The Approachable One
• Who intimidates you? What is it about that person that you find intimidating?
• What’s the best way to make someone comfortable around you?
There’s a scene in The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy and her friends finally get to see the Wizard, and they’re scared to death. They feel the heat from the fire shooting all around them. They hear the Wizard’s booming voice. They see his giant head in front of them. And for a moment, they’re almost too terrified to bring their requests to him.
Sometimes that’s how we approach God — with fear and trembling. After all, he is perfect. He is the source of all power. He knows everything about us (even the really, really bad things). We should be scared of him.
Except that we don’t need to be because God has made himself approachable. He makes himself available to us. In fact, he invites us to come near him. Because he loves us, we can have a relationship with him.
Dear God, thank you for allowing us to come into your presence. Let us never lose sight of what a privilege it is to have a relationship with you. Amen.
The All-Powerful One
• How would you define power?
• How does God show his power?
In the folktale “The Stonecutter,” a stonecutter wishes to be rich because rich men are powerful. Then he wishes to be a prince because princes are even more powerful. But the sun is more powerful than a prince, so he wishes to become the sun. He notices that the clouds have the power to block the sun’s rays, so he wishes for that instead. A raining cloud would be even more powerful, so he pours down rain, which destroys everything in sight except for a big rock. Finding that nothing could disturb the power of the rock, he wishes to be a rock. In the end, he realizes he is better off as a stonecutter. After all, nothing can chip away at the power of a rock — except a stonecutter.
The lesson we learn from this folktale is that people are to be content with who they are. But Christians take away an even more significant message. Who is more powerful than riches, royalty and nature? Our God. And our God has placed us in the exact time and place that we are in. He made us who we are, and he has created a plan for our lives. Christians have a great reason to be content because our power comes through God.
Dear God, you are all-powerful. Nothing can happen without your permission. Nothing can stop what you put in motion. Thank you for helping us to recognize what a powerful God we serve. Amen.
The All-Knowing One
• What do you know now that you didn’t know one year ago?
• If you could choose one thing to know a year from now, what would it be? In other words, what would you like to learn more than anything else?
Has it ever occurred to you that nothing new ever occurs to God? He already knows everything there is to know. This is a difficult concept for us because we learn something new every day. And we could learn a million new things each day and still not know what God knows.
God knows everything from the past, everything that’s happening in the present and everything that will happen in the future. He can read every thought we have. He knows more about how we feel than we do. We may be able to fool ourselves, but we can never fool God.
The fact that God, and God alone, is all-knowing makes him the only one we should entrust with our future. He knows the destination of every possible path we could take in life. He knows which ones end well and which ones don’t.
Who else, then, should be our guide? If we ask him to, God will use his perfect knowledge to steer us in the way we should go. Able to see what we cannot, he will lead us along the paths that bring us ultimate fulfillment and joy.
Dear God, we speak this prayer out loud to you even though we don’t need to. You know our hearts. You know our thoughts. Help us understand that you know what is best for us. Amen.
The Warrior King
• If you were in a battle, who would you want by your side? Why?
• How does God want you to respond to the evil and suffering in this world?
When we hear the words, “God is love” or “God brings peace to our hearts,” we get a sense of God’s gentle, healing nature. But if we stop there, we don’t get the whole picture of what God is like. In this psalm, David describes God as a King who is “mighty in battle.”
That’s not just a poetic description, either. The fact that God is a warrior King has very real meaning for us, his followers. If God leads the way into battle, we must be prepared to join him.
Who is the enemy? Satan is God’s enemy. So is sin. The Bible says that anything that is not for God is against him (see James 4:4). This means that he has a lot of enemies!
Our battle armor is God’s truth, righteousness and faith. We fight for God with the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). We join this King of glory by obeying his commandments and by loving others.
The battle will not be easy, but we already know the end of the story. God wins. And so will we.
Dear God, we praise you for your love and your willingness to fight for what is right. With your truth and love, prepare us for battle against the evil and suffering all around us. Amen.
• What’s your favorite — whether it’s an animal, plant, rock formation, beach or something else — of all the works of creation?
• How do you feel when you think about everything God has created?
Think about what it’s like to bring an art project home from school — something you’ve worked hard to make, all by yourself. You’ve poured your own unique creativity and skills into designing your masterpiece.
How would you feel if you brought it home, hung it in the middle of the living room, and then watched as everyone completely ignored it? Think about it. Not one gasp of amazement. Not one “Wow, how did you do this?” Not one comment about the colors you used or the skill of your design or the amazing talent behind the work. How would you feel?
Do you suppose God feels the same way when people ignore his creation? After all, he created the world and everything in it. Every day we are surrounded by the beauty of his work and the incredible detail of his design. But how often do we mention it? How often do we even notice it?
Let’s start a habit of giving God his due. Let’s make a commitment to noticing something new, something beautiful, something incredible in creation every day and thanking him for it. Let’s see what that does for our relationship with him.
Dear God, we are in awe of your creation. Every day we see something incredible that you made. Let us never lose our sense of wonder at your creative power. Amen.
Better Than a GPS
• Has God ever led you anywhere that surprised you? Explain.
• What’s the best thing to do when you don’t understand why the Lord is leading you in a certain direction?
While God gives us direction through the Bible, he is not a GPS that we can stick on the windshield. God won’t say, “In three and a half years, turn left and attend this college.” God leads us in a more subtle way, through our hearts.
God’s leading may not always make sense to us. For one thing, his choice of route may not be a straight line. He may lead us off the highway, against traffic or through a random desert. He may take us in a complete circle and bring us right back where we started. He may lead us out into the middle of the ocean and then tell us to make a U-turn.
