Take Heart! I have overcome the world.

Reading for today: 2 Chronicles 35-36 & 1 Corinthians 1

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

You might wonder why our focus verse for today is from John when the daily readings are in Chronicles and Corinthians. This week is FUEL, a National Youth Camp in which young people from all over the country gather to learn and grow in their faith. And the theme for the camp this week is ‘hupernikao’ … a Greek word that means ‘overwhelmingly conquer’.

Every day this week, except for today, we will pull from the daily readings as well as the daily FUEL themes, to explore this theme of overcoming or conquering.

Today, I want to focus on the big picture a bit. Overcome what? How?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

This verse in John is rich in helping to answer those questions. We might think that Jesus, who is the speaker here, is being kind of a downer if we just look at part of the verse. In this world you will have trouble? Not much of a pep talk, Jesus.

But if you’re anything like me, this is exactly the kind of pep talk you need.

The truth.

A little aside: A pet peeve of mine is people who sell things who won’t admit that their products have flaws. Their company is the best thing ever, producing the best products ever, which will of course give me the best results ever…Every. Single. Time. Am I the only one who would always be more likely to believe someone who is honest about the limitations of their product line or who is able to admit that while there are great options, there are also some weaker products to avoid? Rant over.

Jesus is laying out the truth here. “You’re a human person living in this world? Yup, you’ll have trouble. Pain. Sorrow. Heartache. Difficulty. Expect that too.”

But he doesn’t leave us there. “Yes, life is hard. Really hard sometimes. … BUT … hold on! You can make it because I have overcome all of it!”

Do you know that in other places in Scripture we’re given specific assurances of overcoming the hard stuff Jesus warned us we would face? Here are a couple of examples:

1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will provide us the means to overcome temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

And Romans 8:31-39 paints a beautiful and poetic word picture of overcoming a variety of troubles. Spend some time while you read this thinking about what you could use some overcoming in… Are you feeling separated from God’s love? Do you feel pain, even anguish that feels unbearable? Persecuted? Hungry for something but you don’t even know what so you keep going after the wrong thing? Are you in need, bare before Him? Or even feel in danger of slipping out of His grip?

Take heart.

What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 35-36 and 1 Corinthians 1

Destroy the Asherah

2 Kings 17-18

There seems to be a persistent theme when it comes to the kings of God’s people. There were kings who served Yahweh their God and kings who served false gods. In 2 Kings 17-18, we are told a tale of two kings. The first king, Hoshea, king over Israel in Samaria, did evil in the sight of Yahweh God. During Hoshea’s reign, the king of Assyria came up against him. Instead of relying on Yahweh for help in the time of trouble, Hoshea sought the help of foreign aid and made foreign gods.

He set pillars up and Asherim (wooden symbols of a female deity) on every high hill and under every green tree. He served Idols and worshiped stars. He made the people pass through the fire (sacrificed them to gods) and practiced divination and enchantments.

Over and over again, Yahweh God tells Israel to turn from their evil ways and keep his commandments and statutes, but they would not listen. They became stiff-necked and vain and did what Yahweh God commanded them not to do under Hoshea’s leadership. They put their trust in other gods and did not fear the one true God. The next and last king of Israel did accordingly. As a result, Israel was carried away into exile. God removed them from his sight.

Then there was Hezekiah, king over Judah. He did right in the sight of Yahweh. He removed pillars and cut down the Asherah. He trusted in Yahweh God and clung to him. He kept his commandments. Yahweh was with him and wherever he went he prospered. While all the nations surrounding him were taken into captivity, Hezekiah not only withstood the forces against him, but conquered them because he put his trust in Yahweh God, listened to his commandments, and removed the false gods from his kingdom.

In our times of trouble, will we despise the word of God and serve little self-made gods like Hoshea, or will we destroy the Asherah of our lives and serve the one true God like Hezekiah? We are told by our Lord Jesus that we will have trouble in this life but to take courage because he has overcome the world. In response to trouble, we have two choices to make that can lead to two very different outcomes. We can create and rely on our own Asherah or destroy it and rely on Yahweh God alone through his son Jesus Messiah.

