Friday, December 31, 2010

Whom Will You Serve ... Eternally (Ps. 63:11)

But the king will rejoice in God;
Everyone who swears by Him will glory,
For the mouths of those who speak lies will be stopped.

(Psalm 63:11, NASB)

One day, the war will be won, and the enemy will be forever vanquished. Only God knows the time, but it will happen!

I can’t wait!

We’ll all—every single one of us, past, present, and future—bow down at the feet of our Lord God and worship Him (Phil. 2:9-11). But not all of us will experience the joy of worshiping and serving our Lord for all eternity. Some, because they’ve believed and spoken the lies of the enemy, because they’ve refused to follow the one true God, will spend eternity separated from Him (Matt. 7:20-22; 25:31-33).

As this year winds down, I believe that day is coming ever sooner. It could be today. It could be tomorrow. It could be years. But it will happen.

If Jesus returns soon, do you know where you’ll spend eternity? You will bow down at the feet of the Savior and worship Him. The Bible makes that very clear. But it’s your decision regarding where you’ll spend the remainder of eternity: with God or separated from Him.

If you haven’t made the decision to give your life to the God who loves you abundantly and offers you grace, then do so now. Start 2011 in a relationship with Jesus. Know Him … and know where you’ll spend eternity.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

You're Not Alone (Ps. 63:9-10)

But those who seek my life to destroy it,
Will go into the depths of the earth.
They will be delivered over to the power of the sword;
They will be a prey for foxes.

(Psalm 63:9-10, NASB)

I believe God protects His children. I believe nothing happens to us that isn’t filtered through His love. That’s not to say bad things won’t happen to us, or we won’t go through times of crises. But even through the “shadow of the valley of death,” God never leaves us alone.

You may have lost a loved one or are struggling with ill health. You may have a wayward child. Or you’ve been abused—or worse.

You truly feel there are those who are trying to destroy you. And sometimes, you wonder where God is. Where is His protective hand?

I don’t know what particular battle you’re fighting right now. I don’t know what you’re struggling with in the deepest part of your soul. But I do know this—and I believe it with all my heart.

Your heavenly Father has not forgotten you. He has not deserted you. He has not left your side to fight your battles alone.

If you don’t feel His presence, He’s there. And even if you’ve turned from Him in your confusion or pain, He’s still there.

He’s fighting alongside you—and He will win the war.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Lord, My Help (Ps. 63:6-8)

When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.

(Psalm 63:6-8, NASB)

On Monday, I wrote that I desire to hunger after the Lord. I wrote that I should think of Him when I wake and just as I fall asleep.

Today’s verses speak to the very same thing. And I love that I’m given permission to lie in bed as I meditate on God and His word! In fact, I’m lying in bed as I write these words!

But why should I remember Him? Why should my thoughts be filled with Him?

Oh, for so many reasons, but right now, at this moment, I remember my Lord because He has been and will be my help. He gathers me under the shadow of His wing and protects me from the powers of this world. Just as a baby bird joyfully chirps under the safety of her mother’s wing, so I can joyfully sing praises to my Abba.

And as my own soul clings to my Lord, I can rest in the confidence that He’ll hold me through whatever today brings.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Praising God With Gratitude (Ps. 63:3-5)

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.

(Psalm 63:3-5, NASB)

God loves you so very much. Do you really know this? He loves you so much He sent His Son—a part of Himself—to pay the penalty for your sins. He loves you so much He wants you with Him for eternity.

If you know this—really know this—what are you doing to thank Him? What are you doing to show your love for Him?

I love the psalms for their words of praise. I especially love the words of today’s psalms.

God’s love is better than life. His kindness to me, His grace and mercy, His protection and provision—they all remind me of His love for me.

I can’t begin to love Him as He loves me. But I can, in some small way, show Him how grateful I am for Him. I can give Him even a fraction of the love He has for me.

With my praises. I can determine to praise Him every day. I can bless His name and strive to glorify Him in my words, thoughts, and actions. I can sing songs of praise, lifting my hands to Him and my eyes to the heavens.

I can joyfully and gratefully praise Him for His mercy, His grace, and His abundant love.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Seek God Earnestly (Ps. 63:1-2)

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

(Psalm 63:1-2, NASB)

I can’t believe 2010 is almost over. This year truly has flown!

