Monday, September 06, 2010

Acts 13:44-52

In today’s reading a verses 46 and 47 struck me as interesting. These verses read, “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" Let’s take a closer look.

The phrase do not consider yourselves worthy is not only interesting, but curious. One can hardly imagine synagogue Jews thinking of themselves as unworthy of eternal life. Perhaps we should see here just a bit of Pauline irony which might be paraphrased, "You Jews, who always consider yourselves righteous, now apparently do not think you are sufficiently righteous to take advantage of God's gift; so we'll offer it to the Gentiles and see what they say." The idea of inherent self-righteousness driving out God's righteousness is hardly new; this common spiritual disease afflicted the Pharisees.

Luke made an interesting transition and application in the use of Isaiah 49:6. Israel was to be the light for the Gentiles; but, since it never fulfilled that role, God sent Jesus to become his real servant and carry out that mission. Now Paul and Barnabas, servants of Jesus, have inherited the mantel and become the light.

In today’s world we are called to be the light – to spread the word of Jesus. How are you doing in this aspect of your life? It is helpful to me to be reminded of this calling. I hope I can be that light for others.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,

Friday, September 03, 2010

Acts 13:13-25

Today's reading is yet another example of how Paul had committed his life to Christ completely. This includes giving God control over his life. Perhaps you could say that Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was certainly a life altering event to cause someone to give up control of his life. But will it really take something like that for each of us to give up control of our lives to God?

I had surgery yesterday – nothing life threatening but major surgery. What a way to learn that you don’t have control. Even through all the pre operation prep, the constant questions, instructions from nurses and doctors, the anesthesia and coming to, I still fought it. I was not about to give up control of my body. Of course, the joke was on me the whole time because I truly had no control. I fought it by trying to tell myself I was fine, this is no problem, cake walk, I’ll be fine in the morning.

What I could have done was enter into grace, allowing God to take over and trusting in Him instead of taking some gasping measure to try to hang onto control I never had to begin with. Just like Paul and the apostles did as they spread the word of God and all the time knowing that they would likely lose their lives in horrible ways, and yet continuing on because they had given control of their lives over to God.

I’m not saying abdicate responsibility. It is my responsibility to follow the doctor’s instructions. But to give control over the situation, I allow God’s grace to spread over me like a warm blanket and I don’t have to worry about the outcome.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Acts 11:19-30

In today’s reading I like the reference to prophets. “During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)” (verses 27 & 28).

Prophets were not limited to Old Testament times. God appointed, and still appoints, certain people to be prophets to the church. Paul ranked “prophets” second only to apostles in his list of those gifted by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:28). Peter had quoted the prophet Joel in his sermon at Pentecost: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17). Prophets had special gifts in ministering God’s messages to his people.

The gift of prophecy, however, shows itself in different forms. At times, prophets would foretell the future (as Agabus did here), but the gift of prophecy was also valued for its role in exhorting, encouraging, and strengthening God’s people. God spoke through prophets, inspiring them with specific messages for particular times and places.

Have you every had someone say the right thing at the right time? During my life I have experienced many people who have encouraged, helped, and strengthened me. I did not know it at the time, but these people had the gift of prophecy. The message these people give can be invaluable. When you are in a tough spot, or feel you are at the end of your rope, the message given by a prophet can give you such hope and strength.

God in his infinite wisdom has provided this gift, and many spiritual gifts, to us humans. Perhaps you have this gift.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Acts 9:19-31

Today’s reading tells the story of Saul (Paul) immediately after regaining his strength after his conversion. Obviously, those who had known Saul prior to his conversion were confused by his change. Christians, whom he had persecuted, were not sure what to make of him and did not immediately trust him. They thought he was trying to trick them in order to get close to them.

What kept Saul away from the gospel for so long? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had believed, and it's certainly not unlikely that Saul had seen and heard Jesus personally as well. It is known, from his own words, that his deep commitment to Pharisaical Judaism caused him to choke at the mention of a Messiah from Nazareth. But beyond that, could it be that he simply could not get around the cross? Even if he had opportunity to observe a miracle or two and perhaps listen to Jesus' explanation of the Old Testament, which would have been impressive to an intelligent rabbi, the thought of a Messiah on the cross turned the stomachs of many Jews.

Does not the same problem plague unbelievers today? Many are happy to talk about God, even a personal God who, they anticipate, will welcome them into his heaven someday. The introduction of Jesus as the virgin-born Son of Mary complicates their thinking just a bit. By the time the gospel portrays him dying on the cross for the sins of the world, many now, as then, turn away from a suffering Savior.

I feel Saul (Paul) says it in his own words in his first letter to the Corinthians. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,

Friday, August 20, 2010

Acts 9:1-9

Have you ever had a conversion moment? Maybe you were dead certain about something, but then you learned something else that made you take a 180. Or, maybe your expectation of something was one way, then that something went an entirely different direction. Did any of these situations result in you taking several days to get your bearings back?

That's what happened to Saul/Paul. I have never had a conversion moment. I'm one of those cradle Episcopalians who never knew what it was like to not know Jesus as my personal savior. So, I cannot imagine what happened to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus.

But, I think there are other types of "conversion" moments that are, perhaps, as life changing. Maybe it's holding your first born just after birth. Perhaps it's standing by a loved one's graveside. Or standing in the ocean mist or on the Appalachian Trail and revelling in the glory of God's creation. For me, I have had conversion moments in the slums of South Africa and in Haiti.

The important thing about "conversion" moments is to keep them close to you. I have a few practical tips for this. First, journal about what you are seeing and feeling. You will need to refer back to how you felt because these moments pass. Second, pray about what you are feeling and what God means for you to do with these feelings. Third, share what you are feeling with trusted friends and confidants.

Sometimes, conversion moments aren't so obvious even though in the long run, they lead to a fundamental change in your life. The point is to stay open to such moments. The old saying "God moves in mysterious ways" is very true. Maybe we won't be hit by a bright light, loud voice and sudden blindness the way that Saul was, but our lives can be changed nonetheless.

I'm still waiting for my divine conversion moment and I hope to share it with each of you when it happens.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Acts 7:17-29

Do you have any friends with the gift of faith? I have a friend named Mary who is one of my “faith anchors.” She lives in Washington State. We don’t see each other very often, but when my faith dims I tell her my troubles. Her response always reminds me that God is upholding us and our loved ones.
I have the wonderful privilege of knowing many of St. Matthew’s youth group members. What great people they are. Sometimes I get anxious for them, wanting them so badly to discover as I did the rewards of following God. Today’s reading tells me to have patience and faith that God will work in lives (even mine).
This passage is the life story of Moses, told by Stephen. One of the things I love to read most in the Old Testament is Moses’ lively conversations with God in the book of Exodus because they point out how real God was to Moses. As Moses led the Israelites he would speak to God “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Moses had faith. But Moses’ faith didn’t develop overnight. In fact, today’s reading ends with young Moses killing a man and fleeing into the desert. Verse 30 caught my attention, “after forty years had passed….”
Forty years!! During that time, God was shaping Moses. Lengths of time mean little to God. God will grow the faith of those we love. Let us have patience and faith and trust in God, and commit those we love to Him.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Acts 5:12-26

God willing, I along with 19 others will be in Haiti this week on a mission trip. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

I have read a number of items written about today's reading. Most of what I have read centers on the Apostles healing many people - verses 12 - 16. But I want to discuss a different passage. Let's have a look at verses 17 & 18.

Verses 17 & 18 read, "Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail."

It strikes me that these religious leaders did not listen and learn the gospel message that focused on their own Messiah. Instead they were jealous. Violently jealous. The religious leaders were jealous of Peter and the apostles because they were commanding more respect. They were commanding more respect than the religious leaders ever had. These jealous religious leaders thought they could silence the apostles by throwing them in jail. But God would not allow his servants to be silenced.

