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Author Message
today
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 Posted September 9th, 2011 01:04 PM   IP              
Eternal Investments

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Matthew 6:19

Madame Blueberry, Veggie Tales heroine of materialism, loves shopping at the “Stuff-mart.” Her problem, however, is that her treetop cottage soon becomes so overstuffed that the tree collapses under the weight of it all.

We can experience a similar situation. Our families suffer if we place material gain above spouses and children. When the day is done, our energies may be spent and little time may be left to pour out at home.

The strength of the work of Jesus may be compromised as well. The promise of quick credit and plastic cash leaves us in bondage to debt, which disables our support of the kingdom of God. Living for financial and material gain means living for the realm of empty treasures, where “moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19)—leaving few leftover resources to support worthy causes. Sometimes too late, we realize that precious things have collapsed under the weight of our own greed.

Thousands of missionaries retire each year. Who is going to replenish the mission fields? All over North America, our children are growing up just like us, choosing their careers based on how they can make the most money and on what will help them achieve the highest standard of living as quickly as possible. What of the many workers who will be needed to win the world to Jesus? Who will go? Who will support them?

We need to be on guard lest our pursuit of a hollow prosperity threatens to weaken the supply line of eternity. Jesus calls us to live above earthly things, to treasure the eternal things of His kingdom. When we pour our resources into His kingdom, it’s the best investment we can make. No matter what the world may tell us, eternal investments yield better dividends.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What treasures have I stored up on earth?
•How can I pursue God’s kingdom rather than my own?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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Posts: 17045
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 Posted September 10th, 2011 01:27 PM   IP              
Top of the List

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

When my wife Martie says, “Could you run to the grocery store for me?” I always want to know what it is she wants me to get. After asking the question, my mind is usually already off to something else as she tells me the list: “Bananas, bread, bacon, milk, and butter.” Inevitably, I get to the store and pick up the bananas, bread, and bacon, but end up forgetting the other two things. When I get home, I’ve got to go all the way back to the store because I forgot the milk and butter.

Tell me I’m not alone! It’s easy to forget to pick up the clothes at the drycleaners, or even the kids at daycare. The point is, in our humanness we’re all prone to forget. And it gets worse with age! We get preoccupied and distracted.

Unfortunately it’s not just the little, everyday things that we forget. It’s easy to overlook the big things, like the peace in the midst of stress and the power against great odds that are both available to us through prayer. When we’re not having a good day, it’s easy to forget the joy of our salvation. We even forget the death of Jesus for us—the very reason that we can live with undefeatable hope and assurance. Which means that forgetting about Jesus may open the door of your heart to the tormentors of hopelessness and insecurity.

It’s hard to believe that Christians could ever forget Christ and Calvary. It’s at the heart of everything we have and believe. And yet, in the hours before the crucifixion at the Last Supper, Jesus warned the disciples that they might forget Him and His work on the cross for them. This seems remarkable to me, because the disciples watched Him do all sorts of miracles like restoring sight to the blind and even raising Lazarus from the dead! How could they ever forget Christ after seeing those events firsthand? Still, in Luke’s account of the Last Supper, he quotes Jesus as saying: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). In essence: Don’t forget Me! In Greek, the word remember means to deliberate—to keep it on your mind. And it is often used in the sense of remembering something for your good.

So, why is it good for us to remember Jesus and His work on the cross? Jesus knew that if we were to forget, we might lose our love for Him and be seduced into loving lesser and even harmful things. Without the cross continually before us, we might become bitter or angry when He allows suffering to come into our lives. We might forget that He suffered for us to accomplish great things and that deep in our suffering the hand of God is busy doing great things through our pain. Forgetting the agony of His death, we might begin to take sin lightly and think more of ourselves than we should!

There’s an old song that goes something like this: “The cross before me, the world behind me . . . No turning back, no turning back.” What are you doing to keep the cross of Christ on your mind? Make a list of the stuff you might forget, and check it twice. Are Jesus and His wonderful work for you on the top of the list?

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Pray and thank Christ that He knows what it is to suffer. Ask Him for His supernatural strength and peace to see you through trials you currently face.
•Set aside time each day this week to journal about what the cross of Christ means to you. Share some of your thoughts with at least one person.
•Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Why is it important for Christians to participate in Communion?
•Visualize how your life would be different if you lived with Calvary at the forefront of your mind. What is the connection between your sin and Christ’s work on the cross?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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Posts: 17045
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 Posted September 13th, 2011 12:24 PM   IP              
The Missing Piece

"Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun." Ecclesiastes 2:11 ESV

I’m not much for jigsaw puzzles, but I know that you need all the pieces to enjoy a satisfying outcome. In many ways, life is like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. We spend our days putting it together, hoping to create something meaningful out of all the scattered pieces. But when we can’t find the strategic pieces that complete the picture of some challenging situation in life, we face unsettling disappointment at best, and, at worst, despair.

Honest philosophers have been telling us for centuries that life can be confusing, lonely, meaningless, and empty. Disappointment and despair are to be expected as normal by-products of our existence. The remedies proposed range from the passive resignation of a life stuck in the byword whatever to engagement in experiences that provide the adrenaline rush of temporary excitement. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes searched the depths of wisdom, pleasure, wealth, and work to find meaning and satisfaction but came up disillusioned. His conclusion is painstakingly honest: “Behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl. 2:11 ESV).

Let’s face it; there have been times when we’ve wondered why life is not more rewarding. Even our best experiences rarely leave much of lasting value, and often the anticipation is more fulfilling than the experience itself. We “channel surf” life, looking—hoping—for something to catch our attention, only to end up bored, jaded, and flat. And when life gets in our face, we are shocked at how brutal and unconsoling it can be. In our quiet moments, we feel stalked by a sense of emptiness and fear.

We wonder, “Why? What’s missing?”

Has anyone noticed that the one thing the philosophers, the meaning-searcher in Ecclesiastes, and many of us have in common is that God has been removed as the preeminent center of our existence? He is the missing piece; the piece we so desperately need in order to complete the picture of life.

Even those of us who are connected to God through redemption, often live our lives as though He isn’t particularly relevant to our everyday occasions and encounters. We are proficient at maintaining the level of religious activity we deem appropriate, but God is hardly the center of our lives.

When God is banished from human experience or relegated to the religious margins of our lives, left only to serve us on an “on-call” basis, we become functionally alone. And in that aloneness, emptiness and vulnerability become more than philosophical theory—they are naked reality.

The good news is, while we have life and breath, God will not cease to pursue a rewarding, deepening intimacy with us. He is not content to leave us alone. His unceasing, unconditional love for each of us compels Him. He wants to meet us at the intersection of every dream, every desire, every choice, and every thought, and He urges us to turn toward Him and actualize the finished work of His Son, the gift of the Spirit, and the resource of His Word.

God welcomes us to begin a pilgrimage that puts our backs toward the aloneness in our souls and turns our faces toward the spectacular glow of intimacy with Him, toward life the way it was meant to be. Once we put Him in the right place, He begins to bring all the scattered pieces together to complete the picture of our lives—and it’s a good picture when He is the strategic piece!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Do you feel as if your life is missing something? If so, what? Have you ever considered that you might be lacking intimacy with God?
•Read Ecclesiastes 2:10-11. Can you identify with this experience? If so, think of some things you strive for that are nothing more than “vanity.” Confess the vain things that come to mind, and commit to strive after intimacy with God instead. Did you have an experience like this in the past? What happened?
•How do you feel when you realize that God pursues you for a deeper, richer relationship with Him? Think of a time when this was evident in your life. If you are interested in reclaiming that (or initiating it), read Revelation 3:14-20. Then take it personally!


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted September 14th, 2011 01:24 PM   IP              
Real Treasure

"Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day." Deuteronomy 8:11

The church in China is a phenomenal example of the gospel’s explosive power in the face of persecution. In the 1940s, the rise of communism led to the dismissal of all missionaries, leaving behind approximately one million Chinese Christians. With no missionaries, very few Bibles, and facing severe persecution, the believers were impoverished with no economic or political leverage. The future of Christianity in China seemed bleak. Which is why it’s shocking to learn that recent reports tell us there are over 100 million Christians in China today.

Rather than suffocating the gospel, the dire circumstances actually had the opposite effect. Why? Because the believers had nothing and no one to depend on except Jesus. They discovered that He was all they needed. Despite being persecuted and marginalized, their lives displayed the joy and satisfaction found in the riches of Christ. And as a result, the life-changing reality of Jesus impacted their society with exponential growth.

Without a doubt it is an exciting outcome to what was a seemingly despairing situation for believers in China. And it’s a reminder to us of how God can use trouble to take the material stuff out so that the real treasure of Jesus can come in.

