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Author Message
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 Posted December 5th, 2010 12:30 PM   IP              
Preparation And Expectation

An angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. —Luke 2:9

When our children were young, we observed Advent (the time beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas through Christmas Eve) by making a wreath and lighting candles each night after supper. We sang a carol and read a short Bible passage about the birth of Christ. This was a special time of preparing our hearts to celebrate Christmas.

But Advent is more than that. When Christians first started practicing it in the fourth century, they viewed it not only as preparation for celebrating Jesus’ birth but also as a time of looking forward to His second coming. They found hope and cheer in the sure promise of His return.

The gospel of Luke describes “the glory of the Lord” that shone around the shepherds when the angel announced the Savior’s birth (2:9). Luke also records Jesus’ promise that He will return “with power and great glory” (21:27). These two events frame the purpose for which the Son of God came into the world.

In Latin advent means “a coming.” The weeks before Christmas can be a wonderful season of repentance and expectation as we celebrate our Lord’s first advent in Bethlehem and anticipate His second advent when He returns in glory. Christ has come! Christ is coming again!



The first time Jesus came to earth,
Humble was His story;
But He has promised to return
With power and great glory. —Sper

Christ has come! Christ is coming again!




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 6th, 2010 05:19 PM   IP              
Change Of Direction

They themselves declare . . . how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. —1 Thessalonians 1:9

The United States Secret Service was founded in 1865. Their mission? To deal with counterfeiters in an attempt to protect the dollar and, as a result, America’s national economy. This targeted group of law enforcement officers, however, experienced a change of direction in 1902. They became best known for protecting the President of the United States, although their charge still embodies a variety of tasks.

That change of direction in the Secret Service duties is nothing compared to the completely altered lives of the believers at Thessalonica. They had a spiritual transformation that turned their lives around, which was noticed by people far and wide. Paul wrote, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). And “you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. . . . Your faith toward God has gone out” (vv.7-8). The change of direction they displayed was dramatic, to say the least— abandoning the worship of idols to embrace relationship with the true and living God. And people noticed the difference in their lives.

I wonder—do people recognize such a profound change in our hearts and lives?



If you are going in the wrong direction,
Or if you have no goal in view,
Let Christ transform you, have control,
Then honor Him in all you do. —Hess

Coming to Christ is not merely informational; it’s transformational.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 7th, 2010 12:33 PM   IP              
Little Things

The Father of mercies and God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our tribulation. —2 Corinthians 1:3-4

A medical school program in New York gives students who are training for geriatric medicine a unique opportunity. They experience life as nursing home residents for 10 days. They learn some of the struggles of maneuvering a wheelchair and being raised out of bed with a lift, as well as reaching the shower bar from a seated position. One student learned how little things counted for a lot—like lowering nameplates on doors so that patients can find their rooms more easily, or putting the TV remote in a reachable location.

Although the students still can’t fully relate, they will be better able to serve the elderly in their future work.

Sometimes God gives us the opportunity to use the lessons we’ve learned and the comfort He’s given us during difficult times to help others in special ways. Paul indicated this when he wrote: “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 tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Are you using the lessons you’ve learned in your trials to touch the lives of others? Remember—even little things can mean a lot.



The comfort God has given us
He wants us now to share
With others who are suffering
So they will sense His care. —Sper

God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable;
He comforts us to make us comforters.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 9th, 2010 12:54 PM   IP              
Recipe For Success

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night . . . . Then you will have good success. —Joshua 1:8

Wrinkled noses and puckered lips—sometimes this is my family’s reaction to my cooking, especially when I’m trying something new in the kitchen. Recently, I had a breakthrough with a unique version of macaroni and cheese. I jotted down the ingredients and tucked the recipe away for future reference. Without that set of instructions, I knew the next batch would be a flop.

Without God’s instructions, Joshua would have failed at leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. The first step was to “be strong and of good courage” (Josh. 1:6). Next, he was to continually meditate on the Book of the Law, and finally, he was to do everything it said. As long as Joshua followed the directions, God promised him “good success” (v.8).

God’s “recipe for success” can work for us too, but His idea of success has little to do with money, popularity, or even good health. In the original Hebrew, “then you will have good success” means “then you will act wisely.” Just as God called Joshua to walk in wisdom, He wants us to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Eph. 5:15).

As we take courage in the Lord, feast on His Word, and obey Him, we have a recipe for godly success that’s better than anything we could cook up on our own.



You will surely find at the journey’s end,
Whatever the world may afford,
That things fade away, and success is seen
In the life that has served the Lord. —Anon.

