My strength is made perfect in weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
A well-known actor commented that he enjoyed playing “flawed” characters in movies because people could relate better to an imperfect character. Most of us would agree that it’s easier for us to understand people who aren’t perfect because we know that we are imperfect.
God included stories in the Bible of people who were deceitful, weak, unreliable, and angry. Take Jacob, for example, who deceived his father so that he would receive a blessing (Gen. 27:1-29). Then there was Gideon, who was so unsure of God that he asked Him twice for proof that He would be faithful to do what He said He would do (Judg. 6:39). And then there’s Peter, who for fear of his own safety, denied even knowing his friend and Lord (Mark 14:66-72).
But when we read the rest of their stories, we observe that these people were able, with God’s help, to overcome their shortcomings and ultimately be useful to Him. That happened when they depended not on themselves but on God.
Just like the people who lived thousands of years ago, each of us comes with flaws. But by God’s grace we can overcome those imperfections by embracing His “strength [which] is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
God’s strength is made perfect in weakness,
For when we are weak He is strong;
He gives us His grace and His power
To overcome in us what’s wrong. —Sper
It’s good to learn of our weakness
if it drives us to lean on God’s strength.
Posted February 11th, 2012 11:59 AM IPA Covenant With My Eyes
I have made a covenant with my eyes. —Job 31:1
Our friend is a computer “techie.” One night when our family was at his house, I noticed a verse taped to his monitor: “I have made a covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1). Evidently, he understood the potential danger of spending hours alone in front of a computer with easy access to indecent images.
Our friend’s “reminder verse” is a quote from Job, and it continues, “Why then should I look upon a young woman?” Like many of us, Job had promised himself to stay free of lust. Reflecting on that oath, he said, “Does [God] not see my ways, and count all my steps?” (v.4). The Bible assures us that God does (Heb. 4:13), and that we are accountable to Him. This is why believers must “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3). While some want to debate the boundaries of morality, the Bible says, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
If you have made a covenant with your eyes, consider how Scripture might help you keep this pledge. Post a verse on your computer screen, television, or the dashboard of your car, and remember, “God did not call us to uncleanness” but to holiness (1 Thess. 4:7).
When lustful thoughts assail your mind
To play with immorality,
Remember that God’s will for you
Is holiness and purity. —Sper
Posted February 12th, 2012 11:20 AM IPUnanswered Prayer
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways. —Isaiah 55:9
The apostle Paul had one overriding desire: that fellow Jews would embrace the Messiah he had encountered. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart,” he said. “For I could wish that I myself were . . . cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Rom. 9:2-3 NIV). Yet in city after city his fellow Jews rejected him and the Christ he preached.
In his most elegant letter, Paul set as his centerpiece (Rom. 9–11) a passionate passage in which he struggled openly with this great unanswered prayer of his life. He acknowledged one important side benefit of this distressing development: The Jews’ rejection of Jesus led to His acceptance by the Gentiles. Paul concluded that God hadn’t rejected the Jews; to the contrary, they had the same opportunity as Gentiles. God had widened, not closed, the embrace of humanity.
Paul’s prose began to soar as he stepped back to consider the big picture. And then came this burst of doxology:
Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments
and His ways past finding out! (Rom. 11:33).
The unsolved mysteries and unanswered prayers all fade to gray against the panorama of God’s plan for the ages.
In the end, unanswered prayer brings me face to face with the mystery that silenced Paul: the profound difference between my perspective and God’s.
Prayer imparts the power to walk and not faint. —Chambers
Posted February 14th, 2012 11:40 AM IPBenefits Of Friendship
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. —Ecclesiastes 4:9
Cicero was one of the greatest thinkers of the Roman Empire. He was a skilled orator, lawyer, politician, linguist, and writer. Still today he is quoted for his clear prose and practical wisdom.
For instance, of having friends he wrote: “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.” He understood the double benefits of friendship along life’s journey.
Nearly a millennium earlier, King Solomon had written about the value of friends as well. In Ecclesiastes we read, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up” (4:9-10). Certainly a life without friends makes our sojourn lonely and hard to bear.
That famous Roman and that Jewish king were right: Friends are important. Friends serve as confidants, counselors, and burden-sharers.
Think about your friends. Have you been neglecting those God has provided to share your joys and sorrows? If so, seek out one of your friends for fellowship this week. Remember, “two are better than one,” because a friend can double our joy and divide our grief.
