Pray Passionately

Blessed Are the Persecuted

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“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” — Matthew 5:10-11

Scripture tells us we’ll encounter persecution if we’re sincerely pursuing a godly life (2 Timothy 3:12). We may not know much about more intense forms of persecution. That doesn’t mean we should seek it out. Instead, let’s pursue godliness. We learn more about what it means to love God well and honor Him in our actions.

Whatever weakness is revealed in us, God’s strength will fill it tenfold, imbuing us with His fervent love and strength. Yes, we’re weak-kneed saints. Thankfully, we aren’t what’s most important. He is. Regardless of where you find yourself, whether it’s a season of persecution or a season of rest, make sure you walk through it for God.

In your First 20, ask God where you need to become more godly. Ask Him to teach you to delight in His blessings when the world tells you not to. Meditate on the following verses:

  • “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” — 2 Corinthians 12:10

  • “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” — Matthew 5:44

  • “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” — 2 Timothy 3:12

In your Crew, talk about why you are or are not facing persecution.

Our God hears,
Jessica Delp

His Blessed Family

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” — Matthew 5:9

Our peace transcends circumstance. Thanks to the cross, we now live under the weight of His grace and can look to our future with assurance. Thank Heaven.

God didn’t make peace exclusively for individual use. We were never meant to hoard it. His peace is communal — made to strengthen His family and embrace the broken, showing them glimpses of His coming Kingdom. Our peace is made to invade.

Are you keeping His peace to yourself? Or are you building up your family?

In your First 20, ask God to reveal where you haven’t pursued peace, whether that means over relationships, circumstances or recurring sins. Meditate on the following verses:

  • “Look at those who are honest and good, for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace.” — Psalm 37:37
  • “Deceit fills hearts that are plotting evil; joy fills hearts that are planning peace!” — Proverbs 12:20
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” — Romans 14:19

In your Crew, plan ways to spread peace in your family and community, then commit to it. Stay accountable to each other as you soak up and spread His peace.

Our God hears,
Jessica Delp

Take Heart

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Last week, as we heard our Church in Action partners share about the heartbreak around the world — from the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar to the Iraqi/Syrian refugees in the Middle East to human trafficking taking place right here in our backyard — our hearts can be overwhelmed. Although God wants to shine a light on these dark places and calls us as His church to action, His plan is not to leave us alone, feeling overwhelmed.

Jesus reminds us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” As we navigate our lives in our busy culture and deal with suffering, whether it be our own or that of others, let us turn to God’s Word and promises to remind us that we know the end of the story – God does have the victory! Yes, we live in the “in between,” as Pastor Brian preached on Sunday, but we do have victory through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.

In our communities and around the world, let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus. During your First 20 today, ask God to meet you where you might feel overwhelmed. Commit to pray into those areas and to speak God’s truth over them. Focus on one thing at a time, and ask God what “next right thing” He would have you do: 

Pray: Stay connected with our ministries we are coming alongside and pray for our brothers and sisters serving. Subscribe to our Church in Action Newsletter at churchinaction@walnuthillcc.org and follow Church in Action on Facebook via our Walnut Hill Missions Page.

Give: Please visit www.walnuthillcc.org/church-in-action-pledge to make a Church in Action pledge and support 33 ministries worldwide.

Go: Contact us at churchinaction@walnuthillcc.org for more information on several short-term mission trips that are coming up locally and globally, or if you would like to volunteer to help during our Church in Action week or other events/activities throughout the year.

Thank you for being a church that prays, gives and goes. Thank you for being a Church in Action!

Our God hears,
Jen Cardinal

Pray for Christian Service Society’s Work in Bangladesh

Just in case you have not heard, it’s Church in Action Week here at Walnut Hill!

We are a church that comes alongside 33 ministries both locally and across the globe each week of the year, but this week is a very special time where we get to highlight some of what we do all year.

One of our visiting Church in Action partners is Rev. Mark Munshi from Christian Service Society (CSS) in Bangladesh. Through the support of Church in Action, we have been able to come alongside CSS as one of our regularly supported ministries. Through a recent flood relief outreach, we aided those affected by the devastating floods that took place here in the states and in Bangladesh. 

