September 30, 2018
A FOOL FOR CHRIST'S SAKE
1 Corinthians 4:10
“We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.”
Sometimes we are seen as fools for Christ; such was the case my freshman year in college. As a new Christian I wanted (sometimes obnoxiously) all my friends to know my new best friend---Jesus! I could hear a common refrain, “Boyd got religion. He’s a little crazy, he’ll get over it”. Fast forward forty years, I was asked to say a few words at our 40th class reunion to 100 classmates and acquaintances. “Fools” find favor from skeptics after life’s hardships take their toil on unwise living. By God’s grace I spoke about His love, and the peace He offers when we surrender to the Lord through faith in His son Jesus. Once labeled a fool, I’m now able to offer life that is truly life!
The “wise” Corinthians looked down on Paul’s simplistic preaching of the cross of Christ's love as incomplete, even foolish. It’s no wonder those immersed in the complexity of a world whose wisdom is built on human intelligence and ingenuity are offended by someone who calls them out for their contempt for the cross and for their crass living. If a Christian is branded a fool for his faith he must graciously and unashamedly stay true to proclaiming the gospel’s power. Avoid being put to shame by society’s skeptics and instead shamelessly share the love of Jesus.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Are you hesitant to share the gospel for fear of being shunned as a fanatic? If so, pause, pray and inhale the love of the Lord, the security of His son Jesus and courage from the Holy Spirit. Next, exhale the fear of being rejected, pride from not wanting to be offensive and the need to be in control of uncertain outcomes. As you admit your own struggles and doubts, you earn the trust to tell others how you came to trust Christ, and how you learned from Him to experience peace in the middle of struggles and reassurance in your doubts. Unloved hearts yearn for God’s love!
Above all, reflect often on how Jesus walked in humility, but boldly proclaimed the truth of God and the pathway to forgiveness through faith and repentance. When questioned for having the credentials to speak about God, since He was “only” a carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus leaned into His calling from His heavenly Father for validation and acceptance. You are in good company, accompanied by early Christ followers. Following His immediate death, resurrection and ascension, they were ordered by authorities to stop speaking about the divine authority of Jesus. We are, as they were---compelled by the love of God to risk being called fools for Christ. And sometimes---as life happens, redeemed fools may become wise in the eyes of unredeemed fools.
“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'” (Acts 5:29-32)
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
Who is the Lord leading you to boldly tell your story of falling in love with Jesus in a winsome and gracious manner?
September 28-29, 2018
KNOCKING THEM DOWN
"For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”
A young man who was an All-American football player in college went back to his alma mater as an assistant coach. One of his main responsibilities in his new job would be to go out and scout and recruit players for his college team.
Before he made his first recruiting trip, he went in to visit with the head coach, the same coach for whom he had played when he was there in college some years before. The head coach was a crusty old veteran. He had held that position as head coach for many years, was widely known and highly respected all across the country. The new young coach said to him, "Coach, I'm about to head out on my first recruiting trip, but before I go I want to be sure that we are on the same page. Tell me, Coach, what kind of player do you want me to recruit?"
The crusty old head coach leaned back in his chair. He looked the young coach straight in the eyes and said: "Son, I've been at this job a long time and over the years I have noticed that there are several different kinds of players. For example," he said, "you will find some players who get knocked down and they stay down. That's not the kind we want!"
And he said, "You will find some players who get knocked down and they will get right back up and get knocked down again and then they stay down. That's not the kind we want!"
And then the old coach said, "But you will also find some other players who get knocked down and knocked down and knocked down, and every time they get knocked down, they get right back up!"
At this point, the young coach got excited and he said, "Now, that's the kind of player we want, isn't it, Coach?"
"No!" said the old head coach. "We want the one doing all that knocking down!!"
Yes, we are called to be strong and to stand firm and to get back up when were been knocked down - and we commend people like that for being people of great faith. We must also remember that we in the church are called to knock down walls of hate and hostility and unforgiveness - and to build bridges of love and reconciliation.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
September 26-27 ,2018
IN HIS NAME
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
One of my favorite collections of photos is of a family dinner. Preserved in an album are images of Dad, his sons and their wives, and his grandchildren in a time of thanksgiving and intercession.
