August 30-31, 2018
IN A FOG
”Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
My wife Shirley and I stayed two full days in Interlaken, Switzerland, and yet we never saw Jungfrau, one of the highest and most beautiful peaks in the Swiss Alps.
“What did you think of Jungfrau?” fellow tourists would ask. We couldn’t answer because we never got a glimpse of it.
How could we possibly miss such an immense and breathtaking natural wonder? Because a persistent fog had blanketed the entire peak.
Sometimes we may be “in a fog” when we try to understand the Bible. We struggle and strain, but we cannot see the beautiful truths that lie within the passage. It may even seem as if God is keeping them hidden from us.
Don’t forget that we always need the illuminating help of the Holy Spirit. It is not God who wants to keep us from grasping the wonderful truths of Scripture; it is His enemy. The devil knows that we can’t put into practice what we don’t comprehend.
We need to pray as the psalmist did:
”Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)
As we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance each day, He will clear away the fog so that we can see the marvelous truths within God’s Word.
David C. Egner
August 29, 2018
A SYMBOL OF HOPE
“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.’”
Ruele Howe tells about growing up with his parents in the country. When he was 15 years old, the house caught on fire. They escaped with only the clothes on their backs. There were no close neighbors to help so he and his father walked to a distant village to get supplies. As they returned they saw something that stayed with Ruele Howe all those years after. Beside the charred remains of what had been their house, his mother had laid out lunch on a log. She had placed a tin can filled with wildflowers on the log. It was a symbol of hope in the midst of tragedy.
This is the Christian faith, isn't it? She didn't try to cover up the disaster with flowers, but in the midst of that gloomy scene she had placed a symbol of hope.
These two coins that the widow placed in the temple treasury were her wildflowers. This was her symbol, her way of saying I know God will provide.
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
August 28, 2018
SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
During the Depression era in the 1930s, Little Orphan Annie was a popular comic strip and radio program. Years later, it was the basis for the musical comedy Annie. The opening scene shows Annie in an orphanage where the girls are forced to clean and scrub in the middle of the night. Expressing their feelings of helplessness, they sing: “It’s the hard-knock life for us. No one cares for you a smidge when you’re in an orphanage. It’s the hard-knock life.”
When we talk about “the school of hard knocks,” we are referring to the difficult experiences in life that have instructed us. Although it is part of human nature to avoid pain, the believer can learn from painful circumstances.
The psalmist wisely said:
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71)
His particular heartache was the slander of his good name:
“The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.” (Psalm 119:69-70)
Yet even in this affliction, the psalmist realized that his circumstances could teach him to value the Word of God.
What affliction are you facing today? Hand it over to the Lord in prayer. Then meditate on Scripture and thank God for the life lessons you are about to learn. The Lord of heaven and earth is sovereign—even over “the school of hard knocks.”
August 27, 2018
SUNDAY SCHOOL OF ROCK
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”
For centuries, theologians have debated the meaning of the "rock" and the church built upon it. But for Cayleb, age 6, the interpretation is obvious: "Jesus was telling Peter to take some rocks and build a church."
Cayleb is on the right track . . . Living rocks are the building material of Jesus' church. Peter himself calls Christians "living stones," who serve as building material for a spiritual house and priesthood. All the living stones are fitted into place around a living cornerstone, Jesus Christ:
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (1 Peter 2:4-8)
Today, many people think of a church as a beautiful building with stained-glass windows where people meet on Sunday. But if you were a Christian during the first 250 years after Jesus walked the earth, you would never have seen a church building. They didn't exist.
The first Christians met secretly in homes, fields and even caves to avoid arrest by Roman authorities. After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, buildings called churches were erected.
Christians thrived in the first and second century under persecution when they met secretly in small, informal home settings. In many cases, the intimacy of close fellowship was lost when Christians assembled in larger buildings that became known as churches.
"I think that Jesus was telling Peter that he (Peter) was the rock because his name means 'rock,'" observes Hillary, age 12.
