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  • Shame Off You

    Shame Off You by Christine Caine

    “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.” Isaiah 54:4 (NIV)

    I spent the first 22 years of my life shackled by shame. Looking back, I realize I had always felt it. Shame had been a part of my life from my earliest memories.

    I felt it when I was rejected. Made to feel unworthy — of no value.

    I felt it when I was abused and couldn’t tell anyone. And believed it was somehow my fault.

    I felt it when I tried to hide or apologize for who I was, minimize my talents or overachieve and compensate for feeling somehow “less than.”

    Have you felt it? If you’re human, you have — and the result is always the same.

    Shame is the fear of being unworthy, and it adversely affects our relationship with God, ourselves and others. It greatly hinders our ability to receive God’s unconditional love and share it with others.

    I wish I could say that as soon as I decided to follow God and dedicate my life to serving Him through helping others, the shame in my life disappeared. But unfortunately, that’s not how shame works.

    I expected that once I’d left my old life and joined God’s team, I would feel free and could simply forget the past and move on. But I didn’t.

    I was forgiven and had access to all of the promises of God in Christ Jesus, but I still carried a broken heart, a wounded soul and a tormented mind because shame destroys our internal settings.

    Walking with God to work through and fight against the shame in my life has been my single most difficult journey. But doing the hard work of healing is the only way we can get to the other side — the freedom to fulfill our destiny.

    Because of God’s great love, I began to discover the power of God’s Word to break through the lies I had believed — and to reveal the truth of who I am and why I was created. Notice the key word in that sentence is began.

    Breaking free from the shackles of shame is not an overnight experience or a quick-fix, 10-step process. It is, however, a grand, ongoing adventure of discovering the depths of God’s love and the huge scope of God’s power to transform us, re-create us and continually renew us.

    Today’s key verse, Isaiah 54:4, spells this out for us: “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”

    God created you for a unique purpose: He has a specific plan for your life and a powerful destiny He wants you to fulfill. And guess what? Shame has no place in that purpose, plan and destiny. Jesus came to set you free from shame.

    Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me and for helping me walk this journey to complete freedom from shame. Please help me continually seek You when I start to feel shame’s strongholds creeping in. As I seek You and search Your Word, please reveal to me the power to break the shackles of shame that bind me. Father, I believe that You are writing a great story for my life, and that I’m a vital member of Your plan at work in this hurting world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (NIV)

    Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Have you trusted Jesus with your shame? Reflect on one step you can take today that will allow you to move toward His grace.

    © 2016 by Christine Caine. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Christian Book Distributors for their sponsorship of today's devotion.

    Click here to view our policy on 3rd party links.

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

  • When Your Story Doesn’t Stick to the Script

    When Your Story Doesn’t Stick to the Script by Alicia Bruxvoort

    “We can make our plans, but the final outcome is in God’s hands.” Proverbs 16:1 (TLB)

    “I really want a script,” my daughter confessed as we stood in the doorway of our small town opera house and eyed the wiggly ribbon of children streaming toward the stage.

    A traveling theater troupe had come to town and invited the local kids to help them produce a musical.

    There was no limit to the number of children who could participate in the chorus, so every young thespian who braved the tryouts would be granted a place on stage.

    But my 10-year-old didn’t just want to learn a few dance moves and sing songs. She wanted a role with a script.

    I wished my girl the best and promised to be waiting in the parking lot when auditions were over. She flashed me a hopeful smile and took her place at the end of the snaking line.

    And as I waved goodbye, I realized I’m not that different from my daughter. I may never find myself on a spotlighted stage, but when it comes to living this tale called life, I prefer a script too.

    After all, a script breeds confidence. When we follow a script, we know exactly what to say and do. We can play our part with poise and avoid the possibility of failure.

    A script reduces risk. When we can anticipate what’s coming next, we don’t have to worry about being caught off-guard or feeling unprepared. A script creates comfort. Once we master our lines, we don’t need to navigate unexpected plot twists or sudden scene changes.

    Fortunately, my daughter’s wish came true. She became the proud steward of a black binder with her very own lines, highlighted in yellow.

    She clung to her script all week, rehearsing with diligence and delight. But when opening night arrived, we were reminded even the best stories don’t always follow the script.

