For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
Over the past 4 weeks, we have covered the theme "What's Your Story?"
Your story...or every experience you've ever had, good and bad...is your ministry.
Sometimes the word "ministry" feels very heavy and intimidating. We infer that we must memorize whole books of the Bible and attend seminary. We feel inadequate and unprepared to hold a ministry or to minister to others.
Those things simply aren't true.
Jesus came to earth a simple man. He was born in a manger, raised the son of a carpenter, scolded by His parents when they lost Him during a family trip, ran with an eclectic band of misfits, was essentially homeless as He traveled all over the countryside, was despised, arrested, beaten and tortured, and finally nailed to a cross.
The men He collected to Disciple were from a range of backgrounds: fishermen, a tax-collecter, a doctor, and a Revolutionary to name a few. Not all were educated. Not all were eloquent. Not all were refined. In fact, most were none of those things.
They struggled. They stumbled. They fell. Yet, Christ used them. He mentored them and taught them how to reach others just by being who they were.
They learned by example and by living the life of the Messiah. Jesus met them right where they were.
And Jesus will meet you right where you are too. He is willing and able. You don't have to be anything other than who you are and open to following His call. It's so simple, although it's not always easy.
While only some have the calling on their lives to be ministers, preachers, and teachers, all are called to reach out to others and show the love of God.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Even though Jesus spoke these words in the presence of 11 men so many years ago, when he gave the Great Commission, it applied to all of us even today.
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15)
Giving an account for the hope that we have is as simple as telling our story and of how God is at the center of it. It's about talking about the grace and mercy offered to us by Christ and that we can know we can never be perfect enough to be in the Father's presence, but through the sacrifice Jesus made for us, we have the hope of eternal life. What's not always easy? Having the courage to share the details of our lives. That takes bravery and that bravery is given to us by the Holy Spirit.
We can rest in the knowledge that God will not bring us to a person or a situation without equipping us with the tools, the words, and even the courage to follow through.
"Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20-21).
You don't need to be a speaker, a writer, an author, a blogger, a pastor, a Bible Study Leader, or a Bible scholar to share your story. You need only be willing to allow God to use you.
Over the next three days, Ginny, Mia, Mandy, and Lindsey of Deliberate Women will be sharing their stories. We hope to invite you into our lives and show you the hand of God that has led us through some very difficult and amazingly wonderful times. We hope to encourage you to recognize and share your own story. It may be difficult the first few times you share, but as you trust the Lord to work in and through you, your confidence will grow.
Up tomorrow: Ginny Hannan.
Focus on this today: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).
"God listened to their groanings. God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw what was going on with Israel. God understood." Exodus 2:24-25.
Moses, rescued from death as an infant, was raised as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, displaced because of his Jewish heritage, angry for the mistreatment of his people by the Egyptians, and acted in rage when he murdered the Egyptian who abused a relative.
Most of us don't know what it's like to face death as an infant. Most of us also have no idea what it's like to be raised as royalty, but I can almost feel the confusion,anger, and frustration Moses felt.
Please read Exodus 2:1-25
Moses's story is one that has many twists and turns. He lived under a false identity for all of his childhood. Due to his anger and retaliation over seeing his people mistreated, he was driven away by pharaoh. He married into another family and came back later as God's chosen one to lead the Jews out of Egypt and out of slavery.
Can you imagine?
Talk about an identity crisis! In fact, Moses's fist-born was named Gershom, which means foreigner.
The beautiful part about this story, to me, is that it didn't matter that Moses doubted who he was or felt displaced, God knew who Moses was. He called upon him to lead his people away from the very oppressors from which Moses had fled.
Please read Exodus 3:11-12.
Notice that when Moses tries to point out to God that he is "no one" and certainly not the "right one" to be approaching pharaoh on the Israelites' behalf, instead of reassuring Moses that he is the right person, God says in verse 12:
I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.
