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God Has Given Us Good Things

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Anything and Everything

by Shawn McEvoy, crosswalk.com

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?Romans 8:32

When my children were but ages five and three, they already knew my weakness.

They recognized that it’s not ice cream, baseball, or their mom’s chili… or even a hug or puppy-dog eyes from them.

See, none of the above make me cry (although the chili almost did once). Yes, my children have seen their father cry. It’s not something I wanted, or intended. I’m a man, after all. I go to work, show my strength. I coach, help, show, point, and guide. I communicate, discipline, and lead. I pray. I do not cry.

…Except when I read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, that is.

And like I said, my children, who are older now, have known this from early on. And oh, have they twisted that knife. We must own a couple hundred children’s books, but if it’s a night where Daddy is doing the bedtime reading rather than Mommy, what have they invariangly picked through the years? The Giving Tree of course!

I’ve been reading this book, first published in 1964, since I myself was a child, and no matter how many times I do, I am unable to de-sensitize. I mean, when I watch the movie Field of Dreams and Ray has a catch with his ghost-dad, that gets me. But if I see the scene over and over within a certain time frame? Nah. No sweat, no tears. But this blasted children’s book… well… what’s going on here?

First of all, you’re probably wondering that very thing if you aren’t familiar with the story. A tree and a boy are the best of friends during an idyllic childhood for the young man where he eats apples from the tree, climbs her trunk, swings from her branches, and rests in her shade. Then things change, as things do, and we see the boy approach the tree at all the various stages of his life, caught up – understandably, even – more in wanting and needing than in just being. Every time he has a “need,” the tree obliges… and is happy for having done so. She doesn’t have much, but gives all she has until eventually, she is nothing but a stump. At the end of all things, however, it turns out a stump is just what the old man needs – a quiet place to sit down and rest and reflect. “And the tree was happy. The end.”

And I am undone… again.

Is it because I am reading the story to my children, and I know our stories will be very much like that of the tree and the boy, where they are my delight but eventually I must simply become provider as they go out into the world? Yes and no.

Is it because our family copy of the book – the one I read to the kids – carries an inscription from my wife on our first Christmas that says, “With God’s help, may I love you like this”? Yes and no.

Is it because as my father lay dying I told him of the story (he wasn’t familiar with it), and how he had been that tree for me? That’s definitely part of it. My mother, I remember, commented that she didn’t recall it being a “Christian” book. I didn’t really have an answer to that, only to what I saw in it. Which is…

Complete love to the point of emptying. Unquestioning sacrifice, even for someone who isn’t appreciating or understanding what they’ve been given. A desire only to have communion. An entering into final rest. In other words, a perfect example of the immensity of what Jesus did for me, desired from me, provides for me, and will carry me to.

That is why I always cry.

So every time I finish the story, eyes full of tears, my kids look at me wondering if I’m okay. My youngest used to ask, “Why you cry, Dad?” And every time I’ve explained, I think she has understood just the tiniest bit more. These are tears of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the Giver and the immensity of a gift to a person consumed with self-interest who has forgotten innocence. A short time ago these children opened their hearts to receive that gift. Now I pray that they won’t miss the other lesson from the book: all our Giver really wants in return is our time, for us to come to Him as we did as children.

Choosing Honor When I Feel Dishonored 

By: LYSA TERKEURST, crosswalk.com

“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Hosea 10:12 (NIV) 

I remember one day when I got an email that started, “Shame on you.”

Lovely.

And of course, it came on the same day I had some technical issues messing with my workday along with a little attitude situation involving a family member.

But instead of firing off the initial email response my flesh wanted to send, I stopped and lifted up a simple and honest prayerWhat is the deal, Jesus? Why do I always seem to have little pieces of brokenness in my life every day? It’s so frustrating. I need Your perspective on the brokenness, or I need a break from it. There was no answer. No instant verse. Nothing.

Until the next morning. With a tired heart, I sat once again at my farm table and opened up my tattered and worn Truth Book. And there, in the book of Hosea, God had wisdom my heart desperately needed. Wisdom I want us to break down together today:

“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you” (Hosea 10:12).

Sow righteousness for yourselves …

In other words, we must sow righteousness into our lives — right choices that honor God. We must make these choices. Choose to honor Him in the midst of it all. Even when we are dishonored, honor Him still.

Reap the fruit of unfailing love …

There will be fruit in the midst of every choice that honors God. It will be the fruit of God’s unfailing love. Remember, Romans 8 teaches us that nothing shall separate us from the love of God. Yet, that is Satan’s great tactic — to get us entangled in things that make us forget or doubt God’s unfailing love.

We resist the enemy’s distracting entanglements by honoring God with the choices we face right now.

Break up your unplowed ground …

Pain and heartbreak are hard. But I’m learning we must not resist the blessing of brokenness that tills the ground of our hearts. Breaking up the unplowed ground of our hearts makes them ready for new life, new growth and new maturity that can’t be found any other way.

For it is time to seek the Lord …

We must seek God like never before. And part of seeking Him is allowing for grace space in our lives — granting God’s grace a space in our minds, our hearts, our lives. When circumstances of life leak us dry, we can see this emptiness as an opportunity. Instead of reacting out of emptiness, we can choose to see that this emptiness is the perfect spot for a space of grace in life.

And as we give grace to those who don’t deserve it, the mercy jars of heaven will lavish it back on us.

The showers …

I love this part. This is where we see growth. We begin making more right choices that honor Him. We start looking at life, people and annoying circumstances differently. And we even dare to whisper, “Thank You,” when the need for grace spaces comes again and again.

I don’t know what kind of frustrations or heartbreak you face today, sweet friend. But let’s decide right now we’ll give our hearts permission to grow in fertile soil by making right choices that honor God. Let’s make space for grace. And then let’s watch God work in our hearts and lives in ways we never would have dared to ask.

Father God, help me trust Your love for me enough to choose to act contrary to my feelings and simply walk in Your Truth. I know living according to Your ways yields a harvest of blessings. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Streams in the Desert – January 21

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

None of these things move me (Acts 20:24).

We read in the book of Samuel that the moment that David was crowned at Hebron, “All the Philistines came up to seek David.” And the moment we get anything from the Lord worth contending for, then the devil comes to seek us.

When the enemy meets us at the threshold of any great work for God, let us accept it as “a token of salvation,” and claim double blessing, victory, and power. Power is developed by resistance. The cannon carries twice as far because the exploding power has to find its way through resistance. The way electricity is produced in the powerhouse yonder is by the sharp friction of the revolving wheels. And so we shall find some day that even Satan has been one of God’s agencies of blessing.
–Days of Heaven upon Earth

A hero is not fed on sweets,
Daily his own heart he eats;
Chambers of the great are jails,
And head winds right for royal sails.

–Emerson

Tribulation is the way to triumph. The valley-way opens into the highway. Tribulation’s imprint is on all great things. Crowns are cast in crucibles. Chains of character that wind about the feet of God are forged in earthly flames. No man is greatest victor till he has trodden the winepress of woe. With seams of anguish deep in His brow, the “Man of Sorrows” said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation”–but after this sob comes the psalm of promise, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

The footprints are traceable everywhere. Bloodmarks stain the steps that lead to thrones. Sears are the price of scepters. Our crowns will be wrested from the giants we conquer. Grief has always been the lot of greatness. It is an open secret.