The GPS only considers where we want to go and the shortest way to get there. God considers an infinite eternity that includes where we begin, where he wants us to go and what we need to learn along the way.
If we trust God to guide us, one day we’ll look back on our life and see just what an incredible journey it was.
Dear God, you are amazing because you know the best route for every person’s life. Guide our steps so that we go exactly where you want us to go. Amen.
The Divorce Dilemma
I read this story [ http://j.mp/divorcedilemma ]months ago. It might have been last year. But it is a good lesson. We don’t know what someone is going through unless we are intimately interested and investing in them.
One of us might be fighting depression at home or one of us might be overworked at the new job and instead of burdening our spouse we bottle up our battles in order to protect our loved one.
That only works for a season. Eventually you are swallowed whole from the inside out emotionally, physically, & spiritually.
By the time you notice there is no romance, connection, or intimacy it feels way too late to begin sharing deep down feelings and emotions which you have harbored for so long.
The only stat that strikes me is not that 50% of people divorce (they say 45% & 50% of Christians), but the stat of 99% of married couples that pray together stay together.
Prayer is one of the most intimate tools God has given us. It allows us to open our hearts and share what we have on them. If we do this with our spouse we can remain intimate and we can be there for one another like we should be.
After all, marriage is a spiritual and sacred bond and triunion of two flesh becoming one with our Father God as the apex.
So let’s keep Jesus the center of our marriage and continue to keep all the communication open to prevent any battles that may afflict us when we are not together throughout each day.
Your Will Be Done
• What do you think God wants you to do with your life?
• What happens if you ignore God’s will?
Have you ever gotten lost? Even though you really thought you knew where you were going? Would you have gotten lost if you had had good directions?
We can get lost in life if we don’t use the guidebook God has provided us with — the Bible. We were not designed to be “know-it-alls.” None of us were. We were designed to rely on God’s instructions and on his will.
This isn’t always simple. God’s will isn’t always obvious, but that doesn’t mean that we should put our lives on hold while we wait for him to reveal his plan for our lives. God’s Word gives us plenty to go on. The Bible tells us how to behave, how to treat others and how to live wisely. When we follow the instructions God has already given us, he will further reveal his will to us.
Dear God, thank you for caring enough about us as individuals to create a plan for each of our lives. Guide us as we strive to determine your will. Amen.
Do you need a good dose of joy? It really is good medicine.
Years ago, Psychology Today magazine published an article, “Laugh and Be Well.” In the article, Norman Cousin wrote about a remarkable recovery from a disabling condition through massive doses of Vitamin C and comedy clips. His experience spawned a new field of scientific research studying how the brain influences the immune system.
Funny, the Bible has said the same thing all along. In Proverbs, God’s Word says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Do you need a good dose of joy; yet nothing seems to ease the pain?
I have good news. You can find joy. It is found in a person who is the source of a lasting joy that overcomes the heartaches of life. His name is Jesus.
Jesus says, “I’ve told you these things, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
We all need to enjoy laughter. It’s good medicine. But lasting joy is only found in Jesus.
Of the major objections to Christianity, this one is still at the top of the charts: “I’m not interested in Christianity or the church because the church is a bunch of hypocrites and I don’t want to have anything to do with them.”
It might surprise people who’ve made a statement like that to know that they are right. The church is full of hypocrites, but I can’t think of a better place for a bunch of hypocrites to be than in church. You see, the church is not a hotel for saints; it’s a hospital for sinners. It’s a place where people go when they recognize they need help.
Let me encourage you to do this: instead of blaming Jesus Christ for the shortcomings of His followers, I challenge you to look at the person of Christ in Scripture. You’ll find no hypocrisy in Him. Look at the person of Christ and you’ll find the most genuine person who has ever lived.
Meaning of Man, Part 2
The first two chapters of the Bible explain the meaning of man.
* Man is distinct from the animals. We’re made in the image of God. We can think abstractly like God. We can reason, create, and appreciate beauty and moral order.
* We’re to be fruitful and multiply in the context of marriage. Sex is a great gift invented by God for mutual enjoyment and procreation, but for marriage only.
* We’re called to rule over creation. We are to care for the environment and all of God’s creation. We are His managers, with a great responsibility.
* We’re to maintain balance between work and rest. Work is a gift–a key to fulfillment–to be done for God’s glory. But God initiated a day of rest as well.
* We are created to have a relationship with God through trust and obedience. When we don’t, we mess it up big time.
The Meaning Of Man
What is the meaning of man?
The answer is on page one of the Bible. It says “and God created man in His own image.” What does it mean to be in the image of God? It doesn’t mean physical appearance, but it does mean in God’s likeness.
We can think like God. We can reason. We are creative.
We are to rule over creation. We need to care for it, protect it, and use it in a way that is pleasing to God.
We are spiritual beings. Unlike the animals, we can worship God. God desires a personal relationship with us.
We are moral beings. Man deals with right and wrong. The best way for us to do this is to obey God’s Word in faith.
If we submit to God, we reflect His nature. But when we don’t, we look more like beasts. Understanding this, does your life reflect the image of God or are you more like an animal?
Reason For Living
Most everyone is interested in discovering their purpose for living–the reason for being born, the reason for existing.
I have good news. God has put that desire within you, for as your Creator, He has a purpose and plan for your life. Your role is to discover it and use the gifts, talents, and opportunities God has given you to make the most of your life. God’s ultimate purpose is that everyone would have a personal relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. And everyone can–through faith.
Then there is more good news. God’s Word says, “I am confident…that He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Jesus’ coming.”