A friend is “trust,” a friend is “warmth,”
A friend is “always there”
To add to every happiness,
To lessen every care. —Anon.
Posted February 16th, 2012 03:25 PM IPKnocked Off Your Feet?
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. —Psalm 46:1
Because I’ve written many articles and a book about dealing with life’s losses, I have the privilege of being introduced to a number of fellow strugglers along life’s journey. One of my new friends is a mom whose 21-year-old daughter died suddenly in 2009, which sent her reeling. She told me, “I feel like an outcast from the normal world. I feel crushed and my soul is in so much pain.”
Indeed the losses that visit us can knock us off our feet—whether a death in the family, a child who walks away from God and family, or a physical or mental setback.
Yet what I’ve discovered is something musician Jeremy Camp made clear in a song he wrote after the death of his wife in 2001: When you are knocked off your feet by life’s difficulties, remember that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). That’s reason enough to get back up again. Camp described his struggle in the song called “Understand.” He asked, “Why don’t I get back on my feet again?” And he recognized that he could because “I know You understand it all.”
When trouble knocks us down, we can look up. God is there. He understands and cares. It’s not easy, but we can trust Him to help us get back on our feet again.
Lift up your eyes, despairing one,
The Lord your help will be;
You have a friend in heaven who cheers,
And calms the troubled sea. —Anon.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are felt more than in heaven.
Posted February 17th, 2012 12:24 PM IPSide By Side
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. —Deuteronomy 6:7
In my family scrapbook is a picture of my daughter at age 4 working next to me, using a toy hammer to repair the siding on the house. Side by side we worked that day; she imitated my every action, absolutely convinced that she too was fixing the house. Rarely have I enjoyed a chore more. In the picture, it’s obvious that she’s enjoying it too.
That photo reminds me that our children mimic most of what they see in us—words and deeds. They also form their images of God from the images they have of us as parents. If we’re stern and unmerciful, they’re likely to see God that way too. If we’re distant and cold, so God will seem to them as well. It is one of our most important duties as parents to help our children see God clearly, especially the unconditional nature of His love.
I can imagine the family scrapbook of my relationship with God having a similar picture. I’m learning from Him how to live life, how to love, and how to make it a permanent part of my being. He then teaches me how to teach others (Deut. 6:1-7).
May the Lord grant us an understanding of Him and the wisdom to pass it on.
We must teach our children clearly
What is right and what is wrong;
Live before them an example—
Godly, righteous, pure, and strong. —Fitzhugh
Posted February 18th, 2012 01:49 PM IPInvite Questions
Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. —1 Peter 3:15
When I teach, I sometimes use the motto “Question Authority” to get the attention of my students. I am not inviting them to challenge my authority; I am encouraging them to ask me questions. Some education experts say that more learning takes place when teachers answer questions than when they impart information. By nature, we all place a higher value on what we want to know than on what someone wants to tell us.
There is, of course, a place for both types of teaching, but encouraging questions is one of the first that is found in Scripture. Even before the Israelites left Egypt, the Lord instructed Moses to institute a practice that would invite questions. The Passover celebration would serve two purposes: It would remind the adults of God’s deliverance, and it would cause their children to ask about it (Ex. 12:26).
“Why” can be an annoying question, but it can also be a wonderful opportunity to give a reason for our faith (1 Peter 3:15). Instead of being impatient when others ask questions, we can be thankful they have a heart and mind open to learning. Questions give us the opportunity to answer lovingly and carefully, knowing that our words may have eternal consequences.
Lord, may I be approachable and open to listening
to others’ questions. May I not feel threatened but
instead have confidence that You will give me wisdom
to know how to reply or where to find an answer. Amen.
Honest questions can lead to faith-building answers.
Posted February 19th, 2012 11:54 AM IPA Word From The Lord
The word of the Lord was rare in those days. —1 Samuel 3:1
Noted preacher and theologian Helmut Thielicke (1908–1986) endured great opposition from the Nazi regime in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. Yet he remained committed to proclaiming God’s presence and power in Jesus Christ during a difficult and perplexing time. Scholar Robert Smith said that as Thielicke addressed modern issues and problems in his sermons, “he sought to answer the question, ‘Is there any word from the Lord?’”
