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Author Message
today
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 Posted January 5th, 2012 04:28 PM   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
   
today
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 Posted January 11th, 2012 02:56 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
   
today
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 Posted January 12th, 2012 12:11 PM   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
   
today
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 Posted January 13th, 2012 11:47 AM   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.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted January 14th, 2012 11:14 AM   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
   
today
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 Posted January 15th, 2012 12:46 PM   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
   
today
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 Posted January 16th, 2012 01:24 PM   IP              
Leaving a Legacy

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:7

Do you ever wonder what kind of legacy you’ll leave behind?

I remember an older gentleman from one of the churches I pastored. He was the epitome of grace toward others; and he was deeply loved by his wife, his daughters, and his sons-in-law. In fact, his sons-in-law kneeled by his bed as he died. Afterward, one of his daughters wrote me a letter. At the end of the note, she concluded with these powerful words: “Our world has lost a righteous man, and in this world, that’s no small thing.”

I love the legacy expressed in those simple words from the pen of an admiring daughter. It reminds me of the heart of Paul as he wrote to his friend Timothy. Paul had expended himself in the service of Christ and had a keen sense that he was nearing the end of his life. We know from his writings to other churches that he was not afraid of death. In fact, he clearly stated that if he were absent from the body, he would be present with the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:3). The resurrection had defeated the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:55), and Paul couldn’t wait to meet his Savior.

As Paul pondered the end of his life, he made three very simple statements about his legacy. He had “fought the good fight”—standing firm as a spiritual warrior, clothed in the armor of God, faithfully defending the truth of the gospel. He had “finished the race”—ensuring in the process that he was neither disqualified nor disheartened in the marathon of life and ministry. Most importantly, he had “kept the faith”—remaining true, committed, and loyal to the One who rescued him from sin and darkness.

Notice that Paul’s brief statements here say nothing about the education he had received, the places he had traveled, the letters he had written, the people he had preached to, or the churches he had planted. He flat out wanted his legacy to be labeled as “faithful.” I love that! It’s what I want to aspire to as a follower of Jesus.

So, I have to ask myself, “If that’s the kind of legacy I want to leave, how would I pursue it today?” Well, it means that my choices need to be more about “fighting the good fight.” I need to put on the spiritual armor each morning, as Paul told the Ephesians to do, and live to be victorious in all that comes my way. I need to be running the race to win, putting off all that hinders and the sins that entangle (Hebrews 12:1). And, it means that in every situation I want my attitudes, my words, and my actions to be loyal and true to Jesus.

As Paul told the Philippians, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 3:13-14). There’s no better time than the start of this New Year to set our sights on new goals that will, over time, develop a legacy worth leaving.

Building a legacy worth leaving behind begins today and is made one decision at a time. Live this year to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In my book, that’s a legacy worth living for!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Spend a few minutes thinking about the legacy you would like to leave. How does that compare to Paul’s desired legacy expressed in 2 Timothy 4:1-22?
•What type of legacy will the current choices and priorities of your life lead to? Are there some changes that need to take place today to move you back toward a legacy of faithful service to Christ?
•The good news for each of us is that God’s grace is available to forgive, cleanse, and refocus us today! He can use whatever time you have left to bring glory and honor to Him.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted January 17th, 2012 11:25 AM   IP              
What Are We Holding On To?

"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life." —1 Timothy 6:12

Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings trilogy came to life in recent years on film. In the second epic story, the hero, Frodo, reached a point of despair and wearily confided to his friend, “I can’t do this, Sam.” As a good friend, Sam gave a rousing speech: “It’s like in the great stories . . . . Full of darkness and danger they were. . . . Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.” Which prompted Frodo to ask: “What are we holding on to, Sam?”

It’s a significant question, one that we all need to ask ourselves. Living in a fallen, broken world, it’s no wonder that sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the powers of darkness. When we are at the point of despair, ready to throw in the towel, we do well to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12).

In life’s battles, let’s hold on to the fact that good will triumph over evil in the end, that one day we will see our Master and Leader face-to-face, and we will reign with Him forever. You can be part of this great story, knowing that if you have trusted Jesus for salvation you are guaranteed a victorious ending!

Though weak and helpless in life’s fray,
God’s mighty power shall be my stay;
Without, within, He gives to me
The strength to gain the victory. —D. De Haan

The trials of earth are small compared with the triumphs of heaven.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted January 18th, 2012 12:30 PM   IP              
Clearing Out The Clutter

My garage serves as “storage” for things that don’t have a place in our home, and, frankly, there are times when I am ashamed to open the door. I don’t want anyone to see the clutter. So, periodically, I set aside a workday to clean it up.

Our hearts and minds are a lot like that—they accumulate lots of clutter. As we rub shoulders with the world, inevitably, perhaps unknowingly, we pick up ungodly thoughts and attitudes. Thinking that life is all about “me.” Demanding our rights. Reacting bitterly toward those who have hurt us. Before long, our hearts and minds are no longer clean and orderly. And while we think we can hide the mess, eventually it will show.

Paul pointedly asked, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:19)—which makes me wonder if God often feels like He is living in our messy garage.

Perhaps it’s time to set aside a spiritual workday and, with His help, get to work clearing out the clutter. Discard those thoughts of bitterness. Bag up and throw out the old patterns of sensual thoughts. Organize your attitudes. Fill your heart with the beauty of God’s Word. Make it clean to the core, and then leave the door open for all to see!

More like the Master I would ever be,
More of His meekness, more humility;
More zeal to labor, more courage to be true,
More consecration for work He bids me do. —Gabriel

Don’t let the Spirit reside in a cluttered heart. Take some time to clean it up today!



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted January 19th, 2012 01:37 PM   IP              
The Best Things in Life Really are Free

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31

Recently I read the creation narratives in Genesis 1:1-31; 2:1-25. I’ve read them lots of times, but something special emerged this time. That’s one of the things that is so wonderful about God’s Word—it prompts lots of “Wow! I’ve never seen that before” reactions!

I have a pretty strong aesthetic side. I love stunning sunsets, birds at our bird feeder, fragrant gardens, the smell of freshly cut grass, a rising harvest moon, the crashing waves of the sea, a burbling brook cascading over the rocks through the forest, and the warmth of the sun on my face. I love the massive power of a lion’s roar, and get a kick out of watching the busy squirrels in my backyard risk their lives by jumping from tree to tree on flimsy branches 30 feet off the ground. And who doesn’t thrill at the colors of fall, which put to shame my lame attempts to match clothes early in the morning! And, best of all, my wife Martie still excites and entices me. I easily identify with God’s statement when He observed, “It is not good for the man to be alone!” (Genesis 2:18). Imagine how Adam must have felt when he woke up to see Eve standing there. He was no longer alone in many wonderful ways.

What impacted my heart when I read the creation story was the reality that all of this spectacular provision of God is a gift from Him to me. It is free, profoundly yet beautifully simple, satisfying, always fresh, always new, and intriguingly diverse. It stimulates my emotions, triggers my curiosity, and does something good way down deep inside. I agree with God when He said that it was “good.” It’s really good!

