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An Inside Job – Steamed

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

Bonus Reading:  Proverbs 31:10-12

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

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

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

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

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

—Ken Sande in The Peacemaker

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

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

Adapted from The Peacemaker (Baker, 1991, 1997)

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

An Inside Job – Lord of the Swing

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

Bonus ReadingJohn 21:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Lonnie Allison in CenterLine

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

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

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

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

An Inside Job – Rough Day at the Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Steve Marr in Business Proverbs

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

Adapted from Business Proverbs (Revell, 2001)

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

An Inside Job – Boring to Meaningful

Military Desk JobWho Said It…Doug Wendel

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

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

What He Said…Boring to Meaningful

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from Discipleship Journal (9-10/99)

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

Double Exposure – Teaching Your Children

Father Teaching His ChildrenToday’s scripture passage was written by Asaph, one of King David’s temple musicians, to introduce a long song he composed.

He wants us to know that he wrote it as a memory aid.  Singing it would help the Jewish nation grasp and retain key lessons from its history.

His introduction stresses a truth as valid now as then: Our children cannot be expected to assimilate our faith unless we make an effort to articulate it to them.

Interact with God’s Word

Psalm 78:4-8

  1. What characteristics of our generation—and those that preceded ours—do we want to spare our children from (v. 8)?
  2. If they are to be spared from repeating the same mistakes previous generations made, what is required of their parents (vv. 4-5)?
  3. How might the truths of God’s Word that we treasure remain “hidden” from the perspective of our children?
  4. What positive results can we expect when we succeed in communicating our faith to our children (v. 7)?
  5. What deliberate steps are you taking to convey God’s requirements and your own faith to the next generation?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Name any sins you are aware of to God so that in spite of His holiness He can forgive you on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death, and restore your fellowship with Him.

Psalm 78:4-8

4 We will not hide these truths from our children but will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD. We will tell of his power and the mighty miracles he did. 5 For he issued his decree to Jacob; he gave his law to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, 6 so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—that they in turn might teach their children.

7 So each generation can set its hope anew on God, remembering his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. 8 Then they will not be like their ancestors—stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God.

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stay connected with the children you’ve entrusted to me, and to steer them away from the dangers they’ll encounter.

Double Exposure – Hashing It Over

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

Bonus Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Hey, sport, heard a couple of guys got kicked off the team for testing positive for drugs. Wasn’t one of them your friend Matt?”

“Yeah. I think the school overreacted. Matt’s a senior, Dad. Probably going to lose his athletic scholarship.”

“He had a lot to lose. Why do you think he risked it?”

“It was that party at Charlie’s house. Someone showed up with a lot of beer and weed. It just got out of hand.”

“The Smiths allowed drinking and marijuana?”

“Duh! Dad. Charlie’s parents were out of town.”

“So, why didn’t Matt just refuse?”

“It’s not easy when everyone else is doing it.”

“How could Matt have avoided what happened?”

“He could’ve left when the booze and blunts showed up.”

“What other choices did Matt have?”

“Well, not go to the party.”

“Was that the only alternative?”

“Have the party where the parents were home?”

“Or … ?”

“I know what you’re driving at, Dad. I invited Matt to shoot some pool over here and he turned me down. So he had some choices.”

“Right. And choices have consequences.”

—Ricky Byrdsong in Coaching Your Kids in the Game of Life

My Response:  What could I use as a teaching tool?

Thought to Apply: The gift of learning to make good choices is the most valuable and long-lasting gift a parent can give a child.—Pat Holt & Grace Ketterman

Adapted from Coaching Your Kids in the Game of Life (Bethany, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to stay connected with the children you’ve entrusted to me, and to steer them away from the dangers they’ll encounter.

Double Exposure – Listen Up!

Father Listening to SonKey Bible Verse:  A word to you Fathers.  Don’t make your children angry by the way you treat them. Ephesians 6:4

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 78:4-8

Most fathers complain that their sons don’t listen to them. But we have it backward.