The rock upon which Jesus would build his church could refer to Peter, since Jesus changed Peter's name to "petros" meaning "rock." This would make Peter the foundation of the church. But is that what Jesus meant? Scholars and theologians have battled over this point for ages. It is a bigger fight than all the "Rocky" movies combined.
Actually, Jesus used one form of the word "rock" (petra) for the rock on which he would build his church, and another (petros) for Peter. According to George Abbott-Smith's Greek lexicon, "petra" means "a mass of . . . rock" as distinct from "petros," "a detached stone or boulder."
Immediately after Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, he rebuked Jesus for saying he would be killed:
"But he turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."" (Matthew 16:23)
Even after Jesus' resurrection, the apostle Paul admonished Peter in front of the Galatian Christians for compromising the truth of the gospel. If Peter is the rock on which the church is built, the church rests upon an earthquake fault line.
Before Jesus said, "Upon this rock, I will build my church," he asked his disciples what people were saying about him. Then, Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
THAT is the essence of the gospel and the bedrock of the church:
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)
Jesus then uses parallel language, and reinterprets Peter's declaration: "You are Peter (a piece of the rock), and on this rock (the fact that I am the Messiah, the Son of the living God), I will build my church."
As Ashley, 14, says: "Think about it this way: Peter's confession is the rock and foundation of the church: Jesus is the Christ (Messiah).
August 26, 2018
FREEDOM IN FOCUS
“But the LORD GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”
Focus brings freedom, because there is permission to say no to good, competing ideas and opportunities. It is out of focus that faith is forged. When Jesus Christ is the focal point for direction and discipline, all other priorities fall into place. Focus on Him brings to bear heaven’s perspective and resources. A face like flint on Jesus creates freedom to trust and wait on Him. Keep your Savior the spotlight, and you will see clearly.
But how can I stay focused on the Lord when life’s distractions tend to dominate my time? How do I remain a fruitful Christian and not be mired down in the mundane? It is essential to first master the fundamentals of honesty, humility, patience, and service to others. It is out of living the basic tenets of the Christian life that I can be trusted with more.
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” (Luke 16:10)
Focus brings freedom at work when you assess your activity around results and not busyness. Perhaps you do fewer things well instead of a lot of things mediocre. Average results are poor stewardship when you have above-average potential. We know we are too busy when we constantly run late for meetings and have a pattern of broken promises. So how can we break this crazy cycle of overcommitment? Where do we start?
Faith focus starts by gazing on God with a rare glimpse on your circumstances. Ask what Jesus would do and how He would reach the goal? When your identity is in the One who loves you most, you become most like Him. Confidence bubbles up for those who first focus on their heavenly Father. He gives you the ability and know-how to be the best for Him.
“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)
Therefore, by faith focus on a few things, and do them well. Once you have mastered the basics, then explore other exciting opportunities. God opens additional doors once you have gone through the door of faith and obedience in being faithful where He has you. You will experience freedom by staying focused on the Lord and His calling for you.
Jesus was the master at staying focused on priorities:
“And he said to them [the Pharisees], ‘Go and tell that fox, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.”’” (Luke 13:32)
What one or two relationships do you need to focus on the most? Is the Lord your focus?
August 25, 2018
A CLEAN HEART
"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. …”
Maintaining a clean heart is a daily choice, one that has a multitude of options. Intellectual images bombard our beliefs like England’s blitzkrieg. Good and bad thoughts compete for our heart’s affection. It is a haven for hellish or heavenly deliberation. If I give in to stinking thinking, I soil my soul with unsavory influence and miss my sweet Savior’s soothing protection. A heart given to heaven keeps away the hounds of hell.
It is contemplation on Christ and His character that flushes out unseemly fantasy and fills my mind with the realities of His righteousness. Yes, there is a struggle to keep a clean heart until we see Jesus face-to-face; however, in the interim it is intimacy with our Lord that invites integrity of heart.
“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” (Psalm 25:21)
Intimacy leads to integrity, which creates a clean heart.
