A young woman wrote on her personal website: “I just want to be loved—and he has to be amazing!”
Isn’t that what we all want—to be loved, to feel cared for by someone? And so much the better if he or she is amazing!
The one who fits that description most fully is Jesus Christ. In a display of unprecedented love, He left His Father in heaven and came to earth as the baby we celebrate at Christmas (Luke 2). Then, after living a perfect live, He gave His ife as an offering to God on the cross in our behalf (john 19:17-30). He took our place because we needed to be rescued from our sin and its death penalty. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Then three days later, the Father raised Jesus to life again (Matthew 28:1-8).
When we repent and receive Jesus’ gift of amazing love, He becomes our Savior (John 1:12; Romans 5:9), Lord (John 13:14), Teacher (Matthew 23:8), and Friend (John 15:14). “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
Looking for someone to love you? Jesus loves us so much more than anyone else possibly could and He is truly amazing.
VOLUME II, Number 50
Henry’s classic tale “The Gift of the Magi” tells of Jim and Della, a young married couple who are struggling financially. As Christmas approaches they want to give special gifts to each other, but their lack of money drives them to drastic measures. Jim’s prized possession is a gold watch, while Della’s is her long, beautiful hair. Ironically, Jim sells his watch in order to buy combs for Della’s hair, while Della sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch.
The story has deservedly become beloved, for it reminds us that sacrifice is at the heart of true love, and sacrifice is love’s truest measure. This idea is particularly appropriate for Christmas, because sacrifice is the true heartbeat of the story of the birth of Christ. Of all the people who have ever walked this earth, Jesus Christ was born to die, and He was born to die for us. That is why the angel told Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Long before His birth, Christ had been set aside to rescue us from our fallenness—which means that we can never fully appreciate the manger unless we see it in the shadow of the cross. Christmas is completely about Christ’s love, seen most clearly in His sacrifice for us.
VOLUME II, Number 49
When Mike Marolt is out of town, he remotely accesses the computer and files in his Aspen, Colorado, office. On a recent overseas trip, Marolt answered emails and kept in touch with his clients by using his laptop through a satellite phone hookup. This time, however, he was sitting in a bas camp tent at 21,000 feet on the side of Mt. Everest.
These days even that doesn’t surprise us because we have become used to the technology that provides access to the rest of the world anytime, anywhere.
We can easily develop a similar lack of amazement toward prayer. Talk to God? “Of course.” We don’t have to wait in line, enter a building, or wear nice clothing. We can pour out our hearts to the Lord anytime, anywhere.
The apostle Paul always seemed to marvel at the door that was opened wide into the presence of God. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:13, 18).
The door is open for everyone. God welcomes all who come by faith. Through Christ we can enter His presence—anytime, anywhere. There is no place or time we cannot pray.
VOLUME II, Number 48
A Wonderful Life
Each December, millions of people around the world watch Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life. Although it wasn’t a hit when it debuted, it has become a Christmas classic.
In a Time magazine essay, Roger Rosenblatt pondered the film’s continuing appeal. He concluded that the story is really about friendship. That helps to explain why we often feel choked up as we watch George Bailey’s family and friends rally around him in his time of greatest need. Rosenblatt said, “Just when George thinks he’s alone in the world, the world shows up to declare its love for him.”
That sentence seems to capture the essence of our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Just when we thought we were alone in the world, Christ came to declare God’s love for us. Not only did God send His Son into the world at exactly the right time (Galatians 4:4-5), but He also “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Chrst died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s the message of Christmas that opens the door to a wonderful life—the joy of knowing Christ and living in His love.
VOLUME II, Number 47
Remodeling Your Spiritual House
There are tons of television shows centered around the idea of remodeling your home, and most of them operate on the same principle: helping a homeowner improve their living environment. Without proper care, houses deteriorate, or residents simply tire of the old furniture, paint and decorations around them. They need to remodel.
Sometimes we need the same thing spiritually! James 1:21-25 gives us a blueprint to do an “extreme makeover” on our spiritual houses, and it all centers around the powerful word of God (James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:22-25; John 17:15-17; Acts 20:28-32).
MAKE ROOM for the Word! The first thing that happens in a remodeling job is tearing out the old walls, furniture, etc. You can’t bring in the new unless you get rid of some old. Likewise, in order to remodel our spiritual houses, we have to lay aside “all filthiness and rampant wickedness” (James 1:21). That means we have to throw away the sin that is in our lives and put on the “new self” (Col. 3:1-10). Sin is heavy (Heb. 12:1) and it clutters our environment. Get rid of it!
RECEIVE the Word! The next thing to do is bring in the new, useful material. For our spiritual houses, that useful material is the word of God. James says to receive it with “meekness” (James 1:21). We should have the same mind as David in Psalm 119:11 and the Christians in 1 Thess. 2:13. God’s word must be “implanted” or “engrafted” into our hearts, which is God’s plan (Heb. 8:6-13).
DO the Word! If you are remodeling a home, it doesn’t do any good to have a bunch of lumber and uninstalled fixtures laying around. You have to actually put the stuff to work. The same goes with God’s word (James 1:22). We can’t be hearers only. Jesus teaches this same lesson (Luke 6:46; John 14:15).
CONTINUE in the Word! You have to take care of the new remodel. Remember Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 10:1-13.
If you follow God’s blueprint, you can have a successful spiritual home makeover. But make sure your house has a strong foundation first (Matt. 7:24-27; John 8:24; Matt. 10:32-33; Luke 13:3,5; John 3:3,5; Mark 16:16).
VOLUME II, Number 46
The Boy Who Feels No Pain
Little Isaac Brown is five years old. Like other kids his age, he's learning to read and write his ABCs and to calculate simple addition and subtraction. But there is one thing Isaac is learning that few other children will ever have to learn. Isaac is learning about pain. "We're doing the best we can to just teach him; he knows blood is bad," said Brown. "We taught him even when he was little to say 'ow.' You don't have to tell normal kids to say 'ow.'"
Isaac was born with an extremely rare genetic insensitivity to pain. Like a modern day leper, Isaac doesn't know when he's touching a hot stove, when he's stepped on broken glass, or when he's broken a bone. Because he doesn't feel injuries, Isaac's parents, Carrie and Randy Brown, are teaching him how to identify them to stay healthy. "The toddler years were an absolute nightmare," said Isaac's mother, Carrie Brown. "He would just drop to the ground and smack his face on the table. He thought the fall was fun."
Isaac has dunked his hand in hot coffee without flinching. He once placed his palm on a working oven burner without shedding a tear. After breaking a cup one time, Isaac banged on his mother's door to get her attention with the broken glass. When Brown opened the door, she found Isaac grasping the sharp edge of the glass. He didn't understand that the broken glass was damaging his hand with each strike.
While the rest of the world celebrates having even one day without pain--physical, emotional, spiritual--Isaac would be grateful to experience even a little.
Most of us have no problem identifying pain. In fact, through life experience, we've learned to anticipate it. We can see it coming a mile away. We say "ouch" before we've suffered a thing. Unlike little Isaac, we are masters of anticipating and quickly addressing our pain.