The verses are striking to me for a couple of reasons. One, how often do we let our petty jealousies get in the way of spiritual growth? I know it happens to me. Who cares who gets the credit as long as God's will is being advanced?

The second is how these religious leaders tried to quite Peter and the apostles. How many times, if we are not getting the credit or are not the center of attention, do we not support an activity? Or even try to sabotage the activity? When in reality we should be doing everything in our power to support it.

Jealousy is a terrible vice. It causes all sorts of problems in the world. I don't think I will ever be able to do away with my own jealousy, but perhaps I could minimize it.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,

Friday, August 06, 2010

Acts 4:13-31

Today's reading takes place right after Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. The disciples have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and have begun the evangelistic walk. The Sanhedrin calls them in, trying to figure out what to do with these guys. They can't crucify them too, so they tell them not to speak of Jesus. They refuse. But, they are also very afraid. So, they returned to there new-found follers and they all began to pray to God to give them the courage and the words to move forward on their walk.

I am going to Haiti tomorrow. This passage is spot on as to our trip. Most of us are anxious - some very anxious - about all the potential difficulties on this trip. Some are worried that it will be too hot to get proper rest, making it more difficult to do the physical work we are being called to do. Some are worried about the food and the potential for sickness. I am worried about being there during an earthquake or a hurricane. All of those worries take our heart away from the real mission which is the human mission. We are called to spread the love of Jesus - plain and simple.

We all know in our heads that we only need to trust God. He alone knows each of us and how we will be affected by this trip. But, our fears are real, too. One of the powerful lessons of today's reading is that Peter and John's people, when they heard what the Sanhedrin had said, "they raised their voice together in prayer to God". They did not go their separate ways to each pray alone. They asked God to consider the threats of their enemies and they asked that He "enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." I ask the same.

So, read today's passage. And please pray for those of us going to Haiti.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Acts 2:37-47

I have heard Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, talk about an Acts 2 church. How he wants Willow Creek to be an Acts 2 church. But what is an Acts 2 church? Today’s reading reveals this secret (not really a secret as it is in the Bible in plain view).

Verses 42-47 provide a concise summary of what the early church was about. It provides a model that can be applied to the modern church as well.

An Acts 2 church is characterized by:

Teaching. All Christians, new and experienced, need to further their spiritual formation. Teaching helps them understand this need and how to advance on this path.

Fellowship. The sharing experiences, learning from each other, and encouraging each other.

Joining in the breaking of bread. The remembering of what Jesus did for us on the cross. The realization that grace is a gift from God. The celebratory waiting for the return of Christ.

Prayer. This includes corporate prayer (i.e., church service) and private, personal prayer.

I feel Saint Matthews does a good job of all of this. But of course there is always room for improvement. What could you or I do to help make these improvements? I submit it is not always easy, but getting involved, using your spiritual gifts, is what we are all called to do. So get involved – if you are not sure how, talk to any church leader.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,

Friday, July 30, 2010

Acts 2:1-21

First the drummer lays down the beat and then the music begins. As it builds, joy fills the room, in the form of song and dance. It feels like a current, a wave washing over me; as we join in praising God. I’m in church actually and Vacation Bible School has started for 2010. The energy makes the building seem to vibrate.

Why do we love VBS? Maybe it’s because anyone can join us. All ages come. Newcomers and long-time members get to know each other as we serve and help each other, in the name of reaching out to children. It feels like a big reunion and kids literally dance for joy.

Well, I guess it’s a taste of heaven when I think about it. Acts 2 tells us the history of these tastes of heaven; the Holy Spirit came and changed every gathering of Christians. The Holy Spirit, once experienced in bits at a time, now is poured out. Acts 2, VBS, mission trips all give us the chance to stand under the fountain together, and reach out to others and to say, “everyone come. Come meet Jesus.” Just think what our gathering in heaven will be like!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Romans 15: 14-24

I think my attitude about being a Christian has really changed over the last ten years. I was brought up believing that if you kneel at the right time, stand at the right time and memorize the right prayers, you were pretty much guaranteed a spot in heaven. I don’t think my early Christian training was really as bad as I’m making it sound, but that is what I got out of it anyway. Of course, I loved VBS also.

But, now, that could not be farther from my thinking. Now, I am almost desperate to share the love of God with everyone I meet. (I’m really not that evangelical, but that’s for a different devotional.) I am further reminded about my growth as a Christian, as well as how far I still need to go, in today’s reading. In Paul’s first line, he states that he is confident that his Roman brothers and sisters are “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.” I don’t know too many groups of humans who are able to do that. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t know of any who are so full of the love of God and who get along so well as to be able to instruct one another. Actually, most folks I know are pretty good at giving the instruction; it’s the taking that seems to be difficult.
So, Paul is far away from these new Roman Christians and he has been far away from them for a long time. He has not seen them and his only news of this new church plant is via letters that take a long time en route. Yet, he is confident of their ability to live a communal, Christian life. This makes me want to have Paul’s confidence in me as well. Would he be that confident in me as a Christian? Was he telling the Romans this just to be nice? Is he manipulating them? Does he really believe what he is writing?

What I believe this comes down to is my (and your own) confidence about our own ability to live a truly Christian life. Can you imagine what life would be like if everyone loved one another the way that Jesus loved? No more jealousies or pettiness. To truly live with the peace of God which passes all understanding? To live as, apparently, the Roman Christians did?

By the way, just to show that my early Christian development was not all that bad, ever since I was a little girl I wanted to have “the peace of God which passes (actually we said passeth) all understanding”. I’m still working on that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Romans 13:8-14

I love today's reading. Perhaps it is because it speaks about love.

Verse 8 really spoke to me. It reiterates a common theme in the Bible; perhaps it is Paul’s use of a debt analogy. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." (v. 8)

There is a certain paradox in Paul's words. In order to get out of debt to the law, we have to get into debt to love. To me this is extremely liberating. Instead of being in debt to something to which we can never fully comply (perfectly keeping all of the laws of the Old Testament), we are free to focus on what we can do (love our neighbor as ourselves).

Why is loving others called a debt by Paul? Simple. We are permanently in debt to Christ for the love he poured out on us and the freedom he bought for us. The way Jesus asks us to repay this debt is to love others the way we love ourselves.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves is a simple way to say take care of others with the same natural motivation that we care for ourselves. Each of us tries not to let ourselves go hungry. We each try to clothe ourselves. We try to make sure there is a roof over our head. We try to make sure we are not cheated or injured. This is the way we love ourselves and thus this is the way we are called to love our neighbor.

Finally Paul points out that with each day the time for our judgment is that much closer. What will be the final balance of our debt when that time comes?

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,

Friday, July 16, 2010

Romans 12:9-21

Families come in all types and the word “family” means different things to different people. My father died when I was twelve years old but many people helped me along the way when I was young. Now, I live in a “typical” family (children, spouse and two cats). It’s nice to all be together. We cherish time together, as our children are away at college during the school year.

How does a family work? Hopefully , we encourage each other. We share chores. We talk things out and try to be patient with each other. We hope for the best for each other and especially as a parent, I pray, pray, pray.

Please read this entire wonderful passage. These verses make me think of how the love of God can fill a church body. Verse 10 says, “love each other with brotherly love” and I have seen many examples of God’s love in my St. Matthew’s family. This passage calls us to LOVE; by serving, helping the needy, helping strangers. It also calls us to love all people equally and be people of peace (sometimes hard in families). Our love is not to be confined to our family, but rather we are to reach out beyond our comfort zone with the love of Christ.

Please pray for those who will be leaving Sunday for the St. Matt’s mission trip to Nashville, that they will grow together as a family in Christ, and share God’s love with many.

These days I cherish this time when my family is complete. Likewise, I cherish spiritual brothers and sisters. Each help me experience God the Father.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Romans 11:1-12

In today’s reading, I am drawn to verse 6. The concept of grace has always been a mystery to me. I mean it is really that easy to be saved. Come on, one must have to do more than just accept this gift. Let’s take a look.

