Posted January 15th, 2011 01:28 PM IPFreedom At Alcatraz
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains. —Philemon 1:10
A tour of the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay left me with some unforgettable images. As our tour boat pulled into the dock, I could see why this now-closed maximum-security federal prison was once known as “The Rock.”
Later, inside the legendary Big House, I stared at shafts of light coming through heavily barred windows. Then I saw row after row of cagelike cells that housed well-known inmates such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”
But another image made a deeper impression. Stepping into an empty cell, I saw the name “Jesus” scrawled on a wall. In another, a Bible lay on a shelf. Together they quietly spoke of the greatest of all freedoms.
Paul knew such liberty while waiting to be executed. Regarding himself as a “prisoner of Christ,” he used his incarceration to help other inmates discover what it means to be an eternally forgiven, dearly loved member of God’s family (Philem. 1:10).
Barred windows and doors represent one kind of confinement. Physical paralysis, inescapable poverty, and prolonged unemployment are others. Perhaps you endure another. None are to be desired—yet who would trade “imprisonment” with Christ for life “on the outside” without Him?
My heart and soul imprisoned lay,
Not knowing Christ the Lord;
But since the day He set me free,
We live in one accord. —Hess
To be under Christ’s control is to have true freedom.
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) - Robin Mark God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted January 17th, 2011 11:15 AM IPDriving In The Dark
Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. —Psalm 119:105
I’ve always thought that I could get through just about anything if the Lord would tell me what the outcome would be. I believe that “all things work together for good” in the end (Rom. 8:28), but I’d do a lot better in dark times if I knew exactly what the “good” would look like.
But God usually doesn’t show us where He is taking us. He just asks us to trust Him. It’s like driving a car at night. Our headlights never shine all the way to our destination; they illuminate only about 160 feet ahead. But that doesn’t deter us from moving forward. We trust our headlights. All we really need is enough light to keep moving forward.
God’s Word is like headlights in dark times. It is full of promises we need to keep us from driving our lives into the ditch of bitterness and despair. His Word promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). His Word assures us that He knows the plans He has for us, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give us “a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). And He tells us that our trials are there to make us better, not bitter (James 1:2-4).
So the next time you feel as if you’re driving in the dark, remember to trust your headlights—God’s Word will light your way.
The Word of God provides the light
We need to see the way;
It shows us what we need to know
So we won’t go astray. —Sper
You won’t stumble in the dark
if you walk in the light of God’s Word.
Because I’m a writer, occasionally a friend will say to me, “I want to write a book someday.”
“That’s a worthy goal,” I reply, “and I hope you do write a book. But it’s better to be one than to write one.”
I’m thinking of the apostle Paul’s words: “Clearly you are an epistle of Christ . . . written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3).
In his book The Practice of Piety, Lewis Bayly, chaplain to England’s King James I, said that “one who hopes to effect any good by his writings” will find that he will “instruct very few. . . . The most powerful means, therefore, of promoting what is good is by example. . . . One man in a thousand can write a book to instruct his neighbors. . . . But every man can be a pattern of living excellence to those around him.”
The work that Christ is doing in believers can result in an influence far greater than any book they might write. Through God’s Word, written “on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33), the Lord is displaying His love and goodness for all to see.
As a Christian, you may never write a book, but by living for God you will be one! You will be an open book, an “epistle of Christ” for all to read.
Oh, we would write our record plain
And come in time to see
Our unsaved neighbors won to Christ
While reading you and me. —Anon.
If someone were to read your life like a book,
would they find Jesus in its pages?
Posted January 19th, 2011 02:31 PM IPWhen Someone Falls
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. —1 Corinthians 10:12
It has become so commonplace to hear of the misconduct of a respected public figure that even though we may be deeply disappointed, we are hardly surprised. But how should we respond to the news of a moral failure, whether by a prominent person or a friend? We might begin by looking at ourselves. A century ago, Oswald Chambers told his students at the Bible Training College in London, “Always remain alert to the fact that where one man has gone back is exactly where anyone may go back . . . . Unguarded strength is double weakness.”
Chambers’ words echo Paul’s warning to be aware of our own vulnerability when we see the sins of others. After reviewing the disobedience of the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-5), Paul urged his readers to learn from those sins so they wouldn’t repeat them (vv.6-11). He focused not on past failings but on present pride when he wrote, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (v.12).
