The One Who Tells Stories – Write it Out

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Take the opportunity to review this week’s questions and scripture readings. 

What is one way you’ve grown this week in your understanding of God, yourself, and others? 

Take some extra time today to write out a prayer to God. Share your heart, fears, and feelings with Him, knowing He is intently listening, and believing He is with you in all things.

The One Who Tells Stories – The Growing Seed

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Many doctor’s offices, counselors, or other mental health professionals will illustrate personal health or growth using the illustration of a tree or plant with roots deep underground. The message is clear: being deeply rooted leads to good health. 

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus often used similar illustrations in His parables. Many of the people in the crowds had experience in farming, so He would use illustrations that resonated with the crowd. The people were well experienced in cultivating a garden to ensure crops would grow. 

But in the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29), the story acknowledges that the farmer doesn’t fully understand exactly how the seed takes root and grows. Yes, he tilled the soil. Yes, he scattered the seed. But he doesn’t understand the entirety of the process of how the seed grows. 

This same principle plays out in our lives. Our role is to till the soil and take every step we can to grow. We may not fully understand how the growth occurs, but we can trust that we will grow.

READING & JOURNALING:

     MARK 4:26-34

Think about how you’ve spent your time this week. Were there any times in which you were taking steps to cultivate your life for good health (emotionally, spiritually, physically)? What steps can you take to increase these moments in your life? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I know that enjoying a tv show or scrolling through social media isn’t necessarily sinful, but when I see how much screen time I’ve had over the past week, or time with other distractions, I recognize I could often use my time more wisely to cultivate personal growth. Help me to use my time wisely today. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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The One Who Tells Stories – The Lamp

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Think about it: Are you more likely to begin each day thinking about all the things you need to do, or are you more likely to begin each day thinking about specific ways you can let your light shine? For many of us, it’s the former. We think more about ourselves and the things we need to do than we think about simply being with God and allowing Him to work within us and through us. 

In Mark 4:21-25, Jesus speaks about the purpose of light. It isn’t to be hidden, but is instead something used to brighten up an entire room. 

But there’s more to the parable than the purpose of light. The story goes on to focus on the importance of listening and understanding. Often, this parable is used as an illustration of allowing our light to shine. The focus is often on being light in a dark world. (Which is a very practical understanding of this parable.) But is there more to it? 

As you read this parable today, read it slowly and carefully. What do the themes of listening and understanding have to do with being light in a dark world? 

READING & JOURNALING:

     MARK 4:21-25

Read Mark 4:21-25 slowly and carefully. What do you think is the primary teaching point Jesus was making in this parable? 

What are some very real ways you could live out this principle in your life today? Be specific. 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I confess there are moments in which I say I want to be light in a dark world, but I recognize there are moments when I do hide. Help me to be a light to all, even in the presence of those who may look, think, or believe differently than I do. May I love them as You have loved me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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The One Who Tells Stories – The Meaning of the Four Soils

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After teaching the parable of the four soils, Jesus’ disciples asked Him the meaning of the story. As noted yesterday, most parables have one primary teaching point. In this case, the parable is about hearing and accepting God’s Word. 

While it doesn’t impact the primary teaching point, the Life Application Study Bible (third edition) offers the following commentary note to consider this parable in detail.

The LASB notes: “The four soils represent four different ways people respond to God’s message. Usually we think that Jesus was talking about four different kinds of people. But he may also have been talking about (1) different times or phases in a person’s life or (2) how we willingly apply God’s message to some areas of our lives but resist applying it to others. For example, you may be open to God about your future but closed concerning how you spend your money. You may respond like good soil to God’s command to worship but respond like rocky soil to his command to give to people in need. Strive to be like good soil at all times and in every area of your life.”

READING & JOURNALING:

     MARK 4:1-20

Is there an area in your life in which you may be hearing God’s Word but not fully accepting it? 

