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.:Daily Strength ..2:.
Author Message
today
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 Posted July 4th, 2011 04:23 PM   IP              
Instincts

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye." Psalm 32:8

Flying into a storm is a dangerous experience. The temptation is to fly by your instincts, or, as aviators say, “by the seat of your pants.” But as any pilot will tell you, that’s a prescription for disaster. If you rely on your feelings and instincts, you become disoriented, thinking the plane is going up when it’s actually going down. Thankfully, the instrument panel is set to magnetic north and can be trusted every time. Letting your instruments guide you, even when it feels like they’re wrong, helps ensure safety in the storm.

We all face storms that threaten to confuse and disorient us. It may be a call from the doctor’s office, a friend who has betrayed you, or a shattered dream. Those are the times to be especially careful. When you are blinded by life’s disappointments, don’t trust your instincts. Flying by the seat of your pants in the storms of life can lead to despair, confusion, and vengeful responses that make matters worse. God wants to guide you, and His Word is packed with wisdom and insights for living. His “Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). Where He leads is always right!

Go to your Bible, and trust God to guide you. He promises, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go” (Ps. 32:8).

The God who governs galaxies
And makes the thunder roar,
Gently guides my little craft
With safety to the shore. —Berg

The closer we walk with God, the clearer we see His guidance.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 5th, 2011 02:36 PM   IP              
Never Surrender!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Ephesians 6:10

The setting was England’s House of Commons in early June of 1940. Another World War had broken out and the prospects for Britain were uncertain at best. In the face of these bleak circumstances, Winston Churchill rose to address his people.

“We are told that . . . Hitler has a plan for invading the British Isles. . . . We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

I love the picture of a leader who is willing—in the midst of severe adversity—to stand up in front of his people and bolster their courage, giving them strength to fight another day. I think that gives us a good backdrop to consider Paul’s words to a young church in Ephesians 6:1-24.

Paul spends the first half of the book of Ephesians proclaiming and explaining glorious doctrinal truths to this young church. His writing enriches our knowledge about the blessings we have in Christ, the character and work of Jesus, and our new identity and responsibilities as His followers. His explanation of the gospel is part of our bedrock understanding of all that transpired when Jesus died for us on the cross.

In the latter half of the book, Paul, like any good preacher, outlines some very practical application steps in light of this glorious gospel. The work of Jesus should transform our ability to draw together in unity with those who proclaim His name. It will transform our speech and the use of our spiritual gifts. It will move us to relationships that demonstrate unconditional love through voluntary submission and self-sacrifice.

But Paul closes the book with a sobering warning. The Ephesians—and those of us who are following Jesus today—are in a battle. It’s not a flesh and blood, tanks and bullets kind of battle, but rather it’s a struggle “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). There is a determined, deadly warfare being waged in the spiritual realm, and we are right in the middle of it.

The spiritual battle is often very visible to those serving in countries where people are oppressed and severely influenced by demonic powers. The battle there is obvious and intense.

But it is just as real and dangerous for those of us in less openly hostile environments. The enemy’s attack may involve the subtle seductions of greed, self-centeredness, sensuality, or the hollow pursuit of pride and pleasure. But whether frontal or subtle, it is a battle just the same and we still need the rally cry “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” and “take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

So we will fight his attacks on our marriages. We will fight his attacks on our children. We will fight his attacks on the church. We will fight his attacks on ethics and integrity. Because the good news is that Jesus Christ has already won on our behalf. We shall never surrender!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How have you experienced the reality of spiritual warfare in your efforts to live for Jesus?
•What role does prayer play in standing firm against the enemy of Christ? (See Ephesians 6:18.)
•The spiritual armor Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-20 is familiar to most of us who are following Jesus. Take some time to read through it with fresh eyes, and pray that God would remind you of the importance of being properly “armed” for battle today.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 6th, 2011 01:28 PM   IP              
You Are What You Think

"Or he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. "Eat and drink," he says to you, but his heart is not with you." Proverbs 23:7

I don’t know about you, but some nights I can’t shut down my mind—it races back through the day, scanning my mental hard drive, opening conversation files, viewing jpegs of people’s faces I’ve encountered, and revisiting deleted messages—some good, some bad. Our minds are like a Pentium processor, a powerful piece of technology. In fact, according to God, how you think is really what makes you, you.

One wise king wrote: “As [a person] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 NKJV).What you think about is a wide-open window to what you really believe, trust in, worry about, and even worship. And not everybody has programmed their minds to think alike. Some think truth is relative. Which means that for them there are no absolute truths, so whatever works is just fine—nothing is ever always right or always wrong. Others think that there is no real truth and that truth comes in many shapes and colors. That’s pluralism—many truths exist, and as long as you don’t make me choke on your truth, I won’t force you to swallow mine.

If there is no truth and there are no absolutes, then everybody can do whatever they want to do—welcome to the party with no rules! But you and I know that, ultimately, thoughts managed by relativistic, pluralistic software lead to a zigzagging, crazy, self-seeking, dead-end life where everybody loses, including you.

Thankfully you don’t need to settle for software that doesn’t deliver what it promised. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). How solid is that? That takes the punch out of both lines of thinking. Here’s the deal: What you think about you, God, the world, your spirituality or lack of it, sex, gay marriage, religion, or anything else, really makes you who you are. Jesus simply says, “When you’re ready to think like God thinks about all of life, download my Word—I am the way and the truth.”

It’s time to reboot! Install the truth of God’s Word onto the hard drive of your mind. He’ll scan the files of your thoughts, motives, and attitudes and make them completely new. As Paul said, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!” (Romans 12:2)

And in case you’re still not convinced, remember that God has warned us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 16:25). Just because it seems right, doesn’t make it right. Check every thought by the truth that Jesus offers, and when in doubt search His Word.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Take a few minutes to think about what occupies your thoughts on most days. Make some notes, and see what you discover.
•Read Psalm 139:1-24, a prayer of David that invites God to search the hard drive of your heart. Spend some time praying about what God points out to you.
•Why do you think your thought life is so important to God?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 7th, 2011 11:37 AM   IP              
Getting Even or Getting Better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOUR JOURNEY…

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


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 8th, 2011 02:57 PM   IP              
Pleasing Him

“So we make it our goal to please him.” 2 Corinthians 5:9

It may not always seem like it, but children really do want to please their parents. Just picture the little boy who beams with pleasure when his mom proudly puts the crayon-scribbled picture up on the fridge! Or the little girl who immediately looks up into the bleachers to see if Dad saw her first hit in softball.

Sadly, when we grow up without feeling the joy of parental affirmation, we often end up with misdirected drives to perform and please someone, somewhere, somehow. As a result, it’s possible to become twisted by unhealthy addictions to work or by immoral relationships. This tendency may even leave us spiritually weak and unprincipled, willing to violate biblical standards if it means we can please someone who is leading us down the wrong path.

This intrinsic drive to please the significant people in our lives ultimately reflects the fact that we were built to bring pleasure to someone outside of ourselves—namely our Creator God. I can’t think of a higher satisfaction in life than knowing that He indeed is pleased with me, knowing that I am right with Him and that He delights in my love for Him. And just in case you have always pictured God as being hard to please—perhaps like some people you know—think again. The psalmist tells us, “the Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:4). In Romans 12:1, we learn that He is literally pleased when we offer our bodies as “living sacrifices,” and the writer of Hebrews assures us that when we offer a “sacrifice of praise” as well as the sacrifice of doing good and sharing with others, we can know the joy of pleasing God (Hebrews 13:15-16). This joy is not a surreal, head-in-the-clouds experience nor a short-lived, down-sided thrill package that our world offers based on self-indulgence. Rather, it is the long-term sense of stability and “all-rightness” that comes from a life bent on obedience to our heavenly Father and knowing that He delights in our cooperation with His will and ways.

Paul makes it clear that pleasing God also involves a commitment to serve those around us, looking to Jesus as our example. “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself” (Romans 15:2-3). When our time and energy is self-directed, focused only on our own welfare and pleasure, we miss the joy of serving others as a way of bringing pleasure to our heavenly Father. And, by the way, He never intended pleasure to be a goal of our lives, but rather a by-product of significant and constructive pursuits. It comes from fulfilling what we were built to do in terms of serving Him. It’s the joy of bringing happiness to others and knowing that when that is happening, God is pleased with us.

Take a tip from Paul. Make it your life pursuit to be busy pleasing the One who loves to be pleased with you!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•In which seasons of your life have you sensed God’s pleasure with you?
•On what basis is God pleased with His people?
•Ephesians 5:10 tells us to “find out what pleases the Lord.” Beginning with some things mentioned in that passage, list some things that bring the Lord pleasure. Ask the Lord to cultivate a deep desire to please Him first and foremost.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 10th, 2011 08:05 PM   IP              
Painting Pictures of Peace

“First, go and be reconciled to your brother.” Matthew 5:24

The Last Supper, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, is one of the great Renaissance masterpieces. It took da Vinci 3 years to complete, and during this time in frustration his temper flared, and he lashed out with bitter words to a man who had deeply offended him. When he tried to resume his work, it was time to paint the face of Jesus, but he was so bothered by the situation that he couldn’t continue. So, he went to look for the man and ask his forgiveness. It was only after he was right with God and his friend that he felt the freedom to continue his work and paint the face of Jesus.