The head shaken in reproach is a common response to public sin. More helpful is the head that nods, “Yes, I am capable of that,” then bows in prayer for the one who has fallen and the one who thinks he stands.
Blessed Savior, make me humble,
Take away my sinful pride;
In myself I’m sure to stumble,
Help me stay close by Your side. —D. De Haan
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. —Proverbs 16:18
Posted January 20th, 2011 11:22 AM IPFear And Love
What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear [Him] . . . and to love Him. —Deuteronomy 10:12
Someone shared with me her observation about two bosses. One is loved but not feared by his subordinates. Because they love their boss but don’t respect his authority, they don’t follow his guidelines. The other boss is both feared and loved by those who serve under him, and their good behavior shows it.
The Lord desires that His people both fear and love Him too. Today’s Bible passage, Deuteronomy 10, says that keeping God’s guidelines involves both. In verse 12, we are told “to fear the Lord your God” and “to love Him.”
To “fear” the Lord God is to give Him the highest respect. For the believer, it is not a matter of feeling intimidated by Him or His character. But out of respect for His person and authority, we walk in all His ways and keep His commandments. Out of “love,” we serve Him with all our heart and with all our soul—rather than merely out of duty (v.12).
Love flows out of our deep gratitude for His love for us, rather than out of our likes and dislikes. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our fear and love for God enable us to walk willingly in obedience to God’s law.
Lord, You are holy and Your thoughts are much higher
than mine. I bow before You. Thank You for salvation in Jesus.
I love You and want to obey You with all of
my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.
Posted January 21st, 2011 01:59 PM IPNature Abhors A Vacuum
Be filled with all the fullness of God. —Ephesians 3:19
According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.
The same principle is at work in our spiritual lives. When the Holy Spirit begins to convict us of sin, the idea of starting a self-improvement plan immediately comes to mind. We put forth our best effort to defeat our worst habits. But every attempt to get rid of unclean thoughts, attitudes, and desires is destined to fail because getting rid of one creates a vacuum in our souls. As soon as we empty ourselves of one vice, others move in to take its place, and we end up just as bad or worse than when we started.
Thinking about vacuums helps us to understand the importance of what Paul was saying to the Ephesians when he prayed that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith and that they would “know the love of Christ . . . that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).
The only permanent solution to the problem of sin in our lives is to replace it with the love of Jesus, which fills the vacuum. The more we are filled with His love, the less room there is for any evil thing.
Father, thank You for Your Spirit
Fill us with His love and power;
Change us into Christ’s own image
Day by day and hour by hour. —Anon.
We don’t need to put our house in order before Jesus comes in;
He puts it in order after we let Him in.
If you show partiality, you commit sin. —James 2:9
His face was grimy, his hair long and dirty. Beer stained his clothing and perfumed the air around him. When he stepped into the church building, the Sunday worshipers ignored him. They were stunned when the man approached the pulpit, took off his wig, and began preaching. That’s when they realized he was their pastor.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to be friendly and shake hands with the people I know and those who pre-sent themselves well.
James issued a serious warning for people like me. He said, “If you show partiality, you commit sin” (2:9). Favoritism based on appearance or economic status has no place in God’s family. In fact, it means we have “become judges with evil thoughts” (v.4).
Fortunately, we can guard against preferential treatment by loving our neighbor as ourselves—no matter who our neighbor may be. Reaching out to the homeless man, the hungry woman, or the heartbroken teen means we “fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture” (v.8).
In a world that keeps the outcast at arm’s length, let’s show the love of Christ and embrace the one who needs our care the most.
Forgive me, Lord, for prejudice—
Remove its subtle lie;
Oh, fill my heart with Your great love
That sent Your Son to die. —D. De Haan
True Christian love helps those who can’t return the favor.
Posted January 23rd, 2011 12:34 PM IPGod Is At Work
He is my God, and I will praise Him. —Exodus 15:2
Jack and Trisha were driving to the hospital late one night for the birth of their second child when the unexpected happened. Trisha began to deliver the baby! Jack called 911 and Cherie White, an emergency dispatcher, was able to talk Jack through the delivery. But the baby wouldn’t breathe. So Cherie then instructed Jack how to give emergency breathing, which he had to do for 6 anxious minutes. Finally the newborn took a breath and cried. When asked later how they all got through the ordeal and remained calm, Cherie responded, “I’m glad God works midnights!”