Dad had suffered a series of strokes and was not as verbal as usual. But during that time of prayer, I heard him say with heartfelt conviction: “We pray in Jesus’ name!” About a year later, Dad passed from this world into the presence of the One in whose name he placed such trust.
Jesus taught us to pray in His name. The night before He was crucified, He gave a promise to His disciples:
“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)
But let us always remember that the promise of asking in Jesus’ name is not a blank check that we might receive anything to fulfill our personal whims. Earlier that evening, Jesus taught that He answers requests made in His name so that He will bring glory to the Father:
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)
And later that night, Jesus Himself prayed in anguish:
“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39)
As we pray, we yield to God’s wisdom, love, and sovereignty, and we confidently ask “in Jesus’ name.” Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God.
September 25, 2018
“but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
Kaleidoscopes are fascinating things. A simple tube, colorful pieces of glass, stones, shells or paper, and a series of mirrors, when put together, looked into toward the light and rotated can delight people of every age and culture. The more it is rotated, the more the picture changes. There could be millions of patterns.
“but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me,…” (Jeremiah 9:14)
God is like that! His love, for example, is an expansive kaleidoscope of images, that you can look at and study from many angles, often seeing it in entirely new ways. No matter how much you try to understand Him or that abundant love, you never see the same picture twice. The more you know, the more you want to know; and the more you know, the more delighted you become with Him and His love.
Learning more about God is far more than an intellectual pursuit. Understanding Him will take more than a lifetime. Author and theologian J.I. Packer asks: “To know God. What aim should we set for ourselves? To know God. What is the best thing in life…bringing more joy, delight, contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”
Take more time in God’s Word today. Seek the brilliant kaleidoscope of the aspects of Himself that He has revealed.
The Presidential Prayer Team
September 24, 2018
“So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job's prayer. And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
Friends snared by sin need our prayers, not our prognosis. God’s part is conviction and life change, while our part is prayer. There is definitely a time and place to confront a believer in disobedience. However, we are not the judge—God is. Other-centered praying is freeing for both the person praying and the person being prayed for. As we pray for others, we are freed from preoccupation with our own problems.
Indeed, the severity of another’s needs tend to dwarf our own. It is through the posture of praying for another that our perspective becomes healthier. Our gratitude grows through selfless prayer. We learn to count our many blessings and be content. Of course it is okay to ask God’s favor on our life, but not at the expense of excluding prayer for others.
“And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” (Genesis 25:21)
Authentic Christianity results in love for people. Is prayer a meaningful way to love? Of course, and the greatest test may be to pray for those who do not pray for you. This is truly unselfish praying. Your only reward may be a clear conscience before God. Pray for your adversaries, and trust the Lord to accomplish His purpose in their life, in His time. Jesus said:
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44)
An exciting part of praying for others is the change you experience. Prayer for people cultivates an attitude of love and forgiveness in the person praying that no human counselor can provide. Godly counsel can guide you there, but only God can produce transformation of the heart. Prayer places you face-to-face with your heavenly Father.
Talk with God often about the needs of others, but be careful; you may become an answer to your own prayer. Pray for a friend in financial need, and the Lord may lead you to assist. Pray for a relative whose heart is hard, and God may lead you to soften this person with kindness. Pray for a child who has lost a parent, and you may become his or her parent. Pray for the leadership needs at the church, and by faith you may step into that leadership role. Be keenly aware of what you pray, as you may become the answer to your own prayer.
Most importantly, pray for those outside of faith in Christ. You can pray this boldly, knowing it is God’s will. Pray God will use you, circumstances, and other believers to draw another to Him. A stubborn heart is no match for prayer. Satan’s deception is no match for prayer. Prayer can travel behind enemy lines and accomplish more in a moment than a lifetime of worry and work. Pray for sinners to be saved and glorify God.
“Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1)
How can you regularly pray for the needs of family, friends, and foes to be met in Christ?
