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Daily devotionals for spiritual growth

Daily devotionals for spiritual growth



An inspirational collection of biblically based daily devotions to enhance your spirit, faith, and walk with God.

An inspirational collection of biblically based daily devotions to enhance your spirit, faith, and walk with God.



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    Daily devotionals for spiritual growth Daily devotionals for spiritual growth Document Transcript

    • A Collection of Inspirational Devotions, Spiritual Study Lessons, & Mini Sermons And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 Author: Various Edited by Lela Thomas 2013-2014 In efforts of establishing a closer walk with God, I have compiled this booklet to serve as a resourceful tool that will help myself as well as others gain a quick; yet, in-depth revelation of God’s unyielding word. Here, you will discover the key principles that God wants us to grasp and practice in our everyday walk towards greatness. I hope that this word blesses you as much as it has blessed me! –Lela M. Thomas EDITOR’S NOTE
    • 1 Spiritual Warfare (1) “The weapons we fight with…demolish strongholds.” 2Co 10:4 NIV In Bible times when an attack was launched against a city, a first strategy was to bring in a battering ram, demolish the gates and defeat the inhabitants. Today you are at war with Satan! Only when you recognize that, is victory possible. And the good news is, “The weapons we fight with…have…power to demolish strongholds.” But you must “Put on the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:11 NKJV). It’s not something you pick up and wear when you feel like it. And you’ve got to keep it on, because the Enemy never lets up. He wants you to think he’s equal with God. He’s not! God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; He can do anything, anywhere, anytime. No question, Satan is a formidable foe, but there are limits on what he’s permitted to do (See Job 1:12). Your mind is command central; it’s where victory or defeat is decided. Paul told the Corinthians, “I fear, lest…your minds…be corrupted” (2Co 11:3 NKJV). Satan knows Christ’s return is imminent and he’s ratcheting up the opposition (See Rev 12:12). The way you win the battle is through: (1) Praise, the garment that protects you (See Isa 61:3). (2) Abiding in Christ, your source of spiritual growth and fruitfulness” (See Jn 15:8-10). (3) God’s Word. It is “living…active…sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12 NAS), and it’s designed to defeat the Enemy. When Satan comes against you, combat his lies with what God says. (4) Walking in love toward others. It’s impossible to be victorious when you’re wrapped up in yourself. Spiritual Warfare (2) “Our struggle is…against…spiritual forces.” Eph 6:12 NAS When the first plane hit the World Trade Center we thought it was accidental. When another plane hit it, we knew we were under attack. Dr. Robert Jeffress says: “Knowing the source of the problem is crucial…a navigational accident demands one response. A hostile strike requires a completely different strategy. Every day our world is invaded by what we consider random events. Couples divorce, so we develop marriage enrichment seminars; drug use increases, so we educate our children to ‘just say no;’ pornography among Christians rises, so we organize accountability groups; churches threaten to split, so we hire arbitrators to help with conflict resolution; Christians battle depression and suicidal thoughts, so we medicate them with the latest drugs. Please understand, I’m all for [such programs], but what if the source is more than random events and we’re under Enemy attack? Would we change our strategy? Through Scripture we discover there’s an unseen world and it’s at war. Paul writes: ‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…spiritual forces of wickedness.’ You can’t just shrug your shoulders and say, ‘I don’t have a dog in that fight.’ You’re living in the crossfire of this spiritual war…the Enemy’s determined to destroy everything and everyone important to you. And those who dismiss such words as being over the top—do so to their own detriment. Martin Lloyd Jones said, ‘Not to realize you’re in a conflict, means you’re so hopelessly defeated and you don’t even know it.’ We’re in a very real war, the stakes are high, the enemy skilled, armed, and determined. The possibility of losing…is real. You must be aware of what’s happening and be prepared to fight.”
    • 2 Spiritual Warfare (3) “The Lord disciplines those he loves.” Hebrews 12:6 NLT It’s important to know when you’re under attack—and when you’re not. One writer says: “There’s a tendency among Christians to view anything unpleasant as spiritual warfare, rather than admit we’re reaping what we’ve sown. For example, if you’ve neglected your role as spiritual teacher to your children, God may let them fall into sin. If you’ve been dishonest, He may let you face the consequences. ‘The Lord disciplines those He loves.’ It would be foolish to ask Him to ease your discomfort when He’s disciplining you to get your attention. How tragic never to make the connection. God’s discipline won’t help you if you dismiss it as Satan’s doing. If you misunderstand, you may blame Him for not answering your prayers or failing to protect you; meanwhile, God’s warning you of danger.” “For a little while you may have had to suffer…that your faith…may be proved genuine” (1Pe 1:6-7 NIV). A blacksmith with a chunk of metal on the anvil envisions what he wants. But it means melting down the old, recasting it, removing scars, repairing cracks, filling voids, and purging impurities until what was useless becomes valuable. Finally he plunges it into cold water until it hardens into an unbending, useful tool. Max Lucado says, “An instrument is useful only if it’s in the right shape…A good blacksmith keeps his tools in shape…And so does God. Should He place you on His anvil, be thankful He thinks you’re worth reshaping.” Doing the Right Things “You…harvest what you plant.” Gal 6:7 CEV George Bernard Shaw said, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get ahead are those who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, they make them.” A farmer can plant anything he wants; the land doesn’t care one way or the other. Suppose he plants both wheat and poisonous hemlock. The land will return poisonous hemlock as plentifully as it does wheat. Your mind is far more fertile, but the same principle applies. It doesn’t care what kind of seeds you plant; success or failure, good or evil, anxiety or peace—what you sow returns to you. The Bible says, “If you follow your selfish desires, you will harvest destruction…if you follow the Spirit, you will harvest eternal life” (v. 8 CEV). Success lies in your daily routine. So, get to know God better through His Word and prayer. Make up your mind to be of service to somebody every day. Tackle a problem bigger than you. Encourage everyone you meet. Take the first step toward overcoming a bad habit. Do something for somebody who can’t repay you. Change your thinking from TGIF (thank goodness it’s Friday!) to TGIT (thank goodness it’s today!). Do three things that will take you outside your comfort zone. Be thankful for what you have. Ask for help when you need it. Give God the best part of your day. The Psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord has made…rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118: 24 NLT). The time to be happy is now, and the place to be happy is here.
    • 3 Be Single Minded (1) “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Jas 1:8 The Bible says, “He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (vv. 6-8). Peter Marshall, chaplain to the Senate, prayed, “Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand, and what to stand for.” A dream that isn’t clear won’t help you get anywhere. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to contribute? Who do you want to become? In other words, what does success look like for you? If you don’t define it, you won’t be able to achieve it. Most people don’t get what they want because they don’t know what they want. They haven’t defined their dream in clear and compelling detail. One author writes: “The indispensible first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want! Instead of saying, ‘I want to lose weight,’ say, ‘I will weigh a hundred and eighty-five pounds by June 1.’ Instead of saying, ‘I want to get out of debt,’ say, ‘I will pay off all credit card balances by December 31.’ Instead of saying, ‘I need to improve my leadership,’ say, ‘I will read one leadership book every month.’ Being specific doesn’t necessarily mean having every little detail thought out before you move forward. But your main goal should be clear. The rest will unfold as you move forward, making adjustments as you go.” The question you need to answer is, “Am I single minded?” Be Single Minded (2) “Fix your gaze directly before you.” Pr 4:25 NIV It doesn’t take much effort to let your mind drift and dream. But it takes great effort to set your mind to the task of developing a clear goal, of having a clear and compelling dream. One leader says: “For me the whole process begins with questions I must ask myself. The dream is always rooted in the dreamer, in his or her experiences, circumstances, talents, and opportunities. I ask: ‘What am I feeling—what are my emotions telling me? What am I sensing?—what is my intuition telling me? What am I seeing?— what is happening around me? What am I hearing?—what are others saying? What am I thinking?— what do my intellect and common sense say?’ A clear picture may come to you all at once, in lightning- bolt fashion, but for most people it doesn’t work that way. Most people need to keep working at it, clarifying it, redrawing it. If the process is difficult, that’s no reason to give up. In fact, if it’s too easy, maybe you’re not dreaming big enough. Just keep working at it because a clear dream is worth fighting for.” If you can get a clear sense of where you are, what you know, and what you want, you’re well on your way to understanding and embracing the thing God put you on earth to do. Moses spent the first two-thirds of his life figuring out what God wanted him to do, trying to do things his own way, only to fail. But he had a heart for God, and a vision from God, and eventually he succeeded. And you will too!
    • 4 Handling Temptation “Keep your heart with all diligence.” Pr 4:23 NKJV We all have our battlegrounds; in some cases they’re things we surrendered to years ago that now prowl through our innermost thoughts. That’s why the Scriptures warn, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Max Lucado writes: “I’m at a desk in a hotel room far from home. The voices that encourage are distant; the voices that entice are near. A placard on my nightstand invites me to the lounge ‘to make new friends in a relaxing atmosphere.’ Another on top of the TV promises late-night movies that will ‘make all my fantasies come true.’ In the phonebook several columns of escort services offer ‘Love away from home.’ Voices! Some for pleasure, some for power. The world rams at your door, Jesus taps. The world promises fleshly pleasure, Jesus promises us a quiet dinner…with Him: ‘I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’ (Rev 3:20 NIV). Which voice will you obey?” You ask, “How should I handle tempting situations?” In two ways: First, by filling your mind with Scripture so that your first response is always, “It is written.” Second, by keeping your eyes on Jesus. Lesley Durkin writes, “My father used to put a bit of meat on the floor near his dog and say, ‘No!’ The dog never touched it. But he never looked at it either, because if he did the temptation to disobey would have been too great. He just kept looking at my father’s face.” Keep your eyes on Jesus. “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (Ps 34:5 NIV). A Callous Spirit (1) “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” Lk 9:55 NKJV The disciples had a problem with their attitude, and Jesus “called them on it” six different times in two chapters. Let’s look at each and see what we can learn: A callous spirit. Instead of believing Christ could feed the crowd with five loaves and two fishes, they said to Jesus, “Send the multitude away” (Lk 9:12 NKJV). One of the dangers of succeeding in ministry is that you can end up loving crowds but not really caring for individuals. Or wanting contributors, but not wanting to spend time meeting people’s individual needs. Years ago a man decided to visit the churches of two well-known television ministers he liked. After hearing the first, he asked if he could say hello to him. But the minister’s “handlers” said no, suggesting he call for an appointment. Disappointed, he went to hear the other minister, and was invited to lunch with him following the service. Feeling valued, he handed the minister a check for—four million dollars. (This is a true story.) You must always be approachable, available, and affirming. You must keep the personal touch. True, you can’t personally minister to all who are sick and counsel all who are hurting. As a pastor, having quality time to prepare sermons and Bible studies must be a top priority. But Jesus was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15) because He mixed and mingled with us. Only as you stay in touch with people’s needs, can God use you to meet those needs in real time. The saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So, do you care?
    • 5 Spirit of Python: Teaching the Angels to Worship INTRODUCTION Have angels ever faced adversity? Have they felt hunger or heartbreak? No. They’ve never had to make the mortgage or find a job. They worship in a holy atmosphere while you and I worship in a fallen earth. Ephesians 3:10 says, “The manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in heavenly places”. Let’s talk about what it means to worship in spirit and in truth and how through that, we teach the angels. CONNECTION QUESTIONS 1. John 4:3 says, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth”. What has this passage meant to you in the past? 2. This message talks about us teaching angels to worship. Pastor Franklin says, “It’s not like they’re amateurs. It’s not like they’re novices at worship”. So what is it about our worship that they can learn from? 3. It’s easy to think of worship as what we do while we’re singing in church. How can you “walk out” your praise?
    • 6 4. We’ve talked in previous weeks about the fact that there is a very real spiritual realm. Can you identify the 3 chief angels God created and what their primary roles are as described in scripture and in this message? 5. The story of Job can be hard to swallow. We know the outcome and it’s still hard not to ask, why? But Job remained faithful without knowing what was ahead. Can you remember a time in your life when you had to trust God in spite of your circumstances? What was the outcome? 6. The enemy is waiting for you to give up, to curse God and turn back. But the Father is seeking those who will worship in spirit (on the mountain tops) and in truth (your low valleys). Discuss what this passage means to you now. CONCLUSION When we face the unexplainable absence of God—those moments when we just don’t understand why—with worship and praise, we do something unexplainable ourselves. We worship in spite of our situation and those are the making moments. Those are the moments we say, no matter what, “my redeemer lives”! CONNECTION POINT Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. John 4:23 A Notable Woman, or Man “Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman.” 2Ki 4:8 NKJV The Bible says: “Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food. So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food. And she said to her husband…‘Let us make him a small upper room…and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand’” (vv. 8-10 NKJV). Observe: (1) Whatever you need more of, make room for it. You don’t get what you “want” in life, you get what you “prepare for.” This woman’s generosity toward Elisha resulted in her having a child when she wasn’t able to, and her child later being raised from the dead when sickness claimed him. When you make room for God in your life, you make room for the blessings that come with Him. (2) Notice the four things she put in the prophet’s room: (a) A bed. There are times when you must run, and there are times when you must rest. Indeed, if you don’t learn to slow down, you’ll break down. (b) A table. You need spiritual food to nourish your soul. If you plan to keep giving out, you must keep taking in. (c) A chair. This speaks of study. “Study to [show] thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Ti 2:15). (d) A lamp. A place of illumination. Even after you’ve studied long and hard, you need the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to your heart. And that’s how to become a notable woman (or man).
    • 7 A Judgmental Spirit “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” Lk 9:55 NKJV One day Jesus went into a Samaritan village and was not well received. So the disciples said, “’Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them’” (vv. 54-56 NKJV). What’s at work in this story? A judgmental spirit. A poll taken by the Barna Research Group reveals that today most nonbelievers view Christians as too judgmental. So you can be sincere, but too severe. When you mix and mingle only with those who share your views and values, you can communicate with others in ways that attack, rather than attract. Let’s be clear; never has it been more important to know the truth of God’s Word and stand for it. But if you have the right doctrine and the wrong spirit, you’ll drive more people away from Christ than you’ll draw to Him. If Satan has his way, he will drive holiness out of our hearts and into our fists. Imagine—Christ’s disciples wanting to incinerate those who didn’t agree with them! They weren’t even aware of the spirit that was at work within their own hearts. “Jesus said…‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 19:19 NKJV). That includes your non-Christian neighbor. You don’t have to defend Jesus, or “sell” Him. All you have to do is introduce Him. The Psalmist says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8 NKJV). A Fearful Spirit “They came to Him…saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’” Lk 8:24 NKJV The Bible says: “He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.’ And they launched out. But as they sailed, He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down…and they…were in jeopardy. And they…awoke Him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water…But He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!’” (vv. 22-25 NKJV). Notice what is at work in this story: A fearful spirit. No matter how often God blesses us and answers our prayers, we still give in to fear the next time we face a crisis, especially when it’s one we haven’t faced before. Who told the disciples to get into the boat in the first place? Jesus. Understand this: faith doesn’t exempt you from life’s storms; it equips you to go through them. And when you are in the will of God no storm, however severe, can take you under. Jesus knew the storm was coming before the disciples ever stepped into the boat. So why did He expose them to it? Because He was equipping them for the future, for the day when He’d no longer be around and they would face persecution, imprisonment, and even death. So the word for you today is, “Don’t be afraid. The Lord is with you; you are going to make it to the other side.”
    • 8 A Self-Seeking Spirit The Bible says: “Then A dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.” Lk 9:46 NKJV The Bible says: “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great’” (vv. 46-48 NKJV). What’s at work in this story? A self- seeking spirit. As long as your motive for serving is to make yourself look good, you’ll never enjoy God’s approval. And His “Well done” is the only thing that counts. The ability to serve behind the scenes, and do it with joy, comes from the knowledge that ultimately your service will be recognized and rewarded by the only One whose opinion counts. Why did Jesus feature a child that day? For three reasons: (1) A child is teachable. When you’re done learning, you’re done! When you can’t be told, God will have nothing more to tell you. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out” (Pr 18:15 NIV). (2) A child is trusting. When you promise a child something they believe you, act on it, and expect it to be so. “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Ps 118:8 NKJV). (3) A child is tenderhearted. “Finally, all of you be…tenderhearted” (1Pe 3:8 NKJV). The Holy Spirit is symbolized in Scripture as a gentle dove, so keep your heart tender and receptive to His dealings. An Undiscerning Spirit “And You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” Lk 8:45 NKJV One day a chronically ill woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years pushed her way through the crowd and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. And immediately she was healed. “Jesus said, ‘Who touched Me?’ When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, ‘Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’ But Jesus said, ‘Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.’ Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all…how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace’” (vv. 45-48 NKJV). What’s at work in this story? An undiscerning spirit. Observe Peter’s words, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ’Who touched Me?’” Understand this: Jesus can tell the difference between the indiscriminate touch of the crowd, and a touch of faith. Faith draws on His power and brings results! Notice, this woman touched the “hem” of Jesus’ garment. The last thing a dressmaker does when she makes a garment is to sew up the hem. So the hem represents “the finished work.” The same back that bore the cross which takes away your sins, also bore the stripes which take away your sickness. “And by His stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5 NKJV). What do you need today? Forgiveness of sins? Healing? Reach out in faith and touch Jesus, and you too will be made whole.