I love to hear media reports in which God gets the glory He deserves for something good that has happened. In the Bible reading for today, it’s obvious that God should get the credit for parting the Red Sea to help His people escape from Pharaoh, even though Moses was the one who raised his rod (Ex. 14:26-27). All the Israelites and Moses gathered together and sang the Lord’s praises: “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (15:11).
When something good happens, the Lord deserves the credit, for He is the source of all that is good. Give Him the glory. Aren’t you glad He works midnights?
What may seem like coincidence
As we live out our story
Is God at work behind the scenes—
So give Him all the glory. —Sper
Posted January 25th, 2011 01:06 PM IPNo More Struggles
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. —Revelation 21:4
Fay Weldon went through what she thought was a near-death experience in 2006 when an allergic reaction stopped her heart. She retold her experience to Elizabeth Grice of the London Daily Telegraph. She said that a “terrible creature” tried to pull her through pearly gates, while doctors tried to pull her back. Later, she said, “If that was dying, I don’t want to do it again.” It’s “just more of the same. More struggle.”
Often the process of dying is a struggle. But death itself need not be feared by the believer in Christ—for it will bring us to heaven. In Revelation, John gives a wonderful description of what eternity with God will be like (21:1-4). He sees the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. The city of Jerusalem was a physical sign of the people of God and was described as the place where God dwells (Ps. 76:2). The New Jerusalem, on the other hand, will not be made by human hands. It will be a place where God lives with His people eternally, and it will be a place of “no more”—no more pain, sorrow, and sickness.
We don’t know very much about eternity, but we do know that for the Christian, whatever our emotional and physical struggles are now, they will cease then. Life with God will be better by far.
Think of a land of no sorrow,
Think of a land of no fears,
Think of no death and no sickness,
Think of a land of no tears. —Anon.
Heaven’s delights will far outweigh earth’s difficulties.
Posted January 26th, 2011 11:33 AM IPLike A Hypocrite
God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love . . . made us alive together with Christ. —Ephesians 2:4-5
Ray Stedman told about a young man who had stopped attending the church Ray was pastoring. The young man said that when he was at work he would sometimes lose his temper and treat co-workers poorly. Then, when Sunday rolled around, he didn’t want to go to church because he felt like a hypocrite.
Stedman told his young friend, “A hypocrite is someone who acts like something he isn’t. When you come to church, you are acting like a Christian. You are not a hypocrite at church.” Suddenly, the young man realized where he was being a hypocrite. He recognized that the answer was not in avoiding church but in changing the way he was at work.
The term hypocrite is from a Greek word that means “play-actor.” It means we pretend to be something we aren’t. Sometimes we forget our true identity as believers in Jesus. We forget that we are accountable to God. When we do that, we live the way we “once walked” (Eph. 2:2) and thus are hypocrites.
Let’s not let our old ways make us act like someone we’re not. Instead, through God’s grace, let’s live in a way that shows we are “alive together with Christ” (v.5). That’s a sure cure for hypocrisy.
Consistency! How much we need
To walk a measured pace,
To live the life of which we speak,
Until we see Christ’s face. —Anon.
It is the inconsistent Christian who helps the devil the most.
Posted January 28th, 2011 01:34 PM IPEarthquake City
Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. —Acts 16:26
his book A Crack in the Edge of the World, Simon Winchester writes of the small earthquake-prone town of Parkfield, California. Seeking to attract tourists, a hotel sign reads: “Sleep Here When It Happens.” A local restaurant menu features a large steak called “The Big One,” and desserts are called “Aftershocks.” But all humor aside, a real earthquake can be a terrifying experience. I know. I’ve lived through California earthquakes.
In the book of Acts, we read how God used an earthquake to open someone’s heart to the gospel. Having been falsely accused, Paul and Silas found themselves in jail at Philippi. Around midnight, an earthquake rumbled through the prison, opening the doors and loosing the prisoners’ chains. When the jailer learned that Paul and Silas had not tried to escape, he asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (16:30). Paul responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v.31). That night the jailer and his family believed and were baptized. And it all started with an earthquake.
Sometimes life’s upsets can make people more open to the gospel. Do you know anyone who is going through a crisis? Prayerfully stay in contact with them, and be ready to share a sensitive word of witness.
