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  • Can God Handle Our Doubts?

    Liz Curtis Higgs JANUARY 22, 2016

    Can God Handle Our Doubts? LIZ CURTIS HIGGS

    "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" Mark 9:24b (NIV)

    If you’ve ever whispered: "I’m not sure what I believe, Lord. I just don’t have enough faith," then be encouraged. A story in Mark 9 shows us what God can do when we wrestle with doubt.

    First, we meet a desperate father, whose son was possessed by a demon that threw the boy to the ground, leaving him rigid and foaming at the mouth. Jesus’ disciples tried to drive out the evil spirit, but failed.

    When the Lord arrived and learned what happened, He didn’t mince words. "You unbelieving generation … how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (Mark 9:19, NIV). He rightly called them, "You faithless people!" (Mark 9:19a, NLT), because faith was the missing element.

    Jesus wasn’t unhappy with His disciples. Rather, He was pointing out the spiritual state of the crowds who followed Him but hadn’t placed their trust in Him. Because of their unbelief, demons roamed the land. Because of their lack of faith, a young boy lay stiff on the ground. Because they doubted God’s power, His people couldn’t call upon it.

    Beloved, we needn’t wonder why there is so much evil and suffering in the world when people who claim to know God have stopped believing in His power. Deep down, they don’t think He can triumph over evil. They aren’t convinced He can really fix things. They may call Him the great I AM, yet struggle to believe it.

    Listen to this boy’s father, whose words reflect that kind of uncertainty: "But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us" (Mark 9:22b, NIV).

    "If?" Clearly this man didn’t know who he was talking to, because Jesus can do anything! Still, we can be every bit as doubtful as this needy father. We place our requests before God, then take them right back, fretting over how we’re going to solve our problem, not convinced God can really do anything about it.

    The Lord repeated this man’s words back to him — not to mock him but to underline the father’s misplaced doubt. "‘If you can’? said Jesus" (Mark 9:23a, NIV). It’s a gentle but firm reprimand as well as a loving reminder of His power.

    Then comes the good news we’ve been waiting for, the response to his question, "Can you help me, Lord?" The answer is "Yes, yes, yes!" Jesus told the man, "Everything is possible for one who believes" (Mark 9:23b, NIV).

    A man who thought nothing could be done, yet pleaded for something to be done, just learned all things can be done.

    I love what happened next. "Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, …" (Mark 9:24a, NIV). This father didn’t think at length about the Lord’s words. No, he responded instantly. We can almost feel the tightness in his chest, the stinging sensation in his nose, as he tried to keep from crying. But he had to speak, had to blurt out the truth.

    "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24b).

    There it is: his confession of faith. And, in the same breath, his admission of doubt. What an example for all of us! He embraced the unbelief inside him — his fear, his uncertainty, his trust issues — and gave it all to Jesus, saying, "I do have faith! Please help me to have even more" (Mark 9:24b, CEV).

    For those of us who believe in God, worship God, and yet have times when we doubt, here is proof that we can admit our lack of faith to God and ask for His help.

    He knows how to ease our suspicions and fears, our misgivings and apprehensions. He can handle our cynicism, our incredulity. He understands our doubts.

    However wobbly our faith may be at times, our trustworthy God never changes. He hears and answers when we cry out, "Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior" (Psalm 38:22, NIV).

    Heavenly Father, we want to believe. Help us with our unbelief. Remind us Who You are. Remind us You can do anything. Keep our eyes on Your Word and our lives in Your hands. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Luke 24:38-39a, "He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see.’" (NIV)

    Mark 5:36b, "Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’" (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: Liz Curtis Higgs’ devotional, Rise and Shine, offers encouragement to start your day in the right way, bringing you gentle humor, poignant stories and biblical lessons to strengthen your faith.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Our loving God is not afraid of our fears, nor does He have doubts about us when we have doubts about Him.

    What doubts or fears do you harbor in your heart? Ask God to help your unbelief, and trust Him to strengthen your faith.

    © 2016 by Liz Curtis Higgs. All rights reserved.

