February 28, 2018
“but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
I confess, sometimes as a husband I drift into selective listening, when my wife says things that I either don't want to hear or my mind becomes deaf when I am preoccupied with a project or a problem. The consequences of my unwillingness or inability to listen well, or not at all, is at best being insensitive to my sweetheart and at worse being disrespectful and unloving. When she calls me out of my fog I’m wise to not lamely defend myself and say, “I was listening”, but to confess my folly in checking out while in her presence and ask her forgiveness. Listening requires attention!
Jesus illustrates very clearly that I am truly a sheep in His flock if I believe. If I believe in Him as my Shepherd who leads me, I listen to His voice and follow. All types of voices compete for mindshare, but it’s the voice of my Lord that deserves my undivided attention and discernment. Do I listen intently to His directives to beware straying into the danger areas of temptation and disobedience? Am I seeking my approval from the One whose acceptance matters the most? Jesus says, if I truly love Him I will listen to Him, learn from Him and follow Him wholehearted.
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)
Are you in tune with the Lord? What is He saying that might be counter-cultural, but best for you and your family? Courage to say no or faith to say yes, both require the Holy Spirit’s leadership and:
“… the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Don’t dismiss the example of other faithful followers in the flock of God. Look to those who have labored to listen, who know how to hear the voice of their sympathizing Shepherd, who feast with delight in green pastures of His provision and rest by still waters at peace, secure. The Lord’s voice becomes clearer in quietness. Get quiet, focus and learn wisdom in the secret place of the soul, where only your Savior dwells:
“Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Psalm 51:6)
Your Father finds great pleasure in sharing His ways with the humble and upright of heart. Your integrity is an instrument of God’s will---He uses it to bless you so you can bless others. Whatever success you experience, offer it to Jesus as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. You are the most vulnerable to temptation when you are triumphant, so stay surrounded by those who will tell you the truth. Listen to their godly advice as you listen to the one who spoke in your mother's womb!
“Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.” (Isaiah 49:1)
“And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.” (Luke 10:39)
Spend five minutes in silence and write down how the Spirit instructs your heart.
February 27, 2018
1 Samuel 16:7
“…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”
The preacher placed two identical jars on the table next to the pulpit. He said, “These jars came from the same factory, were made of the same materials, and can hold the same amount. But they are different,” he explained.
Then he upset one and it oozed out honey. He turned over the other, and vinegar spilled out. When a jar is upset, whatever is in it comes out. Until the jars were upset, they looked alike. The difference was within, and could not be seen. When they were upset, their contents were revealed.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Until we are upset we put on a good front. But when we are upset, we reveal our innermost thoughts and attitudes:
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” ( Luke 6:45)
What if someone tipped you over today? What would flow out? Would you reveal the "honey" of grace and patience, or the "vinegar" of anger and sarcasm?
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Have a terrific day knowing that the one who upsets you may be just looking for some honey.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
February 26, 2018
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
John Wayne once said "Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway." There's a lot of spiritual truth in that statement. The worst part of fear isn't the emotion of feeling afraid. It's allowing that emotion to stop you from fulfilling the plan God has for you. Many times, we don't admit that it's fear that holds us back from going forward. We justify our cowardice in these ways:
It's not the right time. Sometimes it isn't the right time, but we can move in the direction God wants us to go until the time is right. When it's the right time, we can depend upon Him to open up the doors.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
I don't have time. There's an old adage that says we find time for what we really want to do. In this busy world, we need to adjust our schedules to find time for what's important.
“Then David said to Solomon his son, 'Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.'” (1 Chronicles 28:20)
I don't have the ability or resources. God rarely gives us a mission or goal where we have the ability and resources to carry it out on our own. If He did, we wouldn't need to rely upon Him.
“fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Plan B. Many times, we fear that if we move forward with what God wants us to do, we might fail. So we develop a plan B instead of burning our bridges behind us and trusting God to work things out. One of the greatest examples of a plan B was when Sarah gave her servant to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. God wants us to have faith. Plan B often shows our lack of faith.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)
I admit I've been guilty of all of these. But let's commit to going forward with the plans God has for us. I've decided that when I'm scared, I'm going to saddle up anyway.
February 25, 2018
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”
Many a young man with romance on his mind presented an engagement ring to his young woman on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps they’ve set a June wedding date. Now the time of preparation begins. Bridal counselors hand out detailed calendars for the bride-to-be and her bridesmaids to be fully prepared for the big day. In order for the “perfect wedding” reward, she must diligently adhere to the schedule.
You know, don’t you, that as a part of the Bride of Christ, you need to be eagerly and diligently preparing yourself for the One you love. Like the young woman learning everything about her intended and desiring to please only him, are you getting better acquainted with Jesus every day?
