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Post  Admin on Fri 30 May 2014, 10:30 pm

Friday, May 30, 2014
A Wisdom Retreat
Putting on the Dog
Ephesians 4:22-24 
You were taught with regard to the former way of life to put off the old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
For centuries the aristocracy of Europe showed off their wealth in a number of pretentious ways. Not only did they live in mansions and travel in ornate coaches, but upper-class women spent lavish amounts of money to have small dogs bred. They were referred to as "lap dogs" and became as much a part of the fashion of the day as the expensive gowns worn by the elite. 
Over time, it became a trademark of the wealthy for a woman to have her portrait painted with a little dog nestled in her lap.
In America, the late 1800s brought times of financial prosperity for many people. Men became millionaires almost overnight through the development of the railroad, oil, and real estate.  Many of the wives of these businessmen desired to emulate their wealthy counterparts in Europe and not to be outdone, they acquired lap dogs of their own, spending large amounts of money in the process.  One of the most popular dogs bred and owned during this time was the poodle.
Cynical observers took notice of this practice and coined the phrase, "putting on the dog"—a phrase which still exists today, meaning ostentatious activity by someone who is attempting to show off his/her wealth or position in society. 
Unfortunately, this same principle is carried over into our churches every Sunday morning.  We  put on the dog more  often than we would like to admit . . . and in more ways than perhaps we even know. 
Consider these examples: faking a pious attitude in the service when our hearts are far from sincere; flaunting our clothing or accessories in an unseemly way; using spiritual vocabulary to make people think better of us than we deserve; making an exaggerated display of dropping the gift in the offering plate—the list goes on.
Pretentiousness takes many different forms and we all struggle with it in our lives.  
Frankly, it's a lot more comfortable to put on the dog than it is to expose who we really are. Transparency is extremely difficult, and sometimes it's just easier to hide behind a poodle!
But while everyone else might be fooled into thinking that we have it all fluffed up and under control, God sees past the makeup, the expensive suit, and the bleached smile. 
God sees our hearts and knows exactly who we are at any moment.  God sees past the gimmicks and the props . . . you can't hide from Him behind a poodle.
So, let's stop putting on the dog and get real.  Let's start by developing the habit of genuine, transparent conversation.  Let's admit to one another our failures and ask for prayer for specific needs and accountability between brothers and sisters in Christ.
When the body meets together, it should be without pretense and show; there should be honest expressions of both praise and pain—needs as well as niceties.
The truth is the Christian experience should be a breeding ground for godly partnerships and persistent prayer . . . not for posing with lap dogs for pious portraits.
The church is simply no place for putting on the dog.  Maybe we ought to hang a sign in the lobby that reminds us all: "No Poodles Allowed . . . Come Just as You Are."  
Prayer Point: Maybe it's been awhile since you looked in the mirror of God's Word to see what you really look like. Perhaps there are still poodles in your own portrait that you need to pray for God's help to remove. Will you pray for God to reveal them to you today?  Once He does, pray that He will give you courage to make the changes.
Extra refreshment: Galatians 3, where Paul rebukes a group of Christians for putting on the dog of legalism.
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Post  Admin on Thu 29 May 2014, 4:39 pm

The Dreaded Word: Practice!
Hebrews 5:14
But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice, have their senses trained to discern good and evil. 
When I was just a boy, my parents made me practice at the piano for an hour a day. Was that cruel or what?  I took piano lessons from the 2nd grade until I entered the 11th grade. In my senior year I tied for first place in a national competition with an original piece in G minor entitled Summer's End. 
When I went to college I thought it would be a good idea to continue taking lessons.  So I asked around to see who was considered the best piano teacher on the music faculty. Every person I asked gave the same name: Mrs. Hermann.  This woman was so well-respected for her musical expertise that the college music hall had already been named after her and her husband.
Well, that settled it. I went to Mrs. Hermann's studio and knocked on her door. She came to the door and I said, "Mrs. Hermann, I'd like to take piano lessons from you." 
She replied, "I'm sorry, but my schedule is now full."
I begged, "Please, I've been told you're the best teacher on campus . . . would you let me play something for you first?"
She agreed. I went in, sat down at the piano, and played for about a minute before she interrupted me and said, "I'll make room for you on my schedule." "Great!" I said, rather proud of myself for making such a good impression.
She then said, "Now you need to understand that if you take lessons from me you will be expected to practice four hours."  I said, "No sweat! Four hours a week will work just fine!"
She then replied, "No, young man—I mean four hours every day!"
Whoa!  In that moment, my entire life passed before my eyes. I couldn't imagine any torture greater than practicing that much.  With a polite handshake, Mrs. Hermann and I parted ways and I decided then and there that becoming a better pianist wasn't that important after all!
As I look back on that decisive moment, not to mention the 10 years of piano lessons that preceded it, I've come to realize that learning to play the piano has a lot in common with learning to live the Christian life. The same concept applies to both: if you want to achieve a higher level of performance, you have to be willing to practice.
Salvation is a gift . . . spiritual discernment isn't. Salvation can happen in a moment; spiritual maturity takes a lifetime.  In fact, having a discerning, godly walk with Christ will require hours of practice every day. That's why the writer of Hebrews reminded his audience that the ability to discern between good and evil is only acquired through consistent practice. 
But this is an encouraging message to us.  We can start at any time.  Wherever you find yourself today, whether just a beginner in the Christian life or a believer for many years, start practicing.  And keep in mind that Jesus Christ is the only One who ever mastered the Christian life.  He also happens to be both the Model and the Teacher of how to walk in wisdom.
Thankfully, He always has room in His schedule to teach one more student.  But He's a lot like Mrs. Hermann: He expects His students to practice.  And the students who learn and grow in godly discernment are always the ones who are willing to practice . . . every single day.
Prayer Point:  Identify areas in your life where you have grown over the past few months and thank God for giving you strength to change. Then identify areas where growth is still needed; pray for God's strength to help you change over time.
Extra Refreshment: Psalms 15, which outlines for us the attributes we as Christians should incorporate into our lives.
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Post  Admin on Tue 27 May 2014, 2:30 pm

