As Far as Accountability Is Concerned

by Rhonda Rhea @RhondaRhea

I was scrubbing furiously, trying to get the hot fudge stain out of my fave workout shirt. And then…the revelation. It was like, “Oh hello, irony. For a minute I didn’t see you there.”

Not that the new diet isn’t going well or anything. Because I don’t think it actually counts as eating badly if you only ate your husband’s dessert because you forgot you already ate yours. Doesn’t count. Because, “forgot.”

It’s not that I haven’t tapped into all the diet helps presently out there. But I considered I might not be doing it right when I started typing “healthy recipes” into my phone and auto-correct filled in with “pudding cake and cheese dip and lies.” Also, auto-correct can be very judgey.

In the meantime, I’ve found there are stages a person must go through before accepting a new diet: 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Donut…and then I’m not exactly sure what comes after number four. Very probably another number four.

The other day, after too many fours, I knew I needed some human accountability. I may, however, have overdone it there. This afternoon I was reaching for an oatmeal cream pie when a sniper fired a warning shot.

Still, maybe I shouldn’t concern myself as much with sniper fire as I do with taking accountability seriously. Would you believe I’m actually scripturally compelled to “be concerned”?

“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, HCSB).

The Greek word translated “be concerned” means to so focus the mind—to consider this thing so carefully—that the result will be the right response. And this “be concerned” is in the present tense, so it’s not simply referring to a one-time consideration. We’re called to seriously and perpetually think of ways we can promote love and good works, encouraging everyone in our sphere of influence to love Jesus by the way they love and serve each other.

And isn’t it almost another irony that we promote those things as we ourselves live in that love? That means our accountability is loving—no bullets. It’s not even “judgey.” It’s more “stir-uppy”—stirring up others to love and good works.

This kind of accountability looks best when no one is aiming for condemnation or judgment. Not for wounding or shaming or angering, either. It can happen when we lovingly confront. But it should never be our aim. Loving, not sniping. It’s good to let humility be the order of the day when someone else is concerned enough to “stir” us as well—even if we don’t necessarily agree. The truth is, we don’t exactly have an auto-correct, either.

O Lord, may we love You better as each of us buoys the other. May we inspire and encourage—and be inspired and encouraged—to love you, love each other, and to love serving.

Even though it’s not a new message, we can decide to be okay with reminders that we’re accountable to one another. Because, never mind the desserts and the four stages of donuts or whatever, sometimes…“forgot.”

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As Far as Accountability Is Concerned – encouragement from @RhondaRhea on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

rhonda rheaAbout the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and an award-winning humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLifeLeading HeartsThe Pathway and many more. She is the author of 17 books, including the Fix-Her-Upper books, co-authored with Beth Duewel, and the hilarious novels, Turtles in the Road and Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated, both co-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea.

Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated: A Novel by [Rhea, Kaley, Rhea, Rhonda]

Rhonda and Kaley have just released a new novel, Off-Script and Over-Caffeinated. When the Heartcast Channel Movie division announces they’ll briefly be allowing submissions for new Christmas movies, Harlow finds herself paired with a reluctant co-star. Jack Bentley may be the biggest Heartcast Original Movie name in the business, but he is anything but formulaic.

Rhonda lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Join the conversation: How do you build up the believers around you?

Us Loves You

by Debora M. Coty @DeboraCoty

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior.” Psalm 25:5a NIV

My family attended a Baptist church while I was growing up and no excuse was good enough to get out of going, barring coma or gushing blood. As a preteen, I was quite annoyed to be stuck in Sunday night “Training Union” class. I did not wish to be either trained or unified with the other unfortunates, like me, who were forced to be there.

So many more important things to do – bike paths to forge; Lost in Space to watch on TV, homework to ignore.

Instead, I was held captive week after week by Mr. and Mrs. Buford, a childless, elderly couple, neither of whom had completed eighth grade in order to help their families scratch a living on farms during the depression. They owned no television, nor microwave, and had never been on an airplane. Why, they had no idea what a video game was. Unfathomable.

Yet there they were, week after week, month after month, faithful as the springtime rain. I and my know-it-all cronies scoffed at their country bumpkin speech. So uncool.