God has this amazing way of taking our self-imposed or assumed identities and remaking us into what He wants us to be. He took Moses--a broken, lost, and murderous man--and used him to fulfill God's promise to the Israelites.
Instead of compliments and reassurances of who MOSES was, God offered only who GOD is.
Keep this in mind, friend, as you struggle with a past that is less than you think it should be to be used for God. God will take and make you who He wants you to be.
Remember that it doesn't matter who you think you should be. All that really matters is that God is who He is.
Devotional written by Mandy.
Focus on this today: "God listened to their groanings. God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw what was going on with Israel. God understood." Exodus 2:24-25.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" John 13:34
Imagine being a Christian in a place where meeting secretly and having your life threatened at every turn is common.
Imagine knowing there is a band of angry church officials after you, silencing you at any cost.
Imagine this group of church officials is ruthless and brutal in their exploits.
Imagine knowing that you will be backed into a corner while a band of angry men throw large, sharp stones at you until you slowly bleed to death or take a blow to the head that will knock you unconscious while they continue to stone you until you take your last breath.
Isn't that frightening? How terrifying to know there is a group of powerful men at work, seeking you out to literally destroy you.
Now imagine you know the leader is a man held in high esteem. He's powerful and he has an impeccable background. He's from an upstanding family, he's highly educated, and he'll stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Nothing.
He has witnessed and commissioned countless killings, beatings, and stonings of men simply for believing Jesus was the Christ and boldly professing as much.
Now...now imagine that very leader shows up at your doorstep one day. He tells you that he wants to join you, that he now believes Jesus is the Christ.
What do you do? How do you feel?
I'm certain most of us would not throw our arms open wide, welcoming him in with a hearty back slap.
Imagine the fear, the distrust, the paranoia. Think for a minute how it would feel to wonder when the other shoe is going to drop--when he's going to strike and kill you.
Now...imagine the other side of that...imagine you are this leader who has had a sudden change of heart. Imagine how you have to constantly prove yourself and break down walls, barriers and defenses. Imagine living with yourself for all the persecution and destruction that you caused. Imagine going to sleep every night with the knowledge that there was innocent blood on your hands. Imagine realizing that you had men killed for believing the Truth.
You may have caught on by now that we're talking about Paul. We have covered him and his life a great deal in this devotional series. His life is so rich and so full that it's difficult not to use him as an example for many things.
It's easy for scripture to feel flat and 1-dimensional. It's difficult to convey and capture the emotion behind the things that happened so long ago. We forget that these stories we read are real. There really was a man named Saul who murdered countless Christians. There was real fear and terror surrounding professing Jesus as Christ. There was real bloodshed and carnage at the hands of men who believed they were doing what was right and just by stoning any who stated boldly that Jesus was the Messiah.
Christians today deal with many of the same emotions. Maybe the "wolf" in your midst isn't a professed and proclaimed Christian-killer, but maybe there is someone who has a past that you'd like to run from. Maybe someone in your church body has serious skeletons in their closet, maybe more than the church is comfortable with? Perhaps there are discussions of whether or not this person is really a believer? Perhaps there are whispers of making this person "tow the line" before allowing them to be welcomed into the fold...just to test things out.
Sometimes we as believers get so caught up in the egregious acts of others and so patently revolted by the actions of other people that we can't look past the offense to forgive and welcome in the offender.
Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Please read Acts 9:9-31.
Saul, with all the destruction and fear and turmoil he caused was met by Jesus. Jesus came to Saul and met him right where he was. Saul was changed immediately. He followed Christ's directive and went to the house of the man he was sent to.
Now, let's look at Ananias. Can you imagine being him? I almost chuckle at what was surely the look on Ananias's face when God told him to go to Saul. I imagine he was thinking something along the lines of "Are you KIDDING me??!"
I wish I could hear the thoughts of the other believers as they met Saul and learned that he was now a professing Christian. Can you imagine?
Maybe you can.
