Recognized and Commended

Medals, ribbons, and certificates are methods of being recognized for service, devotion and “going beyond the call of duty”. In the Christian life, there is also recognition, but it’s not to be based on peer acknowledgment, but on Christ’s approval. The scripture gives this guidance:

“But he who glories, let him glory in the Lord. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” – 2 Corinthians 10:17-18 NKJV

The competition is fierce, but it’s not against others, it’s against ourselves and the battle is waged within our hearts. A desire for acceptance from critics or popularity among the spiritual “in crowd” can greatly influence our perception of what’s “commendable”. However, the Lord says He’s the One who holds the power to declare what is-and-isn’t worthwhile. What about today’s competition? As the struggle begins, remember:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 NKJV

Will you answer the call of duty? Let’s commit to fight for the things He considers worthwhile…today.

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Wisdom 13.10

“By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.” – Proverbs 13:10 NKJV

Prudent decisions rarely come from knee-jerk reactions. Shallow-minded peer-pressure is always plentiful, but counsel that lines up with biblical principles is the one to trust; even when it goes against previous methods, personal preferences, or cultural norms.

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Advent – Week 1 – Hope

The familiar people we read about this time of year (Mary, Joseph, Zacharias, Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna) were considered faithful before miraculous events unfolded. In other words, they were found righteous in a setting where Gentiles ruled Israel, a tyrant was “king” of Judea, corrupt leaders ran the Temple, good people were oppressed, and no prophetic word had been heard for over four hundred years. Their faithfulness was not because of encouraging circumstances, but because of encouraging words written years before. Words like these:

“Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD be upon us, just as we hope in You.” – Psalm 33:20-22 NKJV

This week, may our hope be in Him…

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A Genuine “I’m Sorry.”

The words “I’m sorry” can be liberating or limiting, depending on sincerity. Genuine sorrow can lead to forgiveness, whereas the attitude of “I’m sorry (that I got caught)” produces nothing good. The Bible explains it this way:

 “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NKJV

In the life of faith, there are times when the Holy Spirit reveals things that are amiss in our lives. Scripture passages, internal promptings, and other people’s words can prompt reflective moments, which call for a response. Such was the case with the Corinthian church. When they received Paul’s first letter, they had some things to wrestle with, and they responded with repentance.

In the life of a disciple, those times present the question, “Now what?” Godly sorrow is to agree with the Lord, confess, ask forgiveness, and move on. Worldly sorrow makes excuses, blames others, denies, and eventually continues along the same course. God’s love will prompt us in the right direction if we’re willing to listen and is part of the sanctifying process. Is there anything you need to agree with Him on today? There is freedom in forgiveness, and joy in moving forward.

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A Perfect Work in Progress

Good days and bad days are all part of the Christian life; and even though it may not feel like it, if you’re in Christ, you’re perfect. As a matter of fact, the Bible explains it this way:

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV

God’s righteousness is constant, total, and unyielding. According to the scriptures, His righteousness is graciously accounted to us through no merit of our own. However, we still live here in this world with all of its troubles, so what does “perfect” mean for the believer? It means our position before God is based on Christ’s perfection, even though our life on earth is a work in progress. Each day we should walk from a position of victory; not trying to achieve it, but having already been awarded it through faith in Christ. The way it’s lived out is a process of moving forward through confidence in His promises:

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” – 2 Corinthians 7:1 NKJV

There is victory today based on His perfection. May we walk in it…

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Wisdom 12.25

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up.” – Proverbs 12:25 HCSB

An encouraging comment from a friend or a random compliment from a stranger can positively change someone’s day; and that friend or stranger can be you. May we speak “a good word” today.

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The Elements of Trust

“Confidence” and “expectation” are elements of “trust”.

When it comes to people, to place trust in someone is to have confidence or expectations regarding their character. The interesting question is, “What produces the confidence or expectation?” Does it come from experience, word of mouth, research, or conversations? Yes, it could be one (or all) of them. And what about faith? Is it the same? The scripture says this:

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV

Faith is a “trust-walk”. It’ a confident expectation in Him, regardless of the visual panorama. Sight is an amazing gift, but the visual senses can be deceived. For example, professional illusionists make a living by tricking the audience through slight-of-hand and misdirection. But in the life of faith, what are the things that produce “confident expectation”? It’s the “history”; the previous encounters (with Him), the word of mouth (testimonies), the research (His word), and the conversations (prayer).

