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Firm but Fair – Godly Parenting

ParentingNumerous Bible passages develop our understanding of God as the righteous one who judges our sin.

But this passage balances that aspect of His character with His incredible compassion and mercy.

This Psalm, it is true, is primarily about God’s care of His people. But it also implies a good deal about the characteristics of a model human father.

Interact with God’s Word:  Psalm 103:6-14

  1. What beneficial side of God’s action as judge is highlighted in verse 6?
  2. What indicators has God given us as to what He is really like (v. 7)?
  3. What two things (vv. 8-9) are noted about God’s anger?
  4. How does this compare with your boiling point and cool-off rate?
  5. What do David’s word pictures (vv. 11—12, tell you about the extent of God’s love and forgiveness?
  6. Do you hold resentments about past rule infractions by your kids that have been dealt with?
  7. How is our heavenly Father like a model human father (vv. 13-14)?
  8. What does this say about allowances you need to make for immaturity in your children?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for the ability to mirror His love and control as you raise your children.

Psalm 103:6-14

6 The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. 7 He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious; he is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love.

9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. 10 He has not punished us for all our sins, nor does he deal with us as we deserve. 11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12 He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west. 13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. 14 For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust.

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.


Firm but Fair – Beat the Boomerang

ParentingKey Bible Verse:  Your own actions have brought this upon you. Jeremiah 4:18

Bonus Reading:  Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-30

Your teenagers will attempt to shift the discipline focus, blaming you: “You’re making me do my chores so I can’t be with my friends.”

Like most teens, my son didn’t rise early.  His habit of sleeping in put the whole family behind in the morning.

He also began getting tardy slips at school.  So Patsy and I found ourselves in a power struggle.

One morning, I briefly considered going into his room to drag him out.  Instead, we decided to transfer to him the responsibility for this choice.  We worked it out with the school that if he received six tardy slips, he’d have to stay after school for two hours, cleaning up trash around the grounds.

“We’re not going to argue with you any more about getting out of bed,” I told my son, “but if you get up late, we’re also not going to rush to get you to school on time.  If you’re late, you’re late.  It’s your choice.  And you know the consequences.”

Guess how many tardy slips he had at the end of the semester?  That’s right, five.  He never seemed to get the sixth one.  Somehow he found the strength to get out of bed every morning because we transferred the responsibility to him.

—Patrick Morley in The Dad in the Mirror

My Response: Here’s one area in which I can transfer responsibility …

Thought to Apply: Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.—Booker T. Washington (educator)

Adapted from The Dad in the Mirror (Zondervan, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.


Firm but Fair – Room for the Golden Rule

ParentingKey Bible Verse:  Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it. Proverbs 22:6

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 7:1-5,12

Let’s look back at yesterday’s situation to see why I call it “firm but fair.”

If Roger’s father had wanted to, he could have been strictly firm and said, “No game for you this morning. The rule is ‘No chores, no soccer.'”

Instead, however, he bent a little bit and let Roger do his chores, then drove him to the game.  Being late was consequence enough for Roger in this situation.

But if Roger continues to fail to get his chores done by Friday night, then his dad will probably have to simply say “No game at all.”

The firm-but-fair family works to build a sound sense of self-worth in all the members, including the parents.  It avoids the extremes of being too rigid or a wimp.  You’re willing to listen, understand, and, on occasion, bend a little.

The parent is left in charge but, in the flexible atmosphere, children have freedom to think, ask questions, and disagree with parents.  They can feel angry, frustrated, sad, or afraid, and express this in an appropriate way.  They can learn from their mistakes without feeling crushed or stifled by authoritarian insensitivity.

Being firm but fair applies the Golden Rule of parenting: “Treat your kids as you would want to be treated.”

—Kevin Leman in Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down

My Response: Why would rigidly sticking to the agreement terms not be the best solution?

Thought to Apply: A father who teaches his children responsibility provides them with a fortune.—Source Unknown

Adapted from Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down (Nelson, 1995)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

Firm but Fair – Scored Point

ParentingKey Bible Verse:  No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful!  But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.  – Hebrews 12:11

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 12:5-11

Eleven–year–old Roger has again neglected his weekly assigned chores—cleaning his room and the dog pen.  He’s supposed to have these tasks done by Friday night.  But it’s now 8:30 Saturday morning.  His soccer game starts in half an hour.

Dad tells Roger, “You’re room isn’t clean and the dog pen’s filthy.  Our agreement is that these chores are to be done by Friday night.”

“But, Dad, there was such a good program on TV, and I just forgot.”

“Well, you’d better get your room and the pen cleaned up right now.”

“But, Dad, I’m going to be late for my soccer game.  The team needs me.  I’m the only goalie we’ve got!”

“Roger, ol’ buddy, I know you’re going to be late, but you’re just going to be later if all you do is argue.”

Roger rolls his eyes and goes off muttering to clean his room.  Twenty-eight minutes later he’s done.   By the time his dad drives him across town to the field, he’s a good 35 minutes late and the game is underway. Roger’s coach is unhappy and benches him until the second half.  Roger’s team loses by one goal—scored in the first half.

—Kevin Leman in Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down

My Response: Why would overlooking Roger’s lapse in doing his chores be a mistake?

Thought to Apply: Better the child should cry now than the father later.—German Proverb

Adapted from Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down (Nelson, 1995)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.


Firm but Fair – Cool Conservation

ParentingKey Bible Verse:  The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.  – Psalm 103:13

Bonus Reading: Psalm 103:6-14

Let’s alter yesterday’s scenario.  Dad finds the messy tool bench, goes in and finds Jason playing Nintendo, and says, “Jason, would you come out to the garage with me a minute?”  Once there, they survey the workbench and Dad says, “It looks like you were trying to fix your bike.”

“Yeah, I was,” says Jason, embarrassed. “Then I went in the house for something and I forgot to finish working on the bike—besides, I couldn’t quite make it work anyhow.”

“Well, let’s see what’s wrong with your bike,” Dad can say.  He can help Jason make the adjustment he wasn’t strong enough or experienced enough to make himself.  Then he might add, “Now let’s remember to put the tools away, okay?”

From this experience Jason can learn that fixing his bike isn’t impossible—he just needs a little help and instruction.  He can also learn that Dad won’t bite his head off if he forgets to put the tools away.

Does this scenario sound too good to be true?

It’s the kind of thing parents need to do if they want children to learn from mistakes, and not just feel they’re more and more of a failure.  But Dad has to keep his cool.

—Kevin Leman in Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down

My Response: One way I could make discipline a more positive experience is …

Thought to Apply: Govern a family as you would cook a small fish—very gently.—Chinese Proverb

Adapted from Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down (Nelson, 1995)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.


