Faith In Christ Wins God’s Approval

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A Wink and a Smile

 

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17(NASB).

The bone cancer was winning the battle; Uncle Joe was losing.

After traveling 1,700 miles, my husband and I stood at his hospital bedside. This time when I tried to share the gospel, he listened, which was not only an answer to prayer, but a miracle.

The next day an elderly roommate poked his head around the curtain, wearing a baseball cap that read, “I love Jesus.” With a voice of authority, he said, “Joe, I’d like to tell you about my Boss who I’ve served for over 50 years.” Using his own amazing testimony, Don also shared the gospel. With tears in my eyes, I stifled a smile at how the Lord was working.

Don wholeheartedly loved the Lord. In his 80s, he was still regularly traveling to Guatemala, relying on the Lord for the funds to go and share the love of Jesus.

When a nurse came into the room, the three of us ducked behind the curtain. As I told Don about our prayer for someone to share with my uncle, his eyes widened. When the nurse finished, Don pushed back the curtain and said, “Joe, I’d like to pray over you.”

“Go ahead,” he replied, “but I don’t think it will do any good.” The Lord performed yet another miracle. The three of us laid hands on a stubborn man, whose resolve seemed to be crumbling.

When Don finished, my husband and I laid hands on him, beseeching the Lord for healing and safety on his upcoming trip to Central America.

When we returned from lunch, Don was gone. A cousin commented how one minute he was there and the next he wasn’t. Apparently, Don had checked himself out of the hospital.

For the remainder of the afternoon, my uncle was exceedingly quiet. Being a deep thinker, we’d like to imagine he was contemplating what had been shared, and that the Holy Spirit was convicting him.

After the hospital staff admitted there was nothing more to be done, other than managing his pain, attention was turned toward taking him home.

Aunt Dorothy sat by his bed, the love of 65 years of marriage displayed in her kind and caring eyes. In a weak voice, Joe reached out for his wife’s hand, telling her he didn’t want to go home; he would be a burden to her. With compassion and tenderness, she said, “Joe, why then did we get married, if not to care for one another?”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the full room of family members. He had to surrender, and he knew it.

That night, my husband and I kissed Uncle Joe goodbye, knowing it would be the last time we would see him. He gave me a weak smile and winked at my husband. It was difficult walking away. I wanted to turn back and plead with him to accept Christ, but I knew I couldn’t do that; he’d heard the gospel, and it was the Holy Spirit’s job to convict him, not mine. But at the doorway, I had to turn and look at my dear uncle one more time.

A day and a half later, he passed away peacefully at home in the wee hours of the morning, his wife, two sons, and a granddaughter by his bedside.

We will never know for sure until we are in the presence of the Lord if my uncle accepted Jesus as his Savior. But for now, we will rest in God’s word:

“I know that [God] can do all things and that no purpose of [His] can be thwarted” Job 42:2 (NASB).

 

Unqualified

by Ryan Duncan, crosswalk.com

It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. – Deuteronomy 13:4

Sometimes I feel like, as a Christian, I’m no good. I have no memory for Bible verses, I don’t have any gifts in leadership or preaching, and I’ve done some pretty stupid, not to mention embarrassing, things while trying to serve Christ in the past. In moments like these, I try to remember Gladys Alyward.

Gladys Alyward was a London-born woman who became a missionary to China in the 1930’s. Another missionary named Mrs. Lawson had invited Alyward to China, where the two women would run an inn and tell Bible stories to the passing travelers. Lawson and Alyward were the only foreigners in the city, at a time when Europeans were looked on with great distrust by the Chinese, and not long after her arrival, Mrs. Lawson suffered a severe fall and died a few days later.

Only a few weeks after Lawson’s death, Alyward was approached by the city’s Mandarin. The government had decided to put an end to the ancient practice of foot-binding, and this meant the government needed a foot-inspector, a woman (someone who could invade the women’s quarters without scandal) who would patrol the district and enforce the decree. Though Alyward was now running the inn by herself, she chose to accept the position and used it to minister to countless individuals.

A year after that, Alyward was once again summoned by the Mandarin. A riot had broken out at a local prison, and Alyward was told to calm it. The prison guards had heard of her strange religion and wanted to put it to the test, so Alyward had no choice but to walk into the rampaging prison. To everyone’s surprise, when Alyward called for the rioting prisoners to stop, they did. She told them to select a spokesman for the prisoners whom she could speak with, which again, they did without argument. It turned out the prisoners were confined to close quarters all day, with nothing to do and nothing to eat but food sent to them by family members. Though prison reform was unheard of at the time, Alyward managed to gather equipment the men could use to grind grain, earning them money for food.

As the years passed, the people of the city gave Alyward the name Ai-weh-deh, meaning “Virtuous One.” Her inn expanded to become an orphanage where she cared for over 100 children, and when the Japanese threatened to invade in WWII, it was she who led the children over the mountains to safety. Alyward continued to preach the message of Christ all her life until she died in 1970.

Funny thing about Gladys Alyward: when she first applied to be a missionary, she was turned down. The organization she’d applied for considered her “unqualified” to minister in a foreign country.

God loves unqualified Christians. Look at Peter – a day laborer and a coward. Look at Matthew, who was a tax collector and an outcast. Look at Mary, who the scripture say Jesus cast twelve demons from. Don’t underestimate what Christ can do with your life. Give God one willing Christian, and he can change the face of the world.

 

Take Back Your Life: Look in the Mirror

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. ~ Albert Einstein

WELCOME

Harry Houdini was one of the greatest escape artists the world has ever seen. One of the most famous tricks he loved to perform was to escape from jail cells across the world. Houdini would travel to a city and challenge the citizens to create a cell from which he could not escape. He would always free himself in record time, whether he was in handcuffs, or the cell was triple locked, or he had to scale a wall to escape.

Of course, Houdini had a lot tricks up his sleeve. He would ask to test the lock with the key and make an impression of it using a small box of wax that he kept in his palm. He would then hide the key in his hair or the heel of his slippers. Other times, he was able to have the key passed to him from a friend after reaching his hands through the bars to shake hands with the onlookers. If all else failed, he had a special lock pick made that he could hide in his belt.

However, as one story goes, there was one cell in a town in the British Isles that stumped the great illusionist. Houdini walked into the challenge with confidence. Once the jail was closed, he took off his coat and set to work with his key and lock pick. But there was something unusual about the lock. He worked for thirty minutes with no success. An hour passed, and still he was stuck behind the bars. After two hours had passed, an exhausted Houdini collapsed against the door in defeat… and it swung open.

The citizens of the town had played a trick on Houdini by not locking the cell in the first place! The solution was there in plain sight. It had only been locked in his mind.

Sometimes, we fall into the same trap. We fail to recognize the reality of our situation because what our eyes are telling us does not represent the whole story. We fail to see the solutions in plain sight or are blind to what is really taking place. In particular, as we will discuss in this first session, we fail to see that we are in an invisible war… and that the battlefield for the struggle is located in our own hearts and minds.

 

Love for the Lost

by Inspiration Ministries

“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to … know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.” – Ephesians 3:17-19 NASB

By his own admission, Adoniram Judson had lived a “wild, reckless life.” Born on this day in Massachusetts in 1788, he was raised in a Christian home, but in his youth he became an atheist. Then, suddenly, everything changed.

While staying in an inn, he listened with concern to the cries of a man in the room next door. The following morning, he learned that the man had died. He was shocked to discover that the man was a friend from college. Judson realized that the man was lost forever. But he realized that he, too, was lost. As a result, he gave his life to the Lord.

As he grew in his knowledge of the Lord, Judson became inspired by the message of Ephesians 3 and Christ’s love for the lost. The burden led him to become a missionary.

In 1812 he sailed for Burma, where he spent most of the rest of his life. When he arrived, there was not one known Christian in that land of millions. It took six years for the first convert, but his faithfulness bore fruit. When he died, a government survey indicated that there were 210,000 Christians!

Today, the world needs people like Adoniram Judson, who are motivated by God’s love, ready to share that commitment. Ask God to give you a burden for souls. Dedicate your life to serving His Kingdom.

The Word Of God Is Our Blessing

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Does Your Bible Reflect Your Faith?