CSS is a non-government, non-profit, humanitarian development organization serving more than 26 million people in Bangladesh. It is one of the most renowned and oldest non-government organization in Bangladesh. CSS is dedicated to bringing change for the benefit of the poor, marginalized and unwanted people of Bangladesh. More recently, CSS has been called to come alongside the unwanted Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. “The Rohingya Muslims are regularly referred to as among the world’s most persecuted people. They are not included on the list of 135 recognized national ethnic groups under Myanmar’s Citizenship Law and, while the ruling Myanmar government considers them Bengali, the Bangladesh government doesn’t recognize them as such.” (Nathan A. Thomspon, CNN)

In your First 20 today, please pray:

  • For God to strengthen CSS
  • For the love of Jesus to shine brightly as CSS serves the Rohingya refugees, unwanted, poor and marginalized
  • For Rev. Mark Munshi to be blessed and encouraged by his time with Walnut Hill this week 
  • For Church in Action this week and all our visiting missionaries/ministries to be lifted up in our love and support

Thank you for your prayers and for being a Church in Action.

Our God hears,
Jen Cardinal

Pray for Preemptive Love Coalition

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In preparation for our Church in Action week, which starts Wednesday, Feb. 28, we appreciate your intentional prayers for the 33 ministries we support globally and locally. Each and every ministry and missionary holds great value in demonstrating the love of Jesus, but today we will focus on one of our ministries that will be here during Church in Action week — Preemptive Love Coalition.

Our theme for Church in Action this year is “Love in Action.” It is not hard to see how Preemptive Love fits into this theme. In Syria, where civil war has displaced half the population and ISIS maintains a foothold, Preemptive Love is feeding families, responding to chemical attacks and rebuilding homes. In Iraq, where decades of war have decimated institutions and ISIS has displaced millions, Preemptive Love is providing frontline relief and helping refugees rebuild. Where violence has robbed families of everything and seeks to drive us apart through fear, Preemptive Love is on the front lines of this conflict, engaging in love in the midst of war. 

Today, in your First 20, pray for Church in Action week: 

  • For all our visiting supported ministries and missionaries to sense our love and support
  • For events to be well-attended
  • For our Walnut Hill family to be blessed 
  • For those who Preemptive Love serves and loves in these war-torn and devastated countries to know the love of Jesus
  • For peace and the light of Jesus to shine brightly even in the darkest places where terror reigns
  • For God’s goodness, comfort and mercy where all seems to be lost

Our God hears,
Jennifer Cardinal

Living for the Glory of God


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 “… whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” — 1 Corinthians 10:31

I was in a season of staying at home while my family was adapting to a new life after moving to New England from the West Coast. During this season of transition, I sensed a calling from God to get up early, make my family a hot breakfast and share a devotional time together. I imagined my family would come bounding down the stairs bright and early for their hot breakfast and just pour over me about what a wonderful wife and mother I am. Instead, they started coming down later and later each day. It started to become a routine that I was serving them cold eggs ... and it got under my skin. This critical voice in my head started to tell me, “It does not even matter what you do. Serving them breakfast is not really any big deal.”

Well, I decided to say something that went like this, “Well you must like eating cold eggs because it seems you are just getting later and later every morning.” Soon after the words left my lips, I realized I set the tone for the day and guess what … it was my husband’s birthday. 

I felt annoyed and unappreciated that he did not skip down the stairs to eat my hot breakfast, singing my praises. But God allowed me to see how silly and critical I was being. I now get up early and make breakfast as my small way of giving back to God and my family — not to receive any praises or accolades. If the eggs are cold when they come down, they will get the picture and realize if they want a hot breakfast, they better come down earlier. After all, no one ever died over cold eggs.