Verse 6 from today’s reading says, “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Paul clearly says we are saved by grace; and grace alone. Grace is a gift given to us by a loving God.

I often think it is easier to love someone when they are good – when they love us back. Don’t you? But God loves us no matter if we love him or not. No matter how we act towards him. In the past, I fell into the trap of believing that some people’s behavior was so bad that God couldn’t possibly save them. However, I realized that by taking this attitude, I did not fully understand that salvation is by grace. And grace is a free gift. All any of us have to do is to accept the gift.

If God chose who would be saved based on our works or obedience to the law, then grace would not be free and undeserved. As Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, “God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Thank God for his gift of grace.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,

Friday, July 09, 2010

Romans 10:1-13

I was taken with a verse from this passage from The Message. Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul and says "It's the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us...That's it. You're not doing anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation." I had never thought of trust in God to meet your needs as salvation. I have always concentrated on salvation happening when you believe that Christ died for your sins and rose again.

My problem is that I'm really a control freak. I have a hard time turning everything over to God. Plus, I really wonder at what point does God want us to abdicate our decision-making over our lives and turn everything over to Him? Surely He doesn't want us to irresponsibly wait for Him to take action in our lives. So what is the right amount of independence and abdication?

Perhaps it's in the asking for God's help to begin with. To do that, you really have to take some responsibility. You have to know that there is a problem and you have to know that it is bigger than your capability to fix it, right? You reach a point with a problem when it's time to turn it over and I think we all know when that moment arrives. Turning it over feels right. That's not abdication at all, but rather taking responsibility for finding the means to resolution.

Perhaps, too, turning it over does not mean no longer being responsible for the issue and the fix. Perhaps turning it over is just the beginning and that salvation is the road you walk as you solve life's issues along side of God.

I would love to hear any comments you may have about this. How do you allow God to help you?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Romans 8:26-30

Today's reading is just five verses. Yet these verses have troubled Christians for centuries. The troubling subject is predestination - did God predestine who would be saved? I do not think so, but let's take a look.

Verses 29 & 30 seem to be the most troubling to some. "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, ... And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." The words foreknew and predestined have generated much heated discussion over the years. However, God is not limited by time as we know it. Thus, I feel these words have to do with God's ability to see past, present, and future at the same time and not some predetermination before we were even born. God's foreknowledge means that God knows who will accept the offer of salvation not that any one of us is predetermined to be saved.

Furthermore, as far as predestination goes, this begins when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. When we truly do this, God knows we will become more Christ-like and, eventually, live with him for all eternity in heaven. Thus, if we accept Christ into our lives and allow him to be the leader of our life, then we are predestined to an eternal afterlife with God. An analogy, albeit a poor one, of this is buying an airline ticket. If one buys an airline ticket to Pittsburgh, then one is predestined to arrive in Pittsburgh.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,

Monday, June 28, 2010

Romans 6:12-23

I found today's reading inspiring and extremely encouraging. In verse 14, Paul states, "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." I think Paul is saying if believers were still under the law, then sin would have to be the master and believers its slave. Why is this? Because the law causes us to be aware of sin, but has no power to enable one to resist sin. The law does an excellent job of pointing out failure, but it does not empower change.

On the other hand, only grace can overcome sin. Once one identifies with Christ, it is the constant flow of grace into our lives that teaches us to say no to sin. When we live under grace, God is our master and we desire to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.

Paul concludes today's reading by stating, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (verse 23) This pretty much sums it all up! The payment for sin is eternal separation from God (i.e., death). However, God has given us a gift (grace). This gift, if we choose to accept it, will allow us to have eternal life with God.

The gift of grace is truly priceless. Friends, please remember the Jesus physically died, and we will physically die. Jesus was resurrected and we will be resurrected. Jesus lives forever in the presence of God and we will live forever in the presence of God. Accept the gift of grace. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Let Jesus be your master.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Romans 5:12-21

It is easy in this world to become cynical and jaded. In fact, I would guess that for those who work in an office setting, being cynical is almost fashionable. I don't think we realize what a toll that takes on our psyche. Frankly, I believe that is one of the reasons why folks just seem so darn tired all the time. Being cynical is downright exhausting. It takes the wind right out of your sails.

Today's reading gives us a great reason to pop out of the black hole of cynicism. In a nutshell, Paul tells us that while Adam's sin took us all down, the grace of God through Jesus Christ has the exponential power of raising all the more of us up. Sin - Bad. God's grace - exponentially better. Pretty simple. Hard to be cynical over that one.

When I think about those I know who are not just social cynics but who seem to be cynical to the core, they are typically not Christians. Or at least not practicing Christians. That is because not believing in the grace of God through Jesus Christ is a life of no hope. That's when you actually live your cynicism. I am just not interested in that kind of life.

Instead, as Paul tells us in today's reading, we have more than hope. We have God's promise of a life without end. He does not promise that our life on earth won't be trouble free. But he promises eternity. That sounds so much better to me than a life moping around the water cooler.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Romans 5:1-11

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (8).” This is a sentiment commonly expressed in Christian culture, rooted in sermons and emblazoned on coffee mugs and t-shirts, but I think the ramifications of this statement dig deeper than most realize. It’s not just that Christ died for us all so that we may be saved, although it that certainly is a huge part of it. As Paul writes, it makes sense that one might die for a righteous man, or a good man—they contribute to society and others’ wellbeing, after all, and they follow God’s rules. Surely they merit protection. Yet, Christ didn’t die for the good men. Christ died for the mess-ups, the screw-ups, those who failed and fell down and weren’t so good at getting back up again. Christ died for the sinners. Christ died for those who didn’t have their act together.
Of course, none of us have our act together.
So what does that mean for us as Christians, those who would choose to follow in Jesus’s footsteps? Well, Paul writes that since “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (10)” So through Jesus’s death, he shows us how to live. And that means that we, as Christians, must die to ourselves, must sacrifice of ourselves, in order to love and serve sinners. We aren’t just serving the men and women who have it all together, who are righteous and good and contribute to society. God calls us to die for jerks, for petty people, for mean people, for selfish people. He calls us to die for the lost, the abandoned, the needy—those whom the rest of the world looks over. God died for all of us, sinners. As Christians, we aren’t serving those whom the rest of the world panders to and looks out for. We are searching out those whom have fallen through the nooks and crannies of society. We are loving the unloveable and the looked over. It will make us uncomfortable. It will push us out of our comfort zones. It isn’t easy. But dying never is, and only out of death can come new life.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Romans 4:13-25

While I was reading today’s passage from Roman’s I was struck by the relationship between the law and faith. I’ve seen a comparison drawn between faith and works but this one is a different comparison with faith and adherence to the law. When coming down to it, we could place anything against faith and faith would come out on top.
I knew a person that told me they wouldn’t go to church but that it’s good for other people to go so they could learn to do what’s right. I think that this statement neglects the importance of faith that Romans 4:14 talks about. Our promise in Heaven is only true when we have faith in Christ.
This is something that I really need to be aware of when working at the church. Sometimes I catch myself planning events that don’t really work on developing relationships with Christ. Other times I have to review a talk and realize that the message was more about “doing the right thing” than it was about Christ. When I go about leading this summer my goal will be to help the youth grow in their faith and realize the promise that Christ has for us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Romans 1:28-2:11

"Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself." Romans 2:1

Criticism has unfortunately become a huge part of our culture. I think that criticism of others usually makes one feel better about their own short comings. Just look at how popular the show "American Idol" is. The most popular episodes of that show are the ones where bad auditionees come on stage and perform HORRIBLY. People LOVE watching it, and people love criticizing them. Even the uplifting TV show “The Biggest Loser” causes American’s to sit on their couch and judge as morbidly obese people attempt to run on the treadmill or hike up a mountain. No one escapes this sink hole—we are all guilty. But people wonder why so many kids are depressed?! Being critical of others is not following in God's footsteps. It is not loving your neighbor as yourself. It is not the way God intended us to exist with each other. I think that the wonders of modern medicine have blinded us to some of the real problems that exist in our society--if we stopped picking on each other and started lifting each other up, there would be no more need for prozac or wellbutrin. If television shows became geared toward human accomplishment and not human shortcomings, the world would be a happier place.