I’m finishing out this year with another of my favorite psalms, the 63rd.

Oh how I desire to seek after my God earnestly. I want to thirst after Him, yearn for Him. I want to see His power and glory in all places and at all times.

But sometimes I don’t. I don’t seek after Him. I don’t thirst for Him. I don’t yearn for Him.

I so often get caught up in my own day-to-day “stuff.” Housework. Ministry tasks. Home business to-do’s. Busy work. Necessary, yet, on the grand scheme of things, worthless.

I do so much that seems important now, yet when I look toward eternity, it doesn’t have much value. Not that I shouldn’t take care of what God’s loaned me on earth. It’s just that I need to focus on what’s really important.

My heart should always be God-focused. I should miss Him if I don’t spend time with Him every day. He should be my first thought upon waking and my last before falling asleep. His word should be daily soul-sustenance.

As we enter another year, I pray my heart will yearn even more for my God. And I pray the same for you.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day!

Citizens of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and some other commonwealths are celebrating Boxing Day today. For most, it’s a banking or public holiday. From my research, “its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes” ( Wikipedia adds that gifts were also given to those who provided service.

What a lovely practice!

What if we do something similar? Give a little financially to those less fortunate than we are.

Or even better, give a little kindness to those who serve us. Today, say a heartfelt “thank you” to those who serve in your church. If you go out to lunch or dinner, recognize the hard work of your server. If you go to a store, give the clerk a sincere smile and let him know how you appreciate his help.

Let today be one of thankfulness and sincere giving in love. And let tomorrow—and all the days after—be the same.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Love Letter for Christmas

Dear Jesus,

Words truly cannot express my gratitude for Your willingness to leave heaven and come to earth. You chose to …

Put on flesh.

Be born to a poor carpenter and a teenage bride.

Experience scraped knees and stomach aches.

Grow into awkward adolescence.

Sweat sawing and sanding wood.

Be tempted by the enemy—Your enemy.

Be ridiculed as You started Your ministry.

Be betrayed … arrested … denied … beaten … spat upon … scourged.

You chose to carry a cross.

You chose to die …

And You chose to forgive.

Words cannot truly express my gratitude. For Your love and grace and mercy.

But I do thank You.

Happy birthday, Jesus.

Your grateful child

Friday, December 24, 2010

Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6)

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

(Isaiah 9:6, NASB)

If Jesus’ being our Eternal Father is a comfort to me, this last attribute given our Savior brings me the most … well, peace. For He is, indeed, the Prince of Peace.

But for some of us, peace is the last thing we feel. Even as you’re celebrating our Savior’s birth, maybe you’re struggling with finances or your health, or maybe you’re struggling with a relationship.

I wrote a book a few years back based on Jeremiah 29:11-13, where God says His plans are for peace, not for evil. Regarding finding peace in spite of our circumstances, I wrote:
I promise you this: If you’re truly willing to give your life, your plans, your dreams to God, He will keep His promise. You will have peace. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but if you trust Him, you will have peace.

Don’t believe me? Will you believe God? There are quite a few references to peace in the Bible. Let me share one of my favorites. Read these words, hear them with your heart, and listen to what God has promised you:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4: 6, 7).

Do you know what this verse says to me? When I’m focusing on God, when I’m asking in His name, when I’m praying for His will, I can be assured of two things: I need not be anxious for anything, and I will have peace—a peace that surpasses anything I could experience without God in my life, a peace that surpasses anything that I could get from my earthly relationships, from my job, from my church, from my family . . . from anything else.

Isn’t that what you’re looking for? A peace that surpasses anything you’ve ever experienced? Ask Him. Ask Him now. Give your plans, your timelines, your dreams to Him. Trust Him to bring about that perfect will in your life. Then, and only then, will you have that peace. You will have that peace. I promise. More importantly, He promises.
[excerpted from The Best Laid Plans © Sauni Rinehart 2005]
If you’re seeking that heavenly peace we sing about this time of year, go to the Prince of Peace. He’ll cover you with a peace that truly surpasses our understanding.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eternal Father (Is. 9:6)

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

(Isaiah 9:6, NASB)

Of the four descriptions Isaiah uses of Jesus, this one is the most comforting to me. Jesus is our Eternal Father.