Lord, use us as Your instruments
Of truth and love and care,
And may we bring encouragement
As Your good news we share. —Sper
Posted January 29th, 2011 12:23 PM IPSix Words From Solomon
Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. —Ecclesiastes 12:13
SMITH magazine, an online community that “celebrates the joy of storytelling,” invited readers to submit six-word memoirs that describe their lives. Thousands responded with brief biographies ranging from the light-hearted “Sweet wife, good sons—I’m rich” to the painful “Sixty. Still haven’t forgiven my parents.”
Based on Scripture, I tried to imagine how King Solomon might have summed up his life in six words. As a young man, he could have written: God has given me great wisdom. But in his later years, he might have said: Should have practiced what I preached.
During a reign distinguished by peace and prosperity, Solomon developed spiritual heart problems. When he was old, “his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David” (1 Kings 11:4). The result was God’s displeasure and a sad end to a previously exemplary life (v.9).
The multiple times Solomon used the word vanity (or meaningless) in Ecclesiastes may indicate his disillusionment about life. This once-wise king who had it all, lost it all, and pondered it all, ended the book with this final conclusion: “Fear God and keep His commandments” (12:13).
Those are six words worth heeding.
The pleasures of this sinful world
Are meaningless and vain;
But if we love and follow God
True purpose we will gain. —Sper
Obedience to God is the key to a life of blessing.
Posted January 30th, 2011 02:30 PM IPLooking And Learning
Train up a child in the way he should go. —Proverbs 22:6
As an umpire stood behind the plate at a girls’ softball game, he heard a player’s mother start chanting: “We want a new ump! We want a new ump!” Soon, other parents took up the chant. The ump smiled, then turned toward the crowd and yelled, “I want new parents! I want new parents!” The heckling died away.
It’s important for parents to set a good example, because their children are watching them. Christian parents can encourage good habits and behavior by doing things like:
• Praying for and with them—so they learn how to talk with God. “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it” (Col. 4:2).
• Reading and teaching them the Bible—so they learn God’s truth. “Teach [God’s commands] diligently to your children, . . . talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:7).
• Telling them about Jesus—and leading them to faith in Him. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
The best way to set a good example for our children is to live out our faith in front of them. While they’re looking—they’re learning about what matters most.
Take stock of yourself and consider your child—
Your time and your thoughts are his due;
How would you reply to the Lord should He ask,
“What kind of parent are you?” —Anon.
Children may not inherit their parents’ talent,
but they will absorb their values.
Posted January 31st, 2011 12:38 PM IPIgnoring Grace
Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. —Matthew 7:14
In the hectic downtown of one of Asia’s great cities, I marveled at the busy sidewalks filled with people. There seemed to be no room to move in the crush of humanity, yet it also seemed that everyone was moving at top speed.
My attention was drawn to the soft, almost mournful sound of a single trumpeter playing “Amazing Grace.” The crowds appeared oblivious to both the musician and the music. Still, he played—sending a musical message of the love of God out to whoever knew the song and would think about the words as he played.
I thought of this experience as a parable. The music seemed to be an invitation to the masses to follow Christ. As with the gospel message, some believe in God’s amazing grace and choose the narrow way. Others ignore His grace, which is the broad way that leads to everlasting destruction. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
Jesus died so that “whoever calls” on His name (Rom. 10:13) can find forgiveness in His grace.
Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see. —Newton
Christ believed is salvation received.
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) - Robin Mark God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted February 1st, 2011 01:18 PM IPCounterfeits Of The Heart
The heart is deceitful above all things. —Jeremiah 17:9
True stories about deceit and deception can sound stranger than fiction. According to an AP news item, a Georgia woman was arrested after trying to pay for more than $1,500 in purchases with a million-dollar counterfeit bill. When questioned, the embarrassed patron claimed to have been misled, saying that the fake money had been given to her by her ex-husband, who was a coin collector.
The size of the bill makes us question whether anyone could really have been misled into thinking it was real. But maybe that makes it a good illustration of the almost unbelievable problem of self-deception that the prophet warns us about. When Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9 ESV), he expresses a sense of amazement that is beyond our ability to grasp. Here the prophet is not saying that some of us have a problem being honest with ourselves; he is claiming that everyone does.
