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Word Of The Day Archives

March 13th, 2017
SELF CARE
After my husband under went heart surgery, I spent and anxious night by his hospital bed. Mid-morning, I remembered a scheduled hair cut. "I'll have to cancel," I said, raking my fingers distractedly through my straggly hair.
"Mom, just wash your face and go to your appointment," my daughter said.
"No, no," I insisted. "It doesn't matter. I need to be here."
"I'll stay," Rosie said. "Self-care, Mom...Self-Care. You're of more use to Dad if you take care of yourself."
Moses was wearing himself out serving alone as judge over the Israelites. Jethro cautioned his son-in-law Moses: "You will only wear [yourself] out. The work is too heavy...you cannot handle it alone" (Ex.18:18). He then explained why that Moses could delegate his work and share his heavy load with others.
Though it may seem paradoxical for the Christian, self-care is essential for a healthy life (Matt.22:37-39;Eph.5:29-30). Yes, we must love God first and love others as well, but we also need to get adequate rest to renew our body and spirit. Sometimes self-care means stepping away and graciously allowing others to help us with our burdens.
Jesus often slipped away to rest and pray (Mark 6:30-32). When we follow His example, we will be more effective in our relationships and better able to give care to others.
Dear Lord, refresh my spirit today. Help me to bring balance to my life as I judge my responsibilities. Thank You for Your love and care.
DON'T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING-TAKE TIME TO REFRESH YOUR BODY AND SPIRIT.
Exodus 18:14-24
When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?"
Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me to seek God's will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and instructions."
Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.
Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people-men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain-and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifty and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied."
Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.
Insight: It is hard to imagine the complexity and variety of tasks Moses faced as he led the Hebrew slaves to freedom. The Israelites had been gone from Egypt less than three months (see Ex.19:1) when the load was already too great for one person to bear. This prompted Jethro's wise council that Moses share the load with others.

 
March 12th, 2017
DON'T QUIT
In 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim 26 miles from the coast of California to Catalina Island. After 15 hours, a heavy fog began to block her view, she became disoriented, and she gave up. To her chagrin, Chadwick learned that she had quit just 1 mile short of her destination.
Two months later, Chadwick tried a second time to swim to Catalina Island from the coast. Again a thick fog settled in, but this time she reached her destination, becoming the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel. Chadwick said she kept an image of the shoreline in her mind even when she couldn't see it.
When the problems of life cloud our vision, we have an opportunity to learn to see our goal with the eyes of faith. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews urges us to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith" (12:1-2). When we feel like quitting, this is our signal to remember not only what Jesus suffered for us but what He now helps us to endure-until the day we see Him face to face.
Dear Father, sometimes the challenges of life seem insurmountable. Help me to fix my eyes on You and trust You. I'm thankful You are bringing about Your good purposes in me.
WE CAN FINISH STRONG WHEN WE FOCUS ON CHRIST.
Hebrews 12:1-11
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves...."
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined-and everyone undergoes discipline-then you are not...true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits of live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Insight: Using the metaphor of a marathon and a stadium of cheering supporters, the writer of Hebrews encouraged persecuted Christians to persevere and to remain faithful. The constant call of Scripture is: Don't give up! Keep your eye on the finish line! Finish the race! (1 Cor.9:24-27; Phil.3:13-14; 2Tim.4:7; Heb.12:1-2).
 
March 10th, 2017
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF PRAYER
When you face a problem, is prayer your first response, or do you spring into action mode? God works powerfully through prayer, yet too often we look at it as a last resort: After we are at the end of our rope, then we start praying.
Using the example of Elijah, James reminds us what the effective prayer of a righteous person can accomplish. In today's passage, the subject is healing, but that's not the only prayer God will answer. Every aspect of life can be affected by the power of prayer.
Temptation. Jesus told His disciples, "Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation" (Mark 14:38).
Praise. After being beaten and thrown into prison, Paul and Silos prayed and praised God, even in the midst of their pain (Acts 16:25).
Spiritual Warfare. Paul teaches us to access God's power by "pray[ing] without ceasing" (1Thess.5:17).
Anxiety. We aren't at the mercy of fear if we pray about everything (Phil 4:6).
Transformation. When we pray according to God's desires, He transforms our minds, attitudes, characters and actions (Col. 1:9-12).
Witness. Through prayer we ask that the Lord open doors for us to spread His word (2 Thess.3:1).
Protection. God is faithful to answer requests that He strengthen and protect us from the evil one (vv. 2-3).
The next time you face a challenging situation, remember that prayer is more powerful than all your self-efforts. Pray and watch God work.
STRANGERS AND FOREIGNERS
I parked my bicycle, fingering my map of Cambridge for reassurance. Directions not being my strength, I knew I could easily get lost in this maze of roads bursting with historic buildings.
Life should have felt idyllic, for I had just married my Englishman and moved to the UK. But I felt adrift. When I kept my mouth closed I blended in, but when I spoke I immediately felt branded as an American tourist. I didn't yet know what my role was, and I quickly realized that blending two stubborn people into one shared life was harder than I had anticipated.
I related to Abraham, who left all that he knew as he obeyed the Lord's call to live as a foreigner and stranger in a new land (Gen 12:1). He pressed through the cultural challenges while keeping faith in God , and 2,000 years later the writer to the Hebrews named him a hero(11:9). Like the other men and women listed in this chapter, Abraham lived by faith, longing for things promised, hoping and waiting for his heavenly home.
Perhaps you've always lived in the same town, but as Christ-followers we're all foreigners and strangers on this earth. By faith we press forward, knowing that God will lead and guide us, and by faith we believe He will never leave nor abandon us. By faith we long for home.
Father God, I want to live by faith, believing Your promises and knowing that You welcome me into Your kingdom. Enlarge my faith, I pray.
GOD CALLS US TO LIVE BY FAITH, BELIEVING THAT HE WILL FULFILL HIS PROMISES.
Hebrews 11:8-16
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and his as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
All the people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Insight: Hebrews 11 has been referred to as the "Hall of Faith." Its contents celebrate the deep and impressive faith of our spiritual ancestors. Their faith, demonstrated through their actions, is put on display by the writer of Hebrews for the encouragement of those who follow in their spiritual footsteps. The examples of those who have preceded us-those who lived as "foreigners and strangers on earth" (v.13)-help us to fix our eyes on Jesus (12:2). This focus allows us to press on toward a "country of [our] own" (11:14).

March 9/2017
FORWARD BY FAITH
Faith can be lulled to sleep when we are focused on our own comfort rather than God's plan. Abraham did not fall into this trap. He traded the familiar for the unknown and received many blessings.
Living by faith is the right answer when God calls you to move forward. His call can come to us at any age and in any situation. Abraham was 75 when he began his journey. David was a shepherd boy when he was anointed to be king (1 Sam. 16:11-13). Paul encountered the Lord on his way to arrest Jewish believers in Damascus; after his conversion, he became the Lord's representative to the Gentiles (Acts 9:16; 22:21). Our call may not be so dramatic, but it will always involve moving forward by faith.
Following God will also include times of testing. Abraham, like all of us, had some successes and some failures. The initial call to leave his country was met with strong belief and immediate action.
As a result, the Lord promised a great blessing for him and his descendants. But encountering a famine brought a different response from Abraham-a sojourn to Egypt, deception about his relationship with Sarah, and chastisement from Pharaoh. Our response to God's commands really matters. Through our actions, we can bring blessing or heartache.
Obeying the Lord can be uncomfortable. Those close to us may question our motives or disagree with our decisions. And we may not want to do what God asks. But faith will keep us moving forward in obedience. It helps us stay the course and experience the blessings found in a relationship with Christ.
PLEASE COME IN
Jenny's house is situated on a little country lane, which is often used in rush hour by drivers who want to avoid the nearby man road and traffic lights. A few weeks ago work-men arrived to repair the badly damaged road surface, bringing with then large barriers and "No Entry" signs. "I was really worried at first," said Jenny, "thinking that I would be unable to get my car out until the road work was finished. But then I went to look at the signs more closely and realized that they said 'No Entry: Access for Residents Only.' No detours or barriers for me. I had the right to go in and out whenever I liked because I lived there. I felt very special!"
In the Old Testament, access to God in the tabernacle and the temple was strictly limited. Only the high priest could go in through the curtain and offer sacrifices in the Most Holy Place, and then only once a year (Lev. 16:2-20; Heb. 9:25-26). But at the very moment Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, showing that the barrier between man and God was destroyed forever (Mark 15:38).
Because of Christ's sacrifice for our sins, all those who love and follow Him can come into His presence at any time. He has given us the right of access.
Lord, thank you for paying such a price to enable me to have unrestricted entry into your presence!
ACCESS TO GOD'S THRONE IS ALWAYS OPEN.
Hebrews 10:19-25
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body. and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Insight: The letter to the Hebrews contains images and ideas that would have been very familiar to the Jewish recipients of this epistle. The Most Holy Place (Heb. 10:19) was the holiest part of the temple in Jerusalem. The curtain (v.20) refers to the temple veil that was torn in two when Christ died (Matt. 27-51). The great priest (Heb. 10:21) is Jesus, who succeeds in perfectly taking us to God-something that the human priesthood could not do. While this imagery would have been particularly meaningful to the Jewish readers of this letter, it also reminds us how wonderfully the Scriptures are put together. The practices of Old Testament Judaism create wonderful portraits of the person and work of Jesus.

March 8th, 2017
LIVING BY FAITH
Abraham is one of the people in the Old Testament who have had a great impact on my spiritual walk. In his life, I see the necessity of living by faith.
Separation is oftentimes a part of our development as Christians. Before we can take on something new, the Lord may ask us to let go of something we already have. In Genesis 12:1-3, God told Abraham he was going on a journey that would require leaving his country, his people, and his father's household. Obedience meant saying goodbye to relationships and things dear to him. The only family members who traveled with him were his wife and nephew; the life he knew in his homeland was left behind. But this godly man did not hesitate. His strong faith enabled him to say yes to what the Lord commanded.
Moving ahead in the midst of uncertainty can be another aspect of following the Lord. Abraham was told to travel without knowing his destination. Try to imagine explaining to friends that your moving away but have no idea where you are going. This lack of detail did not stop Abraham. Unwavering trust in his heavenly Father enabled him to answer the divine call wholeheartedly-even though specific details were lacking. Abraham was spiritually ready to answer affirmatively when God called.
Following God requires living by faith. That means: Trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us when we don't see how all the pieces fit together (John 16:13); believing that God always works for our good and His glory (Rom.8:28); and desiring to please our Father. Will you be ready when He calls?
ABUNDANT SUPPLY
We have a hummingbird feeder in the garden, and we love to see the little birds come and drink from its sugary water. Recently, however, we went on a short trip and forgot to replenish its contents. When we came back, it was completely dry. Poor birds! I thought. Because of my forgetfulness they haven't had any nourishment. Then I was reminded that I am not the one who feeds them: God is.
Sometimes we may feel that all of the demands of life have depleted our strength and there is no one to replenish it. But others don't feed our souls: God does.
In Psalm 36 we read about God's loving kindness. It describes those who put their trust in Him and are abundantly satisfied. God gives them water from His "River of delights" (v.8). He is the fountain of life!
We can go to God every day for the supply of our needs. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, "The springs of my faith and all my graces; the springs of my life and all my pleasures; the springs of my activity and all its right doings; the springs of my hope, and all its heavenly anticipations, all lie in thee, my Lord."
Let us be filled with His abundant supply. His fountain will never run dry.
Lord, I come to You with the confidence that You will fill me with what I need.
GOD'S LOVE IS ABUNDANT.
Psalm 36:5-12
Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart. May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. See how the evildoers lie fallen-thrown down, not able to rise!
Insight: David-apposed and persecuted by powerful enemies-wrote of these threats to his life in Psalms 34-36, asking and thanking God for His protection and deliverance. In Psalm 36, David contrasts the wicked and the righteous. The wicked commit evil because they have no fear of God (v.1). David, however, chose to live differently-He chose to live a life of trust in a merciful, faithful, righteous, and just God (vv.5-7). David affirms that God will protect and sustain the faithful.

March 7th, 2017
OVERCOMING DISTRACTIONS
As we saw yesterday, distractions have potential to get us off track. Gossip. Criticism. Financial pressure. Poor health. Conflict. Desires. Praises from others. Any of these can cause us to turn away from God's perfect plan. But Scripture gives us a role model to emulate. (Neh.4:1-6:16). Nehemiah shows us the value of:
Single-Mindedness. Nehemiah feared the Lord and conscientiously applied himself to his work. He didn't have a divided mind. By setting our attention solely on God's plan, our minds will stay fixed, regardless of the difficulties.
Obedience.The Lord wants to show us His favor; His blessing is always upon us when we are obedient to Him. This knowledge should bring us confidence in hard times, just as it did for Nehemiah.
Accountibility. The king wanted progress reports on what Nehemiah was accomplishing. One day we will stand before Jesus, our King, and give an account for how we use our resources and gifts (1 Cor.3:12-15).
Consistency in our prayer life. When the Israelites were ridiculed, they were helpless to stop their opponents' taunts. So Nehemiah prayed, and the people received strength to continue. As the plotting worsened, Nehemiah and his fellow workers cried out to God, who not only provided His people with discernment but also frustrated the enemies' plans.
Nehemiah completed the ambitious project in just fifty two days. When we follow his example, God can accomplish great things in and through us. Which of the above points from Nehemiah's life can help you overcome whatever is distracting you.
WITH RESPECT
The citizens of Israel were having some trouble with the government. It was the late 500s BC, and the Jewish people were eager to complete their temple that had been destroyed in 586 BC by Babylon. However, the governor of their region was not sure they should be doing that, so he sent a note to King Darius (Ezra 5:6-17).
In the letter, the governor says he found the Jews working on the temple and asks the king if they had permission to do so. The letter also records the Jews, respectful response that they have indeed been given permission by earlier king (Cyrus) to rebuild. When the king checked out their story, he found it to be true: King Cyrus had said they could build the temple. So Darius not only gave them permission to rebuild, but he also paid for it! (See 6:1-12). After the Jews finished building the temple, they "celebrated with joy" because they new God " [changed] the attitude of the king" (6:22).
When we see a situation that needs to be addressed, we honor God when we plead our case in a respectful way, trust that He is in control of every situation, and express gratitude for the outcome.
Lord, help us to respond respectfully to situations around us. We need Your wisdom for this. May we always honor, trust, and praise You.
RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY BRINGS GLORY TO GOD.
Ezra 5:6-17
This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates, the officials of Trans-Euphrates, sent to King Darius...
The king should know that we went to the district of Judah, to the temple of the great God. The people are building it with large stones and playing the timbers in the walls. The work is being carried on with diligence and making rapid progress under their direction.
We questioned the elders and asked them, "Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?" ...
This is the answer they gave us:
"We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.
"However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. He even removed from the temple of Babylon the gold and silver articles of the house of God which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to the temple in Babylon. Then King Cyrus gave them to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor, and he told him, 'take these articles and go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem. And rebuild the house of God on its site.'
"So this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. From that day to the present it has been under construction but is not yet finished."
Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if king Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.

March 6th, 2017
GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER DELAYS
No one likes to wait, but have you ever wondered why? Perhaps its because delays show us that we are not in control. Someone or something else is calling the shots. Although we may be able to identify the immediate cause-like a traffic light or the long check out line-ultimately the One who controls all our delays is the Lord. Since He is sovereign over everything in heaven and on earth, even our time and schedules are in His hands.
This means that in every delay, we are actually waiting for God in one way or another. You might have thought that the expression "waiting upon the Lord" applies only to seeking guidance from Him or an answer to prayer. But it can mean so much more when you remember that He controls all your day-to-day inconveniences and frustrations.
In the Christian life, learning to wait is vitally important because until you do, you'll never be able to walk in obedience to God, have an effective prayer life, or experience the peace of resting in His loving sovereignty. We must learn to trust His judgment-not just about the big events in our lives but also about trivial ones, which can cause us to become irritated, impatient, or even angry. If we are sensitive to His instruction, each delay has an important lesson.
The next time you face an unexpected or unwanted wait, remember that it comes as no surprise to God. He wants to teach you patience and increase your faith. He's more interested in developing godly character than He is in making sure your schedule runs according to your plans.
THE POWER OF GOD'S MUSIC
The Sound of Music, one of the most successful musical films ever produced, was released as a motion picture in 1965. It won many accolades, including five academy awards, as it captured the hearts and voices of people around the world. More than half a century later, people still attend special showings of the film where viewers come dressed as their favorite character and sing along during the performance.
Music is so deeply rooted in our souls. And for followers of Jesus, it is a powerful means of encouraging each other along the journey of faith. Paul urged the believers in Colossae, "Let Christ's teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God's praises with joyful hearts" (Col.3:16 Phillips).
Singing together to the Lord embeds the message of His love in our minds and souls. It is a powerful ministry of teaching and encouragement that we share together. Whether our hearts cry out, "Create in me a pure heart, O God" (Ps.51:10) or joyfully shout, "And He will reign forever and ever" (Rev.11:15), the power of music that exhalts God lifts our spirits and grants us peace.
Let us sing to the Lord today.
Thank You, Lord for Your gift of music. We sing Your praise together and learn more of Your love and power.
MUSIC WASHES FROM THE SOUL THE DUST OF EVERYDAY LIFE.
Colossians 3:12-17
Therefore, as God's chosen people, wholely and dearly loved, clothe yourselves, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bare with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Insight: The book of Colossians has a strong emphasis on the person and work of Christ. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul takes the time to celebrate who Christ is (See 1:15-20) and to encourage the believers there to imitate Him. Paul admonishes the Colossians not only to speak encouragement to one another, but also to encourage each other with music (3:16). In the early church, singing wasn't just a celebration; it was a way to teach and learn theology. In fact, Colossians 1:15-20 is widely considered to be an ancient hymn. 

March 5th, 2017
GODS EMPOWERING PRESENCE
A woman unlocks her front door and walks into an empty house. She drops her purse and bags onto the couch and immediately turns on some music. Have you ever wondered what impulse makes people want to break the silence of a quiet home? The sights and sounds of TVs and radios temporarily meet our need to feel we are not alone.
God desires an intimate relationship with each person, so He created us with a yearning for His presence. Though He alone can fill that void, people attempt to satisfy their longing with all kinds of relationships and activities. But filling that spot with anything other than the Lord is at best a short term solution.
The Bible urges us to stop our frenzied search for satisfaction in what the world offers and instead recognize that we should turn to Jesus Christ. Yet so many people pursue substitutes for His presence. Friends, hobbies, and busy schedules provide momentary pleasure while using up precious time that should be spent in quietness before God. And all too often, when the amusement of one good thing wears off, we seek a new activity or person to fill the gap.
Nothing besides the Lord can adequately fill the spot in our life that God has reserved for Himself-noise and busyness will satisfy for just a little while. Our Father's empowering presence is the only genuine solution. For believers, the Holy Spirit is already present within. What we must do is settle ourselves before God, and He will make Himself known to us.
GRANDMA'S RECIPE
Many families have a secret recipe, a special way of cooking a dish that makes it especially savoring. For us Hakkas (my Chinese ethnic group), we have a traditional dish called Abacus Beads, named for its beadlike appearance. Really you have to try!
Of course Grandma had the best recipe. Each Chinese New Year at the family reunion dinner we would tell ourselves, "We should really learn how to cook this." But we never got around to asking Grandma. Now she is no longer with us, and her secret recipe is gone with her.
We miss Grandma, and its sad to lose her recipe. It would be far more tragic if we were to fail to preserve the legacy of faith entrusted to us. God intends that every generation share with the next generation about the mighty acts of God. "One generation commends [God's] works to another," said the psalmist (PS.145:4), echoing Moses' earlier instructions to "remember the days of old....Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you" (Deut. 32:7).
As we share our stories of how we received salvation and the ways the Lord has helped us face challenges, we encourage each other and honor Him. He designed us to enjoy family and community and to benefit from each other.
Is there someone from a different age group with who you can share your faith journey? How about asking someone from an older generation to share their story with you. What might you learn?
WHAT WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN TODAY WILL INFLUENCE TOMORROW'S WORLD.
Psalm 145:1-13
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your might acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your Majesty- and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works-and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy and all he promises and faithful in all he does.
Insight: Psalm 145 is the last psalm in the final collection of psalms penned by David (PSS. 138-145). It celebrates God as the sovereign King (VV. 1-3,10-13) and speaks of His majesty, generosity, and greatness-His "mighty acts," "awesome works," and "great deeds" (vv.4-6). David also highlights God's goodness: He is "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love"; "trustworthy in all He promises"; and "righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does" (vv. 7,8,13,17).

March 2nd, 2017
THE VALUE OF GOD'S WORD
From the opening verse of Genesis to the final words of Revelation, Scripture is divinely inspired: every word has purpose. In today's passage, we are told that the sacred writings are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be...equipped for every good work." In other words, they offer preparation for whatever we will face in life (v.16-17). No other book holds such value for living.
The Old Testament introduces us to God's nature, ways, and power; It lays the foundation for us to understand the Lord's holiness and humanities desperate need for a Savior. The New Testament explains that Jesus sacrificially became our "bridge" to the Father(John 14:6). Its writings clarify why we must trust Christ for salvation, how to live as God's children, and what to expect in this life and after death.
Ephesians 6:13-17 compares the Word to armor, and for good reason: In the battle of life, we have a real enemy who wants to destroy us. But God's power if greater (1 John 4:4), and dressing in war gear prepares us for the temptations, lies, and decisions we will encounter daily.
We should be excited about the Word of God, for it is our hope-and the only instruction that leads to victory, in life and after physical death.
The Bible predicted that many people would reject the truth, and a glimpse at our world today shows that to be the case. Don't let yourself fall into the same trap. Life without His truth is destined for failure, so meditate daily on Scripture, and ask God to speak to you.
LURKING LIONS
When I was young, my dad would "scare" us by hiding in a bush and growling like a lion. Even though we lived in rural Ghana in the 1960's, it was almost impossible that a lion lurked nearby. My brother and I would laugh and seek out the source of the noise thrilled that playtime with Dad had arrived.
One day a young friend came for a visit. As we played, we heard the familiar growl. Our friend screamed and ran. My brother and I knew the sound of my father's voice-"any danger" was merely a phantom lion-but a funny thing happened. We ran with her. My dad felt terrible that our friend had been frightened, and our brother and I learned not to be influenced by the panicked reaction of others.
Caleb and Joshua stand out as men unphased by the panic of others as Israel was poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses commissioned 12 scouts to spy out the region. They all saw a beautiful territory, but 10 focused on the obstacles and discouraged the entire nation (Num.13:27-33). In the process, they started a panic (14:1-4). Only Caleb and Joshua accurately assessed the situation (vv.6-9). They knew the history of their Father and trusted him to bring them success.
Some "lions" pose a genuine threat. Others are phantoms. Regardless as followers of Jesus our confidence is in the One whose voice and deeds we know and trust.
Lord, we face many fears today. Help us distinguish between real danger and empty threats, and help us trust You with all of it. May we live not in fear, but in faith.
THE WICKED FLEE THOUGH NO ONE PURUES, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS ARE AS BOLD AS A LION-PROVERBS 28:1
Numbers 14:1-9
That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?"And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt."
Then Moses and Aaron fell face down in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them."
Insight: Twelve spies were sent to survey the land (Num.13:17-20). They reported that the cities were well fortified and the people were of such great size that the spies felt like grasshoppers (vv.28-33). This instilled fear and mistrust in the Israelites (14:1-4;Josh,14:8). But Joshua and Caleb encouraged the people to trust God for protection (Num.14:9).

March 1st, 2017
GOD'S WORD TO US
Most everyone in our society has easy access to a Bible, yet far too often this book is left unopened. If only people grasped its true worth, they would prize God's Word above every other possession.
All of Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit. While He used man to pen each line, every thought and word in the Bible originated with God Himself (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Consider how we treasure letters from people we love. Our response to Scripture should be even stronger. The Creator of the universe-the God who holds eternity in His hand-recorded all the truth that is necessary for His children to live fully and joyfully, both before and after death (V.3). God reveals Himself through His Word, which is alive and so powerful that it can transform our lives (Heb.4:12).
What's more, Romans 10:17 explains the great importance of our love for the Bible: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." Scripture, then, is the very means by which saving faith is possible.
How could such a book become so common place in our heart? So taken for granted? It is vital that we realize the preeminence of its author-and Scripture's potential impact on our life today.
Think about the last time you saw a Bible. What was your reaction? Did you finger the pages with awe, or did you pass it by with barely a glance? Next time you open this precious book, read the words, savor their meaning, and ask God to help you apply its lessons to your life.
LEANING INTO THE LIGHT
One day I received a bouquet of pink tulips. Their heads bobbed on thick stems as I settled them into a vase, which I placed at the center of our kitchen table. The next day, I noticed that the flowers were facing a different direction. The blossoms that once faced upward were not leaning to the side opening and reaching toward sunlight that streamed in through a nearby window.
In one sense, we all were made to be like those flowers. God has called us to turn to the light of His love. Peter writes of the wonder of been called "out of darkness into [God's] wonderful light"(1 Pet.2:9). Before we come to know God, we live in the shadows of sin and death, which keep us separated from Him (Eph.2:1-7).
However, because of God's mercy and love, He made a way for us to escape spiritual darkness through the death and resurrection of His Son (Col.1:13-14).
Jesus is the Light of the world, and everyone who trusts Him for the forgiveness of sin will receive eternal life. Only as we turn to Him will we increasingly reflect His goodness and truth (Eph.5:8-9).
May we never forget to lean into the Light.
Joyful, joyful we adore You, God of glory, Lord of love; hearts unfold like flowers before You, opening to the sun above.
by Henry Van Dyke
SALVATION FROM SIN MEANS MOVING FROM SPRITUAL DARKNESS TO GOD'S LIGHT.
1 Peter 2:4-10
As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him-you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and, "A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."
They stumble because they disobey the message-which is also what they were destined for.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you our of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; Once you have not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Insight: One of the great comparisons in the New testament is between LIGHT AND DARKNESS. It is a hallmark of the apostle John's writings (see John 1), but in today's text Peter uses light and darkness to describe salvation's transition. We are called "out of darkness into [God's] wonderful light" (v.9).

No updates on the 28th due to technical difficulties
February 27th, 2017
THE FOUNDATION OF WISDOM
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov.9:10). Initially, the connection between these two concepts may be difficult to grasp. How can fearing God make us wise?
First, we need to understand what it means to fear the Lord. This term is used to describe an awesome reverence for God that moves us to acknowledge Him as the sovereign ruler of heaven and earth, submit to His will, and walk in obedience. The result of such a response will be the acquisition of wisdom.
If we commit ourselves to living for God's purposes rather than our own, we will gain greater understanding of Him. The Holy Spirit will enable us to see circumstances and people from His divine perspective. This kind of wisdom reaches beyond human perception and gives us discernment to make decisions that fit into the Lord's plan for our life. Knowing that He always works for our best interests, we are empowered to walk confidently through both good and bad times.
But if we reject God's instructions, we dishonor Him with our refusal to acknowledge His right to rule our life. Its foolish to rebel against His authority and think we can ever win. Those who won't fear God will never know real wisdom.
What is your attitude toward the Lord? If you truly revere Him, you will listen for His directions and heed His warnings. A desire to honor and please Him will motivate you to turn from evil and seek to live in obedience. The result will be wisdom beyond human understanding.
RING OF INVISIBILITY
The Greek Philosopher Plato (c.4:27-c.348 BC) found an imaginative way of shining light on the dark side of the human heart. He told the story of a shepherd who innocently discovered a golden ring that had been hidden deep in the earth. One day a great earthquake opened up an ancient mountainside tomb and revealed the ring to the shepherd. By accident he also discovered that the ring had the magical ability to enable the wearer to become invisible at will. Thinking about invisibility, Plato raised this question: If people don't have to worry about being caught and punished, would they resist doing wrong?
In John's gospel we find Jesus taking this idea in a different direction. There, Jesus, known as the Good Shepherd, speaks of hearts that stay in the cover of darkness to hide what they are doing (John 3:19-20). He isn't calling attention to our desire for cover-up to condemn us, but to offer us salvation through Him (v.17). As the shepherd of our hearts, He brings the worst of our human nature to light to show us how much God loves us (v.16).
God in His mercy calls us out of our darkness and invites us to follow Him in the light.
Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the light of Your presence in my life. May I walk obediently in the light of Your truth in all that I do this day.
SIN'S DARKNESS RETREATS WHEN CHRIST'S LIGHT IS REVEALED.
John 3:16-21
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Every one who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds would be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Insight: Often we think of judgment in eternal life as primarily future realities, but John's gospel emphasizes that each person experiences either judgment or eternal life now, based on how we respond to Jesus. People experience judgment, are "judged already" (v.18), when they reject Jesus-through the pain and emptiness of life outside of the fellowship of God. This judgment is not because God is eager to judge. If He was, He would not have sent Jesus (v.17). Jesus was a pure gift from the heart of a God who loves His creation (v.16). Those who reject Jesus condemn themselves by rejecting the only solution to the evil and brokenness in the world (v.18), choosing darkness when God has made His light freely available in Jesus (vv.19-20). But when anyone turns to Jesus, they experience life-overwhelming, overflowing, abundant life (See 4:13,10:10).
Why do we sometimes struggle to believe that God is more eager to show us love than judgment? How can we be more rooted in Christ's love?
 
February 26th, 2017
A DEBT PAID IN FULL
Mankind has a debt problem. In the physical world, our desire for a higher standard of living and more stuff has lead to burdensome credit card balances and unwieldy mortgage payments.
The weight of what we owe can cause restlessness nights and the feeling that we're trapped. We long for someone to rescue us from the mess we have made.
However, material indebtedness isn't our biggest problem; our sin debt is. All of us were born with a flesh nature that prompts us to rebel against the Lord. Our rebelliousness is an affront to His Holy nature, incurring a debt that we owe to Him. Until this penalty is paid, we are under God's righteous judgment and remain spiritually separated from Him (Eph.2:1-2). The trouble is, we are unable to pay what's due. No amount of good works, self-sacrifice or religious devotion will lesson what we owe.
So God, in His great mercy, sent His Son to rescue us. Jesus Christ left heaven and all of its glory so He could come to earth to live and die for us (Phil.2:6-7). Although the cost to our Savior was enormous, He willingly paid the price we owed. He took our sins upon Himself, bore them to the cross, and discharged our debt in full. Hallelujah!
When we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, His atoning work is credited to our account. We become children of God and co-heirs with Christ as we're changed from debtors to inheritors. (See 1 Peter. 1:3-4.) Let the knowledge of His Sacrifice on the cross permeate every aspect of your life-your thinking, attitude, and choices.
COMPLETE ACCESS
A few years ago, a friend invited me to join him as a spectator at a pro golf tournament. Being a first-timer, I had no idea what to expect. When we arrived, I was surprised to receive gifts, information, and maps of the golf course. But what topped it all was that we gained access to a VIP tent behind the eighteenth green, where we had free food and a place to sit. I couldn't have gained entry to the hospitality tent on my own though. The key was my friend; it was only through him that I had complete access.
Left to ourselves, we would all be hopelessly separated from God. But Jesus, who took our penalty, offers us His life and access to God. The apostle Paul wrote, "[God's] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known" (Eph.3:10). This wisdom has brought Jew and Gentile together in Christ, who had made a way for us to come to God the Father. "Through faith in [Christ] we may approach God with freedom and confidence" (V.12).
When we put our trust in Jesus we receive the greatest access of all-access to the God who loves us and desires a relationship with us.
Father! Just being able to call You Father is an incredible gift. Thank You for Your Son, Jesus, who had made it possible for me to come into Your presence, to know You personally, and, yes, to call You my Father.
BECAUSE OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST, WE CAN BECOME FRIENDS OF GOD.
Ephesians 3:7-13
I became of servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the lest of all the Lord's people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages passed was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
Insight: Paul was humbled by memories that left him feeling unworthy to be writing on behalf of Christ and the community he once hated (Eph.3:8). How could he ever forget the harm he had done to the people of Christ? (Gal.1:13-14,23). With his conversion, the Spirit of God gave Paul a heart for the Gentiles he once regarded as outsiders to Israel's covenant of faith (Eph.2:11-12). Paul and his readers could now celebrate together the honor of being excepted by God in the name of Christ. Do you wrestle with what it means to not measure up? To feel like an outsider not welcome in the love of God? If so, then Paul's letter has great significance. Together we can recall what it means to be welcomed into the presence of God in the full sponsorship of the Son-who lived and died to bring outsiders like us into His Father's family.

February 24th, 2017
LEARNING CONTENTMENT
We usually associate contentment with good conditions. When our family relationships are great, work is fulfilling, and we have no health or financial problems, then we feel at ease. But if something goes wrong, our satisfaction vanishes.
That's not what today's passage is talking about. Paul had learned to be content no matter what his conditions were. This is wonderful news for us because it means we aren't at the mercy of our circumstances: We, too, can learn to be content regardless of what we're facing. We should remember;
Paul Was Content Because He Rested In God's Faithfulness. He knew the Lord was in full control (Ps. 103:19) and promised to work all things for His children's good (Rom.8:28). In any and every circumstance, Paul rested in the security of God's sovereign, loving hand. The apostle also trusted that whatever he needed would be provided in the Lord's time.
His Contentment Also Flowed From a Focus On Christ. Although he was writing from a Roman prison, Paul wasn't feeling like a victim or wallowing in self-pity. Throughout the letter to the Philippians, he talked about Jesus. In fact, his greatest pursuit in life was to know Christ, his power, and the fellowship of his sufferings (3:10). No circumstance could hinder that pursuit. On the contrary, every situation-even when painful or difficult-was an opportunity to know Christ more intimately.
We'll never be able to find lasting contentment in our circumstances, but we can find it in Christ. When we surrender our life to Him, our situation may not change, but we will. No matter what we face, we can be content.
THE LAND OF "WHAT IS"
Even all these years after losing our 17-year-old daughter Melissa in a car accident in 2002, I sometimes find myself entering the world of "what if." Its easy in grief, to re-imagine the events that tragic June evening and think of factors that-if rearranged-would have had Mell arriving safely home.
In reality, though, the land of "What If" is not a good place to be for any of us. It is a place of regret, second-guessing, and hopelessness. While the grief is real and the sadness endures, life is better and God is honored if we dwell in the world of "what is." 
In that world, we can find hope, encouragement, and comfort. We have the sure hope (1 Thess.4:13)-the assurance- that because Melissa loved Jesus she is in a place that is "better by far" (Phil.1:23). We have the helpful presence of the God of all comfort (2 Cor.1:3). We have God's "ever-present help in trouble" (Ps.46:1). And we often have the encouragement of fellow believers.
We all wish to avoid the tragedies of life. But when we do face hard times, our greatest help comes from trusting God, our sure hope in the land of what is.
Father God, You know my broken heart. You know the pain of loss because You suffered through the death of Your Son. In the midst of ongoing sorrow, help me to dwell in the comfort of Your hope, encouragement, and comfort.
OUR GREATEST HOPE COMES FROM TRUSTING GOD.
Psalm 46:1-7
God is our refuge and strength, an-ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the Holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Insight: In Psalm 46, the psalmist uses exaggeration to express his trust in the safety God provides. He tells of feeling safe in circumstances where safety is unimaginable. When the very ground under our feet is uncertain, the psalmist expresses confidence in the protection of the Lord. He isn't saying, "Do not fear" because our circumstances are not fear-worthy, but because our God is bigger than our troubles. In uncertain times He is stable. The mountains crumbling into the sea is a graphic image of the most stable land feature giving way. In what circumstances do you need to remember that God is constant and unchanging? How can you express your trust in Him as Your refuge?

February 23rd, 2017
SEEING CHRIST IN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES
If you had the power to change your circumstances, would you? Since no one has a life without problems, most of us would immediately say yes. However, the reality is that we must learn to live with some of our difficult circumstances, because only God has the power to alter them-and in His providence, He's allowed them to remain.
Take the apostle Paul, for example. He had a desire to go to Rome and preach the gospel but didn't anticipate the route God would use to bring him there. It began with false accusations in Jerusalem, an appeal to Caesar, a rough sea voyage, and a shipwreck and eventually included time spent in a Roman prison. This was probably not what Paul had envisioned, but as he sat chained to a Roman guard, he wrote the following words to the church in Philippi: "My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel" (Phil.1:12). The very circumstance that may have seemed like an unfair misfortune became the avenue for fruitful service.
What looks like a shipwreck or detour in our plans could actually be God's ordained path for our lives. It may include financial challenges, health issues, relational conflicts, or any number of other hardships. But there is one certainty to which we can cling: Jesus Christ is our life, and he never changes.
Conditions around us will fluctuate, but if we belong to Christ, He'll use every situation to accomplish His will in and through us. Even when we face matters of life and death, we can share Paul's desire-that Christ would be exalted in us whether through life or death.
PRESS ON
One of my favorite television programs is The Amazing Race. In this reality show, ten couples are sent to a foreign country where they must race via trains, buses, cabs, bikes, and feet, from one point to another to get their instructions for the next challenge. The goal is for one couple to get to a designated finishing point before everyone else, and the prize is a million dollars.
The apostle Paul compared the Christian life to a race and admitted that he had not yet arrived at the finish line.
"Brothers and sisters," he said, "I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize" (Phil 3:13-14). Paul did not look back and allow his past failures to weigh him down with guilt nor did he let his present success make him complacent. He pressed on toward the goal of becoming more and more like Jesus.
We are running this race too. Despite our past failures or successes, let us keep pressing on toward the ultimate goal of becoming more like Jesus. We are not racing for an earthly prize but for the ultimate reward of enjoying Him forever.
Read Philippians 4:11-13. How are we able to press on toward our future hope? Read Hebrews 12:1-2. What are some practical things we must do to continue to press on and persevere.
NEVER CALL IT QUITS IN PURSUING JESUS.
Philippians 3:12-21
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Jesus Christ took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things and, if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there.
The Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Insight: Philippians 3 describes the delicate balance needed to face the obstacles of the Christian life. The apostle Paul uses athletic terms to describe our journey of faith. He tells us not to look at the past, to realize we are incomplete, and to remember that moving toward the goal is everything. ONLY GOD'S GRACE CAN HELP US TO BE STRONG FINISHERS IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.

February 22, 2017
GOD IN THREE PERSONS
Years ago, after I preached about God's Spirit, a woman came up after church to complain, "Why do you talk about the Holy Spirit when people need to hear about Jesus and God?" Sometimes even those who have been Christians for a long time regard the Trinity as a hierarchy. To their way of thinking, the Father is God, Jesus is slightly beneath Him in rank and seniority, and the Holy Spirit is their servant. While this may conform to human models of authority, it isn't biblical.
According to the Scriptures, all three members of the trinity are fully God:
God the Father. Jesus Christ referred to His Father as God (John 5:17).
God the Son. John 1:1 identifies Jesus as divine. While Christ never specifically called Himself "God, " His Father did apply the title to Him (Heb.1:8). Furthermore, Jesus acknowledged having unlimited power-an attribute possessed only by the divine Creator (Matt.28:18)-and also accepted worship (14:33;John 9:38).
God the Holy Spirit. After declaring that God raised Christ from the dead, the New Testament goes on to credit the Holy Spirit with the resurrection (Rom.8:11). Jesus reinforced that idea when He commanded the disciples to baptize new believers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Bible confirms that each member of the Trinity is equally God.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit functioned as a unit-no one is more important or less essential than the others. All three are focused upon their plan for mankind: Salvation, transformation, and glory for God.
PERFECT GRACE
Jesus's teaching about absolute ideals and absolute grace seem contradictory.
Jesus never lowered God's perfect ideal. In His response to the rich young ruler, He said "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48). He told an expert in the law who inquired as to the greatest commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (22:37). No one has completely fulfilled those commands.
Yet the same Jesus tenderly offered absolute grace. He forgave an adulterous, a thief on the cross, a disciple who had denied ever knowing Him, and a man named Saul, who had made his mark persecuting Christians.
Grace is absolute and all-encompassing, extending even to those who nailed Jesus to the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" were among the last words He spoke on earth (Luke 23:34).
For years I felt so unworthy when considering Jesus's absolute ideals that I missed any notion of His grace.
Once I understood this dual message, however, I went back and found that the message of grace gusts through Jesus's life and teachings.
Grace is for the desperate, the needy, the broken, those who cannot make it on their own. Grace is for all of us.
Father, your all-encompassing grace washes over us and astonishes us. May we live today as people who enjoy Your complete forgiveness and a restored relationship with You.
JESUS FULFILLED THE PERFECT REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW SO THAT WE MAY ENJOY THE PERFECT PEACE OF HIS GRACE.
Matthew 5:43-48; John 8:9-11
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
Insight: The life of the apostle Paul is another example of God's grace. Because of Paul's past, he considered himself the most undeserving recipient of God's mercy and grace (1 Tim.1:13-14). Although he was chosen to be an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul also gave another reason he was chosen: "God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life" (V. 16 NLT). God had you and me in mind when He saved Paul-an awesome thought. If Paul, the worst of sinners, could be saved, then there is hope for everyone else. NO ONE IS BEYOND THE REACH OF GOD'S MERCY AND GRACE.

February 21st, 2017
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TRINITY
The word trinity cannot be found in the Bible, but the truth of it can. While there is only one God, the God head consists of three distinct persons-the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All are equally omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, and unchanging, but each is unique in function.
Scripture not only shows how each member of the Trinity fulfills His specific role but also reveals how those three roles interrelate. Let me express this idea in simple terms: The Father creates a plan, Jesus Christ implements the plan, and the Holy Spirit administers the plan.
The way of redemption showcases these roles in a clear manner. The Father designed and organized the way that mankind would be redeemed (Gal.4:4-5). He set into motion a complex set of events, actions, and prophecies, which culminated in the life and death of a Savior. The Son carried out the plan (John 6:37-38). He followed the Father's instructions to come to earth, even though that meant He would have to die. The Holy Spirit sees to it that every person feels a call toward God's saving grace (John 16:8; Rom.1:19-20). Furthermore, He transforms the lives of those who receive salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in their divine attributes. Yet each one relates to mankind in a different way because He has a specific role in our life. Its very important to understand this distinction: We do not have three Gods; we have one God in three persons functioning uniquely and perfectly.
THE VIRAL GOSPEL
The Viral Texts project at North Eastern University in Boston is studying how printed content in the 1800's spread through newspapers-the social media network of that day. If an article was reprinted fifty times or more, they considered that "viral" for Industrial Age. Writing in Smithsonian Magazine, Britt Peterson noted that a 19th-century news article describing which followers of Jesus were executed for their faith appeared in at least a hundred and ten different publications.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonia, he commended them for their bold and joyful witness to Jesus. "The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia- your faith in God has become known everywhere" (1 Thess.1:8). The message of the gospel went viral through these people whose lives had been transformed by Jesus Christ. Inspite of difficulties and persecution, they could not remain silent.
We convey the story of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ through kind hearts, helping hands, and honest words from all of us who know the Lord. The gospel transforms us and the lives of those we meet.
May the message ring out from us for all to hear today!
Lord Jesus, help us to live boldly and tell others about You today.
THERE'S NO BETTER NEWS THAN THE GOSPEL-SPREAD THE WORD!
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in Gog the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you.
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Ahcaia- your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Insight: The story of the Thessalonians' changed lives-according to Paul-went "viral." Paul recalls the story of how Jewish and Gentile people turned from ancestral beliefs to personal faith in Christ. Such conversions were controversial. Decisions to leave the faith of our fathers (and mothers) seldom sound like good news to families, friends, and co-workers. But these Thessalonians gave their world something to talk about. Their lives gave substance to the faith, hope, and love of Jesus. It is easier to tell someone about our own experience rather than jumping into a controversial "answer" for them. Why not share your story?

February 20th, 2017
WORKING OUT YOUR SALVATION
What does it mean to "work out your salvation"? Many people mistakenly think Paul was telling us to work for our salvation. But the apostle was saying something completely different- that your salvation experience isn't the end of your spiritual journey. Rather, its the catalyst that turned on your "operation mode."
Once you have trusted Jesus as Savior, you can begin living out what He's given you, which is His abundant life. If you have given your heart to Him, the Holy Spirit now indwells you- He is with you forever. It is God's Spirit working in and through you that empowers you to live our your salvation. The degree in which you yield to Him impacts the work He'll achieve through you and the changes He will effect in your life.
Lets say you start reading the Bible and learning. As your faith and relationship with the Lord develop, you will begin to notice Him moving in your life. When you share your faith and your blessing with others, you'll notice God working through even more avenues. Keep following Him, and you will see the seeds He's planted within you flourish (Isa.55:10-11). So when Scripture says were to "work out [our] salvation," it means we need to reverently live out what's already been given to us-and allow the life of Christ to come fully to fruition.
Your salvation should become an expression of Jesus' life where ever you are. As you work it out among your friends and family, on the job, in school, and even with strangers, God's Spirit will energize you to make a difference and impact others-in other words, to be salt and light (Matt.5:13-16).
RIVER TREE
This was a tree to be envied. Growing on river front property, it didn't have to worry about weather reports, withering temperatures, or an uncertain future. Nourished and cooled by the river, it spent its days lifting its branches to the sun, holding the earth with its roots, cleaning the air with its leaves, and offering shade to all who needed refuge from the sun.
By contrast, the prophet Jeremiah pointed to a shrub (Jer.17:6). When the rains stopped and the summer sun turned the ground to dust, the bush shriveled into itself, offering no shade or fruit to anyone.
Why would the prophet compare a flourishing tree to a withering bush? He wanted his people to recall what had happened since their miraculous rescue from the slave yards of Egypt. For forty years in a wilderness, they lived like a tree planted by a river (2:4-6). Yet in the property of their promised land they had forgotten their own story; they were relying on themselves and on gods of their own making (vv.7-8), even to the point of going back to Egypt looking for help (42:14).
So God, through Jeremiah, lovingly urged the forgetful children of Israel, and He urges us, to hope and trust in the Lord and to be like the tree-not the bush.
Father, in so many ways You have taught us that You alone can be trusted-even when it seems like You are no where to be seen. Please help us to recall today what you have already shown us along the way.
LETS REMEMBER IN GOOD TIMES WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED IN DAYS OF TROUBLE.
Jeremiah 17:5-10
This is what the Lord says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
"But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; Its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
"I the Lord searched the heart and examined the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve."
Insight: Today's Bible reading contrasts the life of the person devoted to God with the life of one who trusts in his own strength. Jeremiah uses incredibly strong language to differentiate between the two. One is blessed and one is cursed. Its mind-boggling that we would choose to trust in ourselves instead of God, yet we all choose to do so from time to time. But verse 10 offers hope. It is not what we claim that determines whether we are a tree by the streams or a bush in the desert; it is the Lord who examines and rewards us. Are there any areas of your life you need to ask the Lord to examine?