Whether it’s culture, my human flesh or a little bit of both, when I think of “living for the glory of God,” my mind tends to automatically go to this image of a missionary giving up everything to travel across the seas to unknown lands feeding the hungry, fighting for the oppressed and giving compassion to the forgotten. Although this image is indeed a worthy call, I think many of us can automatically disqualify ourselves if what we have to give God just doesn’t seem “big enough.” But, these seemingly small things matter in the Kingdom of God. I have come to realize my words and my attitude will have more impact on my family than my eggs ever will. This is what it means to me to live for the glory of God, and it’s only through inviting in His Spirit I am able to do so.

In your First 20 today, ask God where in your life you might invite Him in to live for His glory.

Our God hears,
Jen Cardinal

Transforming Our Communities With Salt and Light

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“You are the salt of the earth.” — Matthew 5:13

“You are the light of the world.” — Matthew 5:14

I recently heard someone say, “Don’t blame the darkness for being dark. There needs to be more light.” To be honest, I hadn’t quite thought about it that way before. Yet, that is exactly what we are called to be and do. John 13:35 says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” And Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love.”

“Above all” — more important than anything else — we are exhorted to walk in the same love that was extended to us by Jesus. The same love that was extended to us to set us free is the same love that we need to extend to those we come in contact with. The same love that was extended to us to open our blinded eyes is the same love that we need to extend to our neighbors and communities. That same love shows the world we belong to God and puts Jesus on display! And that same love holds the power to change lives and transform the communities around us.

How can you extend to others the same grace and love that has been so generously poured out to you? What does it look like for you to be salt and light? How can your life reveal that you have been marked by the love of God? I believe it’s by the working of the Holy Spirit. “I will put my Spirit in you. I will move you to live by my commands.” (Ezekiel 36:27)

May the Holy Spirit, who is alive and active in us, shine brightly through us so much more that we light up the lives and communities around us with the transforming power of God’s love.

Our God hears,
Lynne Bauman

Praying for Families to Be Restored

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“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”— Ruth 1:16-17a (NLT)

Restored Through Loss

We all know or are part of a family that has suffered a loss. It may be through death, divorce or separation. In the Book of Ruth, we learn about Naomi. Forced to leave her home because of a famine, Naomi, her husband and two sons move to Moab. Naomi’s husband dies, and she is left with her two sons. The young men get married, but they also die, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law. Learning of a good harvest, Naomi decides to return to her homeland, Judah. Naomi blesses her two daughters-in-law and advises them to return to their respective families. One does so reluctantly, but the other, Ruth, pledges to stay with Naomi until death. 

In Judah, Ruth supports herself and Naomi by picking up the stray corn in the field of Boaz, a distant relative. Boaz marries Ruth, and together they have a son, Obed, who would be the grandfather of King David.

“Then the women of the town said to Naomi, ‘Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!’” (Ruth 4:14-15)

Restoration for Naomi came in a unique way. God is able to restore even in the hardest situation. 

Restored Through Broken Relationships

In Genesis Chapters 37 and 39-48, we learn about Joseph and his family. Joseph’s father, Jacob, loved him more than his other children. Showing favoritism, Jacob gave Joseph a magnificent coat. The gift made Joseph’s bothers hate him even more. Taking out their anger by selling him as a slave, they believed they had taken care of their “problem.” Joseph’s life took a dramatic turn. Over many years, Joseph experienced being falsely accused, imprisoned, forgotten by those he helped, and ultimately honored by the Pharaoh. Through Joseph’s governmental position, he was able to help his estranged family during a time of famine. Joseph could have taken revenge against his brothers, but he showed compassion. 

“Now hurry back to my father and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me master over all the land of Egypt. So come down to me immediately!’” (Genesis 45:9)

Waiting to Be Restored

Remember to pray daily for restoration. Our Lord will help you on this journey.

Dear Lord, thank you for restoring families, forgiving old hurts, mending broken hearts and healing souls. Amen.

Our God hears,
Beverlie Brooks

Praying for People to Come to Jesus

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.” — Mark 1:35 (NIV)

“Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send to send out workers into His harvest.’” — Matthew 9:37-38 (NIV)

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” — 1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)

Meditate on these Scriptures during your First 20 time with God. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with prayers for the unsaved.

