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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.
The eternal chorus (Tuesday, June 30)
When we worship God, we join the entire multitude of Christians – those from every place and time: past, present and future – in honoring the King and Creator. Our voices and hearts blend together in divine adoration. The harmony of one song echoes throughout the universe as we proclaim God’s glory.
At this very moment, our weak and feeble words blend with the great, eternal chorus, where sounds of praise ring forever in everlasting beauty. “Sing to the Lord a new song,” says the psalmist, “his praise in the assembly of the saints.”
The song we sing to God today is forever new and renewing. It is timeless, endless and continuous. We unite ourselves with the assembly of saints whenever and wherever we praise Him.
The joy for living (Monday, June 29)
I sometimes wonder if we haven’t lost our joy for living. Even many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ do not look happy. There are many reasons for us to be discouraged at times, but disappointments should not affect our true happiness. Constantly, we need to remind ourselves that the value in life does not come through how much we accomplish; rather, the worth is in what we achieve.
As we look at the life of Jesus, we begin to see how we should live our lives. Jesus’ ministry to the world was short – no more than three years. Yet, he achieved more than anyone who has ever lived. When we talk about the way Jesus lived, we do not mean that his life was different because he was the Son of God. What I am suggesting is that Jesus really lived his life. There was a certain inner peace, a serene joy, that he displayed. Even his speech resonated with happiness each time he talked of life in eternity with the Father.
Perhaps we need to reflect more of our Father’s joy to the world around us. First, we need to forget about the quantity of work we do for the Lord and focus on the quality.
Celebrating each day (Sunday, June 28)
We naturally celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and family gatherings. But every day in our lives is extraordinary because of who we are in Christ. Today marks another day when we are loved and protected by the creator of the universe.
When we pause to think about the fact that God fashioned this very day and made us for this day, we begin to see our lives from a new perspective. Suddenly, we feel a part of the universe rather than apart from it. Too often we as Christians think that we are estranged from the rest of the world. Our purposes and goals seem to be out of step with post-modern society. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.
The universe was created by God and it is controlled by him. We are his creation and we were put here for his glory. We are not out of step with his design at all; rather, it is the world that has chosen to turn away from God. One of our primary purposes in life is to point the way back to God – to show those who are not believers what they are missing.
Realizing the importance of our work here on earth, as well as all that we possess through Christ, we can shout with joy and assurance that “this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” We celebrate each day because we are living in him, from this moment on and forever for all eternity.
Live and worship together (Saturday, June 27)
We can do most everything online these days. We can get the news, communicate with others both near and far, order furniture, pay bills, read books, conduct research, even plan a vacation. Modern technology has changed our lives forever. What we did in person just 50 years ago, we accomplish now with a few keystrokes on our phones, tablets, pads and computers.
One thing we cannot do, though, is to worship God with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Yes, we can watch worship services online, but we cannot be a part of them as we need to be. We can only praise the Lord if we are together in person—one with another, standing side by side and shoulder to shoulder.
“How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in peace” (Psalm 133:1). We live together in peace by being together in God. He is the one who unifies both body and spirit. Worshipping him brings us all under one roof to sing praises and share our joy.
As you think about attending church tomorrow, may you take the time today to prepare yourself for the experience of honoring the Lord of the universe. Immerse yourself completely in his love and grace as he pours out his heart on you.
Wait for the Lord (Friday, June 26)
Waiting seems to be a part of living. We wait for the doctor. We wait in line at the store. We wait for a check to come in the mail. We wait for fast-food. We wait on the phone. There is no end to the many times or places when we have to wait.
Several stories in the Bible tell us about people who had to wait as well. Joseph had to wait for years in a prison before he was released. David had to wait in a cave to remain safe from Saul. Job had to wait months for God to restore his health and wealth.
We cannot change the fact that we have to wait, but we can change how we deal with waiting. I try to use my waiting for praying. I focus on God and think about him. I may pray for people, situations or even myself. As a result, sooner rather than later the waiting is over.
Think about this verse the next time you have to wait: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). All of our time is in God’s hands. Therefore, let us turn our meaningless waiting in the world into meaningful waiting for the Lord. He will show us how to use the minutes and hours of waiting for our good and his glory.
Trusting the heart of God (Thursday, June 25)
St. Paul must have wondered where God was at times. Over and over, Paul suffered while he was spreading the good news of salvation. According to Luke, “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead” (Acts 14:19). On another occasion Paul wrote, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2 Corinthians 11:25).
As we reflect on Paul’s experience we, too, might wonder why God did not take better care of Paul. We will never know the answer, of course. One thing we can say with certainty is that each time God kept Paul alive; Paul then went on to glorify God in an even greater way! Through one adversity after another, God made Paul stronger.
The Lord does the same with us. He allows tests and trials to make us better for the kingdom rather than letting the world beat us down. We may suffer at the hands of those who stand against us, but we are never closer to God than when tribulation comes. True to his word, he gives us what we need to endure and persevere.
“The Lord gives His people strength; the Lord blesses His people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). No doubt Paul knew many of the Psalms by heart. But even more, he knew and trusted the heart of God.
A passing storm (Wednesday, June 24)
It was a lovely summer day. Suddenly, as a cold front moved through, the sky turned black. The winds picked up and the rain came down sideways. About 10 miles away, a tornado hit the ground. Miraculously, no one was killed; no one was even injured. A couple of hours later, the sun was shining again.
Storms come and go in our lives. Everything seems fine one minute and out of nowhere the dark clouds come. It might be an illness, accident or a personal loss. Yet no matter how devastating the incident, peace and calm will return eventually.
What we need to do is put our hope in the future, when the sun is shining again, rather than on how things seem at the moment. The blackest night always ends as soon as the sun rises on a new day.
May God fill you with hope today. May his love show you that what lies ahead is much greater than what lies behind. No storm lasts forever, but God’s care does!
Being protected (Tuesday, June 23)
Each day as we go about our activities, God protects us. He is with us as we drive in traffic, when we are at work or at home, as we visit the doctor for news about recent tests, while we are eating and when we are watching television. No matter where we go or what we do, we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit.
We may never know how much has been kept from us because of God’s protection. We can probably recount numerous examples when we should have been harmed in a traffic accident or some other incident. Perhaps we narrowly escaped permanent injury from an illness or operation. Then there are attacks of spiritual forces that we do not see – the evil that is constantly at work all around us.
God keeps us safe, much like our earthly parents when we were small. We did not realize it at the time, but our mothers and fathers took great care to make sure nothing harmed us. God does the same on a much grander and divine scale. We are his children and he watches over us each second of the day and night.
Jesus gave us the words of the Father so that we would not fear anything. “Surely I am with you always,” he said, “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). We have God’s mantle of protection over our lives. His covenant keeps us safe through any trial.
Winning the battle (Monday, June 22)
Others like to tell us what to do. They mean well, but we are the ones who should know ourselves best. We ought to know how to handle each situation because we have God to guide us.
When David decided he was going to tackle Goliath, Saul thought he knew what the young shepherd boy needed. “Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you.’ Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. ‘I cannot go in these,’ he said to Saul, ‘because I am not used to them’” (1 Samuel 17:37-39).
Scripture tells us that David took off Saul’s equipment. He grabbed his staff, shepherd’s bag, sling, five smooth stones and approached the wicked Philistine. One stone was all it took.
David was confident and knew what he could do only with his sling. Saul was trying to help, but everything he put on David would have hindered him from being victorious.
There is nothing wrong with listening to others as long as we listen to God most of all. He has prepared us for every trial and he knows what is best for us to put on to win the battle.
Receiving (Sunday, June 21)
Giving. In and of itself, giving is a gift. The gift that we receive is in the giving. If we have something valuable that we give away, for example, we are the ones who really benefit. In the end, we will receive the Lord’s thanks and blessings, which are far more precious than anything else we possess.
The same holds true when we give up our time and effort to help someone. Perhaps we stop what we are doing during a busy and hectic day to call someone who is sick or to write an email to a friend. Maybe we send a card to a neighbor or even check in on a shut-in. It could even be that we help someone change a flat tire or offer to go shopping for an elderly couple down the street. Whatever we do in the name of Jesus, we do for him.
Being able to serve in the kingdom is truly a gift. God calls us to give up our earthly lives, and all that we have, so that we can receive the ultimate gift – eternal life. But he also blesses us each time we sacrifice more of ourselves for others. He does not reward us with worldly treasure; rather, he gives us the things that last forever: peace, joy and contentment. These can never be taken away. They are ours to keep forever.
Long ago, Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus about the words of Jesus: that is more blessed to give than to receive. We are the ones who are blessed when we give, because God turns our material gifts to others into everlasting gifts from him.
Our identity (Saturday, June 20)
Who are you? Better yet, who am I? Am I who others say I am? I wonder if I am who I even think I am. I’m sure there is a great difference between who I am and who God wants me to be. The former is my little notion of what I want while the latter is being the heir of a great kingdom.
Instead of looking to God to discover the creature he created in me, I often ask the world to define me. I let others determine my self-worth and value rather than asking the creator himself. Who knows me better than God? Is there any human being anywhere who is wiser than God? No, of course not.
Let us stop looking everywhere except to God for our identity and importance. Only he can see inside of us. Only God can see our entire lives, from beginning to end, and know all of the goodness in us. The world cannot possibly realize who we are. Nor can it change whose we are.
If we belong to him, he tells the world who we are. Not the other way around.
In God we trust (Friday, June 19)
Accepting what God wants to do in our lives does not mean we have to understand his plan. All too often, we think these two terms (accepting and understanding) belong together. We do not always understand what we accept, however. Nor do we accept what we understand.
I accept that I can drive my car each day, for example, yet fail to understand how everything works. On the other hand, I may understand that the older couple down the street needs help and I do not accept the responsibility to take them food or to cut their lawn. There are dozens of other circumstances that fit into these two categories. I live in a house but I do not understand how to build one. I put on different clothes all the time and I do not understand how they are made. Conversely, I understand the garbage needs to go out and I might not accept the duty to make sure it is done. I also understand why the house needs to be maintained and cleaned, but I do not accept the obligation to do so.
When it comes to God, we may or may not accept his plan depending on our understanding. When it makes sense to us, we will do it. If not, there is little chance we will follow him. But how can we understand the mind and will of God if we cannot even understand a common thing like how a refrigerator or microwave operates?
God is way ahead of us, literally and figuratively. We will never catch up to him no matter how much we want to understand here on earth. Many things, even in the world, are far beyond our comprehension. Let’s begin to accept what we do not know and replace our desire for understanding with faith in God. In God we trust.
Let my people go (Thursday, June 18)
All that the Israelites had to do was to follow the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Neither sign “left its place in front of the people” (Genesis 13:22). With God leading them, they could not go wrong.
Still, somehow, the people lost their way. They panicked when the Egyptians were pursuing them. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die,” they complained to Moses. Later, after they crossed the very sea that God had parted to save them, they grumbled about not having water or food. God miraculously provided springs of water along with manna and quail. Then, when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, the people built a golden calf and worshipped it.
We wonder how they could turn away from God, especially after all he had done for them. But they were not so different than many of us today. We see the Lord perform one miracle after another in our lives; yet, when faced with a bad report from a doctor, the loss of a job or a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, we wonder where God is. We forget about him and dwell on what we should do next.
Over and over again, Moses repeated the words of God to Pharaoh: “Let my people go.” The Lord no longer wanted them held in bondage. Similarly, God does not want us held captive to harm or destruction. He chose us and set us free so we do not have to worry and panic about every little thing. Like the cloud and the pillar of fire, God has never left his place in front of us. Let us keep our eyes on him rather than looking all around at what threatens to enslave us.
Build your ark (Wednesday, June 17)
God chose Noah to build an ark. He gave him precise instructions on the size and shape. God also told him what would happen. “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it,” God said. “Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you” (Genesis 6:17-19). Noah and his family alone would be spared.
How Noah must have been ridiculed by his friends and neighbors. Year after year, Noah labored to build a ship the size of which no one had ever seen! Those who watched him no doubt wondered what he was doing. They probably laughed and shouted insults; he must have appeared to be the village idiot—quite literally. Yet, Noah remained faithful to God’s calling.
What has God called you to do for him? What project is he asking you to devote yourself? It may not be as huge as an ark, but it is every bit as important. Do not worry about what others say or how much they criticize you. Follow God’s instructions and listen only to him. One day the world may understand, but by then it will be too late—just as it was in Noah’s time.
Our prodigal ways (Tuesday, June 16)
The prodigal son could not wait. He wanted his share of the estate so he could leave home and enjoy life on his own. His father gave him what he asked and the boy soon departed.
There is no indication how long he was gone, but he returned penniless and poor. The Bible tells us that when the father saw his son, he “threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). He immediately forgave his son and welcomed him back home.
God never gives up on us either. No matter where we go or what we decide to do, God anticipates our return. Sometimes, like the prodigal son, we have to learn our lesson the hard way when we spend all of our time and resources on what we want for ourselves. Sooner or later, though, we come to our senses and realize our mistake. When we do, God throws his arms around us and kisses us.
Whatever we have done or not done, God forgives us. He forgives the past, the mistakes, the sins—everything. He embraces us and loves us because he is our father.
Missed opportunities (Monday, June 15)
How many opportunities do we miss each and every day of our lives? A few? Many? Only God knows. He knows because he is the one who gives us numerous chances to grow, serve and help. One opportunity after another passes us by.
Stephen did not miss the chance to glorify God even though he was being stoned to death. David did not miss the opportunity to serve God when he stood up to a giant. Joseph did not give up the chance to remain faithful to God through more than a decade in prison.
I think about all of the times I have missed a unique opportunity either to show or tell what God means to me. Just the other day, I became anxious because things were not going my way. I acted as though God had forgotten about me—that he was blessing everyone else except me.
May each one of us look for divine opportunities from God as we go through this day. And may we rest this evening knowing that we have served him well and not missed any chance to glorify his name here on earth.
Perseverence (Sunday, June 14)
Our persistence reveals a lot about our Christian character. On a walk through the neighborhood the other day I cringed as I saw a young teenager fall off of his skateboard. He tumbled to the ground, bounced up and got right back on the skateboard. A few blocks later, I saw a small boy trying to ride his new bike. He was pumping as hard as his little legs would allow. Still, the tiny two-wheel bike, complete with training wheels, was barely moving. He pushed and pedaled with all his might; determination was written across his face.
Then I saw a man working in a yard. He went back and forth, mowing the grass. He did not appear happy. His demeanor told the whole story; he seemed ready to give up at the slightest difficulty and go back into the house.
Somewhere between being a child and becoming an adult we lose our enthusiasm and persistence. It happens slowly, but eventually our minds take over. As grown-ups, we think too much for our own good. We forget about the gift and joy of being able to move about: taking a walk, riding a bike, cutting the lawn. Instead, we wish we were doing something else, maybe something less physical.
If we are not careful, we can lose the drive and will that God created within us. Whatever you face today, know that God has given you the strength to persevere and endure. Scripture says it all: With God’s help, I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall (2 Samuel 22:30). Let’s stop thinking so much about what we want, and just push through the obstacle. In the end, it is worth the effort.
Slow down (Saturday, June 13)
“Be still and know that I am God.” With this one statement, God tells us to quiet our restless minds to know his peace. Perhaps what God is also saying to us is this: “Slow down. I am right here.” What is so hard for us to understand? For you and me, each day seems like we are busier than before. We sprint to keep up, but we still fall behind. Pretty soon our lives seem like a blur. We don’t remember what we did two days ago much less two hours ago.
Life is a lot like climbing stairs: we have to take each step one at a time. We all know what happens if we try to run up several flights all at once. We will never make it to the top, especially as we get older. That is why we have to become wiser and realize we must pace ourselves in anything we do.
I recall being a young child and literally bounding up the stairs in our house. I could take two or three steps at a time without any trouble. I can still do this if I want, only not as much. These days, however, I prefer to go up one step at a time. I am in no particular hurry. Instead, I find I enjoy the exercise more if I just slow down.
The key to enjoying God is to slow down. We need to take the time to appreciate what he has done for us. Let’s stop running around chasing ourselves. Let’s use some of our day to really notice all of the beauty that surrounds us. God is everywhere, if we will just slow down long enough to see him.
There is no other way (Friday, June 12)
There is a trick to being content. The secret is found in the words of a great hymn: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way / To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” We cannot be happy unless we both trust and obey Jesus.
First, we have to trust him completely. We need to believe in Jesus as though our life depends on it because, in all reality, it does. We can do nothing without him and we are nothing without him. In him, we find our strength, purpose and being. Our reliance on him needs to be second nature for us.
Next, we need to obey Jesus. We must do what he says, each and every step of the way. We do not have a choice in the matter, if we want to find his peace in our lives.
Put simply, his happiness is conditional. It depends on two things – that we trust and obey him. Our response, on the other hand, must be unconditional. We have to believe and listen without question or doubt. There is no other way.
Life in heaven (Thursday, June 11)
All of the little things that bother us most right now will not matter in eternity. The annoying person down the street, a house that needs cleaning, dishes that need to be washed, cars that need to be repaired and muscles that ache from arthritis—none of these will enter our minds when we enter heaven.
The glory of God’s grace and love will fill us so completely that nothing else will matter. Nothing, that is, except how we served our Lord and Creator. Did we sacrifice our will for his? Did we go the extra mile when we were tired and weary? Did we think of others more than ourselves?
The chasm between this world and the next is not as wide or deep as we might think. Yes, our frail human bodies will breathe no more. But our spirit will continue on seamlessly from life on earth into life in glory. We will take no riches or wealth with us, for we will no longer need any of it. In an instant, God will transform us for life in his kingdom.
No eye can imagine the wonders we will experience and see. It will take just one second for us to realize what our lives on earth were all about. “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends,” wrote Peter. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). None of us want to leave this life too soon. But, when we do, we will soar into the heavens as Jesus did and be with him forever.
Turning harm into good (Wednesday, June 10)
A nuclear cardiac stress test revealed my wife might have a partial blockage in one of her arteries. A few weeks later, she underwent a catheterization to determine the damage. Somewhere between the stress test and the catheterization, however, any signs of a problem disappeared completely! “Her artery is as clean as a whistle,” announced the doctor.
Science may not be able to explain what happened, but as Christians we know what happened. We know that God was there taking care of her and healing her in his own divine way. Our prayers were answered and, once again, God was faithful in protecting one of his dear children.
At times such as this we see and experience God’s presence. What we need to remember is that he is omnipresent: with us at every place and time whether we are in the hospital or on vacation. God’s love covers us constantly with his spirit of goodness and perfection.
Paul wrote that all things work together for good to those who love him and serve him (Romans 8:28). Better than anyone, Paul realized this fact. Time and time again, he saw God’s great love in action. And even when he did not, he knew God was there quietly and invisibly turning harm into good.
His unexpected protection (Tuesday, June 9)
Abraham and his wife Sarah never expected to bear a child because of their age. Paul never expected to be tried and sent to Rome. David never expected to be hunted by Saul. But God was with each one of these individuals. He protected and cared for them in a way they had not anticipated.
My wife and I recently returned from 10 days overseas only to learn that our connecting flight back home had been cancelled. We were frustrated and tired; we had been up since 1 a.m. The airline was going to pay for a night at a local hotel. Still, we counted so much on being in our own house that evening.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Later, after eating and relaxing, we realized something. We were not where we wanted to be, yet God was watching over us. We had a nice room in a good hotel, food to eat and a soft bed to catch up on our rest.
Very often in our need to stick to our schedule, we forget about God’s schedule. He watches over us wherever we are—even in places or situations where we did not expect to be. Like Abraham, Sarah, Paul and David, God will always take care of us.
You can’t outgive God (Monday, June 8)
I was debating how much to tip the shuttle driver. He had carried our bags from the hotel lobby to the bus and then, when we arrived at the airport, he put them on the sidewalk next to the entrance. Something inside of me prompted me to give him the five dollar bill in my pocket. At first, I thought of asking for two dollars back.
No sooner did I give him the five dollars when my wife handed me another five dollar bill. “Here,” she said, “I just found this on the ground.” I was shocked. I immediately thought of God. I truly believe my wife would not have found five dollars if we did not give our five dollars to the driver.
The driver graciously said, “Bless you. Thank you!” Though we were at an airport on this Sunday morning, we were praising God. Once again, he blessed us in a way that reminded us that we can never outgive him.
*Devotions from May 27 to June 7 are from the book “Devotions for Life: New Ideas from Old Ways”
Regaining our hope (Sunday, June 7)
Strange as it may seem, we actually teach ourselves to be unhappy and live without hope. What happens is we allow ourselves to be disappointed (and defeated) time and time again by life’s circumstances as we change from children into adults.
Perhaps it began when you didn’t get a bike you wanted or, later, when you couldn’t afford the car you liked. Maybe you failed to find the job you had hoped for or you lost the job you loved. Each time your disappointment grew a little more.
We can lose our hope if we base our happiness solely on the world. Everything around us is temporary and short-lived. Nothing on earth lasts, not even the great pyramids of Egypt and the magnificent temples of ancient Rome. Material objects offer momentary joy only. Relationships with others come and go. Even our bodies fail as we become older. We are bound to feel let down whenever we put too much stock or faith in what is always changing and decaying.
Our hope must be built on what goes on forever, from life on earth clear into eternity. God’s love, his care and protection, his guidance, and our salvation—all of these have no end. The opening lines of the hymn “The Solid Rock” tell us all we need to remember: “My hope is built on nothing less / Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” An English cabinetmaker came up with these words as he was walking to work one morning in 1834. The phrase is as true today as it was then, and it will be true evermore.
God lasts. He is the only thing in the universe that does.
His presence (Saturday, June 6)
Jesus is here for us although we cannot see him. He is with us much like family and friends are with us even when they live far away. For example, I have niece in South Korea, a nephew in Florida, children and grandchildren in Ohio, and dear friends in Italy. The distance of hundreds or thousands of miles does not separate us nor does the fact that I cannot see them. I know they are there.
I am here in Virginia and Jesus is in heaven, but he is with me through the Holy Spirit each moment. No, I cannot see him either. But I see his works everywhere in the same way that I have remembrances of my loved ones all around the house. Pictures, gifts, and cards all remind me of those who are with me but far away.
Whenever I behold a cross, pass by a church, read the Bible, hear a gentle word, say a prayer, or see a kind work, I remember Jesus. He is there in the joy as well as the sorrow, in the happiness as well as the suffering, in the peace as well as the unrest. Like my family and friends who live so far away, he is always thinking of me and praying for me.
It should not make any difference at all in our relationship that I cannot see him right now. The important thing is that he sees me.
Accepting all of Jesus (Friday, June 5)
We make the claim that Jesus is our Savior and Lord. We probably have no difficulty with saying he is our Savior because we have salvation through him. But think about the other half: Jesus as Lord. Is he truly Lord of our life in everything we do, or just in some things?
I will be the first to admit that I often forget about Jesus being my Lord. Many times I plan my day, I take care of situations, I tell people what I think, I go various places…all without talking first to Jesus. I have a tendency to lead; then I ask him to go along. In other words, I become Lord and expect him to be the follower.
It doesn’t work that way. When I take over as Lord, I make the wrong plans or I hurt others with my words and actions. I become lost in so many ways without even realizing it.
A contemporary evangelist closes each one of his services, camp meetings, and teachings with the following words: “Jesus IS Lord!” In all that I do I should repeat the same phrase over and over again. He is my Lord and Savior. I cannot have one without the other.
Connected (Thursday, June 4)
Many times in my career as a teacher, I have used various devices and equipment in the classroom. Projectors, tape recorders, DVD players, and computers are great tools to aid in teaching about a subject. Just recently, I was having trouble with a CD player. No matter what I did, it would not work. Finally, after much frustration and anxiety, I discovered that the unit was not plugged in.
Often, we come unplugged from Jesus. We need and require him in order to function. He is the source of our strength, wisdom, and power. “You can do nothing without me,” Jesus said (John 15:5). Indeed, we cannot do anything of eternal worth, in or for the kingdom, outside of our Savior. We always need to be connected to him.
I have to admit that I sometimes go through the motions, thinking I have done all of the right things in my life, but still I am not effective. I have no power. Without God, I cannot do anything. He is all powerful and I require his energy.
He is the source. I need to be plugged in to him each minute of the day. Otherwise, I am like that unplugged CD player: useless and lifeless.
Peace (Wednesday, June 3)
You and I usually seek the wrong kind of peace. We long for earthly contentment rather than heavenly peace. We want people to like us more than we want God to love us. We look for acceptance, recognition, encouragement, and strength—all in a worldly way. In essence, we are looking for the impossible, something we will never find.
The only lasting peace we can have comes from Jesus. “My peace I leave with you,” he said (John 13:27). “My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” What we often call peace is nothing more than temporary tranquility, a sort of harmony for the time being. Eventually, things will change and this peace will vanish. It will disappear as quickly as it appeared.
God’s peace never changes. Nor does it ever leave, fading away without a trace. His peace remains deep inside of us and does not depend on other people or outside circumstances. In truth, this has nothing to do with the world or other people.
We can be calm even when we are suffering and composed when everything else is in chaos. The reason is because what Jesus gives us is timeless: it is a spiritual peace rather than a physical one.
Perfect change (Tuesday, June 2)
God performs his greatest work in the worst circumstances. When more than a million captives were held in bondage, God suddenly released them from Egypt. When Sampson was the weakest, God gave him the strength for one final act. When Joseph had spent more than a decade in prison, God set him free to become Pharaoh’s chief adviser. When Peter denied Jesus three times, God still used him in a powerful way. When Jesus was bloodied and defeated, God raised him up from death.
Even though the situation today looks bleak—with companies going out of business, employees losing their jobs, prices rising for fuel and food—God is getting ready to do a great work. He will shine through just when times are the bleakest. He is our hope during these long, anxious days of hopelessness.
Through the coming months, people everywhere will wonder if the situation will change. Will the economy turn around, will people go back to work, will the bankruptcies and foreclosures ever end? While many may wait and speculate, God has the answer. He will provide for his people, the children of his family, just as he has always done.
My sheep know my voice and I know them, Jesus said, and they follow me (John 10:27). He is truly the way through troubled times. His light always appears brightest when the night is darkest. It may be barely visible now, but soon it will fill the heavens with blinding brilliance. Once again, the world will see what God can do.
His house (Monday, June 1)
The church is not a country club. We do not belong because we want. We belong because we need to. It is a place for the sick, the wounded, the broken, the hurt, and the needy. Only God can meet our needs and only he can heal us.
As we put ourselves in his hands, he begins the process of re-creating us. He picks us up and puts us back together. Slowly, he works in us, taking away the regrets, the anxiety, and the pain of the past. Day after day, from Sunday to Sunday, he examines us to see what he can do. The more we give of ourselves to him, the more he is able to repair.
If we are patient, we will be made whole again. He will restore us and bring us back to full health so we are right with him once more. Let us go, then, to his house in order that he might take care of us and begin to heal us.
His coming (Sunday, May 31)
If Jesus were to return to earth today, what would he find us thinking, doing, and saying? Would he be proud or a little disappointed? For me, I know the answer depends on what I am going through at the moment: whether I am happy, sad, or somewhere in between.
We need to keep his coming in our minds at all times. Not out of dread or fear, but out of a sense of hope and anticipation. He wants us to look forward to the time when he comes back. It will be a joyous moment, indeed, to see our Savior return in triumph and victory. He will call us to his side where we join him forever. For all eternity, we will be free from pain, sorrow, illness, hatred, strife, and suffering.
No one knows the day or hour when all of this will occur. But we know that it will happen one of these days. Jesus told us so himself. He wants us to be vigilant, to prepare ourselves, and to be ready. His will and desire are that no one will be left behind. What happens, of course, is up to us.
Setting our hearts and minds in order each moment is the only way to make sure he finds us doing what we have been called to do. What matters in the end is whether he finds us faithful despite what we are going through.
Winning the battle (Saturday, May 30)
I wonder why it is that I still become anxious during periods of difficulty. Is it a matter of my unbelief in God? Perhaps there is something missing in my temperament or character. I frequently experience doubt despite the fact that I realize God is in control.
The odd thing is that we know we are protected by his love and care; still, we fall apart at the least sign of trouble. Does this mean that we do not trust or have faith in God? Maybe the answer has little to do with our confidence in God. It could be that we become upset and worried due to our loss of control. It is not easy for any of us to relinquish our ability to handle each situation in life.
Even when it comes to God, we have a tough time of stepping away. Deep down, we understand God is watching over us. We also believe in his power to heal and to guide. In spite of everything, though, we struggle. We carry on this battle inside of ourselves; we fight over what God is doing and what we want to do.
God says that the battle is not ours (2 Chronicles 20:15). He will fight for us if we just step aside and stop trying to tell him what to do. Surely, he knows what must be done. The only way he can prove himself to us is if we stop trying to prove ourselves to him.
Pushing away problems (Friday, May 29)
The essential thing in life is to separate ourselves from our problems. We can ill afford to become entangled and enmeshed in our own web of difficulty. Our lives as Christians are one matter. The trials we meet are quite another. The first is spiritual; the latter, physical.
If you and I suddenly shift from the spiritual to the physical, we are bound to become confused and anxious. Living in the flesh is much harder than we realize. We get caught up in our emotions. Our personal feelings and thoughts take over. We lose our proper perspective on life. Rather than living as children of God, we live as children of the world.
We were never created to handle the sorts of hardships that assault us in this life. We have neither the stamina nor the wisdom. But God possesses both. When he said to Paul “my grace is sufficient for you,” he meant it (2 Corinthians 12:9). God says the same to us as well. He intends for us to go to him for whatever we need—patience, persistence, understanding—and he will bless us.
When we start living our lives in God’s way, then we will not be taken in by everyday problems. We will see setbacks and troubles as nothing more than a minor inconvenience; certainly, nothing to get upset or mad about. We should have enough sense to realize that our lives depend on God, not on what happens to us in the world.
Why did you doubt? (Thursday, May 28)
What are you afraid of? Is it sickness, surgery, failure, or something else entirely?
All types of fear loom like ominous obstacles in front of us. We look up and can hardly see any reason for hope. We will never be able to do anything until we first remove our own cowardice. We must speak to the spirit of fear and tell it to go away in the name of our Lord and Savior. God has given us the power and authority over all forms of evil. Sadly, we usually allow ourselves to be overcome by what threatens to happen.
Remember the lesson that Peter learned the hard way: “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:29-30). He shouted for help rather than rebuking his own fear.
“You of little faith,” Jesus said, “why did you doubt?” Let’s not lose our faith the next time our molehills seem like mountains. Tell fear where to go rather than crying out for help. Jesus will always save you, but he will always ask, “Why did you doubt?”
Overcoming fear (Wednesday, May 27)
I often struggle in setting aside my life, with everything I desire and want to do, to accept the life that God has planned for me. His way is not always easy. Nor is it without any kind of suffering. But it is a journey that is created, planned, blessed, and ordained by him. I can be sure he goes with me no matter what I face. The same cannot be said of living on my own.
For example, one time I had to undergo a medical procedure that I wanted to avoid. It was a small thing really: a nuclear stress test and echocardiogram. For days, I dreaded the appointment because I have a tremendous amount of fear for anything that is even the slightest bit uncomfortable.
Many times in my life I have let my fears get the better of me, and I have not done what is truly best for me. On the other hand, I have put myself through the agony of running a dozen marathons. Somehow, I seem to accept this self-inflicted pain without too much trouble. I have rationalized that the physical hurt and anguish are nothing when compared to the success of being able to run 26.2 miles.
I need to use the same approach when it comes to God’s direction for me. Yes, I will have to endure many things that I would rather avoid. But I must realize that doing God’s will is what is really worthwhile. The victory he gives us is forever. The difficulties right now are only temporary.
First things first (Tuesday, May 26)
An old man was crossing the street in front of me. He walked sluggishly and I was approaching quickly in my car. Rather than watching the traffic on this side of the road, the man was already looking ahead at the other lane to see what cars were coming from the opposite direction. Needless to say, I slowed down so I would not hit him. Later, as I thought about the incident, I realized that this was a striking picture of how we live from day to day.
How often do we begin looking or thinking ahead when we are not even halfway along? God may tell us to do something, and we suddenly begin questioning him as we take the first few steps. If he is calling us to a large task, we want to know each and every detail before we set out. We should realize by now that God never reveals his full will all at once. We have to take it one step at a time. We have to get halfway across the street before we can cross the other half. What good will it do to look ahead before we reach the median? The cars may all be gone by then.
Remember the story of Moses – how God told him to go to Pharaoh to demand release of the captives. Moses balked at that simple command. How would he have reacted if God would have told him the complete plan? “Moses, when you get there I want you to perform 10 plagues. First, you are going to turn water into blood. Then, I will have you attack the nation with swarms of frogs and lice. After that, you will pronounce disease on all livestock as well as boils on people. Then you will call down hail and thunder, locusts, darkness and death on the first-born.”
When he was called by God in the wilderness, Moses was told everything he needed to know at the moment: go to Pharaoh. God would take care of the rest in his time. Not one of the 10 plagues would happen before Moses arrived in Egypt. You and I need to trust more and look ahead less. Let us do what God asks without second-guessing his plan. He will not tell us where to take the second step until after we have finished the first.
The amazing power of prayer (Monday, May 25)
Prayer will always remain a mystery no matter how much we try to understand or explain. We do know, though, that prayer works. All of us can recall times when God changed our circumstances or that of someone else.
But what about those times when God did not do what we felt was best? Perhaps a loved one died or a relative was not healed. What do we do then?
When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed that God would spare him from the cross. "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me,” Jesus said. “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). His prayer did not change God’s plan, but it did change him. Prayer gave him the strength and power to accept what was about to happen.
We may not always get what we ask from God. He will, however, give us the capacity to deal with any situation—no matter how painful, difficult or disappointing.
Defeating the enemy (Sunday, May 24)
Serving Jesus means suffering like him and for him. God’s path will not be easy. Satan never gives up. Time after time, the attacks will come. The enemy will strike out through sickness, failure, tragedy and heartache. He will use anything, even doubt and temptation, to obscure God’s plan.