Just as that same young woman wants to spend time with her love, do you desire to be alone with the Lord, to find a more intimate relationship with Him? the Bible says:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near:” (Isaiah 55:6)
He rewards those who seek Him:
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
While you attend to your own bridal preparations for your heavenly wedding celebration, pray for others to seek after the Lord for wisdom, grace and their salvation.
The Presidential Prayer Team
February 24, 2018
“But Esau ran to meet him [his brother, Jacob] and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”
Just like the prodigal son (Jesus describes in Luke 15) became broken and repentant, so Jacob does. As the loving father forgives, embraces, and weeps with the son, so Esau does with Jacob. It is a beautiful, beautiful picture of forgiveness. Deception was overcome by forgiveness. Stealing was overcome by forgiveness. Hurt was overcome by forgiveness. Anger was overcome by forgiveness. Pride was overcome by forgiveness.
Running away was overcome by forgiveness. Coming back together was facilitated by forgiveness. Forgiveness through Christ and toward each other is the great reconciler. Otherwise, we live life like most miserable men and women, still blaming others and lamenting over injustice inflicted on us and those we love. It is not fair because life hurts our idealism and optimism; however, to be healed is to forgive. So how do we forgive?
Forgiveness begins with an encounter with God, as the originator of forgiveness embraces us. He is the one with the limitless capacity to forgive. His forgiveness engulfs us with ability, a mandate, and a reservoir of forgiveness. Because He has thoroughly forgiven us through Christ, we can and will forgive others for Christ’s sake. It is the essence of being a Christian. If you are a Christian, you forgive.
Why is forgiveness hard? One reason is our immature faith lacks a cure. Our focus is still on our needs and hurts, but God is calling us to forgive. It is from a faithful stance of loving Him and loving people. When you choose to live by faith, you forgive. When you forgive, you trust that God is working to make you and others more like Jesus. Begin today; let God embrace you, you embrace another, and then watch forgiveness do its work.
The Bible says,
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)
Whom can you forgive today and begin the process of healing?
February 23, 2018
FAITHFUL TO THE END
2 Timothy 4:7
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
While watching the 2018 Winter Olympics tonight, I was reminded of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania was excited. He was about to run the marathon with runners from around the world.
The starter’s pistol fired and the race began. A little over 2 hours later, the first runner crossed the finish line. Other runners finished the race shortly afterwards, but John was not among them. Over an hour after the winner had crossed the finish line, with only a few spectators remaining in the stands, John Stephen Ahkwari finally entered the stadium.
Bandaged and bloody, John finally crossed the finish line. Bud Greenspan, the renown sports reporter, asked John why he didn't just quit. He answered, "My country did not send me 5000 miles to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me here to finish."
John Stephen Akhwari did not receive a prize or a medal, but he did endure. He didn't just start the race, he finished it. God did not call us just to start the Christian race, he called us to finish it!
"Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
February 22, 2018
ONE FAITHFUL WITNESS
“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’”
Many of you have read the story about a Sunday School teacher named Edward Kimball. Mr. Kimball was a timid shoe salesman who gathered the nerve to share the gospel with a co-worker named Dwight.L. Moody. D.L. Moody made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in history.
Do you know the rest of the story? D.L. Moody went to England and worked a profound change in the ministry of F.B. Meyer. F.B. Meyer, with his new evangelistic fervor, influenced a college student named J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and employed a converted baseball player in his ministry named Billy Sunday. Billy Sunday became the greatest evangelist of his generation.
Billy Sunday preached the gospel in Charlotte, North Caroline and had such a tremendous impact that he was invited back. However, when he was unable to return, he recommended a preacher named Mordecai Ham. Ham went to Charlotte and preached his heart out, but there was only a limited response to his preaching.
On the last night of Mordecai Ham's revival, a tall, lanky boy who worked on a dairy farm walked forward and asked Jesus to come into his heart. The local folks knew him as Billy Frank, but we all know him as Billy Graham.
Today, as we reflect on the tremendous life and ministry of Billy Graham, it is also a wonderful time to reflect on the fact that it all started with a laymen named Edward Kimball, who took seriously Christ's commission to be a witness in his world.
It is highly unlikely that you and I will ever become a Billy Sunday or a Billy Graham, but every single one of us can be an "Edward Kimball". Every one of us can share the gospel with those we see every day of our lives. .
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, I'm available for you to use; please use me today and every day to be an effective witness for you, and to be 'as Jesus' in some way to every life I touch. And grant that they, seeing Jesus in me, will want you for themselves. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
February 21, 2018
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'”
George Washington is the face on the one-dollar bill and--these days--the smiling face of Presidents’ Day sales. Most of us know he was the first president of the United States. But why is that important? What else do we know about him?