Our God hears,
Joe Halpin

Praying for Our Lives to Be Lived for His Glory

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” — 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (NIV)

I love how this Scripture encourages all who have surrendered their lives to Jesus to “contemplate” the Lord’s glory. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines contemplate as “to view or consider with continued attention.” The apostle Paul asks us to be intentional and give continued attention to the Lord so that we can have a greater understanding of God’s holiness, majesty and splendor. In 2 Corinthians 3:7, we are reminded that, when Moses met with God, his face “shone with the glory of God” and that the Israelites couldn’t bear to look at his face. Before Christ came, only a chosen few were able to hear from and see God. Now, through the New Covenant, the curtain has been torn in two (Luke 23:45) and we are all invited to go and seek God in all His glory.

Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit to help us unravel Scripture, show us how it is relevant to our lives and breathes life into the words. As we read the Bible more, we become more familiar with who God is, His character and His promises, and we begin to see and contemplate His glory.

As we daily surrender our sin, agendas and burdens, we begin to pray for our lives to be lived for His glory in a place of humility and repentance. This “secret place” with God denies access to the enemy, as we are choosing to exalt God and put Him first. It is where battles are won and God’s glory shines through. I recently read the following quote by Pastor Francis Frangipane: 

Satan fears virtue. He is most terrified of humility; he hates it. He sees a humble person and it sends chills down his back. His hair stands up when Christians kneel down, for true humility is the surrender of the soul to God. The devil trembles before the meek because in the very areas where he once had access there stands the Lord, and Satan is terrified of Jesus Christ. — “The Three Battlegrounds”

As you take time pray in your First 20, be vulnerable with God, give Him your burdens and agendas, and ask Him to reveal areas of sin. He will meet you with forgiveness and grace. Our faces may not literally shine like Moses’ did, but our hearts will begin to reflect the person with whom we have spent time. I’m not suggesting we’ll be instantly perfect; however, as 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, we “are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.” Now that’s quite a promise!

Our God hears,
Lucy Houghton

Praying for Our Communities to Be Transformed

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“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking Him this question: ‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’ The man answered, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘Right!’ Jesus told him. Do this and you will live!’ The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” – Luke 10:25-29 (NLT) 

Be Kind to Each Other

Several years ago, the morning after a snow storm, I heard a soft muffled knock on our front door. At eye level, I saw two bright red shovels facing me. I looked down to see the seven- and eight-year-old sons of our neighbor. They had come to clear our steps and walkway. At their young age, through the direction of their parents, these children were showing kindness to their neighbors (Ephesians 4:17-32). 

Who Is My Neighbor?

In Luke 10:30-37, Jesus relates the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish man was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was attacked, robbed and left for dead. A priest on his way to the Temple ignored him, walking on the other side of the road. Later, a Temple assistant saw him, but left without helping. 

The Samaritan traveler saw the condition the Jewish man was in, stopped and rendered first aid. After transporting him to an inn on his donkey, the Samaritan continued to care for his needs. The next morning, before leaving, the Samaritan asked the inn keeper to continue assisting the injured man. In addition, he left funds to pay for his care and promised to reimburse any other expenditures when he traveled back that way.

During this time, Samaritans were not seen as friends to the Jews. In fact, they were “despised” (Luke 10:33). In John 4:9, the Samaritan woman was surprised when Jesus asked her to give Him a drink of water from Jacob’s well. Those listening to Jesus would have recognized the relationship between these two groups.

What Should We Do?

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits? Jesus asked. The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same.’” — Luke 10:36-37

The most important thing we can do for our communities is to pray for our neighbors. During your First 20, pray for your neighbors across the street, next door and across town.

Dear Lord, help us to ignite change in our communities through prayer and action. Amen.