Satan knows our weakness: the physical things of this world. He realizes that all sorts of questions and fears enter our minds when we are sick, when we hear of someone losing a job, when we experience problems, when we see disaster, when we feel depressed.
What Satan does not want us to see is the power we possess in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. He does not want us to know that we can conquer any situation. We have the spiritual authority to overcome the corporeal through the spiritual.
Often, we listen to the devil when we should be listening to God. We accept lies over the truth because we base our conclusions on the seen rather than the unseen. In God’s universe, the invisible is stronger than the visible. His Holy Spirit is no match for the enemy; God does not need to rely on the tangible properties of this world.
He is much higher and greater. That is why we will overcome evil each time when we place our faith in God.
You are as important as the next person (Saturday, May 23)
There are seven unique servants listed in the New Testament. They are not as well-known as Peter, Barnabas or even Paul. But they served the Lord in a vital way. Luke mentions these persons only briefly in the Book of Acts: Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas from Antioch. Each one was specially chosen by the 12 disciples to make sure the widows and children of the faith had sufficient food every day. Their work and dedication allowed the disciples to devote full attention to praying and spreading the word of God.
At first glance, it might seem as though the 12 were more important. Why? Because they were the spiritual leaders of this new movement while the seven others were merely tending to the errands back at home. When it comes to serving God, though, each and every person is important.
Like the body, all of the parts depend on one another. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,’” Paul wrote. “And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. . . . God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12: 21-25).
Maybe you feel like you are only a foot and not the head. Never think you are less important than someone else because of what you do. All that matters is that we serve the Lord doing what he made us to do.
Consider who you are (Friday, May 22)
Those who follow Jesus can be found everywhere. There are Christians in businesses, in schools, in hospitals, in stores, in shelters and in jails. There are Christians who are in good health, in ill health, rich and poor, and those who are single, married or divorced. There also are Christians who have lost their jobs, their reputation or their will to go on. Despite each and every person and circumstance, all are loved by God in the same way and for the same reason.
God does not look at us for who we are in the world. He sees us for who we are in him. We stand before him as his child, a daughter or a son. He loves us unconditionally, and his care does not depend on our status, situation, profession or confession. When we come to him with an open heart and a true desire to follow, he accepts us.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:17-18).
You and I are accepted fully this day by God. The world may condemn us, but God commends us because we are his flesh and blood. Focus on who you are in the kingdom of heaven and forget about what you are on earth. Begin to consider yourself as God does: forgiven and free.
Your faith shows (Thursday, May 21)
People may not be able to explain it, but they know something is different about you. You are not like everyone else. You are patient, understanding and generous. Others are just the opposite.
When we look at the disciples we discover many of the same qualities that we see in Jesus. There were times when their human nature got the better of them. But more often than not, they were practicing what Jesus was preaching: love, forgiveness and grace.
Years ago during lunch at an academic conference overseas a woman said, “There is something different about you.” She kept pressing me to tell her what was different. Finally, after much prodding, I said “it must be my faith. I put my trust in God and believe he is in control of everything.” There are times when, like the disciples, I forget who is in charge of my life.
The point is that we need to keep trying to do the right things no matter how difficult or hard. When we fall down, we let God pick us up and start over again. He is what makes the difference in our lives. Believe it or not, people do notice our dependence on him; it shows in everything we do.
Their happiness more than ours (Wednesday, May 20)
It was a lovely spring day. Low humidity and a gentle breeze. With the temperature in the mid-60s, we had all of the windows in the house open. There were tufts of tiny, white clouds dotting the cerulean blue sky. Everything was perfect, except for the loud whining of a gas-powered leaf blower.
The man across the street was driving me crazy! He started in the backyard, apparently blowing some remaining leaves off of his grass. Then Ed went alongside the house in the same manner. In the front yard, he cleaned the porch steps, blew dust off of his two cars and went up and down the sidewalk. All the while, his blower droned on. It sounded like a huge nest of swarming hornets.
Ed was enjoying himself. On the other hand, I was mad and upset over the annoying sound. Then, for whatever reason, I noticed how much fun he was having. He was like a 70-year-old boy with a new toy.
Sometimes our perspective is all wrong. We see things simply from the way we want them to be. Yes, the buzzing blower bothered me, but only because it was not what I wanted to hear. What should matter most, if I love my neighbor as myself, is that Ed was happy.
Not paying attention (Tuesday, May 19)
I did it! The first tentative drops of rain began falling as I finished mowing the back yard. As I worked feverishly on the ankle-deep grass, I kept watching the rain clouds build just a couple of miles away.
I was proud of beating Mother Nature at her own game. Unfortunately, when I stood on the deck looking out at the lawn, I noticed I had missed several rows and patches. In my haste to finish, I had spent more time looking at the clouds (and worrying) than I did concentrating on what I was doing.
Too often in life we become occupied with what is in the future, what is off in the distance, rather than paying attention to what is right in front of us. We want to know where God is taking us tomorrow or next week and we ignore what he is doing for us at the moment.
It never did rain that day. All of my fretting and hurriedness was for nothing. Worst of all, I had to plan time a few days later to cut the grass again—this time the right way.
The gift of time (Monday, May 18)
Your days on this earth are numbered. Mine are, too. We do not know how many have been used thus far and how many remain. There could be far fewer than we think.
Why is it, then, that we often live as though we are going to live forever? We act like we have decades before we need to get everything in order. We tell ourselves there is no hurry to change our attitude or to make amends. We have plenty of tomorrows; therefore, we can put off what we do not want to do today.
When was the last time you thought seriously about time: time gone, time wasted, time spent wisely and time you have left? Young or old, we need to realize how temporary life is. The years go by quickly – sometimes so fast that we wonder what happened. We may even long to have another chance or for time to slow down.
All of our time is a gift from God, and he gives us free will to choose how we use it. Whatever we do from this point on, we need to ask for his help and guidance. “Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me” (Psalm 119:133). This simple scripture can remind us to be careful where we go, what we do and what we say. Remember, you may not have another chance. I may not either.
Re-creation (Sunday, May 17)
Perhaps we have missed the whole point of recreation. For a Christian, it has little to do with fishing or golfing. Recreation is all about re-creating ourselves each day. It means renewing ourselves through prayer, meditation and service.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and our lives depend on him. As we draw close to him, we are re-created in his likeness. God fashioned us as physical beings, but he revives us again as eternal creations.
Every moment of our present lives can be a re-birth – a renaissance in the truest sense. Studying scripture; talking with God in prayer; listening to the Holy Spirit; all of these renew us in a way that matters most. We are constantly in the process of being made new creatures for eternity.
When we speak of recreation, we should be referring to exercising our faith more than our bodies. One day we will leave this frail flesh behind and live an entirely new life, one that is everlasting and re-created once and for all.
You need to get away (Saturday, May 16)
When was the last time you got away? Not away physically, but spiritually? On a regular basis, we need to escape the noise and confusion of everyday life. We need to rest in the stillness and silence of God.
Jesus often withdrew from the crowds. He put down the healing, the preaching and the teaching in order to spend time with his Father. According to Luke 5:16, “Jesus himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Matthew 14:23 tells us that “after Jesus had dismissed his disciples, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone,” Mark 1:35 explains, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Each day, we must try to be more like Jesus and less like the rest of the world. We can easily get caught up in the race with everyone else: shopping, meetings, appointments, working and on and on. If we spread ourselves too thin, we will not be able to do what God has planned for us.
There is nothing wrong with getting away for a little time every day. In fact, the more time we spend with our Father, the less time the world will have to control us.
Seed faith (Friday, May 15)
Faith means nothing unless we use it, and faith is never strengthened without trials. Each time we are tested, our reliance on God grows a little more. But we must let God control the situation.
It is easy to say we have faith in him when everything is going well. As long as we have no problems, our trust remains intact. What happens, though, when the bottom falls out – when we come down with a serious sickness, when we lose our job, when we are ignored for a promotion or when others are preferred over us? Where is our faith then? We are at a crossroads. We either reach out to God or we pull back away from him and feel sorry for ourselves.
Jesus said that we could move a mountain, if we have faith the size of a mustard seed. He did not say we could speak to the mountain and it would literally run out of our path. What he meant was for us to have a tiny bit of faith, just enough to believe that God would help us go around the mountain.
If there are any mountains in your life right now, look to God to help you to go around. Keep moving forward on level ground each day until you reach the other side. Don’t waste time and energy trying to dig your way through or to climb over. Have a little faith and you will develop more with each step.
What’s your line? (Thursday, May 14)
In the 1950s and 60s there was a popular television show called “What’s My Line?” The objective was for a panel of famous stars to guess the true identity of a person. The real person would appear along with several imposters and each one would try to fool the panelists.
What if you or I appeared on such a program today? Would people be able to uncover our true identity—as a follower of Christ? Or would people guess the person sitting to our left or right was the Christian?
Sometimes, we think we can fool the world about who we are. We try to hide our identity maybe because we are embarrassed or we don’t want people to view us as weird. I used to feel funny about praying before a meal in a restaurant, but no more. I have realized that we are the people who are authentic. Those who do not believe in Jesus are the ones who are different.
We have a responsibility both to God and to non-believers. We need to be the salt and light that people need to see in order to change. God chose us and set us apart to help others. The only way we can help is if are true to our calling as servants. That is who we are; it is our real line in life.
Your invisible fence (Wednesday, May 13)
Neighborhoods everywhere are full of yards with invisible fences. These barriers keep dogs from running past a wire buried along the perimeter. If they try to escape, a device on their collar emits a tiny shock. In no time at all, dogs learn their limits.
Whether we realize it or not, there is an invisible fence around us. God surrounds us each day and protects us. He keeps us safe from danger, both physically and spiritually. If we go beyond our boundary, God does not zap us. Instead, our conscience is pricked with tinges of guilt because deep down we know what is right.
God has a hedge of protection around us just as he did with Job and his family. We see what happens when he removes his hand or when we try to go too far.
Psalm 91 reminds us about God’s unseen barrier all around us. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Never forget your invisible fence.
Anything is possible (Tuesday, May 12)
My prayers are usually something like this: Lord, help this person find a job; Lord, heal this person; Lord, guide this person; Lord, open a door for this person; Lord, take care of this person. On and on my list goes – full of requests and pleas.
It dawned on me one day that my prayers were mostly for what I wanted. I was telling God what I desired without even thinking about his will. There is grave danger in taking these words of our Lord too literally: “Therefore I tell you,” Jesus said, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). Of course, we want people to be healed and helped. God does as well, but he desires that people be whole in their spirit much more than in their body. The flesh will wither and fade, while the spirit goes on indefinitely.
When Jesus said we would receive “whatever you ask for in prayer” if we believe, he was talking about the offerings of heaven and not of this world. What we should be praying for is that God will give us the strength and fortitude to trust him to do what is best for each person.
We can still pray (and believe) for healing, help, safety, etc., knowing that God possesses the power to perform anything. Still our prayers must be in line with his divine will, no matter the outcome. If we put his will first, we can believe all things are possible when he is glorified.
Face to face (Monday, May 11)
Frequently, God brings us face to face with him. Maybe it has to do with our will or our attitude, but he must remind us who is in control. On occasion, however, God puts us face to face with ourselves. He forces us to look at ourselves – to examine who and what we have become – and the asks us if we like what we see. Are we content with where we are in our lives?
Not long ago, God made me stop and look at myself. What I discovered was only something he could have done. I was going through my day with no problems. Then, suddenly, I heard about an old friend. I learned that he had found quite a bit of success over the past 30 years. I was a little shocked and somewhat jealous. Turns out he had become a senior vice president of an international company. The last time we saw one another was when he walked out the door on a magazine we had founded. He left the state as well as all of the bills. I stayed and watched as the magazine went out of business. Afterward, I had to pay back all of the loans myself – and they were sizeable.
Yes, I would have liked the success he was now enjoying, especially all of the money. But, I wondered, was he happy? Had God blessed him with a beautiful marriage, a caring wife, two wonderful children and three adorable grandchildren? Did he have a passion for his job and did he look forward to going to work each day? Had the Lord watched over him all of these years and given him strong health?
The real question, though, was about me. Was I happy and content with my life? Was I pleased with what the Lord has done for me? Yes, I was completely satisfied, even with the bad situations (which are done and over with now; they no longer matter). God really has done marvelous things in my life. Why would I want to exchange it all for a little money or success in this world? That would make no sense (or cents) at all.
Cleaning out the past (Sunday, May 10)
Our church recently held a rummage sale. All of the donated items filled the entire fellowship hall in the basement of the building. There were books, dishes, clothes, toys, games, etc.—everything you could imagine. My wife found a Mother’s Day Longaberger basket which was only $2!
Occasionally, there are great finds at rummage and garage sales. Most of the time, however, the items amount to more of what we have already. As we go through life, we accumulate all sorts of things. We have a habit of saving everything, and keeping it stored away, thinking we will need it someday.
We do the same in our mind. We store up emotions, thoughts and memories for years. We hold on to anger, resentment, guilt and sorrow. Maybe it is time to rummage through our brain and clean out what is no longer necessary. Let go of someone who hurt you. Release the hate you have toward a neighbor. Throw away all of the feelings you don’t need anymore. Rummage through your past; keep only what is good, precious and valuable.
God does not want us to hold on to useless things for years. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said. “You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Jesus came to free us, both from ourselves and our sins of the past.
Use your delete key (Saturday, May 9)
One of the most powerful functions on a computer is the delete key. All we have to do is push it and the item or email is gone forever. We never have to deal with it again.
In our life, we should get in the habit of deleting things that bother us or that we do not need. Anger and frustration can disappear in a split second if we delete the incident from our mind. The driver who cut in front of you. Don’t respond; instead, hit the delete button. The boss who is always angry. Delete it from your thoughts. The neighbor who never mows his lawn. Delete. The phone calls from people trying to sell products. Delete. The child who spilled chocolate milk on the carpet. Delete.
If we begin deleting items that annoy us, two things will happen. First, our frustrations will not build up and snowball into a giant heap of worry. Second, we will be happier because the little problems in life will not throw us off track.
We need to keep ourselves on the straight path. “Enter through the narrow gate,” said Jesus. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). The only way to pass through the narrow gate and stay on the right path is to use our personal delete button. Controlling how we react to adversity is entirely up to us. Delete.
Our second nature first (Friday, May 8)
Taking care of our house or apartment—no matter the size—requires work and constant maintenance. The carpet has to be vacuumed, the windows cleaned, the dishes washed and the furniture dusted. To make sure everything gets done, we usually have a routine schedule.
In the same way, we have to maintain ourselves. Both our bodies and our minds. We have to make sure we eat the right foods, get plenty of rest and ample exercise. To ignore one or more of these sends us out of balance. We can become overweight, ill or, worse, suffer from chronic fatigue.
The most important aspect of everyday living, by far, is our spiritual care. We need to maintain who we are in Christ each day. We cannot expect one day of the week—what we do on Sunday mornings—to sustain us throughout the rest of the week. Daily maintenance and meditation is necessary, just like the things we do around the house.
Do you remember what God said to Joshua? “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8). It is easy for us to procrastinate and ignore what is best for us. Whatever you do today, make sure you put God’s word in your heart. His laws need to be first so that his will becomes second nature.
An invisible shield (Thursday, May 7)
When was the last time you and I truly thanked God for something that did not happen? We often want to blame him when we encounter difficulty or trouble, but what about when our life is going well? Yesterday God kept us safe as we drove from store to store. We did not get sick. We did not have to go without food or water. We have all the clothes we need. Our houses kept us warm and there is nothing that needs to be repaired.
We have many reasons to give thanks, although circumstances do not always go our way. It could be that someone has hurt us or criticized us. Perhaps we are tired of doing the same old things day after day. Then there are the errands that seem boring and the chores that are tedious.
If today seems like just another day, we can indeed rejoice. We can be glad because God is keeping us safe from more harm, more pain and more suffering. He protects us from even the things that we cannot see, from the spiritual forces that threaten our body and our minds. We are able to praise God for our simple lives.
Each day, his love and care surround us completely. He is both our strength and our fortress.
Thy will (Wednesday, May 6)
Take my will and turn it into your will, Lord. Make me desire what is best, not what is convenient or easy. Above all, help me to become more like Jesus and less like the person I have become.
Our constant prayer must be for God to control more and more of our lives so that he is living in us each moment. We do not move a step or take a breath without him. We do not think a thought or speak a word unless he is there.
We know that our lives are not our own. Yet, how many times do we decide what to do? We make the decision of what to say and how to act before we think about what we should do. We need to slow down and give God a chance to guide us. If he is going to live in and through us, we have to let him dominate our total being.
Only when we are completely consumed by his will for us can we serve him as we should. When we depend on him for everything, then he can do anything. He can reveal his power in us when we give up our will for ourselves.
Cross that bridge when you come to it (Tuesday, May 5)
How many times have we heard the phrase, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” Perhaps you said it to someone today. We are fond of telling people we are not going to worry about something until it happens.
When it comes to reality, however, we plan all kinds of options depending on our situation. If Plan A doesn’t work out, we always have Plan B, Plan C and even Plan D. Seemingly, we have everything set in place and are prepared for whatever happens.
Unfortunately, mapping our strategy from the very beginning leaves very little room for God to guide or inspire us. What would have happened if Paul had taken it upon himself to plan each step of his three missionary journeys? Or what would have been the result of Moses and his brother arranging where to take the Hebrews rather than following God’s signs? How many times in your own life have you decided exactly what to do rather than trusting God by “crossing that bridge when you come to it.”
Maybe it is time for us to give up doing things our way. At the very least, forget about your contingency plans if things don’t work out the way you expect. Depend on God to cross that bridge when you come to it. It is nothing for him to build a bridge from here to there. He wants to help you over the rough spots in life if you let him.
Without anxiety or fear (Monday, May 4)
Forty-five years ago on this day, four students were killed on a college campus in Ohio. They were shot to death by members of the National Guard who had been called to campus to restore peace after several days of antiwar protests. For some reason, God spared me. Two of those killed were within 20 yards of me.
As we go through life we never know what will happen next. There are no guarantees. We can be healthy and happy one day. Then gone the next, just like those four students. This much we do know: God is with us constantly. He was with the two women and two men as they were dying on the ground, and he is with them now in eternity.
Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27). No matter what we come up against this day or this week, God does not want us to be anxious or troubled. We may look back at things that have happened in the past or we may be worried about the future. But the God of the past also is the God of the present and the future.
He wants us to have the peace of Christ at all times, not just on Sunday morning in worship. When he left this world he gave us his peace as a gift to set us free from all fear and anguish. We need to realize how to live the way he did--with heavenly peace--and to accept everything he did for us.
Well worth the sacrifice (Sunday, May 3)
The life we live hinges on sacrifice. What matters most is how much we are willing to sacrifice for what we feel and believe is important. Often we might say, “Here I am, Lord. I will do whatever you want.” But when push comes to shove, we suddenly lose our conviction. We allow ourselves to be pushed only so far.
Many years ago, I agreed to take a group of 12 college students to New York City on a weekend mission trip. I was honored the students had asked me to be their chaperone and I was happy to spend time with them. When we arrived at the New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM), which had a dormitory, we settled in and looked at the registration board for our assignments. I almost fainted when I saw my name on the list: I was going to deliver food and blankets to the homeless on both Friday and Saturday nights, and also hand out devotionals on the streets of Harlem on Saturday afternoon. Here I thought I was just going along for the ride.
I could do the food and blankets because we would all be together in a group. But giving out devotions in Harlem? No way. I immediately ran up to my room, which I was sharing with three of the students, and began praying: “Lord, you have got to get me out of here. Have my wife call and say I need to come home right away. There’s no way this white boy will survive being on the streets of Harlem.”
As it turned out, I endured the entire weekend and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. What touched me most was being in Harlem. Not one of the hundreds of people who passed me said anything negative or derogatory. Each person was polite and respectful. In fact, one little African American boy, perhaps about four years old, stopped and looked at me and gave me the biggest grin I have ever seen in my life. His eyes were so full of energy and life, it was like looking straight into the eyes of Jesus! No matter what kind of sacrifice God is asking you to make this week, trust him and believe him. In the end, you will find it will be well worth your time. He will bless and reward you with an amazing experience.
Missing opportunities (Saturday, May 2)
As we go through life, we have jobs that require us to work full or part time. The way we distinguish the two is whether we work 40 hours a week or 20-30 hours per week. If we set aside eight hours of sleep every night, that takes up only another 56 hours, leaving us more than 100 hours.
There are a total of 168 hours in each week. Think about what we do with all of our time. For most of us, the minutes go by so fast that we barely seem to have enough hours to get everything done. It all adds up, though. All too quickly, the day is over and we move on to the next.
We have heard the phrase, “Make every day count.” Unfortunately, we leave the value of each day up to chance. We run around and hope that somehow we will do something that gives this day a certain worth and importance.
The key to making each day count is to make sure we intentionally serve God in one way or another. I try to start off in the morning by sitting down with the Lord and looking ahead. I know what I need to do to fulfill my human obligations. But what do I need to do for God? His plan for today may be completely different than mine. If so, I need to know that the first thing, before I leave the house, rather than when I return in the evening. By then, it is much too late to make up for all of the opportunities I missed during the day.
Walking not by sight (Friday, May 1)
The darkness of each night is always overcome by the morning light. So it is with our lives. We may be experiencing loneliness, pain, confusion, even emptiness. But we know, from what we have gone through already in our lives, that the night does not last. The shadows of each valley always disappear in due course.
In the meantime, we have God’s promise, his very word, that he will be with us. He will protect us. He will comfort us. He will guide us. He will overcome our fear. With each step, God is bringing us safely through. We can help ourselves by living by our faith, not by our sight.
Even when we cannot see any light ahead, we have to believe and know that it is coming, just like the rising of the sun each new day. We need not lose hope, even for a minute. God says he will complete the good work he has begun in us and he promises to abide with us until his perfect will is fulfilled. The matter is simple. God has told us what he will do. The rest is up to us. What will we do in return?
The process of renewing (Thursday, April 30)
Change is not easy. Some of us fight back for all we are worth while others simply sit down and give in. It is one thing to talk about making adjustments in our lives, but following through is another story. We have to be serious and completely committed to what needs to be done.
God can do very little with us until we make the first move. As much as we would like to wake up some morning and be a new person, there is no magic cure. God does not wave a wand over us and, in an instant, we are transformed. In order for us to change, we need to do what he tells us and stick to it.
We need to remember that we are not on this journey of change by ourselves. We have God, first of all. He will be with us to strengthen and encourage us. We also have family and friends who love us and want the best for us. Many of them pray for us daily. They pray for our safety, our protection and our care. We are not alone even though we think so.
If you need to make a change in your life today, whether it involves your way of thinking or your way of doing something, turn it over to God. That is the first step. The next step is to listen to him. Do what he says and focus on him. Soon you will be a different person because you allowed him to renew you.
Paul’s secret for living (Wednesday, April 29)
Lately, our son has been complaining about having to work too much. Before he began his current job, about six months ago, he complained about not having enough work to do; he was employed at a local restaurant.
The Lord must get tired of all the complaining we do from time to time. We complain about our jobs, we complain about our finances, we complain about our health. The list goes on and on.
Through the years, the apostle Paul said he learned how to be satisfied all of the time and not complain. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).
What was Paul’s great secret? He learned how to accept any situation. Paul knew there were things he could not change, but he could change himself—the way he thought and acted. The next time you start complaining about something, use Paul’s secret. Change yourself by looking up to God.
Your bucket list for God (Tuesday, April 28)
Because of a popular movie years ago, many people now have a bucket list—things they want to do before they die. It could be a trip to Hawaii, watching the Iditarod in person, visiting Manchu Pichu, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Or it might be something less adventurous like seeing Mt. Rushmore, going to San Francisco or attending a Broadway musical.
There are thousands of places and events you may want to see, but what do you want to do for the Lord before your journey on earth is over? Would you like to go on a mission trip to Africa or Guatemala? Maybe you want to volunteer to feed the homeless in New York City. Perhaps you desire to write a book about what God has done in your life.
On the other hand, maybe you want to serve in a soup kitchen in your hometown or visit residents in a local nursing home or just join the prayer team at your church. It does not matter how great or common your bucket list is, when it comes to God everything is important. Merely offering a word of support and encouragement to a fellow sister or brother in Christ can mean as much as traveling to another continent to help villagers build a house.
St. Paul knew the importance of serving the Lord in all ways: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10). Your bucket list for him may be sky high or down to earth. God honors our work, no matter what we do.
Missing the boat (Monday, April 27)
Have you ever felt like you missed the boat on something? Maybe there was a sale at the store, a financial opportunity, a chance to see a special person or simply not being in the right place at the right time. If we trust God and listen to his promptings, we will never lose out on any opportunity.
On my desk there is a snapshot – one of my favorites of the past 30 years – that reminds me daily of a chance I almost missed. It is a picture of me, my wife and two children on the dock before taking a ride on a paddlewheel boat. Our daughter is hanging on to the rail and laughing, while our son is looking through a life preserver and smiling. My wife and I stand behind grinning like two proud parents.
I was not supposed to be there that day. I had to go down to the university where I was taking courses. I told my wife to go without me. Oddly, I finished my work early. All at once, I had an idea (no doubt from the Lord). There was a chance I could still make it up to the boat some 40 miles away before it set sail. I got in my car and took off, hoping for the best. The children jumped and shouted as they saw me approach the gangplank.
I almost missed the boat, quite literally. I would not have been in the picture, nor would I have had the chance to enjoy being with my family on a beautiful spring day in Fort Lauderdale. I will always be thankful for God’s subtle suggestion. He knew where I needed to be that afternoon, even though I did not have a clue at the time.
The wonder of God (Sunday, April 26)
One by one they came into the sanctuary. As I watched from the choir loft, I could see people from more than three dozen churches file in. No two persons dressed or looked alike, but all were there for one reason—God. They were gathering together because each one served God in a different nearby church.
What a joyful noise when the service began. Voices and hands were lifted high in praise, jubilantly thanking God. There are few things in the world that can match what happens when people join together to worship the Lord of all creation.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! . . . For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1-3). Wherever God’s children gather together, he is present. He dwells among them and his very existence fills the air with excitement.
Let us rejoice anytime we come into the presence of our Father. He blesses us because he loves us and he loves us because he created us. He chose us to serve him and also to be with him forever. How great is the wonder and majesty of God!
His light (Saturday, April 25)
God must fill us so completely, so overwhelmingly, that there is no room for anything else. No place for anger, regret, jealousy, vengeance, anxiety – not even a second thought. God must light each corner of the farthest recesses of our hearts and minds, lest we give worry and doubt somewhere to hide.
His love needs to illumine every part of us, much like a lamp in a dark room. Without any light, it is difficult to distinguish one object from another. Some items cannot be seen at all. Others may be barely discernable, hardly visible except as a shadow or silhouette. We cannot be sure of everything that surrounds us in the dark because there is nothing to reveal it to our eyes. But when the light goes on, all darkness suddenly disappears.
The same is true when God comes into our daily activities. The blackness of confusion, chaos, hatred and turmoil flees. There is no way for these things to remain in the brightness of God’s presence. He floods our lives with blinding brilliance. Not even shadows can survive.
Today, let God take away the darkness in your life. Ask him to come in and illumine every part of you, leaving nothing unturned. When you allow him to shine within you not even the smallest speck of evil can exist.
He remains (Friday, April 24)
It had been a strange day. As I went walking yesterday morning a man smoking a cigarette went riding by on his bicycle. Another gentleman, much older, was cutting his grass wearing a winter jacket, gloves and a stocking cap. There were beautiful tulips in many of the yards, but the petals were shut tight because of the wind and cold. The birds were flying wildly from tree to tree, probably wondering if this was really spring. To be sure, it felt more like winter.
The days come and go, each one bringing unexpected weather, people and events. We never know what tomorrow holds. Nor do we know what we will encounter on our way to work, school or shopping. One thing we do know for sure is that God will be there waiting for us, ready to guide us on our way.
Psalm 48:14 reminds us that, “this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” Life is truly a journey. At times, it can be a mysterious adventure both good and bad. We need to remember we do not face each day alone. God is with us just as he has been with us each minute of our past. He has brought us this far in life and he is not about to let go now.
Trials and tribulations come and go, yet the Lord stays. He remains through the wind and rain, through the happiness and pain, through the joy and sadness. Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Yes, he is with us always and in all ways.
As we follow him, we help others (Thursday, April 23)
We are all called to be leaders. Our actions and words either lead people to Christ or drive them away. How we conduct ourselves as we go through the day matters in the lives of those who are watching.
Jesus was gentle when people opposed him. He was patient when his followers did not understand. He showed mercy to those who were full of sin. He was compassionate when he met people in need. Everything he did showed the Father’s love.
We can do no less as his disciples. As we follow him, we show others along the way. We become leaders to those around us who look up to us to see Jesus in our lives. How well we lead is determined by how closely we watch Jesus. All that we do needs to reflect his leadership in our lives so others will know how to live.
Where he leads (Wednesday, April 22)
Just ahead is a detour sign. What do you do? Do you ignore the sign and keep going? Or do you turn around and look for another way to go ahead?
Most of the time, we think we can keep on going. We are confident we can overcome any obstacle that lies in our path. We do not take the time to stop and think clearly. We do not rationalize that someone has put the sign there to help us and protect us from harm.
There are many times in life when God sends us on a detour. We have to take the long way around a problem. What we often fail to understand is that moving forward on our own is downright dangerous. In fact, it could be fatal.
We must understand that the Lord always is guiding us in the right direction. “Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path” (Psalm 27:11). His path may not always be the most direct way, but it is the best way. Sometimes the straight path is bent in our direction for the best reasons.
Are you a teacher? (Tuesday, April 21)
You may not be a teacher by profession. Nonetheless, you still are a teacher. You might be teaching young children how to act. You could be teaching people at work how to perform a certain task. Perhaps you are teaching a teenager how to drive. No matter where you go or what you do, you are teaching someone about something.
Think about what you are teaching others. Are you teaching the world how to live and what is important? People need to hear what you know and believe.
Jesus was the great teacher. He taught us about the Father and Holy Spirit as well as heaven, love, faith and eternal life. Most of all, he showed us how to live.
When we agreed to follow Jesus, we also agreed to be like him. The most important task is to teach others about the kingdom, just like Jesus. We can start right now by going to the Lord in prayer and preparing ourselves to be a teacher wherever Jesus sends us today.
God as the great conductor (Monday, April 20)
Every eye must be trained and fixed on the conductor. The musicians play their respective instruments, but the director leads and guides the entire orchestra. The slightest flick of the baton or the gentle sway of an arm means different things: slow down, speed up, play with gusto or with more feeling. Each person must watch the subtle movements and also must play each note with exact precision.
We, too, need to keep our eye on God and, at the same time, perform what he has given us to do. We cannot become so engrossed in our own part that we stop looking up in front to see the Lord directing us. All of us together are like the members of an orchestra. We have our separate parts and instruments to play. All must blend together in a heavenly harmony under his Almighty hand.
“It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone's life is in his power” (Job 12:10). As you go through this day, think of an orchestra: all of the musicians sitting there, watching the conductor dutifully with each measure. We have to watch God in the same way. Don’t take your eyes off of him even as you do your part for him.
We are not measured by earthly yardsticks (Sunday, April 19)
Little things add up. For example, my wife and I have made it habit to put our loose change in a jar at the end of the day. From time to time, we have saved more than $100 without realizing it. The pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters total quite a lot when collected over a period of several months.
The same is true of our lives. All of the small things we do for the Lord may not seem much during the course of a day or a week. But, when put side by side over the course of a lifetime, our tiny acts of kindness turn into huge monuments for the kingdom.
Look at St. Paul. Today we look at his three missionary journeys along with his one trip to Rome and marvel at what he accomplished. At the time, however, Paul probably had no idea how much he would do. Day by day he went from one town to another, and then back again, preaching the good news of salvation. We can only imagine how many people now are in heaven because of Paul.
We have the same opportunity as Paul. We may be small in the world, but enormous in God’s universe. All we have to do is one little thing after another. Following God faithfully each day adds up. Twenty, 30 or 40 years of serving him makes an enormous impact. Someday, the Lord will show us just how important we were to him. Remember, our true worth is measured by heavenly standards, not earthly yardsticks.
Minding our business (Saturday, April 18)
Kids used to have a saying to “mind your own beeswax” whenever another child attempted to interfere. As adults, we also have difficulty minding our own business. We always are eager to tell people what to do. We get in their business with our opinions and advice.
Job’s three friends made it their business to tell him what to do when he was cursed and lost everything. “But if it were I,” one said, “I would appeal to God. I would lay my cause before him.” Another advised, “You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight.’ Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you.” The third offered his opinion. “Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.”
All of them were quick to assess Job’s situation and to offer their counsel. He didn’t even have to ask what they thought. After seven days and seven nights of sitting quietly with him, they finally spoke up. They probably couldn’t wait to impart their earthly wisdom. Their words, however, did not comfort Job—not one bit. They only made his plight and pain worse.
Remember, God made us for himself and for one another. We are to share each other’s sorrows and troubles. May all of us learn when to speak up and when to keep silent. Sometimes the best thing is to sit there without saying a word. We should mind our own business and not try to speak for God.
Pray for those who have wronged you (Friday, April 17)
Not long ago I thought I spotted the young man who was mainly responsible for destroying our house many years ago. At the time, he was 16. Now he would be around 30. As I watched this man get out of the truck parked in front of me, I realized I was wrong.
As I sat there, I suddenly wondered what I would have done if he was the right person. I still was angry about the $75,000 in damages, although the insurance covered everything. I suppose I wanted to get even, even though he spent more than a year in jail.
The right thing to do was to forgive him completely. No ifs, ands or buts. And, if I ever do see him again, I need to be polite and respectful. This man did his time and it was over.
Jesus cautions us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Still, we always have a hard time both forgiving and forgetting. The only way to get over our hurt feelings is to pray for others. We soon will realize it is impossible to hate people and, at the same time, pray for them.
Selfless service (Thursday, April 16)
One of the primary purposes of our time here on earth is to share our life with others. God put us here to help one another, yet many times we simply want to be left alone. We want to keep to ourselves by thinking this will allow us to maintain our peace.
