Sunday November 21, 2021 – Tasks and relationships – which has priority?

1 Corinthians 14:1a  Follow the way of love…

This morning I woke up thinking about one of the more important and useful concepts that I became aware of in Grad School.  God has used it ever since to give me insight and help me in my daily life.  It involves tasks and relationships – two things that fill our lives.  Each day is filled with tasks to do and many of them involve working or interacting with people.

In a class, we grad students took a test that measured our personal orientations to tasks and to relationships.  When the scores were graphed we each discovered a picture of how we functioned in such situations.  At one end of the spectrum were those whose preeminent concern was the task.  Whether big or small, it had to get done.  If it meant sacrificing relationships, so be it.  Relationships were irrelevant to getting the job done.

At the other end of the spectrum were those who placed preeminence upon relationships.  No task was so important that it would warrant sacrificing relationships.  When these individuals are confronted with situations where they have to choose between a task and a relationship(s), the task won’t get done.  They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or create an unpleasant situation for themselves or anyone else.  They back away from tasks where they perceive a risk to relationship might exist.

Then there was everyone in between where they reflected a mix of task or relationship priorities.  The goal was to be in the middle where both tasks and relationships are important.  Such individuals find ways to get tasks done while preserving and strengthening relationships.  They don’t sacrifice the task for a relationship and they don’t sacrifice a relationship for the task.  Both are important and vital.

This seems to be the way of love that we are called to walk in.  God’s Word and the leading of His Spirit enable us to find the balance that preserves relationships while getting tasks done.  Sometimes they might be painful even when done wisely in love, but the way of love produces righteous fruit – both in us and in others.  Think of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

In all situations we want to glorify the Lord.  We want our lives to accomplish His purposes and reflect His life within us.  The way of love enables us to do that day by day and His Word tells us how to do just that.  It’s up to us to embrace it.  The way of love enables us to transform situations that seem to be ‘Lose-Lose’ or ‘Win-Lose’ into Win-Win’.  Tasks get done and relationships are strengthened.

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Saturday November 20, 2021 – The wonder of faith

2 Corinthians 5:7  We live by faith, not by sight.

Isn’t it amazing how different life can appear when seen through the eyes of faith?  I look back over my life and see so many situations where things happened that I struggled with at the time.  But later events would prove that those experiences were blessings not curses.  In fact, some of the greatest experiences I have ever had came about because of earlier disappointments where I was prevented from doing what I wanted to do.

In the midst of defeat, despair and disappointment comes hope because of faith.  In the midst of opportunity, blessing and prosperity comes gratitude and acknowledgment of His blessing because of faith.  When we read the Bible we see so many examples of people experiencing life – its ups and downs.  Some respond well – others don’t.  The constant is that God is at work in and around them.  The Lord wants us to understand that He does the same things with us.

He wants us to ‘see’ Him in everything.  This is not due to eyes of sight, but of eyes of faith. I find that when everything starts going wrong, I immediately know that God is somewhere in the middle of it, and begin to look for Him.  An initial negative reaction is replaced by the realization that God is there; we are not alone and things are not at all what they seem.

Faith leads to prayer and seeking Him to provide wisdom and understanding.  Faith causes us to use His word as our guide in how to respond whatever the situation.  Faith affirms our desire to trust the Lord and glorify Him in any way that we can.  Faith is not static – it is like a muscle that can be exercised.  The more we use it, the stronger it becomes.  Faith is the antidote to defeat.  Without it, we cannot please God.

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Friday November 19, 2021 – Two sides of the same coin

Revelation 1:17-18  When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Have we ever thought of what our response would be if the Lord took us to heaven in the Spirit as He did the Apostle John?  I imagine the nature of the encounter with Jesus could take on many forms.  I wonder if John ever thought about such a thing happening – and if he did, did he think that his response upon seeing Jesus would be to fall at his feet as though dead.

Of all the apostles, he is the one identified as having a special relationship with Jesus.  He is repeatedly described as the ‘one whom Jesus loved’.  That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t love the others; it’s just that John’s relationship with the Lord had a special love element of closeness in it.  For me, that is what makes his response in this encounter with Jesus so stirring and provocative.

We tend to think along the lines of Jesus warmly embracing someone (one of His own) who goes to heaven and encounters Him.  Sort of a welcome home, like the father greeting the prodigal son.  Joy and gladness just overflowing – and that might be the way it normally occurs.  But here we have something very different.  Does our understanding of God and the relationship that we have with Him include the aspect of what is revealed in this verse?  Can we see ourselves responding to Jesus as John did?

