Careless Words (Jan 18)

January 18 

Careless Words

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 10:16-18 | Genesis 37:1 – 38:30 | Matthew 12:22-45 | Proverbs 3:27-32

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 12:22-45

“A tree is recognized by its fruit . . . . For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-38 NIV).

Our words say a lot about who we really are on the inside. They are one of the fruits of our inner life. Jesus reminds us: “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Our words often say a lot more about us than we realize.

You expect an apple tree to bear apples, a peach tree to produce peaches and a pear tree to bring forth pears. Similarly, you expect an angry person to produce angry words, a dishonest person to speak lies, and a negative person to criticize and put down other people. You expect a loving person to speak loving, encouraging words.  A joyful person can be counted on to brighten up your day with words that bring you laughter.

Your words really do reveal your character.

To the follower of Christ, those words should be words that bless rather than curse; words that lift up rather than words that tear down.  Instead of gossip and slander, the changed heart speaks words of hope and love.

Jesus also reminds us that we are accountable for our words.  We will one day be accountable for every careless word we have spoken.  

Do your words reflect a heart being transformed into the likeness of Jesus? As he changes you from the inside out, you should expect the fruit of your words to be consistent with the transformed heart within.  Open your heart to Jesus.  Allow him to transform your heart into his likeness . . . and your tongue.

Heavenly Father, cleanse my heart and let my words reflect the transforming work of your Spirit. Produce in me good fruit and words appropriate to the life of Jesus within me. Amen.

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The Blessing of Wisdom (Jan 17)

January 17 

The Blessing of Wisdom

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 10:11-15 | Genesis 35:1 – 36:43 | Matthew 12:1-21 | Proverbs 3:21-26

Today’s Scripture Focus: Proverbs 3:21-26

“My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way with safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet . . . . The Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared” (Proverbs 3:21-26, NIV).

The Proverbs present practical wisdom for everyday living. To apply these principles to life brings great blessing (3:13). The writer mentions some of those blessings: “long life are in her right hand, in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace” (16-17).

Perhaps the greatest blessing is the peace and assurance of knowing that you are walking in right relationship with God–of knowing that he is “your confidence” (26) and the one who will keep your foot from being snared.

Knowing that he can be trusted, that he is “our confidence,” brings peace in any circumstance. Knowing that he is there to keep us safe helps us deal with our fears. Resting in His everlasting arms, we are able to sleep at night (24).

To fail to heed God’s wisdom is to invite trouble and turmoil. Failing to live by his Word brings anxiety and fear. The fool who deviates from God’s path of wisdom has trouble sleeping at night.

God intends for us to live in the blessing that comes from walking in his wisdom. Knowing and applying these practical principles leads on the right path and keeps us from stumbling. The principles bring the potential for long, full lives lived with honor and under the blessing of God. As we walk in his truth, he becomes our peace and confidence and we are able to sleep sweetly without fear. This is the blessing of walking in God’s wisdom.

God of Wisdom, direct me toward the pleasant paths of peace. May I find the rest that comes from trusting your ways and leaning on your wisdom. Amen.

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Is Your Soul at Rest? (Jan 16)

January 16 

Is Your Soul at Rest?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 10:1-10 | Genesis 32:13 – 34:31 | Matthew 11:7-30 | Proverbs 3:19-20

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 11:7-30

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt 11:28-30 The Message).

Jesus isn’t looking for relentless religious activity. He is looking first and foremost for a relationship with you. Religious activity burns us out. It makes us tired and weary. Trying hard to perform rather than resting in his grace, leads to a treadmill of activity. But it is activity in one’s own strength and for the wrong motives.

Instead of that, Jesus calls you to come rest–to spend time with Him–to get to know him and his ways. To enter into his path of discipleship. Then you walk together in his strength–he comes alongside you and enables you to live and work from his strength, and not just your own.

He is not calling you to laziness, but rather to grace-filled living. Resting in Jesus and his grace, rather than our own strength, our lives find balance and fruitfulness.

I still find it easy to take up the yoke on my own, to try to trudge ahead in my strength. Yet, every time I do, I find myself exhausted and burned out. How about you?

