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Author Message
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 Posted February 21st, 2011 12:43 PM   IP              
God’s Heart Revealed

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. —Revelation 3:19

It’s easy to think of God as a divine fly-swatter, just waiting for you to land so that—whap—He can nail you for your sins. But that’s not what we see in Revelation 2:1 – 3:22 in His letters to the seven churches. The pattern of the letters demonstrates God’s loving heart for wayward people.

Jesus began many of these letters by affirming the good things His people had done. This shows us that when we do what is good and right, the Lord is pleased.

But Jesus is also concerned about the faults in our lives. His commendation in these letters was often followed by clear words of reproof. And while it’s not comfortable to hear Him say, “Nevertheless I have this against you” (Rev. 2:4; Rev. 2:14,20), He reveals what needs to be changed in our lives to keep us from self-deceit.

This moves us to the real heart of the matter—repentance. When the Lord told these churches to repent, He was revealing His love for wayward saints. His goal was not to condemn but to restore them to intimate fellowship with Him.

And don’t miss the fact that each letter ends with a specific promise for the “overcomers.” Clearly God desires to reward those who live lives that are pleasing to Him.

What’s He saying to you today?

To live a life that pleases Christ,
It’s crucial to obey His voice;
When He reveals our sin to us,
Repentance is the wisest choice. —Sper

Repentance restores and renews our intimacy with the Lord.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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Posts: 17244
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 Posted February 22nd, 2011 12:31 PM   IP              
God’s Heart Revealed

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. —Revelation 3:19

It’s easy to think of God as a divine fly-swatter, just waiting for you to land so that—whap—He can nail you for your sins. But that’s not what we see in Revelation 2:1 – 3:22 in His letters to the seven churches. The pattern of the letters demonstrates God’s loving heart for wayward people.

Jesus began many of these letters by affirming the good things His people had done. This shows us that when we do what is good and right, the Lord is pleased.

But Jesus is also concerned about the faults in our lives. His commendation in these letters was often followed by clear words of reproof. And while it’s not comfortable to hear Him say, “Nevertheless I have this against you” (Rev. 2:4; Rev. 2:14,20), He reveals what needs to be changed in our lives to keep us from self-deceit.

This moves us to the real heart of the matter—repentance. When the Lord told these churches to repent, He was revealing His love for wayward saints. His goal was not to condemn but to restore them to intimate fellowship with Him.

And don’t miss the fact that each letter ends with a specific promise for the “overcomers.” Clearly God desires to reward those who live lives that are pleasing to Him.

What’s He saying to you today?

To live a life that pleases Christ,
It’s crucial to obey His voice;
When He reveals our sin to us,
Repentance is the wisest choice. —Sper

Repentance restores and renews our intimacy with the Lord.


Ancient Words


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted February 23rd, 2011 12:37 PM   IP              
My Only Hope

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” Psalm 51:1

Any Star Wars fans out there? Remember the opening scenes of the first movie that begin with a laser battle between a little spaceship (the good guys) and this huge, ominous Imperial Star Destroyer—you guessed it, the bad guys. The camera cuts to the inside of the ship and we see Princess Leia and her loyal fighters quickly overpowered by Darth Vader and his minions. The situation is dire and our heroine has time only to pass a message on to her faithful robot R2D2, who is then jettisoned to safety on a nearby planet along with his uptight buddy C3PO.

The droids end up in the care of Luke Skywalker, who discovers Leia’s message. R2D2 projects an image of the princess pleading, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope!” The message is repeated over and over: “Help me . . . you’re my only hope!”

That simple little phrase encapsulates David’s plea in the first verse of Psalm 51. After fighting a year-long battle against the forces of darkness in his own heart, he had reached a point of desperation. Finally, he admitted that he could not overcome the guilt of his sin by his own cleverness, charm, or position. Nor could his inner turmoil be quieted by a clever spin from a PR department. In the face of the mess he had made of his life—adultery, deception, murder—he was left with only one hope: a plea for mercy from God who held all the cards regarding David’s cleansing.

I have to tell you, whether it’s the overwhelming force of life’s struggles or the guilt of our sin, our only hope is that God in His mercy will forgive and deliver us. As David writes in Psalm 42:11, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? . . . Put your hope in God!”

The good news for David—and for those of us who need to come to this same tipping point in our walk with Christ—is that our hope is never misplaced when we place it entirely and completely in God. And our confidence in His willingness to bestow delivering mercy is grounded, as David said, in the fact that God is a God of unfailing love and great compassion. We don’t need more meds or self-help positive spins on life when we are beyond ourselves. We need God! David said it best when he penned the words of Psalm 25:3, “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame.”

In the midst of the turmoil of life and in the mire of our own sin, one simple prayer offers us the promise of rescue and deliverance. “Help me, Lord Jesus. You’re my only hope!”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Where do you go for strength and solutions when you are in need? When was the last time you turned to God to find help in your time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16)?
•What characteristics of God can you list to give you confidence that, when you are in need, He can be counted on?
•Read Psalms 25:1-22; 42:1-11, and 51:1-19 prayerfully, and claim their promises for yourself.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted February 24th, 2011 10:49 AM   IP              
Reversing the Flow

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. . . . Streams of living water will flow from within him” John 7:37-38

Chicago is a world-class city. It’s known for its great pizza, architecture, symphony, sports teams, and lakefront setting. I love Chicago! If you were to visit Chicago, you’d see the beautiful Chicago River winding its way through the towering skyscrapers. The river adds a calming dynamic to the noisy rush of the city. But if you lived in Chicago in the late 1800s, you wouldn’t have been happy to have this river in your town. The people were plagued by it—literally.

A poorly-designed sewage system dumped the raw sewage from the city into the river. The river in turn carried the sewage into Lake Michigan. Since the city drew its water from the lake, the pollution from the river contaminated the city’s drinking water, which resulted in deadly outbreaks of cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery. So, in desperate need of a remedy, someone had the brilliant idea to reverse the flow of the river. If they could pull the project off, the power of the water from the deep blue lake would wash the sewage away from the city and the lake would be purified to provide safe drinking water. After great effort and expense, engineers succeeded in their plan to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. Reversing the flow of the river made Chicago a better city to live in and blessed it with the presence of a clean, beautiful river.

The river problem in Chicago reminds me that I need to be careful about where I get my drinking water. Not literal drinking water, but the water that offers to satisfy the thirst of my passions and needs. Satan shamelessly dumps his sewage into the river of our desires and then welcomes us to drink. And when we drink, the damage begins to do its work in terms of guilt, regret, shame, and brokenness. But God has a better idea! Instead of the downward cycle of taking in the contaminated pseudo-thirst-quenching offerings of our world, He offers us the water of His pure, satisfying presence and wisdom every day in limitless supply.

For too long we have lived with the water of our own desires and passions flowing the wrong way. When everything flows toward self, our own happiness, the satisfaction of lusts, and personal pleasure, we dump a lot of contaminants into our churches, families, and friendships. God paid a high price to reverse the flow when Jesus died to change the direction of our lives.

Reversing the flow begins when we open the floodgates of our hearts and surrender to the flow of God’s wisdom and will into every area of our existence. We’ll know it’s flowing the right way when the water quality of our lives matches the pure quality of the source.

And, it’s not just about us. Getting the flow right means that the massive energy and supply of God’s love for others, His selfless acts of forgiveness and mercy, His care for the needy and poor, His willingness to go the extra mile, and His willingness to surrender Himself for the good of others will flow through us and bless all who live downstream.

Letting God do His work to reverse the flow of your life will give you a healthier existence and bless everyone around you with the beauty and strength of His presence flowing through you.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What is the primary source of satisfaction in your life? Could you honestly say that it is the flow of God’s wisdom and will into your heart and life?
•Is there pollution muddying the waters of your life? If so, what can you do to reverse the flow to bring purity into your life?
•Read Isaiah 43:1-28, and note all of God’s promises to His people. How has He fulfilled those promises through Jesus, and how have you personally reaped the benefits?
•What is it about your life that brings the flow of God’s blessings to those who live “downstream” from you?
•Read Psalm 42:1-2 and pray it back to God as an expression of your desire to have your life satisfied with the water of His presence and power.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted February 25th, 2011 11:53 AM   IP              
Providential Partnership

So Boaz said to Ruth, ‘My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls.’” Ruth 2:8

Dads love it when their kids ask, “Can I help?” Even though the job may be too complex, they welcome the chance to let their kids take part in the project.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s like that with God. His work is so far beyond our capabilities; yet, like Monet painting a masterpiece and then handing the brush to a protégé, God wants to combine His sovereign providence with human initiative. He loves it when we want to be involved in His work!

Of course, God is completely sovereign. He is totally in charge of everything—always. Nobody ever checks His hand. As the God of providence, He is moving all of history toward a grand and glorious end to fulfill His divine plan. And, believe it or not, He often uses people in the process. This is where you and I come in. Every day we have a chance to get involved in what God is doing. His providence goes hand in hand with our obedience to Him in every circumstance of our lives.