As you may know, in China’s larger cities the economy is starting to boom. In a recent conversation with a friend who ministers in China, I asked him if the Christians are relieved that affluence is starting to return to their country. I had hoped that after years of living with harsh circumstances they could begin to enjoy some simple pleasures that a more prosperous life might bring to them. My friend’s response was somewhat surprising. He told me that the church leaders actually hope and pray for the opposite. They don’t want the affluence to come. He said, “We have noticed that the Christians who are becoming more affluent now have lost their edge for Jesus Christ and are becoming more taken with earth-side gain than with Jesus. It is sapping the strength out of our church.”

But it’s not just a challenge in China. It’s a challenge for all of us whom God has blessed with a measure of abundance. It’s why Paul wrote: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. . . . Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

The very thing that we may think will be the demise of our lives—trouble—can actually serve to strengthen our lives by forcing us to cling to Jesus and Him alone. And the very things that we think will enrich our lives may in fact impoverish us. To the affluent, self-sufficient church in Laodicea that didn’t feel they needed Him, Jesus warned that from His point of view they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

When we are consumed by the stacks of stuff in our world, we run the risk of missing the true treasures that are found in Christ alone.

Today is a great time to learn a lesson from the persecuted church—that amidst all the clutter of our material treasures, He is all we really need.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Most of us don’t deal with persecution on a daily basis, but the question still remains: If you were to suffer a personal loss, how would that loss help you to become more dependent on Jesus?
•How have difficult circumstances impacted your walk with Christ? How Christ-dependent are you when things are going well?
•What steps can you take to safeguard your heart, ensuring that even in times of prosperity your heart will remain focused on the Lord?
•For extra insight, read Deuteronomy 8:11-20. In this passage, Moses challenged the Israelites to maintain hearts filled with gratitude and trust as they entered a season of prosperity in the Promised Land. Why do you think Moses needed to warn the people? What can you learn from this passage?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted September 15th, 2011 02:52 PM   IP              
Curiosity or Compassion?

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" John 9:1

Let me introduce you to a friend of mine. Arloa Sutter grew up on a farm in Iowa. One of her fond memories from her time on the farm was spawned on a cold December day when she walked out into the pasture and noticed a little lamb that had just been born. Its body was frozen stiff. Thinking it was dead, Arloa picked it up and carefully took it back into the warmth of the barn. She wrapped the little lamb in towels and then went back to her house. A few hours later she returned to the barn to do a couple of chores only to hear the weak yet welcome sound of bleating from that little lamb.

Rescuing that lamb had a huge impact on Arloa. It opened her heart to the call of God to rescue His lambs off the streets of Chicago. Arloa moved to Chicago and attended college at The Moody Bible Institute. She never went back to the sheep on the farm. In Chicago, she was struck by the needs of the destitute and poor—people whom, as she says, “are like that frozen lamb who need a touch of the compassion of Jesus to reclaim their souls.” After graduation, Arloa established Breakthrough Ministries, which is now a leader in ministering to the homeless street people of that city.

I lived in Chicago for many years, and I can tell you how easy it is to become immune to the countless homeless people on the streets—to pass by and wonder what went wrong without reaching out to help. Why is it that we are far more interested in the details of what, why, when, and where, than we are about how we can help?

When the disciples passed the blind beggar, their curiosity about why he was suffering outweighed any desire to reach out to him. I can’t help but wonder if they had seen him many times before and responded with the same kind of standoffish, theological curiosity. And when they finally got a chance to quiz Jesus about the man, it revealed that they were dreadfully out of step with their Master’s heart. In fact, they had more than just curiosity. Lurking beneath their question was a desire to know whom to blame for the problem.

Thankfully, Jesus’ heart was into compassion, not curiosity. Rather than analyzing the situation to satisfy the judgmental attitudes of onlookers, He marshaled His divine resources to reach out and help. Which in this case meant that the blind man would see! And to answer the disciples’ question, He made it clear that the man’s blindness was intended to provide a moment when God could be magnified through Jesus’ compassionate touch.

Jesus’ actions call us away from standoffish, curious, and often critical attitudes. Jesus teaches us that true followers never fail to be compassionate but rather constantly live by the motto: “What can I do to help?”

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What is your first reaction when you encounter someone who is down-and-out? Is your response more like that of the disciples or of Jesus?
•Read the story of the blind man in John 9:1-41. How did the man’s physical healing eventually bring about spiritual restoration (John 9:35-39)?
•It’s easy to go through each day with merely a passing thought about the needs of those around us. Ask the Lord to open your eyes today to give you an opportunity to see beyond someone’s circumstances to their need, and to extend His touch of grace to that person.
•For more information about Breakthrough Ministries, take a look at their Web site: www.breakthroughministries.com. Find out if there is a ministry in your neighborhood that you can assist in bringing the hope and healing of Jesus to those around you.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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Posts: 17045
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 Posted September 17th, 2011 02:23 PM   IP              
Transforming the Task List

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31

What got you out of bed this morning (besides the lure of a hot cup of coffee)? If you’re like me, you finally pulled yourself out of bed because you’ve got stuff to do. In fact, your obligations for the day will probably end up being itemized on a list.

My to-do list is unapologetically low-tech. Just a small pad of lined paper with the date on the top and a handwritten itemization of things I need to get done before I hit the sack at the end of the day. I know that a Palm Pilot, a Blackberry, or even my trusted laptop could make my list look much trendier, but in the end a list is a list—a long series of items that keep my feet to the fire.

What’s troubling is that as I get to the bottom of one page of tasks, there’s often a note that says, “See next page.” And the scariest page is the one from yesterday that reminds me that I didn’t get it all done after all. It’s easy to begin to feel that life is only about “living for the list”! But if all of life is just about the stuff to do, it becomes little more than an accumulation of random, disconnected events in life. You climb in bed at the end of each day exhausted, thinking to yourself: There really has to be more to life than this.

The good news is that God has an overriding purpose for your life that encompasses everything on your list. When we put that purpose at the top of our priorities, even a day with an incomplete task list can be a smashingly significant, successful day. Are you ready to find out what it is?

God’s purpose for you is that you live to glorify Him. Not that you stop doing the list thing, but that everything on your list can be done to His glory. It’s just that simple. Glorifying God in all we do takes us beyond the routine of “just getting things done.” It fills the stuff on the list with a new sense of significance and in the end leaves us feeling that even the smallest task is significant. Getting the right degree, finding the right job, making lots of money, or landing a meaningful relationship is no longer the end game. Thankfully so, those kinds of pursuits left to themselves soon run out of gas. But getting a degree (or doing any of those things) so that you can use the degree to glorify God instead of yourself fills your life with a new and lasting sense of significance.

This is exactly what Paul had in mind when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God.” There is nothing in your life that can’t be done to glorify God. Living to bring glory to Him is the all-consuming, driving, defining purpose that God has intended for our lives. Glorifying God simply means to do all we do in a way that communicates the attitudes and actions of God. It is filling life with His presence. When others see His mercy, justice, grace, love, tolerance, generosity, and humility in everything we do, they are seeing the glory of God through our lives. And tactfully giving Him the credit for all our accomplishments focuses the spotlight and applause on the right person.

Let’s face it—our lists are here to stay! Let’s make something of them. Do it all to show your world what God is like!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Look over your tasks and plans for the day ahead. What priorities are reflected in your list?
•What are the dangers of being ruled by your task list? Have any of these dangers crept into your day-to-day activities?
•Consider one of the more mundane items on the list. What are some ways God could use that task for His glory if submitted to Him?
•Think of some practical ways you can submit your plans and lists to God each day. You can start right now. Take some time to ask the Lord to show you how to bring glory to Him in all your activities.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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 Posted September 18th, 2011 01:43 PM   IP              
Ripple Effect

"I pray . . . that you may approve the things that are excellent." Philippians 1:9-10

As a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was skipping stones across the surface of a smooth lake. Inevitably, ripples would flow from the impact of the stone.

It’s like that with choices. Every choice we make creates a ripple effect on our lives as well as on the lives of others. The choices we have made throughout life determine where we are and what we are becoming.

Choices are also telling. What we really want, love, and think show up in the choices we make.

It’s no wonder then that Paul urged us to make “excellent” choices—choices that emanate from a heart fully committed to Jesus. He stated that when our love abounds in knowledge and discernment, we are able to understand what is best, so that we may “approve the things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:9-10). Excellent choices are the proof of a life that is deeply committed to Jesus and His ways, and they have the ripple effect of filling our lives “with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11).

As a friend of mine wisely told me, our lives are not made by the dreams we dream but by the choices we make. Let’s make excellent ones!

Do a deed of simple kindness,
Though its end you may not see;
It may reach, like widening ripples,
Down a long eternity. —Norris

Make an excellent choice and watch the ripple effect of blessing.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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Posts: 17045
Registered: Mar 2009
 Posted September 20th, 2011 02:29 PM   IP              
Watch What You Lean On

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

During a ministry trip to the islands of the Caribbean, I happened to sit next to an unfamiliar attorney on a charter boat excursion. As we chatted, we discovered that we attended the same high school in New Jersey at the same time, with many old-time friends in common. I had told him that my name was Stowell. In the course of our unbelievable “we-have-so-much-in-common” conversation, he said to me, “Did you say your name was Stillwell?” I repeated my name, and he said, “Oh, because I have a client whose name is Stillwell.” I asked, “It wouldn’t be Art Stillwell would it?” He told me that it was.

