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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Where the Buck Really Stops – Wrong Question

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: No wisdom, no insight, no plan … can succeed against the Lord. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord. Proverbs 21:30-31 NIV

Bonus Reading: Psalm 73:1-2, 13-26

Today’s Key Bible Verses have become a sort of North Star that I use to keep me on track. Whether I’m working on a small project, a large initiative, or my life mission, they’ve helped me to keep focused, and not to run away every time the weeds get deep, or puff up with self-important pride whenever success shows up.

Final outcomes are in the Lord’s hands. It’s his will that prevails. No wisdom, insight, or plan can thwart it, whether mine or my enemy’s.

But these verses pointed out the one thing I could control and also, by inference, the one thing I’ll be held responsible for: How well was I preparing my horse for battle?

It caused me to realize that during my apprehensive years

I was asking the wrong question. I asked, “How are things going?” I should have asked, “Am I doing the right things? Am I preparing my horse for victory?” What God wants for me is to simply focus my energy and efforts on the one and only thing I can control. That’s the only thing he will hold me accountable for: How well have I prepared the horse for battle?

After that, I’ve learned, it’s God’s call—not mine.

—Larry Osborne in A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God

My Response: Am I taking too much credit for successes, too much blame for setbacks?

Thought to Apply: Man drives, but it is God who holds the reins.—Jewish proverb

Adapted from A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God (Multnomah, 2007)

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

 

When You Say You’ll Pray After a Prayer Request

Have you ever gotten a prayer request from a fellow brother or sister in Christ asking for immediate prayer? Perhaps he is facing a temptation for which he needs help resisting. Or maybe she is feeling overcome by grief or sorrow and is desperate for peace. It might be that your friend has a need and is seeking the Lord’s provision.

We often respond to such prayer requests in the affirmative. We may even say “I’ll pray for you”—as a common and almost automatic response we give without even thinking. But then we go on our way and forget the prayer request altogether. But saying such things without actually praying about the person’s need is worthless. Meaningless. And does more harm than good.

Perhaps the problem is that we fail to grasp the power of prayer; rather, we’ve forgotten the power of the One to whom we pray.

The Power of God in Prayer

The Apostle Paul wrote several prayers in his letters to various churches. These “Apostle Paul prayers” are a treasure trove of insight into the practice of prayer. Paul prayed for each of the churches he ministered to and asked them to pray for him and his ministry as well.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he shared two prayers for the church: Ephesians 1:15-19 and 3:14-19. In both of these prayers, Paul focused on the power of God. He wanted the Ephesian church to know God’s power toward them: “and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20). In Paul’s second prayer, he asked God to strengthen the Ephesians “with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16).

The same power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power at work in us as believers. It is the same power that brought us from death to life in Christ. It is the same power that united us to Christ through faith. It is the same power that resides within us, teaching, training, correcting, and encouraging us. And it is the same power that will change and transform us into the image of Christ, until the day when our faith becomes sight.

When we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we pray to the God of all power. Perhaps this is why Paul ends Ephesians 3 with this benediction, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (vv. 20-21).

Responding to That Prayer Request Immediately

This is why we ought to be quick to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. As adopted children of the Father, we are united to Christ and one another. We pray to the same Father on behalf of our siblings in Christ. And we can come before our almighty God with our prayers and petitions, knowing that he hears us. Not only does he hear us, but he uses our prayers to carry out his will in this world.

To act on a prayer request immediately takes not only an understanding of the power of God at work in our prayers, but it also takes intentionality. It takes a willingness, desire, and discipline to follow through. So how can we practically respond to immediate prayer requests?

Once we receive the request, we can pause whatever we were doing and pray for the person’s need.

We can keep a prayer journal where we keep a list of prayer needs. When we receive a new request, we add it to the list and spend time in prayer about that need. We can also mark when a prayer was answered.

We can write the request on a sticky note and post it where we are most likely to see it, so that whenever we see it, we pray for that need. The note could be posted on our computer, on the car dashboard, on the bathroom mirror, at the kitchen sink.

We can set a reminder on our phone to remind us to pray for the need.

There are prayer apps we can use to keep track of prayers, as well as the answers to those prayers.

Whatever method we employ, the important thing is that we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ through prayer. We also need to let our friends know we are indeed praying for them and even follow up to learn how the Lord is answering our prayers. What an encouragement that will be to their faith! And perhaps, like Paul, we can even share with them the specifics of our prayers on our friend’s behalf.

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:9-12).

This article about responding to a prayer request originally appeared here.

 

Where the Buck Really Stops – Wrong Direction?

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  – Jeremiah 29:11

Bonus Reading: Romans 8:29-32

In 1990, I’d been a pastor outside of Dallas, Texas, for eight years, and knew God was up to something new in our future. I prayed he’d send us east, closer to family and support, as one of my teenage sons was beginning a rebellious streak.

God’s call came, and it was west! Theresa and all four kids were crying as we pulled out for the 2,000-mile drive to our new life. They didn’t stop crying until Amarillo. We were obeying the clear orders of the King, but taking my family away from friends, family, and all that was familiar felt terrible. The adjustments were hard, the new church presented challenges I’d never faced, and my son became more rebellious. I felt alone, confused, and often deeply discouraged.

Fast-forward ten years. The new church developed skills, character, and ministry beyond my wildest dreams. The adversity brought a deeper unity into our family and took our marriage to a whole new level. With opportunities in music that were nonexistent in Texas, the rebellious son did “a one-eighty,” becoming a Christian songwriter and worship leader. God grew a church and launched a radio ministry. What felt like disaster was the hand of a sovereign God working out his highest, best purposes for us.

—Chip Ingram in God: As He Longs for You to See Him

My Response: Am I resisting or trusting my Father’s control?

Thought to Apply: Doing the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about his plans.—George MacDonald

Adapted from God: As He Longs for You to See Him (Baker, 2004)

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

 

Where the Buck Really Stops – Faith or Fantasy?

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: I know, O Lord, that your decisions are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it. Psalm 119:75

Bonus Reading: Job 9:4-7, 12

The missionary aircraft piloted by Jim Bowers was blown out of the sky by a Peruvian jet in April 2001, killing his wife Roni and their infant daughter Charity. Humanly speaking, it was a tragedy that never should have happened. Many bullets sprayed the tiny plane, but a single one took the life of his wife and daughter. Looking back, Jim Bowers called it a “sovereign bullet.”

Only a man who knows God can say a thing like that. But that’s exactly what the psalmist is saying in the Key Bible Verse above. As he looks back over his life—the good times and bad, the happy days and sad nights—he knows that all that has happened to him isn’t by chance, fate, or some cosmic roulette. Nothing can happen to him that God has not faithfully planned for his own glory and his children’s ultimate benefit.

Jim Bowers declared his total faith in God’s sovereignty in the death of his wife and daughter. “Nothing bad happened to them,” he said. “They got to heaven quicker than we did.” Those are the words of a man who, out of great personal loss, has rested his faith in the promises of God. Even the worst tragedy doesn’t appear as such when viewed from heaven’s perspective.

—Ray Pritchard in The God You Can Trust

My Response: Could I rest my faith in God’s promises while undergoing great personal loss?

Thought to Apply: Either I’m going to get bent and eventually bitter, or I’m going to allow God to be God.—James MacDonald (Illinois pastor)

Adapted from The God You Can Trust (Harvest, 2003)

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

 

Where the Buck Really Stops – Orthodox Creed, Deist Actions

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who … say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”  – Isaiah 52:7 NIV

Bonus Reading: Exodus 19:3-6

Every Christian believes that God—the all-powerful Creator of Genesis 1—used to be in charge of this world.

And all agree that God will be in charge at the end. On that fateful day our eternal destiny will rest in the hands of our Judge.

But what about the interim? Is God in charge here and now, or has he momentarily lost his grip? Has our continent spun off into a renegade orbit he’s unaware of or powerless to correct?

I don’t believe that, and neither do you.

So why do we act that way? In thousands of churches every week, Christians stand and sing the chorus “Our God Reigns.” They may raise their hands, swaying back and forth to words based on the above Key Bible Verse. But they go right on worrying and “stressing” about what the local school board did the previous week or what the latest tax reform bill failed to include.

I call this the” New Evangelical Deism”, after the eighteenth-century philosophy that said that God perhaps created the universe in the beginning but then wound it up like a clock and left it to run on its own.

It’s time once again to hear the thunderous voice from Sinai: “All the earth belongs to me” (Exodus 19:5).

—Dean Merrill in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church

My Response: To bring my actions into line with my beliefs about God’s control, I need to …

Thought to Apply: God’s calling the shots. He’s running the show. Either he’s in full control or he’s off his throne.—Charles Swindoll (pastor, educator, & author)

Adapted from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church (Zondervan, 1997)

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

Where the Buck Really Stops – Your Move – Or Is It?

