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Destiny and Detours – Malfunction Junction

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Key Bible Verse:  The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives.  – Psalm 37:23

Bonus Reading: Psalm 25:1-15

The intersection is a six-way circle of traffic confusion in the center of Missoula.  Every time I approach it, my head pounds and my hands grow clammy.  It is nevertheless the most direct route through the business district.

Approaching Malfunction Junction recently, I saw a puzzle of detour signs.  It looked to me like it had become the mother of all nightmares.  But I was wrong!  The detour led me to discover a route to get around Malfunction Junction in the future.  Although longer by distance, it’s shorter by time.

Sometimes God reroutes us as we travel the roads of life.  But His detours always turn out.

King David, the author of Psalm 25:1-15 had been anointed king as a teen, but it was many years before he actually ascended the throne.  As God flagged David’s life through many detours, He was building the character of one of Israel’s greatest kings.

Like David, the routes to our God-given destinies aren’t direct; they’re a tangle of detours designed to prepare us for our final destinations.

If the zigzags of God confuse you, ask Him to show you what He’s up to.  David often did, and came to see how God was directing his steps.  God will do the same for you.

—Mike Raether in Montana

My Response: I’ll read psalms of David and observe how he blurts out his questions to God.

Thought to Apply:  The basic decision, after all, is to let God be God, to say “yes” to the work of the Lord.

—Luke Timothy Johnson (theologian)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process  You are using to shape my character.


Destiny and Detours – Destination Confirmation

Cubicle FarmKey Bible Verse:  God guided all of them by sending a cloud that moved along ahead of them, and he brought them all safely through the waters of the sea.  – 1 Corinthians 10:1

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 32:8-11

Sometimes, in the midst of the zigs and the zags, we become discouraged.  If the progress seems slow or we appear to be going in the opposite direction, we even begin to doubt whether there is a point B.  Maybe that’s not God’s goal, we begin to say.  Maybe I wanted it so bad I just psyched myself into it.

If God is lovingly leading us toward His intended goal, how does He keep us encouraged and affirm the direction He’s taking us?

If point B is of God, He’ll find ways of coming to you and letting you know that’s where He’s taking you.  It may be that while you’re over there in this side cubicle, and nobody knows you work for the company, that somebody who phones in to do business with your company will find you at your desk, and say, “Are you still at that desk?  I would think that by now with the abilities you have you’d be … ”  And out of the blue, of all the positions in the company, he picks point B—and you’ve never breathed a word to anyone.  In your heart you hear God saying, “I am reminding you.”

God will also give you a tangible sense of His presence.  You’ll have a palpable sense of His nearness, His protection, and His guidance.

—Don Sunukjian in Preaching Today

My Response:  What indicator of God’s good intentions for me can I hang on to today?

Thought to Apply: Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.—Winston Churchill (statesman)

Adapted from Preaching Today (Tape 251)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process You are using to shape my character.

Destiny and Detours – Fast Track?

WildernessKey Bible Verse:  God did not lead them on the road that … was the shortest way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Exodus 13:17

Bonus Reading:  Exodus 13:17-22

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  True in geometry, but not necessarily for what God is doing in my life.

Say I’ve started work at a certain company, point A, and sense that God’s will is to take me to that corner office on the second floor, point B. I envision being assigned to lead a strategic task-group and coming in under budget and on time.  This brings me to the attention of the decision makers, who start moving me to different positions to gain experience with the whole operation.  When the corner office comes open, I’m the natural choice for it—a nice straight line.

Instead, I get assigned to something peripheral, working in some side cubicle, and nobody knows I work here.  God in His wisdom knows that the shortest distance is a zigzag!

It may be that there’s some person who’d be envious of my rapid promotion and undercut it, and I’d never get to point B.  It could be that I’ll need some skills I don’t yet possess, and God will take me on an alternate path to develop them.  Perhaps some networking connections are key.  Then when I’m ready, He’ll move me back into the straight-line path.

—Don Sunukjian in Preaching Today

My Response:  Can I accept the alternate track God has placed me on without understanding the reason(s) for it?

Thought to Apply: I find that doing the will of God leaves me with no time for disputing about His plans.—George MacDonald (Scottish author)

Adapted from Preaching Today (Tape 251)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process You are using to shape my character.

Destiny and Detours – Calling Crisis

MetroKey Bible Verse:  We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.  – Proverbs 16:9

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 42:16

3 a.m., Moscow. I helplessly watched our one-year-old struggle for each breath.  We had no car.  The metro shut down at 1 a.m.  Even if we got a ride, reaching the American Medical Clinic across town would take at least an hour.

“Do something!” I screamed at God.

He did, but in the process He smashed the dream I thought He’d given me.  The short-term answer came quickly.  An American acquaintance with a car drove us to the clinic, where our son received timely oxygen treatments for his asthma.

The long-term answer proved much more difficult.  Over the next few weeks, my wife and I realized that we’d need to return to the States to get our son’s asthma under control.  What I considered a calling and had pursued for 14 years—teaching as a Christian professor at a university overseas—would have to wait.  Perhaps indefinitely.  What was God doing?

Four years later, as I teach some of my first Russian graduate students in the United States, I can begin to see God’s hand.  I also sense His healing hand on our growing young boy, on a struggling marriage that needed renewal, and on my own heart that needed rejuvenation.  I now thank God for His detour.

—Perry Glanzer in Texas

My Response:  What detour in my life can I now thank God for?

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process You are using to shape my character.

Destiny and Detours – Fog-Bound

Fog BoundWho Said It…Jerome Daley

Jerome Daley pursues the passion of his life—intimacy with God and people—in partnership with his wife, Kellie.  Through oneFleshministries, the Daleys speak, write, and lead worship.

In a culture that says go, go, go, Jerome’s book When God Waits challenges us to wait, wait, wait, looking for God’s hand in unexpected places.  Jerome likes to return—with his three children or alone on writing retreats—to the house his grandfather built in a Blue Ridge Mountain town.

What He Said…Fog-bound

As the fog hung close for two days, cabin fever struck, and I launched out for an eerie yet enticing morning walk.  I could see 20 or 30 feet in front of me, enough visibility to follow the path on its circuit through woods and meadow.

I soon realized I was relying heavily on my sense of hearing to observe what was going on around me: the crows cawing obnoxiously, the wind whistling quietly along the ridges, hammers falling in the distance as work progressed on a new house, an occasional car creeping cautiously through the mist.

Funny, I thought, how much we rely on our vision when we can see, but then how automatically we listen more intently when we can’t see.

Fog, huh?  Not unlike this season of waiting.  I can see far enough ahead to keep walking but not enough to know what lies ahead or on either side.  I can’t envision much of what lies beyond two or three months ahead.  So I must listen more intentionally to all the sounds that may convey God’s voice.