George Washington was the man who established the American republic. He led the revolutionary army against the British Empire, he served as the first president, and most importantly he stepped down from power.
In an era of brilliant men, Washington was not the deepest thinker. He never wrote a book or even a long essay, unlike George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. But Washington made the ideas of the American founding real. He incarnated liberal and republican ideas in his own person, and he gave them effect through the Revolution, the Constitution, his successful presidency, and his departure from office.
What’s so great about leaving office? Surely it matters more what a president does in office. But think about other great military commanders and revolutionary leaders before and after Washington--Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Lenin. They all seized the power they had won and held it until death or military defeat.
John Adams said, “He was the best actor of presidency we have ever had.” Indeed, Washington was a person very conscious of his reputation, who worked all his life to develop his character and his image.
In our own time, Joshua Micah Marshall writes of America’s first president, “It was all a put-on, an act.” Marshall missed the point. Washington understood that character is something you develop. He learned from Aristotle that good conduct arises from habits that in turn can only be acquired by repeated action and correction-- “We are what we repeatedly do.” Indeed, the word “ethics” comes from the Greek word for “habit.” We say something is “second nature” because it’s not actually natural; it’s a habit we’ve developed. From reading the Greek philosophers and the Roman statesmen, Washington developed an understanding of character, in particular the character appropriate to a gentleman in a republic of free citizens.
What values did Washington’s character express? He was a farmer, a businessman, an enthusiast for commerce. As a man of the Enlightenment, he was deeply interested in scientific farming. His letters on running Mount Vernon are longer than letters on running the government. (Of course, in 1795 more people worked at Mount Vernon than in the entire executive branch of the federal government.)
He was also a liberal and tolerant man. In a famous letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, he hailed the “liberal policy” of the United States on religious freedom as worthy of emulation by other countries. He explained, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.” And most notably, he held “republican” values--that is, he believed in a republic of free citizens, with a government based on consent and established to protect the rights of life, liberty, and property.
From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice--at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term.
Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”
“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”
February 20, 2018
Jumping Off a Bridge and Trusting God
“So also Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’”
When compared to many other small communities in the U.S., I imagine my hometown in Southern Idaho is as interesting as most. If you visit, you’ll see lots of pickup trucks; you can purchase a famous Idaho Spud candy bar at just about any gas station, and if you’re in the mood for a real Idaho baker, you can find one at any grocery store since it’s certified potato country.
Twin Falls is also where Evel Knievel unsuccessfully attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon on his steam-powered “skycycle” in 1974. If you visit, you can still see his dirt ramp on the south side of the canyon. It’s also where more than 500 people come from all over the world every year to strap on their parachutes and throw themselves off our famous Perrine Bridge into the Snake River Canyon, 486 feet below.
These jumpers do their research. They know which way the wind should be blowing, and what type of equipment to use to get safely to their landing. They trust their equipment; they trust their teams. So, they jump. If they didn’t believe they would make it to their destination, they wouldn’t take the leap. What they believe affects how they act. Life with God is the same. In 1 Peter it says of Jesus:
“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
What Jesus believed affected his actions. He believed His Father was just; He believed He would get Him safely home and accomplish His purposes; He believed He would make all things right, so He willingly laid down His life without fighting against His accusers.
What we truly believe about our Lord affects how we act too. Like Christ, when we entrust ourselves to Him, it means we truly trust and believe Him. We are not like those who say we believe without action. Instead, we are do-ers, not just hearers. And in this, we are blessed.
When money is short, we do not panic. Instead, we entrust ourselves to Him who provides for His kids. When our hearts are grieving, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Instead, we entrust ourselves to Him who comforts those who mourn.
When we are lonely, we do not despair. Instead, we place our hope in Him who will never leave us or forsake us. When we are waiting for the future to unfold, we trust God is leading us.
Is your trust and belief in Christ affecting how you respond to life and life’s challenges? The Lord wants to provide you with the peace and confidence that comes through trust and belief.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)
Take a few minutes and think about your life. Is there any area in which you need to choose to believe and trust Him fully?
February 19, 2018
THE BIG COVER-UP
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
Peter Ustinov, the famous actor and ambassador for UNICEF, once said “love is an act of endless forgiveness.” Think about how much forgiveness is needed in society today. Open a newspaper or flip on a news channel and you’re likely to see stories of hate and the effects of it. People are killing, raping, stealing, hurting – all causing strife. The Forgiveness Project, started by Marina Cantacuzino, uses people’s personal experiences with crime and violence to explore forgiveness and how it can transform someone’s life. Many people involved in the project reveal their ability to forgive came through their relationship with Jesus.