The story of Ruth and Boaz is a great example of how God uses people to accomplish His plan. Notice that we don’t read: “God provided Boaz to rescue Ruth and Naomi from their plight.” It’s not spelled out for us quite like that, and what God was doing certainly wasn’t obvious to them at the time. But we know the end of the story. We can see that God’s hidden hand was working behind the scenes in Boaz’s choice to help Ruth in her time of need (Ruth 2:8). Boaz, by his righteous and compassionate actions, unknowingly struck a providential partnership that would ultimately fulfill God’s plan to place Ruth in the lineage of Jesus, the ultimate “kinsman redeemer.”

So don’t expect God’s providence to strike you with a flash of lightning. But count on it: He’s at work in your life even when you’re not aware of it. And He’s waiting for you to live by His will and His ways so that He can partner with you to good and glorious ends! How about it? Are you ready for providential partnership? What an honor!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What is God’s ultimate plan? To bring glory to His name? To reach the lost? To help the poor and disadvantaged? To spread His generous love through you? All of the above?
•Have you ever participated in a providential partnership—unknown to you at the time? What was the outcome?
•Think of a friend who might be going through a hard time right now. Take a moment to pray for him or her, rejoicing that God has a plan in mind for that person. Then ask God if there is anything you can do to help.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted February 26th, 2011 11:44 AM   IP              
Hitting the Rapids

"Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward." Job 5:7

I’ll never forget my first white-water rafting experience. The guide made me wear a dorky helmet and a life jacket that was anything but flattering. Thankfully, my sagging self-image was rescued by the thought that if I didn’t put the stuff on, my life might be in jeopardy. Braced for the worst, I got in the raft, only to discover that life on the river was far more pleasant than I had imagined. The water moved smoothly through the meadows. The birds were in full song and the flowers on the banks added color to the already beautiful day. Not to worry!

But then I heard something around the bend. What was that noise? And what was that mist that rose from the water? As we turned the corner, my heart picked up speed as the approaching white water pounded the jagged rocks that we were about to navigate.

Life is a lot like river rafting—inevitably you hit the white water! No one is exempt. In the midst of his misery, Job declared that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). In fact, there are only three kinds of people: Those who are headed for the white water and don’t know it yet, those who are in it, and those who have made it through. So the issue is not, will you hit the rapids? You will. The issue is, are you ready to navigate them successfully? And that is where you as a follower of Jesus have a distinct advantage.

First of all, you are not alone in the raft. The “I-will-never-leave-you-nor-forsake-you-Jesus” is at the back of the raft with His hands on the rudder. And, by the way, He has been through this white water before. Having been tested in every white water of life, He welcomes you to come to Him in complete confidence for grace and mercy in your time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Second, the trouble is intended to make you better, not bitter. To make you, not break you. Stop fighting the rapids—you can’t beat them! Surrender to the intention of Christ to use the trouble to expose you to your weaknesses and to develop faith and character so that you will be increasingly capable and useful in the days ahead (James 1:2-4).

Third, if you don’t know what to do or how to respond, don’t trust your instincts. As fallen people, our first instincts are usually wrong. He promises to give you the wisdom you need to navigate the turmoil successfully. There isn’t a situation in life that doesn’t have a point of reference in the Bible. Knowing what to do begins with knowing where to go for advice—to God’s Word. Protective and productive wisdom is as close as your Bible. Prayer is a source of wisdom as well, as we take the time to ask God for what we need (James 1:5). Staying in the throne room long enough for God to speak to our trouble through His Spirit often brings to mind something about the ways and will of God that helps us to know exactly how to respond. One thing is for sure: Don’t do anything until you know the right response.

When life has you in the white-knuckle zone, as it inevitably will, know that He’s in the raft with you. Take your clues from Him. He’s been down the river before.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Have you been through any “rapids” lately? How did you navigate the situation? Did your approach make it better or worse?
•Do you know anyone who is going through some “white water”? What are you doing to help them navigate successfully?
•How do the three perspectives change the way you would normally handle difficulties? How do they change the way you would help someone else?
•Read James 1:2-12. What specific encouragement do you find in this text to help you stay afloat?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted February 27th, 2011 01:22 PM   IP              
The Best Story Ever Told

“My purpose is that they . . . may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:2-3

It’s not uncommon for blockbuster movies today to be followed by a sequel and even a “three-quel.” The film industry has discovered that we like to revisit certain stories. We want to know more about the characters and want to see what happens next.

George Lucas, years after completing his original Star Wars trilogy, took it one step further by producing three “prequels” to look at how the characters and story lines developed. And fans around the world were thrilled to learn more.

As followers of Jesus, however, we have the ultimate story—a real story—provided to us through the truth of Scripture and focused around the person of Jesus. And when our hearts have been awakened to the reality of His grace, we begin to explore Scripture looking for glimpses of who He is and what He has done. We track through the Gospels, amazed and thrilled at His insight and His character. Our hearts are pierced by His words as they cut directly to the core of who we are. We follow Him to the end of each gospel and weep as He is beaten and crucified, realizing the immense cost of our sin and shame. And then our spirits soar with the news that He is risen and has returned to heaven, where He prepares a place for us as His followers and promises to come back for us. But the story doesn’t end there.

We dive into the pages of Acts, exploring the action-packed sequel as we see the Holy Spirit equipping and energizing Christ’s followers to turn the world upside down through the message of the gospel. The pages resonate with the drama of characters who struggle, face incredible trials, and persevere because of their devotion to their compelling Savior. We trace their stories through the epistles, which clarify and explain the nature of this new entity, the church. But even that is not the whole story.

We could go back to the ultimate “prequel”—the Old Testament, where we see the vivid roots of our sin problem in Adam and Eve and yet, even in the midst of that sin, the seeds of grace sown by our God. The seeds of grace grow and flourish through God’s promises to men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. The drama heightens through the personification of God’s love relationship with His people Israel, who continually turn away from the only One who loves them completely. Through each page, we see the promise of Jesus as the hope of God’s people—prophesied and longed for, and pictured through the sacrifices prescribed in God’s law. But still, there’s more to the story.

In Colossians 2:2-5, Paul’s prayer for God’s people is that all of his efforts on behalf of the Colossian church would be focused toward one goal: helping them to know Jesus better. He reminds them—and us—that in Jesus are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In other words, the more we know Him, the more we will yearn to know even more. There will always be more to the story, and we will never tire of the characters.

Yet the ultimate story is in the unfolding drama of a Savior who is so deep and wonderful that you never tire of getting to know Him.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Sometimes we may find ourselves focusing more attention on our own entertainment and amusement than on our walk with Jesus. Take a few minutes to analyze where your priorities are in this area.
•What moments or stories in Scripture thrill your heart in a special way? Take a few minutes to look over those again today. What makes those passages so exciting to you?
•Take a few minutes to personalize Paul’s hope for the Colossians by praying, “Lord, I want to be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that I may have the full riches of complete understanding. I want to know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, because I believe that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted February 28th, 2011 12:17 PM   IP              
How To Become Rich

Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. —Luke 12:15

I find it interesting that Jesus taught more about money than anything else. And He wasn’t trying to ratchet up the treasury. As far as we know, He never even asked for an offering. The reason He taught extensively on the subject is that nothing clogs our spiritual arteries more quickly than money—either working to have a lot of it or wishing that we had.

Think of the man who brazenly asked Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). Amazing! He had an opportunity to “go deep” with Jesus, but instead he wanted deep pockets.

Jesus responded with a stunning, counterintuitive statement: “Beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). He then went on to tell the parable of a rich man who was wildly successful from a worldly standpoint—having so many crops that he had to keep building bigger barns—but who, in God’s eyes, was actually a “fool.” Not because he was rich, but because he was not rich toward God.

You’ll hear a lot of advice about how to become rich. But only Jesus tells it to us straight. It’s not about the money. It’s about the richness of our relationship with Him and the joy of turning our greed into generosity.

The riches of this world are vain,
They vanish in a day;
But sweet the treasures of God’s love—
They never pass away. —Bosch

Learning how to be rich toward God yields eternal dividends.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted March 1st, 2011 01:37 PM   IP              
From Fear to Faith

"The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. Psalm 11:4

I have a friend who says, “Through the years I have seen a lot of things change, and I have been against them all!” Change can be very unsettling. It interrupts the predictability and comfort of having things just the way we like them. But even for the most “I like it the way it has always been, thank you!” kind of people, we have to admit that there are some advantages to change. I can remember when you had to crank a handle to roll up a car window. Now you just push a button. Rather than waiting in line for a mumps immunization given by a stern-faced school nurse with what seemed like a foot-long needle, now all kids have to do is swallow something that tastes like bubble gum.

But as welcome as some changes may be, change can sometimes create serious problems. When our lives are impacted by sudden change that turns life upside down, it can be spiritually dangerous. Ending up in the ditch can easily make us feel a little shaky about our faith in God. That’s the kind of change the psalmist wrote about in Psalm 11:1-7—the kind of change that threatened everything he believed. How do we respond when the foundation of our faith begins to wobble, when our troubling circumstances make us question God?