This legend makes an important point: our relationships with other people affect our relationship with God. That’s why Jesus said, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there . . . . First go and be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:23-24). So how do we handle the “creative differences”—or any conflict for that matter—with the people in our lives?

In Matthew 5:1-48, Jesus gave us a palette of instructions on how to craft our relationships into masterpieces. He wants us to avoid interactions that will lead to sin and to be sure that our attitude is right toward others. His advice for resolving our differences came down to a handful of key thoughts: settle disagreements quickly, keep your promises, and turn the other cheek.

First, don’t let the paint dry—address relational problems before mistakes become permanent. Jesus talked specifically about this in relation to going to court. In Matthew 5:25, He said, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.” If you are guilty of offending Bob, and he serves you with papers, give him back his easel and throw in some paintbrushes for good measure. Jesus said that if someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give him your coat as well.

Second, don’t let colors clash. When you disagree with someone, you have two choices: either stand and fight or, as Christ suggested, turn the other cheek. While it’s normal to want revenge when we are wronged, a Christian would rather be slapped twice than to repay the evil by whacking the person back. In Matthew 5:41, Jesus said, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” While this response may seem lopsided, the alternative would involve sin on our part, and would just deepen the hostilities.

Finally, when striving to paint a picture of peace, apply the finishing touch—finish strong and finish what you start. This means following through with commitments and keeping your promises. To Christians, a promise has meaning because it carries the weight of our integrity. Matthew 5:33 says, “Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.”

One interesting fact about The Last Supper is that da Vinci created all angles and lighting in the painting to draw attention to Christ. It’s kind of the same way with our relationships—at any angle or in any light, they should all point to Christ.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Are you in the middle of some “creative differences” with anyone you know? How should you respond, based on Jesus’ instructions?
•Read the entire chapter of Matthew 5:1-48. In your journal, break the chapter into smaller parts and write a heading for each. Take some time to study each section—record your observations.
•Reflect on the life of Christ. How did Jesus live out the instructions He gave us? Were His interactions with the disciples, the Pharisees, and the government consistent with what He taught?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 11th, 2011 01:26 PM   IP              
Solid Rock and Sinking Sand

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, it wreaked mind-boggling destruction. Countless homes and lives were washed into the sea, and the things people counted on the most didn’t hold up to the storm’s furious surge.

We all have Katrina’s in our lives: the out-of-the-blue surprises that leave us reeling from their blows. A phone call from the doctor, a word about a wayward child, a dreaded pink slip, a betrayal by a trusted friend. Our lives have a lot of potentially grim news on the horizon, and none of us are exempt. The issue is not whether a Katrina is in your forecast; the issue is how you deal with it when it comes.

When I was a kid, we sang a song in Sunday school about a man who built his house on the sand. This man may have thought it cool to build his house near the beach, but when the storm hit it was bad news for him. The song was based on one of those in-your-face stories Jesus often told to catch our attention. This story illustrates what life is like when we hear His teaching and then go our merry way and do whatever we please. Jesus warned: If you live like that, given enough time and a big enough storm, your life will slide into a heap of rubble. And, as Jesus said, you can expect that it will fall “with a great crash” (Matthew 7:27).

But against the backdrop of the “sand house” sliding into the sea, Jesus taught that there was another way to live, a better way. He wants us to build the house of our lives on a rock-hard foundation, on Him. Solid lives, He taught, are lives built by people who not only hear His words but also put them into practice. When the storms come, houses built on the rock of obedience and a cultivated trust in who God is and what He has taught us, stand unscathed when the skies eventually clear.

So, the question is, what kind of house are you building—or, more specifically, what are you counting on for security and stability in your life? The sinking sand of life on your own terms, the fickle rush of popularity, the shaky ground of a prestigious career or lifestyle, or the soft soil of living for comfort and cash? As okay as you might think some of these pursuits may seem, none of them will sustain you in the midst of a hurricane-force storm. What you need is to build on the granite foundation of truth—God’s truth as found in His Word.

As Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet, it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).

If you’re not sure how solid your foundation is, stop construction. Commit to living your life on God’s terms, not your own—then build away. No storm that comes will threaten your life when you are built on the Rock.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How would you describe the foundation of your life? What is your primary source of direction in your life—your own sense of understanding or God’s direction from His Word?
•What kind of storm have you experienced, or are you experiencing, that challenges the way you live? Sickness, divorce, layoff, career change, death of a loved one?
•In what ways does the teaching of Jesus give you security in tough times?
•Give some examples of the solid teaching of Jesus that you could build your life upon. Think of your relationships, job, thought life, and attitudes. What do you know about Him that will keep you unshaken in the storms of life?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 12th, 2011 04:03 PM   IP              
Pay Attention!

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16

I would love to have a dollar for every time I heard my Mom say, “Joe, pay attention to what you’re doing!” As I was growing up, there was always something more fun to distract me from the task at hand.

To be honest, I still need reminders like that, particularly in my desire to become more like Jesus. I suspect that all of us do. We want to follow and serve Him more effectively, but there are so many distractions along the way: A little pursuit of materialism here, a little power trip there. And ooh, there’s an opportunity to chase pleasure for a little while. Before long, we’re spiritually disoriented, frustrated, and perplexed about how to get back on track in our pursuit of Jesus.

We need to take Paul’s instruction to Timothy to heart. He says, in essence, “Timothy, pay attention!” He tells Timothy where his attention should be: “Watch your life and doctrine closely”
(1 Timothy 4:16). Let’s talk about those two words “life” and “doctrine.”

By God’s grace, I have had the opportunity to invest a major part of my life in preaching. A lot of my ministry has been sharing God’s Word in a variety of contexts. But, for a long time now, I have been keenly aware that those moments in the pulpit are only the tip of the iceberg. Scripture reminds me over and over that my life has to match up with what I am preaching. If I am proclaiming the joy of freedom in Christ, then my life needs to show that I am walking in the freedom that He offers. If I am calling God’s people to greater levels of commitment and sacrifice for kingdom causes, then I need to be stepping out in faith, seeking to grow in my commitment and willingness to sacrifice. Timothy is reminded of this when Paul tells him to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Nothing hinders our witness for Jesus more than a lack of authenticity. We need to pay attention to the way we live.

Paul also tells Timothy to pay attention to his doctrine. He starts chapter 4 with the warning that “in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). Since the early days of the church, the enemy has been consistently attempting to distract God’s people by leading them away from the core truths of Scripture. A key responsibility of Timothy, the young pastor, was to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Timothy 1:3).

Satan continues to sow seeds of doubt in our minds about the authenticity and authority of Scripture—one of our bedrock doctrines. Some well-meaning but misguided churches promote the notion that other religions and belief systems, if sincerely held and practiced, may offer an alternative means of reconciliation with God. This flies in the face of Jesus’ words when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Teaching which tells us that we need to do good works to be saved is a frontal attack on the grace of the gospel.

So, what’s in it for us?

Paul assures us that the payoff in paying attention to our life and doctrines is huge. “If you do,” he writes, “you will save both yourself and your hearers.” So take my Mom’s advice: Pay attention to what really matters!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What pursuits have recently distracted you from following Jesus wholeheartedly?
•What areas of your life might need a little more attention today? What has God spotlighted, even as you’ve been reading?
•What about paying attention to your doctrine? How is your time in God’s Word shaping your ability to think biblically and to differentiate between truth and error?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 14th, 2011 04:03 PM   IP              
Wreck-less Drivers

“I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

I’m not sure who came up with the idea of driving around in circles on a small track in a tiny machine; nevertheless, riding go-karts is a popular pastime in America. Once when I took my son and nephew to a go-kart track, I was whizzing around—trying desperately to catch up with those two lightweight guys—and realized firsthand the futility of going in circles and cutting off everyone who got in my way.

A lot like life, I thought.

Then I found myself reflecting on a similar, more brutal activity: bumper cars. Have you ever noticed that they are driven by two kinds of people? The aggressive ones bump and bang everyone within range. They don’t feel successful unless they have plowed as many people into the sideboards as time will allow. The other person shrinks from the conflict, seeking to avoid the drivers who have that killer look in their eyes.

Unfortunately, a lot of us tend to live in aimless, reckless ways like the go-kart and bumper car drivers of this world. Some of us seem content simply to follow a track going nowhere, hoping to finish first among others who are also frantically circling, going nowhere with their lives.

Then there are those who seem to think there is some spiritual merit to bumping and banging fellow followers of Jesus, while others go through life with passive avoidance, simply trying to stay out of everybody’s way. They don’t go anywhere or do anything significant; success for them is measured by just staying out of trouble.

If you recognized yourself in this list, I’m here to tell you that none of those tactics will lead to the progressive, productive life that Jesus called us to live. The essence of authentic Christianity is the pursuit of a goal. As Paul put it: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Together, arm in arm, heart to heart, we are called to go somewhere for God.

As followers of Jesus, we have many wonderful and productive places to go—like rearing godly families, expressing sacrificial love in our relationships in the midst of a “me first” culture, and taking the healing power of Christ to the broken and oppressed.