And what grabbed my head was the thought that compared to what man creates, God’s awe-inspiring creation is far more worthy and compelling. We create things that intrigue for the moment but rarely, if ever, satisfy in the long run. Our best stuff becomes outdated and quickly loses its capacity to thrill and excite. Where do you think the phrase “been there, done that” comes from? Not from God’s creation, that’s for sure!

The stuff that usually attracts my attention and triggers my consumer instinct is headed for the dumpster only to be buried in a garbage mountain dotted with stink pipes to vent the toxic gasses of its demise. Even the car that I love is headed for the giant metal crusher to be recycled into another nifty car that is destined for the same fate. High-tech toys are soon low-tech relics of the past. Which, when I think about it, makes me feel a lot like the proverbial donkey chasing the carrot.

So, bravo for God, who once more outstrips all the best efforts of any competitor and provides something to take me beyond my tiny, usually disappointing world. And to think that He made us with the capacity to appreciate and enjoy all that He has made! How dull it would be if He had made this greatest show on earth and not wired us with the equipment to be enraptured by it all.

The next time you see the sky ablaze with a spectacular sunset or marvel at the stars and the depth of the universe on a cloudless night, don’t just say, “What a wonderful sight!” Find your heart rejoicing: “What an awesome God!”

Take time to smell the roses. Or, to be more specific, to worship and glorify God for the really good stuff He has given us! When you do, you’ll never stop being amazed at how marvelous our God really is!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think of how you feel about something you cherish that is manmade. Do you tend to worship it? When was the last time you worshiped God by cherishing His creation?
•Take some time today to observe some of the good aspects of God’s creation. Make a mental list of those things and express your appreciation to God for the way His creation satisfies you. Be specific!
•Read Paul’s advice to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17. What things has God richly provided for your enjoyment?


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 Posted January 20th, 2012 01:16 PM   IP              
Stunned by Grace

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” Exodus 34:6

For all of us who think that God is the hammer guy of the Old Testament, think again! I’m just a little put out on the prevailing thought that God was brutal and ugly in the Old Testament and that thankfully Jesus arrived on the scene in the New Testament to rescue His reputation. Getting our attitudes about God straight is a big deal. It’s really hard to love and follow a God who is ruthless with His power and abusive in His relationships. It’s bad enough that some of us have dads like that, let alone a Father in heaven who perpetuates the problem.

So, here’s the good news. Take a deep breath. You don’t need to feel that way about God anymore! When the real God stands up in the Old Testament, His actions and attitudes consistently exhibit an unusual depth of grace in the face of deep offenses against Him and His law.

Take the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:1-24. Talk about a time when it would have been really appropriate for God to pull the hammer out! God had given them everything they needed for life and satisfaction in a perfect environment. They blatantly conspired with God’s enemy and used God’s gift of the garden to serve their own selfish desires. And in the process they destroyed the gift of God as sin destroyed the garden and their lives, to say nothing of granting Satan access to the domain of God where he would continue his damaging ways right up to today.

If one of our kids had taken all that we had built up and all that we had given to them and in our face destroyed it all, well, my guess is that grace would be the last response to cross our minds. Annihilation, yes—grace, no!

But get a grip on this. Of those two options God chose grace.

•The grace to walk back into the fallen, damaged garden and call them out of the bushes—not to hammer them, but to restore them.
•The grace to replace the self-constructed, fig leaf cover-up of their sins with the sacrificial provision of the animal skins, pointing to the ultimate moment of grace when the sacrifice of Jesus would cover us with the permanent covering of the righteousness of Christ.
•The grace to promise them that the day would come when the seed of woman would deal the death blow to Satan’s head.
•The grace to expel them from the garden so that they would not eat of the tree of life and live forever in the bondage and brokenness of sin. He had something better in mind: heaven—where they could live forever liberated from the consequences of their own foolishness.
•The remarkable stroke of grace to Cain who in a fit of jealous rage murdered his brother. After refusing to accept God’s gracious offer of a second chance and then killing his brother, God marked him so that others would not kill him and then upped the punishment by sevenfold against anyone who would ignore the mark and kill Cain (see Genesis 4:3-15).
•The grace to reestablish a godly line in a deeply damaged world by the birth of Seth who started the legacy of those who would live by “calling on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26).
Getting to know the real God is a wonderful experience, especially if we are getting to know Him as a God of unusual grace. Why? Because we all deserve the hammer! I will never stop being grateful that I serve and love a God who manages my brokenness with the healing and restoring power of His grace.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Put yourself in Adam and Eve’s shoes and think of a time when you sinned against God. Describe how you felt about your sin and how you thought God would respond to you.
•Does your view of God include “the hammer” concept, or have you fully grasped the depths of His grace? If your attitude needs readjustment, ask Him to help you better understand His ways of grace.
•When others offend you, what is your first reaction? Does your response reflect the grace that God has so abundantly given to you? If your actions need readjustment, ask the Lord to help you better demonstrate His ways of grace toward others. Read Matthew 18:21-35 for extra insight.
•What does Paul mean when he says, “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1-2)? Have you made the serious mistake of sinning in the face of His grace, or has His grace motivated you to love and obey Him more freely as an act of grateful worship?


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 Posted January 21st, 2012 01:25 PM   IP              
Bad News . . . Good News

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." Matthew 5:11

Today our dose of daily strength comes from Matthew 5:11, when Jesus gave a “good news . . . bad news” announcement to His disciples. First the bad news: They could expect to be slandered, maligned, and persecuted for their identity with Him. Two thousand years of church history have proven those words to be dead-on accurate.

As a Christian growing up in the West, I have not experienced the excruciating level of persecution faced by scores of saints living for Christ in places like China, the Sudan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and other hot spots of blatant opposition to the gospel. The growing hostility of Islam only promises to increase the body count. So I hate to even begin to compare myself to them except to say that on a much smaller scale we all face the distinct possibility of being misunderstood, maligned, and ostracized for standing up for Jesus in a day when He and His claims are becoming increasingly unpopular.

I woke up to this reality early on in my life. Our church was hosting an evangelistic service—a “bring all your unsaved friends to hear the gospel” kind of revival meeting. Wanting to join the cause, I got up the courage to ask one of my high school buddies to come, hoping that he would give his life to Christ that night. I remember being disappointed when he sat quietly through the service and stayed glued to his seat during the invitation.

The next day I walked past him as he was hanging out with a group of popular athletes. As I waved, he elbowed the guys and chided, “Hey, Joe took me to his church last night hoping that I would get saved. I guess he thinks I’m going to hell!” They all thought that was hilariously funny while I sheepishly made my way to class. It was my first taste of being in trouble for Jesus’ sake.

Businessmen who on company trips quietly stand for Jesus by not joining the other guys for an evening at the “gentleman’s club” know how uncomfortable it is to be looked on as being weird and not a part of the gang. College students who are ridiculed in class for daring to be a proponent of creation or intelligent design know what Jesus was talking about in this passage. And most of us have seen the raised eyebrow of a friend when we have mentioned that Jesus is the only way to God.

