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 Posted April 12th, 2012 01:11 PM   IP              
The Case for Kindness

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:2

A story I heard in the news a few years ago caught my attention. It was about an 85-year-old man who used to eat breakfast in a Kroger supermarket every morning. He was bossy, very particular, and even remarked that the female employees could stand to lose weight. A few weeks after the old man died of cancer, several of the shocked clerks received checks for $10,000 from his estate. Why? Even when the old man had been cranky and insulting, the staff waiting on him had treated him pleasantly and tried to cheer him up with a little tender care! They even went beyond the call of duty by taking turns to visit him in the hospital! Clearly, none of them expected anything in return.

There’s a word for what the Kroger staff extended to him—kindness. What a refreshing story in a world where kindness has become a lost commodity. But if you are a follower of Jesus, then kindness has to be what you dish out on a regular basis. After all, Paul wrote, “Be kind to one to another, tenderhearted” (Ephesians 4:32). And, it needs to be noted, kindness makes the list as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Kindness is about thinking of others and extending our love and resources to meet their needs and concerns.

But, in case you’re thinking, Right, but what about me? Proverbs 11:17 offers a fascinating twist on kindness. It says, “A kind man benefits himself”—which means that there is something in kindness for you!

Treating people with kindness keeps our hearts and attitudes running in the right direction. If we’re not careful, we can easily fall prey to selfishness and indifference in our dealings with people. Planning to be kind gets you out of the what will they do for me world and gets your heart in tune with what can I do for them? Intentional acts of kindness train our hearts to be loving and helpful, which is really a big benefit!

Acts of kindness to friends, spouses, and our children bless us with the privilege of better friendships and more fulfilling relationships. And, most importantly, kindness will make you a lot like Jesus, who was kind to you all the way to His death! Believe me, becoming like Jesus is a huge return on the investment.

Before you get concerned that you don’t have time to be kind, remember that kindness doesn’t always have to be a major event. It doesn’t take a lot of time to hold the door open for the mom with her arms full, or to smile at a senior citizen as you pass by on the sidewalk. Even if you only see the donut guy for 60 seconds each morning, if it’s your intention to bless him with an encouraging word or two or even a tip in the jar, he’ll remember you as friendly and generous. Maybe he’ll sense that you are different from his other customers and may even want to know what it is that makes you different—a wide open door to let him know that Jesus taught you to be kind!

And if you object because no one is ever kind to you, keep in mind that it may just be that they have never been blessed by you being kind to them! When you are kind, people usually look for ways to return the favor. It’s the boomerang effect. As Jesus taught, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

Be kind, and watch the blessings flow!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Have you ever withheld kindness from someone? What happened? Is that really the way you want your life to be?
•Perform an experiment. Commit one act of kindness each day for a week. In your journal, record each act. What was the outcome? How do you think it made the other person feel?
•Pray and ask the Lord to show you a person in your life who needs your kindness. Follow up by reaching out to that person.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted April 14th, 2012 05:30 PM   IP              
No Hassles At The Border

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20

American citizens flying to and from neighboring nations like Canada and Mexico used to get by with carrying a birth certificate or, in some cases, just a driver’s license as a travel document. Not anymore! Now we’re all required to carry a valid US passport. Without that document, you don’t get out, and you don’t get back in.

You know, a passport is an interesting little book. In the opportunities I have had to travel internationally, I’ve noticed that your passport and the visa stamped inside dramatically impacts your arrival experience. If you’re arriving in your home country, your passport usually enables you to bypass the long lines of visitors. Instead of a series of questions when I land back in the States, I’ve often been greeted by a hearty “Welcome home!” from the immigration officials.

But that’s not always true when you’re away from home. A friend of mine, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, has often traveled in countries closed to the gospel. He has some very interesting stories of how, upon arrival in these countries, he is usually hassled and questioned extensively because the guards think he’s an agent for the CIA or, better yet, a Bible smuggler! Well, after an excruciating experience at a border crossing, he said to me, “You know what I love, Joe? I love the thought that when I get to heaven . . . with Jesus on my passport, there will be no hassles at the border.”

Wow, what a great thought! Over and over again in Scripture we are reminded that, although this world is our temporary home, we’re not to get too comfortable here. Our true home is in heaven where our citizenship resides. You may be hassled at work, with friends, or on a trip to a third-world country, but when you get home, Jesus guarantees no hassle at the border!

In Paul’s day, citizenship was a huge deal. In the Roman Empire there were major privileges linked with being a Roman citizen. Things like land ownership, access to the judicial system, and protection from certain punishments all depended on your status as a citizen. Paul, as a Roman citizen, occasionally tapped into these advantages for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, but he certainly didn’t depend on them. His encounter with Christ had changed everything, to the extent that he said, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). He knew that his new status as a citizen of heaven carried far greater joys and privileges!

You and I are invited to that same privilege. We can have the assurance that delights both Paul and my friend Dr. Lutzer. We can look forward to being welcomed into our true home, based not on our attempt at good works or our earthly accomplishments, but based on a spiritual passport stamped with the finished work of Jesus Christ.

So I guess it begs the question, doesn’t it? Is Jesus on your passport? Do you know that for sure? He died for you to guarantee a smooth entry into heaven. In fact, He’s now preparing a place for you, the Bible says, and will one day come back to check passports and take you home with Him (John 14:1-4). And here’s the good news: When you get there, with Jesus on your passport there will be no hassles at the border. Just a hearty, “Welcome home!”



YOUR JOURNEY…

•What are you trusting in for entry into heaven? Anything other than the work of Jesus Christ is insufficient. But the good news is that you can trust in Him and receive your “passport” today!
•How does your status as a “citizen of heaven” give you confidence and joy in your daily tasks today?
•Paul said that he “eagerly awaited” the return of his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Is your attitude about Christ’s return marked by that kind of eagerness?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted April 15th, 2012 02:18 PM   IP              
Under New Management

Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24

It’s always an unsettling moment when you pull up to one of your favorite haunts only to see a sign posted in the window that reads “Under New Management.” A change in management probably means that what you loved about the place before, is not going to be the way it used to be. Different servers, different menus, and a different décor all threaten our sense of familiarity and comfort. And while it may ultimately be a change for the better, the idea of change is not always welcome.

When we came to Jesus knowing that we desperately needed a Savior for the forgiveness of our sins, something dramatic happened: He moved in. We were not just given a redemptive passport that guaranteed us freedom from hassle at the border of heaven. We received the gift of the indwelling Spirit, who intends to put our entire life under “new management” so that He can activate significant changes. He is looking for cooperative partners who fully believe that life under His control is far better than life under the old management.

The new management seeks to transition us from the destructive patterns of old desires to the new program of the power and peace that comes from doing the right things and living to reflect the qualities and character of God. This transition explains why people under new management are faithful to their spouse, remain committed to integrity even when it puts something of value at risk, why they actively care for needs of the poor and oppressed, live in the face of hostile environments with courage and confidence, see their income and careers as not an end in itself but as a means to advance the kingdom of Christ.

But beware. Living under the management of Jesus can often require radical choices. A man in one of the churches I pastored worked as a regional manager of a large cable network. He was good at his job, and a promotion to headquarters was on the horizon for him. Which is why I was surprised when he came up to me one Sunday and said, “Pastor, I have a tremendous conflict in my heart. Every day I get up and go to work realizing that, as a follower of Jesus, I am selling pornography on our channels. What do you think I should I do?”

You’d think as a pastor that I would have immediately suggested that he quit his job. But that would be a really scary step to take. How would he make payments on his house? Support his family? What about healthcare and retirement? So I said, “Let’s pray this week that God will give you wisdom and a clear sense of direction.”

The next Sunday he said, “I decided what to do. I quit my job.” Wow! I couldn’t believe it! My first thought was that maybe God had done a phenomenal miracle and provided another job for him. But he said, “I have no idea what I’m going to do, I just know that God will provide!”

When we embrace life under new management, the change may be dramatic—but count on it, it will be a change for the better. Just ask my friend and he’ll tell you, it’s not worth living under the old management if it means you have to cast your lot with Satan. When you turn your life over to the new manager—Jesus—be assured that regardless of what it takes, He will reprogram your life for His glory and your good!

“Management by Jesus” should be the sign that hangs on all of our lives!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Who is in charge of your life? Ask the Lord to help you identify ways in which you still reflect the “old” management of sin, and then yield to His management.
•What fears might surface as you think about surrendering your life completely to the control of Jesus Christ?
•Think of a practical way that you can “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” today.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted April 16th, 2012 04:14 PM   IP              
What’s In The Name?

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7

There are a lot of fun events associated with being a pastor. And while great food at church dinners and getting invited to cool events with people in your church are near the top of the list, there may be nothing that quite compares to sharing some great moments with people — like the birth of babies. But in the joy of it all, there is a problem.