    • 9 What Do You See? “A great…door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” 1Co 16:9 NKJV Paul writes, “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” So, what are you focusing on? The open door or the adversaries, the opportunities or the obstacles? In 1866 an amateur geologist noticed some South African children playing with a glistening rock. He asked the children’s mother if he could purchase it. Thinking it was worth nothing, she gave it to him. Later, when he examined it, he discovered that it was a premium twenty-one carat diamond. When word got out, a Scottish mineralogist named James Gregory was sent to investigate. He reported back that South Africa wasn’t suitable for finding diamonds. He speculated that the previous discoveries had resulted from ostriches, of all things, eating the gems in distant lands and depositing them in South Africa via their dung. A few days after Gregory’s report was made public, an eighty-three-carat diamond was found in the area that he had visited. It is now known as The Star of South Africa, and it launched the region’s first mining operation in what is today the world’s largest producer of diamonds. And what about Gregory? His name lives on, but not as he might have wished. In the diamond industry when someone exhibits bad judgment, it’s called “pulling a Gregory.” If you ask God, He will help you find the “treasure” in your field (See Mt 13:44-45). If Jesus could turn water into wine and feed five thousand people with a boy’s lunch, think what He can do through you. The question is, what do you see? The open door, or the obstacles? An Impulsive Spirit “Peter…not knowing what he said.” Lk 9:33 NKJV On the Mount of Transfiguration, “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said…And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!’” (vv. 33-35 NKJV). Another spirit Jesus identified among His disciples was: An impulsive spirit. Note the words, “not knowing what he said.” Peter’s penchant for saying whatever came into his mind drew a strong rebuke from heaven: “This is My beloved Son—hear Him!” There’s an important lesson here. Your need to appear wise and have all the answers can get you into trouble with people—and God! Generally speaking, you’re not learning while you’re talking. So learn to be quiet, observe what’s going on, and listen for what God may want to say. When you don’t know, don’t speak. People respect you when you have the wisdom and humility to say, “I’m not sure, but if you give me time I’ll pray about it, consider it more fully and get back to you.” Experts say the average person is now bombarded with thirty-five thousand messages a day: e-mails, text messages, billboards, television, radio, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. It’s “information overload.” People don’t need more information, they need answers that work! And God has those answers. So talk to Him first, then you’ll have something to say to others that’s worth listening to. “Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!” (Pr 15:23 NLT).
    • 10 A Callous Spirit “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” Lk 9:55 NKJV The disciples had a problem with their attitude, and Jesus “called them on it” six different times in two chapters. Let’s look at each and see what we can learn: A callous spirit. Instead of believing Christ could feed the crowd with five loaves and two fishes, they said to Jesus, “Send the multitude away” (Lk 9:12 NKJV). One of the dangers of succeeding in ministry is that you can end up loving crowds but not really caring for individuals. Or wanting contributors, but not wanting to spend time meeting people’s individual needs. Years ago a man decided to visit the churches of two well-known television ministers he liked. After hearing the first, he asked if he could say hello to him. But the minister’s “handlers” said no, suggesting he call for an appointment. Disappointed, he went to hear the other minister, and was invited to lunch with him following the service. Feeling valued, he handed the minister a check for—four million dollars. (This is a true story.) You must always be approachable, available, and affirming. You must keep the personal touch. True, you can’t personally minister to all who are sick and counsel all who are hurting. As a pastor, having quality time to prepare sermons and Bible studies must be a top priority. But Jesus was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15) because He mixed and mingled with us. Only as you stay in touch with people’s needs, can God use you to meet those needs in real time. The saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So, do you care? WHOSE “REPORT” WILL YOU BELIEVE? “Who has believed our report?” Isa 53:1 NKJV An oil spill pollutes the Gulf of Mexico, devastating marine life and the livelihood of millions of people. Day after day we watch it on TV, in real time. An earthquake hits Haiti, 200,000 die, and the world’s poorest people are left hungry and homeless. An American-born terrorist flies home from an Al Qaeda training camp with a bomb in his underwear and tries to destroy not only the plane, but much of Detroit. Bankers, car makers and oil executives we trusted sit in front of a Congressional committee and say they have no idea how we got into this mess. The reports keep coming 24/7. Talking heads in the media milk each moment and sensationalize each event because it increases their ratings, sells advertising and makes money. Indeed, some of the news reporters have become celebrities. Fear sells! It’s a major industry. Paradoxically, we are the most prosperous generation in history, and the most fearful one too. In the past you had to get your daily dose of anxiety from the evening news; today you get it around the clock on your Blackberry or iPad. Now you can’t bury your head in the sand. But if you’re not selective in what you listen to, you can lose your peace of mind. God knows this, so His Word asks, “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” In Scripture, the “arm of the Lord” speaks of His power to deliver and His providential care over every event in our lives. So whose report are you going to listen to, internalize, and respond to?
    • 11 HAVE A WORK ETHIC GOD CAN BLESS “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings.” Pr 22:29 NIV Journalist William Zinsser’s first job was writing for The New York Herald Tribune. Traditionally “cub” reporters often start by writing obituaries, but Zinsser was frustrated with his assignment. “I could be doing Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting,” he thought to himself, “and I’m stuck writing obituaries.” Finally he worked up enough courage to ask his editor, “When am I going to get some decent story assignments?” His crusty old editor growled at him and said, “Listen, kid, nothing you write will ever get read as carefully as what you are writing right now. You misspell a name, you mess up a date, and a family will be hurt. But you do justice to somebody’s grandmother or somebody’s mom, you make a life sing, and they will be grateful forever. They will put your words in laminate.” “Things changed. I pledged I would make the extra calls,” Zinsser said. “I would ask the extra questions. I would go the extra mile.” That is essentially from the Sermon on the Mount—write obituaries for others as you would want others to write an obituary for you—obituaries that deserve to be laminated—because someday, somebody will. Zinsser eventually moved on to other kinds of writing, including a book on writing itself that has sold more than a million copies. But none of it would have happened if he had not devoted himself to obituaries. Understand this: if you cannot experience the spirit in the work you are doing today, then you cannot experience the spirit today at all. GETTING “UNSTUCK”! “I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Php 3:14 TM Though you’ve settled the issues of forgiveness and faith, getting unstuck involves two more challenges. You will need to learn: (1) Flexibility. When your faith runs into obstacles, your flexibility keeps you in the race. You need the ability to “roll with the punches,” to bend without breaking. Don’t marry your methods! Be willing to make a mid-course correction when it’s needed. Flexibility, however, isn’t ambivalence or wishy-washiness. Flexibility is: (a) An attitude of determination to adjust to life’s challenges and stay on course; to trust God for wisdom; to fine-tune your responses to changing circumstances. (b) A commitment to take action. A positive mind-set alone won’t get you unstuck. You’ll have to “do something!” Remember, big doors swing on little hinges; taking small steps of faith will move you forward! (2) Firmness: resolve not to quit. You’ll encounter problems that leave you no option but to stand still, like the Israelites between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. In the tightest of spots, they received this five-fold counsel: (a) Don’t give in to fear. Don’t let it decide your response. (b) Stand still. Stop your irrational, emotion-driven behaviors. (c) Quit talking. Don’t talk yourself into defeat. (d) Look for God’s way forward. Expect Him to take action that will get you unstuck. (e) Be ready to move forward when He opens the way. These are simple but powerful steps you can take when you don’t know what to do. And what about when you blow it? Acknowledge it. Relabel it as “Valuable lessons learned,” and put it in your “What not to do next time” file!
    • 12 GETTING “UNSTUCK”! (2) “He rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Heb 11:6 NIV Ever notice how icy winters cause multiple car pile-ups, leaving drivers in ditches waiting for tow trucks to rescue them? In life, we each have different reactions. Some surrender to feelings of being powerless, others get frustrated and deepen the rut they’re in. But the wise think rationally of steps they can take to get unstuck. Getting stuck isn’t always an option, but staying stuck is! Good news: no matter how long you’ve been stuck, the right attitude can get you moving again. So here are some attitude changers: (1) Forgiveness. The guilt that follows failure can immobilize you long-term, but forgiveness liberates you— freeing up your energy and creativity. Forgiveness is two-dimensional: first, you must receive God’s forgiveness for your failures. Things you’ve done: betrayal, angry words, dishonesty, broken promises, etc. Things you haven’t done: love unexpressed, responsibility avoided, a child, parent or spouse neglected, the truth withheld. Heartfelt confession always brings God’s forgiveness! (See 1Jn 1:9). Second, you must forgive those who’ve failed you—parents, siblings, children, bosses, spouses, friends, enemies, etc. Severing the chains to your past restores your options for the future. (2) Faith. When you’ve been stuck a long time, forward momentum can seem impossible. You lack direction, energy and confidence. What to do? Getting traction requires a willingness to act in spite of your feelings. God calls this “faith,” and He always responds to it! “He rewards those who earnestly seek him.” When you act like you believe, God will reward your faith—and the feeling of faith will follow your action! MARITAL HAPPINESS “Blessed (happy, to be envied…) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant).” Mt 5:3 AMP When the rosy glow diminishes and reality sets in, what makes some marriages happy while others slide into misery? Luck? Good genes? Hanging tough? Hardly! Marital happiness that transcends changing circumstances is built on the qualities Jesus taught. Let’s look at them: (1) Happy are the humble. “Blessed (happy…) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant).” Pride that’s self-promoting and always demanding its rights brings misery, while humility, self-denial and considering your mate’s needs brings happiness. (2) Happy are the meek: the gentle, patient and kind. Handling your spouse’s struggles with kindness, sensitivity and long-suffering is an expression of love that brings healing into the painful chapters of life and marriage. (3) Happy are the merciful. Sooner or later we’ll inflict injury on one another. Hurt, disappointment and anger will rise up, followed by a desire to make them pay. But just as revenge begets revenge, mercy begets mercy. Mercy isn’t “letting them get away with it.” Treating your spouse mercifully is reciprocal. It creates an atmosphere, where, when you fail, you “shall obtain mercy.” Mercy ends disputes when nothing else works! (4) Happy are the peacemakers. The need to be “right” and “win” only intensifies conflict. In marriage, when one “wins,” both lose! Giving up personal victory to be a peacemaker is ultimate victory. You’d be eternally lost if Jesus hadn’t willingly surrendered His rights for your wrongs. The ring is not the sole symbol of Christian marriage, but the cross superimposed on the ring. Christlike surrender of our uncrucified-self promotes marital happiness.
    • 13 YOU’VE GOT TO WORK AT IT! “Well informed, quick to understand…qualified to serve.” Da 1:4 NIV When Nebuchadnezzar captured the Jews he told his Chief of Staff to look for the brightest and best, and bring them to his palace. He wanted the following qualities: “Showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.” Daniel seized the opportunity. Yes, God gave him favor, but he also had to work at it! The CEO of one of the world’s largest companies put it this way: “The only way you’re going to stand out is to grasp this simple principle: when your boss asks you a question, assigns you a project or sends you to gather data, he already knows the answer he’s looking for. He just wants you to confirm that what he believes is true. Most people do just that. But there’s a difference. You must understand that the question is only the beginning. To elevate yourself, you must sink your thoughts into not only answering the question, but going above and beyond it. That means presenting him with three or four other ideas that he had probably not considered. Your goal should be to add value to the idea by exceeding expectations. This is true not only with questions, but assignments, initiatives, and anything else ever given you to do. If you understand that the question is only the beginning, you’ll get out of the pile fast, because 99 percent of all employees stay in the pile because they don’t think. If you understand this principle, you’ll be given even more critical questions to answer, and in time, you will be the one giving the questions to others.” THE WAY OUT “He will show you a way out.” 1Co 10:13 NLT The Bible says, “When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” Maybe you are in a situation—a relationship or a financial condition—that’s not what you wanted. You can lie down and die. But when you don’t—when you show up, when you offer the best you have—something good is happening inside you that far outweighs whatever is happening outside you. Jesus was facing adversity when He told His followers that if they had faith, they could command a mountain and it would be cast into the sea. Now, when your focus is on the mountain, you are driven by your fear. But when your focus is on God, you are made alive by faith. But if you didn’t face the mountain you’d never know that faith was in you, or to what extent. Adversity has a way of changing your values and priorities for the better. When you’re on the treadmill of money, security, or success, and adversity knocks you off, you start seeing the folly of chasing temporal things. And if you’re wise you resolve not to return to your old way of life when things normalize. But the key to accomplishing this is taking action before normal life takes over again. You have a finite window of time to make changes; otherwise you’ll drift back into your old patterns. While the memory of your adversity is still fresh, pray and ask God what changes He wants to make in your attitudes, your relationships, your habits and your lifestyle, and “He will show you a way out.”
    • 14 SUFFERING WITH GRACE “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ…to suffer.” Php 1:29 NKJV You need the kind of faith that not only believes God for good things, but also sustains you through bad things. The Bible says, “If you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid…Instead…worship Christ as Lord of your life” (1Pe 3:14-15 NLT). God has foresight but we have only hindsight. So whether the path you’ve been called to walk is rough or smooth, your attitude should be one of “worship,” acknowledging “Christ as Lord of your life.” Joseph’s kidnapping led to the saving of his family. The lions’ den led Daniel to a cabinet position. Christ entered the world by a surprise pregnancy and redeemed it through an unjust murder. Do you believe what the Bible teaches—that no disaster is ultimately fatal? Chrysostom did. He was the archbishop of Constantinople from AD 398 to 404. He gained a following by his eloquent denunciations of corruption in the church. Twice banished by the authorities, he asked: “What can I fear? Will it be death? But to know that Christ is my life, and that I shall gain by death. Will it be exile? But the earth is the Lord’s and its fullness is the Lord’s. Will it be by loss of wealth? But we have brought nothing into the world, and we can carry nothing out. Thus all the terrors of the world are contemptible in my eyes; and I smile at all its good things. Poverty I do not fear; riches I do not sigh for. Death I do not shrink from.” That’s suffering with grace! When God Puts You on Hold (1) “Be patient in trouble, and prayerful always.” Ro 12:12 TLB We’ve been dubbed “the microwave generation” for good reason—we charge through life like we’re on fire! But God has His own timetable and it can’t be rushed. So when He puts you on hold: Watch your words. Like a small rudder on a big ship, what you say determines your direction and helps stop the wrong thoughts from infiltrating your mind. Mel Weldon said, “My mind is a garden, my thoughts are the seeds; my harvest will be either flowers or weeds.” Ask God to help you control your emotions. Paul says, “Be glad for all God is planning…Be patient in trouble…and prayerful always.” Complaining magnifies the problem. Prayer turns negative energy into a powerful force for good. Look for the humor in it. Solomon said, “He who is of a merry heart has a continual feast” (Pr 15:15 NKJV). Laughter dispels tension, lightens the burden and fills your soul with joy. Appreciate the chance to learn. The Chinese view problems as prospects; in their culture the character/symbol for problems and opportunities is the same. Solomon said, “The diligent make use of everything” (Pr 12:27 NLT). Learn from your experience regardless of how hard it is, and remember, some of the world’s greatest discoveries and breakthroughs resulted from crises. Love unconditionally. Problems are caused by people, and under pressure it’s tempting to lash out. The bottom line is: we all make mistakes, and nobody is beyond redemption! Aren’t you glad about that? Learn to see people through God’s eyes. “Overcome evil with good” (Ro 12:21)…be courteous, and maintain your dignity when you’re under pressure (See Ro 12:10).
    • 15 Breaking the Family-Resistance Barrier “At just the right time we will reap.” Gal 6:9 NLT Susan was the only member of her family motivated to work for change. Her husband, a military pilot, was gone months on end while she raised the kids alone. Her repeated efforts to reform him and the kids had failed miserably. Pointing out that doing more of what hadn’t worked—wouldn’t make it work, the counselor suggested she work on what she could change: how she responded! He taught her to “defect in place,” relinquishing some of her “overload.” Everyone became responsible for their own dirty dishes, laundry, untidy room, etc. And Susan used the time she saved to do something she’d always wanted to do—take voice lessons. Yes, she found it difficult to avoid picking up after everybody and carrying their responsibilities. At first, when nobody assumed the unfinished workload and the “mess seemed unbearable,” she was tempted to give in and return to “her old job.” Then, with perfect timing, she read a book about breaking the sound barrier. Pilots who attempted it had always given up when the plane vibrated violently, until astronaut Chuck Yeager said to himself, “Maybe once you get through the vibrating everything calms down.” Yeager sped up where the others slowed down, and flew through the barrier into the calm beyond. After a weekend of unrelenting family criticism Susan “revved up,” persisting against her old instincts. It took time. But after their complaints, the kids took on more responsibilities, and her husband accepted fewer distant assignments. “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Keys to Answered Prayer “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Jn 16:24 NKJV If your prayers are not being answered, ask yourself: (1) How is my relationship with the Lord? “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps 66:18). Anything that adversely affects your relationship with God also affects your prayers. Friendship gives you favor; intimacy gives you access. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (Jn 15:7 NKJV). (2) How strong is my faith? “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is…a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6 NKJV). Notice three words: (a) “Believe.” God’s deepest longing is to be believed, regardless of emotion or circumstance. (b) “Diligently.” When you pray, put your heart and soul into it. Paul speaks of “labouring in prayer” (See Col 4:12). (c) “Him.” God is not some “force out there,” He’s your heavenly Father Who “knows that you need all these things” (Mt 6:32 NKJV). Your highest priority should not be getting your needs met, but building your relationship with God. (3) Am I showing patience? “Until God’s time finally came—how God tested his patience!” (Ps 105:19 TLB). Joseph was tested by the very promise God gave him. Can’t you hear Satan whisper, “I thought the dream said you were supposed to be prime minister; what are you doing in prison?” But it only looks like a prison; in reality, it’s the birthplace of destiny. Joseph saw God’s promise fulfilled—in God’s time. And you will too!
    • 16 Spirit of Python: Studio INTRODUCTION In nature, Pythons are nonvenomous. They kill their prey by constricting it until it can no longer breathe, literally suffocating the life out of it. In the spirit realm Satan often works in the same way, slowly working his way into our lives, stealing the Anointing of the Holy Spirit – attempting to choke the very breath out of us. God wants to break the coils of the serpent off of your life. He wants you to … breathe again! CONNECTION QUESTIONS 1. What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “spiritual warfare?” 2. In Luke 4 Jesus meets a man possessed with a demon. The demon cries out, “Leave us alone!” Why is it dangerous to leave the Enemy alone? 3. The Spirit of Python comes from an encounter Paul and Silas had with a possessed woman in Acts 16. She had the “spirit of divination.” The Greek word for “divination” is translated, “python.” How can you recognize this spirit today? 4. In the message, Jentezen said, “The Spirit of Python hates prayer.” Discuss ways to maintain a strong prayer life even during strong opposition. 5. “The greatest tragedy of prayerlessness is the unemployment of angels,” according to the message. Do you agree? Why? Or Why not? 6. Discuss the ways Spirit of Python can constrict other areas of your life once it has you disconnected from prayer. CONCLUSION Learn to breathe again! The python spirit can squeeze the joy out of your worship and prayers. It can pressure you to keep quiet when God wants you to speak up. And it can steal the peace of knowing that you belong to God. But there is a way to recognize the signs and defeat him. You don’t have to become his prey.
