January 20-21, 2020
“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,”
This is Jim Thorpe. If you look closely at the photo, you can see that he's wearing different socks and shoes. This wasn't a fashion statement. It was the 1912 Olympics, and Jim, a reticent Sac and Fox Indian from the Oklahoma frontier, orphaned as a teenager and raised as a ward of government schools and was uncomfortable in the public eye. He represented the U.S. in track and field.
On the morning of his competitions, his shoes were stolen. Luckily, Jim ended up finding two shoes in a garbage can. That's the pair that he's wearing in the photo. But one of the shoes was too big, so he had to wear an extra sock. Wearing these shoes, Jim won two gold medals that day.
It’s hard to imagine now that pro athletes get paid millions of dollars just to wear a particular brand of shoes. For Jim Thorpe, it didn’t matter what kind he wore.
This is a perfect reminder that you don't have to resign to the excuses that have held you back. So what if life hasn't been fair? What if life has dealt you not a very nice hand? What are you going to do about it today? It’s not the hand that’s dealt to you but how you play that hand.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
It’s a new day, new month, new year. Don't let it stop you from running your race. Besides, you have no chance of winning if you’re not in the race.
You can experience more in life if you'll get over the excuses and get on with living. If you’ll just count your blessings rather than focus on your lacks. So, put your shoes on and get on with it.
January 19, 2020
LOVE IS THE HIGHEST GOAL
1 Corinthians 14:1
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
Some time ago, I spoke with a retired woman who said she couldn’t identify her purpose. “I don’t know why I am here,” she shared.
My heart went out to her. Like many people—and like I have at times—she wondered what she was called to do. This woman often uses her time to serve others. She drives elderly friends to the doctor or to church. She makes quilts for the needy, and she bakes for church gatherings.
But because she isn’t doing something “big,” or because she has never had a professional career, she thinks she doesn’t have purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Matthew shows God’s greatest two commandments for our lives are to love. Love is our highest purpose.
”Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:35-40)
So, if you are a teacher, and you love as a teacher, you have fulfilled your God-given purpose. If you are a construction worker, and you use your work to love, you have fulfilled your God-given purpose. If you are a writer, and you use your work as one who puts words on a page to love others, you have fulfilled your God-given purpose. And, if you make quilts for the poor, and it’s done in love, you have fulfilled God’s greatest purpose for your life.
Every gift, all talents, and all types of work are simply channels through which we can fulfill our highest purpose to love. What a relief for those times when we wonder, “Why am I here?”
When we focus on what we do as our purpose, we miss the point. It’s not about what we do as much as it is about how we do what we do. Do we do it in love? All things must be rooted in love to be rooted in God.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
All things must be rooted in love to be rooted in God. And, you have purpose because you can love. Let that sink in! What a marvelous thought!
“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Take time to think about what gifts or talents God has given you. What is your work? How can you use it as a channel to love, even in what may seem small insignificant ways? All acts of love matter to God, big and small.
January 15-18, 2020
A LONGING TO BE WITH JESUS
“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”
A true encounter with the Lord Jesus births in us a deep longing to be with him. This is one of the simplest yet purest tests of any spiritual encounter or system of belief. Christians have spent centuries debating the finer points of theology, arguing for this or that interpretation of a given passage of Scripture, and writing extensively on what constitutes true and right worship. And while all of these have their merits and place in the life of the church, if they do not lead us into a deeper encounter with the living Lord Jesus, they have lost their true purpose.
Ironically, it’s so easy for Jesus to get lost in the middle of this holiday season. We are now a few short days away from the Christmas feast, and yet the holiday parties, last minute shopping, and countless family obligations threaten to push him to the periphery. And while we feel this in a profound way this time of year, the same temptation is always before us.
It is entirely possible to surround yourself with Christian people, music, things, and events, and yet in the midst of it all miss Jesus in the process. Now, hear me on this. It does not mean to do away with the Christian people and things in the name of a “pure spirituality.” God made us human beings for a reason! He loves creation, so much so that he took it upon himself so it could be healed and restored.
The only way we know how to encounter God is through our physicality, through our “creatureliness.” Yet never forget: you are not a mere animal but a heavenly being made to know and be known by God himself. As such, we must never settle for anything less than the very presence of God. And every true and real encounter with Jesus will birth in us a deeper and deeper desire to be in his presence. As he makes his home with us, with great longing and desire in our hearts, we turn to him daily to make our home with him, saying again and again, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
How can you re-center your life on Jesus this week?
January 12-14, 2020
THE POWER OF THE TONGUE
Proverbs 18: 20-21
“From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
A group of frogs were traveling through the woods, and two of them fell into a deep pit. All the other frogs gathered around the pit. When they saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs that they were as good as dead.
The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump out of the pit with all of their might. The group of frogs kept telling them to stop because they were as good as dead.
Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and gave up. He fell down and died. The second frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. He jumped even harder and finally made it out.
You see this frog was deaf, unable to hear what the others were saying. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.
This story teaches a lesson:
"You will have to live with the consequences of everything you say. What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words" (Proverbs 18: 20, 21)
There is the power of life and death in the tongue. An encouraging word to someone who is down can lift him up and help him make it through the day. A destructive word to someone who is down can be what it takes to kill his joy. Be careful of what you say. Speak life to those who cross your path.
The power of words... an encouraging word can go such a long way. May your words be a blessing to someone today.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
January 10-11, 2020
RELATIONAL BRIDGE BUILDER
2 Samuel 14:14
“We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”
Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.
Sometimes, people do dumb, stupid, and even shameful things. Their unwise choices may have inflicted great harm and even compounded into calamity and crisis. They are foolish because they chose to inflict pain when they knew better. Sin has caused them to suspend their good sense and Biblical worldview for a season. It is a season of misery and messiness. They are confused, alone, and humiliated.
They may not be at a point where they’re ready to admit their mistakes, but deep down in their soul there is a wondering of how much they have disappointed God and those who love them the most. They feel confused, for sin does complicate matters. And now they are caught in a web of deceit that will not let them go. They have lost perspective and seem to be swirling down into a spiritual and relational vortex. Not only are they estranged from their loved ones; they are estranged from their heavenly Father.
Separation from God is a lonely place. You can know for certain that your estranged loved one is conflicted, confused, and bitter. It is the love of God and your love that will bring them back to their senses. Sin has confused them and they have lost their bearings, but you know the way. It may take a third party to counsel you and coach you through this process of reaching out, but do not underestimate the effectiveness of your ability to build a relational bridge.
Relational bridge-building is not easy, and it takes time. But it can become necessary to woo the wandering one back home. Yes, they have made their bed, and now they are sleeping between its twin sheets of fear and insecurity. However, the bridge you are building leads to a bed of acceptance and peace. This current war of words is in need of a cease-fire. No one wins in a vicious and venomous volley of blame. Instead, a bridge-builder prays; he prays to first be changed. They accept blame and replace perceived rejection with action-oriented acceptance. A bridge-builder calls, writes, and sends gifts of encouragement and even takes the initiative to over-communicate. A bridge-builder seeks to understand and then love the estranged one at their point of need.
Maybe your child is living with an undesirable roommate. Reach out and get to know this person who is negatively influencing your son or daughter. By God’s grace, become the influencer of the influencer. Invite them into your home and love them to God. Let your home become a magnet of grace that draws them into a reminder of what’s good and right. The bridge you build may not be crossed immediately. But just its presence speaks volumes to your availability, care, and compassion. One day, circumstances will unravel for your estranged loved one. When they do, you want your bridge of love and acceptance staring them right in the face. Stay faithful as a relational bridge-builder, just as the cross of Christ is God’s bridge to you. The cross you bear is your bridge to broken people. So, continue to pray and pursue this Christ-honoring outcome.
The Bible teaches:
"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18)
What hard relationship requires your regular investment of time and love to earn the right to influence them?
January 9, 2020
BENEFITS OF HUMILITY
“For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.”
Humility is the doorway to God’s salvation. It is an entrance into an exciting life with the Lord. God saves the humble, but brings low the haughty. He lifts up the humble in heart, and brings down the haughty. A haughty look may be masked for a while but eventually comes out. The face is a direct reflection of the heart. Our countenance can be hard and uninviting or it can be soft and accepting.
The haughty find it hard to take responsibility for their ill will and anger. They blame others while becoming victims of their own pride. Haughty eyes have blurred the vision of God and shy away from serving people. It is all about “What’s in it for me?” It stiff-arms our Savior. The eyes of the haughty are cold, calloused, and distant. The haughty are consumed with themselves and have but a faint remembrance of Christ. They don’t remember what they wish to forget. Haughtiness forgets humility. However, this comes back to haunt the haughty.
Humility, on the other hand, woos the blessings of God. It has bountiful benefits. God’s presence permeates an environment of humility. It is an atmosphere of humility that engages the Almighty. The Lord looks out for the family members or work associates who value humility. He saves them from unwise decision-making and irresponsible living. He saves them from themselves.
Humility also encourages honesty. It encourages honesty about our dreams and disappointments. It recognizes the tremendous need for God to consummate the vision, and as we depend on God, we see Him work. Humility also learns how to process disappointments. There is an acknowledgement of anger and the need for healing. God saves the humble from bitterness and replaces it with brokenness.
Humility benefits relationships. It is a lubricant for love and the fuel of forgiveness. A humble heart helps husbands and wives learn how to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It cultivates appreciation of each other’s differences and spurns irritation. It checks our conversations before we position ourselves for a win/lose dialogue. Humility first understands and then seeks to be understood. Humility is a prerequisite for relational success. It deflates pride and inflates patience. Humility is quick to honor and slow to blame. It keeps us in the good graces of God and people.
Run from false humility formed out of fear, deception, and pride. Instead, cultivate authentic humility through prayer, honesty, and community. Surrender daily to your Savior with a sense of overwhelming dependence on Him. We are to submit on our knees so He doesn’t have to bring us to our knees. Humility is conceived in an honest heart—one that understands its limitations. It is comfortable with its strengths and its weaknesses, and not afraid to speak up and show its emotions.
Humility is best harnessed among a Christ-centered community. Let people you respect into your life:
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
Haughtiness is hurtful. Humility is beneficial, so sign up for its benefits. The Bible says:
“You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” (2 Samuel 22:28)
Who do you need to humble yourself before, and ask for forgiveness?
January 8, 2020
SELF CONTROL TO FINISH WELL
1 Corinthians 9:25-26
“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.”