    The musical unfolded as planned until the last scene. The props were stunning, the characters were entertaining and the storyline was captivating.

    But as the chorus filed on stage for the final number, the spotlights started to quiver and the sound system began to cackle. The stage grew dim, and the littlest performers began to whimper.

    The lead missed her cue, the chorus refused to dance in the dark and the audience waited awkwardly for closure.

    A few kids tried to shout their lines over the ensuing mayhem, but the script just didn’t make sense in the midst of the chaos and clamor.

    Maybe you know the feeling. Maybe you’re living a story that isn’t going as planned. Maybe you’ve done all you can to ensure success, yet run into failure.

    Maybe you’ve prided yourself on careful preparation but you’ve been toppled by the unexpected.

    And maybe, like those little thespians, the script you’ve clung to just doesn’t make sense anymore.

    May I tell you what happened on the dark stage that night?

    Just as the show seemed to be crumbling, the director waltzed into the chaos. Armed with an industrial-sized flashlight and a shining smile, she inserted a few unscripted lines into the struggling story and tied up the closing scene with a beautiful song.

    And as the children followed their rescuer off the platform, one little boy declared with awe, “That was the perfect ending … and we didn’t even follow the script!”

    Proverbs 16:1 reminds us even when our scripts aren’t working, we have a Savior whose plan never fails. And if we invite Him into our stories, He will bring His light into our darkness and shine His glory through our glitches.

    Each scene might not turn out as we’d expected, but we can trust Jesus with our stories. And when we cling loosely to our own scripts and hang tightly to God’s promises, we discover that His tale is better than anything we could imagine on our own.

    And best of all, His story always ends in happily ever after (Revelation 21:1-7).

    Dear God, Help me trust You even when my plans fail and life doesn’t go as expected. Please step into my story and script Your perfect plan for my life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Proverbs 19:21, “You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.” (NLT)

    Psalm 37:23, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” (NLT)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Do you cling more tightly to your Savior or your script? Spend some time with Jesus this week and invite Him to step into the scene you’re living right now.

    Memorize Romans 8:28 as a reminder that God is working on your story.

    © 2016 by Alicia Bruxvoort. All rights reserved.

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

  • When Being Critical Hurts You

    When Being Critical Hurts You by Leah DiPascal

    ‘“I speak to him [Moses] face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the LORD as he is. So why were you not afraid to criticize my servant Moses?’ The LORD was very angry with them, and he departed. As the cloud moved from above the Tabernacle, there stood Miriam, her skin as white as snow from leprosy.” Numbers 12:8-10a (NLT)

    Criticism.

    We’ve all felt the sting of it. We’ve all had opportunities to use it on others.

    Like pepper sprinkled on a hot dish of tamales, we’ve served it up to friends, family members, even co-workers on occasion.

    I wish I could say I’ve never criticized those who are dear to me, but that wouldn’t be true. I love my sister and we are very close, but there was a time during my teen years when I was highly critical of her.

    It wasn’t because she deserved it or was doing anything wrong. My sister had what I longed for: popularity, straight A’s on her report card and a coveted spot on the cheerleading team.

    My criticism was an unjustified way of soothing a sharp thorn inside me called jealousy.

    In today’s key verse, we read about a gal named Miriam who stirred the pot of criticism with one of her siblings: Moses.

    Miriam was Moses’ older sister. Their relationship goes back to what many would consider the most unusual babysitting job ever. Miriam carefully watched her baby brother float down the Nile River in a waterproof basket that ended up in the hands of Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2).

    Her quick thinking not only saved Moses’ life but set him up in a posh palace where he eventually rose to greatness. Years later, God raised Moses up to lead the Israelites out of captivity making him one of the most influential men in history. Not only that, but God trusted Moses and spoke to Him face to face. (verses 7-8)

    Jealousy bubbled under the surface of Miriam’s heart as Moses’ position with God and influence with the Israelites grew. She wanted some of what Moses had: position, authority and influence with God. Then one day it spilled over through criticizing words that quickly captured God’s attention:

    “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” Numbers 12:2 (NLT)

    If Miriam was longing for special attention from God she certainly had it now … God singled her out in a very distinct way. She was inflicted with leprosy and banned from her family and friends for seven days.