We are caught in the crossfire of two civilizations. Jesus proved how real the crossfire was when He went to the cross as a maligned, unwanted, falsely accused criminal.

But here’s the good news: Jesus promises that we are “blessed” when we are persecuted for His sake. As He said, “Great is your reward in heaven.”

Blessed? Rewarded? No one feels blessed or rewarded when they are marginalized or, much worse, martyred. Unless, that is, you believe that this is not the only world you have. Temporary trouble here is put into perspective by the assurance that there will be eternal rewards in the world to come. Give me a choice between collapsing to the intimidation here and facing Jesus as a traitor to His cause or of being maligned here and welcomed as a loyal warrior in heaven, and I’ll stick up for Jesus every time.

And, when you are tempted to fold under the pressure, remember that the day is coming when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

So, next time you feel the press of the warfare, chin up! Great is your reward in heaven.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What challenges have you faced for sticking up for Jesus in your world? What challenges have you faced for obeying Him? What could you do to keep in mind that this world is not only temporary but also hostile to Jesus and that we need to live here in the light of the world to come?
•In what specific ways does the promise of Jesus in this passage change your attitude toward suffering for Jesus if that becomes necessary?
•For additional perspective, take some time today to read real-life, real-time stories of Christians facing serious persecution around the world. Check out the Voice of the Martyrs at www.persecution.com

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 Posted January 22nd, 2012 01:44 PM   IP              
Who Will Help?

“How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you” Isaiah 30:19

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the story my son told me about taking his family to see the stage production of The Lion King. A good time was being had by all until the play turned to the point in the story where the young lion, Simba, wandered into the dangerous valley and right into the trap of his evil uncle, Scar. The plot goes like this.

In order to usurp the kingdom from his brother Mufasa, Simba’s Dad, Scar arranged for a group of hyenas to chase the wildebeest into a stampede that would endanger little Simba and lure his father, Mufasa, to the rescue. At which point Scar would kill Mufasa and begin to rule as king. After the stampede ended, little Simba looked up, all alone, to see his father lying dead on the ground. In the quietness of that moment, with the dust and smoke still swirling on stage, little Simba began to cry, “Help, help, help!” It was at that point in the hushed theater that my three-year-old grandson stood up on his chair and shouted, “Why doesn’t somebody help him?!”

It’s a reminder of a sobering truth. Each day, scores of people within the reach of our resources are hurting and desperately in need of someone to rush the stage of their life and help them. And here is the issue for us: Will we just sit by and watch like detached observers in comfortable theater seats? Or will we get engaged and do something about it? We are called to be the extension of the hand of God to the needy and helpless that are within our reach.

The Old Testament is filled with accounts of God’s people crying out for help. Although their trouble was often self-imposed due to the waywardness from God, I’m amazed by the fact that He was still eager to come to their aid. In the midst of a lot of self-inflicted bad news brought by the prophet Isaiah, he assured the people that “the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. . . . How gracious He will be when you cry for help!” (Isaiah 30:18-19).

What great news, and better news yet is that God’s ultimate act of grace and compassion came in human flesh, in the person of Jesus. It was His nail-pierced, bleeding hands that redeemed us from our self-inflicted desperate situation once and for all. At the cross, Jesus took the heart of God into His own hands.

And now, as recipients of His grace, we can do no less for others who are in need. Listen for that cry of help, rush the stage of their need, and let God extend His compassion through your helping hand today.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•For the believer, God has canceled hell and guaranteed heaven. In what other ways does God “rise to show compassion”? How have you experienced this truth in your life? Be specific, and try to think of at least one occasion when His grace was made evident to you.
•Recall a time when you needed someone’s help. Did the person respond to your crisis? If not, how did it make you feel? If so, what do you think would have happened without that person’s help?
•Are you willing to take the heart of Jesus into your world? Read Isaiah 58:5-12; Matthew 25:31-40; and Colossians 3:12. Then ask God to show you who needs His touch through you today.
•Is there a local ministry where you can assist in bringing the hope and healing of Jesus to those around you?


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 Posted January 23rd, 2012 01:49 PM   IP              
The People Principle

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:31-32

I didn’t mean to break it!

In fact, just the night before, as our hosts for the evening were showing my wife Martie and me around their beautiful home, they drew our attention to a gorgeous bowl of alabaster fruit. They talked about how valuable it was to them, not only because of its beauty and rarity, but also because of the memories that were associated with the piece.

Which made my klutzy moment early the next morning all the more distressing. In my pre-coffee fog, I walked by the table and knocked the alabaster banana to the floor, breaking it in half. Immediately, the dark side of my fallen heart began to think how I could get out of this jam. It was a clean break, and perhaps if I put it back into the bowl carefully the two halves would look like their original form. Weeks later when they would discover the broken banana, they would no doubt blame it on their kids, and we would be long gone.

In the end, the bright side of my redeemed heart prevailed and I apologetically admitted, “I hate to tell you this, but I knocked your alabaster banana on the floor and it cracked in half.”

I’ll never forget my friend’s reply.

“That’s all right, Joe, in our home people are more important than things.”

I was spared, but more importantly I was taught a great lesson.

In fact, that is exactly how God feels! With Him, people and their needs have always trumped everything else. Jesus made this very clear in His teachings and actions, but perhaps most profoundly in the familiar story of the prodigal son. When He told the story, He was surrounded by tax collectors, women of ill repute, and various other “sinners.” On the fringes of this crowd of outcasts, the Pharisees and teachers of the law stood muttering and grumbling about Christ’s apparent penchant for the unsavory characters of their day. So Jesus proceeded to tell these stories highlighting a lost sheep, a lost coin, and then a lost son. Each parable focuses intently on the passion God has for people as He actively seeks after us and then rejoices when, at last, we turn to Him and are found.

Pointing directly at the Pharisees with His words, the parable of the lost son concludes with the spotlight turned on a disgruntled older brother who is hung up on the “things” that have been lost—the family reputation, dignity, and most likely a sizable portion of the family inheritance. Viewed from his perspective, the father’s expenditures on a wayward son are wasteful and even unfair.

But Jesus, reflecting the heart of His Father in the closing words of the parable, points out that in God’s household people matter most. Not just “cleaned-up” people. Not just “churchy” people. But people who desperately need to hear that God loves them enough to forgive them of their sin, free them of their addictions, and find them at their point of darkest need. People matter most.

So when we look into the mirror of God’s Word, we have to ask ourselves: What matters most in our lives? Our possessions? Our personal preferences? Our perspectives on how people should act and think? Our plans? Our personal pride and reputation? Our rules? Or do the needs and nurture of people matter most?

My friend with the alabaster bowl got it right—people matter most. And Jesus has shown us the way!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•List a few of the priorities in your life (prized possessions, family, friends, schooling, career, church responsibilities, dreams, desires, etc.). Take a few minutes to honestly rank them according to how you have been living.
•Now go back over that list and rank each category in the order it would appear if you lived to make people matter most based on God’s Word and His priorities.
•What are some steps you can take today to realign your priorities and reflect the truth that people matter most? Make a plan and pray that God will give you the opportunity to convince someone that he or she matters most to you and to God.