Have you stopped lately and considered the previous steps of your journey? Has God ever failed to be faithful to you? Has He ever stopped loving you? Has He ever called you to places He wouldn’t go? Perhaps today is a good time to consider the “history” and move forward by faith, not by sight…

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Day-by-Day Renewal

How does renewal come from the Lord? Is it something received at a Sunday worship service or Bible study? It can be. However, even though gatherings can have a powerful impact, the biblical picture of God’s sustaining often looks more like manna, oil and flour. For example, in 2 Corinthians 4 there’s a list of pressures and difficulties Paul faced while carrying out his mission. It was physically demanding and emotionally draining. He was weakened in every way from the journey, but he points out God’s sustaining power:

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16 NKJV

The Holy Spirit’s renewing is a daily provision. Like manna given to the Hebrews in the wilderness, it can’t be stored up for later unless it’s something God orchestrates (such as the double portion on Fridays to last through the Sabbath). We see the same thing in the widow’s oil and flour when the prophet Elijah went to her house (1 Kings 17). During desperate times, God gave them a miraculous supply of oil and flour (but just enough each day to provide for their needs).

Don’t lose heart, He’s faithful to supply what we need…daily.

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An Extraordinary Find

We’ve all heard stories like “$10,000 Baseball Card Found in Old Trunk” or “Priceless Painting Bought at Yard Sale for $5.00”. It’s amazing what turns up when attentive eyes are looking. And yet, while those stories are intriguing, one of the most incredible stories of discovery is the finding of God’s Law in the Temple after years of being lost and forgotten (2 Kings 22:3-20). At the time, King Josiah was trying to “do what was right”, (repairing the Temple, removing idols, etc.), but when he heard the actual words written in the Book of the Law, he understood completely and tore his clothes in repentance. He had found real treasure indeed.

As followers of Christ, we possess the same precious treasure…God’s life-giving Word. In much the same way, many around us recognize the need for reform; such as changing habits, cleaning up language etc., but like Josiah’s pursuit of good changes, they’re incomplete. Only God’s truth and the Holy Spirit can move someone from pursuing reforms to the point of real-life transformation.

Perhaps you agree and would like to be the agent of change but feel intimidated. If so, consider how Paul described the good news of the gospel:

“Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7 HCSB

You’re not alone in feeling inadequate…we all do. Paul was skilled and experienced, yet he described himself carrying the gospel as a clay jar. And like him, we’re simple, breakable and common, but the treasure is not. It’s extraordinary, durable and priceless. You may be just the person to help someone make the discovery of a lifetime.

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Giving Thanks…

I love Thanksgiving. To me, it marks the official beginning of “the most wonderful time of the year”. As we gather with family and friends, Psalm 100 seems especially appropriate:

 “Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD He is God; it is He who has made us and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations.” – Psalm 100 NKJV

There are many things to give thanks for, here are some ways I’m considering them this year:

I. Giving Thanks for Things Past

  • God’s creative work – “It is He who has made us”, we are no accident and all lives are precious.
  • God’s providential hand – “We are the sheep of His pasture”, He chose to bless our country’s founding and raise us up to be a powerful influence in the world. This quote from William Bradford (Governor of the Plymouth colony) sums it up well: “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand…as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation.”
  • God’s personal blessings – There are many people and events in our past that were direct blessings from the Lord.

II. Giving Thanks for Things Present

  • God’s provision – He provides for us not only physically, but in many other ways too.
  • God’s blessings – He brings goodness to our lives out of kindness, because He is good.
  • God’s Empowering – He sustains us each day by giving us the strength we need.

III. Giving Thanks for Things Future

  • God’s plans for us are filled with goodness – His ways are always good because He is good (even if we can’t see it).
  • God’s plans for us are filled with mercy – He is a loving Father and “His mercy is everlasting”.
  • God’s plans for us are filled with truth – There will be ultimate ‘vindication’ for those of us who believe, and His Word will prove to be true (all of it).

So, what are you thankful for this year? May William Bradford’s words also be said of us, “…the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation.”

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Unchained and Free

What does freedom and liberty in Christ look like? Is it throwing off the shackles of religious legalism? Yes. Is it hope of being without condemnation at the judgement? Yes, by God’s grace that’s absolutely true! But what about day-to-day decisions and activities? Is it a reckless approach allowing one to simply do what feels right? Not at all.