The fear of the Lord and the love of God are two sides of the same coin.  Jesus’ first words to John after falling at His feet as though dead were “Do not be afraid.”  It’s vital that we understand that although we are recipients of God’s love and are His children through faith in Jesus, He is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.   In Revelation 5:11-12 John gives this glorious description:

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they sang:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

This is our Savior and Lord.  He is the One who died for us and rose from the dead.  He is the One who loves and treasures us so; the One that we have the incredible privilege to love each and every day of our lives.  May we fully embrace His ways so that our lives do just that!

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Thursday November 18, 2021 – Meeting Jesus is just the beginning!

1 Peter 1:8  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

This morning I am still overflowing with joy over the wonder and thrill of what Jesus does – and has done – in our lives.  Yesterday’s devotional seemed to just trigger an eruption of that joy.  It recounted how God used my friend Andy and me in His plan of drawing this young Muslim man to Jesus.  The experience of that flight was priceless, but then to receive his email of him finding Jesus!  It just tapped into the wellspring of gratitude and joy that I have for my own experience of finding Jesus.

I’m sitting here writing this, grinning and basking in the inexpressible and glorious joy that Peter writes of in today’s verse.   The joy for this young man and the joy for my own encounter with Jesus are still just engulfing me.  And those salvation experiences are just the beginning!

Becoming a follower of Jesus is not a one-experience life!  If our testimony is simply recounting what God did in our lives years ago, we are missing the mother lode.  Yes, my encounter with Him 53 years ago was astounding.  It’s like the rock of Gibraltar in my life – it is huge!  But that was simply the transforming invitation to ‘come in’.  It’s like the Lord saying, “If you thought that was good, that is merely the foretaste!”

We belong to Him, and as His family we get to experience the treasure of His Word, His ways, His love, His protection, His presence, His provision….  It just goes on and on.  He also surprises us, delights us, disciplines us, prunes us, tests us, comforts us, confronts us, encourages us….  Best of all, we get to experience Him.

Hopefully, this triggers joy within you and the refreshing that comes from remembering the wonder of our God.  But if it doesn’t, hopefully it will spark your active pursuit of Him.  His plan for all of us is for our lives to be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because we belong to Him.

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Wednesday November 17, 2021 – An incredible, unforgettable experience!

1 Corinthians 3:6  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.

Part 2 – Yesterday I asked you to picture yourself on a jet that has just taken off for a long flight.  The person next to you is not a Christian and is searching the various religions to find the right one.  He has been reading the Bible as part of his search and is filled with questions and begins to ask you them.

This specific scenario happened to me and a young friend named Andy 16 years ago.  We were in Ukraine and were on the first leg of our trip home, flying across Europe.  The young man next to me was raised a Muslim but had concluded that it was not the answer.  In his search, he had narrowed it down to Judaism and Christianity.  He had been particularly struck by the concept of ‘loving one another’.

This Q&A and discussion of our faith went on for the entire 3 hour flight.  The more we talked the more apparent it became just how thorough his search had been.  He raised questions on specific passages throughout the Bible.  He was also very aware of the price he would pay with his family for leaving Islam but he was determined to find the truth.

He had been waiting for over a year to make this trip to come to college in America.  The Lord timed the flight so that we would have the blessing of being with him on this leg of his trip.  How I thought of this verse as we experienced the joy of responding to his questions and sharing our faith with him.  Shortly before the end of the flight we exchanged email addresses and Andy told me that the young man had said to him, “It was no accident that I sat down with you two!”

What a marvelous opportunity this was to be a part of God’s plan to bring someone to Himself.  We had been given the opportunity to water the seeds others had planted.  In the subsequent months, I wondered if this young man had completed his search.  You can imagine my joy and gratitude to the Lord when I received the following email at Christmas of that year:

“Merry Christmas Don,

I guess you don’t remember me. Well, we met in plane when we were traveling from Ukraine to Amsterdam this July.

Let me share something with you what god has done to me, it may surprise you. If you remember me then you will remember that I was on a spiritual journey. And I was not able to find god’s way or light. I was living in darkness. And when we met, I was on the point where I knew that God’s way was in Judaism or Christianity. Well, on the night of 14th Oct, when I was talking to a pastor I found a light. I was literally crying afterwards. I found Jesus. I tell you after that night, I have lived every moment as a complete life. I am thankful to him that he could come to a sinner like me.   

Well, I just wanted to share my experience with you.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.”

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Tuesday November 16, 2021 – Suppose you are asked, “Why are you a Christian?”

