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Proverbs 31

  • The Story of the Running Father

    Posted on May 27, 2014 by Sherri Gragg

    Sherri Gragg

    "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1 (NIV)

    Everything was quiet. I sat very still with my Bible and journal on my lap by my front window in a picture of perfect peace. But my heart was heavy with familiar grief.

    I had been in church my whole life. "Amazing Grace" was as familiar to me as the lullabies my mother sang over my crib, yet somehow my image of God was less of a kind and gracious Father and more of an angry, distant judge. How could a holy God ever accept me, one so flawed?

    I bowed my head and began to weep and pray with the kind of honesty that only comes when we are at the end of all our strength.

    I know the Bible says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but I just can't seem to believe it. Every time I turn to You, my first impulse is fear!

    I give up. I can't do this on my own. Will You please heal my heart?

    Over the next year, God did for me what I had been utterly helpless to do on my own. He revolutionized my image of Him.

    One of the stories that meant the most to me on my journey was the story many of us know by the title, The Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32. I discovered that in the Middle Eastern Church the story goes by another name: The Story of the Running Father. The difference in the title reflects important cultural knowledge that the people to whom Jesus spoke would have known.

    In the biblical story, the son demands his share of the family's wealth, leaves home and breaks his father's heart in the process. Eventually the young man finds himself destitute in a foreign land and determines to return to his father's house with the hope of working as a servant.

    Scripture tells us the father sees his son a long way off and runs to him. It's the image of this running father that was so powerful to the hearers of Jesus' story.

    First, it was considered extremely undignified for a Middle Eastern man to run anywhere. Running was for children. Also, running required men to hike up their robes and expose their legs, which was considered humiliating and disgraceful.

    The reason he was running was even more significant. It was a very serious matter for a Jewish young man to lose his family's inheritance in a foreign land. If he did, and he had the gall to actually return to his village, his entire community would then bring him to justice through a custom called the Kezazah. Once the community discovered the money was lost, they would surround him and break a pot at his feet. Then they would announce that from that moment on he was cut off from his family and community ... as if he were dead.

    But this young man's father had been watching, and even though his son had broken his heart, he had been hoping for his return. He knew all too well what would happen when the villagers saw his boy. His son would be shamed and then the pot would fall, break, and his son would be lost. So, the father did what no first-century Middle Eastern man would do: he hiked up his robe and ran.

    He ran through the village streets as his neighbors stared in horror. He ran as young boys began running along behind, shouting and mocking him in his shame. He ran ahead of the crowd as they moved toward his guilty, filthy son. He ran ahead of all that was reasonable and fair. He ran ahead of justice, taking his boy's shame upon himself.

    When he reached the boy, the father quickly gathered his son into his arms, kissed him on each cheek and called for a banquet in his honor.

    This, Jesus tells us, is what God is like.

    For too long my image of God was one of a tyrant, or a cold and callous judge. But now whenever I think of God, I see Him running toward me, gathering up my shame in His wake, to redeem me with His costly love.

    My Father, thank You so much for running toward me. Help me rest in Your grace and trust Your great love. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Jeremiah 31:3, "The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.'" (NIV)

    Psalm 103:13-14, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    What do you honestly believe about the nature of God? Take time to prayerfully consider this.

    What belief do you have that is holding you back from resting in God's love for you?

    © 2014 by Sherri Gragg. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Thomas Nelson Publishers for their sponsorship of today's devotion.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Romans

  • No, After You

    Posted on May 26, 2014 by Karen Ehman

    Karen Ehman

    "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." John 15:13 (NIV)

    "I call shotgun, Mama Karen!" the strapping teen yelled as he approached my car after football practice.

    "No way, Javari! Get in the back. She's my mom, dude. I get the front!" my son Spencer hollered back, trying to jockey for the prime piece of vehicle real estate known as the front passenger seat. Then, while the two of them playfully argued over whose turn it was to ride next to me, their friend Grant quietly slipped in front, grinning with a smile of victory.

    Kids like to get their own way. So do adults. During my substitute teaching years, I spent many days getting children to take turns at recess or not cut in line at lunch. I broke up fights over seats in the library and over who was going to be captain during flag football.