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 Posted January 24th, 2012 11:02 AM   IP              
Casting Shadows

No flesh should glory in His presence. —1 Corinthians 1:29

Legend has it that Michelangelo painted with a brush in one hand and a candle in the other to prevent his shadow from covering his masterpiece in progress.

That’s the kind of attitude we should adopt if we are serious about wanting to display the masterpiece of God’s glory on the canvas of our lives. Unfortunately, we tend to live in a way that draws attention to ourselves—our cars, our clothes, our careers, our position, our cleverness, our success. And when life is all about us, it’s hard for people to see Jesus in us. Jesus saved us to be reflections of His glory (Rom. 8:29), but when we live for ourselves, our shadow gets cast on the canvas of His presence in us.

When the believers in Corinth were feeling too full of themselves, Paul warned them “that no flesh should glory [boast] in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:29), and reminded them of what Jeremiah said, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31; Jer. 9:24).

Think of your life as a canvas on which a picture is being painted. What would you rather have people see: the masterpiece of the presence of Jesus or the shadow of your own profile? Don’t get in the way of a great painting in progress. Live to let others see Jesus in you.

My life is a painting created by God,
And as such I’ve nothing to boast;
Reflecting the image of Christ to the world
Is what I desire the most. —Sper

A Christian’s life is the canvas on which others can see Jesus.



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 Posted January 25th, 2012 11:21 AM   IP              
Choices

"Wherever you go, I will go; and . . . your people shall be my people, and your God, my God." Ruth 1:16

A friend once told me: “Joe, I’ve come to realize that my life is not made by the dreams that I dream but by the choices that I make.”

Count on it: You will have plenty of choices in life. And usually they boil down to a choice between “What do I want?” and “What’s best for others?”

After their husbands died, Ruth and Orpah were faced with a strategic choice (Ruth 1:11). Their mother-in-law Naomi told them they should go home. She didn’t want them to feel any obligation to her, in spite of the fact that her loss was far greater. She had lost her own husband and both of her sons.

Orpah and Ruth could either go home and start a new life, or stay with Naomi to help her in a time of great need. They knew very well that the latter choice would probably mean living in a foreign land as widows for the rest of their lives, since few Jewish men would want to marry a foreign woman.

Ruth chose to serve the needs of Naomi rather than to serve herself. Orpah chose to leave Naomi for what she thought would be a better life. Ruth went on to play a significant role in Jewish history and became an ancestor of Jesus (Matt. 1:5).

Make the best choice. Choose to serve others.

When we’re involved in serving
And meeting others’ needs,
We’re imitating Jesus
In thoughts and words and deeds. —Fitzhugh

Serve God by serving others

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 Posted January 26th, 2012 05:39 PM   IP              
Jesus – Our Champion!

“ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ ” Matthew 16:15

At some point in life we’ve all felt the frustration and fear of being up against situations that we can’t deal with and, worse yet, there seems to be no one to help. If you were to ask me to tell you about the times I have felt the twinges of hopelessness, my early recollections would be from my first year in high school.

From kindergarten through eighth grade I attended a small Christian school. My dad was a well-known pastor in the area, which meant that I was the big man on campus. Everyone knew who I was, and I had it made—until the day I graduated from that school and enrolled in the nearby public high school. Nobody knew me or my dad at the new school, and nobody cared. So, needless to say, I wasn’t a big shot anymore. What’s worse, I became the victim of Ronnie, who decided to prove his emerging manhood on me. Whenever I passed him in the hall, he would shove and taunt me. I was traumatized. Every day at school I was filled with anxiety and fear because of Ronnie. I needed somebody to help me. I pleaded with friends who knew Ronnie to ask him to stop, but they never did. I was all alone in my problem, and I needed a champion.

In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people were up against the oppressive regime of Rome. Every day they lived with the shame of being a despised minority under the tyrannical thumb of Caesar, who demanded hefty taxes and unflinching allegiance. The once-proud Israel was now a puppet servant state of a brutal and pagan empire. They desperately needed someone to champion their cause. Could it be that Jesus was the long-awaited deliverer? Hence, this on-the-spot quiz! Peter came up with the right answer when he declared Jesus as “the Christ”—the “Messiah” who would deliver them from the oppression they had endured for so long. Against the backdrop of Caesar-worship and rampant paganism in Caesarea Philippi, the disciples pinned their hopes on Jesus.

What Peter didn’t know was that Jesus would be their champion on a far more significant level than a political one: the oppression of Rome. Jesus came to overthrow the source of our problems, not the symptoms. Rome was merely the tool of Satan to defeat God’s people and tarnish God’s glory. Defeating Rome would have been a great accomplishment, but the enemy of our souls would have found another way to wage war against the people of God. So Jesus went head-to-head against Satan, engaged in battle on an old rugged cross, and after a three-day struggle with death rose victoriously from the grave to assure the final victory over the enemy of our souls.

Jesus is the ultimate champion! And when we cast our lot with Him, He assures us that the victory is already won on our behalf. The next time you find yourself in a full nelson up against the wall of despair, claim Jesus as your champion. As Paul declares, you may be “struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9). Since He won the battle at Calvary, you are now entitled to share in the spoils of His victory. Thanks to Jesus, the word defeat is not in our vocabulary!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How would you answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”
•Read Romans 8:31-39 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. What types of things threaten to defeat you? What promises are listed in these verses?
•What are the “spoils of victory”? Take some time to list some of the benefits that the Champion has made available to you.


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 Posted January 27th, 2012 12:02 PM   IP              
Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” Joshua 24:15

What’s with celebrities? The last few years have been littered with famous people behaving badly . . .

In the 2007 World Cup games, the planet’s best soccer player ends the game by head-butting his opponent on global TV. In 2006, an NFL hunk of a guy intentionally stomps on an opposing player’s helmet-less head leaving gashes worthy of 30-some stitches. My prized Chicago Bears have a defensive back who has been arrested three times in the last 18 months. And what’s with the trashy antics of Britney Spears? And the drunkenness, drug taking, and public kissing of another woman that Miss USA favored us with?

I’m not a real uptight person. I have a pretty wide berth for weirdness and foolish behavior. I guess I’ve seen enough of it in my own life and have come to believe that if we knew the extent of the fall we would be surprised that anything good happens at all. But this is ridiculous!

And, while I’m in this mood, what’s with the tabloids that grab our attention while we are waiting in the grocery line? Who are these people who have been caught naked by a hiding photographer at some secluded beach? and who cares who’s getting divorced, sleeping with someone’s best friend, or having another baby out of wedlock?

But that’s just it, isn’t it?! Lots of people seem to care. They find it all interesting and stimulating. That’s why this stuff sells. All this behaving badly tickles the public fancy, grabs headlines, and fills up tons of minutes on talk shows. Which leaves me wondering . . . Isn’t there anything more important for us to be taken with, for us to talk about? Where have all the really cool heroes gone?

I hate to sound like I am above it all and on to better things—which would come across as arrogant and judgmental—so forgive me. That’s not my intention. But there is a great alternative to cohabiting in the sludge of the seamy side of life.