Thankfully, God searches our hearts and understands what we cannot see (v.10). He gives us every reason to say, “Lord, we need Your help. Please show us whether we are being honest with ourselves and You. If we aren’t, help us to change and rely on You rather than on ourselves.”
Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free. —Orr
The only way to survive in a world of deception is by trusting the One who will never deceive us.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you. —Psalm 55:22
Every so often, my computer becomes sluggish. Frequent use of certain programs and documents causes pieces of information to become scattered, requiring my computer to search for the pieces before I can use them. To fix it, I need to run a program that retrieves the pieces and groups them together where they are easily accessible. This process is called “defragmentation.”
Like my computer, my life gets fragmented. One situation tugs on my emotions while I’m trying to concentrate on something else. Demands from every direction bombard me. I want to accomplish everything that needs to be done, but my mind won’t stop and my body won’t start. Soon I begin to feel weary and useless.
Recently I attended a retreat where one of the handouts included a prayer with words that expressed how I felt: “Lord, I am scattered, restless, and only half here.”
King David also went through such times (Ps. 55:2). In prayer, David presented his needs to God morning, noon, and evening, confident that he would be heard (v.17).
Prayer can help to defragment our lives. When we cast our cares on the Lord, He will show us what we need to do and what only He can do.
O Lord, we bring our restless hearts
To You in fervent prayer;
Now help us wait expectantly
While resting in Your care. —Sper
We need prayer the most when we have the least time to pray.
This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment. —Philippians 1:9
In Singapore, the Chinese New Year season’s social and business dinners often begin with a dish consisting of salads, dressings, pickles, and raw fish. The name of the dish, Yu Sheng, is a pun that sounds like “year of prosperity.” It is traditional for those present to toss the salad together. As they do, certain phrases are repeated to bring about good fortune.
Our words may express our hopes for others for the year ahead, but they can’t bring about good fortune. The important issue is—what does God want to see in us in the coming year?
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed his desire and prayer that their love “may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment” (1:9). The church had been a great tower of support for him (v.7), yet he urged them to continue to grow to love others. Paul wasn’t talking about intellectual knowledge but knowledge of God. Love for others starts with a closer relationship with Him. With a fuller knowledge of God, we can then discern between right and wrong.
Giving our best wishes to others for the coming year is fine. But our heartfelt prayer should be that we abound in love, so that we may be “filled with the fruits of righteousness . . . , to the glory and praise of God” (v.11).
Teach me Thy patience! still with Thee
In closer, dearer company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
In trust that triumphs over wrong. —Gladden
People with a heart for God have a heart for people.
Posted February 4th, 2011 01:16 PM IPWhen Royalty Comes To Town
Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you . . . and you are not your own. —1 Corinthians 6:19
My friend Tim Davis tells the story of being in Trinidad as a little boy when Queen Elizabeth came to visit their town. He recalls going with his missionary parents to join hundreds of others who gathered to greet the queen. Waving his little flag, he watched as the entourage came down the street—first the soldiers, then the mounted guard, and then the limousine from which she waved to the cheering crowd. He looked on as the queen drove out of town, leaving everyone to return to life as usual. In Tim’s words, “Royalty came to town and nothing changed!”
For those of us who have accepted Jesus as Savior, there was a day when royalty arrived—in our heart. As Paul put it, our body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19)—a reality that has huge ramifications. His residence in our life is intended to transform us to live in a way that brings glory to Him. Our relationships, the way we serve our employer, how we use our money, how we treat our enemies, and everything else in our lives should reflect the wonderful reality that royalty lives within.
Has anything changed since King Jesus came into your heart? Does your world notice or do they think He was just passing through?
By this shall every person know
That we serve God above:
His Spirit dwells within our hearts
And fills us with His love. —D. De Haan
If Jesus has taken up residence in us,
the world should notice a lasting change.
Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock. —Matthew 7:24
In 1931, the city of Hayward, California, built its first permanent city hall building. Costing $100,000 at the time, the structure with its square Corinthian columns and Roman arch entry was considered a marvel. There was only one problem—it was built on the Hayward Fault and is gradually splitting in two. In 1989, an earthquake forced its closure, and it is now off limits to occupants.
Building on an unstable foundation is not wise. This is also true of our spiritual lives. Jesus taught His disciples this truth with an illustration: “Everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27).
