Scroll down for today's devotion
Finding our future (Thursday, October 8)
The hope of eternal life sometimes seems so far off for the Christian that it is easy to feel defeated or even lost. Doubt arises in our lives from time to time. Fear creeps in. Anxiety slowly replaces cheer. We can become depressed without knowing how we ever got there.
On such occasions, we wonder how we can recover our sense of hope, how we can be restored and be happy once more. What can help us jump over the huge chasm between our despondency and the peace we once possessed? Paul offers the answer in his letter to the Romans. He reminds us that we should “never be lacking in zeal, but keep [our] spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” We can renew ourselves through service to God.
When we get busy doing the work the Lord has planned for us, we forget about our loneliness, our selfishness and our sadness. With our thoughts directed entirely on him, we suddenly discover our hope again. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose when we devote our lives to God. No matter where we look in the world, we find both our being and our hope only in him.
Our common bond (Wednesday, October 7)
In our pain and suffering, we sometimes cut ourselves off from one another. We tend to keep our hurts between God and ourselves. We fail to tell others. Perhaps we are ashamed or embarrassed. Maybe we think people will not understand.
More than likely, we do not want to show our vulnerability or weaknesses. Whatever the reason, though, we must realize that we are called to share our lives with one another. We are a family, a community, a colony, a fellowship of believers precisely like those described in Acts.
If we allow trials and tribulations to keep us apart, we become a house divided; we are not living as Christ taught. He preached unity and harmony, a oneness in mind and purpose through him. He intended for us to live together, not in spite of each other.
The times we need one another the most are when we want to be left alone – when we don’t want anyone to bother us because of how we are feeling. Our emotions often can mislead us and send us fleeing in the wrong direction: away from our sisters and brothers rather than toward them. They want to help us, but we have to be honest with them and ourselves. We desperately need one another, especially when we are going through difficulties that we cannot handle alone.
We are God’s children. He created us to live as a family in his house.
Resetting ourselves (Tuesday, October 6)
Too often, we do not take time to reset ourselves – to realign our lives with what God has in mind for us. We can quickly become caught up in what seems to be necessary now but means little in the long run. Answering e-mails, making phone calls, attending meetings and running errands all have their importance. Yet, we frequently fail to put them in their place. Instead, we make these a priority and forget about what matters most.
In order to be the servants we were created to be, we have to step back from time to time to re-examine what we are doing. We must ask ourselves if we are making the greatest use of our days. We also need to consider if we are using our talents wisely. Perhaps our daily schedules do not go according to what we should be doing; rather, they revolve around what we think is critical and necessary.
The problem with our lives is that we try to accomplish too much. We attempt to live for ourselves and for God at the same time. In addition to all our Father has planned for us, we add all of our personal activities to the list. We may be able to cope for a while. Soon, however, we may become overburdened with too many things to do in too little time.
Our spiritual compass always must be pointed in the right direction. If it is not positioned properly – with a true heading toward the kingdom – we can easily get off course. Like a ship sailing across the ocean, we must take our bearing from what is above and not from what we see around us. If we are reaching for heaven, then we must plot a course that will take us there and no place else.
His work never ends (Monday, October 5)
The sanctuary of the 120-year-old church is now quiet. The thousands of voices that sang and praised God through the years have ended. Six generations of families have worshipped there, but now the church is closed. A dwindling congregation and growing expenses are the main reasons. The last service was yesterday.
It was only fitting that the members had communion one last time. In a sense, it was their Last Supper there. Just as the Last Supper some 2,000 years ago was not the end of the story so, too, the Last Supper at Calvary Presbyterian Church is not the end. In three days, the remaining people will move to another church a few miles away. There they will share space in another Presbyterian Church. The remaining followers at Calvary Presbyterian will have their own worship, choir and activities. They will continue to serve God as a family, just as they have done from the beginning more than a century ago.
My wife and I were there for the last service, the last hymn, the last sermon and the Last Supper. As we left the service, a man in his late 70s proudly said his parents were founding members. They are gone, but God’s work goes on through him and all of the others. Even though a church closes, the people remain.
Similar to the crucifixion of Jesus, when the Jews thought they had silenced him forever, he rose from the dead. After his ascension, the disciples carried the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth. We witness the same power of God today. All around we see him working through his faithful servants to bring about the sort of world he planned from the start, and it will not end until he comes again.
Time to rejoice (Sunday, October 4)
Pure joy is found in God. No place else. Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul wrote, for he learned there was no lasting joy in what did not last.
Be grateful for God’s grace. Be thankful for his forgiveness. Be at peace because of his love. Be glad for his gift of salvation. All of these are eternal. They will never fade away. Nor will they disappear during times of difficulty.
Beyond the trials of life, God is always there – always faithful. There is joy in him even when there is sadness all around. Paul could rejoice in the Lord at all times because he rejected worldly situations and circumstances. To him, life was a spiritual matter.
He had joy through God, not through himself or what he was going through at the moment.
Seeing or believing? (Saturday, October 3)
During the frequent confusion and turmoil that touches our lives, there is no better and safer place to be than with God; there we are protected. Waiting with him, and waiting on him, offer shelter while the storm rages all around. He calms us. He gives us his peace. Especially in times of difficulty, our hearts need his comfort much more than our heads need human understanding. Without him, nothing makes sense anyway.
As he works, silently and surely, his mighty hand holds us firmly to keep us from falling into despair and doubt. In his grip, we are secure in spite of how we feel. Even if our world is shattered and broken, he continues to hold on to us. He consoles us with his love and presence. He asks us to trust him just a little longer; in time, we will comprehend. Later, we will see what he sees now.
It is not important how things look to us at the present, no matter how dark and threatening. For now, during the trial, we must have patience. We need to have faith in him and in nothing else. All of our energy should be spent clinging to him, trusting and believing in his power.
When we abide in him, he will give us all the hope we need. Hope produces faith and faith truly is the substance of things unseen. Our hearts need to be set on what God can and will do, rather than on what our eyes observe and experience at this moment.
Giving in to get control (Friday, October 2)
We do not know all of the many things we may encounter in the hours between our rising up and our resting again tonight. We can experience joy, pain, happiness, sorrow, delight, tragedy, peace, and turmoil. Our lives are unpredictable. None of us truly knows what will happen in the next 10 minutes, let alone the next 10 hours.
This example is precisely why our faith is so important. God does know what lies ahead. He also has prepared us for any situation, good or bad. In the sudden rush and flurry of activity in our daily lives, we often forget that God goes on before us. He is there to help and guide us. He will take us safely through hardship, suffering, even gladness and pleasure.
Where we run into real difficulty is when we decide to lead the way, when we try to handle life on our own. We should know by now we are incapable of even the slightest movement or accomplishment without God’s guidance. The key to our success is not in the ability to set our own life and destiny; rather, the real victory is in following God in spite of what we want to do.
When we relinquish control of our life and let God take over, each hurdle becomes smaller because God is clearing the way. We no longer have to be anxious over what will happen next. As long as we stay behind God and follow him, we are right where we need to be.
Left behind (Thursday, October 1)
We are often so busy moving forward in life that we fail to think about what we are leaving behind. Like a powerful ship making its way across the sea, our lives leave a wake that tells others where we have been. Do we leave a gentle ripple behind or is the wake of our life rough and roiled?
We should not go through life always looking behind, but sometimes we need to think about the effects of our present position and how fast we move forward. What will linger long after a moment of anger or frustration has passed? Rough and choppy words take longer to dissipate than smooth, gentle phrases. Also, if our lives cause too much of a wake, there is the risk that other, smaller ships will not be able to follow behind. They will have to avoid us completely.
As we steer our way through life, let us move forward with caution. Let us always remember to let God chart our course and speed so that we will not regret what we leave behind.
No God? (Wednesday, September 30)
I suppose that in every time and place there have been people who either questioned the existence of God or disbelieved altogether. They claimed there was no God without considering even the tiniest bit of evidence and proof.
The Bible cannot be dismissed on a whim. There are 66 books that verify the power and presence of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Not just once, but over and over and over again. What about all of the prophets, miracles, eyewitnesses and writers? Who would waste time recording all of these stories – accounts, by the way, that are remarkably similar through the ages – if they were falsehoods? What would be the point and the purpose?
One of the greatest minds of our time, physicist Stephen Hawking, recently proclaimed again that there is no God. He told the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom that, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
How sad and pathetic that someone with such knowledge and intelligence would try to make an analogy between a finite computer and an infinite God. His comparison makes no sense. Following his childish logic a step further, though, I wonder who or what made the computer. For that matter, who made the world? Isn’t that the real issue here?
Complete us (Tuesday, September 29)
People everywhere are seeking joy. They want to be happy and cheerful. It seems the entire world is obsessed with finding gladness. A recent search at an online bookstore revealed there are 36,990 books for sale on the topic of joy.
Going to Amazon.com will never help us find the kind of blissful lives we desire. There is only one place to go: Jesus. He is the answer and he holds the solution. “I have told you this,” he said, “that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
Notice that Jesus did not say, “Someday your joy will be complete” or “When you get to heaven your joy will be complete.” He meant now, today, “your joy may be complete.” That is, it may be complete but it depends on us. Do we see the hope Jesus offers daily? Are we happy to be Christians following him? Do we work our hardest to please him? Do we feel that nothing is lacking in our lives? Do we know we have everything we need to serve him?
Derived from Middle English, the word complete means to fill up, fulfill. The Latin form is complētus, which sounds like “complete us.” Jesus can complete us; he can fill us up with his joy so we find our true enjoyment and fulfillment in him.
The narrow gate (Monday, September 28)
It occurs to me that I may sometimes take grace for granted. That is to say I take God’s mercy and forgiveness for granted. I know he will always forgive me, no matter what I do wrong, and so I sin without worry. I may not even consider the consequences of my behavior.
There is a narrow path that I drive everyday to and from work. This stretch is perhaps seven or eight miles long and there is absolutely no shoulder on either side of the two-lane road. Within inches of the concrete, there is a steep drop of four to five feet. Needless to say, I pay special attention as I travel along. In fact, I do not take my eyes off the pavement in front of me for a second. I don’t even look over at the radio for fear I will get too close to the edge. I realize what would happen then.
As we journey along the course that God has set before us, we need to pay attention and remain alert. We cannot afford to become complacent, not even for a second or two, because the effects could be disastrous. Yes, God will always forgive us when we make mistakes, but he desires that we not harm ourselves in the first place.
Remember what Jesus said about eternal life: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). The same can be said about our lives here on earth, too.
Encourage one another (Sunday, September 27)
Of all the qualities we need to practice these days as Christians none is more necessary than that of offering encouragement. Not just to those whom we know or love. But to anyone and everyone. Most of us live on the other side of the fence: we tend to be discouragers. Either we say something negative or we don’t say anything at all. We usually have a propensity to see the worst in people rather than the best.
Our purpose here on earth is to please God. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than when we take the time to support others, just as Jesus did. Our Savior always offered encouragement wherever he went. He gave hope to the woman at the well. He told Peter to walk across the water. He stood by the prostitute who was about to be stoned.
Encouraging our sisters and brothers is not easy for us. We fear all sorts of things. Maybe people will think we are a little odd. Perhaps they will misunderstand. Possibly we will seem weird. There is nothing wrong with telling the mail carrier, “Keep it up. You’re doing a great job.” There is no harm in saying to a coworker, “I admire your creativity.” We have nothing to lose by allowing someone to pull out in front of us in traffic. We constantly encourage children, but we forget about adults.
God can give you and me the courage to speak up and encourage individuals in all walks of life. See how many individuals you can encourage today. In just a few hours, you will be surprised at how easy it is, not to mention the blessings that come from being an encourager. What we are doing makes God happy and it will change our lives as we encourage one another.
Man-made vs. God-made (Saturday, September 26)
I wonder why it is we always want to know God’s design and intention. Rather than following him step by step, we ask him to show us everything all at once. We want to understand his plan before we obey even his simplest command.
Yet, each day there are dozens of occasions when we do not need any explanation at all. We accept freely without the least bit of understanding or insight. We use computers, talk on cell phones, drive cars, fly on airplanes – all without any idea of how these things operate. We just know that they work.
We often put more stock in what is man-made rather than what is God-made. When it comes to God we suddenly become analytical and logical. We demand to know before we go anywhere or do anything. Why can’t we simply trust him?
It certainly does not say much about our faith in God if we put more confidence in the world than in the Creator of the universe.
Building or destroying (Friday, September 25)
Little things make a big difference. Too often we get caught up in doing huge jobs for God when, all the long, it takes just a few minutes to brighten someone’s day. During the past few weeks, an unknown person on the street has cut our grass. Our front lawn is quite small and it probably took less than five minutes. The whole point is that someone wanted to help.
In the same way, each Tuesday I take in several of the neighbors’ garbage cans once they are empty; I put the cans back by everyone’s garage. A tiny thing, yet I know it makes life easier because people do not have to move the large containers before they pull into their driveways.
Conversely, a little comment or action against another person can have a large impact. “You misread my email,” a person once wrote to me, removing all blame from himself. In another instance, a superior completely ignored a note I took the time to write and send. Still someone else cut me off on the road, forcing me to hit the brakes.
Small incidents have a titanic effect, good or bad. We need to think through each remark, reaction and action. It takes only a moment to build up the kingdom or tear it down.
One universal message (Thursday, September 24)
There is one central theme throughout the Bible. Book after book, chapter after chapter and page after page, the main message is all about love. From the creation of the world through the exodus of the Hebrews to the resurrection of our Savior to the journeys of Paul, love is the holy and invisible presence of God himself.
We only have to look at some of the stories to see God’s great love for Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Joseph, Naomi, Job, Solomon, Elijah, Mary, Lazarus, and each one of the disciples. Then there are all of the saints during the past 2,000 years. They are too many to number.
In each case, love is at the core of every being. It is the very center of life itself. Out of love, God created us. Out of love, God sustains us. Out of love, God protects us. Out of love, God uses us. Out of love, God saves us. Out of love, we serve him. Out of love, we live for him.
No doubt this tremendous power of love is why St. Paul could write these words with such knowledge and confidence: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8).
Love is all embracing and all encompassing. It is everything. When we dwell in love, we live in God and he lives in us.
Being disconnected (Wednesday, September 23)
Most everyone these days has a GPS, a Global Positioning System that tells us which way to go, how far, when to turn and even when to turn around. It is one thing to have a GPS for our cars. What we actually require is a GPS for our lives. In essence, we need a God Positioning System that keeps us on the right path.
This divine GPS could tell us all sorts of information: what to say in every situation; how to react, especially in tense discussions; where to go to help someone; whom to encourage; why to do something that does not make sense at first. We would never make any mistakes or errors in judgment ever again when it comes to God and what he wants us to do.
The real question, though, is whether we would listen to and follow each command by our new GPS. When it says “love your neighbor,” would we forget our anger? When it says “turn the other cheek,” would we do so? When it says “go the extra mile,” would we keep going? When it says “pray for your enemies,” would we offer holy pleas for them?
Chances are eventually we would turn it off. Either we would get tired of hearing what to be told to do every minute or we would want to make the decision ourselves. Come to think of it, we have had a God Positioning System for years. But we don’t always take the time to read the Bible and do what it says. Let’s make a regular habit of using what God has given us for our benefit. He is always trying to help us. Yet there is little he can do if we pull the plug or fail to pay attention.
According to his time (Tuesday, September 22)
Little by little, day after day, the Lord is preparing us for his future. Sometimes we are not aware of the changes going on in us. On occasion, we may experience a shocking shift in our lives – as if the rug has suddenly been pulled out from beneath us and we fumble around trying to remain upright. We reach to hold on to anything, but we fall down anyway.
All the while, God is getting us ready for the next step. He knows where he wants to take us and he knows what needs to be done before we get there. He must make sure we are ready. We will not reach the point he has planned until the right moment when he decides we are equipped for the task.
For years, I wanted to write a book. I did not care what kind or how long; I just wanted to write a book. Twenty years later, the Lord made it happen. I always wanted to be recognized for my professional work. The honor came 30 years later. For some time, I have desired to do something permanent and lasting for the Lord. He now is preparing me for that to become a reality; it involves a project that began seven years ago.
God’s work in us takes time. We cannot expect a microwave experience when it comes to serving God. Today is a preparation for tomorrow, and tomorrow is a preparation for next week. Next week is a preparation for next year, and so on decade after decade. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It requires long periods for God to be perfected in us. May we be patient and let God prepare us for perfection one day at a time. We will get where he wants us to be in his time and when we are ready.
The real news (Monday, September 21)
Every morning and throughout the day, we hear news of all kinds of events and incidents. The news seems to be everywhere: on television, on the radio, in newspapers and magazines, and on the web. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all of the so-called bad news about accidents, shootings, fires, burglaries, robberies and stabbings. Whenever I grow weary of what is going on around me, I turn to the news found in scripture.
The New Testament is full of good news. The headlines should be familiar to each one of us: “Peter converts thousands.” “Two followers heal lame man.” “Barnabas becomes a disciple.” “Believers speak out in Samaria.” “Leaders establish church in Antioch.” “The Council meets at Jerusalem.” “Paul sets out on second missionary journey.” Page after page, we read the wonderful news of our faith.
On occasion, it is necessary to forget about the temporal and get away from the things happening around us. We need to contemplate the good news from above – the lasting news of God’s word and world. The headline reads: “Jesus offers salvation to all.”
The heart of the matter (Sunday, September 20)
The everlasting nature of love is, for the Christian, the nucleus of all belief. The kind of love we are to practice is far removed from the temporal constructs of daily living, so much so that we may miss the point and meaning entirely. We tend to love with our feelings, attitudes and emotions instead of by and through the spirit. Our human character, because of its selfish and narcissistic temperament, often separates us from the divine quality of love.
Yet, this same human body, with all of its many flaws and sins, has the potential to reveal God’s complete and whole love. By loving our sisters and brothers in the way God loves each one of us, we can see the fulfillment of God; the invisible God becomes visible. The apostle John explains this profound mystery in his first epistle. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:11-12). In other words, divine love will let us witness God in one another!
It is crucial to understand what John is saying. No one has ever seen God’s divine essence and nature but, John explains, we can see the invisible God as we practice unconditional love for one another. As God begins to live in us, his holy love is made manifest to the world.
As we look at the church – so full of people like us who are in desperate need of all kinds of help – we must remember how important it is to love one another with divine affection. When we are able to practice this kind of pure love – free of any intolerance or prejudice whatsoever – we will see and witness God. His love and being suddenly will be visible by each one of us.
Cleaning out the past (Saturday, September 19)
Sometimes we may wonder about being reborn and having a new life in Christ, especially when we don’t feel new. Many times the problem is us. We don’t let go of the past. We allow what happened before to make us feel like the same old person.
Recently, my computer began going slower and slower. I had to wait up to 20 seconds or more for a browser to open. A new security and protection program I installed hardly helped. The real problem turned out to be what was already in the computer—before the security software was added. In addition to built-up dust inside the computer, there was other software that was slowing down the operating system.
Like my five-year-old laptop, we expect to everything to go smoothly because we have a new life in Christ. What we fail to remember, though, is that we have to clean out all of the old stuff from the past. We keep it there, inside our heads and memories, hoping that somehow it will go away.
It is long past the time to start living the new life that Christ came to give us. We can’t, though, unless we clean out the dirt and debris from the past.
We will never fall (Friday, September 18)
For a birthday gift one year my eight-year-old granddaughter gave me a clear plastic bag full of pebbles, two pieces of chocolate (leftover from Valentine’s Day two months earlier) and a tiny, handmade card on notebook paper. In and of itself, the gift had no value. But to me it was worth more than thousands of dollars! What gave it such precious worth was that my granddaughter took the time to think of me.
Our gifts and work for God are much the same. Even the smallest service brings him great delight. Saying hello to a stranger, holding the door for someone at a restaurant, waving to a neighbor as we drive by—all of these little acts make God smile. He loves to see us share the joy of life with one another.
Never overlook the modest things for, when done daily, they add up to a grand masterpiece of servanthood for him. “The Lord makes firm the steps of the ones who delight in him; though they may stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord upholds them with his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).
We may trip or stumble today, but we will not fall. God will hold us up with his hand and allow us to stand through anything because he treasures everything we do for him.
Finish the race (Thursday, September 17)
A small city in Northeastern Ohio has a unique tradition. At the beginning of each school year, the city hangs player banners on the street lamps along Main Street. Each colorful banner bears the name and picture of a high school athlete along with the sport. What a wonderful way to build community spirit and, at the same time, encourage the young people who live there.
As Christians, we also need to celebrate the accomplishments of one another and encourage all those who serve others. In a sense, there are heavenly banners lining the path we travel each day. There is a crowd cheering us on even though we cannot see them.
“Therefore,” said St. Paul, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
This “great cloud of witnesses,” the saints who have gone on before us, now cheer us on just as others did for them. It is our turn to run the race for our faith. The only way for us to finish is to fix our eyes on Jesus and not let anything, or anyone, distract us.
The secret of our happiness (Wednesday, September 16)
The windows of the day care center at the church were wide open and the children were singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Their voices were full of enthusiasm and excitement as they clapped, stomped and shouted amen.
Perhaps we can take a lesson from these little ones. We, too, have every reason to be happy today. Nothing should hold us back from celebrating what we have in Jesus Christ.
No matter what issues we are facing, we also can sing: “Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live,” proclaims Psalm 146. “He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever.”
If something threatens your joy on this Wednesday, just think of the children singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” It might even be good for us to sing along with them. "If you're happy and you know it, then your life will surely show it." Amen!
Climbing the ladder (Tuesday, September 15)
The meaning of the journey is in the struggle. For struggle produces perseverance; perseverance develops persistence; persistence builds strength; strength evolves into hope. Each step takes us higher and closer to our Lord and savior.
The Christian cannot escape the difficulties of life. We are called to work out our salvation even though it is given freely. Step by step our lives are transformed from humanity to eternity. The metamorphosis occurs slowly, gradually, until we reach maturity in God.
Life on earth prepares us for where we are headed. The more we learn and grow each day, through each situation, the more we are able to treasure what we have been given. Only through our hardships do we become nearer to the things of heaven. We are drawn to God’s side as we fix and set our minds on him – on the ways that last forever, not just a lifetime.
Breaking through (Monday, September 14)
Many people talk about “getting a breakthrough” or being able to “break through.” The allusion is, of course, that there has been success at last. The time of bondage is over. The person has been set free – broken through, as it were, the wall that has kept her or him captive to some specific pain or suffering.
The real problem facing the Christian today is what to do when the breakthrough does not come for days, weeks, months or possibly years. How long must we wait? Our time on this earth is finite and measured. Our days are numbered and it is natural to think about when a change will come. What are we to do?
Perhaps our approach is all wrong. Rather than always dwelling on when we will break through, maybe we should tackle the issue from a different point of view. That is, when God will push through the mountain in front of us. These two perspectives are radically different. One view is human; the other divine. One puts the burden on us; the other places the task on God.
Too often, I think, we try to do what only God can do. We tend to feel as though we need to do more – to pray harder, be more righteous, become better stewards, act less judgmental and work toward being kinder. The list goes on and on. But none of these will make God act any quicker or treat us with any greater mercy. God’s will is perfect, and so is his timing. He knows when to move us forward, giving us the breakthrough we seek.
In the meantime, as we wait, we need to enjoy and appreciate this time. All too quickly the respite will be over and we will need every ounce of the faith we are developing right now. At this very moment, God is preparing us for the breakthrough that will surely come.
What he did for us (Sunday, September 13)
The final week of Jesus’ life was one the world would never forget. The joy of the crowds as he rode into the city, the beauty of the final supper with his disciples, the last hours of prayer in the garden, the betrayal of his own followers, the arrest and false trial, the beating and, finally, the humiliation and suffering of being nailed to a cross. The events leave us feeling weak, bewildered, lost and confused.
We see God’s ultimate plan for our salvation as it unfolds before our eyes. Yet, in our humanness, we ask if there could have been an easier way. We wonder why God, in all of his greatness and power, did not choose a path without pain, agony and death.
Perhaps God willed all of these things because of us, so we would understand what our lives are worth. Maybe this was the only way for us to realize the magnitude of God’s love. Whatever the divine reason, God allowed the world to crucify his own son. In doing so, he made the ultimate sacrifice for our lives. Jesus’ blood was shed for us. The very least we can do is to live for him.
False impressions (Saturday, September 12)
Becoming like Christ means following him. Looking at other people, no matter how pure and holy they appear, in the hopes of learning how to be more godly, cannot take the place of Jesus himself. In similar fashion, well-meaning disciples do not represent the totality of Christianity when they behave badly. Looking directly at Jesus offers the only true example of how to live. Anything else is merely an imitation, a counterfeiting.
Paul and Barnabas were hailed as gods when they healed a crippled man in Lystra. The gods have come down to us in human form, shouted the people. Paul was crowned Hermes; Barnabas was lauded as Zeus. The chief priest and the crowds even brought bulls to offer as a sacrifice.
Like those in Lystra, we often react to what we see around us. We venerate some because of their goodness and denigrate others because of their wickedness. Either way, we are deciding how to act by looking at people just like us.
The one sure way to model our lives is to learn from Jesus. Being like him requires looking only at him, and not being misled by the world’s impression of Christianity.
Needing his strength (Friday, September 11)
St. Paul believed he could do anything because of Christ, not because of his own power. “I can do all things,” he wrote, “through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
What about us? Do we want to do everything through Christ or through ourselves? Why is it we often attempt to fight illness, get through the day or meet all of our responsibilities to everyone—by ourselves? All the while, Jesus is right there saying, “I want to help you. Just take my hand and I will give you my strength.”
No matter what you need today—whether it is physical, mental or spiritual strength—Jesus is the one who can help. All we have to do is to take time to ask and he will be there. We have his promise because he gave his own life for us.
More than we ask (Thursday, September 10)
When we ask for Jesus, we receive the universe. We get the gifts of salvation and eternal life. But we also accept his love, his grace, his peace and his mercy. All this and more is what comes each time we call on the name of our Lord and Savior.
Despite our faith and knowledge, though, we often look for something plain and simple. We aim too low. We look hopefully to earth when we can receive heaven. Our loving Father opens the doors and windows of heaven and gives us everything – nothing is held back.
If we are truly servants of the King, why do we ask for a drop of water when we can have the ocean, for a crumb when we can have a banquet, for a job when we can have a vocation, for shelter when we can have a mansion, for money when we can have wealth untold?
We are members of a royal family. We need to start thinking of ourselves as heirs of the kingdom of the entire universe. It is time for us to take our rightful place, knowing with full and complete assurance that God will always give us more than we ask in his name.
The answer is way over your head (Wednesday, September 9)
When was the last time you heard someone say “I love to lose weight” or “I can’t wait to have root canal.” Things that cause us pain or difficulty send us running in the opposite direction. Yet, they are very necessary in our lives.
There are situations we must encounter as Christians to become stronger and more useful. Being sick or in the hospital can make us more compassionate. Being rejected by an individual or a certain group can draw us closer to God. Even having a tough time financially can make us more understanding of those who are homeless and poor.
Most of the time, we do not look on the bright side of our circumstances. Instead of trying to discover what different events will teach us, we think of how bad we feel or how unfortunate we are. We feel sorry for ourselves rather than being stirred into action because God is molding us into better person and servant.
Remember this verse of scripture whenever you are down: “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens” (Isaiah 40:26). Your answer is in heaven above, not in the earth below.
Serving for him (Tuesday, September 8)
Our true value and worth does not depend on the world. In fact, it has nothing to do with how great we are in the eyes of others. But it has everything to do with how great others appear in our eyes – how much we are willing to serve them.
Many people in today’s society want to be first. They seek recognition and respect for all that they do or think. Soon, we too can be misled by our desire to be known and admired. What we fail to realize, though, is that we will never find the greatness we long for from the world. We find our importance and purpose in being humble in what we do.
Like Jesus, we must learn how to serve. As we meet the needs of those around us, we begin to discover there is more satisfaction in feeding the homeless than in being honored by our peers and colleagues. The accolades and acclaim of this world are temporary while the acts we do in the name of God are eternal.
We were never created to be served. We were created to serve. When we fulfill our purpose here on earth we will become known in heaven, where it truly matters. The world does not see our quiet deeds of kindness and compassion because it is busy honoring its own. God always sees and he always blesses what we do for him.
Doing the right thing even when it hurts (Monday, September 7)
As I opened my email early one morning, I was greeting by a message from an individual who accused me of being completely ignorant of a certain matter. You can imagine my reaction. I felt I had every reason to be upset. First, this person was coming to a professional conference that I was directing. Second, an issue had developed several days earlier because of a problem she created. Third, the fact that a person with a doctorate felt she could talk this way surprised me. The more I thought about it, the madder I got.
Everything changed a few minutes later when I posted the devotion for the day. A line I wrote softened my heart immediately: “We have the capacity to love anyone, if we want. Most of the time, though, we choose to forsake others rather than to forgive them.”
In the natural, I wanted to hurt this person as much as she had hurt me. In the Spirit, however, I could not exact revenge and live as I should.
In the end, I apologized to this professor for any misunderstanding on my part. I added that I was looking forward to meeting her and in hearing her presentation at the convention in Rome, Italy. My emotions still were in an uproar, but my conscience was content. I had done the right thing even though it did not feel good at the moment.
Loving God’s way (Sunday, September 6)
God asks us to do something simple. He tells us to love. But we are not to love as the world does. We are to love as our Father has taught us. We have seen what we must do through the example of the son. Jesus made it perfectly clear.
We must be willing to give to others what we want to keep for ourselves, able to face rejection rather than reward, ready to pardon when we would like to punish, and prepared to love when we want to hate. The kind of love that God wants us to show transcends all logic and sense. In fact, it has nothing to do with what seems right to us, but everything to do with what is proper in God’s kingdom.
No amount of human reason can rationalize the infinite principles of God. Try as we might, we can never rationalize – at least not on a human level – why we need to pray for those who hurt us and love those who are our enemies.
We have the capacity to love anyone, if we want. Most of the time, though, we choose to forsake others rather than to forgive them. We should not be about seeking revenge and judgment. That is God’s job. We have enough to do with just trying to love one another.
Hearing their cries and ours (Saturday, September 5)
The modern-day exodus of people from Syria to other nations throughout Europe gives us an idea of what the Israelites must have experienced in their flight from Egypt. The people were scared, hungry and worried. They were desperate to find freedom.
It has been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We are seeing this current tragedy play out in front of us, just as it has done dozens of times in the past: people running from tyranny and oppression in search of a new life in a new land.
Through the ages, God has been with his children as they have sought safety. The poignant image of a dead Syrian boy on a beach reminds us once again that life is precious and fragile. Too often we take living for granted; we forget what we have until it is too late.
May our prayers and love be with all those today who are yearning for a better life. Let us do what we can, everywhere that we can, to help all those we can. We may not be able to lend a hand physically, but we can ask God to watch over them and guide them. He always hears the cries of his children, and he always responds.
Awe and wonder (Friday, September 4)
Luke is not routine or prosaic when he describes the lives of the early believers. No, he is just the opposite. He is filled to overflowing with excitement, so much so that we can see how they lived. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles” (Acts 2:42-43).
Imagine how these people must have felt, day after day, as they witnessed the “many wonders and signs” that came from God through the disciples. Luke says people were “filled with awe!” We can just see them with their hands raised high, praising the Lord for blessing them more and more with each day.
God’s goodness continues today. In the last week alone, he has shown me the right gift to buy my wife on our wedding anniversary, given us favor to find an airfare that saved us $300 each and told us the name of a hotel to book in a city we have never visited. Our list could go on and on. Each time something new happens, we are “filled with awe” just as the new followers 2,000 years ago.
May we never lose our sense of awe over what God does in our lives. He loves to shower us with unexpected blessings and he delights in hearing us praise him for his kindness. Even today, we can live with the same expectancy and excitement as our sisters and brothers in Christ.
A constant source (Thursday, September 3)
Confidence in God lies in consistently believing his word. Day after day, in spite of things that go wrong, trusting what he promises brings assurance and conviction. His actions, works and power are constant, though life is constantly changing. There is little to gain by placing hope in what is unpredictable and wavering.
During his short time on earth, Jesus was always the same. He showed compassion to his disciples even the night before he was put to death. He went about healing the sick even when he was tired and weary. He spoke to the multitudes despite their unbelief. He traveled from town to town even when the days were hot and long. All the while, he was gentle, loving, kind and forgiving.
The peace and joy that the world seeks can be found only in what lasts. Attitudes, feelings, emotions – all these vary from minute to minute. They find their source in and depend on circumstances, not on certainty. Events change, but God is changeless.
Like the sun, God is always shining even amid the darkness of night. He is ever present, though his presence is not always visible. What he offers does not come and go like the things around us. When Jesus came into the world, he came to stay. He is the steady source of our light. Through him we can find all the strength, substance and satisfaction we will ever need.
His example (Wednesday, September 2)
While some argue over a job, others are without work. While some talk about helping, others are helpless. While some live in large homes, others are homeless. While some spend money, others are poor. While some waste food, others are hungry. While some travel everywhere, others are unable to go anywhere.
Sometimes even the Christian can be turned around. What seems so important at the moment does not really matter in the long haul. Personal needs can easily become more critical than the needs of others.
Only when you and I think of neighbors first do we have our priorities in order. We need to learn to live the way we have been taught: to take care of people rather than possessions, to love others more than ourselves, and to demonstrate goodness rather than selfishness.
Jesus showed us what to do and how to live. To be his followers, we must follow his ways.
Love never fails (Tuesday, September 1)
Paul tells us "love never fails." He adds that “where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). All these are partial in nature.
But love is full and whole; it finds perfection and fulfillment in Christ, the one who first loved us. What Paul means is that love transcends everything in the mortal world because of its eternal nature. Love is our connection to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Love also binds us to one another.
When we love one another, sharing both our joys and sorrows, then we allow the miraculous and amazing power of God's perfect love to transform both lives and life. Love never fails because it remains when everything else is gone.
Spreading the Word to the world (Monday, August 31)
Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom of heaven so they could tell others the good news, especially after his death. Had they kept the word to themselves, his life and crucifixion would have been in vain.
The church today must continue what Jesus began. If we simply sit in the sanctuary every week, and do not make known what we know, all that we see and hear makes little difference in the world. We are called to be disciples and to make disciples of all nations. The only way to fulfill this commandment is to practice what is preached.
Each day, as our schedule unfolds, we fail to live up to our divine purpose in life. We are not following what God wants us to do unless we can take the time to pass along the hope of salvation.
Declaring what we believe does make a difference – to others, ourselves and Jesus. As we talk about him, sharing all of our many experiences and miracles, he will become more real to those who cannot see what he offers. In a very real way, we are the evidence of his power and greatness. What he has done for us he wants to do for all. But it all begins with us.
You are the living church (Sunday, August 30)
Every person in the body of Christ needs to realize why the church exists. It is more than a structure, a meeting place or a location for weekly worship. The church stands as a constant reminder that God is present in the world and in the community. He is alive in all of the members and, though them, he is reaching out to those in the neighborhood who are suffering and in need.
The church is a sanctuary from the world and yet it works to bring hope to the world. The people who walk in and out of its doors should find rest, help, hope and love. Their lives should be changed forever because of what they experience there.
In each community, the church is unique. The style of the building is only the first place where the difference begins. What really matters is this: whether the people who are the living church make a difference in the community. When the church functions as it should, God can continue to build up his living body and not just a building.
Making us pure (Saturday, August 29)
There is something we take for granted and rarely think about these days. Filters. Car engines have both an air filter and a gas filter. Heating and air conditioning systems have filters. Air purifiers and vacuums, of course, have multiple filters. In each case, these seemingly insignificant parts are necessary for machines to run properly.
Psychologists tell us that we use “mental filtering” all of the time when we make decisions. Our minds evaluate what is right or wrong in every situation. No matter our age, mental filtering is extremely important because it keeps us on the correct path. In a similar way, God’s guidance acts as a heavenly filter to keep us from making poor choices and, instead, choosing what pleases him most.
God is with us constantly to help us filter out the ways of the world. May we really use his word today to purify our lives and to make us more like his son, Jesus Christ.
You are not alone (Friday, August 28)
I am not happy that our lawn is almost gone. Here in the Midwest we have not had a good rain in well over a month. Our grass is mostly brown although there are a few spots of pale green remaining. Up and down the street, the story is the same. These beautiful lawns once were lush and full—emerald green. Now they are going dormant, much too early in the season.
I could complain and bemoan that all of the hard work I spent on weeding and fertilizing was just a waste of time. The fact is that I am not alone. Everyone in this part of the country is going through the same thing.
How often in life do we get the notion that we are the only ones experiencing hardship and difficulty. The emotions and feelings of people are not as easy to see as the lawns in the neighborhood. Each day there are persons all around us who are fighting sickness, dealing with broken relationships, trying to accept defeat and even coping with some sort of loss.
The next time you think you are the only one who is having a hard time in life, think again. You are not alone. Others are struggling just like you. The amazing thing is God is able to help each person in spite of the individual need. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. “But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). His hope was in the Father and ours should be as well. Jesus’ resurrection proved that nothing can overcome those whom God loves and protects, not even death.
United in prayer (Thursday, August 27)
Sometimes we think and feel we are alone, that others do not care about us. But as we begin to pray for all those in our wide circle of family and friends, even acquaintances we do not know well, we realize there is no reason for our loneliness. We actually have more people who care for us than we can ever remember in prayer.
Those whom we pray for each day are with us, even though they may be apart from us. Their thoughts and concerns for our safety and happiness are present no matter how much distance separates us. They can be on the other side of the country or the other side of the world, yet as they pray for us and we pray for them the spirit of God brings us together in unity. We become one with him and in him. |
Nothing can keep us from the love of God, nor can anything keep God’s love from working through us. This divine element transcends all time, place, age, generation and space. Because of God’s love, others can be with us and we with them no matter what may divide us.
The love of God has the power to go beyond the things of this world because it is not of this world. It does not depend on earthly physics or human nature. Love exists over and above this world. We are held together with one another as we love them through God. With his love there is no loneliness, only loveliness.
Faith to see what he will reveal (Wednesday, August 26)
Human understanding of God is limited because of finite vision and knowledge. We find it hard (at times, impossible) to accept what we cannot see. But God says that faith is the substance of things unseen – the ability to perceive what lies ahead.
Nothing but faith can take us beyond ourselves. We cannot believe or think something into being. Nor can we wish or will our circumstances to change. Faith, however, has the power to transform our lives because we know God can do all. Trusting him allows us to see a future that is much different, far greater, than the one we can envision with our own small intellect.
Through God we can visualize a pure and perfect plan for us. Despite what we are enduring at the moment, perhaps with no way out, we can set our sights on God and see well beyond tomorrow. He has already promised to work everything together for good. We can count on his goodness as long as we have the faith to believe him. If we have faith, then we can see and feel what only he can reveal.
Complete trust or half-hearted belief? (Tuesday, August 25)
When God makes a way, we may not always move forward with confidence and assurance. We tend to doubt what will happen next, even though we know God will protect us.
God showed the Israelites which way to go when he brought them out of bondage. Still, at times, they thought they were going to die in the desert. When they were being pursued by Pharaoh’s army, God again showed them which way to go. He parted the Red Sea and held back the waters. As they crossed, they must have wondered if they were going to drown. When God at last showed them the Promised Land, they were afraid to go in.
We are no different than the Israelites. Even when God leads us in the right direction – both by closing the door behind us and freeing us to move forward – we are full of doubt, fear and confusion. Sometimes we feel lost because we do not know what is out there or what we will face in the days and weeks ahead. We want to know the outcome, the future, even before we go through the desert, the Red Sea or into the Promised Land.
God says “Trust me, and I will take care of you.” But we do not hear him because we keep asking, over and over again, “Where are we going and what are you doing to us?” Our faith should be built on our complete trust in God rather than the half-hearted belief we have in ourselves.
What he does for us (Monday, August 24)
Much of the beauty in our journey through the years lies in all that God has done for us: the loving people he has brought into our lives, the many times we were kept safe from harm, the unexplainable comfort we felt in the midst of anxiety, the opportunities that helped us grow, and the occasions when our hope was suddenly and inexplicably renewed. As we look back on everything, we realize God’s hand and plan at work.
We should not dwell on our past, but we at least need to stop long enough to remember all of the good things that have occurred. Too often we fail to see how far we have come and what God has truly accomplished for us. He has taken us through some tight times and, yet, he has been there time and time again to keep us steady and strong.
All we have gone through thus far has led us to this particular time and place. Though we may feel somewhat out of place – perhaps because of where we live or the job we have – we need to realize that God has a reason for each event and activity in our life. We are where we are for a purpose.
Reflecting on God’s divine guidance up to this point can give us the assurance and hope we need to keep moving forward, closer to him each day. Each step should take us ever nearer to where we will spend eternity. Only God knows the way and we must follow where he leads us.
God waits for us (Sunday, August 23)
If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that there are those times in my life when I do not give God a chance. I cut him off because of my impatience, my anger, my selfishness, my petulance, my intolerance. I should know better.
I suspect the same is true for a great many other people as well. Only when we put aside our feelings and our will can God go to work. What parent anywhere, for example, can do anything with a child who is having a tantrum? Until the young one is ready to calm down and listen, no amount of pleading, cajoling, coaxing or even threatening will make a bit of difference.
When I act like a child, I deserve to be treated like a child. But God always waits calmly (and lovingly) until I am finished. He gives me the time and the chance to discover for myself that I am ready to listen and follow him. After I have worn myself out – through with my complaining and groaning – then God can move in and begin to pick me up.
Until I am ready to grow up and realize my own foolishness, God cannot take me the rest of the way. He will never force himself upon me even though I often force my will upon him. I must want to accept his will, without any reservation, before he can do anything with me. Only when I turn my mind and heart over to him will I realize that his plan is far better than anything I ever wanted for myself.
Living in the moment (Saturday, August 22)
In just four months, we will be celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. Stores, houses and malls will be decorated with colorful lights and Christmas trees. Yesterday, as I shopped at a local grocery store, there were displays overflowing with Halloween candy everywhere even though Trick or Treating is more than two months away.
Too often in life we get ahead of ourselves. We start thinking about things in the future and forget about what is right in front of us. No doubt your plans for today are as full as mine. But we are probably concentrating on what we have to do next week or next month. Some of us might be so far ahead that we are already planning Thanksgiving dinner.
God does not want us to be going through today thinking about tomorrow. He wants us to live in the moment. As you live today, avoid the temptation of letting your mind run ahead of God—to what needs to be done in the future. God will take care of us tomorrow after he takes care of us today. Remember, we are supposed to let God guide and lead us. He is not supposed to be running after us, trying to catch up to our thoughts about what lies ahead.
May you live in the moment today and not in the future.
His priceless gifts (Friday, August 21)
There used to be a television commercial that showed a father or mother taking a child to an event of some type. It detailed the cost item by item: concert tickets, transportation, food, souvenirs, etc. When it came to adding up the charges on the credit card, the total said “priceless.”
As Christians, there is no price we can put on our salvation. It comes as a free gift from God. But not only does he give us life for eternity, he also blesses us while we are here on earth. He gives us his love, security, companionship, guidance, protection. The list could go on and on for each day, each minute, of our life! The bottom line: way beyond priceless.
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done” (1 Chronicles 16:8). Try to add up everything God does for you today. No doubt in one hour alone, you will be able to see dozens of wonders. Make it a point to share with others the priceless gifts we have waiting for us as well as the gifts we have already received. Let us proclaim his name wherever he leads us on this particular Friday.
Hearing he is near (Thursday, August 20)
The children were playing a game of Marco Polo in the pool. One person who was “it” shouted “Marco” and the others responded by saying “Polo.” The object is for the “it” to find the others while keeping her eyes closed. She had to tag another boy or girl merely by listening.
In a similar fashion, we sometimes we shout out “Help me, Lord.” He responds by saying “I am here,” but we have trouble finding him even with our eyes open. We look and look. Still, we do not see him.
The secret to finding God is in listening. It is much different than hearing with our ears. Instead, it is listening with our heart. We must pay attention to what the Lord speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, even when it does not make sense. God spoke to Cornelius through a vision. Immediately, Cornelius sent three of his attendants to Joppa (30 miles away) for Peter. The next day, as the men were approaching the town, God also instructed Peter to go to Caesarea to see Cornelius.
When we talk about hearing God, we must go beyond the physical world of sound. We have to listen to what we cannot hear, but to a voice that we can recognize and feel deep inside of us. That’s how near he is.
Ask before we act (Wednesday, August 19)
It was a small thing: a cell phone. It had fallen out of the man’s pocket as he rode a roller coaster at an Ohio amusement park. After the ride ended, he jumped a security fence to search for his phone. An instant later, the coaster hit him in the head and killed him.
We might all wonder what this 40-year-old was thinking. But before we criticize him and question his judgment, let’s be honest. All of us have done stupid things from time to time. Fortunately, nothing probably happened except a slight case of embarrassment. Who knows what we would have done in this particular instance. All of his personal and banking information, along with photos, probably were on this device. I would like to think I would have had the sense not to jump the fence.
All sorts of things cloud our reason at times. Emotions and rash decisions can mislead our better judgment whether it means dealing with situations or people. In a panic, this man obviously thought he could get his phone and get out before the coaster came around again.
My prayer is that we learn to think before we act—always. Sadly, this elementary school teacher will not get a second chance. Let us use the second chances we have today for three things: first, to pray for this man’s family; second, to thank God for protecting us when we have made mistakes; and, third, to turn to God before everything we do. He will tell us what to do, but only if we ask.
For your own good (Tuesday, August 18)
God sets boundaries in our lives to keep us safe and to protect us. Often, he will stop us from doing what we want because we do not see the danger ahead. We might think he is withholding something good when, in fact, he is taking care of us.
Years ago, our family lived in Florida and there was a fence around the entire back yard. Our son and daughter had a huge area in which to play. Occasionally, we caught them trying to climb over the five-foot high chain link fence. We would have to tell them to get down or, if they refused, we would take them off.
They always thought we were stopping them from having fun. Just the opposite. We were keeping them from harm. On the other side of the fence was a large lake and they did not know how to swim. They saw the cute ducklings a few feet from their reach while we saw what might happen to them.
If God is keeping you from what you want today, it is because he realizes the consequences of your desires. Instead of being upset, count it a blessing that he loves you and is guarding you. He doesn’t want anything to happen to you. He sees the danger on the other side of the situation, even though you think he is holding you back from something good.
Losing our self (Monday, August 17)
If our faith is not all it should be, perhaps it is time to re-examine our lives. Our belief in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit ought to give us the strength to endure any difficulty. Yet, during times of great trial, about all we can sometimes muster is a half-hearted attempt at acceptance.
There may be many reasons why we so often fall short of being strong disciples. Most all of the reasons have to do with us: our feelings, our emotions, our will and our desires. When we do not get our way, we suddenly lose trust in God. We think he does not care or understand what we are suffering.
But right there is where our faith needs to kick in and take over. Our instinct to turn to God needs to be stronger than our propensity to gratify ourselves; we must have a desire for God that cancels out and overpowers our personal desire for satisfaction.
Putting complete confidence in God is not easy at first, but step by step we change. Eventually, we no longer try to balance the scales; rather, we place all the weight on the side that matters most to God. When our personal lives no longer weigh us down, we have reached the point where God can use us most. He, too, will mean the most to us because we will trust him more than anything else in the world.
The depth of his riches (Sunday, August 16)
The tell-tale signs of autumn are here and there. Those who are keen observers of nature can see some leaves beginning to fall, days growing shorter, squirrels being more active and breezes not as humid.
But only people who actively look for the changes will notice the subtle differences. It is much the same with us as Christians: only when we are seek to see God’s hand at work can we witness his amazing miracles and power.
For instance, receiving a check when it is needed most is not luck. It is God. Or finding a credit card that was lost is not coincidence. It is God. And getting good news from the doctor when you expected the worst is not an accident. It is God.
St. Paul said it best when he wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out” (Romans 11:33). We will never understand his ways, but we can recognize his love and care for us when we see it.
Scars of the past (Saturday, August 15)
No one goes through life without being wounded in some way. Everyone is affected by trials and afflictions although the scars may not be visible.
The marks we bear do not define or describe who we are deep inside; past wounds that others see are only the superficial signs of what we have endured. The world always attacks the body, that which is mortal and perishable. What is eternal and everlasting, though, will last forever, even beyond death. Nothing, not even the worst assault, can destroy the soul.
The key to living is in knowing that everyday events and circumstances are unable to touch the part of us that belongs to God. Nothing on earth, no matter how powerful or absolute, can change who we are in Christ.
When God is alive and working within us, we are protected and safe from all human harm. The worst the world can do to us, even in our deepest despair, is to injure what will die anyway some day. The heart of us where God lives will live on forever.
Looks can be deceiving (Friday, August 14)
We know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Go to any bookstore these days, however, and you will see thousands of books with colorful, eye-catching pictures, paintings and images. The publishers hope you do judge the book by the cover and buy it!
This particular adage could apply to many other things as well. Don’t judge a car by its design. Don’t judge a hotel by a picture. Don’t judge people by their appearance. Looks can be deceiving. We don’t know what the disciples looked like, but many of them were tough, rugged fishermen. No doubt they looked the part as they travelled from town to town preaching and teaching the good news of salvation.
A man down the street likes to spend time sitting on his old golf cart, which is parked on the front lawn during most of the year except for winter. He puts it away at night and it is back out the next day. I have to admit, I didn’t think too much of him; he seemed like he would be much more comfortable in a trailer park. Hour after hour he sat there in the evening, always drinking something from a can. I could only imagine what. Finally, I crossed the street and talked with him. Wow! Was I wrong. He is the manager of Hertz Rental Car at the nearby airport.
Once again, the Lord showed me just how wrong we can be at times. I judged this guy by how he looked. Not for who he really was. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” Jesus said. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). I thank the Lord for this gentle reminder.
Counting on God like clockwork (Thursday, August 13)
A while ago, my wife and I argued over what now seems a silly thing. We were checking out of a hotel in Milan, Italy, and heading back to the States. I paid the bill with a credit card rather than using the euros I had in my wallet. My wife was furious. “I thought we decided to use the cash and not the credit card,” she stated in no uncertain terms. The two of us argued all the way through the airport terminal.
Turns out that all of our bickering and quarrel was for naught. About a year later, we traveled to another country—one which accepted euros along with their own currency. Thank goodness we had euros; otherwise, we would not have been able to buy any souvenirs or mementoes at all from our visit.
How ridiculous we as human beings act at times. We get all worked up when life does not happen according to our plan. We forget that God has a better plan, a better way and a better outcome for us.
If only we would learn to cast our cares—all of them—on him. We need to take a lesson from children everywhere. They never ever worry about if they will have food to eat, clothes to wear, water to drink, a bed in which to sleep or bills that need to be paid. They trust their parents without hesitation or reservation. We need to do the same with God. “Surely, Lord,” wrote David, “you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield" (Psalm 5:12). Remember, we do not always see his favor until later. But we can count on it like clockwork: it comes precisely at the right time. I was the one who made a mistake, but God was the one who made it right.
Before and after (Wednesday, August 12)
Everyone loves to see before and after pictures whether it involves images of friends, houses, cars or pets. People always marvel at the difference: how much better the after shot looks.
Think, for a moment, of what a before and after photograph would be like if we focused on our lives. What did we look like before we gave ourselves to Christ and how do we appear now? Our physical appearance may not be too different. But our inner self is radically changed—like the contrast between night and day.
Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian teacher and author, is fond of saying, “I am not where I need to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be.” The same can be said of all of us. The words of “Amazing Grace” certainly ring true: “I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” Before we were lost, impatient, angry, anxious, sinful and selfish; we were going nowhere and we had no true purpose. Now, all that has changed. We can see God’s plan and we know why we are here.
The lyrics of that now-famous hymn were written by John Newton. The story goes that he was raised by a Christian mother, but he wanted nothing to do with God. He had trouble holding a job and even deserted the Royal Navy. After many other hardships, failings and a catastrophic storm at sea, he finally turned his life over to Christ. He was never the same as before!
Going in the wrong direction (Tuesday, August 11)
St. Paul was not a timid man. He did not mince words and he was not afraid to proclaim the gospel. In a letter to the Christians living in Ancient Galatia (modern-day Turkey), Paul chided them for turning their back on God and returning to their old ways.
He says once they were slaves to the sinful “spiritual forces of the world.” “How is it,” he asks, “that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces….I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you….How I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!”
Like most of us living today, we do not understand how people—especially those who know God’s truth and his ways—can suddenly walk away from the Lord or leave the church. Unfortunately, it happens every day in every part of the world. Individuals by the thousands think they can do a better job with their lives than the one who created them in the first place.
Rather than condemning these people, we need to be honest with them as Paul was. We also need to be praying for them. We should ask God to somehow show them the way back. Perhaps, like Paul, God can use us to show them they are going in the wrong direction.
Being calm and content (Monday, August 10)
Paul said he had learned how to be content in every situation. He did not mean that he agreed with each circumstance he faced. Despite difficulty, Paul was content in knowing that God was with him every moment; he accepted God’s direction and protection more than he believed in his own limited understanding.
The world is full of people who lean on their own knowledge; many even depend on what they think they know to get through life. They try to make things happen, despite all odds. They simply refuse to acknowledge their state of affairs; instead, they fight relentlessly until a change occurs or they are too worn out to do anything at all.
Being content is being happy with what is, pleased with what we have, not desiring something more or different, satisfied with our situation. We can be peaceful and calm at all times because we know everything is proceeding in accordance with God’s will.
Following our desires can make us act with contention. But pursuing God’s design leaves us content.
Covered in his will (Sunday, August 9)
As we walk through the door of each new day, we must be determined to continue to follow God no matter how we feel or what we think. There must be a constant renewing of our minds in him. Over and over again, we will wrestle with doubt, fear, insecurity, hesitation, even rebellion. We are stubborn creatures who think we know what is best. A new job, a new house, a new church or a new life somewhere else will not make any difference if it is not God’s will. Something different in our mind is rarely something better.
God knows what path we must take. In fact, he set the course long before we were ever born. Where we are right now is where he wants us to be. Where we go in the future is up to him. We can make our journey easier and lighter if we set aside our will for his. Instead of arguing with ourselves over things that do not matter, we can put all of our determination, hope and trust in him.
When we give ourselves completely to God, he gives himself completely to us. There, covered in his will, we are safe and secure even when we wonder where we are going or what is going on.
Cast your cares (Saturday, August 8)
On occasion, life seems almost too much to handle. Problems come at us from all sides all at once; never just one at a time. One difficulty after another piles up and threatens to bury us in an avalanche of distress and hopelessness. David likened the feeling to the waves in the ocean. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls,” he says to the Lord (Psalm 42:7). “All your waves and breakers have swept over me.”
John Gill, an 18th century theologian, wrote that such difficulties and “afflictions” are “comparable to the deep waters of the sea, for their multitude and overwhelming nature….As soon as one is affliction over, another came, as in the case of Job; which is signified by one calling to another, and were clamorous, troublesome, and very grievous and distressing.”
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed. The car needs to be fixed; you are struggling with illness; you have several overdue bills and still need to buy food; the clothes dryer isn’t working; and, the toilet is leaking.
The only thing that truly matters is what you do with your troubles. You can either hold on to them or give them to God. Take a moment to look up. The solution is right in front of you: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).
Work together (Friday, August 7)
My computer and printer still are not talking. They are like two angry sisters who want nothing to do with the other. I tried everything I knew to synchronize the two devices, but nothing worked. Not even connecting them together with a cable made any difference.
No matter how hard we try sometimes we cannot fix the problem. People, similar to a computer and printer, have differences. No one is willing to give in or apologize. And so they do not talk to each other.
What my computer and printer fail to understand is they need one another. No amount of explaining will change the situation. Human beings, on the other hand, should be different. People should be able to reconcile their differences and even forgive one another if need be.
Sadly, the documents inside my computer will stay there. I cannot share them with anyone because the printer will not work as it is supposed to do. Let’s not allow petty problems to keep us apart as sisters and brothers in Christ. We are all in this together and we need to work together, both for ourselves and for the Lord.
Going higher for Christ (Thursday, August 6)
Living is much like a chain of events that are connected. If one link is weak, the chain breaks. The little things we accomplish for Christ allow us to connect the past with the present and future. What we do right now makes an enormous difference tomorrow.
Will we, for example, take the extra effort to tell special persons that we are thinking of them? Or will we spend more time praying? Perhaps you and I will encounter a person who needs help. Whatever the situation or need, our reaction today is based on yesterday and it prepares us for the next day.
In Luke’s story of the 10 minas, Jesus stressed the importance of being responsible with the small things we do. If we do well in the lesser tasks, we will be given more. Every act leads us higher toward the life that Jesus has for us. God always desires the best, but he can only give it to us when we offer our best to him every day.
I heard it through the grapevine (Wednesday, August 5)
A song written in 1966 has been recorded by many groups and singers through the years. “I heard it through the grapevine” was first made popular by Marvin Gaye. We can all relate to the message: hearing something from someone other than the true source.
How many times have we heard a rumor or a story and then based our opinion on that information? We don’t even know if the report is true and yet we rush to judgment. One person tells another and word quickly spreads. In no time at all a reputation is damaged or an incident is taken completely out of context.
As human beings, we love to talk about other people. It comes naturally to us. We even do it as Christians. Someone prays for help and care for a particular person and, at the same time, repeats what was heard through the grapevine. There is nothing divine or holy about passing on gossip to God.
Proverbs 21:23 warns us to be careful of what we say: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” The same verse in the New Living Translation is much stronger: “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” May we remember these words today, especially when it comes to hearing something through our grapevine of fellow believers and followers.
Acting from our heart (Tuesday, August 4)
Compassion, understanding, patience and forgiveness all begin in the heart. If the heart is weak, the mind will take over with all of its emotions and desires. Our human intellect will tell us how to act and react. The problem is that our reason resides in the things of this world, while our heart has its being in the life to come.
Our earthly intellect can take us only so far. It is limited to sensory knowledge – what we see, hear and experience. Oftentimes we cannot see beyond the present. We do not hear the voice that transcends reason.
We need to get beyond our humanness if we want to possess the kind of wholeness that Jesus came to give us. There is a greater world beyond the imperfect one that we know. But we must learn to be guided by the heart, where God dwells most deeply, and not the head.
Words for life (Monday, August 3)
Being successful as Christians involves learning how to be less physical and more spiritual. The situations we encounter most often, the real stumbling blocks in our journey through life, are all consequences of the physical world. Almost daily we come across anger, hate, jealousy, strife, pride or envy. We see the tangible realities of what these emotions can do to people as well as the personal effect they have upon us. Such feelings cause tension, stress and even illness.
God calls us out of this physical realm, with all of its pain and suffering, to live a life that is full. Jesus tells us in John 6:63 that, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” What are these words of life? Forgiveness. Love. Peace. Compassion. We need to recognize that every “word of life” has a counterpart in the physical world. Appropriately, these antonyms might be called the words of death: anger, hate, jealousy, etc.
The Lord wants us to live a spiritual life, not a physical one – to be in the world but not of the world. We can find the peace we are so desperately seeking if we learn to live by the ways, and words, that impart true and eternal life.
Our little lives are enormous in him (Sunday, August 2)
Together we painted, scrubbed, planted and cleaned. Our church workday was incredible. Not only did God bring the right number of people to get everything done on our list, but he gave us perfect weather. A refreshing breeze blew through the entire church all morning long even though this was the middle of summer.
God knows the importance of gathering together to accomplish his tasks. As we worked side by side, we had a chance to learn more about one another and our faith. The greatest part was we felt blessed to be here. We were doing different jobs, but everything was for one purpose: to glorify God.
Today, as people come to worship in our church they might not notice what we did. But God knows. He saw each one of us giving generously of our time, and using our strength and skills to make his house better, cleaner, brighter.
We are proud of our church. But our true pride lies in being able to serve the Creator of the universe. There is nothing of greater value or more valuable than being one of his children. We show our love for him each time we give our life for him. May we never tire of working and cleaning for him. No matter what it takes. Even the smallest task or the most menial chore is enormous in his kingdom.
Learning how to love (Saturday, August 1)
Loving God must grow out of a true and sincere desire for him. Like children who want to delight their parents and make them happy, we must feel the same way toward God. We cannot love simply because God first loved us. Nor can our love be based merely on what he does for us. We should not need a reason in order to love him.
We must love God for who he is, just as we want others to love us because of who we are. The spirit of true love does not depend on circumstances, events or even reasons. It exists for no purpose or aim.
To love God means accepting his ways, in spite of what we think and feel. Whether we experience success or suffering, we can love God. For how much affection do we have for him if we turn away each time we do not understand or agree?
In Psalm 103, David praises God by counting all of the many “benefits” of God: He forgives. He redeems. He satisfies. He judges with righteousness. He is merciful and gracious. But the basis of our love toward God is not found in any of these. Rather, the root lies deep within our hearts, anchored to the very core of our life. There is where we realize how profoundly God lives within us and we live within him. Here we find the center and existence of our love for him.
No waiting (Friday, July 31)
We can go to the God of the universe at any time and he will be there. It may be in the middle of the night, early in the morning, at the end of the day, during lunch or dinner. No matter when we call on him, he welcomes us and invites us in.
The same cannot be said of those around us. If I want to see my doctor, for example, I must make an appointment sometimes weeks or months in advance. If I want to talk with my boss, I have to arrange a convenient time with his secretary. Even if I need to talk with my pastor, I have to check his schedule. On other occasions I may not be required to make prior arrangements, but I have to wait just the same. When I go to the store, I have to wait in the checkout line. When I need to get the oil changed on my car, I have to wait my turn. When I go to the bakery, I have to take a number. I also have to wait to get a haircut or have my glasses adjusted.
With God, however, there is no waiting or planning ahead. He can see me anytime. The problem is me. I am easily influenced by the world. I still feel like I need an appointment – that I must arrange (in advance) to spend time with him. Oftentimes, I believe that I can talk with God only during my prayer time or my devotions.
Each second of every day, God is available. He does not require us to wait or to make an appointment. Whenever we have a need, he will spend time with us. He is never too busy. Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, Jesus says, and I will give you rest. Right now, we can find comfort. We do not have to wait a moment longer.
Nothing is too hard for God (Thursday, July 30)
There are no guarantees in life. We can exercise, stay active, eat the right foods and, in general, take care of ourselves. Nothing, though, guarantees that we will remain healthy and strong throughout our entire life.
Our mail carrier was in the Navy and has been walking at least 10 miles per day for the past 20 years. Still, he recently came down with Bell’s Palsy. Another friend has worked out with weights for the past 45 years, but now he walks with a limp.
There is only one thing we can count on as we go through life: that God will be with us each moment. He is there no matter what we are going through and he will give us the strength we need to endure—in spite of the hardship.
God’s statement and question to us is the same that he posed to Jeremiah thousands of years ago. "I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” We know the answer. He can and will conquer whatever comes against us. He is our guarantee through thick and thin. All we have to do is hold on to him with all we have.
You are famous to God (Wednesday, July 29)
You probably never heard of Andrew A. Toth. He was born in Steubenville, Ohio, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and retired from a long career at the Timken Steel Company in Canton, Ohio. He was a member of Faith Community Church. He also loved dancing and was active until the last year of his life. Andy died last week at the age of 97.
We had the honor of knowing him because he was the grandfather of our son-in-law. We called him Grandpa. He always had something interesting to say, especially when it came to sports. He could cite statistics and details about most any player in any sport. What an amazing man!
The world is full of people like Andy. There are millions of them everywhere. They are not famous like actors, well-known like politicians or recognized like sports heroes. Nonetheless, they are great in God’s eyes. He counts them as saints because they are serving him faithfully and lovingly.
May you live today knowing God knows who you are and what you are doing for him alone. He counts you as his child and he admires everything about you. God is a proud father who smiles each time he looks at you. You are famous to him and he loves you unconditionally, just as he did with Andy.
True service or lip service? (Tuesday, July 28)
We say one thing and, yet, do something else. Do we always obey the traffic signs? If we are honest, we have to admit we do not always come to a complete stop at stop signs and that we frequently go over the speed limit, especially on the freeway. We also tell people to “let us know if you need help.” Then, when they call on us we cannot get away fast enough.
One time after another people in the Bible gave lip service to God. Jonah told the men on the ship that, ““I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Yet, there he was trying to escape God’s call to go to Nineveh. David is another example. After removing Saul from the throne, God anointed David. “God testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” Yet, David betrayed God when he sent for Bathsheba.
No matter how hard we try there are occasions when we let God down. I recall the time—one of many—when I did the opposite of what I said I would do. I was looking for a new job and promised God I would go anywhere. After months of searching, I was offered a position at a tiny college high in the rural mountains of West Virginia. Over and over I argued with God and said “no. I will not go.” I applied for more jobs without any success. Finally, with much misgiving I agreed to accept the job. Before I could respond to the school, though, another institution (one very close to my hometown in Ohio and near all of my relatives) called me for an interview. I eventually got that job, but it never would have happened if I had not remembered my vow to the Lord.
God deserves our best and true service. There is no place in his kingdom for lip service. May we always say what we mean, and mean what we say when it comes to serving him. He is counting on us, just as we are counting on him.
For your good (Monday, July 27)
Think about the vast open area around a mall or in front of a store. The land is needed for one very important reason: parking. In order to shop, we need a place to park our cars and trucks.
But what if these parking lots did not have lines and arrows? What would happen? People would park in every different direction depending on their own whims and desires. It short, it would be sheer chaos! The same thing would happen on roads and highways without signs and traffic lights. Vehicles would be going every which way.
Sometimes we complain about all of the rules and limits the Lord sets on our lives. We can do certain things, but not others. Plus, we are to pray for our enemies and be kind to those who dislike us. We even have to forgive people who mistreat us.
What would happen if God did not give us guidance and direction? The world would be a mess. Every person would do as she or he pleased. Thank goodness Jesus showed us how to act and live. He knows what is best for us even if we disagree. God wants to bring order to your days so you can avoid the disorder of the world.
One purpose (Sunday, July 26)
Our sole purpose as Christians is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” These words from the Shorter Catechism should be more than a reminder of what we need to do each day. They should tell us how to allow God into our lives so we live according to his plan. Much of what we do daily, however, gets in the way. From morning to night, it seems our many activities separate us from God: working, shopping, entertaining, studying, even eating. Seeing God in all these places and times is not easy.
Frequently, we have to push beyond our neighborhoods, the television programs, the breaking news and all of the chatter around us in order to notice the God of the universe. When we first seek him, he is barely visible through the fabric of our busy schedules. But, as we look closer and more intently, we will begin to see his brightness and radiance. Slowly, he reveals himself to us. When the complete magnificence of his eternal love comes shining through, we wonder why we never noticed its beauty before.
When we truly see God’s divine love and begin to grasp his greatness, our whole desire in life will change. Nothing will be more important to us than “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
The new self (Saturday, July 25)
When we accepted the gift and grace of salvation, we became new creatures in Christ. We rejoiced that the old person was dead. Our past was swept clean. We received a new life, one which will last into eternity. But what about our lives right now? We still make mistakes, become angry or frustrated at times, lose our temper, say the wrong things and, frequently, we do the wrong things.
So much for the “new person” that we are supposed to be. Many Christians think because we are born again that we are completely changed in an instant – that our old nature disappears forever. Suddenly, like walking through a spiritual threshold, we put on a heavenly attitude of love and peace. It is not so simple. Our new character needs time to evolve over many weeks, months and years as it is carefully nurtured by the Lord. We become the person God wants us to be based on his schedule and plan, not ours.
As we go through this refining process, God is gently guiding and molding us. His touch is tender as he removes the anger or hate in us. He delicately takes away our judgmental attitude, replacing it with tolerance and love. He eliminates our regrets and sorrow over the past, and gives us new hope for the future. All the while, he is making us a “new person” for life eternal.
God is using the time now to prepare us for heaven. He does not expect us to be perfect while we are still on earth. He does expect, however, for us to let him do the things he needs to do to get us ready for eternity. Some of what needs to be done will be painful, both to God and to us, but it must happen. Otherwise, we will never become the new creature who is fit for heaven.
Putting others first (Friday, July 24)
We were not created for ourselves, but for others. All that we think, do and say should be for those around us.
Jesus was our example. Everything that he did, he did for others. Even when he spent time in prayer with his Father, he was asking God for the strength to help people: the lame, the sick, the homeless, the lost. It is not easy to put ourselves second and the needs of others first. But Christ came to show us a different way of life.
He demonstrated how to seek a higher purpose – a life centered on love and compassion rather than on the self-centered interests of our own flesh.
Do all things well (Thursday, July 23)
Trying to live like Christ each day is like anything else. Sometimes we say the right things but act the wrong way. Or we say the wrong things and act the right way. We can even do both things poorly. Rarely do we ever get it all right.
The challenge for us is somewhat like golfing. On occasion we are fine on the fairway but pathetic in our putting. Or the other way around. If I ever had a good game in both driving and putting, I could compete with the pros. They are consistent in what they do every day. The same holds true with my running. On certain days, my legs hurt but my lungs are okay. The very next day it can be just the opposite. Then, every now and again, my entire body is strong yet I don’t feel like getting up from the couch.
The closer we get to God, the more difficult it is to line up everything. The reason is because the more we improve, the more we know we can do better. As we become more like Christ, the greater we see how far we are from his perfection.
We should not be discouraged, though. Instead, we should be encouraged because He is helping us to grow stronger and better each moment. He is bringing us nearer to completion in Him and helping us to do all things well in His name. Remember Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Only God knows (Wednesday, July 22)
God has the answer each time he asks us a question. Yet, how often do we try to respond as though he is one of us? We treat him as human rather than as Lord over all. We imagine he will not realize or learn the truth.
Think of Cain who killed his brother. God asked, "Where is your brother Abel?" Cain answers, believing God will not find out what he has done. “I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" Recall, too, Adam and Eve in the garden. God called out, “Where are you?” Then he posed several other questions: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? What is this you have done?” With each response, our first parents try to hide the real answer from their Creator.
We need to pay close attention when God speaks, especially when he asks a question. It is a sure sign that he wants us to hear the excuse for ourselves and to remember our commitment to him. He also wants to make sure we understand what we have done or promised to do.
Is there something God is asking you today? Make sure that he does not have to repeat the question over and over again in order to get your attention. Don’t be like Peter. Jesus had to ask him three times if he loved him. Be open and honest in your first response because God already knows the answer.
Doing things the hard way (Tuesday, July 21)
My granddaughter was trying to put on her tennis shoes by pushing her feet into them. She did not want to untie the laces so she shoved and shoved until the shoes went on. The end result was it took her three times longer to do it her way.
So much of what we do in life we do the hard way. We don’t want to have to undo anything first because we think we will waste time tying everything back together again. What we sometimes forget is there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.
As we go through this day, may we remember God’s way is the right way. “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 25:4-5). We cannot go wrong following the path God has set before us. Maybe our motto should be, “It’s either his way or the highway.”
Defining the church (Monday, July 20)
During the Soviet era in the last century, all of the churches in St. Petersburg, Russia, either were closed or used by the state in various ways. These grand houses of worship were turned into such things as an ice skating rink, a warehouse for vegetables and even a museum of the history of religion and atheism. Religion continues to grow in the modern-day Soviet Union and the churches now are being restored to their original purpose.
How are we using our churches today in the United States? Are they more than just a place of worship once a week? Or do they serve people throughout the week? In many communities, the church used to be the very center of activity. Everything seemed to revolve around these buildings with their steeples rising high into the sky.
Churches throughout the country remain a place for food banks, after-school tutoring, and self-help meetings, but perhaps they should be more. A church should be a beacon of hope, a sanctuary of refuge and a resource for help. A church is where people can meet God and commune with him.
Let’s make sure our buildings never lose the purpose for which they were built: to glorify God and to serve others. Our churches need to make a difference in the lives of everyday people. Otherwise they are little more than monuments to what we once believed.
Who isn’t listening? (Sunday, July 19)
The Bible holds the answer to every question and need. Nothing is omitted. God tells us precisely what to do in each situation.
Do you need faith? Look up Ephesians 2:8. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Do you need patience? Go to Ecclesiastes 7:8. “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” Do you need courage? Turn to 2 Timothy 1:7. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
Often our difficulty in life is not the problem itself. Instead, it is that we will not do what we need to do to find relief. We are like the person who always complains, but never does anything to seek help. I was that way many years ago. My back had been hurting for six months. I thought it would get better in time. The pain, however, became worse until I could no longer walk upright. Finally, my wife forced me to go to the doctor. Turns out, I needed non-invasive surgery. I had the operation and was home the next day.
God gives us instruction – 31,173 verses of scripture in both testaments – on how to find peace and comfort. What good are all his words, roughly 774,000 of them, if we never pay attention? Let’s take note of what he has already said to us before we suddenly throw our hands in the air and claim God isn’t listening to our prayers.
Taking control (Saturday, July 18)
To be like Christ means that our heart and mind must be going in the same direction. For us to make any progress, to keep moving forward in our lives, the two differing natures of our self must be in complete agreement. We cannot think about going one way when we really feel like going in another.
I might realize in my head that I need to lose weight, but nothing will happen until I put my heart into making the effort to change. I need to be passionate about becoming thinner and healthier. Then, with my knowledge and emotions so aligned, I can face any obstacle that threatens to hold me back.
In each case, God will give me what I need to be successful. “You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 15:16). On my own, I cannot control myself. But with the Lord’s help, I can defeat even my strongest feelings.
Wait (Friday, July 17)
The saying goes that we are all in God’s waiting room. The implication is that we are always waiting on him, and we must learn to be patient.
There are different ways to wait, though. We can be passive, and simply do nothing until God speaks to us. Or we can actively prepare ourselves for the next step so we are ready to do his will.
God’s waiting room is not a quiet place, with everyone sitting around relaxing and reading magazines. In God’s waiting room, there is energy and excitement; people are anticipating the time ahead. They know that at any moment the Lord may open the door for them.
No matter what you are waiting for today, do it with hope and expectation. All of your thoughts and energy need to be directed toward God. He is getting ready to do a great thing in your life! Wake up, and wait with joy and enthusiasm.
Twice as much as before! (Thursday, July 16)
Things do not always happen when we want or the way we want. But God makes sure that situations occur according to what we need.
My computer crashed five days ago. The timing could not have been worse for me. All of Saturday and Sunday, I struggled to get my PC up and running again. I tried everything, even downloading several utility programs. I finally gave up and realized the problem was beyond me. I had to turn it over to someone who knew more about computers. I trusted God to guide me to the right person at the right place to get the help I needed.
The Lord led me to a fantastic expert just down the street! He fixed the computer, saving all of the data! By the time he was finished, the computer ran better than when it was new five years ago. The best part: the cost was only $60.