The psalmist says that radical change can either foster debilitating fear or confident faith. Fear haunts our hearts when all we can ask is “What am I to do?” Faith cuts to the exclamation point: The Lord is in control! In the first half of Psalm 11:1-7, David wrings his hands as he describes the fear of losing everything—his kingdom, his reputation, his faith because of circumstances out of his control. You may be buckling under the weight of fear because your world is falling apart. But like David, you can turn your heart to the Lord and declare, “The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord is on His heavenly throne” (Psalm 11:4). His throne is the symbol of His sovereign oversight and authority over all things. David moved from fear to faith by focusing on the exclamation point of God’s rule in his life and not on the question marks of the devastating changes in his life.

Old silent movies often included a scene where the villain tied a beautiful heroine to the train tracks. In great fear, she kicks and screams as the chugging locomotive heads straight toward her sweet little body. But we know she won’t die there. Just in the nick of time, the hero will emerge from the forest and cut the ropes delivering her to safety as he carries her away into the sunset. You can count on it: God will be there for you, even if it’s just in the nick of time!

Psalm 42:5 declares, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” That must be why the psalmist said, “There they were, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread” (Psalm 53:5).

In the midst of the changing circumstances of life, we have a choice. We can live in fear of all the uncertainties, or we can cling to the reality of God’s sustaining and intervening presence in our lives. When we find our strength in the fact that our Almighty God is on the throne and has everything under control, the defeating question marks are replaced with the confidence of His exclamation points, and that’s a welcome change!

Your Journey . . .

•What in your life today causes fear and anxiety?
•Write out a prayer to the Lord confessing your fear or anxiety. Include a sentence or two declaring your confidence in the Lord’s control. Keep a copy of that prayer with you in your purse or desk drawer.
•Ask a friend or someone you trust to pray with you about replacing your fears with confidence in the Lord’s sovereign control.
•Get alone with God and meditate on Psalms 23:1-6 ; 27:1-14. The biblical therapy will quiet your soul.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted March 2nd, 2011 10:49 PM   IP              
Brain Drain

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1

When I travel, wake-up calls are really important! More than once I have registered my wake-up time with the hotel desk confident that they would call right on time. Well, you know the rest of the story. Rolling over and looking at the clock only to realize that you’ll never make the morning meeting on time is not a great way to start the day!

So here’s a wake-up call that will help you get your day (and the rest of your life) on track for God. If you are not wide awake spiritually, you may find that you have been robbed blind of the most important treasure you have: your mind and the way you think!

Os Guinness tells a great story about a Russian factory worker in the days when Khrushchev was the prime minister. Because of the enormous economic strain in those days, employees would steal tools and just about anything else they could get their hands on. To stop the thefts, a KGB officer was placed at every factory gate where each worker was carefully searched for contraband. Petrov, a long-time laborer, pushed a wheelbarrow loaded with two large sacks of sawdust out the factory doors every day. Each day the guard searched through the sacks of sawdust but consistently found nothing. Weeks into this routine the frustrated guard finally said, “Hey, Petrov, I promise not to tell anybody. I can’t get what’s going on here. I don’t know why you need all this sawdust. What are you stealing?” Petrov grinned and whispered, “Wheelbarrows.”

Os Guinness makes this probing conclusion: “While we’ve been inspecting bags of sawdust, Satan has been stealing our minds.” What a great insight! And while how we behave—keeping all the rules and all the fuss over politics, abortion, and gay agendas—is not sawdust, it is easy to get sidetracked by the issue du jour while letting “control central” slip into thought patterns that quite frankly aren’t anything like God’s thoughts at all. This is no small issue. God’s Word says that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7). I have always been taken aback by Jesus’ reproof of the religious folk of His day, when He said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Matthew 15:8)!

Paul gets it right when he informs us that the key issue in growth and transformation is the renewing of our minds, not just the mental activity of stacking up huge stores of biblical data. If that’s all we have we soon become proud and judgmental. We are to train our minds to think God’s thoughts after Him. To think the way He does about the poor and the oppressed. To think His thoughts about our enemies and those who have used and abused us. To let His thoughts honestly evaluate the lame stuff we pile up in our hearts. To think His thoughts about our money, time, family, job, and all other aspects of our lives.

After years of marriage, I find that increasingly my wife Martie and I think a lot alike. I can almost complete her sentences. After years of being a Christian, you would think that one should almost instinctively know His mind about nearly everything! But unfortunately that is often not the case, because Satan has been stealing us blind of our greatest treasure: the way we think!

Your Journey . . .

•Take a few minutes to read Romans 12:1-2. Prayerfully ask the Spirit to reveal where your thoughts are not God’s thoughts.
•Take an inventory of the key areas of your life. From reading God’s word, what are God’s thoughts about each of those? Is your thinking in sync with His about the specific issues that exist in each area? If not, what can you do to change the way you think? How will that change the way you act? Be specific.
•There are certain dynamics that block God’s thoughts from penetrating our thought life: i.e., rationalizing, excuses, self-deceit, wrong desires. What can you do to short circuit these dynamics so that His thoughts can get a grip on your heart?
•Getting close to God in prayer, the study of His Word, the influence of solid biblical study, taking notes and reviewing them so that you don’t forget are all ways in which we grow to think His thoughts. Select one thought pattern to change today. It will get you off to a great start!


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted March 3rd, 2011 02:01 PM   IP              
What's In Your Wallet?

"In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." Ephesians 1:11

An advertising blitz for a credit card company once featured two humorous television commercials. One featured Vikings who were defeated by credit card’s low interest rates. The other series of ads poked fun at the apparent difficulty of cashing in on the “other company’s” frequent flier miles. Every one of the commercials ended with the same catchy tagline: “What’s in your wallet?”

It’s an interesting question. The stuff in our wallet represents financial security, purchase power, and prosperity. The question “What’s in your wallet?” is a clever way of planting doubt in our minds about whether or not we have the right stuff to get all the satisfaction we are looking for in life. It prompts us to wonder if we are getting all that we think we deserve. Is there more out there that we don’t yet have? Do we have what it takes to be successful? Of course, the intent of the ad campaign is to make us think that only this particular card will make us satisfied, secure, and significant. And if we don’t feel secure about having the right things in our wallet, perhaps we need to reevaluate its contents. But those who have traveled life’s road for a while will tell you that it’s not really the stuff in your wallet that finally brings the happiness you’re looking for.

Thankfully, God has an announcement of His own about where to find satisfaction, security, and significance! In Ephesians 1:3-14, the apostle Paul can hardly contain himself as he lists the incredible resources that our Father has placed at the disposal of His children. When we turn to Christ by faith, we’re given forgiveness—the joy of a clean conscience before God. We’re entrusted with His wisdom—inside information on how to live life without the downside of our ongoing dead-end experiments. We’re given access to His mercy and grace to find help in the time of need, worship to lift our spirits above the din of ordinary living, and prayer to put us in touch with the One who cares for us and loves us without condition. We find all of this and more in our spiritual wallet!

What are you trusting to bring you joy and satisfaction? What do you depend on to give you a sense of security and safety? Where do you turn for significance? Are you focused on a wallet that’s growing with the “right” credit cards, a thick stack of cash, and the right business cards? Ironically, a full wallet can be carried on a body with an empty heart.

Live for the incredible spiritual wealth and riches offered to you by our loving heavenly Father, who, according to James, delights in giving good gifts to His children. Your physical wallet may be almost empty, but, if your heart is full of all that Jesus offers, you’ve got all the right stuff to defeat the Vikings that plague your life and to experience true joy and satisfaction.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think through the way you’ve spent your time this week. How does your time spent with God, accessing the riches of your heavenly Father, stack up against time spent focused on material possessions and earthly wealth?
•Take a few minutes to make your own list of some of the spiritual riches that you have received in Christ. If you need some ideas, read all of Ephesians 1:1-23 and the first part of Ephesians 2:1-10.
•How would your priorities and plans for the week change if your attention to spiritual riches grew and your focus on material possessions diminished?


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 Posted March 4th, 2011 12:39 PM   IP              
Voices

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." John 10:27

Hearing voices has to be the most haunting of all the mental disorders. After all, which voice do you listen to? Talk about massive confusion! But before you think that you are among the blessed ones who don’t hear voices, think again. Today will be full of voices that compete for a piece of your life. Your boss, your spouse, your children, close friends, advertisements, and talk shows all will bombard your psyche with conflicting advice or demands.

It’s not just the voices on the outside. No matter how sane you think you are, we all have inner voices that compete for control; voices that are not always positive. I confess to hearing the compelling whispers of the dark side of my heart on a regular basis. Whispers that advise and plan ways for me to live for my own advantage. Whispers that convincingly argue that a life lived by the lure of my desires is life at its best. Whispers that tell me I am clever enough not to get caught, that nobody is perfect, that God understands my weakness and will forgive me. Tell me that I am not alone and that you can identify!

I have learned that when those kinds of inner voices dominate, I often look back in regret and shame for letting them grab the control levers of my life. They promise me life at its best but consistently leave me empty, disappointed, guilty and embarrassed.

