January 2018

January 31, 2018

Ezekiel 34:11
"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out." 

There is a park atop Beachy Head, the tallest chalk cliff on England’s Channel coast, where grazing sheep from various flocks keep the grass mown. When a farmer rolls up in his pick-up truck and gives a whistle, only the sheep that belong to him respond. While some think that is curious, Bible readers understand. While Jesus said His sheep know His voice, how many more times did He say, “He who has ears, let him hear?”:

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 11:15)

"He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 13:9)

"Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.(Matthew 13:43)

"And he said, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'" (Mark 4:9)

"And some [seeds] fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold. As he said these things, he called out, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'” (Luke 8:8)

"It [salt] is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Luke 14:35)

What’s the difference between knowing His voice and understanding what He says? Hearing God is your responsibility; it requires that you be quiet and ready. It takes time and discipline. His words are found in His Word, so regular Scripture reading is essential. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” His schedule isn’t always yours. If you are a good sheep, you will answer when He calls and go where He sends you. 

January 30, 2018

John 13:34-35
"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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." 

A group of salesmen went to a regional sales convention in Chicago. They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Christmas night’s dinner. In their rush through the airport, one of these salesmen inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane, just in time. All but one. He told the others to go on without him and went back to where the apples were all over the floor. He was glad he did.

The little girl, the apple seller, was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks, as she groped for her spilled produce, the crowd swirling about her, rushing to their flights.

The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped reorganize her display. He set aside the bruised and battered apples in a separate basket. When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, “Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did.

Are you okay?” She nodded through her tears. He continued, “I hope we didn’t spoil your day too badly.”

As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, “Mister….” He paused and turned to look back.

She continued, “Are you Jesus?”

He couldn’t get that question out of his head for days. It was such a simple, small-scale event, but it made him see clearly what following Christ was really all about. “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

January 29, 2018

Hebrews 12:1

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Within 2 months, John Landy eclipsed the record by 1.4 seconds.

On August 7, 1954, the two met together for an historic race. As they moved into the last lap, Landy held the lead. It looked as if he would win, but as he neared the finish he was haunted by the question, “Where is Bannister?”. As he turned to look, Bannister took the lead.

Landy later told a Time magazine reporter, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won!”

One of the most descriptive pictures of the Christian life in the Bible is of an athlete competing in a race. Discipline is the key to winning:

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

In Hebrews, we are encouraged to lay aside anything that might hinder our spiritual advancement and to stay focused on Christ:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

And in Philippians the apostle Paul said:

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,"  (Philippians 3:12-13)

You can't make spiritual progress by looking back.

Henry G. Bosch
Our Daily Bread
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley

January 28, 2018

Proverbs 9:13 
"The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing."  

What is flirtatious folly? It is enticement into reckless living. You may ask, “What does it look like?” Its coyness is conceived in attractive idiots, as these disguised fools seek to lure naïve ones into their stupidity. Foolishness loves friends. It approaches in the form of a well-dressed, well-spoken man or woman. They draw you in with their looks and latch onto you with their words. 

Folly can be found among the experienced and educated or run rampant in lives of the young and simple. It forces itself on the middle-aged father who has grown discontent with his faith, family, or vocation. Instead of listening to the voice of reason, he socializes with silliness and invites irresponsibility. However, he does not harvest happiness, because the fruit of folly is death: relational, spiritual, and emotional:  

"she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house." (Genesis 39:12)  

Moreover, wise men and women recognize the futility of folly and flee from its influence. They avoid sexual folly by cultivating a caring marriage. A happy wife is a happy life, and a happy husband is a happy home. Furthermore, financial folly is fleeting for a family who lives well within their means, growing in generosity. Their money becomes a means of honoring their Master Jesus:

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21)  

What form of folly is staring you in the face? Wisdom is your warning to flee where good judgment is absent. It may require changing schools, breaking off a relationship, or moving to another neighborhood. Wisdom may not be sexy, but it brings success and satisfaction. Walk in wisdom and you will reap rich relationships, robust faith, and peace of mind.   

"Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly." (Psalm 85:8)  

Who has been flirting with you that you need to disclose to your spouse? 

Wisdom Hunters

January 26-27, 2018

Philippians 1:5
"because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now."

In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom, Huck Finn, and Joe Harper slinked off for a few days away without telling anyone. Back home, their distraught loved ones assumed they had drowned, so they held a funeral. The boys—being boys—sneaked back into town and watched the funeral from the rafters of the church. There they enjoyed hearing the good things that were said about them.