“Us loves you.”

It was the phrase with which Mrs. Buford started every class. An occasional snicker would burst from one of us enlightened scholars, but the Buford’s never seemed to notice.

Soon they’d have us racing to look up Scriptures, learn the books of the Bible, and win candy for answering Bible story questions. Of course, we acted as if none of this was the least bit fun. Yawn.

“Us loves you.”

Mrs. Buford would close the hour with the same ridiculous phrase, a warm smile crinkling her careworn face. Somehow, I remember like it was yesterday.

Fast-forward thirty years.

My husband Chuck and I are surrounded by a group of 12- to-14-year-olds, all of whom wish they were elsewhere. We are trying to teach them scriptural principles and bring God’s Word to life.

They’re only interested in who got busted Saturday night.

Chuck asks a boy with a purple Mohawk whose father is in prison to read a specific passage of Scripture aloud in answer to his question about how we know the Bible is true. The boy reads haltingly, unsure of what some of the words mean.

We explain it in terms he can understand. He’s still unconvinced. Skeptical. Mistrusting. But for some reason, he keeps coming back. I notice that he listens, really listens, when one of the other boys asks, “Miz Coty, why do you meet with us every week, when all we do is eat your food, wreck your house, and give you one big headache?”

The answer travels through time and registers in my mind as if I’m hearing it for the first time.

“Us loves you.”

Faithfulness has a resonating voice, doesn’t it? In this world of casual abandonment, when we choose to faithfully serve God by using our gifts and abilities to help others in His name, His love shines through like a lantern piercing the darkness.

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you” (Proverbs 3:3 NIV).

We may not preach globally, or teach from an elevated platform, or have more than a handful of Facebook friends, but if we show up day after day, week after week, faithfully glorifying our Savior in the ministry He has custom-designed for us, He’ll be there too.

Whether we’re riding herd on a passel of squirming preschoolers, sweeping up crumbs after a home Bible Study, or invisibly running the worship service sound system, Papa God promises to bless us and keep teaching us the eternal truth of His ways.

And that’s the way I want to go. How about you, my friend?

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Us Loves You – insight and encouragement from @DeboraCoty on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

deboracotyAbout the author: Debora Coty lives, loves and laughs in central Florida with her longsuffering husband, Chuck, two grown children and four energetic grandbuddies. Debora is a popular speaker and award-winning author of over 40 inspirational books, including the bestselling Too Blessed to be Stressed series. Join Deb’s fun-loving community of BFFs (Blessed Friends Forever) at www.DeboraCoty.com.

Debora’s newest release, Too Blessed to be Stressed for Momsaddresses the heart needs of moms drowning in the churning stress-pool of busyness. In her beloved mom-to-mom, grin-provoking style, Coty offers empathy, laughs, real-life stories, practical parenting survival tips, and fresh biblical insights to help you hear Papa God’s still, small voice through life’s chaos.

Join the conversation: Have you ever felt frustration that your ministry is too small? How has/is God using your efforts for His kingdom?

God’s Not-So-Random Acts

by Patti Richter

A friend of mine has experienced God’s very present help in trouble. But after seeing so many signs of His watchful care, she worried that people might not believe her stories.

Luann and her family endured several years of great stress due to an injustice. A federal court case connected to her husband’s former business partners hung over them like a dark storm and threatened their well-being. Meanwhile, her parents’ health declined and they died within months of each other. And these events were only birth pangs before greater suffering set in. Luann’s husband received a sentence of restitution and prison for a wrong he had nothing to do with.

For those of us who stood with this family during their one-after-another losses, the story of Job came to mind. But we also observed God’s mercies on their behalf. Noticeably, the timing of each painful event seemed remarkable in the best possible way.

During this long season, Luann began to experience unusual assurances of God’s tender care, and they came in bright and living color. On many of her lowest days, a cardinal would perch within clear view. Luann could not recall ever seeing these birds come close before this time of suffering. Not knowing their official name, she had always called them redbirds. The cardinal visits provided much comfort since Luann believed the Lord was sending them her way.