It turns out that this man’s client was a man I grew up with in church. My dad was his pastor. Art Stillwell owned several major car dealerships in New Jersey, and this attorney represented him. That was the topper for so much in common, but for as long as I live I’ll never forget what he said next.

Reflectively, he told me, “I have no other client like Art Stillwell.” When I asked why, he went on to say, “When my other clients get in a jam, they ask me to do whatever it takes to get them out of their bind—regardless of what it takes. But not Art. Whenever I ask him that same question, he replies, ‘Just do what’s right.’ ”

That’s exactly what God meant when he told us: “Lean not on your own understanding.” It means don’t trust yourself. Don’t even trust your instinct. You might have an MBA or be the top performer in your field, or you might feel like you got a really bad deal. But unless you’ve actually taken the time to shut down your agenda and go with God’s, you’re on shaky ground. If you’re thinking of making a tough call or big-time decision without finding out “what is right” from God’s point of view, what you’re leaning on might just give way and send you tumbling.

Don’t go there. Watch what you lean on.

When you’re deciding how to respond to your supervisor’s latest directive or your financial advisor’s hottest tip or your boyfriend’s passionate invitation—do what’s right by doing what God says. Every time. Not only will it get you on track but someone might just notice how wonderfully different you are!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•In what ways do you regularly bring God’s thoughts and guidance into the loop in decision-making? In what areas of your life do you usually go with your gut-level instincts?
•How can you begin to acknowledge the Lord in your everyday decisions?
•Take some time to read through Proverbs 3:1-35. What is the role of God’s wisdom in our lives? According to this chapter, what is the net gain of seeking God’s wisdom rather than relying on our own?
•Pray specifically about an issue where you need God’s clear direction. Make your request for wisdom as specific as possible, and then wait for His response.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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Posts: 17045
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 Posted September 21st, 2011 11:58 AM   IP              
Love for the World

"The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." 2 Timothy 4:18

It was a cold December morning. Dressed in a white execution gown, he was led to the wall of the prison courtyard with the others. Blindfolded, he waited for the last sound he would hear: the crack of a pistol echoing off the prison walls. Instead, he heard fast-paced footsteps, then the announcement that the czar had commuted his sentence to 10 years of hard labor.

So intense was that moment that he suffered an epileptic seizure—a malady he would suffer the rest of his life.

Fyodor Dostoevsky was sent to prison, where he had only a New Testament to read. In it he discovered something more compelling than his socialistic ideals. He met Jesus, and his heart was changed. Upon leaving prison, he wrote to a friend that the Lord was so dear to him that if he were to find out that Jesus was not in the realm of truth, he would rather have Jesus than the truth.

Dostoevsky returned to civilian life. He wrote feverishly and produced the novels The House of the Dead and Crime and Punishment, followed by his personal memoirs and many other works.

The sorrowful end of this story is that he never grew as a believer in Jesus. His church attendance was sporadic. He neglected Bible study and the fellowship of other believers. He began to drink heavily, and gambling left him penniless. He had left prison with his heart aflame for Jesus, but he died with nothing more than smoldering embers.

As a writer, Dostoevsky left a legacy that places him among the literary greats. One wonders what impact his life could have had if he had stayed faithful to God. In the words of the great poet John Greenleaf Whittier, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

Keeping on track for Jesus in good times and in bad is the only way to finish life and face eternity with few regrets.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What things in my life have sidetracked my passion and enthusiasm for Jesus?
•Why is it so hard to stay faithful to Him?
•What will I do differently today to reflect my love for Jesus?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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Posts: 17045
Registered: Mar 2009
 Posted September 23rd, 2011 12:25 PM   IP              
Point of Contention

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:15

You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that one of the most damaging dynamics in personal relationships is unleashed by the hurtful things that we say to each other. We all have a dragon in our dentures that is flat out hard to get under control. Itemizing the major categories of destructive speech is not a hard task. Gossip, slander, and lying always make it to the top of our “most wanted” list of speech criminals. But there are some additional troublemakers lurking in the dark corners of our wicked little hearts.

One of these stealth tigers in your tongue is “contentious words.”

I recall watching a butcher prepare a chicken for selling at the market. His sharp cleaver chopped away with well-timed strokes until the bird lay in a pile of pieces. Contentious words are just like that. They are the meat cleaver of relationships. They have the power to tear friends and family apart until there’s not much left. I suppose that’s why someone “who stirs up dissension among brothers” (Proverbs 6:19) makes the infamous list of things the Lord hates.

Contentious hearts look for things to criticize and for opportunities to tear down a person, program, or idea. They destroy the essential commodities of happy and productive relationships. When we unleash a volley of contentious verbiage, things like trust, thinking the best of each other, and loving attitudes all get buried under our contentious words.

It’s no wonder that Paul warned the Christians in Galatia about the danger of this kind of talk. He wrote, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).

The damage of contentious talk becomes especially significant when we remember that our relationships with each other are pictured in Scripture as the body of Christ. As Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 12, followers of Jesus are meant to be working as one, in cooperative harmony. Have you ever seen a body divided into several parts but still functioning well? Division destroys the reflection of God’s love among us and the power of His unity through us. Words that work against our unity as His body are the meat cleavers in Satan’s hand.

The joyful unity that is enhanced by eliminating contentious speech is vital to the good health of our homes as well. When we refuse to let contentious words pollute the atmosphere of our marriage, God preserves the power of our home to be a living picture of Christ’s relationship to us as His bride (Ephesians 5: 1-33). He never divides Himself from His bride. His unconditional love, patience, tolerance of our weaknesses, and acceptance are all factors that draw us into a positive relationship with Him. His words to the church promote healing and growth. A home where love prevails over contention is a powerful testimony to God’s unifying love for us.

Let’s face it: divisive words among God’s people give Satan a tremendous advantage in stifling God’s purpose and power through our lives. Our usefulness, joy, peace, and loving unity are all at risk when our tongues get out of control.

I’m quite sure that Satan didn’t coin the phrase “divide and conquer.” But he sure knows how to get the job done when he has our words under his control.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Be honest: Are you prone to use words to sow discord, or are you among the blessed few who use their words to heal, help, and encourage?
•Memorize Paul’s timeless advice in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
•Plan today to target a significant relationship, which you may be tempted to poison with contentious words, and then be intentional about pouring loving words into that person’s heart.
•Make this your prayer: “Lord, speak to me about the way I speak to others.”


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
today
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Posts: 17045
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 Posted September 25th, 2011 02:15 PM   IP              
The Truth . . . for Jesus' Sake

"One of the Pharisees . . . said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.'" Luke 7:39

I’m a little tired of hearing angry Christians running around the world saying “We’ve got it right, and everyone else is wrong!” Granted, the clear teachings of God’s Word are indeed right and anything that contradicts them is wrong. But what bothers me is the extent to which we give equal standing to God’s Word and to our sometimes-twisted attitudes and opinions. I hear us talking all the time about “those people” who are causing moral decline and the politicians who are legislating God out and “do-whatever-you-want” in. We sound so long on mad and so short on mercy.

Sure, there are serious problems in the world. But behind those problems are real people who need the same Jesus that all of us needed when we came to the cross. It’s important to note that in the course of Jesus’ ministry He had more harsh words of reproof for the self-righteous religious folk than He did for the outright sinners whom He came to save. And it should be remembered that He took a big hit from the “good” people for spending time with the religious and social outcasts.

On a nightly cable news show not long ago, a TV preacher made some Bible-thumping statement about AIDS being judgment from God on the gay rights movement and that anyone who is gay doesn’t deserve to live. I was embarrassed, upset, and heartsick all at the same time. Sadly, too many people believe that’s what real Christianity is all about. But nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, that kind of angry rhetoric does not reflect the heart and teachings of Jesus. Jesus said, “I am . . . the truth” (John 14:6), so in order for me to confidently speak like I have the truth, I need to be sure that I am in sync with Him.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem for the first time after beginning His ministry, He wept over the city’s brokenness. He spent time with sinners and told stories about God’s compassion for prodigals and prostitutes. The heart of Jesus is marked not only with clarity about sin, but is also filled with compassion—not hatred—for those who do not yet believe and understand the truth. As His followers, our hearts should be broken for those who are broken and bent by sin. That means spending a whole lot less time acting like we are the truth and getting busy about pointing people to Jesus who is the Truth. And the best way to point people to Jesus is to start living like He lived.

The apostle James wrote to believers undergoing some tough opposition, instructing them not just to hear the truth but also to do the truth (James 1:22). In other words, we need to let Truth transform us before we try to articulate it to others.