Firm but Fair – Lost Cool

ParentingKey Bible Verse: Fathers, don’t aggravate your children.  If you do, they will become discouraged and quit trying. Colossians 3:21

Bonus Reading:  Ephesians 6:4,9

Our kids need the courage to be imperfect—to make mistakes and then learn from them instead of having their self-image undermined.  When they make a mistake that looks careless or thoughtless, it’s so easy to come down with all four feet, which only makes them feel more of a failure.

For example, Dad finds his tools spread from one end of the workbench to the other.  He can see that little Jason has been trying to fix his bike, but now the place is a disaster, and Jason is nowhere to be found.

After storming into the house, Dad finds Jason playing Nintendo.  He grabs him by the arm, marches him out to the garage, and says, “What is all this?  How many times have I told you to put away the tools when you use them?”

Jason is mortified (not to mention petrified).  Now he remembers.  He’d been working on his bike when Mom called him into the house to answer a phone call from a friend.  After hanging up, he forgot about his bike and decided to play Nintendo.

But how can he tell Dad that?  Instead, Jason just tells himself, “I made Daddy mad. I guess I just can’t do anything right.”

—Kevin Leman in Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down

My Response: How does my disciplining style make allowance for my kids’ learning curve?

Adapted from Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down (Nelson, 1995)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.


Our New Babies!

Newborn Lacey catches a little nap during her Baby Shower at Central Church.

Newborn Lacey catches a little nap during her Baby Shower at Central Church.

Today following our morning worship service, Central Church hosted a baby shower for our two newest additions.

Welcome Hope and Lacey, and congratulations to their proud parents (whose next challenge will be to reclaim their children form all those in our congregation who wanted a chance to hold these precious little ones)!

Firm but Fair – “It’s Not Fair!”

ParentingWho Said It…Pat Kavanaugh

Dr. Patrick Kavanaugh, a musician whose compositions range from electronic music to opera, is the father of four sons.  He coached their soccer teams, and later joined them in wrestling and pick-up football.

Pat’s interests include shooting pool, memorizing Scripture, reading drama and poetry, and bowling—not necessarily in that order.

Pat has been a minister of music for more than 20 years.  He is executive director of the Christian Performing Artists’ Fellowship.

What He Said…”It’s Not Fair!”

Children cry that for good reason.  No one wants to live in a world without justice.

That’s why a child raised in a permissive home tends to grow up insecure.  In the short run, he may delight in getting away with wrongdoing without penalty.  But in the long run, he lacks the conviction and security that result from a home in which correction is doled out consistently, fairly, and without delay.

Administering justice is one of the toughest responsibilities of parenting.  On one extreme are softhearted parents who can’t bring themselves (or take the time and effort) to discipline children, who clearly need it.

On the other extreme are parents who punish in anger and are abusive to their children.

Bible verses that implore us to discipline our children aren’t given simply so that we’ll keep them in line.  They call us to model God’s own justice, a part of His very nature.  Children raised in evenhanded homes learn to appreciate God’s sovereign justice.

Adapted from Raising Children to Adore God (Chosen, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, help me to reflect Your justice and mercy in the way I discipline my children.

Engaging Our Communities – Community Outreach

Community OutreachSeveral sections of the Book of Isaiah (in Isaiah chapters 42-53) are sometimes called Servant Songs.  Isaiah applied the term servant to the nation Israel.  But he also used it to refer to Israel’s promised Messiah.

For today’s passage, this second sense is clearly intended. One confirmation of this is that Matthew quotes it (in Matthew 12:18-21) while writing about Jesus as that Messiah.

Interact with God’s Word

Isaiah 42:1-7

  1. What two roles did God say (v. 6) He had called His Servant to fill?
  2. How, according to verse 1, was the Servant strengthened to perform God’s calling?
  3. How would traits of the Servant (in vv. 2- 3a) encourage marginalized people?
  4. How might aspects of the Servant (in v. 3b) threaten powerful people?
  5. What does verse 4 add about the importance of pursuing justice to God?
  6. What about the Servant do you think caused God to express His pleasure?
  7. As God’s (small S) servants, how might similar involvements by us please Him?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Lord, like your chosen Servant, let me demonstrate gentleness, encouragement, justice, and truth where you have placed me.

Isaiah 42:1-7

1″Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, and I am pleased with him. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will reveal justice to the nations. 2He will be gentle—he will not shout or raise his voice in public. 3He will not crush those who are weak or quench the smallest hope. He will bring full justice to all who have been wronged.

4He will not stop until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.” 5God, the LORD, created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the earth and everything in it. He gives breath and life to everyone in all the world. And it is he who says, 6″I, the LORD, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will guard and support you, for I have given you to my people as the personal confirmation of my covenant with them. And you will be a light to guide all nations to me. 7You will open the eyes of the blind and free the captives from prison. You will release those who sit in dark dungeons.”

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach

Engaging Our Communities – Get Up and Go

Community OutreachKey Bible Verse:  I will cause my people and their homes around my holy hill to be a blessing.  – Ezekiel 34:26

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 5:13-16

After years of sobriety, there I was sitting on a barstool. Rows of festive bottles beckoned me. However, I was content with my glass of Diet 7-Up®.  God and I had worked out my drinking problem long ago.  I was in the bar for a higher purpose.

I’m a member of a new church in a rural area where there’s been none for almost 100 years. When we first built the church, the locals were indifferent to our invitations to join us for worship. We soon realized they wouldn’t be interested in our faith until they knew we cared about them. So we decided to go out and make friends.

My part was to start an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group. I found some prospects in the bar that afternoon. An AA group now meets regularly, and some of the members have achieved sobriety. Others in my church started a community food bank; it’s highly successful. We also made our church basement available as a free community center; it’s used regularly.

One man told me recently, “When you first built the church, we all laughed. But I see now that it’s a good thing. You’re helping people.”  We think it won’t be long before some enter the kingdom of God.

—Mike Raether in Montana

My Response: How could my church become a valued asset in my community?

Thought to Apply: People don’t care about your creeds until they see your deeds.—Rick Warren (pastor & author)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach

Engaging Our Communities – …to Engagement

Community OutreachKey Bible Verse:  Work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon.  – Jeremiah 29:7

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 82:3-4

[continued from yesterday]  Then it dawned on me. These suburban Christians, steeped in individualism, could only understand a vision for the rebirth of a community through the lens of saving souls and adding to the church rolls. Reclaiming dangerous streets, regenerating fallen systems, transforming corrupted political power were aspects of God’s redeeming work in the world omitted from their biblical teaching.

It would be wrong to diminish in any way the wonder of God’s transforming work in the heart of a man. It would be equally wrong to devalue the importance of worship. But there’s more to salvation than the saving of an individual soul. Redemption also has societal implications.