When you arrive at the hospital, you encounter a weary, but thrilled, couple who hand you this tightly wrapped little bundle and then impose on you a serious ethical dilemma. Of course, you are supposed to say, “Oh, my goodness, what a pretty little girl,” or “What a handsome little boy!” The reality is that I’ve never seen a child fresh out that looks anything like handsome or pretty. (Come to think of it, I have seen three really beautiful babies.)

But once I get past the ethical dilemma by saying something like, “My, isn’t she precious,” the conversation ultimately morphs into an easier realm of interaction regarding the child’s name: “What’s the baby’s name?” . . . “That’s a great name. What does it mean?” The answers vary:

“Oh, it’s his grandfather’s name.”

“Her name means ‘Father’s delight’” or,

“We have no idea; we just chose it from a baby book!”

For most of us, names are relatively insignificant. They are easily changed into nicknames and serve basically to distinguish us from Bob or Ted. But if we look at God’s view of names in the same way, we may have trouble understanding what the big deal is about God’s name. Why would He include the importance of His name in His top-10 list of “Thou Shalt Nots”? How could diminishing His name rank up there with murder, stealing, and adultery?

It doesn’t take much digging through the Bible to realize that names are important to God. Think about Genesis, when God was often giving new names to the main characters—Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel. Each change signaled a statement from God about that individual’s character and his or her place in His plan. It wasn’t about God giving a nickname, it was about God assigning identity and worth to these individuals through the meaning of their name.

Most importantly, names are one of God’s key means of revealing His own identity and worth. He reveals His identity when He tells Moses that He is named “Yahweh,” which means, “I Am.” It means that He is eternally existent. He also identifies Himself as “Elohim,” the Almighty God, the God of great power. His names are who He is, not just what we call Him.

God’s names also describe His worth. You may be familiar with names like “Jehovah-Jireh,” meaning that He is the God who will provide. Or “El-Shaddai,” which means that He is completely sufficient. There are, in fact, 210 different names of God throughout Scripture, adding incredible richness and depth to our understanding of God’s identity, worth, and character.

Which is exactly why He takes it so seriously when we degrade His name by using it as though it weren’t sacred and lowering it to mere casual conversation as though it were ordinary. The exclamation, “Oh my God” should be an urgent prayer, not a verbal exclamation point. When we lower the name of God to drag it through a moment of anger or to use it to intimidate or manipulate, we have taken God Himself and lowered Him from His holy position. His name is intrinsically locked into who He is and what He is like. To put it simply, when we hit on His name, we have hit on Him. No wonder He is offended.

So, what’s in a name? If you’re talking about God, the answer is everything!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Take a minute to evaluate your tolerance level for hearing God’s name taken in vain. Isn’t it interesting (and sad) that we get appropriately offended by all manner of four-letter words in movies and TV, but no longer catch the numerous times that this commandment is violated!
•In what ways might you be treating God’s name casually? How does knowing that His names reveal His identity and character change your perspective on His name?
•Take a look at Philippians 2:9-11. What does that passage say about the name of Jesus? How does that motivate you to worship today?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted April 17th, 2012 10:56 AM   IP              
Our Co-Pilot?

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. —Galatians 2:20

The bumper sticker “Jesus is my co-pilot” may be a well-intentioned sentiment, but it has always troubled me. Whenever I’m in the driver’s seat of my life, the destination is nowhere good. Jesus is not meant to be just a spiritual “co-pilot” giving directions every now and then. He is always meant to be in the driver’s seat. Period!

We often say that Jesus died for us, which of course is true. But there’s more to it than that. Because Jesus died on the cross, something inside of us died—the power of sin. It’s what Paul meant when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). We were essentially co-crucified with Him. With Jesus in the driver’s seat, the old destinations are off-limits. No more turning down the streets of self-centeredness, greed, or lust. No more off-road ventures into the swamp of pride or the ditch of bitterness. We were crucified with Him and He is at the wheel now! He died so that He alone can drive and define us.

So, if you’ve died and Christ lives in you, He’s not your co-pilot. Your joy is to let Him drive and define your life. There may be a few bumps in the road, but you can count on it—He’ll take you somewhere good.

Lord, I thank You for salvation,
For Your mercy, full and free;
Take my all in consecration,
Glorify Yourself in me. —Codner

Still at the wheel of your life? It’s time to let Jesus drive.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted April 18th, 2012 06:23 PM   IP              
The Search For Satisfaction

Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? —Isaiah 55:2

When it comes to jigsaw puzzles, we all know that to enjoy a satisfying outcome you need all the pieces. In many ways, life is like that. We spend our days putting it together, hoping to create a complete picture out of all the scattered parts.

Yet sometimes it seems like a piece is missing. Perhaps we’ve been pursuing the wrong pieces to the puzzle. Even though we may know that life without God at the center is a life that has lost the most important piece, do we live as though He isn’t particularly relevant? And even though we may attend church regularly, is He the throbbing center of our lives? Sometimes we grow accustomed to feeling distant from God. This makes it easier to sin, complicating the sense that something important is missing.

But no matter how far we may drift from God, He wants us near. He appealed to His people through the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance” (Isa. 55:2).

If something is missing in your life, remember that God is the only One who can fully and abundantly satisfy you. Let Him complete the picture of your life.

The God-shaped void within our heart
Cannot be filled by treasure;
It’s only God who satisfies
In ways we cannot measure. —Sper

There’s a longing in every heart that only Jesus can satisfy.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted April 19th, 2012 10:17 AM   IP              
Let's Hear it for the Rules

“So then, the law is holy… righteous and good” Romans 7:12

Most of us don’t really like rules. I don’t know why, but deep down inside we have an aversion to people telling us what to do and what not to do. Wanting to dump the rules and “go it on our own” implies that we think we know what is best and that left to ourselves we can manage life in good and productive ways. But you and I both know by experience that this is not always the case.

I wonder if God ever feels like I used to feel as a father. We lived in a neighborhood where the best place to play ball was in the street. One evening, my 5-year-old came to me with his glove and bat slung over his shoulder and said, “Hey, Dad, I’m going to play ball!”

“Where?” I asked, to which he replied, “In the street with my friends.”

Nothing made me happier than seeing my kids have a good time. But the thought of little Joe playing in the street concerned me. So I got down on his eye level and told him that I loved him too much to let him play in the street. “Quite frankly,” I said, “I don’t like to think of your little body getting integrated into the grill of a Mack truck! If you want to have fun playing ball, then get your friends and we’ll pile into the car and go to the park where playing ball is supposed to happen. But you can’t play ball in the street.”

God knows how dangerous Satan’s traffic is. And He is far more interested in our safety than He is in our unbridled pleasure. So, because He loves us, He has given us rules to keep us free from the damage of playing in Satan’s street.

To keep us from the self-destruction of bitterness, He has a rule about forgiving and loving our enemies. To keep us safe from the treachery of dishonesty and deceit, He has told us not to lie and to live instead for what is true. In fact, when you think of it, all of His rules are really for our good. Just take a look at the Ten Commandments. Life works better when we don’t lie to each other, steal from each other, or take each other’s life. We are all better off when we don’t covet each other’s property, sleep with each other’s wives, or gossip and bear false witness against our neighbor. How ridiculous is it that we are trying to put the Ten Commandments in the dumpster in our society? Who’d want to live in the chaos of a world where things like lying, stealing, cheating, sleeping around, greed, and bitterness are the norm? Did I hear you say that we are almost there?

Well, I’m not among those who believe that left to ourselves we can figure out how to do life. God knows we need help and thankfully in His love He blessed us with a few really important rules.

As the psalmist says: Blessed is the person who doesn’t scoff at God’s law! When you delight in the law of the Lord and become “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither,” whatever you do will prosper (Psalm 1:1-3).

Let’s hear it for the rules!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Do you consistently struggle with keeping any of God’s “rules”? Be honest with yourself. Examine your thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
•What have you found to be the downside of breaking those rules?
•What can you do to begin today to celebrate the importance and goodness of a specific rule of God that you struggle to keep?
•Pray through a short list of God’s rules, thanking Him for the safety and sanity they bring to your life. Be specific about why you are grateful for their impact in your life.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted April 23rd, 2012 10:27 AM   IP              
Trash Talk

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil . . . . It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:6

One morning when I was pulling out of our driveway on my way to work, I noticed that someone had thrown a beer can on our lawn. I picked it up, tossed it into our garbage can and drove away without giving it much thought.

A little further down the road, the thought hit me: What will the garbage man think when he sees a beer can tumble out of the minister’s trash can? I suppose, if my trash can could have talked, it would have set the garbage man straight. But unfortunately, trash cans don’t say much these days. So, my reputation was left to whatever the sanitation engineer would conclude. And while beer cans in your trash may not be the worst thing that could happen, I wondered what would have been the conclusion if a neighbor boy had dumped his porn magazines into our garbage?