One bird came calling after Luann’s family returned home from her father’s burial. Too sorrowful to do anything but seek the Lord’s encouragement, Luann was resting in a chair when she noticed a chirping sound. She jumped up to open the window shutter behind her—knowing what she’d find. The cardinal stood on a sprinkler head in the yard as if waiting for her. The beautiful sight consoled Luann’s heavy spirit that day, and she cried in amazement over God’s goodness.

Though Luann was thankful for each close-up view of a cardinal, she initially wondered whether God truly directed birds in this particular way. When she expressed her misgivings to me, I recalled the Old Testament account of a prophet sustained by the Lord through birds.

Elijah had risked his life by delivering God’s message of coming drought to the king of Israel. To protect Elijah, the Lord instructed him to hide in a ravine east of the Jordan river. And the Lord said, “You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” (1 Kings 17:4, NIV). The birds obeyed the Lord; they brought Elijah bread and meat each morning and evening until he received his next assignment from God.

Luann called me one day to share yet another cardinal encounter. Afterward, I spent a few minutes resting on an outdoor settee with my dog curled up beside me as I marveled over God’s encouragement supplied to my friend. I further considered how I needed a bit of cheer for myself. That’s when a bird—a cardinal—flew down and perched atop the chair next to me. My bird-crazy dog somehow remained still, perhaps spellbound like me. We gazed in silent wonder for a long half-minute until our visitor flew away.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning…. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.                                                                                        Lamentations 3:22-23, 25, (NIV)

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God’s Not-So-Random Acts – encouragement from Patti Richter on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Patti Richter headshot 2017-1nAbout the author: Patti Richter lives in north Georgia with her husband, Jim. She writes and edits global mission stories for The Gospel Coalition and her faith essays appears at BlueRibbonNews.com.

Patti is the co-author of Signs of His Presence—Experiencing God’s Comfort in Times of SufferingIt is the story of Luann Mire, whose godly husband was blindsided by an indictment due to a former employer’s tax fraud. The resulting prison sentence and restitution took the once joyful couple into a long season of suffering as they fought judicial tyranny. Helpless to change her situation, Luann endured a painful examination of her life and found God faithful to His promises.

Join the conversation: Have you received encouragement from the Lord lately? Please share!

Focus on the Facts

by Cindi McMenamin @CindiMcMenamin

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.                                                                                                                                     Psalm 16:8, ESV

I remember the week I wanted to quit the ministry. (As a pastor’s wife, I haven’t quite figured out what that means, except that it’s a low point of discouragement and sometimes it feels good to say “I want to quit.”) My husband and I had just met with a couple from our church who listed the ways we had let them down over the past couple years. As I sat there, listening to how we’ve disappointed them and anticipating that they would leave the church for such reasons, I was feeling frustration, pain and anger. As I drove away from that appointment in a separate car, I cried out to God, and told him how I felt.

“God I don’t want to do this anymore!” I yelled through tears. “I don’t want my husband to sit through one more meeting and hear how he has let someone down. I’m tired of pouring out, because everyone just takes and takes and leaves in the end.

That’s how I was feeling: I have nothing left to give and everyone eventually leaves, anyway. But in prayer, I was reminded of the facts: God can fill me up again and He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5).

Instantly, God spoke to the recesses of my heart: I went to the cross for you. And in light of what I did for you, do you know how many times you have disappointed Me? Do you realize how many times you have failed to meet My expectations? And yet, I have never left. And I never will.

 In the moment my heart received that truth, everything changed. I remembered Whom I am serving: The One who will never leave. It was all about the facts (that He is a faithful God and worthy to be served) and not my feelings (that it’s hard sometimes and I just want to quit). My prayer of complaint turned to praise: God, I can’t do this, but You can. And I will gladly serve You because of what You have done for me.

 When my feelings lead me down a dark tunnel of despair,  I know now to switch on the light of what I know about God to find my way back out.

Psalm 16:8 gives me clarity and helps me focus on the facts of Who God is, rather than on what I feel. “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8, ESV).

Thank You, Lord, that You do not shift and change along with my feelings or circumstances. You are the Rock. Steady. Constant. Persevering. Thank You, too, that You promise to never leave.