On the flip side, we seem to have an innate insensitivity to blessing. It just doesn't automatically, instinctively register in our hearts and minds the way it should, the way pain does. That's because we are born with a genetic disorder, a defect passed down to us from Adam, a nature that leaves us insensitive to blessing. As a result, we operate oblivious to the infinite graces that make every moment of our lives possible.
To achieve spiritual health, we must learn to better identify the goodness of God in our lives. To that end, we have set aside a special day of remembrance and thanksgiving just to help us refocus and recognize blessings we might otherwise overlook.
Just as little Isaac's parents are having to teach him to recognize pain, God has to teach us to recognize the blessings that are in our lives.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
VOLUME II, Number 45
Laying Wreaths for Soldiers
Every December since 1992, Morrill Worcester and volunteers have been laying wreaths on the graves of soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. Worcester, owner of one of the world’s largest holiday wreath companies, started Wreaths Across America, the volunteer wreath-laying program, after one of his warehouses called to report an overproduction of several thousand wreaths. “Well, I’m not just gonna throw them away,” Worcester said.
He called Washington and asked for permission to lay his wreaths on graves in Arlington. He got it. “When people hear about what we’re doing, they want to know if I’m a veteran,” Morrill said. “I’m not. But I make it my business never to forget.” Wreaths Across America is helping reclaim the true meaning of a wreath, Worcester says. “We wanted to get back to the simple idea of what a wreath represents—respect, honor, and victory.”
So this week thank a veteran for their service to this country. It’s because of their sacrifice that we are able to meet together every week and worship God without fear.
VOLUME II, Number 44
Dr. Richard Furman, a thoracic surgeon from North Carolina, was talking with his friend, Pastor David Jeremiah, about the loss of their parents. Furman told of a conversation he and his siblings had with his mother on the day after his dad died. They probed about their early years and what the wedding was like.
The matriarch explained how they did not have any money for a honeymoon so rather than travel, they spent their honeymoon in the upstairs of her parents' home. One of Dr. Furman's siblings then asked, "Mom, how long did the honeymoon last?" The newly widowed mother replied, "It ended yesterday."
Every marriage could be radically enriched by the simple goal of living in such a way that when you die your surviving spouse would say the honeymoon just ended.
“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:6-9)
VOLUME II, Number 43
To Seek and to Save
In July, 1941, there was an escape from the cruel concentration camp at Auschwitz, in Poland. It was the custom at Auschwitz to kill ten prisoners for every one who escaped. All the prisoners would be gathered in the courtyard, and the commandant would randomly select ten names from the roll book. These victims would be immediately taken to a cell where they would receive no food or water until they died.
One after another, as the command called the names, the doomed prisoners stepped forward. The tenth name he called was a man named Gajowniczek. He stepped forward, but was unable to stifle his sobs. “My wife and children,’ he said softly, over and over. Suddenly there was a movement among the prisoners. The guards raided their rifles. And eleventh prisoner left his row and pushed his way to the front. He was told to stop or be shot. He stopped a few paces from the commandant, removed his hat, and looked the German officer in the eye.
“Herr Commandant,” he said, “I wish to make a request, please. I want to die in the place of this prisoner.” He pointed at the sobbing Gajowniczek. “I have no wife or children. Besides, I am old and not good for anything. He is in better condition.” “Who are you?” the officer asked. “A priest.” The commandant hesitated for a moment, then barked, “Request granted.”
Prisoners were not allowed to speak but Gajowniczek said later, “I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live because someone else willingly and voluntarily offered his life for me—a stranger.”
Gajownikczek’s story is our story and the story of every soul living on this earth. We were the prisoners, marked for death until Jesus stepped forward and took our place. Jesus saved us by willingly and decisively giving up His life so that we might life.
Jesus explained His Great Condescension in the simplest terms: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
VOLUME II, Number 42
Flour and Oil, Bread and Fish
A poor widow once trudged outside the city gate to gather a few sticks for a cook fire on which to prepare a meal for herself and her son. It would be their last. There was no more food in the house and no way to get any more in a land devastated by drought. She would have cried had there been any moisture or strength left in her body. As she worked, a traveler called to her and asked for a cup of water and a piece of bread. She said she had just enough flour and oil to cook a final meal for herself and her son. The man told her to go home and fix that meal—but first to make a small loaf of bread for him. He promised in the name of the Lord that if she followed his instructions, her jar of flour and jug of oil would not run out. The widow did as the man asked and found that he was indeed a prophet for her supply was never exhausted. –Based on 1 Kings 17:7-16
It was getting late. Jesus, the rabii from Galilee, had been teaching all day, and the crowd had continued to grow. Jesus’ disciples grew worried for the hungry crowd. They looked around for food to share but found only a boy with a modest lunch—five loaves and two small fish. The boy offered his lunch to Jesus, who took it, blessed it, and gave it to His disciples to distribute to the crowd of thousands. The food kept coming. And coming. And everyone ate. The food left over was more than the initial supply. –Based on Mark 16:30-34.
Each of these incidents, recorded in the Bible, shows the gracious and plentiful provision of our living God. In each case, the people in the story were acutely aware of their need, but they mistakenly assumed that their supply came only from natural sources. They could see that their resources were hopelessly limited. And they also assumed—quite naturally—that once they started gibing away what they had, it would be gone in short order.
All their assumptions were proven wrong. Unlike the prophet Elijah and unlike Jesus, their eyes were focused on the shortage of their earthly resources, rather than the generous provision of their heavenly Father. Try to not do the same, focus on God’s provision and don’t worry because God knows what you need (Matthew 6:25-26).
VOLUME II, Number 41
Like a Cedar of Lebanon
Depending on how you measure it, the largest plan in the world could be the aspen tree, Populus tremuloides. An aspen grows in stands of what look like individual trees, but the “trees” are actually stems or ramets that are connected to each other by a common root system. One such aspen plant in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah is known to have produced 47,000 stems covering an area of roughly 100 acres. The entire organism is estimated to weigh more than thirteen million pounds.
Measuring by height, rather than weight or area, the largest plant in the world is the coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirnes, which has been known to climb to a height of 379 feet. This is the size of a thirty-eight story skyscraper.
The world’s smallest flowering plant is the Wolffia globosa, a rootless plant belonging to the duckweed family. A single wolffia plant is less than 1/42 of an inch long. It weights about 1/190,000 of an ounce—roughly the same as two grains of table salt. It is so small that five thousand individual plants could be packed into a thimble. The flower produced by each plant is, of course, even smaller, a microscopic pistil and stamen inside a small cavity. The wolffia also produces the world’s smallest fruit, which is called a utricle. The plant is found in quiet freshwater lakes or marshes around the world.
Large or small, the expansive aspen, giant redwood, and tiny wolffia have one thing in common: they grow. Year by year, season by season, day by day, they grow. That is generally true of all living things, because life involves growth.
The same should be true of God’s people. It is God’s intention for you to grow. Just as He created the aspen tree to form a root network across many acres and many stems, His intention is for “your roots [to] grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Ephesians 3:17 NLT). Just as God made the Sequoia sempervirnes to keep growing until it reached the height of a skyscraper, He wants you to “flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon” (Psalms 92:12). And, just as God crafted the tiny wolffia plant to flower and bear fruit, so He designed you to “bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).