That’s why I am forever grateful that there is a voice within that I can trust. A single voice that puts all the other voices into perspective. A voice that speaks wisdom clearly and confidently. A voice that has my best interest in mind and wants to lead me to life at its best.

Over the years as I have followed the advice and counsel of that voice, I have never been disappointed. It hasn’t always been easy advice, and sometimes it hasn’t made a lot of sense—like telling me that I should forgive someone who has hurt me or that I need to die to myself—but it has reliably been the right advice.

It’s the voice of Jesus. When you get on line in your heart to hear His voice and His alone, you will be liberated from the conflicting voices that in the end you really can’t trust. Thankfully, He has given you all the equipment you need. Talk about high tech! The indwelling Holy Spirit actually lives within you to decode God’s Word as you read it. He speaks to your mind, heart, and conscience as your eyes scan the lines of the bestselling how-to-live book ever written.

So put the “earbuds” in and tune to the one frequency where you are loved and led to life as God meant it be—life at it’s best!

Remember, His is the only voice you can finally and fully trust. He loves you and died to prove it!

Download and live!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What voices in your life compete with Jesus for your attention?
•When there is a “voice” that prompts you to react or act in a certain way, do you stop to discern whether the voice is that of your Shepherd?
•Remember that His voice is always consistent with His Word, the Bible. In fact, the more you are in His Word, the more regularly He speaks to you.
•Create an attitude of listening for His voice by consciously turning your heart’s ear toward Him in critical moments. Learn the joy of pressing the pause button in your “fast-forward” life often enough to be still and know that He is speaking.
•In a journal, write down what God says to you so that you can go back and remember, like reading old love letters!
•Prayer is a two-way conversation. Stop talking periodically to listen to what He is saying.


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 Posted March 5th, 2011 12:32 PM   IP              
Help Is on the Way

“ Yes, I am coming soon.’” Revelation 22:20

My aging Chevy Tahoe has a nifty little feature—the OnStar button. Some time back, General Motors started installing this blue button on many of their vehicles. If you need help, all you do is press it. If you’re out of gas, if you’re lost, or if you get a flat tire, just touch the blue button and a real live operator is there to talk to you about your problem. In fact, if you get in an accident and the airbags go off, it will automatically connect you to one of their operators to make sure that you get help. Amazing!

Perhaps you’ve heard the OnStar radio commercials. The ads are usually an audio clip from an actual call. It’s usually something like, “Hello? I’ve just been in an accident and I’m in the middle of nowhere. It’s dark out and I can’t see anything . . . And I think there’s a guy with an axe coming out of the woods.” (Okay, I made up the axe part.) In response, the calm, comforting voice of the OnStar operator, says, “Don’t worry, we have your location and help is on the way!” Then as an added measure of comfort, the operator asks, “Are you going to be alright?” and inevitably the frightened motorist will say, “Yes, I’ll be fine.”

The point is, in the midst of a scary, difficult experience, the promise of “help is on the way” goes a long way in bringing hope and reassurance. It’s a great boost to know that someone is coming to your rescue.

Jesus often comforted His disciples with this exact promise. He knew that the temptation to give up in the midst of tough times would be strong, so He reminded them often, “I am coming back—help is on its way” (see John 14:3,18,28).

But His promise is not just for the first-century disciples. Jesus’ promise extends to us as well. In fact, it is featured in the concluding words of Scripture, as John penned the book of Revelation. Exiled to the island of Patmos, near the end of his life with the promise of Jesus’ coming yet unfulfilled, John is nonetheless strengthened and reassured by these words: “Yes, I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20). John’s response, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is simple and profound: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

John knew what it was to experience sorrow. He felt firsthand the pain of persecution. No doubt receiving the incredible vision of a new heaven and a new earth highlighted how barren and difficult life on this planet could be by contrast. But the recorded words of Jesus throughout the book reinforce the truth: You’re not alone! I know right where you are, and I’m coming back for you!

Life for us is fragile as well. Inevitably, we find ourselves emotionally and spiritually in the ditch, broken-down, frightened, and wondering if we’re going to make it. It happens so fast. One phone call. One visit to the doctor. One broken relationship. But we are not without hope. Jesus promised, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Wherever you are and whatever you’re facing today, your trust in the promise of Christ’s return will bring you a deep sense of peace that defies understanding.

So, chin up—help is on the way and heaven is next!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What circumstances in your life have left you spiritually and emotionally in the ditch?
•How do you usually respond when you find yourself in those circumstances?
•How does it encourage and strengthen you to focus on the promise that Jesus is coming back one day?


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 Posted March 6th, 2011 12:29 PM   IP              
Soul Food

Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart. —Jeremiah 15:16

Grocery shopping with my wife, Martie, is like taking a seminar in nutrition. I’ll often pick up a box of something that looks good, and she’ll say: “Look at the label. Are there trans-fats? What’s the calorie count? How about the cholesterol rating?” I have to confess that if she weren’t the nutrition cop in my life, I’d look like Shamu the whale!

More important than making good choices in the grocery store is thinking carefully about the food we digest for our souls. I love the verse that says: “Your words were found, and I ate them” (Jer. 15:16).

When we read God’s Word, we have to be doing more than checking it off our to-do list. We have to read it to digest it. Slow, thoughtful absorption of the Word of God with quiet reflection on its implications is high in nutrition. His Word provides all the ingredients we need to thrive spiritually:

•a direct connection to the sustainer of our soul
•brain food that makes us wise and discerning
•a daily check-up revealing the condition of our hearts
•preventive medicine keeping us from sin
•a spiritual shower of peace, hope, and comfort
Eat God’s Word. It’s a spiritual feast!

God’s Word provides the nourishment
That Christians need if we’re to grow;
But if we do not feast on it,
A vibrant faith we’ll never know. —Sper

The Bible contains all the nutrients for a healthy soul.



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 Posted March 7th, 2011 11:32 AM   IP              
The Problem With Self-Sufficiency

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. —Revelation 3:15

The city of Laodicea had a water problem. One nearby town had fabulous hot springs and another had cold, clear water. Laodicea, however, was stuck with tepid, mineral-laden water that tasted like sulphur. Not hot. Not cold. Just gross.

Given those facts, the words of Jesus to the Laodicean believers in Revelation 3 must have stung. Jesus rebuked them for being “neither cold nor hot” (Rev. 3:15). And when He thought of them, He felt like vomiting (Rev. 3:16)—like the effect of their drinking water.

What was their problem? It was the sin of self-sufficiency. The Laodiceans had become so affluent that they had forgotten how much they needed Jesus (Rev. 3:17).

When we say we have everything we need, but Jesus isn’t at the top of the list, He is deeply offended. Self-sufficiency distracts us from pursuing the things we really need that only He can give. If you’d rather have cash than character, if your credit cards are maximized and your righteousness is minimized, if you’ve become smart but aren’t wise, then you’ve been shopping in all the wrong places. Jesus offers commodities that are far better (Rev. 3:18).

He’s knocking at your heart’s door (Rev. 3:20). Let Him in. He will give you all you really need!

We must be careful to avoid
All self-sufficiency;
If sinful pride gets in the way,
God’s hand we will not see. —Sper

We always have enough when God is our supply.



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 Posted March 8th, 2011 11:17 AM   IP              
Stretching the Truth

“Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” Proverbs 4:24

I worked for a carpenter one summer between college semesters. Being the inexperienced apprentice, occasionally I would cut a board too short. Seeing that I had wasted a good board, my frustrated boss would reply: “Get the wood stretcher!”

His point? Wood doesn’t stretch.

Neither does the truth. Once stretched, it is no longer the truth. It is “crooked, devious talk.”

But let’s face it. Stretching the truth now and then can be a handy option, especially if we are in trouble or trying to gain some advantage. But if you think that twisting or slightly adjusting the truth isn’t damaging, think again. When Satan spoke to Eve in Genesis 3:1-24, he exaggerated God’s command—“Don’t eat of this one tree”—asking her if God had really said, “You shall not eat from every tree.” Due to his clever mismanagement of true truth, Eve no longer felt that God was generous and good but rather stingy and restrictive. This distortion of the truth planted seeds of doubt and distrust in Eve’s mind that blossomed into disastrous disobedience—a disobedience that has significantly damaged each of us as well.

Every day there are plenty of opportunities to fall to the temptation of mismanaging the truth for our own advantage. Sins of the tongue like flattery, boasting, gossip, and slander are all easily committed when we lose a high regard for the truth.

But under the surface, distorting the truth is a sign of some serious internal problems. Anger is a fertile spawning ground for exaggerating someone’s faults in order to wound them when they have hurt or crossed us.

If your life is committed to “me first” and to making sure you are on top of the pile, your twisted truth words will quickly betray your addiction to yourself.

Pride will lead you to embellish the truth to help you feel better about yourself or to make you look better than others. Seductive thoughts will lead you to flattery and alluring twists of the truth. A greedy heart will hide the true faults of a product and embellish its virtues just to make a sale.