I find that living and thinking in the world of God’s Word, God’s ways, and God’s will is like fresh air to my soul. And I do in fact have a Hero who after all these years I find to still be compelling, amazing, adventuresome, challenging, and worthy of my praise and admiration. Today, Jesus is more wonderful to me than He has ever been before!

I don’t want to live with a pointed finger at a world that seems to be spinning out of control with no moral compass. What our wild world needs is not another self-righteous declaration of how terrible it all is. After all, what do we expect from people who without Jesus are left to their own desires and instincts? What I want is to get my life in gear with the solid stuff that keeps my heart intrigued with the pure fresh water of God’s Word and to walk the path of life that Jesus walks, to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

My heart beats with Joshua, who in the midst of lots of sordid pagan options declared, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” And like Jesus, I want to remember to love and care for sinners. What our world really needs is the life-changing power of a new life in Jesus. So that will be my prayer!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What is your reaction to news about celebs? Are you intrigued? Self-righteous? Disgusted? Ask the Lord to turn your heart toward prayer for those who need the life-changing power of new life in Him.
•What do you admire about your heroes? What do you admire the most about Jesus?
•Read Philippians 4:8, and do what it says! Next time you’re tempted to indulge in the toxic stuff of this world, choose instead to feed your mind on things are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy!


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 Posted January 28th, 2012 12:02 PM   IP              
What Are You Aiming For?

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:3

Let’s talk about heaven. If you’re like me, it’s hard to get your head around it and harder still to let it grip your heart. While most of us believe that heaven exists, we go on with life as though this is the only world that matters.

Nearly every spiritual dysfunction in our lives can be traced back to the fact that heaven does not really have a hold on us. C. S. Lewis had it right when he said: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

So, how do we “aim at heaven”? First, we recognize that this physical body is not all there is—“what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). In fact, earth is simply a dress rehearsal for the great world to come. All the pain and toil here is temporary. Poverty isn’t permanent. Illness is transient. For followers of Jesus, death is but a door to all that is far better. As we read in Revelation, there shall be no sorrow, no more crying, no more death, and he shall wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4).

Aiming at heaven also involves keeping Jesus in our sights. Looking forward to the day when “we shall see Him as He is” fills us with hope—not a worldly, wish-list kind of hope, but a hope that reflects the certainty of what is to come. It’s the kind of hope that keeps us from distractions and rivets our attention on what really matters in the long run; the kind of hope that purifies us.

Maybe you’ve never thought of it like this before, but one of the strongest motivations for purity is connected to the return of Jesus. Because, let’s face it, there are some places we just wouldn’t want to be when He comes back. We might hope He doesn’t examine the places the Internet has taken us, or that He doesn’t see our attitudes toward others. If we really believed that today might be our last, we might finally be ready to forgive, to ask for forgiveness, or maybe even to share the love of Jesus with someone.

So, how about it? Let’s stop aiming at earth and turn our hearts toward heaven!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What did C. S. Lewis mean when he said, “you get earth thrown in” if you’re aiming for heaven? Could it be what Jesus meant in Matthew 6:33? What are you aiming for—earth or heaven? Do your thoughts, attitudes, and actions support your answer?
•Think of some practical, tangible ways that you can be more heavenly minded. (And don’t worry, it won’t make you of “no earthly good”!)
•How would focusing on heaven stir your heart to purity?


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 Posted January 29th, 2012 01:21 PM   IP              
It’s Not Good to Be Alone

The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ ” Genesis 2:18

While reading through the creation narratives in Genesis for the umpteenth time, I was struck by God’s commentary on Adam being alone in the garden. What caught my attention was the observation God made after each stroke of his creative power: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Until, that is, He made Adam. At that point, something was not good: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). So He fixed it and did something really good—He made Eve!

A couple of thoughts race through my brain at this point. I couldn’t agree more with God’s assessment—man needs woman! Left to ourselves we would be more like untamed savages than decent, sensitive specimens of humanity. I have no idea how off track my life might be if my wife Martie had not come along. She is a consistent check to my social insensitivities, to my self-serving male perspectives on life, to what color combinations work and which ones don’t, and to making life better for our kids and grandkids. To say nothing of her sensitive heart toward God that stimulates me to want to serve and follow Him with greater enthusiasm. Thankfully, for all of us guys, God didn’t get carried away with how good it all was but saw the single flaw and did something to save the world from men left to themselves! Bravo for that stroke of creative genius. As the French say, Vive la difference!

The other thought that caused me to stop reading long enough to let it sink in, is that being alone is not a good thing for anyone. God made us in His image—which means that we, like Him, are relational beings. In the beginning, it was a literal paradise of fulfilling relationships as God in an unhindered way walked with Adam and Eve in the garden and they enjoyed the fullest experience of intimacy with each other. So, where did loneliness come from? How did the demon of loneliness that haunts many of our hearts today alienate us from the others that we so desperately need?

I want to be clear here and admit that loneliness isn’t always brought on by us or our choices. So this is not a guilt trip. But as the story unfolds, we see the damage of alienation haunting the landscape of life. Adam and Eve hide from God out of fear of getting caught, and Adam blames Eve for his disobedience, which clearly drives a wedge into their flawless intimacy. And the deep fellowship on every satisfying level is now replaced by alienation, blame, distrust, and shame.

Which leaves me wondering, how could people who had it so good end up with everything so out of sync? It all started going south when Eve believed that to live for herself and her own gain was more important than living to love God and Adam. And to make matters worse, Adam followed suit.

The lesson here is huge. Living for what’s “best for me,” while ignoring the needs, wishes, and interests of others always brings alienation and aloneness.

Thank God that He has made a way for us to restore relationships and to recapture a portion of the intimacy of Eden. When we follow the way of Jesus and live to love and serve others, aloneness gives way to intimacy and our self-serving acts of alienation dissolve into a bonding that gets us wonderfully stuck on each other again.

And guys, that should probably start with us since it’s not a good thing for us to be alone!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Can you think of a time when living for “what’s best for me” has produced alienation and aloneness?
•How do you react to God’s assessment that we are not meant to be alone? When have you felt alone? Can you identify the cause of your aloneness?
•Make a list of the most significant relationships in your life. Where does God rank on that list? What are you doing to keep the intimacy flowing with Him and with the people He has placed in your life?
•As Adam and Eve discovered, self-centered acts of disobedience drive a wedge in relationships. Search your heart today and ask God to reveal any areas of self-serving disobedience that need to be confessed and reversed in order to restore the relationships that are troubling you.


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 Posted January 30th, 2012 11:48 AM   IP              
Back Seat Serenade

“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” Matthew 12:34

I’ll never forget a double date that Martie and I had with another couple in college. I was driving, which meant that my then fiancée, Martie, was in the front with me while the other couple was sitting in the back. My friend in the back was an All-American pitcher for our college baseball team, and he was engaged to a popular co-ed on campus. As we rode along, our group conversation eventually dropped off and Martie and I thought we heard soft singing coming from the backseat. I could hardly believe it! This macho athlete was actually serenading his girlfriend! This guy had it bad—he had a “heart condition” that needed to be expressed!

