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“Fat Tuesday”

Mardi GrasIn Louisiana, Mardi Gras is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday.  Mardi Gras began as a festival to enjoy the things a person was “giving up” for Lent.  During the parades, beads are tossed from the floats to the onlookers.

Okay, let’s talk about what happens after Mardi Gras.  The day after Mardi Gras – tomorrow – is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  Lent is a season of the church that we use to concentrate on the suffering of Christ.  People “give up” something, usually a sweet food, a bad habit, etc. for the 40 days, representing Christ “giving up” his life for us.

What is the difference between a crucifix and an empty cross?  The empty cross represents Christ’s resurrection. The crucifix represents Christ’s choosing to suffer for us.

Christ didn’t have to die on the cross, He could have saved Himself, but He chose to die for our sins.

Prayer:  Dear God, help us to remember during Lent, and always, of Christ’s suffering for us. Amen.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Refusing to Be Quiet

Love Your Enemies 3Key Bible Verse:  How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!  Psalm 133:1, NIV

Dig Deeper:  John 17:23; 1 Corinthians 1:10

(continued from yesterday)  That first Friday, a racially mixed group of 25 uncomfortable teenagers gathered in the assigned classroom, with the three original boy,s the only ones actually looking like they wanted to be there.

But something began to happen that day.  One of the three boys started the conversation by confessing his own hurt and bias.  Voice after voice followed.  Sometimes it was confession, sometimes confrontation, but honesty ruled that hour.

The following week, 50 high-schoolers piled into that classroom, and the conversation began to migrate from confession and confrontation to reconciliation.  There were even times when students would get up, walk across the room, and embrace one another.  

The third week, the gathering had to be held in the auditorium.  It had become positively uncool not to be there.

These three are not teenagers anymore.  They have grown up and moved on, but their legacy remains.  That school is more racially unified than it would have ever been otherwise, and it is only because three mostly unremarkable teenage boys would not remain passive.

They rejected the unbiblical status quo, and refused to be quiet about it.  Just three regular teenage boys, but they left something beautiful behind.

—Paul Tripp in Broken-Down House

 

My Response: In what ways have I accepted the “unbiblical status quo”?  What steps could I take to change that?

 

Thought to Apply: Men’s hearts ought not to be set against one another, but set with one another, and all against evil only.—Thomas Carlyle (Scottish essayist)

Adapted from Broken-Down House (Shepherd Press, 2009)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Share the Love of Christ through the movie SON OF GOD – In Theaters Feb 28

Son of God movie 2

“The best I’ve ever seen.”   Rick Warren 

“Engaging and compelling.”  Cardinal Wuerl, Washington DC

“You’ll be enthralled and inspired.”   Bishop TD Jakes

“An epic work.”  Joel Osteen

               

Click here for a preview!

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Just Three Boys…

Love Your Enemies 3Key Bible Verse:  “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  – John 13:35

Dig Deeper:  John13:34; Leviticus 19:18

Three 13-year-old boys were attending a large and well-known Christian school.  But there were problems.  Tensions between black kids and white kids only seemed to grow each week.  There hadn’t been any violence, at least not yet.  And much of the racism was covert.  But it was there, and real, and undeniable.

This was not acceptable to the boys.  Theirs was a Christian school.  It was supposed to be known for its love.  Yet the culture of this school had become defined by worldly stereotypes and division.  They were just three teenage boys and not even recognized as student leaders.  But they decided to do something.

There in his office, having a conversation he never could have imagined that day, the headmaster found their idea a little scary, but the boys were politely not taking no for an answer.  He realized it could all go wrong.  Yet, they were right: the racism was real and growing worse.

So he allowed them to try holding a weekly Friday-afternoon discussion on race relations in the school.  He directed them to get two teachers to give oversight to the gatherings.  And, as they had asked, he arranged for information to be included in each Friday’s morning announcements, broadcast to the homerooms. [continued  tomorrow]

—Paul Tripp in Broken-Down House

 

My Response:  What can I do to become more in tune with the subtle racism around me?

 

Thought to Apply:  I will not let any man make me lower myself by hating him.—Booker T. Washington (educator, writer, orator, political leader)

Adapted from Broken-Down House (Shepherd Press, 2009)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Inviting Jesus In

Love Your Enemies 2Key Bible Verse:  Always be humble and gentle.  Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  Ephesians 4:2

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 4:1-4

When Rick was 12, he and his brother were attacked by an angry black youth.  After several swings, the fight broke up, but Rick began to hold a fear in his heart about young black men.

Later, as Rick grew in his commitment to reconciliation and justice, he knew that he had to deal with the memory of his fight and the stereotype of young black men that it enforced.  So during a special prayer time, Rick invited Jesus into his memory.

In his mind’s eye, Rick saw Jesus enter the baseball field where the fight happened, break it up, look at the young black man and speak words of tenderness to break through his defenses.

As Rick watched Jesus, he began to feel immense woundedness in the young man that had resulted in rage, and Rick began to feel compassion.   As a result, Rick was empowered by Jesus to extend forgiveness out of a new understanding, to pray for the young man, and to ask for God’s forgiveness for himself.  

Jesus cleansed Rick that day and freed him to make a commitment to work for a world where people of color will not have so many reasons for rage.

—Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson in The Heart of Racial Justice

 

My Response:  In what ways have I bought into harmful stereotypes and destructive prejudices?  I need to invite Jesus into this bad memory that’s fueled by fear and/or anger: …

 

Thought to Apply:  The number one problem in our world is alienation, rich versus poor, black versus white, labor versus management, conservative versus liberal, East versus West .… But Christ came to bring about reconciliation and peace.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from The Heart of Racial Justice (IVP, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

From The Pastor’s Desk: Lent 2014

10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”  Matthew 4: 10  

Grace and Peace to You my Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

Winter RoadsWhat an incredible season of winter we are enduring!  That is, incredibly snowy, incredibly cold and incredibly grey.  It is often difficult to find joy in these days-but then spring is just around the corner.  Just this past week we had a nearly 50 degree, sunny day and the ground was visible.  There is hope!

Our faith life, like God’s creation, has seasons. Sometimes we find ourselves in a winter season-feeling cold and barren. We may have lost our sense of joy as we succumb to the frustration of life lived relying on our own power and devices.  The harder we try to be good and the harder we work to help our church thrive; it just doesn’t seem to be enough.  In these times, God’s presence can seem far away. Things seem to get in our way of joy in our relationship with Christ. Yet just as in winter, right under the surface of all that snow-growth is happening. The ground-our foundation-Jesus Christ is always present providing love and grace. Growth and rebirth are imminent and possible even though we can’t see anything happening.