Getting away from certain situations can be beneficial. Meditation and solitude are good as well. But time spent serving others is even better. We find our true fulfillment in Christ when we are following his example. Paul went on three journeys to spread the good news. Peter also gave his life serving the kingdom. So did James, John, Thaddeus and the rest. They each gave themselves to help others.
There are contemporary examples, too. Think of Billy Graham and Mother Teresa. Throughout the ages there were countless others: St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Fanny Crosby, D.L. Moody. The list is long, and these are only the servants whom we know. What about the millions of others who have been faithful in their own quiet way?
Whether the world ever hears about our service or not is of no importance. God sees what we do. We live to please him by helping those around us. As you go through this day, devote your time to someone else. You will see that you get much more in return than you can ever give away.
Learn to love (Wednesday, April 15)
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 or judgment. That is God’s job. We have enough to do with just trying to love one another.
A picture of Jesus (Tuesday, April 14)
The New Testament gives us many snapshots of Jesus: he is sitting next to the woman at the well; he is rubbing the eyes of a blind man; he is feeding the multitudes with fish and bread; he is preaching along the shore of Galilee; he is walking along the road with his disciples.
There are other pictures of Jesus that give us even more insight into his life: when he is transfigured with Moses and Elijah at his side; when he appears as a ghost walking on water in the storm; when he is alone in the Garden of Gethsemane sweating drops of blood; when appears for the first time in his resurrection body.
What photo of Jesus do you carry around in your head? What picture helps you to remember him best as you go through the day? For me, the image I think of most often is Jesus as the humble servant, willing to wash the feet of his followers even though he is the son of God.
Whatever snapshot you have, keep it safe. Protect it, but take it out often so you will be reminded of who he is: your friend, brother, guide and savior. Now that you have a picture of him, what photo would you like him to have of you?
Building our faith on him (Monday, April 13)
We want patience, but we are not willing to wait for it. We want compassion, but we are not willing to give up anything. We want faith, but we do not want to be tested.
Over and over again, we ask God to give us patience, compassion, faith and all sorts of other things. The problem is that we want to have them, but not work for them. In a way, we are like students in school: they want a high grade without reading and studying. What we fail to realize is none of what we want from God comes easily.
Job did not learn patience by always getting his way. Peter did not learn compassion by never failing. Moses did not learn faith by never being tried. Paul says to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). Our salvation is free, but we must work toward the understanding of what Christ did.
In the same way, God will give us what we ask, but the gifts are not automatic. They do not suddenly appear out of thin air. Gradually, we come to possess them through trial and tribulation, the very building of our faith on Jesus Christ.
The marks (Sunday, April 12)
Each one of us has many scars and wounds. We have been beaten and flogged by situations time after time. But we cannot allow these marks to disfigure our perspective or our hope. We need to remain the person that God created us to be.
Even as Jesus hung on the cross – bruised, battered and bloody – he did not change. His body was not the same, but he remained who he was as the Son of God. Jesus was still living for others, still thinking of everyone else, still forgiving the sinners. In his great pain he was able to say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Jesus was relying on the Father, not only to forgive but also for strength. He knew that the Father’s power was stronger and greater than the world’s pain.
When we go through suffering, just as Jesus said we would, we often let our aches and our anguish dictate what we do or say. Let us try to remember Jesus’ example on the cross during our trials. Our master relied on the Father to sustain him. Can we do any less? We need to make sure that the marks of our suffering do not leave behind anything else.
Act like Jesus rather than yourself (Saturday, April 11)
Recently, I was in a hospital waiting room. It didn’t take me long to realize that all of the other 30 people knew one another. They were there because a new baby was being born into the family. To celebrate the occasion, they brought in huge containers of food, fresh fruit, snacks and soft drinks. I was starved. I hoped they would give me something.
Three hours went by. Relative after relative came and went, all with paper plates piled high with food. I sat there alone, getting angrier by the minute. “I would offer them something,” I thought. “Why don’t they share just a little bit?” To make matters worse, they even had food left over to take home.
Have you ever found yourself guilty of imposing your thoughts or actions on someone else? When people did not act the way you felt they should, you got angry. These sorts of incidents happen more than we like to admit. We wonder what drivers are thinking when they pull out in front of us, when they go too slow, when they don’t use their turn signal, when they hesitate after the light turns green. Whether we are driving, shopping, playing, working or worshipping, we are bound to wonder why people aren’t doing exactly what we think they should.
As you go through the weekend, remember these words of Jesus: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In other words, do everything you want others to do—even if they don’t.
Who has the last word? (Friday, April 10)
When things don’t go your way, what do you do? Do you keep struggling to get what you want? Do you get upset, hoping your anger will force others to give in? Or do you place the outcome in the Lord’s hands and let him do what is perfect?
Ananias and Sapphira wanted to keep part of the money from selling their land so they lied to God. Absalom thought he could kill his half-brother Amnon and get away with it. Goliath believed he had the power to defeat a little shepherd boy. Jezebel attempted to show the strength of Baal by killing many of God’s own prophets.
Are you struggling with what you want today? Maybe it means dealing with the circumstances in your life or changing someone you know. Perhaps it is getting your way in a disagreement at work. Possibly it concerns something small like where to go for dinner. What restaurant to choose may sound trivial, but all of our desires pale in comparison with God’s plan.
When we get something stuck in our head, we need to remember who created our mind. God gave us the ability to think and reason, but he certainly never expected us to choose our will above his. What can we possibly hope to achieve by getting our way? Adam and Eve tried. In the end, God had the last word. He always does.
The world steals our time (Thursday, April 9)
At the end of our lives, what if we could have back all of the time we spent worrying, being anxious or upset, getting angry or just plain being in a bad mood? Some people would not have any wasted time to their credit, but others of us might have months or even years.
The point is that we use time as an endless commodity. We think we can always get more. Not so. Time is a limited resource God gives to each one of us. Long before we were born, God planned each second for us. It is up to us how we use that time: serving God or giving in to our emotions. Either way, time passes.
As much as we would like, we can never go back to recover the time we have lost. Our days on this earth are numbered. Sooner or later, we will arrive at the end of our earthly journey. When that time comes, God will not extend our lives because of the hours and days we misused.
Therefore, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” (Colossians 3:23). Spend each minute wisely. Stay focused on the Lord and don’t let anything in the world steal the time God has given you.
God makes the difference (Wednesday, April 8)
Don’t ever doubt the power of God and his might to work through you. To all who ask in his name, he gives freely and graciously. We must, however, go to him confessing our weakness and our need.
Recently, I found myself having to go without sleep for more than 50 hours under some very trying circumstances. As each hour passed, I doubted myself more and more. I knew I could not make it. Finally, I turned to God. I asked for his supernatural strength to stay awake and do what he had called me to do: to be at the bedside of a dying friend who was on the other side of the country.
Gradually, I found myself amazed at how I was able to endure. Not only did the Lord empower me physically. He gave me spiritual strength as well. The more I did, the more I was inspired and filled with the Holy Spirit. Two days later, after traveling back to Ohio from Arizona, I was able to sleep for many hours. Within a day, I was back to normal.
If someone asked me how I did it, I would have to say “I don’t know.” I also would have to add, “It was possible only because of God.” He made all the difference in the world. “With his help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall” (Psalm 18:29). There is no army large enough or wall high enough that can stop him.
A cross at every turn (Tuesday, April 7)
There is a cross on the church down the street. A cross on a car bumper. A cross on a necklace. A cross tattooed on an arm. A cross painted on the bridge overpass. A cross standing beside the highway.
It seems as though there are crosses everywhere and on everything. Each cross reminds us of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. But none truly takes the place of the one and only cross.
For the Christian, the cross has but one meaning. It marks where humanity and eternity meet – the very place when salvation first began. From that point on, mankind would never be the same. Nor would the kingdom of heaven.
As soon as the cross went up, God’s forgiveness came down and covered all the earth. At that moment, the battle was over. Jesus claimed the victory over death. Satan was finished forever because of the empty cross.
First or last? (Monday, April 6)
Where do we stand with God? Are we first in the kingdom of heaven or first in the kingdom of the world? We cannot be both. Either we live for today or we live for tomorrow – in heaven. We have to make a choice.
Jesus tried to make the disciples understand this divine principle. He demonstrated by using a child. If you welcome this little one in my name, then you also welcome me, Jesus explained. And if you welcome me, he added, you also welcome my Father. What you and I do in Jesus’ name is far greater than any action we perform because we are doing it for God. We may have to humble ourselves at times, becoming meek and lowly, in order to serve someone else. We may even have to forgive and pay respect to our enemies. When we do, though, we can be sure we please God.
Jesus was willing to serve God by going to the cross. He gave up his life so that we might have eternal life. In becoming the least of all – the one who was hated, scorned, beaten and crucified – Jesus became the greatest of all.
If we want to be first in heaven, we need to be last here on earth. We must put others before ourselves, in the same way that Jesus put God’s will above his own. Whatever we do, we do for God. He comes first.
Finding the truth (Easter Sunday, April 5)
The stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. Two men in gleaming white clothes stood before the women who were carrying spices for the body. “Why do you look for the living among the dead,” the angels asked. “He is not here.”
The same question reverberates throughout every age and people. Why do we still seek the living among the dead? We look for life where there is only death, and then we are surprised when things are not as we expect.
Jesus told us where to find happiness and joy. He explained we also would endure suffering. “I have told you these things,” he said, “so that in me you may have peace. In this life you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Still, we continue to put our faith in what we think we know rather than in what he said is true.
We constantly look for satisfaction and delight in the world. We are no different than the women at the tomb. We, too, are looking in the wrong place. We seek the living among the dead. Jesus told us where to find fulfillment. Why, then, is it so hard for us to believe him?
His life for our sin (Saturday, April 4)
Jesus performed thousands of miracles during his lifetime. The four gospels give us an idea of the range and magnitude of his miracles. He stilled a storm. He fed 5,000. He cleansed a leper. He healed a paralytic. He cured a blind man. He raised Lazarus. He cast out demons. He restored a soldier’s ear.
Day after day for three years, Jesus went out among the sick, the lame, the needy and the lost to help them. He traveled from town to town spreading the good news of the kingdom to all who would listen, to all who had faith. There is no telling how many lives were changed. What matters is that Jesus changed the world.
Everything he did was for everyone else. All of the miracles were for others. He even turned water into wine for the guests at the wedding and walked on water to show his disciples the power of faith. Still, he did nothing for himself. Not one little miracle. He could have escaped the temptation in the wilderness. He could have stopped his own execution. He could have come down off of the cross. But he bore it all.
His sacrifice was full and complete, from the moment he was born until he was dead and buried. Jesus gave himself to the world. He did not withhold anything he had been given by the Father. He shared it all and kept none of it. The only thing he took for himself was our sin.
"Come, follow me” (Good Friday, April 3)
Simon and his brother Andrew were busy fishing by the Sea of Galilee. Suddenly, they heard someone call to them. It was Jesus. He was standing on the shore. “Come, follow me,” he said. With these three simple words, they dropped their nets and went with him.
Could the two men have had any idea where Jesus was going and where this strange invitation would lead them? Did they think this journey would last for three years and then for the rest of their lives? They could not have even guessed that God had chosen them to witness the greatest event in the universe. Simon and Andrew were plain fishermen who would never be the same again.
So the story goes, repeated over and over again millions of times throughout the past 2,000 years. Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” People instantly drop what they are doing and go with him. When I heard Jesus call to me at the age of 15, I never imagined he would take me to where I am today. I have reached this point only because I have followed him. Where I would have gone on my own is hard to say, but I know it would have been the wrong way.
Think of where you were and what you doing when Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” Those three words have made all the difference in your life and mine. May we never forget the day he chose us to follow him and for all he has done through the years.
Embracing the Lord (Maundy Thursday, April 2)
As I post this devotion today, a childhood friend of mine lies dying in a hospital in Arizona. Ray was injured a couple of weeks ago while riding his motor scooter. Sadly, he was drunk at the time. The doctors have done all they can to keep him alive. If they continue treating him, they say he will need numerous operations and rehab throughout the next couple of years, but he never will walk again.
Ray and I attended the same school and church. We were in Boy Scouts together. He eventually became an Eagle Scout, went on to college and then the Navy. He was never the same when he came back from Vietnam. He suffered a nervous breakdown, was married for a short time and got a divorce. He worked for the post office and continued his business as a videographer.
He was the only person I knew who had ever seen Jesus; it came during his breakdown. Ray never wanted to talk about it. Instead, he went the other way, turning away from his religion and faith altogether. I am not sure why.
I hope that he sees Jesus again in the limited time he has left in the world. And I pray that this time Ray will embrace him. Whatever happens, I know Ray is not alone. The Lord is at his side, showering him with unconditional love and forgiveness. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” says God. “I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). I know, without a doubt, the Lord will judge Ray by his heart. God's amazing grace washes each one of us clean.
Acting like children (Wednesday, April 1)
What do children usually say when you try to show them how to do something? It could involve learning how to cook, clean the house or plant flowers. “I know how,” they respond automatically. As adults, we often act like youngsters by repeating the very same phrase to God.
Maybe God wants to teach us how to deal with an angry person. “I know how,” we tell him. God tries to show us how to be more compassionate and understanding with people. “I know how,” is our reply. He could even want to make us see why it is more blessed to give than to receive. Again, we answer “I know how.”
I can almost hear God commenting, “Okay, do it your way.” The end result is never pretty. We usually make a mess of matters. Then we have to go back to God like the prodigal son and beg for his help.
Why don’t we listen to God in the first place? The Bible is full of one instance after another when people did not obey him. May you and I take the time to really think before we speak. It hurts God to hear us say “I know how” because he knows what will happen to us.
His kingdom come (Tuesday, March 31)
When we say the Lord’s Prayer we ask for God’s kingdom to reign on earth: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We can only imagine what it will be like to live in a perfect world. There will be peace, security and unity. No sickness, sin or sadness.
In our anticipation of paradise, we can sometimes forget we live right now in a fallen world. Still, we pray for God to change all sorts of things: to heal disease, to resolve differences among people and nations, to take away evil and to remove suffering. Someday, Christ will return and vanquish all that has darkened this world for centuries. He will make everything new again as he brings his kingdom to earth.
Until that time, we can stand secure in the knowledge that God is always present. He dwells with us and within us. He will not leave us alone, for this is the world and the children he formed by his own breath and hand. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). He can never turn his back on his own creations.
In God we trust (Monday, March 30)
We encounter the motto “in God we trust” each and every day. You and I will come across the phrase and “handle” it over and over again throughout the morning, afternoon and evening. Yet, most of the time we will not even think of who it is that we actually trust. In fact, we will not even give a second thought to our beliefs.
“In God we trust” first began appearing on U.S. coins in 1864. It was added to paper bills starting in 1957. Billions and billions (perhaps trillions) of hands have handled money all with the same words: “in God we trust.”
I wonder how many people have actually lived up to this motto. How many really trust God implicitly, especially when they have all of the money they need to buy most anything? While we use coins and bills to buy groceries, clothes and medicine, are we truly placing all our faith in God more than in the currency we hold in our purses and wallets?
Having such an expression on our money certainly tells other nations who we are and what we believe. But let’s not forget that “in God we trust” should remind us daily of who is really in charge of us individually and corporately. Yes, we can use money to buy nearly anything we desire. What our cash cannot purchase, however, is faith and belief in God. The next time you pick up a coin or a bill, remember that is only a symbol of our larger trust in Him. Without God, all of our money would have very little value or meaning anyway.
The humble servant and king (Sunday, March 29)
To show the disciples how to serve others, Jesus washed their feet before the last supper. "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter,” Jesus told them. When Peter objected, Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:7-8).
How willing are we to humble ourselves and be like Jesus in order to serve like he did? We say we want to help people in all sorts of ways, but our attitude changes when we have to give up something we wanted to do for ourselves or when the mission involves getting dirty.
Perhaps you heard what Pope Francis did recently. He invited 150 homeless persons into the Sistine Chapel where they received a private guided tour of the museums followed by dinner with the Pope. He prayed for them and visited with each person individually. “This is everyone’s house. It’s your house,” he said, according to news reports. “The doors are always open for everyone.” St. Peter’s is in the process of adding showers to the restrooms off the main square and a barber shop to serve the homeless. In addition, the Vatican already has handed out sleeping bags and food, along with umbrellas left behind by tourists.
The head of the Vatican State served others just as Jesus did 2,000 years ago. Another example of how we are to live.
The things of God (Saturday, March 28)
We can understand more about ourselves if we look at the life of Peter. He did mighty things for the Lord, but there also were times when he failed miserably. Peter was human like us. We, too, sometimes fail to realize that our good intentions go against God’s will.
Matthew tells the story of how Peter and his brothers answered when Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of man is?” The disciples responded in kind and then Jesus said more pointedly, “Who do you said that I am?” Peter immediately spoke up saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was pleased and blessed Peter.
Yet, a short time later, we find Peter rebuking Jesus. The master had just finished telling his closest followers the time was near for his death – that he would be killed and he would be raised from the dead on the third day. Suddenly, Peter pulled Jesus aside and scolded him. “Never, Lord,” Peter stated. “This shall never happen to you!” At that moment, Jesus told Peter he was a stumbling block. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Have we ever been a stumbling block to the Lord? Perhaps you and I can remember a time when we tried to take matters into our own hands or when we thought we knew more than God. One thing we can do today is to concentrate on the “things of God” rather than the “things of men.” Each situation we face requires us to be more like Jesus and less like ourselves.
You can do anything in his name (Friday, March 27)
Luke was a physician. Paul was a tentmaker. Peter was a fisherman and Matthew was a tax collector. In an instant, their lives were changed. Jesus called each one to a new life. They left the past behind and followed him.
One can only imagine the sudden transformation these men experienced. One minute they were performing their jobs as usual and the next minute they were serving the son of God. What an amazing opportunity, but what a dramatic difference. They changed in the blink of an eye from being ordinary individuals into becoming extraordinary servants.
The same kind of transformation occurs in all of our lives. One moment we are living for the world and the next moment we are living for God. Being chosen by Christ and given eternal life alters us in radical ways—ways that do not always make sense to those around us. Our new job is to explain it to them.
In spite of the changes you are going through, know that God is with you. “We are God's handiwork,” wrote Paul, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Whenever he calls us, he prepares us to do anything in his name no matter how ill-equipped we feel.
God first (Thursday, March 26)
Decades had come and gone. Still, the people of Judah never finished rebuilding a temple to the Lord as they had promised. According to Haggai, the prophet, everyone throughout the land complained that the time was not yet right – that many of the Jews had not yet returned to their homeland after the fall of Babylon.
During all of these years, they managed to build houses for themselves even though they neglected God’s house. The Lord was not pleased with what he saw or, rather, what he did not see. He told Haggai exactly what to tell the people: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it."
Then the Lord ordered them to go up into the mountains and to bring back enough wood to finish the work. “Build the house,” God commanded, “so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.” The Lord added that he had allowed famine and drought to fall on the land because of their disobedience. The people finally got the point. A short time later, God’s house was finally completed.
They should have put God first when they came back home to the land that God had given them originally. Instead, erecting a place to thank and worship the Lord was second. Sometimes, we get our priorities turned around. We put ourselves before others and we put God even lower on the list. He must be number one, before our family, our friends, our houses and our desires. If we put him first in everything we do, he will make sure that we are never last. He will take care of us, no matter what our needs, because we have taken care to place him where he belongs: at the top of everything in life.
More than coincidence (Wednesday, March 25)
How many times have certain persons come to mind and, then, suddenly we see them at the store? Or we receive an unexpected phone call or email? Perhaps we are deep in prayer when God places a name in our mind. Much later, we find out that this individual was going through some difficulty at exactly the same time we were praying.
To the world, these are coincidences – oddities that happen by chance. Nothing more than serendipity. But what are the odds of such things occurring hundreds or thousands of time in a lifetime? More than a million to one, I suppose.
I believe there are reasons and purposes for why we recall people for no reason at all. It is all about God’s design for us and them. When someone thinks about us or we think about someone, we instantly remember our concern and compassion for that person. We ask the Holy Spirit to take care of and protect those whom we love.
Our love for others is stronger than any other emotion or power in the world. Yes, we can show our love in material ways. But the greater love is that which lives on the spiritual level, the kind of love that keeps us together even when we are apart. Love is the invisible tie that binds us to one another. So it is natural, and right, that we will be drawn to think about each other from time to time out of love.
What more do you need? (Tuesday, March 24)
For 40 years in the wilderness, the Hebrews had everything they needed. God provided food, water, clothing and shelter. God also guided them each step of the way: a cloud by day and a column of fire by night.
Still, the people complained and grumbled because they did not have everything they wanted. They wanted more than wandering like nomads. They wanted more than eating manna and quail all of the time. They wanted to follow their own desires rather than God’s instructions. "If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt,” they told Moses and Aaron. “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death" (Exodus 16:3).
No doubt the people forgot what life was really like in bondage. Why would they have left if they had it so good? Our nature always is to think things were better in the past or that life is better someplace else.
Is there something you want today? Maybe you have asked God and you are hoping he answers your prayers. Before you start complaining like the Hebrews, think of all the things God has given you. Chances are he has already given you all you need, despite what you want.
Standing on holy ground (Monday, March 23)
When Moses came near the burning bush on Mount Horeb, God spoke to him and said, "Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). God’s physical presence made the ground sacred.
But we are really standing on holy ground wherever we go. Whether we are in the plains of Kansas, the hills of West Virginia, the streets of New York City or the deserts of Arizona, we are standing on ground formed by the creator of the universe. “In the beginning God created the earth . . . . and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).
The spirit of God is everywhere, not just in churches, temples, cathedrals, Christian schools and universities. He made the land and the seas, the mountains and the valleys, the forests and the fields. Then he fashioned all the creatures: fish, birds, wild animals, livestock and those that move along the ground. Finally, he created man and woman in his image.
God is omnipotent and omnipresent. He created all we see and know. Everywhere is holy ground because he breathed on it and touched it with his own hands.
To serve or be served (Sunday, March 22)
Saturday morning and the restaurant was bustling. Every table was full and people were waiting in the lobby. As soon as customers finished breakfast, the two managers on duty went to work clearing away the empty plates, silverware and glasses.
Many people tend to take the title of manager literally—that of managing and telling others what to do. But a real manager, like a real Christian, works with and alongside people. The strongest and best managers are servants in the truest sense of the word.
God calls us to follow him by serving people, just as Jesus did. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
What gift has God given you to serve? There are millions of individual gifts; everything from saying hello to a stranger to cleaning tables at a local restaurant. All of them help the world see the living God who gives generously to all.
God means business (Saturday, March 21)
Because of his forgiving nature, we sometimes forget God is dead serious about following him. When God told Joshua how to defeat the city of Jericho, he also commanded that all of the gold, silver, bronze and iron seized be placed in the treasury of His house. Unfortunately, one soldier disobeyed and kept some of the plunder for himself.
Thus, the Israelites broke their covenant with the Lord. God told Joshua he would no longer be with them until they removed the evil in their midst. A man named Achan finally came forward; he had taken a beautiful robe from Babylonia along with precious gold and silver. As the Lord commanded, Joshua took all of the items as well as Achan’s entire family and possessions to the Valley of Achor. There, the Israelites stoned and burned them, and the favor of the Lord was restored.
God does not mince words. What he says, we must do. If not, there are consequences. While he always forgives those who repent, the punishment remains. Otherwise, the word of the Lord cannot stand.
We made a covenant with the Lord when we accepted him as our Savior. If we expect him to keep his word, we need to keep ours. Think of what would happen if he suddenly went back on what he promised us.
Be who you are (Friday, March 20)
It would be worthwhile and valuable to spend more of our time thinking about who we are rather than who we want to become. We can be all sorts of things: teachers, writers, secretaries, vice presidents, lawyers, doctors, actors, etc. We cannot say the same when it comes to declaring who we are.
That question was answered long ago, even before our birth. We were created by God and chosen to be his children as the heirs of his kingdom. We are his and we belong to him. If we accept what he has given to us, including salvation through the Son and power by the Holy Spirit, then there is no mistaking who we are.
In other words, we do not have to become anything. We do not have to spend our lives attempting to be someone else or strive to be something we are not. We are God’s. Pure and simple. Nothing else is required.
Decades ago, American poet Archibald MacLeish wrote in “Ars Poetica” that, “A poem should not mean / But be.” The world will always try to make us think that we have to work to become or mean something. As long as we believe in God, though, we can just be ourselves.
Walk the talk (Thursday, March 19)
What we say, we must do. The Lord is counting on us. Only yesterday, the Lord showed me the importance of practicing what we preach. I had just finished writing that day’s devotion when my wife came into the room. She sat down and then told me that we had maxed out our checking account for this month.
My first instinct was to get upset. I wondered how we would make it. We still needed food, and gas for two cars. Little by little, in a matter of seconds, I was growing angry. Suddenly, I looked over at the computer monitor. I saw the title of the meditation that I had just written: “In God We Trust.” It seemed as though the Lord was not giving me any choice. Either trust him or try to handle this situation on my own.
I was fine for the next 30 minutes, until I got in my car to go to work. The gauge pointed to one-quarter of a tank of gas. Nervously, I set off. Some miles away, while waiting at an intersection through three long lights, I lost my faith. I gave up all hope. I’ll never make it, I thought. Then, on the radio, came the hymn “God Will Take Care of You.” My faith was restored and I relaxed.
Ten minutes later, I became worried once again. This time “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” played on the station. By now, I got the point. God proved himself over and over – three times, in fact. I finally made the commitment to believe him. We have two days to go before we get paid, and we are going to make it! How do I know? Because we trust in God and we are willing to let our actions speak louder than our words.
Don’t rely on logic (Wednesday, March 18)
We often feel as though God’s plan and will do not make sense to us. We wonder what he is doing. In our rationalism, we seek to understand his ways.
We live in a world governed by reason, or so we think. But how much sense is there in some of the things that occur? For example, who can explain why we first have to take a flight going west before we get to our final destination in the east? Or what logic is there in fuel prices that go up and down each day? And who knows exactly why people in our own country go hungry when we have more than enough food for everyone?
If we cannot understand what is going on in the world, how can we ever hope to comprehend what is going on in heaven—in the mind of God? The beauty is we do not have to understand God in order to trust him. All we need to realize is he has dominion over the entire universe.
Yes, we are made in the likeness and image of God. But unlike him our minds are finite; his is infinite. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways my ways," the Lord told Isaiah. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” May we learn to direct all of our energy toward trusting God rather than constantly questioning him.
Winning by losing (Tuesday, March 17)
God asks us to trust him, to test if his promises are true. In Malachi 3:10, the Lord says: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
What do we consider the whole tithe? Our finances? Our time? Our talents? It might be that God is talking about everything – our entire self. If we are willing to put our lives completely in his care and protection, then he will multiply the blessings of heaven upon us. We will have so much that we will not be able to contain it all. His rewards will spill over in everything we do.
The difficulty for us is that we are more physical than spiritual. When it comes to our money, for example, we know what we have. We realize how much of our weekly income we need to buy groceries, gasoline, pay the mortgage and utilities. We think we cannot part even with a small amount. That is where God comes in. He says he is able to make our finances overflow with abundance if we are willing to have faith in him.
What he wants to see is that we are willing to put him first, more than anything else. When we think more of him than ourselves, he will bless us beyond measure. For years, I have heard people say, “You can’t outgive God.” I dare you to disprove this universal principle. At the end of the day, see for yourself. Try to outdo God today, whether it involves your money, your works or your compassion. You will lose the race every time, but you will gain everything in the storehouse that he has to offer.
Less is more (Monday, March 16)
No one can build up the self and the kingdom at the same time. A person will either boast of individual greatness or of the great things of God. But not both together.
In a similar manner, one cannot serve another person by serving himself. A decision is inevitable: which matters more? I must ask myself if I am more important than all those in the body. Of course not, even though I might act like it at times.
My value is not determined simply by what I do on my own. My worth depends on what I do for the Lord – how much I give for his purpose and service.
The more I let him use me, the greater I become. Less of me means more of God.
The big question (Sunday, March 15)
Who am I? No one question occupies our mind more, especially when we are alone. From time to time, we wonder about our place in the world and what people think of us.
Matthew writes about the time Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was. “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” Peter had the right answer. He said Jesus was the Messiah, “the son of the living God.” Nothing more needed to be said.
But what about us? Who do people say we are? The answer depends on where we are at the time and how we feel about ourselves. Unfortunately, most of us have a pretty low self-image of ourselves. We forget about who we are in God.
Let us not fall into the trap of allowing others to label us. Only God has the right to define who we are. In his eyes we are perfect—his own sons and daughters and heirs to his kingdom. He loves us unconditionally and he has chosen us to serve him. Maybe it is time to stop listening to what people say about us and hear what God says.
What more could we ask? (Saturday, March 14)
God is everything. Psalm 84:11 proclaims he is our all in all: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” He is a light to show the way and a shield to protect us. He forgives our sins and gives us his glory rather than his punishment. He will not withhold anything good from us.
What we need to do is to make sure we walk uprightly, worthy of the calling we have received. But what does that look like? First, we must walk by our convictions; what we have vowed to do for him. Second, we need to walk with caution, paying strict attention to our words and works at all times. Third, we have to walk with confidence, knowing God always is with and for us.
These three words—conviction, caution, confidence—keep us walking upright as his servants. Forgetting any one principle can cause us to stumble and fall. All of us, even the best, fail at times: Peter lost his conviction to Christ by denying him three times; Job threw caution to the wind when he tried to understand the mind of God; and Abraham lost his confidence in God when he bore a child with Hagar.
To be sure, God gave his divine grace to each one. How much more will he give to us if we walk uprightly without stumbling? His promise is to withhold no good thing. What more could we possibly ask in all the world?
Mourning the loss (Friday, March 13)
My last remaining uncle died yesterday morning. Just a few days before his passing, I told him he was my favorite uncle; he always has been. Without hesitation he replied, “I am your only uncle.” He still was sharp and had a sense of humor even though his health was failing.
Everyone knows what it is like to lose loved ones. It is painful and tearful. We know they are in a better place—with Jesus in heaven—but our love for them magnifies our grief. The separation we feel is palpable. We don’t want them to leave, yet we know they must.
What Jesus said to his closest disciples, he says to us as well: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
Uncle Al died in his sleep in the middle of the night when no one was around. He certainly was not alone, though. Jesus was there to take him home just as he will do someday with each one of us. I can imagine the humble and gentle smile on Uncle Al’s face as our savior put his arms around him. I know, too, Jesus whispered in his ear. Softly, he said “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Time flies (Thursday, March 12)
Do you make good use of your time? Chances are you and I waste precious minutes and hours each day for a multitude of reasons. Maybe we spend time being anxious when we are stuck in traffic. Perhaps we think about being someplace else when we are in a meeting or we might fret for days about an upcoming appointment with the doctor.
Scripture tells us to, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). How we live every second is important. There are times when we need to be praying instead of complaining, focusing rather than daydreaming and trusting rather than worrying.
We need to make wise choices when it comes to our time because we can never get it back, especially when it involves serving God. What good does it do us or God if we do not seize the opportunities he gives us? On many occasions, I have ignored a chance to do God’s will. One time in particular, I did not stand up for God when some college friends were making fun of a televangelist on television. I still have that regret 40 years later.
As St. Paul says, “the days are evil.” All sorts of things will tempt us to waste the time we have, from intangible emotions like worry and anger to the physical distractions of going golfing rather than to church or being too busy for a daily devotion. The adage is true: time flies. Either it flies away from us or it flies toward God. The choice is ours.
The reality of life (Wednesday, March 11)
We say we want God to change us – to make us better – but we also tell him not to hurt us in the process. We don’t want any pain. We don’t want to feel the change taking place at all. We just want it to happen, a lot like going to the dentist. We want our teeth cleaned or a cavity filled, but we don’t want it to hurt.
Jesus warned us time after time that we would have to experience pain and suffering and grief and sorrow. We don’t get a break just because we are Christians, either. In fact, Jesus said our lives will be even more difficult if we decide to follow him. Yet, somewhere in our head, we got the idea that we are going to have a life full of happiness, joy and peace. Those are nice thoughts, but not reality.
The truth is that Jesus suffered. Jesus wept. Jesus cried. Jesus was tempted. Jesus was laughed at. Jesus was mocked. Jesus was persecuted. Jesus was hated. Jesus was belittled. Jesus was jeered. Jesus was murdered. Still, we think our life will be easier, and that we will not have to experience any of these things.
Someday, we will understand why we have to suffer so in this life. Perhaps it is to make us stronger. Maybe it is to prove our faith. It could even be because God loves us. Yes, he loves us too much to take away the pain. He knows we are closest to Him when we hurt.
One will, one desire (Tuesday, March 10)
God does give us the desires of our heart. Unfortunately, our own minds do not always realize what our spirit needs. I often pray for God to do this or that. Then I add, at the end, if it is your will. In a way, I am telling God what I think should be done and then allowing him to make a choice.
But it should be the other way around. When I pray, I should realize that God is giving me the chance to choose. I can let him take control or I can try to do what I want. I need to realize that I will always desire what is best for the moment—what brings temporary satisfaction. Our story is much like the woman at the well. She was seeking to quench a passing need when Jesus was offering what would satisfy for all eternity.
When we bring our human hearts in line with God’s divine heart, our perspective changes. We place his will above everything else in the world, even when it means that we must suffer a little longer. We can say, with complete confidence, that we believe all things work together for good because we trust him to do the right thing.
We must make his desires our desires, not our desires his will.
It’s about him (Monday, March 9)
Most often we think only of ourselves when God puts us in a certain place or situation. We look for meaning by looking at our lives. We wonder what God wants us to see or to learn. We examine our personal needs rather seeing the needs that are all around us.
It is not always about us. Not everything has to do with what is good for us. God may send us somewhere for the sake of others. He might make us move far away from where we have lived for years (near family and friends), for example, in order to help certain people. In giving up what we want, God uses us to accomplish what he wants.