A friend of mine took to heart the idea of telling people the good they had done in life—not waiting for their funeral service to do it. He wrote “eulogies” for several friends as birthday gifts. The response was exceedingly positive. The apostle Paul understood the value of genuine praise and encouragement. He began most of his letters by building up his intended audience. In his letter to the Philippians, he called them partners from the beginning:

"because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." (Philippians 1:5)

He expressed confidence that they would be standing together with one spirit and one purpose:

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel," (Philippians 1:27)

He spoke of their faithful service: 

"Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all." (Philippians 2:17) 

and called them his my joy and crown: 

"Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved." (Philippians 4:1)

He praised them for their generous financial support of his ministry:

"And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again." (Philippians 4:15-16)

All this praise was couched in the context of a faith and unity deeply rooted in Jesus. Paul said:

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  (Philippians 1:6)

This will result in the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ which in turn will bring much glory and praise to God:

"filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."  (Philippians 1:11)

Those of us who follow Christ are dead to sin:

"So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11)

Paul made his life a vibrant eulogy of gratitude to God. We can too.

Tim Gustafson

Previsous thoughts

January 25, 2018

1 Timothy 2:1
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people," 

Eighty-plus years ago, some businessmen gathered at W. Frank Graham’s dairy farm for a prayer meeting. They had met several times at different locations around Charlotte, North Carolina, to pray for revival in their city, across their state and to the ends of the Earth. That particular day, one man suggested they pray that God would raise up someone from Charlotte to spread the gospel to the world.

At that moment, 15-year-old Billy Graham was in the barn doing his chores. None of the men who prayed were thinking of young Billy, who had not yet even given his heart to Jesus Christ. Of course, God answered that prayer in an unimaginable way. Graham later said, “A mystery and wonder of prayer is that God often waits until someone asks.”

Commit to boldly pray for those in your city and this nation to discover a relationship with the Lord this year. Then ask God for a fresh anointing of His Spirit upon all Christian leaders in America. Your prayers will make a powerful difference!

January 24, 2018

Ezekiel 36:27

"And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."

A student named Steve Winger from Lubbock, TX was taking a challenging class in Logic. The course and teacher were known for exacting and demanding exams. The final exam was looming, and the professor mercifully told the class that each student would be permitted to bring in a single 8 x 11 ½ inch sheet with as much information as they could put on that one sheet for help during the test.

On exam day, each student came to class clutching their precious pieces of paper with as much information as possible. Some students had crammed lines and lines of font so tiny and so numerous onto that single sheet that you had to wonder how they could read it. But Steve walked in with a single blank sheet and a friend who was a senior student and who had an 'A' in logic. Steve bent down and placed that single, blank sheet of paper on the floor next to his desk. His expert friend stood on the paper.

The professor noticed the extra body in the room and asked what he was doing. Steve piped up, "You said we could bring in whatever we could fit on a single piece of paper for help on this test, well, this is my help and he can fit on the paper!"  He had followed the instructions to the letter and was the only student in that class to score an 'A' since he had his expert friend standing alongside him.

The Holy Spirit is like that friend, standing alongside us, supporting us, and guiding us - except that He is not only alongside of us, but He lives inside of us, guiding our every footstep, directing our paths, encouraging us to follow His direction daily and empowereing us with mercy and grace:

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16) 

"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own," (1 Corinthians 6:19)

"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."  (John 16:13)   

The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley

January 23, 2018

Romans 1:17 
"For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"

Walking with God for 30 years has taught me that when you dare trust Him, He may take you into narrow places that require faith. From 2005 to 2011, Colorado Springs, Colorado was my home. I loved the people, the ministry opportunities, and the nature. Many afternoons I pulled on my tennis shoes, grabbed my iPod, and headed out for a hike. 

One afternoon as I rounded a curve on one of my favorite hiking trails, I sensed a gentle whisper. It wasn’t audible, but it was as clear as if it had been spoken. “I want you to give me your life. Even Colorado Springs. If I keep you here, I want you to be okay with it, and if I take you from here, I want you to be okay with that too.” 

I turned to face the majestic Rockies. Tears puddled and ran down my cheeks. Colorado was so special to me but in the previous months I had felt a tugging on my heart. It was time to give up this beautiful state that I had come to call home. And, not only did I feel as if the Lord wanted me to leave Colorado, but that I was to rid myself of many of my possessions so I could lighten my load to minister to groups on a multi-state book tour. 

So, one sunny afternoon while I was sitting on the porch at my favorite coffee shop, I came across the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. This familiar story spoke to my heart in a new way. His possessions and riches were too important to him, and my comfort had become too important to me. God was asking me to step out in faith. 

After several other confirmations from the Lord in my circumstances and through Scripture, I knew it was time to move. I placed my furniture for sale on Craigslist and within two weeks it was gone. I gave away most everything else: my television, pictures, dishes, and I was off on a new adventure with Christ in my itty, bitty Volkswagen which I called “The Rollerskate.” Over the next year, I lived out of a suitcase and shared about Jesus with groups big and small. 

As soon as I made the decision to follow Christ into the unknown, unexpected miracles began to happen. He faithfully provided financially for me each step of the way even though I started my road trip with little. 

He gave me the precious opportunity of wiping away people’s tears and encouraging them—and the gift of sharing His love was worth more than any kitchen table or my favorite comfy couch. 

God may not ask you to sell your possessions, but at some point in your journey, He may ask you to follow Him into the unknown. And, what He asks of you may stretch you beyond your resources. When He asks, say yes. Why? Because your yes will prepare you for a later time when you will need greater faith to say yes to an even bigger calling. You will experience fulfillment and know you are pleasing your Father. 

"Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you."  (Luke 12:31)

The next time God asks, say "yes". 

Shana Schutte

Previous thoughts

January 22, 2018

James 5:16
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."

We cannot know ourselves by ourselves, we require the grace and truth of other loving relationships that reveal who we are and how we need to change for the good. I was reminded of this recently in our couples small group. My temperament looks for ways to be glad and not sad, yet the realities of life offer ongoing opportunities for hard, even heartbreaking experiences. I was called out by my group of friends for glossing over gloomy events. Only after I admit my faults, am I able to confess them to Christ and others for forgiveness, healing and transformation.  Through this process of transparency, I truly understand who I am and who I need to become. 

Very insightfully, James describes the power of knowing ourselves and being known by others. The outcome of honest confession and prayer is healing. The application of healing can include the physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and relational. Wow, what a simple, difficult process, with life changing results! The body is strengthened when sin is admitted, emotions grow self-aware, the soul is at rest, the mind is renewed not confused, and relationships grow in intimacy. Prayer goes to another level of effectiveness when people are honest about their imperfections. 

"Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." (Proverbs 28:13)

If your only understanding of yourself is yourself---you are a target for the devil’s half truths and deceptions. Isolated thinking can ignore who you really are in Christ---condemn you on one hand and exalt you above correction on the other extreme. It’s only when you look into the Scripture and, like viewing into a mirror, see growth by God’s grace with scattered pockets of pride in need of humility’s exposure. You grow to better know yourself when you reveal your vulnerable self. 

Do you feel known by those who know you the best? If not, share with them your struggles and fears, listen to their hopes and dreams, and seek to know others at the core of who they are---the good, the bad and the ugly. When you are brave enough to bare your soul, you give others permission and courage to reveal their flaws. When you take the time to process your pain, you free your heart from anger and resentment. Like a splinter needing extraction from the flesh, removing the source of your pain may cause more pain---but then real relief. Be bold to know and be known. 

"I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14)

What area of pain in your heart needs to be processed in prayer and with friends?

Wisdom Hunters

January 21, 2018

Colossians 3:1
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."

John Dahlem’s goal is to continually reach new heights! At 67 years of age, John was the second-oldest American to summit Mount Everest. He’s also the oldest to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, which is climbing the seven summits – the tallest mountains on each continent – plus pulling a sled to the North and South Poles. So what did John do to celebrate his seventieth birthday? He and his wife returned to Nepal to trek to Everest Base Camp!

Paul said: 

"I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings." (1 Corinthians 9:23)

After God captured Paul's life and heart, the apostle always looked upward toward heavenly goals. Paul's perspective on life was to become more like Jesus Christ and bring as many people as he could to Heaven.

Whatever mountains you may face this year, strive to put heavenly priorities into daily practice. Spend quality time with God. Look for opportunities to share His love with others through your actions and your words. Pray also that you will focus on the eternal rather than the temporal in personal and public decisions.

January 20, 2018

Nehemiah 1:4
"As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven."

It breaks my heart when I learn of leaders who don’t finish well. It’s doubly painful when someone I respect is discovered to have been living dual lives. One publicly moral persona, while at the same time a privately immoral one. These men and women, somewhere along the way, traded trust in God with trust in themselves. They became exceptions to the standards they once expected of others. It grieves me to perceive how it must feel for the fallen to face their family and friends in disgrace. Christ’s Kingdom continues, but my heart still breaks for broken leaders. 

Nehemiah sat down to weep, fast and pray once he heard and understood the serious plight of his people. He enjoyed the status of serving the King, while his family and friends struggled to survive back in his home city—Jerusalem. Nehemiah was moved by compassion for those who suffered without while he had plenty. He was compelled to use whatever influence and resources God had given him for the good of his people. Nehemiah was burdened to help the burdened. 

"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."  (Galatians 6:2)

What needs around you deserve your passionate support? What breaks your heart, because it breaks the heart of your heavenly Father? Maybe you suffered from the heartache of divorce. Now your empathy naturally engages with those in divorce recovery. Because of your experience you can love them through this process of healing to wholeness. Or, you might help young couples avoid the common mistakes made early on in marriage. Teach them the skills of effective communication, authentic forgiveness and how to emotionally engage. What breaks your heart? 

Once we identify a need that moves us to action, let’s first fast and pray for the Lord’s plan. A prayed through process is much better than a knee jerk reaction in our own strength. It’s important we start with a clean heart. We confess our sins, so we are able to best serve those scarred by sin. By God’s grace we organize and implement ministry methods that give God the glory, not ourselves. We are free from self-serving motivations, so we can bring to bear the best resources for those under a heavy burden. A heart broken by God is a heart blessed by God. 

"But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you." (1 Chronicles 29:14)

How can you be more accountable to not drift into bad habits that don’t end well? 

Wisdom Hunters

January 19, 2018

John 10:27
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."

Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator.  Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the office address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man filled out his form and sat down with the seven other applicants in the waiting area. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. They muttered among themselves that they hadn't heard any summons yet.  They assumed that the young man who went into the office made a mistake and would be disqualified.

Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, "Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled." 

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and one spoke up saying, "Wait a minute, I don't understand. He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That's not fair!" The employer said, "I'm sorry, but the last several minutes while you've been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: 'If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.' None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his."

We are so busy, living in a world that is full of noise and clatter, just like that office. People are distracted and unable to hear the still, small voice of God as He speaks through His creation, through His Scriptures, and through His Holy Spirit, who lives in us:

"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own," (1 Corinthians 6:19)

So I ask you, as I ask myself, "Are you listening, or are you waiting to be called?" Do you hear the Lord when he speaks to you?  Is your spiritual ear atuned to Him or are you blocked from hearing His voice because you're focused on all the other voices in your life?

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27) 

The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley

January 18, 2018

Ezra 1:1
"...the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, ..." 

Our God is a promise-keeping God! And the time had come when He was ready to see His people return to their land. He had shown Himself faithful by sovereignly protecting them while in the Babylonian captivity, but now it was time to return to Jerusalem. And so the Lord put the desire to carry out His will into the heart of the new king.

The word translated “stirred up” in today’s verse comes from the Hebrew “ur.” In addition to meaning stir up, it also means to wake up, lift up, raise up. God, who does not slumber nor sleep had to awaken Cyrus in order that His plans and promises might be fulfilled. 

"Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:4)

"The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will."  (Proverbs 21:1)

When God wants to move to keep a promise, He will stir the heart of someone to action. Is that someone you? You might not be a king, but Is the Lord influencing you to do something today? Is your heart available to be turned in the direction the Lord desires? Or are you asleep? Nothing can ever stifle God’s plans nor keep Him from His promises when He deems the time to be right. Pray you will be obedient, with a willing heart awakened and stirred up to do His will.

Presidential Prayer Team

January 17, 2018

Ephesians 4:1

"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called," 

For every minute of every day since July 2, 1937, select military have guarded the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. But they aren’t standing still. The follow a precise pattern: 21 steps across the tomb, turn and face the tomb for 21 seconds, then turn again and walk 21 steps back across. This is repeated over and over, ever the same. The numeral 21 represents America’s highest honor. 

In the same way those who perform that duty know their steps, Christians have been given precise steps to follow in a life worthy of their calling. The Bible says you are to walk a different way – following Christ – with steps of humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, compassion and love. No matter your circumstances, good, bad or beyond your control, and no matter how blurred the path into the future, Jesus calls you to order each step.

Walking in a way that honors the Lord is a daily commitment. Pray for wisdom to know which steps to take. Then intercede for others, especially those in positions of authority, to make their steps follow Him.

Presidential Prayer Team

January 16, 2018

Romans 16:20
"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

I recently had a conversation with a woman who shared about her disappointments and specifically shared about her biggest heartbreak. While speaking about her troubles, she said, “That experience ruined my life.” Her comment saddened me.

I went home, crawled into bed, and her words rolled around in my heart and mind all night long. Sometime between wake and sleep, an answer came to my mind for her. “No, your life is not ruined. It’s redeemed.” I remembered that redemption is the absolute best way to choose to see all of life’s challenges lest we be overcome with utter despair. 
The next day, inspired by my conversation with this woman, I wrote a letter to my eight-month old grandson in a book of letters that I am creating for him which he will receive when he is a young man:

“During life, you’ll experience lots of firsts. Some of them, you’ll choose. Some of them you won’t. Some will be thrust on you. Some will be delightful, some won’t. You’ll experience firsts your entire life: the first time you laugh, walk, and sing a song. The first time you catch a ball, eat macaroni and cheese, and skip.

As you get older, your “firsts” will get a little more complicated. Like the first time a friend hurts you, or the first time a young woman you like doesn’t reciprocate your affections. (Oh, I would love it if this never happened to you!) My prayer is that your days would be filled with many joy-filled and delightful firsts.

But as much as your parents, or Grandpa and I would love to protect you from difficult firsts, we can’t. And, these firsts are important to shape you into the person God desires that you become.

But here’s a secret: Difficult firsts can turn out for your good. They can strengthen you. Or they can become a crippling thing that you never get past. One way to guarantee that not only your difficult firsts, but all challenging or heartbreaking experiences in life, don’t rob your joy or cause you to become bitter and steal the life of your heart is to “reframe” them.

What I mean is, you choose to look at them through the lens of God’s redemption. You deliberately decide to see them as God sees them. Difficult? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Able to be redeemed and used for a greater good? Absolutely. This is the promise of Romans:

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

As you choose to see your struggles and life challenges in God’s redemptive light, then you may even begin to see them as a gift, experiences that have caused you to become more discerning, prayerful, compassionate, courageous, or kind. Only you have the power to decide how your struggles will shape you.