Adapted from When God Waits (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process  You are using to shape my character.

An Inside Job – Evil Desires

Evil Desires At War Within YouAccording to the Apostle James, all external conflict can be traced back to what he calls “evil desires at war within you” (4:1) and motives that are wrong (4:3).

For this reason, attempts at external reform will never be fully effective short of transformation of the way a person thinks.  Our “self-talk” gets to the core of our spiritual state.

The passage to be reviewed today points out some characteristics of the positive and negative attitudes that drive the way we behave.

Interact with God’s Word

James 3:13-18

  1. What sources for human attitudes are identified in these paragraphs (vv. 15, 17)?
  2. According to verse 13, what is it that makes a person wise?
  3. What satanic “wisdom” does James mention (vv.14-16)?
  4. What is identified as “God’s kind of wisdom” (vv. 13, 17-18)?
  5. What kinds of high goals is it appropriate for you to set as a believer? What kinds may draw you into greed and destructive competitiveness?

Spend Time in Prayer:   Ask God to deliver you from internal turmoil because you understand His ways and are shaping your thought life to match up with them.

James 3:13-18

13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise! 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your hearts, don’t brag about being wise. That is the worst kind of lie. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and motivated by the Devil.

16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere.18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.

Prayer for the Week:  I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

Community Schedule of Meals

Friday Soup Kitchen 2 - 8-9-2013If you are hungry or simply in need of a little human fellowship, here is a list of the free food ministry offerings in our area.

Central Church provides a lunch every Tuesday, a dinner every Friday, and a breakfast on the first Saturday of each month, all without cost and open to anyone who comes through our doors. 

Other food ministries in Beaver Falls appear in below in dark red, and those in surrounding communities appear in black.


 4-5pm             Christ Lutheran Church 409 11th St.Beaver Falls

5:30-6:30pm The Ladle 9th and Maplewood Ambridge


 11:30-1           Central United Methodist 1227 6th Ave Beaver Falls

12-1                  Church in the Round Griffith St. Aliquippa

5:30-6:30       Manna House of Prayer 2100 Irwin St Aliquippa


11-1                 Christ Episcopal 1217 Third Avenue New Brighton

12-1                 Church in the Round Griffith St. Aliquippa

4-5                  First Presbyterian Church 1103 8th Ave. Beaver Falls


 11-1                Christ Episcopal 1217 Third Avenue New Brighton

12-1                Church in the Round Griffith St.   Aliquippa

6-7                 Grace Lutheran Church 393 Adams Street   Rochester


4-5                Central United Methodist 1227 6th Ave Beaver Falls

5-6                 Agape Mobile Soup Kitchen Call 724.375.2008


 Beaver Falls Breakfast Ministry 9-10:30

 First Saturday             Central United Methodist 1227 Sixth Ave

Second Saturday         Calvary Presbyterian 1099 Sixth Ave

Third Saturday            First Christian 1401 Sixth Ave

Fourth Saturday          First Baptist 616 Sixth Ave


4-5                   Salvation Army 414 16th St.   Beaver Falls




An Inside Job – Passed Over

Denied PromotionKey Bible Verses:  “Riches and honor come from you alone … and it is at your discretion that people are made great and given strength.” 1 Chronicles 29:12-13

Bonus Reading:   James 3:13-18

When the CEO of our import-export company resigned, I believed I was the natural choice to replace him.  However, another person was appointed.  I was told by the board that my contributions were valuable to the corporation and that they very much wanted me to remain as chief operating officer.  But for me, a dream of many years had been shattered in seconds.

Bitterness and resentment swept over me, permeating my work and everything else.  I secretly applauded any slip by the new CEO.  As I allowed my emotions to spiral out of control, I knew I was heading for a crash.

Six weeks after the announcement, I began to see and understand a larger question: Either I believed in God’s providence and that He was sovereign, or I didn’t!  The issue was not my promotion or even the success of the company.  The issue was my spiritual attitude, and that was my responsibility to correct.

So rather than continuing to grouse, I began focusing my efforts on fixing my attitude and improving my job performance.  Shortly thereafter, the new CEO resigned unexpectedly, and I was promoted.  With my new perspective and attitude, I was ready.

—Steve Marr in Arizona

My Response: Since God is in control, I must surrender resentment about …

Thought to Apply: Keep your heart right, even when it is sorely wounded. — J.C. Macaulay (Christian educator)

Prayer for the Week:  I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

Prayer Concern – Resolved – Meriam Ibrahim Finally Leaves Sudan, Meets Pope Francis

Italy's Vice Minister at Foreign Affairs travels from Sudan with Ibrahim and her family.

Italy’s Vice Minister at Foreign Affairs travels from Sudan with Ibrahim and her family.

Christianity Today reports this afternoon that Christian mother once sentenced to death for her faith now bound for United States with her family.

Italy’s Vice Minister at Foreign Affairs travels from Sudan with Ibrahim and her family.

After blocking her departure on a spurious charge of forged travel documents, Sudan today allowed a Christian mother sentenced to die over a false allegation of leaving Islam to leave the country, her attorney said.

Having given birth to her second child while shackled to prison chains just two months ago, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim arrived in Italy today and met with Pope Francis after U.S. and Italian efforts to free her.

“The government decided to drop charges against her yesterday, July 23,” attorney Thabit al Zubair told Morning Star News. “They have left Sudan and they are now in Italy.”

Ibrahim and her husband, dual South Sudanese/U.S. citizen Daniel Wani, arrived in Rome on an Italian government jet today with plans to continue to the United States. A Vatican spokesman told The Associated Press that the pope “thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity.”

The couple arrived to cheers, greeted by the Italian prime minister, with their infant daughter Maya, born May 27, and nearly 2-year-old son Martin, who had remained with

Wedding photo of Meriam Ibrahim and Daniel Wani

Wedding photo of Meriam Ibrahim and Daniel Wani

his mother since her imprisonment without trial in February. Muslims claiming to be relatives had accused her of leaving Islam. Ibrahim says that she was raised a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother, and that her Muslim father disappeared when she was 6 years old.

She was released from prison in Sudan on June 23, less than two months after Morning Star News broke the story of false charges of apostasy against her that set off a firestorm of international protests, only to be detained at the Khartoum airport less than 24 hours later. More than 40 agents from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested her, and Ibrahim was charged with “forging” travel documents, punishable by nearly seven years in prison.

Her attorney had told Morning Star News the charge had no legal base, saying, “We hope they will cancel the case to avoid embarrassment, and if the case is sent to the court, there will be no legal base for it.”

A man who claimed to be Ibrahim’s brother told local media that he would kill her and take revenge on other Christians in Sudan.

“She has spoiled our image as a family, and we know how to take revenge against Christians,” he reportedly said.