What a promise! Once we put our life and trust in God, He promises He’ll begin to reveal our life purpose to us. He will also provide the power needed to see that we get it done. What are you waiting for? It’s time to discover your reason for living and live it out.
Destroying Our Enemies
The word enemy has been defined as anyone who is not for us. In light of that definition, we can all think of folks we work with, cross paths with, and sometimes even live with, who are not for us. Yet, Jesus Christ said, “Love your enemies.” To love our friends is not unique, but to love our enemies is.
At the end of the Civil War, many Northerners were demanding that the South be punished for the devastation the war had caused the United States. Feeling he was too soft on the South, a group visited President Lincoln at the White House. One man became so intense that he pounded on Mr. Lincoln’s desk and said, “Mr. President, I believe in destroying my enemies.”
President Lincoln reflected a moment, then slowly stood and said, “Do we not destroy our enemies when we make them our friends?”
That is the spirit of Christianity that literally changes the world. The key question is–is it you?
Patience With Others that is!
To have patience with other people is one of life’s greatest qualities.
In Lincoln, The War Years, Sandberg writes of Lincoln’s patience with his cabinet in the most difficult days of American history. Many in his cabinet felt they were a whole lot smarter than the President. They made a point of letting other people know it, too. Some mocked and belittled him; one even call him a dumb gorilla. These words often got back to President Lincoln and his wife. She despised them; yet, he was incredibly patient. When he died, these same men realized they had served under one of the greatest Americans who had ever lived.
Patience with others is a Christ-like quality. Ask God for patience but watch out if you do! God just might put some difficult people around you to try your patience. This is a part of learning patience and an answer to your prayer.
A Summary of the Big Ten
I believe the Ten Commandments are a great guide for successful living. The Big Ten are the ultimate foundation on which to base spiritual and ethical behavior. The first four commandments focus on our relationship with God. The last six deal with our relationship to our fellow man. In short, right spirituality leads to right living with our fellow man.
The first four are: 1) put God first, 2) have no idols, 3) respect His name, and 4) have a weekly Sabbath. The last six are: 5) honor your father and mother, 6) don’t commit murder, 7) don’t commit adultery, 8) don’t steal, 9) don’t lie, and 10) don’t covet your neighbor’s possessions.
These are stated so negatively, like a bunch of don’ts. And when someone says, “Don’t,” something within us makes us want to do it. Jesus summarized them positively. I like His best.
He said, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” (the first four in a nutshell). And he said “Love your neighbors as yourself,” (the last six, in five words). Wow! The perfect summary of The Big Ten.
Both versions, The Big Ten or the Big Two, teach us how to be in right relationship with God and right relationships with our fellow man. When we get right with God, we’ll be right with our fellow man.
There’s a lot of talk about values, like family values or traditional values. The cover of one of Newsweek magazines asked, “Whose Values?”
Let me offer a suggestion; it’s very old but very contemporary. How about the values that come from man’s Creator – from God Himself?
They go like this:
* You shall have no other gods before Me.
* You shall not make for yourself an idol.
* You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
* Remember the Sabbath day.
* Honor your father and mother.
* You shall not murder.
* You shall not commit adultery.
* You shall not steal.
* You shall not bear false witness.
* You shall not covet.
These are not suggestions for when you feel they are appropriate. They are absolute commands. They tell us how to live life to the fullest.
I encourage you to adopt God’s Big Ten. You’ll find they are key to living life to the fullest.
Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” There’s no place like home. No matter how bad we mess up or how disappointing life gets, it’s the one place they have to take us in.
Jesus told of a wayward son who messed up big time, wasting all his dad had blessed him with. He became homeless and was so hungry he wanted to eat leftover slop fit only for animals. But when he came to his senses, he thought about home. He knew he didn’t deserve to go there, but he went anyway. And his dad was so overwhelmed with joy he welcomed him home.
The dad represents God, and the wayward son represents you and me. It’s Jesus’ way of telling us that we all mess up–but nobody messes up so badly that when he decides to come home to the Lord, the Lord won’t welcome him back to a right relationship with Him. Is it time for you to come home to the Lord?
So he got up and came to his [own] father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity and tenderness [for him]; and he ran and embraced him and kissed him [fervently].
Rest For The Weary
The idea that the pace of life seems to continually increase stress and worry is a universal concept. There seems to be no end to the demands on our time and energy. Are you tired of the rat race?
There is a solution: It isn’t one that offers escape from the demands of life, but one that guarantees rest in the midst of the rat race and the fast pace of life. Jesus says, “Come to me if you are tired and burdened. I’ll make your load lighter, and help you carry your burden.” Jesus offers us rest amidst the stress.
Christ doesn’t always take us out of life’s demanding situations. Instead, He invites us to allow Him to help us handle the demands. He wants to face each day and each challenge with us. Walking with Jesus Christ daily and trusting Him for guidance and wisdom to handle whatever comes, is the way to experience rest in the rat race.
Getting Along With The Boss
Most people have a supervisor or a boss. What principles from God’s Word can help us to get along with our boss?
Submit to his/her leadership. He or she is the boss. The only time you shouldn’t submit is when the boss urges you to do something immoral or dishonest. Then, if you want to please God, you’ll do what’s right and be willing to face the consequences.
Work heartily to please God. If the goal is to please God, any honorable work is meaningful. You work to please God, and usually the boss is pleased. Every boss is looking for honest, hard-working employees.
Recognize it’s not your job to change your boss, but you can always change bosses. If the boss is immoral or unreasonable, you can find a new boss, or become your own boss. This takes guts and faith but it’s a blessing of a free country. Seek to get along with your boss God’s way, and if you can’t, find a new one.