Today’s verse says love covers all offenses. “Cover” does not mean to conceal or hide, but rather to pardon or forgive. The immeasurable love of Christ can give you the power of “bearing with” and forgiving the offenses of others
“bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
Are you struggling with a wrong committed to you? In your prayer time, ask God to demonstrate His free gift of forgiveness so you can experience the power it has to transform your life.
February 18, 2018
HELP US REMEMBER
"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
Help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.
Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can't make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.
Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.
Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.
Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts you give us, the greatest gift is love. It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not to just those who are close to us, but to all humanity. Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive, show patience, empathy and love.
"give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:38)
Submitted by Joan Morgan
February 17, 2018
THE FACE OF CRITICISM
"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."
Before I became an author, I realized I’d been waiting for someone to encourage me to write a book. I thought if another, more successful writer validated me, then I could start moving toward the dream that God had placed in my heart. Deep down I didn’t want to look foolish and I feared the criticism of others.
One day as I browsed the bookstore for inspiration from an accomplished writer, I sensed that still quiet voice I had heard so many times speak to my heart: “Why are you looking for a leader outside yourself? Write what I have given you.” No matter who you are, or what you want to accomplish, the only leader you need to move toward your purpose is the Holy Spirit.
"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)
Even Jesus knew when to ignore naysayers who wanted to prevent Him from accomplishing God’s plan for His life.Those in His hometown became furious when He said He was sent by God. To destroy Him:
"....they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. " (Luke 4:29)
What did Jesus do? He walked through the crowd and went on His way:
"But passing through their midst, he went away." (Luke 4:30)
Because He knew who He was and who His Father was, He decided He would fulfill His purpose, even if no one but His Father agreed. Sometimes the best way to move on to God’s plan for you is to ignore negative evaluations and comments and, just like Jesus, go merrily on our way. Can you imagine what Christ’s life on earth would have been like if He had been self-protective and feared criticism?
He would have kept His mouth shut when He was falsely accused. He would have defended Himself. When His enemies spit in His face, He would have retaliated. When they called Him names, He would have called down a legion of angels to defend Him. When they marched Him to Golgatha, He would have run. And rather than laying down His life to give His all to those He loved, the redemption of the human race would have been lost in His misguided passion of self-protection and the fear of criticism.
When we fear criticism and are overly self-protective, we can miss out on being a gift to others. You see, what God wants you to accomplish is not just about you; it’s about many people that God wants to influence and help through you. Ask the Lord to give you the strength you need to move forward in faith in the face of criticism. And remember, you are living your life for the approval of just One.
February 16, 2018
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
During World War II, a man in Sussex, England, sent some money to the Scripture Gift Mission. He enclosed a letter saying that he longed to give more, but the harvest on his farm had been very disappointing because of a lack of water. He was also fearful because German bombs were being dropped in the area, and his family and farm were at risk. He asked the workers of Scripture Gift Mission to pray that no bombs would fall on his land.
Mr. Ashley Baker wrote back from the mission and said that while he didn't feel led to pray that exact prayer, he had prayed that God's will for their lives would prevail. Shortly after, a huge German missile crashed down on the farm. None of the man's family or livestock were harmed, but the bombshell went so far into the ground that it liberated a submerged stream. The stream yielded enough water to irrigate the man's farm as well as neighboring farms. The next year, due to a bountiful harvest, the man was able to send a large offering to the mission.
Sometimes even "bombs" are blessings. They fall from heaven, make a lot of noise, and liberate something wonderful within us - streams of living water that refresh us and draw us closer to Christ.
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
February 15, 2018
DWELL WITH US
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.'"
What does it mean for God to be our God? In many ways, this is a core question that human beings have asked since time began. Humans have a deep, built in longing for meaning, purpose, and significance. Religious expression can be studied and observed in the earliest accounts of human history. As a species we have built within us an unshakable sense that there is something more, something greater to behold and encounter.
In some cases, this sense has led to great fear and anxiety. “God” is seen as unknowable and distant, disconnected from the intimate details of human experience. Or, if he is connected, he must constantly be appeased with bribes, gifts, and offerings. The relationship, if we can call it that, is always one way, us reaching up yet never actually expecting a god to hear and respond, let alone come and draw near to us.
And yet, the story of Israel is unique amongst all religious expressions in one incredible way. The Bible tells us a story of God drawing near and making his home with his people. He isn’t unaffected or unconcerned with the needs of his creation. In fact, creation itself is an overflow, an outpouring of his eternal love. God makes his home with us because he loves us and wants to dwell with us and us with him.