Frankly, it’s a mystery beyond our human understanding: The God we Christians worship is three-in-one. He is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One God manifested in three persons.

And each shares the attributes of the others. I don’t fully understand, but I believe this to be true.

So even though we describe Jesus Christ as the Son of God, He is still, in fact, God the Son. And just as God the Father is eternal, so is Jesus the Eternal Father.

He is eternal—or what the New King James Version calls Everlasting. Jesus Christ has always been and will always be. He existed before time as we know it began, and He will exist when time as we know it ends.

He is our Father. He loves us with an unconditional love. There is nothing we can do or say or think that keeps Him from loving us. And He loves us whether we choose to love Him or not.

And if we choose to love Him, if we choose to believe in Him as our Savior and accept His gift of eternal life, He invites us to be in relationship with Him.

A relationship for now and for all eternity.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mighty God (Is. 9:6)

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

(Isaiah 9:6, NASB)

Do you feel weak? Out of control?

Do you feel powerless as you hear of friends with cancer, read of starving children, watch news reports of terrorist alerts?

Do you look at this world and wonder who’s winning the battle?

I hate to be the bearer of even more bad news, but you are weak. You are out of control. You are powerless. And sometimes the enemy does win some battles.

But the good news? Or should I say the great news? Our Lord Jesus is our Mighty God. And we know that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

He is indeed mighty, powerful, omnipotent. Just resonate with some of these assurances of our Savior’s might:
“Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:8).

“For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty is like the LORD”? (Psalm 89:6).

“More than the sounds of many waters, Than the mighty breakers of the sea, The LORD on high is mighty” (Psalm 93:4).

"How great are His signs And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom And His dominion is from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:3).
If you’re struggling, feeling as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders, remember your Mighty God. Your Savior will help you carry your burden (Matt. 11:30). His shoulders are more than strong enough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wonderful Counselor (Is. 9:6)

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

(Isaiah 9:6, NASB)

In these few days leading to the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, I’m going to focus on four attributes of our Savior as described by the prophet Isaiah.

Today, we read about our Wonderful Counselor.

If you read the King James or New King James versions, the words “Wonderful” and “Counselor” are separated by a comma as if they’re two separate attributes of our Savior. But, while He is certainly wonderful, I believe the New International and New American Standard translations are more accurate: Our Lord Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor.

But I wonder. Of all the attributes of our Savior Isaiah could have chosen, why begin with this one?

I can’t say for sure, but I wonder if it’s because we have a need to know that our Lord and Savior truly understands. Even though He is fully God, which we’ll talk about tomorrow, when He came to earth, He was fully human. And in being so, He experienced the same pain and temptation and weariness we do.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NASB).

He can provide counsel, comfort, and peace to us.

I don’t know about you, but this attribute gives me great joy—and lifts my burdens. For I can kneel at the feet of my Lord Jesus and share whatever is on my heart and mind. And my Wonderful Counselor will listen and, through the Word of the Father, will sooth my soul.

Join me tomorrow as we look at the next of Jesus’ attributes: Mighty God.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Be On Guard (1 Tim. 6:20-21)

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called "knowledge"—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.
(1 Timothy 6:20-21, NASB)

We must be on alert at all times. The enemy of our souls “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NASB). He’s out there just waiting to win a battle or two, and one of his tactics is to entice believers with “worldly and empty chatter.” While he is not omniscient or all-powerful or omnipresent, he does have a legion of demons just ready to do his bidding. And if he can use the lusts of the flesh against us, he will.

And he’s even infiltrated the church. People stand at pulpits each Sunday spouting false knowledge. Jesus wasn’t without sin. There are many ways to God. Pick and choose what you want from the Bible because, after all, it’s really not God’s inerrant word.

Indeed, many have “gone astray from the faith.”

The only way to combat the lies of the enemy is to be on guard. We must daily put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17). We must stand on the firm foundation of God’s inspired, inerrant word.

Are you armed and ready? Is your guard up? Or are you vulnerable to the arrows the enemy is firing your way?

Oh my friend, be prepared. For the battle will only grow more intense as we draw nearer to the end of the war—and we know who the Victor of that will be!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Riches and Generosity (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
(1 Timothy 6:17-19, NASB)

A few days ago, we read Paul’s warning that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Today’s verses are a reminder that riches themselves aren’t evil. It’s what we do with them that can be.

