October 31, 2017
A GOOD ENDING
"No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads."
As the lights dimmed and we prepared to watch the movie Apollo 13, my friend said under his breath, “Shame they all died.” I watched the movie about the 1970 spaceflight with apprehension, waiting for tragedy to strike, and only near the closing credits did I realize I’d been duped. I hadn’t known or remembered the end of the true story—that although the astronauts faced many hardships, they made it home alive.
In Christ, we can know the end of the story—that we too will make it home alive. By that I mean we will live forever with our heavenly Father, as we see in the book of Revelation. The Lord will create a “new heaven and a new earth” as He makes all things new:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more." (Revelation 21:1)
"And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'" (Revelation 21:5)
In the new city, the Lord God will welcome His people to live with Him, without fear and without the night. We have hope in knowing the end of the story.
What difference does this make? It can transform times of extreme difficulty, such as when people face the loss of a loved one or even their own death. Though we recoil at the thought of dying, yet we can embrace the joy of the promise of eternity. We long for the city where no longer will there be any curse, where we’ll live forever by God’s light:
"And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 22:5)
God promises His people a good end to the story.
Our Daily Bread
October 30, 2017
I KNOW MY MASTER
1 Corinthians 2:9
"But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him'—"
A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, "Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side."
Very quietly, the doctor said, "I don't know."
"You don't know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?"
The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side of which came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness. Turning to the patient, the doctor said, "Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing... I know my Master is there and that is enough."
Submitted by Jackie Musgrave
October 29, 2017
"it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught."
Simply put, due diligence is a process of gathering the facts. It is designed to validate assumptions and expose wrong thinking. Due diligence is necessary for wise decision-making. You go through due diligence when you buy a house. You explore comparable home prices in the neighborhood to affirm or deny the asking price of the house for sale. A home inspector is commonly hired to check out the nooks and crannies. He is an objective third party that looks for roof leaks, foundation damage, electrical hazards, safe plumbing, and overall sound structure of the home. His or her harvesting of information is vital to the final decision of the home purchaser.
In some ways, you apply due diligence to a prospective husband or wife. You observe his attitude toward his parents. You look for love and respect. The same can be said for their reverence of God. Are they submitted to Christ and in love with Him? First impressions may be positive, but more is required to be a wise decision-maker. Due diligence can take time, depending upon the complexity of the issue or the deal.
When hiring someone, you look at past career success and the opinions of references. A credit check reveals a lot about the responsible—or irresponsible—handling of money. Purchasing a business requires a lengthy process of poring over financial audits, researching market trends, interviewing employees and customers, and defining the criteria needed to value the enterprise. Due diligence is required in all levels of life to be a wise steward. So what has been the extent of your due diligence on God?
God deserves a thorough investigation, and your intellectual integrity requires a due diligence on God. Then you can have peace of mind knowing you objectively examined all the facts that relate to God. You may read books written by former atheists, such as C.S. Lewis, that document their struggles with truth and lies surrounding God. Their life experiences become a road map for your own search. More importantly however, is to read and research the Bible. Let the Scriptures stand alone. Do not depend on the conjecture and assumptions of others who may or may not be objective in their evaluation of Holy Scripture.
Read the Bible with an open mind and ask God to speak to your heart through His Word. Yes, use sound rules of interpretation such as context and cultural implications. It is necessary to understand the immediate audience for whom the Bible was intended, but consider Scripture’s timelessness. What applied yesterday, often applies today. The commands and principles of the Bible transcend civilizations and centuries.
In your due diligence of the Bible, explore the prophecies of the Old Testament. Consider the predictions that occurred hundreds of years before Christ and were fulfilled with mind-boggling accuracy. His place of birth, His method of death, and His provision of salvation are all embedded in the text.
Study closely the life of Christ; begin your due diligence in the book of John. Jesus claimed to be God and the only way to God. If that is true, his statement holds life-altering implications. Do not let the bias of another lead you down the path of least resistance. Your due diligence may very well lead you into a divine encounter. The Bible says,
"Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways,..." (Isaiah 58:2a)
What relationship or opportunity do you need to do more homework on before you commit time and resources?
October 28, 2017
A WARNING WHEN ALL SPEAK WELL OF YOU
"Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets."
When we choose to follow Jesus not everyone will speak well of us. This comes with the territory of commitment to Christ. It should not alarm us, since this is how Jesus was treated. The crowds praised Him for His authoritative teaching, but there always seemed to be a jealous group lurking about. His authentic life condemned their hypocrisy. His clear teaching made the teaching of the religious leaders look complex and controlling.
Not being well spoken of is part of the cup we must drink as a disciple of Christ. If we try to please everyone we run the risk of pleasing no one. People intimidated into pleasing people become anxious, fearful and exhausted. Pleasing all the people all the time is not possible—it is futile. You cannot do enough to satisfy some people.
"Jesus answered, 'You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?' They said to him, 'We are able.'" (Matthew 20:22)
Why are some people chronic complainers? Their insecurity craves attention, their pride demands attention and their pain requires attention. Their hurt has caused them to lose perspective and unfortunately, you may become the object of their frustration. But by God’s grace you can love them through this unsettling time. You know better.
You can give them what they have denied you. Your patience and forgiveness will go a long way in loving them to Jesus. It is your life that validates your words during times of duress. Do not be surprised when others do not speak well of you. They may not have a context to understand, because they may not have Christ.
What does matter is what God thinks about you. Fortunately, by faith, He accepts you in Christ. However, your ongoing maturity in the faith is a concern of His. He does expect you to trust Him more and fear man less. He desires for you a love relationship with Him that is intimate, interesting and instructive. His affection is your affirmation.
When the Lord affirms your place in life, you can rest assured. Do not waffle when the conflicting opinions of others urge you their way. Your stability is in God. He is your rock and refuge. His validation matters most, so rest in Him and do not react to the unrealistic expectations of others. Only you, led by the Holy Spirit, can define God’s expectations.
There is a good chance someone will not understand your faith walk and give you grief. Doing the right thing may cost you a relationship or financial remuneration. Your obedience to Christ may draw out the firestorm of criticism from some, or it may be their subtle rejection that stings. Either way, pray for and love them regardless of their unfounded words. God knows, that’s all that really matters. Listen for His well-spoken words instead!
"For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,'" (2 Peter 1:17)
Do you value the well-spoken words of Jesus more than man’s?
October 27, 2017
SURVIVING THE WILDERNESS
"For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened."
