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Godly Renewal and Service

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Yard Sale Christianity

By: Steven Sanders, crosswalk.com

As many of you know, summer is prime time yard sale time and you can’t drive anywhere in the south on a Saturday without passing at least a few. This past Saturday, we stopped at one not far from our house.

In the past when I’ve been with my wife to these things, I seldom find anything that I get REALLY excited about. I usually just look for old books because that’s the only thing I can find for a buck that I might actually use. But this past Saturday, as I dug through a box of old CDs, I found something that I couldn’t pass up.

When I look back at my childhood and think about music, two names come to mind: Michael Jackson and the Beastie Boys. The very 1st album that my mom ever bought me was “Thriller.” The first album that I ever bought with my own money was “Licensed to Ill” at a Kmart in Mason, Ohio with my cousin Mark. I can still vividly remember driving home that weekend with my parents in our ‘78 Chrysler New Yorker bumping “Fight For Your Right To Party.” We had the cassette adapter for the 8-track player that was in there. I guess this was probably about 1986-87. This tape stayed in my silver boom box until it broke a couple years later.

During my middle school years, I developed a second wind of musical enlightenment. This was when hip-hop was at its peak in the early 90’s. I’d picked up this interest from my good friend Chad, who bought me an NWA tape in 1992. This was, of course, followed by Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” in 1993…then “Enter the 36 Chambers” by Wu-Tang Clan later that year…

The Beastie Boys released “Check Your Head” in 1993 also. They were still just as relevant then as they had been in the 80’s even though the style had changed a bit. They’d evolved from a party rap trio to a 3-piece jam band in what seemed like no time…but it had been 7 years. I loved this CD.

My love for hip-hop slowly but surely vanished as grunge slowly gained my affection and carried me through my high school years. The Nu Metal genre developed as I entered my college years; a movement that was pretty much over almost as soon as it started. I picked up a bass guitar my freshman year at SECC and my love for hip-hop officially died. But my love for the Beastie’s never did…

In 2002, on a couch at a friend’s house, I discovered “Paul’s Boutique” by the Beastie Boys. This album was released in 1989; many consider this to be their finest work. This album soon became my “favorite album to listen to while I played video games with Eddie.” And even still, the Beastie’s were just as relevant in 2002 as they were in 1986… and 1989… and 1993…

Now, flash-forward to 2011… I look into a box of CDs at a yard sale and find “Check Your Head” and “Paul’s Boutique” in perfect condition… for $5. SOLD! As I walked away, all I could think about were the good times I’d had with my cousin Mark, Chad, Eddie; some of the best times of my life. I couldn’t wait to listen to them when I got home.

I got home, went upstairs, turned on my computer to do my homework and hit play…and immediately realized how much Christ has changed me as an individual. It’s not so much the music itself, because it is still just as creative and impressive as it ever was. It’s the message behind the music that causes a separation. It’s just not the same anymore.

Jesus and Paul talked a lot about this sort of thing in the Bible. You know, the difference between who we were before accepting Christ into our hearts versus the new man who has surrendered his life to Jesus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this played out in my life in such a real way until this episode. There is simply nothing I can gain from this music at this point in my life without turning my back on Christ.

Now let me make a bit of a clarification before I go any further. I’m not talking about legalism here.  I’m not saying that, “Christians cannot listen to secular music because it is sinful.” If that had been the case, I never would have bought these CDs to begin with. Now, the Stephen from 5 years ago with his sheltered, legalistic, judgmental Christian mindset would have been outraged at the idea of a believer being excited about a secular CD or movie or anything else that wasn’t “Christian.” I’d been taught that everything was a black or white issue. If it wasn’t “Christian” then it was sin.

But in recent years, with a change of logic and a new church environment, I’ve realized that my old mindset was a very self-serving mindset to have. In reality, not everything in the real world is a black or white issue. Not all “Christian music” is godly and not all “secular music” is sinful. When I used to believe this way, I would make my walk with God a lot easier, while making it more difficult for everyone else I came in contact with.