The mark of rank in nature.
Is capacity for pain;
And the anguish of the singer
Makes the sweetest of the strain.

Tribulation has always marked the trail of the true reformer. It is the story of Paul, Luther, Savonarola, Knox, Wesley, and all the rest of the mighty army. They came through great tribulation to their place of power.

Every great book has been written with the author’s blood. “These are they that have come out of great tribulation.” Who was the peerless poet of the Greeks? Homer. But that illustrious singer was blind. Who wrote the fadeless dream of “Pilgrim’s Progress”? A prince in royal purple upon a couch of ease? Nay! The trailing splendor of that vision gilded the dingy walls of old Bedford jail while John Bunyan, a princely prisoner, a glorious genius, made a faithful transcript of the scene.

Great is the facile conqueror;
Yet haply, he, who, wounded sore,
Breathless, all covered o’er with blood and sweat,
Sinks fainting, but fighting evermore
Is greater yet.

–Selected

Thank God Your His Goodness

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A Little Bunny and a Big Peach

We have a baby bunny that can fit in the palm of my hand. She’s a great pet. She costs nothing, requires little care, and gives us joy every day – she lives in our back yard!

The other day Kristi put out a peach from our tree for the bunny. The bunny was munching away on our green grass, as usual, until she caught a whiff of the fresh peach! She made her way over to the peach, which was just in front of our sliding glass door where we were watching. She put her nose on the peach and smiled. She looked all around her to make sure there were no crows or cats. And then she took a bite!

Oh! How tasty! Much better than grass! With obvious delight, the bunny ate up the peach until all that was left was the pit. And she licked her hands to get the last bits of juice. Then with her stomach totally full of sweetness she stretched out on our sun-warmed concrete patio and smiled, “Ahhhh!”

As I was thinking about the baby bunny eating the peach I remembered the prayer of the Psalmist:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

I realized that the Lord had given me a parable and I sensed him whisper to my heart … Will you delight in me like the bunny delighted in the peach? When you savor the sweetness of my Word to you and my Spirit in you, like the bunny thrilled over the peach, then you will be filled with my love, joy, and peace.

But sometimes you’re so busy grazing on grass that you don’t even see the peach of my presence in your midst. Other times you’re so worried about crows and cats that you miss out on eating the peach that I put out before you.

Relax! I’m watching over you. And I give myself to you. Hop over to me. Taste and see that I am good.

Yes, Lord, I want to be as the little bunny – trusting your protective care, free to play and explore, observant to discover the gift of your grace, delighting in your deliciousness. As the bunny was captivated by the peach, may I be captivated by you, O Christ! Fill my thoughts. Be my one desire.

Oh, that I’d be as the man you talked about Jesus …

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44 (NIV)

Jesus, knowing you as my King is the treasure of life! And the field that you are buried in is my heart – what joy it is to discover you alive in my heart! I give up everything for the treasure that you are to me! I give up doing things for myself. I give up doing things in my own strength. I seek your kingdom first and only.

In all that I do today – as I type these words, as I eat lunch with my son in a few minutes, as I clean the kitchen, as I do my work for today, as I greet Kristi and our girls when they return from Marci’s baby shower, as I take pictures of David and his date before prom, as I enjoy dinner and the evening with Kristi, as I pray from the Psalms – may I delight in you with me. Jesus, you are the peach that pleases me!

May Jesus be the peach that pleases you today and every day!

 

Looking Through the Right Lens anuary 20, 2021

By: SHARON JAYNES, crosswalk.com

 

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV)

I sat in the dimly lit room with soft music wafting through the air and began to relax. No, this was not the prelude to a romantic evening with my husband. It was the aftermath of my yearly eye exam!

If you’ve ever had an eye exam, you’re familiar with the refraction test the doctor uses to determine if you need glasses, and if so, what prescription is right for you. You place your face up to a tool called a phoropter, and then the doctor flips down the first lens, then another, while you say which of the two helps you see the letters on the eye chart more clearly. Lens one or two? Lens three or four? Which one is better?

The eye doctor’s vision test made me wonder if I was looking at my life through the correct lens. Was it possible to flip down a different lens and see a better story?

The Apostle Paul was a man whose physical eyesight waned with the passing years, but his spiritual eyesight remained exceptionally clear. During his time preaching the gospel, he was flogged, whipped and stoned many times. He had been shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, outcast and ridiculed. Several times, he was in lockdown in one place or another. Some of his life was spent under house arrest in Rome, as well as chained to a guard in a dirty dungeon — all for preaching the gospel. And yet, it was during one of those stints in prison that Paul wrote the most joyful book in the New Testament: Philippians.

“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NIV)

Lens one or two? Paul didn’t see himself as stuck in prison because of Jesus; he saw himself as stationed in prison for Jesus. He didn’t see himself as chained to a Roman guard; he saw the Roman guard as chained to him. The guards had to listen to Paul talk about Jesus day in and day out. Paul had time to write letters to all the churches, something he might not have done had he been free to travel.

Paul also wrote, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16, NIV, emphasis added). Who put him there? From the outside looking in, it appeared the Roman rulers put him there. But from the inside looking out, Paul knew God had positioned him there. He didn’t see himself as stuck at all. He considered himself stationed. And because he was looking through the right lens, he had joy even in a difficult situation.

I wish this was my perspective all the time, but it’s not. It’s a struggle. I pout, get huffy and become downright discouraged when my plans fall apart or people don’t respond the way I’d hoped. But after settling down, I try to remember to flip the lens and look at my circumstances through the sovereignty of God rather than the selfishness of Sharon. And that gives me a better story. Not because the storyline changes, but because my perspective does.

 

Let not your hearts be troubled

‘Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.’ John 14:1

Suggested Further Reading: John 16:1–15

Let me say it ought to be a great deal easier for you and me to live above heart trouble than it was to the apostles; I mean easier than it was to the apostles at the time when the Saviour spoke to them and for forty days afterwards. You say, ‘How was that?’ Because you have three things which they had not. You have experience of many past troubles out of which you have been delivered. They had only been converted at the outside three years; they had not known much trouble, for Jesus in the flesh had dwelt among them to screen off troubles from them. Some of you have been converted thirty—forty—what if I say sixty years, and you have had abundance of trouble—you have not been screened from it. Now all this experience ought to make it easier for you to say, ‘My heart shall not be troubled.’ Again, you have received the Holy Spirit, and they had not. The Holy Spirit was not given, as you remember, until the day of Pentecost. His direct government in the church was not required while Christ was here. You have the Spirit, the Comforter, to abide with you for ever; surely you ought to be less distracted than they were. Thirdly, you have the whole of Scripture, they had but a part. They certainly had not the richest Scriptures of all, for they had not the evangelists nor any of the New Testament, and having, as we have, all that store of promise and comfort, we ought surely to find it no hard work to obey the sweet precept, ‘Let not your heart be troubled.’

For meditation: Have you ever wished you had been a contemporary of the Lord Jesus Christ and an eyewitness of his life on earth? That would have been an experience to be valued and never to be forgotten (John 1:142 Peter 1:16–181 John 1:1–3). However, he pronounced a particular blessing upon those of us who have trusted in him without having seen him (John 20:29). We too are able to love him and experience great joy in the midst of trials and temptations (1 Peter 1:6–8).