Down Memory Lane
1 Chronicles 16:11-12
Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually. Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done; His marvels and the judgments from His mouth.
Some of you had the privilege of living in one house throughout your entire childhood.  It is a rare occasion these days, but I was fortunate enough to have lived in the same home for 18 years before I went to college.
During my freshman year, my parents moved.  They were kind enough to send me their new address!
A few years ago I decided to take a trip down memory lane and see that old house where I had grown up. I climbed the steps to that familiar porch and knocked on the door, hoping that whoever lived there would let me revisit the rooms freighted with meaning and memories.
A young woman carrying a baby on her hip answered the door. I said, "I know this is going to sound strange, but I grew up in this house.  I lived here 25 years ago and I'd love to walk through it again." She said, "Cool! C'mon in," and I did.
I walked into the living room with my shoes on. That was a no-no when I was growing up, and I half expected to hear my mother's reminder coming from the kitchen for me to leave my dirty shoes at the door!
I turned right and made my way into the dining room. I noticed the drop ceiling that my father had hung many years before was still in place.
From there I moved into the kitchen and peered through the familiar side door that overlooked the back yard. I noticed that the infamous bush was gone: that bush had supplied my mother with an ample amount of switches for four mischievous sons.  The bush was gone.  God had answered my prayers at last—decades later!
I finally made my way upstairs to my little bedroom. This was by far the most endearing place of all. To my left was open floor space, long ago occupied by my bed. That was where I had knelt one night as a teenager and gave my heart and my life—without reservation—to Jesus Christ. That was the place where it all started for me—it was the place where my spiritual life  began.
There's something special about taking trips down memory lane, isn't there? Whether it's visiting an old home or catching up with a friend you haven't seen in years.  It seems that as soon as you step through the door or see the face of that loved one, things just pick up right where they left off. Memories have a way of flooding back as old times are relived through laughter and tears.
Have you found the same to be true in your relationship with God? One of my professors in college once said to me that the Christian life isn't so much about learning new things about God as it is remembering the old things. God has done so much for us in the past and, like that old hymn so beautifully confirms, "He's proved His love o'er and o'er."
Our problem is that we often forget what God has done. As days turn to months and months to years, bringing new trials and new challenges, we forget to retrace our steps of faith and remember how God provided in every circumstance.
We're so focused on the present that we forget to visit the past.
Perhaps you need to reminisce today . . . to ponder the events where God was with you and brought you safely through the troubled waters to the other side.
Maybe you need to travel back in your mind to that bedside, or dorm room, or church service where you gave your life—without reservation—to Jesus Christ.
When your future seems dark and discouraging, perhaps the best muscle to exercise is your memory.  Do what David urged the Israelites to do in 1 Chronicles 16 . . . take a trip down memory lane!
Prayer Point: Take some time to write down specific instances where God has proven Himself to you in a powerful way. Then praise Him for His unfailing love which stays with us even when we forget it's there.
Extra Refreshment: 1 Chronicles 16, recounting where David pleads with the Israelites to remember God's character and covenant promises. Israel needed reminding as much as we do.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014
A Wisdom Retreat
Hiding Our Sin
Romans 8:1
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
In Dr. Richard Hoefler's book, Will Daylight Come, he tells the story of a young boy who was visiting his grandparents. Johnny had just been given his first slingshot and had taken it into the woods. Unable to hit anything because of his poor aim, he was still having the time of his life.
On his way home for lunch, he cut through the back yard and saw his grandmother's pet duck. He took aim and let a stone fly. This time—for the first time—his aim was on the mark. To his shock and dismay, the duck dropped immediately.  It was dead!
Johnny panicked and in frightened desperation, hid the duck in the woodpile, but not in time to escape the curiosity of his sister, who was standing by the corner of the house. She saw the whole thing! With a look of shame and fear, he followed his sister inside for lunch. But Sally said nothing.
Getting up after lunch, their grandmother said, "Okay, Sally, let's clear the table and wash the dishes." Sally responded with a smile, "Oh, Grandma, Johnny said he wanted to help you in the kitchen today. Didn't you, Johnny?" Then she whispered in his ear, "Remember the duck."
Needless to say, Johnny ended up doing the dishes after lunch. Later in the evening, Grandpa asked the children if they would like to go fishing, but Grandma interjected, "I'm sorry, but Sally can't go. She has to stay here and help me get supper ready." Sally just smiled and replied, "That's all been taken care of. Johnny said he wanted to help today, didn't you, Johnny?" The look she gave him delivered that same threat, "Remember the duck."       
This went on for several days, as Johnny did all the chores around the house, both his and Sally's, until he could stand it no longer. Trembling all over, he went to his grandmother and confessed everything.
To his surprise, Grandma took him up in her arms and said, "I know about the duck, Johnny. I was standing at the kitchen window and I saw the whole thing. But because I love you, I was already willing to forgive you. I've been waiting for you to tell me about it. And—I would never have mentioned the duck again."
Imagine the look on Johnny's face when he heard his grandmother's words, "I already forgave you"!
What a powerful reminder to us of what our own Father has said to us in His Word: "There is now no condemnation for those who believe!" It's as if He reached down from heaven and lifted our sorrowing, fearful bodies into His arms, and reminded us that He saw all our sin take place and has already forgiven us.
This is a beautiful truth for a Christian. No matter what you've done or where you've been, God has already forgiven you—He simply waits for us to tell Him about it so our fellowship with Him can be fully restored.
My good friend put it wonderfully when he said, "God will not love you better when you become better." This, after all, is the marvel of God's forgiveness. He died on the cross not only for your past sins, but also for your present and future sins.
So quit hiding your "ducks" in the woodpile—bury them! God has already seen them . . . and He has forgiven you.
Prayer Point: Confess any hidden sin to God, knowing that He has already seen it, and pray for His forgiveness. Wash yourself in the reviving, overflowing stream of God's mercy.
Extra Refreshment: Read Psalms 139, where David reminds us that although nothing is hidden from God's eyes, He continues to love us intensely.
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Post  Admin on Sun 25 May 2014, 12:20 pm

WISDOM RETREAT
I Want To Take a Friend
Listen to Audio (right click to save or listen) http://mp3.hutchcraft.com/web/awwy/A_Word_With_You_05-03-2013.mp3

In the good old days, that's when our children were little, my wife and I could just decide we were going to go away for the weekend and we'd announce to them where we were going, bundle them into the car and take off. Well, when they got to be teenagers that got to be a little more complicated. Their vote would count a lot more as far as the decision-making process went.
Okay, I would describe this wonderful trip that I had planned, and then they would bring up that very familiar teenage issue no matter how good the trip sounded, "How about my friend? I can't be away from my friends!" And then we would hear this strong appeal from them, "I want to take a friend." Well, depending on where you're going, that just might be a tremendous idea.
When my teenagers knew that they were going to a special place, they usually wanted to take a friend. Well, you are going to the most special place of all. Who is the friend you want to take with you?
Your life takes on a whole new urgency, a whole new importance, a whole new excitement when you think about heaven and you say to Jesus, "I want to take a friend."
© (c) Ronald P. Hutchcraft
Distributed by Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, Inc.
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Post  Admin on Thu 22 May 2014, 7:25 pm

Invisibly Involved
Philippians 2:13
For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
The internet has allowed people to engage in events worldwide.  Today we can surf sites and witness incidents unfolding in real time. 
A decade ago, much was made of the approaching millennium Y2K.  At that time, an article from the Wall Street Journal caught my attention.  Daystar International Ministry had high hopes of using a strategically located webcam to capture an unusual sight: the second coming of the Messiah!  This was expected at the stroke of midnight, signaling the year 2000.
I won't take time to mention the prophetic problems Daystar was overlooking.  Okay--maybe I will mention one . . . the people who care about His second coming won't be watching Him descend to Jerusalem; we'll be coming with Him! 
Imagine capturing God on film!  You would have Messiah where you could actually see Him.  Your own personal DVD from Daystar for $29.99—if you purchase it in the next fifteen minutes, of course!
A paparazzi photo frenzy would be old news compared to such a spectacle as this. 
A miraculous sighting of the Lord seems far more marketable and exciting than the invisible working of God . . . an idea that won't sell many DVDs. 
Still, the longing in all our hearts remains—a longing that has television shows spinning off series after series: trying to understand the ways of God; imagining how heaven responds to earth; interpreting the role of angels and demons in the affairs of mankind. 
There are today fabricated reports of miraculous occurrences all across the globe:  visions, sightings, miracles, and strange happenings.
I'll admit that it would be exciting to see with my own eyes a miracle performed by God.  That's so much more interesting than attempting to discern His invisible providence—His invisible working in the ordinary events of everyday life. 
Yet for the believer today, that is where God actually is at work—in the mundane, tiring, ordinary, and even repetitive duties of life.  It may come without the thunder and lightning of Mount Sinai, but He is working in our lives right now just as He worked in the lives of His disciples and followers in the first century. 
Howie Stevenson, former Music Minister who served with Pastor Chuck Swindoll for many years, was fond of saying, "God moves among the casseroles."  He meant that God was just as much at work in a person making dinner in the kitchen as He was in Paul planting a church in Ephesus.
God knows how easy it is for you to doubt His sovereignty when you don't see and hear His power . . . or sense His presence in the silence. But He has spoken, and He is present.
Walter Chalmers Smith put it this way when he wrote the first verse to a hymn in 1867:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, 
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes, 
Most blessed, most glorious, 
The Ancient of Days, 
Almighty, victorious— 
Thy great name we praise.
Kitchens, cubicles, car pools, and conference rooms—all are the Holy of Holies. You are in His presence today; although invisible, He is at work in you at this very moment.  You don't need a camera to prove it—God promised it.
So trust His heart . . . even when you can't see His hand.
Prayer Point:  Ask the Lord for greater trust in His presence and involvement in your life, addressing Him as "The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and me."  This will help remind you that He is the God of all history—past and present.
Extra Refreshment:  2 Corinthians 1:2-7 to see one way that God is absolutely involved in your life.
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Post  Admin on Wed 21 May 2014, 7:55 pm

