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Author Message
today
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 Posted December 7th, 2010 12:35 PM   IP              
Upside Down Toast

“Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’.” Matthew 4:17

Have you ever made a piece of toast, slathered it with butter and strawberry jam, and just as you’re about to take the first delicious bite, you drop it on the floor? I’m embarrassed to say this has happened to me more than once, and the toast inevitably lands facedown! Who wants upside-down toast for breakfast?

It may be a silly illustration, but it makes me think that we are like upside-down toast. We are fallen creatures, born with the DNA of hell. Our first instincts in most situations are usually wrong. Our responses are almost always self-serving. And it’s not until God picks us up that we can begin to realize His lofty purposes and plans to turn our upside-down life right-side up.

In Matthew 4:1-21, we learn about the early days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. His first sermon was simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). For hundreds of years, God’s people had been “living in darkness . . . [in] the shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16). Jesus came to rescue them and us from our fallen, messed-up existence. What was the first step to recovery? You guessed it—repentance.

Repentance is not a “how to turn your life right-side up” method of self-improvement. When Jesus pleaded repentance, He wasn’t offering a good idea or a cool suggestion. It’s important to keep in mind that the Greek word for “preach” in this text means “to herald,” or to proclaim with authority. In the days before e-mail and Instant Messenger, a “herald” would travel from village to village to proclaim the king’s edicts. The herald did not form discussion groups to poll the opinion of the people. Rather, he authoritatively proclaimed the message of the king.

None could be more authoritative than Jesus Himself. When the King of kings traveled through the villages preaching, His message came with the highest authority, and as such we would do well to take it seriously—to repent of our fallen ways and to yield our upside-down instincts to the right-side-up ways of His kingdom.

Repentance is never an enjoyable experience, but vulnerability is the key to victory. When we allow the Savior to pick us up and reveal the mess we’ve made of ourselves, it’s only then that we can begin to live a useful, productive life that brings pleasure to our heavenly Father.

You may be like upside-down toast, but the good news is in Jesus Christ you don’t have to stay that way!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•At what point in your life did you finally and fully realize that you were upside-down? What circumstances were you going through at the time?
•Have you repented and surrendered to God and allowed Him to pick you up? If so, when did this take place?
•Do you feel as if you’re upside-down again? Remember, after God picks you up, you will always belong to Him and His kingdom. But practically speaking, your sinful nature will cause you to fall again and again, requiring a continual heart of repentance. According to the principles outlined in 1 John 1:9, you can begin by confessing your sins. Then receive God’s forgiveness and invite Him to “purify [you] from all unrighteousness.

God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 9th, 2010 12:56 PM   IP              
What to Do Until the Stars Fall

“Accept what I say… I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:10-12

My biology professor, Max Dowell, was an unapologetic southerner with a drawl as thick as deep-South molasses. And while I’m sorry to admit that I don’t remember a whole lot of biology (I never was much for the Latin names of frogs and the smell of formaldehyde), I don’t think I’ll ever forget the professor who probably had the words to “Dixie” scrawled on his boxer shorts.

Having grown up in New Jersey, I needed to listen carefully in class since his accent seemed like a whole different dialect to me. But through all the cross-cultural stuff, there is one thing he frequently said that has stuck. I even find myself repeating it with a southern twang of my own. What it had to do with biology I’ll never know, but periodically he would come out with the phrase, “Do right ’till the stars fall!”

We’d all agree that “Do right” is a terrific piece of advice. But coming to grips with that advice may be a challenge. I usually feel pretty good about what I do. And I rarely think I am wrong. But my best-intentioned moves in life are more like ready, fire, aim, instead of well-thought-through strategies on how to do what is truly right. Emotions have a way of pulling the trigger before I fully think the moment through. Rationalizations and excuses have a way of fogging my perspectives so that things that are clearly wrong look like pretty good options. Admittedly, most of the twisted and lame moments of my life have been a direct-connect to times when I have not done what is right. Times when I’ve said the wrong thing, expressed the wrong attitude, caved in to wrong thoughts and desires—and the list goes on. And if you are honest with yourself, you’re thinking that you have the same “Why did I ever do that/say that?” regret now and then as well.

We need help!

God clears the air by reminding us that, if left to ourselves, we are a risk to most anything or anyone nearby! So, admitting our tendency to repeated misfires is a good beginning. But where do we go from there? Embrace the wonderful fact that His will and ways are always right. When we take our clues from Him, we start being right more often than we’re wrong as we measure all we do by His will and His Word. He is right about forgiveness, generosity, patience, tolerance, humility, and giving our boss a good day’s work. In fact He is right about everything! That’s why He is a righteous God.

We nicknamed our professor “Do Right Dowell.”

I wonder if anyone would give you a compliment like that? Try living in such a way to give them a chance!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What have you done or said recently that you regret? Did you feel that it was right at the time? Did you do it even though you knew it was wrong? What would you do differently if you could go back and do it again?
•Do you believe that God is a righteous God? Do you believe that His will and all His ways are always right?
•Create the habit of checking in with God—who is always wonderfully right—before you trigger your next attitude, action, or speech. Do this at least once a day just to stay in shape!
•Read these additional passages for more insight: Proverbs 14:12 and 1 Timothy 6:11-16.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 10th, 2010 01:13 PM   IP              
Reliable Grace

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." Romans 12:17

Do you ever pay much attention to bumper stickers? I find them fascinating! You can be driving along and in one minute see a sticker that says, “My child is an honor roll student at So-and-So Middle School,” and then turn the corner and see another car sporting the bumper sticker, “My child beat up your honor roll student”! Paul Harvey tells a great story about a car with two stickers decorating its back bumper. On the left side, were the words: “Jesus is coming!” On the right: “Escape to Wisconsin.”

Often, bumper stickers tell others where your loyalties are. Your choice of automotive adornment may declare your allegiance to a favorite sports team, a chosen political candidate, or a specific issue or cause. The sticker proclaims that you are committed enough to the cause, issue, team, or individual, that you are willing to let even perfect strangers know where you stand.

Even in the church-world, we have gotten into the bumper sticker thing. Options range from a simple fish, to a cross, to a clever slogan (such as “Warning: In Case of Rapture this Car Will Be Unmanned”). It might be a fun way to proclaim your loyalty to Christ, but I’m not sure that pithy comments on a car bumper are what’s needed to effectively communicate God’s grace to a world that is mired in sin and hopelessness.

In today’s text, after the apostle Paul instructs us to submit ourselves as living sacrifices to God (the only appropriate response to God’s mercy and grace), he spends the rest of Romans 12:9-21 talking about how that allegiance to God shows up in the life of a Christian. He gets right down to the heart of what sets us apart. In essence, he says that as Christians our lives should be marked by “reliable grace” toward others.

What do we mean by reliable grace? I’m glad you asked. Here’s a definition: “Reliable grace is the predictable action of abundant kindness, regardless. . . even to the most undeserving offender.” It means that people can count on you to pour out grace—active, predictable kindness—into their lives. It is unconditional and available even to the most undeserving of offenders. Anybody have an undeserving offender in your life? Your boss? Your spouse? Your boyfriend? Your kids? That’s your target. More than a bumper sticker, more than a fish or a cross on your car, more than a T-shirt or a WWJD bracelet, we demonstrate our loyalty to Jesus by extending His reliable grace to others.

You see, His reliable grace and abundant kindness has been poured out on undeserving offenders like you and me. So extending it to others opens up opportunities to talk about the real source of grace. God has asked us to proclaim the goodness of God’s forgiveness and mercy, but that can only be done in the context of our own extension of grace and mercy.

So today, look for moments to extend “reliable grace” to the people in your life. When you do, your loyalty and allegiance to Jesus will be more on display than if you had a bumper sticker emblazoned across your forehead.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How did you experience God’s reliable grace when you first trusted Christ? How have you experienced it since then?
•Who are some of the “undeserving offenders” in your life? What makes extending grace toward them so difficult?
•How might Christ’s character be seen through you as you extend grace toward these individuals? Pray for His strength, and then ask Him to give you an opportunity to extend some reliable grace today.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 11th, 2010 12:52 PM   IP              
Chin Up!

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” Ephesians 2:4-5

One of my all-time favorite kid’s stories is Charlotte’s Web, starring Charlotte the barnyard spider and Wilbur the pig. The farmer’s daughter, Fern, loved Wilbur and adopted him as her pet—until he was too big for the house and had to move to the barn. Wilbur missed Fern and felt sad about being away from her. Just when he thought things couldn’t get worse, the mother hen came on the scene.

She told Wilbur that her purpose in life was to lay eggs for people to eat, and the cow’s purpose was to give milk for the people to drink. Then came the real stinger: “Hey, Wilbur, do you know what your purpose is? Bacon!”

Needless to say, the hen was not a very encouraging friend!

Thankfully, Wilbur had a true friend. When Charlotte the spider found him wallowing in the muck of despair, she encouraged him with a resounding “Chin up, Wilbur!” She wove beautiful webs over his pen with words that made him feel loved and important. The webs attracted media publicity, and people from all over the area came to marvel at this “special pig.” When it was time for the county fair, Wilbur feared again for his life and asked Charlotte to weave one more web. She knew that she had only one more web to weave and that then she would die. But out of her love for Wilbur, she wove the most spectacular web yet to prove how special he was. The townspeople were so taken with the web that Wilbur’s impending death was no longer an issue.

I love the biblical parallels in this story. The most significant one being that Charlotte gave her life to save Wilbur’s. Not only that—but she made him a special pig!

Most of us can probably identify with Wilbur at some point. All of us face problems in life when we desperately need someone to come along and encourage us—a “chin up” friend. But, at the end of it all, before God we are all losers at heart and deserve to die as the penalty for our sin. Yet God in His grace died to save us from eternal death and condemnation. And, as though that weren’t enough, He makes us children of the King and fills us with hope and confidence regardless of life’s threats. Jesus is a friend for the doomed! We can either mope around our little barnyard of life, or we can get our chin up and believe that our friend Jesus is making something special of our lives.

