Start Now

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‘An intelligent person aims at wise action … a fool starts off in many directions.’ Proverbs 17:24 GNT

Successful people have one thing in common: they’ve developed the habit of doing what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do. We all want more money, but we don’t all want more work. We’d all like to be slim and trim, but we’re not all willing to eat right and exercise daily. The bookends of success are commitment and consistency. Without commitment you’ll never start, and without consistency you’ll never finish. Getting started is the hardest part, because we come up with so many reasons not to. So: (1) Start small. Take the first step. You can’t take step two until you’ve taken step one. Taking the first step to prioritise your life will focus you in the right direction. But don’t expect to immediately understand all that’s required. ‘By faith Abraham … went out, not knowing.’ (Hebrews 11:8 KJV) God guides you when you’re in motion, so ‘you’ll know as you go’. (2) Start with yourself. If you want others to respond to you differently, give them a different set of attitudes and actions to respond to. (3) Start early. Someone said, ‘Noah didn’t wait for his ship to come in—he built one.’ Hard work is an accumulation of the easy things you didn’t do when you should have. The truth is, the work doesn’t seem nearly so hard once you stop putting it off. (4) Start now. What are you waiting for? Until you finish school, get married, have kids, the kids leave home, you retire, or you die? If you wait long enough you’ll only have one regret—that you didn’t start now.

Building Real Relationships

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‘He now showed them the full extent of His love.’ John 13:1 NIV

People spend hours every day on social networks like Facebook—in many cases because they’re lonely. Now, there’s nothing wrong with interacting with others this way. In fact, social media offers one of the greatest tools the Church has ever had for reaching the world with the Gospel. But in a day when it’s getting easy to neglect real relationships, let’s remember why we’re connecting with others in the first place. One author says: ‘Life is so much richer when we have friends with whom we can share our joys and troubles … Unfortunately loneliness remains a major problem and source of pain for many. But none of us need become resigned to loneliness; [it’s]…“treatable,” if not actually avoidable.’ Real relationships aren’t built by posting updates, or tweeting and re-tweeting the most thought-provoking quotes. It takes more time than that. The greatest social networking involves meeting someone’s needs in a way that never would’ve happened without a one-on-one connection. That’s what Jesus did. Most of His public ministry was spent pouring Himself into twelve men who, in turn, went out in His name and poured themselves into others. The Bible says, ‘Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.’ The psalmist spelled out how many people today feel deep down: ‘No one is concerned for me … no one cares.’ (Psalm 142:4 NIV) If you want to meet people’s needs you have to get ‘up close and personal’. That’s what Jesus did, and He’s your example.

Beauty Is, as Beauty Does

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‘Be beautiful in your heart.’ 1 Peter 3:4 CEV

Princess Diana was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. Yet she disliked what she saw in the mirror. This led to an eating disorder known as bulimia, which is caused by self-loathing. And the ‘beauty cult’ has infected many of us with a similar sense of inadequacy and inferiority. The problem is—we’re looking in the wrong mirror. It’s a good thing to stay physically fit and dress in a way that compliments you. But it’s a bad thing to base your worth on your physical appearance. Why? Because you are fighting a losing battle against Mother Nature and Father Time. Here are three Scriptures you need to think about: (1) ‘A beautiful woman who lacks discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout.’ (Proverbs 11:22 NLT) That Scripture could be reduced to one sentence: ‘Beauty is, as beauty does.’ (2) ‘Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, but a woman who honours the Lord deserves to be praised.’ (Proverbs 31:30 CEV) That Scripture could be reduced to one sentence: ‘Beauty may attract attention, but only character will earn you respect.’ (3) ‘Be beautiful in your heart … This kind of beauty will last, and God considers it very special.’ (1 Peter 3:4 CEV) That Scripture could be reduced to one sentence: ‘God measures by a different yardstick; with Him, beauty is an inside job.’ And here is one more thought: people will treat you according to how you treat yourself. So as you begin to appreciate the ‘beauty’ God has placed within you, others will begin to appreciate it too.

God Wants to Bless You Financially

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‘You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.’ 2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV

When you give to fulfil the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth’ (Matthew 6:10 KJV), He will make sure you have everything you need when you need it. That’s His guarantee, and it should dispel your fears about giving. In fact, there’s really only one thing you should be concerned about when it comes to giving: holding back to the extent that God is no longer involved in your finances. There’s nothing you can do to earn or deserve God’s love, but you must exercise faith and follow His instructions if you want to walk in His blessing. So here’s the question you should ask yourself: ‘Who’s better able to meet my needs, God or me?’ If you’re generous with God, He’ll make sure you have more than enough so that you can continue to be generous. But first He wants to see you investing more in His Kingdom—not in order to get what you want from Him, but because you value His eternal purposes more than your own interests. Are you prepared to step out in faith and take advantage of the law of the harvest by inviting God to get involved in your finances? Money is often the last door we open to God because we think it represents our security. If you really want to become secure financially, get God involved in your finances as soon as possible. The sooner you start sowing seeds, the sooner you’ll begin reaping harvests. And when that happens, you’ll never go back to doing things the way you used to.

How to Become a Good Leader

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‘Teach the wise, and they will become even wiser.’ Proverbs 9:9 NCV

Whether God has called you to be a leader in church, in business, or at home, here are two important principles you must always practise: (1) Reach for people who stretch you. Solomon said, ‘Teach the wise, and they will become even wiser.’ You can tell a lot about the direction your life is heading by looking at the people with whom you’ve chosen to spend your time and share your ideas. Their values and priorities impact the way you think and act. If they’re positive and dedicated to growth, their values and priorities will encourage you and reinforce your desire to grow. It’s not always comfortable to associate with people who are ahead of you in their growth, but it’s always profitable. So try to cultivate relationships with people who stretch you. And don’t think only in terms of what you can gain; bring something to the table yourself. Remember, you’ve got to make the relationship a win/win, or it won’t last. (2) Realise there are trade-offs. As responsibilities increase, rights decrease. In a world where perks and privileges often accompany the climb to success, sometimes little thought is given to the responsibilities of the upward journey. As John D. Rockefeller Jr once said, ‘Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.’ Jesus bottom-lines leadership in these words: ‘To whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.’ (Luke 12:48 NKJV)

Mountain-Moving Prayers

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‘Whoever says to this mountain.’ Mark 11:23 NKJV

Does the problem you’re facing seem like a mountain to you? Jesus said: ‘Assuredly … whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and … cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore … whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in Heaven may also forgive … your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father … forgive your trespasses.’ (Mark 11:22–26 NKJV) Here Jesus gives us three keys to answered prayer. (1) Keep speaking God’s Word over your problem. ‘My word … shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and … prosper in the thing for which I sent it.’ (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV) (2) Keep feeding your faith and starving your doubts. ‘Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.’ (Mark 11:24 NKJV) (3) Keep forgiving. ‘Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him.’ (Mark 11:25 NKJV) The mountain in your life can’t be removed if you’re harbouring unforgiveness. God’s willingness to answer your prayers depends on your willingness to forgive the person who hurt you. So ask yourself: is it worth holding on to bitterness? Bernard Meltzer says, ‘When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future.’ Whether or not you think your offender deserves to be forgiven, do it for your own sake—so that the mountain can be moved.

Acknowledge Your Hidden Biases

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‘God shows no favouritism.’ Acts 10:34 NLT

A lot of us are like the lady in the prayer meeting who said, ‘I always love everyone I see.’ The problem is—she had her eyes closed! Discrimination makes us accept without question the opinions and biases we’ve heard growing up, and the pronouncements of narrow-minded people. Rarely do we stop and ask, ‘Is this right?’ Or more importantly, ‘Is it Christ-like?’ Discrimination relegates people to second-class citizenship because of their colour, gender, economic status, church denomination or the circumstances of their birth. Sometimes our biases are so ingrained that we can’t see them in ourselves and we react in anger when confronted with them. But God doesn’t let us off the hook. Paul challenged Peter, the future head of the church, over the sin of discrimination: ‘He [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they [the Jews] arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.’ (Galatians 2:12 NIV) Paul didn’t give Peter a free pass because he had other redeeming qualities. No, his behaviour was hurting people and reflecting badly on the church. The most quoted text in the Bible is: ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ (John 3:16 NKJV) Note the words ‘whoever believes’. That means we’re all equal at the foot of the cross. There God makes no distinctions. And before you can deal with the prejudice in someone else’s life, you’ve first got to deal with it in your own. So acknowledge your hidden biases and deal with them.

Raising Compliant and Defiant Children (2)

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‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.’ James 1:5 NKJV

Yesterday we talked about children who are compliant, compared to those who are defiant. Every parent with two children or more is probably blessed with at least one of each. When one child is a stick of dynamite and the other is an all-star sweetheart, the cooperative, gentle one can easily be taken for granted. If there’s an unpleasant job, they’re expected to do it because Mum and Dad don’t have the energy to fight with the tiger. When it’s necessary for one child to sacrifice or do without, there’s a tendency to pick the one who won’t complain as loudly. Under these circumstances, the compliant child gets the short end of the stick. The consequences of such inequity should be obvious. The responsible child becomes angry over time. They have a sense of powerlessness and resentment that simmers below the surface. They’re like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). He didn’t rebel against his father, but he resented the attention given to his irresponsible brother. That’s typical! So you must try to balance the scales in dealing with your compliant child. Make sure they get their fair share of attention. Help them find ways to cope with their overbearing sibling. And, within reason, give them the right to make their own decisions. There’s nothing simple about raising kids. Even the ‘easiest’ of them need our very best effort—and God’s wisdom. And it’s available: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.’

Raising Compliant and Defiant Children (1)

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‘Your children shall be taught by the Lord.’ Isaiah 54:13 NKJV

There are two kinds of children. The first are compliant ones—those who sleep through the night from the second week of life. They coo at their grandparents, and smile while their nappies are being changed. They are never sick on the way to the grocery store or the doctor’s surgery. During later childhood they love to keep their rooms clean, and they do their homework brilliantly without being asked. Then there are defiant ones: ‘strong-willed kids’. They get their mother’s attention long before birth because they scratch their initials on the walls of the womb and kick like crazy. They enter the world yelling about the temperature in the delivery room, and complaining about the incompetence of the nursing staff. From about eighteen months forward, they want to run things and tell everybody what to do. Their favourite word is no! Compliant children are a breeze to raise, but defiant ones can turn out fine too. The secret is to shape their strong will during the early years, without breaking their spirit. This is done by setting boundaries very clearly, then enforcing them with loving firmness. Even the toughest kids find security in a structured environment where other people’s rights, as well as their own, are protected. When this is done right, even the most independent child can learn to be responsible and self-disciplined. And God will work with you. He promises: ‘All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.’

How to Please God

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‘If you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.’ 1 Peter 2:20 NLT

You become like the people you spend the most time with, so choose your friends carefully. If you spend time with angry, resentful people you risk becoming an angry, resentful person yourself. That’s because attitudes are contagious. Here’s a wonderful story that illustrates the point. A man purchased a newspaper at a newsstand every day. He always greeted the vendor very courteously, but in return received very gruff and discourteous service; the vendor would rudely shove the newspaper in his face. The man, however, would politely smile and wish him a nice day. This went on for several days until a friend asked, ‘Does he always treat you this rudely?’ The man replied, ‘Unfortunately, he does.’ The questioner asked, ‘Are you always so polite and friendly to him?’ The man replied, ‘Yes, I am.’ The questioner continued, ‘Why are you so nice to him when he’s so rude to you?’ The man replied, ‘Because I don’t want him to decide how I’m going to act.’ The Bible says: ‘If you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when He was insulted, nor threaten revenge when He suffered. He left His case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.’ (1 Peter 2:20–23 NLT) That’s how to please God.

Be Loyal to Your Friends

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‘Do not forsake your own friend.’ Proverbs 27:10 NKJV

Chuck Colson, President Richard Nixon’s ‘hatchet man’, went to prison for his part in the Watergate cover-up. In his book, Born Again, he tells how he was invited to speak at a university soon after his release from prison. At the time there was still much hostility towards the entire Watergate crowd, especially Richard Nixon. Questions were coming at Colson rapid-fire, and the students were becoming increasingly hostile. One stood up and referred to a criticism Henry Kissinger had levelled at Richard Nixon. ‘Mr Colson,’ he demanded, ‘do you agree with this criticism?’ Colson said he scanned the room and could tell every ear was listening to hear what he would say. Here’s how he replied: ‘We all know Mr Nixon’s negative qualities. He has been dissected in the press like no one in history. I could tell you his good points, but I don’t believe I could persuade you to accept them. But when it comes down to it, no, I don’t go along with Henry Kissinger’s comments. Mr Nixon is my friend, and I don’t turn my back on my friends.’ Colson said for a moment he thought the roof would fall in—and in a way, it did; but not as he expected. There was a moment of silence, followed by a thunderous standing ovation. The reason? Even hostile students could appreciate loyalty to a friend. If you want to find out who your true friends are, just make a mistake! Many of those you thought were your friends will desert you like rats from a sinking ship. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Do not forsake your own friend.’

Pray Every Day

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‘Ask … seek … knock.’ Matthew 7:7 KJV

The famous evangelist RA Torrey said two of the greatest secrets to effective prayer lay in: (1) Studying the Word of God and finding His will as revealed in the promises. (2) Taking these promises and spreading them out before God in prayer, with the unwavering expectation that He will do what He said. Don’t tolerate prayerlessness in your life. Don’t allow the stress of so-called progress to dictate how much time you will sit at the feet of your Saviour. Crave those times. Schedule those times. Protect those times. Grace L. Naessens puts it like this in her poem, The Difference. ‘I woke early one morning, and rushed right into the day; I had so much to accomplish, that I didn’t have time to pray. Problems just tumbled about me, and heavier came each task. “Why doesn’t God help me,” I wondered; He answered, “You didn’t ask.” I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, grey and bleak. I wondered why God didn’t show me; He said, “But you didn’t seek.” I tried to come into God’s presence; I used all my keys at the lock. God gently and lovingly chided, “My child, you didn’t knock.” I woke up early this morning, and paused before entering the day. I had so much to accomplish, that I had to take time to pray.’ If you are wise you will stay ‘prayed up’ and prepared for the inevitable crises of life. It’s foolish to wait until trouble shows up at your doorstep to begin this essential spiritual discipline.

Solving Relationship Difficulties

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‘Love is patient and kind … It does not demand its own way.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4–5 NLT

Here are some pointers to help you solve your relationship difficulties: (1) When it’s about money. How you manage money within a marriage depends on the set of skills you’ve developed and the amount of discipline you’ve exercised. One of you may be a saver and the other a spender. So you have to work together to make joint decisions that affect both of you, and work within the boundaries of your reality together. Consider how much debt you have, how much income, and how much you need to save. Find a way to achieve financial freedom. The Bible says, ‘The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.’ (Proverbs 22:7 NKJV) (2) When it’s about time. If you’re not spending time together—one of you is missing the other. Ideally, you both want to spend more time together. But if your partner keeps making this complaint, take it as a compliment that he or she still enjoys your company. Schedule designated times together on both your calendars—with no intrusions. There’s no substitute for spending time with your mate. (3) When it’s about jealousy. We’re not talking about a possessive spouse who won’t allow you to glance at the waiter without accusing you of cheating. But generally when there’s jealousy in a relationship it’s an indication of insecurity. You may need to have a frank discussion about your commitment to each other. Talk about the little habits and mannerisms your spouse interprets as flirtatious. Communicate, and don’t allow the jealousy to grow into bitterness, distrust, or disgust.

Let’s Tear Down Those Walls

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‘Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you.’ Romans 15:7 NLT

God’s love transcends class, race, gender, politics, geography and culture. ‘…He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.’ (Ephesians 2:14–16 NLT) The cross creates a new people: a people unhindered by skin colour or family feud. A new citizenry, based not on common ancestry or geography, but on a common Saviour. ‘Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.’ So confront your prejudice and root out your biases. Pray: ‘Lord, reveal them to me. How often do I judge someone unworthy of You by the way I treat him or her? Rebuke me in Your love. Where can I tear down a wall or remove a barrier that keeps Your children apart from one another? What can I do in my sphere of influence to bring the love of Christ to someone who may feel ostracised or estranged from You? Give me divine insight, and bless me with the resolve to be Your hands and feet. Make me a bridge and not a wall.’ Do you remember President Ronald Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall in 1987, saying, ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall’? We’ve isolated, quarantined, excluded and judged people long enough. Let’s tear down our walls and show God’s love!

Conquering Your Fear of Lack (3)

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‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.’ Ephesians 3:20 NIV

Here are some Scriptural strategies for conquering your fear of lack: (1) Give God the first tenth of your income (see Malachi 3:8–12Matthew 23:23). To debate whether it’s an Old Testament rule versus a New Testament requirement obscures the heart issue. To say it’s too hard because of your mortgage, car repayment or any other debt is to consider your bank manager more important than God. Gratitude starts as a discipline before it becomes a joy of the heart. (2) Live by the 10-10-80 rule. After you give God the first 10% of your income, put the second 10% into savings and budget yourself to live on the remaining 80%. (3) Confront the areas in which your fear of lack are the greatest. Food? Housing? Transportation? Health insurance? Retirement? Now cast down those imaginations and replace them with this promise: ‘God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.’ (2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT) (4) Refuse to rely solely on your credentials, marketable skills, or influential contacts for the assurance of your financial provision. ‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.’ Maximise your personal power, but trust ultimately in God’s power alone. Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10 NIV) That’s not just ‘spiritual’ life, but every aspect of life. Today, believe and receive what Jesus promised by faith, and begin to live ‘to the full’.

Conquering Your Fear of Lack (2)

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‘The Lord is my Shepherd … I shall not lack.’ Psalm 23:1 AMP

Why does the Bible compare us to sheep? Because they’re one of the most dependent creatures in the world; they must trust in the shepherd for everything they need. And that’s how God wants you to live: in dependence on Him. When you constantly live in the fear of lack, you’re not trusting God enough. This core fear drives many of our other fears, including the fear of becoming disabled, or the fear of ageing, or the fear of investing, or the fear of retiring poor. In its extreme form, fear of lack can lead to anxiety that requires you to live on tranquillizers and medication. It’s also one of the root causes of greed. You can become so obsessed with insuring yourself against the possibility of not having enough, that you hoard more than you’ll ever need. It can drive you to become a workaholic so that neither you nor your children will ever experience discomfort, inconvenience and helplessness. And like all fears, it’s based on an erroneous belief about God—in particular, His ability and willingness to take care of you. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.’ Stop living as though you don’t believe what God has promised you! A good strategy is to learn the promises, understand the ones that are conditional, meet the conditions, and rest in His love and faithfulness. This doesn’t mean you sit idly by and wait for God to do what He has given you the ability to do. You must do the natural things, and trust Him for the supernatural ones.

Conquering Your Fear of Lack (1)

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‘But they who seek (inquire of and require) the Lord [by right of their need and on the authority of His Word], none of them shall lack any beneficial thing.’ Psalm 34:10 AMP

It’s ok to grow up in poverty, as long as poverty doesn’t grow up in you and control your thinking. One celebrity was asked how he felt about growing up in poverty. Amazingly, he confessed that he still suffered anxiety over having enough in the future. So he tended to be overly frugal, viewed his money as somewhat surreal, and wasn’t able to relax and enjoy the blessings that come with success. However, his wife had brought balance to the relationship with the mindset of give, spend, and save. Who do you believe is responsible for your success, yourself or God? As long as you are, you’ll remain vulnerable to people, circumstances, and economic conditions. But when you know God’s responsible for your success, what you gain you can maintain. So your options are: trust yourself—or God! The psalmist writes: ‘There is no want to those who truly revere and worship Him with godly fear. The young lions lack food and suffer hunger, but they who seek (inquire of and require) the Lord [by right of their need and on the authority of His Word], none of them shall lack any beneficial thing.’ (Psalm 34:9–10 AMP) You say, ‘But that’s an Old Testament promise.’ Then here’s a New Testament one: ‘God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV)

Love: The Winning Strategy (3)

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‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart.’ Matthew 22:37 NIV

One day Christ’s critics asked Him, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ (Matthew 22:36 NIV) His answer is a timely reminder to both leaders and followers; it includes those who sit in the pews and those who stand in the pulpit. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart … all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ (Matthew 22:37–38 NIV) As a leader you must never leave a question in anyone’s mind as to who is God—and who isn’t. Namely, yourself! God said, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’ (Exodus 20:3 NKJV) And that’s important, because you’re never in greater danger than when people begin to praise you. Yes, we must teach people to respect, honour, and reward good leadership, but the Christ-like leader discourages adulation and shies away from the limelight. John the Baptist was so successful as a preacher that when he got through speaking, his audience flocked to Jesus. Speaking of it, Christ later said, in essence, ‘John, you did your job well!’ Apparently John agreed, for he said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ (John 3:30 NKJV) Isaiah wrote, ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.’ (Isaiah 6:1 NKJV) The king’s death occurred before Isaiah saw the Lord. Only when a leader dies to ego, becoming impervious to applause and approval, is God glorified in his or her leadership. Indeed, when Christ alone is exalted, the God-called leader smiles and says, ‘Thank You, Lord—that’s how You intended it.’

Love: The Winning Strategy (2)

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‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?’ Luke 6:32 NKJV

The love talked about in Scripture isn’t a sentimental emotion that gives you goose bumps. It’s compassion, caring, and concern for the well-being of another. It’s based on commitment, not convenience. It’s an act of your will, not a reflex of your emotions. Jesus asks a question that’s a real traffic-stopper. ‘If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit?’ (Luke 6:32–33 NLT) Loving is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and it will require all the grace God can give you. Jesus continues: ‘Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from Heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over … The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.’ (Luke 6:35-38 NLT) You say, ‘That’s a high standard!’ Yes, that’s why it’s the winning strategy.

Love: The Winning Strategy (1)

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‘Love never fails.’ 1 Corinthians 13:8 NIV

The Bible says, ‘Love never fails.’ Think about it: money doesn’t bring happiness, fame doesn’t bring self-worth, and revenge doesn’t bring satisfaction. The only thing that never fails is love. When Mother Teresa addressed world leaders at the United Nations, she was asked, ‘How can we have world peace?’ She replied, ‘Go home and love your family.’ If we all did that, ‘Paradise Lost’ would become ‘Paradise Found’! Napoleon Bonaparte’s intellectual greatness and intense egotism make his alleged tribute to the supremacy of leadership by love all the more striking. He said, ‘Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself founded great empires: but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this day millions would die for Him.’ Sometimes leaders are just power-holders. Because you can’t love others without making yourself vulnerable, they see expressing love as a weakness. But the fact is you can’t love and ‘keep all your options open’. To truly love—whether it’s your spouse, your children, or the people you lead—you must give yourself unreservedly in such a way that you can be hurt and even rejected. The fundamental principle on which power-holders operate is to protect themselves and everything they have. Whereas the fundamental principle of true leadership is to give of yourself with no holds barred. Love as an intrinsic characteristic of leadership seems outmoded, yet according to Scripture it’s still the winning strategy. The Bible says, ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’ (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV) That’s why love is the winning strategy.

Your Purpose Will Be Accompanied by Peace

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‘You shall … be led out with peace.’ Isaiah 55:12 NKJV

Perhaps you’re wondering, ‘What am I supposed to do with my life? What’s my purpose here?’ God answers these questions through our abilities. He leads us to our life’s purpose through the skills and talents He has given us. God-given gifts are the skills a person easily performs, often without formal training. We derive great pleasure from doing what we’re naturally good at doing. So if you aren’t sure of your life’s purpose, just do what you do well and watch God confirm it by blessing your endeavours. Don’t spend your time trying to do what you’re not gifted to do, or what somebody else is good at. We know we’re operating in our gifts and calling when what we do ministers life to others. If what we do makes us miserable and fills us with a sense of dread, usually we’re not in God’s perfect will. He gives us peace and joy to let us know we’re fulfilling His perfect plan: ‘For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace.’ Look at what you enjoy, what you’re good at, and what God is giving you the grace to do—then let God be God in your life. He wants to flow through you, and it may not be in the same way as He flows through others. Trust His ability in and through you, and don’t be afraid to be unique. God has a specific place and a specific plan for each of us. How will you know you’re in the right place fulfilling His plan? You will have peace!

What Lights Your Fire?

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‘My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned.’ Psalm 39:3 NIV

When God gives you a vision for your life, it’ll burn within you like a fire that can’t be extinguished. The psalmist said, ‘My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned.’ So, what lights your fire? What burns ‘hot’ within you? When God calls you to do something, He creates within you both the desire to do it and the power to carry it out. Though you feel inadequate and unqualified, stand on His Word: ‘For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.’ (Philippians 2:13 NLT) Mahatma Gandhi had a vision of a free and independent India at a time when it was governed by the British. Henry Ford had a vision of every family in America owning an automobile at a time when people were frightened of his new invention. Daniel K. Ludwig had a vision of a self-supporting industrial region in the heart of the Brazilian jungle at a time when there was no industry, no electricity, and no city of any kind for hundreds of kilometres. Where do such creative desires come from? God, Who is our Creator! And when God gives you a wide-blue-sky mindset, you’ll never be happy living in a mental birdcage. Are there times when you’ll feel afraid and uncertain about what to do? Yes! Fear and faith are two sides of the same coin, and they’ll always be part of your thinking. But the one you choose is the one that’ll determine your future—and you get to choose!

Don’t Go There!

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‘He took the path to her house.’ Proverbs 7:8 NKJV

Solomon writes, ‘I perceived … a young man devoid of understanding, passing along the street near her corner; and he took the path to her house.’ (Proverbs 7:7–8 NKJV)This guy’s mistake was being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person. And the message is clear: If you don’t want to get burned, stay away from the fire! You can’t get hooked on cocaine if you never use it. You can’t become an alcoholic if you never drink. And you can’t commit sexual sin if you don’t allow yourself to get into the wrong situation. It’s impossible to escape completely from situations and people who may be potentially dangerous. But as Martin Luther said, ‘You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair!’ The story’s told of an elderly man who noticed a little boy riding around and around the block on his bike. This went on for hours, and finally the man asked him, ‘Son, aren’t you tired? You’ve been riding around this block all morning.’ The little boy replied, ‘I’m running away from home.’ The man replied, ‘But you’re not running away from home, you’re just riding around the block.’ ‘No,’ insisted the boy. ‘I’m running away from home—but my mum said I couldn’t cross the street.’ We’re all prone to wander, so God has laid down certain boundaries we should never cross, certain places we should never go, and certain people we should never accompany. There’s never a right time to be in the wrong place with the wrong person. So don’t go there.

Pray for Understanding

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‘Give to Your servant an understanding heart … that I may discern between good and evil.’ 1 Kings 3:9 NKJV

Have you ever wondered why God made King Solomon the richest man in his day? Here’s the answer: ‘God said … “Because you … have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself … but have asked for … understanding … I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honour, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.”’ (1 Kings 3:11–13 NKJV) Before you ask God for material success, ask Him for wisdom and understanding. When you have those two qualities, God can trust you with material success because He knows you’ll use it to do His will and glorify Him. So what exactly is understanding? It’s the sum total of knowledge and wisdom! It’s the ability to interpret life as God does—to see what He sees in a person or situation. In other words, understanding is the ability to see through God’s eyes, hear through His ears, think through His mind, and feel through His heart. What’s the answer to marital conflict? Understanding! What’s the answer to parent-teen conflict? Understanding! What’s the answer to business conflict? Understanding! ‘In all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you; she will bring you honour.’ (Proverbs 4:7–8 NKJV) The word for you today is: pray for understanding.

Handling Loneliness

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‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ Hebrews 13:5 NIV

Somewhere beyond loneliness, there’s a contentment that’s born of necessity. When all your options in the natural realm seem closed, doors can spring open in the spiritual realm. That’s when you begin to see the possibility of having the kind of relationship with God you never had before. John was alone on the island of Patmos, a penal colony like Alcatraz, when God caught him up and took him on a trip through the glories of Heaven. As a result we have the book of Revelation. Paul was in prison when he wrote his greatest epistles. In Genesis, God did His miraculous work of creation and He expressed His delight in it by saying that ‘…it was very good.’ (Genesis 1:31 NLT) And you must learn to do that too. When others say nice things it reflects their opinion of you. But when you can speak well of yourself it reflects your opinion of you—and that’s the one you live with every day. To get a handle on loneliness, you must do away with the notion that anybody’s company is preferable to your own. A survey of thousands of couples revealed that 50 per cent wouldn’t marry the same person again. There are many reasons for that. One is—nobody but God can fill the spiritual emptiness within you. Think about it for a moment and you’ll realise that sometimes the solution to loneliness isn’t people, it’s purpose. It’s not a lack of affection, but a lack of direction. And when you need purpose and direction for living there’s only one place to go—to God!

Nourish and Cherish Each Other!

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‘For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.’ Ephesians 5:29 NKJV

When it comes to loving your husband or wife, the Bible uses the words ‘nourishes and cherishes’. The word nourish means ‘to build up, strengthen, develop and sharpen’. The word cherish means ‘to treasure, value, protect and celebrate’. Do you recall how you felt as a child at your birthday party when you were treated like the most special person in the room? Now you’re older and more mature, but don’t you still want to be celebrated that way… just a little bit, once in a while? Come on, admit it—you know you do! Feeling celebrated in a loving relationship is essential to its health. It’s nice to be the object of the celebration, but it’s equally important to plan celebrations for and with your partner. Whether it’s for big occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and job promotions, or smaller occasions that matter only to the two of you, making your mate feel special and cherished in ways that matter to him or her helps create a lifelong bond between you. Now, being celebrated doesn’t mean that life is always a party. Sometimes celebration includes comforting and consoling each other through the dark days and tough times. In fact, the ability to celebrate the joys of life amid its bitter downturns is a priceless quality you’ll find only in mature individuals. It’s easy to celebrate the good times, but you need someone to love you and stand by you after the holiday ends and the workday begins. So the word for you today is: nourish and cherish each other!

How to Get Your Prayers Answered (3)

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‘Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us.’ Ephesians 5:2 NKJV

Do you show a loving attitude? The Bible says, ‘Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and given Himself for us.’ Your mouth is such a major part of your love walk. We fail to realise how much we can do for people by building them up with our words. And we need to be even more careful not to say things that tear them down. The Bible says, ‘…the heart is deceitful above all things.’ (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) What vibes are you giving off? What are you ‘putting out there’? When we’re too busy to show love—we’re too busy, and it’s time to examine our heart motives and attitudes. How do we do that? By examining our tongue, and what’s coming out of our mouth. Do you remember the last time you went to the doctor and he asked you to open your mouth and say, ‘Aaah’? The reason they ask you to do that is so they can examine your tongue. Just like your tongue tells a physician a lot about your physical health, it can tell you a lot about your spiritual health. To get answers to your prayers you must search your heart in three areas: (1) Learning to abide in Christ. This will bring you to a higher level of spiritual maturity and help you discover the authority you have in prayer. (2) Speaking in line with God’s Word. This can move ‘mountains’ in your life (see Mark 11:23). (3) Growing in your love walk. This opens up powerful opportunities for you to show others who God really is.

How to Get Your Prayers Answered (2)

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‘Treat them fairly … Then, when you call, the Lord will answer.’ Isaiah 58:69 TLB

Are you self-sabotaging your prayers? God told the Israelites the reason they weren’t getting answers to their prayers was because they were engaged in finger-pointing and criticism (Isaiah 58:9–10). Have you been guilty of that? It’s just as important to glorify God through the words you speak when you’re not praying, as when you are. The Bible says there’s a direct link between having a critical, careless tongue, and not getting your prayers answered. How you treat others will determine how God treats you (Ephesians 6:7–8). God lays it squarely on the line: ‘Stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly … share your food with the hungry and … those who are helpless, poor, and destitute … If you do these things, God will shed His own glorious light upon you. He will heal you; your godliness will lead you forward, goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer … All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumours! Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too.’ (Isaiah 58:6–11 TLB)That means the answer to your prayers is contingent upon two things: your attitudes and actions towards others.

How to Get Your Prayers Answered (1)

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‘If you abide in Me … it shall be done for you.’ John 15:7 NKJV

Have you spent weeks, months, or even years praying about something specific? Are you saying, ‘Lord, I know what Your Word says, so why isn’t it working for me?’ In order to get the result you’re praying for, you must be able to answer this question: Are you praying for God’s will? Jesus said, ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.’ (John 15:7 NKJV) The word ‘abide’ speaks of intimacy and close connection. It paints a picture of ‘home’, the place where you experience provision and nurture. When you have that kind of relationship with God, you’ll know His heart and His desires so well that your will is going to line up with His will. And as a result you’ll get what you ask for. Don’t just assume that what you are praying for is in line with God’s will. Instead test your prayer by applying the ‘abiding principle’. Abiding brings spiritual maturity. And when you’re spiritually mature you begin to pray differently. Your prayers aren’t self-centred and self-seeking. The time you spend in the presence of the One you love most becomes more important to you than the end result you hope for. You don’t mind waiting, because you realise God’s timing is always perfect. And when He chooses to say ‘no’ to your request, you rejoice and say, ‘Then You’ve something better in mind for me, and I trust You.’ Have you reached that point yet in your walk with Him?

Be Considerate of the Weak

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‘Uphold the weak.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:14 NKJV

Every school has boys and girls who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Some of them are physically unattractive, some are slow learners, and some are simply unable to make friends and find a comfortable place in the school environment. (The same is true in the workplace and the church.) The key question is: what should teachers do when they see one of these children being ridiculed and taunted by their peers? Some would say, ‘Kids will be kids. Stay out of the conflict and let the children work out their differences for themselves.’ But the Bible says we are to ‘uphold the weak’. When a strong, loving teacher comes to the aid of the least respected child in class, something dramatic occurs in the emotional climate of the room. Every child seems to utter an audible sigh of relief. The same thought bounces around in many little heads: ‘If that kid is safe from ridicule, then I must be safe, too.’ By defending the least popular child in the classroom, the teacher is demonstrating that he or she respects everyone and will fight for anyone who is being treated unfairly. One of the values children cherish most is justice. (Adults do too!) They are, conversely, very uneasy in a world of injustice and abuse. Therefore, when we teach children kindness and respect for others by insisting on civility in our classrooms, we are laying a foundation for human kindness in the world of adulthood to come. So wherever you are today, endeavour to ‘comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.’

Your Core Values

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‘We have wronged no one.’ 2 Corinthians 7:2 NKJV

Life coach Douglas Woods says: ‘Each of us holds many values … Some … superficial, transitory, or fitting solely the moment in which we find ourselves. Others are more fixed and stay with us through our life; these are our “core values”.’ Paul could adapt to any culture in order to reach people for Christ, but when it came to his core values he could say, ‘We have wronged no one.’ Your core values are: (1) Your friends and lifelong companions. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘When I lay down the reins of this administration I want to have one friend left, and that friend is inside myself.’ (2) Your compass. Seasons, relationships, circumstances and goals change, but core values remain. Like a compass, they always point you in the right direction. Is living this way easy? No. Doubters will think you’re foolish because you walk by faith. People without family values won’t understand your devotion to your family. The carnally minded won’t understand your dedication to Christ. And those whose core values differ from yours will try to convince you to follow them, or lower your standards. (3) Your anchor. Without core values you’re adrift. Any storm can take you under; any current can carry you places you don’t want to go. But with core values you have an anchor that holds even when the weather gets nasty. Addressing issues that come with age, Christian psychologist Dr James Dobson says: ‘Midlife crisis is more a phenomenon of the wrong value system, than the age of the group in which it occurs. All of a sudden you realise the ladder you’ve been climbing is leaning against the wrong wall.’

What Causes Discouragement? (4)

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‘Our enemies said … “We … will kill them and put an end to the work.”’ Nehemiah 4:11 NIV

Cause number four: Fear. ‘Our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”’ Why did Israel’s enemies not want the walls of Jerusalem to be rebuilt? Resentment! A wall around a city guaranteed its protection and prosperity. So first they criticised the Jews; then they threatened them. But notice who got discouraged first: ‘Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn they will attack us.”’ (Nehemiah 4:12 NIV) When you hang around negative people long enough, you pick up their negativity. When you listen to someone repeatedly say, ‘It can’t be done,’ eventually you start believing them. So pick the right company! Avoid people who strengthen your fear and align yourself with those who build up your faith. Do you have fears that are making you feel discouraged right now, that are preventing you from developing and growing? Do you fear criticism or embarrassment? Are you afraid to take that big step and look for a new job? Maybe you’re afraid you’re not capable of the task. Maybe you’re worried you won’t hold up under pressure. Maybe it’s the fear that you have to be perfect. Count on it—fear always discourages you! In whom are you trusting? If it’s in yourself or other people, read this promise: ‘The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.’ (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV)

What Causes Discouragement? (3)

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‘We cannot rebuild the wall.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NIV

Failure. The third reason we become discouraged is reflected in the Israelites’ complaint: ‘We cannot rebuild the wall.’ In essence what they were saying is, ‘We’re too tired. It’s not possible. It’s foolish to try. We give up.’ Because they were unable to finish the job as quickly as planned, their confidence plummeted; they lost heart and became discouraged. Question: How do you handle failure in your life? Do you sit down and hold a pity party? Do you say, ‘Poor me! I can’t get this job done’? Do you start complaining, ‘It’s impossible. It can’t be done. I was a fool to even try’? Do you blame other people: ‘Everybody else let me down. They didn’t do their part of the job’? The difference between winners and losers is winners see failure as a temporary setback. They’ve learned to look beyond it, whereas losers see failure as permanent. Each time a winner gets knocked down, ‘they … get up again.’ (Proverbs 24:16 NLT) There’s an old adage that says, ‘In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins—not through strength but through perseverance.’ It’s when faithfulness is most difficult that it’s the most necessary. As author John Mason observes, ‘The secret to success is to start from scratch—and keep on scratching!’ So when you get discouraged stand on this Scriptural promise: ‘Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards. Learn to be patient, so that you will please God and be given what He has promised.’ (Hebrews 10:35–36 CEV) Be brave, be patient, and you will succeed.

What Causes Discouragement? (2)

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‘There is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NKJV

Cause number two: Frustration. The Jews were building a new wall, but old, broken rocks were strewn everywhere, along with dirt and dried-out mortar. And when they looked at ‘so much rubbish’ they became discouraged and lost sight of their goal. There was so much junk in their lives they didn’t know how to get on with the real business of living. Any time you undertake an important project there’ll be rubbish to remove, and sometimes it gets frustrating. You can’t avoid this, but you can learn what to do with it so you don’t give up on your plan. What’s the ‘rubbish’ in your life? Trivial things that waste your time, consume your energy, and keep you from becoming all you want to be? Things that keep you from doing what’s most important, like building a relationship with your spouse and children, or being active in your area of giftedness at church? The rubbish in life is those things that get in your way: the interruptions that keep you from accomplishing your goals. And these are the things you need to deal with. In other words, you need to take out the trash! Nobody else is going to do it for you. God won’t, and you can’t ‘pray it away’. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Take care of it.’ It’s in maintaining the blessings God has given you that you learn the difference between what’s important in life and what’s not. And that’s a lesson you’ll keep learning over and over.

What Causes Discouragement? (1)

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‘The strength of the labourers is giving out.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NIV

The story of Nehemiah highlights four major sources of discouragement. Let’s look at the first of them: Fatigue. The people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the labourers is giving out.’ In other words, they’d worked themselves to exhaustion. They were worn out physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that discouragement is strictly a spiritual problem. We say, ‘Maybe I need to recommit my life to God,’ when in fact the real problem is we’re burned out. We need rest and renewal. Indeed, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is relax, or go to bed, or take some time off. When do fatigue and discouragement surface? Look at verse six: ‘So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half of its height.’ Do you know when you’re most apt to get discouraged? When you’re halfway into a project! Everybody works hard at first. The Bible says the people ‘worked with all their heart.’ (Nehemiah 4:6 NIV) Why? Because of the newness of the project. It was exciting and novel, but after a while the newness wore off and the work got boring. Life settled into a routine, then a rut, then a ritual. Be careful: when fatigue walks in, faith walks out! That’s why the psalmist said, ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.’ (Psalm 23:2–3 NIV) Fatigue is one of the biggest causes of discouragement, and it often shows up about midpoint. It’s why we leave so many projects unfinished. Bottom line: if you need time off, take it!

What Do You ‘See’?

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‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Proverbs 29:18 KJV

What do you ‘see’ in your future? What’s your ‘vision’? In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, yet one hundred years later African-Americans were still victims of segregation. During a speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Dr Martin Luther King Jr expressed his vision in these now famous words: ‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the State of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream … of that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”’ The night before Dr King was assassinated in Memphis, he told his audience he had ‘seen’ the Promised Land, and even though they may not get there at the same time, they would one day enter it. If you don’t have a vision for your life, ask God for one. And when He gives it to you, pour your life into it believing you’ll live to ‘see’ it fulfilled!

Your Child of Promise (4)

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‘Time would fail me to tell of …Jephthah.’ Hebrews 11:32 NKJV

Your child of promise may be far from perfect today, and their transition into God’s Kingdom may be anything but smooth. ‘Time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of aliens.’ (Hebrews 11:32–34 NKJV) When you read these names and know their stories, you realise Satan will fight your child of promise from the day they’re born until the day they die. And if he can’t get to them, he will try to get to their children. Jephthah had to rise above the stigma of having a prostitute for a mother and a father who wanted nothing to do with him. But he overcame all this, led Israel to victory over their enemies, became known as ‘a mighty man of valour’ (Judges 11:1 KJV), and ended up listed alongside the Bible’s greatest heroes, including Abraham, Moses, Esther, Ruth, and David. Abandonment, abuse, addiction, absenteeism, anger, and aggression—none of these can stop God from using your child of promise if you’ll ‘stand in the gap’, pray on their behalf, and keep speaking God’s Word over them. ‘What is the gap?’ you ask. It’s the difference between what is and what can be; the difference between who your child is right now and who God knows he or she will become in the future.

Your Child of Promise (3)

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‘I sought for a man among them who would … stand in the gap.’ Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV

Sometimes your child of promise may get into trouble at school, mix with the wrong crowd, and experiment with drugs, alcohol, gangs or sex. They may rebel against everything you’ve taught them. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually respond to God and do His will. Before Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle God had to throw him off his horse, humble him before his peers, and blind him for a season. Do you remember what Jesus said to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road that day? ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads [thorns, stings].’ (Acts 9:5 NKJV) Sometimes your child of promise will come the easy way, other times they’ll come kicking and screaming; they won’t get there overnight! God took Paul into the wilderness for three years to detox him from wrong thinking and reprogram him with the truth of His Word because that was necessary to equip him for his calling. (Galatians 1:18) So when your child of promise seems to be lost in the wilderness, blind to their destiny, or even down in the dust, don’t despair; God is still at work. What should you do? God said, ‘I sought for a man [or woman] among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of …’ (Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV) Build a wall of protective prayer around your child. ‘Stand in the gap’ and pray God’s Word over them. Jesus promised that when you pray with authority here on earth, He will move Heaven on your behalf (see John 14:13).

Your Child of Promise (2)

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‘Jephthah … was a mighty man … but he was the son of a harlot.’ Judges 11:1 NKJV

Genes are powerful things! They can determine a child’s hair colour, eye colour, and the proclivities that make them like their father or mother. But when a child grows up and constantly makes bad choices it may not be genetic; it may be that the enemy has targeted them because he’s discerned their destiny. That’s when God steps in. Moses’ mother placed him in a basket and hid him in the Nile River. But God arranged for Pharaoh’s own daughter to find him, take him to the palace, and raise him as a leader in Egypt. As a parent, when you do your part, God will do His. When you do all you can for your child, God will intervene and do what you cannot do. Paul writes, ‘We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.’ (Romans 8:28 NLT) God has a ‘purpose’ for your problem child, so keep loving them and praying for them however long it takes. The Bible says, ‘Jephthah … was a mighty man of valour, but he was the son of a harlot.’ Your child may have been born in less than ideal circumstances, but that won’t stop God from blessing them. On the contrary, He can use every circumstance in their past to fuel their future with wisdom and strengthen them to fulfil the thing to which He’s called them. So don’t give up on your child of promise. Pray, ‘Lord, You promised it, I believe it, and it will come to pass!’

Your Child of Promise (1)

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‘Satan has asked for you … But I have prayed for you.’ Luke 22:31–32 NKJV

Your problem child could be a child of promise! God has a special destiny in mind for such children; that’s why there’s so much drama around them. Satan has targeted them because he sees their potential. He has discerned God’s plan for them and he’s out to stop it. Would Satan do that? Yes! He used Pharaoh to get to Moses, and King Herod to get to Jesus before they were two years old. Why? Because one day they would arise as deliverers and fulfil God’s plan. Likewise, Satan will attack your child of destiny. Paul said, ‘It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.’ (Galatians 1:15–16 NKJV) But Paul spent the first thirty years of his life going the wrong way before he met Jesus and started going the right way. So as the parent of a child of promise, what should you do? Pray for them! Knowing the special plan Peter would fulfil and the attack of Satan that would soon come against him, Jesus told Peter: ‘Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.’ (Luke 22:31–32 NKJV) When your children are young, lay your hands on them and speak God’s Word over their lives. And as they enter their teenage years continue to pray and speak God’s blessing upon them. Fight for your child of promise!

