September 30, 2017
COMING OUT OF THE TOMB
"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,"
Unfortunately, a lot of people are like mummies, "all wrapped up in themselves". And they don't want to become unwrapped. All they do is come "unwound" at the thought of coming out of their safe tomb or stepping out in faith. But Jesus calls us out of the tomb, sets us free and calls us to move beyond ourselves into a life of faith, commitment, obedience and service.
On the old Merv Griffin Show. There was a time when he was interviewing some body builders. As he was standing there looking at these guys with all these muscles, he asked a powerful question: "What do you use these muscles for?"
One guy answered by flexing his muscles in one of those body builder stances. But Merv said, "No, you don't understand. What do you USE all those muscles for?" The guy said, "I'll show you." And he flexed again in another stance.
Again Merv said, "No. You still don't understand my question. Read my lips. What do you USE them FOR?" The guy posed again.
Jesus calls us out of the tomb, sets us free and calls us to move beyond ourselves into a life of faith, commitment, obedience and service. When we just come to Church and sometimes read our Bibles and just enjoy the fellowship but nothing else, then we're like those body building guests. We're like mummies, still wrapped up in ourselves. Jesus calls us to move beyond ourselves to a life of faith and committed service.
"And he said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'" (Luke 9:23)
Billy D. Strayhorn
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
September 29, 2017
TOO FAMILIAR LEADERS
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."
Leaders can become so familiar with their team that they dilute their effectiveness to lead. They are not one of the boys or one of the girls—they are the leader. Parents have to learn this. They are not the child or teenager’s friend—they are first the dad or mom. Friendship can come later with adult children; in the meantime, children need leadership.
So how familiar are you with those you lead? Are you respectful of others so you invite their respect? Do you lift them up with commendation or tear them down with coarse kidding? Joking around on the job is not a pattern great leaders model. This may have been your behavior in the past, but in the present, your role requires more maturity.
Does this mean leaders are not transparent about their weaknesses? No, because humble leaders are the first to confess their struggles and blind spots. But it does mean that wise leaders approach their God-given role with solemn responsibility and serious resolve. People need leaders they can trust and look up to as the Lord’s leaders for this season.
We do not want those we lead to pray as David did:
"May his days be few; may another take his office!" (Psalm 109:8)
Followers want to be led by a wise leader.
Moreover, when we become too close to a team member, it creates jealousy, rivalry, and resentment. This happens with children. If we play favorites with a child, other siblings will notice and spew out their frustrations on the parent’s pet. We can reward good behavior and praise obedience, but we should not overdo it by crossing the line of becoming too familiar.
Leadership can be lonely, but we are not alone as followers of Jesus. Wise leaders keep their emotions under the Spirit’s control in the presence of their team, but in the presence of the Lord, they bare their soul. You cannot become too familiar with your heavenly Father. He already knows more about you than you do. Pour out your frustrations and fears to Him, and He will listen, forgive, and lead you in the way you should go.
"My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, 'Where is your God?' These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation" (Psalm 42:3–5)
Are you creating a jealous culture at work or home by showing favoritism?
September 28, 2017
STEWARDS OF MARRIAGE
"House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD."
The road to a happy marriage is littered with mines. I can hear you say, “Yep, stepped on a few.” They are explosive and can leave a lot of wounds behind. And yet, they are avoidable, if you are willing to identify them and steer clear. There are three "marriage mines" I will focus on: my needs, my time and my feelings.
The key to avoiding these mines is in understanding the difference between a steward and an owner. Here’s a quick definition. Stewards see everything as belonging to God and their role is to take care of all God has given them. Owners see things as belonging to them and they are in control to use them as they please.
Imagine your son borrows your car and brings it back dirty and empty. When you confront him on it he replies, “Hey, I can do what I want. It’s my car.” Feel your blood pressure rising? He was given the role of a steward and he turned it into a negligent owner.
So here is the question – are you an owner or a steward of your marriage? Is it a gift from God that you steward lovingly and selflessly to glorify God, or do you see your marriage as "mine", something you can control for your own ends? With these definitions in place, let’s look at the three "mines".
Marriage Mine #1: My Needs
Owners in a marriage focus on their own needs and look to their spouse to meet them. This can be overt or subtle. Needs can be for attention, praise, service, sex, etc. We all have these needs and we hope they are met in our marriages. The key here is whether they are the focus of our marriage (owner) or the result of our desire to first meet the needs of our spouse (steward). Owners control relationships to be sure their needs are met first. Stewards are free to meet the needs of their spouse first, believing that through sacrificial love, their needs will be met in return. If you are always looking to get your needs met, you are stepping into a "mine" field. Step away and choose instead to be a steward who meets the needs of your spouse first and foremost.
Marriage Mine #2: My Time
Owners protect their time as THEIR time. Stinginess with time is a major marriage "mine" field. How often have you heard these phrases?
• “We don’t spend enough time together.”
• “You don’t spend enough time with the kids.”
• “You’re always spending time with your friends and not me.”
Time in a marriage is a precious commodity. If we use it and control it as owners, we will constantly be stepping on the "mines" of time. Here our Christian faith demands even more of us. The reality is, all time belongs to God. Every second we are alive is a gift from God. Stewards acknowledge this and want to invest their time as God directs. They pray about how God would have them use their time and they invest their time in the gifts He has given them. And marriage is at the top of that list. How different would your marriage be if you both committed every second of your day to God and sought through prayer how He would have you spend it? How many time-wasting habits would be broken? How many more minutes and hours would be freed up to invest in each other, in family, in devotions and in prayer? Steward your time as God’s time and avoid the "my time" mine field.
Marriage Mine #3: My Feelings
Just as with our needs and our time, owners focus on "my feelings" first and try to control situations accordingly. Owners protect their feelings and exact revenge when they are abused. When two people get entangled in a war of protection and revenge, marriages hit significant "mine" fields. Stewards are free to love their spouse and guard their spouse’s feelings instead of their own. They follow the example of Jesus,
"We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
By investing our full self in the caretaking of the feelings of our spouse, we not only show our love for them, but we set them free to do the same thing for us. Steward the feelings of your spouse and avoid the "my feelings" mine field. Remember, any hint of ownership and the whole thing falls apart.
When you turn these "mines" into "yours", "ours" and "God’s", your marriage can grow deeper and richer. And God gets the glory.
Are you an owner or a steward of your marriage?
R. Scott Rodin
September 27, 2017
THE PERFECT PRAYER PARTNER
"Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us."
Few sounds are as beautiful as hearing someone who loves you praying for you. When you hear a friend pray for you with compassion and God-given insight, it’s a little like heaven touching earth.