Maybe you know someone who is reluctantly welcomed into the body. Maybe you are the reluctant party--unwilling to completely allow that person in.
Saul--now Paul--was genuine in his profession of Christ. His heart was changed and his actions proved that. Maybe the person in your life isn't genuine...we may not know or it may take time to discern whether or not their intentions are pure.
Keep in mind Acts 9:11-15:
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
Not once did the Lord try to assuage Anania's well-founded fear. He offered no guarantees, no promises. He simply told Ananias: "Go!"
Maybe God is telling you that today.
Go reach out to those who are coming to you, even when their past is too much for you to handle. Meet them where they are and extend the love and grace of the Lord...the same love and grace that was extended to you.
"Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.
Focus on this today: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." John 13:34
Devotional written by Mandy.
Time to dig in! Download the Scripture Overview and Study Guide below!
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Here we are in Week #4! To recap, so far we have covered:
We have discussed that we all have a story, that God uses our stories for His glory, and we've learned about others from the Bible whose stories have been used by God.
We've studied a lot!
This week we'll talk about when our pasts are too much for the church.
Is your past littered with bad decisions, acts you wish you could take back, and sin that is just too big for the church?
Are you afraid if you confide in someone in the church, they will turn you away or cast you out? Or worse--has that actually happened?
We will dig more into this over the next 3 days, but concentrate on the memory verse today to see how God feels about you, even with a checkered past.
Join us tomorrow to learn more about when our past seems like too much for the church to handle. Scripture Overview & Study Guide will be available for download tomorrow.
Devotional written by Mandy.
Focus on this today: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
"But Ruth replied, 'Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.'"
Ruth’s story is such a beautiful one. It is one that, as Christians, we should mimic in our relationship with Christ. Please read Ruth 1:16-18. We read that Ruth's story portrays a selfless love and whole-hearted commitment. Despite Ruth’s very differing culture, despite Naomi’s inability to provide another husband for Ruth, she tells Naomi "where you go I’ll go, where you stay I’ll stay." She makes a commitment to follow Naomi and to care for her despite the fact that Naomi has released her from this duty.
Ruth 2:10-12 (Please read those verses) helps us to understand how her earlier decision has reflected upon her. People in town have heard of her sacrifice. They have learned of her commitment and loyalty and these qualities have not gone unnoticed. In fact, these qualities seem to be some the qualities that most attract Boaz to Ruth. Because of her selfless actions Ruth is now in a position to remarry a relative of Naomi’s and to have a life in which she will be well cared for.
Finally, in Ruth 4:18-22 (please read those verses) shows us how Ruth’s faithfulness, not only to Naomi, but I must believe to that still, small voice of God that urged her to go and follow Naomi, has been used for the furthering of God’s plan. In those verses we are given the genealogy from Ruth’s son to King David. We have such an amazing opportunity to have the 20/20 vision of hind sight in this situation. Ruth’s faithfulness allowed the family line of Jesus Christ to be developed. Yet, again we get the opportunity through God’s living Word to be witnesses to a bigger plan than those involved could have ever imagined. Losing her husband, her brother in-law, father in-law and then watching her sister in-law return home were, I’m sure, not easy burdens to bear. Ruth went through some rough patches, some “why are you doing this God?” experiences, but she served the same big-picture God that we serve and she chose to use her past and the rest of her life as an opportunity to become a part of a big picture. I don’t know how you are feeling at this point, but first I am glad to be serving a big picture God and second I am grateful to be a part of that picture.
This week's memory Verse: "Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things." (Ephesians 3:8-9)
Focus on this today: "But Ruth replied, 'Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.'"
"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God."
Please read 1 Corinthians 15:9 & Ephesians 3:1-12
We should all be very familiar with Paul from Week 2. We should especially be familiar with Paul’s past horrific deeds. In this day and age we could probably compare Paul’s actions to those we are seeing in the Middle East among ISIS and Hamas. His past was one that most Christians would do their very best to put a lid on. We don’t want anyone to know that before we were saved we were sinners right?