Let’s face it: Sometimes we have to show up for Jesus before we can speak up for Him. We need to show we care by reaching out and meeting the more difficult and not-so-easy-to-deal-with needs of people around us. To tutor an underprivileged kid, to care for a man dying from AIDS, to sit in silence with someone at a nursing home, to visit a widow and help her with her laundry. Maybe, just maybe, after that, we can tell them the truth about what we know to be true in Jesus.

Believe me, a heart that knows you really care might just be ready to care for the Jesus who made you care for them in the first place.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Do an attitude check. Would you rather hate those who are “big-time sinners,” or love them as Jesus did?
•How can you be more sensitive to those who aren’t quite ready to receive the truth? In what ways can you begin to show the real Jesus to them? Make a list of people you know who upset you because of their lifestyle or publicly proclaimed philosophy. Make it a point to pray for them regularly. Ask God to help you show them the love of Jesus without condoning their lifestyle.

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 Posted September 28th, 2011 02:21 PM   IP              
Our Distinct Advantage

“The LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Have you ever felt that if God were to show up today as often as He did in the lives of the people in Bible times, you too could be a spiritual hero? It’s easy to think that people like Abraham, Moses, Paul, and others had a distinct edge because God showed up in spectacular ways to talk with and tell them exactly what to do. We think that if Jesus would just appear and give us the lowdown on life face-to-face, we could all be the smashing success for Him that we always wanted to be.

But it’s not just the people of the Bible who leave us thinking that we must be second-rate Christians. All you have to do is go to a prayer meeting where someone gives a glowing report on the way in which God dramatically answered their prayer, while your prayer list remains full of unanswered prayers. Let’s face it. It’s easy to grow discouraged and sometimes even disillusioned with our less-than-spectacular Christianity. And when that happens, our walk with Christ becomes ritualistic and unenthusiastic.

But before you get depressed, it’s possible that your expectations and perspectives are out of whack. When we think that all Bible people had it good, we should note that God “showed up” in Abraham’s life only about once every 15 years! Abraham had no Bible, no small-group fellowship, and no exhilarating worship experiences, yet his steadfast faith is celebrated in Hebrews 11:8-19. And even though Joseph was unrelentingly faithful to God against great odds, for many years God didn’t “show up” to rescue him from his plight. Yet he hung in there because he knew that “the Lord was with him” (Genesis 39:21). Paul had only two direct encounters with Jesus. You can count on it, the rest of their lives were pretty ordinary, a lot like yours and mine.

It’s easy to think that Joshua and God’s people in the Old Testament were unusually blessed because God promised to be with them (Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Joshua 1:9). But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the same promise is given to us in the New Testament (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus Himself promised that He would not leave us as “orphans” but would send the Holy Spirit to be in us and with us (John 14:16-18). In fact, if anybody has an edge, we do! God dwells within us in the person of the Holy Spirit to convict, comfort, guide, and encourage. His 24/7 presence is waiting to be tapped and used no matter where we are or what we are facing. We have the full revelation of Scripture that the Holy Spirit uses to teach and direct our lives. No Bible hero had the privilege of having a Book that could be carried, read, memorized, and used in transforming ways to tell them everything they needed to know about God and themselves—but you and I do!

You may still be saying, “Yeah, but God hasn’t done anything for me lately!” If so, remember that if He does nothing more than save us from sin, cancel hell, and guarantee heaven, He has already done far more than we deserve and enough to keep us happily praising Him for the rest of our lives!

Now’s a good time to start rejoicing. You’ve been blessed with all you need for growth and glory! Tap the resource.

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Have you ever felt abandoned by God, or cheated because of a lack of “spectacular” events in your life? Take a moment to ask God to forgive you and to gratefully thank Him for the riches He has by grace given you.
•Since you have the advantage of the Holy Spirit and the Bible, what can you do to be more sensitive to the voice of the Spirit and the life-changing input of God’s Word?
•Think of a situation you will face or have faced today in which you can use your spiritual advantage to make a difference. Be specific, and then follow through.
•If God never seems to do anything spectacular for you, is He still worthy of your undiminished love and enthusiastic loyalty? Why or why not?


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 Posted September 30th, 2011 12:18 PM   IP              
Life in the Waiting Room

“They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31 ESV

We’ve all heard the prayer: “Lord, make me more patient—and do it now!” Of all the spiritual virtues, patience is one that tends to be troublingly elusive. Let’s face it; if patience is a virtue, most of us are not very virtuous. It’s flat out hard to wait.

Think of how you feel when you’re late for a critical engagement and caught in a traffic jam. I find it tough when I’m in a hurry and rush to the “10 items or less” line at the grocery store, and then have to wait while the guy in front of me pulls 16 items out of the basket and casually chats with the clerk. How did I know it was 16 items? I counted them, piece by piece!

When life or people don’t measure up to our expectations, being patient can be quite a challenge. But it’s clear that God wants us to develop this character trait. After all, patience is more than a virtue—it’s a fruit of the Spirit. It reflects His very presence in our lives, for He is a patient God. If He weren’t, we all would have been annihilated long ago.

So what’s our problem?

There’s a good probability that our struggle with patience has been unsuccessful because we’ve been trying to focus on our own agendas and timelines and not trusting that, for reasons best known to Him, God may have a whole different schedule for us. Our propensity to live with a short fuse is all about forgetting that God puts us in His waiting room on purpose, because He is often doing something behind the scenes while we wait.

It might be as simple as teaching us to be more concerned with the struggles and feelings of others rather than being totally taken with our own interest and plans. There is plenty of evidence as well that God interrupts the normal flow of our lives to open unusual opportunities to be used of Him in unexpected ways. Or, it just may be that God wants to give us the opportunity to show what His patience is like by demonstrating it to others.

One thing we can be sure of—God’s time is always the right time. His management of our situations—whether in traffic or in the “ten items or less” line—is always the best management. Patience is not learning to wait for others; it’s learning to wait on God and to cooperate with His work in our lives. Next time impatience begins to stress you out, stop and ask God what He is saying to you; ask Him to show you why your expectations and schedule have been hijacked. Then take a deep breath and trust. Trust that He is at work in you and in the situation.

So, the next time you have to wait, “wait for the Lord”!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What kinds of situations make you impatient?
•What are you waiting for right now?
•What are some ways that God might be working in your situation while you wait?
•How has God caused you to better understand patience today, and what will you do to develop this important trait?


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 Posted October 1st, 2011 01:01 PM   IP              
The Pursuit of Happiness

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:3

The movie The Aviator portrays the fascinating life of Howard Hughes. In the 1930s and 40s, he wowed the public with his brilliant advances in aviation technology and became the wealthiest man in America. He seemed to have everything a man could want. Yet he was surprisingly miserable and plagued by several mental disorders later in life that rendered him a paranoid recluse until the day he died.

His life is a reminder that when it comes to happiness, money is not the answer. This news isn’t new. Most of us would agree that money is not a ticket to happiness—yet we act like we believe it is.

Things like the lure of a better investment or a cash windfall of some kind, or the feeling that if I only had enough to buy that desired product, pull our hearts toward living for cash. We are like wanderers who crawl across the desert of life from one material mirage to another and wonder why we don’t feel happy.

In Psalm 1:1-6, before the psalmist tells us where to find the kind of happiness that God offers, we are told where not to find it. Hanging out with ungodly friends, listening to the advice of self-help books and horoscopes, and conforming to the cultural input around us all lead down dead-end streets. One of those major dead ends is “get-rich-and-be-happy” street. Unfortunately, ungodly influence doesn’t come only from people “out there.” It has subtly seeped into our church conversations with Christian friends, and it occasionally can come from unlikely places such as pulpits and church publications. Think of how easily bad advice has polluted your thoughts, distracted your focus, and diminished your sense of happiness. If your pursuit in life is material success, remember, it didn’t work for Howard Hughes, and you can bet that it won’t work for you either.

Here’s a great alternative. The psalmist affirms that the truly blessed life finds its joy and satisfaction in living by the words and ways of God. There is no greater happiness than the sense of a clear conscience, the confidence of being loved and led by God, and the wealth of knowing that life is being lived in the safety of God’s law. Reject the bad advice that God’s rules are divine handcuffs and rejoice that his “commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3) but a source of blessedness and joy (Joshua 1:8).

Looking for true happiness? Delight in the law of the Lord and live by the principles of His Word!

Your Journey

•What is the world’s definition of happiness? How does it compare to the biblical definition?
•The psalmist says that we should meditate on the law of the Lord. What are some practical steps you can take to meditate on His Word today? To get started, memorize Psalm 1:1-3.
•Do you feel that you are capable of ungodly advice? The next time a trusted friend needs words of wisdom, be sure that God’s Word is the foundation for your counsel.


