The song “New Wine” begins

“In the crushing…In the pressing…You are making new wine.”

My early elementary report cards showed “outstanding” rankings, except for one “needs improvement” blot on my second-grade report card. The category described how I “handle disappointment.” Many were my youthful tears—whether shed behind a textbook, on the sidelines of lacrosse, or upon my bed. From my early days, I did not handle disappointment well.

Jesus talked about the need for “new wineskins” with new wines. (Matthew 9:17) The old wineskins would no longer suffice because the new wine would bust them wide open.

In the same way, as an adult, I needed to learn to let go of what I thought my life was supposed to be—the old wineskins—and embrace the reality of entirely new wineskins and the new wines they would hold.

Crushing and pressing are involved in making new wine. On the heels of two very crushing experiences, I faced a continual need to surrender in order to fully produce this new wine, and it all felt so disappointing.

Disappointment never crushed me more than when we had to leave our life in Hungary after I experienced my first mental health crisis.

However, amid all the horrible lies I heard during my manic episode in Orlando, God whispered more fervently, “Endure, beloved, endure.”

I didn’t know what this message meant except that I needed to hold tightly and remember that God was real despite all the lies.

All I could do was seek to hang on to the overarching truth of Christ’s redemption.Christ’s remarkable story would win in my life and in all things.

Sometimes, dear reader, this is all we can do.

With something like mental illness, when our minds are sponges for deception, we have to trust the greater truth of God. He is present beyond every crushing experience, making new wine for us and within us. And not just any wine, but full-bodied, rich, exquisite wine that will one day be served at the great feast of God in the new heaven and new Earth.

As we walk this long road home, there may be many times God calls us to endure. Every one of our beliefs may be tested, but our deepest truths can come to life in this pressing time.

We are made for God, and he will have us forever, basking in his love’s beauty and heavens’ fullness. Moreover, this new wine he makes of us will bear the stunning story of his beauty replacing the ashes of our sorrow.

*For further reflection, listen to Matthew 9.

  1. Matthew 9

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Adapted from A Million Skies: Secure in God’s Strength When Your Mind Can’t Rest © Abigail Alleman, 2022.

Christianity is about more than me and mine.

One Body of Christ includes anyone who has placed their faith in him to forgive their sins. As we read in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

Think about who that includes:

  • people you disagree with,
  • people who understand Scripture differently,
  • people who baptize babies,
  • people who don’t, and
  • people who have more (or less) books in their canon of Scripture.

In God’s kingdom, standing together before the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we’re never alone in Christ’s body.

It’s been a lot to take in, and I’m a few years into the process now.

I’ve embraced the mystery and holiness of the divine.

I’ve let go of fear in exchange for curiosity.

I’ve chosen love in exchange for needing to be correct.

I’ve learned to read Scripture to find God in exchange for a search for black-and-white answers. I’ve relied on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in this process, and I’ve seen him be faithful and true. “A cloud of witnesses before us, after us, and surrounding us now” (Hebrews 12:1).

As one friend described it, my faith has gone deeper and wider.

Now, when I read these words from Paul, I praise Jesus that we’ll spend our entire lives, into eternity, knowing Jesus and one another.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 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. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.” (Ephesians 2:1-6)

*For further reflection today, listen to Ephesians 2.

  1. Ephesians 2

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Learn more about our “one faith” in our interview with Traci here.

We’ve all had that friend—

  • who had a life-threatening disease,
  • who lost a family member or
  • who has experienced abuse.

Still, she can put her faith in Jesus and use her pain to help others.

Those people know there’s a sovereign God who gives us hope when all seems lost.

“I look up to the mountains–does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Psalm 121:1-2

How can we be women of hope?

It’s one thing to wish for a better life and another to be assured of a better life—because you’ve experienced the hope of God.

So, what does a hope-filled life look like? You can expect it to be hard in some moments. I know that’s not the best thing to read right after you’ve proclaimed hope. But I’m not here to sell you falsehoods.