As we’re leading them to view God as intimately safe and entirely faithful, we’re called to be listeners. Listening is a powerful relational tool. If you commit to being physically present and listen with undivided focus, your son will eventually believe you actually care about him—what he thinks, what concerns him, and how he sees and experiences life.

At first this may be tough; we’ve been conditioned to think our role is to direct and define our sons’ lives. But if you steadfastly “waste time” with your son, you’ll soon find opportunities to connect with him. He’ll begin to sense that you have his best interests at heart, and you can season your listening with words of encouragement to trust God.

It’s as if Ephesians 6:4 is saying to Christian dads, “You want to create an environment for your son to discover and experience me? Treat him with respect, love, and tenderness. Correct him with great care, and appropriately discipline him with specific and clear reasoning. Do what you can to affirm his basic manhood. Then … step back and watch me work.”

—Chap Clark in From Father to Son

My Response:  Could ways I correct or push my kids be exasperating them?

Thought to Apply:  We cannot overestimate the power of an active, engaged parent and what that can mean to a child.—John Ashcroft (former U.S. Attorney General)

Adapted from From Father to Son (NavPress, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to stay connected with the children you’ve entrusted to me, and to steer them away from the dangers they’ll encounter.

Double Exposure – Red Alert

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

Bonus Reading:  Proverbs 10:1; 23:15; 27:11

Being observant means being sensitive to your children’s words and moods, respecting their worries and concerns. It means getting to know their friends. It may mean watching some of the TV shows they watch, and even (yikes!) listening to some of their music.

Once when my son Joel (then an eighth-grader) came home from school, I was in my den and heard him slamming doors and speaking rudely. At the dinner table he was cranky and sarcastic. Later I again heard him angrily slam the door to his bedroom.

Finally a glaring light went on in my mind: Something important must be bothering Joel. For the past four hours he had been visibly upset. I went to his room and said, “Joel, I just realized that you came home in an irritable mood. Is there something that happened at school that you’d like to talk about?”

My son began to weep. He poured out his hurt concerning an incident that had happened in the classroom. He’d been embarrassed and misunderstood by a teacher. Not knowing how to process it, he carried it home, and it kept leaking out in his negative behavior. I’m thankful the message got through to me.

—Norm Wakefield in The Father Connection

My Response:  Am I a shelter my kids can turn to when things get rough?

Thought to Apply:  Our children give us the opportunity to become the parents we always wished we’d had.—Louise Hart (author)

Adapted from The Father Connection (Broadman & Holman, 1996)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to stay connected with the children you’ve entrusted to me, and to steer them away from the dangers they’ll encounter.

Double Exposure – Talk of the Town

Son's Drug HabitKey Bible Verse:  His father … had never disciplined him … even by asking, “What are you doing?”  – 1 Kings 1:6

Bonus Reading:  1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-34; 3:11-14

When the drug movement spread through Johnson City, my friend Dave was one of the men who swapped stories in the coffee shop and barbershop about which kids had recently been picked up for drug possession.  They laughed about one teen, on an LSD trip, found wandering around the city park chasing imaginary lions.

Though the school administration was trying to deal with the problem, most fathers in the community, Dave included, never stopped to consider that their son or daughter might be involved.

Dave, a real-estate agent, was a good provider and disciplinarian for the family.  But perhaps he was too busy at work or didn’t know how to deal with the issues confronting his son, John.  After all, drugs weren’t around when he was growing up.  Dave never asked John about the drug situation at school.

It was three years after John started using drugs regularly that Dave found out his son was addicted to cocaine!  If Dave had sought to know his son’s difficulties and the struggles with self-identity that led him into the drug culture, it might have saved 15 years of John’s life—the time it took him to kick the drug habit.

—Ken Canfield in The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers

My Response:  Have I just assumed my kids are “clean”?  Can I afford to?

