Category Archives: Reach Gather Grow

Seven and One Half

Stand On It | Devotion #6: Seven and One Half
Jayson Combs | Family Pastor

On January 1, 1997, I asked Laura Dubey to be my girlfriend. I was a 17-year-old junior in high school. She was a 14-year-old freshman. On June 4, 2004, we married.   If you are quick with your math, you added it up to a seven and one half year dating relationship. You may first say that is cute that I married my high school sweetheart. You may view that as something special. I will also say those things, but as a fifteen plus year vet in youth ministry, and a guy who regularly says that a long-term specific dating relationship in high school is stupid, this serves as a problem.

As a Youth Pastor for that many years, I have found disaster in long-term dating.  Whether Christian or non-Christian, it usually (almost always) brings a sinful carnage of hurt and scars. Every year I would take a month and teach on student dating. I would teach what the Bible says and does not say (1 Thessalonians chapter 4, 1 Corinthians 6:18, and Ephesians 5:3 are a good place to start). The questions then would always be asked, well what did you do? 

Do you have a story that you would not recommend for others?  Is there a story where you watched God bless and bring you through, but that you hope and pray those that you love do not follow? If so, how do we deal with this? First, I think it is okay to share our weakness. I do not have to pretend I am perfect. I do not have to pretend that I always did things God’s way. Too many times the Church looks like a place where we cannot show any weakness. I am thankful that God, even through things that are dangerous, protects and guides. I do believe the Word (Romans 8:28) that God uses all things together for good to those who love the Lord.  

As I give people my story, I always point them to the Word.  In Titus 2:11-12 we read, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” 

My hope is that my story will point others to renounce ungodliness and not celebrate it. My hope is that my story points people to live a life of self-control, not recklessness. I pray that my story points people to the amazing God so that we may live a life that He has for us. 

 I believe I can use my story to point people to Jesus. But I also believe if they do not find the truth in His Word and how He tells us to live, they will not find Jesus.  

I have heard people say I would not change my story one bit. I would agree with that, but I would also say, “It is my story, not yours. Live your life to follow Jesus.” 

Chaplain Award

Stand On It | Devotion #5: Chaplain Award
Noble Baird | Community Center Director

At times, it can be hard to look back at our past, let alone talk about it with others. For some of us, we are ashamed of our past and not too proud of the things we have done. Yet, there are others who look back and are not ashamed, but at the same time, there may have been some wasted opportunities. Then, there are some who look back and can confidently say they had no regrets. If I am honest with myself and you, I fall into the first category, ashamed and not proud of the things I did. For years, I attended church and Christian school. It included going to chapels, Bible class, and then serving on Sundays in the children’s ministry. However, I was just checking off a “Christian” box in my life, and I was a completely different person at school with my friends and schoolmates than I was on Sundays at church.  

In John chapter 4, Jesus meets with the Samaritan woman at the well. As the passage continues, we find that the woman has a past she is ashamed because of her multiple divorces and being married while living with another man. Yet, Jesus came to her and offered her the hope that had been missing in her life. Jesus told her that He is the Christ and that through Him she could have forgiveness and did not have to hide in the shadow of her past, but live in the new life through Him. Jesus not only forgave this woman for her sins and what she has done in the past, but He gave her hope. It was the hope she was missing. She had been searching for hope in all these different men and situations.

I will never forget the end of my freshman year in high school, at our awards ceremony. There was an award given every year to the student from each grade that reflected Christ and a love for serving Him, the Chaplain Award. To my surprise and the surprise of every classmate that knew me, I was given this award. Out of all the freshmen in my school, I was chosen. This shook me to my core. I had no idea why I was chosen. Yet, as I went up front to receive the undeserved award, I was reminded of a passage in Revelation 3:15-17 where the church in Laodicea is being judged for their character and actions. Starting in verse 15 it read, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” 

Receiving that award changed my life. I realized that I needed to get my act together and stop having one foot with Christ and the other in the world. I was truly lukewarm for Jesus. Although my change did not happen overnight, I knew that it had to happen. So, as we wrap up this series on Skeletons in the Closet, I want to challenge you to take a step back and look at your life. I was hopeless and living my life for Christ and this world. I thought I could do both but quickly found out that was not the case. I encourage you to take a step back and look at your story, actions, and friends. Are you all in for Christ or are you simply fooling yourself and living lukewarm?

Running the Race

Stand On It | Devotion #4: Running the Race
James Clouse

I have a confession to make. Growing up in the youth group at the River Church was an amazing journey. I gave my life to the Lord in the Summer of 1995 after hearing Pastor Jim speak on salvation. This was new to my ears. I had never heard of salvation before or about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. So when it came time to pray, and we bowed our heads and closed our eyes, I peeked. Why? Well, there was this cute girl who was putting her hand up to pray, so I did, too. Yes, I was one of those kids. I have even called my Youth Pastor from my middle school and high school years to apologize for being one of those kids because as a Student Pastor now I understand his pain. But when it came down to the time to talk and pray with a leader, I meant every word of what I said to God. 