February 19th 2017
RESPONDING TO PERSECUTION 
Persecution has been a common experience in Christianity ever since the apostles first proclaimed the message of salvation. Even in places that have been blessed with a long period of peace and prosperity, there is no guarantee how long that will continue. And Though we may never face severe repercussions like imprisonment or death for our beliefs, we've probably all felt the sting of rejection or ridicule. Whatever form the harassment may take we shall all be prepared to suffer for Christ.
Peter wrote to a group of believers who were treated harshly because of their faith. His goal was to offer encouragement and reminder to follow Christ's example: Though sinless, He suffered in our place to bring us to God. And while the crowd at the cross mocked Him, He never responded harshly. Instead, He patiently suffered in full submission to His Father, "entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter. 2:21-23).
Without this perspective, we could quickly descend into self-pity or angry resentment when we're mistreated. But Peter reminds us that we are blessed when we suffer for the sake of righteousness. Not only will we receive a reward in heaven (Matt. 5:11-12), but we may also have an opportunity to gently and reverently be a witness for Christ.
A wise response to persecution flows from an accurate understanding of God's ways. Unfair suffering is sometimes a part of His will for us, just as it was for Christ. But we can trust our Father knowing that He can work out every situation for our good and His glory.
BETTER THAN A PINATA
There cannot be a Mexican party without a Pinata-a carton or clay container filled with candies and treats. Children strike it with a stick and try to break it, hoping to enjoy its contents.
Monks used the pinatas in the 16th century to teach lessons to the indigenous people of Mexico. Pinatas were stars with seven points that represented the seven deadly sins.
Beating the pinata showed the struggle against evil, and once the treats inside fell to the ground, people could take them home in remembrance of the rewards of keeping the faith.
But we cannot fight evil on our own. God is not waiting for our efforts so that He will show His mercy. Ephesians teaches that "by grace you have been saved through faith,...it is the gift of God" (2:8). We don't beat sin; Christ has done that.
Children fight for the candies from the pinata, but God's gifts come to all of us when we believe in Jesus. God "has blessed us...with every spiritual blessing" (1:3). We have forgiveness of sins, redemption, adoption, new life, joy, love, and much more. We don't get these spiritual blessings because we have kept the faith and are strong; we get them because we believe in Jesus. Spiritual blessings come only through grace-undeserved grace!
Thank You for Your mercy, Lord, which is great and free!
WE HAVE BEEN SAVED BY GRACE. NOW WE ENJOY THE MANY BLESSINGS THAT COME BY GRACE.
Ephesians 2:1-10
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now in work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms of in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Insight: Today's reading shows the spiritual condition of those who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. But it also proclaims that new life is freely offered as a remedy to all who believe.
In the King James Version, Ephesians 2:1 says "And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." The Greek word translated "quickened" does not appear in the original. However, it appears in vs 5, and many other passages support this concept of quickening or making alive (Col. 2:13, Rom. 6:11-14; 8:10-11). Every member of the human race is dead spiritually and will someday die physically. But through the extraordinary ministry of Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection, all who believe in Him can be "quickened" from life to death. 

February 17th, 2017
FROM EMPTINESS TO FULFILLMENT
As we saw in yesterday's devotion, countless people go through life feeling empty, which is contrary to God's design. The account of the Samaritan woman in John 4 teaches several important points about fulfillment.
Filling our emptiness in important to the Lord. As they journeyed, Jewish people bypassed Samaria because of their intense hatred for its inhabitants. Yet Jesus, a Jew, chose to travel there because He knew a hurting Samaritan was ready to hear about the Father's love.
Our attempts at happiness often leave us feeling hopeless. The woman at the well had been wed five times, but all of her marriages had failed. Whether or not the problems were her fault, she was left without the love she sought. Most likely, each broken relationship left her feeling lonelier than before.
God knows our pain. When the woman admitted she didn't presently have a husband, Jesus revealed that He already knew she and the man living with her were not married. By demonstrating His awareness of her hurt and pursuit of fulfillment, He helped the woman recognize her need for a Savior.
Jesus can satisfy our yearnings. Once the Samaritan woman realized what was missing, Jesus revealed how to live a full life: "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst" (vv.13-14).
Do you ever feel like the Samaritan woman-dissatisfied with life and thirsty for love and fulfillment? Surrender to God, and allow His love to flow through you. Only then will you experience abundant life.
SEEING TO TOMORROW
I enjoy gazing up at a cloudless blue sky. The sky is a beautiful part of our great Creator's masterpiece, given for us to enjoy. Imagine how much Pilots must love the view. They use several aeronautical terms to describe a perfect sky for flying, but my favorite is, "You can see to tomorrow."
"Seeing to tomorrow" is beyond our view. Sometimes we even struggle to see or understand what life is throwing at us today. The Bible tells us, "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a midst that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14).
But our limited visibility is not cause for despair. Just the opposite. We trust in the God who sees all of our tomorrows perfectly-and who knows what we need as we face the challenges ahead. The apostle Paul knew this. That's why Paul encourages us with hopeful words, "We live by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).
When we trust God with our day as well as our unseen tomorrows, we don't need to worry about anything life throws at us. We walk with Him and He knows what is ahead; He is strong enough and wise enough to handle it.
Lord, I know I can trust You for today and tomorrow because You are kind, good, loving, wise, and powerful. Teach me not to worry.
GOD SEES THE BEGINNING TO THE END.
2 Corinthians 5:1-9

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we may get our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
Insight: Often I muse, "What will happen in my life tomorrow?" Tomorrow could bring me trouble and suffering. Job, the great sufferer of the Old Testament said, "Man is born to trouble" (Job 5:7). Our days are filled with "grief and pain" (Eccl.2:23). Tomorrow may even see my death. But death holds no terrors for us who are in the Lord. For "If the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands" (2 Cor. 5:1). I need not fear even that tomorrow; in fact, I can look forward to being with the Lord (5:8). What fears or worries about tomorrow do you need to bring to God?

February 16th, 2017
HOW TO AVOID AN EMPTY LIFE In public, most people appear happy and confident. But beneath the surface, many feel empty. In fact, it is possible to be in a large crowd and yet still feel alone. A lot of men and women see no meaning or purpose in life. Attempting to overcome the emptiness, some become busy, others turn to drugs or alcohol, and still others strive for more money, power or love. Though pleasure exists for them, it is usually short-lived.
There's a reason why life can feel empty: Man was created with a yearning that God alone is able to satisfy. Individuals cannot be fulfilled until they experience His transforming and unconditional love. Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). In other words, the Lord wants us to feel complete, which can happen only through a relationship with Him.
However, even a person who is saved can feel empty. This could result from disobedience: A slight detour in one's walk with the Lord can become a way of life, depriving a believer of deep satisfaction. It's also possible for Christians to live according to God's Word without fully surrendering their desires to Him. For example, many believers still try to fill up their own void with achievements, wealth, or relationships. When aspirations like these are given higher priority than the Lord, they are a form of idolatry.
We can live a full life only when we seek God above all else. Pray for His guidance as you search your heart. Confess any sin, and ask God to fill your life as only He can do.
THE JUNKYARD GENIUS
Noah Purifoy began his work as an "assemblage" artist with three tons of rubble salvaged from the sixty five riots in the Watts are of Las Angeles. From broken bicycle wheels and bowling balls to discarded tires and damaged TV sets-things no longer usable-he and a colleague created sculptures that conveyed a powerful message about people being treated as "throw-aways" in modern society. One journalist referred to Mr. Purifoy as "the junkyard genius."
In Jesus's time, many people considered those with diseases and physical problems as sinners being punished by God. They were shunned and ignored. But when Jesus and His disciples encountered a man born blind, the Lord said his condition was not the result of sin, but an occasion to see the power of God. "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5). When the blind man followed Jesus's instructions, he was able to see. When the religious authorities questioned the man, he replied simply, "One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (V.25).
Jesus is still the greatest "junkyard genius" in our world. We are all damaged by sin, by He takes our broken lives and shapes us into His new creations.
Lord, I thank You today for Your amazing grace!
JESUS IS THE RESTORER OF LIFE.
John 9:1-11
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned" said Jesus "But this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." After saying this he spat on the ground, made some mud with his saliva and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "Wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means "sent"). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" Some claim that he was.
Others said, "No, he only looks like him." But he himself insisted, "I am the man."
"How then were your eyes opened?" they asked.
He replied, "The man they called Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."
Insight: Have you ever felt as though you saw no purpose to your life, couldn't see your way forward, and were not even sure there is a God willing or able to give you light at the end of the tunnel? John wrote his gospel to proclaim the life and light that troubled people like us long for (John 1:1-5). John found many reasons to believe that Jesus really is the light of the world: "These [miraculous signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).

February 15th, 2017
HOW WE RESPOND TO A STORM
If you've ever experienced a storm when around other people, you know not everyone responds the same way.
Picture a back yard party where all the guests are having fun, but then the wind picks up. The temperature drops, the sky darkens, and the sent of rain is in the air. Everyone, scrambles to grab something and head indoors. Just as the last person rushes in with the potato salad, the skies let go. Inside, people gather into clusters. One group stands at the window, oohing and aahing at the thunder and lightening outside. On the couch, others hug each other or cover their ears; a few jump and shutter with every boom. Another group, chatting away, seems completely oblivious to the weather. Isn't this a picture of how people react differently to the storms of life?
When it comes to the upheavals we face, our very responses can have a significant impact down the road. Some people respond in a healthy way and emerge stronger, while others are broken by the challenge.
What accounts for the difference in our response is our view of God. If we see Him as our loving heavenly Father, we'll understand He has the best possible plan for our life, even if the path is, for a time, through troubled waters. But if we consider Him an obstruction to the goals we've set for ourselves, we could miss out on the blessings He has in mind for us.
Storms are unavoidable in life. When one comes your way, the wisest thing you could do is to cry out to Jesus. Won't you choose to respond with an attitude of trust in the Lord and submission to His way?
LITTLE LIES AND KITTENS
Mom noticed four-year-old Elias as he scurried away from the new born kittens. She had told him not to touch them. "Did you touch the kitties, Elias?" She asked.
"No!" he said earnestly. So mom had another question: "Were they soft?"
"Yes," he volunteered, and the black one mewed."
With a toddler, we smile at such duplicity. But Elias's disobedience underscores our human condition. No one has to teach a four-year-old to lie. "For I was born a sinner," wrote David in his classic confession, "Yes, from the moment my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5 NLT). The apostle Paul said: "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned" (Rom.5:12 NLT). That depressing news applies equally to kings, four-year-olds and you and me.
But there's plenty of hope! "God's law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were," wrote Paul. "But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful grace became more abundant" (Rom.5:20 NLT).
God is not waiting for us to blow it so He can pounce on us. He is in the business of grace, forgiveness, and restoration. We need only recognize that our sin is neither cute nor excusable and come to Him in faith and repentance.
Father, be merciful to me, a sinner.
THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS. ROMANS 8:1
Romans 5:12-21
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned-
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone's account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners. So also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteousness.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

February 14th, 2017
SHOWING AGAPE LOVE
Divine love empowers us to respond calmly to difficulties, demonstrate patience in seasons of waiting, and sacrifice without complaint. We offer God's love when we can:
Forgive others. In Luke 15:13-14, the prodigal son wasted his money in riotous living and discovered both the empty promises and destructive quality of sin. Upon the young man's return, his father forgave him completely. Love made it possible to wipe away the past (Ps.103:12).
Act generously. The son, having just fed pigs, arrived at his father's estate with few expectations. The forgiving dad greeted him most warmly and dressed him in the finest garments. Godly love which keeps no record of wrongs, enabled the father to show generosity.
Serve joyfully. What a celebration the father had upon the prodigal's return! His joy in his lost son's homecoming overflowed to others. Love expresses itself in willing service.
Restore those who fall. The one who both abandon his father and squandered his inheritance was again given full rights as a son.
When we mess up, our heavenly Father patiently waits for us to turn back to Him. He excepts our repentance, rejoices in our return, and restores intimacy with Him. The elder brother in this parable missed the point because of his self-righteous attitude (1 John 1:8). He didn't recognize his mistakes or the many times his father had shown him love and forgiveness.
God calls us to a lifestyle of agape love. To whom could you extend the divine love that forgives, restores, and serves with generosity and joy?
LOVE REVEALED
When a series of pink "I love you" signs mysteriously appeared in the town of Welland, Ontario, local reporter Mary Anne Firth decided to investigate. Her sleuthing turned up nothing. Weeks later, new signs appeared featuring the name of a local park along with a date and time.
Accompanied by a crowd of curious town people, Firth went to the park at the appointed time. There she met a man wearing a suit who had cleverly concealed his face. Imagine her surprise when he handed her a bouquet and proposed marriage! The mystery man was Ryan St. Denis-her boyfriend. She happily accepted.
St. Denis's expression of love toward his fiance may seem a bit over-the-top, but God's expression of love for us is nothing short of extravagant! "This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9).
Jesus is not merely a token of love, like a rose passed from one person to another. He is the divine human who willingly gave up His life so that anyone who believes in Him for salvation can have an everlasting covenant relationship with God. Nothing can separate a Christian "from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39).
Dear God, thank You for showing me, in the greatest way possible, that You love me. Help my life to demonstrate My love for you.
WE KNOW HOW MUCH GOD LOVES US BECAUSE HE SENT HIS SON TO SAVE US.
1 John 4:9-16
This is how God showed His love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.
This is how we know that we live in Him and He is us: He has given us His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love that God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
Insight: In today's reading the word for love is the Greek noun Agape, which speaks of the highest form of love imaginable. A love the seeks the welfare of the other even at great personal cost. John reminds us that the ultimate evidence of God's love for us is seen in the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf (1 John 4:9). John then says that our response to God's love should be our self-sacrificing love for another as fellow Christ followers (v.11). His application of God's love concludes with a reminder that our ability to love one another is dependent upon His love being revealed and "made complete in us" (v.12). Our expression of the Father's love for us in our relationships will be a result of what the Holy Spirit is producing in our hearts.
To learn more about the love of God take a look at the Discovery Series booklet God is Love: Reflections on the Character of God at discoveryseries.org/q0612

February 13th, 2017
THE POWER OF LOVE
In Jesus' day, three Greek words were used to express "love"-Eros (physical intimacy), Philia (friendship) and Agape (fruit produced by the Holy Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5:22-23). Our heavenly Father cares for us with Agape love, and to bring us into a right relationship with Him, He sacrificed His Son (1 John 4:10).
The parable of the prodigal son gives us a good example of this type of love. Agape is evident in our life when we:
Respond calmly to difficulties. To the son's untimely demand for his share of the inheritance, the Father didn't reply with angry words about ungrateful children. Though the prodigal's attitude must have caused pain, the man held his tongue and did not retaliate. In calmness, he could think more clearly and chose to love (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
Sacrifice without complaint. Though he knew his son was committed to a ruinous course, the Father quietly fulfilled the request. In doing so, he chose the way of love, directing his efforts towards preserving their relationship.
Wait patiently. Out of deep affection, the Father let his son leave and stay away. What heartache the man must have felt! Yet he remained hopeful and waited for the young man to recognize that sin cannot deliver what it has promised. This patient response is possible only through the power of agape love (v. 4).
The Holy Spirit's work in our life empowers us to show selfless and sacrificial devotion to the development of another person. In that way, we become people who respond calmly, patiently and without complaint. Which kind of emotion do you offer to others-human or divine?
THE DEATH OF DOUBT
We know him as doubting Thomas (See John 20-24-29), but the label isn't entirely fair. After all, how many of us would believe that our executed leader had been resurrected? We might just as well call him "Courageous Thomas", After all, Thomas displayed impressive courage as Jesus moved purposefully into the events leading to His death.
At the death of Lazarus, Jesus had said, "Let us go back to Judah" (John 11:7), prompting a protest from the disciples. "Rabbi," they said, "A short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?" (V. 8). It was Thomas who said, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (V.16).
Thomas's intentions proved nobler than his actions. Upon Jesus' arrest, Thomas fled with the rest (Matt. 26:56), leaving Peter and John to accompany Christ to the courtyard of the high priest. Only John followed Jesus all the way to the cross.
Despite having witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:38-44), Thomas still could not bring himself to believe that the crucified Lord had conquered death. Not until Thomas the doubter-the human-saw the risen Lord, could he exclaim, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Jesus's response gave assurance to the doubter and immeasurable comfort to us: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (V. 29).
Father, teach us to act on what we do know about You and your goodness, and trust You in faith for what we don't know.
REAL DOUBT SEARCHES FOR THE LIGHT; UNBELIEF IS CONTENT WITH THE DARKNESS.
John 11:1-16
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."
When He heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. Know, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days, and then He said to His disciples, "Let us go back to Judah."
"But Rabbi," they said, "A short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?"
Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world's light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light."
After He has said this, He went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then He told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad. I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
Then Thomas (also know as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

February 12th, 2017
DOING GOD'S WORK GOD'S WAY
Satan tries to trick us into thinking that life can be divided into two separate parts: the secular, which is separate from the Lord and the spiritual. That's a lie. As God's children, we are spiritual beings, and every area of our life is to be an expression of that divine relationship. Whether employment, family role, ministry, or leisure pursuits, Our every involvement connects into God's purpose for our life and must please Him.
Our culture wants us to believe another lie-that we can accomplish much without God. People will point out our human strengths, like education, skills, and gifts, and assure us that we have all we require to succeed. The implication is that we don't need God. Satan always wants to turn us away from reliance upon the Lord;Our enemy wants us to think that prior success means we can handle the task on our own. The Bible tells us otherwise. To do God's work, God's way requires that we rely on His Spirit instead of depending on ourselves or others.
When we are leaning on the Spirit's strength and wisdom, we will:
.....Be fully persuaded that without God's active presence, we'll fail.
.....Seek to please God alone and not to compromise.
.....Look expectantly for the Holy Spirit to be at work.
.....Spend more time thanking and praising Him.
.....Exhibit joy, a fruit of the Spirit, instead of worry.
The lives of God's children are to be characterized by steady reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Is that true of you?
LOOK WHAT JESUS HAS DONE
The little boy was only eight when he announced to his parents' friend Wally, "I love Jesus and want to serve God over seas some day." During the next 10 years or so, Wally prayed for him as he watched him grow up. When this young man later applied with a mission agency to go to Mali, Wally told him, "Its about time! When I heard what you wanted to do, I invested some money and have been saving it for you, waiting for this exciting news." Wally has a heart for others and for getting God's good news to people.
Jesus His disciples needed financial support as they traveled from one town and village to another, telling the good news of His kingdom (Luke 8:1-3). A group of women who have been cured of evil spirits and diseases helped to support them. "Out of their own means"(V.3). One was Mary Magdalene, who had been freed from the presence of seven demons. Another was Joanna, the wife of an official in Harod's court. Nothing is known about Susanna and "many others" (V.3), but we know that Jesus had met their spiritual needs. Now they were helping Him and His disciples through giving their financial resources.
When we consider what Jesus has done for us, His heart for others becomes our own. Lets ask God how He wants to use us.
How might you be a part of getting the good news of salvation to people in your neighborhood and around the world? Tell someone the story of what Jesus has done for you. Write a note of encouragement to someone. Share a gift with a missionary. Pray.
JESUS GAVE HIS ALL; HE DESERVES OUR ALL.
Luke 8:1-8
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Harod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town, He told this parable: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and chocked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop a hundred times more than was sown."
When He said this, He called out, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."
Insight: Jesus honored a sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears, wiped them dry with her hair, and then poured out an expensive flask of perfume on His feet (Luke 7:36-50). Assuring the woman that her sins were forgiven, Jesus tells disgusted religious leaders that she is an example of one who having been forgiven much loves all the more (V.47). It is in this context that we read that some women who had been cured of evil spirits and various diseases traveled with Jesus to support Him and His disciples out of their own means. Maybe we can ask ourselves: What grave and mercy have we received that gives us reason to give attention, respect, comfort, and encouragement to others?

February 10th, 2017
NO EXCUSES
Jonah fled Tarshish to escape God's plan. The prophet mistakenly thought that ignoring a divine command would cause the Lord to withdraw or change it. Instead, God repeatedly and dramatically intervened in Jonah's life until the man submitted.
Jonah believed he had good reason to be reluctant. The Ninevites were a blood thirsty people determined to conquer Israel. So walking across the city while crying, "Nineveh will be overthrown" was a frightening prospect. And, the prophet later revealed, he worried that God would spare the city if the people repented (4:2). Jonah wanted them destroyed! Therefore, his reasons for fleeing seemed right in his own eyes. But God was not deterred.
There's simply no adequate justification for rebellion. Its not uncommon for people running from God's will to use this 6th-word phrase: "I know what God says, but..." I can tell you with absolute certainty that everything on the other side of "But" is a waste of time. The Lord isn't interested in excuses or selfish ambitions. He desires only obedience. He has reasons for asking a believer to take a specific action, and His purposes are always good. Consider the amazing benefit to Jonah and his countrymen if their enemy Nineveh became an ally that worshiped the same God.
The Lord doesn't change His plan to suit our purpose. Rather, He'll use events, people, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to move us into the center of His will. For your own benefit, go willingly. You may not like the task God assigns, but if He wants done, than it must be worth while.
LEANING ON JESUS
Sometimes when I put my head on my pillow at night and pray, I imagine I'm leaning on Jesus. Whenever I do this, I remember something the Word of God tells us about the apostle John. John himself writes about how he was sitting beside Jesus at the Last Supper: "One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to Him" (John 13:23).
John used the term "The disciple whom Jesus loved" as a way of referring to himself without mentioning his own name. He is also depicting a typical banquet setting in 1st-century Israel, where the table was much lower than those we used today, about knee height. Reclining without chairs on a mat or cushions was the natural position for those around the table. John was sitting so close to the Lord that when he turned to ask him a question, he was "leaning back against Jesus" (John 13:25), with his head on his chest.
John's closeness to Jesus in that moment provides a helpful illustration for our lives with Him today. We may not be able to touch Jesus physically, but we can entrust the weightiest circumstances of our lives to Him. He said, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). How blessed we are to have a Savior whom we can trust to be faithful through every circumstance of our lives! Are you "leaning" on Him today?
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, help me to lean on You today and to trust You as my source of strength and hope. I cast all my cares on You and praise You because You are faithful.
JESUS ALONE GIVES THE REST WE NEED.
John 13:12-26
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me teacher' and 'Lord.' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, Your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you and example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
"I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: 'He who shared my bread has turned against me.'
"I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever excepts anyone I send excepts me; and whoever excepts me, excepts the one who sent me."
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in Spirit and testified, "Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me."
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said "Ask him which one he means."
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.

February 9th 2017
THE COST OF RUNNING FROM GOD
You would think a life-threatening sea storm and a few days in a fishes belly would shake some sense into a person. Yet that wasn't the case with Jonah. The final paragraphs of his story reveal a vengeful prophet who ostensibly obeyed the Lord but allowed his heart to remain on the run.
Jonah paid a financial price for running from God-his ticket to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). And any Sunday school student can tell you the physical consequences he endured. But when those events were long passed, Jonah still grappled with the spiritual cost of his flight. His peace and joy were gone. In their place was bitterness so strong that he begged God for the relief that death would bring.
As believers, we cannot disobey the Lord without paying a price. Certainly our spiritual life weakens. The skills and abilities God has bestowed on us will atrophy from lack of use while we waste time fleeing. And our actions could also have negative consequences in other areas, such as our family, finances, and health.
Perhaps you have a habit, a plan, or a current course of action that you know defies God's will. Have you considered the cost? Though Satan may try to convince you otherwise, there are consequences for wrongdoing. The Lord is Holy and Righteous, and allowing people to get away with sin is simply incompatible with those attributes. What's more, the price for following your own will is high. Just look at how miserable Jonah was because of the choices he made. The reward for obeying God is much more pleasing.
THE ADVOCATE From a Florida prison cell in June 1962, Clarence Earl Gideon wrote a note asking the United States Supreme Court to review his conviction for a crime he said he didn't commit. He added that he didn't have the means to hire a lawyer.
1 year later, in the historic case of Gideon v. Wainright the Supreme Court ruled that people who cannot afford the cost of their own defense must be given a public defender-an advocate-provided by the state. With this decision, and with the help of a court-appointed lawyer, Clarence Gideon was retried and acquitted.
But what if we are not innocent? According to the apostle Paul, we are all guilty. But the court of heaven provides an Advocate who, at God's expense, offers to defend and care for our soul (1 John 2:2). On behalf of His Father, Jesus comes to us offering a freedom that even prison inmates have described as better than anything they've experienced on the outside. It is a freedom of heart and mind.
Whether suffering for wrongs done by us or to us, we all can be represented by Jesus. By the highest of authority He responds to every request for mercy, forgiveness, and comfort.
Jesus, our advocate, can turn a prison of lost hope, fear, or regret into the place of his presence.
Prayer: Father in heaven, please help us to know what it means to have the freedom of Your love and presence. May we experience this freedom even in places that we have only seen as our confinement!
THE ONE WHO DIED AS OUR SUBSTITUTE NOW LIVES AS OUR ADVOCATE
1 John 1:8-2:2
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father-Jesus Christ, the righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Insight: John encourages us to be honest about ourselves. Actually, his words are more of a warning than they are encouragement. Writing to a struggling church, John reminds his readers that we all struggle with sin and the claim that we don't struggle has several drastic consequences: We deceive ourselves, the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8), we make God out to be a liar, and His word is not in us (V.10). But John's point is not a downer. Those warnings surround a very familiar promise. Our sins do not keep us from God-because when we acknowledge (confess) them, we are forgiven for them (V.9). What do you need to confess as sin and then trust that God has forgiven?...JR Hudberg

February 8, 2017
REKINDLING THE FIRE
The Lord created us to live passionately for Him. In that way, we enjoy the blessings of an intimate relationship with our Creator. But there are other benefits as well. Just as the warmth and beauty of flames draw people toward a fireplace, God uses our passion to draw others to Himself.
So, not just for our sake but also for the sake of others, we must be careful not to let our fervor for God fade. Thankfully, the indwelling Holy Spirit nudges believers who start to head in the wrong direction. If you sense this to be the case, you can take several steps to realign yourself with Him. First, evaluate where you are spiritually-ask God whether your fire has grown cold. Second, acknowledge any distance you have allowed to separate you from your heavenly Father, and repent. Third, refocus your attention on Jesus; meditate on how He teaches His followers to live. Spend quality time in Scripture daily, asking the Lord to speak to you through His Word. Pray, not by using fancy language but by crying out earnestly and seeking God's face. Fourth, rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide you back to an intimate and exciting relationship with the Father. Finally, love and serve God by worshiping Him and reaching out to others.
What occupies the majority of your time and attention? Do your thoughts and conversation tend to revolve around worldly topics or the things of God? If your fire for the Lord has dwindled, take the necessary steps today to renew your passion. Living closely with Him is well worth the effort and discipline.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
A dear friend of mine sent me a text message that said, "I'm so glad we can tell each other the good, the bad, and ugly!" We have been friends for many years, and we have learned to share our joys and our failures. We recognize we are far from perfect, so we share our struggles but we also rejoice in each other's successes.
David and Johnathan had a solid friendship too, beginning with the good days of David's victory over Goliath (1 Sam.8:1-4). They shared their fears during the bad days of Johnathan's father's jealousy (18:6-11; 20:1-2). Finally, they suffered together during the ugly days of Saul's plans to kill David (20:42).
Good friends don't abandon us when external circumstances change. They stay with us through the good and the bad days. Good friends also may point us to God in the ugly days, when we may feel tempted to walk away from our Lord.
Real friendships are a gift from God because they exemplify the perfect Friend, who remains loyal through the good, the bad, and the ugly days. As the Lord reminds us, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Heb.13:5).
Dear Lord, I thank You for the good friends You have placed in my life, but above all, I thank You for Your friendship.
A FRIEND IS THE FIRST PERSON WHO COMES IN WHEN THE WHOLE WORLD HAS GONE OUT.
1 Samuel 20:35-42
In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, and he said to the boy, "Run and find the arrows I shoot." As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan's arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, "Isn't the arrow beyond you?" Then he shouted, "Hurry! Go quickly! Don't stop!" The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.)
Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, "Go, carry them back to town."
After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together-but David wept the most. Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying 'The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.'" Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.
Insight: Although Jonathan was the son of the king and in line for the throne, he was willing to sacrifice his own advancement and, instead, promote David. Throughout the years of their relationship, Jonathan showed the hallmarks of a true friend and brother regarding David as more important than himself and seeking to put David's interest ahead of his own. What are some characteristics of lasting, meaningful friendships? (SEE PROV.17:17). What kinds of sacrifices are necessary in order to build a significant friendship? (SEE Phil. 2:3-4). How can our friendships represent the heart of Christ for us? (SEE John 15:15).

February 7th, 2016
WHEN SPIRITUAL PASSION DIMINISHES Do you feel yourself growing cold for the Lord? As His children, we can never lose our salvation, but it is possible for our spiritual passion to cool.
Today's passage reveals that even Timothy experienced a decrease in his excitement for God. That's why Paul wrote to him, encouraging the young pastor at Ephesus to fan the flame of his faith.
Spiritual "cooling" can happen to any Christian. Oftentimes it starts when tragedy or disappointment diverts our attention. Instead of crying out to the Lord and finding shelter in Him, we gradually cease reading the Bible. The Word of God is like wood in a fireplace: The flames can be kept alive only when there are logs to burn. As less time is spent in Scripture, other aspects of our relationship with God are affected. Church attendance diminishes, giving becomes sporadic, and prayer- which seems increasingly stale- is used only for emergencies.
At this point, we may find ourselves unwilling to stand up for what we once deemed important. The temptation to compromise can lead to guilt and defensiveness about how we're living. Finally, the joy, contentment, and peace of God are replaced by weary, doubt, and fear.
A believer who allows himself to drift will miss out on the comfort and fulfillment of a close, vibrant relationship with the Lord. Think back. Is your excitement about the things of God stronger now than ever before? Or has it diminished over time? If your fire needs stoking, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how.
DOES IT SPARK JOY? A young Japanese women's book on decluttering and organizing has sold 2 million copies worldwide. The heart of Marie Kondo's message is helping people get rid of unneeded things in their homes and closets that weigh them down. "Hold up each item," she says, "and ask, 'Does it spark joy?'" If the answer is yes, keep it, if the answer is no, then give it away.
The apostle Paul urged the Christians in Philippi to pursue joy in their relationship with Christ. "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil.4:4). Instead of a life cluttered with anxiety, he urged them to pray about everything and let God's peace guard their hearts and minds in Christ (VV.6-7).
Looking at our every day tasks and responsibilities, we see that not all of them are enjoyable. But we can ask, "How can this spark joy in God's heart and in my own?" A change in why we do things can bring a transformation in the way we feel about them.
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true...noble...right...pure...lovely...admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things" (V.8).
Paul's parting words are food for thought and a recipe for joy.
Lord, show me how you want to spark joy in the tasks I face today.
A FOCUS ON THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF JOY.
Philippians 4:4-9
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praise worthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Insight: Paul's encouragement to rejoice in difficult situations wasn't from the perspective of someone who did not understand suffering. On Paul's second missionary journey (AD 50-52), He was falsely accused of disturbing the social peace of the city. Severely flogged and unjustly imprisoned (Acts 16:20-25), Paul remained a picture of calmness and peace. Luke tells us that in the midst of such adversity, "Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God" (V.25). Paul knew what it meant to "not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Phil.4:6). He could write these words because he himself practiced them. Are you at peace like Paul when life is difficult?
by Sim K Tee

February 6, 2017
PREPARATION THROUGH PRAYER
The book of Acts is an amazing record of how God worked in and through the early church, and one of their most important activities was prayer. While Jesus was with His disciples, little was recorded of them praying because they could talk directly to Christ. But after His ascension, they immediately gathered in upper room and "devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14).
Talking to God was their means of preparing for the work He had for them. Jesus had told them the Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who asked (Luke 11:13). Then after the resurrection, He instructed them to stay in Jerusalem until they were "clothed with power from on high" (24:49). Without the Spirit, they were not adequate for the great commission even though they'd spent time with Jesus. And if they needed the Spirit's power, so do we.
To the degree we're willing to admit our absolute helplessness to do God's work, the Holy Spirit will empower us as we pray. When we are devoted to prayer, the Lord begins to work in our heart, preparing us for service. He gives us the Spirit's boldness to speak God's Word (Acts 4:31) and the courage to face any persecutions that might result (v.29).
God is looking for believers who understand the importance of prayer and realize the only way to fulfill His calling for the church is through His supernatural power. Christ's church is not grown through programs, seminars, and conferences, but through the humble prayers of saints who gathered together in utter dependence upon Him. That's when God's power is released and His will is accomplished.
TRIED AND PURIFIED
During an interview, singer and songwriter Meredith Andrews spoke about being overwhelmed as she tried to balance outreach, creative work, marital issues, and motherhood. Reflecting on her distress, she said "I felt like God was taking me through a refining season, almost through a crushing process."
Job was overwhelmed after losing his livelihood, his health, and his family. Worst still, although Job had been a daily worshiper of God, he felt that the Lord was ignoring his pleas for help. God seemed absent from the landscape of his life. Job claimed he could not see God whether he looked to the north, south, east or west (Job 23:2-9).
In the middle of his despair, Job had a moment of clarity. His faith flickered to life like a candle in a dark room. He said, "[God] knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold"(V.10). Christians are tried and purified when God uses difficulty to burn away our self-reliance, pride, and earthly wisdom. If it seems as if God is silent during this process and He is not answering our cries for help, He may be giving us an opportunity to grow stronger in our faith.
Pain and problems can produce the shining, rock-solid character that comes from trusting God when life is hard.
Dear Lord, help me to believe that You are with me, even when I can't see You working in my life. I surrender myself to Your purpose for any suffering I may endure.
FAITH-TESTING TIMES CAN BE FAITH-STRENGTHENING TIMES
Job 23:1-12
Then Job replied: "Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy inspite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!
I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me.
Would He vigorously appose me? No, He would not press charges against me. There the upright can establish their innocence before Him and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.
"But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is at work in the north I do not see Him. When He turns to the South, I catch no glimpse of Him. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed His steps; I have kept to His way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread."
Insight: In today's passage, Job responds to the accusations brought by his friend Eliphaz, who sarcastically asks whether Job thinks God is judging him because of his reverence for Him (22:4). Eliphaz insists that Job is suffering for a hidden scandal (V.5). With assumptions but no evidence, he explains Jobs troubles by accusing him of being a self-centered rich man who has mistreated weak people for his own material gain. And so Job expresses his desire to be able to argue his case before God (Ch.23). The wrong assumptions of his friends have become part of the fire that is testing and refining him (V.10). Do we have the courage to express our honest questions and true feelings to the Lord?.

February 5th, 2017
GOD'S PROVISION IN LIFE'S STORMS
None of us enjoy suffering. But in the hands of our loving and almighty God, trials can become the tools He uses to bring about His will in our life and to shape us into the people He created us to be.
In our own strength, we lack sufficient resources and abilities to meet life's challenges. So God provides just what we need. The most important thing He gives us is an awareness of His presence. At first the disciples thought they were alone in a terrifying storm.
When they initially spotted Jesus, their fear increased because they thought He was a ghost. But as they recognized Him, their fright changed to relief and hope. During a crisis, we may not sense God's presence, but He has promised always to be with us (Deut.31:6). The assurance that He will never leave provides immediate comfort, an infusion of courage and a sense of confidence that helps us to endure.
Another promise God makes is that He'll provide a path through the trial. The disciples must have wondered how long the gail would last and whether they'd make it safely to shore. Like us, they probably wanted it all to end yesterday. But had they somehow avoided this storm, they would have missed the demonstration of Jesus' power over the sea and wind. This frightening situation was transformed into a revelation of the Savior's divine nature. God wants to reveal His power through our trials as well.
Ask the Lord to let you experience His abiding presence in the midst of your trouble. He will provide strength to endure and wisdom to identify the way through your storm.
BEGIN WHERE YOU ARE
I came across a solitary flower growing in a meadow today-a tiny purple blossom "wasting its sweetness in the desert air," to borrow from the poet Thomas Gray's wonderful line. I'm sure no one had seen this particular flower before, and perhaps no one will see it again. Why this beauty in this place? I thought.
Nature is never wasted. It daily displays the truth, goodness, and beauty of the One who brought it into being. Every day nature offers a new and fresh declaration of God's glory. Do I see Him through that beauty, or do I merely glance at it and shrug if off in indifference?
All nature declares the beauty of the One who made it. Our response can be worship, adoration, and thanksgiving-for the radiance of a cornflower, the splendor of a morning sunrise, the symmetry of one particular tree.
Author C.S. Lewis describes a walk in the forest on a hot summer day. He had just asked his friend how best to cultivate a heart thankful toward God. His hiking companion turned to a nearby brook, splashed his face and hands in a little waterfall, and asked, "Why not begin with this?" Lewis said he learned a great principle in that moment: "Begin where you are."
A trickling waterfall, the wind in the willows, a baby robin, the blue sky, a tiny flower. Why not begin your thankfulness with this?
Father, may we always be reminded that You have placed beauty here because it reflects Your character. We praise You!
GOD IS THE BEAUTY BEHIND ALL BEAUTY
Psalm 136:1-9

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.
To Him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
To Him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever. Who by His understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever. Who spread out the earth upon the waters. His love endures forever. Who made the great lights-His love endures forever. The sun to govern the day, His love endures forever. The moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.
Insight: This worship song praises the wonders of God's creation and His provincial intervention for His people. The repeating refrain is, "His love endures forever." The list of items for which to thank God, our creator are vast and extensive: God is good (V.1), He is over all other "gods" (V.2), He is the Lord of lords (V.3), God alone does great wonders (V.4), God by His understanding made the heavens (V.5), He placed the earth on the waters (V.6), He made the great lights (V.7), He made the sun to govern the day (V.8), And He made the moon and stars to govern the night (V.9). As we behold the wonders of nature, we marvel at their creator.

February 3rd, 2017
SERVICE IS NOT AN OPTION
Who is a servant of God? Ask average churchgoers that question, and they will most likely point to their pastor or some Christian celebrity. They almost certainly will not say, "We are God's servant." The church has a mixed-up idea that believers are separated into servants-that is, individuals in full-time ministry-and laypeople. The Bible contains no such distinction. Instead, Paul reminds the Ephesians that believers are saved so that they might serve (2:10).
If there were no other reason to serve God besides gratitude for salvation, that would be cause enough. We are rescued from torment and given eternal life with the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence. Our service is but a small acknowledgment of the Father sending His Son to be sacrificed in payment of the sin debt we owed. We have no right to withhold our gifts or time.
Many people, believers included, serve the big "I" happy and prosperous? When a pastor appeals for help, most of his parishioners are sure he is speaking to someone else because "I" has insufficient training or a busy schedule. Here is a harsh reality: If "I" is our master, we are committing "I"-dolatry. Anything given first place over God-including selfish desires-is an idol.
Service isn't an option. God calls us to be servants so we can invest our lives in an eternally valuable purpose: the salvation of unbelievers and their subsequent discipleship for His glory. Our job may seem insignificant or our limitations great, but we are vessels of Christ with a role in the Kingdom.
I SEE YOU
"I see you," a friend said in an online writers' group where we support and encourage each other. Having felt stressed and anxious, I experienced a sense of peace and well-being with her words. She "saw" me-my hopes, fears, struggles, and dreams-and loved me.
When I heard my friend's simple but powerful encouragement, I thought of Hagar, a slave in Abram's household. After many years of Sarai and Abram still longing for an heir, Sarai followed the custom of the culture and told her husband to conceive through Hagar. But when Hagar became pregnant, she treated Sarai with contempt. When Sarai mistreated her in return, Hagar fled far away to the desert.
The Lord saw Hagar in her pain and confusion, and He blessed her with a promise that she would be the mother of many descendants. After the encounter, Hagar called the Lord "Lelroi" which means "the God who sees me" (Gen.16:13), for she knew she wasn't alone or abandoned.
As Hagar was seen-and loved-so are we. We might feel ignored or rejected by friends or family, yet we know that our Father sees not only the face we present to the world, but all of our secret feelings and fears. He speaks the words that bring us life.
Father God, just as You saw Hagar in her distress, so You see those who are hurting, fleeing oppression, and afraid. Please send them help and encouragement.
TO KNOW THAT GOD SEES US GIVES US COMFORT AND CONFIDENCE.
Genesis 16:1-13
Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram "The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her."
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan 10 years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, "You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me."
"Your slave is in your hands, "Abram said. Do with her whatever you think best." Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that was beside to Shur. And he said, "Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?"
I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The angel added, "I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count."
..."You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers."
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said "I have now seen the One who sees me."

February 2, 2017
ABRAHAM'S TEST
Abraham faced one of the greatest tests of obedience recorded in the Bible:God asked him to slay his son as an offering. It's hard to imagine the confusion and pain this request must have caused. However, Abraham obeyed the Lord willingly and promptly. His response teaches us some important lessons about yielding to the Lord.
OBEDIENCE OFTEN COLLIDES WITH REASON. After telling Abraham he'd have descendants too numerous to count, God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, who was to be the father of the promised line. Despite the strangeness of the command, Abraham trusted God to keep His word and so set out to obey (HEB 11:18-19).
OBEDIENCE MEANS LEAVING THE CONSEQUENCES TO GOD. Abraham had no idea how the promise could be fulfilled if Isaac was dead. But his words and actions indicate he believed in divine sovereignty. When Abraham took the boy to Mount Moriah, he told his servants, "I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you" (Gen. 22:5). He didn't say, "I will return" but expressed that both would come back. Abraham went to the holy place as instructed. At the same time, he fully expected that the Lord would somehow restore Isaac in order to keep His pledge. God fulfilled His promise by providing a ram in the boy's place (vv. 13-14).
The Lord already knows how His children will respond to tests of obedience. He challenges people because He wants them to know the truth about how well they submit. A believer's willingness to obey (or disobey) reveals the state of his or her commitment to God.
WHAT'S THE OCCASION ?
Four-year-old Asher's gleeful face peeked out from beneath his favorite hooded sweatshirt. His alligator-head hooded sweatshirt, complete with plush jaws that seemed to swallow his head! His mom's heart sank. She wanted the family to make a good impression as they visited a family they hadn't seen in a long time.
"oh, hon," she said, "that may not be appropriate for the occasion."
"Of course it is!" Asher protested brighty.
"Hmm, and what occasion might that be?" she asked. Asher replied, "You know. Life!" He got to wear the shirt.
That joyful boy already grasps the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:12-"There is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live." Ecclesiastes can seem depressing and is often misunderstood because its written from a human perspective , not God's. The writer, King Solomon, asked, "What do workers gain from their toil?" (v.9). Yet throughout the book we catch glimpses of hope. Solomon also wrote: "That each of [us] may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all [our] toil-this is the gift of God" (v.13).
We serve a God who gives us good things to enjoy. Everything He does "will endure forever" (v.14). As we acknowledge Him and follow His loving commands, He infuses our lives with purpose, meaning, and joy.
Restore to us childlike joy that appreciates Your good gifts.
THE LORD WHO MADE YOU WANTS YOU TO MAKE HIM THE CENTER OF YOUR LIFE.
Ecclesiastes 3:9-17

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil-this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Whatever it has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.
And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment-wickedness was there, in the place of justice-wickedness was there.
I said to myself, "God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed."
Insight: Ecclesiastes fits in a larger Ancient Near Eastern literary category called Wisdom Literature. Wisdom Literature uses stories, poetry, proverbial sayings, and songs to convey wisdom about God and the world. The brutal honesty and chronic despair in Ecclesiastes is typical of Wisdom Literature and gives us a clear vision of the writer's purpose. What may seem like a disconnect with the rest of Scripture is actually and attempt to present the wisdom of living in the moment, enjoying the small joys of life, and relying on the power, presence, and goodness of God to sustain us in a fallen and broken world. Even in the harshness of this life, there is hope. God can and does give meaning and purpose to the meaninglessness that surrounds us.

February 1, 2017
ABAHAM'S LESSON ON OBEDIENCE
The Old Testament gives us the account of Abraham's life. While the patriarch had a special relationship with God, his faith was not perfect. Over the years, he came to understand the importance of obedience-and how costly it can be to rebel.
Abraham learned the hard way that manipulating circumstances to gain a desired result can bring heartache. God had promised him and Sarah a child, but they were still waiting for that blessing when they were elderly. Already in her seventies, Sarah suggested that Abraham get heir by having a child with her servant Hagar. The result was jealously, family strife, and a bloody conflict that still rages today between the descendants of Hagar's son Ishmael and Sarah's son Isaac.
Obedience will bring the Lord's best, but it requires waiting on Him. Abraham was already an old man when God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen.15:5). This would not be fulfilled until he was one hundred and Sarah was well past her child-bearing years, which meant that all the glory for Isaac's miraculous conception and birth went to the Lord (21:1-7). Jumping ahead of God had harsh, long-term consequences. But the good news is that the couple's mistakes could not prevent Him from carrying out His plan.
The Lord has given us His Word so we might learn from the saints of old. The story of Abraham's life teaches us that obedience is essential. When we place our trust in a sovereign God and wait upon His timing, He will always prove faithful.
ALWAYS IN HIS CARE
On the day our youngest daughter was flying from Munich to Barcelona, I visited my favorite flight-tracking website to follow her progress. After I entered her flight number, my computer screen showed that her flight had crossed Austria and was skirting the northern part of Italy. From there the plane would fly over the Mediterranean, south of the French Rivera toward Spain, and was scheduled to arrive on time. It seemed that the only thing I didn't know was what the flight attendants were serving for lunch!
Why did I care about my daughter's location and circumstances? Because I love her. I care about who she is, what she's doing, and where she's going in life.
In Psalm 32, David celebrated the marvel of God's forgiveness, guidance, and concern for us. Unlike a human father, God knows every detail of our lives and the deepest needs of our hearts. The Lord's promise to us is, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will council you with my living eye on you" (V.8).
Whatever our circumstances today, we can rely on God's presence and care because "the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him" (V.10).
Dear Father, in heaven, thank You for watching over me in love and guiding me along Your path today.
WE ARE NEVER OUT OF GOD'S SIGHT AND HIS LOVING CARE.
Psalm 32:1-11
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord." And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in Him.
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!
Insight: Psalm 32 is an interesting look into the covenant relationship the believer has with the living God. King David, the writer of this psalm, is aware of his own personal sins and the need for confession and forgiveness. This spiritual connection with the living God is not simply a positive experience but includes God's chastisement that leads to confession and restoration (vv.4-5). Yet even within the ups and downs of our walk of faith, we have the assurance of God's watchful care and provision.