My wife Rita and I, recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary touring the ruins of Olympia, Greece, home of the first Olympic games, over 700 years before Jesus. We were pleasantly surprised to learn from our Greek guide Studi, the character expectation for the behavior of Olympic athletes. Interestingly, every four years those invited to participate in the games, were required to arrive 30 days before the first event, so their interaction with fellow athletes could be observed by the judges. Humility, honesty and deference to others were some traits the judges looked for in these rising role models. Did they use self-control to finish well?
The apostle Paul practically illustrates the Christian's self-control as a servant of Christ; the man who quietly and selflessly worked a day job so he wouldn't be a financial burden on his brothers and sisters in Christ. Willingly, he submitted his interests to Jesus first, an intentional effort to finish well. This devoted disciple kept his eyes on the finish line of faith, anticipating the reward of being with God. Paul practiced self-controlled to lovingly finish well.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
Is your life all over the map, or with the Holy Spirit's guidance do you map out your life? Self control seeks to have a plan, so there is margin to make a difference in another person's life. When our spirit is nudged by the Spirit, we seek opportunities to make a way for a seeking soul to find Jesus. By God's grace dial back prayer-less busyness, so you can be intentional with your time. Do you prayerfully define your agenda or default to what others say? Self-control seeks to serve others.
Would the content of your character qualify for God's spiritual Olympics? When people see you coming are they energized by your willingness to love on them, or are they depleted by your self absorption? Practice self control, so you can make meaningful contributions to your community and friends. Perhaps you start by limiting the amount of days you travel a month or the days of the week you are out at night. Maybe at meal times use a smaller plate, eat modestly and skip dessert. Most of all, surrender control to the Spirit and allow His influence to instruct your life:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:15-18)
What activity do you need to give up, so you are available to serve someone else?
January 6-7, 2020
NO YEAR’S RESOLUTION
“For thus said the LORD GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling,”
An enthusiastic admirer once rushed up to the Renaissance artist Michelangelo. What was his secret? How did he sculpt The David, the epic 17-foot statue of the biblical king and hero that now stands in the Accademia Gallery in Florence?
Michelangelo’s answer was simple and profound: He looked at the unformed block of marble and “chipped away all that wasn’t David.” His indeed was the work of negation—the art of No. And through this, Michelangelo found the deeper beauty, the more profound Yes. That is why I am pondering my “No” Year’s Resolution.
This New Year, I am looking to Scripture and science to tell me where my life is a block of unformed marble that needs some chipping away.
It all begins for us with the power of no in God’s gift of Sabbath—whether that is for a day or something much shorter. In these times, Scripture tells us that God gives us a new vision and energy:
“For thus said the LORD GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling,” (Isaiah 30:15)
Honestly, the brain science behind this is easy to grasp. When we take breaks and reduce stress, we think better. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School suggests that this comes from the release of nitric oxide that fires up feel-good neurotransmitters and slows down stress hormones. “It’s a matter of learning to shift our internal biology at will so that we increase production of nitric oxide and the neurotransmitters associated with well-being and increased creativity” (Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review).
The chemical formula for nitric oxide, by the way, is “NO”. When we are stressed, let go and say NO.
Let me be clear: this article isn’t about becoming such a specialist in taking breaks that we become a “Dr. No.” But I will say that, before we breathe in new insights, the place to start is in breathing out and making space.
Neuroscience tells us that in addition to rest, prayer—and especially meditative prayer—can bring about reduction of bad stress. Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg led a study of Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns, and found that meditation and prayer increased levels of dopamine, which, among other things, enhanced concentration and focus.
Be still and be quiet.
The Oxford literary professor and Christian spiritual writer, C.S. Lewis, wrote that every morning “all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. The first job each morning should consist in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”
Still, even in these breaks, there is something that speaks of God’s unmerited favor of the grace that surrounds us . . . and frankly that favor is all too often drowned out by our living in the modern marketplace and even in our faith communities. As Jesus said:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“The unforced rhythms of grace.” The No before the Yes. That’s my hope for a successful 2020. Resolving to find strategic No is a good way to start a new decade.
Happy New Year!
January 5, 2020
A STOP DOING LIST
“But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”
One of my weaknesses is having more ideas than I have the capacity to implement. In fact, to protect myself from myself, my colleagues at work and my family at home have permission to ask me a specific question at anytime. Especially when they see me setting more goals than we can execute with excellence. Here is the question, “Boyd, are you sure?" Are you sure you have time? Are you sure we need to add another project, before we complete the current project? Are you sure we have the adequate resources to see this through to the end? Along with this helpful question is a process I started a few years ago at the beginning of the year. With discipline and honesty, take inventory of my schedule by asking, "What should I stop doing?" And then stop.
American culture is plagued by hyperactivity without productivity. We think being busy equals importance or a frantic pace is a path to success. Like a pack mule loaded down with an overabundance of supplies, we pack our calendar to the breaking point. We play mind games with ourselves that busyness is what’s best for our family, when in fact the real outcomes are: relational emptiness, health challenges and irritable emotions. We even justify being over active for Jesus.
Perhaps a wiser start to the year is a stop doing list. As Jesus instructed Martha, we need to take an inventory of our activities and ask what is really needed. What has served its purpose for a season, but is now unnecessary, even an obstacle to what’s best? Let go of emotional attachments and embrace some margin for meaningful relationships. Is it time to stop a sports program, a long commute or a tired volunteer role? Become better with contemplation and strategic availability.
“When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” (Matthew 8:18)
It takes courage to take the route trafficked infrequently, but the ride is less stressful and more enjoyable. Avoid going where everyone else is going; nowhere fast. A fast track is too fast when it starves our faith. We find ourselves with very little left over time for prayer, Bible study, worship and community. Give what’s important first priority on the calendar. Worry works itself out of a job when we work out our bodies, feed our minds, heal our emotions and rest our souls.
By faith stop doing something each week or month that has passed its prime time. Be patient not to rush and fill a gap in your calendar already crowded with appointments. Blocks of discretionary time give you availability for spontaneous service. Take a step back from the myopic view of trees bunched together, so you can see the imaginative forest of faith. Anyone can be busy, some can be productive, but few walk by faith and watch God do more. Stop doing good to do better.
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
What are one or two activities you can stop doing this year to focus on quality relationships?
January 4, 2020
“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Matthew 11 presents us with a bit of a “deep cut” in the John the Baptist catalogue. If you know John’s story at all, likely you think of the baptism of Jesus or John covered in camel’s skin eating bugs in the wilderness. Yet here we find John in prison, sending his disciples to ask Jesus the question every single person must ask of the Lord, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Some have read this passage and wondered if John was losing his faith. After such boldness preparing the way for Jesus, is he now overrun with doubt? I don’t think so. I believe John, facing his death, has a new set of questions in his own life and story – namely, his own impending suffering and death – and he needs to know that the Jesus he spent his life pointing others to will be with him in his time of trial. John looks to Jesus and says, “Are you the messiah in death even as you are in life?”
Wherever you may find yourself today, you likely have very real questions that you are wrestling with, longing for the Lord to bring clarity and direction. “Where should I work?” “Where should I live?” “Where should my kids go to school?” “Will God heal this relational wound?” “Will I ever have friends and community like I used to have?” “Is this my final hour?”
In a sense, these questions, when turned towards the Lord in prayer, are all a version of John’s words, “Are you the one?” We say to the Lord, “We’ve followed you this far, and have seen your faithfulness in so many ways, yet these are new and uncharted waters. We need to know that you are with us in this new season, this next chapter.”
“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’" (Matthew 11:4-5)
When we are filled with doubts and fears, Jesus reminds us to see the signs of his Kingdom bursting forth all around us. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, even the dead are raised! This is the power of God at work in creation, and it is his power at work in you. If the Lord is with us in our final hour of need, we can trust that he is with us day in and day out, teaching us to live by faith and believe that he is working for our good and his glory.
What is your greatest fear in this season of life? Invite the Lord into that fear, asking him to fill you with faith and courage.
January 3, 2020
FIRST THINGS FIRST
1 Timothy 2:1-2
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
Before all things, God was. He is the same today, Perfect and Beautiful, Loving and Holy. In abandon He created—and the first day dawned in the light of His glory:
“God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:5)
Then, fashioned out of dust, God put breath in the lungs of Adam, the first living soul:
“then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7)
At the pinnacle of His plan for creation, God put on human skin, and Jesus, the firstborn of Redemption’s Grace, stood on Earth as living proof of His love.
As you can imagine, the God of such dramatic firsts may find this first day of a new year and a new decade, indeed, to be special! As you look around, you might see a new start is sorely needed, in troubling areas of your own life, as well as in American politics and the state of the world. Will God do something new again? Is He still in the business of first things? You can be sure of it!
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentation 3: 21-23)
If you want to meet God in new ways this year, start with remembering who He is…the First One, the Creator, the Author of all living things. Ask Him how you can give Him first place in your life, in your pursuits, in your relationships, time, and finances. Then pray for America as a nation to make Him first, also. As leaders and believers humble themselves acknowledging His place as Lord, He will answer your prayers. Be ready for something new!
The Presidential Prayer Team
January 1-2, 2020
THE KEY TO VICTORY
“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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul was using the illustration of a race to describe his life. He was in the home stretch, but he was still running the race; the race wasn't over. He said, "I press on toward the goal for the prize"!
Right behind this conjunction is one of Paul's secrets to living: “ONE THING I DO”! It's the only time this particular phrase is used in the New Testament. Single-minded concentration on the things of God is essential to running the race of Christianity. You cannot be dwelling on other things as an athlete and give your best performance. Therefore, Paul says "this one thing I do."
“…”forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 3:13-14)
That's the key for victory in the Christian life. That's the key for victory in 2020.
Paul had learned that we have to lock the door on yesterday and throw away the key. Paul discovered that looking back almost always ends up in going back. Let me repeat that... Looking back almost always ends up in going back. In the Old Testament we find the wandering Israelites ready to return to their old ways rather than pressing on. In the New Testament Jesus clearly taught us:
“...'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (Luke 9:62)
FOUR THINGS WE NEED TO FORGET:
1. YESTERDAY'S MISTAKES
Everyone makes mistakes. Everybody does stupid, foolish things. God's Word says: "forget it" - leave them behind you. There are three things we should do about yesterday's mistakes:
A. Learn from them
B. Determine with God's help not to do them again
C. Forget them.
Satan will want to remind you and make you feel guilty for your past mistakes – but God says: "Forget Them. I HAVE"!