The shifting morals of our present world can be confusing. We may be tempted to let culture or the opinions of society be the foundation for the decisions we make. But obeying the unwavering truth of God’s Word brings stability unavailable anywhere else. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (v.24).
The Bible stands though the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands. —Lillenas
Build your life on the solid foundation—Jesus Christ.
Posted February 6th, 2011 10:59 AM IPOvercoming Bias
There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, . . . slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. —Colossians 3:11
A Washington Post article reported that recent studies into the nature of prejudice found that almost everyone harbors biases, and these attitudes affect even those who actively resist them. A University of Kentucky psychologist says that much of our self-esteem comes from feeling better about ourselves than about others because of the group we belong to. Prejudice is not easy to overcome, even within the family of God.
Paul’s words to the believers at Colosse instruct us today, saying that our speech and behavior toward fellow Christians should reflect our oneness in Christ. “[You] have put on the new man,” Paul said, “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:10-11). Instead of superiority and favoritism, we should demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience toward each other (v.12). And above all, we are to “put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (v.14).
In the body of Christ, no race, nationality, or class is better than another. Through the cross, Christ has made us one, and we are to treat each other with honesty, dignity, and love.
It matters not what race or gender,
Rich or poor, or great or small,
The God who made us is not partial—
He sent Christ to die for all. —D. De Haan
Prejudice distorts what it sees, deceives when it talks,
and destroys when it acts God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted February 7th, 2011 11:06 AM IPThe Armies Of God
He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. —Psalm 91:11
When our granddaughter Julia was very small, we took her on a driving trip over an Idaho mountain road. Afterward, she and her Nana were having a conversation about the “adventure.” “I don’t worry because I think Papa has a guardian angel,” Nana said. “I think he must have a team of guardian angels!” Julia replied.
The mission of angels is to protect and serve the children of God (Heb. 1:13-14). The psalmist said, “The chariots of God are . . . thousands of thousands; the Lord is among them” (Ps. 68:17). God is the “Lord of hosts,” which means “armies.” The angels are the Lord’s army.
In 2 Kings we read about Elisha and his servant who were surrounded by the Syrian army. Elisha’s servant cried out, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha replied, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around” (6:15-17). The Lord’s army was at hand!
Even though we cannot see them with our natural eyes, we can rest in the confidence that the Lord of Hosts is constantly watching over us and He has an invisible army at His bidding to send where He pleases.
What ready help the Father gives
To struggling saints below!
He sends His heavenly ministers
To thwart our ancient foe. —D. De Haan
The angels of God protect the people of God
as they do the work of God.
You, fathers, . . . bring [your children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord. —Ephesians 6:4
Many of the first astronauts were once Boy Scouts. The scouts were good at capturing the imagination of young boys and instilling discipline to reach their goals—even if it meant reaching for the stars.
On July 20, 1969, the Boy Scouts were busy celebrating at a conference. During the gathering, the scouts were delighted to hear from former Eagle Scout Neil Armstrong, who sent them greetings from space. One of their own had grown up to realize a wonderful dream!
In some ways, the Christian home can be like a loving, spiritual scout camp. The Bible encourages parents to provide a positive growth environment for children in the home. Parents are exhorted to “bring [children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). “To bring up” refers to nourishing children by providing resources for their physical, mental, and spiritual needs. “Training” includes concern about all aspects of a child’s development. And “admonition” speaks of providing direction by well-chosen words uniquely suited to each child.
Let’s strive to make our home a place where loving discipline enables the children in our charge to reach their potential for God’s glory.
They are buds of hope and promise,
Possessed by Him whose name is Love;
Lent us here to train and nourish
For a better life above. —Crosby
What you put into your children’s hearts today influences their character for tomorrow.
Posted February 9th, 2011 12:45 PM IPOf Weeping And Rejoicing
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. —Romans 12:15
Golda Meir knew both struggle and success during her life. As prime minister of Israel, she experienced many episodes of conflict and loss, as well as the periodic joy of successes and victory in the life of the fledgling State of Israel. She said of joy and sorrow, “Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart, don’t know how to laugh either.”
The apostle Paul called us to a life of both weeping and rejoicing—but with a twist. In Romans 12:15, the apostle challenged us to look outside our own experiences to the needs of others. He said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
If we rejoice only in our own victories, we miss the wonder of celebrating the power of the Lord, who desires to accomplish His purposes in and through others as well. If we mourn only our own losses, we lose the opportunity to “be there” for those who are hurting by showing them compassion.