January 31st, 2017
A LIVING HOPE
Believers are born into a living hope, whereas people without Christ have no foundation for their expectations and desires. Many non-Christians live with a false sense of security. They assume that what is important in this life is the physical and material. But there is no safety in things (1 Tim. 6:9). Those who pursue wealth and health rather than God find that their dreams either go unfulfilled or fail to satisfy.
Christians anchor their hope in the solid rock of Jesus Christ. His words are always true and His promises are never broken. I'll sometimes hear a person project his or her unfulfilled desires on God and then argue that He came up short. But believers who make a request and submit to God's will always get an answer: yes, no, or wait.
The Lord does not disappoint those who seek His will. Don't misunderstand that statement. We might feel temporarily let down when something we hope for is not in God's plan. But He doesn't go back on the Biblical promise to give His children what's best (Isa.48:17;64:4). When one door closes, there is another about to open with something better it. And remember, the Lord cannot be outdone. We can't even wish ourselves as much good as God has in store.
The best choice a Christian can make is to fix his or her hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome whatever fits His will for your life, and turn away from all that does not. Circumstances may shift and change, but Jesus never does. He is a living hope who never disappoints.
THE TALKING TREE
One of the earliest Christian poems in English literature is "The Dream of the Rood." The word rood comes from the Old English word Rod or Pole and refers to the cross on which Christ was crucified. In this ancient poem the crucifixion story is retold from the perspective of the cross. When the tree learns that it is to be used to kill the son of God, it rejects the idea of being used in this way. But Christ enlists the help of the tree to provide redemption for all who will believe.
In the garden of Eden, a tree was the source of the forbidden fruit that our spiritual parents tasted, causing sin to enter the human race. And when the Son of God shed His blood as the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanities sin, He was nailed to a tree on our behalf. Christ "bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Pet.2:24).
The cross is the turning point for all who trust Christ for salvation. And ever since the crucifixion, it has become a remarkable symbol that represents the sacrificial death of the Son of God for our deliverance from sin and death. The cross is the inexpressibly wonderful evidence of God's love for us.
Lord, may my heart give You praise whenever I see a cross, for You gave Yourself for me in love.
Christ gave His life on the tree for our salvation.
Colossians 1:15-20
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in every thing He might have the supremsey. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.
Insight: Some experts in New Testament studies suspect that the poetic structure and inspiring thoughts of Colossians 1:15-20 reflect the lyrics of a first-century song of worship. Paul must have often sung about Jesus, the peace maker who changed his life by returning good for evil when he bore the sins of the world. Do you have anyone you would consider an enemy? If so, you probably know why Jesus's example stands in such contrast to our normal human inclinations. The God who created and sustains the cosmos is the same God who chose to reconcile Himself to His enemies. Rather than turning on those who have done such evil to Him, our resurrected creator reached out to say, I still love you. Come to Me. Trust Me, and I will forgive you and adopt you into my eternal family.

January 30th, 2017
HOPE: THE ANCHOR OF THE SOUL
An anchor was a popular image in the ancient mediterranean world. Because that economy depended on shipping, the anchor came to symbolize safety and steadiness. The writer of Hebrews used the word to remind believers that God has given a hope that holds firm in any storm.
Hope is a healthy attitude. Anticipating good brings comfort to the mind and heart. In contrast, a state of hopelessness is a terrible condition in which to find oneself. Its overwhelming and depressing to think that what you are facing cannot be changed or resolved. For the person who has lost all hope, life looks like a long, dark tunnel going nowhere.
Included in Proverbs is a verse that describes the result of this oppressive feeling: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Prov. 13:12). Emotional, physical, and even mental illness haunt a person who feels trapped in a bleak situation. But as long as there is a God, no situation is hopeless. In Him, we have the promise of the second half of that Proverb: "Desire fulfilled is a tree of life."
Believer's have a hope that anchors their soul. Our relationship with Jesus Christ brings us close to the throne of heaven, where we can cast all our burdens before an omnipotent God. Moreover, we can cling to Him through any trial that comes our way. Because of the Lord's great love, He provides strength for weary bodies, peace for anxious minds, and comfort for grieving hearts. In short, He lights that darkened tunnel and tenderly guides us through trying situations.
REBUILDING
When Edward Klee returned to Berlin after being away for many years, the city he remembered and loved was no longer there. It had changed dramatically, and so had he. Writing in Hemispheres magazine, Klee said, "Returning to a city you once loved tends to be a hit-or-miss proposition...It can be a let down." Going back to the places of our past may produce a feeling of sorrow and loss. We are not the same person we were then, nor is the place that was so significant in our lives exactly as it was.
Nehemiah had been in exile from the land of Israel for many years when he learned of the desperate plight of his people and the devastation in the city of Jerusalem. He received permission from Artaxerxes, the Persian king, to return and rebuild the walls. After a night reconnaissance to examine the situation (NEH, 2:13-15), Nehemiah told the inhabitants of the city, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace" (V.17).
Nehemiah did not return to reminisce but to rebuild. It's a powerful lesson for us as we consider the damaged parts of our past that need repair. It is our faith in Christ and His power that enables us to look ahead, move forward, and rebuild.
THANK YOU LORD, FOR THE WORK YOU ARE DOING IN US AND THROUGH US.
We cannot change the past, but God is changing us for the future.
Nehemiah 2:11-18
I went to Jerusalem and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward on the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for any mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and we will no longer be in disgrace." I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, "Let us start rebuilding." So they began this good work.

January 29th, 2017
THE MOMENTS THAT SUSTAIN US
Does peace come naturally for you, or does it feel like a constant struggle? Sometimes it seems as if so many things are activity working against our peace that our spirit may never know a moment's rest. How can we quiet distractions long enough to hear God's voice?
The key is found within a word that may make you uncomfortable: Meditation. Perhaps your thinking, all that meditation stuff is what other religions call "finding yourself." I'm not going to waste my time with that. What a horrible misconception. My friend, meditation is not about listening to yourself; on the contrary, it is about quieting your own mind and listening for the gentle whispers of the Lord.
Think about your prayer life. Whose voice is more prominent-yours or the Father's? For most people, the vast majority of prayer time is spent talking to God, thanking Him for what He's done, and asking for help. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but if you never give Him time to answer, how would you know what He wants to communicate to you?
The time we spend listening is a good indication of how much we respect and enjoy a relationship. If we dominate the conversation, than we may be showing God by our actions that His opinions are not as important as our own-we'd never say those words so plainly, but our actions may be proclaiming that very message.
Are you listening to God? Commit to listen quietly for what He wants to share with you.
TIMELESS SAVIOR
Jeralean Talley died in June 2015 as the world's oldest living person-116 years of age. In 1995, the city of Jerusalem celebrated its 3000th birthday. 116 is old for a person, and 3,000 is old for a city, but there are trees that grow even older. A bristle cone pine in California's White Mountains has been determined to be older than 4800 years. That proceeds the patriarch Abraham by 800 years!
Jesus, when challenged by the Jewish religious leaders about His identity, also claimed to pre-date Abraham. "Very truly I tell you, " He said, "Before Abraham was born I am!" (John 8:58). His bold assertion shocked those who were confronting Him, and they sought to stone Him. They knew He wasn't referring to a chronological age but was actually claiming to be eternal by taking an ancient name of God "I am" (see Ex.3:14). But as a member of the Trinity, He could make that claim legitimately.
In John 17:3, Jesus prayed, "This is eternal life: That they know you, the only true God in Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." The timeless One entered into time so we could live forever. He accomplished that mission by dying in our place and rising again. Because of his sacrifice, we anticipate a future not bound by time, where we will spend eternity with Him. He is the timeless one.
THE EARTH SHALL SOON DESOLVE LIKE SNOW, THE SUN FOREBEAR TO SHINE; BUT GOD, WHO CALLED ME HERE BELOW, WILL BE FOREVER MINE.
CHRIST HOLDS ALL THINGS TOGETHER. Colossians 1:17
John 8:48-59
The Jews answered Him, "Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?"
I am not possessed by a demon "I am not possessed, " said Jesus, "But I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and He is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death."
At this they exclaimed, "Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say whoever obeys your word will never taste death.
Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?"
Jesus replied "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."
"You are not yet 50 years old, " they said to him, "And you have seen Abraham!"
"Very truly I tell you, " Jesus answered, "Before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
INSIGHT: When the Lord Jesus declared, "Before Abraham was born, I am," In John 8:58 He was merely borrowing the unique title used of God in Exodus 3:14 (I am). What is meant by the title "I AM"? God is the self-existent and only supreme being. If God is perpetually and permanently present. He can definitively declare "I will be with you" (EX. 3:12). God is not a deist-a do-nothing deity who is retired from all activity. He did not"wind up" the world like a huge watch only to let it run on its own. God is sovereign over all creation and lovingly cares for all He has made. 

January 27th, 2017
LIFE AFTER DEATH
The thought of death frightens many people. But believers have no reason to fear. Jesus' empty tomb proves that there is life after the physical body dies.
Unbelievers who dread their demise have two different approaches to life. One group piles up wealth, good deeds, or worldly success in the hope of passing it on to their children or to charity. They expect to "live on" in the memories of those who benefit from their hard work. But its the rare person who is still remembered a few generations later. And none truly live on.
The other group chooses to laugh in the face of death. Their philosophy is "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor. 15:32). Their existence seems pleasurable from the outside, but can you imagine a more futile way to live your life? God does not intend for us to pass the time with such meaningless.
Here's the key to significance: fulfilling our unique, God-given, eternal purpose. In this life, we do not labor to leave a physical legacy or waste our days pursuing pleasure. Instead, we help those in need, influence our culture and reach out to the lost. And when a believer enters heaven, he or she keeps on working for Jesus.
For the believer, death is not a fearsome end. It is the doorway to a new life of serving the Lord in heaven. Our days on earth are just the beginning of our existence; they will seem like only a few minutes compared to an eternity spent in His presence.
ALWAYS LOVED, ALWAYS VALUED
We serve a God who loves us more than our work.
Oh, its true that God wants us to work to feed our families and to responsibility take care of the world He created. And He expects us to serve the weak, hungry, naked, thirsty, and broken people around us even as we remain alert to those who have not yet responded to the Holy Spirit's tug on their lives.
And yet we serve a God who loves us more than our work.
We must never forget this because there may come a time when our ability to "do for God" is torn from us by health or failure of unforeseen catastrophe. It is in those hours that God wants us to remember that He loves us not for what we do for Him but because who we are: His children! Once we call on the name of Christ for salvation, nothing-"trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword"- will ever again separate us "from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35,39).
When all we can do or all we have is taken from us, then all He wants us to do is rest in our identity in Him.
Prayer: Father, help us never lose sight of the unconditional love You have for us, and let us hold on to that hope when our labor-and the fruit of our labor-are gone.
THE REASON WE EXIST IS TO BE IN FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD.
Romans 8:31-39
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-How will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
INSIGHT: Are you as convinced as Paul was that nothing can separate you from the love of God? Paul was raised with the belief that his compliance with Mosaic law gave him acceptance with God. Yet all of that changed when he discovered that the Jesus he hated was the God who loved him. Through a direct encounter with the resurrected Christ, he learned that the love of God is not earned, but accepted as a gift of grace and mercy (Rom.4:4-5). It comes to us not because of what we have done for Him or others, but because of what God in His mercy has done for us.

Jaunuary 26th, 2017
THE REWARDS OF WORKING WELL
To help with my college expenses, I spent summers working in a textile mill. My assignment was in the bleachery, the hottest part of the complex. I did not like the work, the heat, or the tough boss, and for the first couple of weeks, my attitude reflected my unhappiness. The job wouldn't change, I realized, but my way of thinking could. I decided to work as if the Lord was my boss, and that choice made all the difference.
The heat did not bother me anymore. The work became tolerable, and best of all, I had many opportunities to share my faith because fellow workers noticed I was different. When I returned the following summer, that harsh boss gave me a job without hesitation.
Treating our work like an extension of our service to the Lord changes our attitude. Pleasing Him motivates us to do our best and inevitably results in the believer's contentment. A job may be challenging, frustrating, or boring, but we can be a peace instead of wallowing in the negative emotions.
A servant heart can impact other employees as well. Service that is rendered with kindness, grace and humility gets coworkers' attention, which in turn opens up opportunities for ministry to the people with whom we spend hours each day.
Rewards for enthusiastic service on the job can take many forms-including greater personal satisfaction in our work and opportunities to reflect Christ to others. There is also the great joy of knowing that our Father is happy with our performance.
ALL TOO HUMAN
British writer Evelyn Waugh wielded his words in a way that accentuated his character flaws. Eventually the novelist concerted to Christianity, yet he still struggled. One day a woman asked him, "Mr. Waugh, how can you behave as you do and still call yourself a Christian?" He replied, "Madam, I may be as bad as you say. But believe me, were it not for my religion, I would scarcely be a human being."
Waugh was waging the internal battle the apostle Paul describes: "I want to do what is right, but I can't" (Rom. 7:18 NLT). He also says, "The trouble is not with the law...[IT] is with me, for I am all too human" (v.14 NLT). He further explains, "In my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me...Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (vv.22-24). And then the exultant answer: "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (v.25).
When we come in faith to Christ, admitting our wrongdoing and need of a Savior, we immediately became a new creation. But our spiritual formation remains a lifelong journey. As John the disciple observed:"Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But...when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).
Prayer: Father, we bring our struggles to You because You know all about them, yet You love us anyway. Teach us to rely on Your Holy Spirit. Make us more like Your Son each day.
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you...C.S. Lewis
Romans 7:14-25
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
INSIGHT: Although we are saved by grace, we often struggle to live up to our position as children of God. However, we can turn to Christ and find His sufficient help and grace to move beyond our worst selves and to stand in Him (vv, 24-25). How does it give you confidence to know that God is still at work in your life?...Bill Crowder

January 24th, 2017
THE HOLY SPIRIT, OUR GUIDE
John 16:12-15
All of God's children are on a journey. And as we travel through life en route to our eternal home, every one of us will face a multitude of choices. Forks in the road and unmarked intersections challenge and frustrate us. In such circumstances, how can we know which way to go?
Jesus promised to give us an internal and ever-present Guide. Starting at the moment of salvation, everyone who trusts in the Savior is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who promises to lead believers into all the truth. Like a built-in compass, He will direct us exactly the right way, regardless of the choice. He never makes a mistake.
So you may be thinking, If He is living in me and never makes a wrong choice, why do I keep messing up? His leadership is always right, but our reception isn't always clear. Yielding to the Lord is an essential part of receiving His direction. We cannot tolerate sin and go our own way in one area and expect to receive His guidance in another. Sin does to our understanding of the Lord's clear direction what a magnet does to the needle of a compass. If a magnet is placed next to a compass, the needle will point in a multitude of directions. In the same way, sin will mislead us.
When a decision is unclear, ask yourself these questions: Will Christ be glorified in this choice? Can I do this in Jesus' name? If either answer is no, then don't follow that path, because the Holy Spirit is not guiding you there. His leading always aligns with Scripture and brings glory to Christ.
NOT IN VAIN
A financial adviser I know describes the reality of investing money by saying, "Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst." With almost every decision we make in life there is uncertainty about the outcome. Yet there is one course we can follow where no matter what happens, we know that in the end it will not be a wasted effort.
The apostle Paul spent a year with the followers of Jesus in Corinth, a city known for its moral corruption. After he left, he urged them in a follow-up letter not to be discouraged or feel that their witness for Christ was of no value. He assured them that a day is coming when the Lord will return and even death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:52-55).
Remaining true to Jesus may be difficult, discouraging, and even dangerous, but it is never pointless or wasted. As we walk with the Lord and witness to His presence and power, our lives are not in vain! We can be sure of that.
Prayer: Lord, in these days of uncertainty, we hold fast to Your promise that our labor for You will accomplish Your purpose and of great value in Your eyes.
Lesson: Our life and witness for Jesus Christ are not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood, cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immorality.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immorality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
INSIGHT: In the fourth century, John Chrysostom, a church leader who served in Constantinople, reflected the same expectation of the return of Christ we hold today. Imagine living in the ancient city of Constantinople. To the west, barbarian tribes threaten to attack Rome, which for centuries has been the center of the vast Roman Empire. Your city is not currently under attack, but you face the challenges people of the ancient world experienced without the assistance of modern medicine and mechanical devices to make life easier. Yet above it all, Chrysostom preaches to the people about the return of Christ. To ears who listened then, the hope of Christ's return stirred the soul as it still does today. How does the promise of Christ's return give you hope and encouragement in your service for Christ?

January 23rd, 2017
THE LANDMINE OF LAZINESS
Many people never stop to realize that laziness is a sin. But like any other landmine, it has to potential to hurt or destroy lives. To be constantly idle and fruitless is contrary to scriptural teachings. And anything that goes against God's Word is a sin. In the parable of the talents, Jesus said of the servant who'd buried his master's money. "You wicked, lazy servant!" (See Matt. 25:26 NIV.) The Lord put both wickedness and slothfulness into the same undesirable category.
The book of Proverbs gives us a description of the lazy person. First, he is a procrastinator-somebody who puts off what needs to be done (20:4). Second, he uses any excuse to avoid work (22:13). Third, he wastes time (6:9-11). And finally, a slothful person is neglectful and careless with regard to what's going on around him (24:30-32).
Laziness does not fit who we are as believers. Our Father expects us to live purposefully and work conscientiously; to be lazy and turn out a poor performance damages our testimony. Proverbs 25:19 warns, "Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble." A lazy, untrustworthy person leaves task unfinished and, as a result, is a poor witness for Christ. What will unbelievers see in such a life that they would desire for themselves?
We have a wonderful opportunity to participate in God's work, and that includes performing well in our vocation as a demonstration of obedience. Choose to work for Him today.
LACK NOTHING
Imagine going on a trip without luggage. No basic necessities. No change of clothing. No money or credit cards. Sounds both unwise and terrifying, doesn't it?
But that's exactly what Jesus told His twelve disciples to do when He sent them out on their first mission to preach and heal. "Take nothing for the journey except a staff," said Jesus. "No bread, no bad, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt" (Mark 6:8-9).
Yet later on when Jesus was preparing them for their work after He was gone, He told His disciples, "If you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one" (Luke 22:36).
So, what's the point here? It's about trusting God to supply.
When Jesus referred back to the first trip, He asked the disciples, "When I sent you without a purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" And they answered, "Nothing" (v. 35). The disciples had everything they needed to carry out what God had called them to do. He was able to supply them with the power to do His work (Mark 6:7).
Do we trust God to supply our needs? Are we also taking personal responsibility and planning? Let's have faith that He will give us what we need to carry out His work.
YOU ARE GOOD, LORD, AND ALL YOU DO IS GOOD. HELP US IN OUR ENDEAVORS TO PRAY AND TO PLAN AND TO TRUST YOU.
Lesson: God's will done in God's way will never lack God's supply.
Mark 6:7-12
Calling the twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff-no bread, no bad, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them."
They went out and preached that people should repent.
Insight: We have a wonderful example of a believer in the early church who hosted and supported the workers the apostle John sent out to spread the gospel. Although these visiting itinerant teachers were strangers to him, Gaius provides a place for them to stay, gave them food to eat, and supported their ministry. Commending Gaius for his hospitality and generosity, John wrote, "You are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers who pass through, even though they are strangers to you" (3 John 1:5-6 NLT). We can trust God to supply what we need to serve where He has called us. And we can be partners with others as they teach the truth by praying and providing for them financially and practically.

January 22, 2017
GOD'S PATHWAY TO SUCCESS
Too often, Christians shy away from the whole idea of success, thinking, I'll just be grateful for whatever the Lord gives me. Such misguided believers have confused success with greed and discontent. How can this be?
It is because of the overwhelming obsession with the world's definition of the term. To most people, the world is equivalent to "wealth" or "power." If you stopped the average person on the street and asked whether he is successful, there's a good chance he would start talking about his career or investments. He might even make a passing reference to his "15 minutes of fame." Most people simply have no other frame of reference for the concept. But there parameters have nothing to do with spiritual success.
The heavenly Father calls His children to live triumphantly. If the pursuit of success were sinful, how could the Lord had made the promise found in Joshua 1:7? Was He promising money? No. Was He promising fame? No. The Lord was promising success.
For Joshua, this would mean military, victory, steadfast faith, and the fulfillment of God's promises to Moses. Joshua was not concerned with money or fame; rather, he was intently focused on accomplishing God's plan for him. Armed with the power of the Word, Joshua marched boldly ahead and received the Lord's blessing. And for that, God called him a "success."
Do not be confused-the trappings of the world have nothing to do with succeeding spiritually. Your family, relationships, integrity, faithfulness-these are the things that work together as a godly way of measuring success.
GOD'S FACE
Much of my career as a writer has revolved around the problem of pain. I return again and again to the same questions, as if fingering an old wound that never heals. I hear from readers of my books, and their anguished stories give human faces to my doubts. I remember a youth pastor calling me after he had learned that his wife and baby daughter were dying of AIDS because of a tainted blood transfusion. "How can I talk to my youth group about a loving God?" he asked.
I have learned to not even attempt an answer to these "why" questions. Why did the youth pastor's wife happen to get the one tainted bottle of blood? Why does a tornado hit one town and skip over another? Why do prayers for physical healing go unanswered?
One question, however, no longer gnaws at me as it once did: "Does God care?" I know of only one way to answer that question, and the answer is Jesus. In Jesus, God gave us a face. If you wonder how God feels about the suffering on this groaning planet, look at that face.
"Does God care?" His Son's death on our behalf, which will ultimately destroy all pain, sorrow, suffering, and death for eternity, answers that question. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of the darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ" (2 COR. 4:6).
Lesson: GOD'S LOVE FOR US IS AS EXPANSIVE AS THE OPEN ARMS OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS.
2 Corinthians 4:4-15
The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach in not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; stuck down, but not destroyed. We also carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
 
January 20th, 2017
The Power of The Holy Spirit 
The Holy Spirit is vital to the Christian life. Read about the fruit of the Spirit in today's passage and ask, Can I be such a good person on my own? We need divine intervention to live as God expects. That's why He gives each believer a Helper, whose job is to produce Christlike character in us.
The heavenly Father knows that His children need assistance to comply with His commands. Even Jesus Christ's most faithful followers were, on their own, helpless to obey-for instance, Peter, who pledged to be loyal until death, denied even knowing Christ (Matt. 26:69-75).
Before returning to heaven, Jesus ordered the disciples to put their missionary work on hold until the Holy Spirit arrived (Luke 24:49). Only with the Spirit's aid could Peter the coward become Peter the rock and preach a challenging sermon that convicted many (Acts 2; see also Matt. 16:18).
The Holy Spirit enters a believer's life at the moment of salvation and immediately sets about the work of producing spiritual fruit. This is the outward expression of a transformed heart. When we yield to God's nurturing hand, our actions and attitudes become more loving, more joyful, more kind, more gentle...(See Gal. 5:22-23.) He reaps a harvest of service from our life-good works that grow our own faith and expand His kingdom. 
Allowing the Holy Spirit to bring forth the Christlike character in not passive. Our part is to meditate upon God's Word so we can learn about His character and apply His principles. Then, instead of satisfying our flesh, we must make wise decisions each day that allow the Spirit to develop godliness in our lives. 
BREATH OF LIFE 
On a cold and frosty morning, as my daughter and I walked to school, we enjoyed seeing our breath turn to vapor. We giggled at the various steamy clouds we each produce. I received the moment as a gift, revealing in being with her and being alive.
Our breath, which is usually invisible, was seen in the cold air, and it made me think about the Source of our breath and life-the Lord our Creator. For He who formed Adam out of the dust of the ground, giving him the breath of life, also gives life to us and to every living creature (Gen.2:7). All things come from Him-even our very breath, which we inhale without even thinking about. 
We may be tempted, living with today's conveniences and technology, to forget our beginnings and that God is the one who gives us life. But when we pause to remember that God is our Creator, we can build an attitude of thankfulness into our daily routines. We can ask Him for help and acknowledge the gift of life with humble, thankful hearts. May our gratitude spill out and touch others, so that they also may give thanks to the Lord for His goodness and faithfulness. 
Dear heavenly Father, What an awesome and powerful God You are! You created life by Your very breath. We praise You and stand in awe of You. Thank You for Your creation. 
Lesson: GIVE THANKS TO GOD, OUR CREATOR, WHO GIVES US THE BREATH OF LIFE.
Genesis 2:4-8
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth, and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but steams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 
Insight: Who hasn't found themselves taking the unexplainable mysteries of life for granted? Who doesn't obsess from time to time over what we don't have, rather than treasure the breath of life given to us by an all-wise God who has chosen to share His life and joy with us? According to the great story of the Bible, that's why our Creator breathed His own life into a handful of earth. He wants to share His eternal existence, His love, His joy with us. That's why He came to our rescue and offers us a restored relationship with Him through Jesus Christ-a life of forgiveness and hope.

January 19th,, 2016
PITFALLS IN SEEKING GOD'S WILL
As a pastor, I am frequently asked how to make the right decision in challenging circumstances. Sadly, I see many people make a mistake in this area.
For example, some people people pray hastily for the Lord to lead them but do not listen for His answer. Instead, they make their own decision and trust that He will bless them. But expecting God to bless what is not of Him will lead to missing out on His best. To avoid disappointment, we must be aware of several pitfalls that interfere with hearing His direction accurately. 
First be mindful of fleshly desires. Wants are not necessarily wrong, but longings become unhealthy when they consume our thoughts. Eventually, we might believe that our desired outcome is God's will, when in reality, we weren't really listening to His voice. 
Second, watch out for faulty advice. Even well-meaning Christian friends can lead us in the wrong direction. We should carefully seek council from those who walk closely with Jesus and are grounded in His Word. 
Third, be careful when you are feeling impatient, doubtful, or pressured in any way. These emotions can lead you to make rash decisions apart from the Lord's best for your life. Patience is hard, but His perfect will is always worth the wait. 
Determine to follow God's leading. Do this by cleansing your heart, asking for guidance, waiting, and listening. When you trusted Christ as Savior, His Holy Spirit came into your heart and sealed you as His child. He will teach you how to live a Godly life-direction is yours if you ask and believe. 

A TREASURE TO BE SHARED
In March 1974, Chinese farmers were digging a well when they made a surprising discovery: Buried under the dry ground of central China was the Terracotta Army-life-size terracotta sculptures that dated back to the third century BC. In this extraordinary find were some eight thousand soldiers, one hundred and fifty Calvary horses, and one hundred and thirty chariots drawn by five hundred and twenty horses. The Terracotta Army has become one of the most popular tourists sites in China. Attracting over a million visitors annually. This amazing treasure lay hidden for centuries but is now being shared with the world. 
The apostle Paul wrote the followers of Christ have a treasure inside them that is to be shared with the world: "We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure" (2 Cor. 4:7 NLT). The treasure inside us is the message of Christ and His love. 
This treasure is not to be hidden but is to be shared so that by God's love and grace, people in every nation can be welcomed into His family. May we, through His Spirit's working, share that treasure with somebody today. 
THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS IS TOO WONDERFUL TO KEEP TO MYSELF, FATHER. MAY I LIVE THE GOSPEL AND SHARE IT WITH OTHERS THROUGHOUT MY JOURNEY WITH YOU, LORD. 
Lesson: LET OTHERS SEE YOUR TESTIMONY AS WELL AS HEAR IT
2 Corinthians 4:1-7
Therefore, since through God's mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth, plainly we command ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness, " made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ. 
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Insight: God's story of redemption hinges on the incarnation-from the Latin wording that means "taking on flesh." Incarnation simply means that God provided the perfect and final rescue for humans by becoming a human Himself. Jesus gave all who would follow Him the mission of carrying His message of life, hope, and rescue to the world. God has chosen to keep the treasure of the gospel, the light of Christ, in common vessels-His followers, the people of God. When we experience His power at work in our lives, we carry His kingdom message of grace, healing, newness, and love. We demonstrate the all-surpassing power of God to the world as He incarnates the treasure of Christ's life in ours every day (v.7).

January18th, 2017
SEEKING GOD'S WILL
1 John 5:14-15
Parents train their children to do many tasks-from knowing which clothes match to handling money. As Christians we are blessed to have an omniscient and mighty heavenly Father who is willing to make His way known to us. He wants to reveal what to do in every situation and, in fact, promises this: "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you" (Ps.32:8). Let's explore how to discern God's will at each cross road of life. 
The first step is to make sure that we have repented of all known sin in our life. Listening to the Lord while holding onto iniquity is like trying to use a foggy and unreadable compass. After confessing and repenting, we can ask for direction. 
Next, we should read Scripture regularly with a seeking, open heart. The Bible is like a lamp on a dark path (Ps.119:105). 
The last step involves God's indwelling Holy Spirit-the wonderful gift our Father has given each of His children. The Spirit provides truth and guidance as we read the Word and pray. We should listen patiently for His leading, which is often communicated quietly to our heart as we spend time with the Father. 
When asking the Lord to reveal His will, we shouldn't expect instant answers. The discipline of waiting builds character, and besides, rushing the process may lead to a path that misses God's best. Take the time to seek Jesus' plan for your life, remembering He'll provide all you need to follow Him. 
LONG SHADOWS
Several years ago, my wife and I stayed in a rustic bed-and-breakfast in the remote Yorkshire Dales of England. We were there with four other couples, all British, whom we had never met before. Sitting in the living room with our after-dinner coffies, the conversation turned to occupations with the question "What do you do?" At the time I was serving as the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and I assumed that no one there knew of MBI or its founder, D.L.Moody. When I mentioned the name of the school, their response was immediate and surprising. "Of Moody and Sankey...that Moody?" Another guest added, "We have a Sankey Hymnal and our family often gathers around the piano to sing from it." I was amazed! The evangelist Dwight Moody and his musician Ira Sankey had held meetings in the British Isles more than one hundred and twenty years ago, and their influence was still being felt.
I left the room that night thinking of the ways our lives can cast long shadows of influence for God-a praying mother's influence on her children, an encouraging coworker's words, the support and challenge of a teacher or a mentor, the loving but corrective words of a friend. It's a high privilege to play a role in the wonderful promise that "His love...continues through all generations" (Ps.100:5). 
Prayer Lord, help us to remember that while our lives are short, what we do for You now can have an impact long after we are home with You. Lead me today to invest in the lives of others.
Only what's done for Christ will last.
Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. 
Insight
Many scholars believe Psalm 100 was sung at Israel's festivals and possibly in connection with a thank offering. It likely functioned as a liturgical conclusion to Psalms 96-99, which proclaimed Yahweh's kingship.
Each of the Psalms in this section extols one attribute of God and then leads God's people to worship Him in light of this attribute. Psalm 96 praises the Lord for His righteous judgment; He will not allow evil and injustice to reign forever. Psalm 97 praises God that He is sovereign, Psalm 98 praises Him for His salvation, and Palm 99 for His holiness.
Together Psalms 96-100 construct a movement of praise that culminates with a call for the whole earth to sing praise to God-the sovereign holy, and righteous One who will judge the earth. How can you express praise today for God's faithfulness that will bear witness for future generations? 

January 17th, 2016
WISDOM BRINGS JOY
James 1:5-8
One of the most important tools in overcoming trials is wisdom. Ironically, this quality, which seems so rare in our world today, is actually readily and easily available to believers. Scripture says we simply have to ask, and God will give it generously. 
Though wisdom certainly has rewards, it does come with a price. If we ask God to make us wise, He will allow tests in our life. Their purpose is not to point out what's wrong with our faith but, rather, to help us discover whether or not we're wise. 
Temptations and difficulty also allow us to discern our level of devotion to the Lord. When we go through a time of testing, we learn whether we're willing to say, "I don't like this, God, and I don't understand it, but I'm going to obey You no matter what." There's no way to know whether we would respond that way unless we go through trials that examine our faith. 
We grow in our devotion to the heavenly Father by making wise decisions despite opposition and by obeying when it is inconvenient to do so or when temptations are the hardest to resist. Such challenges are similar to a refiners fire: They sanctify and purify us, raising to the surface attitudes that we may not realize are in our life. These situations not only reveal what God is doing in us but also can turn up the heat if we try to muffle the Holy Spirit's guidance. 
When we, through wisdom, allow God to do His work in our life, we will begin to experience blessings, see His power, and feel His love in new ways. And this new growth brings great joy!
FINDING LIFE
The words of Ravi's father cut deep. "You're a complete failure. You're an embarrassment to the family." Compared to his talented siblings, Ravi was viewed as a disgrace. He tried excelling in sports, and he did, but he still felt like a loser. He wondered, What is going to become of me? Am I a complete failure? Can I get out of life someway, painlessly? These thoughts haunted him, but he talked to no one. That simply wasn't done in his culture. He had been taught to "keep your private heartache private; keep your collapsing world propped up." 
So Ravi struggled alone. Then while he was recovering in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, a visitor brought him a Bible, opened to John 14. His mother read these words of Jesus to Ravi: "Because I live, you also will live" (v.19). This may be my only hope, he thought. A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of life. So he prayed, "Jesus, if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it."
Life can present despairing moments. But, like Ravi, we can find hope in Jesus who is "the way and the truth and the life" (v.6). God longs to give us a rich and satisfying life. 
Prayer: Dear Lord, I acknowledge that I am a sinner, and I need Your forgiveness. Thank You, Jesus, for dying for me and giving me eternal life. Transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to You alone. 
Lesson: Only Jesus can give us new life.
John 14:5-14
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." 
Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 
You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
Insight: On the eve of Jesus Christ's death on the cross, His preoccupation was not with the imminent pain that awaited Him, but on the welfare of His disciples. After promising, He was going away to prepare a dwelling place for them, Jesus told His followers He would come again to gather them to Himself. The foundation for such claims was Christ's declaration that He is "The way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). He was able to comfort His disciples because of who and what He is. Jesus offers all who believe in Him the same hope of a new life. 


January 16th, 2017
TESTING BUILDS ENDURANCE
James 1:2-4
"Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?" We can understand the reason that this is a common question-it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?
The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today's reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read Jame's exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, count me out! Difficulties and joy just don't seem to go together- that is unless we understand God's perspective of what life is about. 
When James spoke of joy, he wasn't referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn't telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we're in when we come out on the other side. 
When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance, being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What's more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don't need to be afraid or anxious. 
God's desire is to bless you not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!
THE VALLEY OF BLESSING
French artist Henri Matisse felt his work in the last years of his life best represented him. During that time he experimented with a new style, creating colorful, large scale pictures with paper instead of paint. He decorated the walls of his room with these bright images. This was important to him because he had been diagnosed with cancer and was often confined to his bed. 
Becoming ill, losing a job, or enduring heartbreak are examples of what some call "being in the valley," where dread overshadows everything else. The people of Judah experienced this when they heard an invading army was approaching (2 Chron.20:2-3). Their king prayed, "if calamity comes...[we] will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us" (v.9). God responded, "Go out to face [your enemies] tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you" (v.17). 
When Judah's army arrived at the battlefield, their enemies had already destroyed each other. God's people spent 3 days collecting the abandoned equipment, clothing, and valuables. Before leaving, they assembled to praise God and named the place "The Valley of Berakah," which means "Blessing."
God walks with us through the lowest point in our lives. He can make it possible to discover blessings in the valleys. 
Prayer: Dear God, help me not to be afraid when I encounter difficulty. Help me to believe that Your goodness and love will follow me. 
Lesson: God is the master of turning burdens into blessings.
2 Chronicles 20:1,13-22
After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to wage war against Jehoshaphat...All the men of Judah with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord. 
Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. 
He said: "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army for the battle is not yours but Gods. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.'"...
Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Takoa as they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful." After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: "Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever."
As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 

January 15th, 2016
A LESSON IN CHURCH BUILDING
Deuteronomy 1;20-31
Some time ago I preached a sermon comparing my church family's situation to that of the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land .We desperately needed a larger facility and, toward the end, acquired land a few miles from downtown Atlanta. We had little time to complete two overwhelming tasks: to raise the entire purchase price for a new building and to ensure that the church was ready for occupancy on the appointed date.
What I told  my flock that day also applies to individuals. God has given His people a commission-to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). The Father gives different opportunites to each believer so we all can fulfill His command in unique ways. Since He doesn't provide us with an open door unless He intends for us to go through it, stopping on the threshold is disobedience. Sometimes what little we can see on the other side looks frightening. But if the Lord is calling, then we need to do what He asks instead of hesitating in the doorway. He assumes full responsibility for properly equipping and guiding us to complete the task. 
Which brings me back to my earlier story. You may already know how it ends: God provided every cent-no bank loan was necessary-and the building was completed on time. From that new home base, the ministry expanded in our city and across the globe.
Are you standing in a doorway, too scared to move on? Step forward in faith. God made the opportunity, and He is faithful to see you safely through it, regardless of the obstacles. 
LOSING TO FIND
When I married my English Fiance and moved to the United Kingdom, I thought it would be a five-year adventure in a foreign land. I never dreamed I'd still be living here nearly twenty years later, or that at times I'd feel like I was losing my life as I said goodbye to family and friends, work and all that was familiar. But in losing my old ways of life, I've found a better one.
The upside-down gift of finding life when we lose it is what Jesus promised to His disciples. When He sent out the twelve disciples to share His good news, He asked them to love Him more than their mothers or fathers, sons or daughters (Matt. 10:37). His words came in a culture where families were the cornerstone of the society and highly valued. But He promised that if they would lose their life for His sake, they would find it (v.39).
We don't have to move abroad to find ourselves in Christ. Through service and commitment-such as the disciples going out to share the good news of the kingdom of God-we find ourselves receiving more than we give through the lavish love the Lord showers on us. Of course He loves us no matter how much we serve, but we find contentment, meaning and fulfillment when we pour ourselves out for the well-being of others.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Price of glory died, my riches gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride....Isaac Watts
Lesson: Every loss leaves a space that can be filled with God's presence. 
Matthew 10:37-42
"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
"Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive  a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."
Insight: When we chose to follow Christ we won't necessarily be popular. Our highest calling is not self-promotion or self-preservation. A hero jumps into deep water to save someone who is drowning, but that same person could well lose his or her life (to quote Jesus) in the process of seeking to save someone else. Jesus indicated that even family members (normally our closest natural connection) may be squared off against us. While others may become our obstinate opponents because of Christ, we are obligated to show unselfishness because of Him (Phil. 2:3-5). "For to me, to live in Christ and to die is gain" (1:21). Its a profound paradox. To lose our life for Him means to find it. Has there been a time when the choice to follow Christ has cost you?

January 13th, 2017
WHEN GOD DOES NOT HEAL
If God is all-powerful, why do we witness so few miraculous healings? There are many reasons for this. Sometimes we do not ask Him. Other times, we might ask but with wrong motives or a lack of faith. And then there is the reason that we do not like to hear: God may chose not to heal. 
Beware of theology that promises healing to anyone who asks. This is not biblical. The problem is not in ability: God is able to heal anyone and anything. This may be true, but often our heavenly Father, in His great love and unfathomable wisdom, allows our ailment to persist. 
Consider Paul, who asked the Lord three times to remove his "thorn." (See 2 Cor. 12:7-8.) Yet it remained. We can learn from his response-he did not question God's authority nor did he complain. Instead, recognizing that divine strength would show through his weakness, Paul trusted God. 
We, too, can believe that God will work all things for good in His children's lives (Rom.8:28). In fact, character growth usually occurs in times of suffering, loss, or hurt. While adversity is uncomfortable, we can feel hope and joy and what our Father is accomplishing through painful times. 
Ultimately, God brings glory to Himself and good to His children. There are instances when this involves miraculous healing, but He often refines us by allowing the hardship. As with silver and gold, impurities are usually removed from hearts in the fiery furnace of life's struggles. Trust God's plan and rest in His love. 
REMEMBER WHEN
Our son wrestled with drug addiction for seven years, and during that time my wife and I experienced many difficult days as we prayed and waited for his recovery, we learned to celebrate small victories. If nothing happened within a twenty-four-hour, we would tell each other"Today was a good day." That short sentence became a reminder to be thankful for God's help with the smallest things.
Tucked away in Psalm 126:3 is an even better reminder of God's tender mercies and what they ultimately mean for us: "The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." What a great verse to take to heart as we remember Jesus's compassion for us at the cross! The difficulties of any given day cannot change the truth that come what may, our Lord has already shown us unfathomable kindness, and "His love endures forever" (Ps. 136:1).
When we have lived through a difficult circumstance and discovered that God was faithful, keeping that in mind helps greatly the next time life's waters turn rough. We may not know how God will get us through our circumstances, but His kindness to us in the past helps us trust that He will.
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend. 
Lesson: When we cannot see God's hand, we can trust His heart. 
Psalm 126
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with psalms of joy. Then it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them." The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 
Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sew with tears will reap with psalms of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sew, will return with psalms of joy carrying sheaves with them. 
Insight: Psalm 126 is a psalm of happiness on the other side of a broken heart. It celebrates the return of Jewish citizens to Jerusalem after 70 years of Babylonian exile. These lyrics are in striking contrast to psalm 137 that recalls the tears of their years of captivity: "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion" (v. 1). Does either of these two psalms resonate with you today? Can you remember days when there seemed to be no way forward, until the sun of God's provision dawned? Maybe the emotions of that moment can be seen in the joy of Psalm 126. Is there ever not a time to remember the God who is with us-to be trusted in our waiting and thanked in psalm when circumstances seem to shout of His goodness? 

January 12th, 2017
HELP FOR OUR HEALING
James 5:13-20
God cares about our physical well-being. After all, He made our bodies as a temple for His Spirit. And while He is able to heal sickness, His original intention was not for His perfect creation to experience disease. 
But in this sinful world, ungodly choices at times lead to illness (John 5:14). So when we're afflicted, its wise to ask God to search our heart and reveal anything He wants us to address (Ps.139:23-24). Since sin can act like a blockage to prayer (66:18), confessing any know wrong doing is also a good idea. 
Most of the time, though, health problems are just part of our human condition-a symptom of man-kinds fallen state rather than evidence of personal sin. The truth is, disease affects just about everyone at some point. So how does God want us to respond?
Certain situations of course, require prompt medical attention, but even in a crisis, our Father wants us to be aware of His presence and to stay in communication with Him (1 Thess. 5:17). Developing a pattern of prayerfulness before an emergency occurs is the best way to prepare for the unexpected. 
The Bible's instructions also include praying for one another and calling the elders of the church to come and pray, anointing the afflicted person with oil in Jesus' name. (See James 5:14.)
Our Father is able to heal even the most deadly disease, but He sometimes chooses to allow the condition to remain. When requesting restored health, we should ask with faith and trust-faith in God's ability but trust in His perfect will, whether that means healing or suffering-induced growth. 
NOTHING HIDDEN
In 2015 an international research company stated that there were two hundred and forty five million surveillance cameras installed worldwide, and the number was growing by 15 percent every year. In addition, multiplied millions of people with smart phones captured daily images ranging from birthday parties to bank robberies. Whether we applaud the increased security or denounce the diminished privacy, we live in a global, cameras-every where society. 
The New Testament book of Hebrews says that in our relationship with God, we experience a far greater level of exposure and accountability than anything surveillance cameras may see. His Word, like a sharp, two-edged sword, penetrates to the deepest level of our being where it "judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:12-13). 
Because Jesus our Savior experienced our weaknesses and temptations but did not sin we can "approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (vv. 15-16). We don't need to fear Him but can be assured we'll find grace when we come to Him. 
Nothing is hidden from God's sight. Nothing is greater than God's love. Nothing is stronger than God's mercy and grace. Nothing is too hard for God's power.
Lesson: No part of our lives is hidden from God's grace and power.
Hebrews 4:12-16
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. 
Insight:We can be thankful for the Scriptures and all they teach about the wisdom and heart of our Father. His ultimate expression of Himself, however, came in the person of Jesus, who lived in flesh on this earth and showed us all we could ever need to know about our God. Why is it important that God became flesh and lived among us? In Hebrews 4:15-16 how does it help to know we can approach God in "our time of need"? 

January 11th, 2017
WHY WE FALL
Judges 16
Unless weaknesses are addressed, they have potential to cause destruction. Vulnerabilities can either drive us closer to God or blind us to His Love, as two Old testament stories demonstrate. Joseph and Samson faced similar temptations but responded very differently. Day after day, Potiphar's wife tried to entice Joseph, yet he rejected her advances (Gen.39:7-9). Samson, on the other hand, willingly gave in to Delilah (Jud.16:15-17). 
Samson had been consecrated to God, and the Holy Spirit was moving in his life (13:24-25). Nevertheless, he chose the path of self-indulgence. Two proud to admit weakness, he lived in denial, which led to a lack of discipline and left the door open for satan. Because Samson rationalized his weakness, it soon began to dominate his life. Listening to the lies of the devil and wicked people, he exchanged God's blessing and super natural strength for irresponsible sexual involvement. And in the end, what did he have? Absolutely nothing. 
Given the slightest chance, sin will infiltrate your life and affect every aspect, including your faith, job, and relationships. Nothing is off limits. If you're thinking, I don't have any weaknesses with the potential to destroy my life, then satan has already blinded you to a spiritual reality in your midst. 
You have the choice to face temptation as Joseph did-or as Samson did. In times of weakness, do you depend on God, obey Him, and seek strength to overcome? Or do you make excuses and turn from His leading? How different Samson's life would have been if he'd chosen a better response. 
WORK TOGETHER
My wife makes an amazing pot roast dinner. She takes raw meat, along with raw slice white and sweet potatoes, celery, mushrooms, carrots, and onions and throws them into the slow cooker. Six or Seven hours later, the aroma fills the house, and the first taste is a delight. It is always to my advantage to wait until the ingredients in the slow cooker work together to achieve something they could not achieve individually. 
When Paul used the phase "work together" in the context of suffering he used the word from which we get our word synergy. He wrote, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). He wanted the Romans to know that God, who didn't cause their suffering, would cause all their circumstances to cooperate with His divine plan-for their ultimate good. The good to which Paul referred was not the temporal blessings of health, wealth, admiration, or success, but being "conformed to the image of [God's] Son" (V.29).
May we wait patiently and confidently because our heavenly Father is taking all the suffering, all the distress, all the evil, and causing them to work together for His glory and our spiritual good. He wants to make us like Jesus. 
Read 2 Corinthians 12:9, Philippians 1:6, 1 Peter 5:10. What encouragement did you find for tough times? 
Lesson: The growth we gain from waiting on God is often greater then the answer or result we desire. 
Romans 8:28-30
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who had been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. 
Insight: "All things" (Rom. 8:28) is a phrase that treats the seemingly good and bad events of life as a whole. The idea is that there is dynamic interaction between the good and bad to bring a desired outcome, though this positive outcome may not yet be visible. If we consider a young man nailed to a cross dying in agony, we might wonder if anything good could be found there. But if we understand that is Jesus Christ atoning for the sins of those who love Him, we can see how even this terrible event worked together for good. God works for "the good" of those who are true believers in Jesus Christ. They demonstrate the authenticity of their faith because they respond back with love to the one who first loved them (1 John 4:19). 

