Comfort, Not Ease | 1 Corinthians 13:11

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

2 Corinthians 13:11

I have four kids. And each one of them responds to pain in their own unique ways. Some have higher pain tolerances than others. I get to be the go-to person for hugs, cuddles, band-aids and sympathy. This does not come natural to me. When I was growing up if there was blood, it wasn’t a big deal. I’ve had to learn how to comfort my children when they get hurt while at the same time not coddling or babying them.

In many ways our approach to comforting one another as a church body has been influenced by the culture we are immersed in. Our culture values comfort and ease. We want to not have to experience hardship, to have relief from difficulty. And so our comforting of each other can often look like patting one another on the backs, speaking words of sympathy and hopefulness that things will get better. It can look like excusing behavior and not calling each other out on our poor choices.

The word in the Greek for comfort is paraklaeo which means to call alongside oneself. It’s this idea of together we are strengthened. It’s a coming alongside each other with strength and motivation toward growth. What if that’s how we comforted one another?

And what if we shared our real and vulnerable stories of how God has comforted us? In the beginning of this very letter, Paul writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Today ask the Holy Spirit to give you creativity and wisdom to come alongside another family member and strengthen them to live into the design Jesus has for them: living in His way with His heart. Who in your life today needs to hear words of comfort?  Take a few minutes to write an encouraging note to a person the Holy Spirit brings to your mind.

By Ellen Rosenberger 

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Comfort, Not Ease | 1 Corinthians 13:112019-02-09T12:06:16-07:00

Family | Restoration not Perfection

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.“

2 Corinthians 13:11

At the end of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he reminds the church to aim for restoration. He’s encouraging this community to set their focus, to remember their goal, and to move in the same direction. And he clearly states the goal. His hope for them as a church family is move toward restoration.

Here, Paul doesn’t demand perfection. No. Perfect things don’t need restoring. It’s broken things, crooked things, and dysfunctional things that take work to restore. Paul knows and we know churches are full of imperfect human beings. But, that shouldn’t stop us from moving toward wholeness.

You see, church is family. You don’t usually choose your family, but you do choose how you love them. You can choose to seek reconciliation when relationships have been strained. You can offer grace and the benefit of the doubt when trust is seemingly broken. You can pursue intentional love when tension and struggle arise.

Often in church culture today we run around looking for the perfect church family or we leave when relationships get tough. We want a church who will accept us for who we are and commit to loving us no matter what. And the truth is, we have free will in the searching and of course we want to make a healthy choice. But, what if the healthiest choice for our soul is to commit to a church family, to make a covenant to love the people in that community despite the mess and brokenness everyone brings to the table? What if expecting the church to offer us that kind of love without giving intentional love is actually unhealthy for our soul and unhelpful for the goal of restoration? Consider what you could do to aim for restoration in your church family and take an active step toward this goal today.

By Yvonne Biel 

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Family | Restoration not Perfection2019-02-09T12:06:16-07:00

Practice | 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

I hit “submit” and immediately regretted my decision. I had just signed myself up to run a half-marathon. 13.1 miles of running torture. At the time I wasn’t much of a runner, but I wanted to become a runner. Almost immediately I felt the reality of training fall upon my shoulders. The pressure was on!

The first thing I did was download a training guide. I had a vision for what I wanted to become (a runner), the intention of doing it (I signed up for the race), and now I needed to execute the practices for actually achieving my goal. What if we viewed our spiritual development in the same way?

The Apostle Paul made quite the statement about practice in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27,

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Paul trained his body and made it his slave so that he could gain something greater in his relationship with Jesus. He trained because he knew becoming like Jesus wasn’t going to happen by accident.

Paul wasn’t suggesting he could earn anything additional from God. No! Salvation is a gift by grace alone (Ephesians 2:5-9). However, Paul is suggesting there are ways we can posture our body and soul to cooperate with God’s grace more fully and respond to his work in our lives. There are things we can do to “stay in step with the Spirit” – a command in the scriptures.

There is no exhaustive list of spiritual disciplines. A spiritual discipline  empowers us to do something we cannot do through will power alone (I owe this point to Dallas Willard). Willard also wrote, “Spiritual practices are activities that open our lives to the action of God in our heart, mind, body, and soul, to progressively remake our whole personality.”

Practices are where growing in the way of Jesus and the heart of Jesus gets exciting! For example, let’s look at the area of patience – something many of us long for but find elusive. Typically, we simply try to be more patient. But that’s trying, not training. Training looks much different. Training might be choosing the longest line at the grocery store and intentionally embracing a posture of patience. It might mean deciding to drive the speed limit. There are many ways to train yourself to be more patient by opening yourself up to God’s grace, already present and active in your life.