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 Posted October 2nd, 2011 02:13 PM   IP              
Life Beyond The Rituals

"They immediately left their nets and followed Him." Mark 1:18

A royal dignitary was greeting residents at a nursing home, when he was surprised by the unresponsiveness of one woman who just sat there and stared at him. Finally, the dignitary asked, “Do you know who I am?”—to which the woman responded: “No. But that nurse over there helps us with those kinds of things.”

Many people are confused about who Jesus is. But through His Word, God helps us know and enjoy the real Jesus. You will find Him wonderfully compelling. Tough fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots gave up everything to follow Him (Mark 1:18). Women felt safe with Him. Crowds stood in awe of His power and authority.

Jesus is not content to be just our “fire insurance,” saving us from eternal punishment in hell. Rather, He wants us to know Him for who He really is, and He desires to connect with us on a deeper, more personal level.

If you are weary of a religion that is about rules and regulations, then welcome to life beyond the rituals. Welcome to a relationship in which you can find companionship, comfort, wisdom, and reality. Welcome to the wonderful privilege of getting to know Jesus and the joy of following Him.

Get to know Him—and you’ll grow to love Him more and more each day.

Which of all our friends, to save us,
Could or would have shed their blood?
But our Jesus died to have us
Reconciled in Him to God. —Newton

To know Jesus is to love Jesus.



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 Posted October 3rd, 2011 03:20 PM   IP              
Join The Choir

"I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations." Psalm 89:1

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in concert. Nearly 200 people who had been redeemed out of the bowels of Brooklyn—former crack addicts and prostitutes included—sang their hearts out to God. Their faces glistened with tears running down their cheeks as they sang about God’s work of redemption and forgiveness in their lives.

As I watched them, I felt somewhat shortchanged. Since I was saved when I was 6, I didn’t feel the same depth of gratefulness that they displayed as they sang about the dramatic rescue God had provided for them. I was saved from things like biting my sister—not exactly a significant testimony!

Then the Spirit reminded me that if He had not rescued me when I was young, who knows where my life would be today? What destructive paths would I have stumbled down if He had not been teaching me qualities like servanthood and self-control?

It became clear that I too am a great debtor to His grace. It’s not only what we are saved “out of” but what we have been saved “from” that makes our hearts worthy of a spot in the chorus of the redeemed. Anyone who receives Jesus as Savior is welcome to join in the choir of praise: “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever” (Ps. 89:1).

He’s been faithful, faithful to me;
Looking back, His love and mercy I see.
Though in my heart I’ve questioned, even failed to believe,
He’s been faithful, faithful to me. —Cymbala

Praise flows freely from the choir of the redeemed.



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 Posted October 5th, 2011 01:46 PM   IP              
The King Lives!

“For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:20 NASB

In the summer of 2006, the Prime Minister of Japan visited the US for high-level meetings with our President. Or at least that’s what I thought. Sure, he was here to visit the President, but much to everyone’s surprise, Japan’s most influential man was an Elvis fan and he wanted to go to Graceland to visit the home of his hero. So off he and George Bush went on Air Force One to give the Prime Minister a tour of the Elvis mansion. In fact, the white-tie dinner reserved for dignitaries that is usually held at the White House was held in the Memphis mansion. In the midst of this pop-culture pilgrimage, Prime Minister Koizumi even broke into an impromptu Elvis tune! It seems that Elvis obsessions extend well beyond the borders of the US!

In the years since Elvis passed away, the rumor mills have occasionally reported “Elvis-sightings” from diehard fans who refused to believe that “the King” is dead. People all over the world bore witness to the fact that they had seen Elvis in all kinds of places: grocery store parking lots, fast food joints, hotel swimming pools—and even cruising along in traffic (driving various shades of Cadillac)! Web sites and fan clubs are consumed by this sincere, yet ultimately trivial pursuit.

Which reminds me that our King—the ultimate and real King, Jesus—is not dead. And while Elvis fans are pursuing a glimpse of the “King,” think of how wonderful it would be if someone in your world were to see a “God sighting” by watching your life. Think of it: Each day we have a chance to give someone a God sighting as the attitudes and character of Jesus are seen through us. And, in fact, providing God sightings is God’s intended purpose for our lives, so that all can finally believe that Jesus really lives.

Let me explain. In our text, 1 Corinthians 6:20, we are told that Jesus paid a great price so that we might live to glorify Him. God’s glory is the manifest expression of all that He is in His all-surpassing, praiseworthy, stunning perfection! And glorifying Him is quite simply showing off the reality of His glorious character in all of our actions, encounters, and attitudes. It’s making the invisible God visible. And He has chosen to make His love, mercy, grace, justice, righteousness, holiness, and every other aspect of His stunning character visible through you and me! God’s glory is His “wow factor,” because when it is experienced and visibly seen, it’s an awesome reality!

So when was the last time you stunned your world by loving someone who is unlovable? By forgiving a deep offense? By choosing integrity over compromise? By serving others instead of serving yourself? By reaching out to the poor and oppressed? By extending grace to an undeserving soul?

What a privilege—we have been saved to provide a few “God sightings” in our world. Thank God, our King lives!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•The first step toward displaying “God sightings” in your life is making sure that Jesus—the King—lives in you. If you’re not sure whether or not He is living in you, read 1 John 4:13-15 and check out this link to start your journey with Him today: Personal Relationship with God.
•Think through the ways you can show the world that the King lives in you: By forgiving a deep offense; choosing integrity over compromise; serving others instead of yourself; reaching out to the poor and oppressed; and extending grace to an undeserving soul. Which one of these is the most difficult for you?
•Why are “God sightings” so important in our world today? What difference will it make in the life of the observer? Pray that the Lord will use your example to lead others to the reality of the King who lives in you!


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 Posted October 6th, 2011 01:12 PM   IP              
Cheerleading for Jesus

“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.… Whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” Philippians 1:15,18

It was my second pastorate and, like many pastors, I had a few nagging insecurities about other churches in town that were outstripping us in terms of head count. To compound my sense of inadequacy, one of those churches took great delight in flaunting their success, with “KOKOMO’S LARGEST SUNDAY SCHOOL” painted in large letters on their buses as they trundled around town each weekend. They were laying claim to being the best church in town. Which meant, according to their self-promoting boasts, that we weren’t the best church in town. That bothered me a little!

To make matters worse, on one Easter Sunday morning they announced an Easter egg hunt on their front lawn to attract even more kids and to no doubt become the “largest” largest Sunday school in town. “Aha!” my evil heart thought, “Now everyone will see how shallow and commercial they are.” I was convinced that my orthodox stand against trivializing the Resurrection with Easter eggs on church lawns would win the day. Then “Kokomo’s Largest Sunday School” church decided to also make that Easter “Friendship Sunday.” Which meant that their members would invite friends—some of whom were members of our church—to this Easter-egg hunting, fastest-growing church in town. To top it off, a prize would be given to the person who brought the most friends. I must admit that their competitive spirit had my spiritual britches in a bunch.

On that Easter Sunday night, before the evening service, I was getting a drink at the drinking fountain in the hallway at our church when I heard someone approaching. I stood up, no doubt with water dripping from my chin, only to be assaulted by a very intense woman.

“Pastor,” she began, “do you know how many people were at that church this morning? They had 1,500 people there. And you know what really bothers me? Some of those people were from our church. They should have been here this morning!”

I’m not always this spiritually good—especially when it comes to dealing with Easter-egg-hunting-friendship-churching competitive Christians—but I had recently been studying Philippians 1, so the Spirit immediately brought verse 18 to mind. “Wow!” I said, “Are you telling me that this morning 1,500 people in our town heard the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Doesn’t that just thrill your heart?” Needless to say that was a real “show stopper” for her.

The apostle Paul was no stranger to the rivalries and factions that crop up in church-world. Even while he is imprisoned for the gospel, he tells the Philippians that other Christians are slandering his name and seeking to profit from his incarceration by competitively seeking to outdo him. And yet Paul, in a staggering moment of humility, says that ultimately it doesn’t matter. All he cares about is that the gospel is being preached. He is nothing, and the good news of Jesus is everything!

So let’s measure our attitudes. Do you mutter when you hear news of the success of other churches or get upset when your friends go there instead of to your church? As Paul reminds us, envy and jealousy have no place in God’s kingdom. The stakes are too high for us to focus our energies on interchurch food fights and petty rivalries.

The reality is that when other biblically healthy churches grow, the kingdom grows. It’s not about “they win” and “we lose.” Rather, it’s a genuine win-win situation. Be a cheerleader for the gospel in your town!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Have you been caught in any food fights lately? If a “rival” church has come to mind, take a few moments to pray about your attitude toward that church.
•Take some time to pray for the spiritual health, focus, and growth of other churches in your neighborhood. Genuinely seek God’s blessing for those congregations and their leaders.
•Now pray for your church. Pray that God will free your fellowship of any jealousy, envy, or pride that would keep you from effectively demonstrating the unity of the gospel.