Things just ain’t what they’re supposed to be. Consider man’s violence against man, the animal kingdom’s survival of the fittest, or pollution poisoning our air and streams. And it’s incredible how the earth, with all its beauty and wonder, can become a destructive force against itself through earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and floods.
The Bible says, “…the whole creation groans and suffers the pain of childbirth.” See, in the beginning, before man sinned, everything was in sync. There was such peace on earth that even man and animals were vegetarians. There was no killing of any kind. But, now the earth has entered into a period that God likens to a mother giving birth, and, like childbirth, things will get worse before they get better.
All creation longs for things to be made right, and one day it will be – the day when Jesus returns. It will be a time of salvation and judgment. Judgment will be for those who are not right with God, and salvation for those who are. His arrival will usher in a new age of harmony and peace on earth. Won’t it be great? If you’re ready, yes. If you’re not, no. The key question for you is, “Will you be ready?” The only way to be ready is through faith in Jesus Christ.
In most sports, there is one feat that galvanizes the fans. In golf, it’s a hole-in-one. In basketball, it’s the slam-dunk. In baseball, it’s the home run. But in football, it’s the touchdown. It always brings fans to their feet.
The objective is simple. The team with the most points wins and usually that means the most touchdowns. But the greatest and most exciting touchdown has yet to occur, and when it does, the players on the winning team will go wild with joy. Those on the losing team will be devastated with defeat.
The Bible tells about it in the Old and New Testaments. The Messiah will touch down on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem when Jesus returns.
Do you believe it? Will you be ready for the ultimate feat?
How you respond in faith to Christ determines whether you are on the winning team or losing team–forever.
It is my hope that you’ll be able to celebrate the touchdown, when Jesus comes!
A modern day phenomenon in the age of TV is the irrational outpouring of pseudo grief. People grieve more intensely for an image they’ve never personally known, than they do for a neighbor or family member who dies.
We saw this most dramatically with the death of Lady Di and JFK, Jr. Both represented what society saw as the best of their nation’s royalty. Both were young, glamorous, attractive and wealthy. They were the ideal in the world’s eyes. Yet, most of us didn’t know them. We just knew the image presented on the screen.
Do you care more for images than the real people in your life?
Who do you grieve for the most when they’re gone? If it’s an image on TV, you’re living a ‘pseudo life,’… not a real life. For real living comes with real relationships and sometimes, with loss, that involves real grief. But when that loss comes, a real relationship with God will get you through that grief. Real relationships have real pain, but they also have real meaning. Meaningful relationships with God and your fellow man are essential to real living.
Do you ever say, “It was just too tempting,” or “I wish I hadn’t lost my cool?”
A key to successful living is self-control–controlling our emotions, desires, passions, or our tongue. Self-control is about self-discipline. The Bible compares it to sports. It says, “Run your race to win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.” Self-control is essential to success in living, as well as in sports.
Let me suggest a few ways to learn it:
1. Clarify your purpose–what are you trying to accomplish? Is it to lose a few pounds? Then your decisions will be shaped by that purpose.
2. Be honest with yourself about where you lack self-control. Alcoholics who find victory over booze know the first step is admitting their inability to control the problem.
3. Ask God for self-discipline.
4. Take action on that discipline, one day at a time. Self-control is a real key to successful living.
Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge].
Three Keys For Mom
It’s not easy being a mom these days. Whether you’re home full time or working outside the home, there are challenges. There’s a verse of scripture in Romans that contains three keys for moms and, really, anyone who wants to live a victorious life:
Be joyful in hope. Every mom has hope for her kids. When a mom trusts in the Lord and believes His promises in scripture, she can be joyful in hope for the future of her family.
Persevere in trials. There will be difficulties and trials for every mom (kids not doing well, times of feeling unappreciated, etc.). But when her hope is grounded in God, she can find strength to endure any trial.
Be devoted to prayer. Hey, moms, with so many trials and so much out of your control, be devoted to prayer. Turn your concerns, your fears, and your children over to the Lord. Prayer is the power source for being a great mom and a great person.
Hope, perseverance, and prayer–three keys to victory for moms and most everyone.
Perhaps the toughest stage of life is parenting our parents. It’s a role-reversal both parent and child would rather avoid. The Bible clearly teaches us to honor our parents, and that means caring for them when they are old. Let me suggest a few thoughts:
* The greatest gift you can give your aging parents is time, but if physical distance is great, take time to call or write on a regular basis.
* Be prayerful and sensitive when parents can no longer care for themselves or their home. Be honest in helping them think about where they’ll live–be it a retirement center, a nursing home, or with you.
* As you face these tough decisions, be motivated by love, not guilt. Do what they most need, not what you most want.
Honoring our parents sometimes means parenting our parents. Remember, we reap what we sow. One day we hope that our children will have learned from us how to care for us when we are old.
Forgiving Our Enemies
In 1962 in Montgomery, Alabama, a young, unknown Baptist preacher came home to find a large crowd gathered in front of his house that had just been bombed.
He ran inside to see if his wife and daughter had survived. He found they were unharmed. He comforted them before going outside to the large, angry crowd.
They had gathered with chains and weapons to retaliate against the white community for such a despicable deed. He told them there would be no retaliation saying, “Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to forgive those who persecute us. Now go home.” Thus began the legacy of an amazing man with a unique spirit, Martin Luther King, Jr.
What King did on that occasion isn’t natural–it’s supernatural. The ability to forgive our enemies who have wronged us is often beyond our natural ability, but it is the Spirit of Christ. It is true Christianity. It is a power available to us all and it can change the world.
