The dark is a very scary place to be. Whether it's the darkness of our fears or circumstances pressing
in, we have two cho...
While the Bible doesn't detail all of Joshua's emotions during this time, we read of numerous
instances where God encourag...
And this time, I didn't have to say it, because he knew it. It was ingrained on his heart.

I got you, buddy. I got you.

...
through. And a new definition of love that's stronger and tougher and more determined than I have
ever experienced.

I wis...
Going to God is not going to Santa Claus. A child sits on the chubby lap of Ol' Saint Nick, and
Santa pinches the youngste...
Methodical Mitchell was slow and careful so he could balance more candies on the spoon, not drop
any and fill his bowl to ...
Am I hoarding my money for an abundance of possessions? Could I limit myself by setting a
budget for splurges (like those ...
For further study:
Exodus 1:8–22

An Instrument of Evil
Revelation 13:1–10
Believers must be ever wary of mixing church an...
I was struggling in my faith and failing to be the woman God called me to be. My responses to life's
hiccups were harsh. M...
each day in God's Word? For me, it has to be in the morning, in my Jesus chair, before the rush of
emails, carpool and wor...
Paul reminded the Corinthians that they didn’t lack anything, that God would keep them “firm to
the end” (1 Corinthians 1:...
Power Verse:
Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to
mankind by wh...
This is the exact point where I had to make a choice.
A choice of whom I wanted to partner with in this situation ... God ...
“Oh, no!” Susan (or Kathy or Linda) will protest, turning red. “I’m not beautiful.”
“Sure you are,” I insist, as I add my ...
"'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the
least in my family.'" ...
Jesus wants us to live with a confident heart so we can accomplish what He's calling us to do. And
He wants to change us f...
Do not think that we are free from idolatry, for if a god is that which is the most important thing in
your life, that to ...
What keeps you from silencing your soul during quiet times with God?
For five days spend five minutes in silence with God....
Take the temperature discussion for example.
It should be just a simple discussion about the thermostat. But, add a little...
Guns were loaded. Places taken. The showdown had begun. Her at one end of the table; me at the
other. My plate a smoking g...
Dear Lord, thanks for being the best example of humility and honor. Please give me the grace to
honor others, especially t...
thought of it made me want to change. Immediately.
My desire is to represent Jesus as compelling, intriguing and appealing...
Zechariah 14:20–21
The book of Zechariah ends with a remarkable statement about the expanse of redemption (see Zec
14:21)....
the complete redemption of all things.

Verse
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of G...
was shot and killed on April 14, 1865.
Changing the world for Christ isn’t easy, and there is always a price to pay. Abrah...
"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have
seen or let them slip f...
Leviticus 26:11–12

The Moment
Lysa TerKeurst
"And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues o...
people making the choice to be a match. A decision. To fold his collar and snap the heart lens and
find myself grateful to...
revelation of the wisdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ must remind us that we have not
found wisdom if all we know ...
Instead of making the most of our circumstances, it's easy to lament the fact that things are not
where we believe they sh...
want something bigger. Nicer. Faster. Thinner. They want.
They don't want much, mind you. They want just one thing. One ne...
wisdom: the ability to perceive things from God’s perspective
comfort: the ability to have confidence in God and put our m...
"And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to
the right or when you...
pick, am critical and grouchy. It's my prayer that I'll remember how much my choices matter. You
see, they don't just affe...
specifically made available to certain people at certain times. Moses was guided by the Holy Spirit.
Gideon, Joshua, Saul,...
right seems to supersede the sacrificial call of God.
All the while God invites our souls to break away from the world and...
Verse
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of
great value, he went a...
Stu and Robin had learned to love what Jesus loves, treasure what Jesus treasures, and value what
Jesus values.
Question f...
I tried to put the fears aside, but hours after our final goodbye, I still had a crumpled tissue in my
hand. It was then, ...
Redemptive Discipline
Matthew 18:15–17
In excommunication, Dr. John MacArthur writes, “the idea is not merely to punish th...
My jourmal 16odt
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My jourmal 16odt
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My jourmal 16odt

  1. 1. The dark is a very scary place to be. Whether it's the darkness of our fears or circumstances pressing in, we have two choices as to how to respond. We can take matters into our own hands, turning to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, seeking advice or reading the latest self-help book, never knowing if any of them is the way to healing and wholeness. Or we can look to God. We can pray and open His Word, knowing He guarantees healing and wholeness. For years I tried the first approach to deal with my darkness. Yet each attempt to help myself failed. It was only when I turned to God, crying out for His help, that things started to change. Would you like to experience God's help for yourself? Ask. The Lord promises, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV). Like He was for the Israelites, God is there for us. And He is always working on our behalf, even when we can't see or feel Him. Today, if you are in the darkness ... if your circumstances are threatening to consume you ... if you feel utterly defeated ... seek the Lord. Ask Him to rescue you and remember this, He is there ... parting your "Red Sea." Dear Heavenly Father, it's so difficult to walk through darkness. You feel so far away. I feel so alone. Thank You for the promise that You will never leave me or forsake me, and that there is nothing in all creation that will ever separate me from the love I have in You and in Your Son. Walk ever so closely with me during this darkness, Lord. Speak to me. Give me hope. In Jesus' Name, amen. Reflect and Respond: Sometimes God allows difficult circumstances to do a mighty transformational work in our lives. How would viewing your difficult circumstances as part of His refining process help you trust Him and change your perspective? Power Verses: 1 John 1:5b, "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." (NIV) Romans 8:38-39, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Sometimes knowing we aren't alone gives us the courage to press on. It's what Joshua needed when he was thrust overnight into leadership after the death of Moses. Up until that time, Joshua had served as assistant. But in his new role, Joshua led the nation of Israel, conquering the land God had promised and leading three separate conquests.
  2. 2. While the Bible doesn't detail all of Joshua's emotions during this time, we read of numerous instances where God encouraged Joshua to be "strong and courageous." God must have known Joshua needed some reassurance. Perhaps Joshua had doubts. Perhaps his confidence waned. Maybe he even asked questions like, God, are You sure? Shouldn't You choose someone more qualified? God didn't dismiss Joshua's fears or shame him for having them. Instead He spoke clearly to Joshua, saying, "... I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you" (Joshua 1:5b). I got you, buddy. I got you. History shows that Joshua took steps of faith and served as a powerful, humble leader, trusting God through war, human frailty and victory. Maybe God has been asking you to take a leap into deeper faith, or to serve beyond what you think you are capable. He's asked you to lead. To love like Jesus. Perhaps you've come close, but backed away. Maybe you even dipped your toes in, reasoning that was enough. Questions linger. What does God see in me that I might not see yet? What if I fail? What if it's too hard or no one is on board with me? What if I don't recognize God's help and miss my opportunity? God is aware of your fears. And He whispers the same encouragement to you that He spoke to Joshua. He's got you. Not too long ago, I stood in the pool again. Luke wore his floaties. He had on his swim diaper. His cute goggles made him look like a little frog. I held open my arms, and my little guy jumped with glee into my arms.
  3. 3. And this time, I didn't have to say it, because he knew it. It was ingrained on his heart. I got you, buddy. I got you. Dear Jesus, I've stood right on the edge, waiting for You to choose someone else, or naming all the reasons I'm not equipped. Today I hear Your voice and I take that step, for You are with me. In Jesus' Name, amen. Reflect and Respond: Most large dreams or jobs are comprised of many smaller tasks. What is one small step you can take, beginning today? Why are you afraid to try? Ask the Lord to release you from that fear and to trust Him. Power Verses: Joshua 1:9, "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (NLT) Here's what I've discovered: all my God-wired ability to think through chaos, all my attempts at organization and having older kids didn't prepare me for this. But God's strength did. So how do I manage it all? Every day I turn to God and rely on what 2 Corinthians 12:9 teaches me ... I don't have it in me to do this one more day, I need Your strength. I don't have the patience in me for this … I need Your patience. I can't think straight right now ... I need Your clarity. I'm not even sure I have love in me right now ... I need Your love. And I get my portion for that day. I get just enough strength, patience, and clarity to make it
  4. 4. through. And a new definition of love that's stronger and tougher and more determined than I have ever experienced. I wish I could write more about my family's story, and maybe someday I will. But for now, it's brought me to my knees; it's made me more humble; it's made me less judgmental, and it's made me depend on God more than ever. God's strength is enough. But I had to get to the end of mine to learn that. Heavenly Father, although I didn't know I'd be facing my current challenges, You did. Thank You for offering to step in the gap between my needs and my insufficient reservoir of strength with Your peace, wisdom, strength and love. Help me to lean on You when I feel like things are falling apart. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: The way to truly experience God's power is to get to the end of yours. What are you facing that makes you feel powerless? Ask God for one thing you need to make it through today. Then watch for His response. Power Verse: John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (NIV) The ruler can set us free once we admit we are wrong. We do ourselves no favors in justifying our deeds or glossing over our sins. When my daughter Andrea was five or six, she got a splinter in her finger. I took her to the restroom and set out some tweezers, ointment, and a Band-Aid. She didn't like what she saw. "I just want the Band-Aid, Daddy" Sometimes we are just like Andrea. We come to Christ with our sin, but all we want is a covering. We want to skip the treatment. We want to hide our sin. And one wonders if God, even in his great mercy, will heal what we conceal. "If we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins, because we can trust God to do what is right" (1 John 1:8–9).