These past weeks our churches have been talking about our life together as God’s Temple and how we are building on our one foundation-Jesus Christ.  Along the way we have found that many things can stop us in our tracks or get in the way of our full commitment to a way forward in relationship with one another, with God and fulfilling the mission to invite, include and embrace others who do not know Christ. We continue taking steps as a worshipping community to begin dreaming again about how we might best practice personal holy living and social holiness (holiness of heart and life, as Wesley would call it) in building relationships with our community.  We continue examining and striving to order our lives, our worship and our church to honor Christ as our source of life.  We continue to demonstrate, in action, the love God has poured out on us through Christ. 

This pouring out of God’s love and Spirit calls to mind our baptismal covenant and provides an extension of the vision of the worshipping community as God’s building, God’s Temple (1 Cor 3: 9). The main purpose of Lent, from the earliest record of the church, is to prepare folks for baptism, to help them renounce sinful ways and to fully live a new life in Christ from that day forward.  In preparing candidates, the church itself was and is challenged to examine its own wholeness of life and to examine its progress and commitment to living into the covenant.

As we move forward in our journey together this Lenten season, we will remember our baptism- a Sacrament that, while performed and recognized once in the life of believers, represents the ongoing outpouring of God’s grace and Spirit. It is that primary, covenantal relationship which initiates, guides and sustains the life of the whole church.   We recognize within this outward sign of an inward work of grace as a call to die to self and be raised to newness of life in Christ.  We witness and experience this in the church as well.  Within this covenant, God promises to be our God and to sustain the promises we make together. 

Our Lenten theme for 2014 will be:      Living Water:  Serving Jesus Only.   He Is the Water that Leads to Salvation, Eternal Life and New Beginnings. 

We will explore, through worship and study together, our baptismal covenant as a source of living water which saves feeds, heals, and sustains our community as we fulfill the mission of God to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Christ invites all God’s children into this journey to God’s heart by his gracious actions on the cross. Like the stream that begins as a trickle bubbling up under the threshold of the Temple (Ezekiel 47), we have this living water bubbling in us as we put on Christ and live out this promise of God.

We will begin this season of Lent by preparing for, examining and, above all, practicing living into the promise of this covenant.  Our Lenten worship sermon series will begin on March 9 with a call to renounce that which holds us back in living the promise.  The readings from the Gospel of John will challenge us with statements and questions posed to baptismal candidates that are extended to every congregant and to the worshipping community.

Each week, the gospel readings and the Scriptures will work together to remind us of the essential elements and actions needed that result from our calling to Christ in baptism and discipleship.

The First Sunday in Lent:    Called to Renounce

The Second Sunday in Lent: Called to Be Born Again

The Third Sunday in Lent:   Called to Drink and Share Living Water

The Fourth Sunday in Lent: Called to Be Healed of Blindness

The Fifth Sunday in Lent:   Called to Come Forth and Enable Others Left for Dead to Do the Same

The ministry of Jesus began with his baptism and the proclamation of Good News of God’s Kingdom. Right now!

Let us do likewise. You are invited into this season of examination and renewal. You are invited to hope and the possibility of new beginnings.  As we begin together on Ash Wednesday in worship, consider how you might renounce those things and actions which lead you further from an “all in” commitment to relationship with Christ.  How might God be calling you to live differently and to act toward others in love.  What keeps you from going deeper?

Let us continue on in mission and ministry together as we worship and share this great gift of God’s Kingdom to all those who hunger and thirst for the knowledge of God and who desire freedom from the oppression of a world that is not yet perfected. We have every reason to hope in Christ who died for us while we were yet sinners.   Christ is our hope and our salvation and we are God’s beloved children!

Wishing You God’s Grace, Peace and Joy,

                                               

Pastor Heidi

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Transfusion of Hope

Love Your EnemiesKey Bible Verse:  “But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!”  Matthew 5:44

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 5:38-47

John Perkins played a key role in my own enlightenment on racial issues.  In 1974, ten years after the landmark Civil Rights Bill, I accepted his invitation to visit the small town of Mendenhall, just south of Jackson.

As a black minister, Perkins had lived through the worst nightmares of the Civil Rights movement.  I heard the stories of his own encounters with violent sheriffs and the Ku Klux Klan during the week I spent in Mississippi.

After one horrific night of torture in jail, Perkins underwent a crisis of faith:

“It was time for me to decide if I really did believe what I’d so often professed, that only in the love of Christ, not in power of violence, is there any hope for me or the world. I began to see how hate could destroy me. In the end, I had to agree with Dr. King that God wanted us to return good for evil, not evil for evil. ‘Love your enemy,’ Jesus said. And I determined to do it. It’s a profound, mysterious truth, Jesus’ concept of love overpowering hate. I may not see it in my lifetime. But I know it’s true. Because on that bed, full of bruises and stitches, God made it true in me. I got a transfusion of hope.”

—Philip Yancey in Welcoming Justice

 

My Response:  A time when I have actually seen love overpower hate was …

 

Thought to Apply:  Love is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love.  There’s something about love that builds up and is creative.  There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive.  So love your enemies.—Martin Luther King Jr. (clergyman, civil rights leader)

Adapted from Welcoming Justice (IVP, 2009)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Restored Relationships

Reconciliation 2Key Bible Verse:  For Christ himself has brought peace to us.  He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.  Ephesians 2:14

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 2:11-22

We’ve been so dehumanized by this world’s system that we think it’s natural to live for ourselves alone.  But it’s not.

God wants to restore us to the authentic relationships we were made for.  That’s what reconciliation is all about.

We’ve got a Father who loves us and who created us for real relationship.  But sin has separated us from authentic relationships.  It has put up these walls around us; it keeps us from knowing God and from being known by other people.

The Good News, though, is that Jesus has broken down the walls. (See the Key Bible Verse.)  The Bible says that God’s whole purpose in Jesus was to create a new community “and in one body to reconcile … us to God through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16, TNIV).

God reconciles us to himself as he restores us to authentic relationship with our neighbors and enemies through the cross.

If the gospel is going to connect with the deep yearning of this generation, we’re going to have to learn how to invite people into authentic relationships . Thankfully, that’s what a lot of the Bible is about.