Next time you’re feeling down in the dumps, rejoice in the fact that you have been rescued from the grave, promised eternal life, and are a child of the King.

Now that’s a “chin up” thought that can keep you going with hope and strength!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What is your attitude toward the “Wilburs” you encounter?
•What is your reaction to the reality of God’s purpose and promise of eternal life?
•Will others find you wallowing in self-pity or rejoicing in the hope you have in Christ?
•In what ways can you be a “Charlotte”—bringing the good news of salvation and purpose to someone today?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 16th, 2010 12:28 PM   IP              
Only Jesus Satisfies

“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’. ” John 4:12-14

Victor Krutko came to Moody Bible Institute from Minsk, a town in Belarus. This gifted, passionate pastor and I have become good friends. I’ll never forget an episode with him as we were traveling through Belarus visiting some of his work. God had used him to start a Bible school and seminary in his home country, and his influence had sparked the planting of more than 100 churches in the region. But the most special moment of the trip came when we went to visit Victor’s mom.

Our trip to meet this dear woman took us 40 miles outside of Minsk, down a rutted track with weeds sprouting up in the middle of the lane. Passing ramshackle shanties as we entered this backwater village, we pulled up in front of one of the shanties to be greeted by a beaming, ruddy-faced woman in her late 70s—Victor’s mother! With a babushka scarf wrapped around her head, she bustled us inside saying, “Come in, come in!”

We picked our way past the outhouse and through a meager garden. I pointed out the pig to Victor, and he said, “Oh yes, she raises the pig in the summer and eats it in the winter.” The vegetables from the garden were her only other means of sustenance.

Inside the two-room shanty was a kitchen featuring a little table. A sheet divided the other room into a bedroom and a sitting room. As Victor’s mom fed us cucumbers and tomatoes for lunch, she couldn’t stop beaming. Initially, I thought that her unbridled enthusiasm was because her boy, Victor, had come home. But it soon became apparent that her contagious joy was not just about Victor but also about another man in her life, Jesus! As Victor translated, all she could talk about was Jesus—how much she loved Him, how much He loved her, how much she couldn’t wait to get to heaven to see and be with Him. This woman, who had very few material possessions, had all that she needed because Jesus had clearly become a well of living water flowing in her heart.

This visit prompted a reality check in my heart about how addicted we are to the thought that having more in our material world is where joy is found. It’s not that we don’t want Jesus. It’s just that we act like He’s not enough. We’re really glad to have Jesus, but we feel that what we really need is a spiffier set of golf clubs, a newer car, a bigger home, or at the very least a new shirt or pair of shoes. It’s not that having those things is necessarily wrong; it’s just that believing that they will satisfy is a wrong thought.

Which reminds me of another woman. When Jesus sat down next to a Samaritan woman by a well, He initiated a conversation by discussing a material need: “Would you give me a drink?” Then, lovingly, He steered the conversation through territory that explored the many ways that this woman had tried to satisfy her own emptiness, including failed relationships, illicit pleasures, and empty religiosity. Then He made this staggering offer: If anyone comes to Him for satisfaction, they will find their deepest needs and longings met.

So, how about you? Instead of seeking to satisfy your life with stuff, will you turn your heart to Jesus and receive His eternally thirst-quenching, soul-satisfying gift of living water? If so, you will experience the deep, genuine joy that captured the heart of Victor’s mom and the woman at the well.

Try as you might, you can’t do any better than Jesus!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Have you received the gift of Christ’s living water? If not, ask Him to come into your life today.
•Are you experiencing the satisfaction of Jesus’ living water, or do you find yourself seeking satisfaction in other possessions and pursuits?
•Victor’s mom was satisfied by Christ, because her heart, passions, and thoughts were set on Him. How can you focus your thoughts and desires on Him today?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted December 17th, 2010 12:47 PM   IP              
Life on Level One

"Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer.” Ruth 4:14

In an ancient form of Chinese drama, plays were often performed on a two-level stage. On the first level, the drama would unfold in the natural sequence of the script, while on the second level the last act of the play would be acted out simultaneously. This gave the audience a distinct advantage—they knew how the story would end. In fact, it was not uncommon for the audience to yell to the actors on level one, warning them that their attitudes or actions were threatening the good outcomes of the final act of the play.

Life is a lot like living on “level one.” When life on level one is in the dumper, it’s easy to forget that the unseen hand of God is already at work to bring the last act to His glory and our good.

It was like that for Ruth and Naomi. Their “level one” was not a pretty picture. After the unexpected death of her husband and two sons, Naomi was left with her two daughters-in-law as a marginalized immigrant in Moab. In an age when men were the sole providers for their families and sons were a badge of honor to a woman, this was no small problem. The level-one cry of this destitute widow is understandable. “The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:21).

In Naomi’s excruciating pain, God was at work. Through Boaz’s noble response to Naomi’s destitute need for a kinsman-redeemer, God was in the process of designing a powerful picture of the rescuing work of Jesus to redeem our lives from hopelessness. It was also in God’s providence to place a Moabite woman in the line of Christ to prove that all, regardless of race or background, could be included in His saving grace (Matthew 1:5). How did He get a Moabitess to Bethlehem where she could marry into the line of Christ? He sent Naomi to Moab to bring one back! Without her knowing it, God was positioning Naomi to be greatly used of God.

So here’s the lesson. When level one is not a pretty picture, remember that God is the manager of all that plays out in our lives. We are not left to the winds of fate. I love the fact that He never wastes our sorrows and that His hidden hand is working to turn our sorrows into significance. Romans 8:28 assures us: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.” So, chin up! The God who works on level two guarantees a good and glorious ending.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Read Romans 8:28-29. According to verse 29, what is God’s purpose for my life? How does that affect my view of what is “good” for me?
•What challenges am I facing on level one right now? How does it help to know that God already knows what level two will bring?
•If my life were divided into acts like a play, what act would I be in right now? What act has been played out with an outcome that proved to be good for me?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 19th, 2010 02:35 PM   IP              
Grace and Truth

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

It’s a grandfather’s prerogative to tease his grandkids a little bit, right? So when one of my young grandkids is first learning math, I quiz him about his newfound knowledge. “Do you know about math yet?” I ask.

“Sure, Papa, I know math.”

“Well then, what’s two plus two?”

Beaming up at me, he quickly and proudly replies, “It’s four!”

“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong. Two plus two is 22. You take one two, put it next to the other two, and you have 22. And,” I continued, “one plus one equals eleven. Three plus three is 33. Don’t you know that? Who’s teaching you math?”

Invariably, eyes roll, and I hear, “Oh, Papa, you’re wrong—2+2 is four!”

“Are you sure?” I say.

“Yes, I’m sure!” is the confident reply.

Thankfully, my grandkids are getting a good handle on the fact that truth can’t be played with. Even though I’m older, an authority figure, and a loved one, they are ready to challenge me if I don’t have the facts straight. The truth stands, and they can quickly spot (and point out) the error of my “logic.”

As Christ’s followers, we need to get a better handle on that reality. You don’t play around with truth. In fact, as John is telling us about Jesus, he assures us that we know that Jesus is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

People don’t have much trouble with the grace part. Of course God’s grace is amazing, unlimited, lavish, and actively demonstrated in the death of Jesus on the cross. He forgives sins, restores lives, and pours out countless blessings that are neither deserved nor expected. No arguments about His grace.

But when we hit the “truth” part, the world walks out in protest. Truth, in so many minds, is a pliable commodity, so flexible that you can have “your truth” and I can have “my truth,” even if they are completely contradictory. Illogically, in the world’s eyes, every claim can be equally valid and, in fact, we are quickly written off as intolerant if we point out the wrongheadedness and false thinking of a worldview that does not line up with God’s Word.

John reminds us that Jesus came not only to demonstrate God’s unlimited grace but also His absolute truth. Jesus claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life—the only way, in fact, to the Father. He told the crowd gathered at the temple that He and the Father were one. His truth claims can be rejected or received, with eternal consequences, but they cannot be altered or spun to a more politically correct alternative. They do not sync with false worldviews and are not simply one option among many.

So, the question for you and for me is: “Are we playing around with truth?” We wouldn’t be among the first to bend the words of Jesus to fit our own dreams and misplaced desires. And, I should ask, are we able to spot false truth claims and erroneous thinking as quickly as my grandkids spotted my flawed mathematical theorems? And, just as importantly, are we willing to speak out for the truth, graciously yet firmly exposing error for what it is? We can and should be agents of the grace of Christ. But let’s remember the rest of the verse and be agents of His truth as well.

It would be really great if 2+2 could be 22 when I am balancing my checkbook, but it is still and always will be four. The truth is the truth and that never changes. Thank God that He has given us truth to keep the balance of the checkbook of our lives in good order.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How have you responded to the claims of Christ? Have you embraced Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Read Acts 4:12 to see Peter’s affirmation of Christ’s exclusive claims.
•In what ways is the world trying to play around with the truth? How do many people view God’s Word and the truths found in it?
•In your time at home, at school, at work, or in your neighborhood, how can you be an agent of God’s grace and His truth this week?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 20th, 2010 02:25 PM   IP              
Don't Just Celebrate…Imitate!

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.” Ephesians 5:1

I can still remember my dad standing there, coat on and hat in hand on Christmas afternoon asking me, “Joe, do you want to come with me?” His question made me uncomfortable because I knew I should say yes, but being deep into playing with my Christmas presents, going with him was not my idea of a great way to spend Christmas afternoon.