How good it is to know that because of God’s kindness to us our prayers can also touch heaven. Sometimes when we pray we may struggle with words and feelings of inadequacy, but Jesus taught His followers that we should always pray and not give up:
"And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1)
God’s Word shows us that one of the reasons we can do this is that Jesus Himself is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us:
"Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us." (Rom. 8:34)
We never pray alone, because Jesus is praying for us. He hears us as we pray, and speaks to the Father on our behalf. We don’t have to worry about the eloquence of our words, because no one understands us like Jesus. He helps us in every way, presenting our needs before God. He also knows when the answers we ask for would not be good for us, handling every request or concern with perfect wisdom and love.
Jesus is the perfect prayer partner—the friend who intercedes for us with immeasurable kindness. His prayers for us are beautiful beyond words, and should encourage us to always pray with thankfulness.
Our Daily Bread
September 26, 2017
THE GOLDEN RULE
"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
It was a COLD, WINDY DAY in Chicago. The time...6:00am. The place...O'Hare Airport. The mood...tired!
I was going through airport security with 300 of my "closest friends." As I successfully walked through the scanner, I glanced to my right and one of the security guards was going through the bag of a young Arab man. For an instant, I remember thinking...I am glad they're checking that bag. I then put on my shoes, gathered my belongings and headed down concourse B in the United terminal.
I had walked about a 100 yards when I heard someone running behind me and yelling, "Sir, Sir." I turned around to see the young Arab man with a smile on his face, as he handed me my laptop computer that I had left in the bin at security. He then said, "I thought you might need this!"
I thanked him over and over, but he said, "No problem, you would have probably done the same for me." For as long as I live, I'll never forget that moment.
We live in a complicated world where it can be easy to be afraid, and easy to be prejudiced. However, I truly feel that 99% of the people in the world, regardless of their skin color or religion, want to do the right thing, and want to be kind when given the opportunity. Therefore, we must always guard against allowing the 1% to sway our thinking.
You may not know this, but almost every religion, and every culture in the world, has one thing in common...they teach kindness as a virtue. They teach "their version" of the golden rule...not the exact words, but the same meaning.
The wonderful lesson that I "re-learned" that morning at the airport was this...labeling can be disabling. It was a lesson taught to me by an unexpected act of kindness...one I'll never forget!.
"And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." (Luke 6:31)
The Power of Kindness
September 25, 2017
AMBUSHED BY JOY
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life."
“Pop, this is my favorite”. Precious, never to be forgotten words from my 4-year old grandson after we witnessed our favorite college football players walk ten feet in front of us into their locker room. Surreal indeed, with weepy heart I experienced my first encounter of being with my son-in-law and two grandsons in a time and place I never delighted in with my own father or grandfather--but was now given the opportunity to cherish the moment. My moist eyes looked upward, as my hoarse voice whispered a thank you to my heavenly Father. Ambushed by joy, I surrendered to sweet Jesus.
I asked myself, “Why the big deal?” While processing my emotions I uncovered a dream in my heart, a longing to be with my grandsons and son-in-law and experience a bigger than life event. I was reminded of a quote from a friend’s father having enjoyed a similar occasion with his son and grandsons, “Sometimes we don't have to have dreams for dreams to come true.” So true! I didn’t realize how much this brief window in my life would bring to light my heart’s desire. My deferred hope of shared joy with those who loved me the most was life-giving grace to my soul.
"A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools." (Proverbs 13:19)
What dream sits dormant in your soul? Are you unaware of a deep desire that patiently waits to ambush you with joy? Or perhaps there is a deferred hope you are trusting the Lord to fulfill. Whatever your situation, be encouraged that your heavenly Father specializes in making dreams come true, even those you are unaware of, or perhaps you have not verbalized for fear of setting expectations too high and being let down. Confront your fear and command it to stand down, for love is your weapon to defeat the enemy of reluctance that threatens your soul. Joy awaits you.
Do you hope and pray one day for your child or your parent to seek a relationship with you? Don’t give up! Pray. Keep initiating conversations, sending texts and forwarding photos by email. Your seeds of sincere love hopefully will fall on good soil in God’s timing. Trust Him to unite you. Maybe you feel your career is a dead end road, if so, seek the Lord’s off ramps to other opportunities. Perhaps you reinvent yourself with a new skill set that opens new doors to serve. Your dream may be dead or at best illusive, but stay hopeful and trust Jesus that one day, when least expected--He will ambush you with joy. Shared joy makes life twice as good and half as hard!
"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:13-14)
With whom do you need to initiate contact and not give up on growing a relationship?
September 24, 2017
HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
"But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, 'Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. ...Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.'"
How do you want to be remembered? The memory of your life will linger beyond your death; so how will your obituary read? Your epitaph will define you; so how will it read? Will it point to God and people or to you? We will all have a memorial that reflects our life. It may be pigmy-sized because it is built around us, or it may be bigger than life because it is built around Christ. These are important eternal questions that need clear definition. Your defining moments are building a memorial that will extend into the future. There are spectators watching you assemble a life memorial. Your family is watching, friends and acquaintances are watching, and the world is watching, but most important, God is watching.
Some of your heavenly-minded cohorts will do more than watch. Their memories will intertwine with yours, creating a beautiful tapestry of God’s faithfulness. Your memorial may be more a collaboration around community—rather than individual—accomplishments. Either way, stay in the process of keeping your life aligned with and for eternal purposes. Other well-meaning (and some not so well-meaning) pundits will try to dissuade you from a lifetime commitment to seek God’s best. They may define God’s will differently than you, for they have “a wonderful plan for your life.” But you have your own life to live. God’s best for you may not be God’s best for another, so take what God has given you and completely dedicate it to Him.
Your commitment to Christ is compelling in itself. It provides the wet cement that bonds together the bricks of your life experiences. As you construct your life memorial, consider a few things. Ponder the wisdom of making God your foundation. When He is your foundation, your memorial will stand for eternity. The memory of your lifelong acts of service for Christ and others may fade over time, but your God-based foundation will remain. Build eternal financial investments for Jesus into the architecture of your beautiful life memorial. Leverage your resources for God’s Kingdom. Your memorial may be bricks and mortar that represent churches, schools, hospitals, businesses, community centers, or homes. Whatever you build, build for the glory of God.
However, one word of caution is necessary. A Christ-centered charter, governed by God-fearing leaders, is required to keep an institution pure in its mission. Spend as much or more time and money on preserving the integrity of the vision, as on the construction of buildings. Otherwise, your memorial to Christ may very well be hijacked by heresy.
Your memorial may consist of paying for the Christian education of your grandchildren. It may be funding initiatives and projects that leverage evangelism and discipleship in a country outside of yours. Your memorial building may involve serving Jesus in some obscure and remote part of the world, without fanfare or appreciation. Whatever you do, do as unto the Lord. Resist the critics, embrace Christ, and be ever mindful of beautiful Kingdom memorial-building.
The Bible says,
"I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever." (Psalm 45:17)
What do you want your epitaph to say?
September 23, 2017
LET’S FINISH THE RACE
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!"