What I’m talking about is true relationship with Christ where He deals with me personally while I only focus on how God views me, not those around me.

Believe me when I say that I really wanted to enjoy these CDs when I got home. But there was something inside of me that no longer desired or could allow me to digest them. I fully believe that this is what Christ does to our lives. He draws us close to Him by his Spirit and these desires just naturally fall off. They happen in His timing, not our timing and not in the timing that other believers feel they should happen in our lives.

It’s experiences like these that let me know that I am certainly not who I used to be. Fleshly desires that I used to have simply do not exist anymore. I don’t have to beat down my flesh and force myself to exhibit Christian behavior anymore. Christ’s desires just naturally become mine. True freedom in Christ started when I stopped trying to achieve the unachievable: being a perfect Christian.

 

Whom Will You Serve?

From: intouch.com

1 Kings 18:17-40

During the days of King Ahab, Israel was pulled in two directions. Ahab had instituted Baal worship, but Elijah challenged Israel to follow God. When He pressed the people to make up their minds about whom to serve, they were speechless.

The Old Testament presents idolatry as a serious issue, but in this modern civilized world worship of idols seems archaic and irrelevant. However, we are sometimes just like the Israelites—we can’t make up our minds about whom to serve.

If something or someone has higher value and priority to us than Christ, we are trying to serve two masters, which Jesus says is impossible. We will end up loving one and hating the other (Matt. 6:24). God’s generous gifts of relationships, possessions, and meaningful work should never be cherished more than the Giver.

The way your time is used reveals your heart’s priorities. Is a part of each day devoted to God, or is every minute consumed by the demands of life? Or consider the area of dependence. Is there anyone or anything you rely on more than God? If so, it’s time to stop straddling the fence and give your life wholly to God.

 

The tabernacle of the Most High

By: Charles Spurgeon

“In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:22

Suggested Further Reading: Colossians 1:15-27

At last they come to these stones. But how rough, how hard, how unhewn. Yes, but these are the stones ordained of old in the decree, and these must be the stones, and none other. There must be a change effected. These must be brought in and shaped and cut and polished, and put into their places. I see the workmen at their labour. The great saw of the law cuts through the stone, and then comes the polishing chisel of the gospel. I see the stones lying in their places, and the church is rising. The ministers, like wise master-builders, are there running along the wall, putting each spiritual stone in its place; each stone is leaning on that massive corner stone, and every stone depending on the blood, and finding its security and its strength in Jesus Christ, the corner stone, elect, and precious. Do you see the building rise as each one of God’s chosen is brought in, called by grace and quickened? Do you mark the living stones as in sacred love and holy brotherhood they are knit together? Have you ever entered the building, and seen how these stones lean upon one another bearing each other’s burden, so fulfilling the law of Christ? Do you mark how the church loves Christ, and how the members love each other? How first the church is joined to the corner stone, and then each stone bound to the next, and the next to the next, till the whole building becomes one? Lo! The structure rises, and it is complete, and at last it is built. And now open wide your eyes, and see what a glorious building this is—the church of God. Men talk of the splendour of their architecture—this is architecture indeed.

For meditation: Here, two days before the laying of the first stone of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon gave a timely reminder that the word “church” is a description of Christian people, not of any building in which they gather. Are you a living stone, built into the spiritual household of God (Ephesians 2:19-221 Peter 2:4,5)?

 

Distractions

by Inspiration Ministries

“Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life … an athlete … does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” – 2 Timothy 2:3-5 NASB

Discipline, focus, determination, and obedience are characteristics of effective soldiers. Their efforts result in victory. Why? Because they realize that in battle, their lives constantly are in jeopardy. Enemies can attack in countless ways. Thus, soldiers cannot afford to become distracted.

Soldiers also must remember their specific roles in the military. They need to remember how they are to interact with others. This means submitting to their commanding officer. They must know their assignment and follow it precisely. They must be trained until the skills they need become second nature. They must stay focused at all times.