Our God hears,
Beverlie Brooks

Bring Your Brokenness to the Great Physician

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“God, your God, will restore everything you lost; He’ll have compassion on you; He’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered.” — Deuteronomy 30:3

“‘I will give you back your health and heal your wounds,’ says the Lord” — Jeremiah 30:17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” — 2 Corinthians 5:17

As the body heals from injury, scar tissue is laid down. Physicians know that the pattern in which scar tissue is made by the body makes all the difference in proper restoration and healing. Modalities like massage, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments and exercise are commonly used to restore mobility and heal injured joints and tissues. We see a parallel between physical healing and God’s design in healing our souls. In God’s design, He restores, repairs and redeems. We see this truth throughout Scripture from Adam to Jesus. In fact, the words restore, repair and redeem are mentioned 246 times in the Bible.

Most of us have experienced injury to our souls at some level. God wants to reveal those places to us so He can heal us. Although we carry an eternal perspective and look ahead to our future in Heaven, God has a work to do in us today. For too many of us, we have experienced much brokenness within the fabric of our families. Although we can’t answer the why to many of the questions that come with these injuries, we can rest in the truth that we are not alone and that God wants to heal these broken places. Just like scar tissue being broken up in our bodies, the healing of souls is not pleasurable. It can be downright painful, something we avoid and a place we don’t even want to look at much less let God’s hands touch.

Although painful, God’s desire is not to harm us but to give us a hope and a future. He wants to restore us to greater levels of health and well-being. Today, in your First 20, ask God to reveal that which you might need to surrender and allow Him to restore you. If we are honest, we all have something that we can bring to God for healing. Just as an injury experiences greater mobility and healing by a physician’s touch, our Great Physician’s touch brings our souls and families to places of greater freedom and restoration.

Our God hears,
Jennifer Cardinal

Passionately Praying for Yellow Flowers

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How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation.” — Isaiah 52:7 (NKJV)

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” — 1 Timothy 2:1, 3-4 (ESV)

One of the winningest college football coaches in history, Bobby Bowden, now retired from Florida State University, penned a letter to his six children the day after a memorial service was held for his son-in-law and grandson, who were killed in a car accident. Included in that letter were these words: “The good news of the tragedy is that John and Bowden were saved and today live again in the presence of God in their new heavenly home. … Keep in mind, at this time, our family will be together forever, if we all trust in Jesus and surrender our lives to Him. … When I go to Heaven, if all of you and your family are not there with me, I will consider myself to have failed in life. All the statues, trophies, championships, etc., will be in vain. … Now is the time to recommit our lives to Christ just as you did as a child. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Each night, this is my fervent prayer.”

Jesus came to seek and save the lost and longs to answer our prayers for the salvation of others (Luke 19:10; 1 John 5:14). When Jesus ascended to Heaven after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended to enable and empower believers to evangelize the world. Walnut Hill has a dedicated team of intercessors who passionately pray for our Yellow Flowers — new believers who have surrendered their lives to Jesus. When we stand together in prayer against the enemy, Jesus can open the eyes of the lost to the truth and set them free from the snare of Satan (2 Timothy 2:25-26). As we devote ourselves to prayer with faith, patience and perseverance, God will open doors for more to be saved (Colossians 4:2-4).

Make a list of the friends and loved ones you can pray for frequently and fervently. Then keep “praying until something happens” (PUSH), as you stand in the gap for them to meet Jesus. Persist in passionate intercession, knowing the Lord will answer these prayers in His perfect timing and way (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9-10). I know it’s true! After having prayed for 32 years, my loved one was saved!

There is no greater work than the miracle of a new life in Jesus (John 14:12-14) and no greater joy than knowing you’ve partnered in prayer with the Lord for that miracle! So, as we PUSH, may God get all the glory for bringing more Yellow Flowers into His Kingdom!

Our God hears,
Barb Wibling

More Worthy Than We Think

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“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” — Philippians 4:8

In John 4:4-42, I find the woman at the well to be most fascinating. When seen through the eyes of different biblical commentators and teachers, we can see her as a lonely, scandalous, provocative and independent woman. But what did Jesus see? Did He see a woman worthy of a personal encounter with the King of kings? Did He see uncommon boldness as she engaged in a discussion with a thirsty man when society would have discouraged such a conversation? Did He see a woman who would not settle for knowing of God if she could know God? Did He see an undiscovered evangelist? 

