Increasing Fellowship with Other Christians

1 Corinth 12 19,20 revised

Has your faith or walk with God ever felt like it has fallen in a rut? Have you ever questioned whether God is listening? Have you ever questioned your faith in general? I will be completely honest; I can say yes to all of these things, but I have moved on from them, and I know God is listening, I am strong in my faith and I feel like my faith is constantly growing. You might ask what got me to this point, and truly it is my fellowship with other Christians. Being surrounded by other people who believe in what I believe and know how to comfort me and support me in my faith is so incredibly important for me, but why does God say fellowship is important, and why should it be added to your list of resolutions?

Todays’ verses are Ephesians 5:19-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:14-31

Ephesians 5:19-21 tells us to share psalms and hymns, sing together and give thanks for everything God has done for us. These verses tell us to worship God together, not only because it will bring joy to God, but because it will bring joy to me and to those believers around us.

1 Corinthians 12:14-31. These verses talk about the body of Christ; we as believers and followers of Christ are the body of Christ and we are all a part of his church. We are all important and we all have a purpose. These verses say that no one part of the body can say that there is no need for another. Each piece has a specific purpose, and this was done intentionally. We are given spiritual gifts from God, and these verses also touch on that. Some people are teachers, some are apostles, some are prophets, some do miracles, some know many languages, some are good at administration and planning. None of these are more important than the other, they are just different and they are necessary for a fully functioning body. This is fellowship. When we spend time with other believers we begin to see their strengths and their gifts, when we spend more time with them, our own faith and relationship with God can be strengthened. When we spend more time with each other we are supported in our faith and our walk. We work as a team in many different aspects, and we know that we are not alone. Fellowship with each other is incredible important.

Now that you know the importance of fellowship and working together, you may be wondering how you can be more intentional in this area of your life. My suggestions are to attend church if you do not already. If you do, see if your church has a weekly bible study or youth group. If they do not have these ministries already, talk to your pastor about how to start one and how to organize one, you may not be the only person interested in creating more fellowship opportunities amongst the people in your community. I truly hope you have a supportive community, and if not I pray that one is given to you soon. Thank you for reading today, and I hope you’ll come back tomorrow.

-Jana Swanson

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Read More of the Good Book

2Tim3 1617 (1)

Today’s common New Year’s resolution is to read more of the Bible. One reason people quit this resolution is that they get lost quickly, or they do not have a plan on how much they are going to read, or they are inconsistent or they do not have accountability to keep them on track. Whatever the reason people tend to start off with good intentions, but they often fall short of their goal.

The verses today are 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalms 19:9-11, and Luke 12:27-28

So why do people want to read more of their Bible? Why is it important to read the Bible? How do we stay true to our goal of reading more? How do we get started? These are all questions you may have, and they are questions that I myself have had in my life.

There are so many reasons to add “read the Bible more” to your New Year’s resolutions. Check out 2 Timothy 3:14-17. These verses tell us that we need to know the teachings and laws of God from a young age and that every word in our Bible, every scripture is inspired by God and can be used in numerous different ways. They are good for teaching and correction, seeking righteousness. Through reading the Bible we strengthen our knowledge of God which can help us strengthen our relationship with him. When our relationship with God is strengthened we are complete, and we can be empowered to do good works in his name and for his will. Another great reason to read the Bible is because knowing more about the history of our faith, the history of God, and his son and the people of God, can give us a deeper understanding of how truly amazing our God is. He is the creator of the heavens and earth, he hand-crafted every thing of this earth, and yet he chose to create you too. He took the time to create you and build his own plan for your life, and all of this is found in scripture. Jeremiah 29:11 says,” For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says Yahweh, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.” The Bible is full of stories and histories that are good for us to know, and they are good for us to draw parallels in our own lives.