If you have monetary wealth, you are blessed—as long as you keep your focus on the Supplier of your wealth. Any riches you have aren’t yours. I know you may like to think otherwise, but everything you have, including your money, is on loan to you from God. He wants you to enjoy what He’s given you, but He also expects you to bless others as you have been blessed.

I read somewhere (where and when I can’t remember) that if Christians in the United States who are in the top ten percent of earners would really tithe to ministry-minded churches, we could wipe out poverty in the U.S. And if they gave twenty percent, it would take care of the world.

I mean, really. How much do you really need? And where is your money going?

Remember, you can’t take it with you, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stand in front of God one day and show Him my financial portfolio. And I’m positive He wouldn’t care anyway. What I want is to be able to talk about the missionaries my tithing supported or the children who were raised in the Sunday school program that my church invested in.

Certainly, enjoy whatever riches you’ve been blessed with. But make certain you’re pleasing the Father by doing as Paul instructed: “do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Be Encouraged (1 Tim. 6:13-16)

I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.
(1 Timothy 6:13-16, NASB)

I am so encouraged by today’s verses! Yes, there is exhortation: Timothy is charged to keep the commandment to be Christ-like. But look at the hope in Paul’s words.

Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, will return! Only the Father knows the “proper time,” but the Son will return one day!

Jesus, our Overcomer (John 16:33), our Victor, our Redeemer, will return! And as I watch this world continue its downward spiral, I can’t help but think it’s going to be soon—or so I pray.

And so, with this confidence, I can join Paul in his words of praise.
Our Lord Jesus is the “blessed and only Sovereign.”

He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

He is immortal, omnipresent, omniscient, all-loving.

He is “light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
Oh, I hope these words encourage you as they’ve encouraged me. As we keep His commandments while on earth, we can do so with the confidence that we’ll be spending eternity with our Lord and Savior, with our Abba Father.

And with Paul, I give Him praise and honor. Won’t you join us?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fight the Good Fight (1 Tim. 6:12)

Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
(1 Timothy 6:12, NASB)

It’s not by chance that Paul used the term “fight” when he wrote of the faith journey. We indeed fight a daily spiritual battle, but not against the government or our neighbor—or our spouse. No, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (6:12, NKJV).
We fight, battle, and wrestle each day to grow in faith, to be Christ-like, to reach the lost. And our reward for that fight? Eternity with our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s not easy, but then again, we were never promised it would be. The enemy of our hearts would like nothing more than to win a few battles now and again. And sometimes he does. As this world winds down, it seems he’s winning more and more.

Oh, but sincere, true followers of Christ know Who wins the war! Jesus assures us:
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33, NKJV).
Yes, we’re in a daily battle, but we’re not in it alone. And one day, we’ll stand triumphantly with the Victor!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two Exhortations (1 Tim. 6:11)

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.
(1 Timothy 6:11, NASB)

Paul began to wrap up his first letter to Timothy with two exhortations.

The first is a plea: “… flee from these things …” Yesterday, we talked about pursuing riches and the love of money, and these are what Timothy is to flee from—and we need to flee from them as well.

Instead, Paul exhorted Timothy—and us—to “pursue” some specific things (Webster Dictionary definitions):

Righteousness: being in “accord with divine or moral law and free from guilt or sin”

Godliness: being “pious” and “devout”

Faith: “belief and trust in and loyalty to God”

Love: “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”

Perseverance: “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”

Gentleness: being “honorable” and “kind”

Oh, my … Paul’s not asking for much, is he? (Too bad you can’t hear the sarcasm in my writing!) Seriously, don’t you read lists like this and think, “How in the world can I even begin to be righteous or godly or gentle?” You wonder, “I have faith, but sometimes it’s hard to persevere.”

Well, you’re right. You won’t be able to fully flee the love of money and pursue the items on that list on your own. The good news? You’re not on your own!

The Holy Spirit is in with you—within you. If you seek His strength and guidance, He’ll help you to pursue those things that will make you more and more like Christ and let Him shine through you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Love of Money (1 Tim. 6:9-10)

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
(1 Timothy 6:9-10, NASB)

First, let me say that I don’t think the Bible is against the rich. If God has blessed someone with wealth, and that person is generous to those in need and holds his riches loosely, I believe God is pleased.