Jesus calls us first to a relationship with himself. Come, find rest for your soul. In his presence, the broken, wounded soul finds forgiveness, healing, and renewed strength. Walking with Him as he bears the yoke, enables us to accomplish much more than we could ever accomplish on our own.

Stop rushing around, and let your soul rest in the presence of the one who loves you with an everlasting love. Refreshed and renewed in his presence, we are prepared for the tasks of the day in the “unforced rhythms of grace.”

Lord of the Sabbath, I am tired and need your rest. I take up your yoke so that we can walk and work together. Teach me the unforced rhythms of your grace. Amen.

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Counting Hairs (Jan 15)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 15

Counting Hairs

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 9:13-20 | Genesis 31:17 – 32:12 | Matthew 10:26 – 11:6 | Proverbs 3:16-18

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 10:26-11:6

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30, NIV).

Jesus call to his disciples is not an easy one.  He asks them to leave everything behind–even their families (35-37)–to take the good news from town to town. He is clearly calling for sacrifice–for wholehearted commitment whatever the cost. “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To follow him wholeheartedly will likely bring persecution and hardship; for some, it will mean losing their very lives.

Yet, Jesus tells them that there is no reason for fear. God knows every detail of their lives, right down to the number of hairs on their heads.  God not only knows every detail, he loves and cares for his people. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30, NIV).

The road ahead may have uncertainties and challenges. It may be filled with sacrifice and hardship. But whatever it brings, we know that the heavenly Father knows–and he will care for us in every step, right down to the last detail. This is what gives us confidence to surrender all to him. His loving care gives us every reason to trust and follow him wherever he takes us and whatever the consequences.

God knows your needs. He knows what you are going through. He knows it right down to the last detail. He cares and he will see you through it. Open up your heart and share your needs. Don’t be afraid to trust him.

Loving God, I surrender myself completely to your will. I am willing to follow you whatever it may cost me. I entrust myself completely to your care. Amen.

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Praying and Going (Jan 14)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 14

Praying and Going

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 9:7-12 | Genesis 30:1 – 31:16 | Matthew 10:1-25 |  Proverbs 3:13-15

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 10:1-25

“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8, NIV).

Confronted by the immense need, Jesus called the disciples to pray.  He told them, “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (9:37).

The situation is no different today than it was in Jesus day. The needs are enormous. The number of people needing ministry is overwhelming. What can we do? Jesus calls us to pray.

Pray for open doors for the gospel. Pray for workers for the harvest field. Pray for a great harvest. Pray! Pray! Pray!

But Jesus is doing something subtle but profound in asking his disciples to pray. He is opening their eyes, their minds and their hearts to the need. He is opening their hearts so that they will hear and respond to the call to go.

Isn’t it interesting that the same people he called to pray in chapter 9, Jesus called to go in chapter 10? The disciples were the first fruits of the answer to their own prayers. They prayed for laborers, and in so doing they were called to be workers.

Jesus calls us to pray and then he calls us to be part of the answer to our own prayers.  He asks us to take the need to the Father, and then to go and become part of the solution. 

When we pray the prayer for laborers, God may raise up someone else–he often does, we can’t be everywhere. Yet most of the time, he also calls us to do something about meeting the need. Bringing it to him ensures that we get his heart for those we minister to, and that we go in his strength.

See a need? Pray about it. And as you do, don’t be surprised if you are called by God to be a part of the solution.

Lord of the Harvest, give me eyes to see the harvest field as you do. Give me a willing heart to be a part of the answer to my prayers for workers. Lord, bring a fruitful harvest for the sake of your glory. Amen.

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A Risk of Faith (Jan 13)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 13

A Risk of Faith

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 9:1-6 | Genesis 28:1 – 29:35 | Matthew 9:18-38 | Proverbs 3:11-12

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 9:18-38

“If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.”

“Courage, daughter, You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well” (Matthew 9:21-22, The Message). 

Scripture tells us that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Note how pleased Jesus was to find faith in each of these people. Also note the incredible things accomplished through that faith.