Water in the Desert
If you’ve ever traveled through the desert, you’ll notice that it’s mile after mile of dry and barren landscape. Then suddenly, there’s a spot of green, some trees, bushes, and flowering plants. It always means there’s some kind of water source nearby. With water, the desert blossoms and comes to life.
The same is true in our lives. Without God, we tend to dry up when life gets hard. It saps us of all our energy, creativity and drive. We eventually feel beaten down, worn out, and dried up. But Jesus says, “I am living water; anyone who accepts me will never be thirsty again.” He wasn’t talking about physical thirst. He was talking about satisfying our spiritual thirst so we can blossom and come to life.
What about it? Do you sometimes feel like a dry, dusty shrub in a desert of emptiness? Come to Christ and enjoy a cool drink of water whenever you need it.
Understanding Our Wives
It had been a fun day of vacation. I had gotten up early and jogged on the beach, joined some friends for a round of golf, had time for a couple of sets of tennis and finished off the day with a refreshing swim in the ocean. After showering and dressing for dinner, I happily exclaimed to my wife, “Man, it’s been a great day!” But the look she gave me was not filled with love. You see, our boys were young–one still in diapers. In classic “airhead husband style,” I had been oblivious to the needs of my wife.
God’s Word says, “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.” We don’t naturally understand our wives needs when we are wrapped up in our own little world. Understanding means love, unselfishness, compassionate listening without giving advice, partnering in parenting, and much, much more.
Men, ask God to help you be what you just can’t be on your own – understanding of your wife.
Dad’s Greatest Priorities
Let’s take a moment to remember the Bible’s three greatest priorities for Dads:
1. Husbands, love your wives. (Ephesians 5:25). The best way to be a good father is to be a loving husband. Our children need that more than anything. Remember, the Biblical word for love means more than a feeling, it means a commitment.
2. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger. (Ephesians 6:4). Every child’s psyche is fragile. We dads can expect too much at times and come down too hard on them. Worst of all, we can shut out our kids emotionally. We are to build them up and not destroy the spirit and self-image of our children.
3. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4). To do this, we need to be godly men who know the Book, who live it, and teach it to our kids. Kids need to know their boundaries. It gives them security. They also need instruction and teaching on what is right and wrong.
To sum it up, the best fathers love their wives, their kids, and the Lord. Fathers, may this be our goal every single day.
Sheep or Goats
Jesus says that when He comes again all mankind will be divided into two camps–the sheep and the goats. The sheep are in his eternal kingdom. The goats are not. He says the sheep feed the hungry, clothe the needy, and care for those who are sick and in prison. Does this mean we get to heaven by good works? Absolutely not! God’s Word says, “For by God’s grace we are saved through faith, and not of ourselves. It is a gift of God, not as a result of works.”
What Jesus is saying is that true faith always results in good works, especially to the needy. We can’t do it all, but the church can. When we have saving faith and begin to give and serve through a local church, we take part in all types of ministries as a part of the body of Christ.
If Jesus comes today, which group will you be in–His sheep or the Devil’s goats?
GAIN THROUGH GIVING
Sundar Singh was once traveling with a Tibetan companion on a bitterly cold day. The men were miles from shelter and almost frozen to death. They reached a steep precipice and saw a poor half-dead man who had fallen over the edge. Sundar wanted to stop and save the man; but his companion, saying it was all they could do to save themselves, left Sundar behind. After much difficulty, Sundar was able to get the man from the slope onto his back. Before long, Sundar came upon the Tibetan companion who was frozen to death. On he struggled and, gradually, the dying man on his back received warmth from his rescuer’s body and began to revive. Sundar himself was also saved from an icy death because he grew warm through the effort to save the dying man.
Christ commissioned the Twelve and sent them on a mission of self-denial. He told them to lose their lives for others and trust God for their own safety and needs. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts–but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics (Mark 6:8-9). They even had to depend on others for their shelter. This first “missions” trip was to teach Christ’s followers self-denial and the provision of God.
Christianity involves giving of self to others. It demands a selfless service regardless of the consequences. We must lose our lives to find them. Paul told us: Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). And, again: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). In helping others, we help ourselves.
GRACE OF GRATITUDE
A New York taxi driver was fuming when his fare got in. Finally, the man asked the driver what was wrong. The reply was that a former fare had left a wallet containing three hundred dollars on the seat, and the driver had searched New York for four hours before he could find the owner and return the wallet. When he did find the owner, the man looked suspiciously at the driver, turned and walked off. The cabbie said, “I didn’t want a reward. I merely wanted him to thank me.”
David often called on the Lord, and God was faithful to answer his pleas. However, it is refreshing to note that David spent as much time thanking God as he did praying. This must have been why God fondly said David was a man after His own heart. In learning to thank God and others, we become more giving and generous persons. There is a grace in gratitude that enhances our lives. Thus, it is even more important for us to say thanks to people than for them to hear us say it. Gratitude changes us for the better.
All of us need to learn the grace of gratitude. In our hurry-up world, it is easy just to push our prayer requests through without taking time to thank God for the multitude of mercies He has shown us. When we learn the secret of praise, we find it helps us and expands our souls, making us better individuals. There is power in praise since God inhabits the praises of His people. May we have the same spirit of praise that David had.
OUR BEST FRIEND
A lady lost her son in war and wept bitterly. She cried out in her heartache, “I wish I had never been made.” A friend replied, “You are not made. You are being made, and this is just part of the Maker’s process.” These were hard words to understand, but they are true. Even in the very difficult times of our lives, we are being conformed to the image of God’s Son.