2. YESTERDAY'S HURTS
Life is a battlefield. You're a soldier in God's Army. On any battleground, injuries will occur and soldiers are going to get hurt. Sooner or later, someone is going to
... hurt you.
... lie about you
... verbally or physically harm you
... misrepresent you
... slander you
It's going to happen--what do you do? You have two choices:
A. Allow resentment and hate to build
B. Forgive and Forget
1. Forgive as Christ forgave you - just as He forgave the Roman soldiers who didn't know what they were doing.
2. Forget those things that are behind you
“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 3:13)
God understands. Jesus was innocent, but they beat him, they tortured him, they mocked him, they crucified him. He didn't deserve it, but they did it anyway. On the cross, He forgave them. On the cross, He provided salvation for even those who beat him, who mocked him, who crucified him. In order to press on in the Christian life, we have to lock the door on yesterday's hurts.
3. YESTERDAY'S POSSIBILITIES
How often do I see people unable to operate in today because they are still living a "what if" life of yesterday. They keep talking about "what could have been"--"if I had only…”. Quite often they blame someone else; they even blame God.
We can't live on yesterday's promises or yesterday's dreams. Too many people are dissatisfied with life because they've had an expectation that just hasn't worked out. Paul is saying - forget your past hurts, forget your past mistakes and forget living with what might have been; and finally...
4. YESTERDAY'S SINS
There is no sin, no matter how great or small, once it has been confessed and forgiven, that the memory of it should torment us no more.
Let me restate that: "When sin, no matter how great or how grievous, has been confessed and forgiven, the memory of it should not torment us any more!" Notice, Paul didn't say, "I've forgotten those things which are behind. Paul said, “…forgetting those things…”. Paul had learned the secret. There are some things in our memory that we will never forget. We have to keep practicing forgetting.
Every time the memory comes back, every time a song or a word or a smell or a picture or a person reminds us, we continue to practice forgetting. How long do we practice forgetting?
... until the memory doesn't hurt any more
... until we allow God to forgive us
... until we allow God to forgive through us
... until we can use our past to help us grow in the present
... until we can use our past to help others in the present
“…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
“as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
A good way for a child of God to celebrate the New Year is to let go of anything that has gone stale or rotten. Then we’ll be free to live each day expecting new, fresh things from the One Who promises, “I am making everything new!”
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Revelation 21:5)
Go out into the world in peace. Have courage. Hold on to what is good. Return no one evil for evil. Help the faint-hearted, support the weak. Honor everyone. Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
December 31, 2019
NEW YEAR’S EVE
“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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
During our church’s annual New Year’s Eve service, we say this prayer together:
“Father, we surrender this past year and give it up to You. We give You our failures, our regrets, and our disappointments, for we have no more use for them. Make us now a new people, forgetting what lies behind and pressing on toward that which lies ahead of us.
“We give You all our hopes and dreams for the future. Purify them by Your Spirit so that our wills shall truly reflect Your will for us.
“As we stand on the threshold of another year, encourage us by our successes of the past, challenge us by the power of Your Word, and guide us by the presence of Your Holy Spirit.”
In every transition, it is good to look both ways. When Joshua assumed leadership of Israel, God told him to consider the past and the future:
“Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them” (Joshua 1:2)
Then He promised:
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)
With confidence in God, we can look back and look ahead, then walk boldly into a new year:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
David C. McCasland
December 30, 2019
LIFE AFTER CHRISTMAS: FINDING GOD EVERY DAY
“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”
Every year, many Christians commemorate the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as the babe in the manger—God becoming flesh to dwell among us. But what about the day after Christmas?
As family members leave to head back home or we head back to work or we clean up the house after the festivities, what do we think about on the day after Christmas, and for the rest of the Christmas season, and new year?
In some countries, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the day after Christmas is Boxing Day, which involves more shopping and more gift giving or extended time with family. But Christians should not just shift our thoughts to the next holiday (typically New Year’s Day) or back to the tasks and concerns of the coming days.
The Incarnation that we celebrate on Christmas Day was not an isolated event, but was the beginning of the plan for Christ to redeem us. Just as we have to (eventually, if not immediately) go back to work, school, or taking care of the home, we can remember that Jesus also had school, work, and a mission to accomplish:
“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40)
Jesus also studied, listened to, and asked questions of the learned men of his day:
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46–47)
He obeyed his parents:
“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)
When he was older he worked as a carpenter:
“…’Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:3)
Like us, Jesus knew times of hunger:
“for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.” (Luke 4:2)
He was tired:
“But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:38)
He experienced frustration with people who misunderstood or rejected him:
“And Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.’” (Matthew 17:17)
He suffered and was tempted:
“For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)
He was doubted and rejected by his own earthly family:
“For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5)
This should cause us to meditate on not just the birth, but the life of Jesus as well. He experienced the same things we do, and because of this, he can empathize with our human frailties:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
As we return to our daily tasks, duties, and responsibilities after Christmas, we should shift our focus from the birth of Jesus to his life, his work, and his death, burial, and Resurrection. When we start to get bogged down with the concerns of this daily life, we need to look beyond those things and recognize that they are in the hands of the Father who loves us and takes care of us:
“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. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.'” (Matthew 6:31–34)
So what should we think about on the day after Christmas, and every day? As we put away the gifts we have been given, or even as we use them, we should consider them reminders that:
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)
As we leave family behind, perhaps to not see them for another year, we can meditate on our relationship with God because of the work of Christ:
“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)
As with our earthly families, we can look forward to the time when we will be in the presence of Christ. That will be a family reunion that will never end in bittersweet goodbyes, but will go on for all eternity! Finally, as the gifts we received wear out or are used up, we can thank God that his gift to us is eternal:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Like the Apostle Paul, we should be thinking of this gift of salvation and expressing our gratitude to God:
“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
December 29, 2019
YOU ARE LOVED
1 John 4:18
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
I learned many wonderful things from my father while growing up. I learned how to take risks and enjoy new adventures, to start a conversation with anyone and easily make new friends. And, I learned how to be creative and to love the outdoors.
But there is one thing I learned from my father that has created a consistent, life-long struggle for me: believing my value is based on my performance.
My father was a busy man who struggled with his own sense of not being good enough. When he was young, he was an athlete. When I was young, I took up sports and performed well, excelling in volleyball, basketball, and softball.
When I was scoring points, he praised me because his self-esteem was boosted through my achievements. When I didn’t perform well, he scolded me. And, to top it off, when I was off the court or the field, he was emotionally unavailable for my siblings and I. Outside of sports, we didn’t have much of a relationship, which reaffirmed the belief that I wasn’t worth loving just because of who I was.
He never berated me or said I was a failure. But his lack of emotional availability coupled with praising me only when I performed well set up this false belief in me that I had to earn love and affection.
I transferred this belief onto God when I came to Christ. Believing God is passive, uninvolved in my life, or that I am more favored by Him when I am “good” has been something I have always wrestled with. I have gone through long seasons of being fully convinced of the Lord’s love, but the lie that I am not good enough often rears it’s ugly head.
Perhaps you can relate.
Maybe you have believed the lie that your performance or behavior is tied to how much you are loved. But here’s the truth that the Lord always brings me back to when I feel the burden that I am not enough: God separates my actions from my value. My value is found in Him. I am loved because He is loving, not because I am good.
There is nothing you can do to make Him love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you less. You are loved just because you are His child.
When you find that you feel anxious because you feel that you are not doing enough, remember you are loved.
When you find yourself striving to do more because you feel you are not valuable, remember you are loved.
When you find yourself fearing that you’ll be abandoned if you are not good enough, remember you are loved.
You are loved. End of story. Nothing can change that because He is unchangeable.
Just ponder that.
“…I [the LORD] have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
Take a few moments to sit silently in the Lord’s presence and thank Him for His unconditional love. If you feel prompted, ask Him to show you if you feel guilt or condemnation about anything you have done or about who you are. Then, ask Him to reveal His love to you.
December 27-28, 2019
WONDER AND WELCOME
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In the opening of his modern-day masterpiece, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton tells the imaginary story of an English yachtsman who sets out on an adventure to discover a new island in the South Seas, armed and ready for conflict and the countless linguistic and cultural barriers that await him. However, due to a miscalculation, he has instead discovered England! As Chesterton puts it, “What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again?” In light of this comical scenario, he poses a follow up question: “How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?” His answer to this question? “We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.”
Wonder and welcome. Following Chesterton’s lead, it is upon these two themes that I want us to reflect today. To wonder is to be drawn out of ourselves and into something, or someone, beyond us. This desire lies deep within every human soul, longing to experience beauty, mystery, and delight. It is this unshakable longing that births in us a sense of adventure, a desire to set out into the great unknown.
When applied to the spiritual quest to know God, humanity has spent countless centuries looking and searching far and wide, hoping to find meaning and purpose that unites the world and our experience of it. Yet so often we believe God to be distant and unknowable, swooping into creation only when it is absolutely necessary, otherwise staying “out there” while we remain “down here.” As Stephen Freeman puts it, we believe in a “two story universe,” with God living upstairs while we quietly listen from the main level for creaks in the floorboards or footsteps to confirm his existence. This may be a sense of wonder, but there is nothing familiar, nothing hospitable or welcoming about it. It is wonder without welcome. Yet, as Freeman reminds us, what if we in fact live in a one-story universe?
The reason we can be at home in this world is because the Lord Jesus has made his home with us. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14)
The Incarnation must forever do away with our “two-story” vision of the world. God is not out there to be wondered at yet never beheld. As Acts reminds us:
“that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:27-28)
God is near to us and in Christ invites us to encounter him in the everyday realities of the world, not in spite of them. As familiar as the English coast was to the English yachtsman, so too should be our encounter with the Lord. The kindness and warm welcome of the Lord is shown in his humble embrace of our humanity so that as humans we might know the eternal. We must begin to see every moment as holy, every place and every relationship as infused with the very presence of God, inviting us to receive his welcome and forever behold him in wonder.
Where have you embraced a “two-story” vision of the world and God’s relationship to it?
December 26, 2019
FINDING GOD IN THE DARK
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
"And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,"
When our boys were small, we played a game called “Sardines.” We would turn out all the lights in our home and I would hide in a closet or some other cramped place. The rest of the family groped about in the darkness to find my hiding place and then hide with me until we were squeezed together like sardines. Hence the name.