Keep Your Anger in Check

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‘A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.’ Proverbs 29:11 NIV

Anger is a God-ordained emotion, but it’s meant to be your servant instead of your master. So keep your temper on a leash. Any time you’re tempted to give in to anger, stop and ask yourself two questions: (1) Is this really worth my anger? Much of the time you’re working only with partial information. Furthermore, when you view someone in the context of their best qualities rather than their worst ones, you usually respond differently. (2) Is this the best way, place and time to express my anger? It’s hard to ask yourself this in the heat of the moment, but your emotions can be tamed and your temper can be trained. The Bible says one of the fruits of the Spirit is ‘self-control’. (Galatians 5:23 NLT) When someone wrongs you, the question isn’t whether you are big enough to do something about it; the question is whether you are big enough not to? The story’s told of two brothers who got into an awful fight and their mother ran upstairs to break it up. When she asked how the fight got started, the older brother said, ‘It all started when he hit me back!’ If you’ve an anger management problem, write this Scripture down, carry it with you and try to read it before you lose your temper: ‘Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.’ (Proverbs 19:11 NLT) You say, ‘That’s hard to do!’ Yes, and you’ll never do it perfectly. But if you do it more often, God will be glorified—and you’ll feel better too.

Perfectionism

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‘Even perfection has its limits…’ Psalm 119:96 NLT

High standards and attention to detail are commendable; they show you take pride in your work. However, dyed-in-the-wool perfectionists take an all-or-nothing approach by finding fault and obsessing over how they could have done it better. Case in point: after delivering one of history’s most memorable speeches, Abraham Lincoln described his Gettysburg Address as a ‘flat failure’. Perfectionists see opportunities to perform as opportunities to fail, so even when they do reach their goal there’s no sense of accomplishment. None of us will ever attain perfection this side of eternity. We’re all imperfect; get used to it! We only ‘…know in part…’ (1 Corinthians 13:9 NIV) So: (1) Give yourself permission to fail, in order to succeed. Henry Ford said, ‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again… more intelligently.’ (2) Though you’re not likely to excel initially, don’t be afraid to try. You won’t get perfect results, but it will let you see that sometimes ‘average’ can be progress. (3) Lighten up. Be forgiving of yourself, and extend grace to others. Emerson said, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ (4) Don’t get bogged down in details. Set a time limit; say, ‘I’m going to give this thirty minutes.’ A well-known counsellor says, ‘Have reasonable expectations…do your best and encourage others to do the same. Flaws and imperfections determine your uniqueness. Relish them. Embrace them…you’re human …God made you that way.’ The truth is, God doesn’t judge our mistakes nearly as harshly as we do. He ‘…remembers we are only dust…’ (Psalm 103:14 NLT)

Cast It Away

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‘Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:7 NKJV

The word ‘casting’ pictures a fisherman throwing his net into the sea to catch fish. He knows he won’t succeed by carrying his net, but by casting it. What are you carrying around? Old pain? Old resentment? An old torch for somebody who’s moved on? Cast it away! You’re sacrificing your future for something that’s not worthy of your time and energy. Why would God tell you to do something so radical? Because ‘He cares for you’. While you’re caring for it, He’s caring for you. It’s hard to watch somebody you love twisting in pain because of something they shouldn’t be carrying. God has no problem making the thing leave you alone; you just need to loosen your grip on it. Today God’s speaking to you, not what’s bothering you, saying, ‘Cast it away!’ Satan is a thief. Unwillingness to forgive is one of the doors through which he enters, and you are the only one who can close it. When you wake up and realise how much he’s already stolen from you, you’ll be angry with yourself. Harness that anger. Let it motivate you to live by the three R’s: Repent. Rectify the situation if possible. Take Responsibility for your life. Once you’ve done that, close the book on it, enjoy the benefits of God’s grace, and move on. Recognise when something is dead. No amount of effort can resuscitate a corpse, so sign the death certificate, bury the past, and get going. That doesn’t mean you’re quitting, it means you’re conserving your strength for things that count, for things you can do something about.

How’s Your Spiritual Appetite?

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‘You have said, “Seek My face.” My heart says to You, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”’ Psalm 27:8 ESV

If you spend hours each day watching television and can’t find a few minutes for prayer and reading the Scriptures, you’ve a spiritual appetite problem—one that needs your attention. David Brainerd, an eighteenth-century missionary to the American Indians, wrote in his journal: ‘I withdrew to my usual place of retirement in great tranquillity. I knew only to breathe out my desire for a perfect conformity to Him in all things. God was so precious that the world with all its enjoyments seemed infinitely vile. I have no more desire for the favour of men than for pebbles. At noon I had the most ardent longings after God which I ever felt in my life. In my secret retirement I could do nothing but tell my dear Lord in a sweet calmness that I knew I desired nothing but Him, nothing but holiness, that He had given me these desires and only He could give me the things I desired. I never seemed to be so unhinged from myself … so wholly devoted to God. My heart was swallowed up in God most of the day.’ The psalmist felt the same way: ‘I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever … how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter.’ (Psalm 73:25–28 NLT) You can tell how spiritually healthy you are by your appetite for the things of God.

Take Care of Yourself

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‘He makes me lie down … He restores my soul.’ Psalm 23:2–3 NIV

Learn to pay attention to your body’s signals and emotional responses to the demands you place on yourself. When you’re tired to the point of distraction, you need to slow down and rest. Yes, there are seasons that require extra time and energy but, even in the midst of these seasons, you need to find a way to take care of yourself. If you constantly ignore your body’s aches and pains, work 24/7, eat out of vending machines, and run on caffeine and adrenalin, you’ll get sick and be forced to slow down because you wouldn’t take care of yourself. Knowing your ‘speed limit’ allows you to know when it’s time to stop, refuel, and replenish, to restore your energy and your soul. Many of us have abused our bodies for so long that we believe our healthiest days are behind us. Not necessarily so! No matter how bad your condition is, there’s help! Your body has the ability to restore itself. God will work with you and in you to bring you back to wholeness if you follow His guidelines for good health. Practise doing everything you do for God’s glory, including eating (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). Look at your plate and ask if what you’re about to eat is mostly what God created for you to stay healthy. Make a balanced diet a way of life! Each time you choose healthy foods you choose life, which is God’s gift to you. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, it’s good stewardship. By eating well, sleeping enough, exercising and taking regular vacations you can increase the effectiveness of your life and bring glory to God (see 1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

Leave Your Comfort Zone (2)

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‘I will … make the rough places smooth.’ Isaiah 42:16 NIV

Observe: (1) It’s never easy to leave your comfort zone. Moses probably didn’t relish leaving the luxury of Pharaoh’s palace or the security of his new family in Midian. Yet if he hadn’t, he’d have failed to fulfil God’s call. Just because you don’t feel like doing something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The greater the assignment, the greater the sacrifice. (2) Real growth begins once you leave your comfort zone. For forty years Moses benefited from everything Egypt had to offer. But only after he left Egypt for the first time did he begin to learn what was really important: namely, God’s purposes. It took another forty years in the desert to discover how God intended to use him—and by then he’d been humbled and made over. The bottom line is: before you can go—you have to grow! (3) Staying in your comfort zone will rob you of your greatest moments and memories. Your life story is written in risks—those you took and those you avoided. Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed about the risks you didn’t take than the ones you did. The way to pre-empt tomorrow’s regret is by moving forward today into the ‘faith zone’. You say, ‘But there’s so much I don’t know or understand.’ That may be true, but here’s a promise you can stand on: ‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them … turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These … things I will do; I will not forsake them.’ (Isaiah 42:16 NIV) What more assurance do you need?

Leave Your Comfort Zone (1)

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‘Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them.’ Isaiah 42:16 NIV

To do God’s will, Moses had to leave his comfort zone. ‘Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter … He thought it was better to suffer … than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.’ (Hebrews 11:24–26 NLT) To fulfil the assignment God gave him, Moses had to be willing to give up two things: (1) Comfort. Ease is a greater threat to your progress than hardship. After living in a palace, Moses spent his next forty years in the desert tending sheep. He married one of Jethro’s daughters, managed her father’s business, and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. Can you imagine leaving all that to go back and face Pharaoh? God’s plan for your life will bless and reward you, but never assume it will be easy. (2) Security. When God called him, Moses had many doubts and questions: ‘Who am I that I should go?’ (Exodus 3:11 NKJV) ‘What shall I say to them?’ (Exodus 3:13 NKJV) ‘Suppose they will not believe me?’ (Exodus 4:1 NKJV) ‘But I am slow of speech.’ (Exodus 4:10 NKJV) Finally he told God, ‘Send someone else.’ (Exodus 4:13 NIV) Have you been doing that? Fortunately, God wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and Moses finally did the one thing that works when you’re uncertain about the future: He obeyed God, entrusting the details of the future to Him. In doing that Moses agreed to answer God’s call, leave his comfort zone, and return to Egypt. As a result the Children of Israel were delivered from slavery, and Moses’ name became a household word.

Respond in a Christlike Way

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‘Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.’ Matthew 5:43 NCV

When people mistreat you, Jesus makes clear how you should respond. ‘The law of Moses says, “If a man gouges out another’s eye, he must pay with his own eye. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the one who did it.” But I say: Don’t resist violence! If you are slapped on one cheek, turn the other too. If you are ordered to court, and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat too. If the military demand that you carry their gear for a mile, carry it two. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. “There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in Heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:38–48 TLB) Bottom line: Respond in a Christlike way.

You Must Show Compassion

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‘You did not do it to Me.’ Matthew 25:45 NKJV

Every act of kindness you showed to someone in need, as well as every time you turned a blind eye, you’ll account for when you stand at the judgement (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Jesus will recount them one by one—one deed done to improve the lot of another person, even small ones. Indeed, everything Jesus mentioned seems small: ‘I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matthew 25:35–36 NKJV) The early Church father Chrysostom pointed out, ‘We do not hear “I was sick and you healed me,” or “I was in prison and you liberated me.”’ So that does away with the excuse, ‘How could I heal a sick person or liberate someone who’s enslaved?’ Jesus said, ‘I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ These works of mercy are simple deeds, and yet in these simple deeds we serve Jesus. Astounding, this truth: we serve Christ by serving needy people. Some of them live in jungles you can’t find, and have names you can’t pronounce; others who play in cardboard slums, or sell sex on the street. Some of them brought their woes on themselves, and others inherited the mess from their parents. You can’t help all of them, but you can help some of them! And when you do, you serve Jesus. That’s what Jesus will talk to you about when you stand before Him one day.

Don’t Assume, Ask

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‘Take delight in honouring each other.’ Romans 12:10 NLT

One of the most common sources of conflict between husbands and wives comes down to a simple matter of differing assumptions. Dr James Dobson writes: ‘Years ago I went through a very hectic period of my life professionally. I was a full-time professor in a medical school, but I was also travelling and speaking more often than usual. I completely exhausted myself during that time. It was a dumb thing to do, but I had made commitments that I simply had to keep. Finally on a concluding Friday night … I came dragging home. I had earned a day off, and I planned to kick back and watch the USC–Alabama football game that Saturday. Shirley, on the other hand, also felt that she had paid her dues. For six weeks she had taken care of the kids and run the home. It was entirely reasonable that I spend my Saturday doing things she wanted done around the house. Neither of us was really wrong. But the two ideas were incompatible. Those assumptions collided about ten o’clock Saturday morning when Shirley asked me to clean the backyard umbrella. I had no intention of doing it. There was an exchange of harsh words that froze our relationship for three days. It’s important to understand that neither of us was looking for a fight, yet we both felt misunderstood and wounded by the other. Our conflict was typical of what goes on every day in a million other homes. It all comes down not to deliberate antagonism, but to something called “differing assumptions.”’ What’s the answer? Don’t assume, ask!

You Can Overcome Temptation

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‘…keep Satan from taking advantage of us.’ 2 Corinthians 2:11 AMP

You will always be tempted in your weakest areas. So: (1) Prepare yourself. Otherwise you won’t be ready when it comes. Where does temptation originate? In your mind! Any defeat that manifests itself in your conduct was first a battle lost in your mind. That’s why Paul wrote that we should ‘…keep Satan from taking advantage of us.’ (2) Brace for impact. Ask God to help you detect Satan’s advances, and buckle your seat belt in preparation for what lies ahead. An ink-stained wall in Wartburg Castle, Germany, illustrates the point. Deep in prayer, Martin Luther suddenly became aware of the enemy’s presence. The story goes that he picked up an inkpot and hurled it against the wall, aiming it at the devil. Luther sensed the adversary’s advance and responded the best way he knew how. Sound extreme? Maybe, but the question is do you have that kind of spiritual sensitivity? (3) Submit to God, and then serve the devil an eviction notice. If you don’t, he will defeat you. ‘Submit … to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:7 NAS) Satan wants you to do the opposite by resisting God and submitting to him. Don’t fall into his trap! If you’re battling temptation today, stand on this promise: ‘Our high priest is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but He did not sin. Let us, then, feel very sure that we can come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we can receive mercy and grace to help us when we need it.’ (Hebrews 4:15–16 NCV) God will give you the grace needed to overcome temptation.

Mother, You’re a Blessing!

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‘Her children … call her blessed; her husband … praises her.’ Proverbs 31:28 NKJV

When it comes to motherhood, this sign on a church bulletin board says it all: If evolution is true, how come mothers still only have two hands? Seriously, Mum, today we stop to salute you and let you know how much we appreciate you. Some days you probably wonder if what you’re doing even matters. Your work is never done … you’re always exhausted … and there’s no big financial reward. We live in an age that seems to diminish service and exalt glitz…sometimes it’s hard to value your investment. But hear this: God says you’re highly esteemed by Him, and that children are some of His most precious gifts (see Psalm 127:3). A godly mother is someone who is described by her family: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ So Mum, while your role isn’t defined by a pay cheque or a promotion, you’re vitally important to your family and your children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Nobody can take your place! Samuel was one of Israel’s greatest prophets, but who was the driving force in his life? His mother, Hannah! When Samuel was born she said, ‘I am giving him to the Lord for as long as he lives.’ (1 Samuel 1:28 TLB) Mother, you matter more than you know. God is moulding tomorrow’s leaders in your hands.

Working Together in Unity

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‘Each of you is a part of it.’ 1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT

None of us can do individually, what all of us can do collectively. Paul writes, ‘All of you together are Christ’s body [the church], and each of you is a part of it.’ But His body has been known to misbehave. The brain discounts the heart. (Academics discount worshippers.) The hands criticise the knees. (People of action criticise people of prayer.) The eyes refuse to partner with the feet. (Visionary thinkers won’t work with steady labourers.) So Paul writes, ‘The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”’ (1 Corinthians 12:21 NLT) The mega-church needs the smaller church. The pastor needs the missionary. Cooperation is more than a good idea; it’s a Scriptural command. ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:3 NIV) When we work together in unity, the Bible says God ‘commands His blessing’ to be upon us (see Psalm 133:1–3). We haven’t been called to compare, to compete, to complain, or to criticise one another. No, we’ve been called to complement one another! When it comes to problems with other believers, Jesus said: ‘I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in Heaven. For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.’ (Matthew 18:19–20 NIV) What an astounding promise. When we come into agreement, Jesus notices. He shows up, and He hears and answers our prayers.

Do You Feel Inadequate?

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‘Who is equal to such a task?’ 2 Corinthians 2:16 NIV

In Second Corinthians chapter two Paul asks the question, ‘Who is equal to such a task?’ And in chapter three he answers it: ‘Our competence comes from God.’ (2 Corinthians 3:5 NIV) We’re aware of our limitations when it comes to meeting the needs of our families, fulfilling the demands of our jobs, persevering in spite of the energy drain and the chronic pain, battling a long-standing habit, learning a new job after being laid off, staying in a difficult marriage, and finding the strength needed to keep forging ahead when our dreams fail. We pretend we’ve got it together. We act like we’re capable of handling any situation, but deep down we know we’re not. The truth is, without God’s grace and power we are inadequate. This can be a tough concept for proud, assertive types to accept. It undermines their ego to have to acknowledge that without God they don’t know the right thing to do, the right way to do it, or where the power to do it will come from. It’s tough for them to admit they must consciously rely on Him at all times. But once you adopt that stance and start depending on God, you’re on the threshold of the life you’ve always wanted. What was the secret of Paul’s strength? The power of Christ, operating in him (2 Corinthians 12:9). D.L. Moody said, ‘When a man has no strength, if he leans on God he becomes powerful.’ Regardless of how long you’ve walked with Jesus, never forget that all of your adequacy comes from Him.

Leaders Are Made, Not Born!

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‘Who am I that I should go?’ Exodus 3:11 NIV

Why does God call people who don’t necessarily feel qualified? So we’ll depend on Him more than on ourselves. When God called Moses, he asked, ‘Who am I that I should go?’ When God called Gideon, he replied, ‘I am the least in my family.’ (Judges 6:15 NIV) When God called Solomon, he said, ‘I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.’ (1 Kings 3:7 NIV) When God called Jeremiah, he replied, ‘I do not know how to speak.’ (Jeremiah 1:6 NIV) Yet they all became great leaders. How did they do it? By saying yes to God’s call, learning from their mistakes and growing wiser, and drawing strength from God each day. So whether your God-given assignment in life seems large or small, you can grow into it. A vocal teacher once told Mary Martin, the famous American singer, that she had an inferior voice and would never make it in the field of music. But she determined otherwise and, for over half a century, she reigned as one of the country’s most loved and popular singers. Mary overcame her seeming deficiency through determination and self-discipline. The Greek statesman Demosthenes had such a speech impediment as a boy that he was embarrassed to speak before a group. But he invested long hours by the sea in unrelenting practice to overcome his problem—and as a result, became one of the most famous orators of all time. You may not have a natural aptitude for leadership, but under God’s guidance you can develop into a leader. Why? Because even though you may be limited, the God who lives within you isn’t!

When God Calls You (4)

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‘What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.’ Romans 8:18 NLT

Sometimes we view the call of God on our lives through rose-coloured glasses. But hearing His call isn’t the same thing as falling into your dream career. When God called Jeremiah to preach to a people who refused to listen, he cried so much he became known as ‘the weeping prophet’. Our first response to a God-sized assignment is generally—fear. Henry Blackaby writes: ‘Some people say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do.” I’ve come to the place in my life that if the assignment I sense God giving me is something I know I can handle, I know it’s probably not from God. The kind of assignments God gives in the Bible are always God-sized. They’re beyond what people can do, because He wants to demonstrate His nature, His strength … and His kindness … to a watching world.’ Saying yes to God’s call often means putting in hours of effort when you’d rather not. And it doesn’t always reward you with the kind of recognition you’d hoped for. People may disapprove of what you’re doing and try to block you. For sure, it’ll involve trial and error and some false starts. And natural talent alone isn’t enough to honour your calling; you’ll need ideas, strength, and creativity beyond your own resources to do what God requires of you. Paul says, ‘We are labourers together with God’ (1 Corinthians 3:9 KJV), because in order to succeed it has to be God and you doing it together. He doesn’t just call you to work for Him; He calls you to work with Him!

When God Calls You (3)

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‘The Lord called Samuel again the third time.’ 1 Samuel 3:8 NKJV

You didn’t arrive on this planet with your calling pre-clarified and your gifts pre-developed. Discerning God’s calling usually involves attempts and failures. He called Samuel four times before he recognised the divine voice. Before Peter walked on the water he said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ (Matthew 14:28–29 NAS) And Jesus said, ‘Come.’ Here’s a lesson you can learn from this: You are not in charge of water-walking, Jesus is! It’s not about having power at your disposal to be used any time you choose, for whatever you please. Before you decide to get out of the boat you’d better be sure it’s what you’ve been called to—and that Jesus is the One calling you. God’s looking for more than impulsiveness. Sometimes we make reckless decisions about relationships, finances or work, then rationalise them using the veneer of spiritual language. In many self-help books risk-taking is seen as commendable, but as a Christian the risks you take should be in direct response to God. If you’re a thrill-seeking personality, you may be particularly susceptible in this area. Boredom can make you vulnerable and tempt you to solve your problems by making rash decisions that are out of step with God’s will. There’s a fine line between ‘not being afraid’ and ‘being stupid’—one that’s easily blurred. Knowing when to step out of the boat and take a risk doesn’t just call for courage, it calls for wisdom to ask the right questions, discernment to recognise the Master’s voice and patience to wait until He says, ‘Come!’

When God Calls You (2)

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‘God works through different [people] in different ways.’ 1 Corinthians 12:6 PHPS

Skilled potters recognise that when they press clay it presses back, giving them an indication of what it can and cannot become. Amateur potters often lack that discernment—and the end work proves it. When you don’t honour your raw material, it can become your enemy. The word vocation comes from the Latin word for ‘voice’. Discovering your calling involves listening very carefully. If you close your ears and pursue something you’re neither called nor equipped to do, you’ll end up living with anxiety that whispers, ‘You’re trying to do something God didn’t tell you to do.’ The courage to acknowledge what you’re not brings great freedom; the lack of it imprisons you. Parker Palmer writes, ‘You cannot choose your calling; you must let your life speak.’ Perhaps you were created to learn, and in so doing to benefit others. If you are, you’ll find yourself drawn to reading, reflecting, writing, and teaching. However, if you’re convinced (or allow others to convince you) that you must be a corporate success in order for your life to count, you’ll always be sawing against the grain of your life. Instead, learn to ride the horse in the direction it’s going. Philosopher Mortimer Adler writes about brilliant minds called to sit at the table of what he terms ‘the great conversation of the human race’. Well, guess what? Ninety-nine percent of us will never sit at that table! But we can look forward to the commendation: ‘Well done … good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25:21 NLT), that God promised to those who hear His call, accept it and devote their lives to fulfilling it.

When God Calls You (1)

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‘Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.’ 1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV

A career is something you choose; a calling is something you receive. A career is something you do for yourself; a calling is something you do for God. A career promises status, money and power; a calling generally promises difficulty, suffering and the opportunity to be used by God. A career may end with retirement and lots of toys; a calling doesn’t end until you die. A career can be disrupted by any number of events, but God enables you to fulfil your calling even in the most difficult circumstances. For some people in Scripture obeying the call of God meant living in slavery, being captured and sent into exile, or being put to death. Their career trajectories didn’t look promising, yet they fulfilled their calling in extraordinary ways. Chuck Colson had one of the highest profile careers in America. He had access to power and influence in the Nixon White House, yet he landed in prison. His career was over, but his calling was just beginning. He was called to reach others just like himself. He reflects: ‘The real legacy of my life was my biggest failure—that I was an ex-convict. My great humiliation—being sent to prison—was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one experience in which I couldn’t glory [and used it] for His glory.’ In the providence of God, the end of your career can be the beginning of your calling. So whatever God has called you to do, the Bible says, ‘Give yourselves fully to the work … because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’

Today, Encourage Someone

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‘Encourage him, and strengthen him.’ Deuteronomy 3:28 KJV

Encouragement can work miracles. In the movie Stand and Deliver, high school teacher Jaime Escalante has two students in his class named Johnny. One is a happy child and an excellent student; the other spends his time messing around and getting into trouble. When the Parent Teacher Association held its first meeting of the year, a mother came up to Jaime and asked, ‘How’s my son, Johnny, getting along?’ Jaime mistakenly assumed she was the mother of the better student, so he replied, ‘I can’t tell you how much I enjoy him. I’m so glad he’s in my class.’ The next day ‘problem Johnny’ came to Jaime and said, ‘My mom told me what you said about me last night. I haven’t ever had a teacher who wanted me in his class.’ The result? He completed his assignments that day, and brought in his completed homework the next morning. A few weeks later he had become one of Jaime’s hardest-working students—and one of his best friends. His life had been turned around because of an accidental word of encouragement. It works like this: When you look for good in a person and express it, you give them something to live up to. In other words, you motivate them to be better than they are. The last thing God told Moses to do was to encourage and strengthen Joshua ‘for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see.’ (Deuteronomy 3:28 NKJV) And here’s the great thing about encouragement: you don’t have to be rich, attractive, prominent or brilliant to give it, and it’s always appreciated. So today, encourage someone.

Bringing People to Jesus (3)

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‘When they could not find a way … they went up on the roof.’ Luke 5:19 NIV

When you pick up the weight of another person, it can be a heavy burden to bear. Notice: (1) It took four people to bring this man to Jesus. Sometimes you have to call in reinforcements. When you’ve prayed for someone and nothing seems to be happening, here’s a great Scripture: ‘If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in Heaven. For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.’ (Matthew 18:19–20 NIV) (2) It was their faith, not the sick man’s faith that Jesus responded to. ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”’ (Luke 5:20 NIV) The poor guy had been in this condition for so long that his faith was probably as dead as his limbs. But that’s no problem for God; He’ll respond to your faith by touching your loved one. (3) They refused to give up on him. You need tenacious faith that refuses to quit. Just because you talked to someone about the Lord before and they didn’t respond, doesn’t mean they won’t respond now. Maybe they weren’t ready back then, and now their circumstances have changed. Maybe you went about it the wrong way, and now you have a better approach. The point is, when you do your part, God will do His. ‘So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.’ (Galatians 6:9 GNT)

Bringing People to Jesus (2)

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‘They came… bringing a paralytic… carried by four.’ Mark 2:3 NKJV

Some people have to be ‘carried’ to Jesus because they can’t get to Him by themselves. Like the man in the story, they are paralysed. ‘Paralysed by what?’ you ask. Paralysed by an out-of-control behaviour. Paralysed by a belief system that tells you you’re too sinful for God to ever love and redeem you. Paralysed by the memory of something that happened in your childhood and now you’re afraid to talk about it. Paralysed by an addiction to illegal substances, prescription drugs, gambling, pornography, alcohol, work, or money. Whatever your addiction—one thing is for sure—it’s paralysing. You can be paralysed by fear, anxiety, depression, a bottomed-out sense of self-worth, or a nightmarish childhood of neglect and abuse. On the other hand, you can be a self-made man or woman paralysed by success, materialism, greed, self-absorption—not acknowledging any need in your life for God. Is any of this hitting close to home? Jesus began His ministry with these words: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ (Luke 4:18–19 NKJV) The New Living Translation of the Bible paraphrases the latter part of verse 19 by saying, ‘the time of the Lord’s favour has come.’ Here’s the good news! Life may not always have been good to you, but God’s grace and smile of favour can change all of that—starting today.

Bringing People to Jesus (1)

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‘The power of the Lord was present to heal them.’ Luke 5:17 NKJV

One day when Jesus was preaching in a certain house, four men brought their paralysed friend so He could heal him. When they couldn’t get through the crowd they climbed up onto the roof, created an opening, lowered the man down to Jesus, and He healed him. The Bible says, ‘The power of the Lord was present to heal them.’ The Pharisees were sitting nearby, and the power of God was present to heal them too, yet they received nothing. It’s amazing, but true; you can be in the presence of Jesus and leave unchanged. Why? Because your attitude and approach determine your results! Pride and preconceived notions—thinking you have God all figured out—can stop you from receiving what you need. Paul says, ‘For indeed the Gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.’ (Hebrews 4:2 NKJV) These religious leaders had no ‘faith’. They were interested in engaging Jesus in theological arguments, not in seeing the power of God demonstrated and this sick man healed. So you can have a head full of theology and a heart filled with doubt, and receive nothing from the Lord! Luke Chapter 5 records: ‘When [Jesus] saw their faith, He said to him… “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he rose up… and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God… saying, “We have seen strange things today!”’ (Luke 5:20–26 NKJV)

Knowing Where You Stand with God

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‘We are justified (acquitted, declared righteous, and given a right standing with God) through faith.’ Romans 5:1 AMP

Until you understand how God views you, you’ll struggle for His approval and worry that you never measure up. Is that how you feel today? If so, meditate on the following Scriptures and let them remove your doubts. (1) ‘Through Him we … become … [acceptable and in right relationship with] [God].’ (2 Corinthians 5:21 AMP) Unworthiness is one of the greatest weapons Satan has against you, so take it out of his hands. In a sense, God has put a screen between you and Himself; it’s the blood of Jesus. And when He looks at you through that screen He sees you as righteous and forgiven of all sins. That’s why we call it ‘amazing grace’. (2) ‘[Righteousness, standing acceptable to God] will be … credited to us … who believe in (trust in, adhere to, and rely on) God.’(Romans 4:24 AMP) Did you get that? All the righteousness needed to get into Heaven—is credited to your account the moment you put your trust in Christ. As a Christian there’s a difference between your position and your condition. When you sin, it affects your condition. But your fixed position is ‘in Christ’ (see Romans 8:1). You say, ‘But what about my shortcomings?’ That’s your condition, and the Holy Spirit is working on it every day (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). Transformation, which means ‘to change form’, is a daily process. And while you’re in that process God views you as righteous! In other words, righteousness isn’t a performance but a position. And God put you into that position the moment He saved you. Now you know where you stand with God.

A Day to Remember, Reflect and Rejoice

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‘You shall bless the Lord for the good land He has given you.’ Deuteronomy 8:10 NKJV

Today we celebrate the blessings of God we enjoy as a nation; blessings paid for in the blood, sweat and tears of our forbears. Note what God said to His people when they entered the promised land: ‘The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are full, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments.’ (Deuteronomy 8:10–11 NKJV) Our challenge is not that we are slow learners, but that we are quick forgetters. Here are two all important truths we quickly forget and need to remind ourselves of daily:

First, God is the source of every blessing we enjoy. That’s why He cautioned His people: ‘…then you say in your heart “my power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth”. And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish his covenant which He swore to your fathers.’ (Deuteronomy 8:17–18) Every good thing you enjoy—past, present and future—is a gift of grace from God. Every action of God in your life is designed to increase, not decrease, your dependence on Him. The success of every assignment God gives you, depends on His involvement and participation. The apostle Paul acknowledges the secret of his success in these words: ‘not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.’ (2 Corinthians 3:5 NKJV)

How to Argue Constructively

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‘As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.’ Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Arguments can be either constructive or destructive; it all depends on how you handle them. Many times our relationships fall apart or develop into unending chapters of misery because we either fail to recognise or are unwilling to face our problems before they escalate into emergencies. Rather than discuss what’s not working between us, we get into a conflict and argue about whose fault it is. In contrast to discussion that constructively airs the issues, arguments bring charges and appoint blame, which is destructive. They provoke hurt, anger, defensiveness, aggressive feelings, bitterness, and other strong emotions. That’s why the Bible says, ‘It is to a man’s honour to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.’ (Proverbs 20:3 NIV) Now let’s get real for a second! This side of Heaven none of us will live without differences of opinion and disagreements. Even in the best of relationships you’ll have them. And you must realise that not all conflict stems from wilful behaviour; it often arises through innocent mistakes and simple neglect. Entering into an honest discussion that details the reasons for the conflict helps bring clarity, understanding and appreciation for the other person’s position. Above all, never go deaf! Pay attention to what the other person is saying. There’s nothing worse than having somebody think you’re not listening to them. It’s through open, loving discussion that our opinions about our relationships are honed and clarified. Indeed, the things you refuse to deal with can hurt your relationship more than anything else you do. That’s why the Bible says, ‘As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.’

A Sobering Scripture

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‘In the same way you judge others, you will be judged.’ Matthew 7:2 NIV

Here’s a sobering Scripture: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’ (Matthew 7:1 NIV) Jesus was hard on the religionists of His day because they spent their time nit-picking. They condemned the disciples for not washing their hands, and Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Consider Jesus’ response: ‘You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, My decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent Me.’ (John 8:15-16 NIV) So here are some questions you need to answer: ‘Do I judge others based on their actions, and judge myself based on my intentions? When someone’s behaviour doesn’t reflect a choice or decision you’d have made, are you quick to comment? When people don’t move at your pace or do something the way you want it done, do you peg them as lazy and worthless? When you hear something negative about somebody, do you repeat it before checking to see if there’s any truth in it?’ Ben Franklin said, ‘I resolve to speak ill of no man … not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody.’ If you’ve a genuine concern for someone who’s going in the wrong direction and have earned the right to address it, do it in the spirit of love. And remember, you earn that right by consistently demonstrating love and care for them.

You Can Make a Difference

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‘I… am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.’ Psalm 102:7 KJV

Do you feel unqualified for the job God has given you? Do you think He picked the wrong person? Many scriptural heroes felt the same. David, whose psalms encourage millions, ‘a man after [God’s] own heart,’ lamented, ‘I … am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.’ It’s hard to imagine a less significant bird, yet Jesus said, ‘Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing.’ (Matthew 10:29 NLT) Charles Swindoll writes: ‘In our… impersonal world it’s easy to underestimate the significance of… one. With so many who seem more capable, gifted, prosperous, and important, who am I to think my part amounts to much? Aren’t you glad Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, Irving Berlin, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Wesley, [and Mother Teresa] didn’t think that way?…How many people did it take to help the victim on the Jericho road? How many were chosen to confront Pharaoh and lead the Exodus? How many lost sheep were of concern to the shepherd? How many did God use to prepare the way for the Messiah? Just one! Centuries ago a woman named Esther thought there was nothing she could do. She was the Jewish wife of a Persian king, who was about to be tricked into making a disastrous decision that would exterminate the Jews… Like everyone who stands in the gap, Esther was willing to get involved to the point of sacrifice, and say, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Today ask yourself, “What should I be doing?” You can make a difference.’

Constructive Complaining

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‘So Moses brought their case before the Lord.’ Numbers 27:5 NKJV

When you get a reputation as a complainer, people will begin to avoid you. There’s an interesting story in the Old Testament about the five daughters of Zelophehad. Here was their problem. Their father had died in the wilderness before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. He had no sons to inherit his land, and the law didn’t allow women to receive it. Consequently, without a father, brothers, husbands, sons or other men in their immediate family, Zelophehad’s daughters were left out completely. It wasn’t fair, but it was the law. So rather than complaining to others, the sisters presented their ‘petition for an inheritance’ to Moses and the leaders. And when Moses brought their case before God, He agreed with the women and granted their request (see Numbers 27:1–11). Now, what do you think the outcome would’ve been if they’d gone around whining to everyone and anyone who’d listen instead of going directly to those who could do something about it, namely Moses and God? It’s doubtful they’d have obtained their inheritance. Understand this: God doesn’t reward complainers! The sin of complaining angered Him to the extent He stopped an entire generation of Israelites from inheriting the Promised Land when they were standing on the very threshold. You say, ‘Well, I’ve suffered an injustice, so who should I complain to?’ The Lord, the One who can do something about it! The psalmist wrote, ‘I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him.’ (Psalm 142:2 NAS) And that’s the best advice you can take!

If You Don’t Tell Them, Who Will?

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‘This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent.’ 2 Kings 7:9 NKJV

The Syrian army had surrounded the city of Samaria and nothing could get in or out. It was a desperate situation. Eventually the inhabitants began starving to death. Four lepers who’d been quarantined and forced to live outside the city walls decided to go into the Syrian camp hoping to find mercy, and maybe food and water. But when they got there they discovered an army of angels had scattered the Syrians, who’d fled leaving behind food, water, clothing and treasure. These four men couldn’t believe their good fortune! They ate, drank, exchanged their rags for fine clothing, gathered treasure and hid it where they could find it later. Then they remembered that in Samaria their own people were hungry, thirsty, needy, sick and dying. And they were faced with the dilemma: Do we keep this all to ourselves, or share it with those who need it as much as we do? ‘Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”’ Today you will meet someone who’s spiritually hungry, and what they need is Jesus. So what are you going to do about it? If you don’t tell them, who will? If you don’t share the good news they may die spiritually. You say, ‘But I’m timid.’ God used four social outcasts to bring good news of deliverance. And if you let Him, today He will use you too.

Discerning Those Who Abuse Others

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‘Since he was stronger than she, he raped her.’ 2 Samuel 13:14 NIV

One of the things that make many women particularly vulnerable to different kinds of abuse and manipulation is their God-given maternal instinct. Women are nurturers, reaching out to needy people to nurture, love, and provide them with inner strength. For example, mothers love to take care of helpless babies. But all too often these healthy desires are taken advantage of by those who want to fulfil their own lusts. Sometimes it seems that the more helpless a man acts, the more maternal some women become. And wicked men capitalise on this in order to have their way with them. That’s why the gift of discernment, ‘the ability to discern’ (1 Corinthians 12:10 NLT), is so important. There are many wonderful men out there. But be warned, there are also men who are cut from the same bolt of cloth as David’s son Amnon. Second Samuel chapter thirteen gives us a tragic example of this principle when Amnon took advantage of his stepsister Tamar. Amnon was dangerous, and there are other men just like him. Violence in relationships and marriages is growing at an alarming rate. The abuse includes physical assault, rape, molestation, psychological threats, stalking and financial coercion. At the heart of abuse lies a desire to gain and maintain control over another person. And as a woman it’s particularly important never to allow loneliness or your nurturing instinct to coerce you into a position of vulnerability with another Amnon. If you find yourself in that kind of situation, ‘blow the whistle’ immediately, expose the offender, and seek help.

The Importance of Family Time

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‘Here am I and the children… the Lord has given me!’ Isaiah 8:18 NKJV

You don’t have to spend huge amounts of money to have meaningful family life. Children love the most simple, repetitive kinds of activities. They want to be read the same stories hundreds of times, and hear the same jokes long after they’ve heard the punch lines. These interactions with parents are often more fun than expensive toys or special events. Dr James Dobson says: ‘A friend of mine once asked his grown children what they remembered most fondly from their childhood. Was it the vacations they took together or trips to Disney World or the zoo? No, they told him. It was when he would get down on the floor and wrestle with the four of them. They would gang-tackle the “old man” and laugh until their sides hurt. That’s the way children think. The most meaningful activities within families are often those that focus on that which is spontaneous and personal… Busy and exhausted mothers and fathers, especially those who are affluent, sometimes attempt to “pay off” their kids with toys, cars and expensive experiences. It rarely works. What girls and boys want most is time spent with their parents—building things in the garage or singing in the car or hiking to an old fishing pond. No toy, to be played with alone, can ever compete with the enjoyment of such moments. And those moments will be remembered for a lifetime.’ You say, ‘But I’m so busy.’ If you’re too busy to get involved in the lives of your children, you’re too busy! Rearrange your priorities and start making some changes.

Don’t Use Profanity

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‘Whatever is in the heart overflows into speech.’ Luke 6:45 TLB

When you resort to profanity it proves the truth of God’s Word: ‘No man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God… and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.’ (James 3:8–9 NKJV) Profane language is unbecoming to a redeemed child of God. So why do we do it? First: We lack the adequate vocabulary to express ourselves and feel we must swear in order for our words to have impact. Second: We resort to profanity to release our frustration with the situation. Either way, we’ve developed an ungodly pattern of expressing our displeasure, and we need to restrain ourselves. Jesus said: ‘A good person produces good deeds from a good heart. And an evil [person] produces evil deeds from his hidden wickedness. Whatever is in the heart overflows into speech.’ Acknowledging that profanity resides in your heart will help you reject the idea that a swear word just ‘slipped’ out of your mouth. The fact is it slipped out of your heart! If you’re ‘profanity-prone’, spend more time with God and ask Him to purify your heart and your mouth! Words are just verbal thoughts. So ask Him to help you practice mental discipline by ‘casting down’ profane thoughts, and instead using words that bring life to your innermost being and to the lives of others (see 2 Corinthians 10:5). James writes, ‘Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.’ (James 3:10 NKJV)

Business Person, Listen to Jesus!

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‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ John 21:5 NIV

The Bible tells us: ‘Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”’ (John 21:4–7 NIV) Is your business failing? Is your back to the wall financially? Look at Peter; he’d fished all night and caught nothing. He was tired and discouraged, just like you. Then Jesus started talking to him, even though Peter didn’t recognise Him at that point. And Jesus gave him an instruction that didn’t seem to make sense. ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ Peter may have thought: ‘Lord, respectfully speaking, You may know a lot about preaching but You don’t know much about fishing! If the fish aren’t biting on the left side of the boat, they certainly aren’t biting on the right side.’ When you ask God for a miracle, He may give you an instruction that doesn’t gel with your thinking. And when He tells you to do something different from what you’ve always done, it’ll take you out of your comfort zone, surface your fears, and stretch your faith. But if you obey Him you’ll end up with net-breaking results. And when it happens you’ll say like Peter, ‘It is the Lord at work in my life!’ So, business person, listen to Jesus!

Beware of ‘I-Knew-You-When’ People!

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‘He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.’ Matthew 13:58 NIV

Isn’t it interesting how Jesus could work miracles everywhere except His own home town? The problem wasn’t the location; it was the attitude of the people. The Bible says: ‘Coming to His home town, He began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” …And they took offence at Him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his home town and in his own house is a prophet without honour.”’ (Matthew 13:54–57 NIV) So how did Jesus respond? He left them and moved on! Faith refuses to stay stuck in the past. Beware of ‘I-knew-you-when’ people. When you let them define your world, they always make it smaller. They’ll try to keep you stuck at a stage in your life that’s passed and gone. They’ll try to define you on the basis of who you were, not who you’ve become—and certainly not who you may someday be. They’ll want you to linger with them in memory lane, and rob you of the momentum you need to soar. They’ll not permit you to embrace the future. Don’t let them. God wants to do great things in your life, but you need to move beyond the ‘good old days’. The past is past; it can’t be rewritten, it can only be replayed over and over. It’s time to write the rest of your story. The future lies before you like an uninhabited land waiting for the pioneers of destiny to explore it. So forge ahead!

Today, Be a Carrier of God’s Peace

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There is…joy for those who promote peace.’ Proverbs 12:20 NIV

One day in the middle of a raging storm, Jesus stood in the bow of a boat and issued this command to the elements: ‘Peace, be still!’ (Mark 4:39 NKJV) And to the amazement of His disciples, the Sea of Galilee became as calm as a millpond. Now, you may never do anything that spectacular in life. But when Jesus, the peace giver, lives within you, He’ll give you the wisdom to speak into troubled lives and situations and make you a calming influence. In 1420 the German monk Thomas à Kempis said, ‘First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.’ But you can’t give others what you don’t have. So where can you find the kind of peace he’s speaking about? Heaven! The Bible says: ‘But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere… those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.’ (James 3:17–18 NLT) In a television interview Barbara Walters asked the highly acclaimed actor Richard Dreyfuss this probing question: ‘If you could have only one wish, what would you wish for?’ Without hesitating Dreyfuss replied, ‘Every time I have a birthday, every time I blow out the candles, every time I see a shooting star, I wish for the same thing… inner security.’ And guess what? The people around you feel exactly the same way. So, today be a carrier of God’s peace.

Don’t Talk too Much!

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‘Study to be quiet.’ 1 Thessalonians 4:11 KJV

Dr Joe R. Brown of Rochester, Minnesota, tells of the frustration he encountered while trying to take a physical history on a patient. The man’s wife kept answering every question. Finally, Dr Brown requested that she leave the room. But after she left he discovered that her husband couldn’t speak. Calling the wife back, Dr Brown apologised for not realising the man had aphasia—loss of speech—and couldn’t speak a word. The wife was even more astonished—because she didn’t know either! The Bible says there’s ‘a time to be silent and a time to speak.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:7 NIV) Why? Because communicating too little can destroy a relationship, and so can talking too much. Sometimes we talk because we’re lonely and have few opportunities to speak to others; other times it’s because we love the sound of our own voice. Whatever your motivation, excessive talking can hurt you. That’s why Paul writes, ‘Study to be quiet.’ To ‘study’ implies striving or intense effort. And if you have a ‘motor mouth’ it’ll take intense effort and discipline to overcome this entrenched habit. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to say less than you know; sometimes your power in a situation comes from silence, not words. Anxious people tend to blabber on, and when you’re negotiating that can put you at a distinct disadvantage because it tips the other person off that you’re insecure. When Jesus stood before Pilate to be judged, ‘He opened not His mouth.’ (Isaiah 53:7 NKJV) Why? Because Jesus wasn’t on trial—Pilate was! And Jesus knew it. Here’s the bottom line: You usually learn more by listening—so don’t talk too much!

Have Faith in God’s Faithfulness

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‘He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:24 NKJV

Do you feel like God is leading you to do a certain thing or move in a certain direction and you’re feeling anxious because you’ve got lots of unanswered questions? Then read this: ‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.’ (Hebrews 11:8 NKJV) That’s what you must do too! Not only will you not have answers to all your questions, sometimes you won’t be able to explain what you’re doing to the people you love either. God’s Word says, ‘He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.’ So you can say, ‘I don’t know all the details or how this is going to work out, but I know God has promised to be faithful and that’s all I need.’ In other words, your faith is in the faithfulness of God. It doesn’t get any better than that! ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people… according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised.’ (1 Kings 8:56 NKJV) Even if you stumble on the road to success, the Bible says, ‘If we are faithless, He remains faithful.’ (2 Timothy 2:13 NKJV) Will Satan attack you? Yes. ‘But the Lord is faithful, who will establish… and guard you from the evil one.’ (2 Thessalonians 3:3 NKJV) Knowing that, your attitude should be to ‘hold fast the confession of [your] hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.’ (Hebrews 10:23 NKJV) Today have faith in God’s faithfulness.

Are You the ‘Strong, Silent Type’?