I went on from there to live a life for Christ. I served in AWANA, went to the camps, joined the leadership group, and did all the things I thought was right. One day on a missions trip in Mexico my 10th-grade year, I was sitting in the van on the way back after a hard day and told God that whatever I did in life I would do it for Him. I dedicated my life to Him right there in the van. Was this salvation? No, I had already done that. But the Christian life is not just a one thing, one prayer deal. It is an ongoing race or journey.  

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

I understood then in that van that I did not want to run my life aimlessly. I knew that my life was God’s and that I wanted Him to use me in any way He saw fit. I stand on that foundation that Christ continues to work on me every single day. 

Church, how is Christ working on you today? Has Christ shown you through this book that while you may be a Christian, you are not running the race but rather standing and watching? How is God telling you to condition your soul more to serve Him better?

Amazing Grace

Stand On It | Devotion #3: Amazing Grace
Wes McCullough | Production Director

Do you know anyone unfamiliar with the song “Amazing Grace” by John Newton? It seems even among the unchurched this song is known and sung. It is arguably one of the most famous songs ever written. While most have the lyrics committed to heart, they are unaware of the story of the writer or the circumstances that brought him to these words.

Before he was a theologian and preacher, John Newton was in the Royal Navy and then a sailor in the slave trade. His language was beyond profane, and he lived without respect for others. He rejected the faith of his parents and mocked those who lived out their faith. His biography describes him to be quite a wretched individual.

In 1748, Newton’s ship was caught in a violent storm that led him to call out to God for mercy. That moment was the turning point for him, and he eventually left the slave trade and pursued God’s calling on his life.

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Each of us has lived in sin. We have made mistakes and have our own personal testimony of how God has forgiven and redeemed us. Some testimonies are stories of incredible transformation from God-hater to God-lover while some are that of a lifelong Christian. Each testimony will be used by God. 

John Newton put his “skeletons” into a song, and it has been ministering to souls for nearly 250 years.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The skeletons in your closet provide a perspective of God’s gift of amazing grace. In 1 Peter 4:10 it says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Do not hide your skeletons. Stand on them and use them to show others that no sin is beyond God’s redemptive love.

Stand on it…or not

Stand On It | Devotion #2: Stand on it…or not
Carole Combs | Women’s Ministry

There once was a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rains fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house (and they will), but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. There once was a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. Why? It is because it did not hear or do the words of the Lord (Matthew 7:24-27). As Jesus spoke these words to his hearers along the shores of the Galilean Sea, it was an obvious picture to His listeners. Of course, why would anyone build a house on the sand? The sand will only erode when the winds and the rains come. But Jesus wanted the people to look much deeper into their souls. He wanted them, as well as you and I, to see where or upon what we are building our houses (our lives). 

Yes, this world will be stormy and will make us feel like we have just been physically beaten up at times. However, where you and I have built our foundation is vital for our house to keep standing during these storms of life. Jesus told the listeners that it was a wise person who built upon they rock. That rock is Jesus. Everything that appears like a rock is false. This world we live in has many temporal and shaky foundations. They may appear to be stable, when in fact, they are just a pile of sand. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings (Hebrews 13:8-9). It is completely foolish (I am not calling you this, God’s Word is using this description) to trust in or build upon anything but the rock, Christ Jesus. 

The woman at the well had tried so many avenues in her life to try and find stability. She even tried people hoping they were the answer to her incompleteness and instability. I had a woman tell me that her husband was her rock. Her statement scared me for her. People are mortal and sinful. If you or anyone are trusting in a person to be their stability or rock, they will be disappointed and will keep looking because they will fail you. Hebrews 13:5-6 says, “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So you can confidently say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” The woman at the well had an encounter that day with the true rock. She realized that everything in her life that she built upon continually crashed around her. It was not the people in her life; it was not the things she wore or the home decor. This is a big one for many; it was not even her children or grandchildren. She realized that everything in her life was temporary and she was standing before the eternal rock, Christ Jesus! 

On what are you personally building your foundation? Are you like the woman at the well that has tried basically everything in this world to be satisfied and complete? Have you ever had a personal encounter with Jesus? It does not have to be at a well. It can be right where you are right now. Religion has told people that they have to “clean up” before they can come to God, which is not true. He waited for the woman to come to the well. He knew she was coming. He is waiting for you. She left the well with a firm foundation. She no longer was on a path of sinking sand because she was standing on the rock, Jesus. Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony (John 4: 36).

She may have had many skeletons in her closet. What did she do with those? What are you supposed to do with them? I am pretty sure skeletons are dead! The moment you trusted Christ as your Savior, your past and present sins are forgiven. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” It is only your enemy, Satan, who likes to throw the dead things back into our face. The woman at the well, you, and I must stand on the promises of God. I could not help but think of this song (“Standing on the Promises of God”). I know it was written in the twentieth century, but I can just visualize the woman at the well breaking into song after her encounter with Jesus. 

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
 A sinner condemned, unclean.
How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

These words of this song should resonate in the hearts of every believer. He loved her, and He loves you! You are forgiven. You are chosen. You are a child of God. The past has no hold or control over you. The woman at the well moved forward with her life on a solid foundation, and you can move forward as well. So, the next time you hear those skeleton bones rattling in your heart and mind, stand on the promises of God and throw a dog a bone!

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