Our smallest family member at times became frightened in the dark, so when he came close, I would whisper to him softly: “Here I am.”
“I found you, Dad!” he would announce as he snuggled against me in the darkness, not realizing that I let myself be “found.”
Likewise, we have been made to search for God—to “grope for Him,” as Paul put it so vividly:
"that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us," (Acts 17:27)
Here’s the good news: He is not at all hard to find, for “He is not far from each one of us.” He desires to make Himself known. “There is a property in God of thirst and longing. He hath longing to have us,” wrote Dame Julian of Norwich centuries ago.
Before we come to know Christ, we grope for God in the darkness. But if we search for Him in earnest, He will make Himself known, for He rewards those who diligently seek Him:
"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)
He will call to us softly: “Here I am.”
And He awaits our reply: “I found You!”
David H. Roper
December 25, 2019
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The focus of the first Christmas was Jesus. It was His day. There was no competition from commercialism seeking economic gain. The gifts were given to Him. God was the recipient of gratitude and generosity. He was glorified on this day of salvation for all who would come to believe in Jesus as God’s only Son. There was an appreciation for the Almighty’s descent into the decadence of humanity. There was no feuding from other faiths jockeying with each other for time in the Savior’s spotlight. On the contrary, there was a religious respect and humble worship from those who traveled great distances from their diverse origins of belief. On this day, Jesus unified sincere seekers of truth.
The first Christmas, however, was not without controversy. Politically, Jesus was a lightning rod (some things never change). Government leaders felt threatened as if a traitor had infiltrated their influence over the masses. Involuntary spies were sent to validate His presence. Once His birth had been verified, the powers that be went to work. Insecurity and fear drive people to commit irrational acts, and it was no different back then.
So what started as a celestial coronation for the Prince of Peace ended with jealous leaders taking severe and deadly action. The Christ-child was driven from their pitiful, but powerful presence. They destroyed other God-fearing people in the process. The community was cast into chaos when Christ was removed from their culture.
From the first Christmas we can learn to keep Christ central in worship and society. He is the wonder of our worship. He is the reason for our giving gifts. It is because we celebrate His birthday that we pause to pray, reflect, and plan to follow His will in a more robust and intentional manner. Our Master came to earth and made Himself like man. He took on the form of a servant, though He could have crowned Himself as King. He pointed us to the love and forgiveness of His heavenly Father. The Christ-child was born of a virgin. He was God who dwelt among us, but sometimes we forget Him, even on His birthday.
One reason we have failed to keep Christ in Christmas is that we have failed to keep Him in some of our churches. Why should the culture embrace the Christ of Christmas when some of our churches have marginalized their Master? Let’s start by inviting the Almighty back into our churches with fresh and revitalized reverence in worship, evangelism, and discipleship. Let’s prayerfully and responsibly “lay hands” on leaders who fear God, hate sin, love people, and teach the Bible. Christmas is losing its luster for the Lord because Christians have forgotten to fear God.
His birth is only significant if His death and resurrection are significant. The Christ of Christmas becomes compelling when we, as followers, flock to Him in faithfulness and obedience. Let all who name the name of Jesus revisit Him in the awe and worship of that first Christmas. Let’s exclaim with enthusiasm to a hurting world that He has come to heal broken hearts and revive sick souls. We unapologetically celebrate His birthday with passion because God is with us.
He is transforming us into the likeness of His Son. Let’s make this Christmas like the first Christmas. Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with forgiveness, joy, hope, peace, and love while we worship our Lord together. The first Christmas fuels our faith and recalibrates us to Christ.
Read the Christmas story to your family and ask each person which character they most relate to in this season of their life.
December 24, 2019
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”
Some people like to think that they have never heard God speak, nor have they seen Him. They claim to know that whatever they see of the earth and the stars of the universe just happened by some quirk that scientists haven’t figured out yet; or perhaps everything has existed since the beginning of time — whatever that may mean — if time ever had a beginning.
Just what is the matter with such people is that somehow they have escaped beginning to learn God’s language and vision. They may think they were reared by big loving dogs who nurtured them but taught them no language. Or else they were nurtured by parents who were nurtured by parents who … and on and on, which unfortunately may be all too true.
But then they refuse to acknowledge that some people actually may have spoken to God at some time in life. Let me offer you a Bible full of information, which tells anyone with a willingness to learn, that God did in fact talk to people (either through language, or through creation, like the earth and the stars).
Right from the beginning God began to speak to people. He talked to Adam in the Garden of Eden:
"And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17)
He told Moses to go back to Egypt and lead His people out:
“"And the Lord said to Moses,…'The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.'” (Exodus 7:1-5)
He told Jeremiah:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Saul heard Jesus:
“And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'” (Acts 9:4)
And Saul became Paul, the greatest communicator to the world of the God who came into the world to save people from their sins.
Do you think God quit speaking to people two thousand years ago? One night I was on my knees, talking to God after my day as an engineer for General Electric, to ask for help with a troublesome feeling I had. After I put my problem before Him, God answered me, not with audible words, but with words you and I use all the time, saying, “Tom, I want you; I want your life. I don’t want your Sunday mornings in church, or your Sunday evenings in Youth Fellowship, or your Wednesday evenings in Prayer Meetings, or your Thursday evenings in choir practice. I want YOU.” You can be sure I understood too well what He meant, so I argued with Him for weeks. But finally He convinced me that He could use me, so here I am. Did He talk to me? You bet!
And of course, at this time of year we celebrate the very best way God has spoken. He came to earth Himself, to live with us and speak face-to-face with us. As the apostle John says:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
God is speaking. Are you listening?
Thomas R. Teply
December 23, 2019
SHOPPING FOR LOVE
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
I am flat broke from overspending at Christmas time. But I need to go shopping again soon because I am completely out of self-respect. I've said things I wish I could take back and I am not feeling too good about myself.
I also want to exchange a carton of self righteousness for an equal amount of humility. I hear that it is less expensive and wears well, and while I'm at it I'm going to check on tolerance and see if there is any available in my size.
I must remember to try to match my patience with the little I have left. My neighbor is loaded with it and it looks awfully good on her. I was told the same department has a repair shop for mending integrity. Mine has become frayed around the edges from too much compromising. If I don't get it refurbished soon, there won't be any left.
I almost forgot the most important thing of all - compassion. If I see some - no matter what the color, size or shape - I'm going to stock up heavily regardless of the price. I have run out of it so many times and I always feel ashamed when it happens.
I don't know why it has taken me so long to get around to shopping for these items. They don't cost nearly as much as some of the frivolous things I bought at Christmas time. And I'll get a lot more satisfaction from them.
Yes, I'm going shopping today and I can leave my checkbook and credit cards at home! The things I'm looking for have no price-tags. What a joy!
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
December 22, 2019
FINDING GOD IN THE DARK
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
When our boys were small, we played a game called “Sardines.” We would turn out all the lights in our home and I would hide in a closet or some other cramped place. The rest of the family groped about in the darkness to find my hiding place and then hide with me until we were squeezed together like sardines. Hence the name.
Our smallest family member at times became frightened in the dark, so when he came close, I would whisper to him softly: “Here I am.” “I found you, Dad!” he would announce as he snuggled against me in the darkness, not realizing that I let myself be “found.” Likewise, we have been made to search for God—to “grope for Him,” as Paul put it so vividly:
“that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:27)
But here’s the good news: He is not at all hard to find, for “He is not far from each one of us.” He desires to make Himself known. “There is a property in God of thirst and longing. He hath longing to have us,” wrote Dame Julian of Norwich centuries ago.
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:26-27)
Before we come to know Christ, we grope for God in the darkness. But if we search for Him in earnest, He will make Himself known, for He rewards those who diligently seek Him.
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
He will call to us softly: “Here I am.”
And He awaits our reply: “I found You!”
David H. Roper
December 18-21, 2019
A TASTE OF WHAT'S TO COME
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
My mother left a modest inheritance, but significant for a single mom whose annual income rarely, if ever, exceeded the poverty level. My two brothers and I are grateful for her generosity, but mostly we look forward to being with Momma in heaven. What she left behind is a reminder of what we can look forward to with joyful anticipation. Mom marked her three sons with her incomplete character—knowing now she is complete—the best version of herself. We gratefully hold on to her influence within memories with a glimpse of what’s to come: mom’s perfected love.
As children of God we are marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus, who is Himself the down payment of our heavenly Father’s inheritance. We are saved, sealed and secure. Our incomplete condition on earth will one day be completed in heaven. Limited by our imperfections now, we will be perfected by God in His loving presence. Grace is a taste of what’s to come for those who have trusted Christ. A deposit of divine love, is a reminder of “that day” when we will possess fully and will be possessed fully by God to the praise of His glory!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
The Presidential Prayer Team
December 17, 2019
“the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;”
Psychologists in various universities across the nation have made prolonged studies of smiles and their meanings. Far more than just a sign of enjoyment, smiles often are a cover for ambiguities, a convenient social display, or a signal of cooperation. Yet there is no doubt that a smile, even from the Mona Lisa, holds a certain allure. The New Living Translation of today’s verse says this part of the Aaronic blessing is “May the Lord smile on you.”
Have you ever thought about what it is that makes God smile? One certain way is putting Him first. God smiles when you love Him with your whole heart and make Him Number One in your life. He smiles when you trust Him completely—consistently, day in and day out, in good times or in bad, rain or shine. It is safe to say that God smiles when you obey him wholeheartedly, responding quickly and joyfully at whatever He asks you to do. Finally, God smiles when you praise and thank Him continually.
In this month of Christmas, knowing what you do makes God smile might be the greatest blessing He could bestow on you. You might even want to thank Him in advance for His loving, smiling, shining face on you. Pray for Christians serving in the country’s administration to continue to find the grace to smile, and to put God first, trusting Him, and obeying what it is He has called them to do.
The Presidential Prayer Team
December 15-16, 2019
FINISH THE JOB
“When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.”