These also are important principles for Christians. But some fail to have the kind of focus characteristic of effective soldiers. Many simply pursue the wrong goals and think about the wrong things.

Many become distracted. In the process, they lose sight of God’s Word and His call on their lives. When these things happen, their hearts and minds become divided. They concentrate on the opinions of others or on the things of this world.

Today, seek to be a good soldier in God’s army. Don’t be entangled “in the affairs of everyday life” or occupy your time with petty problems, gossip, and other distractions. Stay focused on His call and assignments He has given you. Serve Him wholeheartedly with your time, talents, and treasures. Cooperate with His training and discipline. And let Him prepare you to achieve victory.

We Are Safe In God’s Arms

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Rest in His Arms

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully…” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT)

I have the joy of being a grandmother for the first time. My grandchild is a little over five months, a wonderful age, so small and dependent, yet she is giggly and full of sweet smiles, wanting to explore. Even now, she attempts to “jump” down from grandma’s arms and find out what’s available around her, pushing hard with her tiny legs. But she is still very little, so life is basically a round of bottles, naps, and diaper changes; then we repeat! Twice a week she comes to spend a few hours after lunch with me until her parents come home from work.

I have noticed something as I’ve begun to learn her “signals.” When she starts to get sleepy after her latest bottle, she’ll struggle to let go and rest. She will begin to settle down in my arms and her eyelids will droop, but then she cries out, wrestles in my arms, burrows her face into my chest and spits out her pacifier, fighting the whole process. I put the pacifier back in her mouth, she settles for a moment and then begins to rear up and wriggle and fight relaxing, crying out all the while. This whole process can take several minutes and much grandma arm strength!! But, as she fights relaxing, I don’t find myself impatient with her. On the contrary, my heart is moved with tenderness and I quietly soothe her with my voice and caress her with my hands until she calms down. When finally she allows herself to sleep, my love pours out even more as I see the sweet curves of her tiny face; as her little fingers wrap around one of my large ones. She’s not doing anything to gain this love. I simply love her because I love her.

God spoke to my heart the other day, “Can you see how I feel about you from this picture of yourself with this child? You wrestle and fret and doubt at so many points…struggling in my arms, not believing that I can perfectly hold you and care for you…wondering if my love really does endure forever, but it does. How can you think I would ever give you up? Your love for your grandchild is but a human reflection of my more perfect love for you. Rest in Me. Truly trust Me. Be still and wait on Me.”

Now, perhaps you perfectly trust God at every moment no matter what is going on, but my hunch is that like me and probably all of us, there are times when circumstances are so difficult, you wonder if God can still be there, and if He is, does He care? Or perhaps you feel you have failed Him – your sin is far too great – or you have not done enough to please Him. Maybe in your life, you’ve had so many come and go who you thought you could trust, but they’ve let you down, left you lonely. “How could God be different than others who have abandoned me?” you wonder with sadness. It is natural, in this flesh, to have our moments of fretting rather than resting in God’s arms. But, so much in scripture helps to calm those fears and heal our troubled hearts:

“Jerusalem says, ‘The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.’ Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:14-15, NLT)

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble … No! … I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:35-38, NLT)

Read the promises in His Word. They are steady. Emotions are not. Rest in His arms and believe that He loves you with a love that is beyond your understanding and without end.

 

How to Keep Going

Here’s the straight truth.
There’s no way for anyone on this planet to go through life without going through suffering.

I wish there was.
But there is not.

Though knowing that suffering is a part of life and that it’s coming can actually help. Because part of the problem of suffering is that so many people are surprised when it happens.

A silly example: the other day, my friend invited me to go trail running on a course I’d never been on. I asked him, “Are there any hills?”

My buddy paused and said “No.”

The next day, we started out on this trail, and I am telling you, it was murder. So difficult. At the end of the run, I turned to my buddy. “I thought you said there were no hills, man,” I said, feeling deeply betrayed. “Why you trying to trick me?”

“I didn’t say that!” he exclaimed.