There are always doubters. The Pharisees play that role in our text. As Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases it: “Hocus pocus. It’s nothing but hocus pocus. He’s probably made a pact with the devil.”  The Pharisees continually miss out on the blessings of God because they refused to believe.

The woman, who had hemorrhaged for 12 years, took a creative risk of faith. She thought that if she could just touch the hem of his garment, she would be made well. Jesus saw her faith and rewarded her with an instant healing that changed her life forever.

Two blind men cried out in faith, asking for mercy. When asked if they believed he could heal them, they responded, “yes Lord.” Touching their eyes with healing power, he said, “according to your faith it will be done to you.”

Then there is the girl who is raised from the dead, and a demon possessed mute man who was freed to speak. Indeed, “nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

Yet the Pharisees doubted, they refused to believe. And they missed out on the blessing. 

What is your need? Come, like the woman, take a risk of faith. Cry out, like the blind men, for the grace and mercy of Jesus. It is amazing to see what blessings are brought about as we believe. May it be done according to your faith!

Faithful God, give me the strength to reach out and touch the hem of your garment. Give me the faith to see your healing power. Help me never miss out on the blessing because of unbelief. Amen.

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Bring Them to Jesus (Jan 12)

January 12

Bring Them to Jesus

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 8:1-9 | Genesis 26:17-27:46 | Matthew 9:1-17 | Proverbs 3:9-10

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 9:1-17

“They were hardly out of the boat when some men carried a paraplegic on a stretcher and set him down in front of them. Jesus impressed by their bold belief, said to the paraplegic, “Cheer up son. I forgive your sins” (Matthew 9:2, The Message). 

All around us are friends in desperate need of an encounter with Jesus. Two stories in Matthew 9 remind us that we can be used by God to bring people to Jesus.

First notice the friends of the paraplegic.  Did you notice the word, “their” in verse 2?  Jesus was impressed by “their” faith.  Whose faith?  The Paraplegic? No, the text implies that Jesus was impressed by the faith of the men who brought the paraplegic to Jesus.  

We don’t know about the paraplegic’s faith, we only know that Jesus commends his friends for having faith enough to bring the man to Jesus for healing.  

It seems to me that this says something very important to us. We, through our prayers and faith, can bring people to Jesus. Our prayers do matter. Our faith does make a difference.

Nothing is too difficult for God; no need too big. We all know friends who need the miraculous intervention of God. Will we bring them to Jesus? Will we take their needs to Him in bold belief through intercession?

Notice also the story of Matthew. After he becomes a follower of Christ, Matthew has a party for all his old friends. Jesus and the disciples show up too. What is Matthew doing? He’s bringing his friends to Jesus so that they might have opportunity to experience the new life he himself has just received.

Whether through prayer or witness, we can play an important part in the lives of our friends as we bring them to Jesus. As we bring people into his presence, miracles happen and lives are transformed.

Loving Heavenly Father, Give me the faith to pray for my friends who need an encounter with Jesus. Help me to step out in faith and invite my friends to meet Jesus. Amen.

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Calming the Storm (Jan 11)

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 11

Calming the Storm

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 7:10-17 | Genesis 24:52 – 26:16 | Matthew 8:18-34 | Proverbs 3:7-8

Today’s Scripture Focus: Matthew 8:18-34

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matt 8:26-27 NIV).

Throughout the gospels, Jesus shows again and again his authority to heal, to cast out demons, and to do all sorts of miracles. In this text, he demonstrates authority over the wind and sea.

I’m always struck with the fact that Jesus’ miracles were nearly always focused on meeting someone’s need: Bread for hungry people, healing for the sick, freedom for the demon possessed. Jesus knows our need and in his compassion he reaches out to us to meet that need.

The disciples were afraid as they were tossed by the wind and the wave.  Jesus saw their need and brought peace to the storm.

What is your storm? Not all storms are weather related. Some of the strongest are those that rage in the human heart: turmoil because of relationships; frustration at work; difficult circumstances you are facing. Whatever the source of the storm, Jesus knows about it.  He sees it. He is able to calm your storm too. Just as he brings peace to the storm, he is able to bring peace to your troubled soul.