Closing down a crack house that is destroying the lives of youth is at least as redemptive as rescuing a child from its clutches. Organizing a crime watch to eliminate break-ins is an important part of establishing the shalom that God desires for all His creation. People of faith must be engaged in transforming places as well as people.

The love of neighbor—not a small concern to God—is better seen and more effectual on the streets where we live than behind the walls where we worship.

—Robert Lupton in Renewing the City

My Response: What do we need to do to improve our community?

Thought to Apply: It is good and right that we reach into the river of despair and rescue people who are drowning. But it is time to move upstream and see who’s throwing them in.—Edmond Browning (New York minister)

Adapted from Renewing the City (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach

Engaging Our Communities – Beyond Relocation…

Community OutreachKey Bible Verse:  You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor?  – Matthew 5:13

Bonus Reading:  Genesis 13:12-13, 19:9; Genesis 14

Ten years ago I challenged a downtown congregation to change the blighted neighborhood around its church. Members moved in and took seriously the command to love their neighbors as themselves.

Last month I was invited back. The pastor’s son, now an associate, showed me a city map with a blue dot where each church family lived. The blocks around the church were nearly solid blue. “How many members live here now?” I asked, amazed.

“Nearly 250!” he smiled. He had bought a home here. So had his dad and several staff.

“So what’s happened in the community?” I asked eagerly. They’d started an after-school tutoring program, summer camp, ESL classes, a counseling ministry to single moms, he told me. They’d formed a community development corporation and hired a director.

“But has crime gone down?” I persisted. “Has drug trafficking dried up? Has prostitution left? Has education in the schools improved?”

“No,” the young pastor admitted, “not really.”

“Is there a vision for the community?” I pressed. The question drew puzzled looks and more talk of evangelism and getting people into the church. [continued tomorrow]

—Robert Lupton in Renewing the City

My Response: Does my church fill a role in my community beyond evangelism?

Thought to Apply: The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its nonmembers.—William Temple (English diplomat & author)

Adapted from Renewing the City (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach


Engaging Our Communities – They’re Showing Up Here!

Community OutreachKey Bible Verse: If you pay special attention to the rich, you are committing a sin.  – James 2:9

Bonus Reading:  Deuteronomy 10:17-19

Over 25 years Mile High Ministries had done a remarkable job of cleaning up Denver’s roughest neighborhood, and now they were beginning to work in Aurora, the edge city to which many of the poor were migrating. Director Jeff Johnsen had assumed that Aurora’s mayor, an active Christian, would be pleased to have his ministry’s support. But that wasn’t the case.

“The poor aren’t coming here,” the mayor told Jeff as they drove together toward Aurora’s poorer side. Jeff knew better. His staff was spending time and gas money shuttling folks back and forth from Aurora to their Denver center. To tactfully correct the mayor’s misperception, Jeff pointed out apartment complexes and cheap motels the migrants were moving into.

“You misunderstood me,” the mayor interrupted. “The poor are not coming here!” It was his duty, he told Jeff, to keep his city safe and prosperous. “As a Christian, I love what you’re doing. But as a public official, there’s no way I can support your bringing this kind of thing to my city.” He wanted no services that would make the masses, inclined to vice and lawlessness, feel more welcome in Aurora.

—Robert Lupton in Renewing the City

My Response: Do I keep my Christian ideals separate from my expectations as a citizen?

Thought to Apply: Justice can be secured in Athens only if those who are not injured feel as indignant as those who are.—Solon (Athenian statesman)

Adapted from Renewing the City (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach



Engaging Our Communities – Stepping Up

Community OutreachKey Bible Verse: Pure and lasting religion … means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles.  – James 1:27

Bonus Reading:  Luke 14:12-14

Dan, a leader in our church, learned of a single mother, Karen, who was emotionally beaten up in life. She needed to move to our area from out of state, but lacked the funds. Dan arranged and paid for a moving truck. He found guys to load the truck, then drove it to her new apartment, where I joined other guys in moving her in. Karen was visibly moved by our work and the fun we had doing it.

She joined the Bible study/sharing group that met weekly in Dan’s home, and our church. Through Bible study and group discussions, Karen learned how to avoid land mines that had shaken her life and move to safe ground, God’s ground. The group coached her in sound parenting skills. Knowing she was being constantly prayed for helped Karen feel secure.

Aware that the children’s father had cut them off, some men carved out time for them. They took them on outings and played basketball and other sports with them. They guided, challenged, and encouraged them.

Karen and her kids learned that godly men exist, can be trusted, and counted on to follow through. This changed their perception of God—from distant and indifferent, to Someone they can trust.

—James Hilt in Wisconsin

My Response: A way I could demonstrate God’s goodness to someone else is …


Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach


Engaging Our Communities – Gentrification and Paranoia

Community OutreachWho Said It…Bob Lupton

Bob Lupton says, “The call I felt while serving in the armed forces in Vietnam caused me to leave a budding business career and pursue a ministry with delinquent urban youth” in Atlanta.

Realizing that a lasting impact on young lives required involvement with their families, Bob formed Family Consultation Service (FCS). Next, he reshaped it into a community development organization, FCS Urban Ministries, to combat the negative impact of their environment on families.

What He Said…Gentrification and Paranoia

Cities long in decline are experiencing an awakening. Condo conversions and rising rents are pushing low-income residents out to suburban communities. These unwelcome new neighbors trigger fears that the problems of the big city are invading the suburbs. But they are filling a host of important, difficult-to-fill jobs. And people of faith, who’ve spent millions on mission trips, can now serve the culturally different right in their own back yards.

Suburban church volunteers led the way in constructing homes in the inner city. Now they face the need for affordable housing in their own communities. It will take more than youth groups and paint-bucket brigades to get the job done. The talents of businessmen will be required to devise the essential mixed-income housing strategies.

Our protected lifestyles are about to be changed. It’s a moment that presents us with the opportunity to get it right. I hope we’re up to the challenge.

Adapted from Renewing the City (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You warned us about being flavorless salt or concealed light. Help us penetrate our communities with Your love and justice.

Local Outreach


Spiritual Balance – Mature Leadership

Spiritual BalanceThe apostle Paul constantly engaged young men in on-the-job training to ensure that they would be mature, balanced leadership in the churches after he was gone.

Titus traveled with Paul, was given special assignments, and then made responsible for the churches of Crete.

In this passage, Paul stresses to him how right teaching lays the basis for a pattern of right living that fits both sexes and all ages in the church.