September 23, 2018
BACK TO SUNDAY SCHOOL
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
As Labor Day approaches, newspapers are full of advertisements for “Back to School” sales. Children look forward to new backpacks, clothes, books, and school supplies. Parents can go back to their normal schedules. As the lazy days of August fade away, it is time to go back to class and step up a grade higher.
People are not born literate and “numerate.” Decoding language symbols and manipulating the decimal number system is learned behavior. It does not come automatically. It is hard work.
Knowing God’s Word doesn’t come automatically either. It must be patiently taught by the mature to the immature, from the wise to the young.
God’s Word has real answers for the most important questions: where we came from, the meaning of our present existence, and what happens after death. Only Scripture helps us discover our Creator; only Scripture helps us meet our Savior; only Scripture reveals the Spirit’s agenda for our lives.
King Solomon wrote that only those who know the Lord are truly wise:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
As we get ready for a new school year, let us not forget Sunday school. And remember, our Sunday School teachers cannot and should not relieve us from our own responsibility to teach and discipline our children, but they are priceless partners in this crucially important endeavor.
September 22, 2018
“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:”
God presides over the courtroom of our culture. He is the Chief Justice over our cares, concerns and corruption. Nothing done in this life sneaks by our Savior. We can be certain that Christ will judge our actions, or our inactions. He is the judge to be feared. He is the judge our judges should fear. For instance, Moses sat in judgment of the people. They stood to plead their case and he sat, listened and dispensed wisdom:
“The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening.” (Exodus 18:13)
God was his model of justice.
Indeed, the judges of our land are not the final answer. They answer to Almighty God. Woe to them if they acquit the guilty, or condemn the innocent. Great responsibility resides with the one who presides in judgment.
Therefore, pray for our judges to petition heaven for help. There is a guide for defining right and wrong. The Bible is the basis for our justice system. Holy Scripture is the baseline for our laws. It defines and illustrates God’s moral law. It is designed to be the conscience of our culture. Judges do have boundaries to prevent them from perverting justice.
“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” (Exodus 18:21-22)
The same applies to us when we find ourselves in a position to preside over another’s problems. Two parties may bring to us conflicting opinions. Our first question as mediator is “What does the Bible teach?” “What eternal principles apply to this situation?” A child may be right in their grievance against their parents, but are they honoring them in the process?:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
We use our level of influence to leverage what the Lord thinks. Engage conflict with Christ’s view.
Lastly, live your life with actions that can stand under the scrutiny of your Savior. Be ever aware of the courtroom of Christ as your ultimate accountability:
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-13)
You may mask your motives with a smile and sincerity, but your true intent will one day be exposed. The Lord God is your final authority. What you do in the dark—where no one is watching—will one day come out under the light of the Lord. Live an accountable life that one day answers to God:
“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)
September 20-21, 2018
A GOOD NAME
“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.”
King Solomon observed:
“The memory of the righteous is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7)
“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches…” (Proverbs 22:1)
“A good name is better than precious ointment” (Ecclesiastes 7:1)
A solid reputation and loving relationships are high achievements. Honesty, integrity, and generosity in life are more valuable than the most expensive funeral. Perfume fades, but the aroma of our lives lingers on.
By our attitudes and actions, we are creating the memories that will be associated with our names in life and in death.
Do you have a good name? The memory of a faithful life speaks more eloquently than words.
Today we have an opportunity to renew our commitment to Christ and to the making of a good name—a name that honors Him and encourages those we love for years to come.
David C. McCasland
September 19, 2018
1 Corinthians 15:58
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
One reason we’re left here on earth and not taken to heaven immediately after trusting in Christ for salvation is that God has work for us to do. “Man is immortal,” Augustine said, “until his work is done.”
As long as we have the light of day, we must work—not to conquer, acquire, accumulate, and retire, but to make visible the invisible Christ by touching people with His love. We can then be confident that our
“...labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
September 17-18, 2018
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, heart transplants are performed when all other treatments for heart problems have failed. Numerous factors must be present in a patient to warrant a heart transplant. Such factors include lifestyle and medical history. While receiving a donor heart can save and often transform a life, transplants also carry the potential for rejection. They are also extremely costly, both in terms of the wait and recovery times and actual medical expenses.