Isn’t that what each of us is seeking today? What has God said that will strengthen and guide us through the difficulties and opportunities we face?
First Samuel 3 describes a time when “the word of the Lord was rare” (v.1). When God spoke to young Samuel, the boy mistakenly thought it was the aging priest Eli calling him. Eli told the boy to respond to God’s voice by saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (v.9). Samuel listened, and he became known as a man who lived faithfully and fearlessly, “for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (v.21).
Whenever we open the Bible, listen to a sermon, or pause to pray, it’s a wonderful practice to say, “Lord Jesus, speak to me. I’m ready to listen and eager to obey.”
God who formed worlds by the power of His word
Speaks through the Scriptures His truth to be heard
And if we read with the will to obey
He by His Spirit will show us His way. —D. De Haan
God speaks through His Word to those who listen with their heart.
Posted February 20th, 2012 10:43 AM IPThe Remedy For Fear
I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. —Psalm 34:4
In his first inaugural speech in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the newly elected president of the US, addressed a nation that was still reeling from the Great Depression. Hoping to ignite a more optimistic outlook regarding that economic crisis, he declared, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”
Fear often shows up in our lives when we are at risk of losing something—our wealth, health, reputation, position, safety, family, friends. It reveals our innate desire to protect the things in life that are important to us, rather than fully entrusting them to God’s care and control. When fear takes over, it cripples us emotionally and saps us spiritually. We’re afraid to tell others about Christ, to extend our lives and resources for the benefit of others, or to venture into new territory. A fearful spirit is more vulnerable to the enemy, who tempts us to compromise biblical convictions and to take matters into our own hands.
The remedy for fear, of course, is trust in our Creator. Only when we trust the reality of God’s presence, power, protection, and provision for our lives can we share the joy of the psalmist, who said, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4).
Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear. —Berg
Trust in the Lord is the cure for a fearful spirit.
How long will you slumber, O sluggard? —Proverbs 6:9
While studying the book of Proverbs in my small-group Bible study, our leader suggested that we change the description of a lazy person from a sluggard to a slacker (6:6,9). Ah, now he was speaking my lingo. I immediately started thinking of all the people I consider to be slackers.
Like the men and women who fail to teach and discipline their children. Or that guy who refuses to help around the house. Or those teenagers who neglect their studies and play Internet games day and night.
If we’re honest, we’re all susceptible to this. What about being a “prayer slacker” (1 Thess. 5:17-18), or a “Bible-reading slacker” (Ps. 119:103; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), or a “non-exercising-of-our-spiritual-gift slacker” (Rom. 12:4-8), or a “non-witnessing slacker”? (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
If we are not doing what we know God wants us to do, we are certainly spiritual slackers. In fact, when we refuse to obey God, we are sinning.
Listen to these challenging and convicting words from the book of James: “It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (4:17 NLT). Let’s not be spiritual slackers.
When we know what God wants us to do,
But then we refuse to obey,
We’re ignoring the voice of the Lord,
And sinfully choosing our way. —Sper
We may make excuses for not obeying God,
but He still calls it disobedience.
Posted February 26th, 2012 12:20 PM IPThe Devil In Court
I have removed your iniquity from you. —Zechariah 3:4
The Devil and Daniel Webster” is a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet. In it, Jabez Stone, a New England farmer, has such “bad luck” that he sells his soul to the devil to become prosperous. Eventually, the devil comes to collect Jabez’s debt. But the eminent lawyer Daniel Webster is called in to defend him. Through a skillful series of arguments, Webster wins the case against the devil, and Jabez is saved from perdition.
Of course, this tale is only fiction. But the Bible records a vision in which Satan accuses a believer before the Divine Judge. Joshua, a high priest, stands before God. As a picture of his personal sin and guilt, the priest is dressed in filthy clothing. Nearby, Satan accuses Joshua. But the Angel of the Lord rebukes him and says to Joshua: “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes” (Zech. 3:4).
Only God can make a sinner acceptable to Him. And the New Testament tells us how: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
Do you feel unworthy to enter the presence of God? Remember, as Christians, our Savior’s blood has cleansed us, and Christ Himself represents us.