In the 2016 Rio Olympics, two athletes in the 5,000-meter race caught the world’s attention. About 3,200 meters into the race, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino collided and fell. Abbey was quickly up on her feet, but stopped to help Nikki. Moments after the two athletes had started running again, Abbey began faltering, her right leg injured as a result of the fall. It was now Nikki’s turn to stop and encourage her fellow athlete to finish the race. When Abbey eventually stumbled across the finish line, Nikki was waiting to embrace her. What a beautiful picture of mutual encouragement!
It reminds me of a passage in the Bible:
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!" (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)
As runners in a spiritual race, we need one another—perhaps even more so, for we are not racing in competition with each other but as members of the same team. There’ll be moments where we falter and need someone to pick us up; at other times, someone may need our encouragement through our prayers or presence.
The spiritual race is not to be run alone.
Our Daily Bread
September 22, 2017
THE CHURCH IN THE MARKETPLACE
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
It appears to me that more people who claim to be Christ-followers in this world are caught up in "doing church" over "being church". Church isn't a place. It isn't a set of ritual acts. It isn't the performance abilities of teachers or musicians. Church is the life of Jesus on display through his people – with Jesus functioning as head and all his people as various parts of his body in the world.
Jerry Cook tells a story about Richard C. Halverson that illustrates the contrast between "doing" and "being" as the people who confess Christ. Dr. Halverson was chaplain of the United States Senate for several years. He would occasionally visit the seminary where Cook was a student. After one of those visits to speak to students, he joined a group of them for coffee and made himself available for informal conversation.
"Dr. Halverson," began one of the seminarians, "where is your church?" The student was asking about the street location of the Presbyterian Church Halverson served, but he got a deeper and more insightful answer.
"Well, its three o'clock in Washington, D.C. The church I pastor is all over the city right now. It's driving buses, serving meals in restaurants, sitting in board meetings, having discussions in the Pentagon, deliberating in Congress." He proceeded with a long list of roles and responsibilities where his church was functioning that day. "And periodically we get together at a building on Fourth Street," he added, "but we don't spend a lot of our time there."
The pastor-chaplain was not naive with his answer. He was brilliant. And he had the clear intent to challenge a young would-be pastor to raise his sights above the Sunday event of church as an assembly. Or even church as programs and budgets and organization. The church was never intended to be isolated from the world but to penetrate it as salt does food. Jesus wants his people to be "in the world" but not "of the world" – functioning as light to dark places.
Where will you be today? In meetings? On the phone? Calling on clients? Teaching algebra? Cleaning house? Delivering products? Delivering speeches? Delivering babies? Wherever you will be and whatever you are doing there, you will be part of the spread-out, scattered-over-the-world church. Your role is to be a stand-in for Jesus, to make the world a better place and to invite people to receive his free gift of salvation.
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17)
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
September 21-22, 2017
STEWARDS OF GRACE UPON GRACE
"For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."
At the end of John 1:16, we have the interesting phrase, "grace upon grace," which describes how God's grace in Jesus succeeds God's grace demonstrated in the Old Testament. It is a commercial phrase -- it literally reads "grace in exchange for grace" or "grace in the place of grace."
John deliberately uses a commercial phrase to magnify the fact that grace is NOT obtained through normal means of commerce. In normal commerce, we exchange one thing for another. We provide labor in exchange for a paycheck. We provide cash in exchange for groceries, gas, and a host of other things. As we spend our cash, we have less and less cash until we finally run out. If we did not have either cash savings or something we could sell such as labor or crops, we would eventually starve.
How different the grace of God is! As described in John 1:16, once grace succeeds another grace. Once grace is the consequence of the other grace. There is an accumulation of grace; a limitless supply of grace. The more we live by grace, the more grace we have by which to live. The more grace we use, the more grace we have available. We never run out. In exchange for grace, we get more grace. Even in emergencies, grace is abundantly supplied.
Of course, you do well to try to prepare for future needs and emergencies. You might have a contingency fund, and you might carry different kinds of insurance. My wife and I carry dental insurance. We were glad to have it this past year, since my wife lost a tooth and needed an implant, a very expensive procedure. The procedure was done in stages, and the initial stages were covered by our insurance. But in the final stage we had a jolting discovery -- our expenses had exceeded the maximum coverage for the year. The policy had a maximum amount that could not be exceeded in a single year. Many policies are like that. Some have an annual maximum, and some even have a lifetime maximum.
I am very thankful that the grace of God is NOT like that. There is no limit to His grace. As we read in Lamentations:
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Therefore, we can face each new day with confidence. We have assurance that no matter what happens, we will be abundantly supplied with the grace of God. There is no annual limit, and there is no lifetime limit. The supply is new every morning. The fountain from which the grace of God flows is an eternal fountain -- it will never give out, and it will never run dry.
Grace upon grace begins with God, but it blossoms and blooms through the way you interact with other people. You bless them, you forgive them, you weep with them, you encourage them, you equip them, you help provide for them, and you even kneel down with them in the dirt. You are willing to get dirty on their behalf.
An example comes to mind as I remember a man who used to be my boss in North Carolina. One day as I walked by his desk he asked, "Have you heard the bad news?" Then he said, "Let's go look at your car; you have a flat tire." What happened after that continues to amaze me -- my boss changed my tire. I had never changed a tire before, and I watched as this man who was my superior in the office humbled himself and got dirty on my behalf. Moreover, he did this for me in spite of the fact that I was sometimes arrogant and disrespectful towards him. I was experiencing the person-to-person grace of God.
For a biblical example of this kind of grace, consider Colossians:
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."(Colossians 3:12-14)
Thanks be to God for His grace upon grace. May we share grace upon grace with others.
September 20, 2017
REVIVAL OF JOY
"Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?"
Life can squeeze out your joy. Like an exhausted slice of lime or lemon, there is nothing left. You have flavored the life of others by giving to them, but now nothing remains for you. Your joy is gone. You need a revival of joy. Maybe you are battling health issues or financial woes. The pressure has gotten the best of you. Like the crushing of grapes in the preparation of wine, your juices of joy have been depleted. The only remains are dried and parched skins. You are tapped out. You are in desperate need of a jolt of joy.
You need joy to bridge you from your position of burnout back to your role as joy giver. Isn’t it ironic that we can fall victim to the very thing we see as a deficiency in others? No one is immune to slipping into a joyless life. In fact, there will be seasons that joy will elude us like water in the desert. We need a new infusion of joy. The revival of joy is ongoing. You can only run so long, and then you must stop and refill your joy tanks.
You can remember when work brought you joy, but now you are maintaining at best. Marriage was bliss in the past—full of joy—but now you just coexist. Your relationship with God once erupted with joy, but now it is stale and distant. A revival of joy refills you on all these fronts. Revival assumes that joy once existed. Joy reigned over many aspects of your life, but certainly, the joy of your salvation was once preeminent. To revive something means you bring it back into existence, back to life. So the best place to start the revival of anything is with God.
