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Staying Power – The Seven-Year Itch

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

Bonus Reading: James 1:1-4, 12

The “seven-year itch” shows up on the job as well as in marriages.  I decided I needed different work.  All I had to do was tell my boss.

Ours had been a turbulent relationship.  I was certain he would be glad to see me go.  I was wrong.

Bob sat on his side of the desk, arms folded.  I looked out the window, then, at him.  “I’m leaving,” I announced.  “I’ve done the best I can, but I need to move on.  Here’s my letter of resignation.”

His eyes followed the envelope.  Silence.  “No you’re not,” he said.

“What did you say?”

“I said you’re not leaving.  We need you.  You’re an excellent employee.  We can’t afford to lose you, Cliff.”  It was a rare compliment.

“Bob, I’m telling you I’m leaving.”

“And I’m asking you to stay,” he said quietly.  “Please?”

More silence.  A songbird sang outside his window.  My eyes filled with tears.  “Then, I will,” I said softly.

“Thank you,” he answered.  “Thank you.”

That was 27 years ago.  I’m still here.  By staying with my organization, I have matured, grown in faith, and learned what it means to serve.

—Clifford Denay Jr. in Michigan

My Response: I’ll consider if my inclination to quit might be a long-term solution to what is really a short-term problem.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve placed me in a challenging spot. Give me the faith, courage, and strength to stand tall there.



Staying Power – Against the Flow

StrengthWho Said It…Les Knotts

Raised in an army family, Les attended West Point and was voted president of his class. Now a lieutenant colonel, he’s alternated infantry, ranger, and airborne assignments with schooling stints, and teaches English courses at West Point.

Les also teaches Sunday school to officers and cadets and their families, and serves on the Military Community Youth Ministries board.

Last summer’s highlight: hiking Italy’s Tuscany hills with his 15-year-old son, Tyler.

What He Said…Against the Flow

The first thrash sounded like someone had fallen into the water.  Monika and I turned just fast enough to see the dorsal red of a fish through his translucent scales.  Thirty pounds of salmon airborne!

After swimming against the current for at least 20 miles, the salmon was climbing these man-made concrete stairs around the falls on a tributary of Oregon’s Alsea River.  I began silently to root for him. “Hup, hup!”

But what was I rooting for? A fish making the ultimate sacrifice. He’d made the run downstream as a fingerling a year or two ago, adapted from fresh water to salt water then back again.

In doing so, he fought not only the current but the tide of extinction, the over-fishing, and the wooden grates blocking the rivers.

In giving the chunks of flesh from his battered and once-piked jaws to make the climb, he offered himself up for the perpetuation of his kind. He was running upstream to spawn and die.

We soldiers talk about tough, but we don’t know tough.

Adapted from Command (Officers’ Christian Fellowship, 5/05).

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, You’ve placed me in a challenging spot. Give me the faith, courage, and strength to stand tall there.


Combined Worship Tomorrow

Combined Worship Service at 10 amOn Sunday, August 30, 2015, we will meet at 10 am at Clinton UMC to worship as a Joint Charge.

A breakfast will follow the worship service, courtesy of the fine folks at Clinton!

Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – The Answerer’s Perspective

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:3

Bonus Reading: Philippians 4:19-20

Say you’re planning a week’s vacation for your family in the Smoky Mountains.  You pile the kids in the car and head for Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

If you were traveling from our city—Louisville, Kentucky—you’d probably think, We’ll make a pit stop at Berea.  That’s about a third of the way.  Then we’ll fill up with gas and eat lunch near Knoxville.  That’ll get us to Gatlinburg in about five hours.

Suppose a half-hour from home your 14-year-old son announces: “Some of my friends are going to Cancun for vacation.  I don’t want to go to the Smokies.  Let’s go to Cancun!”

That request isn’t going to be answered affirmatively no matter how hard he begs.  Going to Cancun is neither in his best interest nor in your budget!  Some of our requests seem as silly as that to God.

But let’s say that an hour down the road your 5-year-old says, “Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom.”  You say, “We’re going to stop in about a half-hour, if you can wait.”  But he insists, “I really need to go to the bathroom.”

In that case, love causes you to alter your plans to fit a reasonable request from a child you want to be happy and comfortable.

—Bob Russell in When God Answers Prayer

My Response: I’ll thank God for sifting my true needs from my cravings.

Thought to Apply: God answers prayers one of four ways: “Yes,” “No,” “Wait,” and “You’ve gotta be kidding!” —Source Unknown

Adapted from When God Answers Prayer (Howard, 2003).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – How to Pray

Prayer 10Jesus made a sweeping promise about prayer. But He made it while the disciples were gawking at the results of His acted-out parable.

The barren fig tree He’d cursed represented His anger at the Jewish leaders’ religious life without substance.

So His promise rested on an understanding about praying with priority given to seeing God receive the glory that is due Him.