    A morning commute in traffic will showcase how adults also like to get their own way and be first. Horns honk and nasty looks are exchanged as drivers vie for their spot on the road, sometimes speeding or cutting others off in the process. But how refreshing it is to meet a kind person in a traffic jam, one who waves you on and allows you to move over a lane. And when they do it with a smile, this rare gesture restores faith in the human race.

    I used to read today's key verse about laying down our lives, and thought of it as a person actually dying for another, which of course is the greatest love of all. But I have also come to think of "laying down my life" as the little choices which put others first.

    Putting others first doesn't come naturally to us. Our innate tendency is to reach for the biggest slice of pie rather than offer it to a family member. It takes a conscious effort to allow others to go before you or to let them have what you really want. This is why I have always been impressed at those who seem to do it regularly.

    My mother is one who made selfless choices, when as a single mom on a tight budget, she would wear the same threadbare coat winter after winter in order to make sure her children had warm jackets.

    I also think of Alma, whom I've known since she was the Sunday school teacher for the preschool class when my adult daughter was young. Conversations with this sweet woman are sure to revolve around you and your family. She rarely talks about herself, but instead wants to know how she can be praying for you and your loved ones. She is known by many as "the nicest woman in the world."

    Then there's the man at church who opens doors for others, helps visitors find a cup of coffee or locate a classroom, and does it all with a genuine smile. He is not an official usher. Just a kind soul.

    But I also know people who've given more. Like Andrew, my friend Tami's son. I first knew Andrew as an energetic toddler. Throughout his life he wanted to serve. To protect. To save. It was evident in his play as a child and with his future goals as a teen. Then one day, as a 19-year-old soldier, he laid down his life for his country on a battlefield far away.

    Most likely we won't ever be called to make the ultimate sacrifice, but could we vow to put others first a little more often? To intentionally look for ways to meet their needs while we put ours on hold? To, in a sense, lay down a little of our lives daily for another?

    When we do, we will be modeling Christ to a watching world as we learn to live a life that says, "No, you first."

    I'm in. Are you? If we ever meet in person someday, I'll hold the door open for you with a smile. Why, I just might even let you take the biggest piece of pie. {Maybe.}

    Dear Lord, help me to be unselfish, to intentionally look for ways to put others first in the little things in life. Maybe even in making the ultimate sacrifice if ever I'm called upon. When people look at me, I want them to see You instead. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    1 John 3:18, "Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action." (HCSB)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    In America, today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have given their lives in service to our country. Take time to attend a parade or ceremony in your area or join in a call to pause, pray and remember with others around the country.

    Pray about a way you can put others before yourself today. Then, go and do it.

    © 2014 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with John

  • Enjoying the Seasons of Parenting

    Posted on May 23, 2014 by Tracie Miles

    Tracie Miles

    "For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)

    "Are they going to laugh all night long?" my husband jokingly asked. "I don't know," I said, chuckling at his question. "But I hope so. It's a sound that makes my heart happy."

    My teenage daughter had invited her entire cheerleading squad to sleep over at our house after a basketball game. When they arrived, the house immediately filled with laughter and conversations as they gobbled up pizza and chocolate chip cookies.

    Later that night, sleep seemed to escape me. Not because of the cheerful noise billowing down the stairs from a house full of girls, but because I wondered how many more laughter-filled sleepovers I might have the blessing of hosting. Knowing my children are growing up quickly, I couldn't help but face the reality I was entering a new season of life.

    I began to ponder all I would miss with two daughters living away at college this fall, instead of just one. Although my son still has a few years left at home, I had to face the reality that this season of my parenting was coming to a close. And my heart felt heavy.

    I remember feeling these same emotions when my babies outgrew their cribs and moved to big-kid beds. When my daughters tucked away baby dolls and hair bows and focused on nail polish and fashion. When my son grew too old for his teddy bear. When they left elementary school behind and entered the scary world of middle school. When they stopped riding their bikes and instead, got behind the wheel of a car.

    As I lay in the dark pondering this changing season of my life, a warm tear trickled down my face. Yet I felt God's sweet comfort and His reminder that although life is ever-changing, He is constant. I started to pray and sensed God was showing me the importance of treasuring the current season of parenting, rather than mourning the ones already passed, because every moment with our children is a blessing.