The power of God can turn a heart
From evil and the power of sin;
The love of God can change a life
And make it new and cleansed within. —FasickJustification means our guilt gone, Christ’s righteousness given. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. —Galatians 3:28
In the Star Wars trilogy there’s a scene that reminds me of some church people I know. At an establishment somewhere in a remote corner of the galaxy, grotesque-looking creatures socialize over food and music. When Luke Skywalker enters with his two droids, C3PO and R2D2 (who are more “normal” than anyone else there), he is surprisingly turned away with a curt rebuff: “We don’t serve their kind here!”
That strange scene captures the malady that we all struggle with in our relationships here on planet Earth. We are always more comfortable with people who are just like us. But think of where you would be if Jesus had felt that way. He was divine, perfect in every way, which makes Him far different from us. Yet He came to dwell among us and to die for us.
Those of us who follow Christ shouldn’t have “they’re not my kind” in our vocabulary. As Paul reminds us, in Him “there is neither Jew nor Greek, . . . slave nor free, . . . male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). So, whether others are different in attitude, perspective, race, class, political slant, or social standing, it should make no difference to those of us who call ourselves by Jesus’ name.
Find someone who is not your kind and share Jesus’ love with them today!
I pray, O Lord, reveal to me
If I have caused disunity,
For You would have Your children one
In praise and love for Your dear Son. —BranonLove your neighbor— even if they aren’t your kind! God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted March 4th, 2012 01:49 PM IPIn This Very Room
Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” —John 20:26
At our church we often sing the beautiful song by Ron and Carol Harris: “In This Very Room.” It begins, “In this very room there’s quite enough love for one like me.” This song reminds me that although there is great encouragement in gathering with other Christians for worship, the important thing is that Christ is present. But it goes beyond that. He is with us not just at church but in every room of our lives.
I wonder where you’re reading this—a kitchen, a coffee shop, a prison cell, a military post? Perhaps you’re in a hospital or a courtroom. It may be a room that reflects everything that’s right in your life or a place that represents all that’s wrong. And you might be afraid.
In the aftermath of the awful reality of Jesus’ crucifixion, His followers met in a familiar room. John records that “when the doors were shut [locked] where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19). A week later it happened again when Jesus entered through locked doors to bring peace through His presence (vv.26-29).
Wherever you are today, “There’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom, for Jesus, Lord Jesus, is in this very room.”
When in the midst of life with its problems,Bent with our toil and burdens we bear;Wonderful thought and deep consolation:Jesus is always there. —LillenasOur loving God is always near—forever by our side. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death. —James 5:20
The Dalton brothers were infamous outlaws during the late 1800s in the US. They started out on the right side of the law as officers. But then they followed a gradual descent into crime and became known for bank and train robberies. Their day of reckoning came when they tried to hold up two banks at once. Hearing of the robberies, the townspeople armed themselves and began to fire on the Dalton Gang. When the smoke cleared, Emmett Dalton was the sole survivor.
After serving 15 years in the penitentiary, Emmett was pardoned and set free. While in prison, he had come to see the error of his ways. So when he was released, he wanted to deter young people from a life of crime. Drawing from his own experience, Emmett wrote and starred in a film about the Dalton Gang in which he showed the folly of being an outlaw. In many ways, Emmett’s film was telling others: “Do not enter the path of the wicked” (Prov. 4:14).
In a similar way, when we have sinned but have genuinely repented and experienced God’s forgiveness, we can tell our own story. We can encourage others not to make the same mistakes we have made. James wrote, “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death” (5:20).
If others learn from our mistakes,
And it saves them from the pain
That we ourselves experienced—
Then it wasn’t all in vain. —SperWhen we learn from our mistakes, we are less likely to repeat them. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted March 7th, 2012 10:18 PM IPHandle With Care
So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. —Psalm 90:12
We live in a society that’s overrun with warning labels. From disclaimers on pills, to “use-by” dates on soup cans, to danger signs on chain saws—warning labels draw our attention to impending hazards. Recently I received a box with a precious gift inside. The sender had attached a big red sticker to the package that said, fragile: handle with care. When I think about life and its fragility, I wonder if we shouldn’t all wear one of those red stickers.
It’s not a good idea to cruise through life thinking that we are invincible and that everything is going to be just fine—only to discover that we are far more fragile than we thought. It takes only a call from the doctor telling us that we have a life-threatening disease, or the swerve of a careless driver in front of us to remind us that life is extremely uncertain. There are no guarantees! None of us can be certain of another breath. So the psalmist has an important piece of advice . . . a warning label of sorts: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).