You may not be a redwood or an aspen, spiritually speaking. You may feel more like a wolffia in the grand scheme of things. That’s okay, because what really matters is that you are growing until you are “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4 NIV).
VOLUME II, Number 40
Internet Addiction Runs
Pennsylvania hospital has launched the first ever hospital-based treatment
center for people who are so addicted to using the Internet they are unable to
bring the addiction under control by themselves," reports Leonardo Blair
of the CP:
Bradford Regional Medical Center ... announced earlier this month that they had
launched the Internet addiction treatment and recovery program as part of the
hospital's Behavioral Health Services Division. … The intensive program
targeting adults 18 and older is administered over a 10-day period under the
care of a multidisciplinary medical team. … According to the release, Internet
addiction is now an epidemic and a public health crisis in countries like China,
Korea and Taiwan. It was only recently recognized as a problem in the United
States. Internet Gaming Disorder was included in Section 3 of the bible of
American psychiatric medicine in May of 2013.
helpful things can cross a line and actually become detrimental things. The
Internet is a wonderful tool. When it is used for its intended purpose, it
enhances our lives. However, when it becomes our obsession, it does more harm
than good; it robs us of a real life.
you crossed that line with any of the good things in your life? The only thing
that we can fix our hearts on without regret is God. When He becomes the object
of our unchecked devotion, our lives are enhanced in every way. This can only
be said of God. That's why devotion to Him is called worship, while unchecked
devotion to anything else is called idolatry.
VOLUME II, Number 39
The Grateful Heart
Ann’s story is certainly not a fairy tale. It is more like a Shakespearean tragedy. When she was a child, her baby sister chased a cat into a farm lane and was crushed under the wheels of a delivery truck. Unable to cope, her mother checked herself into a psychiatric hospital and her father was never the same. A devastating loss like that can mark a family. A life. A soul.
But Ann’s story doesn’t stop there. Challenged by a friend, she embarked on a daily task of noticing, listing, and giving thanks for the good things she enjoyed each day, no matter how small or routine.
Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, in which she tells the story of that challenge and how it changed her life, was an instant bestseller. Gratitude is life changing. And it is an integral part of worship.
When was the last time you stopped and counted you blessings? When was the last time you were intentionally looking for those precious moments in life? If we are not careful they can slip past unnoticed.
I challenge you this week to notice, list, and give thanks for those precious moments in your life.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
VOLUME II, Number 38
The Great Dance
Gregory Nazianzus was born sometime around AD 330, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who converted to Christianity and decreed that being a Christian was no longer a crime in the Roman Empire. Gregory went to school in Athens, Greece, with a friend named Basil, who would later become the Bishop of Caesarea as well as an important theologian known as “Basil the Great.” Gregory himself became Bishop of Sasima and, later, Bishop of Constantinople (named for the Emperor Constantine). He is famous for being the first person to use the word perichoresis to describe the Trinity.
Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? But it really isn’t. Perichoresis is a Greek word that literally means “circle dance.” If you’ve ever been to a Greek or Italian wedding, you may have witnessed perichoresis. Participants celebrate by linking arms or in some cases, holding handkerchiefs between them as they dance joyfully around and around to the sounds of laughter and loud, happy music. It is also the word Gregory and others used to describe the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—a happy dance, a unity, and community. This is evident in Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17.
We were created to reflect God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), and the very nature of God is one of unity in community. Thus it is the prayer and will of Jesus that His followers join in the dance. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us. …There is not other way to the happiness for which we were made.”
Our tendency as fallen humans beings is to run from God, like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8), and from community with Him and others. But with our redemption comes the call—and the indwelling enablement—to live differently, to be better. God wants us to unite with others in community settings, draw closer to Him and others, and reflect the circle dance of God in our relationships with out brothers and sisters in Christ.
And, as tends to happen in celebrations that include a circle dance, the dance gets better as it goes along and the circle widens to include those who never before suspected that they could dance.
VOLUME II, Number 37:
Woman Survives Internal Decapitation
"Rachel Bailey did not lose her head over temporarily losing her head," reports Eli MacKinnon of Life's Little Mysteries. "The 23-year-old Phoenix resident is making a miraculous recovery after a car accident fully separated her skull from her spine, a rarely seen and even more rarely survived injury called an internal decapitation."
Internal decapitation, or atlanto-occipital dislocation, occurs when head trauma separates the skull from the spinal column while leaving the exterior of the neck intact. Because the types of head injury that can cause internal decapitation usually also involve severe nerve damage or the severing of the spinal cord, the usual result is paralysis or death.
Quick action alone saved Bailey's life. Had skilled hands not immediately reconnected her head to her spine, she would have been left, at best paralyzed, or possibly even dead.
Christ is the Head of the Church, therefore every member of His body must be connected to Him to experience life and vitality. But like Rachel Bailey, it is possible for the believer to suffer from internal decapitation. We may look fine on the outside--attending church, singing in the choir, working in the nursery. But inside--in our spirit--we have become disconnected from our Head, Jesus Christ.
It's not enough to appear to be connected to Christ. Every member of His body, the Church, must be engaged in vital union with Him on the inside. That means experiencing intimate fellowship with Christ, our Head.
"And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." (Colossians 1:18 ESV).
"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ" (Ephesians 4:15 NIV).
VOLUME II, Number 36:
An Unlikely Hero
One June day in a quiet suburb on the west side of Chicago, Jim Patridge was enjoying a relaxing afternoon. Then, out of the blue, he heard a series of hair-raising screams. Jim and his wife, Sue, knew instantly that someone was in serious need. The screams were coming from a neighboring house on the other side of a vacant lot. Sue got there first and shouted back, "Hurry, Jim! It's a baby!" After Jim made his way up the stairs and onto the deck, he found his neighbor, Tammy Kroll, kneeling over the lifeless body of her one-year-old daughter. Tammy had moments earlier found her daughter floating face down in the family's backyard pool.
The Patridges rushed into action. While Sue called 911, Jim began administering first aid. As Jim cleared the little girl's airway and began CPR, he observed that she was not breathing at all, she had no pulse, her eyes were rolled back in her head, and she was blue all over. One minute turned into two, then five, then eight. Then, just as he heard sirens in the distance, a more encouraging sound sent chills down his spine. He had put his ear to the little girl's chest, like he'd done countless times over the past several minutes, and, this time, he heard the little girl's heartbeat. The little girl, Jennifer Kroll, was rushed to a local hospital where she made a full recovery and was back home in just a couple of days.
Jim Patridge certainly acted heroically that day, but what is most impressive is how unlikely of a hero he was. Decades earlier, as an eighteen-year-old Marine in Vietnam, Jim stepped on a land mine which detonated. The explosion blew off both of his legs above the knee and left him nearly blind. That day, Jim fumbled his way through the thick empty lot on his wheelchair. When he got to a row of trees, he had to abandon his wheelchair and crawl on his hands. As he made his way to the backyard, he had to pull himself up each step of the deck that surrounded the pool.