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Focus on the Facts – encouragement from @CindiMcMenamin on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

View More: http://chelseamariephoto.pass.us/cindiAbout the author: Cindi McMenamin is an award-winning writer, national speaker, and certified writing coach who helps women strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is the author of several books including When Women Long for Rest, When You’re Running on Empty, and Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You. For more on her books and resources to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, or for more information on her coaching services to help you write the book on your heart, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

What Readers are Saying about When You’re Running on Empty: “Truly, there is not a woman out there who cannot relate to When You’re Running on Empty.” – Cheryl M. Anderson, Director of Women’s Ministry, Morrill Baptist Church, Morrill, ME

Join the conversation: What fact about God encourages you when you are feeling discouraged?

 

God’s Got This

by Kristine Brown @kristinebrown43

And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.                                                               1 Samuel 30:6b ESV

I’d been praying about my situation for weeks. Friends as well as our pastors were praying for me, yet I still wasn’t at peace. This particular Sunday when I walked into church, the pastor must’ve sensed my discouragement or seen it by the look on my face.

During the worship service, he walked up to me and said, “God’s got this. You know that, right?”

I nodded in agreement. I knew God had it all under control, but the pastor’s question kept echoing in my brain. I mulled it over all afternoon. Did I really trust God with my situation? And if so, why was I still feeling down?

When we offer our most desperate prayers to God, we trust Him to work on our behalf with His love, mercy, and peace. We know we can rely on Him in our daily decisions and toughest challenges. But honestly, when I’m facing those challenges, it’s hard to stay positive, even when I’ve given it to God in prayer.

David knew this. In today’s key verse, David felt alone because of his circumstances. He had no one to turn to for prayer support. In fact, all his men were so distressed, they talked about taking it out on David. When he had nowhere else to turn, he knew where to find encouragement. He “strengthened himself in the Lord.”

“Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, ‘Bring me the ephod’” (1 Samuel 30:7 NIV). (The ephod was a decorated priestly garment that Abithar had brought to David in 1 Samuel 23:6.)

Holding the ephod, David sought the Lord and His will in their situation. Even though surrounded by men weeping in despair, David turned to God and discovered hope: the promise for certain victory over the enemy.

Sometimes in life, we will be surrounded by the faithful prayers of family and friends. Our hearts will be uplifted as we know others are holding us up in our trial. Then there will be other times when we feel alone and unsure where to turn. We’ve prayed, but we still feel discouraged. In those moments, we cannot give in to despair. Instead, we must encourage ourselves with the Truth.

“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

Are you in a place of discouragement, even after crying out to God in prayer? Are you struggling to feel the peace that passes understanding? Let’s take our example from David today. We will have moments when we feel down, but that doesn’t have to stop us from seeking the One who never fails us. God promises to provide for our needs, and we can trust Him. Let’s remember His promises as we say these words together:

I will encourage myself today in what I know to be true. God’s got this.

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God’s Got This – encouragement from @KristineBrown43 on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

kristine brown

About the author: Kristine Brown is the author of the book, Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan. Discover more encouragement from Kristine to help you “become more than yourself through God’s Word” at her website,  kristinebrown.net.

In her new book, Over It. Devotional for Teen Girls, Kristine uncovers the truth about comparison. Teens will discover that they are not alone in the struggle and will find contentment in their God-given identity. Through personal stories and easy-to -understand biblical thinking, Over It offers help and hope. Come along for the journey, beautiful girl. This book is for you.

Join the conversation: What do you know about God that encourages you to trust Him?

 

He Gives Back to Us

by Cindi McMenamin @CindiMcMenamin

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.  2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB

I remember the day I was supposed to meet Alice for lunch. I didn’t want to go. It had nothing to do with Alice. I just felt I was running on empty, I didn’t have much time, and I didn’t have much to give.

Alice didn’t have a problem she wanted me to fix, or any type of issue with which she wanted me to help. She simply wanted to meet a friend for lunch. As we sat there and talked, I learned a lot about her that day. And I learned a lot about myself. We talked about raising daughters, and how we each were raised. We expressed an appreciation for how God works in our lives. I shared with her some encouragement from Scripture and then prayed with her, asking God to give her wisdom and discernment as a parent. Then she prayed for me.

