August 31, 2017
"I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation."
Life can be a sequence of pushbacks. People push back; Projects push back; Progress pushes back; Circumstances push back. Sometimes, it seems that everything and everyone is pushing back. How you respond to those pushbacks will be the difference between living in peace or turmoil. It is very wise to walk in lockstep with the Lord during a pushback period. Let Him be your help and strength. You will drive yourself crazy trying to determine all the reasons around the pushback. Instead, let God handle the people who are pushing back. They have their reasons, noble or ignoble. God will judge a person’s motive, not you.
God is still working during this pushback period, so use this time to gather more information and get to know and understand all the people involved. Pushbacks buy you time to develop a better relationship and to craft a more accurate plan. A pushback is not a failure, but a time to regroup and do better. More often than not, a pushback should not be taken personally. You don’t know everything that is going on personally or professionally with all those involved. This pushback may be for your own protection; it is what is needed to guarantee God’s best for you. He works His will in spite of—and because of—a pushback. It is disheartening and sometimes frustrating when someone close to you pushes back on a promise. They were sincere in the moment, but now have cold feet because they truly understand the commitment. You may need to push back on them and ask them to reconsider.
"Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down those who rise up against us." (Psalm 44:5)
Indeed, you need to prayerfully push back when necessary. This is part of the maturing process. Say no if your heart is not in this opportunity. Many people have wonderful life experiences to offer you. Some contribute to God’s best, but some are just expedient. Push back against those people who are too pushy. Help them understand your true feelings and aspirations. Your pushback may be what it takes to persuade others to do the same. Prayerfully orchestrated pushbacks are powerful ways to progress in God’s will. Your “no” may be very well what’s needed to transition to your “yes.” This is the wisdom of pushing back. It disciplines you to wait on God. Why redo things in the future, when you can push back now and start off on the right foot?
Relationships void of pushbacks are fragile and unpredictable. However, relationships peppered with pushbacks are resilient and authentic. This is how you get to know each other. This is how justice is able to bubble to the top. So receive pushbacks from the Lord. A gentle pushback from the Holy Spirit, in the beginning, is much better than a shove by the Spirit later down the road. Therefore, be prayerful and discern whether God is pushing back or pulling forward. In either case, Christ can be trusted. Receive and give pushbacks as part of God’s process. He is your help and strength. Above all else, do not push back Providence.
"And he said, 'This is Wickedness.' And he thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening." (Zechariah 5:8)
What situation are you facing that requires you to prayerfully and lovingly push back?
August 30, 2017
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you."
When I opened our dishwasher, I wondered what went wrong. Instead of seeing sparkling clean dishes, I removed plates and glasses that were covered in a chalky dust. I wondered if the hard water in our area was wreaking havoc, or if the machine was broken.
God’s cleansing, unlike that faulty dishwasher, washes away all of our impurities. We see in the book of Ezekiel that God is calling His people back to Himself as Ezekiel shared God’s message of love and forgiveness. The Israelites had sinned as they proclaimed their allegiance to other gods and other nations. The Lord, however, was merciful in welcoming them back to Himself. He promised to cleanse them “from all [their] impurities and all [their] idols”
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you." (Ezekiel 36:25)
As He put His Spirit in them:
"And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." (Ezekiel 36:27)
He would bring them to a place of fruitfulness, not famine:
"I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations." (Ezekiel 36:30)
As in the days of the prophet Ezekiel, today the Lord welcomes us back to Him if we go astray. When we submit ourselves to His will and His ways, He transforms us as He washes us clean from our sins. With His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, He helps us to follow Him day by day.
Our Daily Bread
August 29, 2017
A LIFE WORTH LIVING
"so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;"
I am convinced most people want to do some great thing with their lives. But they are under the illusion that the doing of authentically great things is reserved for a chosen few. Heroes. Martyrs. Saints. But not them.
But what if the greatest thing is not to go out in a blaze of glory but to honor God with a life that consistently seeks to do His will in the little things? Not to climb the highest mountain but to stay on the uneven course that life has marked out for you? Not dying for your faith but staying true to it over a difficult lifetime?
Think of the 24-hour blocks of your life as bank-fresh bundles of a hundred $1 bills. Your challenge each day is to spend your life. You can't bank it. You can't save up until you get 500 or 1000. You get a fresh handful of life currency each morning, and any unspent balance evaporates before tomorrow comes.
You spend life assets when you mentor a new employee who is struggling, listen to someone who is upset, or volunteer to help someone catch up.
You are laying down your life when you are generous with hard-earned money to help someone who has lost her job, a family that is being drained by long-term illness, or the ministries of your church.
You have plunked down a huge chunk of your life in giving birth, praying through your tears for a struggling child, and investing all the time, energy, and passion that go into molding a life for what lies ahead in this challenging world.
You are spending your life capital by putting your love for a fiance', mate, or child above career advancement that moves you away from spiritual stability, calls for you to spend far too much time away from people who need you more than money, or calls for you to compromise a central value you have embraced.
The Bible says:
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." (1 John 3:16)
Could it be that there are people who would die in bold, heroic moments who just don't grasp that we must spend the smaller increments of our lives in unselfish, other-directed events that honor God by serving the people he has placed on our paths? What a shame that they never developed a concept of serving God by serving men and women in his image!
You have today's life capital in hand. Invest it wisely - in small increments of unselfishness here and there. Or lose it completely.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
August 28, 2017
ONE SENTENCE JOB DESCRIPTION
"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ."
During my career transition 18 months ago, I realized--though my title was changing my general job description remained the same: Integrate my experience and expertise into my new work environment in order to love people! Yes! So I asked the Lord,“How would you like for me to apply my relational skills and my gift of generosity at my new job?” What does it look like? Immediately there were opportunities to sit with fellow team members, and with fresh eyes, understand their pain points, carefully offering solutions that might bring short term relief and long term resolution. An opportunity to join God where He is already working is so fulfilling!
What does it mean to work for the Lord? Is helping people one way to work for the Lord? Absolutely! Since Jesus is our Master, our heart's desire should be to master our work in a way that honors Christ. Notice, Paul does not say to be a master over people, but to serve our Master by serving people. So if our boss, client or team member is harsh or unreasonable, we can die to our need to be right and respected. We can remember we work for our Master Jesus, who already accepts and loves us. We are free indeed knowing the best job reward comes from our Lord.
"And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel." (Ezra 6:22)
Have you elevated the importance of your work to work for the Lord? If so, what is your greater purpose for what you do? Perhaps you seek the one co-worker others shun because of his inability to relate well to peers. A person who seems irritable all the time may need to feel needed. Ask her to help you on a project, not patronizing but truly discovering what she does well. A colleague who feels valued has a higher probability of adding value. Shrewdly involve a divisive team member who may grow beyond a disruptive enemy to a productive friend.
