‘How silently the wondrous gift is given’

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‘You will find a baby… lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:12 NIV

One Christmas in London Phil Yancey went to hear Handel’s Messiah. He says: ‘I’d spent the morning viewing remnants of England’s glory—crown jewels, a gold mace, the Mayor’s gilded carriage… such images must have filled the minds of Isaiah’s contemporaries who heard the promise, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” (Isaiah 40:5 KJV) No doubt the Jews thought back to the glory days of Solomon when “silver and gold [were] as common as stones.” (2 Chronicles 1:15 NIV) The Messiah who showed up, however, wore the glory of humility… The God who could order armies and empires like chessboard pawns emerged as a baby who… depended on a teenage couple for shelter, food and love. In London I caught glimpses of the way rulers stride through the world: with bodyguards, trumpet fanfares… bright clothes… flashing jewellery. Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the US with 2000 kg of luggage… 2 outfits for every occasion… her own hairdresser… and a host of other attendants… God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants and nowhere to lay the newborn King but a feed-trough. A mule could have stepped on him! The sky grew luminous with angels, yet who saw that spectacle? Illiterate hirelings who watched the flocks of others, “nobodies” who failed to leave their names.’

The Christmas story inspired an Episcopal priest visiting Bethlehem in 1865 to pen the familiar words: ‘How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts of human hearts the blessing of His Heaven. No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin; where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.’

Smile, and Start a Chain Reaction

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‘I smiled on them… my cheerful face gave them comfort.’ Job 29:24 GNT

If you think you’ve nothing to smile about, consider these words from a man who’d just experienced the death of all his children, the loss of his entire fortune, and was now covered from head to toe in boils. ‘I smiled on them when they had lost confidence; my cheerful face encouraged them. I took charge and made the decisions; I led them as a king leads his troops, and gave them comfort in their despair.’ (Job 29:24–25 GNT) That’s the power of a smile!

One Christmas a big department store posted this sign: ‘The Value of a Smile: it costs nothing, but creates much. It enriches those who receive it, without impoverishing those who give it. It happens in a flash, and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None are so rich that they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits. It creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the countersign of friends. It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and nature’s best antidote for trouble. Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is no earthly good until it is given away. And if in the last minute rush of Christmas buying some of our salespeople should be too tired to give you a smile, may we ask you to leave one of yours. For nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none left to give!’

Start a chain reaction this Christmas! Walk round around with a smile on your face and see what happens.

The Key to a Successful Life

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‘These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature.’ 2 Peter 1:4 NLT

The story is told of a pastor who was invited to dinner with one of the families in his congregation, so the woman of the house decided to impress him. After dinner she wanted him to read something inspiring to the family. She said to one of her children, ‘Please go and get the Good Book, the book we love, the book we read every day.’ Guess what happened? The child came back with a shopping catalogue!

Seriously, just as you cannot thrive physically without a daily intake of good nutrition, you cannot thrive spiritually without a daily intake of God’s Word. Everything you need for living a joyful and victorious Christian life is found in your Bible. ‘By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself… He has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.’ (2 Peter 1:3–4 NLT) What did Jesus use to overcome Satan’s temptations in the wilderness? Intellect? Willpower? No, He used the Scriptures because He knew Satan has no defence against them.

Do you want to succeed in your career, in your home, in your relationships, and everywhere else? ‘Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.’ (Joshua 1:8 NLT)

The Hardest Thing You’ll Ever Do

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‘[Jesus] made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.’ Philippians 2:7 KJV

The hardest thing you’ll ever do is to put others first and yourself second, because we intuitively look out for ourselves. Self-preservation is man’s first instinct—but it doesn’t work. Do you know how two goats respond when they meet on a narrow path above a river? They can’t turn back, and they can’t pass each other because they lack the smallest bit of spare room. The goats instinctively know that if they butt each other they’ll both fall into the river and drown. So how do they handle it? Nature has taught one goat to lie down so the other can pass over it; and as a result both animals survive and arrive at their destination safe and sound. Instead of seeing itself as a doormat to be walked on, the goat sees itself as a bridge to be crossed over. So it becomes a win/win.

