Wednesday December 7, 2022 – She said to me, “I trust you.”

Colossians 3:5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

One of the great blessings of our Christian faith is the way it transforms our lives.  This impacts everything from how we live at home to how we do our jobs.  By living wisely, we are able to create opportunities where they might not otherwise occur.  One of the more memorable sales situations I had early in my career with Blue Cross gave me an important lesson in this regard.

While calling on companies on my prospect list, I encountered a hospital that was soliciting proposals for their employee benefit program.  The hospital had recently gone through major changes and was struggling to survive.  They were receiving proposals from a number of agents and carriers and after meeting with their new chief executive, I was given the opportunity to quote.

Later, when I presented our proposal to this executive, she had just received another proposal that she let me see.  It was clearly better than ours.  I knew what flexibility I had in my proposal and informed her that we could not match it.  This one competitor’s offer and program were better than what we had to offer.

A bit later I received a phone call from her asking me to come by the hospital and meet with her.  When we met she asked if I would be willing to review the various proposals that she had received and give her my recommendation – even though the carrier I represented was out of the running.  Was this someone taking advantage of me?  Or, was this an opportunity?  Fortunately I recognized it as an opportunity for the long term.  Every cancellation or lost sale has potential to be a future sale.

But in an important regard this was better than that.  She had noted my attitude, professionalism and honesty in the times we met.  She looked at me and told me, “I trust you.”  Can you imagine a more wonderful compliment?  This was an opportunity to serve her and strengthen this relationship with a potential future client.  A couple years later they became my client.

There are times when we can do the right things, regardless of our motivations.  But we have a faith that enables us to “be” the people God wants us to be.  The more we walk in His ways, being wise in all our interactions, the more we are able to make the most of the opportunities He provides.

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Tuesday December 6, 2022 – Tevye and Golde: “Do you love me?”

John 21:16a  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

We’ve written before of the movie Fiddler on the Roof.  It is a musical about the life of a family in the small Jewish village of Anatevka, Russia   Set in 1905 it tells the story of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman, his wife, Golde, and their five daughters.  The repeated ‘problem’ that Tevye and Golde contend with is their daughters falling in love and wanting to marry.

‘Tradition’ – which was very important to them – held that marriages were to be arranged, by the parents and the village ‘matchmaker’ – NOT by the young men and women falling in love!  After his oldest two daughters fall in love and receive approval to marry the ones they love, Tevye is struck by this novel idea of love being the true matchmaker.  He then asks Golde this same question that’s in today’s verse, “Do you love me?”  The ensuing song of this name is such a sweet scene.  We get to watch and listen as Tevye and Golde consider this ‘love’ and conclude that in fact they do love one another.

Let us picture ourselves in a situation where we are alone, in a quiet enjoyable place, sitting peaceably, and thinking about our faith.  Then, in the chair next to us, Jesus appears and we know it is Him.  After the initial shock and thrill of sitting there with our Lord, Jesus looks at us, and with kindness in His eyes, asks, “Do you love me?”  And after we likely answer, “Of course, I do.”  He responds by asking, “How do you know that you love me?  What is the evidence of your love for me?”

Consider those questions now:  Do you love Him?  How do you know you love Him?  What is the evidence of your love for Him?  The question is not about His love for us – but our love for Him.  Do we fully realize that God has defined what the evidence is of loving Him?  It’s not about what we think, but about the reality of what our lives demonstrate.

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Monday December 5, 2022 – David’s example: Despair to prayer to faith

Psalm 13:5, 6  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

How long??  How long is it going to take me to find a job?  How long will it be before you answer my prayer, Lord?  How long before my spouse, or son, or daughter or friend, comes to know you?  How long am I going to have to struggle with_________? (fill in the blank)

What things are going on in our lives that the above questions describe our pleas to God?  Or, maybe we aren’t praying but simply asking ourselves these questions in frustration.  The struggles just seem to be never-ending and have led us to hopelessness and despair.  We become convinced we are alone and are stuck in situations with no way out.

When reading today’s faith-filled verses, we might respond, yes, but….  If you only knew…  While they declare such wonderful and important truths, we can respond thinking they are at odds with our situations.  But, if we look a few verses earlier, we see that David was in the midst of serious struggles when he cried out to God with questions just like these.

Four times in verses 1 and 2 David expresses his despair in asking God “How long?”