In Ezekiel’s day, Israel had heart trouble. There was nothing left to do for the nation other than a heart transplant. The same thing can be said for much of America and the world today. You only need to watch the nightly news to come to the same conclusion.
God says there are requirements for His kind of heart transplant. He’s ready to do it, but the recipient must be ready. They must be ready for repentance and broken-hearted sincerity. God’s transplants not only transforms lives, He saves them. The shed blood of Jesus Christ at Calvary has paid the cost, yet there are many in need who have yet to accept His offer of spiritual “surgery".
Pray today for the people of the nation that their stone-cold hearts will be turned to flesh. Pray for those in the powerful seats of government, that they too will have transplant-ready hearts.
September 15-16, 2018
RECOVERING EMAIL ADDICT
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I went cold turkey. May, 2017, I turned off my work email on my phone the day I left for vacation and I have not turned it back on since. It does help that my executive assistant Patti checks my email when I am out of the office and texts or calls me about any urgent matter she can't handle (the times this has happened I can count on one hand). Happily, my mental and emotional margin was reinstated and my ability to focus on the present pronounced. My fear of disappointing people was replaced with the satisfaction of resting in Christ's approval. My pride was starved from seeking impossible self-satisfaction and my humility fed by God's acceptance.
In the Galatians passage above, Paul gets to the heart of approval addiction by using questions to flush out our motives. Is our desire and drive---to please our fellow human beings or to please the One who created us? If our approval default is people, very bluntly he says, "I would not be a servant of Christ". What? Wow! If our volunteer service in the church is for the pleasure of people's accolades, our shallow service does not rise to reflect our devout service for the Lord.
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Matthew 23:5-8)
C.S. Lewis illustrates, "The pleasure of pride is like the pleasure of scratching. If there is an itch, one does want to scratch, but it is much nicer to have neither the itch nor the scratch. As long as we have the itch of self-regard, we shall want the pleasure of self-approval. But the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither but have everything else: God, our fellow humans, animals, the garden, and the sky instead. (Collected Letters, 3:429)
So, as we serve in the Spirit's power, we do not strive or promote ourselves, but we quietly give. We resist social media self promotion and we listen for the Lord's approval, "well done my child, I will always love and accept you". Our soul's itch for approval and acceptance can only find relief and refreshment from Jesus' intimate scratch of love. Stunningly, His perfect love joyfully embraces imperfect lovers like us. Why bow to the vibration of an incoming email, when we can worship at the feet of the eternal Word---Jesus. By God's grace, I am a recovering email addict.
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)
What unhealthy technology habits do you need to adjust, so you starve your pride and feed your humility?
September 14, 2018
WATCH AND PRAY
“And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”
Jesus entered into the most pressing night of his ministry. He and his disciples ate the Passover meal, Judas went to the temple to betray Him, and now Jesus was at Gethsemane, a garden they had visited before. Just like the olives in the press for which the garden was named, Jesus knew His life would be pressed out of Him in a short time. He taught the disciples about prayer, shown them how to pray, prayed for them, and now He asked that they watch while He went to pray for Himself. But they fell asleep.
Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Many are spiritually asleep today. In churches, prayer meetings are the least attended of all congregational events. You are told to pray for another in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, James and 1 Peter. It is clearly important to God! You pray for yourself, for members of your family, and for close friends. Yet when someone asks you to pray for someone you don’t know, your prayers are often empty, shallow, or you “sleep” through them all together.
Can you commit to one hour of praying for the nation and the nation’s leaders, beginning with the president? How about ten minutes? Three minutes? Wake up, Christian, and pray while there is still time.
September 13, 2018
GOD’S VISION OF THE GOOD LIFE
“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
I am increasingly convinced that one of the most important questions you can ask is this: what is your vision of the good life? What motivates the things you do? What captures your imagination? When you take the time to silence the busyness and distractions that swirl around you, what are the things you find yourself thinking about?
