“One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21B
Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler fascinates me. You know the story; a rich young man came to Jesus, asking “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus draws the man in, telling him to obey the commandments, and the ruler replies, “I have kept all these things from my youth.” Jesus then turns to the heart, asking the man to sell his riches, give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow. Sadly, the rich young ruler chooses not to do so. This story is not about the poor, but about what we must release in order to fully follow our Lord, Jesus. In the rich young ruler’s life, he had his “fall back plan”—his wealth—that he could rely on for security and safety. He was happy to follow, as long as he could keep his stuff. That’s not how things work in the kingdom of God. We all have fall back items we must be willing to release. Wealth is one of those, but others might be reputation, pride in our own abilities, status, or something else. Yet there is a flip side. We often think of letting go of those things that are positive in our lives—such as wealth, etc.—but what about those negative moments in our past that must be set aside in order to follow with abandon? Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1 to “lay aside everything that hinders” us from fully following Jesus, right? Paul isn’t only talking of sin, but all that hinders us. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we define ourselves by our past. When we do this, we create our own “fall back” position, just like the rich young ruler. For us however, our hindrance is not wealth, it is the idea that we can never fully follow because of a past decision that disqualifies us from full participation in the Body of Christ. Instead of dwelling on the new person we are, we continue to look back, trying to make amends for what we did, many years ago. I think Jesus’ message to the rich young ruler, the command to “let go,” is not only for those who have to let go of a safety net, but also for all of us who struggle with a past decision that we’ve let define who we are. Take heart. Today is the day to let go. Today is the day to press on, to follow with abandon. And today is the day to define ourselves not by who we once were, but by who we are . . . Today.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
Are you one of those who has a tendency to compare yourself to others? I can be. And my comparisons often show me coming up . . . short.
Others appear more engaging, more educated, more everything. They seem to have the very gifts I don’t possess.
The funny thing is, I may be exactly right. Not all of us are alike. God gives different gifts and talents to each of us and for His reasons only, some appear to have more than others.
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 tells us of a master giving talents (a measure of money) to three servants. One received five talents, another two, and another, one. We know the story well.
The servant who received five talents made five more, and the servant who received just one talent hid his away and made nothing. The first servant was rewarded with greater authority. The third was cast aside for not using what he was given.
But what about the servant in the middle ... the one who received two talents? We see no record of him complaining about receiving just two talents, and there is nothing in the text about any grumbling over the difficulty in making more money with only two—while another was given five.
Instead, we see a servant who took no time to compare to another and instead went to work with what he had. In the end, he gained two more talents. Do you know what fascinates me about the master’s response? For both the servant who received two talents and the one who received five, the reward is the same.
Both servants are told, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Mt. 25:21, 23)
I suspect many of us feel we are a little short of talents at times. And yet, the Lord is only asking us to take what we have and give our best. If we build on what we have, He receives joy--which He then invites us into.
So today, let’s all take heart. The joy of our master is not dependent on the number of talents we receive, but on how we use the ones we have.
by Mary E. Peterson, Heartbeat Housing Specialist
When we enter this world as an infant, we are completely receptive. We receive our being from God via our parents. We receive love, nourishment, and comfort at the hands of others.
With wonder and awe, we slowly receive the whole of creation into our understanding—starting with our hands and feet and gradually extending outward to include all of our surroundings.
I think of my young niece repeatedly and gleefully acclaiming with amazement in her voice, “It’s raining! It’s raining!“ She delights in the very existence of rain! It’s this receptive-state that Michael Naughton is pointing out when he says “As creatures, we are first receivers before we are givers.”
As adult Christians, particularly as those involved in a sacrificial kind of ministry, we think a lot about the holiness of and need for the giving part of love. Whether it’s attentive listening, providing for material needs, upholding a woman’s dignity, or providing a safe place to cry, we give deeply of ourselves to another, pouring ourselves out in love.
Sacrificing. Emptying ourselves for the sake of another.
Because it is so evident that the giving part of love is beautifully holy, it is easy to fall into the error of thinking of the receiving part of love as selfish or as a mere strategy that allows us to keep giving.
What a subtle and dangerous error! Scripture teaches us otherwise. Consider Mary’s fiat “be it done onto me according to your Word” and Jesus’ invitation to become like children. Utter receptivity is holy!