Let’s choose to live as though this were our last moment on earth by loving more deeply, forgiving more readily, giving more generously, and speaking more kindly.
That’s how to handle life with care.
To run the race of life in Christ,
This must become your daily goal:
Confess your sins, trust God for strength,
Use discipline and self-control. —SperYesterday is gone; tomorrow is uncertain; today is here. Use it wisely. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. —Matthew 22:37-38
What is the greatest thing in sports? Is it championships? Records? Honors? In the Palestra, the University of Pennsylvania basketball arena, a plaque offers a different perspective on the greatest thing in sports. It reads: “To win the game is great. To play the game is greater. But to love the game is the greatest of all.” This is a refreshing reminder that sports are, after all, just the games we played with joy as kids.
A religious leader once asked Jesus about greatness: “Which is the great commandment?” (Matt. 22:36). Jesus responded by challenging that leader to love—love God and love others. Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39).
Whatever else our faith in Christ compels us to do, there is nothing greater we can do than to show our love—for love reveals the heart of our holy heavenly Father. After all, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It’s easy to be sidetracked by lesser things, but our focus must remain on the greatest thing—loving our God. That in turn enables us to love one another. There’s nothing greater.
When amazed by His love for me,
To love Him back became my prayer.
I sought an answer sincerely—
It was: Love the neighbor who’s there. —VerwayThe proof of our love for God is our obedience to the commands of God. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted March 15th, 2012 02:59 PM IPA Search For The Top Ten
Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. —Psalm 119:97
BibleGateway, an online Bible resource, looked at the viewing habits of some of their 8 million monthly visitors. They found that John 3:16 was the most-searched-for verse in 2010.
I don’t think it’s surprising that it would be number one on the list. It tells us that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to rescue us from our sin and give us everlasting life. Number 10 on the list is Jesus’ commission to His followers to spread that good news: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Also in the top 10 are Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 about God’s good plans and purposes for His people.
The Scriptures are filled with truths to search out and share. In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, the psalmist shared his thoughts about the Word and his desire to search it and be taught by God. He said, “Oh, how I love Your law!” (v.97). Our Bible reading for today shows some of the psalmist’s reasons for loving it: It gives him wisdom and understanding, it restrains his feet from evil, and it is sweet. Therefore, it’s his meditation “all the day.”
Let’s keep taking the time to read the Bible. The more we search the Word, the more we’ll grow in our love for it and its Author (v.97).
Search the Scriptures’ precious store—As a miner digs for ore;Search, and you will surely findTreasures to enrich the mind. —Anon.The more you read the Bible, the more you’ll love its Author. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted March 17th, 2012 11:30 AM IPA Word To The Weary
God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. —Isaiah 50:4
The people of Israel were struggling. They had been taken captive by the Babylonians and forced to live in a country far from home. What could the prophet Isaiah give these weary people to help them?
He gave them a prophecy of hope. It was a message from God relating to the promised Messiah. In Isaiah 50:4, the Savior Himself described the comfort and consolation He would one day bring: “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.”
These were words of dual comfort—both to the people in exile and to future generations whose lives would be touched by Jesus’ compassion. In the Gospels we see how Christ fulfilled the prophecy with “a word in season to him who is weary.” To the crowds who followed Him, Christ proclaimed: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Words of compassion indeed!
Jesus left us an example of how to minister to people who have grown weary. Do you know someone who needs a timely word of encouragement or the listening ear of a concerned friend? A word of comfort to the weary can go a long way.
Neither life nor death can everFrom the Lord His children sever,For His love and deep compassionComforts them in tribulation. —BergCompassion is needed to heal the hurts of others. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted March 18th, 2012 01:04 PM IPThe Slippery Slope Of Success
When you were little in your own eyes, . . . did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? —1 Samuel 15:17
Among the more than 19,000 original epigrams penned by chemist and writer Dr. O. A. Battista is this wise observation: “You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity.” Unfortunately, just the opposite often happens when something we have done is praised and rewarded. A humble heart can quickly become a swelled head.
Just before Saul was anointed king, he saw himself as a member of an insignificant family in the smallest tribe of Israel (1 Sam. 9:21). Within a few years, however, he had erected a monument in his own honor and had become the supreme authority for his conduct (15:11-12). The prophet Samuel confronted Saul for his disobedience to God by reminding him, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel?” (v.17).