Interact with God’s Word

Mark 11:11-16, Mark 11:20-25

  1. What does this Scripture teach about God’s ability to answer even “far-out” prayers?
  2. What immediate requirement does Jesus give (v. 23) for having one’s prayer answered?
  3. What exactly is it that must really be believed?
  4. What limitation to the “anything” of verse 24 does Jesus immediately add?
  5. How does Jesus’ initial statement (v. 22) condition what you may pray for?
  6. What does this imply about prayers based on your own wisdom?
  7. What consequences could prayers that seek to glorify ourselves or satisfy our earthly desires have?
  8. Would it be possible for selfish prayers to provoke Christ’s judgment?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to make Jesus’ glory your greatest desire, highest joy, and deepest fulfillment.

Mark 11:11-16, Mark 11:20-25

11 So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples. 12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit.

14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it. 15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.

20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!” 22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God.

23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.

Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – Better Than We Can Ask

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  – John 14:13

Bonus Reading: John 15:7, 16; 1 John 3:21-22

Verses such as John 14:13 aren’t blank checks. They’re something better: God’s assurance that when we seek Him first, He’ll answer to glorify His Son.

Jesus is most glorified when His wisdom, goodness, and greatness are most on display. So when we dare to “pray backwards,” heaven delights to answer.

But we live in a fallen world.  Biblical prayer doesn’t solve all our earthly problems, and God never promised that it would.  Jesus told His disciples, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33).

But prayer does assure us that no difficulty comes without a purpose.  When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we have God’s assurance that He’ll answer our prayer in a way that brings glory to Jesus and furthers His kingdom.

When the Lord said of the apostle Paul, “he must suffer for me” (Acts 9:16), the Savior was not ignoring the apostle’s prayers but promising to use them beyond Paul’s imagining.

The difficulties Paul would have been crazy to want, God used to glorify the name of Jesus throughout the world—precisely Paul’s deepest prayer whenever he petitioned “in Jesus’ name.”

—Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards

My Response: It’s a relief to know God’s answers aren’t limited by my wisdom or faith because …

Thought to Apply: It is far more important to pray with a sense of the greatness of God than with a sense of the greatness of the problem.—Evangeline Blood (writer)

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – “Unanswered” Prayer

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: We can be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will.  – 1 John 5:14

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 3:20-21

A couple in our church phoned to ask me to pray about a house they wanted to close on. It was near a preferred school and the price was right. We prayed over the phone. Later their realtor called. Someone else had offered a higher price.

More than the deal collapsed. Faith crumbled too. The couple’s disappointment watered previously hidden seeds of doubt that God really cared for them.

We countered their crumbling faith by praying repeatedly that God would provide the best. Then we waited to see what God would do.

Two weeks later the local building inspector, also a friend of the home-searching family, called. In preparation for a loan approval, he’d inspected the house they wanted. It was full of dangerous mold and faulty wiring. Thousands of dollars would be required to make it safe. The family now realized that God had spared them from a financial disaster.

A home that provided for the family’s needs eventually became available. It wasn’t pretty on the outside, but the couple no longer doubted God’s care. Seeing how God had spared them from greater pain made them confident of His love and of the power of prayer.

—Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards

My Response: A prayer experience that deepened my trust in God was …

Thought to Apply: The only time my prayers are never answered is on the golf course.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – Try Praying Backwards

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: Not to us. O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1, NIV

Bonus Reading: Luke 11:1-4

Something in us whispers that it’s not right to treat our God like a celestial vending machine into which we place faith nickels to get the jackpot we want.

Somehow proper prayer must put more trust in the will of an infinitely wise God than in human wants and wisdom. Otherwise failure to get the things we want will force us to doubt either the power of prayer or the ability of God.

Jesus taught His disciples not to doubt when they prayed and to expect answers. If this doesn’t mean that prayer is simply a means of snapping our fingers to get God to do our bidding, what does it mean?

Answers come as we weigh each word—skipping none of Jesus’ instruction to pray with belief and boldness and—strange as it may seem—to simultaneously consider the wisdom of praying backwards.

To pray backwards is to put first priority on the words we say last in our prayers. If we’d remember to start where we end—daring to pray backwards with the desires of our hearts (if not the actual words of our mouth)—we’d discover the foundation of blessing on which all answered prayer is built.

Praying entire prayers in Jesus’ name profoundly alters our priorities and powerfully sends our requests to God.

—Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards

My Response: What enables me to pray without doubt is …

Thought to Apply: Before we can pray, “Lord, Thy kingdom come,” we must be willing to pray, “My kingdom go.”—Alan Redpath (Scottish preacher)

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005).

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – Lifesaving 9/11 Delays

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray.  – Romans 8:26

Bonus Reading: Romans 8:26-30

Ken Smith learned of a company housed in the World Trade Center and decimated by the attack. The survivors, he says, were troubled by the circumstances that separated them from the deaths of their coworkers:

  • The head of the company got in late that day because he wanted to be with a child starting kindergarten.
  • Another man is alive because it was his turn to bring donuts.
  • Another was delayed because of an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike.
  • One missed his bus.
  • One person’s car wouldn’t start.
  • One went back to answer the telephone.
  • A man with new shoes developed a blister. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid.

If any of these were regularly Christians, they might have prayed for God to spare them the inconvenience of that morning. But the inconvenience spared their lives.