Interact with God’s Word:  Titus 2:1-15

  1. How is right living a reflection of right teaching (vv. 1, 7b?)
  2. What qualities (v. 2) make older men deserve respect?
  3. Paul states (v. 4) that older women should pass their values on to younger women. How does this letter demonstrate that the same applies to men?
  4. In what areas (v. 6) does Paul advise that young men need encouragement?
  5. Would following Paul’s guidelines for slaves (vv.9-10) make the gospel attractive where you work?
  6. Why, according to verse 14, did Jesus give His life for us?
  7. What should this motivate us to turn away from (v. 11)?
  8. What other positive motivation (v. 13) furnished us with God’s perspective on “this evil world” in which we live?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for a balanced understanding of His Word that motivates you to actively put it into practice in every area of your life.

Titus 2:1-15

1 But as for you, promote the kind of living that reflects right teaching. 2 Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have strong faith and be filled with love and patience. 3 Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that is appropriate for someone serving the Lord. They must not go around speaking evil of others and must not be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good.

4 These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, 5 to live wisely and be pure, to take care of their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. 6 In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely in all they do.

7 And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good deeds of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. 8 Let your teaching be so correct that it can’t be criticized. Then those who want to argue will be ashamed because they won’t have anything bad to say about us.

9 Slaves must obey their masters and do their best to please them. They must not talk back. 10 or steal, but they must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.

14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right. 15 You must teach these things and encourage your people to do them, correcting them when necessary. You have the authority to do this, so don’t let anyone ignore you or disregard what you say.


Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch me off on some siding.  Please keep me on the mainline of Your will for me.


Spiritual Balance – Warning Signs

Spiritual BalanceKey Bible Verse: Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and affections.  – Psalm 26:2

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 139:1-6, 23-24

Like an out-of-round tire on an accelerating car, signs of an imbalanced life start out as a slow thump-thump-thump.

The truly important, eternal part of our lives—prayer, the spiritual disciplines—is usually the first to be overlooked, and ignoring the thump seems to bring no immediate consequence.  But as the pace picks up, the thump becomes louder, perhaps as the nagging complaints of loved ones and colleagues.

Turning up the car radio drowns it out, but soon the steering gear is shaking.  Your whole system’s out of whack, ready for a breakdown.

Maybe you should have run the diagnostics first:

  • Is relating to God a duty or delight?
  • Is your spouse complaining of loneliness?
  • Are you serving and enjoying fellowship in your church?
  • Do you make time to rest and enjoy leisure pursuits?
  • Have you isolated yourself from any deep, honest relationships?
  • Have you become more patient, kind, compassionate, or humble over the past year?
  • Will anything you’re doing earn eternal commendation? Or are you stuck on the hamster wheel of accumulating possessions and awards that will burn up at the end?

—Carolyn McCulley in Life@Work

My Response: Which diagnostic alerts me to a need for prayerful, prompt correction?

Thought to Apply: When [work] is carried to the extent of undermining life or unduly absorbing it, work is not praiseworthy but blameworthy.—Ralph Turnbull (writer)

Adapted from Life@Work (11-12/00)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch me off on some siding. Please keep me on the mainline of Your will for me.


Spiritual Balance – Balance Beam

Spiritual BalanceKey Bible Verse:  Only simpletons believe everything they are told!  The prudent carefully consider their steps. Proverbs 14:15

Bonus Reading:   Acts 17:10-12

The Devil would love for you to believe that all moderation and compromise is of him.  But balance provides a stable base for building a revolution of love.

We need to find and maintain the middle ground about:

  • Work and worship. Some feel that praising God is the be-all and end–all. Others are more anxious to get out on the streets to start the Christian revolution. But if we’re going to do an effective job, it won’t be by our own might but by the Spirit of God.
  • Reckless faith and common sense. Christians are called to have faith, not to be credulous. It’s important to pray for discernment. Just because a man has a nice face, a good build, a pleasant manner, and a reputation for being godly, doesn’t mean that every word he says is true. Many naïve Christians, believing anything that sounds spiritual or involves a miracle—particularly if it’s in book form—have been misled.
  • Submission and individual guidance. If leaders lord it over their flock, serving themselves rather than God, they begin to lose their leadership credentials. If you’re under authority, be careful not to follow blindly or to let the leader carry all the responsibility for guidance.

—George Verwer in No Turning Back

My Response: Which of these three areas is my current challenge?

Thought to Apply: Enthusiasm is of the greatest value, so long as we are not carried away by it.—Johann Von Goethe (German poet)

Adapted from No Turning Back (Tyndale, 1983)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch me off on some siding. Please keep me on the mainline of Your will for me.


Spiritual Balance – Either/Or Fallacies

Spiritual BalanceKey Bible Verse: Don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. … be mature and wise.  – 1 Corinthians 14:20

Bonus Reading:  Luke 11:37-42

Some believers emphasize attending retreats for a fresh peak of awareness and commitment. But it’s more than “letting go and letting God.”

The process of growth towards maturity is primarily your responsibility and should be happening 365 days a year. “Let the Holy Spirit fill and control you” (Ephesians 5:18) is a scriptural imperative.  But so is “Let the words of Christ … live in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16).

Some maintain that a half-hour quiet time is indispensable. They insist on planning everything in detail.

Others feel that such disciplines are a devilish restriction of freedom, a temptation to rely on the flesh rather than the Spirit.

I’ve heard several (rather bad) sermons for which the preacher felt it was unspiritual to prepare. Yet both messages are in the Bible. There’s a time to step out in faith that things will work out—sometimes we have no choice; but there’s also a place for using the wits God gave us.

Some Christians so emphasize the anointing of the Spirit that they insist Bible schools, and careful teaching are of the Devil. What nonsense!

We desperately need trained theologians, pastors, and missionaries who are humble, broken, and filled with the Spirit.

—George Verwer in No Turning Back

My Response: An “either/or” I need to start viewing as a “both/and” is …

Thought to Apply: Scripture nowhere condemns the acquisition of knowledge. It’s the wisdom of this world, not its knowledge, that is foolishness with God.—H. A. Ironside

Adapted from No Turning Back (Tyndale, 1983)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch me off on some siding. Please keep me on the mainline of Your will for me.


Spiritual Balance – Negate the Negative

Spiritual BalanceKey Bible Verse:  He is the divine Yes—God’s affirmation.  For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in him.  – 2 Corinthians 1:19-20

Bonus Reading:  Titus 2:1-15

Many people have a basically negative outlook on life, with a streak of cynicism. If this continues to fit you, you and your wife will end up miserable, and your children will end up negative—about you!

There’s nothing wrong with seeing the negative side provided you’re prepared to work your way through to the positive side.

Sometimes we have to reprove another believer, though always in love. If you can’t speak hard truth in charity, then let someone else do it. You’re disqualified.