Why do you think you resist God and His desire to transform this area of your life? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I confess that I may be willing to apply Your Word to some parts of my life, but resist applying it to others. Help me to see the areas of my life in which self-centeredness continues to reign. Infiltrate my spirit and transform me into the person You have made me to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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The One Who Tells Stories – The Four Soils

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Have you ever read a section of Scripture only to feel like it didn’t make complete sense? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

The Bible is full of a lot of different writing styles and genres. Some of it is Historical Narrative, in which the authors wrote a story of what was happening at the time. Others, such as the Psalms, are highly poetic. But ancient Hebrew poetry is very different than modern poetry, so the nuances presented throughout the Psalms may not make immediate sense. 

When Jesus took opportunities to teach, He often found ways to teach by sharing a parable – a short story that was easily memorable and often communicated one main idea. While most parables have one primary teaching point, many include additional details which are used to help the listener more aptly ponder the full meaning of the parable. 

The four soils is a story about living a life holistically rooted in God’s Word. Jesus later explains to His disciples that the parable is about hearing and accepting God’s Word, and the benefits of doing so.

READING & JOURNALING:

     MARK 4:1-12

How would you explain to a friend what it means to hear and accept God’s Word? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, it’s easy for me to read the Scriptures and hear it, but there are some parts of Your Word that really challenge me. Help me to accept all of Your Word and not live by cherry-picking the passages I really like. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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The One Who Invites – Write it Out

(Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Take the opportunity to review this week’s questions and scripture readings. 

What is one way you’ve grown this week in your understanding of God, yourself, and others? 

Take some extra time today to write out a prayer to God. Share your heart, fears, and feelings with Him, knowing He is intently listening, and believing He is with you in all things.

The One Who Invites – What Are You Seeking?

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Throughout His ministry, Jesus asked questions that really cut straight to the heart. For example, when two of John the Baptist’s disciples started following Jesus, His first question was, “What are you seeking?”

Their response may not be what you’d expect. They said, “Teacher, where are you staying?” 

John just pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God and the most pressing question on their mind is about seeing the home in which Jesus was currently residing.  Seems strange, doesn’t it?

Maybe they thought, If He really is the Lamb of God, He’s going to be staying somewhere magnificent. We should go see it! While we don’t really know what they were thinking, we do know that Jesus responded by saying, “Come and see.” 

Jesus’ initial question, as well as His response, is relevant for each and every one of us. Whether you’re new to the faith or have been a Christian for decades, we can all wrestle with the question – What are you seeking? And no matter what your answer is to that question, Jesus follows with a simple invitation. OK…come and see.

READING & JOURNALING:

     JOHN 1:35-50

If Jesus were in the room with you at this moment and He asked you, “What are you seeking?” How would you respond?

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I don’t always know exactly what it is I’m seeking. But whatever it may be, I recognize that I will only discover what it is I’m actually seeking by regularly following You. Continue to reveal the purpose You have for my life as I follow You this day. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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The One Who Invites – Open Arms

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It probably isn’t too hard for you to believe that God is perfect. If God really is, well, GOD, then surely He is the embodiment of perfection. 

But it’s much more difficult to see yourself in the same way He does. You may think to yourself, Well, I just messed up…again. God must be looking down at me with raised eyebrows, wondering why I don’t yet have my act together. Does God really see you this way? In a word, no. 

Once upon a time, you were an enemy of God (see Romans 5:6-11). Yet even as God’s enemy, Christ’s love for you was so fierce that He died for you. And by trusting in Him you are now completely, fully, and totally restored. You are now called a child and a friend of God.

Are there times when you may be wayward? Absolutely. But does this mean God is less likely to welcome you into His presence? Absolutely not. He is standing with arms wide open, always ready to embrace you as a friend. 

As Dane Ortlund writes in Gentle and Lowly, “The posture most natural to [Christ] isn’t a pointed finger but open arms.”

READING & JOURNALING:

     ROMANS 5:6-11, LUKE 15:11-32

When you think about Jesus, are you more likely to picture Him with a pointed finger or with open arms? 