In Mark 7, we have conflicting visions of the good life. Different groups of people have different visions of what it truly means to be happy, fulfilled, and as religious people, to live a life that is pleasing to God. On the one hand, one group says the good life comes through obedience to the rules, customs, and norms of society and faith. Jesus, on the other hand, is calling people back to the original vision of the good life, life as it is truly meant to be lived. He reminds them that all of these rules and customs were never really the focus, never meant to be an end in and of themselves. They were meant to lead you into the very life of God. As it says in Leviticus: “be holy, forI am holy”:
“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.” (Leviticus 11:44)
Holiness doesn’t mean to simply follow every rule and never step out of line or else God is going to smite you and wish he’d never created you. No, holiness is linked to our ability to behold God, to be like him so as to know him and be transformed by him.
Christianity, rightly understood, is the outright rejection of religious substitutes for the good life and is instead the transformation of your entire life as you encounter the living God. Jesus wants nothing less than this, and he loves us so deeply that when he sees us accepting substitutes for the good life, he calls it out for what it is!
The commandment of God is to be holy as he is holy. This, we could say, is God’s vision of the good life. And all of these traditions and customs and rites are only helpful to the extent they are enabling you to become, in the core of your being, more and more like God. They are beneficial only to the extent that they are deepening in you your capacity to be a woman or a man who can be filled with the life of God.
Jesus invites us to tend to the deepest parts of our soul, not just our external conformity. You may attend church, small groups, bible studies, and serve the poor, yet your heart may still be far from God and desperately in need of his life giving Spirit. Pray today that the whole of your life may begin moving towards Christ and his kingdom. This is a truly flourishing life as it is meant to be lived. This is the good life!
Are there ways that you have accepted a false vision of the good life?
September 12, 2018
“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”
In her book, "A Closer Walk", Catherine Marshall writes: "One morning last week He gave me an assignment - for one day I was to go on a 'fast' from criticism. I was not to criticize anybody about anything. For the first half of the day, I simply felt a void, almost as if I had been wiped out as a person.
This was especially true at lunch... I listened to the others and kept silent... In our talkative family no one seemed to notice. Bemused, I noticed that my comments were not missed. The federal government, the judicial system, and the institutional church could apparently get along fine without my penetrating observations.
But still I didn't see what this fast on criticism was accomplishing until mid-afternoon. That afternoon, a specific, positive vision for this life was dropped into my mind with God's unmistakable hallmark on it - joy! Ideas began to flow in a way I had not experienced in years. Now it was apparent what the Lord wanted me to see. My critical nature had not corrected a single one of the multitudinous things I found fault with. What it had done was to stifle my own creativity.
Criticism is a poison that infiltrates friendships, relationships in our businesses, and even our own families. Like a wrecking ball to a condemned building, our criticism destroys the spirit of those who are scrutinized. It has been said, "A statue has never been set up in honor of a critic." The apostle Paul recognized that criticism stings. He faced it throughout his ministry. Maybe it was after hearing criticism of others that he wrote:
“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13)
Why don't you join me in a 'fast' from criticizing others and let's see what our Father teaches us!"
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
September 11, 2018
MAKING DEALS WITH GOD
“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”
I once spoke with a man who shared with me, “I did everything I could in the twenty-one years I was married, to be a good Christian husband and father. I attended men’s Bible studies. I went to church. I learned about parenting. I loved my wife. Then one day out of the blue she came home and told me that she didn’t want to be married anymore. I was shocked. I was so angry at God. I had done everything. I had followed all the rules, but it didn’t work.” Tears filled his eyes. “I’m still there,” he said. “I still feel that God betrayed me.”
As we talked, I thought about the deals we make with God and that some of them are unspoken. We can make them without realizing what we’re doing. Then, later, like this man, we find out that the deal was one-sided. He may have been unaware of it, but he had made a deal with God: God, I’ll do my part and you do yours. I’ll be a good husband, and in return, you’ll give me what I want. You’ll spare me from pain.