God specializes in resurrecting and reviving. He can take what is dead or dormant and breathe life into it. The breath of God gives joy. God’s breath is not stale or repugnant. On the contrary, His breath is fresh and rejuvenating. Like an asthmatic gasping for air, we struggle in need of God’s oxygen. Life’s struggles wear us down to a pulp. We need the breath of God to revive our joy. But, you may need to alter your proximity to benefit from the breath of God. His breath is most effective up close and personal.
Like an inhaler, you need God daily in your face to transmit His joy. The joy of the Lord is not captured from a distance. It is inhaled and ingested from a position of intimacy. Do not let your joylessness leave you incoherent. God wants to clear your heart and mind. Joy is on the way, like the arrival of the cavalry in the heat of the battle. Let God rescue you, revive you, and set you back on a joy-filled journey. You are not defeated in Christ. The enemy is the loser. He is the joy killer, but his advances are temporary. Allow God to resuscitate your joy. The world won’t. Work can’t. People fail. And money is an illusion of joy.
So, go to the creator, dispenser, and sustainer of joy. Lean on the one full of joy, Jesus. He will bring your joy back to life as He was brought back to life—full and robust. Let Him make your joy complete. His joy is your strength. Some things never change and His joy is one of them. Start by simply thinking back on when you exchanged self for a savior. You opened the door to your life and Jesus entered with a housewarming gift. It was a beautiful basket full of joy. Relive that experience and re-engage with Him. His joy is not jaded—it is just right. Your joy will rub off on others, and the revival of rejoicing in God will extend from one person to another.
Be joyful in Jesus!
"looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Hebrews 12:2-3)
What person or fear have you allowed to steal your joy?
September 19, 2017
APPRECIATION OF LIFE
Philippians 4: 11-13
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
Two businessmen stepped out into a brilliant sunny day after weeks of dreary overcast. One man said, "It's a beautiful day!" The other answered, "Every day is a beautiful day. I was a prisoner of war in a cell without windows for two years, waiting to die. I'll never take life for granted because of that experience."
Sometimes only when life is threatened do we suddenly realize the powerful beauty and potential of it.
How often do you waken with a dragging heart, a gloomy outlook, unable to find anything to look forward to? Stop right now and think: "Why?" Is it because you are living for the wrong reason - for pleasure, self-fulfillment? Begin to look out and see what is needed from you. The Apostle Paul learned to be content in whatever state he found himself: his goal was to make the very most of every moment for God:
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:4-6)
If Paul were living your life, how would he use the time? How would he be ministering, what would he see as opportunity in things you have overlooked.?
Daily Family Devotions
September 18, 2017
GRAND-PARENTING TEACHABLE MOMENTS
2 Timothy 1:5
"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well."
A few weeks ago I came home to a sad sight. Our six-year-old grandson Hudson, with sullen face, said slowly, almost weepily, “Pop, we can't have pizza tonight”. My wife Rita, affectionally known as BiBi (Swahili for grandmother), explained the broader context, “I have hamburger patties prepared to grill tonight and tomorrow for dinner we will enjoy pizza.” I thought about telling my little man to suck it up and change his attitude, but a livelier thought occurred to me, let’s make this a fun teachable moment for all of us. So, I knelt down, looked my disheartened grandson in the eyes and attempted to turn this into a helpful, enjoyable life lesson.
“Sometimes in life, we don't get our way, and even though we are disappointed we can have a grateful attitude for all we do have. So, Hudson, we are going to play a game, it’s called the Gratitude Game, and you are in charge of keeping score. Every time Bibi or I catch you or one of your two brothers being thankful, you receive a point.” Thank you Pop for putting me in charge.” “Hudson, you just earned a point!” For the next 24 hours, three motivated grandsons looked for ways to be grateful. The two oldest not surprisingly tied with 38 points, the youngest scored a respectable 13. All contestants celebrated with a $5 award to spend at the dollar store!
Legacy of faith in Christ was the best gift Timothy’s mom and grandmother could give him, sadly his dad was still an unbeliever:
"Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek." (Acts 16:1)
What he learned as a child was better understood and embraced as his own faith as an adult. His mentor, Paul, saw compelling evidence of a faith alive in the heart of his protege. No doubt Timothy lived out what he saw first hand from the hand of his faithful mom and grandmother: perhaps hands that tucked him in at night with reassuring prayers, hands that comforted his hurting heart or hands that prepared him meals. Grandparents of faith have a captive audience, open to learn about God and watch faith lived out.
"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3 John 1:4)
Being an engaged grandparent can be exhausting, so we are wise to pace ourselves and not allow our fatigue to force us to forget the bigger purpose of being in the life of our little ones: to be an attractive example of what it means to love and follow Jesus. Don’t look for the perfect situation to speak truth, in fact, it’s sometimes better for a child to learn life lessons from their very real and imperfect world. For example, take the time to pray together for those suffering from a natural disaster and show them how to give directly to those in need. Or all together, greet at the street the trash collectors with $20, and thank them for their helpful service. Look for ways to give.
Best of all, we seek to teach our grandchildren about genuine faith in God through Jesus Christ. Read them the Bible stories of Hannah's prayers, David’s courage, Ruth's love, Joseph’s forgiveness and Jesus’ humility. Take them to church, explain what means to become a Christian and why baptism is important. Tell them stories of other faithful Christians like Corrie ten Boom, William Wilberforce, Henrietta Mears and Bill Bright. Christianity is caught as well as taught, so be a contagious Christian and infect your grandchild with a heart of intimacy for their Savior Jesus and integrity with their friends. Look for teachable moments and teach!
"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
What lessons from the Lord can you creatively lead your little ones to learn?
September 17, 2017
LIVING IN TENTS
"From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the LORD."
Growing up in Minnesota, a place known for its many beautiful lakes, I loved to go camping to enjoy the wonders of God’s creation. But sleeping in a flimsy tent wasn’t my favorite part of the experience—especially when a rainy night and a leaky tent resulted in a soggy sleeping bag.
I marvel to think that one of the heroes of our faith spent a hundred years in tents. When he was seventy-five years old, Abraham heard God’s call to leave his country so the Lord could make him into a new nation:
"Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:1–2)
Abraham obeyed, trusting that God would follow through on His promise. And for the rest of his life, until he died at 175 he lived away from his home country in tents:
"These are the days of the years of Abraham's life, 175 years." (Genesis 25:7)
God gives us a solid foundation for our lives. We may not have the same call as Abraham did to live nomadically, but even as we love and serve this world and the people in it, we may long for a deeper experience of home, of being rooted here on earth. Like Abraham, when the wind whips our flimsy covering or the rain soaks through, we can look with faith for the city to come, whose “architect and builder is God”:
"For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:10)
And like Abraham, we can find hope that God is working to renew His creation, preparing a “better country—a heavenly one” to come:
"But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." (Hebrews 11:16)
Our Daily Bread
September 16, 2017
"Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him"
Jesus was the master of menial tasks. He was not afraid to get His hands dirty—literally. There was nothing and no one beneath Him, for He valued everyone. Jesus put Himself into the shoes of others so that He could relate to their world and serve them well. Success did not shield Him from the ordinary. His heart was all about service; He knew that service around menial tasks unlocked opportunities to influence. Jesus expects you, as a follower of His, to follow His example.