Thought to Apply:  A father ought to help his son form the habit of doing right on his own initiative, rather than because he’s afraid of some serious consequence.—Terence

Adapted from The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers (Tyndale, 1992)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to stay connected with the children you’ve entrusted to me, and to steer them away from the dangers they’ll encounter.

Double Exposure – Spot Check

Father and Teenage SonKey Bible Verse:  Run from anything that stimulates youthful lust.  Follow anything that makes you want to do right.  – 2 Timothy 2:22

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 6:22-23

Benjamin was standing in the kitchen, nibbling on some barbecue potato chips.  Just to stay connected with a 14-year-old boy going through puberty, I asked, “You been keeping your mind clean at school, son?  You know, pornography—the kind of sleazy stuff boys pass around and look at?”

He looked me straight in the eye with a half-grin, like I’d been reading his mail.  “Funny you should ask,” he said.  “Today at school a friend brought a Penthouse magazine into the locker room.  But I didn’t look at it.  I just turned and walked out.”

“Good for you! Good for you!” I said.  The big grin that spread across his face told me he was proud he’d done what was right.

Many parents don’t have the nerve to ask teenagers such an intrusive question.  It’s as if something happens to parents when their kids become teenagers, and they don’t know how to talk to them.

Adolescence is the age when kids should be learning how to bring their Christian faith into the realities of everyday life.  It’s one thing to teach your kids about God, but it’s quite another thing to teach them how to walk with God and avoid temptations.

—Dennis Rainey in Moments Together for Parents

My Response: How am I doing at discussing critical issues with my kids as they grow?

Adapted from Moments Together for Parents (Regal, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to stay connected with the children you’ve entrusted to me, and to steer them away from the dangers they’ll encounter.

Double Exposure – Scouting and Cheering

Father and SonWho Said It…Ricky Byrdsong

Ricky Byrdsong played basketball at Iowa State, moved up the coaching ranks, and became the first African American head coach at Northwestern University.  He led the Wildcats to their first winning season in 11 years.  But after three less successful seasons, he was fired.

Ricky remained a popular motivational speaker, and developed programs to help underprivileged youth reach their potential.  In 1999, at age 43, he was fatally shot by a white supremacist.

What He Said…Scouting and Cheering

Rocky Jr.’s teacher called and said he wasn’t behaving in class. Sherialyn and I let Ricky know we were concerned and wanted to stay on top of what was going on. So we asked the teacher to give us a day-to-day evaluation of his behavior. When we got the daily note she sent home, we discussed with Ricky what she considered to be bad behavior and why it was unacceptable.

I told Ricky that if his reports were consistently negative, he’d lose some privileges—watching TV or playing with his PlayStation.  I didn’t enjoy taking away his fun.  So how, as his biggest fan, could I encourage him to do better?

So in the morning, when he was getting ready to go to school, I’d say, “Hey, good luck today.  I’m pulling for you. I hope the teacher thinks your behavior is acceptable so that you can do the things you want to do.”  And when he came back with a good report, we said, “We knew you could do it.”

Adapted from Coaching Your Kids in the Game of Life (Bethany, 2000)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stay connected with the children you’ve entrusted to me, and to steer them away from the dangers they’ll encounter.

Mixed Bag – Repentance

RepentanceDuncan Campbell wrote, “Do not expect God to cover what you are not willing to uncover.”

God wants to forgive sinners.  But He can only forgive confessed sins.

To confess my sin is to agree with God, acknowledging that He is right to declare that what I’ve done is sinful and that I am wrong to desire to do it.  To confess is to affirm my intention of forsaking that sin in order to follow God more faithfully.

Interact with God’s Word 

Psalm 32:1-6

  1. In verses 3 and 4, David describes the misery of a violated conscience and a futile attempt to conceal a sin. Have you had a similar experience? What was it?
  2. What does David call his refusal to confess his sin (vv. 5-6)?
  3. What does David say broke his stubborn resistance to confessing his sin (v. 4)?
  4. What emotion flooded David as soon as he confessed his sin (vv. 1-2)?
  5. What actions by God provided the basis for David’s sense of relief (vv. 1-2 & 5)?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Name any sins you are aware of to God so that in spite of His holiness He can forgive you on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death, and restore your fellowship with Him.