In the 1960s, the Kingston Trio released a song called “Desert Pete.” The ballad tells of a thirsty cowboy who is crossing the desert and finds a hand pump. Next to it, Desert Pete has left a note urging the reader not to drink the water in the jar left there but to use its contents to prime the pump.
The cowboy resists the temptation to drink and uses the water as the note instructs. In reward for his obedience, he receives an abundance of cold, satisfying water. Had he not acted in faith, he would have had only a jar of unsatisfying, warm water to drink.
Click here to listen to "Desert Pete".
This reminds me of Israel’s journey through the wilderness:
"All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, 'Give us water to drink.' And Moses said to them, 'Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?' But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, 'Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?' So Moses cried to the Lord, 'What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.' And the Lord said to Moses, 'Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go." (Exodus 17:1–5)
When their thirst became overwhelming Moses sought the Lord. He was told to strike the rock of Horeb with his staff. Moses believed and obeyed, and water gushed from the stone.
"Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.' And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?'" (Exodus 17:6-7)
Sometimes life can seem like an arid desert. But God can quench our spiritual thirst in the most unlikely circumstances. When by faith we believe the promises of God’s Word, we can experience rivers of living water and grace for our daily needs.
"For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened." (Hebrews 4:2)
What does your heart thirst after? Only Jesus, the Living Water, can satisfy your thirst for God.
Our Daily Bread
October 26, 2017
"Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.' But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD."
The story of Jonah begins with the Lord drawing near to Jonah in an intimate and personal way. He brings an invitation for Jonah to join him in his mission to bless the whole of creation, and yet this message is so radical and intimating to Jonah that he isn’t able to receive it. We could say that Jonah had checked out of the normal, ordinary rhythms of God’s grace that help to make us ready to receive the Lord when he draws near. How do we know this? Because the Lord has to tell him to “get up.”
Why do people have to be told to get up? Because they aren’t moving. They’re asleep and checked out, disengaged from the work at hand. And, like Jonah, when we disengage from the ordinary daily practices of faithful devotion to God – things like Bible reading, prayer, silence, and solitude – then we are caught off guard when the extraordinary moments of life come our way.
These extraordinary moments could be a word from the Lord like Jonah received. Go here. Do this. Join me in this mission. But there are other kinds of extraordinary moments in life that hit us and we never see them coming. Extraordinary pain and loss that we would never long for or hope for: cancer, infidelity, miscarriage. The list could go on and on. These are the losses and sorrows in life that you can count on one hand that forever shape and reshape your story.
In these extraordinary moments God so deeply wants to draw near and be close to you, but if you are sitting down and asleep in your faith, when you need him the most, he will draw near and you will push him away. You will be so unprepared and caught off guard that you will flee from the very one that can give you rest. This is one of the great insights from Jonah’s story. When he was meant to be walking with the Lord, he was instead sitting down, unprepared for the intimacy of God’s presence.
Each and every one of us needs and rightly desires the nearness of God in our lives, in good times and in bad. And we long to be the kind of people who can join him on mission, people that he can invite to partner with him in making all things new. So don’t neglect the ordinary rhythms of life. It is in the ordinary and seemingly mundane moments of life that you and I are shaped and formed into people who can receive the extraordinary.
In what areas of your life do you need to “get up” and reengage the daily habits and disciplines of Christian living?
October 25, 2017
THE BEST DECISION
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind."
How do we make the best decision? We ask God. We ask the One who has all knowledge and who has our best interests in mind. Our loving heavenly Father does not want us to lack anything necessary for His will for our life. Because He loves us so much, He gives us so much! The nature of our loving Father is He cannot not be generous when His child asks Him for good gifts. Our best decisions come when we first seek the heart of Jesus and find out from Him what is best.
James writes from a Jewish worldview which keenly understands the contrast between God’s wisdom and man’s folly. Wisdom from God is not just an intellectual exercise to procure all the facts and analyze the probable outcomes. The wisdom of God is based on the fear of God. With bowed head in a holy hush our spirit communes with the Holy Spirit to hear what to do and how to carry out God’s will. Not self-reliant cleverness, but desperate dependency on Christ. We lack wisdom, because we are not all wise and our perspective is imperfect, so we trust our perfect Savior to give us what we need. When we humbly ask, believing, Jesus gives with no regrets!
"And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual." (1 Corinthians 2:13)
What uncertain decision faces you? Stay or go? Help or don’t help? Move or don’t move? Date or don’t date? Marry or don’t marry? Invest or don’t invest? One thing is for certain, Christ wants what’s best for you, so rest in Him. Make sure to settle your emotions, so you are not reacting out of anger or seduced by success. Your past decision-making process may be lacking for your current, more complex situation. Questions are a good guide to wisdom. What is God’s heart? His timing? What is best for everyone? What is my motive? What am I learning? Am I prepared?
Most of all, lean into the Lord for understanding, insight and discernment. Look for Him to speak through your spouse, your financial limitations, objective advisers, your capacity and above all, God’s Word and the leadership, teaching and peaceful comfort of the Holy Spirit. Your best decisions are birthed when conceived by Christ’s wisdom, so stay intimate with Him. Your lavish love relationship with your Lord will procreate a community of wise decision-making. Man’s wisdom will question and criticize, but remain confident in Christ, He directs your course.
"And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption," (1 Corinthians 1:30)
What decision are you facing where you need to slow down and seek your Savior’s heart?
October 24, 2017
A SATISFIED LIFE
"As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness."
Satisfaction and contentment are two of the hardest virtues for us to cultivate in our contemporary culture. For most of us, from the moment we open our eyes each morning, we enter into a battle for peace, struggling to hold fast to the goodness and love of God. We find ourselves spending hours each day allowing relationships, media, and social media feeds to define our sense of identity, our expectation of affluence, and vision of what is important and worthy of our attention and affection. This cycle of desire and discontent can become if we aren’t careful, the constant posture of our lives.
Into this chaos, the LORD speaks peace over us and over his creation. He extends an offer of freedom, inviting us to reframe our understanding of self and the world in light of the self-giving love shown in Jesus. And in his written Word, we are reminded that our satisfaction is directly linked to our ability to intimately abide with him.
How would you define the first emotions of your day? Family brokenness may quickly rush you into a place of anxiety. Perhaps it’s simple exhaustion from a struggle to sleep through the night. You may find yourself in an abusive and toxic work environment, and so most mornings bring with them a sense of fear or even anger towards coworkers or your boss. Is it possible to join our hearts and lives with the psalmist when they say, “when I awake I shall be satisfied?”