    The idea of seasons of life is found in the book of Ecclesiastes, authored by King Solomon. After becoming king of Israel following his father King David's death, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered him anything he wanted. Instead of asking for riches or victories, Solomon asked God for wisdom and received the blessing of understanding life (1 Kings 3:5, 10-13).

    Although Solomon doesn't directly speak about parenting in Ecclesiastes, his wise advice certainly applies to this subject.

    Today's key verse reminds us life is a progression of seasons, with everything happening in God's timing and under His control: "For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

    Then Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 highlights many of life's experiences that we find in the seasons of parenting, such as times to plant and uproot. Times to cry, laugh, grieve and dance. Times to embrace and turn away. Times to search and quit searching. Times to tear and to mend. Times to speak and to keep quiet. Times to keep and to let go.

    We find pieces of our parenting experiences scattered between the lines of this passage. As we accept there will be different seasons of parenting, we allow God to whisper specific encouragement to our hearts, fill our spirits with perseverance and understanding, and pierce our minds with the spiritual wisdom needed not only to make it through the seasons, but to appreciate them as gifts from God.

    No matter which season we find ourselves in, let's treasure it and bask in the blessings it brings. Embracing each season as it comes brings peace because we know we are right where God wants us to be and that He is preparing us for the season to come.

    My house may not always be filled with laughter in the middle of the night, but if I trust God is with me, I will always have joy in my heart.

    Lord, thank You for the privilege of being a parent, grandparent or caregiver to the little ones You've entrusted into my care. Help me enjoy every day of every season and lean on You when my heart aches for seasons gone by. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Ecclesiastes 3:11a, "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time." (NLT)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Ever wished you were in a different season of parenting, rather than treasuring the one you are in? If so, reflect on the blessings you enjoy in your current season of parenting. Ask God to help you focus on these things when your heart feels discouraged, tired or sad.

    © 2014 by Tracie Miles. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Ecclesiastes

  • Even a Great Husband Makes a Very Poor God

    Posted on May 22, 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst

    Lysa TerKeurst

    "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

    I've often wished I could travel back 21 years ago and give my "young bride self" some advice. But since that's not possible, I love sharing what I've learned with others.

    Not so long ago, I had dinner with a friend in her twenties who would love to be married one day. During our time together, the conversation flowed freely about all sorts of things. Blogs. Writing. Leaving your comfort zone because God said so. You know, girl stuff. And then we moved on to the subject of relationships and marriage.

    I shared with my friend that when I was single, I thought marriage was all about finding the right partner. I thought if you found "the one," you'd be happy, secure and fulfilled.

    I do think it's good to have a list of standards you desire in a spouse. However, it can never be with the expectation that if you find that special someone, he'll right all your wrongs and fill up all your insecurities. The problem with this thinking is the pressure it will eventually put on your spouse.

    To expect another person to make you feel happy, secure and fulfilled will leave you disappointed at best and disillusioned at worst. Even a great husband makes a very poor God.

    Only God Himself can settle those deep heart-needs. Our key verse, Philippians 4:19 reminds us of this, "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus."

    If a husband could meet every need his wife had, we'd have no need for God. Therefore, instead of just focusing on finding the right partner, let God work on your heart to help you become the right partner. The time to start working on becoming a wife is now. Before the white dress, delicate bouquets, unity candle, bacon-wrapped shrimp and reception punch, there is some heart stuff to consider:

    Getting married doesn't instantly make you selfless ... it makes you realize how very selfish you can be at times.

    Getting married doesn't make you feel loved ... it makes you realize love is more of a decision you make than a feeling you feel.

    Getting married doesn't take away loneliness ... it makes you realize true companionship comes not when you demand it, but rather when you give it to another person.

    So, what does marriage give? A beautiful chance to make the choice to ...

    Laugh whether or not the jokes are funny.

    Love by folding his collar over his tie every morning.

    Talk things through by addressing issues rather than attacking him personally.

    Cheer him on through both failures and successes.

    Look for a positive quality in him each day and take the time to tell him.

    Thank God for the privilege of being his wife.

    After our time together, my friend thanked me for our talk. She said it gave her a lot to think about. To be honest, it gave me a lot to think about as well.