As we leave ourselves and our desires behind, God has us serving him in new ways. We find ourselves helping people whom we have just met. Suddenly, in a completely different community we are doing all kinds of things: cutting the neighbor’s lawn, moving furniture for someone down the street, being a good listener to a person we barely know.
The point is that God many times uses us to reach people. We are serving him when we serve others. When we made the decision years ago to follow him, we agreed to do his will. He took us seriously – at our word. So he takes our life and uses it to bless others. The reason does not always have to do with us.
The source of peace (Sunday, March 8)
It was the most exciting day of our granddaughter’s life: there was a father-daughter dance for the third graders at her school. She had spent three days shopping for the right dress, earrings, makeup, shoes, etc. She also had her hair done at a beauty salon that afternoon. And her father gave her a wrist corsage just before they left the house.
Our joy was bittersweet, though. Earlier the same day we had visited my uncle in the hospital. Although he looked great and was in good spirits, he was not doing well physically.
The emotions we go through in a single day are vast; from sheer happiness to serious concern. We know God is present in all circumstances—in the life of both our granddaughter and my uncle at the same time. He is caring for each of them in a special way; in ways that we may not always understand.
It is easy to have joy in the Lord when life is good. But it is during the tough times, when we feel down or sad, that we realize the deeper joy which comes from him. “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). The comfort we have from knowing Jesus goes far beyond and above any emotion or reason we might ever have. Our joy as well as our anxiety both go the same: each one rests in and finds its meaning in his peace.
They are watching (Saturday, March 7)
I recognized the car and the driver flying past me in traffic. I was both surprised and disappointed to see this particular person going well over the speed limit. Here, I thought, is the same individual who always talks about being obedient, patient, kind and considerate. Not on this particular day, though. God most certainly took a back seat during this ride.
We never know when others will see us. Whether they are people we know or complete strangers, the world notices our every move. People watched Moses to see if they could trust what he said. People watched Paul to see if he was truly changed. People watched Chuck Colson to see if he was really sorry for what he did during Watergate.
I know people are watching me as well. I recall an incident many years ago when I was in a store. I was getting quite upset because I could not get anyone to help me. When a sales person finally came over, I said rather abruptly that I had been waiting for 10 minutes. The young man apologized and suddenly pointed to the emblem on my jacket. “Hey, I used to go to that school,” he said. “It’s a great place.” Immediately, it dawned on me that I was hardly displaying the values of the Christian college where I taught writing and literature.
No matter where we go, people are watching us. We are not safe from their view anywhere. The only way to be safe is to do the right thing. There is no room for error when it comes to being like Christ. The world expects to see him in us and us in him.
His goodness reigns (Friday, March 6)
The news on any given day can shake us to the core: a jetliner sliding off the runway in New York City; a hung jury in the trial of a confessed murderer; heart-wrenching testimony from survivors in the case of the Boston Marathon bomber; Israel’s prime minister begging allies not to negotiate a nuclear arms agreement with Iraq; a man with a knife slashes the face of the U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
What is the world coming to? It seems things get worse every day. There are more disasters, more deaths and more injustices everywhere we turn. We can easily lose hope in mankind altogether.
But before we give up, may we tell ourselves once again that God is in control. He knows what is going on and his will is supreme, no matter what we are experiencing now.
Paul knew how much the Christians in Rome were bothered by the unrighteous and destructive acts they saw daily. “Do not be overcome by evil,” he wrote, “but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Strictly speaking, he said don’t let the bad things change your heart; you can overcome everything by continuing to do good. Why? Because God’s natural goodness reigns throughout the entire universe.
Prepared and protected (Thursday, March 5)
Long before we ever awoke up this morning, God had this day planned for us. He knows what we will face, what we will do, even how we will act.
He will guide us and keep us in his care minute by minute all through the day. Nothing will take him by surprise, though certain situations will catch us off guard. We may be confronted by an angry driver on the road, an insensitive coworker, a nasty supervisor or someone we thought was our friend. God stands with us through it all. He is there to console and cheer us.
What God told the Israelites more than 3,000 years ago are the same words he says to us today. “Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Picture God holding you with his victorious right hand: nothing can harm you, nothing can hurt you and nothing can pry you from his grip. He prepared you for this day and he is with you each step of the way.
Surprised by blessings (Wednesday, March 4)
The disciples knew who Jesus was, yet they often failed to remember his power. They had just seen Jesus feed the multitudes with only five loaves and two fish earlier in the day. That night, as they crossed a lake, they saw Jesus walking on the water and thought he was a ghost. They also witnessed Jesus saving Peter. Suddenly, the wind and waves ceased. Then, according to Matthew, they “worshipped him, saying ‘Truly you are the son of God.’”
It seems ironic that over and over again, the disciples were amazed by what Jesus did. We are the same today. We are surprised when Jesus suddenly heals us from a serious illness. We are speechless when we are given an unexpected promotion. We are stunned when we find a space up front in a crowded parking lot. We are amazed when we have perfect weather on vacation. We are startled when we have money left over at the end of the month.
People may say these instances are just a coincidence—we are lucky. Actually, we are loved. Jesus blesses us constantly because he loves us. He knows what we need and the perfect time to bless us. Solomon once said, “Blessings are upon the head of the righteous” (Proverbs 10:6). The wisest man on earth knew well the difference between luck and love.
Jesus does not always grant us the favor we seek. But when he does, we must make sure we acknowledge his hand touching our lives in a very special way. He is behind every good and perfect gift we receive. We may still be astonished by what he does, but may our surprise never be because we doubted his ability.
God believes in you (Tuesday, March 3)
Moses did not choose to lead his people out of bondage. God chose him. Paul did not decide to follow Christ. Christ picked him. In the same way, you did not elect to be a disciple. Instead, God selected you.
“You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you” (John 15:16).
Jesus would not have called you to follow him if he did not have faith in you. Jesus believes in you—in what you can do—just as you believe in him. He trusts you and relies on you, without any doubt.
There is nothing you cannot do if the God of the universe is depending on you. You can even lead a whole nation to freedom or travel to the far end of the earth to spread the good news. The world may doubt you because they see only you. If they could see God standing with you, then they would believe the same as God does.
Sunday is the beginning (Monday, March 2)
It is Monday, the beginning of another business week. Actually, for us as Christians, the new week began yesterday. We had a chance to spend the first day of this week with our Lord. How amazing that the first 24 hours of the next 168 hours is devoted to rest and worship!
When God created a day of rest, he did so for our benefit. Not his. He was setting an example for us to follow, just as Jesus is our example in how to live by serving others.
The problem with us is we have a difficult time maintaining balance in our lives. We tend to get caught up in what is important to us rather than what is important to God. Sunday gives a chance to reset our minds and hearts on things above, and away from the things on earth.
As you go through this day, think of how different your week would be without Sunday. Without the Sabbath, you would keep going. Each day of the week would be the same. And without any rest, you would soon wear down physically and mentally. Sunday should be a preparation for the rest of the week, giving you time to gather spiritual strength for what lies ahead. God gives you an entire day to “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). You will need all the help you can get for the next six days of the week.
All the same to him (Sunday, March 1)
The doctor’s office was full of people who were very different from me. Most of them wore old faded jackets and threadbare jeans. Some even reeked of cigarette smoke.
This particular physician was one of only a couple in the city that accepted Medicaid patients. I felt sorry for these people but, honestly, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Later that day, as I reflected on the experience, the Holy Spirit reminded me that these individuals were no different than me. Sure, we looked different because of our clothes. Like me, though, they had the same needs, emotions and feelings. We were created by the same God and we were all loved the same by him.
God is no respecter of persons and we should not be either. Whether we are rich or poor makes no difference in his eyes. It is what is in our heart that is important. The next time I am tempted to think of myself more highly that I ought, I pray that God again opens my inner eye to the fact that we all share a place at his table. God freely welcomes us there no matter who we are.
He is able (Saturday, February 28)
Sometimes we use worldly excuses to disguise our lack of faith. Rather than stepping out in faith, we step back in fear. When faced with a new challenge, it is easy to break things down and explain our opposition.
We may be against trying something different, whether in our individual lives or in our church, because we do not see how it will work. We can usually come up with many reasons to support how we feel. What we have to realize, more than anything else, is that God can do the impossible.
The story of feeding the multitudes with only two fish and five loaves is a case in point. The disciples wanted to send the people away. Then, when Jesus told them to provide for everyone, they said it was impossible. They argued that providing for so many people would take at least eight months of a man’s wages. We do not have that kind of money, they reminded Jesus. Plus, there was no place nearby to buy so much food.
Jesus showed them that God the Father was far greater than anything they thought or knew. What is blessed from above will always succeed, even in spite of our doubt and logic. We can rationalize all we want, but the truth is that God is not limited by our simple reason or reasons. He is able to do what we cannot because he is God.
God the transformer (Friday, February 27)
When we say we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are doing much more than acknowledging their existence. We mean that we actually accept the divinity, authority and eternity of the one triune God. We willingly receive all that he has made, visible and invisible.
We also are confessing that God is our Father and Our King – he is the beginning and the end, the giver and hope of all life. Through our faith, we recognize his sovereignty in all things, including the power to heal, restore and comfort. We put our trust in his ways, transforming our will for his.
Allowing God to take control of our entire being is what belief in the Trinity is all about. When we no longer know who we are without God, then we are living an active belief that changes us today, tomorrow and for all eternity.
Using your faith to soar (Thursday, February 26)
Our faith is only as strong as our ability to see where it will take us. We have to use our faith as a vehicle to take us past the tribulation that threatens to beset us.
In high school, I joined the track team. I was too slow to be a runner, too small to participate in the high jump and too weak for the shot put or javelin throw. The only thing left was the pole vault. Week after week I kept at it, but with no success at all. I finally realized that my problem was I did not trust the pole to carry me over the bar. I failed to take the leap of faith at the end of the runway because I doubted that the pole could carry me up and over.
Our faith is like that pole. We have to hold on to it tightly, allowing it propel us up and over the obstacle we face. Like a pole vaulter, the more we practice and train, the higher we will be able to go.
The athlete can do nothing without a pole and we can nothing without faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Whatever you are trying to overcome today, hold fast to your faith in God. Trust your faith to take you above whatever seems to be holding you back.
He repairs our lives (Wednesday, February 25)
In life, we become upset and frustrated when things break. Often, we end up throwing out the object, whether it be a favorite coffee mug or a family heirloom.
My wife once had an antique lamp she loved, but she had to give it up when it broke into pieces during our last move. It would have been impossible for anyone to restore the lamp to its original condition.
God, however, specializes in repairing what is broken. In fact, he cannot use us until we are broken and useless. For in our brokenness, God can make us whole and restore us to what he originally created us to be.
Let us not be discouraged and lost when we feel broken. When we are all apart and in pieces, we know that the next step will be for God to repair our shattered and fragmented lives.
The duality of the cross (Tuesday, February 24)
The cross symbolizes both death and life. Jesus’s death saves us from our sins. His resurrection gives us the same supreme love, grace and life that he received.
Paul wrote that, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him [Christ Jesus]! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life” (Romans 5:9-10).
Simply put, Jesus’s death on the cross gave us salvation. Plus, because we now are reconciled with the Father, we share in the resurrected life of Jesus Christ. Bible commentator John Gill puts it this way: “both justice and holiness on one side [through his death], and love, grace, and mercy on the other [through his resurrection], are reconciled together, in the business of [our] salvation.”
How absolutely amazing to discover there is a profound duality in what Christ has done for us. Understanding what Paul says should make us doubly grateful. God went far beyond merely forgiving our sins. Through the resurrection, he also gives us everything he gives to his own son.
Giving of ourselves (Monday, February 23)
How far are we willing to go to serve Christ and to help others? We are usually eager to jump in and assist, whether with our time or money. We set out with good intentions, but then we lose our resolve. We reach our limit. We draw the line and say we have done or had enough.
It could be that we are giving money to someone or to an organization. Perhaps we are investing our time in a person’s life. Maybe we have volunteered to work for a charity. Sooner or later, though, we decide that we cannot do any more. We have done all we can. The rest is up to God.
Before we arrive at the place where throw in the towel, we need to go to God and talk to him. We should tell him how we feel and ask for his help. He must be the one to tell us what to do rather than us telling ourselves that we have had enough, that our time and finances are spent and we have nothing left to give.
Jesus never gave up. Instead, he gave himself to the Father. He went to God whenever there was a need. He allowed the Father to decide what to do in each and every situation. It is time we learn to do as he showed us. We have to follow his example. Let’s allow God to make the decision rather than taking that responsibility upon ourselves. Remember, we usually make decisions based on how we feel. God, on the other hand, makes decisions on what is necessary to fulfill his will.
Each word is a step forward (Sunday, February 22)
We receive a new word from God each day. Today he may give us patience, peace, understanding, gentleness or persistence. Whatever he has for us is planned for this particular moment and these circumstances. It is easy to miss his word, though, if we are not listening.
Our tendency is to seek everything all at once – to reach the end of our trial without having to experience more frustration or anxiety. Rarely will God lift us completely out of a struggle. He wants us to realize, and learn, that we can trust in him each step of the way. All the while, he is developing our faith so that he can do greater things through us.
People like Moses, Abraham, Habakkuk, Barnabas, Stephen and Paul did not gain their great belief in God all at once. Their trust in him grew gradually through each encounter and each day, with every new word from God. At first, Moses was little more than a shepherd in exile; years later he had the faith to part the Red Sea. Once Paul persecuted Christians, yet he eventually traveled the world on three separate journeys to spread the good news of the gospel.
The word we have from the Lord today will take us ever closer to the place where he will accomplish miraculous things through us as well. He has to know, however, that we can be trusted with the small tasks first. Gradually, as we learn more, we will arrive at the point where we will do anything for him. With each new word we draw closer to God and farther away from our will. What God says to us today matters in what we are able to do tomorrow.
Believe what you can’t see (Saturday, February 21)
Our eyes can play tricks on us. We know about trompe l'oeil paintings (French for deceives the eye): a work that looks real or three-dimensional and is really a flat surface. Then there are mirages: objects appearing to be just ahead and are not really there. Magicians and illusionists also can fool our sight as well with their sleight of hand.
Being a follower of Jesus should make even more convinced that what we see is not always what we get. Look at what Jesus did 2,000 years ago: he healed a lame man, he cured a blind man, he fed 5,000 with a boy’s lunch, he raised a girl from the dead, he turned water into wine and the list goes on. Each one of these situations looked hopeless, yet Jesus turned each one around.
He still is doing the same today. In fact, he is doing even more. Jesus himself could be in one place at one time only, but the Holy Spirit can be everywhere with everyone. God purposely sent the Spirit to continue the work and miracles of Jesus.
Let’s not be like doubting Thomas who had to see Jesus’s wounds with his own eyes. Remember what Jesus said to him? “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Let’s stop trusting our eyes so much and learn to trust our faith.
What do we give up? (Friday, February 20)
Lent is a time of sacrifice—a season of giving up something as a way to prove we appreciate the supreme sacrifice that Jesus offered to us. During these 40 days, people give up everything from a special food or drink to shopping for new clothes. Some even go on a fast or do not eat meat on Fridays. Before we give up something tangible, maybe we need to give up something intangible.
What about all of the time we devote to watching television, participating in social media, attending sports events and being involved in various activities? What if we devoted this time to being with our Lord, talking with him and listening to what he has to say to us one on one?
While Jesus was on earth he spent much of his day communing with the father. How many times do we read in the four gospels that Jesus went off to be alone and pray? He knew that prayer was the lifeline to following through with the father’s will. He realized who was the source of his strength and power.
This year would be a perfect opportunity to show Jesus just how much we love him. Let’s give him our full time and attention rather than sacrificing something merely to say that we did.
Looking ahead (Thursday, February 19)
Early in the morning, when the sun is barely up, my granddaughter and I walk to the corner to wait for the school bus. The temperature is around zero and the children don’t talk much. They just stand there, shivering.
I am sure they are all wondering the same thing: why do we have to do this when it is so cold? Of course, they are thinking about how they feel at the moment. Their minds are not looking ahead to what they will learn in class this day.
Adults can be much like children at times. We want to feel good every minute. We don’t want any discomfort or pain, be it physical or emotional. When we have distress or anxiety, we could care less how God is using this experience to help us in the future. We, too, want to go back home where it is nice and warm.
In no time at all the school bus arrives. The children step aboard the heated bus and everything is fine again. Similarly, God soon comes to our aid. He puts his loving arms around us and reassures us we will be okay. “Trust me,” he says, “I won’t let anything happen to you.” Life is good again, at least temporarily.
"Save us now” (Wednesday, February 18)
They cried “Hosanna! Hosanna!” as Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the very last time. Men, women and children shouted triumphantly, swinging palm branches in his honor. They could not contain their excitement and praise for the Christ.
Some 2,000 years later, we still look at Jesus in the same way. We see him as a Savior, yes, but we also see him as our King and Messiah right now. We shout “Hosanna” as we look forward to what he will do for us. Our need is immediate and we need his help.
“Hosanna” is a Hebrew word meaning “please save” or “save now.” Our prayers and pleas to the Lord are much like the “Hosannas” of the multitudes on that Palm Sunday. We shout for Jesus to save us now, not later. We want him to rule today, at this moment, when it truly matters the most to us. We want to see justice, peace, judgment, and even vengeance brought to a world that sorely needs correction and reproof.
What we repeatedly overlook is that Jesus is the Savior for eternity, not always the Savior of the here and now. He saves us for what is most important. He saves for the future, for a new life with him that will never come to an end. Like our ancient brothers and sisters, let us shout “Hosanna” to the King. But let us do so with the knowledge that he came to save our soul and not only our body.
Being tempted (Tuesday, February 17)
When we say in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation,” perhaps what we actually mean is “protect us from temptation.” Certainly, God would not have us follow him into tempting circumstances or situations. As our creator, He knows well our weaknesses and vulnerability. He realizes we are attracted and excited by all sorts of earthly desires.
What we need is God’s help to keep us out of danger, to protect us from ourselves so to speak. He must be present in our hearts and minds in order to prevent us from being tempted, either mentally or physically. We have no strength or power to save ourselves. If we try to fight the battle on our own, we will surely lose. Of that we can be sure.
Only God can deliver us from the evil that threatens to bring us down. And he will never allow us to be tempted beyond his control.
Our comfort zones (Monday, February 16)
The weather in the Midwest has been so cold lately that no one wants to go outside, not even the dogs. The temperature inside the house is cozy and pleasant, almost 75 to 80 degrees warmer. In a way, it is a perfect comfort zone from the winter, much like the proverbial comfort zones we experience in life.
We feel safe and secure in our comfort zones. Some of our comfort zones might be sitting in the same pew each Sunday with the same people around us, shopping at the same stores all of the time and going to the same restaurants each week. We need to break free from where we always feel comfortable and experience something new.
Maybe it will be meeting new people, seeing a new store or eating new food. Whatever, God wants us to enjoy the great wonder and beauty of the entire world around us. Something new and exciting could be right down the street. All we have to do is to step out in faith and trust that God will make us feel at home even in different surroundings.
The disciples spent their lives going from one town to another spreading the good news to all kinds of people. The story was always the same, but the people and customs were different each day. Those early followers did not stay in one place very long. And neither should we. We must try something new and discover something new about ourselves. Realize that we have outgrown our comfort zones because of who we are in God. We are much bigger than we think!
Our all for His all (Sunday, February 15)
Only in our nothingness can we become something for God. He cannot do anything with us if we are proud, arrogant, haughty or conceited in any way. Nor can God use us when we mistreat others, when we ignore the downtrodden and when we put ourselves first. We must to be willing to give up all, from our attitude to our very life, before God can fulfill his plan through us.
As long as we persist in controlling our actions and thoughts, there will be no room for God. He cannot take us anywhere we do not want to go. We need to follow the one true example of Christ by becoming servants. Jesus humbled himself, says Paul, “and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”
We have to be willing to go all the way to the cross, if that is God’s will. Early on in our journey of faith, we must make that commitment both to ourselves and to God. When we do, we can be assured that God will use our life in a mighty way. Dying to ourselves, becoming a humble and lowly servant, is the only way to live for him.
From fearful to fearless (Saturday, February 14)
Nothing can make us weaker, less confident and more afraid than fear. We fear all sorts of things, from confronting certain people to worrying about our health. Fear can make us react in unusual ways or to utter words we regret. Peter, for example, said three times he did not know Jesus. Jonah tried to run away rather than go to Nineveh. Moses made excuses when he was told to go back to Egypt. The fear of being penniless and poor caused Ananias and Sapphira to keep part of the proceeds from their land. Even Adam and Eve were afraid of how God would punish them.
We have become a society prone to fear. We are almost to the point of being fearful of fear. One reason for our anxiety is our lack of self-confidence. You and I have forgotten who we are in Christ; we have let Satan convince us that we are worthless, pathetic creatures who fail over and over again. He is only half right: we do fail often but we are anything but puny and frail. We are God’s children, each one of us more powerful than all the legions of hell.
Another reason for our preoccupation with fear is our lack of trust. We have lost sight of God, of his power and greatness. We fail to remember all that God has done, from creating each one of us to creating this entire universe with its endless complexity. It is time we took back what belongs to us as children of the king. We need to stop being afraid and make the transition from being fearful to being fearless.
Living in God's world (Friday, February 13)
Human beings have tried to take the world away from God. They have established their rules, their standards, their laws, their visions and their desires all without taking into account the one who created all things.
Day after day, people everywhere go about their business with little more than their own thoughts in mind. They do what they want, go where they want and say what they want without asking God what he wants. They deceive themselves into thinking they know how to live and what is best.
Being a servant of God means serving him, following him, rather than living as those around us. We are called to be different, to be salt and light. We cannot do what God wants if we fit in comfortably to our surroundings.
We are in a world manufactured by human beings, but we must live in the world created by God. His ways and his plans will always be contrary to those of ordinary human beings. We were created to stand for God, to glorify him. Our purpose here is to further his kingdom, not our own. All that we do must be for him. Otherwise we are living like everyone else.
Mending our weary spirit (Thursday, February 12)
The day was about to get even longer, though we had just finished dinner. My wife was heading out to an evening activity and the car would not start. The battery was dead again.
Like the battery, I was tired and worn out. We had spent all day trying to get a low interest loan to buy a new car. We tried everything. Yet, to no avail. Disappointed and defeated, we gave up. We decided to pack it in and try again another day.
We reminded ourselves of what Paul had once written: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Despite the reality that we looked exhausted, we had faith that God would renew our spirit.
We would wake the next day, ready and eager, to continue our work because God was guiding us. Sadly, we had taken our eyes off of him as we became entangled and caught up in our situation. Now, it was time to rest and regroup overnight—to let God renew our hope and faith in him. Not in ourselves!
Troubleshooting (Wednesday, February 11)
My computer acts just like I do sometimes. There are occasions when one of the programs stops working properly. Suddenly, a pop-up box appears and gives me choices to proceed. One of the options, which I always select, is to close the program. As soon as I do this, another box appears saying that the software is troubleshooting, looking for a solution, and the program remains running.
It is frustrating that the computer will not do what I tell it to do: stop the program. God must feel the same way when we run into difficulty and turn to him for advice. He tells us not to worry and to leave the problem alone for the time being. But we continue trying to resolve the situation. More often than not, we make everything worse.
If we can learn to do what the Lord says, we would be much better off. “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 11:13-15). In other words, we will actually prosper if we listen to him!
Let’s stop trying to troubleshoot our own difficulties and problems. If you take the time to ask God for his help, take the time to do what he commands. Don’t be like my computer and keep on going even when I tell it to stop.
We are salt of the earth (Tuesday, February 10)
There is ice everywhere: on sidewalks, driveways and the streets. It is almost impossible to remove. Even chipping with a heavy shovel does not seem to help. Salt seems to be the only solution. It quickly melts through the thickest patches without any difficulty.
Jesus says we are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Though there probably was no ice where Jesus lived, perhaps we can use this word-picture to remember what we are called to do in the world. Like salt, we can melt the coldest hearts and break through the iciest attitude.
Think of what salt does to food as well. A dash or two can make the blandest dish taste 10 times better. Without salt, we would not be able to make numerous items, from chicken soup to roast beef to pizza dough.
Salt is necessary to the world, and we are the salt that can help people wherever we go. Our saltiness can melt through indifference, discrimination, prejudice and injustice.
Small but great through him (Monday, February 9)
If my father was alive today he would find it funny that now I am the elder in charge of property care at our church. Considering the fact that I rarely helped him with anything when I lived at home growing up, not even cutting the grass, I am responsible for an entire building! Actually, it is a series of buildings that are add-ons to the original structure.
What is amazing is how God uses us to serve him as we go through life. When I was 21, I couldn’t do much. Since that time, having six houses in various parts of the country, I have learned how to perform all kinds of repairs. I have even learned how to replace plumbing, install shower enclosures, replace disposals and how to weatherproof a wet basement.
One by one, God gave me the opportunity to become an almost handyman. So it is, as we go through life we learn one skill after another until we reach the stage where he can use us in a huge way.
God magnifies and multiplies our abilities day after day. We are a work in progress. Gradually, our smallness in the world becomes great through him.
The constancy of God (Sunday, February 8)
No matter how we feel or what we experience, God is the same each day. We may wake up in the morning with pain, but God is the same. We might be going through a difficult trial, but God is the same. We can encounter one problem after another as we go through the hours, but God is the same.
God never changes. He is the same as he was yesterday, and tomorrow he will be the same as today. We often forget about his steady and constant nature, especially when we encounter so many changes in our lives here on earth.
One of the greatest wonders of being God’s child is that we can depend on him to help us when we are weak. We can call on his power, his wisdom, his guidance, his patience when we are suffering with changes. “I am the Lord,” he reminds us in Malachi 3:6. “I change not.”
What a comfort it is to know that God does not change. Not only does he remain constant as we journey through each day, but he also allows us to draw on him no matter what we need. He is our perpetual and steady strength in a constantly changing world.
You can never lose (Friday, February 7)
Have you ever missed the bus? Maybe not literally. Yet, there are probably times when you missed an opportunity or two because you were late. Perhaps you lost out on a job, a house you wanted to buy or a complimentary vacation—all because you were not in the right place at the right time.
We usually feel a sense of loss when we miss out on anything, even a free sample at the grocery store. We act like something has been stolen from us. The truth is, however, we cannot lose anything if we never had it in the first place.
With God we do not have to live with any regret over what might have been. Any disappointment we feel about figuratively missing the bus should fade when we think of how God guides us through life. He determines what is best for us, not some fortunate opportunity that seems to escape us.
Many people in the Bible probably thought they had missed the bus, too. Eventually, they realized they had not missed a thing. God gave them exactly what they needed when they needed it. He was never early, but he was never late. St. Paul wrote that “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). We should never fret about missing the bus in life as long as God is in charge of the journey.
The Blame Game (Friday, February 6)
Human nature being what it is tends to make us want to blame other people when things go wrong. We are not good at taking full responsibility for our actions particularly when someone points out our errors.
Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Moses blamed the Israelites for losing his temper and disobeying God. Cain blamed Abel for his own misfortune. The list goes on and on, clear down to us today.
I used to blame my children when something broke or was missing in the house; in turn, they blamed one another. We need to get over playing the Blame Game and learn to say we are sorry, without any buts or excuses, especially when it comes to serving God.
One of the most famous examples of blame in the Bible was offered by the man who told Jesus, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family” (Luke 9:61). In essence, the man was blaming his family for not going with Jesus straight away. Who are you trying to blame today? Let that person go free by simply saying “I’m sorry. It was my fault.” That is the best way to serve others and God.
No one is perfect (Thursday, February 5)
Wherever we go, we are bound to encounter difficult people. It usually occurs at work: there seems to be a boss who mistreats people and takes advantage of any opportunity to embarrass someone. Or it could be at church: a longtime member of the congregation who thinks her or his job is to keep everyone in line, including the pastor.
The first thought that may come into our minds is, “Why did the Lord put this person in my life?” At times, we think it might be easier to get another job or go to another church. But maybe God put the person in our path for our benefit. Perhaps the Lord wants us to become more patient or understanding. It could be that we need to change just as much as the person who annoys us.
Before we become too judgmental and critical of anyone, let us remember what Jesus said about such harsh condemnations: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's [or sister’s] eye” (Matthew 7:5).
You and I are not perfect. There may be things about us that bother others. Before we criticize someone else, think about how we want people to act toward us. In other words, judge others the way you want others to judge you—with fairness, compassion and, most of all, forgiveness.
Holding ourselves together (Wednesday, February 4)
There will always be mountains in front of us. They may be small or large, but we do not know what is on the other side. We must climb the mountain or go around it. We can always stay where we are, too.
What keeps us moving through life is to keep moving. I once saw a very elderly man walking down the street. He had a crutch under each arm and he was moving slowly. Yet, he was going forward. I could tell he was struggling. Still, he was making progress. He could have just as easily stayed at home and not gone anywhere.
The thing to remember when we face uncertainty is that we are never alone. There are dozens of people we cannot see, some whom we do not even know, who are with us. They are thinking of us and praying—asking the Lord of the universe to give us the strength and courage we need to stay the course.
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). God knows what is on the other side of the mountain because he is before all things. He holds everything together, including our timid hearts and minds when we are afraid.
Having the hope of a child (Tuesday, February 3)
I just might be the only man in the world who has a powder blue workbench. It doesn’t sound very manly, but it looks nice. The color was quite by accident. The previous owner of the house left the worn workbench behind. I wanted to spruce it up a bit so I used some paint we had left over after redoing the walls in our bedroom.
I would have preferred another color, but I could not see the point of buying another container when I already had paint. Powder blue would have to do. On our journey through life, we do not always have the luxury of getting everything we want whether it is the color of paint, a new car or perfect health. Things happen and we must deal with them, good or bad.
Job certainly did not choose to lose everything in his life and to be covered with boils. Daniel did not want to be thrown into a den of lions overnight. And three boys—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—did not ask to be pushed into a fiery furnace. All of these people came through what might have been a tragedy, although they did not know for sure in the beginning exactly what would happen. The bottom line, as they say, is to have hope that we will be fine in the end.
Think of the thousands of children in St. Jude’s, Shriner’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins or any one of dozens of other facilities around the world. We have all seen the pictures and the videos: children hooked up to an IV or oxygen, undergoing endless medical procedures and chemotherapy, fighting for their lives. Yet, they are smiling and happy because they have hope that one day they will be healed and free. We need to have the same kind of hope—the faith of a child—to know that our heavenly Father will take care of us, especially when we don’t know at first how things will turn out. If we put our hope in him, nothing else in the world will matter, most especially what we wanted to begin with.
His divine hand is on you (Monday, February 2)
With about 30 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks had the game in the bag. All they had to do was to run the ball a few yards into the end zone. Instead, the play call was for a pass. The pass was intercepted by the Patriots on the one yard line. They ran out the clock and went home with the Lombardi trophy.
We may never know who made the decision to pass into the end zone rather than run. And we will never know what the person or persons were thinking. Common sense and logic seemed to call for someone to run it in for the win.
Sometimes in life things do not make sense. We struggle to understand, but we come up empty. God allows certain difficulties to come our way and we wonder why. All of our thinking and rationalizing, though, do not make us feel any better. We still seem to be losing the battle.
That is when we need to trust what our heart says: that God loves us unconditionally. He will stand by us no matter what happens. And he will give us the strength to endure. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29). If you are feeling weary right now, do not rely on your might to sustain you. Let him increase your power as only he can with his divine hand.
The Lord’s purpose prevails (Sunday, February 1)
Up to 10 inches of snow was predicted overnight and into the next day. The stores were packed. People were buying everything. There were long lines at the checkouts and also at the gas stations. Traffic was a nightmare as motorists rushed from one place to the next.
People lose their patience when they are in a hurry. They cut off cars in traffic. They try to squeeze in line. They even complain about having to wait like everyone else.
As Christians, we should be the ones who are calm and collected when others are in a frenzy. We know that God is in control of each situation and each person. We do not have to worry or hurry. God will take care of us in his time and his way.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). The Lord’s purpose will prevail in spite of what might be happening all around us. Let us put ourselves in his hands where we are safe, protected from the uneasiness of others. He alone can quiet our hearts and emotions. May we be so composed at all times that people wonder what is wrong with us—why we aren’t running around like everyone else.
In or out of control (Saturday, January 31)
Losing control can be a good thing, if done properly. Losing control of our emotions is never what we want, of course. But losing control of our need to be in control can be the best thing for us.
There have been many times when I have tried to take over for God – to show him or tell him what needs to be done. Even recently, I thought I should serve on a certain committee at church because of my experience and expertise. Yet, it was not to be even though I tried to convince God otherwise. I was up against his will and he had his plan.
I am slowly learning that seeking positions of control or authority are not what our lives are all about. Nor is it good for us to want to control other people and situations. We must realize that God wants us to give up control and allow him complete rule in everything.
God can only be “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” if we let him. Difficult days should not be the only time when we give up control to him. He must be in control all of the time if we really trust him to be our Father, Savior and Spirit.
Key to the future is in the past (Friday, January 30)
The key to the future is remembering, in part, the past. From time to time, it is good to recall where we have been and what God has done in our lives. We do not need to dwell on each event and circumstance that has occurred, but we do need to see how God’s hand has guided us through many times of tribulation. Recounting what God has already done gives us strength for the journey ahead.
In the book of Acts, there are numerous occasions when the apostles and elders encouraged one another with accounts of God’s miracles and goodness. Over and over again, they told one another about the divine power of the Holy Spirit: Gentiles and Jews everywhere were converted, the sick were healed, demons were cast out, prisoners (Peter, Paul, Silas) were released and visions were observed. These followers of Jesus never forgot the miraculous signs and wonders they had witnessed.
Most contemporary disciples forget the past entirely. Or, if they do reflect on previous events, they focus on the pain or suffering. They ignore the wonder of God’s protection and guidance each step of the way. When faced with new and sudden difficulties in our lives, most of us question how we will endure. We quickly forget that God has brought us through the past and he will bring us through once again. Yesterday gives us hope for tomorrow. But if we fail to remember what God has already done, we will fail to see what he can do in the future. Always keep in mind that God did not bring you this far only to let you fail now.