One strategy of Satan is for Christians to compartmentalize their hearts between good and bad, sacred and secular, clean and unclean. This is deceptive because clean and unclean do not mix any more than oil and water blend together. The black oil of an impure heart contaminates a heart cleansed by the saving grace of Christ. Only the power of almighty God can cap the spewing influence of sin deep in the depths of our hearts.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8–9)
So as a follower of Jesus, how do you keep the barnacles of bad behavior from the hull of your heart? Daily surrender and submission to God is an exceptional governor for good behavior. This allows you to harness humility, receive the grace of God, and defeat the devil. Battle bad behavior alone and you are overwhelmed, but by grace you overcome.
“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” (1 Peter 5:5–6)
Keeping a clean heart is everyone’s battle; so stay accountable to God and people. Perhaps you give permission to a small group that examines your heart with loving questions like: “Are you filling your mind with clean images?” “Are you harboring any anger in your heart?” “Is your heart hurting and in need of healing?” A clean heart comes as we submit to Christ, invite accountability from others, and confess our sins.
“let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)
Do you have a regular routine of allowing Christ to cleanse your heart? Are you accountable?
August 24, 2018
AMAZING, TRULY AMAZING GRACE!
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
Have you any idea of the mess you were in, or moving toward, when God reached down and saved you?
Perhaps an illustration may help you get the picture. If you took your children to a petting zoo and a little lamb came running towards you, you probably wouldn't be afraid at all because lambs are harmless. You might even reach out your hand and let the lamb lick it.
But let's say you're at the zoo and the alarm goes out that a lion has escaped from its cage. If you're standing there and that lion comes running towards you, you'll be terrified and start to run because you know what lions can do. But just suppose that the runaway lion corners you in one part of the zoo and comes up to you - but instead of attacking you it gently licks your hand the way the lamb did. If that happened whose gentleness would you appreciate more, the lamb's or the lion's? You'd appreciate the lion's gentleness more because you know that he could just as easily have destroyed you without violating his nature as a lion.
Well, grace is God's kindness and gentleness to us when He could have backed us into a corner as guilty sinners and destroyed us without violating His Holy character. But God wanted to make us His children, so instead of expressing His wrath against us, He poured it out upon His own sinless Son on the cross. Jesus took our punishment so God could embrace us. Hence, we have a brand-new relationship with God through grace. Isn't that amazing!
The Daily Encourager
submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
August 23, 2018
BACK TO SCHOOL
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
When my kids were young, I loved taking them to pick out their new backpacks, school supplies, clothes, and shoes for school. We would spend the day knocking it all out at once as we store-hopped on a determined buying mission. We checked it all off our lists as we braved the trenches of school supply aisles in the local super center. We would be armed and ready for whatever the new school year would bring.
As the first day of school closed in on us, endless questions plagued my anxious mind. Would the kids like their new teachers? Would they get to be in the same classroom as their best buddies?
We would all have to get into a new routine, back to making those bagged lunches and after-school snacks. There would be rides to practices and piles of homework. Of course, there would always be a few extra trips to the school to bring the carelessly forgotten gear, lunches, and assignments.
These days, the school supplies in my family have been replaced with apartment furnishings, car insurance, and college textbooks.
There are many times I wish I could go back to the days of making those early morning waffles, floating in maple syrup, before school. Those days that seemed so rushed, stressed, and hurried, are now just cherished memories of a time I wish I could have back again. It has flown by so quickly, and without my permission. My sweet babies are suddenly grown and gone.
I realized that as we reluctantly hand our kids over to new teachers, dorms, coaches, and even their own apartments, we can simultaneously hand them over to the complete, unchanging and infinite protection of God!
He can and will be there to pick up the slack for us weary, anxious parents. We can trust Him to always be there when we cannot. Whether our kids are coloring at the first-grade art table or 500 miles away from us on a college campus, we can trust that Almighty God is watching over them and He will never leave them nor forsake them:
"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
I like to start my mornings, coffee and Bible in hand, sitting on my back patio with my dog curled up next to me. It is where I have my morning prayer time with God. It is where I hand it all over—my concerns, fears, and worries—and ask Him to amazingly bless the days of my children.