But beware, stretching the truth for your personal advantage ultimately backfires. It’s our character that suffers as landmark virtues like trust and credibility, two building blocks of successful relationships, get slain on the battlefield of our self-serving twisting of the truth. Turning anger to patience and forgiveness; turning self-serving instincts to loving others; turning pride to true humility and greed to generosity will enable you to have the courage to experience the joy of telling it like it really is—which, believe it or not, will ultimately produce better outcomes than stressing yourself out by always twisting and turning the truth to your own gain. As the poet Sir Walter Scott said, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•In what kind of situations do you tend to distort the truth? Choose the most prevalent one and make a plan to tell the truth regardless.
•Think through the kinds of internal problems that tempt you to stretch and twist the truth. What steps could you take to transition your sinful attitude to a truth-telling attitude?
•Make a plan now to take at least one opportunity to tell the truth clearly as a blessing to someone else before this day is done!


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 Posted March 9th, 2011 12:09 PM   IP              
A Way Out

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” Psalm 51:6

It’s confession time.

The mere sight of a squad car—particularly when my speed is a little beyond the posted limit—kicks off a flurry of excuses in my mind. My speedometer must be a little off . . . I had no idea how fast I was going . . . I didn’t know what the speed limit was . . . I’m on my way to church . . . The prevailing thought behind all of that is: I wonder what I can do or say to get out of a ticket?

When I think about it, I’m actually shocked by how quickly rationalizations and excuses come to my mind when I have sinned. At first blush it seems better to cover up my guilt than to be honest about my true condition. Tell me I’m not alone!

As you probably know, Psalm 51 is written after David experiences a gut-wrenching reality check. A series of choices had taken this king further and further from the path of righteousness until he found himself tangled up in a disastrous web of excuses and cover-ups. It takes a committed prophet, Nathan, speaking truthfully on behalf of the Lord, to draw King David back to reality and expose the ugly details of his sin.

In this psalm, David comes clean! And as he prays, he reminds us that God is not only a compassionate and merciful God, but He is also a God who demands that we be truthful with ourselves about our sin. Not bits of truth coated with rationalizations and excuses. Not half-hearted assertions about our sinful choices ending with “but it’s not really my fault.” When we have sinned, God demands heart-level, flat-out open honesty about our sin and our responsibility for what we have done. It is then that He is ready to pour out the abundant grace of His forgiving mercy.

There is no deceit worse than self-deceit. Making ourselves feel better about our sinful condition by covering it up with lame excuses is like taking a cadaver to the ball in a tux. You may look good for awhile, but before long you’ll have trouble living with what you really are like under all the excuses. More seriously, failing to come clean about our sin short-circuits the process of experiencing God’s cleansing and restorative work in our lives. Why are we hiding? God stands ready to cleanse and forgive! Being honest about our true condition drives our hearts to the cleansing work of the cross.

And, as David points out, instead of living in the smog of self-deceit, being honest with ourselves opens our hearts to embrace God’s wisdom. Facing up to our sin always makes us know that we are not nearly as smart as we thought. After all, if we were all that smart we wouldn’t have taken the nosedive in the first place. Admitting our true condition drives us to embrace our need for God’s wisdom to guide us on our journey!

So whether it means surprising a police officer with a statement like, “You’re right, I was speeding and am sorry for disobeying the law,” or saying to a family member or friend, “I was totally wrong! Will you forgive me?” let’s be done with our excuses. And, more importantly, let’s come clean before God! Each step that we take in acknowledging the truth of our sin is one step closer to the joy of His cleansing grace and the brilliance of His divine wisdom.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Read Psalm 51:1-19. Think about the sin patterns you permit to remain active in your life because you have rationalized and excused them. Be honest: Would you rather keep the sin or experience God’s forgiving mercy and grace?
•Are you willing right now to bring your sins to God without any excuse, to admit your sole responsibility, and to plead for His mercy?
•With a trusted friend, pray through David’s prayer of repentance and restoration in Psalm 51:1-19. Know that the same God who forgave and restored David is ready and waiting to forgive and restore you!


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 Posted March 10th, 2011 07:27 PM   IP              
The Wise Guy in the Backseat

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." Psalm 119:97

Driving with two young children in the backseat often requires a special kind of grace. Especially when, like on this trip, I was the parent. We were driving to Grand Rapids to hear one of my favorite pastors speak, and we were seriously stuck in traffic. I desperately studied the map for an alternate route while my 3-year-old son amused himself by teasing his 18-month-old sister. Her piercing screams got louder until my already frayed nerves finally snapped. I reached behind my seat with the folded map and bonked my son on the head, yelling, “Stop doing that to your sister!”

My son, wide-eyed, looked at me from the backseat and admonished, “Daddy, it’s not be ye kind to hit people!”

Ouch.

I have an advanced degree in theology and make a living teaching others the Word of God. And yet, in that moment, it took a 3-year-old’s loose paraphrase of Ephesians 4:32, to help me catch a biblical clue. Out of the mouths of babes!

That’s exactly what the psalmist is talking about in this tiny nugget of truth from Psalm 119:97-112. Advanced degrees and knowledge-laden education or even an ordination to preach, do not, in and of themselves, make one wise. In fact, some of the smartest and most talented people in this world live and act in extremely unwise ways. Paul references people like that in Romans 1:21-22 when he says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”

It’s God’s Word that makes us wise. In fact, let me be more specific—it’s knowing and applying God’s Word that makes us wise. I knew the biblical truths in my head. But in a frustrated moment, I got a solid “F” in translating God’s Word into wisdom in my life.

The beauty of God’s Word is that it is so accessible. From young children, not even yet able to read, to stellar biblical scholars, His truths offer fresh insight and perspective. In the trustworthy pages of the Bible, God actually—get this—teaches us. Instruction directly from the Author and Creator of Life! No wonder His Word “gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

That’s why the writer of this psalm, the longest chapter in the Bible, committed to meditating on God’s law all day long. He knew that questions would surface every day for which he had no answer. He knew that the daily struggle to live with integrity and purpose would require countless moment-by-moment decisions for which he would need wise counsel. And so he steeped his mind and his heart in the truth of God’s Word, heartily trusting that it would be sufficient for every situation. His confidence was that immersion in the truth of the Law granted him wisdom—the real, rubber-meets-the-road kind of wisdom—beyond what could be learned in school.

And so, armed with sound biblical wisdom, a 3-year-old wise guy in the backseat of my car brought a much-needed rebuke to his “biblically educated” Dad. And, by the way, for the rest of the car trip, I was a little bit more “be ye kind.”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How have you seen God’s truth affecting daily decisions and actions in your life? In what areas do you need more of His wisdom and less of your own? On a scale of 1 to 5, how deeply are you immersing yourself in the truth of God’s Word?
(1 = Wading in the kiddy pool, 5 = Scuba-diving deep in His truth)
•What action steps could you intentionally take to help you go deeper in your study and application of God’s Word?


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 Posted March 11th, 2011 09:49 AM   IP              
Gone Fishin

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs’” John 21:15

Not long after I married my wife, Martie, I realized that she had a deep love for animals in general and dogs in particular. She grew up with Trudy, a black lab, who was a faithful friend and companion. I grew up in a home that never had any pets. (Actually, my mom had a canary, but it’s not easy to bond to a bird!) I’m sorry to admit this to all you dog lovers, but my feeling was, “Dogs? Who needs a dog? They’re for people who can’t make it with humans and need props from the animal kingdom.”

So, when Martie said, “Joe, let’s get a dog!” my answer to her was less than satisfactory. It was at that point that I woke up to a very important principle of loving relationships. It is this: You demonstrate your love to someone by caring about what they care about. Which meant that if I wanted to prove my love for Martie, I would set aside my rather warped view of pets. So that’s exactly what I did, and we bought a dog. And I helped walk the dog and feed the dog, and eventually I ended up liking the dog!

This is exactly what’s behind Jesus’ interrogation of Peter. Loving Jesus is not proven by our singing about our love for Him in church. It is most clearly demonstrated when we care about what He cares about. And, more than anything else, He cares about people. Reading through the Gospels, it becomes clear that He is “into” one thing—people. He came to our planet because people needed what He only could bring to us. And, as you probably know, He went to the extremes of self-sacrifice to prove how committed He was to meeting our needs.

What I find interesting is that His love for people was not reserved only for the people who were easy to love. He cared about the needs of tax collectors. He extended His love to despised Samaritans. He ate and fellowshiped with sinners and granted the freeing power of mercy and forgiveness to prostitutes. It didn’t make any difference—if you were warm and breathing, you mattered to Jesus.

In John 21, Peter had bailed on his calling to “fish for men” and had gone back to his old career of fishing for fish (John 21:3). After he and some others had fished all night and caught nothing, Jesus showed up on the beach and filled their nets with fish. It was at this point that He did some serious business with Peter. In a triple interrogation, Jesus wanted to know if Peter loved Him. Though Peter verbally affirmed his love, Jesus made it clear that He would know that Peter loved Him only when Peter left his nets again and gave himself to the needs and nurture of people.