—John Perkins in Welcoming Justice

 

My Response:  I will reflect on how today’s Key Bible Verse applies to the way I relate to others from different races, cultures, and social/economic backgrounds.

Adapted from Welcoming Justice (IVP, 2009)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Let’s Rebuild the Church

Church ReconciliationWho Said It … John Perkins

John Perkins was born in 1930 in the Deep South.  The object of violent racism, he was beaten nearly to death in 1970 in a Mississippi jail.  He had every reason to respond with bitterness and rage. Instead, he responded with love and forgiveness.

A much sought-after speaker on issues related to race and reconciliation, John has ministered among the poor for nearly 50 years. He is the author of several books including his recently released autobiography Love Is the Final Fight.

 

What He Said … Let’s Rebuild the Church

The church has been captivated by a church-growth strategy that says people are more likely to come to a church where most of the other people are like them.  So pastors in the suburbs catered their services and programs to middle class “seekers.”  Which means the poor aren’t members of our big churches.

If the gospel of reconciliation is going to interrupt the brokenness in society, our churches are going to have to rethink their strategy.  When I read the Bible, I always bring the problems of my community to God and ask when in history God’s people have had to face a similar challenge.  As I look at our situation today and the problems we face, I hear God speaking to the church in the words that he spoke through his prophets after the exile.  Coming out of our cultural captivity, I hear God saying that this is a time for rebuilding the church and remembering what it really means to be Christ’s body in the world.

 

This Week’s Key Study Passage:  Zechariah 8

          Adapted from Welcoming Justice (IVP, 2009).   

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Make Your Talents Count – Be Generous with Your Gifts

Time, Talent, Treasure, TrustGod has given each one of us a unique combination of gifts and passions to be used for the good of others.  As the parable of the talents discussed in this week’s readings revealed, we have a choice to invest those gifts and reap a rich return or hoard them to ourselves to our own detriment.

In this week’s Key Study Passage, Paul encourages generosity.  After all, our generosity flows from the generous heart of God and will be bountifully rewarded by him.

Key Study Passage:  2 Corinthians 9:6-15

  1. Why do you think Paul gives the church the option whether or not to give rather than requiring it?

 

  1. Do you think it’s okay to expect a blessing when you give? (See vv. 8-11.)

 

  1. List and then reflect on the motivations for generosity from this passage.

 

  1. Take a mental inventory of your gifts, talents, and resources.  Are you cheerfully using each to the best of your ability and for the betterment of those around you and the advancement of God’s kingdom?  Are there any areas where growth is needed?

 

  1. If question 4 stirred your heart, commit to praying for and planning to make better use of what God has given you.

 

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God to give you a cheerful, giving heart that looks to the needs of others ahead of your own; ask him to reveal to you the gifts that he’s given you and help you invest your talents well.

 

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

13 As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. 14 And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. 15 Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

Make Your Talents Count – Can’t Out-Give God

Parable of the Talents 3Key Bible Verse:  “I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I challenge you to put me to the test.  Bring the entire 10 percent into the storehouse. … Then I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing.”   Malachi 3:10, CEV

Dig Deeper:  2 Corinthians 9:6-15

I urge you—plumb the depths of the parable of the talents.  Take a good, hard look at the context of your life—nothing happens by chance.  You are where you are and the way you are for a reason, for God’s reason.

The master says that when you invest the talents he’s given you, when you are faithful to bear fruit from the little he’s given you, he will give you more.  And you will enter into his joy.  

People around the world are searching for joy.  Where is it?  How can we find it?

Here’s the answer. Plain and simple.  Straight from God: Invest what I’ve given you.  Take a chance.  Put it to work.  Trust me.  Make it multiply.  Then I’ll give you more.

And you’ll be happier and more content than ever fathomed.  Don’t believe it?  Think of investing your talents the way the Old Testament describes giving your tithe in today’s Key Bible Verse.

We’ve all heard it said, “You can’t out-give God.”  He’s made me a believer.  My joy is worth more than all the money in a zillion banks.  

What about you?  Are you ready to take a good, hard look at yourself and determine what talents God has knit together within you?

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

 

My Response:  How is the Holy Spirit prompting me to respond to this reading?

 

Thought to Apply:  God has a way of giving by the cartloads to those who give away by shovelfuls.—Charles Spurgeon (British preacher)

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

Make Your Talents Count – You’ve Got It Already

Parable of the Talents 2Key Bible Verses:  “The master called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them … each according to his ability.”  Matthew 25:14-15, NIV

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 25:14-30

Let me make an essential point here: God has already given you the talent, ability, skill, money, or passion you need to fulfill his plan, to be entrusted with more, and to walk in pure joy.  That’s one of the key truths of the parable of the talents that many people miss.

Remember?  The master went on a journey.  But before he left, he called his servants in and “entrusted his possessions to them” (Matthew 25:14, NASB et al.).  He passed out five talents to one, two to another, and one to a third, “each according to his own ability,” (v. 15) and then he went on his way.

What I’m trying to show you is that you already have everything you need!  The skill is within you.  The dream is deep inside you.  The plan is in place.  The passion is there.  The ability is woven into your DNA by the Creator himself.  

Have you examined your life?  The people within your circles?  The possibilities within your realm?   Will you be faithful in the little things?

Examine your life today.  Don’t make the mistake of saying, “Someday, when I have this, I’ll do that,” or, “When I have more time, I’ll pursue that dream,” or, “When I have more money, I’ll give to this or that organization.”

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

 

My Response: Have I been making these kinds of excuses?  If so, I will repent and make a plan of action.

 

Thought to Apply:  He who waits to do a great deal of good at once, will never do anything.—Samuel Johnson (British writer)

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

North Korea Arrests Another Christian Missionary

North KoreaChristianity Today reports that North Korea has arrested another Christian missionary—this time a 75-year-old Australian on his second trip to the country.

During a visit to North Korea’s capital city Pyongyang on Wednesday, John Short was taken into custody, according to The New York Times. He had religious materials with him that had been translated into Korean.

“He won’t be intimidated by the communists,” his wife, Karen Short, told Reuters. Her husband even read his Bible in front of government guides on his first trip there. “I’m not upset, we’re Christian missionaries, and we have tremendous support for what we do.”

Short is the second missionary detained by North Korea in recent years. American missionary Kenneth Bae is currently serving his second year of his 15-year prison sentence, despite the U.S. government’s efforts to call for his release. In addition to Bae, an 85-year-old Korean war veteran was also arrested in November, but authorities released him about a month later.