Paul did just the opposite, in 1 Corinthians 15:9 he tells of his undeserving status as an apostle due to his persecution of the Church. Paul speaks openly regarding his past so that the fullness of God’s grace and forgiveness can be understood by all. Ephesians 3:1-12 sums up the purpose of Paul’s past perfectly. Without Paul’s testimony of Grace, without his true understanding of its impact, we who are Gentiles would still be very lost. We would be still be shunned from the “inner circle”. We would not have had anyone to tell us of why God’s Grace can change us even the Law kept us out. Paul’s history was an absolute must-be-told story in order to give Gentile believers the opportunity to join the family of God through Grace. What doors will your history open up?
Devotional written by Lindsey.
Let's dig in! Click HERE to download the Scripture Overview and the Study Guide.
Focus on this today: "For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God."
"Then Samson prayed to the Lord, 'Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.'"
Today we will be looking at the example of a man who was used by God and did some pretty amazing things through God’s power, but a man who did not add to Christ’s legacy in the same way that David did. We will be taking a quick look at Samson today. You can read all of Samson’s story in Judges chapters 13 through 16, but today we are going to focus on just a couple verses from chapter 16. Throughout Samson’s life two faults are consistently displayed. First, he was quite promiscuous and second he was vengeful. God uses Samson despite and even because of his faults as these faults create opportunity for God’s strength to show through, but how much more could Samson have contributed if he had not been so thoroughly wrapped up in his promiscuity and vengeful behavior? Even up to death Samson was vying for vengeance for himself instead of vengeance for God, this can be seen in Judges 16:28-30.
God, of course, was able to use Samson’s selfish desires to display his power to the Philistines. However, Samson’s heart never really seemed to be in the right place. Unlike David, Samson was more concerned with his own benefit than with benefitting God. Both men contributed to the legacy of Christ, but their stories are very different. What part in Christ’s legacy would you like your history to play?
Time to dig in! Click HERE to download the Scripture Overview & Study Guide.
Devotional written by Lindsey.
Focus on this today: "Then Samson prayed to the Lord, 'Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.'"
"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'”
When we accept Christ as our savior, whether we aim to or not, our past, present, and future become a part of His legacy. God is capable of using us in whatever state we are in. He can use our weaknesses and unwillingness or He can use our passion and commitment to further His kingdom. Therefore, it is up to us to determine how we want our history to be used, what kind of part we want to play in the legacy that Christ is developing. Over the course of the week we are going to look at several people from the Bible. We are going to dig a bit into their pasts and we are going to unearth how their histories added to the Lord’s legacy. Today we will be looking at David.
David was not an “impressive” man. He wasn’t the first born, the tallest, or the most experienced. In fact, when Samuel came to Jesse’s family to anoint the man that God would soon place as king over the people, David was not Samuel’s first pick. Please read 1Samuel 16:7 tells us of just how God chooses his anointed ones. He does not look at outward appearance as man does, but instead God sees the heart. David had a heart for God and because of this it didn’t matter what his outward appearance was or his birth order. 1Samuel 16:11-13 tells us that the Lord picked David and that upon his anointing that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power.
Skipping ahead a little we are going to look at the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:32-37 (please read them now). In these verses David is full of an understanding that he serves a living God, and that the Philistines defiance of His God will be their demise no matter who steps up to battle the giant. Verses 42-47 of chapter 17, go on to tell us of how David testifies to this fact. In the face of a giant adversary who was spewing threats while laughing and mocking, David spoke words such as these, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” 1Samuel 17:42.
What an amazing testimony! what an awesome addition to the legacy of Christ! David, a young boy with no battlefield experience faced a giant with a sling and a few stones. He didn’t just face Goliath though. Instead, he set up the battle with an epic monologue giving credit where credit was due. David didn’t just go into the battle knowing that God would take care of things, he went in proclaiming to everyone around him that the battle was the Lord’s and would be won not by sword or spear or any other man-made device. The battle would be won because the Lord is capable of salvation.
