The Waggle Dance, Bowling, and Humanity’s Depravity

by Kathy Howard

I know more about bees than I need to. Our friend Stan, who our grandkids call “Stan the bee man,” is a veterinarian and a beekeeper. Whenever Stan harvests a new batch of honey, he brings taste samples to our small group Bible study. Stan also often shares fascinating bee facts with us. For instance, the worker bees – females that forage and gather pollen and nectar – perform an intricate series of moves called a “waggle dance” to communicate the location of a newly-found food source to other workers.

The bees’ built-in “GPS” is just one example of the order, intricacies, and beauty of creation that necessitates a powerful, intelligent Creator. Although we cannot see God, we can see concrete evidence of His existence. We smell the grass. We feel the sand between our toes and the wind on our face. We hear the relentless pounding of the surf and the sweet notes of the song bird. The evidence for God is overwhelming. Biblical scholars refer to this proof for God’s existence as “general revelation.” God wants mankind to know Him, so He has made Himself known.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  Romans 1:20 ESV

And yet many in our world ignore the proof and inexcusably reject the truth that God exists. According to a 2021 study by Pew Research Center, about 9% of Americans describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. Although that number may seem small, it has more than doubled since 2010. And many more reject God by practice if not by declaration.

How does God respond to this rejection? He doesn’t force anyone to choose Him. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that God “gives them up” to their choices (Romans 1:24). He removes all divine restraint from their lives, allowing them to fall deeper into sin.

When we bowl with our grandkids, the younger ones use the bumpers. On the ball’s journey down the lane, it ricochets from one side to the other, but it never drops into the gutter. The rest of us bowl without the extra protection of the bumper’s restraint. Likewise, God removes the protection of His guiding influence from those who rebelliously reject Him. As a result, they end up in the spiritual gutter.

This heartbreaking passage describes mankind’s depth of depravity apart from God. The injury incurred from the first fall into sin in the Garden of Eden has festered into an oozing wound. Apart from the gospel there is no cure. Spiritual and eternal death is the sure end.

We face a life and death situation and there’s just one cure. Unrighteous humanity desperately needs God’s righteousness and God graciously provides it through Christ. When we consider the depth of our need, the sheer scope of our sin, God’s offer of salvation seems miraculously inconceivable – that our holy God sent His Son to die for the likes of us. And yet He did.

This post was adapted from Kathy’s upcoming devotional book “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Romans.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 12 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and one accidental dog. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

Have you lost the wonder of your salvation? Maybe you’ve forgotten the abundant riches of God’s grace. The Gospel isn’t just a statement of faith. It is more than hope for eternity. The Gospel of Jesus is the power of God for your life today. Recapture the awe of your life in Christ with this 40-day pilgrimage through the book of Romans. Like the rest of the Deep Rooted devotional series, the Romans volume uses the 4-R Bible study framework to help you learn how to interact with and respond to Scripture, not simply read it. These meaty, daily devotions will increase your hunger for God’s Word, encourage spiritual growth and stability, and lay the groundwork for a life-long, spiritually-healthy habit.

Join the conversation: How has God made himself known to you through his creation?

Don’t Fall for that Old Lie

By Kathy Howard

For by grace you have been saved, through faith and not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB

My paternal grandfather was a sharecropper, growing cotton in northwest Louisiana. My father worked in the fields with his father and older brothers. As young as four, Dad twisted the cotton from the bolls and dropped the white balls into the rough burlap bag slung across his small chest. Dad’s strong work ethic, which began in that cotton field, moved him to start his own business and successfully guide it for more than forty years.

Dad also instilled a similar attitude towards work in me and my brother. First, he assigned age-appropriate chores. I most disliked sweeping the pine straw off the pebbled driveway. Then, when we were old enough, Dad expected us to have summer jobs. We learned Dad’s lesson. If you want something, you work for it. Don’t expect things to just be handed to you.

Since the world widely operates on these same principles, some have a hard time grasping the truth that salvation is solely by faith in Jesus. In fact, this is one of the foundational biblical truths commonly rejected by “Christian” cults like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although they may initially proclaim salvation by grace through faith, when pressed they cite certain rules that must be followed or acts that must be accomplished in addition to Christ’s sacrifice in order to gain salvation.