Obedience to God’s Word is the recipe for spiritual success.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 10th, 2010 01:11 PM   IP              
Tough And Tender

Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed. —Psalm 37:37-38

“Any fool can start a quarrel” (Prov. 20:3). “The name of the wicked will rot” (10:7). “He who hates correction is stupid” (12:1).

Is it right for God’s Word to call people fools, wicked, and stupid? Isn’t God all about love and kindness?

Indeed, God is love. God is kindness. He created a world with great possibilities for joy and contentment.

Yet God reminds us that in His love He does not overlook the foolishness of our hearts and actions. Those verses from Proverbs can remind us that while God is love, He has great expectations for us. Life is tougher than it needs to be for those who bring self-imposed trouble upon themselves.

Each negative word in those proverbs has a counterpart—an alternative that gives God’s preferred way to live. A fool quarrels, but the honorable man avoids strife (20:3). The name of the wicked rots, but the memory of the righteous is blessed (10:7). The stupid reject correction, but those who love instruction also love knowledge (12:1).

There’s always a choice in this life. Live God’s way and enjoy His smile of approval—or live as a fool and find destruction. That’s the tough and tender truth about living in God’s world. Which do you choose?



Deceptions, twists, and outright lies
Define the words of fools;
But those who follow God’s Word show
A life where wisdom rules. —Sper

Only a fool fools with sin.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 11th, 2010 12:50 PM   IP              
Praying For The Opposition

Love your enemies . . . and pray for those who . . . persecute you. —Matthew 5:44

When I was a freshman in Bible college, I began to be bolder about speaking up for the Lord. Not surprisingly, my new habit created friction with some. Attending a social event with my former high school friends bore this out. One young woman to whom I had witnessed earlier laughed at my concern about where she would spend eternity. Ed, a friend who knew of my faith, said jokingly, “Three cheers for the old rugged cross!” I felt put down and rejected.

But later that evening I was filled with an unexplainable love. Recalling our Lord’s command to “Love your enemies . . . and pray for those who . . . persecute you” (Matt. 5:44), I prayed for Ed who had mocked the cross of Christ. With my eyes filled with tears, I asked the Lord to save him.

About a year later, I got a letter from Ed saying he wanted to get together. When we finally met, he shared how he had wept over his own sinfulness and had invited Jesus Christ to be his Savior and Lord. Later, to my surprise I heard that Ed had become a missionary to Brazil. The lesson I learned from that experience is that prayer is the best response to spiritual opposition. What critic of your faith might need your prayers today?



Lord, help us not respond in kind
To those who hate and turn from You;
Instead, help us to love and pray
That someday they’ll accept what’s true. —Sper

People may mock our message
but they are helpless against our prayers.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 16th, 2010 12:27 PM   IP              
The Great Miracle

He touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” —Isaiah 6:7
Bible in a year:
Amos 4-6; Revelation 7Leonard Ravenhill (1907–1994), a British evangelist, once said, “The greatest miracle God can do today is

Leonard Ravenhill (1907–1994), a British evangelist, once said, “The greatest miracle God can do today is take an unholy man out of an unholy world, make that man holy, then put him back into that unholy world and keep him holy in it.” This seems to be what God did to Isaiah when He called him to speak to His people.

Around the time of the death of Uzziah, one of Judah’s more successful kings, Isaiah had a vision of God. The prophet saw Him as the true King of the universe, sitting on a lofty throne. In the vision, Isaiah saw seraphim worshiping God with a hymn that praised His holiness, majesty, and glory.

Isaiah’s vision of God led to a true vision of himself as unholy and broken before God. “Woe is me, for I am undone!” Isaiah said (6:5). This recognition of sin led him to a need for and the reception of God’s cleansing grace (v.7). Newly cleansed, Isaiah was commissioned to spread God’s message (v.9). The Lord sent Isaiah into an unholy world, not only to live a holy life but also to tell an unholy people about a holy God.

The Lord wants to show Himself to us, thus giving us a truer vision of ourselves, a deeper need for His grace, and a greater commitment to live and speak for Him. What a miracle!



Upon my life shed forth Thy grace,
Till others seek Thy loving face;
Oh, may no thing be seen in me
To cause a soul to stray from Thee! —Roberts

Amid the darkness of sin, the light of God’s grace shines brightest.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 17th, 2010 12:44 PM   IP              
God’s Love Through Me

Love never fails. —1 Corinthians 13:8

During a devotional session at a conference, our leader asked us to read aloud 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, and substitute the word “Jesus” for “love.” It seemed so natural to say, “Jesus suffers long and is kind; Jesus does not envy; Jesus does not parade Himself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek His own . . . . Jesus never fails.”