It’s when we take our eyes off the God-given goal and forget our destination that we settle back into the go-kart mentality, circling around the same track we’ve been on for years, or find ourselves hanging out in the bumper car arena looking for someone to attack or avoid.

It’s time to get out of the amusement park and back on God’s highway. And once on the highway, our goal is to be wreck-less drivers, following the rules of the road and avoiding conflict with other cars. It’s time to get behind the wheel and get serious about going where God wants to take us—a place of usefulness and significant service for Him. Then, like Paul, we can say with confidence, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What are the pitfalls of the “go-kart mentality”? Have there been times in your life that seemed like a go-kart ride?
•In the “bumper car arena,” do you tend to be a passive or an aggressive driver in terms of relating to fellow drivers? How do you feel when others bump or avoid you? Make up your mind to step out of that arena to a more productive pursuit—following Jesus!
•What is your destination in life? How does it align with what Jesus instructed His followers to do in Matthew 28:18-20?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted July 15th, 2011 12:31 PM   IP              
Getting Away From It All

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:2-3

A pastor friend of mine was telling another pastor about the long-awaited vacation that he and his family were preparing for. The other pastor immediately replied, “Vacation? I never take a vacation. Satan doesn’t take a vacation and neither do I!”

To which my friend wisely retorted, “Well, that’s all right. Satan has never been my example!”

In the summer when school is out and the sun is shining, our thoughts turn toward vacation. And that’s a good thing! We were wired with an innate need to take a break from our usual pace and spend some time being refreshed and recharged.

But for some reason, we sometimes seem apologetic about taking time off or needing a change of pace for a little while. It may be that our internal understanding of a real “work ethic” demands that we feel a little guilty about time that we’re not being “productive” or “efficient.” Or maybe we are concerned that those projects and clients we have been carefully nurturing along will fall to pieces if we put them on hold for a week or two. Maybe we are distorting Paul’s words to the Ephesians, resisting vacations and working nonstop so that we can “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

If that’s your brain strain, then let me put a biblical stop to that train of thought and provide you with three solid, straight-from-Scripture reasons to enjoy a guilt-free, refreshing time away from your usual pace of work this summer.

Reason number one: it’s commanded in Scripture. The fourth commandment tells us to “remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). That means more than just going to church on Sunday. The principle of “Sabbath”—rooted in God’s example through creation of resting on the seventh day—intertwines with the Old Testament law code.

There were not only to be days of Sabbath, but week-long festivals scattered throughout the Jewish seasons. In fact, there were Sabbath years in their calendar! God’s loving command was intended to pull His people aside for rest so they would be reminded that all good things come from Him . . . not from their frantic efforts at work.

A second reason why it’s a good idea to take a well-deserved break is that your body and spirit need it. I love the picture that David paints for us in Psalm 23:1-6 of a shepherd leading his sheep to a place of refreshment and rest. We are finite, fallible, limited creatures, and without rest we’ll find that burnout and exhaustion eventually take their toll. Our ability to be gracious, loving, and patient will be a casualty of our compulsive work habits. Fatigue and weariness will leave us vulnerable to temptation. And most disturbingly, our intimacy with the Lord will suffer as our time with Him becomes perfunctory at best, and nonexistent at worst. All that can be avoided if we allow our Good Shepherd to restore our soul with times of rest in green pastures and with seasons of refreshment beside quiet waters.

And just in case we need another reason to put our feet up and relax now and then, remember that Jesus did it! He often withdrew from the crush of the crowds to seasons of prayer and rest. During a storm on the Sea of Galilee He was sound asleep in the boat (Mark 4:38). And we are told that while on a trip from Judea to Galilee “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well” (John 4:6). There were always more people to heal, more messages to preach, and more places to go, but Jesus displayed the importance of rest.

So, whether it’s a weekend of camping, a day at the pool, or a week away with close friends or family members, turn off the cell-phone, close the computer, and get away! There’s no good reason not to!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How has God used previous vacations and times away to refresh and restore your soul?
•Do you find it hard to schedule time away, and do you feel guilty or fearful on vacations? Take some time to think through why that might be.
•What plans are in place for you to follow through on God’s instruction about rest and refreshment? It may not be this summer, or even during the fall, but what about within the next six months?


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 Posted July 16th, 2011 07:36 PM   IP              
Saying "I Do"

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25

No doubt about it, wedding season is in full swing. It’s the time when the words “I do” are heard in churches all over the country and the weight of the promise resonates in the hearts of happy couples devoting themselves to a lifetime of love and happiness.

Most people go into marriage believing it will make them happy. Or, more specifically, that the one with whom they have fallen madly in love will guarantee happiness forever.

I don’t want to throw cold water on the moment of bliss, but I can’t help but notice the sad reality that many couples are not happy. And when that happens, their minds begin to wander: “Since I’m not as happy as I thought I would be, maybe I’ll spend more time at work; maybe I’ll buy something new; maybe moving to a better place would help; maybe kids will brighten things up” or, worst of all, “maybe I’ll look for an affair.”

The illusive expectation of happiness often puts us on the road to disappointment that sours our hearts, replacing the fondness that was supposed to have made us happy. The problem is that for most of us the meaning of love is wrapped up in the question, “Am I being loved? Does this person’s love make me feel happy?” But the Bible actually describes a completely different concept of love. Any thriving relationship requires agape—the Greek word for the kind of love that transcends feelings, emotions, and environment. This kind of love focuses not on how my spouse is treating me but on how I am treating my spouse. Or, to put it in a different way, not on whether I am happy but whether my spouse is happy.

This is why Ephesians 5:25 tells husbands to love their wives. Nothing said about feelings here—just do it! And it is why Titus 2:4 tells older women to “train the younger women to love their husbands and children”—implying that it probably won’t come naturally. Agape love involves a willingness to give every resource of our existence to meet the needs of the one we love regardless of what our spouse may be like or of how circumstantially happy we may or may not feel.

Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? How do we pull it off? The key is to invite a third person into the marriage—Jesus! It is about living in relationship with your spouse as a response to Jesus and not as a response to your spouse. When you feel that the person you married is not worthy of your love, remember that Jesus is worthy of your love and that loving your spouse is what He has asked you to do. And notice that we are to love each other like He loves us!

We can’t miss the point. Jesus calls us to think about marriage in terms of our covenant relationship with Him. So, just as He will keep all of His promises to us, He teaches us to honor our commitment to our spouse for His sake. And, just as we are not worthy in ourselves to receive blessings from Him, so our spouse is not always worthy of our love—and, for that matter, we’re not always worthy either!

So let’s abolish the myth that the primary purpose of marriage is our personal happiness, and celebrate the reality that the words “I do” are empowered by a commitment first and foremost to the lover of our souls, Jesus. When you “do” your marriage like this, you may just become more holy, which, when you think of it, is better than becoming more happy!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How does pursuing happiness based on your own desires damage a relationship?
•Do you know a couple preparing to marry? If the couple does not have a relationship with Jesus, pray for an opportunity to introduce them to the only One who can bring happiness and fulfillment to their marriage.
•If you are married, have you ever considered Jesus as the third Person in your marriage? What difference does He make in your relationship with your spouse? Think of some specific ways you can express love to your spouse in a biblical way today.
•If you are not married, how can you apply this principle to other important relationships in your life? Remember, a relationship with Jesus is the key to any thriving relationship!


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 Posted July 17th, 2011 12:53 PM   IP              
Summertime

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:3

The old Porgy and Bess tune that declares, “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy”no doubt was written when life was so much different than what it is now. If you’re like most people, you are hoping that summer will be a time to kick back and relax a little, but maybe you’re afraid that it will end up like most other summers with lots to do and flying past far too quickly.

But while we may bemoan the fast pace of summer with all of its chores, the packing and unpacking for vacations, and repeated trips to Little League games, it would be good to stop and think about “easy living.” So, let’s get some perspective from God’s Word about the importance of rest.

It can’t go unnoticed that God Himself rested after six days of assembling the universe. Knowing that time to kick back was important for the people He created, God instituted the Sabbath so that we would get the point that no one can work without a break along the way.

Tanks that run on “weary” all the time soon lack the stamina to do well spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and relationally. Even Jesus, with more sermons to preach, more people to heal, and more tasks to accomplish for His Father, often went apart to rest a while.

I am not sure why it is that some of us feel guilty or unfulfilled if we are not busy all the time. It’s important to realize that not everything needs to be done—at least not done right now. It may be more important to sit back with a tall glass of iced tea and contemplate the beauty of nature and the greatness of our God who is as faithful to us as the dependability of the seasons. As the hymn says, in “summer and winter and springtime and harvest . . . join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”

So carve out a little easy livin’ time this week and refresh your heart and spirit with blessedness instead of business. And don’t worry; the chores will still be there. They aren’t going anywhere!


YOUR JOURNEY…

•When was the last time you truly rested from your work, whether at the office, school, home, or even at church?
•What has the Lord revealed to you about your busyness? In what ways do you need to learn to relax?
•Make time for some easy livin’ this week! Think of one thing you can do to enjoy God’s creation—then do it! You can even turn your thoughts into worship by writing a poem or composing a song about the experience. If so, we’d love to hear from you!