Life is filled with the extremes of joy and sorrow, victory and defeat. But we have been given the privilege of entering into those moments in people’s lives to see the grace of God at work. Don’t miss it!
Lord, give me sensitivity
To people in their grief and pain,
To weep with them and show Your love
In ways mere words cannot attain. —Sper
Posted February 10th, 2011 11:37 AM IPStanding Ovation
Look! I see . . . the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! —Acts 7:56
Susan Boyle spent most of her adult life living with her cat Pebbles, caring for her aging mother, and singing in church. She certainly didn’t look like a musical superstar. That’s probably why the audience laughed at this unassuming middle-aged woman before she performed in a talent show. Undeterred, Susan faced the unfriendly crowd, sang beautifully, and went on to receive a standing ovation.
Stephen was confronted by a hostile crowd in the days of the early church (Acts 6–7). A panel of religious authorities listened to lying witnesses accuse him of blasphemy (Acts 6:13). Stephen responded by speaking the truth of God’s Word, which reinforced his faith in Christ. At the end of his speech, he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (7:56). Then the crowd stoned him (v.58). Jesus, who was watching from heaven, welcomed Stephen home.
Most Christians aren’t confronted with this much hostility. Yet we all need to “stand fast in the Lord” when the pressure is on (Phil. 4:1). We can’t let others silence our voice for Christ. Speaking up for Jesus does not always win the crowd’s favor here on earth, but it does ensure His approval in heaven, where it matters the most.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle—the next the victor’s song.
To him that overcometh a crown of life shall be:
He with the King of glory shall reign eternally. —Duffield
If you meet opposition, maybe it shows that you are doing something that counts God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
Posted February 12th, 2011 01:13 PM IPVolcanic Activity
An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression. —Proverbs 29:22
It erupts. It melts everything in its path. Its blast is as powerful as a nuclear explosion!
Well, maybe not—but a temper can feel as intense as a volcano when it is aimed directly at another person in a family. The moment may be quickly over, but it can leave emotional devastation and bitter feelings behind.
It’s sad that the people we love the most are often the target of our hurtful words. But even when we feel we’ve been provoked, we have a choice. Will we respond in anger or in kindness?
The Bible tells us to rid ourselves of bitterness and anger, and to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
If you are struggling with chronic anger that is hurting your relationships, surrender this vulnerable part of your emotions to Christ’s strength (Phil. 4:13). Ask God to forgive you for an uncontrolled temper and to show you how to moderate your emotions and to teach you how to honor others above yourself (Rom. 12:10). Seek out help from others to learn how to deal with your strong emotions in appropriate ways.
As we earnestly seek to love others and to please God, we can win the victory over a volcanic temper.
Spirit of God, please change my heart,
And give me a new desire;
I want to be a man of peace,
Not controlled by anger’s fire. —K. De Haan
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations” (Ps. 46:10). These words from a song sung long ago at the temple in Jerusalem remind us of one of our main tasks—worshiping our awesome God.
One way to do that is to meditate on His many attributes. Exalt God, for He is faithful, eternal, all-knowing, just, unchangeable, gracious, holy, merciful, longsuffering, impartial, and infinite. Our God is perfect.
Exalt God also by realizing that He is all-powerful, almighty, personal, righteous, unsearchable, wise, triune, accessible, self-existent, glorious, and compassionate.
Another way to worship God is to contemplate His names. Exalt God, for He is Creator. He is Love. He is Redeemer. He is Shepherd. He is Savior, Lord, and Father. He is Judge. He is Comforter. He is Teacher. He is I AM. Our God is the Mighty One.
Dwell on His identity. God is our shield. Our stronghold. Our light. Our strength. Our sustainer. Our rescuer. Our fortress.
Meditate on God’s attributes. Contemplate His names. Dwell on His identity. Adore Him. Respect Him. Honor Him. Love Him. Exalt Him. Use the rest of your life getting ready to worship our awesome God forever.
O worship the King,
All glorious above,
And gratefully sing
His power and His love. —Grant
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. —Psalm 150:6
You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. —John 15:14
The social networking Web site Facebook.com was launched in 2004 as a way for college students to connect with each other online. It is now open to people of all ages, and currently there are an estimated 500 million users. Each user has an individual page with photos and personal details that can be viewed by “friends.” To “friend” a person means opening the door to communication and information about who you are, where you go, and what you do. Facebook friendships may be casual or committed, but each one is “by invitation only.”