Australian officials remain in close contact with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang for assistance and information on Short’s wellbeing, although services in the dictatorship have been “extremely limited,” according to an Australian embassy spokesman.

“He’s courageous, this is my husband’s character,” said Short’s wife. “I hope things get better — he’s in God’s hands, we both totally believe that.”

The Shorts live in Hong Kong with their three children and have spent more than 40 years sharing the gospel in Asia. John Short was arrested by Chinese officials multiple times in the ’90s for his missionary efforts and barred from entering the country for several years.

His recent arrest in neighboring North Korea follows a United Nations report out this week, detailing the human rights abuses in the country and calling them “crimes that shock the conscience of humanity.”

“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials,” the report said.

The report noted the extent of religious discrimination in the communist country:

Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion and are persecuted. People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination.

Please pray for John Short, Kenneth Bae, and all those who suffer in the name and cause of Christ.

Make Your Talents Count – Moving Mountains

Building HomesKey Bible Verse:  Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.  Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.   1 Timothy 4:12

Dig Deeper:  John 14:12-14

Austin has a book out with a title that reiterates the point of  today’s reading Take Your Best Shot: Do Something Bigger Than Yourself.  One of the Bible verses Austin reflects upon as he speaks about Hoops of Hope is today’s Key Bible Verse.

“I’m happy and I’m proud that kids are finally seeing that they can make a difference at a young age, that they don’t have to wait to be an adult,” Austin said.  “At the same time, it’s hard to be proud of what we’ve done when you go to Africa and see how much more there is to do.”

Wow!  The faith of a child—a child who saw a video about orphans in Africa, and refused to let the memory of it die.  A child who felt a burden and realized, with God’s help, he could move mountains.

Maybe you’re a high school teacher who’s been entrusted with a classroom full of students.  How will you steward the hearts and minds of those kids who’ve been placed in your care?

Say you’re a college student.  You’ve been entrusted with an education.  What will you do with that knowledge and experience?  How will you invest it for the good of others?

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

 

My Response: What talents have I been given?  How can I better use them to serve God and bless others?

 

Thought to Apply: The world asks, “What does a man own?”  Christ asks, “How does he use it?” —Andrew Murray (South African writer, teacher, pastor)

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

Make Your Talents Count – Hoops of Hope

Hoops of HopeKey Bible Verse:  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.  James 1:27

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 25:34-40

There is a young man in Arizona by the name of Austin Gutwein who, at the ripe old age of 10, saw a video about a girl in Africa who lost her parents to HIV/AIDS, and it gripped his heart.  He learned that 5,700 children are orphaned each day because of HIV/AIDS, and that 15 million children have already lost one or both parents to the disease.

“That hit me hard,” recalls Austin, now 16.  “I felt God calling me to go do something about it.”  A friend suggested Austin use his favorite sport, basketball, to make a difference.

He got some friends involved in shooting free-throws to raise money for those children in Africa.  God used the faith of that little kid from Arizona and he birthed Hoops of Hope (hoopsofhope.org), which has since become the world’s largest free-throw marathon.

Some 40,000 children have participated in Hoops of Hope, raising more than $2.5 million and allowing the organization to build a school in Zambia where there was no school for 70 miles.  Not only that, Hoops of Hope has partnered with World Vision to build four dormitories for students of the school, two medical clinics, a computer lab, and more.

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

 

My Response:  What gets me excited?  How can I use that passion to serve others?

 

Thought to Apply:  Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much.—Erich Fromm (psychologist)

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

Make Your Talents Count – Man on a Mission

Building Homes for the PoorKey Bible Verse:  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.  Isaiah 58:7

Dig Deeper:  Isaiah 58:6-12

Sean Lambert is president of Youth With a Mission San Diego/Baja.  While on a mission trip in Tijuana, Sean and his daughter, Andrea, joined a team of 15 people to build a house for a poverty-stricken family.

When the house was complete and the family moved in, Andrea pointed out another poor family living in an abandoned bus adjacent to the new home being built and said, “Daddy, are you going to build them a house?”

Andrea’s words moved Sean to build a second house and Homes of Hope was born.  Starting with this single house in Tijuana, Mexico, Homes of Hope has now built 3,482 homes for poor families in 10 different nations.

One of the “talents” knitted into Sean’s make-up is his compassion for the poor.  He was faithful with the one house God sent him to build and so God put him in charge of many.  Today, Homes of Hope impacts needy families in five key areas: economic, educational, health, social and emotional, and spiritual.

Sean is an excellent example of someone who took small, simple steps in obeying God, entering into all God wanted to do in and through his life in a ministry that is now impacting 10 other nations … and growing!

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

 

My Response:  I will think about people who are less fortunate than I am, and consider ways I can help meet their needs.

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

Make Your Talents Count – Invest Your Talents

Parable of the TalentsKey Study Passage:  2 Corinthians 9:6-15

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,

“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
    his righteousness[a] endures forever.”

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.[b] 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  

 

Who Said It … Bob Westfall

Bob Westfall is president of the Westfall Group, which serves charities and Christian ministries in financial stewardship and communications.  His company has helped charities raise more than $210 million in new income for their valuable work.

He frequently speaks at national conferences and to charity boards, philanthropists, churches, and other groups, and is the author of The Fulfillment Principle.  

He currently lives in Suwanee, Georgia, with his wife, Kim. They are the parents of four children.

 

What he Said … Invest Your Talents

The word “talent” spoken of in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is a measure of weight and, in this usage, means “money.”  As in many of Christ’s parables, however, the story contains multiple layers of meaning and wisdom.  God gives us something of his to invest—according to our ability.

Although God may have given you five talents and me two and someone else one, he views us each the same.  Just because you have more does not mean God views you as more valuable or important.

Indeed, God sees us all as equal; he values us the same.  And what he truly values most is the way you and I steward the talents he’s entrusted into our lives.

How do we invest those talents?  Are we fruitful?  Do we get good return on the deposit he’s made in our lives?

What talent—be it treasure or ability or passion or skill—has God entrusted to you according to your unique ability?  What passion has he woven into your heart, and only your heart?

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

Valentine’s Day – Nourish and Cherish

Valentine - CandyKey Bible Verse:  Husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies.  For … no one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it.  Ephesians 5:28-29

A husband nourishes his wife by caring for her physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.  He shows her that he cherishes her when he makes her a priority and regularly expresses his affection, his devotion, and his commitment to her, not just on Valentine’s Day, but throughout the year.