When the God of the Bible says “he will be our God,” he supports this remarkable claim by coming and making himself like us so that we can know him. In the incarnation, the unknowable is made known:
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
God moves into our lives and wants to dwell with us, teaching us what it means to truly live in the depths of our being. He is with us in our hopes and dreams, as well as our fears and failures. To be a person of faith is to trust and believe that God is near to you, and this nearness is not simply wishful thinking but is rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God drew near to his people in Jesus over 2,000 years ago, and by his Spirit he continues to draw near this very moment if you will but open your heart and invite him to dwell with you afresh.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)
February 14, 2018
"Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold,"
What could you do with multiple millions of dollars? Every week, scores of lottery tickets are sold while billboards keep grand totals on jackpots up-to-date and neon colors punctuate words like “Jackpot” and “Mega-Millions.” Everybody wants to get rich quick.
The fascination with money isn’t new. In the Bible, Achan’s desire for riches was his downfall. He was stoned when the Israelites discovered he hid gold, silver and a beautiful robe under his tent. God had given specific directions not to take the choice “devoted things” from the Canaanites, but Achan was disobedient:
"But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel." (Joshua 7:1)
Today’s verse shows God wants you to treasure His instructions more than silver or gold. His wisdom is more valuable than riches. People focus on money probably more than they would like to admit. Take time today to ask God to examine your heart. Do you desire financial gain more than what He wants you to have?
Search God’s Word for riches that can never be stolen. Ask God to give a desire for wisdom over money and the false security it gives.
February 13, 2018
RELIEF FROM PAIN
"For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."
Lily, our eight year old granddaughter writhed in pain. Tears flowed as she frantically sought relief from an intrusive needle sized splinter. The nemesis, with an ambush like attack had invaded the soft tender area of her palm just below the thumb. Her mom comforted her---a personified God hug, calmly and lovingly assured her first born all would be ok, while gingerly explaining how extraction brings relief---but only after additional pain. The thought of digging into her sensitive skin caused our precious baby to howl in fear, tears flooding out like a raging river after a heavy rain. Childhood often does not have a context for how to process pain. Aunts, uncles, grandparents---we all stood around sympathetic, but feeling helpless. Pain hurts.
How many of us have multiple splinters embedded in our souls---forgotten, festering or fresh? Your hurt may be buried deep in the recesses of your memories, but on occasion it raises its ugly head because you discover your pain was buried alive. Forgotten from denial, but not dead because ongoing forgiveness in the power of the Spirit is the only remedy to remove the pain of past sins inflicted on your heart. You may never hear the words, “Will you forgive me?”, but you can still forgive and by God’s grace not be controlled by someone else’s past shaming.
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)
A festering hurt like a physical wound lingers with infection just below the surface: puffy, red and swollen intently waiting for love’s lance to bring relief. The puss of pride infects the blood of our emotions as it flows through our hurting heart with venomous affect---only the antivenin of humility can counteract pride’s deadly outcome. Humility recognizes and admits the struggle of unresolved conflict corrodes relationships and clouds our judgment. Only when we go to our offender or the one we have offended and seek reconciliation can we clear our consciences.
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)
Or maybe your wound is fresh. Take courage and forgive fast so the hurt doesn’t fester and lie dormant in resentment ready to attack unaware. When you are hurt or offended the amount of time it takes you to thank God and forgive is an indicator of how close your walk is with Christ. Some die in bitterness, for others it takes years to forgive, fewer months, fewer weeks, even fewer days, the more mature in their faith hours, saints seconds and those who walk closest to Christ, their thanksgiving and forgiveness are simultaneous to the offense. By God’s grace keep no record of wrongs and you will be free to love others as your heavenly Father loves you.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Mathew 11:28-29)
What hurt do you need to process with friends, so you can begin the healing process?
February 12, 2018
"Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out."
“I cannot tell a lie.” America’s first president was famous for many things, but one of the most popular legends about George Washington involves a hatchet, a cherry tree and his inability to fib. The nation’s sixteenth president was fondly known as Honest Abe: after accidentally making wrong change while working at a small store, Lincoln was said to have journeyed a long way to return the change to its rightful owner.
This nation was built on men filled with integrity. Unfortunately, over the years things have changed. Stories of corruption and deceit in the Washington D.C. halls of government have become so commonplace in recent decades, they’re becoming accepted as normal.
Today’s verse gives insight from God’s Word about those who walk in integrity. Eventually all lies will come to light and the truth will reign.
As you interact with others, be forthright in all things and be confident in the truth. Pray for God to point out areas in your life where you need to work on honesty. Then pray for our nation’s leaders to have the wisdom to act and serve with integrity, to seek God in all aspects of their political responsibilities – and avoid the crooked consequences.
"The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them." (Proverbs 11:3)
February 11, 2018
"Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?"
Sometimes God’s will is not logical and does not even seem possible. Abraham certainly struggled with the idea of being a parent as a centenarian and his wife conceiving at ninety years of age. It was not possible; it did not make sense. Yet in reality all things are possible with God, and this was one of them.