Covenant Prayers

by Inspiration Ministries

“Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice … call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” – Psalm 50:5, 15 NIV

God reminded His people, “the world is mine, and all that is in it” (v. 12). They needed to realize the vastness of His resources and to understand that He didn’t need their offerings. His concern was their attitude, their heart. He called them to fulfill their vows and show gratitude by sacrificing thank offerings.

He had a different perspective on the wicked. Through their lives, they demonstrated hatred for His instructions. They were filled with deceit. They thought they could get away with impure actions or hide behind religious acts. But God knew everything they did and said.

To understand God’s perspective, we need to grasp His holiness and understand the importance of His covenants. He was calling out to the “consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” He also called on them to pray with boldness and to be so confident that they would “call on [Him] in the day of trouble,” sure that He would deliver them.

Bold prayers were not an imposition but a demonstration of their faith and confidence. They could be bold when they realized that He keeps His promises and honors those who understand His covenant relationship.

When we enter into a covenant relationship with Him, we take His Word seriously. Standing on His promises, we can be bold in prayer and confident that He hears us and will answer.

God Wants Us To Know Him

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The Eternal Quest

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All of collective humanity, throughout all time and every age, at some point and time is on an eternal quest to find some meaning or reason for our existence. We are each, in our own way, driven to find the true meaning of life.

To the hedonist, life is seen as finding its greatest meaning or reward through some new source of pleasure. Pleasure to those so-minded is in and of itself a reason for existence. Yet one can never find true meaning in this way; for in the final analyses, the lust for some new experience is both its own reward and curse. The senses become overwhelmed by the pleasure of sensation in whatever form it may take. Lust in all its forms only gives birth to greater lust, and this in and of itself is only a form of slavery. Cursed indeed are those who find themselves enslaved to their passions.

We have all known the pain or sorrows of life: the loss of a loved one, the pain of sickness or disease, that hopeless desperate feeling engendered from within the human heart, that for whatever reason leaves us feeling isolated, alone, and out of control. What human soul has never experienced the helpless feelings of desperation that such times bring? At such times our hearts are gripped with fear as the very ground of our existence becomes shaken to the core.

If life teaches us anything it is that it is constantly changing. One can never be sure what is coming. Things are never all bad or good. Our lives are like train tracks for side by side we face both the challenges of pain and sorrow alongside the wellsprings of hope and meaning. I would submit to you that we all have that great fundamental need to find some reason that goes beyond ourselves for our existence and meaning.

I would submit to you that what we are all looking for is not to be found from within our own hearts or life experience. The human soul is capable of being puffed up by an overestimation of our own worth or pulled down by the weights and sometimes the emotional and physical chains that life brings.

The eternal quest for meaning is a search for relationship that goes beyond ourselves. God the Father sent his son Jesus Christ to die in our stead; that by his resurrection we would, through the Son, find ourselves not just forgiven, but also connected to the heart of Father God. I can look back over the decades of my life’s experience and in so many ways and forms have had him touch my life. He shows his love in so many ways. The wonder of every new sunset and the beauty with which he paints the buttercup are both divine examples of the heart of Father God.

I have known the joy of having him touch my heart with the joy of his presence. God touches and moves on each human heart in so many diverse ways. We can be in a time of praise and adoration with thousands of others in a service. Yet as I reflect back on such times his touch has always brought with it that internal realization that he moves on each one of our hearts one at a time. Even in a crowd, that relationship with him is what matters.

My heart is warmed in quiet reflection as I bring to my recollection how many ways he touches our lives. Yet with every new revelation, with every new awakening within my heart and the body of Christ, what we are on is a quest to know His heart. No one moves my heart and thirsty soul as He does; He and only He can bring into your life true meaning.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” (Lamentations 3:24)

 

Through The Bible

January 19

Genesis 19:12-14 (NIV) 12The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here–sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” 14So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

Angels had come to deliver Lot from the city of Sodom before it was destroyed. The angels were willing to deliver all those related to Lot. I wonder if the outcry to the LORD against its people was from the citizens of Sodom. Man is so obtuse that he can complain to God about the consequences of his own actions and those of others doing the same things. Sin has a way of torturing those it has mastered. The people refused to be freed from the sin by forsaking it. To stop the misery that sin caused, the people had to have their lives cut short.

Lot warned his sons-in-law of the impending doom, but they seemed to think he was joking. Why wouldn’t they take him seriously? Was it because Lot’s life was so compromised that they couldn’t imagine he would be the special recipient of an angelic mercy mission? After all, he sat in the gate as an official of Sodom, and he probably joked around with the best of them. He probably fit right in since he had become a judge. I believe his compromised life caused his message to sound like a joke.

There is a no less serious judgment coming on all the earth (2 Peter 3:7). We have been given a message and a chance to go out and warn others too. When they see our lives, do they consider our message a joke? Or do our lives add credence to our message? The way we live will add power to, or detract from, the message. Let us live in such a way as to add conviction to the words we speak so that others may be spared from the impending wrath of God.

Consider: Does my life backup the message?

 

Streams in the Desert – January 19

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

Men ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1).

“Go to the ant.” Tammerlane used to relate to his friends an anecdote of his early life. “I once,” he said, “was forced to take shelter from my enemies in a ruined building, where I sat alone many hours. Desiring to divert my mind from my hopeless condition, I fixed my eyes on an ant that was carrying a grain of corn larger than itself up a high wall. I numbered the efforts it made to accomplish this object. The grain fell sixty-nine times to the ground; but the insect persevered, and the seventieth time it reached the top. This sight gave me courage at the moment, and I never forgot the lesson.
–The King’s Business

Prayer which takes the fact that past prayers have not been answered as a reason for languor, has already ceased to be the prayer of faith. To the prayer of faith the fact that prayers remain unanswered is only evidence that the moment of the answer is so much nearer. From first to last, the lessons and examples of our Lord all tell us that prayer which cannot persevere and urge its plea importunately, and renew, and renew itself again, and gather strength from every past petition, is not the prayer that will prevail.
–William Arthur

Rubenstein, the great musician, once said, “If I omit practice one day, I notice it; if two days, my friends notice it; if three days, the public notice it.” It is the old doctrine, “Practice makes perfect.” We must continue believing, continue praying, continue doing His will. Suppose along any line of art, one should cease practicing, we know what the result would be. If we would only use the same quality of common sense in our religion that we use in our everyday life, we should go on to perfection.

The motto of David Livingstone was in these words, “I determined never to stop until I had come to the end and achieved my purpose.” By unfaltering persistence and faith in God he conquered.

Blaming God?

by Inspiration Ministries

“Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes. People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.” – Proverbs 19:2-3 NLT

Standing in a courtroom, a celebrity refused to acknowledge the jury’s verdict. He didn’t think he could possibly have been guilty. From his perspective, the fault was with society and the motives of his accusers. The judge and jury were biased. He demonstrated a common response to problems: blaming others for things we have done, painting ourselves as victims.

We see this pattern when children blame their parents for problems they experience later in life. Workers blame managers for company troubles. Students blame teachers for poor grades. Politicians blame opponents for society’s ills.

Among history’s examples, Roman Emperor Nero (incorrectly) blamed Christians for the fire that burned much of Rome in 64 AD. Adam blamed Eve for his sin, and Eve blamed the serpent (Genesis 3). As an ultimate expression of this pattern, many blame God for their problems and problems in the world.