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: “The Lord Almighty has spoken—who can change his plans?  When his hand moves, who can stop him?”  –  Isaiah 14:27

Bonus Reading: Isa. 14:24-27

A few years ago I was in Indonesia and got to play against a chess master. It was brutal. There were ten of us, each with a chessboard setup, and he played us all at once. He’d walk down the row of boards, crushing each of us with his speed and incredibly insightful moves. In 15 minutes, we were all out of the game!

That’s a bit how God works. We make our moves, but his purposes aren’t affected by them. If we make a good move, God knows the next move. If we make a bad move, God knows instantly what he’ll do. He’s always known both what we’d choose and what he’d do. But God isn’t playing a game with us. We’re stuck in time, while he made all his moves in eternity past!

In some twisted way, we think we’re more secure when we’ve got God figured out. He’s way beyond our figuring out. That’s not only okay, that’s how it needs to be. Imagine how small God would be if we could comprehend all he allows and why. If the smartest and wisest of all mankind ran the universe, can you imagine the cosmic mess we’d be in? It only makes sense that an element of mystery surrounds God’s person and ways.

—James MacDonald in Gripped by the Greatness of God

My Response: Is asking questions of God wrong? Must I be resigned to leave some unanswered?

Adapted from Gripped by the Greatness of God (Moody, 2005)

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

 

Where the Buck Really Stops – Cosmic Consultant?

Spiritual GrowthWho Said It …Larry Osborne

Larry Osborne is an author who says, “I’ve always had a heart for the regular guy, the one who can’t imagine ever becoming a ‘super saint.’ I like starting where people are, not where they should be, and pointing them towards the path of growth.”

Larry is also the innovative lead pastor of North Coast Church in California’s San Diego County, which is credited with originating the concept of video venues.

What He Said…Cosmic Consultant?

When God gives advice or guidance, it’s not coming from a potentially fallible source. It’s not the mere advice of a pastor or friend; it’s the counsel of God!

When God speaks, it doesn’t make much sense to push back or give him ten reasons why it won’t work. That’s an argument we can’t win.

But who hasn’t done this? We’ve all had times when we knew exactly what God wanted us to do, but we still decided that in our particular case our wisdom was better than his.

Every time that happens, our relationship with him goes through a fundamental role-reversal. He stops being our God and becomes our cosmic consultant.

Now a consultant is someone whose wisdom we highly value and listen to, but at the end of the day, we make the final decision. That’s why they’re called consultants.

Here’s the problem: God doesn’t do consulting. Never has. Never will. He does God. When we treat him as a consultant, he simply stops showing up to the meetings. We may think he’s there. But he’s not.

Adapted from A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God (Multnomah, 2007)

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

Are You for Real? – Outclassed?

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead … you are like babies.Hebrews 5:12-13.

Bonus Reading: Colossians 1:9b-10

I knew that I’d just married an incredibly principled, moral young woman. But after bringing Dawn to Fort Benning, I was seeing it on a daily basis.

This connected with what had happened with Kurt Smith, a close friend in our Ranger reconnaissance regiment. In the spring he’d gone home on leave—and returned radically changed. He’d turned his life over to Jesus Christ, and it clearly showed. Right away his language changed for the better, his music choices cleaned up, and his general attitude brightened. He began telling others in the detachment about Christ and what a difference he’d brought to his life. It was unmistakable.

I had to admit that although I’d been a declared Christian for nearly a decade, my daily life didn’t reflect it. I looked at the way Kurt acted and felt guilty. Then I went home at night to Dawn and sensed more of the same.

The two of them, without lecturing in any way, were shining a spotlight on my inconsistencies. I was definitely rough around the edges, behaving pretty much the way most young enlisted men in the army behave. I’d lie in bed at night and think, God, I’m not matching up to these two at all.[continued 1/29]

—Jeff Streucker in The Road to Unafraid

My Response: Here’s how my growth trajectory since becoming a disciple could graph:

Adapted from The Road to Unafraid (W Publishing, 2006).

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

 

Are You for Real? – Performance Appraisal

Living Uo to Your FaithWho Said It… Lane McGullion

Lane McGullion manages projects for a power generating company in Georgia, and is a leader in his church’s men’s ministry. Its claim to fame is constructing an 80 percent scale model of the Tabernacle—that’s 12′ tall, 24′ wide, and 36′ long—with furnishings.

Lane’s wife, Sonya, serves as the children’s church coordinator. They have two girls and a boy. Lane likes to sing and is a die-hard Auburn University football fan.

What He Said… Performance Appraisal

Remember your first review at a new company? Have I lived up to the references’ glowing description of my abilities? you wondered. Or should I bring an empty box to pack my belongings?

As a Christ follower, you may never be called into a conference room, but you face a different kind of workplace appraisal. During a conversation about current events, politics, or what you did this weekend, your biblical worldview will surface (hopefully you’re not trying to hide it). Your words will challenge and possibly offend.

That’s when the performance appraisal begins. Your coworkers will begin watching with the zeal of a private detective to see if you measure up to the bar you’ve set so high. You’ll have the opportunity to share the words of life, but if you also tell off-color jokes, will anyone take you seriously?

You maintain that Christ gave himself up for others, but if you fail to lend a hand to a coworker who’s falling behind, your words will fall on deaf (and lost) ears. So make sure your deeds back up your words.

Adapted from Practical Justice (InterVarsity, 2006) by permission.

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

 

Are You for Real? – Pocket Book Probe

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: “I know, my God, that you examine our hearts and rejoice when you find integrity there.”  –  1 Chronicles 29:17

Bonus Reading: Genesis 4:1-12

The phone rang. The owner of a large apartment complex had been referred to me by a mutual acquaintance. She’d had a pricing evaluation done on her property and wanted a second opinion before selling. Commercial real estate is viciously competitive. You only get paid when you close a deal. A “team mentality” isn’t taught. If I priced her property aggressively, she’d probably use me as her agent.

But another agent in my office, the woman disclosed, had done the first pricing analysis. For several months I’d been sharing Christ with him because he was in debt and looking for answers the world wasn’t providing. I could undermine his weeks of excellent effort by telling the caller that he was less experienced, and that I could get a higher price for the property. Or I could do what Jesus would want. I told the woman the agent was capable, and that his pricing conclusions were sound. She went with him.

Just this week, the building transaction closed, and he was able to pay off all his debts. “Nobody else in this office would have done that for me,” he confided. “You really live out your faith.” He invited me to lunch—another opportunity to share my Christian hope.

—Danny Kapic in Devotional Ventures

My Response: If Danny had snatched the listing for himself, what might have transpired?

Thought to Apply: Our task is to live our personal communion with Christ with such intensity as to make it contagious.—Paul Tournier (Swiss psychologist)

Adapted from Devotional Ventures (Regal, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

 

Are You for Real? – …and Consequences

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: May you always be filled with … those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.  –  Philippians 1:11.

Bonus Reading: 2 Peter 1:3-8

[continued from yesterday]   Linda and Jerry weren’t perfect, we discovered. But then again, they never claimed to be.

Primarily what we saw was a gentle spirit of acceptance toward us, a lot more humility than pride, a willingness to admit when they were wrong, an anxiousness to reconcile when there was conflict, a readiness to acknowledge the rough edges of their character and a sincere effort to smooth them out, a refusal to playact by pretending that the Christian life is always happy, an admission that they struggled with their faith from time to time, but most of all, undergirding everything, we saw an honest desire to become a little more like Jesus, bit by bit, as time went by.

In short, they were real. Leslie and I became citizens of God’s people largely through their example.

Now I don’t want to make you paranoid, but if you’re a Christ follower, you are being watched. Your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances are scanning your life with their hypocrisy radar, because they want to know whether you’re authentic. And what they observe will either stymie or propel them in their spiritual journey.

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: Will others detect in me someone who approaches life with integrity?

Thought to Apply: How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing … it is irresistible.—C.S. Lewis (British academic & author)

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

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

Are You for Real? – Truth…

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: “Yes, the way to identify a tree or person is by the kind of fruit that is produced.”  –  Matthew 7:20.

Bonus Reading: Matthew 7:15-21

Years ago Linda and Jerry lived in the same condominium building as Leslie and I, and so we got to know each other well. Our daughter, Alison, became best friends with their daughter, Sara.

But what Linda and Jerry didn’t realize was how much we were scrutinizing their lifestyle. They were up-front about the fact that they were Christians, and we were curious to see whether they were real. Do you know what I mean by that?