A manual for life (Thursday, January 29)
Most everything these days comes with an owner’s manual. From televisions to furnaces to cars and appliances, these booklets can save much frustration and time if we are willing to read them.
The same is true with the Bible. It is our manual for living and it can help us with any problem—if we read it. Are you worried about the future? Read the amazing story of Joseph. Are you concerned about your health? Read the healing story of the lame man. Are you upset over a loss you have suffered? Read what God did for Job. Are you anxious about what you are going through right now? Read how the Lord helped the Israelites through 40 years of wandering.
By using the Bible each day, we can avoid learning our lessons the hard way. The account of Adam and Eve tells us the consequences of not listening to God. The tale of Jonah teaches us not to run from God. The report of the Good Samaritan shows us how to act toward everyone, and the actions of Paul give us an example of how to spread the good news.
This owner’s manual for living is full of wisdom and insight. God gave it to us for guidance and direction. We all know what happens when a man refuses to read the directions in a manual. It takes him two or three times longer to assemble or fix anything. May you learn the easy way today rather than through experience.
Devine detours (Wednesday, January 28)
How many times has God changed your plans? You had everything all mapped out for the day or the week when suddenly you encounter a road block. You have to take a detour because God has other ideas.
Maybe he wants you to drive someone to the doctor’s office. Perhaps he wants you to spend Saturday at a homeless shelter. He could even want you to attend a meeting at church or cut a neighbor’s lawn. There are millions of things that need to be done—each one bringing glory to him. The amazing part is he wants to use you to accomplish his will!
We have a chance to be used in a mighty way, but we may have to put aside our agenda. We have to be willing to take a divine detour whenever God puts something in our way.
It is tempting, at times, to become upset. But remember, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). His divine detours are opportunities, not obstacles.
Everything in our nothingness (Tuesday, January 27)
Unless we find our purpose and value in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are deceiving ourselves. For in and of ourselves we are nothing. In God we are everything. Yet, how often we regard ourselves above others. We measure our importance by the work we do or the acts of kindness we perform. These are earthly matters which do not matter to God.
We must consider ourselves as nothing in the world. In doing so, however, we become everything in the kingdom. That is when God can use us most to accomplish his will in this world. The one who plants and waters is nothing, says Paul. Only God, who actually makes things grow, is worthy to be praised.
We have but one purpose, whether we plant or water. We were created to be used by God, and we will be rewarded in proportion to our service to him. We are God’s fellow workers, adds Paul. We are God’s field and we are his building. What he does through us depends on how we look at ourselves. He can do little when we take credit for what he does.
The greatest step we can take in life is to do what we are formed to do, all the while realizing that it is God who accomplishes everything. We are but a piece of the puzzle in his divine plan. When we find our place next to all of the others he has chosen, then we find fulfillment in our “nothingness” here on earth.
The right decision (Monday, January 26)
We make our choices and our choices make us. The Bible is full of examples of those who made both good and bad choices. There is the story of David and Bathsheba, Lot’s wife, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Moses, Jonah, Esau and Jacob, Abraham and Sarah, and so on. The list is endless. Time and time again, people make decisions that affect the rest of their lives.
What is our individual story – yours and mine? How many times have we made choices – good or bad – that changed who and what we are? We have to make up our mind all of the time, everywhere we go. Which house should we buy? What grocery store is the best? How should we spend our weekend? When should we go on vacation? Who can fix our car? Where should we go to church? Why should we buy a new wide screen television? The choices are endless and so are the results.
For us as believers we have to make only one choice: whether to follow God or not. Consider what Joshua told the people of Israel. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” he proclaimed. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua was willing to trust the Lord to make all of his decisions for him.
If we allow God to make our choices, we will not fall victim to our own failings. God knows what to choose and exactly what will happen for our good.
Like Jesus (Sunday, January 25)
Peter believed he could walk on water. The minute he saw Jesus in the distance, he jumped out of the boat and went toward his master. Suddenly, though, he began to sink. He cried out for help and Jesus rescued him. Think about the story a little deeper. Perhaps what happened was that Peter lost faith in himself. He doubted that he could be like Jesus.
You and I are much like Peter. God shows us Jesus and says, “Be like him.” But we come up with all kinds of excuses: I am not perfect; I don’t have his power; I am just a human; I simply can’t. Who says we lack the ability to follow Jesus and to be like him? Didn’t Jesus tell the disciples that he was going away in order to send the Spirit—that they would do greater things in his name?
Somewhere along the line we got the notion that we are weak, feeble and unable to do much. We think we are nothing in comparison to our Savior. Remember, though, Jesus lives in each one of us every day. That means we are like him and can do what he did. The whole problem is that we just don’t believe in ourselves as much as God believes in us.
The mind of God (Saturday, January 24)
Desires of the mind are quite different than desires of the heart. The mind tends to wander, while the heart is always fixed on God.
This conflict is as old as the story of Adam and Eve. Choosing between the pure desires of God and the wishes of the human will is a constant struggle. Emotions, feelings and thoughts can lead us away from God. Trust, obedience and truth keep us centered on God.
But the battle is not ours alone. God is there to help us when we feel helpless and weak. We can call on his strength at any time. His power and authority are greater than anything that threatens to take us in the wrong direction. Whether we are tempted by the world or even by our own minds, God can keep us focused on him.
We have to believe in our heart that God is with us always, guiding us in the right direction. May we never be fooled by what we think in our own mind because we rarely think like God.
In control (Friday, January 23)
The closer we get to the Lord, the more we are able to overcome the little problems and difficulties of everyday life. Our perspective changes dramatically when we rise above our earthly plane. Suddenly, we are no longer bothered by things that once had such an impact on us. Even our own feelings of anger and self-pity no longer have a hold on us when we are close to God.
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3). Focusing on God and his ways lifts us up out of the ways, and ordinary troubles, of the world. We become more concerned with eternal “things” than those which are temporal. Our values change: we practice love rather than hate, acceptance rather than rejection, willingness rather than stubbornness, and tolerance rather than impatience.
It is hard, at first, to distance ourselves from the world because we are so much a part of it. Every day we have to deal with angry people, bad drivers, inconsiderate co-workers. In addition, we are surrounded by sickness, poverty, homelessness and disasters. The Lord tells us to “set our minds on things above” so that we will have the strength and the hope to cope with what we see and experience. God wants us to learn to trust him more, and our own emotions and feelings less. He is, after all, in control and he is high above everything else.
Trusting him to serve him (Thursday, January 22)
When we retired and moved back to the Midwest, my wife said “We won’t ever have to worry about snow. We don’t have jobs so we can stay at home and just look at it out the windows!” Ironically, now I was headed outside to shovel four inches of snow from the driveway. I was doing this because my wife had to babysit our grandson. His mother, our daughter, was going to a dog shelter to volunteer her help.
Why couldn’t she wait until later in the day, I thought, when the snow would melt a little. Slowly, as I shoveled, I forgot about being angry. I actually began to appreciate the white coating on everything, especially the bare branches of the trees. I finished our driveway, then went across the street to do two other driveways. I came back in the house an hour later. I was cold and wet, but not upset.
Sometimes in life we have to push ourselves a little in order to serve God. He knew I did not want to shovel our own driveway, let alone two others. Had I not gone outside at all, the two elderly ladies across the street would have had to do the work on their own.
In the end, I was happy I had shoveled. Once again, I learned that God can help us do what we do not want to do. But the catch is we have to make the first step and show that we are trusting in him.
Open the door (Wednesday, January 21)
Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Will we open the door, not only to him but to do what he desires? Daily he knocks with new and wonderful opportunities to serve him.
His will is not always easy to follow. Sometimes it is hard. We may even wonder why he has chosen us for such difficult tasks. But we must open the door of our hearts to his will because he knows we are the best ones for his plan.
Many times it is easier not to open the door. “Keep it closed and don't make a sound,” we say. “Maybe he will think we are not at home.”
When Jesus knocks today, don’t run and hide. Go to the door with excitement and enthusiasm. Know there is a specific reason why he is there and calling just for you.
Real belief (Tuesday, January 20)
When we say that we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are doing much more than acknowledging their existence. We mean that we actually accept the divinity, authority and eternity of the one triune God. We willingly receive all that he has made, visible and invisible.
We also are confessing that God is our Father and Our King – he is the beginning and the end, the giver and hope of all life. Through faith, we recognize his sovereignty in all things, including the power to heal, restore and comfort. We put our trust in his ways, replacing our will for his.
Letting God take control of our entire being is what belief in the trinity is all about. When we no longer know who we are without God, then we are living an active belief that changes us today, tomorrow and for eternity.
Nothing more needed (Monday, January 19)
One of the many remarkable beauties of the Christian life is that we do not need any special tools or equipment from the world. God gives us everything we need to serve him. We have his compassion, his grace, his love, his kindness, his concern, and his care to share with everyone. Wherever we go, these gifts go along with us. They are all inside of us and we are prepared to use them at a moment’s notice.
Paul realized that he did not need to carry anything with him as he traveled from town to town. As a matter of fact, he made a special point to remind others in the faith about what they possessed through the spirit: “The person of God is complete, thoroughly equipped to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17); “May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:21).
Handing out Bibles, feeding the homeless and clothing the poor are all well and good. But if we do not first have God’s thoughtfulness in our heads, then we will not use any of the tools he has given us to accomplish his will. Our bodies, with willing hearts and minds, are all we need to do good works. Remember that when Jesus sent out the 12, he told them to “take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts” (Mark 6). His disciples did not ask why. They simply did as he said.
We need to be as trusting as we go forth. Let us rely on what we already have from the Lord. We are self-contained servants, and he will help us meet every need we encounter today.
Accepting the help you need (Sunday, January 18)
Have you ever noticed how men will go to the grocery store and try to carry as many items as possible? I confess I am guilty. At times, I even put things in the pockets of my jacket and then pull them out at the register. All the while, there is a cart or a hand basket I could use to make things easier.
Our lives in God are similar sometimes. We try to carry as much as we can on our own. We carry worry, grief, pain and suffering. Yet, God is there to help and to make our lives easier.
Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Whatever you are trying to carry by yourself today, give it up. Let Christ lighten your load; use him to allow you to rest a bit.
Remember, a little rest now will make you stronger in the end.
Show and tell (Saturday, January 17)
We are sent by Christ into the world. He anoints us with his blood and instructs us to take the Good News of salvation to the far ends of the earth – to the outermost regions and to every nation.
As we go, we are not alone. No matter where we travel – Afghanistan, Sudan, South Africa, France, Hong Kong, the United States – Jesus is with us. We are his living epistle of love and saving grace to people everywhere. Paul likened us to a divine letter, carriers of the Word, written and sent by Christ.
“You show that you are a letter from Christ,” Paul said, “the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
What we do each day is similar to what we learned as children in kindergarten or first grade. We played Show and Tell. Today, as heirs of the kingdom, we have a much larger responsibility, one that is life-threatening in certain cases. We are called to show and tell what he has written in us with the Spirit of God, remembering at all times that Christ is the author of our lives. We are writing his message on the tablets of human hearts everywhere.
Much too soon (Friday, January 16)
There is terrible sadness in our family today. We just learned that my cousin’s son died very unexpectedly. Ben was just 21. We wonder what was going on for him to end his life, but the fact is he is gone. Despite all of our questions and thoughts, nothing can bring him back.
Our prayers are with the family, but more so with Ben. We pray that God will give him the peace and rest he so richly deserves. He was a wonderful boy, always smiling and happy, who joined the Navy right after high school. We did not see him often, yet we will always remember his creativity, energy and enthusiasm. He will be alive forever in our memories.
What we need to do is to tell others about Ben. We need to celebrate his short life and make sure those, like our younger relatives, know about Ben and who he was in our family. All of lives would not, and never will, be the same without him.
As much as we know Ben is now in the hands of his heavenly father, ours hearts are heavy with grief. We mourn for his tragic death. He left this earth much too soon. Today the world is missing a true brother, son and a great hero. Ben is now among the other saints on high and, thank God, one day we will see him again.
"Surely, God was in this place and I did not know it" (Thursday, January 15)
Sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for my wife. A nurse took her back 30 minutes after the appointment time and she will probably have to wait in the examination room another hour or so.
I wonder why it is that doctors are notoriously behind schedule. They can diagnose illnesses, perform operations and prescribe medication, but they can’t see patients on time. Go figure.
We never have to wait to see God. He is always on time and ready to help us. We may not like what he has to say on occasion, but we never have to make an appointment with him. All we have to do is bow our heads and pray. Instantly, we have his undivided attention.
Whenever we find ourselves waiting for someone or something, let us remember to use the minutes wisely by talking with God. Not only is he eager and ready to listen, but he can make us forget what in the world we are waiting for. God says the same to us that he told Jacob long ago: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. . . . I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15). Hopefully, in the end, our response will be different from Jacob who said, “Surely, God was in this place and I did not know it.”
Gifts from God (Wednesday, January 14)
People love to give gifts. We give gifts at birthdays, weddings, graduations and Christmas. We want to help people mark a special occasion with a gift they will appreciate and remember. But what about the heavenly gifts you receive throughout your life? Have you opened all of the gifts that God has given you?
“We have different gifts,” wrote St. Paul, “according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).
God gives us different gifts at various times in our lives, just as we offer gifts to those whom we love. We certainly would not expect a gift we received on our fifth birthday to be appropriate when we turn 50. We have changed and so has our direction in life.
Take some time today to think about your spiritual gifts. Maybe serving was a wonderful gift years ago, but now you receive the gift of teaching. Or perhaps showing mercy was a gift when you were younger, but now you have the gift of encouraging. Make sure you open all of the gifts God has given you. Not just some of them.
Keeping a daily list (Tuesday, January 13)
Many people keep a “to do” list in order to remember all of the things that require their active attention during the day or week. I know I would likely forget many items and appointments, even routine errands, without such a record. I wonder if we should turn over the piece of paper and make a different kind of list on the other side. Maybe a “done” list would help us, too.
But this would not be what you or I have accomplished. Instead, it would be what God has done. I am thinking of the countless times God has done something for me or for someone I know – all of the answered prayers and miracles, large and small: when my wife found a job four days after being laid off; when our dog appeared in the middle of the night after being gone for more than a week; when the mother of our granddaughter was saved from attempting suicide; when we were able to get by for two weeks without having any money in our checking account; when we sold one of our houses in just three days; when I recovered completely from back surgery in one week. The list of what God has done, for me alone, could go on and on; it would probably fill volumes if I had kept track of everything for the past six decades.
Rather than concentrating on your “to do” list today, focus on God’s “done” list. What has he done for you that you need to recall? The words by Johnson Oatman Jr. ring true today as clearly as when he wrote them in 1897: Count your blessings, name them one by one / Count your blessings, see what God hath done! / Count your blessings, name them one by one / And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
You might be surprised, too, at how small your “to do” list suddenly becomes when compared to his “done” list. Whatever he has done is mightier than what we will do. Let us consider our past in him whenever we try to move forward on our own. We can do nothing without him. Remember, he is always ready “to do” whatever he wants “done.”
Are you in the dark? (Monday, January 12)
Have you ever tried to look for something in the dark? You can’t see clearly, and you have to feel your way around. Shapes and sizes are all confusing. It is hard to distinguish one object from another because you can’t see anything you might recognize: the name, the color or even the material. Everything seems the same.
Sometimes we go through our lives in the same way – in the dark. It is hard, almost impossible, to discern one thing from another. We try to feel our way forward without seeing much of anything. We try to use what we can feel or sense to lead us ahead in the darkness, rather than trusting what we know to be true.
We do not have to go through life like we are looking for a shirt or a pair of pants in a dark closet. We can turn on the light so we can see God. And we can learn to have faith in him, even if we have difficulty seeing which way to go.
The point is not to trust ourselves because we can easily be misled by what we think we know. I recall one morning years ago when I got dressed in the dark. I felt my way through the closet and put on my clothes. When I arrived at work, however, I realized my shirt had stains all over it. There was nothing I could do then except to accept my decision – the one that I made in the dark.
Remember to turn on the light, God’s light, whenever you do anything. If you do, then you will not have to suffer the consequences of living with your own foolish mistakes.
Throw it away (Sunday, January 11)
We are not good at casting our cares on Jesus. We want to hold on to our difficulties or we give them to him and then take them back a short time later. Sometimes we make our lives more miserable because we will not give up trying to solve a problem. Only after we are totally exhausted will we confess that the only thing we can do is to pray.
If we are going to cast our cares on Jesus, we need to go to him first – before we try to take situations upon ourselves. Our first response must be to seek him when setbacks arise. One of the reasons why the tiny little annoyances of life seem to weigh so much is because we pile every emotion we have on the scale as well. How can we ever hope to take care of our cares when we cannot even keep our personal feelings in check?
We like to catch our cares rather than to cast them. Jesus says to us that “I am here for you. I care for you. Let me lift this heaviness from your soul. I am more than able to do anything you need.” Still, we remain reluctant. Think of how he feels, as our friend and Savior, when we fail to let him help.
Friends, no matter what you are confronting this day, let Jesus cope with the challenges. He is much greater and much wiser. All you have to do is to be smart enough to turn things over to him.
The imperishable (Saturday, January 10)
Our spiritual nature, the part that exists inside of us, will live on into eternity. Our physical body, however, will pass away. This simple truth is easy enough to understand, yet we often overlook the obvious: that our spiritual body is the one that continues from this life to the next.
There is no spiritual death for the Christian. We live now and eternally through the same spirit. All that we are touches the spirit in one way or another, positively or negatively. Right now, this day, there are eternal consequences to what we do or do not do. That is precisely why it is vital to edify and serve the Lord in everything, from our thoughts to our thinking to our words to our actions. We must constantly strive to develop the non-physical part of ourselves much more than the physical.
The imperishable nature that is alive within us at this moment is the same spirit that one day will be in paradise with God. When we realize the implications here, we are more likely to change everything about us, even our very view of life. Slowly, our lives (and minds) can be completely transformed as we grasp the fact that we are really living today on earth for tomorrow in heaven.
You and I would do well to look at life from God’s perspective – through his everlasting sight rather than from our earthly vision. When we do, we will see the profound mystery of all we are in him.
The eternal light (Friday, January 9)
The brightness of Christmas still shines. Even though the holiday lights seem a little dimmer today, the light of God’s love does not lose any of its power.
He is the one constant in a world of never-ending change. Our lives may vary from day to day yet, in the center of everything, God remains the same. He is no different today than he was on the morning of Jesus’ birth.
His light is like an eternal flame that glows forever in the darkness. It kindles our hearts and spirits with warmth and joy every day of the year.
Learning to appreciate our life (Thursday, January 8)
How impatient people can be at times. They complain about waiting in line at the grocery store or gas station, want an illness to go away in 24 hours, and become frustrated when things don’t go their way. Even we as Christians we are not immune from being anxious at times.
We usually want everything right away. It seems like we have no time to wait for anything these days, not even fast-food. What we fail to see in our rush to get things done is that we cannot control each and every situation. Also, we do not have the power or authority to make people move faster.
These words from 2 Peter 1:2 remind us who is in control: “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” We can only have peace in our hearts and minds when we know, without a doubt, that God has dominion over all things on earth.
He knows when we become impatient; it is no surprise to him. Perhaps one of reason why he puts us in such situations is to teach us how to become more tolerant and long-suffering. If we can learn this lesson, we might be able to enjoy life more fully and abundantly. After all, that is what Jesus came to give us.
His saving grace (Wednesday, January 7)
The miraculous story of a seven-year-old girl who survived a plane crash in Kentucky is being told everywhere. The fact that she lived while four other family members died is only some of the story. The other part is that after the twin engine plane landed upside down, she walked a mile through the woods in darkness and near-freezing temperatures to a farm house.
Those who believe in God know that this was no ordinary accident. God’s hand was on her when the plane crashed. Then he helped her crawl out of the wreckage. Despite her cuts and bruises, she somehow made her way through a dense forest to find safety. The house she reached is the only one in the area that is occupied during the winter months, according to news reports.
Few other events could prove the existence of God in such a powerful way. He was the one who guarded and guided this little one each step of the way. We can only wonder about the great plans he has for her future in spite of the loss she suffers right now.
As Christians, we need to point to incidents like this and tell people the truth. No amount of luck on earth could have been sufficient to do what God did in this case. May we give him all the glory for sparing her life, not just once but several times over.
Remaining alert (Tuesday, January 6)
Things are not always as they seem. Some people appear pleasant and happy when, in fact, they are just the opposite. Others seem angry, but are actually full of joy. Appearances can deceive us.
King Herod was not interested in worshipping the newborn king of Israel. Not in the least. Yet, he called the together the wise men who had come from the East telling them to find the child and "report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Herod was intent on killing the baby rather than adoring him.
Fortunately, the wise men learned in a dream about his evil intentions and never returned. God has a way of warning us about situations and circumstances. He may speak to us in a still small voice, warn us through a dream or prompt us with spiritual intuition.
It is vital that we constantly remain alert and listening to his will. God is always there, guiding and leading us, no matter what might try to deceive us. He goes ahead of us to keep us safe and out of danger. We never walk alone unless we choose to do so.
Remember his presence (Monday, January 5)
My dear child, I watched you as you slept last night. You looked so very peaceful and beautiful. I recalled the day you were born, how you cried and screamed when your whole world suddenly changed. I remembered how quickly you grew into your new life, though. I smiled as you took your first steps, walking on your own. It hurt me when you fell down over and over again, but I made sure you did not hurt yourself. I laughed as I later saw you on the playground at school, running around and having fun, enjoying the life I had given you.
I also thought of all the many difficulties you have overcome: the disappointments, the trials and the failures. I know these were not easy, but I stood by you when you felt alone and confused. You probably did not even realize I was there because you could not see me. But I knew that later in life, as you reflected on those times, you would know in your heart that I could never abandon you. I told you I would never leave you nor forsake you. And I never will.
As you begin to face this new day, live it with the strength and confidence I have given you from the beginning. Remember who you are in me. You are my child, my creation, and I am proud of you. I want everyone to know that you belong to me. You are my chosen. I will protect you and guide you, just as I have always done.
Keep in mind that I will be with you, no matter what you encounter or where you might go today. I am pleased as I watch you. I take great delight in you because I love you. As your Father, I will be with you all the days of your life. I will be there through everything. You will never be alone. I promise.
He's the answer (Sunday, January 4)
Life is not fair, but God is. People are not just, but God is. Situations are not right, but God is. In every circumstance, God is where we need to look for answers. He can give us comfort and peace when we do not understand what is happening.
Who can explain why people mistreat us? Who can make sense out of going through one medical problem after another? Who can help us understand why bad things happen to good people or why good things happen to bad people? No one on earth has the true answer. Only God knows.
If we can put our thoughts aside for even a short time, and turn our attention to God, we will suddenly see that we do not have to make sense out of every misfortune and problem. As we trust him, we will begin to realize that nothing else really matters. The more we believe that his way is the good and perfect way, the less we will be mislead by the “whys” of life. And even if we knew why certain trials occur, it would make no difference. We could not change anything anyway.
Today let us put our entire being and all of our energy in relying on his wisdom. May we place our complete dependence on him instead of our own little questions.
By his might (Saturday, January 3)
Change does not come easily to us as humans. We fight, struggle and resist the slightest alteration to our schedule. But the same peace and comfort we have in our routine can be found in following God’s will, even though it means giving up our daily lifestyle.
When we are able to let God guide us through the day, we do not have to be anxious about anything. We can give it all to him and release our troubles. Even the trials we encounter do not have to set us back or throw us off track. All we have to do is follow where God is leading us.
He can take us through or around anything. Each morning, we need to lift our voices with David: “With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall” (Psalm 18:29).
Different yet one (Friday, January 2)
A family is made up of people with different personalities, attitudes, perspectives, strengths and weakness. A church is much the same. There are many various individuals with diverse desires, abilities and gifts. In both the family and the church, there is one common goal: to work together as one body in spite of all that separates one person from another.
Throughout the ages, God has used persons who are radically different from one another to achieve his great purpose and will on earth. From the beginning, each one possessed certain talents that God needed to accomplish certain acts. Few knew, for example, about Abraham. Yet he was a faithful follower. Noah could not preach, but he had the ability to build an ark. Moses said he was not a good speaker, though God chose him to lead his people out of bondage.
We tend to overlook our importance in the body of God. Each one of us, with all of our flaws and weaknesses, plays a vital role in God’s family. As each member looks toward one goal – God’s will – we are used in powerful ways. Even our weaknesses in the world can become strengths in God’s universe. All Peter knew was how to fish, yet God chose him to be the foundation of the church.
We never know how God will use us. All that truly matters is for us to work together in serving him. Someday we will understand God’s plan. In the meantime, the most important thing we can do is to realize we have been chosen for a divine time and purpose. As we serve him, he shows what he is able to do through those who gather as one family in his name.
His new year for us (Thursday, January 1, 2015)
This year will be a new time for each one of us. We will encounter new opportunities, new people and new situations. The Lord knows what is ahead in 2015 and he will guide us.
Long before we ever got to this point in our lives, God knew each step and turn. From the beginning, he has known how the life of every individual would play out. He knew, too, what we would need throughout our journey.
He knew what would happen to Moses after he was exiled from Egypt. He knew what would happen when Joseph was sold by his brothers. He knew what would happen after Peter denied Jesus three times. And he knew what would happen when Paul was sent to Rome.
What God said to Jeremiah long ago is true for us today. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” In the words of a pastor I once knew, “We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we do know who holds tomorrow.”
The imperfect made perfect (Wednesday, December 31)
God’s love for us and through us allows us to live each day with faith and hope. No matter what we are facing, we know that his divine love is there to heal, comfort and guide. As he loves us, we can love others. As we love them, they are able to see God through us.
The love that comes down from the Father is unlike anything we commonly call love. His love transcends both our capacity and our capability. But he is able to use us to show the world a higher way. When we sacrifice our needs and our desires for another person, even someone we do not know, we display the love of God. When we give up our time or money to help the helpless and homeless, we demonstrate the love of God. When we forfeit our earthly possessions to serve the church, we reveal the love of God. When we surrender our lives for what is unseen in the future, we prove the love of God.
What we do because of love makes little sense to many people. Yet, some are able to see and understand. They realize they are looking at something that far exceeds anything here on earth. Through us, as imperfect and insufficient as we are, God shows the world his perfect love.
Victory over any difficulty (Tuesday, December 30)
Little problems can knock us down in a big way. I was feeling down for several reasons. Our car had just started leaking oil, my wife and I were low on finances because of the holidays and a number of other things were troubling us. I was feeling as bleak as the cold winter weather.
Foremost on my mind was a sudden notice I received in the mail from my doctor. She needed to talk with me about the results of a recent blood test. Turns out, everything came back normal except for one small item related to my cholesterol. Nothing to worry about compared to what might have been wrong with my health.
Once again, I realized that we all need to trust God and have faith in him to watch over us at all times: when we are out of money, when cars break down and when our health seems to be in jeopardy.
God has a plan for everything. As the psalmist says, “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them” (Psalm 126:6). In other words, we may go out with a heavy heart, burdened with the problems of life. But as long as we go forward doing his will, we will return in joy and victory. Amen.
Going the wrong way (Monday, December 29)
Many people go through each day believing that their deeds and actions automatically reflect a Christian attitude. The fact is, though, we sometimes give ourselves too much credit. As Paul says, we think too highly of ourselves. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,” he writes, “but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”
Rather than always allowing God to mold our minds and hearts, we often shape ourselves by our own words and thoughts. We decide what to do or say in certain situations and then ask for help. But God never promises to support us when we suddenly take matters into our own hands. He will bless only what he has willed. Unfortunately, we frequently become victims of our own emotions. We were not made for God to serve us. We were created to serve God. Our purpose should not be to lead, but to follow.
We should not be asking God to come along for the ride. We should be asking God where he wants us to go. We are the ones who need to follow where he leads. At all times, we must react with clear heads and hearts, with “sober judgment.”
Until we get in the daily habit of seeking God’s desire before we act, we put ourselves first and God second. The very first story in the Bible reminds us the dangers of such backward thinking. Anytime we place our will above that of God we are going the wrong way. We are sure to fall.
Living between the past and the future (Sunday, December 28)
The time between Christmas and New Year’s Day can be especially valuable for us as Christians. The days give us a chance to reflect, remember and prepare. We can look back on what has gone on in our lives during the past year and, at the same time, look forward to a new and better year ahead.
God does not want us living in the past, but he does want us to use the past as a reminder of the things we have yet to do for him. We should live each day with anticipation and expectancy, for he is guiding us to a better life.
Luke writes in Acts about how we are supposed to live. We need to model our lives on those who came before us. “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved” (Luke 2:42-47).
Let us take the hours and days between Christmas and New Year’s to set our sights on what God wants to do in us through the coming year. As you look back on the birth of our Savior, may you also look ahead to the great time when he will come again! It may be soon or it may be in a thousand years. Either way, our lives today are part of his overall plan for the future.
God's joy (Saturday, December 27)
Having the kind of joy God wants us to enjoy is different than the happiness that is all around us. Our joy may be found in a successful career, being financially secure, having people look up to us, living in an exclusive community, traveling overseas or receiving recognition for our accomplishments. God’s joy is just the opposite. His joy has little to do with feeling happy or successful.
There can be joy in our hearts even though there is trouble in our lives. When our joy is rooted in God, we find true pleasure and peace in the things that cannot be measured by earthly standards. Knowing that we are loved each day by God brings us joy. Realizing that nothing happens in our lives without God’s knowledge gives us joy. Believing that all things work together for good offers us joy.
Too often we seek personal pleasure rather than divine joy. We find enjoyment in what satisfies us for the moment. We eagerly trade the temporal for the eternal, giving up the heavenly for the human. After all is said and done, and the thrill is gone, we are back where we began.
Being filled with God’s joy has nothing to do with how we feel from day to day. His joy transcends all human emotion. The delight we find in God is in knowing, beyond any single doubt, that nothing anywhere happens to us without God’s awareness. We find joy through his constant presence and protection.
Seeing the big picture in little ways (Friday, December 26)
The beauty of nature cannot be fully appreciated in the panorama of a wide open landscape. Nor is it entirely visible in the vast vista of a towering mountain range. The true treasures of the world are found in the small things that we barely notice each day.
Everywhere there are miracles springing forth all around us: the tiny green pinecone, still hanging high on an upper branch, that grows into a tree; the sudden bright flash of a yellow finch darting out of a shrub; the delicate violet petals of a miniature daisy. All of these give us small glimpses into the magnificent wonder of heaven.
The more we look, the more we are able to notice and realize. Our sight can let us see what is right in front of us, but it can also take us far beyond the moment. Looking at the little things in life allows us to see the bigger picture – how the hand of God constantly moves across the face of the world to assure us that he is there.
New life and light for the world (Thursday, December 25)
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:9-12).
All for us (Wednesday, December 24)
Every day we have reason to rejoice and give thanks because of what Jesus did for us. He gave up his own life to grant us our life. Jesus bore the pain of the cross, yet we have the victory over death. He was forsaken, yet we are forgiven. He suffered humiliation, yet we receive salvation. He was scorned, yet we are saved.
All he asks of us in return is to trust him and follow him – to believe in him enough to accept everything that he wants to give us. He offers guidance, protection, wisdom, strength, understanding, love and patience. But even more. He presents us with eternal life.
We show our thanks as we live our lives for him. No matter what we face this day we can rejoice through all things, knowing that he did everything for us. Not for himself.
Listening to hear (Tuesday, December 23)
In a world constantly blaring with the raucous sounds of daily life, it is difficult to hear God. Everywhere we go we encounter noise from traffic, cell phones, computers, airplanes, television, ipods, radio and even people talking or yelling. Our society seems almost obsessed with sound, as if there is something distasteful about silence.
We often think we are wasting time when we sit quietly in a room. We feel like we should always be busy, running from one place to another. Periods of silence, though, can be some of the most productive times in our lives. When we are quiet, we refresh our mind, body and spirit. By relaxing, we have a chance to renew our perspective and remind ourselves what life is all about. We can focus on the true essence and meaning of being alive: God.
Psalm 46:10 tells us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Only in the stillness can we come to know our Creator. Only through our silence can we develop a deeper relationship with him. We want his ways to become our ways, his will to become our will and his purpose to become our purpose. These qualities take time and must be nurtured over hours, weeks, months and years. We are building an everlasting relationship – a bond that transcends anything and everything we have ever experienced.
Like our ties between family and friends, quiet time together strengthens our love and affection for one another. It would be impossible to really know others if we never spent time with them or we never listened to their thoughts, feelings and ideas. When we are still, we listen and come to know. God wants us to know him intimately, but we have to be willing to be quiet and hear what he has to say.
The love of Christmas (Monday, December 22)
What a wonderful blessing it was to gather with our whole family last night for a Christmas reunion. We shared stories of what has happened during the past year, remembered years ago when all of our children were little (now they have children of their own), and had a delicious dinner with all kinds of food.
Sadly, some family members were missing: my uncle who is now the patriarch of the family and the last one in his generation; my brother who has health issues; and a several second cousins who had other commitments or live out of town.
This annual reunion at Christmas has gone on for about 60 years. It began when I was small. We would all gather in a tiny house on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, on Christmas Eve. We would have dinner, open Christmas gifts from one family to the next, and then sing Christmas carols. I am sure all of our ancestors were with us in spirit last evening as we carried on the tradition.
Most of all, God was with us. He was there in the laughter, the fun, the fellowship, and the love. Christmas truly is a time of sharing. Just as Christ shared his life with us, so we share our lives with one another. Because of his birth, we can enjoy the life we have on earth and we can look forward to being together forever!
Our seasons (Sunday, December 21)
Each year has its seasons, and every season has a purpose. So it is with us; we have our seasons as well. We may be going through a season of change, one of prosperity, a time of sickness or a period of tragedy. Whatever the experience, we can be sure there is a reason.
Placing complete trust in God is essential to our growth and endurance during various seasons. We have to know God will take care of us. Over and over again, God reassures us in his word: he says he never leaves us; he takes care of all our needs; he guides us; he gives us his strength; he loves us; he is our refuge; he is our helper; he is our hope. It is up to us to believe these promises, even when we do not see an answer or the end of a season up ahead.