The Bible encourages us to be honest with God about things we don’t understand. But we always must remember our responsibilities and the impact of our decisions and what happens when we ignore God’s Word. When we fail to remember the fundamental rule, we reap whatever we sow.

Remember, you can do things His way or go your own way. Commit your challenges to Him. Seek to be guided by His Word and led by His Spirit. Always embrace your responsibilities. Ask God to give you discernment.

Practice Being A Blessing To Others

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Curses and Blessings

 

When my oldest son was around two, I would put him in the bathtub each morning to keep a close eye on him while getting ready for work. One day he asked if he could play with his new ship my husband had bought him the day before. I said yes, and he was quite entertained for a while.

As I sleepily sipped my coffee and put on mascara, Benjamin said something about his toy. Half-listening and focused more on my make-up than my son, I said, “Oh yea, that’s a great boat…”

Quickly correcting me, he said, “Da-da says it’s a ship.”

“That’s right,” I said (not really knowing the difference). A couple minutes later, my talkative toddler said something else about his toy and without thinking, I again said, “Hmmm…. yes that’s a nice boat.”

A second time, my son said, “It’s a ship.”

Glancing at his reflection in the mirror while continuing my routine, I said, “Oh yeah that’s right.”

Believe it or not, a few minutes later, this happened a third time — Benjamin telling me about his toys and me half-awake answering him with, “That’s a great boat…”

But this time, he yelled, “MOM!” I quickly turned around only to see my son holding his toy up and looking at me with frustration as he said, “Can you say SHIP?”

The Bible says, “The tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (James 3:5, NKJV)

My exchange with my son is quite small in comparison to some of the firestorms that have started with just a few words. Countries go to war and couples go to divorce court over mere words. The tongue is a weapon, that’s for sure. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can set off a virtual forest fire.

By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it. This is scary:

“You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue – it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women He made in His image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!” (James 3:7-10, Message)

I still don’t know the difference between a boat and a ship, other than one is small and used for fishing and waterskiing, while the other is much bigger and usually found on the ocean. But I could know their differences if I chose to study them. In the same way, if I care about the things that defile my life and grieve the Holy Spirit, I can learn.

The Bible says, “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Peter 3:10, NKJV).

I may not be able to perfectly tame my tongue, but I can choose my words. Jesus said it starts with what we put in our heart:

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34, NKJV).

As God’s Word becomes a priority in my life, one benefit is the overflow from my heart to my mouth.

“He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit” (Proverbs 17:27, NKJV).

If I’d had more knowledge on “ships” I wouldn’t have upset my young son. Likewise, as I gain understanding about the tongue and the various ways it defiles, I am less likely to be the cause of strife. My words can be vain, irritating, hasty, irreverent, insincere, proud, and malicious; OR my words can be modest, helpful, sincere, respectful, humble, and kind. And like the fierce winds that oppose a ship on the open sea, I can use the rudder in my mouth to maneuver peacefully through tough conversations or perceived attacks.

So, although I’m bound to be careless with my words at some point or another, it’s what I choose to keep in my heart that keeps me from recklessly starting a fire. I am the vessel and my tongue is the blade that adjusts my direction. Can you say SHIP?

 

The Only Way to Shut Up the Devil Is at the Cross
By: Whitney capps, crosswalk.com

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col. 2:15).

Living a life unashamed is a hard thing to grab a hold of. I mean, live confident in the work of Jesus? I get that. Forget the mountain of debt I had against God? Live completely free from the guilt and shame of that? So much harder, right? Shame is a stubborn weed that comes back no matter how many times I pull it, you know?

When the devil begins to attack us, it’s best not to argue with him. I’ve lost quite a few arguments with the devil. I know I have authority over him, but when he starts reading my rap sheet of crimes against God and comparing me to other women, I can get sucked into a “me” spiral. When this starts to happen, the only solution is to take me out of the equation. The only way to shut up the devil is at the Cross.

The church at Colossae knew about having an attacked, vulnerable faith. One of the purposes of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to firm up their faith and remind them of their confidence in the Cross. In Colossians 2:14-15 (NIV) Paul says, “Having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

The only way to shut up the devil is at the Cross.

In the Ancient Near East, agreements and business transactions between two parties were handwritten into formal contracts—not unlike today, but with a few more brush strokes rather than keystrokes. When one party was indebted to another, his name would be written below the agreement. When the debt was satisfied, the name would be scratched out, a line drawn through it, or one would hammer a nail, piercing the name, signifying the debt had been canceled.

In Colossians 2, Paul uses this same idea with the phrase “legal indebtedness.” The law of God was the written contract that held us in debt to Him. Sins stacked up, and our charges against Him were incalculable. But through Jesus Christ, God has canceled those charges! Because of the very specific word choice Paul used in verse 14, his audience would have envisioned the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet blotting out the debt we owed God. Every charge against us was nailed to the cross. Our account with Him had been settled. He can forgive us because though we failed to uphold our end of the contract by keeping the law, Jesus paid the price for our crimes against God. We were unable to meet the terms of our agreement with Him.

So, Jesus did that for us by living a perfect, completely sinless life and taking on the shame of our sin by dying a criminal’s death in our place. This is referred to by scholars as expiation. To “expiate” our sin means that Jesus satisfied the legal requirements that God demands of us.

This is the gospel. Our debt is paid! The nails that pierced Him declared us free and clear. What marvelous news! It’s a sweet reminder to combat our shame and guilt. The Cross is the antidote. The Cross sets us free from shame.

 

A Broken Spirit

by Inspiration Ministries

“The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but as for a broken spirit, who can bear it?” – Proverbs 18:14 NASB

Sickness reveals that something is wrong with the body. In most cases, we can endure minor sicknesses, which might last for a season, but then are over. Yet the Bible tells us that ultimately there is something worse than a physical ailment: having a “broken spirit.”

Our spirits can be broken in many ways: failures and defeats, disappointments and rejection, the comments of others, events and reactions, and mistakes we have made.

When our spirits are broken, we can feel the impact on our emotions and perceptions. This can lead to discouragement and depression, despair, and a feeling of hopelessness. It can weigh us down, impair our judgment, and poison our relationships.

Anyone can have a broken spirit – poor or rich, young or old, regardless of our background and race, or where we live. This impact reminds us of why we need an intimate relationship with God. We need to be people of prayer, continually bringing our problems and concerns to Him. Seek His help and forgiveness. Confess our sins. Be filled with His Spirit that we might have His joy and peace. Seek His help in our relationships with others.

Be sure you trust in God. Be confident that He will provide for your every need. Fill your mind with His Word. Seek to think His thoughts. If you battle a broken spirit, turn to Him. Share your burdens with Him. Seek the freedom and healing only He can provide.

 

Broad rivers and streams

By; Charles Spurgeon

‘Look upon Zion … thine eyes shall see Jerusalem … there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.’ Isaiah 33:20–22

Suggested Further Reading: Exodus 14:10–31

In 1588, when the Armada sailed towards Britain, God blew with his winds and all Spain’s mighty hosts were broken, and God’s favoured isle was free. We were doubtless spared the horrors of war under Napoleon because of the Channel. It was especially so in the old times of ancient warfare; then a narrow trench was almost as useful as a broad channel would be now, for they had no ready means of crossing, though on old Assyrian sculptures we see galleys with oars crossing over rivers, and we have one or two sculptures, I believe, in the British Museum, of the Assyrian king turning the river into another channel so that he might the more easily take the city. But still, rivers were for a defence. O beloved, what a defence is God to his church! Ah, the devil cannot cross this broad river of God. Between me and you, O fiend of hell, is my God. Do remember this, Christian; between you and your arch-enemy is your God; Satan has to stand on the other side, and how he wishes he could dry up that stream, but God is omnipotent. How he wishes he could change the current, but fear not, for God abides immutably the same. How he wishes he could get at you and me; but only once let us get safe landed in Zion, we may look over its walls across the broad rivers and streams, and remember that we are out of gunshot of the enemy so far as our spiritual existence is concerned. He cannot destroy us; worry us he may; for we are such timid souls, but kill he cannot, for God, even our mighty God keeps us safe beyond all possibility of destruction.