However, our “more is better” society can truly “snare” people. In order to amass greater wealth, we’ve turned into workaholics, sometimes neglecting our marriages or our children. We live and breathe by the stock market. Our financial statements dictate whether we’re happy or miserable.

We begin to read the Wall Street Journal more often than we do our Bible.

I have to admit, I’ve fallen into the “snare” myself. Eight years ago, my husband and I got caught up with the “McMansion” hype, and sold our perfectly adequate 1200 square foot home for a totally unnecessary 3071 square foot home. Now I will say it served us well when we brought my mother-in-law in to heal after a couple of falls and a couple of surgeries. And we’ve watched God bless others as they’ve been able to stay here.

But now, we realize that bigger isn’t really better. After the blessing of my being laid off in February, we’ve begun to do without. We’re trying to simplify, and it’s been time-consuming and somewhat difficult as we sort through all the “stuff.” We’re beginning to see how much we have that’s unnecessary, and we’re even talking about down-sizing. We’ve learned that money can indeed be a trap, and we’re fighting our way out of that trap.

So ask yourself. Have you gotten caught up in the “more is better” mentality? Have you become consumed with having “stuff”? A bigger house? A nicer car? A fatter portfolio?

Confess to the Lord your preoccupation with the “mighty dollar,” and ask Him what you can do to make Him the priority of your life.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Basic Contentment (1 Tim. 6:7-8)

For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
(1 Timothy 6:7-8, NASB)

This is so very true … When we leave this world, we leave everything behind. When my husband and I were getting my mother-in-law’s house ready for sale after her death, we found some treasures, but mostly, we found a lot of clutter. Much of it was thrown into a dumpster.

That may sound heartless, but really, think about your own home? Is there anything of lasting value? Now there may be a few items of sentimental value for those you leave behind, but for you … will any of it matter?

Not at all.

What we have on earth is temporary. We might find temporary pleasure in our “stuff,” but none of it matters in eternity.

So, we must hold all our earthly possessions loosely. We can be thankful for anything God blesses us with, but we can also be content with next to nothing at all.

That’s true contentment. If you can sincerely be thankful for having your basic needs met—which God promises to do—then the rest is icing.

In fact, try this: Walk through your home and start “purging” it of those unnecessary things. Start decluttering and simplifying your home … and your life. Learn to live more simply. Then not only will you learn to be content with less, you’ll also leave less for your heirs to sort through!

This is a challenge for you—and for me, as well.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Finding Contentment (1 Tim. 6:6)

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.
(1 Timothy 6:6, NASB)

Oh … contentment. Such a difficult concept for many of us, especially we who live in the United States. Our society is saturated with “bigger is better” and “supersize me” (although I understand if you saw the movie with the latter’s name, you’d never think the former, at least when it comes to food!).

We have a perfectly serviceable car, and then our neighbor gets a brand-new, bright, and shiny auto. And we want one too.

Our home is lovely and more than adequate … but then we visit a friend’s new house. It’s bigger. It has granite countertops and hardwood floors. And suddenly, our little home just doesn’t seem … enough.

And sadly, the spouse we’ve been married to for ten years one day does something that irritates us—again—and that new coworker, who treats us with respect, looks suddenly much more interesting.

Contentment—being satisfied with what we have—can be really hard to grasp.

I struggled with it for years. Even after I recommitted my life to the Lord over 17 years ago, I still couldn’t seem to be truly content. And I’d often make myself miserable.

Then, finally, a few years ago, I surrendered everything to God. I was really struggling with my health, and it shadowed everything else in my life. And so nothing seemed to bring me any joy. And when I finally said, “Take it all, Lord. Take my job, my home, my relationships, my stuff. It’s all Yours anyway.”

Ah, that's the key ... it's all God's anyway!

Now, I do sometimes wish for something else … but I find, I actually wish for less, not more. I want to simplify, declutter, value what’s really important. And even when things aren’t exactly what I’d hoped for, I can honestly say I’m usually content.

And in being so, I find joy, even in the difficult times. I still live with daily pain, and some days it’s really hard to find that contentment. But when I surrender again, God gives me peace … and contentment.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Loving Our Opposers (1 Tim. 6:3-5)

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.
(1 Timothy 6:3-5, NASB)

Wow. Paul didn’t pull any punches, did he? Look at some of the words he used to describe those who “advocate a different doctrine.”