One of the things that demonstrated Jim's heroism is his unwillingness to yield to the temptation to excuse himself. It would have been easy and tempting to say, "Let somebody else do it. I'm legally blind, and I have no legs!" How often do you and I excuse ourselves from rescuing people who are drowning in a sea of sin? There are people all around us who are dead, but they can be brought back to life with the hope of the gospel (Eph. 2:1-5, Col. 2:13). Are you making excuses for not saving those around you?
“…save others by snatching them out of the fire…” (Jude 23).
VOLUME II, Number 35:
Shrek the Sheep Carried a Huge Burden
Shrek the sheep became famous several years ago when he was found after hiding out in caves for six years. Of course, during this time his fleece grew without anyone having shaved it. When he was finally found and shaved, his fleece weighed an amazing sixty pounds - 50 lbs more than normal and enough to make twenty men's suits.
Shrek carried six times the regular weight of his fleece simply because he was away from his shepherd. It took a professional sheerer less than a half hour to rid him of his burden.
Shrek died back in 2011, but his story has just recently resurfaced in news outlets and social media sites alike due to a new interest in the science of fleece growth: Modern Farmer [an internet resource for the farming community] was curious: can a sheep's wool grow forever? Its writer, Jesse Hirsch, interviewed Dave Thomas, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's head of sheep studies. Thomas says a Merino sheep like Shrek will grow wool indefinitely.
Apparently, when God created sheep he had their need for people in mind, more specifically, their need for a shepherd. The same is true of us. Life involves the accumulation of burdens. Burdens that can't be tended to without the help of the Good Shepherd.
One Internet blogger had this to say of Shrek's difficulty: Shrek is much like a person who knows Jesus Christ but has wandered. If we avoid Christ’s constant refining of our character, we’re going to [indefinitely] accumulate extra weight in this world—a weight we don’t have to bear.
When Shrek was found, a professional sheep shearer took care of Shrek’s fleece in twenty-eight minutes. Shrek’s sixty-pound fleece was finally removed. All it took was coming home to his shepherd.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
VOLUME II, Number 34:
A Tithe Too Much
A man once came to Peter Marshal, former chaplain of the United States Senate, with a concern about tithing. “I have a problem,” he said, “I have been tithing for some time. It wasn’t too bad when I was making $20,000 a year; I could afford to give up $2,000. But now that I am making $500,000, there is no way I can afford to give away $50,000 a year.”
Peter Marshall reflected on this wealthy man’s dilemma but gave no advice. He simply said, “Yes, sir. I see that you have a problem. I think we ought to pray about it. Is that all right?”
The man agreed, so Dr. Marshall bowed his head and prayed, “Dear Lord, this man has a problem, and I pray that you will help him. Please reduce his salary back to the place where he can afford to tithe.”
Why could this man not afford to still tithe 10%? It seems that when this man received a massive increase in pay, instead of thinking, “How can I give more?” his first thought was, “What more can I buy?” He had his priorities mixed up.
How are your priorities when it comes to being stewards of God’s money? We needed to remember that all we have is a gift from God. That’s why I love the quote, “It’s not about giving God 10% but Him allowing us to keep 90%.”
“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48
VOLUME II, Number 33:
Cost of Sin
Wayne Carlson stole a car when he was barely 18 and got a 1-year sentence to Saskatchewan's Prince Albert Penitentiary. Rather than serving his time and focusing on a new start, he decided to stage an escape. He got out but was quickly recaptured and given a longer sentence. This fueled greater determination to get out so he escaped again. He eventually set the North American record for 13 prison escapes and stretched his initial 1-year sentence into an ordeal that lasted three decades.
You have to wonder why someone would become so self-destructive that they would add decades onto their initial sentence. But don’t we see this self-destruction more often then we think.
When someone persists in sin they go down a road that snowballs into something greater then they could have ever dreamed. That’s why the saying goes, “Sin will takes us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay and cost us more then we wanted to pay.”
James says in James 1:14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Our sin costs us more then we wanted to pay because the wage of sin is death. But the great news is that Christ has made a way for us to break free of the bondage of sin and accept His free gift, which leads to salvation. Now it is up to us whether we want to accept the free gift or continue on with self-destruction.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
VOLUME II, Number 32:
Have a Grace-Filled Perspective
Before her death in 2010, Elizabeth Edwards wrote her final memoir, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities. In this book she included some life-giving principles she had come to embrace for strength.
By the time she reached 60, she had endured the lost of her son Wade when he was 16, experienced the agony of her husband's unfaithfulness as the news broke during his campaign for president, and overcome cancer only to encounter the recurrence of what proved to be a fatal bout.
Among her rules for living was this concept of grace she had been given by a man who had lost his brother. The gentleman said, "People will say the wrong thing. You just have to remember that they meant to say the right thing." She revealed that this simple principle "allows you to be so much more gracious."
Such a grace-filled perspective ultimately leads to far fewer offenses and a far more significant relational strength and comfort.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
VOLUME II, Number 31:
Longing to be Disabled
For most, the idea of being wheelchair bound would be a nightmare. Not so for Chloe Jennings-White. It would be her dream come true. Chloe is a 58-year-old able-bodied woman who longs--yes, longs--to lose the use of her legs. She says she has been dreaming of becoming a paraplegic since she was just four years old, after visiting with a relative who was confined to a wheelchair.
So driven is she to become disabled, she has engaged in many dangerous activities, like extreme downhill skiing, in the hopes of accidentally-on-purpose injuring herself. She once even rode her bike off a ledge, injuring herself badly, but not quite badly enough. When she realized that she could have hit her head and died, or broken her neck and lost the use of both legs and arms, she decided to pursue a more controlled means to disability--she sought the help of a surgeon to severe the nerves to her legs. She has found one willing to perform the surgery, but doesn't have the nearly $20K necessary for the operation.
Crazy you say? Well, Chloe has indeed been diagnosed with a very rare psychiatric condition called Body Integrity Identity Disorder, or BIID for short. Sufferers believe that permanent disability is their natural, most comfortable state, as well as their destiny.
As believers, we are called to "walk in the spirit." Yet, many of us feel more "natural" or "comfortable" walking in the flesh. It's like voluntarily confining ourselves to a wheelchair when we could be climbing on the mountaintops. The notion is as foolish as it is spiritually unhealthy--a virtual form of BIID--"Believer" Integrity Identity Disorder!
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16).
VOLUME II, Number 30:
The Word became Flesh
The life of J.C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, is a true rags-to-riches story. Born to poor parents, J.C. was quickly put to work, mostly in sales, to help keep himself and his family afloat. Along with his brothers, he began selling postcards in Norfolk, Nebraska. But the postcard business wasn't thriving there. So, with little else than a couple of shoeboxes of postcards, he moved to Missouri to start afresh. Full of innovative ideas, he moved on from postcards to greeting cards. When the store from which he operated burned down in 1915, he and his brothers invested in an engraving business and began printing their own cards.
But it wasn't just the quality of the cards that burgeoned the business. It was Hall's groundbreaking idea to move the cards from behind the counters, where clerks would pick an "appropriate" card for the customer, out into display cases where customers could see them, handle them, and admire them.
By the time he died in 1982, Hall had turned two shoe boxes of postcards into a multi-billion dollar company.