So here’s the takeaway. It really doesn’t make any difference how fervently you and I verbally affirm our love for Jesus. If we aren’t into extending our love and resources to the needs of others, then He doesn’t feel loved by us. It’s just that simple! But here’s the good news. People are everywhere—all kinds of them! You can find them at home, in the office, on the streets, and in heavy traffic. There may even be a few at church! So what are you waiting for? Today, Jesus has shown up on the beach of your heart and called you from a life lost in your own interests and offered you the privilege of getting involved in what He cares about—the needs and nurture of people!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Read the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 21:15-17. How would you respond to Jesus’ question?
•What is more important to you than the needs of others? Is it your plans, your possessions, your time, your energy? What could you intentionally do today to show your love for Jesus by reaching out to the needs of others? Make a specific plan. Just to stay in shape, do one thing each day to let Jesus know that you love Him!
•If Jesus were to approach your heart’s door, would He see a sign swinging from the door handle that reads: “Gone Fishin’”?


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 Posted March 12th, 2011 12:00 PM   IP              
Make Up Your Mind

“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best” Philippians 1:9-10

When I was young, my mother tried to prepare me for life by urging me to make up two things: my bed and my mind. When I got up each day she would remind me, “Joe, make up your bed.” And when I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, she would prod me, “Joe, make up your mind.”

By far, making up our minds is the more important of the two skills. The real issue is not whether we can make up our mind; it’s whether we can make up our minds correctly. Correct thinking leads to correct decisions—the kind of decisions that guarantee productive and satisfying outcomes. But in our culture correct thinking is a challenge. Every day we are bombarded with secular input that is not only incorrect from God’s point of view, but also counterproductive in our relationships, aspirations, and spiritual growth.

This tug of war in our minds is really about values. Our values define us. They are the guiding principles that form our thoughts, our conclusions, and ultimately our behavior. They are instilled in us by our families, teachers, experiences, entertainment choices, our heroes, our community, and sometimes even by our fallen instincts. When we listen to all the voices around us and ignore the input of God’s Word, making up our mind always get us into trouble.

But when we accept the truth of God’s Word as the guiding principle for decision-making, we will be equipped with the discernment to make up our minds in good ways. And, there is no shortage of good advice in Scripture! God has given us the correct information on how to handle money, relationships, children, spouses, offenses, employers, employees, and politicians. You name it—God has the correct information to guide your mind to correct conclusions.

But beware—good discernment can be easily derailed by rationalization. It’s easy to make mental excuses that neutralize our ability to make good choices. We’ve all heard the excuses—and sometimes from our own lips: “I know it’s wrong, but . . .” or “If it weren’t for the way he treats me” or “I know a lot of people who do worse things.”

In Philippians 1:9-11, Paul encourages us to make excellent decisions that are the by-product of an uncompromised, excuse-free commitment to unselfish acts of love grounded in a discerning application of the knowledge of God’s Word. The result? A life that basks in the pleasures of purity, the fruit of the Spirit, and the fulfillment of our redemptive purpose to live to the praise and glory of God (Philippians 1:10-11).

So take my mother’s advice: Every day, make up your bed and make up your mind. Just be careful how you make up your mind!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•List some of the primary sources of information in today’s society. What values and beliefs do they represent?
•Read Romans 12:2. In what ways have you been conforming to the pattern of this world? What changes need to take place this week to center your thinking more on biblical values than worldly values? As you implement those changes, the process of transformation is well under way.
•What decisions in your life have been shaped by biblical thinking and values? What has been the result of those decisions?


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 Posted March 13th, 2011 02:07 PM   IP              
The Song Of The Saints

Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. . . . Your judgments have been manifested. —Revelation 15:4

We’ve all heard the expression, “I don’t get mad; I just get even.” Reading about the judgments described in Revelation, one might assume that God will get “even” with sinners for their phenomenal offenses throughout the history of mankind.

The truth is that God’s final judgment is a necessary expression of His holy justice. He can’t turn a blind eye to sin. In fact, if He doesn’t finally carry out justice as described in Revelation, it would be a denial of His holy character. That’s why in the midst of His judgments, the saints will sing His praise: “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. . . . Your judgments have been manifested” (Rev. 15:4). Those who know God best do not judge Him for His judgments; rather, they worship and affirm His actions.

What should surprise us is not the massive scale of God’s judgments, but that He’s waiting so long! Desiring that none should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), God is now mercifully restraining His judgment and giving maximum space to His marvelous mercy and grace. Now is the time to repent and take advantage of His patient love. And when we do, we’ll join the saints in praising Him for all eternity!

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song. —Lehman
© Renewal 1945, Nazarene Publishing.

When God’s justice is finally and fully revealed, His praises will resound!



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 Posted March 15th, 2011 01:24 PM   IP              
This Time It's Personal

"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’ ” Luke 15:21

I’ll make a confession if you promise not to tell.

Having been selected to represent my college in a traveling music team one summer, I had a few days to relax at home before returning to campus for a week of practice before we started our tour. During my short visit home I discovered a bag of M-80s in my dresser drawer. In case you don’t know, M-80s are like firecrackers on steroids! Deciding that these would be perfect boredom breakers during our pre-tour rehearsals, I brought them back to campus and wasted no time showing them to my friends. No sooner had I pulled them out of the bag than someone mentioned that they go off under water.

The bathroom down the hall provided the perfect laboratory to prove the claim. I opened one of the stall doors, lit the M-80, and dropped it into the toilet bowl. I backed into the shower stall nearby and waited. For a few quiet seconds, nothing happened. But then—KABOOM! I opened up the stall door to find thousands of porcelain shards and a gaping hole in the floor where the toilet used to be!

Since there were only five of us on campus, I knew that it would not take long for the authorities to find the culprit, so I decided it would be best to make a preemptive strike and contact the Dean of Students immediately. We had a brief conversation, talking about me paying for the damage and other potential consequences, and then I headed off for our first week of summer tour, thinking: There, that takes care of that!

But when we came back to campus for some supplies after our first week on the road, I was informed that the president of the college wanted to see me in his office. Gulp! What made matters worse was that the president was a close and long-standing friend of our family.

After dropping the M-80 into the toilet bowl, it never crossed my mind that the real problem with my foolishness was not a blasted toilet and a flooded bookstore below the bathroom. The problem was that I had offended an important person in my life and had potentially damaged a significant relationship.

This is exactly what Jesus is getting at in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:21. While we normally think that the boy’s guilt relates to his dabblings in the darker side of life in a faraway land, that’s not Christ’s point. The prodigal asked for his inheritance early, which in that day was like saying to his dad, “I wish you were dead!” And in addition, he squandered a portion of the family estate, which was an equally egregious offense to his father.

The story of the prodigal was told to demonstrate that our sin is first and foremost a deep offense to God. It’s easy to focus on the external consequences of sin by playing games of cover-up, using repentance as a strategy for damage control so that we can get on with life. But the heart of true repentance is an acknowledgement of grief and sorrow over the way that we have personally offended our God who has given us so much and who loves us so deeply.

Thankfully, God—like the prodigal’s father—waits for us to come and repent of our sin against Him so that He can stun us with His compassionate grace of forgiveness and restoration. How good it is to hear Him say, “Kill the fatted calf. Let’s have a party! My son who was lost has come home!”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How do you normally think of your sin: not wanting to get caught, making excuses, not wanting to sin because of the consequences? Or, do you see your sin as an offense against a trusted friend and gracious God?
•Read through Luke 15:11-32. What insights can you glean about true repentance and forgiveness as you read the story?
•Take some time to talk to your Father today. Bring your sin to Him, humbly apologizing for the ways you have hurt Him, and experience the joy of His immense grace and forgiveness that covers and restores you to Him.


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 Posted March 16th, 2011 01:04 PM   IP              
Before and After

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:10

I’m sure that you’ve seen those before and after pictures in ads for diet pills. The before picture always features some tremendously out-of-shape obese guy. The after picture then shows him looking trim, sculpted, and usually holding out the waistband of his old pants, which are now many sizes too big. The ad then tells the story about how this particular diet plan melted off the pounds in record time.

Whether or not you believe those amazing testimonials, there is an even more amazing before and after picture that is not only believable but available as well. It’s the picture of your life before and after Jesus.

The before picture would show how purposeless, sometimes burdened, often confused, searching, and sinful your life really was. The Bible is pretty clear about our condition before we met Jesus. It describes us as being lost, broken, guilty, condemned, and even “enemies” of God (Col. 1:21).

But then we met Him. Realizing that He wasn’t chasing us down with the sheriff’s posse to lock us up for our sin, we repentantly responded to His amazing offer of mercy and grace. Thanks to Jesus, our before picture now lays in pieces amidst the rubble of our past lives, and we have the privilege of stepping up to have our after snapshot taken.

But, I wonder—what would that picture look like?

Ephesians 2:10 describes the after picture in a simple, yet profound way. Paul writes that as a result of being saved by His grace, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” God is the new designer for our lives—a kind of divine personal trainer! And what does He desire to make our lives look like the after picture? Our text goes on to say that we have been “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”

When Scripture talks about “good works,” it’s a lot more than going to church every Sunday and tithing. Good works are actions that reflect God’s mercy, grace, compassion, and righteousness. It’s the action of loving others, even when they aren’t all that loveable; forgiving; reaching out to the poor and disadvantaged; caring for the lost and the losers; being patient and tolerant with the faults and failures of others; serving the needs of others without clamoring for applause; providing the fruits of righteousness for those around us to be blessed by.