1How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

But then in verses 3 and 4 David’s despair becomes prayer:

3Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Praise God!  David’s prayer leads to his wonderful faith-filled declaration of the truth:

5But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

Despair – we cannot stop there.  Prayer – is vital but is part of the way there.  Faith – is where we must be, and where He will lead us.

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Sunday December 4, 2022 – The importance of ‘paradigm shifts’

Hebrews 12:5-6  5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Continued from yesterday:

I would like you to consider some things that have resulted in ‘paradigm shifts’.  The introduction of these things was so profound that they radically changed our thinking and behavior: automobiles, airplanes, television, computers, internet, cell phones, ipods…  The list could go on.  Many of us have had most of these things all our lives.  Some of us are old enough to remember their initial impact.  Regardless, it is easy to see how society was radically changed by each of these inventions.

Paradigm shifts often come into play with our beliefs.  Think of an atheist having an encounter with God.  His whole world is turned right side up.  Years ago we had a pastor friend who didn’t believe that miracles could happen today – until one of his church members was miraculously healed.  He had to come to grips with the fact that his view of Scripture and God needed to be adjusted.

Today’s verses use such words as ‘disciplines’, ‘rebukes’ and ‘punishes’.  While we recognize that God disciplines, we appear to have an aversion to recognizing that these other two words are biblical and apply to us.  We have a paradigm view of God that carves these realities out.  Do we believe that ‘rebuke’ and ‘punish’ are incompatible with a loving God?

If this is our view – our paradigm – it must change because it is as wrong as viewing the world as flat. God’s discipline, rebukes and punishment are all reflective of His love for us.  Read this verse in the Amplified version to get better insight how all of these things are saturated with God’s love for us:

5My son, do not think lightly or scorn to submit to the correction and discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage and give up and faint when you are reproved or corrected by Him;  6For the Lord corrects and disciplines everyone whom He loves, and He punishes, even scourges, every son whom He accepts and welcomes to His heart and cherishes.” (Amplified)

This is a process to recognize and embrace.  Once we see and understand, we experience a paradigm shift – we respond with gratitude instead of resistance or resentment.  We recognize this as evidence of our Lord welcoming us to His heart.

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Saturday December 3, 2022 – An essential reality in our lives

Revelation 3:19  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

Do you remember times when you were growing up when you wanted to do something and were told “No” by your parents?  Did you receive it well or did you respond somewhat negatively – like “You don’t love me!”?  If a child is caught doing something wrong and is disciplined for it, there is a natural tendency to respond negatively unless s/he is trained not to.

How well do we respond in adulthood to such input from our spouse, employer, boss, mentor, neighbor, friend, etc…?  When our two oldest sons were little (about 4 and 5) we were visiting dear friends who were like parents to Donna and me.  After being with them for a couple days, they sat us down and asked us, “Do you realize your sons argue with you every time you tell them to do or not to do something?”

While it wasn’t pleasant to hear, we received their counsel because 1) it was true, 2) they loved us, 3) we wanted to be godly parents, and 4) we wanted to “train our children up in the way they should go”.  The couple went on to instruct us how to change and bring about the changes in the boys.  We had an opportunity to repent and become better parents.  We embraced the process.

When I look at today’s verse, I see three ‘pieces’.  We all have a tendency to respond or react to the second and third ‘pieces’ of it, glossing over the first:

  1. Those whom I love
  2. Rebuke and discipline
  3. Be earnest and repent

We don’t like to be rebuked, disciplined, corrected or confronted – whether directly or subtly.  We also have a tendency to see repentance as more of a ‘big ticket item’ rather than as an essential reality in our daily lives. But let’s focus on the first piece of this.  Notice how the Amplified version expands the context of this verse in terms of God’s love for us and our approach to repentance:

“Those whom I [dearly and tenderly] love, I tell their faults and convict and convince and reprove and chasten [I discipline and instruct them]. So be enthusiastic and in earnest and burning with zeal and repent [changing your mind and attitude].”  (Amplified) 

This isn’t something dry and cold – it’s a love gift from the One who loves us so very much.  He tells us where we need to change, how to change and He enables us to change.  The entire process is the way of life that is absolutely essential to our growth and godliness.  Without it we would never be transformed into the image of Jesus.  We embrace our God when we embrace it.

To be continued…

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Friday December 2, 2022 – What do our responses say about us?