We have all jumped to a conclusion about somebody without knowing all the facts, only to hear the rest of the story and then feel terrible about what we have said about that person to others. To make matters worse, there is no way that we can retrace all our false information to rescue the victim’s reputation. No wonder James warns, “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil.”

When we draw conclusions quickly—without careful consideration of the consequences and risks, we stoop to the level of tabloid reporting. We carelessly trash valued reputations and do irreparable damage. This lethal habit of our tongues is called the sin of beguilement—the sin of drawing wrong conclusions and then passing them on.

Avoiding this kind of “trash talk” means that we refuse to make any firm conclusions until the facts are in. When in doubt, go to the person for clarification. If your conclusions are true, you can help them repent and lead them lovingly to recovery. If they are not true, you can stick up for them if others are spreading beguilement about them. And, when someone comes to you with some “trash talk” about another person, be quick to ask, “Do you know that for sure?” Tell them that you really don’t want to know about the situation until you both can be certain about the facts. Encourage them to go directly to the person before they say anything else to others.

Reputations are too important to throw in the trash. I’m a raving fan of protecting people in love rather than getting some sort of sick joy out of speaking poorly about others. After all, Scripture tells us that “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Do you have areas in your life where it would be easy for people to misinterpret your actions and draw false conclusions? Make a list of those areas and commit to live a life that is “above reproach” according to the principles of 1 Timothy 3:2-4.
•Are you currently dealing with a situation where it would be easy to draw false conclusions? If so, pray about what to do. Consider speaking directly to those involved to clarify the facts.
•Beguilement is a sin that doesn’t get much press these days. If this is something you struggle with, bring it into the light. Ask the people you regularly talk with for their help to abstain from this practice.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted April 24th, 2012 01:38 PM   IP              
A Worthy Offering

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. —Genesis 4:7

I was delighted when a mutual friend gave my neighbor a Bible. But my neighbor told me she stopped reading it because she couldn’t understand why God would be so unfair as to reject Cain’s offering. “After all,” she said, “as a farmer, he simply brought to God what he had. Did God expect him to buy a different kind of sacrifice?” Sadly, she had missed the point.

It wasn’t that God didn’t like vegetables. Rather, He knew that Cain’s offering was masking an unrighteous attitude. Cain wasn’t fully committed to God, as expressed by the fact that he wasn’t living according to God’s ways.

It’s easy to worship God on the outside while stubbornly keeping territory from Him on the inside. Jude writes about outwardly religious people who use religious activities to cover the reality of their sinful lives: “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain” (Jude 1:11). We can faithfully serve God, sing His praises, and give sacrificially to His work. But God doesn’t want any of that without our hearts.

Does the Lord take priority over our plans and dreams? Is He worth more than the sin that tempts us? When we express to Him that He is more worthy than anything or anyone else in our lives, it’s an offering He won’t refuse.

Lord, may our worship and our praise,
From hearts surrendered to Your ways,
Be worthy offerings of love
For all Your blessings from above. —Sper

God won’t refuse a heart that is surrendered to Him.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted April 25th, 2012 12:40 PM   IP              
High-Tech Communication

Now we have received . . . the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. —1 Corinthians 2:12

When it comes to communication, our world is becoming increasingly high-tech. The popularity of things like Twitter and Facebook might cause some to think the Bible is too old-school. The tech-savvy people of our world might feel deterred because there are no sounds and no nifty graphics in the Bible. But the truth is, there’s more high-tech power in God’s Word than in any cutting-edge communication tool our world will ever know.

It’s not uncommon for a pastor to be told, “When you said that in your message, it was just what I needed.” Somehow during the sermon, God spoke to the person’s heart with a message tailor-made for him or her. If you’ve ever read the Bible and sensed God speaking directly to you, you know what I’m talking about. God has hard-wired you with His Spirit, who illumines your mind to understand His Word.

Imagine getting a “text message” directly from the Creator of the universe telling you exactly what you need at exactly the right time. No matter how high-tech this world gets, you’ll never experience a more powerful mode of communication!

Rejoice in the reality that “we have received . . . the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12).

Give me the insight, Lord,
As I hear Your Word today,
So I will truly understand
Your message and Your way. —Monroe

The Bible may be old, but its truths are always new.




God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted April 26th, 2012 01:11 PM   IP              
Friends in High Places

no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

Most of us would like to be known by someone important—to have friends in high places. So being invited to the White House to meet President George W. Bush was a pretty exciting moment for me. As I waited for my turn to greet him, my mind raced to think of what I would say.

Since no one had clued me in to the protocol and with no one there to introduce me, I thought it would be right to introduce myself and tell him what I did for a living. So, I decided my opening line would be something like, “Mr. President, my name is Joe Stowell and I serve as the President of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.” I must admit, secretly I was hoping that his eyes would light up and he’d say, “Oh yes, Moody Bible Institute. I’ve heard about that place” and that we just might have the small spark of commonality—the feeling of a fledgling friendship.

Suddenly, it was my turn. I walked up, shook his hand, and said my opening line. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Well, there you go, Joe!”

That was it. It was over! I had wanted to say that I was praying for him but there wasn’t even time for my last line. Admittedly, the encounter was a little less than I had expected.

Reflecting on that brief and awkward moment, I have often thought that while you might get brushed off by the President of the United States, God—the Almighty One, the Creator of the glorious universe—actually wants to be your friend! Jesus welcomed us to this privileged level of relationship when He said to His disciples on the night before He died, “I no longer call you servants . . . I have called you friends.”

As His friends, we are welcomed to enjoy open communication with Him and to be privy to insider information. “Everything,” Jesus says, “that I have learned from the Father I have made known to you.” It would be thrilling enough to be servants of God, participating in His work, but Jesus adds an entirely new dimension by saying that as friends He will tell us everything we need to know about God’s will and His ways for our lives.

And, as you probably know, friendship is not just about open communication. It’s about sharing things in common. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus would say in verse 14, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” When we obey Him we move our lives onto common ground with Him. We love what He loves and hate what He hates. We forgive because he forgives, and we show mercy to the undeserving because He is a God of mercy. The more I share in common with Him the better the friendship! Obedience is the way that I bring my life into commonality with Him.

What a stunning thing it is that Jesus says to us: “Let’s be friends”! And like good friends, He wants to talk with you and to share things in common. You might be brushed off by people you wish would be your friends, but that’s okay if you know that God calls you His friend!

OUR JOURNEY…

•One of the things Jesus did to let you know that He desires friendship with you is to die for you—to give you the assurance of sins forgiven and the promise of life eternal. Have you accepted that gift of friendship? If not, why deny God the relationship that He so deeply desires with you?
•Friends communicate by talking and listening to each other. Do you spend more time talking to earth-side friends than you do listening to God talk to you through His Word and the indwelling Spirit?
•If there were a commonality scale that measured how much you shared in common with God, how would you rate? What things in your life tend to distance you from God? How would obedience to Him in those areas spark a new sense of intimacy and friendship?

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 Posted April 27th, 2012 10:37 AM   IP              
Bull’s-eye

“…Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:3

Here’s some bad news: left to ourselves, we’re not very good shots when it comes to living. We are, at the core, sinful, which explains why we lead such “ready-fire-aim” kind of lives. We are a lot like the village idiot who prided himself on being a great shot. After he shot his arrow at the side of the barn, he would then paint a bull’s-eye target around the arrow, painting the arrow into the center of the bull’s-eye.

But the bull’s-eye of life is not an I-want-my-life-to-be-like-this-thank-you barn-side painting. The bull’s-eye for life as it’s meant to be is already painted by the good and righteous ways of God. And since we are not inherently righteous, but rather fallen and frail, missing the target is a regular event.

In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, the character named Cassius gets it right when he explains:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Most of us excuse our miscues, or mistakes, by assigning them to fate and random bumps from the circumstances of life: “It’s not our fault. We’re victims. It’s in our stars.” But God’s take on our lives is that the fault does lie in us! Not that we are underlings as Cassius points out, but that we are born sinful, fallen, frail, and broken. By our very nature we’re wrong-headed. I have come to realize that my first instincts in a given situation are probably wrong. Granted, they don’t seem wrong. It seems right to get even; to stash away as much money as I can; to make sure that I am recognized and affirmed; to seek pleasure for myself; to live life to the full on my own terms; to do everything to dodge suffering and then resent it when suffering does invade my life; to try to be as strong as I can, because only the strong survive; and to yell at people who yell at me. But here is the warning: God says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12)! And we are reminded in Isaiah that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).

So let’s fess up! We need help. Because we are bent in the wrong direction, we are in desperate need of God’s wisdom to live right-headedly. And, where is that wisdom found?

In Jesus!

Paul makes this clear when he writes that he desires that our hearts be encouraged so that we “may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that [we] may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).

Jesus knows the way. He has the wisdom to see life the way it should be lived. But beware! His wisdom will not seem right to you. He says to turn the other cheek, to die so that you can live, to give that you might gain, to forgive the same offense 490 times, to love your enemy, and to find meaning and productivity in suffering. Sound upside down to you? Sure it does. But it sounds that way, not because Jesus is upside down, but because we are.