Christians must never compromise on the vital truth that we cannot work to earn our salvation. Justification – right standing with God – is only possible by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death. This truth is necessary and non-negotiable. We cannot add anything to faith and call it biblical Christianity.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul used Abraham to show that salvation through faith is not just a New Testament concept. God declared Abraham “righteous” because he believed, not because of anything he had done (Romans 4:3). Even Abraham, whom God called His “friend” (Isaiah 41:8), experienced right standing with God through faith.

The patriarch’s good works and obedience – including circumcision- came after he believed God’s promises. God promised Abraham a son, his own heir. God showed Abraham the stars in the vast sky and promised that his descendants would be too many to count. “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

In this passage, the Greek word translated “believe” is the verb form of the noun translated as “faith.” By definition, belief in Christ is far more than mere intellectual assent to a collection of facts. According to Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, “to believe” means “to place confidence in, to trust.” Believing in Jesus means we depend and rely on Him to the degree that we will follow and obey Him.

True faith will produce obedience (Romans 1:5 and 16:26). Although Paul emphatically declared salvation by faith alone, he never minimized obedience. Good works, holy living, and faithful obedience to Christ naturally flow from true faith. But obedience is the result of salvation, not the cause.

This truth – salvation by grace through faith alone – makes salvation available to all. No matter how deep or shallow our unrighteousness. All need saving. No one deserves it. Not one can earn it. Only faith. Only Christ.

This post was adapted from Kathy’s upcoming devotional book “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Romans.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 12 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and one accidental dog. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

Have you lost the wonder of your salvation? Maybe you’ve forgotten the abundant riches of God’s grace. The Gospel isn’t just a statement of faith. The Gospel of Jesus is the power of God for your life today. Recapture the awe of your life in Christ with Deep Rooted Romans. Like the rest of the Deep Rooted devotional series, the Romans volume uses the 4-R Bible study framework to help you learn how to interact with and respond to Scripture, not simply read it. These meaty, daily devotions will increase your hunger for God’s Word, encourage spiritual growth and stability, and lay the groundwork for a life-long, spiritually-healthy habit.

Join the Conversation: What does the idea of truth faith mean to you?

The Aches, the Pain, and the Coming Glory

by Kathy Howard

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. Romans 8:22 NASB

You know you’re getting old when just simply bending over elicits an automatic groan. My list of bodily aches, pains, and scars grows longer each year. The most recent sign of high mileage on my body is a small tear in my right rotator cuff. Thankfully, the doctor believes I can avoid surgery with physical therapy. But I’m definitely feeling the wear and tear of many decades of living.

Like our physical bodies, the world and everything in it suffers death, decay, and corruption. Sin has left its mark everywhere. God’s creation groans under the weight of it, eagerly longing for the full consummation of God’s great salvation. On that day, when God glorifies His children, He will also set creation free from its bondage. But until then, we wait.

The phrase “the now and the not yet” is often used to describe our current state of salvation. In this life, we experience forgiveness, reconciliation with God, the power to live godly lives, and more. Yet, we still wait for the full realization of our salvation. We wait for the end of suffering and the resurrection and glorification of our physical bodies. But we won’t receive it all until Jesus returns. Salvation already belongs to us, but we don’t yet hold it all in our hands.

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

In Romans 8, Paul contrasted our present suffering with our future glory to show the now and not yet. Now, we share in Christ’s sufferings, later we will share in His glory (Romans 8:17). Yes, God allows trials in the lives of His children, but He does not waste them. God works through them for His purposes. Like heat refines precious metals, God shapes us to look more and more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). But this transformation will not be complete until Jesus returns.

On that day, believers who have died will be “raised in glory” and those still living will be transformed in the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:43, 51-54). Our resurrected bodies will be transformed into the imperishable, immortal likeness of Jesus’ heavenly body. It is then that we will experience the full consummation of our adoption as God’s children. We will finally hold all the blessings of our salvation.

In the meantime, we wait, and we groan. But we also hope. We live in the now and the not yet. The seen and the unseen—what we experience in the present and hope for in the future. As we look forward and contemplate our glorious future with Christ, we see our present difficulties in their proper perspective.