Self-importance is the first step down the slippery slope of what we call success. It begins when we claim credit for God-given victories and modify His commands to suit our desires.
True success is staying on God’s path by following His Word and giving Him praise instead of craving it for ourselves.
Help me, O Lord, lest my heart become proud,
For all of my talents by You are endowed;
Nothing I have can I claim as my own—
What mercy and grace in my life You have shown! —D. De HaanTrue humility credits God for every success. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. —John 1:14
While searching for an interesting way to instruct my college writing class about the concept of writing a biographical sketch, I found this idea: Write a biography in six words. When asked to do this, Pulitzer Prize winner Ernest Hemingway wrote this poignant bio: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” Imagine the sad story behind those six words.
As I thought about this concept, I wondered if we could find any six-word biographies of people in the Bible. What I discovered was astonishing. Many of our scriptural heroes have already been described that way. For example, David, of whom God said: “A man after My own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Or Paul’s self-description: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:1). Or Paul’s description of Timothy: “My true son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2 NIV). And consider these words about Mary: “The virgin shall be with child” (Matt. 1:23). And about Jesus: “Became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
This exercise in precise descriptions of people of faith should cause us to wonder: What six-word description would best describe me? Would it be positive or negative? Would it be “Not an easy person to love” or “A shining light for the Lord”? What would your bio say?
Lord, help me to be what You want me to beIn character, actions, and will,For You are the potter and I am the clay—Your purposes I would fulfill. —FitzhughOnce lost, now found. Eternally thankful! God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. —Ephesians 4:22
A man once asked me, “What is your biggest problem?” I replied, “I see my biggest problem every day in the mirror.” I am referring to those “me first” desires that lurk in my heart.
In James 4:1 we read: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” The words “desires for pleasure” refer to our self-serving desires. That’s why in James 1:14 we are told: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” James warns that such “me first” desires will destroy our friendship with God (4:4) and cause divisions, wars, and fights (vv.1-2).
Therefore, we are told to put off “me first” thinking. How do we do this? First, “Submit to God” (4:7). We need to get our ranking right—God is God and His will must always be first. Second, “Draw near to God” (v.8). Deal with those desires that lead to sin by going to God for cleansing. Don’t be double-minded, desiring both evil and good. But rather desire to please God alone. Third, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord” (v.10). Then “He will lift you up.”
Remember, “me first” living is not the key to success. Put God first.
I once was full of self, and proudJust like a Pharisee,Until one day, quite by surprise,I caught a glimpse of me. —HawthorneWhen you forget yourself, you usually start doing something others will remember. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me. —Psalm 27:10
Years ago, when I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley, I developed a friendship with a fellow student who had suffered a terrible loss. His child had died and his wife had left him because she couldn’t deal with the pain.
One day, as my friend and I were walking down the street, we found ourselves behind a disheveled mother with a grubby little boy in hand. She was angry at the child and was walking much too fast, towing him at a pace his little legs couldn’t maintain.
We reached a busy intersection where the child abruptly stopped and his hand slipped out of his mother’s grasp. She turned around, spat out a curse, and trudged on. The little boy sat down on the curb and burst into tears. Without a moment’s hesitation, my friend sat down next to him and gathered the little guy in his arms.
The woman turned and, looking at the child, began to curse again. My friend sighed and looked up. “Lady,” he said softly, “If you don’t want him, I’ll take him.”
So it is with our Father in heaven. He too has known great loss and loves us just as tenderly. Even if our friends and family forsake us, our God never will (Ps. 27:10). We are ever in His care.
I love to dwell upon the thoughtThat Jesus cares for me,It matters not what life may bring—He loves me tenderly. —AdamsIf God cares for sparrows, He surely cares for us. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted March 26th, 2012 12:00 PM IPAvenue To Power
I will . . . boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. —2 Corinthians 12:9
When Tarah was in high school, she had a growing fear that she would someday battle a serious illness. So she began to pray—asking God to spare her from this imagined illness. Then she reached a turning point in her thinking, and she yielded her future to God no matter what.
Years later, Tarah’s doctor found a cancerous tumor, which was successfully treated with chemotherapy. Tarah says that because she had entrusted her future to God, she was ready when the disease came. Her problem became an avenue for God’s strength.