The bull’s-eye of life is Jesus! Seek His wisdom and turn your “ready-fire-aim” life into blue- ribbon target shooting!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•When was the last time you stopped to evaluate whether or not your response was the response that Jesus would prompt you to do?
•Today, assume that your instincts to given situations will probably be wrong. Aim your heart to His wisdom by searching the Scripture, seeking the counsel of a godly friend, or praying that God would give you the wisdom He promised in James 1. Don’t fire until He aims your life in the right direction.
•What areas of your life tend to misfire on a regular basis? Start seeking God’s wisdom in one of those areas, and ask for His power to hit the target of His righteousness.

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 Posted April 28th, 2012 07:01 PM   IP              
The Good Old Days

You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:4

I must confess: I’m a romantic at heart, which means I love to hear stories of how people met and fell in love. What’s more, I love to hear stories of how they stay in love! Unfortunately, you don’t see too many 50th wedding anniversary celebrations these days.

Take Barb and Bob, for instance. Barb was a beauty queen who caught the eye of Bob, a talented athlete. It was love at first sight and romance at its best. Bob took great pride in his home and marriage, reveling in the fact that he was free to be a success in his profession because of his wife’s good work at home. She kept house, chauffeured the children, cooked, and accompanied him to social events. Without realizing it, however, Bob was shifting from a vibrant relationship with his wife to a complacent involvement with the “institution of marriage” and the organization called home. The intimacy of their love for each other was fading, until one night Bob confessed that he had in fact lost his love for Barb.

If we’re not careful, the same shift over time can happen in our relationship with Jesus. It’s fresh and exciting at first, but after a while we find ourselves more into the “routines” of Christianity than into the Redeemer Himself. You know the routines—the things we started doing out of love for Jesus that now are done simply out of habit or, worse, guilt. Routines of teaching, Bible reading, prayer, witnessing, counseling, missions, note taking, conferences, and camps are all admirable; yet they can become dry habits if they are merely rituals without relationship.

In Revelation 2:1-29, Jesus is concerned about this slide from relationship to ritual in the lives of his followers at Ephesus. He notes that they are doing all the right things for the wrong reasons. They have, according to Jesus, lost their first love. But they had not simply lost it; our text says that they had abandoned it. Evidently, after falling in love with Jesus, their lives became distracted by the lesser things of this world, and “Jesus” became just another thing in their day-timer as they ticked off their to-do lists. Maybe you can identify.

So how do we keep that from happening? Here’s what Jesus tells the Ephesians to do: Repent! As He put it: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:5). Jesus knows that duty without devotion is a mundane low-level experience compared to the heights of doing things that flow out of a heart that loves Him.

So He lovingly calls us to repent. Repentance literally means to turn around and go in the opposite direction. Thinking of your devotions and prayer life as a time of personal interaction with Jesus, of serving Him in your church as an act of worship to Him, of giving because you love Him, and of obeying because He is a leader you want to follow are all the kinds of change in attitudes that will recapture your first love for Jesus.

There are some things in life that we can never get back: our youth, the thrill of our first kiss, or our carefree college days. But doing all that we do because we love Jesus is a joy that can be reclaimed.

If you’re talking about loving Jesus the way you used to, then let’s hear it for the “good old days”!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Stop and evaluate your relationship with Jesus. Would you categorize your Christian experience as “duty without devotion,” or do you cultivate genuine, heartfelt love for Him?
•What are the “systems” that, while good in and of themselves, could cause a subtle shift in your devotion to Jesus?
•If someone were to ask you about the “good old days” with Jesus, how would you respond? If you have never experienced that type of relationship with Him, it’s not too late! See Personal Relationship with God to help you get started.

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 Posted April 29th, 2012 05:33 PM   IP              
Ash-heap Christians

“The fire will test the quality of each man’s work” 1 Corinthians 3:13

A few years ago, a series of fires raged through parts of southern California, fanned by the notorious Santa Ana winds. Laguna Hills, a posh, picture-perfect community set inland from the ocean, was hit especially hard. Flames jumped from house to house, fueled by cedar roof shingles. The fire consumed everything in its path—with one exception. The home of building contractor to Bui stood tall. The contractor wanted his home to last, so he constructed his roof with concrete and tile. The fire tested the roof, found it inflammable, and skipped over it to more combustible structures.

We can learn a lesson from To Bui’s careful planning. Since God’s Word tells us that everything we do will be tested by fire, we should live in such a way that we bring to the fire of God’s testing things that will pass the heat test. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul warns us about the danger of living lives made of things like wood, hay, and straw—things that have no impact on eternity. Temporary things, whether wrong or right, that are of no spiritual consequence. Francis Schaeffer calls people who are rich in temporary things “ash-heap Christians” who, at the end of their lives, will be standing before God with nothing of lasting value to bring to Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in showing up before God knee-deep in ashes. That’s a really scary thought! But, I also know how easy it is to lose sight of our accountability in the last days and to easily squander our time, money, and relationships on the “here and now.” On what Jesus says are things that moths eat up and that thieves break in and steal (Luke 12:33).

The alternative is to live for the things built on Jesus’ foundation. Paul contrasts these works to wood, hay, and straw by calling them “gold, silver, and costly stones”—commodities that are not only fireproof but purified by fire.

So what would a life full of noncombustible works look like? What does it mean to live for the things Jesus was committed to?

First and foremost, Jesus was passionately addicted to one commodity on this planet: people. He knew that everything else is getting checked at the border! Prioritizing people and their needs is where noncombustible living starts. From the poor and the losers in life to the wealthy and influential, no one escapes the swath of God’s love and mercy. Even our enemies are worthy of the grace of God’s forgiveness through us. Colleagues at work, lost people needing a Savior, to say nothing of those closest to us—spouses, parents, kids, grandkids—all are in need of a loving touch from us in the name of Jesus.

Then there is the capacity to fireproof our lives by using our time, talents, and gifts for things that are eternally important to Jesus. Serving His cause with our abilities—even in the most menial tasks—puts a little gold and silver in the backpack we are carrying home. Generously supporting God’s work with our financial resources and being willing to send our sons and daughters into ministry when they are called all load us up with things that pass the heat test!

The choice is ours: Ash heaps? Or gold, silver, and costly stones? I’ll take the precious commodities route. How about you?

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. Write “people” at the top of one column, “finances” in the second column, and “time” in the third. Jot down the specific resources God has given you and how you can use them for Him.
•Are you living the life of an “ash-heap Christian”? Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten. A lower rating means you are living a combustible life. What can you do to improve?
•Consider rededicating your life to the things Jesus is committed to. Pray and renew your promise to live for Him in all that you do, asking Him to help you use your relationships, finances, and time for His glory.
Categories: Character, Christian Life, Christlikeness, Giving, Growth, Lifestyle Issues, Ministry And Outreach, Money, Possessions, Relating To God, Relationships, Sanctification, Spiritual Gifts

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 Posted May 4th, 2012 01:57 PM   IP              
Wake Him Up!

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Elouise worked the cash register in the food court at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute. She was, by far and away, one of my favorite people. I liked a lot of things about Elouise: her happy smile, helpful spirit, and love for everyone. But what I liked best was her down-home, streetwise wisdom that came out in some of the most memorable quips. I could give you a bunch of them, but here’s one that just might be a good word for you.

One morning, as I reached into my pocket to pull out the cash for my breakfast, I asked Elouise how she was doing, to which she replied, “Not all that great.”

“Really?” I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Well,” she quipped, “I had to wake Him up this morning!”

I wasn’t quite getting where she was going with that, so I asked, “What do you mean? Wake who up?”

“Don’t you know your Bible?” she teasingly said with an obvious sense of joy at stumping the Moody president. To save me any further embarrassment, she went on to say, “When the disciples thought they were going to die in the storm at sea, they had to wake up Jesus so He would help them. I had to wake Him up this morning,” she said, “’cause I needed His help!”

See why she’s one of my favorite people?

What she didn’t say, though, was that it seems like Jesus was the last resort for those panicked disciples. Luke tells us that it wasn’t until the boat was nearly swamped, and it was clear that they were in great danger, that someone had the brilliant idea to wake up Jesus.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we are usually pretty slow as well to wake Him up. Well, actually, we don’t need to wake Him up since the God who watches over us neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:3)! In reality, we’re the ones who need to wake up. We need to wake up to the truth that we are not as capable as we think we are to deal with life’s challenges; that our wisdom and instincts are flawed; that trying to manage life by the seat of our pants usually gets us into a heap of trouble.

So, thankfully, the writer to the Hebrews assures us that we can come to Jesus with what the text literally says is “unstaggering confidence”—confidence that He understands our plight and is ready to help us in our time of need. And, in case you’re wondering how He will help you in your time of need, think about His grace that will help you endure, His mercy, His power to overcome, His wisdom to show you the way. And don’t forget His calming presence and His peace that passes understanding in the midst of life’s storms. They are all available for the asking!