    She could have eventually died from the leprosy. Instead, God allowed her to only experience it for seven days. Why? Because her brother pleaded on her behalf: “So Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘O God, I beg you, please heal her!’” (Numbers 12:13, NLT)

    Moses, the target of Miriam’s criticism, had now become her greatest defender. Miriam’s jealousy was countered with compassion from her brother.

    We can learn three important lessons from this story that will reframe our thinking about unwarranted criticism: 1. Criticism often stems from a root of jealousy and hurt. 2. Criticism toward others offends God. 3. Criticism can be cured through love and forgiveness.

    Moses expressed love for his sister by begging God for her healing. God expressed mercy and forgiveness and spared Miriam’s life — even though she sinned against Him by questioning Moses’ positional authority.

    Before criticizing someone, let’s make sure we pause long enough to discover our own motives. Is jealousy at the root? Is hurt, envy or comparison pushing on our heartstrings? Is godly love for this person sinking when it should be rising to the surface?

    And if you’ve been unjustly criticized lately, remember the offense hasn’t gone unnoticed by God.

    If you’re not able to work out those differences with the one who has wrongly criticized you, God is always there to help you work through the hurt with Him.

    Lord, I want to be known as a woman who loves others freely, not criticizing unfairly because of my own personal hurts or jealousy. Help me pause long enough to check my motives before speaking words that could upset someone I love. And give me a compassionate heart that celebrates unity, not division. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.” (VOICE)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Is there someone you’ve been critical of lately? Pray and ask God to show you the root of your feelings toward them. Like Leah suggested, oftentimes you’ll find your criticism has more to do with you than them. © 2016 by Leah DiPascal. All rights reserved.

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

  • When You’re Running on Empty

    When You’re Running on Empty by Katy McCown

    “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NKJV)

    My heart beat a little faster as I realized the truth about my situation.

    I needed fuel and couldn’t find any.

    Yes, the “low fuel” warning lit up miles ago which meant my dear, well-intentioned van showed me the empty gas tank with the words, “Drive to a gas station,” spelled out in bright yellow letters.

    Yes, I saw it. Yes, I acknowledged it … and yes, I ignored it.

    I’ve actually built a bit of a reputation for waiting until the very last second to stop for gas. In college, my sister usually bore the brunt of my push-it-till-the-last-drop decisions. Let’s just say, there may have been a time or two I parked our shared vehicle in front of the apartment on empty, only for her to drive it next and run out of gas on the way to fill up.

    This particular day, with my six kids in the backseat, I wondered if I’d make it in time.

    My friend in the passenger seat noticed me tighten my grip on the wheel and squirmed in her seat. “Are we pushing it?” she asked.

    “Yep,” I answered, as we drove down the highway in silence.

    For a moment, my mind wandered to a time similar to this one … only it was my soul on empty.

    My days started before sunrise and ended long after the stars twinkled overhead. Demands flooded from every direction. And duty pounded on my door.

    Some nights I met my husband at the door and fell into his arms, tears dropping at his feet. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around.

    I noticed my soul’s “low fuel” light. I felt God’s gentle nudge to pull away and fill up in His presence. But I ignored it. It wasn't until I neared a breakdown that I finally realized how vital that fuel really is.

    Recently I learned of a woman in a similar season of life but who handled it differently. As she noticed the “low fuel” lights in her soul, she began to pray, God, show me a time I can be with You.

    Not long after, she started waking up every day at 2 a.m. No alarm clock. No screaming baby to blame.

    She just woke up, and she took it as God’s offer to meet with Him.

    She would get out of bed and snuggle up to her Lord for the next hour or so. Then she slipped back under the covers until life and light woke her again.

    When I felt those same spiritual “low fuel” signs, instead of asking God to show me time, I argued with Him about how I didn’t have enough time. When He gently nudged me to wake a little earlier and spend those quiet moments with Him, I brushed it off and reasoned, There’s no way God would want me to do this. He knows I need my sleep.

    Sometimes it seems futile to pull over. There’s always a place to go, a mission to accomplish or an errand to run. And stopping to refuel feels like a waste of time. But in today’s key verse Jesus reminds us, “… without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b).