    Dear Lord, only You can fill my heart, right my wrongs, and make me feel loved. I pray that You would show me how to keep my expectations of my husband in check. Help me be the wife he desires. And help me remember that marriage was never meant to make me happy all the time. Marriage is a decision to honor You by honoring the one you've entrusted to me to be my husband. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (NIV)

    2 Peter 1:3, "Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!" (MSG)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    If you aren't married yet, think of some ways God might want to work on your heart before marriage.

    If you are married, think of a way you've tried to get your husband to fill a need only God can meet. Pray and ask God how you can rely on Him for this need instead of your husband.

    © 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Philippians

  • Does Anybody Really Like House Rules?

    Posted on May 21, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love." John 15:9-10 (NIV)

    From the day I drove off with my newly printed license, my parents made the house rules clear: Any tickets or accidents would be my responsibility. All was well until my friends and I took off for the beach my senior year, and I backed into a parked car before I even caught a glimpse of the ocean.

    I cried knowing I'd have to work all summer at my minimum wage, fast-food job to pay for the damage I'd done.

    The sting of that seemingly unfair rule smarted until I became a parent, and my son scratched the side of a car on a mailbox last summer. Suddenly, from the view of a mom, the same rule I'd resisted as a teenager taught my son responsibility and care.

    Yet with God, the ultimate loving parent, we don't always understand that the same principles apply. Sometimes God's directions seem arbitrary and unfair. Especially in a culture lacking clear boundaries of right and wrong.

    We find ourselves thinking things like, Surely we should get to decide how much of the truth we tell at work, when to forgive a critical friend or the limits of our sexual behaviors. We're adults now, after all. Rules are for children, right?

    Yet, God wants to give us a new perspective on the subject of commands and obedience. His ways are often the opposite of our ways, and today's key verse, John 15:9-10, shows us that a life of obedience to God is a reward, not a punishment:

    "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love."

    In these verses, Jesus calls us to remain in His love, a very safe place to be, by obeying His commands.

    The word "remain" in verse 9 can also be translated "dwell" or "reside." That helps me picture God inviting us into a dwelling place with protective walls built layer by layer with His commands.

    All caring parents have house rules. And God is the most loving parent of all. He has established a beautiful place where we're invited to live with Him, protected and cherished.

    But for a woman who struggles with feeling like she has to work to earn God's love, the conditional statement "if you keep my commands" has been hard to understand. I've had to dig deeper to understand how God's love and obedience work beneficially hand-in-hand.

    Undeniably, God is love (1 John 4:16). The phrase describing God as "abounding in love" is found in Exodus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Psalm, Joel and Jonah. "His love endures forever" is repeated more than 20 times in Psalm 136 and dozens more times throughout Scripture. If God says it in His Word so many times, there's no doubt He means it! We can know for sure that God's love is always available.

    It is unchanging and always there for us, but we have a choice. We choose through the condition of obedience to remain in His love or through disobedience to walk out of its protection.

    Jesus' declaration of love feels like a warm blanket wrapped around me in a cold world. God, our heavenly Father, is drawing us into the beautiful life He created us for where His commands are simply the walls of the residence. Let's choose to move in and dwell in the presence of our Father's love.

    Lord, I choose to trust that Your rules are for my good and growth. I want to remain in Your love, and live a life of obedience to You. When I want to push against Your ways, help me to look around at the walls of Your dwelling of protection and be thankful. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    2 John 1:6, "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." (NIV)

    Psalm 119:14-16, "I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Are there any areas of life where you're not living in obedience to God's Word? How might that leave you unprotected or hinder your growth?

    Read through John 15. How is God's care for you and His desire for your growth pictured in this chapter? Journal your response to God's deep love for you.

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with John

  • You're Stronger Than You Think

    Posted on May 20, 2014 by Glynnis Whitwer

    Glynnis Whitwer

    "And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone." 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NIV)

    The first day of class, the exercise leader replaced the lighter weights I'd chosen with heavier ones. I tried to hide my skepticism as he said, "You're stronger than you think!"

    I shook my head in disbelief as he moved on to assess the next participant. No, I thought. I'm weaker than you think!

    It had been a few years since I'd been in an exercise class, and my confidence level was low. Never an athlete, I couldn't even do one push-up. And my legs felt like rubber bands after the first set of "warm-ups."