Before we adopt a prayer philosophy that requires God to provide all our wants, we must consider the limitations of our understanding.  In our finite wisdom, we may least want what an infinitely wise God will most bless!

—Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards

My Response: A prayer I’m grateful God didn’t answer as I requested is …

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – Wish Upon a Star?

Prayer 10Who Said It…Bryan Chapell

Bryan Chapell is the president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. But he still teaches the introductory homiletics courses.

The two words Bryan stresses for this generation are authority and redemption. Our culture and the church, he observes, are desperate for dependable truths that address the world’s brokenness. And the redeeming work of Christ empowers all we must think and do.

All of God’s Word, he says, is a unified message of human need and divine provision.

What He Said…Wish upon a Star?

When the farmer prays for rain to water wilting crops, and the Sunday school teacher prays for sun to protect the church picnic, whose prayer should be answered? Will God simply answer the one whose prayers are best and whose faith is greatest? Is our world controlled by billions of competing wishes?

When we treat prayer like a surefire wishing star, we tether God to the leash of our understanding. And if our wisdom defines the limits of God’s, then our world will inevitably unravel.

The job we want for extra income may take us from the family that God knows needs us more. The immediate cure for our sickness may deprive us of the patience that God will use to bring Jesus into the hearts of our children.

Surely we have to depend on wisdom greater than our own when we pray. But how do we reconcile this instinctive understanding with the Bible’s teaching about praying for whatever we want?

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


In God We Trust – Relying on God

Relying on GodAs the elected leader of the local synagogue, Jairus was likely responsible for supervising worship, running the weekly school, and caring for the building.

Since many synagogue rulers had close ties with the Pharisees, it’s probable that Jairus had been pressured to withhold support from Jesus. So bowing before Him was a significant, perhaps daring, act of respect.

Interact with God’s Word:  Mark 5:21-24,Mark 5:35-43

  1. Jairus knew his situation to be desperate. When have you been in a similar situation?
  2. How do you think Jairus felt about the diversion (vv. 25-35a) created by the woman with the hemorrhage?
  3. Was the messengers’ comment about not bothering the rabbi logical?
  4. Jairus was of course devastated by their news. But why do you think Jesus told him “Don’t be afraid“?
  5. In what sense is fear—rather than unbelief—the opposite of trust?
  6. How was Jairus’s continued trust tested by the mourning ritual already underway at his home?
  7. How did Jairus and his wife respond to the vindication of their trust? How have you responded?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for the discernment to not misplace your trust, and for calm endurance as you await God’s outcome for your circumstances.

Mark 5:21-24,Mark 5:35-43

21 Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, 23 pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.” 24 Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him.

35 While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.” 36 But Jesus overheard[a] them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” 37 Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James).

38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing. 39 He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” 40 The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying.

41 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” 42 And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. 43 Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve never let me down in my past. So help me to really rely on You for my present and future.


In God We Trust – Uptight Senior

Relying on GodKey Bible Verse: But Jesus ignored their comments and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just trust me.”  – Mark 5:36

Bonus Reading:  Mark 5:21-24, 35b-43

The radio played one popular song after another from 1966—my senior year in college. I sang along, nostalgia oozing out of my pores.

But then I remembered how miserable I was that year. The girl I loved had jilted me; I’d almost gotten into a fistfight with one of my roommates; I was tired of school, uncertain of my calling, and afraid of the future.

Thinking of how good my life had been since then, I murmured gratitude to God for the woman I married, the kids we’d had together, the work He’d graciously given me to do, and the great friends I had.

All my 1966 fears had since been unmasked as frauds. What a waste it had been to be so anxious and fearful back in college. Had I only known, I could have relaxed and enjoyed my senior year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live that year again, I fantasized, knowing what I know now? Too bad I can’t.

But then something glorious occurred to me: I can live from now on knowing that my life is going to turn out fine. I can let God’s future dictate the terms of the present. I can give thanks indiscriminately as an act of hope, acting as though everything God promised about the future is true. Because it is.

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response: I’ll thank God for His promises to watch over me and guarantee my future.

Thought to Apply: Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.—Corrie Ten Boom (Dutch speaker)

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

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve never let me down in my past. So help me to really rely on You for my present and future.


In God We Trust – Now!

Relying on GodKey Bible Verse: Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

Bonus Reading:  Lamentations 3:24-26

Joe knew he was a fundamentally impatient person. It wasn’t that he had bad values and wanted the wrong things in life; he just didn’t know how to wait for what he wanted. And as an adult living in the real world, Joe wasn’t getting what he wanted when he wanted it the way he used to as a kid.

As Joe grew in faith, he learned about the patience of God. He learned too about the patience of faith giants like Abraham and Moses—who went to their graves not fully realizing the work of their lives. Joe realized that his impatience was the cause of many conflicts in his life and tensions in his home.

Joe’s prayer, worship, and reading of Scripture became a search for a new pattern of living. He asked God to help him gain a more relaxed attitude toward life. Gradually, this new attitude took root. Joe’s habits changed so that he began to live life instead of attacking it.

His expectations of his kids and wife became more relaxed. He gave up the notion that he knew how many decades he would live and that he knew the perfect script for his life. His family relationships and friendships developed deeper roots. As a bonus, Joe slept better and had more energy.