2 Corinthians 3:2  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.

Part 1 of 2 – Picture yourself on a jet that has just taken off for a long flight.  You begin a conversation with the person next to you and discover that he is searching the various religions to find the right one.  His background is not Christianity but he has been reading the Bible as part of his search.  He is filled with questions and begins to ask you them.

Why are you a Christian?  If you had to identify one or two aspects of your life as a Christian that were the most important to you, what would they be?  How does your daily life reflect your Christian faith?

What would your answers be to him?  Would you be experiencing excitement at the opportunity to share your faith?  Or would your experience be tempered by awareness that other ‘stuff’ has diminished the vibrancy of your relationship with Christ in your life?  If your daily life of thoughts and actions were written out, what would they reveal to him about you and your faith?  What would they reveal to those around you?

Today’s scripture presents the reality that our lives are being read by those around us. Their lives are being read by us.  That is simply the reality of life.  It is not an issue of being judgmental, it’s a matter of people being cognizant of the encounters they have.  Think of the incredible opportunity this provides us with, repeatedly every day, to have His love and life shine forth from us!

Is faith reflected in the story, or letter, of our lives?  Do our lives consistently reflect more of our Lord than the worldliness of our culture?   The Holy Spirit is leading each of us to make Jesus the true love of our life.  Hopefully, each chapter of our lives will reflect us coming closer to achieving this goal.

Tomorrow – an amazingly wonderful experience I will never forget!

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Monday November 15, 2021 – Loving insight into my misbehavior

Romans 2:4b  …not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Have you ever had a friend or someone in your life that believed in you and was for you, no matter what?  Have you ever been that person for someone you know?  The relationship is so strong and motivation so right that difficult things can be communicated because the trust is there.

Many years ago when we were involved in ministry, we moved back to an area we had lived in before.  When we arrived we heard very negative things about two individuals we knew – Bill and Erik.  Bill had been a very good friend and Erik was more of an acquaintance. Erik was a newer Christian and bit more radical.  He had also been the recipient of some good things that I thought (at that time) should have come to me.

Although I am forgiven, I am still humbled by my very different responses to these two brothers.  I was so troubled by what I heard that I met with Bill at our center late one night.  I shared with him what I had become aware of and reaffirmed my love for him and our friendship.  I let him know that I would help him in anyway that I could.  We shared, wept and prayed with each other.

With Erik, the troubling things I heard fit with my perception of him.  I simply wrote him off.  Sometime later after we had moved away, the Lord confronted me with the question of why my responses to these two brothers were so different.  As I pondered the question, the answer became so embarrassingly obvious:  I loved Bill and didn’t love Erik!

When the Lord showed me this, it wasn’t like a trip to the woodshed or the Principal’s office.  It was like a treasured friend taking me aside and sitting down with me for a talk.  Although painful to hear, the relationship we had enabled me to hear Him and receive the truth about myself.  Instead of experiencing rejection, my Lord had His arm around my shoulders – affirming me.

Because of God’s kindness, I was lovingly being offered insight into my own misbehavior so that I might repent and learn.  Isn’t that one of the most marvelous realities of our life with Him?  He will regularly show us where we need to change – and enable us to change – so that our lives will be a continuous, ongoing transformation into the image of Christ.  May we all see that this is our daily way of life with Him and recognize His kindness.

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Sunday November 14, 2021 – In the midst of extreme difficulties

Acts 16:34  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

Have you experienced a time of when you thought you were following God and everything seemed to go wrong?  You struggled with thoughts that you missed what He wanted you to do.  Then in the midst of some of the worst difficulties, things happened that only He could have arranged and you saw that He was orchestrating the events the whole time.

The 16th chapter of Acts contains such a story and it is one of the most remarkable stories in the Bible.  It details the events leading up to and including this jailer and his family coming to believe in the Lord Jesus through the ministry of Paul and Silas.  These events are rather extraordinary and not exactly what we think of when we discuss God providing us with opportunities to share our faith and lead others to the Lord.

It started with a vision.  Paul wanted to go elsewhere but God used it to direct them to Macedonia.  Things seemed to be going well until Paul cast a fortune-telling spirit out of a slave girl.  Her owners became upset because this meant that they ceased to earn a great deal of money from the girl.  Due to the owners’ efforts Paul and Silas became ‘public enemies 1 & 2’.  They were seized, with the crowd joining in; dragged into the marketplace before the authorities; stripped, beaten, severely flogged and thrown into prison.  Just to get where God wanted them to be!