“Blessed is the one … whose delight is in the law of the Lord, …” Psalm 1:1,2

Pastor Kevin is a friend of mine from the Bloomfield United Methodist Church. He sends me his mid-week messages by e-mail. One week he wrote:

“On Saturday a dear member of our church died, Pat Miller. She was 84 years old and has been a very faithful, quiet, humble servant of our church. I have been preparing her funeral service and am reading through her Bible. She kept a wealth of information in her Bible. It’s full of handwritten prayers, poems, and a list of monthly scripture readings that she read and checked off each morning.”

Pastor Kevin quoted one of Pat’s handwritten prayers that he found in her Bible: “The purpose of the church is simple: to worship the One True God as revealed in the Bible, to lift up His Son Jesus, and to show the love of God to those who come to worship with us. I pray for the churches that they may increase in membership and that the members may be an instrument of your love. Amen.”

Without a doubt, Pat’s Bible is a reflection of her spiritual life:  a well-used Bible full of personal notes of reflection, a record of her daily reading of God’s Word, and prayers for her church and others.

Pastor Kevin’s story reminded me of a woman I sat next to occasionally in church nearly 40 years ago, at a time when I was not serious about my faith. Her name was Louise. She always carried her Bible with her to church. (I never carried a Bible. Sometimes I borrowed one from the pew.) She always turned to the passages when they were read in the service. (I didn’t bother with that.) She knew where all those passages were without looking at the index! (I was impressed.) And she didn’t hesitate to write in her Bible. (I was taught never to write in books, especially the Bible.)

Louise and her Bible — it’s an indelible image in my mind. It was black, leather-bound, larger than most Bibles, King James Version. When Louise put on her reading glasses and leafed through the pages to find a Scripture, it was obvious she had been there many times before. Her Bible was tattered and dog-eared, with passages underlined or circled, and tiny notes written in the margins in various colors and shades. Bookmarks and little scraps of paper stuck out here and there. In short, her Bible was well-used, and I could see the results in her Christian walk.

I’ll be honest with you. I was envious of Louise, her Bible, and her faith. I wanted what she had without spending the time. God uses that image of Louise like a poke in the ribs sometimes. He is saying:  “Spend more time in the Word!”

When it comes time for Louise’s funeral, her pastor could preach a great sermon on her tattered Bible and the notations found within its pages. She lived her life based on the Word of God.

 

A Messy Life for God

By: Sarah Phillips, crosswalk.org

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:9-11

Have you ever read the biography of a great Christian, a man or woman who dedicated all to the Lord, and felt inferior? I have. It seems I am too normal and too flawed to live such a life. I am not as bold as St. John the Baptist or as eloquent as St. Thomas Aquinas. I don’t have a radical story like Mary Magdalene, or a dramatic calling from heaven like St. Paul.

And yet deep down, I yearn to imitate “the greats” – those who loved God so much, it spilled over into every aspect of their beings. So, I was encouraged when I cracked open one of my Christmas presents this past weekend – a book titled The 33 Doctors of the Church by Fr. Christopher Rengers — to discover that some of the most noteworthy Christians in Church history were quite normal.

The book’s title doesn’t refer to the kinds of doctors we associate with medicine but profiles those Christians who, over the centuries, proved themselves to be exemplary docere  (Latin for “teachers”) of Christian doctrine. Familiar names like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are among this group, but so far one obscure Doctor stands out to me: St. Gregory of Nazianzus.

Born in 4th century Asia Minor to a family of devout believers, Gregory enjoyed blessed beginnings – excellent education, financial comfort, and great Christian friendships. But like St. Nicholas, Gregory faced a Church fraught with controversy and confusion from the Arian heresy. By the time Gregory was ordained a priest in his 30’s, so many had fallen away from true faith in the divinity of Christ that an alternative Arian church hierarchy had been established.

The faithful needed bold teachers of the truth to help them understand Christ’s real identity and to heal the wounds of division. But “bold” didn’t exactly describe this sensitive, reluctant saint. Gregory suffered from great inner turmoil over his vocation as a pastor, feeling his zealous father had pressured him into being ordained. Only after months of solitary prayer following his ordination did he embrace the responsibilities of his ministry.

Even after Gregory accepted his calling, he struggled throughout his life to accept certain leadership roles, often retreating into solitude to study or in some cases, nurse wounded emotions. One of his greatest struggles occurred when his best friend, St. Basil, appointed Gregory bishop of a very undesirable region, leaving Gregory feeling exiled and useless. The damaged friendship between these two great men never fully healed.

In spite of Gregory’s weaknesses and relational rifts, God worked through his sensitive and solitary nature to raise up one of the greatest theologians in all of history. St. Gregory played a key role in converting powerful Constantinople from the Arian heresy, risking his life to shepherd the pathetically small community of believers. While other theologians wrote formal, lengthy treatises on Jesus Christ, Gregory was gifted at integrating and articulating truth in a way that reached both the scholarly and the unscholarly. Fr. Renger writes that he made “true doctrine live in the minds of his audience,” and the result was a flourishing church where the faith had once almost been lost. Renger goes on to describe Gregory’s lasting theological influence on the early Church:

“St. Gregory of Nazianzus was given the title of ‘The Theologian’ or ‘The Divine’ (the theologian) because of his skill and eloquence in upholding the truth of the Divinity of Christ. The title did not have the more exclusive meaning it now has, but it attests to his reputation in the early Church… History has given this title only to St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. John the Evangelist. In the case of St. Gregory, perhaps it is God’s way of giving earthly glory to a man who had shunned glory, who hated pomp and display and whose life was marked by recurring flights to the world of solitude, as well as by somewhat pathetic returns to the call of insistent duty.”

Gregory’s orations and writings inspired and influenced scholars for hundreds of years after his death, and we still use some of his key words when describing the profound relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit today.

Reading about St. Gregory’s life has given me much to ponder about living for God. Gregory, like so many other faithful Christian heroes, was a normal man with real emotions. Yet God worked through the messiness of life to accomplish great things through him. While Gregory’s sensitive spirit may have been a shortcoming in some arenas, it became one of his greatest strengths in bringing the Gospel to the world.

Gregory’s story is also a reminder that there is no utopian Christian community, no perfect pastor or church unaffected by sin. Even the “greats” had relational problems. At the same time, God often works through fellowship with one another to help us reach our full potential.

 

Staying on Track

by Inspiration Ministries

“I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words … guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” – 2 Timothy 1:12-14 ESV

Paul was concerned about the spiritual condition of Timothy, his young friend. He knew Timothy could drift into error in many different ways.

A central way to stay on track is to be confident about one’s beliefs. Paul demonstrated this confidence in his own life, declaring that he knew “whom I have believed.” He knew that Jesus would guard him. Paul urged Timothy to have the same level of confidence.

How was he to do this? He reminded Timothy that he had been given a “pattern of sound words.” This pattern applied to every part of his life – his thoughts and actions, his decisions and relationships, his travels.

This pattern was given “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (v. 13). Timothy needed to have a relationship with Jesus. And his actions needed to be inspired by faith and love, not just a sense of duty or obligation.

Further, Paul reminded him of the presence of the Holy Spirit. He dwelt within Timothy, and He also “dwells within us” (v. 14). The Holy Spirit can “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Timothy needed to be sensitive to the presence of the Spirit.

This pattern applies to all of us. Make sure that you are confident about what you believe. Know whom you have believed. Develop your relationship with Jesus, and stay sensitive to the presence of the Spirit.

God Will Provide. Don’t Worry

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God Provides

I was barely high enough to peer over the shiny, yellow, laminate countertops in my grandmother’s immaculate kitchen, but it was homemade-noodle making day, and I was overjoyed as I took my rightful place next to her on a worn, red, metal foot stool.

“Always make sure the eggs are at room temperature,” she reminded me as we took turns cracking them into the bright blue earthenware bowl.

The smells of the wonderfully cooked Italian food, glorious food, lovingly prepared by my tiny grandmother in her homespun kitchen are still unmatched today, and those memories remain some of my most cherished!

Being from a large Italian family, all of my favorite and important memories involve food. Banquets and feasts were the centerpiece of every holiday, birthday, and simple Sundays. My grandmother wanted to feed everyone. She loved people with food. Making others happy with food gave her joy. She would bring food to all her friends, cook for those who were sick or just in need of a little TLC. She was always prepared. To her, it was a crime to not have a freezer full of “just in case” lasagnas, and canolis for company!