    I'd signed up for the early morning class out of determination to do things differently. It wasn't at all where I wanted to be at 5:30 a.m. two mornings a week, but earlier in the year, God challenged me to break out of my comfort zone.

    As I struggled to lift the heavier weights, I decided to glance at the women next to me. Normally when exercising I keep my head down and just try to survive. But that day I looked closer at my classmates. Some were older and spoke of grandchildren. Some looked like they were struggling too. I overheard one say she'd had a knee replacement.

    Hmmm ... if they can do this, certainly I can, too. Maybe I could try another class or two before quitting.

    The next class we all showed up, finding connection points over sore muscles. We laughed as we struggled to get off the mat. One said how hard it had been to walk up the stairs. I agreed.

    Maybe I wasn't the only one feeling weak. Somehow the idea encouraged me.

    Each morning, the thought of those other ladies showing up and rubbing sleep from their eyes motivated me to lace on my tennis shoes and head to the gym. Little by little, I felt more comfortable admitting my weakness, even laughing about it.

    In one particularly hard class, as I was the last one struggling to finish sit-ups, I heard a voice from my left, "You go, girl!" Something bold rose up in me at those words, and I thought, I can do this! Determination surged through me as I finished the last few sit-ups to the counts of my classmates.

    My positive attitude surprised me. Where did that come from? Although I was getting stronger physically, that wasn't the only area gaining strength. The encouragement from my classmates was making me stronger mentally, too.

    The first class, I wanted to keep to myself and hide my pain. But as the weeks progressed, the more I shared my struggles, the more others could speak into them. Their words encouraged me. Their presence reassured me I wasn't alone. Once again, God was teaching me how good it is to let others know I'm not perfect.

    This has been a problem for me all my life. I'd much rather be the one obeying our key verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:14: "And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone."

    I like being the one who warns, encourages and helps. I'm not so good at being patient, but otherwise I'm pretty good at obeying this verse. But for God's plan to be fully realized in the church at Thessalonica and in our lives today, at some point we need to be on the receiving end of this verse.

    This is the beauty of the body of Christ. God designed a loving check-and-balance system to deepen our faith and relationships. But in order for it to work, we have to accept being warned, encouraged and helped — allowing others to see our frailties.

    Unfortunately, there's a fierce and faulty independent streak in my thinking that fights being on the receiving end of help. My default approach is to hide my weaknesses, fears and insecurities, which opens a crack for unhealthy pride to sneak in.

    And yet what freedom there is in simply admitting: I can be a mess at times. When I acknowledge that, others can pray for me. They can encourage me. It's a double blessing of God's strength and that of others.

    God needs me to learn this truth. Admitting I need help breaks down my pride. It humbles me, which softens God's heart toward me. And it allows others to be obedient in caring for me.

    So, am I stronger than I think I am? Apparently so. But the best way to discover my strength is to admit my weakness.

    Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing friends into my life who help me grow stronger. Forgive me for the sinful pride that has kept others from getting too close. Help me to understand it doesn't make me weaker to admit my weaknesses. In fact, it opens me to get stronger. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Acts 15:40-41, "... but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Is it hard for you to share your struggles with others? What holds you back from being more open?

    Commit to telling one friend about a worry, fear or weak area of your life. Ask her to pray for you.

    © 2014 by Glynnis Whitwer. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with 1 Thessalonians

  • From Failure to Faithful Follower

    Posted on May 19, 2014 by Derwin L. Gray

    Derwin L. Gray

    "And He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.'" Matthew 4:19 (NASB)

    If you've ever felt like a loser, I've got great news today! Jesus is looking for you, because He still transforms people who feel like failures into faithful disciples who change the course of history.

    My life is the perfect example. I come from a family brutalized by drugs, a lack of education and criminal activity. My childhood friends laughed at my house because it was a disaster. And I didn't go to church growing up. I was spiritually lost!

    I didn't even own a Bible my first few years in the NFL, but when the team would travel and stay in hotels, I noticed Gideon Bibles in the rooms. One weekend, I decided to steal one. It wasn't until I became a Christ-follower that I realized the Gideons intentionally place Bibles in hotel rooms so people can take them for free!

