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Author Message
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 Posted March 25th, 2011 11:35 AM   IP              
The Middle

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23

I am a passionate fan of Oreo cookies. The mere thought of a tall, ice-cold glass of milk and a huge stack of Oreos is enough to induce some major hunger pangs. And I refuse to pay attention to the fine print on the back of the Oreo package that delineates the calories and fat content. When it comes to Oreos, I’m ready to throw all caution to the wind!

Which reminds me of their ad campaign that addressed that classic Oreo-eating technique in which you pull the chocolate cookie halves apart to get to the creamy frosting in the center. The ad gave this stern reproof to Oreo eaters everywhere: “Don’t fiddle with the middle!”

I’m sure the people at the Oreo factory would be pleased to know that their advice still sticks in my mind. But it’s not about their cookies. Let me explain.

All of us are aware that getting cleaned up for Jesus is an important thing. But most of the time we think about cleaning up all the visible stuff. You know, the stuff on the outside. We try to behave so that others will see that we are “good Christians.” It’s important to us that people in our small groups know that we are having our devotions. We volunteer in the church world, we make sure to put something in the offering plate as it goes by, and we have learned to say all the nice words and do all the right things at all the right times.

And while I’m not “out” on any of that, I do have a problem if your Christianity is only about the externals. Jesus stung some of the best-acting, spiritually spit-polished people of His day with the charge that they were like whitewashed tombs—all cleaned up on the outside but carrying the stench of death within (Matthew 23:27). To Jews who believed that death and defilement were the same thing, this was a serious charge.

It’s scary to think that the better you get on the outside, the worse you might become on the inside. Behaving really well can easily make you proud of yourself, and we all know what God thinks about pride in our hearts: He resists it (1 Peter 5:5), and, in fact, a proud look makes the list of the seven things that are an abomination to Him (Proverbs 6:16-19). Being really good can make a “finger-pointer” out of you real fast. It’s amazing how easy it is for us to carry attitudes in our hearts that stink while we carry our Bible into church. So let’s not forget that while man might applaud us for what’s on the outside, God still looks at the heart! He knows all about that well-protected sin, that self-sufficient attitude, and those resentments we nurse. Like oranges that have been out of the fridge too long, you get no credit for looking good in the fruit bowl if there’s something rotten on the inside.

This is what I like about Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians. He reminds us that it is God’s plan to sanctify us through and through. In other words, God wants to fiddle with your middle! As Paul says in our text, authentic Christianity is about renewing our spirit, our soul, and then our body from the inside out. It’s not a facelift—it’s a heart transplant!

“Don’t fiddle with the middle” may be good advice for Oreo eaters, but it’s a terrible thing to say to God!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What areas of your life have you purposefully avoided bringing before the Lord? Why do you think you have held back in those areas?
•What continuous sins or struggles have you experienced in those areas?
•What’s keeping you from surrendering those issues completely to the Lord? Even right now, you can invite Him to search your heart and to “sanctify you through and through.” It’s a prayer request that He will gladly grant!


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted March 26th, 2011 01:06 PM   IP              
Price Tags

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” Philippians 3:8

You may have heard the story about the pranksters who broke into a hardware store. Strangely enough, they didn’t steal a thing. Yet what they did created chaos of epic proportions—they switched all the price tags!

The store owner was unaware of anything amiss until the first customer stepped to the cash register with a hammer that rang up at $199.95. Naturally, the customer’s jaw dropped. “What’s that thing made of?” he demanded. “Platinum?”

On further inspection, employees noticed that a big screen TV in the appliance section was selling for $14.95. The goods were all the same, resting on the same shelves as the night before, but the assigned values were hopelessly jumbled.

I can’t help but think that Satan likes to pull the same stunt with us. Unaware of his stealth work, we go through life with mixed-up price tags on our accomplishments and accolades. We assign the wrong value to who we are and what we have—not to mention the lack of value we assign to God who unequivocally deserves the highest value.

Paul had the price tags right when he wrote to the Philippian believers: “The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. . . . I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by Him” (Philippians 3:7-8, The Message).

There’s Paul at the cash register, looking at all the price tags attached to his experiences, achievements, and treasures. He’s got a red pen in his hand, and all those things that used to be so valuable, so precious, so terribly important to him have been slashed down to zero. In fact, Paul’s loading them up in boxes, headed for the dumpster out back.

I find it interesting that this same Paul who once assigned no value to Jesus at all—and in fact hated Him—now can’t even put a price on the privilege of experiencing Him. After his unforgettable personal encounter with the living Christ (Acts 9), Paul’s whole world was reordered, and he never looked back. The value of his relationship with Jesus became “priceless.” What’s more, he lived like he really meant it.

And for us, it’s more than just giving mental or verbal assent to the “surpassing value” of knowing Jesus. Many of us have been doing that for a long time—and then we go on to live like He is eighth or ninth on the list. Unfortunately in this glitz-and-glamour world, we are far too prone to place great value on all that is temporal and seductive. And believe me, we pay a high price for that. It means that we miss out on the most valuable asset of all—the joy of a deep, abiding relationship with the only One who can meet all of our needs and fill us with His joy. His invitation still stands: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Find time for Him and make His will and His ways your greatest treasure! For what you value will capture your heart (Matthew 6:21)!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think of the experience or accomplishment that you value most. What price tag have you assigned to that, and why?
•What price tag have you assigned to Jesus? Do you think others would see the same value on that tag in your life?
•Make a list of treasures that may have a grip on your heart. What would it take to lessen the value you place on those things in your life? You can begin by memorizing the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:21: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted March 27th, 2011 12:59 PM   IP              
Time For A Change

This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner. —Luke 7:39

A friend once told me, “In my lifetime I’ve seen a lot of things change, and I’ve been against them all!” Perhaps he overstated the point, but many of us would agree that we don’t like change—especially if it involves altering our habits and attitudes.