What does it look like to dedicate your work to the Lord by working for the Lord? Make sure you are diligent in all you do. Those who coast in their career are unable to initiate positive change or overcome challenges. Coasters are the first to go when the work environment gets tough. Also, become a solution looking for a problem to solve. Anyone can complain, but few can offer ideas on how to improve a process or create a better product or service. When you are known as one who does their work for the Lord, you will draw others to the Lord. Define in one sentence what you do for God. Memorize it, memorialize it and make it meaningful for all.
"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" (Psalm 90:17)
Who can you reach out to at work who is hard to work with and invite them into a productive working relationship?
August 27, 2017
DISCIPLINE INVITES RESPECT
"Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?"
Discipline invites respect, whether it’s your children or your coworkers. Discipline is an application of accountability and is a consequence for unwise actions. If you are tuned in and discerning, you will apply discipline soon after the offense. Delayed discipline dilutes the dangers of bad decisions. If someone thinks they are getting away with something, they will drift further toward destructive habits. This is why it is wise to discipline our children sooner rather than later. They may not like it, but they will respect you for taking the time to correct their behavior. Furthermore, wise discipline means you define clear expectations and reasonable rules.
For example, your son or daughter needs to know in no uncertain terms that they will be disciplined for a disrespectful attitude, disobedient actions, or dishonest speech. Write it down, have them repeat it back to you, and then enforce it consistently. If they suspect they can slip by with undisciplined living, they will. Most important, discipline with loving patience. Discipline is not a club of correction, but a laser of love.
Wise discipline includes instruction. You show and tell why and how to live better by God’s grace. You are leading your children to be responsible adults. Discipline done well creates discipline in the recipient. They learn discipline by being disciplined. One day they will respect you for your discipline. Better to engage in conflict today than to watch them destroy themselves for lack of discipline tomorrow.
Above all else, receive the discipline of your heavenly Father. Respect for God follows discipline from God. He disciplines because He loves. Because God cares, He disciplines. He is relentless in His loving discipline. You cannot hide from the long, loving arm of the Lord. He will expose deeds done in secret. You cannot ignore God’s principles and escape the ramifications of His discipline. He disciplines for your own good, as it is protection from further harm. His discipline stokes the fires of fear for Him.
The Almighty uses different avenues to deliver His discipline. It may come through finances, relationships, or health. Don’t despise His discipline or be surprised by it. How you handle God’s discipline can weaken or strengthen your faith, for the fruit of God’s discipline is intimacy. Closeness to Christ and others comes as a result of discipline. Furthermore, divine discipline is training in peace. His peace dwells in the hearts of those who receive well the discipline of their heavenly Father. There is no greater peaceful, easy feeling than knowing your Lord loves you. He loves with discipline, which leads to blessing.
The Bible says,
"Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty." (Job 5:17)
Who needs you loving discipline, so they don't drift into foolishness?
August 26, 2017
A GOOD IMITATION
3 John 1:11
"Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God."
Imitation of good is good, but imitation of evil is bad. So look for the good in others and compliment them with imitation. When you copy another’s character, you extend an affirmation of who they are. You validate them when you follow their example. They are encouraged and you are equipped to live a better life. Everyone is happy when imitation of good is applied. But be discerning in your imitation of others. A smile does not assure that someone is good. People may be friendly only for their own sake. A religious person does not guarantee good. Probe their motives for being good, and beware of self-righteousness and performance-driven living.
However, when you discover a good person, you have a gift. Honor them with respect and recognition, and give God the glory for their goodness. If you want to grow as a giver, pray for generous givers whom you can follow. Pray for people from whom you can learn, and emulate their goodness in giving. If you want to grow in your marriage, be around married people who put God first and their spouse second. You are wise to imitate the healthy habits of good people because you can’t be good alone. You need good examples to educate you. Goodness is relative, so make sure their goodness is from God.
Authentic goodness is from God. The Holy Spirit creates godly goodness in the heart of Christ-followers. It is a goodness orchestrated and motivated by Almighty God. Goodness without God is sentimental, shallow, and has no eternal consequences. It is only when your goodness promotes God that you are genuinely good. The God factor is what gives goodness depth and breadth. His goodness travels from one generation to the next. The goodness of God penetrates the hardness of hearts and the most evil of circumstances. It transcends cultures and language. This quality of goodness goes a long way in living, governing, leading, and relating well. When you imitate goodness given by God, you embrace a life with positive eternal consequences.
So, above all else, imitate the goodness of God. Look at the life of Christ and, by God’s grace, seek to imitate Him. Jesus is your model for goodness.
"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!" (Psalm 34:8)
The goodness of God satisfies your hungry heart. Be cautious not to do good deeds without first receiving the goodness of God in Christ. Your benevolent behavior promotes eternal good only when Christ has conditioned you. Godly goodness flows from the inside out. It is an internal imitation with eternal outcomes. Therefore, imitate good, so when others imitate you they imitate a good thing. Imitation of good begins by receiving Christ into your heart by faith.
The Bible says,
"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6-7)
Whose negative influence do you need to cease being influenced by and from whom do you need to learn from their positive example?
August 25, 2017
GOOD VERSUS BEST
"And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables'"
Many times good is the enemy of the best. Your competition for God’s best is not necessarily gross sin or bad things. Good things are what usually distract you from your sweet spot. Do not be lured into this lesser approach to life. Everybody else’s agenda for you does not equal God’s agenda.
Yes, the needs are great, but a need does not constitute an action, much less a call. This is where your courage of conviction can keep you from unwisely spreading yourself too thin. If you are scattered about in a multitude of activities, there is a good chance you will miss the focused opportunity of God’s best.
Resist the temptation to be an inch deep and a mile wide. Rather, drill down on divinity’s call on your life. You know how you are wired and gifted. Validate what you do best with others who know you well. Tap into their wisdom and discernment. Your present predicament may be the result of over-commitment and under-ability.
You can always tell when you are not operating in the vortex of your giftedness. These worthy and good activities become a chore. Something haunts you. It is the realization that another talented person in this needed area could do a much better job than you with half the effort. It is sobering, but true. So have the courage to find a replacement for this good activity so you can focus on what you do best.
Others admire what you do best. They celebrate your God-given skills. This is the role we all need to find for ourselves. Position yourself to excel in what you do best. However, that means having the courage and the faith to say no to good people and to good things. Mature people will understand. Others may give you a hard time. But, you can be at peace when you are in the crosshairs of God’s best.
If you are a gifted teacher, do not be distracted by all the opportunities that scream for your service. There are others who can serve but are unable to teach. In fact, a server might even aspire to teach because they value the outcome of helping people. But, the amount of preparation and energy exerted toward this educational endeavor is not the best use of their time.
There is another example of experiencing God’s best. It is relational investments. Right relationships will often trump other good tasks or activities. Children are children for a season. Attending their ball games instead of another hour at the office is what’s best. Parents are parents for a finite period of time. Sitting on the front porch with them and watching the grass grow is better than an occasional distant e-mail or even a phone call. Physical exercise is important, but training in godliness is better.