"Not Guilty!"
Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.
I have documentation from Rabbi Reuven Lauffer [Jerusalem, Israel] of an incredible story . . . one relating to the Holocaust: the incarceration and slaughter of Jews in the concentration camp known as Auschwitz. This true story took place toward the end of World War II.
At Auschwitz, as in all the camps, there was no lack of great Jewish scholars. One night ten of those learned men made up a Jewish court of law and put God on trial.
The central premise of the trial: how was it possible that God, who is totally good, could create such a living hell as Auschwitz? The debate raged back and forth all night; finally, the court returned a verdict of "Guilty!" God was guilty of failing His people.
However, upon adjourning the court, the entire barracks rose and began to pray their morning prayers. Even after finding God guilty, they prayed to Him!
What an incredible statement of faith it was for these Jews to continue praying to God, even while the torture and systematic killing continued. Yet, I thought how tragic that they were now praying to a God they believed had left them all alone.
If we were honest with ourselves, each of us could point to a time when we felt as though God had left us . . . and it took infinitely less than genocide to make us accuse God of abandonment.  
When Moses gathers the people to hear his final counsel, he is 120 years old.  His life drawing to a close and the final opportunity looming before him, Moses speaks to the Israelites, reminding them that God does not leave His children. 
Think about it—they had just come from 400 years of generational slavery!   They had not yet entered into the land which God had promised them!  
A man's last speech is usually devoid of self-aggrandizement and is often saturated with words of truth. Moses spoke the words of our text; he believed—he knew—that God does not ever leave His children. 
How did Moses convey this truth?  He knew it in his heart; he professed it with his lips; he lived it until the end. 
This marvelous promise of security should serve to strengthen us in the face of any and all trials.  Our trust is in the Lord and His promises, as recorded in Scripture.  
The words of the last verse from the great hymn "How Firm a Foundation" take on new meaning when we sing:
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose 
I will not, I will not desert to his foes. 
That soul, though all hell 
Should endeavor to shake
I'll never, no never, no never forsake. 
Do you cast your cares upon Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:7) or charge that He isn't concerned?  In the midst of your conflicts and struggles, do you trust and rest in God or indict, try, and find Him guilty of neglect? 
Jesus said, ". . . lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Do you believe  the words of  Christ?  If your  answer is "Yes," then  the verdict  must be . . . "Not guilty!"
Prayer Point: If you have had doubts about God's faithfulness, ask Him to increase your faith. Then ask Him to help you remember all that He has done for you and those whom you know and love. Take time to thank your trustworthy Father.
Extra Refreshment:  Read and try to memorize 2 Timothy 2:11-13.
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Post  Admin on Tue 20 May 2014, 9:22 pm

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
A Wisdom Retreat
But You, O Lord . . .
Psalm 102:11-12
My days are like a lengthened shadow, and I wither away like grass. But You, O Lord, abide  forever, and Your name to all generations.
What you think these men had in common at the height of their careers during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s?
·         Owen D. Young
·         James F. Byrnes
·         Pierre Laval
·         Harlow Curtis
·         Hugh Johnson
More than likely you do not recognize the names of any of these men.  You certainly could not tell what they did or how they rose to fame.  Yet each of these men was at some point in his life Time Magazine's "Man of the Year."  They were judged as the person having had the greatest impact on the rest of humanity during a given year.
It is our nature to think that we are really something special. This is why the business of celebrity is so successful.  We have a desire to be great at something, and we are even willing to be somewhat satisfied with news of the lives of celebrities—reveling in their fame by proxy. 
Think about the yearly audience of the Super Bowl; the Final Four; the NBA playoffs; the Masters; the Stanley Cup; Wimbledon; the Bowl games; the World Series.   Factor in the weekly audiences of American Idol; The Celebrity Apprentice; Survivor, and many more "reality" shows.  The American public has high hopes and watches intently to see who the winners will be.
Then you have the Academy Awards—for days before and after, water cooler talk centers on who will win/won which Oscar. Why? It's not as if the contenders are really the characters they portray—they're just good pretenders. Maybe that's why we find them so fascinating—we want to be good pretenders, too.
The writers of Psalms had no illusions about who we really are. There is line upon line in the book of Psalms regarding the nature of man.
Here in Psalm 102, the days of our lives are compared to withering grass, but not so the Lord's. He is great and His name lives for all generations—He is the same . . . His years will have no end. 
Why do we insist on plying mankind with glory and adulation when we have the God of the universe before us?   Our attention and adoration should not be focused on man's folly, but rather upon the greatness of God.  J. I. Packer addresses this very point:
The Christian's instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God.  But this is knowledge which Christians today largely lack; that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby.  We are modern men, and modern men—though they cherish great thoughts of man—have, as a rule, small thought of God.
Let's get real about ourselves and mankind as a whole: admit that underneath the façade the world sees, we all are sinners by nature, deserving none of mankind's praise.
Should we really care about the comings and goings [and every detail in between] of  celebrities; stars; idols?  No!
Let's focus our aim where it should be, and say with the Psalmist, "But You, O Lord . . . "
Prayer Point: Ask the Lord to help you meditate on His greatness.  As you read the Scriptures, take time to praise God for Himself—the One whose years will have no end.
Extra Refreshment:  Psalms 103 and make the first and last verses come alive to you today.
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Post  Admin on Mon 19 May 2014, 6:20 pm

The Church That Changed
Acts 11:1
Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.
I can still vividly remember a change that occurred in our household years ago.  It was when I took our older daughter to her first day of kindergarten. 
If you had watched us from twenty yards away, we would have made the perfect picture.  She had on new shoes and was carrying her shiny lunchbox; I was holding her hand as we walked from the parking lot to the school.  But if you had come within earshot, you would have discovered that we were actually arguing! 
She wanted me to stay in the car, saying, "Daddy, I don't need you to take me to class; I can do this by myself!"  And I was saying, "Listen, you might be feeling good about all this, young lady, but I'm not—so why don't you just allow me a little insecurity!  Okay?"
I remember that change.  She went from a dependent five-year-old to an independent kindergartener.
No change is easy.  We naturally resist the rough waters; the upheaval; the emotions; the hardships—there're all cousins to change.
The most difficult changes to make are those involving lifelong traditions and heritage.
I'll be even more specific:  changes are hard to accept when it comes to church; when it involves your relationship to Christ; when it affects how you worship. 
How about you?  Can you do an internal audit of your deeply cherished church traditions? 
·         Are they biblically based . . . or culturally based? 
·         Are they resistant to the things Christ   resists . . . or are they conformed  to your peers' opinions?
·         Are they open to the things Christ teaches . . . or are they closed by personal bias?
Let's be honest: were the Lord to have restricted salvation to the Jews only, we would be lost!
Since Israel is God's light to the nations, it was His predetermined plan that this light should shine to the Gentiles. Remember Abraham was given three promises from God in Genesis 12-17:
He would have the title deed to the land of Israel. 
He would have a great progeny.
He would be a spiritual blessing to the entire world.
Paul asks in Romans 3:1, "What advantage has the Jew?" His answer was that they had the oracles [Word] of God, and Christ would be born of the natural seed of Abraham, thus fulfilling God's promise to him that he would bless the entire world. 
So, what about us?  Are we to be a blessing, too? Are we to accept, and even promote, change that brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations? 
Are we to drop cultural barriers for the cause of Christ?  Are we to welcome all who are saved into the family of God? 
These questions bear answering . . . some traditions bear changing.
Prayer Point: Ask the Lord to give you a heart for people . . . and to help you see where change is needed in your own life.   Most of all, ask Him to help you love others as Christ has loved you.
Extra Refreshment:  Acts 15, and take note of the actions of the church when God worked among the Gentiles.
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Post  Admin on Fri 16 May 2014, 6:39 pm

Go to God
1 Samuel 1:10
She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.
If man had written the Bible without God's inspiration, he would have placed the people found there on pedestals and edited the script to remove all of their mistakes, sins, and failures.  But God, the Master Artist, paints the heroes of the Bible with realistic brush strokes. 
God records the whole story of these men and women—"warts" and all; He records their triumphs and also their tears.  There are no perfect people parading across the pages of Scripture—there are real people with real problems.
There was an article in Newsweek written by a woman who had been the editor for a publisher producing self-help books.  She wrote:
You might expect that people who work for authors and bosses of such a company would, in general, be terribly well-adjusted folks—on a first name basis with all their feelings; bursting with self-esteem; free of type-A stress, phobias, and anxieties.  Think again.  The bosses are even now beginning construction on a second story for our building because the office manager and the head of typesetting cannot stand working in the same room together.  One of the executive staff routinely gets so upset during phone calls that he falls out of his chair onto the floor. 
Two in-house authors of a book on stress are on the verge of suing each other. Our best-selling book on phobias and fears is lacking an author cover photo because—you guessed it—the author has a phobia about having his picture taken!
This is true not only in the secular world but in the sacred world as well.  We are all made of clay!  If anyone ever gives you the impression that he has it all together, you need to look again . . . or just quit looking.
Hannah was unable to have children; she also suffered the indignity of the mocking of her husband's other wife Peninnah, who was able to bear children.  This added insult to injury!  It would be unbiblical to say that Hannah, this great woman of faith, was not affected by this situation—she was miserable.
I Samuel 1:8-9 says, "Elkanah her husband said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?' Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the LORD."      
And here comes Hannah's flood of tears!
You may have had times like this: tears bathing your cheeks and washing your soul. But the wonderful thing in verse 10 is that Hannah poured out her soul to the Lord. She went to Him, not away from Him, in the time of her deepest sorrow.
Your heartaches are God's concern; your burdens are His to bear for you.  You can take comfort in the knowledge that "casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you," your heart will be eased (1 Peter 5:7).  "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). Never forget that God is your greatest source of help; of strength; of comfort; of refuge.    
What is it in your life that causes great distress?  What causes you to weep bitterly?  Whatever  the  reason,  follow Hannah's example . . . go to God.
Prayer Point: Take time to pray to God, using real words about real things. Don't just utter the spiritual words that you think you should say—talk to your heavenly Father about your struggles; your feelings; your desires; your failures. Ask Him to help you trust His provision for your need.
Extra Refreshment:  Read Hannah's prayer of exaltation in 1 Samuel 2, expressing her understanding of God's power. 