Jesus, the word of God in flesh, shows us the impact of living the words we read in Scripture, for He saw in the woman what was true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable and worthy of praise. In doing so, He gives her the opportunity to walk into her true identify.

So, who will we see when the kid plays ball in the streets, the man of color approaches on the sidewalk, or the older woman sits alone on the park bench? Will we bring out, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the better angels of their nature?

Let us live out Philippians 4:8 today the way Jesus showed us at Jacob’s Well and speak of what is praiseworthy in those we meet.

Our God hears,
Mark Petersen

New Wineskins

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"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins." – Mark 2:22

Jesus was quite the authority on the subject of wine. Consider His first miracle and communion, not to mention the parables about vineyards and wineskins. Here we find Jesus discussing the virtues of new wineskins over old ones. He understood that new wine ferments rapidly, building up pressure inside the wineskin. This transforming process requires a vessel that is flexible and expandable. Yet, old wineskins have become rigid and inflexible, unable to sustain the pressure created by the new wine. Consequently, they burst. 

Peter quoted the prophet Joel after the Spirit came at Pentecost saying, “In the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) This new wine of the Spirit is available to us today, as we pray for God to pour out His Spirit upon us. As we approach Pentecost, it’s a good time to ask yourself … what if He did? 

What if God were to pour out His Spirit afresh upon your life today? Would you expand … or burst? As I look at my daily and weekly routine, I confess that the demands of life can threaten to fill up every last bit of space until there’s no room left. God needs space to move. Then there are my thoughts and attitudes. Have I got it all figured out, or is there still room for God to enter in and change the way I think about myself, others and the world around me? Am I open to seeing God do new things and willing to adjust my lifestyle to enable Him to move more freely? Or would I burst under the pressure of God’s new wine?

God has been speaking to me this season through Isaiah 43:19, where the prophet declares, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” I want to be positioned as a new wineskin that God can do something new and fresh through in the coming days. This isn’t always comfortable, but it certainly is exciting!

Jesus said that new wine calls for new wineskins. As we approach Pentecost in just a couple of weeks, why not pray, “Lord, make me into a new wineskin, flexible and able to receive what you desire to pour into my life, by your Spirit and for your Glory.” 

Our God Hears,
AJ Picard

Real Love

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“I have loved you … with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” – Jeremiah 31:3

“This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

“... since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love one another” – 1 John 4:11

God deeply desires for us to know how much He loves us. When we read His Word, we see unfathomable expressions of God's love for us – an everlasting unfailing love that draws us near to Him. The parables Jesus shares in Luke 15 demonstrate that, no matter our condition, His love and care for us remains.

How many times have we become distracted with worries, cares and responsibilities? Like the lost sheep, we have wandered far away from Him. No matter how far we have strayed, He searches, finds us, and brings us back to Him with great love and joy. 

Can you remember a time that you were in a dark place, feeling lost and abandoned, because of rejection, hurts, pain and grief? When my mother passed away, I thought I would never feel happy again, only deep sadness. Since we are as precious and valuable as a silver coin, He shines His light into that dark place. He removes all obstacles, cleans our wounds, and brings us back into His loving hands. He spoke words of light, life and love into my heart, which restored my joy! 

Sadly, we often choose the path of self-reliance and independence. We take our God-given gifts and talents and attempt to accomplish things without Him. We ignore His plans for us and seek to live our own way. Inevitably, we find ourselves facing insurmountable difficulties, sinking into quagmires of our own making. 

But we can run back to our loving Father and confess our sins to Him just like the prodigal son. He will receive us with joy, love, favor and blessings. For those of us who are like the older brother and have stayed close to the Father, He assures us there is no need for jealousy and anger, but that everything He has is ours. 

God reveals “how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world, that we may have eternal life through Him” (1 John 4:9). Because of His great love for each of us, “we surely ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). This love is perfected through faithfully reading His Word, praying His Word and obeying His Word. Only then can we grasp how much God loves us and place our trust in His love (1 John 4:16). 