The Bible says Jesus ‘made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.’ (Philippians 2:7 KJV) And to do that you must focus on other people’s needs instead of your own ‘rights’. President Calvin Coolidge once said: ‘No enterprise can exist for itself alone. It ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others; or failing therein, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist.’ And what’s true for any organization or business operation, is true for you.

And here’s the best part: Every time you sacrifice in order to serve someone, you’re sowing seeds of blessing you will surely reap.

Transformed By Beholding

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‘We all… beholding… the Lord, are being transformed into the same image… by the Spirit of the Lord.’ 2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV

Many Christians think God is just waiting to pounce on them for their failures, and their wrong believing produces wrong living. When you view God that way you can’t help but live in constant fear, insecurity and anxiety over your sins and struggles.

Today make a decision to turn your eyes away from yourself and place them on Jesus, for He has already made you righteous with His blood. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21) The more you behold Jesus, the more you will be transformed into His likeness. ‘We all…beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV) Keeping your eyes on Jesus leads to the greatest expression of holiness. Many of us think we have to do more in order to be more holy and accepted by God. As you focus on Jesus and see His love, His forgiveness, His abundant grace and His gift of righteousness purchased for you with His own blood, your approach to Christian living changes and you are transformed—from the inside out.

Holiness comes by focusing on Jesus, not yourself. This is not outward behaviour modification, it’s inward change sustained by a heart that’s been touched by grace and an emancipated conscience that’s freed from guilt and condemnation. As a result you begin to walk in victory instead of defeat. And this is the life that God wants you to experience today.

Dealing With Depression (5)

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‘They are trying to kill me too.’ 1 Kings 19:10 NIV

Here’s another mistake that triggered Elijah’s depression: He exaggerated the negative. It’s that old ‘everybody’s against me!’ thinking. The fact is, almost nobody was against Elijah. Only one person opposed him, and her threat wasn’t real. Queen Jezebel didn’t dare kill Elijah. Think about it: if she’d really intended to kill him she wouldn’t have sent a messenger to warn him, she’d have sent a hit man! Jezebel feared Elijah’s influence. If he’d ended up a martyr, that would have increased his influence and likely caused a revolution. Having just witnessed what God did to the prophets of Baal, Jezebel was probably afraid of what God would do to her if she touched His prophet. So her words were empty threats. But instead of stopping to realistically evaluate the situation, Elijah ran away.

When we’re depressed we tend to exaggerate the negative. In reality, Elijah wasn’t the only person still faithful to God. There were seven thousand other prophets who hadn’t succumbed to pagan religion (see 1 Kings 19:18), but Elijah exaggerated the problem and ended up sinking lower than ever.

If you feel depressed today, put your trust in God. Rise up and say, ‘This too shall pass. What does not destroy me will only make me stronger.’ Here’s a promise you can stand on with complete confidence: ‘How great is the goodness You have stored up for those who fear You. You lavish it on those who come to You for protection, blessing them before the watching world.’ (Psalm 31:19 NLT)

Dealing With Depression (4)

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‘I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty.’ 1 Kings 19:10 NLT

After Elijah fled to the desert and hid in a cave, God asked him, ‘What are you doing here?’ (1 Kings 19:9 NLT) Whereupon Elijah replied, ‘I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with You, torn down Your altars, and killed every one of Your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.’ (1 Kings 19:14 NLT)

Another thing that causes depression is assuming false blame. When we take on a responsibility God never gave us, it’s too heavy a burden to bear. If you’re in the habit of helping people, you soon realise they don’t always respond in the way you’d like. And that’s the case whether it’s your children, your friends, your spouse or the people you work with. People react in many different ways, and you can’t assume personal responsibility for their responses. God has given each of us a free will, and when you accept responsibility for other people’s decisions you take on a burden that will only depress you. At best, you can influence people but you can’t control them. The final decision is theirs, so don’t let yourself get down over something that you can’t control. When you know you’ve done what God told you to do, trust Him to do what you can’t do. Any time you try to convict, convince, convert, control or change another person, you’re setting yourself up for misery.

The Bible says, ‘It is God who works in you [and others] to will and to act in order to fulfil His good purpose.’ (Philippians 2:13 NIV) So when you’ve done your part, back off and let God do His.