This idea of surrendering to God can be seen in Paul’s life as well. His surrender came after the problem—“a thorn in the flesh”—had developed (2 Cor. 12:7). Paul prayed repeatedly about this difficulty, pleading for the Lord to take it from him. But God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (v.9). Understanding this, Paul adopted a positive view: “Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv.9-10).
In facing our fears and struggles, it’s vital that we yield totally to God. When we do, God can use our problems as an avenue for His power.
Whenever life’s burdens oppress you
And trials are too much to face,
Remember God’s strength in your weakness;
He’ll give you His power and grace. —SperWielding our power is no substitute for yielding our will to God’s power. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Whoever keeps His Word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. —1 John 2:5
A church in Naperville, Illinois, is basking in excitement about its brand-new bells in the belfry above its sanctuary. When the church was built many years ago, they didn’t have the money to purchase bells. However, for its 25th anniversary they were able to raise the funds to hang three bells in the vacant space. Even though they are stunning, there is one problem: the congregation will never hear the bells ring. Although they look real, they are artificial.
The apostle John wrote his first epistle to encourage believers not to just look like real Christians, but to prove they are genuine by how they live. The evidence that a person’s faith is real is not found in some mystical experience with God. The proof that people truly know and love God is found in submitting to His authority and to His Word. John writes, “But whoever keeps His Word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:5-6).
If we claim that we have been transformed by the gospel and intimately know and love God, we should validate it by our obedience to His Word.
Don’t listen to the Word of GodAnd then ignore what you have heard;Instead obey God’s will for you—Be doers of the Word. —SperObedience to God is an expression of our love for God. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted March 28th, 2012 10:04 AM IPOne Beautiful Moment
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. —Isaiah 40:6
One snap of the shutter, and there it was . . . one beautiful moment captured in time for eternity. The late summer sun reflected in the breaking wave made the water look like liquid gold splashing onto the shore. If my friend had not been there with his camera, the wave would have gone unnoticed, like so many others that have come and gone, seen only by God.
Who can imagine how many waves Lake Michigan has sent rolling onto the shoreline? Yet each one is unique. As seen in every wave, God makes extravagant beauty out of seemingly mundane things. Using water and air, He makes wondrous works of art. We enjoy His gallery in skies above and on earth and sea below. But most of earth’s beauty remains invisible to us; it is seen only by God.
God uses another gallery to display His glory—humans. We too are made out of something ordinary—dust (Gen. 2:7). But to us He added an extraordinary ingredient—His very own breath (v.7). Like waves of the sea and flowers of the field (Isa. 40:6), our lives are brief and seen by few. Yet each one is a beautiful “moment” created by God to say to the world, “Behold, your God!” whose Word will last forever (v.8).
Only one life, so live it well,And keep your candle trimmed and bright;Eternity, not time, will tellThe radius of that candle’s light. —MillerWe fulfill our purpose when we serve our Creator. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. —Romans 5:9
Just as her friends were doing, my daughter Melissa was busily preparing for adulthood. At school, she was getting ready for college by taking the right courses and had signed up for the ACT college entrance test.
Outside of class, Melissa was learning the socialization skills it takes to get along with people by spending time with friends, classmates, and teammates. At her job, she was learning the relational skills needed for a future career of work. At home, Mell was preparing for future family life by experiencing the way a Christian family would interact.
Getting ready for life as an adult takes work, and Melissa was making good progress.
But none of that preparation was what she would need. In 2002, when she died in a car accident at age 17, the only preparation that mattered was her readiness for heaven.
When the truest test of preparedness came so suddenly on that beautiful June evening—when eternity’s door opened for Melissa—she was prepared. She had put her faith in Jesus and trusted His sacrifice on the cross for her sins (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8-9).
When she faced the ultimate test of being prepared, Melissa was ready. Are you?
God’s time is now, for the days fly fast,And swiftly the seasons roll;Today is yours, it may be your last;Choose life for your priceless soul! —FithianIf death comes today, will you be prepared to meet God? God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted April 2nd, 2012 12:08 AM IPA New View Of Change
I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep. —John 10:14
People hate change, or so I hear. But the change we generally resist is the kind that we think will make our situation worse rather than better. We eagerly change jobs when it means higher pay and more influence. We happily move to a bigger house in a better neighborhood. So it’s not change in general that we hate; it’s change that involves loss—sometimes physical; other times emotional or psychological.
