Encourager’s Devotional Series – February Wrap-up – Giving Your All to the God Who Gives His All to Love

This is the beginning of the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith made up of Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21 and Num 15:37–41.

This is the beginning of the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith made up of Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21 and Num 15:37–41.

The Shema, named for the first word of the Hebrew text “hear” in Deuteronomy 6:4, is the most important of Jewish prayers and is to be repeated twice a day.

Phylacteries

Phylacteries (Image Source)

 

When the Scripture says to write God’s words on their hands and foreheads, they do – in the form of phylacteries. They also mount the words on their doorposts with mezuzahs.

Mezuzah

Mezuzah (Image Source)

 

 

 

When Jesus referred to this passage in Mark 12:29–31, He said loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is the greatest commandment. He followed that with the second greatest commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said the entire law and all the words of the Old Testament prophets are summed up with these two mandates.

To illustrate the importance of the Shema to the Jewish faith, the following rituals are attached to the prayer:

  • When the Jewish people quote the passage, they often put their right hand in front of their eyes as a sign that they are removing all distractions and focusing on the words they are saying and on their faithful God and King.
  • At times, the last letter of the first and last words of the Shema verse are written in larger print. This is because these letters form the Hebrew word ed, which means witness. This serves to remind them of their duty to serve as witnesses to God’s sovereignty by leading exemplary lives.
  • Similarly, if reciting the Shema while standing, that position is used to remind one that they are testifying, or bearing witness to God.
  • Other times, sitting is the required posture for saying the Shema because sitting is the place of a student and implies a desire to study the Word.
  • When a person is praying alone, he begins the Shema with the Hebrew phrase for “God, Faithful King” to bring the number of words in the Shema up to 248, the number of parts in the human body. This indicates that the worshiper dedicates his or her whole body to serving God.

When God instructs us to love Him with the whole of our being, He is not requiring anything from us that He has not first modeled Himself. The Shema presents God as being “one.” That’s not a surprising description of God in the context of Deuteronomy where the point is being made that the Lord is their God and they are His people, and also that He’s the one true God. The word for “one” used in this passage is not the expected word for a simple numerical one. Instead, this word stresses a oneness that is a unity within diversity. Some might say it’s a foreshadowing of the concept of the Trinity that would be fleshed out more fully once Christ came.

All this got me to thinking of how true it is that God loves us and ministers to us with the fullness of His being.

  • He is a Father. He is a Saviour. He is a Friend.
  • He is a comforter, a teacher and a counselor.
  • He brings judgment when we need to see the devastation and ugliness of sin.
  • And He brings mercy because we can’t meet Him without it.
  • He rules in the heavens, but brings Himself to earth.
  • We are in His heart. We are on His mind. And his mighty arm is extended toward us.
  • The very essence of our being is wrapped up in His image –
  • in Him we live and move and have our being.
  • He knows us fully and intimately and that’s why He can minister to us in every way we need him to.
  • He left His throne in heaven and lived as a human in order to be a High Priest who knows what it is like to feel our pain, our temptation and our suffering. And He overcame all these things for us.
  • On the cross, He resisted temptation until His dying breath so that we might have life free from the power and consequences of sin.
  • He now offers to dwell with us continually through His Holy Spirit.

Talk about giving your all. Our God ministers to us from the fullness of His being. Does He not deserve for us to love Him with the whole of our being?

When God commands this level of devotion, He doesn’t just leave us to figure out how to accomplish that goal. Instead, He provides the means for it to happen. His word and the Holy Spirit are available to sanctify and renew our minds, to transform our hearts, and to give us strength for the tasks He calls us to do. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are fully surrendering to this process.

As we wrap up this month’s Encourager’s Devotional theme and press towards a more mature love walk with God and with others, let’s consider few additional questions:

  • What would my life look like if I was loving God with the whole of my being?
  • How would that love relationship with God overflow to others?
  • How would my life be a witness to the love of God for others?
  • How might my thinking be changed?
  • What issues would be burning in my heart?
  • What would it be like if the very depths of my soul and being were Christ-driven?
  • What Scriptures would I be meditating on … and living out?
  • What activities might I be applying my strength and energy to?
  • How can I give my all to the God who gives His all to me?
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Encourager’s Devotional Series – February Bible Study Answer Guide

A FEW PRELIMINARY NOTES FOR THIS MONTH’S STUDY:

  • This is the answer guide for February’s Encourager’s Devotional Bible Study.
  • Many of the questions allow for various, personal responses. For those, I’ll not list answers but feel free to leave your answers to any question in the comments section.
  • If you would like a leader’s guide to this study, email me (pullupachairwithlisa@gmail.com).
  • All prior posts for The Encourager’s Devotional Series can be accessed by clicking here.
  • There were two meditation sections in the study guide this month – one up front to prepare our hearts for the study, and the other in its usual place the study.