Choose an area where you want to grow then embrace two practices to help you (re)train your soul to respond to God’s grace. Here’s a great list of ideas. If a practice helps you, keep doing it! If not, ditch it and try something else. These should be experimental, creative, and experiential. Enjoy the journey of growing in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus!

By Ryan Paulson 

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Practice | 1 Corinthians 9:24-272019-02-09T12:06:16-07:00

Intention | Matthew 7:24-27

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:24-27

This week we are talking about  vision, intention and  practice. Let’s talk today about intention. Jesus’ sermon on the mount ends with a warning of calamity. He didn’t just give information, but he spoke of transformation. If we choose to follow Jesus, there is no turning back. If we hear his words, then we will be blessed if we do them. Doing takes intention which includes both decision and desire.

Decision is willful. Luke 14:28 says “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” The point is to have a plan to finish the house. Its purpose is to last. The design of the house is deliberate and requires effort. It is built definitively to withstand the storms that will inevitably come. Security and stability come from building a foundation on him alone, no matter how firm the sand might feel.

Desire is determined. Where did the wise man get the desire to do after he heard? From having a relationship with Jesus, The Rock. He changes our desires from the inside out when we become a new creature with a new heart. Jesus is able to give us the desire to do right and do our best in response to his love. Determine to rely on Jesus to help you keep giving your heart totally to him and to fill you with desire to please him only. The delight of our hearts reveals our treasure.

“Delight yourself in the Lord“ (Psalm 37:4). “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17b NIV). When I cook a fancy dinner for my husband and he asks “What’s the occasion?”, I wouldn’t say “I felt it was my duty.”  I would say “Just because I love you.”  Duty is good but delight is better. In the same way, God is pleased when we take steps to continually renew our minds, train our wills and transform our desires to track with his. Not out of duty but out of love.

Make it your intention to decide to keep building your life on The Rock and to desire to please him in all things. Practicing needs prayer. Write a sentence or two you can read or recite daily to God your Father, to stand firm in his Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

By Donna Burns  

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Intention | Matthew 7:24-272019-02-09T12:06:16-07:00

Vision | Galatians 5:16-23

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:16-23

I am not a visionary. I’m more of a practical kind of person. I think in the here and now, not the future or abstract. But do I need the visionary? Yes. Because the visionary informs the practical. The visionary influences the daily. If my vision is incomplete or missing altogether, I won’t be sure what my priorities for everyday living are.

But what kind of vision should I have? Where should I be aiming? Because if I don’t aim anywhere I will go nowhere. But I don’t just want to aim somewhere – I want to aim at the right places. I want to push into that new kingdom Jesus is inviting me into. But it’s going to take vision and intention and practice as we’ll talk about this week.

Galatians 5 gives us a picture of what disciples should aim for. A vision for what life in the kingdom of God is all about! Recently the lyrics to “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman have been in my head: A million dreams are keeping me awake. I think of what the world could be. A vision of the one I see. That world was a young boy’s dream and he grew to make it possible, though he became disillusioned by his dreams. But this world, this vision is possible! Change is possible! By His Spirit.

Visionary thinking often seems unattainable and unreachable. But Jesus-followers have power within them to accomplish the vision. It is the Spirit who bears the fruit. Our job is to walk by the Spirit and He will bear the fruit as we practice His ways. So, why have this vision? We’ll experience freedom (John 8), joy (Romans 12:2), and we’ll know God in deeper ways (John 15).

Today write out a “Becoming Bucket List.” Who do you want to become as a follower of Christ? Get specific. Rather than “try not to get angry”, write “practice self-control when things don’t go my way.” Make this list without guilt or frustration. Don’t worry about it being perfect; just free-write.

Now, go back and edit it. Underline anything backed by Scripture and write the references next to them. Cross out anything motivated by pleasing man or earning your salvation. Turn this list into a prayer request list for the Spirit to fulfill in your life. It’s His vision, He will carry it out as you bring Him your intention and as you commit to practice.