God Uses Broken Things
John 21:15-17
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,"Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these? He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him,"Tend My lambs." 
He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I  love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." 
He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him "Tend My sheep."
Kathy Ormsby was a success story: a dean's list student at North Carolina State University; a pre‑med major; an All‑American distance runner. 
At the University of Pennsylvania Penn Relays in April, 1986 she set an American collegiate record for 10,000 meters.  She was "on a roll," and qualified for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships in 3000, 5000, and 10,000 meters. She was a celebrity, and everything seemed so right for this twenty-one-year-old junior in college.
But something was dangerously wrong—she had become obsessed with winning. 
In the first week of June, 1986 she began the 10,000 meter run at the NCAA track championships in Indianapolis.  At 6500 meters, she abruptly quit.  Totally burned out, her life's purpose suddenly became clear:  life was nothing more to her than just winning one more race. 
She turned and jogged out of the stadium, ran to a bridge two blocks away, and jumped.  She fell forty or fifty feet onto a flood plain.
Today this woman is paralyzed from the chest down.  Kathy Ormsby will never run again.  The Seattle Times article of June 11, 1986, asked the question, "How many other athletes, obsessed with winning, are heading for a fall?"
In today's text, Jesus Christ is restoring Peter from his denial and betrayal of Him. In loving mercy our Lord takes those who belong to Him—broken and despondent—and makes them whole and useful for His purposes.  
This is the purpose of our lives:  to know Him and to glorify Him.  Paul called us "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
Peter's difficulty stemmed from believing that he really was what his new name signified—a rock. 
Jesus was in the process of teaching him an important concept:  apart from His strength, Peter was a piece of crumbling sandstone.  In other words, he was broken.  That is painfully clear as Christ reverts to Peter's old name, asking, "Simon [stone] . . . do you love Me?"
Vance Havner wrote:
"God uses broken things.  It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume.  It is the broken soil that produces a crop; it is the broken clouds that give rain; it is the broken grain that gives bread, and it is the broken bread that gives strength. . . . God uses broken things."
Brokenness is defined as being totally subdued; humbled; weakened and infirmed; crushed by grief.  It's not bad to find yourself in that condition; after all . . . God uses broken things.
Prayer Point:  Lift your heart to God in surrender and submission, praying to be broken for His purposes.  Tell Him you are willing to be changed!
Extra Refreshment:  Read the letter to Philemon 1 to get a perspective on a changed life.
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Post  Admin on Wed 14 May 2014, 9:03 pm

Then Comes the Good Part! 
John 20:18
Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and that He had said these things to her.
A family was watching The Greatest Story Ever Told, a film on the life of Christ.  One of the children in the family was deeply moved.  As Jesus journeyed to Calvary, tears rolled down her cheeks. She sat absolutely silent until Jesus had been taken down from the cross and put into the tomb.  Then she suddenly grinned and shouted excitedly, "Now comes the good part!"
Now comes the good part!  Indeed it does! The resurrection of our Lord is the basis of our faith.  Without it, we would be lost! Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
·         The gospel would be meaningless.
       f you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:9).
·         Forgiveness of sins would be hopeless.
      And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (I Corinthians 15:17).
·         Present life would be joyless.
      Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:18-19).
·         Godly living would be fruitless.
      Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father (John 14:12). 
·         Future life would be worthless.
      Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also  in Me.  In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:1-2).
Do you understand what is at stake?  If there is no resurrection, there is no Gospel; if there is no Gospel, there is no forgiveness of sin; if there is no forgiveness of sin, there is no present joy; if there is no present joy, there is no future hope.
We may sit silently during part of this life; we may shed abundant tears of sadness as we watch and wait.  But just remember that Christ is preparing a place for us in His Father's house . . . and then comes the good part!
Prayer Point: Talk to the Lord with gratitude for your salvation.  Use the words death, burial, and resurrection when you pray. Keep in mind that you have eternal life because of His resurrection.
Extra Refreshment:  1 Corinthians 15 for Paul's awesome teaching on the Resurrection.
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Post  Admin on Tue 13 May 2014, 7:10 pm

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
A Wisdom Retreat 

Light Up the Runway!
Matthew 5:14-15 
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house."
James Dobson told a story about a friend who was flying his single-engine plane toward a small rural airport.  When he arrived at the close of the day, the sun had already dropped behind the mountain.  By the time he had maneuvered into position to land, he couldn't see the shadowy field below.  There was no one on duty at the airport, and there were no lights on the plane. 
The pilot circled the runway for another attempted landing, but the darkness had become even more impenetrable.  For two hours he flew around in the inky blackness, knowing full well that he faced certain death when his fuel tank emptied.
Then, as panic began to seize him, a wonderful thing happened.  Someone who lived near the airport had heard the continuous drone of a small plane engine and realized there was a problem.  That kind, merciful man raced to the airport and drove his car back and forth on the runway to indicate the direction of the airstrip. He then drove to the far end of the runway, positioned his lights, and turned them on high beam, to shine down the stretch of tarmac. 
The pilot landed safely.
We all know the potential disaster that comes from being caught ill-equipped in darkness.
Maybe you drove to the restaurant anyway, even though your daughter reminded you that you don't see well enough to drive at night.  Maybe you tried to get that last section of the deck stained before nightfall and discovered the streaks the next morning. Maybe you stepped on the only Lego left out on the floor as you started down the hallway to get a late-night drink of water.
Darkness can be frightening. Darkness can be dangerous. Darkness can be deadly.
But, "God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6).
This Light that He gave us is Himself.  In John's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that He is the Light of the World (John 8:12). In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus Christ tells His disciples that they are the light of the world. This is to say that Christ puts His Light in us.  This He does by giving us Himself.
Because God has given Himself to us, we in turn bear witness of God to others. What if the man who had illuminated the runway had decided to stay home?
The souls of the world hang in the balance, and without Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, they are destined to remain in the darkness—without God . . . without hope.
Grab your keys; start the engine; turn on the headlights—someone's in trouble.  Don't make him circle the field again!  Light up the runway . . . bring him in for a safe landing!
Prayer Point: Pray that God will give you opportunity to share Christ with others.  Pray that you will have the courage to shine brightly.
Extra Refreshment: Luke 1:67-79 and experience the same joy as Zacharias in praising God for Jesus, the Light of the World.
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Post  Admin on Mon 12 May 2014, 5:53 pm

Faith is . . .
Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
My favorite professor often quoted from Lewis Carroll's book entitled Through the Looking-Glass. 
He especially used the conversation between Alice and the White Queen:
"How old are you?" asked the queen.
"I'm seven and a half, exactly."
"You needn't say ‘exactly'; I can believe it without that. Now I'll give you something to believe: I'm just one hundred and one, five months, and a day."
Alice protested, "I can't believe that!"
"Can't you? Try again—draw a long breath, and shut your eyes," the queen urged.
Alice roared, "There's no use trying; one can't believe impossible things!"
To this the queen responded, "I daresay you haven't had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it half-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
The unregenerate man on Main Street, USA believes this is the meaning of faith:  take a long breath, close your eyes, and begin to believe things that are impossible to believe.
What do you think?  Maybe you have been afraid that this is its meaning. It is not!
We expect this kind of thinking outside the church, yet we are shocked when we find it inside the church. Faith is not an elusive, passive thing—it is alive and active.
The fruit of faith is substance and evidence—that which shows in our lives and proves what we believe.
So what is faith?  Faith is the act of:
·         considering Jesus Christ worthy of trust as to His character and motives;
·         placing confidence in His ability to do just what He says He will do;
·         entrusting the salvation of our soul into the hands of Christ;
·         committing the work of saving our soul to the care of the Lord.
This means taking ourselves out of our own keeping and entrusting ourselves into the keeping of Jesus Christ.
This means that we listen to what God is saying in His Word. Paul exhorted Timothy, his son in the faith, to "accurately handle the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15) because it is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, ??equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
A friend once asked, "When was the last time God spoke to you and what did He say?" Then he held up his Bible and said, "This is where He is speaking. Are you hearing Him? Are you obeying Him?"
How about you—are you walking by faith? "Now, faith is . . ."
Prayer point: Take time in your prayer life and Bible reading, treating it like a conversation.  Before reading the Scriptures, ask God to help you hear Him. After reading the text, ask God to help you obey Him. Pray as the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5).
Extra Refreshment: Hebrews 11 the instances of people hearing God and doing what He says.
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Post  Admin on Fri 09 May 2014, 8:56 pm