—Mel Lawrenz in Patterns

My Response: Is my lifestyle too driven or too relaxed?

Thought to Apply: If the door is shut, don’t put your shoulder to it. Wait till Christ takes out the key and opens it.—John Stott (British pastor)

Adapted from Patterns (Zondervan, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve never let me down in my past. So help me to really rely on You for my present and future.


In God We Trust – The Climber’s Protection

Relying on GodKey Bible Verse: “This is our God. We trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.”  – Isaiah 25:9

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 18:1-3, 30-33

Sixty miles or so up the sunshine coast from Vancouver is the Stawamus Chief, a 2,000-foot-high vertical slab of smooth granite popular with rock climbers. On summer days, they are spread out across its face in varying levels of ascent.

Looking up from the valley floor with my naked eye, the climbers appear to be improbably exempt from gravity. But with my binoculars, I can see that each climber is equipped with ropes and carabiners and pitons.

I’ve listened to my sons—both climbers—plan their ascents. They meticulously plot their route and then, as they climb, put in what they call “protection”—pitons, sturdy pegs constructed from a light metal, hammered into small crevices in the rock face, with attached ropes that will arrest a quick descent to death.

Our protection comes as we remember and hold on to times when we’ve experienced God’s faithfulness in our lives. Every answered prayer, every victory, every storm that has been calmed by His presence is a piton which keeps us from falling, losing hope, or worse yet, losing our faith. Every piton is a steppingstone in our ascent toward our ultimate goal of finishing the race and receiving the crown of glory.

—Eugene Peterson in The Unnecessary Pastor

My Response: A piton of God’s faithfulness that can anchor me as I inch upward is …

Thought to Apply: All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.—Ralph Waldo Emerson (author)

Adapted from The Unnecessary Pastor (Eerdmans, 2000).

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve never let me down in my past. So help me to really rely on You for my present and future.


In God We Trust – Buc Up!

Relying on GodKey Bible Verse: Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. … Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.  – Psalm 37:3, 5

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 37:1-40

When Tony Dungy was fired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach back in January 2002, the media marveled at how he responded to the decision with class, integrity, and faith.

Tony’s wife, Lauren, says that she and Tony have their disappointments and hurts but experience God’s grace and strength in the storm. “When our family, friends, and the community see that we face difficulties like anyone else, then we can communicate how our personal relationship with Jesus Christ sustains us … how God’s Word encourages us in trying times.”

The night after Tony was fired and before he signed as the new Indianapolis Colts head coach, Tony and Lauren invited the Bucs’ staff to their home. The Dungys shared from their hearts what they were going through and distributed copies of Psalm 37 to each person. “Be still in the presence of the Lord,” Tony read, “and wait patiently for him to act.”

While the sports world swirled around them, full of worried ponderings about what they would do, the Dungys calmly read Scripture and trusted God.

—Roxanne Robbins in Sports Spectrum Power Up!

My Response: When adversity strikes, do I panic? Or does reliance on God’s power sustain me?

Thought to Apply: And this be our motto, “In God is our trust.”—Francis Scott Key (in U.S. national anthem)

Adapted from Power Up! (Sports Spectrum, 5-6/02)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve never let me down in my past. So help me to really rely on You for my present and future.


In God We Trust – Lean Which Way?

Relying on GodKey Bible Verse: But when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  – Psalm 56:3

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 56:1-4, 9-13

I was about 12 when I took the terrifying and exhilarating plunge of learning to water ski. In between swallowing my body weight in lake water and torpedoing beneath the surface when I forgot to let go of the towrope, I managed to get vertical on the skis. What a thrill it was!

My dad’s advice struck me as ridiculous: “If you start to fall, lean into it, not away from it, and you’ll come back upright.” Preposterous!

But as I was skittering along the water on wobbly skis, I began to tilt. And somehow, before it was too late, I was able to engage my father’s preposterous-sounding advice and lean toward the fall. It was the hardest, most counterintuitive thing I’d ever done. But darned if it didn’t work, and to my surprise—up I popped back on my feet again!

Astonishing, isn’t it?

When we’re falling and the surface is rushing up at dizzying speed to meet us, two conclusions rush to our consciousness: either God isn’t really all that good after all, or He’s simply not big enough to enforce His good intentions. So we grasp desperately at anything that promises to restore control.

But grabbing on to what seems most natural is the worst thing you can do.  Lean into the fall!

—Jerome Daly in When God Waits

My Response: A counterintuitive instruction of Jesus I need to lean into is …

Adapted from When God Waits (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve never let me down in my past. So help me to really rely on You for my present and future.


In God We Trust – Whose Problem?

Relying on GodWho Said It…Todd Wilson

You may have already met Todd, his wife Debbie, and their six kids through his humorous “Familyman Weekly” column. At Purdue University, Todd told God, “I’ve run the first 20 years; you’ve got the rest.”

After 12 years as a youth and associate pastor, he decided to go with his passion to serve families. To encourage home-schooling parents, Todd spends several months each year traveling with his family in a 30-foot, gas-guzzling RV.