  5. 5. Going to God is not going to Santa Claus. A child sits on the chubby lap of Ol' Saint Nick, and Santa pinches the youngster's cheek and asks, "Have you been a good little girl?" "Yes," she giggles. Then she tells him what she wants and down she bounds. It's a game. It's childish. No one takes Santa's question seriously. That may work in a department store, but it won't work with God. How can God heal what we deny? How can God touch what we cover up? How can we have communion while we keep secrets? How can God grant us pardon when we won't admit our guilt? Ahh, there's that word: guilt. Isn't that what we avoid? Guilt. Isn't that what we detest? But is guilt so bad? What does guilt imply if not that we know right from wrong, that we aspire to be better than we are, that we know there is a high country and we are in the low country. That's what guilt is: a healthy regret for telling God one thing and doing another. Guilt is the nerve ending of the heart. It yanks us back when we are too near the fire. Godly sorrow "makes people change their hearts and lives. This leads to salvation, and you cannot be sorry for that" (2 Cor. 7:10). To feel guilt is no tragedy; to feel no guilt is. "Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'" Luke 12:15 (NIV) "On your mark. Get set. Go!!" my husband shouted as our three kids began the M&M race. The rules were simple. Each child had a bowl in a separate corner of the family room. In the middle of the floor sat a huge bowl of M&M's. The kids were to transport their candies one tablespoon at a time back to their individual bowls. If any dropped on the floor, they couldn't pick them up. The most important rule was this: when the timer rang, they had to stop in place. If the kids weren't sitting in their corner holding their bowl, all their M&M's would be forfeited. The clincher? We wouldn't tell them how long the timer would be set. Four-year-old Spencer, the family clown, giggled as he dashed back and forth, candies flying off his spoon. He kept going, thinking he would get the most by hurrying and scurrying.
  6. 6. Methodical Mitchell was slow and careful so he could balance more candies on the spoon, not drop any and fill his bowl to the brim. But he forgot about the timer. Big sister Kenna quickly clued in to the "catch" of the game. She too was careful transporting her M&M's. But after a few trips, she sat down with bowl in lap and waited. Moments later the timer went off. Spencer dove for his bowl. Mitchell, who was meticulously scooping, realized all of his tedious effort had come to nothing. Both boys were without a single M&M. In her corner sat their sister, now the proud owner of everyone's candies. One boy began to complain, the other to cry. They wanted their candy! We had them calm down to listen as we finished the Bible lesson. There was a point to this shenanigan. My husband read the story of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. This man had a prosperous farm that earned him quite a deal of money. Instead of using his wealth to bless others, he tore down his barns and built bigger ones to stash his stuff. However, that very night, life's timer would go off and he would die. All of his earthly possessions would be of no value to him. In fact, they would be left for others. We related this story to our family game that day. You know, when I step back and look around, it's easy to see how I can seek excessive earthly treasures too. I spend money on things I don't need instead of giving to feed the poor or reaching out to people with the good news of Christ. Clothes, out-on-the-town outings, or money spent on luxuries for ourselves can fill our home and heart. I'm not only talking about really expensive items or trips. It can be as simple as a pair of sandals on sale. Even though three pairs of sandals sit in my closet that are in good condition, I can justify spending $15 on new ones. They're cute, match my favorite blue shirt and are half price! And I sure do want to get to the store early so my size is still there. Do I really need them? No. Do I want them? Yes. And here's where I have to do some soul searching and re-read the story of the greedy farmer from Luke 12:15. In it, we're warned, "Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'"
  7. 7. Am I hoarding my money for an abundance of possessions? Could I limit myself by setting a budget for splurges (like those sandals) and spend the money I save on needful things? While there is merit in saving for a rainy day, we should also share that which God has given us. This is exactly what our daughter did that day with her M&M's and her two baby brothers! Dear Lord, show me where I can spend less on myself and more on others. All I have belongs to You. May I use it for Your glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: Keep track of what you spend on items that aren't necessities. How could you spend that money in a way that would help someone else? What areas are strongholds for you in the struggle with greed? Pray about what action God would have you take to curb your cravings for more. Power Verse: Proverbs 28:25, "The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper." Civil Obedience Romans 13:1–2 Some of the laws and regulations in your country today may seem unnecessary. Nevertheless, in obedience to Scripture we must obey even these unless they lead us to sin. We should not be known as those who try to find ways around the laws of the land; rather, our scrupulous obedience should be a model for the unbelievers around us. We must never give the ruling authorities just cause to view us as a lawless people. For further study: Nehemiah 2:1–8 Civil Disobedience Acts 4:1–22 Because of our fallen nature, it would be easy to twist the principle for Christian civil disobedience enumerated in today’s study into an excuse to avoid the Bible’s call that we submit to the government. Indeed, our fallen nature makes us prone to find any loophole we can in God’s law in order to render something less than true obedience. Beware of this tendency in your heart, but also remember that your allegiance belongs ultimately to Christ, not to the state.
  8. 8. For further study: Exodus 1:8–22 An Instrument of Evil Revelation 13:1–10 Believers must be ever wary of mixing church and state under the guise of patriotism. Though there is a right and proper way to be proud of one’s country, no Christian is ever permitted to do wrong, even if in the guise of service to the government. Let us all pray that our respective governments do not become altogether beastly, and let us be vigilant lest we bow the knee to ungodly mandates of the state in lieu of falling down at the foot of the cross. For further study: Exodus 5:1–18 Remember No matter what your bondage, surrendering it to Christ is the pathway to freedom. Reflect What steps do you need to take today to move from bondage to freedom? Reflect with gratitude on how God has turned your mess into a message that can encourage or bring life change to others. Respond Go for it! Write out your story of surrender and ask God to provide opportunities for you to encourage others. The God of the Living Matthew 22:31–33 Luke 20:38 records some additional words Jesus spoke on this occasion: “All live to him [God].” This is a precious and comforting truth indeed. Death is not the end of life for God’s people; we will dwell with Him forever and enjoy the blessings of eternal life. Our Creator is the Lord of the living, not the dead, and He can remain the God of the living only if His people will be raised forever. Have you grasped the profound blessing of eternal life in Christ Jesus? For further study: Job 19:25–27 I was not a happy person.
  9. 9. I was struggling in my faith and failing to be the woman God called me to be. My responses to life's hiccups were harsh. My words to loved ones were rude. My disposition toward others was judgmental. It was during this period in my life when I was introduced to Isaiah 50:4, "The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed" (NIV). My heart was gripped when I read the word weary. I remember thinking, I'm weary. I need sustaining. The sustaining part of the verse sounded soothing and comforting; however, the morning wakeup call felt obtrusive and demanding. Why couldn't I receive a sustaining word later in the day? Though I didn't want to wake up earlier, it was the only way I could spend time with God in my full schedule. And I did want my life to be different, so I thought, Why not? Things can't get any worse. I picked a time and a place to pray and read my Bible. The sun would rise and I would too, grumbling ... a lot! But day after day, I dragged myself out of bed, marched up the stairs, sat in the same place I called my "Jesus chair" and whined about getting out of my snuggly covers. Our morning meetings were rote and ridged, nothing like what I expected when my weary heart was first gripped by that verse in Isaiah. I couldn't help but wonder, Why aren't the issues in my life being resolved? When is the Lord going to fix all the people in my life? What good is this quiet time thing anyway? Even though I was frustrated, I was determined. So I continued to roll out of bed, put on my robe and sit in my Jesus chair with my Bible and devotion book. Little by little my heart softened. There was less complaining and more contentment. My ears began to listen like one being instructed, just like the verse in Isaiah says. Over time, God's Word took root in my heart, and I experienced its sustaining power. My weariness started to subside as I turned my focus from it to the presence of God. In the morning, I greeted my family with a smile and cheerful disposition. Moments of panic were now met with peaceful words. Unforeseen schedule changes were calmly resolved. If the day didn't go as planned, I could still praise. Are you looking for a word to sustain your weary soul? Are you desperate enough to dedicate time
  10. 10. each day in God's Word? For me, it has to be in the morning, in my Jesus chair, before the rush of emails, carpool and work demands. Perhaps your Jesus chair is the front seat of your car with your Bible during your daughter's ballet class. Maybe your Jesus chair is at your desk with a devotional book as you eat lunch and pray. You see, it really doesn't matter where or when you meet with God, it only matters that you spend time together each day. His Word is our sustaining power. We can't live life without it! Pull up a Jesus chair. Grab your Bible and maybe a devotional book. Then listen like one being taught. He has much to say. Dear Lord, I am desperate and need a word to sustain my weary soul. I am willing to commit time in Your Word each day. Help me sit still and listen like one being taught. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: Pick a Jesus chair where you will spend time with Him each day. Write a prayer of commitment to God. Tuck the prayer in your Bible where you can pray it often. Power Verses: Psalm 46:10a, "Be still I know that I am God." (NLT) Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (NIV) Marriage at the Resurrection Matthew 22:23–30 Christ’s reply to the Sadducees tells us that resurrected life will not be exactly the same as life today. We do not know all of the differences, but Matthew 22:30 tells us that marriage will not be a part of the life to come. One scholar notes that the absence of marriage and its privileges does not mean that love will cease. Love will be perfected in the resurrection, and we will all love and be loved perfectly (Rev. 21:1–4). Imagine how wonderful that will be. For further study: Job 40:1–2, 9 He Is- Faithful 1 Corinthians 1:5–9
  11. 11. Paul reminded the Corinthians that they didn’t lack anything, that God would keep them “firm to the end” (1 Corinthians 1:8), that God would make them blameless, that God called them into fellowship with Jesus. The Corinthians’ salvation did not depend on them; it depended on God, and he is faithful. When you feel poorly equipped to live a life that’s pleasing to God or to endure a particular trial, remember that your salvation doesn’t depend on you. True faith is not based on your ability to come through for God but on his faithfulness to keep his promises—which he’ll always do because he’s faithful. Don't we all long for a place to call home? Jesus knew this same desire rested in the hearts of His followers. They had left everything to be with Him, and their longing for home was real. In John 14:1-2, Jesus told His disciples that He would soon be leaving the earth. Jesus knew they were concerned, and He wanted to ease their worries while giving them strength to carry on. As a comfort, Jesus reassured His disciples they would see Him again at "home." He said, "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father's home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2) Jesus was referring to Heaven, an eternal home prepared for us after this life. In Heaven, there is room for everyone and all are invited to live there. But not everyone accepts this invitation or knows how to accept it. In fact, even the disciples were perplexed about what Jesus was telling them. To help them understand this promise of His Father's house and how they could join Him there, Jesus explained in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" (NLT). Many try to work their way ... buy their way ... or rationalize their way into Heaven. But Jesus is the only way. We must willingly accept the invitation Jesus extends to make Him Lord of our lives so we may one day live in His Father's home. Countless people have accepted that invitation. Yet many others haven't. Whether we've done so or not, everyone has a longing for the safe haven of Heaven. This desire is talked about in Ecclesiastes 3:11b, "He has also set eternity in the human heart" (NIV). God created us with an innate yearning for our heavenly home. And while that longing will not be filled with anything on earth, it will be satisfied in Heaven. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we receive His invitation to spend eternity with Him and have our desire for home be complete in Him. This home in Heaven will be filled with the presence of God, overflowing with love, peace and rest. A place where sorrow and suffering doesn't exist. Joy will be experienced like never before. Jesus, my heart yearns to experience the comfort, peace and eternal joy in the heavenly home prepared for me. Ready my heart to accept Your invitation of eternal life. I want You to dwell in my heart now, and I long to live with You in Heaven. Amen.