Meeting a project deadline is strategic, but listening to a person in distress may be the greater priority. Do not bow to the good when the best is waiting in the wings to dance. Dance with the best, and the good will take care of itself. God’s role is to handle the good while you focus on the best. It is a step of faith, but He can be trusted with the good and the best. Do not settle for the crumbs of the good. Instead, feast on the best!
Where in your work or relationships do you need to be patient and wait on God's best?
August 24, 2017
"And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"
I read of a man who was involved in a tragic accident. He lost both legs and his left arm and only a finger and thumb remained on the right hand. There was only enough left of the man that had been, to suffer and remember. But he still possessed a brilliant mind, enriched with a good education and broadened with world travel. At first he thought there was nothing he could do but remain a helpless sufferer.
A thought came to him. It was always nice to receive letters, but why not write them - he could still use his right hand with some difficulty. But whom could he write to? Was there anyone shut in and incapacitated like he was who could be encouraged by his letters. He thought of men in prison - they did have some hope of release whereas he had none - but it was worth a try.
He wrote to a Christian organization concerned with prison ministry. He was told that his letters could not be answered - it was against prison rules, but he commenced this one sided correspondence. He wrote twice a week and it taxed his strength to the limit. But into those letters he put his whole soul, all his experience, all his faith, all his wit, and all his Christian optimism. It must have been hard writing those letters, often in pain, and particularly when there was no reply.
Frequently he felt discouraged and was tempted to give it up. But it was his one remaining activity and he resolved to continue as long as he could. At last he got a letter. It was very short, written on prison stationery by the officer whose duty it was to censor the mail. All it said was:
"Please write on the best paper you can afford. Your letters are passed from cell to cell till they literally fall to pieces."
No matter what our personal situation is, we still have God-given gifts and talents, experience, and encouragement that we can share with others.
"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men," (Colossians 3:23)
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
August 23, 2017
STRENGTHS AND STRUGGLES
"Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;"
Know and understand your strengths, for it is best to behave how God created you. By God’s grace, He places within you giftedness to carry out His plan. This is called your core competency. You may be a gifted leader, so lead. You may be a gifted coach, so coach. You may be a gifted counselor, so counsel. You may be a gifted administrator, so administer.
You may be a gifted networker, so network. You may be a gifted writer, so write. You may be a gifted teacher, so teach. You may be a gifted servant, so serve. You may be a gifted artist, so create. You may be a gifted communicator, so communicate. There is a long menu of gifts, and you probably possess several of them. Study your gifts, and you will discover your strengths.
Become comfortable with and accept the one thing you do naturally. It is effortless because God has engineered you for this. He gave you the skills and abilities to innovate, create, and produce these desired outcomes. However, make sure you do not confuse passion with strength. If you have the passion to speak, it is imperative you at least have the raw skill for speaking. Many of the technicalities of communication can be learned, but don’t try to make yourself become someone you’re not.
Synergy for life and work come as you align passions and strengths. Take the time to understand what you do best and where you have the most energy, then position your responsibilities at home and work to mirror that ideal. Do not be afraid to change and try new things. Ask others to validate what you do best. Ask those who know you well to affirm where they see your passion materialize. Then, prayerfully align around both.
You can know and understand your strengths by taking a spiritual gifts assessment, as this helps you define your God-given disposition. Take a personality assessment, for this helps you understand your temperament. Lastly, consider taking a psychological test, because this reveals your emotional intelligence and your leadership style. Be who God has made you to be, and you will be free.
Furthermore, embrace and celebrate your struggles. They keep you humble. Do not resist accepting your struggles; embrace them instead. Make your struggles your servant by allowing others to do much better what you aren‘t able to do. It is okay not to like details, but value them and those who manage them well. Your struggles beg the need for a team. It is in your struggles that you depend more on God and others.
So, be honest with yourself about what you don’t do well. Accept the fact that even though you want to do something, you don’t need to if others can do it better. They can free you to do what you only can do. Release your areas of mediocre effectiveness, as this gives others opportunities for excellence. Laugh at yourself, for this frees you from the tension of unrealistic expectations, and allows you to enjoy life.
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
Take a spiritual gifts assessment with a few friends and share the results together.
August 22, 2017
LIVING IN THE PAST
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."
For many people, living in the past is their biggest challenge. They idealize days gone by and wish for something that was, believing that if they could just go back life would be better than today.
But God reminds us:
"Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
It is not wise because looking back in regret chokes the life out of your days, which are finite. Once each minute clicks past on the clock it is gone forever, never to be recovered. It’s not wise because it steals your joy. It’s not wise because it hinders your service to Christ. And it’s not wise because it’s not the truth. Every moment of every day is a mixture of good and bad, blessings and things that wound.
But what is true, is that God is working in the present. As some say, he is the God “I Am” not “I Was.” He is always moving forward in new work and blessing us in the moments we have right now.
One afternoon many years ago, I sat quietly in my favorite chair talking to the Lord. In my mind’s eye, I saw two fields, one was dried up and filled with broken sticks and scorched plants. Nothing was flourishing there and I was standing at the far end of it, holding broken sticks and dead plants in my hands. I was grieved that nothing was growing in the field, and I wished that there was still life in it.
I noticed that there was a flourishing field right next to the one where I stood and Jesus was there. He motioned for me to come to Him. Suddenly, I understood what I needed to do. I ran straight into His arms. He smiled at me lovingly and asked, “What took you so long?” Right then, I knew I had spent years looking over my shoulder in regret, wishing that today was yesterday. I had been believing that the former days were better than these.
In that moment, I understood His message to me. “You’ve been standing in that field from the past for way too long, trying to get life from it, grieving over what it was, holding dead sticks in your hands. But I’m not working in that field anymore. That’s long gone. I’m working here now. This field is your life today. In the present. This field is thriving!”
Are you looking back, believing that the former days were better than these? Are you standing in a field of regret, a field of loss, a field where life once was? Are you wishing God would resurrect something He was doing in your life before, but is now dead? Join Him in His new work. Join him in the present! That’s where He wants to bless you.
What are you waiting for?
"Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul." ( Psalm 143:8)
If you know there is something from the past that you need to release and trust the Lord with, talk with Him about it and tell Him you want to live fully in the present.
August 21, 2017
THE LION AND THE GAZELLE
1 Peter 5:8
"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
Herb Caen writes, in the San Francisco Chronicle, "every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
When we awaken each morning, we must realize that "the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
In Psalm 5
, we read that David came to God early in the morning and asked for his protection and help. We also need to pay attention to the vital importance of prayer.
By Bishop Ralph Cushman
I met God in the morning
When the day was at its best,
And His Presence came like sunrise,
Like a glory in my breast.
All day long the Presence lingered,
All day long He stayed with me,
And we sailed in perfect calmness
O'er a very troubled sea.
Other ships were blown and battered,
Other ships were sore distressed,
But the winds that seemed to drive them,
Brought to me a peace and rest.
Then I thought of other mornings,
With a keen remorse of mind,
When I too had loosed the moorings,
With the presence left behind.