My idea of Christmas was a time to celebrate Christ’s birth by giving and getting gifts, eating some of Mom’s all-time best cooking, and lots of play time with my new toys!

My dad liked all that kind of stuff too. But every year he had something else in mind. He knew that Christmas was more than a celebration of Christ’s birth. For him, the spirit of Christmas had a deeper meaning. He knew that the highest form of honoring Jesus is more than celebration—it’s imitation.

In fact, seeing Christmas as merely celebration can have a selfish bent to it. It can end up being primarily about days off from work, parties, family, friends, games, football, gifts, and lots of great food. But imitation—not celebration—pays a higher compliment to the one whose life we celebrate.

For Jesus, Christmas was not warm, convenient, or comfortable. In our modern-day materialized blur of Christmas, we must keep reminding ourselves that the birth of Jesus put into motion the central act of God’s redemptive plan, and it came at a cost. Not only did Jesus temporarily relinquish the glorious privileges of heaven, He ultimately gave His life on a blood-stained cross where His sinless body bore the weight of my sin—and yours. Jesus presented our world with a costly redemptive gift. Which is precisely why my dad was on his way out the front door.

His mission? To visit an elderly widow who lived down the street. With no children and no family, she spent every holiday alone. And every Christmas my dad, in the midst of celebration, gave the gift of himself, sharing a few moments of companionship to help ease her lonely heart.

I learned a valuable lesson from my dad. Around all of our lives there are people who long for a touch from heaven through some caring, even sacrificial, act of love on their behalf. Who are the people you could call on Christmas day? Check your party lists. Is there someone who will go nowhere if not invited by you?

Indelibly etched on my memory are those two or three times when I stood up from my toys, grabbed my coat, put my hand in Dad’s, and walked down the street to spend an hour imitating Christ’s gift of Himself.

This year, let’s do more than celebrate Christ. Let’s honor Him by imitating the grace of His selfless and sacrificial love for us.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What are some ways you can imitate Christ this Christmas? Read Ephesians 5:1-33 for a list of ideas.
•My dad’s imitation of Christ made a big impact on me as a kid. What can you do to set an example for the young people or young believers in your life? If you were to say, like Paul, “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16), what kinds of Christlike qualities would others see in your life to imitate?
•We’re in the final countdown to Christmas. Narrow your ideas down to one action point and then, as the commercial says, “Just do it!” Who knows, your act may make this a Christmas to remember.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted December 21st, 2010 04:25 PM   IP              
Interruptions

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus’. ” Luke 1:30-31

Interruptions are inevitable. It’s just the way life works. But, I keep asking myself, why is it that they come at such inopportune times? After listening to a zillion options in the phone-answering menu, someone will start talking to me and I miss the key moment only to have to redial and go through the whole thing again! And who’s the bozo that always rings the doorbell just when the game-changing play is about to happen? Well, I guess we could learn to live with interruptions if it weren’t for the fact that some of life’s interruptions are disruptive on a far more serious scale—a phone call from the doctor giving you bad news about your cancer tests, that pink slip on your desk, the unexpected loss of a loved one, or an unwanted job transfer all stack up as devastating surprises.

Which brings to mind how Joseph and Mary must have felt when their lives were dramatically interrupted by angelic announcements. Their future was bright until the divine announcements threatened their sense of well-being to the core. If all you have is the Christmas-card mentality—Oh, how precious to see Mary, Joseph, and the child with angels fluttering over them!—then you’ve missed the magnitude of just how disruptive God’s interruptions were. What would Mary tell her mother, to say nothing of all the relatives and busybodies in her little village? Do we think for a moment that any of them would believe the story that began with “An angel told me . . .”? And for Joseph’s part, everyone would conclude that he had violated his fiancée’s virginity—which in those days would have been a ****ing breach of religious and cultural standards. Believe me, no one would want a “Kitchens by Joseph” sign in his or her front yard anymore!

Given the weight of it all, the amazing element in their story is that they both accepted the interruptions with a sense of resolved surrender. A surrender that put them in a place where God could accomplish far more through them than their uninterrupted lives ever would have dreamed of. Though awkward and challenging, God’s unexpected change in their plans gave them the honor of parenting the very Son of God. And our world has never been the same again—to say nothing of our lives!

There’s a lesson here for us. When God interrupts our best laid plans and expectations—even when it seems like the outcomes are devastating—He has a far greater thing in mind for us. God’s worthiness and glory is far more evident when it is expressed in the midst of suffering. There is no greater confirmation of the trustworthiness of God than when we trust Him even in the face of the unexpected insecurities and uncertainties of life. And who knows what He has in store through you in terms of impact in future generations when He rearranges your life? I can’t always tell you what God is up to, but I can assure you that He uses interruptions to do things far beyond what we ever dreamed.

So this Christmas, let’s get the point. When interruptions come, stop resisting. Surrender and start looking for the hand of God as you serve Him obediently in spite of the uncertainty that is staring you in the face.

I’ve often wondered: What if Noah had said, “I don’t do boats!” or if Moses had complained, “I don’t do crowds!” or if Job had insisted, “I don’t do suffering” or if Mary had declined, “No thanks, a virgin birth is too great a risk” or, ultimately, if Jesus had said, “I don’t do crosses!”?

Trust Him. He knows what He is doing with your life!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Reflect on a time when God “interrupted” your life at a seemingly inopportune moment. What was your first reaction to that interruption? What was the outcome?
•Is it hard for you to trust God when unusual circumstances invade your life? Find a verse that will help anchor your trust in Him next time He “interrupts” you!
•Read the account of the angelic interruptions in Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-25. What can you learn from Mary and Joseph’s reactions to the news that turned their lives upside-down? Ask the Lord to give you the same quiet resolve to surrender yourself to His plan.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted December 22nd, 2010 11:24 AM   IP              
Dirty Windows

“Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

A friend of mine, Bud Wood, founded Shepherds Home in Wisconsin for boys and girls with developmental disabilities. The original ministry opened its doors in 1964 to 36 children, providing them a loving residential environment and a school that would focus on their unique needs, helping them to reach their potential. Most importantly, this ministry started with a primary goal of sharing God’s love with the residents and encouraging them toward a personal and growing walk with Jesus. Many of those original residents, now adults, still reside at Shepherds. The home, now known as Shepherds Ministries, has grown to include vocational training and a variety of other ministries all clustered around that central passion for delivering and living out the gospel.

I remember Bud asking me one time, “Hey, Joe, do you know what our biggest maintenance problem at Shepherds is?”

“I have no idea,” I replied.

“Dirty windows. Our kids press their hands and faces against the windows because they’re looking to the sky to see if today might be the day that Jesus will return for them and take them to His home where they will be healed and complete.”

I love that! Talk about having your priorities in the right place. One of the hallmarks of a committed follower of Jesus is a longing for His return.

That’s what Paul anticipates as he writes to Timothy in the waning days of his earthly ministry. He acknowledges that he is “being poured out like a drink offering” and humbly states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-7). But rather than spending his last days looking in the rearview mirror, Paul continues to look forward to the “crown of righteousness, which the Lord . . . will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:8).

Notice that the crown isn’t some merit award for Paul’s years of distinguished service. It isn’t the “Church Planter of the Year” trophy. And it isn’t exclusive to Paul. He makes that plainly clear when he adds, “and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” The “crown of righteousness” is available to all followers of Christ who live righteously because they have organized their lives around longing for Him to return—with the expectation that it could be any minute now!

That longing and expectation will change our priorities as well. It will make us think a whole lot less about how to build our kingdom and a whole lot more about His. It will pull our attention away from materialism and the accumulation of earthbound possessions and point us toward investment in that which is eternally significant. It will lift us from our anxieties and even the weight of this life’s difficulties, reminding us each day that something better awaits us. And 1 John 3:2-3 reminds us that our hope in the Lord’s return will motivate us toward purity, so that we want to be righteously pure and ready when Jesus comes for us.

You may have decorated your windows for Christmas, but have you gone to them recently to see if the Jesus of Christmas is coming back again for you? Go ahead, smudge up a window or two! Life will be wonderfully different if you keep your eyes to the sky!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How often do you spend time thinking about the return of Jesus?
•How would it change your plans for the next 24 hours if you genuinely believed that Jesus could arrive at any moment? How about the next week? What about the next year?
•What steps can you take to regularly remind yourself that Jesus could be returning at any moment? What would it look like to “smudge up some windows” as you watch for Christ’s return in your home?


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 Posted December 24th, 2010 10:25 AM   IP              
The Hope of Christmas

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:5

We talk a lot about hope.

We hope the weather will be good for our family vacation. We hope that our favorite team will win the Super Bowl—or at least make it to the big game! We hope that we get just what we want for Christmas.

But for many of us, hope lacks a sense of certainty. It is more like a wish—something that we want to happen but have no way of knowing that it ultimately will. So we keep our fingers crossed and “hope” that everything will go the way we want it to.

The reality is that often life doesn’t turn out the way we hoped it would. Hope is a fragile commodity. When life is disappointing, our optimism is replaced by feelings of discouragement and hopelessness. Before long we run the risk of becoming cynics who believe that there is nothing in which we can confidently hope.

This was the landscape of life when Jesus entered the world. The prevailing mood of Israel was anything but hope. The once proud nation was now a puppet state of the pagan Roman Empire. The common person lived under the defeating burden of the exaggerated requirements of the religious establishment. Centuries before, they had been promised a deliverer who would restore Israel to its former glory, but it had never happened.

Into this sense of cynical hopelessness, true Hope was born. But the tragedy of that first Christmas was that very few realized the hope that had been introduced. Hope for the forgiveness of sins. Hope for a bright future—forever. Hope for God’s presence and power in daily living. Hope that would enable us to forget the past and set our sights on stuff that doesn’t disappoint. A hope that, because of Jesus, is a certainty and not just another wish to be dashed on the rocks of reality.