Though it doesn’t resolve all of the questions that arise with some of the more difficult parts of the Old Testament, I have found the way early Christians read these texts to be incredibly helpful. For example, rather than dismiss these texts as entirely irrelevant on the one hand, or on the other hand as permissive of things like genocide in our own day, they quickly saw that, for the Christian, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the very forces of sin and evil that threaten to steal our hope, joy, and peace:
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)
As the author of Hebrews reminds us:
"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," (Hebrews 12:1)
And while we hate to admit it, each of us is entangled in sins that keep us captive and inhibit us from running the race of faith with freedom and perseverance. We are entangled in our quest for power and significance in our jobs, believing a higher paycheck or position will bring greater meaning and purpose. We are entangled in our desire to be respected and admired, believing additional letters after our names somehow deepens our sense of worth. We are entangled in our love of comfort and entertainment, believing we’re entitled to a life of indulgence and excess and to deny ourselves any creature comforts is to be relegated to a cruel and intolerable existence.
As such, we rarely do the hard work to truly disentangle our hearts and lives from these worldly passions. We may cut the weeds back, but as my father taught me as a kid, unless you pull them up by the roots they’ll just come right back. This was Israel’s great failure. As they grew in strength and power, rather than driving idolatry out of their land completely and thoroughly, they “cut it back”, letting it persist. The Canaanites were placed under forced labor, but allowed to linger.
Is there sin in your life that you’ve placed under forced labor that the Lord wants you to completely drive out? Do you fear what your life will be like without that quick hit of affirmation or self-validation? Do you fear loneliness and isolation so much that the empty lies of pornography feel safer than the harder path to sexual freedom and true relational intimacy?
Before you can move forward, you have to secure the freedom the Lord won for you. You must contend with all your might to finish the job and put sin to death. Do not let it linger. Unacknowledged and unrepentant sin does not lie dormant- it always grows. By God’s grace, have the courage to kill it completely before it kills you.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
In your spiritual life, what job have you left half-finished that needs to be seen through to the end?
December 14, 2019
1 Timothy 4:4
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,”
Why do you suppose adults don’t play with Jack-In-The-Boxes? The answer is obvious; grown-ups know exactly what will happen when the handle is turned! Now stop for a moment and consider if you know anyone approaching their relationship with God in that same manner. They read the Bible, attend Church and pray, expecting their “God In The Box” to do exactly the “right thing.” It’s disturbing for many faithful people when God does things that are perplexing and unexpected.
In the New Testament. Ananias of Damascus lived in the days immediately following Christ’s return to Heaven. The Christian church was under great persecution by religious elites attempting to stop the message of salvation through Christ. The most blood thirsty of their persecutors was a man called Saul.
As Ananias sought God in prayer one day, God asked him in a vision to go find murderous Saul and lay his hands upon him, receiving him as a brother! Understandably, Ananias recoiled in fear and resisted, but God assured him Saul was now a changed man and part of a very good plan to bring Gentiles to faith. Eventually, the reluctant Ananias trusted God, obeyed, and the rest is history. Saul became Paul the Apostle and his letters make up a major portion of the New Testament you enjoy today.
What barriers might God be quietly challenging in your life? Are there people groups you don’t believe God can use in spreading the gospel? Don’t reject what God might be doing because it threatens your opinions or pride! Be like Ananias, let God break down your barriers and thank him for His plan.
Presidential Prayer Team
December 13, 2019
SEED TO FRUIT
"For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness."
The farmer plants seed in the spring and eagerly waits for harvest. The apostle Paul talks about eagerly waiting for the hope of righteousness. In the surrounding text, Paul is talking about living by faith in Christ versus obeying the law, as the Jewish people were trained to do. He talks about the freedom in Jesus, not having to obey the law to receive eternal salvation. This was a difficult thing for the Jewish people to understand—just as it is among many Christians today. Paul says:
“And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.” (Romans 3:8)
He compares spiritual growth to planting fruit. You plant the seed of righteousness by putting faith in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, acting out of love, and following the leading of the Holy Spirit. The fruit begins inwardly: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. A person who develops these qualities inwardly will produce good works, as it says in Ephesians that Christians are called to do:
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)
Be free in Christ. Start with the seed of faith in Him, then operate in love. Allow God to grow the fruit of the Spirit in your character. Then act on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to do what you personally are called to do. Pray for the leaders and people of the nation to receive Jesus by faith, develop godly character and act out of love.
Presidential Prayer Team
December 12, 2019
WE NOT ME
1 Corinthians 12:27
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
There is a larger context to life than just living for self. A self-focused life creates chronic frustration and leads to an inability to reach one’s full potential. Its demanding demur marginalizes wise counsel and only attracts insecure individuals. However, those who pray for what’s best for the whole, themselves become whole. Everyone is honored in an environment where individual contributions are valued. “We not me” is the vocabulary of those who honor each other.
Every disciple is stronger when they are connected to other Christ followers. Isolation contributes to spiritual impotence, whereas community gives spiritual life. Encouragement and accountability are exalted in relationships that serve what’s best for the group. A leader who serves the team motivates other team members to serve well. A man who serves his family experiences a family that serves each other. “We overcomes me” through unselfish service.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:” (1 Peter 4:10)
Our spiritual birth engrafted us as a member of Christ’s body. We cannot detach an appendage of the Lord’s, any more than a member of our physical body can be disassociated from the other body parts. So we pray for those around us who know Christ and we get to know each other. Oh, the joy of being known and knowing others who love Him! Life that is truly life is lived in the margins with those submitted to our Savior Jesus.
Are you motivated first by “He,” second by “we,” and lastly by “me”? If so, you are set up for relational fulfillment. The sequence for successful thinking is Him, them, and then you. “Me” will try to squeeze in and monopolize relationships, cannibalize conversations, and hijack heaven’s agenda. By God’s grace, we must put to death the “me monster” and replace it with love for the Lord and people. “We not me” is the motto of mature Jesus followers.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)
Whose needs can you put ahead of yours through your prayers and service?
December 11, 2019
A FATHER, A DAUGHTER AND A DOG
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
"Watch out! You nearly broad sided that car!" My father yelled at me. "Can't you do anything right?"
Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn't prepared for another battle.
"I saw the car, Dad . Please don't yell at me when I'm driving.."
My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt.
Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts..... dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about him?
Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon . He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.
The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn't lift a heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I saw him outside alone, straining to lift it.. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn't do something he had done as a younger man.
Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing.
At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctor's orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone..
My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust.
Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue.
Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad's troubled mind.
But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done and it was up to me to do it.
The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain.
Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, "I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article.."
I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had proved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog..
I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon.. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world's aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed.
Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hip bones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.
I pointed to the dog. "Can you tell me about him?" The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. "He's a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we've heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow." He gestured helplessly.
As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. "You mean you're going to kill him?"
"Ma'am," he said gently, "that's our policy. We don't have room for every unclaimed dog."
I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. "I'll take him," I said. I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me.. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch... "Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad !" I said excitedly.
Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. "If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don't want it" Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.
Anger rose inside me.. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. "You'd better get used to him, Dad. He's staying!"
Dad ignored me.. "Did you hear me, Dad ?" I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate. We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw..
Dad's lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.
It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne . Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.
Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad's bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne 's cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night.. I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father's room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.
Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad's bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favourite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad's peace of mind.
The morning of Dad's funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made filling the church.. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life.
And then the pastor turned to Hebrews:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)
"I've often thanked God for sending that angel," he said.
For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle that I had not seen before: the sympathetic voice that had just read the right article... Cheyenne 's unexpected appearance at the animal shelter . ...his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father. . and the proximity of their deaths. And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.
Life is too short for drama or petty things, so laugh hard, love truly and forgive quickly. Live While You Are Alive. Forgive now those who made you cry. You might not get a second time.
Lost time can never be found. God answers our prayers in His time........not ours.
A true story by Catherine Moore
December 9-10, 2019
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,”
You wouldn’t think that Lou Joline needed any encouragement to keep running. At the age of 65, he has completed 61 marathons in 31 states, and has been named one of the nation’s top five “fittest over 50.” But Joline can’t do it alone. He relies on the support of three running clubs he belongs to.
Lou’s advice to people who want to get more exercise is to make it a social event. “Get in with a group,” he says. “If your friends are doing it, you’re going to do it.”
Although we may embrace that approach to physical fitness, many of us think we can make it on our own spiritually. Yet, if we are going to be fit in our faith, we need each other. In Hebrews we read:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Are you involved in a local church congregation? Do you attend a small group for Bible study? Do you have a friend with whom you can bare your soul and pray? Do you need to broaden your opportunities for fellowship?
If we are going to be spiritually fit, we need all the encouragement and support we can get. Spiritual fitness is a team effort.
David C. McCasland
December 8, 2019
GOD MAKES BEAUTIFUL THINGS
“And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.”
What caused the clay to spoil in the potter’s hand? And if we are meant to understand ourselves as the clay, what then causes us to spoil and need to be reworked? Our answers to these questions have massive implications for how we view God, ourselves, and our relationship with him.
On the one hand, you could read this as a story of God’s failed attempt at making something beautiful. The clay isn’t the problem, the potter is. Disappointed by his efforts, he scraps the project and sets about to try again. However, this interpretation flies in the face of what the Scripture actually says about God as creator. Genesis reminds us:
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
God is infinitely creative and is pleased with the beauty of his creation, so much so that he longs to be with us and for us to be with him.
As such, the only other way to understand this passage is that we, the clay, have resisted the creative work of the skilled potter. We want to fashion ourselves into something of our own making, rather than submitting to his guiding hand. Perhaps we doubt his goodness and ability to create something good and so we instead try and take matters into our own hands. Yet as salvation history reminds us, every effort at life apart from the goodness and glory of God leaves us unmade and undone, like a pile of clay without any form, shape, or direction.
The power of this story lies in the fact that God is continually bringing beauty out of brokenness and order out of chaos. He looks upon his creation, once perfect yet now marred by the stain of sin, and he sets about the work of new creation. When the Lord looks upon the lump of clay, his children suffering under the weight of their own self-love, does he discard them and start from scratch? No! As Jeremiah reminds us:
“…he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.” (Jeremiah 18:4)
Whatever your pain, sorrow, or wound may be, whether self-inflicted or inflicted upon you, trust that the Lord’s ways are good and so his process of recreation is making you into something beautiful. The Lord longs for you to be a vessel, fashioned in his very likeness and a means by which he shares his love through you to the world he loves.
“But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)
Do you believe that God is able to pick up the pieces of your life and weave them into a beautiful tapestry that tells the story of his faithfulness?
December 7, 2019
DO YOU FEEL LET DOWN?