When hard times come, you can also expect to endure them through a lens of hope. Remember the promise in Philippians 1:6, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Let’s say you suffer a financial loss. Instead of allowing financial stress to consume you, take this heavy burden to the feet of Jesus, to your safe community, and to your counselor. You will find hope for those parts of you, and you will pick up your head and pursue other means for your financial needs.

If you go through a hard breakup, it’s ok to spend some days curled up in a ball, crying—but you can’t stay there. (And you probably shouldn’t call your ex.)

Instead of begging to be taken back, producing more wounds of rejection and abandonment, you will take your heartache to the Lover of your soul, your Heavenly Father, who freely offers intimacy whenever you need it. You will know that while being lonely is a real feeling, you are never, ever alone.

When despair settles in, you will remember that the closer you are to God, the closer you are to joy. When any form of darkness comes into your life, the same God who brought you out of you troubles will do it again.

He can handle your sorrow and is not afraid of your sadness.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Philippians 4:6

When you claim the promise of hope and allow God to strengthen your faith, you will be that woman people look at and say, “Wow, she’s got bruised knuckles and a hope she’s fought for. But, she’s fighting through all of it, with Jesus leading the way, and she ain’t giving up!”

Living in hope is not easy, but it’s so worth it.

*For further reflection, listen to Philippians 4.

  1. Philippians 4

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Please enjoy more of Toni’s heart in our interview with her by clicking here!

Adapted from Brave Enough to Be Broken by Toni Collier Copyright © 2022 by Toni Collier. Used by permission of Nelson Books.

Some mornings, my inner critic wakes up with me. As I eat my breakfast, my first thoughts appear auto-populated by what I “should’ve-would’ve-could’ve” done.

Instead of songs of deliverance surrounding me like the psalmist wrote about, my mind becomes filled with a noisy parade of troubling thoughts—regrets over what I wasn’t doing well, relationships that had turned hurtful, and indecisions tearing at my soul.

Why are you obsessing about things you have no control over? I lecture myself. Stop worrying about nothing. What’s wrong with you? I beat myself up, and I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee.

I pray and read Scripture, but my heart doesn’t feel right. One morning, I tried to forget my troubles by diving into my emails. On the outside, all was good, but being hard on myself wasn’t what I needed.

What I need when I’m stuck in negative self-talk is God’s kindness and gentleness.

The world teaches us to quiet our inner critic by striving, networking with people of influence, and working very hard to be valued, find belonging, and acceptance.

But God’s way of restoring the soul is very quiet: real experiences of beauty, gentleness, and kindness.

We need two fruits of the Spirit: gentleness and kindness.

Later in the afternoon, I drove out to my favorite trail and stood quietly by the creek, listening to water bubbling over rocks and pebbles. Without any words, I felt God’s gentle love hold my heart.

My soul exhaled, and as the sun warmed my heart again, I heard God tenderly whisper, “You are safe with me. You are important to me.”

God draws us closer, saying, “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love; With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3).

In a quiet place of beauty, my heart opened up. I shared my honest feelings with God—not trying to solve them but to confide in him.

Being in nature soothes us and gives us permission to slow down.

We observe how everything organic undergoes changes in different seasons, and we instinctively relax our shoulders and exhale.

As the breeze brushes our cheeks, we feel a softening. We notice how everything beautiful moves in quietness.

It was only there by the creek, only after I took the steps to enjoy something beautiful to refresh me, that my heart experienced God’s songs of deliverance.

Many times, we try to lecture ourselves out of a tough situation, but God’s gentle voice is always found in places of quiet beauty and intimacy.

Don’t be harder on yourself. Be gentle with yourself. God’s love is gentle.

*For further reflection, listen to Jeremiah 31 today.

  1. Jeremiah 31

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Excerpted with permission from Breathe by Bonnie Gray published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 97408. Copyright 2023, Bonnie Gray. harvesthousepublishers.com

*Please enjoy our conversation with Bonnie here!

“Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry” (Luke 4:1-2).

Hungry Son,

The Father called you Beloved

and then the Spirit

led you like a lamb

out into the scorching sun

where you

chose trust

in your Father

over proving

your own power.

Lead us to landscapes

we would not choose

to feed us with trust we cannot lose.