I love the honesty of the psalmist who said, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” We’ve all been there. But let’s not stop there. Keep reading! “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5). Rejoice that Jesus came to give you something better than the disappointments of life on planet earth. And when by faith you embrace Him and all that He promised, you can have a hope that is no longer a fingers-crossed wish that you harbor in your heart, but rather a confident, courageous optimism that is rooted in the certainty of His Word.

Pin your hopes on Jesus this Christmas—you won’t be disappointed!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What are you hoping for today? How about tomorrow? Are your hopes rooted in temporal things, or eternal?
•In what way did Jesus bring hope to the world when He arrived?
•In what way does Jesus bring you hope personally? Share the hope. Tell a friend about Him today!


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 Posted December 25th, 2010 12:11 PM   IP              
Save the Paper

“[Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:7

Above the joyful sounds of Christmas morning, as children open their presents in attack mode, you can usually hear someone older and wiser saying, “Don’t rip the paper. Save it for next year!” It’s a Christmas thing as deeply embedded in Christmas tradition as jingle bells and holly. The point is that valuable wrapping paper is worth keeping.

Jesus, God’s ultimate gift, came in wrapping paper that is worth keeping. In Jesus’ case, it’s the wrapping that makes the gift so valuable.

When God decided to come to earth as a gift to all mankind, He could have wrapped the gift in a far more spectacular way than He did. Imagine how mind-boggling it would have been for Him to light up the sky with His presence in a celestial show of brilliant power and might. But instead, He chose to come to our planet by wrapping Himself in the likeness of common folk like you and me. As our text says, He chose to take on the form of human likeness—and that of a servant to boot!

So why is this wrapping so important? It shows that He understands what it’s like to be human. He is no stranger to your struggles. He knows your joys and sorrows. Because He has experienced every aspect of being human, he has a clue about you and your needs. When we come to Him, He never says, “I don’t get it,” because He does get it. He’s been there before! As the writer of Hebrews tells us: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

As a boy, I would snoop under the Christmas tree ahead of time. I could usually spot gifts for me by the designs on the paper. Those with dolls and lace were certainly for my sisters. But I knew that the ones wrapped in trains and planes most likely were for me!

One glance at the wrapping on God’s gift of Jesus reveals that this gift was meant for you. The scars in His hands and feet reflect His commitment to serve you and save you—all the way to the cross. As Paul tells us in Philippians 2:7-8, Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

As I think about the wrapping on Jesus, I’m reminded that all of us are wrapped in some kind of paper. We spend most of our lives wrapping and rewrapping ourselves in clothes, cars, houses, positions, social networks, and other symbols we think will enhance our appearance.

If the wrapping we choose is made only of these earthbound things, we miss something vital about the meaning of Christmas. If, as Paul instructed, I am to have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), it means that I too must wrap myself in the spirit of servanthood. Those of us who have received God’s gift are called to recycle His wrapping paper into our own lives by giving ourselves as a gift to others just as He gave Himself as a gift to us.

I guess “save the paper!” is pretty good advice after all.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Write down some of the ways that you have benefited from the servanthood of Christ.
•Do you know anyone who is “wrapped” in servanthood like Christ? How has their example influenced you?
•When it comes to Jesus, there is something terribly wrong with taking the gift and throwing the wrapping away. If you have received the gift of Jesus, in what ways can you display the “wrapping” of His servanthood to others today?


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 Posted December 27th, 2010 11:58 AM   IP              
Secret Storage

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

One of the New Year’s resolutions that I have managed to keep is my plan to clean out the two storage rooms in our basement. When we initially moved into our house, whenever the movers didn’t know where to put something, we sent them to the storage rooms. Since then, a similar fate has been assigned to the stuff we continue to accumulate and don’t know what to do with. Cleaning out those rooms seemed like a daunting task, but I have to tell you it’s great to have it done. I go down there a lot now just to revel in the victory!

While I was cleaning, throwing away, sorting, and organizing, I thought about my heart. I thought about the secret places in my life that no one sees. The storage rooms where stuff that should be discarded stacks up. And here is what became clear to me: Who I really am is not determined by the parts of my life that are open to public view. In our house we do a pretty good job of keeping them in good order. The real commentary on what kind of a person I am is the condition of the storage rooms. If they are cluttered with unwanted, bad, and unnecessary things, then it says something about me. It says I am too busy . . . or, too lazy . . . or, undisciplined . . . or, just apathetic. Or, it says that I really don’t mind a lot of junk behind closed doors. It might even say that I like the junk in the storage rooms.

It’s like that in life. Who we really are is a lot about the condition of the secret places of our hearts.

When I was done, my male need for affirmation was out of control, I wanted Martie to come down immediately and see how clean and organized it all was . . . I even told my son that he had to stop by and see! Which made me wonder if the true test of secret places being in good order might just be whether or not you’d like someone to open the door to see how it looks. As the writer in Proverbs says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What would happen if someone opened the storage room of your heart today? What would they find there that you might not want them to see?
•Read 139 for a solid reminder that nothing is hidden from God . . . He sees it all! Make verses 23-24 the prayer of your heart today: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
•Once you have cleared out the unwanted and unnecessary stuff in your heart, revel in it . . . And do what you can to keep it clean!


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 Posted December 28th, 2010 12:53 PM   IP              
Holding Your Hand

"Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand." Psalm 73:23

One of the joys of being with kids is holding their hands. We do it to keep them safe while crossing the street, or to keep them from getting lost in a crowd. And whenever they stumble and lose their footing, we grab their little hands tighter to keep them from falling.

That’s what God does for us. Inevitably there are stones and cracks that trip us up on the sidewalks of life. That’s why it’s easy to identify with the psalmist, who said, “My steps had nearly slipped” (Ps. 73:2).

We all face a variety of issues that threaten to make us stumble. For the psalmist Asaph, seeing the prosperity of the wicked caused him to question the goodness of God. But God squeezed his hand and reassured him that, given the judgment of God, the wicked do not really prosper. True prosperity, the psalmist discovered, was found in the fact that God was always with him: “You hold me by my right hand” (Ps. 73:23). And just for good measure, God reminded him that He would also guide him through life and ultimately welcome him home to heaven (Ps. 73:24). How good is that!

So, next time you stumble, remember that the powerful hand of God is holding your hand and walking you through life—all the way home!

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand. —Stanphill
© Renewal 1978, Singspiration.

Let God do the holding and you do the trusting.


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 Posted December 29th, 2010 01:34 PM   IP              
Living in the Perfect Tense

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

One of my all-time favorite jokes is about the guy who was applying for a truck driver’s job. As part of the oral exam to pass the driving test, the instructor said, “Let’s say you and your sidekick Bob are going down a steep hill and all of a sudden your brakes go out, and at the bottom of the steep incline is a train stalled on the tracks. What would you do?”

The applicant replied, “I’d wake Bob up!”

Puzzled by his response, the instructor asked, “Why would you wake up Bob?”

“Well, me and Bob have traveled a lot of miles together and we have seen a lot of pretty spectacular wrecks, but Bob ain’t never seen a wreck like the wreck that’s going to happen at the bottom of the hill!”

This fallen, broken world we live in is a lot like a runaway truck without brakes—on its way to sure destruction. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be caught sleeping in the passenger seat of that truck!

Thankfully, Paul makes it very clear that Jesus provided a way of escape from this fallen, destined-for-destruction world order. When he told the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that old things are passed away, he was talking about the old world order that is headed for judgment. And Paul uses the past tense to assure us that the certain doom is already accomplished. Thankfully, Jesus has already paid the price to avert our riding this world’s 18-wheeler to disaster. It is historical fact, already accomplished for those who are in Christ.

What that means for those of us who are in Christ is that we are no longer in the death grip of the “old things”: All the dark seductions of our fallen world. All the lying and deceit. All the over-the-line sensuality and immorality. All the damage and despair caused by slavery to sin. This is all the old, outdated stuff that is marked for judgment and extinction.

Instead, we as His followers are part of a “new creation.” When Paul proclaimed the good news that “the new has come,” he used the perfect tense of the Greek language, indicating a past action with continuing results. In other words, there are ongoing ramifications of Jesus’ past action to save us. In the perfect tense, His past action is intended to continue to produce results; results that reflect the new order of a life in the grip of Jesus’ love. New stuff like honesty, purity, forgiveness, generosity, servanthood, faithfulness, and compassion for those who are sleeping in the passenger seat of the runaway truck. His process of making us into a new creation is ongoing, anchored in the historical bedrock of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. That means that we as His followers are, in a sense, a “work in progress” looking more and more like His new creation all the time.

At the start of this new year, it’s a good time to ask if your life looks more like the old or more like the new. As a “new creation” in Jesus, what are the results in your life that clearly reflect His new way of living? Let’s wake up to the fact that we don’t belong to the darkness of this fallen world, and gladly embrace the new dynamics that God wants to create in our lives.

Live to make progress in the perfect tense of Christ’s finished work and make it a New Year that will be a lot more like the new and a lot less like the old.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Can you say with confidence that you are you a new creation?
•What are some “old things” that still attract you to this fallen world? Confide in a friend who can help you take steps to avoid those pitfalls and can help you to keep on track with living in the perfect tense as a new creation.
•We are “works in progress.” If you were to receive a Progress Report, what would it say? Ask God to show you what results He has produced in your life and what things need some attention, and then ask Him to develop those things in your life this year.


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 Posted December 30th, 2010 01:04 PM   IP              
The Perfecting Storm

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:4

In Cornwall, England, you can visit a place called The Eden Project. The Eden Project attempted to build the perfect environment in which plants and trees could flourish. Obviously named for the Garden of Eden, this collection of “biomes,” huge domes, provides a tightly monitored atmosphere with a perfect temperature range and humidity. There are no insects and there is no pollution. What more could a tree want?