For meditation: Others may have assumed the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ or even undermined it—‘Defender of faith’—but God is the true and everlasting defender of his people (Psalm 5:1120:159:1Isaiah 31:537:3538:6Zechariah 12:8).

Put Your Hope And Faith In God

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With a Glimmer of Hope

 

Halford E. Luccock shares this story in his book, Unfinished Business:

“One night at dinner a man, who had spent many summers in Maine, fascinated his companions by telling of his experiences in a little town named Flagstaff. The town was to be flooded, as part of a large lake for which a dam was being built. In the months before it was to be flooded, all improvements and repairs in the whole town were stopped. What was the use of painting a house if it were to be covered with water in six months? Why repair anything when the whole village was to be wiped out? So, week by week, the whole town became more and more bedraggled, more gone to seed, more woebegone.”

Then he added by way of explanation:

“Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.”

Isaiah spoke about Jesus hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. Matthew reached back to that prophecy to help us understand who Jesus is and what He came to do. Jesus came to bring hope to the world. Hope is so often in short supply in our world. Fear and negativity can cloud our vision of the future. Jesus has come for those whose hope is failing.

Isaiah put it this way:

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3 NIV).

Matthew quoted him,

“He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.” (Matthew 12:20-21 NLT).

His name is not only the hope of the world at large. He is the hope for the weakest and smallest person. He is the hope for us all. He takes us, weak as we are, and builds on the smallest glimmer of hope.

Jamie Buckingham quoted Hugo Gryn, a London rabbi, in Charisma magazine. Hugo told of a holocaust experience in the German magazine, Der Morgen:

“It was the cold winter of 1944 and although we had nothing like calendars, my father who was a fellow prisoner there, took me and some of our friends to a corner of the barrack. He announced it was the eve of Hanukkah, produced a curious-shaped clay bowl, and began to light a wick immersed in his precious, but now melted, margarine ration.

Before he could recite the blessing, I protested at this waste of food. He said, ‘You and I have seen that it is possible to live up to three weeks without food. We once lived almost three days without water. But you cannot live properly for three minutes without hope.’ “

No matter what we face today, Jesus is our hope. Even if we’re weak and our hope is small, He has come to give us a bright picture of tomorrow. We can rest in that.

When I Grow Up

by Katherine Britton, crosswalk.com

“Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, then we will live and also do this or that.” – James 4:15

“You can be anything you want when you grow up, sweetie.”

My parents profoundly ignored that phrase when I was growing up. I never heard them say those words, although the self-esteem trend was certainly making its way through the schools and Saturday morning cartoons. That’s not to say that they told me the opposite or never encouraged my efforts. On the contrary, my mother carted me to ice skating practice, art lessons, piano lessons, debate club, and even soccer (for one pathetic season). She pushed me to do my best at whatever activity or homework assignment came my way, because it was a matter of “doing all things for the glory of God.” And that’s exactly why she and my father never told me I could be anything I wanted when I grew up.

My parents knew better.

Instead of the infinite-potential catchphrase, they would tell me things like, “If God wants you to be a concert pianist, then you will be,” or “God gave you this talent for a reason, so we’re going to cultivate it.” That took the focus off of what I “wanted to be” and onto how God had gifted me. For that reason, my mother pushed me into writing tutoring even though I absolutely hated it at the time. I certainly had no intentions of being an editor when I grew up. Little did I know.

Can we really be anything we want when we grow up? The famous verses in Proverbs suggest otherwise. “In his heart a man plans his course,” says Proverbs 16:9. Sure, I can make plans to be anything I want. “But the Lord determines [my] steps,” as the verse concludes. My parents understood this from their own crazy life stories. So they told me not about my endless potential, but about God’s ability to take me to places unknown and undreamed of.

I laugh inwardly when people ask me where I want to be in five or ten years, because Heaven only knows where I actually will be. Besides, I’m still inexperienced in all this career and marriage stuff, and still figuring out my goals. How comforting it is to know that it’s my responsibility to cultivate the little talents I have and let God decide where to take them.

Even at this point in my life, I can look back and see the long line of events, circumstances, character-building chances (oh boy!), and opportunities that I couldn’t have orchestrated myself. I see now that I couldn’t have been anything I wanted. Instead, I have become – and will become – whatever God wants me to be. After all, He knows me more intimately than I know myself. He knows exactly how I can serve His kingdom best. Yes, that’s what I want to be when I grow up.

The Living God – Streams in the Desert – January 17

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee? (Daniel 6:20).

How many times we find this expression in the Scriptures, and yet it is just this very thing that we are so prone to lose sight of. We know it is written “the living God”; but in our daily life there is scarcely anything we practically so much lose sight of as the fact that God is the living God; that He is now whatever He was three or four thousand years since; that He has the same sovereign power, the same saving love towards those who love and serve Him as ever He had and that He will do for them now what He did for others two, three, four thousand years ago, simply because He is the living God, the unchanging One. Oh, how therefore we should confide in Him, and in our darkest moments never lose sight of the fact that He is still and ever will be the living God!

Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him and expect help from Him, He will never fail you. An older brother who has known the Lord for forty-four years, who writes this, says to you for your encouragement that He has never failed him. In the greatest difficulties, in the heaviest trials, in the deepest poverty and necessities, He has never failed me; but because I was enabled by His grace to trust Him He has always appeared for my help. I delight in speaking well of His name.
–George Mueller

Luther was once found at a moment of peril and fear, when he had need to grasp unseen strength, sitting in an abstracted mood tracing on the table with his finger the words, “Vivit! vivit!” (“He lives! He lives!”). It is our hope for ourselves, and for His truth, and for mankind. Men come and go; leaders, teachers, thinkers speak and work for a season, and then fall silent and impotent. He abides. They die, but He lives. They are lights kindled, and, therefore, sooner or later quenched; but He is the true light from which they draw all their brightness, and He shines for evermore.
–Alexander Maclaren

“One day I came to know Dr. John Douglas Adam,” writes C. G. Trumbull. “I learned from him that what he counted his greatest spiritual asset was his unvarying consciousness of the actual presence of Jesus. Nothing bore him up so, he said, as the realization that Jesus was always with him in actual presence; and that this was so independent of his own feelings, dependent of his deserts, and independent of his own notions as to how Jesus would manifest His presence.

“Moreover, he said that Christ was the home of his thoughts. Whenever his mind was free from other matters it would turn to Christ; and he would talk aloud to Christ when he was alone — on the street, anywhere — as easily and naturally as to a human friend. So real to him was Jesus’ actual presence.

Be Committed To The Goal

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A Fickle Generation

Fickle.