So, I think I know the secret,
Learned from many a troubled way:
You must seek Him in the morning
If you want Him through the day!
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher
August 20, 2017
"Or if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil—in any matter one might carelessly swear about—even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it, he will be guilty."
Be careful with your commitments. Kept commitments give you credibility, but without credibility, you are a mere shell of sincerity. Unfulfilled commitments come from complex living, but simplicity facilitates follow through. Simple living creates margin, which helps you to fulfill commitments. With margin in your life, you can calculate your commitments prayerfully and practically. Does the Lord want me to be part of this initiative, organization, or relationship?
A pause to pray protects you from over-committing. Commitments need to be entered into prayerfully and practically. Does this commitment align with your purpose, calendar, and budget? If it crowds out a priority on your calendar or blows up the budget, it is not necessary. Don’t become overly influenced by the capacity of others. They may be overcommitted as well or their season of life may offer them additional margin for added opportunities.
Forgotten commitments cause us the most frustration. Forgetfulness may be a reason, but it is not an excuse. These commitments may be the worst kind because if you don’t even know you have let someone down, there is no opportunity for restitution. Foolish is a man or woman who continues to commit with a debt of unexecuted obligations mounting up on their credit card of commitment. Therefore, stop the crazy cycle of commitments before your word becomes bankrupt. Go to those who are still waiting in confused silence, and ask them for more time or ask them to let you out of the commitment. Ignoring them is not an option.
Above all else, make sure you keep your commitments to Christ. He does not take commitments cavalierly. A commitment to Christ is bound by heaven, so it is never to be entered into carelessly. All other commitments flow out of your submission to your Savior. Your ”yes” to Jesus is not sentimental, but sincere and even sacrificial. His Spirit leads your conscience to commit. It may be a big thing like salvation, for at conversion you committed to believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, but your commitment to Christ goes way beyond conversion, to our growth and maturity.
As followers of Jesus, you commit to follow Him in trust and obedience. You stay true to this commitment to follow Him even when it is not convenient, or when it may cost you something. You commit to church because it is the Bride of Christ. We commit where Christ commits. Are you engaged in His best or have your commitments become a snare to Kingdom productivity? Do not commit to any more than you have in time, money, and character. Make Christ-centered commitments your filter of choice.
The Bible says,
"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." (1 Peter 4:19)
What commitment do you need to follow through with even though your heart is not engaged in the project, person or organization?
August 19, 2017
PROPITIATION AND EXPIATION
“...they are justified by grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith."
Please do not run away from these two big words. I will make them so simple for you that you will understand them better than many professional Bible translators did. Stay with me. They are important words to understand in our salvation experience.
First, the Greek word to be discussed is used only twice (1 John 2:2 and Romans 3:25) in the New Testament. So you will not have to look over many passages to learn what it means. It is sometimes translated as “propitiation” and sometimes as “expiation”.
Propitiation means that Jesus, because He is the infinite God, caused His death on the cross to pay the penalty for all the sins of every person who will ever live in the world. Wait! Does that mean that every person is going to heaven? No, because to get to heaven each person must receive Jesus’ death as the just and righteous payment for his own sin, or else what Jesus did for him personally will not apply. Let me illustrate: it is as if a very wealthy man wrapped a million dollars in a package for every person who ever lived, put each name on the gift, and placed it under the Christmas tree. But some people just didn’t bother to pick up the gift marked with his name. It was meant for him, but it did him no good, because he didn’t take it.
Expiation has a slight but significantly different meaning. Expiation means that the gift of the death of Jesus actually did what God intended; that is wipe out, or “expunge,” all the sins of every person who does believe on Jesus as his Savior, who receives the gift of God’s graceful salvation. But Jesus’ death did not expunge the sins of those who don’t receive the gift, even though His death was sufficient to do so.
Now, we are going to look at the two most important places in the Bible where these two words are used. They are 1 John 2:2, and Romans 3:25. Here is why people get confused, because many of our English translations use the same English word for both the Greek words we’re looking at.
King James Version
The old well-loved King James Version for instance translates both words as “propitiation.”
(1 John 2:2) "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
(Romans 3:25) "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;"
The Revised Standard Version
The RSV has been used authoritatively for decades, translates both words as “expiation
(1 John 2:2) “…and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
(Romans 3:25) "…whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins;"
American Standard Version
Even the old American Standard Version of 1901, which I trust as the most accurate translation into English, uses “propitiation
” in both places
(1 John 2:2) "…and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world."
(Romans 3:25) "…whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God;"
New International Version
The NIV translates both words as “sacrifice of atonement,” which does not help us distinguish the meanings of the two Greek words. It translates them as “atoning sacrifice” to evade, I think, the problem;
(1 John 2:2) "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."
(Romans 3:25) "God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—"
The original Greek/Hebrew forces us to make a distinction between the meanings of the two words, because it says of Jesus,
“He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:2 ESV)
If the translators used “expiation
” here, that would mean John said everyone in the world would go to heaven because His sacrifice was sufficient for that purpose. But, rather, John said Jesus’ saving work on the cross is available for all, the “propitiation
” for the sins of the world. Now look carefully at what Paul says in Romans RSV about the matter:
“...they are justified by grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith." (Romans 3:24-25 RSV)
The important thing Paul says is that Christ’s death is not only a propitiation, but also an expiation of people’s sins, when it is “received by faith.” Yes, Jesus paid it all, and for all, but only those of us who receive Him as Lord and Savior, by faith, will have God's wonderful gift. And that is the bottom line of it all—repent, and receive Jesus Christ by faith!
God made salvation available (propitiation
) to all, but it must be accepted in faith (expiation
) by each individual.
Dr. Thomas R. Teply
August 18, 2017
ANXIOUS? STRESSED? SOAK IN SCRIPTURE!
"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
As a Christian, I would love to walk around enveloped in a big cloud of peace—no anxiety, no stress! But I don’t. Instead, I have to seek peace by peeling away at what’s troubling me, talk to God about my fears, and change my inner messages and beliefs. How about you?
Whether our need for peace is due to global and national turmoil, a dysfunctional relationship, or other circumstances, life regularly presents anxiety-inducing situations.
God knows this. Jesus addressed it. And so did the writers of Scripture because they were human beings who faced tough stuff, just as we do. One of the Bible writers I soak in when I recognize I’m anxious, tense, and upset is David the Psalmist. He has so much to teach me and all of us. Here are eight faith-based affirmations from David’s heart that re-orient my thinking and calm my emotions—but only if they become words from my heart that I act on:
"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation" (Psalm 42:5)
"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)
"You have said, 'Seek my face.' My heart says to you, 'Your face, LORD, do I seek.'" (Psalm 27:8)
"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!" (Psalm 27:13)
"The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him."(Psalm 28:7)
"Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths." (Psalm 25:4)
"I love you, O LORD, my strength." (Psalm 18:1)
"So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy." (Psalm 63:4-7)
To go from anxiety and stress to calm and confidence in God:
SOAK in Scripture. Slowly re-read these or other words and phrases three or four times.