Ibrahim had received a sentence of death by hanging for allegedly leaving Islam after a Muslim claiming to be a relative accused her of marrying a Christian man – the crime of “adultery” under Islamic law for which she was also sentenced to 100 lashes.

Sudan revoked the death sentence on June 23 after defense lawyers presented their case. Witnesses for the defense had been prohibited from testifying during the trial. Islamists clamored for her death throughout the trial, and her attorneys have received death threats.

International media, Western embassies and human rights groups urged her release when Ibrahim’s death sentence was confirmed after she refused to recant her faith on May 15.

After being held for two days following her arrest at the airport, Ibrahim was released on June 26, and she and her family had taken refuge at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.

An Inside Job – Attitude Saver

VCRKey Bible Verse: “I don’t just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them.”  – 1 Corinthians 10:33

Bonus Reading:  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

My daughters frequently interrupted me in the fourth quarter of a crucial game or at a crucial part of a TV mystery show for something that needed my immediate attention.  I’d eventually get up.  But even if their request was appropriate, I’d procrastinate, moan, and glare while doing the chore.

When I finally caught sight of my poor attitude, I realized I needed a different way of reacting to interruptions.  Today, the first thing I do if I’m going to watch a game or show is start the VCR.  I have a blank tape labeled “Dad’s Tape: No FooFoo Shows; Sports and Guy Stuff Only.”

Now, when Cindy comes and asks for my help on something that can’t wait and there’s only two minutes left in the fourth quarter, I know the game’s being taped.  When Kari calls and needs to be picked up from cheer practice, I know the mystery’s being taped.  When Laura wants to shoot hoops with me and it’s the ninth inning of the playoff game, I haven’t missed a single run.  I can watch it later, and fast-forward through the commercials!

Your VCR can free you to meet the needs of your family—and protect a positive attitude at the same time.

—John Trent in Dad’s Everything Book for Daughters

My Response:  An adjustment I’ll make for positive interaction with my family is …

Thought to Apply:  Irritation in the heart of a believer is always an invitation to the devil to stand by.—Source Unknown

Adapted from Dad’s Everything Book for Daughters (Zondervan, 2002)

Prayer for the Week:  I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

An Inside Job – Steamed

Raking LeavesKey Bible Verse:  “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right … pure and lovely and admirable … excellent and worthy of praise.”  – Philippians 4:8

Bonus Reading:  Proverbs 31:10-12

One day Corlette said something that really disappointed me.  I went out to the back yard to rake leaves.  For about 15 minutes I treated myself to a real “pity party,” increasingly convinced that I should go back in and let her know how hurt I was.

But then, by God’s grace, Philippians 4:8 came to mind.

Ha!  I thought at first.  What’s honorable, right, or lovely about the way she’s treating me?

But the Holy Spirit wouldn’t give up.  Within a few moments, I grudgingly conceded that Corlette is a good cook.  Then I admitted that she keeps a beautiful home, practices wonderful hospitality, and has been very kind and thoughtful toward my family.  Then I remembered how much she’d supported me through some difficult times in my work.  And didn’t she even take up backpacking because she knew I loved it?

Within minutes my attitude was turned upside down and I saw the offensive comment for what it was—a momentary and insignificant flaw in an otherwise wonderful person.  I went back inside, but not to confront Corlette about what she’d said.  Instead, I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her how glad I was to be married to her.

—Ken Sande in The Peacemaker

My Response:  I’ll commit to apply Philippians 4:8 thinking to one situation today.

Thought to Apply:  If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.—Chinese Proverb

Adapted from The Peacemaker (Baker, 1991, 1997)

Prayer for the Week:  I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

Prayer Concern – Update – Meriam Ibrahim, Sudanese Woman Sentenced for Apostasy, Released

Wedding photo of Meriam Ibrahim and Daniel Wani

Wedding photo of Meriam Ibrahim and Daniel Wani

Update (July 22): Christianity Today reports that Ibrahim’s family has filed another lawsuit against her, this time attempting to annul her marriage. Reuters reports the lawsuit is yet another attempt to keep Ibrahim from leaving Sudan.

If the lawsuit is successful, Wani would no longer be considered the father of his two children, according to World Watch Monitor.

Sudanese officials have assured the U.S. State Department that Ibrahim and her family are safe, and World Watch Monitor reports that she and her children are approved to enter the U.S. when they leave Sudan.


Update (July 17): Meriam Ibrahim could now be free to leave Sudan after her family dropped the lawsuit they filed against her to prove she was the daughter of a Muslim, reports Reuters. Abdel Rahman Malek, the family’s lawyer, did not give a reason for dropping the case a day before its first scheduled court hearing.

Ibrahim has been staying at the U.S. Embassy, along with her family.


Update (July 10): Following a grueling week of release and rearrest, Meriam Ibrahim is safe at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum but is still stuck in Sudan. Ibrahim may face new charges to prove she’s part of a Muslim family, according to Reuters and Businessweek.

Meanwhile, CNN reports that a community with ties to South Sudan waits to welcome Ibrahim and her family to Manchester, New Hampshire, her husband’s U.S. home, when she reaches the country.


An Inside Job – Lord of the Swing

Little League BatterKey Bible Verse:  “A relaxed attitude lengthens life; jealousy rots it away.”  – Proverbs 14:30

Bonus ReadingJohn 21:1-13

Our son Eric loves baseball and has a very good swing.  But he got into a hitting slump.  He worked hard to improve his game.  But despite a good swing, kept striking out.

Before Eric’s last game this season, I prayed, “Lord, give him a successful game.”  I think he was praying too.  He went two for four, and hit the ball hard and far.  Yeah, God!

But I noticed something in his “at bats.”  He quit trying so hard.  The coaches say, “Let the game come to you.”  Eric was more at ease, more trusting of his skills and work, and seemed simply to enjoy the game.

Several disciples went fishing (John 21:1-13), but their nets were empty all night.  In the morning Jesus called from the shore, “Move the nets a few feet.”  They did, and theJesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish team went two for three, catching 153 fish.

Truth be told, they didn’t need to fish at all that night.  Jesus was roasting fish as they labored.  He’d provided their needs, just as He’d promised.  And the catch of 153 fish would fund their next day’s needs, too.

Driven workers need to relax and let the game come to them.  Jesus is Lord of the “swing” as He is of the seas.  We take ourselves far too seriously—and our Coach not seriously enough.

—Lonnie Allison in CenterLine

My Response: I’ve been uptight about _____.   I’ll ask God to work it out His way.

Thought to Apply: Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.—John Wooden (college basketball coach)

Adapted from CenterLine (Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, fall/03)

Prayer for the Week:  I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will. Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

An Inside Job – Rough Day at the Office

Rough Day at the OfficeKey Bible Verse:   “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken.” 2 Corinthians 4:8

Bonus Reading:  Proverbs 3:5-8; 18:14; 24:10

Do you allow business problems to ruin your entire day?  Problems with staff, customer complaints, and difficulties in production are inevitable.  At some point in your career, you’re bound to feel overwhelmed.