Our ability to enjoy a satisfied life is directly linked to our willingness to behold the LORD in his beauty and faithfulness, allowing this likeness to be restored and remade within us. We are constantly tempted to allow all sorts of sub-identities to become our primary identities. When we view ourselves primarily as an employee, our satisfaction or discontent is therefore dependent upon how well our job is going. The same is true of countless other identities that we take on: parent, child, athlete, collector, enthusiast. The list could go on and on. These identities contribute to who we are, yet they are all secondary to the primary identity that you and I bear: daughter or son of God.
As beloved children, we are set free to find our satisfaction in the goodness of God and the work of his Spirit within us, growing us day by day into people who reflect that image in every area of life. As we do this, our joy, contentment, and satisfaction is no longer dependent upon our circumstances but instead transforms them, speaking peace and hope over even the darkest parts of our hearts and lives.
How can you build a habit of healthy sleep, prayer, study, and reflection to help you awake each day in a place of satisfaction and peace?
October 23, 2017
EAGLES IN THE STORM
"but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."
Did you know that an eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it breaks? The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages, below the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds that bring the storm.
When the storms of life come upon us ... and all of us will experience them... we can rise above them by setting our minds and hearts on God.
The storms do not have to overcome us. We can allow God's power to lift us above them. God enables us to ride the winds of the storm that bring sickness, tragedy, failure, and disappointment into our lives. We can soar above the storm. Remember, it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down, it is how we handle them. The Bible says,
"...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles;..." (Isaiah 40:31)
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
October 22, 2017
"Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness."
Moral authority gives leaders the creditability to lead the most effectively. Presidents, judges, congressmen, governors, mayors, businessmen, teachers, preachers and parents all require moral authority to be a leader worth following. It is the fabric of faith in God’s standards that bolsters respect from followers. So, what is your standard for conduct? Is your conscience governed by Christ’s character? Is He your baseline of behavior?
If everyone does what is right in his own eyes there is cultural chaos and moral confusion.
"In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit." (Judges 21:25)
It may be a work culture that is inconsistent in its accountability or a home environment where the parents do not model the behavior they expect from their children. Rules are only followed consistently if righteousness rules.
"There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 16:25)
Your Creator has given you rights based on His righteous standard of behavior. If however, we ignore the implementation of integrity, we forfeit our rights. God’s gift of freedom is fragile and only flourishes in a faith-based society. Those who are ungrateful to the Lord travel down a path of pride to their peril. Moral authority is accountable to Almighty God.
Therefore, I have to ask myself, “Do I detest wrongdoing?” “Do I engage injustice with Christ-like character? “Do I compromise God’s standards, or do I walk away from unseemly situations and shady deals?” The conscience of culture changes one heart at a time. Moral authority is the master of a leader’s fate. With it comes creditability and the Lord’s blessing. Without it is a shell of service at best, and corruption at worst. ‘Do I lead with the moral authority of my master Jesus?’
"Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 3:13)
What behavior do you need to quit justifying and confess to Christ as sin and repent?
October 21, 2017
WHEN BEAUTY NEVER ENDS
"Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you."
I love looking at the Grand Canyon. Whenever I stand at the canyon rim I see new brushstrokes of God’s handiwork that take my breath away.
Even though it’s just a (very large) “hole” in the ground, the Grand Canyon causes me to reflect on heaven. A very honest twelve-year-old asked me once, “Won’t heaven be boring? Don’t you think we’ll get tired of praising God all the time?” But if a “hole in the ground” can be so overwhelmingly beautiful we can’t stop looking at it, we can only imagine the joy of one day seeing the very Source of beauty—our loving Creator—in all of the pristine wonder of the new creation.
David expressed this longing when he wrote,
"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple." (Psalm 27:4)
There’s nothing more beautiful than the presence of God, which draws near to us on this earth as we seek Him by faith, looking forward to seeing Him face to face. On that day we’ll never tire of praising our amazing Lord, because we will never come to an end of fresh, new discoveries of His exquisite goodness and the wonders of the works of His hands. Every moment in His presence will bring a breathtaking revelation of His beauty and His love.
We were created to enjoy God forever.
Our Daily Bread
October 20, 2017
"'Make up your mind,' Moab says. 'Render a decision.'..."
Decisions can be as illusive as your shadow. They can haunt you from behind, or they can lead you from out front. Decisions are not designed to be delayed forever unless, of course, they are related to an evil or wicked act. Decisions are meant to drive you toward God’s purpose and plan for your life. He allows you to make decisions that determine His future for you. He gives you the counsel and the wisdom, but you make the decision. No one else can make the decision for you; God wants you to make it. This is your responsibility and opportunity.
Fear may be delaying your decision. Pride may be prolonging your decision. Lack of trust may be paralyzing your mind with indecision. You may be cautious because a similar experience in the past did not work out so well. But if you delay much longer, you may very well miss this window of opportunity. You have prayed about this, and there is peace. You have sought wise counsel, and there is affirmation. You have exceeded the normal amount of due diligence to make an informed decision. Now is the time to decide.
Say yes or no, but do not procrastinate any longer. It is not fair to those who depend on you, nor is it fair to those who believe in you. The bottom line probably relates to trust. Can God be trusted to lead you through the implications of this decision? Can He handle the “what ifs?” The answer, of course, is yes. God will not lead you into a decision that is detrimental to His plan for your life. There will surely be bumps along the way. The bottom may fall out, but He is still faithful. It is better to be in a storm with Jesus, than on the calm shore without Him.
"What you decide on will be done, and light will shine on your ways." (Job 22:28)
“No decision” is still a decision. If you continue to be indecisive, you have decided not to move forward. But you do not have to stand still. You can take this first step and then trust God with steps two and three. Do not become overwhelmed with what might happen tomorrow. Just remain faithful today. Do your best now and trust the Lord with later.
The same holds true for others stuck in indecision. They have strung you along, way beyond what is reasonable. It is responsible for you to give them a deadline. It is bad stewardship for you to linger too long around a dead-end deal. It may be time to move on:
"And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." (Mark 6:11)
God may very well be shutting the door because of another’s inability to decide. Do not see them as the enemy because of their indecision. This may be God’s protection, so be grateful for this divine delay.
But now move on with Christ in quiet confidence and bold creativity. Use another’s indecisiveness to propel yourself forward without them. God has decided what is best. Decide to believe this and trust Him with the results. A life mired in indecision is messy and going nowhere. A life marked by wise decisions is moving forward with their Heavenly Father’s help. Be a bold decision maker because you can. Align your decisions with His wisdom, for He has it all figured out. Get the facts. Review the truth. Get counsel. Pray. Then decide to decide. By faith and by the grace of God, decide. This is the best decision.
"Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7)
What decision are you facing that needs validation from God’s word and a wise third party?
October 19, 2017
TELL OF HIS MIGHTY ACTS
"One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts."
I recently had the privilege of spending a week in London, England. When I travel to a place like London, I spend every free minute I can find either in medieval churches or used bookshops, both of which are a small taste of heaven. On this most recent trip, I was particularly moved by a visit to the noonday service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. To walk into St. Paul’s is to take your place amongst tens of thousands of Christians who have, over countless generations, worshipped the Lord and longed for his presence in their lives and in their communities. It is a building that tells the story of a people, a story of pain and sorrow, yet more frequently a story that clings to the hope of heaven.
As the service concluded, I worked my way through the expansive halls and unspeakable beauty that awaited me at every turn. Eventually I found myself in the underground crypt in which Christians have been buried for hundreds of years. As I walked through this holy space, I came across a tombstone from the 1700s, barely legible due to centuries of foot traffic. Yet as I looked closely, I found an inscription that read, “Laid to rest by her heartbroken husband in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” What a story of loss and hope these simple words contained!
"Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;" (Psalm 22:30)
We can so quickly get caught up in the needs and concerns of our own day that we forget the countless people who have gone before us. People like the one I encountered in this tombstone, with hearts ripped apart due to grief and loss, yet in their grief clinging with all they have to the power of God and the promise that all will one day be well. If we can take the time to open our hearts and our ears to their voices, we can find in their stories fellow pilgrims on the way, friends to encourage us and call us forward in faithfulness and strength.
"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3 John 4)
As I encountered this tombstone and the story it told, I wondered if any part of my own life might be an encouragement to someone 300 years from now? Am I living in such a way that in my joys and in my sorrows I intentionally and explicitly tell the stories of God’s faithfulness in my life? You and I have been given just a few short years to live. While you still have breath, take time to tell of God’s faithfulness in your life, of his power and his loving kindness to you and those you love. Do not let your life be a missed opportunity to encourage and strengthen the faith of others, even those not yet born. Your faithfulness in life and death can be a story of God’s mighty acts that lives on for generations to come!
"...Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God." (Genesis 6:9)
Is your life a living testament to your faithfulness and great love shown to you in Jesus Christ our Lord? Take time to write out the stories of God’s faithfulness in your life so that they can be preserved for future generations.
October 18, 2017
2 Corinthians 8:7
"But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also."
Ed Dobson, my former pastor, often said that he disliked preaching about financial giving to the church. He said his previous job required fundraising, so he didn't like putting any unnecessary pressure on people. But when he was teaching through 2 Corinthians, and he came to chapters 8 and 9, he couldn't avoid the topic of giving. What I remember most about his sermon was the illustration he used. He placed an offering plate on the floor, stepped into it, and stood there as he talked about the importance of giving our whole selves to the Lord, not just our wallets.
Those two chapters in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians give us a number of attitudes and actions that we are to display in our giving to the Lord:
Give yourself to the Lord first
"and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us." (2 Corinthians 8:5)
Give, remembering the example of the Lord Jesus
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Give according to your means
"So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have." (2 Corinthians 8:11-12)
Give enthusiastically because of God's love
"for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them." (2 Corinthians 9:2)
Give generously and cheerfully, not grudgingly or because of outside pressure
"The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully[c] will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
Give trusting in God's grace
"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Next time the offering plate comes around at church, imagine yourself stepping into it. It will help you to excel in the grace of giving. When we give ourselves completely to the Lord, all lesser giving becomes easier.
October 17, 2017
A LETTER ABOUT CHOOSING LOVE
1 Peter 4:8
"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins."
Before I married, I read an article online published by the Huffington Post written by Elad Nahori who says he was swooning with burning passion when he met his wife. But he also writes that he didn’t really love his wife when he married her. “This fire was burning in me, a fire that burned just like that second date: I was in love. But then we got married, and everything changed. Marriage, quicker than I was ready for, did this thing: It started sucking away that emotion.”
Thankfully, Elad later learned a priceless secret some people never learn: when feelings fade, love is a choice, an act of the will. And when you choose love with God’s help, the emotion of love often follows. With this truth in mind, I wrote a letter to myself just before I walked down the aisle. If you are married or single, I hope it encourages you.
As you enter into the holy covenant of marriage, there are some things you need to remember. These are godly principles that, if heeded, can prevent you from falling into marital destruction. You know:
- that once the flower of romance fades, the warts of our humanity show and the flutter of love abandons the human heart, then the choice to love must be made.
- selfishness and pride are the roots of contention, and that fighting with one’s mate instead of fighting for one’s marriage is a cause of much heartache.
- the need to control, blame, or the inability to be flexible causes strife.
- pride destroys relationships but humility draws people together.
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18)
- tenderness is necessary, and compassion required, to make any relationship work.
- your internal wounds can cause you to unrealistically expect your mate to meet needs God never intended for them to meet.
- submission to your mate is about submitting to Christ.
"submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:21)
- If you refuse to keep a tender heart, admit your wrongs, put your mate first, exercise loving patience, and care for your mate like you care for yourself, you are in rebellion against your Lord.
- transparency often begets transparency, that tenderness begets tenderness, and that trust takes time to build but can easily be destroyed in a moment. You know contention, dissension and selfish ambition are works of the flesh and are agreements with the devil.
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions," (Galatians 5:19-20)
- you cannot change your mate, but that with God’s help you can change yourself. You know love covers a multitude of sins.
"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)
- forgiveness is required, and encouragement is needed for the human heart to feel safe. And, you also know God is the only one who can help you do the above well.
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)
So Self, throw yourself on Jesus. He is your Helper. He will remind you of truth:
"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." (John 16:13)
Guard against pride. Embrace humility and love, and consider your mate better than yourself:
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."(Philippians 2:3)
When both you and your mate practice these principles, you can win at love and your marriage can go the distance.
"Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Let God help you to remember that He has given you the ability to create health and joy and hope in your relationships by how you treat others. Let Him help you not to lean on emotions, but help Him lead your heart with His truth and godly actions. Let Him help you to love by an act of your own will.
Choose one loving action to put into practice today with the one closest to you, whether a mate, a friend, or a relative.