We don’t live in a day and age when most people are physically making objects out of wood to worship or sacrificing their children to other gods. We may however worship and sacrifice to other “gods” that we’ve made priority in our lives over Yahweh God. If we’re not careful, we may find ourselves making our personal lives our priority. We can pursue a self-indulgent lifestyle that involves making ourselves happy, making ourselves financially secure, and making ourselves feel safe. We can sacrifice our time, energy, and focus on all things not God. We’ve got to stop doing this if our desire is to serve the one true God.

Idols can be hidden. There was a time when God ordained the bronze serpent in the wilderness as a symbol of the coming Messiah. It was to be held high for all Israel to look upon and live in the face of death. Yet, we find in 2 Kings that Hezekiah destroys it. Why? Because it had become a symbol of worship beyond what God intended for it to be. What once represented the Messiah who brings life became idol worship.

Have we set up idols of influence in our lives “on every high hill and under every green tree” without even realizing it? Have we become stiff-necked and vain with our priorities and done the very thing God commands us not to do? If we have, there’s hope! Thank God we have repentance and forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Messiah. Identify the Asherah in your life, repent, destroy it, and rely on God. 

-Juliet Taylor

Hello brothers and sisters in Christ! I am thankful for this opportunity to write.  I am a Biblical Unitarian and have been for life (although I didn’t know we had a name until recently). I grew up attending fellowship based off of the teachings of the Way International Ministries. There were some years I spent listening to church online from Living Hope International Ministries, until I found a local church that believed like me. I currently attend Higher Ground Church, now affiliated with The Church of God General Conference. I’ve been with my home church for about 14 years and attend with my husband and two boys. 
We love Yahweh God, his son Jesus Messiah, and long to be with them in the Kingdom of God. Love to all and God Bless! -Juliet

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 17-18 and Proverbs 13

When You’re Ready to Give Up

1 Kings 19-20

Have you ever been hiking on a strenuous trail or baled hay on a hot summer day? These tasks can prove quite difficult as your muscles become strained, you become overheated, and your endurance slowly dwindles. The idea of stopping and taking a nap or just quitting all together sounds very tempting. It seems like the best thing to do, but you have to keep going.

I remember one day when I was unloading a wagon full of hay bales on a hot and humid summer day. There were about 60 hay bales to unload and stack in the barn. About halfway through, I started to get tired. I was hot from the bright sun. I was itchy because of the hay that covered me, and I had rope burns from the twine on the bales. I was ready to be done, but I couldn’t stop. Rain was coming in that evening and I had to get the hay under cover before that happened. So, I kept going until my task was finished.

In 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah at a point where he is ready to give up. He is on the run again. Jezebel wants him dead, so he flees from her grasp. But he is tired of running and having to look over his shoulder. He felt like he could not continue in this way any longer. Those before him had been put to rest and he says he is no better than them. Therefore, he asks God to let him die.

Rather than letting him die, though, God sent him sustenance through an angel. Bread and water were offered to Elijah that he might have the strength to continue. So, he went to sleep again and then the angel appeared once more providing more food. This food gave him the strength he needed. For without it, he could not have made the journey. It was not yet Elijah’s time. There was work that he still needed to do, and God gave him the strength to do so.

Sometimes it can be hard to carry on with our tasks, but God is there to strengthen us. Like a cool glass of water at the end of a hike or when baling hay, God is there to sustain us. God was there to strengthen Elijah and we too can be strengthened through God.

-Hannah Deane

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Kings 19-20 and Proverbs 3

Believing God in Tough Times

Acts 27

Paul’s journey to Rome in this passage is anything but simple. When those with Paul on the ship to Rome went days without seeing the guiding light of stars or the sun, they gave up hope of ever being saved. But then Paul spoke. He shared with them what the angel of God had told him. He assured them that although their situation seemed dire, they would be delivered. It was God’s plan for Paul to appear before Caesar and Paul, neither Paul nor those with him, were to be lost at sea before that could happen.

Although this situation and the knowledge that he was to be tried by Caesar when he reached Rome must have been difficult, Paul kept trusting God. When God sent word to him, Paul did not look at the situation and doubt what God was saying. He believed God’s word, and so much so that he shared what God had planned. From the passage we can see that Paul did not even question the way in which they were to be saved- a shipwreck! Here Paul is lost at sea, facing trial by the ruler of the Roman empire and now finds out he is to be preserved for that by being saved through a shipwreck. That is a lot to take in and yet, Paul remained faithful.