We wanted to see whether we could detect a holier-than-thou attitude toward those who didn’t subscribe to their theology. We wanted to see how they’d handle conflict in their marriage. We wanted to see whether they’d put on a Christian happy face and pretend they never got angry, worried, or frustrated.

We wanted to see whether they’d be truth-tellers and whether they’d ask for forgiveness when they made a mistake. We wanted to see whether they’d hold a grudge if we did something to hurt them. We wanted to see if they were honest about the little things in life. We wanted to hear the comments they would make about people who weren’t around.

We watched over a long period of time, and guess what we found? [continued tomorrow]

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: How do I distinguish the contrived from the genuine in another person?

Thought to Apply: Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me.—Dwight L. Moody (evangelist)

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

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

 

Are You for Real? – Barracks Shock Waves

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13.

Bonus Reading: Phil. 2:12-15

I decided to clean up my act. I began disciplining myself to speak without the splatter of four-letter words epidemic in army talk. I could get my point across without them.

I stopped drinking. Alcohol was part of my family growing up, and everything we seven in my detachment did together—going to the movies, playing volleyball—included a couple of beers. I can still hang out and have a good time, I told myself, I’ll just have a Coke instead. But the six quickly asked, “Hey, what’s wrong with you, Streucker?”

I also excused myself from certain movies I would have seen before. Then I started cleaning out my music collection. I’d been raised on classic rock, and bought a lot of heavy metal too. But the lyrics started to bother me. I got a big garbage bag, loaded it up with hundreds of cassettes and CDs, and dropped them on our unit’s front desk. “Here you go,” I said, “They’re yours, free for the taking.”

“Streucker must have joined some cult!” they said. I’d already heard how they ridiculed Kurt Smith behind his back. When I told him about it, Kurt calmly said, “So? I’m not concerned about what they think.” That became my stance as well.

—Jeff Streucker in The Road to Unafraid

My Response: Where have I let what my peers might think inhibit clear-cut discipleship?

Thought to Apply: Once you get a taste of where you want to go, motivation takes care of itself.—Chuck Daly (basketball coach)

Adapted from The Road to Unafraid (W Publishing, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

Are You for Real? – Outclassed?

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead … you are like babies.Hebrews 5:12-13.

Bonus Reading: Colossians 1:9b-10

I knew that I’d just married an incredibly principled, moral young woman. But after bringing Dawn to Fort Benning, I was seeing it on a daily basis.

This connected with what had happened with Kurt Smith, a close friend in our Ranger reconnaissance regiment. In the spring he’d gone home on leave—and returned radically changed. He’d turned his life over to Jesus Christ, and it clearly showed. Right away his language changed for the better, his music choices cleaned up, and his general attitude brightened. He began telling others in the detachment about Christ and what a difference he’d brought to his life. It was unmistakable.

I had to admit that although I’d been a declared Christian for nearly a decade, my daily life didn’t reflect it. I looked at the way Kurt acted and felt guilty. Then I went home at night to Dawn and sensed more of the same.

The two of them, without lecturing in any way, were shining a spotlight on my inconsistencies. I was definitely rough around the edges, behaving pretty much the way most young enlisted men in the army behave. I’d lie in bed at night and think, God, I’m not matching up to these two at all.[continued 1/29]

—Jeff Streucker in The Road to Unafraid

My Response: Here’s how my growth trajectory since becoming a disciple could graph:

Adapted from The Road to Unafraid (W Publishing, 2006).

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

 

Make Your Talents Count – Generosity

GenerosityGod has given each one of us a unique combination of gifts and passions to be used for the good of others.

As the parable of the talents discussed in this week’s readings revealed, we have a choice to invest those gifts and reap a rich return or hoard them to ourselves to our own detriment.

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

Key Study Passage:  2 Corinthians 9:6-15

  1. Why do you think Paul gives the church the option whether or not to give rather than requiring it?
  2. Do you think it’s okay to expect a blessing when you give? (See vv. 8-11.)
  3. List and then reflect on the motivations for generosity from this passage.
  4. Take a mental inventory of your gifts, talents, and resources. Are you cheerfully using each to the best of your ability and for the betterment of those around you and the advancement of God’s kingdom? Are there any areas where growth is needed?
  5. If question 4 stirred your heart, commit to praying for and planning to make better use of what God has given you.

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

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dig Deeper: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

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

The master says that when you invest the talents he’s given you, when you are faithful to bear fruit from the little he’s given you, he will give you more. And you will enter into his joy. People around the world are searching for joy. Where is it? How can we find it?

Here’s the answer. Plain and simple. Straight from God: Invest what I’ve given you. Take a chance. Put it to work. Trust me. Make it multiply. Then I’ll give you more. And you’ll be happier and more content than ever fathomed. Don’t believe it? Think of investing your talents the way the Old Testament describes giving your tithe [in today’s Key Bible Verse].

We’ve all heard it said, “You can’t out-give God.” He’s made me a believer. My joy is worth more than all the money in a zillion banks. What about you? Are you ready to take a good, hard look at yourself and determine what talents God has knit together within you?

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

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

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

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

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

 

Make Your Talents Count – You’ve Got It Already

GenerosityKey Bible Verses: “The master called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them … each according to his ability.” Matthew 25:14-15, NIV

Dig Deeper: Matthew 25:14-30

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

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

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

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

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

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

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

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

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

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

 

 

Make Your Talents Count – Moving Mountains

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

Dig Deeper: John 14:12-14

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

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

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

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

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

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

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

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

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

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

 

Make Your Talents Count – Hoops of Hope

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

Dig Deeper: Matthew 25:34-40

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

“That hit me hard,” recalls Austin, now 16. “I felt God calling me to go do something about it.”

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

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

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

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

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

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

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

 

Make Your Talents Count – Man on a Mission

GenerosityKey Bible Verse: Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.  – Isaiah 58:7

Dig Deeper: Isaiah 58:6-12

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

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

Andrea’s words moved Sean to build a second house and Homes of Hope was born.

Starting with this single house in Tijuana, Mexico, Homes of Hope has now built 3,482 homes for poor families in 10 different nations. One of the “talents” knitted into Sean’s make-up is his compassion for the poor. He was faithful with the one house God sent him to build and so God put him in charge of many.

Today, Homes of Hope impacts needy families in five key areas: economic, educational, health, social and emotional, and spiritual.

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

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

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

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

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

 

Make Your Talents Count – Invest Your Talents

GenerosityKey Study Passage: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Who Said It … Bob Westfall

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

He frequently speaks at national conferences and to charity boards, philanthropists, churches, and other groups, and is the author of The Fulfillment Principle. He currently lives in Suwanee, Georgia, with his wife, Kim. They are the parents of four children.

What he Said … Invest Your Talents

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

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

And what he truly values most is the way you and I steward the talents he’s entrusted into our lives. How do we invest those talents? Are we fruitful? Do we get good return on the deposit he’s made in our lives?

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

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

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

The Difference One Can Make – Just Imagine!

Faith in ActionWho Said It…Richard Land

Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which works to keep the public informed on critical issues facing the family and the nation.

He was also appointed by President Bush to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Dr. Land has also served as pastor, professor, and adviser to a former Texas governor.

What He Said…Just Imagine!

What if just half of those Americans who claim to be evangelical Christians were truly to practice their faith in their local communities as responsible citizens?

Every volunteer social organization in the country seeking to meet the needs of less fortunate people would be transformed overnight.  There’d be so many volunteers they’d have to be put on waiting lists.

The databases of crisis pregnancy centers and prison transition ministries and foster-care agencies would be crammed with the names and numbers of families ready to take in young women and ex-cons and children who need hospitality, practical help, and loving care. Food pantry shelves would overflow.

Homebound senior citizens would never be isolated.  School children would have mentors for literacy programs and reading enrichment, and adults committed to staying involved in their lives. Nursing-home residents wouldn’t pass time in empty days, neglected by family and ignored by society.

Even those not influenced to accept Christ by such radical, positive changes in society would live better lives.

Adapted from Imagine! A God-Blessed America (Broadman & Holman, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: I’m available, Lord, for any assignment. Use me to make a difference in Your Kingdom.

 

The Difference One Can Make – The Chattanooga Challenge

Faith in ActionKey Bible Verse: “He can win the battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!” 1 Samuel 14:6

Bonus Reading: 1 Samuel 14:1-16

During the 1970s and ’80s, Chattanooga, Tennessee, was decaying. Divorce was rampant.

Half of all births were to unwed mothers. Single women, many living in poverty, were the sole providers in 30 percent of homes.

Five local businessmen decided to do something about it.

In 1997 they formed the nonprofit organization First Things First. It provided classes to help couples prepare for marriage, strengthen families, reduce teen pregnancies, and encourage father involvement in the lives of their children.