SEARCH for deeper insight. Ask: Lord, how does this relate to me? Take time to question your heart in light of the Scripture you’re reading. Is it having God’s intended impact on your thinking and emotions—right now, in the situation that is troubling you?
SEEK out the application. David constantly takes himself by the scruff of the neck and says, “Apply what you know!” Notice in the phrases above how often he turns in faith to God. What phrases can you use to affirm your confidence in God today? Increase the power of these words by looking up other translations and soaking in them. Then put them into practice!
Read Scripture in this way and it won’t be dry, irrelevant words with no application to your struggles. Instead
- Your heart will be calmed by soaking in the wonder of God’s unconditional love.
- Your mind will be calmed by soaking in the truth God is in control and working for your good.
- Your soul will be calmed by soaking in the assurance that God will never leave you to face life alone.
August 17, 2017
WHY ARE WE AFRAID?
2 Timothy 1:12
"which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me."
Truth can bear the light of the sun, but the false flees before the candle's glimmer.
The best way for truth to be gained in a court of law is for each party to present the best case it can. In this way, both the false and the true are tested to the limit and the truth is established. But in order for this to work, it is imperative that both sides actually seek the truth, rather than the privilege of merely being right.
We Christians are being watched by the world: our goals are being carefully weighed. Do we truly seek the truth of God's will - or are we more concerned with proving ourselves right?
Probably one of the most difficult things to do is to stand quietly and with assurance when our belief is being tested or challenged; to be willing to lay our decision on the line for others to view and examine, test and see; to permit God's will to be the one goal, whether it be to our individual defeat or victory in the particular case.
There is nothing more reassuring than the man who is not afraid to be questioned or challenged - but who, because he has faith in that which he believes, instead of turning from the challenge, welcomes it as a test of truth.
Daily Family Devotions
August 16, 2017
SPIRIT CONTROLLED THINKING
"For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace."
Sinful impulses masquerade as a friend inviting you to a fun filled mind dance, but your time together turns out to be an ugly fiasco of guilt and shame. Your thinking can be easily deceived by the devil’s seductive dance. On the opposite end of the scale, surrender to the Holy Spirit’s mental control, He will deliver you from the mind games of ungodly influences. The Spirit’s entourage includes life and peace, who escort you to an engaging experience of God’s moves.
The Apostle Paul describes a very real tension between being controlled by sin or being controlled by the Spirit. His own life was an honest case study for wanting to live for Christ, but capitulating to desire; a daily battle that still relentlessly rages on for contemporary Christians. Spirit controlled thinking leads to mental freedom, while sinful thoughts trap us in torment. So how do we conquer the battle between our ears? What is God’s solution for fallen creatures?
"I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." (Romans 7:25)
Similar to the way I trust a bank to control my money, so I deposit my mind’s shares with the Spirit for safe keeping. By faith I capture my thoughts and turn them over to Christ for Him to steward, as He does best. Satan cannot snatch what I hide away with my Savior, but my mind is vulnerable to lies and deception when I allow thoughts to stray away unattended by the Spirit. Lazy thinking leads to stinking thinking, which can culminate in detrimental behavior. But mental cleansing comes from Scripture, adoring the Lord of creation and engaged community.
A mental cleansing comes when my soul ingests truth. Like an anticipated bite of a savory dish, we luxuriate in the moment when meditating on God’s Word, while the juices of Jesus’ love satisfies our soul’s deepest longings. Truth turned over and over in our mind grows us more like Christ. Worship of our Creator while exploring His creation expands our mental capacity to receive practical knowledge of the Holy. In addition, thoughts pregnant with truth give birth to healthy relationships. An engaged community is able to hear each other’s heart and learn from shared experiences. Intimacy with friends frees us from selfish self-talk and gives us accountability to change. When we surrender to Spirit controlled thinking we experience true life and peace.
"For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Galatians 6:8)
What false self-talk do you need to replace with talk about your true self?
August 15, 2017
UNDER HIS WINGS
"He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler."
When I think of protection, I don’t automatically think of a bird’s feathers. Though a bird’s feathers might seem like a flimsy form of protection, there is more to them than meets the eye.
Bird feathers are an amazing example of God’s design. Feathers have a smooth part and a fluffy part. The smooth part of the feather has stiff barbs with tiny hooks that lock together like the prongs of a zipper. The fluffy part keeps a bird warm. Together both parts of the feather protect the bird from wind and rain. But many baby birds are covered in a fluffy down and their feathers haven’t fully developed. So a mother bird has to cover them in the nest with her own feathers to protect them from wind and rain.
The image of God “[covering] us with his feathers” in Psalm 91:4 and in other Bible passages is one of comfort and protection:
"Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings," (Psalm 17:8)
The image that comes to mind is a mother bird covering her little ones with her feathers. Like a parent whose arms are a safe place to retreat from a scary storm or a hurt, God’s comforting presence provides safety and protection from life’s emotional storms.
Though we go through trouble and heartache, we can face them without fear as long as our faces are turned toward God. He is our “refuge”:
"I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust." (Psalm 91:2)
Our Daily Bread
August 14, 2017
SILENCE IS THE LANGUAGE OF GOD
"For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not."
"And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him."
I just returned from a three-day prayer retreat at Mepkin Abbey in Charleston, South Carolina. How can I begin to give my experience an adequate description? Simply, I encountered the love of my heavenly Father in a tender, meaningful and refreshing way. Each day, I learned with a group of 12 new friends the principles and prayer practices from a seasoned monk, Brother Guerric. One morning our assignment was to prayer walk the breath taking campus of 200-year-old live oak trees, magnolias and fantastic foliage teeming with life from God’s creative design.
I reflected on the deep rooted massive trees, moss draped over gnarly limbs extending as long horizontally as vertically—I pondered these images, as my soul silently listened for a Holy Spirit nudge. “Boyd, my desire is for you to finish well like My live oaks! Stay alive with a deep root system in My word, refresh others by the cool shade from the limbs of your life, extend compassion to your community like the weeping moss adorning My trees, and grow upward and outward for Christ by becoming fluent in silence which is My first language of prayer.” God.
"But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." (Psalm 1:2-3)
Isaiah described the Sovereign Lord’s heart for His people to enjoy their salvation through repentance, rest, quietness, and trust—these attributes were the fuel for their strength. Though they initially resisted, the Lord remained compassionate to remind them of His justice, if they would wait for Him—He would fulfill His promises to His people. Blessings come when we wait on God’s best—when burdens beset us we don’t panic and act like we are alone, but quietly trust.
How is your fluency in the language of silence? Are you able to comprehend what Christ says to your heart through Holy Spirit inspired Scripture and by His creation waiting to instruct you in His ways? Be still and know He is God. Be still and know He is. Be still and know Him. Be still and know. Be still. Be. Just like any new language, skilled linguists take time to learn and in time are conversationally fluent. So stay immersed in the process. Your heavenly Father is patient to work with you where you are—also learn from sages who speak silence fluently. God’s language is not to be taken lightly, silence your heart and you will grow into a disciple who finishes well!