Change is both inevitable and necessary. If everything stays the same, no one is growing. But we have a Shepherd who guides us through change and leads us to a better place. Getting there may be difficult, as it was for the Israelites in reaching the Promised Land. They grumbled when their situation got worse rather than better (Ex. 15:24; Num. 14:2). But we have the example of Jesus. In less than a week, He went from being the leader of many to being abandoned by all. Between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the Good Shepherd became the Passover Lamb. Because Christ willingly went through suffering, God elevated Him to the highest place (John 10:11; Phil. 2:8-9).
Not all change is pleasant, but when we’re being led to a better place by Someone who loves us, we don’t need to fear it.
I know not, but God knows;Oh, blessed rest from fear!All my unfolding daysTo Him are plain and clear. —FlintFaith in Christ will keep us steady in the stormy sea of change. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. —Matthew 1:21
What is it about a name that makes it so special to us? I began thinking about this after talking to a teenager as we stood outside her church in Black River, Jamaica, one Sunday morning. She asked, “Would you mention my name in Our Daily Bread?” I asked her if she had a story to tell, and she said, “No, just mention my name.”
As I thought about her request—and her name—I wondered why her parents named her “Joyeth.” Seeing the happy nature of her personality led me to conclude that if their rationale was to urge her along toward “joy” in her life, they had succeeded.
Most parents have that choice when a new baby is coming. But one baby received His name in a far different way. It wasn’t His parents’ choice that led to His moniker, and His wasn’t a name given to coax Him toward a personality trait. I’m speaking of the One whose name was provided by an angel who told His parents to “call His name Jesus” (Matt. 1:21). Why? “For He will save His people from their sins.”
No wonder His is the name above all names (Phil. 2:9). It’s a name that reveals His purpose—to provide salvation from the penalty of our sins. Jesus is indeed the name worth mentioning.
The name above all other namesIs Jesus Christ the Lord;He came to save us from our sinsSo we could be restored. —SperJesus: His name and His mission are one and the same.
JESUS, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT THAT NAME - THE GAITHERS God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted April 5th, 2012 10:59 AM IPWorld’s Longest Table
I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. —Matthew
On Sunday, July 18, 2010, one of the busiest highways in Europe became what some called “the longest table in the world.” Officials closed a 60-kilometer (37-mile) section of the A40 Autobahn in Germany’s Ruhr region so people could walk and bicycle or sit at one of 20,000 tables set up on the roadway. An estimated 2 million people came to enjoy an event the director hoped would connect people from many cultures, generations, and nations.
This event made me think of an even grander table around which believers gather to share the Lord’s Supper. During communion, we remember Jesus’ death for us as we anticipate the culmination of history at His return.
Just before Jesus was crucified, He shared the Passover meal with His disciples, telling them, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29).
The Lord’s Table unites everyone Christ has redeemed by His blood “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). One day, in a scene of reunion and joy, all who belong to Jesus will sit down together with Him at a table that will dwarf the Autobahn gathering. We joyfully anticipate sharing that table together!
Here we gather to remember,In the breaking of the bread,Jesus, who for us was broken,And is now our living Head. —Anon.Christ’s love creates unity out of diversity. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me. —Psalm
Is it possible to be too helpful? Can our helpfulness actually make life more difficult for others? Yes, if we’re being bothersome, intrusive, smothering, manipulative, or controlling. If the help we are giving is driven only by our own anxiety, we may be just trying to help ourselves.
How then can we know if our heart and acts of service are truly symbolic of God’s unconditional love? How can we love from pure motives? (Prov. 16:2; 21:2; 1 Cor. 4:5).
In prayer we can ask God to show us any way we are hurting or hindering others (Ps. 139:23-24). We can ask God to help us show love that “suffers long and is kind; . . . is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil” (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
Our efforts to help others, especially those we love the most, will never be completely free from anxiety. But we can, by God’s grace, begin to love freely with no strings attached, as God Himself loves. The test, of course, and the measure of our progress, is the way we react when our “helpfulness” is unrecognized or goes unrewarded (see Luke 14:12-14).
Lord, help us to love with pure motives and for the good of others. Help us to love unconditionally, expecting nothing in return.
Please help me, Lord, in all I doTo act and think with motives true;And by Your love reveal to meThose sins that only You can see. —D. De HaanIn our desire to help, let’s love with pure motives. God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger