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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

A Bulletproof Faith – Accelerating Tempo

Number Our DaysKey Bible Verse:  “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.  Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away.”  Psalm 39:4

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 39:5-7, 11-12

The death of a parent not only confronts us with the truth about death, but also with the truth about life.  We mutter, “Where did the years go?” “It seems like just yesterday,” and other telling phrases.

The idea of a “long life” touches on a misconception of youth about the length of a year, a decade, or a life.  

For a child, a year seems very long; for an adult, it seems like an instant.  That’s because as a person ages, a year represents an increasingly smaller portion of his life.

If a junior-high history teacher says, “That happened only ten years ago,” the students think, Only ten years?  That’s more than two thirds of my lifetime!  But adults, especially those older than 50, feel as though the events of a decade ago occurred just yesterday.

As a child, you may have thought something like this: Let’s see, in 2010, I’ll be ___ years old, and in 2020, I’ll be ____.  Most young children have trouble imagining themselves older than 25 or 30.  And 40 seems ancient.

Well, you’re there now.  It didn’t take very long did it?

—Dave Veerman & Bruce Barton in When Your Father Dies


My Response:  How has grieving the loss of a loved one adjusted my perspective on life?


Thought to Apply:  After 60 years, the stern sentence of the burial service seems to have a meaning that one did not notice in former years.  There begins to be something personal about it. —Oliver Wendell Holmes (physician and author)

Adapted from When Your Father Dies (Nelson, 2003).


Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

Why Your Church Needs You to Volunteer for the Not-So Glamorous Ministries

At the heart of every thriving church, you will find a dedicated team of volunteers who come alongside the staff and give sacrificially so that life can happen.

When I picture volunteer support in the local church, I see an iceberg. The visible portion of an iceberg is also the smallest portion, while the base of its power can be found below the water. Similarly, many of the vital support roles in the church are less visible, or at least less glamorous, but each is critically important. They are the jobs where nobody notices when you do them, but everyone notices when they are not getting done.

The question of whether or not everyone should volunteer is a conversation for another day, but consider this…how do we view our local churches?

  • Is it a Panera-like experience where we slip in, grab some coffee and a bagel, enjoy a service being provided and then slip back out?
  • Or is it a family thing…a community thing…where we show up early to help brew the coffee, pour it for each other, worship together and clean up our mess before leaving?

Serving is not just about helping meet the practical needs of the church; it is largely about the ways we grow, individually and as a community, throughout the process.

Assuming we are all on the same page about being involved, the next question is what to do.

This is where our hearts are laid bare.  Are we willing to serve in the quiet, unseen places, even if we feel “over-qualified”?  Are we willing to say, “Put me wherever you need me”?

When I was nineteen, I was hired as a director on the student ministries staff in the church I grew up in. I spent the next five years working in a wonderful, energetic community – teaching multiple times per week, counseling students, and planning large events.

During that time, I met my husband and he joined the student ministries staff as well. At a certain point, we felt God calling us to trust Him in new places and we moved out in faith to step down from our positions and put all our focus into finishing school. Today, he is on staff full-time in a new church that has become our home, and when I first offered to volunteer, my heart and mind were confronted with this difficult question. Am I willing to let go of what I’ve done in the past and serve wherever I am needed now?  I will not pretend it was an easy question for me to answer.

Three years later, I connect new volunteers with teams needing help. A couple months ago, we received a registration card from a man who did not request a specific team, rather he asked to be put in whichever place we needed him.  Others had made similar notes, but I was especially struck by what he included at the end – “I don’t mind working outside either, if there is a need for people to do grass or pick up trash.”  Such humble words and pure motives. I thank God for people like this; they show me Jesus.

I am not making light of the skills and experiences we each bring to the table. God has given us those gifts for the benefit of the whole church (1 Corinthians 12). But perhaps those skills are going to be used in different ways, or maybe we will find ourselves in seasons where we are asked to set them aside in order to serve the places of greatest need.

Let me tell you about a married couple I know and admire. He is one of the most talented guitarists I have met and a regular on our worship team. She is warm, friendly and great with people. They both serve in a variety of high-level leadership roles. They also restock the bathrooms with toilet paper and soap. It is often a thankless job, but a true gift when 2000 people show up for weekend services.

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the son of man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

I am struck by the belief that I could be more “qualified” to do anything. It is a lie.  Jesus, the anointed Son of God, washed the dirty, cracked feet of his friends. He was perfectly holy and yet He died for me, a sinner to my core.

Paul, a scholar, exemplary Jewish priest and one of the single greatest leaders in the church, wrote four of his thirteen New Testament letters from a prison cell; and yet he continued to rejoice and give thanks. Peter, the rock upon which Christ said the church would be built, was arrested and crucified upside down.

So how can I ever think I am “over-qualified” for anything?  Who am I to argue that I deserve a position of higher authority or recognition?

When I picture the early church, huddled around a room…bringing food to share, maybe passing around a blanket to stay warm…singing, praying, teaching, laughing, crying…getting up and cleaning the room together…hugging each other and heading home…sacrificing their reputations and personal safety for the sake of the Gospel…I am quite sure I do not deserve anything grand. And I am reminded of how deeply I hope to look like Jesus and the people who serve Him with sincere humility.

  • Are you a gifted teacher in a church that really needs help in the nursery?
  • Have you led worship for years but your community needs someone to manage parking?
  • Do you have a decade of experience with small group leadership but you are most needed with Sunday morning clean up?

Maybe this is what it looks like to lay down our lives in western church culture.  Maybe signing up to take out the trash requires changes in corners of our hearts that would otherwise remain untouched.

When we let go of the myth of qualifications and we embrace serving the church in these humble places, God will surely meet us there and transform us through the process.

Cara Joyner spends her days chasing a toddler, nursing an infant, starting cups of coffee she rarely has time to finish and thinking about how much she needs to clean her house. Years of working in ministry and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology have led her to graduate school, where she is working towards a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. While waiting to finish grad school, she is working as a professional birth doula and freelance writer. Cara writes about family, health, faith and intentional living at She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.



A Bulletproof Faith – Rich Mullin’s Morality Awareness

ElijahKey Bible Verse:  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  2 Corinthians 4:16

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Singer/songwriter Rich Mullins spoke and sang so much about death that some of us thought he had a morbid streak.  I once asked, of all the songs he wrote, which was his favorite.  Without hesitation he replied, “Elijah”—a song about his own death.

Rich understood death not as something to be feared but as something to be mindful of as we live.

He said, “Once you come to understand that life is unbelievably brief, and that we really can’t do anything that’s gonna change anything, that we don’t really amount to a hill of beans—then all of a sudden you go, ‘So it doesn’t really matter if I’m not that great.  And if I don’t have to be great, that means I can fail.  And if I can fail, that means I can try.  And if I can try, that means I’m gonna have a good time.'”

Rich believed that death isn’t the end, but the beginning of life.  In one of his songs he wrote, “Live like you’ll die tomorrow; die knowin’ you’ll live forever.”

He demonstrated how to live well by making the most of one’s time—living hard, laughing hard, and departing this world, as predicted in his favorite song (see Thought to Apply below).

—James Bryan Smith in HomeLife


My Response:  How does being mindful of death “teach us to make the most of our time” (Psalm 90:12)?


Thought to Apply:  But when I leave, I want to go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.  —Rich Mullins (in “Elijah”)

Adapted from HomeLife (8/00)



Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

Ask the UMC: Where did the use of Acolytes originate?

Acolytes have been part of the church in one form or another for nearly 2,000 years.

The word acolyte comes from the Greek word akolouthos, meaning follower, a helper or assistant. In the early church, acolytes were a clerical order. Acolytes carry into worship the light, processional cross, banners or Bible and assist the pastor with communion, baptism and other duties. Children and youth often serve as acolytes, but adults can serve as well.

“Jesus said: ‘I am the light of the world’” (John 8:12). The presence of the light reminds us of Jesus coming into our world and into our lives. The light is carried into the worship service as a symbol of Jesus coming into the presence of the worshiping community.

Many congregations use two candles on the altar to point out that Jesus was both a human being and God. At the end of the service, the light is carried out into the world to show that Jesus Christ is for all people everywhere. … This symbolizes the light of Jesus Christ going out into the world where believers are to serve.” (Worship Matters, Vol II, “The Work of Acolytes”)

Read more about the history of acolytes.

Chuck Knows Church: Acolytes

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

A Bulletproof Faith – The Big One

CemeteryKey Bible Verse:  “I am the First and the Last … and I hold the keys of death and the grave.”  Revelation 1:17-18

Bonus Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 11:6

For the twentieth anniversary of the Larry King Live television talk show in 2005, the well-known host sat in the guest chair, while Barbara Walters interviewed him.  She hit Larry with her usual barrage of blunt questions. “Are you very rich?” “What living person do you most admire?”

Eventually she arrived at “What is your greatest fear?”

Larry King’s prompt, serious one-word answer: “Death.”

He didn’t say, “That my show might get canceled,” “That my ratings might drop,” or “That my broker might embezzle all my money.”  No, to Larry, the thought of dying was worse than any of these.

Barbara quickly moved to the next question. “Do you believe in God?”

Larry’s forthright answer: “Not sure.  I’m an agnostic.”

As soon as I heard that, I thought, The two answers fit together, don’t they?  To be uncertain about the reality of God leaves a big problem when it comes to death.  It means being cast out into a void, unsure of what or whom to grasp.

But if you know there’s a God, and you’ve come to terms with him by accepting his offer of forgiveness and salvation, you know what eternity holds.  You know God is there already to welcome you as one of his family.

—Jeff Streucker in The Road to Unafraid


My Response: How has my God-confidence diminished my death-fear? To what extent?