    We don’t know what each day holds, but God sees what’s next. He knows what we need and how to equip us for the things ahead. If only we’ll pay attention when the Light alerts us.

    That dreadful day on the highway as the last drops of gasoline dripped out of the tank, we found help.

    I’ve never been more excited to see a gas station. And when I pulled away with a full tank of gas, my heart felt very different than when we arrived. I felt relief and confidence to continue moving down the road.

    My soul also found relief through those draining days of life. After physical sickness, emotional exhaustion and a spiritual drought, I finally dropped to my knees and admitted my need for a fuel only found in Jesus. I gulped down His presence and drank in His peace, all the while wondering why I waited so long to pull over.

    If your soul is nearing empty, don’t wait! Take time to fuel up and find rest for your soul.

    Dear God, I can’t make it on my own. Forgive me for ever thinking I could. Thank You for Your faithfulness to fill me up, if only I’ll remain in You and pay attention to Your instruction. Help me abide in You today, depending on You alone for everything I need. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” (HCSB) Psalm 42:1, “My soul is dry and thirsts for You, True God, as a deer thirsts for water.” (VOICE)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: What are your spiritual “low fuel” warning lights? Take some time today to think about these and make a plan for how you’ll respond the next time your soul needs to fill up. © 2016 by Katy McCown. All rights reserved.

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

  • Feeling Alone and Disconnected

    Feeling Alone and Disconnected by Sheri Rose Shepherd

    “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” John 15:4 (NLT)

    For some reason, I’ve always struggled with inner loneliness.

    No matter how many people are around me or how many “likes” I get on Facebook, I fight that deep dark feeling of loneliness.

    I remember the night I became a Christian. I was alone in a hotel room, and I was fighting with guilt and shame from my past. To be honest, I was contemplating taking my life.

    I felt so desperate, I finally cried out to what seemed like an invisible God and asked Jesus to come into my heart. In that moment, something happened. I knew God’s presence and love were real, because for the first time ever, I didn’t feel alone.

    I thought I would never have to fight feelings of loneliness again. But I was wrong!

    I’m in the hardest season of my life. I lost my marriage, my health and many friends. However, in the midst of my deepest heartache, God has used my tears to heal my broken heart, and in His goodness, He gave me what I needed and longed for most — a CURE for my loneliness and a REAL relationship with Him!

    It was hard to see the Holy Spirit at work until I was totally alone and had no one else to run to but God. It took me a while to fully surrender to the only One who will never leave me or forsake me.

    Through my trials and tears, the Lord revealed the reason I felt alone … I connected more to doing the works of God and to God’s people than I did to God Himself.

    In other words, to cure my loneliness, I needed time alone with God! I was brokenhearted and that takes time to heal. The only way to complete the process is to connect with Him.

    Jesus reminds us of this in today’s key verse: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).

    I don’t want to oversimplify our connection with the Creator of the universe, but the vine Jesus talks about in John 15:4 is similar to a light switch or a Wi-Fi connection — always there, but of no benefit to us until we connect to it.

    In fact, God was there for me all along, lovingly and patiently waiting to connect my heart, my mind and my spirit to His heavenly vine through Christ alone!

    I’m not sure what season of life you’re facing. Maybe it’s a marriage where you feel alone, or you’re divorced and feel abandoned by the one you loved and trusted, or you’re where I am — fighting cancer — and you feel disconnected from the life you once knew.

    I know from personal experience there’s a cure for loneliness and a real connection to a Heavenly Father who wants to heal our hurting hearts.

    So here are some hard questions that may help when you feel disconnected from God. Answering these questions honestly will be worth your time, truth and tears for an encounter with true love and new life found in Christ alone.