David drank deeply from the cup of God’s punishment. He had sinned and now it was time to pay. He would become a better man after the Maker let him taste the horrors of death through his beloved son. He would be haunted by this memory throughout his life, and never again would he wander away foolishly to follow the flesh. This was part of the Maker’s process, and David learned much through it. He took his medicine like a man and worshipped during those difficult days.
While the Bible warns that we will reap what we sow, still we cry under the severe hand of discipline. However, this is all part of the Maker’s process that we might become better individuals for it. When we, like David, exhaust every mercy available, then may we, like him, arise from our heartbreak, wash ourselves and worship God. In our pain, and from our suffering, we can learn valuable lessons that will teach us to live better and walk in the holiness of God.
THE MASTER RACE
An insignificant paperhanger, dedicated to a new political idea, stood before huge enthusiastic crowds telling them they were a master race. Many of the German people became drunk with power and flattery. They believed Adolf Hitler and made him their leader. It took a world war and the blood of thousands before the evil deeds of this man and that nation was righted.
Peter recognized there really was a master race. In today’s reading, he tells about it. This is not the flattery of an ambitious leader or the empty promises of a power-hungry tyrant. This is God’s eternal truth. The followers of Jesus Christ do have a power unknown to mortal men. However, Peter hastens to add that they are chosen and given this power to exalt Christ, not to be used as a source of willful pride.
Today, men often live below their privileges. Someone should tell us we are a master race–the Master’s race. We need to be reminded that we can change the world, and He has chosen us for that purpose. There is much we can do if we will use the power He has given and realize He has called us as a special people to do His special work. The Bible says: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are not the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).
SONGS IN A STRANGE LAND
Mocking Babylonian soldiers, drunk with victory, derided and taunted the captured Israelites by chanting: Sing us one of the songs of Zion! But the singing people of Jehovah had lost their song; their harps were hung on the willows. Psalm 137 describes how they sat weeping by the Euphrates River asking: How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
How different the circumstances centuries later when the light of Christ and the truth of eternity had pierced men’s hearts. A group of men, descendants of those in Psalm 137, were also in captivity. They were in prison for their testimony. But this time things were different. Rather than weeping with harps hung on willows, the men were singing at midnight from their cold dungeon cells: And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God (Acts 16:25).
These two very different reactions to similar circumstances point to the eternal truth of the empty heart versus the full heart. The Israelites in Psalm 137 were devoid of vital spiritual experience, while the apostles in prison were filled with joy because they had been with Jesus. When one is taken from the comfortable surroundings of home and thrust into a strange and confining environment, there are two possible reactions: frustration or fulfillment. The reaction one has depends on his experience with the living Christ. The true saint can and will sing songs of His Savior in a strange land.
Conversion solves many problems, but it creates others! What, for instance, does a new convert who committed an undetected crime before finding Christ do? Does he try to make things right, or does he just accept God’s forgiveness and forget the deed? This is not a new problem; Paul and Onesismus faced it squarely. Onesismus had run away from his master’s home in Colosse. Philemon, the slave owner, had every legal right to demand that Onesimus be executed. But, something happened to change all that.
When Onesimus fled his master’s home, he probably stole money. He went to the dazzling city of Rome; there he met Paul. Possibly he sought the apostle out, or it may be that he was picked up by police and put in prison with Paul. Paul led the young slave to Christ and counseled him to go home to Philemon to make things right. Philemon, also a believer–and with a church in his house–owed his conversion to the apostle. Taking advantage of this relationship, Paul penned this highly personal letter to Philemon asking him to forgive the runaway and accept him as a brother. Paul even offered to pay back any monies Onesimus may have taken.
Concrete lessons are learned from this, Paul’s shortest book. First, we see that the new believer must make things right even though, in doing so, he takes great personal risks. We also find that God provides people to help in such times of crisis. Furthermore, the graciousness of Paul cannot be overlooked. The Bible does not complete that story, so we do not know whether Philemon ever forgave Onesimus; however, tradition says there was an early church bishop by this name. Quite possibly, he was not only forgiven but was greatly used of God in a meaningful ministry.
GOSPEL OF POWER
For ten years, nothing is recorded about John Mark. He disappears from the Bible narrative after his personal failure on Paul’s first missionary journey. In that controversy recorded in Acts, tempers flare so badly that Paul and Barnabas go separate ways. John Mark sails off with his uncle to Cyprus, and we hear no more of this writer of the second Gospel until he shows up in Rome to help Paul. Forgiven and matured, Mark became invaluable to the great apostle in Christ’s work. From information gained in his association with Paul and Peter, Mark wrote the book of Mark.
Writing for the Romans, Mark was more concerned about what Jesus did than what He said. His is the shortest of the four Gospels, and it was designed to show Christ as “Conquering Servant” with power over all things in heaven, earth, and hell. We read much about demons and how Christ displayed His authority over them. Eighteen of the thirty-five miracles of the Lord are featured in Mark’s writing. These accounts emphasize the authority of Christ.
Early church fathers contended that Peter dictated the book to Mark. They based this judgment on the fact that he tends to downplay the good traits in Peter and to magnify the less desirable ones. There is no doubt, however, that God’s Holy Spirit breathed this dynamic book.
As the first Gospel written, this book probably furnished materials for Matthew and Luke. Christ’s power is the predominant theme of this book; and it is stressed that the power is not just resident in Him but available to every believer. Mark tells how Christ ordained the Twelve and how they performed the same kinds of miracles Jesus performed. In the last chapter, we are told that in our day this same power is available to us. We are not helpless victims of the evil; we, too, can change our world through Christ’s power.