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



Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

A Bulletproof Faith – Just in Case

Plane Water LandingKey Bible Verse:  No man can live forever; all will die.  No one can escape the power of the grave.  – Psalm 89:48

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 90:3-6, 10

I was on an airplane and the flight attendant started going through the pre-flight spiel, instructing us on what to do “in case of a water landing.”

I looked around.  We were on a 747 jet.  This plane isn’t equipped with pontoons.  A 747 doesn’t “land” on the water.  It explodes on impact into pieces the size of my toenail.

The proper way to prepare for an event like this is not to stick your head between your knees (as if there were room to do that anyway) but to scream until your throat bleeds and pray in six languages at once.

I arrived home (without experiencing a water landing, thankfully) and turned on the TV, and a commercial came on for life insurance.  This guy walks onto the set all somber-looking and explains the benefits of their policy.  Then he says I should sign up so my family will be taken care of “in case the unthinkable should happen.”  Of course, by “the unthinkable,” he means “In case you die.”

But the thing is, death isn’t unthinkable; it’s inevitable.

What kind of culture calls things that are inevitable un-thinkable?  What kind of world refuses to think about what is certain but instead spends its time worrying about things that aren’t?

—Steven James in Sailing Between the Stars


My Response: Why does our culture consider this inevitable event unthinkable?

Adapted from Sailing Between the Stars (Revell, 2006)



Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

A Bulletproof Faith – Sober Reflection

Vietnam MemorialWho Said It … Max Lucado

Max’s beer-drinking, girl-chasing lifestyle was as barren as the West Texas land he grew up in.

Then he encountered Jesus through a required Bible course at Abilene Christian University. He abruptly shifted from law studies to missions preparation.

After five years in Brazil with his wife, Denalyn, he returned to pastor in the U.S.  A collection of storytelling columns written for a church newsletter formed his first book in a long string of best-sellers.

Max is pulpit minister of the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio.


What He Said … Sober Reflection

On a dull, drizzly day I visited the wailing wall of a generation: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. With the Washington Monument to my left and the Lincoln Memorial to my back, it stretched before me. Black marble tablets carved with names that read like the roster of a high school football team more than a list of dead soldiers—Walter Faith, Richard Sala, Michael Andrews, Roy Burris, Emmet Stanton.

Each name a young life.  Behind each name a bereaved widow … an anguished mother … a fatherless child.

It was then that I stopped looking at the names and stared at the monument . I relaxed my focus from the lettering and looked at the tablet.  What I saw was sobering.  I saw myself, my own reflection.  My face looked at me from the shiny marble.

It reminded me that I, too, have been dying as long as I’ve been living.  I, too, will someday have my name carved in a granite stone.  Someday I, too, will face death.

Adapted from Six Hours One Friday (Multnomah, 1989).


Prayer for the Week:  Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – Cultivating a Heart of Grace

Forgiveness 4Forgiving those who’ve hurt us is about so much more than simply saying, “I forgive you.”

It’s about understanding our shortcomings and sinfulness before our loving and merciful God.

 It’s about cultivating a heart and attitude of grace, mercy, and humility.

And it’s about striving to live out—through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit—the commands and principles found in today’s study passage.


Key Study Passage:

Romans 12: 14-21

  1. Read this passage two or three times, and then write down or discuss the traits of a man who lives out these verses.  Think about or describe someone you know who takes the commands of this passage seriously.


  1. What sayings of Jesus does Paul allude to in verse 14? (See  Matthew 5:44; Luke 6: 27-28.)



  1. Why is it so important to live in “harmony with each other” (v. 16)? (See John 13: 34-35.)


  1. According to the last part of verse 16 and the first part of 17, what helps promote harmony?



  1. Instead of seeking revenge, what are we commanded to do? (See vv. 19-20.)


  1. Write down or discuss a practical way to practice verse 21.


Spend Time in Prayer:

Turn three or four commands from today’sdevotional passage into prayers that would be appropriate for your current situation (i.e., prayers of thanksgiving, confession, specific requests for personal help/guidance).


Romans 12:14-21

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.

20 Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.



Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.



Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – Facing My Hard Heart

Forgiveness 3Key Bible Verse:  “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”   Mark 11:25

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 18: 21-35

The greater the hurt or injustice, the less I want to move toward forgiveness.  It seems as though it lets the people who hurt me get away with it.

That’s when I turn to what I call the prayer of permission.  It’s a prayer I pray when I have no desire or motivation to do what I know I should do.

It’s a simple prayer in which I give God permission to change the way I feel about a person or situation.

I don’t ask him to help me forgive.  I’ve usually asked that and gotten nowhere, because I didn’t really want to forgive in the first place.  So I back up one step and give God permission to change the way I feel, to make me want to forgive.

The beauty of this prayer is that it forces me to squarely face the hardness of my heart and my subconscious resistance.  I quit fighting.

Once I do, the result is almost always a rapid shift in my thinking.  Forgiving no longer seems like such a bad idea.  And once it no longer seems like a bad idea, it’s not so hard to do.

—Larry Osborne in Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe


My Response: The next time I struggle with forgiving someone, I will pray my own version of Larry’s prayer of permission.


Thought to Apply: I choose peace.… I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.—Max Lucado (pastor, writer)

Adapted from Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe (Multnomah, 2009)



Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.



Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – God’s Gift

"After the Battle of Grunwald: The Solidarity of the Northern Slavs."

“After the Battle of Grunwald: The Solidarity of the Northern Slavs.”

Key Bible Verse:  Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God.  For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.  – Romans 12:19

Dig Deeper:  Romans 12: 14-21

Sam (not his real name) sat in my counseling office one rainy morning, holding his head in his hands and sobbing uncontrollably.  In the middle of his tears, he cried out, “But I just can’t forgive him for what he has done to me.  I just can’t let him get away with that.”

It took a lot of persuading to convince Sam that his unforgiveness was never going to affect the person responsible for his pain—a guy who lived many miles away.

Sam spent more than half his life drinking the poison of unforgiveness, fully expecting to poison the one who’d brought him so much pain.  But all he managed to accomplish was to make himself sick.

By allowing the one who caused his pain to rent space inside his head, Sam experienced daily torment for many years.

Sam was unwilling to forgive until he finally understood that forgiveness was God’s gift to him.  He was the one who stood to benefit by forgiving the one who’d hurt him.

In his prayer that morning, Sam asked Jesus to make him willing to remove his hands from around his perpetrator’s throat.  He made the decision to leave judgment and revenge in God’s hands.

The one who was set free in my office that morning was Sam, not the one responsible for Sam’s pain.

—Lew Gervais


My Response:  Why is it healthy to believe that God is the final judge and the final avenger?


Thought to Apply:  There is no torment like the inner torment of an unforgiving spirit. —Chuck Swindoll (pastor, writer)



Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.


United Methodist Sacraments, Rites, & Rituals

United Methodist Sacraments, Rites, and Rituals

The United Methodist Church recognizes two sacraments, baptism and communion. These two acts have a special place in the church because Jesus commanded them and participated in them.

Through the years, Christians have used other sacramental acts to draw closer to God. While we do not recognize these others as sacraments, we participate in many of them in some way.

In the following articles, we explore how United Methodists understand baptism, communion, and rites and rituals other Christian churches view as sacraments.

Sacrament of Baptism

All baptized persons are members of their local church, the denomination, and the church universal. Photo by Mary Catherine Phillips, Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference.

Renewing waters: How United Methodists understand baptism

In baptism, we reject sin and begin our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ. Learn more of what United Methodists teach about the sacrament. Read More

Sacrament of Holy Communion

The Rev. Tonya Elmore, pastor at Enterprise First United Methodist Church, takes communion from the Rev. Virginia Kagoro, pastor at Locust Bluff United Methodist Church. Holy Communion was part of the Service of Remembrance at the 2015 Alabama-West Florida Conference on June 1, where 33 clergy and clergy spouses were memorialized. Photo by Luke Lucas, Alabama-West Florida Conference

An open table: How United Methodists understand communion

The sacrament is such a common part of our worship that its uncommon richness can get lost. Learn more about The Lord’s Supper. Read More


Confirmation classes journey together toward their first profession of their intent to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Photo courtesy of Brecksville (Ohio) United Methodist Church.

Beyond baptism: What confirmation means to United Methodists

Confirmation is not a sacrament in The United Methodist Church, but an important step in our journey of faith. Read More


We confess our sins before God and one another. Stock photo by, Creative Commons 0.

Before God and one another: United Methodists and confession

Confession is not a sacrament in The United Methodist Church, but we confess our sins in worship and small groups to receive forgiveness and strength. Read More


Rings sit on text from the wedding service in the United Methodist Book of Worship. Photo illustration by Fran Walsh, United Methodist Communications.

I do: How United Methodists understand Christian marriage

In weddings and marriage, we celebrate love: the love of the couple, the love of God for us, and the love Christ calls us to share with the world. Read More

Anointing the Sick

The body of 107-year-old Rev. Isaac Momoh Ndanema is led out of church for burial. Often called “Pa Ndanema,” he chose to live simply and served as a peacemaker and social evangelist while encouraging the local language.Phileas Jusu, United Methodist Communications.

God is with us: Blessing the dying and those who grieve

As people come to the end of life, United Methodist pastors offer the strength, hope, and peace of Christ in this difficult yet sacred time. Read More

Ordination (Holy Orders)

At ordination, United Methodist clergy are prayed over, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and authorized by the church for their life and work. Photo by Emily Green, Indiana Conference.

Spirit empowered, church authorized: United Methodist ordination

What does The United Methodist Church teach about ordination? Learn more about the steps and blessings to become a deacon or elder. Read More




Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – The Choice

Forgiveness 2Key Bible Verse:  “And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”  Matthew 6:12

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 6: 12-14

A Christian acquaintance whose wife had an open fling with another man told of how he felt the inner sanctum of his heart had been trashed.  Even after she returned and said it had been a mistake, he felt the inevitability of divorce.  But while sorting out his options, he was surprised to be given, as a Christian, not only the grace to forgive at a specific moment, but more importantly, the possibility to live in forgiveness.

Of course, it was work.  But all told, in the midst of his anguish, he eventually could not think of anything important that he would lose by forgiving—except his “pride.”  He could choose to see his wife as having temporarily lost her bearings.  How human she was, to trade lifelong integrity for momentary flaring desire.  How outrageous! How deserving she was of being despised!

But at the same time there was another option: the pain-discovered possibility of the unique joy in forgiveness.  What, my friend asked himself, would be gained by not accepting this option?  And what was his Lord calling him to?  What was the satisfaction of wounded pride worth, in the long run?  Is forgiveness any more illogical than vengeance?

—John Ruth in Forgiveness


My Response: If I were the guy in this story, would I be willing to do the hard work of forgiveness?  Why or why not?


Thought to Apply: Forgiveness is God’s command. —Martin Luther (leader of the Protestant Reformation)

Adapted from Forgiveness (Herald Press, 2007)



Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.



Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – The Road of Faith

Forgiveness 3Key Bible Verse:  “Love your enemies! Do good to them.”  Luke 6:35

Dig Deeper:  Luke 6: 35-37

[continued from yesterday]  “I know lots of young people my age who are bitter, who are acting out violently,” said Cathy.  “Some of them are even dead now.… Fighting terror with terror is not the way.”

To forgive another person takes a tremendous act of faith, because in forgiving we choose to surrender our need to control a situation to satisfy our longings and intentions. To transfer a situation from our hands into God’s requires one to believe that God has witnessed the wrong and that God will not dismiss that wrong as something trivial or insignificant.

In the process of forgiving we say, “I give this situation to God and believe that in the eternal scheme of things, God’s justice and grace will bring about a resolution better than I could ever make.”

Fortunately, a mother in Northern Ireland years ago decided that her home would not become a haven of anger and hatred, a breeding ground for young terrorists.  Instead, she took the road of faith.

Because of that choice, her 20-year-old daughter now serves as a missionary to children in the inner city.  She is a young woman who loves instead of hates, who gives life instead of destroys it, and who lives each day as a witness to the power of forgiveness.

—Bruce Main in Spotting the Sacred


My Response: What messages am I communicating to my family about revenge and forgiveness?  To friends?  To neighbors?  To co-workers?


Thought to Apply: Never does the human soul appear so strong and noble as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.  —Edwin Hubbel Chapin (preacher, writer, editor)

Adapted from Spotting the Sacred (Baker, 2006)



Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.



I Do: How United Methodists Understand Christian Marriage

Rings sit on text from the wedding service in the United Methodist Book of Worship. Photo illustration by Fran Walsh, United Methodist Communications.

 A bride and groom holding handsChristian marriage is not a sacrament in The United Methodist Church, but those who marry enter into a sacred covenant.

It is a beautiful moment. A couple stands before a congregation of family and friends. They make lifelong promises to one another and maybe exchange rings. In a moment, their lives are changed. The two who have entered separately leave as one, joined together in marriage.

Christian marriage is not a sacrament in The United Methodist Church, but those who choose to marry enter into “a sacred covenant reflecting the Baptismal Covenant” (The United Methodist Book of Worship 115), and more specifically “a sacred covenant reflecting Christ’s covenant with the church” (The United Methodist Hymnal 864).

Baptism is our initiation into God’s covenant with us through Christ and marks the beginning of a lifetime of growing as followers of Jesus. In Christian marriage, that covenant is reaffirmed.

“The marriage vows specify how the couple will live as disciples of Jesus Christ in the context of their relationship with each other,” explains the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources with Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

In Christian marriage, the bride and groom “enter into union with each other through the grace of Jesus Christ, who calls [them] into union with himself as acknowledged in [their] baptism” (from the “Declaration of Intention” of A Service of Christian Marriage).

A service of worship

A service of Christian marriage in The United Methodist Church is a worship service similar to a typical Sunday service. In addition to the elements specific to marriage, there is a time of gathering and greeting, Scripture readings and a sermon, prayers and songs, a time for response to God’s word that may include the sacrament of Holy Communion, and a sending forth.

A bride and groom cut their wedding cake in front of their guests

The congregation gathered for a wedding represents the community of faith who will support the couple in their marriage.

“Everything about the service,” its introduction states, “is designed to witness that this is a Christian marriage.”

This does not preclude a United Methodist pastor from participating in an interfaith wedding, though care must be taken to include the faith leaders of the other tradition. For example, if a United Methodist is marrying a person of the Jewish faith, the pastor must work with the rabbi to ensure the ceremony properly represents both traditions. Each faith leader should then participate in the parts of the ceremony reflecting her/his tradition. Find more information for pastors about interfaith ceremonies here.

A community of support

While some may think a marriage ceremony is all about the couple (others might say it is all about the bride), the family and friends present are important participants. They are more than passive spectators.

“It is not just a ceremony for the couple,” Burton-Edwards explains. “It is the ceremony in which the whole community is part of the witnessing and blessing of the vows the couple make to one another.”

In addition to participating in prayers, singing, and worship, those gathered bless and offer support to the bride and groom.

After the couple declares their intention to enter into marriage, the pastor for the blessing of their families on the couple. Next, she asks the entire congregation if they will, by the grace of God, “uphold and care for these two persons in their marriage.”

Married couples benefit from the love and encouragement of family, friends, and the church throughout their marriages. Those who attend their wedding represent the community that promises to support the couple throughout their life together.

Celebrating love

A service of Christian marriage is a celebration of love, but not simply the romantic love between husband and wife. It also celebrates the love of God for us, and the love Jesus calls us Christians to share with the world.

Love to last a lifetime.

A Christian marriage is a celebration of love that will last a lifetime.

The Dismissal of “A Service of Christian Marriage” illustrates this well. After offering a brief prayer of blessing over the couple, the pastor charges the couple to a lifetime of mission, saying, “Go to serve God and your neighbor in all that you do.”

The pastor then addresses the whole congregation with these words, “Bear witness to the love of God in this world, so that those to whom love is a stranger will find in you generous friends.”

A wedding is a beautiful moment that ushers in a new era for the bride and groom, and a worship service reminding us of the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus. In Christian marriage, we are called to be witnesses of that love and to share it with others.

In Christian marriage, we are called to be witnesses to the love of God and share that love with others.

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


Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – Aren’t You Angry?

Frustrated Mother and DaughterKey Bible Verse:  And don’t say, “Now I can pay them back for what they’ve done to me!  I’ll get even with them!”  Proverbs 24:29

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 4: 31-32

The university class I was teaching had just finished reading some fascinating and troubling material on the impact of sustained violence on children in various parts of the world.

“They didn’t write about Northern Ireland,” complained Roz in her thick Belfast brogue.  “There’s three of us from Ireland in this class.  We grew up with violence all around us.”

“My father was killed by an IRA bomb when I was 6,” another young woman said abruptly.  The class was silent, and I was caught off guard.

“Aren’t you angry, Cathy?” I asked her, wondering how a young woman whose father was brutally murdered could not be.

“No,” she said without an edge to her voice.  “I was raised in a home by a mother who taught me to forgive, so the seeds of anger and bitterness never had a chance to grow.  My mother modeled forgiveness for all us children.”

She had no hint of repressed bitterness in her voice.  Rather, she had chosen to forgive, which obviously had made a profound difference for her.  That choice had separated her from others her own age—others who had chosen to hold on to their anger, allowing it to fester into suppressed rage. [continued tomorrow]

—Bruce Main in Spotting the Sacred


My Response:  How can I tell if I or someone I know has truly forgiven or is simply living with “repressed bitterness”?

Adapted from Spotting the Sacred (Baker, 2006)



Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.



Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – What Forgiving Others Isn’t

Forgiveness 2Who Said It … N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright is a leading New Testament scholar currently at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Prior to his position at St. Andrews, N. T. served as the bishop of Durham in the Church of England.

He is the author of numerous books including Justification, Surprised by Hope, Simply Christian, and Evil and the Justice of God—the book from which today’s devotional is taken.

N. T. and his wife, Maggie, have four adult children and three grandchildren.


What He Said … What Forgiving Others Isn’t

Forgiveness doesn’t mean “I didn’t really mind” or “it didn’t really matter.” I did mind and it did matter, otherwise there wouldn’t be anything to forgive, merely something to adjust my attitudes about.

Nor is forgiveness the same as saying, “Let’s pretend it didn’t really happen.”  This is a little trickier because part of the point of forgiveness is that I am committing myself to work toward the point where I can behave as if it hadn’t happened.

But it did happen, and forgiveness is looking hard at the fact that it did and making a conscious choice—a decision of the moral will—to set it aside so that it doesn’t come as a barrier between us.

In other words, forgiveness presupposes that the thing which happened was indeed evil and it cannot simply be set aside as irrelevant.  Along that route lies suppressed anger and a steady distancing of people who no longer trust one another.

A much better plan is to put things out on the table and deal with them.

Adapted from Evil and the Justice of God (IVP, 2006)


This week’s Key Study Passage:  Romans 12: 14-21

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


a.       Or willing to do menial work

b.      Deut. 32:35

c.       Prov. 25:21,22



Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.



Leading with Love: The Key to Success

What is Agape.bmpWithout love, anything we do is futile (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  That goes for work too.

People who take advantage of others in order to climb the corporate ladder often say they are just “getting ahead.”  They also often justify bending the rules to earn more profit.  This kind of thinking couldn’t be more warped.

Ultimately, any undertaking that is not motivated by love is destined for failure.  We as Christians should be at the forefront of modeling work practices that encourage love for neighbor and coworker.

Key Study Passage:

1 Corinthians 13:1-8

  1. Why do you think these eight verses are so widely quoted?  Why is love such a central teaching of the Christian faith?


  1. Which of the characteristics of love (vv. 4-7) do you see on display at your workplace?  Which ones are lacking?


  1. What steps can you take to make your work culture and environment more conducive to loving others?


  1. Talk to some friends at your church and compare notes about good practices you can apply to your respective workplaces.


Spend Time in Prayer: Thank God for your workplace and coworkers; ask him to make you an agent of his agape love.


1 Corinthians 13:1-8

13 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, in the situations where I am a leader, help me to submit my pride and ambition to you and lead with love for those who follow.


Leading with Love: Love Actually Works

What is Agape.bmpKey Bible Verses:  My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.  This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.  1 John 3:18-19, The message

Dig Deeper:  2 Peter 1:5-8

If agape love builds healthy relationships in all walks of life, why shouldn’t we always use it to build our organizations as well?

Why isn’t there more dialogue about how to create and maintain healthy relationships at work?   After all, common sense tells us that people will perform better if they are treated with respect and trust.

I have served in large and small organizations, public and private, and also on boards of several nonprofit and for-profit organizations.  After more than 30 years of witnessing all forms of organizational structures, I am still surprised at how willingly we discuss strategy and how to increase profit but how loath we are to discuss how to build and maintain a successful corporate culture by consistently treating all employees in a way that attracts and keeps the best talent in all levels of the organization.

Agape love is a leadership principle that holds leaders accountable and helps any organization become healthier and more enthusiastic.  That is why I submit that we should never leave love at the door when we come to work.

On the contrary, love works.  Think about love the verb, not love the emotion.  Think commitment and will, not feelings, and you will start to see how love works.

—Joel Manby in Love Works


My Response:  What lessons have I learned this week that I can apply to my own life?


Thought to Apply:  When love is felt, the message is heard.—Jim Vaus (converted former gangster)

Adapted from Love Works (Zondervan, 2012)



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, in the situations where I am a leader, help me to submit my pride and ambition to you and lead with love for those who follow.


Leading with Love: From the Handbook

What is Agape.bmpKey Bible Verse:  Love never fails.  – 1 Corinthians 13:8, NIV

Dig Deeper:  1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Basing the leadership behavior of an organization on the definition of agape love may strike you as a new or even revolutionary idea—and in the context of modern American organization practices, it is.

But the inspiration for using agape love as a leadership principle actually comes from one of the oldest and most respected authorities on human behavior in the world: the Bible.

Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is known as the “love chapter” because there the apostle Paul wrote: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV).

This is agape—and these are principles that will transform your organization, from the bottom line to the bottom of your employees’ hearts.  Love is patient, kind, trusting, unselfish, truthful, forgiving, and dedicated.

How these words get worked out in the context of a successful organization may surprise you, but remember, they are never an excuse to ignore poor performance or neglect the bottom line.

—Joel Manby in Love Works


My Response:  Which characteristics of love do I most need to work on?


Thought to Apply:  Joy is love exalted; peace is love in repose; long-suffering is love enduring; gentleness is love in society; goodness is love in action; faith is love on the battlefield; meekness is love in school; and temperance is love in training.—D. L. Moody (minister, evangelist)

Adapted from Love Works (Zondervan, 2012)


Prayer for the Week:  Lord, in the situations where I am a leader, help me to submit my pride and ambition to you and lead with love for those who follow.


Leading with Love: The Meaning of Agape

What is Agape.bmpKey Bible Verse:  Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 4:1-6

Agape is unconditional.  It is a decision, a matter of will.

The key principle is to think of agape as a verb, not an emotion.

Agape love is the foundation for the best and noblest relationships that humans are capable of.  It is deliberate and unconditional love that is the result of choices and behaviors rather than feelings and emotions.

In that regard, agape love is about the values we embrace as a way of life, and it is a determination to behave in a certain way that stems from our regard for other human beings, regardless of how we may feel about them.

For leaders, demonstrating agape love is about behavior, not emotion.  This is a critical distinction that explains why agape love can be the motivating force of a successful organization.

Agape love can exist in the most hostile environments—even work!  Agape can stand the test of time.  In fact, with agape love, you can dislike someone or be frustrated with them and still treat them with love.

Agape love will promote healthy relationships among employees and their leaders, allowing people to perform at their very best, all the while withstanding the pressure and tension that can exist in a high-performance organization.

—Joel Manby in Love Works


My Response: How can I cultivate agape love in all my relationships?


Thought to Apply:  To love we must give of ourselves, of our time, … of whatever it takes to show love; for giving is fundamental to the biblical idea of love.—Jay E. Adams (author)

Adapted from Love Works (Zondervan, 2012)



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, in the situations where I am a leader, help me to submit my pride and ambition to you and lead with love for those who follow.



Leading with Love: Love in Action

Love is a VerbKey Bible Verse:  “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.  This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 7:12

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 5:43-48

I could accept the fact that HFE employees loved working for the Herschends, and even that the Herschends loved them back.  But I was struggling with the word love and how to define it in a way the employees would understand and accept.  Then I remembered a talk I’d heard many years before.

On our wedding day, our pastor Terry told my wife, Marki, and me, “You can’t imagine this today, but there will come a day when you are frustrated with each other; you may not feel like you love each other.  You may not even feel like you like each other in the moment.  Joel and Marki, that’s when you need to behave like you love each other.”

Treating someone with love regardless of how you feel about that person is a very powerful principle.  This type of love is the basis for all healthy relationships, bringing out the best in ourselves and others.  It can make us great spouses, great parents, and great friends.  Great leaders too.

All too often, however, when we read the word love, we automatically think about romantic love—the emotional kind.

What I’m talking about, however, is love the verb, agape in Greek, not the emotion.  I’m talking about actions, not feelings.

—Joel Manby in Love Works


My Response: How do my actions demonstrate love for those I lead?


Thought to Apply:  Selfless love serves for the sake of the one being served, and serves in the way it likes being served—whether it ever receives such service or not.—John Macarthur (pastor)

Adapted from Love Works (Zondervan, 2012)


Prayer for the Week:  Lord, in the situations where I am a leader, help me to submit my pride and ambition to you and lead with love for those who follow.



Leading with Love: Beyond the Bottom Line

Undercover Boss 2Key Bible Verse:  And masters, treat your servants considerately.  Be fair with them.  Don’t forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven.  Colossians 4:1, The message

Dig Deeper: 1 Peter 5:1-4

Before I came to HFE, I had been living by the numbers because numbers were all my leaders seemed to care about.  If I had any deeper principles, I needed to check them at the company door, because once I was at work, it was all about financial performance.

When I performed well, I was rewarded and respected.  When I failed, I felt like I was kicked to the curb.  It was that simple.

Inside I longed for a better way.  I wanted to care about the people I worked with and for.  I wanted to work somewhere that rejected the false dichotomy between profit and people or profit and principles.

But I had been in business long enough to know that was a nearly impossible dream.

My experience at HFE has revolutionized the way I see leadership.  I am convinced that leading with love is the best way to run an organization.  Any organization.

The bottom line is best served when leaders lead with love.

I understand that this is a controversial claim, but I also now understand that it is true.  Love isn’t a feeling, but an action, an action by which leaders and entire organizations can experience almost unimaginable success and personal fulfillment.


My Response:  What’s my initial reaction to the idea of leading with love?  Why do I feel this way?

Adapted from Love Works (Zondervan, 2012)



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, in the situations where I am a leader, help me to submit my pride and ambition to you and lead with love for those who follow.




Leading with Love: A Different Kind of Leadership

Undercover BossWho Said It … Joel Manby

Joel Manby is president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation (HFE). He was featured on the hit CBS reality-TV series, Undercover Boss, where he and the employees of HFE demonstrated their unique approach to leadership to millions of viewers.

Joel is the author of Love Works. He and his wife, Marki, have four daughters and live in suburban Atlanta.


What he Said … A Different Kind of Leadership

More than 18 million viewers saw HFE’s episode of Undercover Boss, making it the highest-rated program on CBS that week and the second most popular show on any network, trailing only American Idol.

People who witnessed our employees in action wanted us to know that they wished their own places of work were more like what they had seen on Undercover Boss—in other words, more respectful, cooperative, joyful and, well, more loving.

The most satisfying part about appearing on Undercover Boss was that it confirmed the wise management philosophy that the leaders at HFE had been nurturing for half a century: leading with love.

Leading with love is counterintuitive in today’s business environment because it turns many so-called leadership principles upside-down. Yet the outpouring of support from people who had never even heard of HFE convinced me that while we might be doing something slightly crazy by leading with love, we were also doing something that people were hungry to be part of.


Key Study Passage:  1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Adapted from Love Works (Zondervan, 2012)


Prayer for the Week:  Lord, in the situations where I am a leader, help me to submit my pride and ambition to you and lead with love for those who follow.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Identifying False Teachers

Identifying False TeachersJude devotes his short letter to warning Christians everywhere about those who live in opposition to God and his followers.  They twist God’s words, he says, seeking to deceive and destroy the unwary.  

But since God’s Word and the gift of eternal life have infinite value and have been entrusted to us, he urges us to work at grasping his truth and faithfully defending it.

Interact with God’s Word

Jude 1:12-13, 17-21

  1. How are people whose interpretations veer from balanced biblical teaching like reefs? … like irresponsible shepherds? … like clouds that produce no rain? … like fruitless trees? … like ocean breakers? … like planets?
  2. To what apostolic warnings (v. 17) might Jude have been referring?  (See Acts 20:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5.)
  3. Why did Jude (v. 18) consider him and his readers already in “the last times”?
  4. How (v. 19) do people who “follow their natural instincts” instead of relying on the Holy Spirit create divisions in the church?
  5. What defenses against error (v. 20) does Jude mention?  What is the doctrinal and ethical core that comprises our “most holy faith?”


