Sunday November 15, 2020 – 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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Saturday November 14, 2020 – 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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Friday November 13, 2020 – 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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Thursday November 12, 2020 – 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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Wednesday November 11, 2020 – Not optional nor suggestive

Luke 9:23  Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

If you’re like me, you take advantage of the resources available on line to seek answers to the ‘How To’ questions we have.  There’s stuff we need to do, and by going to Google we can type in our issue and find sources that tell us how to do it.  Today’s verse offers us a prime example of a ‘How To’ issue.  We might ask, “Please tell me ‘How To’ 1) deny myself, 2) take up my cross, and 3) follow Jesus.  We want to do these things, but how?

Some of the themes we’ve been writing about are walking in His ways; obeying His commands; loving God; and continuing in His word.  We have contrasted suggestions versus commands.  We’ve talked about the problem some of us have when we hear the word ‘commands’.  It’s like we have an allergic reaction to the word.  But we must get past that to recognize they are the answers to the great “How To’s” of our faith.

Our goal is to help us come to grips with the fact that the New Testament is filled with such ‘answers’ that we as Christians are to ‘do’.  Today let’s look at some of the ‘answers’ that are spread throughout the New Testament that describe denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus:

  • Do everything in love.
  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit
  • In humility consider others better than yourselves
  • Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus
  • Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing
  • Rejoice in the Lord always
  • Let your gentleness be evident to all
  • Do not be anxious about anything
  • Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry
  • Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience
  • Bear with each other
  • Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another
  • Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts
  • Be thankful
  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly
  • Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men

Do we understand that these are not suggestions!  And they are just a handful of what the Bible contains for us.  They are not elective or optional.  By embracing these things and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in us, we deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Jesus.  This is the way – and the only way – to express our love to God.

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Tuesday November 10, 2020 – Belonging to Him!

Psalm 85:5  You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.

I have kept journals for years.  I love to look back five or ten years ago to see what was happening in my life.  Sometimes I rediscover experiences that bring back such special memories of family or trips or things at work.  Other times I read about struggles and difficulties we’ve gone through.

One of the cool things that I’ve done with some of my journals over the years is to highlight with a marker special times with the Lord.  I get blessed again reading about the times when He has really blessed me by showing me things in my life or by manifesting His presence while I’m in prayer.  There are times when He just overwhelms me with joy – where I simply weep because I am so overcome with gratitude for His goodness to me.

It is so wonderful to be forgiven – and more than that – to be chosen; to belong; to be loved.  Years ago, when we were just married, we were about to become involved in a ministry to street people.  I prayed and asked the Lord how I could relate to them since I had basically been a good kid.  I never did drugs and I had a good home.  The Lord spoke so clearly to me.  He said, “You know what it’s like to be lonely.”  And I did.  Only half-jokingly did I talk about myself being left out, not-chosen and left behind.

But when Jesus made me His own – all that changed.  For 52 years, God’s forgiveness, His goodness and His abounding love have been life to me.  And the great news is that He has this for all of us.  He wants us all to be so caught up in the wonder of Him and His love that we want to live for Him more than anything.

He is not distant.  He is not aloof.  He does not leave us alone.  He never forsakes us.  He paid the greatest price imaginable for us to become His family.  The more we say ‘yes’ to Him, the richer our relationship with Him becomes.  These realities become bedrock within us – able to withstand any ‘storm’ that we go through.  What a thrill to be passionately in love with Him!

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Monday November 9, 2020 – The incredible opportunity we all have!

Daniel 10:11a  He said to me, “Daniel, you are a man treasured [by God].  – Holman Christian Standard Bible

How would we be described by our spouses, children, friends or co-workers, if they were asked what kind of people we are – and they answered with brutal honesty?  Their answers would say a lot about who we are; what we do; how we do it; what are we like to be around; how honest are we; how thoughtful; how ‘other’ oriented; do we brighten their days – and so on.  (Sounds like a candid eulogy, doesn’t it?)

How would God describe us?  This gets to the heart of the issue.  He loved us while we were sinners and showed that love by sending Jesus, through whom we have the opportunity to become His children.  But now that we are family, we need to recognize not only the responsibility we have, but the opportunity!

We want our children and loved ones to become people of quality.  It’s not a matter of us loving or not loving them – it’s a matter of the lives they lead.  We experience great joy and pleasure as we see them grow and mature in Godliness.  The same holds true with God.  How we grow – or not grow – in Godliness, is critically important to Him.  It impacts how He views and interacts with us.  (Don’t be thinking judgment here – but think as a loving parent.)

I rejoice that He has given us Daniel as an example of what will happen in lives that are totally given over to Him.  Consider how scripture describes God’s view of Daniel:

  • you are a man treasured [by God].  – Holman Christian Standard Bible
  • for you are very precious to God – New Living Translation
  • for you are greatly beloved. – Amplified
  • you who are highly esteemed, – NIV

Think of it!!  We have the opportunity to become men and women that God would describe as He did Daniel:  treasured, very precious, greatly beloved, highly esteemed.  By walking in His word, the Holy Spirit produces the character and likeness of Christ in every area of our lives.  This is the result of truly loving God.  We don’t pursue it for recognition – but for the wonder of pleasing and blessing Him.