I Believe I Will
John 3:17-18
"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
I remember, as a boy, visiting the home of an elderly couple in Wisconsin as we traveled on our way to Minnesota.  The man, in his eighties and near death's door, was confined to his chair.  We sat in the living room—my father and mother, my three brothers, and I.  
Although the man's children supported my missionary parents, he was not a Christian.  I can still hear my father as he shared the plan of salvation with him and then asked, "Would you like to receive Christ as your own Savior?  Would you like to ask Him into your life?"
The man said, "I don't believe I will."
Something pressed upon my father to risk offense, because he simply rewound his conversation and started over.  He pulled his chair right up to the recliner where the old man was sitting wrapped in a comforter.  I remember the urgency in my dad's voice. 
Here was a man who had lived a respectable life, raised decent children, attended church, and accomplished a lot of good things.  Here was my father telling him that he was not good enough in himself!
After explaining the gospel yet another time, Dad put the question to him again: "Would you now place your faith in Christ and simply receive Him as your personal Savior?"
I held my breath.  It was then that the man replied, "I believe I will."
Now there were tears running down my cheeks.  None of us knew it at the time, but within a few months the man would die.
Death comes to all.  It's a reality of the planet we inhabit. This is the reason Jesus Christ came into the world—that it might be saved.
But why are we in this desperate condition?  The Scriptures tell us that all men are sinners (Romans 3:10-23) and death is the result of that sin (Genesis 2:17; Ephesians 2).  It is spiritual death.
Now that's a problem, and the solution can't be found in mankind because all men are dead. Christ took the punishment that was ours and bore it Himself, offering us His righteousness in return.  He paid the debt for our sin on the cross. This He did for all who will believe and accept His gift of salvation.
The death, burial, and resurrection of the Savior provide the proverbial life raft, the cure, the escape from death's everlasting clutches.  But the raft must be inflated; the cure must be swallowed; the escape must be made through the open door.
We would think it crazy that a drowning man would pass up a life raft and say, "I don't believe I'll get in it." It would be fatal to turn from the cure and say, "I don't believe I'll take it."  It would be suicide to slam the escape door and say, "I don't believe I'll go."  Yet, we seem quite unconcerned when a similar response comes from those with whom we've pled to accept Christ's love and sacrifice:  "I don't believe I will."
How about you? As you start down this path of spiritual retreat, will you believe on His name and accept His shed blood as the payment for your sins?  Will you receive His saving forgiveness?  There should be  only one answer . . . "I believe I will."
Prayer point:  If you have never come to know God through His Son, pray that He would show you the good news in John 3. If you do know Him, pray that God would help you keep in mind that everyone needs Jesus.
Extra Refreshment:  Romans 3:21-26, the passage that some call the "heart of the Gospel."
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Post  Admin on Thu 08 May 2014, 8:43 pm

Disturbing the Peace
Matthew 10:34
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
A riot took place in Kansas a few years ago; it wasn't in a back alley or a city park—it was in the House of Representatives!
The elected officials started their session as they always did—with prayer—but the man who was asked to pray was Pastor Joe Wright. The provocative words of his prayer caused an uproar in the House. He prayed:
Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that's exactly what we've done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and we have inverted our values.
We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism, and worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.  We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery, and  neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice, and shot abortionists and called it justifiable.  We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem, and abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition, and polluted the airwaves with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us. Cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas and have been ordained by You to govern this great state. Grant them Your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your will. I ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wow! What a prayer!
Joe reminded every Representative—and us— that our culture has been deceived, and stands in need of repentance.
He may as well have been pointing a gun at them by the way they responded to his prayer.
Before he had even finished, representatives were flooding the microphones to begin their angry tirades against this pastor. His prayer for pardon and wisdom quickly made its way into national headlines that read something like this:  JOE WRIGHT—YOU HAVE UPSET OUR WORLD!
Telling the world that they've given sin respectable names and are in need of a Savior doesn't go over very well.  That means they are sinners!  Are you willing to upset your world today?
Now go out . . . and disturb the peace! 
Prayer Point: Pray for boldness to share the gospel with unbelievers, asking God to give you the kind of passion that Joe Wright, the apostle Paul, and so many others had for sharing their faith, even though it might just upset your own world.
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Post  Admin on Wed 07 May 2014, 5:42 pm

Sola Scriptura!
John 17:17
"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth."
I believe we are living in an exciting era. It is a period in church history when the debate over the nature and sufficiency of God's Word is once again at the forefront of peoples' minds. We are hearing the rumblings of the sixteenth-century argument of truth versus error—the Reformation cry of "Sola Scriptura" . . . the Scriptures alone!
In recent years there has been much hullabaloo over the accord that was struck between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Roman Catholic Church. They announced that the issues of the Reformation are no longer divisive issues today.
Oh?
I read an issue of Newsweek magazine with the cover article featuring "The Meaning of Mary: A Struggle over Her Role Grows within the Church." The article read:
There is an incredible surge going on within the Catholic community to have a new dogma made. More than 100,000 signatures are arriving every month in Rome from people around the world who want to see Mary take the next step in a progression of promotions that began in 431, when she was given the title "Mother of God," to 1854, when she was declared sinless, to 1950, when she was declared to have been taken up bodily into heaven instead of dying. Now, the movement is gaining ground to have her formally declared Co-Redeemer.
The article explained that the late Pope John Paul was quite convinced that Mary is the co-redeemer of humanity. In one announcement he made in April, 1997, he postulated:
Having created man "male and female," the Lord also wants to place the New Eve beside the New Adam [the new Adam being Christ] in the Redemption. Mary, the New Eve, thus becomes a perfect icon of the church. We can therefore turn to the Blessed Virgin, trustfully imploring her aid in the singular role entrusted to her by God, the role of co-operator in the redemption.
What I found interesting is that Newsweek, although a secular magazine, had enough insight to reply, "This view seems to contradict the basic New Testament belief that there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
The core of the Reformation remains—what do the Scriptures say, and are they the final authority?
Whether it's our view of Mary, Purgatory, salvation by faith alone, or any other issue, the church today needs as much reform as it did in the 16th century, and our reformation cry must echo the cry of old: "Sola Scriptura" . . .  the Scriptures alone!
God's Word is the only truth that teaches what is sufficient for faith and practice, and the only truth that answers the question, "What must I do to be saved?"
No matter what century we're in, there is no higher authority on earth than the Scriptures
 . . . alone!
Prayer Point: Pray that God will renew your vigor for studying His Word. If the Bible has become just a collection of stories or characters to you, or a book that you open only on Sundays, pray that God will give you new eyes to see His truth, and a renewed mind to grasp it.
Extra Refreshment: 2 Timothy 3. 

WISDOM FOR THE HEART
http://www.wisdomonline.org/resources/all/3048/?source_code=oneplace
Discovering God's Will
GOD'S WILL
How can you discover God's will for your life? In this booklet Stephen helps us understand that God is not playing a celestial game of hide-and-seek. God intends for us to enjoy the process of discovering His will and find out along the way that we are really discovering Him!
Our thank you to you for your gift of any amount to the ministry of Wisdom for the Heart.
Offer expires July 31, 2014.
http://www.wisdomonline.org/resources/all/3048/?source_code=oneplace
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Post  Admin on Tue 06 May 2014, 8:45 pm