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

  • Getting Past My Past

    Lysa TerKeurst JANUARY 21, 2016

    Getting Past My Past LYSA TERKEURST

    "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

    Is there something from your past that haunts you and constantly interrupts your thoughts?

    For many years, that something in my life was my abortion. I walked around in a zombie-like state in the months following that decision with a growing hatred for myself at the root of my pain and confusion.

    Up until that point, the things that brought hurt into my life were caused by others. But the abortion was a choice I made myself. It seemed like the only answer at the time. The abortion clinic workers assured me that they could take care of this "problem" quickly and easily, so I would never have to think about it again. What a lie.

    I kept my secret buried deep within my heart. I was so ashamed, so horrified, so convinced that if anyone ever found out I’d had an abortion, I’d be rejected by all my church friends and deemed a woman unfit to serve God.

    My complete healing began when I was finally able to turn my thoughts past my own healing to helping others in the same situation. It was terrifying to think about sharing my story with another person. But then I heard of a young girl who worked for my husband who was in a crisis pregnancy situation. She’d asked for a few days off to have an abortion.

    I was faced with a fierce tug of war in my spirit. I knew if she heard my story, she might make a different choice. But what would she think of me? What would others think if they found out? I knew God wanted me to talk to her; so would I trust Him, or would I retreat back into my shame?

    With shaking hands, I approached Sydney, intent on extending God’s comfort and compassion. Maybe I could just share a few Bible verses and offer to help her without making myself vulnerable.

    But during our time together, it became clear she needed to hear my story. With a cracking voice and tear-filled eyes, I decided to care more about her situation than keeping my secret hidden. I told her the truth of what I’d experienced and prayed she’d make a different choice than I had.

    A year after that first meeting, I sat across from Sydney once again. She choked out a whispered, "Thank you," as she turned and kissed the chubby-cheeked boy in the baby carrier beside her. As soon as she spoke those two life-defining words, tears fell from both of our eyes.

    Hers were tears of relief.

    Mine were tears of redemption.

    Both were wrapped in the hope that God truly can take even our worst mistakes and somehow bring good from them.

    God has brought me so far since that first meeting with Sydney. Now I travel to crisis pregnancy events and tell my story in hopes of encouraging people to support their local centers. I also share my story from pulpits all across America, trusting that the many women in the audience will see it is possible to be healed and restored from the tragic mistakes from our past.

    But I can’t reach everyone. There are women in your sphere of influence who need to hear your story.

    I realize an abortion may not be the pain you’re dealing with, but I also know few of us have escaped very deep hurts.

    Will you go? Will you share? Will you allow God to comfort you and then take that comfort to others? This step could help you start your own healing process.

    I think you’ll find that you are the one who winds up doubly blessed as you walk out the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."

    Dear Lord, only You can heal my deepest hurts and use the bad in my life for good. I need You more and more each day. Please continue to work in my life and use me as a light to help those You have entrusted to me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 34:18, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (NIV)

    Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: Becoming MoreOnly God can fill the cup of a wounded, empty heart. If you need that fulfillment today, join us for our next free online Bible study of Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study GirlSign up today.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Who could you share your story with?

    If there’s not an obvious person or group in your mind, ask the Lord to reveal how and when you should open up about your past hurts.

    © 2016 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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

  • Q&A with Steven Furtick

    In our interview with Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina, we talked about his upcoming book (Un)Qualified—asking why he chose to write on this topic now and how it is possible that he feels unqualified with the success he has had.

    (Un)Qualified

    1. You lead one of the country’s fastest growing churches with more than 20,000 attendees and you’ve now written your fourth book. Why are you addressing the topic of feeling unqualified now?

    I’m writing on this now because it doesn’t matter if you're preaching to a group of 10 sweaty middle schoolers at a youth group lock-in or if you’re preaching to an arena of people at a church leadership conference – the feeling of being unqualified and inadequate is something you can’t ever really outrun. At one point or another, we all feel ridiculously unqualified for what God has called us to do. That‘s okay. Actually, to be used by God, it’s essential. God loves to work with unqualified people.