“God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.” Romans 2:11

When I finished this reading, the above quote brought me a lot of comfort. Yes, people are critical, and yes, people are mean. But God doesn’t care what labels you wear, or what other people place on you. God loves you for the person you are when no one is looking. Because when no one is looking, you have God’s undivided attention.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Romans 1:16-25

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

I sometimes feel like I have a hard time saying that and being completely honest with myself. There are certain people I’m uncomfortable discussing my faith with. Around them it’s difficult for me to be open with my belief that Jesus Christ made me perfect when He died for my sins.

One example of this is with the guys on my ultimate Frisbee team at school. Of thirty men, I’m the only one that attends church. I enjoy playing ultimate and their company but they are not always eager to hear about “religious things.” When I’m around them then it is sometimes difficult for me to discuss why I act the way I do or why I missed practice because I was leading a middle school Bible study. I think this might be something that other people might struggle with too.

Sometimes I say that I don’t want to turn them away from Christ by appearing judgmental but other times I’m simply too scared to talk about it. I’m afraid that my teammates, friends I see on a regular basis, will judge me because of Christ.

I know this is not what God calls us to do and I think that the beginning of this passage makes it easier to step up and proclaim what Jesus means to us. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel has power. Through faith in what the gospel says God grants us salvation. We get to spend the rest of time in perfection with God in heaven because of what the gospel says. Life-everlasting is something that I’m not ashamed of having and is something that I want for my friends. This verse reminds me of the power that God has and encourages me to be open in discussing that with others.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Romans 1:1-15

It’s so incredibly important to find people who will not only support us, but encourage us in our faith. Attending church, particularly small groups or Bible studies, can be a powerful tool in finding friends with similar values who can encourage us to grow in faith and love. Still, it is not as easy as it seems. I attend a Christian college and have been attending church faithfully for my entire life; one might assume that every person I meet at such institutions would automatically be encouraging and supportive. Most people are supportive, that is true, but I have found that it is a rare, true gift to find a friend who is truly encourages me.

This encouragement is often challenging; oftentimes my friends will tell me things that I do not want to hear. Yet, I am so grateful for my friends who ask me, as a part of everyday conversation—“How are things with God going? What’s new in your faith life?” And although sometimes it irks me, I do appreciate the reminders—“Have you been reading your Bible? What have you found interesting? What have you been learning about God lately?”

I think a lot of Christians feel that they know pretty much all there is to know about God—we’ve been reading our Bibles our whole lives, going to Church, attending Bible studies. We don’t need other people to challenge us and our preconceived notions, our established conceptions of what God is and of what faith looks like. Somehow, God comes to be an ‘easy’, ‘comfortable’ notion.

It’s a trap that’s easy to fall into, and it strikes me as a pretty foolish view. God, after all, is so incredibly BIG- He is so beyond our comprehension, and His goodness and love are so all-encompassing, so infinite… it often seems to me that our little human brains could only ever gain a fraction of understanding in this mortal lifetime.

And that’s one of the reasons mutual encouragement is so important. To encourage us so that we don’t lose heart, yes, that’s important. But also to remind us that God is big and we have much to learn, and to encourage us not to stagnate in our faith and our knowledge, but to be the dynamic, ever-questioning, ever-learning sons and daughters that God created us to be.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

THANKSGIVING IS CELEBRATING


If you haven’t learned how to celebrate you haven’t truly learned to trust God. Those who truly trust in Him take the time to celebrate what He is doing. Believers in Christ should not be unsmiling workaholics. They have learned to accomplish great tasks while still being able to enjoy life. Sometimes we accomplish a task only to find that we have become consumed by it, and so we cannot celebrate it.


Nehemiah was a leader who not only knew how to work, he knew how to celebrate. As he led his people to celebrate after they had finished the wall around Jerusalem he teaches us some important lessons in celebration.


Celebration grows out of worship.


Worship is one of the vital keys to personal joy. In the Old Testament they regularly celebrated in festivals and special Sabbath days. They intentionally built into their lives opportunities to celebrate God.


Celebration should be fun.


Sacred does not equal sad. Enjoyment, after all, is God's idea. And so Nehemiah includes in his celebration a great feast. There should be no one in this world who has a better time celebrating than those who know Jesus as their savior. We have something to REALLY celebrate!


The result of celebration is strength.


The joy of the Lord is our strength. Far from sapping our strength for “more important things,” celebration actually gives us the real strength we need to endure. Some people have the attitude, “Let’s wait until we get to heaven to celebrate. Right now we have work to do.” The problem with that is it doesn’t take into account the way God has made us. We need to celebrate what He has done in order to receive the strength to do what He wants us to do. If you feel like your spiritual gas tank is empty here’s your one word prescription:


CELEBRATE!


Family Discussion Question: What has God done in your lives this last year that you need to celebrate? Personalise this devotion guide by taking time to individually write down your “celebration list” on the last page of this guide. If you have children that cannot write, ask them to tell you what to write for them.


Children’s Activity: Cut up some confetti or get some streamers, read John 3:16 and then throw them into the air to celebrate what God has done.

Friday, June 11, 2010

TAKE THE TIME TO SAY THANK YOU


“When one of them saw that he was healed, he went back to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. Then he bowed down at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. (And this man was a Samaritan.) Jesus said, ‘Weren’t ten men healed? Where are the other nine?’” Luke 17:15-17 (NCV)


Only one in ten took time to tell Jesus thank you. Jesus asked a striking question, “Where are the other nine.” Indeed, where had they gone. What were they doing that was so important that they did not have time to thank the one that saved them from leprosy? Let’s imagine where the “other nine” might have been for a moment. The purpose is not to condemn them, but to recognise that we might easily have been among them.


One of the “other nine” might have been hurrying to the temple to complete the legal requirements that went along with such a healing. So focused on keeping the rules and getting things done in the right order that he did not have time to stop and say thank you.


Another was just following the crowd. If the majority had turned back to tell Jesus thank you, he would have gladly followed. It would have never occurred to him to do something other than what “the others” were doing. Those who take the time to say thank you are those who stand above the crowd, not simply with the crowd.


One of the nine might have been afraid to go back. Someone with the power to heal his leprosy might also use that power to give him leprosy again. He might have felt that he didn’t really deserve so great a blessing. What if he said or did the wrong thing and Jesus found him out for who he really was.


A few of the nine might have felt embarrassed to go back. As a leper he’d been used to thinking of himself as a useless outcast. What difference would his word of thanks make to a powerful public figure like Jesus.


Odds are that all of us find ourselves amidst “the others” at times. Today take some time to be “the one” who tells Jesus and tells others “thank you for what you’ve done.”


Family Discussion Question: What have you “forgotten” to thank God for?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

THANKSGIVING DAY


“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor 9:15 (NIV)


Let me call your attention to the most important “thanksgiving” we have to offer. We should give the greatest thanks for our greatest gifts. The Bible reminds us that the gift of Jesus Christ is so great it is beyond description.


Thanks for that great a gift demands more than a card or a few words. Thanks to Jesus is given as we give our lives back to Him. Give Jesus your past, depending on Him for forgiveness and freedom. Give Jesus your present, trusting in His direction for today. Give Jesus your future, count on Him for the hope that you need.