This made me think of a time in my own life when I was being driven to an airport on a major highway. A car sideswiped us, and we went across several lanes of traffic, nearly hit a concrete barrier and then swerved back over a few lanes. In that moment, it seemed the vehicle I was in was going to be hit again. The situation seemed taut and like there could be no good outcome. However, miraculously the vehicle I was in and the vehicle that had hit us suffered no injuries and were not hit a second time in the busy traffic. Even in a situation that seemed hopeless, God preserved us, and we even got to the airport on time.

Sometimes, though, in these moments it is easier to think of what could happen, like getting hit a second time or being lost at sea and not on what we should be thinking about- God. But we must look to Paul as an example and trust God in tough circumstances as he did.

-Hannah Deane

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Kings 11-12 and Acts 27

God Focused Response

Acts 16

There are so many things that I find interesting in Acts 16. Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia asking for him to come share the gospel with him. When they get to Macedonia to the region of Philippi they meet a woman who comes to belief along with her whole household. But what unfolds next is really fascinating. Paul and Silas get into a situation and end up being severely beaten and thrown into the inner holding rooms of the prison. But what I want us to notice is their reaction – they aren’t crying, they aren’t in there feeling sorry for themselves or busy being angry or muttering threats – they are Praying and Singing Hymns to God! What a contrary reaction to what everyone would expect!

If we were in that situation, sore, and bleeding, in a dark, inner, dingy room with criminals around us would we be that confident and flat out bold? We would more likely be in there feeling sorry for ourselves, scared out of our wits, and wanting desperately to call our lawyer or mom or anybody that could help us get out of there! But Paul & Silas’ response was God focused. By praying and singing hymns to God they were communicating with the one who has all power and authority to change and alter any and every situation. Who needs a lawyer when you have God on your side? God used the situation to open the hearts of the Philippian jailer and his household to hear and accept the gospel message. Paul and Silas were also released to go free from the prison where they were being held. When Paul and Silas exhibited the right response to their unfair situation God turned their situation around for His glory.

If we were to be bold and confident in the Lord and say within ourselves as the Psalmist did in Psalm 121:2 “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” And keep an attitude of worship, praise, and open communication with God in our trials; maybe we would stand in the same place of victory as Paul and Silas did. One of the biggest challenges that we face in our Christian walk is keeping the right attitudes when things don’t go our way or get difficult for us. I hope we are inspired by the actions of Paul and Silas and remember to communicate with the author of life and outcomes when we face our next difficult situation.

-Pastor Merry Peterson

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 13-14 and Acts 16

Prison Break

Acts 12

You know that feeling when things are going so well that you question if you’re dreaming? Maybe you ask someone nearby to pinch you or maybe you pinch yourself. Either way, this is the feeling I imagine Peter had the night before Herod was going to bring Peter to trial. I’d encourage you to listen to Acts 12. As you listen, visualize what this could have looked like. Go ahead and use a little bit of imagination, as we’re not given pictures to accompany the stories in the Bible. If I’m being honest, I sometimes forget that the Bible is a literary text, but this chapter allows me to pick out some details and things that make me consider the (historical) story, and smile.

I’ll mention a couple parts that I really like about this chapter, but other parts might jump out at you.

v. 7 – Peter must’ve been a heavy sleeper! First the angel appeared, with a light. That didn’t wake Peter, so the angel struck (or smote) him. A gentle, “Hey Peter, time to wake up” with a rub on the shoulder didn’t cut it…

v. 9 – Peter didn’t know what was happening. He thought it was a vision. I like how he follows the angel’s instructions though. I think this is a good example for us to follow. Even when we may be a little confused about what God wants us to do, we should still obey and follow through with whatever it is.

v. 11 – “Now I know without a doubt”. I like how confident Peter is at this point. Before he thought it could be a vision. Now he knows that this is real life, and this is all part of God’s plan.

v.14-16 – I understand Rhoda was excited, but it makes me giggle how she didn’t even open the door for Peter. She was so excited that Peter had to keep knocking! 🙂

I like this chapter a lot. I will be working at being confident while following God’s plan for me and I will work at being as excited as Rhoda about what God is doing in my (and others’) lives!