Whether we knowingly or unknowingly make deals with God, making deals can be a way of gaining control to avoid pain. Also, fear and pride can be the main motivators of wheeling and dealing with God. (If you’ve been there, you’re not alone! I’ve been there too!)
Sure, sometimes we may make a deal in a moment of human desperation, but it’s when we insist on holding God to our one-sided deal and demanding our way that believing God has been unfaithful can set in—and that leads to nothing but pain.
Early in my Christian walk I told God that if I never married, I wanted Him to let me die because I was sure I couldn’t handle being alone. It sounds crazy to me now, but that’s how I felt when I considered the possibility of my greatest desire not becoming a reality.
As the years passed and I was still single, I became convinced only He knows what we can and can’t handle; our job is to trust Him no matter what comes. Is it always easy? No. But it’s what He asks of us, and it’s the only way to peace.
When our dreams have not turned out the way we desire, will you trust God or believe He has been unfaithful?
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
September 10, 2018
EXCLUSIVE ALLEGIANCE TO THE LORD
“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Competition for our allegiance to Christ has become a common occurrence in our culture. Affluence easily grows into a god that asks for a lip service in allegiance to God, concurrently demanding a 24/7 occupation of mind and body in the acquisition and maintaining of stuff. Make more money and have more things is the motto of materialism. Sadly, Jesus is lucky to have a musty backroom of shallow belief. The demands of the god of affluence result in the death of joy and peace only healthy relationships can afford. We can choose today a better way of life. Exclusive allegiance to the Lord Jesus means we devote all our affection to His greater loves.
Joshua's selection of Shechem to renew Israel's covenant to the Lord was significant. Here Joseph was buried and Abram was given the promise of God for his seed to receive this land. Just as Plymouth Rock is memorialized as the landing spot of the Mayflower with the Pilgrims seeking freedom to practice Christianity, so Shechem became a sacred spot for God's people's exclusive devotion to Him over all other competing gods. God's jealously of His worshipers does not allow for any other idols of distorted love. Authentic faith loves only the Lord God.
“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” (Luke 9:57-58)
Jesus raised the bar on what it meant to have a relationship with Him. Glib vows are unacceptable, only total surrender to follow Him wherever He says go is acceptable. Christians are called to a higher standard of morality in severe contrast to our morally corrupt culture. When Christ asks for purity in pre-marital relationships, to love and to cherish our spouse in holy matrimony---His marriage request mirrors our relationship with Him. Vows are a sacred illustration of the sacred.
Perhaps a renewal of your vows is needed in your relationship with Christ, your wife or your husband. Renewal means you rid your life of any other competing gods. Maybe work has subtly been elevated to an unhealthy level of importance. Mentally you are unable to give yourself fully to your family for fear of job failure. Take a step back, confess Christ as your ultimate career counselor and lean into Him for peace and security. Make the renewal of your love for God and His love for you most memorable. Journal. Take photos. Tell others of His faithfulness to fuel your memory with what's most nourishing for your soul. Offer a fresh all in allegiance to Jesus!
“So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:67-69)
September 9, 2018
DON'T BE AFRAID
“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and have no fear.' And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”
Fear is relentless in its pursuit to push peace from the heart of sincere followers of Jesus. No one is immune to its influence. You can be a new believer or a seasoned Christian of many years and still struggle with fear. Fear stalks us when, like a boxer, we fall to one knee and wonder if we can get back up again. But it is in that point of weakness that we look up and see no one except Jesus. Fear flees when we appropriate faith in our Savior.
“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)
Fear sows doubt in our souls with “what ifs.” What if I lose my job? What if we can’t pay the bills? What if we can’t retire? What if my child fails? What if he or she leaves me? What if the government takes over completely? What if I am rejected? What if I die? What if they die? What ifs are not healthy to obsess over because they only feed fear. Instead, think thoughts that anchor your hope in the certainty of Christ and His control. He’s got you.