For a long time I thought that word was a quaint, southern lady-like version of a cuss word. Not a real cuss word of course, but I remember hearing my grandmother whisper it when her rolls burned or when she was poked by a stick pin while laying out a new pattern on some material.

As I grew older, I learned it means to be likely to change. More specifically, it describes someone who isn’t constant or loyal in their affections.

Fickle.

Jesus described people this way. He said,

But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament.’” (Matthew 11:16-17 NKJV) .

On the surface, this saying is hard to follow. But other translations shed some light on its meaning.

“How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy…’” (Message).

“You’re like children playing games on the playground, yelling at their playmates, ‘You don’t like it when we want to play Wedding! And you don’t like it when we want to play Funeral! You will neither dance nor mourn.’” (Passion).

In other words, they’re fickle.

But Jesus wasn’t talking randomly. He wasn’t being rude in His criticism. He was making a point about how people inconsistently judge the things of God.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children” (Matthew 11:18-19 NKJV).

The Message Translation says,

“Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they?”

Now we’ve hit the nail on the head. From Jesus’ generation to ours, human nature hasn’t changed. Opinion polls are worthless — they’re just opinions — beliefs and judgments often based on feelings. “Well, that can’t be of God because do you know what he did 20 years ago?” Or “I know God forgives, but He would never use a flamboyant personality like that guy.” Really? Are we being fickle?

God has given us His Word as a guide. It shows us the path of life. And more importantly, His Word shows us which results to be looking for — regardless of how we got there. John the Baptist was an unusual character who separated himself from society but he fulfilled his purpose and produced results (revealing the coming Messiah). Jesus was a complete opposite personality, in the center of everything, touching lepers, eating with tax collectors, and letting former prostitutes and demon-filled women serve His ministry. And undoubtedly, Jesus produced eternal results.

“Wisdom is justified by her children.”

So I encourage you today to be cautious of opinions — yours or others. Opinions are fickle. They’re often based on the emotion of the day instead of God’s Truth, which is only found in His Word. Instead of being whimsical, unsteady, or like a yo-yo (all synonyms for fickle), choose the opposite: aware, constant, faithful. In a generation bombarded by media-driven opinion polls, let the word fickle be your occasional slang and not a description of your behavior and judgments.

 

Keeping the Best Things First

by Katherine Britton, crosswalk.com

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best… – Philippians 1:9-11

How often do we resign ourselves to the “tyranny of the urgent”? If you’re me, it’s a daily struggle not to use that little phrase as an excuse for losing sight of the big picture. It’s so much easier to take care of what’s immediately in front of me instead of what should be first in my life.

I’m a task-oriented Martha, so concerned with getting the job done that I forget to focus on Him first. I can tell myself that I’m doing my work “as unto the Lord” as much as I want, but I don’t serve anyone when I get harried. You probably know the feeling; you tell yourself that you’re cooking a wholesome dinner as a supreme act of service and love for your family – if they only appreciated how many other things you have to do besides stand over a stove! – when little Anne asks if you’ll help her find a favorite CD. Something boils over, and it’s not the pot on the stove. In taking care of dinner, you’ve forgotten to feed a godly attitude of patience and love.

That’s me to a fault. James makes it clear that faith is constantly looking for ways to serve; like Martha, however, we can get so busy that we forget why we’re doing it. I often catch myself thinking that if I’m not busy, I’m not “doing enough” for God. But then the act becomes its own end, instead of an outworking of love. Imagine Martha in the kitchen, fluttering around and looking for that special recipe to serve Jesus, while Mary just sat, soaking up His words. Martha’s response to this was probably well-intentioned – that is, from a human point of view. She was serving and wanted others to serve with her! But Jesus called her bluff. “Only one thing is needed,” Christ said, “and Mary has chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42). Better? Lord, you mean that sitting at your feet and being quiet is better than my idea of being busy serving you? That’s right.

I think I got a double-portion of Martha’s spirit. Too often, I think that sitting and listening to Jesus is the same thing as sitting and doing nothing. I think it’s laziness. Satan whispers that my time could be better spent doing than learning, and then the tyranny of the urgent takes over. But even Olympic acts of service are as nothing if not done in love (1 Corinthians 13), and only time at the feet of Jesus can teach me that.

Love leads to action, as Paul writes to the Philippian church, not the other way around. I can’t “discern what is best” in my work and words unless I keep the very best in front of my eyes, like Mary. My prayer this week is that I will focus on Jesus and see how to love. Then the priorities will fall in line. Then I see what is best, because I see Jesus.

 

Frost and thaw

By: Charles Spurgeon

‘He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow.’ Psalm 147:16–18

Suggested Further Reading: Psalm 19:1–6

A man puts his hand into a woolpack and throws out the wool; God giveth snow as easily as that. ‘He giveth snow like wool.’ A man stands upon a heap of ashes, takes up a handful, throws them into the air, and they fall around. ‘He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes’—just as easily. There are wondrous marvels of nature in ice and snow; those who have looked at the crystals, and examined their marvellous beauty, must have been astonished at the inimitable skill displayed in them. ‘He casteth forth his ice like morsels’—just as easily as we cast crumbs of bread outside the window to the robins during these wintry days. When the rivers are hard frozen, and the earth held in iron chains, then the melting of the whole—how is that done? Not by the lighting of innumerable fires or the sending of electric shocks from huge batteries through the interior of the earth—no; ‘He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow’. The whole matter is accomplished with a word and a breath. See the magnificent ease with which God accomplishes all his purposes in nature! If you and I have any great thing to do, what puffing and panting, what straining and tugging there must be; and even the great engineers, who perform great things by machinery, must make much noise and stir about it. It is not so with the Almighty One. Here is this our world spinning round every day in four-and-twenty hours, and yet it does not make so much noise as a humming-top. If I enter a factory I hear a deafening din, but God’s great wheels revolve without noise or friction: all the divine work is simply, easily, and beautifully managed.

For meditation: God doesn’t need to make a lot of noise to speak to us (1 Kings 19:11–12); but we sometimes make too much noise to hear him and need to quieten down (Psalm 46:10).

Follow God Through The Wilderness

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The Wilderness

The term “God Adventure” sounds kind of intriguing and exciting, doesn’t it? Even a little mysterious! If you have an adventuresome spirit, just those words may make you want to explore what a God adventure is – learn more about it!

A “God Adventure” could be following God’s leading to take a new job. It could be a missions trip or a move to a new city. Maybe you’re actually going to commit to leading a Bible study at your church or reach out to a needy family in your area. How about working on reconciling a broken relationship with a family member or friend?

Not all God adventures are so positive or encouraging. Sometimes a God adventure comes your way uninvited and unexpected. It can come in circumstances that involve loss, unfair treatment, illness, or broken relationships. These are the wilderness places that God uses to shape, refine, and carve character into us, if we’ll let Him. The process is so painful, but the result is pure gold.

Some dear friends of mine, a married couple, have been through this recently. A cancer diagnosis brought surgery, radiation, doctors, doctors, and more doctors. Pain, loss, rehabilitation, fear and uncertainty.

Who’d sign up for that? But, now let me tell you what I saw this “wilderness” produce in their lives …a sense of God’s presence that over-rode all the circumstances, a trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness (which is never really fully experienced until you find yourself in the furnace of affliction); a deeper love and appreciation for each other as a couple; and peace, real peace, in the midst of the storm.

They were not delivered from the experience, they were lifted above it and carried through it. Isaiah 40:31 outlines the promise of God to those who are walking through trials.