    • 17 WINNING “Run to win!” 1Co 9:24 NLT In the Roman Empire athletes stripped down to a simple loincloth so that nothing prevented them from running their best race. Referring to it, Paul writes: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step” (vv. 24-26 NLT). How about you? Do you just want the fun of being in the race, or are you running to win? To succeed at being what God has redeemed and called you to be, you’ll have to stop doing certain things, even enjoyable things, and begin doing other things that support your goals and help you to fulfill your God-ordained purpose. Sometimes this will mean saying no to well-intentioned people who try to involve you in things that steal your time and produce the wrong results. It will also mean dealing with “the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb 12:1 NIV). When God says something is wrong, it’s wrong! You don’t need to rationalize, make excuses or feel sorry for yourself. You just need to agree, ask His forgiveness and get it out of your life. Who gets the prize? Those who pay the price! Paul knew he couldn’t win the race without first bringing his body, mind and emotions under the control of God’s Spirit. The same goes for you. And you can’t expect somebody else to make you do what’s right; you must listen to what God’s saying to you, and take action. CONFIDENCE (1) “The fruit of righteousness will be…confidence.” Isa 32:17 NIV Never mistake competence for confidence; one is ability-based, the other comes from knowing who you are in Christ; that you’re “complete in him” (1Jn 2:5 NIV). One author says: “The first thing I learned about confidence, was I didn’t possess it…I had a thin glaze of arrogance covering a core of fear. All those years of being a success in the eyes of the world left me deathly afraid of failure. Worldly success requires taking risks beyond the comfort zones of previous accomplishments. Spiritual success requires letting go of outcomes and allowing God to move on your behalf. I was so afraid of failure…I never found success in it either…the false confidence I’d known was built on my own abilities… However if you suddenly find a lump in your breast, or your spouse says he never loved you, or you get fired from your job, or your child is seriously ill, every tactic you’ve ever employed and every skill you’ve ever mastered will get you nowhere…The Bible says, ‘Have a sane estimate of your [abilities]’ (Ro 12:4 PHPS)…once you realize you aren’t perfect…you can exhale and start the task of being good enough…When your confidence stems from knowing the Almighty, unchanging One, you cannot be shaken by change or circumstances. You…exude competence, peace, contentment, and fortitude.” Isn’t it time you got out from under the pressure of acting like God and having all the answers? “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Ro 12:6 NIV). When you use your gift to glorify God, you’re doing what He intended you to do.
    • 18 CONFIDENCE (2) “Who told you…you were naked?” Ge 3:11 NKJV It’s impossible to feel confident when you’re telling yourself you’re not good enough and that you’ll never amount to anything. One pastor says: “After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they hid. God came to them and said, ‘Where are you?’ They said, ‘We’re hiding because we’re naked.’ I love how God answered…‘Who told you…you were naked?’ In other words, ‘Who told you there was something wrong with you?’ God immediately knew the Enemy had been talking to them. And God’s saying to you today, ‘Who told you …you don’t have what it takes to succeed…that the best grades you can make are C’s… that you’re not attractive enough to succeed in your relationships…or talented enough to flourish in your career…or that your marriage isn’t going to last? Those are lies from the Enemy. God said, ‘No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly’ (Ps 84:11 NKJV); ‘Delight yourself…in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart’ (Ps 37:4 NKJV). The potential is inside you…and it doesn’t change because you don’t believe it, or because you’ve been through negative experiences. ‘The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’ (Ro 11:29 NKJV). He’s never going to take back the potential He poured into you…or say, ‘I’m tired of dealing with you…you’ve failed too often and made too many mistakes. Give Me back My gifts.’ No…His calling on your life will be with you till the day you leave this earth, but it’s up to you to…tap into it.” When the Enemy starts chipping away at your confidence, take authority over him in Jesus’ Name; resist him and he will flee (See Jas 4:7). TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE “I have set before you life and death…choose life.” Dt 30:19 Choice is the greatest power God gave you. Too many of us just accept our lives—we don’t become leaders of ourselves. As a result, we can’t get out of our own way. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote in Souls On Fire that when you die and go to meet your Maker, you’re not going to be asked why you didn’t become a Messiah or find a cure for cancer. All you’re going to be asked is, “Why didn’t you become you? Why didn’t you become all that you are?” Fulfilling God’s will for your life requires taking responsibility for yourself and your life. How do you do that? By saying yes to God first—then to yourself. Every time you say yes, you open yourself up to your God-given potential and to the greatest of possibilities. If you’re used to saying no, you may find this difficult. If that is true in your case, then at least be willing to say “maybe.” One day a father whose child was chronically ill asked Jesus to heal him. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mk 9:23-24 NKJV). If you’re a self-doubter, pray that same prayer. God will answer it. Never forget that you are unique, possessing talents, experiences and opportunities that no one else has ever had—or ever will have. You’re responsible to become all God made you to be, not only for your own benefit but for everyone else’s.
    • 19 WHEN CONFLICT COMES HOME (1) “Let there be no strife between you and me.” Ge 13:8 NAS The conflict between Abram and Lot teaches us important principles about our families. Lot had lived peacefully in his Uncle Abram’s home. Abram had taken him along on the journey of faith, when suddenly conflict arose. And because conflict reveals character, Lot showed his true colors. Since their growing herds were too big to share the same pastures, Abram suggested they split the land between them, offering Lot first choice. Lot “chose for himself” the best land, leaving the rest to his uncle (v. 11 NAS). Lot moved to rich, sinful Sodom; Abram built an altar to the Lord. Same genes—totally different values! So: (1) Consider the facts. Abram was God’s appointed leader and Israel’s primary patriarch. God had promised him a homeland, fatherhood of a great nation, blessing and protection. And above all these, God promised that in him, “All the families of the earth will be blessed!” (Ge 12:3 NAS). In practical, day-to-day terms, Abram was the senior partner and major stockholder in the family business. He had shown love and generosity to his nephew, and in the crunch, valued their relationship over personal interests. Abram, therefore, deserved consideration and deference from his nephew. But Lot never gave it to him. (2) Consider the point. For the family’s sake, Abram chose not to “pull rank,” or “insist on his rights,” or “show who’s boss.” He proved that God alone vindicates us! We shouldn’t even attempt to vindicate ourselves. Abram chose grace over law, humility over pride, self-denial over “rights,” mercy over justice, love over lust, and character over popular opinion. Think about it! WHEN CONFLICT COMES HOME (2) “Let there be no strife between you and me…for we are brothers.” Ge 13:8 NAS Family conflict brings out the worst and the best in all of us. But conflict itself isn’t the problem— character is! Conflict just reveals what’s important to us. Abram’s priority was the family; Lot’s was “getting rich.” Abram’s concern was harmony; Lot’s was self-preservation. Abram was driven by his faith; Lot by his greed. Abram was a giver; Lot was a taker. But watch how the story turned out. (1) What should have happened? The junior partner should have submitted to the senior; the follower should have deferred to the leader; the less-spiritual should have acknowledged the more-spiritual. But Lot failed on all counts! (2) What could have happened? As the God-appointed leader Abram could have assumed top dog status and enforced his will, but didn’t. He could have been concerned about winning, but wasn’t. He could have called in his debts with Lot, but refused to. (3) What did happen? First, Abram elevated relationship above personal advantage. Second, he relinquished his “rights” to keep peace in the family. Third, he “turned the other cheek” and deferred to Lot.
    • 20 The greater gave way to the lesser. The stronger made allowance for the weaker. The mature showed mercy toward the immature. Did it make Abram the weaker man and Lot the stronger? Did Abram lose and Lot win? No! God always has the last word. And it was this: “Look…northward and southward and eastward and westward…all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever” (vv. 14-15 NAS). Doing things God’s way is the sure road to peace and prosperity. AVOID TRIANGLES “Mind your own business; do your own job.” 1Th 4:11 TM We’re not very good at knowing the difference between helpfulness and interference! Suppose two people we care about are in conflict, and we think we can solve their problems. Ultimately, we discover we’re in over our heads. Looking back, we say, “I’ll never do that again”—until the next time! Here are some healthy relationship boundaries. Sometimes when two people are at odds with each other they “triangle in” a third person to focus on, attempting to lower their stress. Whoever they “triangle in” gets caught in the middle, becomes enmeshed in their unresolved issues, and ultimately becomes their shock absorber. Unfortunately, when that person’s rescue attempt backfires they become part of the problem, keeping the issues and themselves stuck. So what should you do? (1) Unless God puts you in the middle, stay out! The Bible says, “Mind your own business; do your own job.” If your name’s not on it, don’t pick it up! Try saying, “I care about you both too much to complicate things with unqualified advice. I’ll pray that God gives you the wisdom to do what’s right for each other.” (2) Maintain a caring relationship with both people. Relationship specialist Edwin Friedman says, “The way to bring change to the relationship of two others is to maintain a well-defined relationship with each, and avoid taking responsibility for their relationship.” Don’t take sides. Don’t let them pull you in. If they try, remind them that you’re praying and trusting God to help them resolve the problem, and that you’re confident He will do it. LEARN TO WAIT “They that wait upon the Lord.” Isa 40:31 The word “wait” gives us a picture of two things. The first is of a waiter at your table attending to your needs. The second is of a lower-level person making a request of a higher-level one. Your success depends on approaching them the right way, and on their willingness to grant your request. Since they hold the power, you must be patient and wait for them. Are you getting the idea? Our problem is twofold. First, we want God to wait on us, instead of the other way around. Second, we don’t want to wait for anything! We drive to work listening to the radio and talking on the phone; some of us even put ourselves and others at risk by text-messaging. Vance Havner points out that in the Old West if someone missed a stagecoach they said, “That’s okay, another one will come around in three or four weeks. Now we don’t even want to wait for a revolving door.” What God does in you while you are waiting is often more important than what you’re asking God to do.
    • 21 Waiting on God brings rewards that nothing else will. Here are a few of them: (1) Vindication. “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong… Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:1,4 NIV). (2) Strength. “Wait on the Lord…and He shall strengthen your heart” (Ps 27:14 NKJV). (3) Deliverance. “I…waited for God…He lifted me out of the ditch” (Ps 40:1-2 TM). So relax, wait on God and He will come through for you. WELCOME THIS CHANGE “Have your sandals on and your walking stick in your hand.” Ex 12:11 NCV The Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared,” and it’s a good one. In Exodus God told Israel, “Eat…fully dressed as if you were going on a trip…have your sandals on and your walking stick in your hand.” In other words, “Be ready when I tell you to move!” Maybe there’s an area in your life where God is telling you it’s time to move, but fear is making you shrink back. Don’t! Change is just evidence of growth. What worked yesterday can be tomorrow’s recipe for failure. You can’t become who you are destined to be, if you insist on staying as you are. John Patterson said, “Only fools and dead men don’t change…Fools won’t, and dead men can’t.” Change isn’t the enemy. Once you start seeing yourself as a lifelong learner looking for ways to grow and improve, change becomes your friend. Learn from the people you meet, pursue new ideas, strategies, and ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Jim Penner says: “Our bodies change no matter how hard we exercise …Our homes change as our needs ebb and flow. Our places of employment change as the winds of economic forces blow and new opportunities come…friendships change as family needs and employment pull us away…While many changes become enjoyable new seasons…sometimes they’re painful. But no matter what season of change you’re experiencing…you can find comfort in Malachi 3:6, ‘I am God…I haven’t changed’ (TM). His mercies endure forever…and it’s an awesome feeling knowing He loves and directs you just like He directed all His people who came before you.” THREE LEVELS OF ATTACK (1) “Command that these stones become bread.” Mt 4:3 NKJV The Bible says, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (v. 1 NKJV). This seems to be God’s standard operating procedure. Why? Because He’s a good general; before He puts you into battle He puts you into boot camp. Imagine it: you’re up at dawn, running for miles with a heavy backpack, crawling under barbed wire barriers with bullets whizzing over your head, taking orders from authority figures you don’t know and probably don’t like. But if you pass the test you get to wear the uniform. On the threshold of His ministry, God led His Son into a situation where He would face three levels of attack. You will face them also. Let’s look at the first one: The attack over the bread. Did Jesus need bread? Yes, He’d been without food for forty days. But He knew that His greatest need was not for natural food but spiritual food. So He told Satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (v. 4 NKJV).
    • 22 Only when you’re convinced God will take care of all your material needs, will you start putting spiritual things first in your life. Until that happens, you’ll think you have to take care of yourself. As a result, you will walk in fear and not faith. That’s not how God wants you to live. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6:33 NKJV). When you worry, you don’t trust God. When you trust God, you don’t have to worry. The choice is yours. THREE LEVELS OF ATTACK (2) “Then the devil…set Him on the pinnacle.” Mt 4:5 NKJV The attack on the pinnacle. Let’s look at the second temptation Jesus faced: “Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, [and] set Him on the pinnacle of the temple.” Here you deal with the fear of failure. Satan will whisper, “You’re on the pinnacle of success now, but you could easily fall off.” He will bring up your past failures. He will remind you of leaders who crashed and burned. He will say, “If people realized how little you really know, or the issues you’re struggling with, they wouldn’t respect you.” There are two kinds of fear: healthy fear and unhealthy fear. Healthy fear will keep you dependent on God; it will protect you from pride and self-sufficiency. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1Co 10:12 NKJV). But there’s an unhealthy fear that will keep you in the boat when Jesus is calling to you to step out and walk with Him on the water. You say, “But Peter almost drowned.” Sure, but he was the only one of the disciples who experienced the joy of walking on the water! Having faith doesn’t mean you won’t experience a sinking feeling at times. You have a choice. You can give in to fear, or trust the God who has called you, sustained you, and never failed to give you the strength needed to cope with whatever you face. If your own intellect or talents are the basis of your confidence, you have good reason to fear. But if God is the basis of your confidence, you have nothing to fear. THREE LEVELS OF ATTACK (3) “All these things I will give you.” Mt 4:8 NKJV-The attack over the cross. Let’s look at the third temptation Jesus faced: “The devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me’” (vv. 8-9 NKJV). Satan’s third attack was over a cross-less life. In essence, he told Jesus, “You don’t have to carry the cross. Just bow to me and you can have it all.” Jesus said, “Away with you, Satan!” (v. 10 NKJV). “Away” with any teaching that says God is your bellhop and He has to wait on you! Or that He’s like a vending machine; all you have to do is put in a few coins and out will come whatever you want. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20 NKJV). Has God promised to bless you? Absolutely! But that doesn’t mean you’ll never get hurt, or face lack, or battle sickness, or be betrayed and disappointed by others. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies [to self], it remains alone; but if it dies [to self], it produces much” (Jn 12:24 NKJV). Have you ever heard the expression, “Dead man walking?” To do God’s will you have to die to your own will, and do it daily. But if you’re willing to, God will take you to a new level of blessing.
    • 23 FREEDOM FROM SEXUAL ADDICTION “Help us for the glory of your name.” Ps 79:9 NLT For fifteen years Mike Cleveland, airline pilot and founder of “Setting Captives Free,” seemed powerless as his addiction to online pornography devastated his life, his marriage and his family. The spiral of lust enslaved him “until there wasn’t a moment of his days free from its tortured domination.” The cycle of prayers for deliverance, followed by repeated indulgence in porn, XXX DVDs and sex chat-rooms, plunged him deeper into the darkness of despair and self-loathing. He longed to escape the slimy, secluded underworld of secret soul-destroying sin, but every pathetic attempt left him unchanged, unhinged, and uncertain that freedom was possible for him. Mike turned to self-help books, counselors and friends without success. His repeated disappointment, when every effort failed, led to increasing guilt and self-incrimination. When his wife insisted on a last-ditch visit with her pastor (all other remedies had been exhausted), the lights in their bleak prison cell suddenly came on. Mike learned that “deliverance belong(s) to the Lord” (Jnh 2:9 AMP), and its rules are all dictated by Him. Mike’s old motivations for getting clean—“saving my marriage for my kids’ sake; I’m a Christian, a seminary graduate and preacher”—were full of “loopholes and escape clauses” and produced one botched disaster after another. His pastor taught him that the only viable motivation for getting clean and staying clean was a commitment to glorifying God in all of his decisions, because God delivers the powerless, “For the glory of [His] name.” When Mike learned, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1Co 10:31 NIV), the doors to freedom from years of sexual addiction began to open. Yours can too! DR. JAMES DOBSON ON PARENTING (1) “Impress them on your children.” Dt 6:6-7 NIV In an interview with Christianity Today, Dr. James Dobson said: “The culture has totally changed. Girls today are growing up too fast; the influences of the entertainment industry have changed everything. Girls are experiencing things their mothers and grandmothers never experienced. The age of compression thrusts girls into adolescent experience far too early, gets them thinking about sexuality at an early age and creates pressure. We are dealing with evidences of emotional turmoil, including eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia; 90 percent of those with eating disorders are girls, some of them as young as five. Recently a clothing manufacturer finally took this product off the shelves: bikinis with padded bras for seven-year-olds! You also have cutting, piercing, and sexual aggression among elementary school age kids and early involvement in drugs and alcohol. Girls have now reached parity with boys in binge drinking, and there’s a high level of violence among girls. One out of three boys and girls is either a victim or a perpetrator of bullying. We’ve seen news recently about girls who hang themselves after being taunted. There has never been an easy time to raise kids, but it’s harder today.” Parent, if living in your dream home and climbing the ladder of success means losing your children, you’ll regret it. You’ve only one chance to get it right.