Here’s a good way to think of it. Our after picture ought to be a duplicate picture of the good works that God has so generously showered on us. In fact, His good works in our lives are like a workout seminar on how to treat and respond to others.

When I see the after pictures in diet ads, I often wonder what the person looks like now. Believe me, I know what it’s like to trim down only to lose sight of the goal and chub back up again. So, let’s not lose sight of the goal.

You’ve been saved to be an ad for the glory of God’s goodness in your life and His good work through you to the lives of others. So what’s your after picture looking like today? Shed the excess fat of your past and let His glory show!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What does the before picture of your life look like, before you met Jesus? Take some time to thank Him for putting you on the program of His saving grace! If you’re not on the program yet, what are you waiting for?
•How much of that excess weight are you still carrying?
•Think of three ways that you can let the Personal Trainer of your soul produce good works through you. Be specific. Who will be the recipient? What will the “good work” look like?
•What is it about your life that makes you start bulking up again? Not staying in the Word? Neglecting prayer? Difficult people and difficult circumstances? Make a commitment to get back on the program today!


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 Posted March 17th, 2011 11:22 AM   IP              
Bravo for the Boundaries

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers." Psalm 1:1

In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a no-holds-barred, do-your-own-thing world. We have been force-fed on the thought that we exist to experience pleasure, that the pursuit of happiness and personal fulfillment should not be restrained. Especially by Bible-thumping religious folk who want to control and oppress the world by calling people sinful every time they try to have fun.

But I keep asking myself: If life in the unrestrained pleasure-lane is all it’s cracked up to be, why aren’t we happier? How distorted is it that we call binge-drinking pleasure and sex on demand fulfilling? What are we saying about ourselves when life as we want it to be is so empty that we have to escape reality by drugging ourselves? Peter Kreeft was on to something when he observed, “If we were not so bored and empty, we would not have to stimulate ourselves with increasing dosages of sex and violence—or just constant busyness. Here we are in the most fantastic fun and games factory ever invented—modern technological society—and we are bored, like a spoiled rich kid in a mansion surrounded by a thousand expensive toys.”

Could it be that we’ve missed something?

The psalmist wrote, “[Happy] is the man who . . . delight[s] in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3 NIV).

As strange as it may sound, true happiness is not rooted in life beyond the boundaries but rather in the sweet confines of God’s wisdom. Contrary to popular opinion, God’s ways are anything but oppressive edicts to make sure that we never enjoy life. The reality is that His laws are the key to deep and authentic happiness. Life is far more enjoyable when we don’t lie to each other; when we don’t sleep with each other’s spouses; when we don’t steal; when we don’t covet; when life is not always about us but about the needs and interests of others; when we give; and when we forgive!

We should have had a clue about this from the beginning. Satan used the notion that God was oppressive in his very first assault on our ancient ancestors, Adam and Eve. Though they were enjoying life at its best with God in Eden, Satan offered them a better plan—the good life on their own terms! They bought the lie, and he slithered away leaving them alone in their shame and regret.

Sign me up for the slow learner club!

Because God loves us and wants us to live a life that is blessed, He told us how we could get there. Bravo for His boundaries!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Read Psalm 119:97-104. What are the personal benefits of following God’s “law”?
•What misconceptions do nonbelievers have regarding God’s law? Do you share some of these misconceptions?


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 Posted March 18th, 2011 06:44 PM   IP              
Are We Small Yet?

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” Philippians 2:3 NASB

Kids are great! Things that we take for granted are occasions for awe and wonder for them. And their perspectives are often convictingly right on.

Take, for instance, the little girl who loved watching the planes that took off from a nearby airport as she played in her backyard. From her point of view, planes literally got smaller and smaller the farther they flew away. Which explains the strange thing she said to her dad after he decided to take her on a business trip. Soon after taking off, she turned to her dad and said, “Daddy, are we small yet?”

That’s a really important—and challenging—question to ask ourselves. There is something about us that doesn’t like feeling small. It starts early. Any kid worth his salt will gladly throw up his arms and do the “so big!” routine when you ask him, “How big are you?” We may stop throwing up our arms, but we never really grow out of wanting to be “so big” in other people’s eyes. It’s amazing how quickly life gets to be all about who’s got the nicest house, the best job, the coolest car, the highest degree, the biggest diamond, or the best office on the executive floor. We are quick to defend ourselves to keep ourselves looking good. We like to draw attention to our accomplishments and turn conversations to focus on us, and we find ourselves a little put out when we are not noticed or invited to hang out with the “in” crowd.

For most of us, life is about anything but making ourselves small. We are the tall “I” in the middle of our universe.

And that’s a problem.

In Philippians 2:3-11, Paul tells us that we need to stop living to advance ourselves and our own interests and instead start considering others as more important than ourselves. In fact, he says that we should do nothing from “empty conceit”—which literally means the puffing up of our nothingness. I love the graphic picture in that thought. No matter how big you puff up a zero, it’s still a zero!

And then he points us to Jesus who didn’t consider his “big” standing in heaven a thing to hang on to, but rather He humbled himself to care for our interests by becoming obedient to death on the cross. Think of that! Jesus thought of us and our needs as being more important than His own! He made himself small that we by His abundant mercy might become big in the riches of His grace.

Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus!

Are you small yet?

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What would it take for you to have the mind of Jesus by being more concerned about others’ needs and interests than your own? Who could be an object of this change in your life?
•Read 1 Peter 5:5-7 and honestly ask yourself if there is pride in your life. What does God think of proud people?
•What are some ways that you can humble yourself? Are you willing to wait for Him to exalt you?


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 Posted March 19th, 2011 12:41 PM   IP              
Jell-O Knees

God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5-6

Somewhere in the distance I heard a siren. Buildings loomed on either side of us and my pulse quickened each time we passed an unlit alley. I was a boy at the time and my family was attending a night service at a church located in one of the sketchier parts of New York City. We all know that as children certain places and situations seem scarier than they might be for adults—so I felt a bit shaky—you know, like my knees were made of Jell-O. And, I wasn’t looking forward to going back to the car later that night.

After the church service, the pastor asked two of his deacons to escort us back to our car. These were two seriously big dudes. I felt no fear with a “church bouncer” on either side of us. I was sure they were larger and more intimidating than anything or anyone we would encounter.

Fear is a funny thing. It enlarges whatever we’re afraid of and shrinks our view of God. As Christians, we need to reclaim our view of God’s greatness by focusing on His presence, power, and protection when we are afraid.

I don’t know about you, but my fear tends to wither away when I remember that God is present everywhere, all the time. He has no boundaries. He is in New York City, east Mongolia, and the south of France, all at the same time! It’s clear that David had a great grasp of this reality when he said: “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8). In the rest of that psalm, David affirms that whether it’s dark or light, morning or evening, or whether you are sleeping or awake, God is present.

It gets even better. Not only is God everywhere, but He is also all-powerful. He has unlimited power, and He delights in sharing it with you and me. If you are a follower of Jesus, you can access God’s power when you pray and ask Him to act on your behalf. You also draw on His power when you open the Word of God and discover how much He loves and cares for you, and how anxious He is to protect and help you. And you draw on the power when you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts, words, and actions. In 2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV, we read, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power.” Rest assured, God’s power can disarm any intimidating influence in your environment!

The combination of God’s presence and power make Him the greatest protector of all time. He alone has the power to keep you safe wherever you go, and He promises to never leave us or forsake us. If you’re walking in the light of that promise, you have the right to say, with confidence: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

As a kid on that dark street in New York City, I was imagining all sorts of things that man could do to me. But when those two guys walked us back to our car, all fear was gone! They weren’t God, but I’ve often thought that they did what God does for me every day of my life no matter where I am. Keeping God’s enduring presence, infinite power, and supernatural protection in mind will take the Jell-O right out of your knees—every time!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•When do you feel afraid? How can God’s presence, power, and protection calm your fears? Take some time to write about this in your journal.
•Name some biblical responses to fear. Read Psalm 34:4; 1 John 4:18; for a hint. Practice using these responses when you are afraid. What do you think will happen over time if you use these responses consistently?
•Let God’s presence, power, and protection fuel your worship today. Find a new way to praise Him! Some ideas are: spend extended time in prayer, write Him a poem, sing Him a song, or encourage someone who is afraid.


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 Posted March 20th, 2011 01:37 PM   IP              
Fear Of The Unknown

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called . . . . And he went out, not knowing where he was going. —Hebrews 11:8

Has God ever asked you to do something that seemed unreasonable? Something that took you into the territory of the unknown? What if He asked you to refuse a long-awaited promotion or resist a longed-for relationship? What if He called you to a remote part of the world or asked you to release your children to serve Him in a faraway place?

The unknown is full of haunting “what ifs.” Yet God often calls us to chart unknown territory as we follow Him. Obeying His commands to forgive, to give away our treasures, or to give up things that provide security and pleasure often leave us in the scary territory of unknown outcomes.