I ask for His ultimate protection over them. I visualize them covered in the full, securing, armor of God. I pray that His perfect will be done in their lives and that they would make wise choices according to His word. I ask for His unceasing favor and noble grace to be upon them. I ask for Him to send a legion of His heavenly angels to surround my children continuously and to pluck them out of harm's way. I pray for wonderful Christian friends and teachers to surround them. I visualize the mighty hand of God holding them up, so safe and protected, so strong, changeless and unfailing.
Then, as I continue on in my day, I know that my words will not return to me void:
“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
I know God has heard me, and within His will, He will honor my requests.
So, as we begin this and every new school year, and as we are diligently packing up the school gear, waking the kids up early, and sending them out the door, let us send them securely wrapped in the Lord's arms with an abundance of favor and blessings heaped upon them, dressed in their new shoes and, of course, in the full armor of God!
“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.” (Ephesians 6:13)
August 22, 2018
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,”
It was an unexpected provision in a time of need. The prophet Elisha, like others in Israel, was hard-pressed by the famine. But the prophet determined that he must share with other needy Israelites the 20 loaves of barley bread he had just received:
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, ‘Give to the men, that they may eat.’ But his servant said, ‘How can I set this before a hundred men?’ So he repeated, ‘Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.”’ So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.” (2 Kings 4:42-44)
Elisha’s servant questioned the wisdom of setting the food before 100 hungry men, for there was not enough to go around. Nevertheless, Elisha issued a command to feed his fellow prophets, adding a promise that this scanty provision would be enough:
“...they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord." (2 Kings 4:43)
True to God’s word, when Elisha’s servant set the loaves before the people, they ate and had some left. There was enough—and more than enough. A similar thing happened when Jesus fed 5,000 with 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish (John 6:1-14). These examples suggest the principle: When God gives, He is able to give more than enough.
God doesn’t merely add; He multiplies!
When we sense that God is asking us to serve Him in a new or unfamiliar way, we should never say no simply because we feel inadequate. “We have only a few loaves,” we may say. But the Lord replies, “Trust Me. They are more than enough.”
David H. Roper
August 21, 2018
GETTING WHAT WE ASK FOR or FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
“And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’…”
A man asked his wife, "What would you most like for your birthday?"
She said, "I'd love to be ten again."
On the morning of her birthday, he got her up bright and early and off they went to a theme park. He put her on every ride in the park -- the Death Slide, The Screaming Loop, the Wall of Fear. Everything there was, she rode. She staggered out of the theme park five hours later, her head reeling and her stomach upside down.
Into McDonald's they went, where she was given a Double Big Mac with extra fries and a strawberry shake. Then off to a theater to see Star Wars -- more burgers, popcorn, cola and sweets. At last she staggered home with her husband and collapsed into bed.
Her husband leaned over and asked, "Well, dear, what was it like being ten again?"
One eye opened and she groaned, "Actually, I meant dress size."
That story reminds me of what happened to James and John. They came to Jesus with a request:
“And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’” (Mark 10:36-37)
Jesus told them they really didn't know what they were asking for. He told them:
“… ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’” (Mark 10:38)
“… ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,'” (Mark 10:38)
However, what they had in mind (prestige, power and glory) wasn't the same thing Jesus had in mind (persecution, suffering and servanthood). Jesus gave them exactly what they asked for, but it wasn't at all what they were hoping for when they made the request!
So often, the same thing happens in my life. God has a way of answering my requests, my prayers, in ways I never even dreamed of -- not always in a pleasant way, not always in a way I would have chosen, but always in a way that He sees best.
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
August 20, 2018
1 Chronicles 28:2
“Then King David rose to his feet and said: ‘Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building.’”
"I had intended ..."