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 Posted July 18th, 2011 02:42 PM   IP              
Visible Reminders

"Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." Colossians 3:2

What’s the first image you see when you turn on your computer? Maybe it’s a family portrait or a special vacation picture. Or perhaps your favorite pro athlete.

How about an artist’s rendition of Jesus? A man once wrote to me about his lengthy battle with pornography—a disheartening cycle that punctuated seasons of victory with crushing forays back into an online world of empty lust. Finally, he found that putting a visible reminder of Jesus in the corner of his computer screen helped him achieve lasting victory. That constant reminder of the One who set him free caused the offensive Web sites to lose their appeal. The man wasn’t tapping into some gigabyte good-luck charm. He was giving himself a simple reminder of the teaching of Colossians 3 where Paul says, “put to death . . . fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” ( Col 3:5).

When we turn our eyes toward Jesus, He becomes a powerful reminder that our old life “died, and [our] life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Whether it’s a verse taped to the dashboard of your car or a picture on your computer, choose a tangible way to lift your thoughts into the presence of Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace. —Lemmel

The best way to keep sin at a distance is to make sure Jesus stands between you and temptation.



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 Posted July 19th, 2011 04:27 PM   IP              
It's All Good

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Auguste Bartholdi traveled from France to Egypt in 1856. His artistic mind was stimulated by the grandeur of the pyramids, the magnitude of the mighty Nile, and the beauty of the stately Sphinx of the desert. While there, he met another visitor to Egypt, who was there to sell an idea to cut a canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, which would save merchant ships the long journey around the tip of the African continent. Auguste loved the concept and decided to design a lighthouse to stand at the entrance to this canal.

It wouldn’t be an ordinary lighthouse. It would symbolize the light of Western civilization flowing to the East. In the ten years it took to build the Suez Canal, Auguste drew plans, made clay models, and scrapped plan after plan. Finally he came up with the perfect design. There was only one problem. Who would pay for it? He looked everywhere, but no one was interested. The Suez Canal was opened—without a lighthouse. Auguste went back to France defeated, ten years of toil and effort wasted.

You would have liked his idea. It was a colossal robed lady that stood taller than the Sphinx in the desert. She held the books of justice in one hand and a torch lifted high in the other to light the entrance to the canal.

After Auguste returned to France, the French government sought his artistic services to design a gift to America. The Statue of Liberty lighting the New York harbor demonstrates that what happens in the midst of disappointments can often be a prelude to good things beyond our imagination.

If, for Auguste Bartholdi, things that seem to be disappointing, difficult, and defeating can be processed into that which is magnificent and significant, how much surer is this process with the hand of our wise and powerful God guaranteeing the outcome? That’s what I find so encouraging about Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” This oft-quoted verse packs a powerful punch in times of despair and discouragement. Because of Romans 8:28, we know that “good” is the ultimate purpose of the process of pain. And that’s just it . . . It’s a process.

The only way we can accept defeat and discouragement is to believe that God has us in process. Each of us is a work in progress. Though God loves and accepts us the way we are, He sees all that we can become. Pleasure has a way of making us satisfied with ourselves, while pain catches our attention so that God can develop us into His plan for our lives.

The process is defined in several dimensions. First, it’s an all-encompassing process. Since God works “in all things,” we are guaranteed that whatever He permits—whether pain or pleasure, bane or blessing—He is able to use it all to transform us. It is also a continuous process. The fact that God “works” indicates a present, continuous process. He will never abandon His purpose for us or the process to accomplish it (Philippians 1:6). We also can’t miss the fact that it is a divinely inspired process. Behind the scenes of our life story is the hand of God Himself—moving, changing, limiting, applying pressure, providing strength, rearranging. God is the one working all things for our good.

Once we understand how the process works, we always have to come back to God’s purpose: to conform us to the image of His Son. Anything that will bring us to a more accurate reflection of the quality of Jesus in and through our lives is good. Whatever it takes, pain or pleasure, it’s good if it conforms us to His likeness.

I can’t think of anything that would be more “good” than that!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Think of a time you experienced a season of disappointment or despair. How did God work through that process to conform you a little closer to the image of His Son?
•Perhaps you are going through a painful process right now. What aspect of the process is most encouraging to you—that is all-encompassing, continuous, or divinely inspired? Ask the Lord to give you patience as He guides you through the process, and look forward with anticipation to the good outcome He will bring!
•Do you have the confidence to say with Paul, “. . . being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion . . .”? What is the “good work” He is doing in your life today? You can be sure He will finish the job!


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 Posted July 20th, 2011 01:41 PM   IP              
Love and Life on the Big Screen

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

One problem with Bible-polished rule keepers is that from a distance we all tend to look pretty good. Especially compared to those who don’t keep God’s rules. And believing that we are looking good keeps us thinking pretty well about ourselves, which destroys any thought about how stunningly wonderful God’s grace is to us.

When I taught on Sundays at the church where I served as a teaching pastor, my face was broadcast on three big screens at the front of the church—sort of an evangelical jumbo-tron! I have to admit, I’m not crazy about people being able to see my face from that close range, magnified hundreds of times! No matter how hard I have worked to look my best, my increasingly flawed face—wrinkles, spots, and blemishes—is projected larger than life for all to see. And, as unsettling as it is, I have to say to myself, “That’s you, baby—like it or not!”

Seeing ourselves for who we really are and admitting it is the first step in understanding the richness of God’s grace. Grace becomes an amazing gift when we finally see ourselves the way God sees us—up close and personal, magnified hundreds of times, warts and flaws front and center. The apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

No use kidding ourselves. God is well aware of everything in your life and mine—actions, attitudes, thoughts, and responses. Game’s up! I’m a sinner, and so are you. We don’t need a Sunday jumbo-tron to discover that. What is so surprising is that it is our terribly broken condition that prompts God’s grace and love to flow to us. It’s our blemishes, our sin, and our stupid self-centeredness that makes us desperately in need of God’s grace. And thankfully He is willing to give it abundantly!

When I first got married, I tried so hard to make Martie believe I was a great husband. I didn’t want her to know how selfish I could be, and I tried to veil my insecurities so she’d think I was strong and confident. Inevitably, though, the real me showed up. My selfish agenda was out there in plain view for her and everyone else to see. Guess what? She loves me still. Through the years her love has not been dependent on me being husband of the year or father of the decade. I thank God for that. Her love for me is like God’s love for all of us. It was demonstrated in spite of our failures, not withheld because of them. That’s the grace that God chooses to love us with. And that’s the grace that drives me to want to love Him in return.

Feeling broken today? Or unlovely, out of place, behind the times, too little too late? Are you stuck in a stubborn pattern of sin you can’t break? God’s got you on His screen, nothing is hidden from His view, and still in this moment you are the object of His love and grace.

If you find it hard to develop a heart of love for God, it may be that you have spent too much time thinking about how cool you are. We all need a huge reality check! Seeing yourself as you really are and knowing that He loves you still is a great way to stimulate your heart to express your love and gratitude to Him in return.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What makes it hard for you to see yourself as the sinner you really are—Comparison, rationalization, excuses, pride?
•Write down the sins that constantly pop up in your life. Ask yourself, “Where would I be today if it weren’t for God’s grace in my life?”
•Who needs the touch of God’s grace from you in spite of their sin?
•Does the realization of the unbelievable grace of God in your life make you feel more free to keep sinning or motivate you to clean up your act? Why?
•What difference would it make if you lived as a debtor to His grace rather than in a self-deceived sense of how good you are?
•Take a few moments today to thank God for the love He showed you in Jesus.


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 Posted July 21st, 2011 02:37 PM   IP              
More Than a Hobby

"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

For most people I know, fishing is a hobby. Some approach it casually, picking up a pole and dipping a few worms in the lake for fun while they’re at a summer cottage. It’s an opportunity to relax, to enjoy the scenery, and to throw the occasional bluegill back into the water.

Others obsess on fishing. Equipped with the latest lures, a sonar fish finder, and an Evinrude-powered bass-boat, they look forward to early morning hours on the lake tracking down the big one. They’re saving up for that once-in-a-lifetime charter boat trip out into the open waters of the ocean for that trophy fish that will hang in the family room. Fishing is a passion for them, but it’s still just a hobby.

Unfortunately, we tend to bring those kinds of fishing thoughts into this Scripture passage. We think of Jesus talking to the disciples almost as if He’s chatting with them while they’re on vacation, enjoying a little fishing before they join their families for a nice dinner down at the dockside café. In that scenario, fishing is incidental to their “real lives” and the outcome doesn’t really matter all that much.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For these men, fishing was literally a life-and-death matter. Empty nets meant empty stomachs. Their only means of eking out an existence lay under the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus wasn’t asking them to switch hobbies, He was calling them to leave all that they knew and trusted to follow Him first and foremost.

So what about us? It’s possible that we may view God’s call on our lives as an invitation to add a hobby to our already busy schedule. We assume that we can make our careers and our leisurely pursuits a priority while doing a little “fishing for God” on the side when we get time. We may even study “fishing,” buy some fun “fishing” tools, and get a little more serious about it—but still relegate this call of Christ to “hobby” status rather than making it our first and foremost passion. Subtly, we convey the message that the outcome doesn’t really matter.