What He Said…Whose Problem?

My friend Kevin stands out—not because he’s tall, thin as a rail, and looks like a misplaced cowboy here in the Midwest, but because of how he trusts God.

Most people pray but trust in hunches. Kevin prays against the odds and, when the situation looks bleak, simply believes God is going to do what’s best for his family and for His own glory. At times I thought he’d have to show at least a little concern, but he didn’t. When he was suddenly laid off from work, he just grinned and said, “Well, I guess God’s going to have to provide in a different way.”

Most people panic, throw all they say they believe about God’s provision out of the window, and scramble to make it happen. Not Kevin. He doesn’t force the issue, rush in to take care of it himself, or throw up prayers of panic. He works hard, does the best he can, and then waits on God to make it happen. And God has never let him down.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve never let me down in my past. So help me to really rely on You for my present and future.


To the Frontlines of Faith – Personal Evangelism

Personal EvangelismInvoluntarily thrust into a pagan culture, Joseph decided to engage it. He served his owner so well that he became “quite a favorite” with him (Genesis 39:4-6).

Then, after being unjustly imprisoned, he earned a position of trust while bringing God into his conversations (40:8).

So when summoned before Pharaoh, he was divinely prepared to exert influence on a national scale.

Interact with God’s Word

Genesis 41:14-16,Genesis 41:33-40

  1. To whom did Joseph give credit for the interpretation of the two dreams?
  2. But whose thinking was behind the famine survival strategy that Joseph sketched out?
  3. What do you think so positively impressed Pharaoh and his advisers in this initial interview?
  4. Do you think your relatives, neighbors, and co-workers perceive you as a person in whom the Spirit of God lives?
  5. Joseph didn’t resist assuming an Egyptian name or taking an Egyptian bride (v. 45). How much of your culture can, and should, you assimilate as you represent Christ in it?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to guide you to know how to positively and effectively represent Christ to those you interact with in your social setting.

Genesis 41:14-16,Genesis 41:33-40

14 Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, and he was brought hastily from the dungeon. After a quick shave and change of clothes, he went in and stood in Pharaoh’s presence. 15 “I had a dream last night,” Pharaoh told him, “and none of these men can tell me what it means. But I have heard that you can interpret dreams, and that is why I have called for you.” 16 “It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God will tell you what it means and will set you at ease.”

33 “My suggestion is that you find the wisest man in Egypt and put him in charge of a nationwide program. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint officials over the land, and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. 35 Have them gather all the food and grain of these good years into the royal storehouses, and store it away so there will be food in the cities. 36 That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come. Otherwise disaster will surely strike the land, and all the people will die.”

37 Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his advisers. 38 As they discussed who should be appointed for the job, Pharaoh said, “Who could do it better than Joseph? For he is a man who is obviously filled with the spirit of God.” 39 Turning to Joseph, Pharaoh said, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, you are the wisest man in the land! 40 I hereby appoint you to direct this project. You will manage my household and organize all my people. Only I will have a rank higher than yours.”

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.


To the Frontlines of Faith – Jocks for Jesus

Personal EvangelismKey Bible Verse: “Paul and Silas have turned the rest of the world upside down, and now they are here.” Acts 17:6

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:14b-16

There’s a dynamic Christian presence within organized sports.  Why?

Because Christians decided years ago to infiltrate that community with the salt of the gospel.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has a ministry in almost every high school and college in America. Athletes in Action provides a way for Christian athletes to win a hearing for the gospel.

Every team in Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA has a chaplain, who provides for weekly chapel services and disciples team members and coaches.

The World Series, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, All-Star Games, major coaching conventions, and NCAA meetings all have prayer breakfasts, luncheons with Christian speakers, or special Bible studies. Many well-known stars make their commitment to Christ very public.

Faith is present in the sports community because believers didn’t run away the minute alcohol was served in a stadium, when games were played on Sunday, when gambling entered the picture.

Instead, they reasoned that because these troubling elements were a part of sports, that was all the more reason for Christians to stay and add as much salt as possible.

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: How could a similar visibility of respected Christian leaders alter my field?

Thought to Apply: Salt retards spoilage. It doesn’t prevent it. I shudder to think about the condition of sports without Christian influence.—Bob Briner

Adapted from Think Before You Look (Living Ink Books, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.


To the Frontlines of Faith – Why Not?

Personal EvangelismKey Bible Verse: “If anyone acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will openly acknowledge that person before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32

Bonus Reading: Daniel 5:1-17

What if a senator or congressman appearing on Meet the Press would say on camera, “Tim, we’re going to be discussing some vital and sensitive issues. I wonder if we could begin with a word of prayer.”

Would CBS pull the plug on the show? Would his constituents immediately mount a recall campaign?

What if you were watching C-Span when your own congressman got up to address the House of Representatives, openly based his remarks on scriptural truth, intelligently delineating how this persuaded him to vote a certain way, and urged his fellow representatives to vote the same way?

Would you say, “Whoa! I believe in the Bible, but this is going too far”?

Well, why should we consent to keep the most important aspect of our lives in a closet?  Gays don’t.