-Moriah Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 5-6 and Acts 12

Positive Reactions to Negative Events

1 Samuel 29-31

Today’s Old Testament passage continues the story of David and his men while they were living with the Philistines away from Saul. In 1 Samuel 29, David is about to go fight with the Philistines, but several of the Philistine leaders are worried that David is still loyal to Saul and will turn against the Philistines in battle. So David and his men are sent back to their home, Ziklag. Unfortunately, “When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive” (NIV, 1 Samuel 30:3). This event alone would be quite devastating to David, but in addition, some of David’s men were then considering turning on him and stoning him based upon the recent misfortune. 

This rough series of events would be hard to get through alone, but verse six states that “David found strength in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). His positive reaction to these negative events can be used as an example. Instead of immediately taking revenge on the Amalekites for destroying his home and taking his family and friends, he decides to ask God first. David’s initial response can be used in many situations to choose the wisest action instead of simply reacting in the first imaginable way that is likely unwise. 

After God responds, David and some of his men successfully chase down the Amalekites and get everything back that was stolen. Although they retrieved all their possessions again, some of the men weren’t willing to give back part of the goods to those that didn’t participate in the raid. However, David’s response to this situation is again a positive example that can be applied to many other situations, even today. David disagreed with those men and instead insisted that even those that didn’t participate should receive part of the plunder. He argued that what they had received had actually come from the LORD, not from those that had actually participated in the fight. Further, David didn’t just divide up the plunder between him and his men, he also then gave gifts to others that had been kind to them in the past. As one people united with a common goal to serve and follow God, it is important to remember to share the possessions that have graciously been given by God.

-1st time Devotion Writer who Preferred being Anonymous

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1st Samuel 29-31 and Acts 9

David and Stephen

1 Samuel 23-24 and Acts 6

Today’s Old Testament reading includes strong, powerful David sparing King Saul’s life in a cave when he could have easily taken revenge and killed the king, clearing the way for his own rule and prosperity. Strong, bold, but full of mercy and God-fearing appreciation for those God had placed in power.

Today’s New Testament reading tells of Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). But, not everyone was a fan. Just as David and Jesus had run into opposition, now it was Stephen’s turn. Jealousy, arguing, false witnesses ensued. Stephen remained steadfast. I love the descriptions of this man. Those who argued against Stephen, “could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.” (Acts 6:10) and even the Sanhedrin saw that, “his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). We will read more of Stephen’s story tomorrow.

Motherhood is on my mind today. The characteristics displayed in today’s reading of both David and Stephen are characteristics I want to help develop in my children. Strong, bold, full of grace and wisdom and the Spirit of God, also able to face opposition and remain steadfast and godly.

We do not hear anything about Stephan’s family or mother. We know very little of David’s mother – though in yesterday’s reading we learned that he cared for and provided for the safety of his mother and father when Saul was seeking to kill David (1 Samuel 22:3). Just like the Disney princesses (and princes), they seem to have grown and developed with no maternal influence mentioned. But, we know, for better or worse every child ever born has had a mother. It is perhaps a good reminder to me that God doesn’t NEED me to grow my children into the Davids or Stephens or Hannahs or Marys he wants them to be. But, what a privilege to get that opportunity to do my best in His Spirit to develop those characteristics in my children. And, I am so thankful for the mother who did that for me.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 23-24 and Acts 6

The Early Church : The Purity and Persecution of the Early Church

Acts 5


Today, I’d like to focus on two more aspects of the church, both of which defined the church in its earliest days: purity and persecution. 


Purity


Yesterday, we read how God used his church to care for the least fortunate. No one in the church had any need. One of the ways this was accomplished, remember is that those who had property would sell it and give the proceeds to the church. There was no demand or command to do this, but those who did were honored by the church. In Acts 5:1-11, we read about a husband and wife duo who tried to buy the affection of the church. They sold a piece of property, but kept back a portion. But that wasn’t the problem. In verse 7, Peter asked Sapphira whether this was ALL the money they received for the land. THAT was the lie. They wanted everyone to think they were just as good as those who gave ALL their money to the church. 


But the church is not about building up our own ego. The church is about caring for those who need help. When Ananias and Sapphira lied, they lied to the Holy Spirit and they lied to God! In our world, some use church or religion for their own status. God has shown since the birth of the church that he’s not fooled. He desires to keep his people pure, focused on his mission, his goals, and not on themselves. 