I believe this is a “no getting around it” inherited trait of just being Italian, at least in my family. I too live to feed everybody and everything. The ducks on the lake outside my home know that all too well.

To me, there would be no worse feeling than to not be able to provide food for my family or being unable to feed my children.

I thought about the children of Israel. While they were endlessly wandering in the wilderness, they needed to fully rely on God to provide food (manna) for them each day. They were not allowed to take any more than a single day’s portion, and if they did, it would rot immediately. There would be no “just in case” food, no “what if God forgets to send it tomorrow” food! They had to have blind faith in what they did not see and wholeheartedly trust they would be able to go out each day and collect fresh food for their children. They had to believe a new day’s supply would be sent to nourish them by God from Heaven.

They had to trust that God would provide!

In Mark 10:36, Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

God is so simple in His love for us. He just wants us to trust him. He asks us to tell him what we need. He says we have not, because we ask not.

By commanding the Israelites to not collect any more food than they needed for one day, God was asking them to totally rely on His merciful grace—the grace that can only come from Him. His grace is sufficient to take care of all we need on any given day.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV), the Lord told Paul,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul’s response was to “boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Sometimes we look ahead—and the mountains we face and the trials and storms that engulf us, seem overwhelmingly impossible to manage. But then God shows up again with a daily helping of His amazing grace and a fresh batch of heavenly manna and says, “Trust me, we will get through this together today, I will be back tomorrow and we will handle tomorrow then.”

When we are weak, He is strong!

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Matthew 6:25 (NIV)

Playing Second Fiddle

By: Stephan Sanders, crosswalk,com

“Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.” (Rom. 12:9-10, MSG)

Shortly after I decided that I wanted to write a blog post on this passage of scripture, a funny thing happened. For the second time this week, I received a work email from one of my fellow employees titled, “free Hanover Tomatoes in the break room!”

Now, as a lover of all types of tomatoes, especially those of the Hanover variety, I got this email and quickly rushed down the steps to the break room where I found a couple more of my work mates. With a speedy “hey guys,” I made a beeline for the table where people place all the free stuff.

As I opened the bag and reached inside, I discovered that there was just one delicious Hanover tomato left. I reluctantly picked it up and turned to toss the bag in the trash when one of my colleagues exclaimed, “Aww man! The last tomato?!?!”

“Here you go, man.” I said. After all, I still had a delicious Hanover tomato in the fridge from earlier that week.

He said, “No. I can’t. It’s fine, man.”

“No really,” I said emphatically, “please take it.”

“OK. If you say so,” he said. As I walked towards the door to head back upstairs, he said, “Wait. Here you go, man. It has a couple holes in it anyway.”

“Are you sure?” I replied as I reached out for the delicious Hanover tomato. “I’m positive”, he said, “I mean, you may want to slice it up or put it on a sandwich or something like that.”

“You guys are embarrassing me,” said my other workmate jokingly.

When we “play second fiddle”, or as the ESV says, “outdo one another in showing honor”, the world around us takes notice. It’s the defining mark of a Christian and ultimately what causes us to shine. Sure it might make things a little awkward or uncomfortable for everyone involved, but what’s so wrong with that? I mean, isn’t that kind of the point?

Just think about it; the Bible tells us emphatically that our walk with Jesus is one where we empty ourselves and then fill ourselves back up with Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul was always talking about how it was no longer he who lived but Christ and that he actually died daily to be a follower of Jesus. Even Jesus Himself states that His followers are those who deny themselves and even lose themselves for His sake.

Denying your wants is not an easy thing. It may, in fact, cause you a lot of stress. After all, what happens if you give and give until you have nothing left?

In Matthew 6:25-34 (MSG), Jesus provides a remedy to our anxiety on this matter:

“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.

Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion – do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even seen – don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works.

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

 

Soldiers for Christ

From: InTouch ministries

1 Timothy 6:11-16

In today’s passage, Paul tells a young pastor named Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). But this command isn’t limited to pastors; every believer needs to be a faithful soldier of Christ. That’s because we’re all in a battle—not against people but against spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12).

This war began when Satan and other angels rebelled against God. Then Satan tempted Eve to disobey the Lord as well. As a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, the earth was cursed, and the entire human race was corrupted by sin. Ever since that day, the battle for truth and righteousness has raged.

Although we may often feel overwhelmed by temptations and deceptions, Jesus modeled the path to victory when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). He used only one weapon to refute each enticement and falsehood—the Word of God.

This is the same powerful weapon our heavenly Father has given us to fight the good fight. When we view daily battles biblically with full reliance on the trustworthiness and authority of Scripture, we can flee sin, pursue righteousness, and stand firmly for the truths of the faith.

 

Loving Beyond Labels

“A new commandment I give to you, t.t you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34 (ESV)

Pinterest ImageGrowing up, I switched schools several times, so starting over was a normal part of life for me. The thing I never got used to was trying to make new friends.

While I might’ve been noticed and labeled as “Lynn, the new girl” the first time it happened, that’s where the acceptance ended. The girls I went to school with saw me as that label, not “Lynn.”

I felt invisible.

And then as spring gave way to summer, and the sweltering heat rolled in, a moving truck pulled into my neighborhood and parked across the street. I saw a couple of girls my age pop out of the truck.

I couldn’t believe my eyes! For the first time since moving into this neighborhood, there were girls who would be my new neighbors! I decided I would no longer be “Lynn, the new girl.” I would be “Lynn,” and I would be their first friend.

Marching up to my bedroom, I pulled out my orange- and white-striped shirt, the one with “LYNN” screen-printed in bold, block letters. Slipping it over my head, I bravely made my way across the street, practicing exactly what I would say. After I rang the doorbell, a heavy door opened, and I boldly proclaimed to the girl who answered the door, “Hi, I’m Lynn.” (How creative!)

That summer, I offered to these new friends who moved to our town exactly what I wish I had when I began my new school and attended our new church: acceptance.

Looking back, I’ve learned a big lesson from that brave little girl in her “LYNN” shirt. She taught me I might be a little too comfortable now and that other people with labels need to be loved and accepted for who they are, too.

Jesus modeled this best and without fail. He showed us how to love others without any conditions based on the labels the world gives. By leaving the comfort of His home, His family and His neighborhood, He demonstrated what it means to truly love. The same way He unconditionally loves and cherishes us, we are to love and cherish others.

Today’s key verse says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

Loving others is easy when they fit into our comfort zone.

But what about when that’s not the case? When it requires us to step out of our comfort zone? Then it’s harder.

But the truth is, every girl, every woman —
no matter where she’s from,
no matter her skin color,
no matter her label,
no matter how different she is from me
— needs and deserves to know that as God’s creation, she’s loved and cherished. There is not one condition behind that truth.

But friends, there’s more to our assignment. We can’t just talk the talk; we’ve got to walk the walk. Let’s not just tell our neighbor we love her; let’s live it out and show we love her.

Let’s do what Jesus did when He came to earth. Let’s go into homes. Share meals. Listen to one another. Pray together. Make T-shirts that spell our names in big, bold letters (OK, maybe not that, but I had to throw that idea in there).

This starts in the heart and in the home. Our children need to know that because they’re unconditionally loved and cherished, they can love and cherish others, too.

One Day We Will See God

I know that my Redeemer liveth,and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

Job 19:25-26, KJV

 

 

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My Daddy’s Face

“Where is daddy’s face?” asked my six-year-old granddaughter. “I can’t find him!”

The child turned over random puzzle pieces, examining the details for clues. The puzzle had been a gift created from family photos, each image representing a favorite memory.

Shrugging her little shoulders, Cassie added, “I know he’s here! I just need to look harder.”

“Look, Cass, is this your Daddy’s eye and nose?” I asked, holding up a piece.

“Yes, yes, I see him!” my sweet grandchild answered.

“Let’s keep looking until we have daddy all together, Cassie.”

I was reminded that sometimes I, too, have searched for my Father’s “face” among the disassembled puzzle pieces of my life. I’ve even cried out, Where are you? In those times of darkness, I have had to trust and remember who my Heavenly Father is. Like Cassie, I need to look harder for evidence of God’s presence, instead of fixating on the unsolved problem. It seems to be human nature to painfully focus on what is wrong, those missing pieces.

Yet we have assurance that God has not abandoned us:

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below — indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans 8:38-39 (NLT).

What an all-encompassing promise!