Job 1:22  In all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.  Job 2:10b  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

It’s difficult to imagine the impact of all the disasters that happened to Job in chapter one.  Scripture describes him as being blameless and upright; one who feared God and shunned evil.  But through no fault of his own, loss, destruction and death were involved in each of the 4 messages brought to him, one after another.

Two of the messages described raiding bands of Sabeans and Chaldeans who stole his animals and killed his servants.  The last message brought word of the death of his seven sons and three daughters by a mighty wind causing the house they were feasting in to collapse on them. Yet his response to all of this was to fall to the ground in worship.

Seldom will we or anyone we know experience loss of the magnitude that Job did.  But we do experience loss, pain and tragedy in many forms.  In such times, how wonderful it would be for our immediate response to be one of worshipping the Lord as Job did.  Unfortunately many if not most of us would find it difficult to worship freely in such a time of agony.  But that is where the verses today are so critically important.  How we respond speaks to the Lord AND to those around us.

Job didn’t charge God with wrong doing.  He didn’t say, “God how could you….”  He didn’t lash out at the Lord or blame Him in any way.  It’s so important that we understand that such responses are sin. Let’s say that again but more pointedly: ‘Charging God with wrongdoing is sin.’  The importance of all this is further emphasized in Job 2:10b where we learn, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

It’s not that God won’t forgive such responses, but it’s what they reveal about us.  They reflect an inadequate and inaccurate understanding of who God is and of our relationship with Him.  To respond negatively towards God shows us we are weak where we should be strong.  When we find ourselves in such difficult situations, think of the difference between these responses: 1) “God how could you…” and 2) Oh Lord, I’m so glad that I have you in the midst of this…”

There are times when we are experiencing difficult and painful things that our hearts are not in the place to worship.  But hopefully, they are also not in the place to charge our Lord with wrongdoing.  In such times let us take the faith position of thanking the Lord for keeping us from sinning and asking Him to work the change in us so that our heart-response is to worship Him in the midst of it all.

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Thursday December 1, 2022 – Never did I dream…

1 John 3:1a  How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

A few weeks ago I had my 54th birthday in Jesus.  In this Thanksgiving / Christmas season, I am so mindful of the wonder of what He did in my life.  It was the day my world was forever changed.  Prior to that day, it never entered my mind that anyone could have a tangible, loving relationship with God; a relationship that went both ways.  He loves to express His love to us and we get to express our love to Him.

A relationship with Jesus is not just a theological reality – it is a whole new world.  Being born-again means we become His son or daughter but there is so much more to it than that.  It means that we become restored to a place where we can live our lives with Him and for Him.  It becomes our starting place.

Think of it!  We get to walk with Him.  We get to love Him.  We get to please Him.  We get to experience His affection.  Likewise each day He is with us.  He loves us.  He blesses us.  He guides us.  He disciplines us as sons and daughters.  We are His!

Our relationship with God is so incredibly practical.  He deals with who we are and where we are – transforming us into the image of Jesus.  He gives us the desire and helps us learn the things we need to learn – the doing part.  The more we become like Him, the better able we are to glorify Him in our daily lives.  A man or woman with a life characterized by the love of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit is in a much better place to become a Godly husband or wife; a father or mother; friend; neighbor; son or daughter….

As I write this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  It is like an artesian spring within me.  It just never ends.  No matter how difficult things might become from time to time, it is there.  What a treasure He gives us.  When I met Him, 54 years ago, – when my Matterhorn of doubt was leveled – I wondered how such an incredible experience could last a lifetime.  I never dreamed that it could or would get even better!

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Wednesday November 30, 2022 – What does the ‘Cross’ mean to you?

Romans 6:6  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—

Recently we enjoyed the beauty of a full moon.  I never cease to enjoy seeing one particularly when it first comes up over the horizon.  But the full moon never fails to tap into a much richer vein of thought within me.  For years when I’ve seen it, I’ve thought of my son John and his wife Fabi and their family in Brazil and the work they were doing.  Even though they are now here, I still think of them.

One of the most common symbols of Christianity is the cross.  Does seeing one make you think of church like golden arches makes one think of McDonald’s?  Have you given thought to what exactly the cross represents?  Or just what do you think of when you see one?    Is it merely a symbol that over time has come to represent Christianity?