That’s one reason Jesus was so unpopular among the Pharisees. He challenged their long-established system of good works and self-righteous living. Consider the incident when the town “sinner” entered the home of the town “saint” in Luke 7:36-50. Simon the Pharisee wasn’t impressed with the woman’s lavish display of affection for Jesus. Reading Simon’s self-righteous thoughts, Jesus immediately challenged his flawed perception of his own goodness by telling the story of two debtors—one who owed much to his master and one who owed less. “Which of them will love him more?” Jesus asked (Luke 7:42). Obviously, the one who had been forgiven more. Speaking to Simon’s I-feel-pretty-good-about-myself attitude, Jesus said, “to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (Luke 7:47).

The challenge is clear. Lulled into thinking how good we are, our love for Jesus wanes because we have forgotten that we too are among the ones “forgiven much.” And when that happens, ready or not, it’s time for a change!

Forgive us, Lord, for failures past,
Then help us start anew
With strength and courage to obey
And closely follow You. —Sper

When God starts changing things, He usually begins with changing us.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted March 28th, 2011 12:07 PM   IP              
Running In The Right Direction

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” —John 6:68

One of the most difficult experiences in my years as a pastor was telling a member of our church that her husband, her son, and her father-in-law had all drowned in a boating accident. I knew the news would shatter her life.

In the days following their tragic loss, I was amazed as she and her family responded with unusual faith. Sure, there was deep brokenness, haunting doubt, and confusion. But when nothing else made sense, they still had Jesus. Rather than deserting Him in the midst of their desperately difficult days, they ran to Him as the only source of hope and confidence.

This reminds me of the reaction of the disciples to Jesus. After some of them “went back and walked with Him no more” because He was hard to understand (John 6:66), Jesus turned to His inner circle, and asked, “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67). Peter got it right when he responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Whatever you face today, be encouraged by the words of Peter and by the example of a family who went through the fire with their faith intact. As long as you’re running in the right direction—to Jesus—you’ll find the grace and strength you will need.

Jesus is the One to run to
When our lives bring grief and pain;
He provides His strength and guidance
With a peace we can’t explain. —Sper

When all is lost, remember that you haven’t lost Jesus. Run to Him.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted March 29th, 2011 12:21 PM   IP              
Don't Get Stuck

"Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:16

I had just landed in Phoenix for some meetings when the clerk at the rental car desk told me they were all out of cars except for one expensive luxury car that he would give me for the compact rate.

Admittedly, I was a little worried that someone seeing me drive up in this cool over-the-top auto would think that I had lost any sense of good stewardship. But it was, take the car or walk. So I took the car! And, I must admit, I loved driving the car—until my trip back to the airport.

Gliding down the highway in style, I heard an ominous thumping noise and knew immediately that it was a flat tire. I was stuck, and regardless of how nice the car was, I was going nowhere and would probably miss the plane. You probably know the feeling. You need to get somewhere and suddenly you’re stuck in a snowdrift or a muddy ditch—or you get a flat tire. No matter what, getting stuck is not a good thing.

And as bad as it is when you’re traveling, it’s even worse if you get stuck spiritually. You probably know what it’s like. Someone special to you wounds you with their words or actions, and rather than forgiving and turning the other cheek you get stuck in a fight with them only to realize that the more you try to get even the more stuck you become. Or perhaps in the midst of difficult circumstances, seeds of disappointment and bitterness take root and you get stuck in discouragement land. To say nothing of the fact that the spiritual blow of unconfessed sin can completely immobilize us.

All of this makes me love what I read in Hebrews 11: 6-16 . Real people, living in a world like yours and mine, refused to get stuck by the disappointing and discouraging circumstances of their lives. The common thread woven through these individuals is the fact that they saw themselves as “aliens and strangers” in this world, on their way to a “better country—a heavenly one.” Simply put, they caught sight of the fact that they were on a journey and that something greater awaited them. Nothing, or no one, would deter them from keeping their eyes on where they were headed. They refused to get stuck! And in Hebrews 11:16, we get a glimpse of God’s pleasure and delight in the way they persisted in their journey when we read that He is not “ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

So, the next time someone’s words or actions threaten to mire you down—the next time life’s circumstances give you an excuse to blow out and get stuck—remember who you are and where you’re headed. There isn’t a person or thing in your life that is worth getting stuck for! You’re headed home. They can duke it out by themselves if they choose!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Is there any bitterness, unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, or doubt keeping you from moving forward on this journey?
•How does the reality of the “better country” described by the writer of Hebrews motivate you to get spiritually unstuck?
•What steps can you take today to move forward in your journey with Christ?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted March 30th, 2011 01:32 PM   IP              
Hey, You Can't Eat Ketchup In That

“You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” 1 Corinthians 6:20

My granddaughter, Mary Catherine, affectionately known to me as Cate the Great, is all-girl. Just put her in a princess outfit with glittering slippers, wand, and a crown, and she is in sheer ecstasy! Which explains the recent blowout at Target.

She and her mom were passing the dress section when a beautiful short-sleeved white dress with a big yellow daisy smack dab in the middle of the dress caught Cate’s eye. Immediately taken with the dress, she begged her mom to buy it for her. Having recently bought Cate a new dress, my daughter Libby explained that since she had just gotten some new clothes, they wouldn’t be able to buy the dress. Libby tried to console her. Maybe they would wait to see if the dress would be on sale in the near future. Cate refused to be comforted, and for the next few aisles sobbed with a broken heart that the beautiful dress she wanted couldn’t be hers.