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‘Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”’ Proverbs 31:28–29 NLT

In their book The Language of Love, authors Gary Smalley and John Trent tell of a woman who was feeling frustrated because her husband would come home from work each night and not talk to her. Finally, she told him a story about a man who went to breakfast with some friends. He ate a big meal, then gathered up the crumbs and put them in a bag. Later that day he went to lunch with some business associates and ate another big meal. Again, he put a few crumbs in the bag. When he came home that night, he handed his wife the bag of leftovers. Then the woman told her husband, ‘That’s what you are doing to me. All day the children and I wait to talk with you when you get home. But you don’t share yourself with us. After being gone all day, you hand us a doggie bag and turn on the television set.’ The husband said that hearing this hit him like a two-by-four. He apologised, and began to work on opening himself to his wife and family. If you’re the ‘strong, silent type’, you’ll have to work a bit harder to accomplish this. But it’s worth it in order to have a good marriage. The wonderful qualities that attracted you to your spouse are still there, you just have to look for them and express appreciation for them. Solomon puts it this way: ‘Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”’

You Must Forgive Them

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‘If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you.’ Mark 11:25 NIV

When asked which emotions contribute most to physical illness, a group of eminent doctors said, ‘Anger and unforgiveness.’ That’s because over time they release deadly toxins into your body. One doctor said, ‘It’s not what you are eating, but what’s eating you that threatens your health.’ When someone hurts you, there are four things you should do: (1) Talk to them. Now, there’s a right time, a right place, and a right way to do it. Before you say anything, ask God to guide your thoughts and words. Then say what’s in your heart in a loving, low-key, non-judgmental way. After that, leave the rest with God. He can do a better job of changing things than you can. (2) Don’t retaliate. When you’re tempted to lash out at someone, stop and remember the price Jesus paid to take away the sins you commit. Seeing your offender through God’s eyes will help you to forgive just about anybody. (3) Let it go. As long as you dwell on the issue it’ll keep hurting you. You may let someone off your hook, but that doesn’t mean they’re off God’s hook. He will deal with them the right way and bring about the right result, which is something you can’t do. (4) Ask God to bless them. You say, ‘Are you serious?’ Yes; Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.’ (Luke 6:27-28 NIV) And when Jesus tells you to do something, He gives you the grace to do it.

Don’t Intimidate, and Don’t Be Intimidated

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‘God has not given us a spirit of… timidity.’ 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

One of the most famous intimidators in the Bible was Goliath. He boasted, ‘Come… and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!’ (1 Samuel 17:44 NKJV) But David didn’t have ‘a spirit of… timidity,’ so he replied, ‘This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.’ (1 Samuel 17:46 NIV) Intimidators count on you to wilt in the face of verbal attack. That’s why you must let them know you refuse to give in, and that you have the God-given strength to resist their tactics. God never intended anyone to oppress or dominate another person. So stand up for yourself today in His strength! And if you are the intimidator, ask yourself why you feel the need to gain power and control over others. Indeed, you may need the help of a seasoned counsellor to help you work through it. Intimidators often grow up in a chaotic or negative environment in which they feel powerless to change their circumstances. As a result they vow never to allow their lives to be out of control again, so they seek control instead. But their so-called strength just masks their insecurities and fears. Whatever the cause, intimidators can never hope to have a meaningful relationship with anyone they force into submission. And since the spirit of intimidation doesn’t come from God, there’s only one other source—Satan. Understand this: God is in control of every aspect of your life, so you’ve no need to control, or be controlled by the behaviour of others.

How to Pray

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‘Your Father knows exactly what you need!’ Matthew 6:8 NLT

Jesus said: ‘When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him!’ (Matthew 6:7–8 NLT) When people say, ‘I don’t know how to pray,’ what they usually mean is that they don’t know how to pray like us. They don’t know how to use our ‘Christian jargon’. Jesus says you don’t need to worry about getting the words right because ‘your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him.’ God’s listening to our hearts more than our words. We don’t have to be self-conscious; He’s not grading us on how well we express ourselves. Compare prayer to breathing. You breathe instinctively without awareness and conscious attention; it’s a natural expression of our moment-by-moment dependence on oxygen. That’s how God wants us to engage in our communication with Him. He wants to be as the air we breathe and the environment in which we live. Edwin Keith said, ‘Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the Spirit of God.’ Through prayer we can live in continuous contact with God. Jesus said, ‘Pray to your Father secretly, and your Father, who knows your secrets, will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:6 TLB) Prayer isn’t a public demonstration of how spiritual you are. Communication with the One we love calls for getting alone with Him, away from interruptions and distractions. It’s about you and your Father having an intimate talk.

Your Anger Is Doing Damage

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‘Do not be quickly provoked.’ Ecclesiastes 7:9 NIV

Angry outbursts are destructive in all relationships, especially in your home. Children are the most vulnerable to parental anger, and they mirror their parents’ behaviour. We shape our children’s destiny by our words, behaviours and attitudes, and if they’re raised in a home that’s consistently high-volume, they’ll react similarly. Your outbursts are training your children to be hysterical and violent. Soon everyone will be overreacting, flying into fits of rage and attacking one another. When you exhibit tantrum-like behaviour, you’re acting out of a selfish need to get what you want, when you want it, in the way you think you ought to have it. Please—for your family’s sake—start acting like an adult; exhibit self-control. ‘Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ (Hebrews 6:12 NKJV) Notice, you must have faith and patience. You may not be able to control what happens in life, but you can certainly control your reaction. Whether it’s the anger a father brings home from the workplace, or a wife’s anger towards her husband, it can bring a curse. Simeon and Levi harboured anger in their hearts and became vicious and vindictive murderers. Because of this, a curse came upon them, and the anger was passed down from generation to generation (see Genesis 49). You must break the curse by resisting the temptation to let anger dictate your behaviour. In the words of James: ‘My dear brothers, take note… Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.’ (James 1:19–20 NIV)

Express Your Love

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‘The Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all.’ 1 Thessalonians 3:12 NKJV

As C.W. Vanderbergh wrote, ‘To love the whole world for me is no chore. My only real problem is my neighbour next door.’ Most businesses would benefit greatly if bosses truly loved their employees, and the workers knew it. Most marriages would be happier, if spouses heard and saw constant reminders that they were loved by their mates. Most families would be happier, if parents consistently and lovingly affirmed their children. Tim Sanders, who wrote Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends, tells us love is the crucial element in the search for personal and professional success. He goes on to say that if life was an iPhone, love would be the first app you should add. Sanders is on to something! The greatest leaders are loving leaders—their followers, friends and employees know they have their best interests at heart. Stop and think about this: Would you say the people who made the greatest and most lasting impact on you were the ones you felt genuinely loved and cared about you? Of course you would! And that’s how you’re supposed to treat others. The songwriter said, ‘Love wasn’t put in your heart to stay; love isn’t love till you give it away.’ Here are four good reasons for saying ‘I love you’ on a regular basis: (1) You need to say it. (2) You need to hear yourself say it. (3) Others need to hear you say it. (4) You need to hear it from others. So don’t be afraid to say those three little words! Once you start—you’ll never go back!

Doorways

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‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.’ Proverbs 14:12 NKJV

Imagine a long, dark hallway with a series of doors on either side. Written on each one is the name of an addiction such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography, gambling, etc. Your teenager must walk down that hallway on their journey to adulthood, and their temptation to open those doors will be great. They can hear the beat of the music and the raucous laughter of their friends echoing from inside. The pressure to join them can be enormous. And it’s very difficult to convince a fun-loving adolescent that they should stay in the dark hallway, which seems so boring and embarrassing. Unfortunately for a certain percentage of individuals who open one or more of these doors, a tragedy begins to unfold. If a person is susceptible—and there’s no way to know in advance—he or she only has to crack the door a centimetre or two and a monster will run out and grab them. And some will be held in its grip for life. If you talk to an addict about his or her addiction you’ll learn that it probably began casually—with no hint that life was about to take a tragic turn. It all started with opening a door. Solomon bottom-lines it in two Scriptures: (1) ‘My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us” … do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path.’ (Proverbs 1:10–1115 NKJV) (2) ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.’ (Proverbs 14:12 NKJV)

Coping with Grief (2)

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‘The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.’ Psalm 34:18 NIV

One woman said, ‘I’d no idea grieving involved so many “firsts”. My first night alone, the first time I attended church alone, my first anniversary alone. And when I didn’t think things could get worse, I find myself bracing for the holidays alone—I’d give anything to boycott them.’ In such moments we can stand on the promise, ‘The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.’ He offers us the comfort of His presence and His Word, the support of loving friends and family, plus the passage of time to help heal us. In the meantime there are some things you can do for yourself: (1) Draw on God’s strength. Grief is physically and emotionally draining. So ask God to protect you from being consumed by it, and to strengthen you when you’re feeling down. ‘He gives strength to the weary… those who hope in the Lord … renew their strength.’ (Isaiah 40:2931 NIV) (2) Have reasonable expectations about what you can handle. Don’t expect too much too soon. Treat yourself like you’d treat your best friend; be kind, considerate, and nurturing. (3) Try to plan ahead. When you’re grieving there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to handle special events like birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Some people decide to do something totally different instead of trying to maintain old traditions that reinforce their sense of loss. Do what feels best to you. (4) Allow others to help you. Going it alone usually means going nowhere; reach out to friends and loved ones. Ask them to pray with you and for you. Remember, others don’t necessarily know what you need unless you tell them.

Coping with Grief (1)

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‘Jesus wept.’ John 11:35 KJV

Dr Colin M. Parkes said, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ The more you love someone, the more you grieve their death. Shock, disbelief, confusion, depression, emptiness and anger are all part of the process. When Jesus arrived at the home of Lazarus, His friend had been dead for four days and his sister Martha was upset. She wanted to know why Jesus hadn’t come sooner, or prevented it altogether. ‘Why, Lord?’ It’s a question we ask when we’re overwhelmed with grief. And what was Jesus’ response? The Bible says that seeing Mary and the other mourners, ‘Jesus wept.’ And when He did, He made it ok for you to grieve too! Tears don’t represent a lack of faith; they just mean you’re human. The One who gave you the ability to love understands sorrow and loss—that’s why He gave you tears. How do we mourn? One counsellor says: ‘Awkwardly. Imperfectly. Usually with a great deal of resistance. Often with anger and attempts to negotiate… We flounder through kicking and screaming, until we reach that peaceful state called acceptance.’ But acceptance doesn’t mean giving in to despair, because ‘the parting is for a moment and the reunion is for eternity.’ Paul says: ‘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 immortality … then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”’ (1 Corinthians 15:51–54 NIV)

The Spirit of Diotrephes

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‘Diotrephes … loves to have the preeminence.’ 3 John 1:9 NKJV

Some people are so insecure and easily threatened that they feel a need to tear down anyone they perceive as a competitor. Consider Diotrephes, one of the New Testament church leaders. He found himself in a real dilemma when John recommended some gifted teachers of the Gospel to come and speak at his church. Plagued with insecurity, Diotrephes feared their visit would threaten his own pre-eminence, so he refused to allow them to come. John, upset with Diotrephes’ behaviour, outlined to his friend Gaius how he planned to deal with it. ‘I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.’ (3 John 1:9-11 NKJV) The sad truth is that you’ll find the spirit of Diotrephes alive and well in both secular and sacred organisations. They cast aspersions on newcomers perceived as threatening. They accuse bright, talented women of getting ahead by means other than their skills, talents and qualifications. They look for chinks in their victims’ armour. But contrary to what they think, diminishing another person’s image isn’t going to enhance theirs. The origin of our word for ‘devil’ comes from diabolos, which is literally translated as ‘to slander’. To slander, then, is to do the devil’s work!

Grace

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‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence.’ Hebrews 4:16 NIV

The Bible says: ‘For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV) Dr Tony Evans says that God’s grace is like an ambulance coming to treat you when you’ve a medical emergency. First, it dispenses immediate grace to your most serious symptoms. Then they slide you into the ambulance, which is equipped with more grace—more medical facilities to deal with your problem. Then the ambulance races to the hospital where even more grace awaits. And once you’re admitted, the hospital keeps dispensing grace until your need has been addressed and you can go home again. In the words of John Newton’s beloved hymn: ‘’Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.’ One day Jesus heard our emergency call: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ He came to earth, found us dying in sin, and reached down to save us. And as our High Priest, He transported us from where we were to a place that has all the grace we’ll ever need until we go home with Him. One day God will sit on a throne of judgement where there’ll be no more grace but, until that day, He’s seated on a throne of grace. So anytime you fail or falter, you can ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence’ and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Healing Your Emotional Wounds

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‘Why do you cry out over your wound?’ Jeremiah 30:15 NIV

God asks His people, ‘Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure?’ Then He answers, ‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.’ (Jeremiah 30:17 NIV) If there’s anything more insidious than the rage, frustration, and other negative things that come out of us and wreck our relationships, it’s the inner source from which they originate. Festering wounds from past relationships are dangerous wounds. You say, ‘But you don’t know how badly this person hurt me.’ The point is they’re still hurting you, so how can you cleanse and heal the wound? God’s way is to tell it like it is! He doesn’t put a bandage on an infected wound—He demands that the problem be dealt with. We need to understand that He’s willing to repair the broken places in our lives; all He requires of us is to expose where those places are. Only Jesus can walk us through the barrier of time and into our wounded past. Certainly one of the most important steps to healing is to forgive from the heart—to acknowledge the wound and the anger, and then let it go. And it can be tough to do, but there can be no freedom or healing without forgiveness. Bitterness will eat you alive if you don’t forgive. It’ll wreak havoc on your present-day relationships. God will give you the grace to forgive and let it go, but you must make the choice to be cleansed of resentment by forgiving the offender. There is no other way to peace and freedom.

Manage Your Time, Manage Your Life

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‘Walk in wisdom… redeeming the time.’ Colossians 4:5 NKJV

One of your greatest possessions—is your next twenty-four hours. How will you spend them? Will you allow television, pointless emails, unimportant tasks, your own impulses, the wrong people or other meaningless distractions to consume your day? Or will you take control of your time and make today count? Leadership experts say that focusing on the top 20 per cent of your priorities brings an 80 per cent return on your effort. So when you get up each morning, look in the mirror and say, ‘Today I’ll live my life according to God’s will, and give my energies to the things that help me fulfil it.’ The truth is, there’ll always be things vying for your attention. Advertisers want you to spend money on their products. And have you noticed how people with nothing to do, usually want to spend their time with you? Even your own desires can be so diverse and your focus so scattered that you aren’t sure what needs your attention first. That’s why you need to focus like a laser on your God-given purpose. Whatever you concentrate on, you give strength and momentum to. Your priorities determine how you spend your time, so set them prayerfully and maintain them carefully. Eliminate non-essentials. Those who tell you, ‘You can have it all’ are misguided. You can’t do everything you want to do, but you can do everything God wants you to do. You’ve got to choose! Success comes from doing the right things right, and letting the rest go. If you’re not sure what the right things are for you, imagine yourself looking back on your life years from now— which things would you regret not doing?

Going Public

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‘We were buried with Him through baptism.’ Romans 6:4 NKJV

When a couple gets married they put on wedding rings. Could they be married without them? Sure, but the rings identify them as belonging exclusively to one another. We would think it odd if a husband never wanted to go out in public with his wife. He might say, ‘I’ll eat dinner with you, as long as it’s at home.’ That would be an insult! Likewise, just as the ring publicises the fact that you have a covenant relationship with your spouse, baptism declares that you believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and you have put your trust in Him as your Saviour. ‘Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.’ (Romans 6:4–8 NKJV) Not only does baptism declare to others that you have publicly identified yourself with Christ, it’s a constant reminder to you. When you’re tempted to go back to your old ways, it says, ‘You’re no longer that person, you’re a new creation in Christ with a new set of values, attitudes, actions, and destiny.’

Alive, Immortal, and Just Like Jesus!

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‘Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying.’ John 11:25 NLT

The story is told of a nine-year-old boy named Philip who suffered with Down’s Syndrome. In Sunday school the other kids made fun of him because he was different. The Sunday before Easter, the teacher gave each of the kids a plastic egg and asked them to look for symbols of new life, like seeds and leaves, and then place them inside the egg. The idea was to open their eggs on Easter Sunday and discuss what they had found. When the children gathered, they had collected all sorts of things like flowers, butterflies and rocks. But when the teacher opened Philip’s egg it was empty. One child said, ‘That’s not fair, he didn’t do it right!’ But Philip tugged at the teacher’s sleeve and said, ‘I did do it right. It’s empty because the tomb is empty. That’s why we have new life.’ The class gasped—and from then on Philip rose to a new level of respect and became part of the group. But Philip’s family knew his time was short—too many problems for one small body. So that summer he died. As the class of eight-year-olds faced the reality of death, they marched up to the altar—but not with flowers. Together with their teacher, they each placed an empty plastic egg on their friend’s tiny casket. Why is the resurrection of Jesus so important? For two reasons: (1) His resurrection guarantees yours. (2) If you live long enough you will experience the heartache of losing someone you love. Easter guarantees you will meet them again—alive, immortal, and just like Jesus!

He Did it for You

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‘For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

The Roman soldiers may have nailed Jesus to the cross, but what held Him there? The Bible gives us the answer: ‘For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.’ The reason Jesus didn’t call an army of angels to save Him, as He could have, was because He’d rather give up His life than give up on you. We struggle to comprehend such a love because we’ve nothing to measure it by or compare it to. Nobody has ever loved us like Jesus, and nobody ever will! And His crucifixion makes it possible for us to ‘come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.’ (Hebrews 4:16 NLT) WA Criswell writes: ‘In a dream I saw the Saviour. His back was bare and there was a soldier lifting up his hand and bringing down that awful cat-o’-nine-tails… I rose and grasped his arm to hold it back. When I did, the soldier turned in astonishment and looked at me. And when I looked back at him I recognised—myself.’ In the film The Passion, people worldwide were moved by the hideous nature of crucifixion. Underlying the story were two clear messages: (1) This was the price required to redeem each of us, a price only Jesus could pay. (2) This is what we need to stop and think about each time we’re tempted to sin and disobey God.

Two Questions

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‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?’ Lamentations 1:12 NKJV

It’s said that there was once a railway controller called John Griffin. His responsibility was for a drawbridge over the Mississippi River. One day he took his young son to work with him. After putting the massive drawbridge up, Griffin was eating lunch when suddenly he heard the whistle of the Memphis Express roaring towards the crossing. Leaping from the observation deck, he ran to throw the control switch. Glancing down, his heart stopped! His son had fallen into the gears, trapping his leg in the cogs. Desperately he tried to devise a rescue plan, but there was no time. His son was down there—but there were four hundred passengers on the train! Griffin knew what he had to do. Burying his face in his arm, he pushed the master switch just in time to lower the bridge into place as the train thundered across. Then raising his head he looked into the passing windows with tear-filled eyes. There were businessmen casually reading the newspaper, ladies sipping coffee, and children eating ice cream. Nobody even looked at the control house or glanced down at the great gearbox. In agony Griffin cried out, ‘I sacrificed my son for you people. Don’t you care?’ But as the train rushed by, nobody heard the anguished father’s words. On this Good Friday, as we consider the cross where God sacrificed His Son for each of us, He’s asking: ‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?’ The question then becomes: ‘What…shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ (Matthew 27:22 NKJV) There is only one right answer to that question: ‘Today, I accept You as my Saviour and my Lord.’

Minor and Major Gifts

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‘God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.’ Romans 12:6 NLT

To excel at anything, you must discover your major gifts and put them to work. One of Paul’s minor gifts was making tents to help support his ministry, but clearly his major gift was teaching and building churches. You say, ‘How can I discover my major gifts?’ (1) Get God’s input. Who knows the product better than the manufacturer? You didn’t create yourself, so there’s no way you can tell yourself what you were created for. But God can, and He will. ‘If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you… But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver…’ (James 1:5–6 NLT) (2) Commit for the long haul. When you were first learning to walk you spent more time on your bottom than on your feet. But you succeeded. That’s because you were born to walk! You may discover your major gifts quickly and easily, but developing them to their maximum potential will be the work of a lifetime. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. (3) Get feedback from the right people. Asking others for feedback isn’t always easy, but it’s essential to success. Never be too proud to seek help. And if you’re a ‘loner’ here’s a Scripture you need to ponder: ‘There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon, and they had no ties with anyone.’ (Judges 18:28 NKJV) A word of caution, however: Choose people who have no agenda other than to help you.

Trust Must Be Earned

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‘My son [my daughter], be wise, and make my heart glad.’ Proverbs 27:11 NKJV

Here’s a magic bullet that teenagers like to use in order to manipulate their parents: ‘You don’t trust me!’ So we start backpedalling. ‘No, dear, it’s not that I don’t trust you being out with your friends or taking the car, it’s just that I…’ and then we run out of words. We’re on the defensive, and the discussion is over. The truth is that we can trust our children at some things, but not others. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. For example, many of us are authorised to spend our company’s money from certain accounts. But they don’t give us the whole corporate chequebook! So let’s stop being suckered by our kids, and boldly state that trust comes in stages—some of it now, and more later on. Humorist and author Mark Twain joked, ‘When a child turns twelve you should put him in a barrel, nail a lid down and feed him through a knothole. When he turns sixteen, you should seal up the knothole.’ Seriously, there are times when every parent feels this way. But at some point you’ve got to let out the line and begin to trust them. And here are two important things about trust: First, it must be age-appropriate. You should risk only what you can reasonably expect to be handled safely. Second, trust must be earned. Erma Bombeck once quipped that she wasn’t going to pay $2000 to straighten the teeth of a kid who never smiled. What’s going on inside your youngster explains much of what you see on the outside. Relax, better days are coming!

What Are Your Real Motives?

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‘The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive.’ 1 Chronicles 28:9 NIV

When Ananias and Sapphira saw others selling their land and giving the proceeds to the church so the poor could be cared for, they thought it was a great idea—in theory. However, when they sold some land they withheld part of the money and then lied about it. They wanted increased visibility and spiritual status without paying retail for it. They wanted to ‘look the part’ without having to pay the price. But Peter exposed their sin, saying, ‘You didn’t lie to people. You lied to God!’ (Acts 5:4 CEV) Not only were their motives exposed, they both dropped dead. And as a result, ‘Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.’ (Acts 5:11 NLT) One pastor says: ‘Numerous Sundays I’ve preached a message that deeply moved the members of my congregation. But ironically I’d “prepared” by arguing with my wife on the way to church, or making life miserable for my children. Years of practice came to my rescue and I easily morphed into “the pastor”, becoming instantly compassionate, holy and spiritual. I was faking… [because] feeling needed, respected and wanted can become as great a motivation as love for Christ.’ When it comes to examining your motives, here are two Scriptures you need to read and consider carefully and prayerfully: (1) ‘The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you.’ (1 Chronicles 28:9 NIV) (2) ‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.’ (Jeremiah 17:10 NIV)

Is it Well with Your Soul?

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‘Say to her, “Is it well with you?” … And she answered, “It is well.”’ 2 Kings 4:26 NKJV

If you died today would you go to heaven? Before you answer, read this story. In 1871 fire ravaged the city of Chicago, leaving three hundred people dead and a hundred thousand homeless. Attorney Horatio Gates Spafford, a friend of DL Moody, helped its people get back on their feet. After two years of tireless effort, he and his family decided to take a much-needed holiday. They planned to travel to England and join Moody in an evangelistic crusade, then go on to Europe. When Spafford got delayed he sent his family on ahead, planning to meet them on the other side of the Atlantic. But they never made it. Near Newfoundland their ship collided with an English sailing vessel and sank within twenty minutes. Spafford’s wife, Anna, survived by clinging to some floating wreckage, but all four of their daughters drowned. The next day Spafford received this terrible two-word telegram from his wife: ‘Saved alone!’ He immediately went to be with her. Later, in the course of relating their story to DL Moody, Spafford said quietly, ‘It is well; the will of God be done.’ It was those days of overwhelming grief that inspired him to write the beloved hymn that has comforted so many: ‘When peace like a river attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea-billows roll. Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: It is well, it is well with my soul.’ Can you sing those words? You can when you accept Jesus as your personal Saviour. Why don’t you do it today? Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Never Engage in Slander

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‘To slander is to be a fool.’ Proverbs 10:18 TLB

It’s rare to find a political candidate these days who runs a totally clean campaign. But slandering isn’t limited to politicians. Given the right set of circumstances, each one of us can be tempted to denigrate the other. Before you do, however, read these words carefully: ‘Lord, who may dwell in Your sanctuary? Who may live on Your holy hill? He… who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow-man.’ (Psalm 15:1–3 NIV) Can you recall the last time you spoke words that tore someone down? What was your motive? Why did you feel a need to diminish them in the eyes of other people? Were you speaking out of the pain of having been hurt by them? Did you envy their accomplishments? If so, have you not learned to let envy motivate you to achieve your own goals instead of making you defame another? Is it possible you grudgingly admire and desire something the other person has? The Bible says, ‘Promotion and power… come from God.’ (Psalm 75:6–7 TLB) This Scripture should cause you to become a team player, not a competitor. There’s no reason to snuff somebody else’s light out so that yours can shine. God has already declared that no one can thwart His purpose for your life: ‘The Lord… has spoken—who can change His plans? When His hand moves, who can stop Him?’ (Isaiah 14:27 TLB) And since God has already secured your destiny and promised to avenge all wrongs perpetrated against you, you never need to engage in slander.

What to Do in a Crisis (3)

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‘We finally gave up all hope.’ Acts 27:20 NIV

Don’t despair. ‘When… the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope.’ The last thing we throw overboard when we face a crisis is—hope. And when we throw that away, we’ve pretty much ‘had it’. Are you wrestling with an issue that’s been battering you back and forth? Have you come to the point where you’ve thrown things out, and now you’re at the point of despair? Remember, the sailors on Paul’s ship ‘finally gave up all hope’ because they ignored his warning and ignored the reality God is in control. They ignored God’s plan. And they ignored His ability to inject hope into an absolutely hopeless situation. When the Bible speaks of ‘hope’ it’s not talking about luck, or chance or accident. No, it’s talking about focused faith! ‘Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.’ (Psalm 31:24 NIV) ‘The eyes of the Lord are on those… whose hope is in His unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.’ (Psalm 33:18–21 NIV) ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God.’ (Psalm 42:11 NIV) ‘Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’ (Romans 15:4 NIV) So the word for you today is: Don’t despair, but ‘Put your hope in God’.

What to Do in a Crisis (2)

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‘They threw the ship’s tackle overboard.’ Acts 27:19 NIV

Don’t discard what’s important. Things didn’t get any better on the apostle Paul’s voyage to Rome. ‘We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard.’ (Acts 27:18–19 NIV) Note the things they discarded: a) Their cargo—that which is precious and valuable. b) The ship’s tackle—the very thing that could have stabilised them. c) Their food—that which they needed to sustain them. d) Themselves—they all jumped overboard and started swimming to shore. When we find ourselves in a crisis, we’re tempted to ditch the very things we need most—things that are important to us; values we’ve hung on to in better times. Under pressure we want to get rid of it all. We become compulsive. We give up on our dreams. We run out on our relationships. We throw away the important principles we learned as children. Joshua told the children of Israel, ‘But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.’ (Joshua 23:8 NIV) Instead of doubting God’s promise to you, stand even more firmly on it. Instead of abandoning His plan and purpose for your life, tighten your grip on it. ‘Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV) ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.’ (Philippians 1:27 NIV) That’s how you survive—and thrive in a crisis.

What to Do in a Crisis (1)

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‘We gave way to it and were driven along.’ Acts 27:15 NIV

Don’t drift. Typically we react to a crisis in the same three ways as the sailors on board Paul’s ship: ‘The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.’ The first thing life’s storms tend to do is make us drift. We lose sight of our goals and forget where we’re headed. We ignore our values and get off course. Because they weren’t equipped with compasses and the stars were obscured by the storm, the sailors were in total darkness. Which raises the question: How do you characteristically react in a dark situation when you can’t see the stars and you don’t have a compass? You may drift, going where the waves carry you. You may let your problems batter you and toss you back and forth. In life, strong currents can discourage you and make you wonder, ‘What’s the use? Why fight it?’ So you end up going with the flow. But now’s the time to do the opposite! Strengthen your grip of faith: ‘Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful… Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded… persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.’ (Hebrews 10:2335-36 NIV) Note the phrase: ‘He who promised is faithful.’ Question: Has God ever failed you? Answer: No! And He won’t now. ‘Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess… He who promised is faithful’ (Hebrews 10:23 NIV), and He will bring you through this crisis.

Today, Open Your Eyes

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‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things.’ Psalm 119:18 NIV

One day Elisha and his servant awoke to find the house they were in surrounded by an army of enemy soldiers. His servant panicked and asked, ‘What are we going to do?’ So Elisha prayed, ‘Lord, open his eyes so that he may see.’ (2 Kings 6:17 NIV) Suddenly he saw their enemies surrounded by an even bigger army of angels. On their way home to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion were heartbroken because Jesus, the One in whom they’d placed their hopes, had been crucified and buried. Out of nowhere a stranger joined them on their journey and, when they reached home, they invited him to stay for supper. As he prayed and pronounced a blessing over their meal, the eyes of Cleopas and his companion were opened and they recognised that the stranger was none other than Jesus Himself (see Luke 24:13–35). A man on a commuter train kept gazing out the window and saying, ‘Wonderful; just wonderful!’ What was he looking at? Run-down apartment buildings and rubbish spilling over onto the pavement! After hearing him say, ‘Wonderful!’ four or five times the lady beside him remarked, ‘It doesn’t look too wonderful to me.’ Whereupon the man replied, ‘I’ve been blind for the past thirty years. But through the skill of a surgeon, the generosity of a donor, and a corneal transplant, I’ve been given the gift of two new eyes. And to me, everything I see is wonderful.’ Grumbling blinds you to God’s blessings, but gratitude opens your eyes to enjoy them. So today, ask the Lord to open your eyes to all the ‘wonderful things’ that surround you.

Understand Your Child’s Uniqueness (2)

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‘Train up a child in the way he should go.’ Proverbs 22:6 KJV

Raising your child ‘in the way he should go’ means being aware of: (1) Their interests. John Ruskin said, ‘Tell me what you like, and I’ll tell you what you are.’ What do your children like? Numbers? Colours? Activities? The greatest gift you can give them isn’t your riches, but revealing to them their own. (2) Their relationships. What statement best characterises your child? a) ‘Follow me, everyone.’ b) ‘I’ll let you know if I need help.’ c) ‘Can we do this together?’ d) ‘Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.’ Don’t characterise loners as aloof, or crowd-seekers as arrogant. God designed them that way. What gives your child satisfaction and makes them say, ‘Yes’? Do they love the journey, or the destination? Do they like to keep things straight, or straighten things out? What thrills one child bothers another. (3) Their environment. A cactus thrives under different conditions from a rosebush. What soil does your child grow in? Some love to be noticed while others prefer to hide in the crowd. Some do well taking tests, others excel in the subject but stumble when it comes to exams. Winston Churchill repeatedly failed tests in school, yet he changed history. We only excel when we’re in the right environment. (4) Their strengths. At two, Van Cliburn played a song on the piano as a result of hearing someone teaching in an adjacent room. His mother noticed, gave him lessons, and the kid from Kilgore, Texas, won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. Resist the urge to label your children before studying them, and ask God to help you understand their uniqueness.

Understand Your Child’s Uniqueness (1)

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‘In keeping with his individual gift or bent.’ Proverbs 22:6 AMP

As a parent you either accelerate or stifle your child’s giftedness. The Bible says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’ (Proverbs 22:6 KJV) That doesn’t mean when you set your kids on the right path they’ll never leave it. No, salvation is the work of God (see 1 Corinthians 3:6). So what does this Scripture mean? The Amplified Bible says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent]’. Note the word ‘bent’. As a parent you hold the bow, and your child is the arrow. So pray for God’s help in recognising your child’s strengths and giftedness and aim them ‘in the way [he or she] should go.’ The fact is God pre-wired your infant, pre-programmed your toddler’s strengths, set your teen on a trajectory, and then gave you an eighteen-year research project! So ask yourself, ‘What sets my child apart?’ Childhood tendencies often forecast adult abilities. Read them. Discern them. Affirm them. Cheerlead them. Think about the life of Joseph. At seventeen he saw dreams and visions of himself as a leader (see Genesis 37:2–10). And as an adult he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh and ended up leading the nation (see Genesis 40–41). As a boy David displayed two strengths: fighting and music. Later he killed a lion and a bear (see 1 Samuel 17:34–37). And he played skilfully on the harp (see 1 Samuel 16). Fighting and music dominated David’s adult life, and are largely what he’s remembered for today. So strive to understand, appreciate and channel your child’s uniqueness.

The Reason for the Attack

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‘I know that You delight in me.’ Psalm 41:11 ESV

The devil doesn’t want you to know that God’s favour is on your life, or that you’ve been blessed by Him with all the good things you enjoy. The truth is, the devil doesn’t want you to think God has done anything good for you at all! He will try to convince you that you have no purpose, power or potential. He’ll try to persuade you that your background means you won’t amount to anything and, if that doesn’t work, he’ll play the childhood memories card. If that doesn’t work either, he will remind you of all the disappointments you’ve been through in life. And if you buy what he’s selling, you’ll end up with such self-doubt and low self-esteem you won’t believe God has blessed you in any way or that He has a wonderful plan for your life. But He has! No matter how limited your ability or lacklustre your accomplishments, every blessing you’re enjoying today happened because the Lord is on your side. The psalmist said, ‘By this I know that You delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me… You have upheld me… and set me in Your presence forever.’ (Psalm 41:11–12 ESV) David understood that his enemies were attacking him because they witnessed the favour of God on his life. The question is, do you understand that God’s favour is on your life too? If you don’t, you won’t expect the attack, understand the reason behind it or how to overcome it. You’re blessed and favoured—that’s why you’re a target! Are others resentful because of what God has done for you? How come they see it and you can’t?

Who Are You Trying to Impress?

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‘It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you.’ 1 Corinthians 4:3 NRS

Paul writes, ‘With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you… It is the Lord who judges me.’ (1 Corinthians 4:3–4 NRS) Can you imagine viewing criticism as ‘a very small thing’? Or being liberated from the need to impress people; your self-esteem no longer dependent on someone noticing how successful, smart, or attractive you are? Think what it would be like to feel genuine love for someone who expresses their disapproval of you. Is such a life even possible? With God’s help, yes! One pastor says: ‘Years ago I wanted to lead a certain ministry. When I wasn’t chosen I became angry. Of course I didn’t show it. That’s not to say I didn’t love God. I just wanted to serve me more than Him! By saying no, God was correcting an attitude that would destroy any real ministry I might have later. When you represent God so visibly it’s nearly impossible for anyone to detect that you’re a fake…except God.’ Ever hear of ‘approval addiction’? Its symptoms include living in fear of what others think of you; being easily hurt by what they say; a nagging sense you aren’t good enough; constantly trying to impress important people. And like all addicts, you’ll go to any lengths for a fix.

For many of us, our daily preoccupations suggest we belong more to the world than to God. Even the mildest criticism makes us depressed and apt to react in anger; a little praise can lift our spirits. Like small boats adrift on a huge ocean, we’re completely at the mercy of the waves. Is this an issue you need to pray about today?

God Will Forgive and Restore You

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‘Father, I have sinned.’ Luke 15:18 NIV

The Prodigal Son’s story begins like this: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. Not long after… the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and… squandered his wealth in wild living.’ (Luke 15:11–13 NIV) This young man’s sin was bad, really bad! In a Middle Eastern patriarchal society the disrespect he demonstrated towards his father is beyond what most of us can relate to. As the younger son he was entitled to a third of the family estate, but only after his father’s death. So in a sense he was sending a message to his dad, saying, ‘I wish you were dead.’ If you think that’s shocking, his father’s response of love and grace is even more shocking. And if you’ve failed God badly, it’ll come as a real encouragement to you. When his boy came back home— broke, busted, and disgusted—the Bible says, ‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ (Luke 15:20 NIV) In that culture, fathers never ran. A proud patriarch would never hitch up his garments, bare his legs, and run—ever! The point Jesus wanted to make is this: The moment you turn around and come back to God, He will run to meet you with open arms, forgive your sin, and restore you to your rightful place in His family. So, come today!

Don’t Quarrel, and Avoid People Who Do

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‘The Lord’s servant must not quarrel.’ 2 Timothy 2:24 NIV

Let’s consider why some people are given to quarrelling: (1) They grew up in homes where it was a pattern, so they think it’s normal. It may be normal, but it’s certainly not Christ-like. The Bible says, ‘Avoiding a fight is a mark of honour; only fools insist on quarrelling.’ (Proverbs 20:3 NLT) (2) To boost their self-worth. Some folks only feel good about themselves when they’re attacking the validity of somebody else’s opinions and beliefs, and manoeuvring that person into defending their position. The quarreller’s goal isn’t to add value to other people’s lives by showing them the error of their ways; it’s pure one-upmanship. Solomon says, ‘Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out.’ (Proverbs 17:14 NLT) Does that mean you shouldn’t stand up for what you believe? No, it means you must learn to disagree without being disagreeable! When you’re mean-spirited you do more harm than good. Benjamin Franklin was known to have remarked diplomatically, ‘On this point, I agree. But on the other, if you don’t mind, may I take exception?’ If you’ve a tendency to be argumentative, remember that it costs you absolutely nothing to respect someone’s opinion—especially on matters of no eternal consequence. That’s why Paul told Timothy, ‘The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone.’ Will Rogers put it this way: ‘People’s minds are changed through observation, not through argument.’ So the word for you today is—don’t quarrel, and avoid people who do!

Before You Date Someone

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‘Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’ Proverbs 3:6 GNT

Before you date somebody, ask yourself: (1) Am I free to be who I am? If you have to reinvent yourself to keep somebody happy, you’re in the wrong relationship. If they disapprove of you now, do you seriously think marriage will improve things? Not a chance! (2) Is the relationship based on honesty? The Bible talks about ‘telling each other the truth.’ (Ephesians 4:25 CEV) Relationships thrive on openness and trust. When deceit creeps in, it’s time to get truthful in a hurry or else call it quits. (3) Have we established clear boundaries? If the relationship ended today, would you regret your level of involvement? The Bible says, ‘Run from sexual sin… sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.’ (1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT) God made sex a commitment specifically for marriage; otherwise what was intended to be beautiful and fulfilling can leave you feeling ‘used’. (4) Is this person possessive or controlling? If so, it’s a red flag. The Bible says, ‘Love is … never jealous.’ (1 Corinthians 13:4 CEV) If you can’t make a move without the other person’s permission, you need to back off and re-evaluate the relationship. (5) How are we spending our time together? Without a plan, it’s easy to get more physically involved than you should. That’s why it’s good to agree up front about establishing boundaries. Keep God in your relationship and you won’t go wrong. ‘Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’

Worry Is a Waste of Time

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‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.’ Philippians 4:6 NLT

Worry is one of the most ineffective pastimes we can indulge in. Jesus Himself asked, ‘Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?’ (Matthew 6:27 NLT) Worry is the assassin of rest and relationships. It stalks us and hijacks our minds. While we may continue to function publicly, there’s a sinister force lurking within us. This enemy called worry disorients moods, destroys creativity, and depletes your sense of completion which comes from within and can’t be achieved by the acquisition of things. Why do we wrestle so much with things we can’t change? Many of us go to bed with half the issues of the day still lurking at the edges of our minds. We wrestle most of the night with issues that can’t be resolved before morning anyway. As a result we go to work feeling exhausted—less able to solve the problems than before. And our tiredness then goes on to exact a huge toll on our relationships. Here’s God’s prescription for worry: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus … Fix your thoughts on what is true… honourable… right… pure… lovely, and admirable … things that are excellent and worthy of praise… Then the God of peace will be with you.’ (Philippians 4:6–9 NLT) Today let God set you free from worry.

Eleventh Hour Grace

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‘…I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.’ Matthew 20:14 NKJV

Jesus told the story of a farmer who hired day labourers: some at 6 am, some at 9 am, some at 12 noon, some at 3 pm and some at 5 pm, one hour before quitting time. Amazingly, he paid them all the same wage. When the complaints started flying, the farmer said, ‘I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.’ You say, ‘Nobody pays a day’s wage to one-hour workers.’ God does. Deathbed converts and lifelong saints enter Heaven by the same gate. They don’t enjoy the same reward, but they’re saved by the same grace. A last minute confessor receives the same grace as a lifetime servant? It doesn’t seem fair. The workers in Jesus’ story complained too. So the farmer explained the prerogative of ownership: ‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me…’ (Matthew 20:15 RSV) The thief on the cross proves that when you request grace with your dying breath, God answers your prayer. The Prodigal Son ‘…wasted his possessions…’ (Luke 15:13 NKJV) The Greek word for ‘wasted’ pictures a farmer throwing handfuls of seed into the ground. Imagine the Prodigal Son spurning his father’s kindness, going out and ‘throwing it all away.’ But he returned. And when he did ‘….his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.’ (Luke 15:20 NKJV) The Father was saving the son’s place. And He’s saving yours too. Eleventh hour grace means that, if you’re able to read these words and respond, it’s not too late.

Don’t Talk About It

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‘The words of a gossip… go down to a man’s inmost parts.’ Proverbs 18:8 NIV

Gossip destroys reputations and friendships. And it keeps others from opening up and getting the help they need. The Bible ranks gossip up there along with murder (see Romans 1:29). It may not be your intention, but your words can break somebody’s heart. It’s no big surprise when people gossip at the beauty salon or in the workplace, but how about church? It’s just not so obvious there because we’re experts at disguising it. For example, a friend confides in you about a marriage issue, or their child’s drug problem, and what do you do? You get on the phone and call the prayer chain. You ‘share it’ under the guise of asking for prayer. James writes, ‘If anyone … does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.’ (James 1:26 NIV) Why does God come down so hard on gossip? Because it tells the world certain Christians can’t be trusted; that somebody with a problem is safer in a twelve-step group than in church. Ever notice how gossip travels faster on grapevines that are sour? And some of the worst offenders are Christian leaders seeking to impress their peers by divulging details of somebody else’s struggles. If you see this tendency in yourself, you need to pray: ‘Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord.’ (Psalm 19:14 NKJV) If you must talk, talk to God.

Jesus Hears Your Cry

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‘He is able … to run to the cry of … those who are being … tested.’ Hebrews 2:18 AMP

Are you facing a home repossession? Jesus didn’t have a place to lay His head. Has someone taken advantage of you? Jesus lived among slaves and paid taxes to a foreign emperor. But what if your problem is the opposite and you’ve a successful business to run? Can Jesus relate? Yes. He recruited and oversaw His own organisation: seventy men and an assortment of women who supported Him financially and looked to Him for leadership. Are you responsible for budgeting and hiring personnel? Jesus knows leadership isn’t easy. His group included a zealot who hated the Romans and a tax collector who worked for them. And how about family tension? ‘When His family heard what was happening, they tried to take Him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.’ (Mark 3:21 NLT) Has someone wrongly accused you? The night before His death, people ‘tried to find something false against Jesus so they could kill Him.’ (Matthew 26:59 NCV) Jesus experienced every detail of human life, ‘being tempted, tested, tried… suffering.’ (Hebrews 2:18 AMP) Author Max Lucado writes: ‘Jesus was angry enough to purge the temple, distraught enough to weep in public, fun-loving enough to be called a drunkard, winsome enough to attract kids, poor enough to borrow a coin for a sermon illustration, radical enough to get kicked out of town, responsible enough to care for His mother, tempted enough to know the smell of Satan, and anxious enough to sweat blood.’ So why would Jesus endure earth’s toughest pain? So you’d know without doubt that ‘He is able … to run to the cry of … those who are being … tested.’ Today, Jesus hears your cry.

Know Your Child’s Friends

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‘Those who lead good people along an evil path.’ Proverbs 28:10 NLT

James Dobson writes: ‘I once saw a documentary film that featured a packing house where sheep were slaughtered. Huddled in pens were hundreds of nervous animals that seemed to sense danger. A gate was opened leading to a ramp, and through a door to the right. In order to get the sheep to walk up that ramp the workers used what is known as a “Judas goat.” This is the goat that had been trained to lead the sheep into the slaughterhouse. The goat confidently walked to the bottom of the ramp and looked back. Then he took a few more steps and stopped again. The sheep looked at each other skittishly and began moving toward the ramp. Eventually they followed the confident goat to the top, where he went through another gate that closed behind him. This forced the sheep directly into the slaughterhouse… There’s a striking similarity between the sheep following the Judas goat and teenagers who succumb to peer pressure. Those who are more confident and rebellious often lead the timid into trouble. Some inject themselves with heroin or get involved with cocaine; others engage in dangerous sexual practices, or drive while drinking… But why do they do such destructive things? Don’t they care about their own lives and the future they are risking? Most of them do. But the pressure to conform—to follow the Judas goat—is even stronger than the need for security and well-being.’ The Bible speaks of ‘those who lead good people along an evil path.’ So: (1) be aware of who is influencing your teenager; (2) get to know their friends.

Take Another Look (3)

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‘For the Lord does not see as man sees.’ 1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV

Look again at that situation you don’t understand. Try to imagine Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. She is about to give birth to the Son of God who will one day redeem the world. She needs a place to stay for the night. Someone has the opportunity of a lifetime! Sadly, the record reads, ‘There was no lodging available for them.’ (Luke 2:7 NLT) Opportunity knocks; but the innkeepers were too busy to open the door and seize it! Look again at that seemingly hopeless situation. Imagine a boy in the crowd following Jesus. Can you see him in the corner? Look again. His lunch basket contains five loaves and two fish—just enough to feed one person. Andrew asks Jesus, ‘What good is that with this huge crowd?’ (John 6:9 NLT) Yet when the Lord blessed it, it was more than enough to feed five thousand people. Like the song says: ‘Little is much when God is in it.’ Look again at that enemy who seems unchangeable. Saul of Tarsus is attacking you. Why? Because he hasn’t yet had his life-changing encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. God hasn’t revealed to him what He’s revealed to you, so he is passionate about the wrong things. Don’t counter-attack, and don’t give up on him. God’s about to do great things for him—and through him. Rarely are people as they first appear. Nobody has to stay the same as they are today. When God begins to work in their life, anybody you know can experience a 180-degree turnaround—sometimes within twenty-four hours.