MEDITATION (1)

Choose a few of the following accounts from the Gospels to read (or any others that may be favorites of yours which demonstrate the love of God). Remember, these stories are found in the other Gospels too, so you might want to do some cross-referencing and read several accounts. When you are finished, take some time to meditate on the extent of God’s love and express your thankfulness to Him.

  • The prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32)
  • Thomas’ doubt (Jn 20:24-30)
  • The crucifixion (Jn 19)
  • The adulterous woman forgiven (Jn 8:3-11)
  • “Father forgive them” (Lk 23:33-34)
  • Peter’s denials and restoration (Lk 22:54-62; 24:34; Mk 16:6-7; 1 Cor 15:4-5)
  • Do you have another favorite passage which demonstrates the love of God? Feel free to share it in the comments.

For the following question, I do not request you list the answers in the comments (though you may). If, however, you are doing this study with a small group, you may want to discuss it. 

Can you identify with any of these sinners?

  • the rebellious/wasteful son
  • the doubter
  • the mockers and unbelievers,
  • the one afraid to speak for Christ
  • the one led to sin by fleshly desires

From Romans 5:8, answer the following questions:

How did God demonstrate His love for us? Christ died for us

When did God demonstrate His love for us? while we were still sinners

Read 1 John 1:9 and reflect on the extent of God’s mercy and love.

INFORMATION

What did Jesus say were the two greatest commandments? Mt 22:36-40

Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

List the five types of leaders Jesus gave as gifts to the church. (Eph 4:11)

apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers

What are these leaders supposed to do for the saints? (Eph 4:12)

to equip his people for works of service – That is, to empower the saints to DO ministry themselves. 

What is the purpose of our works of service to one another? (Eph 4:12) Continue reading

Encourager’s Devotional Series – February Bible Study

This Bible study correlates with February’s devotion for the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Meditation

You will have two meditation sections in the study guide this month. I’m putting an extra one up front because I believe that before you can be truly loving to others you must “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph 3:18). Understanding how much He loves you, and how He demonstrates His love for you, should fill you with a sense of security, love and appreciation which will then just more naturally flow out to others. So, to help you think on the “length, width, height and depth” of His love …

Choose a few of the following accounts from the Gospels to read (or any others that may be favorites of yours which demonstrate the love of God). Remember, these stories are found in the other Gospels too, so you might want to do some cross-referencing and read several accounts. When you are finished, take some time to meditate on the extent of God’s love and express your thankfulness to Him.

Can you identify with any of these sinners?

  • the rebellious/wasteful son
  • the doubter
  • the mockers and unbelievers,
  • the one afraid to speak for Christ
  • the one led to sin by fleshly desires

From Romans 5:8, answer the following questions:

How did God demonstrate His love for us?

When did God demonstrate His love for us?

Read 1 John 1:9 and reflect on the extent of God’s mercy and love.

Information

What did Jesus say were the two greatest commandments? Mt 22:36-40

List the five types of leaders Jesus gave as gifts to the church. (Eph 4:11)

What are these leaders supposed to do for the saints? (Eph 4:12)

What is the purpose of our works of service to one another? (Eph 4:12) Continue reading

What if missions is not my calling?

I had the honor of guest blogging for Ally Keaton, one of my former college students. I love Ally’s passion for missions and for supporting others as they serve in their own contexts.

Ally in Africa

This is a guest post by Lisa Womble, who is co-pastor and founder of The Merge, a coffeehouse/church/concert venue in St. Louis, MO. Lisa formerly served on the faculty of St. Louis Christian College. She received her Master of Divinity from Lincoln Christian Seminary and is a certified Grip-Birkman coach, helping people discern their gifts, calling, and vocational aptitudes through personality and gift assessments. To find out more about Lisa, you can visit her website.

whatifmissionsisnotmycalling

“That’s not my gift.” Whenever I lead a seminar or do team building using spiritual gifts assessments, this statement starts running rampant amongst participants. It’s usually done in jest as a way for people to jokingly say they don’t want to do a particular task. It’s funny. We all laugh. After all, one of my goals for these sessions is to help people “create a template for their ‘yes’ and ‘no’” and stop…

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Mature Love – February Encourager’s Devotion

Encourager's Devotional Series - February

Just as love is the crux of the Gospel message, it is also the key to building a vital, effective, mature church body. Love is such a key factor that Matthew 22:36-40 says everything hangs on it. When I read that verse, I picture a door with two hinges. One hinge is our love for God and the other is our love for people. If either hinge is broken, the door simply does not work as it should. It may even become stuck and be totally inadequate at fulfilling its purpose.

God has designed us with purpose. We are called individually to serve God in different ways. And we are called as a body of believers to function in a certain way so as to complete the work that God, through Christ, began on this earth.

