Love!

1 Peter 4 8 NLT

 

“The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them to serve one another.” – 1 Peter 4:7-10

 

We are told by Jesus that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God… [and] love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31) We are also told by Paul that if we don’t operate out of love, “it profits [us] nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) Love, without a doubt, is the defining characteristic of someone who has been saved by Jesus Christ (see John 13:35). However, what does this “love” look like? Is it merely something we say to each other, or is it something much greater?

 

This passage in 1 Peter 4 has been my crutch throughout my brief time in ministry. I am absolutely thankful to my mentor in ministry for showing me this passage, as it has helped me through years of hard times and heartbreak. For all of us, there will come times when we say or do the wrong thing and upset someone that is near to us. It is in love that those wounds can be mended and a relationship restored. As my mentor taught me, “You will mess up eventually. The difference is in whether or not they know you love them. If you show love for those people, they will forgive you. If they don’t know you love them, that relationship may never be restored.”

 

Love is an action; it is something that is shown to others through deed, not just word. Love is something that is felt and seen, not simply something that is heard. You need to show love to others in order for it to be real. Sometimes it is as simple as showing up to a graduation ceremony or taking someone out for a meal, or as difficult as forgiving an individual for a serious sin against you. Love can be shown in a variety of ways, but still needs to be shown, not just said.

 

How will you show love to others around you today? This week? This year? Is there someone who needs a phone call or a comforting shoulder to cry on? Is there someone who needs a roof over their head, or a meal in their stomach, that you can help provide? What are you willing to do to show love?

 

Talon Paul

 

We are preparing to Seek Grow and Love in 2020 with a chronological Bible reading plan.  Now is a great time to download and print your plan  2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan and subscribe to SeekGrowLove.com to receive daily devotions based on each day’s Bible reading.  Show your love for your Heavenly Father by reading His love letter to you.

Contentment and So Much More

Proverbs 30

Proverbs 30 8 9 NIV

The author of this proverb, Agur, begins by belittling his understanding. The irony is that his words hold great wisdom. He is not bragging about his knowledge and understanding. He is declaring the LORD our God as unfathomably great. He asks six questions, five of which identify the power of God. The sixth is prophetic of the yet unborn son of God, Jesus. Additionally, his understanding of the perfection of God’s word and the refuge it provides us is astounding. This is a man of great wisdom who humbly recognizes his insignificance before God which in itself makes him all the more wise.

He then focuses on two requests of God; honesty and contentment. He asks that falsehoods and lies be kept far from him. He provides a variety of ways in which lies and deception can bring curses down upon our heads. They destroy our relationships and cause us to spiral ever further from the God who loves us. Entwined in these illustrations are lessons of being satisfied with what we have. Appreciating that our needs are met and being content with that is not easy when there is often so much more that we want. God provides for our needs, the author acknowledged this. Everything beyond our needs comes from our desires which are, more often than not, borne of our sinful natures.

Agur then contrasts contentment with greed. First pointing to leeches which will gorge themselves beyond their needs. Then he personifies four things which are never satisfied. Two of these are actually life-giving; the womb and land. These are bookended by destructive examples; the grave and fire.

Verse seventeen seems oddly out of place and more than a little disturbing. It actually goes with the theme of honesty. The person suffering such a creepy fate has been dishonest in action and words with their family, and likely with everyone else in their life. Ultimately they will be alone and everything they had will be scattered among the people around them.

How do the eagle, snake, ship and couple fit together? Is this what Agur did not understand? I doubt it. Each of these examples can be seen as somewhat mysterious in what path they will take. The eagle is not limited in the great expanse of the sky just as there are few obstacles that the snake could not overcome. Without a rudder and someone to steer, the ship would be tossed at the whim of the sea just as the whims of men and women often make courtship, that is dating for all those not familiar with the term, tumultuous. So how does this fit in with what Agur is trying to convey? It goes back to his self-proclaimed ignorance of, well, everything but specifically of God’s ways and will.

And then we get back to a verse that makes us scratch our head. The mention of the adulteress is actually an example of someone who is neither content with their relationship or dealing honestly with others. Additionally, she is completely without remorse as she sees nothing wrong with her actions. My prayer is that none of us would get caught up in this specific type of behavior but even more so that we would be remorseful of any actions that we take or words that we use which hurt others.

Up until verse 21, Agur has been consistent with themes of God’s power and majesty, honesty, and contentment. Somewhat enigmatic but consistent nonetheless. Beginning with verse 21 though he expands his words of wisdom. First to include the injustices of the world or what he refers to as four things by which the earth cannot bear. Of the four examples the first and last are of one who is raised to a higher position, likely without the benefit of knowledge or understanding of their responsibilities. This type of unfair promotion can lead to disaster in most cases. It is not uncommon though to see someone with little knowledge of how to manage situations or how to lead people placed in a high position. Additionally it is a warning to us not to seek after something we are not prepared or equipped to handle. I guess that goes back to one of the main ideas as well, contentment.

