How quickly we often overlook or excuse our own dark thoughts, words, and actions. If possible, make the room you’re sitting in dark. Then, light a candle and notice how it affects the room. Read John 8:12 Take some time to prayerfully consider the dark spaces in your life. If you have difficulty, what part of your life is Jesus not present? Where do you separate your faith from your life? Take some time to write down some of your thoughts. 

 

Day 2: Did you identify areas of darkness in your life yesterday? If not, what is the stumbling block? Isaiah 9:6 says, “And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor…” In the midst of darkness God promises to send a Counselor. Read John 1:1-14. The God who created everything became human, and His life has brought light to everyone. Think about this: God became human. We don’t worship some distant strange deity in the sky. Instead, we worship a God that has been hungry and tired. We worship a God who has had to wake up and go to work, walked in the rain, had sore muscles. He experienced the hurt and lost friends to death. We have a God who understands what it’s like to be human. We have a God we can talk to and have a relationship with. We have a real person to counsel us. Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor. Take some time now to worship Jesus. Think about who He is and what He has done for you. Sing or listen to Here I am to Worship by Tim Hughes. Is He one who you can trust to help you in your own darkness?  

Day 3: Good counselors can help you identify your issues and can give you a perspective that you can’t see yourself. The reason Jesus is a good counselor is that He knows you inside and out. He knows your motives, hurts, baggage, and emotions. He knows your whole story because you are His creation. Read John 4:1-42. Jesus saw past what the Samaritan woman wanted and helped her to see what she truly needed. Jesus shined a light into the brokenness in her life and showed her where to find true healing and satisfaction. Do we allow Jesus to counsel us in our lives? It is one thing to receive counsel, but it is another thing to accept it and to let it change you. What area(s) in your life could you use counsel, scriptural counsel? Or has He already given His counsel? Maybe it is not asking again but taking the answer He has already given. (Recall Gideon – Jdg. 6) Consider the life issues you shared on Days 1 and 2.  

 

Day 4: How do we let Jesus be our counselor? Read Matthew 7:24-29. Perhaps the most obvious way to let Jesus counsel us is though His own words in Scripture. When people give us advice or counsel do we compare it to the truth in the Bible? When we think we have heard from God, do we compare it to how Jesus counseled us to live? Speaking of Psalm 119:24, it says, “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.” God gives us counsel through his Word. What habits exist in your life to help you listen to God’s Word. Do you have a time or a place that you read Scripture? If this is not a habit in your life, set a reoccurring alarm or calendar appointment on your phone this week to remind you to set aside some time to read the Bible. Come expecting God to give insight of Himself and how He made you to live.  

 

Day 5: Do you have someone in your life that you go to for counsel? Maybe it’s a professional, parent, spouse, or friend. Maybe it’s someone in the church. These counselors can be some of the most important and influential people in our lives. As followers of Jesus, we want to take steps to know and become like Him. With Jesus as our example, we too can be wonderful counselors to one another. In the local church, we have the opportunity to give and receive scripturally based counsel to one another. We are to function as the, “body of Christ” to build each other up. (Read Ephesians 4:11-16Do you have a person in your life who gives you scriptural counsel? Have you spoken with them in a while? Is there someone who you might need to make yourself available to listen to? If not, what steps can you take to begin such a relationship. It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen with intentional effort. Consider joining a small group during our next Connect U on Sundays, January 14 & 21. A trusted friend is of great worth.  

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