Tuesday, May 6, 2014
A Wisdom Retreat
Counting the Cost
Luke 14:27
"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."
You probably have never heard of Stephanie Stephenson, and I doubt you will ever hear about her again. Stephanie was a  freshman music major at Southwest Missouri State University. Her teacher encouraged her to audition for the Broadway production of Les Miserables, to give her some acting experience. She traveled to Branson, Missouri, where the auditions were being held, and tried out with one hundred other women.
A few weeks later, Stephanie was shocked to receive a telephone call from the director in New York, asking her to come for a second audition. The applicants had been narrowed down to five women, and she was one of the five.
Stephanie had always dreamed of performing on Broadway. She talked it over with her parents, who were deeply committed Christians, as was she.  They agreed that she could make the trip.
Another few weeks passed, and Stephanie was even more stunned to receive word that she had landed a role in Les Miserables.   Without stage experience, and with the promise that she would later join the Broadway cast, Stephanie was sent to the touring production troupe for a year on the road, to sharpen her skills and gain exposure.
When parts were assigned for the first performance, she was given the role of a prostitute wearing a tawdry costume. Her angst was apparent; she struggled and made every excuse imaginable to justify playing the part. Finally, she sought the director and asked if she could be given a different part, but instead of finding a sympathetic ear, she was rebuffed and told, "It's just acting, and if you can't separate your personal life from the role, you'll never make it in this business."
Stephanie then appealed to the producer, but was given virtually the same answer: "Get over it . . . it's just a part . . . it's not really you . . . don't throw this opportunity away."
Stephanie ceased to plead, left the troupe, and walked away from her dream of a future on Broadway. After the young actress was gone, the associate director and executive producer of Les Miserable talked to the Associated Press about her decision to leave, making this comment: "She's gorgeous and she's talented and she could have played the daylights out of the role, probably to great acclaim on Broadway. But I respect what she did. She is a brave young girl to forgo an amazing career."
Knowing the cost of following Christ and yet willing to make the sacrifice, Stephanie Stephenson turned her back on the stage— relinquishing a promising career, the smell of grease paint, the glare of footlights, the excitement of curtain calls, the thrill of applause—and that's why you've never heard of her . . . but God has.
Prayer Point: Pray for God to reveal to you ways in which you may be compromising your faith for something else, whether it is a friend, a loved one, a job, or a hobby. Pray that God will give you the strength to turn your back, knowing that the joy He offers will be far greater than the object or person who is coming between you and Him.
Extra Refreshment: Luke 14.
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Post  Admin on Mon 05 May 2014, 7:15 pm

Living Dependently
Romans 12:5
So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Unity is not achieved by everyone thinking alike, having the same preference in music, or reading from the same translation of the Bible. Neither is it based on personality, appearance, or social standing. Our unity is built upon the Church's body of truth—the Scriptures. And the Scriptures tell us that we are not to live independently of one another, but dependently, as members of a body.  Paul emphasized this point when he said,
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:14-16).
The question of whether or not someone else is performing his part in the body isn't yours to answer. The key question for you is, "Am I doing my part in building up the body in love?" When every part of the body does its job, the body is not disabled, but coordinated. This is true for the physical body, and is also true for the body of Christ, known as the Church.
If you don't have the use of an arm or leg, you may be in the category known as "Disabled" (or handicapped, in years gone by). In the same way, when a member of the Church cannot, or will not, function as he should, the church becomes disabled and handicapped in ministry. Those who join local churches but refuse to serve in them actually help to create a disabled body.
On the other hand, when members make the commitment to roll up their sleeves and humbly serve one another, the local church becomes more coordinated and more effective.
The truth is, we need each other. Just as eyes can't provide hearing and ears can't provide sight, you and I provide for the rest of the body the gifts which others lack. The Church is in need of what you as an individual bring to it, and there are no excuses for "sitting it out."
One pastor expressed it this way: "You cannot claim to love Jesus Christ and ignore His bride." God is serious about His Church because He purchased her with His precious blood.
If you are not involved in a local church—not using your gifts for the good of the whole body—then you've forgotten how vitally important you are to a healthy, coordinated Body or . . . you've grown complacent and lazy.
If you're faithfully serving the local body where God has placed you, then you're already experiencing the joys of providing "hearing" or "seeing" or "walking" capabilities for your church, and someone is dependent upon you.
All I have to say to you is . . . "Keep it up!"
Prayer Point: If you are uncertain as to how you can most effectively serve your local church, pray that God will reveal to you your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your giftedness. Then pray that He will give you a greater appreciation for the Church, knowing that it is the greatest way in which He is working in the world today.
Extra Refreshment: 1 Corinthians 12.
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Post  Admin on Fri 02 May 2014, 6:46 pm

Constantly Abiding
John 15:9
"Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love."
When you desire God; when you talk to Him in prayer; when you privately meditate on His Word; when you relate the events of life to Him; when you praise Him for His delights and His discipline—you are abiding in Him.
If you are a father, you never had to sit down with your son and say, "Okay, son, I want you to watch carefully how I walk, and then I want you to imitate me." No—he shuffles along in your shadow of his own will.
As a mother, you didn't have to tell your daughter to watch you put on make-up or arrange your hair style.  Oh, no—she's already sneaked into your room and tried it out for herself!  Kids don't need formal lessons to pick up on the way you do things. They learn it by simply abiding with you, by watching you, by imitating you.
It was Dr. Alexander Graham Bell who advised the parents of a little girl named Helen to send for a teacher from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. Johanna Sullivan had graduated as valedictorian of her class, triumphing over her impoverished past—her mother's death when Anne was eight years old; her abusive father's abandonment two years later; four years in the state almshouse, where her only sibling died.  Life for the nineteen- year-old had been difficult.  A year after her graduation, she was chosen for the task of instructing six-year-old Helen Keller, a blind deaf-mute. Anne's success was monumental.
After weeks of arduous work, Helen was able to realize that the sign language letters Annie pressed into her hand spelled the name of objects. Two years later, Helen was reading and writing Braille fluently. At the age of ten, she learned different sounds by placing her fingers on her teacher's throat and feeling the vibrations.  When Helen went to college, Annie Sullivan spelled every lecture into Helen's hand.  While Helen earned the degree, Annie received a college education, too.
When Annie died in 1936, after fifty years of companionship to Helen, the sorrowing woman wrote these endearing words about the person who had become her eyes, her ears, and her mouth:
My teacher is so near to me that I scarcely think of myself apart from her. I feel that her being is inseparable from my own, and that the footsteps of my life are in hers. All the best of me belongs to her—there is not a talent or an inspiration or a joy in me that has not been awakened by her loving touch.
In many ways, what Anne Sullivan was for Helen Keller, Jesus Christ wants to be for us. He desires to be our eyes, our ears, our mouth. He promises to be our friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24), but we must be dependent upon Him . . . as dependent as Helen Keller was on Anne Sullivan.
When we abide [dwell, stay, continue] in Christ, people will see the evidence written all over us. We will imitate His character and share His perspective.
Abiding in Christ is not a list of rules—it is a way of life . . . for the Christian.
Prayer Point: Seek the Lord right now as you would your closest friend. Cry out to Him with your distresses and afflictions; thank Him for His many blessings, and praise Him for always being a faithful companion, even in the times when you are not.
Extra Refreshment: Psalms 27.
 
The God of All Comfort
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
My wife and I had the privilege of meeting Joni Erickson Tada, the Christian author who was paralyzed from the neck down as a young lady. In the early years after her diving accident, she wrote about coming to terms with the fact that God's plan for her life was to remain paralyzed.
In one of her books, A Step Further, she wrote:
On a rainy afternoon in the early summer of 1972, about fifteen people gathered in a tiny oak church not far from my home. The group consisted of close friends, family, and church leaders whom I had called together to pray for my healing. By the time our brief service was over, the rain had stopped. Exiting through the front doors of the church, we were greeted by a beautiful rainbow in the misty distance. It gave me just one more reassurance that God had heard our prayers. God had indeed heard . . . but He did not heal.
Those who have heard Joni speak have been struck by the peace of Christ that emanates from her face and through her testimony. She is an example to us all of the fact that we can trust God even when times are hard. She has devoted the remainder of her life to reminding believers that, even when God chooses to give sickness instead of health, His plan is always perfect. Even when it doesn't feel good, His will is always perfect.
During my college years I had a friend who went on a hike one night with a group of adventurous young people. Unable to see clearly what lay ahead, he literally walked off the edge of a steep cliff.  Though he survived the fall, he was paralyzed from the waist down.
Today Scott Mitchell is the founding pastor of a thriving church in Atlanta, Georgia, believing that, if it hadn't been for that fall, he would not be the man he is today. He now spends his life and ministry sharing with suffering believers the comfort he experienced from God during that trial.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians that this is the very reason for some of our afflictions—that we may be able to comfort others who are afflicted. Therefore the question we should ask during times of suffering is not, "Lord, will You please get me out of this?" but, "Lord, will You show me who I can help through this?"
Everyone in the world is suffering in some way, but not everyone has experienced the comfort that God offers in the midst of it. Follow the examples of Paul, Joni Erickson Tada, and my friend, Scott, who made the decision to use their afflictions for good . . . to comfort others.
Prayer Point: Consider an area of trial in your own life, whether it is physical illness, emotional pain, family strife, etc., and thank the Lord for allowing you to go through it. Then pray that God will bring someone across your path who is going through a similar trial and needs comforting.
Extra Refreshment: 2 Corinthians 1.
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Post  Admin on Thu 01 May 2014, 10:07 am