    • 24 “These commandments that I give you today…Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (vv. 6-7 NIV). DR. JAMES DOBSON ON PARENTING (2) “Talk about them when you sit…when you walk…when you lie down …when you get up.” Dt 6:7 NIV When asked, “How do you teach your daughter about healthy self-esteem while not training her to be self-focused?” Dr. Dobson gave this answer: “Girls in their adolescent and middle school years are going through puberty, and that brings about acne and gangly bodies. Those girls look at role models like Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. If they dare to be a little overweight—not even fat, but slightly overweight—they hear about it all day long. It tears into the heart and worth of a girl who just wants to be a princess, who wants to be loved by somebody. If the father in this situation doesn’t affirm her, love her, tell her she’s pretty, put his arm around her and give her attention, she often looks for it elsewhere. The only thing she has to bargain with is her sexuality, and she thinks she’ll be loved if she gives certain gifts of her sexuality. We know where that leads: he gets what he wants and dumps her, and she doesn’t get what she wants, which is love.” Dad, if you’ve been AWOL, come back to your children, particularly your daughters. Your home is a classroom. What you teach them there, they will take with them into the rest of their lives. If your life is out of order today, repent, get right with God and start paying attention to what really matters. You can’t undo the past, but with God’s help you can give your children the future they deserve. But it must become one of your highest priorities. DR. JAMES DOBSON ON PARENTING (3) “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Eph 6:4 NIV When asked, “How do you suggest parents handle their children’s activities on web sites like Facebook and Twitter?” Dr. Dobson gave this advice: “Parents have to know what technology their kids are using. Sexting is a terrible thing. (“Sexting” is the new term for children exposing themselves to one another online, thinking they are safe because they are in the sanctuary of their own home.) Pornography is pervasive, and parents need to keep up with changes in technology and protect their kids. That’s a tough assignment, because kids are ahead of them. Parents often have extremely demanding careers and when they come home they have nothing left to give, so the culture will often take your kids to hell.” One night a father and his daughter were out on a lake when their small boat was caught in a storm. As he rowed, Dad kept saying to his daughter, “Can you see the shore? Can you see the shore?” After a terrifying hour the little girl pointed over her dad’s shoulder and said, “Yes, I see the light. Momma said if we were out after dark she would hang a light in the window.” When they finally got home a tearful mother hugged her husband and daughter, and thanked God for their safe return. Looking at her, the little girl said, “Momma, you never had to worry. We steered by your light!” Parent, your children are being caught in life’s storms. They are rowing in the dark with no sense of direction. Live for God, and give them a light they can steer by!
    • 25 RESPONDING TO FAILURE “A righteous person may fall…but he gets up again.” Pr 24:16 GWT You can tell a lot about somebody by how they respond to life. Everybody gets knocked down, but how fast you get up again is what counts. Verla Gillmor says: “Failure teaches us things we can’t learn any other way…Treat it as a visitor allowed to deliver unpleasant news, but don’t let it take up residence. Remember, all failures aren’t equal. For example, when a beautiful, talented young woman is first- runner-up in the Miss America Pageant, we say she failed. Yet some people would give their right arm to be named the second most attractive female in a national competition. It’s a matter of perspective… [examine] your failures and weigh them according to their importance in the overall scheme of things…I once received a ‘D’ in college…it’s ridiculous, but that sticks in my mind like a pebble in my shoe. Why do I fixate on that and not the fact that it happened the semester I carried nineteen credit hours, worked part-time, got engaged, and spent six weeks in the college health center with mononucleosis? When I put the experience in context, it loses its power to undermine my confidence. Failure teaches us what’s important. I’ve a friend who was downsized out of a job…It caught her by surprise because she was good at her work. ‘I tended to be full of pride,’ she says. ‘I got away with it because I was so successful. Losing my job…humbled me. With pride you have no permission to fail. It’s a heavy yoke…and I don’t wear it any more. I feel lighter in my spirit without the burden of having to be perfect.’” “PROMISES, PROMISES!” (1) “When you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Heb 10:36 NIV Many of us remember singing in church, “Every promise in the Book is mine!” Exciting words—but are they entirely true? If you’ve prayed for the fulfillment of a Bible promise that didn’t materialize, you may have wondered, felt disillusioned, or even stopped trusting. What’s true is that every promise in the Book intended for you, is yours! God is committed to keeping every promise He has made (See Mt 24:35). So how can you know which Bible promises are yours? Here are some scriptural guidelines to help you: (1) Be sure you understand the promise. God is committed to His Word, not to your interpretation of it. When Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19 NKJV), His audience completely misunderstood Him, thinking He meant the literal temple when He meant His body. (2) Walk in the Spirit, not the flesh. Walking in the Spirit, Peter received divine understanding of Christ’s deity. When Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father” (See Mt 16:13-18). Soon afterwards, walking in the flesh, the same man totally misunderstood Jesus and was severely rebuked by Jesus (See vv. 21-23). Why? Because “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God…nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Co 2:14 NKJV). So submit your thoughts to God; pray for His guidance, and in due time you’ll get the insight you need.
    • 26 WHAT’S A PARENT TO DO? “But his sons did not walk in his ways.” 1Sa 8:3 NIV At times every parent despairs over their child’s decisions and actions. “I did my best to raise them right; did I fail as a parent?” Failure is a fact of life—and of parenting—and nobody does it perfectly! Parents assume a heavier load of guilt than they deserve. Consider some Bible examples of real-world parenting: Isaac had, at best, a 50 percent success rate with his sons, Jacob and Esau. Aaron struck out completely with Nadab and Abihu. Manoah’s boy Samson didn’t win the “son-of-the-year award”! And Samuel, a recognized moral and spiritual giant, watched his sons reject his example and teaching and pursue lives of bribery and shame. Since Adam, kids “doing their own thing” have broken their parents’ hearts! So what’s a parent to do? (1) Realize you’re not responsible for their decisions. They make their own choices. Condemning yourself just discourages you, and it undermines your ability to be the parent they need. The Bible says, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jnh 2:9). He saves and delivers—not you. (2) Pray for them and give them to God. Anxiety and frustration will only make you the kind of parent they don’t enjoy being around, and who can’t enjoy them. You’re not built to carry such a load; your heavenly Father is, and He wants to carry it for you! (See 1Pe 5:7). (3) Remember that God loves them more than you do! He gave His only child to save yours. He knows their heart, and how to reach it and turn it toward Him (See Jer 17:9-10). So give your child to Him! Law and Order (1) “Discipline your children; you’ll be glad you did—they’ll turn out delightful to live with.” Pr 29:17 TM We’re producing a generation of kids who are allowed to rear themselves with the aid of television, violent videos, and the Internet (which can be a minefield!). Often both parents work, leaving one child to supervise another. As a result they become a law unto themselves. “A child left to himself disgraces his [parents]” (Pr 29:15 NIV). Most of us are loving parents, but our children need discipline and rules to live by. Love has a backbone; it’s called law and order. Without it, love is just license. “A refusal to correct is a refusal to love” (Pr 13:24 TM). Remember the cute cartoon where Dad, strap in hand, makes disobedient Dennis “assume the position”? He says, “This is going to hurt me more than you.” Dennis responds, “Don’t feel obligated to hurt yourself on my behalf.” Enforcing law and order isn’t easy. But the alternative is a betrayal of our children and our God-given responsibility! Failure to enforce law and order to gain short-term popularity with our kids always ends up costing us their long-term respect. Expecting younger kids to figure out what’s right and wrong is a burden they shouldn’t have to bear; their neurological and moral equipment isn’t sufficiently developed yet for such responsibility. The Bible says, “Young people are prone to foolishness and fads; the cure comes through tough-minded discipline” (Pr 22:15 TM). Your children learn to make good decisions from the rewards and consequences of dealing with law and order at home. So don’t fail them!
    • 27 Law and Order (2) “Love your children by disciplining them.” Pr 13:24 TM Children who are a joy to live with don’t get that way by living in a lawless home. Ever see the movie Bonnie and Clyde? The big story behind Bonnie is the mother who raised her. She thought everything Bonnie did was “cute.” She actually eulogized her: “As the flowers are made brighter by the sunshine and dew; this world is made brighter by folks like you!” But Bonnie wasn’t so cute when she went on a murderous rampage. Giving your child structure makes them feel cared for and secure. So here are two guidelines: (1) Explain the rules clearly. Punishing a child over a rule they don’t understand just makes them resentful. The fewer your rules the better—just make them understandable, doable, and observable. “Preaching” and moralizing only creates resistance. (2) Enforce the rules consistently. What brings a smile today shouldn’t bring a slap tomorrow. Inconsistency weakens your authority and breeds disobedience in them. Here are some things to shun: (a) Avoid comparing. No child should be expected to be just like another. (b) Avoid hurtful labels like “You’re stupid, lazy, bad, a waste of time,” etc. Describe their actions; don’t demolish their self-worth. (c) Avoid idle threats. Enforce the rule, or drop it. (d) Avoid bribes; they just breed manipulation and diminish the importance of rules. (e) Avoid making fun of their weaknesses. (f) Don’t fear saying “No!” Their future success and happiness depend on learning to deal with it. (g) Admit your failures. However, though you “blow it” occasionally, you’re still responsible to require they follow your laws, not your lapses! The Answer to Your Worries “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Pr 18:21 NKJV Your words either work for you or against you. The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The old saying, “You’ll eat your words,” is more than a meaningless cliché, it’s the truth! Jeremiah the prophet writes, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer 15:16 NKJV). The Psalmist writes, “They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses (worries). He sent His word and healed them” (Ps 107:19-20 NKJV). God’s Word is the medicine that heals worry. So what God has to say about the issue must be what you have to say about it too; otherwise you’re contradicting Him and disconnecting yourself from the source of all blessing. If you’re wise, you will surround yourself with like-minded people who speak God’s Word into your life, and limit your time with those who have no interest in it. If you want to grow the right kind of fruit, you must have the right climate. And the words you speak (and listen to) determine the climate of your life, the direction in which it goes, and the results you get. There is no “secret” to success. The Bible says that when you learn to “meditate day and night” in God’s Word, you “will prosper in all you do” (See Ps 1:1-3). So the answer to your worries is in God’s Word!
    • 28 When You Feel Down (1) “We will stand in your presence…cry out to you…and you will hear us and save us.” 2Ch 20:9 NIV A parishioner asked his pastor, “Do you ever feel down?” “Sure,” he responded. “What do you do about it?” the parishioner said. “I get up again. Being down isn’t my problem—staying down is. I’m either up, or I’m getting up. I’ve learned not to park in between.” Although feeling down is universal, sociologists warn us to guard against its two most common causes: fear and fatigue. Let’s look at them: Fear: When Edomite armies marched against Israel’s king, fear gripped him and his nation. Feeling powerless, they feared losing their God-given land and possessions. If the stress of the last few years has left you feeling fearful, do what Israel’s king did. He turned to God and prayed: “Whenever we are faced with any calamity…we can…stand in your presence…We can cry out to you…and you will hear us and rescue us” (v. 9 NLT). Don’t let fear cause you to abandon your hope and your vision. Instead, stand in God’s presence, cry out to Him, and watch Him rescue you. Throughout the Old Testament God reminded Israel of His track record of goodness. He wanted them to remember it and take courage. But sometimes fear would cloud their memory and they’d begin to doubt. Sound familiar? So He told them, “Do not be…discouraged…the battle is not yours, but [mine]” (v. 15 NIV). In other words, “You don’t have to defeat the foe, that’s My job. I’m in charge; trust Me to work it out.” So remember Who’s in control of your circumstances today. Stand in His presence; believe His promise! When You Feel Down (2) “Let us not grow weary while doing good.” Gal 6:9 NKJV Fatigue: Remember the old saying, “You can’t burn the candle at both ends”? Today we’ve gone from candle power to atomic power, and few of us pay heed to that old saying anymore. We want bigger homes, fancier cars and more exotic vacations, etc. So we start earlier, work harder, and finish later. Then we stagger home and fall asleep in front of the television, worn out and feeling guilty about spending so little time with our family. We forget that God designed us to need one work-free day a week for rest and spiritual renewal (See Ex 20:8-11). As a result, fatigue saps our creative energy, distorts our outlook, diminishes our joy, erodes our confidence and drains us spiritually. Elijah is a great example of this. Single-handedly he defeated the prophets of Baal (See 1Ki 18). In answer to his prayer, God sent fire from heaven that consumed the altar and turned Israel back to God. It was a spectacular victory, yet on the heels of it he got so down that he actually asked God to take his life. Now that’s a major league downer! So what did God do? Like any good doctor, He diagnosed the man’s problem and prescribed three things: proper diet, adequate rest, and a good assistant: Elisha. Many of us who love what we work at, tend to get out of balance. We have no boundaries so we risk burning out. We “grow weary while doing good.” What’s the answer? “He restores my soul” (Ps 23:3 NKJV). The word “restores” has two parts: “rest” and “store.” Relax physically, and replenish spiritually. That’s what to do when you feel down!
    • 29 VICTORIOUS LIVING “Blessed is the man who perseveres.” Jas 1:12 NIV Here are three keys to victorious living: (1) Perseverance. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan tells of a man whose shop burned to the ground. The next morning he set up shop in the middle of the charred ruins and put up a sign that read, “Everything lost except wife, children and hope—business as usual tomorrow morning.” So get back up again! “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life.” (2) Purpose. Helen Keller wrote, “Many persons have the wrong idea about what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45 NKJV). Don’t pray for a generous heart, practice being generous and your heart will fall into line with your actions. As long as you are a sower, God will give you seed (See 2Co 9:10). (3) Perspective. Your disappointment may turn out to be God’s appointment. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (See Pr 16:9). Remember how an oyster makes a pearl? When a grain of sand gets into its shell, the oyster wraps it in layer after layer of beauty until a pearl is formed. The poet wrote: “This tale has a moral, for isn’t it grand, what an oyster can do with a morsel of sand? And what couldn’t we do, if we’d only begin, with some of the things that get under our skin.” Get the right perspective. Try to see “God” at work in what you are going through today! When You’re in a Storm “The boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves.” Mt 14:24 NKJV Talk about a person caught in a storm! Jeremiah could tell you the height of the waves and the speed of the wind. He realized how fast he was sinking, so he shifted his gaze. “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 thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lam 3:21-24 RSV). When Jeremiah turned his eyes away from the waves to look to God, he started to recite a quintet of promises: (1) “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” (2) “His mercies never come to an end.” (3) “They are new every morning.” (4) “Great is your faithfulness.” (5) “The Lord is my portion.” The storm didn’t cease, but Jeremiah’s discouragement did. Paul talks about “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19 NKJV). Great hymns are a great help. They help you to get your eyes on the One who walks on the water and calms the storm. “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my father; There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”
    • 30 Finding Comfort in Troubled Times “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us.” 2Co 7:6 NIV You say, “Surely Paul was too spiritually mature to feel downcast?” Apparently not! The chief apostle and leader of the church experienced discouragement, stress, restlessness, and even fears. “When we arrived in Macedonia province, we couldn’t settle down. The fights in the church and the fears in our hearts kept us on pins and needles. We couldn’t relax because we didn’t know how it would turn out” (vv. 5-6 TM). So, where do we turn for strength in our times of trouble? Consider some ways God sends us comfort and encouragement: (1) He comforts us by His presence. “Now may…God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing” (2Th 2:16-17 NLT). It’s God’s nature to be with us, to give us comfort when we’re mourning (See Mt 5:4); brokenhearted (See Ps 147:3); overwhelmed (See Ps 145:14); worried (See Is 41:10); sick (See Ps 41:3). But we must acknowledge His presence and accept His comfort! (2) He comforts us by His Word. “Remember what you said to me, your servant—I hang on to these words for dear life! These words hold me up in bad times; yes, your promises rejuvenate me” (Ps 119:49-50 TM). (3) He comforts us through our prayers. “The moment I called out, you stepped in; you made my life large with strength” (Ps 138:3 TM). (4) He comforts us through godly friends. Paul writes: “God…comforted us by the coming of Titus.” Today, look for those who bring comfort, and practice comforting others. Deal with the Rooster “There is…no condemnation.” Ro 8:1 NKJV Booker T. Washington tells a wonderful story about his mother. Every morning of his young life, he, along with all the plantation slaves, was awakened by the crow of a rooster. Long before daybreak the unwelcome noise would fill the shanties, reminding Washington and his fellow workers to crawl out of bed and leave for the cotton fields. That rooster’s crow came to symbolize a life of long days and backbreaking labor. But then came the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln pronounced freedom for all slaves. The first morning afterward, young Booker was awakened by the rooster again. Only this time his mother was chasing it around the barnyard with an axe. That day the Washington family fried and ate their alarm clock for lunch. Their first act of freedom was to silence the reminder of their slavery. Are any roosters stealing your sleep? You might need to sharpen the blade. The great news of the gospel is, yes, His grace is real, and so is your freedom! “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Forget your sins for God’s sake, because when you keep bringing them up you bother Him! Does that sound too strong for you? Then read what God says about your sins: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isa 43:25 NKJV). God has buried your sins in the “depths of the sea” and posted a sign beside it which reads, “No fishing in these waters” (See Micah 7:19).