Some seminars offered: “Before You Say I Do,” “Boot Camp for New Dads,” “Fighting for Your Marriage.” DVDs and videos can be checked out from its resource center.

When businessman Brad Rymer was exposed to the state of Chattanooga families, he says, “I went home and prayed, ‘Lord use me to help You save marriages.'” He ended up selling his business and assuming a mediation role with fractured families.

The results? As of 2006—less than 10 years since the program began—the city’s divorce rate has gone down by 25 percent. Cases of children having children have gone down by 26 percent. Fathers, more aware of their crucial role, spend more time with their children.

—Julie Baumgardner in Focus on the Family

My Response: What goal dare I pray for God to empower me to achieve for Him?

Thought to Apply: Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.—William Carey (missionary to India)

Adapted from Focus on the Family (8/06) and First Things First (www.firstthings.org)

Prayer for the Week: I’m available, Lord, for any assignment. Use me to make a difference in Your Kingdom.

 

 

The Difference One Can Make – Urban Field of Dreams

Faith in ActionKey Bible Verse: “The King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'” Matthew 25:40

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:5-7

On his way to work one day, Chicago insurance broker Bob Muzikowski saw a derelict ball field full of trash in a gang-infested neighborhood.

The kids there could use a real Little League to play in, he thought. He teamed up with a friend to create the Near North Little League. In “pretty wild” early practice sessions, coaches dealt with 250 boys long on enthusiasm but short on fundamentals.

Each game began with a prayer. Cursing was strictly forbidden.

“While I had no illusions that I’d change the world, I had no doubt that God wanted me to play baseball with these kids,” said Muzikowski , converted not long before. “My faith had taught me that being a Christian means truly believing what Jesus said about loving my neighbor.”

The next year, 400 kids joined the league.

Today 900 fatherless kids in 100 Little League teams are learning self-respect and community values. Reporters wonder why a wealthy white businessman lives among the poor, coaching other people’s kids.

Muzikowski answers, “Jesus didn’t say, ‘When you’ve paid someone to do it unto the least of these. … ‘ What He said was, ‘when you have done it. … ‘”

—Charles Colson in How Now Shall We Live?

My Response: One way I could directly serve a marginalized person in my community is …

Thought to Apply: Christianity demands a level of caring that transcends human inclinations.—Erwin Lutzer

Adapted from How Now Shall We Live? (Tyndale, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: I’m available, Lord, for any assignment. Use me to make a difference in Your Kingdom.

 

The Difference One Can Make – Faith in Action

Faith in ActionThe Philistines’ well-supplied army dominated Canaan, conducting raids at will.

And they enforced a monopoly on that era’s advanced technology: iron blacksmithing.

No wonder King Saul’s badly outnumbered, demoralized troops were stalled in defensive position at Gibeah, making no effort to retake the Philistine-controlled Micmash pass.

Interact with God’s Word: 1 Samuel 14:1-16, 1 Samuel 14:20-22

  1. In the Israel/Philistine face-off (see 1 Samuel 13:5, 15, 22) what were the human odds?
  2. How did Jonathan view these odds (v. 6)?
  3. Why do you think Jonathan didn’t alert his father to his plans?
  4. How did Jonathan allow for God to abort this thrust if it wasn’t in His will (vv. 8-10)?
  5. What exertions were required of Jonathan and his armor bearer (vv.13-14)?
  6. How did God turn a skirmish upset into the route of an entire army (v. 15)?
  7. How did Jonathan’s initiative motivate his fellow Israelites (vv. 20-22)?
  8. What overwhelming odds do you think need turning around in our society?
  9. What counter-measures could you take for starters? What resources could you commit to this venture?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to give you the courage to tackle a daunting problem, using your efforts to trigger events leading to victory.

1 Samuel 14:1-16, 20-22

1 One day Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to where the Philistines have their outpost.” But Jonathan did not tell his father what he was doing. 2 Meanwhile, Saul and his 600 men were camped on the outskirts of Gibeah, around the pomegranate tree at Migron. 3 Among Saul’s men was Ahijah the priest, who was wearing the ephod, the priestly vest. Ahijah was the son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord who had served at Shiloh. No one realized that Jonathan had left the Israelite camp.

4 To reach the Philistine outpost, Jonathan had to go down between two rocky cliffs that were called Bozez and Seneh. 5 The cliff on the north was in front of Micmash, and the one on the south was in front of Geba. 6 “Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!”

7 “Do what you think is best,” the armor bearer replied. “I’m with you completely, whatever you decide.” 8 “All right then,” Jonathan told him. “We will cross over and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Stay where you are or we’ll kill you,’ then we will stop and not go up to them.

10 But if they say, ‘Come on up and fight,’ then we will go up. That will be the Lord’s sign that he will help us defeat them.” 11 When the Philistines saw them coming, they shouted, “Look! The Hebrews are crawling out of their holes!” 12 Then the men from the outpost shouted to Jonathan, “Come on up here, and we’ll teach you a lesson!” “Come on, climb right behind me,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “for the Lord will help us defeat them!”

13 So they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer killed those who came behind them. 14 They killed some twenty men in all, and their bodies were scattered over about half an acre. 15 Suddenly, panic broke out in the Philistine army, both in the camp and in the field, including even the outposts and raiding parties. And just then an earthquake struck, and everyone was terrified. 16 Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah of Benjamin saw a strange sight—the vast army of Philistines began to melt away in every direction.

20 Then Saul and all his men rushed out to the battle and found the Philistines killing each other. There was terrible confusion everywhere. 21 Even the Hebrews who had previously gone over to the Philistine army revolted and joined in with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelites. 22 Likewise, the men of Israel who were hiding in the hill country of Ephraim joined the chase when they saw the Philistines running away.

Prayer for the Week: I’m available, Lord, for any assignment. Use me to make a difference in Your Kingdom.

Giving to the World Service Fund

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above. … Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” —Colossians 3:1-2, NRSV

Did you know the General Council on Finance and Administration is much more than a legal entity? In fact, GCFA plays a big role in the church’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, while nurturing United Methodists on their faith journey.

The Book of Discipline (Paragraph 801) introduces the council’s task: “The work of the Church requires the support of our people. Participation through service and gifts is a Christian duty, a means of grace, and an expression of our love to God.”

From the GCFA website www.gcfa.org , United Methodists can glean a wealth of information. We can find Frequently Asked Questions—and answers—about the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, apportionment giving and Judicial Council rulings. Another link provides information about giving to each general church apportioned fund, and a line-item breakdown by conference and general church agency.

But that’s not all. The finance agency, branded as UMCSupport, also offers resources, tools and information to assist local churches. These include creative and innovative fund-raising for church ministries, a guide to ministry partners that provide discounts or special offers for United Methodist churches, a quick online resource for acquiring a group ruling for United Methodist churches, an online shopping portal that generates donations for ministries, discounted airport parking for United Methodists, and a group-purchasing portal for supplies and goods ordered by United Methodist congregations.

When our congregation pays its World Service Fund apportionment, we help GCFA fulfill its mission, support the global connection and discover benefits UMCSupport provides. Thank you!

 

The Difference One Can Make – Waging Peace

Faith in ActionKey Bible Verse: Now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became afraid. “Now Joseph will pay us back,” … they said. Genesis 50:15

Bonus Reading: Genesis 50:14-21

William Rodriguez, a kickboxing champion as well as a black belt in karate, knew how to fight and win.

Even so, when gang members killed his son, Rodriguez refused to respond violently. Instead of seeking revenge, he sought a just and lasting reconciliation.

After learning that one of his son’s convicted killers was wrongly sentenced, Rodriguez asked the judge for mercy on the young man. “I just believed it was the right thing to do.  That’s my faith,” he recalled.

As a result of involvement in his son’s murder trial, Rodriguez began to orchestrate peace treaties among warring gangs. The kick-boxer spoke to feuding groups about living for the future rather than in bondage to the past.

Seeing that Rodriguez was living that message, many gang members listened. Soon, to his own surprise, Rodriguez was hosting reconciliation meetings.

Rodriguez’s peacemaking illustrates human beings’ overarching vocation as followers of Jesus Christ.

Just as God cares for His entire universe, we’re called to be caretakers of His world. God calls us to love Jesus by caring for and about our neighbor, participating in Christ’s renewal of all things.

—Quentin Schultze in Here I Am

My Response: In what situation should I respond compassionately instead of instinctively protecting my status?

Thought to Apply: It is idle for us to say that we know that God has forgiven us if we are not loving and forgiving ourselves.—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Welsh preacher)

Adapted from Here I Am (Baker, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: I’m available, Lord, for any assignment. Use me to make a difference in Your Kingdom.