Take Another Look (2)

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‘Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?’ 2 Corinthians 10:7 NKJV

Paul makes it clear that there are qualities we haven’t yet discovered or discerned in some of the people around us. Most of our conclusions are based on limited and often flawed information. God saw qualities in David his own family didn’t recognise. To them he was just a shepherd boy. In fact, when he showed up at the battlefront and offered to fight Goliath, his oldest brother, Eliab, told him to go home and mind his own business. Yet within hours David had killed Goliath and his name had become a household word in Israel. Joseph’s brothers resented the dream God had given him, and his father’s favour towards him. Nevertheless he went on to become prime minister of Egypt and ended up taking care of his entire family during a famine. The lesson in all of this is: Be careful how you treat people who get under your skin! Learn to look past outward appearances. Remember Ruth, a peasant girl gathering barley who went on to become the boss’s wife? Somebody like her may one day end up signing your pay cheque, so bless her and treat her well. And learn to look beyond the distraction of beauty. Remember Esther, and consider the fool Haman who underestimated the beautiful girl sitting beside the king. She knew something he didn’t; she had divine access to knowledge that would save her people and bring about Haman’s demise. It was just a matter of time. Bottom line: You never really know what’s taking place in someone else’s mind. So don’t be so quick to write them off—take another look!

Take Another Look (1)

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‘Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.’ 2 Corinthians 5:16NKJV

What did Paul mean when he wrote, ‘we regard no one according to the flesh’? Simply this: instead of focusing on another believer’s faults and failings, try to see them as a regenerated spirit living in an unregenerated body. The fact is they’re ‘made right with God through Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT), and as such they have the potential to accomplish great things. No question, when it comes to forming relationships you must be discerning. The wrong people can hurt you and the right people can help you. But it’s not your job to go around ‘vetting’ people based on your limited knowledge of them. If you could see them through God’s eyes and know what He has planned for them, perhaps you’d be less critical and more complimentary. Instead of looking down on them, you’d start looking up to them. And you’d invest time, love, and energy in them. Why? Because God is big on the law of reciprocity: ‘Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do [for others].’ (Ephesians 6:8 NLT) We give up on people because we can’t see what God sees, or understand what He’s doing. God’s looking at something He placed within them, something you can’t see. And He’s not finished with them, so withhold your judgement and criticism. What if God had written you off because of the mistakes you’ve made? Instead of looking for the worst in people, look for the best. And when you find it, nurture it and draw it out. In other words: Be willing to take another look!

Get Involved!

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‘Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.’ Jude 1:23 NKJV

When someone you love gets into a situation that can hurt them—get involved! The Bible says, ‘On some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.’ (Jude 1:22–23 NKJV) The Greek word for ‘save’ means ‘to take immediate, decisive, and continuous action’. Here the word ‘fear’ means ‘a strong dose of respect for something that’s life-threatening, dangerous, or alarming’. And the phrase ‘pulling them out of the fire’ means you don’t have a moment to waste. The house is burning down and they’re asleep. Break down the door and drag them out if you have to! ‘…show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment…do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.’ (Jude 1:22–23 NLT)

Don’t sit back and say, ‘It’s not my responsibility.’ It is! The Good Shepherd left 99 sheep to go after the one that was lost—and He didn’t stop until He found it and brought it back to safety. Is there a chance you’ll be misunderstood, criticised and rejected? Sure, but as Paul says, ‘The love of Christ controls [compels; drives] us.’ (2 Corinthians 5:14 NCV) When you love the people Jesus loves, you don’t have a choice! You say, ‘But I won’t know what to say!’ Then pray: ‘Lord, help me to know exactly what to say and do. Give me wisdom and boldness to say what needs to be said. Help me to love enough to speak the truth while there’s still time. Use me as an instrument of Your grace to reach them before it’s too late. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’

‘Saved Through Faith’

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‘You have been saved through faith.’ Ephesians 2:8 NKJV

The Bible says, ‘By grace you have been saved through faith.’ Faith in Christ alone gives us the assurance of Heaven. Poet Henry van Dyke put it like this: ‘I am standing upon the seashore. A ship… spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch until… she hangs like a speck of white cloud where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “She’s gone!” “Gone where?” Gone from my sight. That’s all. She’s just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left… Her diminished size is in me, not her. And just at the moment when someone says, “There, she’s gone!” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the joyful shout, “Here she comes!” And that is dying.’ You say, ‘But I wasn’t raised in church. Where do I go to find faith?’ DL Moody said: ‘I prayed for faith and thought it would come down and strike me like lightning, but faith didn’t seem to come. Then one day I read the tenth chapter of Romans, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” I closed my Bible and prayed for faith. Then I opened my Bible and began to study— and faith has been growing ever since.’ You say, ‘But I don’t know how to pray.’ Simply say, ‘Lord Jesus, I repent of my sin. I place my trust in You today and accept You as my personal Lord and Saviour.’ Did you pray that prayer? Did you mean it? Yes? Then you are ‘saved through faith’.

The Futility of Fame and Fortune

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‘Where do I put my hope? … in You.’ Psalm 39:7 NLT

Society’s fascination with Hollywood and celebrities has gone a little crazy. Millions idolise those who have achieved fame and fortune, yet stardom does not provide the satisfaction it advertises. Marilyn Monroe could have told us that. So could Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Consider the adoration accorded to Muhammed Ali in his prime. He was known as ‘the prize fighter who couldn’t be beaten’. His picture appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated more than any other athlete in history. Wherever he went the cameras followed. But wealth and fame cannot buy good health, and he fell victim to the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. Sportswriter Gary Smith spent some time with the ailing fighter at his home and asked to see his trophy room. Ali escorted him to a dark, damp barn beside his house. There, leaning against a wall was a board displaying mementoes—photos of the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, pictures of Ali dancing and punching, and hoisting championship belts he had won over his head. But the pictures were smeared with white streaks caused by pigeons that had made their home in the rafters. Ali picked up the board and turned it around, face to the wall. Then as he started to leave, Smith heard him mumble, ‘I had the whole world, and it wasn’t nuthin’. Look at me now.’ The psalmist wrote, ‘All our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You.’ (Psalm 39:6–7 NLT)

Dealing with a Loved One’s Suicide

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‘A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out.’ Matthew 12:20 NIV

When a loved one dies from sickness, accident, violence or advanced age, our grief, according to counsellors, is labelled ‘uncomplicated’ or ‘simple’. However, when they die by suicide our recovery process becomes ‘complicated’, fraught with often unanswerable questions. We experience guilt, even anger. ‘Was I not there for them? Should I have done more? Could I have helped prevent it? How could they do this to us? They were being purely selfish. They thought about nobody but themselves!’ These feelings will take time and God’s grace to resolve. Friends and families of suicides often ask the following questions, the biblical answers to which can help in dealing with our grief. Is suicide murder? Scripture nowhere equates suicide with murder. Biblically, murder is an act committed against another. How does God feel about people who commit suicide? While God can’t be said to support suicide, nobody understands better than He the despair that drives someone to escape from their unbearable suffering. At our lowest moment, our Father cannot deny His compassion for us. ‘A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out.’ Are suicides saved or lost? (1) There is only one ‘unpardonable sin’ (see Matthew 12:31–32), and it’s not suicide! (2) ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons… nor anything else… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38–39 NIV) Not even suicide can quench God’s love or cancel the salvation that love bought for us!

Seek Reconciliation (2)

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‘First… be reconciled… then… offer your gift.’ Matthew 5:24 NIV

Are you at odds with someone? Is it constantly on your heart, robbing you of peace and even affecting your job performance? Here’s what Jesus said you’re supposed to do: ‘If you are offering your gift at the altar and… remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there… First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.’ (Matthew 5:23–24 NIV) You say, ‘I’m waiting for him to come to me.’ What if he doesn’t? Today Jesus is telling you, ‘Go and be reconciled.’ That’s humbling. And it’s risky, because you may not get the response you hope for. Why didn’t Jesus say, ‘Wait a while and the situation might change’? Because when you allow things to bottle up, you blow up! You end up bringing out all the ammunition—everything that’s bothered you about the person for the last decade! On the other hand, maybe you’ve decided to ‘sleep on it’ for now. The Bible says, ‘Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.’ (Ephesians 4:26–27 NLT) The Enemy wants to hurt both of you by driving a wedge between you—are you going to let him do that? What if you win the argument but the other person walks away wounded and upset? What’s more important, the point you’re trying to make or the relationship? For God’s sake, and for your own sake, forgive, overlook the offence and get on with your life. What’s at stake here is your gift! If you want God to use and bless you—don’t wait, seek reconciliation.

Seek Reconciliation (1)

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‘If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offence.’ Matthew 18:15 NLT

After explaining the commandment that says, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ (Exodus 20:12 KJV), a Sunday school teacher asked her class of six-year-olds, ‘Can you think of a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?’ Without missing a beat, a little boy answered, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13) Seriously, why did Jesus make such a big deal out of being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in the faith instead of letting disputes between us fester? After all, He considered it important enough to give us a three-step plan for handling it. First, go to the person privately. Second, take two or three others with you so that what is said can be confirmed. Third, if those two actions don’t bring reconciliation in the relationship, take it to the leaders of your church. However, if you read these Scriptures without reading the ones that follow, you’ll miss the whole point Jesus is making. He said: ‘I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, My Father in Heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as My followers, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:19–20 NLT) When we seek reconciliation and come into unity, two wonderful things happen: (a) We can pray with confidence and get the results we need. (b) We enjoy a sense of God’s abiding peace and presence that’s not possible as long as the issue remains unresolved. So if you want to walk in God’s blessing today, seek reconciliation.

Is It God’s Plan?

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‘Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’Proverbs 3:6 GNT

After being anointed king of Israel, instead of immediately going to Jerusalem and claiming his throne, David was forced to spend years living like a fugitive and hiding in caves because Saul was out to take his life. More than once he must have asked himself, ‘What about the promise God gave me?’ Then an interesting thing happened. One of David’s soldiers found Saul asleep; he came to David, saying, ‘God has delivered your enemy into your hand… let me strike him.’ (1 Samuel 26:8 NKJV) What an opportunity! Get rid of the man who wants to kill you, come out of hiding, and claim your throne. After all, you’re already anointed to be king! It all made sense, except for one thing—it wasn’t God’s plan. As much as David wanted to rule Israel, he knew that in order to succeed he must do it God’s way. This story should make you think twice, and pray before acting. When Abishai offered to kill Saul, he had David’s welfare at heart. So be careful; your friends can give you advice contrary to God’s will. That’s when it’s hard not to go along with it, or defend your decision by rationalising that the end justifies the means. Never let anyone, however well intentioned, persuade you to do what you know is wrong. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the right way.’ (Proverbs 3:5–6 GNT)

What God Expects from You

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‘From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’ Luke 12:48 NIV

Added blessing always brings added responsibility, so: (1) Stop complaining. Happiness doesn’t come from getting what you want; it comes from recognising and enjoying what you have. So keep a positive attitude and be grateful every day. Rudyard Kipling said, ‘Don’t pay too much attention to fame, power or money. Some day you’ll meet a person who cares for none of these, and then you’ll know how poor you are’. (2) Stop assuming. When you see your neighbours buying new furniture, taking expensive holidays and driving the latest car, does something stir inside you to do the same? Be careful; just because someone appears to be in similar circumstances to yours doesn’t mean anything. They might earn twice as much. On the other hand, they may be in debt up to their ears or three-quarters of the way to bankruptcy or a divorce court. Stop making assumptions and trying to be like somebody else. (3) Stop withholding. Bruce Larson said, ‘Money is another pair of hands to heal, feed and bless the desperate families of the earth. In other words, money is my other self.’ But that’s only true if you’re willing to part with it. Money is like manure: If you let it pile up it stinks; if you spread it around it helps things grow. Money gives you options the less fortunate can only pray for. And one more very important thought: How you use your money will be one of the biggest issues you’ll face on Judgment Day. Indeed, it’ll be a determining factor when it comes to your eternal reward. Think about it!

The Power of Kindness (2)

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‘Love is patient, love is kind.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV

Truly great people understand the power of kindness. Once while Abraham Lincoln was dining in the White House one of his guests blew on his coffee, poured it into his saucer, and drank from it. As you might imagine, some of the refined ladies and gentlemen seated nearby were aghast, and for a moment the room was filled with an embarrassed silence. Then Lincoln took his coffee, poured it into his saucer, and for the rest of the evening drank directly from it. And you know what? Everyone else in the room followed suit! One small act of kindness saved a White House guest unbelievable embarrassment. And that simple but thoughtful gesture by one of America’s greatest presidents reminds us of the value of setting an example of kindness. Chances are you’ve never heard of Stephen Grellet, a French-born Quaker who died in 1855. He’d still be unknown to the world at large, except for a few immortal lines that will likely be remembered forever: ‘I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’ Each day has one thing in common with the next. Both offer opportunities to show kindness, and when missed, those opportunities leave you with unwanted regrets. Poet C.R. Gibson wrote, ‘I have wept in the night for the shortness of sight, that to somebody’s need made me blind. But I never have yet had a twinge of regret, for being a little too kind.’

The Power of Kindness (1)

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‘Be devoted to one another.’ Romans 12:10 NIV

Sometimes we think that in order to be successful we have to be tough, hard-nosed and stoic in how we relate to others. Some folks even go so far as to interpret kindness as weakness and vulnerability. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kindness signals tremendous inner strength that others not only appreciate, but respect. Aesop wrote a fable in which the wind and the sun argued over who was the stronger. ‘Do you see that old man down there?’ the wind asked. ‘I can make him take off his coat quicker than you can.’ The sun agreed to duck behind a cloud while the wind blew up a storm. But the harder the wind blew the more firmly the traveller wrapped his coat around him. Eventually the wind gave up and the sun reappeared, smiling kindly upon the old man. Before long he mopped his brow, shed his heavy coat and strolled away. The sun knew the secret: warmth, friendliness, and a gentle touch are always more effective than force and fury. Jesus was hard on hypocrites and those who took advantage of others. But to everyone else, including society’s rejects, He showed great kindness. He came into an unkind, dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself culture where there were no mental health institutions, hospitals, orphanages or organisations of mercy. Yet He poured the milk of human kindness into every bowl of human suffering. And at the cross He demonstrated the ultimate cost of kindness—and in so doing, changed the world for all time. So, ‘Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.’ (Romans 12:10 NIV)

Do What God’s Called You to Do

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‘Be fruitful, and multiply.’ Genesis 1:28 KJV

God told Adam, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply.’ In other words: ‘Fulfil the purpose for which I made you by giving yourself fully to it.’ Ever observed a great golfer? His level of concentration, the fluid grace as he arcs the club into that little white ball and sends it sailing onto the green? It’s what he was meant to do. He knows it and takes pleasure in it. People who fulfil their calling exude an excitement and a connection to their gift that transcends fame. Most of them have simply found a way to get paid for doing something they love. Money never replaces purpose. When you find the thing you’d gladly do for free—there’s a good chance you’ve found your calling. You were made in the image of God, with a built-in drive to create. That doesn’t mean you must have an artistic temperament to find your life’s purpose. But everyone who’s aware of their calling is in the process of giving birth to something. It may seem obvious that those who are songwriters, artists, and poets are giving birth to their dreams. But so is any one of us who discovers who he or she is, and answers that call through their unique gifts. You may be called to give birth to a business, or invent a technical device that will benefit others, or discover a cure for some disease, or find new systems of efficiency in the workplace. You say, ‘But what if I try and fail?’ The real loser is the one who never attempts to fly with the wings God gave them. So, do what God’s called you to do!

Peace Is ‘an Inside Job’

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‘I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”’ Psalm 55:6 NKJV

The psalmist wrote, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’ Have you ever felt that way? Sorry, there’s no escape! Wherever you go—there you are! Peace is ‘an inside job’. Oceanographers tell us that even the worst ocean storms rarely extend more than 8 m below the surface. Gales can rip the ocean, causing tidal waves 30 m high, but just 8 m below the surface the water is as calm as a pond. The point is this: The only place you’ll ever find peace in the midst of life’s storms, is through an in-depth experience with God. Korean Christians have a saying that emerged from the persecution they endured because of their faith in Christ: ‘We’re just like nails. The harder you hit us, the deeper you drive us; and the deeper you drive us, the more peaceful it becomes!’ Part of God’s purpose in allowing the storms of life to blow, is to drive us deeper—deeper into dependence on Him, and deeper into relationship with Him. Wilbert Gough said, ‘God takes life’s broken pieces and gives us unbroken peace.’ When you focus on the God who never meets a problem He can’t solve, instead of focusing on the problem you can’t solve, you’ll experience in-depth peace. And you’ll carry that peace with you wherever you go. Others will notice it and seek your advice when they too face trouble. You see, when you know that the God within you reigns above you, you won’t succumb to what’s around you.

How to Avoid Shipwreck (3)

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‘A gentle south wind began to blow.’ Acts 27:13 NIV

You can’t afford to be guided by circumstances alone. ‘When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they… sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force… swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm.’ (Acts 27:13–15 NIV) It’s foolish to ignore what God says, even when your circumstances seem to contradict it. Things may look good to you right now, yet you could be sailing straight into a storm. You say, ‘This decision must be ok because I feel so good about it.’ Do you remember the words from Debby Boone’s old hit song: ‘It can’t be wrong when it feels so right’? Feelings can lie, and if God says, ‘Wait in the harbour,’ you’d better do it because the Devil can arrange undesirable circumstances if you put out to sea. Notice the words: ‘When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted.’ When it comes to the important decisions in your life, stand on these Scriptures: ‘Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies—make straight Your way before me.’ (Psalm 5:8 NIV) ‘Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long.’ (Psalm 25:5 NIV) ‘Teach me Your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path.’ (Psalm 27:11 NIV) ‘Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.’ (Psalm 143:10 NIV) When you pray that way, God will guide you in the right direction.

How to Avoid Shipwreck (2)

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‘The officer in charge… listened… to the ship’s captain.’ Acts 27:11 NLT

Here are two more pointers on how to avoid shipwreck: (1) Don’t take advice from the wrong people, even the so-called ‘experts’. The Bible says, ‘But the officer in charge… listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul.’ Chances are, the ship’s owner was an expert in business and its captain an expert in maritime matters. Nevertheless, both men were incapable of hearing the voice of God. Bottom line: Be discerning about who you allow to speak into your life. Just because someone’s successful in a secular field doesn’t mean they’re qualified to give you spiritual guidance. ‘Honour those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work… and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13 NLT) Where should you go when you need spiritual guidance? To leaders in God’s work who have proven themselves worthy of your love and respect. (2) Remember that sometimes the majority gets it wrong. ‘Most of the crew wanted to go on to Phoenix.’ (Acts 27:12 NLT) The fact is the majority can be wrong! Remember what happened when Moses started to lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land? The majority wanted to return to Egypt. But they were wrong—dead wrong—and they perished in the wilderness. We can get ourselves into a real mess by following prevailing opinion and the most popular ideas. Listen for God’s voice and you’ll always go in the right direction. ‘He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.’ (Psalm 25:9 NIV)

How to Avoid Shipwreck (1)

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‘There is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck.’ Acts 27:10 NLT

The apostle Paul was a prisoner on board a ship headed from Palestine to Rome. After they ventured through the Mediterranean Sea and docked at the island of Crete, God told Paul to advise the crew not to leave the harbour because there was going to be a great storm. But they wouldn’t listen, and they ended up shipwrecked. Why? Impatience! They had a schedule to keep (Acts 27:9–12). The truth is, when we allow ourselves to become impatient we often end up in a storm. One pastor writes: ‘I’ve spoken with many crisis-ridden people who were impatient to get married… or get a new job… or move to the other side of town. They didn’t take time to check things out with God, and they sailed right into the awaiting storms.’ Instead of waiting for God’s choice of a mate, loneliness can drive you into the arms of the wrong person and a lifetime of misery. Making financial decisions without consulting God first can land you in debt that may take years to get out of. Sometimes when God says no, He doesn’t mean never. He’s simply saying, ‘Not now.’ And what He has in store for you is worth waiting for! Here’s something you’d do well to keep in mind: God does a work of preparation within you to equip you for what He has in mind for you. His Word says, ‘Whoever believes will not act hastily’ (Isaiah 28:16 NKJV), so don’t get impatient and jump the gun. ‘Wait… for the Lord… follow His path, and He will honour you.’ (Psalm 37:34 GWT)

Caring versus Controlling

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‘The Lord gives… Wisdom.’ Proverbs 2:6 AMP

When Karen O’Connor and her husband attended a marriage seminar on love and respect, it was an eye-opener. She writes: ‘What I was hearing hit close to home… I laid out my husband’s vitamins and prescriptions every morning even though he knows the routine better than me. I assumed unless I took charge he’d ignore or forget them. I “suggested” what foods would help him lose weight, and took over researching some facts he needed for a speech he was writing… While some see these actions as helpful, in my case they were about control… trying to manage and direct my husband in matters that are his business. I thought my way was better so I imposed it… Here are some of the challenges couples face and how we can change our responses: Old behaviour: answering questions directed at your mate. New behaviour: being quiet while your spouse replies—and learning something from their response. Old behaviour: giving unsolicited advice. New behaviour: listening… trusting your mate to find his/her own solution, and supporting that discovery. Old behaviour: explaining your partner’s point of view for them. New behaviour: waiting to hear their viewpoint and encouraging it. Old behaviour: making financial decisions without consulting your mate. New behaviour: presenting investment opportunities and talking them over together. Both husbands and wives admitted feeling embarrassed, judged, put down and angry when their spouses stepped in and answered, or made decisions without asking them. Everyone needs help… but crashing your mate’s boundaries and manipulating the outcome is something else. When you’re anxious or uncertain about when to step in and when to step aside, pray for guidance.’

The Measure of Your Generosity

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‘When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.’ Matthew 9:36 NIV

In spite of economic challenges, Australia is consistently the richest country in the world when the median measure of wealth is measured (and second behind Switzerland when an ‘average’ is calculated.) But prosperity has little to do with generosity. You say, ‘If I ever get a lot of money, I’ll be generous.’ Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is [invested], there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:21 NIV) Research from the Institute for Social Change showed that in the UK a few years ago, the poorest 20% of people gave 3.2% of their income to charity, while the richest 20% of people only gave 0.9%. It’s unlikely to be a very different percentage in this country. Financial expert Daniel Levin says, ‘Prosperity isn’t in what you’ve attained, but rather in what you give away.’ The truth is, if you want to become a more generous person you can’t wait for your income to increase; you must allow God to change your heart. That means looking for a reason to give every day, and finding a compelling cause or a worthy ministry. And you won’t have to look far; they’re all around you. The Bible says of Jesus, ‘When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless…’ When it comes right down to it the recipients of our generosity aren’t really churches, causes or institutions. They’re people—people loved and valued by God; people for whom Christ died. So what are you doing for others? How you answer that question is the measure of your generosity!

Try Less and Trust More!

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‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ Philippians 1:6 NIV

If you want God’s will to be done in your life, don’t rush things. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, did that. As a result Ishmael was born, and that brought all sorts of strife and family complications. Remember: ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh… the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ (John 3:6 NIV), so be sure your plans are conceived by God’s Spirit. Don’t try to salvage anything flesh-based. God said, ‘My covenant I will establish with Isaac.’ (Genesis 17:21 NKJV) Isaac was born as a result of God’s will, done God’s way, in God’s time. Everything that’s conceived in you comes from one of two sources: the flesh or the Spirit. So be careful. People will try to involve you in all kinds of schemes to promote yourself. God doesn’t need anybody’s help to bless you; He can do it all by Himself! That’s why whenever Satan attacks you, you need to be able to point him to your spiritual birthplace and remind him that you didn’t begin this project and you don’t have to finish it. ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ And here’s another thought. If God’s dealing with you about carnality, pride, or some other obstacle in your path, don’t resist, don’t run, and don’t get in His way. Like a drowning man frantically trying to save himself—until you stop flailing around God can’t do anything for you. So the word for you today is: ‘Try less and trust more!’

Negative Ions

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‘Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.’ Proverbs 22:6 NLT

Sometimes raising teenagers can be like sending an astronaut into space. Early space probes launched from Cape Canaveral in the 1960s created anxiety for the safety of the astronauts. It was especially intense when the spacecraft was re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. At the most dangerous part of the journey, negative ions would accumulate around the heat shield and interfere with radio contact for about seven minutes. Seven-very-long-minutes! Finally the reassuring voice of Chris Kraft would break in and say, ‘We’ve made contact with Colonel Glenn again. Everything is A-OK.’ In a very real sense, adolescence can be like that spacecraft. After the training of childhood, a thirteen-year-old is blasted into space with a flurry. Then something like ‘negative ions’ begins to interfere with communication just as the adults want to be assured of the child’s safety. Why won’t he or she talk to them? Why has he or she disappeared behind a wall of silence? It’s a confusing and terrifying time. Fortunately, in a few years the first scratchy signals will begin to come through again and contact will be re-established. The negative environment will gradually dissipate, and the ‘splashdown’ during the early twenties can be a wonderful reunion for both generations. What should you as a parent do during this time? First, you must pray for them and stand on the truth of God’s Word: ‘Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.’ Second, you must exercise patience. ‘Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.’ (James 1:4 NKJV)

God’s Guidance System (3)

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‘I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.’ Genesis 28:15 NIV

How come when someone talks to God we say, ‘They are praying’, yet when someone claims that God talks to them we think they are ‘flaky’? Has God suddenly stopped speaking to His children? Would you stop speaking to yours? John Calvin described God’s guidance as ‘the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit’. And Ignatius of Loyola called it ‘movements of the soul—thoughts, feelings, or desires… given to us by God.’ They may come as a conviction of sin, an assurance of God’s love, or the call to do a certain thing, but they’re a ‘must’ for the spirit-guided life. To hear from God you must be receptive, and sometimes—desperate! During a very bad time in Jacob’s life God appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.’ When Jacob awoke the next morning, he said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ (Genesis 28:16 NIV) ‘Not aware’—does this describe you? As you read these words your thoughts are being guided by a human being: a writer. Don’t you think God can do the same, or better? In truth, God can guide your thoughts without the influence of intervening sounds or images. Look what happened to Samuel when he was a boy. God spoke to him one night in the temple, but he didn’t know it was God speaking. He needed the help of Eli the high priest to recognise the voice of God. But once he did, his life changed dramatically—and yours will too.

God’s Guidance System (2)

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‘He guides the humble in what is right.’ Psalm 25:9 NIV

How can you learn to be guided by the Lord? In three different ways: (1) Through prayer. Thomas Kelly wrote: ‘There’s a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing… but… at a profound level, we may also be in prayer… and have a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.’ (2) Through obedience. What use is God’s guidance if you’re not willing to follow it? And what about the guidance you’ve already received through the Scriptures but haven’t acted on? Frank Laubach, whose life was an experiment in listening to God, wrote: ‘I never lived… until I reached the place where I wholly… resolved and then re-resolved, that I’d find God’s will, and that I would do that will though every fibre in me said no, and that I would win the battle in my thoughts. It was as though some deep artesian well had been struck in my soul… Money, praise, poverty, opposition—these made no difference, for they will all alike be forgotten in a thousand years, but this spirit which comes to a mind set upon continuous surrender, this spirit is timeless life.’ (3) Through faith. Have the words, ‘I believe the Lord told me’, been abused? Yes, they have! Sometimes religious leaders use them as a ploy to get what they want. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater! The truth is, you won’t grow spiritually if you close yourself off from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You must believe—mind-blowing as it sounds—that God really can and does speak to us.

God’s Guidance System (1)

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‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you.’ Psalm 32:8 NKJV

Before talking about what divine guidance is, let us be clear about what it’s not: (1) A last resort. We don’t think much about spiritual guidance until we face major questions like who to marry, what house to buy and which stock to invest in. Spiritual guidance isn’t a hot line! The key to knowing whether you really desire God’s will lies in asking, ‘How often do I seek His guidance when I’m not facing difficulties?’ (2) Only for a privileged few. In the Old Testament, God made a donkey speak (see Numbers 22:28). Now, what if the donkey had put on airs and considered itself an exalted spiritual class above all the other quadrupeds? (3) An excuse to do nothing. One man said he decided not to seek a certain job, because it would be a sign of God’s will if he got it without trying. So does that mean whatever happens as a result of our passivity is God’s will? That’s like sitting in the middle of the motorway and saying, ‘If I don’t get run over by a car, I’ll know it’s God’s doing, and not me acting in the flesh.’ (4) Playing it safe. Sometimes we don’t really want guidance; we want safety! Decision-making can be scary—and lonely. Even small decisions can create anxiety. God wants us to develop good judgment, and there’s no way to do that without making choices, taking risks and occasionally failing. He wants mature children, not robots. His purpose isn’t just to get us to perform the right actions, but to become the right kind of people.

God Never Wastes an Experience

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‘In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.’ Romans 8:28 NIV

No experience is ever wasted if you use it wisely. God can use what you’ve been through to develop you into the person He intended you to be. Moses grew up in a foster home. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter he spent forty years learning the language and ways of the Egyptians. What better preparation for understanding your enemy than being raised among them? But Moses needed to learn a few personal lessons too. So God took him into the desert for another forty years to tend sheep. The grandson of Pharaoh became a lowly shepherd. Nothing will humble you like having to take a job for which you’re overqualified, especially when your own failure put you there. But during those years on the poor side of town, God taught Moses how to identify with hurting people. Finally, at eighty years old, he was ready to fulfil his calling. ‘God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”’ (Exodus 3:4 NIV) At this most unlikely place God revealed to Moses his calling as Israel’s deliverer. And even though he was afraid, made excuses and raised objections, he ended up doing a brilliant job. The point is this: Moses’ eighty years in training weren’t wasted. Forty years in a palace prepared him to deal with Pharaoh, and forty years as a shepherd prepared him to lead God’s people through the wilderness to their destiny. So even though you’d rather be someplace other than where you are right now, remember, God never wastes an experience. Never! He will use it all for your good and His glory.

In the Eye of the Storm

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‘There is a place near Me where you may stand.’ Exodus 33:21 NIV

If you’ve ever been caught in a hurricane, you know it’s one of the most powerful natural forces known to man. Wind gusts of up to 250 km an hour; rain up to 12 cm an hour; the ability to create waves 10 storeys high, with surges up to 8 m wide. It’s been known to level entire cities in minutes. Two components of a hurricane are especially interesting. One is the eye—that relatively calm centre in which sinking air inhibits cloud and thunderstorm development. And immediately surrounding the eye is the eyewall, which contains rising air and powerful rain clouds. In sharp contrast to the calm eye, the eyewall houses the most powerful elements of the hurricane, including the strongest winds and heaviest rains. If you could hover above this force of nature you’d see that the strongest part of a hurricane takes place near its centre, while the centre itself remains relatively calm. There’s a lesson here for all of us. God doesn’t take away all our troubles—at least not as quickly as we’d like Him to—but He promises us peace in the midst of them. Few people had more trouble than Moses. His job was to feed, lead, and protect two million people. And no matter what he did, they constantly complained. So one day God said to him, ‘There is a place near Me where you may stand … I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand.’ (Exodus 33:21–22 NIV) And if you ask Him, today God will bring you to that place of peace too!

‘Deep Inside You’

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‘…keep these words deep in your heart and in your soul.’ Deuteronomy 11:18 BBE

How do you get God’s Word ‘deep in your heart’? (1) By meditating on it each day. The psalmist said the way to succeed in life is by meditating on God’s Word ‘day and night.’ (Psalm 1:2 NLT) But you must slow down in order to do it. Ever watch a cow chewing cud? The more it chews, the more it gets out of it. So when God impresses a thought on you, think about it throughout the day. Make it your first thought in the morning and your last thought at night. Do this for 365 days and you’ll be amazed how you grow spiritually. (2) By allowing it to convict you of sin and cleanse you daily. ‘How can a young man [or an older one] keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word.’ (Psalm 119:9 NIV) His fellow monks used to ask Martin Luther why he spent so much time in the confessional. After all, he lived in a monastery, so what on earth could he have to confess? Chanting off-key? No, Luther was aware of his own aptitude for self-justification. And he knew God’s Word was the only detergent strong enough to get down into the deepest recesses of his thoughts, imaginations and motives and cleanse him. (3) By putting what you learn into practice. Your Bible knowledge may be a hundred times greater than someone else’s. But if you’re not a hundred times more loving, patient, joyful, gracious, forgiving, etc., what good is it? A head full of doctrine and a heart devoid of love will just turn people away from Christ. Today get your theology off the drawing board and start putting it into practice.

Learn to Take Care of Yourself (2)

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‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.’ Psalm 23:5 NIV

There are two kinds of people who’ll never understand your need to take care of yourself: (1) Legalists. They never stop trying to measure up to certain perfectionistic moral, ethical and religious standards. (2) Serve-a-holics. They sacrifice themselves on the altar of endless church activity, believing it’s the only way to please God. Some of Jesus’ disciples did this. When a woman poured expensive oil on His head they got upset. How come? Had they never read the words, ‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows’? In Bible times oil was used for different purposes such as soothing, massaging and refreshing the body after a long journey or a hard day’s work. ‘So God thinks it’s ok for me to take a break?’ you ask. Yes, but since serve-a-holics have a need to be needed, they think like: ‘This perfume could have been sold… and the money given to the poor.’ (Matthew 26:9 NIV) Their motivation might be different to that of the disciples but their belief system is: ‘Others matter—I don’t!’ Understand: When you take care of others but not yourself, you (a) become spiritually and emotionally drained; (b) end up resentful because your needs go unrecognised and unmet; (c) start looking for relief in the wrong places. Just as Samson headed to Delilah’s house to relax and let down his hair, when we look to the wrong people and things rather than learning to heed God’s instruction to care for ourselves, we give a foothold to the Enemy. That foothold can then be exploited for our destruction. Don’t let that happen to you. Start taking care of yourself spiritually, physically and emotionally.

Learn to Take Care of Yourself (1)

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‘She poured it on His head.’ Matthew 26:7 NKJV

Jesus allowed others to minister to Him. Do you? ‘A woman… having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil… poured it on His head… But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?”… when Jesus was aware of it, He said… “She has done a good work.”’ (Matthew 26:7–10 NKJV) There’s an important lesson in this story. You must allow the care you pour on others, to be poured on you. Otherwise you’ll burn out. Jesus practised this principle. So did the psalmist: ‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.’ (Psalm 23:5 NKJV) In order for your cup of service to stay full, it must continually be refilled. And since people generally treat you according to how you treat yourself, you must learn to treat yourself right. It’s a good thing to take care of others, but sometimes we hide behind that in order to avoid having to take care of ourselves—or because we don’t know how. The question is: How can we fulfil Christ’s command to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31 NIV), if we haven’t learned how to love ourselves? Many of us become resentful of the demands people dump on us each day without ever seeming to give anything back in return. When the world you live in makes endless withdrawals, you must learn to make deposits; otherwise you’ll end up with insufficient funds. And pretty soon those cheques will start bouncing everywhere—morally, emotionally, and spiritually. Who’ll give back to you—if not you? So today pray: ‘Lord, give me the grace to allow the oil I pour on others, to also be poured on me.’

There’s No Substitute!

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‘[Hidden] treasures… riches stored in secret places.’ Isaiah 45:3 NIV

When we’re stressed—and who isn’t nowadays?—often our first inclination is to consult the latest ‘how to’ book or DVD, or seek out the camaraderie of Christian friends. Reimar Schultze observes: ‘At best we get a splash of what we’re looking for. Time about God never replaces time with God. Look around your church and tell me whether with all the religious books, CDs and programmes, there are any [that] come up to the stature of Enoch, Abraham, Moses and Noah. God Himself has been, and always will be the greatest source of information, inspiration, transformation and fellowship… Isaac was meditating in the fields when “he lifted up his eyes, and saw…” (Genesis 24:63 KJV) From being alone with God comes seeing… in our quiet moments He sets before us gifts and delicacies… hidden to the hurried man. The Bible says, “When [Jesus] had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray” (Matthew 14:23 KJV)… Many who came to see Jesus travelled for days, yet He sent them away so He could pray. To get alone with God you have to send something away: relatives, friends, schedules… opportunities… other people’s opinions. That was true with Jesus. Many were offended by Him. He didn’t let people-pressure run His life; it was governed by His Father… [You can] become a slave to man, or live to meet God’s expectations. You can’t do both. If you do the latter, streams of living water will flow from your innermost being, and you’ll have power with God. He’ll reveal to you “hidden treasures, riches stored in dark places.”’

Always Be Humble

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‘Who am I…that you have brought me this far?’ 2 Samuel 7:18 NIV

A member of parliament took his little daughter to visit Westminster Abbey. As she stood looking up at its magnificent columns, her father asked, ‘What do you think, sweetheart?’ With childlike candour she replied, ‘I was thinking how big you look at home, Daddy, and how small you look in here.’ God’s presence has a way of humbling us. In the Old Testament, King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?’ The Bible’s filled with examples of people who humbled themselves before God. In Matthew’s Gospel he mentions his own name only twice, and both times he calls himself a tax collector. And John doesn’t even mention his own name in his Gospel. The name ‘John’ that appears throughout his Gospel refers to John the Baptist. John simply calls himself ‘the other disciple’, or ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. Luke wrote two of the most important books in the Bible without ever once mentioning his own name. And Paul, the Bible’s most prolific author, referred to himself as ‘a fool.’ (2 Corinthians 12:11 NIV) He described himself as ‘the least of the apostles’ (1 Corinthians 15:9 NIV), and later claimed to be ‘less than the least of all saints.’ (Ephesians 3:8 KJV) In fact, as Paul grew older his ego grew smaller, and in one of his final Epistles he referred to himself as ‘the chief of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). King David wrote no psalm celebrating his victory over Goliath, but he wrote a psalm of penitence confessing his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51). So, always be humble!

Victory Through Rule-Keeping or Through Grace?

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‘God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were.’ Romans 5:20 NLT

Why did God establish a new covenant with His people through Jesus instead of continuing with the covenant He’d given to Moses? Because while the law had the power to let people know how far short they fell, it didn’t have the power to make them want to obey it. Let’s suppose you have a tendency to eat too much chocolate. You want to be free from the habit, so you make a law for yourself: ‘I must not eat chocolate. I cannot eat chocolate. I will never eat chocolate again.’ You even convince yourself that for you it’s a sin to eat chocolate. But this self-made law doesn’t set you free from the desire for chocolate; it actually seems to increase your problem! Now all you can think about is chocolate; it’s on your mind day and night. Eventually you find yourself sneaking around to eat chocolate because you told everybody you were never going to eat it again. You can’t eat chocolate in front of people so you hide when you eat it, and end up feeling really guilty because now you’ve become a ‘sneaky’ sinner. Now you understand the pain that comes from being ‘under the law’ instead of free in Christ. New believers often focus their attention on God’s laws in order to control their passions, but it doesn’t work. As they mature, however, they learn to direct their attention to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and discover that He can set you free from the desire to sin. The law requires living in perfect obedience, which we cannot fulfil; living by grace is relying on Christ and His perfect life of obedience, drawing each day on the power of God’s Spirit.

Dad, Show Your Children You Love Them

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‘His father…filled with love…ran to his son.’ Luke 15:20 NLT

Canoeing specialist Bill Havens was almost guaranteed to win a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. But a few months before the games he learned that his wife would likely give birth to their first child while he was away. She told him that she could make it on her own, but this was a milestone Bill didn’t want to miss. So he surprised everyone and stayed home. He greeted his infant son, Frank, into the world on 1 August 1924. Though he always wondered what might have been, he said he never regretted his decision. He poured his life into that little lad, and shared with him a love for the rapids. Twenty-four years passed, and the Olympic Games were held in Finland. This time his son Frank was chosen to compete in the canoeing event. The day after the competition, Bill received a telegram from Frank that read: ‘Dear Dad, thanks for waiting around for me to be born. I’m coming home with the gold medal that you should have won.’ It was signed ‘Your loving son, Frank.’ Bill Havens wanted his family to know they always came first, no matter what. And that made him a hero to a little boy named Frank. Bill understood that medals tarnish, records are broken, and achievements are soon forgotten. These things don’t satisfy. What does? The love you have for your children, and the love they have for you. Jesus pointed out that even when a child is wayward, a parent’s love can restore them. Are you neglecting your family today? If so, take action immediately!

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus

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‘Let us run…the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.’ Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV

At the Good Will Games in Edmonton, Canada, the Jamaican team was participating in the 4 x 100-metre relay. Those in the third leg of the race had a friend competing in another event nearby. While the sprinter was waiting for the baton, he looked up for a moment to try and see how their friend was doing in his event. Big mistake! In the next moment, the guy running the second leg of the race came up to him with the baton—and crashed into him. Needless to say, the Jamaicans lost because one of their runners was looking at the wrong thing. Instead of focusing on his own race, he was looking at someone else’s. Who are you looking at—Christ, or other Christians? The Church is like a spiritual hospital: its members are in various stages of treatment, with the aim of becoming whole. So when you look to Christians you’ll sometimes be disappointed—but not when you look to Christ. One day Jesus told Peter what type of death He would suffer, and Peter questioned Him about what sort of death John would face. ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘…what is that to you? You follow Me.’ (John 21:21–22 NKJV) Have you ever watched a team rowing in the Olympic Games? They can’t see the finish line because their backs are towards it, so they keep their eyes on the captain. He guides them. He motivates them. He shouts, ‘Row, row, row!’ He gives them a cadence and keeps them on track. So the word for you today is—keep your eyes on Jesus.

Make Every Day Count

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‘Teach us to realise the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.’ Psalm 90:12 NLT

The story’s told of a guy who went to Heaven and met St Peter. Peter said, ‘Tell me what good things you did in your lifetime.’ The guy replied, ‘Well, a gang of Hell’s Angels was beating up an old lady and stealing her purse, so I rushed in and saved her.’ Peter said, ‘When did this happen?’ The guy answered, ‘About one minute ago.’ Seriously, unless Jesus comes back, you are going to die. The psalmist wrote, ‘Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty.’ (Psalm 90:10 NLT) Let’s say you’re sixty, and you live to be eighty. That’s two hundred and forty months! When you begin to think that way, time becomes a precious commodity and a limited resource, and you get serious about making every day count. Each time you say, ‘I’ll take care of that tomorrow,’ you’ve lost another day you can never get back. Here are some questions you need to think about. Have you discovered God’s will for your life and devoted yourself to fulfilling it? If not, why not? Understand these three things: (1) God scheduled the date of your arrival on earth. ‘You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.’ (Psalm 139:16 NLT) (2) God has laid out a track for you to run on. ‘Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.’ (Hebrews 12:1 NLT) (3) God will reward you for how you’ve lived (See 1 Corinthians 3:11–15). So make every day count!

Seeking God’s Face in Prayer (2)

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‘The Lord make His face shine on you.’ Numbers 6:25 NIV 

When you study the life of Christ you realise that for Him prayer wasn’t an energy drainer, but an energy giver. And it can be the same for you when you come to see God’s face shining upon you as you talk with Him in prayer. When you’re with a critic who wants to argue, you lose energy. But when you meet with your best friend, you gain energy, and Jesus said, ‘I have called you friends.’ (John 15:15 NIV) Have you ever noticed how people in love sometimes speak to each other in baby talk? It’s immensely intimate and private—and it’s off-putting to a third party. But we do it because it is the most tender language we know. Jesus’ prayer life demonstrated this intimacy. He called God ‘Abba’, an Aramaic word much like ‘dada’ or ‘mama’. (Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and some portions of the New Testament are written in Aramaic rather than Greek.) ‘Abba’ was a Jewish child’s first word, because it was so easy to say. Somehow when Jesus was with God, the tender love that an adult offers to a child to give him strength is what He received from His Father. And you can have that same experience. It’s why Paul wrote: ‘You have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.” For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are His children, we are His heirs.’ (Romans 8:15–17 NLT) Your highest goal in prayer should be intimacy with God.

Seeking God’s Face in Prayer (1)

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‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’ Psalm 27:8 NKJV

We get a remarkable picture of what can happen in prayer when we watch a parent and a little child. Imagine a one-year-old who looks at you and holds his gaze. You’re charmed. He looks shyly at first, tilting his head away and looking out of the corner of his eye. You do the same. It’s fun. He turns his face to look directly at you. You mirror the turn. Then there’s a sudden noise behind him, and he looks startled—you mirror his surprised look. He’s so startled that he’s getting ready to cry, so you shift to a smile. He does the same, and he’s soon gurgling with joy. When a child makes eye contact like this, when someone lets him know that they understand what he’s feeling, his brain and nervous system make crucial connections inside his body. He is experiencing what’s called ‘neural integration’. By playing the face game, you’re literally giving the child peace. It heals him. He finds delight in your presence. And prayer works like that too. In the Old Testament God instructed Moses to give the Israelites the following blessing: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24–26) In prayer we speak about ‘seeking God’s face’. That means sometimes prayer is about speaking, other times it’s about listening. But there’s a third ingredient. It’s the security that comes from sensing God’s smile of love and approval.