Constantly Abiding
John 15:9
"Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love."
When you desire God; when you talk to Him in prayer; when you privately meditate on His Word; when you relate the events of life to Him; when you praise Him for His delights and His discipline—you are abiding in Him.
If you are a father, you never had to sit down with your son and say, "Okay, son, I want you to watch carefully how I walk, and then I want you to imitate me." No—he shuffles along in your shadow of his own will.
As a mother, you didn't have to tell your daughter to watch you put on make-up or arrange your hair style.  Oh, no—she's already sneaked into your room and tried it out for herself!  Kids don't need formal lessons to pick up on the way you do things. They learn it by simply abiding with you, by watching you, by imitating you.
It was Dr. Alexander Graham Bell who advised the parents of a little girl named Helen to send for a teacher from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. Johanna Sullivan had graduated as valedictorian of her class, triumphing over her impoverished past—her mother's death when Anne was eight years old; her abusive father's abandonment two years later; four years in the state almshouse, where her only sibling died.  Life for the nineteen- year-old had been difficult.  A year after her graduation, she was chosen for the task of instructing six-year-old Helen Keller, a blind deaf-mute. Anne's success was monumental.
After weeks of arduous work, Helen was able to realize that the sign language letters Annie pressed into her hand spelled the name of objects. Two years later, Helen was reading and writing Braille fluently. At the age of ten, she learned different sounds by placing her fingers on her teacher's throat and feeling the vibrations.  When Helen went to college, Annie Sullivan spelled every lecture into Helen's hand.  While Helen earned the degree, Annie received a college education, too.
When Annie died in 1936, after fifty years of companionship to Helen, the sorrowing woman wrote these endearing words about the person who had become her eyes, her ears, and her mouth:
My teacher is so near to me that I scarcely think of myself apart from her. I feel that her being is inseparable from my own, and that the footsteps of my life are in hers. All the best of me belongs to her—there is not a talent or an inspiration or a joy in me that has not been awakened by her loving touch.
In many ways, what Anne Sullivan was for Helen Keller, Jesus Christ wants to be for us. He desires to be our eyes, our ears, our mouth. He promises to be our friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24), but we must be dependent upon Him . . . as dependent as Helen Keller was on Anne Sullivan.
When we abide [dwell, stay, continue] in Christ, people will see the evidence written all over us. We will imitate His character and share His perspective.
Abiding in Christ is not a list of rules—it is a way of life . . . for the Christian.
Prayer Point: Seek the Lord right now as you would your closest friend. Cry out to Him with your distresses and afflictions; thank Him for His many blessings, and praise Him for always being a faithful companion, even in the times when you are not.
Extra Refreshment: Psalms 27.
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Post  Admin on Tue 29 Apr 2014, 8:44 pm

The Guise of Godliness
1 Samuel 16:7
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
I have never had a State Highway patrolman stop me and say, "Sorry to bother you, sir, but I just wanted to commend you for coming to a complete stop at that stop sign back there . . . here's fifty dollars—have a nice day!"
Nor have I been pulled over by an officer who said to me: "Hey, I noticed you were keeping the speed limit even when you were going down that steep hill. I thought that was pretty remarkable of you to do that, so I want to give you these gift certificates to the Mall . . . so long!"
This will probably never happen . . . you think?
Truth is, those who abide by the law will often be viewed by men as the "godly" ones. It happened in Jesus' day with the Pharisees and Sadducees; they deceived men, as well as themselves, into thinking that their own good works were enough to make them righteous before a Holy God. They fully expected God to shower them with gift certificates to the bazaar!
Although it is important to obey the law, it isn't the real test of godliness. Actually, it's possible for you to keep the speed limit and still be an ungodly person. It's possible to stop at all the stop signs, hold the door for women, chew with your mouth closed, clock-in to work five minutes early every morning, and perform good deeds galore—and still be completely unholy in your heart.
Although everyone may sing your praises, the question is: what does God see when He looks at your heart?
God reminded Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7 that man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Even today, God is the only one who sees past the gimmicks—the facade, the clothes, the make-up—directly into the heart of every person.
The encouragement of this truth rests in the fact that, because God sees the secret intents and motives of every person's heart, He actually does reward those who keep their hearts pure. Though the world may often get it wrong and may praise deceptive people, God never will.
The world rewards people of influence; God rewards people of integrity . . . and our reward is just ahead.
Prayer Point: Expose your heart before God and ask Him to cleanse you of all the things you have done recently for the eyes of men, rather than  the eyes of God.
Extra Refreshment: Matthew 6.
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Post  Admin on Mon 28 Apr 2014, 8:25 pm

Bar the Gates!
Romans 6:13
Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 
John Bunyan, one of history's greatest Christian authors, wrote the story of a fierce battle to take control of a city from its rightful ruler.  This famous allegory, Bunyan's second most popular work, is entitled The Holy War. His depiction of the human soul is a city, Mansoul,  with five gates: Ear Gate, Eye Gate, Nose Gate, Feel Gate, and Mouth Gate.
The enemy of the city is Sin, who comes on a daily basis to attack at one of its five gates. Sin speaks to the Ear Gate; he presents vivid, alluring pictures to the Eye Gate; he tempts the other "Gates" as well.
The interesting thing about this battle is that Mansoul could never be defeated by outside attacks, and Sin could never win in his assaults against the five gates . . . except in one way:  someone on the inside had to open one of the gates and let Sin in.
In reality, these five gates are not Bunyan's allegorical creations at all—they are for real! Bunyan had grasped what both Paul and Peter understood:  that the soul of man is destroyed from the inside, not the outside.
This is why Paul urged the believers to stop presenting their members to sin. The word presenting in this verse is a military term, used in the transferring of weaponry or arms. Paul was actually saying, "Don't let the enemy use your body as his weapon. Don't let the enemy have your rifle or your sword so he can use it against you! Don't leave yourself unarmed . . . don't open the gates!"
Unquestionably, you cannot be a holy child of God while allowing your eyes to feast on unholy scenes. Most of today's new film releases contain scenes of adultery or fornication. It is a fact, according to recent statistics, that over ninety percent of all sexual content in the average film is between unmarried people or people who are married to someone else.
If you choose to watch sin on the big screen, whether in a theater or your family room,  you have just opened the Eye Gate and invited Sin to come in.
If Sin can't get through one gate, he will try another.  So, what are the lyrics to your favorite songs, and the lifestyle of your favorite artists? Most secular music today is filled with the same perversion that you see on the screen; merely listening to it may be as deadly as watching it . . . keep the Ear Gate closed!
You are in a Holy War, Christian, just as John Bunyan said. And you may be your own worst enemy! Sin is pounding at each Gate, but he can only come in if you allow him entrance. Sin can't win the battle from the outside.
Don't betray your Mansoul!  By all means, reinforce the boundaries . . . fortify the walls . . . bar the Gates!
Prayer Point: Thank God for His available strength to enable your battle against the onslaught of sin. Ask Him to bring to mind any area of your senses where you might be allowing sin to gain entrance into the city of your soul. Confess the treason against His holiness and ask Him for strength to close the Gate and lock it tight.
Extra Refreshment: 2 Peter 3.
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Post  Admin on Fri 25 Apr 2014, 8:47 pm