 

The Difference One Can Make – Hanging Tough in the Tenderloin

Faith in ActionKey Bible Verse: “Everyone will know that the Lord does not need weapons to rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours.”  – 1 Samuel 17:47

Bonus Reading: 1 Samuel 17:32-37

Leaving his job in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district one day, Roger Huang discovered that he had a flat tire.

While waiting for a tow truck, he watched a group of teens pick on a younger boy and wondered what he’d do if it were his son.

For the next eight years, Roger worked two jobs to support a rescue mission that he leads there. He also started a Christian school.

The 35-block neighborhood has at least 48 liquor stores and 14 porn shops. Some 10,000 homeless pass through it every night. Tenderloin averages three major crimes per hour.

Tired of it all, in 2004 Roger decided to get city leaders’ attention. He sat outside city hall on a hunger strike.

Prodded to action, Mayor Gavin Newsome initiated a “scrubdown”: the police department assigned more officers to walk the streets to detain those suspected of drug-related activity. The public works department ordered more sweepers to clean up.

One city supervisor studied limiting liquor licenses; another introduced legislation to prohibit new strip clubs and porn shops within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, and daycare centers. After 33 days, when he felt the city had made enough progress, Roger ended his hunger strike.

—Rob Moll in Leadership

My Response: What should be turned around in my community? Where could I start?

Thought to Apply: God is always calling on us to do the impossible, [but] anything Jesus did here on earth is something we should be able to do, too.—Madeleine L’Engle

Adapted from Leadership (Summer/04)

Prayer for the Week: I’m available, Lord, for any assignment. Use me to make a difference in Your Kingdom.

 

 

The Difference One Can Make – Borderline Situation

Faith in ActionKey Bible Verse: Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness. James 3:18

Bonus Reading: Nehemiah 6:1-13

Aqeela Sherrills lived in Watts, a part of Los Angeles ravaged by feuding youth gangs.  His neighborhood was wedged between a district dominated by the Bloods and another by the Crips, with bystanders often caught in the crossfire.  He escaped Watts by going east to college.

But there Aqeela became convinced that he was created to make a difference in gangland. So he returned to L.A. in 1989 and organized members of his neighborhood to agitate for “Peace for Peace’s Sake.”

“Both gangs tolerated us,” Aqeela said, “allowing us to march, even listening to our rhetoric.” At first nothing changed. But they joined forces with football great Jim Brown to form Amer-I-Can.  In it, older men began mentoring younger men, steering them toward positive goals.

Then Aqeela and his brother, Daude, held a meeting to motivate the group to appeal directly to the gangs. “We were afraid for our lives,” Aqeela said. “But I said to the group, ‘We’re on the border. So we should be the ones to stand between the Bloods and Crips and bring the neighborhoods together.’

We committed to march into both territories with a message of reconciliation.”  Their intervention led to a “peace treaty,” and eventually to reconciliation.

—Everett Worthington Jr. in Forgiving and Reconciling

My Response: I’ll ask God to show me for what I was created to make a difference.

Adapted from Forgiving and Reconciling (InterVarsity, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: I’m available, Lord, for any assignment. Use me to make a difference in Your Kingdom.

 

Finding Common Ground – Personal Evangelism

Personal Evangelism 2Levi is better known by his other name: Matthew.

Jesus’ invitation to join His crew meant guaranteed unemployment.  Yet he didn’t hesitate.

Was that because he sensed genuine acceptance by Jesus?  Jesus gave him a new purpose for his record-keeping skills as he compiled his gospel narrative.

Interact with God’s Word:  Luke 5:27-32

  1. Why were the religious leaders so upset by the way Jesus mingled with irreligious people from different social levels?
  2. Which do you think Jesus perceived as more receptive to His gospel: the religious leaders or those outside their synagogues?
  3. Would you say the non-Christians you know are hostile to the gospel or have never meaningfully encountered it?
  4. By socializing with the tax collectors and “sinners,” was Jesus endorsing their practices and lifestyles?
  5. For Levi, did leaving his tax-collecting business to be Jesus’ disciple mean breaking off contact with his colleagues and friends?
  6. Do you have as many non-Christian friends now as you did when you first became a believer?
  7. How could you introduce your friendship network to Jesus, like Levi did with his banquet?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you find creative ways to get involved in the lives of people who are not yet Christ followers.

Luke 5:27-32

27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. 29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them.

30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” 31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to live the gospel naturally among those that You care deeply about.

Finding Common Ground – My So-What Testimony

Personal Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: I want to find a way to make the Jews want what you Gentiles have, and … save some of them. Romans 11:14

Bonus Reading: Psalm 71:15-16

During the first week of school, a freshman, David, attended one of our meetings because a friend invited him. But he said he didn’t see what difference some guy’s martyrdom thousands of years ago made in his life today.

So instead of dwelling on the “content” of the gospel, I focused on how being a Christian helps me now. I sense a purpose and meaning to life, I said, I never feel alone, and—because I feel accepted by God—more willingly accept other people.

Being a Christian, I added, makes my marriage better, gives me a clear conscience, and fills me with optimism and hope.  Then I changed the subject and asked how he was adjusting to our big urban campus.

He seemed lost.  His rambling answer disclosed that he’d made few friends, liked classical music, and hated cafeteria food.

I told him that I’d been a music major in my undergrad days.  We talked about Debussy and Dvorak, and how students could get free tickets for on-campus concerts.  Then I invited him to play volleyball with us the next night to meet people, eat watermelon, and have fun.

David came and then, shortly thereafter, started attending a student-led Bible study in a dorm.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: How could I share my life with another so as to create thirst for the abundant life Jesus offers?

Thought to Apply: How many people have you made homesick for God?—Oswald Chambers (British teacher)

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to live the gospel naturally among those that You care deeply about.

 

Finding Common Ground – Admit You Need Help

Personal Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ.  –  1 Corinthians 9:22

Bonus Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:20-23

How can you compensate for your weaknesses and get to know your neighbors better in the process?  Ask for help!

I often begin projects without knowing how they’ll end.  I experiment and learn as I go.

This usually works, but when I started to build a go-cart out of a cast-off riding lawnmower, I was soon in over my head.  So I invited a technically proficient neighbor to help me, and we had fun for four hours.  During that time, he also shared several deep concerns.

Another time, when Amanda and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment, friends of ours from college days, Paul and Tina, arrived for a visit in an old car with worn-out brakes.  I volunteered to help Paul replace them.  We pulled off a wheel and began removing springs and other brake parts, but soon I knew we were in trouble.

“Hey,” I called out to a man walking by, “you know anything about brakes?”

He hesitated and then grinned.  “A little bit.”  He passed along a few pointers and gave me his apartment number in the adjoining complex.

That simple conversation developed into a relationship with him and his wife that lasted almost 25 years.  And he became a Christian!

—Stephen Sorenson in Like Your Neighbor

My Response: How could being vulnerable help me connect with a neighbor?

Thought to Apply: The Holy Spirit can’t save seats or saints. If we don’t know any non-Christians, how can we introduce them to the Savior?—Paul Little (evangelist)

Adapted from Like Your Neighbor (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to live the gospel naturally among those that You care deeply about.

 

Finding Common Ground – Share-Wear

Personal Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: We would rather put up with anything than put an obstacle in the way of the Good News about Christ.  –  1 Corinthians 9:12

Bonus Reading: Matthew 4:18-20

In the summer of 2005, as part of National Trails Day, a few friends and I helped build a trail on Davidson Mesa, overlooking the city of Boulder, Colorado.  I wore a T-shirt with a picture of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz, who was tragically killed in a bizarre murder a few years back.

One of the guys pushing wheelbarrows up and down hills with me saw my shirt and asked me about it.  He had wrestled in college, and when I told him I was a grappler, as were both my boys, we became fast friends over this common ground.

During the day we joked around and even locked up once or twice.  By the end of the day, I was able to speak about some of my passions—engaging the church’s needs and sharing dreams for the community.  He responded by telling me he was on the board of a large human-service agency that was looking for ways to engage the faith community in its work. Imagine that!

How different it may have been had I worn a T-shirt with “His Pain, Your Gain” or a hat with “WWJD.”  It would have been hard to get someone to look me in the eye.

—Eric Swanson in Living a Life on Loan

My Response: How could I become more likeable and accessible to non-Christians I encounter?

Thought to Apply: Witnessing is removing the various barriers of our self-love to allow Christ, living within us, to show Himself to our neighbors.—Paul Frost (writer)

Adapted from Living a Life on Loan (NavPress, 1978)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to live the gospel naturally among those that You care deeply about.