“I asked you yesterday if there were hills,” I said.

“Oh!” he said. “I thought you said, ‘Are there any wheels?’ I thought you meant mountain bikes or something.”

I’m still a little mad about that one.

“Are there any wheels?” Who would ask it like that?

The point is because I thought the course was flat, I was dismayed and even felt a little betrayed by my friend. “You could have warned me,” I thought to myself. “I would have brought more water.”

The next time we ran it, I was prepared. And you know what — it really wasn’t so bad that time.

In a small way, that’s what life is like. So here are some ways to prepare yourself so that when the storms of life come — and they will come — you’ll be a little more ready.

It won’t be easier, really. But at least you’ll know what to do.

NOT IF, BUT WHEN

As I said earlier, it’s not an issue of if suffering and bad things will happen to you, but when. I wish this were not so, but one of the surest truths of life is that suffering will happen to you. Jesus even says at one point to His followers,

In this world you will have trouble. — John 16:33

In fact, if you love anyone or anything a great deal, there’s a good chance you will suffer quite a bit. As the famous author C. S. Lewis once wrote:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.1

NOT WHY, BUT WHAT

My friends who have been around a great deal of suffering tell me that the most common question people ask after experiencing a great loss is “Why?” As in, “Why did this happen?” or even “Why did God let this happen?” This is the question we want to ask first, and it’s actually the question least likely to be answered.

You’re probably never going to know why. And even if you got the answer, it wouldn’t help.

Instead, ask God the question “What?”

God, what are you up to here?
God, what are you doing in my life?
What — if anything — is my role in this? (There are times we suffer because of our own choices. Be careful not to slip into false guilt, though, because sometimes suffering has literally nothing to do with us.)

Another thought. If God actually explained why He allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains. My daughter, when she was younger, often would cry when her mother or I didn’t let her do something she wanted to do. She didn’t understand why we didn’t let her, for example, play with the sharp knives we emptied from the dishwasher. She was too little. But we would pick her up and hug her and let her know we loved her, even if we wouldn’t let her play with the knives. She might not understand the why, but she could understand that we loved her. And that’s what she needed the most.

I can’t understand all of what God is up to, but I know He loves me. I know He loves you. Jesus on the Cross proves it.

NOT AROUND, BUT THROUGH

We almost always want to do whatever it takes to avoid pain. We try to numb it, or distract ourselves, or get away from it. It’s natural. It’s what we do. But this is not how to deal with suffering. In fact, this is like if you have a gaping cut on your leg and you walk around pretending you don’t have a serious wound. You actually make it worse. There’s no way around the pain. We can’t pretend our way out of it. We have to go right through the painful valley. But there is good news. The good news is that this is where God is. He promises to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He walks with us.

NOT EVIL, BUT GOOD

In the midst of suffering, we have two tendencies that will paralyze us. The first is the tendency to believe that everything is ruined. When suffering happens, we think, “Things will never be the same, and everything is wrecked.” That’s almost never true. How many times in the Bible does God take a situation that seems helpless or hopeless and make a way out of it? God does this all the time.

One of God’s great superpowers is to write stories with surprise endings, where bad things come undone.

The second tendency is to believe that because this bad thing happened, it means God is bad. Or maybe not bad, but definitely mean. But God didn’t create the world with evil in it. That’s the result of mankind turning away. But even though there is suffering, God doesn’t turn away. In fact, if the Bible is to be believed, God rushes in to help us.

As the theologian John Stott once wrote, “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”2 So we must resist the temptation to believe that because the world is bad, God is bad.

Jesus proves otherwise.

 

Faithful Witnesses

by Inspiration Ministries

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” – 2 Timothy 2:2 NASB

Born in Scotland, William Tennent was ordained in the Church of Ireland, before immigrating to America in 1718. Settling in Pennsylvania, he was called to pastor a church in present-day Warminster. There he established a religious school in a log cabin, which became known as the Log College.