Some of us have an easier time of trusting God than others. Occasionally, we have to convince ourselves that God will come through for us. The only way to satisfy our doubtful minds is to look at what God has done in the past. Hebrews 11 gives us a reminder of how God helped people like Abraham, Noah and Moses. Our individual lives and experiences are another reminder of how God has brought us through various seasons in the past.
We can be deceived by what is going on right now, such as how we feel physically or mentally. Rather than to trust what we see, God tells us to put our faith in what we cannot see. He says to have faith for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Trusting God, through our faith in him, gives us the hope we need to weather any season. Ironically, our blind trust often allows us to see God’s hand at work in our lives.
Be amazed (Saturday, December 20)
Could anyone living 2,000 years imagine what was about to happen at a dark manger in tiny Bethlehem? Who knew that the world was about to be turned upside down by the birth of a baby?
The only witnesses were his parents, Mary and Joseph, some shepherds and a few animals. But a heavenly host of angels appeared and worshiped the newborn child. A star in the East proclaimed the great news. All this while the entire town slept, unaware of the life-changing event that shook the universe.
This year, too, many people all around us will be oblivious to what is going on. They will not know why the trees are decorated or why they are giving gifts to one another. In their ignorance, they will not understand why we are celebrating and why we are crying.
There still is a need to tell the story of Christmas. Not the tale found in children’s books, but the real and true one. It is the account that Matthew and Luke gave us long ago. The message remains as new and bright as the night when it occurred. Let us remember and, once again, be amazed.
Overcoming opposition (Friday, December 19)
There is much to be said for opposition, for it brings forth opportunity. The larger the opposition, the greater the opportunity. The more who came against Jesus, for example, the more he could spread the truth about the kingdom.
Jews and Gentiles alike criticized his teaching. They fought against his preaching and mocked his miracles. Only a small number dared to believe he was the messiah; fewer still accepted him as the Son of God. News of this radical redeemer spread quickly throughout the known world, no doubt all the faster because of the tremendous opposition he faced.
Crowds everywhere turned out to hear and watch him. Most probably came because they doubted or detested him. Still, they were present nonetheless, listening and observing, and he had an opportunity to reach out to them. In much the same way, Paul wanted to remain in Ephesus at one point because the people there were against him. I will stay on until Pentecost, he says, since a great door for effective work has opened to me and there are many who oppose me.
You and I can do the most for the Lord when we are counted out and considered the least of all. If people come against us because of our faith or who we are in Christ, we have a tremendous opportunity to show them we believe what we say. The stronger the opposition, the more God can do through us.
Looking for a sign (Thursday, December 18)
God works through signs, visible demonstrations that he is present. Some signs are small, barely noticeable. Some are large, almost overwhelming. All are amazing wonders of his love and care. He guides each one of us each day, but we have to watch to see where he is leading.
When the Lord told us to move to another state years ago, God gave us a sign. I had received a job offer almost without trying. That should have been enough. In our doubt, though, we asked for another sign. Our house sold in just three days. Still not completely convinced, we asked God for more confirmations of his will for us.
The Israelites received the signs of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Another sign was that they always had enough food and water. Over and over again, God made it known that he was protecting them and leading them to the Promised Land. Still, they complained and grumbled that they were going to die in the desert.
When we stop looking for the signs that God shows us every day, we lose our way. We become lost and confused. We wander about aimlessly without any direction or purpose. The Lord cannot take us very far if we are not looking for his divine signs. They are always in front of us, but we have to keep our hearts, minds and eyes open so we notice them, especially at this time of the year.
The answer (Wednesday, December 17)
It is not difficult to explore the meaning of life. Libraries, both ancient and new, are full of writings that attempt to give the answer.
Through the ages, thousands of people have written about the significance and purpose of life. Great philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle wrote about whether the answer was in the heavens or the earth. Mathematicians such as Pythagoras and Euclid composed complex networks of numbers that they believed held the truth. Still others explained in one discourse after another that pure understanding could be found only in cosmology.
Jesus, however, was different. He said the answer to life was in him and through him. Yet there is no volume or series of works, no book, no article and no treatise written by Jesus Christ himself. All we have is what has been written about him. He explained and showed the world the importance of life, but he never wrote it down. He did not need to because he was the Word in flesh. He was the physical form that expressed the pure thought of God.
Jesus revealed the will of God, and he was the demonstration of the divine nature of the Father. Anything Jesus might have written for the world would have diminished the magnitude and greatness of the Trinity. Nothing on earth, least of all words and symbols, could have described the indescribable. Jesus was and is the living Word.
The Bible as our mirror (Tuesday, December 16)
Not only does the Bible show us who God is, but it also reflects who we are in him. We can hold it up in front of us and see our reflection as Christians. How do we look? Have we done what he commands? Have we followed his will? Have we served him more than ourselves?
Looking into the Bible is very much like staring into a mirror. We can see all kinds of details about ourselves that we might otherwise miss. The more deeply we peer at the word of God, the more we will discover the flaws and imperfections that keep us from him. Similar to seeing our image, we can make changes. Not the physical changes that are important to us and the rest of the world. But spiritual adjustments in our living, thinking and acting.
Every morning as we look into the mirror, let us remember to look into our hearts as well. Holding up the Bible can tell us what needs to be changed. The real transformations that matter in our lives are those inside of us. Not those on the surface, such as our face or hair.
We need to make sure we reflect the true love of God which can only come from the inside out. His light must be shining inside of us before others can see it.
The life of the world (Monday, December 15)
Perhaps the reason why Christmas is one of the most beautiful times of the year is because we take time to appreciate what God has given us. In spite of the shopping, decorating, baking and traveling we take time to pause, ever so briefly, to celebrate being alive.
The birth of a child reminds us of the simple gift of life. No matter what we may be experiencing, Christmas centers our attention on people. Friends and family become more important than all of the most expensive gifts under the tree. What shines most in our hearts is the treasure of memories we unwrap over and over in our minds. With each passing year, the remembrances are sweeter and more fragrant. They fill our life with meaning and purpose.
A tiny babe lying in a manger is the perfect symbol of Christmas. There, among the rustic surroundings, our attention is drawn to life itself. Jesus is the light of the world that took away the darkness both now and forever. His light shines through us and for us to give us eternal and everlasting life.
Sacrifice (Sunday, December 14)
Am I willing to surrender? Not only what I want, but who I am. Can I give up all that I have in submission to God? Jesus did. Now it is my turn to follow his example.
We seldom think of the act of submission at Christmas. Our minds turn, instead, toward giving gifts and making ourselves happy. What greater gift could there be than our own life? Jesus showed us what to do and how to it. He was willing to surrender his life when he left his throne in heaven and came to earth as a child.
His was the ultimate sacrifice. He willingly gave up all he had to be crucified for us. Yes, there is great joy in his birth. As we celebrate this wondrous occasion each year, we do so knowing the full magnitude of his physical life and death. His story is one of surrender, both to the world and to the will of the father.
Jesus laid down his life for you and me. We need to recommit ourselves this season to do the same for him. He knows the cost and the price we will pay, but he also reminds of the promise of salvation. His birth in the manger is a sign of how we will one day be reborn in heaven. Like a tiny child, we will be made new in him and live without any pain or suffering. In eternity, it will be Christmas every day forever.
The greatest gifts (Saturday, December 13)
Let’s face it. Everyone loves Christmas. There are a myriad of reasons why people enjoy Christmas. Children, for the most part, love Christmas because of the gifts. Their eyes light up the minute they see all of the presents and their hands can’t seem to go fast enough to open everything at once!
What if we had the same excitement every day of our lives? We would anticipate each minute because of the gifts God bestows on us throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Daily, perhaps many times over, God is doing something special for each of us.
Recently, God guided me toward a doctor who performed outpatient surgery on me two days before I was to leave the country. God also answered my prayer of almost 10 years: our son finally got a good-paying and steady job. In addition, we were reimbursed for a car repair because a new part had to be replaced. Then, God reversed a decision by the county tax assessor so we did not have to incur a late fee. These are just the physical things I remember at the moment. Heaven knows how many other blessings God did without my knowledge.
Despite the trials and tribulations of life—and there can be many all at once—God is constantly showering us with goodness and grace. Remember what Jesus said? “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Luke 11:13). Concentrate on the many gifts God is giving you today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life. Take your eyes off of what you don’t have and look at what he is about to give you. There are more presents than you can possibly imagine!
The heart of a child (Friday, December 12)
It should not be difficult for us to realize the love of God. Just look at children and see the complete and unconditional love they have toward everyone. God loves us in the same way—with the heart of a child.
In a local elementary school, girls and boys are able to do their Christmas shopping at Santa’s Secret Workshop. The store sets up shop in the school library for a few days each year. Children come in with their lists and money. They buy small gifts ranging from 50 cents to $5 for everyone in their family, even the pets. How carefully and thoughtfully the children select each gift. They go through their list over and over to make sure they have not forgotten anyone. After paying, they wrap and label each one of the presents.
How proud and happy they are as they leave the shop. They can’t wait to give the little gifts on Christmas Day. God must feel the same way when he has a blessing or a gift for us. He gives us things simply because he loves us, like the children who love and care for every person in their family.
Children can buy only inexpensive gifts, of course, but their love is bigger than any treasure on earth. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from them this Christmas. Maybe we can spend less money buying fewer gifts and offer others much more of our love. Let us love with the heart of child, and show the world the brightness the Christ child brought down from heaven.
Our faith produces proof (Thursday, December 11)
The Duomo in Milan, Italy, took more than 400 years to complete. Generation after generation, from one century to the next, workers toiled day and night on the Gothic structure. Yet, thousands through the years never saw the finished building. Only those who labored at the very end of four centuries had the privilege of actually seeing what we see today.
Imagine being some the first persons to construct the foundation. They knew they would never live to see the basilica standing tall and stately, the highest structure in Milan. But they had to believe in what they were doing; they needed to have faith that what they could not see would come to fruition someday.
Paul reminded us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The builders of this great church, for example, had to use their imagination to envision how the building would look someday. Their vision was the evidence—the proof—of what would come to pass in time.
How are we at believing, and hoping for, what we cannot see right now? Does our faith allow us to visualize the healing, the wholeness, the restoration we seek? Faith has the power to let us picture what we cannot see physically. In essence, our faith becomes the true evidence of what God will do in the future.
Hearing his wisdom (Wednesday, December 10)
I hear God the loudest of all in quiet times. He speaks in a stillness that is greater than any other sound in the world. Inaudible to the human ear, yet the heart hears. It is the silent voice of his power.
His words are always crystal clear. He tells us to trust him for the next step or when we need to be patient. He tells us who needs our help and how to serve our neighbors. God is never hard to understand.
The problem is that we are not very good at listening or at obeying. God may say we should stop what we are doing at the moment and call a certain person. But we think we can phone later when we have more time.
Solomon knew well the value of listening to God. “Whoever listens to me [the wisdom of the Lord] will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm" (Proverbs 1:33). May you hear God when he speaks to your heart. Do as he says because he knows what is best in all circumstances; we know only what is best for us at the moment.
Transforming love (Tuesday, December 9)
The love of Christ changes us in a profound way. The difference is not always in what others see; rather, it is how we begin to see ourselves. As we love the unlovely, our own lives are transformed.
For the first time, we begin to recognize ourselves in them. We see our struggles, our hurts, our hunger, our thirst, our poverty and our desires in their tired eyes and worn faces. They look back at us with hope, and we begin to understand that we are no different. We all want to be needed and cared for. It is at that particular moment the realization comes: we are sisters and brothers in the same God through the love of Jesus Christ. He cares for each one of us as we care for one another.
We are a family of children in one God. The same God who loves the rich loves the poor, the healthy as well as the sick, the young and the old, the prosperous as much as the poor. He makes no distinction; we are all the same to him. Our position in life does not matter to God, and it should not matter to us. Each and every member of the body is important. His love binds us all in one Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
The gift (Monday, December 8)
People young and old love the music of Christmas. The joyful noises fill our ears and gladden our hearts. Songs about the season seem to be everywhere…on the radio, at the mall, even in restaurants: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Each chorus adds to the festive atmosphere.
But there are other sounds that reverberate throughout the ages. If we listen carefully, we can hear – ever so faintly – the ancient voices of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the three wise men. What are they saying about the birth of this child, the savior, the word made flesh? More importantly, what are we saying today? Do our words and thoughts still reflect the awe and wonder of that sacred night in Bethlehem?
The Bible tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” You and I must take time, too, to contemplate the full import of Christmas. It is much more than happy music and bright lights. It is about God reaching down to earth to touch all creation with his love.
The divine love of our Father is our gift, both now and forever.
We are shepherds (Sunday, December 7)
On the night of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds were the first to know. God sent an angel to them to announce that a savior had been born. Suddenly, they left the fields and “hurried off” to see this baby in a manger. These common men at once understood the message and began spreading the word throughout the countryside.
Sadly, too many people today still do not comprehend what occurred more than 2,000 years ago. The story of the virgin birth remains a myth – nothing more than a tale to create a peaceful and pleasant backdrop for the Christmas season. In most cases, the truth and essence of this heavenly miracle is obscured, overshadowed, by the rush of holiday shopping.
We can only ponder what might have happened if the shepherds were too busy or concerned over their flocks. Who would have told the world what happened? In the same way, you and I have to ask ourselves if we have become too caught up in the busy-ness of Christmas. Perhaps we have failed to tell others the message of the birth.
The men in the fields on that eventful night in Bethlehem have long since left this world. Now we must be the shepherds who spread the word. We have to let people know that the savior’s birth is more than a story. The gospels, each in their own way, record the reality and facts for us today. Let us, as contemporary watchmen and followers, declare the divine message so that all who hear are amazed, just as those living long ago.
Practicing perfect love (Saturday, December 6)
We often measure our lives by what we accomplish for ourselves when we should measure our lives by what we do for others. We cannot truly love one another if we are thinking only of what we do. What truly matters is how much we do for those around us – without expecting any thanks or recognition.
Any act of kindness is done from the heart when we do not think about being noticed. In fact, we can be sure we are following what God expects if we do not even consider the effects of our benevolence. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul explains how we are to love and serve one another with both our hearts and our hands: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." It is always all of these.
Our goal in life should be to reach the point were we can say, with true honesty and conviction, that this is our personal definition of love. Anything less should be unacceptable. We have to admit, too, the only way to practice perfect love is to let God work through us. On our own, we are incapable. But with God we are always more than able.
Will we follow God's will? (Friday, December 5)
In each and every situation, we must pray for guidance and wisdom before we react. It is easy to forget the right thing to do when we become emotional. Our feelings have an overwhelming effect over our words and actions, leading us often astray and regretful.
The scriptures teach us about being able to control ourselves, according to what is right and acceptable before God. Moses killed an Egyptian because he felt it was the just thing to do. Jonah ran from Nineveh because he did not want to teach the word of God in that particular city. Peter cut off the ear of a soldier because he was trying to prevent Jesus from being arrested. From a human perspective, we can make a case for each offense.
But God demands more than human justice. He wants us to rise above our earthly thoughts, and act according to his holy and perfect will. God understands our natural feelings because he created us. We have to keep in mind he also gave us the ability to think and reason – to understand that our instincts do not always take us in the right direction.
Doing the right thing mean following God’s righteousness and right path, not our own.
The light of the world (Thursday, December 4)
Perhaps the reason why Christmas seems one of the most beautiful times of the year is because we take time to appreciate what God has given us. In spite of the shopping, decorating, baking and traveling we pause, ever so briefly, to celebrate being alive.
The birth of a child reminds us of the simple gift of life. No matter what we may be experiencing, Christmas focuses our attention on people. Friends and family become more important than all of the richest gifts under the tree. What shines most in our hearts is the treasure of memories we unwrap over and over in our minds. With each passing year, the remembrances are sweeter and more fragrant. They fill our life with meaning and purpose.
A tiny babe lying in a manger is the perfect symbol of Christmas. There, among the rustic surroundings, our attention is drawn to life itself. He is the light of the world that took away the darkness both now and forever, and his light shines through us to give us eternal and everlasting life.
He is our hope (Wednesday, December 3)
How incredible that the hope of the universe was given to the world in the form of a child born in Bethlehem. God chose the sublime rather than the obvious to announce the birth of a savior.
In this single act, we see the gentleness and compassion of our father. Jesus became flesh so that we might see both the beauty and the frailty of our very lives. We can only imagine the wonder and awe felt by the shepherds and, months later, the three wise men who had traveled hundreds of miles. What must they have thought as they beheld this tiny child?
As we reflect on their experience, we need think about how we might have reacted. We must ponder the meaning of what we see in front of us. The image is much more than a baby in a manger. In this small child, we must recognize our own salvation and be willing to praise God for what we do not totally understand.
Strength through weakness (Tuesday, December 2)
Sometimes we are the strongest when we are the weakest. We often forget about God when we rely on our own strength and knowledge. We take matters into our own hands, so to speak, and take action before we take time to pray. Doing God’s will becomes an afterthought; we pray for him to bless what we have already done.
But when we feel weak, insecure, lost or lonely, we depend on God for each breath. We become acutely aware of our own frailty and mortality, and turn to him. In fact, we do not even rise up without asking for his nurture and strength. At such times, we must face the fact that we are nothing without God.
When we admit that our human flesh is vulnerable to all sorts of things, we are able to humble ourselves long enough to see that God is in control. Not only does he rule the entire universe, but he also guides each step we take. We can be sure that where he leads us we will be safe, secure and strong no matter how weak we might feel. He will uphold us as long as we are humble enough to admit we need his strength.
Our song of hope (Monday, December 1)
One of the most beautiful passages of scripture is Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55. Here, Mary gives thanks to the Lord for all he has done in her life, especially for the wondrous birth of Jesus that is about to take place. “The mighty one has done great things for me,” she confesses, “holy is his name.”
At this season of the year, we need to think about these same words. Indeed, the Lord has done great things for us as well. In spite of our many sins, our thoughtless actions and our unkind words, we have been blessed. We have been given much more than we truly deserve.
Out of love and mercy, God has selected us to be his humble servants. He has touched us in a special way, for his purpose, and he will not let us fall. Just as he did with Mary, he will do great things for us because we have been chosen by him.
One day of rest? (Sunday, November 30)
Would our week be any different without Sunday? While this may seem like a somewhat foolish or ridiculous question, consider how some people use Sunday. Rather than regarding Sunday as a day of rest (mentally and physically), they often treat this day the same as all of the others.
We do all sorts of things on Sunday: we go to the mall, clean the house, cut the grass, wash the car. Some people even go to work. Perhaps Sunday is a time to catch up on what we have not done during the past six days or to get ahead on the coming week. Either way, we forget about what this one day can do for us.
Years ago, we did not have a choice about what to do on Sunday. Most everything was closed. Instead of running around all day, we went to church and then we visited family, spent time relaxing and talking, maybe taking a walk through the neighborhood or park. Sunday truly was a day of rest. Using this day for the purpose God intended may seem a bit old-fashioned. So be it. I have to wonder at times if we are, indeed, better now than decades ago. Has giving up our one day of rest made us stronger and better? Has it brought us closer to God or has it put more distance between him and us?
We would do well today to heed the advice of biblical scholar Matthew Henry who commented on the importance of resting on the Sabbath: Once a week they must rest, even in ploughing time, and in harvest. All worldly business must give way to that holy rest; even harvest work will prosper the better, for the religious observance of the sabbath day in harvest time. We must show that we prefer our communion with God, and our duty to him, before the business or the joy of harvest.
Our labor can wait. Our relationship with God cannot. Sunday allows us to commune with him so we are ready to face the spiritual struggle of next six days of the week.
A greater world (Saturday, November 29)
The manger is before us as we come solemnly to worship, celebrate and, sadly, to mourn. We as Christians know the full story all too well: how God sent his only son – to be born, suffer and crucified – for our salvation. In the dirty stable we see the little holy child who will one day be torn apart as he is nailed on a cross to die.
We recognize the irony of celebrating his birth. He who is innocent and pure came to earth one unsuspecting night in Bethlehem to take upon himself the darkness of the world. As we ponder the significance of Christ’s life, from beginning to end to the resurrection, we cannot help but marvel at God’s love and compassion – not only for his son but for all mankind. In one glorious and everlasting moment, the universe was changed forever.
Christmas gives us the unique opportunity to see beyond the horrible pain of Christ’s eventual death and to appreciate the simple beauty of life itself. In the image and reality of that night 2,000 years ago, we capture a fleeting glimpse of eternity in all of its peace, hope and joy. The star in the east draws our attention to what is really important in life and makes us understand there is a world far greater than the little one we see with our eyes.
A simple matter of trust (Friday, November 28)
We know what we believe. But, do we believe what we know? If only we could answer with an unqualified yes. If only our faith came close to equaling our knowledge.
Look at all we know: God loves us; he tells us that all things work together for those who love him; he says he will always guide and protect us; he makes our paths straight; he promises to comfort and calm us. How different our life would be if we accepted each one of these as truth. Why is it that we believe in eternal life, yet we doubt God’s concerns for us during our time on earth?
God declares, I will not leave you nor will I forsake you. We know what he proclaims. Still, we sometimes feel alone and abandoned. The difference in what God says and how we think all has to do with us, not with his assurance. We somehow get it in our heads that God should take care of us in a certain way. When he does not, we conclude that we are indeed alone and cut off from him.
Even our rational minds, as worldly as they are, should tell us that God would not and could not act contrary to his word. It does not make sense that he loves us and abandons us at the same time. More than likely we are the ones who forsake him because of our selfish and narrow perspective. Maybe we need to begin trusting him more and ourselves less. Perhaps we should start believing all that we know, rather than what we think we know.
True thanksgiving (Thursday, Nobember 27)
It is impossible to thank God for all we have been given, but we can try. We can raise our voices in praise. We can lift our hands in joy. We can dedicate all our good works to him. We can use our time for his glory. We can follow his will, out of faith and respect, simply because of who he is: the great I AM.
Because of who he is, we are who we are: his children. That reality ought to be more than enough for our gratitude forever and not just for a brief moment right now. For it is his love and mercy that make our salvation possible.
Our constant prayer and our eternal song should be filled with thanksgiving. We thank him for being Our Father and we thank him for breathing life into us. We have done nothing to deserve what we have. That is the reason why we can be grateful and thankful.
Going off course (Wednesday, November 26)
When I travel, I can look at an atlas and see where each road and freeway will take me. One route is a straighter path than another. It all depends on what I want to do or see along the way. Our lives are much the same; we make certain decisions and plans every day.
Some people claim that the journey ahead is unknown – that there is no road map for the future. I tend to disagree. While we do not know exactly what will happen tomorrow or even later this morning, we do know where we are headed when we follow God’s directions. He tells us over and over again in Scripture which way to go. He is our compass and our guide. When we rely on him, we will never become lost or confused.
Too often, I try to navigate on my own. I think I know which direction is best. There are specific things I want to experience. There are definite stops I want to make along the way. Rather than following God, I frequently follow my itinerary because I think it will bring me greater pleasure and satisfaction.
Because of my own stubbornness, I have to make many U-turns and get back on course. Thank goodness God protects me even when I turn away from him and go in the opposite direction. When I get off track, he is always there waiting for me, ready to take me all the way to his destination on his path.
Be steadfast (Tuesday, November 25)
There were outdoor Christmas decorations, newspapers and leaves everywhere. Winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour sent everything in the neighborhood flying. Only those things that were nailed down remained intact.
What are we like when the winds of life come at us? Do we suddenly begin to fly everywhere or do we stay in one place, holding fast to the word of God? Most of us, unfortunately, are carried aloft when there is anything stronger than a gentle wind. We let go of God over the simplest matters: our car won’t start, the alarm clock did not go off, we are out of milk for our morning coffee.
How can we keep our faith and footing when the real gusts come? We have to remember that our work and persistence have meaning. We already have the victory over any trial. What we need to do is continue holding on to the Lord by serving him. “But thanks be to God,” wrote Paul, “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).
The secret of being steadfast and immovable is to know God has a reason for any difficulty. Keep doing what he asks and you will not fly away from him with the least little wind or throughout the storm.
Faith to follow (Monday, November 24)
The prisoner has been set free. The way is clear. No chains. No guards. Nothing blocks the path. The door is wide open. Yet, the prisoner does not move, for he fears the future. He knows what he has at present and is uncertain about what lies beyond the bars.
Foolishness is a prison. It holds the self inside the cell, bound within the four walls of human knowingness. God sent his angel to break the bonds and unlock the door. Peter, Paul and Silas did not hesitate to get up and follow God, even though they did not know where he was taking them.
God offers the same opportunity to each one of his children. Through his love, there is no bondage for the Christian. You and I have been set free. We have been released from the past, from fear, from condemnation, from judgment, from mistakes and from all sin.
No one on earth can keep us hostage, unless we refuse to accept our liberty in Christ. He sacrificed his life so we would not be bound by the things of this world. Whom the son set free is free indeed. Today is the time for us to get up and walk out of prison. God sent his son to open wide the door. We have to use our faith and trust to follow him.
Getting ahead of ourselves (Sunday, November 23)
While our feet are firmly planted in the activities of today, our minds are already racing ahead toward tomorrow or next week. We are thinking of what we will do in the coming days, maybe even months from now. Our focus is on exactly what we will do and how we will handle certain circumstances, yet we do not even know if our plans and expectations will come to pass. Everything in our lives could change tomorrow and our strategy for the future would be useless.
God tells us to take each day as it is given to us. We have enough during this 24-hour period to keep us busy. Worrying about things that have not happened and may never occur is futile. We do not know the future that God has created for us so how can we plan each detail and event?
Our primary focus in life should be on what is right in front of us. What we are doing at this moment is the only thing that matters. But it is nearly impossible to understand such a concept while our minds are preoccupied with a thousand other details. How can we drive a car, for example, if we are constantly anxious about what is around the next turn? God warns us not to get too far ahead of ourselves. After all, he goes before us to make sure everything is safe. We need to let God be God by leading us, and we need to let ourselves be his children by following him.
Free blessings (Saturday, November 22)
Some of the most wonderful and beautiful things in our lives do not cost us anything. The satisfaction of watching a child at play, the magnificent color of a sunrise, the joy of hearing the birds sing, feeling a gentle wind on our face – all of these can make us happy and grateful. Yet, most people have trouble appreciating these simple pleasures. Instead, they find joy in a new car, a bigger house, a high-speed boat, modern leather furniture, a luxury cruise, even a complete home theater system.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these, unless we have to pay a higher price than the actual cost. What will we have to sacrifice to afford a new car, for example? Will we have to give up our peace of mind, worrying about whether we will have enough money each paycheck? Do we have to cut back on our tithe? Most important, why are we buying this item? Do we really need it or do we just want it?
Our society tries to convince us each day through the media and advertising that what we bought a year or two ago is no longer stylish or useful; we have to remain current (and young) by letting go of the past and getting what is fresh, new and novel. In our rush to keep up to date, however, we may have to surrender the peace and serenity that God wants us to experience. There is a cost to pay whenever we buy into the world’s system of daily living. But God gives us things that are more precious and beautiful, and it costs us nothing except a few moments out of our day to appreciate them.
Learning to grow up (Friday, November 21)
Every child in Sunday School learns the story of the Israelites in the desert: God guided them and protected them day after day for 40 years, they received manna from heaven when they were hungry and drank water from a rock when they were thirsty. But the story is about more than God’s goodness and miracles. As adults, we need to see the underlying plot of these events.
In spite of all God had already done for the Israelites – setting them free from bondage in Egypt – the people complained and questioned whether God was truly watching over them. They grumbled about being thirsty, being hungry, being weary of wandering. At one point, the people even accused Moses of trying to kill them: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” What had happened to these people, God’s chosen, who once were overjoyed with gratitude and praise to the Lord?
They did not remember God’s goodness. Even though they were now free, they forgot what God had done and the promises he made to them. How many times were they hungry, thirsty and tired when they were slaves? Now, suddenly, they thought God was going to let them die in the desert. We easily see their foolishness and lack of faith. But how often do we act and think the same way? Time after time, through all of our years, God is there helping us. Yet, when we face another difficult situation, we think God has unexpectedly abandoned us.
It is time that we grow up. We are no longer children. As adults, let us remember the real message of this story. The theme is about more than God performing miracles. Rather, it is about God being true to his word and people who lost faith.
A heart like Jesus (Thursday, November 20)
The woman sat in the lobby of the grocery store ringing a Salvation Army bell. “How are you doin’ today,” she asked as each person came in. To the people leaving, whether they put money in the bucket or not, she said “Have a wonderful holiday season.” I saw the woman earlier in the day and she was still there four hours later when I returned.
Christmas is about the gift of sharing. It was clear this lady did not have much: her clothes were old and worn, and her coat was years out of date. But what she did have, a heart for people and helping others, was fresh and new. Her voice was full of cheer and happiness—a joy that came from deep inside despite her lowly appearance.
Jesus first appeared to the world as a tiny, helpless baby. Who could have imagined the Son of all mankind would be born in an ordinary stable? And the ones who first saw and heard the news were common shepherds, not royal priests or kings.
Let us find the joy of Christmas in the people all around us rather than in the decorations, gifts and carols. God wants us to see what is important about life: people. They are everything, priceless creations of the Creator. Everywhere we go, like the woman at the store, people are lighting the darkness of the world by reflecting the Savior’s love and birth.
Staying the course (Wednesday, November 19)
Change is stressful. All types of change – good and bad, large and small – are truly difficult on us. The reason is because we find comfort in being on a daily schedule. When events in life disrupt our normal patterns, we become anxious.
Sometimes the alterations are so sudden and radical that we have difficulty adjusting. It is as if the rug has been pulled out from beneath our lives, leaving us lost and confused. Suddenly, we become disoriented, mentally and spiritually. We want to hold on to something stable, such as a familiar routine, but our days are no longer the same. In a moment, we are thrust into a new life.
We need to remind ourselves each day that while a new course in life is different for us, it is familiar ground to God. There is no place that is strange to God. He made this earth, he made us and he made our lives. God is not surprised by the twists and turns we experience.
The next time we go through a change, whether it is something that has already happened or an event that is about to occur, we need to remember two important facts. First, God has made this journey before, when he first created us and our lives. Second, God is the stability we need when we feel bewildered and unsettled. Even though we do not know what lies ahead, we do know God. That knowledge should be sufficient to carry us through any change.
The gift (Tuesday, November 18)
The Christmas decorations are going up. There are colorful trees magically appearing in living room windows. Wreaths on front doors. Yard decorations. Stores are all decked out. Even Santa has arrived at the local mall! People everywhere are preparing for Christmas—still six weeks away.
But what are we doing to prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the greatest event in history? How are we getting ready little by little each day? Advent soon will remind us of the significance of Jesus’ birth, making us think deeper about all God has given to us.
No matter how many times we hear the story, the words take on new meaning every year. The wondrous star over the tiny town of Bethlehem. The heavenly angels appearing to the shepherds. The miraculous birth of a tiny baby in a manger with animals and hay. What a blessing to the world.
We need to take time, right now, to realize what Christmas means to us. We must meditate daily on God’s word and gift. What he gave us lasts our entire lives, not just one day a year.
Dealing with trials (Monday, November 17)
Our lives as Christians are meant to be radically different from the rest of the world. The difference comes not so much in the problems and difficulties we face, but in how we deal with our trials. Jesus said that he came to give us a more abundant life – a life filled with joy and happiness. Yet we often exchange his gladness and peace for our unrest. We confront obstacles like everyone else. We quickly become anxious and worry about all sorts of things, from financial troubles to physical struggles to mental or spiritual setbacks.
Unlike us as humans, God does not care what type of obstacle confronts us because he is able to overcome any adversity. No illness, economic situation or amount of anxiety is greater than his power. The fact that we are troubled is all that matters to God. His love and grace are constant and unchanging; he remains the same in all circumstances.
During times of difficulty, our attitude needs to be more like God and less like those around us. Our faith should separate us and make us different from the rest of the world because of who we are in Christ. Our hope, as well as our ability to overcome the stumbling blocks in life, rests solely in the power of his unconditional compassion rather than in the nature of our problem. The apostle John reminds us in his first epistle that, "You, dear children, are from God....The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."
Jesus has already overcome the world. Therefore, we do not have to die each time we face a trial in our lives.
Living in today (Sunday, November 16)
God is omniscient. He knows tomorrow, next week and next year. In fact, he tells us that he sees our entire life even before we are born. He understands each incident, each disease, each hardship, each experience we will ever face while we are still in the womb. As we go through our days on this earth, however, God rarely tells us what lies ahead or when we will encounter difficulty.
We might wonder why God does not reveal at least some of the future to us. It would be helpful to know, for example, when our car is going to break down, when we will have problems dealing with other people, when we are going to get sick, even when we are going to lose our job and have to look for another one. We think we might avoid or prevent these situations if we knew about them in advance. We will never know the answer to such a philosophical contemplation. One thing is certain: we would become more concerned about the future than about today. All that we think and do would revolve around some event looming in the future. Hence, we would miss what is important right now.
God demands our full attention each day. He wants us to trust him and look to him for guidance. Why would we need him if we are able to take care of everything ourselves? God does not show us tomorrow for several, more important, reasons. First, he knows we have enough cares for today. Second, he wants us to learn how to rely on his strength. Third, he desires to guide our lives. Fourth, he wants our hearts and minds to be centered on this day, not wandering into the weeks and months ahead.
When we are tempted by what may or may not happen tomorrow, we need to remember one phrase from The Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day, our daily bread.” God will take care of tomorrow after he takes care of today.
You are a motivational speaker (Saturday, November 15)
Wouldn’t it be exciting to travel all around as a motivational speaker? You would energize and inspire people everywhere you went! Crowds would show up at each place to hear your story and to thank you for sharing your message with them.
You and I are motivational speakers. We are telling the greatest story in the world and we are spreading the good news everywhere! First, we show and tell what God has done for us. Second, we inspire others to accept Jesus as their savior, too.
Moses, Abraham, Noah, Jonah, Paul, Barnabas and so on; all of them were motivational speakers. They told people about God whether they were at home or in another city. In turn, their enthusiasm brought countless others to the Lord.