Then our leader said, “Read the passage aloud and say your name instead of Jesus.” We laughed nervously at the suggestion. “I want you to begin now,” the leader said. Quietly, haltingly I said the words that felt so untrue: “David does not seek his own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. David never fails.”

The exercise caused me to ask, “How am I hindering God from expressing His love through me?” Do I think that other expressions of faith are more important? Paul declared that from God’s perspective, eloquent speech, deep spiritual understanding, lavish generosity, and self-sacrifice are worthless when not accompanied by love (vv.1-3).

God longs to express His great heart of love for others through us. Will we allow Him to do it?



To love our neighbors as ourselves
Is not an easy thing to do;
So Lord, please show us how to love
As we attempt to follow You. —Sper

Living like Christ is loving like God.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 19th, 2010 02:31 PM   IP              
Newgrange

If by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive . . . the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. —Romans 5:17

Newgrange is a 5,000-year-old burial passage tomb in Ireland. Built by the members of a farming community in Ireland’s Boyne Valley, this magnificent structure covers more than an acre of land. It was a place where people went to struggle with the issue of death. It is best known for the beam of sunlight that moves through the chamber for 17 minutes each day from December 19 to 23 during the winter solstice, the shortest days of the year. Some say it serves as a powerful symbol of the victory of life over death.

Ever since death entered the human experience in Genesis 3, it has been life’s one great inevitability, and many people’s chief fear. It need not be so, however. The apostle Paul wrote, “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).

From that moment in the Garden of Eden with the sin of our first parents, sin and death reigned. Yet we need not fear death or its consequences. Because of Christ, we can have confident hope—His victory of life over death has given us eternal life.

Have you received Him?



Thanks be to God for victory,
The grave no terror knows;
Since Christ from death has risen,
He’s conquered all our foes. —Spittal

Christ’s empty tomb guarantees our victory over death.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 20th, 2010 02:23 PM   IP              
Significant Surrender

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time. —1 Peter 5:6

Throughout history, Mary the mother of Jesus has been held in high esteem. And rightly so! She was singled out by God to deliver the long-awaited Messiah.

But before we get lost in the significance of her life, let’s take a look at what it meant for her to surrender to the assignment. Living in a small backwater Galilean village where everyone knew everyone else’s business, she would have to live with the perceived shame of her premarital pregnancy. Explaining to her mother the visits of the angel and the Holy Spirit probably didn’t calm things down. To say nothing of the devastating interruption that her pregnancy would bring to her plans to marry Joseph. And while we are thinking about Joseph, what would she tell him? Would he believe her?

In light of these personal ramifications, her response to the angel who told her the news about her role as Jesus’ mother is amazing: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 ESV). Her words remind us that a life of significance is most often preceded by a heart eager to surrender to God’s will regardless of the cost.

What significant experience does God have in store for you? It starts with surrender to Him.



What shall I give You, Master?
You have redeemed my soul;
My gift is small but it is my all—
Surrendered to Your control. —Grimes

Surrender to God precedes His significant work in your life.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 21st, 2010 04:24 PM   IP              
Parallel Universes

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! —Luke 2:14

Every so often I catch myself wondering about the whole grand scheme of faith. I stand in an airport, for example, watching important-looking people in business suits, briefcases clutched to their sides, as they pause at an espresso bar before scurrying off to another concourse. Do any of them ever think about God? I wonder.

Christians share an odd belief in parallel universes. One universe consists of glass and steel and wool clothes and leather briefcases and the smell of freshly ground coffee. The other consists of angels and spiritual forces and somewhere-out-there places called heaven and hell. We palpably inhabit the material world; it takes faith to consider oneself a citizen of the other, invisible world.

Christmas turns the tables and hints at the struggle involved when the Lord of both worlds descends to live by the rules of the one. In Bethlehem, the two worlds came together, realigned. What Jesus went on to accomplish on planet Earth made it possible for God someday to resolve all disharmonies in both worlds. No wonder a choir of angels broke out in spontaneous song, disturbing not only a few shepherds but the entire universe (Luke 2:13-14).



Once from the realms of infinite glory,
Down to the depths of our ruin and loss,
Jesus came, seeking—O Love’s sweet story—
Came to the manger, the shame, and the cross. —Strickland

The key word of Christmas is “Immanuel”— God with us!




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 22nd, 2010 11:23 AM   IP              
Eye Level To A Bulldog

I, the Lord, have called You . . . to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. —Isaiah 42:6-7

My son and his wife have a 120- pound American bulldog with a powerful body and fearsome face. Yet until we became friends, “Buddy” wasn’t sure he could trust me. As long as I was on my feet, he’d keep his distance and wouldn’t look me in the eye. Then one day I learned that if I’d get down on the ground, the mood of Buddy’s big-jowled face would change. Sensing I was no longer a threat, he’d playfully come running like a freight train, pounce on me with his big feet, and want me to scratch his muscular neck.