Spend Time in Prayer

Ask God for a balanced understanding of his Word that helps you confidently navigate complex situations based on your grasp of the basic principles he has revealed.

Jude 1:12-13, 17-21

12 When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you.  They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves.  They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain.  They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots.  13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds.  They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.

17 But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ said.  18 They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires.  19 These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you.  They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

20 But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, 21 and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life.  In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.


Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Deceptive Spirits

False ProphetKey Bible Verse:  Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teaching that come from demons.  1 Timothy 4:1

Bonus Reading:  Jude 1:12-13

The Greek word translated as “deceptive” in today’s Key Bible verse is planos, the word from which our English word “planet” is derived.  The ancient Greeks called those bright orbs deceivers.


In ancient times, the navigators of ships knew that they could, with reliability, sight in on most stars to accurately determine their location and thereby sail the right course to their destination.

They also learned that the “deceivers” (planoi)—the wandering stars—would only lead them to confusion or destruction if they tried to determine their position by them.

They, of course, didn’t know that those “stars” were actually planets that revolved around the sun.

It isn’t difficult to see why the Holy Spirit stirred the apostle Paul to use this word to warn us about the demonic enterprises of these last days.

We dare not take our directions from the no-such-thing-as-absolute-truth relativism of our culture’s attitudes toward almost everything.

And we would be wise to see the profound analogy between the erratic movement of a non-light-producing planet and the deceiving spirits of this world.

—Jack Hayford in The Anatomy of Seduction


My Response: Why is succumbing to deception often followed by moral compromise?


Thought to Apply: We are oftener deceived by being told some truth than none. —Fulke Greville (English courtier)

Adapted from The Anatomy of Seduction (Regal, 2004)



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.



Develop Your Spiritual Insight – A Godsend?

PreacherKey Bible Verse:  “But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?'”  – Deuteronomy 18:21

Bonus Readings:  Deuteronomy 18:22; Jeremiah 14:14; Galatians 1:8

Phil told my wife and me about attending a meeting of two or three thousand people where a priest said, “A young man is here fighting leukemia.”  Phil was fighting leukemia but thought that in such a crowd there probably were several fighting leukemia.

But the priest continued, “This man is also going through a divorce.”  Phil thought, Well, that’s two for two.”

Then the leader predicted that this young man would have chemo treatments and return “next September to testify to answered prayer.”  That’s what happened: Phil returned to testify to his perfect healing.

Was this priest a true prophet of God?  I don’t think so.

Though an inaccurate prediction disqualifies a prophet, a correct prediction doesn’t automatically prove that the man or woman is to be followed.

I asked Phil, “How would this man answer this question: What does a person have to do to enter heaven?”  Phil answered, “He’d say that you have to follow God and be a good person.”

That, of course is “another gospel.”

—Erwin Lutzer in Who Are You to Judge?


My Response: How does a spokesperson’s lifestyle bear on the validity of his message?


Thought to Apply: The gift of discernment has been neglected in charismatic circles, but is the gift that most needs to be sought and cultivated, because its exercise is the key to the right use of all the rest.—Tom Smail

Adapted from Who Are You to Judge? (Moody, 2002)



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.


Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Religious Campus Tour

Religious CampusKey Bible Verse:  They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.  Stay away from people like that!  2 Timothy 3:5

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 119:160; Luke 22:70; John 10:30; John 14:6; Acts 4:12

Let’s listen in on a few classes at a so-called Christian college.

  • An Old Testament Studies classroom: Professor Rationalist says, “These legends—the creation account, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus’ miracles—are symbolic stories to teach principles. Scientists offer no verification that any of these events really happened.”


  • A New Testament Studies classroom: Professor Skeptic says, “Jesus was a popular teacher in his day, but we have no evidence that divinity should be ascribed to him.”


  • A Religion 101 classroom: Professor Universalist says, “There are many religious roads, but they all lead to God.  All sincere people of faith—Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Age—will arrive at the same glorified place.  It’s bigoted to believe otherwise.”

If anything, deceptive teaching is harder to discern when professors mix their own non-literal views of Scripture and religious humanism beliefs with biblical Christianity.

Don’t think that Satan considers colleges with a Christian heritage off limits.  He’s prepared to use any tactic to distract and deceive you from being on that narrow way that leads to life.

—David Wheaton in University of Destruction


My Response: One clue that a professing Christian may not be a possessing one is …


Thought to Apply: God never meant for man to scale the heavens by strides of human wisdom.—William Cowper

Adapted from University of Destruction (Bethany, 2005)


Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.


Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Secular Campus Tour

Secular CampusKey Bible Verse:  There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  – Proverbs 14:12

Bonus Reading:  Genesis 1:1; Romans 3:10-12; John 17:17

Poke your head into a few university classrooms to sample what the professors are saying.

  • A biology classroom: “As a result of a cataclysmic explosion, the universe came into existence ten billion years ago.  The fossil record shows that invertebrates made the leap from water to land two million years before humans.”

If you believe Professor Evolutionist’s claim that you are the product of random chance and evolution, what degree of purpose and meaning could your life possibly have?

  • A sociology classroom: “Humans are inherently good.  If everyone were given enough education and financial resources, the result would be a united utopian world.”

If you believe Professor Humanist’s thesis, how do you explain the never-ending cycle of sin in the world—crime, violence, greed, pride, rape, lust, etc.?

  • A values and ethics classroom: “What’s wrong for you may be right for someone else in the same situation.  Who are you to judge someone else?  Divisive religion-based concepts of right and wrong only foster guilt and hate rather than tolerance.”

If you believe Professor Relativist’s assertion, on what basis will you make your moral choices?

Now contrast their trendy groupthink with God’s Word in today’s Bonus Readings.

  •  Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[a]

  •  John 17:17 –  Sanctify them by[a] the truth; your word is truth.

—David Wheaton in University of Destruction


My Response: Is my worldview shaped by current experts or scriptural perspectives?


Thought to Apply: Intelligence and education can ascertain facts. Wisdom can discover the truth.—Max De Pree

Adapted from University of Destruction (Bethany, 2005)



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.


Develop Your Spiritual Insight – In vs. Of

Liquor WarehouseKey Bible Verse:  Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind.  1 Corinthians 14:20

Bonus Reading:  1 Cor. 5: 9-13

I know a man who desperately needed to buy a warehouse, but when a liquor company offered to sell him one, he balked.  He asked me if he should buy it.

“There’s no sin in purchasing real estate from the sinful,” I told him, “unless you cheat someone else or use it sinfully yourself.”

“Yes,” he objected. “But what about using my money to prosper them.”

“Look,” I explained. “We live in a complicated world.  You buy groceries at stores that sell liquor, fly on airplanes that give it away in first class, and stay in hotels that have bars.

In the world isn’t the same as of it.”

On the other hand, a deep, close bond in business or a relationship with an unsaved partner is rife with danger.  Unbelievers, sensing they’ll also be blessed for the sake of the righteous, often want to partner with Christians.  Potiphar and Pharaoh saw that hope in Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar saw it in Daniel.

The biblical admonition, “don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14) is ignored at great risk.  Ahab was spared because he was with Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 18: 1-27), but Jehoshaphat nearly died because he was with Ahab.  Don’t link your destiny with another uncommitted to the God you serve.

—Mark Rutland in God of the Valleys


My Response: To function in the world without becoming aligned with it, I need to …

Adapted from God of the Valleys (Servant, 2000)



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.


Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Steep Learning Curve

Used CarsWho Said It … John Ensor

John Ensor is Executive Director of the Urban Initiative Program of Heartbeat Inter-national.  H.I. trains Christian communities in providing life-saving, life-changing assistance to women and couples unprepared for pregnancy.

John is completing a two-year effort to establish ultrasound-equipped Pregnancy Help Clinics in needy neighborhoods of Miami, a city with nearly 40 abortion facilities.

John previously served as a pastor and founded a network of six clinics in the Boston area.


What He Said … Steep Learning Curve

Because I wanted it badly, I looked right past the red flags.  I ended up back where I started, but poorer, embarrassed, and feeling used and stupid.

I’m talking about a used car.  I went online and was defrauded out of $4,000.  

Proverbs 14:15 had me fingered: “Only simpletons believe everything they’re told!  The prudent carefully consider their steps.”

The webmaster knew about people at their predatory worst who feed on the gullible.  So right there on the website, in a section about online fraud, he spelled out the sure signs to look for.

He also provided straightforward guidelines for doing things right when buying a used car online.  But never dreaming I’d be a victim of fraud, I failed to read the link before barging ahead.

One Proverb (Proverbs 14:12) warns about the path that seems right but ends in death.  I think this refers to our tendency to follow our own judgment without informing it with the wisdom of others or instructing it with a sense of right and wrong, wise and foolish.

Adapted from Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart (Crossway, 2007)


Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

Grasping God’s Grace – God’s Gift

God's GracePaul begins and ends his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:2and 6:24) with a prayer that they would share in God’s grace.

The most important things in life—forgiveness, a right relationship with God, acceptance into God’s family, eternal life, the transforming power of his Holy Spirit—are all God’s gifts for those made his own by his grace.

Believers should respond by joyfully praising God for this grace and by letting their lives reflect their gratitude. In the Greek language, significantly, the words grace, joy, and thanksgiving are related.

Interact with God’s Word

Ephesians 2:4-9:

  1.   When, according to verse 8, was God’s grace applied to your life?
  2.   What (v. 5) was your status before God’s grace penetrated your life? What is it since you were saved?
  3.   How much of this transformation (vv. 8-9) can you take credit for?
  4.     When someone gives you a gift, do you say, “That’s very nice—now how much do I owe you?” What is the appropriate response?
  5.     Have you felt obligated to try to work your way to God?
  6.     Do you think of yourself as “Exhibit A” of the “incredible wealth” of God’s grace and kindness (v. 7)? Should you?