As you think through your ministry, be sure to remember that loving includes both giving AND receiving. Just as you are called to give of your whole being, you are invited to receive with your whole being.
From the God of all creation as well as the people in your life, receive deeply!
 Naughton, Michael. The Logic of Gift: Rethinking Business as a Community of Persons. Marquette University Press. Milwaukee, WI. 2012.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...Hebrews 12:1
It seems not too long ago, I was constantly running kids or my elderly parents to their appointments. Trips to the dentist, orthodontist, physical therapist, orthopedic specialist, and dermatologist kept me constantly moving.
My children are now adults and my parents have since passed away. Yet, here I am with the same amount of appointments.
Funny thing is, now all the appointments are for me.
Lately, I have noticed the "maturing" process more and more. Sometimes, it bothers me. The books I've read about how exercise can help slow down the aging process have convinced me to learn the sometimes-joyful discipline of exercise, especially over the past four years.
While I was doing my thing in the lap pool the other day, I noticed a younger, very fit woman in the next lane.
Now, I rarely try to pace myself with other swimmers, but that day, I decided to go for it. I can assure you that, whatever semblance of a race I pretended we were in, I came in second place. The harder I tried the further behind I fell.
Feeling a little distraught, about to give up, and just plain old, well old in general, I suddenly heard a still small voice. "Run your own race, the race marked out for you."
Was this a Holy Spirit-inspired moment? I think so. As I splashed down the lane, I began to heed the advice. I began to zero in on my own technique and took my eyes off my unaware competitor.
Funny thing is, the more I focused on my own race, the more satisfied I became with my efforts. And, the more I improved.
In that exercise session, I did my personal best in time and, more importantly, in distance, all while losing track of the young athlete in the next lane over.
There are times and seasons in our lives when we are called to hone in and build our endurance as we run our own race. It is so easy to get caught up in comparing our own giftedness, resources, and ministries with those around us, which can either result in us feeling really good or really bad—neither of which translate to joy or are of much use in the lifelong journey of endurance.
Believe me, this "maturing" woman has been there and knows.
Is today the day you lay aside the things that hold you back and push forward in faith?
No matter your age, as long as you are alive, you are called to run with perseverance the race marked out for you.
What are you waiting for? Get moving!
By Betty McDowell, LSW, LAS, Director of Ministry Services
"Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace."Nehemiah 2:17
Nehemiah is an amazing book that depicts the pathway to personal restoration. The story opens with Israel having rebuilt their Temple in Jerusalem, yet living within the ruins of the rest of the city for over 100 years.
The broken down walls and burned gates around the temple represented a structure without any external defense against oppression. We may identify with a restored Temple (rebirth), but also acknowledge our vulnerabilities, some of those broken places in our soul that have been around for a long time.
The Lord wants to "secure our borders" so that we can carry His presence and walk in the Spirit unhindered!
The Lord is the Glory and Lifter of our heads. He does not want us to live in a place of disgrace, rather He desires to bring us into a place of restoration. Nehemiah was chosen by God to do just that for Israel.
Interestingly, Nehemiah's name means, "Comforted by Yahweh". The Lord knows how painful the restoration process can be, so He provides comfort through His Spirit to assist us in our journey to wholeness.
When Nehemiah first heard of the condition of Jerusalem, we are told that he sat down, wept, fasted and prayed for days. His grief is a picture of the Spirit's concern and tender mercies over the broken places in our lives.
His prayer begins with worship. When we view the Lord as greater than anything that stands like a mountain before us, we will gain security in His ability to deliver us. Not by might or by power, but by His Spirit! (Zechariah 4:6)
Nehemiah faced intense opposition from the moment he began the restoration process until the last stone was in place, and we can expect the same; but here is what he declared to the enemy from the very start; "The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it." (Nehemiah 2:20)
Nehemiah declares success to the rebuilding process and puts a stake in the ground for future dealings with his opponents. He uses legal terminology to inform the enemy that he had no share, claim, or historic right or remembrance in Jerusalem. Satan, the accuser is legalistic, so Nehemiah let the enemy know that he knew his rights to claim full restoration!