David had wanted to build a temple. And who better than he to do so? Hadn't he, literally, written the book on worship? Didn't he rescue the ark of the covenant? The temple would have been his swan song, his signature deed. David had expected to dedicate his final years to building a shrine to God. At least, that had been his intention.
“…I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building.” (1 Chronicles 28:2)
Intentions. Preparations. But no temple. Why? Did David grow discouraged? No. He stood willing. Were the people resistant? Hardly. They gave generously. Then what happened? A conjunction happened.
Conjunctions operate as the signal lights of sentences. Some, such as “and”, are green. Others, such as “however”, are yellow. A few are red. Sledgehammer red. They stop you. David got a red light, “but”. He had made preparations to build it. He said:
“…But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’” (1 Chronicles 28:2-3)
David's bloodthirsty temperament cost him the temple privilege. All he could do was say: “I had intended …”. “I had made preparations …”
But God ...
I'm thinking of some people who have uttered similar words. God had different plans than they did. One man waited until his mid-thirties to marry. Resolved to select the right spouse, he prayerfully took his time. When he found her, they moved westward, bought a ranch, and began their life together. After three short years, she was killed in an accident.
“I had intended …”. “I had made preparations …”
But God ...
A young couple turned a room into a nursery. They papered walls, refinished a baby crib, but then the wife miscarried.
“I had intended …”. “I had made preparations …”
But God ...
“I had intended …”. “I had made preparations …”
But God ...
What do you do with the "but God" moments in life? When God interrupts your good plans, how do you respond?
The man who lost his wife has not responded well. At this writing he indwells a fog bank of anger and bitterness. The young couple is coping better. They stay active in church and prayerful about a child. And what about David? When God changed David's plans, how did he reply?
He followed the "but God" with a "yet God”:
“Yet the LORD God of Israel chose me from all my father's house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.” (1 Chronicles 28:4)
Reduce the paragraph to a phrase, and it reads, "Who am I to complain? David had gone from runt to royalty, from herding sheep to leading armies, from sleeping in the pasture to living in the palace. When you are given an ice cream sundae, you don't complain over a missing cherry.
David faced the behemoth of disappointment with "yet God." David trusted. His "but God" became a "yet God."
Who's to say yours won't become the same?
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
August 19, 2018
UNTRUSTWORTHINESS OF MONEY
“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.”
My biggest temptation may be to trust in money more than I trust in my Master Jesus. Cash is constantly bidding for my allegiance over my commitment to Christ. I know the Lord takes care of His children, but don’t I have to save enough money to be secure? Financial planning is prudent and wise, but not to the point of replacing my dependence on God. When I obsess about the need for more money, I am totally trusting in money.
Ironically, our currency carries the not-so-subtle reminder, “In God We Trust,” perhaps engraved by our faith-filled founding fathers as a warning not to waste our energy engaging money as the source of our security. Can we trust money and trust God at the same time? No, Jesus is very clear about the status of stuff in relation to God’s devotion:
“No one 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.” (Matthew 6:24)
You cannot trust cash and Christ simultaneously. Money is not trustworthy. So honestly ask, “Is my future secured by my savings or by my Savior?” It is impossible to obtain a one-hundred-percent-secured financial future. God knows we need this uncertainty to stay dependent on Him. Frustration and fear become the pattern of those who focus on finances over faith.
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?” (Ecclesiastes 5:10–11)
The love of money and trust in money are both sins. So how can we responsibly prepare for the future and remain loyal to the Lord? Start with gratitude to God for His daily provision, be a joyful and generous giver, and submit moment by moment to the Lord’s ownership. You know you trust in the Lord alone when your treasures in heaven far exceed your treasures on earth. Treasures left with Jesus produce a peaceful heart.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Does cash compete with your trust in Christ? How can you aggressively store up treasure in heaven?