Before David probably even realized it, he became an integral piece in the story of new testament salvation. God had already chosen to use David’s bloodline as the ancestry for Christ’s birth, but David chose to use the opportunities that arose in front of him as a testimony for God’s faithfulness to save His people. David was not perfect by any means. He had his faults that created difficulties for him later on down the road. One thing is for sure, David was a man of great faith and a man who was adamant about proclaiming that faith to others. I often wonder how mind-blowing the realization was of exactly what he predicted regarding God’s commitment to save when he reached Heaven.
When I reach heaven, I want realizations like that. I want to know that I willingly submitted every aspect of my life to fulfilling the legacy that God is creating. I want a life overflowing with opportunities to give God the glory by extolling the fact that it is not by my strength that the battle will be won, but by His.
Father God, we just come to you today, ask You for the humility that David possessed in this situation. All to often it is easy to justify our decision to take credit for things that only You could accomplish, or to place blame on You when we can’t yet see the big picture You are creating. Help us Lord to be humble and to search out opportunities to testify about Your saving grace. Give us the wisdom to look beyond the giant obstacle standing before us with threats and mocking and to see Your ability and commitment to save those who believe that You can and You will. Lord give us a desire to choose you in every situation so that one day we will be able to see that we were not only a piece in the legacy because You chose us, but that we were a piece in the legacy because we chose You as well. We ask all of this in your precious name Jesus, Amen.
Devotional written by Lindsey.
Time to dig in! Download the Scripture Overview and Study Guide:
Focus on this today: "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'"
Despite and Because of Our Past We Can Finish Well
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
I love these final verses. Please read 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Paul is speaking freely and openly to his “son” in Christ of his confidence that his race has been finished well and he will soon see his crown of righteousness. This is the same Paul we were comparing ourselves to quite favorably on Monday.
Throughout Paul’s ministry, he never seemed too shy about bring up and sharing his past with others. He was quick to inform those around him that he was the changed man standing before them because of Christ’s strength. He never hid his past from those around him (not that he really could, his cruel and determined persecution of the church made him pretty well known).
Instead, he used it as a tool for ministry and as an example of just how powerful and change-inducing the call of Christ could be. He did not allow his past to define him so, despite his past, he finished well. He also did not choose to bury or ignore his past and instead used it to create change in others; therefore, it's also because of his past that he finished well.
I want to develop a testimony like Paul’s. I want to see God do an immediate change in my life and I want to follow that up with immediate action. I want to fully grasp and take advantage of my blameless future that has been found in my calling from Christ.
Lastly, I want to neither hide nor be defined by my past. I want to allow God to use every aspect of my being to create change in this hurting world. I want to finish well and I want you to finish well too. It's time that we take the world by storm and we proclaim in our own lives and to all the world that “We have been developed by our past, but we are DEFINED by Christ!”
Time to dog in! To start at the beginning of this week's devotional, and to download the Scripture Overview, Study Guide, and Scripture Memory Verse Cards, Click HERE.
This Devotional written by Lindsey.
Focus on this today: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Blameless by Calling
"For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge--because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you."
Have you been called to Christ? Have you accepted him as your savior? If so, then I have great news! Jesus Christ is faithful in his pursuit to keep those whom he called to Himself blameless.
Read 1 Corinthians 1:4-9. It tells us just that. These verses help us to understand that we are no longer chained to our past or a prisoner to our old sin nature. Through Christ, our past sins have no hold on us. We are made Blameless by our Calling.
Time to dig in! If you have not started this devo from the beginning, please click HERE to begin on Day #1 and to download the Scripture Overview, Study Guide, and Scripture Memory Verse Cards.
Focus on this today: "For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge--because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you."
This Devotional written by Lindsey.