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 Posted October 7th, 2011 01:32 PM   IP              
Jesus at the Crossroad

“He is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:18

An estimated 40 million Americans view Internet pornography on a regular basis. The average age of exposure is 11. What’s worse yet is that 47 percent of Christians polled said that pornography on the Web was a major problem in their home.

In light of these alarming statistics, I wasn’t really surprised when I received a letter from a man who had given in to the lure of Internet porn. Broken and ashamed, he was desperate to climb out of the shame and sludge that Satan had lured him into. He told me that he finally decided to tape a picture of Jesus in the corner of his computer screen. With a sense of relief, he told me that seeing Jesus made his choices clear, and that he couldn’t go where he had gone before as long as Jesus was in clear view in the corner of the screen.

Pornography may not be your problem. But there isn’t one of us who doesn’t struggle with Satan’s pull on our desires. We all know how good it feels to gossip now and then. Taking out revenge on our enemies can seem very satisfying. And cheating on our boss or on our wife is an option that may at times be very alluring. I’m sure you could add a few of your own temptations to the list.

In the midst of it all, we need to remember that every temptation brings us to a critical crossroad. One sign points to momentary thrills that are like jumping out of a plane. Soaring through the air with no restraint can be a thrilling thing, but inevitably the impact of hitting the ground is devastating. Or, we can choose the Jesus road. It’s not always easy at first, but the rewards are out of this world! And perhaps the most important thing we need to know is that at the crossroad, the choice is not just between good and bad—because sometimes you’ll want to be bad. Nor is it just about not wanting to get caught. Satan will tell you that you are clever enough not to get caught. Or, worse yet, he’ll whisper in your heart, “Who cares if you get caught!”

Here’s the real deal: Choosing to sin is choosing to flaunt your desires in the face of Jesus. It’s like telling Him, “I’d rather do this than stay tight with You. I love my sin more than I love You!” It’s a personal thing, and He takes it that way.

At the intersection of temptation, choose Jesus! That person who offended you may not deserve your forgiveness; but Jesus deserves our loyal love, so we forgive for His sake. An affair, a small compromise here or there, overcharging to satisfy a fleeting need, lying to get out of trouble—all may seem very convenient, but all of them are a direct hit on Jesus.

So just say no to sin to show that you love Him more than whatever is luring you away from Him. In fact, you should want to be tempted once in a while just to let Jesus know in real-life terms how much He means to you!

Jesus is always standing there at the crossroad of temptation. And, as Hebrews says, He is able to help you when temptation comes (Hebrews 2:18). In fact, He has been tested in every way—just like you—and will give you grace and mercy to help you in your time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16)!

Look for Him. He’s in the corner of your screen of life, welcoming you to the pure joy of going His way with Him!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Where do you need to place a picture of Jesus or a verse of Scripture to help you avoid temptation? On the refrigerator door, the dashboard of your car, inside your wallet, or somewhere else?
•Pray and ask Jesus to help you resist temptation in the very moment when you are tempted. Ask Him to help you live for what is right, instead of what feels good at the time.
•Read Luke 4:1-13. Make a list of observations about the temptation of Christ. Think of the area where you most struggle with temptation in your own life and compare the two situations. What can you learn from the way Jesus handled temptation?


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 Posted October 8th, 2011 02:14 PM   IP              
Caring and Capable

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

On my way home one night, I noticed a glow of flashing lights about a half mile up the road. As I got closer, I saw several emergency vehicles on the scene—police and fire trucks and an ambulance. Needless to say, I was a little curious, wondering what was going on. The intersection up ahead was lit by floodlights and blocked off, with policemen diverting traffic. When I got up close to the scene, I saw a lone mangled motorcycle. The body was gone, and I could only imagine what that meant.

I felt concerned, thinking that somewhere there might be a spouse who just got some really bad news. There would be children, parents, and friends who would hear the news, and my heart went out to them.

Biblically speaking, I felt compassion. I was concerned about what had just happened. I may have gotten an A+ for compassion, but unfortunately I had absolutely no capacity to help in the situation. No matter how deeply I felt about it, there was nothing I could do.

Do you ever feel that way about God? Most of us would agree that God is rich in character—compassion being one of His greatest qualities—but what if He had no capacity to help? I love the lines from one of my favorite hymns, “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty . . . merciful and mighty.” Did you ever wonder what it would be like if God were merciful but not mighty? If He felt a surge of mercy toward you but had no ability to do anything about it? Or, perhaps even worse, what would happen if He were mighty but not merciful? We’d all be in a heap of trouble!

For those of us who lack confidence in the midst of crisis, it’s time to wake up to the phenomenal capacity of God to intervene and help us in times of trouble. I don’t know of a better passage that speaks to that than Psalm 46:1-11, where we are assured that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” and we’re advised to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:1,10).

You may be thinking, “How can I be still? If you were in my crisis, Stowell, you wouldn’t tell me to be calm!” But that’s what God is asking you to do—stop struggling against the problem, take a deep breath, and put your hands down. But ceasing to struggle has a downside—you’ll feel extremely vulnerable when you’ve lost all your defense mechanisms! Which is why we need to be reminded not only to cease striving but also to “know” who God is. Knowing Him reminds us that He is not only a God of great compassion but that He has a great capacity to help. He wants you to be still and to allow Him the opportunity to be actively involved in the midst of your problem.

So next time you’re in the midst of a crisis, hang in there! Be still and know that He is God, and that He is actively involved in your time of trouble. He is not only caring but infinitely capable of meeting you in your crisis and taking you through!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•When the reality of trouble hits your life, what is your first reaction?
•How does it make you feel to know that God has both compassion and the capacity to help you in times of trouble? Are you confident enough in His character to “be still”?
•Why is it so hard to be still in the midst of a crisis? What are we communicating to God and to a watching world when we are not still in times of trouble?
•Read Psalm 46:1-11. In the second part of verse Psalm 46:10, what is God’s apparent goal on the other side of your crisis? Think of a time when He was exalted in a troublesome situation in your life, and praise Him for providing that opportunity for His name to be exalted!


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 9th, 2011 01:57 PM   IP              
A New Career

"Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him." Matthew 4:22

For some guys, the annual fishing trip is the highlight of their calendar. They stay in cozy cabins and spend long days fishing just for the fun of it. You can be sure it wasn’t that way for the disciples. They weren’t on vacation when they met Jesus. Fishing was their career.

Our careers often demand much of our time and attention. But Jesus has an interesting way of interrupting our business-as-usual agenda. In fact, He invites us to join His business.

Notice the sequence of His statement to the fishermen: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). We are tempted to think that we should make something of our lives and at the same time follow Jesus. Wrong! He calls us first to follow Him, and then He makes something of our lives. He leads us to prioritize so that we see the needs of people and their eternity as the goal of all our endeavors.

And while God may not require you to give up your career, following Him will guarantee that you will never see your career in the same way again. Where you “fish” is not important. But if you follow, you must fish.

What are you waiting for? Drop your nets, follow Him, and let Him make something of your life.

“Take up your cross,” the Savior said,
“If you would My disciple be;
Take up your cross with willing heart
And humbly follow after Me.” —Everest

Drop your nets and follow Jesus.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 10th, 2011 02:28 PM   IP              
Inside Out

"Out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, . . . blasphemy, pride, foolishness." Mark 7:21-22

Shopping for a melon is a tough assignment. No matter how good it looks, it’s hard to tell! So I tap it, thump it, and, if no one is looking, squeeze it—and then take it home, only to discover that it’s bad on the inside.

When the Pharisees were irritated that Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands before eating—a violation of one of their traditions—Jesus immediately challenged them. “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9). He even called them “hypocrites” and explained that what comes from the inside of a person is what “defiles” him, not the other way around.

If we’re not careful, we can become absorbed with looking good on the outside and forget what really counts. In fact, when we get to the place where we are keeping all the “right” rules, we may become proud of ourselves and judgmental toward others. But harboring bitterness, clinging to critical attitudes, and thinking too highly of ourselves are the kind of defiling stuff that make us guilty of Jesus’ charge of “hypocrite.”

So don’t miss the point. Remember, it’s the things on the inside—your heart, your thoughts, your attitudes—that really matter.

What matters to Jesus is what’s on the inside.



God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 11th, 2011 12:54 PM   IP              
Making Hell Happy

“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

I was guest preaching at a church when a woman who had waited in line to talk to me told me that she was thinking about leaving the church because the pastor had joined a country club. And apparently, someone had spotted him there on a Sunday morning.

“Why wasn’t he in church?” she indignantly asked me as though I should have the answer. I happened to know the pastor well—and I knew that he was on vacation at the time, so my educated guess was that he had attended a service the night before. I mentioned this and also told her that regardless of anything else, her church was doing an amazing job of impacting the community for Christ, so she should rejoice in the big picture and stay on board.

The timing was interesting. I had just finished preaching on avoiding the distractions that get us off the main task of being united in taking the redemptive power of Jesus into our world. And while I don’t want to get into a food fight with anyone who thinks that pastors shouldn’t join country clubs, I must admit that I am a little short-fused with how quickly we go after each other when it’s the gates of hell that we should be assaulting.