August 7-18, 2018
AN HONEST REALITY CHECK
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began”
God’s truth defines and reveals reality. Satan’s lies compete with reality, as they create an illusion outside the boundaries of what’s real with a goal to deceive and destroy. A reality we enjoy is a delicious meal with engaging, fun company or the birth of a newborn after a stressful, fear filled delivery. A reality we may seek to deny is a wrong fit at work. “I am made for this role. How can we work this out? Just give me more time to prove myself”. Or, one of Satan’s lies may be the illusion that I can make my own decisions and ask the Lord, after the fact, to honor my choice (though contrary to His will). Lies restrict us, while the truth frees us!
Paul humbly describes himself as a servant of God, an apostle (having seen Jesus) of Christ, tasked with the responsibility to grow the faith of God’s people by expanding their knowledge of truth that leads to godliness, all based on the Lord’s eternal promises and His inability to lie. Every day we have the opportunity to seek out, receive and believe eternal truth or default to lazy living---swept up by the seduction of temporal untruths. As we embrace the same servant spirit of Paul, we are positioned to be humble, lifetime learners of truth. The Holy Spirit is our teacher.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
What is a reality check? How can we implement regular reality checks? A reality check means we take the time to assess a situation, “Do I need to move on or have I done all I can do?” It may mean we face the brutal facts of a relationship, “Does she really want to be just friends?”, or “I have asked him for forgiveness, but now my best response is to wait and pray for healing”. Reality checks move truth top of mind and cause us to flush out faulty thinking, full of false assumptions or bold faced lies. Reality can be a blunt, corrective teacher or a patient instructor, revealing truth.
Above all, we lean into the instruction of the Holy Spirit to help us discern truth from lies, authenticity from deception and holiness from hypocrisy. Silently meditating on Scripture, we engage in an eternal exchange of who God is, who we are and who we need to become. Sacred are the moments our hearts are filled with hope and love from our heavenly Father and our minds are renewed by truth, reminding us of our identity in Christ. Already accepted, we can live like a free person though a controlling culture tries to dismiss God’s definition of truth. Reality checks come from a personal relationship with Jesus and accountability with His followers. Make sure you are not living in a make believe world, but in the reality the Lord’s truth defines and reveals.
“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. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-14)
What trusted friend do you need to ask for a reality check about a person or situation?
August 6, 2018
“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
Why do birds sing? Birds sing “because they can and because they must,” says David Rothenberg, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “Songs are used to attract mates and defend territories, but the form is much more than function. Nature is full of beauty, and of music.”
Birds sing because they have a syrinx instead of a larynx. The syrinx is the bird’s voice box, an organ that lies deep in a bird’s chest and is uniquely fashioned for song. That, at least, is the natural explanation for their gift.
But I ask again, why do birds sing?
Because their Creator put a song in their hearts. Each bird is “heaven’s high and holy muse,” said John Donne, created to draw our hearts up to our Creator. They are reminders that He has given us a song that we may sing His praise.
So when you hear God’s little hymn-birds singing their hearts out, remember to sing your own song of salvation. Lift up your voice—harmonious, hoarse, or harsh—and join with them in praise to our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord.
“Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.“ (Psalm 104:12)
The birds of the air “sing among the branches,” Israel’s poet observes:
“I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” (Psalm 104:33)
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee.
Henry J. Van Dyke (Lyrics to hymn entitled “Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee”)
All creation sings God’s praise.
David H. Roper
August 5, 2018
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,”
Christians often talk about becoming more like Christ. In fact, “Christlikeness” is arguably the most clear and compelling way to think of the journey of discipleship. You and I are faced with a choice, day after day, to open our hearts and lives to the Spirit of God, asking him to renew and restore us from within so that our lives more clearly reflect the likeness of Jesus. Yet what does this look like in actual practice? How can we know if we are truly growing into the likeness of Christ?