We all have “heart conditions.” They’re those deeply rooted thoughts and feelings that ultimately show up in our words. Which makes our tongues the tattletales of the true condition of our heart. As Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

When we have love in our hearts, our words are kind and gentle; they build up and encourage. Humble hearts speak about what is best for others and willingly admit and apologize for being wrong. Patient hearts are slow to respond to moments of stress, and God-honoring hearts look for opportunities to give God the glory and praise for all He has done. You can tell a lot about a person by what they say—and what they don’t say.

But it’s not just good hearts that show up in our words. Unfortunately for most of us, our words often reveal the dark side of our hearts as well. As James 3:10 tells us, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.” Proud hearts love to boast about accomplishments and are willing to use words to put others down to lift ourselves up. Angry hearts vent through our mouths, and fearful hearts often lash out verbally for self-protection and defense. Self-centered hearts turn conversations back toward us. And when your heart feels slighted, you will find that murmuring and complaining are on the tip of your tongue.

As my pastor friend James MacDonald says, “You know a lot about a person by listening to what spills out when they are bumped!” How true. Next time you speak, listen to your words—they are telling on your heart! And if you don’t like the kind of secrets that your words are giving away, then listen to what you’ve said so that you can know what needs to be fixed on the inside. And fixing the inside may just mean that you turn over the control of your heart to the Holy Spirit. When you do that, pride, anger, fear, self-centeredness, bitterness, and all the other demons of your haunted heart will be chased away by the love, joy, peace, and patience that only the Spirit can bring (Galatians 5:22-23).

Pay attention to the words that get you into trouble, and you’ll be able to identify and deal with the sin that is at the heart of the matter. After all, all talk is heart talk.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How often is your speech a sweet serenade to those around you? Make it a point to use your words to show love to someone at least once each day this week.
•Pray and ask God to make you more aware of your words—the good and the bad. Ask Him to show you how your words relate to the condition of your heart.
•Spend time journaling about your top verbal struggles and find a verse that relates to each one. When you are tempted to engage in that sin, quote the corresponding verse. Chart your progress in the pages of your journal.
•Meditate on Psalm 19:14; 51:10 and ask God to give you a renewed sensitivity for His blessing on your words and your heart.


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 Posted January 31st, 2012 01:56 PM   IP              
At Just The Right Time

When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son. —Galatians 4:4

Why is being on time so challenging for some of us? Even when we start early, something inevitably gets in our way to make us late.

But here’s the good news: God is always on time! Speaking of the arrival of Jesus, Paul said, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4). The long-awaited, promised Savior came at just the right time.

Jesus’ arrival during the Roman Empire’s Pax Romana (the peace of Rome) was perfect timing. The known world was united by one language of commerce. A network of global trade routes provided open access to the whole world. All of this guaranteed that the gospel could move rapidly in one tongue. No visas. No impenetrable borders. Only unhindered access to help spread the news of the Savior whose crucifixion fulfilled the prophecy of the Lamb who would be slain for our sins (Isa. 53:1-12). All in God’s perfect timing!

All of this should remind us that the Lord knows what time is best for us as well. If you’re waiting for answered prayer or the fulfillment of one of His promises, don’t give up. If you think He has forgotten you, think again. When the fullness of time is right for you, He’ll show up—and you’ll be amazed by His brilliant timing!

Not ours to know the reason why
Unanswered is our prayer,
But ours to wait for God’s own time
To lift the cross we bear. —Anon.

God’s timing is always perfect.



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 Posted February 1st, 2012 03:40 PM   IP              
Making The Cut

Jesus] said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” —Matthew 4:19

Every year, high-school seniors apply to their favorite universities and then watch the mailbox for the letter announcing their acceptance.

It was different for teens in New Testament times. Jewish boys would often attend rabbinical schools until age 13. Then only the best and brightest would be chosen to “follow” the local rabbi. This small, select group of disciples would go where he went and eat what he ate—modeling their lives after the rabbi. Those who didn’t make the cut would pick up a trade like carpentry, sheep-herding, or fishing.

Guys like Simon, Andrew, James, and John hadn’t made the cut. So instead of following the local rabbi, they were down by the docks, knee-deep in the family business. It’s interesting that Jesus sought out the men the local rabbi had rejected. Instead of targeting the best and brightest, Jesus offered His invitation, “Follow Me,” to ordinary run-of-the-mill fishermen. What an honor! They would become followers of the ultimate Rabbi.

Jesus extends the same honor to you and me—not because we are the best or brightest, but because He needs ordinary people like us to model His life and to lovingly rescue people on His behalf. So, follow Him and let Him make something of your life!

As followers of Jesus
Who love Him from the heart,
We may be ordinary,
But we’ve been set apart. —Sper

Even the ordinary and the outcast can make the cut to follow Jesus.



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 Posted February 2nd, 2012 11:15 AM   IP              
Garden Talk

“Not what I will, but what you will” Mark 14:36

Okay, I have to confess . . . I like gardening. There, I said it. Sorry guys, but I do! So, liking gardens, I have often thought about how wonderful the Garden of Eden must have been. Absolute satisfaction and joy in the most fragrant and lavishly beautiful place the world has ever known! And add to the beauty of it all the unhindered intimacy that Adam and Eve, in perfect harmony, enjoyed with each other and their God. In spite of the fact that there were no high-tech toys, sports, or flashy cars there, it’s safe to say that what went on in that garden was an experience beyond our fondest dreams.

But as you probably know, something bad happened, and the super-blessed pair were left with a fallen world full of weeds and pain—all kinds of weeds and pain if you know what I mean.

But the God who lost His prized possession on that day planned to someday reclaim Eden and its unhindered joys. In Revelation 21:1-27, He describes this new Eden in terms of the “new heaven and new earth.” Everything in this old fallen place will be gone and there will be a new city where God will dwell, where we will be His people and He will be our God. There will be no more tears, no death, no mourning or crying, and no pain. All of that will have passed away. PTL! The tangled thorns of broken relationships, sickness, pain, and sin will be no more. And, better than the first garden, in this Eden there will be no possibility of failing and losing it again. By His grace we will all be locked into righteousness—forever.

But between the experience of these two gardens, there is another garden. A garden where the new Eden became a certain reality—a reality in which we can find hope and courage in the fact that this creepy, fallen world is not all that we have, that there is a better world to come! It is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus agonized over going to the cross. And it was His surrender in that garden that makes the coming Eden an assured reality for all who embrace the Jesus of Gethsemane as Savior and Lord.

Recently it occurred to me that, like Jesus, we live between the two gardens—in a hostile and threatening world full of weeds and pain. And between the two gardens, “surrender” is still the password that produces the victory we long for in the midst of the weeds of fallen relationships and personal failure. Surrender to a forgiving spirit. Surrender to patience and long-suffering. Surrender to God’s principles even in the face of rejection and misunderstanding. It’s surrender that keeps the weeds from choking out the strength and joy in our hearts.

So let me ask you: When was the last time you knelt at the rock by Jesus’ side, knowing that God’s will for you was a tough assignment, and heard your heart say with His, “Not my will but yours be done”?