If we make our message and concerns 80 percent love and 20 percent judgment, then I reckon we have the balance about right.

Perhaps you’re a young Christian, anxious to impact your neighborhood with an aggressive outreach. Already you can see the elders at your church shaking their heads and muttering, “We tried that in 1954, and it didn’t work. You’ll only turn people off.”

Satan is keen to polarize old and young, pitting zeal against experience. Youths often condemn the established church.

One cult called it the “system” and urged people to leave it. Rebellious young people did so in great numbers.

Ironically, they ended up probably more regimented than in any branch of the Christian church.

—George Verwer in No Turning Back

My Response: I’d score my own love/judgment ratio as …

Thought to Apply: God, help us not to despise or oppose what we do not understand.—William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania)

Adapted from No Turning Back (Tyndale, 1983)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch me off on some siding. Please keep me on the mainline of Your will for me.

Spiritual Balance – Devilish Division

Spiritual BalanceKey Bible Verse: Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly … and working together with one heart and purpose. Philippians 2:2

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 5:11-6:1

Our enemy isn’t a funny character with horns and a pitchfork, but a clever, even attractive, being who deceives and sows havoc.

Once a person commits his life to Jesus, Satan does all he can to get him off on a tangent so that his Christian life will lose its impact.

His goal is to polarize us into different camps, sniping away at one another, rather than working together against him. Tempers rise, people grow upset, and start reacting to one another in the flesh. After polarizing comes paralyzing, and the Devil has won!

We are in a war situation. But that doesn’t mean our fingers always need to be on the trigger. Those who are militantly orthodox can often be unloving. It’s easy to end up with your doctrines all correctly labeled, ready to hit your neighbor over the head!

We also need to distinguish between basic Christian principles and the policies of a particular church or movement. I’m amazed at how Christians can get so uptight about trivial matters. Musical tastes, style of dress, using pews or chairs in church, all can cause confusion and division.

—George Verwer in No Turning Back

My Response: A distinctive I treasure, but which should not alienate me from faith-brothers, is …

Adapted from No Turning Back (Tyndale, 1983)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch me off on some siding. Please keep me on the mainline of Your will for me.


Spiritual Balance – Swinging Pendulum

Spiritual BalanceWho Said It…James I. Packer

Time recently called him a “theological traffic cop.” “The [evangelical] movement has no formal arbiter,” it noted.

But “J.I. Packer, 78, an Oxford-trained theologian, claimed the role informally with his 1973 book Knowing God, which outlined a theology deeper and more embracing than many Americans had encountered.”

Jim, a Christianity Today executive editor, teaches theology at Regent College in Vancouver.

What He Said…Swinging Pendulum

Fifty years ago, evangelicals taught Christian living legalistically: “Don’t smoke or drink, cheat, lie, or chew, and don’t team up with those who do.”

In those days, avoiding the world’s defilements was the main concern. This school of thought discounted the idea that Christians are free to enjoy God’s creation while they try to change the world for the better.

Reaction against that thinking has led now to an opposite extreme. Many Christians have uncritically bought into the self-indulgent lifestyle of the secular world. Biblical condemnation of sexual irregularity and the self-serving quest for wealth, pleasure, and power is ignored, and the behavior patterns of most Christians seem indistinguishable from those of unbelievers.

In short, ghetto legalism has given way to uninhibited worldliness. Reaction? Yes. Recovery of balance? No.

Shall we ever achieve Christlike balance and involvement in the world on the basis of being utterly different from it? Let us try!

Adapted from Leadership (Fall/88)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that Satan would love to switch me off on some siding.  Please keep me on the mainline of Your will for me.


Spurn Spin – Honesty

HonestyWas Paul’s change in travel plans dishonest or fickle?

No, he explains. During a brief, painful visit to the church in Corinth, he’d told them when he planned to return. By then, he’d assumed, the church would have resolved its disunity.

When the time came for Paul’s scheduled return trip, however, the crisis hadn’t been fully resolved. Fearing that another visit just then might aggravate things, he decided to bypass Corinth and reschedule his visit.

Interact with God’s Word: 2 Corinthians 1:12-14, 17-19a, 23

  1. What two criticisms about bypassing Corinth (v. 17) does Paul anticipate or respond to?
  2. How does he characterize how “people of the world” make commitments?
  3. Why does Paul say (v. 18) he makes sure his word is reliable?
  4. What does Paul tell the Corinth church (v. 23) is the reason for putting off his visit?
  5. How does adding the sincerity element (v. 12) set the bar higher than technical honesty alone?
  6. How does Paul’s assertion that “there is nothing written between the lines” in his letters (v.13) flesh out what straightforward communication involves?
  7. Can you match Paul’s confidence and clear conscience (v. 12) about your own talk?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you filter spin out of your conversation so that it becomes transparently truthful.

2 Corinthians 1:12-14, 17-19a, 23

12 We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have been honest and sincere in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own earthly wisdom. That is how we have acted toward everyone, and especially toward you. 13 My letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. I hope someday you will fully understand us, 14 even if you don’t fully understand us now. Then on the day when our Lord Jesus comes back again, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you.

17 You may be asking why I changed my plan. Hadn’t I made up my mind yet? Or am I like people of the world who say yes when they really mean no? 18 As surely as God is true, I am not that sort of person. My yes means yes 19 because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, never wavers between yes and no. He is the one whom Timothy, Silas, and I preached to you, and he is the divine Yes–God’s affirmation.

23 Now I call upon God as my witness that I am telling the truth. The reason I didn’t return to Corinth was to spare you from a severe rebuke.

Prayer for the Week:  I realize, Lord, that You desire honesty from the heart.  But I kid myself and fudge the truth to impress others.  Help me to change.


Spurn Spin – Polite Prevarication

HonestyKey Bible Verse: Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all its wicked deeds.  – Colossians 3:9

Bonus Reading:  Jeremiah 9:3-9

When I started to scrutinize my own behavior, I was amazed—even horrified—by how often I was tempted to lie and by how often I did lie before I could stop myself.

For instance, seeing an old friend, I said, “Oh, it’s good to see you. I’ve been thinking about you so much recently.” In truth, I’d thought about this friend for only a fleeting moment a few days before our chance meeting. “So much” was more than an exaggeration; it was a lie that slipped out before I could catch it.

I know I’m not alone. Christians find it all too easy to say things such as “I’ve been praying for you” when they really haven’t been.

Or their excuses for declining an invitation leave truth in the dust. “I’m sorry, I have another engagement” sounds so much better than “I really prefer not to have dinner with you.”

Lying pervades our society. We may have become so accustomed to truth twisting that we don’t recognize the tendency until we shine the piercing light of Scripture on our lives.