Psalms 19:9-11 “The fear of Yahweh is clean, enduring forever, Yahweh’s ordinances are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the extract of honey-comb. Moreover by them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” These verses tell us that God’s word is more precious than gold, and it is sweeter than honey-comb. God’s word feeds our spirits, and having this fulfillment does not happen if we do not know the ordinances and the word of God. This is such an awesome gift that God has created for us. We can see his love and his caring for all of his creation through his word, and we can see his true value of us through the Bible as well.

Luke 12:27-28 “Consider the lilies, how they grow. They do not toil, nor do they spin. Yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. But if God does so clothe the grass in the field, which today is and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more shall he clothe you, O you of little faith?” These verses tell us how much God cares for us, and will take care of our every need. We live and breathe, we take care of other people, we help our neighbors, we take care of our families and friends, we worship God and in all these things we sometimes worry if our every need will be taken care of. In these verses we find assurance that even flowers and fields which serve very minor purposes are clothed in beauty, and we are so much more and God will take care of us. This is another reason to read our Bibles. When we are worried, sad or confused we can find solace and strength in the words the Bible has for us.

Today I want you to take this with you. The Bible is a great book that is useful in many contexts. It us useful for teaching others and yourself more about your faith. It is important for learning more about God and building a stronger relationship with him. It is a great comfort when we are in need or we are stuck in worry. The Bible was given as a gift to us, and we should treat it as this precious gift. We need to spend time in our Bibles. Going forward from reading this today, I hope that you can find a way to read more. Start by reading this blog, continue by using an app that sends you a verse of the day. You may even want to find an accountability partner to read along with you, or remind you to read. Being a Christian should not be a lonely venture. There are people out there who will support in your journey to God. I hope you’ve enjoyed today.

-Jana Swanson

Building Your Prayer Life

James 5_16b

Another common resolution of Christian’s is that they want to pray more. What does that mean though? Does this mean that they will pray more during meals, or they will remember to pray before bed? Does this mean praying at random times or scheduled times during the day? What exactly is prayer, and how do you have more? If your goal this year is to grow closer to God, then this topic is something you should really consider and maybe work on. (I am also not claiming that I am good at this, I know that this is something I plan to work on this year.)

Some passages to read this week: Matthew 6:5-13, James 5:13-18

Prayer is conversation with God. It is a time for you to talk with him and tell him what is going on in your life and to ask him for guidance or support or help. Prayer is for you to build your relationship with God. It is a way for you to give him praise and thanks for everything that he has done in your life. Besides these, prayer is for you to ask for what you desire and what you need. God is pretty awesome and he loves to give us what we want as long as it is good for us and it is in accordance with his plan for our lives. Matthew chapter 6 talks about how and where to pray. It says not to be like the hypocrites who pray in front of the synagogues so that people could see them and what they were doing. It says to pray in your room alone, because prayer is for you and God, and between you and God. Now do I think that you can only pray in your room alone? No, you can absolutely pray wherever and whenever you want, but the motivation behind your praying should not be to get attention from other people, but to converse with God. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us the Lord’s prayer, he was giving a simple prayer that people could remember, and it covers a lot of different things in there, but your prayers do not all have to be like the Lord’s prayer.

Different ways to pray. There are as many different ways to pray as there are people on earth, and even more than that. Every single person of faith has their own relationship with God, and this means that their prayers are going to be their own, and different from anyone else. If you are trying to add more praying into your life and you do not know where to start, here are some ideas.

Just start praying; tell God anything and everything that is going on in your life. Talk out loud, or quietly to yourself and just thank God for the little things, or ask him questions, or ask for things in your life. Start a conversation, and listen for the response. Look for it in the world around you. God will make things clear when they are meant to be clear and known to you.

Listen to music, or sing a prayer. I personally feel closest to God when I am singing, or when I am listening to praise music. Is that praising? yes, but for me it is also how I talk to God, and I often get chills that tell me God is hearing me. My favorite prayer is actually a prayer that my family sings before meals. It goes like this; “Be present at our table Lord, be here and everywhere adored, these mercies bless and grant that we, may feast in fellowship with thee. Amen.” It is a tradition that I have always loved, and it is where I feel closest to our heavenly father.