They can make you bitter, or they can make you better. Always choose better. You will be glad and those who know you will be glad too. There’s no telling the number of people you will be able to inspire by choosing this inner greatness. It’s the stuff that heroes are made of.

I love you.


So, what’s your greatest life challenge? How have you been choosing to see it? Are you viewing it through the lens of God’s redemption?

"...The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil."  (1 John 3:8b)

Think about your greatest life challenge. Next, “reframe” it by thinking about it the way God thinks about it. What have you learned, not in spite of what happened, but because of it? How can you cooperate with God so it’s used for a greater good?

Shana Schutte

January 14-15, 2018

Job 10:2
"I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me."

I have been asked the question several times, many times: Why does God allow it?‎ People suffer disasters and devastating losses. Perhaps the most painful is the loss of a child. Why does a God of love and mercy that we read about and hear about allow such a terrible thing to happen?

Over 3,000 years ago, there was a man named Job who struggled with the same question. He asked "Why?" because he was a good man and yet disaster struck him suddenly and swiftly. He lost seven sons and three daughters. He lost all his possessions. He even lost his health. Even his wife and his friends turned against him. His wife told him "Curse God and die." And in the midst of his suffering he asked this question: "Why?"

And yet, Job found there were lessons to be learned from his suffering even if he didn't fully understand it. And that is true for all of us as well. What are some of the lessons that we can learn when we suffer a devastating loss?

First, there is a mystery to it. I've been asked why God allows it. I don't know. I can't give a direct answer. I have to confess that I never fully understand even for my own satisfaction. I have to accept by faith that God is a God of love and mercy and compassion even in the midst of suffering.

The Bible says that God is not the author of evil. There is something about evil that we will never fully understand this side of eternity. But the Bible says two other things that we sometimes forget. It tells us that there is a devil, that Satan is very real and he has great power. It also tells us that Satan seeks to separate us from God and destroy us.

Times like this will cause one of two things to happen: They will either make us hard and bitter and angry toward God, or make us tender and open, and help us to reach out in trust and faith.

I pray that you will not let bitterness and poison creep into your soul, but you will turn in faith and trust in God even if we cannot understand. It is better to face something like this with God than without Him.

Billy Graham

Previous thoughts

January 13, 2018

John 16:16
"A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me."

Two weeks before Christmas in 2000 my dad breathed his last breath. I stood by his bedside and wept, because I had just lost my earthly father. I knew in my head I would see him again—“in a little while”—in heaven, but my heart ached. As I searched for reassurance, my heavenly Father comforted my soul. It was surreal. I was the oldest child, now in a new season of added responsibility. I needed the Spirit’s support and I needed to know one day I would see my dad again. I rested in peace knowing my father rested in peace. In a little while I will see Jesus and Dad. 

Jesus took time to tell the disciples of His departure so they could be hopeful to see Him again. The reality of His cross, resurrection and ascension meant seeing their Savior with fresh eyes of faith. Since Jesus would not physically be with them, they would have to elevate their trust in Him. Emotionally, the disciples debated among themselves what “in a little while” meant, instead of simply asking Jesus. Their conversation could have received clarity by going to Christ. The revelation of God’s will can be mysterious, thus we wait on the Spirit to give us understanding. 

"For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever,"  (Philemon 1:15)

Are you waiting on clarity in your career, what to do with a child or how to approach a life issue? You may be wearied from competing conversations with people and now you need to draw strength from communion with Christ. Obey God in what you know to be true. In a little while obedience will bring clarity, but disobedience only creates confusion. Trust Jesus when you don’t understand and He will elevate your faith to another level of loving patience. For a little while you won’t know what to do, but in a little while you will. Faith waits on God. 

Above all, we anticipate being with our Lord Jesus in a little while. Our body aches, but in a little while we will rest. Our soul sorrows, but in a little while we will rejoice. Our emotions conflict, but in a little while we will be calm. Our mind forgets, but in a little we will remember. Our faith wavers, but in a little while we will be secure. Our hope fades, but in a little while we will be at peace. Our love is imperfect, but in a little while it will be perfected. We see our heavenly Father dimly in a mirror, but in a little while we will see Him face to face! Faith anticipates seeing God. 

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

What inconvenient place is Christ leading you to willingly serve? 

Wisdom Hunters

January 12, 2018

Genesis 1:27
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." 

The loss of a dear relative or friend plunges us into painful grief that we cannot understand or control. How and why are we wired to feel such grief?

I have been thinking over the past couple of weeks how much we must resemble God in our grief. We are created in His image, so He must also feel grief. I read that animals also spend much of their lives grieving over their lost ones, so it must be a common emotion we all share--a mark of our Maker. God is a joyful, happy God who also feels grief deeply with us, so much so that He sent Jesus into our world to rescue us permanently from death.

Jesus was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief":

"He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3)

He even wept openly when his friend Lazarus died:

"Jesus wept" (John 11:35)

The Jews were moved to comment:

"... 'See how he loved him!'" (John 11:36)

We also read in Ephesians that it is possible for us to cause the Holy Spirit to grieve when we sin:

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30)

The pain of my own grief is a startling reminder that the Spirit, who exists to comfort me in my grief, has felt grief at my own hand. This makes me want to avoid sin even more.