    2. Why is it that we often misunderstand what it means to be qualified?

    I think it goes back to our earliest form of qualification – grade school. Pass, fail. A-plus, C-minus, F. These letters mean something to us. They were our first measurement of success, and this whole business of judging and assessing and qualifying is deeply ingrained in our culture and psyche. We constantly analyze and summarize each other. We develop our own secret, subjective ways of determining whether people measure up, and we do the same to ourselves. The problem is we will never be perfect enough or fail proof enough to be at peace with ourselves on this basis of qualification alone.

    3. You preach every week in front of large crowds, how is it possible that you question your ability to fulfill your calling?

    I question it because I know me. I think we all secretly fight feelings of inadequacy, insufficiency, and incompetence. We fear we are not enough – whatever that means in our particular situations. I heard once that most people, particularly men, go through life wondering how long it will be before everyone realizes they’re a fraud. Not in the sense that they’re insincere, but just that they have no idea what they’re doing. I relate to that more than I can explain.

    4. You make the statement,  “God can’t bless who you pretend to be.” What do you mean by that?

    It was a thought that hit me while I was preparing a series of sermons on Jacob. I mean, Jacob was a con, a liar and a manipulator – you know, the model citizen for Sunday school stories – and yet God chose him to be one of the pillars of our faith and one of the fathers of the nation of Israel. He was simultaneously one of the most important figures in scripture and one of the most screwed up.

    I was reading the scene in the Bible where Jacob dressed up like his brother Esau to get blessed by his father Isaac. And it worked. Kind of. He spent the next twenty-one years on the run – from his family, his homeland, and ultimately, himself.

    It wasn’t until Jacob admitted his true identity while wrestling at the Jabbok that God was able to bless Jacob the way he wanted to. And that’s when God changed his name, on the basis of his true identity, not his persona or construct.

    And as I’m sitting there studying this, I realized that we’re all like Jacob. We find ourselves pretending to be someone we’re not. We’re thinking if we manipulate our image just right, it will bring the accomplishments or acceptance we’re so desperate to receive. We think our weaknesses are the problem and faking it till we make it is the answer. But God sees it so differently. He longs to bless us. The real us, with all our ups and downs. The version of us that limps and loses, but refuses to lie about it. Once we come to him in that way, His truth begins to set us free to become who we really are.

    5. You ask readers to fill in the blank to the statement “I am ­____. What word or phrase do you use to fill in that blank and why?

    Oh man. It depends on the day or even the minute, honestly. I know the answer I’m supposed to say is “I am chosen” or “I am loved” or something super pastoral, but the reality is I’m schizophrenic when it comes to the word I fill in the blank with. The words I find myself saying cover the whole spectrum too: I am unqualified. I am stupid. I am strong. I am driven. Screwed up. Loyal. Stuck. Hurting. Overwhelmed. Blessed. Capable. Disappointed. Hopeful. Jaded. Content. So many of my words circle around my weaknesses, but at the same time, I know God has equipped me, and remembering that helps shift my thinking. Making that choice, moment to moment, is what the book is all about!

    6. What is your recommendation for someone who is struggling to come to terms with his or her weaknesses and ability to change?

    The more I study the Bible the more convinced I am that we need a fuller understanding – not just of God – but of ourselves. And we need to give less weight to our opinion of our weaknesses and problems. Don’t give up. Keep showing up. I truly believe the key to change isn’t always doing something new, but often in doing the right things over and over again. Change isn’t something that happens overnight. There are the exceptions, sure. But for the rest of us, change is a long, messy process. But if we don’t show up every day, and decide that today is going to build on the success we had yesterday, and so on, then our change will never last. And at the same time, when it comes to maturing us, God has His own timetable, and the Christian walk isn’t really about a finish line. Faith can’t be reduced to a goal or an achievement. It‘s an ongoing relationship with Jesus. It‘s a progression of growing and changing, of embracing and replacing, of listening to God‘s voice and living out who he says we are. It‘s a process, and it will last the rest of our lives.

    7. What patterns do you see in the Bible of God using those who don’t outwardly appear to be qualified for what he has asked them to do?