So, next time you are overwhelmed with life and don’t know what to do, take a little advice from my friend Elouise: wake Him up! And don’t wait until He is your last resort. You’ll get exhausted and disheartened if you try to bail out your boat all by yourself!

Which reminds me of a wonderful old song that we used to sing in church when I was a boy. It goes, “I need thee, Oh, I need thee! Every hour I need thee! Oh, bless me now my Savior, I come to thee.” You’ll need Him sometime—probably today—so make that the theme song of your life.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Would you say that Jesus is your first option when life gets in your face? Or is He your last resort?
•What specific steps can you take toward being aware of God’s presence and desire to step in and help you?
•At least once today, plan to intentionally call on God. Ask for His wisdom to know what to do and His grace to do it in a way that would be pleasing to Him. Make it a daily, lifelong habit!

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 Posted May 5th, 2012 06:15 PM   IP              
A Parent’s Pain

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

I’ll never forget meeting Nathan and Connie. With five sons, they loved the Lord and were busy going about His work. Suddenly, their world was decimated by an unthinkable tragedy. The three oldest boys were driving home from Wal-Mart when a drunk driver crossed the centerline, hitting them head-on. All three were killed as a result of the accident—snatched away in a cruel, horrible moment.

Connie told me that though the accident had happened three years ago, the pain was still fresh. “To this day, it’s wrenching,” she said. But then she continued, “I’ve often wondered if that’s how Mary felt when she looked at the excruciating and publicly humiliating death of Jesus as He hung on the cross.”

It’s a sobering thought. We have sung of the cross, put it on our steeples and on chains around our necks. But if we are not careful, we grow accustomed to the thought of the cross, forgetting the very real pain, real sorrow, and loss that it represents. And while we think of Mary’s agony and the torment of the cross for Jesus, I wonder if the pain wasn’t deepest in the heart of God. Think of the heartache for the One who willingly sent His only Son! No one knew more deeply what the crushing weight and torture of the sins of the world—your sins and my sins—would be like as they were embedded into the soul of the Savior. Think of how God must have felt in that moment.

The apostle John knew full well what that moment looked like. He was there at the foot of the cross, and from Christ’s words on the cross it seems apparent that he was an eyewitness to the grief of Mary (John 19:26). Years later he would describe this moment as the supreme expression of love. “This is love,” John writes, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

The marvel is not that we would love God or choose to offer our lives to Him. It is that He would choose to love us and offer His only Son on our behalf! He willingly endured that pain to bring us back into relationship with Him. This alone—even if God never did anything else for us—should stimulate our hearts to live in grateful love and adoration toward Him for the rest of our lives. The thought of this indescribable love should constantly remind us that we, though undeserving and unlovable in His sight, have been blessed beyond measure and loved like no one else could love us!

I love the words to the hymn penned by Stuart Townend (who clearly has not grown accustomed to impact of the cross):

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure,

That He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure.

How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away,

As wounds which mar the Holy One, bring many sons to glory.

Keeping the cross in mind with all of its heavy, yet joyful, implications may just be the most important thing we do in life!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Take a few minutes to read John 19, then turn back to 1 John 4:17-21. How do you think John’s experience as an eyewitness of the crucifixion affected his instruction in his epistle?
•One of John’s key instructions in the book of 1 John is that, because God loved us, we must love each other. In what ways can you better love others today because of God’s love for you?
•Perhaps you are experiencing some pain as a parent—a son or daughter who is not walking with Christ, a rift in a relationship with one of your children, a child’s extended illness, or the tragic loss of a child. Please know that you can bring that pain openly and honestly before the Father, who experienced it firsthand, and receive grace and help in your time of need.

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 Posted May 9th, 2012 12:36 PM   IP              
God’s Presence At Church

"Walk worthy of the Lord." Colossians 1:10

I love reading church slogans. You know, the ones you see on the marquee in front of churches. Recently I noticed a slogan that said, “Come in and experience the presence of God.” That one caught my attention, primarily because it’s an important promise to make and sometimes a hard promise to keep. Hard, because if we’re not careful our churches might reflect the presence of its people more than the presence of our God.

So what would a church have to do to display the presence of God? Its people would have to live like Him! Dynamics like hospitality, the loving acceptance of all kinds of people, a quickness to serve, a tangible love for one another that makes people feel safe and included regardless of color or class, and a patient tolerance of one another’s weaknesses would all be a great way to start. Paul said we should walk in a manner “worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:10). And he also said that being worthy means that we will be humble, gentle, bearing with one another in love, eagerly maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2-3).

Let’s live in such a way that others will experience the presence of the God who lives in us—wherever we are, but especially at church.

The world gets a glimpse of God
When those who claim to be
The followers of Jesus Christ
Are living righteously. —Sper

Those who walk with Christ bring the presence of God to everyone around them.


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 Posted May 10th, 2012 12:45 PM   IP              
Drumroll, Please . . .

“I will bless those who bless you, . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Genesis 12:3

There are some moments in Scripture that I would have choreographed a little differently if it had been up to me. Now, before you start writing in to tell me I’m a heretic, please know that I believe wholeheartedly in the final authority of Scripture and the sovereignty of God. I don’t want to risk a lightning bolt and am not slacking off in my theology!

But if you or I were consulted about some of these moments in Scripture, we might have orchestrated them with a little more fanfare. For instance, the moment when Adam woke up to find Eve before him had to be a “fireworks, roses, and violins” kind of moment! Or what about the birth of Christ? Though God had a purpose in it, we probably would have chosen something a little more dramatic than a dingy stable and a few shepherds.

I have the same kinds of thoughts when I read through Genesis 12:1-3. This conversation between Abraham and God occurs in the middle of nowhere. I think of Abraham as a great patriarch, but in this moment he is an uninitiated nomad with no doubt an idolatrous background. And yet, here in this conversation between God and a rather unlikely person, God makes an earth-shattering promise. God shows up and tells Abraham that he would become a great nation. Then God promises—this is the moment we would cue the drum roll and a thousand-trumpet fanfare—that through him, “All peoples on earth will be blessed.”

This is one of the first prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ through the seed of Abraham. Take it personally—you and I, who are followers of Jesus today, are recipients of the phenomenal benefits of that promise.

Both genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels trace His lineage back to Abraham. Through the entire Old Testament, even when it seemed that the promise had been jeopardized by the unfaithfulness of Israel, God was faithfully preparing to keep His promise to Abraham. And then the moment arrived when the promise was fulfilled. On the hill of Calvary, it was a descendant of Abraham hanging on the cross, giving His life for us so that, as the promise predicted, you and I could be “blessed” in massive proportion. And it all started with a promise made to a wandering nomad over 4,000 years ago. No cheering crowds or angelic choirs—just God, His promise, and an unlikely recipient.

And here is the good news. God still shows up to speak to rather unassuming people like you and me. Every time we read His promises to us it is a profound moment. Behind every promise and plan He lays out for us in His Word, there are ramifications of strategic proportions. You may not hear a lot of fanfare, but the God who was faithful to Abraham will be faithful to His promises to you! So strike up the band—drum roll, please—God still speaks and delivers on His promises! Are you listening? Do you believe?

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think of a specific promise that God has made to you. Perhaps it’s that His grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9), or that His presence is always with you 24/7 so you need not fear anything (Hebrews 13:5). Think of His promise to give you wisdom when you need it (James 1:5) and to supply your needs as you are faithful to Him (Philippians 4:19). Or perhaps it’s His promise to forgive your sins as you confess them to Him (1 John 1:9). Do you really believe that the promises are true? If He waits a while to fulfill a promise in your life, will He find you still trusting?
•What would you expect to experience if your heart was fully confident of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise? Words like peace, perseverance, patience, and praise in advance of the provision should come to mind!
•Could you cling to His promise even if it weren’t fulfilled in your lifetime?

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 Posted May 11th, 2012 10:47 AM   IP              
Whose Side Are You On?

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” James 4:4

Ever been caught in the middle of a fight? When I was a kid in junior high school, two of my buddies had a disagreement and planned to prove their dominant masculinity in a fight at the park after school. “Red” was a friend from my youth group at church, and Larry was a buddy from my neighborhood. As we walked to the park after school that day, all of Red’s friends were following him, while all of Larry’s friends clustered around him. I didn’t know what to do. Both of them were my friends. So I decided to do the diplomatic thing. First, I walked for a bit with Larry, and then I slipped over to Red’s side of the street. I’ll never forget what Red said to me. “Joe, you’re either my friend or Larry’s friend. You can’t have it both ways. Make up your mind.”

Ouch.