  12. 12. Power Verse: Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." (NIV) At Issue - Self-Reliance Zechariah 4:6 God brings us to the end of ourselves to show us how much, how desperately, we need him. We need the power of his Spirit to help us walk in obedience, no matter the cost. We need his help to forgive as we’ve been forgiven, to love as we’ve been loved, to be patient with others as he’s been patient with us. Only through the Spirit can we break the power of sin in our lives—whether it’s addiction or bitterness or gossip. So remember, it’s not by your might or power, but by God’s. Admit your dependence on him. "Only let us live up to what we have already attained." Philippians 3:16 (NIV) Last year, I was on a plane with two of my friends. We were talking in normal conversational tones about the release of my book, Unglued, when suddenly the couple in the next row up came unglued. On us. Joy. The man turned around and said, "Can you guys just QUIET DOWN already?" It wasn't a gentle suggestion. It was a harsh command. A little stunned, we simply replied, "Sure." And we did our best to finish our conversation in a volume slightly above a whisper. But that wasn't working for this man or his wife who kept turning around to give us "the look." Finally, in as kind a voice as I could muster up, I tried to explain the situation, "Sir, we are really trying to be as quiet as possible, but I've recently experienced trauma to my ear which caused hearing loss. While I want to respect your wishes, I'm having such a hard time hearing my friends ..." Before I could finish my sentence, his wife whipped her head around and snapped, "Well, we don't have hearing loss and your constant talking has given me a migraine. So just HUSH, okay?" My heart raced. My face turned red. And I thought of the perfect comeback to say. Have you ever wanted to put your Christianity on a shelf and be as mean to someone as they are being to you? Maybe not, because you are nice. And most of the time, I am too. But in this moment I didn't want to apply a single bit of my own advice I'd just written about in Unglued. I won't tell you what I wanted to say, but I can assure you it didn't involve being kind or gentle.
  13. 13. This is the exact point where I had to make a choice. A choice of whom I wanted to partner with in this situation ... God or Satan. If I'd chosen the route of anger, a harsh comeback and retaliation, I would have basically stepped into Satan's camp and caused conflict escalation. If, however, I'd chosen the route of gentleness and grace, I would be partnering with God and would continue to make progress with my raw emotions. Like Philippians 3:16 reminds me, "Only let us live up to what we have already attained." On my journey of improving my reactions, I have already attained more gentleness, more grace, more peace. Why would I want to trade all that for a few minutes of retaliating words? Words that will only leave me with a big ol' pile of regret. Now I can't promise I've progressed to the point where my initial thoughts about this couple were nice. They weren't. But, I chose to consider the reality that people who are that on edge must have a lot of stored up misery. Their reaction probably had a lot less to do with me and a lot more to do with another situation in their lives. My job wasn't to fix them or set them straight or prove how wrong they were acting. My job in that moment was to keep everything in perspective. And simply give a gentle answer that could turn away their wrath. While it felt hugely offensive when it was happening, it wasn't huge. This wasn't some sort of major injustice in my life. This was just a minor inconvenience. Why would I want to trade the peace of partnering with God for a few cheap moments of putting someone else in their place? It's all about perspective. Because in all honesty, if this was the worst thing that happened to me that day, it was still a pretty good day! Dear Lord, You are so good and faithful. Thank You for helping me keep things in perspective so I can work on having better reactions that honor You. In Jesus' Name, amen. Reflect and Respond: Think about the last time you reacted out of anger, frustration, bitterness, etc. Assess how you felt in that moment and what mindset you need the next time a conflict arises. Remember to ask yourself — will I partner with Satan or God with the reaction I'm about to have? Power Verse: Proverbs 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (NIV) Transformed by Jesus Acts 4:1–37 When women kindly ask me to sign their copies of my books, I sometimes write, “To Susan the Beautiful!”
  14. 14. “Oh, no!” Susan (or Kathy or Linda) will protest, turning red. “I’m not beautiful.” “Sure you are,” I insist, as I add my signature. “It says so right in the Bible.” As further proof, I jot down “Psalm 149:4” and encourage them to look it up. You see, it’s God’s gift of salvation that makes us truly beautiful, inside and out. Nothing transforms a woman’s appearance more than being covered from head to toe in the grace of God’s Son. I know this beautifying process is legitimate because I’ve seen it happen again and again. When women come to know the Lord in a real and personal way, their frown lines begin to soften. A sparkle appears in their eyes, and a radiance falls over their countenance. We have proven scientifically that such physical changes occur when we fall in love: glowing skin, sparkling eyes, increased heart rate. And for some of us, similar improvements take place when we’re expecting a child. Conventional wisdom says that “all brides are beautiful” and “pregnant women glow.” It’s chemical, hormonal, and very real. Why not at the spiritual level too? When you allow the Lord to fill your heart with his boundless love, it shows on the outside. This beauty has nothing to do with cosmetics or plastic surgery. On the contrary, it’s an inside job: A heart full of love produces a face full of joy. When I stepped into a church for the first time as an adult, I was amazed to see pew after pew of attractive women. Is this a requirement of membership? I wondered. Maybe they’re all Mary Kay consultants! Soon I learned the happy truth: Such beauty is a gift from God. Unlike lipstick and blush, which seldom last longer than a few hours, spiritual beauty is timeless. It literally pours out of your pores and alters your appearance in a most appealing way. People will think you’ve had a face-lift, when in fact you’ve had a faith-lift. Reflection Why were people so astounded by Peter and John’s courage? Based on your knowledge of the Bible, what had happened to transform them so radically? How have you experienced a “faith-lift” since walking with Christ? How does it reflect outwardly? Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Related Readings Psalm 149:1–9; Isaiah 61:1–3; 1 Corinthians 1:26–31 Trigger Points of Doubt Renee Swope
  15. 15. "'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.'" Judges 6:15 (NIV 1984) A few years ago I felt paralyzed with self-doubt about a big ministry commitment I'd made, but had never done before. After begging God to zap me with confidence, and realizing it wasn't happening, I asked Him to reveal what made me insecure. Immediately I remembered Gideon, a man whom God called to do big things, yet he was paralyzed by inadequacy. From reading his story in Judges 6, I knew Gideon overcame his doubts and fears by focusing on what God thought about him, instead of what he thought about himself. But first he honestly processed his doubts with God. Recent conflicts and defeats caused Gideon to doubt God's presence and promises. When an angel of the Lord told him to defeat the Midianites, Gideon asked, "'How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest ... and I am the least in my family'" (Judges 6:15). Gideon's perception of himself made him feel inadequate. We aren't so different when damaged emotions and insecurities from our past influence how we see ourselves today. It was time for me to get honest with God about my uncertainties too. I needed to figure out what triggered my self-doubts and led me to such a yucky place of uncertainty. I remembered how a conflict with a friend that week made me doubt if I should even be in ministry. After all, self-doubt whispered, if I can't maintain healthy relationships, how can I help others? Also, feedback on a project kept hounding me. One harsh criticism overshadowed several positive comments and consumed my focus. I'd also been comparing my abilities to other women. Selfdoubt convinced me I wasn't as gifted as they were. Conflict, criticism, and comparison had sent me into the shadows of doubt. What about you? When conflict arises, do you assume it disqualifies you from ministries or callings? Does criticism paralyze you from believing you can do certain things? Or, has comparison convinced you that someone else can do it (whatever "it" is) better than you? Thankfully, we can allow God to change the way we think, which will change the way we feel, and eventually transform the way we live! It's not a quick fix. It's a powerful process of naming our doubts, identifying what triggers them, and learning to rely on God's power to lead us to live confidently in the security of His promises. The next time you feel insecure, ask God what triggered your doubts. Process that trigger point through God's perspective and promises in the Bible. Ask Him to show you lies you believe and truths to replace them. Then let Him change your thought process by focusing on His thoughts about you instead of your thoughts about yourself. For instance: When doubt tells you that you can't do something, remember God says you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13). When doubt tells you you're not good enough, focus on the truth that God says you're fearfully and wonderfully made; all of His works are wonderful and you are one of them (Psalm 139:14).