According to Paul, we see Jesus the most clearly when we understand the nature of his love towards us. Jesus is the perfect example of humility:
“who, though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” (Philippians 2:6)
True humility and selfless love is seen when Jesus does not cling to what is rightfully his but draws near to us in our frailty and weakness. His desire to heal and restore the world is so great that he is willing to empty himself and live as one of us in order to restore us to God. The ability to love another more than we love ourselves has always been and will forever be the single most important character trait we can desire in our lives. It is the clearest and most compelling way that we show our love for God to be true.
In practice, we must acknowledge that this is incredibly difficult to live out. In our wider culture we are told constantly that our personal happiness and satisfaction is the primary filter through which all decisions should be made. If it doesn’t bring immediate happiness and pleasure, why do it? Questions like “where should I study?”, “where should I work?”, or “where should I live?” are rarely driven by a desire to see the flourishing and happiness of another.
To grow in Christlikeness, we must start asking hard questions of how we use our time and where we invest our love. Are you willing to sacrifice your desire for comfort, financial security, order, and restful nights and open yourself to the gift of children, especially if it is the deepest desire of your spouses’ heart? If you have children, are you willing to sacrifice a great promotion in order to be faithful to the promises you have made to be present and invested in their lives? Are you willing to sacrifice a portion of your retirement funds so you can care for your aging parents?
Hard as they may be, these are the kinds of questions we must not only ask, but also have the courage to respond to with faithfulness and bold living that shows the transformation that comes from walking the self-giving way of Jesus!
Where has your selfishness and concern with your own interests kept you from loving those closest to you as Christ would have you love them?
August 4, 2018
LOVINGLY LEAVE THEM
“Let them [the Pharisees] alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
There comes a time when an individual Christian is led by the Lord to leave his or her church because the church has left its conviction in Christ’s teachings. Sadly, there are times when a Christian congregation is led by the Lord to leave its denomination because the denomination has left its belief in the Bible. Staying is a sin if the Lord leads to leave.
Why is it important for us to separate ourselves from false teachers who are offended by the truth of Jesus’ teaching? One major reason is that this path of apostasy leads to spiritual death. Do you want to follow a shepherd who denies the deity of the Great Shepherd Jesus? Do you want to associate with a church that denies that Jesus is coming back for His bride—the church? Spiritual life comes from embracing all of Christ’s commands.
“For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.” (Jeremiah 10:21)
Christianity is not a menu of beliefs that is itemized and selected only as it fits into the mainstream acceptance of the culture. On the contrary, Christianity is meant to transform the culture with its conviction in Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection to give us His life, all by grace through faith. Spiritual guides who define God in their trivial terms are blind and lead other blind followers into a pit of pride and eternal entrapment.
If you are hiking rough terrain, is it wise and responsible to follow a knowledgeable, well-spoken, but blindfolded guide? Of course it is not. Neither do you blindly follow a spiritual leader, church, or denomination that cannot see spiritually because of their blindfold of unbelief. You leave them because you love them too much to stay, and you pray that by leaving you can one day lead them into the light of spiritual sight.
Lastly, leave well, not maliciously but motivated by loving malcontent. Transition out in the Holy Spirit’s strength, seasoned with a life of grace and humility. Make your leaving an illustration of why you are not staying—faith and obedience to Christ’s commands. Leaving is not easy, but leaving as the Lord leads opens up eternal opportunities.
“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)
How will you leaving affect the faith of your family and friends? Is love your motivation?
August 3, 2018
HIS WING SHELTERS YOU
“He will shield you with his wings. He will shelter you with his feathers.”
My college friends and I barely escaped a West Texas storm before it pummeled the park where we were spending a Saturday afternoon. As we were leaving, my buddy brought the car to a sudden stop and gestured to a tender sight on the ground. A mother bird sat exposed to the rain, her wing extended over her baby who had fallen out of the nest. The fierce storm prohibited her from returning to the tree, so she covered her child until the wind passed.
From how many winds is God protecting you? His wing, at this moment, shields you. A slanderous critic heading toward your desk is interrupted by a phone call. A burglar en route to your house has a flat tire. A drunk driver runs out of gas before your car passes his.