The “politically correct” position is that a person’s religion is private and shouldn’t be publicly displayed.  But is this scriptural?

We need to earn the right to be heard, choose our battles wisely, and be sensitive and respectful.  But can we be the salt He commands us to be if we refuse to acknowledge His ownership of our lives?

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: Does being openly who I am sound farfetched? If so, why?

Thought to Apply: If India is the most religious country on our planet, and Sweden is the least religious, America is a land of Indians ruled by Swedes.—Peter Berger (sociologist)

Adapted from Think Before You Look (Living Ink Books, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.


To the Frontlines of Faith – Rub It In

Personal EvangelismKey Bible Verse: “The Kingdom of God … is like yeast [that] permeated every part of the dough.”  – Luke 13:20-21

Bonus Reading:  1 Corinthians 9:19b-23

Keeping Christ bottled up in the churches is keeping salt in the shakers. Salt must penetrate the meat to preserve it.

Being salt isn’t nearly so much about having more pastors and missionaries as it is about having many more Christian laymen thinking strategically about and acting on ways to build the kingdom in such areas as public policy, advertising, media, higher education, entertainment, the arts, and sports. They must penetrate key areas of culture to have a preserving effect.

That doesn’t mean standing outside and lobbing hand grenades of criticism over the wall. It means being inside through competence and talent, offering scripturally based alternatives to what is corrupting and evil.

When Christians carp and complain but offer no alternatives, the world rolls its eyes and snickers. Only if we offer a “more excellent way” do we command or deserve attention.

I’m calling for a radically different way of thinking about our world. Instead of running from it, we need to rush into it. Instead of hanging around the fringes of our culture, we need to be smack dab in the middle of it.

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: A believer I know who wields respected influence with his colleagues is …

Thought to Apply: The world we confront is aggressively pagan. The only adequate answer is for Christians to recover the New Testament power of spiritual aggression.—Karl Barth (Swiss theologian)

Adapted from Roaring Lambs (Zondervan, 1993)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.

To the Frontlines of Faith – … or Salt?

Personal EvangelismKey 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 41:14-16, 33-40

Could the most critically acclaimed director in Hollywood one day be a layman active in his church? Could the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting go to a Christian journalist on staff at a major daily newspaper?

Is it too much of a stretch to think that a major exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art could feature the works of an artist on staff at one of our Christian colleges? Am I out of my mind to suggest that your son or daughter could be the principal dancer for the Joffrey Ballet Company, leading a weekly Bible study for others?

I don’t think so.

Why should we be so ready to encourage our children to become ministry professionals but stand in the way of their becoming journalists, actors, photographers, and painters? Do we believe God is strong enough to take care of His own only as long as they stay within the safety of the Christian ghetto?

The Bible is filled with examples of people like Joseph, who not only served as adviser to the “president” of his day, but used that position to influence the entire land. If we’re obedient to our Lord’s call to go into all the world, we’ll begin reentering the fields we’ve fled.

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: What field am I equipped to penetrate with Christian values?

Thought to Apply: [Christians] must plunge into social and political problems in order to have an influence on the world, not in the hope of making it a paradise, but simply in order to make it tolerable.—Jacques Ellul

Adapted from Roaring Lambs (Zondervan, 1993)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.



To the Frontlines of Faith – Scorekeepers…?

Personal EvangelismKey Bible Verse: I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.  But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers. … You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  1 Corinthians 5:9-10

Bonus Reading: Romans 12:14-21

Our responsibility isn’t to keep score. The ultimate victory will be ours, but it won’t happen here.

If we’re effective, we’ll thrill to see the Holy Spirit turn our efforts into positive benefits in the lives of some around us, but evil will survive, even prosper. We’re to keep living for Christ and leave the results to Him.

The scorekeeping mentality is most pervasive in our approach to television. Well-meaning but ineffective Christians spend much of their time monitoring telecasts to tell us how many acts of violence, sexually explicit scenes, and anti-Christian plots are seen on the nation’s networks.

Our job, it seems to me, isn’t so much to monitor evil as it is to provide alternatives to evil.

If the resources used to survey all those hours of television, report those results, and organize a boycott had been used to produce and distribute even one quality national program that pointed viewers to the more excellent way, that would be of more value than all the scorekeeping.

Participating in a boycott of products of companies sponsoring trashy TV programs might make us feel righteous, but has little to do with real influence.

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: Do I tend to protest or seek to provide better alternatives?

Adapted from Roaring Lambs (Zondervan, 1993)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.


To the Frontlines with Faith – The Amateur Edge

Personal EvangelismWho Said It…Bob Briner

Bob Briner was a leading figure in professional sports management, an Emmy Award-winning producer, and president of ProServe Television. He wrote regularly for the New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

With Michael W. Smith, he co-hosted the nationally syndicated radio show Roaring Lambs. Bob wrote a book with the same title, and while battling cancer in 1999, struggled to finish one more book during his final weeks on earth—pulling it off just in time.

What He Said…The Amateur Edge

The conventional wisdom says that Christianity’s best spokespersons are the Chuck Swindolls and the James Dobsons of the church. But guess what.