A rainbow is God’s sign to Noah – and to us – that He will never flood the earth again.  It is a symbol representing a promise.  But the cross represents so much more.  A vital key to understanding this is the difference between ‘sins’ and ‘sin’.  God made provision for the forgiveness of sins in both the Old and New Testaments.  Forgiveness always involved the shedding of blood.  In the Old Testament there was the blood of lambs and goats that had to be redone every year.  In the New Testament we have the shed blood of Jesus once and for all to provide for the forgiveness of sins.

But the power of sin was and is another thing entirely.  Prior to Jesus, the sins of God’s people could be forgiven but there was still the power of sin working in them.  God’s plan in Jesus was to deal with this wretched power of sin that was the result of Adams’ fall.  The cross represents His love gift through Jesus by which the power of sin was broken.

Through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection we are able to be born-again – to become new creatures in Christ Jesus – freed from the old sin nature – no longer slaves to sin – able to become children of God!  This is what faith in Jesus brings us – a life that is radically changed!  May we rejoice in this whenever we see a cross.

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Tuesday November 29, 2022 – Our loving Father

Isaiah 41:13  For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

When we’re frightened and concerned it’s a wonderful blessing to be comforted.  Sometimes we are the comforter – and sometimes the comforted.  And sometimes we are both at the same time.  I’m laughing as I think of that scene in the movie While You Were Sleeping where Lucy and the brother are trying to walk across the icy sidewalk.  They are hanging onto one another for dear life.

I think of children who are frightened and the amazing comfort they can derive from holding a parent’s hand.  The power is far beyond holding a hand – it is rooted in relationship with who the hand belongs to.  It communicates that I am with someone I love and trust.  I am not alone.  It also communicates that someone is there to help.

There are times when we receive frightening news and we squeeze the hand of the one we are with.  It is a way of releasing the anxiety of the moment and receiving strength from the one with us. The fact that we are adults doesn’t diminish the power of the peace and encouragement that can be communicated through the touch – the hand that is held.

Our God is our Father who loves us.  When Jesus taught the disciples to pray he began, “Our Father…”.  Think of the Prodigal’s father and the joy he had in the return of his son.  Our Father is not a distant, aloof, icy individual.  He is One who cares deeply for us.  He enables us to experience the reality of His loving presence with us.

In Romans 8:15 Paul makes it clearer in case we are lacking in our grasp of who our God is to us, “15For [the Spirit which] you have now received [is] not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption [the Spirit producing sonship] in [the bliss of] which we cry, Abba (Father)! Father!” (Amplified)

I know that my wife Donna had a less than positive relationship with her dad.  But years ago at a conference, she had an encounter with the Lord where He communicated His Father love to her.  He redefined her entire understanding of what a father’s love was about.  He will do the same for us if we seek Him.  Remember that our loving Father is with us – and in times of need, He holds our hand and says, “Do not fear; I will help you.”

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Monday November 28, 2022 – We ‘get to’…not ‘have to’!

Ephesians 5:1-2   Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

I woke up this morning with thoughts of how we, through necessity or preference, engage others to address certain things we have to deal with.   Think of repairing your car, changing the oil or tires, repairing appliances in your home, having someone take care of your lawn, paint or repair your house, take care of pets, plow your driveway in the winter.  We simply have to recognize that an issue or problem exists and contact the appropriate person to address it.

So many products come with service contracts where we can purchase ‘insurance’ that will deal with any problems we encounter with the product.  All we have to do is pick up the phone and call the repairman.  It is then ‘out of our hands’ so to speak.  We also have the option of ignoring such things – particularly if it is inconvenient to deal with them in terms of priorities of finances, i.e., the warning light on the dash is white not red.

Today’s verse engages us in a very different way.  It calls upon us to imitate God and to live a life of love.  What does it mean to imitate God?  What exactly does living a life of love look like?  If we think we know, how do we know that our understanding is correct?  We are the ones who have to live the life of love.  It is not something we can delegate to someone else or ignore.  But if we think of it as a ‘have to do it’ we’ve really missed the boat.  We get to do it.  We must want to do it.

Think of it this way.  If you are a husband or wife, you don’t delegate someone else to love your spouse – you get to do it.  You want to do it – and if we’re wise, we are always looking for ways to do it better.  This means we are also noting the behaviors and attitudes in our lives that are inconsistent with love.  There is no higher priority for Christians than living a life of love.  Our Lord loves us and we get to love Him and others in return – what incredible privileges!

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