January10th, 2016
UNCONTROLLED WEAKNESS
Judges 14
The book of Judges tells of Samson, a man so strong he could kill a lion with his bare hands (14:5-6). He possessed physical strength unequaled by any human being. But this could not compensate for his inner weakness. 
All of us have areas of weakness. God wants these character flaws to teach us how totally dependent we are upon Him. When we handle them properly, they drive us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Lord. But uncontrolled weakness wreaks havoc in a person's life. 
Samson's Achilles' heel was uncontrolled lust. Although he was raised in a godly home and had a clear calling in life, he gave in to his desires and deliberately violated the truth he knew so well. Despite Nazirite laws forbidding involvement with foreigners, Samson pursed a Philistine woman (V.2). Later, he met the enticing Delilah, and even though her motives were blatantly treacherous, he gave himself over-heart, mind and spirit-to sexual indulgence. He was in such bondage to the sin that he ultimately allowed it dictate his actions, even at the cost of his life. 
Before he died, Samson lost everything: his strength, eye sight, and honor. The man who once led his country mightily became of slave to his enemies (16:18-25). 
What are your weaknesses? Personality flaws can be a powerful motivation for good or ill, depending on your response. A proclivity for sin can ruin your life-as it did Samson's-or drive you to utter dependence on God. The outcome is up to you. 
RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
Some say that the American writer and Anne Herbert scribbled the phrase "Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts Beauty" on a place mat at a restaurant in 1982 the sentiment has since been popularized through film and literature and has become a part of our vocabulary. 
The question is "Why?" Why should we show kindness? For those who follow Jesus, the answer is clear: To show the tender mercy and kindness of God.
There's an Old Testament example of the principle in the story of Ruth, the emigrant from Moab. She was a foreigner, living in a strange land whose language and culture she did not understand. Furthermore, she was desperately poor, utterly dependent on the charity of a people who took little notice of her. 
There was one Israelite, however, who showed Ruth grace and spoke to her heart (Ruth 2:13). He allowed her to gleam in his fields, but more than simple charity, he showed her by his compassion the tender mercy of God, the one under whose wings she could take refuge. She became Boaz's bride, part of the family of God and one in a line of ancestors that led to Jesus, who brought salvation to the world (see Matt. 1:1-16). 
We never know what one act of kindness, done in Jesus's name, will do. 
Prayer: Lord, what do You want me to do for another today? Lead me. And may that person see a glimmer of You.
Lesson: It's never too soon to be kind.
Ruth 2:8-13
So Boaz said to Ruth, "My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and gleam in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with the woman who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled."
At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, "Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me-a foreigner?" 
Boaz replied, "I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband-how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."
"May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord," she said. "You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant-though I do not have the standing of one of your servants."
Insight: The command to be kind to others is embedded in the Law that God gave to the Jews fresh out of Egypt. God told them, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:18). Today, Christ-followers are to "be kind and compassionate to one another" (Eph.4:32). And the reasons we are to show kindness have not changed: It is because of who God is and what He has done for us. We are to "follow God's example, ...and walk in the way of love" (5:1-2).

January 9th, 2016
HOW TO WALK WITH GOD
Genesis 5:21-24
Enoch had such a close walk with the Lord that Scripture says, "and he was not, for God took him" (Gen.5:24). This means that Enoch did not die, but was taken directly into the presence of the Lord. What a wonderful testimony! As we seek to follow God with passion like Enoch's, lets learn some specific steps that will help us grow in our walk with the Lord.
RECONCILIATION. This term essentially means "God moving toward us." The joy of this step is that we bare no responsibility; its all of to Him. Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has already made His move in our direction. (See 2 Cor.5:18.) When we place faith in the Savior, we immediately take part in that reconciliation. 
TRUSTING GOD. Our heavenly Father wants us to know He is concerned with our spiritual growth. He also wants us to trust that He has, through Christ, provided the means by which we can walk intimately with Him. 
AGREEMENT. To appreciate the closeness God wants to have with us, we must agree with what His Word teaches about His Son, the church, and our problem with sin. 
FELLOWSHIP. Just as our human relationships fall apart without regular contact, our intimacy with the Father weakens when we do not spend time with Him. 
Walking with God is not an impossible mission, but it does require careful attention to the details of our Christian life. When we set our course for God, He will always be there to direct our path (Prov.16:9). 

OLD YET NEW
In 2014, a sinkhole opened up under the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky, swallowing 8 vintage, irreplaceable Chevrolet Corvette sports cars. The automobiles were severely damaged-some beyond repair.
One car in particular received a lot of attention. The one-millionth Corvette, which rolled off the assembly line in 1992, was the most valuable in the collection. What happened to that gem after it was pulled from the sinkhole is fascinating. Experts restored the car to mint condition, mainly by using and repairing its original parts. Although this little beauty was in horrible shape, it now looks as good as it did that day it was built. 
The old and damaged was made new.
This is a great reminder of what God has in store for believers in Jesus. In Revelation 21:1, John spoke of seeing "a new heaven and a new earth." Many biblical scholars see this "new" earth as a renovated earth, for their study of the word new here reveals that it means "fresh" or "restored" after the decay of the old has wiped away. God will renovate what is corrupt on this earth and provide a fresh, yet familiar place where believers will live with Him. 
What an amazing truth to contemplate: a new, refreshed, familiar, and beautiful earth. Imagine the majesty of God's handiwork!
Prayer: Lord, we thank You for this beautiful world we live in-but at the same time we anticipate greatly the new world You have in store for us. We praise You for Your love for us, revealed in Your amazing plans for our future. 
Lesson: Our Creator God makes everything new.
Revelation 21:1-5
Then I saw a "new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 


Insight: Those who have undergone a rebirth individually through believing in Christ (John 3:3-5; Titus 3:5) will participate in the future universal makeover of this planet (Matt.19:28; Acts 3:21). Revelation 21:1-5 refers to 3 new items-"a new heaven and a new earth," plus "the new Jerusalem" (V.2). Christians can be part of that new world as "a new creation" (2 Cor.5:17). A significant part of Revelation 21:1-5 involves an interlacing of previously announced truths and texts from the Old Testament. Isaiah 48:6 forecasted "new things," which Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 expand too "new heavens and a new earth." What are you especially looking forward to being made new?

January 8th, 2016
THE PLACE OF FASTING IN PRAYER
Matthew 6:16-21
Jesus' words about fasting represent His invitation to a deeper experience with God. As we place our physical desires under the Spirit's control, we let go of our grip on the material in order to embrace the spiritual. Reasons for fasting include: 
CLEANSING FROM SIN. When we let our spiritual guard down, we start thinking as the world does-protecting our rights instead of dying to self, or seeking to accumulate rather than sacrificing. Through these lapses, ungodly attitudes and habits can quietly take up residence in us, and we hardly notice. But God sees. They hinder our fellowship with Him, limit the effectiveness of our service, and erode our joy. Prayer combined with fasting will help us give God our undivided attention as He addresses our areas of sin. We, in turn, will find them grievous and be eager to let them go. 
GUIDANCE. God is willing to give us clear direction, but for some things, prayer in conjunction with fasting is more effective. That is how we gain the cleansed mind needed to hear what He is saying and a submitted spirit ready to accept His instruction.
PROTECTION. Through fasting, we gain insight into God's ways and receive help in identifying unhealthy or dangerous situations. As we submit to His authority and confess our need for protection, the Holy Spirit will give us discernment to make wiser decisions and avoid unnecessary pitfalls. 
Fasting coupled with prayer can also bring heightened spiritual awareness and more intimate communion with the Lord. Aren't these the deepest desires of our heart?
PUT DOWN YOUR BURDENS
A man driving his pick up truck on a country track saw a woman carrying a heavy load, so he stopped and offered her a lift. The woman expressed her gratitude and climbed into the back of the truck.
A moment later, the man noticed a strange thing: the woman was still holding onto her heavy load despite sitting in the vehicle! Astonished, he pleaded, "Please, madam, put down your load and take your rest. My truck can carry you and your stuff. Just relax."
What do we do with the load of fear, worry, and anxiety we often carry as we go through life's many challenges? Instead of relaxing in the Lord, I sometimes behave like that woman. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt.11:28), yet I've caught myself carrying burdens I should offload onto Jesus.
We put down our burdens when we bring them to the Lord in prayer. The apostle Peter says, "Cast all your anxiety on [Jesus] because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Because He cares for us, we can rest and relax as we learn to trust Him. Instead of carrying the burdens that weigh us down and weary us, we can give them to the Lord and let Him carry them. 
Prayer: I'm tired, Lord. I bring You my burdens today. Please keep them and carry them for me.
Lesson: Prayer is the place where burdens change shoulders.
Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus said "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 
"All things have been committed to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. 
"Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Insight: A yoke pairs two animals together to pull a load. Often an older, stronger, well-trained animal is paired with a younger animal so that the younger can learn the proper method of pulling. It is the older, stronger animal that does the majority of the pulling while the younger follows along and mimics the actions of the older. As we set aside our burdens and take on Christ's, we are not simply swapping one burden for another. It is His yoke. We set aside our lone burdens to pull with Jesus, who is the one responsible for the direction and primary force of moving the burden. Then each of us, as the younger, weaker, less-experienced partner, learns from Jesus how to pull the burden, following His actions and mimicking His footsteps. 


January 6th,2017
REFUSING TO WAIT ON GOD
Psalm 27:7-14
It's always best to follow God's timing. But if we run ahead of God or lag behind Him, that decision will often be costly.
Self-sufficiency moves us outside of the Lord's will. The right thing done at the wrong time may leave us vulnerable to satan's schemes and can delay or even derail blessings God has planned for us. Acting on our own timetable can also bring confusion to us and others, as situations are likely to turn out differently from how we envisioned them. Then we may be facing not only unanticipated results but also problems. 
By refusing to wait on God, we often cause ourselves unnecessary grief. For example, if we use credit cards to purchase unneeded clothes, electronic devices, and other indulgences, debt could pile up beyond our ability to pay. Then our credit rating would plummet, with little financial relief in sight. But when we manage money in accordance with biblical principles, our lifestyle will be less lavish, but we'll have freedom and peace of mind.
And here's another example: quitting a job before the Lord has released us from it can short-circut what He planned to teach us through it. We might subsequently discover that, had we held on awhile longer, God might have changed either our circumstances or our attitude about the situation. 
Certain character qualities are necessary if we are to develop a lifestyle of waiting on the Lord. We need patience to endure our present situation, steadfastness to carry out current responsibilities, and courage to trust the Lord as we await His solution in the midst of our discomfort. How good are you at waiting?
SOMEONE TO CELEBRATE
Many manger scenes depict the wise men, or magi, visiting Jesus in Bethlehem at the same time as the Shepherds. But according to the gospel of Matthew, the only place in Scripture where their story is found, the magi showed up later. Jesus was no longer in the manger in a stable at the inn, but in a house. Matthew 2:11 tells us, "on coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh." 
Realizing that the magi's visit happened later than we may think provides a helpful reminder as we begin a new year. Jesus is always worthy of worship. When the holidays are past and we head back to life's every day routines, we still have Someone to celebrate. 
Jesus Christ is Immanuel, "God with us" (Matt. 1:23), in every season. He has promised to be with us "always" (28:20). Because He is always with us, we can worship him in our hearts every day and trust that He will show Himself faithful in the years to come. Just as the magi saw Him, may we seek Him too and worship Him wherever we are. 
Prayer: Lord Jesus, just as the magi sought You and bowed before You as the coming King, help me to yeild my will to You and to follow where You lead.
Lesson: When we find Christ we offer our worship.
Matthew 2:1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him."
When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: "'But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'" 
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him."
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Insight:The magi were considered wise, not because they were people of great learning but because they searched for Jesus and-having found Him-they worshiped Him as God. That's what wise people do. The wise are those who fear God and worship Him!


January 5th, 2016
WHEN ITS WISE TO WAIT
Psalm 130:1-8
Timing is critical in business, science, and sports. Its also essential in a believer's life. In order to keep in step with the Lord, we need to carry out His instructions in accordance with His timetable. 
In God's kingdom, waiting means seeking further direction from Him while remaining in our present circumstances. It encompasses both an attitude of expectancy-"God, what would You like me to do?"-And one of readiness-"God, I am willing to do as You direct." It is our wisest course of action because we will...
RECEIVE DIRECTION. Too often, we make decisions based on the influence of our friends or culture. But God is the only source of true wisdom. He knows all things and answers us on the basis of His complete understanding. He is willing to give us clear direction for any decisions we are trying to make, large or small. He wants the very best for us in our personal life, whether the issue is marriage, school, business, or friendships (Ps.32:8). 
GET ONTO HIS TIMETABLE. God will also use the waiting period to bring us in line with His perfect timing. To others, it may appear as if we are delaying unnecessarily. However, knowing we are walking in concert with God will bring His divine peace to our hearts. 
BE PREPARED FOR HIS ANSWER AND COURSE OF ACTION. God may use a season of waiting to help us recognize ungodly motives and sin, and to strengthen our faith. 
Acting wisely begins with hearing from the Lord. When was the last time you waited to receive direction from Him?
LISTENING TO GOD
My young son loves to hear my voice, except when I call his name loudly and sternly, followed by the question, "Where are you?" When I do that, I am usually calling for him because he has been into some mischief and is trying to hide from me. I want my son to listen to my voice because I'm concerned about his well-being and do not want him to get hurt. 
Adam and Eve were used to hearing God's voice in the garden. However, after they disobeyed Him by eating the forbidden fruit, they hid from Him when they heard Him calling, "Where are you?" (Gen.3:9). They didn't want to face God because they knew they had done something wrong-something He had told them not to do (V.11). 
When God called for Adam and Eve and found them in the garden, His words did not include correction and consequence (VV. 13-19). But God also showed them kindness and gave them hope for mankind in the promise of the Savior (V.15). 
God doesn't have to look for us. He knows where we are and what we are trying to hide. But as a loving Father He wants to speak to our hearts and bring us forgiveness and restoration. He longs for us to hear His voice-and to listen. 
Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for Your love and care. Thank You for sending Your Son, our Savior, to fulfill Your promise of forgiveness and restoration. 
Lesson: When God calls, we need to answer. 

Genesis 3:8-17
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"
He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."
And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
The man said, "The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"
The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."
So the Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
To the woman He said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."
To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life."

January 4th, 2017
A LIFETIME OF SECOND CHANCES
ROMANS 5:1-6
Paul used a beautiful phrase to describe the believers position in Christ: "We have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand..." (Rom. 5:2, emphasis added). This is no puddle of mercy that barely wets the toes, but rather a mighty ocean. The Lord's kindness wraps around us without regard for our past mistakes and failures. 
God's grace is an essential concept for believers to understand. He freely offers His favor to mankind because Jesus' sacrifice on the cross purchased forgiveness and salvation for anyone who believes. However, many people think they are enjoying God's kindness when what they are really trying to do is earn it. If we have to purchase, merit, or work for grace, then it is not a gift (Eph.2:8-9). The Lord is very clear that works cannot save us-in fact, He compares our good deeds to filthy rags (Isa.64:6). 
On the other hand, God's grace is not licensed to be lazy; Christians are called upon to serve the Lord every day. From the outside, it is usually impossible to distinguish between works and service in someone else's life. But God knows the motivation of every heart. He is pleased by the things we do to show Him our love and to express appreciation for His countless blessings. Such actions bring glory to His name. 
Keep in mind that serving God in order to earn His favor or insure that He continues blessing you amounts to thwarting grace. You can do nothing to deserve the Lord's kindness! He pours it upon believers freely, so the only thing you can "do" is receive it. 
A MULTIPLIED LOVE
When a woman in Karen's church was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), things looked bad. This cruel disease affects nerves and muscles eventually leading to paralysis. The family's insurance wouldn't cover home care, and the stricken woman's husband couldn't bare the thought of putting her in a nursing home. 
As a nurse, Karen had the expertise to help and began going to the woman's home to care for her. But she soon realized she couldn't take care of her own family while meeting the needs of her friend, so she started teaching others in the church to help. As the disease ran its course over the next seven years, Karen trained 31 additional volunteers who surrounded that family with love, prayer, and practical assistance. 
"Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister," said John the disciple (1 John 4:21). Karen gives us a shining example of that kind of love. She had the skills, compassion, and vision to rally a church family around a hurting friend. Her love for 1 person in need became a multiplied love lived out by many. 
How might God use your talents and abilities to serve others in need? Ask God to show you how He wants you to use your gifts for His kingdom. 
Lesson: Love your neighbor as yourself.-JESUS
1 John 4:20-5:5
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 
Insight: In the gospel of John, Jesus told His disciples that love would be the identifying mark of His followers: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (4:35). He also told them: "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in His love" (15:10). The connection between these two verses is as simple as it is wonderful: Loving Jesus means keeping His commands, and His command is to love. In fact, John says we cannot do one if we do not do the other. They cannot be separated-we cannot love God in one way and fellow believers in another way. Rather, "Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen" (1 John 4:20).

January 3rd, 2017
THE FIRST OF OUR SECOND CHANCES 
Romans 3:10-18
Our loving Father is the God of second chances. His grace is so extensive that He offers countless opportunities to hear the gospel and receive His Son Jesus Christ as Savior. What's more, He reaches into the muck of mankind's sinful nature, rebellious spirit, perversity, and unclean language in order to save His beloved creation.
If you think that the Lord takes second chances lightly, read today's passage carefully-it is a look at humanity through divine eyes. On our own, no matter how much we try to be good, we are foolish, useless, and evil. Thankfully, God's grace is immeasurable greater than our sin.
Of course, the heavenly Father is a righteous judge who cannot ignore transgressions. If He did, He would not be the holy and just deity described in the Scriptures. While humanity might count passivity as kindness, the Lord considers grace an action word. As a result, He implemented a simple rescue plan for each person on earth: Whoever believes in Jesus Christ as Savior is forgiven. We are justified by faith and at peace with God (Rom 5:1). The rebellious war we carried out against Him is over. Sins are washed off our heart. In fact, from God's perspective, His children look as if they never done wrong.
Jesus is our second chance. Apart from Him, there is no salvation, no justification, no grace. Look again at the passage from Romans 3. Its not possible to clean up one's own heart-each man or woman must take advantage of the purity Christ purchased with His sacrifice on the cross.
NOT WHAT IT SEEMS
Don is a Border Collie who lives on a farm in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. One morning, he and his owner, Tom, set out to check on some animals. They rode together in a small farm utility truck. When they arrived, Tom left the vehicle but forgot to put the brake on. With Don in the driver's seat, the vehicle rolled down a hill and across two lanes of traffic before it stopped safely. To watching motorists, it appeared the dog was out for a morning drive. Indeed things are not always as they seem. 
It seemed as if Elisha and his servant were about to be captured and carried off to the king of Aram. The king's forces had surrounded the city where Elisha and his servant were staying. The servant believed they were doomed, but Elisha said "Don't be afraid...those who are with us are more than those who are with the [enemy]"(2 Kings 6:16). When Elisha prayed, the servant was able to see the multitudes of supernatural forces that were in place to protect them. 
Situations that seem hopeless are not always the way we perceive them to be. When we feel overwhelmed and outnumbered, we can remember that God is by our side. He can "command His angels...to guard [us]in all [our]ways"(PS.91:11).
PrayerDear God, please give me a glimpse of your power today. Help me to believe that you are willing and able to help me in any situation I encounter.
LessonThings are always better than they seem to be when we remember that God is by our side.
2 Kings 6:8-17
Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, "I will set up my camp in such and such a place."
The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: "Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there." So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. 
This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, "Tell me! Which of us is on the side of Israel?"
None of us, my lord the king," said one of the officers, "but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom."
Go, find out where he is," the king ordered, "so I can send men and capture him." The report came back: "He is in Dothan."
Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots surrounded the city. "Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?" the servant asked.
"Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
And Elisha prayed, "Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see." Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Insight: In Elisha and Elisha's day, the nation of Israel had drifted from God and embraced pagan gods. The miracles God performed through these men called the people back to Himself. How does believing in the God of the miraculous help when you're feeling helpless or overwhelmed?

January 2, 2017
SETTING GOALS FOR FRUITFUL LIVING
2 Samuel 7:18-22
In the 70's, I experienced a turning point in my walk with Christ. It started with 2 Samuel 7, which inspired me to follow in King David's footsteps. He spent time alone with God, offering praise and thanksgiving. He also listened as the Lord revealed truth and offered insight about the future. Because of what he learned, David was able to set goals and stay aligned with them. 
Desiring that kind of solitude, I spent several days alone in a camper as Georgia's Stone Mountain Park. Most of the time I remained silent, listening intently for God's voice. I asked Him to speak to me regarding my future, and He answered. Using a journal, I recorded the goals He inspired. The things He communicated so impacted my choices and so greatly blessed me that I continued the discipline every couple of months. 
Let's discuss how to establish aims in this manner. First, come before the throne of almighty God with a repentant heart, praise, and thanksgiving. Then, ask Him for direction in areas such as spiritual life, career, and family. In silence, wait patiently and attentively-as you read and meditate upon God's Word, He will speak. Most often, His guidance is experienced as a prodding or conviction in the heart. When that happens, be sure to write down what you're learning so you can review it later. 
In order to stay on the path God intends for our life, we should plan times to stop, ask, and listen for guidance. The world throws confusing messages at us all day long, and we need to check out our course frequently. These conversations with the Lord are vital for a thriving life of godly impact. 
THE PERFECT GIFT
The weeks after Christmas are the busiest time of year in the US for merchandise returns as people trade unwanted gifts for what they really want. Yet you probably know a few people who always seem to give the perfect gift. How do they know just what another person values and what is right for the occasion? The key to successful gift-giving is not money; its listening to others and taking a personal interest in what they enjoy and appreciate. 
This is true for family and friends. But what about God? Is there anything meaningful or valuable that we can give to God? Is there anything He doesn't already have? 
Romans 11:33-36, a song of praise to God for His great wisdom, knowledge, and glory, is followed by a call to give ourselves to Him. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship" (12:1). Instead of being shaped by the world around us, we are to be "transformed by the renewing of [our] mind" (v.2). 
What's the best gift we can give to God today? In gratitude, humility, and love we can give ourselves completely to Him-heart, mind, and will. It's just what the Lord is longing to receive from each of us. 
Prayer: Dear Lord, I'm Yours. I want to offer myself to You-heart, mind, and will-in humble service and in thankful worship for all You have done for me. 
Lesson: The best gift we can give to God is ourselves.
Romans 11:33-12:2
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable is judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?" "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?"  For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen. 
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-His good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Insight: As Paul begins to describe the new life we can have because of what Jesus has done (Rom.12-16), he calls for a radical commitment involving the dedication of our bodies and transformation of our minds (12;1-2). God does not require that we die for Him; rather, we are to live for Him-"to offer [ourselves]as a living sacrifice" (v.1). In the Old Testament two kinds of sacrifices were offered: Propitiatory and dedicatory. Propitiatory or atoning sacrifices are mandatory sacrifices to atone for sin and to restore fellowship with God. Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), is the perfect and final propitiatory sacrifice. Paul emphasizes that "Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7). Dedicatory sacrifices are thank offerings voluntarily offered to God to express thankfulness, love, and joyful worship in response to divine blessing or His mercy and grace (Lev.7:11-15;22:29;Pss,50:14,23;107:22). We can never offer ourselves as atoning sacrifices (no human person can) because only "Jesus, the Lamb of God, [can take] away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). But we are all qualified to be a thank offering, to be "living sacrifices."

January 1, 2017
KEEPING OUR EYES ON OUR GOALS
Philippians 3:13-15
Have you ever attempted to walk in a straight line while looking at your feet? Try this on the beach sometime so you can look back at your footprints. You'll probably be surprised at how crooked the path is. But fix your eyes upon something far away, and each step will point in the desired direction-toward that distant focal point.
Our lives are like this. If we set goals, then our decisions and thoughts will lead toward the desired end. On the other hand, if we bumble along without specific aims, we will wander in waste much precious time and energy.
Goals are crucial to the well-lived life. Why, then, do so many people fail to formulate purposeful aims? Some simply do not see the importance of a plan, while others are too lazy to devise one or don't know how to go about it. Then there are those who lack faith in God's ability to help them achieve their aspirations.
Think about the many goals Jesus had-they drove all that He did. His daily aims involved such things as serving others and teaching those who sought righteousness. But more than that, our Savior centered everything on a primary purpose set even before time began: to lay down His life on the cross in order to save mankind from sin and glorify the Father.
We were created to glorify the Lord and be fruitful in His service. Imagine the impact our lives could have if we asked God to guide our goals. Pray, "What do You want to change about my life? What do You want to accomplish through me?" Let Him determine on what and on whom you focus. 

THANKS-LIVING
Wanting to mature in her spiritual life and become more thankful, Sue started what she called a Thanks-Living jar. Each evening she wrote on a small piece of paper one thing she thanked God for and dropped it in the jar. Some days she had many praises; other difficult days she struggled to find one. At the end of the year she emptied her jar and read through all of the notes. She found herself thanking God again for everything He had done. He had given simple things like a beautiful sunset or a cool evening for a walk in the park, and other times He had provided grace to handle a difficult situation or had answered a prayer.
Sue's discovery reminded me of what the psalmist David says he experienced (Ps.23). God refreshed him with "green pastures" and "quiet waters" (vv. 2-3). He gave him guidance, protection, and comfort(vv. 3-4). David concluded: "Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life" (V.6).
I'm going to make a Thanks-Living jar this year. Maybe you would like to as well. I think we'll see we have many reasons to thank God-including His gifts of friends and family and His provisions for our physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. We'll see that the goodness and love of God follow us all the days of our lives.
Prayer: Dear Lord, You bless me in more ways than I can count. Thank You for Your love for me.
Lesson: When you think of all that's good, give thanks to God.
Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. 
He guides me along the right paths for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Insight: Psalm 23 is a familiar favorite of many people. Modern believers are unlikely to connect shepherds with sovereigns. Yet in the Bible world, people did think of kings as shepherds. Look up psalm 78; 71-72; 2 Samuel 5:2; Isaiah 44:28, and Jeremiah 3:15. (Amazingly, note that in Revelation 7:17 a Lamb will shepherd His people!) After all, what does a shepherd do? He cares, controls, governs, protects, and so on. Isn't that what any good king would do? In other words, the job profile for kings and shepherds is not all that different. God's giving is the trigger for our responsive thanksgiving. And thanksgiving can be packaged as "thanks-living." Why not take an inventory of ways God has provided for you this week? How might your thanksgiving practically manifest itself in "thanks-living"?

December 30th, 2016
A REALISTIC VIEW OF LIFE
2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8
Our culture desperately tries to postpone death. Vitamins, exercise, and diet are ways we attempt to live as long as possible. Not that these things are bad! Motive, however, is key.
For instance, since our bodies are God's temple (1 Cor. 3:16), we should take care of His dwelling. And since He has good works for us to do (Eph. 2:10), we should stay fit to complete His tasks.
On the other hand, prolonging life for fear of dying isn't of God. Because Jesus died in our place, those who have faith in Him as Lord and Savior need not fear death. Once saved, we have assurance of a real place where we will live eternally in His presence. And according to Scripture, fear itself isn't from God (2 Tim. 1:7). In fact, the apostle Paul assures us that far from being a dreadful change, physical death actually leads believers home to be with the Lord forever (2 Cor.5:8).
God already knows the duration of each person's life. With this in mind, how can we best prepare for what's next? The first step is to receive Jesus as Savior through faith. Next, we should live a surrendered life and strive to walk according to His will. Furthermore, it is vital that believers fight the tendency to view this world as home. If we become too comfortable here and look for security and worth in earthly success, we won't be able to maintain an eternal perspective. 
It is an inescapable fact that our time on earth is temporary. It would be foolish not to prepare for something inevitable. How can you best live so that you are ready when God decides your lifespan is complete? (Ps.139:16). 
TIME ALONE WITH GOD
It was a busy morning in the church room where I was helping. Nearly a dozen little children were chattering and playing. There was so much activity that the room became warm and I propped the door open. One little boy saw this as his chance to escape so when he thought no one was looking, he tiptoed out the door. Hot on his trail, I wasn't surprised that he was headed straight for his daddy's arms.
The little boy did what we need to do when life becomes busy and overwhelming-he slipped away to be with his father. Jesus looked for opportunities to spend time with His heavenly Father in prayer. Some might say this was how He coped with the demands that depleted His human energy. According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus was headed to a solitary place when a crowd of people followed Him. Noticing their needs, Jesus miraculously healed and fed them. After that, however, He "Went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray" (V.23). 
Jesus repeatedly helped multitudes of people, yet He didn't allow Himself to become haggard and hurried. He nurtured His connection with God through prayer. How is it with you? Will you take time alone with God to experience His strength and fulfillment?
Where are you finding greater fulfillment-in meeting the demands of life or in cultivating your relationship with your Creator?
Lesson: When we draw near to God our minds are refreshed and our strength is renewed!
Matthew 14:13-23
When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns...
As evening approached, the disciples came to Him and said, "This is a remote place, and its already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food. "
Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
"We have only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.
"Bring them here to me," He said. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfulls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side while He dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone. 
Insight: The theme of rest is at the heart of the Jewish faith. For example, one of the central practices of Judaism is Shavuot (Sabbath rest). In the first century, however, many Jewish leaders were requiring extra faith practices so burdensome that Jesus openly challenged them regarding the damage they were doing to the lives of the people (See Matt. 23:2-4). The weighty tasks of religious duty have robbed people of the relational rest God desired. That may be why Jesus spoke some of the most comforting words of His public ministry: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (11:28).

December 29th, 2016
ETERNAL SECURITY: CAN WE BE SURE?
1 John 5: 1-13
Our loving heavenly Father wants us to know with certainty that we have eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ. What assurances do we have that we are permanently secure?
  • God's love. One reason we can be sure of never-ending salvation is our heavenly Father's unconditional love. At the cross, He demonstrated just how much we mean to Him: He sent His Son to die so that we might have eternal life (1 John 4:9-10). 
  • Christ's life and death. Because Jesus was without sin, He qualified to serve as our substitute and take our place on the cross. By dying for us, He paid for all our sins and finished the work necessary to secure our salvation (John 19:30).
  • Jesus' promise. We have our Lord's assurance that we will spend eternity with Him. He promised that we can never be separated from Him and that no one can snatch us from His hand (10:28). He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us and will return to bring us there (14:2-3).
  • The indwelling Holy Spirit. Another assurance of eternal security is the presence of God's Spirit within each believer. The Holy Spirit acts as a seal, guaranteeing that we belong to the Lord and serving as a pledge of our future in heaven with Him(2 Cor.1:21-22). 

  • The Word of God is filled with His promises that those who have received Jesus Christ as Savior will spend eternity with Him. If you struggle with doubt, then meditate on Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into a biblical understanding of your salvation. 

SIGNET RING
When I first made the acquaintance of a new friend from abroad, I noticed his posh English accent and that he wore a ring on his little finger. Later I learned that this wasn't just jewelry; it revealed his families history through the family crest engraved on it. 
It was a bit like a signet ring-perhaps like the one in Haggai. In this short Old Testament book, the prophet Haggai calls for the people of God to restart the rebuilding of the temple. They had been exiled and had now returned to their homeland and begun rebuilding, but enemy opposition to their project had stalled them. Haggai's message includes God's promise to Zerubbabel, Judah's leader, that he had been chosen and set apart as their leader, like a signet ring. 
In ancient times, a signet ring was used as a means of identification. Instead of signing their name, people would press their ring into hot wax or soft clay to make their mark. As God's children, we too make a mark on the world as we spread the gospel, share His grace through loving our neighbors, and work to end oppression. 
Each of us has our own unique stamp that reveals how we're created in God's image and expresses our particular mix of gifts, passions, and wisdom. It's our call and privilege to act as this signet ring in God's world. 
Prayer: Father God, may I know my true identity as Your heir this day. 
Lesson: We are God's heirs and ambassadors, sharing His love in the world. 
Haggai 2:15-23
"' Now give careful thought to this from this day on-consider how things were before one stone was laid upon another in the Lord's temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,' declares the Lord. 'From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. 
"' From this day on I will bless you.'"
The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: "Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother. 
"' On that day, 'declares the Lord Almighty' I will take you my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, ' declares the Lord,' and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,'declares the Lord Almighty." 
Insight: Just as Zerubbabel is likened to a signet ring, each Christian is marked by God's authorized acceptance in Christ (Eph.1:4-5,11). As such, we are identified as Christians (Acts 11:26;1Pet.4:14-16) and authorized as envoys or carriers of the most important information in the entire world (Matt. 28:18-20). How can we be more effective disseminators of that truth this week? How could we have a more valuable New Year's resolution than to act like God's signet rings in this upcoming year?

December 28th, 2016
ETERNALLY SECURE IN CHRIST
As Christians, many of us know we're saved yet still wonder about eternal security. Does our behavior play a role in keeping our salvation? Examining what happened when we trusted Jesus as Savior will bring reassurance of how secure we are in Him.
Prior to salvation, we had a spiritual problem. We were born with at nature inclined to rebel against God. Our inner self consistently rejected His rule and took charge. Because of our sinful state we were spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), under God's judgment, and destined for eternal separation from Him. No amount of good works, repentance, or improved behavior could have changed our sinful condition. Our problem required a divine solution. Knowing this, God the Father provided what we needed through His Son Jesus (Heb. 9:11-14). 
The day we trusted in Christ our condition was changed from condemnation and death to forgiveness and life (John 5:24). We received a new nature-one that wants to please God-and were adopted into His family (2 Cor.5:17; Eph. 1:5). His gift of salvation delivered us from eternal death, made us spiritually alive, and gave us eternal life. We cannot return to our dead, unforgiven state. Our new status as God's children is permanent because it is based on what Jesus has done. 
While our behavior may not always reflect our new nature, any mistakes we make do not jeopardize our salvation. Remember, its not our actions, but Christ's work on the cross that changed everything. And nothing can undo a spiritual rebirth that came about through faith in Jesus (John 6:37). 

LOCKED INTO LOVE
In June 2015, the city of Paris removed forty-five tons of padlocks from the railings of the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge. As a romantic gesture, couples would etch their initials onto a lock, attack it to the railing, click it shut, and throw the key into the river Seine. 
After this ritual was repeated thousands of times, the bridge could no longer bare the weight of so much "love." Eventually the city, fearing for the integrity of the bridge, removed the "love locks."
The locks were meant to symbolize ever lasting love, but human love does not always last. The closest of friends may offend each other and never resolve their differences. Family members may argue and refuse to forgive. A husband and wife may drift so far apart that they can't remember why they once decided to marry. Human love can be fickle. 
But there is one constant and enduring love-the love of God. "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever," Proclaims psalm 106:1. The promises of the unfailing and everlasting nature of God's love are found throughout Scripture. And the greatest proof of this love is the death of His Son so that those who put their faith in Him can live eternally. And nothing will ever separate us from His love (Rom.8:38-39). 
Fellow believers, we are locked into God's love forever.
Prayer: I'm grateful for Your unending love, Father. I'm locked into Your love by the Holy Spirit who is living in me.
Lesson: Christ's death and resurrection are the measure of God's love for me.
Romans 8:31-39
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all-how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long: we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels, nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor death, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 


Insight: Christ's work on the cross to secure our salvation has been completed. With a triumphant proclamation, Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus returned to the Father. Now seated at God's right hand, the exulted Christ continues His redemptive and sanctified work as our eternal High Priest (Heb.4:14-16). He is our "Advocate with the Father" (1 John 2:1-2; 1 Tim. 2:5), always defending and interceding for us (Heb. 7:24-25; 9:24). Paul confidently writes, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom.8:1). No one can successfully bring a charge of condemnation against those who are in Christ (vv.33-34). 

December 27th, 2016
THE REASONS FOR REBELLION
Psalm 107:16-21
Followers of Christ can get caught in the trap of trying to justify their wrongs. But when we dispense with all the creative excuses, everything can be boiled down to four reasons for rebellion: 
  • I refuse to do what God commands. There are obvious ways to ignore God's laws, such as committing murder. But more often the subtle, private methods of disobeying become obstacles in our path. These might include harboring unforgiveness or ignoring pleas for help. 
  • I pursue what is forbidden. The Lord has declared certain things off limits.(See Rom. 1:28-32;Gal 5:19-21.) He doesn't desire to ruin our pleasure, but He does know that some actions can have devastating consequences.
  • I pursue something God allows, but in a forbidden manner. We have a lot of freedom in the Christian life-wealth, success, and relationships are all available to us. But believers are not at liberty to achieve goals through theft, deceit, injustice, or the like. 
  • I pursue what God allows, but in my own timing. Impatience is oftentimes the reason people end up in debt or bad relationships. We decide to go after something before getting clear guidance from God. 
Whenever you are faced with a decision, ask yourself this question: What is the wisest thing for me to do? Then stop, ask the Lord for direction, and wait until He answers. When we are doing the will of God, we never have to make excuses.
THE POWER OF SIMPLE WORDS
Raucous laughter marked the guests in my father's hospital room: Two old truck drivers, one former country/and western singer, one craftsman, two women from neighboring farms, and me. 
"...and then he got up and busted the bottle over my head," the craftsman said, finishing his story about a bar fight. 
The room bursts into laughter at this now-humorous memory. Dad, struggling for breath as his laughing fought with his cancer for the air in his lungs, puffs out a reminder to everybody that "Randy is a preacher" so they need to watch what they say. Everything got quiet for about 2 seconds, then the whole room exploded as this news makes them laugh harder and louder. 
Suddenly, about forty minutes into this visit, the craftsman clears his throat, turns to my dad, and gets serious. "No more drinking and bar fights for me, Howard. Those days are behind me. Now I have a different reason to live. I want to tell you about my Savior."
He then proceeded to do just that, over my father's surprisingly mild protests. If there's a sweeter, gentler way to present the gospel message, I've never heard it. 
My dad listened and watched, and some years later believed in Jesus too.
It was a simple testimony from an old friend living a simple life, reminding me again that simple isn't naive or stupid; its direct and unpretentious. 
Just like Jesus. And salvation.
Lesson: Go and make disciplines of all nations. Matthew 28:19 
2 Peter 1:12-21 
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. 
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eye witnesses of His majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the majestic glory, saying, "This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain. 
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 
Insight: Nothing hits home for people like a straightforward, unembroidered recounting of personal testimony about how Christ has changed our lives. The blind man of John 9:25 blurted out, "One thing I know. I was blind but now I see." His healing was unarguable. There is nothing quite like the unadorned truth of testimony-"Tell it like it is." 

December 26th, 2016
THE RUIN OF REBELLION
Galatians 6:7-10
Rebelling against the Lord is costly. The divine law of consequences is that people reap what they sow, more than they sow, and later then the sow. And the principle is unchangeable whether you believe in God or not. 
A prevailing attitude of our modern culture is that rules prevent people from having a good time. That is certainly not the Lord's intention. In fact, He offers us true freedom through a relationship with Him. Our loving heavenly Father desires to keep His children growing in their faith and safe from the devil's temptations and worldly influences. He does that by limiting our actions and commanding that we follow certain laws and principles, which He has designed for our good. There is no greater pleasure or source of contentment than serving Him.
Rebellion, on the other hand, is a form of slavery. By defying the Lord's authority in some area of our life, we are allowing the enemy to shackle us. We may not initially feel the constraint of His trap, but keep in mind that divine law of consequences. Eventually, we will be heavily burdened by our sin. Whether the penalty ends up being carried in the body, mind, heart, or spirit, we will find ourselves distracted from wholly serving the Lord (Matt. 6:24).
God takes disobedience seriously because the consequences are so grave. As the Sovereign of the universe and our loving Father, He has only our best in mind. So rebelling against Him is foolish. Wise men and women live by His Word and obey Him (Ps.119:9).

ON TIME
Sometimes I joked that I'm going to write a book titled On Time. Those who know me smile because they know I am often late. I rationalized that my lateness is due to optimism, not to lack of trying. I optimistically cling to the faulty belief that "this time" I will be able to get more done in less time than ever before. But I can't, and I don't, so I end up having to apologize yet again for my failure to show up on time.
In contrast, God is always on time. We may think He's late, but He's not. Throughout Scripture we read about people becoming impatient with God's timing. The Israelites waited and waited for the promised Messiah. Some gave up hope. But Simeon and Anna did not. They were in the temple praying and waiting (Luke 2:25-26, 37). And their faith was rewarded. They got to see the infant Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him to be dedicated (vv.27-32,38). 
When we become discouraged because God doesn't respond according to our timetable, Christmas reminds us that "when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son...that we might receive adoption to sonship" (Gal.4:4-5). God's timing is always perfect, and it is worth the weight. 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I confess that I become impatient and discouraged, wanting answers to prayer in my own time and on my own schedule. Help me to wait patiently for Your timing in all things.
Lesson: God's timing is always right-wait patiently for Him.
Luke 2:25-38
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying: 
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: A light for revelation to the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel."
The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband 7 years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day fasting and praying coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 
Insight: The story of Simeon, Anna, and the baby Jesus at the temple is found only in Luke's gospel. Some scholars believe that much of this unique material could have come from Luke's personal interaction with Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:1-2). 




December 25th, 2016
~WORSHIP AT CHRISTMAS~
Matthew 2:7-11
Of all the responses we could have toward Christmas, worship is the one that pleases God. Unlike the scribes and chief priests who showed no interest in the report of the Messiah's birth or Herod, who responded with hatred, we have every reason to rejoice greatly that Jesus came to earth in human flesh. We are truly blessed that Christ's purpose in coming was for His death on the cross to pay the penalty our sins deserved.
The Magi traveled all the way from the East for the sole purpose of worshiping the infant King of the Jewish people. They knew that a star signaled His birth, and they journeyed hundreds of miles to find Him. 
The Magi believed that God was leading them to the King, and when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, they worshiped the Christ child by humbling themselves and presenting Him with gifts. These were wealthy, respected men, yet they considered that little boy to be greater then themselves. 
This year, we need to compare our response to the Savior with the magi's example of worship. Is Jesus the focus of our celebrations, or have we let other interests take first place? Are we more concerned about gifts for friends and family than we are about self-sacrifice for the Lord's sake?
Its easy to become focused on the traditions of Christmas to the point that we lose sight of Jesus. So let's step back in time and imagine all the inconveniences, setbacks, and vulnerability the magi endured in their pursuit of the infant King. Shouldn't we also be willing to follow Him, no matter what it takes?

~JOY FOR ALL~
On the final day of a Christian publishing conference in Singapore, 280 participants from 50 countries gathered in the outdoor plaza of a hotel for a group photo. From the second-floor balcony, the photographer took many shots from the different angles before finally saying , "We're through." A voice from the crowd shouted with relief, "Well, joy to the world!" Immediately, someone replied by singing, "The Lord is come." Others began to join in. Soon the entire group was singing the familiar carol in beautiful harmony. It was a moving display of unity and joy that I will never forget. 
In Luke's account of the Christmas story, an angel announced the birth of Jesus to a group of shepherds saying, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the messiah of the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).
The joy was not for a few people, but for all. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son" (John 3:16).
As we share the life-changing message of Jesus with others, we join the worldwide Chorus in proclaiming "the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love."
"Joy to the world, the Lord is come!"
Prayer: Father, give us eyes to see people of all nations as recipients of Your grace and joy. 
Lesson: The good news of Jesus's birth is a source of joy for all people.
Luke 2:8-14
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests."
Insight: The heart of the Father for those on the fringes is demonstrated by the fact that the joyous announcement of the birth  of the Savior was first made to those out in a field tending sheep. The significance of the fact that God chose shepherds to be the first ones to receive the announcement can be lost on us. In Christ's day, shepherds were ceremonially unclean and considered untrustworthy. But they were the ones God chose. The love of God knows no societal or class boundaries. Jesus came to show the love of God to everyone. When have you felt like an outcast? Did someone reach out to you? What can you do to show Jesus's love to others?


December 23rd, 2016
INDIFFERENCE TO CHRISTMAS

Each year, there's a predictable variety of responses to the celebrations and traditions of the holiday season. Although 2,000 years have passed since Christ was born, His birth still elicits similar attitudes. 
One common response is indifference. Even if they are filled with the holiday spirit and celebrate Christmas with gifts, dinners, decorations, and parties, some people remain totally indifferent to Jesus. He doesn't even cross their minds because they've lost sight of the reason for Christmas.
In the story of the Magi's search for the newborn King of the Jews, we see a surprising indifference on the part of the religious leaders. The entourage from the East caused quite a stir in Jerusalem. It wasn't every day that impressive visitors arrived with such a shocking and exciting announcement. Yet when King Herod asked the scribes and chief priests where the Messiah was to be born, they simply told him the answer but made no attempt to go to Bethlehem themselves. Their lives were already filled with their religious duties, and they had no time or interest in anything that might disrupt their position of prominence and authority. 
Sometimes its easy to let the activities and pressures of Christmas push Jesus out of our thoughts. After all the shopping is finished, the gifts are wrapped, and the food is prepared, we might rush off to a Christmas Eve service. But even then, we often feel distracted. Though it may take deliberate refocusing, this year let's intentionally make Jesus the priority of Christmas. 

WHAT CAN I GIVE HIM?

One year, those responsible for decorating their church for Christmas decided to use the theme of "Christmas lists." Instead of decorating with the usual shiny gold and silver ornaments, they gave each person a red and green tag. On one side they were to write down the gift they would like from Jesus, and on the other they were to list the gift they would give to the one whose birth they were celebrating.
If you were to do this, what gift would you ask for and what would you offer? The Bible gives us lots of ideas. God promises to supply all of our needs, so we might ask for a new job, help with financial problems, physical healing for ourselves or others, or a restored relationship. We might be wondering what our spiritual gift is that equips us for God's service. Many of these are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Or we might long to show more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Gal. 5:22-23).
The most important gift we can ever receive is God's gift of His Son, our Savior, and with Him forgiveness, restoration, and the promise of spiritual life that begins now and lasts forever. And the most important gift we can ever give is to give Jesus our heart.
Lord, You overwhelm me with Your gifts. In return, I want to give You the very best present that I can. Please show me what You want most from me.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what can I give Him-give Him my heart.