 

Finding Common Ground – People, Not Projects

Personal Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: “And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him [Zacchaeus] who are lost.”  – Luke 19:10

Bonus Reading: Luke 19:1-10

At an evangelism conference session I led, a man asked, “What do I do if I’m trying to reach out to someone, but have little in common with him?  Actually,” he added, “I don’t really enjoy being with him.”

“If this person never came to faith in Jesus,” I asked, “would you still be his friend? … still hang out with him?”

The man swallowed hard and said, “I’m not sure I’d still connect with him if I wasn’t trying to win him to Christ.”

I encouraged the man to consider stepping away from this person for a time and praying for his own heart to change.  When we reach out to people out of guilt or duty, they’ll smell it and know that we see them as a chore on our checklist of things to do.  When we make people our personal outreach projects without really loving them, we may actually push them away from Jesus.

However, when we walk with people on their spiritual journey because the love of God overflows in our hearts and because we see them through the eyes of Jesus—this is powerful. People outside of the family will know they’re loved by God long before they enter a relationship with Jesus.

—Kevin Harney in Seismic Shifts

My Response: You have placed _____ in my life. I’ll commit to care about and spend time with him.

Thought to Apply: We must know people—like, enjoy, and take trouble for them—before it may even be right to speak to them about spiritual matters.  —Sam Shoemaker

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to live the gospel naturally among those that You care deeply about.

 

Finding Common Ground – Running Encounter

Personal Evangelism 2Key Bible Verse: “I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough.”  – Luke 5:32

Bonus Reading: Luke 5:27-32

Norm Wakefield, author and professor at Phoenix Seminary, led a home church back in the ’80s, when it was generally unthinkable to skip Sunday morning services.  The group met for worship on Sunday nights instead.

They found that it didn’t usually work to invite people to a service on Sunday mornings, because that was likely their morning to sleep in, go running, and hang out at the bagel shop.  For most, dressing up and going to church didn’t provide a suitable alternative to this favorite time of week.

So Norm’s small “congregation” spent Sunday mornings running together and going to bagel shops for coffee.  They would invite their friends to come with them to worship, and the response was amazing.

They didn’t look at their friends as projects. They just genuinely cared, got involved in their lives, and built relationships.  As a natural result, the Sunday morning connection time brought more people to faith than most churches see in a year of services.

Of course, they had to put up with criticism from churches that thought it was improper to skip church on Sunday morning—that form was more important than function.

—Mike Bechtle in Evangelism for the Rest of Us

My Response: What, besides church, could I invite an unchurched friend to share with me?

Adapted from Evangelism for the Rest of Us (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to live the gospel naturally among those that You care deeply about.

 

Finding Common Ground – Where’s the Bait

Personal Evangelism 2Who Said It…Mike Bechtle

Mike Bechtle has taught more than 2,000 time- and life-management seminars, many for Fortune 500 companies.  He’s been speaking at conventions and churches since 1974.

He and his wife, Diane, serve as mentors to a young married couples class at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California.  Mike’s doctorate is in higher and adult education from Arizona State University.  He also has a degree from Talbot School of Theology.

What He Said…Where’s the Bait?

If your goal is to catch fish, you could put a hook on the line, hold it about a foot above the water, and call, “C’mon, fish. Here, fish. Come and get it.”

But you’d get no results because you’re trying to get the fish to leave the environment in which he can breathe.   And there’s no worm or bug on the hook.  You need to put something the fish likes on the hook and place it in the water.  It’s not your job to beat the fish with the bait.  If he’s hungry, he’ll notice the bait and check it out.

It’s important to go where those who need Christ live, rubbing shoulders with them.  That’s why a university professor and his wife have become actively engaged in an animal rescue group—an area where they have personal passion—and get to build real, caring relationships with people who might not be interested in coming to church.

The personal transformation we may be undergoing will be ineffective for evangelism if we’re not close enough for anyone to see it.

Adapted from Evangelism for the Rest of Us (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to live the gospel naturally among those that You care deeply about.

 

Look for That Silver Lining – Trust in God

Look for the Silver LiningThe prisoner Paul, having appealed to Caesar, was transferred by ship from Caesarea to Rome. There, according to Acts 28:16, he “was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier.”

Able to receive visitors, he boldly witnessed and taught about Jesus. The final sentence of the Book of Acts observes, “And no one tried to stop him.”

Interact with God’s Word

Philippians 1:12-18

  1. What reversals (see Acts 21:15-28:6) are included in Paul’s “everything that has happened to me” (v. 12)?
  2. How would most unjustly imprisoned persons react: Give up? … Turn bitter?
  3. Do you think God planned Paul’s imprisonment to penetrate the center of Roman political power?
  4. Who did Paul regard (v. 13) as his “captive” audience?
  5. How do we know his witness to them was effective (see Philippians 4:22)?
  6. What benefits from his confinement (v. 14) did Paul see for believers?
  7. How did Paul react (vv. 15-18) to those taking advantage of his custody?
  8. When have you seen God snatch ultimate good from apparent tragedy?
  9. What’s at center stage in your life? … Achieving personal comfort? … Contributing to gospel advance?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for the ability to trust Him to use apparent setbacks in your life for your growth in discipleship, and for the advancement of His kingdom.

Philippians 1:12-18

12 And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. 13 For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. 14 And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News.

17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, not to fret or fume about troubles, but to accept them as part of Your plan for the ultimate good of Your kingdom—and me.

Look for That Silver Lining – “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”

Look for the Silver LiningKey Bible Verse: Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. James 1:2

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4

Oswald Chambers, author of the devotional My Utmost for His Highest, served as a chaplain to British troops in Egypt during World War I.

The sweltering heat of the midday could reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit inside a tent. But with no shade to protect from the scorching sun, inside was the better option. Add to this the threat of malaria, and the thousands of flies hatched in the waste of horses, and it’s easy to understand why serving in this area of the war was hated by virtually every soldier.

Chambers, on the other hand, found that miserable place a blessing. He was constantly busy serving the spiritual and physical needs of the troops. His diary frequently recorded fits of exuberance. How could Chambers’s experience be so different from that of the others stationed there? Oswald knew the holy Lord of glory, and trusted in His ability to bring good out of evil.

In Christ, God turned the evil act of crucifying an entirely innocent man into something life-saving and redeeming. We must begin to cultivate this outlook in our own lives so that we no longer see suffering as an evil to be avoided, but something to be expected, necessary, and, yes, even a joy-producing privilege.

—Victor Kuligin in Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said

My Response: Is my outlook dependent on, or independent of, my circumstances?

Thought to Apply: Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.—Rudyard Kipling (English writer born in India)

Adapted from Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said (Baker, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, not to fret or fume about troubles, but to accept them as part of Your plan for the ultimate good of Your kingdom—and me.

 

Holy Communion on the Moon

On July 20, 1969, from more than a quarter million miles away, on that Sunday five decades ago when Neil Armstrong became the first human being to ever walk on another world, something else was happening.  For even as he prepared for that historic “giant leap for mankind,” his companion, Buzz Aldrin, prepared for something else inside the Eagle, unpacking bread and wine from plastic containers and placing them on the abort guidance system computer.

Radioing back to earth, he invited everyone listening in “whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” 

And then, switching his radio off, Aldrin read privately from the Gospel of John before pouring the wine into a chalice, where in the lessened gravity of the moon the wine “curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” and he followed that by taking communion.

In short, as Aldrin later wrote in a Guideposts magazine article, “the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”

Charles Anderson, who has served as a Methodist pastor to many in the NASA community over the years, has eloquently put it this way:  “How both poignant and appropriate, that the greatest technological achievement in human history carried within it the sacramental reminder of the greatest act of salvific love in all history–namely, the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ that binds the past to the present, and the heavens to the earth. The greatest distance that humans have ever traveled from our celestial home was still within reach of the promise and presence of the living God.” 

Or as Charles goes on to add, “we can never ever journey to a place so far where God is not.”

And fifty years later, we’ve still never been able to do so, even with a Saturn V rocket behind us.  Maybe that’s why when Jesus gave us the sacrament, He told us to remember Him in this way whenever we can.  And wherever too, we might add.

 

Look for That Silver Lining – Doubly Displaced

Look for the Silver LiningKey Bible Verse: Everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. Philippians 1:12

Bonus Reading: Philippians 1:13-18

In the 1930s, thousands fled what is now North Korea as the Japanese invaded.  Many settled around Vladivostok.

When Joseph Stalin began developing a weapons manufacturing center there, he deemed the Koreans a security risk.  So he relocated them in five areas around the Soviet Union.

One was Tashkent, hub of the 20-million-strong Uzbek people.  The staunchly Muslim Uzbeks had for centuries violently resisted any efforts to introduce Christianity.  But the Uzbeks welcomed the Koreans for their industry and kindness.  Within a few decades, they were included in all facets of Uzbek cultural life.