The Lord made a promise that was out of the ordinary. He wanted to mark this occasion with an indelible stamp of a “God thing.” Abraham tried to let God off the hook on this miraculous scheme by offering Him another plan. However, God was not interested in another plan; He was interested in setting the stage for a blessing that would validate His sovereignty, taking the faith of Abraham, Sarah, and an entire nation to a whole new level. God wants us, and He wants us to take Him at His Word.
Why is it hard to take God at His Word? Why do we struggle with believing in something that is not logical or takes us out of our comfort zone? One reason we struggle is our perception of God. We make Him so small. We bring Him down to our level rather than allowing Him to pull us up to His level! This is man-centered thinking; instead, let’s allow God to be God.
Faith allows us to travel places with God that we would never experience otherwise. Would you not rather be in the middle of a lake in a storm with Jesus than on the calm shore around a warm fire without Him? This is where faith trumps logic. We trust Him when it does not make sense; we follow Him when we are not sure of the destination.
We believe the Lord when others think we are strange, too religious, or even fanatical. Let your Savior stretch your faith, trusting Him with the opportunity in front of you. Has your laughter turned to trust and awe in God and His accomplishments?
The Bible says,
"Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." (John 8:56)
What impossibility are you facing and will trust that God will make it possible?
February 10. 2018
"Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, and a babbling fool will come to ruin."
Jeff and Greg are identical twins. In every physical respect, their growth, weight gain, appetites and curiosity are on schedule. But at age three, they don’t speak…except to each other. Their “twin talk” is a perpetual, completely non-understandable language only they seem to know. And they haven’t clued anyone else in on it. They are babblers.
Pediatricians say that babbling is a stage in child development that ultimately results in language acquisition as children learn to produce recognizable words. There are numerous hypotheses to explain how babbling transitions to language. But Jeff and Greg don’t seem to care; they’ve created their own language world and are happy to dwell in it, for now.
Babbling for adults is foolishness, however. You know people who just “prattle on” as if to keep any moment from being a quiet one. They can be irritating. Ongoing foolish utterances can “drive you nuts.” In today’s verse, God says they will come to ruin, ultimately driving people away from them, and leaving them in a lonely state.
Today, measure your words. Check yourself. Guard your mouth against divisive words, against over-confidence, against aimlessness. Pray for God’s help. Seek the Lord’s wisdom and aid to temper your language and tone.
February 9, 2018
LEADERS WITH INTEGRITY
"Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens."
Leaders with integrity are a rare breed within a group of citizens whose utmost concern is “What is in it for me?” A selfish society does not always select a leader for his integrity, but for his ability to manipulate a quick fix for chronic problems. It is this short sightedness that can set back a generation, because of their leader’s greed and corruption.
Men and women of integrity understand the big picture of principled leadership, and they value fear of God, trustworthiness and honest economics. A leader of integrity looks out over the long term, and discovers what is best for the culture, its citizens, churches and families. There is a resolve to do the right things, with the right people, for the right reasons. Leaders of integrity integrate uprightness with their quiet influence.
"And the LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.'" (Job 2:3)
Select capable men and women who hold Christ and His commands in high esteem, who you can trust to do and say the right things, implemented in the right way. Leaders of integrity surround themselves with leaders of integrity. There is a high standard in their selection of leaders, because they want to represent the people extremely well. Competence and character are valued over loyal but incompetent friends with suspicious standards of behavior. A leader of integrity delegates to capable leaders.
So, select your leaders in government and church prayerfully, and only after extensive due diligence of their policies, integrity and track record. Blindly betting on one person is a bad process. Instead, select statesmen who will serve the people in the best interests of the country—who surround themselves with the best and the brightest, full of character. Most importantly, choose those who will submit to the accountability of God and man.
The early church experienced a similar selection process of leaders:
"Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:3-4)
Who will you select as a leader that is best for your country, your family and your God?
February 8, 2018
WHAT ARE YOU SEEKING?
"Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, 'What are you seeking?' And they said to him, 'Rabbi' (which means Teacher), 'where are you staying?'"
Each and every one of us is searching for meaning, purpose, and direction. We find ourselves asking the big questions of life: “Is there more to life than this?” “Does anything that I’m doing matter or contribute to something bigger?” “What does it mean to be truly happy?” These are the questions that rise to the surface of our thoughts and imaginations when we take the time to be still and silence the distractions and noise.
Jesus knew how to speak to the deepest desires of these early disciple’s hearts. As they found themselves drawn to him and following after him, he turned, looked at them with love, and asked the only question that truly matters: “What are you looking for?” I love the honesty and authenticity of their response. Perhaps surprised or startled by the directness of the question, all they can get out in response is a simple, “where are you staying?”