Psalm 103:1-18
Praise the Lord, My soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits-who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a Father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we were formed, he remembers that we were dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him and His righteousness with their children's children- with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
Insight: In Psalm 103, David praises God for His tender mercies and steadfast love (vv. 4,8,11,17). David did not want to forget the many blessings God has given him (v.2)-forgiveness and healing (v.3), deliverance (v.4), provision and renewal (v.5), and protection (v.6). This psalm reminds us of who God is (vv.7-9,13,19), What He has done with our sins (vv.10-12), and who we are (vv. 14-16). In response, we "praise the Lord" (vv. 20-22).


December 22nd, 2016
FREE TO ENJOY GOD
Psalm 37:3-5
The gospel writers spoke about children coming to Jesus, giving the impression that the young were very comfortable around Him (Matt.18:2-3;19:13-14). Some probably climbed onto his lap while others perhaps sat at His feet. We can picture them asking Him lots of questions, begging to hear more parables, and whispering secrets in His ear. It isn't surprising that they would gather around Jesus; children can usually sense when an adult loves them deeply. 
Contrast this snapshot of the Savior's welcoming, loving nature with the picture some Christians have of God-they see Him as a judgmental task master who motivates by intimidation. While its true that we are to obey the Lord's commands, we're also to delight in Him, just as we would enjoy the company of a close friend. 
Do you think of God as a stern overlord who weighs good actions against bad? If so, you'll have trouble considering Him a friend. Christians who envision a harsh God devote much time and energy to proving their salvation is deserved. How much better to have a biblically accurate view-namely that God, while sovereign over the universe, balances authority with love. He wants us to relax and enjoy spending time with Him. 
Taking pleasure in the Lord requires that we understand His attitude toward us: Our Father loves us passionately. He sees past our faults and mistakes to the precious child he created. In fact, He loves us so much that He sent Jesus Christ to save us and enable us to be with Him in heaven eternally. We have no greater friend!

THE BEST GIFT EVER
At a winter retreat in Northern New England, one of the men asked the question, "What was your favorite Christmas gift ever?" One athletic man seemed eager to answer. "That's easy," he said, glancing at his friend next to him. "A few years back, I finished college thinking I was a sure bet to play professional football. When it didn't happen, I was angry. Bitterness ate at me, and I shared that bitterness with anyone who tried to help me." 
"On the second Christmas-and second season without football-I went to a Christmas play at this guy's church," he said, gesturing toward his friend. "Not because I wanted Jesus, but just to see my niece in her Christmas pageant. Its hard to describe what happened because it sounds silly, but right in the middle of that kids' play, I felt like I needed to be with those shepherds and angels meeting Jesus. When that crowd finished singing 'Silent Night,' I just sat there weeping. "I got my best Christmas present ever that very night," he said, again pointing to his friend, "When this guy sent his family home without me so he could tell me how to meet Jesus."
I was then that his friend piped up: "And that, guys was my best Christmas present every."
This Christmas may the joyful simplicity of the story of Jesus's birth be the story we tell to others. 
Lesson: The best Christmas gift is Jesus bringing peace and forgiveness to others. 
1 Peter 3:8-16
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
For, "whoever would love live and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened."
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 
Insight: Do you struggle at times to find the right words to talk about the good news to someone who hasn't yet accepted it? If so, the apostle Peter offers a refreshingly flexible approach to sharing our faith. He urges us to give others a reason to ask about our hope in Christ(3:15). If we honor Christ as Lord in our hearts first, the difference it makes in us will prompt questions(V.15). Peter envisions the kind of transformation that others will envy-in the best sense of the word. Those living under the influence of Christ will treat one another with compassion and humility (V.8). They won't return evil for evil or insult for insult, but rather blessings for curses (V.9). This difference in our lives will help others open themselves up to receiving the best gift they could ever receive. 


December 21st, 2016
OUR TRUE IDENTITY
When I hear a believer say, "I'm just a sinner," I feel like responding, "That's what you used to be." A lot of folks cling to a view of themselves as a patched up, slightly-better-than-before version of their old self. The Word of God contradicts that opinion: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). In fact, according to Scripture, we're dramatically different once we are complete in the Lord. 
The question is, Will Christians trust in what they feel, or will they believe what God says about them? His Word calls us saints (Rom. 1:7), disciples (John 13:34-35), and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom.8:17). If your opinion is that you are "just a sinner," than you cannot fully experience and enjoy your identity as a follower of God. 
Believing what the Lord says about our new self is a choice. Satan certainly schemes to convince believers that Scripture doesn't apply to them. He knows that people held captive by spiritual poverty back away from opportunities to share the gospel and serve God's kingdom. Its must easier to spiritually bankrupt someone who already thinks of himself as "just a sinner" than it is to conquer a disciple who know he is a child of the loving heavenly Father. 
Our true identity is defined not by our past actions but by the Savior's. Jesus purchased our lives with His blood and brought us into relationship with the Father, who adopted us as His beloved children. We have every reason to hold our heads high, stand firm, and courageously proclaim the gospel.

A PERSONAL STORY
A baby just hours old was left in a manger in a Christmas nativity outside a New York church. A young, desperate mother had wrapped him warmly and place him where he would be discovered if we are tempted to judge her, we can instead be thankful this baby will now have a chance in life. 
This gets personal for me. As an adopted child myself, I have no idea about the circumstances surrounding my birth. But I have never felt abandoned. Of this much I am certain: I have two moms who wanted me to have a chance in life. One gave life to me; the other invested her life in me. 
In Exodus we read about a loving mother in a desperate situation. Pharaoh had ordered the murder of all baby boys born to the Jewish people (1:22). So Mose's mother hid him as long as she could. When Moses was three months old, she put him in a water tight basket and placed the basket in the Nile River. If the plan was to have the baby rescued by a princess, grow up in Pharaoh's palace, an eventually deliver his people out of slavery, it worked perfectly. 
When a desperate mother gives her child a chance, God can take it from there. He has a habit of doing that-in the most creative ways imaginable. 
Prayer: Father, today we pray for those facing desperate and lonely times. We pray especially for poor and defenseless children everywhere. Help us meet their needs as we are able. 
Lesson: Share the love of Christ.
Exodus 1:22-2:10
Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: "Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live." 
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for 3 months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she place the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. 
Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 
She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said. 
Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?"
"Yes, go," she answered. So the girl went and got the babies mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you" so the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, "I drew him out of the water." 
Insight: As a result of Jochebed's faith if God Moses was saved. Amazingly, Jechebed was even paid by Pharaoh's daughter to nurse her own son! (Ex.2:7-9). As the grandson of the Pharaoh Moses was given the best education possible as well as military and administrative training that would enable him to lead many Jews out of Egypt (Acts 7:22). Pharaoh sponsored all of this. The baby in peril is now a baby of privilege. Only God could accomplish something like this!

WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST
1Peter 1:1-7
Peter wrote the first of his two epistles to encourage people who were undergoing persecution. And the disciple decided to begin the letter by reminding believers of who they are in the Lord. 
Believers are chosen in Christ. Its not that the Lord selects some people to enter heaven and others to go to hell. Rather, the good news of Jesus Christ is offered to all humanity(John 3:16; Rom. 1:20)-salvation is for everyone who receives the Savior through an act of free will. The bottom line is that God wants you (2 Pet. 3:9). 
  • Believers are recipients of mercy. No one can claim that his or her righteous works earn a place in heaven. We are saved through the mercy of Christ alone (Titus 3:5). God loved us so much that He made a way for us to be in relationship with Him now and forever. 
  • Believers are protected. Psalm 34:7 says, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him." We are so well guarded that the only way our life can be touched by hardship is if God allows it. That doesn't mean we won't experience loss or upheaval. Sometimes the Father permits His children to walk through dark valleys, but always the protective shepherd, He remains by their side (Ps. 23:4).
  • The message of Peter's letter is simple: Do not be afraid when you go through trying times. Focus on who you are in Jesus Christ. You have reason to be bold, assured, and triumphant, because you are a chosen, beloved, and well-protected child of God. 
SPREADING JOY
When Janet went to teach English in a school overseas, she found the atmosphere gloomy and depressing. People did their jobs, but no one seemed happy. They didn't help or encourage one another. But Janet, grateful for all that God had done for her, expressed it in everything she did. She smiled. She was friendly. She went out of her way to help people. She hummed songs and hymns. 
Little by little, as Janet shared her joy, the atmosphere as the school changed. One by one people began to smile and help each other. When a visiting administrator asked the principle why his school was so different, the principle, who was not a believer, responded, "Jesus brings joy." Janet was filled to overflowing with the joy of the Lord and its spilled over to those around her. 
The gospel of Luke tells us that God sent an angel to ordinary shepherds to deliver an extraordinary birth announcement. The angel made the surprising proclamation that the new born baby "will cause great joy for all the people" (Luke 2:10), which indeed He did. 
Since then this message has spread through the centuries to us, and now we are Christ's messengers of joy to the world. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we continue the practice of spreading the joy of Jesus as we follow His example and serve others. 
How might you spread the joy of Jesus to others today?
Lesson: Take the joy of Christmas with you every day.
John 16:16-24
Jesus went on to say, "In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me." 
At this, some of His disciples said to one another, "what does He mean by saying, 'a little while'? We don't understand what He is saying." 
Jesus saw that they wanted to ask Him about this, so He said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ' In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me"'? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and morn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. Until now, you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will complete. 
Insight: Just as the angel appeared in the night sky to give shepherds reason for joy, Jesus also used a dark moment to offer His disciples reason for hope on the other side of His suffering and their confusion. What they didn't yet know would only be revealed in time. Christ's death was a loving Father's way of reconciling a rebel world to Himself. The despair of that night was necessary so that, three days later, a reason for hope now, and fullness of joy later, could be offered to all (v.33). 


December 19th, 2016
LEARNING FROM ADVERSITY
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
What are we to do with our pain when, despite our pleading, God won't remove it? He knows we're hurting but does nothing. How can He be a God of love yet not come to our aid? 
Today's passage gives us intimate insight into a very painful event in Paul's life. We don't know exactly what the "thorn in the flesh" is, but his account of what he learned through that experience is an amazing example of what God wants to teach us through adversity. 
  • First of all, God is Sovereign over the situation. Ultimately, He is the one who allowed the thorn and one with the power to remove it. 
  • Second, God prioritizes the spiritual. Paul wanted physical relief, but the Lord was working for his spiritual good. The thorn was a protection against pride, which would have seriously hindered Paul's ministry and corrupted his character. Whatever God allows to afflict believers is designed to protect them from sin, produce holiness, and equip them for faithful service to Christ. 
  • Third, God's grace is sufficient. The Lord didn't remove the pain but gave Paul both the grace to endure and strength in his weakness. If God doesn't provide a way out, He will provide a way through. 
Once we understand the Lord's Sovereignty, priorities, and sufficiency, we can respond to our afflictions as Paul did-with gladness. When Christ's strength is perfected in us, we can be content in whatever difficulties God allows in our life. The Lord's unwillingness to give us relief is not neglect. Rather, it is evidence of His surpassing love, which seeks our eternal good. 
ENEMY LOVE
When war broke out in 1950, fifteen year old Kim Chin-Kyung joined the South Korean army to defend his homeland. He soon found, however, that he wasn't ready for the horrors of combat. As young friends died around him, he begged God for his life and promised that, if allowed to live, he would learn to love his enemies. 
Sixty-five years later, Doctor Kim reflected on that answered prayer. Through decades of caring for orphans and assisting in the education of North Korean and Chinese young people, he has won many friends among those he once regarded as enemies. Today He shuns political labels. Instead he calls himself a loveist as an expression of his faith in Jesus. 
The Prophet Jonah left a different kind of legacy. Even a dramatic rescue from the belly of a big fish didn't transform his heart. Although he eventually obeyed God, Jonah said he would rather die than watch the Lord show mercy to his enemies (Jonah 4:1-2,8). 
We can only guess as to whether Jonah ever learned to care for the people of Nineveh. Instead we are left to wonder about ourselves. Will we settle for his attitude toward those we fear and hate? Or will we ask God for the ability to love our enemies as He has shown mercy to us?
Prayer: Father in heaven, like Your reluctant prophet, we are inclined to love only those who love us. Yet You loved us even when we cared only for ourselves. Please give us the grace to be more like Jesus than Jonah.
Lesson: Love conquers all.
Jonah 3:10-4:11
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened. 
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, "Isn't this what I said, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to life." 
But the Lord replied, "Is it right for you to be angry?"
Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." 
But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" 
"It is," he said. "And I'm so angry I wish I were dead."
But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left-and also many animals?"

December 18th, 2016
ANTAGONISM TOWARD CHRISTMAS
MATTHEW 2:12-18
Look around you. While many may be enjoying the festivities of Christmas, some are still holding on to bitterness and disdain. But don't be surprised-the problem isn't the season; its the Savior. Our need for salvation reminds us of our own shortcomings and inability to redeem ourselves.
This is not the first time that Jesus stirred up antagonism in someone's heart. Herod was troubled when he heard that the Magi were looking for the King of the Jews. When they didn't return to report the location of the Christ child, he became enraged and slaughtered all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years of age and under (Matt. 2:16). 
What is it about Jesus that causes some people to feel such hostility? Herod's fury was fueled by his desire for power and control. He didn't want another king, no matter how small, to dethrone. People today scorn the celebration of Christ's birth for the same reason-they don't want anyone else ruling their life. 
Romans 1:18 says that people who reject Jesus Christ have suppressed the truth. The Lord pointed out that those who fear their deeds will be exposed as evil won't come to the light (John 3:19-20). However, we should never assume that salvation is impossible for someone who is hostile to Jesus. After all, the apostle Paul was an aggressive persecutor of the church until his conversion. 
Sometimes, people who resent Christianity and Christmas may seem unreachable to us. But remember: No one is beyond the reach of Jesus. 
CHRISTMAS IN CAPTIVITY
Rev. Martian Niemoller, a prominent German Pastor, spent nearly 8 years in Nazi concentration camps because he openly opposed Hitler. On Christmas Eve 1944 Niemoller spoke those words of hope to his fellow prisoners in Dachau: "My dear friends, on this Christmas...let us seek, in the Babe of Bethlehem, the one who came to us in order to bear with us everything that weighs heavily upon us....God Himself has built a bridge from Himself to us! A dawn from on high has visited us!" 
At Christmas we embrace the good news that God, in Christ, has come to us wherever we are and has bridged the gap between us. He invades our prison of darkness with His light and lifts the load of sorrow, guilt, or loneliness that weighs us down. 
On that bleak Christmas Eve in prison, Niemoller shared this good news: "Out of the brilliance that surrounded the shepherds a shining ray will fall into our darkness." His words remind us of the prophet Isaiah, who prophetically said, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned!" (Isa. 9:2). 
No matter where today finds us, Jesus has penetrated our dark world with His joy and light!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we find hope and strength in knowing that Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
Lesson: The joy of Christmas is Jesus.
Isaiah 9:1-7
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebuln and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan-
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as a people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Insight: An old song proclaims, "The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin; the light of the world is Jesus." How can we spread Jesus's light? Do you have guests coming for Christmas dinner? Pray that your demeanor may reflect Christ's care and concern. Perhaps some of us may feel a need to invite to our home those who may be lonely or neglected. Others may want to serve food at a mission and talk with those who emotionally hurting. "Let your light shine that [others] may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." This will bring joy to God, to others, and to ourselves. 

December 16th, 2016
WHEN GOD CLOSES A DOOR
Acts 16:1-15
Have you ever prayed about a situation, felt confident of God's will, and made your plans, only to discover the door has suddenly slammed shut? Maybe it was relocation to another city, a relationship leading toward marriage, or a job opportunity that seemed so promising. Whatever the situation, the result was confusion, disappointment, and maybe even despair. What was God doing? 
Paul and Silas had a similar experience on their second missionary journey. After originally intending to visit previous church plants, they instead decided to move into new territory with the gospel. But the Holy Spirit forbade them from going into Asia (modern-day Turkey). So they went north to Mysia with the intention of heading east to Bithynia. Yet once again the Holy Spirit closed the door. 
At that point, they may have wondered why God would prevent them from preaching the gospel. After all, hadn't Jesus given them the Great Commission(Matt.28:19-20)? The answer came to Paul in a dream as the Lord redirected them to Greece-a nation with great metropolitan cities. From there, the gospel could spread news rapidly, and eventually Paul circled around to Ephesus, bringing the gospel to Asia. By the time John wrote Revelation, there were at least 7 churches on that continent. 
God often uses closed doors to redirect us into His perfect will and timing. Therefore, the wisest response is to rely on His infinite wisdom, wait for His clear direction, and follow the Holy Spirit's promptings. God's redirection brings blessing if we'll simply trust and obey. 
ANOTHER SIDE OF COMFORT
The theme for our adult camp was "Comfort My People." Speaker after speaker spoke words of assurance. But the last speaker drastically changed the tone. He chose Jeremiah 7:1-11 and the topic "Wake Up From Slumber." Without mincing words and yet with love, he challenged us to wake up and turn away from our sins.
"Don't hide behind the grace of God and continue to live in secret sin," he exhorted like the prophet Jeremiah. "We boast, 'I am a Christian; God loves me; I fear no evil,' yet we do all kinds of evil."
We knew he cared about us, yet we shifted uncomfortably in our seats and listened to our own Jeremiah declare, "God is loving, but He is also a consuming fire! (see Heb.12:29). He will never condone sin!" 
Jeremiah of old quizzed the people, "Will you steal and murder,commit adultery, and perjury...follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bares my Name, and say, 'We are safe'-safe to do all these detestable things?" (7:9-10).
This speaker's brand of "comfort my people" was another side of God's comfort. Like a bitter herb that heals malaria, his words were spiritually curative. When we hear hard Words, instead of walking away, may we respond to their healing effect. 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You love us too much to let us continue defying Your instructions. Your correction is never to harm us, but only to heal us. You are the God of all comfort.
Lesson: God's discipline is designed to make us like His Son. 
Jeremiah 7:1-11
This is the word that come to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Stand at the gate of the Lord's house and there proclaim this message:
" 'Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 
Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!" 

If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other Gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors forever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bares my Name and say, "We are safe"-safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house which bares my Name become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! Declares the Lord.'"

Insight: This idea of loving correction is a consistent message of the Scriptures. God portrays Himself to us as a loving parent, a father who wants to protect and provide the very best for His children. This is seen in the way God dealt with Israel in the wilderness wanderings. This imagery is seen in the New Testament as well. In Hebrews 12:4-6 the Scriptures makes it clear that divine discipline is not an expression of punishment or vengeance. It is the loving Father correcting our wrong behavior so that we can live wisely with and for Him. 

December 15th, 2016
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD
Romans 14:7-12
Followers of Jesus Christ would agree that whether we live or die, we do so for Christ. But His sovereignty is not limited to those who claim Him as King. The entire world- the whole universe, in fact-is subject to His authority. At the final judgement, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess and praise God.
In the here and now, relatively few people recognize the Lord's rule and seek to remain in His will. Most refuse to see that all of our human constructs-such as government, culture, and society-thrive or falter in the palm of God's hand. More over, nonbelievers resist Christ's sovereignty in their own lives. People who won't surrender their will to the Lord's great purpose assume control of their own destiny. However, the Lord's supreme reign cannot be thwarted. 
Its common for men and women today to believe that there are no consequences for rejecting the Lordship of Jesus Christ. You may have heard people say things like, "That Christian stuff works for you, but its not for me. I'll live on my own terms." Yet Jesus' parable of houses built on either solid rock or sand offers a different perspective (Matt. 7:24-27). Only those who made their abode in the Lord can withstand the upheavals of this world. 
Kneeling before Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life is the wisest decision you can make. The sovereign Ruler of the universe loves you and desires to bless all of your days. Make your eternal home in the safety of His kingdom, and forever delight in Him. 
ONE SHORT SLEEP
Henry Durbanville, a Scottish pastor from another area, told the story of an elderly woman in his parish who lived in a remote part of Scotland. She longed to see the city of Edinburgh, but she was afraid to take the journey of because of the long dark tunnel through which the train had to pass to get there. 
One day, however, circumstances compelled her to go to Edinburgh, and as the train sped toward the city, her agitation increased. But before the train reached the tunnel, the woman, warn out with worry, fell fast asleep. When she awoke she had already arrived in the city! 
Its possible that some of us will not experience death. If we're alive when Jesus returns, we will "meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4:13-18). But many of us will pass into heaven through death and for some that thought causes great anxiety. We worry that the process of dying will be too difficult to bare. 
With the assurance of Jesus as our Savior we can rest in the confidence that when we close our eyes on earth and pass through death, we will open our eyes in God's presence. "One short sleep past we wake eternally" John Donne said. 
Prayer: I love the life You've given to me, Lord, yet I wonder what it will be like to see You personally. Help me to trust You with the future. I look forward to that day when I meet You.
Lesson: To see Jesus will be heaven's greatest joy. 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not proceed those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 



Insight: After Paul describes Christ's return in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, he proceeds to discuss daily living (5:12-24). It is easy to get lost in the intricacies and complexities of biblical prophecy. However, it is all a "revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:1). Amid all the trumpeting and reunions, it is "the Lord Himself [who] will come down from heaven" (1 Thes. 4:16). Then Christians will be gloriously "like Him for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). How does the vision of Christ's return have an impact on you individually and practically? 

December 14, 2016
AN INTRODUCTION TO CHRIST
Revelation 1:4-8
John gives us a compact description of the Lord. Verse 5 in today's passage condenses the wondrous nature of Jesus Christ to the bare but beautiful essentials of who He is. 
Jesus Christ is the faithful witness. Jesus came to earth to more fully reveal the character and ways of the Father (John 14:9). The miracles He performed validated His claim to be the son of God. 
Jesus Christ is the first born from the dead. The Savior bore our sins and died on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the 3rd day. His resurrection proved that eternal life is possible for us, too, which is what Jesus taught when He said, "He who believes in Me will live even if he dies" (11:25). 
Jesus Christ is ruler over the kings of the earth. The Lord raises men to power, just as it is He who removes them (19:11; see also Rom. 13:1). And believers have access to a higher authority than human leaders. In God's throne room, we can beseeth Him on behalf of our land and lay claim to His promises. 
Jesus Christ loves us and, by His blood, released us from our sins. Note the change of tense in Revelation 1:5. The Lord's love is ever-present, but He has freed believers from their past (NIV). Both the penalty and power of sin have been broken by His sacrifice. 
When people ask you about Jesus, introduce Him by guiding them through this mini biography. In just a few sentences, John describes Christ's character, divinity, and authority. The disciple was not timid about proclaiming the Lord to whomever He encountered. We shouldn't be shy, either, when we serve so great a Savior. 
LIVING IN THE LIGHT
It was a dark morning. Low, steel-colored clouds filled the sky and the atmosphere was so dim that I needed to turn on the lights in order to read a book. I had just settled in when the room suddenly filled with light. I looked up and saw that the wind was pushing the clouds to the east, clearing the sky and revealing the sun. 
As I went to the window to get a better look at the drama, a thought came to mind:"The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8). The apostle John wrote these words to believers as a message of encouragement. He went on to say, "Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble" (v.10). By contrast, He equated hating people with roaming around in darkness. Hatred is disorienting; it takes away our sense of moral direction. 
Loving people is not always easy. Yet I was reminded as I looked out the window that frustration, forgiveness, and faithfulness are all part of maintaining a deep connection with the love and light of God. When we choose love instead of hate, we are showing our relationship with Him and reflecting His radiance to the world around us. "God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). 
Prayer: Dear God, help me to experience Your love more fully so that I can share it with others. I want to live in the light of Your grace and mercy. 
Lesson: Choosing to love people well shows the world what God is like. 
1 John 2:3-11
We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands. Whoever says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His Word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. 
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. 

Insight: Today's passage has perplexed many believers. Is John teaching that if we have any hatred in our hearts, then we are not genuine believers? It is very important to understand a concept in Greek grammar in order to capture what the passage is saying. The verb tense used here means "continuous action in the present." This means the verb could be paraphrased "continually hating." Therefore, when John speaks of someone hating, he is talking about an unrepentant lifestyle of continuously living in hatred toward another. The authentic walk of faith is not a sinless walk, but one in which the believer feels uncomfortable and reaches out to God for forgiveness and change. 

December 13th, 2016
A PATTERN FOR PRAYER
Matthew 6:7-15
In Matthew 6:7, Jesus cautioned against meaningless repetition when talking to the Father. Just two verses later, He left a pattern to help us pray. However, in using this passage, which is known as the Lord's Prayer, we're often guilty of the very thing Jesus warned against: Instead of thoughtfully praying each line, we run through the words mindlessly. But if we take time to carefully examine Christ's words, we'll find the pattern that can transform our prayer life. 
ADORATION OF THE FATHER (v.9). God the Father is the focus of all our prayers. We should never forget what a privilege it is to bend our needs on earth and reach almighty God in heaven.
SUBMISSION TO HIS WILL (v.10). Prayer should reflect a desire to align ourselves with God's goals and purposes, not to get Him to follow our plans. 
PETITION GOD FOR OUR NEEDS (v.11). We are dependent upon the Lord and He wants us to come to Him with our requests. 
CONFESSION OF SINS (v.12). When we repent and forgive others, we maintain fellowship with God. But if we hold grudges, that fellowship is broken. God loves to answer our prayers when the lines of communication are not disrupted. 
DELIVERANCE FROM EVIL (v.13). Our enemy is too strong for us, but Christ has already won the victory over him. 
Jesus ended the prayer where He began-with praise to the Father for His kingdom, power, and glory (v.13). Next time you say this prayer, concentrate on each verse. Then, following this pattern will result in a more dynamic and effective prayer life because it will be God-centered.
Good News!
World News bombards us from the internet, television, radio, and mobile devices. The majority seems to describe what's wrong-crime, terrorism, war, and economic problems. Yet there are times when good news invades the darkest hours of sadness and despair-stories of unselfish acts, a medical breakthrough, or steps toward peace in war-scarred places.
The words of two men recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible brought great hope to people weary of conflict. 
While describing God's coming judgment on a ruthless and powerful nation, Nahum said, "Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace!" (Nah. 1:15). That news brought hope to all those oppressed by cruelty. 
A similar praise occurs in the book of Isaiah: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation" (Isa. 5:2-7). 
Nehum and Isaiah's prophetic words of hope found their ultimate fulfillment at the first Christmas when the angel told the shepherds, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). 
The most important headline in our lives every day is the very best news ever spoken-Christ the Savior is born!
Lesson:The birth of Jesus is the best news the world has ever received!
Nehum 1:7-15
The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him, but with an overwhelming flood He will make an end of Nineveh; He will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness. 
Whatever they plot against the Lord He will bring to and end; trouble will not come a second time. They will be entangled among thorns and drunk from their wine; they will be consumed like dry stubble. From you, Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the Lord and devises wicked plans. 
This is what the Lord says:"Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be destroyed and passed away. Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away."
The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh:"You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile."
Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you: They will be completely destroyed.
Insight:We can associate "Good news" of peace from war (Nahum 1:15) with the "good news" of Jesus's birth (Luke 2:10). We might imagine a huffing, puffing, runner(IN NAHUM 1:15) - like the famed runner to Sparta for whom "Marathon" is named-who has come a long distance. Is he now pausing"on the mountains" to shout to Heareres in the valley, "The war is over!"? No wonder the herald's "feet" are celebrated-he "proclaims peace!" (1:15). An Old Testament thought "peace" (shalom) is not just the absence of war; it is a full-orbed idea that represents wellness and wholeness. Have you received the Christ who Himself, through His death, is the believer's peace? (Eph.2:14-15). 

December 12th, 2016
AVOIDING HYPOCRISY IN PRAYER
Matthew 6:5-6
People who are uncomfortable praying in public tend to love Matthew 6:6 because Jesus advocates praying in secret. However, Christ's point was not our location but our attitude. His admonition wasn't to avoid public prayer; rather, it was a warning not to pray hypocritically by seeking the approval of others. 
We may be quick to think we'd never do that, but in reality, corporate prayer can be intimidating to many believers. We wonder how we sound to others: Did I say the right things? What did they think when I stumbled on my words? Was my prayer too long? Too short? 
Generally, our problem is less about trying to impress others with our eloquence and spirituality then it is about feeling self-conscious, tongue-tied, and inept. However, if our focus is on how we sound, we may still be praying like a hypocrite because all we can think about is ourselves and other people's perception of us. Although we may not admit it, we want their approval. 
But the Lord never calls us out for being inarticulate or using bad grammar. He's listening to the motivation of our spirit. How well we speak doesn't matter if we're truly talking to Him and not other people. When our focus is on God, His Spirit unites with ours and those we hear are drawn into that sweet communion. 
The solution for hypocrisy is not abstinence from all public prayer. Whether we pray in a closet or in an auditorium filled with people, we must remember that we're speaking to an audience of one, and He delights in hearing from His children. 
THE MONEY
Early in my career while doing work that I saw as more of a mission than a job, another company offered me a position that would give a significant increase in pay. Our family could surely have benefited financially from such a move. There was one problem. I hadn't been looking for another job because I loved my current role, which was growing into a calling. But the money...
I called my father, then in his 70's, and explained the situation. Though his once-sharp mind had been slowed by strokes and the strain of years, his answer was crisp and clear: "Don't even think about the money. What would you do?" In an instant, my mind was made up. The money would have been my only reason for leaving the job I loved! Thanks, Dad.
Jesus devoted a substantial section of His Sermon on the Mount to money and our fondness for it. He taught us to pray not for an accumulation of riches but for "our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11). He warned us against storing up treasures on earth and pointed to the birds and flowers as evidence that God cares deeply about His creation (vv.19-31). "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, " Jesus said, "And all these things will be given to you as well" (v. 33). 
Money matters. But money shouldn't rule our decision-making process. Tough times and big decisions are opportunities to grow our faith in new ways. Our heavenly Father cares for us.
Lesson: Never confuse temptation with opportunity.
Matthew 6:24-34
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You can not serve both God and money. 
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you-you of little faith? So do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink? 'What shall we wear?'
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Insight: One of the most remarkable aspects of today's reading is the harmony our Lord maintains between a heavenly perspective and the practical issues of daily life. He uses examples in nature to show how our heavenly Father tenderly cares for animal and plant life. Since we are of far more value then they are, Christ counsels us to trust Him to care for us one day at a time (v.34). 

December 11, 2016
WHEN PEOPLE FAIL EACH OTHER
2 Timothy 4:9-18
As a prisoner in a Roman jail, Paul felt disappointment over being deserted in his hour of great need. The apostle was defending himself before tribunal and would be put to death if the court decided against him. Yet of the many people whose lives he had touched, not one was present to support him. 
There are plenty of logical reasons to explain why Paul's friends and the converts he had won to the Lord were absent. For example, the witnesses in a Roman court were frequently counted as co-conspirators and shared the fate of the accused. No one wanted the death sentence that might result from standing up for Paul. 
I think there was also a more subtle cause, to which many modern believers can relate. When Paul's loved ones looked at him, they saw a spiritual giant whose faith could withstand any challenge. They may have thought to themselves, he doesn't need my help or support. 
And don't we do the same thing when it comes to our pastors, Bible teachers, and take for granted that such a mature Christian can face what lies ahead. However, every single person has human frailties and moments when his or her faith wavers.
Paul knew that God would take care of him, but he still desired a friends touch, words of encouragement, and the physical presence of loved ones. Do not assume that another person can do without your aid and friendship. Believers are called to minister to each other (1 Thess. 5:11). 
SERVING GOD WITH OUR PRAYERS
God often chooses to move through our prayers to accomplish His work. We see this when God told the prophet Elijah, "I will send rain on the land," promising to end a drought in Israel that had lasted 3 1/2 years (James 5:17). Even though God had promised rain, a short time later "Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees"- praying intently for the rain to come (1 Kings 18:42). Then, while he continued to pray, Elijah sent his servant to go and look out over the ocean" 7 times," scanning the horizon for any sign of rain (V. 43). 
Elijah understood that God wants us to join in His work through humble, persistent prayer. Regardless of our human limitations, God may choose to move through our praying in amazing ways. That's why the letter of James tells us that"the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results," all the while reminding us that" Elijah was as human as we are" (James 5:16-17 NLT). 
When we make it our aim to serve God through praying faithfully as Elijah did, we're taking part in a beautiful privilege-where at any moment we may be given a front-row seat to a miracle!
Prayer: How can I serve You through my prayers today, Father?
Lesson: Great expectation on our part honors God. 
1 Kings 18:41-45
And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of heavy rain." So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 
"Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked. 
"There is nothing there," he said. 
7 times Elijah said, "go back." The seventh time the servant reported, "a cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea."
So Elijah said "go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'"
Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. 
Insight:Elijah was human just as we are, but God responded to his persistent prayer. We also see the idea of persistent prayer in the New Testament. To encourage Jesus's disciples to persist and persevere in prayer, He told them two parables. In Luke 11:5-13 a host persistently knocked on his neighbors door until his friend gave him food for his guest (vv.8-9). In Luke 18:1-8 the widow was dealing with an unjust judge who had no compassion or concern for her. But he gave in and consented to help her to stop her pestering! In both parables, perseverance bore fruit. The question is not if God will answer prayer, for He most certainly will (Luke 18:8). The question is whether we will be found faithful in persistent and persevering prayer (v. 8; Rom. 12:12). 

December 9th, 2016
CLEAN FEET, CLEAN HEART
Israel can be a dusty place, and sandaled feet get filthy walking to and fro. In ancient times a person entering a home removed his sandals and cleaned his feet. Or if the home owners were wealthy servants would do the washing. This distasteful but necessary task fell to the worker of lowest position in the household. 
Imagine the disciples' surprise when the Son of God put Himself in the role of a lowly servant and knelt to wash their feet. The need for such a service was great, as they had been traveling for some time. But not one of them offered to do it. 
Jesus did more than fill a need; He offered an object lesson. As He explained, "I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you" (John 13:15). Some churches have incorrectly interpreted this as a command to make foot washing an ordinance. But it's possible to perform a ritual without contemplating the significance of Christ's actions. 
In fact, the washing isn't the main point- its the attitude that counts, not the act. Jesus desires that we be willing to humble ourselves to serve others. He is looking for men and women who will ignore pride, position, and power in order to do whatever must be done, wherever it needs doing and for whoever requires assistance. 
Jesus performed His greatest and most humble acts of service within 24 hours of each other. He washed dirty feet by using hands that would then be pierced by nails. The message here is that every task God gives us is important to His kingdom.
THE GIFT OF ENCOURAGMENT
An old Merle Haggard song, "If We Make It Through December," tells the story of a man laid off from his factory job with no money to buy Christmas gifts for his little girl. Although December is supposed to be a happy time of year, his life seems dark and cold. 
Discouragement is not unique to December, but it can be amplified then. Our expectations may be higher, our sadness deeper. A little encouragement can go a long way. 
Joseph, a man from Cyprus, was among the early followers of Jesus. The apostles called him Barnabas, which means "son of encouragement." We meet him in Acts 4:36-37 when he sold a piece of property and donated the money to help other believers in need. 
Later, we read that the disciples were afraid of Saul (Acts 9:26). "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles" (v. 27). Saul, later called Paul, had formally been trying to kill the believers, but Barnabas defended him as a man transformed by Christ. 
All around us are people longing to be encouraged. A timely word, a phone call, or a prayer can bolster their faith in Jesus. 
The generosity and support of Barnabas demonstrate what it means to be a son or daughter of encouragement. That may be the greatest gift we can give to others this Christmas. 
Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for the gift of encouragement. May we encourage others as they have encouraged us. 
Lesson: Encouragement may be the greatest gift we give the Christmas.
Acts 4:32-37;9:26-27
Acts 4
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power, the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. 
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. 
Acts 9
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 
Insight: When Saul of Tarsus met the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, he was transformed into an apostle of Christ. Needless to say, the Christian community was fearful and skeptical about Paul's apparent change of spiritual loyalties. It is in this context that Barnabas provided a wonderful service of bridge-building. Barnabas was central to Paul's acceptance by supporting Paul's conversion story and accepting him as a brother in Christ. Here we see Barnabas showing a spirit of generosity and encouragement. How can you plan to be a blessing to others through an intentional act of encouragement?

December 8th, 2016
THE PATTERN FOR SERVANTHOOD
Matthew 20:25-28
In the world's thinking, great men are the ones with authority, prominence, and power. Though Jesus Christ had all that, He laid it aside to become a servant (Isa. 42:1). 
Jesus gave Himself completely to fulfill the Father's plan of redemption, even though the beneficiaries-namely, each us- were undeserving. God, who is holy and righteous, has"eyes...too pure to approve evil, and [He] cannot look on wickedness with favor" (Hab.1:13). But all of humanity is stained by wrongdoing (Rom. 3:23); everybody is born captive to the desires of the flesh (6:16-18). When people claim to be living on their own terms, they are actually serving whatever their human nature craves. The penalty for that false sense of liberty is death (v.23). 
Jesus' ultimate act of service was to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). The word ransom describes the price paid to set a slave free- Christ voluntarily purchased our liberation. There was only one way our Holy God could remove our guilt yet remain true to His own law: Someone sinless had to pay our sin debt for us. 
Jesus' sacrifice spared us the penalty we deserve. Instead, we receive the gift of grace and have been declared no longer guilty. Moreover, we are elevated from slaves to sons and daughters of the Almighty! 
Jesus served the Father's purpose faithfully. He gave up His righteousness to carry the weight of all our wickedness- and endured a crushing separation from His Father. To meet our needs, the Savior held nothing of Himself back and thereby set a powerful example of servanthood for us to follow. 

SURROUND SOUND
Walt Disney Studio's was the first to introduce a new concept in listening to movies. It was called "stereophonic sound" or surround sound, and it was developed because producers wanted the movie-going audience to hear the music in a new way. 
But this wasn't the first use of "surround sound." Thousands of years earlier, Nehemiah introduced the idea at the dedication of the rebuilt wall of Jerusalem. "I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall" he explained. "I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks" (NEH. 12:31). The two choirs began at the southern part of the wall, at the Dung Gate. One went to the left, one went to the right, and they surrounded the city of Jerusalem in praise as they marched toward the temple (vv. 31,37-40). 
The choirs led the people in rejoicing because "God had given them great joy" (v.43). In fact, their rejoicing "could be heard far away" (v.43). 
Their praise resulted from God's help as the people overcame the opposition of enemies like Sanballat and rebuilt the wall. What has God given us that causes our joy to overflow into praise? God's clear direction in our lives? The comfort He alone can provide in times of trouble? Or our ultimate gift: salvation? 
Perhaps we can't create "surround sound" with our praise, but we can rejoice in the joy God has given us. Then others can hear us praise God and see how He works. 
Prayer: We praise You, O Lord- with words, with song, and with our lives. We offer You our hearts in response to Your great power, loving provision, and constant care. 
Lesson: We can never praise Jesus too much!
Nehemiah 12:27-43
At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres...
I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate...
The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people... as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped. 
The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the House of God; so did I, together with half the officials, as well as the priests- Elikim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets-and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam, and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. 
Insight: Nehemiah spearheaded a magnificent public music celebration. Four types of musical instruments are identified in verses 27 and 35- cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets. Cymbals are an example of metal percussion instruments. Like drums, cymbals usually help sustain a musical beat. Also included were harps and lyres. Harps may have been smaller than lyres and less lavish (2 CHRON. 9:11). Trumpets (NEH. 12:35,41) were the wind instruments. These were not curvy rams' horns or shofars, but were straight metal horns used for assembling armies and ambushes (NUM. 10:1-10;2 CHRON. 5:12). 



December 7th, 2016
EQUIPPED TO DO HIS WILL
I've met people who know the Lord has called them to do something, but they are so focused on their perceived lack of ability that they keep telling Him, "I just can't." Did you realize this is a form of rebellion? It amounts to telling God that He isn't powerful enough to equip you- and that His will being done on this earth depends upon your natural skills. 
On being called to lead the Israelites out of slavery, Moses complained that he was the wrong person for the job and offered an excuse of not being a good speaker (Ex. 4:10). God's response underscores that not only was He more than able to equip His chosen leader, but He also planned to accomplish His purposes with or without Moses. 
The Lord is the one who gives us the ability to live within His will. Its a divine promise: If we believe Him and move forward in obedience, He'll show us what we are to do and then will energize us to get it done. Philippians 2:13 says that God Himself "Is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." There's nothing to fear: You never have to take on His work in your own strength, and He won't ask you to do anything that He will not enable you to carry out. The Father is committed to equipping His children to do whatever He asks. 
As a follower of Christ, you have a personal responsibility- first, to say yes when God calls, and second, to allow Him to achieve His purposes through your life. He won't let you down. Watching Him work through you will strengthen your faith and further the process of conforming you to His Son's image. 
BEAUTIFUL UNITY
Seeing three large predatory animals cuddle and play together is extremely unusual. Yet this is precisely what happens daily in an animal sanctuary in Georgia. In 2001, after months of neglect and abuse, a lion, a Bengal tiger, and a black bear were rescued by Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary. "We could have separated them," said the assistant director. "But since they came as kind of a family, we decided to keep to them together." The trio had found comfort in each other despite their time of mistreatment, and, despite their differences, they lived peacefully together. 
Unity is a beautiful thing. But the unity Paul wrote about in his letter to the believers in Ephesus is unique. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to live up to their calling as members of one body in Christ (EPH. 4:4-5). By the power of the Holy Spirit they would be able to live in unity as they developed humility, gentleness, and patience. These attitudes also allowed us to lovingly bear "with one another in love" through the common ground we have in Christ Jesus (4:2).
Despite our differences, as members of the family of God we have been reconciled to Him through the death of our Savior and reconciled to each other through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to grow in gentleness and patience toward others. Show me how to love others, even when we may have differences. 
Lesson: We keep unity by being united in the Spirit.
Ephesians 4:1-6
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is overall and through all and in all. 
Insight: The ancient city of Ephesus was large and diverse. In the first century, many philosophies and religions in Ephesus competed with Christianity, and this diversity presented some unique theological and ethical challenges to the Christ-followers who lived there. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, the apostle Paul wanted to be sure they understood that peace with God could only be achieved through faith in Christ's death and resurrection. Other ideas might sound appealing, but salvation rests exclusively in Christ. Saving faith is not about converting to a religion; it is about receiving and then living out a new life from Christ that reflects God's love, mercy, and wisdom. 

December 6th, 2016
HOW TO DEAL WITH UNFORGIVENESS
God's Word clearly teaches that we're to forgive those who hurt us. So let's identify practical ways to confront the matter of unforgiveness head-on. You may want to keep this list in your Bible or some other handy place for easy review. 
TAKE IS SERIOUSLY. Unforgiveness is an issue that shouldn't be dismissed. 
ASSUME FULL RESPONSIBILITY. Don't blame anyone for your feelings or actions.
CONFESS IT HONESTLY. Be specific and direct with God about what you feel, and acknowledge that unforgiveness is sin. Don't "soften" the matter or let yourself off the hook. 
LAY DOWN YOUR ANGER. Unless you deal with your resentment, bitterness can re-enter your life later on. 
PRAY FOR THE OTHER PERSON. This may feel impossible or unnatural, but do it anyway. Praying is a choice to act lovingly, regardless of how you are treated. This will impact your relationship with that individual- and your outlook. 
ASK THAT INDIVIDUAL TO FORGIVE YOU. If the other person knows that you've been harboring bitterness, you need to ask for his or her forgiveness. 
DO SOMETHING NICE FOR THAT PERSON. Let a loving gesture demonstrate your desire to restore the relationship. 
DON'T ALLOW SATAN TO THROW YOU BACK INTO UNFORGIVENESS. Once the matter is resolved, watch out for stray thoughts that could stir up memories of how the other person hurt you. 
This process isn't easy, but it works. If you go through these steps every time you are hurt, God will truly work miracles in your relationships. 
CONSTANT KINDNESS
When I was a child I was an ardent reader of L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz books. I recently came across Rinkitink in Oz with all the original artwork. I laughed again at the antics of Baum's irrepressible, good-hearted King Rinkitink with his down-to-earth goodness. Young Prince Inga described him best: "His heart is kind and gentle and that is far better than being wise." 
How simple and how sensible! Yet who has not wounded the heart of someone dear to us by a harsh word? By doing so, we disturb the peace and quiet of the hour and we can undo much of the good we have done toward those we love. "A small unkindness is a great offense," Said Hannah More an 18th century English writer. 
Here's the good news: Anyone can become kind. We may be incapable of preaching an inspiring sermon, fielding hard questions, or evangelizing vast numbers, but we can all be kind. 
How? Through prayer. It is the only way to soften our hearts. "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil [or harsh]" (Ps. 141:3-4). 
In a world in which love has grown cold, a kindness that comes from the heart of God is one of the most helpful and healing things we can offer to others. 
Prayer: Forgive me, Lord, when I bring anger into a situation. Soften my heart and help me use my words to encourage others.
Lesson: The knowledge that God has loved me beyond all limits will compel me to go into the world to love others in the same way.
Psalm 141:1-4
I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands by like the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds. 
Insight: One of the experiences that shaped David's life- and his Psalms- was his time as a refugee from a homicidal King Saul. David had two opportunities to usher in the fulfillment of his anointing as king by killing Saul (CHS. 24,26), and both times he was encouraged to do so by some of his followers. However, he did not kill Saul but left the situation in God's hands. It may be these instances specifically that are at the root of the words of Psalm 141. The God who gave David strength to avoid evil deeds continues to offer help to us when we are faced with temptation. When have you asked God to help you resist a temptation in your life?