"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)
Reflect on God’s creation, observe His handiwork in a leaf, tree, sunrise, sunset, bird or blue sky.
August 13, 2017
"When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, 'Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'"
We become impatient when things don’t go our way or when uncertainty looms over our life like a dark cloud. We become impatient when time seems to be running out or when people don’t act as we think they should. We even become impatient waiting on God. We all wrestle with impatience from time to time. Hopefully, you are not chronically impatient. If so, there is a good chance you are discontented and even miserable. Impatience can be good if your house is on fire, but in the normal course of life, it is not the best choice.
Impatience can cause you to do things that are totally uncharacteristic of your normal behavior. You are prone to deviance if others prod you on, for impatience does not like to be alone. Its emotions are fueled by the discontent of a group. Somehow, the voice of reason suffocates in a crowded room full of discontent. Its words become garbled by intense grumbling. Even level heads become unbalanced when intoxicated by impatience.
The timing of impatience can be uncanny. God could have just provided a beautiful blessing such as childbirth, when suddenly we become impatient with meeting the needs of the totally dependent baby. We forget the joy of birth, revel in the burden of bringing up a child and complain about the inconvenience of infants. We become impatient with their cries that started out as precious. But helping anything grow takes time and a tremendous amount of patience. We can’t shirk our responsibilities as parents, wives, husbands, or friends.
Instead, be disciplined and patient to build. You can build healthy, good things before they become broken, bad things. Build your life, your business, and your family. And whatever else is worth building, build it to last. What you do while you wait determines whether you are patient or impatient.
Use this time of waiting to ratchet up your service to others. Service to others on behalf of Christ keeps you from being impatient around your own expectations. It diverts idle minds from believing Satan’s lies; you avoid playing foolish mind games when you are engaged in unselfish acts of service. Secondly, seek the Lord in worship and thanksgiving, as they facilitate patience and contentment. You can’t contemplate the goodness and greatness of your heavenly Father and not be touched with patience. Worship feeds trust, and trust is the parent of patience. The appetite you feed becomes who you are. Worship recalibrates your reasoning to reflect on the character of Christ.
Lastly, pray for those who have not met your expectations. They may be spiritual leaders who seem to be ignoring you. It may be a spouse who is in a season of self-absorption. Your boss may be demanding and unreasonable, your children uncommunicative and uncooperative. You can battle impatience with Christ’s unlimited patience.
The Bible teaches,
"But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:16)
In what situation do you need to take a deep breath and not get out of breath with worry?
August 12, 2017
WHAT KEEPS US FROM SINNING?
"Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.'"
Sin has a feared enemy: the fear of God. The fear of God is not the only a remedy for sin, but it is a potent vaccine. Sin and the fear of God cannot coexist for long. The fear of God extinguishes sin’s combustible character. The fear of God repels sin and keeps it at bay. This is why the devil attempts to devalue the fear of God. He knows if we do not take seriously the fear factor of our heavenly Father, then we are exposed to sin’s influence. Without the fear of God, we are set up for serious sin problems. Cultures crumble without a moral fabric, flush with the fear of God. Families fall into severe dysfunction when the fear of God is not lived out or understood. Individual lives lose their meaning and purpose when the fear of God is placed on the shelf.
God’s remedy for sin is fear of Him.
The fear of God is a force to be reckoned with by all who come in contact with their Creator. We can dismiss it as an old-fashioned doctrine (though it has been around since Adam and Eve), or we can embrace it as necessary for successful living. When we fear God, we find God. When we fear God, we love God and He loves us. When we fear God, we understand that some things are off limits and we avoid them. When we fear God, we trust God. When we fear God, we run toward God in worship and away from sin in disgust. The fear of God is our friend, and it enhances our friendship with our heavenly Father.
"He [Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh] is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her." (Genesis 39:9-10)
Therefore, take the commands of God seriously. The Ten Commandments are rules for how to express our fear of God. An adulterer sins because somewhere along the way, the fear of God did not matter to him anymore. The idols of materialism can consume us when we forget to fear God and instead, worship at the altar of financial gain. The fear of God encourages children to honor their parents, and it positions parents to lovingly raise their children. The fear of God is our fortress against the devil’s onslaught. We are motivated to put on the full armor of God, knowing we are no match in our own strength to defeat the devil. The fear of God is not a mindless and cold obedience. On the contrary, it is thoughtful, prayerful, and full of joy. It sees the opportunity to obey God as an honor.
The trials and tribulations you may be facing are not meant to create an unhealthy fear that cringes before Christ, but rather a healthy fear that trusts Him in spite of this test of your faith. Do not allow the sorrow of loss or the success of gain to keep you from fearing God. When you focus on our heavenly Father in worship and prayer, you can’t help but fear Him. His character invites the fear of His followers. Fear Him, and you will be set free from sin and self. Ego exits when confronted by godly fear. Pride is not present with the fear of God. Listen to the Lord, and you will fear Him by faith. The secret to a life less sinful is to fear God. Invite Almighty God to inoculate you from sin with the vaccine of His fear. The fear of God is not a friend of sin.
"The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate." (Proverbs 8:13)
Do you worship and fear God, keep your heart in holy awe, and grow your capacity to receive His great love? What sin are you flirting with that you need to apply a dose of God’s fear to and flee from?
August 11, 2017
LOVE FOR CHILDREN
"but Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'"
Thomas Barnado entered the London Hospital medical school in 1865, dreaming of life as a medical missionary in China. Barnado soon discovered a desperate need in his own front yard—the many homeless children living and dying on the streets of London. Barnado determined to do something about this horrendous situation. Developing homes for destitute children in London’s east end, Barnado rescued some 60,000 boys and girls from poverty and possible early death. Theologian and pastor John Stott said, “Today we might call him the patron saint of street kids.”
"but Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'"
Imagine the surprise the crowds—and Jesus’s own disciples—must have felt at this declaration. In the ancient world, children had little value and were largely relegated to the margins of life. Yet Jesus welcomed, blessed, and valued children.
James, a New Testament writer, challenged Christ-followers saying,
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27)
Today, like those first-century orphans, children of every social strata, ethnicity, and family environment are at risk due to neglect, human trafficking, abuse, drugs, and more. How can we honor the Father who loves us by showing His care for these little ones Jesus welcomes?
Our Daily Bread
August 10, 2017
REST FOR WEARY SOULS
"He put another parable before them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.'"
Jesus talks a great deal about the Kingdom of Heaven. For him, this has less to do with our traditional thoughts of “going off to heaven” and much more to do with the in-breaking of God’s rule and reign in the present. It is the longed for age of justice and righteousness which we will one day see and experience perfectly, and are given a taste of in our own day. This is a massive concept that is not easily grasped or understood, and for this reason, Jesus tells us stories to help us enter into this great mystery.