You Belong to Christ

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‘I have betrothed you to…Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 11:2 NKJV

In Bible days betrothal meant much more than engagement: it was part of the marriage ritual. As soon as a couple was betrothed, they were considered to be one. But the marriage wasn’t consummated for a year or more. During that time the groom would build their new home, continue courting his bride, getting to know her and allowing her to know him. And the bride would prepare herself by learning everything she could about her future husband so that she could please him in all respects. Finally the groom brought his bride to their new home and they began to live as husband and wife. So what’s the point of this illustration? Simply this: the Church is the bride of Christ, and we should be longing for the time when our union with Him will be consummated and we’ll partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb in Heaven (See Revelation 19:7). Until then Jesus is fulfilling His part by preparing a place for us, praying and interceding on our behalf, continuing to woo us, to lavish His love upon us, and to bring us into ‘the knowledge of [Him].’ (Ephesians 4:13 KJV) And what’s our part? Remembering that how we live our lives reflects on Him. No man wants his wife running around writing bad cheques, engaging in lewd conversation, getting drunk in public or flirting with other men. He wants her to refrain from those behaviours because he loves her and wants her reputation to be good. He wants his wife to be a good reflection on him and their family. In other words, your betrothal to Christ demands that you no longer live for yourself—but for Him!

Conscience, Your Sin Detector

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‘I myself always strive to have a conscience without offence toward God and men.’ Acts 24:16 NKJV

When you go through a metal detector in an airport you are required by law to take everything out of your pockets. If you don’t, you set off a beeper. And if you try to hide a gun or a knife, you will probably end up in prison. Your conscience works the same way. When you knowingly do wrong, the Holy Spirit who lives within you will trigger your conscience and an alarm will go off inside you. If you’re wise, you’ll repent of your sin and make things right. Why? Because your alternatives aren’t good! ‘Having faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck.’ (1 Timothy 1:19 NKJV) Think of the word ‘shipwreck’, then picture the word ‘Titanic’. Getting the picture? When God says no, He’s not trying to be hard to get along with; He’s trying to protect you from the iceberg you’re sailing towards. Many of us have security systems in our homes. When we open the door we have thirty seconds before the alarm goes off and the police are called. God has given you an alarm system that works the same way; it’s called your conscience. And there are three things you can do with it: (1) Turn it off. (2) Tune it out. (3) Allow it to guide you and walk in the blessing of God. The writer to the Hebrews said, ‘Pray for us, for our conscience is clear and we want to live honourably in everything we do.’ (Hebrews 13:18 NLT) That should be your prayer today, and every day!

Look for Things to be Grateful For

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‘Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits.’ Psalm 68:19 NKJV

The story is told of a twelve-year-old boy who had never spoken a word in his life. As a result, his parents thought he couldn’t speak. Then one day his mother placed a bowl of soup in front of him and he took a spoonful. He pushed it away and said, ‘This is awful; I won’t eat it!’ The family was ecstatic. His father said, ‘Why haven’t you ever talked to us before?’ The boy replied, ‘Because up until now everything’s been ok.’ The only time some of us speak is to complain! You say, ‘But I’ve got nothing to be grateful for.’ Really? If you slept eight hours last night, there are millions of insomniacs who would gladly switch places with you. If you have a job, a roof over your head, and three square meals a day, there are millions of unemployed people who would like to have your problem. If you were able to get out of bed this morning and move through the day pain free, you’re blessed with the gift of health. Without it you would truly have something to complain about! And what about your salvation? What price would you put on that? Your sins have been forgiven, you have peace with God, and when you die you have a home in Heaven. Sure, we all have trials and tough days. But don’t insult God and belittle His blessings by saying you don’t have anything to be grateful for. It’s time you started talking to yourself, as David the psalmist did: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.’ (Psalm 103:2 KJV)

Take Your Family with You

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‘When the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me.’ Job 29:5 NKJV

Vince Foster served as deputy counsel to President Bill Clinton. He allegedly committed suicide in a Washington DC park. A few months before his death, Foster was asked to speak to the graduating class of the University of Arkansas School of Law. This is what he told the students: ‘A word about family. You have amply demonstrated that you are achievers willing to work hard, long hours and set aside your personal lives. But it reminds me of the observation that no one was ever heard to say on a deathbed: “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Balance wisely your professional and your family life. If you are fortunate to have children, your parents will warn you that your children will grow up and be gone before you know it. I can testify that it is true. God only allows us so many opportunities with our children to read a story, go fishing, play catch, and say our prayers together. Try not to miss one of them.’ Job’s seven sons and three daughters died tragically in a single day. Looking back on it, he said, ‘Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God watched over me…when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me.’ (Job 29: 25 NKJV) If you sacrifice your children for your career, or for material things, you’ll live to regret it. Don’t let that happen to you. On your journey to success, be sure to take your family with you.

Be Confident in Christ

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‘…I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.’ Philippians 4:12-13 ESV

The Bible says, ‘Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.’ (Jeremiah 17:7 NIV) To succeed at whatever God calls you to do, you must learn to be confident—not self-confident, but confident in Christ. Paul was brilliant, but he said, ‘I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.’ Jesus said, ‘…without Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5 NKJV) It seems to take forever to learn this truth. Much of our frustration comes from misplaced confidence. Paul says, ‘Put no confidence in the flesh.’ (Philippians 3:3 NIV) Now, he wasn’t saying you aren’t supposed to trust anyone. He was saying if you give others or yourself the trust that belongs to God alone, you won’t succeed. He won’t let you! To succeed at anything you must have confidence, but it must be confidence in God. You must believe that He wants you to succeed. You may fail on your way to success, but if you trust God, He will take your mistakes and cause them to work out for your good (See Romans 8:28). Sometimes our confidence is shaken when trials come, especially if they’re lengthy. When this happens you must do what David did: He ‘encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord.’ (1 Samuel 30:6 AMP) When David had no one else to believe in him, when his men were so disappointed in his leadership they talked about killing him, he still believed in God’s ability to work through him. As a result, he got everything back that he’d lost. Nothing was missing. In fact, he received back more than he’d lost. Think about it.

Give Each Other Space

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‘Love suffers long and is kind…’ 1 Corinthians 13:4 NKJV

To be happy in a relationship, you must give each other space. And you have to be secure to do that. Someone said, ‘If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours for life. If it doesn’t, it was never yours in the first place.’ When you constantly crave someone’s affection and try to cling to them, you create the very thing you dread—distance. By overreaching, you drive them away. Just as a drowning person grabs anything that floats, including their rescuer, a panic-stricken lover tries to hold on to the one who’s attempting to escape. That makes them even more frantic to get away. The story’s told of a guy who wanted to date a beautiful girl but she turned him down. He decided that the way to her heart was through the mail, so he began writing her a love letter every day. When she didn’t respond, he increased it to three letters a day. In all, he wrote more than seven hundred letters in a single summer. Not only did his plan not work—she married the postman! Appearing too anxious and available will drive the other person away rather than attracting them to you. Love is like a plant; when you smother it, it dies, but when you give it air, it thrives. There’s only one person who can ‘fix’ you, and that’s God. As you become more spiritually healthy you’ll become more emotionally healthy, and when that happens you’re more apt to find your needs being met. Paul bottom-lines it: ‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself.’

Don’t Resort to Manipulation

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‘Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other.’ Romans 12:10 NLT

Deep within each of us is a desire to run our own lives and, in some cases, other people’s lives too. As a result we become experts at manipulating one another. This desire for control brings about different behaviours. Here are six of them you must be aware of and avoid if you want good relationships: (1) Emotional blackmail. ‘Do what I want or I’ll get angry and go to pieces.’ (2) The guilt trip. ‘How could you do this to me after I’ve done so much for you?’ (3) The eternal illness. ‘Don’t upset me. Can’t you see I’m not well?’ (4) Help from beyond the grave. ‘Your dear father would have agreed with me.’ (5) Divine revelation. ‘God told me you should do what I want.’ (6) Humiliation. ‘Do what I want or I’ll embarrass you in front of others.’ These are powerful tools we use to get others to do what we want. And not only are adults good at using them, teenagers can be masters of manipulation too, especially if they’re not thinking straight. ‘I want this thing so badly I’ll go and do something stupid (even if it hurts myself) if I don’t get it.’ An argument that becomes a dangerous cry for help is the worst nightmare of many parents of teenagers. Manipulation is a game any number can play—right in the privacy of our own home. But those who engage in it pay a high price in conflict, hostility, and resentment. What’s the answer? The Bible gives it to us: ‘Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other.

Claim Your Children for Christ

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‘You have taught me from my youth.’ Psalm 71:17 NKJV

When a child is raised by praying parents who walk according to God’s Word, 85% of the time they’ll develop a strong faith before age thirteen. But what if your kids are already grown? One of God’s titles is ‘Redeemer’, which means He can give you another chance. Commit your life to Christ; that’s how generational cycles of failure are broken. Or what if you’re concerned about bringing a child into an evil world? The Bible says it’s the children of the light who push back the darkness (Matthew 5:14–16). God promised, ‘My spirit and My words that I give you will never leave you or your children or your grandchildren, now and forever.’ (Isaiah 59:21 NCV) You ask, ‘How can I compete with the negative influences around me?’ Every study confirms that a parent has the greatest influence—greater than friends, school, or the media—in determining the character and direction of a child. Think of it as a relay race. Success isn’t just based on how well you run, but on how well you pass the baton. Only when the story of future generations is told will you know whether you won or lost. The psalmist writes, ‘You have taught me from my youth… Now also when I am old…do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.’ (Psalm 71:17–18 NKJV) Don’t drop the baton! Make it your goal to raise children who’ll pick up your legacy of faith and carry it further than you did. When you commit to doing that, God will work with you and through you.

How to Overcome Anxiety (3)

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‘Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.’ Matthew 6:32 NLT

Here are two more steps to overcoming anxiety: (1) Ask for help. Paul wrote, ‘Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.’ (2 Corinthians 7:5–6 NKJV) You’re not unique; others are facing the same fears too. By ‘telling’ on your anxieties, they begin to lose their power. Remember: ‘Two are better than one…If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 NIV) Share your feelings with someone you trust, and ask them to pray with you. People are more willing to help than you might imagine. Less worry on your part often means more happiness on theirs. (2) Focus on God, not yourself. Jesus concludes His call to calmness with this challenge: ‘Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.’ (Matthew 6:32–33 NLT) If you seek wealth, you’ll worry about every dollar. If you seek health, you’ll fear every blemish and bump. If you seek popularity, you’ll obsess over every conflict. If you seek safety, you’ll jump at every crack of the twig. But if you focus each day on God’s Kingdom, ‘He will give you everything you need.’ Elizabeth Cheney wrote: ‘Said the robin to the sparrow, “I should really like to know, why these anxious human beings rush around and worry so.” Said the sparrow to the robin, “Friend, I think that it must be, that they have no Heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.”’

How to Overcome Anxiety (2)

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‘And the peace of God…will guard your hearts.’ Philippians 4:7 NIV

Here are three more steps you can take to overcome anxiety: (1) List your worries. For one week, make a list of the things you worry about most. Children? Health? Money? Marriage? Job? These aren’t one-time worries that come and go quickly. They’re things that make you ‘perpetually uneasy’ (Matthew 6:25 AMP), so begin to review them. Ask yourself how many of them have actually turned into reality? Charles Spurgeon said, ‘Our worst misfortunes never happen…most of our miseries lie in anticipation.’ (2) Analyse them. You’ll detect recurring areas of preoccupation that may become obsessions: what people think of you; the fact that heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s run in your family; the fear that you won’t have enough to live on when you get old. Identify each fear and pray specifically about it. (3) Live in today. God has promised to meet your needs daily, not weekly or annually. He’ll give you what you need—when you need it! ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV) The old hymn goes: ‘Not so in haste my heart! Have faith in God, and wait; although He lingers long, He never comes too late.’ When the word ‘worry’ is mentioned in the Bible, it’s almost always following the words ‘do not’. If ‘worry’ features in your vocabulary, it should be as part of God’s words to you: ‘do not worry’. Philippians 4:6–7 NIV says to you, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer… present your requests to God. And the peace of God… will guard your hearts.’

How to Overcome Anxiety (1)

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‘Stop being perpetually uneasy (anxious and worried) about your life.’ Matthew 6:25 AMP

Here are some steps to overcoming your anxiety: (1) Talk to God. Don’t bemoan the collapse of an investment; ask God to help you. Don’t pace the floor of the hospital waiting room; pray for a successful surgery. ‘Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him.’ (1 Peter 5:7 AMP) (2) Slow down. ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.’ (Psalm 37:7 KJV) Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding. They had run out of wine, which was a social disaster in those days. Mary could’ve blamed the host for poor planning, or the guests for overdrinking, but instead she took the shortage to Jesus and He solved her problem. You can do the same. Assess the problem, and then take it to the Lord in prayer. (3) Don’t let your anxieties get the best of you. When a mosquito lands on you, you don’t say, ‘I’ll take care of it in a minute.’ No, you kill it before it can bite you. Be equally decisive with your worries. The moment they surface, deal with them. Before you rush to diagnose that mole as a cancer, have it examined. Instead of assuming you’ll never get out of debt, consult a financial expert. Be a doer, not a stewer. Horace Bushnell said, ‘Anxiety is a word of unbelief or unreasoning dread. We have no right to allow it. Full faith in God puts it to rest.’ The crosses we bear over anxiety concerning the future aren’t crosses that come from God. So give your anxiety to God, and leave it with Him!

Speak Up!

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‘There is…a time to be silent and a time to speak.’ Ecclesiastes 3:17 NIV

The Bible has a lot to say about not criticising and passing judgment. But there are times when silence isn’t ‘golden’, it’s deadly. For example: (1) Silence is deadly when you use it as a passive, retaliatory means of expressing your anger or displeasure. That’s called ‘emotional manipulation’. Jesus said, ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.’ (Matthew 18:15 NKJV) Jesus is recommending pretty assertive behaviour by commanding us to take the initiative in addressing the ‘trespass’. Trespassing is the unauthorised crossing of a boundary, and many times we feel like we’ve been trespassed against or wronged. However, rather than addressing the issue directly with the offender, we resort to sulking and pouting. Jesus says, ‘Don’t do that!’ Your lack of communication can leave the wrongdoer unaware of their behaviour and make them more likely to repeat it. (2) Silence is deadly when you fail to defend someone against unwarranted criticism or vicious rumours. Don’t let fear of alienation and rejection cause you to let slander and character assassination go unchallenged, especially when you’re aware of facts to the contrary. (3) Silence is deadly when it results in your making an undesirable decision by default. The fact is, silence can indicate consent. Prayer was taken out of public schools in the United States because the majority stayed silent instead of speaking up. The Scripture says, ‘There is…a time to be silent and a time to speak.’ So have the courage of your convictions and speak up!

Give God Your All

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‘Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.’ Ephesians 3:20 NKJV

If you only have a thimble-worth of capacity and you’re standing on the edge of a vast ocean, you have access to a lot of water but you won’t get much of it because your capacity is so small. If you have the capacity of a bucket you’ll get more than a thimble, but once the bucket is full the ocean can do you no more good. If you have a barrel you’ll get more than a bucket, but once the barrel is full you will still only have taken advantage of a miniscule part of the ocean. The idea is to offer God the biggest container possible. Offer Him all of you so that He can accomplish what He wants to do in your life. And no matter how successful you may be, you still haven’t maximised all that God wants to do in you and through you. Paul puts it this way: ‘Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.’ When you give your life to Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within you. That means if your life has been a failure thus far, He can turn it into a success. And if your life has been successful thus far, He can take you to a higher level of success. That’s why you should begin each morning by praying: ‘Lord, I make myself totally available to You this day; work through me to accomplish Your will.’ That’s a prayer God will answer.

Growing Older, and Better

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‘I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.’ Psalm 118:17 NKJV

Today people are living longer and enjoying better health. Given that fact, it would be wise to glean from their wisdom and value their talent. You may have noticed that television advertisers are targeting younger and younger people. Why? After all, isn’t a tube of toothpaste sold to an eighty-year-old just as profitable as one pitched to a kid? The idea that life should be winding down at sixty or seventy makes no sense. Immanuel Kant wrote one of his best philosophical works at the age of seventy-four. Verdi penned his classic ‘Ave Maria’ at eighty-five. Alfred Lord Tennyson was eighty when he wrote ‘Crossing the Bar’. Michelangelo was eighty-seven when he completed the Pietá, his greatest work of art. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes set down some of his most brilliant opinions at the age of ninety. Titian painted his famous Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto at the age of ninety-eight. President Ronald Reagan was one of the most powerful men in the world at seventy-five. Noah was over six hundred years old when he came out of the ark and helped to start the world all over again. David the psalmist wrote two things worth noting about getting older: (1) ‘They shall still bear fruit in old age’ (Psalm 92:14 NKJV); (2) ‘I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.’ When the spotlight moves from you to the younger generation, don’t be discouraged. Just serve faithfully in the shadows, knowing that one day God will reward you openly for all you have done.

Be Trustworthy in Little Things!

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‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.’ Luke 16:10 NIV 

Jesus said: ‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?’ (Luke 16:10–12 NIV) God won’t promote you beyond your current level of competence and commitment. Indeed, He’ll keep bringing you back to these two things until you get them right. As you walk with Him, He’ll increase your faith by testing you in settings that require only a little faith. And if you pass, He’ll expose you to circumstances that require more faith. Each time you prove your willingness to trust Him at a higher level, He will reveal a little more of Himself and entrust to you a greater measure of blessing. That’s how it works. Every small step of faith leads to a deeper, richer and more rewarding relationship with Him. When Michelangelo was painting the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel he spent endless hours lying on the scaffolding perfecting the details. It was a miserable job. A student, curious about why the renowned sculptor took such pains with details that could only be seen from a distance, asked, ‘Who will know whether or not it’s perfect?’ The master artist replied, ‘I will!’ And so will your Master—Jesus! What you’re doing today matters. It’s the determining factor in what God will call you to do tomorrow. So be trustworthy in little things.

God Values What You Do

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‘God…will not forget your work and the love you have shown.’ Hebrews 6:10 NIV

Satan will try to convince you that you don’t count for much in God’s Kingdom because you don’t have a high-profile gift like preaching, teaching or leading in public. Nothing could be further from the truth: ‘God…will not forget your work and the love you have shown…as you…helped His people.’ God sees you working behind the scenes day in and day out, caring for ageing loved ones, raising your children, encouraging others and contributing where you can. Will Rogers said, ‘We can’t all be heroes. Somebody has to sit on the kerb and clap as they go by.’ So when you think you’re too small to do big things, try doing small things with a big heart of love. You never know what you can do until you try! James Sizoo said: ‘Glamour isn’t greatness, applause isn’t fame, and prominence isn’t eminence. The man of the hour isn’t apt to be the man of the ages. A stone may sparkle but that doesn’t make it a diamond. People may have money but that doesn’t make them a success. It’s the seemingly unimportant people who determine the course of history. The greatest forces in the universe are never spectacular. Summer showers do more good than hurricanes, but they don’t get a lot of publicity. The world would soon die but for the fidelity, loyalty, creativity, and commitment of those whose names are unhonoured and unsung.’ Today God values what you do. ‘Don’t get discouraged and give up, for [you] will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time’ (See Galatians 6:9).

Pray About It

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‘Is anyone among you afflicted (ill-treated, suffering evil)? He should pray.’ James 5:13 AMP

It’s amazing how long we put up with things before we decide to pray about them. The hymn writer says, ‘O what peace we often forfeit; O what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.’ We complain to our friends. We wonder why God doesn’t do something. We wrestle with the situation in our minds, yet we fail to take advantage of the simplest solution there is—prayer. Charles Spurgeon wrote, ‘The desire to commune with God is intensified by the failure of all other sources of consolation.’ We’re all guilty of treating prayer as a last-ditch effort. When you say things like, ‘Nothing else is working. Maybe I should pray about it,’ do you realise what that says about you? That you really don’t understand or believe in the power of prayer as you should. You’re carrying burdens you don’t need to carry, and life is harder than it has to be because you don’t realise how powerful prayer is. If you did, you’d pray about everything—not as a last resort but as a first response. The Bible says, ‘Is anyone among you afflicted (ill-treated, suffering evil)? He should pray.’ When you’ve a problem: pray. When someone hurts you: pray. When you’re sick: pray. When you feel like giving up: pray. When someone you love is suffering: pray. When you’re discouraged: pray. When you don’t know what to do: pray. Jesus, who prayed early in the morning and late at night, said, ‘Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.’ (Mark 11:24 NKJV) So pray about it.

Step into the Water

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‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Matthew 3:17 NKJV

When Jesus was baptized, ‘the heavens were opened to Him…And suddenly a voice came from Heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”’ (Matthew 3:16–17 NKJV) That day when Jesus stepped into the River Jordan, He was stepping into the fullness of God’s purpose for His life. Those waters were teeming with the sins of mankind. John had baptized multitudes of converts there; their sins figuratively passing from them into the sea of God’s forgetfulness, just like the waters of the River Jordan end up in the Dead Sea. Maybe you’re appalled at the idea of Jesus wading into sin. But He was doing it to fulfil the purpose of God: redemption for you. Jesus was exactly where God wanted Him to be, doing exactly what God wanted Him to do. That’s why His Father announced, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ There’s a lesson here for you. Doing God’s will sometimes means stepping into messy situations and troubled waters. But when you obey God and do what He says, you won’t have to speak up for yourself or fight for yourself. God will command whatever forces are involved to yield to you, honour you, listen to you and even bless you. You won’t have to flounder around for the right answer, or wonder if something is right for you. God will give you the ability and resources you need because you’re where He wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do. So the word for you today is ‘step into the water’.

Don’t Let Fear Stop You (2)

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‘…Matthew got up and followed Him.’ Matthew 9:9 NIV

Collecting taxes for the Romans was a lucrative job. But for a Jew like Matthew it meant betraying your own people. As a result he was despised and excluded from religious worship. But that didn’t stop Jesus from calling him to be a disciple. And when He did, Matthew didn’t hesitate; he ‘got up and followed Him.’ Here’s a man most of his fellow citizens would have considered a traitor. Jesus saw latent loyalty in Matthew, the hidden promise, the waiting potential. Others might have seen a loser but Jesus saw the man who would record His words and deeds and write a Gospel to bless future billions. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve done, Jesus has a plan for us. And He wants each and every one of us to fulfil our God-given, divine purpose. It’s natural to be apprehensive when you’re facing change and uncertainty, but God says, ‘Take courage!…Don’t be afraid.’ (Matthew 14:27 NIV) Jon Walker writes: ‘God knows it involves a challenging stretch… He knows our abilities and resources aren’t what strengthen us for the journey (Philippians 4:13). When we fear we can’t do the things God calls us to do…that He won’t protect and provide…we embrace the lie that our circumstances are bigger than God, and our faith gets placed on the altar of our own perceptions. If you’re like me you often fear what’s behind the curtain of God’s call, and—frustratingly—He won’t let me peek… He keeps the curtain of our future drawn so we’ll learn to live by faith and not by sight, so we’ll become certain of what we hope for, and become sure of God even when we can’t see how He’s working in our current circumstances.’

Don’t Let Fear Stop You (1)

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‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ Philippians 1:6 NIV

Has God called you to do something you don’t feel capable of doing? Could you think of a dozen others better suited for the job? It doesn’t matter what you think, God didn’t choose somebody else! He chose you in spite of your limitations and insecurities. Your inadequacies don’t surprise Him. In fact, His ‘power works best in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT) Jon Walker says: ‘You may…hide your weaknesses from others, but you can’t hide them from God. He created you (do you think He made a mistake?) He created you with weaknesses to keep you on your knees… without them to push you back to God you’ll get prideful… and He won’t allow you to use them as an excuse for avoiding your mission or ignoring your purpose. If God is calling you to a monumental task, He will equip you to complete it—and that includes the Holy Spirit working from inside you. So focus on His strength, not yours. Don’t think about how incapable you are for the task. Remember, God is bigger than anything you face, no matter how overwhelming it may appear.’ The Bible says we were ‘created in Christ…to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) God’s plans are never an afterthought. He designed you for a specific purpose, and the One who ‘began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.’ So instead of letting fear stop you, let it motivate you to get up and get going!

Invoke God’s Blessing Upon Your Life

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‘He who invokes a blessing on himself…shall do so by saying, May the God of truth and fidelity [the Amen] bless me.’ Isaiah 65:16 AMP

The word ‘invoke’ implies these two things: (1) to make an earnest request for, or to solicit; (2) to put into effect or operation, or to implement. With that in mind, read this Scripture: ‘[It shall be] that he who invokes a blessing on himself in the land shall do so by saying, May the God of truth and fidelity [the Amen] bless me; and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth and faithfulness to His promises [the Amen], because the former troubles are forgotten.’ That’s a powerful promise! God, our Father, spoke the world into existence, and we need to stand on His Word to frame the world we will live in. When you speak the blessings and promises of God over your life, you ‘make an earnest request and solicit it’. And by applying it ‘put it into effect or operation, and implement it’. This is why God told Moses to bless the Israelites with these words: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24–26 NKJV) Then God added, ‘And I will bless them.’ (Numbers 6:27 NKJV) Understand that what we speak to ourselves and to others can lead us down either a right path or one of destruction (James 3:2–10). God’s Word, rightly understood and applied will change things for the better, but remember, ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ (Proverbs 18:21 NKJV) So the word for you today is—invoke God’s blessing upon your life!

Dealing with Other People’s Failures

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‘They looked the other way.’ Genesis 9:23 NLT

The Bible says: ‘After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard. One day he drank some wine… and became drunk and lay naked inside his tent. Ham… saw that his father was naked and went outside and told his brothers. Then Shem and Japheth took a robe, held it over their shoulders, and backed into the tent to cover their father. As they did this, they looked the other way so they would not see him naked. When Noah woke up from his stupor, he learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done. Then he cursed Canaan, the son of Ham.’ (Genesis 9:20–25 NLT) Have you ever uncovered something about a person in a position of respect, and you just couldn’t refrain from telling other people? If you have, think about this: if God trusted you enough to reveal someone’s nakedness or sin, maybe you weren’t meant to ‘see’ and ‘tell’, but to ‘cover’ that person’s nakedness with discretion, compassion and prayer. The Bible says, ‘Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.’ (Proverbs 2:11 NIV) The fact is that Ham ended up being condemned, while his father Noah ended up in Hebrews chapter eleven being given honourable mention with the great heroes of Scripture. You say, ‘But I’m free to say whatever I like!’ Not true! The Bible says, ‘A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.’ (Proverbs 11:13 NKJV) What if God decided to show someone else your nakedness? Remember, what you sow, you reap! How you handle someone else’s area of vulnerability determines how God handles yours (Galatians 6:7).

What’s Your Vision?

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‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Proverbs 29:18 KJV

What are you planning to do with your life? What you set your heart on will determine how you spend your time and energy. And it takes as much effort to live an unfulfilled life as a richly rewarding one. Some scientists have recently estimated that the human brain has between 10 and 100 terabytes of capacity, which means we all have lots of room for growth. One of the most rewarding things you can do this year is work to develop your mind. ‘Where there is no vision [sense of direction], the people perish.’ Dissatisfaction doesn’t come from the absence of things, but the absence of direction. Too many of us merely exist because we’ve settled for less than God intended. The quality of your life will be determined by your vision and the effort you’re willing to put into fulfilling it. So stop and make a written list of the areas where you’d like to grow this year, then tackle the three or four most important ones. Don’t get discouraged if the one you’re working on doesn’t want to co-operate; nothing great is ever created suddenly. Paul said of his faith, ‘I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 3:14 ESV) It’s a process; you have to keep plugging away. Some days it’ll feel like two steps forward and three steps backward. But don’t give up. It’s better to die for something than to live for nothing! And unless you try something beyond what you’ve already mastered, you won’t grow. So what are you waiting for? Life? It’s waiting for you—so get going!

Ask God for His Plan!

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‘I know the plans I have for you.’ Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

God says, ‘I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you…plans to give you hope and a future…pray to Me, and I will listen to you.’ (Jeremiah 29:11–12 NIV) Ask God for His plan. It’s miserable playing a part for which you’re ill–suited. It’s like walking in shoes that don’t fit. So… what are you good at? What do you enjoy doing most? What accomplishments make you feel best? List five moments in your life when you were acutely aware of this feeling of fulfilment. Does this reveal anything about your purpose? If money wasn’t a consideration, how would you fill your days? How does this compare with where you are now? What one small step can you take right now—one phone call made, one letter written, one email sent—to move you towards your true calling? What have you learned about your purpose through failure? Are some areas clearly not a part of your calling at all? Who do you admire for the way they’ve applied their talents? Why are you like them? What can you learn from them? How would you describe your vision for your life this year? Or five years from now? Or ten? Who are the people in your life who really get who you are? Have you asked them what they think your purpose might be? Have they given any indication of how they think you should use your talents? If you could write your own obituary, what would you want it to say? What would you like to be remembered for? As you begin this new day, ask God for His plan.

Don’t Look Back

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‘Remember Lot’s wife.’ Luke 17:32 KJV

Before God destroyed the city of Sodom, He sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family from it. Their instructions were clear: ‘Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed…’ (Genesis 19:17 NKJV) But: ‘…his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.’ (Genesis 19:26 NKJV) Jesus recalled this story in a simple statement: ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’ Here are two lessons you should learn and remember: (1) Don’t look back with longing to your old sinful pleasures and pursuits. The promise sin made was false then, and it’s still false now. ‘Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.’ (James 1:14–16 NKJV) (2) Don’t look back with regret on the mistakes you’ve made. Lot’s two sons-in-law wouldn’t heed the message of the angels or the pleading of their father-in-law, so they stayed behind. Perhaps that’s why his wife looked back. But it was fatal then, and it’s fatal now. Don’t wallow in the regrets of your past. Stop dwelling on the injuries inflicted on you by others. Get your eyes off the rear-view mirror and onto the road ahead. God has great things in store for you; that’s what the battle in your life is about. Jesus referred to Satan as a ‘thief’ (See John 10:10). He has already stolen too much from you; don’t let him steal any more. Today commit your life to Christ, and watch His blessing begin.

Be Grateful for What You Have

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‘In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God…for you.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has a brilliant mind. He has been compared by some to Albert Einstein. But he has a rare degenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS syndrome or motor neurone disease). And it has left him virtually paralysed. He learned to use a computer with the tips of his fingers and was able to communicate his calculations and thoughts. Before he became ill, he described his life as a ‘pointless existence’. He drank too much and did very little work. But after discovering that he perhaps had only a few years to live, life suddenly took on an urgency and a new meaning. And he was actually happier than he was before. He explained the paradox this way: ‘When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything that one does have.’ When you’re told that you only have a limited time left to live, it transforms your whole perspective on living. Things you overlook suddenly become meaningful: the laughter of children, a sunrise or sunset, the love of friends and family, or just a walk in the park. The most miserable people in the world are those who believe that life ‘owes them’. They’re never happy, because they never believe they get what they deserve. The apostle Paul was in prison with no hope of getting out when he wrote, ‘In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ What was he saying? Simply this: Instead of competing, comparing and complaining, focus on the good things God has given you, enjoy them and develop an attitude of gratitude (Philippians 4:8).

Seeing Your Work as God’s Will (3)

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‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.’ Psalm 127:1 NRS

When your skill level is high but the challenge of the task is too low, you experience boredom. When your skill level is low and the challenge of the task is too high, you experience frustration and anxiety. But when the level of the challenge matches the level of your skills—then you’re ‘in the flow’. We don’t work mainly for money, recognition, promotion, applause or fame. We work for the flow that comes from a partnership with God. We hunger for flow, and when it’s present, something happens in our spirit as we connect with a reality beyond ourselves and become a co-worker with God. This is why the psalmist says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.’ Flow is part of what we experience in that partnership and, in that, God in turn uses flow to shape us. Bezalel experienced flow when he carved wood, David when he played the harp, Samson when he used his strength, Paul when he wrote a brilliant letter, Daniel when he ran a government, and Adam when he gardened. If other people report to you, one of the great spiritual acts of service you can perform is to ask whether they’re experiencing flow in their work, and help them experience it even more. When you’re working in the flow of service to God, when you’re experiencing flow in activities that enhance and bless the lives of others—you’re working ‘in the Spirit’. Paul was in the flow when he described himself as ‘poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.’ (2 Corinthians 6:10 NIV)

Seeing Your Work as God’s Will (2)

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‘Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Colossians 3:17 NIV

Research shows that the best moments of our lives don’t come from leisure or pleasure. They come when you’re immersed in a significant task that’s challenging, yet matches up well to your highest abilities. In those moments, you’re so caught up in an activity that time somehow seems to be altered; your attention is fully focused without your having to work at it. You’re deeply aware, without being self-conscious; you’re being stretched and challenged, but without a sense of stress or worry. You have a sense of engagement or oneness with what you are doing. This condition is called ‘flow’, because people experiencing it often use the metaphor of feeling swept up by something outside themselves. Studies have been done over the past thirty years with hundreds of thousands of subjects to explore this phenomenon of flow. Ironically, you experience it more in your work than you do in your leisure time. In fact, your flow is at its lowest ebb when you’ve nothing to do. Sitting around doesn’t produce flow. This picture of flow is actually a description of what the exercise of dominion was intended to look like. God says in Genesis that we’re to ‘rule’ over the earth, or exercise ‘dominion’ (See Genesis 1:2628). We often think of these words in terms of ‘dominating’ or ‘bossing around’. But the true idea behind them is that you’re to invest your abilities to create value on the earth, to plant and build and write and organise and heal and invent ways that bless people and cause God’s Kingdom on earth to flourish.

Seeing Your Work as God’s Will (1)

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‘I must work the works of Him who sent Me.’ John 9:4 NKJV

You’ll experience a new level of fulfilment when you begin to see what you do for a living as an important part of God’s will for your life. Jesus preached and healed, but He saw it all as ‘work’ given to Him by His Father. You must too. Instead of seeing church as a place where you meet with God on Sunday morning, see it as a place where you’re fed and strengthened so that you can carry the presence of God with you into the workplace. ‘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.’ (Colossians 3:17 NIV) Notice two words here: (1) ‘Word.’ That covers skills of communication and information. (2) ‘Deed.’ That covers skills such as creativity and building. Whatever you do, you’re supposed to do it with a thankful heart, as though the Lord were your boss—because He is. When you work with that attitude, you come alive. One person comes alive when they pick up a musical instrument, another when they lead a team, another when they counsel someone who’s hurting, and another when they’re looking at a financial spreadsheet. When each of us is doing what God designed and called us to do, the world around us is enriched. All skill is God-given, and we’re invited to live in conscious interaction with the Holy Spirit as we work, so that we can develop the skills He gives us. Work is a form of love. We cannot be fully human without creating value.

Stop Putting Yourself Down

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‘Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”‘ Luke 8:30 NAS

Remember the man in Scripture who was possessed by demons? ‘Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” because many devils had entered him.’ (A legion in the Roman army comprised some six thousand troops.) ‘Legion’ wasn’t this man’s real name; it represented his demonic oppression. He’d suffered with this oppression so long that perhaps he’d come to accept it as the new norm. Perhaps you’re struggling along a similar vein, naming yourself ‘Fatso’ because you’ve battled weight for so long with no apparent victory in sight. Or you define yourself as a ‘victim’ because you were abused or taken advantage of by others. Maybe you see yourself as a ‘failure’ because you’re divorced, or your kids have gone off the tracks. If so, it’s time to lose the negative labels and start seeing yourself the way God sees you. Jesus set this tormented man free, gave him his right-mind back, and restored him to his family. And He wants to do the same for you! Satan will take you from one extreme to the other. He’ll make you either boastful or bashful; make you think you’re ‘hot stuff’, or convince you that you’re worthless. Don’t buy it! Self-deprecation is often disguised as humility, when in reality it’s a rejection of God’s Word, which assures you that you ‘can do all things through Christ who strengthens [you].’ (Philippians 4:13 NKJV) What others call you doesn’t matter; what you call yourself does! The bottom line is: ‘God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV)

Don’t Boast

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‘God was kind! He made me what I am, and His wonderful kindness wasn’t wasted.’ 1 Corinthians 15:10 CEV

If you’ve been blessed with success, read these words from Paul and take them to heart: ‘God was kind! He made me what I am, and His wonderful kindness wasn’t wasted.’ Every good thing you have right now, plus every good thing you’ll enjoy in the future, comes from God. Try never to forget that! You say, ‘Wait a minute, I worked hard for this. Don’t I deserve a little credit?’ Yes, you do; the Bible says, ‘Give honour and respect to all those to whom it is due.’ (Romans 13:7 TLB) But praise by its very nature can be intoxicating. The human body is a remarkable piece of chemistry; pat a man or woman on the back—and their head starts to swell! Someone said ‘Praise is like perfume; if you consume it, it’ll kill you!’ That’s why Paul gives us this timely reminder: ‘What are you so puffed up about? …if all you have is from God, why act as though you are so great?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7 TLB) One day King Nebuchadnezzar’s head got too big for his hat, and he boasted, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built…’ (Daniel 4:30 NLT) But God interrupted his proud moment and stripped him of his kingdom, and he ended up losing his mind and living like a wild beast. Only when he repented and acknowledged that God was the ruler over everything, did God restore his sanity and his kingdom. Corrected, humbled and enlightened, he knelt down and prayed, ‘I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards Heaven, and my sanity was restored.’ (Daniel 4:34 NIV) Boasting is a form of insanity—don’t do it!

Godly Parents, Godly Children

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‘He will direct his children.’ Genesis 18:19 NIV

Speaking about Abraham, God said, ‘He will direct his children… to keep the way of the Lord.’ Can God say that about you? When you get serious about raising godly children, God puts the focus where it belongs—on you! If you want to see important truths sail right over your children’s heads, try teaching them something you’re not personally committed to. Do you think your children are just being difficult? No, they’re watching you like a hawk! If your actions demonstrate that what you’re teaching them isn’t important to you, it’ll never be important to them either. And can you blame them? If you’re devoted to chasing material things, they will be too. But if you devote yourself to serving the Lord, they’ll be drawn to Him as well. Do you want to enjoy a long, happy life? Pass God’s teaching on to your children, and to their children after them (See Deuteronomy 6:2). Notice, your love for the Lord comes first: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5 NKJV) Surprised? You shouldn’t be. When your lifestyle demonstrates your love for Christ, He’ll attract your children like nothing else on earth. Do your children see you reading the Bible? Do you discuss its truths with them in an engaging way? When behaviours and values come into question, do you lead them to the Scripture for answers? Why is this so important? Because the Bible says, ‘Another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord.’ (Judges 2:10 NKJV) In order to raise godly children you must teach them God’s principles, and practise them yourself.

How Are You Doing? (3)

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‘Come aside by yourselves…and rest a while.’ Mark 6:31 NKJV

There are two kinds of ‘tired’. And the dissimilarity is like the difference between puffy spring rain clouds and the clouds that precede a tornado. One is temporary and normal. It comes from a job well done, and after a period of rest you bounce back. The other is a chronic inner fatigue that accumulates over months, and doesn’t always manifest itself in physical exhaustion. In fact, it’s often masked by frenetic activity and impulsive behaviours such as: (1) You can’t relax over a meal or coffee. (2) You keep checking and rechecking your voice messages and emails. (3) Your bedside table is piled high with publications designed to keep you ‘ahead of the game’. (4) Taking a day off seems impossible. (5) You don’t take breaks and you work every holiday. (6) You can’t sleep. (7) Any free time you have is spent in ‘escapist’ behaviour like eating, drinking, spending and mindlessly watching TV. When we don’t rest, we lose direction. We’re lured away from God by the mistaken belief that determination and effort will allow us to achieve our dreams. So, the truth is: while you’re busy working hard, you can lose your ability to hear the voice of the One who called you initially. Yes, God expects you to work hard, but not by endangering your health, your family or your time with Him. If that’s the shape you’re in right now, Jesus is saying, ‘Come aside…and rest a while.’ If you’re wise and you want to go the distance—you’ll pay attention and do what He says.

How Are You Doing? (2)

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‘Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved.’ Isaiah 30:15 NLT

God said, ‘Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.’ When you’re emotionally and spiritually drained by people’s expectations, it’s easy to grow numb to the full range of human emotions. And while it may seem like a relief to be free from negative emotions, the positive ones also become elusive because you don’t feel much of anything—good or bad. When that happens you’re likely to end up being directed by things like: (1) over-scheduling; (2) poor time management; (3) performance anxiety; (4) having few boundaries; (5) tolerating toxic relationships and bad habits; (6) unresolved grief or pain; (7) wrong goals. So what’s the answer? ‘Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved.’ Instead of pushing on and struggling to keep going, stop and talk to God about what’s happening in your life. Rather than feeling isolated and weighed down by the impossibility of your situation, include Him in the equation by praying: ‘Lord, help me to keep my mind stayed on You. During this time of busyness and stress help me to reorder my priorities according to Your will, to think Your thoughts, and to let the mind of Christ have its rightful authority in my life. Your Word says You’ve ordained peace for me. Because You are my fortress and my deliverer, I will not allow myself to be troubled or afraid. Thank You for keeping my heart and mind at rest through Christ Jesus. Amen.’

How Are You Doing? (1)

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‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ John 10:11 NIV

Sometimes people hide behind their busy schedules to avoid having to say ‘no’ to people. Jesus knew when to get involved, and when not to. Learn from Him. You’ll never be able to respond effectively if you feel obligated to meet every need all the time. And God’s not asking you to. He only expects you to respond to what He sends your way. James MacDonald says: ‘I’ll never forget my guidance counsellor’s face when she heard I was going into the ministry. “But you don’t even like people!” she exclaimed. I remember thinking, “So what? Ministry’s about preaching and leading a congregation to greater heights. I don’t have to worry about individuals.” But that’s a myth. We dare not become so programme-focused that we flee from the next person God sends our way. I’m amazed how far bureaucracies will go to make systemic change, rather than making an exception that would easily fix the problem. Personal needs are too significant to commit to the rigidity of any programme. Some of us think the problem with handling needs personally is that they can multiply like rabbits. Plus, programmes exist to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed, right? Wrong! The “ministry myth” that says, “What you do for one you must do for all,” is a recipe for burnout.’ Jesus spent much of His time ministering to individual needs. And He said, ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ But in order to do that you must make room in your life for the unexpected.

The Benefits of Reading God’s Word

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‘Your words…[are] my joy and my heart’s delight.’ Jeremiah 15:16 NIV

God promises certain things to those who take time each day to get to know Him through His Word. Let’s look at some of them: (1) Joy. ‘When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear Your name, Lord God Almighty.’ (2) Strength. ‘Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.’ (Acts 20:32 NIV) (3) Peace. ‘Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing can make them stumble.’ (Psalm 119:165 NIV) ‘If only you had paid attention to My commands, your peace would have been like a river.’ (Isaiah 48:18 NIV) (4) Stability. ‘I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure.’ (Psalm 16:8–9 NIV) (5) Success. ‘Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.’ (Joshua 1:8 NIV) (6) Answered prayer. ‘If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.’ (John 15:7 NIV) Joy, strength, peace, stability, success, and answered prayer—these are the things everybody wants. Don’t you? Well, look no further. God has promised them to you when you spend time with Him in His Word each day.

Protect Your Life Source

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‘Come and drink the Water of Life.’ Revelation 22:17 TLB

The Babylonians encircled Jerusalem and cut off its food supply. The question was, how long could they hold out? That’s what the Babylonians kept wondering. But a month passed, then two, then an entire year, and still they held out. The secret of Jerusalem’s survival lay in a water supply from a spring outside the city walls where Hezekiah had cut a 542 m long tunnel through solid rock. From there water passed under the city walls to a reservoir inside called the Pool of Siloam. Without it God’s people would have gone down in defeat. But it’s not just another Bible story; there’s an important lesson here for you. To live victoriously you must: (1) know your life’s true source; (2) protect it; (3) draw from it daily. If your security, your strength, your self-worth or your strategy for living comes from any other source but God, the enemy can defeat you. Everything you need comes from God, so protect and nurture your relationship with Him, for it will always be the focal point of Satan’s attack. A day without reading God’s Word isn’t merely a slip; it’s a set-up for failure. Prayerlessness isn’t carelessness; it’s foolishness in the extreme. You say, ‘Well, I’m doing ok and I don’t pray or read the Bible very much.’ Maybe you haven’t reached your hour of testing yet. When that comes, without an established source to draw from you’ll struggle more and succeed less. Is that really how you want to live? If not, the word for you today is: ‘Come and drink the Water of Life.’

Seeing God’s Hand in It

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‘This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ Matthew 21:42 NKJV

Jesus said, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ Note the word ‘rejected’. The rejection of his brothers put Joseph on a path that led to the throne of Egypt and the saving of his family and his nation. How often has something happened in your life that you later realised was necessary? If you hadn’t experienced this or walked through that, you wouldn’t have been ready for the blessings you enjoy now. When you begin to see the hand of God in it you understand that what the enemy intended for your destruction, God used for your development. To be ‘more than a conqueror’ means you can stand up and say: ‘Here’s how I see it. It took everything I’ve been through to make me who I am and to teach me what I know. So I choose to be better, not bitter. I trust the faithfulness of God more than ever. I’ve learned that if faith doesn’t move the mountain, it’ll give me strength to endure until tomorrow. And if it is not gone by tomorrow, I’ll still believe that God is able and trust Him until He does.’ Relax, rejoice; your steps are being arranged by the Lord (Psalm 37:23). He hasn’t taken His eye or His hand off you, not even for a single moment. When you get through this trial you’ll realise that ‘the worst thing that could have happened’ was, in reality, ‘the Lord’s doing’, and it will become ‘marvellous in your eyes’.