We can tell God’s story at the department store, supermarket, restaurant, even the bank, as we are standing in line. Go ahead. Motivate someone! Share your enthusiasm for being there and watch what a difference it makes in their lives.
Mimic Jesus (Friday, November 14)
I was standing at the kitchen sink – peeling an orange and eating each slice one by one – when I suddenly remembered my father used to do the exact same thing! I was just like him. I was copying his behavior from what I saw for so many years growing up.
We learn through imitation. The philosopher Aristotle called this process mimesis, which means to mimic. We mimic what we have seen our parents do.
We are supposed to do the same thing with our father in heaven. We have not seen him with our own eyes, but we know him. “If you really know me,” Jesus said, “you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him" (John 14:7). Remember, too, what God said on the mount of transfiguration: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).
How well are we doing at listening to Jesus and following his example? Are we imitating him and copying his patience, compassion and love? May you hear Jesus loud and clear today. Then do exactly as he has done. Mimic both his words and actions. Show that you are listening to Jesus.
Seeing the truth (Thursday, November 13)
We do not always see what is right in front of us. When Jesus came into the world, for example, people did not even recognize him. “He was in the world,” writes John, “and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him” (John 1:10).
We look back and wonder how this could be. How could people not see Jesus for who he was? After all, his birth and life had been prophesied for hundreds of years. Still, they did not believe that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. Their spiritual faith in an Almighty God—an omnipotent being—was not powerful enough to overcome their physical reality of the world.
Despite testimony after testimony today, there are those all around us who do not recognize or acknowledge Jesus. They grant that he might have been a prophet, but they cannot admit to his existence as the Savior of world. Perhaps the reason they doubt is because they cannot fathom the world was created by a triune God, one who is kind, loving and caring. Why is there so much illness, violence and hatred everywhere, they ask, if there is a God?
What they need to remember is that God created the world good. It was mankind who brought the evil and destruction. Thank goodness God is always there as our refuge in times of trouble. John adds that since we receive and believe in him, “he gave us the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). What a privilege we have to be born of him and to be sustained by his miraculous purpose for us--all because we see him as the essence of life itself.
Toward eternity (Wednesday, November 12)
Jesus calls each one of us to follow him because of our differences, not because we are alike. He needs people from every walk of life in order to do his work in the kingdom. He needs men, women, children, the rich, the poor, professionals and laborers to accomplish all that must be done. We each have our own individual place and purpose. As apostles, Jesus sends us forth into the world to reach different people, depending on our background and culture.
All of the 12 apostles were from different towns; they had different lives, beliefs and customs; they had different attitudes and personalities; and they had different gifts, abilities and skills. In spite of their diversity, God brought these men together and united them in one common purpose.
The Church is made up of many people, all with a variety of backgrounds and experience. God seeks to use our sometimes separate and unconnected lives to tell the world about his all encompassing love and salvation. The good news of the gospel is for everyone, no matter what race, culture, status or nation.
The earthly calling and work of the 12 apostles ended some 2,000 years ago. Now we are called to be Jesus’ apostles in our time. Each one of us has a unique calling – some are to teach, some are to write, some are to preach, some are to pray. No matter what our special labor in the kingdom might be, we are working toward one end. Everything we do, say and think should be directed toward eternity.
A change for the best (Tuesday, November 11)
I can sit in my nice, warm house and complain about the cold weather outside. But there is not a thing I can do about it. I can either change my attitude, and accept the weather, or I can remain miserable because I want it to be warmer.
The point is that we have a decision to make each time we encounter something that is contrary to our desire. Either we accept or reject. In the process, we need to remind ourselves that all the rejection and anger in the world will only make us more upset.
What we need is to pray for God’s help to change our perspective. For instance, we might not like snow and freezing temperatures. God is not going to alter the weather to suit us. He will, however, alter our thoughts about the snow: how beautiful the neighborhood looks all covered in white; how children love to play in it; and how it provides much-needed moisture for plants and animals. All of these things will certainly help us feel better mentally and physically.
Remember what Paul said: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Notice he says God will meet our needs according to the riches of his glory. His glory is for us to be content in him, not in ourselves.
The new life (Monday, November 10)
Accepting Christ means accepting a new life. No longer are we bound by the limitations of our flesh. The old ways – past attitudes, critical judgments, worries, anxieties, fears, depression – are gone. Living in the divine nature of eternity makes us different because we have become one with Christ.
What he overcame, through his death and resurrection, we have overcome in being reborn. There is nothing that can defeat us anymore – not finances, not enemies, not illness, not depression, not anxiety. Now we possess the abundant life of eternity, and we are set aside for a holy purpose.
But accepting God’s will is not a surrender of our life; rather, it is a freedom from the constraints of the world. The rebirth that occurs is spiritual, not physical. Our appearance does not change, but our actions do.
He says wait (Sunday, November 9)
My granddaughter had a small package of salt from a fast-food restaurant and she was going to put it in our salt shaker on the stove. She wanted to put the salt through the holes in the top. “Wait,” I said. “You can’t do it that way.” I held up the shaker so she could see the large plug on the bottom. “We have to wait until the container is empty. Then we turn it over and fill it.”
How many times does God tell us to wait? We have to wait for the right time, his time, until we act. Then we must also do it his way. If we rely on our own judgment, we usually will pay for our mistakes.
The apostle Paul was no different than us. There were places where he wanted to preach. Fortunately, he had sense enough to listen to God. Acts 16:6-7 tells us that, “Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” Paul knew better than to fight the Holy Spirit.
The next time you want to do something right away (like filling a salt shaker by the holes in the top), wait until God gives you the go ahead. Otherwise, you will waste a lot of time and also become frustrated in the process.
Setting off alone (Saturday, November 8)
It does little good to begin a journey without being ready or prepared. The Christian life is no different. We must wait for God’s timing and plan until we set off. Otherwise, we travel alone, without any help or protection.
Before Jesus left the disciples for the last time, he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for God to give them the power from above. Jesus did not want them to begin spreading the gospel before they were ready. “I am going to send you what my Father has promised,” Jesus said, “but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
These men, who spent nearly three years almost day and night with Jesus, could have gone about the master’s work immediately. They must have certainly felt they knew all about salvation because of being with Jesus, and hearing his words, for so many months and years. We may philosophize all we want about what would have happened to them. The truth is found in the book of Acts. Without the power from “on high,” this Holy Spirit, they would have accomplished almost nothing.
The lesson and the teaching are clear: let us wait until God sends us out, no matter what the task. Without him, we can do nothing. Even our best efforts and knowledge fall far short of his power and wisdom.
Giving and receiving (Friday, November 7)
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Jesus always gave to the poor, the weak, the lame and the downtrodden. He expects us to follow in his footsteps.
But there are times in life when we are the ones who need help. We need encouragement, some support, a lending hand or a comforting word. Most of us are not good at receiving or asking for help. Suddenly, we find ourselves in an awkward position when we are down and out.
What we fail to remember is that our ability to receive needs to be as strong as our ability to give. We cannot go through life by giving all of the time. We must be honest with ourselves and admit when we have a need. God gave us one another in order that we might care for one another. Think of what would have happened to Paul if he would not have accepted money, food and clothing from others. Most likely his three mission journeys would have never happened. Also, how far could the disciples have gone without any assistance from their fellow followers? They knew they needed help both from God and from people.
No matter what you might be going through right now, accept help from those who want to help you. Like Jesus, they are eager to do whatever they can for you. They know it is more blessed to give than to receive, but they also know there have been times when they were in your shoes.
Washing our feet (Thursday, November 6)
When it was time for Jesus to leave this world, Mark says, “he now showed them (the disciples) the full extent of his love.” Jesus took a towel, poured water into a bowl and began to wash the feet of his followers.
The ceremonial act of washing someone’s feet suddenly takes on a new and divine meaning. Jesus is not merely following a custom; he is humbling himself yet one more time before he is crucified for the sake of all. Though he is God of the universe, Jesus kneels down to wash dirt from the feet of his creation. Jesus cannot refrain from caring for his children.
Can there be any greater demonstration of love? Each day, Jesus washes our feet as he forgives our sins and heals our wounds. He created us and he longs to take care of us. But he cannot anoint us and consecrate our lives unless we let him. As Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Words are permanent (Wednesday, November 5)
Sometimes we fail to think about the things we say. It is only after we have expressed a thought that we realize what we have said. Once we have spoken, however, there is no way to take back the words. They are there forever, whether they remain in our minds and hearts or that of someone else.
We need to remember that words uttered have a lasting impression, good or bad. They can elevate us or lower us. In Psalm 48:1, we discover both the source and the significance of words. “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses to the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer” (Psalm 48:1). Our speech must come from the heart – through the pure love of God – not from the fickleness of our feelings. So, too, our words must come from wisdom, God’s divine intelligence, and not from our own foolishness.
What we say becomes a written record of our lives. The words do not simply disappear because we no longer see or hear them. Instead, our speech forms the essence of who we are deep inside, whether we are truly living for God or for ourselves.
Walking with wisdom (Tuesday, November 4)
Each day of our lives brings us closer to God or pushes us farther away. There is no middle ground. We are either hot or cold toward the Lord; we cannot be lukewarm or indifferent. There is a choice to be made each time we meet challenges. “Be very careful, then, how you live,” explains Ephesians 5:15-17, “not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Walking with the Lord and comprehending his will are characteristics that do not come naturally to us. Instinctively, we rely on our own feelings, emotions and thoughts as we go through the day. Any time we react without discerning God’s will, we look foolish. We become like Jonah, who could not explain his actions. “I am a Hebrew,” Jonah said to the sailors on the ship, “and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and land.” The men became confused and terrified. “What have you done,” they asked in disbelief. “You have run away from God!”
They could see clearly that Jonah had acted irrationally. In the end, Jonah also realized he had made a mistake. His experience at sea and in the belly of a fish taught him, the hard way, he had been unwise. We do not have to commit the same foolish errors time and time again. God gives us his wisdom to know his will; therefore, we have no excuse for careless or thoughtless actions. Let us make “the most of every opportunity” because time is short and the days “are evil.” Instead of running away from God as Jonah did, we should run toward him. Then we can be sure we make the right decisions.
Divine compassion (Monday, November 3)
Many times Jesus sought solitude, yet he was usually overcome by crowds. People came to him by the hundreds to be healed. Jesus always received them. He turned no one away, not even when he was tired and hungry. He showed compassion to everyone who needed what he came to earth to give.
The disciples were not always as sympathetic. Like us, they sometimes felt the need to escape – to get away from everything and everyone – to leave behind the sick, the ill and the lost, if only for an evening. Mark tells of one day when the disciples urged Jesus to get rid of the people. “This is a remote place,” they said to him. “And it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
Just hours earlier, Jesus was seeking a quiet place to rest with his closest followers. But they were overwhelmed by a crowd as they landed on shore. Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34). We can almost hear the disciples’ complaints and see their tiredness. They wanted peace and quiet. Jesus, however, told them to be with the people and to feed them. Are we to spend eight months of a man’s wages to give them bread, they asked.
The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish has many messages. None is more poignant than the demonstration of compassion. Despite the size of the crowd, the lateness of the hour and the weariness from physical fatigue, Jesus would not turn the people away. They needed him and he gave himself to them, wholly and completely, without any regard for himself. His unselfish and self-sacrificing example helps us understand the way we are to treat others, no matter if they are friends, enemies or strangers.
How to love (Sunday, November 2)
Jesus told us to love one another. It is a simple concept, yet we fail to understand what he means. We always try to display or show our love, to make it an object. Pure love goes much deeper than what we can see or hold; and it is not based on conditions or formulas. We cannot love because we are commanded to do so. We cannot love and still harbor feelings of anger. We cannot love out of duty. And we cannot love for favor or recognition.
We can love only out of compassion and desire. In order to love as Christ loves us, we must desire to accept others as they are and to show compassion for them. Loving our brothers and sisters means both forgetting and forgiving their faults, words and actions. These outward things do not matter, for they have no substance in the kingdom of God. We need to be so full of concern for one another that we no longer judge or criticize.
Loving people does not come easily, except for children. Children love because their hearts have not yet been broken by the world. As adults, we must learn how to love like a child once again. We must reach back to a time when we did not know pains of anger, hate, jealousy or judgment. The true love of Christ transcends all of these elements. It overcomes everything in the world because it goes directly to the heart. There, deep inside a person, we are able to see what God made rather than what the world has created.
Getting what we need (Saturday, November 1)
It had been a difficult three weeks: our son changed jobs; his fiancé left him one day when he was at work; both he and our granddaughter moved in with us; and we had to get the two upstairs bedrooms and bath ready for them. I wasn’t prepared for all this when I had decided to retire. I wanted peace and quiet.
Many times, though, God does not give us what we want. He gives us what we need and what others need. When we bought our “retirement house” a couple of years ago, while we were still working, we had no idea what would happen as our new life unfolded.
Fortunately, God guided us to buy a house that would accommodate more persons upstairs. He also brought us back to the area just in time for us to offer support and encouragement to our son and granddaughter, who does not have a mother. And, we are here to walk Ellie to the bus stop each morning and be there when she returns in the afternoon.
God has really blessed us by putting us in the right place at the right time. All along, he had a perfect path for all four of us. What God told Jeremiah is true for each one of us. “’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11). His plans are many and so are his mercies. He gave us what we did not know we needed.
Doing it His way (Friday, October 31)
Obeying God is serious business. When he tells us to do something, we need to follow his instructions and abide by his commands. There is no room for our ideas or designs for how to accomplish God’s work. He is the master and we are the servant.
Moses learned the hard way that God said what he meant and meant what he said. Numbers 20 explains the story of how God told Moses to provide water for the Israelites while they were in the desert at Kadesh. The people had blamed and quarreled with Moses because they were thirsty. When Moses and his brother Aaron went to the Lord in prayer, the Lord commanded them to “take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.” Moses followed part of God’s command but, unfortunately, he did not follow through.
He took the rod and did, indeed, call together the ungrateful congregation. Then he said to them, almost with disdain, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” In frustration, Moses quickly raised his arm and struck the rock twice with the staff. Water gushed forth, but Moses and Aaron had to be punished for disobeying the Lord. “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
We might say God was being unfair and unjust, considering the immeasurable acts of loyalty and obedience that Moses and Aaron had shown to the Lord. The point is, they disobeyed God and mocked him. Moses felt like handling the matter his way. Yes, Moses got what he wanted but, because of it, he was never able to set foot in the Promised Land. God has plans and dreams for each one of us. The only thing that will keep us from his will is our will.
Accepting the miracle (Thursday, October 30)
Many people, especially the Pharisees, refused to believe that Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. John explains how even the neighbors of the man claimed it was not really him. “No, he only looks like him,” they said. “I am the man,” he replied. Then the Pharisees proclaimed that Jesus was a sinner because he did not keep the Sabbath. “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs,” they asked.
The Pharisees even questioned the man’s parents, but they could not explain the miracle either. “He is of age; ask him,” the mother and father said. So the Pharisees examined the man a second time. “Give glory to God,” they demanded, not to Jesus. “We know this man is a sinner.” The once-blind man looked at them and said, “Whether he is sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
How often during the day do we question what Jesus is doing in our lives? How many times do we, like the Pharisees, seek an explanation? We need to be more like the man who was healed. We must forget trying to analyze the situation and just accept what Jesus has done for us. All we really need to say is “I was blind but now I see!”
Waiting on God (Wednesday, October 29)
We often spend a great deal of our time waiting on God. We wait for him to answer our prayers, to give us direction, to fill us with peace and to comfort us with his very presence. While we may think we are simply wasting time because we are not moving forward, God is doing an important work in us.
There always is a purpose and a reason for waiting. During this difficult time, God is teaching us many things. He is helping us learn the act of patience. He also is showing us how to be persistent at the same time we are waiting.
When Jesus left the apostles for the final time, he told them to wait before going out into the world. They were not to do anything until they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. What thoughts and emotions must have gone through them as they anticipated the time to move out into the world. Surely, they wondered why God was holding them back from doing their work.
God was preparing their hearts and minds during this period of waiting. He was preparing them spiritually for the journey ahead. We need to remember their example and experience as we wait for God. Though we may think nothing is going on during this critical period, God is using the time to make us ready for what lies ahead.
Taking one step (Tuesday, October 28)
Whatever we need to do, we can do. Sometimes, however, we allow the world to defeat us even before we begin. We listen to other people, or even to our own minds, and think that the obstacle facing us is too big. We don’t see how we can be successful.
But God does not ask us to see the whole picture, from beginning to end, right away. He permits us to see only a small portion of what lies ahead. The reason is because we too easily lose our focus and our hope. Or we worry whether we will be successful. What if the apostles would have concentrated entirely on spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth; they would have become more concerned about telling the good news to everyone rather than on the message itself. The Lord gave them an enormous responsibility. They were able to accomplish what needed to be done through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through their own strength or vision.
When we encounter situations that seem impossible, we need to remember that God will show us what to do step by step. He will never overwhelm us by revealing everything that lies ahead. Quite simply, it would be too much for us to handle. Plus, we would become more focused on actually finishing the job than on how we accomplish the task. We will be ready for the next step in our journey only after we take this one.
How much time? (Monday, October 27)
Most people take life for granted. We do not fully appreciate what we have been given until we are faced with death. When we read or hear that someone has died, we stop – at least for the moment – to appreciate being alive. We are suddenly reminded that one day our life on earth will end. We never know when: a 17-year-old boy can die in an accident on the same day a 91-year-old woman dies peacefully in a nursing home.
We are given no guarantees on how long we will live, yet we always act as though we have an eternity. We get mad at people, we become upset, we hold onto anger; in each situation we tell ourselves we have plenty of time to make amends and apologies. Foolishly, we deceive ourselves by thinking we will take care of the problem tomorrow or the next day.
You and I try to comfort ourselves, even isolate ourselves, from death by believing that we will live for many more years. We have to understand, though, that only God knows. At the time of our birth, he determined our being. We may have many years remaining, but we may have only days or weeks. All we can do is to live today by glorifying God. It is the only way to make sure we spend our time wisely.
Changing ourselves (Sunday, October 26)
During times of great difficulty in our lives, how much are we willing to change in order to find God’s peace and comfort? Most people talk about being mad, upset, troubled or worried, and then they pray for God to help them. But few people are willing to do anything more. When faced with problems, many Christians find themselves lost in maze of religious turmoil – somewhere between doubt and confusion. They are not sure what to do and they are bewildered about which way to turn.
The answer is both inside of them and in front of them. Turning our hearts toward God in prayer and looking into his word are the only ways to restore calm to our lives. Doing one without the other is going only halfway. We have to be willing to go to God in prayer and solitude, but we also need to search his word for guidance and wisdom. God has given us the scriptures to help us. How it must delight him when we go through the Bible, chapter by chapter or verse by verse, seeking passages that will reveal his answer to our problem. When we use the Bible we are using what God has already given us. The rest will be given to us in prayer.
Yes, God can answer all our prayers in an instant. Sometimes, he wants to see how badly we want an answer, how much we are willing to do to bring about a change. God will always help us if we at least try to help ourselves. Often, though, we want to change without having to change ourselves.
Seeking righteousness (Saturday, October 25)
There is hardly a person living today who does not long for righteousness, whether individually or corporately. The truth of the matter, however, is that few are willing to commit their lives toward such a goal. Most people would rather complain about all of the problems in the world than to pursue the calm they are so desperately seeking. As a result, their hearts remain restless and their minds frustrated over what they see and hear daily.
Each moment, as we experience the problems and injustices around us, we grow more disillusioned about the present. Our despair may even erase any hope we might have for the future. Half-heartedly, we try to remind ourselves that God is in control, hoping our hollow words will make us believe.
There should be no doubt about God’s presence and power. He is in complete control. Not only does he want us to learn to trust him during every tribulation, but he yearns to give us his spiritual and mental comfort as well. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. Moreover, these people will be blessed because they have put the ways of God above all else.
What we are really doing, when we seek the righteousness of God, is putting him before everything else: before our desires, our hopes, our plans, even our frustrations and worries. As we seek his truth both for our personal lives and for the rest of world, we are filled with the knowledge that God reigns supreme in each and every situation.
Dedicating our lives to divine righteousness leads us toward a higher calling and a new level of living – to a peaceful place where we can find complete satisfaction in God’s holy and pure will.
Not alone (Friday, October 24)
You are not alone. Whether you have anxiety, concern, frustration or sorrow, you are not alone in bearing the burden. Those who love you – your family, friends, people at church – are praying for you. Much more, Jesus is there as well.
When our hearts are heavy, it helps to remember an old hymn:
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
We often suffer needlessly. We forfeit our peace because we try to bear our own burdens. God never intended for us to carry such a heavy load throughout the day. He gives us the privilege of prayer, the opportunity to let him hold onto all of our concerns, problems and anxieties.
When you remember all the people who want the best for you, and the fact that God is willing to assume your worry, you will be able to take pleasure in the many opportunities that await you today.
Focus on your ability, not your disability (Thursday, October 23)
There was a lovely cat at the local animal shelter. She was beige and white with clear, bright eyes. Suddenly, she got up and came over to the door of the cage. She had just one front leg, but she could hop just fine. The missing leg was not holding her back at all.
Many times in life we let our handicaps dictate what we can do. The disability keeps us from experiencing the fullness of life. In fact, we may even use the problem as an excuse for our limited ability. Still, others are able to push through limitations and prove they can do anything they put their minds to.
I have a cousin who has cerebral palsy. She is 63, lives by herself and is self-sufficient. She even has a special wheelchair she uses during the summer to go from her home to volunteer at the Cleveland Zoo over a mile away. I am amazed at what she has been able to do with her life, especially having her own business!
All of us have handicaps, whether they are physical or mental. St. Paul had an impairment of some type and he begged God to heal him. When God told him “my grace is sufficient for you,” Paul continued to press on. Paul was quick to realize God would help him overcome the shortcoming as long as he didn’t give up on himself.
Show, don’t tell (Wednesday, October 22)
People are always watching our actions and listening to our words to see if we are truly who we claim to be. Others want to know if we are different because we are Christians.
Does our “christianity” set us apart or make us distinct in any way? When we talk, for example, do we sound defensive, antagonistic or even angry? Do we open our mouth and speak our mind before we take time to seek God’s guidance? What about how we act? Perhaps we try to control every situation and each person. Maybe we are aggressive and rude in the workplace or on the highway. It could be, too, that we are more concerned about ourselves than with those around us.
There should be a difference that the world can see and hear about us. Whether we are sending an e-mail, talking on the phone, driving our car or shopping at the grocery store, people should notice there is something distinct, unique, about us.
Each day we have dozens of opportunities to show others what it means to be a Christian. They are watching carefully what we say and do, judging whether or not they want what we have.
Beauty in adversity (Tuesday, October 21)
A deeper, more intimate relationship with God is what all Christians seek. The problem is that most of us never want to be tested or tried. We never want to face adversity or go through dark valleys. We desire to experience only the beauty and pleasures of life.
Without difficulties and challenges, it is nearly impossible to draw closer to God. Troubles teach us to rely on God’s strength, not our own. Problems allow us to discover that God is in control of every situation and person. Obstacles show us what God can do when we have failed. We soon learn the great hope we have in God because of adverse events in our life.
When God brings us through a time of tremendous difficulty, an almost impossible situation, then we can more fully understand and appreciate his divine majesty. Otherwise, we would have no way of seeing his powerful but gentle hand at work each day. Great trials produce great faith – the very basis of a strong relationship with God.
Changes (Monday, October 20)
Things change in our lives often very quickly and without warning. Just one week ago, we were celebrating with my wife’s family. We had all gathered to mark her brother’s 75th birthday as well as his 50th wedding anniversary. Family flew into town from Florida and Texas. It was a wonderful time of fun and fellowship.
Now, his bride of 50 years has been hospitalized with blood clots in her lungs. Who could have known that lives would be turned upside in just a matter of days. My wife left yesterday morning to be with her brother during this difficult time.
When changes happen, we can be surprised. But not worried, shaken or fearful. We have God. He is with us through everything. One of the greatest blessings of being a Christian, no matter what occurs, is that we are never alone. Never.
Whatever changes you are facing right now, remember that God is unchanging. He has been the same forever. Put your faith in him, the rock of your salvation. You are completely safe and secure in his hand.
Encouraging work (Sunday, October 19)
There are no small jobs in the kingdom of God. Nor is any one person more valuable or less important than another. God uses each one of us in different ways and every person is critical. Peter and Paul did not spread the gospel alone. With them were dozens of disciples, perhaps a group of 70 or so, who were equally as committed. Barnabas was one such follower. His servant-filled heart did more to help the early church than we sometimes realize.
In the New Testament, the name of Barnabas appears 33 times and mostly in association with the missionary work of Paul. But Barnabas was more than a helper. Immediately after Pentecost, Barnabas was one of the first followers to sell his property and devote the proceeds to the church. Barnabas also convinced the apostles that Paul’s conversion to the faith was genuine. Barnabas also persuaded Paul to go to Antioch to preach while he went to distant Tarsus. He later joined Paul in Antioch and spent an entire year teaching with him. Barnabas was one of the disciples chosen to deliver offerings to the mother-church in Jerusalem during a famine. Then he was with Paul as they traveled to Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Finally, Barnabas sailed with John Mark to Cyprus.
Here and there, Barnabas served the Lord. Scripture does not record any great feats. What made Barnabas great was that he allowed the Lord to use him in small ways. All Barnabas did was to preach and teach. St. Luke says “he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of Faith.” Barnabas was a follower who did simple things in the kingdom. Everywhere he went, Barnabas lived up to his name – son of encouragement. God calls us, too, to live up to our name as Christians.
God's sovereign, unconditional love (Saturday, October 18)
We serve a sovereign God. But, do we understand what that means? As finite and imperfect creatures, how do we begin to grasp a being that is infinite, omniscient and omnipotent? More important, why would an all-powerful God desire our simple companionship, even our service?
There is only one answer: love. God’s supernatural love for us transcends everything else in the universe. We are more important to God than all of the stars, the sun, the oceans or the earth itself. He gave us the breath of life when we were born and each day, minute by minute, he watches over us. When we fail, he loves us. When we fall, he loves us. When we hate, he loves us. There is nothing we can do to make him turn away. He cannot because it is against his nature.
Our nature is to want to go through life following our own desires, our own will. It is only when we start to follow God’s plan for our life that we begin to understand the meaning of unconditional love. What happens then is we are placing God above everything else we think or want. Loving him is suddenly more important to us than our own life. Yes, God is sovereign. Yet he chooses to love us unconditionally because we are the most important thing in his life.
The Word made flesh (Friday, October 17)
The spiritual and the physical intersect at creation. This precise point is where we find “the word made flesh.” All that is seen today – the earth, the seas, the heavens, our bodies – began as thought in the very mind of God. With his divine and holy breath, God spoke the world into being. The invisible substance and spirit of God coalesced to become physical matter.
As human beings, we do not perceive the eternal dimensions of the universe. We know only of life with its beginning, middle and end. We understand little of the spiritual elements that are at work throughout the world. We can experience them only in subtle, sublime ways, using the limited abilities we possess as human beings. We can feel the power of the Holy Spirit, for example, or hear the voice of God. We can even see God working in our lives. But the true essence of God is completely beyond our finite comprehension.
The physical nature of God – that which we encounter as human beings – reflects only a fraction of His totality. God cannot be represented fully by the physical alone, for His greatness cannot be contained in one dimension. God surpasses all that we can see, feel or hear. God has no beginning or end; he is both spirit and flesh yet neither one nor the other; he is the past, present and future on all levels; he is everywhere at every time. Put simply, he is. Trying to understand God by relying on our paltry senses is to diminish His eternal form and power.
God is far beyond our comprehension, yet he reveals a part of himself through creation. This act alone should show us just how important we are to Him. We were created in His image; our lives, and all that is in the earth, are physical reflections and reminders of His infinite being and love.
Pushing forward (Thursday, October 16)
My wife looked at me the other morning and said, “I feel stressed.” Trying to brighten her outlook, I pretended not to hear her correctly. “You feel stretched,” I asked. She didn’t laugh. Really, though, isn’t that what God is doing when he allows trials and tribulations to come our way? He is stretching us.
The Bible is full of examples of ordinary people who were stretched to become extraordinary believers. The list begins in Genesis and goes all of the way through to Revelation: one person after another who allowed God to challenge them and lead them to a higher, more heavenly, life.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because,” says James 1:12, “having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Either we are stronger or weaker after any test whether it is physical, mental or spiritual. One thing is for sure: we do not stay the same. Job was almost pushed beyond his limits. In the end, God gave him double what he had in the beginning.
Whenever you feel stressed, think about being stretched. God always is trying to get us to go beyond where we are now.
Our complete restoration (Wednesday, October 15)
Job lost his family and fortune. Moses lost the kingdom of Egypt. Paul lost his sight. In each case, the Lord restored life and blessings far beyond what any of these men could have ever dreamed. Certainly, we know that God can and does restore money, prominence, reputation, influence and health to all sorts of people. The Bible tells of the many times when God restored kingdoms, nations and individuals.
But the real question is, “Will God restore me?” There should be no doubt that he will. No matter what we have done, God promises to restore us and to finish the work he began in us if we are willing to do all he asks. We do not know how long the process will take because we are all different. Job suffered for many years. Moses had to wait an entire generation before God brought him back to Egypt. Paul was blinded for a few days.
We are always concerned about time, just as people living centuries ago. Writing to the Christians in the northwest section of Asia Minor, Peter reminded them that God’s restoration surely will come. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10 ). God promises to restore all we have lost or given up in his name.
Still, we worry about how quickly it will come. We wonder how long we will have to suffer. Peter was emphasizing the everlasting truth of God’s word. The pain and anguish last only “a little while.” Instead of always thinking about what we have lost, we must focus on what we have in God and in our loved ones. God knows us inside and out; he sees our heart and he loves us. Family and friends know us as well; they know who we are and they love us, too. The only way for us to get through this short time of suffering is to place our full hope in the eternal love that comes from God. Such love surpasses anything we will ever have to endure in life, and it can give us the earthly restoration we need as human beings to press on.
Living for the future (Tuesday, October 14)
Nothing in life is truly ours. All that we are and have belongs to God. For a brief time, we use what has been given to us – finances, house, cars, our vocation and even our physical bodies – in order to do God’s work on earth. These things came from God and they belong to him. They are merely tools to make our work for the kingdom easier and more efficient.
Unfortunately, many people place all of their joy in temporal objects, such as a large house or a particular type of car. Some people are extremely proud of pieces of furniture, a boat or a painting. The reality is that everything we see around us will perish eventually. Decades from now, the house in which we live or the car we drive right now will not matter in the least.
What will make a difference, however, is what we cannot see right now. The love we have for our family and friends, our dedication toward God, our work for the church, the hours we spend in prayer and meditation – these will last clear into eternity. These are the kinds of things that bring us closer and nearer to God. A new house or car does little to develop our relationship with God.
We can easily be caught up in the values of the world. But we need to tell ourselves, as well as the world, that as Christians we have a higher purpose in living. We are placing all of our hope and sights on eternal life. In order to reach our goal and to finish the race, we are living for the future. We are exchanging the earthly for the eternal, the finite for the infinite, the un-lasting for the everlasting.
Renewing our strength (Monday, October 13)
Sometimes we become tired and weary, worn down by the struggles of life. We may feel as though our energy is gone – that it will take all of the remaining strength we possess to make it through today. What has happened? What has taken away our enthusiasm and joy?
Chances are we have become too involved in the world. We have allowed ourselves to get caught up in petty disagreements, the judgments of others, and the demands of our own schedule. Rather than looking at the world from a Christian perspective, we examine everything from a human viewpoint. We see people and situations only from our earthly perception.
What often remains invisible to us are God’s many blessings: the protection, the love, the guidance that He provides. We also are blind to the possibilities and challenges that await us. We do not notice, either, the miracles that have brought us to this time and day; we conveniently forget the past when we forget our purpose for being here.
You and I have a reason to be joyous and a purpose for today. You already know what you must do, and so do I. We need to believe in God and have faith in Him. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). We must put our trust in the name above all other names, no matter what we witness. God will renew our strength through his righteousness.
Time flies (Sunday, October 12)
There is an interesting paradox when it comes to measuring time and our days here on earth. As we look ahead in anticipation of a dream vacation or visiting family members far away, the days go by slowly. It seems to take forever to get to that “special day.” Ironically, when we look back on the many great occasions in our life, the years have somehow slipped away very quickly. Time, of course, has not changed; it remains the same in the past, present and future. What does change, however, is our perspective and perception.
Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary. How difficult it was for me to believe that we have been together, day after day and year after year, for nearly four decades. To me, our wedding day in 1972 is so near and close – as if only a few months have gone by since this beautiful ceremony. I remember, too, being on the other side of this day as we waited to be married. We thought the moment would never arrive. Even now, the time before our wedding seems much longer than the time after.
Perhaps our thoughts about God are sometimes similar. As we look toward eternity with Him, each day may appear longer than 24 hours. On the other hand, looking back on our lives we realize just how fast the years have gone by. Ten years in the past can seem like only a few days ago, but 10 years in the future may feel like forever.
We cannot alter time, but we can adjust how we use it or even how we view it. Each second is a precious gift from God to be used in a special way. All that matters is that we live each day fully and for his glory. Yes, life is short but there is plenty of time to accomplish all that he has planned for us.
Watch the signs (Saturday, October 11)
On a dark night, the small yellow sign ahead will tell you which way the road bends even though you have never been here before. You receive a notice, a warning if you will, of what you cannot see right now. In a matter of moments, that painted sign off to the right could save your life. It all depends on what you do.
Our lives in Christ are much the same. We have God’s word, the Bible, to tell us what to do and how to react. Verse after verse warns us of what lies ahead even though we cannot see any immediate danger. God will keep us safe if we listen to him, and if we do what we are told. But again, it depends on what we do.