December 5th, 2016
CONSEQUENCES OF UNFORGIVENESS
Scripture stresses the importance of pardoning those who have offended us. While it may feel natural to pull away from hurtful people, refusing to forgive has consequences far worse than the pain of being wrong.
Unforgiveness
Harms family interactions: Have you ever tried to maintain a growing relationship with an individual who's rooted in bitterness? You can't do it, because that person is fixated on unhealthy feelings about someone else. Moreover, its had to spend time with anyone consumed by resentment, because such people simply cease being likable. 
Hinders Prayer Life: Unforgiveness is sin, and unconfessed sin creates "static" in a believer's relationship with God. So its important to forgive others before prayer or worship (Matt. 5:23-24). 
Damages ones personal witness: The highlight of your testimony is salvation, which centers around the truth that the Lord has forgiven all your sins. How can you stress the importance of this is your listener can't see even a hint of forgiveness in your own life? 
Thwarts spiritual growth: God will not bless sinful actions. And so, if you are living in a life mired in forgiveness, you cannot expect Him to shower you with His blessings. By persisting in disobedience, you disrupt intimate fellowship with the Lord and put yourself in a dangerous position. 
Is there anyone you need to forgive today? Don't let another day pass without granting that forgiveness. There is more at stake than you may have realized. 
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
Each year for several weeks around Christmas, Singapore's tourist belt, Orchard Road, is transformed into a wonderland of lights and colors. This light-up is designed to attract tourists to spend their money at the many stores along the street during this "golden month of business." Shoppers come to enjoy the festivities, listen to choirs sing familiar Christmas carols, and watch performers entertain. 
The first Christmas "Light-Up" ever was not created by electrical cables, glitter, and neon lights but by "the glory of the Lord [that] shown around" (Luke 2:9). No tourists saw it, just a few simple shepherds out in their field. And it was followed by an unexpected rendition of "Glory to God in the Highest" by an angelic choir (V. 14). 
The shepherds went to Bethlehem to see if what the angels said was true (v. 15). After they had confirmed it, they could not keep to themselves what they had heard and seen. "When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child" (v. 17). 
Many of us have heard the Christmas story often. This Christmas, why not share the good news with others that Christ-"the light of the world"- has come (John 8:12). 
Prayer: Lord, help me this Christmas to reflect the light of Your presence and goodness to others. 
Lesson: The gift of God's love in us can bring light to any darkness.
John 8:12-20
When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 
The Pharisees challenged Him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid." 
Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, My testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, My decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent Me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for Myself; My other witness is the Father, who sent Me."
Then they asked Him, "Where is your father?" 
"You do not know Me or My Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew Me, you would know My Father also." He spoke these words while teaching in the Temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come. 
Insight: The gospel records fall into two categories: The Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. The "Synoptics" (which means "with a common view") are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Although they offer varying details to help them tell the story of Jesus in a unique way, they still have a common perspective because they often tell the same stories. John's gospel is very distinct from the Synoptcs, with 92% unique material. One distinctive of John's gospel is the emphasis on the themes of light and truth. John expresses the reality that Jesus is the embodiment of truth and light. 

December 4th, 2016
OUR BEST FRIND IS JESUS
Many years ago the Sunday School teachers in my church would teach preschool classes a little chorus that included the line "My Best Friend is Jesus." As those children grew to adulthood, they naturally put aside juvenile songs like this one. But sadly, they also frequently seemed to abandon the idea of Jesus being a friend. 
As believers learn more about God, they rightly elevate Him to be the Lord of their life and acknowledge Him as sovereign Ruler over all the earth. It is easier to think of one so high and mighty as Creator, Savior, and Lord than to "lower" Him to the position of a friend. But Jesus makes a point of telling His Disciples that He is both a transcendent deity/the Son of God-and their companion John 15:15
His offer of friendship extends to modern disciples as well. Like the original 12 followers, we are privileged to say that Christ laid down His life for us, in a supreme act of love and devotion (v.13). Once more, His Spirit reveals the truth of Scripture to our heart, so we can learn more about God and His ways. In other words, Jesus has made known to us the things He heard from His Father. A man doesn't tell secrets to servants; he tells them to his friends (v.15). 
Teaching children to sing of their friendship with Jesus is a wise idea. But I wonder when some grown believers will learn to sing of that special relationship again. May we never become so religious, so pious, or so full of our own maturity that we cannot say, "My Best Friend is Jesus Christ." 
THE TREASURE IN TOMB 7
In 1932, Mexican Archaeologist Alfonso Caso discovered Tomb 7 at Monte Alban, Oaxaxa. He found more than 400 artifacts including hundreds of pieces of pre-hispanic jewelry he called "The Treasure of Monte Alban." It is one of the major finds of Mexican archaeology. One can only imagine Caso's excitement as he held a Jade cup in its purest form. 
Centuries earlier, the psalmist wrote of a treasure more valuable than gold or rock crystal. He said, "I rejoice in Your promise like one who finds great spoil" (PS. 119:162). In Psalm 119, the writer knew how valuable God's instructions and promises are to our lives, so he compared them to the great treasure that comes in hand with the victory of a conqueror. 
Caso's name is remembered today because of his discover in Tomb 7. We can enjoy it if we visit a museum in Oaxaca. However, the Psalmist treasure is at our fingertips. Day by day we can dig into the Scriptures and find diamonds of promises, rubies of hope, and emeralds of wisdom. But by far the greatest thing we find is the person whom the book points to: Jesus Himself. After all, He is the Author of the Book. 
Let us seek diligently with the confidence that this is the treasure that will enrich us. As the psalmist said, "Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart's delight" (V. 111 NLT).
Prayer: Father, I want to value the Scriptures as a treasure. Help me enjoy Your Word every day.
Lesson: God's Word is a valuable possession and a guide to life.
Psalm 119:161-168
Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at Your Word. I rejoice in Your promise like one who finds great spoil. I hate and detest falsehood but I love Your law. Seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous Laws. Great peace have those who love Your Law, and nothing can make them stumble. I wait for Your salvation, Lord, and I follow Your commands. I obey Your statutes, for I love them greatly. I obey Your precepts and Your statutes, for all my ways are known to You. 


Insight: Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. It uses 8 different Hebrew words (each of them found between 19 and 25 times in the chapter) related to God's "law"-God's written Word. Often Psalm 119 describes God's Word as being more precious than gold (SEE VV. 72,127). If God's Word is your most treasured possession, how is that reflected in your life? Have you considered memorizing verses that stand out in your mind as you hear them proclaimed, sung, or read? How might you plan during this annual season to incorporate more of Scripture's joyful message into your life. 

December 2nd, 2016
THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
Salvation is a free gift of God. It comes to us through faith in His Son Jesus, who did everything necessary to accomplish our forgiveness and reconciliation with the Father. We can add nothing to this transaction; our job is simply to believe. 
But from that point on, each one of us must make a choice: Will we follow Jesus or just coast along, doing what we want? If we limit our Christianity to merely sitting in a pew on Sunday mornings, we'll miss the greatest adventure of our life. Being a disciple of Christ requires that we be actively engaged in our relationship with Him and in service to others. 
Jesus never painted a rosy picture when He called people to follow Him. He stated quite plainly that becoming His follower would require self-denial, sacrifice, and suffering. With this kind of job description, its no wonder so many believers have tried to make Christianity a spectator sport. Following Jesus means that He directs our life-that's what dying to self is all about. We give up our rights to do what we want and instead submit to His will, even if it is difficult or doesn't align with our preferences. If you don't realize how good, loving, and wise our God is, walking in His will may seem scary or even foolish. 
But those who deny themselves to follow Jesus discover they lose nothing and gain everything. Even when His disciples are in a season of pain and suffering, the Lord gives them inner peace and a joy that transcends circumstances. Are you following Jesus or yourself? Your life style, words, and attitudes reveal who truly rules your life.
QUIET CONVERSATIONS
Do you ever talk to yourself? Sometimes when I'm working on a project-usually under the hood of a car-I find it helpful to think aloud, working through my options on the best way to make the repair. If someone catches me in my "conversation" it can be a little embarrassing-even though talking to ourselves is something most of us do every day. 
The psalmists often talk to themselves in the Psalms. The author of Psalm 116 is no exception. In verse 7 he writes, "return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord had been good to you." Reminding himself of God's kindness and faithfulness in the past is a practical comfort and help to him in the present. We see "conversations" like this frequently in the Psalms. In Psalm 103:1 David tells himself, "Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, Praise His holy name." And in Psalm 62:5 he affirms, "Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him." 
Its good to remind ourselves of God's faithfulness and the hope we have in Him. We can follow the example of the psalmist and spend some time naming the many ways God has been good to us. As we do, we'll be encouraged. The same God who has been faithful in the past will continue His love for us in the future. 
Prayer: Dear Lord, please help me to stay in touch with Your heart today by reminding myself of Your faithfulness and love.
Lesson: Reminding ourselves about God's goodness can keep us filled with His peace.
Psalm 116:5-9
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, He saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. 
For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 
Insight: From this marvelous passage of Scripture, we can see the truth that bringing the God of the Bible into our daily experience, alters our perspective. His grace and truth is available in our ever-changing circumstances. Even in our most difficult life circumstances, He is present and available to deliver us. Although our heart may endure trauma, it can still find a place to rest through looking at the past faithfulness of God. Fear of death, emotional anguish, and the struggle for daily direction all find their remedy in the faithful care of the living God who made us. Life for God's children should be spelled with a captial L since He energizes, directs, and protects us. 

December 1st, 2016
DAVID'S DEVOTION
Psalm 3

Do you want to know who God is and what He cares about most in your life? You may have stored up lots of intellectual information about the Bible, and that is important, but its not the main issue. You may serve the Lord which is also necessary. And you may give generously to the church-another significant aspect of christian life. But what matters most is the depth of our personal relationship with the Lord. Knowledge, service, and tithes can never replace intimacy with God. 
The psalmist-king understood this truth, and it strengthened him in times of trouble. When his son Absalom tried to take over the throne, David fled to the wilderness, where he wrote these words: "but You, O Lord, are a shield about me...I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about" (Ps. 3:3,6). He knew that even enraging adversity, he could count on God's unfailing love and protection. 
Throughout David's psalms, we repeatedly see his unwavering dependence on the Lord. It was that passion- not his brute strength, charisma, or ability to command an army- that made him a great man. And even though he had a number of failures that Bible describes him as a man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Its not enough to read the Bible, volunteer your services, and give money to kingdom work. God wants to know you personally. While tangible expressions of our devotion are important, they should be the result of a mature relationship with God. When we seek Him first, the rest will follow. 
THE VIEW FROM 400 MILES
"My perspective on earth changed dramatically the first time I went into space," says Space Shuttle Astronaut Charles Frank Bolden Jr. From 400 miles above the earth, all looked peaceful and beautiful to him. Yet Bolden recalled later that as he passed over the Middle East, he was "shaken into reality" when he considered the ongoing conflict there. During an interview with film producer Jared Leto, Bolden spoke of that moment as a time when he saw the earth with the sense of how it ought to be-and then sensed a challenge to do all he could to make it better. 
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the world was not the way God intended yet. Into this moral and spiritual darkness Jesus came bringing life and light to all (John 1:4). Even though the world didn't recognize Him, "to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God" (v.12).
When life is not the way it ought to be we are deeply saddened- when families beak up, children go hungry, and the world wages war. But God promises that through faith in Christ anyone can begin to move in a new direction.
The Christmas season reminds us that Jesus, the Savior, gives the gift of life and light to everyone who will receive and follow Him. 
Prayer: Father in heaven, may we share the light and life of Jesus with others today.
Lesson: God is at work to make us who He intends us to be.
John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him, nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to light. 
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 
Insight: The Lord Jesus gives the gift of light (John 8:12) and life (14:6) to all who believe in Him so they may enter into an experience eternal life with God (3:15-16;6:47;17:3). God has given us light embodied in Jesus (the living Word; John 1:1) and expressed in print in the written Word of God, the Bible (Ps. 119:105). As we focus on Jesus and immerse our minds responsively in God's words, we find light shining more and more upon our daily path. Then we are better able to be what God intended us to be. 

November 30th, 2016
ENJOYING LIFE
Not Only was King Solomon the wisest man who ever lived (1Kings 3:12);he was also blessed with wealth beyond imagination and the privilege of building God's temple. So we might expect Him to know deep contentment. 
In searching for that profound fulfillment, Solomon devoted himself to exploring all kinds of things. Ecclesiastes tells us that he indulged in the pleasures of the world, even dabbling in pursuits he recognized as folly to see if there was anything worthwhile in them. But the satisfaction Solomon thought evaded him, and he concluded that self-indulgence was without value. 
To feel content, the king tried another avenue: personal achievement. He undertook great projects, such as building houses for himself, improving the environment with gardens and parks, and carrying out extensive irrigation project (Eccl. 2:4-6). The King had everything he could ever need to enjoy life, but in the end, he concluded it was all without meaning. 
The story has a familiar ring, doesn't it? Our world has many highly educated and successful people, but there is also much dissatisfaction. Our culture pursues pleasure and does not accept limits on its passions. Sadly, such lack of restraint has ruined countless lives. 
Solomon possessed the wisdom and resources to accomplish whatever he decided to do. Yet the goals that he pursued brought no lasting contentment. He concluded that the best course was to obey God (12:13). True enjoyment comes only when we align ourselves with His will. Any other way is meaningless. 
WHAT ARE YOU WORTH?
There is a story that in 75 BC a young Roman nobleman named Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates and held for ransom. When they demanded 20 talents of silver in ransom (about 600,000 dollars today), Caesar laughed and said they obviously had no idea who he was. He insisted they raise the ransom to 50 talents! Why? Because he believed he was worth far more than 20 talents. 
What a difference we see between Caesar's arrogant measure of his own worth and the value God places on each of us. Our worth is not measured in terms of monetary value but by what our heavenly Father has done on our behalf. 
What ransom did He pay to save us? Through the death of His only Son on the cross, the Father paid the price to rescue us from our sin. "It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 PET. 1:18-19).
God loved us so much that He gave up His Son to die on the cross and rise from the dead to ransom and rescue us. That is what you are worth to Him.
Prayer: Father, thank You for the love You have shown to me and for the price You paid for my forgiveness. Help my life to be an ongoing expression of gratitude, for You are the One whose worth is beyond measure. 
Lesson: Our worth is measured by what God paid to rescue us.
1 Peter 1:17-23
Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here and reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 
Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of an imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God. 
Insight: In today's reading Peter tells his readers that Christ has redeemed them from an empty way of life. In the original language, the Word translated "redeemed" (v.18) means "to set free." It is often used when talking about slaves who have been liberated from their bondage. They had been set free from the bondage of a futile and useless way of life that has been handed down to them from their ancestors. And this redeeming love of Christ was present even before sin entered the equation (vv.18-20). Have you ever thought about the fact that Christ loves you knowing everything about you, even your sin? How does it make you feel that you have been or can be set free from the slavery of sin and death?


November 29th, 2016
THE VALUE OF DISCERNMENT
Proverbs 2:1-11
If you made a list of things you want most in life, would a discerning spirit be one of them? The Lord places a high value on this attribute and wants all of us to have it. If we don't, we will make wrong choices because we don't understand situations clearly.
Discernment is the ability to make sound judgments by perceiving what is not really obvious. For example, can you tell the difference between legalism and liberty? God calls each of us to live according to our personal convictions, but not all of them are moral mandates for every believer. We should be able to determine the difference between the two. 
Another area that requires discernment is distinguishing good from best. God has the perfect plan for each of us; however, there are a multitude of good options before us. For instance, suppose you're offered two different jobs. They both look promising, but only one of them is God's best for you. Do you know how to determine His will?
Its obvious from these two examples that our most basic need for discernment involves being able to understand what God is saying to us. When you're faced with a decision, how do you know if you're hearing from the Lord or simply hearing to your own desires or reasoning?
The time to develop discernment is now. Don't wait until a critical decision faces you. Begin today to fill your mind with God's Word so you can think His thoughts and understand His ways. Spend time with Him in intimate fellowship. The more you know Him, the better you can discern His voice. 
I'M RICH
Perhaps you seen the TV ad in which a person answers the door and finds someone who hands over a check for an enormous amount of money. Then the amazed recipient begins shouting, dancing, jumping, and hugging everyone in sight. "I won! I'm rich! I can't believe it! My problems are solved!" Striking it rich evokes a great emotional response.
In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, we find this remarkable statement: "I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches" (v.14). What a comparison! Obeying God's instructions for living can be just as exhilarating as receiving a fortune! Verse 16 repeats this refrain as the psalmist expresses grateful gladness for the Lord's commands. "I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect you word."
But what if we don't feel that way? How can delighting in God's instructions for living be just as exhilarating as receiving a fortune? It all begins with gratitude, which is both an attitude and a choice. We pay attention to what we value, so we begin by expressing our gratitude for those gifts of God that nourish our souls. We ask Him to open our eyes to see the storehouse of wisdom, knowledge, and peace He has given us in His Word. 
As our love for Jesus grows each day, we indeed strike it rich!
Prayer: Dear Father, open our eyes that we may see wonderful things in your law. Thank You that Your instructions give wise advice. 
Lesson: Rich treasure of God's truth are waiting to be discovered in His Word. 
Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your Word in my heart that I may not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. 
With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. 
Insight: Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible. Although the author is not named, most scholars say David composed it because the psalm sounds Davidic in tone and expression and is consistent with David's experiences. The focus of its 176 verses is God and His Word. God is mentioned in every verse, while the entire psalm celebrates the Scriptures and speaks of their priority and sufficiency in the daily life of the believer, using a variety of words to capture the different dimensions of God's Word in our lives. Scripture is described as "law" (vv. 1,7), "statutes" (vv.2,14), " "ways" (vv 3,15), "precepts" (vv. 4, 15), "decrees" (vv. 5,8, 12, 16), "commandments" (vv. 6,10), and "word" (vv. 9,11,16).

November 28th, 2016
THE POWER OF A DISCERNING SPIRIT
In a world filled with endless sources of information and opinions, believers need to develop a discerning spirit. Otherwise, how will we know what is true? Much of what we see and hear is based on a worldly perspective that's influenced by Satan, the father of lies. Deception is found even in the religious realm: Some churches mix lies with enough truth to make some people consider them legitimate Christian institutions.
The only way believers can guard against deception is to ground themselves in God's Word. The more time you spend filling your mind with the Lord's thoughts, the more discerning you will be. However, just knowing biblical truth isn't enough. You must put what you learn into practice so that it becomes more than head knowledge.
The goal is to let God's Word become such an integral part of your thinking that it guides your decisions. Even if the situation you're facing isn't specifically addressed in the Bible, scriptural principles provide the needed wisdom for every choice. In addition, the Holy Spirit is given to each believer; He is a helper, whose job is to guide you into truth (John 14:26;16:13). However, your responsibility is to put Scripture into your mind so God's Spirit can bring it to your remembrance. If you neglect the Word, you'll lack discernment.
What are you allowing into your mind? Is the Word high in your priorities? Unless you're careful, worldly thinking will overpower spiritual discernment. It's difficult to keep God's perspective in the forefront if you spend two or three hours in front of the television and only 10 minutes in the Bible.

BEAUTIFUL
Picture two teenage girls. The first girl is strong and healthy. The other girl has never known the freedom of getting around on her own. From her wheelchair she faces not only emotional challenges common to life, but also a stream of physical pains and struggles. 
But both girls are smiling cheerfully as they enjoy each other's company. Two beautiful teenagers-each seeing in the other the treasure of friendship.
Jesus devoted much of His time and attention to people like the girl in the wheelchair. People with lifelong disabilities or physical deformities as well as those who were looked down on by others for various reasons. In fact, Jesus let one of  "those people" anoint Him with oil, to the disdain of the religious leaders (LUKE 7:29). On another occasion, when a woman demonstrated he love with a similar act, Jesus told her critics, "Leave her alone....She had done a beautiful ting to me" (MARK 14:6)
God values everyone equally;there are no distractions in His eyes.In reality, we are all in desperate need of Christ's love and forgiveness. His love compelled Him to die on the cross for us.
May we see each person as Jesus did:made in God's image and worthy of His love. Let's treat everyone we meet with Christlike equality and learn to see beauty as He does.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to see people as You see them-not important because of what they can do or how they look, but because they are made in God's image and You loved them enough to die for them.
Lesson: Everyone we meet bears the image of God.
Luke 7:36-50
When one of the pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with Him, he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharasee's house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind Him at his feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "if this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-that she is a sinner."
Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." 
"Tell me, teacher,"he said.
"Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denari, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."
Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

November 27th, 2016
BEING READY IN THE TOUGH TIMES
1 Peter 1:13-14
The Apostle Peter knew hard days lay ahead for his fellow believers. So he reminded them about their security as children of God: They were chosen by Him, born into a living hope, given spiritual protection during this life, and guaranteed eternity in heaven with their Father (1 Pet. 1:1-5). Then, in today's reading, Peter gave them specific ways to prepare for the coming trials. His words, divinely inspired by the Lord, can guide us as well.
His first instruction relates to our mind: What we believe has a direct impact on our response to life's problems. If we trust that God is looking out for us, then we will feel less threatened by hard circumstances. But if we decide we must rely on ourselves, then we are more likely to react poorly to situations beyond our control. A negative attitude-whether from anger, fear, worry or jealously- can make a hard time worse. Preparation for the future starts by developing biblical thinking. 
A second lesson from Peter is to be "sober in spirit"- in other words, to maintain our balance in the midst of crisis (v.13). That requires resisting quick fixes to problems and refusing to embrace ungodly ideas or philosophies. Our enemy Satan is quick to offer suggestions designed to trip us up or turn us away from God's path. With the Spirit's help, we can learn to stand firm in a crisis and steadfastly follow the Lord.
Our culture is increasingly distancing itself from Jesus Christ and opposing His followers. Are you preparing spiritually for whatever the future may bring?
THE RED HACKLE
Several years ago I stumbled across a bit of fishing lore in a second-century AD work by the Greek writer Aelian. "Between Boroca and Thessalonica runs a river called the Astracus, and in it there are fish with spotted skins [trout]." He then describes a "snare for the fish, by which they get the better of them. They fastened crimson red wool round a hook and attached two feathers. Then they would throw their snare, and the fish, attracted by the color, comes up, thinking to get a mouthful" (On the Nature of Animals).
Fishermen still use this lure today. It is called the Red Hackle. First used over 2,200 years ago, it remains a snare for trout by which we "get the better of them."
When I read that ancient work I thought: Not all old things are passe-especially people. If through contented and cheerful old age we show others the fullness and deepness of God, we'll be useful to the end of our days. Old age does not have to focus on declining health, pining over what once was. It can also be full of tranquility and mirth and courage and kindness, the fruit of those who have grown old with God. 
"Those who are planted in the house of the Lord...shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing" (PS. 92:13-14 NKJV).
Prayer: Lord, thank you for your faithfulness throughout our lives. Help us finish our lives well in service to You and to remember that old age does not mean uselessness.
Lesson: As the years add up, God's faithfulness keeps multiplying
Psalm 92:12-15
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him."
Insight:In today's Scripture, Psalm 92, the psalmist proclaims in verse 12 that the righteous-the faithful-will flourish like a palm tree and grow like the cedars of Lebanon. The palm tree was associated with value-both ornamental and economic-and palm fronds were already being used in worship (Lev.23:40). The cedars of Lebanon are almost always, used in Scripture to illustrate strength, stability and majesty. At the time the psalm was written, magnificent evergreen (cedar) forests graced the mountains of Lebanon. With low branches and expansive canopies, these trees can reach up to 100 feet tall. The psalmist's prayer is for the righteous to increase like the cedar and blossom like the palm tree. 

November 25th, 2016
PRAISING IN TROUBLED TIMES
Praise is a celebration of the Lord, but when we are in trouble, celebrating seems out of place. However, the life of faith is frequently contrary to typical human living. Jehoshaphat faced his difficulty by applauding God's past work and faithfulness, and by recalling His promises. When we respond in a similar way, we will be able to proceed with courage too.
The natural human response to troubled times is self-pity, and rehashing the details and repercussions of our problem only makes it seem more threatening. Praise focuses our attention on God instead. If we are looking to Him for aid, then we can't help but recognize His sovereignty. Every trial that enters our life comes through His permissive will, which means He has complete control. Whatever His reasons for allowing trouble into our life, He is faithful to see us through it. 
Recalling the Lord's mighty acts and focusing on His sovereignty in everyday life reminds us of our dependence upon Him (2 Chron. 20:7-12). The king expected that God would intervene because recorded history showed He always acted to rescue His people. Israel's recognition of her own helplessness is what unleashed God's full power. When believers try to solve problems independently of the Lord, His work is impeded.
Our praise is limited only by our knowledge. The more we read and study the Bible, the better we understand God's many attributes and assurances. Then when difficulty comes, we can celebrate His past faithfulness to Christians while awaiting His promised help. 
BEST DEAL EVER!
How much is enough?We might ask this simple question on a day that many developed countries increasingly devote to shopping. I speak of Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, in which many stores open early and offer cut-price deals; a day that has spread from the states to other nations. Some shoppers have limited resources and are trying to purchase something at a price they can afford. But sadly, for others greed is the motivation, and violence erupts as they fight for bargains. 
The wisdom of the old testament writer known as "the teacher" (ECCL. 1:1) Provides an antidote to the frenzy of consumerism we many face in the shops-and in our hearts. He points out that those who love money never will have enough and will be ruled by their possessions. And yet, they will die with nothing: "As everyone comes, so they depart" (5:15). The apostle Paul echoes the Teacher in his letter to Timothy, when he says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and that we should strive for "godliness with contentment" (1 TIM. 6:6-10). 
Whether we live in a place of plenty or not, we all can seek unhealthy ways of filling the God-shaped hole in our hearts. But when we look to the Lord for our sense of peace and well-being, He will fill us with His goodness and love. 
"Lord, You have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You."
Lesson: True contentment does not depend on anything in this world. 
Ecclesiastes 5:10-19
Whoever loves money, never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.
As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?
The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit. Everyone comes naked from their mother's womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.
This too is a grievous evil: As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind?
All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.
This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them-for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil-this is a gift of God. 
Insight: Without the living God being brought into the picture, Ecclesiastes is one of the most paradoxical books in the Old Testament. For much of this short, reflective work, we see life portrayed without God as an active person in our lives. As a result, much of the text, though inspired by the Spirit, describes secular beliefs. Nonetheless, today's reading showcases wisdom in various aspects of life. 
November 24th, 2016
PRAYERS OF GRADITUDE
PSALM 138
Prayer is the amazing privilege of entering into God's throne room. The Creator and Ruler of the universe actually invites us to communicate with Him. Typically, our prayers consist of petitions, intercession, confession, praise, and Thanksgiving.
Which of these 5 aspects of prayer consumes most of the time you spend talking to the Father? If you're like many believers, you'd have to admit that Thanksgiving isn't at the top of the list. And there are several reasons why this could be true. 
Whatever fills our minds is also what dominates our prayers. If we feel overwhelmed with problems, petitions naturally become more urgent. When concerns for loved ones are foremost in our mind, then intercession will be our focus. A sense of conviction and regret over sin leads us to concentrate on confession. All these are important and necessary, but we can't let the cares of this earthly life and our own needs prevent us from taking time to center our attention on the Lord. 
Now, its true that after we've seen God work in our life or answer a prayer request, we're filled with gratitude and thank Him repeatedly. But after a while we tend to forget and drift back into our regular thought patterns. Here's the key to keeping gratitude and praise foremost in our prayers: learning to know the Lord more deeply. As we read the Scriptures and discover His glorious nature and mighty works, He'll become our focus, and our prayers will be filled with praise and thanks, not just for what He's done for us but in appreciation of who He is- our good, loving, faithful, and glorious God. 
GAME OF THANKS
Every Autumn we throw a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast on campus at Cornerstone University. Our students love it! Last year a group of students played a game at their table. They challenged each other to name something they were thankful for-in 3 seconds or less- without repeating what someone else had said. Anyone who hesitated was out of the game. 
There are all kinds of things that students might gripe about-tests, deadlines, rules, and a host of other college-type complaints. But these students had chosen to be thankful and my guess is that they all felt a lot better after the game then they would have if they had chosen to complain.
While there will always be things to complain about, if we look carefully there are always blessings to thankful for. When Paul describes our newness in Christ, "Thankfulness" is the only characteristic mentioned more than once. In fact it is mentioned 3 times. "Be thankful," he says in Colossians 3:15. Sing to God "With gratitude in your hearts" (V. 16). And whatever you do, be sure to be "giving thanks to God the Father" (V.17). Paul's instruction to be thankful is astonishing when we consider that he wrote this letter from prison! 
Today, let's make the choice to have an attitude of thankfulness.
Prayer: Lord, teach me the liberating joy of being thankful! Help me to find the blessings that are locked up in the things I complain about and to regularly express my gratitude to You and others. 
Lesson: Choose the attitude of gratitude.
Colossians 3:12-17
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. 
Insight:Paul compared new life in Christ to changing old clothes for new ones (COL. 3:9,10). But don't we have old "clothes"-attitudes-that feel more comfortable than new ones? What if we've tried over and over to be more forgiving, thankful, and peaceful (VV.14-15) without much change? If so, its important that we not misunderstand what Paul is urging us to do. The secret of clothing ourselves in the attitudes of Christ according to Paul is being good hosts to Christ in us (V.27). As we learn to consider and rely on His presence in us gratefully, we gradually discover that wonderful new attitudes of love, peace, and gratefulness are growing in us in ways that we sense are not simply the result of our own efforts. 

November 23rd, 2016
NEW BIRTH: YOUR PART
After reading the last two devotions, you might be saying, "I want to be born again, so what do I do?" Or perhaps you want to explain the new birth to someone else, but you aren't sure how to express it. For answers, today's reading is a good place to start.
So, what is our responsibility in the new birth experience? There's nothing in John 3 about behavior. Nothing about actions we must take. Instead we find Jesus affirming that whoever trusts in Him will be saved and will have eternal life. Essentially, what Jesus says is, You want to be born again?You must place your faith in Me. This means believing that He is exactly who He says He is-the son of God. It means believing He is the Lord and Master of life. And it means yielding yourself completely to Him. 
The new birth describes something that takes place in our inner person-a radical change whereby our spirit is altered. As soon as we place faith in Jesus, we're indwelt by the Holy Spirit. From that moment on, as we cooperate with the Spirit of God living within us, our conduct will begin to change because a new person is in charge. 
If you're willing to pray and ask Jesus to bring about the new birth experience in your life, you can depend on His promise that He will never turn away anyone who comes to Him. (See John 6:37.) He has never said no to anyone who desires to be born again. That's His gift to everyone who is willing to believe.
FAME AND HUMILITY
Many of us are obsessed with fame-either with being famous ourselves or with following every detail of famous people's lives. International book or film tours. Late-night show appearances. Millions of followers on Twitter.
In a recent study in the US, researchers ranked the names of famous individuals using a specially developed algorithm that scoured the internet. Jesus topped the list as the most famous person in history. 
Yet Jesus was never concerned about obtaining celebrity status. When He was here on earth, He never sought fame (MATT. 9:30;John 6:15)-although fame found Him all the same as news about Him quickly traveled throughout the region of Galilee (MARK 1:28; LUKE 4:37).
Wherever Jesus went, crowds soon gathered. The miracles He performed drew people to Him. But when they tried to make Him a king by force, He slipped away by Himself (JOHN 6:15). United in purpose with his Father's will and timing (4:34; 8:29;12:23). "He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on the cross" (PHIL.2:8).
Fame was never Jesus's goal. His purpose was simple. As the Son of God, He humbly, obediently, and voluntarily offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins.
Prayer: You are to be celebrated, Lord, above all others. You have been highly exalted and given a name above every name. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that You are Lord.
Lesson: Jesus came not to be famous but to humbly offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sins
Philippians 2:1-11
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in Spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interest of others. 
In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Jesus Christ: 
Who, being in very nature, God, did not consider equality with God something to be used in His own advantage, rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on the cross!
Therefore God exalted Himself to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Insight:In today's reading, we see Paul's eloquent treatment of how God became human. Jesus Christ had the attributes of God yet took on human flesh to become a servant. This self-sacrificial mission found its ultimate expression in Jesus's death on the cross to provide salvation for all who believe in Him as Savior and Lord. C.S. Lewis wrote, "The Son of God became man so that man might become the son's of God."

November 22, 2016
NEW BIRTH:GOD'S PART
JOHN:9-13
Ever since the original transgression of Adam and Eve in Genesis, all of  mankind has been born with a sinful nature, and our sin creates a chasm separating us from our holy, perfect God. To be able to commune with Him we must be born again, which is the way we receive a new nature, a new spirit, and a new eternal destiny. 
Spiritual rebirth is a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit-He doesn't simply freshen up our old nature but instead brings about a radical transformation, creating a brand-new spirit and life. 
As 2nd Corinthians 5:17 says, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature" (emphasis added). As a result, believers can worship, praise, and serve the living God our of genuine love and devotion to Him. 
God's part in this rebirth involves forgiving us of our sins, and to do that, He sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross as our substitute. In that way, Jesus paid our sin debt in full. He is our sacrifice-that is, He is the one who suffered vicariously on our behalf. 
Our Savior's substitutionary atonement is the means by which a holy and righteous God forgives sin and make us holy like Himself. Our cleansing doesn't come from being religious, or even from confession of sin and repentance. Rather, it comes from the blood that Jesus shed on the cross at Calvary. When we believe that He died to pay the penalty we owed and then accept His sacrifice on our behalf, we are forgiven of our sins and God wipes them away (Eph.1:7).
LONGING FOR HOME
My wife walked into the room and found me poking my head inside the cabinet our grandfather clock. "What are you doing?" she asked. "This clock smells just like my parents' house," I answered sheepishly, closing the door. "I guess you could say I was going home for a moment."
The sense of smell can evoke powerful memories. We had moved the clock across the country from my parents' house nearly 20 years ago, but the aroma of the wood inside it still takes me back to my childhood. 
The writer of Hebrews tells of others who were longing for home in a different way. Instead of looking backward, they were looking ahead with faith to their home in heaven. Even though what they had hoped for seemed a long way off, they trusted that God was faithful to keep His promise to bring them to a place where they would be with Him forever(Heb.11:13-16). 
Philippians 3:20 reminds us that "our citizenship is in heaven," and we are to "eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." Looking forward to seeing Jesus and receiving everything God has promised us through Him help us keep our focus. The past or the present can never compare with what's ahead of us!
Prayer: Jesus, thank You that You are faithful to keep Your promises. Please help me to always look forward to You. 
Lesson: The best home of all is our home in heaven.
Hebrews 11:8-16
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was passed child bearing age, was enabled to bare children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. 
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. 
Insight:Those listed in today's text "were longing for a better country-a heavenly one." We must repeatedly remind ourselves that
this world is not our home" but we are passing through. Ultimate satisfaction will never be realized in this life but must be anchored in God and the eternal home He prepared us for. 


November 21, 2016
NEW BIRTH: WHY?
John 3:1-8
The most horrible mistake people can make is also the one they can never correct-namely, living without God, only to die later and face the Savior whom they rejected. Choosing to live in denial about who Jesus Christ is does not change the reality of what will happen one day. God has gone to great lengths to put His truth into written form and protect it down through the ages so we could spend eternity with Him. It is foolishness to ignore His words.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher, might have made this mistake, had he followed the thinking of his colleagues. He was a member of the Sanhedrin-the ruling counsel that tried to discern false teaching and make sure God's law was upheld. Realizing the signs Jesus performed were beyond the ability of a mere man, Nicodemus came at night to ask questions. The Lord simply said that "unless one is born again" he could not see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This must have come as a surprise to the Pharisee who had been confident of his own religion and morality.
Are you like Nicodemus? In other words, does comparing yourself with others make you feel pretty good? Do you, like some people, believe good deeds and religious behavior can earn you a place in heaven? No matter how much you wish this to be true, the Bible teaches otherwise: We've all come into the world with a sinful nature, and our sin has separated us from God. Simply being good doesn't bridge that gap or change the fact that "the wages of sin is death" (ROM. 3:23;6:23). There's only one way to salvation-through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Emily listened as a group of friends talked about their Thanksgiving traditions with family. "We go around the room and each one tells what he or she is thankful to God for," Gary said.
Another friend mentioned his familie's Thanksgiving meal and prayer time. He recalled time with his dad before he had died: "Even though Dad had dementia, his prayer of thanks to the Lord was clear." Randy shared, "My family has a special time of singing together on the holiday. My grandma goes on and on and on!" Emily's sadness and jealousy grew as she thought of her own family, and she complained: "Our traditions are to eat turkey, watch television, and never mention anything about God or giving thanks."
Right away Emily felt uneasy with her attitude. You are part of that family. What would you like to do differently to change the day? She asked herself. She decided she wanted to privately tell each person she was thankful to the Lord that they were her sister, niece, brother, or great-niece. When the day arrived, she expressed her thankfulness for them one by one, and they all felt loved. It wasn't easy because it wasn't normal conversation in her family, but she experienced joy as she shared her love for each of them.
"Let everything you say be good and helpful," wrote the apostle Paul, " so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them" (EPH. 4:29 NLT). Our words of thanks can remind others of their value to us and to God.
Prayer: Dear Lord, show me how I can be an encouragment to others with my words.
Lesson: The human spirit fills with hope at the sound of an encouraging word.
Ephesians 4:25-32
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Insight: At first glance, today's Scripture can look like a list of rules. Stop telling lies, quit stealing, don't use abusive language, stop being bitter or angry. But it's important to remember that these instructions aren't just about changing behavior. They are about a change in identity. This list flows out of Paul's earlier exhortation for the Christians in Ephesus to live according to their new identity as children of light (4:17-21). They used to participate in all kinds of sinful behavior. But when the Spirit opened their minds and softened their hearts (V.18) to the truth of Christ, they were no longer dead but became alive in Christ. The Spirit renews our thoughts and attitudes, making an inward change that has outward effects. 

November 20th, 2016
FEASTING ON THE WORD
The Bible should be the main course in our literary diet. If we spent as much time in the Word as we do at the dinner table, our Spirit and character would be strong and thriving. And no matter what our circumstances happen to be, we would experience an inner joy. The satisfaction that comes from living an obedient life is not possible apart from Scripture.
It is in God's Word that we find out how He thinks and what He does. In those pages, we also discover the guiding principles for a successful life. After all, how can we trust our heavenly Father unless we know Him? And how can we become like Jesus unless we practice the habits He displays in Scripture?
Proverbs 4:25-27 says, "Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you...Do not turn to the right nor to the left." What this means in practical terms is that every time we must make a decision, we're to sift it through what we know of the Lord from Scripture. When we face a crisis, we dig into the Bible to answer the question, what would the Lord have me do? We do not live by reason, the opinion of others, or our own wisdom. Rather, we conform our mind, heart, and will to the biblical standard.
Bread will keep the stomach full, but life will be empty without a daily meal that includes reading and meditation. Learn to recognize spiritual hunger pains, such as vague discontent or animosity toward the things of God-and quickly begin to feast on the Word.
SACRIFICIAL FAITH
Its Sunday afternoon, and I'm sitting in the garden of our home, which is near the church where my husband is the minister. I hear wafts of praise and worship music floating through the air in the Farsi language. Our church in London hosts a vibrant Iranian congregation, and we feel humbled by their passion for Christ as they share some of their stories of persecution and tell of those, who have been martyred for their faith. These faithful believers are following in the footsteps of the first Christian martyr Steven.
Steven, one of the first appointed leaders in the early church, garnered attention in Jerusalem when he performed "great wonders and signs" (ACTS 6:8) and was brought before the Jewish authorities to defend his actions. He gave an impassioned defense of the faith before describing the hard-heartedness of his accusers. But instead of repenting, they were "furious and gnashed their teeth at him" (7:54). They dragged him from the city and stoned him to death-even as he prayed for their forgiveness.
The stories of Stephan and modern martyrs remind us that the message of Christ can be met with brutality. If we have never faced persecution for our faith, let's pray for the persecuted church around the world. And may we, if and when tested, find grace to be found faithful to the one who suffered so much more for us.
Prayer: Lord God, we believe You weep at the pain and anguish some of Your children experience because they love You. We pray that You will strengthen them in the midst of their suffering and send them Your grace.
Lesson: May we find grace to walk in the Master's steps.
Acts 6:8-15; 7:59-60
Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen...who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God."
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the Law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, "this fellow never stops speaking against this Holy Place and against the Law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us."
All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel...
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.


Insight: The name Stephen comes from the Greek word Stephanos, which refers to a victor's crown awarded in the ancient games. Stephen's final words show how victorious he was: "Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'" (ACTS 7:60). Even amidst a painful and unjust death, Stephen had a spirit of victory that reflected Jesus's heart when dying on the cross (LUKE 23:34). He also had proven character. In Acts 6:1-5, Stephen is selected to assist with the widows' ministry and described as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." Stephen lived a life of faith under the control of Spirit.

November 18th, 2016
HOW GRACE CHANGES EVERYTHING
Our life is hopeless without God. Because every person is born with a bent away from God, we continue to choose wrong paths throughout our days on earth. These unrighteous choices are known as sin, the penalty for which is death and eternal separation from God. No one is exempt from this biblical truth-and none of us can do anything to change the situation.
Enter God's grace, His unmerited favor toward us. We can do nothing to earn it. He blesses us according to His goodness, apart from anything we've done.
Consider the apostle Paul, whose original intention was to persecute anyone claiming to follow Jesus. He played a significant role in the unspeakable violence aimed at Christians. And, in his own words, was the "chief" of sinners (1 TIM 1:15 KJV). Nothing he did deserved God's love.
Divine grace led the almighty to reach down and forgive this hateful zealot and blasphemer of Jesus' name. God lovingly transformed him into a man who dedicated himself to sharing the gospel message. Paul's life beautifully illustrates grace.
We are unable to do enough good deeds to earn our way to heaven. Salvation is possible only because by grace, Christ died on the cross. The one who took the punishment for our sin deserves all credit for our redemption.
Jesus' death covered the sins of the entire world. There is no transgression too great for Him to forgive. We can add nothing to His act of atonement; all we can do is receive this free gift. If we trust in Christ as Savior, God will save us, making us His children forever.
LOVE WITHOUT BORDERS
During the Boxer rebellion in China in 1900, missionaries trapped in a home in T'ai Yuan Fu decided their only hope for survival rested on running through the crowd that was calling for their deaths. Aided by weapons they held, they escaped the immediate threat. However, Edith Coombs, noticing that two of her injured Chinese students have not escaped, raced back into danger. She rescued one, but stumbled on her return trip for the second student and was killed.
Meanwhile, missionaries in Hsin Chou District had escaped and were hiding in the countryside, accompanied by their Chinese friend Ho Tsuen Kwei. But he was captured while scouting an escape route for his friends in hiding and was martyred for refusing to reveal their location.
In the lives of Edith Coombs and Tsuen Kwei we see a love that rises above cultural or national character. Their sacrifice reminds us of the greater grace and love of our Savior.
As Jesus awaited His arrest and subsequent execution, He prayed earnestly, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me." But He concluded that request with this resolute example of courage, love, and sacrifice: "Yet not my will, but Yours be done" (LUKE 22:42). His death and resurrection made our eternal lives possible.
Prayer
Lord, may the world see our love for each other-and the deeds that come from it-as a great testimony to the bond of unity we have in You. May they want to know You too.
LessonOnly the light of Christ's love can eliminate the darkness of hatred.
Luke 22:39-46
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him. On reaching the place, He said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."
He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When He rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" He asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptations."
Insight: The Bible speaks of God's love for us in terms of a generous sacrifice. The apostle John writes of a God who "so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (JOHN 3:16). To prove that God truly loves us, John directs us to Jesus's sacrificial death: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us" (1 JOHN 3:16). Alluding to His own sacrificial love just hours before He went to the cross, Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (JOHN 15:13).

November 17th, 2016
LIVING ABOVE CIRCUMSTANCES
While under house arrest, Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians. The apostle could receive visitors but couldn't travel. Despite living in a home, Paul was more than likely chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day. Moreover because he knew that a trial was years away, those were his living conditions for the foreseeable future-perhaps for the rest of his life.
Under such circumstances, Paul might have thought to ask the Lord to release him. After all, God had called him to preach, to disciple others, and to reach the Gentiles. But he was stuck in Rome, unable to plant new churches or visit those whom he was nurturing by letter. Besides being unjust, the imprisonment was keeping him from important work. Surely if any one had a right to gripe, it was Paul, who had endured persecution, shipwreck, and beatings for the gospel. Yet he never once complained. His letter to the church at Philippi is filled with rejoicing, as focusing on God let him live above his circumstances (Phil. 4:8).
The more we talk and complain about a situation, the worse it looks, until the problem looms larger in our mind than our faith does. Conversely, carrying challenges straight to God keeps matters in perspective. The Lord is bigger than any hardship. On His strength, we rise above the difficulty.
Problems can looks so big and unwieldy that they distort our perspective. God invites us to live above our circumstances by fastening our eyes on Him. The trials of this life shrink when compared to our loving, powerful Lord, who exercises His might in defense of His people.
A FACADE
Kerri tries hard to get people to admire her. She acts happy most of the time so that others will notice and compliment her on her joyful attitude. Some affirm her because they see her helping people in the community. But in a transparent moment, Kerri will admit, "I love the Lord, but in some ways, I feel like my life is a facade." Her own sense of insecurity is behind much of her effort of trying to look good to others, and she says shes running out of energy to keep up.
We can probably all relate in some way because its not possible to have perfect motives. We love the Lord and others, but our motives for how we live the Christian life are sometimes mixed with our desire to be valued or praised. 
Jesus talked about those who give, pray and fast in order to be seen (Matt, 6:1-18). He taught in the Sermon on the Mount to "give your gifts in private," to "pray to your Father in private,"and "when you fast, don't make it obvious" (vv. 4,6, 16 NLT).
Serving is most often done publicly, but maybe a little anonymous service could help us learn to rest in God's opinion of us. He who created us in His image values us so much that He gave us His son and shows us His love each day.
Prayer: Dear Lord, please forgive me for desiring praise from others more than from You. Please help me as I struggle to keep my motives pure.
Lesson: Our desire to please God should be our highest motive for obeying God.
Matthew 6:1-6
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. They your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Insight: In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5-7), Jesus issues a warning about hypocrisy (6:1-8). After His strong caution against it, He gives us the proper motivation. Our reason to share with open hands, to raise our hands in prayer, and to fold them before and empty plate is both stated and implied. When we do these things, we do them out of love for the Father, the source of all good, knowing He will bless our efforts. The implication if fairly clear. The approval of the Father is better than any praise we may receive from friends and neighbors. It is the reward from Him that we should truly and deeply want.

November 16, 2016
PRAYING WITH FAITH
In today's passage, Jesus connects two important concepts: prayer and faith. And we know from other scriptures that unless our prayers are united with faith, we shouldn't expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-7). But what is the basis for our faith?Are we to believe that God will give us whatever we ask?
Jesus began by saying, "Have faith in God" (Mark 11:22). This is the foundation for prayer-trust in the Lord. If our requests are incompatible with His teachings, we have no reason to believe He'll answer. Nor should we expect to receive if the motive is our own pleasure (James 4:3). As Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane demonstrates, ultimate trust in God says, "Yet not My will, but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
First John 5:14-15 tells us we can count God answering requests prayed according to His will. Our prayers should therefore, be anchored to Scripture because apart from the Bible, we don't know His will. But as we fill our minds with God's Word, our desires and requests begin to align with His. When that's the case, we can confidently expect to receive whatever we ask. And in those instances when we're not sure of His will, the Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:27). Even the obstacles in our life are no problem for the Lord. Nothing in harmony with His purpose will be impossible for us.
God doesn't turn a deaf ear to the supplication of His children. As a loving heavenly Father, He protects, provides, guides, and cares for us. He has proven His love by sending His Son. Surely we can trust Him with all our other concerns. 
THE TWELFTH MAN
A large sign at the Texas A&M University football stadium says "HOME OF THE 12TH MAN." While each team is allowed 11 players on the field, the 12th Man is the presence of thousands of A&M students who remain standing during the entire game to cheer their team on. The tradition traces its roots to 1922 when the coach called a student from the stands to suit up and be ready to replace an injured player. Although he never entered the game, his willing presence on the sideline greatly encouraged the team.
Hebrews 11 describes heroes of the faith who faced great trials and remained loyal to God. Chapter 12 begins, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (v.1).
We are not alone on our journey of faith. The great saints and ordinary people who have been faithful to the Lord encourage us by their example and also by their presence in heaven. They are a spiritual 12th Man standing with us while we are still on the field. 
As we fix our eyes on Jesus, "the pioneer and perfecter of faith" (12:2), we are spurred on by all those who followed Him. 
Prayer: Lord, may we be aware of those in heaven who are cheering us on. Give us strength to run our race of faith today.
Lesson: Faithful Christians from the past encourage us today.
Hebrews 11:32-12:3
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-the world was not worthy of them...
There were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Insight: The target audience for the book of Hebrews is Jews who had trusted Jesus as their Messiah. But due to persecution, in some cases imprisonment, and through confiscation of personal property, they were tempted to forsake their faith in Jesus and return to Judaism.