Write in a journal. Again, prayer is meant to be a conversation between you and God. Maybe talking and singing is not comfortable for you, or you do not feel God’s presence when you do those. Try writing and journalling. Write your thoughts down and then just give them to God. He can still understand what you are asking of him, and this is still a form of communication. I sometimes journal and write down my thoughts, and it helps me in that moment. However, sometimes I re-read what I wrote and it helps me again later.

James 5:13-18 This passage talks all about when to pray. I’ll let you in on a little secret, it basically says to pray all the time, in any and every circumstance. We should pray when we are sick, troubled and lost. We should pray and sing praise in the joyous times. When we have wronged someone we need to tell our brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to pray for us and with us. We should being praying in EVERY circumstance. I know I pray to God when I am really having a hard time, but I sometimes forget to pray in the good times and thank him for everything that he has done for me and given to me. This is on me, and I should do better about this.

James 5:16 talks about confessing your sins to your brother and praying for each other. To me, this also talks about accountability. Sometimes with the business of life it is difficult to remember what we promised, or to pray. If prayer is something you want to take more seriously in your life, or have more of, think about asking for an accountability partner. Ask a friend if they are willing to pray with you daily, or if they are willing to send you a text asking if you have been praying. Whatever an accountability partner would mean for you, I encourage you to seek that out. You will deepen your relationship with God, and you may even build deeper connections with fellow believers as well.

-Jana Swanson

Make Better Investments

Matthew 25:14-30

Matt 25 21

Today we are talking about the New Year’s resolution of making better investments. This is a common resolution in the world whether people are people of faith or not. However I am going to talk about faith investments, more than monetary investments. Yes finances and being responsible are important in our lives and in our faith, however we need to be able to ask God for guidance in all areas of our lives including that one and we need to be flexible enough to listen to him.

At the start of the New Year one of my friends asked God, “Where and in whom should I invest my time, in 2018?” My thought was this, invest your time in the people who will give your time more meaning than just the time that they spend with you. Yes sometimes it is nice to have friends and family who will spend time with you, without there being a specific reason or purpose. However, you need to truly invest your time and energy in the people who will do something big with that time, not necessarily for you but maybe for them and their future. Today we are reading from Matthew 25:14-30. This passage is the parable of the talents. It is about the Master who gave 3 servants different number of talents, which were a type of coin. One was given 5, one was given 2, and one was given 1. The one with 5 invested them and doubled the money. The second servant did the same. The last servant buried the 1 talent in the ground, he did not even put it in the bank to at least collect interest. The first servant proved himself and so the master gave him even more, but to the last servant he gave him nothing, and he actually threw him out into the darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (That seems a little harsh to me, but the reality is life can be pretty difficult sometimes.)

I take a few things from this parable. 1.) Make smart choices and smart investments in your life, and take care of things that people entrust you with. The servants who made their master happy increased the master’s wealth, but they also did not lose the money that he gave them because they were proactive and took care of what they were entrusted with. The servant who did not make his master happy, did nothing with what he was given. This is what we should pay attention to. God gives us a lot of things. He gave us a life to live, and he has a plan for each of us. If you are not listening to him, how are you taking care of the gift that he has given you? If you are not taking care of the earth, and being conscious of how your actions affect other people and other creatures, how can you be taking care of a gift that was given to you? You are not. Think about this as you go about your daily life. How can you take care of the life you have been given? How can you listen to and follow God’s plan for your life?