    • 31 Hindrances to Prayer (1) “So that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 1Pe 3:7 NIV Here are two hindrances to answered prayer: (1) Unconfessed sin. “Your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isa 59:2 NIV). As a believer, God expects you to walk in obedience. “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8 NIV). Notice, these are “requirements.” If you don’t meet them you’re wasting your time praying, unless it’s a prayer of repentance. You must seek God’s forgiveness, then He will hear your prayers. (2) Unresolved conflict. “Husbands…be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect…so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” There’s no point praying if you are always fighting with one another. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness” (1Jn 2:9 NIV). God will answer when you come out into the light, deal with the thing that drove you apart, and attempt to mend the relationship. Now, sometimes it isn’t possible to make amends. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Ro 12:18 NIV). Sometimes the other person would rather keep the issue alive than accept your apology. When that happens look into your heart. Do you really want restoration, or would you rather “blame place” and let things fester? If your attempts have been wholehearted and honest, God won’t let a broken relationship stand in the way of your prayers. But if your attempts have been half-hearted and self-serving, try again—this time for real. Hindrances to Prayer (2) “You do not have, because you do not ask.” Jas 4:2 NIV Here are two more hindrances to answered prayer: (1) Failure to pray. It’s estimated that out of the 667 prayers for specific things mentioned in the Bible, there are 454 specific answers. That means the Bible is a book of prayers—and answers. Our problem is, we spend a lot of time talking about prayer and fail to get down to the business of praying. Charles Trumbull said, “Prayer releases the energies of God.” The goal of prayer is not to overcome God’s reluctance, but to believe Him and take hold of His willingness. His Word says: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” C. E. Cowman wrote: “No praying man or woman accomplishes so much with so little expenditure of time, as when he or she is praying.” Until you learn to pray in faith and wait on God for the answer, you’ll get nowhere. (2) Failure to care. When the Israelites complained that God wasn’t answering their prayers He told them, “Stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly …share your food with the hungry…Clothe those who are cold and don’t hide from [those] who need your help. If you do these things…the Lord will answer” (Isa 58:6-9 TLB). Sin and unbelief are not the only things that hinder your prayers; self-centered living will! A little girl prayed for several weeks asking God for a certain thing. Finally in frustration she said, “By the way, Lord, I’ve mentioned this to You several times before.” If that’s your situation, stop thinking about your own needs and focus on the needs of others.
    • 32 Stop Doubting Your Salvation “Perfect love casts out fear.” 1Jn 4:18 NKJV Are you trying your best to serve the Lord, yet you sometimes doubt your salvation? Though you’re unaware of any particular sin in your life, you still feel unworthy to stand in God’s presence, confident of His acceptance. Read this Scripture. Better yet, write it down and carry it with you: “Perfect love casts out fear.” Now, if God loved you with an imperfect love you’d have cause to worry. Man’s love, which is imperfect, keeps a list of sins and consults it often. But not God’s love. The moment you place your trust in Christ He views you as “righteous” and fully accepted from that point on. His love casts out your fear because it casts out your sin. Do you remember these words from John’s epistle? “If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1Jn 3:20 NKJV). That means it’s possible to be forgiven, yet feel unforgiven. So when you feel unforgiven, doubt your feelings instead of doubting God. Don’t give your emotions a vote. Go back to Scripture. God’s Word outranks all self-criticism and self-doubt. As Paul told Titus: “God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone!…Tell them all this. Build up their courage” (Tit 2:11,15 TM). Are you trusting in Christ as your Savior? Then begin to love boldly and live robustly. Nothing fosters courage like a clear grasp of grace. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9 NKJV). Note the words, “All unrighteousness.” Having received God’s forgiveness, live forgiven! The Blame Game (1) “I am innocent…It is your responsibility!” Mt 27:24 NIV More and more, we are becoming a blame-oriented culture. Today our misfortunes are deemed to be somebody else’s fault. “I’m this way because of them. They did it to me.” And it didn’t begin with us. It goes all the way back to Adam in the Garden of Eden when he told God, “The woman…You gave…me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Ge 3:12 NKJV). It’s in our DNA! We say the breakdown in our marriage was our partner’s fault, or we drink too much because somebody drives us to it, or we’re sick because of the fast-food industry; let’s sue them! Shifting responsibility may alleviate momentary guilt, but it’s a deadly game with no winners. In sentencing Christ to die, Pilate said, ”I am innocent of this man’s blood…It is your responsibility!” He thought by dumping the blame onto the Jews he would avoid upsetting either his wife or his critics, and prove himself innocent. But the buck stopped at his desk! Understand this: God holds you responsible for your decisions and actions (See Ro 2:6). And your failure to make the right decision, or take the right action, also earns you His guilty verdict. Paul writes, “You cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant” (Gal 6:7 NLT). Others may be guilty of offending you, and that’s their harvest to reap. But your harvest depends on your reactions. Accepting responsibility before God is how you alleviate your guilt, discouragement and stress.
    • 33 The Blame Game (2) “The woman you put here…gave me some…and I ate it.” Ge 3:12 NIV Blaming came naturally to Adam and Eve, the father and mother of the human race. After all, who could fault them? God did! Their blaming was a result of how sin had changed them. Their relationship to themselves, each other, their environment, and even God, was radically changed by their irresponsibility. And since God can do nothing with people who won’t take responsibility for their decisions, He dismissed them from Paradise. What a price to pay! Here are two good reasons for giving up the blame game: (1) It makes you a victim. When you make someone else responsible for your circumstances, you put the power to change things in their hands. That means nothing will change unless they decide to change it. You make them master of your fate. Only by accepting personal responsibility can you retain the power to change your circumstances. (2) It makes you miserable. You say, “But they hurt me.” Yes, and by harboring resentment you are hurting yourself over and over. The Bible says, “Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time” (Heb 12:14-15 TM). Before you know it your entire outlook gets distorted. “Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite …Esau later regretted that…and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears” (vv. 16-17 TM). Forgive, take back your life, and get out of the blame game! Don’t Rush Into This Relationship (1) “Don’t excite love…until…you’re ready.” SS 2:7 TM When we feel hurt and rejected there’s something inside us that wants to prove we’re still worthy and desirable; as a result we can jump into the next relationship too quickly. But just like an infant doesn’t go from crawling to driving overnight, there’s a process involved, and if you try to circumvent it you’ll end up back at square one, wondering what happened. One author says: “A new relationship won’t successfully heal you, avoid aggravating inflicted wounds, or instantly clean up a mess…Regardless of the temporary bliss, sooner or later you’ll end up faced again with your old stuff…If this is your situation, do things the right way. Take your time…These things can’t be feigned…rushed or…pursued. They’ll be given to you when you’re ready, and not a moment sooner… you want the real deal this time…and [God] wants to be your filter, so in order to reach the treasure of your heart, a person must first pass through Him.” Solomon writes, “Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe—and you’re ready.” Don’t be in such a hurry to take the edge off your pain that you run ahead of God. It takes time for Him to make you into the person He wants you to become. While He’s working on you, He’s preparing the heart of the right partner to show up at the right time. In the meantime there’s a way to fill the emptiness inside; work on developing a closer relationship with God and He will “fill you with…joy and peace” (Ro 15:13).
    • 34 Don’t Rush Into This Relationship (2) “No one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again.” Jn 4:14 CEV We all want to be loved and appreciated for who we are. And when it doesn’t happen on our timetable, it’s tempting to rush into another relationship hoping it’ll make everything better. One author writes: “There’s no Prince Charming to sweep you off your feet and make you happy with yourself. Even when the first part of the story seems to go well, Sleeping Beauty wakes up to discover her prince is just a common frog…You can’t expect a person to give you what only your heavenly Father can provide. Mere mortals, even with good intentions, can never come close. When you pin all your hopes and dreams on someone else you’re bound to be disappointed…When you sell your soul in an attempt to attain the unattainable…the cost is high and the potential for peril is steep. Don’t let obsessive desire lead you down a path of despair…obsession is powerful. It fuels fantasies and drives you to reckless behavior…You won’t find love till you love and respect yourself enough to stop looking for someone or something outside yourself to give you worth.” One day Jesus met a woman who’d been married five times and was pursuing yet another relationship. Recognizing that her need was not for another man, but a relationship with God, He said, “No one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again” (vv. 13-14 CEV). Jesus saw beyond her sin to her real need, and restored her sense of self-worth. Bottom line: only the water Jesus gives will quench your soul’s thirst. Don’t Live in Regret “Godly sorrow brings repentance…and leaves no regret.” 2Co 7:10 NIV There’s the kind of regret that leads to despair because you don’t think God’s grace is sufficient to cover your sins. Then there’s “sadness…used by God [which] brings a change of heart…and…no regret” (GNT). This kind draws you closer and makes you more dependent on Him. You become “more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent…more passionate, more responsible…[and] come out…with purity of heart” (2Co 7:11 TM). Jon Walker writes: “As the economy closed in I began to regret not buying a less expensive home. If only we’d bought a cheaper house. If only we’d rented. If only we’d stayed in our first house. I can ‘If only’ myself into depression and stagnation where I’m stuck between regret and forward motion. When my focus is not on the One who provides…I let regret become bigger than God…and following that logic, I believe past choices, an event, a tragedy, a compromise, a mistake—is more powerful than the God who spoke the world into existence…We live in ‘if only/what if’ moments more than we realize. They wrap us in a sense of hopeless paralysis; we fear the bad choices we made [and] the choices we face. God pours His grace into the present…our walk is one where we make a decision and stick with it, trusting that even if we make mistakes, God’s big enough to turn them around. When regret becomes ungodly sorrow versus godly sorrow, you find yourself submerged in self- pity instead of looking to Him to work things out for the good of ‘those…he has called according to his purpose’” (See Ro 8:28).
    • 35 Know When to Be quiet! “Fools vent…the wise quietly hold it back.” Pr 29:11 NLT Carol Kuykendall writes: “My very pregnant daughter got her hair cut…from long to stylishly short. She was trying to get used to her new look when we ran into one of her friends. ‘Oh no!’ her friend wailed…‘I don’t like it!’ Then as if to rationalize her words, she quickly added, ‘You know me. I’m a Truth-Teller!’ As we walked away my daughter told me she could’ve done without the truth that day!…It made me more aware of that critical moment in conversation when I’m faced with a choice: Do I say what I’m thinking? Or do I zip it? I keep hearing that ‘telling it like it is’ and ‘being real’ is good for relationships. Reality TV, confessions on Oprah and tweeting the truth add to our reverence for authenticity. But here’s what I know about myself: if I say everything I think, I can slay people in my path. And just because I think something—doesn’t make it true…A good question to ask is: Is it helpful—or hurtful—to the person or our relationship? What about the timing and tone? [For example] a comment about a spouse’s appearance is hurtful when they can’t do anything about it, and will only make him or her self-conscious the rest of the evening.” The Bible says, “Fools vent…the wise quietly hold it back.” Knowing when not to speak is often more important than knowing what to say. That’s what Paul had in mind: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29 NIV). Keep Your Job, and Earn a Promotion! (1) “A hard worker has plenty of food.” Pr 28:19 NLT Even in a bad job market, “good help is hard to find.” So when employers find it they do all they can to keep it. Even in a long economic downturn there are still practical rules that increase the likelihood you’ll keep your job, and maybe earn a promotion. These rules line up with what’s taught in God’s Word: (1) Understand that hard work is a blessing. God created paradise, then He created us. Then He put us to work, saying, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Ge 3:19 NIV). God rewards “sweat” (See Pr 28:19). Giving your job, even a menial one, your best, pleases Him. And ultimately He, not your boss, controls your future. (2) Accept reality. Wishing away your present circumstances while feeling entitled to better, will just make you feel worse and get you nowhere. Our “God [turns] the curse into a blessing” (Dt 23:5 NIV). He gives “beauty for ashes” (Isa 61:3 NKJV). In hard times God raises up people with fresh ideas that actually make the future better than the past—not only for themselves but for others. And you can become one of those people. (3) Make God your source. “I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go” (Isa 48:17). Make God your life coach. Give your boss the hard work he or she deserves, but trust only in the One Who promised to “use his wonderful riches…to give you everything you need” (Php 4:19 NCV).
    • 36 Keep Your Job, and Earn a Promotion! (2) “Get wisdom…get understanding.” Pr 4:7 In his book, Emotional Intelligence, psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman says that IQ amounts to only 20 percent of success. To keep your job and earn a promotion you need more than intelligence. Goleman suggests several things to help you succeed on the job: (1) Confidence. Confident workers trust their God-given abilities. And where do you get this confidence? From God! “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Ps 118:8). Confidence in God gives you the assurance that you “can do all things through Christ who strengthens [you]” (Php 4:13). (2) Curiosity. “Get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” Curiosity is eagerness to know, learn and understand more. Curious workers are interested in what’s not obvious. Others presume that a solution doesn’t exist or is too difficult, so they quit at the point at which they should be starting. But when others are saying, “It’s way beyond me,” the curious employee says, “There’s an answer. There’s a better way. We just need more understanding.” Every boss wants curious workers. (3) Decisiveness. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2Ti 1:7 NKJV). Fear is a “spirit.” It’s an attitude that makes you pull back, or freeze in place, or give up. That spirit doesn’t come from God, so resist it. Don’t be afraid to take a prayed-over risk, or accept responsibility for an outcome. Keep Your Job, and Earn a Promotion! (3) “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Col 3:12 NIV Succeeding at your job requires: (1) Empathy. Always show consideration for other people’s situation, needs, feelings and perceptions. Try to understand what it’s like to walk in their shoes. By doing this you increase their motivation, improve the working environment, and raise the productivity level. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” You are supposed to “wear” these qualities to work every day. (2) Flexibility. It’s the capacity to adapt, adjust, and advance. In an environment driven by economic difficulty and downsizing, rigid, reactive employees are often the first to be laid off or fired. Learn to “roll with the punches.” Paul did that. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Php 4:11-13 NIV). When the winds of change blow, flexible people bend rather than break. They live to stand again, and even get promoted. (3) Humor. Start seeing yourself and the world around you with a sense of enjoyment. Refuse to take yourself too seriously. Look for the humor hidden in life’s serious moments and you’ll find it. People who are dispensers of misery just drag everybody down. God’s Word says: “A cheerful disposition is good for your health” (Pr 17:22 TM). “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (v. 22 NIV). A good sense of humor improves things and makes the workplace better for everybody.
    • 37 Keep Your Job, and Earn a Promotion! (4) “Work from the heart for your real Master…God.” Col 3:22 TM Keeping your job and earning a promotion calls for: (1) Initiative. Think outside the box. Better still, throw the old box away and ask God for a new one! Intelligence is more than just IQ. The average employee with initiative will always excel over the degreed one without it. If you don’t believe it, read history. Education alone won’t make you productive, but the Spirit and the Word of God will. Paul writes, “Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes” (Eph 4:23 NLT). Peter writes, “I have written…to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2Pe 3:1 NIV). Let God stimulate your mind with ideas that make you an in-demand employee. (2) Perseverance. What is it? It’s the energy and desire to achieve; it’s motivation, determination, commitment, faithfulness, patience, resilience in the face of difficulty, and a willingness to work hard. Those who avoid the more demanding route and choose the easy way are costly to employ, decrease morale, reduce quality, and lessen the company’s productivity. Paul challenges his readers to persevere in their assignment. “Here is my advice…you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now” (2Co 8:10-11 NLT). (3) Respect. Always consider the rights and needs of others. Treat them sensitively, kindly, courteously, and within the limits of law, conscience and Scripture. “Do what you’re told by your earthly masters…Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God.” When you become such a worker God guarantees your financial security and professional success. Break Free from Perfectionism (1) “Trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” Gal 3:3 NLT Columnist Ann Landers wrote, “Rose-colored glasses are never made in bifocals. Nobody wants to read the small print in dreams.” The small print in every dream is— reality. You may fulfill your dream, but you won’t do it perfectly. Looking back you’ll say, “If I knew then what I know now.” But if you could live all over again you’d probably say the same thing. The truth is, the journey will take longer than you hoped. The obstacles will be more numerous than you thought. The disappointments will be greater than you expected. The lows will be lower than you imagined. The price will be higher than you anticipated. Stop expecting more than what’s reasonable. Stop seeing minor mistakes as major catastrophes. To break free from perfectionism, Dr. Chris Thurman says: “Humble yourself: repent of being so filled with pride that you think you’re equal with God. Be reality focused: accept life as it is, not how you think it should be. Establish attainable goals: make them realistic and achievable in the here- and-now. Set reasonable time limits: instead of spending time struggling to do one thing perfectly, prioritize, and allot a reasonable amount of time to each activity. In less-important areas, accept good- enough; not every job has to be (or can be) done exceptionally well. Lose the all-or-nothing thinking: not every situation is black and white…most contain shades of gray. Learn from your mistakes: then move on. Confess your shortcomings: acknowledging your weaknesses releases you from the pull of
    • 38 perfectionism. Find your worth in God: not in ‘your own human effort,’ in what you do and how well you do it.” Break Free from Perfectionism (2) “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” Ro 12:6 NIV One Christian writer says: “When my friend had her first child she applied all her career talents to making a smooth transition into motherhood. She kept a rigid schedule, napped her son on time, planned time for grocery shopping, and always managed to have a nice dinner prepared by the time her husband got home. She kept up this façade till she could handle the stress no longer. Finally, she cracked. She left the house a mess, forgot to shower, never went to the grocery store, and when her husband came home she handed him the dirty baby…and declared the house a dinner-free zone! What did her husband do? He fell to his knees in an exaggerated ‘Hallelujah!’ then spun his long-lost wife into a magnificent hug. ‘You’re back!’ he declared…Her gifts, apart from being a great wife, mom and businesswoman, are her sense of humor, her sass, her fun, and her authenticity…all the things her husband missed when her personality went on a postpartum hiatus.” If you’re “trying to become perfect by your own human effort” (Gal 3:3 NLT), it’s not going to happen! “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” When you strive to be somebody other than the person God intended, you end up feeling angry, inadequate and frustrated. God purposely gifted us all in different areas. Once you realize that, you can start to minister from your particular area of giftedness. Remember, every one of us is a work-in-progress, so cut yourself some slack. Instead of trying to become perfect, begin to thank God for making you one-of-a-kind. A Word to Single Parents “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1Pe 4:8 NIV Are you struggling to raise children on your own? If so, teach them these three principles. As you do, they’ll be reinforced in you. You’d be surprised how many instructors learn while they teach. So: (1) Teach them how to love imperfect people. Let them know that loving is a risk, but it’s worth taking. Hearing you say that will help them to grow up and not become cynical because of what they’ve been through. Explain that when you love people, you must love what’s good and accept what’s still under construction. And it’ll save them heartache if you teach them that sometimes we’ll disappoint each other, and that God’s remedy for this is, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” (2) Tell them that the future can be better than the past. We are fueled by the past, but fuel only works when it’s combusted into another form. So allow the pain of the past to fuel your future with compassion, wisdom and hope. Many of the people we admire have experienced failure. This year’s winner was last year’s runner-up. So learn from your mistakes and seize the new day. Once you do that, “All things are possible” (Mt 19:26 NKJV). (3) Show them how to adapt to change. When you get stuck in the past, it’s always at the expense of the future. After the initial shock is over and your anger has dissipated, start making plans. Draw closer to God and decide to live again. Don’t get stuck in a stage that was just meant to be part of a process. This too shall pass; let it!