In His orchestration of global events, God had planted strong pockets of believers among these transplants.  Little did Stalin suspect that revival would sweep through the Koreans, and that their Uzbek and Kazak friends would begin coming to Christ.

The first public sign of the breakthrough came on June 2, 1990, when a young Korean from America preached to a swelling crowd in the streets of Alma-Ata, capital of Kazakhstan.  Whole Uzbek villages were converted to Christ in the wake of the first open-air Christian meeting in the history of Soviet Central Asia.

—Bill & Amy Stearns in Catch the Vision 2000

My Response: Can I welcome upheaval in my life to benefit God’s greater kingdom?

Thought to Apply: There’s nothing written in the Bible that says if you believe in Me, you ain’t going to have no troubles.—Ray Charles (singer)

Adapted from Catch the Vision 2000 (Bethany, 1991)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, not to fret or fume about troubles, but to accept them as part of Your plan for the ultimate good of Your kingdom—and me.

 

Look for That Silver Lining – Eviction Notice

Look for the Silver LiningKey Bible Verse: God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

Bonus Reading: Isaiah 42:16

For the first nine months of 1996, with attendance averaging 25, the group I pastored—National Community Church—met in a public school.

Then the person in charge of leasing the DC schools left a voicemail: Due to fire code violations, the school we met in was being closed.  We were about to become a homeless church!  On September 27 I wrote in my journal, “I feel like we’ve been backed into a corner.”

We explored rental options on Capitol Hill.  Only one door opened: the movie theaters at Union Station.  Looking back, I can’t imagine a more strategic location.  More than 25 million people pass through the station every year.  It’s served by a subway system, bus stop, and parking garage.  There are 40 food-court restaurants right outside our theater marquee.

God perfectly positioned us.  Now, doing church in the middle of the marketplace is part of our DNA.  Our long-term vision is to meet in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the DC area.  But it took a setback—a 500-pound opportunity disguised as a daunting problem—to get us where God wanted us to go.

—Mark Batterson in In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day

My Response: Could a setback I’m facing be reframed as an opportunity?

Thought to Apply: Often God has to shut a door in our face so that He can subsequently open the door through which He wants us to go.—Catherine Marshall  (author)

Adapted from In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (Multnomah, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, not to fret or fume about troubles, but to accept them as part of Your plan for the ultimate good of Your kingdom—and me.

 

Look for That Silver Lining – Taking It on the Chin

Look for the Silver LiningKey Bible Verse: “You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will be accused before kings and governors of being my followers.  This will be your opportunity to tell them about me.”  – Luke 21:12-13

Bonus Reading: Matthew 5:10-11

Perspective is essential for a person to endure personally directed hostility.  You must see this event as part of a larger picture.

Russian Jewish believer Boris Fishbein tells of an incident in downtown Kiev as he was distributing gospel literature.

“A tall guy asked me, ‘Are you Jewish?’

“I answered, ‘Yes.’

“‘Who do you believe in?’ he asked.

“I replied, ‘Jesus is my God.’

“‘And I believe in Perun (a Ukrainian pagan god),’ he replied.  Then he spat at me and hit me hard on the jaw.

“It hurt.  There was darkness in my eyes.  When I came around, he was gone, but another young man, Vadim, was standing nearby.

Vadim had observed the whole encounter and asked me, ‘Why did he hit you so hard?’

This seeking person stopped to talk to me because he witnessed another’s ill will.  Vadim later prayed with me to receive Christ into his heart. In a sense, the blow on my jaw brought about good results.”

For Boris, the pain he endured was only a small part of a great story of a man’s redemption.

—Susan Perlman in World Pulse

My Response: When has a personal reversal created an opening for the gospel?

Thought to Apply: Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.—PAUL CLAUDE (French diplomat, author, playwright)

Adapted from World Pulse (8/9/02)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, not to fret or fume about troubles, but to accept them as part of Your plan for the ultimate good of Your kingdom—and me.

 

Look for That Silver Lining – Lucky Break

Look for the Silver LiningKey Bible Verse: We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us.  – Romans 5:3

Bonus Reading: Romans 5:2-5

In high school I’d tried for years to dunk a basketball.  It was my holy grail.  Ironically, it took a broken ankle for me to first achieve that goal.

As a sophomore, I was just running down the court in one of our drills, and tripped over a line on the floor.  I spent the next month in a cast, and remember questioning God.  After all, He could have kept it from happening.

Here’s what did happen.  That semester my classes seemed to alternate between the top and bottom floors of our three-floor high school.  So after every period I was hopping up and down flights of stairs like a human pogo stick.  When you’re injured in one place, you’ve got to draw more strength from somewhere else.

In a process called remodeling, my right leg grew stronger to compensate for my broken left ankle.  The brokenness actually increased my capacity.  I dunked my first basketball while wearing a cast!

Like a broken bone that needs to be reset, God breaks us where we need to be broken.  He fractures the pride and lust and anger in our lives, but He does it to remodel us into His image.  And once we heal, we end up stronger than we were to begin with.

—Mark Batterson in In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day

My Response: Where have I been broken? How may God be increasing my capacity?

Adapted from In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (Multnomah, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, not to fret or fume about troubles, but to accept them as part of Your plan for the ultimate good of Your kingdom—and me.

 

Look for That Silver Lining – From Struggle to Struggle

Look for the Silver LiningWho Said It…Dave Burchett

Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director for Fox Sports, ESPN, and Jefferson Pilot Sports. For over 20 years, Dave has directed telecasts of Southwestern Conference basketball and Texas Rangers baseball. Highlights: televising a Nolan Ryan no-hit game and his 300th win. Dave is also an author and speaker. He and his wife, Joni, have three grown sons. They are former staff members of Campus Crusade’s Athletes in Action.

What He Said…From Struggle to Strength

God gave me the privilege of being wounded early in life. My struggles as an overweight, geeky, and generally outcast adolescent molded my heart to empathize with those hurt and ostracized by their peers.

Had I been the coolest guy, the best athlete, or the most handsome dude, I most likely wouldn’t have developed a sensitive spirit to others. So God gave me the opportunity to develop a heart of compassion for wounded others.

I didn’t enjoy that period of my life. I’d have given anything to be one of the popular kids—to be the starting quarterback or big man on campus.

But with the benefit of hindsight, I’m grateful for every refining difficulty and problem I’ve experienced. Such a dramatic change in attitude came over time, through growth in my relationship with Jesus and my trust in the truth of His promises.

Had I been freed of the burden of my tough teenage passage, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Adapted from Bring Em Back Alive (WaterBrook, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Help me, Lord, not to fret or fume about troubles, but to accept them as part of Your plan for the ultimate good of Your kingdom—and me.

 

Liberated Words – Godly Communication

Godly CommunicationOne of the themes that Paul stresses in his letter to the Ephesians is that Christ-followers make up one family.

Because God through Christ paid our penalty for sin and forgave us, we’ve been reconciled—brought near to him.

We’re a new society. Being united with Christ means we’re to treat one another as family members and live in harmony with each other.

Interact with God’s Word:  Ephesians 4:23-32

  1. When you became a new person in Christ (v. 24) were your thoughts and attitudes renewed overnight? How would you describe the transformation process?
  2. Why (v. 25) is transparent honesty essential to building mutual trust?
  3. Does the way you deal with your anger (vv. 26-27) undermine relationships? How could you harness it for constructive results?
  4. How can you shape your conversations (v. 29) to make them “good and helpful” to others?
  5. How can you be alert to the other person’s need and choose your words to challenge or encourage him?
  6. How can you create appropriate occasions for constructive dialogue?
  7. What self-serving talk of yours (v. 30) has grieved the Lord and others? How can the damage be patched up?
  8. Has realizing the extent of God’s forgiveness (v. 32) made you more ready to extend forgiveness to others?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you speak as his ambassador in all your interactions, expressing more of his agenda for humankind and less of what vindicates you.

Ephesians 4:23-32

23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Adapted from Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, to stop using my words selfishly and instead shape them to help advance your kingdom.

 

The Blessing of an Excellent Wife

Here is an important recent article by Dr. Steven J. Lawson, who is senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.  He is author of “The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards.”


Few influences affect a man’s heart for God more than his wife, for better or for worse. She will either encourage his spiritual devotion to the Lord or she will hinder it. She will either enlarge his passion for God or she will pour cold water on it. What kind of wife encourages her husband’s spiritual growth? Proverbs 31.10–31″>Proverbs 31:10–31 provides a profile of the wife who is worthy of her husband’s trust. Such a wife is the embodiment of true wisdom from God, causing the husband to confide in her with complete trust.