One night several years ago, after Mary Ann had gone to bed, I took a notepad and a pen and sat down at the kitchen table to write her a series of short, one-line love notes. Each one said something very simple: “I’m glad you’re my wife”; “I love you very much”; “I still find you wildly attractive.”

Once the notes were written, I went to work.  I placed them strategically all over the house.  One was in a spot where she would see it the next day.  Another was tucked away in her Bible.  A third was put in a recipe file in the kitchen.  And so on.

For the next few weeks and months, the notes continued to pop up in unexpected places—glove compartment, mailbox, fine china cabinet.  That one night of note writing sent its message for weeks to come.  In fact, the one in the recipe file is still where I put it, more than a decade ago—not because Mary Ann hasn’t found it, but because she has left it right where I put it!

—Bob Lepine in The Christian Husband

 

Thought to Apply: They do not love who do not show their love —William Shakespeare (English playwright)

 Adapted from Being White (InterVarsity, 2004).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Help me, Lord, to sacrificially love my wife in practical ways that will bind us tightly together.

Valentine’s Day – Treasured Gift

Valentine - ShoesBible Verse for Valentine’s Day:  “Your gift will return to you in full measure.”   Luke 6:38

How you celebrate your wife’s birthday or your anniversary is an art, not a science.  The scientific approach puts a lot of stock in the material, the expensive.  

Suppose one man buys his wife a Mercedes for her birthday.  The other man takes his wife out to the park and they go for a nice walk and share feelings of love and closeness as he tells her how much she means to him.  On the way back to the car, he finds a small, flat rock, picks it up, and brings it home.  Then he writes a little poem or some other notation on it and presents it to her as a memento of the walk they took that day.  Whose wife will appreciate her gift the most?

The natural male inclination is to think that the expensive gift would be far more meaningful to a wife.  After all, if you bought another man a Mercedes, he’d go around telling all his friends, “Wow!  What a great guy Joe is.  I can’t believe it.  He gave me this wonderful car!”

But when you buy a woman a Mercedes, she is much more likely to say to her girlfriends, “Look, he got me a Mercedes.  I wonder if he is trying to buy me off or something.”

Let’s get back to that little rock.  When she’s 93 and you’ve been dead for a decade, what is she going to keep on her mantel?  A picture of the Mercedes? Absolutely not!

She’s going to keep that rock, because it symbolizes a time when her husband gave her special attention, devotion, and esteem.

—Emerson Eggerichs in Love & Respect  (Thomas Nelson, 2004)

God’s Love and Valentine’s Day

Valentine - Candy Heart“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!”  Luke 6:32

Valentine’s Day is a day in popular culture set apart for celebrations of romantic love.  So it seems only appropriate for me to reflect on Luke 6:32, a passage that focuses on love.

The origins of this holiday are somewhat obscure.  Several men named “Valentine” (Valentinus) were recognized as martyred saints by the church.  One of these was buried near Rome on February 14.

Medieval tradition held that this particular Valentine, a priest, was conducting marriage ceremonies in a time when the Roman emperor prohibited young men from marrying.  For this crime, he was arrested and killed by the Roman government.

In recent times, an addition to this story claims that Valentine, before his death, sent a love note to a young girl whom he loved, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that any of the historical saints named Valentine actually did any of these actions that might be associated with romantic love.  Apparently, the connection between St. Valentine and romance was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th-century English writer and poet.  Later, writers on the saints embellished Chaucer’s story, leaving us with the Christian saint who honored marriage and sent the first Valentine’s Day card.

I grew up hearing very little about St. Valentine.  February 14 was simply a day when we did special things to express affection for our friends and family members.

The “big event” happened at school, when we would exchange valentines with our classmates.  As soon as I got home after school, I’d dump out my pile of valentines to see if any of them included special notes from the girls in my class or those Sweetheart candies with little messages on them.  (Honestly, I was happier with the candy than the notes.)

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Jesus’ call to love.  Our Valentine’s Day traditions seem to be completely disconnected from what we read in Luke 6:32: “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that?  Even sinners love those who love them.”

Yet, in a way, my boyhood Valentine’s Day practice did express love like that of Jesus.  You see, I did not give valentines only to my friends or to the girls I hoped would like me in a special way.

Rather, my fellow students and I were expected to give valentines to every person in the class, including those whom we didn’t care for, those whom we judged to be “weird,” and those we might have considered to be our “enemies” on the playground.  We even gave cards to the kids who did not reciprocate.

Ironically, our valentine exchange was more a reflection of the kind of love Jesus commends in Luke 6 than it was a celebration of exclusive, romantic love.

I think it’s fine to be reminded to express love to those who are most special to us.  If Valentine’s Day encourages spouses to say “I love you” to each other and friends to commemorate their friendship, that’s great.  Goodness knows, the world would be a better place if people expressed their love more often.

But Jesus encourages us to love, not just those who love us back, but also those who do not reciprocate.

All of us have such people in our lives at work, in the local store, perhaps even in our families or our church.  Our calling, as followers of Jesus, is to love them and do good to them, not in order that they might respond, but so that we might live each day as beloved, faithful children of our heavenly Father.

          Adapted from the original article “Happy Valentine’s Day!” at TheHighCalling.org.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day – Noteworthy Tactic

Valentine - Love NotesBible Verse:  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.  Romans 12:10

Bonus Reading:  Ephesians 4:31-5:2

A husband nourishes his wife by caring for her physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.  He shows her that he cherishes her when he makes her a priority and regularly expresses his affection, his devotion, and his commitment to her.

One night several years ago, after my wife, Mary Ann, had gone to bed, I took a notepad and a pen and sat down at the kitchen table to write her a series of short, one-line love notes.  Each one said something very simple: “I’m glad you’re my wife”; “I love you very much”; “I still find you wildly attractive.”

Once the notes were written, I went to work.  I placed them strategically all over the house.  One was in a spot where she would see it the next day.  Another was tucked away in her Bible.  A third was put in a recipe file in the kitchen.  And so on.

For the next few weeks and months, the notes continued to pop up in unexpected places—glove compartment, mailbox, fine china cabinet.  That one night of note writing sent its message for weeks to come.  In fact, the one in the recipe file is still where I put it, more than a decade ago—not because Mary Ann hasn’t found it, but because she has left it right where I put it!