Maybe what Buddy needed from me is a glimmer of what our God gave us by coming down to our level and living among us in the person of Christ. From the day that our first parents sinned and hid from the presence of the Lord, our tendency has been to be afraid of coming to a high and holy God on His terms (John 3:20).

So, as Isaiah predicted, God showed how low He was willing to go to bring us to Himself. By adopting the form of a lowly servant, our Creator lived and died to disarm our wrongs. Even now He is coaxing us from the cover of our spiritual darkness (Isa. 42:7) to call us friends (John 15:15). How can we still be afraid to trust Him?



Lord, thank You that You stepped out of heaven
and came down to this earth, that You clothed Yourself
in human flesh. We’re grateful that we can now draw
near to You, even though we’re sinful. Amen.

The high and holy One became the meek and lowly One.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 24th, 2010 10:22 AM   IP              
Peace On Earth?

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. —John 14:27

I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with a sky full of angels, but I must admit that I’ve always wondered about the promise of peace the angelic host made to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. For the last 2,000 years, peace on our planet has been at best a rare commodity. Wars continue to ravage innocent lives, domestic violence is a growing calamity, divorce rates soar, churches split, and peace in our restless and wayward hearts seems to be an elusive dream.

Where is the promised peace? Actually, on reflection, we can see that Jesus brought all that is needed for peace in our world. He taught the principles of peace, calling for people to love their neighbors as they love themselves. And as He was leaving this planet, He promised, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). He told us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, forgive offenses, reject greed, tolerate each other’s weaknesses, live to serve and love one another as He has loved us.

It seems that in large part, peace is up to us. Paul verifies that in Romans 12:18, “As much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” This Christmas, let’s make peace our gift to the world in which we live as we reflect the Prince of Peace.



We know at times there will be strife;
On this we must agree—
When conflict drops into our lives,
We’ll solve it peacefully. —Fasick

When we experience peace with God,
we can share His peace with others.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 25th, 2010 12:07 PM   IP              
Amazing!

The Christmas story, recorded in Matthew and Luke, has become so familiar that I wonder if we grasp the reality of what actually happened: An angel told a young virgin that she would conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38). The angel then told her fiancé to marry her and name the baby Jesus, “for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Shepherds saw angels in the sky and were told of a Savior’s birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:11). Wise men traveled hundreds of miles to worship the One who, they said, “has been born King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). Amazing!

Equally astonishing is that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men did exactly as they had been told. Mary yielded herself to God; Joseph took her home as his wife; the shepherds went to Bethlehem to find the baby in a manger; and the wise men followed the star. With no idea of the outcome, they all took the next step by faith in the Lord. Amazing!

How is it with us this Christmas? Will we trust God and follow His leading even when we face uncertainty and overwhelming circumstances?

When you and I obey the Lord, the outcome is truly amazing!



To follow the leading of God,
To step out in faith and obey,
Is always the path we should take
Whenever we can’t see the way. —Sper

Faith never knows where it is being led,
but it loves and knows the One who is leading. —Chambers




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 27th, 2010 11:52 AM   IP              
The True Owner

All things were created through Him and for Him. —Colossians 1:16

Did you hear about the church that didn’t have enough room for parking? Fortunately, it was located right next to a store that was closed on Sundays, so a church member asked the store owner if they could overflow into his parking lot. “No problem,” he said. “You can use it 51 weeks out of the year. On the 52nd week, though, it will be chained off.” The man was grateful, but asked curiously, “What happens that week?” The store owner smiled, “Nothing. I just want you to remember that it’s not your parking lot.”

It’s easy to take for granted all the material and spiritual blessings that God has given us. That’s why we need to stop and remember that Scripture says the true owner of all we possess is God: “All that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all” (1 Chron. 29:11). Even our bodies do not belong to us: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit . . . and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

As 1 Timothy 6:17 reminds us: “God . . . gives us richly all things to enjoy.” We are so abundantly blessed with good things! Let’s never take our Father for granted, but use wisely and gratefully all that He has given us.



As we all enjoy God’s blessing,
Oh, may we not forget
Our Lord, from whom all good gifts come—
In Him our needs are met. —Fitzhugh

God gives blessing to us so we can give glory to Him.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 28th, 2010 12:50 PM   IP              
The Year In Review

I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. —Psalm 77:11

During the last week of December, newscasters often look back at the significant events of the past year—the triumphs and failures of prominent people, natural disasters, economic challenges, and the deaths of celebrities and leaders. The most surprising events usually receive top billing.