Parables take the familiar, everyday “stuff” of life- food, work, gardening, fishing- and use these things to move the hearer from a place of certainty into a place of wonder and mystery. They feel at the same time both deeply familiar and yet notably foreign. They challenge us and shake us out of our comfort. Their message is not always clear, causing us to search and seek out their hidden meaning. They are, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “hints followed by guesses.”
When Jesus speaks of a mustard seed, growing from a tiny seed into a tree that gives rest to the birds of the air, his original audience would have immediately heard in these words a deeply seated and well-known Jewish image from the Old Testament. Throughout the Bible, trees are closely linked to God’s rule and reign, growing “great and strong” and “visible to the ends of the whole earth”.
"The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth." (Daniel 4:11)
Likewise, birds of the air are often linked to God’s oppressed people who are in search of home, a place of rest. The promise of God is that under his reign there is peace, justice, and rest. There is shelter and shade for those who are vulnerable and searching for a home.
"On the mountain height of Israel will I [God] plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest." (Ezekiel 17:23)
This parable reminds us that our hope is in a kingdom coming, a day when the goodness of God will cover the earth and invite everyone who is tired and weary to come and find their true home. Let us long for that kingdom, and give thanks for the countless ways the LORD gives us his rest, love, and care in our own day.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
Though it may be as small as a mustard seed, where do you see God’s kingdom breaking into your life?
HEAVEN IN HIS EYES
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
When I was a boy, the thought of going to heaven sounded boring. As a young lad, I thought that there is so much more here that I wanted to experience. Places to go. Thrills to embrace. The thought of sitting around for all eternity strumming a harp didn't appeal to me.
I had a very immature perspective of heaven back then. But in the last few years I've closed some of my letters and emails in a unique way:
God is good.
Life is a challenge.
Heaven looks better and better all of the time.
As I've read the Scriptures, I've realized that heaven looks much better than anything the world offers. I think life is one long process of God weaning us from this world and its pleasures and showing us that what we yearn for isn't here.
Do you long for heaven? On those days when you desire heaven the most, is it because you're exhausted, so you long for heaven's rest? Is it because you're drained by the burden of carrying life's troubles and you long to be free? Is it because you've lost your sense of happiness and you long for a place of lasting peace and joy?
I don't think it's wrong to ache for a place of real sanctuary, a home in heaven where every tear will be wiped away, where:
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
But the true joy of heaven is not just pain relief. The true joy will be found in seeing our living Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, face to face. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked, "To stand in the very presence of God, to gaze and gaze on Thee... Is that heaven to us? Is that the thing we want above everything else?"
When you long for heaven, long for Him. How deeply do you yearn for heaven? If not, what do you long for? What keeps it from being what you desire?
August 8, 2017
LIVE LIKE SOMEONE LEFT THE GATE OPEN
"He said, 'Come.' So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus."
There are times when you need to build a gate to keep something out, and there are times you need to build one to keep something in. The latter was the story at our house a couple years ago. You see, our beloved dog, Dixie, who passed away last fall, loved to play. What else would you expect from a Border Collie? One summer, she left the confines of our yard several times (few homes have fences in our neighborhood), and came back with a tennis ball, probably belonging to some poor dog deprived of fetch because she stole his fun.
One morning after disappearing for several minutes, she came back with a whole bagel in her mouth which was hard as a rock. She dropped it at my feet as if to say, “C’mon, play with me.” So, five tennis balls and a bagel later, we decided a gate on our deck would keep her from leaving the confines of our yard. After that, she spent her afternoons sunning herself near the sliding glass door.
Shortly after Dixie’s “bagel day” my husband sent me a photo he found on Facebook of a happy-faced, small white dog running full force ahead, ears flopping, teeth showing in delightful doggie glee. The caption on the photo said, “Live like someone left the gate open.” I was immediately reminded of Dixie. For sure, our beloved dog wasn’t afraid to live like someone left the gate open. Not only when it literally was open and she could run all over the neighborhood finding balls and bagels—but every day. Dixie lived curiously and energetically and she was always up for an adventure.
Just after I thought of Dixie, I thought of my life with God. There have been seasons when I have lived like Dixie, full of curiosity and courage to move beyond the comfortable. Other times, I have lacked the faith that would take me to the edge for God.
"for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7)
I once listened to a message by Francis Chan in which he said that when we are children, we often believe God is so big, so amazing, and so powerful, that He can do anything. So, we are willing to risk for Him. We are willing—and even excited—to live like “someone left the gate open.” But then as we age, maybe we experience a few failures and get discouraged. Or, we listen to others who tell us to be more realistic or more responsible. So, courage takes a backseat to comfort, and faith is shoved aside. Oh, how good it would be to remember that God rewards courage because courage always translates into faith!
What’s stopping you from taking risks for Christ? What’s keeping you from living like someone left the gate open? And what can you do about it today?
"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." ( Hebrews 11:6 )
Is there something that you have always dreamed of doing for God but your dream has been “shelved” because of fear or some other reason? Talk with the Lord about how you might begin, once again, to live like someone left the gate open.
August 6-7, 2017
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:"
God’s timing can be frustrating, but it eventually leads to freedom. Perhaps you strongly desire something or someone. It is right at your fingertips but you can’t have it now and that frustrates you. The timing is not right, for whatever reason. It may not be right for you and/or it may not be right for the other person. However, you can allow this frustration to lead you to freedom.
God may be protecting you from failure because you are not ready for the grueling responsibility that lies ahead. There are still valuable lessons to learn where you are. It’s like your last semester of school. You are way past ready for graduation, but there are still final exams to study for and pass. You need to do your best where you are before moving on to God’s next assignment.
"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was" (John 11:5-6)
Timing is everything. Your son really needs you right now during this challenging stage of his life. The insecurities of his teenage years are eating him alive. He needs extra attention and time from you to navigate through this uncertainty. This is a season, a season that will not be repeated. Your career can wait; children can’t. Yes, children are resilient and may not even say anything during difficult times, but you can rest assured that they will never forget that you were there for them. The security and confidence you sow into your children will stay with them for a lifetime. Your absence will stick with them as well. Fearful and insecure adults were once fearful and insecure children. So, allow this season of life to build bridges rather than barriers between you and your children. It is just for a moment in time. In the blink of an eye, they will be gone.
Learn to celebrate various seasons of life. Do not resist them; embrace them. Join the wonder of their realities. The marriage of your adult child is imminent, so celebrate the occasion. Do not let the stress of the details and the outlay of cash rob you of the joy connected to this momentous occasion. You can rest in the fact that He has brought these two together. This is what you have prayed for concerning your child. You have prayed for a marriage into a God-fearing and Christ-honoring family. You have prepared them the best way you know how.
Ultimately it is in God’s hands. As the father and the mother of the bride or groom, learn how to let go and allow them to become one flesh. Your relationship will look different going forward. This is a new stage of life. So, do not try to control them. Let go of them and leave them in God’s hands. Your ability to adapt and adjust to new seasons of life has a direct correlation to your joy and happiness. God’s timing can be a surprise. It is rarely early and never late.