When my computer stopped working, I was extremely upset at not being able to post a devotion each morning or to respond to any emails. I soon realized the break gave me a chance to rest mentally and physically—something I did not realize I needed. In addition, I soon may have a part-time job because of meeting this repairman. In the course of our conversation, he told me he knew someone who was looking for an editor for a local monthly magazine. As a retired journalism professor, the opportunity would be perfect for me.
Yes, I lost several days of computer time, but in the end God restored everything. In fact, he gave me twice as much as I had before—just like Job!
The rip currents of life (Sunday, July 12)
People everywhere flock to the beach in summer. They want to enjoy the warm sunshine, soft sand and refreshing water. What they do not see, though, is how dangerous the ocean can be at times. What seems to be a cool breeze on shore can actually create strong rip currents underwater. In seconds, a rip current can send even the most experienced swimmer out to sea.
Experts warn not to try to swim against a rip current. Instead, let it take you out away from the shore. When the current subsides, swim back to the beach. Hundreds die each year because they try to fight the current. They run out of strength and energy, and they drown.
Too often we also try to go against the rip currents of life. Rather than “going with the flow,” we fight back. Eventually, we become exhausted and lose all of our hope. We fall victim to a situation when we could have been victorious.
The next time you encounter a rip current in your life, resist the temptation to get angry and use all of your power fighting back. Wait until you no longer feel the problem tugging at you, then get back to where you were in the first place. God will calm the seas and help you to safety with his almighty hand.
God always provides (Saturday, July 11)
Giving each one of his disciples the power over evil spirits, Jesus sent the Twelve throughout the land. In groups of two – carrying no bread, bags or money – they went from village to village to preach the gospel. With little more than the clothes on their back, they did exactly as the Lord had commanded. “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (Mark 6:13). God granted them special favor in spreading the message of repentance; he was the one who provided them with food, water, lodging and open hearts.
The Bible is full of examples that demonstrate God’s protection and help. We need look no further than our Sunday School stories about Noah, Moses, Jonah, David and Daniel for proof. Time and time again, we see that God looks after his children. He shelters them, feeds them and blesses them in ways we cannot explain. Nonetheless, we know we are sustained by his great love.
God continues to send us out into the towns and villages of our part of the world. He wants to use us to reach the lost, the dying, the homeless and the hopeless. He also wants to show us what he can do through us when we allow him to lead the way. Not only will he heal others, and bring them to salvation, but he also will grant us the joy of sharing with him in the process.
God in all (Friday, July 10)
Our primary purpose in life is to serve God. All of our hope, trust and faith must rest on this principle alone. The work we do, where we travel, the places we live and the daily chores we perform are not what give our life meaning. Only by allowing God to direct each step can we find complete fulfillment. He must live in all things and be a part of each decision and action. |
What would be the reason to spend time seeking God’s will and then depart on our own journey? We may certainly find ourselves headed in the right direction, but without any true purpose or goal. In the words of the psalmist, we should meditate on God both day and night; he needs to direct our path if we are serious about walking with him. Too often, we let God point the way we need to go and then leave him behind as we journey alone. Then we wonder in amazement why our steps are difficult. Like the Israelites in the desert, we complain about our trials and hardships – how God seems to have abandoned us.
Yet, it is we who always abandon God. A brief time once a day with God is not enough to know his will. Every time we encounter a new situation, another person, a different thought, we must pause. We need to let God tell us what to do, to give him control, before we react with our will. In the end, the only way we can say we have done God’s work in each and every situation is if we have reached his destination – not ours.
Prepare your day (Thursday, July 9)
What will today be like for us? Will we get upset or angry? Will we be happy and full of joy? For the most part, we cannot control the things we will face. We do, however, have the power to determine how we react.
The problem with most of us is we do not plan our day. Getting ready to embark on a new day is like taking a trip. When we travel, for example, we map each turn and stop with precise care; we chart how far we will drive, when to stop for gas and food, and where to spend the night. Nothing is left to chance. If something goes wrong or we hit an unexpected delay, we immediately make adjustments in our schedule. Our goal is to keep moving forward.
Not so with each day. We allow all kinds of things to get in the way and set us back: we misplace our car keys; we cannot find our checkbook; we get a call from the school because our child is sick; the refrigerator suddenly breaks down. We do not have to change how we act. In and of themselves, these problems do not have the power to get us down. We are the ones who let ourselves down.
The secret to our day is to keep moving forward and not let the little obstacles in life bring us to a grinding halt. Let’s keep looking ahead and following God’s guidance. He is leading us. That alone should give us all the encouragement we need to push on.
Keeping score (Wednesday, July 8)
Keeping score in sporting events is important for many reasons. Most of all, it reveals how well one team is doing compared to another. But keeping score in life is something we should not do. Keeping track of another person’s wrongs can be extremely harmful both to us and them.
Years ago I worked for someone who constantly criticized everything I did. There were times when I thought, “If he says one more thing to me, I am going to tell him what I think of him.” Looking back on the matter, I now see that I was the problem. I was keeping score of everything he said and did. I was adding up his offenses in my mind. I was deciding when he crossed the line and when he had to be put back in his place.
What did Jesus tell us about forgiving others? In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus told Peter we need to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven. Jesus also said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3).
If you have been keeping score of someone’s good or bad points, stop right now. Keeping score in life is no game to play. Save the score for sporting events, not for people’s lives.
The journey (Tuesday, July 7)
The apostle Paul was serious about being a missionary. In his three journeys, Paul is known to have traveled to at least 38 cities. Some of these – Antioch, Derbe, Troas, Philippi and Thessalonica – he visited two and three times. When he wasn’t preaching the gospel, he was writing letters to congregations he had already seen or to those worshippers he wanted to see: Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, etc.
Few persons today can rival all that Paul did for the kingdom. Even when he came to the end of his journey in Rome, Paul still was serving the Lord. Confined and seemingly alone, Paul pressed on. The last verse in Acts tells us that, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We should remember Paul today not for what he did, but for what the Lord did through him. Actually, Paul did a simple thing: he followed the example of Jesus Christ by allowing the Lord to use his life. Giving our life to God is not complicated, but often we make it difficult because of our own stubbornness and desires. If we are serious about spreading the good news of salvation, we will let the Lord use us in his way.
God has our journey already planned, just as he did with Paul. We can either follow his direction or wander through life on our own. It is a simple decision that can have profound and lasting consequences.
Praying for power (Monday, July 6)
Jesus took three of his closest disciples – Peter, James and John – to the garden of Gethsemane so he could talk with the Father. “Sit here while I pray,” he told them. According to Mark, Jesus “began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’”
Three times Jesus went off to pray and each time the disciples failed to do as he asked. They could not stand watch even for a brief time. “Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation,” Jesus told Peter. Jesus returned a second and a third time, but they were all asleep.
We would like to think we are different, that we would have stood watch for Jesus. But sometimes our best intentions are not enough. We are not strong enough to keep going when we are weary and tired. At such times, it would be good to remember what Jesus said to Peter: “Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation.” Like Jesus, we can always pray to the Father for the power we need to sustain us, especially when we are tempted to act contrary to his will.
Keep the celebration going (Sunday, July 5)
The fireworks in our neighborhood were still going off at midnight. It seems people didn’t want to stop celebrating the Fourth of July! It was our nation’s 239th birthday and the party was bigger than ever.
I wonder what would happen if we celebrated our birth in Jesus in the same way. Christians everywhere would cheer being born again. The world would see and hear the great news of salvation. Not with fireworks and sparklers, though. But with stories, songs, praises and worship. The party would go on and on!
All is quiet this morning, the night after. Yet our enthusiasm for who we are in Christ fills the air. It is Sunday morning, the Lord’s day. The creator of the universe made this day especially for us – for us to rest and to be able to show our thanks to him. May we praise him all the day long. Let us keep the celebration going each day so people everywhere know the good news we have to share.
Freedom to be free (Saturday, July 4)
Our independence is important to the Lord. He wants us to be free to follow him and serve him. As we choose him of our own free will, we become even more committed to doing his will.
We are blessed to live in a country where we are free. We have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of choice about how we are going to live and where we are going to live. The right to make our own decisions in just about every aspect of our lives makes us stronger both as individuals and as a nation. We develop a greater appreciation for what we have and what would happen if our independence suddenly was taken away.
This Fourth of July, as we celebrate our independence, let us remember our deep dependence on God. He has given us all we have and we need to acknowledge his presence in everything we do. Without him, nothing would be possible.
The opening words of “God Bless America” ring as true today as they have in the past: “While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free / Let us all be grateful for a land so fair / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.” Thank God we serve a God who allows us to be free.
His perfect will in an imperfect world (Friday, July 3)
The morning did not go exactly as I had planned. I was trying to print store coupons from my computer. Unfortunately, the application that downloaded the coupons contained a virus and my computer shut down instantly. For the next three hours, I struggled to get it to run properly again.
I was frustrated. Here I was doing something nice for someone else – in this case, our daughter – and I was the one having all of the problems. Some reward, I thought, for being kind.
In a perfect world, people who help others would be rewarded, not punished. But our world is far from perfect. Hundreds of thousands of injustices occur every day, yet we cannot allow ourselves to become angry or discontented. We must keep on going, just like Jesus did, knowing that God sees our intentions and good works.
Countless believers for centuries have been persecuted, ridiculed, maligned and scorned for trying to make people and the world a little better. Their efforts were not in vain. In the end, God rights the wrongs of the world. We can’t afford to give up and give up what he has waiting for us.
The one and only power (Thursday, July 2)
Some people treat life as though it is a game with definite winners and losers – a battle between the powerful and the powerless. The sport is all about dominance and control; those with the best strategy, the most skillful moves, come out on top. The world is full of leaders who have used a variety of approaches to become successful.
But what is true of this world is not at all true in God’s kingdom. Psalm 37:11 reminds us that “the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” Only those who are gentle, mild, kind and compassionate will receive God’s treasures. Only those who are willing to follow God, rather than their own devices, will have peace and prosperity.
Bill and Gloria Gaither said it best in “There’s Just Something About That Name” when they wrote: “Kings and kingdoms will all pass away.” God will remain when everything else is gone. He alone is the one true victor and ruler.
Nothing else will matter in the kingdom of eternity except God. On that day the powerful on earth will be powerless as they stand in judgment before God.
God’s creation (Wednesday, July 1)
Perception can make a world of difference. The earth looks much different, for example, from a plane at 25,000 feet. Peacefully and serenely, the ground below glides by. We marvel at all of shapes and shades of landscape scattered here and there. For miles, we see dark blue rivers that twist and turn; forests and fields that are outlined by roads and highways; and large sprawling cities that suddenly seem small and insignificant.
Sometimes we need to get above the clutter and noise of daily life in order to appreciate the world that God made for us, his children. The true wonder and beauty of this life is found in God’s creation, not in the many works of man.
When we start to see the world through the eyes of God, we begin to notice the little things we miss each day. We need to spend more time focusing on what God designed rather than on what man has developed.