    Well, just think about how many of our Bible heroes were tortured souls with marked pasts that would label them unqualified by our standards. You’ve probably heard a version of this before: Noah was a drunk. Moses was a coward and a murderer. David was an adulterer. Paul was chief proponent in the killing of many Christians. Yet, these are some of the men God used. Don’t even get me started on Rahab!

    Look, God has a habit of picking people who have been passed over. It’s just proof that God’s qualification system is totally different than ours. The very people we’re so quick to discount and disqualify are often the earthen vessels in whom God pours the greatest measure of His glory.

    You can order your copy of (Un)Qualified from Family Christian today!

  • Shake Me Up, Lord

    T. Suzanne Eller JANUARY 20, 2016

    Shake Me Up, Lord SUZIE ELLER

    "And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." Acts 4:31 (NKJV)

    I was sitting in a hotel room when suddenly the floor beneath my feet began to shudder. Rumble, rumble, rumble. Not really a sound, but rather a powerful rocking that caused me to leap from my chair.

    A few short moments later, it ended. Comments on Twitter and Facebook came alive.

    "Did you feel that?"

    "What was that?"

    "Did we just have an earthquake?"

    Later I listened to the news and heard it was a magnitude 5.6. The story of the earthquake was widely reported. The big news wasn’t the earthquake itself, but where the earthquake took place. Though there had been small tremors, there had never been earthquakes on that level before.

    In today’s passage, another newsworthy story occurred: Peter and John healed a man in the name of Jesus. These were ordinary and uneducated men; everyone knew that, which is why it garnered the attention of those in authority.

    What just happened?

    How did they do that?

    Is that even possible?

    The news spread. Crowds gathered. People ran to find their friends and family, carrying the sick on cots in hopes they might just pass in the shadow of these men and be healed. Three thousand were saved. Then 5,000 more, along with their wives and children. Something was happening.

    As I read this story, I began to pray, tears trickling down my face.

    Can this still happen?

    Will You do this in me?

    Lord, everything is possible with You.

    God Himself took up residence inside of Peter and John with the power of His Spirit. He made His presence known by shaking the upper room. He made made His existence clear by showing up in ordinary men and shaking up faith as it had always been known.

    Like the disciples, I’m ordinary and uneducated in a hundred different ways. I don’t always have the answers. I don’t always know the words to pray. I can’t always explain how God works.

    Yet I know that He is real and His presence in our lives changes us and impacts others. If He transformed the disciples with His power and presence, He can do the same in me and you.

    Shake me up.

    Is this your prayer, too? Then let’s pray that prayer together.

    As we pray, may there be a rumble, rumble, rumble inside women all over the world as we open the doors to our hearts, our thoughts, our lives and every part of who we are.

    Shake me, Father. Lead me to seek You before any other. Give me boldness and confidence beyond the natural. Rattle my doubts with belief. Tumble down my excuses as You ask me to step out in faith. Take my eyes off my own capabilities, and let me place my trust in Yours. Father, I often focus on who I am or what I have to offer, when all along You are all I need. Shake up my heart as I reach for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them." (NLT)

    Acts 4:13, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus." (ESV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: If you are in a hard place, Suzie Eller’s book, The Mended Heart: God’s Healing for Your Broken Places, offers hope and help.

    Join Suzie on her blog where she and other women discuss what it might look like when God shakes you up.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: The more Peter and John experienced the power of Christ, the more they realized that Jesus was their Source, rather than their own efforts or accomplishments.

    He’s your Source, too. As you pray for Christ’s presence to ignite inside of You, rest in this truth: He is the One doing the work. Your part is to simply be open to what He wants to do in and through you.

    © 2016 by Suzie Eller. All rights reserved.

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

  • The Comeback: Louie Giglio's Favorite Chapters

    We all know what it is like to have life disappoint us. That feeling when things do not work out as we'd hoped. And we all know what it is like to long for something different, something better or something more.

    But your current circumstances do not get the final say in your life.

    This is what The Comeback is all about—providing you with perspective and encouragement, no matter the challenge you're facing.

    In the book, author Louie Giglio celebrates new beginnings. From personal stories to Bible stories, he shows how God is in the business of giving fresh starts, and how His plans always prevail, even when ours don't.