The Hallmark corporate website says, "J.C. Hall took greeting cards out of drawers in retail stores, and into displays that let shoppers see all their choices, dramatically changing the way cards were merchandised."
God did the same thing when He sent Jesus Christ into the world. That's when the Word of Life was moved from behind the counters, out of the drawers and placed in a display case for the entire world to see, handle and admire.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” (1 John 1:1-2)
VOLUME II, Number 29:
End of Life Testimony
Ruth and Billy Graham offered a priceless testimony as they approached their final chapters on earth together. “We pray together and read the Bible together every night,” Billy said in an interview. “It’s a wonderful period of life for both of us. We’ve never had a love like we do now—we feel each other’s hearts.
“I think about heaven a great deal,” Billy continued. “I think about the failures in my life in the past but know they have been covered by the blood of Christ. And that gives me a great sense of confidence. I have a certainty about eternity that is a wonderful thing, and I thank God for giving me that certainty. I do not fear death. I may fear a little bit about the process, but not death itself, because I think the moment that my spirit leaves this body, I will be in the presence of the Lord.”
I hope that we all can strive to have this view of death and realize that death is not the end but only the beginning. As long as I don’t change my mind I’ve asked Nellie to place on my tombstone this sentence: “Finished the cover page of my life; now starting chapter one.”
“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” Romans 14:8
VOLUME II, Number 28:
Roger Zerbe, who suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease, journaled this to his wife after a particularly troubling bout of forgetfulness.
Honey, Today fear is taking over. The day is coming when all my memories of this life we share will be gone. You and the boys will be gone from me. I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love. I want to leave you. I want to grow old in the warmth of memories. Forgive me for leaving so slowly and painfully.
Blinking back tears, Becky wrote:
My sweet husband, I will continue to go on loving you and caring for you—not because you know me or remember our life, but because I remember you. I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was, the way he loved our extended family. I ll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading; his tears at sentimental movies; the unexpected witty remarks; and how he held my hand while he prayed. I cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care for you because I remember you!
This wife shows us an example of what true love and commitment, in a marriage, looks like. The Bible teaches husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) and for wives to be submissive to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). For a marriage to be healthy there needs to be constant expressions of intentional sacrificial love from both spouses.
VOLUME II, Number 27:
James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, took office on March 4, 1881. On his first Sunday in Washington following his inauguration, a member of the Cabinet insisted that a meeting must be called to discuss a matter that purportedly threatened a national crisis. The President refused, stating that he was already committed to another appointment. The Cabinet member insisted, telling the President that the national matter was of grave importance and that he should break his prior engagement. Still, Mr. Garfield refused to do so.
Obviously appalled, the Cabinet member remarked, “I would be interested to know with whom you have an engagement so important that it cannot be broken.
Mr. Garfield replied, “I will be as frank as you are. My engagement is with the Lord, to meet Him at His house, at His table, at 10:00 o’clock tomorrow morning – and I shall be there.”
What an example! May we, too, be so dedicated to the worship of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that we will not forget we have a standing “prior engagement” every Sunday morning to meet him for the Lord’s Supper.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
VOLUME II, Number 26:
Might Be Best to Say Nothing
Robert Benchly once remarked, “Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.” No matter how great your vocabulary may be, sometimes, the right thing to say is nothing.
First, if you cannot speak with purity, the best thing that you can say, no matter how large your vocabulary may be, is nothing. Ephesians 4:29
Second, if you cannot speak with sweetness, the best things that you can say, no matter how rich your vocabulary may be, is nothing. Ephesians 4:31-32
Third, if you cannot speak with grace, the best thing that you can say, no matter how extensive your vocabulary may be, is nothing. Colossians 4:6
Fourth, if you cannot speak with self-control, the best thing that you can say, no matter how full your vocabulary may be, is nothing. Colossians 3:8
Fifth, if you cannot speak with truthfulness, the best thing that you can say, no matter how huge your vocabulary may be, is nothing. Colossians 3:9
Sixth, if you cannot speak with love, the best thing that you can say, no matter how big your vocabulary may be, is nothing. Ephesians 4:15
Obviously, I could go on and on. However, I believe that you get my point. Let’s make sure that what we say is only what needs to be said for up building and not for tearing down. If it isn’t, the best thing that we can do is say nothing.
VOLUME II, Number 25
“God is Still Love”
A man was traveling through the country when he noticed that the weather vane on the roof of a farm building bore the phrase, “God Is Love.”
He was troubled about it and asked the farmer, “Do you think God’s love is as changeable as that weather vane?”
“You miss the point, sir,” replied the farmer, “It is on the weather vane because no matter which way the wind is blowing, God is still love!”
No matter what is going on in our lives God is still love and His love for us will never change. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
If Jesus is the same yesterday and today and He loved us enough to die on the cross then He loves us enough to forgive our mistakes and failures even today.
VOLUME II, Number 24:
"A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society." -- Billy Graham
"The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." -- Theodore Hesburgh
"My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it." -- Clarence Budington Kelland
My hero is the quiet type,
No marching bands, no media hype,
But through my eyes it's plain to see,
A hero, God has sent to me.
With gentle strength and quiet pride,
All self-concern is set aside,
To reach out to his fellow man,
And be there with a helping hand. Heroes are a rarity,
A blessing to humanity.
With all they give and all they do,
I'll bet the thing you never knew,
My hero has always been you.
Happy Father’s Day, Dads “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”Ephesians 6:4
VOLUME II, Number 23:
A Humble Heart
The new minister came to the little church for the first time, and the old-timers knew they had to sit him down and have a little talk. You see, his first two sermons had caused quite a stir.
Yet they’d seen this before. A young person comes in thinking he can change things, just like that. So the day of the meeting arrived, and the four elders of the church sat around the table and told the young man how it was.
The minster was quiet for a moment. Then he pulled out his Bible and put it on the table. He said, “Gentlemen, I’ve heard what you said, and I understand what you want. But let us all remember that this church is not our church. It belongs to God. Let’s begin taking our concerns to him, in prayer, together.”
Often times people have forgotten just whose church this is. They have their own agendas and things they want to see done, not to do what would be best for the church but what would be best for themselves. When this happens it can be devastating. Church’s can split, people stead can step away from their faith for good, and the Devil gets his foot in the door.
We need to make sure this never happens. We need to constantly be looking at our motives to make sure the reason we do anything is first and foremost for the glory of God and to help build His kingdom.
VOLUME II, Number 22
Two mountain goats meet each other on a narrow ledge just wide enough for one of the animals to pass. On the left was a sheer cliff, on the right a deep lake. The two faced each other. What should they do? They can’t back up it was too dangerous. They can’t turn around the ledge is too narrow.
Now, if the goats had no sense, they would butt heads until one of them fell into the lake below, but goats have better sense than that. One lies down on the trial and lets the other literally walk over him, and both are safe. One of them lies down to let the other one pass—that’s “goat sense,” and it is not too common.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:39-41, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
Jesus is saying a Christian should be strong enough to suffer wrong for the good of others. This is not an easy teaching and it is even harder to apply. But if we are going to model our life around His, it is something we need to start learning how to do.