The ultimate grief on earth and in heaven was the crucifixion. God the Father must have felt devastating grief when He watched His Son die painfully on the cross. But He has a plan to use that grief for our salvation. Nobody could have understood it at the time. And we can’t understand the devastating losses we suffer today. But we can be certain that God loves us, and is working out a plan that we will understand someday.

Jesus wept. God weeps with us. It is a mystery today, but God will restore your joy. Please be very confident in that.

James A. Brewer

January 11, 2018

Zechariah 8:6 (NRSV) 
"Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts?'"

The New Year always brings with it a renewed sense of ambition and motivation. It feels like a fresh start, a blank slate. We often set goals and challenge ourselves to take ground in new and uncharted areas. Whether it’s a goal of improved fitness, kicking a bad habit, healing a relational wound, or pursuing a new business adventure, we all have something we’d like to achieve. Yet whatever the goal may be, usually we choose them because they feel achievable. They seem to be within our grasp, within our power to control and achieve. And while this is good and helpful, what about the goals in life that we desperately desire yet can never achieve on our own? 
The people of Israel deeply desired an impossible dream. They found themselves exiled in Babylon and longing for home, yet entirely helpless to do anything about their situation. Into the bleakness of this moment, Zechariah speaks words of hope and healing: what is surely impossible in your own strength is never impossible for the Lord. 
Are there dreams that you’ve never dreamed because they seemed too far-fetched and impossible? Is there a healing of past wounds that you desire more than anything in the world, yet the wound has always felt too deep and wide, like a chasm that can never be crossed? Is there something that you want to do for God’s Kingdom that seems to combine your unique gifts and the particular needs of your community, yet you think, “surely it’s more than I can handle.” 
To follow Jesus is to believe in impossible goals. It is a posture of humble dependence upon the Lord, acknowledging our own weaknesses and limitations yet daily celebrating his infinite strength and power. There are dreams that God has for his creation that he longs to bring into being, and he delights in inviting us to join him in that holy work. 

God wants to accomplish wonderful things in you and through you. Allow yourself to dream big dreams with God this New Year, trusting and believing that he is able to bring them to life!   

"But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"   (Matthew 19:26)  

Are there God-given dreams and desires that you’ve laid aside that he’s asking you to pick back up? 

Tripp Prince

January 10, 2018

Genesis 18:14
"Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son."

I don’t like to do the hard things. I tend to put them off. Hard conversations, hard financial decisions, hard trips, visits to the dentist, doctor and gym tend to interest me the least. It’s easier to do the easy things first: eat, forget, worry, gossip, review email, check social media, or call a friend. Ironically, the pain of waiting to confront the hard thing is worse than addressing the hard issue or hard person up front. Hard things are my opportunity for courage and trust in the Lord. 

Abraham and Sarah faced a divine test—something hard to believe. In their current elderly state God promised them a son. Their faith wavered. They would be blessed by a son, but Sarah was beyond the age for childbearing and they knew for sure their energy for raising a little one was on the wane. Both were startled at this unrealistic expectation—Sarah even laughed within herself, but when confronted with her crisis of faith denied her doubts. This opportunity from the Lord was hard to accept, but by faith Sarah eventually received this promise of God’s faithfulness:

"By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised." (Hebrews 11:11)

What hard thing do you need to face sooner than later? If you failed to meet someone’s expectations, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The awkwardness will not go away, it will only exasperate. Schedule a coffee and have an honest discussion of what transpired and express your desire to make things right. Humility gives grace and courage to do hard things. Moreover, make hard financial decisions now, so you have better options later. Trust God will provide, but only after you provide Him reasons showing you are a faithful manager of His resources. Make hard choices. 

Most of all, by faith—let’s believe what the Lord has promised—as we face hard things. Jesus is with us and will never leave us regardless of the degree of difficulty we face. God gives us wisdom to understand and discern His ways. When we ask and listen the Spirit speaks to our mind and heart. Christ in us is our courage. He infuses us with faith and resolve to finish the task. Our heavenly Father wants us to draw near to His loving heart as we encounter hard situations. Nothing is too hard for our Creator, Savior and Lord. All things are possible with God! 

"But he [Jesus] said, 'What is impossible with man is possible with God.'"  (Luke 18:27)

What hard thing do you need to press through and trust the Lord is at work? 

Wisdom Hunters

Previous thoughts

December 9, 2018

Deuteronomy 2:3
"You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward" 

Will 2018 be different than 2017?  Will you "press on" in your faith this year and focus on what lies ahead, or will you continue to focus on your past?

Listen to this wonderful challenge from Ruth Graham.  "Either we can be victimized and become victims, or we can be victimized and rise above it. Often it is easier to play the victim than take off our masks and ask for help. We get comfortable with our victim status. It becomes our identity and is hard to give up. The Israelites often played the victim card, and I love what God finally tells them, 

"You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward" (Deuteronomy 2:3)

Turn north! It's time to move on! self-pity, fear, pride, and negativity paralyze us. Taking off our masks takes courage, but if we don't do it, we will remain in our victim status and end up stunted."