I knew right away that what he said had a ring of truth to it. Not unlike Red’s remark to me, the apostle James jabs us with a stinging warning: “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

I doubt that any of us would want to be on the wrong side of that equation. Yet it’s so easy to sidle up to the ways of the world. How can we know whose side we’re really on? Thankfully, Paul gives us a clue. In Galatians 5:19-21, just before he gives the famous list of the fruits of the Spirit, he lists several examples of how friendship with the world shows up in our actions: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

If you find yourself in that list, you’re making a huge statement about whose side you’re on. And here’s a scary thought—not only are you a friend of the world, but an enemy of God when your actions stand in sharp contrast to His will and His ways. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us in enemy territory. He goes on to list some examples of what friendship with God looks like: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Jesus Himself made the grounds for friendship with Him clear when He said to His disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). Doing His will is what proves our friendship with Him, and it is what empowers us to bear much fruit to His glory!

So, whose side are you on? Friendship with Jesus is proven when we walk with Him in His will and His ways, which means that friendship with Jesus is a choice—a choice between Him and the ways of this fallen world.

Take it from me, James, Paul, and my friend Red, you can’t have it both ways. So be sure that you’re walking in Jesus’ crowd!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Read carefully through the lists in Galatians 5:19-23. Which list best describes you? Would the people who know you agree with your answer?
•What do you think James meant when he used the phrase “adulterous people”? How does it affect you to think of your relationship with God and the world in terms of a love relationship?
•None of us wants to be described as an “enemy of God.” What do we need to do to prevent that from happening?
•Remember, God’s most passionate desire for your life is that you will bear fruit. Do you have that passion in common with Him?
•Think of a practical way that you can be a friend of God today. (Hint: consult the list in Galatians 5:22-23.)

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 Posted May 14th, 2012 10:32 AM   IP              
Thank God for Mothers!

“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” 2 Timothy 1:5

It was Sunday morning and her son still had not appeared at the breakfast table. She had tried yelling up the stairs: “Wake up and get down here!” But there had been no response. Finally, she went up the stairs and opened the door to her son’s room and said, “You need to get up and get dressed. It’s time to go to church!”

“I don’t want to go to church,” her son groaned from under the covers.

“You can’t give me a good reason not to go to church, so get up!” his mom replied.

“Actually, I’ll give you three reasons. Number one: it’s boring. Number two: the people there are gossipy and critical. And number three: no one likes me. So why should I bother?”

“I’ll give you three reasons,” retorted his mom. “Number one: the Bible says you should go. Number two: you’re 45 years old. And number three: you’re the pastor! Now get out of bed and get dressed for church!”

Where would we be without the tireless urging of our mothers to do what is right? All over the United States this weekend, flowers will be delivered, homemade cards will be given, and moms will be celebrated on Mother’s Day. And it’s fitting that we should do so. I know of very few roles that demand such unconditional, self-sacrificing perseverance and commitment as that of motherhood.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul pauses to acknowledge the impact that a mother can have, mentioning Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, and Eunice, his mother. Paul’s mention of these women is interesting because he personally could claim a great deal of influence on the spiritual journey of Timothy. Paul called him his spiritual son (2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:22) and had not only included Timothy on missionary journeys, but had entrusted numerous assignments to him, including shepherding the growing church at Ephesus. It’s clear that Paul had invested much of his life in mentoring and helping to make Timothy capable and usable.

But Paul readily and willingly acknowledged that the seeds of Timothy’s faith were planted by these two women. We know very little about Lois and Eunice, but our imaginations can picture them praying with young Timothy, teaching him the simple stories of Jesus and the life-changing truths of God’s Word, and introducing him to the early leaders of the church. All of us know that mothering is a challenging task, but the rewards to faithful moms are great. Think of how Timothy’s mother and grandmother must have felt to see him blossom as a leader in the work of Jesus!

I know for certain that my character and faith has been shaped and molded by my mom. I will be forever grateful for her influence in my life. And it’s been a privilege for me to watch the way my wife, Martie, has impacted the lives of our kids, and now our grandkids. So this weekend, I’m excited for the opportunity to celebrate the significant role of our mothers.

Because, let’s face it, where would we be without them? Let’s hear it for moms!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•For some, Mother’s Day brings pain—perhaps the pain of a fractured relationship between a mother and child, the pain of losing a loved one, or the pain of unfulfilled longings for motherhood. Psalm 34:18 offers these compassionate words: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Jesus knows and understands your pain and is ready to not only grieve with you, but to bring you His gentle peace and hope.
•If you are a mom, how does it encourage and excite you to know that you can have such a key role in the life of your kids (and grandkids)?
•Take a moment to thank the Lord for your mom, and then be sure to express your thanks to your mom in specific ways!

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 Posted May 17th, 2012 11:57 PM   IP              
A Known Commodity

“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12

My new ministry was at a large, sophisticated church just outside of Detroit. I confess—at only 36 years old, I felt more than a little intimidated in this congregation populated with high-powered automobile industry executives. With my securities running full bore, like a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread, I dove in. And of course, everyone was outwardly very kind: “Oh, we are so glad you’re here. Let’s go forward for the Lord!” But inwardly, I’m sure their thoughts were more like: “Who are you? What will you do to us? Can we really trust you?”

The tipping point for me came about two years into the ministry as I was driving home from a board meeting. I sensed that something had been different in that meeting. The elders were listening to me. What I was saying seemed to be carrying some weight, and we were interacting on a deeper level. I had crossed the bridge of their initial uncertainties and had gained their trust. I was no longer a question mark in their hearts but a known commodity.

Paul talks about the importance of relationships being built on trust in his second letter to Timothy. His circumstances were anything but great. He was imprisoned for his proclamation of Jesus and was concerned that Timothy be able to effectively and accurately guard the precious message of the gospel. And yet in the storm of his circumstances, he found an anchor—his unwavering trust in Jesus; a trust that Paul had experienced personally in His walk with the Lord.

I love the fact that Paul expresses his confidence in Jesus in relational terms: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard that which I have entrusted to him for that day.” Paul is all about doctrine, but at the very core of his belief structure is his unshakable trust in the person of Jesus. He tells the Philippians that everything else is “a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).” There is nothing dry or dusty about Paul’s theology. It’s all about what he knows and has experienced of Christ! And, in all that he has experienced—shipwreck, torture, imprisonment, ridicule—he is able to trust because he knows Jesus is true.

Having a proven sense of confidence in Jesus will change the way that you and I view life. The more you get to know Him, the more your trust will increase. The more you consider His character and the more you trace the pattern of His work across the pages of your life, the more you’ll know and be convinced that He is worthy of your trust. We may not know where our circumstances are going to take us, and we may not know what the future holds, but if we know Him, that’s enough.

Because He is, in the strongest, most wonderful terms possible, a known commodity!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How is Paul’s passion for knowing Jesus expressed in Philippians 3:7-11?
•How does that passion fuel his confidence when he writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8-14?
•What tangible steps can you take to get to know Jesus better today?

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 Posted May 19th, 2012 07:10 PM   IP              
An Eclipse of Heaven

The city [heaven] does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Revelation 21:23

Solar eclipses are an amazing phenomenon. As the moon slides between the earth and the sun, the sun’s brilliance gradually fades. Its light grows dim, as if there’s a layer of dust on everything you see. The effect is most dramatic on a bright cloudless day. While the eclipse is in full force, it’s easy to forget that the sun is still there in all its force and glory.

As amazing as a solar eclipse may be, more amazing is the fact that as followers of Jesus we often live with heaven eclipsed in our hearts. I don’t know what you think of when you think of heaven, but count on it, heaven is a glorious destination and, as Paul described, because of Christ’s presence there, it is far better than anything we could experience here (Philippians 1:23).

But heaven’s glory and the excitement of getting there often fades in the light of our dim view of heaven and the lure of lesser stuff here on earth.

If the word heaven evokes images of an eternity lounging on clouds, plucking out melodies on a harp, adjusting our halos, and singing in a choir, then no wonder that the brilliance of heaven may be going through an eclipse in your heart. It’s hard to muster a lot of enthusiasm if we think that heaven will be boring! But believe me, the God who died for you is not planning an eternity of boring assignments for you!

If your thoughts about what heaven may be like aren’t distorted, then you’re not necessarily off the hook. Heaven is often eclipsed in our hearts by the lure and glitter of earth-side stuff. It’s easy to think we can create heaven on earth by stacking up all that we think will make us happy and comfortable. Only to find that the initial thrill of it all quickly wears off as we disappointingly discover that there is no such thing as heaven on earth.

So let’s dismiss our twisted thoughts about heaven and forget trying to make heaven here on earth. Getting heaven in clear view starts by focusing on what we do know to be true about heaven. Your first thoughts no doubt are about streets of gold and gates of pearl. As spectacular as that might be, they are not the draw of heaven. We get used to stuff like that. The real excitement of heaven will be our eternal delight in living in the unveiled presence of Jesus, our Savior and friend! No matter how nice the place, it’s the people in the place who make the place—and in this place it is the presence of God in the new heaven and the new earth that will fill our hearts with delight and unfading joy. It’s the way it was meant to be before sin raped the landscape of our existence. It’s Eden all over again!