Spend Time in Prayer

Thank God for taking the initiative to provide for your salvation even though you had done nothing to deserve it.


Ephesians 2:4-9

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.  (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)  6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.  7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.



Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.



Grasping God’s Grace – Bow-wow

Man Feeding DogKey Bible Verse:  How kind the Lord is! So merciful, this God of ours!  Psalm 116:5

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 116:8, 12-13

We used to have two dogs.  They belonged to my son, but when he wasn’t home, I took care of them.

These dogs had a good life.  They found food sitting on their plates, got fresh water every day, and had a warm spot to sleep.

One day I was trying to get one of the dogs to move while I fed it, and it growled at me.  I looked at that brother and thought, You’re a fool. I’m here feeding and watering you at no cost to you.  I don’t want to do it, don’t need to do it, don’t feel like doing it.  And you’re growling at me?

That dog didn’t understand that he ate, drank, and had a place to sleep by grace.  The only thing that dog should have said to me when I came out was, “Thank you, bow-wow,” because everything he had was by grace.

When you decide to live by a kingdom agenda, you no longer say, “This is my food, and you’d better give it to me, God.  You’d better supply my drink and keep clothes on my back.  This is my house, and you’d better keep it paid for.”

The only thing you say when you get up in the morning is, “Thank you, God, bow-wow.”

—Tony Evans in The Kingdom Agenda: What a Way to Live!


My Response:  Do my expectations of God reveal a taking for granted of his amazing grace?


Thought to Apply: Thou hast given so much to me, give me one thing more—a grateful heart … whose pulse may be thy praise. —George Herbert (English pastor & poet)

Adapted from The Kingdom Agenda: What a Way to Live! (Word, 1997)



Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.

Grasping God’s Grace – The Table

Dining Room TableKey Bible Verse:  “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”  Jeremiah 31:34

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 10:11-18

It was going to be a short job—swapping out one light fixture for another.  While installing the new light, I needed a slightly different angle to get at a screw.  Standing on a chair, the thought occurred to me that our oak dining room table would make a perfect support for me to reach the screw, or so I thought.

Stepping lightly on the table, there was a sudden, sickening sound of splintering wood.  The table came crashing down.  I could do nothing to stop it.  It was broken.

For the rest of the evening I was angry—angry at my wife, at the light, at the table, but mostly with myself.  I couldn’t forgive myself.  But that is what God’s grace is about—forgiveness.

Jesus extended His grace and forgiveness to everyone he came into contact with.  It didn’t matter if they were an unclean leper, a convicted thief, a crazed demoniac, or a prostitute.  Jesus loved them all, forgave them all and held out his grace to them all.  It was up to them to grasp God’s grace.

God’s grace is an astonishing gift.  Sometimes we need it when we sin greatly.  Sometimes we need it when we break the dining room table and can’t forgive ourselves.

—Joe Williams in Ohio


My Response: Am I underrating God’s grace by continuing to blame myself for what he has stopped remembering?


Thought to Apply: Wonderful Grace of Jesus,/Greater than all my sin;/How shall my tongue describe it?/Where shall its praise begin? —Haldor Lillenas (hymn writer)

Adapted from The Barbarian Way (Nelson, 2005)



Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.



Grasping God’s Grace – A New Lease on Life

Writing ChecksKey Bible Verse:  He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  – Titus 3:5

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 2: 4-9

A young man and his wife opened a coffeehouse as a ministry in a run-down part of town.

The lease for the property was reasonable.  They invested money, long hours, and sweat in improvements, steadily gained customers, and then took the risk of expanding to a similar neighborhood across town.

Their first landlord now decided her now-improved property should bring a much higher rent.  The couple had understood their lease wouldn’t change, but an attorney said the contract language was “open to interpretation.”

Since they couldn’t justify the expense of going to court, they were forced to move out of the first store.  But the new store couldn’t begin to pay the mountain of debt from both start-ups.  They saw no hope of avoiding bankruptcy.

Then the young man’s mother, a small business owner herself, visited and asked to see the shop’s books.  As each debt was identified, she wrote out a check—to a total of some $50,000!  Their debts were erased.

Now when conversation in the coffeehouse turns to faith, this young man tells the story of his mother’s sacrifice.  That, he explains, is an earthly picture of how his heavenly Father erased his ultimate debt.

—Sam House in HomeLife


My Response: I’ll thank God for delivering me from my moral bankruptcy.


Thought to Apply: Our faults are like a grain of sand beside the great mountain of the mercies of God. —Jean Baptiste Vianney (French priest)

Adapted from HomeLife (Lifeway, 4/03)



Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.

Grasping God’s Grace – Bargaining Chips?

God's Grace 2Key Bible Verse:  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  Ephesians 1:7

Bonus Reading:  Romans 3:22-24, 11:6

An old tale tells of a man who died and faced the angel Gabriel at heaven’s gates.

“Here’s how this works,” Gabriel explained. “You need 100 points to make it into heaven. Tell me all the good things you’ve done, and on the basis of how much good there is in each, I’ll assign a number of points.  When you reach 100 points, you’re in.”

“Okay,” the man said, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says Gabriel, “that’s worth three points.”

“Three points?” said the man incredulously. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my money and service.”

“Terrific!” said Gabriel, “that’s certainly worth a point.”

“One point?” said the man, beginning to show a bit of panic. “Well, how about this:

I opened a shelter for the homeless in my city, and fed needy people by the hundreds during holidays.”

“Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” said the angel.

Two points?” cried the man in desperation. “At this rate the only way that I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God!”

“Come on in,” said Gabriel.

—Bryan Chapell in Holiness by Grace


My Response: How can I guard against reverting to a saved-by-works mindset?


Thought to Apply: Grace is the free, undeserved goodness and favor of God to mankind. —Matthew Henry

Adapted from Holiness by Grace(Crossway, 2003)


Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.



Grasping God’s Grace – Family Values?

"The Feast in the House of Levi" - Pablo Veronese

“The Feast in the House of Levi” – Pablo Veronese

Key Bible Verse:  Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.  This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain. Luke 15:1-2

Bonus Reading:  Luke 15: 11-32

In the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice hangs a painting by Pablo Veronese that got him in trouble with the Inquisition.  It depicts Jesus at a banquet with his disciples, complete with Roman soldiers playing in one corner, a few drunks, and North African blacks.

Called before the inquisition to explain these irreverences,  Veronese showed from the Gospels that these were the very kinds of people Jesus mingled.  The scandalized Inquisitors made him change the painting’s title and make the scene secular rather than religious.

In doing so, of course, the Inquisitors replicated the attitude of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.  They too were scandalized by the tax collectors, half-breeds, foreigners, and women of ill repute who hung out with Jesus.

They too had trouble swallowing the notion that these are the people God loves.  While Jesus was captivating the crowd with his parables of grace, Pharisees stood by grumbling.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, provocatively, Jesus brought in the older brother to voice proper outrage at his father for rewarding irresponsible behavior.  What kind of virtue would throwing a party for such a renegade encourage?

—Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace?


My Response: Is an us vs. them attitude of mine undercutting God’s grace?

Adapted from What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Zondervan, 1997)



Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.



Grasping God’s Grace – He Had It Coming

God's GraceWho Said It … Glenn Stanton

Glenn Stanton is a director of social research and cultural affairs at the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.  As a media spokesperson for Focus, he had been interviewed by hundreds of print and media outlets.

A husband and father of five, Glenn says that he and his wife, Jacqueline, have little sleep but much joy!

Glenn has written The Little Big Book for Dads and The Fatherhood Movement: A Call to Action.  He won the Amy Foundation writing award in 2001 and was featured in the PBS documentary, Affluenza.


What He Said … He Had It Coming

Our friend Steve, as our mothers might say, is a good Lutheran boy.  When he was in college, he got himself arrested for driving while intoxicated.  He felt horrible for being so foolish.

He had to call his parents from the police station and was afraid his father would hammer him even more than he had hammered himself for his irresponsibility.  He explained his situation to his dad and waited for the angry lecture.  That’s not what Steve got.

His dad said instead, “Son, how can I help you through this?” Steve’s heart melted.

Steve says this incident is one of the most powerful pictures he ever experienced of God’s grace.  It was a small picture of the story of the prodigal son and the forgiving father.

This kind of grace is a powerful part of the nature of God. Satan condemns and oppresses us.  God forgives and offers us freedom.  Grace is Satan’s most bitter pill, because he wants us condemned.

Adapted from My Crazy Imperfect Christian Family (NavPress, 2004) by permission.


Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.




Culture Can Be Redeemed – Being Salt

SaltWe think of salt as seasoning, and also a melting and water-softening agent.  But until recent times, its primary use was to preserve.  That made it a metaphor for permanence.

The term translated “everlasting covenant” in Numbers 18:19and 2 Chronicles 13:5, is literally “covenant of salt.”

Season all your grain offerings with salt,” God told his chosen people (in Leviticus 2:13), “to remind you of God’s eternal covenant.”


Interact with God’s Word

Matthew 5: 13-16

  1. What is the value of seasoning that has no flavor?  What is implied here about the value of Christians who make no effort to affect the world around them?
  2. What are some ways Christians can affect their society positively, bringing out its best flavor?
  3. What warning does Jesus’ remark about flavorless salt being thrown out carry for Christians who simply blend in with their culture?
  4. What qualities of Jesus’ disciples make them a source of light in their communities?
  5. What are some ways in which Christians hide their light?
  6. How can our good deeds lead not to smugness but to praise for our heavenly Father?


Spend Time in Prayer

Ask God for courage to stand out from the crowd coupled with a selfless caring that makes the faith you live attractively compelling.