Exodus explains that God’s face is hidden from view because He is so holy:

“But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live” Exodus 33:20 (NLT).

The Bible is explicit. God is not withholding his presence because he is an unkind Father, but He is so sinless that we could not survive a face-to-face encounter. Thus, enters Christ. He is why we can have relationship with this Holy God. Through the sacrifice of Christ, the penalty for our sins have been laid to rest, absolved, on the cross. Father God can now see us as forgiven and perfect in His sight!

We have been given the promise of seeing Father God face to face in heaven. As the song title says, “I can only imagine …” what that will be like.

“And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there — no need for lamps or sun — for the Lord God will shine on them” Revelation 22:4-5a (NLT).

I will then be perfected, and though in awe, I’m sure, I will see Him clearly, face to face.

Even when I feel like young Cassie, searching for my Father’s face, I can say with the confidence of a child, I know He is with me. Look for His presence around you. Listen for His voice, and watch for evidence in all ways. As you search for your Spiritual Father in the middle of your unsolved puzzle, know He is near. You can encounter His presence.

“Come close to God, and God will come close to you, …” James 4:8 (NLT).

His desire is to comfort you with great love and compassion. Look up from your despair, and He will show His face when you need it most.

 

Cold Soup

by Ryan Duncan, crosswalk.com

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. – Mark 12:30

A while back, some friends and I went out to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Now, I’m not much of an adventurous eater, but that day I decided to try something new and ordered a soup called, “Vichyssoise.” I now know that Vichyssoise is a thick soup made of puréed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream, and chicken stock. Also, it’s traditionally served cold. Maybe I’m just not cultured enough to appreciate this unique delicacy, but in my opinion, cold soup tastes horrible.

After one spoonful I was trying to find a creative way to spit it out without my friends noticing. The meal did make me think though, about what the Bible says about cold and lukewarm Christians.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. – Revelation 3:15-16

It’s funny how a bowl of soup can make you reflect on your life as a Christian. As I mulled over my actions in the past year, I realized how far away from God I had really moved. I had let my faith become a daily routine, like brushing my teeth or doing laundry, I had let my passion grow cold. God wants us to change the world, if only in our own small ways. Keep your heart and mind centered on Christ, don’t let yourself grow cold.

 

Using Spiritual Gifts

From: INtouch, ministries

1 Peter 4:7-11

Any person who belongs to Christ has received a spiritual gift for God’s glory and the good of the church. Serving the Lord is not a suggestion but a command. When we waste the opportunity, we deprive both ourselves and others of the service God intended for us to provide.

In today’s reading, Peter separates the spiritual gifts into two categories: gifts of serving and speaking. However, within these two groups are an endless variety of ways service for Christ is put into action. Even if two believers have the same gifting, they will express it in unique ways—and with different results.

We should remember that though there are a variety of gifts, ministries, and outcomes, the Holy Spirit is the source of them all, and God is the one doing the work (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). For instance, the teaching gift has a wide range of applications. It can be used by one person to instruct toddlers while someone else uses it to teach seminary students. Both uses are essential in God’s eyes and bring Him glory.

God doesn’t rank the spiritual gifts, so never think that yours isn’t important. What He desires is faithfulness in employing it.

 

Life Insurance

by Inspiration Ministries

“’You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:20-21 NASB

Millions of people have life insurance policies. But according to recent data, when benefits become available, more than one-quarter of these policies go unclaimed. Many people do not realize that, if they take no action, they receive no benefits.

Some have failed to notify companies when they move. One insurance company recently reported that it did not have current addresses for 400,000 policyholders. Another could not locate 1.2 million policyholders.

It has been reported that in one year alone, trustees took custody of $22.8 billion, but less than $1 billion was claimed. Many never received the funds that are due them.

Clearly, some people are foolish about their insurance. They are like the rich man whose land was “very productive” (v. 16). He tore down his barns and built larger ones. But he was trusting in his resources.

He said to himself, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” God called him a “fool.” He had stored up treasure for himself but was “not rich toward God” (v. 19-21).

What kind of spiritual life insurance policy do you have? Are you trusting in the things of this world? Or are you trusting in God? He wants you to have peace and receive all the blessings He has prepared for you. Be sure to invest in His kingdom and then claim your inheritance.

God Heals and Binds Our Wounds

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The Peas of God

fresh peas and carrots

 

By far, the best thing about being an adult is that you finally get to make the rules. Nobody can force you to make your bed or rake the yard (well, except for your spouse). When I turned 21, the first adult decree that I made disavowed any future culinary relationship with peas.

I hate peas. I always have. As a child at the dinner table, I remember hiding them in napkins or even under my tongue in order to put them in the trash later. Now, my co-workers watch me in bewilderment as I dismantle a pasta entrée or specialty soup by picking out all of the peas one by one. I won’t start eating until every pea is accounted for and properly disposed.

I simply don’t like the taste of them. So as an adult, I don’t eat them.

If only we could do the same with what we want to consume out of life. I can think of a few things that I would take out of my day if I could. I am sure you can too. Whether it is traffic, bills or an unshakable insecurity, it seems as though God relishes in handing us a giant plate full of vegetables that we can’t stand.

Want to know something interesting about peas? According to nutrition experts, peas are quite good for you. They are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and a number of other valuable nutrients. They also provide much-needed protein. Who knew that these tiny little pods could hold so much goodness for your body?

Hardships are a bit like peas in that way. They’re tough to swallow, but do your soul some good. Every irritation is slowly strengthening your patience. The disappointments that you experience can hone your expectations and teach you to see things through an eternal lens. Failed relationships and dashed dreams are stepping stones toward better opportunities down the road. Everything – the good, the bad, and downright nasty – is working together to make you a better person, as it says in Romans 8:28.

You may be facing a figurative bowl full of peas right now on the table of your life, and I can’t blame you for turning up your nose in disgust. However, perhaps it helps to think of these trials as enrichment to the health of your soul. Let your pride go on a diet, and allow God to feed you the foods that will sustain you through any difficult situation.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18, NIV)

 

Living with Need

by Ryan Duncan, crosswalk.com

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6:34

It all began with an enormous doctor’s bill. Over the past few months I had been trying to do a better job at budgeting my finances. This had never been one of my strong points, but slowly, surely, I felt like I was starting to make progress toward becoming a true, independent adult. Then the doctor’s bill came. Aside from putting a huge dent in my finances, what made things even more frustrating was that I began to recall the appointment in question.

The doctor had been almost two hours late and had left me waiting in one of those small service rooms, convinced I’d die of old age before he arrived. After that, there had been the tetanus shot that left my arm feeling stiff and sore for the rest of the day. Now I was looking down at a small piece of paper that told me I was expected to pay a ridiculous sum of money for the inconvenience of both. I decided the first thing to do was pray and ask God to help me with my finances. Once I had finished, I began flipping through my Bible for some sense of assurance.

I finally landed on this verse in Philippians:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. – Philippians 4:10-14

This was not the answer I had hoped for. No one likes being told to tighten their belt, and as I began cleaning up my apartment I couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed at God. Midway through my work, I realized I had just enough food in my pantry, my rent was paid, and my car hadn’t died on me yet. So maybe I’d have to eat leftovers for a few meals or spend an evening reading instead of going out, so maybe I was living with a little bit of need; I had a lot more than many.

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the ways God has blessed our lives. We worry about what we don’t have, instead of looking around and acknowledging what God has already provided. So when times of need start to make you worry, remember that God will always provide, though not always in the way you might expect.

 

The Holy Spirit’s Gifts

From: Intouch ministries

1 Corinthians 12:1-31

Look into any healthy church, and you will find believers who are actively serving the Lord as well as some who are not. But Christ’s church was never meant to resemble a sporting event with a few participants on the field and many spectators in the stands. Although some may be uninvolved because of apathy, there are many Christians who just feel inadequate. But a believer’s limitations are no excuse, because God has provided everything we need to serve successfully.

On our own, every one of us is ill-equipped because human strength and talent are insufficient for service to God. Therefore, the Lord has given each of us specific divinely empowered abilities called spiritual gifts to use in doing the work of Christ. We can’t choose for ourselves what our gift will be; this is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit. He alone knows exactly what He wants to accomplish and enables each of us accordingly.

The Spirit’s gifts are to be used for the common good of the church. Though given to us, they’re intended for the benefit of others. Our responsibility is to start serving, and in doing so, we will begin to discover how unified the body of Christ really is.