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (v. 10). Such a good wife is hard to find. The word excellent (hayil) can mean “strength, capability, valor or dignity.” This woman exemplifies each of these qualities, having great competence, noble character, and a strong commitment to God and her family. Only the Lord can provide such an excellent woman: “House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Prov. 19:14). “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (18:22). This virtuous woman is a priceless gift from God.

Is it any wonder that “the heart of her husband trusts in her” (v. 11)? The husband has faith in her because “she does him good and not harm all the days of her life” (v. 12). She brings her many strengths into their marriage, each one uniquely suited to complement his weaknesses. Her gifts immediately become his gains, and she provides much that causes him to trust her.

Her Service

First, this extraordinary wife tirelessly serves him. Not sitting by idly, she actively “seeks wool and flax,” then extends a “willing hand” (v. 13) to spin thread and make material. She is “like a merchant ship” (v. 14), launching out to find the best fabric, at the best price, in order to make the best clothes. This selfless wife “rises while it is yet night” (v. 15) to prepare food for her family. An excellent manager, she oversees “her maidens” as they serve alongside her in the household.

Her Success

Second, this enterprising woman exercises sound judgment in her many dealings. She shrewdly “considers a field,” then buys it. There, she plants a “vineyard” (v. 16). By her “strong” (v. 17) resolve, she earns disposable income for her family. These business dealings are “profitable” (v. 18), providing additional resources to share with others. She labors well into the “night” with her “distaff” and “spindle” (v. 19) to make garments for her family.

Her Sacrifice

Third, this diligent woman gives generously to “the poor” and “the needy” (v. 20). As “the snow” approaches, she also gives to her family. She has planned ahead, making “scarlet” garments (v. 21) for her household. She spares no effort or cost in providing the best she can. After providing for others, this industrious wife makes “bed coverings” and clothes “for herself” with “fine linen and purple” (v. 22). Her ability to give expensive garments is clear evidence of God’s favor upon her labors.

Her Savvy

Fourth, her many virtues enhance her husband’s position in “the gates” (v. 23), where city leaders meet. With keen savvy, this excellent wife “makes,” “sells” and “delivers” (v. 24) her goods. Despite being very competent, she does not compete with her husband’s leadership, but undergirds it by her humble submission—and everyone knows it.

Her Strength

Fifth, this treasured wife looks to the future with inner “strength” and “dignity” (v. 25). Though she anticipates many challenges, she nevertheless “laughs” (v. 25) with positive confidence in the Lord’s providential care. She is expectant that heaven’s supply will meet her family’s every need. As people seek her counsel, she speaks words of “wisdom” and “kindness” (v. 26) to them. Though busy outside the home, she does not neglect “her household” (v. 27).

Her Supremacy

Sixth, she is such a fine mother that as her children observe her excellence, they “call her blessed” (v. 28). Her husband sees her character traits in parenting and “praises her.” He boasts that among women, “[she] surpass[es] them all” (v. 29). In his eyes, there are none who can legitimately claim to be her equal.

Her Spirituality

Seventh, this woman’s true greatness is her spiritual devotion. She “fears the Lord” (v. 30). “Charm” and “beauty” alone are “deceitful” and “vain.” Her real attraction to him is her reverence for God. Even the city leaders “praise her” in the “gates” (v. 31), recognizing the integrity of her life. Her husband prizes her fidelity and industry. He is the most blessed of men.

Is it any wonder that her husband trusts her? The reality of God in her life makes her worthy of his full confidence. By every estimate, she is “the crown of her husband” (12:4). Only God can provide such an excellent helpmate.

  • Has the Lord given you such an excellent wife?  Do you see how she is specifically suited for you?  Do you recognize how she has increased your effectiveness for the Lord?  Then give thanks to God for such a woman in whom your heart trusts.

 

Liberated Words – Consider the Process

Godly CommunicationKey Bible Verse: Only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God …Ephesians 4:29-30 NIV

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 15:4, 23; 16:21, 23-24

Ambassadorial communication isn’t just about the content of our words, but delivering them in a manner that will “benefit those who listen.”

We often choose to say the right thing in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Confronting a teenager five minutes before she leaves for school isn’t helpful, even if the content is accurate.

Rebuking a friend for an offense in front of others isn’t helpful. Asking your wife to consider how she hurt you as she’s trying to get to sleep isn’t helpful.

Paul’s practical model to guide our words ends with: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” When you and I speak as mini-kings to get our own way, not only do we hurt and grieve other people, we also grieve the Lord.

Our relationships have been designed as workrooms for redemption, not shelters for human happiness. If we’re ever going to give grace when we talk, we need grace to free us from our bondage to ourselves.

—Tim Lane & Paul Tripp in Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

My Response: I’ll ask God to use my words today to be redemptively constructive in someone’s life.

Thought to Apply: Not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.—George Sala (English journalist)

Adapted from Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, to stop using my words selfishly and instead shape them to help advance your kingdom.

 

 

Liberated Words – Consider the Problem

Godly CommunicationKey Bible Verse: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.  – Ephesians 4:29 NIV

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:1

Every word an ambassador speaks is directed by the king’s interest and will. What we say must be driven by what God is seeking to accomplish in us and in the other person. God is intent on reconciliation.

He is working in every situation and relationship to reclaim our wandering hearts. He wants to make us people who are more interested in what he wants for us than what we want for ourselves. He won’t relent until we are free from our slavery to an agenda of personal happiness.

God is calling us to speak in a way that has his reconciliation agenda in view. When we do, we can be confident that our words will produce a harvest of comfort, encouragement, hope, insight, unity, and joy, and that they will stimulate love.

An ambassador is always asking, “What is the problem at this moment?”

Before I speak, I must think about what you are struggling with and what you most need. Do you need encouragement, comfort, hope, direction, wisdom, courage, rebuke, warning, forgiveness, patience, teaching, correction, thanks, insight, a job description, or something else?  An ambassador’s words always address the person’s true need of the moment.

—Tim Lane & Paul Tripp in Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

My Response: Today I’ll shape my words to meet ____ at his/her current need.

Thought to Apply: Good words are worth much and cost little. —George Herbert (English cleric & author)

Adapted from Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, to stop using my words selfishly and instead shape them to help advance your kingdom.

 

Liberated Words – Consider the Person

Godly CommunicationKey Bible Verse: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up … Ephesians 4:29 NIV

Bonus Reading: Romans 15:2-3

The friendship of a couple I knew was amazing. They were able to say the toughest things to each other, things that are hard both to say and to hear, yet they could say them with love. They seemed to avoid self-serving flattery and unloving criticism. They didn’t trim the truth with one another yet said what needed to be said in the best possible way.

I was impressed by their enormous respect for each other, how easily their communication flowed, and how readily they seemed to listen to the other.

Wholesome communication is other-centered communication. Paul says I should never say anything to you that is not helpful for you. Since God is focused on remaking you into his image, I should speak in a way that builds you up. This is not just a matter of what I say but how I say it.

I now have a redemptive agenda for talking about everything. I want all of our talk to be redemptively constructive, from the most mundane details to the huge life decisions. I never want my words to be an obstacle to the work God is doing. The words of an ambassador are always other- centered.

—Tim Lane & Paul Tripp in Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

My Response: Today I’ll work at making my listening and responding less me-centered, more you-centered.

Thought to Apply: Apt words have power to assuage the tumors of the troubled mind.—John Milton (English poet)

Adapted from Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, to stop using my words selfishly and instead shape them to help advance your kingdom.

 

Liberated Words – A Mini-King or an Ambassador?

Godly CommunicationKey Bible Verse: He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him. … We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  – 2 Corinthians 5:15, 20 NIV

Bonus Reading: Romans 14:7-9

A mini-king is always seeking to establish his will rather than submit to God’s will.  He flatters his friend because he wants to be liked.  He trims the truth to avoid conflict.  He yells at his child about his messy room.  Winning an argument is all he cares about.

There’s no end to the battle of words when two mini-kings talk to each other!  His words reflect the self-focused desires of his heart rather than God’s work of reconciliation.

An ambassador, on the other hand, is seeking to be part of what the King is doing. He does one thing only—represent. Every word he speaks is directed by the king’s interests and will. What he says is driven by what God is seeking to accomplish in him and in the other person.

Does that mean that an ambassador quotes Scripture incessantly or constantly points out the sin in others? Does it mean he can never talk about sports, the weather, or family schedules? Speaking as an ambassador isn’t about using biblical words; it’s about speaking with a biblical agenda.

—Tim Lane & Paul Tripp in Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

My Response: A self-promoting spin on my words that I should abandon is …

Thought to Apply: What is the chief end of man?  To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. —Westminster Shorter Catechism

Adapted from Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, to stop using my words selfishly and instead shape them to help advance your kingdom.