Psalm 32:1-6

1 Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! 2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! 3 When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long.

4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. 5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 6 Therefore, let all the godly confess their rebellion to you while there is time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like.  Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Mixed Bag – Prayer Request

Bad TemperKey Bible Verses: People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy.  – Proverbs 28:13

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 32:1-6

Once during our family devotions, childish behavior and repeated instances of “no respect” sent me up the wall.  I stormed out of the room and slammed the front door. I climbed into my car, tossed my briefcase on the backseat, and drove away. The kids were stunned. Finally, one shrugged, “Well, there goes Dad. Great devotions, huh?”

Driving down the street, I threw one of the best pity parties I’d ever attended. “Boy, I just don’t deserve this,” I groused. “I’m killing myself to put this stuff together and nobody appreciates it. Not the kids and not Susy. Nobody cares.”

But then it seemed as if the Lord had picked up a megaphone, even though the only sound was a quiet crawling through my brain. “Phil, remember that I hung on the cross for you, big guy. You pierced my hands and feet. What do you mean, you don’t deserve this? I gave you these kids to train.”

Coming to my senses, I turned the car around and drove home. As I got to the driveway, I muttered, “I hate this, I just hate having to say, ‘I’m sorry.'”  Swallowing hard, I walked in and said, “Guys, I’m sorry. I really blew it. Would somebody pray for me?”

—Phil Downer in Optimize Your Marriage

My Response:  How have I blown it?  To whom—besides God—do I need to confess this?

Thought to Apply:  Sin cannot be undone, only forgiven.—Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer)

Adapted from Optimize Your Marriage (Christian Publications, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like. Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Mixed Bag – Split Personalities

Luke 16-10Key Bible Verse:  You like to look good in public, but God knows your evil hearts.  – Luke 16:15

Bonus Reading:  James 2:10-11

Sylvia Fraser tells of the tributes paid at her father’s funeral.  He was a man of proper and regular habits—a Christian man “who didn’t smoke or drink … who helped with the grocery shopping, who never took the Lord’s name in vain.”  A polite and neighborly man, Mr. Fraser “kept his snow shoveled, his leaves raked, and his bills paid.”

He also sexually molested his daughter Sylvia from age 4 to 12, threatening her first with the loss of her toys (he’d throw them into the furnace), then with killing her cat, then with sending her away to an orphanage—all this if she were to disclose their secret, a secret that not only divided him, but also split his daughter into two persons, the ordinary good girl and the evil daughter who submitted to her father’s wishes.

If Mr. Fraser was like the rest of us, he could live with his character inconsistencies only by sealing them off from each other, just as an ocean liner can sometimes keep sailing, even when damaged, if the crew seals off the flooded compartments.

In both cases, business can continue for a time under emergency conditions.  But, as Sylvia Fraser’s story reminds us, sin disintegrates both its victims and its perpetrators.

—Neal Plantinga in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

My Response: What “sealed off” segment of my life do I need to open up?

Thought to Apply: Integrity on one side of our character is no voucher for integrity on the other side.—John Henry Newman (British churchman)

Adapted from Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (Eerdmans, 1995)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like. Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Mixed Bag – …and Mr. Hyde

Flesh vs SpiritKey Bible Verse:  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.  – 1 John 1:9

Bonus Reading:  Romans 7:15-19

When I reclaim the language of sin, I see a different self.  I micromanage, consume more than my share of resources, and harbor bitterness from past losses.  I hoard my time and resent others for intruding on it.

I am vain and consumed with how others perceive me.  I wrestle with my sexuality and have strayed away from Lisa with my eyes and my heart.  I am prideful in my heart and my head. I have learned how to pretend to listen without really listening.  I have corrected my children when they need affirmation.