That’s garden talk!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What “weeds” are in your garden? Do they threaten to choke your commitment to Christ?
•Read Paul’s “garden talk” in Romans 8:18-27, where he compares this garden with the next one (actually he admits that they are not worth comparing). Do you share his perspective of hope and patience? Why or why not?
•If you have surrendered your life to Christ, read about your future garden in Revelation 21:1-27 for a good dose of encouragement!


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 Posted February 3rd, 2012 12:29 PM   IP              
Let Me Show You to Your Room

“In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2

Every once in a while when I travel to speak at a conference, the organization puts me up in a five-star hotel. You know the type—lobbies with lavish flower arrangements, a staff that is sensitive to your every need, robes in the bathroom that are so big and fluffy you could safely fall into them from a five-story building, and exotic soaps ready to fill your shower with fragrant aromas.

I’ll admit I’m carnal enough to love staying in those kinds of places. Do I have a witness?

But here’s the flip side. Most of the time when I travel, I feel like I’m on a points program with every budget motel across the States. You walk in carrying your own luggage, wait in vain for someone to greet you as you bang the little bell on the desk next to the vase with the wimpy plastic flower in it. When you finally get to your room (on your own, thank you), you can’t help but notice that the towels look like somebody cut up some used sheets. On the sink there’s a tiny little bar of soap all wrapped up like they don’t want you to use it, and if you take it into the shower it goes down the drain.

So now, let me ask you, where would you rather stay—really?

Just as there’s no comparison between a five-star hotel and the local economy motel, we can’t compare our experience on earth with the wonders that await us in heaven. That’s not to say that there are no wonderful aspects about earth. Without question, God created a beautiful world for us to live in. But let’s face it: we’re a fallen race living in a fallen place, which means that, inevitably, living in this place is going to be a disappointing experience.

Which is exactly how the disciples must have felt when they met with Jesus in the Upper Room. They had been following Him for 3 years and thought He was the one who would make Israel a wonderful place to live. In their mind, they had won the lotto! They expected that He would restore Israel to its former glory and that they would be the big shots in the government. Until, that is, Jesus unraveled their dreams. In John 13:1-38, He told them that one of them would betray Him and that He was leaving them and they couldn’t go with Him. In the other gospels, we read that He also told them of His suffering and warned them of the fact that they would suffer for Him as well. But, knowing that no matter how bad it gets in this place, Jesus knew that He had a better place for them just down the road. So He turned their eyes to the future and said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. . . . In my Father’s house are many rooms. . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2). And, as Paul reminds us, it is a place that is “far better” (Phil. 1:23). What an amazing promise!

Of course, those of us who grew up in King James world might be wondering what happened to the “mansions.” If we’re totally honest, that probably has a lot more appeal than “rooms”! And in case you’re thinking about carrying a KJV with you into heaven and asking for an upgrade, don’t worry about it. When you are shown to your room, you can bet it will be like no other place you’ve ever stayed.

So, next time you feel that you’re stuck in a really bad place, don’t forget what’s ahead. As a friend of mine recently said, “If Jesus is your Savior, the future is your friend!”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What aspects of life in this world are you looking forward to leaving behind?
•How does it make you feel to know that Jesus is preparing a place for you?
•Why is this promise important to you personally?


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 Posted February 7th, 2012 10:36 AM   IP              
Make Way

Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. —Isaiah 40:3

Dwight D. Eisenhower was known for his courageous leadership during World War II. His battle-tested skill equipped the troops to reclaim Europe. Soon after returning to the US as a hero, he was elected president.

While in Europe, Eisenhower had experienced the danger and difficulty of navigating the twisting roads. So, for the sake of US national security, he commissioned a network of roads that became the nation’s interstate highway system. Mountains were tunneled through and valleys were traversed by mammoth bridges.

In ancient times, conquering kings gained access to newly acquired territories through highways built for their troops. Isaiah had this in mind when he declared, “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3). And John the Baptist called people to repentance to “prepare the way” into their hearts for the arrival of King Jesus.

What preparation needs to be done to allow Jesus unhindered access to your own heart? Are there rough places of bitterness that need the bulldozer of forgiveness? Are there valleys of complaining that need to be filled with contentment? We can’t afford to neglect this spiritual engineering. Let’s prepare the way for the King!

God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way;
He works in ways we cannot see,
He will make a way for me. —Moen

Repentance clears the way for our relationship with the King.



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 Posted February 9th, 2012 11:27 AM   IP              
Tattletale

"You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Matthew 12:34

We all remember the neighborhood tattletale—not the most popular kid on the block! He or she took great delight in exposing deeds we were trying to hide.

Unfortunately, our tongues play that much-despised role in our own lives. Jesus said that we speak “out of the overflow of the heart” (Matthew 12:34). In other words, our speech often tells on us, revealing the attitudes we would rather not have others know about.

My friends who practice medicine tell me that certain sicknesses produce terrible breath; and so it is with sinful hearts. Paul vividly describes sinners in Romans 3:13: “Their throats are open graves,” venting the smell of death.

I recall the day when I spouted off to my kindergarten teacher. I can’t remember what created the crisis, but I do remember telling my teacher to “shut up.” I then promptly left the room and headed home. As I walked down the block, I noticed that my mother was working in the backyard. I stopped dead in my tracks. What would I tell her? My options were before me. I could face my mother; face the teacher; or walk alone into the big, cruel world.

I chose the least of the three evils and went back to school. My teacher met me at the door, took me by the arm, and marched me to the restroom, where she washed out my mouth with soap!

It was a never-to-be-forgotten lesson. But to be honest, I needed more than a mouth washing. I needed a heart-wash. My little 5-year-old rebellious spirit had shown up in my mouth. And if we aren’t careful, the attitudes we have as adults will show up there as well. Anger, pride, fear, sensuality, and a host of other sins we harbor in our hearts will eventually show up in the words we say.

In essence, all talk is heart-talk. Groom your heart to grow in Jesus, and your words will show it. Neglect your heart, and your very own tongue will tattle on you every time.

YOUR JOURNEY…

• What kinds of things do you like to talk about?
• Do these things reveal a problem area in your heart?
• Do they bring glory to Jesus and reflect His character?
• How have you been challenged about the words you use? What does your speech say about your relationship with God?



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 Posted February 10th, 2012 02:18 PM   IP              
Goin' Home!

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21

At the age of 96, my Dad went home to be with the Lord. I have to tell you those last few days with him were precious days in many ways, but most precious was the way our hearts were drawn to Jesus and heaven. The business of life has a way of blotting out what is really important. There’s nothing like standing at death’s door to remind you that life is fast and fragile, but if you have Jesus and the assurance of going home to be with Him at the end, you really have all you need.

As he spent his last days with us, my dad wanted all of us to sing hymns about heaven and seeing Jesus. These were those old songs that he had sung since he was a boy with words like, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus,” the song said, “we’ll sing and shout the victory.” Or maybe some of you know this one: “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue . . . and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” Dad’s favorite, though, was an old hymn that concluded with these words, “And I shall see Him face to face and tell the story—saved by grace!”