    1. When you’re hurting, where do you run first?

    2. When you’re alone, who do you miss the most?

    3. What are you connected to right now that could be disconnecting you from God?

    4. When you need wisdom, where do you find it?

    5. Do you feel your relationship with God is artificial or authentic?

    6. Have you prayed and asked God to become real to you and to fill those empty places meant just for Him?

    There’s no better place to connect than to the One who gave His life to connect with you — your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Heavenly Father, if I’m honest, many times I don’t feel Your presence or Your peace. You left the Holy Spirit for us while You’re away preparing us a place in glory. So be with me. Fill every lonely place in my heart and heal every broken piece of me so I can know I’m never alone. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: John 3:16, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (NLT)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: As you think through the questions Sheri Rose Shepherd asks, pray for God to give you courage to assess them honestly. Consider calling or texting a friend you think could be lonely to remind her God loves her, and she is never alone.

    © 2016 by Sheri Rose Shepherd. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Tyndale House Publishers for their sponsorship of today's devotion.

    Click here to view our policy on 3rd party links.

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

  • The Rejection Infection

    The Rejection Infection by Lysa TerKeurst

    “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44 (NIV)

    The plastic seats were green. The desks a dirty beige. The perfect pale color to make pencil marks easy to read.

    That’s how I saw what was making the group of girls in front of me laugh. They looked at me and then added to Jennifer’s desk art: a frizzy-headed stick figure with huge buck teeth and crazed eyes. I knew even before I saw the name scribbled, she’d drawn me. Me. An awful caricature of me.

    It’s been years since I sat at that dirty beige desk. But it hasn’t been years since I’ve had those same feelings of rejection and hurt. Of course, they aren’t from girls drawing pictures. But meanness hurts, no matter what age or how it’s delivered.

    You can take the girl out of middle school, but for many of us, you can’t take the middle school out of the girl.

    If you’ve been hurt in this way, you know what I’m talking about. If we’re a stuffer type of person, we want to withdraw and get away from the source of our hurt. If we’re more of an exploder person, we want to attack so they’ll feel as badly as we do.

    But here’s where things get a little complicated. Jesus flies in the face of conventional wisdom and instructs us, “love your enemies.”

    Seriously?

    Something deep inside us whispers, “Don’t you dare love this person. This situation is the exception.” Let the internal battle begin.

    But what if I were to assure you Jesus isn’t being cruel or naive in His command for us to love? He’s actually showing us how to get free from the sting of another person’s wounds. When we’re wounded, we can either pursue healing by extending love back, or, we can refuse healing and allow the “rejection infection” to set into our wound.

    Here are three things to remember:

    The Command

    My job isn’t to fix my enemies. My job is to be obedient to God in how I deal with them. And He tells us in our key verse how He wants us to deal with those we would label our enemy.

    “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44).

    The Caution

    If there is abuse, we must get wise people to help us and learn to love from afar. How? By forgiving the person who hurt us — releasing their offense into the hands of God. By trusting God (and others in authority) to reveal to them their wrong and deal with their actions.

    But we must also remember this: Forgiveness and restoration don’t always go hand-in-hand. You can forgive someone but not necessarily do everyday life with them. Ask God to give you discernment to know when and how to love from afar.

    The Catalyst

    So, back to Jennifer and the hurtful drawing. I wish I could relive that moment with the knowledge I have now. Jennifer drew that picture because of her own insecurities. And while it’s tough to have compassion for someone who’s hurting us in the moment of rejection, it is possible to have compassion for their obvious hurt. Hurt people hurt people.

    Dig beneath the surface of a mean girl and you’ll find a girl riddled with insecurities and possibly even self-hatred.

    Romans 12:20 says, “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” (NIV)

    Jennifer was hungry and thirsty for affirmation. And the only way she could figure out how to get it was to make those around her laugh at me.

    What might have happened if I were to have walked by her desk and given this desperate girl a drink from the living water? “Jennifer, you are beautiful. Do you know that?”

    Not in a million years could I have done that in middle school. But I’m not in middle school any longer.

    And now’s a good time to remember that.

    Dear Lord, I am thankful You don’t give up on me. Please help me love those who hurt me, and teach me when to seek restoration and when to let a relationship go. I want my relationships to honor You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Think on a situation that involved a “mean girl.” That girl might be someone close to you, an acquaintance or maybe even you. Pray for her. If it’s you, pray that God will show you areas in your life only He can fill.

    © 2016 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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

  • Moving Into a Better Measurement

    Moving Into a Better Measurement by Amy Carroll

    “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love.” John 15:9 (HCSB)

    For a checklist-loving girl, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as feeling you’re getting nothing accomplished.