 

Unclaimed Inheritance

by Inspiration Ministries

“I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples.” – Leviticus 20:24 NKJV

Government agencies in the United States recently reported that they are holding more than $60 billion in unclaimed property and missing money. In fact, California alone was holding nearly $5 billion in unclaimed property.

These funds have accumulated through unreported changes of address, name changes after marriages or divorces, clerical errors, and other situations. Funds include unclaimed tax refunds, benefit checks from Social Security, mortgage refunds, pension benefits, and bank accounts.

Year after year, these funds continue to accumulate. Yet millions of men and women are not even aware that this money exists and that the government is holding money for them. They just need to claim it.

In a similar way, many Christians have not claimed the inheritance God has prepared for them. We see this when God told His people that they would inherit “a land flowing with milk and honey.” But they had to take action. They would not receive their inheritance unless they took possession of the land. Many did. But some did not.

Today, realize that God has prepared untold blessings for you. But you need to “possess the land” to claim your full inheritance. Don’t be ignorant of how much God desires to bless you. And don’t be content with less than all God has prepared for you. As you read His Word, realize that all of His promises are true for you right now.

May God Comfort Our Souls

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Comfort My Soul

woman-disbelief-driving_si.jpg

 

It was my fault.

Questions swirled as I drove to the top of the Interstate exit ramp toward the hospital to visit my eighty-three-year-old widowed mom. “Congestive heart failure” rang in my ears.

Will Mama be safe living alone? Would she move in with us? Will the new meds help?

Deep in thought, I steered my Camry the wrong way onto a one-way street—straight into the headlights of a young man’s car.

I stared through the cracked windshield in disbelief. Thoughts flashed like lightning: I went the wrong way! Is he hurt? Why isn’t he getting out? It’s my fault. What should I do?

Guilt and fear captured me. My head throbbed in rhythm with my heart.

I cried, “Oh, please help me, Father God. Look what I did. Please let that man be okay. Help me, Father.”

Although I stood on wobbly legs when I exited the car, a sense of calmness soothed me. While I watched the other driver and the policeman who observed the accident walk toward me, my heavenly Father whispered assurance as if to say, “I am here. All is well.”

The external situation did not change. Traffic backed up and people gawked. My car, pointed in the opposite direction of the one-way arrow, announced, “It was her fault.” Deep inside, something did change. Peace replaced panic because of the One who stood beside me.

God didn’t arrive at the scene of the crash; He was there all along, ready to tend my troubled state. The balm of His presence relieved the flames of fear that engulfed me.

Months later, when my mother met Jesus face-to-face, the Lord soothed my heart again. Since the accident and Mama’s death, I’ve thanked God numerous times for His relief and answered prayer. When troubling news or a challenge careens down mental streets threatening to crash into my contentment, I often confess, “Father, I need You. Please help me.”

When I experience His willingness to exchange my unrest for His solace, I proclaim,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation …” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NKJV

The author of Psalm 66 also remembered the way God nurtured his soul. Perhaps he yearned to shout with joy and beckon those he knew to listen when he wrote,

“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul.” Psalm 66:16 NKJV

Maybe the psalmist recalled Yahweh’s peace in fearful times or deliverance when enemies advanced. Surely, like us, he encountered daily challenges which prompted him to testify of God’s care.

Like the psalm writer, in the face of trials and challenges, believers can turn down the one-way street of prayer to seek the “God of all comfort.” Regardless of the roadblocks we face or the errors of our ways, His consolations are limitless.

We could compose our own song of praise in a journal or in prayer to thank God for caring for our souls. What do you remember about the times God cared for you? Do you need His reassurance today? Like the gel of an aloe plant relieves sunburned skin, the balm of divine comfort quiets anxious hearts.

 

What Are You Drunk On?

By: Shawn McEvoy, crosswalk.com

And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” – Acts 2:12-13

“These men are not drunk, as you suppose,” Peter told the bewildered crowd at Pentecost. “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.” The Holy Spirit had been poured out, and I’ve always found it fascinating that its effects could be mistaken for the pouring out of, shall we say, less holier spirits.

To be sure, the Bible instructs Christ-followers to be “sober-minded” (Titus 2:61 Corinthians 15:34). And there’s honor and maturity in a steadfast, stoic reaction to life’s trials. But then there’s this fantastic scene in Acts that just fills me with tiny bubbles of delight. There’s so much joy and power and overflowing involved with the Holy Spirit that, sometimes, well, we Christians just seem a little bit crazy. Flipped-out. Punch-drunk. Downright giddy.

And who wouldn’t like to see more of that side of us these days?

Reflecting on this kind of Spirit-trusting, God-leaning fun reminds me of my three summers as a Christian youth camp counselor. The labor was hard but not in vain. The purpose was evident. The craziness was everywhere. “Go nutso-Picasso,” our Director would say, and show these kids that being a Christian isn’t some droll, fun-killing existence, but something real, life-giving, sustaining, and joyous.

And indeed it was, and is. My closest friends and I had an odd high school experience, in that we had a hard time understanding why our peers found it so fun and/or necessary to involve alcohol – illegally – in their weekend plans. We were having more laughs and fun than we could imagine without any drugs. What were we filled with? Why didn’t we need anything else?

Later, when I worked at camp, one of the things we would do is create a video of each week for the students to take home with them. One of the features on each week’s video was a “blurb” from one of the counselors, an off-the-cuff, from-the-heart snippet of encouragement. I recently found the videotape from the week I was interviewed, and my response reminded me so much of what today’s verse means to me, what real life under the guidance and excitement of the Holy Spirit is about. Here’s what I said:

I think so many times in our youth groups back home we get tired of hearing the same things: don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex. And that’s good advice to be sure, but why? So many kids here at camp and the ones I knew growing up weren’t doing these things anyway; don’t we have any more to offer them? Do we have any explanation for what is filling them, and what they can do with it? It just seems to me that those I’ve come across who are involved in these so-called “greater sins” are often engaging in them just to fill a void caused by, maybe, disobedience to parents, rebellion, lying, or a poor self-image. So what I like to do is show them that Jesus has given them everything they need to be content, secure, high on real living. And it takes a lot of energy to do that, but I find that the energy is there when I need it, and anyway, if it means leading a young person to the Lord or just reconciling someone to their parents, hey, that’s worth it.

 

The God Who Sees Me

‘You are the God who sees me.’ She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?’” Genesis 16:13b (NLT)

I received the long text and read it slowly. Then I read it again. She accused me of saying things I never said. She assumed words I’d written on social media were about her when they weren’t.

I sat stunned.

She didn’t want to meet or talk it out. She was ending our friendship completely and asking me to never contact her again.

A cry of injustice rose inside of me. I felt misunderstood. While I wanted to call a friend to “vent,” I knew I needed to allow some time to pass before doing something that would likely fall into the gossip category.

“Do you see this, God?” I muttered aloud as I sat in my van in the school parking lot waiting for my daughter. I knew the answer. His name is El Roi, the God who sees me.

The Lord revealed this name to a woman named Hagar in the Bible. She was an Egyptian servant who worked for a barren woman named Sarah. Sarah decided to have a child by asking her husband to sleep with Hagar. Sarah then mistreated pregnant Hagar to the point that she ran away to the desert.

I understand Hagar’s urge to run away. I have felt it many times. But through the name El Roi, we discover that in our lowest moments, someone sees us. God sees our pain. He hears our cries.

After the Lord sent an angel to encourage Hagar, we find these words: “Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.’ She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?’” (Genesis 16:13).

We’re never alone because we serve a God who sees us. We can rest knowing God is never unaware of what we are going through. El Roi saw Hagar, but He didn’t promise a quick fix to all her problems. He sees us, but He also sees the larger picture outside of the constraints of time.

Sometimes God calls us to have a boundary and walk away from abuse or mistreatment. At times, others set the boundaries, and a relationship we want to keep is over. In other situations, God calls us to stay the course. He asks us to persevere in a difficult marriage, work situation or church conflict with a new perspective, holding onto His promises.*

When I’ve been in a season of betrayal or difficulty, such as the day I received that very long text, I have wanted God to just fix it. Have you ever felt that way? While El Roi sees our mistreatment, we have to trust His instructions since He sees the bigger picture.