How many times each day do we ignore the signposts in our lives? God tells us to be kind, yet we yell at the person who cuts us off on the freeway. He teaches us to be helpful, but we won’t even return our grocery cart; we leave it in the middle of the parking lot. God says to love those around us, yet we stay inside our houses hoping that no one will bother us. He even commands us to spread the good news of eternal salvation, but we worry only about ourselves and those whom we accept.
Our journey through life is full of markers – heavenly pointers that show us the way to God. All we have to do is to follow them. Nothing could be easier. God makes it simple for us to stay on track, but we often think we know best even though we have never been this way before. The warning signs are there for a reason. They are there for our own good.
Trusting him (Friday, October 10)
How do we reconcile the fact that this world is not perfect, but we know that God’s will is? Logically speaking, we would expect God to fashion a world devoid of sin, death, toil or pain. We might argue, too, that God knew Adam and Eve would bring sin into paradise. Why would he allow anything to ruin what he had made pure and perfect?
Pondering such questions says more about our desires than it does about our curiosity to know the answers. First of all, we would not understand God if he did tell us the reasons for these things. Second, knowing the answers would not bring the change we are seeking. In truth, what we want to know is why we have to suffer so much in our lives? “I know your will is perfect, God,” we say. “I know you are good and that you love me. But why must I endure pain and sorrow? Why can’t you heal me? Why can’t you punish the unrighteous? Why can’t you eliminate poverty, hunger and sickness?”
God is able to do anything he desires. His ways, however, are not our ways. He is heavenly; we are human. God sees the visible as well as the invisible; we see only the physical. Who are we to declare that some things seem unfair or unjust? We see only the small portion of the suffering that affects us.
God would not be God if we could understand all he does and why. All we really need to know is the importance of trusting God to do what is best.
Stay plugged in to God (Thursday, October 9)
A young man went running down the street. He was plugged in to an iPod and enjoying his favorite music. Sometimes we are like that runner even though we try to be like Jesus. We get so caught up in doing our own thing that we can’t hear anything else.
Perhaps God is trying to talk to us, but we are too busy talking to the person beside us. Maybe God is trying to show us how to be content, but we have our own way of finding happiness. Possibly God is trying to get us to slow down, but we are absorbed in racing from one place to another.
Whenever we are plugged in to the world, we are blocking out God. Often, we don’t hear him because we are listening to the many other “voices” all around us: the television, radio, people next door, a friend, books we read and the emotions we have. There is only one voice we need to hear – that of God.
Whatever you are doing today, don’t block out the Lord. Make sure you are plugged in to him and listening to his will. Nothing will catch you by surprise or off guard if you take the time to hear him speak. “I will listen to what God the Lord says,” proclaims the psalmist. “He promises peace to his people, his faithful servants” (Psalm 85:8).
God is our source (Wednesday, October 8)
What we say reveals what we are thinking. If we are bothered by an event or situation, it will be obvious in the words we use and in the tone of our voice. Anger inside always produces anger outside. The same is true with happiness.
“My mouth shall speak wisdom,” says Psalm 49:3. “The mediation of my heart shall be understanding.” Wisdom is not shallow or superficial. Words of understanding, compassion and knowledge come from deep down inside – in the heart where God lives and breathes.
When we meditate on God, on his righteousness and grace, we cannot help ourselves from loving as God loves. From his perspective, we see the world through his eyes. We embrace the goodness and beauty wherever we go rather than ugliness.
Your happiness today begins in the heart. Let people see and hear your joy in the Lord. He has showered you with wisdom because you understand he is the source of all good things.
Keep your peace (Tuesday, October 7)
Did you ever have “one of those days” when nothing went right? Yesterday was not my day. To begin with, the lock on the front door broke even though it had a lifetime warranty. I called the manufacturer to find out what to do. They gave me instructions on how to fix the door, but first I had to go to the hardware store to buy a certain tool. Then the special glue I bought to repair two items did not work. Next came the vacuum cleaner; it was not self-propelling itself across our new pile carpet. Finally, I had to send an email to a sporting goods company because my new running shoes were falling apart!
My wife and I had planned to go to the movies. The day could have been so much different; certainly, much more relaxing. But other things came up. How do we handle ourselves when sudden changes occur—when we have to deal with the unexpected and put our plans on hold? Most of us probably accept the changes, but not willingly. We let the changes change our personality by stealing our happiness.
There are ways to keep ourselves under control when things get out of control. A man I met years ago said when the unexpected happened, he always asked God what he should learn from the experience. Another way is to sing the song “This Joy I Have” with its lyrics “This joy I have, the world didn’t give it to me. The world didn’t give it to me and the world can’t take it away.” We also can remember the scripture “Be still and know that I am God.”
No matter what works for you, put God first and everything will turn out fine no matter what life or Satan throws at you.
Would you die for him? (Monday, October 6)
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul mentions a person named Epaphroditus. This man was sent from the church at Philippi with an offering to help Paul continue spreading the gospel. Paul wrote that Epaphroditus became gravely ill during his visit and almost died.
Paul wanted his sisters and brothers back in Philippi to know that Epaphroditus nearly gave his life for “the work of Christ.” There can be no higher calling for a Christian: that of dying for Jesus in service for him.
I sometimes wonder how many people today that are as dedicated. I also wonder if I would be willing to die for Christ. Would I give up my very life on this earth for Jesus? It is a tough question, but one we must tackle.
Once we are able to answer “Yes I would die for him,” then we are truly free to live for him and to do whatever he asks of us.
Beyond description (Sunday, October 5)
At the end of his gospel about Jesus, John cites but a few of the things Jesus did while he was on earth for 40 days after his resurrection. He talks about Jesus’s conversation with Peter, Jesus making breakfast for the disciples and Jesus telling them to drop their nets on the other side of the boat. Finally, he writes that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
John was making the point that what Jesus did in the lives of people everywhere – after his resurrection alone – could not be contained in all the earth. Think of what he has done in your life alone: his miracles would fill the Library of Congress. How much more would be written for that of your family, not to mention all those in your church.
Recently, I cleaned out this website from all the devotions I had posted over the past two years. I was amazed that these short, four paragraph devotions filled 286 typed pages! More incredible are the many thoughts God had given me for this period of devotions, let alone the previous eight years. As I think back, the 10 years of daily devotions have only scratched the surface of what he has showed me and done for me.
I understand how John must have felt. He was overwhelmed by the goodness and glory of Jesus and he had no way of describing the indescribable. That is both the beauty and mystery of God.
Little people with big jobs (Saturday, October 4)
Who hasn’t thought about being famous and well-known? How about being president of the United States, the CEO of a multinational company, an actor, singer or musician? As nice as fame can be, it’s the people like you and me who really keep things moving in this world. We so-called little people make a huge difference!
I am thinking about the church secretary, the choir director, the organist, the volunteers in the kitchen at all of the church events. In the community, there are those who work at the power company, the gas company, the phone company and the water company. Then there are people who deliver mail, work in law enforcement and public safety, collect trash and maintain our roads. Our lives would be very different without each one of these individuals.
You and I may often be overlooked for someone more prominent, but our work and service are critical to the Lord’s purpose. God knew what he was doing when he gave us separate gifts and talents. We have abilities unique only to us and God is glorified whenever we use them.
Perhaps one of the many meanings in the parable of the vineyard workers is we are not always who we think we are. "So the last will be first,” Jesus said, “and the first will be last" (Matthew 20:16). Those who began working early in the morning and did the most thought they should be paid more than everyone else. What they did not realize is it is up to the master to decide. People in important positions often believe they are more valuable than anyone else. Maybe they are in this world, but not in the next one—the one that truly matters.
Cruise control Christianity (Friday, October 3)
Think back to the first time you got behind the wheel. My father started yelling at me because I was weaving all over the street. He was worried I would hit a parked car or, worse yet, an oncoming car. Through the years driving has become almost second nature to me. I would guess the same is true for you.
Few of us even have to concentrate while driving, especially when we are on the freeway and the car is in cruise control. We sometimes do the same in our faith. We put our Christianity on cruise control and glide through the day without really thinking. But, like driving a vehicle, it takes only a second for something to happen. We have to remain alert and keep our hearts focused on what lies ahead.
We must always be prepared. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” wrote St. Paul. “But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Many times we don’t even see what is coming around the bend ahead until it is too late.
Jesus said, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In other words, don’t take chances by putting your faith on cruise control. Stay alert. You and I can’t afford to coast through the day. There is too much to lose.
A “selfie” with Jesus (Thursday, October 2)
If Jesus were here in the flesh today, I imagine all sorts of people would want to take a selfie with him. He would not be able to go anywhere, or do anything, without people stopping him for a quick photo. But would these pictures really mean anything?
The selfie would not show anything about whether the person actually believed in Jesus. It would be a photo op only; one more snapshot for the bucket list. No doubt the people in Jesus’s day looked at him in the same way. Many probably bragged “Jesus touched me” or “I touched Jesus.” But the phrase would ring hollow unless the individual had a living, personal relationship with Jesus.
I want to do more than stand next to Jesus. I also want much more than to touch him. I want him to live in and through me. I want to follow him wherever he leads me and I want to spend eternity with him.
A selfie with Jesus would be just that: a picture of me and Jesus. Nothing more. What really matters in this case is what we can’t see.
Controlling our emotions (Wednesday, October 1)
Well, yesterday morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Way on the wrong side. It’s one thing when a child has a meltdown. Quite another when it is an adult. Before I could stop myself, I was complaining about all kinds of things. I did not want to get up in the first place and I went downhill from there.
The problem is I did not stop myself from how I felt. I let my mind run away with my emotions. If only I would have taken a few minutes in solitude with the Lord, I could have avoided my tantrum. When I finally calmed down an hour later, I was exhausted. Worse, I had to apologize to my wife.
How often do we forget that God has given us the ability, as well as the intelligence, to avoid being upset and angry? Paul was not angry when he was almost stoned to death. Instead, the next morning he went back into the city to give the people another chance to hear about salvation. David did not try to kill King Saul when he had the chance; rather, he forgave him. The point is we can stop ourselves from overreacting when we want to do so.
Letting our emotions control our mind is dangerous. Perhaps Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek can help us. We can turn away from being upset, but first we have to think about what we are doing rather than just reacting.
Replacing the past with triumph (Tuesday, September 30)
God was with Moses during 40 years in exile. God was with Joseph during 14 years in prison. God was with Job through years of suffering. Day after day, God was present offering his strength, his love and his hope. In the end, what the world remembers is the triumph, not the trial. The long period of struggle for each of these followers no longer mattered; all of the difficulty and loneliness disappeared forever. God brought them through and their lives would never be the same.
The present is not important once it becomes the past. As soon as the many hours, days, even years, of tribulation are over, they are replaced by what God is doing now. The magnificence of his present plan always overshadows the pain of the past.
The hope of living comes in looking to that day when the waiting has ended and God reveals the miraculous things he can do through us. Even though we may have been in exile, in prison or in pain, God will use us. He will take the weakness in us to show the greatness in him. When that moment arrives, nothing else will matter; the past will be gone in an instant, in the blink of an eye, as God restores all we have lost just as he did for Moses, Joseph and Job.
Small but great gifts (Monday, September 29)
God has made us to accomplish our every purpose in life. The simple gifts he has given us are more than sufficient to bring about the end for which we were created.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the people to complete the work that God has begun in them. Now finish the work, Paul writes, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, he adds, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
What we do for the Lord is based on our willingness to serve him. If we have conviction in our hearts to undertake what God asks, then we also possess the gifts necessary to achieve the task. God does not give us the will without the way. Both the desire and the ability to please him go hand in hand; one cannot exist without the other.
There is no point in dwelling on what we lack, Paul says. The human weaknesses are not important. All that matters are the divine gifts we do possess. These talents, small though they may be, are great enough to accomplish anything the Lord places in our heart.
Shoes of peace (Sunday, September 28)
St. Paul says we need to put on the whole armor of God so that we can stand against any adversary. “For shoes,” he said, “put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared” (Ephesians 6:15). Well, I certainly wasn’t wearing my shoes of peace recently. I was angry and upset.
The reason? Our son’s fiancé moved out on him one day while he was at work. He came home to find all of her clothes and furniture gone. To make matters worse, she left the engagement ring on a dresser upstairs with no note at all.
My wife and I have had a hard time accepting what this woman did to our son. Not only did she hurt him, but she hurt his eight-year-old daughter. We felt bad for both of them. No doubt our anger showed as we went from store to store. I know we did not look happy, even though we believe things will work out in the future.
I thought of how God must have felt when his son was crucified. Even though God knew Jesus would triumph in just three days, he no doubt felt his son’s pain and suffering. Perhaps you are hurting right now. Remember, God is hurting for you, too. You are not alone and never will be. Thank God he was with me even when I wasn’t wearing my shoes of peace.
He is our example of creation (Saturday, September 27)
The creations of the past are all around. Everywhere there are houses, stores, office buildings churches and schools. We may not have seen those who built these structures, but we know construction does not occur on its own.
When it comes to the world and nature, many people argue that what we see evolved logically over billions of years. They discount any notion at all of a universe created by one God. Instead, they believe that what exists today is nothing more than happenstance.
We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say the earth accidentally came into being, but a house or a building was created. I should think we would have greater success trying to convince someone that a house evolved out of the forest around it than to say everything on this planet grew out of chaos in space.
We cannot suspend physics merely because of our notions and whims. The physical laws of this world are a reflection of God’s laws throughout the universe. The act of creation is real whether it occurs here on earth in what we see or elsewhere in what we cannot see. God created all things, seen and unseen. If something as simple as a building cannot evolve by itself, how can we ever expect an entire world to form on its own?
Showing his grace (Friday, September 26)
How would God want us to react to a candlelight vigil for two men who are killed during a robbery? The gunmen were shot by a gas station attendant who suffered two shots himself and the vigil was conducted at the scene of the crime.
We might be tempted to condemn a vigil for two robbers. Many people would say these men do not deserve a vigil because of what they did. Perhaps. The aunt of one of the men told a reporter at the vigil that the two just made a bad decision. All of us make bad decisions as we go through life, yet God forgives us time and time again.
As much as we feel a vigil was in bad taste, we as Christians must take the high road – that of how God expects us to act. He certainly would want us to respect the lives of both men, despite how they died. They, like all of us, are children of God. Family and friends were mourning the loss by remembering them.
When we find ourselves judging others by our feelings, we need remember how to act. We must make sure our hearts are bigger than our heads. Compassion is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. We are here to show God’s glory as well as his grace.
Divine harmony of praise (Thursday, September 25)
As we lift our different voices in song, praise and worship to God, we join the eternal chorus of past, present and future. From out of our mouths, each with a diverse pitch and tone, come unique sounds that blend together in a divine harmony unlike any other in the universe.
God made us for one another, but he created us for himself. He desires that we come together, from all walks of life, to serve and please him. The sounds of our daily lives echo throughout the entire cosmos for all eternity.
We may not hear this marvelous melody of the spheres. It is there, nonetheless, high above the din of earthly noise, unaffected by the forces of darkness. Our voices and our many acts of goodness reflect the life we breathe. Together, we are evidence of God’s beauty, love and holiness.
His miraculous plan (Wednesday, September 24)
It was something so simple, yet profound, that we still marvel how one event changed our lives. In 1980, my wife and I were invited to the baptism of the newborn who lived behind us in Florida. It was held in a small church not far from our house. We enjoyed the people and the church, and went back to visit for the next few Sundays.
Eventually, we joined the 50-member church. My wife sang in the choir and served on various committees while I taught Sunday School and attended the monthly men’s prayer breakfasts. Soon, I even became an elder.
That was almost 35 years ago. Through all of our trials and various moves from one state to another, we have remained strong in the same denomination. In fact, we just joined the church (of the same denomination) down the street where we can continue God’s call on our lives.
It is impossible to list all of the things God has done in our lives in the past. To do so would take days, maybe weeks. All I know is that none of it – not one solitary event – has been by chance. Everything was because of God’s divine providence that began with a tiny baby.
Bearing good fruit (Tuesday, September 23)
Are you rooted in the word of God? Are you strong enough to weather any storm and not fall down? Much depends on how deep your roots grow into the living soil of God.
We need to be “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in due season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
We produce fruit in due season. As much as we would like to bear fruit all of the time, we must realize that there is a time for rest and restoration. We need to remember, too, that whatever we do prospers whether in or out of season. Perhaps you have known people who always want to bear fruit. They want to be the liturgist at worship service; they sing in the choir, they greet visitors, they chair numerous committees and they teach Sunday School. What they do not realize is no one can do everything.
An apple tree can produce only one kind of fruit. So it is with us. Discern what type of fruit the Lord made you to produce. Then, sink your roots deep into his good ground and bear the best fruit you can from one season to the next.
Answering the call (Monday, September 22)
What would be our reaction today if Jesus called us to follow him just as he did with the 12 disciples some 2,000 years ago? All that we know of this man, who calls himself the Son of God, is that he has proclaimed amazing things and healed many. We have seen and heard him. Now, he suddenly turns to us and asks us to go with him.
We must decide in an instant. The master will not wait. We have no time to ponder the consequences or to prepare for the journey ahead. We must choose whether we are willing to leave our career, leave our possessions, leave our family, leave the comforts of home, leave everything for the sake of doing the will of the one whom this Jesus calls the Father.
In the blink of an eye, our future will be changed forever. With extraordinary confidence, Jesus tells us his way leads to eternal life while the other ends in death. In the next breath, we must give an account of what we are willing to do. Either we remain here or we step forward toward him.
This same story is repeated over and over – through the hours, days, months and years of our lives. Each one of us has been chosen for a specific purpose, but only we can decide whether to answer the call. Moreover, we must accept the invitation openly and eagerly. He will not force himself upon us, even though he longs for us to join him. It is entirely up to us. Jesus can use us only if we love him more than we love all we must leave behind.
“So do not fear” (Sunday, September 21)
Now that it’s over, I am glad I agreed to speak. I gave the address at two separate ceremonies honoring Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action. My father was a Prisoner of War in World War II and spent 11 months in a make-shift prison hospital. I was honored to talk about my father after all was said and done.
Months earlier, when I accepted the engagement, I almost said no. I get terribly nervous whenever I speak in public and I did not want to embarrass myself. As I had done so many times before, I turned to the Lord in prayer and in scripture.
“So do not fear,” God told Isaiah (41:10). “For I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
When I got up to speak at both events, I still was nervous. But, surprisingly, I was not afraid. God was with me and his heavenly strength allowed me to overcome my human fear.
Don’t fret or worry (Saturday, September 20)
The label on a popular sports drink says, “As in life, chill for best results.” I wonder how many people have actually seen the advice and followed it. Chilling is a difficult thing for us to do, especially when we get hot.
A modern version of the Bible puts this timeless message in today’s words: “Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Before we can let go of fret or worry, we have to grab on to Jesus. He is the only one who can calm us down because he goes right to the heart of the problem.
The next time you are tempted to be anxious, remember the one who is your anchor. Hold on to him and don’t let go. He will give you the strength to let go of all worry.
Made in heaven (Friday, September 19)
We can easily forget who we are. Each day we need to tell ourselves that we are children of God – and the heirs of his kingdom – not of the world.
Too often we allow the words and thoughts of other people to shape us and mold us. We have a tendency to see ourselves through their eyes rather than the eyes of God. People look at our weaknesses, but God looks at our strengths. People dwell on our mistakes, but God dwells on our accomplishments. People judge our motives, but God judges our heart. People remember our past, but God forgets and forgives.
We are much more than what people perceive. Even those closest to us rarely think of us in the same way as God. He goes beyond our appearance, our actions, our situation and our circumstances. He sees the pure and holy being he created.
Whenever we are tempted to think any less of ourselves, we need to turn our attention to God and remind ourselves that we are made in his image.
Crossing the line (Thursday, September 18)
Each day I walk past a certain house with a dog in the yard. He usually runs right at me, barking wildly, but he knows how far he can go. There is an electric fence in case he crosses the line.
In life, we seem to know how far we can go and still get away with something. Even so, that doesn’t stop us from shouting or barking like that dog. We tend to excuse ourselves by saying we didn’t cross the line or we had a right to say what we did.
Remember the story of King David? His lust for Bathsheba caused him to order the murder of her husband and to father an illegitimate child. David certainly crossed the line with God and things were never the same in his life.
Let’s always take the time to think before we act. Let’s consider the consequences, both with others and with God, before we cross the line.
A helping heart (Wednesday, September 17)
The heart can lead us where our sight and feelings do not want to go. We may see someone who is lonely, depressed, anxious or in need of help. Our feelings tell us not to become involved, to let people work out their own problems and difficulties. Yet, at the same time, our heart reaches out to comfort and console.
Our compassion for those around us needs to be strong enough to reach out, no matter what might happen. We have to be willing to risk being rejected and hurt. We must have the heart of Jesus and the love of God so we are not held back by what we see or feel as human beings.
The first thought should be to do whatever we can for others – to care for them as Jesus would and to serve as he did. Each day, God places us in situations where we can show that he is working through us. We are his heart and hands. We are here in the world for him, not for ourselves.
Peace on earth (Tuesday, September 16)
The sign on the church down the street reads “Peace on Earth,” reminding all who pass by of the scripture from Luke 2:14: "Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." Oddly, Christmas was nine months ago.
Perhaps the message remains to say that peace is needed throughout the year. We need peace in our world. We need peace in our nation. We need peace in our neighborhoods. We need peace in our schools. We need peace in our families.
Before Jesus left the disciples, he told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
The sort of peace we really need today is the kind that comes only from God. We must first find our place and our peace in him. Then and only then can we spread the lasting peace of heaven with others rather than the temporary peace of the world.
Singing a new song (Monday, September 15)
Listening to the church choir warming up before Sunday morning service is an interesting experience. They sing all kinds of notes, and make all sorts of sounds, up and down the scale. As a percussionist, I do not totally understand all that they are doing; it seems somewhat strange to me.
How God works through us and with us is a mystery as well. What he is doing, though, is probably much like the exercises of the choir when they tune and stretch their voices. God always is making us better, stronger and more in harmony with his will.
“O sing to the Lord a new song,” exclaims the psalmist (Psalm 96). “Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” Each day is new and each experience is fresh when we follow his way.
May you let the Lord stretch you today. Let him warm you up and exercise your life. Practice what he is teaching you until your voice is completely in tune with his.
We belong now (Sunday, September 14)
There is no waiting to be an heir of the kingdom of God. The moment we accept Jesus Christ and ask for his forgiveness, we are brought into the family. We do not have to wait until we die to receive our inheritance. We possess it now.
Even as we go through our day to day activities, we are one with the body in heaven. We are as much a part of God’s kingdom as those who are with him now in eternity. He is no less present here on earth than he is in heaven.
His love, mercy, comfort, peace and joy are with us – no matter where we might be. Sometimes we forget a portion of the final message to the apostles. We quickly recall that Jesus commanded them to make disciples of all nations and to baptize in his holy name, but we overlook his very last words: “And surely I am with you always.” He was not implying that he would be with his followers someday in heaven. He is promising he will be with them as they serve him here on earth.
God is with us today, at this very moment, just as he is with those in eternity. The same God who reigns in heaven is the same one who lives with us today. We are daughters and sons of the Most High, both now and forever.
Sisters and brothers in Christ (Saturday, September 13)
A woman whom I knew from work died a few days ago. I had not seen Mary in probably a dozen years or so. Even when she worked in an office down the hall from me, I saw her only occasionally. I did not want to go to her calling hours, but went anyway.
Her husband and son, a former student of mine at the university, remembered us. They also remembered an event that I had forgotten: We had friends who had a hot air balloon and we arranged for Mary to take a ride with them. In exchange, she gave the couple a Sheltie from a litter of puppies they were raising.
On the way back home from calling hours, I told my wife I was happy we went. We had a chance to reconnect with Mary’s family once again. More importantly, we were there to extend our condolences and to offer our support during a difficult time. Our presence also told them that we remembered Mary and that she made a difference in our lives.
I recall the words of St. Paul: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). The family was mourning the loss of Mary and so were we. We will not forget her and we will remember also the good times, brief as they were, with her.
Letting him live in us (Friday, September 12)
In many ways, you and I are like the early disciples. Our lives now are mirrored in their lives then. Just as Jesus called to us, he called to them and they followed. They listened and learned as he walked beside them. He taught them where to go, what to say, how to act and why to love. They trusted him and believed in him. Gradually, they came to understand their real purpose here on earth.
One day Jesus was no longer at their side. Instead, his spirit was there to guide, comfort and protect them. Now Jesus was truly living in them. He could finally work through them rather than for them.
As his disciples today, we find the greatest fulfillment when Christ is living inside of us. When we can listen to his indwelling presence, despite what circumstances tell us, then we are following what Jesus came to show us about the kingdom.
We cannot be a part of Jesus if he lives apart from us. The life we have been given is for him. If he is going to work through us, he must live inside of us so we become one with him.
Giving everything (Thursday, September 11)
Living for Christ depends on what we are willing to give away. We tend to think of donating food or money in order to help others. But there are more important gifts. We are called to sacrifice those things which have little meaning – to us personally or to others – unless we give them away.
Ironically, we cannot buy or accumulate precious items such as love, time, help, care and prayer. Each one of these is given freely to us to use and share with one another. If we try to keep them to ourselves, they lose their value both in the world and in the kingdom.
Jesus showed us how to give our very lives to others. He offered love to the multitudes, spent time with those who were lost and suffering, helped the sick and lame, cared for the hungry, and prayed for his enemies. He taught us the importance, as well as the divine necessity, of true sacrificial living.
Until we learn the eternal principle of surrender to self, we will never be able to fully enjoy God as he desires. But once we make the willful decision to give away ourselves to others just as Jesus did, we begin to understand the hidden beauty of serving God.
The parables of living (Wednesday, September 10)
Jesus used parables to tell people about the truth. These word pictures taught spiritual lessons to help them understand the way of righteousness. When the disciples asked Jesus why he taught in parables, he replied: “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them (nonbelievers) it has not been granted” (Matthew 13:11).
As followers of Jesus, we understand the stories. The parable of the sower tells us if we plant our lives in God, we will produce much. The parable of the net shows us how the good will be separated from the bad. The parable of the 10 virgins teaches us to be prepared for the day when the Lord appears.
Yet, those who are not willing to listen to Jesus do not comprehend. In the first parable, nonbelievers might argue that people are much different than seeds. In the second, that good and bad fish have nothing to do with how we live. In the third, that the five virgins who kept their extra oil to themselves were not fair to the other five who suddenly needed more.
You and I see the obvious lesson in each parable. There are many, though, who do not have even the slightest clue. Part of the reason may be because they hear but do not listen. Another reason might be due to their worldly hearts; they cannot see beyond their daily lives. Let us be thankful today we know the mysteries of heaven. Let us also take the time trying to help others understand. Perhaps if they begin to comprehend the parables of Jesus, they might want to give their lives to him.
Opening the windows of heaven (Tuesday, September 9)
When God showers blessings on us, he does it in a huge downpour. I have experienced his cascade of mercy and grace many times in my life. It is true what he says: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10).
I recall a time when God opened his floodgates on my life! His love rushed out like an enormous waterfall. First, I was blessed by finishing a book I was editing. Second, I received word that a groundbreaking volume on the media had been produced, and it included a chapter I had written. Third, two of my articles were published. Fourth, I received recognition for something I had done.
All of this was more than I could take in. My mind did not have space enough to contain so many gifts all at once! What surprised most me about the experience was how I felt. I should have been proud, happy, satisfied. Instead, I was feeling meek and humble. I knew I did not deserve any of this, no more than anyone else. It was at that moment, perhaps for the very first time, I realized what an honor it is to serve God. We should always count it a great privilege whenever we have the opportunity to do anything for him.
The next time he gives us work to do, let us be grateful instead of grumbling. He takes pleasure in blessing us when we take delight in pleasing him.
His reflection (Monday, September 8)
We do not always see our real image when we look in the mirror. If you are like me, you may see what is not there. Many times I picture someone younger, stronger and more handsome. I do not notice the tired eyes, the balding head, the gray hair and the flabby cheeks.
The apostle James said that we should be careful not to deceive ourselves. We ought not to think more of ourselves than we are. Jesus told the temple priests that they were like white-washed tombs, that they had eyes but could not see, that they could swallow a camel but choke on a gnat.
What did you see this morning in the mirror? I wonder how we would look if we used the Bible as our mirror. No doubt it would not give us the image we are seeking. Let us take more time to look at ourselves with eyes wide open and see how we can improve as God’s reflection here on earth.
An opportunity to do good (Sunday, September 7)
He was defeated in his run for the state legislature, suffered a nervous breakdown, failed in business, defeated in a race for congress, twice lost in a bid for the senate and defeated in nomination for the vice president. Still, in 1860 Abraham Lincoln decided to make a bid for the presidency. The rest is history.
What if Lincoln would have given up in 1859 and decided he was not going to keep trying? After all, he had suffered more setbacks in his short life than several people do in an entire lifetime.
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary,” wrote St. Paul. “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:9-10).
Doing good to all people is difficult at times, but we must keep trying to do what is right. Even when we are worn out and tired. Let us remember that being good is an opportunity to show who lives in us.
Make disciples (Saturday, September 6)
The great commission is our mission. We know what we are called to do. Go and make disciples of all nations, Jesus commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The question is how do we do it?
Perhaps we give money to various charities that support missionaries here and abroad. Maybe we take an occasional mission trip ourselves. We might collect used Bibles or books that are then sent to people far away. Many of us also help Bible translators who can put scripture into native languages all over the world.
We can also become personally involved in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Never before has it been easier to reach those living on the other side of the planet. We have cell phones, televisions, computers, the Internet, iPods and iPhones. Even those who live in remote areas without electricity now have a PC. As technology advances in the years ahead, no doubt there will be more efficient and effective ways to let people know about salvation.
Our message is old, but timeless. Now we can tell every nation and individual about Jesus in a new way. If we want, we can sit in our living room in the U.S. and, through an email or a website, explain the gospel to someone in Asia. Jesus wants us to take his words seriously. He wants us to go and make disciples everywhere. Today we can go everywhere without ever leaving home. Let us use technology in the best way we can – for Jesus’ sake.
Living by serving (Friday, September 5)
The love of God touches all. Many, however, do not recognize or feel it. We have to be taught how to realize this bond and connection to the divine.
Each one of us has been born out of the heart of our Father. It may take years and many experiences to discover our lineage. Until we do, our lives are without purpose and form – without a history, a family, a past and a future.
Jesus came to earth to show us what we cannot understand by ourselves. He is our example, our brother, our Lord and our Savior. We need only to look at him to see the true meaning of life.
Our lives are not about ourselves. We exist because of and out of the love from above. It surrounds us and fills us each moment. When we finally comprehend what God has done for us, we can fulfill his will by serving him with thanksgiving and humility. Our love for him is what allows us to love others.
He is beyond words (Thursday, September 4)
I sat way down at the end of the long line of tables at dinner. Our immediate family was there to celebrate our 42nd Wedding Anniversary. As I looked down the row both sides were lined with our children and grandchildren. Never, not even in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined what I was seeing as my wife and I stood at the altar more than four decades ago.
Not only has God blessed the two of us beyond measure, but he has given us two children and five grandchildren. To realize that the two of us are, at least in part, the beginning of these little children is more than I can comprehend. Yet, here it is in front of us: life unfolding as only God could arrange.
To say God is good is an understatement. Even saying God is great does not come close to his greatness. There are no human words to describe his glory and grace. Perhaps his magnificence can only be understood by the heart. What we feel from him and for him is more than language alone.
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19). His love is a constant blessing, far beyond any words.
Actions speak louder than words (Wednesday, September 3)
One of the most incredible miracles performed by Jesus is also one of the least discussed. It is that of the temple tax. "But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line,” Jesus said to Peter. “Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours" (Matthew 17:27).
In the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, Italy, Renaissance master Tomasso Masaccio painted a three-part fresco of this event. The center of the composition shows the tax collector asking Jesus if he would pay his taxes to the temple. Then, to the left we see Peter plucking the coin out of the mouth of a fish and on the other side he is handing the money to the official.
The story is remarkable because it proves the divinity of Jesus as well as his sovereignty over all the world. First, only Jesus could make a coin appear inside of a fish. Second, only Jesus would have known that Peter would catch this particular fish using a line and hook rather than a traditional net. Third, only Jesus could make the coin match the precise amount of the tax for both he and Peter.
To those present at the time, the three events might have seemed too good to be true. They were, indeed, too coincidental to be real in the physical world. What people suddenly began to realize, though, was that Jesus was no ordinary man. He was who he said he was. The proof was in his actions, just as it should be with us.
Casting your nets (Tuesday, September 2)
Has Jesus ever told you to put down your nets on the other side? Perhaps you have been looking and waiting for something to happen in your life. No matter how hard you tried, there was nothing. It is like Peter and his brothers who kept trying to catch fish all night and came back to shore with empty nets. They had nothing to show for their effort and time.
You might feel empty today, as if you have little to show despite what you have been doing. Maybe Jesus is telling you to put down your nets on the other side, just as he instructed Peter.
Jesus said, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
It could be that Jesus is telling you today to move over to the other side, to look in the opposite direction whether you need a new job, a healing, help for your finances or even hope for tomorrow. Stop looking at your empty nets and fish where Jesus says. If you do, your boat will be full to overflowing – so much so that it will begin to sink under the anointed blessing of your Savior and Master.
The Bible as our mirror (Monday, September 1)
Not only does the Bible show us who God is, but it also reflects who we are in him. We can hold it up in front of us and see our reflection as Christians. How do we look? Have we done what he commands? Have we followed his will? Have we served him more than ourselves?
Looking into the Bible is very much like staring into a mirror. We can see all kinds of details about ourselves that we might otherwise miss. The more deeply we peer at the word of God, the more we will discover the flaws and imperfections that keep us from him. Similar to seeing our image, we can make changes. Not the physical changes that are important to us and the rest of the world. But spiritual adjustments in our living, thinking and acting.
Every morning as we look into the mirror, let us remember to look into our hearts as well. Holding up the Bible can tell us what needs to be changed. The real transformations that matter in our lives are those inside of us. Not those on the surface, such as our face or hair.
We need to make sure we reflect the true love of God which can only come from the inside out. His light must be shining inside of us before others can see it.