I gossip, care more about eating popcorn at the movies than about feeding the hungry, am envious of highly successful men, and overlook the oppressed.  I think more about being great than about being good.  I act more spiritual than I am.  I am a mess—broken in every way—and my only hope is in God’s mercy.

We are sinners through and through.  Once we see this truth, we can cast our gaze on the One who forgives perfectly, redeems us constantly, and embraces us in arms of compassion and forgiveness.  In the strength of grace, God lifts us to our feet, draws us away from sinful choices, and grants unspeakable hope.

—Mark McMinn in Why Sin Matters

My Response: What faults and struggles do I need to admit to myself and to God?

Thought to Apply: The beginning of a cure must be the recognition of the real disease.—Halford Luccock (pastor)

Adapted from Why Sin Matters (Tyndale, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like. Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Mixed Bag – Dr. Jekyl…

The Pharisee and the Tax CollectorKey Bible Verse:  If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.  – 1 John 1:8

Bonus Reading:  Luke 18:9-14

Do you ever feel like a pretty good person? I do sometimes.  I’m usually nice to my students, treat my colleagues fairly, deeply love my family, pay my taxes, provide psychological help to pastors in crisis, go to church and tithe.  I don’t steal, commit adultery, use illegal drugs, or swear.  And I floss regularly.

Then I remember the religious leader in the temple (see Luke 18:9-14).  He had the same list.  His prayer is the formula for self-absorbed disappointment and disillusionment. When we see ourselves as “pretty good,” we misunderstand the gravity of sin and our desperate need for grace. We place ourselves above others, become their judges, and give them the power to disappoint us.

A physicist friend uses this analogy: Each of us is like a light bulb. One shines with 50 watts of holiness, another has only 25 watts. Maybe the most stellar Christians are 200 watts. But these comparisons become trite in the presence of the sun. In the face of God, our different levels of piety are puny and meaningless. It makes no sense to compare ourselves with one another because we are all much more alike than we are different.

—Mark McMinn in Why Sin Matters

My Response:  Do I rate myself more like the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) or the tax collector?

Thought to Apply: One of the first things for which we have to pray is a true insight into our condition.—Olive Wyon (writer)

Adapted from Why Sin Matters (Tyndale, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like. Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Mixed Bag – Corruption Fighters

Martin Luther King and BussesKey Bible Verse:  The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 64:5-9

The subject of sin is full of ironies, and surprises.  During the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Improvement Association led thousands of blacks through months of hardship and to bring down city walls of injustice and break municipal bus segregation.

Many black citizens supported the boycott with a spirit of mutual help and accountability. They rode bicycles, trudged miles to and from work, and formed car pools that local police regularly harassed. They stopped and interrogated drivers, making them demonstrate their wipers and lights, and writing them up for tiny, often bogus, violations. Drivers adapted. According to historian Taylor Branch, they “crept along the road and gave exaggerated turn signals, like novices in driving school.”

Remarkably, a number of blacks also figured out ways to defraud their own movement. By submitting phony reimbursement claims, they hustled the Montgomery Improvement Association for “oceans of gasoline and truckloads of imaginary spare tires.” The MIA, says Branch, was constantly trying to deal with the corruption within and “plug the holes in the reimbursement system.”

—Neal Plantinga in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

My Response: Have I undermined a virtue I believe in? If so, how?

Adapted from Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (Eerdmans, 1995)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like.  Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Mixed Bag – Light and Shadow

School After EarthquakeWho Said It…Donald McCullough

Two earthquakes mark Donald’s life.  As San Francisco Theological Seminary’s president, he led a successful capital campaign to repair the school’s buildings, damaged by the 1989 quake.

Then in 2000 he experienced a personal quake when earlier marital infidelity was uncovered by his presbytery.  His ordination was suspended, and he resigned his post.

Donald’s book, The Consolations of Imperfection (Brazos, 2004), shares hard lessons he’s learned about himself.