But there was a problem.

After this wonder of science was built, the scientists on the project noticed something strange. The leaves on the big trees were beginning to wilt and the branches were starting to droop. Puzzled, they consulted a tree expert. After studying the situation, he reported, “Your problem is that there is no wind in the environment. It’s the wind that pushes and moves the tree fibers forcing the nutrients and moisture to be drawn up from the ground. Trees need the stress of the wind or they won’t thrive!”

How much is that like our lives? A lot!

Given a choice, we would construct our own little “Eden Project” around our homes, our families, our dreams, and our futures. In our bubble, we would have just the right emotional climate—a controlled and restricted atmosphere where we could click the delete button keeping out unwanted news and pain. Trouble would be carefully filtered before it could reach us, keeping us well protected from the “pollution” of suffering and heartache. In our dream world, we would no doubt think that designing this stress-free environment would provide a spiritual climate in which we could thrive!

Right? Well, not really.

James points out that our lives need a little “wind” if we are going to grow and mature. In fact, we are called to choose an attitude of joy in the face of life’s storms, trusting by faith that God is going to use them to help us grow. James says that the trials you and I face, whatever shape they take, test our faith. They are there to reveal whether or not we really believe the things we say we believe on Sunday mornings at church. Do we trust that God is good all the time? Do we really believe that His faithfulness is great and that His mercies are new every morning? Do we have the confidence that His faithfulness never fails and that He never bails on us when the storm clouds rise?

As your faith holds, strong perseverance—your ability to “hang in there”—enables you to stay faithful and steady in the face of the divine storm. And, as you patiently stay under the stress of the “wind,” God will make you “complete, not lacking anything.”

It’s the wind of life that stretches and presses the spiritual fibers of your heart to bring nourishment and vitality to your soul.

And, just in case you missed it, look back at the beginning of today’s passage. Did you catch it? James says, “Whenever you face trials,” not “if you face trials.” The storms of life are a given. And while these storms can be heart-wrenching, terrifying, and truly, truly dark at times, I am encouraged and reassured from Scripture to know that these trials are not random. They are yet another way that God is helping us grow, flourish, and mature. And if we understand that, then we can choose, by faith in our Father, to welcome His perfecting storm.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How have some of the storms of your life shaped and matured your faith in the past? What have you learned about God through them?
•What storms are you facing at the moment? What is God teaching you in the midst of the storm?
•Sometimes we need additional encouragement and perspective in the storm. Do you have Christian friends that can come alongside you during a season of trial and difficulty?


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 Posted December 31st, 2010 01:34 PM   IP              
In the Garden

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

My wife, Martie, and I had the privilege of traveling to England. While we were there, we visited Hampton Court—the home of King Henry VIII. The first thing we noticed was the beautiful gardens. As an amateur gardener myself, I marveled at the lush green lawns and the perfectly manicured trees, shrubs, and the vibrancy of the flowers. Standing in the middle of all that, I couldn’t help but think back several hundred years to the gardener who designed and maintained this immaculate spread of beauty for the honor of the king. Under the authority of King Henry, he managed the garden for one purpose—to bring pleasure to the king and to create beauty that would bring the king honor and glory in the eyes of every guest who was entertained at Hampton Court.

Connect the dots. The gardener for King Henry and the follower of Christ have something in common—except for the fact that our King is the King of kings! We have been chosen to manage the “gardens” of our lives in ways that bring pleasure and glory to our King, Jesus. I can’t help but think of the shame and displeasure it would have brought to King Henry if his gardener had slacked off, leaving the gardens weed-infested and overgrown when the king entertained important guests at Hampton Court. He wouldn’t have been gardener for long if that had been the case. How much more important it is for us to keep our lives free of the stuff that brings shame and damage to the reputation of Jesus. As gardeners of God’s garden in our lives, how important it is for us to be constantly vigilant to keep the weeds out and to prune the creepy things so they don’t take over and spoil the beauty. We all know what the weeds and creepy things are in our lives. So the issue is not ignorance on what to pull out and cut back, but rather diligence in taking the necessary steps to eliminate the damaging elements and to enhance the good and beautiful things so that we keep our lives looking good for the King!

And speaking of gardening, if you are looking for a good garden manual that delineates what to keep out and what should flourish, then Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians is a great place to start. In Galatians 5:16-24, he states that the weeds of the flesh are things like sexual immorality, idolatry, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, envy, and drunkenness! By contrast, he goes on to say that the fruit—or in this case the beautiful flowers—of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

People pass by the garden of your life every day—all kinds of people—so take a good look at your garden. Is it a source of shame or of glory to your King?

Keep the weeds pulled, prune the creepy things, and let the garden of your life grow to His glory.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Write down a list of the major weeds and creepy things that you have permitted to go unchecked in the garden of your life. Make a plan to weed them out and to replace them with actions and attitudes that reflect the beauty and glory of your King.
•Share your new gardening plan with a friend who will inspect your garden now and then to see how you are doing.
•The Hampton Court Gardens have lasted for centuries. What would you like your children and grandchildren to remember about the garden of your life long after you are gone? What should you pull out to guarantee a positive legacy for Christ?


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 Posted January 2nd, 2011 01:15 PM   IP              
Heaven – This Way

“You know the way to the place where I am going” John 14:4

The classic World War II movie The Longest Day portrays one of the clever military strategies of the German army. After the Allies had taken the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, their orders were to assemble in the town of St. Mere-Eglise in France. When they saw the sign for St. Mere-Eglise, naturally they proceeded in that direction. There was only one problem: The Germans had turned the sign to point in the opposite direction.

Unknowingly, the Allied forces confidently followed the sign and started marching toward the German trap. The hero of the Allied forces, played by John Wayne, showed up just in time to rescue them from certain destruction. One glance at his compass told him they were heading for disaster. “Hey, where’s everybody going?” he shouted. “Am I the only one here with a compass? It’s east; it’s east. Somebody moved the sign!”

It’s an old trick, but in our spiritual lives Satan continues to use it against us with great success. He turns the signs pointing to ultimate victory and a great final destiny toward the defeating attitudes of fear, despair, and hopelessness. Jesus, on the eve of His death, wanted to prepare His friends for the battle ahead. He knew that the disciples would be confused and disoriented by the enemy, so He lovingly assured them of victory and pointed them toward their final destination, heaven. He’s done the same for us. He assures us that regardless of the forces that might come against us today, heaven is just ahead and the victory is ours!

Jesus won the victory on “D-Day” when He died on the cross for you! At that point it was His intention to set your heart on heaven. Keeping our eyes on heaven means that regardless of what we face, we know where we are headed. Heavenward travelers proceed with the confidence that all the difficulties of the journey are merely temporary and well worth the pain in light of the ultimate and eternal joy of our destination. But beware! Satan wants nothing more than to distract and disorient your heart. He craftily points the sign toward feelings of inadequacy and defeat. He masks the signs pointing to guilt and regret with slick invitations to seduction and compromise. In fact, many of his distractions claim that heaven is really the here and now if only you will engage in a little out-of-bounds pleasure or in living to increase your stacks of stuff. When we think we’ve got heaven here, the enemy has won the day. But it’s not too late to get back on track. Jesus holds the compass, and He knows that to follow Satan’s clever shifting of the sign is to walk right into the trap of Satan’s destruction. He knows the territory well and is calling us to follow Him all the way to heaven—the ultimate destination of eternal fulfillment and joy!

Hear Him shouting to your heart: “Hey, you’re going the wrong way! Follow me!”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What earth-side stuff has gotten you off the heaven-bound way with Jesus lately? Is it an attitude, an emotion, an action, or a temptation that you consistently fall prey to? How would a clear view of your destination help you to rearrange your priorities and to turn your back on the destructive failures of going in the wrong direction? Be specific.
•If you knew that it was Satan who was beckoning you to go in the wrong direction, would it make any difference? Read 1 Peter 5:8. What steps can you take to get your life back on the road toward heaven?


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 Posted January 3rd, 2011 12:35 PM   IP              
No Fear Factor

"God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

The reality TV show Fear Factor features people who are willing to face their worst fears for notoriety and financial gain. I need to tell you that I rarely watch more than a fleeting moment of the show as I surf with my remote. I find it tough to watch people eat cockroaches, immerse themselves in a tank full of creepy worms with legs, and stay under water far too long with slimy eels crowding around their heads. It’s just not my definition of high-value entertainment. But the program does remind me that fear is an emotion that we are all very familiar with. In fact, my discomfort with watching for any length of time probably has something to do with reminding me of things and events that I fear or at least find uncomfortable.

Yet thinking of the program does make me wonder: Would I be willing to conquer my fears to do what Jesus asks me to do, just as these contestants overcome their fears for a moment in the spotlight of national TV?

There is no doubt that fear is no friend of our effectiveness for Christ. We are often fearful about witnessing, giving our money away, saying no to our friends, forgiving a cruel offense, saying yes to a short-term missionary assignment, or risking being misunderstood if we speak up for biblical values at the water-cooler. If Satan can get us stymied by fear, he doesn’t have to do much else to shut down our spiritual progress and usefulness.

So, let’s talk about what it takes to succeed for Jesus in the face of fear.

First, let’s remind ourselves that fear primarily focuses on protecting and preserving “me.” Overcoming fear begins with deciding that some things in life are more important than ourselves. Things like the eternal destinies of others, the prosperity of the work of Christ in our world, the fact that the reputation of Jesus is more strategically important than my fleeting popularity, and that His integrity and righteousness showing up in my life is more important than cheating for some personal gain. Once you and I realize that a self-surpassing passion for others and Jesus trumps fear, we can understand why the apostle John wrote that love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

But loving can often feel like a risky, sometimes losing proposition, which is why we need another ingredient to release the power of the love that conquers fear. That ingredient is trust. Trusting that God will protect you when you are fearful, that God will reward you when you feel at risk, that God will give you guidance and courage when you feel lost and intimidated is what it takes to defeat the fear that holds you back. Are you afraid that when you love you will become vulnerable, misunderstood, taken advantage of, or misused? Trust God to watch over you, meet your needs, and give you His best, and those fears will become increasingly nonexistent.