Thankfully, the disciples set a very different example for us. Instinctively they knew that Jesus was worth leaving everything. They knew that He couldn’t be put on a shelf until they had time for Him. They knew that they couldn’t pursue their own agenda and His at the same time. So they made Him—not their careers—their primary focus.

Jesus may not require that you give up your career, but following Him will ensure that you never see your career in the same way again. As a follower of Christ, everything in your life will be done in the perspective of advancing His cause. Friendships, family, salaries, career issues, dreams, and desires will all be seen in terms of how Christ can be magnified and how people can be drawn to Him. And the beautiful truth in all of this is that as you follow His call in faith, you will experience His joy, presence, and satisfaction in ways that you never could have imagined.

What are you waiting for? The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. Follow Him and be ready to watch as He uses you in ways you never could have imagined!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What “fishermen” were involved in bringing you to Jesus? Who shared the gospel with you?
•How would you see the main ingredients in your life differently if you saw it all in terms of following Christ?
•Assess your involvement in “fishing for men.” Are you—
(a) not fishing at all?
(b) fishing as a hobby every once in a while?
(c) fishing quite a bit, but still as a hobby?
(d) making fishing your primary passion in life?
•What other priorities in your life sometimes get in the way of following Christ wholeheartedly?
•What changes need to take place in order for you to follow Christ as the disciples did?

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 Posted July 22nd, 2011 12:24 PM   IP              
A Bigger Shovel

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6

It’s interesting to me that Jesus taught more about money than any other subject. He consistently talked about the importance of generosity and the deadly danger of greed. To the man who asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him, Jesus responded by warning, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). And in Luke 6:38 Jesus taught, “Give, and it will be given to you . . . pressed down, shaken together and running over.” To disciples distracted by financial needs, Jesus assured them that the Father knows they need such things as food and clothes: “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:22-31).

God’s plan is simple—give to gain. In other words, give to the kingdom and God will take care of your needs.

The great British preacher Charles H. Spurgeon once learned about this kind of trust while trying to raise money for poor children in London. He went to Bristol hoping to collect £300 (which in those days was a huge amount of money) for London’s homeless children. At the end of the week of meetings, many lives had been changed and his financial goal had been reached. That night, as he bowed in prayer, Spurgeon was clearly prompted to give the money to a co-laborer of Christ named George Mueller.

“Oh no, Lord,” answered Spurgeon, “I need it for my own dear orphans.” Yet Spurgeon couldn’t shake the idea that God wanted him to part with it. Only when he said, “Yes, Lord, I will,” could he find rest.

With great peace, he made his way the next morning to Mueller’s orphanage and found the great man of prayer on his knees. The famous minister placed his hand on Mueller’s shoulder and said, “George, God has told me to give you the £300 I’ve collected.”

“Oh, my dear brother,” exclaimed Mueller,” I’ve just been asking him for exactly that amount!” The two servants of the Lord wept and rejoiced together.

When Spurgeon returned to London, he found an envelope on his desk containing more than £300. The Lord had returned the £300 he had obediently given to Mueller, with 300 shillings of interest!

Spurgeon learned what another generous believer once said: “I shovel out, and God shovels in, and he has a bigger shovel than I do.” And while the return may or may not be monetary, you can be sure that your heart will overflow with the joy of giving generously and seeing His kingdom prosper.

And you don’t have to look back a hundred plus years to discover stories about the overflowing generosity of God to people who cheerfully give their money to the needs of others and God’s work. Just ask those who have discovered the joy of giving. They’ve got plenty of stories to prove the point. Let me invite you to get a few stories of your own!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•When was the last time God prompted you to give something? How did you respond? If He hasn’t prompted you to give to others, ask Him to give you an opportunity. You can be sure that He will!
•Do you give generously and sacrificially to the kingdom? Examining your heart to find out why or why not will be an important exercise. What holds you back? Greed? Fear? Disinterest?
•Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. Why is it sometimes hard to be a “cheerful giver”?
•To help you give more cheerfully in the future, be sure to consider the outcome—your gift “is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12).
•What assurance do you find in the promise of Philippians 4:19? Don’t miss the fact that the promise was made to the Philippians who had just given themselves sacrificially into poverty for the work of Christ through Paul.


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 Posted July 23rd, 2011 03:27 PM   IP              
Born Free

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

I remember one commute when I ended up following a busted-up pickup truck that sported a bumper sticker proudly announcing, BORN FREE. As I thought about the announcement on the bumper, it seemed to me that whoever was sitting behind the wheel was speaking for a lot of us. For some strange reason, we feel that personal freedom is a birthright. As Eric Clapton sings, “I was born with a raging thirst . . . a hunger to be free!” And it’s that hunger that fires up the celebration of our own independence and the crowning of “me” as final authority. But not all hunger is good hunger. Our hunger to be free is why we end up, as Clapton admits, down so many dead-end streets, lonely and disappointed.

Think for a minute about people who are addicted to things like drugs, alcohol, or pornography. If you asked how they ended up in bondage to their desires, they would tell you that it started as a need to be free to do whatever they wanted to do. Don’t miss the point: If all we have is the right to be free, then our thirst for freedom may end up making us slaves. Beware! A life guided by the “I’ll-do-whatever-I-want-to-do” formula inevitably ends up not being free at all. Left to ourselves, we make a lot of lame choices that end up leaving us in the chains of regret, guilt, and brokenness.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to be free. The great news is that God wants us to be free. It’s just a matter of how and where we can find true freedom.

Becoming free starts with deleting the thought that you and I are born to be free. The reality is that we are born sinners already in the grip of Satan, the cruel master of our souls. David admits, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). And Paul adds that before we came to Christ we were “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17). So we need to get it right. We were born slaves of sin. In order to be free, we need someone to overthrow the regime that enslaves us.

That’s exactly why Jesus came. He came to set us—the captives—free! Jesus Himself said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). He taught us that freedom is not an inherent right of birth after all but rather the result of obeying the truth: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In one sense, we are born to be free—born again to be free. And that freedom is experienced when we commit our lives to living by God’s truth and following the guidance of Jesus. When we forgive, as He has taught us, we are free from the bondage of bitterness and free to move into the future instead of being stuck in the past. When we manage our relationships according to God’s Word, we are free from the regrets and brokenness that comes from using others instead of serving others. When we let Jesus direct our desires and passions, we are free from the bondage of guilt and addiction. His truth is the path to true freedom.

There is a great hymn that proclaims, “My chains fell off, my heart was free! I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!”

Jesus died to set you free. Those who follow Him are free indeed!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•In what ways do you feel enslaved today? Describe how it feels to be a slave to your sin. Can you identify some specific emotions, fears, or actions that have you in bondage? How do those things keep you from experiencing a life of genuine freedom in Christ?
•Take time this week to read through Romans chapters 6–8. Ask the Lord to use this passage to bring freedom and release from the things that bind you.
•Choose one teaching of Jesus you can apply to your life to help you experience freedom in Him.


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 Posted July 24th, 2011 01:13 PM   IP              
What We Really Need

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’” Revelation 3:17

Veruca Salt, one of the not-so-sweet characters in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was notorious for demanding whatever she wanted. Her indulgent parents didn’t know what to do, especially when they couldn’t comply. The result? A foot-stomping, arms-flailing, out-of-control tantrum.

Most of us have probably learned to control our tantrums, but our inner desires still burn within us. We crave what we want until we get it—or get mad and depressed if we don’t. Yet, often what we think we really want is not actually a need at all. What we really are after is peace, security, and a deep-down sense of joy, purpose, and meaning in life. But with our eyes fixed on the next best thing, we miss the fact that what we really need is a deeper, more reliant relationship with Jesus. Everything else is at best temporary and sometimes, quite frankly, not all that good for us.

This is why Jesus is so bothered with the Laodicean believers in Revelation 3:14-21. They thought they had gotten all they needed, but, in reality, they had forgotten their real need for Jesus. This was so offensive to Christ that it made Him sick.

Could it be that He is bothered with us for the same reason? Could it be that we are so consumed by the clutter of stuff and the clamor of our desires that we barely hear Jesus knocking? Where does it leave Him when we are spinning out of control in our self-sufficient world? On the outside.

Toward the end of His comments to the Laodiceans, Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). I love the fact that Jesus, though offended by our sense of flagrant independence, still wants us! He still longs for the intimate fellowship that occurred around the dinner tables of the ancient world. And don’t think you are off the hook just because you think that the knocking on the door metaphor is about non-Christians accepting Christ. Don’t miss the point! Jesus is talking to us in this text—specifically, to those of us who no longer feel the need to sing the old song, “I need Thee, O I need Thee, every hour I need Thee!”

So, He calls us to repent and to open the door of our hearts to let Him in. To pursue the riches of fellowship with Him and to covet the things that money can’t buy but that He can supply: Purity of character—“gold refined in the fire.” The covering of His righteousness—“white clothes.” Wisdom to see life from His point of view—“salve” for our eyes (Revelation 3:18).