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:30–33)
Jesus expects us to get up from ungodly groveling in apprehension and worry and stand up by faith. Stand up by faith to Satan and his schemes to question God. Stand up by faith to emotions that forget the Lord’s faithfulness. Stand up by faith to institutions or political systems that marginalize faith-based behavior. When we stand up by faith, we experience God’s grace and assurance. Fear cannot coexist in the presence of faith.
Lastly, do not be afraid when the glory of God reveals itself in all its radiant splendor. The Lord’s blessing may have burst upon you like cool, refreshing rain after days of drought and dryness. Do not wonder when it might be over; instead, enjoy Jesus and your window of opportunity to give Him glory for His gracious favor. The touch of Jesus is what is needed to trust Jesus. Bow before Him in awe and fear, but do not be afraid.
“Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’” (Exodus 20:20)
What fear of yours do you need to replace with faith? Do you invite the touch of Jesus?
September 8, 2018
FABLE OF THE PORCUPINES
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold.
The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together to keep warm. This way they covered and protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions.
After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen. So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the earth.
Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companions in order to receive the heat that came from the others. This way they were able to survive.
The moral of the story is:
The best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people, but when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others and can admire the other person's good qualities.
“bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
Or, as another friend always tells me, you gotta love your friends, warts and all!
On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your relationships right now? How open are you to the care and influence of others (even if it comes with a few quills)? What can you do this week to restore/forgive/reconcile/celebrate relationships in your life?
September 6-7, 2018
THE SEARCH FOR AN HONEST MAN
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
I love this story which reportedly came from Sports Illustrated: The game was played in Wellington, Florida. In it, a seven-year-old first baseman, Tanner Munsey, fielded a ground ball and tried to tag a runner going from first to second base.
The umpire, Laura Benson, called the runner out, but young Tanner immediately ran to her side and said, "Ma'am, I didn't tag the runner." Umpire Benson reversed herself, sent the runner to second base, and Tanner's coach gave him the game ball for his honesty.
Two weeks later, Laura Benson was again the umpire and Tanner was playing shortstop when a similar play occurred. This time Benson ruled that Tanner had missed the tag on a runner going to third base, and she called the runner safe. Tanner looked at Benson and without saying a word, tossed the ball to the catcher and returned to his position.
Benson sensed something was wrong. "Did you tag the runner?" She asked Tanner.
His reply: "Yes."
Benson then called the runner out. The opposing coaches protested until she explained what had happened two weeks earlier. "If a kid is that honest," she said, "I have to give it to him."
It may be that no Christian characteristic has suffered more in our society than honesty. It's lacking in the workplace, it's lacking in many of our marriages, it's lacking in our government, and sometimes it's even lacking in our churches. Like Diogenes of ancient Greece, we sometimes feel the urge to take our lantern and begin our search for an honest man.
There is something about Christians that should stand out like a neon sign on a dark night. Jesus wants his people to be known as a people of truth. We should establish a reputation, like Tanner, for speaking the truth even when it would benefit us to do otherwise. Then, and only then, will those around us trust what we say without hesitation, without wondering whether we really mean what we say or not.
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25)
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
September 5, 2018
WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”
I am angry. Angry at leaders who use their position of trust and implied integrity to take advantage of children and church members. I pray my anger is not fueled by self-righteousness, since I am a fellow sinner with my own struggles and chronic weaknesses. My heart hurts and grieves for the victims: some lost their innocence, some lost their life savings, some lost a respected leader---but all lost. Ministers who minister for themselves are predators, preying on the weak, the naive and the deceived. They are captives of their lust, their greed and their sick souls.
Jesus called out the false prophets. His word picture is striking---a wolf posing as a sheep. Outwardly gentle as a sheep, inwardly ferocious as a wolf. Outwardly a smooth teacher with attractive words, inwardly a mercenary manic, luring in his prey. Outwardly an authentic shepherd, caring for the sheep, inwardly a selfish hired hand, sheering the sheep for gain. Outwardly strengthening the weak and binding up the injured, but inwardly allowing the sheep to stray. Jesus warns, “Watch out”. Look closely with the Holy Spirit’s discernment for the fruit is rotten!