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Sunday November 8, 2020 – Are commands really just suggestions?

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

When I was a student at Wheaton Grad School I was blessed to be able to take a course taught by Dr. Merrill Tenney, a great Bible scholar.  In one class we were talking about the importance of words – their meaning and the context in which they occur.  He mentioned that the two words ‘sight’ and ‘vision’ were perceived by most people to have the same meaning.  But then he noted that if he described someone’s wife as a sight and his wife as a vision, the meanings are very different!

I would like to pose something that is just the opposite of Dr. Tenney’s illustration.  It is where two words are considered as having distinctly different meanings, yet a certain context can cause them to be viewed as having the same meaning.

The two words are ‘suggestion’ and ‘command’.  There is a similarity to these words in that they are at opposite ends of a spectrum.  In a college environment, we might simply think of one as an elective course and the other as a required course.  Electives are optional, required courses are – well, required!

A suggestion may or may not be a good idea, but we have the freedom to choose to follow it or not.   A command is decidedly different.  We typically think of a military context when considering commands.  Commands are to be obeyed.

What is the context that causes these two words to potentially have the same meaning?  Unfortunately, that context for Christians is the context of our lives.  How we live defines how we view the word ‘command’.  All too often, Christians in day to day life, treat Jesus’ commands as suggestions.  They aren’t approached as requirements, but as options or electives.  But scripture doesn’t give us that option.

Christians tend to think “legalism” or have an “allergic” reaction to the words “commands” and “obey”.  How often have we heard (or made) the response “We’re not under the Law”?  But Jesus identifies His commands as the way to love Him!  In fact obeying  His commands is very the definition of loving God (1 John 5:3).

Our response should be an eagerness to learn what His commands are and pursue doing them.  This is not an issue of legalism or earning salvation – it is a requirement of our faith.  But more than that, it is an issue of love.  It is the only way God has given us to show we love truly Him!

Lord, may our lives be living demonstrations that Jesus’ commands are not suggestions.

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Saturday November 7, 2020 – The wonder of kindness!

1 Corinthians 13:4a  Love is patient, love is kind.

Have you ever thought about how wonderful kindness is?  There is really nothing like it.  Unfortunately, we are not accustomed to encountering kindness or to being kind ourselves.  Think of all the times we encounter crabby, curt people.  Think of all the times when we are the crabby, curt people!

Being kind is such a wonderful weapon in our arsenal.  People don’t expect it.  It disarms them and leaves a wonderful aroma in its wake.  It’s particularly powerful when experienced in our families, close friendships and with our co-workers.

The reality is that we can be the most unkind to the people we are closest to; parents to kids; kids to parents; spouses to each other; siblings to each other.  We don’t mean to be, it just works out that way.  Some of the worst difficulties families encounter are the best opportunities for kindness to do its wonderful work.

Instead of taking offense at a spouse’s crabbiness, respond with kindness.  It’s so disarming.  Instead of reacting to your child’s rebellion with anger, learn the power of kindness rooted in righteousness.  We can communicate the standards God requires of us while still being kind to our sons or daughters and their friends.  Kindness isn’t defense – it’s offense.  It isn’t expected and can have such a powerful impact.

I was re-reading an email from one of my sons in which he recounted incidents years earlier where Donna and I had profoundly impacted him by such simple things as taking groceries to him when he was in college.  I took McDonald’s to him and his friends at 6 AM when they camped out overnight for concert tickets.  I guess they were stunned.  His friends were welcome in our home.  He said they loved me because I was polite and nice to them.

Kindness brings results, but those are in God’s hands.  People don’t always respond the way we would like, even when we are kind.  (We still remain kind in spite of how they act.)  But our confidence is in our Lord.  We don’t know the hidden impact our kindness is having.  We simply get to experience the joy of being kind and knowing that we are expressing God’s love to those around us.

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Friday November 6, 2020 – Christians: Our Country is at a Spiritual Crossroads! God is Calling us to Prayer!

Proverbs 21:30 – There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.

Our faith and trust is in our LORD! President Trump won the election and the wicked plans of the radical Socialist left are doing everything they can to steal it – and our country!

We must recognize the role Jesus has for His followers to fulfill with Him today! We are NOT to be consumed by defeatism, because our hope is in HIM. We MUST lift our eyes to Him and pray!

Not just brief, simple prayers, but taking our stand with Him with fasting in strong prevailing prayer and deep intercession; claiming and acknowledging the defeat of wickedness and the victory He will provide!

Prophetic Christian leaders across the world are calling the Body of Christ to fight this battle on their knees. God still has assignments for President Trump to accomplish for America and the world during his second term. We must recognize that the Lord has a role for His Body to play in accomplishing His purposes!

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