Agur then reminds us that wisdom and understanding are not reserved for anyone. Young and old, big and small may seek after these great treasures. His specific examples are of course of the small creatures and the wisdom found in how they act. The contrast however is of larger creatures and their “stately bearing.” The imagery used is of pride and arrogance. Perhaps a reminder of humility in our own positions, whatever they may be. Given how this proverb concludes that would certainly seem to be the final lesson.

So what have we learned from Agur, other than that he has a pretty cool name? Humility is greatly valued, especially in light of our amazing God’s power. He was in awe of the gift of God’s word that has been given to all men. He esteemed honesty and contentment as the greatest gifts to request from God. And he reminds us that it is not our age or size that matters but our willingness to seek after wisdom that counts.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

In This Moment – Our Relationships

Proverbs 27

Proverbs 27 1 NIV

How often do you think about tomorrow? What is it that you think of? Are you hoping for certain things to happen, praying for a specific outcome? Are you dreaming of what might be?

The implication from James 3:13-14 and 4:13-15 as well as Matthew 6:34 is that tomorrow is promised to no one. Ecclesiastes 9:11 tells us that time and chance happen to everyone. With billions of people each doing their own thing for their own reasons it is easy to see how true that last statement is. So we truly cannot boast about tomorrow for we do not even know if it will come to us and if it does, what it will bring.

We are to prepare for tomorrow, but not presume it. When we dream of tomorrow we may find ourselves imagining our own plans being better than God’s. Additionally, thinking to the future is more often than not the primary source of our anxieties. So again I say, prepare for tomorrow but always trust in our incredible God’s will. If He has called you to Him it is to succeed in His will, not to fail in it.

Of the 27 verses of the 27th Proverb, 16 deal directly with relationships (2-6, 9-11, 13-18, 21-22). It is telling of the importance of relationships to our amazing God. He places the greatest emphasis on our relationship with Him and one another all through the Scriptures.

The three points on relationships that this chapter of proverbs focuses on is a humble heart, the sting of honesty, and the destructiveness of things left hidden.

If there is something that you are really good at you are probably accustomed to receiving praise for it. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that we need to remember not to let it go to our head. If you let it, it can inflate our ego. A brilliant writer receives critical acclaim but it is likely that their talent was developed and nurtured by their parents, numerous teachers, and peers. The passion to do what they do is fueled by hundreds of authors that have come before them. Likewise a superstar athlete has family, teachers, coaches, trainers, teammates and even their competition to thank for honing their abilities. As you can see there is nothing that we do that we could honestly boast about. Everything we do and are capable of comes from others guiding us and believing in us. Ultimately this is all traced back to our LORD and Creator. In His image we are strong and creative. We are intelligent and powerful because of Him.

The second point made in this proverb deals with the pain of honesty and how good it can be for us. It can hurt when someone tells you, “You sing horribly!” Well, not so much for me because I already know that. But you get the picture. When someone tells you in such a point blank manner or preferably in a more caring way a truth that you need to hear that is for your benefit. Sometimes it is an honest remark about something we said or how we acted that we know was not right. We need to be called out from time to time over our words and actions. This is what the Bible calls a rebuke, a correction of what we do and say.

One of the honest expressions this passage speaks of is anger. Anger can be cruel, to the one who is angry as well as the one at which the anger is directed. But a sudden outburst of anger may allow us to clear the air. It can move us into a place of reconciliation and forgiveness so that healing can begin. The point is that open and honest communication is not always nice and polite. Sometimes it is not possible to be honest in a demure, quiet way. There are times when honesty hurts. Actually, most of the time honesty hurts. But can we truly grow and mature if everyone around us is sugar-coating and shielding us from the reality of a situation?

The third and final point I took from this proverb goes hand-in-hand with honest communication, burying things away. I mentioned the point of anger and the author continues by asking the rhetorical question, “Who can stand before jealousy?” Jealousy, envy, and the like are like smoldering embers. The heat is held inside, never dying down and ready in an instant to ignite at the first opportunity. They are not easily vented or burned out. While anger may subside soon after being released, jealousy and envy grow stronger the longer they are held. They feed off of our relationships, slowly burning them away to nothing. Be careful of what you hold inside for this is the very reason we have the expression, burning bridges.