November 15, 2016
WHY OUR NEEDS REMAIN UNMET
If our loving, omnipotent Father really does desire to meet His children's needs, they why do some go unmet? Let's look at a few key reasons why we may lack essentials.
WE DON'T ASK...If this seems elementary, it is. And yet its astonishing how many people fail to bring their concerns to God. Some say, "Oh, He has too much to do to worry about my little problems." Nonsense! Our Father is a very personal God, who cares deeply about everything that affects His children. In fact, Matthew 10:30 says He even knows the number of hairs on our head. So of course we should share with Him the details of our life.
WE ASK BUT DOUBT THAT GOD CAN OR WILL DO IT....It's a tragic mischaracterization to go before the omnipotent, sovereign God of the universe and essentially say, "You aren't big enough to handle my needs." James 1:8 describes such a person as "double-minded" and "unstable." When you approach God, do so knowing that He can meet your needs.
WE ASK GOD TO ADDRESS THE SYMPTOM, NOT THE REAL NEED...At times we pray and pray about something- a particular emotional pain, perhaps- without seeing any change. The reason may be that we are focusing on the symptom rather than the actual need. As you continue talking to the Lord about the situation, you may discover the root need is something you have not even considered. 
The heavenly Father wants to meet all of your needs. If you cannot see Him acting on your behalf, be sure to take a critical look at yourself from His prospective...Then ask yourself, If is possible that I could be standing in the way of God's intervention?
DO I MATTER?
I stand in the cashier line of the local supermarket and look around me. I see teenagers with saved heads and nose rings looking through the snack foods; a young professional buying one steak, a few twigs of asparagus, and a sweet potato; an elderly woman pondering the peaches and strawberries. Does God know all these people by name? I ask myself. Do they really matter to Him?
The maker of all things is the Maker of all human beings, and each of us is deemed worthy of His individual attention and love. God demonstrated that love in person on the gnarly hills of Israel and ultimately on the cross.
When Jesus visited earth in the form of a servant, He showed that the hand of God is not too big for the smallest person in the world. It is a hand engraved with our individual names and engraved also with wounds, the cost to God of loving us so much.
Now, when I find myself wallowing in self-pity, overwhelmed by the ache of loneliness that is articulated so well in books like Job and Ecclesiastes, I turn to the Gospel accounts of Jesus's stories and deeds. If I conclude that my existence "under the sun" (ECCL 1:3) makes no difference to God, I contradict one of the main reasons God came to the earth. To the question Do I matter? Jesus is indeed the answer.
Prayer: Father, when we are overwhelmed by the ache of loneliness and pain, we can run only to You. Jesus showed us how much we matter to You, and we thank You!
Lesson: The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."
What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place that streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been, will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! There is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.
Insight: The author of Ecclesiastes seemed to go on a scavenger hunt for value through pleasure (2:1-3), projects (vv. 4-7), wealth (vv. 7-8), sex (v.8),and fame (v.9)- only to find it is meaningless. In some ways Ecclesiastes parallels Old Testament law. Even as the Law shows us we can't keep the law (and so we need a Savior in Jesus), Ecclesiastes shows us that apart from God's vantage point, we will only end in frustration in futility (and so we need a satisfier in Jesus). If we restrict ourselves to seeking meaning as circumscribed by life "under the sun," it would be like seeking a plank in the wide ocean. We are not restricted to happenstance "under the sun," for God has spoken to us in His Son (HEB. 1:1-2). Jesus is God's Son; therefore, listen to Him" (LUKE 9:35). People matter to God, for we are more than mere matter.

November 14th, 2016
GOD KNOWS YOUR NEEDS

Matthew 6:7-8
I remember once watching a mother and marveling at her mastery in handling several energetic young children. It was an amazing sight. In the midst of a whirlwind of activity, this seasoned pro intuitively met the needs of her kids. A meal was served, spills were averted, noses were wiped, shoelaces were tied, hugs were distributed-all at the same time! Clearly, such a parent knows the needs of her family, even when the children cannot express them.
Sometimes it is difficult for us to think of ourselves as children. When we see little ones running around, always needing something from us, we cannot imagine that we often look and act the same way, only in grown-up bodies. Fortunately, we also have a parent who already knows our needs. And yet we frequently act as though we must explain every detail of our problems to the Lord so He can get a more accurate view of how to provide for us. 
Isn't it strange? If you asked most Christians whether they thought God was all-knowing, they would respond, "Of course!" However, if you could listen in when they pray, you would probably often discover long, complicated explanations of why they need His help.
God does want you to talk with Him about what is on your heart. But at the same time, remember that "your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt. 6:8). Therefore, do not spend all of your prayer time repeating yourself or explaining everything in unnecessary detail to God. For a change, simply ask Him to speak to your listening heart. Remember, He's already got the answer. Give Him the opportunity to share it with you. 
ALL TOGETHER NOW
While Nicholas Taylor was boarding a train in Perth, Australia, his leg became wedged in the gap between the platform and the commuter car. When safety officials could not free him, they coordinated the efforts of nearly 50 passengers who lined up and, on the count of three, pushed against the train. Working in unison, they shifted the weight just enough to free Taylor's leg.
The Apostle Paul recognized the power of Christians working together in many of his letters to the early churches. He urged the Roman believers to accept each other the way Christ had accepted them and said, "[May God] give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (ROM. 15:5-6).
Unity with other believers enables us to broadcast God's greatness and also helps us to endure persecution. Knowing that the Philippians would pay a price for their faith, Paul encouraged them to strive "together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you" (PHIL. 1:27-28).
Satan loves to divide and conquer, but his efforts fail when, with God's help, we "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (EPH.4:3).
Prayer: Dear God, please let Christians everywhere experience the blessing of unity in You. Remind us of what we have in common: One hope, One faith, and One Lord-Jesus Christ.
Lesson: Our unity comes from our union with Christ.
Romans 15:1-7
We who are strong ought to bear with the fallings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as is is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept, one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Insight:The Roman believers were in need of building on the sense of unity they enjoyed. Our reading for today concludes on an essential ingredient in interpersonal relationships, that of acceptance. "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Certainly a subtle sensing of rejection will inhibit all healthy relationships. We are to accept others as Christ has accepted us.

November 13th, 2016
MEDITATION: A KEY TO HEARING GOD
Psalm 19:7-14
Meditation means different things to different people. For some, it is a time of introspection and self-empowerment. To Christians, however, meditation has an all together different meaning. And despite the various ways the word is used, it is something we believers must take seriously in our walk of faith. 
Simply put, meditation is the practice of thinking about God in all of His fullness, and asking questions such as:
Who is God?
How does He work in my life?
What does Scriptures say about Him?
How has He shown faithfulness to me?
How has He made Himself known?
When we meditate on the word of God, His Spirit directs our thinking  as we seek earnestly to know Him better. Often, the discipline will include wrestling with spiritual principles, which the Lord uses to build a firm foundation in our life. It may even involve a time of repentance, as He reveals the truth and moves us to yearn for a Christ-centered mindset. Or, meditation could lead to healing if Gd shows us areas of our heart that need His touch.When we take time to set our mind on Him, the Lord will direct our thoughts. 
This week, reserve a half-hour to sit quietly or take a walk. Dedicate that time to focusing your attention on God and letting Him speak to you. You will find this pause in your routine rewarding and exciting as you give yourself over to His presence.
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION
As I sat in the auditorium, I faced the pastor with my eyes fixed on him. My posture suggested I was absorbing everything he was saying. Suddenly I heard everybody laughing and clapping. Surprised, I looked about. The preacher had apparently said something humorous, but I had no clue what it might have been. From all appearances I had been listening carefully, but in reality my mind was far away.
Its possible to hear what is being said but not listen, to watch but not see, to be present and yet absent. In such a condition we may miss important messages meant for us.
As Ezra read God's instructions to the people of Juda, "All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law" (NEH. 8:3). Their attention to the explaination produced understanding (v.8), which resulted in their repentance and revival. In another situation in Samaria, Phillip, after persecution of the believers broke out in Jerusalem (ACTS 8:1), reached out to the Samaritan people. The crown not only observe the miraculous signs he did, but they also "paid close attention to what he said" (v.6). "So there was great joy in that city" (v.8).
The mind can be like a wandering adventurer that misses a lot of excitement close by. Nothing deserves more attention than words that help us deliver the joy and wonder of our Father in heaven.
Prayer: Lord, our minds are so prone to distraction. Help us to be present in the moment, especially when listening to those who instruct us in Your ways.
Lesson: The receiving of the Word consists in two parts: attention of the mind and intention of the will...William Ames
Nehemiah 8:2-6
So in the first day of the 7th month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shem, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
Acts 8:4-8
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Phillip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

Insight: On one occasion, many of Jesus's followers rejected His teaching because they found it "hard" and "no longer followed Him" (JOHN 6:60,66). Jesus then challenged the Twelve and asked if they too would reject His teaching. Responding, Peter affirmed they still would follow, for "You have the words of eternal life" (v.68).

November 11,2016
SHARING THE GOOD NEWS
When you receive exciting news, what's the first thing you do? If you're like most people, you probably tell someone who will share your joy. The apostle Paul told others about salvation for a similar reason.
God saved Paul on the road to Damascus, and the apostle dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the good news of the gospel. He gave his time, his energy, and ultimately, his life because he was committed to telling people about Jesus.
Why would he do this? Paul felt a deep obligation. First, he was indebted to Jesus for salvation. But his motivation came from more than just his love for and devotion to the Lord. He also felt compelled to offer hope to a world that was in desperate need (1 Tim. 1:15-16). 
And the message he gave them was this: God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world in human form. Through his death on the cross, Jesus paid mankind's sin debt in full. All who receive Him as their personal Savior will be forgiven. 
Paul realized he needed to bring the gospel to the Greeks as well as to the non-Greeks. In other words, he had to tell everyone. Some would except the truth, while others would reject it. The apostle himself could not save people- he wasn't responsible for their reaction. His task was simply to tell about Jesus.
Do you feel the same indebtedness that Paul felt? Pray that God would give you courage and wisdom to share the gospel with others.
SEEING WELL
Raleigh looks like a powerful dog. He is large and muscular and has a thick coat of fur and he weighs over 100 pounds! Despite his appearance, Raleigh connects well with people. His owner takes him to nursing homes and hospitals to bring people a smile. 
Once, a four-year-old girl spotted Raleigh across a room. She wanted to pet him, but was afraid to get close. Eventually, her curiosity overcame her sense of caution and she spent several minutes talking to him and petting him. She discovered that he is a gentle creature, even though he is powerful.
The combination of these qualities reminds me of what we read about Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus was approachable-He welcomed little children (Matt. 19:13-15). He was kind to an adulterous woman in a desperate situation (John 8:1-11). Compassion motivated Him to teach crowds (Mark 6:34). At the same time, Jesus's power was astounding. Heads turned and jaws dropped as He subdued demons, calmed violent storms, and resurrected dead people! (Mark 1:21-34;4:35-41; John 11). 
The way we see Jesus determines how we relate to Him. If we focus only on His power, we may treat Him with the detached worship we'd give a comic book super hero. Yet, if we overemphasize His kindness, we risk treating Him too casually. The truth is that Jesus is both at once-great enough to deserve our obedience yet humble enough to call us friends. 
Prayer: Jesus, thank You for the privilege of knowing You. I acknowledge Your gentle power. I worship You as the Son of God- full of grace and glory. 
Lesson: What we think of Jesus shows in how we relate with Him. 
John 15:12-17
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: To lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit-fruit that will last-and so that whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you. This is My command: Love each other. 
Insight: Jesus spoke of "a new commandment" to love one another (John 13:34). The command to love is not entirely new (1 John 2:7), for God commanded every Jew to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 5:43; 22:39). What is new is that Jesus raised the bar to the highest standard of loving: "as I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). He used the words servants and friends to contrast the new level of love and intimacy we now have with Him. The one who loved you as He loved himself is a true friend, one who will humbly and lovingly serve you (13:1-17), and one who sacrificially loved you, even laying down His life for you (15:13). 

November 10th, 2016
CARRY THE LIGHT
In the Bible, Light is equated with good. For instance, Jesus called, Himself light- He said, "I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness" (John 12:46).
In contrast, the world we live in is dark (3:19). However, once we trust Jesus as our Savior, He lives within us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Therefore, when we're saved, we have the light with us (8:12).
Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, He instructed His followers to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:19-20). This charge, known as the great commission, still applies. In other words, Christians must carry the light to a dark world. But how do we do this? Here are three ways.
God will send some of us abroad to share the truth of Jesus Christ. There are people in other countries who have never heard how to receive salvation, and we can go as missionaries to tell them.
The Father also calls Christians to spread the good news of the gospel right where they are- in their neighborhoods, families, and workplaces.
The Lord asks His followers to give of the resources He's provided-whether money, talents, or gifts- so His message of salvation can be shared with the world.
Are you willing to tell others about Jesus in whatever way the Lord has in mind? Ask God how He would like you to shine His light into the world. Then be available to carry out His plan. 
A NEW PURPOSE
Jacob Davis was a tailor with a problem. It was the height of the Gold Rush in the 1800s American West and the gold miners' work pants kept wearing out. His solution? Davis went to a local dry goods company owned by Levis Strauss, purchased tent cloth, and made work pants from that heavy, sturdy material- and blue jeans were born. Today, denim jeans in a variety of forms (including Levi's) are among the most popular clothing items in the world, and all because that tent material was given a new purpose.
Simon and his friends were fishermen on the sea of Galilee. Then Jesus arrived and called them to follow Him. He gave them a new purpose. No longer would they fish for fish. As Jesus told them, "Come, follow me,...and I will send you out to fish for people" (Mark 1:17).
With this new purpose set for their lives, these men were taught and trained by Jesus so that, after His ascension, they could be used by God to capture the hearts of people with the message of the cross and resurrection of Christ. Today, we follow in their steps as we share the good news of Christ's love and salvation.
ay our lives both declare and exhibit this love that can change the lives, purposes, and eternal destinies of others.
Prayer: Help me, Lord, to represent You well so that others might be drawn to Your love and salvation. 
Lesson: With our new life in Christ we have been given a new purpose.
Mark 1:16-22
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people." At once they left their nets and followed Him. 
When He had gone a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.
Without delay He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him. 
They went to Capernaum, and with when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the Synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 
Insight: In ancient cultures, the family relationship was more than a heritage; it was an identity. The family business wasn't simply a way to earn a living; it was a commitment to family. This cultural setting shows two surprising aspects to Jesus's call of His disciples. First, the authority and absoluteness of Jesus's call. He calls these men to accept an immediate, complete, and permanent change of life and an entirely new destiny. Jesus's call to discipleship trumps even the closet relationships (SEE MARK 10:29-30). Second, the immediate and unquestioning response of the disciples. "At once" can also be translated "immediately." These men left father and business to follow Jesus with no hesitation. 

November 9th, 2016
REMOVING WORRY FROM OUR LIFE
People fret over all kinds of issues, from safety and job security to election results. For many folks- and maybe you are one-anxiety is woven so tightly into the fabric of their day that they've learned to live with it.
We treat worry like a benign emotion when in fact it can be harmful. Anxiety clouds our thinking, divides our focus, and robs us of concentration. To complicate matters, the body can react to prolonged pressure on the psyche. Stress can manifest physically through tension headaches, elevated blood pressure, and even heart attacks.
Drifting through an exhausting life is not the Lord's plan for us. Our challenge is to take active thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5) and replace them with God-pleasing ones by dwelling on that which is pure, good and right.
The best way to remove stray threads of worry is to crowd them out with something positive. We do this by weaving Scripture into our mental grid instead. God has something to say about everything that concerns us. If we're feeling weak or underqualified, Phillippians 4:13 assures us we "can do all things through Him who strengthens [us]." If we fear the paycheck won't cover this month's expenses, Matthew 6:31-32 reminds us not to be anxious, "for [our] heavenly Father knows that [we] need all these things."
Jesus said worry adds nothing to our life (v.27). In fact, we actually waste time and energy dwelling on concerns instead of affirming our trust in the Lord. We must choose to set our minds upon Him before anxiety leaves us feeling frayed.
SIGNS AND FEELINGS
A young man I know has a habit of asking God for signs. That's not necessarily bad, but his prayers tend to seek confirmation of his feelings. For instance, he'll pray, "God, if You want me to do X, then You please do Y, and I'll know it's okay."
This has created a dilemma. Because of the way he prays and the way he thinks God is answering, he feels that he should get back with his ex-girlfriend. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she feels strongly that God doesn't want that. 
The religious leaders of Jesus's day demanded a sign from Him to prove the validity of His claims (MATT. 16:1). They weren't seeking God's guidance; they were challenging His divine authority. Jesus replied,"A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign" (v.4). The Lord's strong response wasn't a blanket statement to prevent anyone from seeking God's guidance. Rather, Jesus was accusing them of ignoring the clear prophecies in Scripture that indicated He was the Messiah. 
God wants us to seek His guidance in Prayers(James 1:5) and His Word (PS. 119:105). He provides us with mentors and wise leaders. And He's given us the example of Jesus Himself. 
Its wise to ask God for clear direction, but He may not always give it in ways that we expect or want. Perhaps the larger point of prayer is that we learn more about God's nature and develop a relationship with our Father.
Prayer: Lord, it is impossible for us to comprehend Your nature, and yet You welcome us to approach You in prayer. And so we seek Your guidance today and ask to know You in ways we haven't seen before. 
Lesson: The best way to know God's will is to say, "I Will" to God. 
Matthew 16:1-4
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested Him by asking Him to show a sign from heaven.
He replied, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather , for the sky is red,' and in the morning, "Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Jesus then left them and went away.
Insight: After the religious leaders' ironic demand for a sign of Jesus's identity (MATT. 16:1-4), Jesus takes His men north to Caesarea Philippi where He asks two questions. The first, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (v.13) was a survey of the prevailing opinions held by the common people about His identity. The answers were complimentary, but all fell short of the truth. The second question, "Who do you say I am?" received Peter's ringing response, "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God" (vv. 15-16). With God's help, Peter rightly assessed all the miraculous signs Jesus had done in their first eighteen months together and affirmed that Jesus was God in human flesh. 

November 8th, 2016
WHEN ANXIETY STRIKES
If you needed a consultant, would you hire just anyone? Of course not. You'd want to be sure your adviser had experience to back up his or her suggestions. The apostle Paul was certainly qualified to teach on the value of contentment- he wrote on the subject while under confinement by Roman authorities.
In today's passage, Paul says that prayer safeguards the believer's heart from anxiety. Praying appropriately will result in protection, so we are wise to follow the pattern Jesus gave us. The Lord's prayer underscores adoration of the Father and de-emphasizes focusing on oneself (Matt. 6:9-13). God does desire to hear our concerns (Phil. 4:6). But if problems are all that keep us on our knees, then we have missed the main point of our relationship with Him. 
Why does the Lord expect us to honor Him when what we really want is immediate help for our problems?Because where the mind dwells, the heart follows. Focusing on His greatness puts our needs in perspective and encourages us to rest easy. He is in charge and at work (Rom. 8:28).
Consider Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46). Even as the Lord was crying out for relief, He nevertheless submitted to the Father's greater will (v. 39). As a result, a supernatural peace fortified the Savior and enabled Him to face His executioners.
In today's reading, Paul offered a radical peace plan: Praise the Lord while suffering persecution; thank Him when facing trials; pray about everything. Each prayer braces your heart against anxiety. That's solid advice from a man who practiced what he preached.
WE HAD NO IDEA
Volunteers from a local church spent a frigid evening distributing food to people in a low-income apartment complex. One woman who received the food was overjoyed. She showed them her bare cupboard and told them they were an answer to her prayers.
As the volunteers returned to the church, one woman began to cry. "When I was a little girl," she said "that lady was my Sunday school teacher. She's in church every Sunday. We had no idea she was almost starving!"
Clearly, these were caring people who were seeking ways to carry the burdens of others, as Paul suggests in Galatians 6:2. Yet somehow they hadn't noticed the needs of this woman- someone they saw every Sunday- and she hadn't shared her needs. This can be a gentle reminder for all of us to be more aware of those around us and, as Paul said, to "do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (6:10).
People who worship together have the priviledge of assisting one another so no one in the body of Christ goes without help. As we get to know each other and care for each other, perhaps we won't ever have to say, "We had no idea."
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to notice the needs of those around me and to do what I can to meet those needs in Your name.
Lesson: Nothing costs as much as caring-except not caring.
Galatians 6:2-10
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 
Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. 
Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the Word, should share all good things with their instructor.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Insight: Paul told the church of Galatia that when they carried each other's burdens they reflected and fulfilled the work of Christ.The Greek word translated "carry" in Galatians 6:2 appears 13 times in the New Testament and means "to bear a heavy or burdensome object." It is the same word used by the gospel writers in Matthew 8:17, Luke 14:27, and John 19:17. Matthew proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah who "bore our diseases." Luke recounted Jesus telling his disciples that anyone who would not carry His cross could not be His disciple. And John described our Lord's struggle as He carried His own cross to Calvary. Carrying one another's burdens isn't only a kind gesture; it's a mark of Christlikeness.

November 7th, 2016
A BURDEN OR A BRIDGE
What word would you use to describe adversity in your life? To most people, it is a heavy, inescapable burden that wears them down, saps their joy and hinders them from truly living. Christians however, have the opportunity to see adversity as a bridge leading to a glorious eternal future.
The determining factor on how we view hardship is our perspective. If we focus only on the negative aspects of our earthly life, we'll be drawn into despair and desperation. But if we look at problems from an eternal standpoint, our thinking and attitudes will be transformed in the following ways:
1. Instead of letting difficulties wear us down, we won't lose heart because we know we are being renewed from within. As we respond in submission for whatever God allows in our life and trust in His good purposes, our character is shaped into Christlikeness and our hope is restored.
2. The despair of feeling that our adversity is inescapable and never-ending will be replaced with strength to endure. Paul said he was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down and constantly threatened with death, yet he called it all "light and momentary" compared to eternity (2 COR. 4:8-11,17 NIV).
3. Rather than seeing adversity as a thief of all joy and a hindrance to a good life, we should look beyond the present to what the trial is producing for us in heaven-"an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (v. 17).
Viewing troubles through an eternal lens is an act of faith, which pleases God. It increases our trust in Him, gives us greater passion for our heavenly inheritance, and strengthens us to victoriously cross the bridge of adversity.
A DIFFICULT HILL
High in a fold of Lughandle Peak in the mountains north of our home in Idaho lies a glacial lake. The route to the lake goes up a steep, exposed ridge through boulders and loose stones. It's a strenuous ascent.
At the beginning of the climb, however, there is a brook-a spring that seeps out of a soft, mossy earth and flows through a lush meadow. Its a quiet place to drink deeply and prepare for the quiet climb ahead.
In John Bunyan's classic allegory of the Christian life, THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, Christian arrives at the foot of a steep ascent called the Hill Difficulty, "at the bottom of which was a spring...Christian now went to the spring and drank to refresh himself, and then began to go up the hill."
Perhaps the difficult mountain you face is a rebellious child or a serious medical diagnosis. The challenge seems more than you can endure. 
Before you face your next major task, visit the spring of refreshment that is God Himself. Come to Him with all your weakness, weariness, helplessness, fear and doubt. Then drink deeply of His power, strength and wisdom. God knows all your circumstances and will supply a store of comfort, of spiritual strengthening and consolation. He will lift up your head and give you strength to go on.
Prayer:Father at this moment I turn to You for strength in my weakness, energy for my weariness, and faith in my doubt.
Lesson:He who overrules all things...enabled Christian to continue on his way.
Psalm 110
The Lord said to my lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, "Rule in the midst of your enemies!" Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy splendor, your young men will come to you like dew from the morning's womb. 
The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: "You are a priest forever, in the midst of Melchizedek."
The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of His wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook along the way, and so he will lift his head high.
Insight:Psalm 110 is one of many Messianic Psalms. These prophetic Hebrew hymns are called Messianic because they predict the coming of God's anointed king or Christ (Messiah means Christ) which is Jesus. This particular psalm reaches both back and forward in the biblical text to teach us something about who Jesus is and the role He plays in bridging the gap between humanity. 

November 6th, 2016
A CITY ON A HILL
God's children are on display to the world like a city on a hill (Matt. 5:14). The light from a thriving metropolis can be seen for miles. Likewise, believers are to "shine" in such a way that others will observe our good works and honor God.
A Christian's "faith light" is evident through his or her deeds. We want coworkers, friends and others in our sphere of influence to sit up and take notice of the way we live. The reason? Because once people notice that we are not simply "out for number one," they'll want o know why. Then they might gradually begin to connect the dots: Thinking, He helps others even when its difficult or she says she does this because she's a Christian, could lead them to conclude, then their God must be worthy and good. The more we are seen doing good works, the more glory goes to God, who is the author of our service record.
To balance the command to shine, however, the Lord did give an admonition in Matthew 6:1: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them." In other words, be mindful of the motive. If we are performing in order to get a pat on the back or the attention of others, we will lose out on a heavenly reward. That fleeting bit of worldly appreciation is all we'll get for our efforts.
Believers are here to point others to the God they serve. We are a reflection of His light and glory. It is He who not only gives the opportunity to shine but also equips us with the strength and gifts to work for the kingdom. As bright as we may seem, we are nothing apart from the Lord. 
A SAFE PLACE
A young Japanese man had a problem- he was afraid of leaving his house. To avoid other people, he slept through the day and stayed up all night watching TV. He was a hikikomori or modern day hermit. The problem began when he stopped going to school because of poor grades. The longer he remained apart from society, the more he felt like a social misfit. Eventually he broke off all communications with his friends and family. He was helped on his journey to recovery though, by visiting a youth club in Tokyo known as an ibasho-a safe place where broken people could start reintroducing themselves to society. 
What if we thought of the church as an ibasho- and far more? Without a doubt, we are a community of broken people. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he described their former way of life as antisocial, harmful and dangerous to themselves and others (1 COR. 6:9-10). But in Jesus they were being transformed and made whole. And Paul encouraged these rescued people to love one another, to be patient and kind, not to be jealous, proud or rude (13:4-7).
The church is to be an ibasho where all of us, no matter what struggles or brokenness we face, can know and experience God's love. May the hurting world experience the compassion of Christ from all who follow Him. 
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for paying the penalty for my sins by Your death and resurrection and giving me new life. Help me to live a life that honors Your holy name and to love others as You have loved me.
Lesson: Only God can transform a sin-stained soul into a masterpiece of grace.
1 Corinthians 6
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 13
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
INSIGHT
Without the correct biblical frame of reference, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 could lead us to believe certain kinds of sin are unforgivable. Does today's Bible reading actually teach that certain sinners are beyond redemption? The answer lies in the contrasting sentence that provides us with a clearer picture of what the apostle is saying: "And that is what some of you were [emphasis mine]. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (v.11). It is not by committing of sins that condemns irrevocably. It is the continuous lifestyle of sin that indicates a person has not experienced regeneration through faith in Christ. 

November 4th, 2016
THE SOURCE OF OUR HOPE
Colossians 1:26-28
Hope is a desire for something, accompanied by the anticipation of receiving it. If our expectation of fulfillment diminishes, discouragement can set in. And prolonged disappointment can lead to despair. Perhaps thats what led to the betrayal of Christ.
One possible explanation for Judas's tragic decision is that he wanted to see Israel throw off Roman oppression and establish itself as the ruling power. Maybe he thought that having Jesus arrested would push God to force the hand of Israel's religious and political rulers. If that was his thinking, then Judas failed to achieve his goal. We know for certain that his betrayal of Jesus cost him everything. Out of hope and overcome by guilt, he gave up his life.
We have an enemy who watches for our moments of weakness, when he tries to influence us away from the Lord. He wants to keep us focused on our circumstances and doubting God so we will complain, "This isn't fair. If the Lord loves me, why would He allow such a thing to happen to me?" But we should never let the Father of lies lore us toward hopelessness.
As children of the heavenly Father, we were birthed into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ  (1 Pet. 1:3). Because of our Savior, we have been taken from condemnation to full acceptance, from spiritual death to eternal life in heaven with the Lord. We have His indwelling spirit to provide comfort in tough times and to guide us through them.
Because we're eternally secure in the Lord, we are never in a hopeless circumstance. We may feel desperate, but emotions are not reliable. Our Savior and friend, Jesus Christ, is our constant source of hope.
STRONG CONQUEROR
Most of us hope for good government. We vote, we serve, and we speak out for causes we believe are fair and just. But political solutions remain powerless to change the condition of our hearts.
Many of Jesus's followers anticipated a Messiah who would bring a vigorous political response to Rome and its heavy-handed oppression. Peter was no exception. When Roman soldiers came to arrest Christ, Peter drew his sword and took a swing at the head of the high priest's servant, lopping off his ear in the process.
Jesus halted Peter's one-man war, saying "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (John 18:11). Hours later, Jesus would tell Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders" (V.36).
The Lord's restraint in that moment, as His life hung in the balance, astonishes us when we ponder the scope of His mission. On a future day, He will lead the armies of heaven into battle. John wrote, "With justice He judges and wages war" (REV.19:11).
But as He endured the ordeal of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus kept His Father's will in view. By embracing death on the cross, He set in motion a chain of events that truly transforms hearts. And in the process, our strong Conqueror defeated death itself.
Prayer: Father, how prone I am to reacting quickly rather than wisely. Show me Your will for my life so that I will purposefully choose the path You have for me.
Lesson: Real restraint is not weakness, for it arises out of genuine strength.
John 18:10-14, 36-37
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.)
Jesus commanded Peter "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"
Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound Him and brought Him to Annas, who was the Father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people....
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place."
"You are a king, then!" said Pilate.
Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Every one on the side of truth listens to me."
Insight: At Gethsemane Jesus restrained and conquered (or overcome) His own natural inclinations that wished He would not have to undergo the excruciating agony of crucifixion(Luke 22:42). Restraint is not always a high priority in our lives, but we all need help to overcome our natural inclinations. One aspect of the Spirit's control over us, according to Galatians 5:23, is self-control. Peter tended to be an "open-mouth-insert-foot" kind of guy (Matt. 16:22; 17:4-5). And on impulse he cut off an opponent's ear (John 18:10). Even as a stallion must be harnessed to do its master's bidding, so Peter had a lesson to teach us about the value of restraint.

November 3rd, 2016
THE LOSS OF HOPE
Acts 27:13-26
Life doesn't always meet our expectations. Even when making plans according to God's lead, we may run into something that interrupts them. Frustration over the obstacle can lead to discouragement and loss of hope. Then if the hindrance should persist, our spirits may plummet toward despair.
Often times, what trips us up is the circumstance that seems impossible to overcome. Think about Paul's voyage to Rome by sea. When a bad storm arose, the sailors worked hard to save the ship. But since they couldn't control the weather, they gradually gave up all hope of being saved (Acts 27:20). There are times when we can't change what has happened-whether its a job loss, a loved one's death or a devastating diagnosis. In such situations, feelings of hopelessness can overtake us.
Postponed plans can also be disheartening. Hannah is an example of someone who became dejected because of "hope deferred" (1 Sam. 1:10-11; see also Prov. 13:12). She saw other women baring children, but her own maternal desires had not yet been fulfilled. When things do not go according to our schedule, we may experience emotions like hers.
Feeling abandoned by the Lord is another thing that can throw believers off track. I remember a season of life when I felt all alone. My mind said God was with me, but my feelings said otherwise. To counter those emotions, I pursed the Lord through prayer and meditation on Scripture.
In times of discouragement, you have a choice. Will you focus on your circumstances, or will you fix your gaze on our loving Father and trust Him?
LEADING WITH LOVE
In his book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders explores the qualities and the importance of tact and diplomacy. "Combining these two words, "Sanders says, "The idea emerges of skill and reconciling opposing viewpoints without giving offense and without compromising principle."
During Paul's imprisonment in Rome, he became the spiritual mentor and close friend of a run away slave named Onesimus, whose owner was Philemon. When Paul wrote to Philemon, a leader of the church in Colossae, asking him to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ, he exemplified tact and diplomacy. "Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love...[Onesimus] is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord" (PHILEM. 8-9,16).
Paul, a respected leader of the early church, often gave clear commands to the followers of Jesus. In this case, though, he appealed to Philemon on the basis of equality, friendship, and love. "I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary" (V.14).
In all our relationships, may we seek to preserve harmony and principle in the spirit of love.
Prayer: Father in heaven, in all our relationships, give us grace and wisdom to be wise leaders, parents, and friends.
Lesson: Leaders who serve will serve as good leaders
Philemon 8-18
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other then Paul- an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus-that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
I am sending him- who is in my very heart -back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seemed forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever- no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
Insight: Paul's appeal of love to Philemon was rooted in his spiritual parenthood. In other letters, Paul spoke of himself as a father to those he brought to Christ (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; Gal. 4:19). In this personal letter, Paul noted that Onesimus had become his spiritual son (v. 10). Then at the end of his letter, to reinforce his appeal, Paul reminded Philemon that he too was his spiritual son (v.19). Paul used his fatherly authority to bring about reconciliation. It was the appeal of a father's love and an appeal to family love for the reconciliation of two spiritual siblings.

November 2nd, 2016
TWO KINDS OF PROMISES
Joshua 23:14
The Bible records two kinds of promises from the Lord-unconditional and conditional. An unconditional pledge is one whose fulfillment rests solely with God; His commitment is independent of people and situations. An example would be His covenant never to send another flood to destroy the entire earth (Gen 9:11). No matter how the world behaves, He will not take this action again. 
The second type of divine promise is conditional. In other words, the Lord is willing to act under certain circumstances. Its often written as an "if-then" statement and involves our cooperation. Lets look at three conditional promises involving salvation, forgiveness, wisdom.
Romans 10:9 tells us that salvation is promised to those who confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord. We are saved when we genuinely trust in the Savior.
If we come to the Lord with sincere confession of sin, we have the assurance of divine forgiveness and cleansing. (1 John 1:9). The Lord's fulfillment of this vow depends upon our obedient action.
James 1:5-6 instructs us to ask God for wisdom without doubting that we will receive it. If we approach the Lord with faith, then He will give us understanding.
God will do exactly what He's promised. But He requires our obedient cooperation before fulfilling His conditional pledges. To receive the blessing, we must satisfy the conditions He has set if you are waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promise, check to be sure you are carrying out your part.
WATCHFUL AND ALERT
My desk sits close to a window that opens into our neighborhood. From that vantage point I'm privileged to watch birds perch on the trees near by. Some come to the window to eat insects trapped in the screen.
The birds check their immediate surroundings for any danger, listening attentively as they look about them. Only when they are satisfied that there is no danger do they settle down to feed. Even then, they pause every few seconds to scan the area.
The vigilance these birds demonstrate reminds me that the Bible teaches us to practice vigilance as Christians. Our world is full of temptations, and we need to remain constantly alert and not forget about the dangers. Like Adam and Eve, we easily get entangled in attractions that make the things of this world seem "good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom" (GEN. 3:6).
"Be on you guard, " Paul admonished "stand firm in the faith" (1 Cor. 16:13). And Peter cautioned, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
As we work for our own daily bread, are we alert to what could start consuming us? Are we watching for any hint of self-confidence or willfulness that could leave us wishing we had trusted our God?
Prayer: Lord, keep us from the secret sins and selfish reactions we're so naturally inclined toward. By Your grace, turn our temptations into moments of growth in Christlikeness.
Lesson: The best way to escape temptation is to run to God.
Genesis 3:1-7
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
The woman said to the serpent, "we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.''
"You will not certainly die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Insight: In Genesis 3 the serpent twists what God had said to Adam and Eve about the fruit in the garden. Rather then directly challenge what God has said, the serpent exaggerates the claim by asking if God commanded no eating from any tree (v.1). This distortion on the part of the serpent elicits a similar response from Eve. Instead of responding with God's own words (see the example of Jesus's confrontation with satan in the wilderness in Matthew 4), Eve adds to His words. After rightly correcting that it is only from the tree in the middle of the garden that they may not eat, she adds the prohibition that they may not "touch" the tree (Gen. 3:3).

November 1st, 2016
RUN TO ME
During a walk at a local park, my children and I encountered a couple of unleashed gods. Their owner didn't seem to notice that one of them had begun to intimidate my son. My son tried to shoo the dog away, but the animal only became more intent on bothering him.
Eventually, my son panicked. He bolted several yards into the distance, but the dog pursued him. The chase continued until I yelled, "Run to me!" My son doubled back, calmed down, and the dog finally decided to make mischief somewhere else. 
There are moments in our lives when God calls to u and says, "Run to Me!" Something troubling is on our heels. The faster and farther we go, the more closely it pursues us. We can't shake it We're too afraid to turn and confront the trouble on our own. But the reality is that we aren't on our own. God is there, ready to help and comfort us. All w have to do is turn away from whatever scares us, and move in His direction. His Word says, "The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe" (PROV. 18:10).
Prayer: Dear Jesus, You are the Prince of Peace I need the kind of peace only You can give. Help me to turn to You when I am troubled.
Proverbs 18:4-12
The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.
It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.
The lips of fools bring them stife, and their mouths invite a beating.
The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives.
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.
The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it is a wall too high to scale.
Before a downfall the heart is haughty but humility comes before honor.
Insight: The Proverbs are a collection of wise sayings to guide us through the choices in life-decisions we face. The majority of these wise statements are attributed to Solemon, whose wisdom was greater than "all the people of the East" (see 1 King 4:29-33). Ultimately, however, the source of all wisdom is our wise God. And the good news is that He makes that wisdom available to us-not only in Scripture, texts like today's reading from Proverbs, but also in response to our prayers. James says," if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you" (JAMES 1:5). Wisdom is available, if we would only ask!
THE PROMISES OF GOD
2 Corinthians 1:20-22
The Christian life rests on a foundation of God's promises for today and for the future. We can trust everything that our heavenly Father has said to us, because His Word shows Him to...
TRUTHFUL. The Lord knows what is true and speaks honestly in all matters. We can be assured of this because He is holy; there is no sin in Him. He is also omniscient and understands everything (Hebrews 4:12-13). His promises are based on His infinite knowledge and truthfulness.
FAITHFUL. Scripture compares the Lord to a shepherd who "gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart" (Isa.40:11 NIV). What He has planned for us, He will bring to fruition (Phil.1:6). Our heavenly Father does not waver in His intentions or will. 
LOVING. God's love for us was demonstrated at the cross. He sent His son Jesus to die by crucifixion and thereby take the punishment for our sins. The Savior experienced God's wrath against iniquity so we might know only His love. This is the ultimate proof of His devotion to us. 
ALL-POWERFUL. Divine power created the world and raised the Savior back to life, so we know God has the ability to carry out all His plans. Our omnipotent Father will keep everyone of His promises. 
A promise is valuable only if the one making it has trustworthy character and the ability to carry through. Our heavenly Father is truthful, faithful, loving and all-powerful. We can base our entire life on His promises, secure in the knowledge that He will do just as He has said. 

Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy- to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages now and forevermore!"- Jude 24,25
"As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee."- Joshua 3:7
Prayer: I come before you, Jesus, weak but willing...I seek to walk your path, and not my own; I choose to share the crown of thorns you wore, Lord, until I kneel before your royal throne. Dear Lord, please remove all doubt from my mind and help me to have faith in your promises.
RESTING IN A TRUSTWORTHY GOD
If we're honest, we would probably admit we've had moments when we've thought the promises in the Bible were written for someone else. It can be tough to lean back into God's arms in total trust when we've just been handed a cancer diagnosis, been denied by an insurance carrier, or been told we are about to lose a foot by diabetes. In moments of pain and suffering, we live in the tension of who we believe God to be and who He appears to be if we use circumstances to define Him.
We can learn much from Joseph (GEN 37-50). He believed God was good and loving, yet circumstances seem to indicate the opposite. On after another, the good things in Joseph's life were stripped away: his freedom, his reputation, his family. He lived for years with no viable evidence that God was working out things "for his good." Yet Joseph held firmly to faith in a loving God. Why?
Joseph's faith was rooted in his commitment to truth, not in what he could see. He believed in a trustworthy God whose faithfulness was greater than his circumstances suggested. He believed God sovereignly intervened in the course of human history; therefore, he trusted Him. Joseph-like us- lived much of his life in the tension of experiences that didn't seem to match up with God's promises. Yet he clung unswervingly to his faith. 
Trials are a certainty of life, but they don't have the power to control us when our faith rests in the character of a trustworthy God who promises that through His son, Jesus Christ, we will triumph in all things. 

October 30th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted."- Matthew 5:4
"From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people."- Psalm 3:8
Prayer: In these troubled times, Lord, when it would be so easy to be trapped by worry and fear, remind us that you will protect your own, that you will deliver your people. Thank you, God, for the many times you have come to our rescue. Help us to trust you when dark times come.
THE BLAME GAME
I've been blamed for a lot of things, and rightly so. My sin, failure, and incompetence have caused grief, anxiety, and inconvenience for friends and family (and probably even for strangers). I've also been blamed for things that were not my fault, things I was powerless to change.
But I have stood on the other side of the fence hurling accusations at others. If they had just done something different, I tell myself, I would not be in the mess I'm in. Blame hurts. So whether guilty or not, we waste lots of time and mental energy trying to find someone else to carry it for us.
Jesus offers us a better way to deal with blame. Even though He was blameless, He took upon Himself the sin of the world and carried it away (John 1:29).We often refer to Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, but He was also the final scapegoat for everything that is wrong with the world (LEV 16:10).
Once we acknowledge our sin and accept Christ's offer to take it away, we no longer have to carry the weight of our guilt. We can stop looking for someone to blame for what's wrong with us, and we can stop accepting blame for other's trying to do the same.
Thanks to Jesus, we can stop playing the blame game.
Prayer: Help me, Lord, to be honest when I am at fault and to confess that to You- instead of looking for someone else to blame. Thank You for taking my blame on Yourself.
Lesson: Honesty about our sins brings forgiveness
John 1:29
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
Leviticus 16:5-22
And He shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering.
Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord's lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness. 
And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as a sin offering...
Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people...So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel...
And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all the iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

October 28th,2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"We constantly pray for you..."-2 Thessalonians 1:11
"On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers."- 2 Corinthians 1:10,11
"The Lord shall preserve thy going out and they coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore."- Psalm 121:8
Prayer is a many-faceted gift, a gift that goes on giving, the only gift that can make a real difference in the life of someone we love.
Prayer: Dear Lord, I pray that you will keep me alert to Satan's clever attacks and help me to conquer him.
THE GIFT OF TEARS
I called a longtime friend when his mother died. She had been a close friend of my mother, and now both had passed on As we spoke, our conversation slipped easily into a cycle of emotion- tears of sorrow now that Beth was gone and tears of laughter as we recalled the caring and fun person she had been.

Many of us have experienced that strange crossover from crying one moment and laughing the next. Its an amazing gift that emotions of both sorrow and joy can provide a physical release in this way.
Since we were made in God's image (GEN. 1:26), and humor is such an integral part of almost every culture, I imagine that Jesus must have had a wonderful sense of humor. But we know that Jesus saw Mary weeping, and "He groaned in the spirit and was troubled." A short time later, He too began to weep (JOHN 11:33-35).
Our ability to express our emotions with tears is a gift, and God keeps track of each tear we cry. Psalm 56:8 says, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book" (NLT). But one day- we are promised )REV 7:17- God "will wipe away every tear."
Lesson: Our loving heavenly Father, who washed away our sins, will also wipe away our tears.
Prayer: Lord, You have made us to laugh, to cry, to yearn, to love- and to miss those who have gone before us. Help us to love even more deeply, confident in Your goodness and in the resurrection You promised.
Jesus Wept- John 1:35

John 11:32-44
Then when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."
Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping,...He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." 
Jesus Wept.
The the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"
And some of them said, "Could not this Man, who opened up the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?"
Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone."
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."
Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard me. And I know that You always here Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent me."
Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" And he who had died came out bound hand and foot...
Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."
Insight: Not only did Jesus weep for others but also for His own suffering in Gethsemane. The enemy Jesus faced was death- both physical and spiritual. As the sin-bearer, the Lord Jesus Christ bore the full wrath of God for sinners (ISA. 53:4). He experienced a full range of human emotions so He could be a compassionate High Priest for us (HEB 2:18).

October 27,2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry and He shall say, Here I am."- Isaiah 58:9
"When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, 'Here it the man!'"- John 19:5
Behold the Man-
Our Substitute, 
Our Sacrifice,
Our Savior...
Behold the Son-
Prince of Peace,
King of Kings,
Lord of Lords
Prayer: Thank you heavenly Father, for Your plan of prayer. We are glad You want us to keep in close touch with You. 
MYSTERIOUS WAYS
When my son began attending Chinese language classes, I marveled at the papers he brought home after his first session. As a Native English speaker, It was difficult for me to understand how the written characters related to the spoken words. The language seemed incredibly complex to me- almost incomprehensible. 
Sometimes I feel the same sense of bewilderment when I consider the way God operates. I know He has said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways" (ISA. 55:8). Still, there's a part of me that feels like I should be able to understand why God allows certain things to happen. After all, I read His Word regularly and His Holy Spirit lives inside of me. 
When I feel entitled to understand God's ways, I try to recommit myself to humility. I remember that Job did not get an explaination for all his heartache(JOB 1:5,8). He struggled to understand, but God asked him: "Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?" (40:2). Job contritely responded, "What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth" (V.4). Job was speechless before God's greatness. 
Although God's ways may seem to be mysterious and unfathomable at times, we can rest confidently that they are higher than our ways.
Prayer: Father, please help me to trust You even when I don't understand why things happen as they do. Comfort my heart and remind me of Your goodness and love.
Lesson: Since God's hand is in everything, you can leave everything in God's hand.
Job 40:1-14
Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said: "Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it." Then Job answered the LORD and said: Behold I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further." Then the LORD answered Job our of the whirlwind, and said: "Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and shall answer Me:
"Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you and arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and spender, and array yourself with glory and beauty. Disperse the rage of your wrath; look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low; tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together, bind their faces in hidden darkness. Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you."
Insight: In trying to explain why he was suffering, Job argued that he had not committed any wrong deserving of such punishment. In so justifying himself, Job was in essence questioning God's fairness and justice(40:8), (SEE ALSO JOB 21,24). God confronted Job, asserting that only He is qualified and has the absolute power, wisdom, and ability to rule this world justly (40:15-24).