Out where I spend my professional life—in the headquarters of the television networks and in the advertising agencies in New York and in the offices of the professional sports leagues—people have never heard of either one. They are both extraordinarily effective at speaking to and equipping Christians. But we are not applying what they are teaching us.

It is my firm belief that the most effective spokespersons for Jesus Christ in the public arena will:

  • Have never asked for money on radio or television.
  • Not be on the payroll of any Christian organization.
  • Through competence and class in their own “secular” profession, have earned the right to be heard.
  • Be a superb communicator.
  • Know and love God’s Word.
  • Understand that Christianity is relevant to life.

Adapted from Roaring Lambs (Zondervan, 1993)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.


Grace for the Other Guy – Loving Our Neighbor

Loving Your NeighborThis passage is part of the much-loved climax to Paul’s explanation of forgiveness of sin through Christ and of freedom from sin’s grasp.

It sets these realities in the broader context of God’s purpose for all who’ve responded to His call through the gospel, and the Holy Spirit’s role in shaping the desired result and assuring our solid standing into eternity.


Interact with God’s Word

Romans 8:29-34

  1. Have you thought of yourself as chosen by the eternal Father to be a brother to His Son?
  2. How does knowing you are chosen make you feel?
  3. Why, according to verse 29, has God called you to come to Him?
  4. What does verse 30 tell you God gave you when He included you as a brother of Christ?
  5. What did Jesus do in the past (v. 34) to secure your right standing?
  6. What is He doing now to sustain that standing?
  7. Who is the guarantor (v. 33) of your right standing?
  8. What is the future for Jesus’ brothers and sisters?
  9. How should you value brothers and sisters whom Jesus died for and the Father chose?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for choosing you and the brothers you relate to. Ask Him to make you each more like the divine Brother you seek to follow.

Romans 8:29-34

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.


Grace for the Other Guy – Sinner Saint

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: The Father … has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:12, NIV

Bonus Reading:  Col. 1:9-14

Ryan and Sam shrank from disclosing reality in their lives to each other. Although saved, they instinctively knew they’d still be condemned as sinners. But after connecting with the truth of grace for the first time, the two walked up to me.

“Sam here and I’ve been close friends for years,” Ryan said. “Over lunch we did the exercise about choosing to believe that we’re each saints. And I learned something about Sam that he’s kept hidden from me.” Ryan turned to Sam. “Why don’t you tell Bill what you just told me?”

Sam said, “I told Ryan that a while back I acted out an unhealthy behavior, and that right now I’m deeply tempted to do so again. In fact, I just wish someone would hit on me.”

Ryan responded, “You’ve lied to me for years, Sam. I feel hurt and confused. Before, if you’d told me the stuff you just did, I’d have rejected you. But today I’m proud of you for telling me. I don’t have a clue how to help you. But I know you’re a saint, Sam—one with deep issues that are freaking me out right now. But I’ll stand with you.”

Now the masks were off. Each saw the other as a fragile and compromised, but dearly accepted saint.

—Bill Thrall in TrueFaced

My Response: What mask must come off if I’m to reach out to others?

Thought to Apply: If we don’t accept Jesus in one another, we will not be able to give him to others.—Mother Teresa (Albanian missionary to India)

Adapted from TrueFaced (NavPress, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.

Grace for the Other Guy – Convicted Convict

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: Now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. Hebrews 2:11

Bonus Reading:  Romans 8:29-30

The third day I was at the federal prison at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, it rained.  The groundskeepers work detail to which I was assigned was excused from duty.  Finding an empty spot in the dayroom, I read my Bible and came across the Key Bible Verse for today.

That verse hit me hard. I suddenly saw life differently. The men around me weren’t “murderers,” “armed robbers,” and “drug dealers.” They were brothers, human beings just like me.

Some of them had done terrible things, sure.  But so had I.

I might have some talents that society rewarded more highly than it did the talents of these men, but those abilities had been given to me at birth. I’d nurtured them, it’s true, but I’d also misused them time and again. Anything that might distinguish me from these other men, I realized, was a difference in degree, not in kind.

We were all gifted and flawed people, and I could no longer pretend I was qualified to judge anyone.  Who was I to place myself apart?  I became convinced—no, convicted—that in God’s eyes, I was fortunate to be someone, like my fellow prisoners, of whom Jesus was not ashamed.

—Charles Colson in The Good Life

My Response: Colson says, “I never truly understood people until I was crushed.” I think the reason for that is …

Thought to Apply: Be as patient with others as God has been with you.—Source Unknown

Adapted from The Good Life (Tyndale, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.


Grace for the Other Guy – Attitude Check

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: So why do you condemn another Christian?  Why do you look down on another Christian?   – Romans 14:10

Bonus Reading:  Romans 14:11-13

I had never liked “Jerry,” a Christian leader in my community.  True, I’d never met him.  Yet I “knew” that Jerry oozed arrogance—and I “knew” that he didn’t respect me.  Why would I want to meet a person so stuck-up and judgmental?

One day as I filled my plate at a local diner, I turned and came face to face with Jerry.  Flustered, I said, “Hello, Jerry. I don’t think we’ve ever met. My name is Matt Woodley.”