God knows when we cry buckets of tears and aren’t even sure why we are sad. He celebrates victory with us when we master a new skill or forgive a difficult person. He sees us on those blah days when all we feel is numbness. He might not instantly fix every predicament we encounter, but we never have to doubt His presence. We are never alone because El Roi is the God who sees.

 

Without Criticism

by Inspiration Ministries

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally and without criticism, and it will be given to him.” – James 1:5 MEV

The Bible makes the remarkable statement that God desires to give us wisdom – discernment to understand situations and people and insight to make the right decisions. In fact, He can give us this wisdom in abundance, “liberally.”

But there are conditions. First, we must ask Him for the wisdom we need. Many people count on their own experiences or focus on the world’s experts. We need to remember that God promises a generous outpouring of wisdom when we ask Him.

Second, we need to be patient. This is so essential that the Bible tells us we should “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” because the “testing of your faith produces patience” (v. 2-3 NKJV). We need this patience, so we can take our time to study His Word, pray, and listen carefully.

We need to ask in faith, believing Him when we ask. We need to be single-minded, asking “without wavering” (v. 6). We cannot expect to receive an abundance of wisdom if we are “double-minded” (v. 8). We must be resolute and focused.

He also promises to give us this wisdom “without criticism.” In short, “He will not rebuke you for asking” (NLT). We are to “ask and keep on asking…Seek and keep on seeking… Knock and keep on knocking” (Matthew 7:7 AMP).

Cry out to God for the wisdom you need. Focus on Him. Don’t allow doubt to creep into your heart and mind.

Be Careful Of Greed and Envy

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Pry Those Clinging Fingers

I moved my mother to a new, downsized apartment. Like most of us, her money is tight. At times the process involved careful sorting and packing; other times demanded chucking things in boxes or in the trash. At the end of the move, the walls were bare and wounded with nail holes and plastic drywall anchors; the carpet lay lined and pocked with impressions of once-arranged furniture; and the windows stood stark and vacant against the sunlight. The furniture and decorations that once made it home were gone, leaving only an empty shell.

Throughout our lives we may go through some phases with great care and others with wild abandon. And at each phase of life, we will leave the previous one behind—like a place that was once home but is now gone, like an empty apartment.

At death we may leave behind money and furniture, but the life we lived—the space we took up on this earth, the “us” that people knew—will be gone, empty as a moved-out-house.

No matter how sentimental, or wounded, we may be about the past, we must leave it as we enter a new phase of life. A wise person will cling to nothing, and live according to what’s ahead. In a way we all know this, and my talking about it is clicheish. But humans have an innate tendency to cling. We fill our closets and garages with stuff we’ll never use again. We hold on to nostalgic versions of memories and edit out the unhappy parts. We want life to keep going the way we like it.

But we can’t do that forever.

Jesus tells a parable of a guy who was a lot more similar to many of us than we’d like to admit. The story goes like this:

“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21 NIV).

If we cling to our stuff, we’ll only get into trouble—both in this life and the afterlife.

Not clinging takes unending attention. None of these come easily: not clinging to old toys and the piles of stuff that too often defined who we were; not clinging to comfort zones, hurt emotions, and the way things used to be.

Like a rented apartment, our lives may seem like our own, but ultimately they are not. We live and breathe in the hands of God, who created us. When our life’s lease is up, all we leave behind will be emptied of us.

The Apostle Paul similarly calls believers to let go of our stuff. The more we let go of here, the more we can expect to receive in the place God has prepared. Here is the amazing promise:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV).

 

Paying Attention to How We Live

By: Charles Stanley, crosswalk.com

Luke 12:16-21

One day we’ll give an account of ourselves to the Lord (Romans 14:12). We must, then, pay attention to how we live.

The rich man in Luke 16:19-31 made the tragic choice of living for himself without regard for the Lord. He also made two other mistakes.

First, he invested everything for himself and nothing for the life to come. When we are blinded by our own desires and personal satisfaction, it is easy to become lukewarm about spiritual matters. We forget that this life is not all there is. Scripture tells us to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth. Where our treasure is reflects where our heart is (Matthew 6:19-21).

The rich man’s other mistake was to prepare everything for himself and nothing for others. Crumbs falling from his table (v. 21) were the only form of assistance he gave a poor man named Lazarus. The one who had much wealth did not share it with the one who had little. Jesus explained what our priorities should be to love the Lord wholeheartedly and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27).

We see the rich man’s mistakes repeated in another parable. This time a wealthy man builds bigger barns to store crops so he will have plenty for the future. God calls him a fool for such shortsightedness (Luke 12:20).

The Bible repeatedly warns us to pay attention to spiritual matters—the Lord is to have first place in our lives and be the center of our affections. He urges us to store up heavenly treasure by caring for the lost and hurting people around us. On whom is your attention focused?

 

The Rich Fool

 

Scripture Reading — Luke 12:13-21

“[The rich man said,] ‘I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool!’”
Luke 12:19-20 —

A fool! That’s what God calls the person in today’s parable.

That may seem a strange way to describe someone who would have been the envy of many people in the community. The man had worked hard, putting in long hours, and it had paid off. He was set to enjoy the fruit of his labors. He was going to “take life easy” and “eat, drink and be merry.”

When you work hard all your life and you have built a suc-cessful business or career, along with some good investments, haven’t you earned the right to take life easy and enjoy your retirement? That’s how the rich man reasoned with himself.

The Bible makes clear that God does not begrudge his people the rewards of a life well lived. He does not call the man a fool because he was rich. God was the one who allowed him to be successful. God called the man a fool because he had stored up things only for himself. Instead of recognizing God’s blessing and working to build God’s kingdom, he had been building his own.

Many people are like the rich fool, willing to sacrifice almost anything to get ahead, trusting in money and status for their security and leaving God out of the picture. Take a few mo-ments today and ask yourself, “Would God call me a fool?”

 

The Parable of the Rich Fool

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (vv. 20–21).

– Luke 12:13–21

According to Jewish custom, rabbis could settle legal disputes when it came to the division of property between heirs, and that explains why the man described in today’s passage came to Jesus to get a share of his brother’s inheritance (Luke 12:13). But what is immediately striking about this passage is that Jesus did not take the opportunity to exercise His right to judge between the two brothers. Instead, the encounter provided Him with an opportunity to speak a parable warning about covetousness.

One of the most remarkable things about the Ten Commandments is that God includes in it a law against a covetous disposition (Ex. 20:17). If we were to come up with a law code, we would not likely put such a rule in place; rather, we would focus on external sins such as murder or theft. But our Creator’s adding a law against covetousness represents a profound understanding of human nature. Untold destruction of families and nations has been wrought as a result of an individual’s unlawful desire to possess that which rightfully belongs to another. Wars between nations typically begin because one side wants something that belongs to the other. In fact, covetousness is actually one of the primal sins of humanity. Adam and Eve coveted the knowledge of good and evil—they wanted for themselves what was proper only to the Creator—and so they grasped for it, plunging the universe headlong into ruin (Gen. 3).

Covetousness manifests itself in a lack of gratitude and generosity. There is nothing inherently wrong with being wealthy or seeking to increase one’s prosperity. The danger arises when we make riches our chief end, when we are never satisfied with what we have but think that acquiring more stuff will make us happy. That is what we see in the parable of the rich fool. The rich man did not stop to thank the Lord for his prosperity. He was dissatisfied with what he had and wanted bigger and better barns so that he could hold even more. He strove to acquire more and more because he prized self-sufficiency instead of a life of dependence upon God. He did not seek to help the poor, and thus failed to show trust that the Lord would continue to provide for him (Luke 12:13–19).

What was the end of this man? God judged him for his idolatrous treatment of his wealth (vv. 20–21). People who are impenitently covetous will be likewise condemned for their lack of thankfulness and generosity.

The Sign Of Jonah

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The Sign Of Jonah

From: Crosswalk.com

 

As the crowd pressed in on Jesus, he said, “These are evil times, and this evil generation keeps asking me to show them a miraculous sign. But the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” – Luke 11:29

People who struggle with faith sometimes say that, if they could have actually seen Jesus at work and heard him with their own ears, they would not have any problems believing. As understandable as this may be, it is probably not true. Some of the people who saw Jesus at work and who heard him speak still struggled with believing! They argued with him over what he had said, they were dissatisfied with the miracles he performed, and they kept asking him for more miraculous signs.