    • 39 Believe God for “Good Things” “You…promised…good things to your servant.” 2Sa 7:28 NIV We strive each day to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2Co 5:7 NKJV). But it doesn’t come easily. It takes a mind saturated in Scripture to make a faith choice when you’re looking down the barrel of a situation that seems impossible. So how do you develop that kind of faith? For a relationship to thrive, both parties must invest time and energy into getting to know one other. Lasting connections are based on trust, and an intimate knowledge of the other person’s habits and character. And it’s the same with God. Over time, as you prove His faithfulness it becomes easier to let go of your fear and replace it with trust. One author writes: “Getting to know God means walking with Him, spending time in His Word, getting to know His spotless character and the countless examples of His unfailing love illustrated in His ironclad promises. It means praying, talking, sharing all the details of your life and the inner workings of your heart. He knows it all already, but He enjoys the intimacy of the conversation. And like any balanced relationship, we can’t always be the one talking. We have to make time to listen, to come before the Lord and get quiet, by silencing the noise of our thoughts and the rush of our emotions.” Remember, the only place fear has to work is in the empty space where your faith should be. Fear is based on what you see and hear. Faith is based on knowing that God’s Word is reliable, and that He has promised “good things” to those who believe Him for them! The Foundation of True Friendship “We have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus…cleanses us from all sin.” 1Jn 1:7 NLT The Bible says, “Better a nearby friend than a distant family” (Pr 27:10 TM). Sometimes it’s easier to develop close friendships with those outside your immediate family circle. But there’s another kind of “blood relative” mentioned in the Bible: brothers and sisters joined together through the blood of Jesus (See 1Jn 1:7). It’s the kind of relationship that doesn’t allow you to go off and do your own thing (See Col 3:15 TM). It requires us to “do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with…honor” (Jas 3:18 TM). It calls for a long-term commitment not readily understood by the “me generation,” where, when the going gets tough it’s acceptable to bail out of a relationship and move on. One pastor points out that the world doesn’t understand the Christian concept of brotherhood and sisterhood: “It says find friends among like-minded, like-income people who vote like you and have the same golf handicap. These friendships work until the bottom falls out of your life, you face a pressing problem, or a tragic loss, or a serious illness, and suddenly you realize that no one cares much about you. Why? Because you’ve made no investment in anybody’s life, and now when you need to make a withdrawal there’s no money in the friendship bank.” Sacrificial love is the foundation of true friendship. Paul writes, “I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves…But you know how Timothy has proved himself” (Php 2:20-22 NLT).
    • 40 Where Does This Path Lead? “Do not walk in the way of evil.” Pr 4:14 NKJV Every path you take in life leads to somewhere. The Bible says, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it” (vv. 14-15 NKJV). Today our children are getting hooked on drugs—some so powerful that it takes just one hit and they are addicted. So talk to your children early in life about the traps that Satan has set for them. Let them know that: (1) any habit you feed always grows stronger; (2) any habit you feed always demands more; (3) any habit you feed always takes control of you. Comedian and actor Chris Farley was found dead in his downtown Chicago apartment on December 18, 1997. He died of a drug overdose. His death at age thirty-three was no surprise to his friends. He had been in and out of various rehabs to clean up his life. Shortly before his death he told a reporter: “I used to think that you could get to a level of success where the laws of the universe didn’t apply. But they do. It’s still ‘life on life’s terms,’ not on movie-star terms. I still have to work at relationships. I still have to work on my weight, and some of my other demons. Once I thought that if I had enough money in the bank, if I had enough fame, everything would be all right. But I’m a human being like everyone else. I’m not exempt.” So before you step onto the path stop and ask yourself, “Where does this path lead?” Have You Been Rejected? “Do not be afraid…I am with you.” Ac 18:9-10 NIV When Paul tried to share his new faith with his old friends, “They opposed him” (v. 6 NKJV). It hurts to be rejected by those you love. It seems like Paul was so hurt by their rejection that God had to encourage him, saying, “Do not be afraid…I am with you, and no one is going to…harm you.” Later when Paul reached out to some of the apostles, they too were leery of him. They saw him as too Jewish to be Christian and too Christian to be Jewish. Throughout his ministry Paul suffered disappointment and rejection at the hands of those he loved. But when people fail you it drives you into the arms of God. Being rejected by others can actually bring a greater intimacy with Him. When they stoned Paul and left him for dead, “he got back up” and went on to greater things (See Ac 14:19-20). Being rejected makes you lean on God like never before, because you’ve nowhere else to turn! In fact, at times like that, unless you hear from God there’s no other word of hope coming! When others reject you, God has a way of opening doors to new levels of blessing you’d otherwise miss. Your greatest spiritual growth will generally result from your greatest trials. The Psalmist wrote: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies (vindication): thou anointest my head with oil (daily empowerment); my cup runneth over (greater blessing)” (Ps 23:5). The truth is, without some pain and opposition you wouldn’t get to sit at God’s table and enjoy His best.
    • 41 Don’t Run Out of Steam! inShare0“I bear him witness that he has a great zeal.” Col 4:13 NKJV John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, travelled two hundred and fifty thousand miles on horseback, averaging twenty miles a day for forty years. He preached forty thousand sermons, produced four hundred books, and knew ten languages. At eighty-three he was annoyed that he couldn’t write more than fifteen hours a day without his eyes hurting. And at eighty-six he was ashamed he couldn’t preach more than twice a day. He complained in his diary of an increasing tendency to lie in bed until 5.30 a.m. One word described Wesley’s life: “zeal.” Paul writes: “Epaphras…greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he had a great zeal for you” (vv. 12-13 NKJV). We speak of “getting up a head of steam.” It’s the language of the locomotive. Steam is literally water turned to energy. Kate Eaton wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “You may see it above your whistling tea kettle or on your bathroom mirror, but that’s not it. Steam is the clear vapor between the hot water and the visible mist. As it forms at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, it expands to take up much more space than its liquid state. This explosive expansion, harnessed in a giant locomotive, is what powered 250-ton engines and enabled them to pull twenty or more railcars through the Blue Ridge Mountains, across the Great Plains and over the deserts to the west. It’s a powerful force.” If you work for God you must spend time with God, otherwise you’ll run out of steam! Imagination and Freedom of Choice “The world and all that is in it is mine.” Ps 50:12 NRS The Bible says, “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Ge 2:7 NKJV). Until then, we were just inanimate hunks of clay in human form. At that point God breathed into us two important things: (1) Imagination. It distinguishes us from all other living creatures. It’s what makes us capable of going to the moon, inventing the Internet, having a dream, and worshipping our Creator. But even when God gives you a concept, you must work to make it a reality. God said, “The world and all that is in it is mine.” That means that when you get ready to build and you have only a few bricks, you can pray for more bricks and God will give them to you. It also means that instead of complaining about what you don’t have, you look at what you do have, and what you can make of it with God’s help. (2) Freedom of choice. God has empowered you with the ability to make the right choices and act on them. But even though God has given you this ability, don’t try to go it alone. Jesus said, “What is born of…[the physical is physical]; and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn 3:6 AMP). Always depend on the Holy Spirit. He’s called “the Helper” for a reason (Jn 14:26 NKJV). Jesus promised His disciples, “You shall receive power [strategies, solutions, and strength] when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Ac 1:8 AMP). Imagination and freedom of choice—use them to glorify God.
    • 42 You Are Special “My unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” Isa 54:10 NIV Chinese missionary John Bentley distributed a book written by Max Lucado, entitled You Are Special, to children who lived in a Chinese orphanage. In that country male children are favored over female ones. Healthy babies outrank impaired ones. Indeed, children who cannot speak or hear stand little chance of a healthy, productive life. Every message of history and culture tells them, “You don’t matter.” The story in Lucado’s book describes Punchinello, a wooden person in a village of wooden people. The villagers had the practice of sticking stars on achievers and dots on strugglers. Punchinello had so many dots that the people gave him dots for no reason at all. But when he met Eli, his maker, Eli affirmed him, telling him to disregard the opinions of others. “I made you,” he explained, “and I don’t make mistakes.” Punchinello had never heard such words. When he did, his dots began to drop off. And when the children in the orphanage heard such words, their worlds began to change. John Bentley describes reading the story to these children and the incredible effect it had on each as they sat, glued to every word. “When the idea came through in the reading that they were special, simply because they were made by a loving creator…every one started crying—including their teachers! It was wild.” Today open your Bible, get God’s opinion of you and build your life on it; it’s the only opinion that counts! “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken’…says the Lord.” Deal With It Now “No matter how fast you run, you won’t escape. No matter how strong you are, you will lose your strength.” Am 2:14 CEV Sorry, problems don’t magically solve themselves because you refuse to deal with them. Actually, they multiply, and “no matter how fast you run, you will not escape.” Kristin Armstrong says: “We become…adept at running…We try to flee from our pain, our past and our issues. The problem is, we can’t run or hide or push things away forever. Eventually we’ll tire…and have to slow down. And when we do, all our junk will come rolling behind…headed straight for us at top speed. All the time we’ve been fleeing, our junk has been snowballing…picking up size and momentum. If we aren’t brave enough to face it when it’s ‘small,’ it’ll run us over later. Now’s the time to…deal with it…as fast and as strong as you are, you can’t keep this up much longer.” So what problem are you running from today? What issues are causing you to “lose your strength?” Make up your mind to stop right now and deal with them. “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4:27 NIV) by spending one more day on the run. It doesn’t matter how badly you’ve failed in the past, “The blood of Jesus…cleanses us from all sin” (1Jn 1:7 NLT). Whether it’s a stubborn habit, or someone you fear confronting, “step up to the plate.” The thing that’s chasing you will lose its power when you face it down in the name of Jesus. Paul says, “Having done all… stand” (Eph 6:13). And you do that through the power of God, not in your own strength.
    • 43 E-V-A-L-U-A-T-E “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Am 3:3 NKJV A successful marriage is based on two things: “finding” the right person, and “becoming” the right person. And the second thing is harder than the first. Just because two people share the same bed and the same name, doesn’t guarantee harmony. Here are some practical suggestions based on the word E- V-A-L-U-A-T-E: Enjoy. Do you enjoy the same things? Maybe it’s no big deal now, but later when your husband is glued to the ballgame on TV and you want a little conversation, it will be. Values. The Bible asks, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Are you able to agree on major issues such as intimacy, child rearing, finances, in-laws, goals, and your relationship with God? You may disagree over many things, but these are make-or-break issues. Accessibility. Are you both emotionally accessible, or is he the strong silent type who doesn’t communicate—or understand your need to? Love. Do you really love each other? Not the Hollywood version but the kind that listens to your spouse’s opinions and concerns, overlooks their faults and failings, values them, and expresses itself through kindness? Understanding. As surely as God doesn’t make two snowflakes alike, He doesn’t make two people alike. So, can you understand and handle each other’s differences? Appreciation. Your mate can’t read your mind, so get into the habit of expressing your appreciation for one another. Temperament. If you’re naturally upbeat but they’re moody and introverted, you may have an oil-and-water mix. How will you handle this? Environment. If you’re from different backgrounds, are you comfortable in the same social and spiritual settings? If you want a happy marriage, E-V-A-L-U-A-T-E these things. Change Your Self-Talk inShare0“You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you.” Job 22:28 NKJV It’s not what others say to you or about you that determines your future; it’s what you say to yourself after others get through talking! The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Pr 18:21 NKJV). You say, “I’d love to have a better relationship, but I’m afraid if I make the first move and they don’t respond I’ll feel rejected.” Or, “I’d like to pursue my education, but I’m afraid if I register for classes and can’t do the work I’ll feel stupid.” Such words become self-fulfilling prophecies. Until you replace your negative self-talk with faith-talk you’ll always live in fear. Your mind is like the womb of your spirit; it nurtures each seed you sow until the time of delivery. If you don’t want what a seed will ultimately produce you must stop sowing it and feeding it. Your first step in breaking fear’s hold over you is in recognizing the self-talk that got you into trouble in the first place. This is not easy to do. It takes vigilance, self-awareness, discipline and scriptural reprogramming. But by changing your thoughts you’ll begin to change your life. Job says, “You will…declare a thing, and it will be established for you.” And the amazing part is, at times you may not feel like you believe the particular Scripture you’re standing on. That’s okay; your inner self accepts what it’s consistently fed and begins to act accordingly. So starting today, serve an eviction notice to every negative thought that’s holding you back and begin feeding your mind with God’s Word.
    • 44 Healing for Your Grief “He heals the brokenhearted.” Ps 147:3 NIV One of the most moving scenes in Scripture is Jesus weeping at the graveside of Lazarus. It’s not that He was powerless to change the situation, which He did, but that He empathizes with us in our time of loss. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The Lord didn’t promise to protect us from pain and loss, but to bring us through it. Perhaps these suggestions will help: (1) Don’t isolate. Expand your “family.” “Better a nearby friend than a distant family” (Pr 27:10 TM). If you don’t have family nearby, reach out to caring people who are close at hand. As part of a group you discover that you’re not alone, that mourning isn’t sickness or self-indulgence, and that sharing brings healing. (2) Don’t deny your loss. “The memory of the just is blessed” (Pr 10:7). When you’re around friends don’t hesitate to talk about your loss. When you do, you’re saying it’s okay for them to share their memories too. A burden shared is a burden lightened. (3) Don’t try to do it all. “There is a time to cry” (Ecc 3:4 NCV). Because grief is draining, you’ll need more rest than usual. So while your ability to function is reduced let others help with the everyday stuff like cooking, cleaning and shopping until you feel stronger. (4) Don’t neglect your legitimate needs. Respect your body by using the acronym D.E.E.R. (drink, eat, exercise, rest) to help you stay focused and set healthy boundaries. Nobody knows how you feel better than you, so give yourself permission to say, “No thanks” or “I’ll take a rain check” without feeling guilty. De-stressing “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places.” Isa 32:18 NIV Years ago stress was considered mostly a male problem, but not anymore. Women are experiencing the stress of pursuing perfection, looking a certain way, competing in the workplace, attempting to do it all, never saying no, and having no time for themselves. That’s not how God wants you to live! “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest” (vv. 17-18 NIV). So, (male or female) here are two practical suggestions for de-stressing: (1) Allow yourself more time. Since everything takes longer than you think, having enough time to complete the job reduces your anxiety greatly. Whenever you’re under the gun, a good rule of thumb is to allow 20 percent more time than you think you’ll need. (2) Be content with less. A recent study of thousands of households found that those who maintained lifestyles beyond their means were more prone to stress-related illnesses such as heart attack and depression. “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house” (Pr 15:27). You say, “Does that mean God doesn’t want me to get ahead in life?” No, He just wants you to keep your priorities straight and to learn to enjoy where you are, on your way to where you’re going. If you’re feeling stressed today pray: “Lord, I need to be renewed. This business of living has drained me. Thank You for ordaining quiet times and places of rest in the midst of hectic schedules. Help me always to put You first and to find my place of rest in You.”
    • 45 “Whatever It Takes” “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” Pr 13:4 NIV The word “diligence” includes such qualities as hard work, honesty, persistence, and striving for excellence. The New Living Bible Translation puts it this way: “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.” One expert says, “Success doesn’t come from being a hundred percent better than your competition, but from being one percent better in a hundred different ways.” Syndicated business columnist Dale Dauten says: “If you want to be creative in your company, your career or your life, it all comes down to one easy step…the extra one. When you encounter a familiar plan, you just ask one question: ‘What else could we do?’” To succeed you’ll have to do more—more than you may want, more than your competition, more than you think you’re capable of. The poet William Arthur Ward said: “I will do more than belong—I will participate. I will do more than care—I will help. I will do more than believe—I will practice. I will do more than be fair—I will be kind. I will do more than forgive—I will forget. I will do more than dream—I will work. I will do more than teach—I will inspire. I will do more than learn—I will enrich. I will do more than give—I will serve. I will do more than live—I will grow. I will do more than suffer—I will triumph.” You can’t do whatever’s easiest and still reach your goal. You must do more. You must do “whatever it takes.” Learn to be Tactful “I try to find common ground.” 1Co 9:22 NLT Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy. To win someone over, you must first do two things: (a) understand them; (b) become comfortable with diversity. Paul wrote, “So I can bring them to Christ…I try to find common ground with everyone” (vv. 21-22 NLT). Paul wouldn’t yield an inch when it came to the truth, but his strategy was always one of love. Whether he was speaking to Jews, Greeks, Romans or barbarians his message never varied. But his approach did. When people know you respect them you’re more effective at helping them to change. Speaking to those who were willing to alienate someone over a fine point of theology, Paul writes, “In Christ’s family…you are all equal…in a common relationship with Jesus” (Gal 3:28 TM). Just think, when the saints of the ages gather round God’s throne to praise Him they will not only be from different continents and cultures, but different eras—the early church age and the space age. What a concert! But you won’t enjoy it if you’re so narrow that you only know one song, because they may not be singing that particular number over there. Some of God’s choicest characters were culturally diverse, like Moses, an Israelite raised in an Egyptian household to prepare him for his destiny. Or Peter, who was prejudiced enough to think that God only blessed Jews until God straightened him out saying, “If I say someone’s acceptable, don’t you say they’re not” (See Ac 10:15 paraphrased). Evidently Peter got the message, for he wrote later, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth…love one another deeply” (1Pe 1:22 NKJV). So, learn to be tactful.