Her big brother Gabe, who is all of 11 years old, finally whispered in his mom’s ear, “Could I buy the dress for Cate with the money I’ve saved?” Libby said, “Sure if that’s what you’d like to do.”

And Cate got her dress.

It was the middle of winter in Grand Rapids, but that didn’t stop Cate. She wore her sleeveless dress indoors everyday. She loved how pretty she thought she looked in daisy-clad white! One day as she began dipping her lunchtime toasted cheese sandwich in a deep pile of ketchup, Gabe turned to her and said, “Hey, Cate, you can’t eat ketchup in that dress! I paid a lot of money for it!”

I have to tell you that this may be my best grandchild story to date! I love the thought of Gabe’s love for his little sister and how precious it is that he was willing to voluntarily sacrifice to bless her with the dress. But having paid a big price, he remains interested in taking good care of the dress.


After I got done laughing about the episode, it struck me that what Gabe did for Cate and what Jesus has done for us have a lot in common. Except that Jesus’ gift is far more significant. He paid a great and sacrificial price to bless us with far more than we deserve. Hopelessly lost and guilty before a holy God, we are condemned and can’t do a thing to help ourselves. So Jesus died to take our rap and cleanse us from all our sin. And Scripture tells us that we are then clothed in His righteousness, which in turn gives us access to our God in fellowship and prayer (Philippians 3:7-9). As the old hymn says, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!”

Having invested deeply in our new look, I can just hear Jesus saying, “I paid a lot for you, don’t say that; don’t go there; don’t think that; don’t do that!”

Paul told the Corinthians, who were tempted to wallow in the muck of their pagan culture, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? . . . you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

So, let’s not forget what we are wearing. It’s a thing of beauty, and Jesus paid a big price for it!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Any ketchup on the outfit of your life? Claim the stain remover of God’s mercy and grace (Psalm 51; 1 John 1:9)!
•What areas of your life tend to discredit the high price He paid to make you righteous? Be specific: Is it an attitude, an action, a thought pattern?
•What can you do today to make sure that you honor God in these areas? Make a plan and ask a trusted friend to check up on you.
•Memorize James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: . . . to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted March 31st, 2011 11:58 AM   IP              
Naming Rights

“To him who overcomes . . . I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

Is there anyone out there as excited as I am that it’s baseball season again? Some questions have been brewing about “the Friendly Confines”—the home field of my beloved Chicago Cubs. When the ownership of the team changed hands, fans wondered if the historic ballpark at Clark and Addison would continue to be called Wrigley Field, or whether the “naming rights” might be up for auction to the highest bidder who could then change the name to identify the old ballpark with his or her name. In the bigger picture, of course, it’s not a life-or-death issue (except maybe to some diehard Cubs fans). But the debate brings up an interesting topic.

When we come into this world, our parents give us a name. It goes on our birth certificate, gets written across the top of our school papers, and serves as a means of identification throughout our whole life. But our given name is just the beginning.

Almost immediately, we begin acquiring nicknames. Some are just abbreviated versions of our official name. I’m rarely called Joseph (unless I’m in trouble) and was branded with Joe early on. Other nicknames, pleasant or not so pleasant, are descriptive of our characteristics or actions—and if you’re a guy, you hope for something like Slugger or Champ! Throughout our lives we will probably end up with a couple of very specific nicknames from a loved one, such as Honey, Princess, or Sweetie. Nobody else uses those nicknames; they’re just for that special person.

Scripture tells us that God is going to eventually give us a new name. Hey, if you aren’t so thrilled with the name your parents gave you, take heart, a new one is on the way! But more important, think of the level of relationship this implies. There is a name that is going to be just between you and God. It is His special name for you! And while Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly how God chooses a new name, we do know that every time He changed a name in Scripture—like Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel—it was to remind someone of a new way He was going to work in their lives. In other words, it was a positive, encouraging change.

John shares another important detail about this new name in Revelation 2:17. Quoting Jesus, he writes, “I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it.” Before you start picturing this as something like a plaque or a mini-license plate from a gift shop with your name on it, you have to understand an important custom from New Testament times. In those days, an invitation to a special, exclusive event would arrive in the form of a white piece of marble with your name engraved on it. On the day of the gala event, you would present that piece of marble at the door as your means of access to the celebration. So Jesus is actually saying, “The day is coming when I’m going to give you a new name, known only to you and me, engraved on a white piece of stone as your entry and invitation into eternity.” Wow! Incredible!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to find out my new name. After all, He bought the naming rights for my life!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•List a few characters in Scripture whose names were changed by God. What changes did the new names signify in their lives?
•How does the promise of a new name fit with the reality of our new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)?
•Revelation 2:17 reminds us of the personal nature of God’s knowledge of us as His children. How does that encourage and bless you today?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted April 2nd, 2011 12:00 PM   IP              
Chosen

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . . For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” Ephesians 1:3-4

A recent journey through the book of Genesis got me thinking about Abraham. Ever stop to realize how significant Abraham is to literally billions of people around the world? Jews claim him as their national, cultural, and spiritual father. Muslims revere and respect him as a great prophet. And Christians realize that through Abraham, God provided the seed of the Messiah.

So as I was reading about Abraham—specifically about God’s call and Abraham’s response in Genesis 12:1-20—the question struck me. Why Abraham? Out of all of the people on the globe at that moment, why did God choose him?