Be encouraged if circumstances have brought to light a breech in your wall. Redemption includes not only rebirth, but the restoration of our souls (our full identity as God intended).
Whenever we take a step in the direction of our promised land, opposition will arise and attempt to turn our attention to the hopelessness of the situation. That is when we must see what God sees, and say what God says about us.
The God of all hope intends to see us fully restored!
by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:11
This scripture is a beautiful expression of the nurturing heart of God. The Lord gathers us in His arms, He carries us close to His heart, and He gently leads us.
When God created us, He gave us amazing revelation into His nature. He first made man in His image, and then caused the man to fall into a deep sleep and took one of the man’s ribs to make woman. (Genesis 2:21-22).
Both male and female were created in God’s image and likeness; Eve’s female identity contained attributes that reflected the female/mothering image of God. We often emphasize the heart of the Father, but do not always perceive the Lord as one who expresses Himself through the nurturing heart of a woman.
We all need the love of a mother and a father. But in a fallen world, that need is not always satisfied. The scripture above is a precious word picture of the tender and gentle love the Lord wants us to experience in intimacy with Him. It is a healing love that brings us to life in our inner most being!
Jesus used a nurturing image of Himself when He compared His deep concern for His people with that of a mother hen for her chicks. He said, in reference to Jerusalem: “How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks together…” Luke 13:34
The Lord celebrates and cherishes women. He carefully crafts each one to reveal His mothering heart, a heart that fills all the voids, that nourishes, satisfies, delights in, comforts, and provides peace.
In this season may you experience His arms around you, carrying you close to His heart.
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split.-Matthew 27:50-51
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the veil, that is, his body.-Hebrews 10:19-20
Up until the time of Jesus, entry into the Most Holy Place was reserved for the high priest—and that only once a year. Now, suddenly, what was done from all eternity manifested in this miraculous event… as Jesus’ body was torn in death, the veil was torn from top to bottom.
God Himself tore the veil in such a way that it could never be put back in place; never again can anything (guilt, condemnation, unworthiness, addictions, sickness, poverty, etc.) separate us from His presence, from His love, from being able to boldly enter the Throne Room of Grace. Notice, it is a Throne Room of Grace!
Everything that would keep us from an intimate and fulfilling relationship with the Lord was dealt with at the Cross. We have access to Him all the time, no matter what!
Hebrews 9 tells us that Jesus entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. Now we enter the same way, through His precious blood, for it made a way for us.
Oh the precious Blood of Jesus; it washes, it cleanses, it justifies, it sanctifies, it purifies, it heals, it delivers, and it redeems us… out of the hand of the enemy. It made a way when there seemed to be no way!
As we have celebrated Passover and the Resurrection of our Lord, may we be so aware of the price that was paid for our redemption; let us walk in, and enjoy the freedom Jesus purchased for us. He became a curse that we might obtain the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
He was bound as a prisoner, so we could walk in liberty, free from every chain!
Jesus is our Passover Lamb! There was a great exchange at the cross; Jesus bound to a cross, not only became sin for you and me, He died as you and me. His body—the veil that was torn—made a way into the Holy of Holies so that we may know Him in all of His splendor and Glory!
Rejoice, for He is risen.
Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
It's a resource intended for kids, with fun pictures and summarized versions of some of the main events throughout God's story of redemption in the Old and New Testaments. Anabelle, my daughter, always asks to turn back and see the pictures of the characters (both men and women—she hasn't quite grasped the idea of a tunic yet) in their "princess dresses."
But the more we read through God's story with Anabelle, the more I'm convinced that she's not the primary beneficiary night by night... not by a long shot.
That's because The Jesus Storybook Bible is a kids' Bible that hits the nail on the head more than some commentaries I've stumbled upon. The book's subtitle, "Every story whispers his name," tips the reader off that its author, Sally Lloyd-Jones, intends to teach little ones (and their parents!) how every episode throughout Scripture points directly, unmistakably to Jesus.
This is exactly what the resurrected Christ explains to the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 when, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:27).
And so, as we read through Anabelle's Bible night after night, I'm moved and refreshed by what Lloyd-Jones calls God's "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" for his people.
There's a more succinct way to sum up this special love God has for his people. It's God's covenant love. Or, as the Psalms refer to over and over, his "steadfast love."