They are envious, cause strife, use abusive language … have depraved minds. They cause “constant friction” with those who they think use “godliness [as] a means of gain.”

When you read these words, can you think of anyone who is an illustration of this kind of person? I think of the “new atheist” movement, and how they actually renounce God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They accuse Christ-followers of being manipulative of others, brainwashing them to our way of thinking.

I once watched a debate between two of these “new atheists” and two evangelicals, and it just about broke my heart. In all honesty, neither side won. But the anger that spewed from the atheists was heartbreaking. I can only imagine how lost they must feel. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t know if there’s a God or not, but I really don’t feel it’s relevant to me.” It’s quite another to say, “There absolutely is no God. But if there is, and He’s the God you describe, then I’d rather be in hell then spend eternity with Him.” The pain that causes words like that … I can’t imagine.

Instead of condemning those who “advocate different doctrines” or who debate “controversial” topics, what if we showed them love and grace? What if we treated them with compassion? What if we quietly and gently were Christ to them?

Maybe—just maybe—we could influence even those farthest from God to see His truth.

It’s worth a try.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Respect in the Workplace (1 Tim. 6:1-2)

All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against. Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.
(1 Timothy 6:1-2, NASB)

According to Webster’s Dictionary, respect means to hold someone in "high or special regard." Any of us who work for someone else should show them respect, whether they deserve it or not. As believers, we can be Christ’s light to our employers, as we honor them in every situation.

Think about it: You work for an unbeliever and she sees you handle difficult situations with grace or watches you make tough decisions based on biblical values. She feels your respect for her even when she very well knows she doesn’t always deserve it.

How might that influence her?

And if your employer is also a believer? Then you ought to “serve [him] all the more.” Not only is he your boss, but he’s your brother in Christ.

On the flipside, if you’re an employer, you can model respectful behavior to those who work for you. You also should respect those in authority over you, and—I know Paul doesn’t say this, but I believe it to be true—show that high or special regard for your employees.

Just imagine how your workplace would be if mutual respect existed between employer and employee? It would be rather wonderful, wouldn’t it?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Good Deeds (1 Tim. 5:17-18)

The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.
(1 Timothy 5:17-18, NASB)

Some people think that one day they’ll stand before God, and He’ll have this big scale. On one side, He’ll put all the sins they committed, and on the other side, the good they did. Then, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they’ll get into heaven.

Of course, if you study the Bible, you know this is patently untrue. Praise God, our entrance into heaven isn’t based on what good we do. It’s solely based on God’s grace (see Eph. 2:8-9).

But even if the good we do on earth doesn’t save us or get us into heaven, we’re still to do good deeds. We’re to serve God by serving others. Volunteering at the local soup kitchen. Going on short-term missions. Spending time reading to the elderly. Helping out at community outreach events. Lending an ear and a shoulder to the hurting.

Serving God in these ways strengthens our faith and pleases our Father. And it also allows the world to see Jesus Christ in the flesh. People are attracted by selfless service, and our doing good deeds goes a long way to help convince the world of Christ’s love for them.

What are you doing to serve others? How are you being Jesus Christ in the flesh to your community?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Loving With Impartiality (1 Tim. 5:21-22)

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.
(1 Timothy 5:21-22, NASB)

As much as we’d like to say we’re impartial, reality can be far different. Most of us just naturally gravitate to people with whom we have more in common. And we can tend to be biased against those who are different than we are.

We can especially be biased against those who practice sin, whether or not they are believers. We point fingers. We gossip behind backs. We self-righteously look at those pesky specks (see yesterday’s devotional).

When we do, we’re sinning just as much as they are. And although I believe sin is sin in God’s eyes, in a way, we’re worse than they are. Because we know we’re sinning.

In today’s culture, so many aren’t being taught truth, even within churches. Congregations listen to sermons about how God wants them to be prosperous. They hear how God loves them and wants them to be happy, so they can do pretty much whatever they want—as long as it’s not illegal and it doesn’t hurt anyone.

No one is encouraged to delve into the truth of the Bible … which itself is open to “interpretation.” They’re told it’s okay to take what makes sense to them from God’s word and leave the rest behind.