It wasn’t because of his spiritual merits or extraordinary abilities. God didn’t hold some kind of “Ur of the Chaldeans Idol” competition in which early patriarchs lined up for the chance to strut their spiritual stuff before the Almighty and a few celebrity judges. On the contrary, from what we know of Ur, Abraham was living in a sophisticated, yet pagan, idolatrous society, and, most likely, he himself was an idolater. So why on earth did God choose him?

Here’s my stunning, biblically educated answer: I don’t have a clue.

It’s just one of God’s mysterious ways. He chooses people. The pages of biblical history are packed with stories of God’s choices—people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David—all handpicked by God, for reasons known only to Him.

God’s choice had huge ramifications. They became the recipients of some phenomenal promises—spelled out in the covenants that God made with them. To Abraham and his heirs, God promised land, a national heritage, and the blessing of countless descendants. God’s choice of Moses included the promise of His presence and the revelation of His holiness and character through the law. And David, chosen out of the seeming obscurity of wandering the hills of Bethlehem as a shepherd, was promised an eternal kingdom in which his descendants would reign forever! Why would God do that? It’s just His way.

God’s choice also gave them the phenomenal privilege of participating in His plans. Think about it. God could have created a nation, revealed His law, and provided a Messiah entirely independent of man’s assistance or participation. And yet God chooses Abraham to be the father of a nation. He picks Moses to meet Him on top of Mount Sinai, returning to the Israelites with God’s law. And He selects David and his descendants to lay the groundwork for the Son of God’s appearance in this world.

Which brings us to this amazing promise in the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He stuns those of us who are followers of Christ with the revelation that, before the creation of the world, we were chosen by God—just like Abraham. Just like Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. That’s very elite company!

And, just like them, our chosen status makes us recipients of His covenant promises—the forgiveness of sins, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and hope and meaning for this life and the promise of eternity in heaven for the next. Like the patriarchs, we’re given the privilege of participation in His plans. We become His messengers and ambassadors—agents of reconciliation as we share His good news. He doesn’t need us, but He willingly chooses us! He actually desires us—desires us to join Him in the advance of His cause.

Which brings me back to the same question I had about God’s choice of Abraham: Why? Why would God choose little ole’ me? Actually, I don’t need to know. All I know is, it’s just His way. Which should make all of us humble, grateful, and happily obedient for the rest of our days!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Look through Ephesians 1:1-23. What are the other benefits of being chosen by Christ? What is the purpose of His choosing according to Ephesians 1:4?
•You’ve been selected to participate in God’s plans! How does that encourage you in your work and service for Him today?
•Spend some time in prayer, reflecting on the truth that He not only knows who you are, but that He has chosen you. Have you responded to Him by receiving His free gift of salvation through Christ? If not, how about doing that today!


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted April 3rd, 2011 11:58 AM   IP              
To The Rescue

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. —Luke 15:7

Martie and I recently traveled to some major cities in several countries. We were struck with how lost our world is and grieved over the millions who have never heard the message of the saving grace of Jesus. The thought of reaching our world for Christ felt overwhelming.

Until I remembered the story of the boy walking on a beach. Encountering hundreds of starfish dying under the heat of the burning sun, he started throwing them back into the sea. A passerby asked, “What are you doing?” “Saving their lives,” the boy replied. “Forget it,” the man said. “You can’t possibly save all these starfish.” “Right,” replied the boy, “but it makes a big difference to each one I do save.”

I love the boy’s perspective. When the wave of sin threw us onto the shore to die, God sent His Son to walk on the beach to rescue all who would repent. And, as Jesus told His listeners in Luke 15, each time someone is rescued, heaven throws a party. “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

Has heaven rejoiced over your rescue? If so, join the ranks of those who reach other lost souls with the rescuing grace of Jesus.

Your love, O God, would spare no pain
To conquer death and win;
You sent Your only Son to die
To rescue us from sin. —M. Gustafson

When you’ve been rescued, you’ll want to rescue others.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted April 6th, 2011 12:52 PM   IP              
Abandoned

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Genesis 3:6

If you were ever a freshman in college, you may remember how cool you felt if an upperclassman showed some interest in you.

T. J. Evans lived across the hall from me my freshman year. He was a self-assured upperclassman with that I’ve-got-it-all-together swagger in his walk. It didn’t take long to realize that he was a big man on campus. So you can imagine how flattering it felt when he took an interest in the freshmen on our floor.

Well, take an interest in us he did. But we were soon to find out that he had a sinister agenda up his sleeve. After curfew, he would hang out with us and suggest brilliant pranks that we could pull off under the cover of darkness. He’d help us design the strategy and off we’d go, only to get caught and find ourselves in a lot of trouble. When we got caught, we always noticed that T. J. was nowhere to be seen. He had sent us off and stayed in his room taking great delight in seeing us freshmen end up in a heap of trouble. In retrospect, I can’t believe we let him do that to us—not just once but we were dumb enough to have it happen a lot! It’s the old, “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me!” routine.

When I think about it, T. J.’s delight in getting us in trouble is not much different than Satan’s interest in you and your life. He comes along with nifty schemes that look like fun—things he assures will make you happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. When someone hurts you, he has an I don’t get mad, I just get even strategy that makes you feel really good about not being taken advantage of. Instant trips into pleasure-land and debt-increasing spending sprees offer quick kicks of adrenalin. If you have a need, if you have a desire—believe me, he has a plan! But when you execute his strategy, he’ll be nowhere to be found. He won’t be there to deliver on his promise that you will be happy and fulfilled. He won’t even have the decency to help you pick up the pieces and to apologize for messing up your life. In fact, all the time he had a sinister agenda up his sleeve! He loves to see our lives complicated with shame, guilt, and regret. He is the master of ruined lives. As Peter warns us, he’s on the prowl looking for someone he can devour (1 Peter 5:8)!