If over the next few days you pay close attention to your interactions with others, odds are you’ll find yourself struggling to be fully honest.

—Mark Roberts in Dare to Be True

My Response: This weekend I’ll monitor how much my words compromise the truth.

Thought to Apply: When you add to the truth, you subtract from it.—Talmud

Adapted from Dare to Be True (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: I realize, Lord, that You desire honesty from the heart. But I kid myself and fudge the truth to impress others. Help me to change.

Spurn Spin – Contagious Candor

HonestyKey Bible Verse: In the end, people appreciate frankness more than flattery.  – Proverbs 28:23

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 1:12-14, 17-19a, 23

After I preached on spurning spin, Steve promised himself and God that he would no longer place blame elsewhere to excuse his own behavior. A few days later, he told me, he failed to allow enough driving time to make it to a meeting.

Arriving 20 minutes after the meeting began, he took his seat and apologized. “I’m sorry I’m late,” he began. “I can only blame my own poor choices. I didn’t allow enough time to get here. Please forgive me.”

His honesty stunned everyone in the room. Finally, the meeting leader said, “Well, I’m sorry you’re late too, but thanks for being honest about why. That’s the kind of openness we need in this meeting.”

A lively conversation on the benefits of greater honesty in their business ensued. Then another person entered the room out of breath, offering the usual blame-everything-else kind of excuse. The others laughed because this man’s spin looked foolish in light of Steve’s gutsy honesty.

Steve said that the quality of conversation for the rest of the meeting was unusually frank. The same tone continued in the days that followed. His renunciation of spin was contagious and transformed the work environment.

—Mark Roberts in Dare to Be True

My Response: Have I found telling the frank truth more often resented or appreciated?

Thought to Apply: Nothing more completely baffles one who is full of tricks and duplicity than straightforward and simple integrity in another.—Charles Caleb Colton

Adapted from Dare to Be True (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: I realize, Lord, that You desire honesty from the heart. But I kid myself and fudge the truth to impress others. Help me to change.

The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Most Difficult To Be A Christian

Christian Persecution - 2015 World Watch List of Worst 50 Countries

New research reveals one more reason to remember 2014: for the greatest number of religious freedom violations against Christians worldwide in recent memory—even in Christian-majority countries.  Of the worst 50 nations, 4 out of 5 share the same primary cause.  And, while the number of martyrdoms did double from 2013, the main driver of persecution in 2014 wasn’t violence.

Open Doors released late yesterday its latest World Watch List (WWL).  The annual list ranks the top 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.

During the past year, the worldwide level of persecution of Christians has increased, even in places where it has not been reported in the past.

Although countries such as Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) fell significantly in rank on this year’s watch list (Sri Lanka dropped 15 spots to No. 44, and the UAE dropped 14 spots to No. 49), their level of persecution dropped only slightly from last year’s list (by four points and two points, respectively, on a 100-point scale).  And while three countries—Bahrain, Morocco, and Niger—were removed from the list this year, the level of persecution in each remained virtually the same from 2013 to 2014.

Overall in 2014, pressure on Christians increased in 29 countries, decreased in 11, and remained stable in 7.  Three countries—Mexico, Turkey, and Azerbaijan—were added to the watch list this year.

Open Doors researchers measure persecution by “the degree of freedom a Christian has to live out his or her faith in five spheres of life (private, family, community, national, and church life),” as well as by tallying acts of violence.

Researchers calculate that 4,344 Christians were “killed for faith-related reasons” in 2014, which is “more than double the 2,123 killed in 2013, and more than triple the 1,201 killed the year before that,” reports World Watch Monitor (WWM). (Open Doors is usually on the conservative end of estimates.)

By far the largest number of deaths occurred in Nigeria, where 2,484 Christians were killed; the next deadliest country for Christians was the Central African Republic (CAR), with 1,088 deaths.  The remaining three deadliest countries were Syria (271 deaths), Kenya (119 deaths), and North Korea (100 deaths).

In addition, 1,062 churches were “attacked for faith-related reasons” in 2014.  The majority of attacks took place in five countries: China (258 churches), Vietnam (116 churches), Nigeria (108 churches), Syria (107 churches), and the Central African Republic (100 churches).

Last year’s highest-profile incident: a government campaign to “de-Christianize” the skyline of one of China’s most Christian cities.

But it wasn’t increased violence that primarily drove persecution to record levels in 2014, but rather increased “cultural marginalization,” according to Open Doors.  In other words, the “more subtle ‘squeeze’ dimensions of persecution” which make “daily life … harder and harder” for Christians.  A substantial study by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 75 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries with high levels of social hostility involving religion.

“Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and violence,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.”

  • One of those Christian-majority countries is Kenya, which made the biggest leap on the list—from No. 43 on last year’s list to No. 19—even though about 83 percent of Kenyans are Christians. A rash of religious violence over the summer spiked tensions and left 100 dead.
  • And in Nigeria, where approximately half the population is Christian, murders and kidnappings by the militant group Boko Haram (most notably of 165 Christian schoolgirls) helped the West African nation reach the top 10 for the first time, rising from No. 14 last year to No. 10 this year. (CT noted how Boko Haram’s terrorism is changing Nigeria’s churches.)

African countries saw the largest increase in persecution in 2014. Along with Kenya in the 2015 report, Mali and the Central African Republic saw the highest increases in persecution in the 2013 and 2014 reports, respectively.  This year, Djibouti, Tanzania, Somalia, and Comoros all rose more than seven spots on the list. “Many other countries in this region are boiling below the top 50 also, and may feature in the future,” noted Open Doors.

The primary culprit in Africa and worldwide: “Islamic extremism,” which was the “main persecution engine” in 40 of the 50 countries on the 2015 watch list, including 18 of the top 20 countries (only 6 of which are in the Middle East).

The No. 2 driver of persecution was “dictatorial paranoia,” or “where leaders seek to control religious expression,” noted Open Doors. “It is the main persecution engine in 10 countries, including North Korea, and shows up as a secondary persecution engine in 16 more countries.”

And while “organized corruption”‘ is the main driver of persecution in only Colombia and Mexico, it is No. 3 (after “Islamic extremism” and “dictatorial paranoia”) “when its status as a secondary engine is taken into account,” noted Open Doors. “Christians increasingly have to pay a heavy economic price to remain faithful to Christ.”

Overall, persecution increased more rapidly in Sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world, according to Open Doors. Djibouti moved from No. 46 in 2014 to No. 24 this year—the second-biggest leap after Kenya. Tanzania jumped 16 spots to No. 33, and the island nation of Comoros rose 10 spots to No. 32. Eritrea rose from No. 12 to No. 9, and Sudan—where Meriam Ibrahim was imprisoned and sentenced to death for her faith, but was later released and gained asylum in the United States—rose from No. 11 to No. 6.