  16. 16. Jesus wants us to live with a confident heart so we can accomplish what He's calling us to do. And He wants to change us from the inside out so we can learn to completely depend on Him! Dear Lord, I'm tired of feeling paralyzed by insecurity. Show me what triggers my self-doubt. Help me focus on Your thoughts about me instead of my thoughts about myself. I want to learn how to rely on and live in the security of Your promises. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: What triggers your doubts? How do they affect your life and relationships? Take Renee's Doubt Index Analysis: a FREE quiz to help you identify your most common selfdoubts, find out what triggers them and how they might affect your life. Power Verse: Judges 6:14, "The LORD turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?'" (NIV 1984) Lord of All Acts 17:22–34 Paul begins his famous speech about the unknown God by proclaiming that God made the world and therefore is the Lord of his creation. Acknowledging that God is the originator of all things is the beginning of lifestyle stewardship, declares pastor and author Ray Stedman (1917–1992). What is [Paul] saying here? First, that God is the Maker and not the one who was made. God was not created by man; he is the One who makes man and everything else that exists in all the universe. He is the originator of all things. We have not moved very far from ancient idolatry. In the ancient world, they took a piece of gold or silver or wood and carved or formed an idol, thus worshiping the works of men’s hands. Today we don’t use images, but we still see men worshiping themselves, projected to infinite proportions. Man simply thinks of himself, projects this into infinity, and worships that. That is his god. That is exactly what idolatry [is]. Paul points out that this is not in line with reality. God is not the projection of man; God is greater than man. God originated man. Everything that exists came from his hands. He is the Maker, and not the made. Second, God is the giver, and does not have any needs himself. “The God who made the world and everything in it [is the Lord of heaven and earth … He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else (Ac 17:24– 25)].” God is not looking for anything from man, as idolatry and paganism taught. Men had to bring gifts to the gods, they had to do things for their gods, to propitiate them and sacrifice to them, and bring them all kinds of things. Although the idols of today may look a bit different, people today surely still have them. Stedman continues:
  17. 17. Do not think that we are free from idolatry, for if a god is that which is the most important thing in your life, that to which you give your time and effort and energy, that which occupies the primary place of importance to you, the thing you live for, then men have many gods even today. Money is a god for some. Fame is a god to others. Your children can be your gods. You yourself can be your own god; you can worship yourself … These are the false gods that people everywhere worship. They make continual demands upon us. They do nothing for us, but we must work for them. Paul cancels all this out. He says the real God is one who gives, who pours out. He does not need anything from you. Think About It If you do not have a proper understanding of who God is, can you be an effective steward? Why or why not? In what ways is God fundamentally greater than any idol? What is the most important thing in your life? Pray About It Lord, you alone are great and worthy of my worship. When I am tempted to turn to something or someone to fill my heart and meet my needs, I pray that you will draw my eyes back to your great Father-heart of love. I praise you for being the One who pours out everything I need and desire. God was clearly trying to teach me something. His direction to be quiet was about more than resting my mouth-it was about resting my heart. I understood this when I read Psalm 131:2, "But I have stilled and quieted my soul." God wanted me to understand true rest ... His rest. As with anything, practice makes perfect. With great intention, I slowed my 90-mile-an-hour thoughts and parked them during my alone time with the Lord. Sometimes this required me writing out my to-do list prior to our time together. Or re-adjusting my priorities. Vacuuming was not as important as listening to God. Many times my thoughts would rev up, and I'd be talking without even realizing it! But I'd rein them back in and start over. My spirit felt renewed and at peace. In silence and stillness, I sensed God's direction for my day, peace for my circumstances and the soul-rest I needed. As we fill the reservoirs of our souls with true refreshment from God, we learn to relax as we experience real peace and rest that only comes from the silence and stillness of being with Him. We carry this refreshment with us as we face the challenges of our day. Do you have the gift of gab like me? Do you find it challenging to sit quietly with God? Ask Him to help you practice and enjoy silence and stillness. Your soul will find refreshing peace. God's rest is exactly what our restless souls need. Dear Lord, my soul is having a hard time being still. I lay down my resistance to silence and ask for your help to spend time in silence with You every day. I praise You in advance for what You are going to say to me in the silence. I thank You for the rest only You can give. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond:
  18. 18. What keeps you from silencing your soul during quiet times with God? For five days spend five minutes in silence with God. Open the time of silence by repeating today's key verse, "But I have stilled and quieted my soul" (Psalm 131:2a). Keep a journal of your time with Him. Power Verses: Matthew 11:28-30, "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Ecclesiastes 3:7b, "... a time to be silent and a time to speak." (NIV) Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:11-12 (NIV) Most days, I wake up fairly happy. It's not like I wake up in a mood for a party but generally I'm not grumpy when I arise. I wake up and things seem pretty good, level and fresh with possibilities. And then inevitably something will bump into my happy. An early morning meltdown by one of my people. It's amazing what a bad hair day can do to a teenager's attitude. Or a forgotten something for school. And one of my people wants their irresponsibility to suddenly become my emergency. Or an email from somebody who clearly gets pleasure from trying to bring others down. Or me misjudging the time and suddenly everything is rushed, hurried and stressful. Or my husband, Art, lowering the thermostat in the house to 68 degrees and I can't stop shivering until the temperature hovers closer to 72. It's amazing how much difference four degrees makes. Things happen. Things that bump into my happy. And suddenly I'm a little off-kilter and little less nice. Can you relate? Well, I'm learning something about a little mental perspective I need to have when things bump into my happy. In that moment, Satan is scheming to have me help him out. If he can just get me jostled to the point where I react out of anger, it's like lighting a spark near a puddle of gasoline. Even the smallest spark can ignite quite a fire. A fire that will spread and feel much bigger than what the situation ever should have been.
  19. 19. Take the temperature discussion for example. It should be just a simple discussion about the thermostat. But, add a little anger and suddenly things in my brain escalate to the point where I've just about convinced myself Art is completely insensitive and couldn't care less about me. Is that true? Of course not. He just likes to sit in his house without sweating. Surely, we could find a compromise with the temperature or I could go put on some socks and a sweatshirt. Instead, when he bumps my happy, a "growth opportunity" ensues that leaves us both feeling a little burned. In other words, I play right into Satan's scheme and help him out. Remember, Satan's very name means one who casts something between two, causing a separation. Be it a temperature issue, tight finances, a misunderstood statement or one of the millions of little things that can bump our happy ... we have a choice. We can choose to play into Satan's schemes and enable his attempts to separate us from God's best. Or, we can choose to fight for our relationships and against Satan's divisive attempts. When I think about it in these terms, it helps me identify the real enemy. My real enemy isn't any of the people who bump my happy. My real enemy is the one who tries with all his might to get me to jump into a grumpy mood and help him tear down all that I love. Knowing I need a strategy against these attacks, I turn to the wisdom found in Ephesians 6:11, "Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes." You better back up and back off Satan. I'm on to your schemes. You are my enemy, not people. And now I have a totally new game plan for when my happy gets bumped. Starting with finding just the right pair of socks and a sweatshirt to wear in the ice cave. Dear Lord, sometimes my happy gets bumped and my emotions get the best of me. Help me to react in a way that's honoring to You instead of reacting in a way that will fuel Satan's agenda. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: What bumps into your happy and sends you off kilter? Could this realization that it's not just you feeling jostled, but a scheme of Satan's to separate, give you a different perspective? Power Verse: James 4:7, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (NIV) "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 2:3 (NIV 1984)
  20. 20. Guns were loaded. Places taken. The showdown had begun. Her at one end of the table; me at the other. My plate a smoking gun; lima beans my bullets. I wish I could say I was a two-year-old toddler, throwing a tantrum. Instead, I'm embarrassed to admit I was a 25-year-old adult, sticking it to my then-boyfriend's mom; a woman I couldn't stand. Neither of us was backing down. Meeting her stealthy gaze, I methodically slid one lima bean after another to the side of my plate. I would not take one bite of her potpie until it was clear of the offending veggies. Oh, it's not that I dislike lima beans. On the contrary. What I didn't like was her. Her, my boyfriend's mother. Clinging tightly to her matronly apron strings. Sitting at the head of his table. Wedging herself between us. Serving his favorite meal. Me, her son's girlfriend. Building bonds. Sitting by his side. Finding my place between mother and son. Resenting her home-cooked food. My own mother's voice grew loud in my head with each lima bean I pushed aside. I could just hear her reprimand: it doesn't matter what she's done, you eat the limas, Sam. I held my challenger's stare as I flicked another bean and ignored what I knew my mom would say: put down your disdain and put her above yourself, Samantha. With determined purpose, I jabbed the last lima. Without a word I said it all: I will not honor your meal ... your feelings ... you. My mom's voice shook my inner core. Humility, Samantha Elaine!! After dishes were washed and guns put away, another voice resonated. I sensed the Lord speak gently, yet firmly. Why did you feel the need to battle your pride, and her, in having to be number one in your boyfriend's life? This would have been the perfect opportunity to "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3). I was ready with my rebuttal. She's controlling and invasive. She doesn't respect me or my relationship with her son. She's impossible to get along with, much less honor. I don't like her! As far as I was concerned, she was the enemy, and it was my duty to draw the battle lines. Yet I knew my actions should not be determined by hers. After all, she had worked hard on that dinner. She was my boyfriend's mom. And most importantly, she was my sister in Christ. I knew God called me to be humble toward her. Not only that, but to go above-by eating (all) of her meal, and beyond-by complimenting her dish (it actually was tasty). It would have been a small thing, but it would have been the right thing ... and the God thing. Though my relationship with my boyfriend has since ended, my relationship with humility continues to grow. It may be through watching a television show that bores me but my friend enjoys it. Or speaking kindly when I'm frustrated, praying for someone who has offended me or taking a back seat when I want to be first. When my finger is on the trigger of my pride, I keep in mind that by being humble, I'm obeying God, which ultimately honors Him. This truth gives me the grace I need to tuck my guns away and ask, "May I please have seconds?"