Family Activity: Have each person in the family give a gift of thanks to Jesus.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

PRAISE TO GOD


“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.” Dan 2:20 (NIV)


The Bible tells us that Daniel was one of the wisest men who has ever walked this planet. Even a quick look at his life reveals that one of the secrets to that wisdom was his everyday decision to give praise to God. Intelligence and knowledge without praise add up to pride. It is when we add praise to the mix that God’s wisdom begins to emerge. In Daniel chapter two we see in Daniel’s example three specific ways to praise God:


Praise God for His Character - “Wisdom and Power are Yours”


Tell God, “Your love is great, Your faithfulness is wonderful, Your decisions are perfect.” One of the healthiest things we can do is praise Him for who He is.


Praise God for what He is doing to YOUR Character


“You have given ME wisdom and power!”


Praise God for His Actions in History


Daniel 9:15 says, “Do it again, Lord.” That’s pure praise: rejoicing in God’s power in the past and recognising God’s power in the present.


God’s greatest action in history was the giving of His son. 1 Corinthians 1 calls the crucifixion of Christ foolishness to the world, but to us the wisdom of God. The cross is where God shows His wisdom and power to the world today. We have a picture in our minds of getting wisdom by visiting a holy man on top of some far off hill. As if someone who is detached from the world is the person who has all of the answers? Wisdom IS found on a hill, but the hill is called Calvary. It is not found in someone who is detached from us, but where God identified Himself with all in the world. Want to see wisdom? Look at the cross. Praise God for what He did for you on the cross.



Prayer: Thank You Lord, for the love that you showed for me on the cross. Let the truth that you will love me no matter what guide my decisions and my actions today.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

THANKSGIVING LIVING


“No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (TLB)


We all know how a Christmas turkey fills our stomachs. How does living gratefully fill our lives? What does thanksgiving DO to us? To understand the result of thanksgiving you need only look as far as the objects of thanksgiving. What we’re thankful for becomes the faith focus of our lives. If we’re not thankful at all we end up living a faith without focus. Thanksgiving has the power to bring God’s perspective and focus to our everyday lives!


When I thank God for his blessings it impacts my attitudes.


We all know what it’s like to be around the person who thinks the world “owes them something.” That kind of thinking fills a person with ingratitude and bitterness. What about the person who recognises through thanksgiving the wonderful truth that God has “given them everything.” That’s the person with the truly magnetic personality. The attraction is in their attitude of continuous joy. You cannot find that attitude in our world apart from thanksgiving.


When I thank God for His Character it impacts my character!


Thankful people become holy people. As you thank God for His patience you develop endurance. As you thank Him for his unfailing love you’ll grow an ability to love even the unloveliest, to love even in the worst of times. As you thank Him for His grace you develop a giving attitude. Praise not only pleases God, it changes us!


When I thank God for His Son it gives me a new sense of security and victory.


The results of the gift of Jesus are staggering, truly “indescribable.” Thankfulness is the proclamation of our trust in the truth that Jesus loved us and gave His life for us. When your faith focus becomes Jesus Christ then your life focus becomes victory!


Family Discussion Question: What character quality of God would you like thank God especially for this thanksgiving week?

Monday, June 07, 2010

HOW TO SAY “THANK YOU”


“I will never worship anyone but you! For how can I thank you enough for all you have done?” Jonah 2:9 (TLB)


“Thank you.” Those two words are incredibly significant and deeply spiritual.


One of the greatest skills we can develop in life is the skill of saying thank you. Nehemiah had obviously developed this skill. In chapter 3 of this book there are 3 important lessons about saying a simple “thanks.”


Be specific


Recognise the person. Say their name when you’re saying thanks. A thank you is a wonderful opportunity to let another person know how important they are to you. Also, be specific about what they have done. It’s one thing to say, “Thanks for dinner.” It’s better to be more specific, “Thanks for cooking the sauerkraut just the way I like it.”


Be sensitive


The best words of thanks recognise not only an action but the heart behind the action. Jesus showed this kind of recognition when he noticed a child’s humility, a widow who gave two mites, a woman who poured perfume on his feet. How encouraging it was to people as He looked beyond the bare bones of their actions to see and recognise the valuable attitudes of their hearts.


Be searching


Find ways to invite your mind to think about those whom you might want to thank. It bothers me that I often rush through life without taking time to thank those who have meant the most to me. Does that also bother you? I have a question written on my weekly schedule to force me to think about thanking people: “What 5 people will I write a note of encouragement to this week?” You might try something like this to help you to mentally search out those whom you want to thank.


Family discussion question: Who do you need to write a note of thanks to today? Take a minute right now to thank each person in your family for something they have done recently? Be specific. Be sensitive.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

THE INGREDIENTS OF THANKFULNESS


“I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Cor 1:4 (NIV)
Understanding the right ingredients is all important! Heloise wrote in her “hints” column that that best way to cook a moist turkey was to, “Put a cup of water in the cavity of the turkey, cover with tin foil and bake.” A reader wrote back to complain. “The turkey came out fine, but the plastic cup in the turkey melted!” Imagining that person trying to squeeze that cup into that turkey reminds us that directions must be specific! What are God’s specific directions for developing a thankful heart? What are the ingredients that result in thanksgiving?
Here’s your “Thanksgiving recipe.”
Recognize God’s grace
When was the last time you sent your boss a thank you note for that month’s check? Of course you don’t, you don’t generally thank someone for what you earned. That’s why recognition of God’s grace is such an important ingredient of thankfulness. When we recognise that all we have is a gift from Him it makes us into grateful people.
Understand God’s righteousness
“Righteousness” means that God ALWAYS does what is right. Beginning to get a glimmer of how righteousness ties in with thanksgiving? Sometimes life doesn’t feel like a gift - doesn’t look all pretty with a bright bow on top. Thankfulness results from the knowledge that God is righteous. When life seems to have been unfair, when it seems when it seems to have cheated you, remember that God is righteous. His purpose will reign in the end.
Thank God with other people
Of course you can and should give thanks all alone. But the truth is: if you don’t have a place to give thanks with others you’ll soon stop giving thanks at all. You need to hear others give thanks. You need to share what God’s doing in your life with others. Thankfulness is like bananas... it grows best in bunches.
Family Activity: Start making a “Thanksgiving List” today, see how many things you can write down. Try to fill several pages.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

THE JOY OF SACRIFICE


But remember this--if you give little, you will get little. A farmer who plants just a few seeds will get only a small crop, but if he plants much, he will reap much.” 2 Cor 9:6 (TLB)
I'd like to suggest that we desperately need to give more and grow more in our lives and our families: the give and grow. Paul's advice to us is simple, found in a two word command and a two word promise.
The command? Plant much! The promise? Reap much! It's the simplest addition: few = small, much = much. It's the simplest agriculture: if you plant a lot of seed you can expect a large harvest. How do we sow with our lives? We can give ourselves in hospitality: opening our home in order to meet people's needs. Or how about ministry: going out from your home to meet people's needs. Or what about stewardship: using the resources God has given to us to bless others. The challenge is clear. We need to plant our lives.
Paul says that we are made rich so that we can be generous. That's an eyeopener!! Our riches are given not primarily to encourage our luxury, but our generosity. God's riches are not an invitation to luxury, there are an opportunity for generosity. We should all carry around stickers that say “opportunity.” Stick them on everything that God places into our hands: our paycheck, our car, our house. Each are an opportunity to praise God, love people and express our faith.
Family discussion question: What do you need to put an “opportunity to praise God” sign on in your mind right now?
Children’s activity: Write “opportunity to praise God” on several 3X5 cards. Ask your kids what to put them on today.

Friday, June 04, 2010

TWO COINS


Read the story of the widow in Luke 21:1-4.
Two very small coins. Two mites, two cents. What could such a small amount buy? How could such a pittance be of any value to even a poor widow? It wasn’t enough to make a difference; to buy a meal or rent a room or purchase a robe. It was seemingly only enough to remind her of all this widow had lost, all that her life now lacked. Yet, they were all that she had. She lived in a society in which a woman without a husband was not allowed to provide for herself. These two coins had become her only security: all that she had left.
Two very large coins! Two of the most talked about, most adored pieces of money in all of human history. More valuable than the crown jewels of England for their impact. More rare than the rarest of coins for their teaching. What could these two coins buy? They earned the highest praise of Jesus. Jesus looked at this woman and saw not a poor widow, but a woman of wonderful faith. These two coins became her lasting legacy, summing up all that she had done right.
There is a hidden fear for many of us in the reading of this story. If Jesus commended this woman for giving all that she had, might He not also ask the same of us? He does! He asks us to be willing to trust Him with our all. And if He ever challenged us to actually give it all away, be assured that He would not stop meeting our needs. Can you imagine the reward of that kind of genuine generosity?
Jesus is teaching his disciples, then and now, an important lesson as He points to this widow. We tend to be impressed with the amounts that people give. God is impressed with the heart that we give it with.
Family Discussion Question/ Children’s activity: Make up a story together. How do you think God rewarded this poor widow when she got to heaven. Enjoy this by going into the wildest and grandest detail you can imagine.

Holy Land Stories: Widow's Mite from daniel riemenschneider on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

SACRIFICING TO GIVE


“Those who cry as they plant crops will sing at harvest time. Those who cry as they carry out the seeds will return singing and carrying bundles of grain.” Psalm 126:5-6 (NCV)

A missionary tells about understanding the significance of this verse for the first time. During a time of drought the tribe with which he was working saw their supplies of corn stretched to the limit. He recalled seeing a father take one of the last bags of dried corn out of his families store room. This corn could have been pounded into meal to make the cakes that were the staple of the families diet.

But, instead, he took the corn to the field where he sowed the seed into the ground. The missionary saw tears flowing down the man’s cheeks, and he understood. It hurt to put into the ground what might be his families last meal. Yet he knew that without sowing that seed his family would certainly starve the next year. So he sowed with tears knowing that he would one day reap with joy.
What’s the lesson? That we should give away our last meal? Of course not! The lesson is that it’s not always easy to “generate generosity!” When we talk about “giving cheerfully” it can sound as if giving is always an easy thing to do. That simply is not true. For those who give there is often the strange mixture of sacrifice and joy. You know that you’re doing what is right and yet it is often hard to let go. That’s true when we give our time, our money, our talents or ourselves.
But the truth is there is an inevitable law of sowing and reaping at work. It’s a natural law. It’s a spiritual law. Those who sow in tears WILL reap with joy. The result of our sacrificing to meet other’s needs is not just a feeling of satisfaction, well being or “having done the right thing.” It is JOY! What is joy? It is an overflowing sense of God’s perspective on life, an overwhelming experience of God’s presence in life and an overarching knowledge of God’s security for life.
Family discussion question: Can you remember a time when it was difficult for you to give something? (Even preschoolers can think of an answer to this question!)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

SACRIFICING TO LIVE


“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24 (NIV)
Imagine a grain of wheat talking to itself, admiring itself, noticing how round and brown and fully packed it is. Imagine it thinking about that physiology and psychology of falling into the cold, dark ground. The grain of wheat might say, “I’m feeling a little uncomfortable with this concept. I like myself as I am and think that falling into the ground would be a waste of my life.”
Jesus is not talking about wheat in this verse. He is talking to us! He’s reminding us that a sacrifice given out of a loving heart for Him always results in new life for ourselves and for others. Yet most of us have felt like our mythical grain of wheat. Sacrifice is a great idea... for other people or for some other time.
We all want to do something great with our lives. We think, “I’ll finish those goals and then I’ll have time to make the sacrifices.” Jesus says to us, “Sacrifice comes first!” Jesus led the way for us. He sacrificed His life, literally, so that we could be forgiven. The most significant sacrifice in history brought about the most significant impact upon history.
This sacrifice is not a simplistic “no pain, no gain” philosophy. We’re not talking about working hard. (Although there’s nothing wrong with hard work.) Nor is this an invitation to a “martyr complex” faith. We’re talking about true sacrifice: giving up that which is most important to you. Jesus could not have been clearer. Losing your life comes before finding your life. And find it you will! Someone once said to a group of missionaries serving in a remote area “you have certainly buried yourselves here.” The missionary replied, “We were not buried here, we were planted here.”
Family Discussion Question: How do we get past the “I’m not sure I really want to do this” feeling that goes along with all genuine sacrifices?
Children’s Activity: Plant some seeds and watch them grow.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

SACRIFICING TO LOVE


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Cor 13:1 (NIV)
It's not enough for love to just be exciting, it also must be lasting! Teen age romance won't satisfy a middle aged couple. Puppy love won't last through the dog days of life. How can you build a love that lasts longer that a 2 hour movie, or a 210 page paperback novel? Paul writes to the Corinthians amidst their turmoil and tells them the secret of love that makes relationships last. Lets look at I Corinthians 13 together and get some clues to the daily sacrifices that keep love alive.
Love is patient... (1 Cor 13:4)
Love is alive when it has time, it is dying when it is hurried, it is dead when it cannot wait. Waiting together is a part of all of our relationships! But many times love also means that I must wait for someone else . wait for them to grow or to understand . wait for them to heal or to get motivated.
Love is kind... (1 Cor 13:4)
Love is alive when it cares, it is dying when it forgets, it is dead when it ignores.
Kindness is the ability to do the little things well. The love expressed in kindness is learning how to turn those grand vows in a ceremony into washing dishes and dumping trash, how to turn those great hopes in a hospital nursery into changing nappies and staying up with sick children. Do you ever forget to be kind? We all do! Kindness in our families, with those we are closest to, takes real effort.
LOVE does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud I Cor 13:4
Love is alive when it is secure... is dying when it doubts... is dead when it loses trust.
Security is one of the #1 issues in relationships. Add a little insecurity to the best of relationships and love battles to stay alive. This is true even in our relationship with God. What one step could you take to make that relationship where you are struggling more secure? What difference might it make for you to talk to or call someone today and say "No matter what happens, no matter how ill you become or how far apart we are, I will always love you."
Family Activity: Here's your assignment... be kind to someone in your family today in some unusual or new way. See if you can catch each other being kind.
Children's activity: Show your kids how our actions affect our feelings. Have them act sad,. ask if it makes them feel a little sad. Have them act angry, then act like they don't care. Then have them act happy and ask again how their actions affect the way they feel inside.

Monday, May 31, 2010

SACRIFICING TO GROW


“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” I Corinthians 9:24
The truth is, our biggest hurdle in making the sacrificial commitments we’d like to make for Christ is often ourselves! We don't always feel like doing what we know is right to do! Sometimes we feel like doing what we know is the worst thing to do. Wouldn't it be great if they made a TV remote control for people!
Circumstances become overwhelming - click - change channels.
Can't wait patiently - click - fast forward.
Afraid of the future - click - pause.
Want to make up for a mistake - click - rewind.
Wouldn't it be great if they made a remote control for self-control?
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 “I make myself.” How do you do that? The key to self control is Christ control - the Bible says it is a fruit that God's spirit wants to bear in our lives. Paul talks about three areas of life that we need to make a commitment to if we are to follow his leadership in our lives in this area of a new sense of self control.
Run for the Prize: Excellence
Don't run at the back, don't run with the pack, run for the prize. In a world where many are think it enough to have simply participated, we are challenged to strive for excellence.


Train for the crown: Eternity
If the relatively small promise of a reward like a gold medal can motivate us to such great heights even on a human level - just think of what a focus on eternity could do!
Aim for the goal: Energy
If you’re running a race it’s good to have your eye on the finish line! Paul reminded us that those who reach the finish are those who make sacrifices. He said he “disciplined his body.” We have a choice. We become a slave to our passions or we live for Christ with the passion of a slave.
Family Discussion Question: Where do you need a renewed commitment to excellence, focus on eternity, a discipline for energy?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sacrificing To Change


“Take with you your only son—yes, Isaac whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him there...” Gen 22:2 (TLB)


We all have something we’d like to change in our lives. It might be our schedule or our habits, our words or our weight. Many of us struggle with making those changes. Instead of telling yourself you cannot change, why not discover the secret of lasting change.


The secret of lasting change is sacrifice. In the give and take of life what you give you keep and what you take you end up losing. Any talk about change must include an honest look at sacrifices. Lasting change is built on real sacrifices. Your attitude towards sacrifice can be a grumbled, “We all have to make sacrifices,” or a faith filled, “God asks us all to make sacrifices.” The sacrifices God asks of us always build towards the blessings God wants to give to us.


Abraham understood sacrifice. He sacrificed his former life and people when he moved to the promised land. And then, when it seemed that all the sacrifices had been made and he could coast for the rest of his life, God asked for the biggest sacrifice of all. He told Abraham to sacrifice his son. How could God ask that of Abraham? How could God ask so much of us? You've got it all wrong! It's not as if He takes and we give. It's more that he teaches us how to give so that He can give us even more.


We read this story and the tension builds - would God really let Abraham go through with it! There is a sigh of relief in us all when God stops Abraham at the end - when He provides a ram in the thicket. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham trusted God to resurrect his son even if he had completed the sacrifice.


In New Testament days this scene is replayed. Once again it's an only son, ready to be sacrificed. But this time it is Jesus, God's son, on the cross. But this time no voice calls out, no ram in the thicket. What He would not allow Abraham to do God himself did. Jesus sacrificed His life!


The sacrifice that Abraham did not have to make changed him. The sacrifice that Jesus did make changed us. There is no change without sacrifice.


Family Discussion Question: What would you like to change?


Family Activity: “Change” the colour of some water by adding a few drops of food colouring. Talk about the fact that having Jesus in our lives may seem like a little thing to some people, but it changes EVERYTHING about us.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Where Commitment Leads

Where did the commitment that Mary and Joseph made take this young couple? Their commitment lead them to Egypt. Because King Herod was trying to kill the baby King they had to flee their homeland. It wasn’t always convenient - all fun and games - to have Jesus as their son. Hollywood would have Mary saying, “I don’t feel like cooking tonight, Jesus here’s some bread and loaves, could you whip something up.” Or, “One of the kids is sick, heal them.” The truth is, their commitments made their lives better but not easy. Commitments are not always convenient!
Their commitment led them to a temple. The temple where they lost Jesus when He was 12 years old. They lost the Son of God. (Or they at least thought that they had!) Their great commitment led to a tremendous feeling of having let God down. Some people are afraid to make commitments because they feel they won’t be able to keep them perfectly. Let me set your mind at ease¼ you’re right, you won’t! But those who are afraid of stumbling never get in the race.
Her commitment led to being involved in Jesus’ first miracle. Mary was the one that encouraged that miracle! Opportunity is being in the right place at the right time so that God can use you in His way. You can’t always schedule God’s will, sometimes it’s just a matter of being available. Mary’s commitment made her available.
Her commitment led to the foot of a cross. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there at the cross. Can you imagine the emotions that must have broken her heart? She knew that Jesus was God’s Son. But Jesus was also her son. She had nursed and cared for Him as a baby - and now He was being tortured on a cross. Trust sometimes leads to a broken heart. A broken heart over our own sin. A broken heart over those who reject Christ.
Her commitment led to the upper room. In Acts we’re told of the new church starting in an upper room. Not many people realize that Mary was there when that new church started. She saw the resurrected Jesus. She witnessed the beginning of His church that would change the world. In the end, her life of commitment led to a fulfillment of God’s promise that she could have never imagined.
Family Discussion Question: Where is your commitment leading you right now?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mary: The Character Of Commitment


“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” “Nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1:34, 37,38 (NIV)


Perhaps the greatest commitment made by any human being was the commitment that Mary made to trust God’s will in giving birth to His Son. How would you react if told you were to bear the Son of God? We see in Mary's reaction not anything strange at all; in fact, something very familiar. She acted much as people today do when they come face to face with the fact that Jesus has come into the world... that Jesus is willing to come into their world. Mary goes through three stages... confusion, questions, commitment.


Mary begins with Confusion


She was confused, because she didn't understand who God was. Her great fear made her want to draw away. The angel helps her to understand, helps us to see: if you're afraid of God, you don't understand who He is. God’s angel clears up our confusion by saying, “Don't be afraid.” How needed those words are in so many of our lives. Fear, in pushing us away from God, is pulling our lives apart. “You will give birth to a son.” Truth calmed her fear and changed it to wonder.


Mary moves from Confusion to Questions - “How will this be?”


Mary was saying, “Lord, I'm not qualified.” She had as good a reason to say that as anyone in history. What the angel was telling her was impossible! However good or poor the excuse, the lesson that's needed is the same: stop looking at yourself and start looking at God. “How will this be?” Go ahead and ask! God answers our questions. He helps us with our doubts.


Mary moves from Questions to Commitment


In verse 38 you see an attitude in Mary that shines for us. Commitment seems to leap from the page as you read this verse. She makes her decision, “Be it done to me.” William Barclay writes that the world’s most common prayer is, “Thy will be changed.” Mary refused the world's most common prayer and prayed the world's greatest prayer: “Thy will be done.”


Family Discussion Question: From confusion, to questions, to commitment; a journey that millions have taken when faced with that baby in a manger. Where do you need to take the next step in that journey today?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rebuilding a Commitment--It's Tough!


“The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding” Nehemiah 2:20 (NIV)


We are a society desperately in need of the art of rebuilding. I’m not talking about houses and cars. We need to perfect the art of rebuilding relationships: rebuilding marriages and families and friendships. We need to learn how to rebuild hope and rebuild trust and rebuild our ability to make commitments.


The promise in Nehemiah 2:20 answers the question, “What makes you into a rebuilder?” Today: let this promise encourage you to rebuild an important commitment in your life.


Expectation - “the God of heaven will give us success


It is our relationship with God that grows us into expectant people. God is perfectly powerful. He is the God of all the heavens. He can accomplish whatever dream He puts in my heart. Success is a gift of God!


Dedication - “we His servants


Nehemiah said an encyclopedia full about what it takes to be a rebuilder in these few words. He had chosen to be a servant of God. Self-centered people never do a very good job of rebuilding. They may even think they have good intentions, but the truth is they become more rearrangers than rebuilders.


They try to rearrange to suit their needs rather than rebuild for God's glory.


Determination - “will start rebuilding


What’s the number one reason why rebuilding does not occur? Lack of determination to start! Who's going to start? In your marriage, with your kids, in your ministry. Say to yourself, “I will start” Come on, become a rebuilder! Stop relaxing, rebuild!! Stop retreating, rebuild! It may be a relationship, maybe a commitment. Determine to start.


Family discussion question: What’s one place where you could start to practice this art of rebuilding?


Children’s activity: Fix something together today with your kids. Make it something simple. Suggestion for non-repair types: make some pictures on your wall hang crooked and get the kids to notice them. Fix them together.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Up The Down Escalator (¿Wrong Way through the Tunnel?)





Life as a believer in this world is somewhat like walking up a down escalator. As long as you keep moving ahead with your commitments, you’re fine. But try to stand still and you find yourself moving in the wrong direction!


The book of Second Kings is about a time in Israel’s history when the escalator was moving down very quickly. During this time there were three kings who stood out for their commitment to faith even in the toughest of times: Joash, Hezekiah and Josiah. They each have some great lessons to teach us for our tough times about the commitments we can make to keep moving ahead.