2.) Invest in the people who are going to give you more than just time. Invest in the people who are going to give you wholesome friendships. Invest in the people that push you to be a better person, and those who hold you accountable to the things that you see. Invest in people who will push you in your relationship with God, and invest in those who will support you when you fall. We are imperfect beings and we will fall short sometimes. We will not always meet others’ expectations of us, God’s expectations or even our own expectations. Those will be difficult moments, but they will be easier to face if we have surrounded ourselves with people who will support us. It will also be easier if we have nurtured those relationships and given them the time that they deserve.

3.) Invest in God. This seems simple, and you’re probably going to guess what I am going to say. A relationship with God is not a one way street. You can not accept that Jesus is your savior and the son of God, and that God is one and only God, and not do anything else. You have to live a life with works. James 2:17 “Even so, faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.” This means investing in time in prayer, and in time in the word, and even in time with other believers in fellowship. Find little ways to do more of these in your daily life. Later in the week we will talk more about how to do more in the investment of your relationship with God, as we enter into this new year.

-Jana Swanson

New Year’s Resolutions

Luke 19_3a

Luke 19:1-10

As we are entering into the third full week of January I want to think about how you have begun your new year. Did you make any resolutions? Why or why not? Have you already broken your resolutions? If so, what made you let them go so soon? If not how are you staying true to your goal?

This week I am going to talk about some common New Year’s resolutions amongst Christians, their biblical founding and some strategies to help us keep these resolutions. My hope for you this week is that you take a moment to evaluate where your relationship with God is, where you would like it to go and how you are going to get there. If you did not make any resolutions or goals for 2018, that is okay, but maybe after reading this you will consider refocusing certain things in your life.

Some of the most common New Year’s resolutions in general are people wanting to be healthier, people wanting to save more of their money, getting better grades, maybe even trying to get a new and better job. These are all good, but so many people lose sight of their goals within the first 3 months of the new year, for a multitude of reasons. They made their “rules” too drastic, or they did not make their goal focused enough, or they did not have any accountability. These are all reasons people ditch their resolutions. Some common resolutions amongst Christians, in regards to their faith are to read their Bible more, go to church more often, pray more, etc. Again, even people of faith abandon these goals more often than not, because they want to do everything on their own, or they want to be absolutely perfect and when they are not they feel like they failed. All of these feelings are valid, but do not let them hold you back.

My first challenge to you if you are wanting to deepen your faith and your relationship with God, is to seek him and his son. Seek Jesus. This is the first topic of the week. Seeking Jesus. I want you to go ahead and read Luke 19:1-10.

Luke 19:1-10 is all about Zacchaeus. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, who climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see”- Right? That is not the only thing we can take away from this passage. Zacchaeus was too short to see Jesus over the crowd, but why did that matter to him? He most likely had heard the stories of Jesus and the people he had helped and the lives he had changed. Zacchaeus probably wanted to know what all this “salvation” was about, and how he could live eternal life. His entire knowledge and experience of Jesus prior to this day depicted in Luke was through the accounts of other people. If your faith is struggling or you feel lost, ask for other people’s stories. Ask people to share how they grew to know God, ask other people how they rely on him, and you may receive the help you need and some amazing relationships along the way.

Another thing to take away from this account is this; are you afraid to look silly for Jesus? We are called to not be of this earth, we are called to be different and not follow the ways of the world. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector, everyone knew who he was and the power that he had. Not only was he powerful, but he was extremely wealthy. Here was this man of high power and esteem, and in order to see Jesus he climbed a tree. That would look a little silly. How silly are you willing to look in order to see Jesus? I hope the answer means that you would fall on your knees before him, or praise God whenever you are compelled to do so. The opinions of others do not matter, your relationship with God is far more important.

To have a relationship with God, and to truly seek him and his son out is much more simple than we make it. Many times we feel like we need to be perfect in order to come to God and ask him for help, or to come to him and thank him, but that is not the case. He sent his one and only son to the world to die for us while we were still sinners. He put that salvation plan in motion so long ago, because he wants us to come to him in every time in our lives, good or bad. God wants us to come to him in our darkest hours, but also in the best times.