"For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (John 13:15)
No level of authority exempts you from serving others. Pride or dignity may cause you to resist things such as working in a soup kitchen, tutoring an underprivileged illiterate, vacuuming the house, unloading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, washing clothes, running errands, maintaining the house (though better stewardship may be to hire someone else!), making photocopies, or returning phone calls. Yet, when you execute these menial tasks, you reflect Christ.
Through your service to others, you truly lead. Otherwise, people are just intimidated into producing results for fear of your hostile reprisals. How much healthier it is for family, friends, and work associates to be motivated by your service than by your threats. It may start out awkwardly; it may take time for people to get used to the sight of you helping out. But when you start managing by walking around your computer instead of hiding behind it, people will be amazed.
Encourage by engaging personally with people, not just sending impersonal emails. At first, they may resist, wondering what’s come over you. But your willingness to roll up your sleeves will win them over. Start with a handwritten thank you note. Value them as your most important “customer.” Wash their feet by constantly caring for them first.
Menial tasks can become mundane over time. They can become boring and predictable, so stay fresh and challenged. Do not be satisfied with the status quo. Challenge the system and execute in a more excellent way. If you take for granted your position or technical skills, you may become sloppy in your service and lazy in your work. Always become better at what you do. Anybody can do anything for a short period of time. But it takes stamina and character to continue mastering the menial over the long run. Take continuing education classes. Improve your speaking and writing skills by engaging a speech or writing coach.
Use technology to enhance and accelerate the menial. Nothing, however, will ever replace your need to give personal attention to important details. The devil is in the details, so give attention to them. This keeps him from taking you hostage. Yes, delegate, but do not make the mistake and abdicate. People appreciate your thinking of the details that affect them. Your accountability to carry out the menial makes others want to do the same, so plan ahead. Serve others where they least expect you to get involved. Then it becomes infectious. So be a contagious carrier who reflects Christ. There is no task too menial for your Master. Join Him where He serves.
What task can you do as unto the Lord with gratitude and praise to Him?
September 15, 2017
LIFE IS ABOUT THE LIVING
"...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."
After a brief illness, my mother died on January 30, 2012. Not only was she my mother, she was also my best friend. I was in shock. One day she was recovering; the next, she was gone. For two weeks, I grieved heavily and could not focus on anything else. But life got in the way. My son was to be married on February 18, so there was little time. My husband and I were giving the wedding and I was blessed to have the help of a wedding planner. She had taken on more and more of the wedding tasks during my mother's illness and after her death, but there was still the urgent need for me to shift from deep grief to joyous anticipation.
With only four days remaining before the wedding, I went into my prayer closet. Pouring my heart out to God, I told Him how desperately I needed to feel joy about the wedding. Immediately, His still small voice replied, "Life is about the living". His meaning swept over me. My mother was in heaven, having a blast singing praise songs with the angels. There was nothing else I could do for her. Memories are still to be cherished, but that life was finished. However, my son was getting married (a miracle in itself). He had gotten his life turned around and the future was before him. Life is about the living.
Instantly, I felt the weight of my grief lifting from my heart, slowly replaced by joy as I found myself looking forward to my son's wedding and beyond. Some grief still lingered but it was manageable. No longer burdened with tears of pain, I could now go through the wedding with smiles of joy.
A couple of weeks later, God revealed to me some deeper meaning to His Life is about the living. Not only do we humans grieve the death of loved ones, we also grieve about other dead things.
We grieve about our past sinful lives before we were saved. God has forgiven us, but we won't forgive ourselves. We grieve over a past hurt, whether it occurred thirty years ago or just last month. We don't forgive the one who hurt us. And we grieve about the if onlys of our past. We beat ourselves up about all the what-might-have-beens if only we had done something differently.
One day my husband and I were sitting on our front porch. As we admired the beautiful blooming azaleas, he mentioned we had a dead one. There it sat, all dried up and brown. Then God gave me a wonderful illustration of what He had been revealing to me -- No one waters a dead azalea...or weeds around it...or fertilizes it. Instead, the focus is on living azaleas. They are the ones to be cared for.
So why on earth do we spend time watering the dead things of our past when there are millions of living people who need encouragement and to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?
The Apostle Paul long ago addressed this very thing:
"...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 3:13b-14)
No one ever saw Paul watering a dead azalea. He knew. "Life is about the living." ...Watering the living.
A Note of Encouragement
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
September 14, 2017
APART BUT NOT ABANDONED
"And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
I had a lump in my throat as I said good-bye to my niece on the eve of her move to Massachusetts to attend graduate school at Boston University. Though she had been away four years as an undergraduate, she hadn’t left our state. A two and a one-half-hour drive easily reunited us. Now she would be more than 800 miles away. No longer would we meet regularly to talk. I had to trust that God would take care of her.
Paul likely felt the same way as he said good-bye to the elders of the church in Ephesus. Having established the church and taught them for three years, Paul concluded these elders to be as close as family to him. Now that Paul was headed to Jerusalem, he would not see them again.
But Paul had parting advice for the Ephesians. Though they would no longer have Paul as their teacher, the Ephesians did not have to feel abandoned. God would continue to train them through “the word of his grace” to lead the church.
"And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32)
Unlike Paul, God would always be with them.
Whether it’s children we launch from the nest or other family and friends who move away—saying good-bye can be very difficult. They move beyond our influence and into their new lives. When we let go of their hands, we can trust that God has them in His. He can continue to shape their lives and meet their real needs—more than we ever could.
Though we’re far away from those we love, they are never far from God.
Our Daily Bread
September 13, 2017
SUCCESS IN SELF-FORGETFULNESS
"Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."
I sometimes forget. I forget to return a phone call. I forget a meeting. I forget to write a thank you note to a friend. Unless my behavior is chronic, most people understand and give me a pass. But of course, I better not forget my wife’s birthday or our wedding anniversary--no good excuses! Encouragingly, there is a good forgetfulness described by C.S. Lewis, “He [a humble person] will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” When I help another first--I am growing toward my new self in Christ and away from my old self in sin.
Scripture is very clear, if we lie to each other and to ourselves we act like who we were before Christ, even worse, we take on the characteristics of the father of lies and deception--the devil.
"You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)
One of the practices of our old self that needs to be put off from our behavior is self-promotion. If we feel the need to tell someone how smart and capable we are, we can pause and pray before we speak and allow the Spirit to strip away our old self and renew our new self into the image of our Creator. Our new self remembers to put on the humility of Christ and quietly serve others.