If our needs today are all about physical treasures and temporal pleasures, we’ll assume that we’re fine without Jesus. But Jesus tells us that we’re not. And so He knocks and invites you to open the door of your heart to Him and to know that what you really need is deeper fellowship with Him. When we know that we can count on it, He will be sure that we have what our hearts truly long for.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Begin your journey today by asking the Lord to reveal the real needs of your heart and give you ears to hear Him knocking.
•What “needs” have you been pursuing lately? How do they measure up to the needs Jesus brings to light in Revelation 3:18?
•Do you have what you need in terms of purity, righteousness, and wisdom? What is lacking, and what steps can you take to depend on Christ to meet those needs?
•Write a prayer responding to the Lord’s statements in Revelation 3:1-22. Invite Him to come in and repent of the self-sufficiency that has blocked the reality of how desperately you need Him.


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 Posted July 25th, 2011 12:23 PM   IP              
Getting Along

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Psalm 133:1

I can still remember what it was like to take our family on vacation, only to have the kids in the backseat mar the joy of it all by their bickering and complaining. Who doesn’t remember the disruptive effects of “Dad, she touched me!” or “Mom, he won’t give me a turn!”

If you’ve had that kind of experience, you can imagine how God feels when His children quarrel and complain. Getting along is important to God. Jesus prayed that we would “be one” so that the world would believe He came from the Father (John 17:20-21). And to disciples who were prone to quarreling, He commanded that they love and serve one another (John 13:34-35; Matt. 20:20-28). It should also be noted that among the seven things God hates, He includes “one who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19).

So I’m not surprised that the psalmist tells us that when brothers dwell in unity, it’s like “the precious oil upon the head, running down on . . . the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments” (Ps. 133:1-2). In ancient times, the oil of anointing was full of fragrant spices that graced the environment wherever the anointed one went. May the unity that comes from our love and service to one another fragrantly grace our families, churches, and friendships!

When love and kindness rule our lives,
And we are seen as one,
The fragrance of our unity
Has no comparison. —Sper

Christians who get along with each other spread the sweet aroma of Jesus.



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 Posted July 26th, 2011 12:20 PM   IP              
Like There's No Tomorrow

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” James 4:14

I expected some challenges when I took on the presidency of Moody Bible Institute, but I never expected a death threat.

It happened during my first year at Moody. For reasons completely unknown to me, a convicted murderer decided that the world would be better off without me. And so, from prison, he let me know his feelings by sending a death threat. My colleagues and I immediately consulted with the Chicago Police, and they advised me, based on this guy’s past criminal history, that he might very well have the connections and criminal bent to pull it off. We needed to take this seriously.

It’s amazing how quickly news like that reshuffles your priorities. There were lots of tasks planned and my schedule was packed. But suddenly the important meetings didn’t seem quite so important and the urgent, pressing items demanding my attention didn’t seem quite so urgent and pressing. In fact, as I pondered the thought that my life was apparently in danger, my mind moved to two items that I had been trying desperately to avoid: shopping and bowling.

Under normal circumstances, shopping and bowling would be dead last on my task list. I particularly loathe shopping for clothes, especially when it involves standing in a cramped changing room trying on pair after pair of pants. And bowling? Well . . . I’ve just never been a big fan. But both of these activities, in that moment of considering my own mortality, represented opportunities to express love to those who counted most in my life.

My wife, Martie, had been asking me for quite a while to take our school-age son to do his back-to-school shopping. I knew that would involve traipsing from mall to mall, with hours (or what would seem like hours) of helping Matt in the dressing room. I had found every excuse to delay the pain! And Matt had also been asking me for weeks to go . . . you guessed it . . . bowling!

So when I got home that day, with the death threat looming over my head, I proposed that we spend the evening bowling and shopping for school clothes. Matt and mom were both stunned. Matt had no idea why I had experienced such a change of heart; he just happily jumped in the car! And off we went on a productive evening.

Well, obviously—and thankfully—I lived to see another day. And now, if I ever go bowling again, it will no doubt be with my grandkids! But I wish that I would always live as though today would be my last. Priorities get clear real fast when that’s our perspective!

It’s what James is getting at when he says, “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow . . . You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). What difference would it make if we truly grasped the fact that there are no guarantees about what tomorrow holds?

I suspect we would be a lot quicker to forgive. I think we would be much more apt to consider the needs of others around us. We’d say “I love you” more often and prioritize people over things and duties. I think we would spend a lot less time pursuing earth-side stuff and care a lot more about eternity and the lostness of people around us.

Count on it . . . we’d all be a lot better off if we heeded the words of James!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•How would today’s priorities be reshuffled if you thought there was a possibility that you might not see tomorrow?
•How can we, as followers of Christ, maintain a balance of responsibly planning for the future, and yet living with the awareness that each new day is a gift—not a guarantee?
•I can’t talk about the brevity of life without asking, Have you invited Jesus to be your Lord and Savior? Out of all the emotions that came with a death threat, my faith in what Jesus did for me on the cross gave me such assurance and joy in knowing that I would spend eternity with Him. If you don’t have that assurance, turn to Him in faith today!


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 Posted July 27th, 2011 12:59 PM   IP              
Cross Bearing

“Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:38

Right now it’s summer! When I’m wearing flip-flops to the grocery store and running the air conditioner in my car. It’s hard to remember the frigid days of January, and still harder to imagine a climate colder than Chicago in the dead of winter. But of course there are many places that are colder, more remote, and far more harsh—such as Siberia!

During the height of the Communist rule in the former Soviet Union, Pastor Ivan Minailo was exiled to prison in Siberia. His crime? He refused to betray Jesus and his five small congregations by becoming a stealth informant for the secret police. As he and nine hundred other “criminals” were marched to a remote prison camp, Ivan’s feet became severely frost-bitten and swollen to the point where he almost needed to have them amputated, yet he willingly carried his cross through the snows of Siberia.

As Ivan demonstrated, our willingness to pay the price of a cross is the pivotal issue when it comes to our devotion to Jesus. Jesus put this in cement when He said, “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). I guess that means, if we refuse to bear the cross we are given, then we can’t really call ourselves followers of Christ.

Since the stakes are so high, let me take a minute to clarify what it means to bear a cross for Christ. Cross-bearing is when I am willingly inclined to endure suffering that comes as a result of following Christ. It requires a willing heart. As it did for Ivan, our experience on earth will bring us to crossroads where we must choose: Christ or comfort, Jesus or ease, and even, sometimes, worship or wealth. Followers of Jesus make the hard choices because of who Jesus is—the Son of God, eternally worthy of our whole existence.

Sometimes I wonder why Jesus drew such a hard line in the sand when it came to cross-bearing. I mean, why couldn’t the Christian life just be a bit more of a cakewalk? And then I think it’s because He knew that living to please our Father in heaven would be a rough assignment in a world that is under the control of the archenemy of God. During His ministry on earth, Jesus endured a lot of things—painful rejection, cruel and unfair criticism, marginalization, physical torture, the betrayal of a dear friend, and finally crucifixion—all to be faithful to His Father. Spiritually speaking, this world is a tough and sometimes hostile place to live if you’re following Christ.

Of course, cross-bearing does not exclude us from the grace of good times and the enjoyment of things He has provided for us. Thank God for the grace of seasons where our crosses are rather light. But cross-bearing does mean that, like Ivan and millions of others, when push comes to shove we choose the “Jesus way” even if it means loss and suffering.

So here’s the rest of the story: Ivan suffered under the brutal elements of Siberia and the cruel taskmasters of the prison camp for 10 years before he was released. But regardless of his suffering, he sought to use the season of difficulty to lift Jesus up. As he worked in villages as a prisoner, he led people to Jesus and, get this, today there are churches throughout Siberia that were established by the witness of prison laborers who exalted Jesus in the midst of their suffering.

I wonder—is Jesus worth everything and anything to you? What will you decide the next time you have to choose between carrying your cross and laying it down for a more comfortable existence? Here’s the bottom line: Authentic followers of Jesus are glad to pick up a cross to prove to our leader that He is more important to us than anything else in our lives!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Cross-bearing is an individual experience. How does Luke 14:27 support this? Why is this important?
•Track down a copy of Fox’s Book of Martyrs. Read a few of the accounts. Is there any cost too great for following Christ?
•Why is it significant that we willingly bear the cross we are given? How did Jesus lay down His life for us? Read Matthew 10:38; Luke 14:27; Mark 8:31-37; and John 12:25. Then spend some time journaling on this topic.


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 Posted July 28th, 2011 01:24 PM   IP              
V.I.P Treatment

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” Deuteronomy 6:6

A quick read through the Old Testament leaves no doubt that God wants His people to take His Word seriously. The Jews were told to write the commands on their doorposts and teach them to their children. They wore phylacteries—leather pouches that contained God’s commands—bound to their left hand and forehead. I suppose it would be like writing verses on Post-it notes and sticking them on yourself! And while most of us would not be ready to do that, the point is clear—God’s people take His Word seriously when it comes to living by its standards.

The psalmists had a good handle on this. In fact, the very first psalm recorded for us paints a clear picture of the value of God’s Word. It says that the key to a blessed life involves meditating on God’s Word day and night (Psalm 1:2).

Unfortunately, the value of meditation has been lost on modern Christians, perhaps because we have allowed the New Age movement to steal the word from our vocabulary. But all through Scripture we are called to meditate on the Word and works of God—to stop long enough to smell the biblical roses. To get alone, be quiet, and take it all in. To run His words through our minds over and over again.

If you’re among those who love God’s Word, here’s how to give it the VIP treatment in your heart.