Jesus’ response to their lack of belief is enlightening. He saw their attitude not so much as a struggle to believe, but as a symptom of “evil times” and an “evil generation” (Luke 11:29). He was convinced that his contemporaries had been given more than enough evidence that he was who he claimed to be. Their unbelief was not an unfortunate or unavoidable lack of faith—it was an outright act of wickedness. They chose not to believe and demanded further signs.

One day, Jesus said that there would be no more signs except one—“the sign of the prophet Jonah” (11:29). Jesus’ listeners were familiar with the story of the prophet. When God commissioned Jonah to head in an easterly direction to preach to the city of Nineveh, Jonah intentionally headed west to Tarshish. But not for long! God hurled a storm at the ship, and Jonah was hurled overboard by the reluctant crew when they discovered he was responsible for their plight and when rowing and praying hadn’t worked for them. Then a large fish swallowed him and regurgitated him three days later. When God again told Jonah to go to Nineveh, there were no arguments! Jonah arrived in Nineveh and preached as he had been told. He made quite a stir—revival swept the city.

Perhaps some of Jesus’ listeners understood what Jesus meant by the “sign of the prophet Jonah,” but many of them certainly did not. So to give them another hint, Jesus added, “Someone greater than Jonah is here” (11:32). He was referring to himself. And the sign that he would bring—the sign to end all signs—would be like what happened to Jonah. Jesus would go down into death (rather than into the sea), would be buried for three days (in a tomb rather than in a fish), and on the third day would rise from the dead (by his own power rather than by being spit out). Thereafter he would show himself openly and preach the Good News of the kingdom. That was the final sign, which in Jesus’ opinion is more than adequate as a basis of faith for all men at all times.

The issue for men today becomes, “How do I respond to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?” Christianity stands or falls on this tenet of the faith. If Christ is risen, he is all he said he was—the Messiah, the Son of God, the eternal king. If he isn’t risen, he’s dead—and irrelevant. Either way, we don’t need more signs. We need to choose to believe what the evidence clearly shows. To refuse to believe is simply wickedness.

 

The Sign of Jonah

“He answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah’” (v. 39).

– Matthew 12:38–42

A Christian and his friend, who did not know Christ, were discussing Jesus and His claim to be the only way to the Father (John 14:6). The believer humbly shared the Gospel with his friend to no avail. “If only I could see Jesus do a miracle,” the non-Christian said, “then I would believe Him.”

Such conversations have occured repeatedly throughout history, beginning with Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees. In today’s passage, these scholars, no doubt enraged at His harsh words about them (Matt. 12:1–37), ask Jesus for “a sign” (v. 38)—a miracle that unambiguously demonstrates the messianic anointing of Jesus. Apparently, what He has done so far is not enough to convince these men. In their minds the Redeemer’s works of deliverance could be attributed to Satan (v. 24). Even if this is not true, they do not think the exorcism of demons is so special since their disciples can also deliver people (v. 27).

The request is not necessarily wrong in itself; God gave Abraham a sign to confirm his faith (Gen. 15). But Jesus knows nothing can convince the scribes and Pharisees. They only seek more ammunition to use against Him. Besides, Jesus will not “bark on command,” nor will He satisfy their whims (Matt. 12:39). Matthew Henry comments, “Christ is always ready to hear and answer holy desires and prayers, yet he will not gratify corrupt lusts and humors.”

Jesus does, however, promise the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (v. 39). Many first-century Jews believed the Ninevites repented when Jonah preached because they knew God spoke through him, and they knew this because they knew God saved him from drowning (Jonah 1:17–3:10). Similarly, Jesus’ resurrection, which is like Jonah’s rescue (Matt. 12:40), also signifies God’s vindication of Him and affirms the truth of His words (Rom. 1:1–4). Yet even this miracle will not be enough to make Jesus’ hard-hearted contemporaries believe (Luke 16:31).

On judgment day, the generation that rejects God’s Son will be condemned by the Ninevites and the “Queen of the South” (1 Kings 10:1–13Matt. 12:41–42). Ironically, these pagans turned to the true God, but most Israelites, who will see the greater sign of their Lord’s resurrection, will not believe.

 

The Beautiful Work of Restoration

In 2006, Steve Wynn, an art collector and real estate developer from Las Vegas, put his elbow through an expensive Picasso he owned, while showing it to friends. According to NPR, the painting was scheduled to be sold within days of the damage for $139 million to his friend Steve Cohen. A restorer said the painting would only be worth $85 million after restoration, but that didn’t stop Steve Cohen from buying it for $155 million, topping his original offer by $16 million.

Maybe you’re scratching your head like the rest of the art world. Why would someone pay more for a damaged piece? Because apparently, Cohen knew what God also knows:

The WORK OF RESTORATION is considered a work of art all by itself.

In other words, when something (or someone) is restored, the value actually increases. Think about Peter’s story of restoration. He denied the Lord Jesus three times after adamantly declaring to Him and everyone around that he would never do such a thing. I think what is so relatable about Peter’s story is how he wept bitterly after realizing his failure.

I’ve been there.

I’m sure he thought he was too far gone to ever be used by God again. And then Jesus did something beautiful. After revealing Himself to Peter and a few others on the shore after His resurrection, Jesus said,

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
He said to him a third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” (John 21:15-17).

For the same number of times Peter had denied Him, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” And like a brush stroke of restoration on a damaged canvas, Jesus revealed Peter’s value.

We find a similar illustration in Ezra in the rebuilding of the temple. The Bible says the old men who had seen the first temple (that had been destroyed) wept bitterly when the new foundation was laid while the younger men shouted and rejoiced. Why did the older men cry? Because when God restores what has been broken, lost, or stolen, it reveals value.

And the same is true of you and me — we were all once lost, broken, and separated from God (some of us multiple times). But our God is a great Restorer. And whereas the enemy has made us feel like there’s no way God could ever use or want us again, the opposite is actually true.

BECAUSE you’ve been restored, your value is exponential in God’s eyes!

I pray just as Jesus revealed to Peter the great value and calling he had on his life, you too realize today your great worth to the kingdom of God.

 

Honor

by Inspiration Ministries

“A decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.” – Luke 2:1 NASB

After Octavian became Rome’s undisputed leader in 27 BC, the Roman Senate pondered the question of how to honor such a man. They decided to change the calendar, so his name would ring throughout history. Octavian had taken the title Caesar Augustus, o they renamed the eighth month August.

Even now every time we say August, we recognize the man who ruled Rome when Jesus was born. Every time we read the account of His birth, we are reminded that He was born in Bethlehem as a result of a decree from Caesar Augustus.

Many people focus on achieving this kind of recognition and fame and seek to have monuments built to celebrate their accomplishments.

People may seek these earthly rewards, but God has a different perspective. Jesus told a parable in Luke 14 about guests who were invited to a banquet. Some immediately sought to sit in “the places of honor” (v. 7), feeling they deserved special recognition. But Jesus taught that the right response was to “recline at the last place” (v. 10).

Instead of exalting ourselves, we are to humble ourselves. Realize that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 11).

Jesus taught us to “seek the honor that comes from the only God” (John 5:44). Be sure you focus on serving Him. Humble yourself before Him. Seek first His Kingdom. Give Him all the glory and honor

From Darkness To His Marvelous Light

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Where’s Nemo?

“We should name him Nemo,” I teased as we lowered our goldfish into the backyard pond. But then, there were those two cute dots at the base of his tail and two bigger dots on his fins.

“How about Duce?” my husband suggested.

“Perhaps Dos?” I countered.

And so, it was decided; his name would be Ducy-Dos. We were happy and so was our goldfish, but that changed the day of the accident. While we were cleaning the pond, Ducy-Dos tumbled into the pump housing.

For weeks, I kept the pump lid off, waiting to catch a glimpse of Ducy-Dos. I placed a net pondside, so I’d be able to take decisive action. I tempted our goldfish to surface, enticing him with tasty snacks. After three months of frequenting the pump housing, hoping to save our fish, I positioned the lid back into place.

“Honey, don’t give up so fast.” my husband encouraged.

“He’s not coming out of there.” Unable to retrieve Ducy-Dos, I had concluded our prized fish was dead.