The key is how you respond.  Wasting energy complaining won’t help to overcome the situation.

It’s like sailing on the ocean during a major storm.  You can’t stop the wind or the waves, but you can bail water out of the boat.

When problems threaten to crush you, look for positive action you and your staff can take.  Attack the problem where you can make the most difference.

Ask yourself what you can change with your available resources.  Identify three things that will make a 50 percent difference.  Then establish an action plan that involves both you and your staff.

Set other, less important, issues on the back burner, and tackle the important priorities immediately.  Next, identify lesser issues that you can solve, then keep moving down your list of priorities until everything is back under control.

As you take decisive action, your problems won’t crush you, and you’ll eventually win again in your business.

—Steve Marr in Business Proverbs

My Response:  One step I could take to improve my outlook is …

Adapted from Business Proverbs (Revell, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

An Inside Job – Boring to Meaningful

Military Desk JobWho Said It…Doug Wendel

Doug Wendel is a Navigator staff representative ministering to East Asian students at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  Asian Americans are the fastest growing of U.S. ethnic groups, currently numbering some 11 million.  This number is expected to quadruple to 40 million within 40 years.

Doug’s all time favorite movie is Chariots of Fire.  He likes to read books about the Civil War or World War II.

What He Said…Boring to Meaningful

As a 19-year-old, my self-centered life in the U.S. Air Force was characterized by dissatisfaction.  I worked at a “boring” desk job and lived around other unhappy airmen who gave themselves to all sorts of sinful pleasures.

Then one night I heard a clear presentation of the gospel and placed my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I asked God to take away my sinful, self-centered desires and replace them with His desires for me.

The next morning when I awoke, I was still living among unhappy neighbors and I worked at the same desk job. My outward circumstances hadn’t changed a bit, but over the weeks and months that followed, my inner attitudes changed.

My desk job became a place to learn endurance, to share my new faith in Christ, and to glorify God. I began to see my neighbors as lost people who needed to hear the life-giving message of the gospel.

God answered my cry for inner change and gave my life meaning and purpose by transforming my self-centered attitudes into God-centered ones.

Adapted from Discipleship Journal (9-10/99)

Prayer for the Week: I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

Be a Builder-Upper – Paul in Thessolonica

Paul in ThessolonicaChapters 2 and 3 of 1 Thessalonians form a unique section of Scripture.

Paul is inviting the believers in Thessalonika to reminisce with him about his initial visit to them (recorded in Acts 17:1-10a) and their subsequent contacts.

This “rememberfest” affords us our best window into how Paul went about putting a young congregation on its feet.

Interact with God’s Word

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

  1. Why isn’t gentleness a valued trait among guys today?
  2. How can we relate gently to our children? … to other men?
  3. What kept Paul from making demands of the Thessalonians?
  4. How good are people at sensing if our love is for real?
  5. What personal characteristics (v. 10) are prerequisite to a ministry of building others up?
  6. What kinds of fatherly treatment (v. 11) do you think Paul had in mind?
  7. How could you put the kinds of interaction recorded in verse 12 to work in your discipling?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to make you a father who gently challenges not only his own children, but other believers as well.

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

7 As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but we were as gentle among you as a mother feeding and caring for her own children. 8 We loved you so much that we gave you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. 9 Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that our expenses would not be a burden to anyone there as we preached God’s Good News among you.

10 You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were pure and honest and faultless toward all of you believers. 11 And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. 12 We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you into his Kingdom to share his glory.

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Chewed Out?

Employee ReviewKey Bible Verse:  And you know we treated each of you as a father treats his own children.  – 1 Thessalonians 2:11

Bonus Reading:  1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

For six summers Jim Slevcove was my supervisor at Forest Home, a Christian conference center in California.  I held a responsible position over junior high and high school kids, but couldn’t pass up a chance to play a prank.  Like the time I passed off a laxative gum as chewing gum to some coworkers.  Word of the rigorous purgative’s effects got back to Jim.

He asked me to come to his office the next day for “a little chat.”  I was still a little defiant when Jim called me in.  There was a long, awkward silence as he leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling.

Were those tears in his eyes?  Then he whispered “Benny” with tender affection.  “Benny,” he repeated twice while he got control of his emotions.

My arguments disappeared like the vapor they were.  I’d gone way over the line of propriety, not to mention compassion.  I owed and paid Jim and my victims an apology.  We talked about my impulsiveness and vindictiveness, the meaning of Christian community, and the responsibilities that go with leadership.  Even in saying the hard thing to me, Jim was always gracious.  His goal was not to tear down but to build up.

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response:  A person who needs affirmation and grace from me today is …

Thought to Apply:  Correction does much, but encouragement does more. Encouragement after censure is as the sun after a shower.—Johann Von Goethe (German poet)

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Puzzling Patron

Diner WaitressKey Bible Verse:  Timothy, I thank God for you. … Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 2 Timothy 1:3

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 10:24

As a teen, I waitressed at a Coco’s restaurant.  Around 9 o’clock one February night, I started feeling sorry for myself.  My friends were at the movies, but I had to work until closing.

That’s when the hostess grabbed my arm. “This is really creepy,” she whispered, “but there’s a man over there who said he wouldn’t eat here unless you were his waitress.”

I swallowed hard.  “Is he a weirdo?”

“See for yourself,” she said.  We peered through the decorative foliage at the mysterious man in the corner.  Slowly he lowered his menu, revealing thick, white hair, silver-blue eyes, and a wide grin beneath his white moustache.  He lifted his hand and waved.

“That’s no weirdo,” I said. “That’s my dad!”

“Coming to see you at work?” the hostess balked.  “Pretty strange, if you ask me.”

I thought it was cool.  But to Dad I acted nonchalant, rattling off the soup of the day and scribbling down his order before anyone could see him squeeze my elbow and say, “Thanks, Honey.”

As he watched me clear tables and refill coffee cups, his unspoken words bounced off the wall: “I’m here.  I support you.  I’m proud of you.  Keep up the good work.  You’re my girl.  I love you.”  It was my best valentine that year.

—Alice Gray in Stories for a Teen’s Heart

My Response:  I’ll plan an “un-card” valentine for a loved one.

Thought to Apply:  Encouragement is oxygen to the soul.—George Adams (Newspaper columnist)

Adapted from Stories for a Teen’s Heart (Multnomah, 1999)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Natural Wonder

Father-Son Grand CanyonKey Bible Verse:   How we thank God for you!  Because of you we have great joy in the presence of God.  – 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Bonus Reading:  Titus 2:6-8

When my son Joel was 12 years old, we hiked into the Grand Canyon with a close friend.  On our last evening we sat on the edge of the canyon munching on summer sausage, cheese, and crackers, and watching the majestic play of changing colors as the sun sank.