Matthew 5:13-16

13 You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.


 Prayer for the Week:  Since you’ve called me to be salt and light, I’m not free to just blend in.  Empower me to make a positive impact where you’ve placed me.




Culture Can Be Redeemed – Deep End Economics

Kids in SwimsuitsKey Bible Verse:  They share freely and give generously to those in need.  Their good deeds will be remembered forever.  Psalm 112:9

Bonus Reading  2 Corinthians 9: 7-13

An Arizona church had a clothing drive to help a ministry that operates a summer day-camp for hundreds of poor children.

One of their favorite activities is going to a city swimming pool.  But a swimsuit is required at the pool, and few children own one.  When this need was announced at the church, an out-of-town visitor was moved to donate $1,000 to buy swimsuits!

David, a church member, checked out several stores.  At the store that offered the best discount, he carefully selected 150 children’s swimsuits, and piled them all in front of the cashier!  Several people behind him reacted with dismay, knowing this big purchase would delay them.  An older woman asked if he had a large family.  “No,” he laughingly replied, and explained who the swimsuits were for.

The woman continued to watch as the clerk totaled the cost.  Finally, the total reached $1,000, which paid for 125 suits.  David told the clerk he’d put the remaining 25 swimsuits back on the sales rack.

“No!” the woman interjected, “I’d like to pay for those.”  David, astounded by this woman’s generosity, was sure he’d just seen another example of Kingdom mathematics.

—Bob Moffitt in If Jesus Were Mayor


My Response: A community need my church is—or could be—addressing is …


Thought to Apply:  [A true community’s] members are making the transition from “the community for myself” to “myself for the community.” —Jean Vanier(Canadian social worker)

Adapted from If Jesus Were Mayor (Monarch, 2006



Prayer for the Week:  Since you’ve called me to be salt and light, I’m not free to just blend in.  Empower me to make a positive impact where you’ve placed me.




Culture Can Be Redeemed – Extreme Outreach

Parental ControlKey Bible Verse: … shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.  Philippians 2:15

Bonus Reading: Mark 2: 14-17

A striking example of engagement with the world is the story of Craig Gross and Mike Foster and their quest to redeem the porn industry.  Founders of (now under the umbrella of Fireproof Ministries), these two men have withstood withering criticism from within the Christian community for their attempts to reach out to the purveyors (and the victims) of the multibillion-dollar pornography empire.

They attend porn conventions (with their wives, no less), handing out “Jesus loves porn stars” T-shirts and challenging people to go without porn for seven days.  They even inaugurated a “porn Sunday” in 2005, calling on churches to wake up to the reality of porn and porn addiction in their midst.

I don’t know these men personally but I have benefited from their ministry (their accountability software is on my computer) and admire their courage in seeking to bring the light and life of Jesus into the darkest of places.  They didn’t wait for the lost to come to them—they went to where those people were and by their actions demonstrated the grace and truth of the gospel.

—Mike Erre in The Jesus of Suburbia


My Response: A hangout for the unchurched that I could “salt” with a Christian presence is …


Thought to Apply: Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it. —John Stott (British preacher)

Adapted from The Jesus of Suburbia (W Publishing, 2006)



Prayer for the Week:  Since you’ve called me to be salt and light, I’m not free to just blend in.  Empower me to make a positive impact where you’ve placed me.




Culture Can Be Redeemed – Refurbished Reputation

Delivering Phone BooksKey Bible Verse:  Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  – 1 John 3:18

Bonus Reading:  1 John 3: 16-19

Our church recognized that its reputation in the community had deteriorated as the church grew.  We were known as “the church that causes traffic jams.”

Add this to the fact that we paid no taxes and you’ll see why the local government saw us as takers rather than contributors to the community.

So we went to the city manager and asked, “What can we do to serve the community?”  He looked at us skeptically and said, “I’ll get back to you.”

Three months later he called and asked us to deliver more than 17,000 town directories to every household.  “Can you do it?” he inquired.  We said yes.

Our church is large, but it was still a challenge to martial more than 200 volunteers to give a September Saturday to deliver these directories.  We found the volunteers, and we decided to make this practical service event into a prayer walk—praying for every home in our community as we walked.

The service project/prayer walk opened new ideas and opportunities for community outreach, and we entered that fall with a new sense of anticipation of God working through us.

—Paul Borthwick in Stop Witnessing and Start Loving


My Response: Is my church viewed as a negative, irrelevant, or positive factor in my community?  What might change that?


Thought to Apply:  According to the New Testament, God wills that the church be a people who show what God is like. —Stanley Grenz (theologian)

Adapted from Stop Witnessing and Start Loving (NavPress, 2003)



Prayer for the Week:  Since you’ve called me to be salt and light, I’m not free to just blend in.  Empower me to make a positive impact where you’ve placed me.




Culture Can Be Redeemed – Proactive Culture Changer

The Chronicles of NarniaKey Bible Verse:  Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Philippians 4:8

Bonus Reading:  2 Cor. 10: 3-5

Film executive Micheal Flaherty, now 40, was first an educator who designed a program that dramatically increased the enrollment of minority students at elite Boston prep schools and co-founded a successful charter school.

After the Columbine tragedy of 1999, Flaherty noted that while Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott loved wholesome films, the gunmen preferred dark flicks like Natural Born Killers.

This inspired him to transition professionally to Hollywood to make movies that would positively influence youth. He contacted his old college roommate Cary Granat, then president of Dimension Films.  Granat caught Flaherty’s vision and they co-founded Walden Media.

Most of Walden’s films are adaptations of well-known novels.  Flaherty hopes to provide librarians, teachers, pastors, and parents with resources for teaching kids positive, even biblical, values.

In an industry skittish about portraying religious themes, Flaherty is bucking the trend. “We’re after great stories,” he says, “and a key element of a great story is faith.”

Walden’s credits include The Chronicles of Narnia megahits, plus adaptations of children’s classics such as Charlotte’s Web, and Amazing Grace, about the life of William Wilberforce.  They are starting to give Hollywood a good name.

—Drew Dyck in Today’s Christian


My Response: I think Christians are known more for darkness-cursing than candle-lighting because …


Thought to Apply: Better to light a one small candle than to curse the darkness. —Chinese proverb

Adapted from Today’s Christian (3-4/07).



Prayer for the Week:  Since you’ve called me to be salt and light, I’m not free to just blend in.  Empower me to make a positive impact where you’ve placed me.



Letting God Lead – Out of the Wilderness

Wilderness of the ExodusAfter 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel is poised to enter the Promised Land.  But before they can prosper in the “land flowing with mild and honey,” Moses reminds them that they must love God wholeheartedly and obey his commands.

In today’s study passage, we see a clear connection between a deep love for God and obedience to him. The same principle remains true today: “If you love me,” Jesus says in John 14:15, “obey my commands.”

Interact with God’s Word:

Deuteronomy 6

  1. Israel’s economic prosperity was tied to obedience (v. 3).  What kinds of “riches” are promised to those who obey Christ? (See Romans 8:17, 23, 29-30; Col. 1: 12-14.)


  1. Practically speaking, how are Christians called to live out verses 4 and 5?



  1. What does it really mean to “fear the LORD your God” (v. 13)?  (See Hebrews 12: 28-29; Psalm 33: 8-22, Psalm 118:4, Proverbs 23:17.)


  1. What “gods” (v. 14) are Christian men in our culture most tempted to worship?



  1. How are Christians “counted as righteous” (v. 25)?  (See Romans 4: 1-5.)


  1. Since we aren’t saved by our good deeds, why do them? (See James 1: 22-25, James 2: 14-26.)


Spend Time in Prayer:

Confess ways in the past week you’ve failed to put God first; ask him to help you demonstrate your faith and love for him through both your thoughts and actions.

Deuteronomy 6

A Call for Wholehearted Commitment

“These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, 2 and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. 3 Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

10 “The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. 11 The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, 12 be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. 13 You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.

14 “You must not worship any of the gods of neighboring nations, 15 for the Lord your God, who lives among you, is a jealous God. His anger will flare up against you, and he will wipe you from the face of the earth. 16 You must not test the Lord your God as you did when you complained at Massah. 17 You must diligently obey the commands of the Lord your God—all the laws and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so all will go well with you. Then you will enter and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to give your ancestors. 19 You will drive out all the enemies living in the land, just as the Lord said you would.

20 “In the future your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the Lord our God has commanded us to obey?’

21 “Then you must tell them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand. 22 The Lord did miraculous signs and wonders before our eyes, dealing terrifying blows against Egypt and Pharaoh and all his people. 23 He brought us out of Egypt so he could give us this land he had sworn to give our ancestors. 24 And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as he has done to this day. 25 For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the Lord our God has given us.’



Prayer for the Week:  Lord, it’s easy to say I follow you; it’s much harder to show it by the way I live; help me, with your empowering Spirit, to choose daily to live in obedience to your calling.




Culture Can Be Redeemed – Who Do We Appreciate?

Thanking WorkersKey Bible Verse: So let’s not get tired of doing what is good … We will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.  Galatians 6:9

Bonus Reading:  Romans 12: 9-13

A group wanted “to do something special beyond [its] church walls to make God smile!”

They decided “to honor, encourage, respect, and applaud” the young adults working as cafeteria workers and nurse’s aids at a nursing home.  They sent a warm letter to 14 workers, inviting them to a dinner and celebration in their honor at the home of one of the group members.

After an icebreaker, a group member thanked the workers for their service to the elderly and announced the team’s plan to serve them this evening.  The church women cooked, and the men served the dinner and cleaned.

After the meal, the guests and hosts each told a little about themselves.  Several group members spoke, and the leader read scriptures [such as today’s Key Bible Verse] designed to affirm that each person is created in God’s image for a special purpose.