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

This post is adapted from Kathy’s soon-to-be-released devotional “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Romans,” coming October 2022 from Bold Vision Books.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 11 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

Deep Rooted: Growing Through the Book of Acts: A 50-Day Devotional Journey by [Kathy Howard]

Here’s more about “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts”: Pack your bags and join Kathy Howard for the journey of a lifetime. You’ll experience the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit, witness the birth of the church, and walk the dusty roads alongside those first missionaries as they boldly share the Gospel of Jesus with the world. 

Join the conversation:  What do you look forward to the most in eternity?

Step Back to See the Big Picture

by Kathy Howard

Yet he gave [Abraham] no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. Acts 7:5 ESV

Mosaics grace the ceilings, walls, and floors of cathedrals, homes, and buildings all over the world. Skillful artists create them by arranging small bits of colored tiles, glass, or other material into patterns or images. The oldest known mosaics, discovered in a temple in Mesopotamia, date back to the 3rd millennium BCE.

In the 1990s, photo mosaics developed as a modern twist on this beautiful ancient artform. In a traditional mosaic, one large image is created by combining small colorful pieces. But in a photo mosaic, these small colorful pieces are also individual images. Many small photos join together to form one big picture.

Stephen, a deacon in the first-century church, tried to help the Jewish leaders who arrested him see God’s big story of salvation. In Acts chapter seven, Stephen responded to the Sanhedrin’s charges against him with a mosaic-type narrative. He skillfully combined individual stories of Israel’s history to tell them one big story. Reciting Israel’s history to make a point was a common practice, but Stephen used it to encourage his accusers to pull back from their micro-focus and see God’s greater plans and purposes for Israel.

Accusations of false witnesses reflected the Jewish leaders’ small-picture thinking. According to their testimony, Stephen claimed Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs of Moses. The council would have considered this particularly blasphemous. In their minds, God resided in the temple and His salvation came through the Mosaic Law. Everything they held dear and hoped for revolved around these two things. But their narrow focus caused them to miss the big, glorious truth of God’s eternal redemption.

So, Stephen took them back to the beginning. He reminded them of their calling through Abraham. He recounted God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. He illustrated God’s power and sovereignty through the life of Joseph. And Stephen highlighted God’s presence with His people – inside and outside the Promised Land. He showed them how the pieces fit together to form the big picture. They’d seen the colorful pieces but they’d missed the glorious beauty of the complete redemption picture. They’d missed Jesus.

Like the Jews who saw the colorful pieces of God’s salvation story but missed the Savior, we sometimes get stuck on the smaller pieces in our own story. The tiny piece that has captured our attention may be a past failure, a difficult trial, or even a victory. But God is working through every event and experience in our lives, arranging them into a work of art. Step back to see how the small pieces fit into God’s eternal plans and purposes. Don’t miss the beautiful, big picture.

Father, I know that sometimes my focus gets stuck on one event or problem. Help me to see the bigger picture of the ways you are working. Show me how I can best cooperate with what You’re doing in my life. In Jesus’ name, amen.

***

This post is adapted from “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 11 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

Deep Rooted: Growing Through the Book of Acts: A 50-Day Devotional Journey by [Kathy Howard]

Here’s more about “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts”: Pack your bags and join Kathy Howard for the journey of a lifetime. You’ll experience the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit, witness the birth of the church, and walk the dusty roads alongside those first missionaries as they boldly share the Gospel of Jesus with the world. 

Join the conversation:  Have you ever tried to remember specific moments that you now know God would work together to move you into the person you are today?

Do You Pray Expectantly?

by Kathy Howard

Doctors diagnosed Kaitlyn with leukemia just days before her thirteenth birthday. Family, friends, and the church immediately began to pray. Kaitlyn endured weeks of intense in-patient treatment. After multiple victories and set-backs, the doctors announced Kaitlyn was in remission. My dear friend Janet also endured years of intense treatments and long bouts of hospitalizations to battle a rare form of leukemia. Many believers – including me – prayed fervently for her physical healing. But Janet’s story ended differently than Kaitlyn’s.