The top five rankings remained virtually the same as last year, with North Korea at No. 1, followed by Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The “biggest surprise” of the year: Malaysia, especially the fight over Allah Bibles.

Three of the top five countries are in the Middle East, where targeted attacks have emptied many regions of Christians, reports Open Doors. Many fled from the advance of the Islamic State in 2014; in fact, more than 70 percent of Christians have left Iraq since 2003, and more than 700,000 Christians have fled from Syria since 2011, according to Open Doors. Only a remnant remain.

  • Holding steady for the 13th year as the worst place for Christians to live is North Korea, where Open Doors reports up to 70,000 Christians are held in prison camps for their faith. The country garnered media attention in 2014 with the November release of American missionary Kenneth Bae after two years in prison, the detainment of American Jeffrey Fowles for leaving behind a Bible, and the arrest and release of 75-year-old Australian missionary John Short.  (South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jong-Uk is still imprisoned after receiving a life sentence in June for allegedly working with underground churches.)

Overall in Asia, Open Doors had been “reporting improving conditions for Christians in the Far East in recent years,” noted WWM, but “the trend reversed course in 2014, when every country on the list but Laos and Sri Lanka received a higher persecution score. China, India and Malaysia registered the largest increases. Twelve countries from East Asia and the Far East are among the top 50.”

Persecution in India, which rose to its highest ranking ever (No. 21), has ramped up since Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist and the only politician ever banned from the US for religious freedom violations, was elected as prime minister in May. Modi’s silence on the more than 600 attacks on non-Hindus that occurred during his first 100 days in office, as well as conversion efforts like the planned Christmas reconversion of 5,000 Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, have been controversial enough to stymie India’s parliament.

“The goal of the World Watch List is to keep Christian persecution on the radar of those enjoying the privileges of freedom,” said Curry. “The perpetrators of persecution need to know that the world is watching and stands in opposition to persecution. And for the persecuted, we want them to know that they are not forgotten.”

And Open Doors did identify some “good news trends” amid the dark headlines:

  • “Ancient enmities between Christians in the Middle East are slowly dissolving in the white heat of violence and persecution.”
  • “New co-operative relationships are being forged between Muslim and Christian in the Middle East caldron that could have wonderful long term benefits.”
  • “China is still undecided about how to deal with the church. … If Christianity can sound, look and be Chinese enough, we might just see the church continuing to be invited to play a fuller role in the building of the new China.”
  • Western governments are engaging with religious communities in working against extremists like never before.”

WWM offers a detailed report on the 2015 World Watch List, as well as a trend analysis, the complete scores of each country, further details on the top 20 countries and the remaining 30, and an examination of religious violence.

The State Department and USCIRF disagree on which countries deserves censure for mistreating religious minorities.  The State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” includes: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.  In April 2014, USCIRF recommended the addition of Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

Please remember in prayer our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, especially those living and attempting to be faithful to God in the many countries that continue to actively persecute Christians.




Spurn Spin – Ends and Means

HonestyKey Bible Verse: I speak the truth and hate every kind of deception. … There is nothing crooked or twisted. Proverbs 8:7-8

Bonus Reading:  1 Thessalonians 2:1-5

At the church college group I began attending as a freshman, the college pastor delivered a stirring message on sharing the gospel with our friends. Then he passed out a “Religious Interest Survey” that featured a series of questions leading up to the clincher: “What do you believe about Jesus?” He urged us to use it to poll students in our dorms, then invited questions.

“What’s the deadline for getting these surveys back to you?” I asked.

The pastor responded with a chuckle, “Oh, don’t worry about that. We aren’t going to tabulate the results. This is simply a way to get people talking about Jesus.”

“But if we tell people this is a survey,” I followed up nervously, “aren’t we implying that we actually care about their answers? Is it honest to call this a survey when we’re not really surveying what people think?”

“Look,” he replied with a touch of irritation, “it’s a survey; we’re just not tabulating the answers. Lots of businesses and churches do things like this. It’s just a conversation starter. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.”

I didn’t take any “surveys” back to campus. Nor did I return to that college group.

—Mark Roberts in Dare to Be True

My Response: Where am I expected to bend the truth? Have I gone along?

Thought to Apply: Some people live their whole lives just around the corner from the world of truth. —CARL F. H. HENRY (journalist, theologian)

Adapted from Dare to Be True (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: I realize, Lord, that You desire honesty from the heart. But I kid myself and fudge the truth to impress others. Help me to change.

Spurn Spin – Lying Lips, Quivering Knees

HonestyKey Bible Verse: Truth stands the test of time; lies are soon exposed. Proverbs 12:19

Bonus Reading:  John 8:31-36

During my mid-twenties, when people asked me if I played any sports in high school, I’d always say, “Yeah, I ran track and played soccer.” Technically, that was true. I’d run around the track and I did play soccer—in P.E. class. I was never on either the soccer or track team at good ol’ Tucker High school.

But somewhere along the way I’d begun believing that a real, respectable, worthwhile man had to have accomplished something athletically. Every time I told that lie, I felt terrible and vowed not to repeat it. But I couldn’t bring myself to look somebody in the eye and say, “No, I never participated in a team sport.”

Finally, during my third year in seminary, of all places, I was forced to deal with this character flaw. A friend of mine rushed up to me at church and said he had some great news: he thought because of my athletic experience he could work it out for me to become chaplain for the SMU football team. My heart sank down into my socks. My friend was thrilled. And I felt like throwing up.

That’s when I knew I had a real problem. After a week of real soul searching, I got busy replacing those lies with truth, and soon I was free.

—Andy Stanley in Louder than Words

My Response: From what entangling deception do I need to break free?

Thought to Apply: You didn’t tell a lie, you just left a big hole in the truth.—Helen Thomas (journalist)

Adapted from Louder than Words (Multnomah, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  I realize, Lord, that You desire honesty from the heart. But I kid myself and fudge the truth to impress others. Help me to change.

Spurn Spin – Out for a Spin

HonestyKey Bible Verse:  So put away all falsehood and “tell your neighbor the truth” because we belong to each other. Ephesians 4:25

Bonus Reading:  Zechariah 8:16-17

When my high-school friend Mike first received his driver’s license, his mom allowed him to use her car but forbade him to drive on the freeway. But Mike and I were convinced that we knew better than his mother, and bravely challenged the California freeways.

Knowing that his mom might question us about Mike’s driving, however, we crafted a brilliant spin on our behavior. Sure enough, after one of our illicit road trips, his mom asked bluntly, “Mike, did you drive on the freeway today?”