Imagine how Abraham felt when God asked him to move his whole family without telling him where they were going (Gen. 12:1-3). God also asked Abraham to persevere—to stay in an unknown land even when the lure of past comforts may have threatened to seduce him and his family back to their comfort zone in Ur.

Entering a new year is like entering uncharted territory. The fear of the unknown could cripple our capacity to follow God’s leading through the days ahead. Yet, like Abraham, when we cling to the One who knows all things, we’re in good hands—regardless of where He leads.

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

Never be afraid to entrust the unknown future to the all-knowing God.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted March 22nd, 2011 09:57 AM   IP              
!! Amen !!..sounds like our small town!

A Tongue That Moves Dirt

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13

R. G. LeTourneau, the owner of a large earth-moving equipment company, often told this story: “We used to have a scraper known as the Model G. Somebody asked one of our salesmen what the ‘G’ stood for. The salesman promptly replied, ‘Well, I guess the G stands for gossip, because like gossip, this machine moves a lot of dirt, and moves it fast!’”

Have you ever had “the dirt” on someone? Through some turn of events, maybe you know of another person’s misfortune or mistake, and the news is burning a hole in your tongue. Is it okay to tell others? Is it okay to tell someone so that both of you can pray more intelligently about it? Or is telling it to anyone just plain old gossip?

Gossip is defined as idle chatter that can injure another’s integrity and reputation. This category of verbal sin does not always have malicious intent, but it’s always damaging. Closely linked with gossip is the idea of whispering. One of the Hebrew words for gossip means “whispering that is damaging.” In the New Testament, the Greek word for gossip is pronounced beginning with the sound “p-s-s-s,” which is often how gossip is communicated. Gossip can be true information but is always information that is not in the best interests of those who it is about or those who are hearing it.

So, why is it so tempting to look both ways, and then whisper juicy tidbits into the ear of the person next to us? Perhaps it’s because gossip is a way of promoting ourselves. Having the latest news means that we are on the inside track—that we have “the scoop.” It has been said that if a person known as a gossip doesn’t know about it, it’s not worth knowing—which isn’t a compliment! Gossip makes us the center of attention; all ears are tuned in to our frequency. Having and spreading information about others gives us a sort of power—or at least the illusion of it. In the spirit of self-promotion, gossip neutralizes our failures by making sure that others know the failures of someone else. To put it bluntly, we like to gossip because it makes us feel good. But then, a lot of sins make us feel good. Like poisoned sugar, gossip seems sweet but is deadly.

The problem with gossip is that it often backfires. Proverbs 11:13 says: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” If you like to gossip, you probably have friends or acquaintances who wonder if they can trust you with confidential information. Or, you can understand why they might think: If they are telling me about that, who are they talking to about me? It’s no wonder that Proverbs tells us that a gossiper separates the best of friends (Proverbs 16:28).

We should also note with concern that gossips are listed among the defiled people who are “God-haters” (Romans 1:28-30). That’s a serious charge!

It may be true, it may be hot, and it may be interesting, but if it’s not constructive and helpful, it’s gossip. And it’s a problem! If you have to tell someone, take it to the Lord in prayer. Everyone else is out of bounds.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Cut gossip off at the first syllable! Make a list of warning phrases and listen closely for them in your conversations with others. Here are a few to get you started: Did you hear . . . Well, I really shouldn’t say this, but . . . Just between you and me . . . Let me share this with you so we can pray more specifically . . .
•Memorize Proverbs 20:19 and 2 Timothy 2:16. If you struggle with gossip, consider staying away from those who engage in it. Hearing often results in telling.
•The next time you’re tempted to “spread the dirt,” do the opposite. Think of something kind to say about that person instead. Add that person to your prayer list. Try this for a month and see where it gets you!


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 Posted March 23rd, 2011 11:45 AM   IP              
Gate Crashers

“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18

There is a new twist in the war on terror.

The Pentagon is building a new breed of warships that are designed to fight terrorism. This new class of battleship will carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 combat-ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft. But, get this: One of the fleet, the USS New York, has been built from 24 tons of scrap metal from the wreckage of the World Trade Center terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Steel from the World Trade Center was melted down in a foundry in Amite, Louisiana, to cast the ship’s bow section. Talk about turning the tables on terrorists. The fallout of terrorism’s best moment is used to defeat it. What a great idea!

But it’s no better than the idea that our God had when He took us, scraped and trashed by the terrorism of sin, and processed us through a redemptive meltdown to re-tool us for war against the terror of hell. As Paul said, we are a new creation in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17), having been delivered from the grip of darkness and placed into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13)! Why the meltdown and re-creation? To equip us to aggressively go against the forces of darkness in our world. To crash the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18)!

I remember my wrongheaded thinking about this verse. When Jesus said that the gates of hell would not stand against His church, I always pictured His words as a statement about how safe we are from the power of hell. It probably was a mindset leftover from the fortress mentality of my early days in church. Back then we spent a lot of time talking about how hellish our world was and encouraged each other to hunker down ’til Jesus comes. But Jesus never intended that we would hunker down. Christ’s words mean that we are to pummel the gates of hell by aggressively taking its territory with the superior power of acts of righteousness.

In a world where we have forgotten how to treat each other, we crash the gates of division and alienation with acts of kindness and the healing power of forgiveness. We cleanse the toxic dumps of prideful acts and self-serving agendas with the power of humility and servanthood. Into a world run by the hellish treachery of genocide, oppression, and greed, we are to become advocates for the abused and the poor. In the face of prejudice and injustice, the church is to rise up with open arms to all people regardless, and seek to bring justice to bear on behalf of the marginalized and maligned. And, for those captives still chained in sin, we storm the gates to set the captives free with the power of the gospel!

Amazing, isn’t it?! Taken from the scrap pile of hell, we former captives have been melted down and recreated in the likeness of Jesus, who as our champion leads the charge and guarantees the victory!

While the Pentagon is building new warships, Jesus is busy building His church. And while I don’t know if we can win the war on terror, I do know this—if we will follow our leader, hell doesn’t stand a chance!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Would you classify yourself as a hunker-down-’til-Jesus-comes Christian? or are you looking for ways to take Satan’s territory through acts of righteousness?
•Think of a person or situation in your life that seems like a stronghold of Satan. What could you do to “attack the gates” by bringing the attitudes and or actions of Jesus to the situation?
•Are there any times that you can remember crashing the gates of hell—even in a small way? Plan to have at least one victory on your list before you put your head on the pillow tonight!

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 Posted March 24th, 2011 11:29 AM   IP              
Hurry Up and Wait

“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” Proverbs 14:29

One of my all-time favorite school teacher stories is about a kindergarten teacher who at the end of an exasperating day had to put boots on all 31 of her students before she sent them out in the snow. As she struggled to lace up the last boot on the foot of the 31st student, the child looked at her and said, “These aren’t my boots.” Thinking that she would have to go back and re-boot the whole class, she furiously ripped off the boots only to hear the kindergartener say, “They’re my sister’s boots, but my mom let me wear them today.”

Does life ever try your patience? Of course it does. There is just something about being born on this planet that makes us vulnerable to snap, often destructive, responses to life’s inevitable stress.

What is it that pushes you to the edge? Is it that guy who keeps cutting you off in heavy traffic or your daughter who keeps snapping her bubble gum every 10 seconds? It’s different for all of us, but we’ve all experienced that temptation to explode when somebody or something stomps on our frayed nerves.

I hate to up the pressure, but it’s in moments of near-nuclear explosions that we find out how closely we’re walking with the Lord. Galatians 5:22 says, “And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience.” When life takes us to the edge, it’s easy to tell if we are being controlled by the Holy Spirit, or whether our old nature is going to step up to manage the situation.

Being patient doesn’t mean that we morph into milk-toast people for Jesus, with no fire in our belly. But the kind of patience that the Spirit wishes to produce does bring restraint to our anger. Anger always clouds good judgment while patience helps us stand back and evaluate the tension in a constructive way. As our text says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.”

Patience says “no” to our “gut reaction” to do the first thing that comes to mind. When your gut reaction is: “I’m quitting this job right now!” patience says, “Why don’t you give it a few days and pray about it. Think about how this will affect your future and your family.” Patience gives you the space you need to make better decisions. An impulsive “I’m heading to the dealership right now to buy that new car!” may need patience to slow you down long enough to ask yourself, “What’s wrong with the car I have? Is there anything better that God would want me to do with the money?”

And, patience may just get your anxious little self out of the way so that God can accomplish what He has in mind through the trial that has you so frazzled. The psalmist helps us when he says, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14 NASB).

And Isaiah assures us that “those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31 NASB).

So all together now: Let’s take a deep breath, step back, and patiently wait for Him to manage your response. No wonder patience is called a virtue!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Read Galatians 5:22; Colossians 1:10-11; Matthew 6:14-15. What does patience tell you about your walk with Christ?
•Reflect on a time in your life when it was hard for you to have patience. Did you depend on the Holy Spirit for supernatural help? How did the situation turn out and how might it have turned out differently?
•Write down the top three areas in your life that currently require patience. Remember to trust God in these situations and to look for what He is doing and for what He would have you do to be constructive.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   



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