When our lives are characterized by trust-filled love, fear ultimately will not be a factor. As President Roosevelt said in his inaugural speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What does God want you to do but you are afraid of doing?
•List the advances you could make spiritually if fear were not a factor in your life. Be specific.
•What would it take for you to be more passionate about others and Jesus than you are about yourself?
•In Psalm 56:3, what did David say he would do in the face of fear? Are you ready to do the same?
•What specifically can you trust God for when fear threatens your walk with Him?


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 Posted January 5th, 2011 10:59 AM   IP              
Instrument-rated Living

“Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him...” Proverbs 3:5-6

You’ve probably heard the expression “flying by the seat of your pants.” It smacks of living in a random, spontaneous, unconnected way. And, if I am being honest, there are times when that seems like a great option to me. My life is pretty organized and predictable and the thought of just flying free of all the schedules and daily restraints can feel quite appealing. But when you know what pilots mean when they caution against flying by the seat of your pants, you know that living life randomly by your own instincts and feelings can be a really dangerous thing.

There are two ratings for pilots. One is called VFR (Visual Flight Rating) and the other is called IFR (Instrument Flight Rating). VFR pilots fly by sight. And as cool as it may seem to fly on your own without restraint or direction, it can be disastrous. When you fly into a bank of clouds or into the darkness of night, you lose sight of points of reference. Studies show that at this point flying becomes treacherous because the pilot’s senses often become confused. A pilot who can’t see where he is going can actually think he is flying upward when he is really flying toward the ground. They call this “flying by the seat of your pants.”

An instrument-rated pilot, on the other hand, has been trained to read all the instruments and, with disregard to his feelings, fly by what the instruments say to be true. So, don’t ever get on a plane with a pilot who is only rated VFR!

And, I might add, don’t live like that either.

There is a huge parallel here. We can choose to live lives that are driven by random impulses and feelings or by a trusted point of reference. And here is a major warning: Without a trusted point of reference, we are all in big trouble. At the core we are fallen people. With great regret, I have come to realize that my first instincts in a given situation are usually wrong. They may feel right at the moment, but in the long run they prove to be destructive. That’s why the God who knows how dangerous we can be when we fly life by the seat of our pants warned, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

You wouldn’t want to fly VFR, so why should you want to live like that? Your trusted instrument panel is the Word of God! The God who knows our frailty has given us a point of reference for every situation of life. So, trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. No matter what you’re flying into—a tough meeting at the office, some dark seduction, the uncertain clouds of the results of your scan—fly by the totally reliable, always clear principles of God’s Word!

Enjoy the safe landing!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Take a few minutes and read Proverbs 3:1-35 in its entirety. How does God suggest that you order the details of your life?
•In what ways do you routinely acknowledge the Lord, and in what ways do you fly more by the seat of your pants?
•How do you know when you’re living by the principles of God’s Word and when you are going your own way, relying on your feelings?
•Which do you believe is the better way to fly?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted January 6th, 2011 11:43 AM   IP              
Truth or Consequences

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” Ephesians 4:25

In my first church ministry, I pastored a small, newly planted congregation, which meant that I shouldered many of the week-to-week office responsibilities. So, when the Sunday school curriculum needed to be ordered, our volunteer superintendent came to me with a gentle reminder: “Hey, Pastor, don’t forget to order the curriculum for the next quarter.”

“No problem!” I confidently replied. And then I promptly forgot.

The following Sunday, I bumped into him and his wife. “Hey, Pastor, did you remember to order the curriculum?”

I’m ashamed to say that my response was spontaneous and devastatingly deceitful. Without missing a beat, the urge for self-protection and preservation of personal pride emerged, and I straight out lied, “Yep!” and promptly walked to my office.

As I pulled my sermon notes out of my briefcase, God’s conviction in my spirit was brutal.

It was as though God were saying, “So you’re the preacher are you? The truth-teller from the pulpit today?” The Spirit’s probing was penetrating. I knew I was in deep weeds with God. The Bible tells us that He is truth and He cannot lie. Lying makes the “big-ten” list of sins in the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies. So I was stuck! I had two alternatives. FedEx overnight. They’d never know! But I would, and so would God. The other option was to bring them into my office, admit my sin, and plead their forgiveness.

I knew that I needed to do what our text today commands us to do, to “put off falsehood” and speak truthfully to our neighbors. The church is to be a place marked by a commitment to truth, because our God is a God who is true. Genuine, loving relationships are always anchored in truth. When we veer from that, even a little, the consequences are disastrous—damaged relationships, compromised leadership, and most sadly, a loss of mutual trust, integrity, and effectiveness in our witness for Jesus Christ.

That Sunday morning I learned how strong our desire for self-preservation and self-glory can be. Lies offer the opportunity to keep people thinking well of us, and they are great for getting ourselves out of a tight jam. I also learned how hard it is to admit this kind of a failure. Admitting the truth about my lie would expose how flawed I really am. And, after all, I was the pastor. Pastors don’t make mistakes. I feared that revealing the real pastor who lived under the navy blue preaching suit could put my ministry at risk.

But ultimately, and thankfully, God’s Spirit gently prodded me to value the truth more than my own reputation, and I found myself calling the superintendent and his wife into my office.

“As your pastor, I am committed to the truth,” I said. “I failed to tell you the truth this morning. I not only forgot to order the curriculum this week, but then lied to you about it just now. I am deeply sorry and need to ask for your forgiveness.”

With grace and love, this dear couple instantly replied, “Oh, Pastor, that’s alright. We forgive you.” And I was able to continue my ministry that morning with a renewed sense of humility and wonder at the grace of God, and with a relationship restored.

I know it can be difficult to tell the truth sometimes. But the consequences of unchecked deception are lethal. Make the right choice: Tell the truth. Take it from me; you’ll be glad you did!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Do you have areas of deception in your life today? In your marriage? In your schoolwork? In your workplace relationships?
•What would you need to do to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [your] neighbor” today?
•If your life has fallen into a pattern of deception and lies, you can start the process of returning to the truth with one small step. Contact one person you have lied to and confess the truth. The temporary consequences you may face are far less serious than the consequences of allowing deception to go unchecked!


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted January 7th, 2011 01:29 PM   IP              
Leap of Faith

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” Hebrews 11:6

What do you picture when you hear the word faith?

One of my mental pictures of faith in action is the memory of my two-year-old grandson, Silas, shivering by the side of a swimming pool, looking eagerly at his dad in the water. His dad is calling to him from only about two inches away, “Go ahead, Silas, jump!” In that moment Silas faces a major crisis of faith. Can he trust that his dad is powerful enough to catch him if he jumps in? And does he trust that his dad’s character is good—that he will keep his promise to catch him? After a moment of contemplation, Silas acts on his faith, jumping into his dad’s arms! Giggling, he’s ready to climb back out and do it again . . . and again . . . and again!

That’s what faith is. It’s putting your belief and trust in something or somebody outside of yourself, and then acting on that belief. Think about the examples given in Hebrews 11:1-40. Like, for instance, Abraham, venturing from his home to the unfamiliar, trusting a promise that wouldn’t materialize for decades. How about that same patriarch, placing his beloved son, Isaac, on the altar, trusting that somehow God would either provide an alternate sacrifice or raise his son from the dead? Or think about Moses, choosing to leave behind the pleasures and power of the pharaoh’s palace to shepherd a group of grumblers out of slavery into the Promised Land. Step by step, day by day, Moses acted on his faith in a promise that wouldn’t even completely materialize until after his death. The writer of Hebrews recounts these and many other examples of trust in this “Hall of Faith” chapter.

Of course, acting on faith isn’t always easy. It calls us to step away from what is comfortable and safe and, like a two-year-old at the edge of a vast swimming pool, look into unknown and unfamiliar circumstances. Maybe it’s a challenge to surrender our finances to God’s control, a career change, a move overseas, or waiting patiently on the Lord for the right spouse. It may be forgiving an offender or risking something for the sake of integrity or purity. Whatever the case, when God nudges our heart beyond what we can manage and manipulate on our own, we have an opportunity to act on the faith that we profess to believe.

The questions we face are as simple as the question in my grandson’s little heart when he’s at the edge of the pool. Can we trust that our Father is powerful enough? And do we trust that He is good? The answer to both questions, if we understand and believe the teaching of God’s Word, is a resounding “Yes!” Our all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present God can handle every situation we face. He is the very essence and definition of what is good. He will always do what is right and we can trust Him to ultimately not let us fall or fail.

What I like best is that Hebrews 11:6 tells us that faith triggers a response of pleasure in God’s heart. As we demonstrate our trust in Him, He is not apathetic or indifferent, but actually delights in our belief in Him. In fact, as His children, the writer says, we cannot please Him without faith! It is impossible.

I don’t know what “pool” you are standing next to today. But I do know the character of the Father who is calling you to act on your faith in Him. I invite you to the pleasure of trusting Him today. Come on in! The water’s fine!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•List a few times in your life when you acted on your trust in Christ. What was the result of those steps of faith?
•Why do you think God is pleased when we show our faith in Him? How does that reflect the heart of a loving Father?
•What step of faith can you take today to demonstrate your trust in the Lord? What is holding you back?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted January 8th, 2011 12:16 PM   IP              
Who’s Holding All the Cards?

“Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.” Ruth 2:1

To borrow a poker phrase, some people seem to hold all the cards. They are dealt a winning hand while the rest of us do the best with what few resources we may have. And with a “winner takes all” frame of mind, many of these high-profile, prosperous people manipulate and maneuver their wealth and power to pursue their own interests and advance their own cause. We all know the type.

In the story of Ruth, Boaz holds all the cards. He enters the scene as a man of great wealth and power. Yet I am struck by several aspects of his life that set him apart from the typical guy who holds all the cards.

I love the fact that he willingly aligns his resources with God’s heart for the poor and needy. God outlined in Levitical law that those who didn’t have the resources to survive could be “gleaners”—gathering grain that intentionally was left at the edge of the fields during harvest time. Boaz lived in a time when everyone did what was right in their own eyes. After a devastating famine, he could easily have ignored God’s heart for the poor in order to secure an abundant harvest for himself. But unlike other wealthy landowners, he still welcomed gleaners in his field. It was a tangible display of God’s love for the needy.

God also provided ways in which foreigners could be welcomed in Israel. Again, Boaz aligned himself with God’s heart—even for a Moabite from enemy territory. He could have cast Ruth aside when he learned she was not a Jew. Instead, he opened his heart to her. Sometimes we don’t want other “kinds” of people to move into our neighborhood, but God is actually delighted when they do. It’s an opportunity for us to do what Boaz did—open our hearts to “different” people who could use a tangible expression of God’s love and grace in their lives.

Not only did Boaz use his wealth for the benefit of those in need and welcome a foreigner to his field, he also desired to see God’s blessing poured out on her (Ruth 2:12) and then proceeded to be the instrument of God’s blessing in her life (Ruth 2:14). He became the answer to her prayers.

Boaz was also abundantly generous in his care for Ruth. Once again he put his treasures where God’s heart is. It is the character of God to be a generous God “able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).

So when was the last time you planned to cooperate with God and be the answer to someone’s prayers? You may think, Easy for Boaz—he had all the cards! But we all have some cards. Whether big or small, there’s always something we can do to bring the heart of God to a needy life that crosses our path.

Besides, God is the One who really holds all the cards. He shares His resources with us not for us to consume them all ourselves, but to share them for His glory and the good of others. So life is not about holding all the cards. From God’s point of view, it’s what you do with your cards. Use them as God would to bless others who cross your path.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Take some time to read the story of Ruth and try to put yourself in Boaz’s shoes. How would you have responded to Ruth’s need?
•Is there a “Ruth” in your world right now? If so, what “cards” are you holding that can be used to help?
•Examine your attitude toward the poor and the needy. Does it reflect God’s heart? How about your attitude toward foreigners?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted January 9th, 2011 01:01 PM   IP              
See Ya in Heaven

"You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." Luke 12:40

Periodically, current world events stir up discussion about the endtimes. While I believe in the importance of being ready for Christ’s return, I don’t put much stock in date setters who think they have the timing all figured out. After all, it has been almost 20 years since the book, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 was published! In America, the book took Christians by storm, and, as the president of Moody Bible Institute at that time, I received dozens of copies from well-meaning saints who wanted us to spread the word through Moody Radio that Jesus was coming back on September 18. Since Jesus said that no one knew the time of His return, I dismissed the book as another Bible crackpot publication.

But to this day I’ll never forget getting up on the morning of September 18th. As skeptical as I was, I couldn’t help but wonder, What if the guy who wrote this book is right? What if this is my last day on earth? Our family talked about it at the breakfast table. And as my daughter walked down the driveway on her way to school, she turned around and said with a smile, “Hey, Dad—see ya in heaven.”

I couldn’t help but think how right that sounded. I found myself thinking that I should live every day as though this were my last day here—the day that He returns to take me home; the day that I will at last see Him face-to-face! I thought about how differently I would treat people, how interested I would be to share the gospel with friends and colleagues, how I would want to clear up past offenses and live to be really pure and ready. As Jesus said in Luke 12, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home . . . . Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (Luke 12:35-37).

So here are four habits of hearts that are fixed on heaven:

•Be confidently riveted on His sudden return. Remember, He will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
•Be pure. Throughout the New Testament, the strongest motivation for purity was always connected to the return of Jesus (1 John 3:3).
•Refuse to get stuck here. After all, as people of faith, we are “strangers and exiles” here (Hebrews 11:13).
•Invest in eternity. Commit your time and resources to kingdom gain and values (Luke 12:33).
God wants heaven to be the fire in your heart. As a friend of mine says, our lives here should be a sneak preview of the really big show to come!

See ya in heaven!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think about the things you did yesterday. What would you have done differently if it had been your last day? How will that make a difference in the way you live today? Be specific. Think of people you should call, or people you should hug.
•Are you passionate about heaven? If not, make a list of some things that might be hindering your passion.
•Which of the four habits is the easiest for you? Which one is the hardest?
•Have you ever thought of yourself as an “exile” on this planet? How does that identity help bring eternal things into focus?


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 Posted January 10th, 2011 11:42 AM   IP              
Protocol

Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. —James 1:6

If you were invited to a meeting at the White House with the President of the United States, regardless of your opinion of him or her, you would probably go. Upon entering the White House, a protocol officer would meet you and outline the proper procedures for meeting the President. Suffice it to say, it would be unacceptable to let loose with a burst of undignified familiarity or negative criticism as you shook hands.

So it should come as no surprise that God’s Word makes it clear that there is a protocol for entering the presence of God. Hebrews 11:6 outlines one aspect of appropriate interaction: “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” God wants us to be fully devoted to Him—and He takes it personally when our hearts are filled with criticism, unbelief, and doubt.

James tells us that when we ask God for wisdom, the key to His response is whether or not we are asking “in faith” (1:6). God is pleased when we approach Him with unwavering faith.

So leave your doubt at the door and follow the protocol: Approach God with a heart of faith, and He will be pleased to provide all the wisdom you need.

God, give me the faith of a little child!
A faith that will look to Thee—
That never will falter and never fail,
But follow Thee trustingly. —Showerman

Exchange the dissatisfaction of doubt for the fulfillment of faith in God.



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 Posted January 11th, 2011 01:38 PM   IP              
That’s Awesome!

Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. —Psalm 66:5

The word awesome is tossed around a lot these days. Talk about cars, movies, songs, or food—and somebody will say, “That’s awesome!”

But if we call earth-side stuff awesome and then call God awesome, we diminish how truly awesome He is. A friend of mine has a rule in her house—the word awesome is reserved only for God.

Trivializing God is no trivial matter. He is far more than a companion who will fit into our “buddy system” or a divine ATM responding to our impulses. Until we are stunned by the awesomeness of God, we will be way too impressed with ourselves and lose the joy of the privilege of belonging to an awesome God.

A look at the Psalms puts it all in perspective. One psalmist declares, “For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2). And another psalm commands: “Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works!’ . . . Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men” (Ps. 66:3,5).

What could be more awesome than the love that compelled Jesus to go to the cross for us? Put Him in His proper place as the only One who is truly awesome, and praise God for His awesome work in your life!

Holy, Holy, Holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Which wert and art and evermore shalt be. —Heber

If you’re too impressed with yourself, take a closer look at God’s awesomeness.



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 Posted January 12th, 2011 11:07 AM   IP              
Playing with Fire

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

No doubt you’ve noticed that people around you are not into absolute truth these days. When it comes to matters of morality, the prevailing philosophy is a multiple-choice view, with competing thoughts and perspectives on what is right and wrong listed as A, B, C, or D. And although these perspectives are often contradictory, prevailing pop philosophers today have added choice E: “all of the above.”

While many people are comfortable with such ambiguity in their personal choices, very few would want their material world to be this arbitrary. Everyone affirms that there are some basic, absolute physical laws that govern our experience and shape our behavior. Take, for example, the reality of heat and fire. I first learned about this when playing in my Dad’s car as a 5-year-old.

I was mesmerized by one particular feature in this new car—the cigarette lighter. I can remember not only discovering the lighter, but pushing it into the socket. I was enamored by the glow of the red circles on the lighter when it popped out. But I pushed my curiosity a little too far when I pulled the glowing lighter out and pressed it on the tip of my index finger. I still can’t explain exactly why I did this, but I quickly realized that it was not a smart idea!

In that moment I discovered that the physical laws governing heat and fire are not arbitrary. The circular lines branded on my finger were powerful evidence to convince me that fire burns and that I needed to keep a healthy distance. Understanding the absolute nature of gravity, mathematics, blood pressure, and other physical realities is essential for living life safely and successfully.

But isn’t it interesting that even though we all believe it is important to respect and submit to physical laws, many of us now believe that moral laws are up for grabs! Unfortunately, believing and living by that philosophy inevitably leads to disastrous consequences.

And the most dangerous outcome of all relates to our eternal destiny. If we live in a morally multiple-choice world where nothing is always wrong and nothing is always right, then there is no sin. No sin means no need for a Savior. If there’s no need for a Savior, there’s no point in the cross. The empty tomb means nothing, and there is neither hell to be shunned nor heaven to be gained. Our Bible becomes at best irrelevant and at worst the scheming work of ancient men designed to oppress and deny us the privilege of pleasure. Yet God has made it clear—some things are right and some things are wrong. There is sin, and we need a Savior. There is a hell to be shunned and a heaven to be gained. To ignore the reality of moral absolutes is to play with a fire that you don’t recover from.

In fact, it isn’t just eternal consequences that should concern us but the impact on life as well. The breakup of homes, the increasing violence on our streets, the alarming rise of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, and the general unraveling of a sane and safe environment all testify to the destructive impact of ignoring God’s laws.

Thankfully, God is not a multiple-choice God. Jesus came to assure us that there is truth and that if we know and live in the realm of His truth we are truly free! Free from the inevitable consequences that come when we live to do whatever we want to do.