Dealing With Depression (3)

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‘Lord… take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ 1 Kings 19:4 NIV

Another cause for depression is comparing ourselves with other people. We think, ‘If I could just be like so-and-so I’d be happy.’ When you compare yourself with other people you’re asking for trouble. (See 2 Corinthians 10:12) There’s only one person you should strive to be—and that’s yourself. When you try to imitate another person and act like them, invariably you end up depressed. You need to be honest with yourself, and be who you are. That’s all God wants. That’s all He expects.

When we start comparing ourselves with other people, we fall into another trap: we compare our weaknesses with their strengths. We forget that those people may be weak in areas where we are strong. What’s more, we try to motivate ourselves through self-criticism and condemnation. We do it by ‘should-ing’ ourselves: ‘I should be able to be like that person. I should be able to act better. I should be able to accomplish it. I should be able to stop it’—as if whipping ourselves verbally is going to change us! Nagging doesn’t work when we do it to another person, and nagging ourselves doesn’t work either.

So what’s the solution? Start reprogramming your mind with God’s Word. ‘By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself…has given us great and precious promises…that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.’ (2 Peter 1:3–4 NLT)

Dealing With Depression (2)

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‘He… sat down… and prayed that he might die.’ 1 Kings 19:4 NIV

The Bible says: ‘Elijah was afraid and ran for his life… into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life…”’ (1 Kings 19:3–4 NIV) What was Elijah’s mistake? The same one we sometimes make when we’re depressed: we focus on our feelings rather than on the facts of the situation. It happens when we get down. Elijah felt like a failure because of one incident that intimidated him. He thought to himself, ‘I’m such a coward—why am I running?’ And because he felt like a failure he assumed he was a failure.

Feelings often lie; and when we focus on how we feel instead of focusing on reality we get into trouble. For instance, when we make a mistake in one area, we tend to feel like we’re failures at all of life in general. That’s a misconception. Everyone is entitled to make mistakes, and you can fail in some areas without being a failure as a person. Mental health experts encourage us to vent our feelings and get them out. But that’s not the complete answer, because feelings are notoriously unreliable. God doesn’t tell us to get in touch with our feelings, but to get in touch with the truth of His Word because ultimately that’s what sets us free. (See John 8:32)

To overcome depression you must study God’s Word and practice bringing your feelings into alignment with what it says.

Dealing With Depression (1)

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‘Elijah was as human as we are.’ James 5:17 NLT

Elijah, who’d been fearless for three years, became frightened when Jezebel threatened his life. So he ran to the desert, where he became depressed and announced, ‘I have had enough, Lord… take my life.’ (1 Kings 19:4 NIV) Elijah became a prime candidate for depression when he got physically tired, emotionally drained, and felt threatened. He was a basket case of emotional problems: fear, resentment, guilt, anger, loneliness and worry. And the Bible says, ‘Elijah was a man just like us.’ He wrestled with the same problems we do. He got so depressed that he wanted to die!

Why do we get ourselves into such emotional messes? Sometimes it’s because of what happens to us—bad circumstances that occur in our lives. But more often it’s due to faulty thinking. The truth is our emotions are generated by our thoughts, and when we think in destructive ways we are going to feel depressed. Our emotions spring from how we interpret life, and if you always see things from a negative viewpoint you’re going to get down. To rid yourself of harmful emotions you must learn to change the way you think.

That’s why the Bible talks about being ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2 NKJV) To overcome depression you must learn to correct your wrong thinking and attitudes about life. In the words of Jesus, when you ‘know the truth… the truth will set you free.’ (John 8:32 NIV) Looking at things from the right point of view—God’s viewpoint—is the path to overcoming depression.

Don’t Be So Self-Absorbed

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‘Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.’ Philippians 2:4 NLT

Do you want to maintain other people’s respect? When they share their struggles and successes with you, don’t say, ‘That’s nothing; let me tell you about my…!’ Haman, a Persian government official mentioned in the book of Esther, was self-absorption personified. He ‘boasted to [his friends and wife] about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored… and… elevated him above the other nobles and officials.’ (Esther 5:11 NIV) Not once do we read of his expressing interest in anyone but himself. Indeed, he was so resentful of the favor the king had shown toward Mordecai, a Jew, that he built a gallows on which to hang him. And how did the story end? The king hanged Haman on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.