What It Means to Repent

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‘Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation.’ 2 Corinthians 7:10 NKJV

The word ‘repent’ means to acknowledge your sin before God, turn from it, seek God’s forgiveness, and start living differently. It means doing an about-face turn and heading in the opposite direction. If you go 20 km down the road in the wrong direction, it requires doing a U-turn and coming 20 km back. At first this can seem discouraging. But it’s profitable, because next time you’ll think twice about where you’re headed. Repentance sometimes means making restitution to others. Zacchaeus was a tax collector who got rich by overcharging people. But after he met Jesus he said, ‘If I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much.’ (Luke 19:8 GNT) God is more than willing to forgive you, but He may allow you to experience the painful consequences of your sin in order to motivate you towards obedience. ‘No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.’ (Hebrews 12:11 NLT) Satan will try to tell you that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace, but you’re not. The Prodigal Son wasted his inheritance and ended up in a pigsty. But the day he decided to come back home, his father ran to meet him and restored him to full sonship in the family. And God will do that for you too. ‘Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that He may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for He will forgive generously.’ (Isaiah 55:7 NLT)

Critics, Coaches, Cheerleaders

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‘Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.’ Proverbs 25:11NAS

Critics point out what’s wrong, and leave you feeling bad about yourself. Coaches show you what you did wrong, teach you how to do it right and leave you feeling better about yourself. Cheerleaders lift your spirits, offer their help, and assure you that you can succeed if you keep trying. So which of the three are you? If you tend to be one of those hard-driving, goal-oriented people, coaching someone may be a challenge for you. Perhaps you’re from the school of thought that believes a pay cheque should be encouragement enough—especially if an employee is being generously compensated. If so—beware! You’re stuck in the Stone Age and in dire need of a mindset change! If you want people to be productive, learn how to build them up. You say, ‘But it’s not my natural inclination to want to coach poor performers. I just want them out.’ Hold on there; you’re dealing with a human being, a person loved and valued by God! And with a little encouragement, some hand-holding and lots of communication, you may end up with a level of productivity and loyalty the cocky superstar isn’t capable of. Yes, if you’ve ‘a bad apple’ in the bunch you need to get rid of them before they infect the whole barrel. But before you resort to firing someone, try firing them up! Some of the people you work with just need to be presented with a clear vision, shown how they can be part of it and enlightened about the incentives and rewards that come from being part of the team that’s fulfilling a vision.

The Benefits of Going to Church

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‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”‘ Psalm 122:1 NKJV

People stay away from church for many reasons. Sometimes they feel bad because their faith isn’t working as well as they think it should. Or they’re still struggling with certain problems. Or they’re depressed because it looks like everyone else is doing well except them. Don’t let discouragement keep you away from your spiritual family. You need their love and support. You need to hear them say, ‘We made it, and by God’s grace you can too.’ The Bible says, ‘Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.’ (Hebrews 10:25 NKJV) The word ‘forsaking’ is taken from three Greek words which could be translated ‘out’, ‘down’, and ‘behind’. It pretty much describes someone who feels left out, spiritually and emotionally down, and far behind everyone else. The moment you feel that way the enemy whispers, ‘Just stay home from church today; you don’t need to go there with all those good people.’ If the enemy can separate you from other believers at the very time you need them most, he can rob you of what God has in store for you. Sure, you can stay at home, read your Bible and turn on Christian radio and television. But surrounded by your spiritual family you’ll get answers, experience joy and receive encouragement you can’t find anywhere else. Church is the last place the devil wants you to go when you’re feeling low. He knows if you go, you’ll be touched by the presence of the Lord and be able to crawl out of the hole you’re in. So, go to church!

Learn to Say ‘Enough!’

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‘After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.’ Matthew 14:23 NIV

Jesus dismissed a crowd of listeners and fans in order to spend time with His Father in prayer. As a result, when He returned to the crowd He was empowered to work miracles. Think about it; before an airliner takes off, the attendant tells you that if the plane gets into trouble you should secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others with theirs. After all, unless you’re getting enough oxygen, how can you help them? So, are your own needs being met? If not, it’s time to start taking care of yourself before you burn out. You can’t travel quietly through life hoping people will recognise when your plate is full. Speak up, or they’ll just keep pouring on more problems and responsibilities. Personal empowerment begins by taking control of your life. Overloaded people fail at marriage, ministry and management. They fail at parenting, partnership and personal endeavours. Like an airplane, if you carry too much baggage you won’t get off the ground. When you’re motivated by the need to please others or impress them, you’ll take on too much and fail to reach the heights God planned for you. Or you’ll crash because you ignored your limitations. Every situation that arises doesn’t warrant your attention! Was Jesus misunderstood when He dismissed the crowd? Probably. And you’ll have to make that same decision too. People who don’t recognise your needs and respect your goals will drain you, divert you, and keep you grounded. So what’s the answer? Give what you can, and learn when to say ‘enough!’

Share Your Life

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‘They shared everything they had.’ Acts 4:32 NIV

When you read the story of the New Testament Church, you tend to get caught up in its explosive growth and amazing miracles. But here’s a component you shouldn’t miss: ‘No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had… There were no needy persons among them…those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money…and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.’ (Acts 4:32–35 NIV) You say, ‘If I just had more money I’d be happy.’ You might feel more secure and have fewer worries, but you wouldn’t necessarily be happier. In the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers looked at what distinguished quite happy people from less happy people. One factor consistently separated those two groups. It’s not about how much money you have; it’s not about your health, security, attractiveness, IQ or career success. What distinguishes consistently happy people from less happy people is the presence of rich, deep, joy-producing, life-changing, meaningful relationships. Social researcher Robert Putnam writes: ‘The single most common finding from a half-century’s research on life satisfaction, not only in the U.S. but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.’ But you can know a lot of people without really being known by any of them, and end up lonely. Those folks in the New Testament Church got it right: it’s in sharing with one another spiritually, emotionally, financially and relationally that you achieve your highest level of joy.

The Cure for Spiritual Boredom

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‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.’ James 1:22 NKJV

Why does the Bible say, ‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only’? Because hearing without doing becomes boring—every time. You can get to the place where you’ve heard so much preaching and teaching that you say to yourself, ‘Oh no, not another sermon!’ The problem isn’t the Word; it’s that you’ve become oversaturated and spiritually numb. You’re bored because you aren’t putting it into practice and reaping the rewards of what you’ve heard. Jesus said, ‘If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’ (John 13:17 NKJV) Once you start doing what you’ve been told to do, you won’t have time to be bored. The phrase ‘hearers only’ is from the Greek noun akroates. Today we’d use it to describe students who sit in on a class just to hear the teaching, instead of taking any assessment or being graded. These folks weren’t interested in learning, passing exams, earning a degree and going out to make a difference in the world. They were there because they found it intellectually stimulating and they loved the excitement of being with the crowd. Often they followed their favourite teacher from one town to another; they loved new speakers, and when the class ended they’d get together to eat, drink, laugh and discuss what they’d heard. Mostly, they just wanted to look knowledgeable in each other’s eyes. Don’t let that happen to you. ‘Remember… knowing what is right to do and… not doing it is sin.’ (James 4:17 TLB) Open your heart to the truths you’ve heard preached and begin to put them to work in your life. When you do, rest assured you’ll never again suffer from spiritual boredom.

Control Your Anger!

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‘Don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Ephesians 4:26 NLT

Uncontrolled anger is like jumping into your car, revving the engine, and discovering too late that the brakes don’t work. The Bible says, ‘Be angry without sinning. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the devil any opportunity [to work].’ (Ephesians 4:26–27 GWT) Did you get that? Uncontrolled anger opens the door to Satan—and it’s all downhill from there! So before you say something you’ll regret and can’t take back, ask yourself: (1) Is the relief I’ll get from venting worth the aftermath? The Bible says, ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ (Proverbs 15:1 NIV) By sounding off, you run the risk of making the finest speech you’ll ever regret. By its very nature anger encourages exaggeration, and makes you say things you can’t retract. Long after you’ve moved on, harsh words maintain their power to wound and divide. (2) Is it really worth dragging other people into it? Anger inevitably affects those around you because it’s human to want to take sides, even if you’ve ‘no dog in the fight’. Involving other people is usually a way to feed your ego and justify bad behaviour. Don’t do it. (3) Is my anger appropriate? Anger over ignorance and injustice has always led to progress. But it’s easy to let small stuff like thoughtless comments and cranky kids make you overreact. For anger to have a healthy result it needs to be measured and constructive. Paul says, ‘The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.’ (Romans 8:6 NIV) It comes down to a control issue, and a controlled response is a Christlike response. It always wins.

Be a Mentor to a Fatherless Boy

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‘Defend the cause of the fatherless.’ Isaiah 1:17 NIV

In her book Mothers and Sons, Jean Lush talks about the challenge single mothers face in raising sons. Ages four to six are especially important and difficult. A boy at that age still loves his mother, but feels the need to gravitate towards a masculine image. If he has a father in the home, he’ll want to spend more time with his dad apart from his mother and sisters. So what advice can be given to a mother who’s raising a son alone? First, she must understand he has needs that she’s not best equipped to meet. Her best option is to recruit a man who can act as a role model to her son. Of course, good mentors can be difficult to find. Single mothers should consider friends, relatives or neighbours who can offer as little as an hour or two a month. Single mothers who belong to a church should be able to find support for their boys among the male members. Scripture commands people of faith to care for children without fathers: ‘Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.’ Jesus took boys and girls on His lap and said, ‘Whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.’ (Matthew 18:5 NIV) If you are a man and you have been asking God to use you in His service, this could be a real ministry opportunity for you. Think of the incredible potential of one small boy, and the privilege of helping to mould him into a man of God who fulfils the purposes of God during his lifetime. What a privilege!

Bringing Down Your Goliath

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‘I come…in the name of the Lord.’ 1 Samuel 17:45 NKJV

To bring down the ‘Goliath’ in your life, here are three things you must do: (1) You must stand up to him! Any problem you try to excuse or escape, you empower. After listening to Goliath’s threats every day, fear gripped the hearts of God’s people and they couldn’t stand up to him. (2) You must remember what God has already done for you. David recalled his victories over the lion and the bear. And you must do the same. Jeremiah said, ‘This I call to mind…therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.’ (Lamentations 3:21–23 NIV) The strength to deal with today’s struggles comes from remembering how God helped you solve yesterday’s struggles. (3) You must cut off the giant’s head. ‘David…took his sword…and cut off his head…And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.’ (1 Samuel 17:51 NKJV) You need to know your spiritual enemy, study his tactics, and be willing to fight with the same level of intensity as he does. You must take what you learn and apply it to his weak areas. And never assume he’s dead when he’s just dazed. If you do, he’ll sneak up on you another day. Go for a permanent solution, not a short–term fix: (1) fortify yourself with prayer (2) renew your mind with the Word of God (3) reach for the support that’s available to you through your spiritual family. Above all, remember your strength doesn’t lie in yourself, but in God. With Him on your side you’ll win every time.

Stop Being So Critical (5)

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‘Who are you to judge your neighbour?’ James 4:12 NIV

Nobody wants to spend time with someone who monopolises the conversation by updating them on their top-ten-people-to-criticise list. Staying home and watching old movie reruns is more appealing than going to that kind of party! It’s a hard truth to hear, but the people you need most are the ones who’ll avoid you when you become known as a fault-finder. Sometimes criticism is inadvertent; on a better day, led by God’s Spirit and focused on what’s positive, you’d never say such things. Notice what Aaron said: ‘We have acted foolishly.’ (Numbers 12:11 NAS) He didn’t try to defend his position by saying, ‘Yes, Moses did marry the wrong person,’ or ‘We deserve more of the limelight.’ No, he realised his mistake, repented, and retreated from it. And you must do that too. Why? Because criticism blocks the flow of God’s blessing in your life! Oswald Chambers wrote, ‘Whenever you’re in a critical temper, it’s impossible to enter into communion with God.’ Stop and ask yourself: ‘Is the momentary relief I get from criticising others worth losing my sense of God’s presence?’ To regain that sense of His presence you need to confess and forsake your critical attitude, then replace it with a more gracious and loving one. Today, get down on your knees and pray: ‘Lord, forgive me for thinking my perspective is always right. I acknowledge that as arrogance. Give me grace in dealing with others—the same grace I’ve received from You. Help me to accept our differences and not demand that everyone see things exactly as I do. Give me victory over my critical attitude. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’

Stop Being So Critical (4)

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‘If I were…trying to please men.’ Galatians 1:10 TLB

Some important observations: (1) Criticism is often ego-based. Oswald Chambers wrote, ‘Beware of anything that puts you in the place of the superior person.’ And that’s exactly what criticism does: it highlights you as the one who ‘knows’. Not only that, it gives you the satisfaction of shining the spotlight on others. People find it much harder to see your life when you’re shining the glaring light of criticism on theirs. When you live this way your attitude says, ‘If I can’t make it in this world by what I do, I’ll make it by knowing what you should do better.’ James writes, ‘These things ought not so to be.’ (James 3:10 KJV) And Paul writes, ‘Love each other…and take delight in honouring each other.’ (Romans 12:10 NLT) (2) Criticism can break hearts. Imagine how Moses felt when his brother and sister suddenly turned on him. Because the people closest to us know the details of our lives, we’re always vulnerable to their criticism. Sometimes as parents we leave our children’s lives in shambles by creating a home that’s rife with criticism. Maybe as you read these words you hear the voice of your harshest critic—a parent who constantly put you down. A parent whose words still ring in your memory: ‘You were never any good’; ‘You’ll never amount to anything.’ (3) How should you respond to criticism? Paul answers: ‘If I were…trying to please men, I would not be a…servant of Christ.’ (Galatians 1:10 NAS) Instead of listening to your critics, centre your attention on what God thinks of you and your life will take an upswing. In the final analysis, His is the only opinion that counts.

Stop Being So Critical (3)

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‘Take delight in honouring each other.’ Romans 12:10 NLT

Having a critical attitude may not destroy your relationship with God, but it’ll definitely hurt your capacity to experience His love, His presence and His blessing. Notice, it was God who smote Miriam with leprosy. She started out by criticising her brother Moses, and ended up feeling the consequences in her relationship with the Lord. Why? Because God pays attention to the way we treat each other! Maybe you’re wondering, ‘Why would God make such a big deal out of this?’ Because when you choose to sin, you choose to suffer. Everything God classifies as sin is hurtful to you—everything. When God says, ‘Don’t,’ what He really means is, ‘Don’t hurt yourself.’ And when He says, ‘Don’t criticise,’ He’s not trying to deprive you of satisfaction. He’s saying that having a critical attitude goes against who He made you to be, and what you’re called to do. Just as fish were made to swim and birds were made to fly, you were made to live in fellowship with God—and a critical spirit hinders that fellowship. Even people who don’t claim to be particularly religious are cognisant of the negative effects of criticism. Dr David Fink, author of Release from Nervous Tension, studied thousands of mentally and emotionally disturbed people. He worked with two groups: a stressed-out group and a stress-free one. Eventually one fact emerged: the stressed-out group was composed of habitual fault-finders and constant critics of people and things around them. On the other hand, the stress-free group was loving and accepting of others. There’s no doubt about it, the habit of criticising is a self-destructive way to live. Don’t go there.

Stop Being So Critical (2)

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‘Keep your tongue from speaking evil.’ 1 Peter 3:10 NLT

God dealt with Moses because of some of the mistakes he made. In fact, one of them kept him from entering the Promised Land. Nevertheless, God wouldn’t permit anybody else to criticise Moses—not even his sister Miriam. So what can you learn from this? (1) We’re all capable of harbouring a critical attitude. Miriam had great qualities. She saved Moses’ life as a child, and she wrote a song of praise Israel used to celebrate the crossing of the Red Sea. But she paid a high price for her critical attitude—leprosy. (2) When you’re resentful you become critical. ‘Miriam…began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife.’ (Numbers 12:1 NIVBut was that the real issue? No. ‘They said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?”’ (Numbers 12:2 NKJV) Moses’ wife was just a diversion; the real issue was Moses’ success. Their beef was: ‘How come he gets all the attention?’ (3) Anytime you succeed you’ll be criticised. The Bible says, ‘Moses was very humble’ (Numbers 12:3 NKJV), yet even he couldn’t escape the pain inflicted by self-appointed critics. And you’re no different; as long as you’re alive somebody will find fault with what you’re doing. Brush it off and keep going. (4) If you’ve been critical, you need to repent. When Aaron acknowledged, ‘We have acted foolishly…we have sinned’ (Numbers 12:11 NAS), God showed mercy and healed Miriam. Most of us would rather classify criticism as a weakness, but from God’s perspective it’s a genuine, bona fide, registered sin. And there’s only one way to deal with sin—repent and stop committing it.

Stop Being So Critical (1)

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‘The sin we have so foolishly committed.’ Numbers 12:11 NIV

When Miriam criticised her brother Moses because of the wife he chose, the Lord heard and she was smitten with leprosy. Maybe you grew up in a family that was forever finding fault, and now you hear the same tone in how you talk to your children. You can’t enjoy God’s blessings because you’ve been programmed to inspect, nitpick and form opinions—usually negative ones. The Bible says, ‘If you want to enjoy life and see…happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil.’ (1 Peter 3:10 NLT) The definition of the word ‘criticism’ (dwelling upon the perceived faults of another with no view to their good) should cause you to pause and think. First, there’s the word perceived. Often your perceptions aren’t accurate; there are always circumstances you don’t understand. Next we come to the words dwelling upon. We’re inclined to walk through life saying, ‘That’s not right,’ or ‘I wouldn’t do it that way.’ You say, ‘I’m an analytical person, it’s how God made me.’ That’s fine, but the problem comes when you choose to dwell on your observations—when you can’t set them aside. You say, ‘But how can I help somebody if I don’t dwell on what they’re doing?’ That’s why the last part of the definition—with no view to their good—is so important. It’s not wrong to dwell upon somebody’s faults, provided you do it in a non-judgmental way with a view to helping them find a solution. Does that mean it’s ok to discuss it with a third party? Only if you can end the conversation by saying, ‘Let’s pray about it, keep it in confidence, and try to help.’

Take Time to Rest and Sharpen

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‘Come with me…to a quiet place and get some rest.’ Mark 6:31 NIV

A competition was held between two men to see who could chop down the most trees in a single day. One man was older and more experienced, while the other was younger and less experienced. And that’s where the difference showed up. The younger man spent eight hours chopping down trees, and at the end of the day he had a total of twenty-five. Believing the older man lacked stamina and youth, he sat down, fully confident he would win. Meanwhile the older man, who had taken a ten-minute break each hour, ended his day by chopping down forty trees. In shock the younger man asked, ‘How is this possible, old man? I didn’t stop. You stopped every hour for ten minutes and yet you chopped down almost twice as many trees as I did.’ The older man replied, ‘Every hour I sat down for ten minutes and did two things. First, I took time to rest and recharge my batteries. Second, I took time to sharpen my axe. Yes, you were working hard but you were working with a dull axe.’ There’s an important lesson here for you. In order to succeed at what God has called you to do in life, you must always do these two things: (1) Make time for rest and renewal. You cannot always be giving out; you must also stop and take in. That’s where prayer and Bible reading come in: they restore what life depletes. (2) Stay sharp. When your axe is dull it requires more energy and produces fewer results. So take time to rest and sharpen.

When You Belittle, You Become Little

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‘Encourage…and build up one another.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NAS

Here are four questions you need to be able to answer: (1) Do people feel better about themselves after spending time with you? (2) Are your expectations so high that you focus on people’s shortcomings instead of their strengths? (3) When somebody speaks well of a person you don’t particularly like, do you feel the need to inject a disparaging remark? (4) Are you so insecure and lacking in self-worth that you only feel good about yourself by putting others down? Well, how did you do on the test? If you’re not four-for-four, it’s time to spend time with God in prayer and ask Him to help you change your attitude and what comes out of your mouth. Paul says, ‘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 NIV) Words are like hammers: they can be used to break down or build up. It all depends on the person swinging the hammer! It’s just as easy to be part of the construction crew as it is to be a member of the wrecking crew. Make a habit of encouraging your family and your friends. Let your wife know she’s the only woman in the world for you. Express appreciation for your husband’s care and sense of responsibility. Applaud your teenager for avoiding drugs and alcohol. Thank your friends for keeping your secrets! Accept people as they are, and resist the temptation to constantly ‘fix’ something about them—that’s God’s job, not yours. Remember, you only have them for a short time!

What Your Child Deserves (3)

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‘…that it may go well with you and your children…’ Deuteronomy 4:40 NIV

Sometimes we get scared because our kids remind us so much of ourselves. We see in them the same fears and proclivities that we have struggled with. We watch them veering off life’s highway in some of the same spots where we crashed and burned and it’s difficult not to want to save them. But sometimes we can’t. They’ve grown up with their own mindset, strengths and dreams. And if the parable of the prodigal son teaches us anything, it’s that good parents can raise children who are only capable of learning the hard way. So what can you do? Pray for them—and ‘be there’ when they return. Many a successful adult was once a prodigal saved by the prayers of a parent who refused to give up on them. If what you’re doing is taking you away from prayer time for your children, your priorities are wrong. There’s nothing more valuable than the time you spend before God interceding on their behalf. You say, ‘But I don’t know how to pray.’ Try this: ‘Father, I’m concerned about the direction my children are taking. Right now they seem beyond the reach of my voice and influence. But You can reach them. You can remind them of what they’ve been taught—and initiate the circumstances that will bring them back to You. Your Word says if I obey You, things will go well for me and my children (Deuteronomy 4:40). So I stand on Your promise, believing they’ll choose to serve You and walk in Your blessing for the rest of their lives. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.’

What Your Child Deserves (2)

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‘Bring them…so I may bless them.’ Genesis 48:9 NIV

Here are three more things your children deserve from you: (1) Forgive them, and be willing to ask for their forgiveness. By doing this you’re teaching them that: a) We must all deal with the consequences of our actions. And that when we do, we grow. b) Failing doesn’t make you a failure; it’s just part of learning and maturing. It comes with the turf. c) We should be quick to extend to others the same grace that has so often been extended to us. (2) Separate the baggage. One man became anxious and depressed as his son approached his twelfth birthday. Shortly after the boy’s birthday party, the father was thumbing through a photo album from his own childhood. That’s when it dawned on him that he was twelve when his father abandoned the family and then killed himself. Watching his son approach the same age made him afraid because it reopened old wounds—unhealed ones. A caring counsellor helped him regain his perspective and peace by helping him realise he was a very different man from his father, and he wasn’t about to abandon his family. (3) Bless them. ‘“They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”’ (Genesis 48:9 NIV) The principles you live by and the blessings you enjoy are meant to be passed on to your children and grandchildren. Whether it’s expressing what’s in your heart, or sending a note or email to say you’re proud of them, bless your children at every possible opportunity.

What Your Child Deserves (1)

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‘Children are a gift from the Lord.’ Psalm 127:3 NLT

Your children deserve certain things, like: (1) Time. Not leftover time at the end of the day, but prioritised time. If your life is ruled by a schedule and your children aren’t on it, do something—quickly. Otherwise there’ll come a day when you’re not included in their schedule. Simply watching television together for three hours won’t cut it; you must be ‘emotionally present’. Sometimes that means letting them see your fears and insecurities, even as they witness your delight and appreciation of them. (2) Openness. There’s so much our children can teach us about themselves, about ourselves, and about who God is. Once we realise we don’t have all the answers, we become open to allowing God to speak to us through our children. That kind of receptivity strengthens their faith, helps them remain teachable, and also keeps us young at heart. (3) Structure. It’s vital, during the formative years, to establish rules and maintain boundaries. Children need guidelines and a framework to feel secure. In the early years this includes things like having an established bedtime, then moving it back as they get older. This helps them understand that age brings freedom, but not all at once, because freedom brings responsibility and they’re not as ready to handle it as they think. Don’t try to be your child’s best friend or look to them to meet your emotional needs. Their shoulders aren’t broad enough to carry that load. Be confident in God, and in who you are. Seek outside encouragement from healthy sources. In short, strive to become the firm, gentle parent your child deserves.

‘Peace of Mind’

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‘I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind.’ John 14:27 NLT

You can control what goes on in your mind by filling it with God’s Word. Not the Word you read casually, but the Word you process mentally, apply to each situation that arises, and stand on in times of crisis because you know it’s your right to have the peace Jesus promised. Jesus corrected His disciples because they lost their peace of mind during a storm. He didn’t lose His. He was asleep in the back of the boat. So where are you today? Resting with Jesus in the back of the boat, or panicking with the others up front? Worry overwhelms you when you forget two things: (1) What the Lord has told you. Jesus said, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ (Mark 4:35 NIV) And once He spoke those words there wasn’t a wave big enough to sink them. Anytime you’re doing what God’s told you to do, you may go through storms but you won’t sink. (2) Who’s with you in the boat. The disciples thought they knew Jesus pretty well, but before the night was over they were asking, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!’ (Mark 4:41 NIV) Has it ever occurred to you that the storm you’re in right now has been permitted by God to show you that you don’t have a problem He can’t solve; that you’re not alone, and that through this experience you’ll come to know Him better? In the Amplified Bible the words of Jesus are translated like this: ‘Do not let your hearts be…distressed, agitated.’ (John 14:1 AMP) The only power worry has over you—is the power you give it.

A Faith Perspective

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‘Christ means everything to me in this life, and when I die I’ll have even more.’ Philippians 1:21 GWT

Roman prisons were terrible places. Offenders were stripped, flogged and placed in leg irons. Their blood-soaked clothing wasn’t changed even in the dead of winter. And the ‘inner cell’ (Acts 16:24 NIV) where Paul and Silas were imprisoned was the worst. Lack of water, cramped conditions and the stench of toilets (if that’s what you could call them) made sleep impossible. Prisoners routinely begged for death, and some even committed suicide. It was your worst nightmare! Yet ‘Paul and Silas were…singing…and the other prisoners were listening.’ (Acts 16:25 NIV) Paul’s attitude impressed his fellow inmates before his religious beliefs ever reached them. Let’s face it, anybody can sing in church, including hypocrites. But when you can praise God in the midst of pain, pressures, and problems—that’s something else. How did they do it? They had a faith perspective! It’s not what you have lost, but what you have left that counts! Paul didn’t just sing in prison, he wrote some of his best stuff there. Here’s his take on it: ‘…through my being in prison, the Lord has given most of our brothers and sisters confidence to speak God’s word more boldly and fearlessly than ever… I will speak very boldly and honour Christ… now as always, whether I live or die. Christ means everything to me in this life, and when I die I’ll have even more.’ (Philippians 1:19–21 GWT) What are you going to do with a man or woman like this? They’re beyond your threats. Their strength comes from a source that’s not diminished by outside circumstances. That’s because they have a faith perspective. And that’s what you need today too!

Today, Depend on God

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‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT

Hindrances, hang-ups, and hurdles are God’s gift to the self-sufficient. While He won’t let you use your weakness as a crutch or a cop-out, He’ll allow it to keep you dependent on Him. Paul wrote, ‘I was given a thorn…to…keep me from becoming proud.’ (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT) Why would God keep you in touch with your limitations? To embarrass you? No, to empower you so that you can do His will. God’s intention is to increase, not decrease your need for Him. Perhaps this illustration will help you. Imagine four steel rings. The first can support eighty kg, the second sixty kg, the third forty kg, and the fourth twenty kg. Linked together, what’s the greatest weight the chain can support? Two hundred kg? No, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so the answer is twenty kg! And it’s the same with us; we’re only as strong as our weakest area. That’s why we sometimes try to excuse or ignore them. But that’s dangerous because relying on your own strength may win you a few victories and accolades and cause you to think you can handle everything on your own. It was because Paul was so brilliant that God permitted difficult circumstances that kept him on his knees, living in a state of forced dependence. After praying repeatedly for God to take his weakness away, Paul finally came to the place where he could say, ‘I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV) So today, depend on God!

Today, Speak Words that Encourage

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‘You have… encouraged those who are weak or falling.’ Job 4:3 TLB

The Bible says, ‘…let us pursue what makes for… mutual upbuilding.’ (Romans 14:19 ESV) When Job was in trouble, his friend Eliphaz reminded him how in the past Job’s words had ‘encouraged those who were weak or falling.’ Words can hurt or heal, bless or blister, destroy or deliver, tear down or build up. ‘The tongue has the power of life and death.’ (Proverbs 18:21 NIV) Jon Walker writes: ‘You…the one with Jesus in your heart—are capable of murder. And so am I. We have the power to speak death with our words, and… the power to speak life. Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of a message meant to murder. “You’re not smart enough…thin enough…fast enough…good enough…a real Christian wouldn’t think such things.” In a world where people are beaten up and put down, God gives you superhero power to punch through the negativity. You speak life when you say, “You matter to me. I like you just the way you are… Your life counts. You were created for a purpose. God loves you, and you’re incredibly valuable to Him.” You can become the voice of God’s grace in the lives of others, supporting, loving, helping and encouraging them with the words that flow from your mouth.’ God wants us to encourage each other, but that doesn’t mean flattering or buttering people up. It means speaking words that help them to stay on their feet and keep going. What you say can give fresh hope to a friend, a relative, a neighbour, or a co-worker who’s about to collapse. What a gift!

Remember to Say Thank You

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‘ …be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.’ Titus 3:2 NIV

Gratitude comes with a host of benefits. It improves your heart rhythm, reduces stress, and helps you heal physically and think more clearly under pressure. It floods your body and brain with endorphins that strengthen and rejuvenate you. And like any muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it grows. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just take a walk and think about your blessings and it will set the tone for your day. The psalmist said, ‘Praise the Lord and do not forget all His kindnesses.’ (Psalm 103:2 NCV) God’s blessings operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Try this: When you sit down to eat, have everyone at the table name something they’re thankful for. There’s always something. An elderly lady at a nursing home said, ‘I thank you, Lord, for two good teeth, one upper and one lower. And I thank you that they meet!’ Psychologist Martin Seligman suggests sending a letter or email of gratitude to somebody, then visiting that person and reading it to them. People who say ‘thank you’ are measurably happier and less depressed. The CEO of Campbell Soup wrote over sixteen thousand thank–you notes to his employees, and energised the entire company in the process. Go ahead, encourage your friends and co-workers by letting them know you appreciate what they do. The Bible says, ‘…be peaceable and considerate.’ One author observes: ‘You have it in your power to increase the sum total of the world’s happiness by giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who’s lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you’ll forget the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them for a lifetime.’

Different Types of Prayer (2)

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‘Pray…with all [manner of] prayer.’ Ephesians 6:18 AMP

Here are three more types of prayer: (1) The prayer of petition. You must learn to be confident in asking God to meet your needs. Jesus promised, ‘Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.’ (Mark 11:24 NKJV) If we’d stop trying to impress God, we’d be a lot better off. Length, loudness or eloquence isn’t the issue; it’s the sincerity of our heart, the faith that’s in our heart, and the assurance that we’re praying according to God’s will that gets results. (2) The prayer of agreement. ‘All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer...’ (Acts 1:14 ESV) When you’re up against something too big to handle alone, find a prayer partner and get into agreement with them. This isn’t for people who constantly live in strife, then decide to agree because they’re desperate. God honours the prayers of those who pay the price to live together in harmony (See Psalm 133:1) (3) The prayer of thanksgiving. When your prayers outnumber your praises, it says something about your character. Self-centred people ask, but rarely appreciate. God won’t release us into the fullness of all He has planned for us until we become thankful for what we’ve already received. Petition avails much; praise avails much more! ‘In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (Philippians 4:6 NIV) Powerful living comes through thanksgiving. We can literally ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV) by being thankful all day long, praising God for His favour, mercy, loving kindness, grace, longsuffering and goodness.

Different Types of Prayer (1)

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‘Pray…with all [manner of] prayer.’ Ephesians 6:18 AMP

In Scripture there are many different kinds of prayer. Let’s look at some of them and see what we can learn: (1) The prayer of surrender. When Paul met Christ on the Damascus Road he prayed, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ (Acts 9:6 NKJV) That’s like signing your name to a blank cheque and saying, ‘Here I am, Lord, do with me as You please. I hope I like what You choose, but even if I don’t, I’ll do it anyway; Your will be done, not mine.’ You’re deciding to voluntarily follow God rather than trying to get Him to follow you. As a result He will do the work that needs to be done in you, so that He can do the work He desires to do through you. (2) The prayer of commitment. The Bible says, ‘Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him.’ (1 Peter 5:7 AMP) As long as you keep trying to control everything, your stress levels will keep mounting. But once you learn to hand things over to God, you’ll wonder why you spent even a single day worrying. (3) The prayer of intercession. The prophet Ezekiel writes, ‘I looked for someone…who would…stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land.’ (Ezekiel 22:30 NIV) ‘The gap’ is the distance between what is— and what can be. And when there’s a ‘gap’ in someone’s relationship with God due to a particular sin, as a believer you have the privilege (and responsibility) of placing yourself in that gap and praying for them.

Billy

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‘God… chose things the world considers foolish.’ 1 Corinthians 1:27 NLT

Writing about his time at a teen Bible camp, a counsellor tells this story: ‘Teenage boys have a tendency to pick on some unfortunate child. That summer it was 13-year-old Billy, a child who couldn’t walk or talk right. When the children from his cabin were assigned to lead devotions, they voted Billy in as the speaker. It didn’t seem to bother him. He dragged himself up to the pulpit amid sneers and snickers, and it took him a long time to stammer, “Je–sus loves…me… and…I…love Je–sus.” There was stunned silence, and when I looked around there were boys with tears streaming down their cheeks. We’d done many things to try to reach these boys, but nothing had worked. We’d even brought in famous baseball players whose batting averages had gone up since they started praying, but it had no effect. It wasn’t until a special needs child declared his love for Christ that everything changed. I travel a lot and it’s surprising how often I meet people who say, “You probably don’t remember me. I became a Christian at a camp where you were a counsellor, and do you know what the turning point was for me?” I never have to ask. I always know I’m going to hear—Billy!’ The Bible says, ‘God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.’ (1 Corinthians 1:27 NLT) So when you find yourself focusing on what you can’t do, remember His ‘power works best in [your] weakness.’(2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT) Just do what you can, and God will do the rest! He’ll crown your efforts with success.

You’ll Ask God to Bless Them

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‘Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us.’ Ephesians 5:2 NKJV

Walking in love and forgiveness is difficult on several fronts. (1) It goes against your carnal nature. (2) There’s a chance others may never know you forgave the offence. (3) Your heart could break as you watch God bless the offender in answer to your prayers, as if they’d never sinned against you in the first place. John Calvin pointed out that praying like this ‘is exceedingly difficult’, and early Church theologian John Chrysostom called it ‘the highest summit of self-control’. The Bible says Job’s suffering ended and his prosperity was restored once he was able to pray for those who’d become a thorn in his side (Job 42:10). When you pray this way you put into practice the words of Jesus in His famous Sermon on the Mount: ‘But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.’ (Matthew 5:44–45 NKJV) That’s Christ’s standard of forgiveness, and it’s a high one. Maybe you’re wondering how anybody could possibly live that way. Look at the life and death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Even while his enemies were stoning him, he prayed, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ (Acts 7:60 NIV) Therein lay one of the secrets of Stephen’s great effectiveness. True forgiveness is the medicine that heals the deepest emotional wounds. It closes the door on the past, and gives you grace and motivation to move forward and enjoy the life God wants you to live.

You’ll Walk in Forgiveness

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‘He spoke very kindly to them, reassuring them.’ Genesis 50:21 TLB

Seventeen years after being reunited with Joseph, his long lost son, Jacob died and Joseph’s brothers panicked. They started to think, ‘Now Joseph will pay us back for all the evil we did to him.’ (Genesis 50:15 TLB) So they got together, made up a story, and sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: “Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you.”’ (Genesis 50:16–17 NLT) Now think about it. If their father really had said this, he wouldn’t have told Joseph’s brothers, he’d have told Joseph himself, right? He wouldn’t have gone to his grave with the fear that Joseph might exact revenge. When Joseph heard that his brothers doubted his forgiveness he called them together and wept, saying, ‘“Don’t be afraid…I myself will take care of you and your families.”…And he spoke very kindly to them, reassuring them.’ (Genesis 50:21 TLB) True forgiveness, the kind that’s taught in Scripture, is a commitment you must practise every day of your life. People need loving the most, when they deserve it the least. No one ever said it would be easy. If Jesus had waited until His enemies repented, He’d never have prayed on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ (Luke 23:34 NKJV) Sure, it’s easier to forgive when others acknowledge their offence. But if that’s a prerequisite, you may never experience victory! And what you don’t forgive—you have to relive! So for your own sake forgive, take back your life, and begin walking in the blessing of the Lord.

You’ll Protect Them

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‘You shall be near to me…and…I will provide for you.’ Genesis 45:10-11 NKJV

Not only did Joseph forgive his brothers, he protected them from their worst nightmare—having to go back and tell their ageing father what they’d done twenty-two years earlier. Joseph is a step ahead of them; he tells them what to say and what not to say: ‘Go up to my father, and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph: ‘God has made me lord of all Egypt; come…You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near to me, you and your children…I will provide for you.’”’ (Genesis 45:9–11 NKJV) You say, ‘I think they should have been forced to confess what they’d done.’ No, that would have given their father, Jacob, an even greater burden to bear—struggling with regret over his lost years with Joseph, not to mention having to fight bitterness towards his other sons. Joseph was wise. And it made his brothers respect him all the more. There’s a big difference between confessing and ‘dumping’. Irreparable damage can be done when you try to get relief by dumping the details of your guilt on somebody who can’t handle them. Sometimes confessing is the proper route, but only after talking with an experienced counsellor. After David sinned with Bathsheba he wrote, ‘Against You [God], You only, have I sinned.’ (Psalm 51:4 NKJV) When you consider that God knows all about your sin yet promises to keep it a closely guarded secret, it should: (1) increase your sense of humility and gratitude; (2) cause you to keep your mouth shut; (3) make you refuse to hold anybody else’s sins and shortcomings over their head.

You’ll Preserve Their Dignity and Self-Worth

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‘Be full of love for others.’ Ephesians 5:2 TLB

Imagine how Joseph’s brothers felt when he said, ‘It was not you who sent me here, but God.’ (Genesis 45:8 NKVJ) Is he serious? God did it? This is a new level of forgiveness! When we recognise the hand of God in our lives we see He wants us to preserve the dignity and self-worth of others because He’s already done it for us! With full knowledge of our sinful past, He covers us with the garment of grace. And He expects us to do the same for others. As you read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew chapter one, you might think the sin of adultery between David and Bathsheba was part of the divine strategy all along. No, sin never is, and David paid a high price. Yet the Bible records these events as though they were supposed to have happened in just that way. The Bible says, ‘Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave Himself to God as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased.’ (Ephesians 5:2 TLB) When you truly forgive, there’s no place for self-righteousness. You’re able to forgive because: (1) you remember what you yourself have been forgiven of; (2) you acknowledge what you’re capable of; (3) you see God’s hand at work in the bigger picture. Joseph wasn’t being condescending or patronising, nor was he thinking, ‘I’ll be admired for being so gracious.’ No, during his years in prison God had moved on his heart and changed his attitude. So when Joseph said, ‘You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good’ (Genesis 50:20 NKJV), he really meant it! That kind of response takes forgiveness to a whole new level!

You Won’t Lay a Guilt Trip on Them

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‘Don’t be angry with yourselves.’ Genesis 45:5 TLB

Joseph told his brothers, ‘Don’t be angry with yourselves that you did this to me… God has sent me here to keep you and your families alive, so that you will become a great nation.’ (Genesis 45:5–7 TLB) When are we most likely to lay a guilt trip on others? When we’ve forgotten the grace we ourselves received from God. A right perspective on God’s providence helps us realise that ‘for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those… called according to His purpose.’ (Romans 8:28 ESV) Often we forget the grace and forgiveness God extends to us, expecting us to forgive others in turn! Paul wrote, ‘I…wasted [the Church].’ (Galatians 1:13 KJV) He uses a mafia term for killing people. Now he goes back to those same towns and preaches, and who’s in the audience? The widows and orphans! If Paul hadn’t learned to receive God’s grace he could never have fulfilled God’s will. Some ancient societies punished murderers by strapping the victim to their back. Paul may have had this in mind when he wrote, ‘Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ (Romans 7:24 NKJV) Nothing is heavier than unresolved guilt. It will: (1) Drag you down. (2) Cause you to leave a bad taste wherever you go. Even your friends will become exhausted and say, ‘Get over it.’ (3) Destroy your relationships. Who wants to be around someone who’s obsessed with a corpse? You’d only be using the new relationship to numb the pain of the old one. (4) Destroy your health, because you aren’t built to carry resentment. Cut it loose! Somebody said, ‘Everyone should have a special cemetery lot in which to bury the faults of friends and loved ones.’ Grieve if you need to—then bury it and move on!

You Won’t Try to Intimidate Them

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‘You did not receive a spirit…to fear, but…of sonship.’ Romans 8:15 NIV

Joseph’s brothers ‘were…stunned with surprise. “Come over here,” he said. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt! But don’t be angry with yourselves that you did this to me, for God did it!”’ (Genesis 45:3–5 TLB) You’ll notice that Joseph didn’t react the way we so often do when someone hurts us. He didn’t: (1) distance his brothers; (2) enjoy watching them squirm; (3) practise one-upmanship; (4) gloat and say ‘gotcha!’; (5) remind them of how they’d put him down and despised his dreams; (6) demand they acknowledge that he was right and they were wrong; (7) say, ‘I told you so!’ No, Joseph knew at the heart of the matter was God’s sovereign purposes being accomplished—even through the evil deeds of his brothers. Having the right view of God’s providence freed Joseph and allowed him to seek love from his brothers, not fear—restoration in place of revenge. He knew the long-term benefits of healing a relationship far outweighed any short-term satisfaction you get from retaliation. The Bible also says, ‘You did not receive a spirit…to fear, but…the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”’ The word ‘Abba’ is a term of endearment which means ‘Daddy’. God doesn’t bring up your past, or keep you at arm’s length because of your failures. He wants you to know you can come to Him at any time, know that you’re accepted, feel secure in His presence, and call Him ‘Daddy’. And that’s the kind of love He wants you to show to others—a love that doesn’t want them to feel afraid in your presence.

You Won’t Talk About It

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‘You meant evil…but God meant it for good.’ Genesis 50:20 NKJV

Twenty-two years after selling Joseph into slavery, his brothers now stand before him as prime minister of Egypt. They don’t recognise him, and he holds their fate in his hands. If you’d been in his shoes, what would you have done? Got even? Reminded them of their past offences? For the next few days, let’s look at what Joseph did: he kept it to himself. ‘There was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers.’ (Genesis 45:1 NIV) Joseph made sure no one in Egypt would ever know what they’d done to him. And isn’t that how God treats us? The fact is He has enough on each of us to bury us, yet He refuses to resurrect our past sins. So why do we? To punish! ‘Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.’ (1 John 4:18 NIV) What are we afraid of? That they’ll get away with it. We want them punished, so we tell everybody what happened. And when we do: (1) We play God! God says, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ (Romans 12:19 KJV) He alone knows the weakness in your offenders that caused them to hurt you, and whether they’ve repented and changed. (2) We set the standard by which we ourselves will be judged. ‘You will be judged in the same way that you judge others.’ (Matthew 7:2 NCV) If that’s a truth you’re not comfortable with: ‘Get rid of all bitterness…Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God…has forgiven you.’ (Ephesians 4:31–32 NLT) When you’ve been wronged, ‘forgive and forbear’ is the right response!

Through Christ, You Can Conquer Your Habit

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‘…let God transform you…by changing the way you think.’ Romans 12:2 NLT

Let’s say you’re trying to lose weight, but you love doughnuts. How can you overcome temptation? By repeating, ‘I must not eat doughnuts, I must not eat doughnuts, I must not eat doughnuts’? No, the more you think about doughnuts, the more you’re going to want them. Instead you must focus on something else (or someone else—Jesus!) who can help you overcome the temptation. Your problem is not in the doughnut shop, it’s in your mind. That’s where victory is won or lost. Paul writes: ‘Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.’ (Romans 12:1–2 NLT) You can lock yourself up in a room and still think about doughnuts. On the other hand, you can get your mind on Jesus, draw strength from Him, and drive victoriously past every doughnut shop in town. The same principle applies to any habit you want to break and any sin you want to conquer. Does victory come easily or overnight? No, Satan tempted Jesus repeatedly in the wilderness, and he’ll keep tempting you until he realises his strategies no longer work. ‘Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.’ (Matthew 4:11 NKJV) Through Christ, you can conquer your habit.

Be Gentle

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‘I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ Matthew 11:29 NLT

Jesus said, ‘I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ We’d all be a lot better off if people like Jesus ran the world, because those who aren’t gentle are making a real mess of things! Francis de Sales said, ‘Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing so gentle as real strength.’ Just as you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, people respond more readily to gentleness than aggressiveness. The famous football coach, John Wooden, told the following story: ‘My dad, Joshua Wooden, was a strong man in one sense, but a gentle man. He could lift heavy things men half his age couldn’t, but he would also read poetry to us each night after a day working in the fields raising corn, hay, wheat, tomatoes, and watermelons. We had a team of mules named Jack and Kate on our farm. Kate would often get stubborn and lie down on me when I was ploughing. I couldn’t get her up no matter how roughly I treated her. Dad would see my predicament and walk across the field until he got close enough to say, “Kate.” Then she would get up and start working again. He never touched her in anger. It took me a long time to understand that even a stubborn mule responds to gentleness.’ When the Bible speaks of humility and meekness, it’s not speaking of weakness. Meekness means ‘power under control’. An unbroken horse is useless; an overdose of medicine kills rather than cures; wind out of control destroys everything in its path. Jesus was powerful but He was gentle. And you are called to follow in His footsteps (1 Peter 2:21).