People throughout the colonies heard how God was moving through his ministry. Many enrolled in his college where he sought to inspire them to be faithful ministers, committed to the Gospel.

But some criticized his methods. He was accused of trying to teach poor people who, they felt, were unsuitable for ministry. But Tennent was not concerned about the background of his pupils. He simply wanted to teach people who were hungry for God.

Many of his students became preachers and brought the Gospel throughout the colonies. In fact, his Log College became the prototype for the institutes of higher learning in America, leading to the foundation of the College of New Jersey, which eventually became known as Princeton University.

His ministry helped spark what became known as the Great Awakening in America. Through his influence, the Gospel went forth.

Today, God looks for men and women with this same commitment to teach His Word, to reach out to others, and to live for Him, regardless of what critics might say. Seek to be a faithful witness with the things God has entrusted to you. Commit your life to Him

God Watches Over Us

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While You Were Sleeping

“It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep”(Psalm 127:2, NASB).

Worry is a form of unbelief. When God assigns us a task to do, anxiety can set in as to whether we are up to accomplishing it. Where God guides, he always provides. I once learned that the sovereign Lord could provide for us even as we sleep.

My wife and I were leading a discipleship training school with Youth With A Mission. We had been training for several weeks, gearing up to do creative ministries (music, mime, and dance) to share the Gospel on the streets of Chile and Argentina.

How did I get here?

I found myself riding on our old gray bus, traveling from Virginia to Miami, Florida with a couple of dozen students. From there we would fly to Santiago, Chile and share the Gospel for two months in South America. As we drove down Interstate 95, my mind wandered back through the past several months. We assumed the leadership of the training school in an unexpected fashion, but we were sure that God had led us to this role. I had never led a school of this type. And, as a matter of fact, I had never even been on an evangelistic team outreach, other than a couple of days of isolated experience. I wondered if I should tell my students of my inexperience, but decided that what they didn’t know would not hurt them. Time would tell if this was true.

The bread of painful labors

I didn’t want the students to be fearful because I was nervous enough for all of us. All the way down to Miami I rehearsed in my head how I would lead my first street meeting. The more detailed the plans were in my thoughts, the less sure I was that I could enact those plans. My mind started to race. Each new strategy in my imagination never seemed to be quite right. Our scriptural reference refers to eating “the bread of painful labors.” When we plan our agenda in more detail than God has revealed to us, it always turns into a hard assignment.

My goodness, I’m the leader!

We arrived in Chile and boarded a bus for Argentina. Upon arriving at the border, we found a three-hour delay for buses going through customs. A few of the students asked if they could depart the bus. I noticed they took their instruments with them. I quickly fell asleep, probably due to a tired mind. Later, I’m not sure how long, I awakened to the sound of music. I peered through the bus window and saw the students who had left with instruments, surrounded by a crowd of people. I rapidly ran to the door and thought to myself, “I am the leader, I need to get out there.” Then it dawned on me that they were doing pretty well without me; maybe I should try and not mess it up. So I just watched them play music and share Christ in our first street meeting.

What is the takeaway from this little story? When the Lord gives us a task to do, He goes before us to make it happen. God had the time, the place, and the people necessary for our first experience in street evangelism prearranged. My worry was an exercise in futility. I think God must have chuckled a bit as he saw the expression on my face when I realized He had put everything together while I was sleeping. When I arrived back in Virginia I told other training leaders that I think I developed a new evangelism strategy. It’s called, “He gives to his beloved even in his sleep.”

 

Will They Know Us by Our Love?

By: Debbie Holloway, crosswalk.com

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and it not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

These two passages are arguably the most famous Bible verses about love. Love is a concept promoted by Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims. It is a thing acknowledged by atheists and agnostics. Something every man, woman, and child strives to obtain every day. Love is something we all know about and all desire. But so often it seems to be the most difficult thing for us to practice.

As Christians, we have no excuse for not knowing what love is. First Corinthians chapter 13 tells us in no uncertain terms. And Christ tells us in John 13 that the world will know that we belong to Jesus if we practice this love. But how often do we truly think of those two scriptures as one command? How often do we piece together the “how?” and the “what?” of love in our own lives?