Even though self-oriented things are often called ‘liberty’, a New Testament liberated life is about God-honoring activity. Consider this verse:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17 NKJV

The context of the chapter is how the Lord opens the heart and mind at conversion, then continues to transform us as we grow (glory to glory-v.18). Concerning the liberty part, it’s directly tied to the Holy Spirit. Thankfully it’s true that the constraints of the Law were broken, but His presence still guides us with loving boundaries as we go. His leadership will never violate principles established in the scriptures and will always be consistent with God’s character. During His earthly ministry, Jesus modeled what the leadership of the Holy Spirit looked like. Yes, the Temple establishment often challenged Him, but the conflict was never because of pride in His heart; it was because of its presence in theirs.

So how do you view Christian liberty? Is it something just benefitting you, or something tied directly to the Holy Spirit’s leadership? Concerning gray areas, are you willing to stop and ask, “Does it honor the Lord?” How will you follow today?

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A Deep Sense of Contentment

What does sufficiency mean for a disciple?

The word “sufficient” means “needed amount”, or “wanted amount”; and in life, there are lots of needs and wants. For example, food and water are needed to live, and of course, humans are designed to work and have purpose. However, the description of sufficiency in the Bible is very different than food, water, and work; it’s a deep adequacy in a person’s spirit. Paul described it this way:

“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 NKJV

Is there a sense of adequacy deep in your spirit? We all have a certain hunger within our heart and Christ is the only sufficient nourishment. Substitutes, like increased attention to a spiritual checklist or emotion-evoking activities can help temporarily, but ultimately fall short. When there’s a deep peace within, there’s a sense of worth and contentment that permeates everything else in life. The Law could never do that, but Christ did, and still does…every day. Will you embrace His sufficiency today? “Our sufficiency is from God…”

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Pleasing Aromas

Do you like the smell of cookies baking? Steaks grilling? Fresh coffee brewing? How about your wife’s perfume or husband’s aftershave? In life, there are emotions, memories, and mental images tied to aromas and fragrances. In 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 Paul referenced it this way:

“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”

As believers, we are the “aroma of Christ”. He continued with the word picture as he connected it to “Roman Triumph” (parades honoring great generals coming back from foreign battle). In it, a procession moved through Rome to the Coliseum with the victorious general leading the captured enemy. Among them, priests would carry burning incense to fill the route with the fragrance of victory. To the Romans, it was the pleasing smell of celebration and pride. To the enemy, it was the reminder of defeat and looming death in the arena.

So, how’s your “aroma” today? When you leave a conversation, will the lingering impression be of Christ or something else? Paul finished the section (v.17) by saying we’re not to wear Christ in a cheap fashion as ones “peddling the Word of God”, but with a sincere heart “as from God” speaking “in the sight of God”. Thankfully, our Heavenly Father is graciously willing to cleanse us as needed in preparation for those moments. May we leave a pleasing memory today…

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A Clear Conscience

A clear conscience is priceless. It produces a sense of serenity, but unfortunately, false accusations, innuendo and unforeseen challenges can cause us to second-guess ourselves. Paul was familiar with all the above. Regarding his conscience, certain people in the Corinthian church were busy working against him, and he addressed it at the beginning of his second letter:

 “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more importantly toward you.” – 2 Corinthians 1:12 NKJV

For each one of us, an evaluation of conscience is important too, but the key question is, “Evaluation against what?” In the above passage, here’s what we see:

  • Simple devotion to the specific truth of God’s Word
  • Commitment to carry the truth honorably
  • Sincere faith that is transparent and honest
  • Grace that is gratefully received and willingly given

Our spiritual enemy often employs false accusations to distract and neutralize, but healthy questions of ourselves can effectively pre-empt that tactic. Are your goals based on the things Paul listed? Is there sincerity that produces honest conversations with God and people? Regarding grace, is there a willingness to show the type of grace to others that you hope to receive from them? If so, be at ease in your spirit today and walk in confidence.

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One Foot in Front of the Other

When the trail of life gets long, it often comes down to simply putting-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other. It’s the point where the scenery is no longer inspiring, the small talk isn’t interesting, the pack has gotten heavy and rest seems far away. In the life of a disciple, there can be days, weeks, months or even years of working through a long section of a journey; but this reminder rings true:

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV

If you work with children, it’s not your great stories, or wisdom they’ll remember as much as the quality of the time you spent with them. If you work with adults or students; your teaching can have an impact, but your heart validates the truth and leaves a lasting imprint. Perhaps your main duties are at home or around the community; what an important place to “keep-on-keeping-on”. How you handle situations and the “daily-grind” can have a positive influence on someone near you for the rest of their life…literally.

Someone needs you to keep putting-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other today. That could mean finishing a project at work with a good attitude, trying again to restore a broken relationship, revisiting some goals, or setting new ones. Hang in there. Please, hang in there…your labor is not in vain.

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Wisdom 11.11

“A city is built up by the blessing of the upright, but it is torn down by the mouth of the wicked.” – Proverbs 11:11 HCSB

Never underestimate the power of your presence. There’s a sphere of influence that goes everywhere you go, because Christ is with you. Through your lifestyle the Kingdom is communicated, and your words may be the lone voice of reason among a chorus of faulty counsel.

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Godly Order

God is a God “of order”.

In many ways, we can observe creation and see that God made the universe in a way that’s understandable (laws of physics, etc.). Of course, there are many things we’ve yet to understand, but in what theologians call “General Revelation” we see and know certain things about the world and what’s proper. For example, a mom is naturally inclined to love her child, but strangers also instinctively know that she “ought” to love and nurture her child…why? Because it’s hard-wired in us.

In I Corinthians 14, Paul mentions “Godly order” regarding the way church gatherings should be conducted:

“For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”

“Let all things be done decently and in order” – I Cor. 14:33, 40 NKJV

Yes, the definition of proper decency may be up for some debate, but the underlying attitude toward personal conduct shouldn’t be. Pettiness, self-promotion, arrogance, manipulation, pride, etc. should be rejected, not excused and justified. And when those things pop-up, observers often sense that it “ought” not to be that way. Even non-believers can sense it and get confused about what it means to follow Christ.

Are your habits today within the body “decent” and “orderly”? If so, they reflect a heavenly principle, if not, perhaps a moment of prayerful reflection is “in order”.

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Love is…

The word “love” is often used carelessly. In the Bible, however, the word love carries much more weight than just feelings that come and go, it involves an act of the will. It describes a “decided” love between people, love for God, and the love God has for us. As a matter of fact, 1 John 4: 8 says God is love. He doesn’t just show it or express it; it’s His nature. In 1 Corinthians chapter 13 (often called the “Love Chapter”), there’s an incredible list describing God’s type of love. Real love. Eternal love. Divine love. Durable love that withstands the pressures of life’s emotional winds.

So, with that in mind, consider the words in 1 Corinthians 13 matched up with people. This is the practical ways God shows His love every day:

With the anxious, He’s patient.

With the selfish, He’s kind.

With the popular, He’s not envious.

With the distracted, He doesn’t yell.

With the simple, He isn’t arrogant.

With the quiet, He isn’t rude.

With the hurried, He doesn’t seek His own.

With the accuser, He isn’t provoked.

With the repentant, He remembers no wrong.

With the unrepentant, He doesn’t enable.

With the seeking, He rejoices.

With the loving, He bears, believes, hopes and endures.

With the trusting, He never fails.

You are loved. How will you decide to love others today?

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The Lord’s Day 11-11-18

“The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” – Psalm 19:8-9 NKJV

The ways of the Lord aren’t decrees given for reluctant compliance; they’re ways that are better, more productive, full of love, and truly fulfilling. May His name be praised today!

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Stronger Together

In the ancient world, Hittite craftsmen made bows by layering materials that were held together by a simple, but surprisingly strong glue. The “composite” design shot arrows faster and made the bow more durable. Modern technology has made many improvements, but the composite principle discovered long ago still applies (the different properties of each piece forming a strong, diverse union). In the body of Christ, we’re gifted differently and placed together for strength. 1 Corinthians 12 describes it this way:

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Lord. There are differences of ministry, but the same Spirit. There are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NKJV

As a disciple, it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses. One person may be the wood, and another may be the glue holding it all together. With each having an important job to do, if a component fails, others are affected. On the other hand, when those on either side are strong, the one in-between is supported. We all have purpose because we’re all being fashioned together by the Master Carpenter. May we be strong together today…

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