Your Quiet Time with God (4)

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‘I have…treasured His words more than daily food.’ Job 23:12 NLT

Your quiet time with God is more than just a good idea, it’s vital to your spiritual survival. It’s also essential to your spiritual growth and maturity. You say, ‘But I go to church every week.’ Can you imagine what would happen if you ate only once a week? The patriarch Job said, ‘I have…treasured His words more than daily food.’ Peter described the Scriptures as nourishing milk (1 Peter 2:2), and the writer to the Hebrews called the Word of God solid food (Hebrews 5:14). Your quiet time is also like a spiritual bath. Jesus said, ‘You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you.’ (John 15:3 NKJV) You shower every day to stay clean and avoid body odours. It’s not easy to be around someone who smells badly, and you run the risk of offending them by telling them so. But if you love them you’ll do it. Paul describes the Christian as: ‘…the aroma of Christ to God.’ (2 Corinthians 2:15 ESV) Here’s the bottom line. Unless you protect your quiet time with God: (1) you’ll be cut off from your source of strength, guidance, and wisdom; (2) your usefulness to God will be limited; (3) you’ll be inconsistent in your Christian life. You say, ‘But I don’t have time!’ You have the same 168 hours each week that everybody else has! And how you spend them is determined by what you think is most important. So if you think being in fellowship with God is important, begin to make time for it.

Your Quiet Time with God (3)

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‘He went out into the mountains to pray, and prayed all night.’ Luke 6:12 TLB

Why do you need a quiet time with God each day? Because Jesus did, and He’s your example: ‘He was up long before daybreak and went…to pray.’ (Mark 1:35 TLB) The truth is, we make time for what we value most, for the people we love most, for our highest priorities, and what we find most rewarding. Notice, Jesus seldom prayed for anybody in public. Why? Because He’d already done His praying before He got there! He made deposits each morning so that He could make withdrawals all day long. And the busier He got, the more He prayed. Did He know something we don’t? Jesus had no difficulty choosing between the crowd’s agenda and His Father’s will. ‘I can do nothing on My own. I judge as God tells Me. Therefore, My judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the One who sent Me.’ (John 5:30 NLT) Why do spiritual leaders sometimes fall? Because they get caught up in the work of the Lord and neglect their relationship with Him. Throughout history, anyone who has been greatly used by God was a person of prayer. Martin Luther said, ‘I have so much to do that I must spend the first three hours each day in prayer.’ Ceaseless activity will drain you and leave you vulnerable to Satan’s attack. The sign on a church bulletin board says it all: ‘Seven prayerless days make one weak Christian.’ So the busier you become, the more time you need to spend with God. Simply stated: if you’re too busy to have a quiet time with God, you’re too busy!

Your Quiet Time with God (2)

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‘…it is for Your pleasure that they exist and were created.’ Revelation 4:11 NLT

Did you know: (1) God created you for His own pleasure and His greater glory. He also saved you ‘both to will and to work for His good pleasure.’ (Philippians 2:13 ESV) Your attitude towards quiet time with God will be transformed when you realise this. Time spent with God brings Him great pleasure, honour and glory. He waits for you and welcomes you into His presence—He knows how much benefit you will receive from Him. (2) The cross is what made this relationship possible. When Adam sinned, God drove him from the Garden of Eden and placed angels with swords at its entrance so that mankind could never re-enter. Then God did something truly amazing; He took on human form, lived among us, died in our place, and was cut down by the sword of divine judgment at the cross, providing us with a way back into His presence. Wonderful, isn’t it? In the Old Testament only one man, the high priest, could go into the Holy of Holies. And he could only do it one day a year. A thick veil separated God from the people. They stood outside wondering what God’s voice sounded like, what His presence felt like and what His glory looked like. Only the high priest knew. But when Jesus cried, ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30 NKJV), the Bible says, ‘The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.’ (Mark 15:38 NKJV) Now, as ‘priests unto God’ we can come into His presence at any time and meet with Him (Revelation 1:6 KJV). What a privilege! Grace makes it possible. And gratitude should be the magnet that draws you there each day.

Your Quiet Time with God (1)

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‘Seek first the Kingdom of God.’ Matthew 6:33 NKJV

Jesus said, ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.’ What kind of ‘things’ was He talking about? Things like money, houses, relationships, health and jobs. What did He mean by ‘the Kingdom of God’? Living under the rule of Christ each moment and submitting to His will in all things. When Jesus used the word ‘seek’, He called for three things: (1) Intentionality. When something important is lost, you must put aside other things and seek until you find it. (2) Importance. Position, performance, prosperity, and popularity can be good things when properly used. But without the rule of Christ in your life, you’ll always be vulnerable to the devil. (3) Importunity. No matter how long it takes, how hard you must work, or what you must rearrange, restore your quiet time with God to its rightful place. The psalmist wrote, ‘When You said, “Seek My face,” My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”’ (Psalm 27:8 NKJV) ‘Quiet time’ has been called many things throughout the history of the Church: morning watch, daily devotions, appointment with God or personal devotional time. It really doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you have it regularly. Your quiet time with God is just daily fellowship with Him through His Word and prayer. It’s a time you deliberately set aside to meet with Him. The goal is that you might grow in your personal relationship with God so that you can know Him, love Him, serve Him and become more like Him.

Don’t Be Cynical

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‘If you love someone, you will…always believe in him.’ 1 Corinthians 13:7 TLB

There are very few monuments erected to sceptics. That’s because instead of building people up, they tear them down. David’s older brother Eliab was like that. Here’s his story. When nobody else in Saul’s army, including Eliab—who was a general—was willing to take on Goliath, David volunteered to go out and fight this ‘uncircumcised Philistine.’ (1 Samuel 17:36 KJV) In Bible times circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant of protection and provision for the Israelites. And David knew this bully had no such relationship with God; only the Israelites could claim such a benefit. As a result, David was very secure in the covenant, and embraced God’s promise. Obviously this wasn’t the case for Eliab. His ‘anger burned against David and he said: “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart; for you have come down in order to see the battle.”’ (1 Samuel 17:28 NAS) Interestingly, the name Eliab means ‘God is my Father’, so Eliab not only represents secular cynics, but Christian ones too. Yes, we have them in the Church! All it takes is one sceptical member and soon all those with weaker faith, or no faith at all, start chiming in and perpetuating the negativity. Beware: cynicism can wreak havoc in any relationship and environment. That’s why the Bible says, ‘How blessed is the man who does not… sit in the seat of scoffers.’ (Psalm 1:1 NAS) Think twice before sitting down in that seat. If you stay there too long you may not be able to get up again!

You’ve Been Forgiven, So Live Like It!

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‘I will…remember their sins no more.’ Hebrews 8:12 NIV

When an accusing voice confronts you with your past, respond in the manner Jesus did—It is written: ‘I will… remember their sins no more.’ It’s not that God’s forgetful; it’s that He chooses not to remember your sins. And when you choose otherwise, you question His forgiveness, allow the enemy to guilt-trip you, and forfeit the confidence you need to receive what God has promised you (See 1 John 3:21–22). When you keep rehearsing your past you not only keep it alive, you empower it. What you keep on deposit, you’re more likely to withdraw and act on in a moment of weakness. Just as nobody knows when a dormant volcano may erupt, you can’t predict when an unresolved issue will resurface, turning your words into hot coals and your behaviour into a blaze of destruction. Only by the power of God’s forgiveness, and by forgiving others, is the hold your past has over you broken. Shame isn’t a blessing; it’s a weight Jesus bore for you on the cross. So set it down and walk away! God’s Word says, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.’ (Psalm 103:12 NKJV) Notice, there’s a North Pole and a South Pole, but no east or west pole. Why? Because that distance is infinite and beyond measure. Are you getting the idea? Whenever you are reminded of past sin, the enemy hopes you’re ignorant of the truth in order to rob you of your future. Don’t take the bait! Instead look to the cross of Christ, refuse to dwell on it further, and keep moving forward.

Strengthen Your Marriage

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‘Husbands… be considerate.’ 1 Peter 3:7 NIV ‘Wives… be…worthy of respect.’ 1 Timothy 3:11 NIV

A couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary was asked the secret to their success. The husband replied, ‘The day we got married we agreed that if an argument arose I’d go out and stand on the porch until I cooled off. And it worked like a charm; fifty years of being outdoors in all that fresh air was exactly what this relationship needed!’ If you’ve been spending too much time out on the porch, here are three ways to strengthen your marriage: (1) Commitment— ‘You’re first.’ Speaking those words on special occasions is easy, but you need to speak them seven days a week. A film star who’d been through several failed marriages told an interviewer, ‘I’ve given up trying to find the right person. Now I’m working at becoming the right person.’ That formula always works! (2) Concern— ‘What do you need?’ Husbands and wives are as different as chalk and cheese. And to complicate things further, their needs change according to the season of life they’re in. So when you ask, ‘How are you today?’ slow down and listen. Your wife may not want you to solve the problem, but to share it. Closeness in marriage isn’t an accident: it’s a decision you make, and keep making every day. (3) Coping— ‘We can work it out.’ Marriage may alleviate the problem of loneliness, but it presents the challenge of getting along with another person. It teaches you that you can’t always avoid conflict, but you can make it work for you. The truth is, unless there are two winners in a marriage, there are none at all.

Take Time to Rest and Sharpen

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‘Come with me…to a quiet place and get some rest.’ Mark 6:31 NIV

A competition was held between two men to see who could chop down the most trees in a single day. One man was older and more experienced, while the other was younger and less experienced. And that’s where the difference showed up. The younger man spent eight hours chopping down trees, and at the end of the day he had a total of twenty-five. Believing the older man lacked stamina and youth, he sat down, fully confident he would win. Meanwhile the older man, who had taken a ten-minute break each hour, ended his day by chopping down forty trees. In shock the younger man asked, ‘How is this possible, old man? I didn’t stop. You stopped every hour for ten minutes and yet you chopped down almost twice as many trees as I did.’ The older man replied, ‘Every hour I sat down for ten minutes and did two things. First, I took time to rest and recharge my batteries. Second, I took time to sharpen my axe. Yes, you were working hard but you were working with a dull axe.’ There’s an important lesson here for you. In order to succeed at what God has called you to do in life, you must always do these two things: (1) Make time for rest and renewal. You cannot always be giving out; you must also stop and take in. That’s where prayer and Bible reading come in: they restore what life depletes. (2) Stay sharp. When your axe is dull it requires more energy and produces fewer results. So take time to rest and sharpen.

Be Willing to Let God Mold You

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‘…as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand…’ Jeremiah 18:6 NKJV

Henry Poppen, one of China’s first missionaries, spent forty years telling its people about the love of Jesus and how He died to take away their sin. One day, after he had finished speaking, a man approached him and said, ‘We know this Jesus! He’s been here.’ Dr Poppen explained how that wasn’t possible because Jesus had lived and died long ago in a country far from China. ‘Oh no,’ the man insisted, ‘He died here. I can even show you his grave.’ He led Dr. Poppen outside the city to a cemetery where an American was buried. There, inscribed on a crumbling gravestone was the name of a medical doctor who felt called by God to live and die among the people of this remote Chinese village. And when its people heard Dr Poppen describe the attributes of Jesus—His mercy, His love, His kindness, His willingness to forgive—they remembered the missionary doctor. God will use you when you’re willing to become ‘clay in the potter’s hand’. Clay has no aspirations; it’s mouldable, pliable and completely subject to the potter’s will. Henry Blackaby says: ‘When God’s assignment demands humility, He finds a servant willing to be humbled. When it requires zeal, He looks for someone He can fill with His Spirit. God uses holy vessels, so He finds those who’ll allow Him to remove their impurities. It’s not a noble task being clay. There’s no glamour to it, nothing boast–worthy, except it’s exactly what God’s looking for.’

Acknowledge Your Mistakes

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‘…he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.’ Proverbs 15:32 NKJV

In spite of his faults, flaws and failures, God called David ‘…a man after My own heart…’ (Acts 13:22 NKJV) And one of the qualities that made David great was his willingness to acknowledge his mistakes. Here were two instances of it: (1) When fleeing the wrath of King Saul, he sought the help of a certain priest—a decision that caused Saul to order the death of eighty–five priests and their families. Devastated but not defensive, David told the surviving son of the slain priest who had assisted him, ‘…I have caused the death of all your father’s family.’ (1 Samuel 22:22 NLT) Can you imagine taking responsibility for such a tragic consequence? (2) When the prophet Nathan confronted him about his affair with Bathsheba and his attempt to cover up her resulting pregnancy by having her husband killed, David acknowledged, ‘…I have sinned against the Lord…’ (2 Samuel 12:13 NLT) Would you have the emotional and spiritual maturity to make such an admission? Or do you have a tendency to defend your actions for fear of being judged, criticised or rejected? Do you sometimes feel attacked when someone offers feedback, whether it is positive or negative? Do you retreat in silence? Do you counter–accuse or blame your attacker? Do you make hostile comments? Do you become sarcastic? Making mistakes doesn’t make you a lesser person, but defending them does. Don’t let pride rob you of the wisdom that comes from acknowledging your mistakes and ultimately growing through them. ‘He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.’ This New Year’s Day, settle your guilt and mistakes with the Lord. Time to start over, anew.

God’s Forgiveness, Mercy and Grace (2)

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‘Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”‘ Psalm 3:2 NIV

Regardless of how badly you have failed or how often you have failed—God won’t give up on you. So don’t give up on yourself! Nothing you’ve done is beyond the scope of His grace. Others may give up on you, but not God. King David fell as low as a person can get. He was guilty of adultery, deception and murder—all major offences. But God forgave and restored him. He writes about it in two psalms. In the first psalm he writes: ‘Many are saying of me, God will not deliver him. But You, Lord, are a shield around me, O Lord; You bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and He answers me from His holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side… From the Lord comes deliverance.’ (Psalm 3:2–7 NIV) Later on in the psalms he writes: ‘…He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.’ (Psalm 40:1–3 NIV) And the God who turned David’s greatest mess into a message, and his greatest test into a testimony, will do the same for you when you turn to Him and receive His forgiveness, mercy and grace.

God’s Forgiveness, Mercy, and Grace (1)

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‘…perfect love expels all fear…’ 1 John 4:18 NLT

God cares about you too much to leave you in any doubt about His love. The Bible says His ‘perfect love expels all fear.’ If God loved us with an imperfect love, we’d have cause to worry. Human love is flawed; it keeps a checklist of our sins and shortcomings—and consults it often. God keeps no such list. His love casts out our fear because it casts out our guilt. John writes, ‘…if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart…’ (1 John 3:20 NKJV) When you feel unforgiven, question your feelings but don’t question God. Go back to His Word; it outranks self–criticism and self–doubt. Nothing fosters confidence like a clear grasp of God’s grace, and nothing fosters fear like ignorance of it. The fact is if you haven’t accepted God’s grace, you’re doomed to live in fear. No pill, pep talk, psychiatrist or earthly possession can put your mind at ease. Those things may help numb your fear, but they can’t eradicate it. Only God’s grace can do that. Have you accepted Christ’s forgiveness? If not, get down on your knees and do it now. The Bible says, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us…and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9 NKJV) The place of confession is also the place of cleansing and restored confidence towards God. Your prayer can be as simple as this: ‘Lord, I admit I’ve turned away from You. Please forgive me. I place my soul in Your hands and my trust in Your grace. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.’ Now, having received God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace—live like it!

Always Keep a Good Attitude

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‘…meditate on these things…and the God of peace will be with you.’ Philippians 4:8-9 NKJV

When you’re going through bad times, your goal should be to keep a good attitude. And with God’s help you can. Dr Viktor Frankl, a Nazi Holocaust camp survivor, said: ‘If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life—an invaluable op-portunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS was unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him to adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.’ Here is some practical advice on keeping a good attitude in bad times: (1) Always believe the best about others, but don’t get bent out of shape when they disappoint you. Nobody is perfect, including you. Just be grateful for the people that bring joy and endeavour to be counted among them. (2) When you are tempted to retaliate, judge or become impatient, say to yourself, ‘This is an opportunity for me to model a great attitude for the glory of God.’ You say, ‘But this person is driving me crazy.’ Then refuse to be a ‘passenger’ and go along with them. Take back the wheel, get into the driver’s seat of your life, and determine which direction you’ll go and what attitude you’ll have. The Bible says: ‘…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things…and the God of peace will be with you.

Find People Who Believe in You

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‘Carry each other’s burdens…’ Galatians 6:2 NIV

Mark Twain said, ‘Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.’ Why does the Bible say, ‘Carry each other’s burdens’? Because one person can only carry a burden so far on their own. American novelist John Kennedy Toole quickly discovered that. As a young writer he worked alone writing a novel in New Orleans. When it was finished he sent it to publisher after publisher, but they all turned him down. Overcome by rejection, he took his own life. Some time after the funeral, his mother found a coffee–stained manuscript in the attic and took it to a professor at Louisiana State University who agreed to read it. Immediately he recognised its genius and recommended it to a major publisher. After its release, John Kennedy Toole’s novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, won a Pulitzer Prize and was heralded as one of the major novels of the twentieth century. If only he’d surrounded himself with friends who knew how to share his burden, encourage him when he faced rejection and motivate him to keep going, his life would have turned out very differently. So the word for you today is—‘Find people who believe in you.’ Encourage and support them, and welcome their support in return. Spend more time with those who sharpen you and make you better, and less time with those who drain your energy, time and talent. The truth is, friends who speak encouragement into your life are priceless. Their words are ‘Like apples of gold in settings of silver…’ (Proverbs 25:11 NIV)

Give God His Tithe (4)

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‘…those who fear Him lack nothing.’ Psalm 34:9 NIV

There are three kinds of givers: the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get even a spark from a flint you have to hammer it. To get anything out of a sponge you have to squeeze it. But a honeycomb just overflows with sweetness. Which kind of giver would you like to be? The Psalmist writes, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him…for those who fear Him lack nothing.’ (Psalm 34:8–9 NIV) Tithing is an act of worship. Of the 100 to 110 hours you’re awake each week, one–third to one–half generally involve earning money. So when you give God your money, you’re giving Him your brain, your brawn and yourself. When you go to the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day, partake of the Lord’s Supper and put the Lord’s tithe into the Lord’s treasury, it’s an act of profound worship. Now, let’s be clear: a God who paves Heaven’s streets with gold isn’t going to go broke because you don’t give Him a tithe of your income. The act of tithing isn’t about the tithe; it’s about the attitude of the tither to the Creator. It’s not about the gift; it’s about the attitude of the giver to the Giver. It’s not about the money; it’s about the attitude of the man or woman to the Maker. It’s not about possessions; it’s about the attitude of the loved ones to the Lover. As the songwriter Isaac Watts said, ‘Were the whole realm of nature mine; that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’

Give God His Tithe (3)

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‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…’ Malachi 3:10 NIV

When you honour the Lord in your business, He will bless your business. Imagine the advantage you’d have in the marketplace with God as your partner! Many famous Christian business people throughout history were faithful tithers, including Henry John Heinz of Heinz 57 Varieties, and William Colgate, the toothpaste magnate. Some of these people were so blessed that, before their lives were over, they gave God 90 per cent of their income and lived on the other 10 per cent. God says: ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough to store it…all the nations will call you blessed…’ (Malachi 3:10–12 NIV) When you demonstrate that God’s business means more to you than your own, He will prosper you. And He invites you to ‘test’ Him in this. How long have you known that you should tithe, wanted to tithe, said you were going to, and yet you’ve never got round to it? Start now—and start with what you have! What you can do now is the only influence you have over your future. John D Rockefeller is reputed to have made the following statement concerning the habit of tithing: ‘I never would’ve been able to tithe the first million dollars I made if I hadn’t tithed my first salary, which was a dollar fifty per week.’ Tithing demonstrates that you’ve conquered self–interest and the fear of lack. It’s a demonstration of faith—and God always rewards faith!

Give God His Tithe (2)

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‘…I will give you a tenth.’ Genesis 28:22 NIV

Jacob wasn’t a giver by nature. Quite the opposite, in fact! He cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, which entitled him to twice as much of their father’s inheritance. And when he worked for his father–in–law, Laban took advantage of him too. But one night Jacob met God in a life–changing dream, and when he woke the next morning he told God, ‘…of all that You give me, I will give You a tenth.’ Note, this was hundreds of years before the Law of Moses was instituted, which said, ‘A tithe of everything…belongs to the Lord…’ (Leviticus 27:30 NIV) Jacob wasn’t motivated by law, he was motivated by love for God. You can give without loving; some folks give under pressure, or to impress others or to get an income tax deduction. But you can’t love without giving! The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…’ (John 3:16 KJV) You’re never more like God than when you’re in the act of giving. Jesus said, ‘…seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.’ (Matthew 6:33 NKJV) Tithing is about putting God and His Kingdom first. When self, home, business and pleasure come first in your life, your priorities are out of whack. Tithing reverses that order and puts God where He rightfully belongs—in first place. When God instructs you to tithe, He’s telling you to establish the habit of putting Him in the number one slot as a life principle. When you do, Jesus said ‘all these things’ you’re so concerned about will be ‘added to you’.

Give God His Tithe (1)

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‘A tithe of everything…belongs to the Lord…’ Leviticus 27:30 NIV

If you put your mortgage before your gifts to God, you show more gratitude to your bank than you do to the One who made you. You say, ‘I earned it, so I own it.’ No. The Bible says, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.’ (Psalm 24:1 NIV) God owns every square metre of land on earth and every person who walks on it—including you. You’re not an owner, you’re a steward! And while a good steward deserves to be well rewarded by his master, his first priority is to please him and carry out his will. The Bible says, ‘A tithe of everything… belongs to the Lord…’ Get your thinking straight on this issue! In God’s eyes 10 per cent of your income is ‘dedicated funds’ to be used for one thing only—His purposes on the earth. Tithing isn’t how the church raises its budget; it’s how God raises His children. We distort God’s Word when we teach tithing as a means of getting money to pay off church debt, or as a substitute for other worn–out methods of fundraising, or as a cure–all for the church’s financial shortfalls. The Bible says, ‘…son (daughter)… give Me your heart…’ (Proverbs 23:26 NIV) When God has your heart’s deepest affection you’ll give gladly, not grudgingly. The first man in Scripture to tithe was Abraham. Why did he do it? Gratitude, because God had delivered him from the hand of an enemy who was out to destroy him. Has God delivered you? Has He blessed you? Then show your gratitude by giving Him His portion!

You Need Friends Who Encourage You

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‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.’ Proverbs 17:17 NIV

If you’re wise, you’ll surround yourself with people who support you emotionally and spiritually, and you can share your dreams and ideas with them. CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien were members of The Inklings, an informal literary discussion group associated with Oxford University. It was comprised of teachers, writers and friends who met regularly at a well–known Oxford pub to discuss passages from their favourite books as well as their own writings. In 1936, they decided the world needed more novels that had faith and morality as their central theme. Lewis and Tolkien decided to write science fiction after realising the inferior quality of similar stories being published at the time. They literally tossed a coin to decide who would write a book on space travel versus time travel. Tolkien got the time travel nod, but his early efforts with such a story never really worked out. Later, however, he achieved great success with The Lord of The Rings. Lewis wrote his famous series of novels called The Space Trilogy, and from that momentum he eventually penned The Chronicles of Narnia. Now, you may not reach that level of success, but you’ll go further with the encouragement of true friends than you will without it. So ask yourself what’s involved in cultivating the kinds of friendships that’ll help you fulfil your God–given potential. It may mean coming out of your shell and reaching out to others. Could you encounter hurt and rejection? Sure! But you’ll succeed only if you’re willing to take that chance.

Don’t Be Inflexible

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‘…Naaman…went away in a rage.’ 2 Kings 5:12 NLT

As a general in the Syrian army, Naaman was accustomed to having things his own way. So when Elisha told him to dip seven times in the muddy Jordan River to be healed of leprosy, he ‘went away in a rage’. He said, ‘I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me!’ (2 Kings 5:11 NLT) Fortunately, he listened to his servants, swallowed his pride and received a miracle. There are important lessons here. Since all progress calls for adapting to change and overcoming obstacles, ask yourself: (1) What’s at the core of my fear and anger over this situation? Am I afraid of the unknown and the changes it may bring? (2) Am I being inflexible and trying to impose my will in this situation? Am I willing to forfeit God’s perfect will by resisting a change He’s orchestrating? Many of us miss God’s best. Why? Like Naaman, we are accustomed to being waited on and having our ego stroked. E.G.O. means Edging God Out! Are you doing that? (3) Am I being lazy or incompetent, not wanting to invest the necessary time and effort into the change? Unless you’re willing to change, you won’t grow. And if you don’t grow, you won’t position yourself to receive the blessing God has in mind for you. Charles Franklin Kettering said, ‘The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.’ Today ask God for the emotional and spiritual strength to embrace the changes He’s bringing into your life, and to help you to see them as being for your good (Romans 8:28).

Stop Complaining (2)

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‘…when the people complained, it displeased the Lord…’ Numbers 11:1 NKJV

If you think complaining is no big deal, read this: ‘…when the people complained…the Lord heard…and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.’ A wise man once said, ‘I complained that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.’ God has blessed you in 101 different ways, and He doesn’t want to hear you whining. What were the Israelites grumbling about anyway? ‘Adversity’. For some of us adversity comes through illness. For others it’s a faltering career, not enough money to pay the bills, or a family situation that happened years ago and now you’re left shouldering the responsibility. Some of us made poor decisions earlier in life, and as a result our plans fell apart. Now we’re struggling with marital problems, blended families, and the consequences of our choices. We all have to deal with some level of adversity. We each have something in our life that God doesn’t want to hear us griping about! Understand this: it’s hard to live with adversity but, when you complain, you forego the grace that’ll get you through it. By choosing to complain and cling to the image of a perfect life, you forfeit the grace that’s available to you and will bring you victory. So change your way of thinking. Get down on your knees and pray: ‘Lord, I want the landscape of my life to be different; to experience the joy You give to those who leave the wilderness of ingratitude and move into the Promised Land of thanksgiving.’ That’s a prayer that will change you!

Stop Complaining (1)

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‘Do all things without complaining…’ Philippians 2:14 NKJV

A lady who worked at the post office was approached by a customer who said, ‘I can’t write. Would you mind addressing this postcard for me?’ After addressing it for him and writing a short message, the postal clerk asked, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?’ The man thought for a moment and said, ‘Yes, could you add a P.S. at the end saying, “Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.”’ Now, there’s gratitude for you! The Bible says, ‘Do all things without complaining’ because when you don’t, you end up hurting: (1) Yourself. Complaining leads to anger and depression. God loves you and He doesn’t want you hurting yourself. (2) God. Complaining calls into question God’s care, His character and His competence. In reality, what you’re saying is, ‘Lord, You blew it! You had a chance to fulfil my demands and You chose not to.’ (3) Others. Your words affect the people around you and nobody enjoys spending time with a member of ‘the cold–water bucket brigade’. Complaining temporarily satisfies our selfish nature, but it changes nothing. When you complain, you explain your pain for no gain. But here’s the good news: The Bible says, ‘…the people became like those who complain of adversity…’ (Numbers 11:1 NAS) You didn’t start out as a complainer; you ‘became’ that way, and by God’s grace you can become a thanksgiver! Once you acknowledge your habit of moaning and fault–finding, it becomes possible to choose a better one. A bad habit is like a nice soft bed; it’s easy to get into and hard to get out of. So if you’ve fallen into the habit of ‘complaining’—stop it!

Going Out on a Limb

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‘…to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away…’ Luke 19:26 ESV

Risk. Some people are naturally cautious and some revel in risk. Jon Walker says: ‘If God tells you to take a step of faith but you hesitate to take it until he shows you what the second step will be, you’re not waiting on God. He’s waiting on you.’ Patience is no excuse for hesitation. ‘God uses risks, large and small, to push us into a deeper faith. And so he wants us to step forward in faith, even if we don’t know where the second step will take us. The not knowing is what requires faith, and the not knowing compels us to rely on God to guide us forward.’ The Bible says, ‘If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.’ (Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB) Helen Keller said, ‘Security is mostly a superstition. It doesn’t exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it… Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.’ If you want ‘more than you ever dreamed’, you’ve got to go out on a limb. That’s where the best fruit is. Acting in faith with no ‘earthly’ guarantee what’s on the other side means attempting something you couldn’t possibly do unless God gave you the ability. Jon Walker goes on: ‘Faith grows when we take risks—not just any kind of risks, but ones specifically directed by God. These God–nudges push us beyond the borders of our “independent states” into “the promised land” of life by faith.’

How’s Your Self-Talk These Days?

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‘…People speak the things that are in their hearts.’ Luke 6:45 NCV

When John Roebling devised a plan to build a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn, experts thought it was impossible. They said a bridge spanning that distance couldn’t withstand the winds and tides. But Roebling refused to concede defeat; instead, he and his son, Washington, worked to solve the problems. Then just as construction was about to start, Roebling was killed in an underwater accident that left his son brain–damaged and unable to walk or talk. The prevailing wisdom was to abandon the project, but Washington Roebling was determined to fulfil his father’s dream. He developed a system of communication by touching a finger to his wife’s arm, and she in turn conveyed his ideas to the project engineers. For thirteen years that’s how he supervised construction—and in 1883 the first car drove across the Brooklyn Bridge. The ‘impossible’ had become reality! Are you facing a seemingly impossible situation at home, on the job, with your finances, or in a relationship? If so, what you tell yourself about it is important. Your self–talk sets you up for joy or misery. You can tell where your faith is by what comes out of your mouth: ‘Good people bring good things out of the good they stored in their hearts…’ (Luke 6:45 NCV) One pastor says: ‘When the pressure’s on, what comes out of your mouth lets you know if you need to make some adjustments… When you want something to show up in your outward man, deposit God’s Word in the inward man. Feed on it continually… once you believe it, you’ll find yourself saying it, and once you start saying it, your entire being will reflect the treasure of His Word inside.’

Information Overload! (2)

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‘The servant is not greater than his lord.’ John 13:16 KJV

When you’re constantly multi–tasking, important things can fall between the cracks. A lawyer who negotiated an unbelievable deal in favour of his client was asked how he did it. He replied, ‘I was the only person at the meeting that day who didn’t spend the whole time text messaging!’ A respected researcher says we’ve trained our brains ‘to constantly flit around the universe of messages and information, seeking brief hits of excitement. Grazing ceaselessly, we never dig too deeply before moving on to the next distraction…and it ratchets up our stress levels in ways we’re only starting to understand.’ Another expert says: ‘We get more information in 72 hours than our parents received in a month, and most people don’t have the skills to deal with it. They let new things in, but don’t get rid of old information they wanted to act on.’ When was the last time you enjoyed some relaxed, uninterrupted down time? Can you even remember? We’re so results–oriented that unless we’re doing something that can be quantified, we think it’s a waste of time. The fact is you need time away from the unrelenting onslaught of information to regroup, reflect and recharge. Jesus had a schedule to keep, people to minister to, disciples depending on Him, and a short time to do it all. Nevertheless, ‘He withdrew…into the wilderness, and prayed.’ (Luke 5:16 KJV) Now, since ‘the servant is not greater than his lord,’ do you think you’re above all that? Are you wiser than He? Or more spiritual? Jesus said, ‘Come… apart…and rest a while’ (Mark 6:31 KJV), because when you don’t come apart, you fall apart!

Information Overload! (1)

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‘Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.’ Daniel 12:4 NKJV

Technology lets us do things we’ve never been able to do, but it can be addictive. You can become tied to it in ways that are exhausting. One expert notes: ‘There’s a strong tendency for humans to do everything they’re able to. Combine that with constant connectivity, and the workday need never end. It’s easy to contact anyone anytime, and with information always available on line you can keep clicking forever.’ Paul writes about ‘making the most of your time.’ (Ephesians 5:16 NAS) We say, ‘Time is money,’ but in actuality time is much more valuable, because it’s a non–renewable resource. Once spent, it’s gone forever. Managing information overload means re–establishing boundaries that technology has demolished. So: Recognise the signs: if you communicate with people all day yet you’re still lonely, chances are, technology is dominating your life. Take baby steps: make yourself unavailable for short periods and see what happens. The wheels of industry won’t grind to a halt! Remember you have a choice: people who think they should be available 24/7 exaggerate their own importance or the control others have over them. Establish boundaries: rein in the emails, instant messages and on–line feeds. Do you really need all those ‘FYI’s’ about the same thing? Give clear instructions: tell people you answer emails at designated times throughout the day, and let them know who to contact for an immediate response. Make a task list: that way if you’re interrupted you’ll get back on track faster. Stick to a schedule: constantly dipping in and out on the computer is classic self–interruption. Do a reality check: after a few minutes of surfing the web ask yourself, ‘Should I be doing this now?’

Can You Give and Receive Correction?

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‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.’ Proverbs 27:6 NKJV

The word ‘correction’ is not one we are always comfortable with. It sometimes recalls memories of frowning parents and painful consequences. Or we think of the risk of destroying a relationship rather than the possibilities of strengthening and enriching it. ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.’ We all need someone to tell us the truth because others have 20/20 vision where we have blind spots. Yes, someone may react defensively, but they may also be thrilled to realise you care more about their ultimate well–being than their immediate response to you. Corrections made from a loving spirit, not a self–righteous, ‘I–know–what’s–best’ attitude are usually well received. If others sense you are genuinely concerned for them and long for a better relationship, they are likely to consider what you have to say and be open to making changes. Think of the courage Nathan the prophet showed in confronting David over his sin with Bathsheba. As king, David held the power of life and death over him. But Nathan loved David too much to allow sin to rob him of his destiny. God often uses us in each other’s lives to restore us to the narrow yet rich paths of destiny that He has preordained. Looking back, David could say, ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now I keep Your Word.’ (Psalm 119:67 NKJV) There are times when wisdom says, ‘Mind your own business and stay out of it.’ And there are other times when wisdom says, ‘Because you love them, get involved.’

Sometimes You Must Confront

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‘…go and tell him his fault between you and him alone…’ Matthew 18:15 NKJV

Jesus said, ‘…if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.’ Confronting someone requires these three things: character, courage and caution. Let’s look at each: (1) Character. Since Jesus was secure in His identity and character as God’s Son, He was able to let go of the need to please and be accepted by those around Him. Being grounded in who you are in Christ and in what your heavenly Father created you to be, allows you the freedom to confront people when necessary without worrying about the fall–out or the negative consequences. (2) Courage. The Pharisees had the power to undermine Christ’s reputation, which eventually led to His death on the cross. But He told them the truth nonetheless. And you must do the same. You must be willing to take up your cross and follow Him, even when it means risking an argument and handling hurt feelings. To ‘confront’ means to get in ‘front’ of someone, look into their face, and deal with the issue honestly and lovingly because you value the relationship. (3) Caution. Make sure you’re following God’s timing and not your own. It’s easy to use false courage or bravado to challenge others in order to get your own way. It’s easy to claim a confrontation is necessary, when what you actually want is control. No, you must ask God to show you when, how and where to confront others. Your goal should always be to reconcile and restore the relationship. So ‘go and tell him [or her]’.

Are You Selling Your Dream?

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‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…’ Genesis 50:20 NIV

In the movie Up in the Air, actor George Clooney is hired by a major corporation to handle big lay–offs. His job is to fire people. In one scene when he’s about to fire an ageing middle manager, he notices on the man’s CV that he’d been trained as a French chef. As the man expresses despair over losing his job, Clooney reminds him of his original dream and asks him this soul–searching question: ‘Back when you started, how much did it take to buy you away from your dream?’ At that pivotal moment the middle manager thought back to the time he decided to settle for a steady pay packet in exchange for what he really wanted to do with his life. Are you doing that? Understand this: the day you were born God had a track for you to run on and an assignment for you to fulfil. So the question you must ask yourself is this: ‘Is the difficult situation I’m in right now a God–given opportunity for me to go back and fulfil the dream God gave me in the first place?’ Looking back on the most painful chapter in his life, when he was betrayed by his family, Joseph said, ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.’ His greatest loss led Joseph to the fulfilment of the dream God gave him in the beginning. Is that your story too? Are you realising that you’ve settled for second best, and now God’s giving you a second chance; a chance to do the thing He put you in the world to do?

Signs of the Times (4)

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‘…this Gospel…will be preached in all the world…’ Matthew 24:14 NKJV

Jesus said when we see calamity and apostasy, don’t give in to fear because they’re signs of His imminent return. ‘But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.’ (Matthew 24:13–14 NKJV) Every prophecy concerning Christ’s first coming was fulfilled in detail, and so will every prophecy concerning His second coming. Our mandate is to work, pray, give, and take the Gospel to the whole world—then Christ will return. Though the church is winnowed down like Gideon’s army, and the world is in a state of upheaval, don’t overreact. ‘Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.’ (Psalm 37:7 NLT) God’s hand is still on the wheel. ‘…the Most High rules in the kingdom of men…’ (Daniel 4:17 NKJV) Avoid Pollyanna optimism. Though you may be personally blessed, the world order as you know it will continue to disintegrate. But that doesn’t mean you should join the ‘Chicken Licken chorus’ and declare, ‘The sky’s falling down!’ Don’t give in to the extremes of blind denial or blatant panic. When the bombs of World War II levelled Warsaw, only one skeletal structure remained standing on the city’s main street. It was the British and Foreign Bible Society, and on its walls was clearly written: ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.’ (Matthew 24:35 KJV)

Signs of the Times (3)

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‘…you will be…put to death…because of Me.’ Matthew 24:9 NIV

Jesus said to His disciples: ‘…you will be handed over to be persecuted…put to death, and…hated by all nations because of Me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.’ (Matthew 24:9–12 NIV) Notice the words ‘put to death’. Heaven is filled with those who have already fulfilled this prophecy—and hatred of Christians still abounds. Voice of the Martyrs, a Christian agency that defends religious liberties, contends that more of Christ’s followers have been killed for their faith in the last century than in most of the previous centuries combined. The global evangelism movement reports an average of 165,000 martyrs a year, more than four times the number in the past century. Today countries that facilitate religious freedom are experiencing increasing hostility toward Christians. Professors publicly mock Bible–believing students. TV talk show hosts denigrate people of faith. We can expect the persecution to increase, and when it does, fragile convictions will collapse and ‘…the love of many will grow cold.’ (Matthew 24:12 NLT) The half–hearted will become the cold–hearted. Spiritual stowaways will jump ship. Many church attendees will be exposed as faith pretenders. They’ll not only leave the faith, they’ll make the lives of the faithful miserable. When these things begin to happen, Jesus counselled, ‘…See to it that you are not alarmed…’ (Matthew 24:6 NIV) When the outlook is bleak, the ‘…blessed hope…’ (Titus 2:13 AMP) of Christ’s return calms our fears.

Signs of the Times (2)

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‘…wars and rumours of wars…’ Matthew 24:6 NIV

Jesus said: ‘You…hear of wars and rumours of wars… see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.’ Those who suffered through two world wars have no difficulty comprehending the word ‘wars’. But for the next six decades or so, their children and grandchildren had a more limited concept of what war meant. To them, wars were mostly regional and overseas but not on the homeland. Then came 9/11, and Americans began to understand the words, ‘Men’s hearts failing them for fear…’ (Luke 21:26 NKJV) Some dates will forever stand out in our memory. Like the day President Kennedy was assassinated, and the day three thousand people perished in the World Trade Centre. Today the political rationale is if we fight terrorism ‘over there’, we won’t have to fight it here at home. But don’t be deceived. Borders will always need checkpoints. War correspondents will always have jobs. The world will never see lasting peace this side of Heaven. Jesus said, ‘…All these are the beginning of birth pains.’ Rejoice! God is still on the throne. His plan is still being worked out. The death throes of the old order we live in are the ‘birth pains’ of a new and glorious order, when Christ will return to set up His Kingdom. An old Prudential Insurance Company slogan says, ‘Get a piece of the rock.’ But when you’re trusting in Jesus for your security, you have the whole Rock!

Signs of the Times (1)

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‘…what will be the sign of Your coming?…’ Matthew 24:3 NKJV

When the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, ‘…what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’, He told them things were going to get worse before they got better. Then He added these words: ‘…see to it that you are not alarmed…’ (Matthew 24:6 NIV) The word ‘alarmed’ is one Jesus used only on this occasion; it means ‘to wail, to cry aloud’. In essence, what He was saying is this: ‘Don’t fall apart when bad things happen.’ For the next few days let’s look at some of the signs Jesus said would herald His return. Spiritual deception. ‘…Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many.’ (Matthew 24:4–5 NIV) Notice, there’ll be many deceived, as well as many deceivers. Jesus also said they’ll come ‘in My name’, masquerading as ministers of God and claiming special status and superior spirituality. They’ll boast of insider information and adorn their teachings with phrases like ‘God told me,’ implying they have access to information the common people like you don’t have. Don’t be misled. Jesus also warned, ‘…false Messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.’ (Matthew 24:24 NIV) Multitudes and miracles—when you see them, be careful. Satan can counterfeit both. Be doctrinally diligent. Focus on one question: ‘Is this person pointing listeners to the real, Biblical Jesus?’ There is only room for one name on the marquee—and that’s His!

A Blank Only God Can Fill

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‘…in Him we live and move and exist…’ Acts 17:28 NLT

Here’s a time–tested maxim: ‘The heart is a God–shaped blank, and only God can fill it.’ In Through the Valley of the Kwai: From Death–Camp Despair to Spiritual Triumph, Ernest Gordon writes about soldiers who were captured, tortured and starved by the Japanese in the Malay Peninsula in World War II. As a result they started acting like animals, clawing, fighting and stealing food. In an effort to turn things around, the group decided to start reading the New Testament. And as Gordon read it to them they were converted to Christ, and this community of animals was transformed into a community of love. That’s because Jesus is God and is willing to live in the hearts of those who trust Him. He offers joy, peace, a transformed life and assurance of eternal life to all those who place their trust in His atoning death. So what are you using to try to fill the void in your life? Material possessions? Mood–altering substances? Sex? Career success? The pursuit of intellectual growth? Excitement? You may as well give it up now—it won’t work! Paul explained it like this to the philosophers in Athens: ‘…God…made the world and everything in it… He…gives life…to everything… He satisfies every need… His purpose was [that we should] seek after God…feel [our] way towards Him and find Him—though He is not far from…us. For in Him we live and move and exist…’ (Acts 17:24–28 NLT) In the words of the time–honoured hymn: ‘Now none but Christ can satisfy; none other name for me. There’s love, and life, and lasting joy, Lord Jesus, found in Thee.’

Are You Afraid? Trust God!

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‘You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You…’ Isaiah 26:3 NLT

Fear is a normal part of living. And the most successful and confident people you know experience it. The difference is they refuse to be ruled by fear because they know that, when it gets out of control, it can paralyse you. The Bible says, ‘…fear involves torment…’ (1 John 4:18 NKJV) Neuroscientists at Yale University discovered that patients who expected to experience an electric shock had anxiety levels similar to those who responded to the real thing. Researcher Elizabeth Phelps writes, ‘A lot of our fears and anxieties are learned through communication. If someone tells you to be afraid of a dog, then the brain responds as if you actually were.’ In other words, our brains don’t know the difference between real and imagined threats. This goes a long way toward explaining why the National Institute of Mental Health reported that almost twenty million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. Someone who’s perfectly safe, but has a fear of being robbed, suffers just as much as someone living in a situation with a high risk of robbery, or someone actually in the act of being robbed. Because our brains don’t discriminate between emotions that are real or imagined, fear can dominate our lives, and it’s just as devastating as physical injury. Psychologist Marilyn Barrick said, ‘For the most part, fear is nothing but an illusion. When you share it with someone, it tends to disappear.’ So share your fears with God and watch them begin to disappear. The Bible says, ‘You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!

Shake It Off

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‘…shake the dust off your feet…’ Mark 6:11 NIV

Here’s some good advice Jesus gave His disciples. When someone rejects you or won’t listen to you, ‘…shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.’ When you experience rejection, you have two choices: allow it to affect your confidence and self–worth, or ‘shake it off’ and move on. Now, Jesus was not talking about sincere minds that don’t understand, but proud minds that reject the truth. He was saying, ‘Don’t let it break your stride and keep you from accomplishing what needs to be done.’ When Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta, he was bitten by a snake while gathering firewood. Immediately the islanders said to one another, ‘…this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.’ (Acts 28:4 NKJV) How did Paul respond? ‘…he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.’ (Acts 28:5 NKJV) What did the islanders say about him then? ‘…they changed their minds and said that he was a god.’ (Acts 28:6 NKJV) Wow! People’s minds change like the wind! So don’t let their compliments puff you up, or their criticisms tear you down. God’s will is for you to help others. If they accept your help, give it. If not, go where you will be accepted and appreciated. Jesus said, ‘…I say to you, he who receives whomever I send, receives Me…’ (John 13:20 NKJV) In the final analysis it’s not you they are rejecting, but the One who sent you. Knowing that, gives you confidence and peace of mind.