    In fact, for much of my life, here’s how I processed my days: No check-marks. → No progress. → No worth.

    I determined my value by what I produced. Consequently, I often bore the soul-crushing weight of my own disapproval. Times like:

    When I used three-fourths of a day to feed and care for an infant without even accomplishing a shower. When my toddlers dismantled the house faster than I could put it back together.

    When I moved to a new place and the phone stopped ringing and my calendar remained empty.

    Those periods were a struggle because when I didn’t do enough, I thought I wasn’t enough. I let my work define my value. Maybe you’ve been there too.

    Young mom, you love your children madly, but life’s joy drains out of the holes you poke in yourself.

    Single friend, you know there are upsides to singleness, but it feels like a trap that keeps you from building the future you’d prefer.

    Newbie neighbor, instead of seeing new possibilities in your new home, you feel stuck in grieving the old one.

    Sick sister, your body needs rest, but you feel like a failure as you lay on your bed.

    But the saddest part happens when we start believing God views us with the same disappointment we view ourselves. After all, we even express our spiritual life in terms like “faith walk” and “journey,” which implies forward movement. We start to view Him as the One pushing us along and measuring us by our work — a divine Project Manager in the sky. That belief left me wrongly feeling like His laborer instead of His daughter … His friend.

    In today’s key verse, John, the beloved disciple, records this instruction from Jesus: “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love” (John 15:9). In this verse, the word “remain” can also be translated dwell or abide. Reflecting on these definitions made me realize how wrong my beliefs had been.

    We want to move on, but Jesus invites us to move in.

    Remain, abide and dwell — these words revealed how I evaluated progress and growth, and they helped me understand God’s approval in a new way. We don’t have to produce or create forward movement to earn God’s love. Instead, He asks us to move into … to settle … to be still in His love.

    This idea changes everything. As a wise friend once told me, “You don’t work for God’s love. You rest in His love.”

    God doesn’t measure our worth by our works. He establishes our worth by His love. Although I tend to calculate value by external things, God gauges value by internal things, and love is an internal work. I invite you with the same invitation God extends to each of us: Remain in God’s love.

    Move in all the pieces of your life. Every thought, emotion, gift and flaw.

    Stay awhile.

    As we say in the South, “Sit a spell!” In other words, dwell and bask in the love of God. You are worthy because of God’s gift of love, not the checks on your to-do list.

    Lord, I’ve been so prone to evaluate my value in terms of what I produce. I’ve believed wrong things about how You see me, keeping me from being as close as You desire. Today, I surrender. I move in to dwell permanently in Your love. I choose to rest and abide. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 84:1-2,10a, “How lovely is Your dwelling place, Lord of Hosts. I long and yearn for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God. Better a day in Your courts than a thousand anywhere else.” (HCSB)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Do you believe you have to earn God’s love or do you live in His unconditional love?

    Do a word search for the word “love” in an online Scripture reference website. What new truth do you learn about God’s love for you?

    © 2016 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

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

  • 6 Guidelines for Encouraging Your Child’s Spiritual Growth

    Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. - Proverbs 22:6 NIV

    This verse is both a command and a promise – a command to raise children who know Jesus, and a promise that God will be faithful in holding up His end of the deal. He doesn’t ask us to be perfect but He does ask us to be purposeful. Encourage your kids to pursue Jesus with these guidelines for fostering spiritual growth.

    Teach Them To Be Thankful  Use everyday moments as opportunities to teach them gratitude. Go around the dinner table and take turns sharing something positive that happened that day. Use their response as an opportunity to show your children how God has blessed them.

    Get Them Involved In God’s Word Introduce your little one to God's Word with a kid’s Bible. Get them excited about their faith by taking them with you to pick one out. Have their name imprinted on the cover to personalize their Bible and explain how God’s Word speaks directly to them.

    Practice Prayer Teach your children about the power of prayer. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or as you tuck them into bed, make sure you and you set aside a consistent time every day to pray. Encourage them to explore prayer on their own and document their conversations with God in a prayer journal.