Just before Jesus was crucified, He told His disciples: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15).
Unselfishness, oneness of purpose, and confident trust are the hallmarks of true friendship, especially in our relationship with the Lord. Christ has taken the initiative by giving His life for us and inviting us to know and follow Him.
Have we responded to the Lord Jesus’ invitation of friendship by opening our hearts to Him with nothing held back?
Friendship with Jesus,
O what blessed, sweet communion—
Jesus is a Friend of mine. —Ludgate
Posted February 16th, 2011 11:17 AM IPBuried Treasure
Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. —Psalm 119:18
Growing up in rural Missouri where American outlaw Jesse James (1847–1882) had lived, my friends and I were convinced he had buried treasure nearby. We wandered the woods in dreamy hopes of digging up a saddlebag or other treasure. Often we’d run into an elderly man chopping firewood with a giant axe. For years, we watched this mysterious “axe man” trudge the highways in search of soda cans, his own kind of treasure. Redeeming the cans for cash, he’d retire to his run-down, roofless, unpainted shack with a bottle in a brown paper bag. After his death, his family found bundles of money stored in his ramshackle home.
Like the axe man who ignored his treasure, we Christians sometimes ignore parts of Scripture. We forget that all of Scripture is ours to use; that each passage has a reason for its inclusion in the canon. Who knew Leviticus held so much buried treasure? In an efficient seven verses in chapter 19, God teaches us how to provide for the poor and disabled without stripping them of their dignity (vv.9-10,14), how to run our businesses ethically (vv.11,13,15), and how to embed respect for Him into our daily life (v.12).
If a few verses can contain so much treasure, think of all that can be ours if we dig into our Bibles every day.
For Further Study
Mine the treasure in Leviticus 19, and then search
for more treasure in other parts of Leviticus to put into
practice in your Christian walk.
Every word in the Bible was placed with a purpose; any part you’ve not read is your buried treasure.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! . . . Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance. —Matthew 3:2,8
Medical studies have shown that even though people who have had heart-bypass surgery are told that they must change their lifestyle or die, about 90 percent do not change. Typically, 2 years after surgery the patients haven’t altered their lifestyle. It seems that most would rather die than change.
Just as doctors preach a physical message of change to prevent death, John the Baptist came preaching a spiritual message of change. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2). He was preparing the way for the ultimate manifestation of God’s reign—the Messiah, Jesus.
Repentance means to change one’s mind and attitude about God, which ultimately changes a person’s actions and decisions. Those who repent and accept Christ’s provision of forgiveness from their sins through His death on the cross will escape spiritual death (John 3:16). Repentance involves confessing sin with godly sorrow, and then forsaking sin. John the Baptist was calling people to turn from one way of living to ways that honor God.
Today, the Lord is still calling us to repent and then to respond with the “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8).
Repentance is to leave the sin
That we had loved before,
And showing we are grieved by it
By doing it no more. —Anon.
Repentance means hating sin enough to turn from it.
Posted February 18th, 2011 09:16 PM IPDreams Or Choices?
Approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense. —Philippians 1:10
I’ve received a lot of good advice in my life. Near the top of the list is this wise observation from a friend: “Life is not made by the dreams that you dream but by the choices that you make.”
He’s right—your life today is the sum total of all the choices you’ve made up to this point. The apostle Paul gave similar advice in Philippians 1:10, when he said to “approve the things that are excellent” (1:10). In any given situation, we have a whole continuum of choices—ranging from really rotten choices, to the mediocrity of average choices, to choices that are good, and then to those that are excellent. God wants to move us across the continuum, past our natural impulses, all the way to excellent choices.
Often it’s challenging to make the most excellent choice, especially if there aren’t many others joining us. Sometimes it may feel as if our desires and freedoms have been suppressed. But if you follow Paul’s advice, you’ll notice some really positive outcomes—like being pure and blameless and fruitful (v.11).
Make the choice to live a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Then revel in the result!
The little choices we must make
Will chart the course of life we take;
We either choose the path of light,
Or wander off in darkest night. —D. De Haan
Make an excellent choice and watch the ripple effect of blessing.