    Did you know all of Jesus' disciples would have been considered losers by their culture? No rabbi (or teacher) in the first-century Jewish world would have chosen any of the 12 guys Jesus called to be His followers.

    Let me give you some historical context to grasp the significance of Jesus choosing these men. For Jewish people, the education of their children was not only important, it was the key means of survival as the people of God.

    Beginning at age 6, children would begin to learn and memorize the Jewish Scriptures. Those who were particularly talented would move up the ranks and apply to become followers of a particular rabbi. Those who didn't qualify would be encouraged to learn the family trade.

    Jesus took the very opposite approach. Instead of waiting for the best of the best to apply to be His students, He went after the dropouts and asked them to become His apprentices.

    Jesus dumbfounded the world and transformed the course of history through 12 individual "failures."

    When Jesus called Peter to follow Him, Peter was shocked. The story of the day they met is in Matthew's telling of Jesus' life:

    Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him." (Matthew 4:18-22)

    When Jesus called Andrew and Peter, they immediately dropped their nets and followed Him. Perhaps for the first time, Peter didn't see himself as a loser.

    I wonder if Peter remembered back to the days when he'd realized he wasn't smart enough to be disciple-potential. Perhaps the day Peter met Jesus, Peter looked into the eyes of his father, who had taught him to fish, and no word was spoken. Perhaps the expression on his father's face conveyed pride and told Peter it was okay to go with the rabbi.

    Can you imagine Peter and Andrew's daddy going home to their mother and saying, "Sweetheart, you will never believe this! A rabbi called our sons to follow Him. This rabbi believes in our sons. He believes they can be like Him!"

    Andrew and Peter dropped their nets. They left their daddy and followed Jesus. And as they did, they left their former identity to find a new one, forged by the limitless love Jesus had for them.

    As I look at my life and all the things God has done, I cry. How could I not drop the nets of my pain, my insecurities, my doubts and fears and follow Jesus, too?

    Have you dropped your nets to follow Him? Or have you held back because you think you are unqualified?

    The truth is, you're not qualified to follow Him. And neither am I. But Jesus is calling losers and failures — like us — to become faithful followers of HIS!

    Dear Lord, thank You for removing the labels my past has given me. Thank You for seeing my potential and for calling me to follow You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a, "For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction." (NIV)

    Isaiah 62:2, "You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Have you ever put the label of "loser" or "failure" on yourself? How has Jesus replaced that label in your life?

    Think about what "nets" you might be holding onto in your life. What positive changes could happen if you were to let go, and allow God's grace into that circumstance?

    © 2014 by Derwin L. Gray. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Matthew

  • Jumping Out of Airplanes

    Posted on May 16, 2014 by Suzie Eller

    Suzie Eller

    "But Jesus said, 'You feed them.'" Luke 9:13a (NLT)

    Each Wednesday, a few women come through my door. They bring with them stories of past addiction, abuse, childhood dysfunction, and second and third chances.

    They also bring friendship. Laughter. Honesty. A heart for more.

    One week we went around the kitchen table and shared five things that described us. Not five things from the past, or five things we see in the mirror. But five things that described who we are as changed, Jesus-filled women of faith.

    When it was my turn, I shared three of my five things: I am kind. I am loved by God. I am an adventurer ...

    As I listed number three, I also casually mentioned how one day I'd love to jump out of a plane. Before I could move on, the conversation erupted.

    Jump out of a plane? Why? That's crazy!

    Our study took a quick detour. After several minutes, I realized our discussion had taken a God-turn as these women began sharing their deepest fears, such as: taking a healthy risk within a relationship; believing they were capable to lead others; going on a mission trip (which requires flying). Even riding a ride at an amusement park.

    Events and people from their past had convinced most of these women they were not intended to live adventurously, but rather to be limited by their past and fears. Did Jesus' disciples feel that way too?

    In Luke 9, the disciples approached Jesus with a big problem. The crowd was massive. They were in an isolated area, and there was no food.

    The disciples wanted the people sent away.

    Instead, Jesus turned to them and said, "You feed them."

    It made perfect sense for the disciples to ask Jesus to send the crowd away. In the natural, there simply wasn't enough food. In the natural, they were accustomed to Jesus taking charge. In the natural, they were faced with a crowd of 5,000 men accompanied by women and children, bringing the total to more than 20,000 people.