Each guest received a decorative bowl from Mexico, a houseplant, and an encouraging book.  To end the evening, the workers stood in a circle and received a group blessing.

One letter of thanks said, “It was wonderful to be appreciated.  I’ll never forget it.  The book really made me think how much I can achieve.”

—Bob Moffitt in If Jesus Were Mayor


My Response: A way I’d like to “make God smile” is …

Adapted from If Jesus Were Mayor (Monarch, 2006)



Prayer for the Week:  Since you’ve called me to be salt and light, I’m not free to just blend in.  Empower me to make a positive impact where you’ve placed me.

Culture Can Be Redeemed – Three Ways to Relate

Engaging CultureWho Said It … Mike Erre

Mike Erre is the teaching pastor at Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa, California, where he lives with his wife, Justina, and their two children.  He is the author of Why Guys Need God.

Mike is an avid fan of Buckeye football, the music of Pearl Jam, and the mythology of Star Wars.

What He Said … Three Ways to Relate

The Jews of Jesus’ day responded to the Greco-Roman culture of their occupiers in three ways: embracing it (Sadducees), separating from it (Pharisees), or attempting to take it over (Zealots).

Today’s Christians relate to culture in similar ways.  

  • Some, like the Amish and Mennonites, attempt to withdraw from culture.  
  • Many evangelicals partially withdraw by forming a Christian subculture with its own schools, music, novels, and movies.  
  • Still others—today’s collaborationists—have excised those parts of the Bible offensive to modern ears.
  • And Zealots no longer advocate armed revolt but rather use political and legal power to attempt to return the West to its “Christian” roots.

Jesus only direct response was to the many questions of his contemporaries, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).  

But how he interacted with his culture speaks volumes.  He didn’t withdraw from it (like the Pharisees) nor embrace it (like the Sadducees).  He didn’t advocate armed revolution (as did the Zealots).  He simply sought to redeem culture wherever he found it.

Adapted from The Jesus of Suburbia (W Publishing, 2006

Prayer for the Week:  Since you’ve called me to be salt and light, I’m not free to just blend in.  Empower me to make a positive impact where you’ve placed me.



Converting to Wind Power – Sending the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit 3Jesus described the Spirit he was promising with an unusual word (Greek parakletos, “called alongside”).

This term, used for a legal representative who spoke in a person’s defense, is translated “Advocate” in the New Living Translation.  The current therapeutic connotations of “Counselor,” another translation, have rendered it misleading.  And “Comforter” is accurate only in its older English meaning of someone who strengthens or encourages.

Interact with God’s Word:  John 14:15-26

  1. What is Jesus’ basic assignment to his disciples (vv. 15, 21, 23) in these paragraphs?
  2. What unspoken fear of the disciples (v. 18) is his disclosure about the Holy Spirit addressing?
  3. How is the sending of the Spirit equivalent to Jesus again being with them?
  4. Why are many (vv. 17, 19, 22) unaware of the Spirit’s activities?  How have I experienced the Spirit recently?
  5. When (vv. 17, 20) did the Spirit’s presence shift from external to internal for Jesus’ disciples?
  6. On what is the Spirit’s teaching and reminding (v. 26) based?
  7. Are you confident (v. 21) that Jesus is revealing himself to you?  Does this affirm that you know the Spirit?


Spend Time in Prayer

Ask God for strength to obey his commands through the instruction, encouragement, power, and sustaining presence of the Spirit in your life.


John 14:15-26:

John 14

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.  The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him.  But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.  18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.  19 Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.  Since I live, you also will live.  20 When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  21 Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me.  And because they love me, my Father will love them.  And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

22 Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?”

23 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say.  My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.  24 Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me.  And remember, my words are not my own.  What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.  25 I am telling you these things now while I am still with you.  26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.




Converting to Wind Power – A Life of Its Own

Holy Spirit 2Key Bible Verse:  But you are not controlled by your sinful nature.  You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.  Romans 8:9

Bonus Reading:  Romans 8:12-14

My hand moved like it had a life of its own, as if detached from my arm.  It was flat, horizontal to the ground, and floating like a leaf on the water.  If there was a ripple of air, it flowed with the ripple.

For an eight-year-old boy, that’s what it was like when I’d put my hand out the window of our car while traveling at 55 miles an hour.  Somehow my hand didn’t belong to me.  I just stuck it in the wind and the wind gave it life and power.

The wind had control of my hand, making it go up or down, forward or backward.  That’s why it didn’t seem like it was mine, because I’d surrendered control to the wind.

How then do you convert your life to wind power, to God’s power?  

Like my hand, you let the wind of God’s Spirit blow over your life.  You detach your life from your own control.  You let go.

You place your life so that it floats on the wind of God’s power, and let him empower you.  You place your life in the wind of God’s power, and let him control you.  You place your life with the wind of God’s power, and let him lead you.

—Joe Williams in Ohio


My Response:  Am I increasingly becoming an instrument in God’s hand (Rom. 6:13)?


Thought to Apply:  The Spirit’s control will replace sin’s control.  His power is greater than the power of all your sin. —Erwin Lutzer (Illinois pastor)



Prayer for the Week:  I’m not strong enough, Lord, to live up to your standards on my own.  Teach me how to rely on the internal power your Spirit provides.




Converting to Wind Power – Sputter or Hum?

Valley of Dry Bones

Valley of Dry Bones

Key Bible Verse:  I … pray to the Father … that … he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.   Ephesians 3:14-17

Bonus Reading:  Ezekiel 37: 1-14

A couple of summers ago, my two boys and I bought a lawn mower.  They earned spending money mowing lawns with it.  

The mower operates on a mixture of gasoline and oil.  If it runs on gasoline alone, it’s just a matter of time before it burns up.

Living without the presence of God in our lives is like running the mower that way.  We function as best we can but never achieve our potential and eventually break down.  

The coming of the Spirit of God into your life is like putting oil in the machine.  If his Spirit is in us, we live life to the full, even beyond the grave.

Here’s how what Paul prayed for his friends [in today’s Key Bible Verse] happens.  Jesus said a change must take place in your life every bit as dramatic and important as your own physical birth.

Maybe this is what Tennyson had in mind when, frustrated with himself, he cried out [below in today’s Thought to Apply].  In a sense that’s what happens.  

Who we are doesn’t cease to be.  But the presence of Christ comes into our lives and helps us become who we want to be.

—John Yates in Preaching Today


My Response: I’ll thank God that the Spirit in my life guarantees that “these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).


Thought to Apply: Oh, that a man might arise in me, that the man I am might cease to be!—Alfred Lord Tennyson

Adapted from Preaching Today (#87)



Prayer for the Week:  I’m not strong enough, Lord, to live up to your standards on my own.  Teach me how to rely on the internal power your Spirit provides.




Letting God Lead – Ready to Suffer?

Key Bible Verse:  I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death.  Philippians 3:10

Dig Deeper:  Philippians 3: 3-14Let God Lead 3

Saints are really sinners on spiritual steroids.  They are people like you and me, people who want to know Christ more and more.  The difference is that they are much more willing than the rest of us to do what it takes to know Christ.

They want to know Christ in his holiness.  They want to know him in his power.  They want to know his love.  They want to know him in his glory.  So far so good, we say.

Saints want to know Jesus completely and love him fully, and that means they want to know him in his humiliation.  They want to know the Christ who is deserted by the disciples and abandoned by the Father.  They want to know not just the resurrection but also the sufferings.

To know God—to be godly in the deepest sense—is to know the suffering of God, the utter grief he knows because of our abandoning him.  This is, in part, what Christ experienced on the cross—the abandonment of all.  It is what we must experience if we are to know Christ intimately and to be like Christ.  It is what we must experience if we are to truly understand, at a place deep in our souls, the measure of God’s love for us.

—Mark Galli in Jesus Mean and Wild


My Response: I will take time to reflect on what it means to suffer with Christ and share in his death.


Thought to Apply: Wicked men obey out of fear; good men, out of love.—Aristotle (Greek philosopher)

Adapted from Jesus Mean and Wild (Baker, 2006)



Prayer for the WeekLord, it’s easy to say I follow you; it’s much harder to show it by the way I live; help me, with your empowering Spirit, to choose daily to live in obedience to your calling.




Converting to Wind Power – The Force Be With You?

Holy SpiritKey Bible Verse: “The world … doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”  – John 14:17

Bonus Reading:  1 Corinthians 2: 9-12; 1 Corinthians 2: 12:11; Ephesians 4:30

Several years ago, I attended a bizarre weekend at a retreat center in the Colorado mountains.  Two groups—leaders from the evangelical Christian community and leaders from the new age movement—had been invited to see if any bridges of understanding could be erected.

Both groups referred to “the spirit” to articulate their positions.  But it soon became obvious that to the new age group the “spirit” was some kind of impersonal cosmic energy force.  You could possess more or less of this force, and of course, it was always with you.  Their explanations gave me the sensation of entering a theological “Twilight Zone” or of becoming an extra on the set of Star Wars.

But the Holy Spirit is not a force. He’s a person.

As Jesus told his disciples [in today’s Key Bible Verse] he’s a he, not an it.  Consistently throughout the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is referred to with masculine personal pronouns.  

The significance of the pronoun isn’t so much in its gender as in its being personal.  It’s possible to become a modern gnostic, even as a Christian, when we think of the Spirit in terms of a force or entity rather than person.

—Bob Beltz in Becoming a Man of the Spirit


My Response: How do the Bonus Readings demonstrate the intellect, volition, and emotion of a person?


Thought to Apply: No human power can replace the power of the Spirit. —Lewi Pethrus (Swedish pastor)

Adapted from Becoming a Man of the Spirit (NavPress/, 1999)



Prayer for the Week:  I’m not strong enough, Lord, to live up to your standards on my own.  Teach me how to rely on the internal power your Spirit provides.