What about you?

  • Do you keep talking and talking and talking about something you just can't get over? 
  • Are you living in the past because you just can't "let it go"?
  • Do you keep wallowing in self-pity wondering what "could have been"?
  •  Have you discussed it over and over with different people but you've never taken action?
  • Have you worried and worried about it but you've never done anything?
  • Are you still living in misery because it's something you can't forgive or forget? 
  •  Have you circled and circled and circled this issue all your life? 
The time has come!!! You have circled this mountain long enough.  Now turn north!

David Langerfeld
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley

January 8, 2018

John 5:39–40
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes of the “uncanny ability of experts to get things hopelessly, cataclysmically wrong.” A quick glance at recent history shows he’s right. The great inventor Thomas Edison, for instance, once declared that talking movies would never replace silent films. And in 1928, Henry Ford declared, “People are becoming too intelligent ever to have another war.” Countless other predictions by “experts” have missed the mark badly. Genius obviously has its limits.

Only one Person is completely reliable, and He had strong words for some so-called experts. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day claimed to have the truth. These scholars and theologians thought they knew what the promised Messiah would be like when He arrived. Jesus cautioned them:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life...” (John 5:39)

Then he pointed out how they were missing the heart of the matter:

"it is they [the Scriptures] that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." (John 5:40)

As another new year gets underway, we will hear predictions ranging from the terrifying to the wildly optimistic. Many of them will be stated with a great deal of confidence and authority. Don’t be alarmed. Our confidence remains in the One at the very heart of the Scriptures. He has a firm grip on us and on our future. Knowing the future is uncertain; knowing the One who holds the future is a sure thing.

Tim Gustafson

January 7, 2018

Matthew 12:18, 21
"Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles... and in his name the Gentiles will hope."

This week Christians around the world celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, a well-known and widely celebrated feast in many parts of the world, yet lesser known and even less frequently celebrated here in the United States. When we hear the word “epiphany,” I think we most frequently associate it with a great idea that comes to you suddenly and unexpectedly. An epiphany helps you move forward when you think you’ve reached a dead end and a shut door. Previous convictions and conclusions are cast into a new light as the impact of the epiphany unfolds.

The assumption in the Jewish community into which Jesus was born, was that God’s plan of salvation and redemption was a particularly Jewish hope and expectation. Israel, long suffering in bondage and exile, longed for God’s promises to come true, for him to right their wrongs and establish the work of their hands:

"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" (Psalm 90:17)

Yet within these hopes and dreams there was little to no imagination that the promises given to them were to be extended to the whole of creation, and that they were chosen explicitly to join God in this expansive mission!

Though largely minimized and ignored, this vision of blessing the nations pops up from time to time in the Old Testament, and in Matthew’s gospel we see these words quoted from Isaiah and applied to the mission of Jesus. Through him justice will be proclaimed to the Gentiles:

"and in his name the Gentiles will hope." (Matthew 12:21)

Christians associate this Epiphany celebration with the Magi, and see these wise men as representative of the nations coming to Jesus. It is the celebration of the ends of the earth drawing near to Jesus and finding in him hope, peace, and healing for the nations.

What was true over two thousand years ago is still true today. The nations long for hope, peace, and healing and search far and wide until they find it. Jesus continues to enter into the chaos and darkness of our world and shines his light for all to see. May we join the Magi and draw near to him afresh, offering our gifts of thanksgiving and praise and celebrate the light that shines for all to see!

How can you reach out to a non-Christian friend and invite them to consider the life that Jesus offers freely to them?

Tripp Prince

January 6, 2018

Proverbs 7:6-7
"For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense," 

Most young people yearn for someone to invest time and wisdom in them. They know deep in their heart they need help handling their heartaches. Their naïve level of knowledge has yet to graduate them from the ‘school of hard knocks’, so they need wise and loving instruction. Who in your circle of influence is a candidate for your caring attention? 
It may be a son or daughter, a colleague at work or a friend from church. God places people in our lives for a purpose. Perhaps you prayerfully pursue a mentor relationship with a teachable young person. They can learn from your mistakes as much or more as from your wise choices. 

Mentors are not perfect, just wiser from failure and humbled by successes. Look around and ask the Lord to lead you to a young person who may be edging toward the wrong direction. Reach out and you will have returned the favor to someone who loved you.   

"This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,"  (1 Timothy 1:18)  

Indeed mentors take time for others because they are eternally grateful for those who took time for them. Gratitude to God is a great reason to go the extra mile with someone younger. Read books together; maybe a book a month for a year. Meet over coffee to discuss how the book challenged your thinking or changed your behavior for the better. 