Our conversation turned from the arduous hike earlier that day to deeper things—God and creation and the kind of girl Joel ought to marry someday.  I was intensely aware of how much I loved this wonder of a son whose profile was outlined against the glories of canyon and sunset.

Pointing toward the canyon, Joel turned and said, “There’s no place on earth that shows more of God’s glory than this place!”

Ah!  The perfect moment to say what was welling up in my breast.  “There is, Joel,” I said, “something that shows God’s glory even better.”

His eyes flashed, ready to debate the point. “Where, Dad?”

“Right here, buddy,” I said, pointing at him.  “This whole canyon doesn’t add up to you.  There’s no canyon, river, mountain, or ocean that better shows the majesty of God than you, or any other human being.”

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response:  This week I’ll watch for an occasion to affirm my son or daughter.

Thought to Apply:  There is no such whetstone to sharpen a good wit and encourage a will to learning as is praise —Roger Ascham (English scholar)

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Moving Moment

Father-Son HugKey Bible Verse:  I have the highest confidence in you, and my pride in you is great.  – 2 Corinthians 7:4

Bonus Reading:  Colossians 2:1-5

When my oldest son was 11, we built a 3′ x 4′ bookcase to put his stereo and junk on.  I’m a doofus at woodworking, but we measured, drew up plans, bought the wood, pulled out the tools, and got busy.

The result sat next to his bed for six years.  Unbeknownst to him, I’d written on the bottom: “Troy: You and I built this together on August 11, 1996.  This note is to remind you that I’ll always love you more than my life and be your biggest fan.  Never forget that. Love, Dad.”

In 2002, Troy moved into his own place, taking everything that’s his.  He hadn’t noticed anything as he wedged the bookcase into his Subaru Outback for the one-hour drive to Denver.  When we arrived at his place, we began unloading.  His roommate noticed the writing on the bottom of the bookcase as he carried it into the house. “What’s this?” he asked.

Troy came over. “What’s what?”

“This writing.”  He began to read it out loud.  I stopped in the hallway and watched Troy as he read it silently.  The roommate filled the silence.  “Uh-oh, Father-son hug moment.”  Troy smiled sheepishly as I walked over.  His hug and that look were worth the wait.

—Greg Johnson in Dad’s Everything Book for Sons

My Response:  Something tangible from me to a child of mine could be …

Thought to Apply:  I don’t care how great, how famous or successful a man or woman may be, each hungers for applause. —George Adams (Newspaper columnist)

Adapted from Dad’s Everything Book for Sons (Zondervan, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Boos or Bouquets?

Happy BirthdayKey Bible Verse:  Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement. Ephesians 4:29

Bonus Reading:  Proverbs 15:23; 16:24

When Jacques Plante, the great National Hockey League goalie, retired, someone asked him how he had liked being a goalie.  He quipped, “How would you like a job where if you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?”

Families, and churches, can be like that.

We have a family birthday tradition I really love—a kind of “rite of affirmation.”  The way it works is simple.  We bombard the birthday person with compliments.

If it’s my daughter, Mary, being celebrated, I tell her I love the way she laughs so hard that tears squirt out her eyes like little saline projectiles. I let her know what a thoughtful, interesting person she is, how I love her kindness, and what a pleasure it is to take a walk with her.

Her mother, brothers, and friends also speak their appreciation. She grows quiet and warm and even more beautiful. And her eyes show how hungrily her heart drinks it in.

She’s enlarged in her soul, made deeper and stronger. Although she and her brothers are now young adults, they still respond the same way. So does my wife. So do I. This kind of grace evokes joyful gratitude in all who hear.

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response:  I’ll tell one family member what I admire and love about him or her.

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Beaver County’s 2014 Summer Lunch Youth Program

Feeding YouthMillions of low-income students rely on free or low-cost school meals. But when summer vacation starts, the school meals end. This means youth who had access to nutritious meals during the school year may be undernourished or hungry over the summer.

The good news is:  Healthy lunches are available for children, ages 18 and younger, regardless of income. No registration needed; no paperwork required. Various sites offer lunches on various weekdays through mid-August.

The federally funded Summer Food Service Program is coordinated through the Greater Pittsburgh Area Food Bank.

Participating local organizations include the Beaver County YMCA, the Salvation Army in Beaver Falls; the United Way of Beaver County and the Aliquippa School District.

  •  For additional information and sites, call 412-460-3663.

Beaver Falls area sites:

* Colonial Oaks, 49 Colonial Oaks Circle; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* Eastvale United Presbyterian Church, 502 Second Ave.; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* Harmony Dwellings, Ninth Street and 10th Avenue; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* Morado Dwellings, Fourth Ave. and 43rd Street; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* Mount Washington Homes, 2103 12th Ave.;11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* Pleasantview Homes, 16th Avenue and 16th Street; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* Salvation Army, 414 16th St.;11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* Trails Ministries, 918 Seventh Ave.; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* Temple Church of God in Christ, 2420 Ninth Ave.; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Aug. 15.
* 37th Street Playground, 37th Street; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through July 25.

Be a Builder-Upper – Call Forth the Best

Professor in ClassWho Said It…Ben Patterson

Ben used to be an avid wrestler and weightlifter.  Now he focuses on a different kind of building up.  He disciples students. He is currently the campus pastor at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

He previously served in the same role at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Ben has written a number of books.  He’s also pastored churches on the east and west coasts.

What He Said…Call Forth the Best

Gracious words build up and strengthen others, calling forth their best.

I read of a professor at a small New England college who year after year was voted by his colleagues and students as the school’s outstanding instructor.  When he retired, the college held a banquet in his honor and asked him to give a speech explaining the secret of his success as a teacher.

The professor blushed as he began and said, “Well, I guess I can say it now that I’m leaving.  At the beginning of every semester, in every class I taught, I would identify the student who seemed most likely to fail.  On the first exam, I gave this person a far better grade than he or she deserved.

And then I somehow made it known to the rest of the class, in the student’s hearing, how well the student had done.  In 40 years of teaching, it never failed to produce the desired result. Every student rose to a higher level.”

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Unboxing God – Feeling Like Job

Job and His FriendsAfter Eliphaz, one of the suffering Job’s critical “comforters,” has lectured him to stop quarreling with God and clean up his life (Job chapter 22), Job makes his rebuttal (chapter 23).

He puts into words the frustration that you—and a host of other believers—have felt at one time or another in seeking to relate to the Almighty.  But it’s a frustration that avoids despair by hanging on to faith.