Persecution


The disciples kept proclaiming Jesus. Those who were powerful were being told there was someone more powerful. Those who denied the resurrection were shown there was a resurrection. Those who considered themselves righteous were proven to be wicked. That is going to make people mad. They had told them that they couldn’t preach in the name of Jesus, but the apostles reply “We must obey God rather than human beings!” What an AMAZING testimony. They are not worried about people. They aren’t worried about the commands of men, of governments, of those who can kill the body but not the soul. 


God said “Go!” and so they go. Jesus said “Disciple others!” and so they disciple. The Holy Spirit gives them words and so they speak. 


Because of this, they were flogged (v40) and ordered not to speak. And the reaction of the disciples is fascinating. They were rejoicing. Rejoicing because they were counted worthy to suffer disgrace. Counted worthy to suffer. God thinks of them highly enough to be humiliated. 


Because in our humiliation, in our suffering, in our rejection, we look most like Jesus. God reverses our fortunes in the same way that he raised Jesus from the dead and sat him at his right hand.

In our humiliation, God gives glory. 

In our suffering, God gives joy. 

In our rejection, God gives acceptance. 

In our weakness, God gives Jesus. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, be more like the early church, today. 

May the message fill your mouth and the mission compel your feet. 

May the Spirit of God give you power and the love of God give you passion.

May the dedication of the apostles and the purity of the church define your own worship of God. 


May you do all this so that God is glorified, Jesus is honored, and many find faith. 

-Jake Ballard

Jake Ballard is pastor at Timberland Bible Church. If you’d like to hear more from him, you can find Timberland on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TimberlandBibleChurch/ ) and on Instagram (https://instagram.com/timberlandbiblechurch?igshid=t52xoq9esc7e). The church streams the Worship Gathering every Sunday at 10:30. Besides studying and teaching God’s word, he is raising three beautiful children with the love of his life, plays board games and roleplaying games with amazing friends weekly and recently celebrated both Cinco de Mayo and May the Fourth (Be with you). If you’d like to reach out to talk Bible, talk faith, or talk about Star Wars, look Jacob Ballard up on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336 )or email him at jakea.ballard@yahoo.com
God bless you all!

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 21-22 and Acts 5

The Early Church : The Fate of the Apostles

John 21

In John 21, Jesus has a number of more appearances to the disciples. After the disciples go fishing, Jesus shows up on a beach, and feeds them. Jesus takes the time to “restore” Peter. After asking him three times if Peter loved him, and hearing Peter’s three replies, he says in 18-19


“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”


Very often, when we first start following Jesus, we may think “Well, now life will be good!” We may hear preachers say “just pray and believe” and then life will go really well. And Scripture itself says that “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) But we need to be careful before thinking this means we won’t have troubles, pains, and even death in spite of, or even CAUSED BY, following Jesus. Jesus himself warned his followers that they would have trouble (See John 16:33; “you will have trouble”). And the early church, especially the lives of the disciples, prove that we will have trouble. 


Most of our knowledge of the apostles come from church tradition; we don’t know the following, but it is generally accepted. Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip, Simon the Zealot, and Matthias were all crucified by Rome. James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alpheus were both killed in Jerusalem by the ruling authorities. Matthew, Thomas, Thaddeus/Jude and Bartholomew/Nathanel were all killed while speaking of their faith. Paul, the thirteenth apostle “to the gentiles” was beheaded after a long time in prison. Only John, as Jesus prophesied, died of old age. 


I don’t bring this up to scare you or to make you depressed. I want you to know that a bunch of hillbilly fisherman from the backwoods of a small nation oppressed by an Empire changed the world. The truth of Christianity is proved in these men. They gained no power, no prestige, no wealth, no control by dedicating their lives to the gospel message. They truly believed, to the point of death, that a man named Jesus lived, taught, died, and was raised again. They didn’t go out conquering with armies. They gave their lives so others may find life. They lived knowing that God would work everything out for the good of those who love him; because they were called according to his purpose, they would be raised according to his son. 


That is the kind of passion and dedication I want to have for Jesus. I am asking myself “if Jesus sent me to speak his name, would I go? Would I be willing to die to make sure that others could find life?” I want my answer to be yes. 


How about you? How would you answer that question? Jesus is turning to you and saying “Follow me!

-Jacob Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 11-12 and John 21