“But we prayed …”

My husband’s words, “but we prayed,” echoed within me like a soft hammer. Sure. We had prayed three months ago, when the accident first happened. So why hadn’t I sighted our beloved fish on the first day we had prayed? I was convinced our prayer was too trivial for God’s ears. Besides, why should He retrieve our fish when I should’ve been more careful positioning the pump lid?

But then, there was the lightning storm and subsequent power failure. When the pumps switched off, I raced to the edge of the pond to make sure they would start correctly when electricity was restored. Sitting in the rain, listening to the thunder, I thought about Ducy-Dos. But we prayed. My husband’s words echoed in my heart once again, along with the scripture that nothing—absolutely nothing—is impossible for a holy God.

“… nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Matthew 17:20b

Scripture echoes the same sentiment in I Peter. Because I am the Lord’s, I am:

“a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” and I should be able to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called… [me] …out of darkness into his marvellous light.” 1 Peter 2:9 KJV

Ducy-Dos, if alive, was very much in the dark. But, wasn’t I as well? I wasn’t putting faith in the words I had spoken to God. I needed to believe He could raise Ducy-Dos out of that pump housing. I wanted to tap into the realm of God and be different — yes, peculiar — because of my faith. I surrendered my little fish to the Lord and trusted Him to give or take Ducy-Dos at His will. I was at peace, even while the rain pelted me, drenching my clothing through to my skin.

To my utter amazement, when the power came on and the pumps re-started, a big gulp of water, air, and algae came spouting into the air, and with it our beloved fish! Ducy-Dos landed splat into my open hands, which by reflex I grasped onto tightly.

“Ducy-Dos!” I cried, examining him as if he was a newborn babe. His color was faded, but other than that, he was unharmed. We renamed our goldfish Nemo and thanked God for this unusual answer to prayer.

Friends, never give up on something you’ve prayed about. God has a wonderful way of granting surprises because He is good, and He loves you. Make the decision to praise Him even when you’re experiencing the storms of life.

Thank You, God, that with You, all things are possible through prayer.

 

The Dip Swimmer

by Shawn McEvoy, crosswalk.com

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  – James 4:4-6

August is often monsoon time in Tucson, Arizona. The rains can come quickly, bringing flooding to dry ground not primed to soak them up. He always looked forward to that time of year, to the brief respites from the scorching zephyrs. But not this year. This year was his “nowhere year,” the one between high school and college, the one where he lost sense of self, God, and purpose. Most of his friends had gone to school or summer projects. He himself would finally do so in just a few weeks. There was excitement in that knowledge, but also much apprehension. All he had known was Tucson. All he had was there. His best friend and his girlfriend and his family — he’d be leaving them behind.

The leaving was becoming even more difficult because there were rifts growing. His girlfriend had requested a break because, among other things, he had begun to put on weight. Things weren’t good between them. In fact, things weren’t good anywhere. This was supposed to be one of the best times of his life, but all he felt was lost, left out, and lethargic. The weather wasn’t helping. Neither was the fact that his Triumph TR6 convertible, the one he had received from his dad, the original owner, had finally died. He’d gone from driving that prime machine to a hand-me-up, dented Volkswagen Dasher from, insult of insults, his younger sister. His parents had opted to provide her a more reliable vehicle, a shinier, newer, cuter Honda Civic. It took him a long time, sad to say, to get over that.

On this night, he was also house-sitting for a friend of his mother’s. It was a depressing apartment, containing two very depressing dogs. One was very old and mostly blind, and would spend each night spookily wandering from room to room. He would wake up and see it stalking the halls as if in trance. Freaky. The other one was a three-legged little mutt who was so scared of him that the very reason he was housesitting became obsolete! Every gentle attempt to let the dog out created so much fear in the animal that it would do its business in the process of running out the door, meaning he not only had clean-up duty, but still had to convince the frightened critter to come back inside!

So basically, he was bummed. Bummed and lonely. And the last thing on his mind was the Lord, even though he’d known Him for 10 years. He knew he had to get out of there and gain some perspective. Maybe Jay was around. His house wasn’t too far away from Dog Central. He decided to try his luck in the monsoon.

As soon as he got to the Dasher, he should have known it was a bad idea. He’d left his windows down. He sat down anyway, right in the puddle of rain and dog hair and his sister’s ancient cigarette ashes. At least the car started. He pulled it out onto Alvernon Road, and headed south toward Grant.

Grant Road, when he got there, no longer looked like a street. It was a rivulet. I don’t know why, but he pulled out into it. For a while, the old wheezy car made its way slowly through the water. But eventually, it could go no more. He’d killed it. He stepped out into knee-deep water and looked to the heavens. A couple guys who were standing uphill in a shopping center watching the action helped him push the Dasher out of the street and up into the lot. Suddenly he heard shouts of joy and glee. He turned his head in time to see two kids in an inflatable raft cruise down a side street and out onto Grant, laughing all the way. Nice. Did anyone else want to mock him?

Well, what next? He had no cash, no coins. No cell phones in 1989. No ATM nearby.

There was only one thing to do: walk the rest of the way to Jay’s house. Why not? He couldn’t suffer much more, could he? It was a good 25 blocks. He’d gone about 24 of those in the rain when it was finally starting to let up. But through the parting drops he saw that he made yet another error in judgment. Rather than staying on the main road, where there was a bridge that crossed over a wash, he had taken a side street that dipped right down into it. It was going to mean another half hour if he backtracked, so he made his umpteenth stupid decision of the night. He tied his shoes around his neck, waded into the dip… and swam to the other side (kids, don’t try this at home. He got lucky the current wasn’t strong).

Emerging, he imagined himself as the creature from the black lagoon. Only several more houses to go. He knocked on the door. Jay’s mother answered. She looked confused, then concerned, then sprang into action. “Oh my goodness! Get in here!” She got him towels and something hot to drink, and let him know Jay wasn’t home yet. He was out on a date. She was going to bed, but he was welcome, as always, to wait up for Jay.

He sat in a dark corner of the living room, wondering how in the world he had sunk to this. He heard a key in the lock. He saw his best buddy enter, saw him notice a blob sitting in the corner, saw him realize he’d seen no car outside. When Jay recognized his pal, he paused, looked more closely, then… burst into laughter.

What happened next was an all-night conversation that would change both their lives. The gist of it was, “We’ve been giving lip service to our God and our church for a long time now. We’ve been part of this great youth group, but at heart we both know we love the popularity more than the fellowship. We’ve talked about the guys in our group who we know are authentic, who really study, really live the Word. Maybe it is time for us to be that, too? Maybe it’s time to stop sinning and start taking Christianity seriously?”

Yes. We decided it was. In the morning the mercy was palpable and freeing. We went to the bookstore and bought a study guide on James. We drove up to Mount Lemmon, just outside the city, praising the Lord on the way and praying once we got there. With James’s help, we decided to begin with practicality. We put away childish things. We took our eyes off ourselves, and we recognized that God had been active in answering prayers we’d prayed over a year ago (flippantly though they were spoken) that God would get our attention, develop in us humilty and patience, and a genuine idea of what following Jesus was about.

Relatively speaking, we didn’t suffer much, though our achings were deep and real for the time. God put us on our knees, gently but firmly, and turned us around, which is the essence of humility, repentance, and restoration. The Dasher was definitely dead… but we were alive

 

Perseverance

by Inspiration Ministries

“A wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” – 1 Corinthians 16:9 NASB

“Do you really expect to make an impression on the … great Chinese empire?” This seemed like a logical question to US President James Madison when he was visited by Robert Morrison in 1807. Morrison answered, “No, sir, but I expect God will.”

Morrison was on his way from England to China, where he would become the first Protestant missionary to that country. He knew challenges would be great, but that God could do all things through him.

Even though confident, he experienced enormous difficulties in China, including strong opposition. But, like Paul, he persevered. He struggled to learn Chinese but eventually mastered both Cantonese and Mandarin, even translating the Bible into those languages.

When he died, on this day in 1834, he knew of only three native Christians throughout China. But his pioneering work opened the door for other missionaries and led to the salvation of thousands of souls.

You may face difficulties. You may wonder if there ever will be fruit or an impact from your life. If you have doubts or questions, remember the examples of Robert Morrison and Paul. Both faced many adversaries but persevered. They stayed faithful to complete His call. They kept believing, obeying God, and sowing seeds for the Gospel.

If you face challenges, don’t give up, but persevere. Keep praying for the lost and for people around you. Stay faithful to the tasks to which God has called you.