We should have known. When he lured Adam and Eve with an offer they found hard to refuse, he didn’t stay around to make good on his promise but slithered off leaving them fearful, ashamed, and full of regret. And that strategy was so good that he continues to find it useful in your life and mine thousands of years later.

Peter Berger said it well when he wrote:

He who sups with the devil had better have a long spoon, because he who sups with the devil will find that his spoon gets shorter and shorter until that last supper in which he is left alone at the table with no spoon at all and an empty plate. But the devil, one may guess, will have then gone on to more interesting company.

Fool us once, shame on Satan! Fool us twice, shame on us!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think about a specific time when you fell to a suggestion of Satan in your life. Which of the following did you experience in the aftermath of your decision: Shame? Regret? Guilt? All of the above?
•Is there a plan of Satan that you consistently fall for? Why?
•Select an area of your life where you repeatedly fail and find Scriptures that address the issue. What plan can you put in place so that you’re not fooled by Satan in that area again?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted April 8th, 2011 11:43 AM   IP              
Holding Out For A Hero

“He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

We’ve recently seen some familiar heroes come back to the silver screen. Sylvester Stallone was back in action as Rambo, reprising his role from over 20 years ago. And Harrison Ford dusted off his fedora and leather jacket, and reintroduced Indiana Jones to a new generation of fans. There’s something about our longing for a powerful figure to solve the problems of the world and to restore justice and harmony to mankind in a way that captures our hearts and imaginations. Of course, getting the job done takes them about two hours on the silver screen, but in real life it’s a different deal.

Thankfully, in real life there is a “real hero.” Not the “two-hour” kind, but the kind of hero that ultimately gets the job done in a way that settles the issue of life finally and forever. I’m sure you’ve guessed it: I’m talking about Jesus. In fact, according to the prophet Isaiah, He has several names, all of which describe His capacity to finish the task and to satisfy the longing of our souls for life as it ought to be.

Among these compelling names, Isaiah includes the name, “Mighty God.” Jesus is the ultimate of heroes, infinitely strong and eternally mighty. But that extends far beyond bulging biceps and quick-trigger fingers. In fact, in the original language this name meant something far more specific. It’s the name El-Gibhor, the warrior God, the hero who will always prevail.

It’s the name for God used in the song of Moses found in Exodus 15. The Israelites have just seen God at war. He has brought a series of 10 miraculous plagues to Pharaoh—plagues that each, by the way, debunked a specific “god” of the Egyptians. To the Egyptians who worshiped a frog god, the warrior God brought hordes of frogs. It’s kind of like He said, “You like frogs? Watch this!” And the Egyptians worshiped the Nile, so the warrior God turned it to blood. And now Moses and the people are singing because this warrior God, El-Gibhor, has allowed His people to cross the Red Sea on dry land before pouring the waters over the pursuing Egyptian army.

What I find staggering about this name being included in the prophecy of the Messiah is that Jesus is the El-Gibhor, the Mighty God in the flesh! Actually dwelling in us, He’s not just some fictional wonder of a movie producer’s imagination. And, as the ultimate hero, He would face the hordes of hell, sin, and death on our behalf and emerge as the victorious champion over our greatest enemy. In fact, the prophecy of Isaiah comes full circle in the book of Hebrews when the author describes Jesus as the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The original phrase for “author and perfecter” is one word in Greek, it’s the Greek word archçgos, and it means the “ultimate man” or the “champion”—or I guess in street talk it’s “He’s the man.”

So take heart today, He is our Mighty God! He is never at a loss, never overwhelmed, never surprised, never defeated, and never ashamed. You and I may feel powerless, helpless, and even hopeless at times, wondering if there is anyone who can rescue us. But in the midst of it all, Jesus is our ultimate hero! So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).

Rambo and Indiana Jones may be back, but I’m holding out for the real hero today—El-Gibhor, the Mighty God, Jesus Christ my champion!


YOUR JOURNEY…

•Read Exodus 15:1-12. How does the song of Moses trace the miraculous deeds of the Mighty God?
•How do the other names given to Jesus in Isaiah 9:6 (Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace) fit with His identity as the Mighty God?
•In what areas of your life do your sense a longing for a hero: finances, physical health/safety, emotional health, spiritual battles?


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 Posted April 9th, 2011 11:25 AM   IP              
Trash Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOUR JOURNEY…

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


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 Posted April 10th, 2011 06:39 PM   IP              
Loving God

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. —1 John 4:11

Early in our marriage, I thought I knew the ultimate shortcut to my wife’s heart. I arrived home one night with a bouquet of a dozen red roses behind my back. When I presented the flowers to Martie, she thanked me graciously, sniffed the flowers, and then took them into the kitchen. Not quite the response I had expected.

It was an introductory lesson in the reality that flowers are not my wife’s primary language of love. While she appreciated the gesture, she was mentally calculating the cost of an expensive bouquet of flowers—a budget breaker for a young couple in seminary! And as I’ve discovered through the years, she is far more interested in my time and attention. When I devote myself to her in an uninterrupted and attentive way, that’s when she really feels loved.

Did you ever wonder how God wants us to show that we love Him? We get a clue when we read, “He who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). It’s that simple. One of the primary ways we show our love for God is by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we genuinely love each other, it brings pleasure to our heavenly Father.

So watch for opportunities to tell Jesus that you love Him. He’s infinitely worth whatever it costs.

All those who say they love the Lord
But don’t love one another,
Should question the relationship
They have with God the Father. —Sper

To show your love for God, share your love with others.