No wonder the psalmist wrote that those who delight in the law of God are “like a tree planted by streams of water,” and that those who scoff at the truth are “like chaff that the wind blows away” (Psalm 1:1-41).

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Why do you think that people are willing to accept the absolute nature of physical laws, yet willing to deny the absolute nature of God’s moral laws?
•How have you seen multiple-choice thinking in action around you? What have been the consequences?
•Has multiple-choice thinking, even in small ways, begun to infect your life? What specific steps can you take to joyfully live in the truth today? Make a specific plan.
•Read Psalm 1:1-41 and reflect on which category describes your life—a watered tree or worthless chaff?
•What would it take for you to “delight” in God’s law?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted January 13th, 2011 03:29 PM   IP              
This Little Light of Mine

You are the light of the world.… Let your light shine before men” Matthew 5:14-16

I have a lot of favorite stories, but this one has to rank near the top. My friend Paul Eshleman is the founder of the Jesus Film Project, which arguably has been the most important evangelistic outreach of the last 50 years—perhaps in the history of the church.

When Paul was strategizing how to market the film globally, he got an audience with the marketing group of a major Hollywood media conglomerate to get their advice.

The meeting provided the impetus for the international launch of the film. In fact, as of today the Jesus Film has been translated into over a thousand different languages and millions have come to know Christ as their Savior. But as significant as the extraordinary outcomes have been, God had an additional plan for that meeting in Hollywood. The marketing executive who chaired the meeting pulled Paul aside afterward and asked, “Could I talk to you for a minute?”

They went into his office and the executive began his story. “My wife and I had a child that was deathly ill. One day as I was walking down the hall, I noticed through the crack in my maid’s door that my maid was on her knees. Later I asked her, ‘Are you okay?’”

“‘I’m fine,’ she said, ‘Why do you ask?’”

“‘Well, I saw you on your knees in your room.’”

“‘Oh, I was praying,’ she replied. ‘Every day since your baby took ill I have been praying that God will heal your child. In fact, when I came here to work I started praying every day that when you and your wife leave and go out to work that you would be successful and that God will prosper you.’”

The executive explained to Paul, “After that we brought her down to the front door every morning to pronounce a benediction on us when we left. And more importantly, thanks to our maid’s prayers, our baby recovered.”

“And then,” he continued, “not long after that my wife was diagnosed with what looked like incurable cancer. One night, as she lay in the hospital, I was deeply troubled and decided to walk down the street to our synagogue hoping to talk to my rabbi. But it was bingo night so I kept walking. A couple blocks later I noticed a church with the front doors open.”

“When I walked in, the pastor said, ‘Can I help you?’ and I poured out my heart to him. He put his arms around me and prayed for me.”

“The next day I went to the hospital and my doctor said, ‘I thought you were Jewish.’”

“I am Jewish!”

“‘Well if you’re Jewish, then what was that pastor doing here all night sitting next to your wife’s bedside ministering to her?’”

The executive concluded the conversation by saying: “Paul, last week our maid died and I have nobody to get me to God. Can you help me?” And before Paul left, that executive was on his knees asking Christ into his heart.

Don’t miss the heroes of the story—three people who lit up Hollywood with far brighter lights than those on the silver screen: a praying maid, a compassionate pastor, and my friend Paul who had the privilege of turning on the light of Jesus in a Jewish executive’s heart.

And don’t miss the point of the story—you and I, regardless of our station in life, can be lights for Jesus by taking every opportunity to faithfully bring the love of Jesus to those who need it most!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Who are some of the “lights” God used to draw you to Him? How did they impact your life?
•Take a few minutes to do an honest self-check on how bright your light for Christ is. What steps can you take to brighten the witness of your actions in the week ahead? Be specific. Check up on yourself!
•List out some of the people who need to see the light of Christ in your life. Pray for specific opportunities to encourage, bless, and serve them today.


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 Posted January 15th, 2011 01:30 PM   IP              
Love on Display

“Love your neighbor as yourself” Mark 12:31

A few years ago my wife Martie and I had an opportunity to travel to Hong Kong for a ministry trip. One of the highlights of the trip was spending time with some fascinating people who are actively engaged in ministry.

One evening, I spent time with a graduate of Moody Bible Institute who happened to be in Hong Kong on a brief furlough from his church-planting ministry in the Philippines. He and his wife and two children, one of whom has Down’s syndrome, work among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Manila.

Another Moody graduate, whose husband died suddenly after just a few years of marriage, had stayed in Hong Kong as a missionary. She was on her way to Mongolia (on an airline that serves yak as the entrée!) to spend a week with some other missionaries so that she could be a resource and encouragement to them.

We also had lunch with Dave and Theresa Magee who, along with their two teenage children, had only been in Hong Kong for 3 months. Dave had just left a lucrative legal career in Chicago, attended seminary, and then become the pastor of an English-speaking church in Hong Kong.

We also met a veteran missionary couple who had served Christ in Hong Kong for over 35 years and were preparing to retire from the mission. When we asked what they would do after retirement, they beamed, telling us their plans to go into Mainland China to plant a church.

I couldn’t help but think that Jesus knows He is loved deeply by these people. I was struck by the fact that they are driven by what drives Christ, and they are committed to what He is committed to—the needs of people.

Not long after I returned from Hong Kong, a pastor friend told me of a couple in his church who, after deciding they had made enough money, sold everything to open an AIDS clinic to reach out in Christ’s name to some of the neediest people; and of a businessman who turned down a lucrative and much-sought-after promotion because the amount of travel required would take him away from his children too much.

Not all of us will be called to such radical and risky expressions of love for Christ, but He is always interested in our love for Him. A quick glance at our day-timer planner, checkbook ledger, or social calendar will probably reveal whether Christ feels truly loved by us—or not.

When one of the Pharisees asked Jesus which Old Testament commandment was the greatest, I find it interesting that He didn’t limit it to just one. He began with the “most important one”—namely, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” He continued, “The second one is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The point is clear. We prove our love for God by giving of ourselves to the needs of others. That’s why Jesus connected the two commands. You can’t do one without the other. You can’t say you love God and ignore the needs of people. And you can’t really get fired up to love people until you are deeply committed to loving God. That’s exactly why Jesus interrogated Peter three times and said, in essence, if we truly love Jesus we will care about what He cares about—the needs and nurture of people (John 21:15-17).

Like the friends I met in Hong Kong, I want to be regularly, actively loving the “neighbors” in my life as a way of putting my love for God on display. I wonder what that would look like in your world?

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Do you know someone whose life and ministry displays a deep love for Christ? If so, take a moment to write them a note of appreciation and encouragement today.
•Would others say that you are one of those people? Why or why not?
•Who are the “neighbors” in your life, and what can you do to display your love for God by loving them? Remember, some of your “neighbors” might live in your house and be in your extended family.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted January 17th, 2011 11:16 AM   IP              
Delight in the Details

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” Psalm 139:14

The November 13, 2006, issue of Time magazine highlighted the “Best Inventions of 2006.” Topping the list was the online video-sharing service, YouTube. Other technological marvels included a 130 mph electric roadster, a mattress that uses magnets to levitate 16 inches above the floor, a battery-powered inflatable pool-lounger, and a wall-mounted “magic” mirror. When connected to the electronic gadgets in your home, an ethereal face appears in this mirror to announce that your hot tub is ready or that someone has pulled into your driveway. I am not personally interested in the newly bred hypo-allergenic cat, but a new vending machine that actually mixes, freezes, and dispenses fresh ice cream in 45 seconds definitely has my attention!

Bill Gates, whose Microsoft Corporation just unveiled their new “Vista” operating system, puts all of this engineering and innovation into perspective. In the book The Road Ahead, he stated: “Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” Your DNA has been there since the moment you were conceived, stipulating your hair color, your height, and the shape of your nose. It uniquely marks you and provides a clearly traceable link back through your family heritage. God has endowed the very building blocks of our genetic material with a level of sophistication and complexity that is infinitely beyond the imaginations of science’s best and brightest minds. God’s attention to detail and intriguing creativity is so powerful that it can even silence the most skeptical heart.

Millennia before the discovery of DNA, the psalmist praised God for His detailed design in our lives. Numerous psalms sing the praises of God’s handiwork in creation—magnificent oceans, star-streaked heavens, and majestic mountains. But in Psalm 139:1-24 the writer exults in the intimate work of God in creating human life. His praise is personal: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He is aware that God’s creation is not only grand and vast, it is infinitely, wonderfully specific.

That encourages me in so many ways. It reminds me that I am not a random, accidental meeting of genetic material. God knew me, orchestrated the details of my DNA, and is carrying out His plans for my life. You are not an accident either. Like the psalmist, you were “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Your life has the full attention of the Creator of the universe, and you are precious to Him.

I am also encouraged to realize that God has given this much attention to not only you and me, but, think about it, to every single one of the six billion people on this planet. He wrote everyone’s genetic code. He knows everyone’s parents’ names, their families, their hurts, their joys, and their needs. He has a specific love for each human who walks this planet and sent Jesus to die for his or her sins, just as Christ died for yours and mine. All of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

So even as we eagerly anticipate and enjoy the latest in technology, the real marvel and wonder in our lives should be reserved for the Master Creator and Designer and the One who knitted us together and gave us life. Quite honestly, no technological advance no matter how spectacular it may be can even come close to that. And even if it did, it wouldn’t care for you and love you. I’ll be forever grateful that God’s amazing design for us is not only high tech but high touch as well!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How does your awareness of the complexity of your DNA change your view of God’s intimate interest in your life?
•What difference does it make in your perspective on yourself and God knowing that God’s creative power put together the very DNA that shapes who you are?
•How is your perspective on the needs of the people of the world shaped by the knowledge that God intimately knows each one of them?
•Read through Psalm 139:1-24. Pray back to God the prayer that David said to close the psalm.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   



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