A PSALM IN CHRONICLES
Israel’s Northern Kingdom lasted less than 250 years. During this time, nineteen kings reigned over this kingdom and all of them were wicked. The longest reign of any king of Israel was 41 years. One king lasted only seven days. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, fared somewhat better. They survived more than 325 years with twenty kings. Seven of the leaders were good; thirteen were evil. One king reigned 55 years, but two governments continue in the two books of Chronicles.
The name Chronicles comes from the Greek word which is related to our word chronology. These books give a colorful and clear account of Israel’s history arranged in sequence. There are several differences between the books of Kings and the books of Chronicles. These are not discrepancies or inconsistencies but omissions. It is necessary to read both if one is to have the full history of Israel. Chronicles emphasizes Jewish ceremony and genealogies, whereas Kings is dominated by the prophets. Jerome, a church father of the fourth century A.D., considered Chronicles the epitome of the Old Testament. Modern readers find these books rich in history and spiritual lessons.
As in the book of Judges, the message of Chronicles comes through clearly: Man cannot survive if he ignores God. We must allow the Creator to govern our personal lives each day. Another lesson we learn in this book is that God is longing to help man. In David’s beautiful psalm recorded here, we find how deeply God desires to assist those who will turn to Him. Riches, honor, and strength come from God to those who love Him. Chronicles shows how hopeless it is for man to try to “go it” alone. Man will always be miserable until he fully turns to Christ with his whole being.
REND YOUR HEARTS
What if the prodigal son had stopped a mile short of home? The boy probably would have died in his hunger as one who “almost made it.” If he had not come all the way back, we would not have the beautiful story of restoration Jesus told. How tragic that Israel stopped short of full restoration after their heartbreaking years in Babylonian bondage. The story of those years of struggle following their release is told in the poignant historical books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
Forming the last segment of the Historical Books, Ezra through Esther picks up the story of Israel after seventy years of slavery. Although they were aware that it was their sin that brought slavery, the people still refused to fully repent and return to God. Prodigal Israel stopped short of coming all the way back to the Father’s house. Because of this failure, they would again drift into captivity and become a people without a land, wandering the face of the earth seeking shelter from murderers like Hitler and Stalin. Jewish history demonstrates graphically the heartbreak of semi-repentance.
Joel, a plain-spoken prophet of long ago, encouraged Israel to rend [their] hearts, and not [their] garments. In other words, real repentance involves not a mere admission of wrong, but a lifestyle change and course correction. Many people are sorry for the consequences of their actions, but few are sorry for their sins. Those who are merely sorry because they got caught will eventually die in despair. Those who come all the way home will find a loving Father, waiting and wanting to forgive and restore. The title, “Half-hearted Christians,” is really a misnomer. We must be willing to go all the way with God.
Some things cannot be mixed. Oil and water will not mix. Various safety organizations say gasoline and alcohol do not mix. Certainly the world spirit and that of Christ’s Kingdom can never become one. Israel reaped their deepest sorrow because they tried to mix two alien forces. Not satisfied with a theocracy, they demanded a king like other countries. Samuel warned them that a king would tax them, send their sons and daughters to war, and take their land. Yet, they would not listen. Thus, the monarchy was born.
Some of the most sordid pages of Israel’s history are found in the books of history describing the monarchy: 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. When Israel was like other nations, her land was divided and her people were separated from their loved ones. The tiny nation split in two and reeled under the bloody rule of many evil kings. The price people pay to be like the world is steep.
This truth is vividly depicted in these Bible books. Paul says: Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians10:11). Our peers try to pressure us into being like them. When we yield to that influence, we become bound with habits, are plagued with a guilty conscience, and are haunted by the ghosts of our deeds. Paul calls us to avoid worldly involvement and adds that if we do, God will receive us and will be a Father to us, and we will be His sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers [do not make mismated alliances with them or come under a different yoke with them, inconsistent with your faith]. For what partnership have right living andright standing with God with iniquity andlawlessness? Or how can light have fellowship with darkness?
A LOGICAL ORDER
Genesis was not the first Bible book to be written. Most scholars agree that the book of Job takes that honor in the Old Testament, and 1 Thessalonians had this distinction among the books of the New Testament. The obvious question is, “Why aren’t the books arranged in chronological order in our Bible?” The answer is that our English Bible is arranged for readability. It follows this order: Law, History, Poetry, and Prophecy. The New Testament is similarly divided: Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse.
The Jewish Canon has only twenty-two books compared with thirty-nine in our Old Testament. The same material is in both, but the Hebrew Scripture is divided to accord with the twenty-two letters of their alphabet. In their Canon, the Minor Prophets are counted as one book, Ruth is coupled with Judges, Ezra with Nehemiah, Lamentations with Jeremiah, and the two books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are considered as one each. They have three major divisions: The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings.
By the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Old Testament was pretty well completed as we have it today. Josephus says “that since the death of Artaxerxes (424 B.C.) no one had dared to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them.” When we read the Bible from its beginning, we see how God has worked in every generation to bring man back to Himself. The theme of all of God’s Word is the gift of His Son. Paul says man’s highest purpose is to be conformed to that image (Romans 8:29).
WHERE TO FIND IT
Probably every Bible reader has had the frustrating experience of remembering a phrase from Scripture without recalling where it is found. This can haunt us and only a good concordance can help. Often we do not appreciate how fortunate we are in having so many Bible aids. For example, consider what a terrible time you would have if the Bible were not divided into chapters and verses. Readers did have that problem for fifteen hundred years; when God moved men to write the Scripture, they did not put it down in chapters and verses.