    • 46 Don’t Lose Control! “Anger resides in the lap of fools.” Ecc 7:9 NIV The word “anger” is just one letter short of the word “danger.” When you lose control you risk losing other things as well, like the respect of others or the chance to find a constructive solution. Anger toward human suffering is not only appropriate, it’s the catalyst for change. Paul writes, “Be angry…but…don’t stay angry” (Eph 4:26 TM). The Chinese have a saying: “Anger is the wind that blows out the lamp of the mind.” So: (1) Before you react, take a walk. It burns off excess adrenaline and it’s more effective than stewing. It also helps you to think more clearly and handle things in a way you won’t regret. “A quick-tempered man does foolish things” (Pr 14:17 NIV). (2) Recognize the things you can’t control. You can’t control other people’s attitudes and actions, or unforeseen events such as cancelled flights and traffic jams. “What should I do?” you ask. Count your blessings, particularly the fact that you have God, salvation, your health, your family, your job, and a car to get to it, etc. (3) Be careful where you vent. It’s one thing to be angry, it’s another to “sound off” at the wrong time. “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards” (Pr 29:11). It’s okay to share your feelings with those you trust and who are not the targets of your anger. But be careful, your words can come back and bite you! (4) Keep your distance from angry people. The Bible says, “Don’t hang out with angry people” (Pr 22:24 TM). Anger, like joy and gratitude, is contagious, so keep your distance. God’s Timetable “By your patience possess your souls.” Lk 21:19 NKJV When God makes you wait for something longer than you want to, He’s teaching you patience. Your emotions are like a wild horse—they need to be reined in. “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Heb 10:36 NLT). Your impatience will just make you and everybody around you miserable, but it won’t rush God. He works according to His own plan and timetable: “In due season we shall reap” (Gal 6:9). “Due season” is God’s season, not yours. You’re in a hurry, He isn’t. He takes time to do things right. You may not know what He’s doing, but He does. And that’ll have to be good enough for you. God’s timing seems to be His own business. He’s never late, but He usually isn’t early either. He takes every opportunity to develop in you the fruit of patience. But other fruits are being developed in you as well. There are several things that must arrive at the finish line at the same time in order for you to win the race. Developed potential, without character, doesn’t glorify God. If you were to become a huge success and yet be arrogant and harsh with people, that wouldn’t be pleasing to the Lord. So when you get ahead of yourself in one area, He gently but firmly blocks your progress in that area until the others catch up. You don’t appreciate any of this while it’s happening, but later on you realize what a mess you’d have made if things had been done on your timetable instead of God’s.
    • 47 Covetousness (1) “Let your conduct be without covetousness.” Heb 13:5 NKJV Covetousness begins with craving, then evolves into conniving to get what you want. Achan, Ahab, Ananias and Sapphira were willing to steal, lie and kill to get what they wanted. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” This Scripture means that what you have in Christ is greater than whatever else you don’t have! Covetousness is: (1) Wanting status but not wanting to serve; wanting control so that you can be at the center; wanting wealth strictly for yourself; wanting praise from others. (2) Wanting the right things but for the wrong reasons. “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1Ti 3:1 NKJV). Wanting to make an impact is a good thing, but you must want it for the right reasons. If you want it for personal recognition and power over others, that’s covetousness. (3) Wanting the right things but at the wrong time. A young couple says, “We love each other. We’re going to get married in three months. But we want to sleep together now.” They want the right thing for the right reason, but they want it at the wrong time. That’s covetousness. (4) Wanting the right things but in the wrong amount. Covetousness is wanting more than is required for your needs, and to fulfill God’s purpose for your life. Understand this: more of anything other than God will never satisfy the longing for fulfillment He’s placed within you. Only when you acknowledge that, will you find true and lasting happiness. Covetousness (2) “You shall not covet.” Ex 20:17 NKJV Why do we keep giving in to sinful desires? For two reasons: (1) Because the new birth doesn’t automatically do away with the old nature. Like two cars approaching an intersection at the same time, your old and new natures are always on a collision course. (2) Because if you dwell on a desire long enough, yielding is only a matter of time. Ever gone to your fridge when you weren’t really hungry, but weren’t really satisfied, sort of looking for something to grab you? As bad as that is, it’s worse when you do it in life. It’s like surfing the web of behavior options, looking for something to make you happier than you are at that particular moment. When you covet something you embellish and empower it, making it more attractive and accessible. A one-night stand? You say, “Nobody will ever know.” The Bible says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7). As surely as a seed produces a harvest, your decisions will have consequences. Covetousness just maximizes the desire while minimizing the danger. It’s impossible to dwell on a desire for any length of time without rationalizing a way to get it. Like starting the countdown on the space shuttle, it’s just a matter of time before you get liftoff. So if you’re dwelling on it, set the clock; yielding is inevitable. What’s the answer? Change your focus! “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Ro 8:5 NKJV).
    • 48 Covetousness (3) “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.” Ps 106:15 NKJV See if you recognize this pattern. As slaves in Egypt the Israelites pray, “God, get us out of here!” So He does. Then in the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land they say, “God, we’re gonna die out here. We were better off in Egypt. At least there, we had all the food we wanted.” So God sends bread from heaven. He even delivers it to their door. It was a diet so perfect that “there was not one feeble person among [them]” (Ps 105:37). Did that make them happy? No! They said, “We’re tired of this stuff, we want some prime rib.” So God says, okay, “[I’ll] give you meat, and you will eat it…until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it” (Nu 11:18-20 NIV). Covetousness angers God because it is rooted in pride that says, “I deserve better,” and ingratitude that says, “I want something other than what You’ve blessed me with.” The saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” Because they thought something else could satisfy them in a way that God couldn’t, “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” With God, you can be satisfied with very little. Without Him, all your acquisitions and accomplishments will leave you empty. What are you coveting, putting your life on hold for, or continually begging God for? Nothing is essential but God. Material things can never take His place. What will it take for you to come to that settled place where the central desire of your life is, “God, I just want more of You”? Covetousness (4) “Be content with such things as you have.” Heb 13:5 NKJV If your goals are God-centered, He will help you to achieve them. But if you are asking Him for something just because your neighbor has it, you’ll be disappointed. The Bible says, “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps 84:11). When God withholds something from you, trust Him; He knows what He’s doing. God loves you too much to give you what you’re not ready for, can’t handle, doesn’t fit into His plan for your life, or will end up draining your energies and maybe even destroying you. When you covet something, make it essential to your happiness, and beg God to give it to you, you’re asking God to replace Himself with something you consider more important. When you do this, God may allow you to experience the consequences Israel suffered. “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps 106:15). Don’t reach the end of your life only to look back with regret on a shattered marriage, children who’ve gone astray, a blighted conscience, or the pain of realizing you missed out on God’s best. Our problem is not that we don’t want God; it’s that we want God—plus—a house by the lake, an impressive career, a perfect spouse, or whatever catches our fancy. That’s why Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Lk 12:15 NKJV). Life is not built on things, it’s built on relationships. And the first relationship you need to work on is your relationship with God.
    • 49 The Treasure within You “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” 2Co 4:7 NKJV God has given you talents and He wants you to use them. They may lie dormant under layers of failure, fear, or low self-esteem. You may be aware of them, yet not know how to put them to work. Maybe you’ve been going from relationship to relationship hoping to find someone who will acknowledge what’s within you and draw it out. If so, read this: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” Only the God who placed your talents within you knows where they’re hidden and how to release them. Delayed destiny is the Devil’s delight. By not allowing God to develop your talents you play into Satan’s hands, living far below your potential. The fact is, you have so much treasure buried within you that the Enemy is out to steal it. You never have to wonder about Satan’s motives. Jesus said he comes “to steal, kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10 TLB). You don’t try to rob somebody unless they have something worth taking, right? Your talents may be raw and undeveloped, or buried under years of self-doubt, unconfessed sin, bad habits, regret and despair. But God can take something that looks like nothing, and create something wonderful with it. Just think: He made the earth from nothing—so imagine what He can do when He has something to start with! Today get down on your knees and pray, “Father, help me to recognize and maximize the talents You have placed within me, and use them for Your glory.” That’s a prayer God will answer! Let It Go “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.” Ps 143:10 NIV When God promises you something and it doesn’t happen right away, it’s easy to get impatient, start doubting Him and think He needs you to go to work and make it happen. Abraham did that. God promised him children “as numerous as the stars” (Ge 22:17 NIV). Tired of waiting, he took matters into his own hands and fathered Ishmael with his wife’s maidservant, Hagar. And that’s when his troubles began in earnest. Now, God loved Ishmael and had great plans for him, but Abraham had to let go of him in order to fulfill God’s will. It was one of the most painful experiences of Abraham’s life. So: (1) Refuse to let the Enemy send anything into your life that will undermine what you have been waiting and praying for. (2) Be careful who you take advice from. Fathering Ishmael was a “good idea” Abraham’s wife Sarah had. (3) Because you are willing to take responsibility for your actions doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences, long-lasting ones! Be careful where you lie down; getting up again may not be as easy as you think. (4) There are things you can give up effortlessly, and other things that will take every ounce of grace you’ve got. And it’s especially hard to give up something you’re attached to and see yourself reflected in, like a job you love, a house you’re living in, or a relationship you’re tied to. But when you’ve gone as far as you can with your “Ishmael” and you’re ready to see God’s promise fulfilled in your life, you must be willing to let it go.
    • 50 Troubled Times inShare0It doesn’t take long for anyone to lose their edge looking at the condition of the U.S. economy these days. Kids today have watched their moms and dads lose their jobs—and many have lost their homes to foreclosure—all at record rates. People have seen their savings run out and their investments plunge almost overnight in some cases. My heart has been heavy as I’ve witnessed the economy in America sink deeper into crisis. But I want to encourage you—now more than ever—to believe God for His provision. I see evidence throughout Scripture that the men and women of God who pressed in with fasting and prayer flourished, even in difficult times. God provides. He provides because He is faithful to His Word. He promised: The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the LORD Shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing, To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. —PSALM 92:12-15 I don’t know about you, but I take much more comfort and place much more faith in the promises of God than I do in the promises of any government! Sometimes it seems like life is nothing but one big transition. Just about the time you get good at something you’ve been doing for a while, a shift takes place and suddenly you are facing brand new territory and unchartered waters. Life throws scenarios at you that you could never plan for or dream up. Change is a difficult process. But when transitional storms come, they test and strengthen your root system. Without spending time waiting on God when the skies are cloudless, many are completely unprepared to handle the storms of life when they come. Paul said he had learned how to be content no matter the circumstances. That is a goal we should all set our hearts to attain! He knew how to hit the bottom and be content, and to soar on the heights and still be content.
    • 51 Spending time in fasting and prayer—regardless of your circumstances—is what will help you be rooted and grounded in your faith, ready to weather any storm of the economy, your health, your family or your job. God can cause you to flourish even during transition, and people who flourish in troubled times have been used to change destinies. You must be still and wait on Him during good times and bad. “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him” (Is. 64:4). The other part of a fast is repenting and seeking His face. We need to assemble, to consecrate ourselves from worldly distractions, confess our sins and the sins of our nation, dig deeply into God’s Word, and worship Him with passion and praise! Have a Work Ethic That God Can Bless “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings.” Pr 22:29 NIV Journalist William Zinsser’s first job was writing for The New York Herald Tribune. Traditionally “cub” reporters often start by writing obituaries, but Zinsser was frustrated with his assignment. “I could be doing Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting,” he thought to himself, “and I’m stuck writing obituaries.” Finally he worked up enough courage to ask his editor, “When am I going to get some decent story assignments?” His crusty old editor growled at him and said, “Listen, kid, nothing you write will ever get read as carefully as what you are writing right now. You misspell a name, you mess up a date, and a family will be hurt. But you do justice to somebody’s grandmother or somebody’s mom, you make a life sing, and they will be grateful forever. They will put your words in laminate.” “Things changed. I pledged I would make the extra calls,” Zinsser said. “I would ask the extra questions. I would go the extra mile.” That is essentially from the Sermon on the Mount—write obituaries for others as you would want others to write an obituary for you—obituaries that deserve to be laminated—because someday, somebody will. Zinsser eventually moved on to other kinds of writing, including a book on writing itself that has sold more than a million copies. But none of it would have happened if he had not devoted himself to obituaries. Understand this: if you cannot experience the spirit in the work you are doing today, then you cannot experience the spirit today at all.
    • 52 Someone to Challenge You In 2 Kings 13:14-19, the prophet Elisha was on his death bed. And, Joash, King of Israel, came to him for one last piece of advice because the Syrians were attacking the country. Elisha told him to take a bow and arrows and put his hand on the bow. These scriptures may not make a lot of sense to you concerning the theme of fasting, but I want to tie them together over the next couple of days in a way that I feel the Lord would have me share with you. Do you know that everybody needs a man of God in their life? You need someone who won’t just tell you what you want to hear, but someone who will tell you what you need to hear. Someone who won’t just make you feel good, but someone who will also challenge you. I was thinking about how Elisha had a double portion of the anointing of Elijah. Before he received that, 2 Kings 2 says that Elisha tore his robe into two pieces and took up the mantle of Elijah. Notice he had to take off before he could put on. And we have to rid ourselves of some things before God will send the double portion anointing. I believe God’s double portion anointing can come on us for complete victory, when we rid ourselves of sins like offense, un-forgiveness and pride. On this fast, let’s get rid of some things so we can receive other things from God. When you take that stuff off, you humble yourself. And James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Fast for complete victory in your life. Victory is when you completely overcome the enemy. It is the cutting off of Goliath’s head. It is the dancing on the grave of your enemy. It is not co-existing with partial victory. Jesus came “that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus came to bring complete victory.
    • 53 This Year, Live by the Beatitudes (1) “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Mt 5:3 NKJV For the next few days let’s look at the Beatitudes (what our attitudes should be). Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now Jesus wasn’t saying He’s against you having money, He was saying He’s against money having you. He will actually prosper you so that you can finance and fulfill His purposes in the earth. But He doesn’t measure the size of your faith by the size of your bank balance. In one of His parables Jesus called a wealthy man a “fool.” That wasn’t because the man was rich, it was because he wasn’t “rich toward God” (Lk 12:21 NKJV). Old John D. Rockefeller once said, “I’ve made many millions but they brought me no real happiness. I’d barter them all for the days I sat on an office stool in Cleveland and counted myself rich on three dollars a week.” Having more money may give you social status, but serving God gives you kingdom-significance. Big difference! So keep your focus on what matters and live for what lasts. In Kemi, Finland, they supposedly built a sprawling ice castle that featured a theatre, a playground, an art gallery and a chapel. The castle walls were 13 feet high and stretched for 1,650 feet. The chapel was a popular wedding venue and the theatre could seat 3,000 people. In it they held rock concerts, musicals, modern dance and opera recitals. The problem was, its upkeep cost millions of dollars, and it all melted in the spring. Are you getting the idea? Focus on what lasts, not on what doesn’t. This Year, Live by the Beatitudes (2) “Blessed are those who mourn.” Mt 5:4 NKJV Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Grief is the price we pay for love. One author writes: “We wonder when grief hits hard, ‘Why did this happen? Was it to remind us of the brevity of life? Was it to deepen the faith of those who carry on?’ It’s hard to answer ‘yes’ when everything seems dark. The most important thing to us at that moment is to be relieved of the pain. But when we move through adversity rather than avoid it, we greet it differently. We become willing to let it teach us. Like Joseph, we see how God can use it for some larger end. Ultimately, mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of the only One who can heal us.” The Bible says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps 30:5). Morning will come; God has promised it! Your grief will ease with time. The fact that you’re willing to embrace the pain rather than try to escape it, guarantees that. It’s not that you’ll forget; it’s that you’ll remember differently—with more gratitude and less grief. This beatitude answers two questions: (1) What happens to those who die in the Lord? “Let not your heart be troubled…In my Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you…that where I am, there ye may be also” (Jn 14:1-3). (2) What about those of us who must go on living? “The…God of all comfort…comforts us…that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble” (2Co 1:3-4 NKJV).
    • 54 This Year, Live by the Beatitudes (3) “Blessed are the meek.” Mt 5:5 NKJV In our macho world, meekness is often mistaken for weakness. But Jesus’ definition of meekness pictures a powerful, majestic stallion that has been brought into submission. It hasn’t lost any of its stamina. It’s just that whereas it once had a will of its own, it now yields to the will of another. The breaking process is complete; now it responds to the tug of the reins. Meekness involves: (1) Sensitivity to God’s presence. In a good marriage two people often understand each other’s needs without a word having to be spoken. The time they’ve spent together makes them aware of the things that enrich and the things that offend, and their devotion to one another makes their marriage a top priority. And it’s the same in your relationship with God. (2) Surrender to God’s way. The key to breaking stubborn habits is not fighting them in your own strength. That only keeps your focus on the problem, intensifying its power. Changing your focus and submitting to God moment by moment is the key to winning, whether it’s a problem or a hang-up. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (2Co 3:5 NKJV). (3) Submission to God’s will. To understand the difference between submission and selfishness you must ponder these words: “So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain” (Eze 33:31 NKJV). This Year, Live by the Beatitudes (4) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Mt 5:6 NKJV This beatitude corrects two mistakes we make when it comes to our salvation. The first: that it’s all about believing. The second: that it’s all about behaving. Actually, it’s about both! The new birth brings: (1) A position of righteousness. If you stacked up all your good works until they were as big as a mountain, you’d still come up short of the payment required to get into heaven. That’s true before you become a Christian, and it’s true after you become one. If you saw the movie The Passion of the Christ and thought, “Why did He have to die such a death?” here’s the answer: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co 5:21 NIV). The moment you accept Jesus as your Savior you become “righteous” in God’s eyes. Awesome! (2) A condition of righteousness. “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God” (Ro 6:11 NIV). Salvation is not just a position of righteousness you hold before God, but a condition of righteousness you live out before others every day. How do you do that? By valuing God’s will more than your own (See Pr 3:5). By seeking to display the character qualities of Christ as described in Scripture: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 NAS). You say, “That’s a tall order!” Yes, but we are not left to do it alone: “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him” (2Co 3:18 TLB).