—Bob Lepine in The Christian Husband

 

Thought for St. Valentine’s Day:  They do not love who do not show their love.—William Shakespeare (English playwright)

Adapted from The Christian Husband (Regal, 1999).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Deliver me, sovereign Lord, from attempting to manage You.  Help me to honor You by trusting and submitting to Your control.

Valentine’s Day – Icy Response

Ice Cube TrayKey Bible Verse:  Quick!  Catch all the little foxes before they ruin the vineyard of your love.  Song of Solomon 2:15

Bonus Reading:  Mark 10:42-45

When I grew up, my family lived by a simple rule:  If you take out an ice cube, you refill the tray before you put it back in.  Now I’ll put out a tray and find nothing more than half an ice cube—which I call an ice chip.

It’s amazing how much such a small detail irritated me.  I asked Lisa, “How much do you love me?”

“More than all the world,” she professed.

“I don’t need you to love me that much,” I said.  “I just want you to love me for seven seconds.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” she asked.

“Well, I timed how long it takes to fill an ice cube tray; it’s just seven sec—”

“Oh, Gary, are we back to that again?”

It finally dawned on me one day that if it takes Lisa just seven seconds to fill an ice cube tray, that’s all it takes me as well.  Was I really so selfish that I was willing to let seven seconds’ worth of inconvenience become a serious issue in my marriage?  Was my capacity to show charity really that limited?

Marriage has forced me to face my character flaws and sinful attitudes, and encouraged me to be cleansed and to grow in godliness.

—Gary Thomas in Sacred Marriage

 

My Response: This Valentine’s Day, the marital “pet peeve” I’ll let go of is …

Adapted from Sacred Marriage (Zondervan, 2000)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, give me a resolve to relate to my wife with Your kind of love.

Valentine’s Day – “Just Because” Gifts

Valentine - DogKey Bible Verse:  Husbands, go all out in love for your wives.  Don’t take advantage of them.  Colossians 3:19, The Message.

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 5:25-33

It’s very likely that gifts (of any size) mean more to your wife than you imagine.  Of course, the art of gifting takes high priority at the Big Five: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, your anniversary, and her birthday.  But those are obligatory gift-giving dates.

Spur-of-the-moment gifts can be much more satisfying than Big Five gifts.  Your wife may not say that out loud, but I’ll bet she agrees.

Again, I’m not talking about gifts connected to any holiday. I’m also not talking about a gift designed to get you out of the doghouse.  Husbands, you need a plan to give your wife a gift (cards, flowers, candies, jewelry, jammies) for no reason.

Here’s what you do: Pull out your calendar and mark weeks during which there are no holidays or other days that are special to your wife.  Every family calendar is different, but the idea is to find a window of opportunity to give your wife a “just because” gift.  Mark that week on your calendar and then surprise her on that predetermined date with a gift box or bouquet.

When she asks, “What’s this for?” simply say, “Just because.”

—Jay Payleitner in 52 Things Wives Need from Their Husbands

 

My Response: I will plan to give my wife two or three inexpensive “just because” gifts over the next two or three months.

 

Thought to Apply: Love is not communicated in the big event but in the small acts of kindness.—Richard Foster (theologian, writer)

Adapted from 52 Things Wives Need from Their Husbands (Harvest House, 2011).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Creator of Marriage, forgive me when I take my wife for granted, acting as if she’s not there or doesn’t even matter to my life; show me how to love her more tenderly, passionately, and selflessly.

Valentine’s Day – Valentine’s Disaster

Valentine - DisasterKey Bible Verse:  Blessed be the man who took notice of you!  Ruth 2:19

Bonus Reading: Ruth 2-3

“That February 14, the first of our marriage, I went to the USC library and spent eight or ten hours studying.  At home, Shirley cooked a wonderful dinner, baked a pink, heart-shaped cake with “Happy Valentine’s Day” written on top, and placed red candles, a small gift, and a love note on the table.

About 8 p.m., I got hungry and ordered a hamburger at the University Grill.  Then, heading toward home, I stopped by to see my parents.  Mom served up a great slice of apple pie.  When I put my key in the lock about 10 p.m., the apartment was almost dark and deathly quiet.

On the table, a coagulated dinner still sat in our best dishes.  Half-burned candles stood cold and dark in their silver-plated holders.  Then I noticed the red-and-white decorations.

“Oh no!” I thought.  I felt like a creep.  I didn’t even have a Valentine for Shirley, much less a thoughtful gift. I couldn’t even pretend to want the dried-out food before me.

After a brief flurry of words, and a few tears, Shirley went to bed and pulled the covers up around her ears.  Fortunately, she is not only romantic but forgiving.  And I determined never to forget Valentine’s Day again!

—- James Dobson in Focus on the Family letter

 

Personal Challenge:

  • You’ve got four days to— mark your calendar and make your plans.

 

Thought to Apply:  Whatever else love is, it is not passive. – Frederick Sampson

Valentine’s Day – God’s Love

Valentine - God Loves You“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that?  Even sinners love those who love them!”  Luke 6:32

Valentine’s Day is a day in popular culture set apart for celebrations of romantic love.  So it seems only appropriate for me to reflect on Luke 6:32, a passage that focuses on love.

The origins of this holiday are somewhat obscure.  Several men named “Valentine” (Valentinus) were recognized as martyred saints by the church.  One of these was buried near Rome on February 14.  Medieval tradition held that this particular Valentine, a priest, was conducting marriage ceremonies in a time when the Roman emperor prohibited young men from marrying.  

For this crime, he was arrested and killed by the Roman government.  In recent times, an addition to this story claims that Valentine, before his death, sent a love note to a young girl whom he loved, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that any of the historical saints named Valentine actually did any of these actions that might be associated with romantic love.  Apparently, the connection between St. Valentine and romance was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th-century English writer and poet.  Later, writers on the saints embellished Chaucer’s story, leaving us with the Christian saint who honored marriage and sent the first Valentine’s Day card.

I grew up hearing very little about St. Valentine.  February 14 was simply a day when we did special things to express affection for our friends and family members.  The “big event” happened at school, when we would exchange valentines with our classmates.  As soon as I got home after school, I’d dump out my pile of valentines to see if any of them included special notes from the girls in my class or those Sweetheart candies with little messages on them.  (Honestly, I was happier with the candy than the notes.)

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Jesus’ call to love.  Our Valentine’s Day traditions seem to be completely disconnected from what we read in Luke 6:32: “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that?  Even sinners love those who love them.”