What He Said…Light and Shadow

We’re a confusing mixture: loving and selfish, generous and stingy, encouraging and envious, hardworking and lazy, angelic and devilish; we’re both light and shadow.

Who can see into the depths of the shadows?  Who can name all the cantankerous, aggressive troublemakers out of sight and out of mind in the cellar?

This is more a wading through sorrow than a wallowing in it.  Admission of wrongdoing should have a matter–of–fact quality to it.  It says, “Yes, this is who I am.  It’s not all I am, for I’ve written some good parts to my story, too.  Yet I can’t deny my failure (and my propensity to further failure) any more than I can deny my blue eyes.”

As someone who’s had to do more than his share of this confession, I can testify that it’s liberating.  As we pray for courage to see ourselves as we really are, we find ourselves—somehow, surprisingly—lifted above it.  We’re actually being raised by the updraft of grace.

Adapted from The Consolations of Imperfection (Brazos, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like.  Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Be a Builder-Upper – Paul in Thessolonica

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

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

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

Interact with God’s Word

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

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

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

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

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

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

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

Be a Builder-Upper – Chewed Out?

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

Bonus Reading:  1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

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

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

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

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

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

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

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

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

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

Be a Builder-Upper – Puzzling Patron

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

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 10:24

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

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

I swallowed hard.  “Is he a weirdo?”

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

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

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

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

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

—Alice Gray in Stories for a Teen’s Heart

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

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

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

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

Be a Builder-Upper – Natural Wonder

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

Bonus Reading:  Titus 2:6-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

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

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

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

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

Be a Builder-Upper – Moving Moment

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

Bonus Reading:  Colossians 2:1-5

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

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

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

Troy came over. “What’s what?”

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

—Greg Johnson in Dad’s Everything Book for Sons

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

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

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

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

Be a Builder-Upper – Boos or Bouquets?

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

Bonus Reading:  Proverbs 15:23; 16:24

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

Families, and churches, can be like that.

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

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

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

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

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

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

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

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

Be a Builder-Upper – Call Forth the Best

Professor in ClassWho Said It…Ben Patterson

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

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

What He Said…Call Forth the Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing God – Feeling Like Job

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

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

Interact with God’s Word

Job 23:1-10

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

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

Job 23:1-10

1Then Job spoke again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing God – Speechless

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

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 64:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

—James Emery White in Embracing the Mysterious God

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

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

Adapted from Embracing the Mysterious God (InterVarsity, 2003)

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

Unboxing God – Hide-and-Seek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Larry Dixon in DocDevos

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

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

Adapted from DocDevos (Christian Publications, 2002)

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

18 ways to be more United Methodist in 2018

When making New Year’s resolutions for 2018, we hope you will consider joining us in participating in several of these very United Methodist activities in the months ahead.

1. Visit historic sites

As you plan the route of your spring break and summer road trips, include visits to historic United Methodist sites. We’ve compiled a couple of lists of some of our favorites (one | two), and United Methodist Archives and History has a comprehensive list. In certain areas, you may be able to plan a vacation that includes a visit to a historic United Methodist site every day.

2. Read

John Wesley may have considered himself “a person of one book,” but he was also a prolific writer and voracious reader. Grow your faith by reading good books, Wesley’s sermons, classics, histories, theologies, or whatever feeds your spirit. (You could also subscribe to an awesome podcast!)

3. Ride a horse

John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and every circuit-riding preacher in the early days of Methodism, traveled thousands of miles by horseback. Many were skilled enough to read and write while riding. Don’t emulate them while driving your car! Wesley even had a chamber horse—a riding simulator—in his London home to use when the weather was bad.

4. Serve somebody

Wesley encouraged Methodists to practice acts of compassion by serving someone. Go on a mission trip, volunteer at the local food bank, meet the needs of your neighbor, and reach out to someone you pass on the street. Serve Jesus by serving your neighbor (see Matthew 25).