    Check out Giglio's three favorite chapters now:


    Get your copy today!

  • Choose Hospitality

    Jen Wilkin JANUARY 19, 2016

    Choose Hospitality JEN WILKIN

    "Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." 1 Peter 4:9 (ESV)

    On November 6, 2010, I tweeted the most regrettable tweet of my mediocre social media career.

    In anticipation of the holiday season, I decided to weigh in on hospitality. The tweet was a flawless blend of selective memory and self-righteousness, designed to heap condemnation on the heads of my followers under the guise of offering wise counsel. It was a verbal "selfie" snapped from my best angle, positioned to make me look very, very good. Let’s have a look at it, shall we?

    @jenniferwilkin "Moms: keeping an orderly house frees you to exercise hospitality at will. Both the order and the hospitality are examples to your children."

    Note the double-whammy: If your house isn’t orderly on a daily basis, you will withhold hospitality from others and set a bad example for your children. Moms everywhere, be encouraged!

    Five years later, I still cringe remembering that tweet, mainly because I have failed to live up to it repeatedly ever since.

    I presume my house was clean on November 6, 2010, but it has rarely been so in recent months. Even as I type, I am looking out across a disordered landscape of scattered laundry, schoolbooks, dusty baseboards and chipped paint. That tweet neglected to mention what my house looked like when my children were small, how I would hide clutter in the dryer when guests came, how hard I found it just to get dinner on the table for my own family, much less for someone else’s. I regret I proposed a standard I could not uphold.

    But more importantly, I regret that tweet because I now recognize the standard it proposed is flawed. It revealed my own lack of understanding about the nature and purpose of hospitality. In my self-righteous desire to offer advice, I confused hospitality with its evil twin, entertaining. The two ideas could not be more different.

    Entertaining versus hospitality: What’s the difference?

    Entertaining involves setting the perfect tablescape after an exhaustive search on Pinterest. It chooses a menu that will impress, then frets its way through each stage of preparation. It requires every throw pillow be in place, every cobweb eradicated, every child neat and orderly. It plans extra time to don the perfect outfit before the first guest touches the doorbell on the seasonally decorated doorstep. And should any element of the plan fall short, entertaining perceives the entire evening to have been tainted. Entertaining focuses attention on self.

    Hospitality, on the other hand, involves setting a table that makes everyone feel comfortable. It chooses a menu that allows face-to-face time with guests instead of being chained to the kitchen. It picks up the house, but doesn’t feel the need to conceal evidence of everyday life. It sometimes sits down to dinner with flour in its hair. It allows the gathering to be shaped by the quality of the conversation rather than the cuisine. Hospitality shows interest in the thoughts, feelings, pursuits and preferences of the guests. It asks questions and listens intently to answers. Hospitality focuses attention on others.

    Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls while listening to a story.

    Entertaining obsesses over what went wrong. Hospitality savors what was shared.

    Entertaining, exhausted, says "It was nothing, really!" Hospitality thinks it was nothing. Really.

    Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to bless.

    But the two practices can look so similar. Two people can set the same beautiful tablescape and serve the same gourmet meal, one with a motive to impress, the other with a motive to bless.

    How can we know the difference? Only the second of the two would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to pull up a chair and sip from the stemware. Our motives are revealed not just in how we set our tables, but in whom we invite to join us at the feast. Entertaining invites those whom it will enjoy. Hospitality takes in all.

    Why be hospitable?

    Hospitality is about many things, but it’s not about keeping a perpetually orderly home. So, forgive me, Twitterverse (and beyond), for my deplorable tweet. I could not have been more wrong. And may I have a do-over?

    @jenniferwilkin "Moms: exercise hospitality freely, clean house or not, to any and all. Willingness and generosity are the hallmarks of a hospitable home."

    Orderly house or not, hospitality throws wide the doors. It offers itself, expecting nothing in return. It keeps no record of its service, counts no cost, craves no thanks. It is nothing less than the joyous, habitual offering of those who recall a gracious table set before them in the presence of their enemies, of those who look forward to a glorious table yet to come (Psalm 23:5).

    It is a means by which we imitate our infinitely hospitable God.