1 John 1:5
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
I’ll never forget when I pounded my bed crying and screaming, “God, I hate you!” On that day in 1992 everything significant I had believed about myself, God, my relationship with Him, and His teachings seemed to die under the heavy weight of disappointment.
My heartbreak was excruciating, because it centered on a woman’s most intimate longing—romantic love. Like most women, I wanted to become a bride more than anything. Convinced that life would be unbearable if I couldn’t marry the man I loved, I pleaded with God to let me have him. In complete seriousness I asked, “Lord, if I never get married, would you please let me die?” The fact that I said that to God should have warned me that my desire was so all-encompassing that there could be an intense and dangerous reaction in me if He said no. (I was idolizing marriage and my boyfriend, and I didn’t even know it.)
I prayed kneeling, crying, begging, standing, sitting, and screaming, but the man I longed for married someone else. A subsequent four-year spiritual and emotional black hole sucked me into enemy territory where Satan had what my mother calls a “heyday.” I was in such emotional pain that I could no longer understand who God was or who I was to Him.
Because He didn’t give me what I wanted, I believed He had betrayed me, leaving me in a spiritually and emotionally messy place. If this is your story, you know that there are few things more painful.
In The Sacred Romance John Eldredge writes, “Everyone has been betrayed by someone, some more profoundly than others. Betrayal is a violation that strikes at the core of our being; to make ourselves vulnerable and entrust our well-being to another, only to be harmed by those on whom our hopes were set, is among the worst pain of the human experience. Sometimes the way God treats us feels like betrayal.”
Ah, yes. It feels like betrayal. But is it? Are our perceptions wrong if we believe God has betrayed us when life hurts? Do we have some faulty expectations about God, ourselves, our relationship with Him, and the Bible? Are we confused about His heart and intentions toward us?
Of course, the answer to all of the above is yes. Our perceptions are wrong. In those moments when bad—even tragic—things happen, we must remember that our loving Lord has higher purposes that we just can’t understand—and the beautiful sacrifice of the cross reminds us of the Savior’s heart. It may look as if He has been unfaithful, but a God who would dare to die for you and I cannot be cruel. Whatever seems unkind now will all make sense one day in the light of His unchanging, steadfast, and faithful love.
“For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” (Psalm 33:4)
If you are in a season where you are having a difficult time trusting God, if you believe He has let you down, one of the most difficult things to do is to let go of the need to know why so you can rest in His love and He can give your heart peace. Talk with Him about this today and if you have not surrendered, tell Him you trust Him.
December 5-6, 2019
“When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?”
How much is enough? We might ask this simple question on a day that many developed countries increasingly devote to shopping. I speak of Black Friday, the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday, in which many stores open early and offer cut-price deals; a day that has spread from the US to other nations.
Some shoppers have limited resources and are trying to purchase something at a price they can afford. But sadly, for others, greed is the motivation, and violence erupts as they fight for bargains.
The wisdom of the Old Testament writer, Solomon, provides an antidote to the frenzy of consumerism we may face in the shops—and in our hearts. He points out that those who love money never will have enough and will be ruled by their possessions. And yet, they will die with nothing:
“As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.” (Ecclesiastes 5:15)
The apostle Paul echoes the Teacher in his letter to Timothy, when he says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and that we should strive for “godliness with contentment”:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:6–10)
Whether we live in a place of plenty or not, we all can seek unhealthy ways of filling the God-shaped hole in our hearts. But when we look to the Lord for our sense of peace and well-being, He will fill us with His goodness and love.
Amy Boucher Pye
December 4, 2019
ABIDING BEARS MUCH FRUIT
“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.”
Much fruit that remains is the goal of a disciple of Christ. This glorifies God and accomplishes His purposes. Fruit- bearing glorifies God because He is the source of life for the fruit. No fruit can be produced without God. The branch is intrinsically dependent on the vine.
Therefore, we as followers of Christ cannot take credit for the fruit because the fruit comes from Jesus. He is the manufacturer of fruit and we are the distributors. The fruit remains luscious as the Father prunes back the unproductive branches. We do not always invite pruning, as it is painful and disfiguring in the beginning. But over time, submission to painful pruning produces beautiful and long-lasting fruit. Trust your heavenly Father with the pruning process, and you will be much better off.
So, what is the nature of this fruit He is creating and nurturing through us? It is the fruit of character and souls. As we abide in Christ, we become more like Christ. This is a natural result of remaining in Him. We become like the ones we hang out with the most. We start to love more unconditionally because God is love. We experience a fullness of joy because the joy of the Lord becomes our strength. A holy contentment flushes our countenance because the peace of Christ reigns over our hearts. An unselfish servant spirit fills our heart because Jesus set the ultimate example of servanthood.
Fruit-bearing is character-driven on behalf of souls for the glory of God. Character is a conduit for the Holy Spirit to draw others to Himself. You are saved for more than goodness. You are saved to bridge others to God. Much fruit that remains is the result of God working through a humble, obedient, and submitted life for His glory.
Therefore, it is imperative you remain in Christ for maximum fruit-bearing. This is the position from which God leverages His greatest works. It is from here that much fruit is produced, and where the results remain with eternal consequences. You remain in Christ by faith. It all comes back to trust in Him. You take Him at His word. You believe His word. You obey His word.
Remaining in Christ is not an onerous task. It will be painful at times, but not burdensome. Early on, allow God to sever the small green twigs of sin that bud on the branch of your life. This is much better that waiting for His massive pruning. Bad branches distract and hold back fruit-bearing.
You also remain in Him as you live in community with other believers. They become God’s encouragers and pruning shears as well. Men need to get real with men, and women need to be transparent with women. Relational honesty and unity is one of God’s ways of remaining in Christ. Learning, growing, and applying God’s truth automatically defaults to remaining in Him. Seek out truth religiously and relentlessly. Be a model of remaining so others will be inspired to do the same. Branches do not thrive in isolation, but in the orchards of evangelism and discipleship. As a result, we remain in Christ. Then the fruits of character and souls are harvested on an eternal scale, all for the glory of the great gardener, God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
How can you better abide in Christ, so He can do a deeper work of grace in your heart?
December 2-3, 2019
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
As someone who works closely with several non-profit organizations, I am distinctly aware of Giving Tuesday. In the United States, this Giving Tuesday “holiday” comes from an honorable desire to help charitable organizations continue their good work. However, there also may be an angle of manipulation, used to capitalize on a season when Americans are already spending a lot of money and feeling guilty about it.
The idea is that after several days of self-indulgence—which would often include a Thanksgiving feast, days off of work, and lots of spending on ”Black Friday” and ”Cyber Monday”—Giving Tuesday is a chance to use your resources selflessly.
When I began working on fundraising projects, I would often dread this time of year and the hectic (and sometimes annoying) campaigning that it brings. I knew that my clients’ appeals would most likely get lost in the avalanche of emails, social media posts, and phone calls that characterize Giving Tuesday. What was the point?
Why should Christians, many of whom already tithe or volunteer with their church, join the Tuesday craziness? Don’t we give enough? Isn’t it just a marketing ploy, anyway?
This year, however, I am working on one Giving Tuesday project that is very close to my heart. This non-profit creates multimedia Bible study tools which equip churches to include persons with intellectual disability.
I desperately want to see this organization reach their fundraising goal because I have seen firsthand the good that they do. And I know the leadership well; I respect their vision for the future. It is enough to make me wonder if there is more to Giving Tuesday than I originally thought. Here are three reasons I’m choosing to participate this year:
Reason #1 To exercise my giving muscles.
Have you ever heard it said that forgiveness is like a muscle in your body? “Exercising forgiveness” can be compared to exercising your body—the more you exert it, the stronger it gets and the easier the task becomes. Giving is like that. The more we practice generosity, the easier and more natural it becomes.
A small step of faith—even if the amount you choose to give is very small—softens our hearts to be open to something bigger and better. God calls us to be people who are saturated in the habit of generosity—people who are full of kindness, goodness, and gentleness. And it doesn’t come naturally; we must practice and “do our exercises” with His help!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Reason #2 To make a difference.
We don’t just give for our own edification; we give because it truly makes a difference. This year I have seen the impact that even a small gift can make.
For the campaign I mentioned earlier, this non-profit client only needs to raise a few thousand dollars. It is a big sum for one person, but if it were split among all the people on their mailing list, it would only amount to $2 per person. The price of a cup of coffee. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? What is difficult is getting a few hundred people to believe that their small gift is meaningful.
Let me tell you that God can use anything—even $2 . . . or two loaves of bread (remember the feeding of the five thousand in Matthew 14?). Paul writes to the Corinthians:
“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:12)
Reason #3 To express joyful gratitude.
One of my favorite Christmas stories is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Actually, it is only a favorite because I know it so well; my dad watches two or three different versions of the play or movie every year without fail. In the story, the character of old Mr. Scrooge is transformed from sour, cynical, and abrasive to giddy, hopeful, and kind. He has been given a second chance in life and sees how fortunate he truly is.
Scrooge’s newfound joy is immediately translated into generosity—he showers gifts on his employee, generously tips the errand boy, and makes a large donation to a local charity. Why? Because joy is expressed in gratitude—especially when joy comes from knowing that you have been forgiven a great debt. Friends, we have been forgiven a great debt through God’s son. Jesus told his disciples:
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay." (Matthew 10:8)
Generosity is a way for Christ-followers to gladly proclaim as Christ did:
“And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:7)
So . . . back to Giving Tuesday. It’s here. It may feel like too much, and perhaps you vowed to stay offline all day just to avoid the appeals. But I encourage you to give it a try—a small gift, a generous gift, a joyful gift. It will make a difference to people in need. And it will make a difference in you.
November 30-December 1, 2019
THE LITTLE WHITE ENVELOPE
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.
As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.
Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them." Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came.
That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small, white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and that this was his gift from me.
Mike's smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children – ignoring their new toys – would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.
The story doesn't end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children had for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down that special envelope.
Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us."
For the Man Who Hated Christmas
(A true Christmas Story by Nancy W. Gavin, December 2015)
Submitted by Mary Alderink
November 29, 2019
ANONYMOUS THANKS & GIVING
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
During my year between college and law school, a friend and I worked as waiters in local restaurants. I worked long hours, but my friend always seemed to work longer hours. I remember being surprised that he always took home less pay than I did.
Later, I learned that he spent much of his time working in a soup kitchen that fed the poor.