In this city there will be no power outages! Our text today tells us, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). And this Lamb, who conquered death, guarantees that there will be no more sorrow, death, or dying. In fact, He Himself will wipe away all our tears (Rev. 21:4)!

De-eclipse heaven in your heart and live with something to look forward to!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Are you curious about what heaven will really be like? Read the following passages to get a sneak preview.Revelation 4:1-11; 21:10-27; 22:1-5.
•Compare your thoughts of heaven with the truth of God’s Word. Create two columns on a piece of paper. In one column, brainstorm a list of prevalent thoughts about heaven. In the other column, write the truth about what the Bible says about that topic.
•Pray and ask the Lord to keep the light of heaven alive in your heart. Thank Him for the promise of heaven for all those who believe.

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 Posted May 23rd, 2012 08:33 AM   IP              
See Ya in Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya in heaven!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think about the things you did yesterday. What would you have done differently if it had been your last day? How will that make a difference in the way you live today? Be specific. Think of people you should call, or people you should hug.
•Are you passionate about heaven? If not, make a list of some things that might be hindering your passion.
•Which of the four habits is the easiest for you? Which one is the hardest?
•Have you ever thought of yourself as an “exile” on this planet? How does that identity help bring eternal things into focus?
Categories: Basics Of Faith, Christ's Return, Christian Life, Current Events, Eternity, Future Prophecy, Heaven, Judgment, Our World

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 Posted May 25th, 2012 04:57 PM   IP              
Leaving Sin City

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin” Psalm 32:5

A seriously disturbing commercial made its way to TV sets across America recently. The ad begins with a chauffeur opening the door of a stretch limousine for a woman who is dressed for a night on the town. As the limousine cruises to the airport, the driver looks back and tries to make conversation with the woman, who appears to be attempting to seduce him. As they continue along, the divider window in the car goes up and the camera cuts away to a shot of the car pulling up to the curb, where the driver gets out and opens the back door for his passenger. She climbs out of the car, hair neatly pinned up, dressed in a business suit, chatting away on her cell phone. While on the phone she leans in for one last flirtation with the puzzled driver, and then continues off to catch her flight. The commercial fades to the tag line: “What happens here stays here. Las Vegas.”

The message is obvious. Las Vegas is a place where you can pursue your lust and greed with abandon, somehow disconnecting it from the rest of your life and hiding it from friends and family. Check your morals at the door and revel in unbridled freedom. No guilt, no fear, no consequences. It is, they claim, an adult playground, existing solely for your indulgence and amusement, where your secrets are kept.

Before you start taking the bait “hook, line, and sinker” you need to know that what you do in Las Vegas—or anywhere else for that matter—doesn’t stay there. What you do is a part of you, and you’ll take it all home with you!

The words of King David provide ample warning for us. I would suspect that, with much of his kingdom away in battle, David assumed that “What happens in the palace stays in the palace.” However, his secret fling with Bathsheba was exposed all too quickly with the expanding signs of her pregnancy. His attempts to cover his tracks led him to one desperate scheme after another. Yet in the end, with the blood of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, on his hands, he found himself face to face with the prophet Nathan and the consequences of his sin exposed to all. His reign and service to the Lord would forever be marked by that tragic moment in his life.

More tellingly, Psalm 32:1-11 records that, even before the sin was publicly exposed, the pangs of David’s conscience kept him in anguish. “When I kept silent,” he writes, “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). He didn’t leave his sin with Bathsheba behind in the bed of adultery; he was crushed by the guilt and shame that he carried with him.

When we choose to sin, we do not leave the sin behind without a trace. If you belong to God, the indwelling Holy Spirit will sound the alarm. And though no one knows, we will be haunted by the fear of discovery and the loss of self worth. As Scripture says, “You may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23)!

So join King David. Know the joy of being done with the cover-ups and finished with the secrets. Genuine confession before our loving and forgiving God will trigger His grace and forgiveness and will enable you to leave Sin City far, far behind!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Did the Holy Spirit spotlight any area of your life that needs to be brought into the light? Go before the Lord in genuine, heartfelt confession, acknowledging your need of His forgiveness.
•What other lies does Satan try to feed us to convince us that sinning is worth the toll that it takes on our lives?
•How can time in God’s Word and in prayer help us to more quickly recognize areas of sin and struggle in our lives?

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 Posted May 27th, 2012 03:24 PM   IP              
Finger Pointer’s Anonymous

Stop passing judgment on one another.” Romans 14:13

A glass of wine or not a glass of wine? To dance or not to dance? To work on Sunday or not to work on Sunday? To play cards or not to play cards? Or, in some places, to play dominoes or not to play dominoes?!

Let’s face it, we tend to feel strongly about our personal preferences regarding what Christians should and should not do. And, when others violate our spiritual preferences, the finger-pointing begins!

This is nothing new for Christians. Paul had to address the subject of preferences with the early believers in Rome who were troubled by a few issues. Believers who had been saved out of Judaism wondered what to do about the holy days prescribed in the Old Testament and the keeping of certain strict Sabbath rules. With their newfound freedom in Jesus, they didn’t know what to do with the ceremonial laws concerning “unclean” meat, not to mention the meat offered to idols in the pagan temples of their day.

In the face of conflicting preferences, note that Paul doesn’t take sides. Rather, he says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Paul continued, “He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6). Simply put, each of us should be convinced that what we are doing can be done to please the Lord.

Before you start thinking that this doesn’t apply to us because we don’t deal with these particular issues today, think again. The issues are different, but the lesson is the same: Each of us is individually accountable to God for our actions. Which, by the way, means that no one is accountable to—you guessed it—you for what they do or don’t do.

When we think that our point of view on personal preferences is the only point of view, we start finger-pointing and end up violating God’s call for us to reject a judgmental spirit. Often without even realizing it, we hold our preferences as standards of biblical spirituality. If thoughts like, He can’t be too serious about God—just look at his car! or, I can’t believe she watches that TV program! have ever crossed your mind, you know what I’m talking about!

So what’s the solution?

Take Paul’s exhortation to heart and “stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13). Some matters of personal preference are just that—personal, which means that it’s between that person and God. Paul called them “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1)—referring to issues that are not clearly outlined in Scripture as right or wrong. Rather than using our preferences as a spiritual whipping post, we must give room for others to express a different opinion and to love them as Jesus does. And, Paul tells us, “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Romans 14:13). When we know that something we feel is okay might endanger another’s walk with Jesus, then it’s up to us to love them enough to yield our preferences for the sake of their well-being.

And that’s the bottom line: love. It’s the glue that keeps us together when we face “disputable matters.” Next time you feel your grip tighten around a matter of personal preference, think about Romans 14:13. Stop passing judgment and make up your mind about what really matters—and hopefully love will win out every time!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What are some personal preferences you feel strongly about? In what ways might you be inclined to judge others who don’t match up to your view?
•Sometimes it’s easy to get confused between non-negotiable biblical principles and our own personal convictions. Ask the Lord to help you carefully evaluate your personal preferences in light of Scripture.
•According to Paul’s practical instructions in Romans 14:13, what are two steps you can take to avoid conflicts concerning personal preferences?

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 Posted May 29th, 2012 02:02 PM   IP              
What’s For Dinner?

"It came to pass . . . that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Genesis 22:1"

I can hardly imagine inviting special friends over for dinner and then throwing a few leftovers into the microwave to serve up to them. But if I were to do that, it would speak volumes about how I really feel about them.

Giving God the leftovers of our lives speaks volumes about His true worth to us. When God asked Abraham to give Isaac back to Him as an act of worship, Genesis 22:1 calls it a test. A test to see if there was anything in his life that he treasured more than God.

It’s no different for us. There are times when God requires something really important to get His work done. He’ll ask us to give up our natural instincts to seek revenge so that we can communicate His forgiving love by forgiving our enemies. He may call us to sacrifice portions of our time or money or comforts to advance His cause. Or He may require us to allow our sons and daughters to go to a far-off land to tell others about His saving love. The way we respond to what He requires says volumes about how we really feel about Him.

Anyone can offer the leftovers. Only those who love God more than anything else will serve up the very best for Him.

“Take up thy cross and follow Me,”
I hear the blessed Savior call;
How can I make a lesser sacrifice
When Jesus gave His all? —Ackley

No sacrifice we make is too great for the One who sacrificed His all.


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 Posted June 10th, 2012 10:58 AM   IP              
Now Appearing . . . Jesus!

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

If I were God—and I know a lot of people including my wife who are deeply grateful that I’m not—I might very well have planned a stealth arrival to our planet to keep people guessing about who I really was.