If you reviewed the past year of your life, what would appear on the list? Has an unexpected event caused you to question God or to more deeply experience His goodness?

Psalm 77 chronicles the lament of a person in distress who felt as if God no longer cared (vv.7-9). “Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore?” (v.8). Yet, even in anguish, the psalmist said, “I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old” (v.11). The result was a renewal of trust and hope: “You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples” (v.14).

As you think back over this past year, why not write down the significant events in your life. Don’t be afraid to include your difficulties and disappointments, but remember to consider all the ways God has been with you.

During every difficulty, we can always find the faithfulness of God.



When we look back and contemplate
What we’ve been through this year,
We’ll praise You, Lord, for all You’ve done—
Your faithfulness is clear. —Sper

Difficulties in our lives give us the opportunity
to experience the faithfulness of God.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 29th, 2010 01:32 PM   IP              
Common Standards

What great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments? —Deuteronomy 4:8

In the frenzied early days of the Internet, Web developers were making up their own rules. The result was confusion. Among the problems was that what looked good on one computer was unreadable on another. This caused developers to refer to the Internet as the wild, wild Web, an allusion to the days of the wild, wild West in the US when law and order were pretty much nonexistent. To bring order out of chaos, Web developers started calling for others to agree on common standards.

Their plea reminds us of why it was important for the Israelites to have laws to live by when they left Egypt (Deut. 4:1). Without them, there would be anarchy. With them, however, they would have a system that was so superior that it would demonstrate to other nations the greatness of their God (v.8).

Today, to bring order out of the chaos of our sinful, selfish world, believers submit to the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2), who Himself is the fulfillment of the law (Matt. 5:17). When we submit to the standard established by Christ and love others as God loves us, we will live in peace with one another and thus provide a witness to the world of how great God is.



Let us go forth, as called of God,
Redeemed by Jesus’ precious blood;
His love to show, His life to live,
His message speak, His mercy give. —Whittle

The world will know by our love for God and others
that He is great.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 30th, 2010 01:03 PM   IP              
Life Is Like Riding A Bicycle

All these . . . obtained a good testimony through faith. —Hebrews 11:39

In a letter to his son Eduard, Albert Einstein gave this advice: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” The great physicist’s advice is wise and practical.

This wise counsel can apply to the Christian life. Many believers by faith keep moving ahead through painful and trying circumstances. But when they experience a personal moral failure, they lose their balance and fall. Their regret and feeling of unworthiness of God’s forgiveness may then keep them down and they no longer move ahead in their spiritual life.

The Bible gives us many examples of those who have experienced serious personal failure. Abraham lied to Pharaoh about his wife, Sarah (Gen. 12:11-17). Jacob deceived his father to acquire Esau’s blessing (Gen. 27:18-29). Moses disobeyed God by striking the rock instead of speaking to it (Num. 20:7-12). Despite their failures, we are told: “all these . . . obtained a good testimony through faith” (Heb. 11:39).

These biblical characters are lifted up as examples because after they fell, they turned back to God and began to follow Him again. Have you lost your spiritual balance through a sinful choice, which is keeping you down? Repent and follow the God of second chances once again.



I’ve strayed, O Lord, and turned aside,
I’ve disobeyed Your voice;
But now contrite of heart I turn
And make Your will my choice. —D. De Haan

Our God is a God of second chances.




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 Posted December 31st, 2010 01:33 PM   IP              
Rearview Mirror Reflections

For You, Lord, have made me glad . . . ; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. —Psalm 92:4

I’ve always thought that you can see the hand of God best in the rearview mirror. Looking back, it’s easier to understand why He placed us in the home that He did; why He brought certain people and circumstances into and out of our lives; why He permitted difficulties and pain; why He took us to different places and put us in various jobs and careers.

In my own life, I get a lot of clarity (though not perfect clarity—that’s heaven’s joy!) about the wise and loving ways of God as I reflect on the ways He has managed my journey by “the works of [His] hands” (Ps. 92:4). With the psalmist, it makes me glad and strikes a note of joy in my heart to see how often God has assisted, directed, and managed the outcomes so faithfully (Ps. 111).

Looking ahead, though, is not always so clear. Have you ever had that lost feeling when the road ahead seems twisted, foggy, and scary? Before you move into next year, stop and look in the rearview mirror of the year gone by, and joyfully realize that God meant it when He said, “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear’ ” (Heb. 13:5-6).

With the promise of God’s presence and help in mind, you can move ahead into 2011 with utmost confidence.