In Christ’s day, He faced groups who were all tangled up in major distractions. There were those who thought that political overthrow would bring in the kingdom of God. These “zealots,” as they were called, would have gladly spilled their blood in the streets to overthrow the oppressive regime of Rome. They remind me of a lot of American Christians who believe that if only we can get our nation to be Christian again through political overthrow we will be in good shape. What a major distraction! The only way that we are going to win America, or any other country for that matter, is to win people to the saving work of Jesus one person at a time. Our mission is not to save a nation but to save those living in the nation. Don’t forget that when Simon the Zealot met Jesus, he changed agendas and became one of the 12. He joined the right revolution (Mark 3:18)!

Then there were the Essenes who believed that they should withdraw from the world (they definitely wouldn’t have joined a country club!), because they felt that the only way to remain safe and pure was to cloister in closed communities until the Messiah came. This way they could be certain that no defiling influence would tarnish their lives. They carried it to such an extreme that they refused to have anyone who was lame, blind, or in any way physically handicapped in their groups.

What a difference from Jesus’ mission to engage this world with the love of His rescuing power! He crashed the gates of hell by spending time with sinners. And while it irritated a lot of religious folk, He was undaunted in His resolve to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Some may even be at the country club—hmm. In spite of Jesus’ example, there are still a few people around today who think that separating from the world and its sinners will make us ready for Jesus’ return. They are gate lockers, not gate crashers!

It seems to me that Satan doesn’t really care about whether or not we call ourselves Christians. All he needs to do is to distract us by getting us to throw rocks at each other or to somehow adjust the mission away from crashing the gates of hell. I’m sure he’s happy not having to worry about who is busting down his gates to set the captives free. So let’s not give hell something to be happy about!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Are you like the Zealots or the Essenes? Write down a few things you could do to more fully engage your world for Christ.
•Pray and ask the Lord to give you a heart that is willing to connect with people on His behalf. Incorporate 2 Peter 1:5-8 in your prayer.
•Are you throwing rocks at fellow Christians over relatively insignificant things? Repent, and join the Jesus revolution!


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 15th, 2011 01:11 PM   IP              
The Muchness of God

“The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” James 5:16 NASB

Quite frankly, I’m “out” on posh restaurants that have things on the menu you can’t even pronounce and nothing to show for it but two bites of fish and an empty wallet! All I want is a full plate of food, thank you!

Which reminds me of how the Israelites must have felt when, soon after their miraculous escape from Egypt, their stomachs started rumbling. They started grumbling, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3). A lot could be said about their lack of faith in that moment, but notice God’s immediate, generous response: “I will rain down bread from heaven for you” (Exodus 16:4). The people then gathered as much as they could eat. How great is that?! You’d think, after that, they would have never again doubted God’s generosity and His power to supply all their needs.

Wrong.

Unfortunately, we are often a lot like them. In times of distress, it’s easy to forget God’s past generosity and to doubt what God can do—or even what He is willing to do—about our problem. We find ourselves grumbling, “Why doesn’t He do ‘more’ for me?” But we need to be “out” on that kind of thinking, because, actually, God is a God of abundant generosity. In fact, I like to think of Him as a God of “muchness”—with both the desire and capacity to fill our lives with His goodness and grace.

In James 5:1-20 we see the contrast between the leanness of our lives and the muchness of God. James mentions suffering, sickness, and sin—three constant realities that underscore the fact that we are impoverished, needy people. And the antidote is found in prayer. Not ritualistic, passionless prayer, but prayer that is rooted in the reality of our leanness and our desperation for God’s muchness. As James reminds us, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

God, I praise You for Your generosity and desperately need You to replace my leanness with Your “muchness.” Please keep me from grumbling, and turn my attention toward the incredible and abundant spiritual blessings that You provide to Your children. In Jesus’ name, amen. (NASB)


YOUR JOURNEY…

•In what ways are you “lean”? In what ways is God “much”?
•Do you think your prayer life is “effective”? Why or why not? If not, how can you increase its effectiveness?
•What is the key to unlocking the “muchness” of God in your life?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 16th, 2011 02:10 PM   IP              
Finding Jesus

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Romans 8:32

If I asked the question, “Where’s Waldo?” you might recall those popular children’s picture books from the 1980s. That little guy in the red-and-white-striped shirt and hat loved to hide in the pages amid a busy blur of images that made it nearly impossible to find him.

Thankfully, finding Jesus is a lot easier than finding Waldo. Jesus doesn’t play hide-and-seek. He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20). You can find Him at the door of your heart—the core of your existence—waiting to come in. He doesn’t just want to meet you at church, or to be kept at bay on the outer edges of your life. Rather, He longs to be in the center of your dreams, deliberations, and desires. He wants a real relationship with the real you.

And as wonderful as that is, I need to warn you that it may be a little unsettling. Your heart is no doubt harboring a few things that He will want to deal with. But there is nothing that is more valuable than intimacy with Him. Welcome Jesus in and He will clear out the clutter until the air is fragrant and fresh with the purity, power, and pleasure of His presence.

Who’s knocking at your heart’s door? It’s Jesus! How wonderful is that!

Sweetest of all of life’s blessings,
Communion with Christ above,
Assured of His constant presence,
His matchless, eternal love. —Anon.

Jesus is standing at the door of your heart—welcome Him in!


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 17th, 2011 01:52 PM   IP              
In The Driver’s Seat

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." —Matthew 5:16

I love the story of the stressed-out woman who was tailgating a man as they drove on a busy boulevard. When he slowed to a stop at a yellow light, the woman hit the horn, cussing and screaming in frustration and gesturing angrily. As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a police officer who ordered her to exit the car with her hands up. He took her to the police station and placed her in a holding cell.

An hour later, the officer returned and said, “I’m sorry, Ma’am. This has been a big mistake. When I pulled up behind you, I noticed your ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ license plate holder and your ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker. I assumed the car was stolen!”

Satan doesn’t care so much if you’re a Christian as long as you don’t act like one. If he can get you to live by his signals, he can damage and disarm you every time and dishonor the name of Christ in the process.

Instead, Jesus calls believers to be “salt” and to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

With Jesus in the driver’s seat of our lives, we can show off the love and glory of God.

Called to be salt and light in this world,
Called to preserve and to shine,
Called to reflect the glory of God—
Oh, what a calling is mine! —Fitzhugh

Don’t let Satan manage the details of your life.


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 18th, 2011 11:59 AM   IP              
What Do You Think of Jesus?

“Who do you say I am?” Matthew 16:15

When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?”—He wasn’t having an identity crisis nor was He feeling insecure about His reputation. He passed out the quiz to see whether or not the disciples had come to grips with who He really was, or, if they too, like the rest of the crowds, had misperceived His true identity.

It’s a good quiz to take, because if you and I don’t perceive Jesus as He really is, we just may get our Christianity twisted and headed in the wrong direction. So ask yourself, “Who do I think Jesus is?”

There are lots of ways to look at the question: theologically, historically, culturally, redemptively, spiritually, or experientially. But for starters, let’s ask in terms of how you perceive Him as a person when He comes to mind. This is not a throwaway issue! How you envision Him has a lot to do with whether or not you’ll want to follow Him. And following Him is at the very heart of a fulfilling relationship with Him.

If you grew up in Sunday school world, you saw a lot of Sunday school papers with pictures of Jesus in a neatly pressed white robe, nice sandals, and a well-trimmed beard. It was easy to draw the conclusion that Jesus is a kind, softhearted, merciful, and deferring kind of guy. And, thankfully, He is all those things. But if that’s all He is to you, He won’t seem very compelling. You might think, “Nice guy, but I’m not sure I’d want to go on a fishing trip with Him!”

Yet a brief look at who found Him to be compelling will correct our often distorted view of Jesus. Rough fishermen like James, John, Peter, and Andrew dropped their nets to follow Him. These were guys who would have had fading tattoos on their bulging biceps, and rugged, sea-worn faces. Simon the Zealot, a member of the underground resistance force, was committed to give his life if necessary to overthrow the oppressive regime of Rome. He traded in his Uzis and fatigues to join the Jesus revolution. And Matthew, the ruthless tax collector, found Jesus a far more compelling option for life than continuing to get rich at other peoples’ expense. Women felt safe with Him and adoringly followed and supported Him.

So, take it from those who knew Him best. They gave up everything and followed Him to a whole new way of life. A life where the power of love is courageous enough to forgive; where the joy of generosity trumps the withering grip of greed; where others’ needs and interests capture the attention of our hearts; where cross-bearing is an honor; where the poor, marginalized, and oppressed find refuge and significance.

So, what do you think of Jesus?

Seeing Him as He really is will make you ready to drop “whatever” in order to follow Him. And, come to think of it, I’d love to go fishing with Him! I might just end up being quite different in a lot of good ways if I spent more time with Him!