Of course it also true that this storm is a test of your faith. As your faith is stretched, there is an opportunity for growth. Even when Jesus does not put an immediate end to the storm, he is in the midst of the storm with you speaking words of encouragement; reminding you that there is no need for you to be afraid.

Cast your cares on him.  He really does care about you.

Miracle Working God, I feel the wind and see the waves all around me. Calm the wind and the wave. Calm my anxious heart. Amen.

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Straight Paths (January 10)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 10

Straight Paths

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 7:1-9  | Genesis 23:1 – 24:51 | Matthew 8:1-17 |  Proverbs 3:1-6

Today’s Scripture Focus: Proverbs 3:1-6

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; Don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who’ll keep you on track.” Prov. 3:5-6 (The Message).

Life is a journey with many twists and turns. To us, the path ahead is uncharted and often unpredictable. Yet to God, the path is seen clearly. He sees the implications of every fork in the road. He knows what is ahead and how the path ahead fits in with his purposes and plans. Like a good shepherd, he desires to lead and guide us.

Therefore we are asked to trust him with all of our hearts. The wisdom for living life to the full is not found in our limited human understanding, therefore we must ask Him for wisdom and discernment as we journey ahead step by step.

But as we seek God, trusting him and acknowledging him in all we do; as we allow him to guide us by his word and the gentle whisper of his Spirit, he goes before us and prepares the path. Indeed, he makes it straight.

Yes, he directs our paths. But more literally, he straightens our paths. This suggests that God is actively engaged in preparing the paths ahead of us. Not only telling us which fork in the road to take, but also preparing the path for our journey.

The story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24 is a prime example. God will not always follow the exact blueprint in bringing two people together, but notice how God has prepared the path of Abraham’s servant to find a wife for Isaac. Angels are sent ahead to prepare the path. Each detail is worked out to precision to accomplish the Lord’s will. God’s hand not only guides, but also prepares the way. The paths are straightened and God’s will is done in a most wonderful way.

Confused about where God might be leading? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Or as Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase says it, “He’s the one who’ll keep you on track.”

All-wise God, straighten the path before me. Direct me as I trust your wisdom rather than my own. I am trusting you now to keep me on track. Amen.

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God Will Provide (Jan 9)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

January 9

God Will Provide

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 6:4-10 | Genesis 20:1 – 22:24 | Matthew 7:15-29 | Proverbs 2:16-22

Today’s Scripture Focus: Genesis 20:1 – 22:24

“So Abraham called the place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided” (Gen. 22:14, NIV).

How do you respond when God’s command to you is absolutely unthinkable?  That is the dilemma Abraham faces. God had promised him a son. Later, God provided the son, Isaac, in his old age in the most miraculous way. He was the son of the promise.

Now God seems to be telling him something that flies in the face of everything he had previously said and done. He tells him to take his son to the mountain to sacrifice him. It made no sense at all.

Abraham’s walk with God was intimate enough that he knew this was the voice of God. We don’t know what questions might have gone through his head, but the text tells us that he obeyed and went. Would we have had that much trust? Do we know him well enough to know his voice, when the voice calls us to do something unthinkable?

When confronted by the obvious question of his son, “Father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham voiced the hopeful trust of a man who walked in obedience and faith, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  

When it was obvious that Abraham was willing to go through with the unthinkable act, the Angel of the Lord stopped Him. He was then told the purpose of this trial of faith. Isn’t it interesting how often God withholds the purpose of a thing until after we have gone through it?

And indeed, Abraham’s words of faith, turned out to be true. God did provide a ram and a blessing.

Abraham’s test of faith was extreme, yet we are all called to trials of faith. Abraham points the necessity of persevering faith even when the command doesn’t make sense; the necessity of instant obedience even when the way ahead is unclear.

God of Mysterious Ways, help me to hear your voice and obey even when the way ahead is unclear. Give me the ability to discern your will and obey, even when the path ahead is difficult. Teach me to trust you when your path takes me places that seem to make no sense to me. Give me the faith to trust you to provide. Amen.

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