Rules for Serving

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‘Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them…’ Romans 12:9 NLT

When it comes to serving others, try to live by these three rules: (1) Serve sincerely. ‘Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them…’ God knows your heart, so be honest with yourself about your true motives in serving and sacrificing for others. If you need help in this area, turn to the Scriptures: ‘For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two–edged sword…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV) (2) Serve silently. ‘…when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet…that [you] may have glory from men…’ (Matthew 6:2 NKJV) Note the words, ‘do not sound a trumpet’. When people take your kindness for granted or fail to appreciate the things you do for them, don’t toot your own horn. Look to God for your reward, not people; otherwise you’ll be disappointed. ‘…as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters… so our eyes look to the Lord our God…’ (Psalm 123:2 NKJV) (3) Serve selectively. You’re not called to go to every place, meet every need, and help every person. On two different occasions God stopped Paul from going into Asia to preach the Gospel. But look what happened next: ‘And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”…immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel to them.’ (Acts 16:9–10 NKJV) Why is this important to know? Because when God guides you, He provides for you!

The Power to Change

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‘…I will strengthen you and help you…’ Isaiah 41:10 NIV

We go to seminars and conferences looking for a painless cure by which our lives can be zapped and changed. We go on diets. We join health clubs and our enthusiasm runs strong for about two weeks. Then we fall back into the same old rut. We don’t change. We read self–help books, but the problem with self–help books is that they tell us what to do but can’t give us the power to do it. We are told things like: ‘Get rid of all your bad habits. Be positive; don’t be negative.’ But how? Where do we get the power to change? The Greek word for ‘power’, dunamis, is used in the New Testament to describe the most powerful event that ever happened—the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And that resurrection power is available to change your life today. The most important thing in life is knowing Christ and experiencing the power of His resurrection. Paul writes, ‘I want to know Christ… to know the power of His resurrection…’ (Philippians 3:10 NIV) Again he writes, ‘I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great His power is to help those who believe in Him. It is that same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead…’ (Ephesians 1:19–20 TLB). This Greek word for ‘power’, dunamis, can be understood in two ways: (1) ‘dynamite’, which is an explosive force, or (2) ‘dynamo’, which is a constant flow of power. And in Christ, you have both. Through Him you can break the chains that bind you and the limits that constrain you, and walk victoriously in His power today.

Making Yourself Look Good (2)

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‘…if we could control our tongues…’ James 3:2 NLT

When you’re upset, it’s tempting to ‘hand out other people’s dirty laundry’. But making yourself look good at somebody else’s expense always backfires. One Christian author observes: ‘That righteous feeling turns to shame faster than you can walk away, hang up the phone, or hit “send”…I can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is to get control over your tongue. I wish someone had warned me to stop talking and start praying.’ A lady named Michelle learned her lesson the hard way. She was having lunch with a co–worker at a restaurant and they visited the ladies’ toilet. While they were fixing their hair they started to talk about people at work who drove them crazy. Immediately Michelle launched into a diatribe about Beth, a co–worker who had no idea how much trouble she created for the rest of the team. As Michelle prepared to launch into more specifics, a cubicle door opened and out walked Beth, flushed and upset. In a split second what felt like a pressure–relief session turned into an embarrassing mess… Beth ran out in tears, and Michelle couldn’t take back the words she’d said. Beth never returned to work, and the next day she resigned. While her co–workers openly cheered what they considered to be good news, Michelle was miserable… She tried to call Beth, and even wrote a letter of apology, but there was no response. And what’s worse, Michelle is a Christian and Beth made no such profession. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated (Matthew 7:12). What goes around comes around, and idle chatter will surely come back to haunt you.

Making Yourself Look Good (1)

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‘…lay your hand upon your mouth.’ Proverbs 30:32 AMP

Your tongue is just centimetres from your brain, but the way some of us rattle on, you’d think our mouths and minds were kilometers apart! James says, ‘…The tongue…corrupts the whole body…’ (James 3:5–6 NIV) Ramona Cramer Tucker writes: ‘I admit I’m a talker …I don’t set out to break a confidence, but somehow my mouth kicks into gear before my brain… But God takes a clear stand on gossip. He knows loose lips can ruin another person’s reputation, introduce mistrust into a relationship, encourage the gossiper to embellish their tale, and cause them to sin by being tempted to lie when confronted… I love to share news, to be “in the know”, and because I’m wired this way it’s easy for me to spread gossip under the guise of being well–meaning, even prefacing my news with “I wish you’d pray for”… But just because my sharing is well–meant doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.’ The most common reason for making someone else look bad—is to make ourselves look good! We are like the proud Pharisee in the temple who stood alone and prayed, ‘…God, I thank you that I am not like other people…’ (Luke 18:11 NCV) The writer of Proverbs says, ‘If you have done foolishly in exalting yourself, or…thought evil, lay your hand upon your mouth.’ (Proverbs 30:32 AMP) It’s one thing to think bad thoughts—it’s another to voice them. The saying goes: ‘You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from building a nest in your hair!’ So do yourself and everybody around you a favour—practise putting your brain in gear before engaging your mouth.

Get Rid of Your Entitlement Attitude

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‘…through love serve one another.’ Galatians 5:13 NKJV

The Bible says, ‘…through love serve one another.’ In other words, ‘Get rid of the you–owe–me attitude and develop an IOU mindset.’ Some of us think: (1) A lifetime job with good pay and a guaranteed retirement plan at sixty–five come with just being born. (2) Promotion is just a matter of time. (3) Forty hours a week is the maximum endurance for any worker. (4) The last hour of each day is there to make the transition to home easier. (5) A ten–minute coffee break should take at least half–an–hour. (6) A half–hour lunch break should take at least an hour–and–a–half. (7) An equal share of company profits belongs to all workers regardless of their contribution. What gives us our source of entitlement anyway? Part of it is found in the middle of the word entitlement itself: ‘title’. We think people ‘owe us’ because of the title we hold in their lives: mother, daughter, brother, wife, husband, friend, donor, pastor, employee, boss, etc. We treat our title as if it were a title deed that gives us the right to whatever benefit we expect. But life doesn’t work that way! When the Prodigal Son left home and landed in a pig sty, the Bible says, ‘…no one gave him anything.’ (Luke 15:16 NKJV) Humbled and slapped with reality, he became willing to work in the servants’ quarters of his father’s house. Fortunately, his father loved him and restored him. But the point is, life ‘owes you’ nothing. God ‘owes you’ nothing. Anything we receive from Him is an act of His grace and benevolence. He has given us opportunities to study, work hard, grow, and sacrifice to get to where we want to be but ultimately we must remember that ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…’ (James 1:17 ESV)

What Are You Called to Do?

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‘…Jesus…went around doing good…’ Acts 10:38 NIV

Your value in God’s eyes was established at the Cross. The Bible says, ‘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?’ (Romans 8:32 NIV) Notice the words ‘all things’. We are all equal in Christ. But when it comes to your career, your value is determined by the problem you solve. That’s why we pay a cardiologist more money than a chef in a fast–food restaurant. Jesus was a problem solver. People were spiritually hungry so He said, ‘…I am the bread of life…’ (John 6:35 NIV) They were sick so He ‘went about doing good…healing all.’ He discerned what He had, that others needed, and provided it for them. What do you have to offer? What would you attempt to do if you knew it was impossible to fail? You are not here by accident. God told Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ (Jeremiah 1:5 NKJV) Everything God makes is to meet a need and solve a problem. So what are you called and gifted to do? That’s where you’ll find your highest level of joy! Think of your contribution to others as an assignment from God. Paul made tents to support his ministry. So your ministry may be supported by your job. But whether you are in a full–time ministry or a part–time ministry, don’t leave this earth until you have found and fulfilled what God called you to do.

Characteristics of Godly Leadership

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‘…If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously…’ Romans 12:8 NLT

Leadership in business, politics and public service doesn’t automatically qualify you for leadership in church. J Oswald Sanders says, ‘The overriding need of the church… is for a leadership that’s authoritative, spiritual and sacrificial.’ Let’s look at each of those qualities: (1) Authoritative leadership. People respect leaders who are certain about where they’re going, and inspire confidence in those who choose to follow them. Tentative leaders don’t motivate others to get on board and stay on board. Uncertainty confuses and disheartens followers. People follow, almost without question, someone who’s wise, strong and faithful to what he or she believes. (2) Spiritual leadership. We’re attracted to leaders who are gifted and charismatic. But these natural characteristics alone aren’t enough. Followers can be captivated by human traits—often to their own cost. Don’t settle for being a popular ‘Pied Piper’. Godly leaders are committed to connecting their followers with Jesus, not with themselves! Do your people know, love and serve God more because of your leadership? If so, you’re a godly leader. (3) Sacrificial leadership. Would you still lead if, like Paul, you were betrayed, falsely accused, beaten, half–drowned, starved, stoned and left for dead? Godly leaders lead when it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, unrewarding and costly. They’re dedicated to the sheep they’re responsible for, and the ‘Chief Shepherd’ they’re responsible to! They recognise that Jesus drafted and modelled the prototype of godly leadership at the cost of His own life: ‘To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.’ (1 Peter 2:21 NIV)

The Deal is Sealed

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‘…Having believed, you were marked…with a seal…’ Ephesians 1:13 NIV

If you are having doubts about your salvation, understand this clearly: the moment you trusted in Christ as your Saviour, His blood cleansed you from all sin. At that point ‘you were marked…with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…guaranteeing [your]…redemption.’ (Ephesians 1:13–14 NIV) The Bible says, ‘You should not be like cowering fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into His family—calling Him, “Father, dear Father!” For the Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us we are God’s children. And since we are His children, we will share His treasures—for everything God gives to His Son, Christ, is ours too.’ (Romans 8:15–16 NLT) In the book of Ruth we read that ‘the custom…in Israel concerning redeeming…[was] one man took off his sandal…gave it to the other, and this was a confirmation…’ (Ruth 4:7 NKJV) Notice, the ‘redeemer’ put on another man’s sandal, signifying his willingness to stand in his place. That’s what Jesus did for us at the cross. He stood in our shoes so we could stand before God in His—redeemed and righteous! Don’t let doubt steal your joy. Refuse to go by your feelings. Make up your mind to believe what God says, for until you do you’ll be plagued by uncertainty. Study God’s Word until you can say with assurance, ‘…I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.’ (2 Timothy 1:12 NKJV) Are you trusting in Christ as your Saviour? Then your salvation is not in doubt. The deal is sealed!

Start Thinking Creatively (3)

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‘Diotrephes…does not acknowledge our authority…’ 3 John 1:9 ESV

Not everybody is willing to think creatively, and where it becomes problematic is when people disregard the authority of those who have been put in charge. The apostle John said: ‘I have written briefly to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to take the lead among them and put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority and refuses to accept my suggestions or listen to me.’ Every organisation has at least one of these people; just make sure it’s not you. Author Phil Cooke says: ‘One of the most damaging sacred cows in organisations is basing employee status on seniority rather than talent. Yes, loyalty is important, but some of the most loyal employees I’ve ever met are loyal because of selfishness. They project loyalty to keep their jobs, retain their benefits, or hold on to their authority. Real loyalty is about innovation, original thinking and helping the company get to the next level… Every person has worth and is important. But a great leader always knows the people who bring the most value to the organisation. Those are the people to be developed, trained and cultivated. When you create an atmosphere of original thinking, you’ll have more loyalty than you’ll know what to do with. Most companies are so ignorant of how to develop an environment of innovation that if you’ll do it, you will have people coming from every direction to work with you.’ The apostle Paul practised and taught this principle: ‘We urge you… to recognise those who labour among you… and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake…’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13 NKJV) To become a creative thinker, you must value creative thinking.

Start Thinking Creatively (2)

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‘Do you see a man skilful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.’ Proverbs 22:29 ESV

God has given you the skills and creativity you need to succeed, but you need to steward them and continue stretching your capacity. In other words, thinking creatively. Film director Frank Capra said, ‘A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.’ So if you’re part of a church or a business that continually throws up obstacles to productivity, forms barriers to originality and puts the brakes on momentum, it’s time to speak up. And if nobody will listen, it’s time to pray and ask God if you’re in the right place. An environment doesn’t just ‘happen’, it’s created by the people who live and work in it. People, systems and policies either stoke the fire of creativity or put it out. Alexander the Great once visited the famed teacher Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for him. Diogenes replied, ‘Only stand out of my light.’ One of the best things you can do for a creative person is not to get in their way! Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci all used the best equipment and went to extraordinary lengths to find the finest materials for their paints, brushes and canvas. And they’d be no different today. But don’t expect change to come easily. Insecure leaders tend to penalise honesty and feel threatened by creativity, especially when it suggests there’s a better way of doing things. But you owe it to God, to yourself and the people you work with to give it your best shot.

Start Thinking Creatively (1)

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‘…God created mankind in His own image…’ Genesis 1:27 NIV

The Bible calls you a ‘child of God’. Stop and consider what that means. God’s creativity is already built into your DNA; your job is to identify it, release it and put it to work. Writers and even ad–men have recognised the great power of creativity is in its defeat of habit by originality. But for your creativity to be released, you must first identify the barriers and start taking them down. Here’s a common one: ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ People who say that have stopped thinking for themselves. They’re just putting in their time, waiting for a pay packet and going home at the end of the day without thinking, reflecting or even considering the possibilities of change. If you’re one of these people, it’s time to wake up and start looking around you. Mind–deadening routine is the cancer of creativity. If you mindlessly go about your business the same way every day, your routine is opening you up to mistakes. Why? Because, the chances are, your habits have caused you to lose the ability to think critically and question your methods. Start questioning policies, techniques, forms, rules, paperwork—anything that’s become routine. Ask, ‘Why do we do that? Is it even necessary? Can we do it better?’ On the farm of success there are no sacred cows. If you insist on doing things the way they’ve always been done, you’ll end up being out–thought, out–sold, out–produced and finally out of business. So start thinking creatively.

Dump Your Grudges!

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‘Love…keeps no record of being wronged…’ 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NLT

Holding a grudge is costly, and you and the people in your life end up footing the bill! In all probability the offender has moved on, forgotten the offence and left you holding the bag. But in reality, blame, not the offender, is the crux of the problem. And until you understand and accept that, you will continue to be upset. Don’t let your grudges fester and turn into: (1) Self–victimisation. Negative energy expended on others just drains your resources and robs you of the chance to fulfil your God–given potential. Stop cheating yourself. Don’t surrender your power to your grudges! (2) Bitterness. It’s like a deadly poison; a little of it can contaminate your entire system. The hurt you harbour pollutes the stream of your daily experience, including your experience with God! (3) Isolation. There’s no joy in being around someone who constantly indulges in blame, defensiveness and anger. Others pick up the vibes and feel at risk, so they keep a safe distance in case they become a target in the event that they displease you. It’s a formula for isolation and self–induced loneliness. (4) Negative role–modelling. Maybe you think, ‘My feelings are nobody’s business!’ Maybe—if you live on a desert island. Grudges are highly communicable. ‘…Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up…corrupting many.’ (Hebrews 12:15 NLT) (5) Sabotaged repentance. Genuine repentance and forgiveness aren’t possible until you’re willing to face up to your grudges. If you’re still blaming others, you’re avoiding responsibility. A bad attitude is like a flat tyre—until you change it, you’re not going to get anywhere.

The Importance of God’s Sovereignty

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‘This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.’ Lamentations 3:21 NAS

Lamentations chapter three describes Jeremiah’s despair, and how he conquered it. He opens with: ‘I am the man who has seen affliction…’ (Lamentations 3:1 NAS), and it intensifies as he lists all his troubles. The fact is, when our circumstances deteriorate, we can sound a lot like Jeremiah. At first he sounds like he’s blaming God for his afflictions. In prayer he recites his troubles and fears of being singled out as an object of public ridicule. No wonder he felt powerless and hopeless! (Lamentations 3:18) That kind of situation, handled badly, can initiate and intensify despair, depression and feed a negative outlook on life. But here’s the lesson to be learned: ‘This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.’ Jeremiah acknowledged God’s goodness and mercy: ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed… His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.’ (Lamentations 3:22–23 NIV) He also acknowledged the Lord’s sovereignty in his trouble: ‘For the Lord… though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies… Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well–being proceed?’ (Lamentations 3:31–38 NKJV) When you acknowledge the sovereignty of God in all things it gives your faith in Him a boost, no matter what! It doesn’t happen automatically; you have to deliberately refocus your thinking at the very time when you feel least like doing it. Notice: Jeremiah’s circumstances didn’t improve—his outlook did. He was reminded of the sovereign goodness and faithfulness of God—and his depression lifted: ‘“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.”’ (Lamentations 3:24 NAS)

God’s Laser

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‘…Sharper than any double-edged sword…’ Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Does reading the Bible sometimes make you uneasy? Does the sermon feel like it’s directed at you? ‘…the Word of God is…sharper than any double–edged sword…it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit…Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered…before…Him to whom we must give account.’ (Hebrews 4:12–13 NIV) When it comes to judging our motives, Jesus, the Great Physician, can determine with laser precision the difference between what’s healthy in our lives and what needs to be removed. Jon Walker writes: ‘A cyst developed under the skin of my right hand…and since I was a journalist I had to do something about it. The procedure was delicate, requiring the surgeon to cut at just the right point… He was confident he could do it …but I was nervous… He did an excellent job and the only reminder I have is a slight scar …The Word of God is as delicate and precise as a surgeon skilfully removing a cyst from cartilage…He operates with perfection… slices away bad attitudes, thoughts, motives, and actions… When God speaks to you it’s for a purpose—to bring your life into conformity to Christ. And your response should always be, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart…’ (Psalm 139:23 NIV) Let the Word of God highlight the areas in your life that need work. Don’t run from the process.’ Remember ‘…do not despise the discipline of the Almighty… He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal…’ (Job 5:17–18 NIV)

Get Over It!

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‘He who…forgives an offence seeks love, but he who…harps on a matter separates…friends.’ Proverbs 17:9 AMP

Countless friendships are destroyed because one person gets offended by something the other one said or did. A mark of spiritual growth is how quickly you get over slights and insults; the more mature you are, the less time it takes to ‘forgive an offence’ and move on. One Christian writer says: ‘Okay, your friend ditches you and your feelings are hurt… or she’s too busy to return your phone call or email… or you’re out to dinner with another couple and the other man insults your husband in an attempt to be funny …Offences come…Jesus said they would (John 16:33). People are people. If you’ve been offended by a friend, or felt slighted, get over it! Hit the Control>Alt>Delete buttons. Don’t let bitterness even think about putting down roots… “Love…is not irritable…it keeps no record of being wronged…never gives up…and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7 NLT) …It seems impossible…and without God’s love it is. So yield to His love, overlook offences and walk in love, because next week you’ll be the one needing unconditional love. When it comes to being perfect, we’ve all failed. If you want your friends to overlook your offences, be quick to overlook theirs.’ Make this your prayer today: ‘Father, thank You for the relationships You’ve blessed me with. I make a decision today to release anyone who has ever offended me in the slightest… to overlook it… forget about it, and move on. I will not keep a record of their wrongs. I will offer mercy and unconditional love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’

Are You Struggling Financially? (2)

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‘…all these things shall be added unto you.’ Matthew 6:33 KJV

Pray: ‘Heavenly Father, Your Word says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” You are well able to take care of my financial situation; You know what needs to be done. Direct my steps (Proverbs 3:5–6). Help me to remember that Your resources are meant to flow freely from the place of abundance to the place of need (2 Corinthians 8:14). I believe You have a financial plan for my life, and when fear of the future threatens to overwhelm me, I will hope continually and praise You more and more (Psalms 71:14). As You walk with me through this crisis and I stay focused on You, You promised to keep me in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). Forgive me for worrying. I cast all my cares on You right now (1 Peter 5:7)… I don’t have to bear these burdens on my own… I lay them down and receive Your divine rest (Matthew 11:28). You promised to supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19); that it’s Your good pleasure to give me the blessings and benefits of Your Kingdom (Luke 12:32). You told me not to worry about anything and instead make my requests known to You with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6–7). I know You’ll take care of tomorrow because You’re Jehovah–Jireh, my provider (Matthew 6:34). You know what I need and when I need it… You’re the God of more than enough (Ephesians 3:20). Thank You for meeting my every need, and for the sense of peace and security You’re imparting to me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’

Are You Struggling Financially? (1)

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‘…your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.’ Matthew 6:32 NLT

Donna Savage writes: ‘In my husband’s first years as a pastor our mortgage payment gobbled up half his income… I learned to replace panic with peace by praying for: Clarity. Money is linked to our self–esteem. It can trigger feelings of shame, fear, pride, and anger. But “understanding [God’s] Word brings light to the minds of ordinary people.” (Psalms 119:130 CEV) Creativity. If you want more money, you must earn more or spend less. We serve a creative God, and He rewards those who “…diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV) Ask Him to show you how to increase your income. Connections. Kids are familiar with connect–the–dot puzzles, where you join a random collection of dots to produce an image you’d otherwise miss. It’s all about the right connections, and God can send the right people into your life with answers to your money problems. Contentment. Just like earthquakes expose structural weaknesses in buildings, financial pressure exposes our spiritual weakness. Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content.” (Philippians 4:12 NIV) Key phrase: I have learned. Hardship enrols us all in a basic contentment course, but we don’t all get the same homework. Some of us learn through financial hardship and proving God’s faithfulness for ourselves.’ Savage continues: ‘I’ve given God an “I can’t do this” ultimatum more than once… I’ve also celebrated the adventure of moment–by–moment dependence on His resources. I’ve proved God’s faithfulness in my prayers and in my pantry, and it’s never limited by my bank balance.’

When You Don’t Understand

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‘…secret things belong to the Lord… things revealed belong to us…’ Deuteronomy 29:29 NIV

When you don’t understand what’s happening in your life, start with what you know for sure; namely, that God is good all the time, and His ‘…love for those who respect Him continues forever…’ (Psalm 103:17 NCV) He’s not fickle. He doesn’t bless you one day and curse you the next: His ‘mercies…are new every morning.’ (Lamentations 3:22–23 KJV) But there are things God chooses to reveal to us, and ‘secret things’ He doesn’t—for our own good. Writer Beth Jones says: ‘If God keeps a secret from us, it’s for our benefit and the benefit of others… For example, He doesn’t go around blaming, tattling or disclosing our sins, weaknesses, unbelief, carnality, selfishness or pride to others. When things happen, God knows why… Secret things belong to the Lord. And when He reveals something to us, it’s because He wants us to walk in that truth by faith. For example, He reveals His character and His will in His Word… so we can live by faith knowing that He’s good, fair, kind, generous, merciful, faithful, gracious, patient, and He’s in the saving, healing, redeeming, restoring, sanctifying, and blessing business. Things revealed belong to us. When we don’t know why… here’s what we know for sure. God’s Word is truer than our circumstances or experiences… and just because He knows everything about us doesn’t mean He tells us about everything. We also know that when things look bad, God is still good.’ ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1:21 ESV) No matter what happens or doesn’t happen, at the end of the day—God is still in control and worthy of our praise!

Beauty Is an Inside Job

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‘Those who look to Him are radiant…’ Psalm 34:5 NIV

It’s said, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, but you can waste your life trying to please the wrong beholder. Kristin Armstrong says: ‘When it comes to beauty, each of us carries baggage from childhood… I’ve fretfully hung clothes of every size in my wardrobe… messed with make–up when I should have slapped on sunscreen and gone outside to play. I’ve eaten close to nothing in an effort to stay small… wasted time worrying I wasn’t pretty enough when I should have been enjoying the things that made me interesting. Throughout history the definition of beauty has shifted to reflect society. Sometimes we should be curvy, other times thin as a lathe; sometimes tanned, sometimes pale; sometimes with long hair, sometimes with short… We devote our energies to meeting the latest standards and… guess what? There’s always another mandate… We must seriously consider whose heart we’re trying to capture… God’s is the only one worth pursuing.’ Paul says, ‘…Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re–mould your minds from within…’ (Romans 12:1–2 PHPS); ‘If anyone belongs to Christ…The old things have gone; everything is made new!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17 NCV) You won’t find the secret to inner beauty and peace by comparing yourself with the photoshopped models on magazine covers. That kind of image is unsustainable. You’ll find peace by asking God to remove the scales from your eyes and show you what you look like in His eyes. ‘Those who look to Him are radiant.’ The only healthy and lasting definition of beauty comes from God because He judges people by ‘…what is in their hearts.’ (1 Samuel 16:7 CEV)

Divine Protection

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‘…He will see the blood…and…not permit the destroyer to enter your houses…’ Exodus 12:23 NIV

When the angel of death visited Egypt, only those whose doorposts were painted with lamb’s blood were protected from ‘the destroyer’. And the blood of Jesus [the Lamb of God] is still your best protection from the enemy who ‘…prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.’ (1 Peter 5:8 NLT) His atoning death on the cross to secure forgiveness of our sins. (Ephesians 2:12–16) Christians have also been sealed with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13), and our salvation is assured by the Lord (Romans 8:38–39). So when Satan confronts us he knows he cannot ultimately succeed… but he still wants to try and make us stumble. Generally speaking, he’s looking for an ‘easy mark’. Just like a thief who cases your house for a hole in your security, he’ll be on the lookout for a weakness in your life. But if you ‘put on the whole armour of God, [you’ll] …be able to stand against the schemes of the devil’ (Ephesians 6:11 ESV), and he’ll have to move on. God put a hedge around Gomer, the prophet Hosea’s wife, a promise that He would always draw her back to her husband. He said, ‘…I will fence her in with thornbushes. I will block her path with a wall to make her lose her way.’ (Hosea 2:6 NLT) Before your family leaves home in the morning, remind them of Christ’s ultimate ‘hedge of protection’—His victory at the cross. Remind them to stand firm in the finished work of Jesus, wearing the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6:10–18). In prayer speak out His promises (Psalm 118:6Psalm 27:1James 4:7) and ask Him to safeguard you and your family throughout the day, directing all your paths away from wrong influences.

Can You Take Advice?

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‘Where there is no counsel, the people fall…’ Proverbs 11:14 NKJV

The only thing that’s worse than making a mistake is concealing it and allowing pride to lock us in to it. Why do we do that? Insecurity! Low self–esteem! We’re all prone to being defensive from time to time. But if you find that this has become a pattern in your life, you must do something about it. So: (1) Try to listen to yourself as you speak; become aware of your tendency to defend and justify your actions. (2) Guard against defensive body language. For example, crossing your arms when someone is offering their opinion could be your subconscious way of saying, ‘I’m closed to what you’re saying.’ (3) Counter the anxiety that comes with feeling attacked, by breathing deeply and silently praying, ‘Lord, I receive Your strength now.’ Combining this physical and spiritual act will help to minimise your emotional response. (4) If there is a genuine and credible justification for your action, state it in a calm, unemotional manner. And if you are really brave, ask a trusted friend or co–worker if you are being defensive. Then refuse to become defensive if the response is, ‘Yes!’ (5) Don’t attack your attacker. Simply ask them what they would have done in the situation under discussion. Then thank them for sharing their insights. (6) If you are guilty of a bad decision or wrong behaviour, try admitting it before it comes to light. A simple ‘I made a mistake’ will give you credibility, preserve your integrity, and not allow your mistake to redefine who you are in the eyes of others. It may even increase their level of trust in you.

The Power of Love

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‘…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.’ 1 John 4:16 NIV

When Dr E Stanley Jones preached a sermon on love in India, a church leader told him how a layman, whom he loved and had helped, was making trouble and threatening to split the church. The frustrated clergyman asked Dr Jones what to do because, in this case, love didn’t seem to be working. ‘Increase the dosage!’ retorted Jones. Our self–centred nature would have us believe that happiness comes when we get what we want and all of our needs are met. Yet, when we do get a better job, or a bigger house, or a bit of fame, we find ourselves empty because these things don’t bring us lasting joy and fulfilment. They actually whet our appetite for more—and around and around it goes. Peter Gillquist said, ‘Every time we have a chance in any way to flesh out the love of God to others, our joy cycle gets fulfilled all over again.’ Francis of Assisi may have expressed it best in his famous prayer: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.’

Are You Burying Your Talent?

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‘…I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground…’ Matthew 25:25 NIV

One of the most familiar parables Jesus told illustrates how things work in God’s Kingdom: ‘Then he who had received one talent came. “Master,” he said, “…I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.”…His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant!… You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him …throw that worthless servant outside.”’ (Matthew 25:24–29 NIV) Can you imagine going to work next Friday and watching your boss hand your pay packet to someone else, while you stand there? That’s exactly what’s going on in this story. It’s a picture of what will happen at the judgment seat of Christ—and you’ll be there to see it. Why did the Lord come down so hard on this guy? Because he buried his talent. And why did he bury it? Because he ‘was afraid’. Afraid of what? (a) Afraid the talent God had given him wasn’t equal to the task. (b) Afraid to take a risk in case he failed. (c) Afraid he didn’t have the talents others had, therefore his didn’t count. Just like there are degrees of punishment at the Last Judgment (Matthew 11:21–24James 3:1Matthew 18:6), there will be degrees of reward in Heaven. And how you steward your talent now determines what your reward will be then.

Different Ways to Pray (4)

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‘He will call upon Me, and I will answer him…’ Psalm 91:15 NIV

When we try to spend an extended period of time in prayer, our minds tend to wander. When that happens, is God upset with us? No, when your mind wanders—God’s Spirit is still with you. Sometimes your wandering thoughts can actually guide you into prayer. Jon Ortberg writes: ‘I begin praying, and then I imagine myself being wildly successful at something. Or I replay a conversation with a person I’m upset with. Or I try to figure out how to solve a problem I’m worried about. I used to think of those kinds of thoughts as obstacles to prayer, but I’ve come to think of them as prayers waiting to be offered. Maybe the reason they pop into my mind isn’t simply my short attention span, but rather what my mind is really concerned about. So instead of trying to suppress these thoughts, it’s better to begin to talk to God about them. And just like that, I’m back in the flow of prayer. Indeed, we are free to pray in ways that will best help us live in the joyful awareness of God’s presence.’ Obviously, things like getting your hair done or your car fixed are distractions. When these arise, just write them down and say, ‘I’ll get to that later,’ then get back to prayer. Developing a rich and rewarding prayer life isn’t something you accomplish overnight; you have to work at it. But the rewards are more than worth the effort. You’re not unique; everybody battles distractions in prayer. Those who succeed are those who learn to deal with the distractions.

Different Ways to Pray (3)

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‘I lay prostrate before the Lord…’ Deuteronomy 9:25 NIV

Find a prayer style that works for you. In Scripture people pray as they stand, kneel, lie on the ground, sit, stretch out their hands, lift their faces toward the sky, or bow them toward the earth. Just find the method that works best for you, and use it. Some people pray better when they are moving. If you’re one of them, take a walk, go for a drive, or run. You are free to use your body and posture to help you turn your mind and heart towards God. When you’re acknowledging your sins, you may find it helpful to have your head bowed and to kneel; it’ll help you to remember and experience the humility of the moment. In worship, you may want to turn your face towards the sky. In asking for guidance, you may find it helpful to turn your palms upwards as a way of expressing with your body: ‘Lord, whatever You want.’ When praying for someone, say at a restaurant, you may want to look that person right in the eye while talking to God and say, ‘Father, I’m so grateful for this person. You know what they need. Give them what is required by their heart.’ When you’re praising God, put on a worship CD and sing along. The point is you should approach God with the joy, excitement and simplicity with which a child runs into the arms of a loving parent. Just as you don’t have anyone else’s fingerprints, you don’t have anyone else’s temperament. So just approach God in a way that’s natural, spontaneous and comfortable for you.

Different Ways to Pray (2)

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‘Hezekiah received the letter…and spread it out before the Lord.’ Isaiah 37:14 NIV

Hezekiah, King of Israel, received a threatening letter from a much more powerful king—the King of Assyria. The Assyrian potentate demanded unconditional surrender, and told Hezekiah not to trust in God. The letter was graphic, warning that resistance meant the Israelites would have to ‘eat their own excrement and drink their own urine’ before they died (2 Kings 18:27 NIV). So Hezekiah went to the temple ‘and spread it out before the Lord.’ Then he prayed: ‘…God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made Heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see…’ (Isaiah 37:16–17 NIV) Hezekiah basically said, ‘Lord, would you read this, then do something about it!’ And God did. Indeed, what He did was spectacular. ‘Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty–five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!’ (Isaiah 37:36 NIV) So, what piece of paper would you like to spread out before the Lord? A financial statement that’s overwhelming? A divorce decree? A medical diagnosis? An angry email? Any piece of paper that causes you stress can be an invitation to prayer, and a candidate to be spread out before the Lord. If it’s important to you, it’s important to Him. You say, ‘I’ve never done anything like that before.’ Try it. Give it to God, trust Him, and watch how He works things out for you.

Different Ways to Pray (1)

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‘…the Spirit pleads for us…in harmony with God’s own will.’ Romans 8:27 NLT

Someone who’s better at prayer than you are is already at work on your behalf. ‘…the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us… [and] pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.’ (Romans 8:26–27 NLT) Notice, the Holy Spirit ‘prays for us’. Sometimes we’ve a hard time being ‘fully present’ in prayer. We all know what it’s like to be with another person when their mind is a million miles away. What’s the answer? Try jotting down what goes on while you’re praying. The two most common hindrances to praying successfully are: (a) your mind gets easily distracted by other thoughts; (b) you get tired. When author John Ortberg shared these two frustrations with a friend, he suggested that John go outside alone and simply invite Jesus to come along with him. Ortberg writes: ‘The next day I went to the ocean, took off my shoes, started to run and invited Jesus to come along. I found the strangest thing. When I thought I was supposed to be talking to Him, I found it effortful and difficult. Now that all I had to do was invite Him, I couldn’t stop thinking about Him. My mind kept reflecting on His being with me. I found myself wanting to point out the pelicans and the waves to Him. People and concerns would pop into my mind, and I would find myself telling Jesus about them. Everything changed.’ So, invite Jesus to come along with you today and share each thing you do with Him.

Turn the Other Cheek

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‘…If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.’ Matthew 5:39 NLT

There are two ways you can respond to negative criticism. If there’s truth in it, humbly accept it and grow through it. If not, practise what Jesus taught: ‘You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say…If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.’ (Matthew 5:38–39 NLT) Sometimes a person’s criticism may actually have nothing to do with you at all; they simply feel cheated by life. And rather than take control of their heart’s dreams, they go around trying to squelch other people’s dreams in an attempt to drag them down to their own level of despair. And while it’s tempting to want to retaliate and point out their weaknesses and failures, that’s not the example Jesus set for you. Nor is it the high road you are called to take. ‘Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.’ (Romans 12:17–18 NLT) What does it mean to turn the other cheek? It means don’t let your critics get under your skin. Simply listen to them, thank them, and take their criticism with a grain of salt. Save your time and energies for those you trust, those who love you enough to tell you the truth even when it hurts. Someone has said, ‘You owe nothing to a critic!’ Actually, you do. Jesus said, ‘…Pray for those who persecute you!’ (Matthew 5:44 NLT)

Practice Soul Care

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‘He restores my soul…’ Psalm 23:3 NKJV

David said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul…’ (Psalm 23:1–3 NKJV) Today car engines are computerised. A light on your dashboard will let you know something’s wrong and that it’s time for a checkup. Your soul will do that too. But you’ve got to pay attention to the signals! Don’t wait until you have a spiritual, moral, emotional or relational breakdown before you stop and pay attention. When your soul’s thirst is not quenched and its needs are not met, it will seek relief some other way, often a way that will hurt you. You must know when to say ‘when’. Most of us don’t take breaks that enable us to ‘restore our souls’. We’re ensnared by guilt, as if stopping would somehow be irresponsible. Or we fear losing ground because we took a minute for ourselves. One of the hardest things in life to achieve is not success, but a sense of balance. So in all your goal–setting and ‘go–getting’, don’t forget your soul. Even God rested (Genesis 2:2). And if He did, then you need to also. The power of rest is that it allows you to enjoy the journey of life and not just the destination. Indeed, if you don’t learn to walk in the park by choice, you may end up in the hospital by necessity. When God ‘makes you lie down in green pastures’, enjoy them. When He ‘leads you beside the still waters’, it’s to refresh and restore you. So practise soul care!

Today, Let’s Remember That!

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‘…Remember the Lord your God…’ Deuteronomy 8:18 NIV

On March 3, 1863, anguished by the ravages of civil war, Abraham Lincoln declared a Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day: ‘Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognise the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord… We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self–sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.’ God warned Israel: ‘When…your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied… you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant…’ (Deuteronomy 8:13, 18 NKJV) Today, let’s remember that!

What You Need in the Wilderness (6)

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‘…You are to receive the offering for Me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.’ Exodus 25:2 NIV

God’s people already possessed everything necessary to build the tabernacle. So Moses went to God for the plan, and to the people for the resources. And that’s still how it works! Pastor, don’t come up with a plan of your own, or one you got from somebody else, and then ask God to underwrite it. Ask God for His plan, because that’s the only one He will bless. And don’t feel intimidated about going to the people and asking them to give. Perhaps you’re reluctant to talk about finances because some people in church complain and say, ‘All the pastor ever talks about is money.’ Of course, if they’re right, you need to get back into balance. But generally speaking, people need clear biblical teaching on giving; to see it as a privilege and an opportunity to go into partnership with God. Over and over the Bible refers to giving as ‘sowing’. And when you sow, you should expect to reap. The law of giving is like the law of gravity; it never fails. God said, ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest…will never cease.’ (Genesis 8:22 NIV) Observe how it works: first you sow your seed, then there’s a time of waiting, and finally you get to reap. Money can be a touchy subject; it can stir up resistance and resentment. But God promised that when you sow generously, you will reap generously: ‘…whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully… for God loves a cheerful giver.’ (2 Corinthians 9:6–7 ESV) Now, either God told the truth or He didn’t. And you need to find out whether or not it’s true. The only way to do that is to try it and see for yourself.

What You Need in the Wilderness (5)

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‘Acquaint now yourself with Him, and be at peace…’ Job 22:21 NKJV

When you find yourself in the wilderness, what’s the one thing you need more than anything else? God! That’s why the Lord told Moses to build the tabernacle and He used it as a teaching tool to show His people that: (1) He wants to meet with us regularly. The word ‘tabernacle’ means ‘tent of meeting’. God wants you to spend time with Him. He wants you to get to know Him. Because when you do, you’ll worry less and trust Him more. The Bible says, ‘Acquaint now yourself with Him, and be at peace…’ It’s important to listen to God’s Word being taught, to meet with other believers, and be encouraged by their testimonies. But at some point you’ve got to stop trading in second–hand information and get ‘up close and personal’ with God. James writes, ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…’ (James 4:8 NKJV) (2) God wants to be at the centre of our lives. When Israel set up camp each night, the twelve tribes pitched their tents in formation surrounding the tabernacle, where God’s presence dwelt. Every man, woman, boy and girl could stand in the door of their tent and see God in their midst. Could the message be clearer? When your deepest affections and greatest ambitions are centred around Christ, your life will take an upward swing. ‘…delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ (Psalm 37:4 NIV) The formula for thriving in the wilderness is: centre your life on Christ and soak yourself in His Word!

What You Need in the Wilderness (4)

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‘…And there was none feeble among His tribes.’ Psalm 105:37 NKJV

Notice something else Israel enjoyed in the wilderness: divine health. Think of the health issues you’d expect among two million people walking through endless desert with no doctor or hospital in sight. Yet from the youngest to the oldest, ‘He…brought them out…and there was none feeble among His tribes.’ That’s because they lived on a diet provided by God Himself. Their troubles began when they complained and wanted to go back to the food they ate as slaves in Egypt. Hello! There’s an important lesson here for those who live on fast foods that promote ailments like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Imagine pouring five pounds of sugar into the fuel tank of your car and complaining that it won’t run properly. Now, when health problems run in your family, or economic circumstances force you to eat less than ideal food, God understands and you can go to Him with confidence, believing, ‘…the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up…’ (James 5:15 NKJV) But when the choice is between exercising wisdom in order to have good health or exercising faith in order to be healed, your choice is clear. When Israel entered the Promised Land, God told them, ‘…serve the Lord…and He will bless your bread and your water…take sickness away from the midst of you…[and] fulfil the number of your days.’ (Exodus 23:25–26 NKJV) But don’t forget, He also gave them dietary laws to live by that set them apart from the surrounding nations. Question: How many of us fail to ‘fulfil the number of [our] days’ and the assignment God gives us, because we refuse to exercise wisdom and discipline when it comes to our diet? Think about it!

What You Need in the Wilderness (3)

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…He brought you water out of hard rock.’ Deuteronomy 8:15 NIV

What else do you need in the wilderness? Water! You can live without food for about forty days, but without water you’ll die much faster. It’s the same in the spiritual realm; you can get by in life without a lot of things, but you won’t make it without God. In the wilderness God was teaching His people a lesson He wanted them to remember when they arrived in the Promised Land: ‘Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord…Who brought you out of…slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.’ (Deuteronomy 8:12–16 NIV) Note the words ‘that it might go well with you’. In spite of what you’re going through today, God has great blessings in store for you. But in order to handle them properly you must learn humility, develop a heart of gratitude, and never forget that He alone is the source of every good thing you’ll ever have. Then God added this P.S.: ‘If you ever forget…you will surely be destroyed.’ (Deuteronomy 8:19 NIV) That’s how serious He is about making sure you depend on Him each day.

What You Need in the Wilderness (2)

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‘…He led them on safely, so that they did not fear…’ Psalm 78:53 NKJV

You can be in the wilderness and still be in the centre of God’s will. ‘…He made His own people go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock… He led them on safely, so…they did not fear…’ (Psalm 78:52–53 NKJV) In the wilderness you get to know God in a way you never knew Him before. So, what else did Israel need to survive in the wilderness? Food! Someone calculated it would have taken about twenty–six wagonloads of food to feed that many Israelites every day. The problem is there were no trains and no tracks! But they had something much better—God! For forty years He delivered manna, ‘the perfect food’, to the doors of their tents. The supply was according to each family’s individual need—and God never missed a day. So if the economy has you feeling anxious and wondering whether or not God can take care of you—this is the word for you today! God may not give you everything you want, but He will give you everything you need. The God we serve doesn’t suffer from lack or limitation! The Psalmist said, ‘I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging for bread.’ (Psalm 37:25 NKJV) The old country preacher got it right when he said, ‘Where He leads me I will follow; what He feeds me I will swallow.’ Think of it: for forty years Israel never missed a meal or went without. And their God is your God, so put your trust in Him today and stop worrying!

What You Need in the Wilderness (1)

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‘…He…guided them in the wilderness like a flock.’ Psalm 78:52 NKJV

Charles E. Fuller, one of the first radio Bible teachers, started his daily broadcast with the song, ‘My Lord knows the way through the wilderness; all I have to do is follow.’ To get them from Egypt to Canaan, God took His people through the wilderness—and, spiritually speaking, you’ll have to go through it, too! You can have a wilderness experience anywhere. At a graveside, in a cancer ward, in a divorce court, in an unemployment queue, or when you lose your house. But the wilderness can also be a place of miracles. So for the next few days, let’s look at some things you need to survive in the wilderness. Direction! Without it you end up going round in circles. Notice how God led Israel. He ‘went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud…and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light…He took not away the pillar of the cloud…nor the pillar of fire…from before the people.’ (Exodus 13:21–22 NKJV) God basically told Moses: ‘Whenever the pillar moves, you move. And when the pillar stops, you stop.’ But what do you do at night when it’s pitch black? There are no candles or oil lamps, and you risk sharing your bed with a scorpion or stepping on a snake on your way to the bathroom. Don’t worry; God’s got you covered! The wilderness isn’t alien territory to Him. The Psalmist said, ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’ (Psalm 119:105 NKJV) For every contingency, condition and circumstance you face, your Bible will guide you, protect you, and keep you safe. So stop worrying and start reading it every day.

Pray, and Keep Praying!

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‘…Pour out your heart before Him…’ Psalm 62:8 NAS

More than anything else in life, Hannah wanted a son. And as the years passed she wrestled with disappointment and despair. ‘…and [Hannah] was in distress of soul, praying to the Lord.’ (1 Samuel 1:10 AMP) However, she did two things that worked—and they’ll work for you, too! (1) Instead of turning away from God, she turned to Him. Instead of praying less, she prayed more. She knew that while her husband couldn’t give her a child, God could. She may not have been happy with God’s timing, but she never doubted His goodness. Unfortunately, one of the things we’re tempted to do when things fall apart is to avoid God’s presence. That’s a mistake, because He’s the one you need most! Yes, it’s hard to pray when your heart is breaking. But unless you’ve prayed with a broken heart and a deep sense of your need, you’ve never really poured out your heart before God, or learned what the Bible truly means by prayer. (2) She didn’t just think about what she wanted, she also thought about what God wanted. ‘…she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if You will…not forget Your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…”’ (1 Samuel 1:11 NIV) And shortly after that Samuel was conceived. When you’re willing to make a promise to God that He can hold you to (which is what a vow is), you’re getting serious about prayer. And that’s when God will get serious about your prayer as well! So, ‘pour out your heart before Him.’

Your Eyes: A Divine Masterpiece

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‘…I am…wonderfully made…’ Psalm 139:14 NIV

Evolution says that, where there’s a want, nature will provide what’s needed. Really? In Natural Theology, Dr. William Paley writes: ‘To keep the eye moist and clean—which qualities are necessary to its brightness and its use—a wash is constantly supplied by a secretion for the purpose; and the superfluous brine is conveyed to the nose through a perforation in the bone as large as a goose quill. When the fluid has entered the nose, it spreads itself upon the inside of the nostril and is evaporated by the current of warm air which in the course of respiration is continually passing over it… It’s easily perceived that the eye must want moisture; but could the “want” of the eye generate the gland which produces