Many Christians earnestly prayed for the physical healing of both my friends. God delivered one from leukemia’s grip. But God eternally healed the other by bringing her home to heaven. God had the power to heal both, but only physically healed one.

In Acts chapter 12, both Peter and James faced the threat of death for the sake of Christ. God physically delivered one, but allowed the martyrdom of the other. I don’t fully understand why God answers some prayers the way we desire, but not others. But I believe what His Word teaches. God is always able. He always cares. And sometimes God’s purposes include leaving us in our physical trials.

In the early days of the church, Herod Agrippa I was Rome’s appointed “king” over a significant geographical area that included Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. This stereotypical politician acted to benefit himself. Therefore, when his execution of James pleased the Jewish leaders (Acts 12:1-3), Herod planned a similar fate for Peter to further curry their favor. Herod thought he had control. But he was mistaken.

When Herod arrested Peter during the Passover feast, the church began praying. The believers did not simply pray once for Peter then check it off their prayer list. In Acts 12:5, their prayer is described as “earnest.” The adjective “earnest” describes a fervent, wholehearted, vigilant attitude and the verb tense indicates continuous action. They pled with God on Peter’s behalf. They urgently prayed and kept on praying.

Herod had taken extreme measures to prevent Peter from escaping. He was bound with two chains between two soldiers and two more soldiers guarded the door (Acts 12:6). But in light of God’s power, these efforts seem silly. When God deployed His angelic messenger to execute His escape plan, no amount of chains, guards, or locks could hinder God. The chains fell off, the prison door opened, and the angel led Peter out into the street.

Ironically, Peter experienced far more trouble getting into the house where the believers were praying than he did walking out of prison! The believers prayed earnestly, but not necessarily with expectation. They asked God to act, but did not look for His answer. Peter’s arrival surprised them.  

God still works through the prayers of believers. What an incredible truth! The God of the universe chooses to work through the intercession of His people to carry out His purposes. Through prayer, God invites us to join Him in His work. And while we may not always understand God’s specific answer, we can always trust that His answer is good.

So, let us trust in the One who hears our prayers and not in a specific outcome. Let us boldly enter God’s throne room. Let us continue to pray earnestly. And as we pray, let’s expectantly watch for God’s answer.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Deep Rooted: Growing Through the Book of Acts: A 50-Day Devotional Journey by [Kathy Howard]

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 11 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

Here’s more about “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts”: Pack your bags and join Kathy Howard for the journey of a lifetime. You’ll experience the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit, witness the birth of the church, and walk the dusty roads alongside those first missionaries as they boldly share the Gospel of Jesus with the world. This volume of Deep Rooted — will show you how to interact with and apply Scripture, not just read it. These meaty daily devotions use a simple study framework designed to help you:

  • Develop a regular habit of spending quality time in God’s Word
  • Learn how to dig into Scripture on your own
  • Foster a desire to share the gospel with others 
  • Depend on the Holy Spirit as you follow Jesus

Finally, a devotional with some meat on its bones!

The Best Path Might Be the Hardest

by Kathy Howard

What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. –Acts 21:13 ESV

My husband and I love to hike. More often than not, when deciding where to hike, we choose the longer and more difficult trails. Not because we enjoy suffering, but because those trails usually provide greater benefits. The hard trails reward hikers with gorgeous waterfalls and breathtaking views. They weave through silent, ancient forests and past abundant flora and fauna. Yes, when you’re hiking, the best trails are often the hardest.

The same is true in our walk with God. His best path for us is often difficult. The apostle Paul not only knew this truth, but he fully embraced God’s will for him no matter where His path might lead. Throughout the return leg of his third missionary journey, the Holy Spirit had been leading Paul to Jerusalem. The Spirit had even revealed that trouble waited for him there (Acts 19:21 and 20:22). God’s will for Paul included suffering.

We first read this incredible truth during the account of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. When Jesus sent the Damascus believer Ananias to visit Paul (Saul), Jesus told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV).

Sometimes God delivered Paul from persecution—like the time Paul escaped Damascus over the wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). Sometimes God delivered Paul in the midst of persecution—like sending an earthquake in Philippi to open the prison stocks (Acts 16:25-26). But then we see that God specifically directed Paul to go to Jerusalem, where suffering awaited him (Acts 20:22-23). And Paul obeyed, knowing what lay ahead.