I left that lunch feeling grateful that I had met with Alice. I felt rejuvenated, refreshed, and refueled for the day. What had happened?

God works in ways we sometimes don’t anticipate. I’ve noticed that when I have little left to give, but I show up anyway, God makes sure I’m blessed just for showing up. Sometimes God has a way of either filling me with the same energy I just infused into someone else, or He causes me to be encouraged by the person whom I thought I was going to encourage. I went to lunch that day expecting to pour myself into Alice, but she poured herself into me instead.

It must have something to do with the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden outcome of that, I believe, is that as we “do unto others” (in this case, provide encouragement, just as we’d want to be encouraged), God makes sure that encouragement comes back around to us. Sometimes God repays us through the kindness and encouragement of others. Whatever the case, I’ve found, most unexpectedly, that God often infuses energy into my life when I’m simply obedient and do what I know He wants me to do.

What goes around comes around in the name of Jesus. Second Corinthians 9:8 tells us: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Lord, help me to be open to the divine appointments You send my way, not just so I can fill others, but so that You, through others, can fill me.

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He Gives Back to Us – encouragement from @CindyMcMenamin on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

View More: http://chelseamariephoto.pass.us/cindiAbout the author: Cindi McMenamin is an award-winning writer, national speaker, and certified writing coach who helps women strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is the author of several books including When Women Long for Rest, When You’re Running on Empty, and Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You. For more on her books and resources to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, or for more information on her coaching services to help you write the book on your heart, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

What Readers are Saying about Drama FreeIt was a book I didn’t want to put down. It was packed with Scripture, biblical truth, and helpful resources on how to diffuse drama that we all face in life.

Join the conversation: What life-supplying encouragement has God sent to you lately?

 

 

 

Then Sulks My Soul

by Rhonda Rhea @RhondaRhea

I think my spirit gets a little pouty every now and then. It’s a spoiled rotten little spirit, mind you, and the things that inspire the pouting are most often quite trivial. Like having to get a new phone and not being able to keep the old number. Or like when you’ve been thinking about that last Ding Dong all day and then find somebody ate it and left the empty box.

I so hate to admit this, but I’m just climbing out of a ridiculous pouty-mope right now. The other day I sighed so hard I’m pretty sure my neighbors felt a breeze. Embarrassing.

To add to it, as usually happens when I’m brooding, suddenly I hated all my clothes. I’m not sure exactly why, but sulkiness always seems to bring out the worst in my closet. It’s not that I necessarily want new clothes even. It’s more that I become discontent with absolutely everything and I’m convinced I need a different body to put inside the clothes I already have. It doesn’t matter that I know I’m to blame, I still blame the closet. Goofy closet.

When I’m overwhelmed or blue or hormonal or discontent or just plain pouty, there’s one thing that can snap me back around like nothing else. It’s dwelling on the Lord. Not just passively thinking. No, really and truly meditating. Contemplating to the point of being overwhelmed and undone by the glorious God of all joy. It’s an altogether better “overwhelmed.”

“I greatly rejoice in the Lord, I exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness,” (Isaiah 61:10, HCSB). The New Living says, “I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!” As I focus on Him and rejoice in His goodness, it’s amazing how those trivial, pout-inducing circumstances shrivel in significance.

It’s at the moment of praise, as I ponder amazing grace, that I remember—I remember all the way to my soul—that when He gave me the gift of salvation through the cross of Christ, He gave me absolutely everything my soul needs. Whatever I’m whining about looks small and petty. And even when I’m fretting over something that’s not small or petty, that something is still nowhere near as big as the grace of God.

It makes me smile to recognize that as I dwell on His goodness and the sulkiness fades into worship, the Lord totally takes care of the closet thing. The spiritual closet, anyway. The very reason for rejoicing is that “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation.” It’s impossible to whine about the “robe of righteousness.” It’s borrowed from Christ. And though this whiny woman doesn’t deserve it, it fits perfectly.

The sweet, old hymn expresses it well:

“And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,

Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,

That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin.”

A soul can hardly sulk when it’s singing about the greatness of God.

            “Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:

            How great thou art! How great thou art!”