    Cultivate Curiosity Kids ask a lot of questions. Do your best to answer them and introduce Christian principles to their everyday curiosities. The more often you initiate conversations, the more comfortable they will feel coming to you when they need direction.

    Create Community Faith flourishes in the presence of community. Encourage Godly friendships by getting them involved in a youth group and other activities with the church outside of Sunday service. Surround your children with kids and adults who model Christ.

    Lead By Example Whether they admit it or not, your children look up to you. They are watching and learning your attitudes and actions. You have a unique opportunity to show them what it means to live out their faith. Go to God in prayer and ask him for guidance and wisdom as you seek to raise children who love the Lord.

    We hope you feel inspired to foster your child’s faith in new and exciting ways. Tell us how you encourage your little ones in their spiritual journey.

  • An Interview with Mike Berenstain of the Berenstain Bears

    Q: How did the Berenstain Bears get their start?

    Stan Berenstain and Jan Grant were both born in Philadelphia in 1923. These talented artists met in art school in 1941 and were married several years later. They began joint careers in art as a professional cartoonist team, creating for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and Colliers. But as time went on and they began their family, Jan and Stan became consumers of children’s books. Their interest piqued, they decided to try their hand at creating a children’s book of their own. Under the editorial and publishing guidance of Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), this first book—The Big Honey Hunt—was released in 1962 and success followed. As the husband and wife team, The Berenstains, they created about twenty books with Geisel, and went on to produce about two hundred more over the next forty plus years.

    Q: How did you become involved in the family business?

    Because of the huge success of these family-life themed books about a family of bears, Stan and Jan grew too busy to keep up with the demand for more and more titles. So in the late 1980s my parents put out a call for some assistance. I had always loved to draw and had gone to the same art school as my parents. I was working as a children’s author and illustrator at the time. So, when they began asking me for help, it seemed very natural for me to get involved. Having grown up with the Berenstain Bears I viewed them as a part of myself and I wanted to be involved with their ongoing artistic development.

    Integrating my own work into the Berenstain Bears style was not without its challenges—in fact, it was hard. But as I gained experience, this father-mother-son partnership began to work. I learned more and more about illustrating and writing Berenstain Bears books until, to an outsider, our work couldn’t be told apart. We created dozens of books together until my father’s death in 2005. My mother and I continued to create new Berenstain Bears books, collaborating on the illustrations while I took on the writing. We worked together in this way until her death in 2012.

    And the Berenstain Bears go on! I am still actively exploring Bear Country—a fictional but recognizable place where millions of children have laughed and learned and done a little growing up. It’s a good place to be.

    Q: I understand you have a faith-based series of Berenstain Bears books with Zonderkidz. How did the Living Lights brand come about?

    In 2004, after forty years of publishing with Random House, we made a move to a new publishing home at HarperCollins. Their expanded and imaginative new line of Berenstain Bears books was immediately successful and has grown by leaps and bounds ever since.

    At about the same time we were moving from Random House to HarperCollins, my men’s group at church was reading the then recently published, A Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. I was aware that this spiritual blockbuster was published by the HarperCollins Zondervan division. I also knew their children’s subdivision, Zonderkidz, was a powerhouse in the industry. A cartoon lightbulb went off over my head. Clearly, a guiding hand directing me toward a purpose-driven goal—in this case, the creation of a series of Christian-themed Berenstain Bears books.

    So, with my parent’s help, I developed the concept of Living Lights books. Everyone at Zondervan enthusiastically got on board and the first four titles were launched with great success in the fall of 2008. The line now has over seventy-five titles with many more in the pipeline and annual sales at 1.5 million copies and growing.

    Q: Are there any fun facts about the Berenstain Bears or you and your family that you’d like to share?

    This is, perhaps, a good point at which to clear up a confusion about our last name. No, it is not Berenstein, Bernstein, or Bearenstein. “Berenstain” is pronounced as it is spelled—Beh-ren-stane as in “coffee stain” or “ink stain” or “grape juice stain.”

    Exactly how this spelling came about, we don’t really know. It’s been spelled that way ever since my great grandparents got off the boat in New York in the 1880s. Perhaps it was just a misprint by a weary immigration officer. Or maybe he was trying to phonetically spell “Bernstein” as pronounced with a heavily Ukrainian-tinged accent.