Yet, as sure as Paul was of God’s will for him, many of his fellow believers and friends urged him not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:12). When the Spirit showed them how Paul would suffer, they had reacted with a desire to keep him safe. They understandably but wrongly jumped to the conclusion that he should run from this particular trial.

Paul stood at a crossroads. Would he turn away from suffering or would he follow Jesus no matter what lay ahead? God had constrained Paul to go to Jerusalem; to turn away would be disobedience.

“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’” (Acts 21:13 ESV).

God does not always lead us into suffering, but sometimes He works in and through our trials to carry out His purposes. Sometimes He uses fiery trials to refine our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7) or deepen our relationship with Jesus (Philippians 3:10) or to proclaim Christ’s salvation to the lost (Acts 16:30-32).

Paul’s path through Jerusalem ultimately led to imprisonment in Rome. Several years later, during that imprisonment, Paul wrote these words to the believers in Philippi: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21 NIV).

Let’s pray: Father, your will is always perfect, even if it’s hard. Help me obey you wherever you lead. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

This post is adapted from “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 11 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

Here’s more about “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts”:

Deep Rooted: Growing Through the Book of Acts: A 50-Day Devotional Journey by [Kathy Howard]

Pack your bags and join Kathy Howard for the journey of a lifetime. You’ll experience the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit, witness the birth of the church, and walk the dusty roads alongside those first missionaries as they boldly share the Gospel of Jesus with the world. 

This volume of Deep Rooted — 50 devotions through the book of Acts–will show you how to interact with and apply Scripture, not just read it. Finally, a devotional with some meat on its bones! Available now on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3rEiYRf

Join the conversation: Are you in a hard season right now? Please share!

Weighty Last Words

by Kathy Howard

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24 ESV

We don’t always know when the last conversation we have with someone will be our last. My father’s death was unexpected, so the last time we talked, we discussed casual, every day topics, nothing terribly significant.

My mother’s passing was different. She had a long, brutal battle with Alzheimer’s. For the last three years of her life, Mom lived near my brother in Tennessee. The journey was almost one thousand miles for me, but I went regularly. I visited them in February 2020, then the COVID lockdowns hit. Due to the disease, Mom could not Facetime or even talk on the phone. And she continued to decline.

In October 2020 the hospice director gave me special permission to visit her. God graciously provided this just two weeks before her death. Mom could not talk to me, but I told her how much I loved her and what a wonderful mother she’d been. I filled her in on her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Our last moments together were sweet. I sang her favorite hymns, held her hand, and kissed her cheek. After reading Scripture, I reminded her how much Jesus loved her. These, my last words with her, were significant. Meaningful. Weighty.

Paul knew the importance of last words, the urgent obligation to say what needs to be said. On his way to Jerusalem, near the end of his third missionary journey, Paul had a burning message for the leaders of the Ephesian church. But knowing a visit to Ephesus would require too much time, he sent for the leaders to meet him along the way. These “elders” were the pastors and teachers of the church, the ones responsible for the spiritual formation of the believers.

First, Paul reminded them of his ministry in Ephesus. He poured out everything to proclaim the Gospel and to minister to the believers. He financially supported himself. He endured persecution. He humbly, but boldly taught everything they needed. Next, Paul warned them to be on guard against false teaching. Even some of these leaders would distort the Word of God for their own gain.

Paul left nothing unsaid. He held nothing back because he did not live for himself. Paul’s greatest desire was to complete the work Jesus gave him. To finish well. In his last known letter, the second to his spiritual son Timothy, Paul reflected on his life and ministry:

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:6-7 ESV).

Paul’s last words describe a life lived all out for the Lord Jesus. No regrets. Nothing left undone. When the end of my race draws near, I pray I will be able to say the same.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to live all out for You. To hold nothing back. To leave nothing undone. Amen.

This post is adapted from “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate and richest coffee. She searches for cherished stories of faith that still impact hearts. And she digs deep into God’s Word, mining His eternal truths for herself and to share with others. With more than 30 years of experience, Kathy has taught in dozens of states, internationally, and in a wide range of venues including multi-church conferences and large online events.