If the latter, where do you think these thoughts come from? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, too often there are moments when I see You as looking down on me with a pointed finger. Continue to help me see You as the Father in the story of the prodigal son – a Father who runs to me with open arms. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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The One Who Invites – My Sheep Know My Voice

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The Scriptures regularly refer to the people of God as sheep. In our culture, the idea of being sheep is generally frowned upon. People are considered to be sheep if they don’t think think for themselves and simply follow the masses. But the Bible doesn’t always have this view of sheep in mind. Instead, it communicates that God and God alone can be our guide. Without Him, we will wander. Without Him, we will be lost. 

We see this theme all throughout the Old Testament: Jacob refers to God as shepherd (Genesis 48:15), and the book of Numbers warns against God’s people being like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:16-17). Psalm 23 even begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd…” 

With so many references about sheep and the Shepherd, it’s no surprise that Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Yet, it’s essential to remember that a sheep doesn’t listen to its shepherd one time and then go on living. Instead, a sheep is continually listening for the voice of its shepherd. Day by day, moment by moment, sheep listen for the voice of their Shepherd. 

READING & JOURNALING:

     JOHN 10:1-42

In what ways do you pause to hear Jesus’ voice throughout the day? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of voices I hear every day. And many times it’s difficult to tune out all of those voices so that I’m able to hear Yours more clearly. Today, help me to tune out the voices, worries and fears of the world, so that Your voice and Your voice alone can guide me. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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Fall / Winter Reading Recommendations

It’s that time of year! Daylight Saving Time has officially come to an end, and the darkness of night will be upon us much earlier. This provides less time for outdoor chores and more time spent indoors. In other words, it’s a great time of year to dive into a good book.

As an avid reader, I (Pastor Justin) could provide many recommendations. But here are a handful of the favorites I’ve enjoyed throughout 2020 and 2021.

Study Bibles:

If you’re looking for a good Study Bible, here’s a post I wrote a couple years ago. Not much has changed on my recommendations list, and I continue to recommend the Life Application Study Bible as a great all-around study bible.

Christian / Spiritual Formation:

I really enjoy reading about Discipleship and Spiritual growth. While there are many pastors/authors highly dedicated to the topic, some of my personal favorites include:

Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and/or Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

Peter Scazzero believes, and I agree with him, that our emotional and spiritual health are intertwined. As such, one cannot grow emotionally without also growing spiritually. His books and studies are excellent resources and have had a tremendous impact in my life over the past 7-8 years.

Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund

How does Jesus Christ feel about His people amid all their sins and failures? Dane Ortlund poetically answers this question in detail throughout this modern classic. If there are five books on the topic of Spiritual Formation I’d like to read every year, the above two by Peter Scazzero and Gentle and Lowly would all make the cut.

Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa TerKeurst

There are two books I regularly refer to on the topic of Forgiveness. One is The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu. But the one I most recommend is TerKeurst’s Forgiving What You Can’t Forget. You’ll need to grab a blank journal as you navigate through this one, as there will be some specific questions asked to help you Collect the Dots, Connect the Dots, and Correct the Dots for any relationships in which forgiveness may be needed.

Fiction / Fantasy:

The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson

If you enjoy some classics such as the Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings, the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson will surely capture your heart. I’ve read through the series three times and will likely delve into it again sometime this Winter. Peterson does an outstanding job crafting a story with themes of family, friendship, and grace. Whether a child or an adult, the series is an excellent read. And for those who love audiobooks, Andrew Peterson released a new edition in 2021 in which he narrates the books.

Others:

As an avid reader (48 books and counting for 2021), I could mention so many more. This year I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of books, from Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, to Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, to Midnight Library by Matt Haig. My girls and I also enjoy a number of Fantasy/Sci-Fi books by Brandon Sanderson. While none of the above fall into a ‘Christian’ genre (and many may receive a PG-13 rating), there are a lot of great books out there, and this is the perfect time of year to pick one up.

If you’re looking for a book on a specific topic (or others in the Fiction category) that may not be mentioned above, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

Happy reading!

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