There is so much more within this wonderful passage that we could have covered. The significance of being in this moment and trusting God for what may come as well as the importance of relationships is what really stuck out to me. So remember, not only do we owe God but many others for all that we are capable of. Honesty hurts but, when coupled with compassion, is helpful. And finally, be careful what you hold hidden inside for it can destroy your relationships and do great harm to you as well. We were created to be in relationship with God. Our Savior, Jesus, spoke of how vital our relationships are. He simplified the incredibly convoluted system of 613 laws that man had in place to two – love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. The heart of these is relationships. Never forget that.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

1 Timothy 2

Tues devo

“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and all those authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” ~ 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Paul never shies away from hard teachings in his letters. In this chapter, there are some of the most pointed verses towards women in the Bible (1 Timothy 2:11-15). One of my roommates in college hated those verses. In fact, she had taken scissors and cut that passage literally out of her Bible. When we read this chapter though, we shouldn’t read with blinders on. Yes, there are some parts of this passage that we may be resistant to for whatever reason, but we have to lean into that resistance. We can’t pick and choose what parts of the Bible we focus on; that was exactly what Paul was urging Timothy to teach against in 1 Timothy 1. 

In 1 Timothy 2, Paul begins by telling Timothy to let everyone know that prayers should be made for kings and everyone in authority (vv. 1-4). Then, in v. 8, Paul moves to instructing the men to continually pray without anger or argument. Finally, in vv. 9-15, Paul instructs the women to wear modest (not showy) clothes and learn in quietness and submission. When taken in the context of all three parts of this chapter, a common theme runs through these passages that is not just meant for women. 

Paul is instructing all of the church to practice submission to authority. Submission is “the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” It’s the way that we posture our heart so that we are quick to learn and understand the way that God wants to work in our lives. We all need to be submissive to authority, but all too often, we are not. Instead, we are prideful, which is one of the very things that God hates (Prov. 6:16-17). When we have a pride problem, we may buck under the authority of the government, our work, our parents (or husband), and our church. In fact, when we have problems submitting to the earthly authority in our lives, we will have problems submitting to the heavenly authority in our lives. 

So what antidote does Paul give for pride in our hearts? He encourages us to pray. If our goals are (1) to create the best testimony with our lives that we can (v. 2) and (2) to bring everyone into the family of God (v. 3), we should lean on the power of prayer to do so. When we are praying for others, we recognize that we can’t do anything solely on our own power for them. Instead, we can only trust that the ultimate authority, God, will work in their hearts. When we pray, we also can be thankful. Gratitude is another way to curb the pride in our lives. When we are grateful, we recognize it’s not about us and what we deserve. It’s about the graciousness of the other person we are thankful for. 

“It is, perhaps, one of the hardest struggles of the Christian life to learn this sentence – ‘Not unto us, not unto us, but unto Thy name be glory.'” ~ Charles Spurgeon

~ Cayce Fletcher

Our Hope in the Wilderness

choose joy

This week, we’ve been taking some time to rest and reflect on what it means to wander through the wilderness. Through the complex stories of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus, we see both the types of wildernesses that we may face in this life as well as the ways that we can ultimately overcome the wilderness and make it out of those difficult seasons.

As we’ve discussed this past week, these are the four Wilderness Wandering Lessons that we learned from these stories:

  1. The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.
  2. Remembering past victories can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.
  3. When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.
  4. God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

If you find yourself in a time of wilderness wandering, don’t despair. Many have been there before you and have made it out and used that time as a witness for God’s deliverance. Remember, one of Satan’s ultimate goals, as I mentioned earlier this week, is to steal your joy. One of the primary fruits of the Spirit is joy, and that joy should be evident in your life. The Israelites and Judeans knew what it was like to lose their joy when they were exiled from Israel at the end of 2 Kings. But, as we read in Jeremiah 31:2-3, 11-13, God promised that Joy to the Israelites and Judeans and he promises that Joy to you too.

“This is what the Lord says: They found favor in the wilderness – the people who survived the sword. When Israel went to find rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you… For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant with joy because of the Lord’s goodness. I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief.”

By living our life in Christ, our joy is made complete (John 15:11). When you find the hurt, isolation, or pain of life weighing down on you, pause and remember that we can overcome through Christ. Trade your grief for happiness, your mourning for joy. We can celebrate. We can overcome. Because the joy of our Lord is our strength.

~ Cayce Fletcher

***Click on the following link to listen to one of my favorite songs by Rend Collective called the “Joy of the Lord is my strength.” Learning this song can be a reminder to you to choose joy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2B6Yw0zy70

Lessons from the Wilderness: Elijah

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #2: Remembering past circumstances can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.