Yet, in a way, my boyhood Valentine’s Day practice did express love like that of Jesus.  You see, I did not give valentines only to my friends or to the girls I hoped would like me in a special way.  Rather, my fellow students and I were expected to give valentines to every person in the class, including those whom we didn’t care for, those whom we judged to be “weird,” and those we might have considered to be our “enemies” on the playground.  We even gave cards to the kids who did not reciprocate.  Ironically, our valentine exchange was more a reflection of the kind of love Jesus commends in Luke 6 than it was a celebration of exclusive, romantic love.

I think it’s fine to be reminded to express love to those who are most special to us.  If Valentine’s Day encourages spouses to say “I love you” to each other and friends to commemorate their friendship, that’s great.  Goodness knows, the world would be a better place if people expressed their love more often.  But Jesus encourages us to love, not just those who love us back, but also those who do not reciprocate.  

All of us have such people in our lives at work, in the local store, perhaps even in our families or our church.  Our calling, as followers of Jesus, is to love them and do good to them, not in order that they might respond, but so that we might live each day as beloved, faithful children of our heavenly Father.

Endurance Test – Patient Endurance

Patient EnduranceThe Christians addressed in the letter to the Hebrews had placed their faith in Christ for what He’d done for them in the past.  

But times of persecution had struck.  And some—ceasing to trust Christ for their present and future—were abandoning their faith.

The writer argues from the Hebrew Scriptures that if faith doesn’t lead to endurance, it’s not for real.

 

Interact with God’s Word

Hebrews 10:33-38

  1. The inspired writer tells us never to forget our early days as believers. What stands out in your memory about this time in your life?

 

  1. What does the writer specially want us to remember (vv. 32, 34)?

 

  1. What is the basis for this faithfulness and joy (v. 34b)?

 

  1. Do you know someone whose confident trust in the Lord has eroded?

 

  1. What kind of self-reminder would have prevented that (v. 35)?

 

  1. What quality should this expectation enable in your life (v. 36)?

 

  1. Verses 37 and 38 quote the then-current Greek translation of Habakkuk 2:3-4.  Is your faith for today and tomorrow solid enough to insure that you won’t “turn away”?

 

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for a faith that doesn’t fluctuate, but stays steady regardless of distractions, disappointments, or attacks.

Hebrews 10:32-38

32 Don’t ever forget those early days when you first learned about Christ.  Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. 33 Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. 34 You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail.  When all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy.  You knew you had better things waiting for you in eternity. 35 Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens.  Remember the great reward it brings you! 36 Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will.  Then you will receive all that he has promised. 37 “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. 38 Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you!

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Savior, for enduring all the way to the cross.  Give me the stamina to be a finisher.

Endurance Test – God Isn’t a Quitter

Francis of AssisiKey Bible Verse:  My nourishment comes from doing the will of God … and from finishing his work.  John 4:34

Bonus Reading:  John 17:4, 7-8, 12

Once, while Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, he was asked, “What would you do if you were suddenly told you’d die at sunset today?”  He replied, “I’d finish hoeing my garden.”

Our perseverance doesn’t change God—it changes us.  If we’re willing to continue—even when we feel like quitting—we’ll learn lessons of compassion, understanding, and dependability.

Jesus is our ultimate example of not quitting.  Even as a child of 12, He reminded His distraught parents, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49, NIV).

Later, during His public ministry, He told His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God … and from finishing his work.”  (John 4:34)

Even when Jesus was dying, He rejected the challenge of the crowd: “Save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mark 15:30).

It is so human to let go and quit when under fire.  However, it is divine to hang in there.  At the end of His ordeal, Jesus said, “‘It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).

Many people are letting go, giving in, and coming down—quitting after 10, 20, or 30 years.  How sad to someday realize that we didn’t finish our assignment.

—George Sweeting in Too Soon to Quit

 

My Response: On which long-term assignment do I need to firm up my grip?

 

Thought to Apply: The will to persevere is often the difference between failure and success.—David Sarnoff (broadcaster)

Adapted from Too Soon to Quit (Moody, 1999)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Savior, for enduring all the way to the cross.  Give me the stamina to be a finisher.

Endurance Test – What Kick?

Race - Final KickKey Bible Verse:  For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.  Hebrews 3:14

Bonus Reading:  Joshua 14:6-12

In the 1972 Munich Olympics, Dave Wottle, wearing his trademark baseball cap, was dead last in the 800-meter race.  As the final lap around the track began, Wottle charged through the pack.

“Watch out for the kick of Dave Wottle!” the TV announcer screamed.  Wottle overtook the leaders in the last 20 meters and won the gold medal by three-tenths of a second!

Many think, That’s exciting—that’s how I want to run. It doesn’t matter if I fall behind; I’ll make it back with a big kick as everyone cheers me on.  

But in remarks at a prep-school chapel service in Chattanooga, Wottle set the record straight. “The other runners went out so fast at the beginning that they slowed down at the end; I was able to maintain the same pace that I started with. … Even though I looked like I was kicking on them, they were coming back to me.”  

Wottle, one track expert explained, was “just maintaining in a dying field.”

Endurance is maintaining our walk with Christ even when no one else is.  In a society of flash-in-the-pan celebrities and trendy spirituality, endurance is putting our faith to work by showing up for Christ every day, in every circumstance until the race of life is done.

—Tod Bolsinger in Show Time

 

My Response: What adjustments would help me maintain even pacing for the long haul?

 

Thought to Apply: To become a champion, fight one more round.—James Corbett (world champion boxer)

Adapted from Show Time (Baker, 2004)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Savior, for enduring all the way to the cross.  Give me the stamina to be a finisher.

Endurance Test – Ridgeline Reruns

Mollies RidgeKey Bible Verse:  Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will.  Hebrews 10:36

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 10:32-38

Hiking north to south on the Appalachian Trail, I found the Smoky Mountains stretch that leads up to Mollies Ridge demoralizing.  I felt like an ant climbing a giant staircase.  I’d see the peak just ahead and, after a steep climb, breathe a sigh of relief, and think, I did it!

Then I’d round a corner, and there would be an up-until-then hidden summit.

What?  There’s more?  There were several premature celebrations before the satisfaction of finally reaching the Mollies Ridge shelter.

The ascent to holiness is like that.  One peak after another appears as God fine-tunes our faith.