“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:8-10)
Fortunately, our heavenly Father does not sit idle as His sheep are exploited, exposed and endangered by shameful shepherds. When a man scatters the sheep by his prideful, divisive behavior, our Great Shepherd goes after the lost and lonely lamb with His great love, grace and mercy. The pastures of God’s grace are still green, we can recover beside still waters and heal our broken hearts. Our soul can still sup with our ever present Savior Jesus. We mustn’t forever abandon our faith because of fallen figureheads of a false faith. Forgiveness keeps us faithful. The flock of God will overcome ravaging wolves through trust and hope in our Great Shepherd.
What shall we do to prevent the prostitution of faith in the future? Remember, remember, remember, we do not finish well alone---only with accountability and community. A man left by himself worships the image of himself. A person isolated from the flock, is not accountable to the flock. As God stated in the beginning,
“… It is not good that the man should be alone; …” (Genesis 2:18)
Loving accountability does not look the other way, but looks below the surface at what’s real. Trust, but verify. True shepherds walk in manure, and don’t run from wolves. Pray for them.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
How can you be more accountable in your work, family and relationships? Who can you offer loving accountability with your time and concern?
September 3-4, 2018
WOW! JUST. . . WOW!
“who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number:”
This summer, while my husband and I stayed in the gorgeous Canadian Rockies, we learned some amazing animal facts. For example, we discovered that squirrels and chipmunks go into a deep sleep inside a hole or a tree during the winter, but bears—contrary to what many people think—don’t hibernate. They just doze all winter long. We learned that bears make their dens in holes in the ground or at the base of fallen trees, and that grizzlies eat over 100,000 berries a day in late summer to fatten up before the snow flies. We also discovered that big horn sheep like to lick the salt off the sides of roads to supplement their mineral intake.
As we learned these facts, we marveled and often asked in amazement. “How does a bear know to doze? How does a chipmunk know to sleep in a tree? How does a grizzly know what kind of berries to eat? How do mountain goats know they need salt?”
Of course, we knew the answers. It’s because God created them to do all these things, but we couldn’t help but ask the questions because we were so blown away by the Lord, His power, and His knowledge! This reminds me of the questions the LORD asks Job to point him to the truth of His power and His sovereignty. Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth?
“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does? Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth,” (Job 39:1-2)
Who let the wild donkey go free?
“Who has let the wild donkey go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey,” (Job 39:5)
Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
“Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane?” (Job 39:19)
Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?
“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?”(Job 39:26-27)
When I think about how we marveled at creation in Canada, and how God invited Job to marvel at His power, I am reminded that sometimes we get so caught up in the troubles and mundane-ness of life that we forget to look around at all God has done and say, “Wow! Just...wow!”
If we would remember to do this one simple thing, it would provide us with the perspective we need for the problems we face every day. It would give us the hope we need for the future ahead.
If you feel stuck in a particular problem, or if you’re discouraged and feel hopeless, take a minute to think about the wonder, the power, and the majesty of the Lord. Then remind yourself that this same God who made bears to sleep, and chipmunks to hibernate, and goats to give birth is the same God who made you, loves you, and watches over you. Then, thank Him for His love and power and say, “Wow! Just...wow!”
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1)
September 1-2, 2018
SCHOOL OF PAIN; SCHOOL OF TRIALS
“I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.”
In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis observes that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Suffering often helps us to redirect our focus. It shifts our thinking from immediate circumstances so we can listen to God concerning His work in our lives. Life as usual is replaced by a spiritual schoolroom.
In the Old Testament, we read how the psalmist maintained a teachable heart even during painful circumstances. He accepted them as orchestrated by God, and in submission he prayed,
“In faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75)
Isaiah the prophet viewed suffering as a refining process:
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10)
And Job, despite his laments, learned about the sovereignty and greatness of God through his troubles (Job 40–42). We are not alone in our experience of pain. God Himself took on human form and suffered greatly:
“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21)
The One with nail-scarred hands is near. He will comfort us and teach us in our suffering. We learn the lesson of trust in the school of trials.
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