Think of how cool it would have been for God to be here and for no one to know it was actually Him. With the old sunglasses, fake nose, and moustache trick, He could sneak into a lot of places without being noticed. The advantage of being able to check up on religious folk to see what they were really like when they thought He wasn’t looking is almost too tantalizing of an option to refuse! He could do the Santa routine: making a list and checking it twice. And to most people that would make a lot of sense since masses of us assume that God considers it great sport to spend his time finding out who’s naughty and nice. Then, after getting the scoop, He could quietly disappear and plan His sting operation against our wayward ways.

But you’ve got to give God a lot of credit. He resisted the temptation and arrived on our planet in the person of an unshrouded and wide-open Jesus. And most surprisingly, He didn’t come to find out who is naughty and nice. He already knows that. Instead, He came to shock us about God. To prove once and for all that God was not a stingy-hand-wringing-grimacing-out-of-touch-with-reality God who can’t wait to pull the trigger. But rather a God who generously disperses the rare items of grace and mercy to all who have at one time or another slipped up. And that’s all of us! A God whose love was not the mushy kind but tough enough to risk a life-threatening rescue mission so that all of us might recover and experience the ultimate satisfaction that He promises—guaranteed!

And, it must be admitted, masses in our day have found the real Jesus to be anything but elusive. In fact, they have found Him to be compellingly available. And, for the suspicious among us, it is not just the feeble and weak who flee to Him for rest and comfort (though He gladly grants rest and comfort to those who find themselves shoved to the bottom of the heap). Many highly placed, intelligent, prosperous, and privileged people have found—in the midst of their abundance and instant access to thrills and stuff—that they are still hanging out the vacancy sign on the door of their hearts. It is these people who are finding that Jesus does exactly what He says He will: cancel the smoke-and-mirrors show and fill the hollow recesses of life with hope, purpose, and the pursuit of all that is truly significant!

So, here’s the good news. If you embrace the real Jesus, you will find Him to be deeply rewarding and wonderfully different. Wonderfully different from anyone you have ever known. Wonderfully full of grace and truth!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Have you embraced the reality of Jesus and his ways in your life, or is He just another religious icon in your life?
•What do you find wonderfully different about Jesus? Do people around you find that in your life as well?
•What do you find wonderfully rewarding about Jesus? Have you rewarded others with that through your life?
•Make a plan. Be the wonderfully different and rewarding Jesus to someone in your world today!

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 Posted June 27th, 2012 04:11 PM   IP              
Get In The Game

To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. —Colossians 1:29

I love going to Chicago’s Wrigley Field for a baseball game—sitting in the stands, downing a great hot dog, and cheering the Cubs on to victory!

Unfortunately, Christianity has become a lot like professional sports. As a friend of mine has observed, there are nine guys on the baseball field doing all the work and thousands in the stands just watching. And as you probably know, that’s not God’s game plan for His people. He wants us to climb out of the stands, get out on the field, and join the team.

If you are wondering what good you can do on the field, wonder no more. What about your financial resources? Jesus can take your “silver and gold” and use it to accomplish great things for His glory.

But more than just getting out your checkbook, you have gifts you can contribute. God has given each of us spiritual gifts that can help advance His kingdom. Whether it’s teaching, encouraging, serving, showing hospitality, or extending mercy, each ability can yield great dividends. Let’s follow the example of Paul, who tirelessly served on God’s field for the joy of being used by Him (Col. 1:28-29).

Believe me, it’s far more rewarding to be on the field than to sit in the stands.

Start where you are in serving the Lord,
Claim His sure promise and trust in His Word;
God simply asks you to do what you can,
He’ll use your efforts to further His plan. —Anon.

Don’t make a cemetery of your life by burying your talents.


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 Posted June 29th, 2012 03:54 PM   IP              
God With Us

“And we, who… all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness…” 2 Corinthians 3:18

He was sitting three rows back in the aisle seat, slouched down in his chair, wearing a baseball cap on his head and a green Diesel shirt that complemented his blue jeans. He caught my eye because he seemed out of place in the setting—a chapel service at a Baptist seminary in Bucharest, Romania. I noticed him, while preaching to the group of students gathered for the meeting, because it was clear that he was a little different from his otherwise “properly” dressed classmates.

After the service was over, he came up to me with one of my books, which had been translated into Romanian. In halting English he asked if I would sign his book. “Sure, I’d be happy to,” I replied, “What’s your name?” His reply caught me off guard.

“Emmanuel.”

Quite frankly, the whole thing took me back a little since I had always thought that the name Emmanuel was the exclusive territory of Jesus. I thought, Emmanuel?As in the same name the angels told Joseph to give to Jesus? God with us? That Emmanuel? Wondering if I had heard him correctly, I asked again, “What did you say your name was?”

“Emmanuel,” he boldly replied.

“Do you know what Emmanuel means?”

“Yes, I do,” he said without a moment’s hesitation. It means, “God with us.”

The longer I thought about the brief encounter with the student in jeans, the more I realized we should all think of ourselves as “God with us.” When we understand that we are to live to bring glory to God, the thought that we are to be God’s representative to our world is right on target. Glorifying God simply means that we are to demonstrate God’s glory through our lives. His glory is the expression of all that He is in His all-surpassing stunning perfection. Obviously, we can’t be all that He is, nor can we pull it off in all-surpassing stunning perfection. But we can live to show others what the love, justice, integrity, trustworthiness, mercy, and grace of God are like in real life. Glorifying God means to express the reality of His attitudes, actions, and character in and through our lives.

In Scripture, we learn that God’s glory has been displayed through a variety of means. Psalm 19:1 points out that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” From the indescribable magnitude of our vast universe to the intricate details of DNA, the glory of God’s power and creative wisdom is proclaimed. God also selected a group of people, the Israelites, to reflect and portray His glory in a special way. His divine protection and direction of the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land let the whole world know that He is a God of supreme power and goodness to His people. And, of course, the Bible points out that God’s glory is most clearly seen in Jesus Christ, the One who is “the radiance God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). John 1:1-51 explains that the Word, God’s Son, came and pitched His tent among us so that we could see the glory of God, up close and personal.

And now it’s our turn.

My Romanian friend, Emmanuel, has a distinct edge. Every time he says or hears his name, he knows that he is to be the presence of God in his world. I wouldn’t suggest that you change your name to Emmanuel—unless you really are down on what your parents named you—but I would suggest that you take seriously the reason why you are saved in the first place: to demonstrate His glorious qualities to a world that has no clue about how stunningly wonderful He really is.

Be Jesus in jeans to your world!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How have you seen God’s glory displayed through creation? Through the stories of God’s interaction with the Israelites in the Old Testament? Through the stories about Jesus in the Gospels?
•What thoughts or insights come to your mind as you think about the privilege of displaying God’s glory through your life?
•Make a short list of the qualities of God that you most appreciate in your life. Think through how you could communicate those qualities in your world. Keep the list in mind and pray that God gives you the opportunity to glorify Him in at least one situation today.
•How will your attitudes and actions at home, school, work, in traffic, or at the mall be impacted today by the truth that you are the representative of God to your world?



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 Posted July 7th, 2012 06:29 PM   IP              
Getting Even or Getting Better?

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay . . . . If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Romans 12:19-20

I’ll never forget an older woman who came to my office and heatedly dumped on me a long list of objections about her husband. I asked how long she had been married. It had been more than 40 years. I have never in my life, nor would I ever, counsel anyone to break up a home. But as she went on and on about how miserable he was, I finally said, “Why have you lived with him so long if he’s so bad? Did you ever think about just checking out? I’m not advising it, but I’d like to know what you think.” She said, “Oh, no! I’d never walk out of this marriage.”

I thought that was an honorable attitude until she continued. It was evident that she hated him so much that walking out of the marriage would have meant she couldn’t torment him anymore. For her, that was a reason for staying. Why would she want to give up the opportunity to shred her enemy at every turn?

Got any people like that in your life? People you’d like to take every opportunity to even the score with? Take my advice: Forget it! You’ll only lose sleep and waste precious energy if you are living to get even with someone. As someone well said, “Bitterness is the poison you prepare for someone else and end up drinking yourself!” So thankfully, God has a better way. He’ll deal with your enemy if you get out of the way and pour out love instead of venom.

Joseph understood this dynamic when he, as a ruler in Egypt, could have made toast out of his hateful brothers. But instead he said to them, “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). Joseph was free of the “do evil for evil” syndrome and admitted he had no business getting back at his brothers because God is the one who carries out justice. With Joseph, you can experience emotional liberation from your enemies when you pray, “God, they are in your hands! I give them to you to deal justly with them!” When that is our prayer, we are set free to follow the liberating way of Romans 12:19-21 where Paul writes:

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So don’t get in the way. God has not equipped us to personally carry out justice and vengeance on our enemies. That’s why things always get messed up when we try. He is the only one who has that right and the power and wisdom to do it well.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What are the emotional and spiritual downsides to trying to carry out your own revenge?
•Have you ever known a situation to get better when enemies did their best to keep evening the score?
•Shock an enemy with acts of love. It takes two to fight!

God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   



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