Interact with God’s Word

Job 23:1-10

  1. What does Job feel about the “sentence” he’s been served (v. 2)?
  2. What qualities of his divine Judge does he remain confident about (vv. 6-7)?
  3. What frustrates Job about God’s immaterial nature (vv. 3, 8-9)?
  4. But does God have any trouble locating him (v. 10)?
  5. Have you felt God to be elusive when you’ve attempted contact?
  6. What does Job feel about communicating with God (vv.3-5)?
  7. How can you listen for God’s voice and understand what it’s conveying to you?

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God to overwhelm you with His greatness. And ask Him to make His spirit—presence as real to you as the flesh-and-blood world you touch and hear.

Job 23:1-10

1Then Job spoke again:

2 “My complaint today is still a bitter one, and I try hard not to groan aloud.

3 If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his throne and talk with him there.

4 I would lay out my case and present my arguments.

5 Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me.

6 Would he merely argue with me in his greatness? No, he would give me a fair hearing.

7 Fair and honest people can reason with him, so I would be acquitted by my Judge.

8 “I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him.

9 I do not see him in the north, for he is hidden. I turn to the south, but I cannot find him.

10 But he knows where I am going. And when he has tested me like gold in a fire, he will pronounce me innocent.

Prayer for the Week:   Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Unboxing God – Speechless

SilenceKey Bible Verses:  O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive!  – Psalm 83:1

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 64:1-12

Chess master and mentor Bruce Pandolfini discussed, in a Fast Company magazine article, how he works with his students.  “My lessons consist of a lot of silence.  I listen to other teachers, and they’re always talking. … I let my students think.

If I do ask a question and I don’t get the right answer, I’ll rephrase the question—and wait.  I never give the answer.  Most of us really don’t appreciate the power of silence.  Some of the most effective communication—between student and teacher, between master players—takes place during silent periods.”

Could this be how God mentors us?  Is God’s apparent silence the method of a Master Teacher?

When I go through seasons when God’s answers don’t come quickly or on the surface of things—but the way God interacts with my prayers draws me into deeper trust, dependence, and obedience—the answers I find radically transcend what I initially sought to find.

  1. I get introduced to sin that I need to confront.
  2. I recognize patterns of behavior I need to break.
  3. I gain insights into who I am that I didn’t have before.
  4. I discover a depth of relationship with God that I’ve never before experienced.

—James Emery White in Embracing the Mysterious God

My Response:  Which numbered sentence fits where God’s silence is pointing me now?

Thought to Apply:  Sometimes Thou dost withdraw Thyself from us that we might know the sweetness of Thy presence.—Thomas À Kempis (Dutch monastic)

Adapted from Embracing the Mysterious God (InterVarsity, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Unboxing God – Hide-and-Seek

Hide and SeekKey Bible Verse:  Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.  Isaiah 45:15

Bonus Reading:  Job 19:7-12, 23-27; 23:1-10

When my children were small, I’d come home from work, kiss my wife and children hello, and, when their backs were turned, quickly hide in our linen closet. 

Why would I do such a thing?  The kids swiftly discerned that Dad was initiating a game of hide-and-seek.

They’d look everywhere for me, except that linen closet.  After a little while, when the kids were searching some other part of the house, I’d slip out and sit at the table, drinking coffee with my wife.  The kids would see me, do a double take and say, “Where were you?”  I wouldn’t tell them my secret hiding place.

One day I kissed my family hello, vanished into my linen closet and heard the kids scampering around trying to find me.  After a few minutes, the house became silent. When I came out of hiding, I found them downstairs playing with Legos.  They’d lost interest in finding Dad!

Does God ever hide from us?  Yes.  Sometimes God hides Himself from us because of our sin.  Perhaps at other times He hides Himself so that His people might seek Him on a deeper and more intimate level.

Don’t assume that because God knows all things He has no desire to be known Himself.

—Larry Dixon in DocDevos

My Response:  Am I willing to keep looking when God “hides”?

Thought to Apply:  Ever since the days of Adam, man has been hiding from God and saying, “God is hard to find.” —Fulton Sheen (Roman Catholic bishop, broadcaster)

Adapted from DocDevos (Christian Publications, 2002)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Unboxing God – Security Check

Line at Immigration CheckpointKey Bible Verse:   How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! Romans 11:33

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 40:13-14; 27-29

God isn’t limited by us, nor our predicaments.

I met a Hong Kong resident who’d arranged to take some Scriptures—contraband at the time—into China.  They were for pastors in a northern province who’d arranged to meet him in the southern city of Guangzhou.  He discreetly packed just over 100 Bibles into his suitcases.

But at the border, customs officials searched his bags.  They discovered and confiscated the Bibles but allowed him to proceed.  He checked into his Guangzhou hotel, discouraged at the prospect of the next day having to face pastors who’d traveled for several days to obtain these Scriptures.

That evening there was a knock on his door.  He opened to a European couple who told him they were Christians who’d been behind him at the customs checkpoint.  It so happened that they’d filled their bags with Bibles too, but the officials hadn’t searched them. 

Checking into their hotel, they received a message that the person for whom their Bibles were intended was unable to come.  While having dinner in the hotel restaurant, they’d spotted my Hong Kong acquaintance and followed him to his room. 

Could he use the 200 Bibles in their suitcases?

—Paul-Gordon Chandler in God’s Global Mosaic

My Response:  A time when God brought deliverance out of an apparent disaster was …

Thought to Apply:  God often takes a course for accomplishing His purposes directly contrary to what our narrow views would prescribe. —John Newton (slave trader, pastor)

Adapted from God’s Global Mosaic (InterVarsity, 1997)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Unboxing God – Beyond Me

Child Praying to GodKey Bible Verse:  “My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 55:9-11

Psychiatrist Robert Coles asked a girl if she thought much about God.  It turned out Meaghan did. 

She reflected on a friend of her father, hospitalized with lung cancer.  She wondered aloud how a “God in heaven” can find the time to take note of each and every “Mr. Boyle” in this world of billions and billions of people.  “How can it be?” she asked Coles.  He admitted that he’d never been able to answer that question.

Well, she reflected, “I guess He’s not one of us!  He was, but then He went back to being God.  I guess if you’re God you know everything, but the way you know everything—it’s different.

In church they say we should pray a lot, and I try to remember … I think of Him, and I try to talk to Him.  I ask Him the same questions, like how He remembers everything.  You know what He says: ‘I just do!'”

Coles concludes, “At only 12 years of age she’d learned of His inscrutability; she’d also learned that ‘His ways are not ours’ …  He lives beyond the eyes and the ears, she told me, beyond the human mind—and she struggled to bridge that infinite distance with her imagined scenes of God in heaven, her provocative questions.”

—Timothy Jones in Nurturing a Child’s Soul

My Response:  Is my inability to fully comprehend God frustrating or reassuring?  Why?