  21. 21. Dear Lord, thanks for being the best example of humility and honor. Please give me the grace to honor others, especially those who I find hard to respect. Thanks for Your Word that reminds me to put others first. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: Who do you struggle to be humble toward? Why? Pray about having an honest conversation with that person. If you're not able to, determine now how you will react in a honoring manner the next time you interact. Power Verses: Romans 12:10, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." (ESV) Colossians 3:12-13a, "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another ..." (ESV) "Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.'" John 6:68-69 (NIV) If the following two statements were true, which would cause you the most anxiety? You have no money. God is not real. When my pastor asked that question during a sermon on finances, my heart did a funny jump. God not real? Just the thought of it made me feel sick. Kind of like when you wake up from one of those eerily-real nightmares and have to convince yourself it was only a dream. The sermon continued, but the question haunted me. And I wondered what other people thought. Which statement made them queasy? A few days later, I posed the question to a young college student I know. He paused before answering, then said: "If the second were true, it would make my life a lot easier." His honesty touched me deeply. But my heart hurt over the reality of his world. My young friend was raised a Christian, and I knew it was hard for him to hold to his beliefs with so many temptations facing him. I wondered how many times he came close to giving up his faith. Did he ever think, Why bother? Oh, how I longed to tell him all the reasons why Jesus was worth everything he had to give up. But it wasn't the right time. In that honest moment, it was right to let him know I understood the hardship of following Jesus. I'd been where he was. Days later that conversation continued to challenge me. My young friend's faith was defined by rules he had to obey. And I wondered if I had represented Jesus to him in that way. Did people watching my life see Christianity as a list of don'ts, can'ts and won'ts? Did they not see the joy? The
  22. 22. thought of it made me want to change. Immediately. My desire is to represent Jesus as compelling, intriguing and appealing. I want God's kindness to shine through me rather than my unkind judgment. After all, that's what drew people to Jesus. His compassion, generosity and love caused men and women in the New Testament to willingly walk away from careers, reputations, possessions and power. People gave up everything to gladly and joyfully follow Jesus. In the face of persecution. In spite of hardship. Disregarding their desires for things of this world. I came away that day with a commitment. I want to make my life as a Christian so appealing that when people look at me, they see the benefits of following Jesus more than the sacrifices. Oh, there are sacrifices; it would be wrong to portray following Jesus as easy. Following Jesus involves daily choices to set aside my natural self-focused inclinations (with my money, time and emotions) and put God's requests above my own. But this isn't a guilt-driven faith; it's a grace-filled one. That's how I want to represent my Jesus. It hit me that I don't want a why-bother faith. I want to live a what-better faith, which is what the Apostle Peter saw when he evaluated his faith. A time came when some people decided it was too hard to follow Jesus. Jesus asked His disciples if they wanted to leave too. Peter boldly answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." In other words, what could be better than following Jesus? Many people are watching me, starting with my own family. Perhaps I've spent too many years thinking about the rules rather than the benefits. Perhaps I've portrayed faith that really doesn't require much faith ... and therefore little passion or life-change. Thankfully, it's never too late to change. Heavenly Father, please forgive me for portraying life following You as a burden. Help me to live in such a way that the joy of following You far outshines the cost. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: When people look at you, what might they think about a life following Jesus? Would it seem joyfilled? Or duty-laden? What one thing can you change about your attitude that will make your faith more appealing to others? Power Verse: Jeremiah 31:3, "The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.'" (NIV) The Expanse of Redemption
  23. 23. Zechariah 14:20–21 The book of Zechariah ends with a remarkable statement about the expanse of redemption (see Zec 14:21). Above and beyond God’s ownership as Creator stands his ownership as the Re-creator who extends redemption “far as the curse is found.” God cares even for the little things that were spoiled by the fall, and he wants to restore it all. By affirming God’s redemptive interest in minuscule details like cooking pots, Zechariah reveals the enormity of God’s victory. Not only has Christ’s finished work secured salvation for sinners; it also has cleansed every nook and cranny of creation from sin’s decay. But the last day—the culmination of God’s ultimate re-creation—isn’t here yet, we may argue. From the very moment of our conception, we’ve been living in eternity. Granted, the best is yet to come, but the here and now already is replete with foretastes. The trouble is, we’re eternal beings with a finite mentality, and we tend at times to get confused. Devotional writer Donna L. Huisjen shares an anecdote about redemption and transformation: My sons-in-law were refinishing my kitchen cupboard doors in my basement. The sanding process had generated quite a layer of dust, and they had asked me not to stir this up until the last coat of polyurethane had dried—a rationale for procrastination with which I was happy to comply. At one point I stepped into their workroom to check progress. The doors were beautiful, but I was more intrigued by the ceiling. Hanging from the exposed rafters was a labyrinth of cobwebs, each delicate threat outlined and highlighted by a layer of fine dust. This unexpected sight was momentarily breathtaking. Cobwebs and dust. The stuff of beauty? At least temporarily, yes. If our original foreparents hadn’t succumbed to temptation, we wouldn’t be sweeping webs from basement rafters. But God does two things that allow beauty to triumph against all odds: he redeems and he transforms. God buys back or takes back aspects of creation to allow beauty to prevail in a sin-damaged world. You may have felt dirty in the aftermath of [some messy situation], but he chose you and pulled you back from the grunge. Why? For him and for his glory. And because he loves you. After God reclaims, he also transforms. He changes the nature of something (like dust or your heart). God wasn’t responsible for your drifting off in the first place, but if he wants you back, you can’t stop him from redeeming and transforming you. You can help, though, by moving toward him. No matter what your past, he wants you. He made you from dust, and if he needs to, he’ll use cobwebs and dust to make you startlingly beautiful for his pleasure and for your benefit. Trust him! Think About It What ordinary, everyday things has God redeemed in your life? How does beauty give you hope for the future? How can God use you in his grand plan? Pray About It God, thank you for the beauty you give us in our fallen world. Help me to enjoy it even as I long for
  24. 24. the complete redemption of all things. Verse For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:25–29) Food for Thought Before we wrap up, I need to deal with perhaps the single greatest obstacle that prevents followers of Christ from becoming the people he intends them to be; I call it the loser syndrome, the belief that you don’t have what it takes to do anything significant for God. You’re not smart, rich, talented, courageous, or spiritual enough to make much difference. Once you have allowed yourself to believe this lie, it will become self-fulfilling: You won’t be very useful to God. There is a related issue that will also render you fairly useless—the attitude that if only you had been dealt a better hand of cards, you could have done so much more. But hear this: God doesn’t make any losers. Jesus came to turn losers into winners. You are a child of the King, a unique oneof-a-kind miracle, and you were created to play a critical role in the big story of God. Years ago, there was a kid who got off to a pretty bad start. At age seven he and his parents were forced out of their home. His mother died when he was nine. As a result, he never finished grade school, let alone high school or college. At twenty-three he tried to start a business, but it failed. He then tried politics, running for an office in his state and lost. Then he lost his job. He wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in. At twenty-four he borrowed money to start another business, but it failed, too, and he spent the next seventeen years trying to pay off the debt. At twenty-six he got engaged, but his fiancée died before the wedding. At twenty-seven he had a total nervous breakdown and spent six months in bed. Talk about a loser! This guy should have quit right there. At twenty-nine he tried politics again, running for his state legislature; he lost again. Two years later he tried again and lost. Three years later he ran for Congress. You’ve got it: he lost again. At age thirty-seven he ran for Congress again and actually won, but two years later when he ran for reelection he was, of course, defeated. Giving up on national politics for the time being, he sought a more humble job as a land officer in his home state, but he was rejected. He then had the bad judgment to run for the US Senate twice (he lost both times) and then sought to be his party’s nominee for vice president and failed again. The remarkable thing about our “loser” is that he never gave in to that inner voice telling him he was a nobody. He was a man of faith, and he knew that God doesn’t make losers. When he was fifty-one, after a lifetime of failure and loss, he had the audacity to run for president of the United States. Maybe he is better known to you as Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth and perhaps the greatest US president ever to serve our country. Lincoln ended slavery, led the nation through the Civil War, and preserved the union of the United States. And he paid the ultimate price for his service when he