October 26,2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"I know whom I believed..."- 2 Timothy 1:12
"I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely."- Revelation 21:6
When answers fail to come, don't be discouraged- keep leaning on His steadfast love and trusting in His will...
For knowing WHY won't really make a difference- But growing close and knowing Jesus WILL.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, fill me with thy joy so that there will be a constant overflow to attract others to thyself.
I'M STUMPED
The riddle stumped me: what is greater than God-and more evil then the devil? The poor have it. The rich need it. And if you eat it you will die. 
I've missed the solution by allowing my mind to be distracted from the obvious answer: "Nothing."
That riddle reminds me of another test of wits that would have far more difficult to solve when it was originally posed. An ancient wise man named Agur asked: "Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earths? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if you know?" (PROV. 30:4). 
Today, we know the answer to those questions. But sometimes when we are in the middle of the questions, worries, and needs of our lives we may lose sight of the obvious. The details of life can so easily distract us from the One who answers the most important riddle: Who is One with God; more powerful than the devil; the poor can have Him; the rich need Him; and if you eat and drink from His table, you'll never die? Jesus Christ, the Lord. 
Prayer: Father, in the details and distractions of our spiritual journey, it is so easy to look right past You and Your Son. May we see You today in a new and fresh way.
Lesson: Focusing on God helps us to take our eyes off circumstances.
Proverbs 30:1-4
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, his utterance. This man declared to Ithiel-to Ithiel and Ucal: 
Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One. 
Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if you know? 
Insight: The book of Proverbs contains many pithy sayings that promote a wise approach to life. Living by them does not guarantee that life will always go smoothly, but taking their advice will help avoid unnecessary problems. Proverbs 30 is slightly different in that it is preferanced by reflection on the wisdom of the Lord. By introducing the Lord in the beginning of his reflection, Agur acknowledges that he has not "mastered human wisdom" (v.3 NLT) and suggests that all wisdom is from the Lord. 

October 25, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." -Timothy 1:15
"This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and send His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."- 1 John 4:10
"He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds." -Psalm 14:3
He has always loved us, even Before the Cross...
It was love that sent Him there, 
love that held Him there,
love that draws us there.
MARKED BY HIS NAME
In July 1860, the world's first nursing school opened at St.Thomas Hospital in London. Today that school is part of the King's College, where nursing students are called Nightingales. The school-like modern nursing itself- was established by Florence Nightingale, who revolutionized nursing during the Crimean War. When perspective nurses complete their training, they take the "Nightingale Pledge," a reflection of her ongoing impact on nursing. 
Many people, like Florence Nightingale, have had a significant impact on our world. But no one has had a greater effect than Jesus, whose birth, death, and resurrection have been transforming lives for 2,000 years.
Around the world, Christ's name marks those who are His followers, going back to the earliest days of the church. "When [Barnabas] had found [Saul], he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (ACTS 11:26). 
Those who bare Christ's name identify with Him because we have been changed by His love and grace. We declared to the world that He has made an eternal difference in our lives and we long for that in the hearts of others too. 
Prayer: Father, give me the grace and wisdom to honor You. May my life be so marked by the person of Christ that His great name- and salvation- will be embraced by others as well. 
Lesson: Followers of Christ- Christians- are marked by His name.
Acts 11:19-26
Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 
Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great  many people were added to the Lord. 
Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. 
Insight: Antioch was a significant city for the early church. A assembly of believers was birthed there, and Barnabas ("the son of encouragement)" was sent from Jerusalem to help them (ACTS 11:22). Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, stayed with this growing church for a year, which helped prepare him for his role as an apostle. 

October 24,2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." -1 John 5:14
"Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls."-Jeremiah 6:16
Prayer: Lord, teach me to align my prayer to your loving will, to come to you with unshakable confidence that the prayers of my heart reach Your ear. Thank you, O God, for caring about the things of this world that need repair, like my life.
CALMING THE STORM
While Hurricane Katrina headed toward the coast of Mississippi, a retired pastor and his wife left their home and went to a shelter. Their daughter pleaded with them to go to Atlanta where she could take care of them, but the couple couldn't get any money to make the trip because the banks were closed. After the storm had passed, they returned to their home to get a few belongings, and were able to salvage only a few family photos floating in the water. Then, when the man was taking his father's photo out of its frame so it could dry, and then 366 dollars fell out- precisely the amount needed for 2 plane tickets to Atlanta. They learned they could trust Jesus for what they needed.
For the disciples, trusting Jesus in a storm was the curriculum for the day in the dramatic narrative of Mark 4:35-41. Jesus had instructed His disciples to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and then He went to sleep in the boat. When a quick and violent storm blew in, the disciples dripped as much with fear and anxiety as water from the waves. They woke Jesus, saying, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" (v. 38 NIV). Jesus stood up and with three words, "Peace, be still!" He muzzled the storm. 
We all experience storms- persecutions, financial troubles, illnesses, disappointments, loneliness,- and Jesus does not always prevent them. But He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us (HEB. 13:5). He will keep us calm in the storm. 
Lesson: Are you in a storm? What do you know about God's character that could help bring calm to your heart?
In the storms of life, we concede the character of our God. 
Mark 4:35-41
On the same day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side." Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great wind storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the Sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 
But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" 
And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be? That even the wind and sea obey Him!"
Insight: Mark 4:35-5:43 records four miracles that can answer the question asked in 4:41 "Who can this be...?" They demonstrate Jesus' absolute power over nature (4:35-41), the spiritual world (5:1-20), physical illnesses (5:21-34), and death (5:35-43). Each miracle shows Jesus as the Omnipotent Sovereign GOD. In Jewish minds the  power to control the sea and the waves was exclusive to God (JOB 38:8-11, PS. 65:5-7; ISA. 51:10, NAH. 1:3-5). It's interesting, however, that in today's passage Mark provides an amazing contrast. Just before Jesus displayed the awesome powers of His deity by calming the sea, we are given a touching picture of His frail humanity:Jesus was so tired that even the violent tossing of the waves did not wake Him (4:38). 

October 23rd, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."- Proverbs 3:5
"The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth."- Psalm 145:18
Trust His will...the Lord is faithful and He wants only our best.
Trust His word...within its promises his goodness is expressed.
Trust His power...He is Almighty, the Creator of all things.
Trust His love...we are His family, children of the King of Kings.
Prayer: Lord give me grace and strength to persevere and an obedient heart to do Your will.
OUR STRENGTH AND SONG
Often called "The March King," composer and band director John Philip Sousa created music that has been played by bands around the world for more than 100 years. As Loras John Schissel, music historian and conductor of the Virginia Grand Military Band, said, "Sousa is to marches what Beethoven is to symphonies." Sousa understood the power of music to motivate, encourage, and inspire people. 
In Old Testament times, the people of Israel were often inspired to compose and sing songs to celebrate God's help during times of need. When the LORD saved His people from certain destruction by Pharaoh's army, "Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD...'I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation'" (EX.15:1-2). 
Music has the power to lift our spirits by reminding us of God's faithfulness in the past. When we're discouraged, we can sing songs and hymns that raise our eyes from the challenging circumstances we face to see the power and presence of the Lord. We are reminded that He is our strength, our song, and our salvation. 
Trust in Him, ye saints, forever-He is faithful, changing never; neither force nor gile can sever those He loves from Him. 
Lesson: Songs of praise raise our eyes to see God's faithfulness.
Exodus 15;1-2,13-18
Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: "I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father's God, and I will exhault Him..."You in Your mercy have led forth the people who You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation. The people will hear and be afraid; sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia. Then the chief's of Edom will be dismayed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling will take hold of them; all the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away. Fear and dread will fall on them; by the greatness of Your arm they will be as still as a stone, till Your people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over whom You have purchased. You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which You have made for Your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands have established. The LORD shall reign forever and ever." 
Insight: Mose's song after the Israelites have passed through the Red Sea and were delivered from the pursuing Egyptians has two perspectives- one looking back and one looking forward. In the first verses, Moses reflects on what God has done to deliver His people (vv. 1-2). In the later verses, Moses looks forward to what God will do to establish His people in there new land (vv.13-18). 

October 22, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice..."- Samuel 15:22
"In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me."- Psalm 86:7
Prayer: Lord, help me to always give you the gift you find most dear- obedience motivated by love. Help me Lord, to act with your love in the seemingly impossible situations of life.
Chipmunk Chatter
I had laid out some landscape netting in my yard, upon with I was going to spread decorative stones. As I was preparing to finish the job, I noticed a chipmunk tangled up in the netting.
I put on my gloves and gingerly began clipping away at the netting. The little guy was not happy with me. He kicked his hind feet and tried to bite me. I calmly told him, "I'm not going to hurt you, buddy. Just relax." But he didn't understand, so in fear he resisted. I finally snipped the last restricting loop and sent him scampering home.
Sometimes humans feel entangled and react in fear to the Lord. Through the centuries, He has offered rescue and hope to people- yet we resist Him, not understanding the help He provides. In Isaiah 41, the prophet quotes the Lord as saying, "For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, 'Fear not; I will help you'" (v.13).
As you think about your situation how do you see God's role? Are you afraid to turn things over to Him- for fear that He might harm you? He is good and He is near, wanting to free you from life's entanglements. You can trust Him with your life.
Lesson: In what area of your life do you need freedom? Ask the Lord to show you and to give you the faith to trust Him for His deliverance.
Isaiah 41:13- Fear not; I will help you.
Faith is the best antidote for fear.
Isaiah 41:10-13
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
Behold, all those who were incensed against you shall be ashamed and disgraced; they shall be as nothing, and those who strive with you shall perish. You shall seek them and not find them- those who contended with you. Those who war against you shall be as nothing, as a nonexistent thing. For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, "Fear not, I will help you."
Insight: Of the prophet Isaiah, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says: "Isaiah was the son of Amoz (not Amos). He seems to have belonged to a family of some rank, as may be inferred from his easy access to the king (ISA 7:3), and his close intimacy with the priest (ISA 8:2). Tradition says he was the cousin of King Uzziah. He lived in Jerusalem and became court preacher. He was married and had two sons: Shear-jashub, his name signifying 'a remnant shall return' (ISA 7:3), and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, 'hasting to the spoil, hurrying to the prey,' symbolic of Assyria's mad lust of conquest (ISA 8:3)."

October 21, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Whoever finds life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."- Matthew 10:39
"God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."-Revelation 21:4
Oh Lord, you have taught me that my life is changed only by meeting You, that my life has meaning and value and beauty, only when fully surrendered to You.
Prayer: Dear Savior, help me to grow in your grace...even when the tears are falling!
Stuck in the Mud
We were absolutely stuck! While I was laying the wreath in place on my parents' grave, my husband eased the car off the road to allow another car to pass. It had rained for weeks and the parking area was sodden. When we were ready to leave, we discovered that the car was stuck. The wheels spun, sinking further and further into the mud.
We weren't going anywhere without a push, but my husband had a damaged shoulder, and I had just come out of the hospital. We needed help! At a distance I saw two young men, and they responded cheerfully to my frantic waves and shouts. Thankfully, their combined strength pushed the car back onto the roadway.
Psalm 40 recounts God's faithfulness when David cried for help. "I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he...heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire" (vv. 1-2 NLT). Whether this Psalm refers to an actual pit or to challenging circumstances, David knew that he could always call on God for deliverance.
God will help us too when we call on Him. Sometimes He intervenes directly, but more often He works through other people. When we admit our need to Him- and perhaps to others- we can count on His faithfulness.
Psalm 40:2- He brought me up out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock.
Prayer: I praise You, heavenly father, that You can rescue me from any pit, not matter how deep. Help me to accept the help of others and to be ready to offer it to those in need.
Psalm 40:1-5
I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth-praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.
Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust, and does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. Many, O Lord my God, are wonderful works which You have done; and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; if I would declare and speak of them, they are more then can be numbered.
Insight: David wrote about his struggles to trust God during difficult times, but he persisted for His help (vv. 11-17). Despite his prolonged and uncertain waiting (vv. 1-2) David testified that God hears and answers prayers (vv.1-2) and is worthy of our trust (vv. 3-4). In response to God's faithfulness, David committed himself to obeying God's Word and doing His will (vv. 6-8), and he calls on all who seek and long for God to join him in praising God (v.16).

October 20th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"Come near to God and He will come near to you....Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up."- James 4:8, 10
"He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber."- Psalm 121:3
The way to God is found in silence- Alone, in the quiet of His Presence, with the only sounds a proud heart breaking and the quiet weeping of one at last confronted with the truth: that my only self is sinful, my only hope is mercy, my only gift is salvation, my only life is Christ.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, remind me that you are always ready to help us through life, no matter how difficult the task may seem.
Wisdom Seekers
Every spring colleges and universities hold commencement ceremonies to celebrate the success of students who have completed their studies and earned their degrees. After the students cross the stage, these graduates will enter a world that will challenge them. Just having academic knowledge won't be good enough. The key to success in life will be in wisely applying everything they have learned.
Throughout Scripture, wisdom is celebrated as a treasure that is worth seeking. It is better than riches (PROV. 3:13-18). Its source is God, who alone is perfectly wise (ROM. 16:27). And it is found in the actions and attitude of Jesus, in whom "all the treasures of wisdom" are found (COL 2:3). Wisdom comes from reading and applying the Scripture. We have an example of this in the way Jesus applied His knowledge when He was tempted (LUKE 4:1-13). In other words, the truly wise person tries to see life from God's point of view and chooses to live according to His wisdom.
What's the payoff for this kind of life? Proverbs tells us that wisdom is like sweetness of honey on the tongue (PROV. 24:13-14). "Blessed are those who wisdom" (3:13 NIV). So seek wisdom, for it is more profitable than silver or gold!
Lesson: Blessing comes from seeking wisdom and living by it
Prayer: Lord, strengthen my resolve to live by the wisdom that comes only from You. Give me the discernment to live all of life from Your point of view that I might know the blessings of a life lived wisely
Proverbs 3:1-18
My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.
Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them, around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones.
Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.
Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious then rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. Length of days is in her right hand in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.


October 19th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."- Hebrews 11:1
"He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."- Matthew 24:13
Even in the quiet, God is working-
His silence in the shadows doesn't mean He doesn't care.
A part of faith is trusting without reason
Believing, when He can't be seen or heard,
that He's still there.
Prayer: God, give me a faith that does not waver.
New Start For a Broken Heart
The museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, is filled with anonymously donated remnants of love gone wrong. There is an axe that a jilted lover used to destroy the furniture of an offending partner. Stuffed animals, love letters framed in broken glass, and wedding dresses all speak volumes of heartache. While some visitors to the museum leave in tears over their own loss, some couples depart with hugs and a promise not to fail each other. 
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted" (ISA 61"1). When Jesus read from Isaiah 61 at the synagogue in Nazareth, He said, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). Extending far beyond help for an emotional wound, Isaiah's words speak of a changed heart and a renewed spirit that come by receiving God's gift of "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise fro the spirit of heaviness" (ISA 61:3).
All of us have experienced regret and broken promises in our lives. Whatever has happened, the Lord invites us to find healing, hope, and new life in Him.
Lesson: God can transform tragedies into triumphs.
Prayer: Lord, You are the promise-keeping God who has said He will make all things new. Today we give You our ashes in exchange for Your beauty, our mourning for the joy of finding comfort in You. Thank You!
Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
Insight: Today's Bible reading is a prophetic text that points to the arrival of the Messiah. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus selected a portion of this passage to announce His arrival and mission (ISA 61:12). Luke 4:18-19 records for us this significant announcement rooted in Isaiah's ancient words. In the verbs used by Isaiah, we see the core of Christ's work (preach, heal, proclaim), and in the nouns we find word-pictures of the needy people for whom He had come (poor, brokenhearted, captives, bound).

October 18th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."- 2 Corinthians 1:3,4
"Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it."- Mark 8:35
He shares the aching of our heart, 
Feels our loneliness, tastes our tears
He walks beside us through every shadowed valley, holding our hand, lighting our way with His love.
Prayer:Lord God, I expect great things of you; please help me to attempt and accomplish great things for you. 
Guard Your Focus
That's my disciple," I once heard a woman say about someone she was helping. As followers of Christ we are all tasked with making disciples-sharing the good news of Christ with people and helping them grow spiritually. But it can be easy to focus on ourselves instead of Jesus.
The apostle Paul was concerned that the Corinthian church was losing its focus on Christ. The two best-known preachers in those days were Paul and Apollos. The church was divided: "I follow Paul." "Well, I follow Apollos!" They had begun focusing on the wrong person, following the teachers rather than the Savior. But Paul corrected them. "We are God's fellow workers." It doesn't matter who plants and who waters, for only God can give the growth. Christians are "God's field, God's building" (1 Cor. 3:6-9). The Corinthian believers didn't belong to Paul nor to Apollos.
Jesus tells us to go and make disciples and to teach them about Him (Matt. 28:20). And the author of the book of Hebrews reminds us to focus on the Author and Finisher of our faith (122). Christ will be honored when we focus on Him; He is superior to any human being and will meet our needs.
Prayer: Father, I confess that it is easy to shift my focus from You to less important things. Thank You for putting people in my life that help point me to you. Help me point others to You in a way that makes You more and me less.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another , "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal?
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, not he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.
Insight: Apollos first appears on the pages of the New Testament in the book of Acts, where it says he was "born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures" (18:24). Though he spoke of Jesus boldly in the synagogue, his understanding of the Scriptures was incomplete, so he received training from Aquila and Priscilla (v.26). Apollos is discussed in today's text as someone who had developed a strong following among believers in Christ (1 Cor 3:4). He is mentioned favorable by Paul in Titus 3:13 when he urged Titus to help Apollos on his journey.

October 17th,2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is a light to you." - Psalm 139:12
"Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass."- Psalm 37:5
His love shines on...
Beyond time's distant, vast horizon, past yesterday, today, and each tomorrow...
Though joy grows dim and sunlight fades to shadow, 
His love shines on, within our hearts, beyond our sorrow
Prayer: Lord, we want to be more like you. May we see where changes are necessary, and trust You for the help we need.
The Great Healer
The doctors I know are smart, hard-working, and compassionate. They have relieved my suffering on many occasions, and I am grateful for their expertise in diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medication, setting broken bones, and stitching up wounds. But this does not mean that I place my faith in physicians rather than in God. 
For reasons known only to God, He appointed humans to be His partners in the work of caring for creation (Gen. 2:15), and doctors are among them. Doctors study medical science and learn how God designed the body. They use this knowledge to help restore us to a healthy condition. But the only reason doctors can do anything to make us better is that God created us with the ability to heal. Surgeons would be useless if incisions didn't heal. 
Scientists can learn how God created our bodies to function, and they devise therapies to help restore or cure us, but they are not healers; God is (Exp 15:26). Doctors simply cooperate with God's original intent and design. 
So I am grateful for science and doctors, but my praise and thanksgiving go to God, who designed an orderly universe and who created us with minds that can discover how it works. I believe, therefore, that all healing is divine because no healing takes place apart from God.
Prayer: Father God, You are the Great physician, and I ask for healing, whether mind, body, spirit, or in all of these. I believe You will give what is best. Thank You for Your goodness, kindness, and love in all things.
Insight: When you think of all that's good, give thanks to God.
Genesis 2:7-15
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 
The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 
Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four river heads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates. 
Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 
Insight: Genesis 2:7-15 gives us a glimpse into the perfect living environment of Adam and Eve before the fall. God provided everything necessary for their sustenance and enjoyment-food (v:9), water (v:10), and other natural resources (vv:10-12)---and gave man the responsibility to manage these resources (v:15). God had originally intended for humanity to live forever, but after the fall Adam and Eve were prevented from eating from the Tree of Life so that they would not live forever in their sinful condition (3:22-24). 

October 16th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land, but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned."-Hebrews 11:29
"Commit they way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and he shall bring it to pass."- Psalm 37:5
Lord, let us never forget that we can do all things in You and nothing without you. Lord, we want to be more like You. May we see where changes are necessary, and trust You for the help we need.
One Step Closer
Some years ago a friend and I set out to climb Mt. Whitney. At 12,505 feet, it the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. We arrived Whitney Portal late one evening, rolled out our sleeping bags at base camp, and tried to get some sleep before we began our ascent at first light. Whitney is not a technical climb but rather a long, exhausting walk-11 miles of relentless ascent. 
The climb, though hard- going, was exhilarating, the stunning vistas, beautiful blue lakes, and lush meadows along the way. But the trail grew long and exhausting, a test for legs and lungs. I thought of turning back as the day wore on and the trail seemed to stretch endlessly before us. 
Occasionally however, I caught a glimpse of the sun and realized that each step was bringing me one step closer. If I just kept walking, I would get there. That was the thought that kept me going.
Paul assures us, "Our salvation is nearer then when we first believed" (Rom. 13:11). Every day brings us one day closer to that great day when we shall "Summit" and see our Savior's face. That's the thought that can keep us going. 
Dear Lord, may I, for the joy set before me, endure with patience the hardship of the trail. When my journey is over, I will see You face to face and live with You forever. 
Now we see Jesus in the Bible, but some day we will see Him face to face. 
Romans 13:10-14
Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Insight: Paul often discusses the need to walk (live) properly. He writes to the church Ephesus to remind them to walk in the light of good deeds because they have been saved by God's grace (Eph. 2:1-10). To the church in Rome, he prescribes a different motivation for living according to the Lord Jesus Christ-because "salvation is nearer" (Rom. 13:11). Because the time of the Lord's return is approaching, we are to leave behind the deeds of darkness.

October 15th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord! 
"For With God nothing shall be impossible". - Luke 1:37
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life..."- 1 Thessalonians 4:11
He calls us out of the crowd and clamor, away from the noise of getting things done, accomplishing goals and achieving, away from reaching and striving, into the quiet and peace of just...being. In the simple act of being still and trusting, we finally fulfill His will.
Lord, help us to speak to others in a way that will help them see you.
Power in Praise
Willie Myrick was kidnapped from his driveway when he was 9 years old. For hours, he traveled in a car with his kidnapper, not knowing what would happen to him. During that time, Willie decided to sing a song called "Every Praise." As he repeatedly sang the words, his abductor spewed profanity and told him to shut up. Finally, the man stopped the car and let Willie out unharmed.
As Willie demonstrated, truly praising the Lord requires us to concentrate on God's character while forsaking what we fear, what is wrong in our lives, and the self-sufficiency in our hearts. 
The Israelites reached this place of surrender when they faced attackers. As they prepared for battle, King Jehoshaphat organized a choir to march out in advance of their enemies army. 
The choir sang, "Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever" (2 Chron. 20: 21). When the music started, Israel's enemies became confused and destroyed each other. As the prophet Jahaziel had predicted, Israel didn't need to fight at all (v. 17).
Whether we are facing a battle or feeling trapped, we can glorify God in our hearts. Truly, "The Lord is great and greatly to be praised" (Ps. 96:4). 
Dear God, You are Holy and good. I worship You today despite the problems that cloud my vision of You. Let my soul tell of Your glory forever.
Insight: Worship is a heart overflowing with praise to God.
2 Chronicles 20:15-22
And [the Spirit of the Lord said through Jahaziel], "Listen all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord: (Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's. Tomorrow go down against them...you will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem! ) Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go against them, for the Lord is with you. "
And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high.
So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper." And when He had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, and as they went out before the army and were saying: "Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever."
Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. 

October 14, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"We know that all things work together for the good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."- Romans 8:28
"He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross."- Colossians 2:13, 14
Dear Lord, as you give all on a day to day basis, help me to accept it in just that way. Because of the Cross, my past is forgiven, my future assured.
Motivated By Love
In the 1920's, Bobby Jones dominated the golfing world, despite being an amateur. In one film about his life, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, there is a scene where a professional golfer asks Bobby when he is going to quit being an amateur and grab for the money like everyone else does. Jones answers by explaining that the word amateur comes from the Latin amo-to love. His answer was clear: he  played golf because he loved the game. 
Our motives, why we do what we do, make all the difference. This certainly applies to those who are followers of Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul gives us an example of this. Throughout the Epistle, he defended his conduct, character, and calling as an apostle of Christ. In response to those who questioned his motives for ministry, Paul said, "Christ's love compells us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15 NIV).
Christ's love is the greatest of all motivators. It causes those who follow Him to live for Him, not for themselves. 
2 Corinthians 5:11-17
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you an opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance in not in heart. 
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. 
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 
Insight: In 2 Corinthians Paul was writing to a church that he founded- yet a church that had, in a sense, turned on him. This makes it very different from 1 Thessalonians, where Paul was writing to men and women with whom he had a strong and loving relationship. Because of these different relationships in 1 Thessalonians 2-3 Paul was describing his ministry, while in 2 Corinthians he was defending it. 
What are some of the ways your understanding of Christ and His love has shaped your motives and your actions? In what ways would you like to see God work in you now? We are shaped and fashioned by what we love most.

October 13, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."- John 8:12
"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."-1 Timothy 6:17
Set your heart on brighter things-Each day contains a promise. Light the hours with sunshine thoughts and hope will paint a rainbow. 
Father, what you have to say to us is vital. Help us to listen; help us to hear.
A Survivor's Thoughts
After a 71 year old south Korean woman was rescued during the tragic sinking of a ferry boat, she struggled with survivor's guilt. From her hospital bed she said she couldn't understand how it could be right for her to have lived through an accident that had taken the lives of many who so much younger. She also regetted not knowing the name of the young man who had pulled her out of the water after she had given up hope. Then she added, "I want to buy him a meal at least, or hold his hand, or give him a hug". 
This woman's heart for others reminds me of the Apostle Paul. He was so concerned about his neighbors and countrymen that he said he wished he could trade his own relationship with Christ for their rescue: "I have great sorrow and continual greif in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren". (Rom.92-3)
Paul also expressed a deep sense of personal gratitude. He knew he didn't understand the ways and judgments of God (v. 14-24). So while doing everything he could to proclaim the gospel to all, he found peace and joy in trusting the heart of a God who loves the whole world so much more than we ever could. 
Lord God, Your ways are so far beyond our comprehension, yet we know without doubt that You love us. Help us trust Your loving heart with the things we don't understand.
Lesson: Gratitude to God leads to growth and Godliness
Romans 9:1-5
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is overall, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
Insight: Even though Paul was "an apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13; Gal. 2:8), his hearts desire was to see his own people-the Jews-come to faith in Jesus (Rom. 9:2-3). In Romans 9-11 Paul discussed the continuing unbelief of the Jews, but he assured them that they had not been rejected. He reminded them of their privileged status (v.4), and the climax of these privileges is that the Messiah-the Savior-is Himself a Jew (v. 5). 

October 12, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul."- Psalm 23:2,4
"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies."- Psalm 138:7
There's a time of still waters that comes to us all. A time when we hear the Lord's soft, gentle call...He asks us to trust Him to be still and rest, as he works to accomplish His will for our best.
Heavenly Father, how grateful I am that I am not left alone to flounder in weakness. Strengthen me through the lifeline of prayer.
Listening With Love
One August evening in Vermont, a young missionary spoke at our small church. The country where he and his wife served was in religious turmoil, and it was considered too dangerous for children. In one of his stories, he told us about a heart-wrenching episode when his daughter pleaded with him not to leave her behind at a boarding school. 
I was a new dad at that time, having recently been blessed with a daughter, and the story upset me. How could loving parents leave their daughter alone like that? I muttered to myself. By the time the talk was finished, I was so worked up that I ignored the offer to visit with the missionary. I charged out of the church, saying out loud as I left: "I'm sure glad I'm not like that..."
In that instant, the Holy Spirit stopped me cold. I couldn't even finish the sentence. Here I was, saying almost word for word what the Pharisee said to God: "I thank you that I am not like other men" (Luke 18:11). How disappointed I was in myself! How disappointed God must have been! Since that evening, I've asked God to help me listen to others with humility and restraint as they pour their hearts out in confession, profession, or pain.
Lesson: We don't get closer to God by passing judgment on others. Luke 18:14: Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 18:9-14
Also [Jesus] spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other two a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself. 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'
And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

October 11,2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"For With God Nothing is Impossible."- Luke 1:37
"I had loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness. I will build you up again."- Jeremiah 31:3,4
His love is as constant in the darkness as in the light, as faithful in the silence as amidst the sounds of singing....In the time, He comes to rescue and restore all those who wait for Him. Lord, help us to speak to others in a way that will help them see you.
The Riches of Obedience
Publicly operated lotteries exist in more than 100 counties. In a recent year, lottery ticket sales totaled more than 85 billion dollars in just the US and Canada, only part of total sales world wide. The lure of huge jackpots has created a mindset among many that all of life's problems would be solved "if I won the lottery". 
There's nothing wrong with wealth itself. But it has the power to deceive us into thinking that money is the answer to all our needs. The psalmist, expressing a different point of view, wrote "I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches...I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word". (ps.119:14,16 NLT). This concept of spiritual treasure is focused on obedience to God and walking "in the path of [His] commandments" (v 35).
What if we were more excited about following the Lord's Word then about winning a jackpot worth millions? With the psalmist we might pray, "Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness. Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way" (v.36-37).
The riches of obedience-true riches-belong to all who walk with the Lord.
Dear Lord may I commit each day to standing on the unchanging truth of Your Word and to Growing in my relationship with You, the only measure of success in this life and in eternity.
Success is knowing and loving God!
Psalm 119: 14, 33-40
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in riches. 
Teach me, O Lord the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to covetousness. Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your Way. Establish Your word to Your servant, who is devoted to fearing You. Turn away my reproach which I dread, for Your judgments are good. Behold, I long for Your precepts; revive me in Your righteousness.
INSIGHT: Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. Its 176 verses are presented in 22 stanzas of 8 verses each, and each stanza corresponds to the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Because it is an acrostic song, Spurgeon said it could be called "the alphabet of love", for it unfolds God's loving provision of wisdom for His children. 

October 10, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"For thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous: with favor wilt thou compass him as with a shield." - Psalm 5:12
"Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." - 2 Corinthians 1:11
The best way to show someone special we care is to lift them to God with the gift of prayer.
O Lord, let mine be a life of sacrificial love.

Where Can We Learn?
What a wonderful funeral!" Cindy remarked as we walked out. Helen, our friend, had died. And friend after friend celebrated her by sharing stories of her all-around fun behavior. But Helen's life wasn't all jokes and laughter. Her nephew spoke of her faith in Jesus and her cares for others. She had taken him into her home when he was young and struggling. Now in his twenties, he said of his aunt Helen, "she was like a mom to me. She never gave up on me in my struggles. I'm sure that if it wasn't for her, I would have lost my faith." Wow! What an influence! Helen leaned on Jesus and wanted her nephew to Trust Him too!
In the Old Testament, we read that King David took a young man named Mephibisheth into his home with the purpose of showing him kindness for the sake of his father, Johnathan (David's friend who had died; see 2 Samuel 9:1). Years earlier, Mephibisheth had been injured when his nurse dropped him as they fled after the news that his father had been killed (4:4). He was surprised that the King would care for him; he even referred to him as a "dead dog:(9:8). Yet the King treated him as his own son (9:11).
I would like to be that kind of person, wouldn't you? Someone who cares for others and helps them hang on to faith in Jesus even when life looks hopeless.
2 Samuel 9
Now David said, "Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Johnathan's sake?"
And there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba. So when they had called him to David, the King said to him, "Are you Ziba?"
Then the King said, "Is there not still someone of the house of Saul,to whom I may show the kindness of God?" And Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet"...
Now when Mephiposheth the son of Johnathan, the son of Saul, had come to David, he fell on his face...So David said to him, "Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Johnathan your father's sake..."
Then he bowed himself, and said, "What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?" 
And the king called to Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, "I have given to your master's son all that belong to Saul and to all his house. You therefore, and your son's and your servants, shall work the land for him and you shall bring in the harvest...But Mephibosheth your master's son shall eat bread at my table always"...
Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my Lord the King has commanded his servant, so will your servant do"...
So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king's table. And he was lame in both his feet. 
INSIGHT: Mephibosheth, Johnathan's son could have been heir to his grandfather's (King Saul) throne and a potential threat to David's kingship. But David promised his best friend, Johnathan, that he would care for his family. In today's passage we read how David made good on that promise. (2 Samuel 9:9-13).

October 9, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."- Phillippians 2:10, 11
"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."- matthew 5:8
He is HOPE for all the hopeless, The WAY for those who seek, A LIGHT for those in darkness, A HELPER for the weak, He is FREEDOM for the prisoner, A RANSOM for our shame, He is SAVIOR, LORD, and MASTER- And JESUS is His name.
O God of love, let me serve in your spirit.
Tell Your Story
Michael Dinsmore, a former prisoner and relatively new Christian, was asked to give his testimony in a prison. After he spoke, some inmates came to him and said, "This is the most exciting meeting we've ever been to!" Michael was amazed that God could use his simple story.
In 1 Timonthy, after Paul had charged Timothy to stay the course preaching the gospel (1:11-11), he shared his personal testimony to encourage the young man (w. 12-16). He told about God's mercy in his own life. Paul said that he had mocked the Lord, but He changed him. In His mercy, God not only counted him faithful and gave him a job to do, but He also enabled him to do His work (v.12). Paul considered himself the worst of sinners, but God saved him (v.15).
The Lord is able! That is what Paul wanted Timothy to see, and what we need to see too. Through Paul's testimony, we see God's mercy. If God could use someone like Paul, He can use us. If God could save the worst of sinners, then no one is beyond His reach.
Our story of God's work in our lives can encourage others. Let those around you know that the God of the Bible is still at work today!
1 Timothy 1:12-20
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blashpemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered a shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

October 8th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose."- Romans 8:28
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."- Ephesians 4:29
Dear Lord, as you give all on a day to day basis, help me to accept it in just that way. Lord, let my words be building blocks rather than stumbling blocks.
No Need Is Too Trivial
Several mothers of small children were sharing encouraging answers to prayer. Yet one woman said she felt selfish about troubling God with her personal needs. "Compared with the huge global needs God faces," she explained, "my circumstances must seem trivial to Him."
Moments later, her little son pinched his fingers in a door and ran screaming to his mother. She didn't say, "How selfish of you to bother me with your throbbing fingers when I'm busy!" She showed him great compassion and tenderness.
As Psalm 103:13 reminds us, this is the response of love, both human and divine. In Isaiah 49, God said that even though a mother may forget to have compassion on her child, the Lord never forgets His children (v.15). God assured His people, "I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (v. 16).
Such intimacy with God belongs to those who fear Him and who rely on Him rather than on themselves. As that child with throbbing fingers ran freely to his mother, so may we run to God with our daily problems.
Our compassionate God doesn't neglect others to respond to our concerns. He has a limitless time and love for each of His children. No need it too trivial for Him.
Isaiah 49:13-18
Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted.
But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me."
Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me. Your sons shall make haste; your destroyers and those who laid you waste shall go away from you. Lift up your eyes, look around and see; all these gather together and come to you. As I live,"says the Lord, "You shall surely clothe yourselves with them all as an ornament, and bind them on you as a bride does."

October 7th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.- Matthew 24:35
"But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him."- Acts 10:35
Lord, grant us the determination to overcome all obstacles in our discovery of your love. Help us, Lord, to remember that by thy word the heavens and earth were formed and by thy word we one day will awake in thy likeness.
"But godliness with contentment is great gain." - 1 Timothy 6:6
The quiet heart finds blessing in small gifts of gentle beauty, assurance in warm, peaceful hours of rest. The quiet heart finds joy and true contentment always nearby, for the quiet heart knows simple things are best.
Remind the People
In a typical week, many of us receive a number of emails reminding us of appointments or upcoming events or requests to pray for someone. All of them are needed reminders.
When Paul wrote his "papyrus mail" to Titus, he ended his note by saying, "Remind the believers..." (3:1 NLT). We can assume from Paul's word choice that he had already written about these things. But they were of such importance to the people in the church that he repeated them so they wouldn't forget.
Notice what Paul didn't want them to miss. He reminded the people-living under the oppresive Roman rule-"to be subject to rulers and authorities" (v.1). It was important to be known for obedience; for doing what is good; for not slandering; for being peaceful and considerate; and for humility rather than for complaining. Their behavior was to showcase the change made in their lives by following Christ (w. 3-5).
How could they -and we- do that? "The Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us...through Jesus Christ" enables us to "devote (ourselves) to doing what is good" (w.5-6,8 NIV). It is through Jesus' great gift of salvation that we are equipped to influence our world for good. That's a reminder we all need. 
Titus 3:1-8
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various luts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward them appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.

October 6th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
"He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber."- Psalm 121:3
Heavenly Father, remind me that you are always ready to help us through life, no matter how difficult the task may seem. Lord, enable me to live a joyful, prayerful, thankful life- A life that is pleasing to you. 
All Aboard
One day when I dropped my husband off at our local train station, I watched as the conductor scanned the area for stragglers. A woman with wet hair bounded from the parking lot and up into the train. Then, a man in a dark suit strode to the platform and climbed aboard. The conductor waited patiently while several more late-comers sprinted to the tracks and boarded at the last moment.
Just as the conductor was patient with people boarding the train, God patiently waits for people to come to know Him. However, someday Jesus will return and "the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat" (2 Peter 3:10). When this happens, or when our physical bodies die, it will be too late to establish a relationship with God. 
"The Lord is...longsuffering toward us," Peter says, "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (v.9). If you have delayed deciding to follow Christ, there is good news- you can still commit yourself to Him. "If you declare with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him form the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9). He is calling. Will you run in His direction?
2 Peter 3:1-13
Beloved, I know write to you...that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise...but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth ad the works that are in it will be burned up. 
Therefore, since all these things will be desolved, what manner of person ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be desolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

October 5th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in now wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Matthew 5:18
I'm glad you are never too busy to remember your promises, Lord.
"I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble." Proverbs 4:11, 12
Lord, you know this new step I'm about to take isn't something I want to do, but rather something I have to do. Help me to remember your past faithfulness- the countless times you led me through the shadows or carried me above a storm to set me in a safe place. Help me to walk in faith, depending you you. 
The prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective- James 5:16
The Squeeky Wheel gets the oil" is a popular proverb. As a child, I rode my bicycle for long distances between home and school, and the squeeky sounds of the wheels drew my attention to the need to lubricate them. 
In Luke 18, the widow's persistent request to the judge for justice against her adversary made her sound like a "squeeky wheel" until she got the results she needed. Luke explains that Jesus told this story to teach us the need to pray continually and not to give up, even if it appears that the answer to our prayer is delayed (w.1-5).
God is certainly not an unjust judge who must be harassed before He responds to us. He is our loving Father who cares about us and hears us when we cry to Him. It may feel like we are on a squeeky wheel, but the Lord welcomes our prayers and encourages us to approach Him with our cries. He hears us and will come to our aid in ways that we may not expect.
As Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:5-8, constant prayer does not require long periods of "vain repetitions." Rather, as we bring our needs before God "day and night" (Luke 18:7) and walk with the one who already knows our needs, we learn to trust God and wait patiently for His response. 
Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city: and she came to him saying, 'Get justice for me from my adversary.'
And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'"
Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"

Oct 4th, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
"The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations." 2 Peter 2:9
"For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted. Hebrews 2:18
Dear God, help me to withstand the temptation of self-righteousness, and all other temptations that keep me from knowing your will. 
Thanks Lord for being willing to suffer so you could help when temptations come.
"He satisfies my desires with good things" Psalm 103:5
He offers solid food to fill the spirit, but in our rash impatience to be fed we glut ourselves with quick and easy junk food, instead of reaching for the Living Bread. Our human nature always seeks the shortcut, the fastest route to where we want to be, But God says, "Choose: happiness or holiness- there is no easy road to Calvary."
The School of Pain
In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis observes that "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Suffering often helps us to redirect our focus. It shifts our thinking from immediate circumstances so we can listen to God concerning His work in our lives. Life as usual is replaced by a spiritual schoolroom. 
In the old testament, we read how the  psalmist maintained a teachable heart even during painful circumstances. He accepted them as orchestrated by God, and in submission he prayed, "In faithfulness You have afflicted me" (PS 119:75). Isaiah the prophet viewed suffering as a refining process: "Behold I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction" (ISA 48:10). And Job, despite his laments, learned about the sovereignty and greatness of God through his troubles (Job 40-42).
We are not alone in our experience of pain. God Himself took on human form and suffered greatly: "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow His steps" (1 Peter 2:21). The one with nail-scarred hands is near. He will comfort us and teach us in our suffering. 
Psalm 119:65-80
You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to Your Word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe Your commandments. Before i was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your Word. You are good, and do good; teach me Your statutes. The proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart. Their heart is as fat as grease, but I delight in Your law. 
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to me then thousands of coins of gold and silver.
Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn your commandments. Those who fear you will be glad when they see me, because I have hoped in your world. I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Your Word to your servant. Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight. Let the proud be ashamed, for they treated me wrongly with falsehood; but I will meditate on Your precepts. Let those who fear You turn to me, those who know Your testimonies. Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes, that I may not be ashamed. 

Oct 3rd, 2016
Scripture Verses Given By Our Lord!
Ephesians 5:14 "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light."
"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on winds like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31
Lord, when the hurting seems greater than my hope, when weakness seems to be the very essence of my days, remind me of your promises- and help me stand.... remind me of your promises- and help me stand.... In the power of your Word, in the quiet of your Peace, in the light of your love- help me stand.

Heart of Joy
While waiting in the gate area of Singaore's Changi Airport to board my flight, I noticed a young family-mom, dad, and son. The area was crowded, and they were looking for a place to sit. Suddenly, the little boy began loudly singing "Joy to the World." He was about 6 years old, so I was impressed that he knew all the words. 
What captured my attention even more was the look on the boy's face-his beaming smile matched the words he was singing as he proclaimed to everyone at the gate the joy of Christ who has come.
This joy is not limited to exuberant children nor should it be confined to the Christmas season. The overflowing joy of knowing Christ's presence in our lives was one of the themes of Jesus' final teaching with His disciples the night before He died on the cross. He told them of His extravagant love for them-that He loved them as the Father loved Him (John 15:9). After sharing what this eternal relationship looks like, Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy many be full" (v.11)
What a promise! Through Jesus Christ our hearts can be filled with joy-real joy!
John 15:1-11
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away: and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit  of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, where they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
As the Father loved me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide His love. Theses things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

October 2nd, 2016
The Best Wedding Ever!...Within the last 800 or so years, a new custom has been added to the Jewish wedding ceremony. At the very end, the groom crushes a wine glass under his foot. One explanation of this is that the shattering of the glass symbolizes the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Young couples are encouraged to remember, as they establish their own homes, that God's home had been destroyed.
God is not homeless, however. He has just chosen a new place to live-in us, His followers. In the metaphors of Scripture, believers are both the bride of Christ and the temple in which God lives. God is fitting His people together to build a new home that will be His permanent dwelling place. At the same time, He is preparing the bride and planning a wedding that will include all of God's family from the beginning of time.
Our part is easy though sometimes painful. We cooperate with God as He is at work in us to make us more like His son Jesus. Then some day, at the best wedding ever, our Lord will present us to Himself without spot or wrinkle. We will be Holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:27). This wedding will bring an end to all sorrow and suffering.
Revelation 21:1-8Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold I will make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful."
And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

October 1st, 2016
"I'm Nobody's Servant!"I cried out. That morning the demands of my family seemed too much as I frantically helped to find my husband's blue tie, while feeding the crying baby and recovering the lost toy from under the bed for our 2 year old.
Later on that day, as I was reading the Bible, I came across the verse: "For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Yet I am among you as the One who serves" (Luke 22:27).
Jesus didn't have to wash His disciples' feet, yet He did (John 13:5). There were servants who did that job, but Jesus chose to serve them. Today's society insists that we should aim to "be somebody." We want the best paying job, the highest position in the company, the top leadership in church. Yet whatever position we are in, we can learn from our Savior to serve.
We hold different roles as parents, children, friends, workers, leaders, or students. The question is this: Do we carry out these roles with an attitude of service? Even though my every day routine is sometimes tiring, I'm thankful the Master will help me because I do want to follow His steps and willingly serve others. 
May God help us to do this each day.
Luke 22:24-27  Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them would be considered the greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called "benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? It is not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves."

September 30th, 2016
In Every Generation...It may seem surprising when children don't follow their parent's example of faith in God. Equally unexpected is a person with a deep commitment to Christ who emerges from a family where faith was not present. In every generation, each person has a choice.
Samuel was a great man of God who appointed his two sons, Joel and Abijah, as leaders over Israel (1 Sam. 8:1-2). Unlike their father, however, they were corrupt and "turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes and perverted justice" (v.3). Yet, years later, we find Heman, Joel's son, appointed as a musician in the house of the Lord (1 Chron. 6:31-33). Heman Samuel's grandson-along with Asaph his right-hand man and the author of many of the psalms-served the Lord by singing joyful songs (15:16-17).
Even though a person seems indifferent toward the faith so precious to his or her parents, God is still at work. Things can change in later years, and seeds of faith may spring to life in generations to come.
No matter what the family situation may be, we know that "the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations."
Psalm 100
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.

September 29th, 2016
Correct Gently-At the end of a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, our group traveled from the conference center to a guesthouse to prepare to fly back home the next morning. When we arrived, one person in our group reported that she had forgotten her luggage back at the conference center. After she left to retrieve it, our group leader (always meticulous on details) criticized her sharply to us in her absence.
The next morning when we arrived at the airport, the leader discovered to his dismay, that he too had left his luggage behind. It and his passport were back at the guesthouse. It was now going to cost us even more to go for his baggage. Later he apologized and said to all of us, "I'll never criticize so harshly again!"
Because we all have faults and weaknesses, we should bear with one another and forgive each other when things go wrong (COL 3:13). We need to be constructive in our criticism and "clothe (our)selves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (v.12 niv).
When correction is necessary, it should be done with kindness and love. In that way we become imitators of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 Colossians 3:12-17
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on the tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you must also do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell you richly in all his wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.