The jailer, having been warned, placed them in an inner cell with their feet in stocks.  At midnight, instead of sleeping or grumbling or being distressed over their fate – they were praying and singing hymns to God, with all the others listening!  Then a violent earthquake struck that set everyone free – but no one tried to escape.  The jailer was about to kill himself, but Paul shouted out and stopped him from harming himself.

What a blessing that Paul and Silas were more concerned about the jailer than their freedom.  What a blessing that they were glorifying God.  The jailer came and fell trembling before Paul and Silas – asking what he must do to be saved!  He and his whole household responded to their instructions and experienced the joy of salvation.

The next morning, the authorities wanted to release them as though nothing had happened!  I have no difficulty believing that God orchestrated all these events, simply to reach the jailer and his household.  Yes, a group of believers was established there in that city.  But the series of supernatural events led to the conversion of this jailer and his family.  Paul and Silas were faithful in spite of the unjust suffering and abuse they endured.  Do we understand that the Lord will do similar things with us today?  Are we willing?

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Saturday November 13, 2021 – Sailing in Bermuda: an important lesson learned

Hebrews 5:14  But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.

Although I grew up in a small port city on the Lake Michigan, I never got to experience sailing until I earned a sales trip to Bermuda.  One of the events for the participants was a sailboat race.  There were three big sailboats and a course laid out for the race that involved sailing in all directions – with and against the wind.  A staggered start was used with the slowest boat going first and the fastest last.  Donna and I were on the middle sailboat.

What a wonderful adventure.  We passed the first sailboat and managed to keep ahead of the fastest one that was methodically gaining on us.  We were still leading when we had one more buoy to sail around and then it would be a sprint for the finish line.  The other sailboat was closing and the strong cross-wind was a real challenge.

I was standing next to our captain as we rounded the final buoy.  He commented that he thought the other sailboat would pass us and win the race, but then he let out a whoop, and yelled, “We’re going to win!”  He explained that the other captain misread the wind and made a wrong move.  This resulted in his sails collapsing and a loss of momentum.  It took him several minutes to regain his speed but by then we were nearing the finish line.

That captain lost because he misread the wind.  Our verse today speaks of acquiring a similar skill – that of distinguishing between good and evil. Sometimes telling the difference is easy, like sailing with the wind at your back.  But other times, it can be much more difficult – thus the imperative of having our senses trained.  Being able to distinguish good from evil is an absolutely essential skill that every believer must practice and develop.  We need it every day and cannot afford to misread the ‘wind’.

We must not succumb to the temptation of allowing culture or opinion to define good and evil.  Is it ever okay to cheat?  To lie? What is cheating?  What is sexual impurity?  Where are the lines that we must not cross?  What qualities must we cultivate in our lives?  What is good?  Thank God for His Holy Spirit and His Word.  They provide the answers and guidance we need.

Here is the Amplified version of this verse which makes it even clearer how important this skill is: “But solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and noble and what is evil and contrary either to divine or human law.”

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Friday November 12, 2021 – Recognizing when fear is a doorway and not a barrier

Hebrews 13:6  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Years ago when our oldest sons were young, we went to Six Flags over Georgia.  Although I’m the one in our family who had a fear of heights and was allergic to roller coasters, it was my fate to accompany the boys on a couple of rides that I would never have chosen.

I have such a vivid memory of standing in line for this super rollercoaster, dreading every minute of it, while all the children and other adults around me were so excited they could hardly stand it.  Then there was the parachute drop!  Again it was my fate to accompany Jamie on it.  While in line I was timing things so I knew just how long it would take to ascend and drop.

Our turn came and we sat on the tiny board that passed for a seat.  It felt like it was about 4” wide and that I was going to slide off even though we were belted in.  Then, instead of hitting the button to send us up, the guy forgot and turned to the second parachute – prolonging my agony.  He finally turned, saw his mistake – and hit the button   As we ascended, seemingly forever, I kept telling myself I would live through this.  By the time we got to the top, the board underneath me felt like it was 2” wide.

Needless to say, I lived.  I can laugh now, but fear is a reality of life.  Life is filled with opportunities that seem to have fear associated with them.  While sometimes it can be healthy, and keep us safe, often it is a barrier that we must overcome to accomplish what we need or want to do. Rather than viewing fear as a negative and being repulsed by it, see it as a sign of an opportunity to grow.  It is triggered by the risk involved which is a key component of growth opportunities.

Sometimes fear will still be a companion – like with me when I fly.  But with God as our helper we can keep fear in its place and thrive in the opportunities that come – whether they be cold calling, speaking in a meeting or going on a mission trip to Afghanistan.   It’s important that we see that often fear is not a barrier – but a doorway.  With God’s help, we can walk through it.

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