Reveling in our great God. It reboots a mope. It inspires a joy that goes all the way to the soul. And all the way to the closet.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.                                                                                                                                       Isaiah 26:3 NIV

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Then Sulks My Soul – insight on praising God from @RhondaRhea on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

rhonda rheaAbout the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and an award-winning humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLifeLeading HeartsThe Pathway and many more. She is the author of 17 books, including the Fix-Her-Upper books, co-authored with Beth Duewel, and the hilarious novels, Turtles in the Road and Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated, both co-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea.

Rhonda and Kaley are also excited to be teaming up with Bridges TV host, Monica Schmelter, for the Messy to Meaningful series, with My Purse Runneth Over coming soon. Edie Melson and Rhonda have a new book as well, Unruffled—Thriving in Chaos.

Rhonda lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Join the conversation: What do you do with the sulks?

Passing the Deep End Test

by Lori Stanley Roeleveld @LoriSRoeleveld

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.     2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was no lover of deep water.

From eight to eighteen, I spent significant portions of my summer at a Christian camp, first as a camper and eventually as staff. Campers were barred from the deep end of the swimming area unless they could pass the swim test – three laps the length of the docks. For most campers, it was not a strenuous swimming challenge. For me, it was the English Channel. I was a chubby, non-swimmer, usually outfitted with a skirted swimsuit.  Still, I coveted access to the deep end.

Every summer I would screw my courage to the sticking place and make the long walk to the far end of the dock. Plugging my nose and hyperventilating in anticipation of the effort and humiliation, I would jump in and begin my quest.

By my third summer, Harold the lifeguard would extend the rescue pole over my head the moment I made my initial plunge. Near the middle of the second lap, I would grasp at the pole sputtering and gasping like a kitten emerging from a pail of water. I was well into adolescence before I achieved admission to the deep end. But the most I ever did with the privilege was tread water before lying on the far dock to tan.

Looking back, what strikes me is that as badly as I wanted to swim in the deep end, and as much as I dreaded the yearly humiliation, I never did anything that would help me achieve my goal.

I didn’t request guidance. I didn’t take lessons. I didn’t practice in the shallow end. Nothing. I just expected every year that somehow, magically, I would eventually be able to pass. Eventually, I did, but it was a lame, straggling pass, and I’ve never enjoyed the deep water, nor  progress as a swimmer beyond that point.

That’s how many of us approach our spiritual lives.

We long to swim in the deep end of faith. We know there will be testing to merit that privilege. But too often we spurn counsel, effort, teaching and training. Yet, we expect that we will somehow, magically, be able to pass the test of faith and gain admission to spiritual deep water. When God extends His rescue pole and fishes us out – exhausted and floundering – He shakes His head – like Harold the lifeguard.

At times when we do manage to reach deep water, we feel lost and out of our element. We don’t know how to really process the experience, and the most we manage is to tread water before heading back to shallow water near the familiar shore.

There is nothing we can add to the sacrifice of Christ to earn eternal life with God. But we can put effort into pursuing those qualities that equip us and keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our faith. Peter provides guidance, but we must invest the effort to applying it.

I long to spend my life in the deep end, not just to arrive there but to be adept there, at home and able to support the efforts of others who venture out that far.

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Passing the Deep End Test – insight from @LoriSRoeleveld on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

lori Roeleveld Headshot 2015About the author: Lori Stanley Roeleveld is an author, speaker, and disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored four encouraging, unsettling books. Her latest release is The Art of Hard Conversations: Biblical Tools for the Tough Talks that Matter. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.

Join the conversation: What efforts do you make to deepen your faith to avoid spending life in the shallow end of God’s great adventure?

Go Fish

by Cheri Cowell @CheriCowell

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

“From others,” Peter answered.

 “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”                                                                                       Matthew 17:25b-27 NIV

Did you play Go Fish when you were a child? My sister and I loved to play that card game when we visited our grandparents. I so enjoyed sending my sister “fishing.”

Now, we weren’t so much on real real fishing, mind you. Daddy had two girly girls and fishing was just too dirty for us. I remember watching Daddy clean the fish he caught, and when I saw how he used pliers to get the hook from the poor fish’s mouth—that was the end of fishing for me!