Because for far too long

we’ve been fed sugar

by shepherds on stages

in words that say fame

and power

and the removal of pain

are the proof

of bearing your name.

But your sonship reveals

what no stage can show:

it is into vulnerability

that you choose

to go.

Amen.

Show me a shepherd who listens long, who is not afraid of being seen as wrong.

Show me a shepherd who will sit on your couch, who asks how you’re doing when you’ve dropped off the earth.

Show me a shepherd who cries when you weep, whose heart is still moved by every hurt sheep.

Show me a shepherd who gives up their time, who counts not the minutes they’re falling behind.

Show me a shepherd whose kindness can preach louder than any sermon could reach.

Show me a shepherd who studies the language of hearts as much as Hebrew or Greek, who conjugates the verbs of being meek.

Show me a shepherd who dares to believe stories whose truths might make people leave.

Show me a shepherd who reports abuse, who respects people for more than their use.

Show me a shepherd who assumes there’s no stage as important as sitting with sheep in their pain.

*For further reflection, listen to Luke 4.

  1. Luke 4

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To enjoy our interview K.J, listen here!

For me, the journey from error to truth has been a humbling experience. I had to admit that much of what I’d always believed was not just inaccurate; it was unhelpful, even harmful.

That wasn’t easy.

Maybe you, too, have been convinced for years that the only way to please God is by following specific, man-made rules from a particular teacher. God had to humble me so I could see that all my effort was not actually honoring God.

You may be in a similar situation, ready to examine your convictions and compare them to Scripture. That process is well worth it.

No matter who you are or where you come from, you need what I need—what we all need: humility.

Through this process, I’ve come to understand that humble people don’t think too much of themselves, but they also don’t think too low of themselves either. Humble people know who they are, what they are good at, and what talents they do not have.

Romans 12:3 provides a great description of a humble person: “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”

Ten years ago, I don’t think I understood that. I thought I had life figured out.

I’m grateful for the humility God is working in me. He opened my eyes, as only he can, to see that I was thinking too highly of myself. He gave me undeserved grace.

As James 4:6 says, “And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

Without God’s help, it’s tough to see our pride. In fact, I’d say it’s impossible. If you and I are ever going to submit to God and his Word, we need to begin by asking for humility.

That’s a request I know God will grant.

After all, Proverbs 11:2 says, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” And I know that if I ask for wisdom, God will give it to me.

*For further reflection, listen to Romans 12 today.

  1. Romans 12

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Taken from “Becoming Free Indeed” by Jinger Duggar Vuolo. Copyright 2023 by Jinger Vuolo. Used with permission from Thomas Nelson.

*Please enjoy this interview with Jinger here.

Are you harassed and helpless, distressed and dispirited, feeling alone in your struggles as if no one sees you? You may feel alone, but God will never leave you or forsake you.

In the book of Genesis, we find an Egyptian slave woman named Hagar alone, broken, insignificant, and rejected. Hagar, whose name means one who fears, is a socially marginalized woman with no control over her life circumstances.

As she sits alone and desperate in the wilderness, we encounter an extraordinary moment in Scripture. An angel of the Lord finds Hagar and calls her by name, something her mistress had refused to do and tells Hagar the Lord has heard her affliction.

In response, she calls God by the name El Roi, meaning the “God Who Sees Me.” The angel instructs her to return and submit to her mistress. Her circumstances won’t change, but the strength and perspective with which she faces them will be different.

Every character in Hagar’s story experienced their own fears, doubts, insecurities, and injustices along a broken road, lost like sheep. The original Hebrew word Roi’iy means “shepherd,” “seeing,” “looking,” or “gazing.”

When you feel vulnerable and alone, you can find hope and comfort in the “God Who Sees Me.” Take comfort in the fact your compassionate Good Shepherd is always looking for you.

Even when you feel desperately isolated, God promises that you are never alone.

Reflect:

1. In the seasons of life where you feel alone, how can you look back at your story and see ways God has met you along the way to find you and bring you encouragement?
2. How can you find a friend struggling through a season of loneliness in the wilderness and offer companionship and encouragement?
3. How can you find tangible hope in the God Who Sees You?