Shall not He who led me safely
Through the footsteps of this day
Lead with equal understanding
All along my future way? —Adams

God’s guidance in the past gives courage for the future.




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 Posted January 2nd, 2011 01:14 PM   IP              
Trouble

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you. —1 Peter 4:12

Does it surprise you that trouble is a part of life? Probably not. We all know trouble close-up and personal—bad health, empty bank account, blighted love, grief, loss of job, and the list goes on.

It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that God permits the added trials of being ridiculed and hated because we follow Christ (1 Peter 4:12). But trouble, whether it is common to man or unique to Christians, can reveal to us the moral fiber of our soul.

I have never seen a golf course without hazards. They are part of the game. Golfers speak of the courses with the most hazards as the most challenging, and they will travel a long way to test their skill against the most demanding 18 holes.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I wouldn’t pass it around. I wouldn’t be doing anyone a favor. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it . . . . Meet it as a friend, for you’ll see a lot of it and you had better be on speaking terms with it.”

Let’s not think it strange when trouble comes, for God is using it to test the stamina of our souls. The best way to handle trouble is to commit our “souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (v.19).



The troubles that we face each day
Reveal how much we need the Lord;
They test our faith and strength of will
And help us then to trust God’s Word. —D. De Haan

Great triumphs are born out of great troubles.




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 Posted January 3rd, 2011 12:34 PM   IP              
An Overcoming Faith

I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. —Psalm 3:4

Few things disable new workers on a job like criticism from veterans. Good hiring managers know to protect new employees by surrounding them with mentors willing to shield them from unnecessary barbs.

Hannah is a mentor to us in dealing with criticism and deep desires of the heart (1 Sam. 1:1-18). Surrounded by a husband who didn’t understand, a taunting peer, and an overly judgmental clergyman, Hannah found a way through the fog by confiding in God (v.10). While we now know God answered the prayer of Hannah’s heart by giving her a child, we don’t know for sure if Eli’s blessing was a wish or a promise from God (v.17). I think her no-longer-sad face came most of all because she gained peace from confiding in Him.

We were created to be in relationship with God; and when we take that relationship to an intimate level, it bonds us not only to His presence but also to His strength. Prayers that express our hurts and emotions are most assuredly welcomed by God because they demonstrate our trust in Him. We will often find perspective, and nearly always come away comforted, knowing we’ve entrusted the things that are troubling us—whether criticism or deep desires—to the One who is best able to sort through them.



The kindest Friend I’ve ever had
Is One I cannot see,
Yet One in whom I can confide,
Who loves and blesses me. —Shuler

In prayer, it’s better to have a heart without words
than words without heart.




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 Posted January 5th, 2011 10:57 AM   IP              
Lion Of Judah

Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed. —Revelation 5:5

The lounging lions in Kenya’s Masai Mara game reserve looked harmless. They rolled on their backs in low-lying bushes. They rubbed their faces on branches as if trying to comb their magnificent manes. They drank leisurely from a stream. They strode slowly across dry, scrubby terrain as if they had all the time in the world. The only time I saw their teeth was when one of them yawned.

Their serene appearance is deceiving, however. The reason they can be so relaxed is that they have nothing to fear—no shortage of food and no natural predators. The lions look lazy and listless, but they are the strongest and fiercest of all. One roar sends all other animals running for their lives.

Sometimes it seems as if God is lounging. When we don’t see Him at work, we conclude that He’s not doing anything. We hear people mock God and deny His existence, and we anxiously wonder why He doesn’t defend Himself. But God “will not be afraid of their voice nor be disturbed by their noise” (Isa. 31:4). He has nothing to fear. One roar from Him, and His detractors will scatter like rodents.

If you wonder why God isn’t anxious when you are, it’s because He has everything under control. He knows that Jesus, the Lion of Judah, will triumph.



When fear and worry test your faith
And anxious thoughts assail,
Remember God is in control
And He will never fail. —Sper

Because God is in control, we have nothing to fear.




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 Posted January 6th, 2011 11:42 AM   IP              
Get Involved

But [Jesus] needed to go through Samaria. —John 4:4

Norena’s South Florida home was severely damaged during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. She received an insurance settlement, and the repair work began. But the contractors left when the money ran out, leaving an unfinished home with no electricity. For 15 years, Norena got by with a tiny refrigerator and a few lamps connected to extension cords. Surprisingly, her neighbors didn’t seem to notice her dilemma. Then, acting on a tip, the mayor got involved and contacted an electrical contractor who restored power to her house within a few hours.