  25. 25. was shot and killed on April 14, 1865. Changing the world for Christ isn’t easy, and there is always a price to pay. Abraham Lincoln was a follower of Jesus Christ, a child of the King, and he believed against all odds that there was a role for him to play in God’s big story. You, too, are a child of the King, a unique one-of-a-kind miracle, and you were created to play a critical role in the big story of God. Question for Reflection What is holding you back from following Christ with your whole life and heart? What are you going to do next? Prayer Father, thank you for loving me enough to make me, to call me, to pursue me, and to use me. Please don’t let me rest until I am exactly where you want me. Letting Go Amy Carroll "He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands." Psalm 78:5-7 (NIV) Each year I take out one memory-soaked treasure after another from the boxes containing our family's Christmas and winter decorations. There's one I anticipate unpacking more than all the others. It's a framed photograph of my two little boys in brightly colored jackets sitting on a sled surrounded by fresh snow. Their heads thrown back with delight and laughter give testament to the joy of speed and a rare North Carolina snowfall. It's amazing how that one picture captures the childhood of my sons. Thinking about it makes my heart ache for days gone by. I reminisce about hours of playing with blocks and little arms wrapped around my neck. I never wanted those toddler hugs to end, but today, my once-little-boys tower over me, their deep voices filling our home. Gone are childish giggles, Play-Doh and picture books. Those things are replaced with teenaged practical jokes, car keys and college texts. The boys have turned into young men, and they've let go of juvenile ways. Now, if only their mama could let go! My oldest, Anson, is getting ready to head back to college for his sophomore year, and God's Word comforts me in this challenging transition. To parents who are watching their children sprout wings of independence, God gives strong direction followed by a powerful promise. Strong Direction ... our job as parents is to teach. There are several different scriptures that command us to teach:
  26. 26. "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them" (Deut. 4:9 NIV). "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deut. 11:18-19 NIV). Followed by a promise ... as we let go, trust our children will hang on to God. "Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it" (Proverbs 22:6 NLT). Teach and then trust. Parenting is a divine partnership, with God as the controlling partner. Our acts of obedience to teach our kids merge powerfully with His promises to carry them through to the end. My husband and I have faithfully and lovingly taught God's Word to our sons. Now we are trusting God to finish the work He has begun in them. The work may not be evident immediately and there will be bumps in the road, but teaching and then trusting helps this mama's heart to let go. Dear Lord, help me to faithfully teach Your Word and Your ways to my children and then trust You to set their paths. I let go of control and trust Your work in them. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: Are there biblical lessons you feel you haven't yet taught your child? Make a plan to do that before they leave your home. Ask your older child today how you're doing in the letting go process. Discuss freedoms he would like to have and how those freedoms can be earned. Power Verses: Isaiah 44:3, "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants." (NIV) David’s Lord Matthew 22:41–45 Augustine wrote, “Christ is both David’s Son and David’s Lord: David’s Lord always, David’s Son in time. David’s Lord, born of the substance of his Father; David’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us hold fast both” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 6, pp. 400–401). Jesus is no mere man, He is the resurrected Lord of the universe. Let us unwaveringly hold fast to this confession of faith, which alone can save us. For further study:
  27. 27. Leviticus 26:11–12 The Moment Lysa TerKeurst "And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:1 NIV) Each morning, I have a routine with my husband. It's simple. Nothing profound. Nothing for which we'd ever stop and snap a picture. It's just a moment. He asks me to help him pick a tie. He then goes away to fuss with this fixture of his professional job. Soon, he returns with a flipped up collar and a pressed down, knotted tie. He needs gentle hands to fold the collar over. Actually, he doesn't need. He wants gentle hands to fold the collar over. And I do. It's just a moment. But it's a moment when we follow the "excellent way" of love. In the intersection of this moment, we're once again saying to each other: I love you; I love you too. Now, please don't get an overly idyllic picture in your head of our marriage. Heavens, no. We have plenty of those "growth opportunity" moments too. But this moment with the tie, it's like a spot of glue ever tightening the bond between us day by day. It's so simple, and yet something I would miss with the deepest ache imaginable if today were the last of the moments. If today. Tears slip as I think about this. Dear God, help me think about this. Let me snap a hundred of these moments with the lens of my heart to be stored and appreciated and thought of as the great treasure they are. Let my mind park there. Let my heart relish there. Let my mouth dare to whisper what a joy this is. I love you. I love us. I love this moment each day. Our relationship isn't perfect; no relationship is perfect. We're two very strong-willed people with vastly different approaches to life. And, oh, how easy it would be to list all the differences. He likes the towel hanging in the same spot. I am more creative. But I stop the list there. I stop because great love isn't two people finding the perfect match in one another. Great love is two
  28. 28. people making the choice to be a match. A decision. To fold his collar and snap the heart lens and find myself grateful to the point of tears. Tears of relishing today are so much better than tears of what was missed. It's just a moment. Or is it? Dear Lord, help me to appreciate each moment given to me. I want to park my mind on the daily moments I too often take for granted. Thank You for this joy, so simple but so sweet. In Jesus' name, Amen. Remember Let me snap a hundred "I love you" moments with the lens of my heart to be stored and appreciated and thought of as the great treasure they are. Reflect In what ways can you turn everyday moments into treasures? It may be as simple as relishing a moment in your heart or it may mean beginning a new moment every day, such as folding a collar over a necktie. Respond Discuss your "moments" with your spouse, your family, or a friend. Ask what stands out to them as important and meaningful and choose together to relish them. Take a photograph or journal about one moment. Power Verses Peter 4:8; Psalm 90:12 At Issue - Joy Zechariah 2:10 What things give you joy? A beautiful sunset or a starry sky? The smell of your children after a bath? A loving look in your husband’s eyes? The aroma of a cup of coffee or the taste of chocolate? Time spent with a good friend? Of all the things in this world that may bring you joy, there’s one that should top the list: God himself. Ultimately, the pleasure you find in anything else will pale in comparison to the pleasure you find in God. Earthly pleasures are temporary. Happiness itself is short-lived. Joy in God is eternal. The Wisdom of God Matthew 22:46 Truth and wisdom are certainly depicted in logical propositions and abstract concepts. Yet the
  29. 29. revelation of the wisdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ must remind us that we have not found wisdom if all we know are propositions and concepts. God’s wisdom is personal and available only through a personal relationship with the Lord Himself. What are you doing to develop your relationship with Jesus as well as your wisdom? For further study: Ecclesiastes 2:26 Be Happy Now Valorie Burton "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV) "I'm not happy with my job. I'm not happy with my body. I'm not happy with my life." It seems that at some point in our lives, we each struggle with unhappiness, a spirit of discontentment, with wanting more. I remember a couple of years ago being frustrated as I sat in my comfy living room chair, Bible open, listening to the Lord. Well, maybe it was more like talking at Him, telling Him what I wanted. What I wanted was to be happily married and have a family of my own. At 38, my "clock" was ticking, and I was still faithfully believing God for marriage and family. If God would just give me the desires of my heart, I knew I could be happy. That's when this thought came to me: Be happy now. If you don't learn to be happy while you're waiting for what you want, you'll never be happy when you get what you want. To be clear, happiness cannot be the sole aim of our existence. Living out my purpose by serving and loving others as Christ does is my ultimate goal. When I stop focusing so much on what I want, and focus my gaze on what God wants to do in and through me, contentment follows. In fact, happiness is an external indication of internal contentment. This realization stopped me in my tracks. The list of things I felt I needed to check off my list for me to be happy was tiring. The idea that I could choose happiness was refreshing. The first step was to embrace life exactly as it was; in other words, to be content. I counted my blessings more, started traveling, and did things that being single uniquely afforded me. Most importantly, I decided to wholeheartedly trust God. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, the word he used for "content" actually means to be contented with one's lot in life. We can spend so much energy pushing against our reality when life doesn't turn out the way we planned it. But resisting what is, and trying to control what is beyond our control, can cause anxiety. Frustration takes over. Anger prevails.