VOLUME II, Number 21
How to Be Great
At a dinner in Washington DC, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett caught a glimpse of what she thought was a uniformed waiter behind her and requested a glass of wine. But a closer look revealed the “waiter” to be the nation’s second highest-ranking Army officer, General Peter Chiarelli.
Ms. Jarrett was deeply embarrassed, but the general was amused. He didn’t humiliate her for her mistake. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t freeze her out. He brought her a glass of wine, and then he invited her to dinner at his home.
What makes a good leader? Countless books and articles address this question, but they often leave out the most important quality. It surprises many to learn that the best way to become a good leader is to truly care about the welfare of others.
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43)
VOLUME II, Number 20:
Child of God, Return
Terry had been to prison more than once. He had drug problems. He drank; he chased women. His wife threw him out of the house after an all-night bender, saying he’d need to talk to their minister before she’d let him come back. So the men talked.
Terry told of how the world beat him down. He talked about his father beating him as a child—and how now he just couldn’t take it when the world pressed in on him.
And he could see it in people’s eyes: They would never give him a chance. They thought he was worthless. He said he wanted to be more than he was, but he couldn’t.
The minister looked Terry in the eyes and said, “That feeling you have. That way you feel when you want to be better. Your Father feels that way too. Not your human father. Your Father in Heaven—God. He loves you, Terry. You are His child. He loves you. He wants more for you.”
Terry cried that day and began to face his legitimate pain, head on. No more escaping, as he grieved through it, step by step asking the Lord to hold his hand.
What that minister said to Terry is true for all of us. No matter where we are or what we have done, our Father waits for His children to return to Him.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26
VOLUME II, Number 19:
A Mother’s Love
There was a teenager who didn’t want to be seen in public with her mother, because her mother’s arms were terribly disfigured. One day when her mother took her shopping and reached out her hand, a clerk looked horrified.
Later, crying, the girl told her mother how embarrassed she was. Understandably hurt, the mother waited an hour before going to her daughter’s room to tell her, for the first time, what happened.
"When you were a baby, I woke up to a burning house. Your room was an inferno. Flames were everywhere. I could have gotten out the front door, but I decided I’d rather die with you than leave you to die alone. I ran through the fire and wrapped my arms around you. Then I went back through the flames, my arms on fire. When I got outside on the lawn, the pain was agonizing, but when I looked at you, all I could do was rejoice that the flames hadn’t touched you."
Stunned, the girl looked at her mother through new eyes. Weeping in shame and gratitude, she kissed her mother’s disfigured hands and arms.
More than likely our mothers didn’t have to physically walk through flames to save us, although if they had to, they would. But most of our mothers did walk through emotional flames for us, to save or be with us through our heartaches and hurts. For that, we need to be eternally grateful for our mothers and never miss an opportunity to tell them how much they mean to us.
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’” (Proverbs 31:28-29)
II, Number 18:
A Sure Salvation
story is told that Queen Victoria of the UK was deeply moved during a church
service. Afterward, she asked her
chaplain, “Can one be absolutely sure in this life of eternal safety?” He did not have an answer. But an evangelist named John Townsend heard
about the Queen’s question, and after much prayer he sent her a note: “With
trembling hands, but heartfelt love, and because I know that we can be
absolutely sure now of our eternal life in the Home that Jesus went to prepare,
may I ask your Most Gracious Majesty to read the following passages of
Scripture: John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10?”
weeks later, the evangelist received this letter: “…I have carefully and
prayerfully read the portions of Scripture referred to. I believe in the finished work of Christ for
me, and trust by God’s grace to meet you in that Home of which He said, ‘I go
to prepare a place for you.’ – Victoria Guelph”
was confident that in this life we can have assurance of eternal safety and he
had a concern for others as well.
Consider what John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10 mean for your eternal
destiny. God desires to give you the
confidence that your sins are forgiven and that after death, you’ll be with Him
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him
should not perish but have eternal life.”
you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that
God raised him from the dead you will be saved.
For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one
confesses and is saved.” (Romans
VOLUME II, Number 17:
Move Forward in Peace
Corrie ten Boom’s story of how she survived the Ravensbruck concentration camp is amazing. But just as amazing is what happened later. After speaking in Germany in 1947, she was approached by a man holding out his hand and smiling. Horrified, she recognized one of the cruelest of the guards who had tormented her and her sister, Betsie.
He was now a Christian, and she knew she must forgive him, since to turn away from him would nullify everything she stood for as a Christian. She had to pray for her arm to move, but at last she was able to reach out and take the former guard’s hand. She wrote, “I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
In speaking with other victims of Nazi brutality, Corrie reported that those who were able to forgive were the ones who moved beyond the horror of the past most successfully. Taking the hand of a former enemy does more to show God’s love than taking revenge.
Jesus died to forgive us for our sins, and we are to forgive others. I know it’s not an easy task and it will take time but it’s still what Christ commanded us to do.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14,15)
VOLUME II, Number 16:
From Generation to Generation
The minster of a church passed always, and his young son was asked to lead the congregation. The young man had been faithful to his father and the teachings of the church as he ministered in the music department. He took the leadership position and followed in his father’s footsteps. As he served in wisdom, the congregation grew and was fruitful.
One generation teaches the next generation by its actions and words. This can be a blessing, if the older generation has lived their lives in a way that is pleasing to God or this could be a curse, if the older generation has not lived up to how they were supposed to live. When we have good mentors and let ourselves learn from them, it is a blessing.
“Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign…And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done.” (2 Chronicles 26:3,4)
How are you living? Are you living in a way that you would want the generation behind you to live? Know it or not, they are watching and often times following in your footsteps. So live and lead like you want the next generation to live and lead.
VOLUME II, Number 15:
Humanity’s Dependence on God
The state of Kentucky has gone through a unique legal battle over a 2002 law concerning their department of homeland security. The anti-terrorism law requires Kentucky’s Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can’t keep the state safe without God’s help. A clause in 2006 called for the posting of a plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Frankford that quotes Psalm 127:1 and specifically states “the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”
American Atheists Inc. filed a lawsuit in 2008 and won the initial battle but the appeals process will no doubt continue for quite some time. Although there may be certain legalities to iron out, only a fool would disagree with the notion that humanity is completely dependent upon God for survival.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalms 127:1)
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD…” (Psalms 33:12)
VOLUME II, Number 14:
In his book, A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken recounted his struggle to embrace Christianity at Oxford because he wanted irrefutable evidence that God existed. He wrote, “I wanted proof. I wanted certainty.”
Realizing absolute assurance wasn’t possible, he came to the conclusion that he was standing between two gaps. Even though there was a gap of uncertainty about God’s existence, there was also a gap of uncertainty about Him not existing. He wrote, “There might be no certainty that Christ was God, but by God, there was no certainty that He wasn’t.”
Deducing it was a far better option to place his faith in Christ than
presume upon the limited perspective of human intellect, he wrote, “I… flung myself over the gap towards Jesus.”
God has not given us absolute certainty because if He did so then there would be no need for faith. But although He has not given us absolute certainty He has supplied us with enough proof that if we will just look for Him we can find Him.
Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without
Also the words that were spoken through the prophet Jeremiah still proves true today. God said, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
VOLUME II, Number 13:
Easter is Coming
During morning worship on Palm Sunday, 1994, a tornado struck the Goshen United Methodist Church in Piedmont, Alabama. It happened during a dramatic presentation. The electricity failed, and the congregation was trying to get along without its sound system. A window broke, people screamed, and the building exploded, injuring several members and killing twenty. Among the fatalities was Hannah Clem, four-year-old daughter of Kelly Clem.
The night after the tragedy, Kelly was trying to sleep, tossing and turning through the pain of her own injuries. An unusual dream came to her. She saw herself trying to lift bricks and toss them aside, clearing away rubble, trying to rescue the victims. She kept doing the same thing over and over. Everything was gray and dull. But as her dream progressed, she stepped back from the scene and saw right in the spot where Hannah had been buried, children, dressed in beautiful, bright colors. They seemed oblivious to the onlookers, and were playing and laughing with each other. They were standing on grass of the greenest green. When Kelly awoke, a peace settled over her and strengthened her for the funeral ahead.
The next day, a reporter asked Kelly if the disaster had shattered her faith. “It hasn’t shattered my faith,” she replied. “I’m holding on to my faith. It’s holding me. All of the people of Goshen are holding on to each other, along with the hope they will be able to rebuild. Easter is coming.”
Easter can give us encouragement because not only does it remind us of Christ’s death for our sins and his victory over the grave but it also reminds us that death is not the end but only the beginning because Easter is coming.
VOLUME II, Number 12:
Don’t Give Up
Lyn Brooks participated a few years ago in the Hawaiian Open Triathlon. If you're not familiar with what a triathlon is, here are some of the things that you must excel in if you are to win. First, you swim 2 miles in the open sea, followed by bicycling over 100 miles. When that event is over, you then run a marathon, which is 26.2 miles. It was during the marathon that Lyn Brooks was tempted to quit. She said she felt she could run no longer and stopped to get a drink of water. There was a man sitting in the tent drinking a beer. He looked at her and said, “All you have to do is drop out, like I did.” Lyn Brooks said, “I had never heard the devil so clearly.” She immediately re-entered the race and finished.
Some of you are listening to the devil. He is giving you all kinds of reasons to quit. Satan is telling you that the hills are too steep. He's reminding you of the injuries you suffered 2 miles back. He keeps bringing up the other runner who fouled you at the start of the race.
You started the race well, but soon you became tired, and now you’re thinking about dropping out of the race altogether. But let me encourage you; keep running with perseverance and endurance because it will be well worth it in time.
Hebrews 12:1-3 advises, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
VOLUME II, NUMBER 11
Have you ever watched a documentary on how salmon swim upstream to spawn? These fish swim with all their might, against a strong current. They literally launch themselves up waterfalls and over jagged rocks. And irresistible force drives them upward and onward. It is inspiring to watch.
But some of the salmon get tired. In their exhaustion they stop swimming and immediately are swept backward…downstream. The current gets the best of them and they give up.
Following God’s will in this world can be a lot like being a salmon swimming upstream. God calls us to fight against the cultural current everyday of our lives. It is a battle, a war, a daily challenge to keep living for God in a world where the flow is totally opposed to God’s will and ways.
We have a choice. Swim with all our might and keep fighting and pressing on. Or, give up and find ourselves floating back downstream.
Paul says in Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Are we going to press onward and swim against the current of today’s society or are we going to get tired and give up?
VOLUME II, NUMBER 10
Respond to His Voice
When a young man attended college he lived off campus in an apartment adjacent to the railroad tracks. His first night there he was sound asleep when at 2 o'clock in the morning the train came roaring past his apartment with its whistle at maximum decibels. Obviously startled, he immediately jumped from his warm bed, his heart almost pounding through his chest, as he covered his ears in hopes of keeping the noise at a distance. After the train passed, it took a while to get back to sleep.
The next morning, you guessed it, the same thing happened. This time he covered his head with his pillow, and after some effort was sound asleep again. This went on night after night. After five or six nights of being consistently awakened, and after each time returning to a deep slumber, he would just lie there in bed knowing it would soon pass. He reached a point in which he no longer even heard the train whistle, because he stopped responding to the train and it no longer bothered him.
After leaving college and entering the workforce, he used the beeper on his wristwatch, to awaken him every morning. He thought one day, how could I finally sleep through a train but wake up to a soft beep? The answer was every morning when his watch alarm sounded, he responded to it by getting out of bed. It was because he kept ignoring the train that his heart became hardened, and it was because he kept responding to the beep of the watch that he remained sensitive to it.
Hebrews 3:15 says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” If God is calling you to repentance or calling you to action do not harden your heart but respond. If you constantly ignore God’s voice, hardening your heart, then you will one-day struggle to hear it at all.
VOLUME II, Number 9
Worship is More Than Singing
Time magazine has noted that Chris Tomlin is the "most often sung artist anywhere." Songs like How Great Is Our God, We Fall Down, and Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) are sung throughout the world as more than 40 million people sing his songs in worship each week. The prolific musician loves writing songs that allow people to engage in the wonder of worship, but he believes worship is much more than singing. In an interview he said, "Our greatest need in the world is not another song, but it's the singers of the songs meeting the needs of the world."
He then cited Matthew 22:37-40, “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
Tomlin went on to say that he hoped his songs would inspire people to love God more and honor Him by truly loving others.If we are to truly worship God we have to bring Him more than just a song, we have to offer ourselves completely to him. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The way we offer ourselves completely to Him is by love and serving Him and others.
VOLUME II, Number 8:
Just As I Am
Charlotte Elliot was born in Clapham, England, the year the French Revolution began. She became popular for her satirical verse and cartoons. She lived a very carefree, and some might say a sinful life. At age 30 her carefree life ended. She began to suffer from a degenerative disease. For the next 50 years she was more or less bedridden. She sank into a deep depression. Her humor, along with her gift for writing and drawing, left her. Death seemed close.
Ministers called, but their legalistic ritualism only deepened her sense of guilt. Jesus, salvation and heaven seemed totally beyond her reach. In 1822 a Swiss preacher, Dr. Caesar Malan, visited and counseled with her. It didn’t take long for him to discover her problem and this is what he told her, “You are right to feel a sense of sin. Without it no one comes to the Savior for pardon and new life. But you must come just as you are, a sinner, to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
After hearing his words she turned her life over to Christ. Fourteen years after her conversion she kept pondering the words of Dr. Malan. She then incorporated those words into a hymn that has moved and touched so many people. The hymn begins this way:
Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me, And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
In my time in ministry I have heard many people tell me they want to come to Christ, but they need to work a few things out first. This statement never made sense to me because I never made sure I was well before I went to a doctor, I went to him when I was sick. Christ wants us to come to him just as we are. Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died for us while we were still sinners, He didn’t wait for us to “work a few things out first.” We need to come to him just as we are but, as Max Lucado once said, “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.” He wants you to come to Him just as you are, but don’t be surprised when He starts changing a few things in your life.
VOLUME II, Number 7
How does your family view you?