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), He got involved in her life and talked to her about her need for spiritual power. He established common ground with her (water, v.7) and piqued her spiritual interest and curiosity (vv.9-14). He was gracious and sensitive as He confronted her sin (vv.16-19) and kept the conversation centered on the main issue (vv.21-24). Then He confronted her directly with who He was as Messiah (v.26). As a result, she and many other Samaritans believed in Him (vv.39-42).

Let’s get involved in the lives of others and tell them about Jesus. He is the only source of spiritual power and satisfies our deepest longings.



Help me to see the tragic plight
Of souls far off in sin;
Help me to love, to pray, and go
To bring the wandering in. —Harrison

A faith worth having is a faith worth sharing.




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 Posted January 7th, 2011 01:27 PM   IP              
Truly Amazing

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! —1 John 3:1

I read these words on a young woman’s personal Web site: “I just want to be loved—and he has to be amazing!”

Isn’t that what we all want—to be loved, to feel cared for by someone? And so much the better if he or she is amazing!

The one who fits that description most fully is Jesus Christ. In a display of unprecedented love, He left His Father in heaven and came to earth as the baby we celebrate at Christmas (Luke 2). Then, after living a perfect life, He gave His life as an offering to God on the cross in our behalf (John 19:17-30). He took our place because we needed to be rescued from our sin and its death penalty. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Then 3 days later, the Father raised Jesus to life again (Matt. 28:1-8).

When we repent and receive Jesus’ gift of amazing love, He becomes our Savior (John 1:12; Rom. 5:9), Lord (John 13:14), Teacher (Matt. 23:8), and Friend (John 15:14). “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

Looking for someone to love you? Jesus loves us so much more than anyone else possibly could. And He is truly amazing!



Amazing thought! that God in flesh
Would take my place and bear my sin;
That I, a guilty, death-doomed soul,
Eternal life might win! —Anon.

The wonder of it all—just to think that Jesus loves me.




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 Posted January 8th, 2011 12:15 PM   IP              
A Clear Conscience

I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men. —Acts 24:16

After Ffyona Campbell became famous as the first woman to walk around the world, her joy was short-lived. Despite the adulation she received, something troubled her. Guilt overtook her and pushed her to the brink of a nervous breakdown.

What was bothering her? “I shouldn’t be remembered as the first woman to walk around the world,” she finally admitted. “I cheated.” During her worldwide trek, she broke the guidelines of the Guinness Book of World Records by riding in a truck part of the way. To clear her conscience, she called her sponsor and confessed her deception.

God has given each of us a conscience that brings guilt when we do wrong. In Romans, Paul describes our conscience as “accusing or else excusing [us]” (2:15). For the obedient follower of Christ, care of the conscience is an important way of maintaining a moral compass despite moral imperfection. Confessing sin, turning from it, and making restitution should be a way of life (1 John 1:9; Lev. 6:2-5).

Paul modeled a well-maintained conscience, saying, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16 NIV). Through confession and repentance, he kept short accounts with God. Is sin bothering you? Follow Paul’s example. Strive for a clear conscience.



There is a treasure you can own
That’s greater than a crown or throne:
This treasure is a conscience clear
That brings the sweetest peace and cheer. —Isenhour

If God’s Word guides your conscience,
let your conscience be your guide.




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 Posted January 9th, 2011 12:59 PM   IP              
The Eye That Never Sleeps

In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He heard me. —Psalm 120:1

Detective Allan Pinkerton became famous in the mid-1800s by solving a series of train robberies and foiling a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln as he traveled to his first inauguration. As one of the first agencies of its kind in the US, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency gained even more prominence because of its logo of a wide-open eye with the caption, “We Never Sleep.”

There is no better feeling than knowing you are protected and secure. You feel peaceful when the doors are locked and all is quiet as you drift off to sleep at night. You feel safe. But many lie awake in their beds with fearful thoughts of the present or dread of the future. Some are afraid of commotion outside or of a spouse who has been violent. Some cannot rest because of worry over a rebellious child. Others are anxiously listening to make sure a seriously ill child is still breathing.

These are the times when our loving God encourages us to cry out to Him, to the One who will neither “slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). Psalm 34:15 reminds us that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.”

Pinkerton may have been the original “private eye,” but the One who really has the eye that never sleeps is listening to the cries of “the righteous” (Ps. 34:17).



Before you sleep, just gently lay
Every troubled thought away;
Drop your burden and your care
In the quiet arms of prayer. —Anon.

We can sleep in peace when we remember that God is awake.