    • 55 This Year, Live by the Beatitudes (5) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Mt 5:7 NKJV Hurting an enemy puts you beneath them; taking revenge makes you even with them; forgiving sets you above them. The Bible says, “Never take revenge. Leave that to…God” (Ro 12:19 NLT). Revenge is not sweet; it leaves a bitter taste. It keeps you in such a constant stew that you’re not able to enjoy God’s blessing. Don’t let that happen to you. Instead choose to: (1) Forgive and forget. Unforgiveness just keeps you on the treadmill of resentment. Why is it so important to you to make others wrong and yourself right? If you’re right but miserable, what good is it? Listen to Christ’s words: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Mt 6:14 NKJV). Charles Spurgeon said, “When you bury a mad dog don’t leave his tail above the ground.” So forgive, bury it and move on. (2) Deal with the root of your anger. Sometimes the source of our anger is hidden from us; we are “acting out” the unresolved hurts within us. Exaggerated anger is often displaced anger. Instead of dealing with the person who hurt us, we vent our wrath on those closest to us. Ask God to show you where the real issue lies and help you to deal with it. (3) Take back your power. Mercy heals, but unforgiveness makes you a perpetual victim. Plus, while you’re obsessing over the event and planning your payback, the other person is out enjoying life. God has promised you justice, so leave it in His hands. In fact, the only people you should consider getting even with, are those who’ve helped you. This Year, Live by the Beatitudes (6) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Mt 5:8 NKJV Make your heart “a controlled environment,” because what happens there determines how you respond to life. When it comes to people, pastimes and pursuits, don’t open yourself to anything that has the potential to take you captive, or to make you cynical and cold-hearted. If you do, you’ll shut yourself off from God’s blessing. In his book Next Door Savior, Max Lucado writes: “The countryside was flat and predictable, that’s why the refinery stood out like a science-fiction city. The function of that maze of machinery is defined by its name. A refinery takes whatever comes in and purifies it, so that it’s ready to go out. It does for petroleum what your heart should do for you—remove the bad and utilize the good. Jesus said, ‘The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart’ (Lk 6:45 NIV). So here are some questions you need to ask yourself: ‘When I’m criticized or ignored do I bite back, or bite my tongue? When I’m on overload do I blow my top, or stay cool? When I hear gossip do I entertain it, silence it or spread it? When somebody offends me do I harbor a grudge, or choose to forgive?’ It all depends on the condition of your heart.” When your heart has been purified you’ll begin to “see God” in people and situations you never noticed Him at work in before. Knowing first-hand the dangers of spiritual heart disease, the Psalmist wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps 51:10). If you need a spiritual catharsis, spend time in the presence of God.
    • 56 This Year, Live by the Beatitudes (7) “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Mt 5:9 NKJV The story’s told of two guys who were arguing about religion. One of them finally shouted, “Okay, you serve God your way and I’ll serve Him His way!” When we make our opinions a precondition for loving one another, we end up alienating one another. Much of what we fight about doesn’t matter. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35 NKJV). It’s not enough to love peace, you’ve got to become a peacemaker. When a fight erupted in the New Testament church over eating certain foods, Paul stepped in: “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification…So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Ro 14:13-22 NIV). So, be a peacemaker! Evict Your Worries “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.” Heb 13:6 NIV Worry is a squatter; you must evict it. In certain situations if a house lies empty long enough, whoever likes can move in and occupy it. Worry does that too. It roams around looking for an empty mind, then moves in. Has worry taken up residence in your mind today? Is it there when you wake in the morning and go to bed at night? As a follower of Christ you have the authority to serve worry an eviction notice and it must leave. The only thing that enables it to stay is your ignorance of that truth. When your mind is occupied with God’s Word, worry sees a “no vacancy” sign and moves on. Paul writes: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2Co 10:3-5 NKJV). The weapons God has given you to fight with are greater than the fears you face. But you must know your weapons, keep them in good repair, and be able to use them. “Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: ‘Because you speak this word, behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, and [your worries] wood, and it shall devour them’” (Jer 5:14 NKJV). When you believe God’s Word with all your heart and begin to speak it in the face of your worries, “It shall devour them.”
    • 57 How to Succeed in Business (1) “Know the state of your flocks.” Pr 27:23 NKJV Sheep and cattle have to be handled differently. Sheep require tending. They need clear boundaries for their own protection, not to mention the shepherd’s potential loss if they are devoured by a wolf or fall off a cliff. Cattle do just fine when they’re given good grazing land and left alone. What’s the point? To fulfill your dream, you must “know” the people you work with. Whether they’re partners or patrons, bosses or colleagues, clients or constituents, customers or critics, people need to be identified and managed according to their talents and their temperament. So what kind of people belong on your team? John Maxwell writes: “Some people have a dream but no team—their dream is impossible. Some people have a dream but a bad team—their dream is a nightmare. Some people have a dream and are building a team—their dream has potential. Some people have a dream and a great team—their dream is inevitable.” Moses needed Joshua; Naomi needed Ruth. The idea of the self-made person is a myth. Whether they acknowledge it or not, all successful people had help along the way. Only when you can admit that you need help, will you begin looking for it. And that’s a crucial step in achieving success. The next steps are knowing people’s strengths, communicating your vision to them in such a way that they buy into it, bringing out the best in them and rewarding them. Chris Hodges says, “A dream is a compelling vision you see in your heart, that’s too big to accomplish without the help of others.” How to Succeed in Business (2) “If [you]…overdrive them…[they] will die.” Ge 33:13 After being reconciled with his long-estranged brother Esau, Jacob agreed to accompany him back home for a celebration. Esau, who was a fast-tracker, said, “Let us go” (v.12 NKJV). But Jacob said, “You go on ahead!” He explained to his brother, “The children are weak, and the flocks and herds which are nursing are with me…if the men should drive them hard…the flock will die…I will lead on slowly at a pace…the livestock…and the children, are able to endure” (vv.12-14 NKJV). Jacob had great insight. He understood that if you push too hard and take on too much you can lose not only your business, but your family. There’s an important lesson here. In your quest to achieve, stay in balance! There must be a time for work and a time for rest; a time for your career and a time for your relationships. The words, “To love and to cherish,” mean you are married to your spouse, not your job! When it comes to your home life, your character and your spiritual walk, evolution is not the natural order. What you leave unattended deteriorates. Dr. John Maxwell shared the following prayer with his friends at a recent birthday party: “Lord, as I grow older I think I want to be known as…thoughtful rather than gifted, loving versus quick or bright, gentle versus powerful, a listener more than a great communicator, available rather than a hard worker, sacrificial instead of successful, reliable not famous, content more than driven, self-controlled rather than exciting, generous instead of rich, compassionate more than competent.” And that’s a prayer you should pray too!
    • 58 How to Succeed in Business (3) “They could not dwell together.” Ge 13:6 NKJV Abraham and Lot started out together in business. Then a problem arose: “Their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. And there was strife between the herdsmen” (vv.6-7 NKJV). So Abraham said, “Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right” (v.9 NKJV). There’s an important lesson here: Just because somebody belonged in your life early on, doesn’t mean they’re supposed to make the whole journey with you. When memories of the early days of working with somebody are wonderful, it’s difficult to face the truth that those days are gone and will never return. Does that mean you are right and they are wrong? No, it just means you have different destinies. If you don’t understand that, people who were once the wind beneath your wings can become a weight that drags you down. Sometimes you outgrow a person’s gifting and capacity, and no matter how much you try to help or improve them they won’t get any better. When that happens your prospects are diminished and your momentum suffers. Some of the people you want in your life shouldn’t be in it because they don’t share your passion; they have a different calling. If you learn this sooner rather than later, you’ll save yourself untold heartache. The story’s told of a guy who left this message on his answering machine: “I’m not available right now. I’m making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I don’t return your call, you are one of the changes.” BE WILLING TO CHANGE “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Php 4:8 NIV If you’re not moving closer to your dream, you may not be tenacious enough in your pursuit of it. And the key to greater tenacity is not necessarily working harder at the same things, but being willing to change. Change what? (1)Your thinking. Are you convinced you can’t succeed? Do you describe yourself and what you’re doing in negative terms? Are you afraid to get started because conditions aren’t favorable? Do you stop trying to move forward when you don’t have the resources you need? If so, you need to change your mindset, to break the cycle of negative thinking. (2) Your perspective. Do you have a short-term mindset? Are you expecting success in days, weeks, or months? The greater your assignment, the longer it’s likely to take. So recalibrate your expectations and create a more reasonable timetable for yourself; otherwise, you’ll live in frustration and defeat. That’s not God’s will for you. Paul’s desire was “that I may finish my race with joy” (Ac 20:24 NKJV). God wants you to experience joy in the pursuit of your goal. (3) Your ways. How are things going in your personal life and in your home life? Are you ready to deal with the habits and hang-ups that stand between you and success? What can you do today that will bring you closer to your dream—no matter how small the progress? Author and publisher Robert Collier says, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”
    • 59 HOW TO DEFUSE CONFLICT (Tempers) “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Pr 15:1 NIV Have you heard about the fightin’ Irishman who landed in America and announced, “If there’s a government here, I’m agin’ it”? We smile, but “harsh words stir up anger.” If you want to avoid conflict, don’t create it. The key to getting along with people who are upset or who don’t share your viewpoint is to relax and try to empathize. That doesn’t mean acquiescing to their every whim. But when you are clear about your position, you can let them be who they are. When you are okay with who you are, you don’t need to make others wrong in order to feel right. Not only is it naive to expect everybody to see things your way, you must recognize that they have their own thoughts, opinions and feelings. Jesus said, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary…while you are with him” (Mt 5:25 NIV). One family counselor says, “Instead of meeting verbal attack with verbal counterattack, seeing the situation from the other person’s viewpoint is disarming, leaving the attacker with no target.” Do you have to agree with everybody? No, but “Do all…you can to live in peace with everyone” (Ro 12:18 NLT). Are there times when you must defend your position? Yes, but don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder looking for arguments. Sometimes Christians are the worst offenders; we think because our cause is just, it doesn’t matter who gets caught in the crossfire. “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (Pr 19:11 NLT). Make up your mind to extend to others the same grace God has extended to you. STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT! “Do not worry.” Mt 6:31 NKJV If you let them, two things will rob you of your peace of mind: (1) The past. We all make mistakes—even the folks you admire and think never make mistakes. The Bible says, “Every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal 6:5). We all struggle in certain areas. We all say and do things we wish we hadn’t said or done. “So what can I do?” you ask. Ask God to forgive you, then trust Him to make it work out all right. He can do that. He can help you clean up your mistakes and grow stronger through them. For example, when you say something you shouldn’t, instead of obsessing about whether or not you offended some- body, ask the Lord to let them know your heart was right even though you put your foot in your mouth. Trust God to work on them and give you favor. That way you don’t have to spend the next several days feeling anxious, or cringe when you meet them. (2) The future. God won’t meet tomorrow’s needs until tomorrow comes. So when you are having an attack of the “what ifs,” stop and consider these words from the lips of Jesus: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6:31-33 NKJV). Victor Hugo said, “When you have accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace; God is awake!
    • 60 “Be an example.” 1Ti 4:12 NKJV Andrew Murray wrote, “God has no more precious gift than a man who lives as an embodiment of His will, and inspires those around him with the faith of what grace can do.” When Paul writes, “Be an example,” he means “be a role model.” The first car off the assembly line is a prototype of all that follows. Dressmakers study the pattern, then design the garment accordingly. The word ideal sounds lofty, and it is. But even if you don’t achieve the ideal, it should still be your goal. What Paul was saying to young Timothy was, “When you talk about Jesus, people should see so much of Him in your life that they desire to know Him. When you talk about faith, the evidence of it should be so compelling that they want to live by it.” The poet wrote: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way. The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear, fine counsel is confusing but examples always clear. And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds, for to see good put in action is what everybody needs. I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done; I can see your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run. And the lectures you deliver may be very fine and true; but I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do. For I may not understand you and the high advice you give; but there’s no misunderstanding, how you act and live.” WHAT KIND OF EXAMPLE ARE YOU? (2) “Be an example…in…speech.” 1Ti 4:12 GNT It’s nice to say, “Be an example,” but in what specific areas? For the next few days let’s look at some of them: “Be an example…in speech.” Go back and read what Paul says to Timothy before this: “Don’t let anybody look down on you because…” When you speak, your credibility is at stake. Solomon says, “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Pr 29:20). The trouble with words is, once they’re spoken their impact is felt either positively or negatively—and you can’t take them back! You can say you’re sorry, but you may have to rebuild your credibility with the person you spoke to, or about. Here’s the litmus test for your words, and it’s a high standard: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord” (Ps 19:14 NLT). The poet wrote: “A careless word may kindle strife, a cruel word may wreck a life. A gracious word may soothe the way, a joyous word may light the day. A timely word may lessen stress, a loving word may heal and bless.” So today let your words be faith-building, for people battle with doubt and fear. Let your words be comforting, for people have wounds you cannot see. Let your words be uplifting, for people get torn down by criticism and discouragement. Let your words be calming, for God has promised to bless you if you are a peacemaker. And let your words be character-building; that way you’ll leave people better off than you found them.
    • 61 WHAT KIND OF EXAMPLE ARE YOU? (3) “Be an example…in conduct.” 1Ti 4:12 NKJV Seneca, the Roman statesman, said, “I govern my life and thoughts as though the world were to see one and read the other.” You can always predict what a person of integrity will do in two areas: (1) In business. Saying no to your boss usually isn’t a good career move. But when faced with a choice between his career and his convictions, Daniel refused to eat the king’s meat because it was a violation of God’s law (See Da 1:8-17). Joseph refused to sleep with the boss’s wife (See Ge 39:6-12). Elisha refused to accept a rich man’s money in exchange for healing (See 2Ki 5:1-16). Getting the idea? (2) At home. Noah saved his family from destruction by listening to God (See Heb 11:7). And the first thing he did when he emerged from the ark was to build an altar. Think about that! Noah had an altar before he had a home. Most of us have homes, but no prayer altar. And it shows! Lot, on the other hand, lost his wife and his sons-in-law to the destructive influences of Sodom (See Ge 19:14-26). Today issues of character that once raised alarm don’t even raise an eyebrow. But they should. “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Ro 12:1-2 NLT). WHAT KIND OF EXAMPLE ARE YOU? (4) “Be an example…in love.” 1Ti 4:12 NKJV Jesus said: “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Lk 6:35-36 NKJV). Such words bring us to our knees, for we fall far short of practicing them. The pastor of a large church tells of being on an elevator with a drunk man who was throwing up. The pastor couldn’t wait to get off. All the way to his room he kept criticizing the man. Later that night God spoke to him and said, “You laughed at him, but I loved him enough to die for him.” Watch your attitude! The same sunshine that melts the butter hardens the clay. When you constantly deal with people’s problems, it will make you either callous or compassionate. In spite of his disappointment in people, Jesus never lost His sense of compassion. Love isn’t a virus that you catch, it’s a virtue you’re supposed to practice every day. And there’s a divine dimension to this kind of love. “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Ro 5:5 NKJV). You can’t reach into the well of your own emotions to find such love; you can only take the love of God that’s been poured into your heart and share it with others. And if you are to serve God successfully, you must have regular transfusions of His love.
    • 62 YOU CAN DEFEAT SATAN “Nor give place to the devil.” Eph 4:27 NKJV Satan is a force you’ll contend with every day. And he’s a master at reinventing himself. The Bible says he can morph “into an angel of light” (2Co 11:14 NKJV). And while his approach may be appealing, his intent is always to “steal and kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10 NIV). Destroy what? Your peace of mind, your destiny, your relationships, etc. How can you defeat him? In two ways: (1) Don’t fear him. “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil” (Ps 121:7). Thirty-one times in the New Testament we read that as believers we are “in Christ.” So to get at you, Satan must first go through Christ! (2) Don’t give him access. “Nor give place to the devil.” Satan has no place in your life unless you open the door and give him one. And when Christ is enthroned in your heart, there’s no room for the Devil. But it’s not enough to have a clean heart, you must have a spirit-filled heart. Jesus said: “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its for- mer home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before” (Mt 12:43-45 NLT). The best way to break bad habits is to replace them with good ones. The best way to defeat Satan is to make Jesus Lord of your life. MAXIMIZE THIS DAY “This is the day the Lord has made.” Ps 118:24 NKJV God determines the number of your days, but you determine how they are spent. The Psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Yesterday is a cancelled check, tomorrow is a promissory note, today is all you’ve got. And you can begin your life over today, if you live by these words: “Today I will delete from my diary two days—yesterday and tomorrow. Yesterday was for learning; tomorrow will be a consequence of what I do today. Today I will face life with the conviction that this day will never return, that it may be the last opportunity I’ll have to contribute because there’s no guarantee I’ll see tomorrow. Today I will be courageous enough not to let opportunity pass me by; my only alternative will be to succeed. Today I will invest my most valuable resource, my time, into my most important possession, the life God has given me. I’ll spend each minute purposefully, making today a unique opportunity. I’ll tackle each obstacle knowing that with God’s help I can overcome it. Today I will resist doubt and pessimism and warm my world with a smile. I’ll maintain a strong faith, expect nothing but the best, take time to be happy, see every task as an opportunity to honor the Lord, and endeavor to leave His footprints on the hearts of those I meet.” John Boykin wrote, “Time is your life—nothing more, nothing less. The way you spend your hours and your days, is the way you spend your life.” So pray, “Lord, help me to maximize this day.”
    • 63 DOING GOD’S WILL “I desire to do your will, O my God.” Ps 40:8 NIV Often when we’re starting out, we dream of doing earth-changing things and the thought of tackling them intimidates us. That is yet another reason to start small. Don’t try to help everyone, just try to help someone! Do that, and in time you may find yourself living what Saint Francis of Assisi described when he said, “Start doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly, you are doing the impossible.” Even if you never get to do big things, you can find great fulfillment in doing right things. Every act of kindness, no matter how small, is worth doing. One leader writes: “Little did I realize when I started with a desire to add significance to others, that it would add significance to me! Now I understand. We should not receive anything without giving, and we cannot give anything without receiving.” The truth is, your dream isn’t worthy of your life if it doesn’t bless others. President Woodrow Wilson stated: “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” There’s an old Middle Eastern blessing that says, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. May you live your life so that when you die, the world will cry and you will rejoice.” And that will surely happen if you live by the scriptural truth, “I desire to do your will, O my God.”