Set Apart
1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession. 
The word sanctification is a common word in the New Testament. It relates to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, minds, and lives, to conform us to the character of Jesus Christ. The simpler definition of sanctification comes from the Greek word, meaning set apart.
The concept is not hard to grasp, as I'm sure you have things in your home that are sanctified—set apart for a particular use. I know I do. My wife's butcher knives were not to be used as swords when my children were younger, pretending to be knights of the Middle Ages. My golf clubs were not meant for hitting rocks and acorns . . . wonder what gave them that idea . . . ?
Some things are set apart for a distinct purpose and shouldn't be used for anything else.  The truth is, your life, which has been bought by the precious blood of the King, happens to be set apart for a distinct purpose:  to bring glory to God through lives marked by godly living.
When little Victoria Guelph learned at the age of eleven that she was next in line for the British throne, historians tell us that she burst into tears. Then upon regaining composure, she said with great conviction and purpose, "If I am to be queen, then I shall be good."
What a remarkable resolution! Even at the tender age of eleven, Victoria recognized something that many Christians never quite grasp—the principle of sanctification. Victoria determined with passion and conviction that her practice would live up to her position. When told that she would wear the crown as Queen of England, she determined to exercise a godly lifestyle worthy of her crown.
You are more like the royalty of England than you thought—having believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, you are royalty! Peter calls you a chosen race and a royal priesthood, which means that you are the highest order in God's kingdom.
But the question is, have you resolved to live up to it? Are you exercising the kind of character worthy of the crown of life?
Today there is a dire need in our churches for people who will say with conviction, "Since I am headed for a future throne as fellow heir and ruler with Christ in heaven, I will live up to my position while on earth. Because of who I am in Christ, I will determine to live for Christ."
Anything less will become like a dull butcher knife or a splintered golf club—fairly useless in performing the task it was distinctly set apart to accomplish.  In God's kingdom, we are chosen vessels to do His work for His glory . . . so, sanctify yourself.   
Prayer Point: Ask God to help you identify areas of your life which are not set apart for Him. Take time to carefully think through your daily, weekly, and monthly activities. Are there any that are not consistent with your position "in Christ"? Commit those areas to Him, asking God to sanctify you . . . completely.
Extra Refreshment: Romans 8.
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Post  Admin on Thu 24 Apr 2014, 2:17 pm

Dirty Kisses
Romans 6:1-2
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
A pastor wrote a rather interesting article in a minister's journal; it dealt with a problem in the bathroom of a middle school in Oregon. Girls were setting the precedent of pressing their lips to the mirrors after applying lipstick, leaving dozens of messy lip prints all over the glass.
When the principal declared that something must be done, she devised a rather ingenious plan and told the custodian exactly what to do. After summoning the girls and the custodian to the bathroom, the principal explained that the lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian, and instructed that the girls stop the nasty practice that wasted his valuable time.
Of course, the girls were oblivious to this request and were irritated at having to meet with the principal—they didn't even try to hide it. Not being deterred, the principal continued with her scheme, and asked the custodian to show them how he had been cleaning the mirrors each day after school.
He promptly took out his long-handled brush, dipped it into one of the nearby toilets, and scrubbed the mirrors with the brush. The girls' mouths dropped open in shock. Not surprisingly, since that demonstration, the lip prints have never reappeared!
There is a valuable lesson to be learned from this story. Although sin may seem as innocent and harmless as kissing a mirror, we are often unaware of the vile and evil things lurking on the periphery—waiting to wreak havoc in our lives.
 Have you ever said this to your kids: "Don't let that dog lick you on your face—you have no idea where she's been!" I try to warn them, but they never seem to connect the dots. In my case, I know whereof I speak—or should I say warn.  We have a dog who loves nasty, yucky stuff! Whenever she gets loose in the horse pasture beyond our backyard fence, she rolls around in the grass—filth and all—just for fun. I watch her in utter disgust, but she pays no attention to my opinion of her personal hygiene.
You see, my dog has a serious problem with the way she thinks! Maybe that's okay for her . . . she's a dog . . . but for Christians to roll around in the filth of sin and thoroughly enjoy it is a completely different matter. There is something dreadfully wrong with the heart of a Christian who enjoys kissing dirty mirrors.
Paul warns the believer in this text "Don't call yourself a Christian if you are going to continue in a lifestyle of sin! Have you forgotten who you are? You are a child of the King—start acting like it!"
Paul is not saying that we will never sin, or that we will never fall at times, because we will. He is referring to people who love sin more than God. These are so-called Christians who overlook the passages in the Bible about refraining from deceit, pride, sexual immorality, slander, bitterness, and more, while holding on to their sin, rather than upholding God's standard.
Paul's point is simple:  Christians have been saved from sin; they should refrain from "kissing" the world . . . including mirrors and dogs! 
Prayer Point: Confess any sin that has been lingering in your spirit, whether it has been there for a few hours, months, or years. Pray the prayer of the psalmist who asked God to "search my heart and see if there be any wicked way in me, and blot it out."
Extra Refreshment: Romans 6
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Post  Admin on Wed 23 Apr 2014, 6:43 pm

The Peacemaker
John 16:33
"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
No matter the efforts, the world and its inhabitants are unable to attain peace. In the last five thousand years, there have been at least 14,000 wars. In the past four centuries alone, the Western world has entered into 8,000 peace treaties—each one averaging a two-year "life expectancy."
One author put it best when he said peace was only a period of time when everyone stopped to reload!  Humorous though it may be, the world seems to use the interludes between wars to gear up for the next round of conflict.
It isn't any wonder to us that Isaiah, in his prophetic book of the Bible, called Jesus Christ the "Prince of Peace." Christ is the one and only remedy for a violent and corrupt world, and He has promised to be that remedy to all who believe on His name. So why do people refuse Him? If they want peace so badly, why won't they reach out and take it?
Why?  Simply because the world wants peace without the Prince!
The prophet Jeremiah decried the lack of peace in his own generation, as people sought their own solutions apart from God. In chapter 6:10-14, he wrote,
". . . Behold, their ears are closed and they cannot listen. Behold, the word of the Lord has become a reproach to them; they have no delight in it . . . For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,' but there is no peace." 
In other words, "Everyone in my generation and among my people is consumed with greed. They desire more and more gain, and all of them, from the leadership down, are living deceitful lives—lying to one another, deceiving one another, and deceiving themselves in the process."
This is the grim portrait of society—Jeremiah's and ours.
People talk about peace, but they don't have it. They patch things together for a few weeks or months, but it doesn't last very long. That's because they have rejected the Prince—the only One capable of providing peace on earth.
The world hasn't changed much since Jeremiah's day. Men still reject God and His Word, making small talk about peace but never experiencing the real thing. World leaders can hold one peace summit after another, sign peace treaties repeatedly, and pass as many resolutions in the UN as can be voted, but the problem will never be solved.
Peace comes to those who have surrendered to the Prince of Peace—Jesus Christ, and have crowned Him ruler of their lives. To them He gives His peace . . . even in the midst of a warring world.
Prayer Point: Simply thank the Lord for His peace which passes all understanding—a peace that many in the world will never experience because they have rejected the Savior. Then pray that you will be a better servant of Christ, your Prince, and your service will overflow to others.
Extra Refreshment: Psalms 29.
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Post  Admin on Tue 22 Apr 2014, 4:56 pm

Using Your Quota
James 3:8-10
But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 
Psychologists have estimated that we have 700 opportunities to speak every week; with those opportunities, we construct 12,000 sentences, speak up to 50,000 words, and author a 150-page book.  Did you get that?—every week!  That is an astounding number!
But there is a great danger unexpressed in this statistic. If James says that our mouth is "full of deadly poison," and we are opening our mouth 700 times a week, imagine how much damage is spewed forth without our even realizing it!
In America we are constantly reminded of our right to "free speech," but this right is never given to us in Scripture. Rather, the Bible warns us of the danger of using our words flippantly. James 1:26 says, "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless."
In other words, James is saying that the 700 words we speak every week are indicators of our walk with Christ. If we are claiming to love God, yet all the while poisoning our brothers with thoughtless, cruel, or malicious words, we are only deceiving ourselves.
This story graphically illustrates the danger of speaking careless words. A young man living in ancient Greece had said something very harsh to one of his friends, later discovering that what he had said wasn't true. He went to his wise teacher and asked, "Master, I hurt my neighbor with my words; what can I do to right this wrong?" His teacher said, "Find a sack and fill it with feathers. Tonight after everyone has retired, go around the village and put a feather on each doorstep."
The young man was confused but obeyed the master's command.  When he had finished and returned to his home, he lay in bed and pondered the meaning of the task. Tossing and turning all night, he could not make sense of it. The next morning he ran to his teacher and declared, "Master, I've done what you've said. Now what do I do?"
His teacher responded, "Get your sack, go back to each doorstep—and retrieve every feather." The young man retorted, "That is impossible! There is no way I can retrieve every feather. The wind has come during the night, people have been walking, animals have been moving, and the feathers will have been scattered by now."
The teacher then explained, "The same is true with your words. They were very easy to speak, but they are impossible to retrieve."
Fifty thousand words a week; 200,000 words a month; 2,400,000 words a year—that is the number of "feathers" we scatter, sometimes without thinking how far they will drift. We must develop the habit of thinking and praying  before speaking, or we may deceive ourselves and destroy others around us.
And James reminds believers . . . "these things ought not to be."
Prayer Point: Ask God to bring to your mind someone you may have hurt by your words, whether in the past week, month, or even this year; confess your sin to God. Then, as an extension of that confession, go to the person you harmed and ask for forgiveness.
 
Extra Refreshment: Proverbs 12.
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