"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (Romans 13:14)
In what ways can you chose amnesia to your old selfish desires and choose instead to remember the selfless nature of your new desires in Christ? Selfless moms do this every day when they defer their own comfort in the moment to comfort their child or sacrifice a material want now, so their son or daughter can benefit from a spiritual foundation later. Loyal friends will forget their old way of manipulating a relationship and instead, remember to listen and support someone in their time of need. Daily renewal in your knowledge of God initiates caring actions for others.
Most of all remind yourself of what the Lord thinks on the issues you face. Forget what a faithless worldview frames as worldly wisdom, and remember how godly wisdom wants to remedy the situation. Replace frantic forcefulness with calm patience and watch the Holy Spirit move hearts and minds to His desired outcomes. Put off your old way of reacting in anger and replace it with responding in a spirit of forgiveness and understanding. Pray for peace in the moment that inaccurate accusations are hurled and ask your heavenly Father to bring clarity through your civil conversation. Self-forgetfulness can lead to successful relational outcomes.
"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[a] serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." (Romans 12:10-12)
What desire do you have that threatens your relational health with another? How can you wait on your own desires and defer to another’s desires?
September 12, 2017
GOD DESIRES YOUR WELL-BEING
"Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, 'Great is the LORD who delights in the welfare of his servant!'"
The Lord delights in your well-being. This is a fundamental and foundational truth. It speaks to the very heart of who God has revealed himself to be in every page of Scripture. And yet, we so often lose sight of this and live with distorted and twisted visions of who God is and what he is like.
If we aren’t clear on who God is, we will greatly struggle to know who we are in Christ. Stated positively, when we know that God is for us and desires our good, we discover the beauty and freedom that comes from being loved as his sons and daughters.
The enemy often speaks lies over us, casting us into doubt, anxiety and darkness. “If God really knew who you were, he would never love you.” “The Lord won’t provide for you or care for you in your time of need.” “God’s anger towards you can never be quenched or satisfied.” These lies pervert the promises of God.
The Lord delights in your well-being. And the Lord not only delights in your well-being, but the Lord goes to unimaginable lengths to secure your well being. This is the heart of the Christian faith: God desires to restore humanity and creation to new life so deeply that he gives his own life that we might have life. John 3:16 is one of the most famous passages in all of scripture:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
The verse that follows is just as significant:
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:17)
If you are ever tempted to doubt God’s goodness, to doubt his love for you and desire for your good, look afresh to the love shown in Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come to speak condemnation over you, nor did he come to simply point out your faults or shortcomings. He came to save you and give you his life. And therefore any time he asks you or me to repent, or turn away from a desire or sinful action, it isn’t because he is mad or lashing out at us. It is because he desires our good- thanks be to God!
Are there lies about God’s character that you have believed and have affected your ability to live freely as a beloved daughter or son?
September 11, 2017
SEEDS OF GOODNESS
"The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward."
On the clock tower of my alma mater is an Art Deco bas-relief sculpture titled "The Sower". The inscription (“Whatsoever a man soweth.”) beneath it is from Galatians:
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (Galatians 6:7 KJV)
Michigan State University remains a leader in agricultural research, but despite many improvements in farming techniques and crop production, this fact remains: Seeds of corn will not produce a crop of beans.
Jesus used many farming metaphors to explain the kingdom of God. In the parable of the sower (Mark 4), He compared the Word of God to seeds sown in different types of soil. As the parable indicates, the sower sows indiscriminately, knowing that some seed will fall in places where it will not grow.
Like Jesus, we are to sow good seed in all places at all times. God is responsible for where it lands and how it grows. The important thing is that we sow. God does not want us to reap destruction, so He wants us to sow what is good and right:
"The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward." (Proverbs 11:18)
The apostle Paul elaborated on the metaphor when he warned believers not to sow seeds of corruption. Instead, we are to sow seeds that will reap eternal life:
"For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:8)
The answer to the question, “What should I sow?” is “Sow what you want to reap.” To reap a good harvest in your life, start sowing seeds of goodness.
Sow a thought, reap an act;
A buried seed brings fruit; a selfless life reaps an eternal harvest.
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character, reap a destiny. —Anonymous
Julie Ackerman Link
September 27, 2017
CLOTHES FOR THE CLIMATE
"And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."
While removing the price tag from an item of winter clothing I had purchased, I smiled at these words on the back: “WARNING: This innovative product will make you want to go outdoors and stay there.” When properly clothed for the climate, a person can survive and even thrive in harsh and changing weather conditions.
The same principle is true in our spiritual lives. As followers of Jesus, our all-weather spiritual wardrobe has been prescribed by the Lord in His Word, the Bible. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. . . .
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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 3:12-13)
These garments that God provides—such as kindness, humility, and gentleness—allow us to meet hostility and criticism with patience, forgiveness, and love. They give us staying power in the storms of life. When we face adverse conditions at home, school, or work, the “clothing” God tells us to wear protects us and enables us to make a positive difference. Dressing according to God’s guidelines doesn’t change the weather—it equips the wearer.
Our Daily Bread
September 9, 2017
"I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do."
Focus is the fuel to productivity and frees you to stay on task. Focus facilitates God’s will and has the ability to bring intensity to a situation, problem, or opportunity. There is a sense of urgency that pushes out distraction and brings clarity back to the matter at hand. Focused individuals understand that some things naturally drift out of focus, so they intentionally refocus.
“Mission drift” ensues when the leader becomes distracted and unfocused as well-meaning activities can distract the team or the individual from the original purpose.
The opposite of focusing on a task is to ignore or disregard it. We lose focus when we lose interest or assess a lower value to a person or opportunity. We lose focus when something else more attractive draws us away, and like a moth to a flame, we can get burned if we are not careful. We are forever fighting to stay focused because of bad distractions and good attractions. But we don’t have to remain unfocused or get focused on the wrong things. When we stay laser-focused on the Lord, important things become priority and our minds become centered on Christ.
We focus all the time. We may not focus on our most important options, but we focus. We focus on sports. We focus on having fun. We focus on finances. We focus on fitness. We focus on frustrations. Indeed, your mind and your heart tend to follow your focus. Your life aligns around where you focus, so by God’s grace stay focused on Him and His will for your life. Focused faith goes a long way toward experiencing God’s very best. Focused intensity on the Almighty’s agenda leverages His plan for your life. Focus brings freedom to do His will without reservation; so stay focused on the one thing He has called you to do and you will be amazed at the results. Become an expert in your field.
Above all else, become an intensely focused person of faith and character. Your character determines your credibility with people. Your influence grows as your character grows; so stay focused on becoming more like Jesus. Laugh more and complain less. Relax more and worry less. Pray more and talk less. Give more and control less. One idea is to focus on your family. Focus more intently on your family than you do your work or your hobbies. Put a puzzle together, take scuba diving lessons, plan a family reunion, organize a trip, or take care of a pet.