Visualize it. Take a relevant principle from Scripture and visualize what it would look like if you lived it out. What would be the outcome of praying for your enemies? What if you gave your money to a worthy cause rather than buying that thing you’ve been wanting? Think about what it would look like if you lived out God’s Word.

Internalize it. The best way to meditate on God’s Word is to memorize it. When we get it inside our heads, it enables the Spirit to bring it to mind in “clutch” situations.

Personalize it. Don’t just think of the Scripture in vague terms, but insert personal pronouns and pray the passage back to God using “I” and “me” so that His Word is directed right to your heart.

Soon you will find yourself saying with the psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97).

Lord, we want Your commands to be “written” on our hearts. Help us to learn what it means to meditate on Your Word—to visualize, internalize, and personalize it—so that we can live by Your principles and bring glory to Your name. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Your Journey…

•Are you struggling with any biblical principle today? What would it look like if you were to fully surrender in obedience in that area?
•What are some verses you could memorize to help you in your struggle? Write them down and post them on your mirror, in your car, or wherever you will see them on a regular basis.
•What are some ways you can personalize the Word of God?


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 Posted July 29th, 2011 02:14 PM   IP              
Setting the Record Straight

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14

Baseball fans will always remember the 2007 season—an interesting summer of baseball to say the least! Tom Glavine joined the elite club of pitchers who have won 300 games, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run, and Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record for most home runs in Major League history.

I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a boy. Growing up near New York City, I was a Yankee fan when Yogi Berra was behind the plate, Whitey Ford was on the mound, Moose Skowron was on first, and my hero Mickey Mantle was in center field. Through the years I’ve taken great delight in telling anyone who would listen that I was at the game when Mickey Mantle wowed all of baseball by hitting the ball out of Yankee Stadium—a hefty swing that hasn’t been repeated to this day!

What I find interesting is that telling that story now has lost some of its impact. Years have passed, and no one seems to care how far Mantle could hit the ball. The passing of time has a way of making what was once significant no longer all that significant. As Barry Bonds will someday find out, the passing of time will crown someone else Home Run King and Bonds’ achievement will be mere history.

In his class-act speech played on the giant screen in center field the night Bonds broke the record, Hank Aaron said, “Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball, and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement.”

So here’s the sobering lesson. No matter how important your accomplishments are now and how much applause they generate, time will eventually erase the headlines of your life. Ultimately, all that will be left is your name and dates on a seldom-visited tombstone.

Unless, that is, you live your life to do something of significance for eternity. Like the preacher says, “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last!” So here are some suggestions for living a life that counts forever.

•Give meaningful portions of your time, gifts, talents, and money to advance the eternal cause of Jesus in your town. Remember, that wiggly six-year-old in your Sunday school class may be the next Billy Graham! (See Matthew 25:21.)
•Encourage your children to consider going somewhere in this world to win people to Christ and to plant churches that will propagate the eternal power of Jesus to save those who otherwise are eternally lost. (See Matthew 9:36.)
•Raise a godly generation to carry the eternal values and principles of God’s Word into their world. (See Psalm 119:89-90.)
•Be like Jesus: live to win a lost friend to the eternal joy of heaven. (See Luke 19:10.) Love and obey God with all your heart. Look forward to His appearing and receive a crown of righteousness when you get to heaven. (See 2 Timothy 4:8.)

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 Posted July 30th, 2011 01:40 PM   IP              
Connectedly Challenged

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” John 15:4

I’ll never forget the time I bought a new stereo system. I brought the boxes home and carefully unwrapped each piece of equipment. I spread everything out on the floor. There it was—wires and all. But halfway into the assembling project I realized I needed some serious help. Believe me, I am a technological idiot; when it comes to connecting in digital world, I’m in serious trouble!

Most of us are a lot like that spiritually. We have all the equipment we need to connect to an intimate and fulfilling relationship with the only One who is tailor-made to make great music out of our lives. But most of us never quite seem to get it figured out. So here are some pointers.

The intimacy with God we were built to enjoy begins by realizing that our relationship with Jesus is the key to getting connected. As He said in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” And then in John 15:1-27 he paints a profound picture of what that looks like (I find pictures are really helpful in set-up manuals), by telling us that we are like branches and that He is the vine. All the resources we need to prosper and bear fruit come from entwining our entire being—mind, will, intellect, emotions, and attitudes—into Jesus. And then He concludes the connection instructions by telling us that the key to letting the music flow is our unflinching obedience to Him in every aspect of our lives.

Jesus says, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). The payoff of finally getting connected is that we will experience the deep-down joy that only He can give as a reward for obediently staying wired to Him. He assures us, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

Perhaps you can imagine the joy I felt when a friend came over to get me out of my digital mess. And the music was spectacular!

When you think of your spiritual journey, I wonder if you feel frustrated and wound up in wires that go nowhere, leaving you disappointed and doubting if your Christianity will ever work? Check in with the “intimacy expert.” Jesus welcomes you to listen to His advice for your life and then to hook up by obeying all of His directives. Directives about how to deal with your enemies, your family, your finances, your weird boss, and anything or anybody else that crosses your path. As it is with digital equipment, there are no alternatives. If the wires aren’t plugged into the right place, it just won’t work.

And, one other thought: When I can’t get something to work I always know that it’s not the manufacturer’s fault. They knew just how to make the equipment. So if God seems far away and there is little or no music in your heart, it’s not God’s fault. We were pre-wired to fellowship with Him in harmonious obedience!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Read John 15:1-27. In what ways do you see yourself in the picture of the vine and branches?
•Are you connectedly challenged? On a scale of 1 to 10, how connected are you to God right now?
•Pray for insight in locating the wires that are disconnected through disobedience. Once you have located them, plan now to reconnect and obey regardless of the difficulty or the consequences.
•Can you envision the music in your life if you were to start plugging in through obedience?


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 Posted July 31st, 2011 01:51 PM   IP              
Who’s in the Spotlight?

“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

If you’ve been around the world of golf for long, you know that winning the coveted “Green Jacket” at the Masters is arguably the most coveted accomplishment in golf. As I was watching the final round of the Masters Golf Tournament in 2007, I was thrilled to hear the winner give credit to Jesus for the gifts and abilities the Lord had given him. With much of the world watching, he turned the spotlight from himself to Jesus!

It brought to mind the year that Bernhard Langer won the Masters. In the Butler Cabin afterward, before millions watching on TV the interviewer said to him, “Winning the Masters must be the greatest moment in your life.” To which the champion replied, “This is no doubt the greatest moment in my golf career, but it doesn’t compare to the fact that 2,000 years ago today my Lord and Savior rose from the dead to give me eternal life!”

I was off my couch, ecstatic that Jesus and what He has done for us was getting such global recognition!

This is exactly what it means to glorify God and to live with enough biblical sanity to know that all we have and all we are is directly attributable to God’s grace and provision in our lives. Think about it. Where would you be today if God had not given you the mental horsepower to figure stuff out, the opportunities for education and promotion, the talents to do things well, the spiritual gifts to participate successfully in His work, the income to keep food on the table, or the wisdom of His Word to help you know how to live? The list is long when it comes to what God has graciously given you. To say nothing of the gift of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection! The fact is that you and I would be nothing if it weren’t for God’s generous and undeserved supply.

So, since all we have is from God, it’s important that we don’t act like we are self-made people. In fact, when King Nebuchadnezzar took God’s glory for himself, he was banished to eating grass in the field like an animal until he got the picture straight about who should get the glory for his power and position (Daniel 4:29-34). And Herod was eaten by worms and died for letting the people call him god (Acts 12:21-23). God takes it seriously when we rob Him of His glory!

Granted, it’s not always easy to know just what to say when you want to transfer the applause from yourself to God. But just knowing that it’s important to give credit where credit is due is a good beginning. Every once in a while, someone will tell me what a great sermon I preached, and in that moment I am keenly aware that what I do with the spotlight is very important. I have to tell you, when I take the compliment for myself I end up feeling small and disloyal. But when I acknowledge that I had no idea what they needed to hear, I can say with confidence, “We both know where the blessing came from!” and I love to tell people that if they were blessed by the sermon it’s a sure sign of how much God loves them. Every time I turn the spotlight where it belongs, I end up feeling grateful to God and joyful that I was able to give Him the glory.

So take the Bible’s advice: Keep the spotlight on Jesus—then know the joy of what it means to live for His glory.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What things in your life tend to attract compliments from others? Could it be your knowledge, your ideas, your talents, your home, your car? Are you tempted to steal the glory for those things, or do you readily and regularly give credit to God?
•Are there things in your life that you wish would attract compliments from others? Ask the Lord to reveal those areas, and allow Him to reshape your self-seeking perspective with a biblical sense of gratitude for those blessings.
•Read about what happened to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:29-31. How did Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude change in verses 34-37? What can you learn from his example?


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 Posted August 1st, 2011 01:12 PM   IP              
Wall-Bangers Anonymous

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. —James 1:2

I’ll never forget the time during college when, after I had finished writing a big paper that was due the next day, I heard a loud commotion in the room across the hall. My neighbor was in a state of panic, throwing stuff around his room looking for his paper. Frustrated, he banged his fist against the closet and shouted, “Thanks a lot, God. You make life one big laugh!”