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Kathy has a Masters of Christian Education from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and is the author of 10 books, including the “Deep Rooted” devotional series and Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” (October 2021).  Kathy and her husband live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area near family. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Kathy provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org.

Join the Conversation: What regrets do you hope to avoid at the end of your life?

Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

by Kathy Howard

Now [the Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 ESV

We live in a wonderful, dangerous time. Technology provides access to vast amounts of faith-based teaching. Books of all forms, social media, blogs and vlogs, videos, and so many other things I don’t even know about. We could never read it all, watch it all, hear it all, consume it all. So much of it is good, helpful, and honoring to God. But sadly, some of it twists Scripture and misrepresents God, leading people astray.

Unlike many today, the apostle Paul consistently demonstrated his faithful commitment to God’s Word. He did not preach a manmade message. We see Paul’s good stewardship again and again in the book of Acts. For instance, when Paul visited the city of Thessalonica during his second missionary journey, he used the Scriptures to present, explain, and prove his teaching to the Jews in the synagogue (Acts 17:2-3). He encouraged discussion and questions. Paul had nothing to hide. Through God’s Word, Paul showed the Jews that Jesus was God’s long-awaited Messiah, who fulfilled many prophecies and promises.

Many responded with belief, but others responded with jealousy. They resented the attention given to Paul and his message; the growth of the Gospel diminished their own influence and following. So, they resorted to mob incitement and distortions to turn Thessalonica against the missionaries. When opponents of the Good News forced Paul out of town, he and his team headed to Berea.

The Jews in the Berean synagogue probably felt like a breath of fresh air to Paul. They listened eagerly but tested and validated everything by examining Scripture. With a humble, teachable attitude, they received the Gospel. Their response was not merely emotional, but a purposeful and intellectual conviction to receive the Gospel as truth.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

The Bereans set a good example for us. Christians have a responsibility to test everything we hear against the truth of God’s Word. And those who teach have the very serious obligation to be faithful stewards of Scripture. The apostle Paul not only assumed this weighty responsibility, he also charged his spiritual son Timothy to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul knew that many others, in a desire to build up themselves, would deviate from the truth and simply teach what people wanted to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).

Check everything you hear, see, and read against God’s Word, not your feelings, desires or the current culture. Validate it with Scripture: only and always Scripture. Any and all teaching must stand up to the scrutiny of the Bible. If it doesn’t, don’t accept it. God’s Word is the final word.

This post is adapted from “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 11 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

Deep Rooted: Growing Through the Book of Acts: A 50-Day Devotional Journey by [Kathy Howard]

Pack your bags and join Kathy Howard for the journey of a lifetime with Deep Rooted: Growing Through the book of Acts. You’ll experience the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit, witness the birth of the church, and walk the dusty roads alongside those first missionaries as they boldly share the Gospel of Jesus with the world. Finally, a devotional with some meat on its bones!

Will You Carry the Baton?

by Kathy Howard

Billy Graham spent his life taking the Gospel to the world. According to estimates, Graham preached in almost two hundred nations and territories. About 215 million attended his events. Two billion more heard Graham via radio and television. Most importantly, estimates of how many responded to his invitation to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior exceed two million souls.

We can’t statistically measure the impact of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. But both Scripture and history prove that the Holy Spirit used him to launch the Gospel like a rocket across the world. Not even the chains of his Roman imprisonment impeded his ministry. God simply brought the lost to Paul, including an early opportunity to preach to a big crowd of curious Jews.

“When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (Acts 28:23 ESV).

Picture an ancient version of a Billy Graham crusade. Great numbers of lost Jews showed up to hear Paul preach. And he preached all day! From the Law and the Prophets, Paul presented Scriptural evidence to persuade them that Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. Like those who hear the Gospel today, some believed, but many others rejected the evidence and did not believe.

“He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31 ESV).

Luke’s account of Paul’s two-year house arrest is brief, but other Bible passages show that Paul was not idle. He wrote many letters to encourage and instruct churches and ministers. Four of them – Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon – are part of the biblical canon. Paul also used his rented house as a hub for ministry. Some ministry partners consistently stayed with him and others – like Timothy – came and went as they continued the evangelistic work outside Rome. Believers from other churches also visited, like Epaphroditus who brought financial aid and encouragement from the Christians in Philippi (Philippians 2:25).