Needless to say, these songs were sung with a few tears in our eyes. But underneath the tears was the solid and joyful confidence that he was moving on to a better place. Which made it easy to reply when someone said to me, “I hear you lost your dad”—“No, I know exactly where he is!”

I will never forget those last few days. They may have been the most significant hours I have ever spent with my dad. And the way he died reminded me of lessons he had tried to teach me since I was a boy. Watching my dad die stirred my heart afresh to live now for Jesus in a way that makes finally seeing him face-to-face a highly anticipated joy. Death for my dad was not a thing to be feared, but a door to all that is far better. He believed what Paul said when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

My heart was also stirred to think about living now for things that will last forever. I remember Dad telling me years ago, “Only one life,” he would say, “will soon be past, and only what’s done for Christ will last!” Through his life, he had invested heavily in eternal things. And now he was about ready to reap the dividends. None of his money, property, or things meant anything on his deathbed. All he had was what he had sent on ahead—and that was a lot!

And being with my dad when he died also reminded me to build relationships now that make those who will stand around my bedside grateful that they knew me. Just before he went home, my dad looked up at me and said, “Joe, we’re pals, aren’t we?” I’m going to hang on to that memory for the rest of my life!

Which reminds me of what C. S. Lewis said when he wrote, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither!”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Are you living for heaven? If yes, how would you prove your answer if you were to evaluate the way you spend your time, money, and talents?
•Make a list of earthly things that might be keeping you from pursuing eternal priorities. Ask the Lord to focus your heart on heaven in such a way that you will have no regrets!
•Take some time to think about how you would feel if you knew this were your last day on earth. Who would you talk to? Would any of the items on your to-do list be worthwhile activities in light of eternity?

This is so true when my farther died the last few days was so precious i know he went to heaven.....today!

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 Posted February 11th, 2012 12:01 PM   IP              
Good Works!

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” Matthew 5:16 ESV

I had promised my wife that I would bring her a cup of coffee after my morning run. So, at 6:03 a.m., breathing hard and sweaty, I walked into Starbucks to order two cups of coffee to take home.

As I waited in line, the guy in front of me was clutching a copy of the New York Times and waving a $50 bill in the face of the clerk. Obviously ticked at the clerk, he was ranting, “What do you mean you don’t have change? What kind of a place are you operating here? I’ve got the money. I want my New York Times!”

The clerk, clearly shaken by the man’s anger, apologized, “I’m sorry, sir. We just opened, and I don’t have that much cash on hand yet. I don’t have change for a $50 bill.”

I had just been reading Jesus’ call for us to light up our world with good works so, knowing that this was an opportunity to put Jesus’ plan into gear, I stepped forward and said, “Hey, I’ll pay for your paper” and told the clerk to put it on my bill.

“Are you sure?”

“Yep,” I replied. “Put it on my bill.”

As the guy walked out he thanked me profusely and said, “All that I have is yours!” Which obviously didn’t include the $50 bill in his hand!

When the clerk handed me my two cups of coffee, he surprised me by saying, “Sir, that was a really nice thing you did. This world would be a lot better place if there were more people like you.”

Have you ever had one of those moments where you know that you should testify but the words just aren’t there? Well, I was caught so off-guard that I just muttered some self-deprecating remark and started toward home. I was tormented, wondering what I should have said! About half a block down the street, it occurred to me that I could have said, “Thanks. Actually, the world would not be a better place if more people were like me, but the world would be a better place if more people were like Jesus, because He taught me how to do that.”

I thought about going back to say that to the clerk. But then it crossed my mind that cutting in front of a long line of people to make a religious speech might not be a real good idea. Just then it struck me . . . I was wearing my Moody Bible Institute cap! I began praying that he had seen the cap. Praying that he had discovered that my buying a newspaper for a steamed customer and rescuing him is what “Bible-people” do!

I find myself praying for that server in Starbucks, praying that he will get around a lot of us Bible-people and notice that there is something consistent and compellingly different about us. That someday it will whet his appetite for the Jesus that has made us to be people of “good works.”

When we understand the power of good works our theme song will be: This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine . . . Let it shine till Jesus comes, I’m going to let it shine!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Make a commitment today to find an opportunity to do at least one “good work.” Be ready to let people know the reason why you do good works!
•A lot of us “Bible-people” spend far more time trying to be good than we do looking for opportunities to do good. Could you decide today to intentionally commit at least one “good work” every day, just to stay in shape?
•Take a few minutes today to pray that God will give you clear opportunities, and the wisdom to make the most of them!


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 Posted February 12th, 2012 11:23 AM   IP              
Hey, Where’d You Get That?

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” James 1:17

One of my favorite classical works of music is The Creation. But what I like even more than the stirring sounds and moving lyrics is the attitude of composer.

It was the year 1808, and the last note sounded as the symphony’s performance came to a close. Applause thundered through the auditorium in honor of one of the greatest composers of all time, Franz Joseph Haydn. The piece that had been performed was called The Creation. Haydn had written it to glorify God, by telling the Genesis story of creation through music. Audiences all over Europe adored it. And that night, he responded to the crowd’s ovation by pointing upward and exclaiming, “No, No! Not from me, but from thence! From heaven above comes all!”

At that same concert, Haydn’s contemporary Ludwig van Beethoven is said to have knelt and kissed Haydn’s hands in an act of honor. Praised by other great composers of his time and admired by the public as well, he was heaped with fame and adoration. Still, he refused to become prideful of the music God had created through Him. He knew from where it had come.

For sure, not many of us will be musical geniuses like Haydn. But God has given all of us talents and abilities. Some of us have exceptional people skills; some have what it takes to crunch numbers with precision. Others might be able to cook, write prose and poetry, or repair the transmission on a car. These gifts from God are the result of the way He created us—in His image. God is infinitely talented and able to do anything! Being made in “His image” means we have been given gifts from Him to accomplish good things and to contribute to our world.

But here’s the rub. If we’re not careful, the stealth enemy of pride will whisper to you that you are the one who deserves the credit. There is something really seductive about applause and affirmation. Giving the credit to others is not an easy thing to do. But in the end, who would you rather have people admire—you or your God? And even if you are tempted to honestly admit that you’d kinda like it to be you—upon further reflection, my guess is that you really don’t want to go there. And you shouldn’t. Competing with Him for the applause, especially when He deserves it all, is not a good idea. Particularly when we read that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

Remember, there is a world out there that is sitting quietly, watching your performance, waiting to break into applause. And when the applause comes, stand, take a bow, and then let people know where it all came from!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Take some time to evaluate your reaction to the good things that you do. Pray and ask the Lord to show you areas of pride in your life, especially as they relate to the talents and abilities that He has given you.
•At the top of a sheet of paper, write the phrase: “From heaven above comes all.” Then list the gifts God has given to you. For each gift, brainstorm ways in which you could use it to serve the Lord and give Him the glory.
•Memorize Micah 6:8 and 1 Corinthians 10:31. Each time you feel pride begin to take root in your heart, confess it as sin and let these verses encourage your heart to live humbly to God’s glory.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   



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