  30. 30. Instead of making the most of our circumstances, it's easy to lament the fact that things are not where we believe they should be. What if we stopped pushing against what is and learned to embrace our present circumstances? When that shift is made, it feels like a heavy burden is released from our shoulders. It can also feel scary at first. But truly accepting where we are helps us relax and see the good God has in our present circumstances. We cast our cares, content in trusting that all things indeed will work together for our good. When I embraced what is, I discovered happiness greater than any I'd experienced before. Just like Paul tells us to do in Philippians 4, I made intentional choices to be content with my present circumstances—and in the lot God had given me for that season. I stopped making happiness a destination and began making it my way of journeying through life. Lord, help me embrace what is and live each day with thankfulness for the life I've been given. Give me the grace to be happy while I wait for what I want, rather than insist that I cannot be happy until I attain it. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: What current reality are you in that you are resisting? What would it look like for you to be content? Power Verses: Matthew 6:33, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (ESV) Psalm 16:5, "LORD, You are my portion and my cup of blessing; You hold my future." The Prison of Want Come with me to the most populated prison in the world. The facility has more inmates than bunks. More prisoners than plates. More residents than resources. Come with me to the world's most oppressive prison. Just ask the inmates; they will tell you. They are overworked and underfed. Their walls are bare and bunks are hard. No prison is so populated, no prison so oppressive, and, what's more, no prison is so permanent. Most inmates never leave. They never escape. They never get released. They serve a life sentence in this overcrowded, underprovisioned facility. The name of the prison? You’ll see it over the entrance. Rainbowed over the gate are four cast-iron letters that spell out its name: W-A-N-T The prison of want. You've seen her prisoners. They are "in want." They want something. They
  31. 31. want something bigger. Nicer. Faster. Thinner. They want. They don't want much, mind you. They want just one thing. One new job. One new car. One new house. One new spouse. They don't want much. They want just one. And when they have "one," they will be happy. And they are right -- they will be happy. When they have "one," they will leave the prison. But then it happens. The new-car smell passes. The new job gets old. The neighbors buy a larger television set. The new spouse has bad habits. The sizzle fizzles, and before you know it, another ex-con breaks parole and returns to jail. Are you in prison? You are if you feel better when you have more and worse when you have less. You are if joy is one delivery away, one transfer away, one award away, or one makeover away. If your happiness comes from something you deposit, drive, drink, or digest, then face it -- you are in prison, the prison of want. Paul says that "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 6:6 NIV). When we surrender to God the cumbersome sack of discontent, we don't just give up something; we gain something. God replaces it with a lightweight, tailor-made, sorrow-resistant attaché́ of gratitude. What will you gain with contentment? You may gain your marriage. You may gain precious hours with your children. You may gain your self-respect. You may gain joy. You may gain the faith to say, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." Try saying it slowly. "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want"” Again, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." Again, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." Shhhhhhh. Did you hear something? I think I did. I'm not sure ... but I think I heard the opening of a jail door. Verse “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). Food for Thought So what is the practical benefit of all the theology of the Holy Spirit? It is the enabling power that makes it possible for ordinary human beings to be transformed and live differently. Jesus’ call to repent and change our lives, to replace our agendas with his agenda, to literally become a new creation, is only made possible when the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts with power. It is only possible when God dwells in us. When that happens, we have access to abilities and insights previously unavailable. It would take an entire book to unpack this idea fully, but let me list a few of the gifts made available to us by the Spirit:
  32. 32. wisdom: the ability to perceive things from God’s perspective comfort: the ability to have confidence in God and put our minds and hearts at ease discernment: the ability to discriminate between truth and falsehood, right and wrong intercession: the Spirit praying with us and through us before God direction: the ability to sense what God wants us to do and where power: the ability to do things we could not do before boldness: the courage to take a stand and face trials endurance: the ability to continue under stress, in suffering, with patience conviction: a keen sense of conscience about our sins and our behavior strength: the ability to overcome our weaknesses protection: the ability to remain safe from evil unity: the ability to bind together with other followers of Jesus fruit: the ability to demonstrate the fruit of the spirit in our lives seal: guarantee that Christ will return to redeem us The Holy Spirit is a game changer. How much of what we cherish today in terms of human rights, freedom, compassion for others, justice systems, and moral codes were derived from followers of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit? And what would the world be like had the Holy Spirit not been given? Would it be darker, meaner, and more brutish? I have no doubt it would. Because you and I have never lived in a world devoid of God’s Spirit, we don’t see the shocking contrast as the first disciples must have. No wonder they were on fire; both reality and possibility had changed before their very eyes. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a remarkable gift. The Spirit is a lamp unto our feet; we no longer have to wander in the darkness. Question for Reflection Can you see a difference in your capabilities before and after you chose to follow Christ? Can you testify to the Spirit’s work in your life? Prayer Lord, thank you for making me able to follow you, able to resist temptation, able to love through the power of your Spirit. When You Have a Choice to Make Suzie Eller
  33. 33. "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." Isaiah 30:21 (ESV) According to recent statistics, I made 5,000 decisions today. Seriously? Well, I made a decision to get out of bed. I made a choice to put on my tennis shoes and run at 6 a.m. I chose peanut butter Cheerios˜ over oatmeal. I decided which bills to pay. What to make for dinner. Whether to answer a phone call. Which clothes to wear. Whether the plants needed watering or if they could wait another day. I chose to fill up the small car instead of the gas-guzzler. I may have made more than 5,000 decisions today! Some of our everyday choices are random, others weighty, but many of our decisions are choice points. Choice points are seemingly insignificant decisions yet they lead us in one direction or another. I choose whether to react in anger, or respond with understanding to my husband. I choose whether or not to create drama with a friend who hurt my feelings. I choose time with my Heavenly Father, or push that time to another day ... again. I choose whether or not to say those words that cause my child pain. Recently I was on a mission trip and the team was exhausted after nearly six days of intense travel. We had missed a train and stood on the platform in the moonlight. It was nearing midnight and cold and wet. Our next ministry event was early in the morning. The coordinator walked over. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I didn't mean for it to work out this way." There I stood with a choice to make. I could share my frustration. I could explain that my sleep tank was on empty. I could say nothing, while sighing with a martyred expression. Or I could choose to override my fatigued irritation and be gracious. As she waited for my reply, a gentle voice softly spoke to my heart: "This is the way, walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21). I knew it was definitely the leading of the Holy Spirit, just as Scripture promised. Yes, I was exhausted, but I reminded myself what a privilege it was to be there. Ease and comfort were not readily available to Jesus, and losing a little sleep was nothing in comparison to anything He went through. The Holy Spirit nudged me to recognize that everyone around me was just as tired as I was. He led me in the way to respond. "I'm fine," I said. "In fact it's been an amazing day and I can't wait to see what God does tomorrow." She grabbed me and pulled me in a huge hug. "Thank you, Suz." I wish I could say I handle every choice I have to make that way, but sometimes I fail and gripe, nit-
  34. 34. pick, am critical and grouchy. It's my prayer that I'll remember how much my choices matter. You see, they don't just affect me; they affect those within the vicinity of my decisions. In the 5,000 decisions you make today, take a moment to pause before deciding. Ask the Holy Spirit for His guidance and counsel. And choose to follow as He leads the way. Dear Lord, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all my choices, and it makes me cranky. Today as I make my 5000 decisions, walk with me, remind me of how my choices affect others and help me follow Your Holy Spirit. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: Keep a journal this week of choice points. Note those that lead you in the wrong direction. Are there common themes? If you were overtired, how can you implement rest? If you were trying to live a packed life with your spiritual tank unfilled, will you stop and fill it up? Power Verses: Proverbs 16:9, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." (ESV) Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (ESV) Verse “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:38–39) Food for Thought It is impossible to overestimate the significance of the Holy Spirit in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. It was the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, that transformed the first disciples from a confused and frightened circle of has-beens, cowering for fear of their lives, into a bold, cohesive, revolutionary band of leaders who changed the course of history. The difference between the former and the latter was just one variable, the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit was so important that just before he ascended, Jesus instructed his disciples to do nothing until the power of the Holy Spirit was given to them: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4–5, 8). In the Old Testament there are numerous times when we are told that the Holy Spirit was
  35. 35. specifically made available to certain people at certain times. Moses was guided by the Holy Spirit. Gideon, Joshua, Saul, David, Isaiah, Zechariah, and many others are said to have had the Spirit of the Lord upon them. Almost always the Spirit was given when power or discernment or courage or prophecy was needed. The Spirit enabled them to do something they could not otherwise do. But the Spirit was not given to everyone—until Jesus. Once Jesus had risen and the curtain in the temple had been torn in two, access to God’s presence was no longer limited to or controlled by the priesthood. God’s presence no longer dwells within the temple but within every follower of Christ. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19–20). We are now, as Peter said, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Heaven has been torn open, and God has come to dwell within us; the kingdom of heaven is near. Question for Reflection How often do you think about the Holy Spirit as a real presence in your life? Prayer Father, thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit. Thank you for not leaving us on our own. The Secret Place Lysa TerKeurst "Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." John 15:4 (NIV) Can I let you in on something? There's a place I escape to that allows my soul to breathe and rest and reflect. It's the place where I can drop the "yuck" the world hands me and trade it in for the fullness of God. It's a place where God reassures me, confirms He has everything under control, and gives me a new filter through which I can process life. Our key verse John 15:4 says, "Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." This peaceful and fruitful remaining place is my secret place. Honestly, it can be hard for a well-meaning soul that desires radical obedience to God to live in that way. Rather that remaining we allow ourselves to be pulled away. The distractions of the world lure us to sell our souls for temporary pleasures, and it's easy to be conned by Satan's schemes. Other people rub us the wrong way, and we want to give them a piece of our mind. Worldly wealth screams that if only we could do more to have more, then ultimate happiness could be ours. And our right to be