“As we live in God, our love grows more perfect ... we live like Jesus here in this world” (1 John 4:16-17). The people of this world are searching for answers and relief from their pain. They need to see God. “But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:11). So, let’s throw aside, in humility and obedience, our self-serving ambitions and differences – differences in our race, culture, socioeconomic status and gender. Let’s showcase to the lost in this world real love, by loving each other because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).

Our God Hears!
Nonna Neal

His Story in You Changes Lives

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“The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” — Revelation 19:10 (KJV)

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” — Matthew 22:39b

We have texts, tweets, instant messaging, Facebook and headline news. We can become friends with a “click” and like people with a “thumbs-up.” A story takes time, attention, and — wait — my phone just buzzed.

I recently gathered with church friends for a storytelling workshop where we learned how the story of God’s work in us can have an amazing impact on the lives of others. We learned that it is as simple as listening to their story, sharing our story where it intersects, introducing God’s story, and letting a new story begin to take hold in the person we are with. 

The overused caveats (such as, I’m not a preacher, I’m not trained and I can’t quote Scripture) do not apply. There is one catch, however. We have to believe that God’s story in us matters. We have to believe that He loves us and has shared in our deepest hurts and our greatest triumphs, and that this work of Jesus in us really is worth sharing.

Jesus sat down and listened to many, shared how the Father was at work in Him, and saw countless new stories begin. Sometimes, being Jesus to others is just that simple — caring enough to sit down and listen to someone’s story and trusting that He has a story to tell through us. 

Why not pray today, and every day, that God will give you one person to share His love with. 

Let’s go love our neighbors!

Our God hears,
Mark Petersen

The Glory of the Latter Temple

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“And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple...” 1 Pet 2:5

“Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners...You are members of God's family. Together, we are His house...We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit.” Eph. 2:18-22

King David desired to build a Temple to honor the name of the Lord. He wanted to express his thankfulness and gratitude for all God had done for His people. God provided them with land to live securely, defeated all surrounding enemies and blessed them with His favor and prosperity. He wanted to put God's goodness to His people on display with a “magnificent structure, famous and glorious throughout the world.”(1 Chr. 22:5).

However, God decided that King David, a man of war, would not be the builder of the temple. Rather his son, Solomon, a man of peace, would build a temple to honor His name. King David instructed and shared all he had in his mind concerning the building of the temple. He prepared for the building of the temple by collecting vast amounts of building materials. King David encouraged Solomon to “be strong and do the work.” (1 Chr. 28:10).

As his father had done in his preparations, King Solomon spared no expense, conscripted labor forces and formed alliances to fulfill this great work. When the Temple was completed Solomon and all the people of Israel dedicated it to the Lord. The King and his people prayed, offered sacrifices and celebrated for many days. The Lord responded by declaring, “I have set this Temple apart to be holy - this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it for it is dear to my heart” (1 Kings 9:3).

The Lord warned the people to obey his commands and decrees, while only serving and worshipping him, so the Temple would not be rejected and become an “object of mockery and ridicule among the nations” (I Kings 9:7). Sadly, the people of Israel did not keep God's commandments and worshipped other gods. As a result, Solomon's temple, the first to honor the Lord, was destroyed approximately 400 years later.

But God devised a new and better way to build a temple to honor Him. He sent His Son Jesus to be “the living cornerstone of [His] temple” (I Pet. 2:4). God spared nothing by sending His Son to die, so that we could receive His righteousness in order to become the living stones of the new temple. Jesus asked the Father God to send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to transform us from glory to glory, so that we could honor Him and manifest His glory.

How should we respond when given such a magnificent privilege, as well as unfailing, abundant love with pursuing goodness and mercy? By letting go and surrendering all of our old life so there is room for God to fill us with the overflow of His Spirit. “So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy and unkind speech” (1 Pet. 2:1). Nourish ourselves with His Word and in prayer so we can be living stones whose life of love and obedience bring honor to Him.

“The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And in this place I will bring peace…” (Haggai 2:9).