October 16, 2017
ANGER IS TOXIC TO RELATIONSHIPS
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls."
Anger has a way of coming out of nowhere and becoming a relational wrecking ball. But does it really come out of nowhere, or somewhere more subtle, ready to ruin a perfectly good day? In an instant, a conversation can shift to a defensive, detrimental tone because anger is released like a wasp’s nest smashed by an intrusive shoe on its camouflaged burrow. Poisonous are the stings, causing an allergic reaction of unrighteousness. The best remedy is an EpiPen injection of humility to contain the reddened, swelling of pride. Anger is toxic to relationships.
Paul gives clear instructions on how to prevent pride from pouncing on people who want to avoid human anger and embrace what God desires---righteousness. A patient posture of listening is a highly effective deterrent to the destructiveness of anger. Instead of reacting defensively, “The reason I said what I said was...”, respond empathetically, “I'm sorry, it sounds like you feel really hurt’. Anger is diffused when it is rejected and replaced with patient listening. Put off pride and put on the humble word which is planted in our hearts, our salvation from anger’s harshness.
"I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11)
"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Are you sometimes ambushed by anger, unable to see it coming? Perhaps you react in the moment with heightened emotions in a high pitched voice, instantly ashamed of your actions. If you find yourself in this unhealthy pattern of calm on the surface but simmering underneath, you can dig up the roots of pride with the shovel of humility. Identify the reasons for your anger: fatigue, rejection, feeling hurt or not getting your way. Instead of holding onto your hurt, release it with mercy and forgiveness. Speak forgiveness to another and ask forgiveness from a friend.
Be careful not to justify your anger as righteous, reserve this lofty level for the Lord. A high percentage of anger on earth has its origins in human sinfulness. Grace extends the fuse of your frustrations, so you do not easily blow up and ruin relationships. Kindness deflects the blow of harshness and patience excludes disrespect from the conversation. Like hearty Zoysia overtakes weeds, the good fruit of the Spirit is able to prune and replace the bad fruit of angry actions. Confess anger as a toxic agent to your relationships and process it with patient love and listening.
"...put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Who do you need to ask forgiveness from for your angry attitude?
October 15, 2017
DON'T TAKE YOURSELF SO SERIOUSLY
2 Samuel 17:23
"When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father."
Don’t take yourself so seriously, but take the Lord very seriously. It is tempting to have an inflated regard of our own views. We think our opinions are extra special. We expect everyone to believe that what we think is most important, or even preferred. What started out as humble recommendations for others to consider grew into mandates, from our point of view.
Unfortunately, this type of conditional counsel and authoritative advice is driven by pride. The gift of discernment and wisdom is a great stewardship that requires a spirit of humility and graciousness. Otherwise, no one will be able to hear our insights over the roar of our arrogance. God does not need more self-appointed gurus; He desires humble servants who will submit to Him as vessels of truth.
We set ourselves up for rejection and unreasonable expectations if we rely on the affirmation of others for our validation. If we are not careful, we tie our value to the degree to which our views are accepted. Acceptance becomes a barometer for our self-worth. This is dangerous because our views, of course, are flawed. We are ever growing in our understanding and learning of God’s expansive truths.
If we are teachable and maturing, our views from the past will become more accurate in the present. For example, we will probably be less judgmental, and more motivated by mercy. We will most likely take ourselves less seriously, and God more seriously. And as we grow in grace, our words will build up more than tear down. Patience will become preeminent, and our inflated views will deflate, as we depend more on God.
Healthy perspectives are born out of dependence on God. Your belief about God determines the way you approach life. If you get this right, everything else comes into alignment. An open mind traps truth. When you are convinced of a principle, clamp down on it with conviction. It is wise to be close-minded around your convictions, just make sure it is a conviction from God, and not just a personal preference. One truth you can depend on is that God is engaged in everyday life. The Almighty is not absent, but is alive and well.
Therefore, seek to lead others in seeing a grander view of God. Keep Christ the centerpiece of your counsel. Make the Lord the beginning and the end of your advice. If you lead people to be accountable to God, you are wise. If they ignore this insight, they miss their Master’s best. His view is the most valuable, so steer them toward the Almighty’s perspective.
The Bible says,
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." (Proverbs 12:15)
What idea or advice of yours do you need to let go of and trust the Holy Spirit is at work around you?
October 14, 2017
POSITIONED FOR TEMPTATION
2 Samuel 11:2
"It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful."
The allure of temptation has a lot to do with proximity. If we position ourselves to be tempted, there is a high probability we will drift toward its deception. It is unwise to be out of position and enjoy the cheap thrill of temptation. This is why we do not position our eyes in ways that lead to wayward behavior. Our eyes can be sentinels for our Savior, or they can be seducers of Satan. We have the choice, but God has given us His Holy Spirit to check our wrong positioning.
Beautiful people are easy on the eyes but they are not meant to mesmerize us into wrong thinking and, eventually, bad behavior. Temptation’s immediate gratification seems harmless, but once it has us in a vulnerable position, it pushes for more ground until it captures our heart. If we discover ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, we are at high risk for temptation.
However, wise Christians position themselves to faithfully follow Christ. Following the Lord does not free us from temptation, but He empowers us to flee when we encounter its pull. Following God is not always fun, but it is fruitful, as He keeps us from caving into our covetous and carnal cravings. We properly position ourselves toward God and away from temptation by prayer. It purges pride and our tendency to take temptation lightly.
It is also wise to position ourselves under the accountability of people. We cannot stand up to the seduction of temptation if we are secluded. Left to ourselves, we flirt with the fun that temptation offers at the outset, then get stung by its humiliation and hurt. We have all discovered that we do better when those around us remind us of the obvious. Temptation loves for us to ignore warnings and become obsessed with the foolishness of our own isolated thinking. Positioning ourselves away from authenticity with others is a recipe for disaster. We all do much better when others are watching us.
Therefore, you position yourself wisely when you use power for people, instead of using people for power. Persons are meant to be blessed, not abused by power. So, use your influence for the sole benefit of others, while trusting that God will meet your needs.
Otherwise, you are tempted to leverage others for yourself. You run ‘through relationships, and discard them like an old t-shirt. People become expedient for your own selfish desires, and your temptation to live for the moment becomes master. Therefore, stay positioned to serve others and fear God. Selfless love positions you away from the grasp of temptation’s talons. Above all else, do not depend on yourself alone. Discipline deteriorates without the forging fires of the Holy Spirit. With His wisdom and by His grace, avoid temptation’s invitation.