  36. 36. right seems to supersede the sacrificial call of God. All the while God invites our souls to break away from the world and remain in Him. To remain in Him and enter the secret place, I have to make the choice to be with God by recalling Scripture I've stored away in my heart and acknowledging His presence through prayer. Sometimes I do this because I'm in a desperate place. I pray, "God, I am here and I need You right now. I'm feeling attacked, invaded, pressed and stressed. Please meet me here and help me process what I'm facing using Your truth. I don't want this thing I'm facing to be processed through my selfishness and insecurity. I will surely act in a displeasing and dishonoring way if I'm left to face this on my own. Block my natural reaction and fill me with Your Spirit. Please handle this for me. You speak what needs to be spoken and give me the power to hold my tongue for what needs to be left in silence." Other times I need to be with God because I'm feeling pulled into something I know is not part of His plan for me. I see something new I can't afford. How easy it is to justify my way to the checkout line, whip out a credit card and decide to deal with the consequences later! Maybe it's a relationship we know is not in God's will. Or a particular eating habit we know isn't healthy for us. Whatever it is, we don't have to be rendered powerless by this pull. We can pray, "God, I know You are more powerful than this pull I am feeling. I know this thing I think I want so much will only provide temporary pleasure. I know the consequences of making this choice will rob me of joy and peace in the near future. Through Your power, I am making the choice to walk away. I will find my delight in You and look forward to feeling Your fullness replace the emptiness this desire creates." I need a fresh filling of God's Spirit and Word in me. So I go to the secret place and simply talk to God through prayer and reading Scripture. Then I listen for His voice. Sometimes He provides direction and instruction on something that needs to be done. A sweet invitation for me to lift up an obedient "yes." The more we say yes to remaining in God's secret place, the more we will live in expectation of seeing Him. The more we expect to see God, the more we will. The more we experience Him, the more we'll trust Him. It all starts with denying the pull of the world and saying yes to God's daily invitation to remain in Him. Dear Lord, I am so thankful for the secret place, where I can let my soul rest in You. Help me to be obedient and to remain in You above all else. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: Do you regularly spend time with God? If not, what keeps you from making this a priority? What will you do to break the cycle of not spending time with Him? Power Verse: Psalm 62:1, "Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him." (NIV)
  37. 37. Verse Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matt. 13:45–46) Food for Thought A couple of years ago a good friend of World Vision’s ministry, Stu Phillips, said to me, “You know, you’re not very popular around the Phillips household these days.” Ouch! What had I done? Stu then smiled and explained. Stu and Robin owned a fourteen-thousand-acre ranch in the Laramie Mountains in Wyoming. It was a very special “piece of heaven” that meant the world to their whole family. Stu explained that he and Robin had both read my book The Hole in Our Gospel, and it had convicted them a great deal about God’s concern for the poor. He had been praying when he clearly felt God was speaking to him. Here are Stu’s words: “Then I heard a still, quiet voice: It was a voice I had heard before. God asked me two questions. First, he asked, What possession do you value most? One of the challenging aspects of God speaking to you is that he knows the answers, even when you don’t or don’t want to admit that you do. The answer was clear; it was the ranch. He then asked the second question: Given what you now know about the needs of the poor, how does that balance with the four months a year you spend at the ranch and the resources you have tied up here? I knew the answer instantly. I was stunned. “My next reaction was to doubt what I had heard. Then I tried, hopefully, to negotiate with God. We already gave significant resources to poverty programs. We already used the ranch for godly purposes: hosting college groups from church, sharing time with friends in need of solitude, and appreciating God’s handiwork. Perhaps we could just increase our commitment to using the ranch for those purposes. Maybe that would satisfy God. And maybe it would, but it wasn’t his plan; it wasn’t his request. Robin and I put the ranch up for sale.” So now I understood why Rich Stearns might not be such a popular topic of conversation around the Phillips’ dinner table. “It took some time for me, for us all, to digest what had occurred. After hearing our plans, Stephen, our youngest son, put it this way: ‘God may have told you to sell the ranch, but he didn’t tell me.’ You see, the questions God had posed to me that day were in direct conflict with all of our plans as a family. But God then took hold of the situation as only he can. In the worst recession since the Great Depression, we received a serious offer the first week, twice our original purchase price. Robin and I were now more excited to see what God would do with these resources than we were saddened by the loss of the ranch. “We have no illusions regarding the spiritual significance of our gifts. God has told us what impresses him, and our checks, regardless of the size, don’t do it. However, our obedience may. God isn’t impressed by a rich guy giving up a luxury that is well beyond the wildest dreams of those in poverty. He is impressed by the single mom who gives of the little she has to help her neighbor or the widow on a fixed income who sponsors a child.”
  38. 38. Stu and Robin had learned to love what Jesus loves, treasure what Jesus treasures, and value what Jesus values. Question for Reflection Why do you think God would ask the Phillips family to give up the ranch? What is your most treasured possession? Would you be willing to give it up? Prayer Father, thank you for giving us good gifts and for teaching us to give good gifts to others. Please show me if I need to give up something in obedience to you—and help me to do it with the joy of knowing your love is at work. Will You Give Me Your Son? Glynnis Whitwer "And she made a vow, saying 'LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.'" 1 Samuel 1:11 (NIV) As my arms wrapped tighter around my son, I squeezed my eyes hoping the hot tears stinging my lids would stop. Forcing a smile I knew he'd want to see, I released him and stepped back on the airport sidewalk. Despite my efforts, tears dripped down my cheeks. I grinned and shrugged, unable to speak. Thankfully my son's gentle teasing helped get past the awkwardness of the goodbye. With a final hug, my 19-year-old left for a mission trip to China. Having children willing to serve God was my heart's desire before they were born. It was what I've prayed for since they were small. And it is what I have worked toward for years. I just didn't know it was going to stretch my faith so much. You see, long ago my husband and I dedicated our children to the Lord, and we raised them to serve God. I was thrilled at my son's decision to go on a mission trip, but the reality of releasing him to God's calling felt like a piece of my heart was being torn away. It was so much easier to dedicate my children to God during the three years my husband and I struggled with infertility. Each time I read the story of Hannah and her struggle with infertility in 1 Samuel 2, my heart leapt in hope. Just as she pledged her child to the Lord if He would only give her one, I was willing to do the same. It was also easier to dedicate my children to God once we finally had them, while they were wrapped safely in my arms. But standing at the airport, there was a fragile part of me that wanted to take back that offer. Fears rose up. My son is so adventurous, what if something happened? What if I never saw him again?
  39. 39. I tried to put the fears aside, but hours after our final goodbye, I still had a crumpled tissue in my hand. It was then, I heard God speak to my heart. It was unmistakably Him. I'd never ask myself this question: Will you give Me your son? By that time my son was on a plane, so the question seemed pointless. But what I wanted to say was this: Well, now that You've asked ... the answer is no, I've changed my mind about all that dedication stuff I said years ago. In the weeks since that day, I've often wondered why God would ask that question since He didn't really need my permission. I've come to believe it's because He knows the influence a mother has on her children, even when they're grown. With words spoken or withheld, tone of voice, and emotional and financial support (or lack thereof) a mother can influence her children's obedience to God's call at every age. And in my case, God knows my fears have affected my children. Ten years earlier when my oldest son wanted to go on an international mission trip, my fears stopped him. At that time, I thought he was too young and the destination too far. Without my active support, his plans fizzled. Over the years, God has helped me overcome that fear time and time again, and eventually that same son went on other mission trips. Every time I've released my tight grip on my children to obey God, my faith has grown. Apparently my faith needed to grow again, hence God's heart check that day: Will you give Me your son? Gripping my soggy tissue, I whispered a shaky "yes." Hoping it was good enough, but sensing it wasn't, I answered again, this time with confidence: "Yes! You can have my son!" Immediately peace started to grow in my heart as I turned my eyes from my own situation to His plan for my son. Peace and joy continued to grow stronger each day. Sometimes I wish I were one of those mothers who never deals with fear. They seem so confident and faith-filled. But I've learned when I give God my weaknesses, His power is displayed and His kingdom is advanced. So in spite of a bit of trembling, and a few tears, I'm going to say yes each time God asks if He can have one of my children. Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me in spite of my weakness. I want to trust You more and confess the times fear has held me back. Help me to be honest with You and receive Your strength. In Jesus' Name, Amen. Reflect and Respond: Fear has the power to stop us from obeying God's calling for ourselves and in how we support others in their calling. How has fear affected your obedience? Power Verse: Psalm 56:3, "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you." (NIV
  40. 40. Redemptive Discipline Matthew 18:15–17 In excommunication, Dr. John MacArthur writes, “the idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and then to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,158). Think of someone who has, on account of unrepentant sin, been cast out of your church. Take time today to pray for his salvation. For further study: Proverbs 24:28–29 Your One True Friend Jonathan gives David a promise, a wardrobe, and protection. "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). David found such a friend in the son of Saul. Oh, to have a friend like Jonathan. A soul mate who protects you, who seeks nothing but your interests, wants nothing but your happiness. An ally who lets you be you. You feel safe with that person. No need to weigh thoughts or measure words. You know his or her faithful hand will sift the chaff from the grain, keep what matters, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away. God gave David such a friend. He gave you one as well. David found a companion in a prince of Israel; you can find a friend in the King of Israel, Jesus Christ. Has he not made a covenant with you? Among his final words were these: "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). Has he not clothed you? He offers you "white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed" (Rev. 3:18). Christ cloaks you with clothing suitable for heaven. In fact, he outdoes Jonathan. He not only gives you his robe; he dons your rags. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21 NIV). Jesus dresses you. And, like Jonathan, he equips you. You are invited to "put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil" (Eph. 6:11 NLT). From his armory he hands you the belt of truth, the body armor of righteousness, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (vv. 13–17). Just as Jonathan protected David, Jesus vows to protect you. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them away from me" (John 10:28 NLT). You long for one true friend? You have one. And because you do, you have a choice. You can focus on your Saul or your Jonathan, ponder the malice of your monster or the kindness of your Christ. Verse

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