-Jana Swanson

Are You Battle Ready?

“I may never march in the infantry

Ride into cavalry

Shoot the artillery

I may never fly o’er the enemy

But I’m in the Lord’s army!”

Growing up in Sunday School, this song was my favorite, and it is so applicable to our theme this past week. You, as a soldier in God’s army, are fighting in a different kind of war—a spiritual battle. It’s a battle of God and sin competing for your heart. It’s a battle of protecting your flag, the Gospel message that has been placed inside of you. It’s a battle of sharing the Gospel with a broken fallen world that needs to hear a message of hope.

Just as Gideon and his men shouted into battle, you, too, need a battle cry. A word to inspire you, unite your army, and intimidate your enemy. This week, I’ve proposed a few words for you to embrace throughout the year, but don’t stop there. Find words that resonate with you, hold them tight, and live by them each and every day.

Surrendered: In a society that strives for control, surrender isn’t easy, but knowing that who you are surrendering to is more powerful than any another force in this world should give you peace. Like Elijah, choose a place of vulnerability to let God blow your mind. If He can send fire to an altar drenched in water and rain to a scorched earth, just imagine what He can do in your life.

Broken: You can rejoice in your brokenness because you didn’t stay broken. Through Jesus, your wounds were healed and are now a sign of victory. You are a teacup that was shattered but has been pieced back together with gold; you are restored and you have value. God is eagerly waiting to use you in big and unimaginable ways, just like He used Rahab.

Committed: God wants His soldiers to be fully committed to battle. He is jealous for every ounce of you. When Jesus asked three men to follow him, they answered back with excuses and pre-arranged plans, leaving Jesus unsatisfied. When Jesus has a task for you, I challenge you to answer yes, leaving behind your comfort zone and things of this world.

Bold: Boldness rejects popularity for the truth, and comfort for the cross. Just as John and Peter stood up for Jesus, their Savior and friend, be unashamed of the hope that you have. You may receive opposition, but don’t fret because Jesus’ side is going to win the war in the end. Thus, go forth with confidence and boldness.

Connected: You can’t win this battle alone. Stand hand in hand with your brothers and sisters, just as the Early Church modeled for us. The depth of our connection to other believers is dependent on the depth of our connection to God. Abide in Him together with the Church, the Bride of Christ.

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~ Mackenzie McClain

Committed

committed

You are at battle. The lines have been drawn and shots have been fired. The life of a soldier isn’t an easy one. It was never promised to be easy; instead, it was guaranteed to be difficult and requiring sacrifice.

In Luke chapter 9, as Jesus walks through Samaria to Jerusalem, a man approaches Jesus, saying that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus is quick to qualify what really following him means, saying “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9: 58). A home is often seen as a place of security and Jesus requires his followers to be willing to abandon everything else that has given security. Are you more committed to your comfort zone or Jesus?

Jesus calls on another man to follow him, but the man replies “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” (Luke 9:59). Jesus answers, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). The things of this world aren’t as important as the things of this world. As citizens of the Kingdom, your whole life should be centered around its work. Are you more committed to this life or the next one?

The third man says he will follow Jesus, but must first say goodbye to his family. Jesus replies, “no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Jesus wants your commitment without delay. Do you understand the urgency of the message you have been told, the gospel? God has placed his treasure, the Kingdom message, in jars of clay, that’s you (2 Corinthians 4:7). Your time on this earth is fleeting, so you must do everything you can to spread that message. Are you more committed to the distractions around you or the sharing of the gospel?

God doesn’t want to share you, He wants all of you. He is jealous for your love and devotion. The God of the universe finds deep value in your love, and in that, you should find your worth and confidence. He sent his son to die for the purpose of having a committed relationship with you. You can’t just dabble in being a Christian. Your thoughts, speech, and actions must always be a reflection of your devotion. Being a follower is a full-time job; are you ready to make that commitment?

~ Mackenzie McClain