But if he’d found what Peter found when Jesus told him to Go Fish, I’d have instantly become a tomboy.

The drachma was a coin used to pay the two-coin tax levied on all Jews for the upkeep of the Temple. Roman taxes normally listed specific people who were exceptions and not required to pay. For example, often conquerors subjected conquered peoples, not their own subjects, to taxation. Likewise, priests were exempt from the two-drachma tax cited here. Most significant for this story, dependents of a king were naturally exempt from his taxes.

And with those exceptions in mind, Jesus was making a point to Peter. It was a point Peter would not understand until after Jesus’ death—the King of the Temple, in whose name these taxes are collected, is my Father. It is inappropriate that I should be taxed in His house. And as a son of God, Peter should not be taxed either.

Then Jesus miraculously supplied the tax required by the Jewish leadership. Peter was to cast out a fishing line for a special catch waiting for him. Matthew does not finish the story, but we presume when Peter did what Jesus told him to do, he found a coin that covered both his and Jesus’ tax requirements.

What do you need to believe Jesus for today? Do you believe that Jesus is the King of all things in heaven and on Earth? Just as He provided the tax in the mouth of a fish for Peter, He can and will supply your needs. He knows your needs, but the question is, do you trust Him?

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Go Fish – insight on #FollowingGod from @CheriCowell on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

About the author: Cheri Cowell is the author of 365 Devotions for Peace (Thomas Nelson). She can be found at www.CheriCowell.com.

Cheri CowellCheri Cowell is also a contributor to When God Calls the Heart to Love. To learn more about Cheri visit www.CheriCowell.com.

Inspired by best-selling author Janette Oke and the Hallmark Channel original TV series When Calls the Heart, Brian Bird and Michelle Cox explore the love-filled moments from the fictional early 1900s town of Hope Valley. Stories of romantic love, as well as love between families, neighbors, and friends, will touch your heart and encourage your soul to recognize the potential of love in your life.

Join the conversation: What needs are you trusting God for today?

More Than Called…

by Ava Pennington @AvaPennington

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.” Jude 1:1-2 ESV

Are you feeling drained? Has serving God become a burden rather than a privilege?

Each of us has been called to serve our mighty God in a unique way. But we can become so busy fulfilling our call that we focus on the “doing.” We want to do better—to write well, to teach effectively, to do whatever we’ve been called to do to the best of our ability.

Yet our ability can be limited. Then we struggle with our inadequacy as we represent the King of Kings. That inadequacy drives to seek His empowering to accomplish His purposes.

To be conscious of our calling is to serve with an awareness of the privilege of being used by God to advance His kingdom. But that’s only a partial picture of what it means to be called. In the New Testament, Jude wrote, “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance” (Jude 1:1-2 ESV).

Jude made a point of addressing his epistle to those who are called, loved, and kept.

How often have I been so busy ministering the love of God to everyone else that I’ve forgotten I’m also a recipient of that same love? We are loved by the God of love, not because we serve, but because He lavishly pours out His love on us through Jesus Christ’s atoning work.

Not only are we loved with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3), we are also kept. Our Heavenly Father sustains us and protects us. He holds us in the palm of His hand. Regardless of our circumstances, there is no safer place to be.

He saves us by the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, and He seals us by His Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). We have everything we need to do all He has called us to do. More importantly, we have everything we need to be all He has called us to be—chosen, loved, adopted, redeemed, and sealed.

When we understand who we are—and to whom who we belong—God releases His power in us and through us to serve Him. The order is important. Identity comes before service. Being comes before doing. Reveling in His mercy, peace, and love comes before ministry in His name.

Before you write your next chapter, teach your next class, answer the twenty new emails sitting in your Inbox, or even change that next diaper, take a moment to consider this reminder:

“I am loved with a lavish, everlasting love. This love is unrelated to what I do, but it has everything to do with who I belong to. I am a beloved child of the King kept by His almighty hand.”   

Once we understand God’s love and His keeping, we are free to serve Him without fear, equipped in every way to fulfill the purpose to which we are called.

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More Than Called… -insight from @AvaPennington on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: What has made you question the goodness of God?