"And Jesus said to her, 'Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.'" (John 2:4)
How do you need to adjust your lifestyle or schedule based on your current season of life?
August 5, 2017
"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation."
Total trust in God is available to every blood-bought follower of Jesus Christ. It means you give up total control, and the Lord’s assurance replaces your fear with peace. You cannot figure it all out but you do have the capacity to trust Him totally. It is a trust issue, and if He is who He claims to be, He can be trusted. If you can trust Him with the eternal salvation of your soul, you can trust Him with the temporal control of your life. If you can trust Him with the big things, you can trust Him with the small things.
If He led you to the right spouse, He will give you the opportunities to provide. If He led you to a new career, He will give you the wisdom, finances, and relationships to be successful. If He led you to be a missionary, He will build bridges across the cultural barriers that allow you to engage with the people. If He led you to have children, He will provide for the needed resources to be successful parents.
Wherever God leads He provides. What God initiates, He completes. His part is provision and your part is trust. Don’t fall into the trap of trusting Him with some things and not trusting Him with others. Distrust in God is distasteful and an insult to His integrity. How can God not be big enough to handle any situation? Health, war, teenagers, money, conflict, prosperity, relationships, and people can all be placed into His hands. God can be trusted because He is trustworthy.
The well of His salvation is infinitely deep. You have limited capacity to bear burdens. However, His character and resources are unlimited. Without the support of a sympathetic Jesus, you will be immobilized, even crushed under the weight of worry. Jesus understands, and He is offended if you do not yoke up with His support.
There is no need to root around and search for answers when He already has it figured out. There is no need to sacrifice your health in worry and overwork when He offers peace and options you have yet to discover. There is no need to rush through life and then ask Him to bless your efforts after the fact. He can be trusted to lead you even before you put a prayerful plan into motion.
Trust in God does not mean you act irresponsibly and seek forgiveness later. Trust in God means you patiently walk with Him in your decisions and choices. Slow down, look up, trust Him, and watch Him reap extraordinary results. Partial trust leads to frustration and worry. Total trust in Jesus leads to contentment, joy and peace.
The Bible says,
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
What area of your life have you not totally released to total trust in God?
August 4, 2017
SEEDS OF HOPE
"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."
Sometimes the harvest comes late. Sometimes you sow seeds of hope without really knowing it. Sometimes the fruit of your life comes in a way and time you would never expect.
My daughter Melissa had accepted God’s gift of salvation at a young age. But she never saw herself as some great Christian who could change lives. She was just a high school junior trying to cope with a job, school, and sports while balancing friendships—just a kid trying to live as God would want her to.
Yet, in 2002 when He welcomed her into heaven when she was just 17, her faith in Christ and her faithful life stood on their own. No advance warning. No time to make things right with others. No new opportunities to “bear much fruit”
"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." (John 15:8)
Melissa tried to live in a way that was pleasing to God—and her life is still bearing fruit. Just recently, I heard of a young person who trusted Jesus as Savior at a sports camp after a coach shared Melissa’s story.
All of us are writing a story with our lives—one that affects others now and in the future. Are we living to please God? We don’t know when the Lord will call us Home. Let’s live every day with an eye on the harvest.
August 3, 2017
FROM FEAR TO FAITH
"GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places."
The doctor’s words landed in her heart with a thud. It was cancer. Her world stopped as she thought of her husband and children. They had prayed diligently, hoping for a different outcome. What would they do? With tears streaming down her face, she said softly, “God, this is beyond our control. Please be our strength.”
What do we do when the prognosis is devastating, when our circumstances are beyond our control? Where do we turn when the outlook seems hopeless? The prophet Habakkuk’s situation was out of his control, and the fear that he felt terrified him. The coming judgment would be catastrophic:
"I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Habakkuk. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,"(Habakkuk 3:16–17)
Yet, in the midst of the impending chaos, Habakkuk made a choice to live by his faith:
"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:4)
And rejoice in God:
"yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:18)
He did not place his confidence and faith in his circumstances, ability, or resources, but in the goodness and greatness of God. His trust in God compelled him to proclaim:
"GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places." (Habakkuk 3:19)
When we are faced with difficult circumstances—sickness, family crisis, financial trouble—we, too, have only to place our faith and trust in God. He is with us in everything we face.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1)
When faced with difficult circumstances we can trust God to be our strength.
Our Daily Bread
August 2, 2017
DON'T GO THERE
"Do not say, 'I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.'"
It’s tempting to retaliate for good reasons, but a righteous cause becomes unrighteous when it is pursued in pride. Perhaps you have been disrespected by a dramatic accusation. You have been insulted by an insensitive board member. You have been slurred by a deceptive competitor. You have been misunderstood by an uninformed friend. Payback is the plan of the insecure and immature, but prayer is the posture of the patient.
God gives grace to the undeserving. This is the model for Christians to follow. A grace reaction to humiliation is humility. Grace looks in the face of hurt and hatred and does not hold a grudge. Grace gives grace upon grace. How do you handle mistreatment? What if your daughter, son or spouse is wronged? Grace under fire becomes a glowing light for the Lord. You apply self-control when Christ controls your conscience.
"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." (Matthew 5:38-41)
What is the Lord to do when we step in and try to fulfill a role that is His prerogative? If we act like the Almighty’s vengeance is too slow, then we need to accelerate our faith. My biggest mistakes are made when I try to take God’s place. Sitting on His throne is never my place; it is there am I to crown Him and bow prostrate in awe and worship. This is when it is wise to take a step back, breathe a sigh of relief and trust Him.
Don’t go to the place of pay back and emotional accusations. Go instead to God for His grace and peace, to receive and to give.
"...Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth." (Revelation 1:4-5)
Are you fighting in the flesh or living by faith?
August 1, 2017
"As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
I received a wonderful email from a woman who wrote, “Your mom was my first-grade teacher at Putnam City in 1958. She was a great teacher and very kind, but strict! She made us learn the 23rd Psalm and say it in front of the class, and I was horrified. But it was the only contact I had with the Bible until 1997 when I became a Christian. And the memories of Mrs. McCasland came flooding back as I re-read it.”
Jesus told a large crowd a parable about the farmer who sowed his seed that fell on different types of ground—a hard path, rocky ground, clumps of thorns, and good soil:
"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: 'A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.'" (Matthew 13:1-9)
While some seeds never grew,
"As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." (Matthew 13:23)
During the twenty years my mother taught first grade in public schools, along with reading, writing, and arithmetic, she scattered seeds of kindness and the message of God’s love.
Her former student’s email concluded, “I have had other influences in my Christian walk later in life, of course. But my heart always returns to [Psalm 23] and [your mom's] gentle nature.”
A seed of God’s love sown today may produce a remarkable harvest. At different times in our life we may be the one who is planting the message of God’s truth and love, and at other times we are the one who is watering. What’s important is that it is God who makes the seed grow.
We sow the seed. God produces the harvest. As God’s worker, what seeds can you plant in someone’s life today?
David C. McCasland