Thought to Apply:  Dear God: Are you really invisible or is that just a trick? —Lucy (in Children’s Letters to God)

Adapted from Nurturing a Child’s Soul (Word, 2000)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Prayer Concern – Christian Worshippers Latest Targets in Nigerian Violence

Terrorist group Boko Haram has killed more than 2,000 this year.

Nigerian ViolenceAt least 30 people were killed last weekend after gunmen attacked worshippers and torched at least three churches in villages near Chibok in northern Nigeria, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian reported.

Local residents blamed the terrorist organization Boko Haram, known for its attacks in the region, though the group didn’t claim responsibility. More than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are still missing.

The attackers destroyed Protestant Church of Christ in Nigeria, the Pentecostal Deeper Life Bible Church, and Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa (Church of the Brethren), among others, according to the Associated Press. In at least one case, the gunmen locked worshippers inside a church and opened fire on it. The BBC reported that six militants and nearly 40 civilians died in the attacks.

Boko Haram, which the U.S. State Department labeled a terrorist organization last fall, has claimed responsibility for almost daily attacks in the northeastern region of Nigeria. The AP reported the group killed more than 2,000 people this year alone and is responsible for 3,600 deaths in the last four years. The group’s mission is to create an Islamic state ruled by Shari’ah law.

Nine people died on June 1 after Boko Haram gunned them down during a morning church service in Gwoza, a village two hours from Chibok, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Reuters reported that more than 10 gunmen rode motorcycles into the remote village in the nearby hills. After they left, villagers killed four of the attackers and captured three.

Whether the attacks are religiously or politically motivated is up for debate. However, Christian Solidarity Worldwide quoted a 2012 video in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said, “This war is not political. It is religious. It is between Muslims and unbelievers (arna) [sic]. It will stop when Islamic religion is the determinant in governance in Nigeria or, in the alternative, when all fighters are annihilated and no one is left to continue the fight.”

Boko Haram isn’t the only group terrorizing Christians in Nigeria. A Nigerian news source reported that more than 100 people were killed by unknown gunmen thought to be a group of renegade Fulani herdsmen in Kaduna State.

Sunday Ibrahim of the Christian Association of Nigeria called on the government to step up security and on local Christians to not take the law into their own hands, noting, “There was a time some of us did not believe that the killings in southern Kaduna have any religious connotation, but from the chanting, it has taken a religious dimension.”

CT has monitored the terrorist activities of Boko Haram since 2010, when the group attacked churches over Christmas and killed six people. Since then, the group became one of the five most lethal terrorist groups in the world, responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 people. Although Boko Haram repeatedly targeted Christians in church attacks, bombings, and school shootings, CT also reported that Boko Haram also murdered scores of Muslims.

Some Nigerian Christian leaders urged Christians to “turn the other cheek” in response to Boko Haram, even as the group made a concerted effort to convert Christians to Islam, or else they would “not know peace again.” CT also explored how Boko Haram may have influenced the tactics of other terrorist groups, including al-Shabaab in East Africa. The International Criminal Court has investigated Boko Haram for its “crimes against humanity,” while Christians also debated amnesty for the group.

Please remember our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria in your prayers.

Unboxing God – Sum and Substance

Church OrganistKey Bible Verse:  He lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him.  No one has ever seen him, nor ever will. 1 Timothy 6:16

Bonus Reading:  Acts 17:22-31

How could anyone possibly know the One who animates galaxies and energizes each atom?  Who are we to think we can comprehend a trillionth of this incredible power?  God is, in Anselm’s words, “That than which no greater can be conceived.”

As a youngster, I attended Bethel Congregational Church, where in every worship service, Mr. Blakeslee, the organist, sat front and center behind a soft burgundy curtain. I could glimpse only the back of his bald head. Somehow with my small eyes and ears watching and listening each week, I came to connect Mr. Blakeslee with God.  God played unseen music with hidden hands and a mysterious face.  Was he smiling or scowling?  I had no clue.  If I had chanced a guess based on the music, he’d be minor-chord prone, majestic, gloomy, and loud.

For many of us who’ve carried similar images into adulthood, God remains inscrutable and distant.  Is a grin playing on the lips, a tear moving, a glint of anger flashing?  We try to discern the face of the player by the music, but all we know is the back of a bald head.  We’re also curious: What is this musician like away from the instrument and the score?  Gentle?  Petty?  Vindictive?  Fun-loving?

—Chris Blake in Searching for a God to Love

My Response:  The mental picture I have of God is …

Adapted from Searching for a God to Love (Word, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Unboxing God – This Is Dumb!

In‌vocation by PastorWho Said It…Steve Brown

Steve Brown is a broadcaster whose rich bass voice is a familiar sound to radio listeners on his Key Life Network.

He is also a seminary professor, teaching preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.

Steve writes books, too. His latest is A Scandalous Freedom (Howard, 2004).  Prior to these pursuits, Steve served as a pastor for more than 25 years.

What They Said…Little Things

Many Christians know a lot about God but don’t know Him or how to apply their faith to their everyday situations.  Conversely, other Christians don’t know anything about God but have experienced Him and, like Apollos (Acts 18:24-28), need to know more accurately how and why God works.

When I was a pastor, I was offering an invocation at the beginning of the worship service.  For those liturgically uninformed, an invocation is where the pastor invites or “invokes” God to come to the worship service.  In the middle of the prayer, I realized that it was silly to invite God to come to a worship service.  He’s God and was already there.

So I stopped mid-prayer and told the congregation that praying for God’s presence was really dumb and that, from then on, I wasn’t going to do it.  I then started the prayer over and thanked God for being present in our service of worship and asked that we would realize and know His presence.

Adapted from Follow the Wind (Baker, 1999)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Time to Count the Cost – The Great Cost of Discipleship

The Great Cost of DiscipleshipThe turnout for Jesus’ “evangelistic campaign” was impressive.  But Luke informs us that Jesus didn’t follow-through with an invitation.  Instead, the paragraphs we look at today record His in-your-face “disinvitation”!

Jesus sensed a superficiality about the enthusiastic crowds.  So He urged them to turn back if they weren’t prepared to go deeper.  This is sobering stuff for believers of our generation as our culture shifts from tacit support of Christian values to barely concealed hostility.

Interact with God’s Word

Luke 14:25-35

  1. Why do you think Jesus’ popular following made him uneasy?
  2. Why is enthusiasm alone inadequate to support long-term discipleship?
  3. How would Jesus’ hearers have understood carrying their own cross?
  4. Have you seen a disciple who began well throw in the towel? What happened?
  5. What costs should a Christian be prepared to pay?
  6. Do Jesus’ demands strike you as extreme? As unreasonable?
  7. What would make a believer—like leached-out salt—blend in and lose his distinctive flavor?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for strength to move beyond a surface comfort with your Christian sub-culture to a rock-solid commitment to Christ that will hold up under attack.