Pray:

God, my soul is troubled. I am weary with argument and conversation, and my bed at night swims with the tears of my distress. I worry. I see hurt. I feel alone. My eyes waste away with grief as conflict makes me weary. I know You hear my voice lifted in desperate prayer. Give me faith in times of distress. I ask for mercy in the midst of pain. Bring healing where there is conflict. Pour over me Your unfailing love. I know You accept my prayer. I ask You to walk with me daily, putting people in my path who will speak encouragement and the words of life delivered straight from Your heart to mine, with confident affirmation to remind me I am never truly alone. Amen.

*For further reflection, listen to (Psalm 6).

  1. Psalm 6

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Adapted from Behind Closed Doors: A Guide to Help Parents and Teens Navigate Through Life’s Toughest Issues (W Publishing Group, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing).

“Truth is, Women are the Unsung Heroes of This World.”

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I reflect on the role women have played in my own spiritual formation. By and large, women have been the agents of grace in my life teaching me how to live, grow, stand tall, pray, take God at his Word, worship, praise, and, perhaps most importantly, laugh out loud.

Moses, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt was also influenced by women. In fact, the Exodus story began with two women rescuers: the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. When Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all the Hebrew boys, they refused. They rejected the murderous plan of the empire because they feared God more than the king (Exodus 1:15-21).

It was a significant risk to defy Pharaoh, and by doing so, these women saved vulnerable lives while looking death, danger, and darkness in the face. That was the first time women saved Moses’ life.

Next, Pharaoh ordered that all the Hebrew infant boys be thrown into the Nile while the girls would be spared (Exodus 1:22). The Nile River was a symbol of life to the Egyptians, but it offered a grave reminder to the Hebrews that their boys had no right to live. This genocide plot caused Moses’ mother to spring into action to save her son’s life.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses when she drew him out of the water. When she opened the basket, she immediately noticed that it was a Hebrew baby—but she did not mention that he was a boy.

Perhaps before Pharaoh’s daughter even saw the baby’s gender, Miriam jumped in to ask, “Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked.

“Yes, do!” the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother. “Take this baby and nurse him for me,” the princess told the baby’s mother. “I will pay you for your help.” So the woman took her baby home and nursed him (Exodus 2:7-9)

So baby Moses’ life was thrice saved from death: by the wisdom and courage of the midwives, by his mother’s plan, and by Pharaoh’s daughter’s compassion.

Without the leadership and obedience of the women in his life,  God’s plan for Moses would have been aborted. God’s grace was consistently revealed in Moses’ life through the presence of wise, faithful, and risk-taking women.When I think about my own life and how I have become a leader, it is impossible to separate my story from the women who have shaped me. Like Moses, my life has been saved by the sacrifices, contributions, and faithful obedience of women.

But the strong female influences in my early life were not due to the absence of faithful black men in my community. There were simply more women in my biological family. This is how women have consistently showed up to save my life, and I don’t know where I would be without them.

And women are the unsung heroes of Moses’ story. These women were leaders who served as God’s grace and protection for Moses to ensure that he would rise as a leader among his people to fulfil the purpose God had for his life.

God’s saving grace to all of us is often revealed through the bosoms, the hands, the teaching, the correction, the unconditional love, the sacrifices, the laughter, the truth telling and the risks of faithful women.

We must not forget to regularly acknowledge their leadership and thank God for them.

*For further reflection, listen to Exodus 1.

  1. Exodus 1

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Enjoy our conversation with Natasha here!

Adapted from “A Sojourner’s Truth” by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson.

Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Ten years ago, I was in a season of life in which I was a shell of my former self. I had just gone through a breakup that had changed the course of my life. I didn’t know who I was as a woman. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, or who my friends were. I was lost. I wasn’t sleeping well. I cried constantly. I was a mess.