The greatest longing of your heart is met in the nearness and intimacy of Jesus. Though we look far and wide for things to give us meaning and significance, they ultimately come up short and leave us empty and hollow inside. I recently heard a story of a man who had reached unimaginable levels of success and cultural influence. Yet having done so, his only response was, “I wish someone had told me that when I got to the top there wouldn’t be anything here.”
If you’ve searched far and wide for the answers to the big questions in life but still haven’t found something to satisfy that desire, perhaps you can hear Jesus’s words afresh today. Into all the doubts, longings, and fears of every heart he looks with great compassion and asks, “What are you looking for?” May we, like these early disciples, see him in his beauty and wonder and desire nothing more than to be near to him. To join him wherever he is going and in whatever he is doing, knowing that it is there that life finds its meaning and true significance.
"Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," (John 6:68)
February 7, 2018
"Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!"
In her book Listening to Others, Joyce Huggett writes about the importance of learning to listen and respond effectively to those in difficult situations. As she relates some of her own experiences of listening to suffering people, she mentions that they often thank her for all she’s done for them. “On many occasions,” she writes, “I have not ‘done’ anything. I have ‘just listened.’ I quickly came to the conclusion that ‘just listening’ was indeed an effective way of helping others.”
This was the help Job sought from his friends. While it is true that they sat with him for seven days in silence:
"And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great." (Job 2:13)
They didn’t listen when Job started talking. Instead, they talked and talked but failed to comfort him:
"I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all." (Job 16:2)
Job cried out:
"Oh, that I had one to hear me!..." (Job 31:35)
Listening says, “What matters to you matters to me.” Sometimes people do want advice. But often they just want to be listened to by someone who loves and cares about them. Listening is hard work, and it takes time. It takes time to listen long enough to hear the other person’s true heart, so that if we do speak, we speak with gentle wisdom.
David H. Roper
February 6, 2018
"But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!"
As I sat in the surgical waiting room, I had time to think. I had been here recently, when we received the jarring news that my only brother, much too young, was “brain dead.” And so on this day, waiting for news about my wife who was undergoing a serious surgical procedure, I penned a lengthy note to her. Then, surrounded by nervous chatter and oblivious children, I listened for the quiet voice of God.
Suddenly, news! The surgeon wanted to see me. I went to a secluded room to wait. There, on the table, sat two tissue boxes, conspicuously available. They weren’t for the sniffles. They were for cold, hard phrases like I heard when my brother died—“brain dead” and “nothing we can do.”
In such times of grief or uncertainty, the honesty of the psalms makes them a natural place to turn. Psalm 31 was the heart-cry of David, who endured so much that he wrote,
"For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away." (Psalm 31:10)
Compounding that grief was the pain of abandonment by his friends and neighbors:
"Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me." (Psalm 31:11)
But David had the bedrock of faith in the one true God:
"But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!" (Psalm 31:14-15)
His lament concludes with resounding encouragement and hope:
"Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 31:24)
This time in the waiting room, the surgeon gave us good news: My wife could expect a full and complete recovery. Of course we were relieved and grateful! But even if she hadn’t been “okay,” our times still remain in God’s capable hands.
When we put our problems in God’s hands, He puts His peace in our hearts.
February 5, 2018
HAND OF COMFORT
2 Corinthians 1:3–4
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
“The patient is combative,” the nurse’s notes read.
What she didn’t realize until later was that I was having an allergic reaction as I awakened after a complicated open-heart surgery. I was a mess, with a tube down my throat. My body began shaking violently, straining against the straps on my arms, which were there to keep me from suddenly pulling out my breathing tube. It was a frightening and painful episode.
At one point, a nurse’s assistant to the right side of my bed reached down and simply held my hand. It was an unexpected move, and it struck me as especially gentle. I began to relax, which caused my body to stop shaking so badly.
Having experienced this with other patients, the nurse’s assistant knew that a hand of comfort could minister to me as well. It was a vivid example of how God uses comfort when His children suffer. Comfort is a powerful and memorable tool for any caregiver, and Paul tells us speaking to the church in Corinth that it is an important part of God’s toolbox:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
Not only that, but God also multiplies the impact of His comfort by calling us to use the memory of the comfort He gives us to comfort others in similar situations:
"For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort." (2 Corinthians 1:4–7)
It is but another sign of His great love; and one we can share with others—sometimes in the simplest of gestures which can bring powerful comfort.
February 4, 2018
A WEIGHTY MATTER
"The Lord detests dishonest scales, but delights in an accurate weight."