Since it will take more than one living stone to become a holy temple for the Lord, we have to learn to live in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have to reject anything from our old life that would be a barrier to that unity - gender, racial, and socioeconomic biases. It means we have to the reject lies about our worth and identity. It means we have to accept our new identity in Christ, as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession.”

As we embrace our new life and identity, His Spirit will fill us so that, together, we can be that temple that shows His goodness, love and mercy. We can be that temple that manifests the glory of God, which will shake the world.

Our God hears,
Nonna Neal

United in Christ

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I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are One — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. — John 17:23

When God speaks of unity, what does He mean? 

Is it being “on the same page,” and having shared ambitions, goals and rules that each member strictly adheres to? Many gang members possess and are bound together by these qualities without giving a message of love and holiness. 

Could it be doctrine? All who belong believe the same thing and think the same way. We often refer to organizations that succeed in this as cults. 

So how is unity in Jesus different? And how do we become unified in Him? 

One clue given in the passage above is that, when speaking about the disciples being unified, Jesus does not speak to the disciples. He speaks to the Father. This special unity in Christ cannot be developed by men and women. It must be received from God. But how? 

2 Peter 1:3 in The Message Bible makes the way clear. “Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately the one who invited us to God.” True unity will only come as fruit of a true and pure relationship with Jesus. The surest way to be truly unified with each other is to make intimate knowledge of Jesus our highest priority. 

What I love about the First 20 initiative is that it started with no agenda other than getting to know Jesus and daily growing in our knowledge of who He is. As we continue in this pursuit, we will see our unity with each other grow and strengthen, and the Kingdom of God will be among us.

Our God Hears,
Joe Halpin

One Family

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Window of Opportunity 12x16” pastel by Alain J. Picard

“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.” — Ephesians 4:3-4

I encountered her as I walked down narrow boardwalk planks built over sewage water in one of the many city slums of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was August, with tropical heat and humidity regularly reaching 100 degrees. She lived here amid a community of families huddled in ramshackle homes built on wooden stilts over murky wetlands. My new friend gazed at me over the hiss of her sniffling nose through the window of her one-room home. Two younger siblings were inside with their mother, who was caring for the youngest of the three, an infant. A toddler-aged boy romped around the room naked, at one point climbing the window to say hello. 

She was stringing up a hammock to the iron window bars, perhaps for her brother to play with, pulling the bright green colored rope tightly with her hands, which were adorned with white, yellow and red arm bracelets with chipping nail polish on her fingers and gold looped earrings in her ears above a colorful pink blouse decorated with the faces of kittens. Though a bit untidy, she was certainly beautiful. 

As I watched my new friend through the iron bars, she looked back at me with a kind of sadness in her eyes and a curiosity. As if with some encouragement, her childhood playfulness might still emerge. 

She lives among a generation of children who stand to inherit the brokenness of their parents — domestic violence, rape, disease, drug and alcohol addiction, gender inequality, malnutrition, and ignorance. Human trafficking of the poor and vulnerable is a grave risk here in Cambodia. One-third of trafficking victims in prostitution are children. We can look away and pretend it isn’t happening, but that won’t change a thing for her. 

We are one family, bound together by the extravagant love of a heavenly Father who sent His Son to set us free. We are children of God redeemed by Jesus Christ. No matter what threatens to separate us — be it language or culture, socioeconomic status, ideology or geography, the color of our skin, or the cancer of our hearts — this truth remains. God doesn’t have favorites. He only has kids, lost ones and found ones. And He loves them all with the radical love of a Father. 

Our Walnut Hill team has just returned from Cambodia, where they helped train and equip leaders with Fountain of Hope, a wonderful ministry that reaches out to children and families with Christ’s love in both practical and spiritual ways. I look forward to hearing more about their experiences in the weeks to come.

Together, let’s fully embrace the truth that God has called us to be one church, bound together as a global family by His great love, and reaching out to a world greatly in need of His healing. Prayer is the avenue that unites our hearts, creating windows of opportunity to reveal the love of the Father. May you pray in the unity of the Spirit today, releasing the Father’s love both near and far. 

Our God Hears,
AJ Picard