Intentionally focus on your family now while you have the opportunity and while they are interested. Your children deserve your intense focus. They will be gone soon, so zero in on them. Finally, focus on God in prayer. Prayer brings into focus what matters most while dismissing distractions and inviting priorities.
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)
In your current season of life how can you best serve and encourage your family?
September 8, 2017
HOW CAN WE TREASURE THE BEST TREASURES?
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust 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."
Shiny things vie for our attention: a new phone, a new outfit, a new car, a new video game, a new piece of jewelry, a new investment opportunity or a new screen of some sort. We possess a cornucopia of material treasures that compete with our modest heavenly treasures. Why? Because we are short sighted, easily distracted by what makes us feel good in the moment. We are intoxicated by much lesser treasures and miss the trues riches of sending our treasures ahead for safe keeping with our Savior. What are some best treasures we can send ahead and see again?
The Treasures of Knowing Jesus and Being Known by Jesus
What value can you place on knowing the One and being known by the One who knows you the best? Oh, the riches of His grace, the wealth of His wisdom and the incalculable value of His vast love are reasons enough to shout hallelujah and praise Him for His inexhaustible intimacy. You are as sons and daughters of your great God and King. Alienated by sin, but now united to walk in the cool confines of trust with your Father Infinite God, who prescribes your identity in Christ to secure your finite minds. Surrender to Jesus, bare your soul and rest in His reassuring arms!
We are created to spend more time with Him--who we will spend all of our time with in eternity. Treasure Jesus by being with Jesus. Treasure Jesus by loving Jesus. Treasure Jesus by obeying Jesus. Treasure Jesus by learning of Jesus. Treasure Jesus by resting in Jesus. All other competing treasures can rot in earth’s trash heap when our heart is all consumed by Christ alone! We treasure the Lord when we treasure what He treasures: worship, prayer, scripture, and people.
"that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death," (Philippians 3:10)
The Treasures of Relationships
What is a soul worth to our Savior Jesus? His life and death for sure, and perhaps ours. Jesus loved people, He forgave people, He fed people, He saved people, He healed people, He comforted people, He was all about people! He built relationships with His disciples so they would love each other well and love others well. Friends and enemies felt Christ’s love.
How can we value relationships well? Investment of time, money and emotional energy is a real good start. Understanding another’s needs, and prayerfully connecting them with the most appropriate resources. Sometimes the best approach in a relationship is a polite “no”, with a helpful alternative, or a thoughtful “maybe” based on your ability to serve well, or an energetic “yes” because you are totally at peace being a conduit for Christ. Relational growth happens intentionally and in life’s messiness. Our love for people is evidence of our love for God.
"We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing."(2 Thessalonians 1:3)
The Treasures of Generosity
He gave us His son and He still gives us His son, so gratefully we serve our radically generous God! Abundantly giving us all we need to live well: salvation in Jesus, peace of mind knowing the Lord is in control, calmness of heart knowing Christ is our calm in chaotic circumstances. God gives us management over His majestic creation and the wisdom to build and produce for the betterment of civilization. Generosity gushes from our heavenly Father like Niagara Falls.
In what ways does Christ call us to be generous? Certainly our life is a living sacrifice for the Lord. Each day we have the privilege to lay our agenda on the altar of obedience, allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn it up and then pick up God’s game plan ignited by the same fire! Daily we die to the need to get, but come alive to the desire to give. Consider fostering, adopting, volunteering at church, public office, tutoring or coaching. Radical generosity is the best remedy for the various forms of greed Jesus warns us about. Generous life--happy life!
"So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us." (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
Where your treasure is, your heart will follow, so treasure the best treasures! What lesser treasures do you need to replace with the Lord’s better treasures?
September 7, 2017
THE DAILY GRIND
"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,"
The high school I attended required four years of Latin instruction. I appreciate the value of that discipline now, but back then it was a grind. Our teacher believed in drill and repetition. “Repetitio est mater studiorum,” she intoned over us several times a day, which simply means, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” “Repetitio est absurdum,” we muttered under our breath. “Repetition is absurd.”
I realize now that most of life is simply that: repetition—a round of dull, uninspiring, lackluster things we must do again and again. “Repetition is both as ordinary and necessary as bread,” said Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. But he went on to say, “It is the bread that satisfies with benediction.”
It is a matter of taking up each duty, no matter how mundane, humble, or trivial, and asking God to bless it and put it to His intended purpose. In that way, we take the drudgeries of life and turn them into holy work, filled with unseen, eternal consequence.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a [pitchfork] in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should.”
If whatever we do is done for Christ, we will be amazed at the joy and meaning we will find in even the most ordinary tasks. The Lord is in the dull and ordinary tasks of life in a most extraordinary way. Let us not forget that we do even the smallest tasks for Him.
A willing spirit changes the drudgery of duty into a labor of love.
David H. Roper
September 6, 2017
"Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,"
As I had dinner with a friend, she expressed how fed up she was with a particular family member. But she was reluctant to say anything to him about his annoying habit of ignoring or mocking her. When she did try to confront him about the problem, he responded with sarcastic remarks. She exploded in anger at him. Both parties wound up digging in their heels, and the family rift widened.
I can relate, because I handle anger the same way. I also have a hard time confronting people. If a friend or family member says something mean, I usually suppress how I feel until that person or someone else comes along and says or does something else mean. After a while, I explode. Maybe that’s why the apostle Paul said,
“...do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (Ephesians 4:26)
Providing a time limit on unresolved issues keeps anger in check. Instead of stewing over a wrong, which is a breeding ground for bitterness, we can ask God for help to “...speak the truth in love”:
"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ," (Ephesians 4:15)
Got a problem with someone? Rather than hold it in, hold it up to God first. He can fight the fire of anger with the power of His forgiveness and love.
Our Daily Bread
September 5, 2017
GOD'S PATHWAY TO JOY
"I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me."
If I could sit down with a group of people and ask them how to experience joy, I might get all kinds of answers: practice gratitude, take regular vacations, cultivate a hobby, don’t worry, and remember that money won’t fix all your problems.
But in God’s Word, I found a little nugget recently that I hadn’t noticed before which pointed me to another answer that made me smile. In John Jesus says:
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." (John 15:9-11)
When I have read this passage before, my eyes have always fallen on “If you keep my commandments . . .” Okay, God. Yes, I get it. If I follow your commandments, I will experience joy. That means I shouldn’t lie, steal, and all that stuff. Then, my joy will be full.
Verse 12 adds a delightful surprise to this passage that I hadn’t really paid attention to before:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12)
Pretty awesome, huh? Jesus is saying, “You can do all kinds of things to try and experience joy, but if you really want to know how you can really grab onto joy: then follow my commandment to love one another as I have loved you.”