There was a time not too long ago when scales at the grocery produce section were not regulated by Bureaus of Weights and Measures. A customer was at the mercy of the merchant, who often calibrated the scale in his favor. Even after the introduction of government standards, it was not uncommon for the butcher to “put his thumb on the scales” when calculating the weight of a chicken or other meat. Once again, the buyer was the loser.
From the earliest part of their history, the Israelites understood the necessity of an accurate system of weights, measures, and an honest handling of them. Leviticus and Deuteronomy called for economic righteousness:
"You must not act unjustly in a legal case involving measures of length, weight, or volume. You must have accurate scales and accurate weights, an accurate ephah [about 20 quarts] and an accurate hin [about one gallon]. ...." (Leviticus 19:35-36)
"Don’t have two different types of money weights in your bag, a heavy one and a light one. Don’t have two different types of ephahs in your house, a large one and a small one. Instead, you must have only one weight, complete and correct, and only one ephah, also complete and correct, so that your life might be long in the fertile land the LORD your God is giving you. What’s more, all who do such things, all who do business dishonestly, are detestable to the LORD your God." (Deuteronomy 25:13-16)
Just as God set out standards for commerce, He set standards for living. Honoring parents, caring for widows and orphans, acting with justice and righteousness, protecting the vulnerable, are just a few. Therefore, pray today that in your own life, you will love mercy, do justly and walk humbly with your God:
"He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)
February 3, 2018
TALK LESS, LISTEN MORE
"With lots of words comes wrongdoing, but the wise restrain their lips."
Tempered talk is evidence of wise conversation. It is when our words are many that we run the risk of soliciting sin. Increased words increase the probability of improper speech. For example, respectful conversation does not repeat the same words and phrases in a confined period of time. This impatient cadence frustrates.
Perhaps a look of misunderstanding requires questions for clarification or definition for comprehension. Proud conversationalists can highjack a listener’s understanding with a hoard of words without meaning. If your goal is to communicate, then take the time to listen to the needs of your audience. People who feel cared for and understood have a keener sense of hearing and understanding.
"Fools who keep quiet are deemed wise; those who shut their lips are smart." (Proverbs 17:28)
Wise people weigh their words before they speak. They allow their minds to catch up with their hearts. Furthermore, in the face of inappropriate behavior, emotions sometimes need to express themselves. Let the other person know if you feel mistreated or misinformed. Concealed anger leads to living a lie but tempered talk is truthful and to the point.
"Lying lips conceal hate, and those who spread slander are fools." (Proverbs 10:18)
Lastly, you reserve your words out of respect for the other person. If you do all the talking, you are the center of attention. It is condescending conversation when the other individual does not feel important enough to speak up. So honor others by speaking less, listening more intently to how you can love them. Wisdom can be found in the words of each person you meet. Therefore, intentionally talk less and be wise.
"Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry." (James 1:19)
To whom do you need to listen to more and talk to less?
February 2, 2018
STEPPING INTO OPPORTUNITY
"Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity."
Like lots of people, I struggle to get enough exercise. So I recently bought something to motivate myself to move: a pedometer that counts steps. It’s a simple thing. But it’s amazing how much difference this gadget makes in my motivation. Instead of grumbling when I have to get off the couch, I see it as an opportunity to get a few more steps. Mundane tasks, like getting one of my kids a cup of water, become opportunities that help me work toward a larger goal. In that sense, my pedometer has changed my perspective and my motivation. Now I look to get extra steps in whenever possible.
I wonder if our Christian life isn’t a bit like that. There are opportunities to love and serve and interact with people every day, as Paul exhorts in Colossians 4:5. But am I always aware of those moments? Am I paying attention to opportunities to be an encourager in seemingly mundane interactions? God is at work in the lives of every person I relate to, from my family and coworkers to a clerk at the grocery store. Each interaction offers a chance for me to pay attention to what God might be doing—even if it’s something as seemingly “small” as kindly asking a server at a restaurant how she’s doing.
Who knows how God might work in those moments when we’re alert to the opportunities He sends our way.
Take every opportunity to serve someone.
February 1, 2018
"Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness."
There’s a scene in the movie City Slickers where three friends are discussing how their lives have turned out. One man laments about how he’s messed up his entire life. He lost his wife, his child, his job and his self-respect. “I’ve lost everything,” he concluded. Billy Crystal, the actor portraying one of the friends, tells him it’s not true. He’s actually been handed an opportunity for a fresh start – a do-over.
Many people get so caught up in yesterday’s mistakes they can’t see what God has planned for tomorrow. God doesn’t want you to focus on your past, but on your future. Today’s verse talks about the new beginning God wants for your life. He says to forget what has happened before. Instead, look to the fresh things He is going to do.
Do you need a do-over in life? Start by realizing you are powerless to make changes yourself. Then pray for God to give you a new start.