The day before Thanksgiving, he asked if I could help him run an errand. I agreed and accompanied him to a poultry vendor, where he purchased an enormous quantity of frozen turkeys that we loaded into a truck he had borrowed or rented for the trip. I recall that the total cost of the turkeys was about $1,000.
Still uncertain about the nature of our errand, I rode with my friend through town. We parked beside the back door of a church and proceeded to quietly unload the turkeys outside the door. When we finished, my friend asked me to start the truck's engine and wait in the driver's seat.
I watched as he made his way up to the church's back door. He paused briefly, then rang the bell. At that moment, I thought I had everything figured out. This was the church that operated the soup kitchen where my friend spent so much of his time. In another moment, the grateful kitchen crew (maybe even the pastor of the church) would answer the bell and acknowledge my friend's tremendous generosity.
But that's not what happened. Immediately after ringing the doorbell, my friend sprinted back to the truck, hopped into the passenger seat and yelled "Go!"
I hit the accelerator and we sped partway down the street, to a place where we still could see the rear of the church. There, from a distance, we watched as several surprised, overjoyed individuals emerged to find the mountain of Thanksgiving turkeys we had left outside. I thought my friend was crazy not to stick around and enjoy the appreciation of the grateful folks at the church. He explained that he got more joy out of remaining anonymous.
I will never forget that afternoon. I don't think I ever understood precisely what charity was until that day.
Submitted by a thankful and giving colleague
November 28, 2019
“The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation—”
It was early October 1789. The Revolutionary War had been over for eight years. While victory against tyranny had established the new nation, the predictable arguments about how to govern quickly followed. Articles of Confederation had governed the fledgling nation since the end of the war. But America was growing stronger as state independent sovereignty gave way to the need for a more centralized government. Founders like Washington, John Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson and others had their own positions on balance of powers, the location of a capital, the role of church in government, the frequency of elections and more. The ratification of a new Constitution was a long, arduous quarrelsome and difficult process. But by June 1788, the official framework of the republic was ratified.
So on October 3, 1789, when President George Washington issued a Proclamation of National Thanksgiving to be held on November 26, he was declaring that the beautiful inheritance of America was given by God Himself. Washington instructed Congress to jointly declare a time of thanksgiving to be done annually “for public thanks-giving and prayer.” A time, he said, to “be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” It was a time to bless God!
Today, the tradition of a national celebration of Thanksgiving will again be carried out. You’ll enjoy time with family and friends, eat too much, maybe watch football, think about Black Friday shopping…but will you take the time to bless God, your Rock, the source of your salvation, and the “beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” Make Him the center of your celebration time. Pray that members of Congress can find that, even in the midst of division, God is still in control, wanting to bless America.
Presidential Prayer Team
November 27, 2019
GAME OF THANKS
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Every autumn, we throw a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast on campus at Cornerstone University. Our students love it! Last year, a group of students played a game at their table. They challenged each other to name something they were thankful for—in three seconds or less—without repeating what someone else had said. Anyone who hesitated was out of the game.
There are all kinds of things that students might gripe about—tests, deadlines, rules, and a host of other college-type complaints. But these students had chosen to be thankful. And my guess is that they all felt a lot better after the game than they would have if they had chosen to complain.
While there will always be things to complain about, if we look carefully, there are always blessings to be thankful for. When Paul described our newness in Christ, “thankfulness” was the only characteristic he mentioned more than once. In fact, he mentioned it three times:
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
Paul’s instruction to be thankful is astonishing when we consider that he wrote this letter from prison!
Today, let us make the choice to have an attitude of thankfulness.
November 26, 2019
WHEN HUMAN REASONING WON'T DO
“You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”
When we read a command in the Bible, whether we understand it or not, we ought to obey it. The Bible is not first and foremost a book to be explained, it is a book to be believed and obeyed.
So many times we want to tell God how He ought to do things. I can imagine those early apostles when they first met Paul persecuting believers. Those well-meaning Christians could have been praying for God to strike Paul dead - But what did God do? He struck him alive! And aren't you glad He did?
Don't substitute human reasoning for obedience. God says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
November 11, 2019
WORRY WEIGHS US DOWN
“Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”
Worry is wearisome. It is fatigue to our emotions like physical pain is to our bodies. Worry can trigger stomachaches, high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety disorders and depression. It is an enemy to a joy filled and productive life. Worry can so weigh you down that you are immobilized by lack of energy and fear.
Your family tree may have borne the fruit of worry over generations, but you can purge obsession with negative thinking through trust in the Lord. Jesus’ teaching is very clear:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:33-34)
Exercised trust energizes the weary.
Your personality may lend itself to worry. You can see it in your furrowed brow, or brooding countenance. You worry about the economy and its effect on your retirement. You wring your hands over the war and wonder when it will ever end. You are stressed out over work, because of situations and people you are unable to change. Anxiety may have paralyzed you as a parent, because you don’t feel qualified to carry out your responsibilities.
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
Alcohol has become your outlet for those things you cannot control, but the gnawing fear is still there the next day. One simple solution is to make a two-column prayer list with the headings ‘Things I can’t change’ and ‘Things I can change’. Ask God for faith and patience with the former and wisdom and courage to act on the latter. Prayer is your time-tested prescription for worry. Furthermore, look for those who long to be encouraged, who feel trapped by the anxieties of life:
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34)
They need the truth of God’s word, because the cares of this world try to marginalize the truth. Truth can be forgotten in the fearful suffering of severe trials. Your kind words remind them of Christ’s care and concern for their health, family and their faith.
Lift yourself and others out of the downward spiral of depression by cheering them up with truth. Read the Bible out loud with a friend and meditate on its promises that are filled with hope and encouragement. Use uncertainty, not as a reason to worry, but rest in the Lord. You are freed up when you don’t fret, but apply faith instead. Above all else, His word wins over worry and provides strength for your faith journey! Jesus answered:
“... ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’” (Matthew 4:4)
What worry do you need to release to God so as not to be weighed down?
November 24, 2019
FIRST SNOW OF THE SEASON
“He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.”
I have always been a big fan of summer and spring, and not too fond of fall and winter. But lately I have changed. I think it is something about those leaves of red, orange, yellow, and burgundy that fall from the trees. And the first snow of the season. This year, I feel as if I have noticed them for the very first time.
Have I missed this season all these years, or is it just that as I get older I appreciate God’s world just a little more? The latter is what I concluded. The Bible says,
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
Each day He has given me beauty to enjoy, so I think I should sit back and take in this glorious creation.
God is the best artist in the world, for only He can create such different themes. We see many artists who try to capture the seasons on their canvases by painting what they see around them, and they do a wonderful job. However, neither picture nor paint could ever replace the real thing splashed across the sky and spilled over the earth like the Master’s display of His finest artwork. God’s creativity is unmatched, for every day is different, just like every snowflake that falls softly from the sky.
Instead of always looking forward to springtime and summer, I have decided to enjoy the Master’s autumn and winter masterpiece for the rest of my life.
November 22-23, 2019
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;”
As we bowed our heads over lunch, my friend Jeff prayed: “Father, thank You for letting us breathe Your air and eat Your food.” Jeff had just been through a difficult job loss, so his heartfelt trust in God and recognition that everything belongs to Him profoundly moved me. I found myself thinking: Do I honestly understand that even the most basic, everyday things in my life are really God’s, and He is simply letting me use them?
When King David received offerings from the people of Israel for building the temple in Jerusalem, he prayed:
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” (1 Chronicles 29:14)
Then he added:
“LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” (1 Chronicles 29:16)
Scripture tells us that even “the ability to produce wealth” and earn a living come from Him:
“But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” (Deuteronomy 8:18)
Understanding that all we have is borrowed encourages us to loosen our grip on the stuff of this world and live with open hands and hearts—sharing freely because we are deeply thankful for the kindnesses we receive daily.
God is a generous giver—so loving that He even gave up His Son “for us all”:
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
Because we have been given so much, may we give Him our heartfelt thanks for blessings small and large. What borrowed blessing can you thank God for today? How does it help to know that every good gift is from Him? Whatever is ours is God’s.
November 21, 2019
GOD KNOWS YOU BETTER THAN YOU KNOW YOURSELF
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.”
The Bible reminds us over and over again of the comfort and peace that comes from being known and loved by God. We are truly known and perfectly loved, even more clearly and truly than we know and love ourselves! In fact, it is often quite difficult for us to know ourselves well, to discern clearly our longings, needs, and deepest desires.
Simply put, what we think we need and actually need is not always one in the same. This is especially true in times of pain or suffering. We want to flag Jesus down and say, “Come over here! I’m hurting and need you to fix this right now!” And Jesus does want to heal us and comfort us, yet he desires to heal our deepest longings and truest needs, and does so even if we don’t know what that need is.
In the medical field, doctors often talk about treating the underlying issue rather than simply focusing on the presenting symptom. I wonder if this is true of our spiritual lives as well? Could it be that Jesus, the Great Physician, wants to free us from our sorrow and pain, yet does so by working his healing into the core of our very being? And in light of this, what does it mean for us to be calm in the midst of chaos, peaceful in the most unlikely of places?
Since God knows us better than we even know ourselves, we are free to take a deep breath, open our hands, and with humble hearts say to God, “Even in the midst of chaos and great pain, I trust that you know my deepest need. So I won’t try and run past you or tell you what’s best. I choose to instead acknowledge my limitations and weakness, trusting that you are always working for my good.”
In the mystery and beauty of God’s wisdom, instead of simply erasing pain and brokenness, he heals it by taking it upon himself and transforming it in the process. We see this perfectly and powerfully on the cross as Jesus takes death upon himself so that through it he can speak life and victory.
Take heart today and trust that the thing in your life that feels like it might be your undoing can instead be something you offer to God for healing and restoration. Though it may seem improbable or even impossible, nothing is too great for a God who knows you better than you know yourself!
What trial are you facing that you need to hand over to God with an open hand, trusting in his goodness and care for you?
November 20, 2019
“yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
On a crisp October morning, our local newspaper featured a stunning photo of sun-drenched aspen trees whose leaves had turned autumn gold. The caption read: “FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY.”
The irresistible invitation to take a drive through the mountains to savor the brilliant colors conveyed the urgency of doing it quickly. Autumn leaves that are golden today are often gone tomorrow.
Our opportunities to obey God’s promptings are also fleeting. James warned against an arrogance that assumes endless days will be available to carry out our good intentions.
“yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
Is there an act of kindness or encouragement that God has urged you to do for someone in His name? How long has it been since that first prompting? With so many demands on our time, the urgent tasks demand our attention while the important things can be postponed. But a time will come when even the important can no longer be done.
When we follow God’s urging with our action now, today will be golden. Doing what is right today means no regrets tomorrow.
David C. McCasland
November 18-19, 2019
CLEAR BLUE WATER
1 Thessalonians 5:18
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Clear, blue water—what is more beautiful or refreshing? Whether you play in it or drink it down, nothing satisfies like it. Gratitude in your spirit is like water for your body, you can only live a short time without it. It nourishes your heart with hope and quenches your spiritual thirst. But when times are rough and circumstances are difficult, where can you find that refreshing mountain spring for your soul?
Jesus of Nazareth endured challenges like no man before or since. His enemies openly sought to destroy Him and His friends misunderstood His every move. Ultimately, He endured the most hideous death imaginable, yet Paul sets Him up as the Source for your gratitude.
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
His great sacrifice secured the power you need to overcome any circumstance by expressing thankfulness for His presence in the midst of difficulty.
“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:38)
In the flow of His Spirit you will find genuine joy and gratitude.
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)
Today, pray for those working towards America’s good future to find the refreshment of Living Water. And give thanks to God for its source, His Son, Jesus Christ.
Presidential Prayer Team
November 11-17, 2019
PIECE OR PEACE OF MIND?
“You [God] keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
In January 1995, minister and author, Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie, was elected Chaplain of the United States Senate. His days were filled with meetings with Senators, discussing spiritual and moral issues, assisting staffs with research on theological and biblical questions, speaking to five Senate Bible study and prayer groups, and encouraging events such as the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. He saw his primary role, however, as a prayer intercessor for members of the Senate. He told the story of a day when he was passing through the hallways of the Capitol on his way to discuss a crucial time of acrimonious conflict with a group of leaders, that someone from the crowded hallway called out, “Give them a piece of your mind!”
Ogilvie thought about it, until the Inner Voice of God asked him, “How will you spell piece? Piece or peace?” He said at that time he was reminded that the great need in the people to whom he was about to speak was for profound peace, and he determined to share the secret of lasting peace with them as the piece of his mind.
The world is not at peace today. Congress, members of the administration, the courts, all sense the lack of peace. Perhaps even you are smoldering in anger, bending under the nagging fear of what is next, or even feeling that God has abandoned America. Don’t allow circumstances to rob you of your inner peace. You can remain calm in the face of trouble, crisis, illness, tough times, or whatever assails you—only you must look to the Prince of Peace, focus your thoughts on Him, and allow that mindfulness to radiate through you to others.
Intercede for government leaders at every level to abandon giving others a “piece” of their mind, and instead look for the true and steadfast inner Peace that they can share with one another.
The Presidential Prayer Team
November 10, 2019
INSIGHTS INTO WHO GOD IS
“Make a joyful noise to the all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Psalm 100 features only five verses, but is packed with insights to who God is and how His people are to respond:
He is Lord and God:
“Know that the LORD, he is God!…” (Psalm 100:3)
He is the creator:
“…It is he who made us, and we are his;…“ (Psalm 100:3)
He guides, protects His people like a shepherd his sheep:
“…we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3)
His gates and His courts represent His rule, provision and protection:
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!…” (Psalm 100:4)
He is good:
“For the LORD is good;…” (Psalm 100:5)
His consistent love and faithfulness endure forever:
“…his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)
That’s good news for today. This faithful, loving God isn’t just God of Bible times, but of the present, future and eternity. You can count on Him all the days of your life. How do His people respond?
Make a joyful noise:
“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!” (Psalm 100:1)
Picture a football game when your team performs a touchdown. God deserves this type of noise and excitement. Serve Him with gladness:
“Serve the LORD with gladness!…” (Psalm 100:2)
Sometimes it’s easy to forget about being glad, when serving Him. Come into His presence with singing:
“…Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:2)
Where is His presence? Church? Yes. During quiet time? Yes. He is omnipresent. So, to come into His presence is simply acknowledging it. Recall what the Bible says:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23)
His children are to know, recognize and honor Him for who He is:
“Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;…” (Psalm 100:3)
Believers are to thank Him for what He has done and praise Him for who He is:
“Enter…his courts with praise! Give thanks to him;…” (Psalm 100:4)
Believers are to praise His name:
“Enter … his courts with praise!…” (Psalm 100:4)
During your quiet time, meditate on who God is and the many blessings He has provided for you and this country. Pray that His name, Jesus, will be recognized and honored.
The Presidential Prayer Team
November 8-9, 2019
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“If a little is good, then more is better.” This maxim has been said to be the mantra of generations past. And now a group of adults has arrived on the scene with just the opposite outlook. The “Less is Best” perspective has given the world tiny houses and the minimalist lifestyle. Depending on the generation you’re from, each would call the other’s perspective counterintuitive, going against common sense.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet encouraged ancient believers to trust in God, even in the face of a brutal and sophisticated enemy. He reminded them God promised IF they would fix their gaze upon Him, He would secure their land and save them. It was undoubtedly counterintuitive to stand firm in faith rather than run in fear when faced with such a capable foe.
Unfortunately, the people did give into their fear and scattered, running to Egypt for safety, the exact thing God told them not to do. Yet, even in their disobedience and resulting enslavement, God had mercy on His people promising again:
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Today, it can feel unsettling to stand as an example of grace in a world hostile to your beliefs. But God’s promises are still in effect for you! Pray for those in American leadership circles to have the courage not to retreat when faced with difficult choices. Ask that they have the counterintuitive courage to stand for Christ, even when it goes against what they perceive as common sense.
Presidential Prayer Team
November 7, 2019
THE BLESSING OF BURDENS
2 Corinthians 12:9
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-17
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”
There is a story about an old grandfather clock that had stood for three generations in the same corner of a room, faithfully ticking off the minutes and hours, day after day. Inside the clock was a heavy weight that was pulled to the top each night to keep it running.
Then one day the clock was sold, and the new owner noticed the heavy weight. “Too bad that such an old clock should have to bear so great a load,” he said. So he took the weight off the chain. At once the clock stopped ticking.
“Why did you do that?” asked the clock.
“I wanted to lighten your burden,” said the man.
“Please put it back,” said the clock. “That’s what keeps me going!”
Most people are looking for an easy way through life. They think that if they had no burdens they could live pleasantly and triumphantly. They don’t realize that God often keeps us going spiritually by the weights that seem to pull us down. Trials can give our feet spiritual traction. Our burdens not only bring us blessing in this life, but they also are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
The heavier the load, the better the traction.
Henry G. Bosch
November 6, 2019
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?”
During my twenties, like many young people, I moved often. I lived in several different states and many different apartments. After four years of living in Houston, Texas where I was an elementary and junior high art teacher, I decided to quit teaching and move back to my hometown to be near family.
I realized that teaching just wasn’t my thing. I love kids and by nature, I’m an encourager and peace maker. So, the myriad of discipline problems every day wiped me out emotionally.
Then, there was this thing . . .no matter where I lived as a single woman, I always felt a little like an orphan. Certainly, the Lord was always with me. But because I didn’t have family nearby, I sometimes spent Thanksgivings alone and I spent sick days alone. I shopped alone. Sometimes went out to eat alone, and handled car, home, and financial emergencies alone. And, sometimes I just needed my mom!
One day, after I had lived in Houston for three years, my car broke down 10 miles from my apartment. I realized that if something happened to me and I needed serious help, I didn’t have anyone I would have felt comfortable calling.
So, because I didn’t feel that teaching was my thing, because I was lonely, and because I wanted to live near family again, I packed up what I could fit in my little red Honda, and gave everything else away. After closing the door on my apartment for one last time, I stood and looked around at my neighborhood. Goodbye Texas heat, Texas bugs, and goodbye teaching. Hello, family and Idaho and all that was familiar.
Even though I was glad to go, all of a sudden, I felt lost. Sure, I was going back to family, but here I was again. . .moving. Would I ever have a place where my heart could rest, a place to call home?
In that moment, I said, “Lord, I just don’t know where I belong.”
Then, I heard that gentle, comforting voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to me in my spirit: “You belong with Me.” Thank you, Lord, that no matter where I go, no matter what happens in my life, or how unsteady the ground underneath my feet seems, you never leave.
He is your solid rock, your constant companion, faithful friend, and loving Lord. And no matter where you go, you can never get out of His hand. He is always with you. How glorious He is!
“And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” (Exodus 33:14)
Create a timeline of your life on a piece of paper and mark the moments or seasons when you clearly sensed that the Lord was with you. Spend time reflecting on memories of His faithfulness, then praise Him!
November 1-5, 2019
DO YOU WANT TO GET WELL?
“Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?””
In the ancient world, the Pools of Bethesda, which means “house of mercy,” was one of many healing temples, places believed to have healing waters that were stirred up by an angelic spirit. Filled with invalids, they would wait for these waters to move, believing the first one in the water would be healed. If you were the paralytic, this was bad news for you! There would always be someone stronger and faster to beat you to the water. Yet this paralytic was utterly desperate, and though he knew his chances for healing were virtually non-existent, he still came to the house of mercy hoping for a miracle.
Jesus sees us in our places of greatest need and desperation. He sees the parts of you that you are convinced will never change, the pain and wounds that you believe you will carry with you for the whole of your life. After thirty-eight years of waiting, this paralytic likely had given up hope. After a lifetime by the pool, why would this day be any different- perhaps you can relate?
The healing of the Lord begins by Jesus seeing us in our time of need and moving towards us in love. He has the words of life and longs to welcome us into his life and peace:
“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
This is the mission for which he came! And yet, the Lord does not force himself upon us. He stands at the door and knocks, yet waits for us to respond to his invitation to come and dine with us:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
If you were sitting by the Pool of Bethesda today, what is the deepest wound you would want the Lord to heal? It may be bodily sickness in your life or the life of someone you love. It may be a relational wound that brought the end to a relationship that was a deep and abiding source of joy. It may be the loss of a lifelong dream that has left you fearful and unable to move ahead. Wherever you find yourself today, believe that the Lord sees you, draws near to you, and in his perfect love asks you the same question he asked the paralytic:
“When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’" (John 5:6)
How do you respond to the Lord’s question to you today, “Do you want to get well?”
Go to October 2019