By Ellen Rosenberger 

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Vision | Galatians 5:16-232019-02-09T12:06:16-07:00

Imitating Jesus | 2 Timothy 2:1-2

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:1-2

I want to imitate Jesus. He came, shared the Father’s love, chose a few faithful followers, taught them, and then sent them out to do the same (Luke 10:1). As I reflect on my life, I can see God’s amazing grace in the people who have been like Jesus to me. A youth leader shared the saving news of Jesus with me then invited me to Bible study to grow. Young Life leaders invited me to follow them around then help start a new club at another high school. A church staff member invited me to be on a youth ministry team. I wanted to be like those leaders, so I went a Bible school to learn more. As a newly married lady I attended a Bible study where mature homemakers taught the younger. A missions mobilizer invited me to learn from her. Each of these experiences taught me the word, trained me to serve, and discipled me.

Now it’s my turn. Following the examples extended to me in the past, I am mindful of who I am sharing Jesus with, asking to serve with me, and teaching. I became a teacher by watching, then student teaching with a master. Now I am a teacher looking for faithful “Timothys”. It is such a joy to share Jesus with others, a privilege to serve the Savior, and an honor to be counted worthy to bear his name.

Paul ‘s letter is giving instructions to “his child” Timothy (2:1-2). He wants him to repeat to others what he has heard from him, and then help them to do the same. To the Corinthians he instructs, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 4:15, 11:1). Jesus chose men to learn from him and follow him for three years. They could see, hear, and touch everything he did (1 John 1:1-4). Discipleship takes intention.

Survey your life. Who shared the good news with you? Who taught you the Bible, and trained you to serve? Now, it’s your turn. Who are you sharing the good news with and discipling? Do you have a “Timothy”? Here is a prayer to listen to by Hillsong: All I Want is To Be Like You Lord.

By Donna Burns  

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Imitating Jesus | 2 Timothy 2:1-22019-02-09T12:06:17-07:00

True Identity | Ephesians 4:32-5:2

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 4:32-5:2

As a troublemaker growing up, I would cringe when my mom yelled my full name at the top of her lungs. “William David Berglund!!!” When she used my middle name, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was caught and there would be consequences for my actions. Yet, I clearly remember my parents’ desire to communicate love to me in the midst of discipline. They wanted the best for me. By saying my full name, they were reminding me of who I was, of whose family I was a part of. They wanted me to live into my true identity. who I was.

As an athlete and a border-line perfectionist, I struggled with my identity. I was blessed with a strong family, but I had coaches who were tough on me and I was even harder on myself. As a result, I just figured that God was always disappointed in me. I should know better, I should get my act together. If I did the right things often enough, then God would love and accept me. This often led to feeling inadequate. Spiritual disciplines felt tedious and task-driven. I hoped I read the Bible and prayed “enough” so that I could measure up.

By God’s grace, I’ve had great mentors and friends walk with me over the past ten years. I’ve come to see God in a new way. Through faith in God’s free gift, I belong to His family. I am made new. This new perspective radically changed the way I read Scripture. I had always read it, “Do this and then God will love you.”

But listen to the language in Ephesians 4:32-5:2. We are dearly loved children. That’s who we are. As a result, we are called to walk in love and follow God’s example. We are forgiven by God in Christ. This is the foundation for us to forgive and love others. What we do comes from who we are. The order is not reversed! What a beautiful reality! We find this pattern all the time in Paul’s writing. We live from God’s approval, with our identity rooted in Him, rather than for God’s approval, hoping we measure up. We are saved by grace and then designed for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Today, reflect on this wonderful truth. How would it change your view of yourself or the way you read Scripture? What would it mean for you to live in grace and approach life knowing you are loved and accepted in Christ?

By Billy Berglund 

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True Identity | Ephesians 4:32-5:22019-02-09T12:06:17-07:00

Know/n | Ephesians 4:32-5:2

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.  5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:1-6

I’m truly blessed with people who know me and still love me! My wife, kids, family and friends know me and all my foibles and faults, yet still love me. And, it’s a two-way street: I know and still love them. To be known, and to know is a wonderful experience. And yet the depth of knowing each other has its boundaries. We don’t know what each other is doing at any given moment. We don’t know each other’s words before they are spoken. There is one who does know us this well: God.

In Ezekiel 8, God speaks to Ezekiel about the elders performing abominable acts in the temple; these elders were saying God couldn’t see them. But, in this conversation between God and Ezekiel, we find that God does see what they’re doing behind stone walls and closed doors. And this same God sees us. But, just like David, the author of Psalm 139, this shouldn’t fill us with fear! There’s joy at the thought of God knowing us to these depths before we knew ourselves! And, freedom is joy’s companion.