5. Join a small group

Small groups are at the heart of United Methodism. The Methodist movement began not as a church, but as a collection of connected societies, classes, and bands (oh my!). These gatherings were places where Christians would “watch over one another in love.”

6. Enjoy a shared meal

Few things are more United Methodist than a shared meal, sometimes called a potluck supper or covered dish dinner. If you grew up in the church, you know the joy of sampling from a table filled with Crock-Pots and casserole dishes, then enjoying these favorite family recipes with your church friends. Consider hosting a shared meal in your home!

7. Stick to a budget

John Wesley gave some amazing advice for how we should handle our money: (1) make all you can, (2) save all you can, (3) give all you can. Make this the year you take control of your money, simplify, and live generously.

8. Stand up for another

Loving our neighbors includes working to right social wrongs that oppress them. Go to a rally. Write your government officials. Attend school board and town council meetings. Get involved in working for justice in your community, region, nation, and world.

9. Hold family devotions

John and Charles Wesley’s mom Susanna made special time for her children each week to mentor them spiritually. Some of John Wesley’s very first class meetings met on Thursday evenings, which was his time with Susanna as a child. Coincidence?

10. Join a committee

As United Methodists, we’re addicted to committees. Our congregations even have committees to form committees. While we joke about it, these are some of the best ways to get involved in your congregation, district, annual conference, and beyond. Serve your church by joining a committee.

11. Give to UMCOR

The United Methodist Church offers great opportunities to participate in ministries that serve people around the corner and around the world. Give to the United Methodist Committee on Relief on UMCOR Sunday (March 11, 2018) or anytime to help with their relief work.

12. Deepen your devotional life

Wesley said that two means of grace every Methodist should practice are “searching the Scriptures” and prayer. Find some helps from the Upper Room, Cokesbury, or elsewhere, to assist you as you listen for the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Scriptures, and in prayer.

13. Eat spicy food

We cannot force an experience like the one John Wesley had near Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738. The best we can do is simulate it with a good, spicy meal that will give us a different kind of heartwarming sensation.

14. Tell your mom you love her

Although his dad was the pastor, John Wesley’s mom was probably the biggest influence in his life. Her spiritual leadership taught him to encourage women and men to lead in the Methodist movement. John often sought his mother’s advice. Other times, it was unsolicited—like her encouragement to use lay preachers—and her son followed anyway.

15. Write a hymn

Charles Wesley, John’s brother, wrote over 6,000 hymns in his lifetime! Surely, you and I can write one. Change the words to favorite tune to reflect a spiritual truth. It may not be publishable, but it can be something just between you and God.

16. Follow the rules

Following in the footsteps of John Wesley, we United Methodist like to follow rules. The very first societies were given three simple rules that we sometimes summarize as (1) do good, (2) do no harm, and (3) stay in love with God. It seems best if rules come in threes (see “Stick to a budget” above).

17. Attend worship every Sunday

Hearing the Bible read, joining our voice in song, hearing a sermon, receiving communion, and praying with others, are important ways we grow individually and together. Never miss an opportunity to worship.

18. Enjoy some coffee

Although John Wesley might disagree—he knew water was the healthiest drink—we United Methodists are known for our coffee consumption. Use the Sunday morning fellowship time before and after worship (even if you’re not a fan of coffee) to greet your neighbors and connect with your church family.

And if you are searching for a group of United Methodists to join you in trying these tips, you can always try the Find-A-Church tool. Have a terrific new year!

*Joe Iovino works for at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.

Unboxing God – Security Check

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could he use the 200 Bibles in their suitcases?

—Paul-Gordon Chandler in God’s Global Mosaic

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

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

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

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

New Year Prayer

Unboxing God – Beyond Me

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

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 55:9-11

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

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

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

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

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

—Timothy Jones in Nurturing a Child’s Soul

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

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

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

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

Unboxing God – Sum and Substance

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

Bonus Reading:  Acts 17:22-31

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

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

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

—Chris Blake in Searching for a God to Love

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

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

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