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It was at that moment though that the sky got a little cloudy and the wind started to pick up. We wanted to hike a little, so we to hike the trail towards the top of the mountain, with cattle lazily grazing along the rocky path. Quickly, the picturesque scene turned gray. We made it to the summit, but the mountain had clouded over, so much so that it was difficult to see straight in front of you. We quickly walked back down and waited out the fog in a small cafe, trying to warm up our hands with a coffee, before making our way to the tram.

That hike was beautiful and totally worth our short brush with the fog. But, what I’ve found is that our lives sometimes mirror that hike, but the fog can be much more dangerous. Sometimes, our lives are steady, and we exist in the happy medium of contentment and love. At other times though, our lives can be a stormy cycle of highs and lows, mountains and valleys. In our case, we were on a mountain, a mountain where we were elated. We had traveled far to get there and wanted to rest in the view and the glory. But, it was on this mountain that what we had traveled far to see and done a lot of work to do (including a 1 hour train ride and a flustered conversation in German) that we experienced a storm that clouded our experiences and made us doubt if it was really worth it.

Elijah the prophet experienced his own brush with the wilderness right after he experienced the high of his life. He was no stranger to the wilderness after relying on God’s provision in 1 Kings 17. In 1 Kings 18, he is able to testify to God’s glory and work as he goes through a showdown with the prophets of Baal. He actually gets to see the fire of Yahweh fall from heaven and rid the people of the prophets of Baal!

If we saw these things, we might be tempted to say that we would never doubt God. After seeing this, we might be elated, speechless, high on our mountaintop moment. But, for Elijah, the fog rolled in. In chapter 19, Jezebel sends word to Elijah that she was planning on killing him as soon as she could get her hands on him. Elijah panics and runs for his life into the wilderness. There, he lays down and prays for God to take his life (v. 4). Sometimes, our wilderness moments can lead us to places like this. Our vision can get cloudy if it’s focused on our circumstances that may stormy and volatile. And, in those moments, dark despair can set in, and we may think it would be better to just give up.

But then I recall all you have done, O LORD; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.If you are in that moment, remember that God does not leave Elijah there, and he doesn’t want to leave you there either. Instead, he says, “Get up and eat (v. 5). After Elijah eats twice, he goes on a journey forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God. There, Elijah waits, first through a great wind, then through an earthquake, and lastly through a fire. In each of these places, he does not hear God’s voice. Finally, he hears it in the soft whisper, as God asks him “What are you doing here Elijah?” (v. 13) Elijah responds by saying, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life” (v. 14). Elijah feels this despair because he had forgotten what God just showed him. In the desert when he was hungry, God was there with provision. He had forgotten that in the showdown, God was there with provision. When we turn our eyes from God to focus on our fractured circumstances, it can lead us to doubt. But, one remedy for that doubt is not only to remember the character of God but also to remember how God has exhibited that character in previous actions of faithfulness. We can trust in him not only because of what we know from the Bible but also because of what we know from our own lives. So, if you are in a wilderness period in your life, pause and remember God’s past faithfulness instead of dwelling on your despair. These reminders can help us to remember that even in our darkest times, God will carry us through.

~ Cayce Fletcher

A Character Defined by Love

Fruit of the spirit

The Holy Spirit produces these things in our life.  It is important that we know and understand them well, so that we can apply them to our lives.  When the fruit of the spirit is at work in our lives, amazing things happen. Your whole life blossoms and bears fruit.  One of the most wonderful fruits of all is the giving and receiving of love.

The word love can mean many different things, as you can see from the many different dictionary definitions.  We also find different kinds of love throughout the Bible, four of them specifically. Eros is the Greek word for sensual or romantic love.  Even though the term is not found in the Old Testament, Song of Solomon vividly portrays the passion of erotic love.  Storge is a term for love in the Bible that you may not be familiar with. This Greek word describes family love, the affectionate bond that develops naturally between parents and children, and brothers and sisters.  Philia is the type of intimate love in the Bible that most Christians practice toward each other. This Greek term describes the powerful emotional bond seen in deep friendships, this is the most common type of love.  Agape is the highest of the four types of love in the Bible. This term defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for humankind. It is the divine love that comes from God. Agape love is perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure.

There are so many people who go through life without feeling human love.  However, God’s plan is for every person to eventually experience His love flowing through them, so that each person can say “my cup runneth over with love.”  The funny thing is that when people are trying to feel love they often forget to read the greatest book ever written about relationships, the Bible. The Bible reveals how we can experience love for God and people that exceeds human capability.  The highest and purest form of God’s love is God’s divine and sublime love that He offers to share with us!  The perfect example of the ultimate nature of God is, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).  God wants to transform us so that our character is also defined by love.

-Katie-Beth Fletcher