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 Posted April 11th, 2011 12:15 PM   IP              
Agents Of Change

If anyone cleanses himself . . . , he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. —2 Timothy 2:21

With 4 years of seminary under my belt, I walked into my first ministry with a long agenda. As a new pastor, I thought I was there to change that place. Instead, God used that place to change me.

The board members were supportive, but they relentlessly kept my feet to the fire in administrative details. I needed to learn how to work with lay leadership, how to be careful in my work, and how to dream with others.

We often think God has assigned us to change the world around us when in reality He is interested in changing us. Why? To make each of us “a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). God often uses the most unlikely people in the most unlikely places to teach us some of life’s most difficult lessons. And just when we think we’ve arrived, He is instructing us further.

Not long ago I entered a new season of ministry. I may be a “seasoned veteran,” but I’m still learning, still growing, and still amazed at how God continues to shape this vessel for His noble purposes.

If you want to be an agent of change, don’t resist the true Agent of Change. He has your best interest—and His—at heart!

What changes we would love to make
In others’ lives, for Jesus’ sake!
But first we must learn at His feet
The things that will make us complete. —Branon

Only when we are changed can we be agents of change.



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 Posted April 12th, 2011 03:27 PM   IP              
The Case for Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be kind, and watch the blessings flow!

YOUR JOURNEY…

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


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 Posted April 13th, 2011 12:45 PM   IP              
Brand New

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” Revelation 21:5

I love the smell of a new car. You open the door and, wow, there’s just something about it! If you were like me, you’d buy it just for the aroma. The problem is, soon after you get the car home, the smell’s gone, and all you’re left with are maintenance bills and a whole bunch of payments.

One time Martie and I obliterated any remnants of that “new car” smell on the way to a church dinner. It was one of those all-church affairs where everyone had to bring some food to share. Martie had cooked up a killer ham, complete with all the trimmings and lots of spiced up ham juice filling the bottom of the pan. The dish was perched in the back of the car and—you guessed it—I had to slam on the brakes. Ham juice sloshed all over the seat and the floor! The car never smelled the same again.

What happened to our car on the way to the potluck dinner is a clear reminder that all the stuff that is new and wonderful is headed toward the dumper. Everything starts with the sizzle of “new” only to become old and tatty. The latest piece of technological wizardry is outdated before you get it home from the store. Clothes get ripped, stained, or, even worse, go out of fashion! Our bodies are headed toward the grave and on the way accumulate sags, wrinkles, failing memories, and knees that refuse to cooperate. Nothing stays new. That’s the bad news.

But here’s the good news. God is in the enterprise of making all things new. Look at what the apostle John says in Revelation 21:1-27. He begins the chapter by assuring us that the day is coming when God will make all things new! And what He makes new will never grow old. There will be a new heaven and a new earth: A new place for us to live free of air pollution, flooded basements, peeling wallpaper, and leaky faucets. And, best of all, no global warming, just global glory from the throne of God!

Then John shares the glorious news that all the old things will be destroyed forever. Good riddance to this broken-down, decaying, worn-out world. And better yet, we will no longer have to deal with all the residuals of sin. There will be no more death, no more sorrow, no more pain. In fact, God Himself will wipe away all of our tears. As the text says, old things will pass away and all things will become new!

Just the thought of it makes me really glad to be a child of God. And to everyone who looks at followers of Christ as being old-fashioned and retro, they better think again. If anyone is all about the future and everything that is new, it’s us! But looking forward to all that is new in Jesus is not an excuse to hunker down and check out of interaction with this fading-away world. As Paul says, we are already new creations in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17) and are called to start living out our newness in our encounters with this fallen world. Love, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, justice, mercy, and righteousness are just a few of the new things that will last forever!

So let’s get started! It’s time to start showing everyone you meet a “sneak preview” of the really big show to come!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think about some of your possessions. How have they lost their “newness”? Why is it futile to expect satisfaction and hope out of material objects?
•Consider your health. How have you experienced the reality of time’s attacks on your body? Read 2 Corinthians 4:16 for a good dose of encouragement!
•Have you become a new creation through faith in Christ? Are you part of His new community?
•How does it impact your priorities to realize that God will one day give His followers a new body?


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 Posted April 14th, 2011 11:43 AM   IP              
No Hassles At The Border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



YOUR JOURNEY…

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


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 Posted April 15th, 2011 09:41 AM   IP              
Under New Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOUR JOURNEY…

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


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 Posted April 16th, 2011 01:51 PM   IP              
What’s In The Name?

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

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

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

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

“Oh, it’s his grandfather’s name.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOUR JOURNEY…

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


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 Posted April 17th, 2011 01:20 PM   IP              
Our Co-Pilot?

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

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

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

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

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

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



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 Posted April 18th, 2011 12:51 PM   IP              
The Search For Satisfaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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 Posted April 19th, 2011 05:27 PM   IP              
Unloading the Baggage

“Throw off anything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Hebrews 12:1

I boarded the plane in Chicago with too much baggage. Not the kind of baggage you stow in the overhead compartment or squash under the seat in front of you. Not even the kind you check in at the airline desk. This was the kind of baggage that weighs your heart down and that, if carried around, leaves you emotionally and spiritually exhausted. An unexpected attack from a trusted friend had left me deeply upset and really confused about how to respond.

As the flight attendants went through their pre-flight checklist, I was lost in thought world thinking through all my options. Feeling betrayed and unjustly wronged, I had a long list of possibilities—the kind of responses that seemed very natural to my fallen heart—but they were the types of choices that were wrapped in the old revenge, self-protection, and “I don’t get mad, I just get even” kind of stuff.

As we taxied out to the runway, I knew I needed a second opinion. So I simply prayed, “God, I need you to talk to me. I desperately need your wisdom. You brought this into my life for a purpose, but I don’t know what to do next.”