    So, five years later, here is my advice to myself: Forgo the empty pleasure of entertaining. Serve instead the high-heaped feast of hospitality, even as it has been served to you.

    Dear God, forgive me for confusing true hospitality and loving others with the world’s version of entertainment. Help me serve others freely and follow Your example. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: 1 Peter 4:10, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: Jen Wilkin’s Bible study, 1 Peter: A Living Hope in Christ, can help you understand your true identity, and discover what it means to experience the Living Hope we have in Christ.

    If you’d like to connect with Jen Wilkin more regularly, stop by her blog.

    Enter to WIN a copy of 1 Peter: A Living Hope in Christ by Jen Wilkin. In celebration of this book, Jen’s publisher is giving away 5 copies! Enter to win by leaving a comment here. {We’ll randomly select 5 winners and email notifications to each one by Monday, January 25.}

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Pray and ask God to help show you someone who could benefit from your hospitality in the next few weeks.

    Has someone shown you genuine hospitality in the past? If so, send a text, make a call or drop a note to say thanks.

    © 2016 by Jen Wilkin. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks LifeWay 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

  • A Heavenly Recipe Right Here on Earth

    Karen Ehman JANUARY 18, 2016

    A Heavenly Recipe Right Here on Earth KAREN EHMAN

    "And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’" Revelation 5:9 (NIV)

    For all but one year of my life I have lived in small towns within 20 miles of where I was born. These towns, though quaint and friendly, are not what you would call racially or ethnically diverse. Being raised in such an area presents challenges when it comes to getting to know people different from me.

    Thankfully, my experience with a friend of my father led me and my whole family to intentionally make efforts to know others who look, live and worship differently than we do. This friend’s name is Ray.

    Ray was a co-worker of my dad’s who became very close to our family. He and I have completely different backgrounds and don’t share the same race. However, we do share similar hearts. Hearts that love God, family and ministry. Today, Ray and I are like siblings, and he is even a part of my father’s will.

    Currently, Brother Ray is the pastor of a church in the big city a few miles south of us. Years ago, when his congregation purchased a larger church building and held their first service there, Ray invited my husband to be one of the guest speakers.

    After the service, the church celebrated with a huge home-cooked dinner lovingly made by many of the women of that parish. My family and I were treated like royalty. We were seated at the head table and served the most delicious food, including many dishes I had never tasted before. My children played in the nursery with the other children from the church. We exchanged hugs, well wishes and recipes with many from the congregation.

    It was an incredible experience, and what made it even more memorable was that we were the only family of our race in attendance that day. And it was good for our children to be in the minority that Sunday.

    My first experience of being in the minority was when I went on a college mission trip to a foreign land. The experience was so powerful it changed my perspective on diversity forever. I knew I wanted to encourage my children to intentionally get to know people from all walks of life and various ethnic groups.

    As we raised our kids, we have made sure they not only rub shoulders with those who are different from us, but lovingly serve them as well, just as we were served that day. We have helped put on holiday dinners at a community center that ministers to displaced refugees. When younger, my children saved up some of their allowance money to give to a missionary. And we have sponsored Compassion International children from another continent over the years, helping provide them with food and an education. Getting to know others, and serving them in the process, has made our family’s life richer.

    Today’s key verse makes it clear that not everyone in heaven will look just like us. There will be people from every tribe and nation and tongue. If heaven will be diverse, we need to make sure we are seeking out diversity while here on earth.

    We must seek out new relationships, resist using stereotypes when we speak and encourage our children (and other young souls in our sphere of influence) to pursue diversity in their friendships. How it warms my heart to see my youngest son, the only one left in high school, snacking with his friends around my kitchen island — friends who, although share a love of sports, funny videos and laughter, do not share the same ethnic or racial make-up.

    Will you make it a point to purposely reach out to those who look and live differently than you? When you do, you reflect God’s heart toward mankind while you also get a little glimpse of heaven. Why, you might just gain some new recipes in the process.

    Most of all, the recipe for love.