    Another fact is that the Bear family is not just in print books. Over the last fifty years Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister, Honey, their friends and family in Bear Country have spread out into other media and forms: three television series, four stage shows, amusement park attractions, museum exhibits, websites, DVDs, apps, toys, games, puzzles, and juice boxes are just a few of the places you can find the Bears visiting.

    Thank you for answering some questions about the Berenstain Bears, Mike! God bless you!

    I feel infinitely blessed to have been a part of this—the Berenstain Bears adventures—and very thankful to have been used for the Lord’s work in this way. In the words of the beautiful hymn, “So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.”

    I also very much appreciate the role my friends at Family Christian have played in doing this work. Our partnership in making the Berenstain Bears Living Lights series available to all our readers in the Christian community has been an essential part of our mission to help families in raising happy, healthy, and faithful children. Thank you very much and God bless you.

  • How to Make Room for More of God in Your Life

    How to Make Room for More of God in Your Life by Chrystal Evans Hurst

    “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you …” James 4:8a (NASB)

    My son woke up and called my name from his hospital bed.

    Again.

    After spending a few days stuck in his bed with an arm that hurt when he moved his body, my son was a little whiny — and frankly, so was I.

    My young son had broken his arm pretty badly. He’d decided to pretend he was Spiderman and attempted to leap from a stool to a monkey bar above his head. Needless to say, he missed.

    After three days of us both being stuck in the hospital, he was perpetually not happy and working my nerves.

    He wanted ice cream.

    He felt too hot.

    He felt too cold.

    Then he wanted to go home. I totally understood that. Because I wanted to leave too.

    But as my son jolted awake that early morning, he called to me because of a bad dream. He wanted me right next to him so he could relax, have peace and fall back asleep. Of course my heart melted, despite my exhaustion and frustration.

    He didn’t want anything else than for me to be close.

    There was only one problem. Those hospital beds aren’t made for two people, especially when one is a full-grown adult. In order to do what he wanted and what I had no problem doing, he had to move over.

    In other words, he had to make room for me.

    I, like my son, often find myself in life situations that feel like a bad dream. I might be uncomfortable … stuck … in emotional or physical pain. Sometimes I find myself stressed out, overwhelmed, without peace, lonely, worried or unhappy.

    Do I believe this? “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18, NASB). Absolutely.

    Do I believe “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, NASB)? Sure I do.

    But I have to admit many times I settle for the ache in my heart or the anxiety in my head. I don’t immediately reach out for the Presence available to me.

    I love that as soon as my son woke up, he asked for me to come close.

    I love even more that he was willing to make room for me to do so.

    As soon as my son moved over, I got in. He looked up at me and smiled, full from the joy that safety and security brings, and then just a few minutes later, he fell into a sweet and peaceful sleep.

    While we can desire more of God’s presence, knowing He desires the same, we have to make room for Him. Just like we read in today’s key verse, James 4:8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

    I’ve learned how important it is to “make room” for God in my life by creating space in my day to talk to Him and read His Word. I make room for more of God’s presence when I honor Him in my actions and attitudes and “move over” by submitting my will to His. I create more space for God when I choose to accept the love He offers above my feelings of inadequacy that seek to crowd that love out.

    And I do this because I know that God’s presence is always available to me. And to you.

    Not only that, but the Psalmist says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy …” (Psalm 16:11b, NASB).

    When we are in His presence, we can experience joy that safety and security in Him brings. His presence helps us experience His peace, regardless of circumstances surrounding our lives. God’s presence can bring us to a place of calm, comfort, confidence and rest.

    We just have to make room, diligently seeking Him and trusting in His love.

    And knowing that His presence makes a difference.

    Dear God, I desire more of You. Please help me make room for You in my life. Help me know that when I call, You will answer. Convict me when I need to make more time for You and be more obedient to You. Help me graciously receive Your love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 16:11 ”You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (ESV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: In what practical ways do you make room for God’s presence in your life? Have you called to Him and known His presence to make a difference in your life? Share your experience in the comments so your words might be an encouragement for someone today.

    © 2016 by Chrystal Evans Hurst. All rights reserved.

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

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