As the plane climbed, I began to feel closer to God. Not physically closer (although praying above the clouds at 35,000 feet does lend a different perspective), but spiritually closer as He began to share His wisdom with me from Matthew 5. My natural thoughts and desires to fight back and demand my rights were replaced with Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek,” to “go the extra mile,” to “bless those who curse me” (Matthew 5:38-48).

Of course, my human nature continued to argue for a while. “But, God, I’ll feel so weak. I’ll feel like a pushover, a weakling. I need to fight for myself.” The reality is, my pride wanted to keep the baggage. My ego wanted to hang on to the situation and try to deal with it through human, natural, flawed means. Trusting the Lord’s wisdom would mean that I no longer had control of the situation.

But God in His grace reminded me of the surrender of Christ on the cross. He drew me to the fact that, for Jesus, the path to glory was the path of surrender and letting go. The one who is the Lion of Judah is also the Lamb that was slain. And God drew me to that point of decision once again. Was I going to manage this situation to my advantage or was I going to release it, in trust and obedience, to Him?

I am thankful to say that when the plane landed in New York, I left some baggage on it. I walked through the terminal without the heaviness of heart that comes from fighting for my own rights. I headed for my hotel free of the weight of bitterness that the enemy was trying to stir up in my soul. God had renewed my strength and the weariness was gone.

Let me invite you to the privilege of waiting on the Lord. As Isaiah 40:28 reminds us, God never grows weary. His wisdom never runs out. His power, His might, and His truth are available and accessible to His children. You don’t need to walk another step with that load of fear, guilt, anger, bitterness, or confusion.

Check your carry-on baggage. Surrender it to Him and then seek His wisdom to strengthen and direct you.

It makes the journey so much more enjoyable!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Make a quick list of some of the problems and conflicts that have surfaced in your life. How much of your time and energy is spent in dealing with these issues?
•How has your emotional and spiritual health been affected by the weight of these issues? How about your physical health?
•What fears surface when you think about giving up control of those situations? Why is it tempting to hang on to them?
•Take a few minutes in prayer to release those situations, one by one, to God’s control. Then humbly ask the Lord to fill you with His truth and wisdom.
•As you move through the rest of your day, wait on the Lord. Instead of rushing ahead to your own solutions for each situation, practice the skill of waiting for Him to give you direction.


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 Posted April 20th, 2011 01:08 PM   IP              
Promises Kept

“Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” Joshua 21:45

I am about to let you in on a deep, life-changing, earth-shattering theological truth. Are you ready for this?

God keeps His promises!

I mean, He really keeps His promises. Even if you can’t see it today, or even if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime, He doesn’t forget and He doesn’t change His mind. If He has made a promise, He’s good with it!

I was reading in the book of Joshua recently when I came to these verses at the end of Joshua 21:41-44. Keep in mind, this is after many stories of the people of Israel rebelling and murmuring against Moses, and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Israel had, essentially, tried to put their covenant with God in the dumper by their idolatrous, heretical, apostate ways. Even after God gave them the land of Canaan, they went back to idols. So it’s after they seemingly did all they could to mess it up that we read these astounding words at the end of Joshua’s life:

So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

Do you realize that the promises Joshua is referring to dated back hundreds of years? All the way back, in fact, to the early chapters of the book of Genesis where God chooses Abraham, promising Him numerous descendants, a national heritage, and land for each subsequent generation. Abraham acted on these promises, trusting the Lord, but the author of Hebrews 11:13 tells it like it is: Abraham and his wife, Sarah, “were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised.” They had one son, Isaac, but that hardly seemed like an auspicious start to a promised nation populated by their descendants—to say nothing of the fact that they never inherited the land.

But the story didn’t end there. From Joshua’s vantage point on his side of history, he had the privilege of seeing that God in His perfect time had kept His promises! God hadn’t forgotten. He hadn’t lost the list of the things He promised to give to Abraham. And so Joshua, standing in the land promised to Abraham, surrounded by the descendants of Abraham, marveled and praised God. No promises were left unfulfilled. Not one of them had failed.

We are so programmed today to be instantly gratified. From instant credit to ATM machines to high-speed Internet and fast-food restaurants, we are wired to getting everything we need and want now. And if we don’t get it now, our blood pressure starts to rise! But God’s timelines are wiser and better than our little antsy, often shortsighted expectations.

So hang in there! If He said it, claim it and cling to it. You can stay the course because the one thing you can count on is God’s faithfulness—regardless! We have the rock-solid witness of history and of Scripture that none of His promises will fail. I love the words Paul wrote to Timothy when he affirmed that though we are often faithless, God will be faithful to us because He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What promises of God are you counting on? Have you seen any of them carried out in your life? How?
•How does an obsession with the here and now derail your faithfulness to God and His promises?
•Need to be encouraged by some of the promises of God? Read John 14:1-31 and write down a few of the promises Jesus made as He encouraged His disciples.
•Make a list of His life-changing promises. If you need a head start, read Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:19; and Hebrews 13:5-6.


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 Posted April 22nd, 2011 01:28 PM   IP              
The Significance of Suffering

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3

Let’s be honest, most of us would have to admit that we have a natural aversion to suffering. It may not bother us so much when “bad” people suffer, but we often get bent out of shape when suffering happens to “good” people—especially to us! We think that life owes us happiness, comfort, wealth, and a bit of prosperity. So when life deals us a blow, it’s no wonder we are prone to “grow weary and lose heart.”

Thankfully the writer of Hebrews helps put things into perspective by instructing us to “consider” the suffering of Jesus. When we fully grasp the terrible suffering that Jesus Christ—the only perfect person to walk this planet—endured on our behalf, it makes all the difference.