Rather than judge others, wouldn’t it be better to love them and pray for them? Wouldn’t we be examples of Jesus Christ if we went to where they are and served them and shared truth from God’s word?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Loving Rebuke (1 Tim. 5:19-20)

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.
(1 Timothy 5:19-20, NASB)

Sometimes the Bible seems to contradict itself. We’re told to “judge not” (Matt. 7:1), yet here Paul tells Timothy to “rebuke” the brethren “who continue in sin.”

How do we reconcile this apparent inconsistency?

I believe—and again, I’m no Bible scholar—it’s a matter of the heart. It’s one thing to self-righteously point out the speck in someone’s eye while overlooking the log in our own. (See Matt. 7:2-4.) It’s something altogether different if we’re lovingly attempting to guide a brother or sister away from habitual sin.

There’s another key in Paul’s exhortation: We’re not to “receive an accusation” without corroboration. In other words, if one person accuses someone of a sin, it may or may not be true. But if two or three—or more—make the same accusation, then we can be certain the accusation is sound.

However, I must interject here. I don’t believe Paul is talking about crime. If someone is raped or robbed or abused, and there is evidence to prove it, then that one person’s testimony is sufficient.

Paul’s heart in these verses is redemption and reconciliation. And that should be ours as well. We should desire that all our brothers and sisters live in relationship with our Lord, not letting any habitual sin prevent them from being all He’s created them to be.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Honoring Pastors (1 Tim. 5:17-18)

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
(1 Timothy 5:17-18, NASB)

I believe one of the hardest jobs today is being a Bible-teaching, Christ-following preacher. Oh, the things they deal with … Counseling. Managing. Studying. Sermon-preparing.

They’re responsible for overseeing their local church and staff. They need to develop weekly sermons that will instruct their often-apathetic congregations. They visit shut-ins. They perform weddings … and funerals.

And if these weren’t enough, they must protect their marriages and nurture their families.

Being a pastor is, in reality, a 24/7 job. And what thanks do they get? Probably very little. Like many other service-oriented professions, pastors are just expected to do everything, and do it well. Often they’re over-worked and underpaid. They’re relatively ignored when things are going well, but if anything goes awry, fingers are pointed to them.

So why would anyone choose to be a pastor? Well, most would probably say they didn’t necessarily choose being a pastor. Most would say it chose them. In other words, they were called and anointed by God.

And even with little affirmation, they still diligently do what God’s called them to do.

What should we do? We should show our appreciation for their hard work. We should encourage them to stand firm. We should really listen to what God says through them.

At the very least, we should say “thank you” a lot more often than we do.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Care for Your Own (1 Tim. 5:3-4, 8)

Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God … But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
(1 Timothy 5:3-4, 8, NASB)

The breakdown of family in our culture is one of our greatest tragedies. The disrespect children have for parents, parents’ neglect of children, the lack of care for the elderly … Is it any wonder that our society is spiraling downward?

Although the first two of today’s verses concern widows, the last verse deals with the entire family. We need to care for each other, provide for each other’s needs. And this doesn’t just mean financially.

We’re to love them. We’re to support them emotionally and spiritually. We’re to provide guidance and wisdom.

Are we emotionally “available” for those we love? Do we truly listen when they share their hearts with us? Do we represent Christ to them and encourage them to grow in their own relationships with Him?

Family should be our most important earthly relationship. And if we don’t put a priority on caring for them, we’re displeasing our heavenly Father.

What can you do today to show your family members how much you love them?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Love Your "Family" (1 Tim. 5:1-2)

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.
(1 Timothy 5:1-2, NASB)

If you’re a follower of Christ, you’re part of a world-wide family. Anywhere you go, you can find a Bible-believing church, and immediately, you’re with brothers and sisters.

I’m blessed to speak for women’s events and retreats, and it never fails to bless my heart. This past Friday, I spoke at a church over 100 miles from my home. I’d never been there, and the only contact I’d had was by phone and email with the head of the planning committee. But when I arrived, I was embraced by sisters I’d never met. And then the worship leader, the sound man, and two of the planning committee prayed before the event … and I was with family.

We are blessed to be a part of God’s family, and we should cherish and honor our relationships with our brothers and sisters. There is no place for gossip or maligning in our family. No pride. No dissension. No resentment. No jealousy.