In the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, there is a quote about him from his wife Ruth: “He was a man in a hurry who wanted to please God more than any man I’d ever met! He stood head and shoulders above all the others because of the depth of his commitment to Jesus Christ. I knew I would always be second to God in his life. But what better place to be!”
When I read this quote I was amazed by how highly Billy Graham’s wife spoke of him. Not because I didn’t think Billy Graham was a good guy, but because it shows the depth of his integrity. We can hide who we truly are from some people, but we can’t hide it from the people that are closest to us, like our spouse or kids.
If you want to know a man’s integrity and his spouse will be brutally honest, then ask his wife. Our family knows our heart better than anyone else, excluding God of course, because they see how we react under pressure. They see how we live our lives. They know where we get our strength.
So how does your family view you? Do they see you as a man or women who fears God and tries to follow Christ the best way you can, even though you make plenty of mistakes? Or do they see who you truly are, after you take your mask off when you get home from church?
Don’t be like the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked when he said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
Don’t be like the Pharisees but instead imagine how you want to be remembered and what you want people to say about you, and live that way.
VOLUME II, Number 6
Jesus is Alive
Prasad Aghamkar is a Southern Baptist missionary in Louisville, Kentucky who reaches out to Hindus. His life could have taken a completely different path had God not intervened years before. Prasad’s father was a Hindu priest, just like his grandfather, in their homeland of India. It is important for a priest to have a spiritual guru, so his dad followed a very old man until he died. A year after the guru’s death, Prasad’s father and his friends went to the grave to pay tribute and seek wisdom. They exhumed the body and bowed down to the remains in hopes of gaining greater wisdom.
A missionary watched the process and then told them about a spiritual leader who was put into a grave but later arose. That began a six-month journey of study for Prasad’s father. He walked hours to see the missionary and ultimately embraced Christ as his Lord. His conversion brought persecution, but this former Hindu priest was determined to follow Christ and prayed the same for his family. They all became Christians, and now Prasad is starting a church in Louisville to reach the 10,000 Indians who live there.
Christians do not follow a man who is dead. Our leader is not dead, but alive. In Matthew 28:5-7, an angel appeared before Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come; see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead.”
How does the fact that Jesus is not still in the tomb but alive forevermore change your life?
VOLUME II, Number 5 Possessions
When 155 people survived the crash landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, New York Governor David Patterson called it "Miracle on the Hudson." It was such a rare phenomenon that a commercial aircraft would safely land after losing both engines simultaneously over a densely populated city with the only recourse being that of an impromptu river runway. Everyone survived the crash and only a few sustained any injuries.
Ironically, survival didn't seem adequate for some passengers. One woman in a fur coat asked another survivor to go back inside the sinking plane and retrieve her purse. David Sanderson, one of the passengers, recalled a woman who managed to get her luggage out of an overhead compartment and then dragged it up the aisle. She made it out of the plane with her stuff but was precariously trying to hold on to the luggage while maintaining her balance on the wing. A man picked her up and threw her into a raft while her luggage sank into the river. Rather than celebrate her survival and safety, she kept screaming about her lost luggage.
This woman seemed to care so much about her possession that she became ungrateful for even being alive. Jesus warns us about being so caught up with our possessions or our “treasures.” Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Where is your heart? Are you so concerned about your “treasure” that you become ungrateful for life?
VOLUME II, Number 4
Just seven weeks before she was killed in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, Jessica Ghawi narrowly escaped a fatal shooting in a Toronto mall. On June 2, 2012, Ghawi was ordering a hamburger at the food court in Toronto’s Eaton Centre mall when she had a “panicky feeling” and felt the need to leave rather than sit down and eat. She made it outside just before gunshots rang out in the food court and two people were killed. She later looked at her receipt and saw that the hamburger was bought at 6:20 p.m. and the shots were fired at 6:23 p.m. It was a life-changing experience for her so she wrote about it on her blog three days later. The 24-year-old talked about the fragile nature of life and stated, “I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.” In the Century Aurora 16 multiplex, 20 miles from the Columbine shooting of 1999, Jessica Ghawi drew her last breath during the first hour of July 20, 2012.
We do not know when we will draw our last breath, we are not promised tomorrow. James 4:14 says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Psalm 144:4 says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”
Although life is so uncertain we should not stress and worry about what tomorrow may hold. We are to live life to the fullest and live every moment for Christ. Jesus says in John 10:10b, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He didn’t come so we could stress and worry about what tomorrow may bring but he came so that we may live this life abundantly and live with him forever more in the life to come.
VOLUME II, Number 3
Lord, what do you want me to do?
On October 31, 2003, Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a shark attack while surfing along the shore of her hometown in Kauai. The 13-year-old surfer not only survived the life-threatening attack, but courageously returned to surfing just a month later. Because of her faith in Christ, she approached the whole issue of suffering from a beautiful and redemptive perspective. She said, “There were frustrating times and times of uncertainty, but I kept coming back to the basics: Lord, what do you want me to do?” The courageous story of this young lady was later made into a docudrama feature film, Soul Surfer, which was based on Hamilton’s 2004 book.
After the shark attack no one would have blamed Bethany for not wanting to continue to surf. Everyone would have probably agreed with her decision, if she chose to never step foot in the water again, but she did not allow her suffering or her obvious disability keep her down. She persevered through the suffering and in 2005 she won 1st place in the NSSA National Competition.
She was able to push through her trials and hardships and become a role model for many, not because she relied on her own strength but because she went back to the basics and kept focused on Christ. She asked the question, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” It’s a far better question than “Why?” She kept her eyes on Jesus and laid aside anything else that would have kept her from achieving her goal.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The next time we are faced with the choice of giving up let us turn our focus to Christ and asked the same question Bethany asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
VOLUME II, Number 2
On August 2, 2012, Gabby Douglas beamed from the Olympic podium as she laid claim to the gold medal for the individual all-around competition in women’s gymnastics. She made history as the first African-American woman to ever win that event, and she was the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. But just seven months earlier she was ready to walk away from gymnastics and get a job at Chick-fil-A.
She was training in Iowa and terribly homesick so she was looking for any excuse to come home. On January 2nd, exactly seven months from striking gold, she sent the following text to her mom: “Gymnastics is not my passion anymore. I want to get famous off of running track, or I want to try dancing, or become a singer. I can get a job at Chick-fil-A. I just want to come home.” Pep talks from her family, coach and friends helped her to stay and she later said of that experience, “It taught me to be stronger, really mentally strong – and to never give up.”
There are times, even within our Christian faith, when we just want to give up. Trials, at times, seem unbearable. The pressures of this world often times pushes down on us. But we can draw strength from Paul’s pep talks. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18 says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
If we persevere we will be able to say what Paul said. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
VOLUME II, Number 1
A group of women were having a Bible study and they read Malachi 3:3, which says: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” This verse puzzled some women in the Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.
That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in hot spots. Then she thought again about the verse that says: “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.” She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled at her and answered, “Oh that’s easy, when I see my image in it.”
Each and everyday God should be able to see His image in us more and more. Don’t get down when hard times come your way but understand hard times, if viewed and used correctly, makes us stronger and helps us become more in the image of God.