“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (NKJV)

The Bible is filled with the stories of great men and women of faith, and almost all of them had one or more defining wilderness experiences that God used to prepare them for even greater use. My favorite is the story of Joseph. Sold into slavery by his brothers, wrongly accused by the wife of his employer, thrown into jail for something he didn’t do, and seemingly forgotten by those he had helped. In all of this, a span of 13 years, the Bible never once records that Joseph complained or railed against the Lord. Read this amazing story yourself – Genesis 37 through 47. Through his years in the wilderness, Joseph learned humility, obedience, patience, and responsibility. In God’s perfect timing, he became ruler over all of Egypt delivering the Egyptians and his own family from the famine in the land.

How can you turn your wilderness into a God adventure? For starters let this scripture sink deeply into your heart and mind – Romans 8:28

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (NKJV)

ALL things – even your trials and afflictions.

Give them to God with a sense of anticipation. You are being refined – prepared for something. Look for the lessons.

Surrender your “rights,” your arguments, and your confusion to Him. God never makes mistakes.

Rest in Him – climb up into his lap and let Him refresh you with His strength.

Trust His timing – He’s got it all together. Jeremiah 29:11 says this,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

Stay close to Him and watch your wilderness become a God adventure!

 

Are You in the Belly of a Big Fish?

by Fred Alberti, crosswalk.com

But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 1:17

Being a homeschool family we sometimes have some rather interesting experiments that we get to enjoy as a family. George is one such experiment. George is a goldfish whose bowl-mate sadly perished. My son’s task was to teach the goldfish to come to the top of the bowl when he tapped on the glass. After several weeks of tapping and feeding and tapping and feeding the fish finally learned to come to the top of the bowl.

Big deal right? Right, that is until the fish started to do more. Anytime someone would walk by the bowl he would get all excited and start moving his mouth like he was yelling at whoever it was that was walking by the bowl. This became rather normal and we would just ignore him or comment that he was yelling at us in Spanish.

Then one day my kids were listening to an FFH song titled “Big Fish.” It was then that George decided to really show off what he could do. When the song played George would begin to swim around like he was dancing in the water and would seemingly move his mouth to the words (move over Ashlee Simpson).

I particularly like the first verse of the song which goes like this:

Are you in the big fish
Are you sitting in the belly of a world gone mad
Have you turned your back in His wish
On His will for your life, have you made Him sad
Do you want to get out of the big fish
Listen to God and follow His plan
And you won’t be part of the main dish
He’ll spit you out on to dry land

I’ve sometimes felt like I was in the belly of a big fish. I had decided to do something my way instead of first seeking the Lord’s guidance and leading.

You, whoever you are, God has a plan for your life. Maybe you feel like you are wasting your time at a dead-end job. Or perhaps you have no job but would desperately like one. Maybe you think you have the dream job but the Lord has been speaking to you in a still small voice to give it up for something else. Like Jonah, you may not particularly like the mission God has for you but He has the intention of making you ideally suited to carry that plan out.

Will you follow His plan or will you turn your back?

Maybe you’ve already chosen to turn your back and feel that there is no way out now. If that is the case I’ve got good news for you. The Bible has this to say about Jonah, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God” (Jonah 2:1). God is the God of second, third, and fourth chances.

Commit your way to the Lord today.

 

The Lord Appeared to Isaac – Streams in the Desert – January 15

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

And the Lord appeared unto Isaac the same night (Genesis 26:24).

“Appeared the same night,” the night on which he went to Beer-sheba. Do you think this revelation was an accident? Do you think the time of it was an accident? Do you think it could have happened on any other night as well as this? If so, you are grievously mistaken. Why did it come to Isaac in the night on which he reached Beer-sheba? Because that was the night on which he reached rest. In his old locality, he had been tormented. There had been a whole series of petty quarrels about the possession of paltry wells. There are no worries like little worries, particularly if there is an accumulation of them. Isaac felt this. Even after the strife was past, the place retained a disagreeable association. He determined to leave. He sought change of scene. He pitched his tent away from the place of former strife. That very night the revelation came. God spoke when there was no inward storm. He could not speak when the mind was fretted; His voice demands the silence of the soul. Only in the hush of the spirit could Isaac hear the garments of his God sweep by. His still night was his starry night.

My soul, hast thou pondered these words, “Be still, and know”? In the hour of perturbation, thou canst not hear the answer to thy prayers. How often has the answer seemed to come long after the heart got no response in the moment of its crying — in its thunder, its earthquake, and its fire. But when the crying ceased, when the stillness fell, when thy hand desisted from knocking on the iron gate, when the interest of other lives broke the tragedy of thine own, then appeared the long-delayed reply. Thou must rest, O soul, if thou wouldst have thy heart’s desire. Still the beating of thy pulse of personal care. Hide thy tempest of individual trouble behind the altar of a common tribulation and, that same night, the Lord shall appear to thee. The rainbow shall span the place of the subsiding flood, and in thy stillness thou shalt hear the everlasting music.
–George Matheson

Tread in solitude thy pathway,
Quiet heart and undismayed.
Thou shalt know things strange, mysterious,
Which to thee no voice has said.
While the crowd of petty hustlers
Grasps at vain and paltry things,
Thou wilt see a great world rising
Where soft mystic music rings.
Leave the dusty road to others,
Spotless keep thy soul and bright,
As the radiant ocean’s surface
When the sun is taking flight.

–(From the German of V. Schoffel)

Seek God In Times Like These

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For Such a Time as This

By Debbie McDaniel, crosswalk.com

“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14

God is the only One, who has the power to turn trials into blessings. Don’t ever doubt that He is Able. Nothing is impossible with Him.

He’s always at work even when we can’t see the whole story, even when things look uncertain.

And that sets the stage for great things to happen, “…for such a time as this.” – Esther 4:14

Queen Esther had a choice. When Mordecai sent word to her about the great danger their people were facing, she could have simply tried to save herself. She could have kept quiet. Just hoped for the best, or turned the other way. But she and Mordecai both knew that God had given her great purpose in her position. She was wise, she made a plan, she didn’t stay stuck in fear or worry, she prayed and fasted, and asked for their people to do the same. She was willing to act, to follow God’s lead, to save the lives of her people, even if it meant she might lose hers. (Read the whole story in the book of Esther)

Though our current situations may look different than what Esther faced, we might still be struggling with great fear or uncertainty. The future may look dark. A hard diagnosis or recent loss may have sent us spiraling. Yet often God places us in positions of influence, or in strategic locations, with great purpose in mind. Many times, the places where we find ourselves is not really “all about us.” It’s about Him. It’s about His bigger plan.

May God help us to follow His lead, believing that His timing is perfect, remembering that He’s always faithful.

If you find yourself facing times of trouble or testing right now, be assured that God is at work in your situation. He’s working within you, and on your behalf in all the events that surround you, no matter how difficult. In whatever we face, God is still on the throne. He is powerful, nothing is too difficult for Him.

Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord, He will not fail you, or leave you to struggle through on your own. Not ever.

And He is faithful to turn our pain into greater purpose, in our own lives, and for those around us.