A young leader can preclude problems when she is able to model the wise habits of her mentor. Always invite an older adult into your life who can educate you in the ways of God. Moreover, the mentoring process is valuable to both parties. It provides accountability, encouragement, love and obedience to Christ’s commands. Mentor young people so they follow the right path, and in turn, help someone else do the same. The Bible says,

“… encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children… Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.” (Titus 2:4,6)  

In whom is the Lord leading you to invest time, wisdom and resources?

Wisdom Hunters

January 5, 2018

John 5:39–40
"You [religious leaders] search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." 

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes of the “uncanny ability of experts to get things hopelessly, cataclysmically wrong.” A quick glance at recent history shows he’s right. The great inventor Thomas Edison, for instance, once declared that talking movies would never replace silent films. And in 1928, Henry Ford declared, “People are becoming too intelligent ever to have another war.” Countless other predictions by “experts” have missed the mark badly. Genius obviously has its limits.

Only one Person is completely reliable, and He had strong words for some so-called experts. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day claimed to have the truth. These scholars and theologians thought they knew what the promised Messiah would be like when He arrived. Jesus cautioned them:

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."  (John 5:39–40)

As another new year gets underway, we’ll hear predictions ranging from the terrifying to the wildly optimistic. Many of them will be stated with a great deal of confidence and authority. Don’t be alarmed. Our confidence remains in the One at the very heart of the Scriptures. He has a firm grip on us and on our future.

Knowing the future is uncertain; knowing the One who holds the future is a sure thing.

Our Daily Bread

January 4, 2018

Psalm 90:12
"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." 

Your day is like everyone else’s. God has given you 24 hours, or 1,440 minutes, or exactly 86,400 seconds each day.  Time management experts tell you to make every second count. Whether you do or you don’t, one thing is clear: life can be long or short; it largely depends on how you determine to live it. For some, time is a thing taken for granted; for others, it may be that a physician has said there are but a few months to live. Your perspective on time dictates how you use it:

"So it was not you [Joseph's brothers] who sent me [Joseph] here [Egypt], but God..."  (Genesis 45:8)

Things that robs individuals of time are unforgiveness, fearfulness and regret. Emotions sneak up and before long, too much thought has been taken over by them; too many seconds, hours or days have been lost. Joseph could have said that life wasn’t fair, and he’d have been right. Once sold by his brothers, he knew his future was uncertain. But he also knew he had a relationship with a very certain God. God used all of his circumstances to mold character, and that included forgiveness, fearlessness and relief.

As you look to the time given you in the New Year, how will you make the most of it? Begin by forgiving those who’ve wronged you, by finding a spirit of full trust in God, and living without regrets. Find a spirit of forgiveness as you move forward into 2018—and find a spiritual relationship with the certain God in uncertain times.

What will you do with your time remaining?

January 3, 2018

2 Corinthians 5:17
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." 

Typical resolutions in January are to lose weight, exercise more, spend less time at work and more time with family—maybe even stop chatting on the cell phone while driving. It’s not surprising that we want to change the things in our lives that we are unhappy about—even though most New Year’s resolutions are kept for no more than three weeks. What if you were to ask God what He wants you to change, improve, or begin this year? He might tell you:

Demonstrate more of the fruit of the Spirit in your life:

"... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; ..." (Galatians 5:22-23)

He might also say:

"... love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"  (Matthew 5:44)

"...'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.'"  (Mark 16:15)

"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'"  (Hebrews 13:5)

"... walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it."  (2 John 1:6).

As believers and new creations, we can be free from old patterns and failures. We must ask God to help us live each day in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then we can shed the old and embrace the new:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Resolutions are easier to keep when you rely on God.

Cindy Hess Kasper

January 2, 2018

Mark 1:35
"And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed." 

Following his failure in parliament, William Wilberforce, a Christian statesman in Great Britain over a century ago, remarked on its possible cause. He said the problem may have been that he had not spent enough time in his private devotions earnestly seeking the will of God.

Jesus’ schedule was busy, but He made time with His Father the day’s first priority. Many distractions could have disrupted Him, but He avoided them by going to an isolated place so His attention could be fully focused. Jesus prayed. We know from other Bible verses that He prayed for himself, but He also prayed for those closest to Him and their needs, and for the whole world to be filled with the knowledge of God.

In this New Year, use your devotional time to commune with the Lord, reading His Word and praying for others. Ask that those who know Him will be filled with His wisdom, and that the “eyes” of those who do not yet know Him would be opened so they will come to a saving faith in Jesus.

January 1, 2018

Joshua 1:8
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." 

Google the word “success” and you’ll quickly discover that people are interested in everything from how to be successful, to who is successful and why, to what it takes to realize one’s dreams. For many, success is an obsession. What is the recipe for success as described in today’s verse from Joshua? The book of Psalms describes the person who meditates on God’s Word as:

"... like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers." (Psalm 1:3)

Jesus says:

"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."(John 15:5)

In this New Year, delight in the Lord and mediate on the truth of the Bible. He’ll shape your desires according to His will and then grant them:

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)

"And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us." (1 John 5:14)

Then pray that all people will turn to God as their source of genuine success.

Vantage Point Devotional