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 Posted January 10th, 2011 11:38 AM   IP              
Called From

The Lord had said to Abram, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” —Genesis 12:1

One of the smartest people I know is a college friend who became a Christian while studying at a state university. He graduated with honors and went on to study at a respected seminary. He served a small church as pastor for several years and then accepted a call to another small church far from family and friends. After 12 years at that church, he sensed that the congregation needed new leadership, so he stepped down. He hadn’t been offered a job at a bigger church or a teaching position at a college or seminary. In fact, he didn’t even have another job. He just knew that God was leading him in a different direction, so he followed.

When we discussed it, my friend said, “A lot of people talk about being called to something, but I don’t hear much about being called from something.”

In many ways, my friend’s obedience was like that of Israel’s patriarch Abraham, who went out, not knowing where God was leading (Heb. 11:8-10). Difficulties like famine (Gen. 12:10), fear (vv.11-20), and family disputes (13:8) gave reason for doubt, but Abraham persevered and because of his faith God counted him as righteous (Gal. 3:6).

A life of obedience may not be easy, but it will be blessed (Luke 11:28).



As Abraham went out,
Not knowing where he was going;
Now, Lord, keep me from doubt,
To go the way You are showing. —Hess

You don’t need to know where you’re going
if you know God is leading.




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 Posted January 11th, 2011 01:34 PM   IP              
Why Not Now?

David, after he had served his own generation . . . fell asleep. —Acts 13:36

I have a dear friend who served as a missionary in Suriname for many years, but in his final years he was stricken with an illness that paralyzed him. At times he wondered why God allowed him to linger. He longed to depart and to be with his Lord.

Perhaps life is very hard for you or a loved one, and you are wondering why God has allowed you or your loved one to linger. When Jesus said He was going to heaven, Peter asked, “Lord, why can I not follow You now?” (John 13:37). You, like Peter, may wonder why entry into heaven has been postponed: “Why not now?”

God has a wise and loving purpose in leaving us behind. There is work to be done in us that can only be accomplished here on earth. Our afflictions, which are for the moment, are working for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). And there is work to be done for others—if only to love and to pray. Our presence may also be for the purpose of giving others an opportunity to learn love and compassion.

So, though you may desire release for yourself or a loved one, to live on in the flesh can mean fruitfulness (Phil. 1:21). And there is comfort in waiting: Though heaven may be delayed, God has His reasons. No doubt about it!



Not so in haste, my heart!
Have faith in God, and wait;
Although He seems to linger long
He never comes too late. —Torrey

Our greatest comfort is to know that God is in control.




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 Posted January 12th, 2011 11:05 AM   IP              
Behind The Scenes

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. —Matthew 6:6

Recently I attended a memorial service for a gifted musician whose life had touched many people. The tribute to this Christian woman included video and audio clips, photos, instrumentalists, and speakers. After everyone had left the church, I stopped to thank the technicians whose flawless work at the control board had contributed so much to this moving tribute. “No one noticed what you did,” I told them. “That’s the way we like it,” they replied.

In Matthew 6, Jesus told His disciples to give (vv.1-4), pray (vv.5-6), and fast (vv.16-18) in order to please God, not to gain praise from people. “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place” (v.6). Whether giving, praying, or fasting, Jesus said, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (vv.4,6,18).

Something within us makes us want to be seen and recognized for our good deeds. While there’s nothing wrong with encouragement and appreciation, a desire for praise can undermine our service because it shifts the focus from others to ourselves. When there is no public “thank you,” we may feel slighted. But even when we serve God in secret, He sees it all.



The service that we do for God
May go unpraised by men;
But when we stand before the Lord,
He will reward us then. —Sper

It is better to earn recognition without getting it than to get recognition without earning it.




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 Posted January 13th, 2011 03:28 PM   IP              
Contract Faith

All things work together for good to those who love God. —Romans 8:28

Sometimes people who serve God live with an unstated “contract faith.” Because they give time and energy to work for God, they think they deserve special treatment in return.

But not my friend Douglas. He has lived a Job-like existence in many ways, experiencing the failure of a ministry, his wife’s death from cancer, and injuries from a drunk driver to himself and a child. Yet Douglas advises, “Don’t confuse God with life.”

When troubles come and doubts arise, I often turn to Romans 8. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” asked Paul. “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (v.35). In that one sentence, Paul summarized his ministry autobiography. He endured trials for the sake of the gospel; yet somehow he had the faith to believe that these “things”—surely not good in themselves—could be used by God to accomplish good. He had learned to see past the hardships to a loving God who will one day prevail. He wrote, “I am persuaded that [nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ” (vv.38-39).

Confidence like that can go a long way in helping overcome discouragement about how life hasn’t worked out the way we thought it would.



For Further Study
Wondering about the reasons for your trials?
Read the online booklet Why Would A Good God
Allow Suffering? at www.discoveryseries.org/q0106

He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. —Philippians 1:6




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