Pretty awesome, huh? This means loving others is God’s pathway to joy. This passage also reveals that relationships are hugely important to God because loving one another as He loves us is His command. It’s not a suggestion.
We can go searching all over the world looking for joy in experiences, in stuff, and achievements. But Jesus says, “Do you want to know how to experience joy? I will tell you how. Be in authentic relationships with one another, love one another, and serve one another. That’s how you can experience joy.”
Simple truth. Powerful impact.
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11)
Who can you intentionally love today by serving them to obey Christ and experience joy? Take one small action today to intentionally serve someone else so you can experience joy.
September 4, 2017
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
"Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathanael said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'"
The literal definition of prejudice is to prejudge. Based on my experience with milkshakes, I can determine beforehand that a Chick-Fil-A peach milkshake will be fresh and refreshing. An okay prejudgment. But when I transfer my prejudgements with an air of snobbish superiority to a group of people, a geographic area or someone’s social status, I have crossed over into sinful prejudice. “Oh, you are not college educated, you must be intellectually inferior.” “You are rich, you must be dishonest and greedy or you are poor you must be ignorant and lazy.” My pride feeds my subtle prejudices. Pride is the patriarch of sins, only dethroned by a humble heart.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem but grew up in the small farming community of Nazareth. Nathanael did not. He was an honest man, but a man nonetheless oozing in prejudice. His thought pattern might have been, “How can someone significant--the Messiah, come from an insignificant place like Nazareth?” His cavalier comments received a compliment from Jesus, “An Israelite with no deceit.” Jesus’ non-defensive, non-violent approach to being a victim of prejudice caused His offender to confess Him as Lord, “You are the Son of God.” A civil conversation can dissolve competing views into an examination of what Christ values.
"have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well." (James 2:4-8)
Why is prejudice so dangerous? Because of how it subtly instills itself into our subconscious, so a harmless milkshake prejudgment is confusingly equated to an ethnic prejudgment. We can say it’s the way we were raised, but an ugly upbringing reeking of prejudice needs to be elevated to an encounter with the heart of Jesus, who emptied Himself for the sake of serving all equally. Our sinful nature is predisposed to arrogant prejudice, but our life in Christ exposes a deadly, cancerous bias and heals it with grace and love. Prejudice must be confessed and repented of.
How do you diagnose prejudice in your heart? Do you jokingly jab at another group or geographic area, forgetting the pain of prejudice? Do you confuse healthy prejudgment with unhealthy prejudgment? What we can’t see in the mirror, can be revealed by looking into the face of our Lord. Additionally, ask a friend from a minority group how it feels to live every day in a majority culture. Feel their frustration, better understand their injustice. Jesus came to deliver you from the slavery of sinful prejudice. He unlocks the chains and frees you to love.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
With whom can you engage in an ongoing conversation whose culture is different than yours?
September 3, 2017
"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth."
During a discussion of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, a teenager said he prefers his stories in books rather than movies. When asked why, the young man replied, “With a book, I can stay there as long as I want.” There is something to be said for the power of lingering in a book, especially the Bible, and “inhabiting” the stories there.
Hebrews 11, often called “the faith chapter” of the Bible, mentions nineteen people by name. Each one traveled a road of difficulty and doubt, yet chose to obey God.
"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." (Hebrews 11:13).
How easy it is to rush through our Bible reading without pondering the people and events in the text. Our self-imposed time schedule robs us of going deeper into God’s truth and His plan for our lives. Yet, when we are willing to stay awhile, we find ourselves caught up in the real-life dramas of people like us who chose to stake their lives on God’s faithfulness.
When we open God’s Word, it’s good to recall that we can stay as long as we want.
Linger in God’s Word and you'll find stories of faith.
Our Daily Bread
September 2, 2017
CHALLENGE THE PROCESS
"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'"
Everything has a process, good or bad. A good process provides wise checks and balances and makes for a best decision, a quality product or service, and excellent execution. A bad process rushes through an inferior design or a half-baked decision, impeding progress. So, a wise leader allows all processes to be up for debate. No process is immune to questioning, but the discussion is to be handled with dignity and respect.
Keep the conversation focused on process, not personalities. This is why everyone holds a process with an open hand. If you become a rigid proponent of your pet process, then there is a good chance you will take any criticism of your process personally. Process, by design, is what’s best for the entire organization, not just a convenience created to accommodate someone’s preference.
Therefore, do not overprotect a process with smothering ownership. Furthermore, challenge the process with professional courtesy. You challenge the process with respect when you speak factually and do not react emotionally. This creates calm and communicates care.
You respect others when you listen to their ideas without becoming defensive. This allows everyone to discover and support the best process. Respect keeps the best interests of the organization in mind. This facilitates teachability, teamwork, and responsible stewardship. Anyone can complain, so challenge the process with thoughtful solutions, not mindless meandering.
Healthy organizations require everyone to think. No one’s ideas are unimportant. From the mailroom to the boardroom everyone can come up with better ways to do his or her job. Think of creative processes that save time and money and utilize technology. Then document your processes. Within a growing enterprise, the processes that worked last year will probably be lacking this year. If a process does not propel progress, then it needs to be replaced with a results-driven model. Processes serve the mission of the enterprise. So, set up your processes to accomplish the objectives of the organization.
Furthermore, challenge the process with better ideas by researching other groups who have proven processes. This invites innovation. Pilot new processes before implementation, because this enhances quality. Lastly, plan a process to challenge the process because this reminds the team to think.
God is into process. This is why He is symmetrical and systematic in His creation and design. His will is process-driven. Thankfully, He is ultimately in control of the process. Therefore, challenge mediocre processes and create superior ones. And above all else, trust God in the process and with the process. God has a lot of passion around precision and process, He always has.
"Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks." (Genesis 6:14-16)
What process do you need to improve or remove altogether, so you are able to do your best and support others to do their best?
September 1, 2017
LOOK FOR THE GOLD; REMOVE THE DIRT
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
At one time Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest man in America. He came to America from his native Scotland when he was a small boy, did a variety of odd jobs, and eventually ended up as the largest steel manufacturer in the United States. At one time he had forty-three millionaires working for him. In those days a millionaire was a rare person; conservatively speaking, a million dollars in his day would be equivalent to at least twenty million dollars today.
A reporter asked Carnegie how he had hired forty-three millionaires. Carnegie responded that those men had not been millionaires when they started working for him but had become millionaires as a result.
The reporter's next question was, "How did you develop these men to become so valuable to you that you have paid them this much money?" Carnegie replied that men are developed the same way gold is mined. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold; but one doesn't go into the mine looking for dirt - one goes in looking for the gold.
That's exactly the way we as Christians need to view others. Don't look for the flaws, the warts, and the blemishes. Look for the gold, not for the dirt; Look for the good, not the bad. Look for the positive aspects of their lives. Like everything else, the more good qualities we look for in others, the more good qualities we are going to find.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher