Why God is Important to our Nation

Why God is Important to our Nation Part 1

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Glory to God in the Highest!

The Bible gives us over 50 descriptions about the people at the time of the end.
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Answers - by Hank Hanegraaff
(New 06-10-08)

Christ Is Born

Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, preaching, and working with youth. He also has written a numb

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Worry is the act of imagining a future without God.

When you strip it down to its bones that’s what it really is. I worry when I imagine a future devoid of God. I worry when I project my current feelings and discouragements and struggles into the future. I worry when I take God’s love and faithfulness out of the equation. When I imagine a stark and bleak future, a screaming void in which my faithful and loving Father does not exist or act on my behalf. Underneath all the anxiety and fear and confusing emotions worry is actually a form of atheism. It’s acting as if God does not exist.

Psalm 18:46 provides three words which destroy worry and fuel faith:

“The Lord lives…”

Don’t pass over those words too quickly.

 The. Lord. Lives.

My budget is flatlining and we are financially tanking and I don’t see hope for the future! But the Lord lives. The same Lord who owns everything and provides for ravens and sustains galaxies and calls us his children is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t provide for yourself but your budget is not too tight for God. The Lord lives.

Worry is the act of imagining a future without God.

My child is not doing well spiritually and I’ve tried everything and I don’t have any hope that anything will change! The Lord lives. The same Lord who has saved murderers and prostitutes and Pharisees and drug addicts and money addicts and pastors' kids is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t save your child, but your kid is not too hard for God. The Lord lives.

My marriage is on the rocks and we’ve tried counseling and we’ve read all the books and I don’t see things getting any better! The Lord lives. The same Lord who created a bride for himself out of rebellious, wicked, God-hating sinners is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t rescue your marriage, but your marriage is not too hard for God. The Lord lives.

My spiritual life is dry, and I’ve tried a thousand different things to get it kickstarted, but nothing seems to work, and honestly, I don’t think things are going to get any better. The Lord lives. The same Lord who caused you to become spiritually alive is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t breathe fresh life into your heart, but your heart is not too dry for God.

Your circumstances may be bleak. You may not see a light at the end of the tunnel. You may not see any silver lining. But circumstances and tunnels and silver linings are not the basis of our hope, God is.

Don’t be a functional atheist today.

The Lord lives.

Let’s live in light of that reality.


Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

 

4 Secrets To Set Boundaries That Succeed

November 15, 2014

Proverbs 29:17 - “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.”

I don’t know if this boundary stuff really works for me,” Jill told me (Dr. Townsend).

She was having problems with her 14-year-old daughter.

Holly was skipping classes at school and had been caught drinking.

Things were definitely headed in the wrong direction, and Jill wanted to act before it was too late.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well, I sat down and told her, ‘Things are going to have to change around here.

 I’m going to set some boundaries with you.

 This is for your own good.

You need to stop the ditching and drinking.’”

“What happened then?”

“She got mad at me, yelled, and left the room.

 The next weekend she was drinking again.

I guess the next step is to send her to some adolescent rehab center—”

“Slow down, Jill.

That may be in the cards, but you’re ahead of yourself.

 I don’t think you’ve given Holly or yourself a real go in setting boundaries.

 Boundaries aren’t about just giving someone their marching orders and then expecting them to salute.

 Especially teens.”

Jill had thought that simply being direct and honest was all that was needed to set boundaries.

 But it isn’t.

There are four necessary principles that must be used in order make boundaries succeed in difficult situations:

Principle #1 – Love: I Am on Your Side

Always begin with love.

To the best of your ability, convey to your teen (or anyone else) that you care about her welfare and have her best interests at heart.

Boundaries separate people, at least at first.

Because of this, setting boundaries often causes conflict.

Teens get mad and feel persecuted.

They resist boundaries, because boundaries seem harsh and uncaring.

Love will help your teen hear what you are saying, accept the boundaries, and tolerate the consequences.

This is true for all of us.

When we hear hard truths from someone who cares about us, we need to know that the person is on our side.

Otherwise, we are liable to feel hated, bad, worthless, unloved, offended, or victimized.

Those feelings don’t lead to a happy ending.

To demonstrate love to your teen, tell her something like this: “I am on your side. I am not doing this because I’m mad, or want to punish you, or don’t care about you.

 I am doing this because I want your best.”

You may not be feeling especially close to your teen when you set a limit, but love is greater than momentary feelings.

Love is a stance, an attitude to take: you are on your teen’s side and for her good.

Principle #2 – Truth: I Have Some Rules and Requirements

Love opens the door to change but is not enough.

Truth provides guidance, wisdom, information, and correction.

Truth exists in the form of rules, requirements, and expectations for your teen.

 They are the dos and don’ts that spell out what your teen needs to do and what he needs to avoid.

Why is this important?

Because your teen needs to know what the line is, so that he can choose whether or not to cross it.

 If there is no line, you won’t be able to blame your teen for crossing it.

Sometimes a boundary doesn’t work because the parent didn’t clearly define the boundary.

By the way, if you feel weird or mean about having rules and expectations for your teens, you should see that feeling as a problem! It is not cruel and unloving for parents to have requirements for their teen’s behavior and attitude.

Teens who have reasonable expectations for their behavior tend to do better in life, because boundaries are part of life.

 Adults can’t show up for work late, nor should they yell at their spouse when they’ve had a bad day.

As long as the rules are appropriate for the situation, when you bring them into the relationship, you are helping your child see that structure and responsibility are normal and expected in life.

Don’t get mad. Get clear. Let your adolescent know what is expected and required in behavior and attitude.

Write down your rules and regulations and post them on the refrigerator. Otherwise, when he feels you are being unfair in your discipline, he may be right.

Principle #3 – Freedom: You Can Choose to Respect or Reject the Rules

Your teen has probably exercised freedom to make some poor choices, and you haven’t seen much good come from that. But freedom is absolutely necessary, for a couple of reasons:

First, you can’t really make your teen choose the right thing. It can be scary to realize this, but realize it you must.

There is a lot you can’t control in your teen.

 You aren’t present for much of her life, so you can’t control what she does in school and with her friends.

Nor can you really control what she does at home, if you think about it.

Second, even if you could “make” your teen do the right thing, it wouldn’t help him develop into a mature, loving, responsible person.

 That is not how God designed the growth process.

He orchestrated things so that we must be free to choose good or bad, to choose him or reject him. That is the only way we can learn from our mistakes, and the only way we can truly love each other from the heart.

Of course, freedom has a limit.

 If a problem is life-threatening or dangerous, you certainly should intervene.

 Intervention in the form of involuntary hospitalizations, arrests, or residential treatment programs sometimes has to happen in extreme cases.

You want your child alive to be able to grow. But as much as possible, affirm and protect your teen’s freedom.

Principle #4 – Consequences: Here Is What Will Happen

Teens need consequences, because that’s how they experience a fundamental law of life: good behavior brings good results and bad behavior brings uncomfortable results.

Depending on the situation, your teen may need to experience something small, such as having to do extra chores at home.

Or the consequence may need to be a big deal, such as grounding for a long time with few privileges.

But the idea is the same: consequences teach us how to be responsible.

Consequences should be both said and done.

Your teen needs to know what will happen on the other side of the line.

If you state consequences without enforcing them, you will train your teen to ignore you, because your bark has no bite.

The next time you decide you need to have a boundary-setting conversation, be sure you say:

Love – “I love you and am on your side.”
Truth – “I have some rules and requirements for your behavior.”
Freedom – “You can choose to respect or reject these rules.”
Consequences – “Here is what will happen if you reject these rules.”

When you use these four principles, you are providing the stability, clarity, and motivation your teen needs to begin to learn self-control and responsibility.

Five Important Tools

Read Habakkuk 3:17–19

The prophet Habakkuk states his commitment to rejoice in the Lord and gain strength even when times are difficult and there seems to be no end in sight.

God knows when we need to be nurtured and healed, refreshed and sustained.

He gives us five important tools for the journey—tools that will help us and equip us to help others as well.

  1. Comfort in the Church.

When you’re hurting, going home is the best thing to do, and church is the believer’s spiritual home.

  1. Power in Worship and Praise.

 The beautiful lyrics of the song, “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt and Beth Redman goes: “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name.” The weight of grief and the burden of feeling alone spill out as we lose ourselves in worship and praise. Peace and confidence in the Lord’s love and care pour in. We magnify the Lord instead of our disappointment. We remember his mercies more than our hurt.

  1. Strength in Choosing the Joy of the Lord.

Happiness is based on circumstances, while joy is based on God’s love and faithfulness. Happiness is rooted in positive emotions, while joy is something more. It’s a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), something that God divinely gives us through the power of his Holy Spirit. Joy is like a medicine when our hearts are sick and the pain seems unbearable.

  1. Wisdom of His Word.

God’s Word is full of his promises to us, and when we read it, we’re reminded of them. The psalms, in particular, have helped me through heartache because in them are some of the most pure and honest heart cries ever written. God has a plan and purpose for my life, as he does for each of us, beyond this moment of disappointment. We need not be passively resigned to the problems in life. We need not give up and stop fighting for what we believe in; there is always hope, and as long as there is hope, we can move forward—and bring others with us.

  1. Love of Family and Friends.

 A friend will help us move forward through our disappointment and into God’s promises. When we can’t see anything but the fog of grief, a friend can help clear the way, help us laugh, bring a smile—and like medicine––the mirth helps us heal.

Point to Ponder

Disappointment is inevitable—for you and everyone else.

It’s part of life.

But God has given you tools to help you move past the disappointments you encounter and on to a joyous and productive future.

 You aren’t alone in your sadness, God has given you something to work with.

Chris Russell has spent the past 25 years actively involved in ministry through pastoring, church planting, writing, Christian radio, and special speaking around the country and in seven different countries. He is passionate about communicating

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When I was a young man, I seemed to continually wrestle with knowing God’s will for my life. I wanted more than anything to follow His plan. Interestingly, now that I’m “old” (currently 47 years old), I still wrestle with doing His will in my life. I have come to learn that this is not just something that a young person does early in life; it is a lifelong pursuit in order to stay in the exact center of His plan.

So, then, how can we know God’s plan for our lives? Over the past twenty-five years that I have been in ministry, I have discovered eight vital keys to knowing God’s will. Here they are:

1) Walk with God.

For starters, if you are interested in knowing God’s plan for your life, then you must learn to walk with God. You need to develop a relationship with Him. Christianity is all about relationship rather than just religion.

And so you must cultivate your relationship with God. You must seek to know Him and not just seek to know about Him.

You will cultivate that relationship best by spending time in His Word, taking time for prayer, and taking every opportunity you can to be involved in church and small group Bible study opportunities. When you seek these disciplines in your life, God will begin the first steps to revealing His plan to you.

Proverbs 3:5-6

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

2) Surrender your will to God’s.

Many times when we say we are seeking God’s will, what we are really wanting to say to God is this: “OK, God, here’s what I’m planning to do. Now I need you to rubber stamp this, all right?” I must tell you that this is not really effective in finding His true will.

Before God will begin to reveal His will to you, you must be committed to doing whatever it is that He desires for you to do. God will likely be slow to show you His plan if He knows you will likely not do that plan anyway.

Romans 12:1-2

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Jesus was willing to die for us, so shouldn’t we be willing to live for Him? When we surrender to Him, that is when He really begins to direct our steps.

3) Obey what you already know to be God’s Will.

Many people seem to want to know what God’s plan is for their lives, but they overlook the fact that 98% of His will is already delineated carefully through His Word. God is very clear about many, many aspects of His will. For instance, it is clearly His plan that we abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

If we do not obey the things that God has shown us clearly to be His will, why would we think He would reveal any further information regarding His plan for our lives? Obedience is an important first step.

4) Seek godly input.

One key component to finding God’s will is to seek the input of godly advisors in your life. If you don’t currently have 3-4 godly mentors, then I would highly recommend that you seek them out right away.

Think of it this way: you should understand that you are basically a composite of the five people you spend the most time with. So, then, it is vital that you choose those five people well. If you choose to surround yourself with godly advisors, they will be instrumental in helping you discern God’s plan for your life. But if you surround yourself with people who are far from God, your hope of finding His best for your life will be greatly diminished.

Proverbs 11:14

Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

The church is designed to help you greatly with this. I would encourage you to be in church every single time the doors are opened. The more you involve yourself with a community of believers, the greater your chances will be of finding godly men and women who can help you discern God’s will.

5) Pay attention to how God has wired you.

God has created you to fulfill a specific role in this world. There is no one else who can achieve completely what God has purposely created you to do.

The Apostle Peter gives us this admonition:

1 Peter 4:10

As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

God has gifted every one of us to perform a special mission for which we alone were created. How amazing is that? Wow!

So, when you seek to discover God’s will for your life, pay attention to how He has gifted you. His plan for you will always be directly related to the gifts that He has bestowed upon you. The great news is that you will automatically be good at whatever it is that He has called you to do!

6) Listen to God’s Spirit.

I experienced a major turning point in my own prayer life when I learned simply to shut up while I was praying. That may sound odd to you, and it seemed odd to me at first.

You see, I used to do all the talking when I prayed to God. But then, several years ago, I read Bill Hybel’s book, Too Busy Not to Pray. That book completely changed the way I approached God through prayer. Since reading that book, I have added a significant component to my prayer life: listening. I take time to listen to what God might have to say to me.

Practically, the way I go about this is to bring a notepad with me when I sit down to pray.

Then I write at the top of several pages things like the following:

  • “What is the next step in my career?”

  • “What is the next step in my ministry?”

  • “What is the next step for my family?”

  • “What is the next step for my marriage?”

  • “What is the next step in my education?”

  • “What is the next step in my finances?”

During my prayer time, I meditate on questions such as the above. Often, God will start flooding my heart with ideas and information regarding one or more of those questions. I write as fast as I can as He speaks to my heart. What a glorious experience that is to sense His Spirit on me, guiding my thoughts and words.

Through experiences like this, He has shown me many times with great clarity what His will is for my life. I long for those experiences when He speaks to me like that. Those times are truly life changing.

John 10:27

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

7) Listen to your heart.

In addition to listening to the Spirit, I also recommend listening to your heart. To understand my point here, consider the following passage:

Psalms 37:4-5

4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (NKJV)

I love this passage, because it shows me that, when I am walking with the Lord, He will actually let me do many really cool things that I actually love to do! When you are close to Him, He actually begins to shape your desires so that you desire the things that He has already called you to do.

So then, His plan actually becomes a super-exciting adventure. I always have the most fun in life when I am doing God’s will. And that is because He shapes my “wanter” to want to do the things for which He has actually created me.

8) Take a look at your circumstances.

God often clearly demonstrates His plan for our lives by lining up circumstances in obvious ways. And He also shows us what His will is NOT for us to do in that same way. It is not His will for you to take the job that is not offered to you. If you are 5’ 6” tall and weigh 125 lbs., it is not likely that God has created you to play professional football.

Over the years, I have discovered that God is pretty good at opening and closing doors. He even did that for the Apostle Paul and his enterouge in Acts. Take a look at this passage:

Acts 16:6-10

6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.

7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.

8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

So, even Paul had to face closed doors in his ministry. God often uses closed doors to show us clearly what He does NOT want us to do. And He also uses open doors at times to show us what He DOES want us to do. Of course, this does not mean that every open door is definitely God’s plan, but it does help to give you some basic direction.

A Closing Thought:

The next time you begin to ponder God’s plan for your life, I would encourage you to mull over the above eight keys.

Use these principles to help you to hone in on His plan.

And when you seek His will earnestly, you will find it!

For more, visit Sensible Faith.

A New Year’s benediction

January 2, 2015

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” 1 Peter 5:10

Suggested Further Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Oh, beloved, when you hear of Christ, when you know that this grace comes through Christ, and the calling through Christ, and the glory through Christ, then you say, “Lord, I can believe it now, if it is through Christ.”

It is not a hard thing to believe that Christ’s blood was sufficient to purchase every blessing for me.

If I go to God’s treasury without Christ, I am afraid to ask for anything, but when Christ is with me I can then ask for everything.

For sure I think he deserves it, though I do not.

If I can claim his merits then I am not afraid to plead.

Is perfection too great a boon for God to give to Christ?

No. Is the keeping, the stability, the preservation of the blood-bought ones too great a reward for the terrible agonies and sufferings of the Saviour?

No.

Then we may with confidence plead, because everything comes through Christ.

 I would in concluding make this remark.

I wish, my brothers and sisters, that during this year you may live nearer to Christ than you have ever done before.

 Depend upon it, it is when we think much of Christ that we think little of ourselves, little of our troubles, and little of the doubts and fears that surround us.

Begin from this day, and may God help you.

Never let a single day pass over your head without a visit to the garden of Gethsemane, and the cross of Calvary.

And as for some of you who are not saved, and know not the Redeemer, I would to God that this very day you would come to Christ.

For meditation:

The New Year may not always be as “Happy” as we would wish, but the Christian is blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3) and can look forward to a “Blessed New Year” throughout the problems that may come.

Sermon no. 292
1 January (1860)

A call to the unconverted

November 11, 2014
 

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Galatians 3:10

Suggested Further Reading: Matthew 25:31-46

Suddenly a voice is heard, and shrieks from some, and songs from others—he comes—he comes—he comes; and every eye must see him.

There he is; the throne is set upon a cloud, which is white as alabaster.

 There he sits.

 It is He, the Man that died on Calvary—I see his pierced hands—but ah, how changed!

No thorn crown now.

He stood at Pilate’s bar, but now the whole earth must stand at his bar.

But listen! The trumpet sounds again: the Judge opens the book, there is silence in heaven, a solemn silence: the universe is still.

 “Gather mine elect together, and my redeemed from the four winds of heaven.”

 Swiftly they are gathered.

As with a lightning flash, the angel’s wing divides the crowd.

Here are the righteous all in-gathered; and sinner, there are you, on the left hand, left out, left to abide the burning sentence of eternal wrath.

 Listen!

 The harps of heaven play sweet melodies; but to you they bring no joy, though the angels are repeating the Saviour’s welcome to his saints.

 “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

You have had that moment’s respite, and now his face is gathering clouds of wrath, the thunder is on his brow; he looks on you that have despised him, you that scoffed his grace, that scorned his mercy, you that broke his Sabbath, you that mocked his cross, you that would not have him to reign over you; and with a voice louder than ten thousand thunders, he cries, “Depart, ye cursed.” And then—No, I will not follow you. I will not tell of quenchless flames: I will not talk of miseries for the body, and tortures for the spirit. But hell is terrible; damnation is doleful.

Oh, escape! escape!

For meditation:

Any one of your sins would send you to hell (James 2:10).

No one but Jesus can divert you to heaven (Acts 4:12).

Make sure you are trusting in him alone for your salvation.

Sermon no. 174
10 November (Preached 8 November 1857)

A Theology of Suffering: Sing a New Song

February 3, 2015

by Ken Wytsma,

The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith

Without a theology of suffering, we will assume something is wrong, broken, or out of balance whenever we face trials. We may then find ourselves wavering, frantically searching for prosperity and blessing that we believe is the Christian experience, rather than obediently moving forward in the steps of the Savior.

Our comprehension of suffering as intrinsic to the life of the believer is essential if we are to find our voice among the faithful — among those who know lament.

Throughout the Psalms, we are told to sing a “new song” to the Lord. As the church and as individuals, it is time that we find our song.

When we find ourselves caught in the violent grip of fatigue, suffocating in the terror of the soul’s dark night, we need a song to sing. Like Paul and Silas, sitting in a damp, dark prison cell, ankles raw from heavy chains, singing loudly enough so that all the other prisoners could hear, so should we lift our voices.

This need for song is really an expression of a deeper issue — our need for a richer theology of suffering.

A friend of mine, Alex Mutagubya, is the founder of Transform African Ministries and pastor of the City Church in Kampala, Uganda. Speaking on the differences between the African and the American church, and on the African Christians’ greater resilience in the face of trials, he said, “There is, within the African Christian community, a robust acknowledgment of spiritual warfare that informs the church’s ability to endure the agony of fatigue. Even when it does not make sense, God remains God in the midst of suffering and pain.”

This theology of suffering is not unique to the African church. In most of the world, the church is familiar with adversity. The prosperity of the West has sheltered us from hardship, which has led to an anemic understanding of the place of suffering in the life of believers. Songs of suffering help us endure our seasons of fatigue. Suffering should make sense to the believer.

One of the ways we come to know God is in adversity. We draw close to Jesus in suffering.

The very One who calls us to follow Him was well acquainted with suffering and sorrow.

"In Gethsemane the holiest of all Petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not." - C. S. Lewis
 
Paul wrote of how Jesus spoke to him of His trials,

But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore,” Paul added, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” He concluded with one of the more astonishing spiritual truths of the New Testament, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Paul had the maturity to say in the midst of difficulty that God could move and was moving.

Can I also look at the challenges in my life as the grace of God? It is easy for us to see God in our blessings, but can we see God in our trials?

Training to Endure

It’s been said that the way you train is the way you will perform. We must train ourselves for bad times as well as for good. Just as marriage covenants refer to both bad times as well as good, so our covenant with God should acknowledge the certainty of both.

How we anticipate and are willing to accept pain will dictate whether we walk away or sustain faith through times of suffering.

Our expectations and preparation for trial will govern our ability to endure spiritual drought and burnout. Building a robust theology of suffering both prepares us for and acquaints us with the journey we have been called to walk.

How we train is how we perform. How we pattern our thinking with regard to difficulty affects our response to God when difficulty comes.

In the life of faith, it is easy to tend toward either extreme optimism, a gospel of health and wealth only, or a fatalism that sees God as distant and unfeeling. A realistic understanding will accurately locate us in the middle of a story in which to suffer is to share in what it means to be human.

We have been called to follow One who understands and empathizes with suffering. Our Lord warned His disciples,

“'A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” – John 15:20

Jesus suffered, so we should expect to suffer. We should expect it, but we should also begin to rebuild a proper theology of suffering within our confessions of faith. We need to strengthen our trust that, although we will undoubtedly meet adversity and pain on His account, He is also the one who has overcome the world and in whom we have life.

As Corrie ten Boom, the famed Dutch Christian whose family hid Jews from the Nazis during World War II, once said, “joy runs deeper than despair.”

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. — Psalm 40:1

Excerpted with permission from The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith by Ken Wytsma, copyright Thomas Nelson 2015.

Excerpted with permission from The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith by Ken Wytsma, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2015.

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Your Turn

As Christians we can expect to face challenges and hard times. The good news is that we have a good God on our side who will strengthen us every single day and give us grace to walk through it. Join the conversation on our blog! We'd love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

A Thief in the Night

October 28, 2014

- Alf Cengia -

 http://www.omegaletter.com/articles/articles.asp?ArticleID=7915 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the expression, like a thief in the night means: "secretly or unexpectedly and without being seen." (Emphasis mine)

That sounds just about right to me as well.

After all, why do thieves break into houses at night?

Well, they're unlikely to be spotted at that time.

People are asleep or not paying close attention.

 You might eventually end up hearing or even seeing the thief if he makes too much noise.

But the idea is that he comes unexpectedly.

The Apostle Paul used the term in context to the Day of the Lord in 1 Thess 5:2.

The thief in the night axiom is also linked to the pretribulational rapture and its imminent quality.

 It's the idea that Christ could come any time for His church.

One of the champions of imminence was Gerald Stanton (Kept from the Hour).

Non-pretribbers naturally disagree with Stanton's view that the rapture is imminent.

They argue for "expectancy" rather than imminence.

The idea of expectancy in the place of imminence has been promoted by posttribulationists such as George E. Ladd and Robert Gundry.

Doug Egsti's 36 page essay attempts responses to Stanton and other pretribulationists.

He insists that some events need to occur before the rapture, although he doesn't get into the heart of the imminence verses.

In one example, Egsti notes Arnold Fruchtenbaum's teaching that imminence is applicable only after 70 AD.

Then he takes issue with the fact that Fruchtenbaum entertained the possibility that the seven churches of Revelation represented historical eras.

How could the rapture then be imminent?

Alva McClain (who agrees with Fruchtenbaum regarding 70 AD) preempted this objection by pointing out that if these Historical Church Eras were a direct revelation, then the rapture couldn't occur at any time.

But he added that there was no such revelation.

Another problem cited by Egsti is the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

His colleagues often insist that the 144,000 in Revelation chapter 7 aren't evangelists.

 In other words the church must be still around to fulfill it.

And yet Rosenthal wrote that:

"It is almost like a baton being passed between runners.

The 144,000 must be sealed for protection to go through the Day of the Lord before the church can be caught up to the throne in heaven.

 God will not leave Himself without a people on the earth." ~ The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church page 185

In contrast, Van Kampen wrote:

"These 144,000 will become the firstfruits of unsaved Israel (Rev. 14:4), not saved until the rapture occurs - which is why they will not be raptured with the saints..." ~ The Rapture Question Answered p 155 (Emphasis mine)

That's rather convenient timing!

One gets the feeling that all sorts of excuses have been formulated to keep the church on earth right up until the last moment.

Interestingly, Rev 14:6 has an angel preaching the Everlasting Gospel to those who dwell on the earth.

Non-pretribbers like to point out that the thief expression occurs in Matthew 24:43 and Revelation 16:15 (and elsewhere).

They note that the former verse appears in the Olivet Discourse in context to Jesus' coming at the end of the tribulation.

 The latter verse appears during the 6th bowl judgment.

That being the case, how can anyone justify using the thief idiom for the pretrib rapture?

Robert Van Kampen (p 107) even advised his readers to find a pretribber and ask them why it is not permitted to set dates. 

 Almost everyone quotes Matt 24:36.

 The pretribber is then informed that v 36 is cited in context to the Second Coming verses earlier, so it cannot refer to the rapture.

In response to all this, we can make a number of observations:

That the Lord warns of coming as a thief at Rev 16:15 is a parenthetical statement warning readers of all periods.

It does not mean Christ hasn't returned by then.

 The verse should be compared with 1 Thess 5:2-3 where Paul says the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night while they are saying peace and safety.

There is no peace and safety at the 6th bowl, or after the 2nd seal for that matter.

In Matthew 24 Jesus prophesied certain events and gave signs leading up to His Second Coming.

Yet at v36 He tells the disciples that no one knows the hour or the day of His return.

How can this be?

Non-pretribbers argue that it is the time of the events leading up to the rapture which cannot be determined; hence the timing of the Second Coming is unknown.

Once the Seven-Year Covenant has been confirmed and the Abomination of Desolation enacted, we can have firm parameters - but only then.

 In contrast, prewrathers will switch to imminency once the Great Tribulation is under way.

Pretribulationists note that at Matt 24:36 Jesus used the word but (peri de), which introduces a new subject or idea (Fruchtenbaum, Hart etc).

 While He responded to the disciples' Jewish concerns (the Temple and the end of the age etc),

it was His prerogative to shift focus and add extra information.

In fact Jesus says something in vv37-38 which logically demands a different coming.

How can the worst time in history (Matt 24:21-22) parallel a period of normalcy where people are eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage?

 He punctuates the point further by saying:

 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. 

Mat 24:44

Yet didn't Jesus just give the disciples a set of signs to look for?

Go take another look at 1Thess 5:2-3!

But that's not all.

Hosea 5:15 and Matt 23:39 suggest that Christ's premillennial return is contingent to Israel's seeking Him.

 If the Lord's coming relies on Israel's request, then He cannot return unexpectedly.

Moreover, it rules out the scenarios argued by Rosenthal and Van Kampen (as noted earlier).

Given all this and considering verses which strongly imply imminence (Matt 24:42, 44, 50, 25:13; Mark 13:34-37),

 I believe it takes some special pleading to simply argue for expectancy.

Perhaps Jesus just means what He says - to be ready at all times because He could return for the church at any time!

 "Ah!

 Think how would you like to be overtaken by the coming of the Saviour.

Try your daily occupations - your daily state of feeling - your daily enjoyments - try them by this test:

 Am I doing as I would wish to do on the day of His coming? ~ Robert Murray M'Cheyne

Are you ready?

A Faithful and Wise Servant

October 30, 2014

Matthew 24:37–51 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over the household, to give them their food at the proper time?” (v. 45).

The Father alone knows the time of Jesus’ return (Matt. 24:36); thus, His people must always be ready for the end.

Using illustrations and parables, our Savior begins to explain how to be prepared for His coming (24:37–25:30).

The first few analogies tell us the second advent of Christ could occur at any moment.

Signs may indicate the nearness of Jerusalem’s ruin (24:1–35), but there will be no way to know whether His final return is around the corner.

Everyday life — eating, drinking, marrying — will go on until He comes (24:37–39).

No remarkable difference in the basic, life-sustaining ways of humanity will herald His return; in fact, the lack of change will make many believe He is not coming back (2 Peter 3:4).

We will be unable to discern the last moments before final judgment from the day people cease to form families or find a way to survive without consuming calories, for this day will never come.

Mankind will do the most common tasks up until the end (Matthew 24:40–42).

Verses 40–44 stress the suddenness of Christ’s return.

The taking of men and women from their tasks (vv. 40–42) is not a picture of a pretribulational rapture.

 Instead, Jesus is saying that the separation of the wicked and the righteous will be immediate.

 It is as if we will look up from our labor one seemingly ordinary day and find ourselves at the consummation of all things.

Just as a thief might suddenly break in without warning, so too will our Lord return at a moment when we are not expecting Him (vv. 43–44).

These illustrations encourage us not only to be ready for the Savior’s final advent, but also to be prepared to meet Him at any point should we die before He comes.

Matthew Henry comments, “We cannot know that we have a long time to live; nor can we know how little a time we have to live, for it may prove less than we expect.”

Putting off repentance and faith can lead to eternal damnation.

Therefore, we must be ready for Jesus’ return.

Readiness, however, is not passive; rather, we are to serve our king actively, knowing that He could come at any minute.

May we be wise, faithful servants who work for the kingdom, not those who lie down on the job and are fit only for destruction (vv. 45–51).

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Bishop Hilary of Poiters, an early church father, says, “Our ignorance of the day of Christ’s return should provoke us to be careful as we eagerly await his coming” (On Matthew, 26.6).

Knowing that Jesus could come at any minute should motivate us to pursue holiness, loving God and neighbor.

We certainly do not want the Lord to catch us off-guard.

Instead, we want to be found working diligently so that He will have no cause to be ashamed of His people.

For further study:

Isaiah 29:5–8

The Bible in a year:

Jeremiah 27–28

A Horrible Destiny

December 30, 2014

. . . Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

Do you remember the time you were lost as a child, or slipping over a precipice, or about to drown? Then suddenly you were rescued. You held on for “dear life.” You trembled for what you almost lost. You were happy. O, so happy, and thankful. And you trembled with joy.

That’s the way I feel at the end of the year about my rescue from God’s wrath. All day Christmas we had a fire in the fireplace. Sometimes the coals were so hot that when I stoked it my hand really hurt. I pulled back and shuddered at the horrendous thought of the wrath of God against sin in hell. O how unspeakably horrible that will be!

Christmas afternoon I visited a woman who had been burned over 87 percent of her body. She has been in the hospital since August. My heart broke for her. How wonderful it was to hold out hope to her from God’s word! But I came away not only thinking about her pain in this life, but also about the everlasting pain I have been saved from through Jesus.

Test my experience with me. Is this trembling joy a fitting way to end the year? Paul was glad that the Lord from heaven is “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). He warned that “for those who do not obey the truth there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8). And “because of [fornication, impurity and covetousness] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6).

Here at the end of the year, I am finishing my trek through the Bible and reading the last book, Revelation. It is a glorious prophecy of the triumph of God, and the everlasting joy of all who “take the water of life without price” (22:17). No more tears, no more pain, no more depression, no more sorrow, no more death (21:4).

But O, the horror of not repenting and holding fast to the testimony of Jesus! The description of the wrath of God by the “apostle of love” (John) is terrifying. Those who spurn God’s love will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and [they] shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night” (14:10–11). “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:15). Jesus will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (19:15). And “blood will flow from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle for two hundred miles” (14:20).

I tremble with joy that I am saved! O, the holy wrath of God is a horrible destiny. Flee this, brothers and sisters. Flee this with all your might. And let us save as many as we can! No wonder there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous! (Luke 15:7).

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

A Jealous God

December 20, 2014

Read Nahum 1:1-15

The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and rage. He takes revenge on all who oppose him and continues to rage against his enemies! The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he never lets the guilty go unpunished. He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm. The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet.

At his command the oceans dry up, and the rivers disappear. The lush pastures of Bashan and Carmel fade, and the green forests of Lebanon wither. In his presence the mountains quake, and the hills melt away; the earth trembles, and its people are destroyed.

Who can stand before his fierce anger? Who can survive his burning fury? His rage blazes forth like fire, and the mountains crumble to dust in his presence. The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him. But he will sweep away his enemies in an overwhelming flood. He will pursue his foes into the darkness of night.
(Nahum 1:2-8)

Reflect

In his prediction of Nineveh’s destruction—a destruction also predicted by the prophet Jonah, Nahum discusses God’s jealousy and vengeance—two surprising terms to associate with God.

When humans are jealous and take vengeance, they are usually acting in a spirit of selfishness.

But it is appropriate for God to insist on our complete allegiance, and it is just for him to punish unrepentant evildoers.

 His jealousy and vengeance are not mixed with selfishness.

 Their purpose is to remove sin and restore peace to the world (Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9).

God is slow to get angry, but when he is ready to punish, even the earth trembles.

Often people avoid God because they see evildoers in the world and hypocrites in the church.

They don’t realize that because God is slow to anger, he gives his true followers time to share his love and truth with evildoers.

But judgment will come; God will not allow sin to go unchecked forever.

 When people wonder why God doesn’t punish evil immediately, help them remember that if he did, none of us would be here.

We can all be thankful that God gives people time to turn to him.

Respond

How about you?

 Are you slow to anger or quick on the draw?

 Talk with God about any feelings of jealousy, anger, or resentment you might feel.

If you know someone who simmers in these feelings, pray for that person.

A mighty Saviour

January 4, 2015

“Mighty to save.” Isaiah 63:1

Suggested Further Reading: Hebrews 7:23-28

Remember the case of John Newton, the great and mighty preacher of St. Mary, Woolnoth,—an instance of the power of God to change the heart, as well as to give peace when the heart is changed. Ah! dear hearers, I often think within myself, “This is the greatest proof of the Saviour’s power.”

Let another doctrine be preached: will it do the same?

 If it will, why not let every man gather a crowd round him and preach it?

 Will it really do it?

 If it will, then the blood of men’s souls must rest upon the man who does not boldly proclaim it.

 If he believes his gospel does save souls, how does he account for it that he stands in his pulpit from the first of January till the last of December, and never hears of a harlot made honest, nor of a drunkard reclaimed?

 Why?

For this reason, that it is a poor dilution of Christianity.

It is something like it, but it is not the bold, broad Christianity of the Bible; it is not the full gospel of the blessed God, for that has power to save.

But if they do believe that theirs is the gospel, let them come out to preach it, and let them strive with all their might to win souls from sin, which is rife enough, God knows.

We say again, that we have proof positive in cases even here before us, that Christ is mighty to save even the worst of men—to turn them from follies in which they have too long indulged, and we believe that the same gospel preached elsewhere would produce the same results.

The best proof you can ever have of God’s being mighty to save, dear hearers, is that he saved you.

For meditation:

 Does the church today lack the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:29) because the church is ashamed of the fullness of the gospel, which is God’s power to save all who believe (Romans 1:16)?

Sermon no. 111
4 January (1857)

A Prayer of Confession

December 5, 2014

by Max Lucado

Confession isn’t a punishment for sin; it’s an isolation of sin so it can be exposed and extracted.

 Exactly what is it that you need forgiveness for?

 For being a bad person?

 That’s too general.

For losing your patience in the business meeting and calling your coworker a creep?

There, you can confess that.

Be firm in a prayer of confession.

 Satan traffics in guilt and will not give up an addict without a fight.

Exercise your authority as a child of God.

Tell guilt where to get off.

“I left you at the cross, you evil spirit. Stay there!”

Then for heaven’s sake, stop tormenting yourself.

Jesus is strong enough to carry your sin.

Psalm 103:12 says, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”

Before you say amen—comes the power of a simple prayer.

From Before Amen

Listen to UpWords with Max Lucado at OnePlace.com
 

A Pagan Festival?

December 4, 2014

The Heart of Christmas Day 4

See the full devotional reading for December 4 from The Heart of Christmas here »

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A Powerful Refuge

October 29, 2014

Read Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.

So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.

Let the oceans roar and foam.

Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High.

God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.

From the very break of day, God will protect it.

The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble!

God’s voice thunders, and the earth melts!

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord: See how he brings destruction upon the world.

He causes wars to end throughout the earth.

He breaks the bow and snaps the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation.

I will be honored throughout the world.”

(Psalm 46:1-10)

Reflect

Psalms 46–48 are hymns of praise, celebrating deliverance from some great foe.

Psalm 46 may have been written when the Assyrian army invaded the land and surrounded Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:13–19:37).

Martin Luther later used it as the basis for the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Many great cities have rivers flowing through them, sustaining people’s lives by making agriculture possible and facilitating trade with other cities.

Jerusalem had no river, but it had God who, like a river, sustained the people’s lives.

As long as God lived among the people, the city was invincible.

But when the people abandoned him, God no longer protected them, and Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army.

In the face of utter destruction, the writer expressed a quiet confidence in God’s ability to save him.

 It seems impossible to consider such tumult without becoming consumed by fear, but the Bible is clear—God is our refuge even in the face of total destruction.

He is not merely a temporary retreat; he is our eternal refuge and can provide strength in any circumstance.

Respond

War and destruction are inevitable, but so is God’s final victory.

At that time, all will stand quietly before the Lord Almighty.

How proper, then, for us to be still now, reverently honoring him and his power and majesty.

Take time each day to be still and to exalt God.

A psalm for the New Year

January 5, 2015

‘But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.’ 2 Peter 3:18

Suggested Further Reading: Philippians 3:8–16

My beloved brethren in the Lord Jesus, we must see to it that we ripen in the knowledge of him.

O that this year we may know more of him in his divine nature, and in his human relationship to us; in his finished work, in his death, in his resurrection, in his present glorious intercession, and in his future royal advent.

To know more of Christ in his work is, I think, a blessed means of enabling us to work more for Christ.

 We must study to know more of Christ also in his character—in that divine compound of every perfection, faith, zeal, deference to his Father’s will, courage, meekness and love.

He was the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and yet the man upon whom the dove descended in the waters of baptism.

Let us thirst to know him of whom even his enemies said, ‘Never man spake like this man,’ and his unrighteous judge said, ‘I find no fault in him.’

Above all, let us long to know Christ in his person.

This year endeavour to make a better acquaintance with the crucified one.

Study his hands and his feet; abide hard by the cross, and let the sponge, the vinegar and the nails, be subjects of your devout attention.

 This year seek to penetrate into his very heart, and to search those deep far-reaching caverns of his unknown love, that love which can never find a rival, and can never know a parallel.

 If you can add to this a knowledge of his sufferings, you will do well.

O if you can grow in the knowledge of fellowship—if you shall this year drink of his cup, and be baptised with his baptism—if you shall this year abide in him and he in you—blessed shall you be.

For meditation:

As a child the Lord Jesus Christ grew—in strength, in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and man (Luke 2:40,52).

 Those who have become God’s children by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ need to do exactly the same.

Sermon no. 427
5 January (1862)

A Sense of Place

November 16, 2014

Isaiah 32:9–20

Time and again in the Old Testament, the spiritual health of the people of Israel and the health and well-being of their land reflect each other.

God had given the Israelites their own land, a land of plenty and fruitfulness.

Where is your “Canaan”?

What are the unique beauties and distinctive features of the place where you live?

Biology professor David S. Koetje provides insights into caring for our “place”:

Faithfully caring for creation requires us to develop a stronger sense of place.

Place relates to the distinctive features of specific landscapes, habitats, and communities.

Fields, forests, deserts, and ponds are obviously unique places with distinctive features … [A] critical first step toward redeeming our fallen relationship with our lands and their inhabitants is attentiveness to the distinctive natural and cultural features of places.

Faithfully administering our calling requires us to serve these places.

The term most often used to describe our caring for creation is “stewardship”: management on behalf of a higher authority.

Because a steward is subject to God, she cannot simply do as she pleases with creation.

 Furthermore, she cannot claim that stewardship only applies to certain areas of the Christian life, such as finances, and not to others. Stewardship applies to all our relationships within creation: land, water, and energy; ecosystems, habitats, and species; our places, our bodies, our work …

As we focus on the importance of interrelationships and our own embeddedness within creation, how then do we serve our places?

 Stewardship that is place-based has five essential characteristics:

Think About It

Spend some time working through the questions in the text.

Act on It

You are not where you are by accident.

 God has placed you right where you are—within his creation for a time and a purpose.

 What things can you do today to be his steward in your God-ordained place?

A Skeptic's Christmas
 
December 9, 2014

A family’s love for the child in the manger spurs a spiritual journey

The Chicago Tribune newsroom was eerily quiet on the day before Christmas. As I sat at my desk, my mind kept wandering back to a family I had encountered a month earlier while I was working on a series of articles about Chicago’s poorest people.

The Delgados – sixty-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny – had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny two-room apartment on the West Side. As I walked in, I couldn’t believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls – only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice. They were virtually devoid of possessions.

In fact, eleven-year-old Lydia and thirteen-year-old Jenny owned only one short-sleeved dress each, plus one thin sweater between them. When they walked the half-mile to school through the biting cold, Lydia would wear the sweater for part of the distance and then hand it to her shivering sister, who would wear it the rest of the way.

But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was convinced he had not abandoned them. I never sensed despair or self-pity in her home; instead, there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace. Although I was an atheist at the time, she had my complete attention.

I wrote an article about the Delgados, and then I quickly moved on to other  assignments. But as I sat at my desk on Christmas Eve, I continued to wrestle with this irony: here was a family that had nothing but faith and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially but lacked faith – and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment.

I walked over to the city desk to sign out a car. I decided to drive over to West Homer Street and see how the Delgados were doing.

What Jesus Would Do

When Jenny opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Tribune readers had responded to my article by showering the Delgados with a treasure trove of gifts – roomfuls of furniture, appliances, and rugs; a lavish Christmas tree with piles of wrapped presents underneath; carton upon bulging carton of food; and a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves. On top of that, they donated thousands of dollars in cash.

But as surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was even more astonished by what my visit was interrupting: Perfecta and her granddaughters were getting ready to give away much of their newfound wealth. When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English: “Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do.”

That blew me away! If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything. I asked Perfecta what she thought about the generosity of the people who had sent all of these goodies, and again her response amazed me.

“This is wonderful; this is very good,” she said, gesturing toward the largess. “We did nothing to deserve this – it’s a gift from God. But,” she added, “it is not his greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus.”

To her, this child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything – more than material possessions, more than comfort, more than security. And at that moment, something inside of me wanted desperately to know this Jesus – because, in a sense, I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters.

They had peace despite poverty, while I had anxiety despite plenty; they knew the joy of generosity, while I only knew the loneliness of ambition; they looked heavenward for hope, while I only looked out for myself; they experienced the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material – and something made me long for what they had. Or, more accurately, for the One they knew.

I was pondering this as I drove back toward Tribune Tower. Suddenly, though, my thoughts were interrupted by the crackle of the car’s two-way radio. It was my boss, sending me out on another assignment. Jarred back to reality, I let the emotions I felt in the Delgado apartment dissipate. And that, I figured at the time, was probably a good thing.

As I would caution myself whenever the Delgados would come to mind from time to time over the ensuing years, I’m not the sort of person who’s driven by feelings. As a journalist, I was far more interested in facts, evidence, data and concrete reality. Virgins don’t get pregnant; there is no God who became a baby; and Christmas is little more than an annual orgy of consumption driven by the greed of corporate America. Or so I thought.

Embarking on an Investigation

As a youngster, I listened with rapt fascination to the annual Bible story about Christmas. But as I matured, skepticism set in. I concluded that not only is Santa Claus merely a feel-good fable, but that the entire Christmas tale was itself built on a flimsy foundation of wishful thinking.

Sure, believing in Jesus could provide solace to sincere but simple folks like the Delgados; yes, it could spark feelings of hope and faith for people who prefer fantasy over reality. But as a law-trained newspaperman, I dealt in the currency of facts – and I was convinced they supported my atheism rather than Christianity.

All of that changed several years later, however, when I took a cue from one of the most famous Bible passages about Christmas. The story describes how an angel announced to a ragtag group of sheepherders that “a Savior who is Messiah and Master” had been born in David’s town. Was this a hoax? A hallucination? Or could it actually be the pivotal event of human history – the incarnation of the Living God?

The sheepherders were determined to get to the bottom of the matter. Like first-century investigative reporters being dispatched to the scene of an earth-shattering story, they declared: “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can, and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, to personally check out the evidence for themselves. (See Luke 2:8-18)

Essentially, that’s what I did for a living as a Tribune reporter: investigate claims to see if they’re true, separate rumors from reality, and determine facts from fiction. So prompted by my agnostic wife’s conversion to Christianity, and still intrigued by memories of the Delgados, I decided to get to the bottom of what I now consider to be the most crucial issue of history: who was in the manger on that first Christmas morning?

Can we really trust the biographies of Jesus to tell us the true story of his birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, and ultimate resurrection from the dead? Did the Christmas child ultimately embody the attributes of God? And did the baby in Bethlehem miraculously match the prophetic “fingerprint” of the long-awaited Messiah?

I ended up spending nearly two years investigating the identity of the Christmas child; you can read what I discovered in my book The Case for Christmas. At the conclusion, I found the evidence to be clear and compelling.

Yes, Christmas is a holiday overlaid with all sorts of fanciful beliefs, from flying reindeer to Santa Claus sliding down chimneys. But I became convinced that if you drill to its core, Christmas is based on a historical reality – the Incarnation: God becoming man, spirit taking on flesh, the infinite entering the finite, the eternal becoming time-bound. It’s a mystery backed up by facts that I now believed were simply too strong to ignore.

I had come to the point where I was ready for the Christmas gift that Perfecta Delgado had told me about years earlier: the Christ child, whose love and grace is offered freely to everyone who receives him in repentance and faith. Even someone like me.

So I talked with God in a heartfelt and unedited prayer, admitting and turning from my wrongdoing, and receiving his offer of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus. I told him that with his help I wanted to follow him and his ways from here on out.

There was no choir of heavenly angels or lightning bolts. I know that some people feel a rush of emotion at such a moment; as for me, there was something else that was equally exhilarating: there was the rush of reason.

Over time, however, there has been so much more. As I have endeavored to follow Jesus’ teachings and open myself to his transforming power, my priorities, values, character, worldview, attitudes, and relationships have been changing – for the better. It has been a humbling affirmation of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”

And now, what about you? Perhaps, like the first-century sheepherders, your next step should be to further investigate the evidence for yourself. If any of my books can be helpful, great. But I hope you’ll promise yourself at the outset that when the facts are in, you’ll reach your own verdict in the case for Christmas.

Or maybe you’re more like the magi. Through a series of circumstances, you’ve maneuvered your way through the hoopla, glitter, and distractions of the holiday season, and now you’ve finally come into the presence of the baby who was born to change your life and rewrite your eternal destination.

Go ahead, talk to him. Offer your worship and your life. And let him give you what Perfecta Delgado called the greatest gift of all – Himself.

This article was adapted from my book The Case for Christmas.

Personal from Lee

• Something big is brewing. Seriously. I can’t announce it just yet, but news will come out soon. It’s about fresh approaches to evangelism, fresh strategies for outreach, and fresh energy for reaching America for Christ. I’ll let you know as soon as we finalize everything. Follow me at @LeeStrobel on Twitter to keep current, watch for my next newsletter, and keep an eye on your inbox for a note from me. Can’t wait to share this with you!

A tempted Saviour—our best succour

January 4, 2015

‘For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.’ Hebrews 2:18

Suggested Further Reading: Hebrews 4:14–16

I am certain of this, that when through the deep waters he shall cause you to go, or you are made to pass through furnace after furnace, you cannot want a better rod and staff, nor a better table prepared for you in the wilderness than this my text, ‘In that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.’

Hang this text up in your house; read it every day; take it before God in prayer every time you bend the knee, and you shall find it to be like the widow’s cruse, which failed not, and like her handful of meal, which wasted not:

 it shall be unto you till the last of December what now it is when we begin to feed upon it in January.

 Will not my text suit the awakened sinner as well as the saint?

 There are timid souls here.

They cannot say they are saved; yet here is a loophole of comfort here for you, you poor troubled ones that are not yet able to get a hold of Jesus.

 ‘He is able to succour them that are tempted.’

Go and tell him you are tempted; tempted, perhaps, to despair; tempted to self-destruction; tempted to go back to your old sins; tempted to think that Christ cannot save you.

Go and tell him that he himself has suffered being tempted, and that he is able to succour you.

Believe that he will, and he will, for you can never believe anything too much of the love and goodness of my Lord.

He will be better than your faith to you.

 If you can trust him with all your heart to save you, he will do it; if you believe he is able to put away your sin, he will do it.

For meditation:

 Of all who have lived on earth the Lord Jesus Christ had the greatest experience possible of exposure to temptation, but was the one and only total stranger to sin.

 In this dual capacity he is uniquely and ideally qualified to help us in our ongoing conflicts with both temptation and sin (Hebrews 4:15).

 Are you one of those who seek his help?

Sermon no. 487
4 January (1863)

A Watchman for Israel

January 23, 2015

Read Ezekiel 3:16-21

After seven days the Lord gave me a message.

 He said, “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel.

Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately.

If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins.

And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.

 If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins.

But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.

“If righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and ignore the obstacles I put in their way, they will die.

 And if you do not warn them, they will die in their sins.

None of their righteous acts will be remembered, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths.

 But if you warn righteous people not to sin and they listen to you and do not sin, they will live, and you will have saved yourself, too.”
(Ezekiel 3:16-21)

Reflect

A watchman’s job was to stand on the city wall and warn the people of approaching danger.

Ezekiel’s role was to be a spiritual watchman, warning the people of the judgment to come. If the people back in Judah continued in their sins, they and their land and cities would be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. If, on the other hand, the people turned back to God, God would spare them. God would hold Ezekiel responsible for his fellow Jews if he failed to warn them of the consequences of their sins.

God had already told Ezekiel that the people would not listen, so why should he bother to tell them God’s message? God wanted the people to know they had been warned. Ezekiel’s job was to obey God.

Respond

Like Ezekiel, we are responsible to tell others about God’s judgment and his message of salvation, but we are not held responsible for how they respond. Remember God’s words to Ezekiel. You are responsible to be faithful with God’s message, but you are not responsible for the outcome.

A Whispered Reminder

November 1, 2014

by Max Lucado

In Matthew 6, Jesus prayed, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

A prayer that begins. . . “May I not view you as a distant father, but as one who has come to earth and understands the challenges and temptations of my life.

Be near me today, whisper reminders that you’re close.

My friends need you today as they make difficult decisions in their workplace and in their families.

Show them you are closer than even their earthly fathers.

 Thank you for hearing me and listening to my pleas. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray this, amen.”

Join me in prayer every day for 4 weeks, and pray 4 minutes per day.

Sign on at BeforeAmen.com—it’ll change your life!

Before Amen

Listen to UpWords with Max Lucado at OnePlace.com

Accountability

January 20, 2015 

But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly.

 Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given. Luke 12:48

In the so-called “Gender Wars,” some women have made harsh statements about men, and the men have not exactly taken it lying down!

Having said that, both sides did get some things right.

For instance, the women who said that men needed to “get in touch with their feminine side” were making a fair point, even though they went overboard in making it.

Men do need to recognize that masculinity is not all about muscular machos making mayhem.

 Men can and should be gentle and considerate!

The women also said that men should stop being cowboys and lone rangers, and that they should be willing to be vulnerable enough to make intimate friendships—even to be accountable to others for their actions!

Vulnerability, gentleness, consideration, and accountability are not purely feminine traits, though.

They are masculine traits as well.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus referred to accountability more than once.

He predicted both his departure to his Father and his coming again to establish his eternal kingdom.

 Using the analogy of a rich landowner who had gone away, leaving his affairs in the care of a trusted servant,

Jesus said his disciples were his servants and, like the landowner, he would return and evaluate their lives.

Jesus’ coming again would not be advertised in advance any more than a thief would advertise his arrival to divest an owner of his property.

It was incumbent on the servant to be ready.

Jesus explained, “Be dressed for service and well prepared, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast” (Luke 12:35-36).

The thought of being held accountable by their master is a challenge to Christ’s disciples.

 It serves as a powerful motivating factor.

But it is not designed to strike fear into their hearts.

The Lord said standards of evaluation would be based on opportunities presented and responses to opportunity.

Using dramatic hyperbolic language, Jesus described the lot of the servants who blatantly abuse their positions (12:46-47).

He also explained, “Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given” (12:48).

That raises a question:

 How much is much and how much more is much more?

Perhaps the answer is found in the Lord’s description of the kind of servant he is looking for.

He had in mind a “faithful, sensible servant” (12:42)—“faithful” in the steady, consistent fulfilling of duties and obligations with joy and delight; and “sensible” in that the servant is very much aware of the impact of grace, the bestowal of privilege, and the embracing of opportunity.

Faithful, sensible servants have nothing to fear—their Lord is faithful and sensible, too!

For further study: Luke 12:35-48

Acquiring a Heavenly Perspective

January 29, 2015

by Todd Burpo, Heaven Changes Everything: The Rest of Our Story

I . . . began working my way upstairs on my crutches. Down at the bottom, on the first step, I started getting mad at God.

“This isn’t fair,” I grumbled aloud as I struggled up the stairs, one crutch at a time, one step at a time. “I have to suffer and be in this pathetic state for them to give me the help I’ve needed all along.”

Feeling pretty smug in my martyrdom, I had just reached the top landing when a still, small voice arose in my heart: and what did my son do for you?

Heaven Is for Real

God wants to speak into your life

It’s fun to watch babies learn to walk. Parents are quick to videotape and count the number of steps their little ones take — until they fall, that is. The little ones, usually determined, get up and try again — and fall again. What do parents do then? They don’t scold, they don’t run away, they don’t duck their heads in shame as their children are learning to walk. Instead, they encourage and cheer each awkward step, and they reach down and set their kids back on their feet when they fall so they can try to walk again.

What is that? Do you call it love? Do you call it patience? Is it healthy parenting? I think it’s a great example of a different perspective, one that’s filled with grace.

This perspective is based in reality. Parents know their toddlers are going to fall. But they also have confidence that their children will eventually learn to walk because the odds say so. The parents learned to walk as toddlers. Big brother and sister eventually learned to walk. The neighbor’s kids did. And most likely the next little one will conquer walking as well.

Now consider this:

Where does our heavenly Father find His perspective as He watches His children — you and me — in our daily walk?

Does He trust in the odds, personal experience, or something far greater?

God’s wisdom about your life can come from many places. Heaven gives Him an unequaled vantage point.

First, He made you. Like an engineer understands a car he or she designed, no one understands your limitations and possibilities better than the God who created you.

Second, God has incomprehensible experience. What type of degree do you earn for helping people of all generations learn to walk through the difficulties and challenges of this world?

Third, God is not surprised by your tomorrows. Nobody else, even the best loving parent, can look into your future and prepare you for what lies ahead and how to overcome it. He knows you’re going to struggle, make mistakes, and fail. But He also knows you’re surrounded by His gifts of forgiveness and grace.

So what can that type of perspective do for you? Well, speaking personally, it keeps me from getting off track. My life seems to be a constant battle of making choices. I want to be a good provider for my family, a loving husband for my wife, an involved parent for my children, and the right example for my congregation. But I constantly deal with obstacles like exhaustion, confusion, selfishness, lack of resources, and ultimately, lack of focus. When I get bogged down with these struggles, I tend to drift off course.

Fall 2002 was one of those extreme periods in my life. I had been swamped with a load of additional health challenges, and I could feel my boat not just drifting but sinking fast.

As a result, this small-town pastor threw himself a big pity party one day as he struggled up the church stairs on crutches, complaining and whining all the way.

With every step I managed to climb, I voiced one more justified complaint to God. I was rehearsing in my mind all the sacrifices I had made and was questioning my lack of reward. It was such a strange moment. As my body rose up the stairwell, my spirit was sinking further into a pit.

When I reached the landing, something happened that helped my spirit join the rest of my body. God spoke.

No, He didn’t send a bolt of lightning to correct my attitude. Instead, I sensed a voice speaking gently into my heart, asking, And what did My Son do for you?

Boy, that’s just like God! With just one small question, He can change your entire perspective. With that one reminder, all the selfishness I was struggling with was replaced by a mountain of gratefulness as I remembered the gift of grace I’d been given.

Some people don’t get to experience grace, though. They’re afraid to turn to God when life gets hard and they make mistakes and fall from their Christian walk. They expect to be ridiculed, condemned, or scolded. They’re trying to avoid the heavenly “I told you so” they anticipate rumbling down from the throne of God.

But that’s not what happens.

I’m not the only one who’s found that God speaks in a still, small, yet comforting voice when I fall. Elijah was a prophet in the Old Testament who thought life had become unfair. He felt like he was alone, without support; he was fed up and he was giving up. His words to God were, “Let me die.” (1 Kings 19:4).

Fortunately for Elijah, God had other plans. The Bible says God came to Elijah. But he didn’t speak to him roughly. He spoke to him in a still, small voice, just like he did for me.

I hope you’ve never gotten to that point where Elijah did, wanting to die, but if you have, know that even in the most desperate moments, God wants to talk to you, and He wants to speak words of direction, words of forgiveness, and words of grace into your life.

When you find yourself in that hard place, bitter and discouraged because you’ve fallen (again), pause for a moment and listen as though God himself were whispering these words into your ear: What did my Son do for you?

If you can accept that Jesus gave His life for you, as He did for me, consider this wonderful question the apostle Paul asks all of us: Why would God stop there? It makes no sense. Why would grace end at the cross?

The truth is, the cross is the beginning of grace. Accepting that truth gives us that all-important heavenly perspective.

You don’t see this verse stuck on many refrigerator doors or hung on many church walls, but believe me, it’s a verse you need to hide in your heart:

He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? — Romans 8:32

Excerpted with permission from Heaven Changes Everything: The Rest of Our Story by Todd and Sonja Burpo, copyright Thomas Nelson.  

* * *

Your Turn

Can you relate to expecting ridicule, condemnation, or a scolding when approaching the Throne of God?  Have you ever felt the sting of trying to avoid the heavenly “I told you so”? If you're in that place right now, take a moment to put on a heavenly perspective receive His unending grace and mercy for you. Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Inspired by today's devotion? Please share it with someone!

"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, etc."

October 31, 2014

Matthew 6:9

This prayer begins where all true prayer must commence, with the spirit of adoption, "Our Father."

There is no acceptable prayer until we can say, "I will arise, and go unto my Father."

This child-like spirit soon perceives the grandeur of the Father "in heaven," and ascends to devout adoration, "Hallowed be thy name."

The child lisping, "Abba, Father," grows into the cherub crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy."

There is but a step from rapturous worship to the glowing missionary spirit, which is a sure outgrowth of filial love and reverent adoration--"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Next follows the heartfelt expression of dependence upon God--"Give us this day our daily bread."

Being further illuminated by the Spirit, he discovers that he is not only dependent, but sinful, hence he entreats for mercy,

"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors:" and being pardoned, having the righteousness of Christ imputed, and knowing his acceptance with God, he humbly supplicates for holy perseverance, "Lead us not into temptation."

The man who is really forgiven, is anxious not to offend again; the possession of justification leads to an anxious desire for sanctification.

 "Forgive us our debts," that is justification; "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," that is sanctification in its negative and positive forms.

As the result of all this, there follows a triumphant ascription of praise, "Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen."

We rejoice that our King reigns in providence and shall reign in grace, from the river even to the ends of the earth, and of his dominion there shall be no end.

Thus from a sense of adoption, up to fellowship with our reigning Lord, this short model of prayer conducts the soul.

 Lord, teach us thus to pray.

All I Want for Christmas...

December 14, 2014

by Jim Daly, 

The Good Dad

It’s been called the “Paradox of Christmas,” the fact that the Creator of heaven and earth gave up what He had so that we might receive what we need.

It’s in this ultimate selfless act that we find the origin of exchanging gifts between loved ones and friends. We try to find that perfect gift to communicate our affection for each other. In many circles the tradition has been trivialized and commercialized, but this is why we give – to be reminded that God so generously gave us the gift of His Son on that first Christmas.

But here is another paradox of the season for me: When I was child, beyond the necessities of life, my needs were minimal. Yet, I was rarely satisfied. I always wanted one more G.I. Joe. One more toy under the tree. I was convinced that I was always just a few dollars shy of all my dreams coming true.

Now, nearly a half-century later, and blessed with a wonderful wife and two growing sons, I see life very differently. As the breadwinner of our family and tasked with juggling all types of responsibilities both personally and professionally, there are times when I am nearly overwhelmed by it all.

Yet, unlike when I was a child, it really doesn’t take much to satisfy me anymore. I feel like my needs are minimal.

I find joy in the simplest of things and realize that in any case, all the money in the world wouldn’t buy what I really want for Christmas.

Looking around the world these days, cutting through the fog and fear of worldly anxiety and desire, here is what I want:

·        I want every child to grow up in a home with a mom and a dad, with parents who tuck them into warm beds on cold nights with a kiss, a hug and prayers of assurance.

·        I want the most innocent and vulnerable among us, pre-born children, to be protected under the rule of law.

·        I want God’s gift of marriage to be celebrated, not redefined.

·        I want our nation’s schoolchildren to walk in and out of their classrooms with a spirited and excited spring in their step, not looking over their shoulder or wondering if their school is safe.

·        I want a world where we celebrate not denigrate our pastors, these brave and courageous individuals who extend God’s love to all people and who preach the Gospel with boldness and courage.

·        I want to live in a colorblind society, among people who see the character of a person, not the pigment of their skin or their place on the social class ladder.

·        I want our leaders to respect our religious freedoms and not force us to choose between violating our conscience and following the laws of the land.

·        I want peace, not war – militarily, politically, physically, socially and emotionally.

Mind you, I am not naïve. Ever since sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, paradise has always been beyond our reach. But it is good, I believe, to look up from the misery and consider the miracle that is Christmas – the “Grand Miracle” as C.S. Lewis so aptly put it. In his own words:

God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity… down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.

As we pause to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us lift up our eyes and ponder anew the miracle of Christmas.

Original post by Jim Daly for FaithGateway, 2014. Jim Daly is president and host of Focus on the Family and most recently the author of The Good Dad: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be.

* * *

Your Turn

What does your "All I want for Christmas" include? Join the conversation on our blog.

We would love to hear your list! ~ Devotionals Daily

Alpha and Omega

December 29, 2014

‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.’ Revelation 22:13

Suggested Further Reading: Ecclesiastes 12:13–14

Our Lord should be the Alpha and Omega of our life’s end and aim.

What is there worth living for but Christ?

What is there in the whole earth that is worth a thought but Jesus?

Well did an old writer say, ‘If God be the only Eternal, then all the rest is but a puff of smoke, and shall I live to heap up puffs of smoke, and shall I toil and strive merely to aggrandise myself with smoky treasures that the wind of death shall dissipate for ever?’

No, beloved, let us live for eternal things, and what is there of eternal things that can be chosen but our Lord?

O let us give him next year the Alpha of our labour.

Let us begin the year by working in his vineyard, toiling in his harvest field.

This year is almost over.

There is another day or two left—let us serve him till the year is ended, going forward with double haste because the days are now so few.

 Lord, ‘teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.’

Let your time and your talents, your substance and your energies, all be given to my Master, who is worthy to be your soul’s Alpha and Omega. Jesus crucified should also be the Alpha and Omega of all our preaching and teaching.

Woe to the man who makes anything else the main subject of his ministry.

 ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’

Do not tell me you preach sound doctrine; you preach rotten doctrine, if you do not preach Christ—preach nothing up but Christ, and nothing down but sin.

Preach Christ; lift him up high on the pole of the gospel, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and you will accomplish your life’s end.

For meditation:

The Lord Jesus Christ is the A to Z of creation and should be acknowledged by us as the A to Z of our lives (Romans 11:36; 2 Corinthians 5:15).

Behaving as if he is only Alpha and Iota (A to I) falls far short of obeying the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

Sermon no. 546
27 December (1863)

Alley Oops!

December 23. 2014

Read Nahum 3:1-19

What sorrow awaits Nineveh, the city of murder and lies! She is crammed with wealth and is never without victims. Hear the crack of whips, the rumble of wheels! Horses’ hooves pound, and chariots clatter wildly. See the flashing swords and glittering spears as the charioteers charge past! There are countless casualties, heaps of bodies—so many bodies that people stumble over them. All this because Nineveh, the beautiful and faithless city, mistress of deadly charms, enticed the nations with her beauty. She taught them all her magic, enchanting people everywhere.

“I am your enemy!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “And now I will lift your skirts and show all the earth your nakedness and shame. I will cover you with filth and show the world how vile you really are. All who see you will shrink back and say, ‘Nineveh lies in ruins. Where are the mourners?’ Does anyone regret your destruction?”

Are you any better than the city of Thebes, situated on the Nile River, surrounded by water? She was protected by the river on all sides, walled in by water. Ethiopia and the land of Egypt gave unlimited assistance. The nations of Put and Libya were among her allies. Yet Thebes fell, and her people were led away as captives.
(Nahum 3:1-10a)

Reflect

Nineveh had used her beauty, prestige, and power to seduce other nations. Like a harlot, she had enticed them into false friendships. Then when the other nations relaxed, thinking Assyria was a friend, Assyria destroyed and plundered them. Beautiful and impressive on the outside, Nineveh was vicious and deceitful on the inside.

Thebes was a city in Egypt, the previous world power, which stood in the path of Assyria’s expansion in the south. The Assyrians conquered Thebes 51 years before this prophecy was given. To Judah, surrounded to the north and south by Assyria, the situation appeared hopeless. But God said that the same atrocities committed in Thebes would happen in Nineveh.

No power on earth can protect us from God’s judgment or be a suitable substitute for his power in our lives. Thebes and Assyria put their trust in alliances and military power, but history would show that these were inadequate.

Respond

Beneath beautiful facades sometimes lie seduction and death.

Don’t let an attractive institution, company, movement, or person seduce you into compromising your moral principles.

 Ask God for the wisdom to stand for truth.

ALONE WITH GOD

October 29, 2014

BY DR. J. VERNON MCGEE

And I Daniel alone saw the vision [of the postincarnate Christ]: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. (Daniel 10:7)
 
Although others were with him, “Daniel alone” saw the vision.

It is evident from many recorded incidents that only the Holy Spirit can identify Christ for men, and that is what He did for Daniel.

The Lord Jesus said, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:14).

The apostle Paul had a similar experience on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:7, 8).

Paul was blinded—he had seen the glorified Christ.
 
Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. (Daniel 10:8)
 
Daniel was left alone.

That is the marvelous, wonderful experience of the man of God, and many have shared eagerly and joyfully a like experience: 

  • Abraham left Ur, and finally his kindred, and he was alone with God.

  • Moses was sent to the backside of the desert of Midian, and at the burning bush he was alone with God.

  • Elijah was disciplined by the Brook Cherith, and God was with him.

  • Jeremiah walked a lonely path, but God was with him.

  • John the Baptist was in the desert alone, but God was there.

  • Paul had two years of solitary confinement on that same desert—that was God’s opportunity to train him.

  • The apostle John was exiled on the lonely isle of Patmos. But God was with him. 

There are so many people who want to get together to have a great prayer meeting or other great gatherings.

 Friend, have you ever tried being alone?

That is where God will meet with you.

Take the Word of God and go off alone with Him.

 It will do you a lot of good.

 (From Edited Messages on Daniel by Dr. J. Vernon McGee)

AM I WORTHY?

November 11, 2014
 

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:38

Helen Roseveare was an elderly missionary to Congo, Africa when I was still very young. I remember her holding the audience of ten thousand university students spell-bound and then in tears at Urbana ’76. Her life story is a testimony to the grace of God portrayed in the 1989 movie, Mama Luka Comes Home.

She is often asked by young people what she suffered for Jesus. Her simple answer is, “During the Simba uprising in the Congo, I was raped twice. Government soldiers came to my bungalow, ransacked it, and then grabbed me. I was beaten and savagely kicked, losing my back teeth through the boot of a rebel soldier. They broke my glasses, so I could not see to protect myself from the next blow.

“Then one at a time, two army officers took me to my own bedroom and raped me. They dragged me out into a clearing, tied me to a tree, and stood around laughing. And while I was there, beaten and humiliated and violated, someone brought out the only existing hand-written manuscript of a book I had been writing about God’s work in the Congo over an eleven-year period. They put it on the ground in front of me and burned it.

“I asked myself, Was it worth it? Eleven years of my life poured out in selfless service for the African people and now this? The minute I expressed that, God’s Holy Spirit settled over that terrible scene and He began to speak to me.”

‘“My daughter, the question is not “Is it worth it?” The question is, “Am I worthy?” Am I, the Lord Jesus who gave His life for you, worthy for you to make this kind of sacrifice for Me.’ And God broke my heart,” Helen continues. “I looked up and I said, ‘Oh Lord Jesus, yes, it is worth it, for You are worthy!’” She concludes, “When you ask the right question, you’ll always know that He is absolutely worthy of anything you can give Him or do for Him!”

Phil Callaway of SERVANT magazine once asked her, “Did you ever struggle to forgive those men?”

“No,” she replied. “There was no sense of bitterness or even anger. I was overwhelmed by the sense that God was graciously using me in His purpose. All He asked of me was the loan of my body. The consequences were His. A year later when I returned to Congo and met the man who had humiliated me, I realized that I did carry some resentment and I wasn’t sure I had forgiven him. But God led me to accept from Him the forgiveness that only God can give, and He gave me His peace again.”[1]

Helen returned to Congo after all the above and continued her life of service for Jesus among the African people.

RESPONSE:

Today I will ask the right question, “Is Jesus worthy of the sacrifices He asks me to make?” Then I will answer affirmatively and take up my cross and follow Him!

PRAYER:

Thank You Lord for the wonderful trophies of grace, like Helen Rosevere, who encourage us in our walk with You who are truly worthy.

1. Phil Callaway, “Is it worth it?” Servant (Issue 85, 2010), p.11.

Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS)
A daily devotional message by SSTS author Paul Estabrooks

Among the other world religions, are there any that share the Christian concept of the holiness of God?

January 29, 2015

There are no other religions that have a concept of God's holiness identical to the Christian concept.

However, some other religions maintain a kind of parallel and approximate view of the matter, and certainly they have a concept of the holiness of God.

Insofar as Judaism in its various forms embraces the Old Testament, it would certainly embrace the concept of holiness we find there.

We know that though there's an expansion of revelation as to the nature of God's holiness in the New Testament, it's certainly not an esoteric idea in the Old Testament.

In fact, some of the most vivid displays of God's majesty and holiness are found in the Old Testament.

There are two ways in which the Bible speaks of God's holiness.

The most commonly understood meaning of holiness in our culture is with respect to God's purity or his moral virtue—his righteousness.

Certainly the Bible does use holy at times to describe the righteous, moral, pure character of God, but that's the secondary meaning of holiness.

The primary meaning of holiness refers to God's apartness—otherness, transcendence—that sense in which he is much more majestic in all of his being than is any creaturely being.

The transcendence of God is a dominant motif in the Old Testament and is certainly a part of the creeds of classical Judaism and Islam, insofar as Islamic religion builds upon much that was taken from the Old Testament.

They see Muhammad as a descendant of Ishmael.

They give certain allegiance to the patriarchs, and they deal with that concept of holiness.

The great difference between Christianity and other world religions regarding God's holiness is found in the concept of atonement.

Judaism's view of atonement in the Old Testament was the sacrificial system that was part of their worship.

The Christian view sees atonement as the once-for-all sacrifice made by a Savior, a suffering Savior, who died for the sins of the people.

That concept is absent in other world religions, and it has always distressed me.

 I don't see how the other world religions could be comfortable with the fact of human sinfulness and the fact of the holiness of God without a mediator, without a Savior.

 It seems that they would have to negotiate either the sinfulness of man or the holiness of God to be comfortable where they are.

Anchor For the Soul

December 17, 2014

“In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.” Psalm 33:21

When a sudden storm strikes a ship at anchor, only the links of chain and the anchor wedged in the rocks keep vessel and crew from being set dangerously adrift. Obviously, the more tumultuous the times, the more important the moorings. In our own stressful moments, our hopes need to be anchored securely—not in wishes or feelings, but in God’s promise. As the author of Hebrews said, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”(Hebrews 6:19).

Isn’t it comforting to know that we have a secure anchor in our marriages? When storms threaten to overtake us, Jesus Christ will not let us drown. We can count on Him to deliver what He has promised. We may not know what the future holds for our family, career, finances, or dreams—but we can rest in the knowledge that our souls are safe in the hands of almighty God.

Just between us…

  • Can you think of a time when you thought the storms of life would capsize you? What kept you float?

  • Besides God, who or what provides security and stability in your life?

  • Do you ever feel adrift spiritually? If so, how can I help?

  • Have we placed our hopes and dreams firmly in God’s hands? If not,

can we do that together now?

Lord, You know the desires of our hearts; You know our secret fears, too.

But we acknowledge Your unfailing promises and steadfast love.

Thank You for being our rock.

Tonight we cast our hopes and dreams on You for safekeeping, because we trust You.

Amen.

      Have you noticed that the world's focus has turned once again to the nation of Israel?  No matter what your faith, the brutality of the murders at a Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem should break your heart.  Two Palestinian terrorists entered the place of worship with guns and meat cleavers and killed four people, including a Rabbi, and seriously injured seven more.

      According to Israeli news sources, the two terrorists entered the synagogue in the middle of prayers, and began shouting "Allahu akbar'. 

Their murderous rampage lasted only a short time before they were both killed by Israeli police in a shootout. 

Among the dead are three Israeli-Americans.

      World leaders quickly called the attack "an act of pure terror and senseless brutality and violence", and even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned it; the first time he has done so since the violence has erupted over the contested Temple Mount. 

As to be expected, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic terrorist organization, praised the attack as a "response to ongoing crimes against the al-Aqsa mosque [Haram Al-Sharif]", and called for increased violence. 

People lined the streets in Gaza, as Hamas passed out candy to celebrate the murders.

     To the rest of the world, it may be difficult to understand why so much violence and hatred is centered around the Temple Mount. 

To fully understand the relevance of this sacred site, one must know its history and its significance. 

The Temple Mount is considered to be the holiest site in Judaism, the third holiest site in Islam, and a revered site to Christians.

To the Jews it is known as Har HaMoriyah (Mount Moriah) and Har HaBayit (Temple Mount); to Muslims it is known as Haram al Sharif (the Sacred Noble Sanctuary). In the Bible it is also called Mount Zion, which signifies both a physical location (Jerusalem) and a spiritual kingdom, whose center will be a heavenly Jerusalem.

      So, as we race towards the final confrontations of this world, we are beginning to see the culmination of 2,000 years of contention for this sacred ground. 

 It is the spot identified by Christians and Jews as the place where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice, and the location of the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple.

 It is also the site of Solomon's Temple, and Zerubbabel's Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. 

 But to the Muslims, this site is called The Dome of the Rock, and was built in AD 692 over the place where Mohammad supposedly ascended to heaven. 

During the Crusades, Christians took temporary control of the Temple Mount, and the Al Aqsa Mosque was used as a palace and church in 1099. 

Today the Temple Mount is under the control of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a trust that was established in 1187 to manage the Islamic structures in Jerusalem.

Under their current rules, access to the holy sites is prohibited to all non-Muslims.

      But recent archeological discoveries have pointed to the overwhelming evidence that this location originally belonged to the nation of Israel, far earlier than the building of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque in the 7th century. 

And now impassioned Jews want access to their holy site. 

 In recent weeks, there have been clashes between Jews and Muslims, as each fights for the freedom to pray at this contested shrine. 

Under an arrangement in place since Israel's capture of the Old City and its shrines in 1967, the sacred plateau is administered by Muslims reporting to Jordan, while Jews have a right to visit. 

But that is becoming increasingly unacceptable to either faith. 

The Jews don't want to simply "visit" the Temple Mount, which they see as "the deepest root" to their faith; and the Muslim faithful see the encroachment by the Jews as changing the status quo and the control of the site. 

Passions are rising, and daily clashes have resulted in at least two deaths.

     And now the violence has opened a wound that may be difficult to heal. 

Fueled by Palestinian revenge (through Hamas), Jerusalem threatens to become engulfed in religiously-fueled hatred of Israel's "occupation". 

It is easy to believe the emotional rhetoric that calls for a "Palestinian homeland", but few people bother to research the facts of history.

      The term "Palestine" is believed to be derived from the Philistines, an Aegean people who, in the 12th Century B.C., settled along the Mediterranean coastal plain of what are now Israel and the Gaza Strip.

 In the second century A.D., after crushing the last Jewish revolt, the Romans first applied the name Palaestina to Judea (the southern portion of what is now called the West Bank) in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel. 

 (Satan's influence can be seen down through history as he attempts to eradicate God's "Chosen" people).

      The Hebrews entered the Land of Israel about 1300 B.C., and enjoyed sovereignty under various kings until the Babylonian conquest in 586 B.C. 

The Jewish people enjoyed brief periods of sovereignty afterward until most Jews were finally driven from their homeland in 135 A.D.

  It is interesting to note that Jewish independence in the Land of Israel lasted for more than 400 years.

This is much longer than Americans have enjoyed independence in what has become known as the United States.

 In fact, if not for foreign conquerors, Israel would be more than 3,000 years old today.

      But here is the fact that is ignored in today's ongoing war between Arab nations and Israel:  Palestine was never an exclusively Arab country, although Arabic gradually became the language of most of the population after the Muslim invasions of the seventh century.

 No independent Arab or Palestinian state ever existed in Palestine.

When the distinguished Arab-American historian, Princeton University Prof. Philip Hitti, testified against partition before the Anglo-American Committee in 1946, he said: "There is no such thing as 'Palestine' in history, absolutely not."

     The area, known as Palestine, today, was historically a part of southern Syria.  So the truth of Palestinian Arab nationalism is that it is largely a post-World War I phenomenon that did not become a significant political movement until after the 1967 Six-Day War. 

And now through powerful propaganda efforts, undoubtedly fueled by a dark spiritual element, war has been declared on the natural rights of Israelis and Jews to their "Promised Land".

      So, for those who seek an agreement with Palestine through Israeli concessions for land, and a compromise of the conflict over the Temple Mount,

 I urge you to read the Bible. 

 I fear that there will be more atrocities such as what happened at the Jerusalem synagogue, but Israel's enemies need to realize one thing ...

 God's Plan for the nation of Israel and Mount Zion will never be defeated. 

And in light of these prophecies,  the Biblical command to "Pray for Jerusalem" has never been more appropriate. 

Thank you to the website, GotQuestions.org for their valuable history of the Temple Mount. 

Thanks also to the Jewish Virtual Library for their history of Israel's Roots.  

As a Christian, and a student of the Bible, it is my opinion, that these sources are correct in their knowledge.

 Psalm 87:2-3  

  "The Lord loves the gates of Zion [through which the crowds of pilgrims enter from all nations] more than all the dwellings of Jacob (Israel).

Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God."

An Introduction to Christ

December 4, 2014

Revelation 1:4-8

The first chapter of Revelation gives a compact description of the Lord. In verses 4 to 8, John condenses the wonder of Jesus Christ to the bare but beautiful essentials of who He is:

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness.

Jesus came to earth to more fully reveal the character and ways of the Father (John 14:9). The miracles He performed validated His claim to be the Son of God.

Jesus Christ is the first-born from the dead.

The Savior bore our sins and died on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day. His resurrection proved that eternal life is possible for us, too, as Jesus taught in John 11:25: “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”

Jesus Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth.

 It is the Lord who raises men to power, just as it is He who removes them (John 19:11; Rom. 13:1). Meanwhile, believers have access to a higher authority. In God’s throne room, we can beseech Him on behalf of our nations and lay claim to His promises.

Jesus Christ loves us and released us from our sins by His blood.

 Note the change of tense in John’s writing. The Lord’s love is ever-present, but He has freed believers from their past. Both the penalty and power of sin have been broken.

When people ask you about Jesus, introduce Him by guiding them through this mini-biography. In just a few sentences, John describes Christ’s character, divinity, and authority. The disciple was not timid about proclaiming the Lord. We shouldn’t be shy, either, when we serve so great a Savior.

For more biblical teaching and resources from Dr. Charles Stanley, please visit www.intouch.org.

An Uncomfortable Message

November 13, 2014

Read Micah 2:6-11

“Don’t say such things,” the people respond.

“Don’t prophesy like that.

Such disasters will never come our way!”

Should you talk that way, O family of Israel? Will the Lord’s Spirit have patience with such behavior?

 If you would do what is right, you would find my words comforting.

Yet to this very hour my people rise against me like an enemy!

You steal the shirts right off the backs of those who trusted you, making them as ragged as men returning from battle.

You have evicted women from their pleasant homes and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them.

Up!

Begone!

This is no longer your land and home, for you have filled it with sin and ruined it completely.

Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you, “I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!”

That’s just the kind of prophet you would like!
(Micah 2:6-11)

Reflect

Micah spoke out against those who planned evil deeds at night and rose at dawn to do them.

Those who oppressed others would later find the tables turned.

 If these messages seem harsh, remember that God did not want to take revenge on Israel; he wanted to get them back on the right path.

 The people had rejected what was true and right, and they needed stern discipline.

Micah’s experience is reminiscent of that of the prophet Micaiah (1 Kings 22), who was the only truth-speaking prophet in a roomful of false prophets.

The people of Micah’s day liked the false prophets who told them only what they wanted to hear.

 Micah spoke against prophets who encouraged the people to feel comfortable in their sin. After all, judgment was still to come.

In our day, many preachers are popular because they don’t ask too much of us, and they might even tell us our greed or lust is good for us.

But a true teacher of God speaks the truth, regardless of what the listeners want to hear.

Respond

If we only want God’s comforting messages, we may miss what he wants us to hear.

Listen whenever God speaks, even when the message is hard to take.

God doesn’t want us to just “feel good.”

He wants us to be right with him.

Archaeological Evidence Exodus and the Trial of Jesus

January 15, 2015 

http://links.mkt3980.com/ctt?kn=6&ms=MTAzNzU3MjcS1&r=MTYxODkxNjc1OTQzS0&b=0&j=NDYxMDc4MDYzS0&mt=1&rt=0

We Christians who believe in an historical faith have every reason to follow the latest archaeological findings—and arguments—from the Holy Land.

I’ll explain.

Every year, usually at Christmas time, a so-called “mainstream” magazine takes up the topic of Christianity or the Bible.

Often, Christians who believe the Bible get a fair hearing—other times, not so much.

This latest time, it was Newsweek and journalist Kurt Eichenwald doing the “honors.”

Here’s the title: “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.”

Actually, this piece is so ill-informed that it’s a sin—not just against God but against good journalism.

Al Mohler had this to say: “[Eichenwald’s] article is a hit-piece that lacks any journalistic balance or credibility.

His only sources cited within the article are from severe critics of evangelical Christianity.”

Actually, perhaps Dr. Mohler is being too kind!

I only mention the Newsweek piece to make a point—that the Christian worldview is under assault 24/7, and we need to be prepared to make a rational, reasonable defense of the truth of the faith.

Of course, the Bible has plenty of allies, not the least of which is the discipline of archaeology.

 Over the years, we’ve told you here at BreakPoint about some of the fascinating discoveries that have confirmed the accuracy of both the Old and New Testaments.

For instance, secular scholars had long doubted whether King David ever actually existed—until, that is, archaeologists found extra-biblical evidence: a piece of stone from an ancient victory monument, which bore the inscription in ancient Aramaic, “King of Israel” and “House of David.”

One recent archaeological discovery was big enough to make the front page of the Washington Post.

As the Post reports, archaeologists digging beneath the floor of an abandoned building in Jerusalem’s Old City have discovered the suspected remains of the palace where the trial of Jesus Christ may have taken place.

Yisca Harani, an expert on Christianity and pilgrimage to the Holy Land, said, “For those Christians who care about accuracy in regards to historical facts, this is very forceful.”

Well, I dare say that we Christians certainly do care.

After all, Christianity, unlike many other religions, makes certain historical claims, that God visited His people in space-time history.

As the Apostle Peter said in Scripture, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

Although our faith does not depend on archaeology, I can’t help but get excited when a piece of holy history is unearthed for all the world to see.

And here’s another reason to be excited about archaeology and biblical history:

Next week, Monday January 19th, is a one-night showing of a compelling film entitled “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus.

20141217 Trailer

 

Q: What is this film about?

 

Q: What excites you about this film?

 

Film Festival Reactions

 

Q: Who will like this film?

 

Q. What separates this film from others?

 

Q. Is this a religious or scientific film?

 

Filmmaker Tim Mahoney has tackled one of the thorniest issues in archaeology, one that actually pits many modern archaeologists against the biblical narratives:

Did the Exodus really take place, or was it nothing more than a grand folk myth?

Mahoney interviews leading archaeologists.

He takes us to digs on the Nile Delta and asks, were these the homes of Canaanite slaves?

 If so, why did they leave all of a sudden? Is the statue of an Egyptian official of “Asiatic” descent—one depicted with a multicolored coat—from the tomb of the biblical Joseph?

The argument, at least from the perspective of an archaeologist, hinges on one critical question, one that I’m not going to give away, because I hope you will go and see the movie.

To find the theater nearest you, come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and I’ll link you to the movie’s website.

And by the way, I will be taking part in a panel discussion immediately after the showing.

 I do hope you’ll attend “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus,” on Monday the 19th.

Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus

Resources:

Archaeologists Find Possible Site of Jesus’s Trial in Jerusalem
Ruth Eglash | The Washington Post | January 4, 2015

Newsweek on the Bible—So Misrepresented It’s a Sin
Albert Mohler | Albertmohler.com | December 29, 2014

Shocking the Skeptics: Evidence for Scriptural Truth
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint.org | March 21, 1997

A Man with Long Hair: Archaeology and the Bible
Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint.org | August 15, 2012

Coming Soon to MapQuest: A Palace of King David
Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint.org | July 30, 2013

 

Are Images Idolatrous?

December 16, 2014


 

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
— Hebrews 1:3

 

It is not at all uncommon to see images such as Caravaggio’s Madonna and Child or Da Vinci’s Virgin and Child in magazines, in movies, or in manuscripts.

Which begs the question: Are such images of Jesus idolatrous?

Byzantine Emperor Leo III apparently thought so.

As such, in the fourth century AD he ordered the abolition of icons (revered images or sculptures) of Jesus, Mary, angels, and saints.

This sparked the great Iconoclastic Controversy, so called because those who supported the eradication of icons, often on the grounds that they violated the second commandment’s prohibition of graven images, were known as iconoclasts or “image breakers.”

The controversy sparked in the fourth century persists to this very day.

As such, the question emerges “Do the images of Jesus really violate the second commandment?”

To begin with, if the second commandment condemns images of Jesus, then it condemns making images of anything at all.

 Therefore, God would have been guilty of contradiction Himself because He commanded the Israelites to adorn the Ark of the Covenant with the images of cherubim (Exodus 25:18–20).

Furthermore, in context, the commandment is not an injunction against making “graven images,” but an injunction against worshiping them.

As such, God warns, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4–5, emphasis added).

Finally, if viewing an image necessarily leads to idolatry, then the incarnation of Christ was the greatest temptation of all.

 Yet Jesus thought it appropriate for people to look on Him and worship Him as God (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:52).

That worship, however, was to be directed to His person, not to His appearance.

 Indeed, idolatry lies not in the making of images, but in the worship of man-made images in the place of the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

This Christmas season, may images of Jesus, Mary, old Saint Nick, and angels praising God on high cause you to worship the incarnate God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

See the full devotional reading, including a Scripture reading, study questions, and carol, for the current calendar day from The Heart of Christmas here »

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“Are You Jesus?”

November 8, 2014

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” 1 Timothy 6:18

After their meeting ran late, five out‐of‐town salesmen hurried as fast as they could to catch their train.

As they raced through the terminal, one inadvertently kicked over a slender table on which rested a basket of apples.

 It belonged to a ten year old blind boy who was selling apples to pay for his books and clothes for school.

The salesmen clambered aboard the train, but one felt compassion for the boy.

He asked his friends to call his wife and tell her he would be late getting home.

Then he jumped off the train and returned to where the boy was standing.

As the salesman gathered up the apples scattered across the floor, he noticed that several were bruised or split.

Reaching into his pocket, he said to the boy, “Here’s twenty dollars for the apples we damaged. I

 hope we didn’t spoil your day.

God bless you.”

As he walked away, the boy called after him,

“Are you Jesus?”

We are most like Christ when we show compassion and generosity to others.

Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

We reflect His character whether we’re helping someone less fortunate or giving our mate a back rub at the end of the day.

Just between us…

  • How do our interactions with others reflect the character of Jesus?

  • When was the last time we stopped to help another person in need?

  • How do you feel when you show compassion to someone else?

Lord, we ask that Your extravagant love would flow through us each day to touch those around us.

Show us how to serve, to help, and to give without expecting anything in return.

Amen.

  • From Night Light For Couples, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson

    Are you prepared to die?

    November 22, 2014

    ‘How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?’ Jeremiah 12:5

    Suggested Further Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:1–10

    You that are in Christ, ‘How will you do in the swelling of Jordan?’

    Why, you will do as a man does who has had a long day’s walk, and he can see his home.

    You will clap your hands.

    You will sit down upon the next milestone with the tears in your eyes, and wipe the sweat from your face and say, ‘It is well, it is over.

    O how happy it is to see my own roof-tree, and the place where my best friends, my kindred dwell.

     I shall soon be at home, at home for ever with the Lord.’

    How will you do?

    Why, we will do as a soldier does when the battle is fought; he takes off his armour and stretches himself out at length to rest.

    The battle is all over.

    He forgets his wound, and reckons up the glory of the victory and the reward which follows.

    So will we do.

    We will begin to forget the wounds, and the garments rolled in blood, and we will think of the ‘crown of glory that fadeth not away.’

    How will we do in the swelling of Jordan?

     We will do as men do when they launch for a foreign country.

    They look back upon those they leave behind, and wave their handkerchiefs as long as they can get sight of them; but they are soon gone.

    And we will bid adieu to dear ones; they shall have the tears, but we shall have the joy, for we go to the islands of the blessed, the land of the hereafter, the home of the sanctified, to dwell with God for ever.

    Who will weep when he starts on such a voyage, and launches on such a blessed sea?

    What will we do when we come into the swelling of Jordan?

    Why, dear friends, we shall then begin to see through the veil, and to enjoy the paradise of the blessed which is ours for ever.

    For meditation:

    Naturally we look upon death in a negative light, but Christ’s death makes all the difference for the believer (Hebrews 2:14–15).

    The Christian can adopt a positive attitude and use words such as ‘conquerors’ (Romans 8:37), ‘present with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:8), ‘gain … far better’ (Philippians 1:21,23), ‘blessed’ and ‘rest’ (Revelation 14:13).

    Sermon no. 635
    19 November (Undated Sermon)

    Are you ready for His return?

    December 30, 2014

    There is nothing like an unexpected guest to get everyone cleaning up the mess.

    Our home was rarely messy when we were growing up. But sometimes "messy" depends on who is coming to the house. One Saturday afternoon when Billy Graham was holding a crusade in Milwaukee we got a call from one of his staffers. "Would it be possible for Dr. Graham to retreat to your home for a few hours to get away from the relentless nature of his public life?" My mother said, "Why, of course. We'd love to have him. What day would he like to come?"

    "How about in two hours?" 

    Major panic. Mom hung up the phone and immediately assembled all the children. We scrubbed and scoured, and picked up and primed every inch of the home. Then we were sent upstairs to shower and dress "appropriately" (our wardrobe choices demonstrated the fact that we weren't clear on the definition of that term).  

    When the great preacher finally arrived, we were summoned into the living room where we all sat staring at him. My mom sat down next to him crossing her legs, leaning in to show interest and concern. We had pulled it off, almost. A few minutes later the doorbell rang. My mom popped up to answer it-not realizing that her leg had fallen asleep. The numb leg gave way sending her right onto the lap of Billy Graham. In the frenzied preparation, this unexpected guest literally had us "falling all over him." It was the highlight of the day and has become a family legend, but here's the point:

     Be ready.

    "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." -Matthew 24:42-44

    Jesus is coming back physically, and it could be really soon. How then should we live? In major frenzy to get our "house" cleaned up? In continual fear that He's going to be really ticked with us when He shows up? In paranoia that we might be caught unprepared? If we aren't careful, the ominous reality of the second coming of Christ could frighten us out of a grace-based peace into a self-propelled panic.

    So how then should we live? Paul puts it in full perspective:

    May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. -1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

    The truth is that Christ is already here, not physically, yet, but His Spirit lives in us. Being aware of that and living in Him is the secret to being ready for the day He comes back to rule and reign physically.

    Jesus, thank You that, in You, I will be found blameless when You return. Give me a consistent perspective that looks to THAT day, more so than today. Amen.

    ASHAMED OF JESUS

    November 26, 2014

    Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:26

    Young believers in the Lord in Muslim cultures often struggle with the issue of publicly declaring their new faith in Jesus.

    Shadiya is the youngest of five children in a Muslim family.

    At the age of eighteen she came in contact with a group of young people in the church of Pastor Jamil.

    During the summer of 2011, the church was visited by a group of other young Christians.

    During that time Shadiya decided to follow Jesus.

    One day she forgot to hide her Bible and her younger brother found it.

     He asked his father about this striking book with a large cross prominent on the cover.

     Father was shocked.

    He soon found out that Shadiya brought the book into their house.

    Initially dumbfounded by the hostile attitude of her father, Shadiya stood firm for what she believed.

    She admitted that she had become a Christian, that she received the Bible from some friends and that she no longer is a Muslim.

    Her father interpreted this as denying her identity.

     This, in his opinion, was a betrayal of the entire family and the Muslim community.

     In other words, the shame for the family was unbearable.

    So in her father’s eyes there was only one option; force Shadiya to deny her faith in Christ.

     “If you refuse to deny your new faith, you are no longer welcome in our home!” he yelled at her.

    Shadiya still held on to faith in Jesus.

    The situation deteriorated even more after her father went to the mosque and shared the “apostasy” of his daughter with the local imam.

     They decided she had to deny her Christian faith openly and confess the Islamic faith in public

    . If she refused to do so, she would have to pay with her life.

    She would be stoned by the Muslim community.

    She asked her apostate brother-in-law, Amir, for advice.

    He suggested that she do what they asked of her and remain a secret follower of Jesus.

    In her heart she could remain a believer in Christ, although she would openly deny her faith to save her life.

    Shadiya was not really convinced that this was the right thing to do and was full of doubt. In the end she followed the advice of Amir.

    The prospect of becoming a martyr at the age of eighteen was now over but Shadiya remained doubtful about her decision. She and Amir asked Pastor Jamil what he thought about it.

    “This could have been an opportunity for the whole family or the entire village to see God working in the life of an eighteen-year-old girl,” he replied.

    “It is a great challenge to deal with our fear; still we should rely on Jesus, rather than basing our choices on fear.”

    The situation for Shadiya now seems less tense but the risk of escalation remains.

    RESPONSE:

    Today I will not allow fear to control me…especially regarding the public declaration of my faith.

    PRAYER: Pray for Shadiya and the people surrounding her. Ask our Father to further His kingdom through her and fellow-believers who are cautiously trying to help her to grow in faith.

    Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS)
    A daily devotional message by SSTS author Paul Estabrooks

    Augustine - Saint for All Seasons

    December 06, 2014

    Verse: Romans 13:13 - 14

    Quote: "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee." (Augustine, Confessions)

    Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) is one of the giants of church history. In the fifteen-hundred-year span between the apostle Paul and Martin Luther, no one looms larger in the minds of most Protestants. With the possible exception of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, his influence as a theologian is unparalleled. And his memoir, Confessions, is given a place in literature as the first recorded memoir. Augustine was an African, and it is fitting that this man of such great stature is still read and debated today, when the African church, having come full circle, is again a center of vibrancy and scholarship.

    As a sexually charged youth, Augustine finds himself in "the thorny branches of sex and temptation." He also sows his wild oats for several years as an adherent of Manichaeism, a dualistic religion in which the spiritual realm is manifested in conflict between light and darkness, spirit and body. There is no good God who reigns supreme; individuals are essentially on their own, seeking knowledge to save themselves.

    Manichaeism eventually proves to be intellectually unsatisfying for Augustine, who turns to skepticism and then to Neo-Platonism, a philosophy extolling truth, goodness, and beauty. This intellectual shift parallels a geographical move from Carthage to Rome. From Rome he moves to Milan, where his mother joins him and soon becomes enamored with Ambrose and influences her son to attend his sermons. All the while, Augustine is moving away from a philosophical worldview toward orthodox Christianity.

    His "garden conversion" is the spiritual climax of his memoir. While weeping in a garden, Augustine overhears a child's voice calling, "Take up and read." Augustine takes this as a sign from God, and reaches for a manuscript of Paul. There his eyes fall on these words: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence" (Rom. 13:13 - 14).

    "Instantly at the end of this sentence," he writes, "by a light of serenity infused into my heart, all darkness of doubt fled away." Biographers and historians have pointed out that this was a conversion to a celibate monastic life as much as a recommitment to the Christian faith of his heritage and that it had been some time in coming.

    On Easter Sunday 387, Ambrose baptizes Augustine, who leaves behind his teaching position to immerse himself in Scripture. He then returns to Africa to live quietly in his hometown as a monk, but the locals recognize his capabilities and elect him to be their priest. Then, in 395, only eight years after his baptism, he is elected bishop of Hippo. Unlike many bishops of the era, he seeks to retain a monastic way of life while preaching several times a week and writing more than a thousand treatises in addition to extensive correspondence.

    During the course of his bishopric, several controversies arise between Augustine and other sects. One of these is with the Donatists, a sect arising in the aftermath of the Great Persecution of Emperor Diocletian. When Imperial officials demand that Christians hand over the Scriptures under penalty of death, some Christians surrender their manuscripts and are considered traditors by the Donatists.

    The Donatists regard denial of the faith to be the ultimate crime against the church and against God; traditors are no longer part of the church. If someone is baptized by a traditor bishop, that baptism is invalid. In defense of priests and bishops who had surrendered the Scriptures, Augustine argues that the sacrament is valid irrespective of the sinfulness of the priest who administers it. The grace of Christ is operative in the sacrament; thus the worthiness of the priest is irrelevant. Grace is conferred through the sacrament.

    Augustine's most bitter theological controversies involve Pelagius, a devout and stout British monk, who teaches that individuals are responsible for their sins, even as they are for their good deeds. That humans inherit original sin from Adam he deems patently false; whether one sins or not is a matter of self-control and free will rather than determinism. Augustine, emphasizing God's sovereignty and election, counters that our sinful nature propels us to sin and that no one has the innate capability to do good.

    Yet Augustine knows above all else that God is entangled with mystery. "Since it is God we are speaking of," he cautions, "you do not understand it. If you could understand it, it would not be God."

    Authority, All the Way Up

    February 8, 2015

    T.M. Moore
    February 5, 2015

    Who Says? (4)

    He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Luke 20:25

    Oh yeah?

    The Jewish people of Jesus’ day hated the Romans, mostly.

    And for obvious reasons.

    The only people they hated more than the Romans were Jewish people who worked for the Romans, especially tax collectors – like Matthew.

    As an aside, isn’t it interesting to consider that Jesus chose such a cast-off, despised, low-down person as a disciple? 

     

              

    Subscribe to Podcast

    Awake! Awake!

    November 16, 2014

    “Therefore let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” 1 Thessalonians 5:6

    Suggested Further Reading: Titus 1:7- 2:8

    “Let us watch.”

    There are many that never watch.

    They never watch against sin; they never watch against the temptations of the enemy; they do not watch against themselves, nor against “the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life.”

     They do not watch for opportunities to do good, they do not watch for opportunities

     to instruct the ignorant,

    to confirm the weak,

     to comfort the afflicted,

     to succour them that are in need;

     they do not watch for opportunities of glorifying Jesus, or for times of communion;

     they do not watch for the promises; they do not watch for answers to their prayers;

     they do not watch for the second coming of our Lord Jesus.

    These are the refuse of the world: they watch not, because they are asleep.

     But let us watch: so shall we prove that we are not slumberers.

    Again: let us “be sober.” Albert Barnes says, this most of all refers to abstinence, or temperance in eating and drinking.

    Calvin says, not so: this refers more especially to the spirit of moderation in the things of the world.

    Both are right: it refers to both.

     There be many that are not sober; they sleep, because they are not so; for insobriety leadeth to sleep.

     They are not sober—they are drunkards, they are gluttons.

    They are not sober—they cannot be content to do a little business—they want to do a great deal.

     They are not sober—they cannot carry on a trade that is sure—they must speculate.

     They are not sober—if they lose their property, their spirit is cast down within them, and they are like men that are drunken with wormwood.

     If on the other hand, they get rich, they are not sober: they so set their affections upon things on earth that they become intoxicated with pride.

    For meditation:

    The Christian in the pew should aim at the same standards as those which he expects to see in the Christian in the pulpit (1 Corinthians 11:1).

    Sermon no. 163
    15 November (1857)

    BECOME A DISCIPLE

    December 21. 2014

    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

    Sixty-three-year-old Lena has established several secret churches in her Central Asia country. She now leads seven house fellowships which meet together in small groups. On several occasions she has had to cope with arrests. “One time police with guns entered the house where we were meeting with a group. We were taken off to the station. Of course we were afraid,” says Lena. The reason why Lena can talk so “nonchalantly” about her arrest follows quickly. She does not necessarily see it as a problem, but as an opportunity to testify.

    “I experienced how God took away my fear and gave me peace. Even more, I had the chance to tell the gospel to the head of police. While we were locked up there, I simply started to talk. I was given the opportunity to tell him what God had done for me,” says Lena. “After some time, the man only said, ‘Take your group away.’”

    While she is telling her story, there is not a trace of fear, anger or bitterness to be found on her face because of the injustice. When asked how this is possible, Lena only has one answer. In God’s Word, it says that for a long time there will be persecution, but that He will also grant a way out. She recalls Isaiah 41:10, which says, So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. So Lena lives out her life in Uzbekistan, bearing in mind that God is watching over her everywhere.

    She provides Bible teaching for Christians and has a heart for work with children and young people adding, “We have to do everything to help Christians to become mature believers.” For example, Lena and other Christians try to hold annual children’s camps where, for a few days, the children are introduced to the gospel through play. The enthusiasm of the children makes it clear that the camps are a success. But Lena and her staff encounter problems year after year. “It’s difficult to find a suitable location, where we can receive the children in safety. And things remain tense: the police may always come and disrupt the camp.”

    Despite these difficulties, Lena does not give up. She sees the church growing and hammers home the missionary message of Matthew 28, in which Jesus calls on us to make disciples of all nations. This message is what Lena is living out, in the midst of persecution.

    “We must understand that the church cannot grow without disciples,” emphasises Lena. “Become a disciple!”

    RESPONSE:

     Today I will become a true disciple of Jesus using every situation—good or bad—to share my faith with everyone and encourage and train other younger believers.

    PRAYER:

     Pray for Lena and others like her growing the Church of Jesus amid great persecution.

BEHOLD A PALE HORSE

November 16, 2014

 

 

Biblical Literacy by the Numbers: Fixing the Problem

November 1, 2014

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/october/biblical-literacy-by-numbers-3.html

Engaging with Scripture can begin to solve our biblical illiteracy problem, but how do we engage with Scripture?

Biblical Literacy by the Numbers: Fixing the Problem

Faithful and Fruitful: How Do We Fix the Problem?

Of course, you already knew that reading the Bible helped you to grow.

 It's actually doing it that's a challenge.

So what are some ways churches are helping people to engage the Scriptures more intentionally?

Based on our work with churches, we've seen a few patterns.

Those producing the most fruit concerning Bible engagement do the following:

See the Bible as a whole.

It's not just that we read our Bibles, but the way we read our Bibles that increases biblical literacy.

 I believe there's a link between biblical illiteracy and our habit of fracturing the Bible into pieces and parts.

We read a verse here, a chapter there.

We need a quick verse for anxiety, so we run to Matthew 6:34 ("Take no thought about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought about the things of itself").

We need another verse about fear, so we jump to 1 John 4:18 ("There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear").

These verses can help when we're dealing with life's difficulties, but a steady diet of verses and chapters digested in this way amounts to spiritual "fast food" from our McBibles.

We need a whole Bible approach to Bible reading and study.

The way we read our Bibles that increases biblical literacy.

I serve as general editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum that takes such an approach. In two years, we've gone from zero to over 500,000 weekly users.

Why?

Because people see walking through the Bible, following Scripture's redemptive storyline, as a way to combat biblical illiteracy.

The Bible isn't 1,000 stories or even 66—it's one story.

Helping people see this encourages them to read the Bible more faithfully and fruitfully.

Some resources for this include The Drama of Scripture (Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew), Gospel-Centered Teaching (Trevin Wax), The Story: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People (Zondervan) and, for kids or families, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones).

Create a plan, personally or congregationally.

It's critical for church leadership to challenge believers to be in the Word of God, consistently growing in their knowledge of the Scriptures.

 I often hear of people who'd rather read devotional books than read the Bible.

That's because most of us need a specific plan to consistently be in the Word.

One thing I do for my own Bible engagement is to make a habit to read through the Bible once a year.

 If I simply read the parts I think I need the most, I'll miss a big part of God's design for my growth.

Though my tendency, like many Christians, is only to read the New Testament, I need to spend time in the Old Testament as well.

 It's essential for all believers to get the full picture of God's revelation.

You, or your whole church, can follow a plan.

There are plenty available online and already in many Bibles.

You can lead your church through plans from YouVersion, George Guthrie's Read the Bible for Life or others.

 The important part is that you and your congregation are engaging all of God's Word.

Teach the Bible.

Teaching through books of the Bible at church models for the hearers how to read the Bible on its own terms, especially the unfolding of the one storyline of the Bible that culminates in Christ.

Fighting biblical literacy means preaching from the pulpit the way people read the Bible—moving through the text.

It's essential for all believers to get the full picture of God's revelation.

When people see and hear their pastors preaching the text as a whole and allowing the text to determine the message (not vice versa), they go home and read their Bibles the same way.

When they see us jumping around the text in sermons, they jump around in life.

Let's teach them that the Bible is worth engaging, one book at a time.

Use a modern translation.

We can combat biblical illiteracy by committing to reading, studying, teaching and preaching from a modern translation.

The English-speaking world has never had it so good.

In the past 50 years, Bible translation teams have produced a dozen or more very good translations of the sacred text.

For the last 400 years, the dominant (almost ubiquitous) translation for the English-speaking world was the King James Version.

But the English language has changed.

Not only do we not converse in King James English, we don't think in that kind of English.

It's important to have a translation that communicates God's Word into our thoughts and beliefs in a natural way.

When we read from a translation that resonates with us—something like the Modern English Version, releasing this month and covered throughout this issue of Charisma—we are much more likely to make Bible-reading a habit, and our time in the Word will be much more rewarding.

A Bible that communicates in everyday language is one that is much easier applied to everyday life.

We Need the Word

We take aim at the heart of biblical illiteracy when we commit ourselves once again to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 The gospel is not "you do."

The gospel is "what Jesus did."

Reading the Bible won't make us a Christian, but it helps us to grow as one.

Reading the Bible is actually part of the abundant life Christ has given us.

The Word that became flesh has given us His Word.

 In it are the words of life—for us and for others.

The more we embrace the gospel and what Jesus has done for us in His life, death, resurrection and ascension, the more we begin to think and act like the kingdom citizens we are.

Being part of Christ's new creation means having a new "want to" toward the Scriptures.

In fact, reading the Bible is actually part of the abundant life Christ has given us.

 The Word comes alive in us through the Spirit as we engage it.

God has given us His Word to correct, rebuke, train and reprove us—to train us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).

 And as the Spirit works in us through the reading of the Word, the transforming power of the gospel, through the filling of the Spirit, is at work in us.

The Word of God is essential to where we are right now.

Grab a modern translation, take someone with you (maybe your whole church), and let's engage the Scriptures to see the change it brings—even to a nation badly in need of it.

We need not be dumb and dumber when it comes to the Bible.

We can be faithful and fruitful in the Word instead.

Black Sunday

October 29, 2014

“If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Luke 17:4

Every family has moments they’d rather forget—moments that later call for understanding and forgiveness.

When our children lived at home, we found that Sunday was often the most frustrating day of the week, especially during the “get ’em ready for church” routine.

But Black Sunday was uniquely chaotic!

Jim and I began the day by getting up late, which meant that everyone had to rush to prepare for church.

Then there was the matter of spilled milk at breakfast and the black shoe polish on the floor.

Finally, Ryan, who was dressed first, managed to slip out the back door and get himself dirty from head to toe.

As these irritations mounted, the criticism and accusations flew back and forth.

At least one spanking was delivered and another three or four were promised.

After the Sunday evening service we called the family together.

We described the day we’d had and asked each person to forgive us for our part in it.

We also gave each member of the family a chance to express his or her feelings.

Ryan was given his first shot, and he fired it at me. “You’ve been a real grouch today, Mom!” he said with feeling.

 “You’ve blamed me for everything all day long.”

Danae then poured out her hostilities and frustrations.

Finally, Jim and I had an opportunity to explain the tensions that had caused our overreaction.

It was a valuable time of ventilation and honesty that drew us together once more.

We then had prayer as a family and asked the Lord to help us live and work together in love and harmony.

No matter how hard we try, we will experience times when we fail to live up to our Christian principles.

When those times arrive, discussion and forgiveness are the best methods for soothing wounded relationships.

 I urge you at those moments to actively seek forgiveness from each other and from God and freely offer forgiveness in return.

While you’re at it, forgive yourself. If God can post a “No Fishing” sign by the sea where your sins are thrown, then so can you and I.

- Shirley M Dobson

Body and Spirit

November 2, 2014

“Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:31

In addition to society’s obsession with physical beauty, women face other obstacles to maintaining confidence, including disrespect for wives and mothers who have chosen the traditional homemaking role.

 Furthermore, many wives, especially mothers of small children, feel isolated at home.

Their husbands are physically and emotionally “elsewhere,” pursuing careers, hobbies, or both.

The result is often devastating, as women tend to derive their sense of self‐worth from the emotional closeness achieved through relationships.

So what’s the solution?

We encourage you as the husband to be present with your wife in body and spirit.

Set aside time for her.

Listen to her.

Romance her.

But God...Sets Us Free

January 8, 2015
by Herbert Cooper, But God

Get Desperate

Sometimes we just need to ask God, earnestly and sincerely with an open heart, to set us free.

Hold Nothing Back
 

Jesus told us that if we ask, we will receive (Matthew 7:7). Obviously, this doesn’t mean we can ask for vaults full of cash and expect God to be our magic genie. When our hearts are aligned with God’s will and His truth in the Scriptures, our requests reflect His higher purposes, not our own selfish gratification. Or, as Martin Luther explained, “All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.”

One of my favorite Bible stories about asking God for an encounter with Him involves a request from a man accustomed to being ignored. Jesus was about to pass by him, so the man knew this might be his only chance. He had to ask and hold nothing back.

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and His disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. - Mark 10:46-52

Can you envision this scene? A huge crowd of people has gathered. They all want a piece of Jesus — who He is, what He is doing, and “what can He do for me” kind of stuff. And in the midst of this chaos there’s this blind beggar causing a scene.

The crowd must have thought he was crazy, but Bartimaeus didn’t care. He will not go unnoticed. This is his opportunity to have an encounter with Jesus, the Messiah — God in the flesh! And as a result of his faith, of his unwillingness to be polite and compliant, our boy Bartimaeus experiences the supernatural healing of his sight.

We can learn a lot from Bartimaeus’s encounter about how we can encounter Christ and be set free from our own blindness. I’m convinced that we, like Bartimaeus, must be desperate for healing before we can experience a “but God” transformation that will free us from whatever binds us.

We don’t know a lot about Bartimaeus except that he was blind and a beggar. It’s likely that he spent his days sitting at the side of this road. It may be that he’d been doing it for years — what kind of work could he do without his sight? “Beggar” ends up his best career option. So day after day he sat by this road, hoping for a handout. He relied on the kindness of those who passed by. He’d heard about this Messiah. Bartimaeus couldn’t see, but he heard the crowd growing larger and getting excited about... something. He listened and realized the crowd was talking about Jesus coming by. The Son of God was going to be coming his way!

Old Bart started to get excited. This was the Jesus he had heard about! What were the odds? He started to think, This is it! This is my chance! I’ve got to be heard. I’m blind, but Jesus can heal me. Bartimaeus seemed to understand that this might be his only chance to get to Someone with the power to change him. This awareness created a desperation inside of him that motivated the next few critical minutes that did indeed forever change his life.

Perhaps you identify with Bartimaeus because you too are in a place of real desperation, a place of real pain.

You’re bound and addicted. You’re going to your computer every night, and while you tell your wife you’re “working,” you’re clicking on all kinds of stuff that has your number. You know that you’re poisoning your mind and your relationships with every new image, but you can’t stop, even when you want to.

Or maybe you’re struggling financially. Maybe with every paycheck, you’re headed to the mall or online to shop, buying things that you hope will bring you happiness. You tell yourself excuses about why you deserve those new shoes. You justify buying yet one more thing. You try to pay your bills with what’s left, but you come up short every month. You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, skipping the electricity bill this month in order to pay last month’s insurance bill.

Maybe “comfort food” has a literal meaning for you as you head to the pantry or fridge every night after everyone else has gone to bed. The light from the fridge floods the dark kitchen when you open the door, and you hope desperately that no one wakes up and notices. Ice cream. Leftover pizza. A package of Oreos. You’re not even hungry, but you keep eating.

You’re in a place of desperation. But desperation can lead to desperate faith — Bartimaeus was desperate. He had desperate faith. This is your moment. The Messiah is real. Are you desperate enough to call out over the noise and the crowd and your addictions? The Messiah is passing right by you, just like He did with Bartimaeus. Are you willing to ask for His help?

Watch the Video for But God 

Watch the Video
 

Excerpted with permission from But God Changes Everything by Herbert Cooper, copyright Zondervan, 2015.

* * *

Your Turn

We can trust that God hears us when we call on Him and ask Him for help. All we need to do is ask! Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Herbert Cooper was headed down a very different road, living a reckless lifestyle that would have destroyed him in the end, but God had a different plan.

He heard the gospel at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting, at which he wasn’t even supposed to be, and he gave his life to Christ. Two words changed Cooper’s life: But God.

These two words can change every single person’s life— But God. Each word is only three letters long. The phrase is short, but the implications are huge. The path may look bleak, dim, and hopeless…but GOD changes everything…

We’ve all sinned - whether it is sex outside of marriage, a bitter heart, alcohol or drug abuse, cheating, or lying.  Maybe you’re at a place in your life where it just feels like things are falling apart.  Perhaps you’re portraying one thing on the outside and living something else on the inside. Maybe you are simply going through the motions of a life that’s not quite what you hoped it would be.  These moments drag us down - leaving us feeling hopeless and lost. 

You need something to happen in your life to change.

 You need a But God… moment.

The But God moments are when God comes in and offers a new path and hope for our lives.  These moments occur when we are at are lowest, and turn our down-trodden worlds around for the better.  It is up to us to recognize and seize these moments when they occur and follow the renewed path God offers.

Learn more about But God....

 What People Are Saying About But God

"Herbert Cooper shares his amazing testimony in But God. We all face obstacles in life, and this book will encourage you as Herbert unpacks how the power of God can change any situ- ation. No matter the challenge, But God changes everything!" - Mark Batterson, bestselling author of The Circle Maker and lead pastor of National Community Church

"Herbert Cooper is a fresh and powerful voice for faith today and it shows in this incredible book. But God is a must-read that delivers brilliant insight, brimming with hope. This book is meant to be savored personally and shared with others." - Jud Wilhite, author Pursued, senior pastor Central Christian Church

"The one word that describes the book But God is hope. As Herbert Cooper shares his own story of pain you will discover that the redeeming power of God can change any situation. But God will encourage you, inspire you, and give you biblical perspective on life’s toughest challenges." - Steven Furtick, lead pastor, Elevation Church, and New York Times bestselling author of Crash the Chatterbox, Greater, and Sun Stand Still

Called to Obey

December 9, 2014

Read Jeremiah 1:4-19

The Lord gave me this message: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”

The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
(Jeremiah 1:4-8)

Reflect

Jeremiah was from a priestly family in Anathoth, four miles north of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom (Judah). He lived and prophesied during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah. This was a chaotic time politically, morally, and spiritually. As Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria battled for world supremacy, Judah found itself caught in the middle of the triangle. Although Jeremiah prophesied for 40 years, he never saw his people heed his words and turn from their sins. His was a difficult ministry.

Often people struggle with new challenges because they lack self-confidence, feeling that they have inadequate ability, training, or experience. Jeremiah thought he was “too young” and inexperienced to be God’s spokesman to the world. But God promised to be with him.

God knew you, as he knew Jeremiah, long before you were born or even conceived. He thought about you and planned for you. When you feel discouraged or inadequate, remember that God has always thought of you as valuable and that he has a purpose in mind for you.

Respond

We don’t have to allow feelings of inadequacy to keep us from obeying God’s call.

God promises to always be with us.

When you find yourself avoiding something you know you should do, be careful not to use lack of self-confidence as an excuse.

If God gives you a job to do, he will provide all that you need to do it.

Ask him for the grace to accept the call cheerfully and do whatever he calls you to do with diligence.

 If God has not given you a specific call or assignment, then seek to fulfill the mission common to all believers—to love, obey, and serve God—until his guidance becomes clearer.

Calling the Unqualified

December 18, 2014

Peter, Andrew, James, Nathanael.

Never traveled farther than a week's walk from home.

Haven't studied the ways of Asia or the culture of Greece.

Their passports aren't worn; their ways aren't sophisticated.

 Do they have any formal education?

In fact, what do they have?

 Humility?

They jockeyed for cabinet positions.

 Sound theology?

Peter told Jesus to forget the cross.

Sensitivity?

John wanted to torch the Gentiles.

Loyalty?

When Jesus needed prayers, they snoozed.

 When Jesus was arrested, they ran.

Thanks to their cowardice, Christ had more enemies than friends at his execution.

Yet look at them six weeks later, crammed into the second floor of a Jerusalem house, abuzz as if they'd just won tickets to the World Cup Finals.

 High fives and wide eyes.

Wondering what in the world Jesus had in mind with his final commission: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NIV).

You hillbillies will be my witnesses.

You uneducated and simple folk will be my witnesses.

You who once called me crazy, who shouted at me in the boat and doubted me in the Upper Room.

You temperamental, parochial net casters and tax collectors.

You will be my witnesses.

You will spearhead a movement that will explode like a just-opened fire hydrant out of Jerusalem and spill into the ends of the earth: into the streets of Paris, the districts of Rome, and the ports of Athens, Istanbul, Shanghai, and Buenos Aires. You will be a part of something so mighty, controversial, and head spinning that two millennia from now a middle-aged, redheaded author riding in the exit row of a flight from Boston to Dallas will type this question on his laptop:

Does Jesus still do it? Does he still use simple folks like us to change the world?

God doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

Don't let Satan convince you otherwise.

 He will try.

 He will tell you that God has an IQ requirement or an entry fee.

That he employs only specialists and experts, governments and high-powered personalities.

When Satan whispers such lies, dismiss him with this truth: God stampeded the first-century society with swaybacks, not thoroughbreds.

Before Jesus came along, the disciples were loading trucks, coaching soccer, and selling Slurpee drinks at the convenience store.

 Their collars were blue, and their hands were calloused, and there is no evidence that Jesus chose them because they were smarter or nicer than the guy next door.

The one thing they had going for them was a willingness to take a step when Jesus said, "Follow me."

Are you more dinghy than cruise ship?

More stand-in than movie star?

 More plumber than executive?

More blue jeans than blue blood?

 Congratulations.

 God changes the world with folks like you.

Can a Person Be Argued into the Kingdom of God? Part One of Two

January 6, 2015

A common mistake Christians make derives from the notion that someone can be talked into the kingdom of God. While the motivation may be sincere, the consequences are often devastating.

First, no matter how eloquent you may or may not be, you cannot change anyone else's heart— only the Holy Spirit can do that. Thus while it is your responsibility to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15–16), it is God who changes the heart.

In tomorrow's Daily e-Truth, we'll see that the problem is not that people cannot believe, it is that they will not believe.

For further study, see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, chapter one.

Today's Daily e-Truth is adapted from The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector's Edition »

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Can a Person Be Argued into the Kingdom of God? Part Two of Two

January 7, 2015

Keeping in mind that only God changes the human heart, the problem is not that people cannot believe, it is that they will not believe.

In other words, it is often not a matter of the mind but a matter of the will.

Thus, the maxim: "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

As Jesus Christ declared, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (John 3:19–20).

 The Christian faith is reasonable, but reason alone will not compel a person to embrace Christ.

Finally, I am utterly convinced that if we are "prepared to give an answer," God will bring into our paths those whose hearts he has prepared.

Thus, it is our responsibility to prepare ourselves to be the most effective tools in the hands of Almighty God.

For further study, see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, chapter one.

Today's Daily e-Truth is adapted from The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector's Edition »

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Can Santa Claus Be Saved?

December 14, 2014

   
 

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
— Luke 1:35

Believe it or not, even Santa can be saved!

Far from being a dangerous fairy tale, Santa Claus in reality is an Anglicized form of the Dutch name Sinter Klaas, which in turn is a reference to Saint Nicholas, a Christian bishop from the fourth century.

According to tradition, Saint Nick not only lavished gifts on needy children, but also valiantly supported the doctrine of the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. While the word Trinity—like incarnation—is not found in Scripture, it aptly codifies what God has condescended to reveal to us about His nature and being. The Trinitarian platform contains three planks.

The first plank underscores the reality that there is but one God.

Christianity is not polytheistic, but fiercely monotheistic. “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me’” (Isaiah 43:10, emphasis added).

The second plank emphasizes that in hundreds of Scripture passages, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are declared to be fully and completely God.

As a case in point, the apostle Paul says that “there is but one God, the Father” (1 Corinthians 8:6). The Father, speaking of the Son, says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8). And when Ananias “lied to the Holy Spirit,” Peter points out that he had “not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3–4).

The third plank of the Trinitarian platform asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternally distinct.

Scripture clearly portrays subject/object relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For example, the Father and Son love each other ( John 5:20; 14:31), speak to each other ( John 17:1–26), and together send the Holy Spirit ( John 15:26). Additionally, Jesus proclaims that He and the Father are two distinct witnesses and two distinct judges ( John 8:14– 18). If Jesus were Himself the Father, His argument would not only have been irrelevant, it would have been fatally flawed; and, if such were the case, He could not have been fully God. It is important to note that when Trinitarians speak of one God, they are referring to the nature or essence of God. Moreover, when they speak of persons, they are referring to personal self-distinctions within the Godhead. Put another way, we believe in one What and three Who’s.

In sum, then, Christians may look back to the tradition of Saint Nick, who lavished gifts on the needy and valiantly supported the doctrine of the Trinity at the Council of Nicea, as a legendary hero of the faith.

Of course, the notion that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole in a toy factory, that he sees children at all times and knows whether they’ve been bad or good, and that he travels in a sled pulled by flying reindeer, is clearly myth and should therefore be treated as such.

This December 25 as you celebrate the coming of Christ with a Christmas tree surrounded by presents, may the story of selflessness on the part of Saint Nick remind you of the Savior who gave the greatest gift of all. Thus, rather than supplant the Savior with Santa, we can use Saint Nick as a reminder to generously support God-ordained ministries so that the message of salvation can reach those who have not as yet received salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone—and on account of Christ alone.

See the full devotional reading, including a Scripture reading, study questions, and carol, for the current calendar day from The Heart of Christmas here »

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Can spirits be called from the dead?

January 6, 2015

1 Samuel 28:12

Clearly, something supernatural happened in the house of the medium that night.

The woman saw “a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”

Traditionally a number of perplexing questions have swirled around this passage of Scripture.

Was this woman actually able to bring someone up from the dead or was she an expert faker?

 Did Samuel actually appear or was this old man (see 1Sa 28:14) a demon playing the role of Samuel?

Did Samuel appear as a result of the medium’s power or did God intervene and raise Samuel himself?

An element of mystery surrounds this story, and it would be presumptuous to claim that we have all the answers.

 This episode seems to affirm a realm beyond the ordinary physical world—a spiritual realm that can somehow interact with the world in which we live.

Though the scientific mind-set of Western culture has numbed our sensitivity to the reality of spiritual forces, the Bible confirms the reality of the unseen world.

 In Ephesians 6:10–18, Paul describes the Christian life as a kind of warfare, and he urges his readers to prepare to encounter an opponent not of flesh and blood but of spiritual forces of evil.

We need wisdom to know how to respond to the attacks of the enemy.

Occult practices can both intrigue us and frighten us.

While acknowledging the reality of the spiritual forces of evil and the deceitful practices of Satan, who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2Co 11:14), we are urged to resist him and stand firm in the faith (see 1Pe 5:9)

Catastrophes through God’s Eyes

January 8, 2015

Isaiah 21

An endless cycle of war and death—what did it mean?

Isaiah 21:3 At this my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor; I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see.

There is one easy way to picture the Middle East of Isaiah’s day: Simply follow today’s newspaper headlines and project backward in time. Then, as now, one nation would invade its neighbor, leveling cities and devastating the land and its people. The prophet Isaiah longed for an end to the cycle, much as modern-day residents of Lebanon or Israel do today.

Isaiah looked at the world with a kind of split vision. Around him he saw spiritual decay and the dreary cycle of war and death. Yet God had given him a clear vision of what his nation could one day become: a pure people, faithful to God, living in peace with “war no more.”

A Kingdom for a Purpose

With God’s view of the future shining brightly before him, Isaiah went about reinterpreting history. Others in Judah looked upon military invasions as terrible catastrophes. By contrast, Isaiah—though he felt anguish over the events—saw glimpses of a higher purpose.

Isaiah said that Judah had to endure pain and suffering in order to be purified. He counseled against making political alliances to forestall the punishment. God’s people had to go through the fire, and from the trials a remnant—a small remaining number of persons—would emerge that God could then use to accomplish his work. Isaiah went so far as to name his own son “a remnant will return” (Shear-Jashub) as a walking object lesson of his message to Judah (see Isaiah 7:3).

Why had the Jews been called by God in the first place? They were to be a “light for the Gentiles,” Isaiah said (see Isaiah 42:6), a nation used by God to bring his truth to other nations. And out of the land of Judah God would raise up a great Prince who would rule over all the earth.

Who Is in Charge?

In short, God had not discarded his people, no matter how bleak things looked. The Israelites would ultimately become a missionary nation, pointing others to God.

Above all other messages, Isaiah stressed this one: God is in charge of history. To Judah—surrounded by enemies, staggering from invasion, weary of bloodshed—God seemed far away and distant. Isaiah assured its inhabitants that the great powers of earth were mere tools in God’s hands; he would use them and fling them aside.

Life Questions

Isaiah described people who felt afraid and abandoned by God.

Have you ever felt like that?

How does Isaiah’s message offer hope for us today?

Caused to Return

January 31, 2015

Cause us to return, O Lord, that we may return! (Lamentations 5:21)

There is no hope for God’s people unless God causes them to return from their sliding and leaping into sin and unbelief.

The book of Lamentations is the bleakest book in the Bible.

God himself had decimated the apple of his eye.

  • “The Lord gave full vent to his wrath; he poured out his hot anger, and he kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations.” (4:11)

  • “He has killed all who were delightful in our eyes.” (2:4)

  • “The Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.” (1:5)

So how does the book end?

It ends with the only hope there is:

Cause us to return, O Lord, that we may return!

That is my only hope, and your only hope.

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.

And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32).

Not if you return. But when you return.

Christ Jesus is the one who . . . is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

He will cause us to return.

Therefore, “to him who is able to keep you from falling . . . be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 1:24–25).

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

Census Considerations

The Heart of Christmas Day 7

See the full devotional reading for the current calendar day from The Heart of Christmas here »

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Change Is Possible

November 19, 2014

Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)

Christianity means change is possible.

Deep, fundamental change.

It is possible to become tenderhearted when once you were callous and insensitive.

 It is possible to stop being dominated by bitterness and anger.

 It is possible to become a loving person no matter what your background has been.

The Bible assumes that God is the decisive factor in making us what we should be.

With wonderful bluntness, the Bible says, “Put away malice and be tenderhearted.”

 It does not say, “If you can…”

Or: “If your parents were tender-hearted to you…”

Or: “If you weren’t terribly wronged…”

It says, “Be tender-hearted.”

This is wonderfully freeing. It frees us from the terrible fatalism that says change is impossible for me.

It frees me from mechanistic views that make my background my destiny.

And God’s commands always come with freeing, life-changing truth to believe.

 For example,

  1. God adopted us as his children. We have a new Father and a new family. This breaks the fatalistic forces of our “family-of-origin.” “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for one is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).
     

  2. God loves us as his children. We are “loved children.” The command to imitate the love of God does not hang in the air, it comes with power: “Be imitators of God as loved children .” “Love!” is the command and being loved is the power.
     

  3. God has forgiven us in Christ. Be tender-hearted and forgiving just as God in Christ forgave you. What God did is power to change. The command to be tender-hearted has more to do with what God did for you than what your mother did to you. This kind of command means you can change.
     

  4. Christ loved you and gave himself up for you. “Walk in love just as Christ loved you.” The command comes with life-changing truth. “Christ loved you.” At the moment when there is a chance to love and some voice says, “You are not a loving person,” you can say, “Christ’s love for me makes me a new kind of person. His command to love is just as surely possible for me as his promise of love is true for me.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

Change Your Life with Just One Word

January 1, 2015

by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen, from My One Word

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. — Psalm 90:12 NASB 

I don’t have enough time to live my own life!

I reached this conclusion after trying to follow all the advice given on a morning news show one week in January. It seemed like a smart way to start my day. I figured I’d tune in, get the forecast, learn the headlines, and maybe hear a celebrity interview. I wasn’t expecting all the show segments telling me how to live my life better.

The topics on my list ranged from health maintenance to home maintenance to car maintenance. I was informed I need to eat certain foods every day: four veggies, three fruits, two proteins (preferably chicken or fish), and I think a partridge in a pear tree. I also need to get enough fiber, calcium, Vitamin D, B, C, and Beta-something-or-other.

I need thirty minutes of cardio a day (but apparently with the right exercise product this can be done in ten), fifteen minutes of strength training, and ten minutes of stretching. Plus, some extended time for meditation so that my body and mind could align. I’m told a germ-resistant mat is needed for that. I need to bust my stress, nurture my creativity, and improve my posture.

 need to pay attention to my finances. Save and invest. Spend frugally — yet somehow also buy the cool gadgets they review on the show. Apparently extreme couponing is the way to afford it all, but it takes a lot of time to save 80 percent on your grocery bill. I need to check my credit report regularly. Shred important documents. Back up my computer. Meet with my financial planner. And read the information that comes with our kid’s (underfunded) college fund.

The list continues….

Suddenly I realized: I don’t have time to live my life!

Looking at the list of things I was supposed to do to live my life right, or well, or whatever all this was going to do for me, I felt defeated. The list that was going to improve my life left me overwhelmed. I’m sure you can relate; you’ve made lists too. Lists of things you want to start doing or stop doing — things you want to change about yourself. Lists of ways to improve your life and your character.

Maybe you’ve only listed them in your head. But I bet they come to mind each January. Nearly two-thirds of America’s population has made New Year’s resolutions. I am one of them. And you’ve probably found, like I’ve found, that each day keeps blurring into the next while we try to make some progress with our many good intentions. Yet very little actually changes. That ball keeps dropping in Times Square each New Year’s. And we keep dropping the ball on our resolutions to improve. Only 20 percent of resolution makers report achieving any significant.

When I open my Bible, I find more lists. Things a follower of Christ should do. Things a follower of Christ should resist doing. Traits a follower of Christ should display — all the truly important stuff that never makes it onto morning show segments.

When was I going to get to any of this? I decided to drop my list of ways to get the most out of my life. I realized I needed to find a new way to approach personal change.

Losing the List, Pick a Word - My One Word

My first journal entry in 2004 was a single word: FLOW.

Not merely written on the page, but etched in bubble letters about three-quarters of an inch tall. The letters are heavily outlined, surrounded by a thin border, and colored in gray. It took me about ten minutes to draw and color the word FLOW. But it took three weeks to narrow all that was bubbling up in me down to that single word.

I’d been writing in a journal for years, but here was something I had never done before. Instead of blasting paragraphs on a page to capture my thoughts and insights, recording my steps and setbacks, I decided to meditate on just one word.

I wrote this word FLOW in response to something Jesus said. He said:

Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’. - John 7:38

That struck a nerve.

There were times when I felt the living water flowing with ease from my heart. But there were other times, more times, when it felt forced.

The idea of FLOW drew me forward. It didn’t have the trappings of regret or the pressure of sweeping promises to change like my resolutions did. It awakened something in me. Not a compulsive desire to change born out of being sick of the way I was, but a desire to live an authentic life that flowed from my relationship with Christ.

Could my life really flow from my heart? The question sent me on a search anchored by the four letters of this one word.

If what Jesus said was true — pause for the obvious answer to arise — then I’d need a way to pay attention to my heart on a daily basis.

I decided looking at and concentrating on this word FLOW would remind me to do that. In the months to come, I paid attention to FLOW and used it to gauge my heart and my life. I discovered I could tell the condition of my heart based on what was coming out of it into my life.

And slowly, over time with this word FLOW, I learned to reverse that process. Instead of looking at my life and actions to realize the state of my heart, I proactively addressed the condition of my heart. That changed my life.

In looking through the lens of a single chosen word, I found a new approach to personal change and spiritual formation — one that is doable, memorable, effective, and sticky. The results have been greater than I expected.

A Movement Rises

In January of 2007, I challenged my church, Port City Community Church in Wilmington, North Carolina, to ditch their New Year’s resolutions and each pick a word to focus on that year. I titled the series and the project “My One Word.” People quickly embraced it. Within a few years, My One Word embedded itself into the DNA of our church. It’s how we now approach personal change and spiritual growth.

In January 2009, the nation’s most notable Christian radio station called my office. K-LOVE had heard about My One Word and invited me to come on the air to tell their listeners about the project.

I shared My One Word with half a million listeners that month. And I returned to the K-LOVE airways to talk about My One Word in 2010 and throughout 2011. A movement caught fire.

The movement didn’t become a movement because K-LOVE called me, but because God has called each of us. This is not a movement of me or my church, but a movement of God. And of His people wanting to be transformed into His image.

Focus Is Required

Our lives are fast-paced and demanding. Our attention is divided. The normal, natural pace of our lives will not likely lead us toward spiritual formation. We have so many things to focus on that spiritual formation tends to fall to the wayside, along with our good intentions to rotate our mattress or wax our cars.

Most of us feel overwhelmed at the idea of embarking on a grand plan for spiritual formation like reading through the Bible in a year or memorizing a verse every week. We’d like to, but it just hasn’t happened. Enter My One Word. It’s easy, doable, and surprisingly powerful, mainly because it supplies narrowed focus.

This study (and my book) will give you a simple but effective plan to effect personal change (spiritual formation) by allowing a single word to become the lens through which you examine your heart and life for an entire year.

Your single word will force clarity and concentrate your efforts. And as you focus on your word over an extended period of time, you position yourself for God to form your character at a deep, sustainable level.

We’re so busy with the surface-level things of life that we forget to number our days and tend to our hearts. We become so preoccupied with getting our lives to a manageable point or a better future that we miss both the moment right now and the reality of a coming eternity. Yet God calls us to use our days to develop a heart of wisdom. And that’s what this My One Word project is ultimately about.

In my book I’ll outline how to pick a word for the year and how to focus on it. I’ll discuss what you can do to drive it deep into your character and what you can do to apply it in your life. The goal is a transformed heart.

At the close of each chapter you’ll find directions and questions for personal reflection. Grab a journal and spend some time with the questions to help you get the most out of your year with your one word.

I invite you to join us this year on the My One Word journey. Change is possible. But focus is required. It’s time to get singleminded and single-worded about your resolution to change

Reflect

- What are some things you would like to change about yourself?

- What distracts you from focusing on the change or the spiritual formation you desire?

- Think about your past attempts to change. Have you made resolutions or sweeping promises to change? How well did it work?

- Often our desire to change is fueled by regret — does regret generally propel you forward or hold you back? 

This My One Word project is designed to channel your attention and effort with laser-like focus over an extended period of time. This is key to lasting change, and it will forge your character at a deep, sustainable level. All you have to do is pick a word. But there’s more to that process than you might imagine. So grab a sheet of paper or a journal and I’ll walk you through the process.

John 7:38

Watch the Video: Session 1 My One Word Bible Study

 

Watch Session 1 Video

Pick Your One Word

What Kind of Person Do You Want ot Become?

When considering changes we want to make, the tendency is to think in terms of specific behaviors. Typically, we give voice to our negative behaviors. I want to stop running late every day. I need to stop overeating. I want to stop looking at pornography online. I’m tired of being disorganized. I hate that I always say things I regret.

Then, to formulate a resolution, we usually phrase it as a positive behavior. I’m going to manage my time better. I’m going to eat healthier and lose weight. I’ll resist turning my computer on when I’m home alone. I’m going to organize my entire house room by room. I’m going to learn to bite my tongue.

This is regret-based decision making. Regret can be a powerful motivator. Extremely powerful at times, depending on the severity of the consequences we’ve faced. But it’s not always the best source of vision.

Vision, Not Regret

We want to move forward with vision, not regret. Without vision, the Bible says in Proverbs 29:18, we tend to throw off restraint. We become unfocused and undisciplined. Regret doesn’t stimulate forward-moving motion like vision does. And regret doesn’t sustain the formation of new character the way that vision can. So we’re going to craft a vision of the type of person we want to become this year.

Putting aside what you’ve done in the past, you’re going to try something different. Instead of focusing on regrets and specific behaviors, I want you to spend some time with the question,

Who do I really want to be? Or rather, How do I really want to be?

Approach this patiently. An important part of the change process is allowing questions to remain questions for some period of time — so that truth can arise.

Spend a week or so reflecting on who you wish to become. We tend to define ourselves by what we do. I teach school. I’m a dentist. I own my own restaurant. I’m in college. I’m a surfer. I’m a soccer coach. I’m a single mom. We tend to define who we want to be the same way. I want to be the area’s top realtor. I want to be married. I want to be a marathoner. This tendency is precisely why we need to dive deeper.

Resist the pull to provide a surface-level answer to the penetrating question: Who do you want to become?

Consider the condition of your heart, your character, your soul. This requires a fierce commitment to being gut-honest with yourself. What you need is character formation, not to just stop doing this or start doing that.

Character formation and behavior modification isn’t quite the same thing. Don’t focus on the latter at the expense of the former. Our goal is not to live restrained but to effect true change.

Identify Characteristics

Do you want to get along better with your peers, your family, your boss, or your employees? What kind of person would get along with them? What characteristics would that person display? Do you want to be more disciplined about how you live your life physically, spiritually, or financially? What kind of person would live a disciplined life? Describe that person. What drives them? I think you get the idea. Don’t just think about behaviors; think character and characteristics. In a notebook or on a piece of paper, make a list of the characteristics of the person you want to become. In other words, describe the traits and motives of a person like that. Don’t be intimidated into thinking, I’ll never be that way. Just try to determine the kind of character required for you to live like you wish to live.

Reduce and Define

As you slowly gain a vision of the kind of person you want to become, you’ll keep adding words and phrases to your list that capture the characteristics of that person. You might list nouns, adjectives, adverbs, or verbs — “being” words or “doing” words. Interestingly, we’ve found females tend to gravitate toward “being” words while males tend to pick “doing” words.

There is no wrong way to do this. Your list will be highly personal and unique. It may even contain words that only make sense to you. My list usually includes words I like and words I don’t feel excited about. I try not to self-edit the list as I come up with it. Deleting words off the list later is easy, plus it doesn’t cost a dime to write them down. So fill a page if you need to. Once you feel you’ve completed the listing process, pray, look over your list, and begin marking off all but ten or so of the words.

Remove the ones that resonate the least with you. Don’t worry about whether you “really need to work on that.” If it doesn’t resonate strongly with you right now, cross it out. Get your list down to ten words or less.

Once you have your short list, write a brief description of what those words mean to you. Look them up in the dictionary. Note their definitions. Look at their synonyms. And look them up in the Bible.

In this stage of the process you may find a related word you like better than the ones on your list — that’s fine, write it down. You may also decide there’s a word or two on there, after researching them, that you definitely don’t want to choose. That’s fine too — mark them off.

Pray

Ask God to guide you and give you clarity of thought and mind as you spend a few days thinking over your short list. Weigh each word and the implication it might have on your life. See if one of them manages to rise to the top. Ask God to bring one to the forefront.

Pick Your Word

Now go ahead and pick your word from the list. Don’t panic. This exercise is not about changing everything that needs to be changed but focusing and purposing to do something about one thing. Seminary professor Howard Hendricks has said, “The secret to concentration is elimination.” In order to concentrate on one thing, we’re going to push others to the back burner for now. This is what we must to do to focus. Change is possible, but focus is required.

You might worry about picking the exact “right” word. Or picking the word “God intends” for you. Don’t stress. If you went through the process outlined above, all of the words on your list are right for you. Your word, whatever it is, will have farther-reaching effects than you can imagine now. While I didn’t want you to choose the first word that came to mind at the start of this process, I also don’t want you paralyzed by the idea you’ll somehow pick the wrong word. At this point you’ve thought, reflected, journaled, researched, and prayed. Now take a step of faith — pick one word. And choose a verse to go with it.

My one word is: ____________

My verse is: _______________

It is better to do something about one thing than nothing about everything. That is what this elimination process is about — that’s what this whole project is about. I am going to help you do something about this one thing this year. And I fully believe you’ll be amazed at what you discover by engaging with your one word in the months ahead.

Below you’ll see the top ten most-often-picked words in the My One Word movement according to our website (myoneword.org), where nearly five thousand people have posted their words. And in the chapters of my book (which I hope you will pick up) you’ll learn how and why I chose some of my own one words.

The Top Ten Most-Often-Picked Words:

1. Trust

2. Patience

3. Love

4. Discipline

5. Focus

6. Faith

7. Surrender

8. Peace

9. Listen

10. Joy

Reflect

·         What kind of person do you want to become this year? 

·         What drives your desire to be this kind of person? 

·         Describe the characteristics of this kind of person. Make a list of words based on this description. 

·         Reduce your list to ten words or less and research those words. Use the dictionary and your Bible, perhaps a thesaurus.

·         Choose one word from your list to be your one word for this year.

·         Also choose a Bible verse that speaks to you about your chosen word and memorize it. This will provide a foundation of truth you can continually return to and will fuel your hope to change.

·         What initial expectations do you have regarding the impact of your word?

Your Turn

What will your one word be for 2015?

Remember the aim is for you to use your one word to get into a focused posture and remain there while you depend on Christ.

 Change is possible.

Focus is required.

And should you fall off your one-word wagon at some point, you climb back on.

Not with renewed willpower so much as renewed commitment to depend on him.

 Join the conversation on leave a comment on our blog!

 If you've decided what your one word is, we would love to hear about it!

Chasing After the Heart of God 

January 27, 2015

by Jennie Allen, from Chase

Introduction

I was eighteen years old. I felt paralyzed in my relationship with God. I knew God was real, but my fancy prayers and daily devotionals were not cutting it. I was doing everything right, but it felt all wrong. Yet I thought I was giving God what He wanted.

I began to question—and this good little Bible-belt girl somehow missed the rules for wrestling with her God. As I surveyed my life, I realized doing all the right things had won me the admiration of everyone but God. And I felt empty and prideful. It was worse than rebellion: being good with no God. It was beginning to occur to me maybe God was after something else.

Maybe I was chasing the wrong things. And then I stumbled across a phrase in 1 Samuel 13. David was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (v. 14). The phrase intrigued me because I knew David committed murder and adultery—he was no missionary or priest. I saw this man as both completely sold out for God and completely broken. He was in love with God. He lived with an acute awareness of his need for Him.

The closer I have gotten to the life of this man, David, the more my ideas of what God wants from me have been shattered. David had one life and two eyes and one heart, just like me, but they were all laser-focused on the heart of his God . . . my God. David was in love with Him.

And, yes, David sinned and wrestled, just like me. But while he was not so concerned about appearing godly, he was terribly concerned about knowing God. He was a man who saw past his circumstances, past himself, past this life to the heart of God.

We gather together to discover the heart of God. I am terrified we get it wrong a lot of the time. We rarely, in our busy lives, stop and see Him, really see Him. We are so busy doing things for Him and for everyone else we altogether miss Him. He wants us.

As we chase after His heart together, we will explore the life of David, a man who knew the heart of God. We will look into their passionate conversations. And whether you are running from God or working your tail off to please Him, David’s journey will challenge your view of God.

The story of David’s life and his prayers fill God’s Word. It’s as if God was saying, When you open My Word, look at this man, look at his prayers, look at his life, look at his mistakes, look at his faith, and you’ll see Me, My heart.

Let’s chase. 

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As you watch this full introduction session on Study Gateway, record any thoughts or concepts that stand out to you based upon the outline that follows.

 

Watch Session 1 Video

Getting Started: Chase

After chasing everything the world has to offer, nothing is more satisfying than God.

What Do We Chase?

Tell me how to please God. There are days my mind and heart race anxiously at the thought I may be terribly off track in that sincere pursuit. Most days I want to please God. I believe He is real and I believe a day is coming when I will face Him. I want, more than any other thing, for that day to go rather spectacularly. I don’t want to be shocked when I am looking into the face of the God of the universe to find I actually missed the point.

One of the great fears of my life is that I would get to the end of my life and realize I lived for the wrong things. But there are also the days I forget that all the invisible stuff is real, and pleasing God is far from my thoughts and I just chase whatever I want, whatever seems to feel right in the moment. I seek happiness through friends or food or my kids or the approval of people or wasting minutes on Facebook or catching up on shows on Hulu. There are unending distractions to chase.

And then there are the days when I am not chasing meaningless distractions, I am flat-out running from God, arms full of sin. This study is a story about our God using a man who not only questioned Him but also sinned so atrociously most presentday Christians would avoid him. Yet David at the same time unmistakably possessed the favor of God and chased after His heart in a way that pleased Him. We are going to discover why God’s favor rested on a sinful man.

David was not remarkable apart from God. God moved around him and through him in the most powerful stories. But something about the way David saw God transformed the way he lived. He saw God differently than everyone else around him. He loved God and he lived like he loved God. We are going to study the qualities David possessed as a result of what he believed about his God.

What Pleases the Heart of God?

David began as a shepherd boy and became a king. God chose him, the youngest of his brothers, to be the king of Israel, and ultimately His eternal kingdom was realized through David’s lineage in the birth of Jesus Christ.

We observe that David dealt more intimately with God, the Father, than any other person did in Scripture, except for Jesus Christ. David’s personal prayers were recorded in the Psalms, and in them we get to see a relationship between a sinful man and a perfect God.

What Is the Heart?

As Samuel is about to choose David as the next king, God reminds Samuel, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel  6:7, emphasis added). Throughout Scripture God seems to care more about the state of this unseen place in us, our hearts, rather than what everybody else can see in our behavior. While we judge each other by what we can see, God looks deep inside of us to see what nobody else sees. This is the place in us that holds what we love most . . . what we crave . . . what motivates us. This is the place that actually defines who we are.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, our lives are motivated by our hearts. So what we love determines how we live.

Honest

My son, Conner, came home from fifth grade one day and told me his teacher was teaching him to pray like David. Curious what that meant, I asked, “How did David pray?” Conner said, “David didn’t tell God what God wanted to hear, he told God what he was really feeling.”

Today let’s start there. Let’s honestly bring our hearts to God and to each other. If any of you are like me, most of the time I don’t have any idea how the deepest parts of me are doing. So just take a minute and pray before you move ahead. Ask God to give you insight to narrow down how you are doing right now.

Don’t leave this first week with fear or guilt; we just need a starting place, enough honesty and self-awareness to know where we are beginning. If today you are just realizing your heart may be offtrack, remember that God has known it well before today. And He is deeply pleased if you recognize it too. I pray these weeks would redefine the way you view God. I pray this time draws you into the most passionate relationship with your Creator. He is so ready to engage our souls.

Bible Study Questions

1. When your heart moves fast, what are you excited about?
2. When you feel disappointed or sad, what is it usually about?
3. When you feel content and most happy, what is it usually about?
4. What are the things you think about most?
5. For God to be pleased with you, what do you think you should be chasing?
6. Describe God. Answer as if He is one of your friends and you are telling someone about Him.
7. What is your heart chasing most?

Don’t leave this first week with fear or guilt; we just need a starting place, enough honesty and self-awareness to know where we are beginning. If today you are just realizing your heart may be offtrack, remember that God has known it well before today. And He is deeply pleased if you recognize it too. I pray these weeks would redefine the way you view God. I pray this time draws you into the most passionate relationship with your Creator. He is so ready to engage our souls.

* * *

What Next?

There are eight sessions in all in Jennie Allen's Chase Study. To continue with the next seven sessions, we're offering 30% off the DVD and study guide, or sign up for the free Study Gateway trial! You'll get instant access to the videos and study guide as well as hundreds of other video Bible studies and their participant's guides! We hope you enjoy this new service in partnership with Study Gateway! We can't wait to hear what you think! ~ Fred Bittner, FaithGateway Bible Studies 

Watch the entire CHASE study FREEChase Curriculum Kit

A man after God’s own heart… As David’s life weaves throughout the pages of Scripture, we see he was a man who spent his life chasing after God. The Chase video Bible study by Jennie Allen explores the events that defined David’s life and the Psalms that flowed out of those experiences. Through David’s example we’ll discover what God really wants from us.
 

God has carved out a space in each of us that only He can fill. So whether you are running from God or working your tail off to please Him, David’s journey will challenge your view of God.

The Kit includes:

  • DVD with 8 sessions (8-12 minutes long)

  • Study guide
     

  • 1 leader's guide
     

  • 1 set of conversation cards

Cheer for the faint-hearted

January 11, 2015

‘But his wife said unto him, If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.’ Judges 13:23

Suggested Further Reading: 1 Peter 2:9–11

About five days after I first found Christ, when my joy had been such that I could have danced for very mirth at the thought that Christ was mine, on a sudden I fell into a sad fit of despondency.

 I will tell you why.

When I first believed in Christ, I am not sure that I thought the devil was dead, but certainly I had a kind of notion that he was so mortally wounded he could not disturb me.

And then I certainly fancied that the corruption of my nature had received its death blow.

 I felt persuaded that it would never sprout again.

I was going to be perfect—I fully calculated upon it—and lo, I found an intruder I had not reckoned upon, an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.

So I went to that same Primitive Methodist chapel where I first received peace with God, through the simple preaching of the Word.

The text happened to be ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’

 ‘There,’ I thought ‘that’s a text for me.’

I had got as far as that—in the middle of that very sentiment—when the minister began by saying, ‘Paul was not a believer when he said this.’

Well now I knew I was a believer, and it seemed to me from the context that Paul must have been a believer too.

Now I am sure he was.

The man went on to say, that no child of God ever did feel any conflict within.

So I took up my hat and left the place.

For meditation:

This appears to have been on 11 January 1850.

The very same people who have helped us can soon become a hindrance to us (Matthew 16:16–23; James 3:1–2).

God is always a help in the Christian’s time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Sermon no. 440
11 January (Preached 26 January 1862)

Christ in You

November 22, 2014

Paul said, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).

The apostle sensed within himself not just the philosophy, ideals, or influence of Christ but the person of Jesus. Christ moved in.

He still does.

When grace happens, Christ enters.

"Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

For many years I missed this truth. I believed all the other prepositions: Christ for me, with me, ahead of me.

And I knew I was working beside Christ, under Christ, with Christ.

But I never imagined that Christ was in me.

I can't blame my deficiency on Scripture.

Paul refers to this union 216 times.

John mentions it 26.

They describe a Christ who not only woos us to himself but "ones" us to himself.

 "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:15, emphasis mine).

No other religion or philosophy makes such a claim.

No other movement implies the living presence of its founder in his followers.

Muhammad does not indwell Muslims.

Buddha does not inhabit Buddhists.

Hugh Hefner does not inhabit the pleasure-seeking hedonist.

Influence?

 Instruct?

Entice?

Yes.

But occupy?

No.

Yet Christians embrace this inscrutable promise.

"The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you" (Col. 1:27 MSG).

The Christian is a person in whom Christ is happening.

We are Jesus Christ's; we belong to him.

 But even more, we are increasingly him.

He moves in and commandeers our hands and feet, requisitions our minds and tongues.

We sense his rearranging: debris into the divine, pig's ear into silk purse.

He repurposes bad decisions and squalid choices.

Little by little a new image emerges.

"He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son" (Rom. 8:29 MSG).

Christ Is Like Sunlight

October 26, 2014

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Hebrews 1:3)

Jesus relates to God the way radiance relates to glory, or the way the rays of sunlight relate to the sun.

Keep in mind that every analogy between God and natural things is imperfect and will distort if you press it. Nevertheless, consider for example,

  1. There is no time that the sun exists without the beams of radiance. They cannot be separated. The radiance is co-eternal with the glory. Christ is co-eternal with God the Father.

  2. The radiance is the glory radiating out. It is not essentially different from the glory. Christ is God standing forth as separate but not essentially different from the Father.

  3. Thus the radiance is eternally begotten, as it were, by the glory — not created or made. If you put a solar-activated calculator in the sunlight, numbers appear on the face of the calculator. These, you could say, are created or made by the sun, but they are not what the sun is. But the rays of the sun are an extension of the sun. So Christ is eternally begotten of the Father, but not made or created.

  4. We see the sun by means of seeing the rays of the sun. So we see God the Father by seeing Jesus. The rays of the sun arrive here about eight seconds after they leave the sun, and the round ball of fire that we see in the sky is the image — the exact representation — of the sun; not because it is a painting of the sun, but because it is the sun streaming forth in its radiance.

So I commend this great Person to you that you might trust in him and love him and worship him. He is alive and sitting at the right hand of God with all power and authority and will one day come in great glory. He has that exalted place because he is himself God the Son.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

Christians to the Closet?

January 20, 2015 

http://links.mkt3980.com/ctt?kn=9&ms=MTA0MzIzNDMS1&r=MTYxODkxNjc1OTQzS0&b=0&j=NDYxNzA1NTE0S0&mt=1&rt=0

Faith, Gay Marriage, and the Public Square

Eric Metaxas

Gay-rights activists have mocked the idea that gay marriage threatens religious liberty.

But what they mean by religious liberty is no such thing.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could do for same-sex marriage what Roe v. Wade did for abortion-on-demand.

What concerns me, besides the obvious prospect of having marriage permanently redefined in American law, is the impact of such a ruling on religious freedom.

As you know from listening to BreakPoint, there is ample reason for concern on that score. Recent events have demonstrated that the clash between gay rights and religious freedom is a zero-sum game.

That’s why a recent column by Frank Bruni of the New York Times concerned me so profoundly.

From the start, Bruni, who is himself gay, demonstrates that he does not, or perhaps cannot, understand this issue.

He begins by telling readers that he “chafes” at being called “a threat to your religious liberty.”

He then goes on to dispute the idea that allowing “men who have romantic relationships with other men and maybe want to marry them” will somehow run roughshod over someone’s creed.

 In fact, he calls such a belief “absurd.”

Bruni calls “the deference that many politicians show” to religious liberty concerns that are raised by same-sex marriage and gay rights “an illustration of religion’s favored status in a country that’s still working out this separation-of-church-and-state business and hasn’t yet gotten it quite right.”

Not surprisingly, he compares those raising the issue of religious freedom to segregationists whom, he is quick to remind his readers, also claimed religious warrant. 

He ends by saying that “I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts.

But outside of those places?

You must put up with me, just as I put up with you.”

Of course, he supports no such thing.

Bruni’s definition of “putting up” with religious believers can be summed up in a phrase he is no doubt familiar with: the closet.

Imagine that the shoe were on the other foot and a Christian wrote that he supported the right of gay people to “do what they wish in their clubs, homes, and hearts” but that outside the subject must not be broached. Bruni would certainly reject that idea as “bigotry.”

Yet, Bruni and others clearly want to stuff Christians into the closet that they recently escaped.

As to the idea that same-sex marriage and gay rights more generally pose a threat to religious liberty, that isn’t a Christian creation.

 More than a decade ago, Chai Feldman of Georgetown Law School wrote about what she saw as the emerging conflict between gay rights laws and religious freedom.

As she put it, “When we pass a law that says you may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, we are burdening those who have an alternative moral assessment of gay men and lesbians."

For Feldman, who is herself gay, most of the time protecting the “dignity” of the gay person should trump religious freedom.

As she told Maggie Gallagher, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win."

Now, obviously I disagree with Feldman on the priority we should accord religious freedom.

 But I give her credit for recognizing the conflict, something that seems to completely escape Frank Bruni.

 For him, the conflict, along with those who disagree with him, is something best left in—you guessed it—the closet.

Now before I leave today, I want to invite you to tell us what you think about BreakPoint.

 Please come to BreakPoint.org to take our listener survey. Thanks so much!

FURTHER READING AND INFORMATION

More on This Topic
Gather more information on today's Daily BreakPoint by visiting www.breakpoint.org.

Visit BreakPoint.org

Next Steps:

As Eric pointed out, the conflict between religious freedom and sexual freedom is a real one.

 We need to be equipped to defend this fundamental right that our Constitution also affirms.

We want to hear from you--click here to take the BreakPoint listener survey. You'll have a chance to win a copy of Eric's new book "Miracles."

Resources:

Banned in Boston: The Coming Conflict Between Gay Marriage and Religious Liberty
Maggie Gallagher | The Weekly Standard | May 15, 2006

Your God and My Dignity: Religious Liberty Bigotry and Gays
Frank Bruni | New York Times | January 10, 2015

Organizations that Defend Liberty:

Alliance Defending Freedom
website

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
website

Volume 2, Issue 3

This past week, former governor Mitt Romney announced that he would not run for President in 2016.

This is not a surprise.

However, what is a surprise is how the press has reacted to the impact upon the presidential race.

 All the discussion has been about who will get the big money now that Governor Romney has removed himself from the equation.

Why is this a concern?

It is as if the only thing that matters in politics is money.

It is important, but it is by far not the most important element.

The people still have within their control the ability to manage the debate and the issues addressed, if they will just simply engage.

Some would say, “We have no power.

I don’t even know how to engage.”

Let me suggest that a simple first step is to determine what you believe, as guiding principles, for the society and culture you seek.

Next is to simply communicate your ideas to your friends.

Movements are started by people at the grassroots, never by leaders and money from the top.

From the Reformation to the Civil Rights movement to the New Right movement, it was people demanding that principles of human dignity and liberty be addressed.

The gentlemen most often mentioned as billionaires who contribute large sums of money to politics have every right to do so.

They care about their country and seek to impact the debate from their world view.

They do have influence, yet they have not been able to control much of anything.

 Thank goodness we have an open society where freedom of speech and the right to assemble are protected constitutional rights.

Yes, it may take more effort without money, but the modern age of social media works to the benefit of a people’s movement.

At the New Horizon Council website (www.NewHorizonCouncil.com), we encourage the conversation about principles - principles that bind us rather than policy that divides us.

 It is the New Horizon Council’s objective to give every citizen a voice, which collectively matches any billionaire’s money.

Candidates will migrate to a movement based upon truth.

We have discussed in previous reports how the times in which we find ourselves are very similar to 1776 and 1787 in our country’s history.

It was a time when citizens felt oppressed by an overbearing government that restrained their individual liberty.

 It was a time when people discussed individual liberty rather than liberty for all.

It was a time when uniting principles were beginning to emerge in the writings of Thomas Paine in Common Sense and James Madison in the Federalist Papers.

It took time for discussion and debate for the citizens to see liberty through the prism of liberty for all, not just liberty for some.

 In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was a declaration of values.

 In 1787, the Constitution was a statement of principles.

Together, these values and principles have been the foundation of the greatest country in the history of the world.

It is time for us as citizens to recommit to these values and principles.
 
My name is Marc Nuttle and this is what I believe.

What do you believe?

Confession of sin–a sermon with seven texts

January 19, 2015 

“I have sinned.” Exodus 9:27; Numbers 22:34; 1 Samuel 15:24; Joshua 7:20; Matthew 27:4; Job 7:20; Luke 15:18.

Suggested Further Reading: Psalm 51

Unless there be a true and hearty confession of our sins to God, we have no promise that we shall find mercy through the blood of the Redeemer. “

Whoso confesseth (his sins) and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”

But there is no promise in the Bible to the man who will not confess his sins.

 Yet, as upon every point of Scripture there is a liability of being deceived, so more especially in the matter of confession of sin.

There are many who make a confession, and a confession before God, who notwithstanding receive no blessing, because their confession has not in it certain marks which are required by God to prove it genuine and sincere, and which demonstrate it to be the work of the Holy Spirit.

the hardened sinner–pharaoh.

 It is of no use for you to say, “I have sinned,” merely under the influence of terror, and then to forget it afterwards.

the double-minded man—balaam.

It is idle and useless for you to say, “I have sinned,” unless you mean it from your heart.

the insincere man—saul.

To say, “I have sinned,” in an unmeaning manner, is worse than worthless, for it is a mockery of God thus to confess with insincerity of heart.

the doubtful penitent—achan.

The most we can say is, that we hope their souls are saved at last, but indeed we cannot tell.

the repentance of despair—judas.

If you have such a repentance as that, it will be a warning to generations yet to come.

the repentance of the saint—job.

This is the repentance of the man who is a child of God already, an acceptable repentance before God.

the blessed confession—the prodigal.

Here is that which proves a man to be a regenerate character–“Father, I have sinned.”

For meditation:

All have sinned. (Romans 3:23)

 “Thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7); but which one?

Sermon no. 113
18 January (1857)

CONQUERING THE FEAR OF DEATH

February 7, 2015

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

 The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Fear of dying is the number one universal fear for human beings.

Virtually every fear has a relationship to death and a connection to dying.

For example, why are we afraid of flying?

The plane may crash and we may die.

 Here are seven scriptural principles that enable us to conquer our fear of death:

1. God is in control. Read Psalm 91. (Mark 4:35-41; Phil 4:6-7)

2. Focus on fearing God and dying to self. (Acts 5:29; Galatians 2:20)

3. We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth. (Hebrews 10:32+)

4. God always brings good from evil. (Genesis 50:20)

5. The enemy can only harm our body, not our soul. (Matthew 10:28)

6. Absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8; 2 Timothy 2:11-12)

7. There is a crown of life for the faithful to death. (Revelation 2:10)

Co-workers had just finished an SSTS seminar on the island of Timor when a young pastor suddenly jumped up and proclaimed before all his colleagues “Now I am ready to die for Jesus!”

These were no idle words.

Every single pastor attending the seminar was directly or indirectly impacted by the massacres on the island of Ambon.

Many of their churches had been burned and several had lost loved ones in the attacks on Christians.

As the meeting concluded, our colleague saw that young pastor making his way towards him.

 “Your being here has inspired me to go out and share the gospel in other areas,” he announced.

“I am happy to hear that brother.

 Where has the Lord called you to?” he enquired.

“To Ambon!”

“My brother, are you sure.

This is like signing your own death certificate.

You know that most Christians are fleeing the massacre and you want to return?”

His response was simple and without pretense.

“If I don’t go back to tell the people about Jesus, who will do it?

I am willing to give my life for Jesus!”

RESPONSE:

Today I will live prepared to die, and die prepared to live!

PRAYER:

When I fear you, Lord, I fear nothing else—even death.

 Today I pray for those who do not fear You and thus fear everything else—especially death.

Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS)
A daily devotional message by SSTS author Paul Estabrooks

Courageous Waiting: No Word from God Will Ever Fail

December 21. 2014

by Annie Downs 

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. - Luke 1:27-38

Luke 1:38

There is this painting of Mary that I have hanging in my bedroom. It’s called The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner and it is simply a teenaged Mary sitting on the edge of a first century bed, in a first century bedroom, looking across the room at this golden lit radiating figure. The shaft of yellow paint is meant to represent the angel Gabriel, when he has been sent by God to tell Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. The room would be dark if he wasn’t there, you can tell it’s late into the night. But the light from Gabriel illuminates the room and shows for us, the viewers of the painted scene, the room decor, and a young Mary. 
 

The part that I study and can’t take my eyes off of is Mary’s face.
 

Her face says everything to me.

I don’t know how the painter captured it, he clearly wasn’t present for the meeting, but he did it. It feels very human and very teen and you can tell she is listening. She is confused, but listening. She doesn’t know where the conversation is going, but she is in it.

And her hands.

They are clasped together, like they are comforting each other. It is like when you watch a teenager sitting down to her first day at a new school -- wide eyes, hands lightly squeezed together, just a hint of anxiousness on her face.

Courage looks like that sometimes, I think. Like hanging on in the moment, even when you may feel worried or confused, holding your hands, and just taking the next step. For Mary, the next step is a simple statement. 

Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.” - Luke 1:38

So the question you may be wanting to ask, “Uh, Annie… why is this painting hanging in your room?” And no, it is not Christmas 365 days a year in my home. (But I don’t hate the idea.) In a season of my life where I felt like there was a lot of waiting after a lot of instruction, my mom gave me a print of The Annunciation. I don’t even know that she knew how instrumental it would be to my heart, but it speaks to me, daily.

I see Mary and I’m reminded that sometimes, we hear God and the best thing to do is just sit and listen.

I see Mary’s face and I’m reminded that digesting what you hear, thinking, listening, believing the instruction, sometimes those are the bravest things.

I see Mary’s hands and I’m reminded that it is okay to be scared. It’s alright to wonder what is going on and feel a little off-balanced by the turn in your path.

I see Mary’s body, flat stomach, young face, and I’m reminded that sometimes courage takes the form of patiently waiting while God grows in you what only He could do. 

Sometimes it takes a lot of waiting and a little fear to keep on the brave path that God has picked for us. I feel that in my heart, I see that in my life, and I stare at that truth almost every day when I see Mary.

And I want to sound like her. I’m Your servant, Lord. Let everything You’ve said happen to me.
 

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner
 

Credits: The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, 1899

Original article by Annie F. Downs for FaithGateway, 2014. Annie is an author and speaker based in Nashville, Tennessee. You can read more at anniefdowns.com  or follow her at @anniefdowns.

* * *

Your Turn

Are you waiting?

Are you frustrated with relentless waiting?

Advent is about waiting... looking backward to Christ's first coming and looking forward to His second coming.

We're in the in-between time...

Waiting.

Living with suffering and yet pregnant with hope.

 Come join the conversation on our blog!

We would love to hear from you about waiting and hoping! ~ Devotionals Daily

Closed Hearts

December 14, 2014

Read Jeremiah 5:20-31

Make this announcement to Israel, and say this to Judah: Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear.

 Have you no respect for me?

 Why don’t you tremble in my presence?

I, the Lord, define the ocean’s sandy shoreline as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross.

The waves may toss and roar, but they can never pass the boundaries I set.

But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts.

They have turned away and abandoned me.

They do not say from the heart, “Let us live in awe of the Lord our God, for he gives us rain each spring and fall, assuring us of a harvest when the time is right.”

Your wickedness has deprived you of these wonderful blessings.

Your sin has robbed you of all these good things.

Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait for victims like a hunter hiding in a blind.

They continually set traps to catch people.

Like a cage filled with birds, their homes are filled with evil plots.

And now they are great and rich.
(Jeremiah 5:20-27)

Reflect

Have you ever spoken to someone only to realize that the person hasn’t heard a word you were saying?

Perhaps he or she was too distracted.

Or perhaps that person had a strong opinion and couldn’t accept a contrary viewpoint.

 Jeremiah told the people of Judah that their eyes and ears did them no good because they refused to see God’s signs or hear God’s message.

The people of Judah and Israel were foolishly deaf when God promised blessings for obedience and destruction for disobedience.

When God speaks through his Word or his messengers, we harm ourselves if we fail to listen. God’s message will never change us unless we listen to it.

Respond

What is your attitude when you come into God’s presence?

Do you go with ears and heart open?

Approaching him with awe and respect is always the right approach, because God sets the boundaries of the roaring seas and establishes the rains and harvests.

God had to strip away all the benefits that Judah and Israel had grown to respect more than him, in hopes that the people would turn back to him.

Don’t wait until God removes your cherished resources before committing yourself to him.

'Clue' to Christ's birth date revealed

November 10, 2014
 

Hint: It's not on Dec. 25

http://www.wnd.com/2014/11/clue-to-christs-birth-date-revealed/

“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” -John 1:14

Jonathan Cahn likes to teach in the Socratic Method, presenting questions in the form of a mystery and then launching an investigation that eventually turns up answers.

The Messianic rabbi best known for his books, “The Harbinger” and “The Mystery of the Shemitah,” is now out with a new documentary film called “The Mishkan Clue.”

 In it he sets out to solve two mysteries – the time of Jesus’ birth (was it really on Dec. 25?) and why it matters.

He provides a clue to the answer in his title – with the meaning of the Hebrew word “mishkan” – but more on that later.

Cahn goes on an Indiana Jones-style quest to solve the 2,000-year-old mystery of when Jesus was born. The first day he rules out is Dec. 25.

December is probably the least likely time for a Jewish couple from Nazareth to be traveling to Bethlehem for the Roman census while the woman, Mary, was pregnant.

Not only would the weather be too cold and rainy that time of year for shepherds to be “out in their fields,” as the gospels say, but the Romans would not have held their census during the winter because it required families to travel back to the father’s hometown to register. Joseph’s family hailed from Bethlehem.

In the Church record, it’s hard to find a credible reference to Dec. 25 as Christ’s birth date prior to the fourth century time of Emperor Constantine.

More than likely, this date was picked to line up with the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which was celebrated with a pagan sacrifice to Saturn and a public banquet, followed by gift-giving and a carnival-like atmosphere.

Another theory is that Jesus may have been born on Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which would fit nicely with Him being the Light of the world. But Hanukkah is a newer, minor Jewish holiday and comes with the same pitfall used to debunk the Dec. 25 date – it’s too cold for shepherds to be out in the fields at night gazing at the stars.

One other popular theory is that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot, also called the “Feast of Booths,” which occurs in late September or early October each year on the Hebrew calendar.

Proponents of this theory say Jesus was born in a sukkah or booth and that this temporary shelter was later referred to as a manger.

While this is “well meaning” and “sounds nice,” Cahn says it would have been impossible for several reasons. First, Jesus was born in a manger, not a sukkah, and a manger is a type of feeding trough.

Also, the spiritual meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles lines up with the end times and the closing of an era, not the opening or beginning of an era, Cahn says, and Messiah’s birth, death, resurrection and second coming must come in the proper chronological order.

Tabernacles “is all about the closing of the age.

 It’s the wrong order,” Cahn says.

Plus, the Tabernacles theory puts Mary and Joseph in the wrong place.

Jewish families traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

“He was born in Bethlehem not Jerusalem.

 It would have caused revolution to require travel (for the census) at a time when Jews were supposed to be in Jerusalem,” Cahn said.

Not to mention, they would have had to have traveled back home during the onset of winter, again not convenient or comfortable for a pregnant woman.

So Cahn rules out winter and autumn for the birth of Jesus.

But what about summer? That would have been difficult during Israel’s brutally hot, dry summers but perhaps doable for a woman with child. The only problem is there is no major Jewish feast day in the summer.

“There are no holy days to fulfill, which is how God works,” Cahn said.

Passover lines up with Jesus’ death, He rose on the Feast of First Fruits, he created the Church with the sending of his Holy Spirit on Shavuot or Pentecost, and the Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah foretells the Messiah’s second coming.

“There must be a time when travel is practical and comfortable, when shepherds would be out with their flocks and a pregnant woman could travel,” Cahn says.

The Lamb is born

That leaves only one option – spring.

In Israel, this would have been known as the “lambing” season.

“Only in the lambing season do shepherds watch their flocks by night,” Cahn said, as described in the gospels.

This would have been in late March and into April when shepherds were out watching for lambs to be born in the fields.

“So here they are out looking for lambs to be born and who do they find? The Lamb of God,” he said.

But is there a holy day in the spring?

There certainly was, but it’s been downplayed over the years.

It’s called Nisan 1, the historical first day on the Hebraic calendar.

It falls in early April on the Gregorian calendar.

The birth, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus fulfill the Jewish holy days, in the proper order, Cahn said, starting with Nisan 1 for his birth.

But it gets even better if you look deeper.

“Messiah fulfills the feasts but he also fulfills the theme of the feast,” Cahn said. “Is there a day on the Hebrew calendar that would fulfill the theme of the Messiah’s birth?”

If there is, it would have to be Nisan 1. It represents a new beginning.

“Nissan 1 is the calendar changer.

 It breaks the calendar,” he said. “Every calendar changed based on the birth of Messiah, from B.C. to A.D. So it would put us back to Nisan 1.”

But because the early Christian Church changed from being Jerusalem-centric to Rome-centric, all of this history was lost to the Western believers in Jesus.

Besides linking Christ’s birth to an existing Roman holiday, Saturnalia, the 25th of December also linked it to the Roman New Year just one week later on Jan. 1.

“They saw the birth of the Messiah and they linked it to another day on their calendar that was similar.

New Year’s Day, the Roman New Year,” Cahn said.

A clue from the Talmud and early church father

Building his case further for Nisan 1 as Jesus’ birthday, Cahn looks to an unlikely source — the Talmud, which contains ancient biblical interpretations by Jewish rabbis.

According to Talmudic teachings, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all were born and died during the month of Nissan. Isaac in particular was a type of the coming Messiah.

“The first commandment was to begin everything in Nisan.

 It’s been forgotten by modern Judaism,” Cahn said.

“It’s the real New Year. Not Rosh Hashana.”

In Exodus 12:1-2 it says about the month of Nisan: “God said to Moses and Aaron in the Land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.’”

In fact, the title “First of the Months” (“Rosh Hodashim” in Hebrew) is reserved in the Torah for the month of Nisan.
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In his quest for still more evidence that Nisan 1 was the birth date of Jesus, Cahn moves to the writings of the early Christian church father Hippolytus of Rome, who lived and taught in the third century, having been martyred in 235 A.D.

His writings are among the first that refer to Dec. 25 as the birth of Christ.

But because one page of Hippolytus’ writings still mentions springtime as the proper birth date, some historians have speculated that his writings were later doctored to reflect the new Dec. 25 date with the caveat that the one reference to spring somehow got past the censors.

“There is one manuscript left that actually gives us two different dates,” Cahn said. “One says Messiah was born in the springtime. They forgot to put the Whiteout.”

In fact, the statue of Hippolytus in Rome today still mentions April 2 as the month of Christ’s birth.

The final clue

But beyond the physical, historical importance of nailing down the accurate birth date for the most important man in the history of the world, there is a spiritual reason that Cahn brings to our attention in “The Mishkan Clue.”

Yes, there’s more to this story than just setting the record straight.

It has to do with the Hebrew words “Mishkan” and “Goel.”

God’s instructions for the “goel” redeemer were given in the Torah.

When a man died his next closest male kin was allowed to marry the widow.

He may “redeem” her if he is not already married.

This was the case when the widow Ruth was wedded to Boaz, her “kinsman redeemer” by whom she had a son.

Boaz is a type of the Father God who brings the childless widow a redeemer.

Boaz is the new father who brings a son.

“There is going to be one more Goel redemption,” Cahn says. “This time the Goel is going to be God.

God is going to intervene in the line of Judah, the line of man.

He comes to the virgin Merriam.

God marries the creation.

He fathers the Child.”

And that offspring is the Messiah.

That matches up with the type of the Messiah in the book of Ruth, whose son is conceived in Bethlehem at the end of the wheat harvest. Go forward nine months and that ends up in the month of Nisan for his birth.

The last “clue” to Jesus’ birth lies in the mishkan and ties in with John 1:14 “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

In Hebrew, the translation for the word dwelling is something similar to a tent or “tabernacle,” which was a temporary dwelling place for God’s glory.

The incarnation, God coming in the form of a temporary human body, also fits the theme of a tent, as Peter explain in his letter 2 Peter 1:13-14: “Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.”

“He pitched his tent among us or tabernacled with us,” Cahn said of the Messiah.

 “It wasn’t a sukkah it was a tent, a mishkan.

The glory of God was in that tabernacle. Messiah’s incarnation is foreshadowed in God’s glory coming into the tent…the tabernacle.

The bottom line is that, through a deeper understanding of the birth of Messiah, Christians can experience the new birth every day, not just once a year, Cahn said.

“The real point is…It’s about God joining himself to your life,” Cahn says.

 “Being intimately joined with God through his Messiah.

Every day in Christ should be like Nisan 1.

A new birth.

 A new beginning.

You cannot have life without that union.

 You cannot have new life.

Your soul is waiting to get close with God.

We need to get rid of the distractions.

 Nisan 1 is the day that everything is made new again.

Your life was meant to be like this tabernacle, filled with the glory of God.

 In that place is the fullness of your healing, in that place comes your emotional healing, your joy, your shalom, your destiny.”

Comfort for the desponding

November 26, 2014

“Oh that I were as in months past.” Job 29:2

Suggested Further Reading: Galatians 4:11-20

There is such a thing, my dear friends, as your getting into a terribly bad condition through the ministry that you attend.

Can it be expected that men should grow in grace when they are never watered with the streams that make glad the city of our God?

 Can they be supposed to grow strong in the Lord Jesus, when they do not feed on spiritual food?

 We know some who grumble, Sabbath after Sabbath, and say they can’t hear such and such a minister.

Why don’t you buy an ear-trumpet then?

 Ah!

But I mean, that I can’t hear him to my soul’s profit.

Then do not go to hear him, if you have tried for a long while and don’t get any profit.

 I always think that a man who grumbles as he goes out of chapel ought not to be pitied, but whipped, for he can stay away if he likes, and go where he will be pleased.

There are plenty of places where the sheep may feed in their own manner; and everyone is bound to go where he gets the pasture most suited to his soul.

 But you are not bound to run away directly your minister dies, as many of you did before you came here.

You should not run away from the ship directly the storm comes, and the captain is gone, and you find her not exactly sea-worthy; stand by her, begin caulking her,

God will send you a captain, there will be fine weather by and by, and all will be right.

 But very frequently a bad minister starves God’s people into walking skeletons, so that you can tell all their bones; and who wonders that they starve out their minister, when they get no nourishment from his ministrations.

For meditation:

God provides leaders to build up his people so that they can go on to build up one another (Ephesians 4:11-12).

The absence of the leader will show whether the flock can stand on their own feet in the Lord (Philippians 1:27; Colossians 2:5).

Sermon no. 51
25 November (1855)

Compel them to come in

December 06, 2014

“Compel them to come in.” Luke 14:23

Suggested Further Reading: John 3:31-36

I beseech you by him that liveth and was dead, and is alive for evermore, consider my master’s message which he instructs me now to address you.

But do you spurn it?

Do you still refuse it?

Then I must change my tone a minute.

 I will not merely tell you the message, and invite you as I do with all earnestness, and sincere affection—I will go further.

 Sinner, in God’s name, I command you to repent and believe.

 Do you ask me my authority?

 I am an ambassador of heaven.

 My credentials, some of them secret, and in my own heart; and others of them open before you this day in the seals of my ministry, sitting and standing in this hall, where God has given me many souls for my hire.

 As God the everlasting one has given me a commission to preach his gospel, I command you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; not on my own authority, but on the authority of him who said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature;” and then he annexed this solemn sanction, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

Reject my message, and remember “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God.”

An ambassador is not to stand below the man with whom he deals, for we stand higher.

 If the minister chooses to take his proper rank, girded with the omnipotence of God, and anointed with his holy unction, he is to command men, and speak with all authority compelling them to come in: “command, exhort, rebuke with all longsuffering.”

For meditation:

Do we regard the Gospel as a take-it or leave-it option? The opposite of trusting in Christ is disobedience (Romans 1:5 and 16:26).

Sermon no. 227
5 December (1858)

Consolation in the furnace

November 28, 2014

‘He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’ Daniel 3:25

Suggested Further Reading: Acts 13:44–52

Luther, I dare say, like other men, had some respect for his own character, and some reverence for public opinion, and might have been willing to pay some deference to the learning and authority of the age, both of which lent their aid to the ancient system of Rome, but in a happy hour the Pope excommunicated the German troubler.

All is well for Luther now.

He must henceforth never conciliate or dream of peace.

 Now his bonds are broken.

He burns the Pope’s bull and thunders out, ‘The Pope of Rome excommunicates Martin Luther, and I, Martin Luther, excommunicate the Pope of Rome.

The world hates me, and there is no love lost between us, for I esteem it as much as it esteems me.

 War to the knife,’ says he.

The man was never clear till the world thrust him out.

It is a splendid thing to run the gauntlet of so much contempt, that the soul is hardened to it under a strong consciousness that the right is none the more contemptible because its friend may be despised.

‘Why,’ you say, ‘is this how I am treated for the statement of truth?'

 I was inclined to conciliate and yield, but after this never!

 You have loosed my bonds.’

\When man has done his worst, as Nebuchadnezzar did in this case, why then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could say, ‘What more could he do?

He has thrown us into a fiery furnace heated seven times hotter; he has done his worst and now what have we to fear?’

 When persecution rages, it is wonderful what liberty it gives to the child of God.

 Remember Luther, Knox, Calvin, Wycliffe, Bradford, Latimer, and many others!

Under God these men owed their liberty of speech and liberty of conscience to the fact that the world thrust them out from all hope of its favour, and so loosed their bonds.

For meditation:

Consider the increasing boldness of one man while being cast out for Christ’s sake by the Pharisees (John 9:24–38). One plus God is always a majority.

Sermon no. 662
26 November (1865)

Conundrums...

January 3, 2015

    The definition of the word "conundrum" is: something that is puzzling or confusing.

     "A gun is like a parachute. If you need one and don't have one, you'll probably never need one again."

     Here are six conundrums of socialism in the United States of America: 
 
  
   1. America is capitalist and greedy, yet half of the population is subsidized.

     2. Half of the population is subsidized, yet they think they are victims.

     3. They think they are victims, yet their representatives run the government.

     4. Their representatives run the government, yet the poor keep getting poorer.

     5. The poor keep getting poorer, yet they have things that people in other countries only dream about.

     6. They have things that people in other countries only dream about, yet they want America to be more like those other countries.

     Think about it! And that, my friends, pretty much sums up the U.S.A. in the 21st century.

     Makes you wonder who is doing the math.

     These three, short sentences tell you a lot about the direction of our current government and cultural environment:

     1. We are advised to NOT judge ALL Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge ALL gun owners by the actions of a few lunatics.

     Funny how that works. And here's another one worth considering...

     2. Seems we constantly hear about how Social Security is going to run out of money. But we never hear about welfare or food stamps running out of money? What's interesting is the first group "worked for" their money, but the second didn't.

     Think about it.....and last but not least,

     3. Why are we cutting benefits for our veterans, there are no pay raises for our military, and we are cutting our army to a level lower than before WWII, but we are not stopping the payments or benefits to illegals.

Daylight: The Story of Obama and Israel

Barack Obama ran for president as a pro-Israel candidate -- but his record tells a different story. Follow @NoahPollak and @CmteForIsrael  on Twitter, and visit www.CommitteeForIsrael.com  for more.

 

Delighting in God’s Law

January 23, 2015

T.M. Moore
January 21, 2015

The Fear of God (3)

Praise the LORD!

Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments. Psalm 112:1

Those who fear the Lord

They are relating properly to God who, having come through faith in Jesus Christ to know the Father, now live daily in love and fear of Him.

What characterizes such people?

That is, how can we know those who love and fear the Lord?

 More to the point, how can we be sure that we love and fear the Lord?

The psalmist tells us plainly: they fear the Lord who delight in His commandments.

The reference here is clearly to the Law of God – the Ten Commandments and the statutes, precepts, and rules which guide us in the blameless life of love for God and our neighbors (Lk. 1:6; Matt. 22:34-30).

Destruction Awaits!

January 26, 2015

Read Ezekiel 7:1-13

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Disaster after disaster is coming your way!

The end has come.

It has finally arrived.

 Your final doom is waiting!

O people of Israel, the day of your destruction is dawning.

The time has come; the day of trouble is near.

 Shouts of anguish will be heard on the mountains, not shouts of joy.

Soon I will pour out my fury on you and unleash my anger against you.

 I will call you to account for all your detestable sins.

“I will turn my eyes away and show no pity. I will repay you for all your detestable sins.

Then you will know that it is I, the Lord, who is striking the blow.

“The day of judgment is here; your destruction awaits!

The people’s wickedness and pride have blossomed to full flower.

Their violence has grown into a rod that will beat them for their wickedness.

None of these proud and wicked people will survive.

All their wealth and prestige will be swept away.

“Yes, the time has come; the day is here!

Buyers should not rejoice over bargains, nor sellers grieve over losses, for all of them will fall under my terrible anger.

Even if the merchants survive, they will never return to their business.

For what God has said applies to everyone—it will not be changed!

Not one person whose life is twisted by sin will ever recover.”
(Ezekiel 7:5-13)

Reflect

Like Amos, Joel, Nahum, and other Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel talks about the “Day” (7:7) of the Lord—a time of great judgment.

 In chapter 7, Ezekiel predicts the complete destruction of Judah.

If it seems as though God ignores those who do wrong in our day, be assured that a Day of Judgment will come, just as it came for the people of Judah.

God is waiting patiently for sinners to repent (see 2 Peter 3:9), but when his judgment comes, “None of these proud and wicked people will survive” (Ezekiel 7:11).

 What you decide about God now will determine your fate when God’s judgment of the earth comes to fruition.

Respond

The nation of Judah trusted in its prosperity and possessions instead of in God.

 So God planned to destroy the basis of its prosperity.

Whenever we begin to trust in jobs, the economy, a political system, or military might for our security, we put God in the back seat.

Is there anything you trust more than God?

Consider how God waits patiently for you to put the whole weight of your trust in him.

Developing a Vibrant Faith

January 17, 2015 

Acts 9:1-16

The apostle Paul had a strong commitment to know and serve Jesus Christ.

His passion and love for the Lord was obvious—Jesus was always central in his thinking, whether he was working as a tent maker, preaching to the crowd, or even sitting in chains at prison.

What fueled his love for the Lord?

Paul's conversion experience on the Damascus Road was a motivating force in his life.

Grateful for the gift of grace he had received at salvation, the apostle told many people about his encounter with the resurrected Christ and its impact on him.

We, too, have a story to tell of God's mercy in saving us and of the new life we have in Him.

Paul's zeal also came from his firm conviction that the gospel message was true and available to everyone (John 3:16).

On the cross, Jesus took all our sins—past, present, and future—upon Himself (1 Pet. 2:24).

He suffered our punishment so that we might receive forgiveness and be brought into a right relationship with God.

Through faith in Christ, we've been born again, and the indwelling Holy Spirit helps us every day (John 14:26).

The more we understand what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf, the greater will be our passion to share the gospel.

Developing a vibrant faith requires time and energy plus a commitment to obey God.

Regularly studying the Bible will strengthen your beliefs and give you courage to speak.

Caring about the spiritual welfare of others will move you into action.

Do you have a passion to serve Jesus wherever He leads?

For more biblical teaching and resources from Dr. Charles Stanley, please visit www.intouch.org.

Did the Christ of Christmas Claim to Be God?

December 11, 2014
  

The Heart of Christmas Day 11

See the full devotional reading for the current calendar day from The Heart of Christmas here »

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Direction in dilemma

November 23, 2014

‘Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.’ Exodus 14:13

Suggested Further Reading: Psalm 37:1–9

In what way are we to stand still, dear friends?

 Surely it means among other things, that we are to wait awhile.

Time is precious, but there are occasions when the best use we can make of it, is to let it run on.

 If time flies, that is no reason why I am always to fly.

 Every experienced man knows that by being wrongly busy for one hour, he may make mischief which a lifetime would hardly rectify.

 If I run without waiting to enquire the way, I may run upon my ruin.

 Many who have been very busy in helping themselves, would have done better waiting upon their Lord.

 Prayer is never a waste of time.

 A man who would ride post-haste, had better wait till he is perfectly mounted, or he may slip from the saddle.

He who glorifies God by standing still, is better employed than he who diligently serves his own self-will.

Wait awhile then.

Wait in prayer, however.

Call upon God, and spread the case before him; tell him your difficulty, and plead his promise of aid.

Express your unstaggering confidence in him; wait in faith, for unfaithful, untrusting waiting, is but an insult to the Lord.

 Believe that if he shall keep you tarrying even till midnight, yet he will come at the right time; the vision shall come and shall not tarry.

 Wait in quiet patience, not murmuring because you are under the affliction, but blessing God for it; never murmuring against the second cause, as the children of Israel did against Moses; never wish you could go back to the world again, but accept the case as it stands, and put it as it stands simply and with your whole heart, without any self-will, into the hand of your covenant God.

For meditation:

There is a time to be swift and a time to be slow (James 1:19).

 The Christian should be active, but not an activist; advancing in faith, but not rushing ahead (Proverbs 21:5).

‘Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?’ (2 Kings 6:33) is the language of unbelief.

 ‘He that believeth shall not make haste’ (Isaiah 28:16).

Does your busy timetable allow for you to be still and know that the Lord is God (Psalm 46:10)?

Sermon no. 541
22 November (1863)

Do Not Harden Your Heart

November 15, 2014

So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19)

Even though the people of Israel saw the waters of the Red Sea divide and they walked over on dry ground, the moment they got thirsty, their hearts were hard against God and they did not trust him to take care of them.

They cried out against him and said that life in Egypt was better.

That is what this verse is written to prevent.

O how many professing Christians make a start with God.

They hear that their sins can be forgiven and that they can escape hell and go to heaven.

And they say: “What have I got to lose?

 I'll believe.”

But then in a week or a month or a year or ten years, the test comes — a season of no water in the wilderness.

A weariness with manna, and subtly a growing craving for the fleeting pleasures of Egypt, as Numbers 11:5–6 says, “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone.

There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”

This is a terrifying condition to be in — to find yourself no longer interested in Christ and his Word and prayer and worship and missions and living for the glory of God.

And to find all fleeting pleasures of this world more attractive than the things of the Spirit.

If that is your situation, I plead with you to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking in this text.

Give heed to the Word of God.

Do not harden your heart.

Wake up to the deceitfulness of sin. Consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our great confession, and hold fast to your confidence and hope in him.

And if you have never even made a start with God, then put your hope in him.

Turn from sin and from self-reliance and put your confidence in a great Savior.

These things are written that you might believe and endure, and have life.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

Do You Neglect Your Salvation?

November 7, 2014

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:3)

Is there a sense of greatness in your mind about your salvation? Or do you neglect it?

Do you respond to the greatness of your salvation?

Or do you treat it the way you treat your will or the title to your car or the deed on your house?

You signed it once and it is in a file drawer somewhere, but it is not a really great thing.

 It has no daily effect on you.

Basically you neglect it.

Only what is it really — this great salvation?

What he's really saying is:

  • Don't neglect being loved by God.

  • Don't neglect being forgiven and accepted and protected and strengthened and guided by Almighty God.

  • Don't neglect the sacrifice of Christ's life on the cross.

  • Don't neglect the free gift of righteousness imputed by faith.

  • Don't neglect the removal of God's wrath and the reconciled smile of God.

  • Don't neglect the indwelling Holy Spirit and the fellowship and friendship of the living Christ.

  • Don't neglect the radiance of God's glory in the face of Jesus.

  • Don't neglect the free access to the throne of grace.

  • Don't neglect the inexhaustible treasure of God's promises.

This is a great salvation.

Neglecting it is very evil.

 Don't neglect so great a salvation.

Because if you do, you will perish without escape.

So being a Christian is a very serious business — not a sour business, but a serious business.

We are simply blood-earnest about being happy in our great salvation.

We will not be deflected by this world into the fleeting and suicidal pleasures of sin.

We will not neglect our eternal joy in God — which is what salvation is.

We will gouge out our eyes rather than be lured away from eternal life.

 

Does God Have a Gender? Part One of Two

November 25, 2014

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

—Galatians 3:28–29
 

It has become increasingly popular in Christian circles to apply politically correct sentiments to language for God.

 Some have even supplemented the Trinitarian language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with feminine formulations, such as Mother, Child, and Womb.

This raises an important question: to wit, does God have a gender?

First, the Bible tells us "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).

As God created both male and female in His image, He does not participate in one or the other gender, but rather transcends gender.

In tomorrow's Daily e-Truth, we'll see that the masculine and feminine images for God in Scripture are anthropomorphisms that reveal God to us in ways we can understand.

For further study, see Leslie Zeigler, "Christianity or Feminism?" in William A. Dembski and Jay Wesley Richards, (eds.), Unapologetic Apologetics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001): 179–86.

This Daily e-Truth is adapted from The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector's Edition »

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Does God Have a Gender? Part Two of Two

November 25, 2014

"God is spirit."—John 4:24

As noted in yesterday's Daily e-Truth, God does not participate in one or the other gender, but rather transcends gender.

 Furthermore, while the Bible uses masculine titles for God, such as Father and Son, it also employs feminine images for God, such as mother (Isaiah 49:14–15; 66:13) and midwife (Isaiah 66:9).

Likewise, His judgment of Israel is likened to that of a mother bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13:8).

 Whether masculine or feminine, all such images are anthropomorphisms or personifications that reveal God to us in ways we can understand.

Finally, the language we use for God must clarify rather than confuse. In the absence of biblical warrant we ought to refrain from tampering with the traditional titles for God.

Indeed, it would be a grave mistake to sacrifice theological clarity concerning the nature of God and the nature of the relationships between the divine persons of the Godhead on the altar of political correctness.

For further study, see Leslie Zeigler, "Christianity or Feminism?"

 in William A. Dembski and Jay Wesley Richards, (eds.), Unapologetic Apologetics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001): 179–86.
 
This Daily e-Truth is adapted from
The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector's Edition »

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Does God Repent?

November 23, 2014

"He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind."

—1 Samuel 15:29 NIV1984

The classic King James Version of the Bible says, "It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (Genesis 6:6).

Elsewhere, God says, "It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments" (1 Samuel 15:11).

 If God is perfect, how could he repent?

First, the Bible unequivocally teaches that God is perfectly good and thus incapable of doing evil (Psalm 5:4–5; James 1:13; 3 John 1:11).

As such, God's repentance must not be understood as entailing moral guilt.

Indeed, the moral perfection of the Creator sets him apart from his sin–tainted creation (Leviticus 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Peter 1:15–16).

Furthermore, although God does not change, the meaning of the word "repent" has changed over time.

 Thus in place of the word "repent" most modern English translations substitute the word "regret" or "grieve."

 Indeed, as a human father grieves over rebellion on the part of his children, so our heavenly Father grieves over rebellion on the part of his creation.

Finally, God's repentance must be understood as an anthropomorphism communicating the full measure of God's grief over the horror of sin rather than a change of heart or a change of mind. With respect to the faithlessness of Saul, God says, "It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king" (1 Samuel 15:11). Yet, the very same context says that "the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent" (v. 29). Apart from an anthropomorphic understanding, such passages would be self–refuting.

For further study, see Millard J. Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).
 

This Daily e-Truth is adapted from The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector's Edition »

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DRIFTWOOD

November 24, 2014

from Max Lucado

Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.  – Daniel 11:35 NIV

Usually, driftwood forms when trees or large, wooden objects have been swept away by the sea either by natural or human efforts. The pieces that make it back to shore are smooth to the touch and are often used as decorative pieces or furniture. Other pieces anchor the foundation of a sand dune, with its former life a thing of the past.

But a lot of driftwood doesn’t make it back to shore. It’s eaten by bacteria and organisms, and it eventually disintegrates while it drifts. A lot like what happens to us when we remain in a quandary of doubt: our stomachs churn, and we can feel as though we’re being eaten from the inside out. What better way for the enemy to render us useless than to have us doubt our faith?

We may question if we were ever faithful in the first place. We might second-guess our motives or wonder if this Christian life is really worth it. Maybe God let us down and we’re angry with Him—to the point that we’re not speaking to Him. Or we drift because life is actually going very well—we’re distracted by our new promotion, or new boyfriend, or new home, for example—so we adopt this idea that we must be doing something right, and we can therefore lighten up on living out our faith. We think that perhaps we don’t need Him for everything, after all.

Then there is another reason for drifting: God’s people—or those who masquer­ade as God’s people—let you down. Sometimes, we’re so fragile that all it takes is an unfriendly exchange with a greeter, neglect from a leader, or judgment from a church clique to send us packing. After all, why would we want to follow a Savior whose followers act that way? And they’re the ones who represent Him?

Stay faithful. If you’re hurting, stay hopeful. Pray and give thanks to God for the opportunity to grow; ask Him to shed light, ask Him for clarity. If you’re expe­riencing a season of blessings, don’t discount the Provider; invite Him to celebrate with you.

You will eventually drift, and you will eventually make it back to shore and into His loving arms. And when you do, having been purified and renewed, your knots smoothed and heart supple, you’re prepared to anchor a foundation for another drifter in similar circumstances. And your former life is a thing of the past.

Lord, I have drifted away. These are lessons that I know, but les­sons I have not truly learned. Search my heart and cleanse it. Show me a better way—so that I may help someone else who is struggling in the same way. Thank you for this opportunity to grow, Lord—let me not lose heart that You are in this, so I need not fear what I may be facing.

From Grace for the Moment®: Morning and Evening Edition by Max Lucado

Early and late

December 12, 2014

‘The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man … which went out early in the morning to hire labourers … And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle … Again he went out, about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle.’ Matthew 20:1,3,5–6

Suggested Further Reading: 2 Chronicles 33:1–13; 34:1–3

Some of us in time and in eternity will have to utter a special song of thankfulness to the love which took us in our days of folly and simplicity, and conducted us into the family of God.

 Look at the grace which calls man at the age of twenty, when the passions are hot, when there is strong temptation to plunge into the vices and the so-called pleasures of life.

To be delivered from the charms of sin, when the world’s cheek is ruddy, when it wears its best attire, and to be taught to prefer the reproach of Christ to all the riches of Egypt, this is mighty grace for which God shall have our sweetest song.

To be called of the Lord at forty, in the prime of life, is a wonderful instance of divine power, for worldliness is hard to overcome, and worldliness is the sin of middle age.

With a family about you, with much business, with the world eating into you as does a canker, it is a wonder that God should in his mercy have visited you then, and made you a regenerate soul.

You are a miracle of grace, and you will have to feel it and to praise God for it in time and eternity.

Sixty again. ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.’

And yet you have learned; you have had a blessed schoolmaster who sweetly taught you, and you have learned to do well.

 Though your vessel had begun to rot in the waters of the Black Sea of sin, you have got a new owner, and you will run up a new flag, and you will sail round the Cape of Good Hope to the Islands of the Blessed, in the Land of the Hereafter.

But what shall I say of you that are called when you are aged? You will have to love much, for you have had much forgiven.

For meditation: Best to come to Christ early (Ecclesiastes 12:1), but better late than never (Luke 23:39–43).

Sermon no. 664
10 December (1865)

Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving

November 28, 2014

by Christine Caine, Unstoppable: Running the Race You Were Born to Win 

God loved you before you loved Him, so keep your love alive by telling Him you love Him... every single day.

God created your inmost being.

He knit you together in your mother’s womb.

He knows the number of hairs on your head.

He delights in you and loves your company.

He designed you with a purpose and has good plans for your future.

There is nothing you can do to make Him love you more or less.

We love because He first loved us. - 1 John 4:19

Now fuel your passion by declaring your love back to Him!

Tell Him you love Him.

Speak words of love to Him every day.

Epiphany

December 18, 2014


 

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.
— Matthew 2:1

Epiphany (meaning “to reveal”) is arguably the oldest and most significant of all the Christmas traditions.

It highlights the reality that due to our sin we cannot come to God; thus, God in Christ revealed Himself to us.

The tradition of Epiphany, also known as “Three Kings Day” (Driekoningendag), is celebrated January 6 as recognition of the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as King.

As such it corresponds to Simeon’s exultation, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2: 30–32; emphasis added).

While Epiphany provides an extraordinarily meaningful climax to the Christmas season, it is ultimately rooted in tradition.

 The text of Matthew 2:11 notes that at the time of visitation by the wise men, Mary and Joseph were no longer in the place of Jesus’ birth, which contained a manger.

Rather, they were now in “a house.”

 Moreover, the meagerness of Mary’s purification offering (Luke 2:22–24; cf. Leviticus 12:2–8) suggests that forty days after the birth of Christ, the day of the offering, Joseph and his family were still living in relative poverty.

According to the Levitical law, Mary’s offering—“two doves or two young pigeons”—was the prescribed purification offering for one who had become unclean through childbirth and could not afford to offer a lamb (Leviticus 12:8).

Had the wise men already arrived at the time of Mary’s purification offering, their generous gifts might well have made it possible for Mary to afford a lamb, as recommended in the Levitical law.

In short, while Scripture does not indicate the exact date of the visit of the wise men, there is reason to believe that the visitors from the East did not arrive until some time after the day of Mary’s purification offering, which took place forty days after the birth of Jesus.

While it is important to separate truth from traditions, we must never cease to emulate the reverence and worship for the King of kings and Lord of lords manifested by the wise men.

 As such, when entities suggest that the wise men gave gifts to Christ, not to one another, we should immediately recognize that they have missed the point entirely.

As Scripture makes abundantly clear, giving to others (particularly those in need) is tantamount to giving to Christ (Matthew 25:31–46).

On Day 18 of your trek toward the heart of Christmas, may the Epiphany tradition encourage you to use your time, talent, and treasure to make the King of kings and Lord of lords known to the nations.
 
See the full devotional reading, including a Scripture reading, study questions, and carol, for the current. or previous calendar days from The Heart of Christmas here »

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 El Shaddai

January 8, 2015

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to make you into a mighty nation.” Genesis 17:1-2

What’s in a name? Comfort, instruction, and an invitation to trust what is revealed! “I am God Almighty,” said El Shaddai, the God who is enough.

This was news to Abraham, but he needed some good news at that moment. He was well aware he was ninety-nine years of age, and well past the time to be able to have “millions of descendants” (Genesis 17:6); even one would be a miracle! Yet God was telling him that he would have a child! The fact that his wife was no spring chicken herself added to his confusion. Abraham knew he had a grand opportunity to find out if God was as big and as powerful as his name! And find out he did. Abraham believed El Shaddai, and Sarah conceived! God had said that he was the nourisher, the fruitful one, the supplier, the one who satisfies—and Abraham and Sarah found it to be so.

What impossible situation are you facing?

Does it seem as “dead” as Sarah’s womb, as unlikely as a ninety-nine-year-old man producing a child?

El Shaddai would tell you he can make the impossible possible.

“Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise.

 In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.

He was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything he promised” (Romans 4:20-21).

God performs what he promises to perform!

For further study: Genesis 17:1-8

Eternity: Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

January 20, 2015 

by Randy Frazee, Think, Act, Be Like Jesus

Do not let your hearts be troubled.

You believe in God; believe also in Me.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? - John 14:1-2

In light of Christ’s forgiveness of us and His provision of all His resources and qualities to us in the present, what should we then believe about the days to come?

Key Question: What is going to happen in the future?

Blaise Pascal was an inventor, mathematician, physicist, and theological writer in the 1600s.

 In the mid-1650s, he wrote the Pénsees.

Contained in this writing, which ironically wasn’t formally published until after his death, was an apologetic argument that became known as “Pascal’s Wager.”

The basis of this thought had to do with a human gamble regarding eternity.

“God is, or He is not.”

But to which side shall we incline?

 Reason can decide nothing here.

There is an infinite chaos, which separated us.

A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up...

Which will you choose then?

Let us see.

Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least.

You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery.

Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose...

But your happiness?

 Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is...

If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

As science and theology collided in his heart, Pascal concluded that belief in a God who says He has provided life for eternity makes for a potentially happier life than not believing.

The consequences for not believing far outweigh those for believing.

 He also states each person who lives must make this wager, which will affect how they live and what they decide.

The Christian is on the other side of this dilemma of the soul — now looking to build God’s kingdom for the time spent in eternity, as well as preparing others for His return.
 

John 14:1

Key Idea: I believe there is a heaven and a hell and that Jesus will return to judge all people and to establish His eternal kingdom.

The central belief about our future and eternity is that when we die, our bodies return to the earth, but our spirits live on. Those spirits go to one of two places — heaven or hell.

Even though I’m a pastor, I honestly don’t like the part about hell.

I never have, and I never will.

My job, and even the way others perceive us pastors, would be easier if it were not a part of the gospel message.

But as we previously discussed about the Bible, we have to take God’s truth as a total work and even accept the areas we don’t like or wish were not there.

Of course, those who have received Christ’s offer of salvation by grace no longer need to be concerned about this matter anyway, because He has removed this fear from our future.

Let me emphasize an important point here: When we die and go into eternity, this moment is not the end, as many tend to believe.

Jesus Christ is going to return to the earth, and His first order of business will be to judge mankind.

 When Jesus returns, He’ll make all things right, and everything will come under the authority of His justice.

He will throw Satan and His followers, along with sin and death, into the lake of fire.

Christ’s followers will then receive an imperishable, resurrected body, just as Christ now has. Jesus and His people will then reside on a new earth surrounded by a new heaven.

For the Christian, this is the future.

When we say, “The best is yet to come,” we can confidently mean what we say!

On this great day, God himself will live among us and the original garden of three will expand into a great city of millions.

The Lord reigns, He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Your throne was established long ago;

You are from all eternity. - Psalm 93:1-2

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.

They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.

In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “

To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” - Revelation 5:11-13

Key Application: What difference does this make in the way I live?

If we truly believe God has prepared an eternal home for us — a house with many rooms, as Jesus explained in John 14 — then we can and will...

  • live with hope every day, regardless of the circumstances around us; life may or may not get better here, but we can know that God’s home awaits us

  • love people with freedom and boldness, because our future is secure in Him

  • lead more people into a relationship with Christ, because we want to share this great hope with others

I ask you to prayerfully take a moment to do an inventory of your relationships. How many non-Christians are currently in your circle of influence? And of these non-Christians in your circle, how many are you actively sharing God’s love with? Write their names.

It is important to express here that, even if you cannot write down a name, this exercise is not intended to create any condemnation or blame.

But the absence of a name should produce conviction in a Christ follower’s life.

If you have none, or maybe just one, then the motivation here is to gain a hunger and a drive to see others come to faith in Christ.

There is no condemnation for what has not happened, but conviction toward obedience to see what can happen.

 If you have no names, don’t wallow and waste any more time; simply rise up and get on a mission.

If, however, you wrote down several names, be encouraged that God is working on your behalf to use your every word and action to bring these people to Him.

 Keep praying, be inspired, and never give up.

Imagine one day each person giving a testimony of how you introduced him or her to freedom into eternity.

 Also, know you are simply a part of the salvation process in these lives, and God will most definitely use you as you submit to and serve Him.

Paul described well to the church in Corinth his partnership approach of working with Apollos to reach people, while the work of salvation is up to God, the Gardener.

What, after all, is Apollos?

 And what is Paul?

Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. - 1 Corinthians 3:5-7

Let’s give Jesus’ brother, Jude, the last word as we wait for Jesus to return:

You, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. - Jude 20-21
 

Watch the Video for Think, Act, Be Like Jesus

Watch the Video

Excerpted with permission from Think, Act, Be Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ by Randy Frazee, copyright Zondervan 2014.

* * *

Your Turn

Are you fearful about the future?

Do you live in anticipation of eternity?

 Does your daily life reflect the fear or hope you have for the future?

 Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Evangelicals and Same-Sex Marriage

January 25, 2015

http://links.mkt3980.com/ctt?kn=10&ms=MTA0NjM4MjAS1&r=MTYxODkxNjc1OTQzS0&b=0&j=NDYxOTk1ODE4S0&mt=1&rt=0

TIME Weighs In On What Christians Should Believe

A recent TIME article is exposing a question we should’ve wrestled with long before now. So that’s what we’ll do, today on BreakPoint.

A recent TIME online article featured images of two prominent young leaders who self-identify as both “evangelical” and gay.

Their mission:

To expand the evangelical acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Brandon Robertson is co-founder of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, and Matthew Vines is founder of the Reformation Project and author of "God and the Gay Christian," a book that argues that the Bible accepts loving, committed same-sex unions.

They’re among the proof, said TIME, that acceptance of same-sex marriage among evangelicals is now inevitable.

Consider this closing quote from a megachurch pastor: “Every positive reforming movement in church history is first labeled heresy . . .

Evangelicalism is way behind on this.

 We have a debt to pay.”

That’s a strange statement considering the many so-called “reform movements” that were first labeled heresy and still are.

And yet, the article still got me thinking: Does embracing same-sex marriage and homosexual conduct push one out of the evangelical fold?

Does the shift on these issues point to larger problems within the historic movement known as evangelicalism?

So I asked a number of Christian thought leaders to offer answers to these questions, and I’ve assembled their answers for you in an online symposium at BreakPoint.org.

Come to our site, read what they have to say, and leave your thoughts in the comment section.

And I’ll get us started here. “Evangelical” is a notoriously elusive label, from its earliest usages in 18th century Britain through the social activism of the late 19th century, and especially into the 20th century: as American conservative Protestants had to deal with Darwinism, liberal theology, Billy Graham’s success, the Cold War, the sexual revolution, the Religious Right, and megachurch market forces.

Yet in all those changes, evangelicals have swayed very little on what my friend Jay Richards calls “the pelvic issues.”

Where sex belongs and what marriage is has not been one of the shifting sands—until the last two years.

It was not even a shift theological liberals were willing to make until the last 40 years or so.

And these shifts on sex and marriage tend to follow shifts in theology—either quite blatantly (as in the case of many mainline denominations), or subtly (as is in the case in evangelicalism).

Here’s what I mean. When I read Matthew Vines’ book “God and the Gay Christian,” which attempts to make an evangelical case for accepting committed gay relationships, I noticed just how evangelical—at least in the popular sense of the word—he actually sounded. Now don’t get me wrong, there was very little new in the book. Arguments about Sodom and other so-called “clobber passages” actually referring to abusive relationships and not loving ones, or that ancient cultures did not understand sexual orientation, they’ve all been made before.

But Vines’ book hinges on a far-too-typical evangelical reading of Genesis 2 that suggests God created Eve for Adam’s companionship. In essence, that “it’s not good that man is lonely.” But that’s not what the text says. It says it’s not good that man is “alone.” Adam was given Eve so he could fulfill the task to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” That’s why animals, as the text notes, weren’t suitable helpers. That marriage and sex bring companionship is a sign of God’s kindness, but it’s not what they are fundamentally about.

Once sex and marriage are disconnected from procreation and our overall human purpose, our biological realities become irrelevant, and our inclinations become authoritative, even over the text itself.

This is one of the ways the Gospel has been made hyper-individualistic and has been therapeutically dismantled. In other words, there is—in my view—an authority problem in the church. And pelvic issues are but one example among many.

Come to BreakPoint.org to find the symposium. And please, do share your thoughts.

More on This Topic
Gather more information on today's Daily BreakPoint by visiting www.breakpoint.org.

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Next Steps:

Here's your opportunity to comment on this hotly debated and, as John alluded to, critical issue. Click here to read the symposium entries from various Christian leaders and post your own thoughts.

Today is the last day for our BreakPoint survey, so if you haven't taken it yet, please click here to do so. We want to hear from you!

Resources:

How Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage
Elizabeth Dias | TIME | January 15, 2015

Inside the Evangelical Fight Over Gay Marriage (subscription required)
Elizabeth Dias | TIME | January 15, 2015

Experiencing the Lord’s Mercy

October 25, 2014

Read 2 Chronicles 30:15-20

On the fourteenth day of the second month, one month later than usual, the people slaughtered the Passover lamb. This shamed the priests and Levites, so they purified themselves and brought burnt offerings to the Temple of the Lord. Then they took their places at the Temple as prescribed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. The Levites brought the sacrificial blood to the priests, who then sprinkled it on the altar.

Since many of the people had not purified themselves, the Levites had to slaughter their Passover lamb for them, to set them apart for the Lord. Most of those who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not purified themselves. But King Hezekiah prayed for them, and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the requirements of the Law. For Hezekiah said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon those who decide to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors, even though they are not properly cleansed for the ceremony.” And the Lord listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people.
(2 Chronicles 30:15-20)

Reflect

Passover was the most important festival of the year for the Jewish people. It required great preparation and holiness. People had to travel to Jerusalem, and the priests had to be purified, but this hadn’t happened on time (2 Chronicles 30:3). However, God’s law had a provision that, under certain circumstances, the Passover could be celebrated one month later (Numbers 9:10-11). Even then, though, many of the people weren’t ready. It seemed that they would be left out altogether. “But King Hezekiah prayed for them, and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the requirements of the Law.” The people were not pure, but “the Lord listened . . . and healed the people.”

Why did God show so much grace this time? The people weren’t fulfilling the letter of the law, but they had fulfilled the spirit of it. They wanted “to follow the Lord.” This was the purpose of the law.

Respond

God shows us the same mercy today.

We often fail to prepare our hearts or confess our sins and be cleansed.

But God wants us first to follow him.

Make your heart right, then God will listen and heal you.

External Religion

February 6, 2015

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders by birth.

 You were called “the uncircumcised ones” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. Ephesians 2:11
Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

We used to say, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but we now know that, through modern technology, a picture may not be worth the film on which it was exposed.

For example, when one television network broadcasting the New Year’s celebration in Times Square at the end of 1999 realized that the picture being broadcast included the massive logo of a competitor, they simply erased the logo from the screen and superimposed their own.

Millions “saw” the new logo on their screens, even though it was not really there.

The ability to project what is palpably false has been developed into a fine art—and not just in the realm of advertising. It has been going on in religion for thousands of years.

 For instance, the classic definition of a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

 What appears is intended to convey what is actual.

But historically, this has always been a problem.

One example was in ancient Jewish culture.

The ancient Jewish people were rightly proud of their special place in God’s plan.

He had established a covenant of love with them, initiated unique lines of communication with them, and had determined that through them all the nations of the world would be blessed (see Gen. 12:1-3; Rom. 3:1-2).

They were given special promises, they received special mandates, they were granted special privileges.

They were special, they knew it, and they did not hesitate to let other people know.

In some instances, their pride got the better of them.

They demeaned others in order to exalt themselves.

This was nowhere more apparent than in their attitude toward non-Jews, whom they called “the uncircumcised ones” (Eph. 2:11).

 Circumcision is hardly a topic of conversation for polite company, but they were referring to the fact that circumcision was both a sign and a seal of their special relationship with God.

It was a sign that “signified” that they had “cut off” all that was displeasing to God.

It was a seal that reminded them of God’s covenant promises and instilled confidence and assurance. It was an outward sign of an inward grace.

And therein lay the problem, for things were not always as they appeared—that is, the inward grace was not always present.

Paul told the Ephesians that the Jews were “proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts” (2:11).

The believer is called to practice the externals of Christian faith as a symbol of the internal realities of faith in Christ.

 Signs signify, and symbols symbolize.

Signs that signify nothing and symbols that symbolize a fiction are contradictions.

Congruence is required between the symbol and the reality.

 The alternative is hypocrisy.
 
For further study: Ephesians 2:11-18

 

Ezekiel, God’s Prophet

January 21, 2015

Read Ezekiel 1:1-3

On July 31 of my thirtieth year, while I was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.

This happened during the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity.

 (The Lord gave this message to Ezekiel son of Buzi, a priest, beside the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians, and he felt the hand of the Lord take hold of him.)
(Ezekiel 1:1-3)

Reflect

Ezekiel was born when the nation was on the brink of complete destruction.

He was preparing to become a priest in God’s Temple when the Babylonians attacked in 597 b.c. and carried him away along with 10,000 other captives (2 Kings 24:10-14).

 Five years later, when Ezekiel was 30, God called him to be a prophet.

During Ezekiel’s early ministry in Babylonia, Jeremiah was still preaching to the Jews back in Judah, and Daniel was serving in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.

The Kebar River was the location of a Jewish settlement of exiles.

Through Ezekiel, God helped the exiles understand why they had been taken captive and dispelled their false hope that their captivity was going to be short.

Ezekiel brought a new message of hope, and called the people to a new awareness of their dependence upon God.

Ezekiel’s presence with the exiles assured them of God’s concern for them, even as they lived in a foreign land.

Respond

When we face trial, God does not abandon us.

 Like the prophet Ezekiel, the Word of God is available to guide us and help us understand the circumstances we are facing.

Spending time reading God’s Word may help us better notice God’s presence in our lives.

Faith

December 14, 2014

“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6

Suggested Further Reading: Hebrews 3:12-4: 2

I may know a thing, and yet not believe it.

Therefore assent must go with faith: that is to say, what we know we must also agree with, as being most certainly the will of God. Now, with faith, it is necessary that I should not only read the Scriptures and understand them, but that I should receive them in my soul as being the very truth of the living God, and should devoutly, with my whole heart, receive the whole of Scripture as being inspired of the most High, and the whole of the doctrine which he requires me to believe for my salvation.

 You are not allowed to divide the Scriptures, and to believe what you please; you are not allowed to believe the Scriptures with a half-heartedness, for if you do this wilfully, you have not the faith which looks alone to Christ.

True faith gives its full assent to the Scriptures; it takes a page and says, “No matter what is in the page, I believe it;” it turns over the next chapter and says, “Here are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable do ignore, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their destruction; but hard though it be, I believe it.”

 It sees the Trinity; it cannot understand the Trinity in Unity, but it believes it.

 It sees an atoning sacrifice; there is something difficult in the thought, but it believes it; and whatever it be which it sees in revelation, it devoutly puts its lips to the book, and says, “I love it all; I give my full, free and hearty assent to every word of it, whether it be the threatening or the promise, the proverb, the precept, or the blessing.

I believe that since it is all the word of God it is all most assuredly true.”

For meditation:

Faith enables us to accept much which we cannot explain—“Through faith we understand” (Hebrews 11:3): “Believing is seeing”.

Nothing else can fill the gap left by a lack of faith.

Sermon no. 107
14 December (1856)

FAITH THAT BRINGS HOPE

January 9, 2015

…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:4

We often think that faith is our duty, or something we can give back to God. In reality, we cannot even do that on our own. There is nothing we can give to God. We must rely on Him for everything—even our faith. When we accept it as His precious gift, we find victory over sin and trials. We could never have this victory if we relied only on our own tenuous faith. “Faith does not always provide exemption from suffering, but it does keep us from being defeated at the hands of suffering.”

Carl Moeller, Open Doors’ USA President says, “I met secretly with a courageous believer who had been forced to hang from his ankles or wrists every day, subjected to repeated beatings and was crammed in a three-foot square box for three weeks.

Racked by memories of the agony he’d been through, Aran had been looking at me with a pained expression until I asked the question, “What were you thinking or feeling during that time?”

His face completely changed.

 A huge smile broke across it, and he gave me two thumbs up.

What was he thinking…?

Aran simply said, “That I was counted worthy to suffer for Jesus Christ.”

A Christian leader in another restricted country shared the situation there in these words:

In our country, we live in the midst of a pressure cooker.

To survive as Christians, we must have a pressure cooker faith.

Our young people decide for Christ not because He offers them the most, or because it is fashionable, but because they consider that here is One worth dying for.

That may even be what their discipleship may have for them.

Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS) examines persecution and the results of persecution—suffering and martyrdom. Satan wants to dishearten us and create hopelessness because of persecution and suffering. We will expose Satan’s lies and show how by faith we can experience God’s restoration of our hope—“the oxygen of the human spirit.”

RESPONSE:

Today I will rely on the Lord to walk by faith and not by sight, no matter what happens.

PRAYER:

Lord, help me to ignore Satan’s lies and live victoriously today by faith in the hope which only You can give and restore.

Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS)
A daily devotional message by SSTS author Paul Estabrooks

Fall of an Ally

February 5, 2015

Read Ezekiel 30:20-26

On April 29, during the eleventh year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

His arm has not been put in a cast so that it may heal.

 Neither has it been bound up with a splint to make it strong enough to hold a sword.

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am the enemy of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt!

 I will break both of his arms—the good arm along with the broken one—and I will make his sword clatter to the ground.

I will scatter the Egyptians to many lands throughout the world.

I will strengthen the arms of Babylon’s king and put my sword in his hand.

But I will break the arms of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he will lie there mortally wounded, groaning in pain.

 I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, while the arms of Pharaoh fall useless to his sides.

 And when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord.

I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth.

Then they will know that I am the Lord.
(Ezekiel 30:20-26)

Reflect

Sometimes allies we count on disappoint us.

This message came in 587 b.c. while Jerusalem was under attack from Babylon.

Judah had rebelled against Babylon and made an alliance with Egypt in spite of God’s warnings (Jeremiah 2:36-37).

 Pharaoh Hophra made a halfhearted attempt to help Jerusalem, but when Nebuchadnezzar’s army turned on him, he fled back to Egypt (Jeremiah 37:5-7).

This defeat is what Ezekiel meant when he said that God had broken the arm of Pharaoh.

Respond

God allows nations to rise to power to accomplish a particular purpose, often beyond our immediate understanding.

When you read about armies and wars, don’t despair or give in to fear.

Remember that God is sovereign and in charge of everything, even military might.

Besides praying for your military and government leaders, pray that God’s greater purposes would be carried out and that his will would be done “on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Featured Article: Grounded In Reason ... The Four Factors of Faith

November 3, 2014

- A Bible Study by Jack Kelley -

http://gracethrufaith.com/topical-studies/spiritual-life/grounded-in-reason-the-four-factors-of-faith/ 

 

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. Luke 17:6

 

Abraham had waited 20 years for the son God had promised him.

 

He and Sarah even had a son with the help of a surrogate mother, but the Lord had told him Ishmael was not the son He had promised. 

 

Finally Isaac was born, the one through whom God would bless all mankind (Genesis 21:12). 

 

But some years later, before any of these blessings came to pass, God directed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering.

 

Though heart broken, Abraham took Isaac to the place the Lord had picked out, built an altar there and placed his son upon it (Genesis 22:1-10).

 

The Prophet Elijah was beside himself.

 

The Israelites kept vacillating between worshiping God and Baal.

 

Their indecision was driving him crazy and he let them know it.

 

"How long will you waver between two opinions?

 

 If God be God then worship Him. But if it's Baal, then worship him."

 

After much prayer he arranged a public demonstration.

 

Challenging the priests of Baal to a contest, he had two altars built and two bulls slaughtered and placed on the altars. The people gathered to watch.

 

Then he told them that whichever god sent down fire to consume the offering is the one they should worship.

 

Everyone agreed, and the priests of Baal began calling their god.

 

All morning long they danced, cut themselves with knives as part of their religious ritual and called out to Baal. 

 

During the afternoon Elijah began taunting them, suggesting their god was perhaps busy or traveling or in the bathroom, and they became even more ecstatic in their worship, but alas, no fire.

 

Then about sunset Elijah had his altar doused in water three times and began to pray, reminding God of their earlier agreement (1 Kings 18:16-37).

 

The court was in a panic.

 

 The King of Babylon had just ordered the execution of all his advisers for failing to interpret a dream.

 

Daniel, like the calm in the midst of a raging storm, promised the King's assistant that he would interpret the King's dream, thus saving the lives of all the advisers.

 

Then he ran home to pray with his friends.

 

He hadn't a clue as to what the dream was or what it meant, and was counting the Lord to tell him (Daniel 2:1-18).

 

What's Reasonable?

 

I think it was Josh MacDowell who said we don't have to check our brains at the church door to worship God. 

 

 Christianity is a thinking person's religion, and our Lord expects us to use the intellect He has so generously given us.

 

The examples I've given above are meant to illustrate that point.

 

When Abraham took Isaac to Mt. Moriah, he reasoned that since God had said all His promised blessings to Abraham's descendants would flow through Isaac, then if Abraham sacrificed him there, God would have to raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).

 

He knew that God could not break the covenant promise He had made.

 

As he placed Isaac on the altar, God stopped him and told him to use a ram that was caught in a nearby thicket instead.

 

Then Abraham and Isaac understood that they were acting out a prophecy of the time when the Lord would offer His only Son as a sacrifice for sin on that same spot.

 

\Abraham named the place "Jehovah Jireh" the Lord will provide, and from then on it was said, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided"  (Genesis 22:11-14).

 

When Elijah received his directions during a private prayer, he reasoned that God, Who longed for the Israelites to come back to Him, would not embarrass him in public (1 Kings 18:36).

 

His faith in God's integrity allowed him to officiate over one of the greatest grandstand plays of all time.

 

 When he began praying, God sent the fire and it consumed the sacrifice, the altar, the water and even the stones around it.

 

The Israelites turned back to God and a three-year drought that God had sent as a judgment on the people ended that very day (1 Kings 18:38-46).

 

Daniel was a prince in Israel, one of those in the line of succession for David's throne, when at about age 16 he was taken hostage to Babylon.

 

The year was 605 BC and Babylonian King Nebuchnezzar had just defeated Egypt and Assyria, making him ruler of the world.

 

After laying siege to Jerusalem, he took Daniel, his three friends, and some others hostage to assure the compliance of the now vassal King of Israel.

 

Once in Babylon, the King put the Jewish teenagers into a training program, as was his custom with foreign royalty, to teach them the Babylonian system and culture.

 

The King was impressed with their intelligence and when they graduated, he appointed them to his body of advisers.

 

When the senior members of this group couldn't interpret the King's dream, he issued an extermination order for the entire group.

 

Daniel reasoned that God hadn't put him in such an influential position with the Babylonian King just to see him executed, so he took a leap of faith by telling the King's assistant that he could interpret the dream.

 

And sure enough, after the prayer session with his three friends, the Lord gave Daniel the interpretation in a vision (Daniel 2:19).

 

The King was so impressed that he elevated Daniel to ruler over the entire province of Babylon and head of all his advisers. Daniel's three friends were named chief administrators over the province of Babylon (Daniel 2:48-49).

 

Some time later these three, who we know as Sahdrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sentenced to death for refusing to worship a pagan idol the King had fashioned.

 

They reasoned that God could save them from the punishment due them but even if He didn't, it was better to die in faith than live in idolatry (Daniel 3:16-18).

 

Bound and thrown into a roaring furnace, they were joined there by one whose form was like the Son of God.

 

 When the King called them out, only the ropes that had bound them were burned.

 

The King published an edict requiring all his subjects to honor the God of Israel (Daniel 3:19-30).

 

Many years later, when he was an old man, Daniel himself was accused of refusing to worship the King.

 

At sunset he was thrown into a den of hungry lions as punishment.

 

All night long he sat there while the lions got hungrier and hungrier.

 

Daniel's moment by moment faith sustained him until morning when the King released him, again honoring the God of Israel (Daniel 6:16-23).

 

Daniel and his friends reasoned that the God Whom they honored with their faithfulness would not dishonor them by withholding His.

 

Adult Lessons From Children's Stories ... The Four Factors of Faith

 

These children's stories always encourage me and I could go on talking about them until you stop me.

 

But my point here is to draw attention to one fact. In each case, the people involved had to think their way through a pretty serious situation.

 

And when all their emotions screamed for them to act one way, they applied a huge dose of reason to justify acting differently.

 

In doing so they demonstrated four tools for us to apply when facing a faith-testing situation.

 

We'll call them the Four Factors of Faith.

 

1.They knew God's will and understood His ways.

 

2.Their leap of faith was based on sound reasoning.

 

3.They asked His help early and often.

 

4.They trusted Him for a successful conclusion.

 

Based on man's definition of the word, there was nothing reasonable about the faith of these men, and that's why I didn't title this study " A Reasonable Faith."

 

A faith grounded in reason is extreme in every sense of the word.

 

In fact, most would call it unreasonable. 

 

But it's the kind of faith that's available to us for use when circumstances require it.

 

More Examples

 

When Jairus, the synagogue ruler, was told not to bother Jesus anymore about healing his daughter because she had died, the Lord told him, "Don't be afraid, just believe, and she will be healed".

 

He did and she was (Luke 8:49-56).

 

When Peter asked the Lord to bid him come out of the boat and walk across the water, Jesus said, "Come," and Peter did (Matt.14:28-29).

 

When the disciples told Jesus they only had five loaves of barley bread and two small fish to feed as many as 10,000 people (Matt. 14:21), Jesus gave thanks and told them to start passing the food around.

 

They did and there was enough left over after everyone was finished eating to fill 12 baskets. (Mark 6:32-44)

 

These are not reasonable requests to make.

 

And yet the Lord made them, giving each one the faith to obey, and seeing them safely through the situation.

 

But the most unreasonable thing of all is the one He reserved for us.

 

He tells us to believe that He became a man, lived a sinless life, and died for all the sins of mankind.

 

Then He rose from the grave to walk among His followers again.

 

He did all this to purchase a pardon that He's promised to grant without condition or exception to all who choose to accept it.

 

Finally He invested us with the faith to trust Him in this, the most important choice we'll ever make (Ephe. 2:8-9), and promised to see us safely through to a successful conclusion, eternal life with Him.

 

If you're reading this article, you've probably made that choice.

 

And that means you're betting your eternal destiny on Him.

 

You're OK with this because you understand His will and know His ways.

 

Therefore, your leap of faith is based on reason.

 

You pray often, and are trusting Him for the successful conclusion He promised. 

 

 The Four Factors of Faith make yours a faith grounded in reason.

 

 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.

 

He anointed us,  set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
 

Featured Article: The Gathering Storm

 October 23, 2014

 - Wendy Wippel -
 

http://www.omegaletter.com/articles/articles.asp?ArticleID=7912 

 

As a former molecular biologist at the CDC, I've been sought out frequently of late and asked for my opinion on the current Ebola crisis.

 

Here it is. 

 

Concern is warranted.

 

Not panic.

 

And if you want to know the truth, the apocalypse developing in Houston scares me a whole lot worse than the one in Dallas.

 

By now, you've probably heard that the lesbian activist currently serving as the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker has the "goo" for a handful of evangelical pastors in Houston that had the audacity to oppose a civil rights ordinance proposed by Parker.

 

One that was supposedly needed to protect the civil rights of the LGBT community.

 

Said ordinance, specifically, would allow males to use the women's bathrooms in the event that they felt female.

 

And vice versa.

 

You'd think that any rational person could see the potential problems involved in allowing males free access to women's bathrooms (Can you say child molestation? Among other things? )

 

But no, hurting the feelings of the LGBT community by classifying bathrooms by molecularly determined gender (and we're the science-deniers?)-- instead of the intimate impulse of the day in a Houston resident-- trumps criminal sexual imposition of a child any day.

 

At least, in liberal la-la- land.

 

So we'll just stay out of Houston, right? 

 

Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

 

The problem here is that the problem isn't limited to just here.

 

 It's not just liberal nut jobs like Ms. Parker.

 

 In fact, the whole world, seemingly, is rapidly adopting her way of thinking. 

 

But I'm not referring to her position on LGBT rights.

 

I'm talking about her position on those to who dare to uphold the Bible as truth.  

 

Because, if you haven't heard, what Ms. Parker did, when five pastors in Houston dared to challenge her potty proposal, was subpoena the sermons written by those pastors so that she could examine them for evidence of discriminatory rhetoric towards the LGBT citizens of Houston.

 

Translation: for evidence that they might have said that homosexuality is wrong.

 

In the interests of complete disclosure, what Ms. Parker actually demanded was:

 

". . .all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to...the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity,  prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession."

 

Even sermons they just happened to have in their possession.

 

 Apparently, so she could ultimately put every possible Christian who represented imminent danger to the LGBT community in jail.

 

Here's the bright side, they'd be in good company.

 

Christian persecution, is at its highest level in recorded history, doubling, in fact, just last year, with Christians killed just in Syria in 2013 totaling more than all Christians martyred in 2013. 

 

 Even Pope Francis has weighed in, saying that more Christians are being persecuted, even martyred now than all the Christians persecuted and martyred in the days of Rome. 

 

And, even though the world now holds more than 2 billion Christians, they are being persecuted (active persecution or restriction of rights) in 111 of the world's 196 countries.

 

Mostly by the nearly 2 billion Muslims.

 

With apologies to Joel Osteen (author of Your Best life Now and Every Day a Friday), we shouldn't really be surprised.

 

We were abundantly warned that, as we see the day approaching, we should expect persecution.

 

Jesus Himself said,

 

"If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:20 NKJV)

 

And,

 

"Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service." (John 16:2)

 

And Timothy reminded us that,

 

"All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution"  (II Timothy 3:12)

 

And I'm pretty sure that it's mostly just us U.S. Christians who are really taken by surprise.

 

Because certain American preachers (Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, Robert Tilton, T. L. Osborn, John Osteen -- Joel's father--, Creflo Dollar, and Kenneth Hagin, for a few) were the main progenitors of the prosperity gospel.

 

I think it surprises us for two reasons:

 

First, because, perhaps unique to of all of history, the US, was founded by the pilgrims.

 

And the pilgrims, refugees from the religious wars raging in Europe, absolutely saw an opportunity to begin again with a country based on Biblical principles.

 

(I've been to the museum in Plymouth, and their own writings prove it.) 

 

The museum doesn't display them anymore though, because they might offend people like Ms. Parker.

 

So because of the pilgrims, these mere 246+ years of American history have been, like Camelot, "one brief shining moment", wherein most everybody embraced Biblical principles and morals. And that's been nice and comfy.

 

But that one brief shining moment, to some extent, was a gilded cage. Because, as the saying goes, a ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what a ship is built for.

 

We're not supposed to be nice and comfy.  We are supposed to fight the good fight of the faith.

 

But what does that really mean? 

 

What we do know is this, being in the Lord's army doesn't necessarily mean that you are in the battle.

 

And the battle is for men's souls, "the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

 

Secondly, we know that,

 

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.

 

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.

 

 On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (II Corinthians 10)

 

What does that mean?

 

That ultimately, our weapon is the Lord's strength with us in the battle.

 

"The Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands." (I Samuel 17:47)

 

The battle is His. So we come alongside the Lord in prayer, asking Him to bless our fight.

 

Finally, we know we have a secret weapon: we don't fight evil on its own terms. (Like mud slinging on facebook.)

 

We are to overcome evil with good.

 

What does that mean?

 

Fortunately, in context, the passage makes it pretty clear.

 

Repay no one evil for evil... If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

 

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

 

Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head."

 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21)

 

In the light of that passage, I have a proposal of my own.

 

Not a potty proposal, but a postal one.

 

 When JFK was president, he once made the statement that discrimination in Federal Housing could be obtained by the stroke of a pen.

 

Three days later, he got thousands of pens in the mail.

 

My postal proposal (well actually Huckabee proposed it Saturday night) is that if Mayor Parker wants sermons, let's give them to her.

 

Mail her all the sermons in your possession.

 

Mail her Bibles.

 

Mail her cards that tell her God loves her.  

 

Let's overcome evil with good.  Her address is:

 

Mayor Annise D. Parker

City of Houston

P.O. Box 1562

Houston, TX

77251

 

And let's get ready for what may come.

 

Because with ISIS rampaging through the Middle East, unchecked, it would seem that real persecution may soon be on our doorstep.  (There's a reason the scriptures talk about Christians being beheaded in the end times.)

 

That's the second reason, I think, that we're surprised.

 

We seemingly went from Camelot to criminals so fast. 

 

But we knew, I think, that our time would come.

 

Well, most of us. 

 

The church that John Osteen pastored, following the "best life now" prosperity thinking that Joel inherited, proclaimed to the world that God loved John so much that,

 

 "God has promised him that he will be preaching into his early 90's, and he is only 77 now". 

 

Two weeks later he died.

 

Maybe they never read Revelation 2, where God tells the church at Smyrna that their good news is that they are going to die.

 

But if they die once in the Lord's service, they won't die twice.

 

So no worries. 

 

 To conquer death you only have to die.

 

When the sword falls, (or Ebola crawls) we're in Heaven with our Savior...

 

With that, I'll leave you with a great poem penned by a missionary (later decapitated in China).

 

Afraid? Of what?

 

To feel the spirit's glad release? To pass from pain to perfect peace, The strife and strain of life to cease?

 

Afraid? Of that?

 

Afraid? Of what? Afraid to see the Saviour's face, To hear His welcome, and to trace, The glory gleam from wounds of grace,

Afraid? Of that?

 

Afraid? Of what? A flash - a crash - a pierced heart; Brief darkness - Light - O Heaven's art! A wound of His a counterpart! Afraid? Of that?

 

Afraid? Of what?

 

To enter into Heaven's rest, And yet to serve the Master blessed? From service good to service best?

Afraid? Of that?

 

Afraid? Of what?

 

To do by death what life could not - Baptize with blood a stony plot, Till souls shall blossom from the spot?

Afraid? Of that?

 

There's a storm gathering on the horizon.

 

Time to put on the full armor of God.

 

And let our hearts take courage.

Featured Article: What Child Is This?

December 19, 2014

 - Nathele Graham -

 twotug@embarqmail.com

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6. This verse is often seen on Christmas cards. This time of year many people send cards to friends and family, but in all of the hustle and bustle of the pressures that come along this time of year do you stop and think about what the celebration is all about? Or, who it should be about. What child is this verse talking about?

 "...a child is born". Mary was a young Jewish woman living a normal life. She was to be married to a man named Joseph, but that marriage had not taken place yet. Jewish engagements could be long, but they were binding. Mary and Joseph had not come together yet as man and wife...Mary was a virgin. The time had come for prophecy to be fulfilled and God would enter His creation in human form...a child would be born. God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary "And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS." Luke 1:30-31. When the angel appeared to her she was afraid. Angels are not cute, chubby cheeked children, nor are the sweet looking women. They are always males and usually when they are seen it is a frightening experience. Mary was frightened, but Gabriel calmed her fears. His news must have been confusing for Mary. She wasn't married, but he told her she would conceive. Mary didn't understand how this would happen, but instead of arguing or scoffing she simply asked how it would happen. "Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Luke 1:34. It would be prudent for each one of us to use Mary as an example when God asks us to do something for Him. She didn't over-analyze it, she didn't try to make it happen by human terms, and she didn't argue. She submitted to God's leading and not her own understanding. She only asked how it would happen. Mary was an ordinary human. The child she bore would be fully human, but He would be much more.

"...unto us a son is given". God gave His Son. "And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Luke 1:35. God's Son willingly left Heaven to become a man. He is the second person of the Holy Trinity and He never lost His deity. He could only be our Redeemer if He was fully human and fully God. Some people, even so-called Christians, have trouble accepting the fact that Jesus is God. They see the title "Son of God" and put it in human terms and think that He was less than God. Some misguided souls think He is the brother of Lucifer; some think He was just a really nice guy with some good ideas. How do people come up with these ridiculous notions? Jesus was fully God and fully Human. "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14. The name Immanuel means "God with us". Gabriel told Mary to name her child "Jesus", not Immanuel. Is there a problem with that? The name Jesus, or in Greek Iēsous,  means "Jehovah is salvation". It is the same as the Hebrew name Joshua or Yĕhowshuwa`, which means "Jehovah is salvation". Jesus is God, He is our salvation. He is Immanuel...God with us.

Mary had to trust God in this situation. Under Jewish Law she could have been stoned to death; God takes a strong view against sexual relations outside of marriage. Joseph, her espoused husband, knew that he was not the father of the child and he would have been well within his rights under the Law to turn his back on Mary. He didn't want to make a public spectacle of her, but still he wrestled with what he should do. Once again God sent an angel to help. "But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:20-21. Joseph had to trust God. He was asked to accept Mary's condition, take her for his wife, and protect her and God's Son. He had to step out in faith and he did what was asked of him. How many of us would be so willing?

"... and the government shall be upon his shoulder:". I look forward to this part of Isaiah's prophecy coming to pass. Make no mistake, it will happen, but there are events that must happen first. The birth pains will continue and grow stronger. Soon the Rapture will occur. Sometime after that Daniel's seventieth week will begin, the last half of that week will be horrendous. Those who survive through the Great Tribulation will enter the thousand year reign of Christ and the government shall be upon His shoulder. It would be wonderful if He ruled now. It would even be a better world to live in if our government leaders submitted themselves to Christ. Unfortunately that isn't the case. Like Mary, we need to trust God and know His timing is perfect. Because of Jesus we can live forever with Him if we step out in faith and believe in His death, burial, and resurrection. When we die we will be in His presence. If the Rapture occurs we will be immediately changed and not have to die first. Either way, by faith in Him we will live eternally with Jesus.

Throughout His time on earth Jesus provoked controversy. "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." Matthew10:34. The Jewish religious leaders would not believe that their Messiah had come in their lifetime. They knew that prophecy told when He would appear, but they did not believe God's word. Those who followed Him were confused but wanted to hear His words. Of course Judas followed Him pretending to be one of His followers. Jesus knew His heart but allowed Judas to have the same chance to embrace the truth as the other men. Like many today who call themselves Christians, he wasn't a true follower. He joined with the Pharisees to do Satan's bidding. They conspired to murder Jesus, and when they finally did crucify Him they thought they had accomplished something good. Well, in a sense they did. Because of His willing sacrifice on the cross He conquered death. The victory is in Jesus and by accepting His death, burial, and resurrection we sinners are forgiven. We will live with Him eternally. Today a huge fight still rages because of Him. Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays, nativity scenes, was He born on December 25th or some other day, should a Christian celebrate Christmas, etc. He is still bringing division and the secular humanists among us are still trying to crucify Him. Christians need to stand with Him and not allow Satan to remove Him from public view. Mary and Joseph both did what was right in God's eyes, Peter and the other disciples chose to follow Him in spite of persecution, and we must make our choice to follow Him not the world.

So, let me ask again "What Child Is This"? "...and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6b. He is the Word "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  John 1:1. He is fully human and fully God. "And the Word was made flesh, (and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." John 1:14. He is the Creator "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made." John 1:3. He is the Rock "And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." 1 Corinthians 10:4. He is the Good Shepherd "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." John 10:11. He is the Saviour "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11. He is the Way "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6. I could go on and on...The Alpha and Omega, the Lamb, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the beginning and the end. He is everything.

As you rush around amidst the worldly customs that dominate this season, stop and ask yourself if you are serving a fat, jolly fairytale dressed in red riding in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, or are you serving the Lord of lords, the King of kings, the Great I AM. That fat, jolly fairytale cannot offer you anything but credit card bills. Jesus offers you salvation.

What child is this? Jesus Christ my Lord.

God bless you all,

Nathele Graham

twotug@embarqmail.com

www.straitandnarrowministry.com 

ron@straitandnarrowministry.com  

Ron Graham's previous commentaries archived at http://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html 

All original scripture is "theopneustos" God breathed.

If you'd like to be on my mailing list to receive the commentaries just drop me an email and let me know.

Finding Clear Guidance

February 6, 2015

Psalms 25:12

How can you be sure you’re making the right decision?

Sometimes it may seem as if God plays hide and seek when we’re trying to know His will, but that’s not the way He operates.

He wants to give us clear direction.

 The real question is, What do you need to do to hear His voice?

Clear the pathway.

We have two main obstacles that hinder our discernment: sin in our life and our own strong desires about the situation.

To receive the Lord’s guidance, we must repent of all known sin and make our desires secondary to His.

Exercise patience.

Sometimes it takes a great deal of strength to stand still when everything within you is shouting, “Hurry! Time is running out!”

But if you rush ahead of God, you may miss His will.

Persist in prayer.

The Bible clearly instructs us to keep coming to the Lord with our concerns.

As we continue to pray, He will gradually weed out anything confusing until we come to His conclusion about the matter.

Search the Scriptures.

The Word of God has an answer for every need, and the Holy Spirit knows just how to point us in the right direction.

 I remember times while I was reading the Bible that a verse jumped off the page and supplied the exact answer I needed to make an important decision.

So often when we’re faced with a critical choice, all we want from the Lord is a quick answer.

But He delights to meet with us in order to deepen our relationship with Him.

Don’t let the urgency of your need keep you from enjoying the intimacy of His presence as you seek His will.

For more biblical teaching and resources from Dr. Charles Stanley, please visit www.intouch.org.

Finding the Strength to Forgive

October 24, 2014

“If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

Forgiveness is never easy, but it’s the vital first step toward healing. A woman once wrote to tell “Dear Abby” that her husband of two years had had an affair with a young widow, who then carried his child. The wife wanted to die; she also wanted to kill her husband and the widow. But she knew those weren’t the answers she needed. Instead she prayed to God, and the Lord gave her the strength to forgive both the husband and the widow.

The baby was born in the home of the husband and wife and raised as their own. He turned out to be their only child. In fifty years, wife and husband never discussed the incident again. “But,” the wife wrote, “I’ve read the love and gratitude in his eyes a thousand times.”

By praying for God’s help, this woman received peace, a loving marriage, and a child she otherwise wouldn’t have had. The next time anger and resentment rise up in your throat, get on your knees and ask the Lord for the healing work He wants to do in your heart. We believe He will hear and answer that prayer.

Just between us…

  • Who in your life has been most difficult to forgive? Why?

  • Is there someone you have never forgiven?

  • How has God honored the times you’ve forgiven someone?

  • Do we have anything that calls for forgiveness between us? What?

  • How will forgiving now make our marriage stronger in the future?

Dear Lord Jesus, forgiveness sometimes costs so much and hurts even more! But You forgave us—and now You ask us to forgive others. Teach us the heal- ing power of forgiveness. Help us to bring this gift of love to our marriage again and again. Amen.

Finish with Joy

November 3, 2014

- Greg Laurie-

 

www.harvest.org

 

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. -1 Corinthians 9:24

 

There are some events in the Olympics that don't interest me at all.

 

When it comes to track and field, however, I really sit up and take notice.

 

 I love to watch the runners-whether it's relay races, long distance runs, or the short sprints. (Probably because I ran track in high school.)

 

During a recent Olympics, I was watching one of the long distance events.

 

One of the runners started off back in the pack.

 

Gradually he moved up toward the middle.

 

With about four laps to go, he suddenly broke ahead and took the lead.

 

 I thought, Is he going to make it?

 

Could he possibly win?

 

But it wasn't to be. In those last laps he fell back again.

 

The next thing I knew, he was in second place, third place, fourth place, fifth place.

 

He didn't even win a medal.

 

I know what it's like to be in the last lap of a race.

 

You're giving it your all, but your legs feel like rubber-as if you have no control over them.

 

They feel like they are burning inside, and it's so difficult to just keep running, let alone reach for a burst of speed.

 

The apostle Paul often used athletic terms to describe what it is to be a Christian. In today's opening passage, He wrote about running in such a way as to receive the prize.

 

He told the Ephesians that he had finished his race with joy.

 

Let's not quit running our race.

 

 Let's run to win a prize.

 

Let's finish with joy. In a normal race, we know where the finish line is.

 

We know how many miles or laps we have to run to finish the contest.

 

But when it comes to life, you and I don't really know when we will round that last bend or run that last step.

 

Even though we think we have a long way to go, we might be right at the tape.

 

What an encouragement to live each day for Jesus as though it were our last.

 

Run well today.

 

Reach for the prize.

 

Five Reasons Death Is Gain

November 23, 2014

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

How is it “gain” to die?

1) Our spirits will be made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-23).

There will be no more sin in us.

 We will be done with the inner war and the heartrending disappointments of offending the Lord who loved us and gave himself for us.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just which have been made perfect.

2) We will be relieved of the pain of this world (Luke 16:25).

The joy of the resurrection will not yet be ours, but the joy of freedom from pain will be.

Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man to show the great reversal that is coming.

[The rich man] he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.”

But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.”

3) We will be given profound rest in our soul (Revelation 6:9-11).

There will be a serenity beneath the eye and care of God that surpasses anything we have known here on the softest summer evening by the most peaceful lake at our most happy moments.

I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer.”

4) We will experience a deep at-homeness (2 Corinthians 5:8).

The whole human race is homesick for God, without knowing it.

When we go home to Christ there will be a contentment beyond any sense of security and peace we have ever known.

We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

5) We will be with Christ (Philippians 1:21–23).

Christ is a more wonderful person than anyone on earth.

He is wiser, stronger, and kinder than anyone you enjoy spending time with.

He is endlessly interesting.

He knows exactly what to do and what to say at every moment to make his guests as glad as they can possibly be.

 He overflows in love and with infinite insight into how to use that love to make his loved ones feel loved. Therefore Paul said . . .

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

 But if I am to live in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.

But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

Five Ways Affliction Helps

February 5, 2015

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)

This verse shows that God sends affliction to help us learn his word. We should ask how affliction helps us understand God’s word and keep it.

There are innumerable answers, as there are innumerable experiences.

But here are five:

  1. Affliction takes the glibness of life away and makes us more serious so that our mindset is more in tune with the seriousness of God’s word.

  2. Affliction knocks worldly props from under us and forces us to rely more on God, which brings us more in tune with the aim of the word.

  3. Affliction makes us search the Scriptures with greater desperation for help, rather than treating it as marginal to life.

  4. Affliction brings us into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings so that we fellowship more closely with him and see the world more readily through his eyes.

  5. Affliction mortifies deceitful and distracting fleshly desires, and so brings us into a more spiritual frame which fits God’s word more.

May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

FOOLISHNESS OF MAN

October 24, 2014

“The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the LORD.” Proverbs 19:3. Harsh words indeed, but ones we need to pay attention to. People like to rage against God for all of the bad things that happen in this life, but the reality is that our own foolishness causes most of our troubles. God created us and He knows how we are to live. When we choose to ignore God’s ways and give in to the lusts of the flesh, that’s when trouble happens. That is just foolishness on our part.

Mankind has foolishly and purposely perverted his own way. The Hebrew word translated into English as “perverteth” is “sâlaph” which means: to twist, pervert, distort, overturn, ruin. Ruin, that’s the one. Man ruins his own way, his own path…his own moral character. For example, it was in the Garden of Eden that God set the standard for marriage. That standard is one man and one woman in a monogamous relationship called marriage. You might say it was easy for Adam and Eve because there were no other people around. Does that matter? Not a whit. God gave the example and no amount of temptation should sway us. Yet, in this fallen world we have sexually transmitted disease, AIDS, children raised with only one parent in the home, children caught in the middle of strife between divorced parents, people living together with no thought to morality, “one night stands”, and the list goes on. When heartache results from perverting our own ways, God gets blamed. Mankind blatantly defies God “and his heart fretteth against the LORD”. How can we be such fools?

Man’s heart becomes corrupt by his own means. Then when the result of sin is manifest in us and disease ravishes our health we blame God. Sin is a choice and God has clearly told us what is a sin and what is not. Anger, hatred, malice, and contempt against the God of all Creation are contrived from a human mindset that the Creator God should have done things differently. He should have made it easier for us to do what is right in our own eyes without penalty. Simple? He did make if very simple in the beginning. Adam was given only one rule “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Genesis 2:17. When that rule was broken all of creation fell. It should be obvious that God’s ways are best, but we still rebel against Him today and try to do things our own way.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” Proverbs 12:15. Man sees things very differently than God. In most cases what God abhors man adores. God’s ways have become a bone of contention in the minds of many and thus irrelevant to daily life and choices. It is foolish to consider God as irrelevant, but mankind has become so stiff-necked and hardhearted that God has been relegated to a position of obscurity. That is somewhat like buying a new care and ignoring the owner’s manual. The manual says to change your oil after a certain number of miles…will it matter if you ignore that direction? The manual says to use gasoline, but you want to use diesel fuel. Does that make a difference? The manufacturer knows what’s best and those instructions need to be followed. If things go wrong and you haven’t followed the instructions how can you blame the manufacturer? Fools have come up with an idea that over the course of millions of years, life evolved. Yes, they have thrown out the owner’s manual…God’s word. The Bible is looked at as a collection of myths, fables, and allegories. Because of this lie the rules have been thrown out and all manner of misfortune has caused man to rage against God. Yet, it isn’t God who causes the trouble…it is man’s foolish rebellion.

What will it take to change the mind of the foolish? “Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.” Proverbs 27:22. God knows us well. All Scripture is God breathed and Solomon was inspired to write these words. The word “bray” is one that needs to be understood in modern language. It comes from the Hebrew word “kathash” and means “to pound, mix by pounding, pound fine, bray”. We’re told in the above proverb that even if we pound a fool with a pestle like we grind wheat, his foolishness will not depart from him. God doesn’t pound us or grind us when we sin, but our own foolishness causes the pain. We cannot rebel against God’s rules then rage at Him when our own sin pounds us with the wages of that sin.

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” Psalm 14:1. When God is deemed not to exist then His word is rejected. When that happens there is not standard of right or wrong. Only a fool would reject God, but we can look all around us and see the result of that rejection. Abominable things are all around us. Beheadings, cannibalism, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, school shootings, mall shootings, genocide, holocaust…the list of abominable things is without end. If people would stop rejecting God we would have less heartache.

The obvious things of God continue to plague the foolishness of man. Yet the fool says in his heart there is no God. Why? We begin teaching our children at a very young age there is not God (years of government run public school systems around the world) and yet we ask ourselves “Why do these foolish people deny God?” That’s what they’ve been taught. One hour of truth on Sunday morning will not undo five full days of government propaganda. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15. The foolishness of unbelief needs to be eliminated from our children when they are young. When a child is taught foolishness and lies, adulthood will be one of pure rebellion to God. If a child is taught the lie that he “evolved” from pond scum, then how can there be any moral truth? Only God can establish morality. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. Parents, you have a responsibility. Teach your children truth.

Satan is man’s worst enemy. Always has been, always will be. Satan has proved himself over and over to be a liar. It was true in the Garden of Eden and it is true today and people believe his lies. Those lies may seem like fun, but thanks to those who listen to them we have people like Hitler who have no problem murdering people just because they are Jews. We have scientists who think it is wise to cross human DNA with sheep and cows. We have people who think homosexuality is just a choice, yet AIDS is an epidemic. It is astounding that instead of believing God, mankind follows their father the devil. Colleges, universities, seminaries, many public school teachers, and  most politicians advocate Satan’s lies and are openly doing what they can to turn our children away from believing in an all powerful God as Creator.

“Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth fothr the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;” Isaiah 44:24-25. Those who are wise in their own minds are always frustrated as God turns what they teach into lies. Just consider how often the scientific community has to change their lies about evolution as God confounds their purpose. God does not allow us to live in a lie. He exposes all lies. His word contains truth and we need to study it. Write it on our hearts and in our minds. If we reject His truth we are foolish.

God bless you all,

Ron & Nathele Graham

twotug@embarqmail.com

www.straitandnarrowministry.com

ron@straitandnarrowministry.com

Previous commentaries archived at http://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html

All original scripture is “theopneustos” God breathed.

This commentary was started by Ron Graham before his death on March 14, 2013, and finished by his wife, Nathele Graham

If you’d like to be on my mailing list to receive the commentaries just drop me an email and let me know.

For Our Good

October 30, 2014

In the Bible, Joseph is abused by his brothers and sold into slavery, then repeatedly scarred and neglected by his enemies.

But Joseph made an amazing discovery: Anything meant in this world for evil, God can use for good.

This is no less true for us today. God is able to take the mess of our past and turn it into a message.

He takes our trials and tests and turns them into a testimony.

Romans 8:28 does not say that all things that happen to us are good, but it does say that God is able to work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

If we trust him with our broken and wounded hearts, he will bring healing, restoration, and wholeness.

He takes the weak, the marginalized, and the oppressed and makes all things new.

What someone else would leave for broken, he sees as beautiful.

And very often, the thing the enemy uses to try to destroy your life is the very thing God uses to help others.

 God can heal every hurt and turn your scars into signs of strength for his glory.

Your past mistakes, hurts, and pain can help give someone else a future.

Whatever we have gone through enables us to help others.

God doesn’t waste one experience of our lives.

 He uses everything to help someone else.

He doesn’t want us to remain crippled, immobilized, or paralyzed by the past.

Instead, he sent us Jesus to show us how to step into the future.

I have always known that I was not the only one carrying around such pain.

We are all broken in some way.

We all have wounds.

Some of us use that as an excuse to do nothing, to serve no one, but rather to sit and nurse our misery.

That’s not what God wants, and not the model we see over and over again in the Bible.

The biblical model is that God deliberately chooses imperfect vessels—those who have been wounded, those with physical or emotional limitations.

Then he prepares them to serve and sends them out with their weakness still in evidence, so that his strength can be made perfect in that weakness.

Point to Ponder

More often than not, it’s our weakness that makes us capable of serving, because those we serve identify with our pain.

As always: God works in us so that he can work through us.

Forward! Forward! Forward!

October 19, 2014

‘And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.’ Exodus 14:15

Suggested Further Reading: Matthew 28:16–20

How often I have heard people say, ‘Well, yes, the Lord is my gracious Master, and I am his servant, and I believe it is the duty of believers to be baptised; but if the Lord ever reveals it to me, then I will do it.’ There is a soldier for you! He is not content to get the same orders as his fellow-soldiers, but he cries, ‘When the regiment is on the march, if the captain will come round to my tent and talk to me by myself, I will not mind going.’ Why, he deserves to be flogged for a deserter. I will not wish anything hard to my Christian brother, but I do venture to prophesy that he will be beaten with many stripes if he talks in that way. ‘Ah,’ says one, ‘but the Lord must apply it to me.’ What for? The thing is clear enough without its being applied. If there is anything in the Bible which is plain at all, it is that he who believes in Christ should be buried with him in baptism. Then, if it is your clear duty, you ought to do it at once. ‘Well, I will pray about it.’ And do you believe God will hear such a wicked prayer as that? If I tell my child that there is something to do, and he tells me, ‘Well, I will think about it,’ I shall let him know that I am not to be thus impudently trifled with. If I say to him, ‘Now, my child, do so-and-so,’ and he replies, ‘Father, I will pray about it,’ I shall not put up with such hypocritical rebellion; it will not do in one’s own house, much less in the house of God. Are you to be permitted to trifle with positive precepts, and then to lay your sin upon God’s back? I do not think so.

For meditation:

There are no loopholes in the command ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you’ (Acts 2:38). The first step of repentance and faith is essential to salvation (Mark 16:16); the second step of baptism is essential to obedience.

Sermon no. 548
18 October (1863)

Free Speech Can Get You Killed? Support It Anyway.

January 16, 2015 

http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/01/free_speech_can_get_you_killed_support_it_anyway.html

The Western world needs to understand that the rights of freedom of speech; freedom of the press; and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all coming under fire with the assassinations of the ten Charlie Hebdo journalists by Islamic terrorists.

 There is a war going on, where the soldiers are the journalists and the weapons are pens. 

This threat needs to be dealt with boldly, and the need to keep the awareness alive should not die down as soon as the newsworthiness fades from the headlines. 

Western democracies are at a crossroads regarding basic principles. 

American Thinker interviewed Brooke Goldstein, an attorney, author, and filmmaker, as well as the director of The Lawfare Project, where she attempts to raise awareness regarding abuses of the Western legal systems.  Also interviewed is Walter Olson, a journalist who works at the Cato Institute specializing in constitutional law.  Both agree that those brave enough to speak publicly, write critically, or satirize militant Islam find themselves on the receiving end of violence, threats of violence, and/or lawsuits.  Goldstein emphasizes, "Terrorists realize that a free press and freedom of speech are the greatest weapons against tyranny.  They want us to fear for our lives when we think and challenge their views.  They try to intimidate to prevent us from speaking on these issues, debating them, and making fun of them."

This incident did not happen in a vacuum.  

For the last ten years, Islamic extremists have assaulted these rights.  Recapping just a few: the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris in 2011 after the magazine "invited" the Prophet Muhammad as its guest editor; Comedy Central, which airs South Park, censored a 2010 episode by excising a segment that originally had the Prophet Muhammad depicted in a bear costume and then turned him into Santa Claus; Theo van Gogh's movie, Submission, was not aired in many venues; and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (or Muhammad cartoons crisis) began after 12 editorial cartoons that depicted Muhammad were self-censored from most Western publications, including Yale University Press, which refused to include them in a book, The Cartoons That Shook the World.  There is also the al-Qaeda hit list of eleven names with the heading "Wanted, Dead Or Alive For Crimes Against Islam," and on Twitter, following the brutal murders, a red X was imposed over the face of Charie Hebdo's editor, Stehpane Charbonnier.

Yet even after the recent Paris killings, the major news organizations, such as the New York Times, LA Times, London Guardian, and Washington Post, have not published any of the pictures in solidarity. 

Among those that did step up to the plate are Bloomberg News, USA Today, The Daily Beast, and Fox News.  Olson told American Thinker, "The liberal press is not just the ones at fault, because conservative publications such as the New York Daily News and the Daily Telegraph in Britain either cropped or blurred out the images.  What these murders called for is a Spartacus moment, in which everyone should have stepped up and said, You have to kill us, too.  They should have run a couple of these cartoons.  They failed the test, since their editors are refusing to publish anything that offends the murderous jihadists.  All journalists should stand shoulder to shoulder with the satirists."

The explanation by the media is that they want to be sensitive and not be offensive.

The New York Times played the "Substitution Game" Sharyl Attkisson writes about in her book Stonewalled.  They explained in 2006 that they would not publish the cartoons because of the symbols.  Yet, one day later, they ran a picture of a painting that showed the Virgin Mary covered in elephant poop.  South Park aired episodes that made fun of Jews, culminating in the episode Passion of the Jew, where Jews are referred to as devils.  In another episode, the "N-word" was used over 40 times.  A Christmas episode had Christ and Santa Claus fighting.   Were these shows censored or pulled?  Absolutely not.   

Goldstein noted to American Thinker, "We are sending the wrong message.  We must defend the right to be offensive and need to be more hard-hitting regarding the threats that face us.  

They were satirical cartoons. 

 Instead, these publications agreed with the justification of the Islamists – that it is not okay to criticize Islam.  

Yet they criticize other religions and groups.

 Just look at the Rolling Stone cover, which presented Kanye West as Christ."

Have these media outlets learned anything over the years?

  It appears not, says Goldstein, considering that some of the articles published seem to be criticizing the victims. 

Financial Times columinst Tony Barber wrote:

Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims.

 If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo… This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.

Then there is the piece written by Megan Gibson, entitled "The Provocative History of French Weekly Newspaper Charlie Hebdo." 

 Time Magazine's Bruce Crumley, the Paris Bureau Chief in 2011, wrote this about Charlie Hebdo:

Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by "majority sections" of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that "they" aren't going to tell "us" what can and can't be done in free societies?

Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good.

Another battlefront for the war against freedom of speech and the press is being waged within the law.  There have been numerous court actions, including one against Charlie Hebdo in 2012 by two French Muslim groups, which accused the magazine of slander.  Charlie Hebdo magazine was later acquitted.  In 2012, U.N. Resolution 1618, supported by the Obama administration and sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, sought to limit speech viewed as "discriminatory" or involving the "defamation of religion."  President Obama in his 2012 U.N. speech stated, "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."

Those interviewed are warning that a clear and present message needs to be sent that there should not be any laws passed that break away from free speech and that no publication should be prosecuted for "hurt feelings."

Wouldn't it be nice if the leader of the free world, President Obama, would step up and send a message that free speech is, in fact, an important aspect of any democratic society?  

Everyone needs to understand that the terrorists' number-one goal is to destroy us and our values.  With many in the press not fulfilling their responsibility, it appears that the Islamic extremists are winning.

The author writes for American Thinker.  She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

The Western world needs to understand that the rights of freedom of speech; freedom of the press; and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all coming under fire with the assassinations of the ten Charlie Hebdo journalists by Islamic terrorists.  There is a war going on, where the soldiers are the journalists and the weapons are pens.  This threat needs to be dealt with boldly, and the need to keep the awareness alive should not die down as soon as the newsworthiness fades from the headlines. 

Western democracies are at a crossroads regarding basic principles. 

 American Thinker interviewed Brooke Goldstein, an attorney, author, and filmmaker, as well as the director of The Lawfare Project, where she attempts to raise awareness regarding abuses of the Western legal systems.  Also interviewed is Walter Olson, a journalist who works at the Cato Institute specializing in constitutional law.  Both agree that those brave enough to speak publicly, write critically, or satirize militant Islam find themselves on the receiving end of violence, threats of violence, and/or lawsuits.  Goldstein emphasizes, "Terrorists realize that a free press and freedom of speech are the greatest weapons against tyranny.  They want us to fear for our lives when we think and challenge their views.  They try to intimidate to prevent us from speaking on these issues, debating them, and making fun of them."

This incident did not happen in a vacuum.  

For the last ten years, Islamic extremists have assaulted these rights.  Recapping just a few: the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris in 2011 after the magazine "invited" the Prophet Muhammad as its guest editor; Comedy Central, which airs South Park, censored a 2010 episode by excising a segment that originally had the Prophet Muhammad depicted in a bear costume and then turned him into Santa Claus; Theo van Gogh's movie, Submission, was not aired in many venues; and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (or Muhammad cartoons crisis) began after 12 editorial cartoons that depicted Muhammad were self-censored from most Western publications, including Yale University Press, which refused to include them in a book, The Cartoons That Shook the World.  There is also the al-Qaeda hit list of eleven names with the heading "Wanted, Dead Or Alive For Crimes Against Islam," and on Twitter, following the brutal murders, a red X was imposed over the face of Charie Hebdo's editor, Stehpane Charbonnier.

Yet even after the recent Paris killings, the major news organizations, such as the New York Times, LA Times, London Guardian, and Washington Post, have not published any of the pictures in solidarity. 

Among those that did step up to the plate are Bloomberg News, USA Today, The Daily Beast, and Fox News.  Olson told American Thinker, "The liberal press is not just the ones at fault, because conservative publications such as the New York Daily News and the Daily Telegraph in Britain either cropped or blurred out the images.  What these murders called for is a Spartacus moment, in which everyone should have stepped up and said, You have to kill us, too.  They should have run a couple of these cartoons.  They failed the test, since their editors are refusing to publish anything that offends the murderous jihadists.  All journalists should stand shoulder to shoulder with the satirists."

The explanation by the media is that they want to be sensitive and not be offensive. The New York Times played the "Substitution Game" Sharyl Attkisson writes about in her book Stonewalled.

 They explained in 2006 that they would not publish the cartoons because of the symbols.  Yet, one day later, they ran a picture of a painting that showed the Virgin Mary covered in elephant poop.  South Park aired episodes that made fun of Jews, culminating in the episode Passion of the Jew, where Jews are referred to as devils.  In another episode, the "N-word" was used over 40 times.  A Christmas episode had Christ and Santa Claus fighting.   Were these shows censored or pulled?  Absolutely not.   

Goldstein noted to American Thinker, "We are sending the wrong message.  We must defend the right to be offensive and need to be more hard-hitting regarding the threats that face us.  

They were satirical cartoons. 

 Instead, these publications agreed with the justification of the Islamists – that it is not okay to criticize Islam.

 Yet they criticize other religions and groups.  

Just look at the Rolling Stone cover, which presented Kanye West as Christ."

Have these media outlets learned anything over the years?

  It appears not, says Goldstein, considering that some of the articles published seem to be criticizing the victims. 

Financial Times columinst Tony Barber wrote:

Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims.

 If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo… This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.

Then there is the piece written by Megan Gibson, entitled "The Provocative History of French Weekly Newspaper Charlie Hebdo."  Time Magazine's Bruce Crumley, the Paris Bureau Chief in 2011, wrote this about Charlie Hebdo:

Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by "majority sections" of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that "they" aren't going to tell "us" what can and can't be done in free societies?

Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good.

Another battlefront for the war against freedom of speech and the press is being waged within the law. 

 There have been numerous court actions, including one against Charlie Hebdo in 2012 by two French Muslim groups, which accused the magazine of slander.  

Charlie Hebdo magazine was later acquitted.

 In 2012, U.N. Resolution 1618, supported by the Obama administration and sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, sought to limit speech viewed as "discriminatory" or involving the "defamation of religion."

 President Obama in his 2012 U.N. speech stated, "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."

Those interviewed are warning that a clear and present message needs to be sent that there should not be any laws passed that break away from free speech and that no publication should be prosecuted for "hurt feelings."

Wouldn't it be nice if the leader of the free world, President Obama, would step up and send a message that free speech is, in fact, an important aspect of any democratic society?  

Everyone needs to understand that the terrorists' number-one goal is to destroy us and our values.

 With many in the press not fulfilling their responsibility, it appears that the Islamic extremists are winning.

The author writes for American Thinker. 

She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

Free-will—a slave

 December 02, 2014

“And ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” John 5:40

Suggested Further Reading: John 6:60-65

It is certain that men will not come unto Christ, that they might have life.

We might prove this from many texts of Scripture, but we will take one parable.

You remember the parable where a certain king had a feast for his son, and invited a great number to come; the oxen and fatlings were killed, and he sent his messengers inviting many to the supper.

Did they go to the feast?

 No; but they all, with one accord, began to make excuse.

One said he had married a wife, and therefore he could not come, whereas he might have brought her with him.

Another had bought a yoke of oxen, and went to prove them; but the feast was in the night-time and he could not prove his oxen in the dark.

 Another had bought a piece of land, and wanted to see it; but I should not think he went to see it with a lantern.

So they all made excuses and would not come.

Well the king was determined to have the feast; so he said, “Go into the highways and hedges,” and invite them—stop!

Not invite—“compel them to come in;” for even the ragged fellows in the hedges would never have come unless they were compelled.

Take another parable; a certain man had a vineyard; at the appointed season he sent one of his servants for his rent.

What did they do to him?

They beat that servant.

He sent another; and they stoned him.

 He sent another and they killed him.

And, at last, he said “I will send them my son, they will reverence him.”

But what did they do? They said, “This is the heir, let us kill him, and cast him out of the vineyard.”

So they did. It is the same with all men by nature.

The Son of God came, yet men rejected him.

For meditation:

When you thank God for your salvation, do you give him all the credit for your conversion as well (John 15:16)?

Sermon no. 52
1 December (Preached 2 December 1855)

From Alienation to Reconciliation

February 1.2015

2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Separation, rejection, and alienation are unpleasant experiences that we usually try to avoid at all costs. But we live in a fallen world, so we cannot totally escape them.

Isolation from other people is bad enough, but what's worse is that many individuals live apart from the heavenly Father.

How tragic and futile life must be when it is spent completely detached from its Creator.

God planted within each of us a desire to be in relationship with Him, so until we find our connection to Him, we will always feel that something is missing.

And yet as crucial as that relationship is to our well-being, something stands in its way: Whether by our thoughts or actions, we have all violated the Lord's commands (Rom. 3:23), and our pure, holy God cannot be in the presence of sin.

 Romans 6:23 states that the penalty for sin is death, which is an eternal separation from the Lord. Therefore, we will always have a void.

What a bleak outlook for mankind!

But our loving Father solved the dilemma by sending His Son to pay our penalty.

Fully God and fully man, Jesus lived the perfect life, took all our iniquity upon Himself, and died a gruesome death on the cross.

No longer are we condemned for our wrongs, because Christ took our place.

And three days later, He victoriously rose to life.

Salvation is available to anyone who believes and receives this remarkable gift.

John 3:16 describes how reconciliation puts an end to our alienation: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."

For more biblical teaching and resources from Dr. Charles Stanley, please visit www.intouch.org.

Gain What You Cannot Lose

January 9, 2015

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Here are two great incentives from Jesus to become a World Christian and to dedicate yourself to the cause of Frontier Missions.

  1. Every impossibility with men is possible with God (Mark 10:27). The conversion of hardened sinners will be the work of God and will accord with his sovereign plan. We need not fear or fret over our weakness. The battle is the Lord’s, and he will give the victory.

  2. Christ promises to work for us and to be for us so much that when our missionary life is over, we will not be able to say we’ve sacrificed anything (Mark 10:29–30).

When we follow his missionary prescription, we discover that even the painful side effects work to improve our condition. Our spiritual health, our joy, improves a hundredfold. And when we die, we do not die. We gain eternal life.

I do not appeal to you to screw up your courage and sacrifice for Christ. I appeal to you to renounce all you have to obtain life that satisfies your deepest longings. I appeal to you to count all things as rubbish for the surpassing value of standing in service of the King of kings. I appeal to you to take off your store bought rags and put on the garments of God’s ambassadors.

I promise you persecutions and privations — but “remember the joy”! “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

On January 8, 1956, five Auca Indians of Ecuador killed Jim Elliot and his four missionary companions as they were trying to bring the gospel to the Auca tribe of sixty people.

Four young wives lost husbands and nine children lost their fathers.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote that the world called it a nightmare of tragedy.

Then she added, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo:

 ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’”

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

Genealogies of the Babe of Bethlehem

December 06, 2014 

The Heart of Christmas Day 6

See the full devotional reading for the current calendar day from The Heart of Christmas here »

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Give God Your Guilt & Confess

November 17, 2014

from Max Lucado

When we pray, most of us are able to take our problems to Christ, but what about our sin?
 

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “The Lord has put on him the punishment for all the evil we have done” (53:6 NCV). Isaiah did not know the name of God’s sin bearer.

But we do. Jesus Christ. He came to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26). He “was offered once to bear the sins of many” (v. 28).

If you are in Christ, your sin is gone. It was last seen on the back of your Sin Bearer as he headed out to Death Valley.

When Jesus cried on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 NIV), he entered the wilderness on your behalf. He carried your sin away.

Jesus did his part.

 Now do yours.

Give God your guilt.

Pray the Pocket Prayer.

Father You Are Good

Father, you are good.

 I need help.

Forgive me . . .

Tell Jesus what you did.

Place your guilt on the back of your Sin Bearer.

Give it to Jesus with this request: “Will you take this away?”

 Do this as often as needed.

One time, two times, ten times a day?

By all means!

Hold nothing back.

No sin is too ancient or recent, too evil or insignificant.

 Be abundant in your confession, and . . .

Be concrete in your confession.

Go into as much detail as you can.

You’re tempted to say, Lord, forgive me.

I am a louse.

But that doesn’t work.

 For one thing you are not a louse; you are God’s chosen child, and he loves you.

 For another, healing happens when the wound is exposed to the atmosphere of grace.

Exactly what is it that you need forgiveness for?

For being a bad person?

That is too general.

For losing your patience in the business meeting and calling your coworker a creep?

There, you can confess that.

Confession, you see, is not a punishment for sin; it is an isolation of sin so it can be exposed and extracted.

Be firm in this prayer.

Satan traffics in guilt and will not give up an addict without a fight.

 Exercise your authority as a child of God.

Tell guilt where to get off. Speak to it in the name of Jesus.

 “I left you at the foot of the cross, you evil spirit.

Stay there!”

The time has come for a clean start, a fresh slate.

God does not see the marks of your past. Instead, he sees this: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isa. 49:16).

God has written your name where he can see it.

Giving Thanks in the Small Things

November 26, 2014

by Ann Voskamp, from One Thousand Gifts

Some days I pick up a camera and it’s a hammer.
 

The lens is my ink, for cameras have sensor eyes, and pixels record. I slide it into a pocket, a thin point-and-shoot, and find another way to chronicle, to force the lids open; another way to receive the moment with thanks reverential.

When he comes in from the barn, the Farmer finds me with my hammer in hand, leaning over a plate of cheese grated and sitting in sunlight.

It is true.

 I do feel foolish. I mean, it’s curls of mozzarella and cheddar piled high in a pond of golden day.

And I’m changing the settings for macro, pulling in for a close-up frame.

He’s fed 650 sows with one strong arm this morning, flicked on a welder and melded steel.

 It is quite possible that the God-glory of a ring of shredded cheese may be lost on him.

It isn’t.

“I like finding you just like this.” He wraps one arm around my bowed middle, draws me close and up into him strong.

“Crazy like this?” I blush silliness, and he brushes close with the four-day stubble. He laughs.

Perfect like this.” He nods toward the cheese plate. “You being happy in all these little things that God gives. It makes me very happy.”
 

Philippians 4:8

Happy in all these little things that God gives. Ridiculously happy over slips of cheese.

 That I am, and it’s wild, and, oh, I am the one who laughs.

Me!

Changed!

Surprised by joy!

Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped.

 God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given:joy.

It is true, I never stop wanting to learn the hard eucharisteo for the deathbeds and dark skies and the prodigal sons.

But I accept this is the way to begin, and all hard things come in due time and with practice.

Yet now wisps of cheese tell me gentle that this is the first secret step into eucharisteo’s miracle.

Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant — a seed — this plants the giant miracle.

 The miracle of eucharisteo, like the Last Supper, is in the eating of crumbs, the swallowing down one mouthful.

 Do not disdain the small.

The whole of the life — even the hard — is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out.

There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things.

It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing.

The moments will add up.

I, too, had read it often, the oft-quoted verse: “And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

And I, too, would nod and say straight-faced, “I’m thankful for everything.”

But in this counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life.

A lifetime of sermons on “thanks in all things” and the shelves sagging with books on these things and I testify: life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.
 

Little nails and a steady hammer can rebuild a life — eucharisteo precedes the miracle.
 

I snap a picture of cheese. 

Watch the Video for One Thousand Gifts 

Watch the Video

Excerpted with permission from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, copyright Zondervan.

* * *

Your Turn

What are some specific, small, simple, everyday things that you are grateful for today?

Have you experienced receiving joy when you've given thanks in this small things with a full heart? 
 

We'd love to hear about it!

Join the conversation about thankfulness on our blog.

We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Glorify by Giving Thanks

November 28, 2014

It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)

Gratitude is joy toward God for his grace. But by its very nature, gratitude glorifies the giver.

 It acknowledges its own need and the beneficence of the giver.

Just like I humble myself and exalt the waitress in the restaurant when I say, “Thank you,” to her, so I humble myself and exalt God when I feel gratitude to him.

The difference, of course, is that I really am infinitely in debt to God for his grace, and everything he does for me is free and undeserved.

But the point is that gratitude glorifies the giver.

It glorifies God.

 And this is Paul’s final goal in all his labors: for the sake of the church — yes; but, above and beyond that, for the glory of God.

The wonderful thing about the gospel is that the response it requires from us for God’s glory is also the response which we feel to be most natural and joyful, namely, gratitude for grace.

God’s glory and our gladness are not in competition.

A life that gives glory to God for his grace and a life of deepest gladness are always the same life.

And what makes them one is gratitude.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

Go Directly to God

February 1.2015

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26–27)

Don’t make God’s Son more of a Mediator than he is.

Jesus says: “I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf.”

 In other words, I’m not going to insert myself between you and the Father, as though you can’t go to him directly.

 Why?

 “Because the Father himself loves you.”

This is astonishing.

Jesus is warning us not to think of God Almighty as unwilling to receive us directly into his presence.

By “directly” I mean what Jesus meant when he said, “I am not going to take your requests to God for you.

You may take them directly.

He loves you.

He wants you to come.

He is not angry at you.”

It is absolutely true that no sinful human being has any access to the Father except through Jesus’ blood (Hebrews 10:19–20).

He intercedes for us now (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).

He is our advocate with the Father now (1 John 2:1).

He is our High Priest before the throne of God now (Hebrews 4:15–16).

He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Yes. But Jesus is protecting us from taking his intercession too far.

“I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you.”

He is there. He is providing an ever-present, ever-living witness to the removal of the Father’s wrath from us.

But he is not there to talk for us, or to keep us at a distance from the Father, or to suggest that the Father’s heart is guarded toward us or disinclined to us — hence the words, “Because the Father himself loves you.”

So, come.

Come boldly (Hebrews 4:16).

Come expectantly.

Come expecting a smile.

Come trembling with joy, not dread.

Jesus is saying, “I have made a way to God. Now I am not going to get in the way.”

Come.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

God at Work: Infused by the Spirit

December 10, 2014

by Henry and Richard Blackaby, Being Still with God Every Day

Editors Note: This is an excerpt from Being Still with God Every Day. In this 366-day devotional, each day features a scripture and a short, meaningful devotion to set minds and hearts on practical, godly living every day of the year.
 

* * *

There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout... and the Holy Spirit was upon him. - Luke 2:25
 

When God is at work in the lives of believers, His Spirit of wisdom and truth infuses them with insight and understanding that come directly from Him. Simeon is a case in point...
 

The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v. 26). When the Spirit led Simeon to go to the temple one day, Simeon obeyed—and God fulfilled His promise.
 

Mary and Joseph arrived with the holy Child, and Simeon was privileged to hold the young Jesus. “My eyes have seen Your salvation,” Simeon sang his praises to God (v. 30). The older man blessed the Babe whose life would change the course of history...
 

The longer we serve God — and Simeon had served Him for decades — the more intimately acquainted with Him we become. When God has access to our heart, mind, and soul through years of fellowship and worship, He allows us to see more of His activity and to be more involved in His miraculous work. Stay alert! God is at work all around you!
 

Excerpted with permission from Being Still with God Every Day by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, copyright Thomas Nelson 2014.
 

* * *

Your Turn

The Holy Spirit is always with us, ready to provide insight and understanding in every area of our lives. 

How have you witness God at work in your everyday life?

 Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

GOD FIRST

October 29, 2014

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16

Eighteen-year-old Nina lives in an Asian country where Buddhism is the faith of the majority.

Since her mother is a devout Christian, she is constantly exposed to stories and lessons from God’s Word.

At school, her faith in Jesus Christ is often tested.

Because Nina showed great aptitude at school, she was selected to be part of a team that would compete in a high school annual science competition.

On the day of the competition, however, the Vice Principal, a very strict disciplinarian, decided to take the team to the Buddhist temple first.

Nina fidgeted anxiously in her seat while aboard the school bus with her teammates.

As she tried to figure out what to do upon arriving at the monastery, the first of the Lord’s Ten Commandments resonated in her mind—no other gods, except Him.

I can’t disobey my God, after knowing who He is, she thought.

Nina felt trapped and confused.

Obeying God meant disobeying the Vice Principal. Nina uttered a silent prayer.

“God, you changed the hearts of many kings before, surely you can do it again! Please Lord, speak to his heart!”

When the team reached the temple, everyone entered except Nina, who stood at the gate.

As Nina’s teammates came out of the temple, the Vice Principal approached Nina with a stern look on his face.

 “Why did you not come in the temple with us?”

“Sir, I was born a Christian. When my mother gave birth to me, I was weak and at the point of death.

Christians prayed for me and God heard their prayers,” shared Nina.

“You could have just entered with us and not participate in the ceremonies,” explained the Vice Principal, whose face and tone softened.

Nina knew then that God had just answered her prayers.

“I did not have peace in my heart.

I felt that I would be disobeying God if I entered the temple, sir,” Nina responded.

The Vice Principal did not pursue the matter any further; neither did he chide Nina for it.

The team placed third during the science competition.

Nina testified during a youth training program that Open Doors organized.

“I was surprised to see how God suddenly changed his heart; he rarely speaks that way to students.

He is often firm and strong…His wife has had many miscarriages. I’m praying for his wife to have a baby soon.

 I’m also praying for him to know Jesus Christ. I’m sure it will happen someday!”

RESPONSE:

Today I will put God first in every situation I face.

PRAYER:

Pray for all young Christians who face the cultural challenges against putting God first.

God incarnate, the end of fear

December 29, 2014

And the angel said unto them, Fear not.’ Luke 2:10

Suggested Further Reading: Isaiah 9:2–7

Observe the angel’s word, ‘Unto you is born.’

Our Lord Jesus Christ is in some senses more man than Adam.

Adam was not born;

Adam never had to struggle through the risks and weaknesses of infancy; he knew not the littleness of childhood; he was full grown at once.

Father Adam could not sympathise with me as a babe and a child.

But how man-like is Jesus!

He is cradled with us in the manger;

he does not begin with us in mid-life, as Adam, but he accompanies us in the pains and feebleness and infirmities of infancy, and he continues with us even to the grave.

Beloved, this is such sweet comfort.

He that is God this day was once an infant: so that if my cares are little and even trivial and comparatively infantile, I may go to him, for he was once a child.

 Though the great ones of the earth may sneer at the child of poverty, and say, ‘You are too mean, and your trouble is too slight for pity,’ I recollect with humble joy, that the King of heaven did hang upon a woman’s breast, and was wrapped in swaddling bands, and therefore I tell him all my griefs.

 How wonderful that he should have been an infant, and yet should be God over all, blessed for ever!

I am not afraid of God now; this blessed link between me and God, the holy child Jesus, has taken all fear away.

 Observe, the angel told them somewhat of his office, as well as of his birth. ‘Unto you is born this day a Saviour.’

 The very object for which he was born and came into this world was that he might deliver us from sin.

What was it that made us afraid?

Were we not afraid of God because we felt that we were lost through sin? Well then, here is joy upon joy.

For meditation:

Adam was created, but never born; he identifies with us only as a creature and a sinner (Romans 5:12).

Christ, the second Adam (Romans 5:14), was never created, but his birth was an important part of his identification with us, so that believers could be identified with him as sons of God (Galatians 4:4–5).

Sermon no. 727
23 December (1866)

GOD IS IN CONTROL

January 13, 2015

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23

Co-worker Ron Boyd-MacMillan writes in his epic volume, Faith That Endures, “Your life’s purpose may remain a mystery to you, as may the events of your world, but that’s okay.

God is in control.

We are relieved of the responsibility of understanding everything and the need to change it.”[1]

R. J. Thomas was a Welsh missionary with a burden for the xenophobic hermit kingdom of Korea in the middle of the nineteenth century.

 In 1865, while in China, the opportunity he had been waiting a lifetime for arrived.

An American ship, the SS General Sherman, was going to steam up the Taedong River to the capital, Pyongyang, in hopes of luring the Koreans into trade.

Thomas bought a berth on the ship, hoping to meet some scholars in Pyongyang who spoke and read Chinese, and took as many Chinese Scriptures with him as he could carry on board.

When they reached Pyongyang, they were not welcomed.

They got stuck on a sandbank and the ship was set afire.

As the crew waded to shore, they were killed by the waiting Koreans.

Thomas also waded to shore. Before he could speak, a club swung with murderous force dashed his brains into the water, but his killer noticed he had emerged with books.

He picked up a couple of the sodden books.

 Drying them off, he separated the leaves and saw that they were nicely printed.

He could not read but decided to paper the outside of his house compound with the pages, as was the custom at the time.

Imagine his astonishment when he returned from the fields a few weeks later to find a clutch of scholars earnestly reading his walls.

One of these scholars became a Christian by reading a Gospel portion plastered onto the wall.

A generation later his nephew assisted in the first translation of the New Testament into Korean in Shenyang, China under the supervision of another little-known missionary, John Ross from Scotland.

R.J. Thomas never lived to see the fruit of his labor or his prayers for Korean people.

He died, his life’s purpose unfulfilled, his potential unrealized.

For anyone aware of Thomas’s death, his life was a mystery for years afterward.

But his life was not in vain.

The meaning of life does not consist in what we make of it, but in what God makes of it.

 Success is not about achievement or what we make of ourselves.

 It’s about placement, or what God makes of us.

 We take the lesson from the persecuted church that it is okay to die quite unaware of our life’s meaning.

We can rest in trust that God, in His mercy, has used us to help build His eternal kingdom.[2]

RESPONSE:

Today I leave my placement, my purpose, my potential in the hands of a good and loving God.

PRAYER:

 May I ever realize that You are in control and thus truly allow You to be Lord of my life.

1. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Faith That Endures (Grand Rapids: Fleming Revell, 2006), p. 315.

2. Ibid, p. 314.

God Visited Earth

December 13, 2014
  
by Billy Graham, 

The Cradle, Cross, and Crown

On that first Christmas night the Bible tells us about the angel coming to those fearful shepherds and saying, “Fear not, I bring you good news.” What is the real meaning of that good news?
 

During World War II, many a mother would take her son and try to keep the memory of the father who was away at war in the memory of that boy. And one mother I heard about took her son every day into the bedroom and showed him a large portrait of the father who was away. One day the little boy said to his mother, “Mom, wouldn’t it be great if Dad could just step out of the frame?”
 

That’s what happened that first Christmas.
 

For centuries man has looked into the heavens longing for God to step out of the frame, and at Bethlehem that’s exactly what God did.  Incredible and unbelievable as it may appear  to a modern man, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was a visitor from Heaven itself. He was God Incarnate.
 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” — Luke 2:8-12
 

* * *

No Ordinary Sheep
 

Those were no ordinary sheep...
 

no common flocks,
 

huddled in sleep
 

among the fields,
 

the layered rocks,
 

near Bethlehem
 

That Night;
 

but those
 

selected for the Temple sacrifice:
 

theirs to atone
 

for sins
 

they had not done.
 

How right
 

the angels should appear
 

to them
 

That Night.
 

Those were no usual shepherds there,
 

but outcast shepherds
 

whose unusual care
 

of special sheep
 

made it impossible to keep
 

Rabbinic law,
 

which therefore banned them.
 

How right
 

the angels should appear
 

to them
 

That Night.
 

—Ruth Bell Graham’s Collected Poems
 

Excerpted with permission from The Cradle, Cross, and Crown by Billy Graham, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2014.

* * *
 

Your Turn

God visited earth in the flesh!

 Good News! In the middle of the war here on earth, the battle between good and evil,

God Himself was born of a virgin - a completely unexpected move!

Praise Him! 

Join the conversation on the blog!

We would love to hear from you!

 ~ Devotionals Daily

 

God With Us

December 20, 2014

by Dr. John Townsend

Have you ever thought about how different your life is when you are alone, versus when you are connected deeply to others?

We all face difficult challenges, such as issues in marriage, relationships, parenting and work.

That is a normal part of life.

But when we are disconnected from the support and love of others, we lose energy, become discouraged, and tend to repeat old behaviors that don’t work.

On the more positive side of life, we all have passions and dreams as well, such as a great family or a fulfilling career.

 Yet accomplishing those dreams will be accelerated or decelerated by whether we are working on them alone, or are accompanied by support.

Life is simply better when we are with others, and worse when we are isolated.

God designed us to be connected, and life breaks down when we are not.

Relationship is the very fuel of our existence and path.

 And this is not only true in our human connections, but with God Himself as well.

The name given to Jesus in the Christmas story is wrapped up in this idea:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call Him ‘Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”). - Matthew 1:23

Isaiah 7:14

To be “with” means “on the same side.”

 It signifies that someone is present with you, has your back, is accompanying you, and wants to help you in every way.

 Jesus’ birth announcement provided another name for Him, to convey an idea of hope to us.

It is that not only is God the Creator and the Sustainer of life, He is also present.

He is deeply and intimately connected in relationship to you.

He knows your struggles and your dreams, and walks with you through them.

Think how much better life is with the right safe people in your life.

Then think how much better life is than this, when you allow yourself to experience the “with” of Jesus.

This Christmas season, spend time with Him and ask Him to visit you and be with you in a way that brings you ever closer to Him.

God bless you.
 

Original post by John Townsend for FaithGateway, 2014.

* * *

Your Turn

 

Christmas 

The time of family, church, friends, celebrations, togetherness, and community — can make those who feel alone feel even more profoundly alone.

But, that is exactly what Jesus (Immanuel — God with us!) came to destroy.

 He came to heal the relationship with Him that we broke through our sin and to be with us!

 Pause daily through this season, and ask Him to be with you in a deeper and closer way. 

Join the conversation on our blog.

We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

God’s Final, Decisive Word

October 25, 2014

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . (Hebrews 1:1–2)

The last days begin with the coming of the Son into the world. We have been living in the last days since the days of Christ — that is, the last days of history as we know it before the final and full establishment of the kingdom of God.

The point for the writer of Hebrews is this: The Word that God spoke by his Son is the decisive Word. It will not be followed in this age by any greater word or replacement word. This is the Word of God — the person of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and the work of Jesus.

When I complain that I don't hear the Word of God, when I feel a desire to hear the voice of God, and get frustrated that he does not speak in ways that I may crave, what am I really saying? Am I really saying that I have exhausted this final decisive Word revealed to me so fully in the New Testament? Have I really exhausted this Word? Has it become so much a part of me that it has shaped my very being and given me life and guidance?

Or have I treated it lightly — skimmed it like a newspaper, dipped in like a taste-tester—and then decided I wanted something different, something more? This is what I fear I am guilty of more than I wish to admit.

God is calling us to hear his final, decisive Word — to meditate on it and study it and memorize it and linger over it and soak in it until it saturates us to the center of our being.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

God’s Most Successful Setback

December 18, 2014

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)

Christmas was God’s most successful setback.

He has always delighted to show his power through apparent defeat. He makes tactical retreats in order to win strategic victories.

Joseph was promised glory and power in his dream (Genesis 37:5–11).

But to achieve that victory he had to become a slave in Egypt.

And as if that were not enough, when his conditions improved because of his integrity, he was made worse than a slave — a prisoner.

But it was all planned.

 For there in prison he met Pharaoh’s butler, who eventually brought him to Pharaoh who put him over Egypt.

 What an unlikely route to glory!

But that is God’s way — even for his Son.

He emptied himself and took the form of a slave.

 Worse than a slave — a prisoner — and was executed.

 But like Joseph, he kept his integrity.

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9–10).

And this is God’s way for us too.

We are promised glory — if we will suffer with him (Romans 8:17).

 The way up is down.

The way forward is backward.

 The way to success is through divinely appointed setbacks.

 They will always look and feel like failure.

But if Joseph and Jesus teach us anything this Christmas it is this: “God meant it for good!” (Genesis 50:20).

You fearful saints fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.

For more about John Piper's ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.

GOD’S WORK IN CHANGING LIVES

December 11, 2014

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

The more you travel, the more you realize that God is at work changing lives all over the globe.

Whether people have committed crimes against God (rebellion, blasphemy, hatred etc.) or crimes against society (murder, violence, theft etc.) or crimes against themselves (shame, guilt, despair etc.), He is able to bring about a complete transformation of their lives and fill them with His Holy Spirit.

Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS) teaching partner, Jim Cunningham, was sharing in a SSTS seminar with rural pastors in Colombia, South America.

After the final session, Rauel (not his real name) approached Jim, almost shyly.

With a warm smile and moist eyes, he extended his hand for what Jim thought was a handshake, but instead he gently offered a small piece of paper with some writing.

“For you, Santiago.”

They hugged each other.

Between Rauel’s “No English” and Jim’s “No Spanish” there was an unspoken bond of Christian love.

They said their “good-byes” pointing heavenward as if to say, “See you again my brother!”

Jim’s interpreter later translated the note. It read:

May the Lord bless your life and enrich your ministry.

And may the angel of the Lord always encamp around you and all your family and nation.

Take with you my remembrances and those of Colombia to the people of Canada.

Rauel

“Do you know who Brother Rauel is?” the interpreter asked. Jim shook his head “No.”

“He used to be a guerrilla leader against the government forces,” said his interpreter.

“He came to faith as a follower of Jesus Christ a while back and this is his first time gathering with our pastors and leadership team.

We earnestly prayed and had to have God’s peace before inviting him here.”

Jim concluded, “What an amazing story of God’s grace.

God is changing hearts—one at a time.

Keep praying for peace in Colombia!”

RESPONSE:

 Today I will praise God for His ministry in my life—and others—making changes and renewing my heart.

PRAYER:

 Lord, we continue to pray for peace in countries like Colombia and in the hearts of those who struggle with injustice and inequality.

And make me a totally new creation, I pray.

Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS)
A daily devotional message by SSTS author Paul Estabrooks

God incarnate, the end of fear

December 23, 2014

And the angel said unto them, Fear not.’ Luke 2:10

Suggested Further Reading: Isaiah 9:2–7

Observe the angel’s word, ‘Unto you is born.’

Our Lord Jesus Christ is in some senses more man than Adam.

'Adam was not born;

Adam never had to struggle through the risks and weaknesses of infancy; he knew not the littleness of childhood; he was full grown at once.

Father Adam could not sympathise with me as a babe and a child.

But how man-like is Jesus!

He is cradled with us in the manger;

he does not begin with us in mid-life, as Adam, but he accompanies us in the pains and feebleness and infirmities of infancy, and he continues with us even to the grave.

Beloved, this is such sweet comfort.

He that is God this day was once an infant: so that if my cares are little and even trivial and comparatively infantile, I may go to him, for he was once a child.

 Though the great ones of the earth may sneer at the child of poverty, and say, ‘You are too mean, and your trouble is too slight for pity,’ I recollect with humble joy, that the King of heaven did hang upon a woman’s breast, and was wrapped in swaddling bands, and therefore I tell him all my griefs.

 How wonderful that he should have been an infant, and yet should be God over all, blessed for ever!

I am not afraid of God now; this blessed link between me and God, the holy child Jesus, has taken all fear away.

 Observe, the angel told them somewhat of his office, as well as of his birth. ‘Unto you is born this day a Saviour.’

 The very object for which he was born and came into this world was that he might deliver us from sin.

What was it that made us afraid?

Were we not afraid of God because we felt that we were lost through sin? Well then, here is joy upon joy.

For meditation:

Adam was created, but never born; he identifies with us only as a creature and a sinner (Romans 5:12).

Christ, the second Adam (Romans 5:14), was never created, but his birth was an important part of his identification with us, so that believers could be identified with him as sons of God (Galatians 4:4–5).

Sermon no. 727
23 December (1866)

God Is a Perfect Gentleman

January 14, 2015

“Look! Here I stand at the door and knock.

 If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends.” Revelation 3:20

“But how do I take a leap of faith into the arms of Jesus?” you ask.

 “I want to go to heaven.

I want to get down off my fence, but I need help.

Show me how.”

First of all, you have to understand four basic things.

The first is the fact of sin.

Believing you are a sinner means acknowledging that you are not perfect.

Having said yes to that,

the second thing you need to do is believe that your sin has separated you from a holy God.

The third question is: Do you believe God loves you so much that he sent Jesus to save you from the consequences of your sin?

 If you can say yes to that question, then the last thing you need is to ask God to forgive your sin, come into your life, and write your name in his book in heaven.

 If you do not know how to ask him, make this prayer your own.

“Dear Jesus, I believe you are a holy God, and I realize I am sinful. Forgive me. I want to go to heaven. Thank you for dying to make that possible. Come into my life, Lord Jesus, by your Holy Spirit.”

Did you say it?

Did you mean it?

Then it is done!

You are saved!

He said so, and God is a perfect gentleman, so you can trust his word! Thank him—right now!

For further study: Revelation 3:14-22

Godliness

January 14, 2015

Matthew 9:11-13

There is a common misconception that believers should be perfect.

 Pretending to have our lives in order, many of us wear happy faces and speak words that sound acceptable.

At times we’re ashamed to admit our shortcomings, as if they should not exist.

Salvation through Jesus, however, doesn’t change the fact that sin is present in our life.

 When we’re born again, God forgives us and sees us as righteous.

Yet our battle with sin continues till we arrive in heaven.

In fact, striving for perfection actually can be a trap that pulls us away from living a godly life.

Functioning in this way is a form of relying on our own capability.

Jesus said that He came to heal the spiritually sick because they recognized their weakness.

With an awareness of our inadequacy comes the realization of our need for Him.

The world sees successful individuals as powerful and self-sufficient, but Jesus didn’t care about these qualities.

 Instead, He wants people to be aware of their own brokenness.

This is the foundation for godliness.

We should accept our neediness and seek God passionately.

Doing so allows the following attributes to develop: a hunger for God’s Word, faithful service, deepening trust, and decision-making based upon principle rather than preference.

Patiently and mercifully, God matures us.

Be careful not to cover up your sins in order to look like a “good Christian.”

Without recognition and confession of our sinfulness, we are unable to rely fully on God.

It is only with this awareness that we can passionately seek Him, obey in His strength, and confess with repentance when we miss the mark.

For more biblical teaching and resources from Dr. Charles Stanley, please visit www.intouch.org.

Isaiah prophesied that war will break out between Syria and Israel at the end of the age.

He said that Damascus, Syria will be destroyed forever in one night (Isa. 17:1-14).

Damascus has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, but it has never ceased to exist as a city in one night because no army has ever had the ability to destroy it in one night.

 It will cease to exist as a city in one night in the future and it will take a very big bomb to do that.

Concerning this war, Isaiah used the phrase, "In that day" three times in chapter 17 (verses 4, 9 and 10).

 "In that day" is a Bible phrase that refers to the end of the age.

This war will take place at the end of the age.

Ezekiel prophesied that a Russian leader will think an evil thought (Ezek. 38:10), assemble a group of allies and attack Israel in the latter years and latter days (Ezek. 38:8, 16).

This war will take place after Israel has returned to the Promised Land and is dwelling safely (Ezek. 38:8).

Some say "dwelling safely" means after the Antichrist confirms the seven-year covenant with many for peace in the Middle East (Dan. 9:27).

But it doesn't have to mean that because Israel is dwelling safely now under the protection of God who will not allow her to be defeated (Amos 9:15).

Having said that, the Bible does not tell us which war will happen first:  Syria and Israel or Russia and Israel.