The ramifications of doing so present a clearly defined, but difficult life. If we combine 1st Corinthians 13 and John 13, what would our lives look like? How would people come to recognize Christians?

Well, they would know us by our patience. They would know that we are Christians by our contentmentmodesty, and humility. They would recognize us, for we would not be rude. We would seek the best for others, be difficult to make angry, and refuse to keep count of how many times we’ve been hurt. They would know us because evil makes us sad, and truth makes us happy. They would know us because we protect the defenseless and we do not live in suspicion of others.

They would know us by our hope. They would know us by our perseverance.

That is what love looks like. Those should be the marks of Christ’s disciples.

Oftentimes when the world hears “Christian” – they do not think of this love. They think Patriotic. They think of rules. They think of stingy, bad-tippers, who blindly vote Republican and will judge you if you drink beer or use four-letter words. And that might not be fair. That might not be you. But it’s still your responsibility to change what the world thinks of Christians. It’s still your responsibility to demonstrate that radical love Paul described to the Corinthians.

Because then, one by one, people might start to know Jesus a little better. Because then, one by one, we could really reach the world with this radical, biblical, Christ-like love.

 

Power, Love, Discipline

by Inspiration Ministries

“God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7 NASB

How do we react to uncertain times and facing the unknown? Many react with fear and worry. Some panic. But God has a different perspective. We find His direction in the words Paul wrote to Timothy.

No matter what we face, we are not to be afraid. In every situation, God wants us to draw on the Spirit He has given us. Paul used three important words to define this spirit!

Power. As Christians, we are not weak or anemic. Because of Jesus, God, the Creator of all things, is our Father. We have access to the greatest power source in the universe. If we want to live in victory, we need to believe and exercise that power!

Love. No matter what we go through, God’s Spirit gives us a love that is beyond human understanding. We can love others, even those who don’t seem lovable.

Discipline. In uncertain times, it can be easy to feel unstable. But God gives us a spirit that enables us always to be confident. We do not need to fear but can be calm. But the Bible warns us not to be double-minded, for those who doubt are “like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Instead, we need to exercise self-control.

Today, ask God to remove any fear. “Stir up the gift of God” (v. 6 NKJV). Allow His Spirit to give you His power, love, and discipline.

 

The Christian—a debtor

By: Charles Spurgeon

“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.” Romans 8:12

Suggested Further Reading: Luke 7:36-50

Christian, stop and ponder for a moment! What a debtor thou art to divine sovereignty! Thou art not as some, who say, that thou didst choose thyself to be saved; but thou believest that God could have destroyed thee, if he had pleased, and that it is entirely of his own good pleasure that thou art made one of his, while others are suffered to perish. Consider, then, how much thou owest to his sovereignty! If he had willed it, thou wouldst have been among the damned; if he had not willed thy salvation, all thou couldst do would have been utterly powerless to deliver thee from perdition. Remember how much thou owest to his disinterested love, which rent his own Son from his bosom that he might die for thee! Let the cross and bloody sweat remind thee of thine obligation. Consider how much thou owest to his forgiving grace, that after ten thousand affronts he loves thee as infinitely as ever; and after a myriad sins, his Spirit still resides within thee. Consider what thou owest to his power; how he has raised thee from thy death in sin; how he has preserved thy spiritual life, how he has kept thee from falling, and how, though a thousand enemies have beset thy path, thou hast been able to hold on thy way! Consider what thou owest to his immutability. Though thou hast changed a thousand times, he has not changed once; though thou hast shifted thy intentions, and thy will, yet has he not once swerved from his eternal purpose, but still has held thee fast. Consider thou art as deep in debt as thou canst be to every attribute of God. To God thou owest thyself, and all thou hast. “Brethren, we are debtors.”

For meditation: The reasonable response to forgiven debt is love to God and to one another, but we will always be in debt (Romans 13:8).

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.