    "You feed them" was a call to step out of the natural and into the supernatural. It was a jump-out-of-the-airplane faith moment.

    Jesus wasn't asking them to do it in their own power. John 15:5b says, "apart from me you can do nothing" (NIV). Jesus was letting them know He was prepared to do a lot with the little they had to offer.

    I asked the women in my home what it might look like if they were to respond to Jesus' call to adventure.

    One said she'd ride rides with me if we went to an amusement park.

    Another expressed she was willing to open her heart to loving others, even if they were still a work in progress.

    Another, who has never been on an airplane and is scared of them, is a recovering addict who desires nothing more than to tell others about Jesus. She said, "I would be afraid, but if God told me to go on a mission trip, I'd get on an airplane because my God would be there with me."

    I wanted to dance in joy! Something significant was taking place. For no matter how small the adventures might seem to others, God could do big things with each of us.

    Have the words of others or your past put limitations on you?

    Have they caused you to fear, or to think that Jesus can't use you because of your story?

    Does it seem too hard, or too big?

    "You do it."

    That's Jesus, putting His vote of confidence in you, knowing He can supply all your needs.

    It's a call to move from walking in the natural to believing in the supernatural. To learn things about yourself that God has known all along, and to watch the miracle of faith unfold in your heart.

    Father, thank You for seeing beyond my fears, beyond my broken places, to the real me underneath. You see a strong woman of faith and a trusting child of God. Today, I trust that I can do all things through You, and with Your help. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Ephesians 3:20, "Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." (NLT)

    Isaiah 43:18, "Forget about what's happened; don't keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new." (MSG)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Write down five things that describe you as a woman of faith, separate from your past or the negative words of others.

    Take those words and hold them up in prayer. Ask God what He can do with what you have to offer.

    © 2014 by Suzie Eller. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Luke

  • Might We Dare to Be a Little More Uncommon

    Posted on May 15, 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst

    Lysa TerKeurst

    "The Spirit told Philip, 'Go to that chariot and stay near it.'" Acts 8:29 (NIV)

    I have to admit ... when our guide pulled over to the side of the road at this unmarked, unremarkable looking place, I was underwhelmed. We filed out of the bus with a vague sense we were studying something in the book of Acts.

    There were no signs in this part of the Holy Land.

    No other tourists.

    Our teacher walked to a place covered with brush and pointed to a rocky path. We gingerly made our way behind him and soon came upon a road.

    With great enthusiasm the teacher said, "This road is where a man learned of Christ and received the Good News!" We walked a little farther and:

    "This place of water is where this man was baptized shortly afterward and went away rejoicing. We should rejoice! We should rejoice!"

    And then we opened the Scriptures to Acts 8:26-39, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch.

    Can I admit something to you I'm not very proud of? Even after reading the Scriptures, I wondered why our teacher picked this spot. We had so little time in Israel and wanted to see so much. I felt like there were bigger events that had taken place in much more well-known places. Shouldn't we focus on those?

    Why this place? Why this story?

    And then as quickly as we arrived, our teacher whisked us back on the bus with one final statement, "Individuals matter."

    Those two words have lingered in my thoughts and have honestly made this underwhelming stop one of my favorites to consider.

    Recently, I opened Acts 8 and reread it. Here are three things from this Scripture I want to let have their way with my heart and mind:

    1. Go near.

    Verse 29, "The Spirit told Philip, 'Go to that chariot and stay near it.'"

    This Ethiopian eunuch wasn't like Philip. He wasn't in his inner circle, comfort zone or part of his immediate sphere of influence. And yet, the Spirit instructed Philip to go close.

    God help us. We must break out of the boxes of our normality and dare to go close to those we don't understand. We must not use words like, "those people" with pointed fingers, hard hearts and spiritually superior attitudes.

    By going close, we see things we need to see. We hear things we need to hear. And our hearts become tender in the way we must be tender.

    By going close, we might actually dare to let love guide our approach.

    2. Gain understanding.

    Verse 30a, "Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet."

    He ran. This took effort, energy and intentionality. Next, instead of wielding God's Word like a weapon and haphazardly throwing Truth at this man, Phillip listened.

    Then based on what he heard, Phillip asked this eunuch if he understood what he was reading. Philip discerned a need and sought to meet that need. Philip let the man's agenda come before his own.

    God help us. Instead of running alongside people seeking to understand them, we sometimes have tendencies to run them over with our agendas and perceptions and points of view. We must seek to be discerning, not demanding.

    3. Earn the right to share.

    Verse 31b, "... So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him."

    Once Phillip dared to go near and gain understanding, then he earned the right to share. Verse 35 goes on to reveal that Philip began where this man was and "told him the good news about Jesus."

    God help us. We must go to people. Listen to people. Start where they are, not where we want them to be. And from their point of need, lovingly share the good news about Jesus.

    And might I share one more thing Philip did that I love?

    Philip continued to travel down the road with this man for a bit. Verses 36-39 reveal, "As they traveled along the road, they came to some water ... Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him." And the eunuch went on his way rejoicing.

    Looking back at that seemingly uneventful day in Israel, I'm so thankful our teacher took time to bring us to this place. Remember, there were no signs and there were no tourists.

    This was an uncommon stop in the Holy Land.

    Uncommon.

    Might we all dare to be a little more uncommon, more often.

    Dear Lord, I want to love others like You do. Help me to be a little more uncommon today. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Romans 15:7, "So reach out and welcome one another to God's glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!" (MSG)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Which of the three thoughts Lysa shared today resonates with you the most?

    How might you tangibly show this to someone in your life today?

    © 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Acts

  • Redefining My Label

    Posted on May 14, 2014 by Stephanie Raquel

    Stephanie Raquel

    "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope ..." Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)

    Have you ever been given a label you didn't choose? The type of label you're sure will stick with you for the rest of your life?

    When I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, that's exactly how I felt: I was the victim of a poor label-maker.

    The doctors said there was nothing I could have done to avoid getting my particular type of cancer. So it felt as if an enemy chose me to attack, for no apparent reason.

    My heart ached. Some days it felt as if I were in a boxing ring, with each new cancer-related challenge hitting me smack in the gut.

    As if the cancer diagnosis weren't enough, the trials continued. The "cancer" label affected my eligibility for health insurance and prevented me from giving blood. I know it sounds odd to be sad about not getting poked with a needle, but I often donated blood and absolutely hated being "punished" for something completely out of my control.

    Life seemed so unfair. Couldn't God give me a new label altogether?

    It took several years, but God changed my perspective and enabled me to see my cancer as a gift, filled with multiple life lessons that produced endurance, character and hope.

    Today's key verse helped me understand how God was using this unfair label to change my character: "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope ..." (Romans 5:3-4).

    This passage taught me an important distinction. The goal isn't to rejoice because of our difficult circumstances. But rather, to rejoice in knowing God is doing something in the midst of our suffering. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but I'm grateful (okay, mostly grateful!) God has given me several opportunities to work on this.

    Each of these traits in Romans 5 (endurance, character and hope) builds on the next. Since that fateful diagnosis, I've grown to see God had a purpose in what I suffered. In His grace, God allowed me to hold a mirror up to my life and closely examine it. Cancer helped my husband and me re-evaluate our priorities. Among other things, my family changed churches to find older, godly mentors, and my husband ultimately began his own business.

    This month I celebrate eight years as a cancer survivor — no longer labeled a "victim," but a "victor." My past may not always be worth celebrating, but my future definitely is! I'm so grateful we serve a limitless God who can redefine our labels no matter what we've done, or what has been done to us.

    Father God, I ask for Your patience as You turn trials into triumphs. Lord, help me remove the negative labels others have placed on me, and instead, live by the labels You put on me. Thank You for producing character and hope in me and helping me daily move from victim to victor. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Ephesians 1:11-12, "It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone." (MSG)

    Psalm 60:12, "With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    How have the labels from your past placed limits on your life? What would your life look like if you were to allow God to help remove the labels?

    Write down one negative label others have used to define you. Next, read Ephesians chapter one. Pray about how God wants to redefine your identity. Then tear up the old word, replacing it with a new word from the Ephesians passage.

    © 2014 by Stephanie Raquel. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Romans

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