Rather, we should genuinely love, support, and celebrate each other. Because we should, and because doing so delights our Father’s heart.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Don't Neglect Your Gift (1 Tim. 4:13-16)

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
(1 Timothy 4:13-16, NASB)

When we accept the gift of salvation and surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, God bestows spiritual gifts upon us. Some of us are gifted preachers or teachers. Others have the gift of hospitality or administration. Still others are encouragers or are merciful.

And each gift is critical to complete the body of Christ. In God’s economy, the volunteer who faithfully folds the bulletin each week is as important as the most renowned preacher. Therefore, we cannot “neglect the spiritual gift” God has given. Each of us is just important to God as our fellow brothers and sisters.

If you’ve been given the gift of hospitality, open your home for a neighborhood Bible study. If you’re an encourager, write notes of affirmation to your child’s teacher or to your pastor. If you teach, be certain you diligently study God’s word so you speak only words of truth.

You can be certain of this: God will use you and your spiritual gift. But you need to be prepared to do as He asks. You need to be willing to use your gift to glorify God, not yourself.

Don’t “neglect” your spiritual gift. Instead, joyfully use it to serve God and others, knowing He will one day say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”

Friday, December 03, 2010

Children of My Heart (1 Tim. 4:12)

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.
(1 Timothy 4:12, NASB)

I am so very blessed to have some amazing young people in my life. My nieces and nephews make me so proud. And I have a whole “family” of “children of my heart” at a small faith-based theater of which I’m privileged to be a part.

And some of these “kids” have such a strong and bold faith. I listen to them pray or read their Facebook postings, and I’m in awe. They love the Lord and aren’t ashamed to tell the world.

Then I look back at my own youth, and I’m a bit saddened. Oh, I know God forgave me for my twenty-year rebellion. I know He loves me and uses me today in ways I never expected. But I sometimes wonder where I’d be had I had the abiding and unwavering faith of so many of these wonderful young people.

Even with the world’s enticements, they remain faithful to the Lord. I admire them so much, and I learn from them.

If you’re one of those “children of my heart”—and you know who you are—know that I love you, and I’m so proud of you.

And I pray for you regularly. That you’ll remain focused on God and His plan for you. That you’ll resist the wiles of the enemy. That you’ll grow in faith. And that you’ll continue to be all that God created you to be.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Fixing Your Hope (1 Tim. 4:9-11)

It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. Prescribe and teach these things.
(1 Timothy 4:9-11, NASB)

Where have you “fixed [your] hope”? On your job? On your relationships? On your portfolio?

How’s that going for you?

Five years ago, I wrote these words in my book, The Best Laid Plans. They seem very appropriate for today’s devotional:
God does promise us a future filled with hope. A synonym for hope is “expectation.” God promised us a future full of expectation for His provision, for His comfort, for His protection, and, yes, for His peace.

I often wonder how those who don’t know Jesus have hope. What is it they hope for? Is it wealth? Is it possessions? Is it a relationship? And when money or things or people let them down, then what do they hope for?

The only place we can put our hope is in our Lord God. It is only He who is completely faithful and worthy of our trust. It is only He who walks alongside us through good times and bad. It is only He who carries us when we can’t walk.

When we fix our hope on Him, we can be confident He’ll never let us down. Never.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Spend Daily Time With God (1 Tim. 4:6-8)

In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
(1 Timothy 4:6-8, NASB)

When I recommitted my life to the Lord over 17 years ago, I was quite sporadic in my Bible study. And I’d go days without really spending time in prayer. After a few years of this, I found myself neglecting my relationship with my Lord more and more … and falling back into old habits.

I recognized—very clearly—that I needed to spend daily time with God. That I needed to be disciplined. And for me, that meant I needed to set an appointment with God. Every day.

Now, 12 or so years later, I still make a daily appointment with the Lord. Every day. I literally have it on my calendar. It’s the most important part of my day. It’s my daily nourishment, and I miss it if, for some reason, I’m not able to meet with Him.

I know it’s hard sometimes to carve out quality time with God. We’re all so very busy. But I also know, for me at least, if I don’t, I’m much more easily distracted by the world’s enticements. And I desire, more than anything, to grow in faith and draw closer to my Abba Father

I can’t emphasize it enough: If you want to grow in godliness, if you want that “promise [that is] for the present life and also for the life to come,” you need to spend time with God.

Every day.