The freedom in not having to hide is immense. When I finally witnessed the bright light of God’s knowing me, my journey to surrender began.  Just as Jesus was counter-cultural in his time, this thinking is counter-cultural: surrendering is freedom. As the realization of God’s knowing us sinks in, facades become unnecessary, and the desire to surrender ourselves becomes stronger. By pursuing surrender, the weight of hiding things diminishes, and our freedom grows.

I invite you to search your own heart and look for those hidden areas in life. With the understanding that God already knows about it, lift them out and up to the Light of God’s presence, and feel the freedom surrendering brings fill your soul. As you read this passage, allow the depth of God’s knowing you lead to surrender.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.  13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.  I awake, and I am still with you.

— Psalm 139:7-18

By Rich Obrecht 

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Know/n | Ephesians 4:32-5:22019-02-09T12:06:17-07:00

No Confidence In The Flesh| Philippians 3:3-11

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:3-11

I used to be a Pharisee. A blind Pharisee because I didn’t know it. It wasn’t until I was in a Bible study on Philippians that I came face to face with the fact I was a practicing Pharisee. These verses struck me right between the eyes. And really, what I heard in my heart was this personalized version of verses 4-6:

If anyone else thinks she has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: prayed the prayer of salvation on March 1, 1986, of a Christian family, of a missionary family at that, a missionary kid of missionary kids; as to the law, a compliant, obedient child and law-abiding adult; as to zeal, serving God wholeheartedly; as to righteousness under the law, in my opinion, blameless.

I had always assumed the word “gain” in verse 7 meant fleshly desires: riches, fame, pleasure. Through the study on Philippians I discovered “gain” refers back to Paul’s list of religious credentials. I realized “whatever gain I had” was the sum of all of my good deeds. The entirety of my pride, my good background and upbringing. All the merit I could stack up.

My seemingly flawless record actually weighed against me in the scales of salvation. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (NIV)  No matter how hard I had tried, I would not measure up to the perfection of God’s Son. My striving was actually hindering, not helping, my relationship with God. All that “gain” was actually loss.

As we are thinking about discipleship, I’m reminded our focus is on living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. Not in the way of the religious with the approval of the religious. Our discipleship is about following Him, not religious rules, regulations and rituals. We put all our confidence in Him and His work on the cross and not on our own works.

Today, think about where your emphasis of discipleship has been. Fully on Jesus and following in His ways or reaching for the impossibility of self-righteousness? Perhaps you make a list of your religious credentials. Take those to Jesus today and confess your good works to Him. Ask Him to make you a disciple who listens to Him and follows in His ways, not your own.

By Ellen Rosenberger 

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No Confidence In The Flesh| Philippians 3:3-112019-02-09T12:06:17-07:00

Grace Like An Ocean | Romans 5:1-2

‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. ‘

Romans 5:1-2

I grew up in an amazing Christian home with every opportunity to understand and grow as a young believer but somehow I wasn’t perfect — go figure. I’d try to be good, I’d succeed for a while, and then I’d stumble and fall. Then I would repeat this process again and again. No matter how hard I tried I still messed up and the more time I spent thinking about my Christian life the more sin I found lurking in my soul. I was in my first year of Bible college and I started studying the Bible seriously for the first time. Beyond getting homework done I made it may aim to unlock the key to spiritual success.

One day during my studies I found a description of grace that shifted my perspective. I had heard that grace stood for unmerited favor but the description I was reading pointed out the absurdity of favor without action (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia “Grace”). In other words, God’s favor is always accompanied by action. Grace is the power of God directed at us. I needed grace to overcome my human frailty. I began a new search on how I could get more of this grace stuff. For several weeks I fervently studied every text I could find about Grace.

I remember an almost frantic longing to access grace. It was then that I read the words, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” The truth finally broke through — I was standing in grace. As I read those words in my college lunch room I saw myself standing on an ocean of grace. Here I was franticly searching for grace and I was standing in the stuff. God is not stingy with his grace. I finally realized what was beneath my feet: an ocean of grace. And I finally looked down. Grace is not accessed by a formula but by a recognition of one’s need (humility). I knew I needed it and God gave it in such quantities that I could drown in it if I needed to. To this day, grace is one of the sweetest Christian truths to my soul.

Have you ever felt that grace? What areas of your life could use a little grace? Picture yourself carrying those things out into the ocean of God’s grace. Grace is not hard to access; it’s making your shoes and socks wet. Dive into it, the water is fine.

By Aaron Bjorklund 

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Grace Like An Ocean | Romans 5:1-22019-02-09T12:06:17-07:00
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