Luke 14:25-35

25 Great crowds were following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 26 “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. 27 And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me.

28 “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills? 29 Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of funds. And then how everyone would laugh at you!

30 They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and ran out of money before it was finished!’

31 “Or what king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of ten thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him? 32 If he is not able, then while the enemy is still far away, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace. 33 So no one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me.

34 “Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? 35 Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for fertilizer. It is thrown away. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!”

Prayer for the Week:  Being an out-and-out disciple isn’t for wimps, Lord.  Give me what it takes to be all Yours.

Time to Count the Cost – Shunning the Bait

Jimmy Houston Kissing FishKey Bible Verses:  So if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you. 1 Peter 4:19

Bonus Reading:  1 Peter 4:12-19

“Jimmy Houston may be America’s most famous fisherman.  As host of the ESPN2 tv series, Jimmy Houston Outdoors and Jimmy’s Outdoor World, his aw-shucks humor (kissing a fish after each catch), Cheshire cat grin, and shaggy blond hair are known to thousands.  Houston has won nearly $336,000 on the Bass Angler Sportsman Society (BASS) circuit, making 15 appearances in the BASS Masters Classic tournament, and winning its Angler of the Year title twice.

But BASS signed Anheuser Busch on as an official sponsor in 2002.  Houston refused to add the beer sponsor’s decal to his boat at BASS professional events.  He says he knew immediately that, for “ethical, moral, and scriptural reasons,” he couldn’t adhere to the Busch requirement.  That cost him points needed to qualify for the BASS tournament, the Super Bowl of fishing, and a potential Angler-of-the-Year prize worth $100,000.

“One guy asked me if I prayed about it first,” Houston recalls.  “I told him, ‘Not for a second.  To me, it wasn’t a decision.  I’m simply not going to promote beer for anybody.”

He was “totally shocked,” he says, that other Christian anglers, fearing it would jeopardize their careers, didn’t react the same way.

—Eric Tiansay in New Man

My Response:  What inducements would I automatically reject?

Thought to Apply:  You make up your mind before you start that sacrifice is part of the package. —Richard Devos

Adapted from New Man (9-10/03)

Prayer for the Week:  Being an out-and-out disciple isn’t for wimps, Lord.  Give me what it takes to be all Yours.

Time to Count the Cost – G.I. Standard-bearer

Theban LegionKey Bible Verse:  “Remain faithful even when facing death, and I will give you the crown of life” Revelation 2:10

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 5:10-12

A panel of the stained glass window behind the West Point Cadet Chapel altar honors Maurice, the patron saint of the Infantry.

Maurice was brigade commander of the Theban Legion, composed entirely of Christians recruited from Upper Egypt.  In 287, it marched under Roman general Augustus Maximilian Hercules to crush the revolt of the Berguadae Gauls.

Maximilian ordered the offering of pagan sacrifices before battle near the River Rhone at Martigny (in modern France).  The Theban Legion refused to participate and withdrew to the town of Agaunum (now Saint Maurice-en-Valais).  They had also refused to kill innocent civilians in the conduct of their duty.  Enraged, Maximilian ordered every tenth man killed.  His order was carried out, yet they still refused.

A second time the general ordered Maurice’s men decimated; again they refused to offer sacrifices.  “We’ve seen our comrades killed,” Maurice replied. “Rather than sorrow, we rejoice at the honor done to them.”  At this, Maximilian ordered all the Thebans killed.

Isn’t it interesting that steely-eyed, snake-eating, bad-to-the-bone soldiers chose to emulate a man known for his faith and the overarching power of principle?

—Col. Mike Tesdahl, USA (Ret.), in Command

My Response:  What am I facing that requires undaunted courage?

Thought to Apply:  Fear God, fear sin, and then dear Britons, fear nothing! —Lord Horatio Nelson (British admiral)

Adapted from Command magazine (2/03)

Prayer for the Week:  Being an out-and-out disciple isn’t for wimps, Lord.  Give me what it takes to be all Yours.

Time to Count the Cost – Prostituted Press

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Key Bible Verse:  Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12

Bonus Reading:  Luke 14:25-35

Several years ago the wire services carried an account of a printing press operator in the Midwest whose employer signed a contract to print a pornographic magazine.  This man refused to operate his press on that one contract.  He pleaded, “Allow me to work on any other project.  Give me the worst hours in the shop;  I won’t operate my press when that magazine comes through.”

He was fired.  He appealed to his labor union, which declined to support his “censorship.”  He lost his job with only three years to go on his pension and retirement.

I discussed this disturbing story with a pastor I know.

“What a jerk!” my preacher friend laughed.  “Gagging at gnats and swallowing camels.  How big of a deal is it?  He doesn’t have to read them or look at the pictures.  That fool has no responsibility in the matter.  All he has to do is operate a printing press.”

That pastor’s attitude exposes a deep wound in our society.  When we can no longer even identify which situations demand truly courageous responses, then we no longer know when to take a stand.  Finally we will lose our understanding of what courage is.  If a society misdefines courage, it’s on the verge of barbarism.

—Mark Rutland in Character Matters

My Response:  An issue of which I believe Christians should take a stand is …

Thought to Apply:  It is important that people know what you stand for.  It is equally important that they know what you won’t stand for. —Source Unknown

Adapted from Character Matters (Charisma, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Being an out-and-out disciple isn’t for wimps, Lord.  Give me what it takes to be all Yours.

Time to Count the Cost – Where Most Needed

Daniel's Firey FurnaceKey Bible Verse:  “We will never … worship the gold statue”  – Daniel 3:18

Bonus Reading:  Daniel 3:1-23

Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” was addressed to eight white clergymen who, fearing violence, opposed King’s civil disobedience.  King had been jailed for unlawful demonstrations against the city’s segregationist ordinances.

“How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” King wrote. “The answer is that there are two kinds of laws: just and unjust. … One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

One factor propelling his letter to such explosive influence was that he wrote it from a prison in the epicenter of segregation. Dr. King didn’t move to New York City and carry on his ministry from there.  He didn’t move to Los Angeles and call strategic initiatives from there.  He personally took his ministry to a town where the injustice was at its worst.  The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce bragged about its status as the most segregated city in America.  Today Birmingham has an African-American mayor, and it’s situated in one of the most integrated parts of the country.

—Richard Land in Real Homeland Security

My Response:  A situation in which I should stand up and be counted is …

Thought to Apply:  There comes a time when one must take a position that’s neither safe, nor political, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him that it’s right.—Martin Luther King Jr. (pastor, civil rights leader)

Adapted from Real Homeland Security (Nelson, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Being an out-and-out disciple isn’t for wimps, Lord.  Give me what it takes to be all Yours.