Without hesitation and with a hurt tone in his voice, Mike answered. “Mom, I know the rules. Of course I drove on the surface streets.” As he spoke, I nodded fervently. (Mike did know the rules and we had driven on the surface streets—on our way to the freeway.)

The combination of Mike’s earnest testimony and my bobbing head duped Mike’s mom. She apologized for questioning his integrity, and Mike avoided losing his driving privileges.

We didn’t tell an outright lie, but fabricated a deceptive half-truth. This was spin, pure and simple, because we intended to mislead, while failing to confess the truth that deserved to be spoken.

—Mark Roberts in Dare to Be True

My Response: Have I recently spun the truth for self–protection or self–promotion?

Adapted from Dare to Be True (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: I realize, Lord, that You desire honesty from the heart. But I kid myself and fudge the truth to impress others. Help me to change.

Spurn Spin – Here’s the Pitch

HonestyWho Said It…Mark Roberts

Mark has been senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California for 14 years.  Before that he was education pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Dr. Roberts’s degrees are from Harvard University.

Mark is an active blogger (  He enjoys hanging out with his wife Linda and their two children, biking, and playing “home improvement” around the house.

What He Said…Here’s the Pitch

As a major league pitcher puts spin on a curve ball to confuse a batter, so the verbal spinner twists the truth to keep the listener off balance.

Spin, said former CNN Crossfire host Bill Press, is hard to define. “It’s not the truth. Neither is it a lie. Spin lies somewhere in between: almost telling the truth, but not quite; bending the truth to make things look as good—or as bad—as possible; painting things in the best—or worst—possible light.”

We can’t escape spin. Politicians spin their positions. Advertisers spin their products. Coaches spin their losses. Students spin their low grades. Spouses spin their marital messes. Corporate executives spin their bottom lines. Employees spin their mistakes.

Most of us can spin with the best of them, saying things that are true in some sense, but not speaking the full truth that ought to be spoken. And we excuse our lack of truthfulness or even congratulate ourselves on our cleverness.

Adapted from Dare to Be True (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: I realize, Lord, that You desire honesty from the heart. But I kid myself and fudge the truth to impress others. Help me to change.

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“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”  – Psalm 96: 1-3



Broken Wholeness – Help from God

God will hlep youDavid was in despair, pleading for help, when he wrote this psalm. Throughout history, men going through times of struggle and distress have been drawn to this and other psalms of David in which he poured out his feelings to God with tell-it-like-it-is honesty.

David modeled a dynamic, powerful, life-changing friendship with God as he confessed his sins, expressed his doubts and fears, and praised and worshiped. Let his honesty guide you into your own deep, genuine relationship with God.

Interact with God’s Word

Psalm 13:1-6

  1. What phrase occurs four times in verses 1-2?
  2. So what is David’s complaint?
  3. Does it have to do with God’s ability or His timing?
  4. How do David’s opponents appear to him (vv. 2, 4)?
  5. Is David taking his complaint to the right place?
  6. Trace how talking his problem out with God shifted David’s perspective—from vv. 1-2 to vv. 3-4 to vv.5-6.
  7. On what is David’s concluding optimism about his future based?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Commit to God the issues you are currently struggling with, thanking Him for past rescues and expressing your trust as you wait for His answers.

Psalm 13:1-6

1 O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? 2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

3 Turn and answer me, O LORD my God! Restore the light to my eyes, or I will die. 4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. 6 I will sing to the LORD because he has been so good to me.


Prayer for the Week: Hear my cry, for I am very low. Rescue me … so I can thank you.

Broken Wholeness – We Are Honored

God will hlep youKey Bible Verse: Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  – 2 Timothy 2:3

Bonus Reading:  2 Timothy 3:10-12

Oh February 11, 1973, then-Captain Jeremiah Denton returned home after years of captivity as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He made his way down the steps of the plane, stopped in front of a microphone and said, “We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances.”

I wonder if this is how the believer will feel when he stands one day before God?

God entrusts to some of His servants—without explanation—the most difficult circumstances. Just look at Job, Joseph, Daniel, and the early martyrs.

A young man released from an oppressive, atheistic regime was asked, “What was it like, being persecuted for your faith?”

“We thought it was the normal Christian life,” was his surprising, yet candid, reply.

He was right. It is Christians in the West who are living abnormally. Personally, I am grateful for the “abnormality.” But if it doesn’t last, we must not question, complain, or become bitter. Instead let us accept each day as the Lord sends it, living obediently and faithfully and not fearing what may come. We know that the glory ahead will obliterate the grim past.

—Ruth Bell Graham in Decision

My Response: Am I open to the “honor” of suffering for Christ?

Thought to Apply: You have granted me many blessings; now let me also accept what is hard from Your hand. —Dietrich Bonhoffer (German pastor executed by Nazis)


Prayer for the Week: Hear my cry, for I am very low. Rescue me … so I can thank you.

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's ResolutionsHappy New Year!  2014 is officially in the books, and 2015 holds unlimited possibility.

The most common resolution is to get healthy—whether that means losing weight, working out, or a combination of the two.  But most plans for getting healthy lack a critical element: God’s Word.

While it might seem strange to consult the Bible for weight loss advice, Scripture has a lot to say about body issues.  God cares about our physical bodies.  We’re created with a purpose, and we must learn to take care of our bodies so we can fully live out that mission.

Why not make one of your resolutions this year to spend some time each day in God’s Word and learn what God has to say about our purpose and our bodies, and learn how to set realistic, achievable goals for living a healthy lifestyle?


Broken Wholeness – Broken Bread

God will hlep youKey Bible Verse: Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come … not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough. Luke 5:31-32

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 12:1-10

My clinical depression came to light during my first year away from home at Bible school. I came home confused, frightened, and deeply in need of help. But not appearing normal scared off the people who’d been around me before. “What happened to the old Dave?” they asked.

It’s not easy living with the reality that something’s fundamentally out of kilter with you. After a seven-year search, I found a doctor I could communicate with. He prescribed a medication that made a serious difference. The two pills I take each day quiet the waves of emotion that once crippled me. I’m now able to face the challenges of my life head on.

One Sunday as I sat and took communion, I was reminded that my dependence on God parallels my dependence on my medication to live a full life. It’s the symbol that I’m a broken and sinful man—and the symbol of the cure.

The hardest thing to do sometimes is stand up and say, “I’m broken. I need help.” But if I ever want to get well, it’s what I have to do. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in reading the Bible, it’s that God is a god of broken, imperfect people.

—David Shepherd in Alberta

My Response: I’ll tell God where I’m hurting right now—and ask for His healing.

Thought to Apply: Do not free the camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel. —G. K. Chesterton (British jounalist, writer)

Prayer for the Week: Hear my cry, for I am very low. Rescue me … so I can thank you.