The Bible says,
"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1Corinthians 10:13)
Who or what secretly tempts you that you need to tell someone about?
October 13, 2017
HELP THE HELPLESS
"Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation."
God helps those who can’t help themselves. He is a defender of the poor and needy, for the disadvantaged are on His heart. Jesus came for those who recognized their need for God and appropriated His forgiveness and grace. Those who are poor in spirit are candidates for Christ’s true riches. It is only when you recognize your spiritual bankruptcy outside of a Savior, that you can receive the right kind of help. But the Holy Spirit hovers over the whole earth looking for those who need and desire Him. Every day, millions of people go to bed hungry and die from diseases. Thousands of people each year are being murdered for their faith and their race. Their need is for preemptive measures of food, medicine, justice, and Jesus.
There is also the need to minister to those who have been ravished by raw racism and poverty. They are waiting for someone to care. A little bit of healthcare, a little bit of money, and a little bit of time can provide for the poor in ways most of us take for granted. A few hundred dollars can build an indoor bathroom and kitchen in the slums. It can be seed money to start a microenterprise. A wooden cart can be purchased to transport fruits and vegetables to market. God’s heart is to help the helpless. Therefore, pray for the poor and ask God to send you someone who could use your help. Grace is drawn to the needy. Love edifies and kindness cares. Faith flushes out fear, and humility hunts down the hurting and hangs out with them. Compassion shows up with resources that resonate where people live, so help the helpless in the name of Jesus.
Or you may find yourself on the helpless half of the equation. We are all helpless to some extent. You may feel helpless in your current situation at work, with a family member, or in your physical condition. Your helpless position is poised for God’s helpful position. Engage your heavenly Father in your helpless circumstance. Lean on His love and request His wisdom. You cannot make it alone. There was a day when you may have thought you could make it without the help of God or other people. But rejection of help is not how God works.
Refusing help is refusing God’s provision. Indeed, you receive the help of heaven so you can help others get to heaven. Help is a gift that keeps on giving. Because someone believed in you and helped you, you desire to do the same for another. So gain fresh perspective by looking to heaven for help. Plead with Him to provide in ways you haven’t thought of, but then ask others to help. When others are engaged in eternity’s agenda they are happy and content. Blessed are those who become helpers in the purposes of God. Be a giver and a receiver of help. Above all else, be helpful by giving help to the helpless. Help those who can’t help themselves.
The Bible says beautifully,
"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2)
How do you need to humble yourself and ask for help?
October 12, 2017
TITHE AND BLESSING
"In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Gordon Cosby, while serving as pastor of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC, tells of a widow whose income was barely adequate to feed and clothe her six children. Yet every week she faithfully placed $4 in the offering plate. A deacon suggested that Cosby go to her and assure her that she could use the money instead for her family’s benefit. It made no sense to him for a widow to donate her last few coins.
Cosby followed the deacon’s advice—to his regret. “You are trying to take away the last thing that gives me dignity and meaning,” she said. She had learned a key to giving: It can benefit the giver more than the receiver. Yes, those in poverty need financial help. But the need to give may be as important as the need to receive.
But in that woman’s act, Jesus saw a moving display of the proper attitude toward money.
"And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on'" (Mark 12:41-44)
The act of giving reminds us that we live by the grace of God—like the birds and the flowers. Those creations don’t worry about their future; neither should we. Giving offers us a way to express our confidence that God will care for us just as He cares for the sparrow and lily:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.T
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:25-34)
We disarm the power of money by giving it away.
October 10-11, 2017
"His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'"
A man spoke to his pastor one day and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but God is not real to me anymore.” The wise pastor asked, “Is there any sin in your life?” In a moment of honesty, the man responded, “Years ago I was tithing regularly to God, but one day I thought, ‘God doesn’t need the money as much as I do,’ so I stopped.”
The pastor said, “Will God say,
‘My child has disobeyed Me. He cannot trust Me with his resources, so I think I’ll bless him with even more resources.’
Will God do this?”
October 9, 2017
PARENTS, ADULT CHILDREN AND THE IDOL OF MONEY
"And he [Micah] restored [after he had taken it] the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, 'I dedicate the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.' So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah."
What is an idol? Anything or anyone that competes for our attention, affections and worship of Almighty God. A life loyal to the Lord has no threatening rivals to Jesus, but a life attracted to shiny idols is easily distracted—and eventually led astray. Parents harbor idols in their home when they give a child all they want—instead of all they need. For physical safety, a loaded gun would never be entrusted to a child, yet a parent erodes their adult child’s character by giving prematurely the gifts of luxury cars, big houases and an excessive inheritance. Cash replaces Christ.
Micah (not the famous prophet) loved money more than he loved his mama or the Lord. Perhaps he feared being unable to take care of his family, so he took from his mother—probably the inheritance she would eventually give to him—impatiently he stole her security. Upon returning his mother’s money, she commissioned some of the silver to become a graven image. Mom only paid lip service to dedicating her dollars to God, when in reality she worshiped an idol she thought she could control. She invested her love of money into her son’s heart.
"knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Money need not become an idol in your family, rather make it an agent for good in God’s hands. Let your family know all you have is from the Lord and dedicated to the Lord—your possessions are His possessions. Practice generosity. A family who gives together will grow joyful together. Nothing keeps the idols of greed more unwelcome and uncomfortable in your home than generous giving. Perhaps at the right time, you set up for each young adult child a giving fund and coach them in how to give away money. An adult child who can manage money well has a much better chance in managing life well.
Parents who model a healthy view of money are able to best influence their child about money. Indulgence only masks issues, but wise expenditures become teachable moments. For example, help your child learn the discipline of delayed gratification by saving for a house or an automobile—perhaps you can match their earnings, so they feel supported by your interest. The idol of money needs an intentional plan to keep your family from being seduced by its allure. Look for mentors who are a few years ahead of you and learn from them. Most of all, keep Jesus Christ the head of your home and seek to follow Him in how to patiently love your child well.
"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy." (1 Timothy 6:17)
What does your adult child need to trust the Lord to provide and how can you empower, them but not enable them, throughout the process?
October 8, 2017
2 Kings 4:44
"So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord."
When my husband and I were first asked to host a small group in our home, my immediate reaction was to decline. I felt inadequate. We didn’t have seats for everyone; our home was small and couldn’t hold many people. I didn’t know whether we had the skills to facilitate the discussion. I worried that I’d be asked to prepare food, something for which I lacked both passion and funds. I didn’t feel like we had “enough” to do it. I didn’t feel I was “enough” to do it. But we wanted to give to God and our community, so despite our fears, we agreed. Over the next five years we found great joy in welcoming the group into our living room.