God, your guardian, protects you from:
“…the snare of the fowler …“ (Psalm 91:3)
“…the deadly pestilence.“ (Psalm 91:3)
“…the destruction that wastes at noonday.” (Psalm 91:6)
“…the pestilence that stalks in darkness…” (Psalm 91:6)
“…the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,” (Psalm 91:5)
Another Psalm boldly promises:
“no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” (Psalm 91:10)
“Then why does it?” someone erupts. “Explain my job transfer. Or the bum who called himself my dad. Or the death of our child.” If God is our guardian, why do bad things happen to us?
Have they? Have bad things really happened to you? You and God may have different definitions for the word bad. God views your life the way you view a movie after you’ve read the book. When something bad happens, you feel the air sucked out of the theater. Everyone else gasps at the crisis on the screen. Not you. Why? You’ve read the book. You know how the good guy gets out of the tight spot. God views your life with the same confidence. He’s not only read your story...he wrote it. His perspective is different, and his purpose is clear.
God uses struggles to toughen our spiritual skin.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4)
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)
Join with Isaiah, who resolved:
“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.” (Isaiah 12:2)
God is directing your steps and delighting in every detail of your life:
“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” (Psalm 37:23–24)
In fact, that’s his car pulling over to the side of the road. That’s God opening the door. And that’s you climbing into the passenger seat. There now, don’t you feel safer knowing he is in control?
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
August 2, 2018
THE LOVE OF THE FATHER
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”
For many years, though my theology may have been clear in my head, in my heart I carried a distorted view of God as Father. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that Jesus was the good guy, and God the Father was to be avoided. If anything, he was more of an angry, absentee father who knew how to punish and correct but knew nothing of love. That’s where Jesus came into the picture. Jesus was a safe place. He was the one who was on our side, saving us by keeping us away from the Father. Yet if we read the Bible carefully, time and time again we encounter a profound truth. Salvation is a team effort.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit move towards us in perfect love. The incarnation of Jesus is rooted in the Father’s desire to reconcile the world to himself. As St. Paul reminds the Church in Ephesus, it is the Father:
“…who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:3)
There is never a moment in which Jesus acts contrary to the will of the Father. As he reminds us in John’s gospel:
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.’” (John 5:19)
Many of us read these words and struggle to approach God as Father. We love and trust Jesus, seeing him as humble, accessible, and trustworthy. Yet we avoid the Father in hopes of slipping by unnoticed, perhaps how you would treat an alcoholic earthly father who is prone to violent outbursts. Could it be, in fact, that in accepting a distorted and broken view of fatherhood we have in the process missed the very heart of God towards us?
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1)
To draw near to God our Father is to draw near to love itself. It is to be made more and more like Jesus so that we can be men and women who are able to enter into the eternal community of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God deals tenderly with us and abounds in kindness towards his children. Trust in his goodness today and learn afresh what it means to be loved by the Father.
How can you begin to see the unity of the Trinity and how each member loves us and invites us into their perfect love?
August 1, 2018
MULTIPLY THE GOOD NEWS
“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble.”
Years ago I set out a honeycomb to fed some bees that had a hive a short distance away. To start the process I captured one bee in a cup, placed it over the honeycomb, and waited until the bee discovered the treasure. When it was filled and satisfied, it flew directly to the hive. After a moment the bee returned with a dozen others. These in turn brought many more, until finally a swarm of bees covered the comb and soon had carried all the honey into the hive.
What a lesson for us! Are we telling others about the One we have found? Christ has committed to us the proclamation of the “good news.” Shall we who have found honey in the Rock—Christ Jesus—be less considerate of others than the bees are?
The four lepers who sat just outside the gate of Samaria, after they had found food in the tents of the Syrians who had fled in the night, passed on the good news:
“Then they said to one another, ‘We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king's household.’” (2 Kings 7:9)
The child of God who knows the good tidings of the gospel does not do right if he fails to pass it on to others. Tell a hungry soul about Christ today. Multiply the blessing of the Good News.