    Father, I want to be intentional to get to know and serve others who are different from me. Help me to reflect Your love to them. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Galatians 3:27-29, "… for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: For more ways to reach out to those who may be different from you, visit Karen Ehman’s blog. She is also giving away a copy of her book Everyday Confetti: Your Year-Round Guide to Celebrating Holidays and Special Occasions. It contains many creative ideas and delicious recipes for reaching out to others.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Have you ever intentionally spent time with those of a different race, religion or ethnic group in order to get to know them better or even to serve them? What happened in that situation?

    © 2016 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

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

  • Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “Whatever we do, we must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all of our actions.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Much like his namesake, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a reformer. But rather than facing off against the Roman Catholic Church, he fought as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. TalkingIn 1953, at the ripe age of 25, the newly married King and his bride Coretta moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he became the minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

    Two years later, Rosa Parks, also of Montgomery, was arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus, and the Civil Rights Movement began.

    Local pastors created the Montgomery Improvement Association, elected King as president and brought together the black community to establish a citywide bus boycott.

    A year later, bus discrimination ended and he became a nationally-known figure.

    Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s life and Henry David Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience, King led the MIA, and the movement as a whole, as a nonviolent activist. Even after his home was bombed, he refused to allow the people guarding his home to carry guns.

    And when he almost died from a stab wound, he “became convinced that if the movement held to the spirit of nonviolence, our struggle and example would challenge and help redeem not only America but the world.”

    Even as he continued speaking and leading nonviolent protests, King continued serving as a minister. Sometimes in his sermons he would incorporate political topics and during his public speeches, he would often incorporate biblical themes. This is because he didn’t see his civil rights involvement as separate from his ministry.

    “The Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men, and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so the soul will have a chance after it is changed.”

    Next Monday, January 18, we remember all that Martin Luther King, Jr. did for his community, his country and the world.

    We honor his courage and his steadfast faith, even in the face of constant danger.

    And we can learn from his example by “keeping God at the forefront.”

    Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with us by enjoying 40% off any one regularly-priced item. Learn more >

  • An Unlikely Confidence

    Lynn Cowell JANUARY 15, 2016

    An Unlikely Confidence LYNN COWELL

    "A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them." Luke 7:37-38 (NIV)

    Ever meet a woman who seemed to light up the room when she walked in? Her laugh said, "I don’t take life too seriously." Her carefree walk let you know she was comfortable with who she was. Her hair and outfit seemed to be perfect. Then again, maybe it wasn’t. Actually her hair was held up in a casual bun and she had on workout clothes. So what made it seem like she had it all together?

    Confidence.

    I used to think confidence was something you were born with. If you were the perfect package — body, hair, family — you had confidence.

    But I met a woman in the Bible who has changed my mind.

    This woman demonstrated a very unlikely confidence. I call it unlikely because the Bible describes her as "a sinful woman." Most likely, she was a prostitute. We meet her in Luke chapter 7, and her story begins in verse 36:

    "When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them" (Luke 7:36-38).

    Do you see the confidence? Confidence to walk into a house full of judgmental men looking down on those unlike them.

    What would have given this unwanted woman the confidence to approach the perfect Son of God? To push past all that rejection?

    Love.

    Jesus called it out. "Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much …" (Luke 7:47a, ESV). Her love for Jesus gave her this unlikely confidence.

    What caused her to love Jesus so much? We’re not given details about her except she was a woman "who lived a sinful life" in that town.

    What had she seen? And experienced? Luke 7:11-15 offers a clue:

    "Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out — the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’ Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’ The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother."

       (Luke 7:11-15, NIV)

    Maybe the woman was in this crowd and saw Jesus’ compassion, love, kindness, caring.

    I’m not sure exactly what happened, but one thing is certain: She encountered unconditional love and it gave her the confidence to push past rejection. She knew she was wanted and it compelled her to show love in return.

    Based on her past, I’m sure she knew no man could fill the gap in her heart. Yet this Man, this perfect One, loved her and it gave her unshakeable confidence.

    Love empowered her.

    This woman shows us: Confidence doesn’t come from doing everything right or having it all together. Confidence comes from knowing we are loved. Jesus gave it; she received it.

    We, too, can find confidence, no matter how unlikely it may seem to us. Confidence to push past our barriers in order to receive and return Perfect Love.