Your Journey…

•What has been your impression of Jesus?
•Have you seen Him as so compelling that you are willing to drop anything that gets in the way of following Him?
•Would you forgive for Him? Give your money to the poor and needy for Him? Stop gossiping for Him? Live for eternity for Him? Work well at the office for Him even though your boss is weird and unreasonable?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 19th, 2011 11:13 AM   IP              
Don't Look Back

“They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Hebrews 11:16

Have you ever felt the pull of past comforts, wishing things could go back to the way they used to be?

Imagine how Abraham felt. Having once lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, a highly sophisticated culture in ancient times, Abraham responded to the call of God to move to Canaan—a journey which, quite frankly, had its fair share of rough moments. Like the time when there was a great famine (Genesis 12:10) or when Pharaoh took Abe’s wife Sarah into his palace (Genesis 12:15) or the years that Sarah spent as a barren woman when God had promised to make Abraham’s offspring as countless as the stars (Genesis 15:5) or (déjà vu) the time when the king of Gerar took Sarah into his harem (Genesis 20:2) or—the ultimate test—when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son Isaac (Genesis 22:2).

I can almost picture it: Sarah sitting in her tent sulking, telling Abraham, “Remember back in Ur when I used to meet with all of my friends for tea at 3:00 on Friday? I really miss that. What on earth are we doing out here?”

Imagine if Abraham had said, “I know, I miss tennis with my buddies. Let’s go back.” What if he had caved in to the pull of past comforts and had decided to go back to where life was more familiar and more rewarding? Although God had made some amazing promises to Abraham and Sarah, I can’t help but wonder if in the dark moments they struggled with their decision to follow God.

On our journey of faith, you can count on it—the road will be littered with challenges. And the temptation will be to look back and say, “I wish my life could go back to the way it used to be.” When someone offends you, maybe you say to yourself: I remember when I could not only get mad, I could get even. Or when you’re alone at the computer, you think about the rush of adrenalin you used to feel when you looked at forbidden sites. It’s easy to think of how rewarding it would feel to spend all your money on yourself like you used to. The list of things in your past life that beckon you back is long.

But remember who is behind the urge to put your life in reverse. Satan delights to lure us back into the sludge of life the way it used to be—the toxic dump of what ultimately leads to regret, guilt, and brokenness.

So, while life may seem challenging going forward with God, we need to remind ourselves that in spite of the challenges, God is taking us to a better place. The writer of Hebrews sheds some light on this when, speaking of Abraham and Sarah, he tells us, “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. . . . If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Remember that you are “aliens and strangers.” You’re on a journey, and you don’t belong here in the first place. And remember where you are headed—to a better place. Don’t let the potholes damage your resolve!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•What are some situations that cause you to feel the lure of past comforts?
•Do you feel like an “alien and stranger on earth,” or are you pretty comfortable here? What types of things should make you feel uncomfortable?
•Although they lived thousands of years before us, what can we learn from the journey of Abraham and Sarah? In what ways can you identify with the challenges they faced?
•What are some tangible ways to focus your attention and hopes on what’s ahead, rather than on what’s behind you?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 21st, 2011 12:47 PM   IP              
Jesus, or Me?

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

One of my all-time favorite memories about our kids was the time my then 7-year-old daughter Libby asked, “Daddy, are we famous?” My immediate response was, “No, Libby, we’re not famous.” She thought about it for a second and indignantly said, “Well, we would be if more people knew about us!”

I could hardly contain the laughter. Poor Libby, only 7, and already wondering and worried about herself—whether people liked us, or whether or not a lot of people knew about us! Poor Libby, already tied up in the world of “me”! And, unfortunately, this preoccupation with herself is something she will never grow out of, because we all struggle with the irresistible gravity of “me” and the tendency to live as though life is indeed all about “me”!

But I need to tell you, if life is going to be all about you, then someday you will be bored to tears. Listen carefully: If you think you are cool enough to entertain yourself with yourself for your entire life, you are wrong. I want to be gentle here, but no one is special enough to enthrall themselves with themselves for the rest of their lives!

I’m in my sixties, and I have to admit that I am already getting tired of me. I am tired of trying to deal with the insecurities that have haunted me for years. Tired of the failures in my life that I think I have finally gotten victory over just to have them pop up again. Tired of the carnal way I feel when people talk about their favorite preacher and it’s not me! Tired of looking in the rearview mirror and wishing I had done things differently. Tired of the awkward way I feel on those rare occasions when people praise me. I am just flat out getting tired of me.

But after sixty years I have to say that I never get tired of Jesus! I never get tired of praising Him and hearing Him praised. I still stand amazed at His unusual grace and mercy that He continues to pour out on me daily. As life goes on, I find Jesus to be more adventuresome, interesting, challenging, fresh, and compelling than ever before. I continue to find Him wonderfully different—anything but boring! No wonder Paul said that he counted even the best things about himself like dung compared to the surpassing value of getting to know Jesus (Philippians 3:7-8)!

When we’re young, we’re bullet proof. We think we’ll live forever. But when you get to be my age, you can see your mortality approaching on the horizon. It’s not difficult to see yourself someday sitting alone in the corner of a room at the nursing home waiting for the lunch bell to ring. And, if life has been all about you, that’s going to be a really bad day because there’s nothing left of you that’s worth getting excited about! But if your life has been all about Jesus, it will be a really good day because Jesus will be just as wonderful as He ever has been. And you might just hear Him whisper in your heart, “You’re almost home!”—which would be far better than hearing the lunch bell ring!

You get to choose: Will your life be about Him, or you? Choose Jesus and enjoy the rest of the journey!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•In what ways does your life seem to be all about you—with your money, your relationships, your dreams and desires?
•Can you identify with Joe when he says that if life is going to be all about you, you’ll be bored to tears?
•If your life were all about Jesus, what specific differences would be evident in your friendships, with your enemies, in the way you manage your money, in your family?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   
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 Posted October 22nd, 2011 10:46 AM   IP              
Get a Haircut

“These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” Matthew 15:8

There we were, sitting in the middle of a statewide meeting for ministry leaders when the pastor of a large church leaned over and said to me, “You know, Joe, your hair is too long for you to be able to sing in my choir!” Actually there were probably better reasons that I couldn’t sing in his church choir, but I just smiled and said, “Oh really?”

The guy, who in so many words had told me to “get a haircut,” was a household name in our denomination, was nationally sought after as a preacher, and was what every aspiring minister hoped he could become. So, given how strict he was, you can imagine how shocked I was to later hear that he abandoned his church and family to move in with a woman he had been counseling.

I want to be careful not to sound holier-than-thou, but there is an important lesson here. If we are not careful, we can conform to a bunch of rules that keep us looking good on the outside while ignoring the condition of our hearts. It’s like buying good-looking peaches only to find out that when you cut them open they are bad on the inside.

Jesus confronted this “we’re-OK-because-we-keep-our-rules” attitude when the Pharisees pointed out that the disciples were not washing their hands before they ate. It’s not like the Pharisees were worried about any kind of sanitary issue. No, they had their tunics in a twist because the disciples were breaking a tradition, that is, not following their rules. I’m sure you could have heard a pin drop when Jesus stopped them cold by saying to these keepers of man-made rules, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’” (Matthew 15:7-8). What a gut-wrenching indictment!

So in light of Jesus’ strong words on this point, how do we know when our hearts are far from God? One of the ways we know is when we see our Christianity in terms of the externals. Authentic Christianity is not about the right haircut, being at church every time the doors are opened, serving as an elder or using all of the “Christianese” lingo known to man. You can be all cleaned up on the outside while pride, jealousy, greed, and a dozen other internal demons happily feast on your heart. Let’s remember that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Jesus longs to have a real heart-to-heart connection with us that expresses our love to Him in heartfelt acts of devotion instead of just living a life of dutifully keeping all the rules. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

My pastor friend found that he ended up with nothing when his heart was far from God—no ministry, no family, no devoted relationship with God. Fortunately, he repented and ended up reconciling with his wife. He would be the first to tell you that a true love for Christ cannot be replaced by a squeaky clean record of conduct according to “the rules.” When we let the rules rule, our faith is reduced to something like grocery shopping—it’s just another thing on our list of things to do.

So the choice is yours. Your life can be all about the burdensome duties of your Christianity or about the blessings of a heart that is devoted to Jesus. And, by the way, if your heart belongs to Jesus, the rules will take care of themselves!

YOUR JOURNEY…

•Pray and ask God to give you His perspective on the man-made rules in your life. Does He want you to follow them as a sign of respect to people in authority, for the safety of others, for your own safety?
•Divide a sheet of paper into two columns. List five or six of God’s rules in one column and five or six man-made rules in the other column. How are God’s rules different from man-made rules?
•When you interact with people, are you more concerned with what’s on the outside or what’s inside? How does this compare with God’s perspective?


God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
   



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