Not until the thirteenth century A. D. did two men, Spanish Cardinal Hugo and British Archbishop Langton, divide the Old Testament into chapters. Some years earlier, Masorete monks had broken the Old Testament text into verses. The division of the New Testament into chapters and verses occurred two hundred years later when Robert Stephens introduced them into his Greek and Latin translations. The whole Bible first appeared in 1557. What a blessing this time-consuming work has been to all who love to read and memorize the Bible.
The psalmist notes a benefit of the Bible we often overlook. Most of us think only in terms of immediate value when reading God’s Word. However, the psalmist says His Word can be stored in our hearts to help us during times of temptation and trial. During these hours, God’s Holy Spirit brings Scripture verses to our memory just as He did for Jesus in His hour of great temptation. And in our modern day, it is easier for us to find and remember the references because faithful men who loved God and His Word took time to divide it into chapters and verses.
Light is one of Christ’s most important and graphic metaphors. Jesus said of Himself: I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12). When we think of light, we imagine the electric light snapped on, quickly filling the whole room with brightness. Jesus, however, was not speaking of the electric light but of the sunrise.
Before the sun appears, its influence is felt. Slowly, almost mystically, a subtle change begins to take place in the world. The darkness loosens its grip on the earth and begins to dissolve into day. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the world of fear and unknown is filled with the sight of beautiful trees, running brooks, and towering mountains. The despair of the night is overwhelmed by the dawning of light.
Peter talks of the “day star” (Jesus) arising in our hearts (2 Peter 1:19). Malachi notes: But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2). When Jesus comes into our lives and our families, the light of His Presence begins to make a subtle difference. The night of selfishness gives way to the day of selflessness. Cold relationships thaw and warm into meaningful communion. But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4:18).
There is an old and foolish adage, “You don’t chase a streetcar after you have caught it.” Husbands sometimes use this cliché to excuse their two-day-old beard, obnoxious behavior, and laziness. Women use it to excuse their out-of-shape bodies and spirits.
God’s Word clearly tells us that slothfulness is a foe to our marriages. It takes work to make a marriage, and there are no holidays from that work. Solomon noted that our “house” will fall unless kept in good repair: Because of laziness the building decays, and through idleness of hands the house leaks. The law of our earth is decay, not evolution. Everything wears away, even relationships, unless they are brightened with interest and deepened with devotion.
In any marriage, periods of boredom will come, but we need not succumb to them. Another principle from God’s Word applies here: He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer (Proverbs 18:9). We waste the beauty of relationships and the hours we could deepen our relationships when we do not give diligent attention to our marriage. Wise ones work on relationships to keep them fresh and meaningful. This is exactly why we have daily times with God. Neglect of relationships creates distance between us.
THE ENEMY OF MARRIAGE
Marriage is the most meaningful and tender of all human relationships. Spouses open themselves up to each other as they do to no other person, even to their parents. As that relationship matures and trust deepens, their spiritual awareness also deepens. Thus, the enemy of God and man, Satan, designs to destroy these deepening relationships. If we believe the Bible, we have to believe there is a devil working to undo everything God has done.
Satan is the enemy of our marriage. He hates marriage and all that it represents because the tenderness of that relationship opens us up to God. In addition, the sacredness of marriage is related to Christ’s relationship with those who follow Him. Marriage is symbolic of the church. After admonishing the husband and wife to love each other, Paul says their relationship mirrors that of Christ and the church: This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32).
Satan knows that in partnership there is strength. Therefore, he seeks to divide and destroy. He desires to isolate us from our mate through misunderstanding and stubbornness until we become easy prey for him. But we can fight the devil and stay strong by staying together spiritually
The second major cause for divorce, psychologists say, is obnoxious behavior. For example, divorces can be precipitated by excessive drinking, drug addiction, uncontrollable temper, moodiness, and unreasonable demands. Such behavior creates a climate of crisis which makes marriage difficult. These are all signs of selfishness; and God’s Word calls them sins, not character weaknesses.
Not long ago, an intensive study was made of one thousand married couples. After all the interviews, studies, and evaluations, ten major problems stood out. Unhappy partners (1) didn’t think alike in many things, (2) had little insight into each other’s feelings, (3) said things that hurt each other, (4) felt unloved, (5) felt they were taken for granted, (6) needed someone to confide in, (7) felt they had to give more than the other, (8) rarely complimented one another, (9) desired more affection, and (10) couldn’t talk to one another.
In reviewing these problems, it becomes obvious the mates were selfish. That’s what sin really is: selfishness. All sin is selfishness, insisting on one’s own way rather than walking in God’s way. It is tragic but true that most enter marriage asking “What can I get out of it?” rather than “What can I give?” It is indeed difficult to live with a mate whose selfishness manifests itself in obnoxious behavior. Such a mate makes God’s commandments hard to live by.
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As the years wear on, some are tempted to stray from the marriage fold to seek other relationships. This is disastrous and always destructive. God’s Word says directly to husbands: Drink water from your own cistern, And running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, Streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, And not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love (Proverbs 5:15-19).
In his comprehensive study on pornography, Steven Marcus of Columbia University says man’s appetite for pornography is insatiable. It simply can never be satisfied. The makers of X-rated films are always seeking more taboos to break. Any immoral relationship, however innocent it might start, never satisfies. The Bible wisely tells us to avoid these involvements and keep ourselves true to our wives. When we refuse to betray the marriage bed, there comes a deepening of relationship that goes far beyond anything we might have given up. Adultery always shatters and, almost always, shatters permanently.
It is important to remember God charges the husband with the responsibility of keeping his home pure. Man is to have a unique and special relationship with one God and one mate. We should always remember that adultery is not wrong because it is in the Bible–it is in the Bible because it is wrong!