    Confidence isn’t something you’re born with. Nor do you get it from the perfect childhood or the model marriage. Rather, it comes from knowing you are loved by the One who gave His life for you.

    Dear God, I want confidence like this woman. Confidence to push past my past and find expressions of love for You. Thank You for loving me and empowering me to love You back. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Ephesians 3:12, "In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." (NIV)

    Hebrews 4:16, "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: If you know a young woman who is suffering from a lack of confidence, Lynn Cowell’s book, Magnetic: Becoming the Girl He Wants can help. Purchase your copy here.

    Visit Lynn’s Cowell’s blog for more encouragement on discovering God’s confidence, and learn about her empowering Wednesday Wisdom Tips.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Has there been an event in your life or a sin you’ve struggled with that has taken away your confidence?

    Ask God to heal your heart, remove your sin and help you walk daily in His confidence.

    © 2016 by Lynn Cowell. All rights reserved.

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

  • Why Would God Let This Happen?

    Lysa TerKeurst JANUARY 14, 2016

    Why Would God Let This Happen? LYSA TERKEURST

    "‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you." Isaiah 54:10 (NIV)

    I wonder what would happen in our lives if we really lived in the absolute assurance of God’s love. I mean, as Christians we know He loves us. We sing the songs, we quote the verses, we wear the T-shirts and we sport the bumper stickers. Yes, God loves us.

    I’m not talking about knowing He loves us.

    I’m talking about living as if we really believe it.

    I’m talking about walking confidently in the certainty of God’s love even when our feelings beg us not to.

    I’m talking about training our hearts and our minds to process everything through the filter of the absolute assurance of God’s love. Period. Without the possible question mark.

    Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a precious mom whose eldest daughter is nearing 30 and has never had a boyfriend. The younger siblings have all gone through the whole dating thing and one is now engaged to be married. The eldest daughter sat on the side of her mom’s bed recently with tears slipping down her cheeks and said, "Why mom? Why can’t I find anyone to love me? What’s wrong with me?"

    This mom was asking me for advice in helping her daughter process these questions. These feelings are real. These feelings are tough.

    And I’m sure if I were able to untangle all the emotions wrapped in and around these questions, somewhere deep inside I would find this girl doubting God’s love for her.

    I remember being single, the only one of my friends without a boyfriend, and wondering why. I would see these nice boys and think God could make one of them fall in love with me but He hasn’t. And that hurt.

    But here’s the thing I wish I had known then … I must process this through the filter of God’s love not through the tangled places of my heart.

    When I process things through the tangled places of my heart, often the outcome is, "If God loves me so much, why would He let this happen?"

    Instead when I process things through the filter of the absolute assurance of God’s love, the outcome is, "God loves me so much therefore I have to trust why He is allowing this to happen."

    I took the mom’s hand who was asking for advice and told her to help her daughter rewrite the way she is processing this. It’s okay to feel hurt, lonely and sad. But these feelings shouldn’t be a trigger to doubt God’s love for her. They should be a trigger to look for God’s protection, provision and possible growth opportunities.

    I know this can be hard. But what if we really lived in the absolute assurance of God’s love? Oh sweet sister, in whatever you are facing today I pray Isaiah 54:10 over you, Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed yet God’s unfailing love for you will not be shaken.

    Dear Lord, You are good. And You are good at being God. Therefore, I trust Your plan and believe that You’re allowing this to happen for a reason. It may be hard, but I’d rather be close to You through a thousand difficult moments than apart from You in a thousand good ones. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Isaiah 55:8-9, "‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’" (NIV)

    Psalm 138:8a: "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever." (ESV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: Becoming MoreOur faith has got to be more than a label, a lingo and a lifestyle! Learn more about how to live in the absolute assurance of God’s love with our next free online Bible study of Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study GirlSign up here today.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Is there a situation in your life where you’re questioning if God really loves you?

    It can be so tempting to push God away during a painful or confusing time, but try to press into Him instead. You can do that by praying honestly, reading Scripture and putting yourself in the company of other believers who will speak life into you.

    © 2016 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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

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