But what happened after the book of Acts ended? The Holy Spirit powerfully propelled the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and all the way to Rome (Acts 1:8). But for those of us who want to know more, Scripture and church tradition offer clues. Likely, Paul was released (Philemon 22, Philippians 1:19-26, 2:24) and continued his evangelistic work for a few more years (1 Timothy 1:3, Titus 3:12). Then, based on Scripture (2 Timothy 4:6-7) and early church tradition, Paul was arrested a second time in the mid-60’s AD and beheaded by order of Emperor Nero.

The end of the book of Acts is not the end of the story. The Holy Spirit’s work to take the Gospel to the world has continued through the millennia all the way to today. And now it’s our story. It’s our commission. We hold the baton. We cannot be silent. JESUS CHRIST is the hope of the world.

Pray: Lord Jesus, You alone are the hope of a lost world. Open my heart to the great need of the lost and open my mouth to boldly proclaim Your name.

This post is adapted from “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 11 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” and the “meaty” devotional series “Deep Rooted.” Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

Here’s more about “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts”

Deep Rooted: Growing Through the Book of Acts: A 50-Day Devotional Journey by [Kathy Howard]

Pack your bags and join Kathy Howard for the journey of a lifetime. You’ll experience the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit, witness the birth of the church, and walk the dusty roads alongside those first missionaries as they boldly share the Gospel of Jesus with the world. 

This volume of Deep Rooted — will show you how to interact with and apply Scripture, not just read it. These meaty daily devotions use a simple study framework designed to help you:

  • Develop a regular habit of spending quality time in God’s Word
  • Learn how to dig into Scripture on your own
  • Foster a desire to share the gospel with others 
  • Depend on the Holy Spirit as you follow Jesus

Finally, a devotional with some meat on its bones!

Happy Birthday Jesus!

by Kathy Howard

A few years ago, while speaking at a ladies’ Christmas event, something unexpected happened. I had planned to read portions of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke. But as I began to read from my open Bible, I discovered I did not need it. The words flowed from memory – KJV style.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  Luke 2:4-5 KJV

But I’ve never purposefully worked to memorize those sections of Scripture. The passages were imbedded in my heart simply because my father read them to our family every Christmas Eve. It was part of our family tradition. My dad desired to keep our hearts and minds on the real meaning of Christmas. To keep Jesus at the center. He felt the same way about Easter, Thanksgiving, and every other holiday. While he enjoyed the cultural aspects of these celebrations, he always honored God first and encouraged us to do the same.

As our own children grew, my husband and I worked to carry on that legacy. For instance, when our kids were old enough to understand, I began baking a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve. We even had candles and sang “Happy Birthday.” It was a simple, but effective way to help our children remember why we celebrate Christmas. Like the magi, we worshipped Jesus.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 KJV

Jesus is also the reason for all the other celebrations in Scripture. On one level, the Old Testament feasts celebrate God’s physical provision and miraculous deliverance. But ultimately, they all point to the coming Savior and His provision of eternal life.

As each holiday and family celebration approaches, we can find creative ways to keep Jesus central. For instance, for Christmas, make a birthday cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. For Thanksgiving, print psalms that express gratitude to God and ask different family members to take turns reading them at the dinner table.

As our families enjoy holidays and other special events, let’s intentionally point them to Jesus. Let’s make Him the center of our days and the center of our families. Whatever else we may celebrate, let’s acknowledge Jesus first. He gives us every reason to celebrate. Jesus is every reason to celebrate.

**This post is adapted from Kathy’s new book, “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith.”

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate and richest coffee. She searches for cherished stories of faith that still impact hearts. And, she digs deep into God’s Word, mining His eternal truths for herself and to share with others. With more than 30 years of experience, Kathy has taught in dozens of states, internationally, and in a wide range of venues including multi-church conferences and large online events. She has a Masters of Christian Education from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary.

Kathy is the author of 10 books, including the “Deep Rooted” devotional series and “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith” (October 2021).  Kathy and her husband live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area near family. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Kathy provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org.