It’s significant to note that Jesus knew exactly what was coming. The night before His death, He told His disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15, italics mine). I have often thought that it would have been a lot easier for Him to die a different way—something more sudden and less violent. Why was such deep agony required?

Jesus knew that suffering is part and parcel of Satan’s grip on our lives. Satan loves to bring it on, because he believes the more suffering he can throw at us, the more we will become defeated, discouraged, and disengaged from God. That’s his plan. And so the enemy threw the book at Jesus. Satan entered the heart of Judas, which meant that Jesus would suffer the bitter betrayal of a trusted friend. The kangaroo courts and crowds declared Jesus to be a criminal, beat and mocked Him, and inflicted terrible agony on Him. He stumbled up the cobblestone steps carrying His own cross, felt the stab of the sword in His side, the nails in His hands and feet, the thorns on His brow. He tasted suffering for us, and all the while Satan said, “Take that!”

What Satan did not know was that behind the scenes, God was working to use Jesus’ experience of suffering to turn the tables on Satan and defeat him through the suffering. The suffering of Jesus was a prelude to the ultimate defeat of sin, death, and hell. Because He died on the cross and suffered for us, we too can be assured that in the depths of suffering there is the reality that victory will be God’s end game for us. So, when Satan heaps suffering on your life, you can be certain that God, who works all things together for good (Romans 8:28), is ready to turn the tables on Satan to bring victory out of defeat for you.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really thankful that Jesus was not only willing to die, but to defeat the stronghold of suffering in the process. He willingly walked into the arena of suffering in order to achieve complete, final victory over the ravaging effects of sin. And what’s more, He proved that there’s life beyond the grave.

So don’t miss the significance in your time of suffering! When Satan throws his best stuff at you, because of Jesus you can believe that God is both able and ready to turn the tables on him—and to bring you out with hands held high in victory!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How did God turn the tables on Satan in the lives of people like Joseph and Job? We have the advantage of knowing the final outcome in their lives, but take a few minutes to put yourself in their shoes. How do you think you would have dealt with that level of suffering?
•Hebrews 11:32-38 tells of many who endured the crucible of suffering. Then the challenge is posed to those of us who follow after: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us . . . run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). How do you feel about picking up the baton and running into the arena of suffering?
•What is the key to victory according to Hebrews 12:2-3? Take a moment to say thank you to Jesus for being willing to suffer for you.
•Perhaps you or someone you know is going through the crucible of suffering right now. Ask for God’s help to run with perseverance knowing that He has promised a victorious outcome!


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 Posted April 23rd, 2011 01:24 PM   IP              
Hometown Hero

“I heard the voice of many angels, numbering . . . ten thousand times ten thousand . . . “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’” Revelation 5:11-12

Chicago Cubs fans are the most optimistic people in baseball. It’s been over a century since their last World Series victory, yet we still pack Wrigley Field hoping that our boys in blue will pull through for us.

One of our heroes, first baseman Derrek Lee, was placed on the disabled list early in the 2005 season—a disappointment for me as I settled into my seat for a home game against the crosstown rival White Sox. The game was tied in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs and the bases loaded with Cubs. You could feel the tension as the crowd waited to see if their Cubbies could capitalize on the moment. Then, unexpectedly, out of the dugout came none other than “D-Lee” to pinch hit. The crowd went wild, and best of all, he didn’t disappoint. He connected with a 3-1 pitch for a grand-slam, and the place erupted in cheers as Lee circled the bases. In the stadium that day were people from all walks of life—celebrities, corporate tycoons, cabdrivers—but distinctions disappeared as they hailed their hero.

That picture of celebration, multiplied by thousands, helps us understand the scene in Revelation 5:1-14. Circling the throne of Jesus are people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). But their differences are eclipsed in their united celebration of the One who is their focus—the Lamb of God. What a picture of worship! We were utterly without hope, lost in our sins, and unable to rescue ourselves. In that moment, Jesus came out of the dugout of our despair and, by His own blood, ensured victory over sin and death forever. No wonder the eternal song in heaven focuses on the worthiness of the Lamb who was slain. He is the ultimate hero and our eyes should be fixed on Him!

Ironically, in His own hometown Jesus was largely ignored by the crowd. I don’t want to be counted among them! For those of us focused on His ultimate work on the cross, our victory is sweet and the celebration is heartfelt.

As we affirmed yesterday, there’s no comparison between Derek Lee emerging from the dugout and our champion Jesus who 2,000 years ago vacated an empty tomb to give you a part in His eternal victory over sin and death and hell!

Live to celebrate Jesus—our ultimate hometown hero!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Imagine yourself in the throng of worshipers in Revelation 5:1-14. Do you know with certainty that you will indeed be part of that crowd someday?
•How does your attitude today prepare you for the experience described in Revelation 5:1-14? Are you okay with the fact that there will be “people from every tribe and language and people and nation” worshiping Jesus alongside you?
•Why is Jesus worthy of your most enthusiastic worship? Make a list of specific ways that you can live to celebrate Him today, and then go back and sing or pray through your list.


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 Posted April 24th, 2011 11:52 AM   IP              
A Worthy Offering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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 Posted April 25th, 2011 12:23 PM   IP              
High-Tech Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ancient Words

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 Posted April 26th, 2011 12:09 PM   IP              
Friends in High Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR JOURNEY…

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


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 Posted April 27th, 2011 03:41 PM   IP              
Bull's-eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jesus!

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

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

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

YOUR JOURNEY…

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


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 Posted April 29th, 2011 12:55 PM   IP              
Ash-heap Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOUR JOURNEY…

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


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