My offices were down the hall from E! (Media) at the time, and I often saw Jason in the small kitchen when I was heating up coffee or grabbing a snack. Jason and I weren’t yet friends beyond our casual run-ins in the kitchen or hallways. During this time, I had started to use the hallways as a place to collect myself when I didn’t want to cry in my office. And Jason noticed that I, the hallway girl, wasn’t well. My eyes were visibly puffy from all the tears. Jason didn’t owe me anything-we were basically strangers. He could have turned a blind eye and gone about his day.

Instead, he chose to talk to me and invite me to his Bible study! He didn’t ask me a single question about why I was upset; he simply extended his hand to me.

There, I was greeted with smiles and hugs and a discussion that was so relatable and relevant to my life. I felt like I was surrounded by like-minded people who were filled with hope and happiness. That night turned my life around, and I’ll never be able to thank Jason enough for what he did. At that Bible study I also met Raquelle, one of my best friends (and, the co-author of our new book). I finally found something that felt right, and that is where my relationship with God and my journey as a Christian truly began.

I Thessalonians 5:14 reminds us that ministry is not entirely up to spiritual leaders. We are all called to cheer up the disheartened, not give up on the idle, and encourage those who feel weak.

Go out of your way today to extend a hand to someone outside your circle.

Find someone who looks like they need a friend, invite them to your weekly game night, Bible study, or grab a quick cup of coffee. You never know how big of an impact a small gesture can make on someone’s life.

I encourage you to create your own safe haven for others. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but something weekly or bimonthly or even monthly can provide consistency, friendship, and a safe place for people in your life. Consistency is the key. Here are some ideas:

1. Taco Tuesdays. Creating an event for people to know that even if everything feels like it’s going wrong in their lives, they have a happy and safe space to be at least once a week.

2. Sunday picnics at the park. Potluck picnic with a speaker afterward.

3. Friday game nights. Play board games, card games, video games. Group together to attend sporting events—whatever your heart desires.

4. Bible Study. I had a couple of women’s Bible study groups that would meet at restaurants around town every other week. It was fun to get to know the girls and explore the restaurants in our city.

*For further reflection, listen to 1 Thessalonians 1 today.

  1. 1 Thessalonians 1

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Adapted from THE SUNSHINE MIND by TANYA RAD & RAQUELLE STEVENS. Copyright @ JANUARY 31, 2022 BY TANYA RAD & RAQUELLE STEVENS. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

To listen to Tanya Rad’s interview with Jenny Steinbach on “How Tanya Rad’s Relationship with God Began” click here.

My track coach was told to wash his hands of me because I was “trouble.” But, despite what people told him, he continued to meet me at the track daily and train with me. I love the story of the woman at the well, because it reflects how my track coach came alongside me, and it also it shows us how Jesus treats those who are cast out.

When the world has set limitations on who we can befriend, Jesus shows us exactly what to do by reaching out to them anyway.

In John 4, Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the village well and shared the gospel with her. The cultural limitation said Jews could not speak to Samaritans. That meant an entire population could potentially be unreached by Jesus’ life.

So what did Jesus do? He disregarded culture’s limitations. And he met this woman where she was and told her about the never-ending, life-giving water – the truth of the gospel.

But the interesting thing is that Jesus did not go to the woman at the well with his disciples. Instead, verse eight shows his disciples had gone into the town to buy food.

Why would he not take his disciples and use this as a teaching moment? Why wouldn’t he have brought more people to the woman with hopes of helping her be seen and known and loved by more? The more, the merrier it seems.

So why did Jesus go alone?

Because even the people closest to Jesus, taking in his every word, being taught by him, and tangibly being loved by him, would have focused on the limitations of the culture. They would have pulled Jesus away from meeting the Samaritan woman, so Jesus shielded her from them.

Jesus went to the woman no one else would go to and met her where she was. He did not say, “You meet me here.” He went to her.

He met her there and changed her life.

Those people in my hometown were advising my track coach to stay away from me. But he kept showing up where I was— the track. It was one of the only places I was allowed to go, and his ongoing mentorship changed the trajectory of my life.

During this holiday season, I ask you these questions:

  • Where would you like Jesus to meet you right now?
  • Who is God asking you to make a difference in their life?
  • Who could you reach out to that you typically pass by?

*For further reflection, listen to John 4 today.