I observe similar reluctance and doubt in the man who brought bread to God’s servant, Elisha. Elisha had instructed him to give it to the people, but the man questioned whether twenty loaves could feed so many—one hundred men. He seems to have been tempted to withhold the food because—in his human understanding—it wouldn’t be sufficient. Yet it was more than enough because God took his gift, given in obedience, and made it enough.
When we feel inadequate, or think what we have to offer isn’t sufficient, let’s remember that God asks us to give what we have in faithful obedience. He is the one who makes it “enough.” God asks us to give what we have in faithful obedience.
If you fear what you have to give is insufficient do you trust God to make it “enough”?
An offering given in faithful obedience is just right.
Our Daily Bread
October 7, 2017
HONOR GOD'S NAME
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain."
Be cautious how you use God’s name. Using God’s name with crude and obscene language is obviously inappropriate. This feeble attempt at dragging deity down to the sewer of man’s pathetic state is both ignorant and embarrassing for the offender. But there are more subtle uses of God’s name that constitute misusing and mishandling his name. It is taking the Lord’s name in vain, just in a more sophisticated manner.
For example, be very careful what you ascribe to God and how you communicate this. Avoid the statement, “God wants me to quit my job, what do you think?” This may be true, but wouldn’t a humble heart say something like, “I am praying about quitting my job, what do you think?” In this instance, you are really seeking godly counsel, while in the first example you trumped any solid advice with the ‘God card’. It is hard to question what you say with what God is telling you. Humility waits on prayerful validation from God and man.
"I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving." (Psalm 69:30)
The temptation is to drop God’s name and credit him with pending decisions. These are decisions in our heart of hearts we know need more prayer and counsel. But in our haste and impatience, we blame God. Be careful, we can talk ourselves into anything and proxy God in along the way. What is He really saying? Should we think twice before we glibly say, “The Lord wants this or that, or the Lord is leading me to do this.” How do you know? What is your objective criteria?
Or, are you just using God’s name to justify and get something you want so badly? Or, is it spiritual pride? Honor His name with wise words.
With some of us, it is a way to sound spiritual and attempt to gain the admiration and approval of others. Yes, do use God’s name very prayerfully, appropriately, and with respect and awe. His name is like a rare, expensive ointment, to be applied on occasion with a gentle and direct application. Use His name, but use it responsibly and with great humility.
"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." (James 1:26)
How can you honor God’s name in your conversations about His great works?
October 6, 2017
TEST OF FAITH
"They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses."
It is easier to be a Christian when everything is going well. But what happens when things do not go your way? God sends a test or allows a test, and suddenly your faith has an opportunity to come alive and go to a deeper level of dependency. Perhaps you are experiencing disappointment from a friend, an unfaithful spouse, a rebellious child, death of a loved one, a loss of your job, or your health is giving you fits.
You can rest assured a test is coming. You have either been through a test, you are in a test or you are in between tests, but they are coming, so be ready. It may be a relational test, a financial test, a physical test, a family test, a career test, or a character test, but in God’s school of faith, He gives regular exams with eternal consequences.
It may be a quick and unexpected pop quiz or an anticipated and grueling final exam. The answer key is abandonment to Almighty God. Your eternal instructor is trustworthy. Humbly learn what He is teaching you so that you can teach others and become a better follower of Christ. But what, you ask, is the purpose of these tests of faith?
Two possible reasons for God’s test of faith are to teach you how to battle the enemy and to validate your obedience to God during difficult times. Your battle is not against a person or persons. It is spiritual warfare with an unseen enemy who lurks behind any and every opportunity he can to deceive, discourage and destroy you.
Your protection against this spiritual enemy, Satan, is as Ephesians says:
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints," (Ephesians 6:13-18)
Furthermore, engage with a community of believers to cover your back with prayer. It is the believer’s preparation and posture that causes Satan to squirm and flee.
Another reason for your test of faith could be to validate your obedience to God. Will you remain faithful to Him, even when He seems very distant and uninterested? When life is hard, will you stay mad and blame others and God for your misfortune, or will you obey Him? Do the right thing even when you don’t feel like it and God will honor your efforts.
He has a much bigger plan that doesn’t waste pain. He is looking for trophies of grace to present to those in need of Christ and for those who may be stumbling and struggling in their faith. He is looking for men and women dead to themselves and their selfish desires, but alive unto Christ. Pain positions you to be a product of the grace of God.
Yes, it may be very difficult right now, but stay true to God. He is bigger than anything or anyone who may have you down right now. Tests are temporary but trust is forever.
"Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;" (Acts 20:19)
Are you trusting God with this test? Will you obey well?
October 5, 2017
MAKING SACRIFICE WITH JOY
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
I heard a story once about two wealthy Christians, a lawyer and a merchant, who traveled with a group that was going around the world. As they were visiting in South Korea, they saw a field by the side of the road, in which a boy was pulling a crude plow and an old man held the plow handles and guided it. The lawyer was amused and took a snapshot of the scene.
He turned to the missionary, who served as their interpreter and guide, and he said, "That's a curious picture. I suppose they are very poor."
The guide replied, "Yes, that is the family of Chi Noue. When the place of worship was being built, they were eager to give something to it, but they had no money, so they sold their only ox and gave the money to the church. This spring, they are pulling the plow themselves."
The men were silent for several moments. Then the businessman replied, "That must have been a real sacrifice." The guide said, "They do not call it that. They thought it was fortunate that they had an ox to sell."
I am reminded of a parable Jesus told:
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." (Matthew 13:44)
Notice carefully the words "in his joy." This man doesn't just sell everything he has; he does so with joy. He doesn't regret it. He doesn't complain about the sacrifice he has to make. In fact, he probably doesn't even consider it to be a sacrifice. He gives a lot for the field, but he gets so much more in return.
When I perform a wedding ceremony, I often include these words: "Whatever sacrifice you will be required to make to preserve this common life, always make it generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy."
The same thing holds true in our walk with Christ. Sacrifices will be necessary, and only a deep love for Christ will make them a joy. The real test of our commitment is not so much whether we are willing to make sacrifices for our Lord, but whether we are able to make those sacrifices with joy.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
October 3-4, 2017
YOUR LOVE HELPS OTHERS SEE GOD
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Each morning I cuddle up on our back porch in my favorite chair with a cup of coffee, my bible, and my journal to spend time with the Lord. This morning I've been thinking about love and how it “blankets”. What I mean is, it covers all other virtues. For example, where there is love, there is mercy. Where there is love, there is generosity. Where there is love, there is hope and patience, and faithfulness, and every other good thing.
"Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8)
Through love, we show God’s face to one another. Do you want to know more about God and experience His love? Let Him help you move across town. Let Him help babysit your children. Let Him give you grace and forgiveness and speak to you tenderly. Let Him be your friend.”
Love covers all virtues and through it, we reveal God to one another.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13)
My bonus daughter, Allie, gave birth to a baby boy a few months ago. I am so grateful she has warmly embraced me as Grandma, which has, on numerous occasions made me cry tears of joy. (Only the Lord can make a woman a grandmother who has never been a mother!) Through Allie’s gracious acceptance, I have seen God’s face more clearly, and as I have looked into His eyes through her kindness, I hear Him saying to me, “See how much I love you!” When God’s kids love one another, they show God’s face to one another.
My husband Clark loves me unselfishly. He’s very attentive to my needs and teaches me by example what it means to serve. One afternoon before we tied the knot, I took his car to the doctor’s office. While pulling out of the physician’s parking lot, I got in a fender bender. I felt horrible. I phoned Clark and apologized repeatedly. “I’m sooooo sorry. I’m so sorry!” I said. He told me not to worry about it, that it was okay. By the time I arrived at his house, he had a card waiting for me with a bear on the front. “Do you need a hug?” it read. Inside, he had written a lovely note assuring me that the cosmetic crunch I had given his Toyota wasn’t a big deal, that I was more important. Through Clark’s gracious response I saw God’s face, and I heard Him saying to me, “See how much I love you!”
As I think of these stories and others like them when my family and friends have extended grace, kindness, and mercy to me when I didn’t deserve it, I am reminded of all the ways God has tenderly revealed Himself to me. And, I am convicted to love others well too, because through what I do and say, others can see the Lord. Is there someone in your life you need to show love to so they can see God’s face more clearly and hear Him say, “See how much I love you!”
"And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." (1 John 3:23).
Who needs to see Jesus in your loving act of service or from your generous gift?
October 2, 2017
STEWARDS OF OUR TALENTS
1 Peter 4:10
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:"
What are you really good at? Painting? Counseling? Maybe you’ve never met a car problem you can’t repair, or you’re an amazing chef. Perhaps you just find opportunities to help people wherever you go. Whatever your talent or skill is, guess what? God is behind it! But He didn’t bless any of us with a talent or skill simply so we could look awesome or earn lots of cash.
God wants us to steward those gifts for Him! . . . Stewardship is about everything in our lives—and that includes our talents.
If we want to please God—if we want to hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant” when we meet Him in heaven—then we must faithfully use our talents the way He wants us to. Colossians tells us that everything we do should be for Christ:
"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." (Colossians 3:23–24)
So how exactly does God want us to use our talents for Him? Two ways: blessing others and building His kingdom:
1. God wants us to bless others.
In 1 Peter, we are called to use our gifts to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace. . . God doesn’t give us anything just for our own benefit.
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:" (1 Peter 4:10)
After all, we are blessed to be a blessing:
"And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2)
How can you put that into practice? Maybe there’s a ministry that uses your skill or talent to help others. If you love working on cars, volunteer to repair single moms’ cars for free. Or if you paint, hold art classes for nursing home residents. If you look in your community, you’re sure to find a need you can meet with the talents God has given you. And if nothing exists, you can always start your own ministry!
2. God wants us to build His kingdom for His glory.
God made us all different. That’s great, because together, all of us make up the kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the body of Christ to a human body: Each of us is unique, but together we make the body complete.
"If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body." (1 Corinthians 12:18-20)
And Christ is the head of the body so everything we do points back to Him. He directs it all:
"For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior." (Ephesians 5:23)
In other words, God wants you to use your unique role in the body of Christ to glorify Him. So if God made you an amazing singer, sing for Him. If your talent is a little less conventional—maybe you’re good with numbers or with writing code—then find a way to translate that into a job for a God-honoring company or ministry. Use your God-given abilities to reach those who don’t know Him—and give Him the credit for your talents.
Jesus gives us two commandments: to love the Lord and to love others as we love ourselves:
"And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'" (Matthew 22:37–40)
And when we steward our talents to honor Him and to bless others, we are doing just that.
October 1, 2017
GO BACK TO GO FORWARD
"And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'"
It is easy for money to become a distraction. Just the making and management of money takes effort and focus. Indeed, money becomes a subtle master if it is not held in check. Our affections gravitate toward what we think about. If the majority of our waking moments are consumed by the thought of making more money, then we are distracted.
Yes, we need to do our work with excellence as unto the Lord. However, if making money becomes our consuming focus, then its devotion competes with God. Billions of people wake up every day to make money, but are they making money or is money making them? If my life is consumed by money, very little is left for a life well spent.
"No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Luke 16:13)
Time and energy for others become scarce in the wake of compulsive money making. You may think that your current obsession with making money is for the long-term purpose of autonomy. This is flawed thinking because a follower of Jesus Christ is never totally autonomous—they are tethered by trust to the will of God. We have a built-in eternal expectation in our community and to Christ that results in accountability and service.
Yes, finances afford you options, but only options that are under the purview of God’s will. A life of unshackled leisure and self-indulgence is not a life well spent for the Lord. He may free you up to serve Him and others, but not to sit and soak. Too many options can be a distraction. So, where is the balance? How can you avoid money’s distraction?
Stay close to Christ and let Him love you. He will love you away from money’s allurement and into heavenly investments. Let Him love you away from the seduction of possessions. Then you will want to reciprocate love to your lover. If your love quotients are met by stuff, then your affections will gravitate to the money-making mistress.
When you allow money to love you, you feel a debt to materialism. Your emotions and energies feel obligated to love back. An affair with money and possessions leaves nothing for the lover of your soul. And, without an intense love relationship with your Creator, you will become sad and dissatisfied. Loving God satisfies the soul.
Fortunately, there is a solution to money’s distraction. Let God love you—then you are compelled to love Him. Money’s distraction is derailed by a love relationship with Jesus. When you love Him wholeheartedly, there is no room for money to distract. Then give generously to whom He loves, especially the poor. Generous givers love God, not money. Eternal rewards await those who send ahead what they cannot keep.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
How can you use money as an expression of your love for the Lord and people?
Link to previous thoughts for September