In Hebrews 10:36, the writer of Hebrews calls for persevering on the path of improvement.  Perseverance is by definition an ongoing pursuit; but receiving the crown of life is a one-time event.  We strive to be holy for that moment when God will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

Does your pursuit of righteousness seem to be nothing but an uphill climb?

Be encouraged.  This is the path God wants you on.  He longs for Christians unafraid to take the trail all the way to the top.

He’ll hike alongside you and give you rest when you’re weary.  And the final reward is being with Him forever!

—Nathan Chapman in With God on the Hiking Trail

 

My Response: How do I respond to a succession of tests?

 

Thought to Apply: Victory is not won in miles but in inches.  Win a little now, hold your ground, and later win a little more.—Louis L’Amour (novelist)

Adapted from With God on the Hiking Trail (Harvest, 2002)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Savior, for enduring all the way to the cross.  Give me the stamina to be a finisher.

Endurance Test – The Q Word

Run the Race with EnduranceKey Bible Verse:  When your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.  James 1:4, NLT

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 12:1

The summer before my last year of prep school, I decided to quit Coach Marvin Goldberg’s cross-country team.  I was tired of grueling workouts.  I wanted some free time for things like dating.

Come spring, I told myself, I’d get serious again and run on his track team, but I wanted out of the fall schedule of long-distance competition, where our team frequently contended in 10k races against college freshmen teams.

I wrote Coach about my decision.  His typed reply arrived.  The gist: By not running with the cross-country team this fall, you’ll disappoint your teammates, who depend on you to help them win races, and turn your back on the team’s supporters, who show up at every race to cheer your team on.

But most of all, whenever you’re faced with a challenge you don’t like, or that seems too difficult, or that asks for too great a sacrifice, you’ll find it easier and easier to walk away from it.

I changed my mind, returned to the cross-country team, and helped lead it to a league championship.  I can’t claim that I enjoyed myself in that effort, but at a deeper level I learned the satisfaction of accomplishing something that ended well.  Perhaps in the long view of life that’s more important.

—Gordon MacDonald in A Resilient Life

 

My Response: How can I learn to savor satisfaction that runs deeper than enjoyment?

 

Thought to Apply: It is always too soon to quit. —V. Raymond Edman (missionary, educator)

Adapted from A Resilient Life  (Nelson, 2005)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Savior, for enduring all the way to the cross.  Give me the stamina to be a finisher.

Endurance Test – Enthusiasm Leak

Lack of EnthusiasmKey Bible Verse:  Don’t get tired of doing what is good … For we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.  Galatians 6:9

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 24:45-51

On the first good day of spring, you get into the spirit of car washing.  You wash and dry it with a chamois.  You vacuum it out, take some cleaner to the bug spots, and start waxing and polishing.  This is going so well that you see yourself moving on to clean out the garage and mow the lawn.

But then, as you wax and whistle, your back starts to ache, your right arm to feel sore.  Your whistling slides into a slower rhythm and shifts into a minor key.  

Perhaps you’d better leave the lawn for another day.  The garage can wait too, you guess.  Doing this car is a big enough job all by itself.  Well, leave the rest of the car for next Saturday too.  Now find a hammock!

The sense of adventure and the rush of enthusiasm for doing good in the name of Christ can turn into a sinking sense of futility when others don’t notice or care.  We’ve also felt a pain in the neck and all the adventure running off in sweat.  Galatians 6:9 is a word for us spent-out Christians who’ve served until we can’t make one more phone call: we’ll reap the fruit of the Spirit in a life that never ends—if we don’t give up.

—Neal Plantinga in Beyond Doubt

 

My Response: A good cause for which my initial motivation is growing thin is …

Adapted from Beyond Doubt (Eerdmans, 2002)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Savior, for enduring all the way to the cross.  Give me the stamina to be a finisher.

Endurance Test – Roll of Rejection

RejectionWho Said It…Gary L. Thomas

Gary is a Bellingham, Washington-based writer and speaker.  In the Center for Evangelical Spirituality, which he founded, he shares how believers can learn a great deal from historic Christian traditions without compromising the essential tenets of what makes them evangelical Christians.

Gary says he is a big-time introvert who runs marathons and takes his wife, Lisa, and their three kids to Starbucks “far too often.”

What He Said…Roll of Rejection

I‘d been invited to deliver a commencement address as an author who also speaks widely.  But I wanted the students to see someone wondering if anyone would ever want to hear what he believed God had given him to say.

I knew that 99 percent of the kids wouldn’t remember a thing I said.  So I prayed about providing a picture that would stick with them.

I found it in my rejections box.  My family helped me staple and tape together over 150 rejection letters I’d received from publishers over the years: editors telling me my work wasn’t wanted.

When I told the young graduates that God’s calling doesn’t mean there’ll be no setbacks, I nodded to a few students who began to unroll my rejection letters. Murmurs, laughs, and gasps were unleashed throughout the auditorium as the roll grew longer and longer, ultimately stretching across the entire ballroom.

You see, many Christians don’t fail; they just quit before they get ripe.

Adapted from Authentic Faith (Zondervan, 2002)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Thank you, Savior, for enduring all the way to the cross.  Give me the stamina to be a finisher.

Church: It’s Not About Me – The Body of Christ

The Body of ChristHow does God grow believers toward maturity in Christ?

The answer, Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, is that he forms us into a body—a group of individuals united in their purpose and love for each other and for the Lord.

If one person stumbles, the rest of the group is there to pick him up and help him walk with God again.  And as we mature together as the loving body of Christ, we, in turn, demonstrate to the world that God’s love is the real deal.

 

Interact with God’s Word:

Ephesians 4:4-6, 11-16

1.      According to verses 4-6, what unites all believers in spite of their many differences? (See also 1 Cor. 8:6.)

 

2.      What is the responsibility of those who have the gifts listed in verse 11? (See v. 12.)

 

3.      According to verse 14, what are the signs that a believer’s faith has not matured?  (See also Gal. 1:6-7; Col. 2:8.)

 

4.      Why are both truth and love (v. 15) important qualities for a healthy church?

 

5.      According to verse 16, how does a community of believers become “healthy and growing and full of love”?

 

Spend Time in Prayer:

Ask God to reveal to you what your own “special work” (v. 16) should be; ask him to enable you to perform it in a way that will contribute to the health and growth of your Christian community.

 

Ephesians 4:4-6, 11-16

4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  As your disciple, Lord, I recognize I can’t live a life of faith and faithful service on my own.  Help me to truly connect with Christian community.