Through The Bible Devotions

Morning

January 14

Genesis 15:10-12 (NIV) 10Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

God entered into a covenant that was an ancient ritual in Abram’s day. It was to verify an inheritance or to confirm an alliance. Animals were cut in half, and each party would walk through the blood. They were in picture saying, “If either party breaks the agreement (covenant) let us be like these animals, chopped in half and our blood shed.” In this case, God alone walked through the blood while Abram was in a deep sleep. It meant that God had promised to pay with His own blood if either party broke the agreement.

The parties involved would often exchange weapons. That meant that your enemies are now mine and mine are yours. We will fight beside and for each other. They would also exchange their purses. Your wealth is available to my need and mine for yours. Again, since Abraham did not go through the blood, this is a very one-sided agreement. God has committed Himself to protect and provide for Abraham and his descendents. What a promise for Abraham and his heirs, who we are by faith! (Galatians 3:29)

Sometimes the covenant had to be reconfirmed if there was doubt as to the commitment of either party. The confirming of the covenant would be to exchange sons. The son of Abram was offered on Mount Moriah, and so was the Son of God. God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son. Abram’s descendants did break the covenant over and over. Eventually when the perfect time had come, God did pay with His own blood on the cross.

Meditation: God is my Protector and my Provider. He confirmed His covenant by giving His own Son. What a gracious God!

Cooperating with God

by Inspiration Ministries

“I will … teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle.” – Psalm 32:8-9 NIV

The Bible makes it clear: God wants to bless and protect us. He longs to instruct and guide us. But if we want these blessings, we need to cooperate with Him and do things His way.

Tragically, some people are like the horse or mule, animals led from place to place by a bit and bridle. Like these animals, many people refuse to cooperate with Him and reject His instructions. Some think He is a tyrant or just don’t recognize how much He loves them and wants the best for them.

The Bible reminds us that God has a plan for our lives and wants us to fulfill our potential. But this means cooperating with Him, like a good pupil who willingly cooperates with an expert teacher. Don’t resist His help or be reluctant but be eager to learn from Him, to do things His way.

We also need to recognize that God desires that we mature as people and Christians. He wants us to advance from being infants to spiritual maturity. This means that He might lead us to new experiences and challenges. The choice is up to us. We can cooperate and let Him teach us. Or we can be like the horse and mule that are stubborn and closed-minded.

In your life, decide to cooperate with God. Surrender your life to Him. Seek to obey His Word. Let Him guide you.

The sin of unbelief

By: Charles Spurgeon

“And that lord answered the man of God, and said, Now, behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.” 2 Kings 7:19

Suggested Further Reading: John 20:24-29

“Thou shalt shall see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.” It is so often with God’s own saints. When they are unbelieving, they see the mercy with their eyes, but do not eat it. Now, here is corn in this land of Egypt, but there are some of God’s saints who come here on the Sabbath, and say, “I do not know whether the Lord will be with me or not.” Some of them say, “Well, the gospel is preached, but I do not know whether it will be successful.” They are always doubting and fearing. Listen to them when they get out of the chapel. “Well, did you get a good meal this morning?” “Nothing for me.” Of course not. Ye could see it with your eyes, but did not eat it, because you had no faith. If you had come up with faith, you would have had a morsel. I have found Christians, who have grown so very critical, that if the whole portion of the meat they are to have, in due season, is not cut up exactly into square pieces, and put upon some choice dish of porcelain, they cannot eat it. Then they ought to go without, until they are brought to their appetites. They will have some affliction, which will act like quinine upon them: they will be made to eat by means of bitters in their mouths; they will be put in prison for a day or two until their appetite returns, and then they will be glad to eat the most ordinary food, off the most common platter, or no platter at all. But the real reason why God’s people do not feed under a gospel ministry, is because they have not faith. If you believed, if you heard only one promise, that would be enough.

For meditation: The unbeliever needs to hear in order to believe (Romans 10:14); the believer needs to believe in order to hear.

Do All To The Glory Of God

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White Walls

By Meghan Kleppinger, crosswalk.com

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, “Build houses and live {in them;} and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:4-7 

If we were playing the word association game and someone said, “Military life,” I would answer “white walls.”

Thanks to our travel agency, otherwise known as the U.S. Army, I moved with my family 13 times before I graduated from college. Many of our abodes were Army quarters (houses on army installations for military families). The walls were always white. I determined early on that when I moved out on my own there wouldn’t be a single white wall in my home.

From the time I graduated college until now, I’ve continued to be in transition which has meant more white walls in my apartments. Well, I just bought my first house and, of course, I’m not thinking about the practical purchases that need to be made (like a washer and a dryer for example), I’m considering color! I’m thinking about the things that need to be done to help me feel settled and at home.

Eventually, I could move to a different town, or I could marry (this one gets my parents’ vote), or a number of other things could happen that would require me to move out of this house. Will my probable future keep my belongings in their boxes or the paint in its can? Of course not! If there is one thing I learned as a military kid, it’s to make home wherever I am for as long as I am there.

This world is not our permanent home and God tells us our days are like a breath (Psalms 144:4), but He has also given each of us the opportunity to unpack our boxes and make an impact while we are here.

Like the exiles in Babylon, God has put each of us where we are at this time for a reason. While we anticipate a “better country” (Hebrews 11:16), we are to live, enjoy the blessings God continues to give, and exhibit a life that tells others of His magnificent love.

 

Through The Bible

Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV) 1The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

God called Abram (later to be changed to Abraham) out of his culture and family to follow God to an undisclosed place. It seems that, of all the people of the earth, Abram was selected for a very special calling. Later we see he did not follow exactly, as he disobeyed God by taking along his family instead of leaving them. He also lied twice about his relationship to his wife to save his own hide. Still, he did go out by faith, not knowing his destination.

The promise that all the world would be blessed through him makes us wonder if this lineage of the Seed of the woman that will crush the head of Satan, that has gone down through Noah, is not now through Abraham. Later we find this to be the case. He is an imperfect man that is a recipient of great promises. He obeyed, but not fully. Is that not true of us too? Imperfect though our lives are, through grace, God has called us out of our world to be citizens of a place that we are going to by faith. Like Abraham we believe there is a city with foundations whose builder and maker is God.

We are those who have been blessed through Abram, because we have received Jesus’ work in our place. Perhaps that is why Matthew begins his genealogy of Jesus at Abraham. You may have stumbled along the way to your heavenly home and your reward, but like Abraham, God will see you through. In Hebrews there is no record of Abram’s failures, only his great acts of faith.

Consider: In heaven there will be no record of your failures either, just your acts of faith.

 

The Promise of Eternal Life

Intouch Ministries, Source

1 John 5:1-13

Our culture is obsessed with longevity. While it’s natural to desire many healthy years on earth, we must remind ourselves life doesn’t end with physical death. The bigger issue is eternal destiny.

There is only one way to assure that we are destined for life in heaven: We must recognize our hopeless, sinful condition, turn to Jesus Christ in faith, and receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of everlasting life. Those who do this get to spend eternity in the presence of the Lord, where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).

Those who reject the offer of salvation suffer the terrible fate of agony in hell and complete separation from the living God. After death, there is no mercy or grace that can bridge the gap between hell and heaven. The matter must be settled while we are alive on earth (Matt. 25:45-46Heb. 9:27).

We know from Scripture that eternal life is irrevocably linked to the person of Jesus Christ. As the apostle John wrote, “He who has the Son has the life” (1 John 5:12). Reaching a healthy old age is a laudable goal, but nothing is more meaningful than receiving the Savior and the gift of eternity in His presence.