Ephesians has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible because in it I see how BIG God’s plan is for the church. It inspires me to see how a mature body of believers could really accomplish great things. If we are ever to fulfill that calling, we must get a grip on the love thing. We will never be the mature Christians we should be, or the effective church we could be, until love is firmly planted in our hearts. That’s why I’m so excited about The Encourager’s Devotional Series and the benefits of intentionally building an encouragement ministry. I think it’s the first, and perhaps biggest, step a congregation can take in becoming what God has planned.

You see, one of the biggest and most harmful myths that pervades the church is the idea that it is “THE” ministry’s job, or the job of a select few, to make everyone else become mature believers. But Ephesians 3:14-4:16 tells us differently. The ministry’s job is to prepare the saints to do ministry. The body is called to edify itself in love. We are all called to speak to each other in ways that promote maturity (4:15), to treat each other lovingly (4:2-3), and to do works of service together (4:12,16).

Like it or not, God has called us together to be a people – plural (Luke 1:17; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10). His plan is that we work in community (Eph 2:19-22). This community aspect of our faith is so important that unity was Jesus’ “last request” concerning His followers before His death (Jn 17:20-26). It is only when we work together with other believers in love that we are most effective as witnesses of God’s grace, power and love to the world (Phil 2:1-15).

When studying the life of Moses as he led God’s people, one thing is abundantly clear – God insisted that they stay together. They could not split up and say, “Ok, those with enough faith and maturity can go into the promised land now and the rest of you who aren’t quite ready yet must go wander in the wilderness.” No, they would either go in as a people or wander in the wilderness together as a people.

Studying Moses helps us answer the question of how you stick with a group of people when you see the promised land (in other words you see that things should be better than they are), but the people around you aren’t quite “there” yet. Continue reading

Quilted Into Each Other’s Lives

Sharing this post from one of the friends I gather with for an annual writing retreat. It’s a perfect analogy of our time together and the friendship we share.

colleen jumper

As a quilter, I’m a novice…an extremely early beginner. I need patterns and directions. But, I have a friend who is an advanced quilter, teaches classes, and has started to design quilts. She sees the project in her mind, buys the  materials needed and puts her vision into reality.

I’m amazed by her skills and abilities to pull it together. I recently had the opportunity of spending a little over a week with her and other friends writing. Each of us has different ways to unplug and re-energize…to tap into creativity that eventually refuels our writing efforts. She brought her quilting project along for “down time.”  I have gained new perspectives on the quilt design process along the way.

Early in the week, she started with squares of white fabric. On paper, she drew a design and transferred it to the squares – each containing a portion of the whole design…

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A Life Mentored to the Tune of Andrae Crouch’s Music

Through his music, Andrae Crouch has been a part of my life as far back as my earliest memories. Since the evening I heard of his passing on January 8, 2015, I’ve found comfort in this loss by strolling down memory lane with his songs.

The first song I replayed after receiving the news was “Take Me Back.” Here’s what I posted that night:

I am so saddened by the news of Andre Crouch’s passing, though I know he is rejoicing with his Savior. I can’t tell you how much his music has influenced my life. I could share MANY songs of his and tell you the place in my life where the song had impact, but this one song is the one I have gone back to over and over again. I first heard it on vinyl, so I chose this version to share tonight. 

I’m so glad Pastor Andrae taught me at a very young age that I can always return to God no matter how far I’ve strayed … and He will always take me back no matter what I’ve done.

My mother loved Andrae Crouch, too, so his was the first concert she ever took me to see. We saw him a couple times. The concerts were so spiritually uplifting, but as a young teenager, I was also delighted to see how much fun Christians could have.

The image of Andrae performing “It’s Gonna Rain” at the St. Louis Kiel Opera House while dancing with an umbrella (as well as umbrellas for the choir) still brings a smile. And then – mom and I were cracking up laughing about this as we relived the memory today – at some point in the evening a choir was raised from below the stage on a lift. After singing a great “holy-rolling” number, they were taken back down below the stage but we could still see them from the balcony. That’s when the Spirit really started to move and they were having their own dance party/church service down in the pit. The audience in the floor seating couldn’t see what was going on, but they sure could hear it. The plan was to bring the choir back up for an encore, but when they did the choir members were so disheveled it took a few minutes to get them back in place to continue the singing.

Click here to see Andrae perform “It’s Gonna Rain” – but sorry, you won’t get to see the choir in action.

At that concert, as well as many other times in various recordings, I remember Andrae declaring, “We’re not just doing a concert here, we’re gonna have church!” And have church we did. I’ve “had church” in the privacy of my own home (or car, or workplace) so often with his music. The following clip is an example of how, just when you thought Andrae was done with a song, he’d take it to another level. At the end of the clip, you’ll also hear brother Crouch tell how he came to write such beautiful music despite the fact that he didn’t read music.

Andrae Crouch taught me the power of prayer and instilled in me the desire to “have church” with God’s people, whether in person or “in spirit.” I know first hand how powerfully the Spirit ministered to people through Andrae’s music. Continue reading