I might have given him an A+ for theology—at least he knew that God was ultimately in charge—but an F for his response to the problem.

For those of us who get mad at God when life takes a wrong turn, we need a good dose of biblical therapy. So, welcome to “Wall-Bangers Anonymous”—a two-step program toward a positive, God-honoring response to pain.

Step One: Think straight about trouble. It’s not only inevitable, it’s indiscriminate. Trouble comes in all shapes and sizes. “Various trials” (James 1:2) affect our health, our careers, our relationships. Once we understand the facts, we can begin appreciating their significant value in our lives.

Step Two: Trade resistance and resentment for receptivity and rejoicing. “Count it all joy” (James 1:2). The joy is not in the presence of pain but in the knowledge that God is using our pain to refine us and make us better, not bitter.

If we embrace adversity,
Accepting every pain,
Then we will learn what we should know;
Our grief will turn to gain. —Sper

God chooses what we go through; we choose how we go through it.



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 Posted August 2nd, 2011 01:00 PM   IP              
Don't Feed the Bears

Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts. Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.” Psalm 105:2-3

In 2006, over 3.5 million people visited Yellowstone National Park. The park is loaded with signs that read, “Don’t feed the bears,” but visitors are constantly doing just that. As a result, bears become too lazy to look for food. So, sadly, some of them starve to death in the woods—which are full of nourishment—when the tourists aren’t there to give them handouts.

Ever wish you could get a few spiritual handouts from God? A lot of us are like those bears when it comes to walking with Jesus. We’d like to have everything handed to us, straight from God—no questions asked. We keep looking for those divine snacks of His direct involvement in our lives.

It’s tempting to measure the quality of our relationship with God by the frequency and intensity of those times when we see Him reach into our lives and change things. This leaves us prone to the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?” attitude. When God doesn’t live up to our expectations, we get bogged down in discouragement, doubt, and even a dysfunctional view of Him.

Admittedly, it’s easy to feel cheated by the absence of those spiritual freebies. If I hear Bob talk about how God provided an anonymous donor for his mortgage payment just in the nick of time, I begin to wonder why God never does anything like that for me. Sound familiar?

Then we read stories in the Bible about characters who experienced God’s miraculous work in their lives. When Abraham and Sarah were too old to have a baby, God intervened and did something really spectacular. Later, when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God showed up in a miraculous way and spared Isaac’s life.

So, it’s easy to wonder why God is not as liberal with giveaways in our lives as He was with Abraham. But before you think Abraham had an edge, remember that the recorded interventions of God average about one every 15 years in Abe’s life! Just imagine being Abraham and going 15 years with no Bible, no indwelling of the Holy Spirit, no spiritual friends, and no word from God.

Abraham’s experience shows that God rarely invades lives with dramatic demonstrations of His power. God’s desire is to be loved and adored by us not for the handouts, but because He is worthy of our praise and unfailing allegiance regardless of what He does or doesn’t do for us. That’s why Psalm 105:2-3 encourages us to, “Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts. Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.”

And it’s not that He won’t help you when the time is right. He loves you and will indeed supply and protect. But it would be a major distortion of our view of Christianity to see God as our sugar daddy, ready to jump every time we thought we needed a handout from Him. I sometimes wonder if heaven has a sign that says, “Don’t feed the Christians!” with the fine print reading, “They’ll think it’s all about the goodies”!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Have you ever tried to relate with someone who has the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” attitude? How did it affect your relationship? How does this attitude affect a person’s relationship with God?
•Are you hungry for a demonstration of God’s power? Read Job 38–41. How does this passage satisfy your desire?
•Identify some ways in which God has “shown up” in your life through answered prayer. Write a psalm of thanks to Him. Before you begin, read 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 for inspiration.
•Read the story of Abraham’s life in Genesis 12–25. Then read Hebrews 11:8-19. What was Abraham remembered for in the New Testament?


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 Posted August 3rd, 2011 01:42 PM   IP              
What's Really Good For Us?

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18

U.S. News & World Report previously ran a cover story entitled “The Trouble with Premarital Sex.” The subtitle was, “Americans don’t think it’s too much of a problem. Maybe they should.” The gist of the article was that sexual freedom does not deliver true intimacy. Jennifer Grossman, a 30-year-old single woman and contributor for MSNBC-TV, gave the most telling statement in a sidebar interview entitled “Was It Good for Us?” Grossman, a self-described libertarian, said:

“I used to complain to my mother, who is a liberal, about how boyfriends seem commitment shy. And she would say, ‘Well why buy the cow if the milk is for free?’” Jennifer continued, “We’re in the sexual promised land now, the milk is free, people are surfeited with sex-and yet we’re starved for love . . . The acceptance, even encouragement of premarital sex makes it very difficult to sustain the fantasy that we are loved alone.”

Jennifer’s musings are telling. As she points out, all of us have a deep, soul-level desire to be loved exclusively, and the “sexual promised land” does not fulfill that need. Yet this generation is sold out to the idea that the rewards of intimacy can be had in an endless series of hook-ups between any two people who feel the urge.

God’s Word has much to say on this topic. Even though our culture today accepts immorality as “the norm,” the Bible says it has been a problem for centuries. In fact, Paul had to write to the members of the church at Corinth about their conduct in this area.

He told them to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Seems pretty clear to me—he’s saying, “Don’t have anything to do with it!” Treat it like the potential disaster that it is. Like a semi coming at you when you’re in the middle of the street. You don’t stand there and look it up and down and try to decide what to do. The course of action is clear. Get out of there!

But how different is this compared to the casual way that the world approaches this issue? The world says, “Hey, the milk’s free, jump into bed with anyone you find attractive. Go ahead and experiment—it’s no big deal.” Not true. Millions could testify that if you live to do whatever your sex drive tells you to do, you’ll be disappointed, damaged, and full of regret.

The truth is that promiscuity harms us both emotionally and physically. As Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 6:1-20, the one “who sins sexually sins against his own body.” In essence, you’re hurting yourself. People who lead promiscuous lives suffer from desensitized emotions, loss of self-worth, regret, disease, and unplanned pregnancy. I think we all agree that this stuff is a high price to pay for a few moments of pleasure here and there.

Ready for some good news? You don’t have to stay in bondage to sexual sin. Paul reminds us, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). The truth is that we are loved truly and exclusively when we strike up a relationship with Jesus. When we live in His love we will never ask, “Was it good for us?”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•David committed sexual sin, but God forgave Him. Read Psalm 51:1-19, and jot down a few observations about the way David approached God to ask for forgiveness in this area. How does this apply to you or someone you know?
•Are you flirting with sexual immorality in your life? Read the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:1-23. What should you do when sexual sin tries to entice you?
•Have you been hurt by promiscuity in the past? Pray and ask God to help you heal from the wounds. Recommit yourself to obey God and live a life of purity.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted August 4th, 2011 04:16 PM   IP              
Welcome to the Complaint Department

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” Psalm 13:1

In one of my favorite children’s books Oh, the Places You’ll Go! the great philosopher Dr. Seuss writes about the ups and downs of life. Sometimes, he says, “Hang-ups can happen to you.”

He’s right of course. Life can be going along smoothly, but eventually, to some degree or another, trouble happens. So what do you do when life takes a turn for the worse? When your dreams explode in your face? What do you do when deep disappointment dangles you over the abyss of despair by a fine thread? When it seems as though there is no movement from heaven on your behalf—that maybe God has abandoned you?

Maybe you can relate to how David felt when he poured out his heart to God in Psalm 13:1-6. Although Samuel had anointed him to be the next king of Israel, David found himself running for his life and hiding out in caves as King Saul chased him month after month, year after year. No doubt David was tired of living like a fugitive. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. And so, he finally filed a complaint: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

I’m so thankful that David introduces us to the freedom to be honest with God about how we feel. My guess is that most of us can probably identify with the insecurity and instability David felt. We may not be running like fugitives, but we know what it feels like to have people against us, or to feel like the odds are stacked against us. This may surprise you, but God doesn’t expect us to approach Him with a 24-hour smile. In fact, I like to think that He has a complaint department in heaven with a big “Welcome” sign over the door. The problem is, we are so quick to complain to all the wrong people, when really, God is the only One who can do something about it. As Dr. Seuss admits, “Un-slumping yourself is not easily done,” but perhaps a good place to start might be approaching God honestly with how we feel about our circumstances.

I find it interesting that after David started talking to God about his feelings, suddenly his complaint turned to more of a plea, begging for God’s help. “Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death” (Psalm 13:3). What began as a complaint quickly turned to compliant confidence in God’s character, as David acknowledged God’s power to save him. You can almost see his confidence building as he finally declared, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Psalm 13:5).

It’s a reminder that in the midst of crisis we can find great confidence in the power of God to rescue us and turn the situation into something good. When we are in the presence of God—even if it’s in His “Complaint Department”—we are reminded of His steadfast love and faithfulness. So go ahead, file your complaint, and wait for God to surround you with the confidence-inspiring security of His presence.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Have you ever been in a situation where you felt insecure and unstable in your circumstances? What did you do about it?
•Do you think it’s okay to complain to God? Why, or why not?
•What aspects of God’s character inspire confidence in times of crisis?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   



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