Joash repaired the temple in 2nd Kings 12. He rebuilt the place of worship! The place of worship must remain strong in our lives if we're to swim upstream without being washed down or worn out. I’m talking about more than just attending a worship service, but giving your attention to worship. Joash's experience reminds us of a vital truth regarding keeping worship at the center of our inner lives. We have to be willing to pay the price. It takes time, valuable time, to worship the Lord.


Hezekiah in 2nd Kings 18 removed the “High Places,” the places of false worship. A growing faith comes when we deal with the destructive and the distracting influences in our lives. Look at how Hezekiah dealt with such places. He removed, smashed, cut down and broke them into pieces! There was no compromise... they were completely dealt with. You can't deal with “high places” with halfway measures. It takes commitment.


Josiah rediscovered God’s Word in chapters 22-23. Even if you haven’t picked up your Bible for awhile, you probably know what shelf it's on. That's better than the people of Israel had done. They had literally lost the Lord’s law. When Josiah rediscovered and read it everything changed. You may need to make a rediscovery of your own; to rediscover the meaning of God's word for your daily life. Start reading it again as if your very life depends upon it!


Family Discussion Question: Whose example do you most need right now: Joash, Hezekiah or Josiah?


Children’s Activity: Draw a picture of a fish swimming upstream (against the flow of some rubbish going downstream) and put your name on the fish.

Bonus video: Hezekiah's Tunnel

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Commitment To Your New Life


“Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace. Always be thankful.” Col 3:15 (NCV)

How on earth do heavenly minded people act? What does the new life Christ gives us look like? Colossians 3:12-17 outlines for us the daily commitments that are a part of the new life that we live as believers in Jesus. We put on the love of Christ. Love others as Jesus loved them? Every day?

Paul reminds us of three truths about ourselves that give us a foundation and a strength for loving others. I am a chosen person. By God... for a purpose. I am a holy person. People who love others aren’t constantly trying to prove themselves. I am a dearly loved person, dearly loved by God. In order to love I MUST KNOW that I am loved.

We’re ruled by the peace of Christ. To rule is an athletic term which means to umpire. The umpire is the one who has the final say. Who has the final say in your daily attitudes and decisions? Is it the worries of the world or the peace of Christ? We all struggle with allowing our anxieties to control our lives. Paul reminds us in these verses that one of the secrets to changing our focus is found in expressing our thankfulness to God.

We’re indwelt with the Word of Christ. God’s word does dwell in us as we hear, read, study, memorise and meditate on it. But we’re reminded in Colossians three that it dwells in us richly as we teach and encourage others with what it says.

We do everything in the name of Christ. Everything, from shopping for groceries to office staff meetings to filling out tax forms to homework. How do we make this practical? Billy Graham’s wife Ruth used to have a sign over her kitchen sink that read, “Divine services held here three times a day.” Washing dishes can be an act of worship if you do it in the name of the Lord. To do something in God’s name means you focus on both your purpose for Him and His presence with you.

Family Discussion Question: Can you think of: the name of one person towards whom you need to act in the love of Christ. One decision do you need the peace of Christ to rule in. One believer with whom you need to share the word of Christ. One place that you can start acting in the name of Christ.

Monday, May 24, 2010

God's Promise of Direction


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Prov 3:5-6 (NIV)
God’s purpose must be built in to the direction and decisions of everyday life. Here in Proverbs three are three commitments of life that ready you for the decisions of life. They build a lifestyle that enjoys God’s daily direction.
Determine your Director - “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart.”
This simple phrase encourages us to ask two of life’s most important questions. Firstly, who am I trusting? Is it myself, my fears, my friends? Or is it the Lord? Secondly, how am I trusting? We’re encouraged to trust with all our heart. Half hearted trust is not trust at all.
Detect your Detractor - “Lean not on your own understanding”.
Leaning on own understanding is a major reason for directionless living. How do you avoid the temptation to lean on only yourself? A few suggestions. Take time with your decisions. Rollo May said, “It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.” Talk to God about your decisions. Here's the acid test for determining which way you’re leaning: how often do you talk to God?
Declare your Delight - “In all your ways acknowledge Him.”
Acknowledge means to let others know. Declare your delight. Personally, in your devotional life take time to tell the Lord you appreciate Him. Publicly, in your witnessing life tell others your appreciate the Lord. Acknowledge Him! And the promise is, God will direct your paths. Not might, or could, but will. How can I know God’s will for my life? How can I know what decision God would have me to make? If you’ll work on determining and detecting and declaring, God will do the directing!
Family discussion question: Have each person in your family answer the question, “the decision that I’m facing right now that I would most like to have God’s direction in is.......”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Commitments that Last


“...those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

“It'll never last.” Three little words so easy to say, and yet the results are so devastating! Tempted to give up on a dream? Feeling like divorce is the only way out? Feeling like the struggle of faith just isn't worth it anymore? You just want to quit, give up, bail out, toss in the towel? Isaiah 40 is for you.

Isaiah 40 contains one of the most beautiful expressions in the Bible of the power and nature of God. Why does Isaiah talk about this? Because our ability to last through the storms comes from Him who makes and calms the storms. Our ability to endure through the long wait comes from Him who has been here forever. God's word stands forever... I can last, if I'll stand upon His word! God's has measured the waters in His hand... I can last, if I'll put myself in His hands! The Lord is the everlasting God... I can last, if I'll make Him my everlasting Lord!

When you hope, your commitments will last! That is the promise that God makes to us in these verses. Your strength will renew.

You’ll soar - like an eagle. Renewed strength is the ability to dream again.
You’ll run - and not be weary. Renewed strength is the ability to strive again.
You’ll walk - and not faint. Renewed strength is the ability to endure again.

Family discussion question: What are you having a hard time waiting for right now?

Children’s Activity: Emphasize the words soar, run and walk with your kids by reading the verse and picking them up to “soar” when you read soar, running when you read run and walking when you read walk. Read it several times to try and remember the verse.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Value of Purpose

<-- Paul / Rembrandt


“My life is being given as an offering to God, and the time has come for me to leave this life. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Tim 4:6-7 (NCV)
Is it worth it? Visionary, purposeful living is not always easy. It not only requires a measure of personal discipline, it also includes real opposition and problems! Is it worth it? In the book of Second Timothy Paul writes knowing he will be executed in a few days - it doesn't seem as if the Lord will intervene this time. That makes a person think about what was really of value in life. As he looked back across the years Paul was able to state three elusive, exciting qualities that had marked his life because of his vision.
An Overcoming Spirit - “I have fought the good fight”
Life is a battle. God’s purpose enables you to overcome. The words Paul uses here have the sense of “I did it!” You can sense the finality and the victory in these words. Vision changes a defeated spirit into a overcoming spirit... a fearful spirit into an overcoming spirit... an angry spirit into an overcoming spirit... a compromising spirit into an overcoming spirit.
Staying Power - “I have finished the race”
Life is a marathon. More people's faith has been defeated by the details of everyday living than by the big battles of life. God’s purpose enables you endure. The key for Paul wasn't being first, it was finishing. For Paul life was not a matter of competition, but of completion! Now there's a simple truth to transform the way you live. We spend so much time trying to beat those around as we dash around everyday that we run out of energy for finishing the race.
Abundant Life - “I have kept the faith”
Life is a gift. It is a wonderful gift, but also a challenging gift. Remember as a child getting a puppy for Christmas or a birthday. Your parents sat you down and said, “Now you have to walk it, train it, feed it.” You might have thought, “This isn't a gift... it's a responsibility!” The word Paul uses for “kept” here relates to the responsibility of a servant left in charge of a household in the absence of his master. Some people are overwhelmed by life and others are overjoyed by life. Having an eye on God’s purpose enables us to enjoy the responsibility of life as a gift from God.
Family Discussion Question: What does life feel more like to you right now: a battle, a marathon or a gift?
Video: Fast Paul





"The purpose of Christianity is not to avoid difficulty, but to produce a character adequate to meet it when it comes. It does not make life easy; rather it tries to make us great enough for life."