This is the love God promises to his people—who he promises to love simply because he loves them (Deuteronomy 7:8)—it's the love that reconciles sinners to himself, meeting us where we are in our sin and brokenness and making us his friends. It's the love that then painstakingly crafts us into the image of the Son he loves.
This is the love that assures us we have a Father who is invincible, and means to do good to us--regardless of the cost--in all circumstances:
What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all good things? (Romans 8:31-32).
As this text points out, the Always and Forever love of God is the kind of love that's guaranteed with blood. The moment our first parents rebelled against God and their nakedness was exposed, the shedding of blood became necessary to clothe them and make them acceptable to the holy God against whom they sinned.
This theme is developed again and again throughout the biblical plotline. Noah offers a sacrifice following the flood. Abraham is spared from offering his son on the mountain (sound like a foreshadowing?) when God provides a ram. The lamb is slaughtered in every Hebrew house in order that the Destroyer would pass over the firstborn. And finally, the sacrificial system is established with the giving of the Law, offering an on-going reminder that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Hebrews 9:22).
What's with all the blood? What did that all mean? And what's it got to do with love?
In a word, this is all about the Word. The Word of God taken on flesh and dwelling among men. Not only that, but taking on the form of a servant—a suffering servant who lived the life we should have lived, bore the wrath of a holy God in our place, conquered death, and disarmed Satan by his vicarious death for sinners and victorious resurrection.
In other words, "God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).
Or, as Paul rehearses this gospel to his beloved friends in Ephesus, "God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved..." (Ephesians 2:4-5).
This means that the love of God for us is entirely secure. Our position in his grace never changes. It can't be undone:
Who shall bring any charge against Gods elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was rasied--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separated us fro the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerers through him who loved us... (Romans 8:33-37).
What costly love! What expensive and resolute mercy! It's the kind that never stops, never gives up, always lasts forever. It's the kind of love that multiplies and motivates our love for others and each other. It's the kind that sustains us on our worst day, humbles us on our best day, and gives us the strength to love those our Father brings along our way, no matter how bent on self-destruction and misery they may seem to us.
This is the kind of love Who has never given up--and will never give up--on me.
And it's the kind I'll never get tired of reveling in at my daughter's bedside.
by Jay Hobbs, Communications Assistant
The main character in the true story was a man named Honi, who lived during the first century B.C., and boldly prayed a prayer that brought an end to a long-standing drought, renewing hope for the Jewish people.
This well-told story encourages readers to dream big and pray persistently.
Here’s a line from the book to whet your appetite:
Drawing prayer circles around our dreams isn’t just a mechanism whereby we accomplish great things for God. It’s a mechanism whereby God accomplishes great things in us.
I found this book both delightful and inspirational, and I’m confident you will too!
Book review by Betty McDowell, Director of Ministry Services
From Take Heart | Volume 2, Issue 11
As the season of Advent unfolds and the focus on the birth of our Savior sharpens, the reality of this Scripture, like a diamond held up to the light, reveals multiple facets.
Behold. Be aware. Observe. Consider. This is the first step for us. We must open our eyes to see what is already at hand. The busyness of our schedule, the volume o f our workload, the needs of the ministry all can conspire to crowd our vision and actually shrink our awareness of anything but the urgent. It may take a moment to step away from the inbox, set aside the volunteer schedule, wait to review the financials, and simply focus on what the Holy Spirit is doing.
The Kingdom of God is all that He is and all that He controls. Think about that for a moment. Where is He not King? To what places does His reign not extend? Perhaps there are regions of our hearts and issues that have yet to be yielded to His Lordship, but He is certainly present even there, just as He is present in our ministry and among His people.
Indeed, the Kingdom “is in your midst,” right where you are. Truly, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of your staff meeting and each shift of volunteers. The King is with you during your event planning and while you stare at the blank page that awaits your monthly appeal letter. The Holy Spirit is present when you see the red numbers on the financials. He knows your pain and your tears.
The kingdom of God is even there with you in a board meeting (whether or not every board member has read the reports in advance!). He often speaks through this group that is assembled for the care and concern of the work that He has inspired. Whether you’re the executive director, board chair, treasurer, counselor, or administrative assistant, He, and His kingdom, is in your midst.
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