Jerry’s eyes lit up. “Oh, my goodness,” he effused. “I’m so happy to meet you, I’ve heard so many good things about you and your church.  I hear you’re having such a positive impact on this community.  I even hear you’re a writer.  I have so much respect for you.  It’s good to meet you!”

I felt myself shrinking in shame. I had assumed that Jerry’s heart seethed with noxious attitudes toward me. A stingy spirit entraps us in suspicion, self-righteousness, and misery.

But people like Jerry reveal a Christlike commitment to see the best in other people, until it’s proven otherwise. They refuse to rely on hearsay or assumptions; instead, they base their opinions on face-to-face and heart-to-heart conversations. Generosity of spirit makes us and God very happy.

—Mathew Woodley in Discipleship Journal

My Response: When in doubt, do I assume the best or the worst? Why?

Thought to Apply: Generosity of spirit builds Christlike relationships; stinginess of spirit undermines and eventually shatters them.—Mathew Woodley (New York pastor)

Adapted from Discipleship Journal (7-8/05)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.


Grace for the Other Guy – Pecking Order

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Bonus Reading:  Romans 13:8-10

When I was in fifth grade, nobody hung out with two boys: Ted, a geek who wore thick glasses, talked with a high-pitched voice, and wasn’t very athletic; and Johnny, who was overweight and older, because he’d failed fifth grade twice.

One spring day our teacher sent Ted and Johnny out of the room on an errand. Then she said to the class, “Before recess twice a day, you choose sides for kickball; and every time Ted and Johnny are selected last.  Why not try something different?  Why not do for them what you’d want them to do for you?”

The next day, I was captain for one of the kickball teams. If I close my eyes, I can still see the joyful surprise on Ted’s face when I chose him first for my team. And I’ll never forget the excited expression on Johnny’s face when the other captain selected him first.

Was this a big thing?  No.  We’d merely treated them with dignity and respect.

And that’s all we need to decide to do as we encounter waiters and cashiers, blue-collar laborers and white-collar executives, neighbors and friends, children and parents, people in trouble or just muddling through life.  As we do, they’ll be impacted.  And so will we.

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: This is Lee’s clearest memory from fifth grade. I think that’s because …

Thought to Apply: Love stretches your heart and makes you big inside.—Margaret Walker (African American poet)

Adapted from God’s Outrageous Claims (Zondervan, 1997, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.



Grace for the Other Guy – “I Knew It!”

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified.  – Romans 15:7

Bonus Reading:  Romans 15:2-6

As volunteers in the local Young Life club, Mike and Karla Yaconelli befriended a student whose father, an alcoholic, had emotionally and physically abused his entire family. They worked with the young man for six months.

The Yaconellis were remodeling their house and needed new kitchen tile laid. The only professional available was the young man’s father. Reluctantly Mike agreed to employ him—but only after obtaining a legal bid.

The boy’s father performed the work. On his last day, Mike asked him to drop by his office later for his check. He replied that he would because he needed to talk to Mike about the money. “I knew he’d try to cheat us,” Mike muttered to Karla. He braced himself for a confrontation.

At the end of the day, the boy’s father entered Mike’s office and began to talk as he wrote out his bill. He acknowledged that he’d abused his family. He told how he’d observed Mike’s involvement with his son change the boy’s life.

After seeing his son’s change, he said, he’d gone to AA and remained sober ever since. He handed Mike the bill, saying, “I’ve never been able to thank you, but I’m thanking you now.” It showed the agreed-upon bid price, and was marked “paid in full.”

—Howard Butt Jr. in Who Can You Trust?

My Response: Given the same situation, would I even have hired the father?

Adapted from Who Can You Trust? (WaterBrook, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.



Grace for the Other Guy – God’s Penetration Play

Loving Your NeighborWho Said It…Mike Singletary

Mike Singletary is one of the most determined and accomplished players in NFL history. In the 12 seasons (1981-1992) that “Samurai” Singletary played linebacker for the Chicago Bears, he was twice named NFL defensive player of the year, and named ten times to the Pro Bowl team.

Mike is outspoken about his faith and family (he and Kim have seven children). In 2005, he became the assistant head coach and linebacker coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

What He Said…God’s Penetration Play

While speaking in prisons, I urged inmates to reconcile with their fathers.  Kim called me on it: “Mike, how can you tell other people to reconcile with their loved ones when you won’t call your dad? Are you going to forgive him or is the blood of Jesus going to be in vain?”

My parents got a divorce when I was a kid. I’d sided with my mom, refused to forgive my dad, and hadn’t talked to him for years. God finally made it clear that I had to act. I made the call. There was screaming and crying. We both almost hung up. But we stayed with it, and talked for three hours. I forgave my dad, he forgave me, and we started a new relationship.

A couple of months later, I visited my dad. We hugged, and for the first time in my life, I told him I loved him.  As we talked, I began to understand the dynamics that shaped him.

Now he’s bedridden.  It’s a good thing we got our relationship right while we could still enjoy each other.

Adapted from Mike Singletary: One-on-One (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time!  Help me to dish it out to others.