So unless you want to tie a noose around your own neck, stop talking so much about yourself! Chances are you may not even be aware of this character flaw in your communication. So ask God to point it out when you do it, and give you grace to overcome it. Self-centredness dies slowly, so start with small steps. Try going for a whole day without making your issues the focus of every conversation. Give everyone you meet your full attention—and watch your friendships multiply and your relationships deepen.

The word for you today is: ‘Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’

Understanding Your Child

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‘Give to Your servant an understanding heart.’ 1 Kings 3:9 NKJV

Do you remember the ‘class clown’ in the school? He could make everyone crack up at the most inopportune times. He was a trial to his teachers, an embarrassment to his parents, and an utter delight to every child who wanted to escape the boredom of school. Teachers probably wonder if the Board of Education assigns at least one clown to every class to make sure they earn every dollar of their salaries. These skilled little disrupters are usually boys. Often they have reading or other academic problems. They may be small in stature, although not always, and they’ll do anything for a laugh. Their parents and teachers may not recognise that behind the boisterous behaviour is often the pain of inferiority.

You see, humour is a classic response to feelings of low self-esteem. That’s why within many successful comedians is the memory of a hurting child. Jonathan Winters’ parents were divorced when he was seven, and he used to cry when he was alone because other children teased him about not having a father. Joan Rivers frequently joked about her unattractiveness as a girl. She said she was such a ‘dog’, her father had to throw a bone down the aisle to get her married. These famous comedians got their training during childhood, using humour as a defence.

That’s also the inspiration for the class clown. By making an enormous joke out of everything, they often conceal the self-doubt that churns inside them. Understanding that should help you meet their needs and manage them more effectively. ‘Give to Your servant an understanding heart’ is a prayer every parent and teacher should pray.

When You Pray

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‘While He prayed… Heaven… opened.’ Luke 3:21 NKJV

When Jesus was baptized the Bible says, ‘While He prayed… the Holy Spirit descended… upon Him… and a voice… from Heaven…said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”’ (Luke 3:21–22 NKJV) After the crucifixion the disciples ‘prayed with a single purpose’ (Acts 1:14 CEV) and ‘the place…was shaken. They were…filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke God’s word without fear.’ (Acts 4:31 NCV) Make no mistake, prayer can be hard work, but our most rewarding moments will come from time spent on our knees. God uses prayer to accomplish things that won’t happen any other way.

Henry Blackaby says: ‘As we pray our attention is turned towards God and we become more receptive to aligning our lives with His will. He won’t equip us with His power while we’re racing off to our next appointment! His Spirit won’t empower us if we’re oblivious to what He’s saying. He requires our complete attention… ‘Jesus told His disciples…they should always pray and not give up.’ (Luke 18:1 NIV) If you’ll commit yourself to spend sustained time in prayer… God will work in your life as He did in the lives of Jesus and His disciples… The fervent prayer of the people at Pentecost didn’t induce the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Prayer brought them to where they were ready to participate in the mighty work God had already planned.’

The Bible says, ‘Before daylight, [Jesus] went… to a solitary place; and…prayed.’ (Mark 1:35 NKJV) And before He chose His disciples, ‘He spent the night praying.’ (Luke 6:12 NCV) If it took a whole night for Jesus to determine His Father’s will, what makes you think you can do it in a few hurried moments?

Walk in the Light!

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‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world.’ John 3:19 NIV

Here are some helpful observations on ‘walking in the Light’.

(1) Sin is God’s enemy, and yours. Jesus said, ‘Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.’ (Luke 11:23 NIV) Neutrality and passivity aren’t options; you must treat sin like the enemy it is. (2) Be honest with yourself and God. Don’t excuse your sin as a ‘condition’ or ‘tendency’. You didn’t just make a bad judgment—you sinned. You may have had a troubled past, but today you have choices! (3) Don’t indulge in beating yourself up. You’re not supposed to wallow in condemnation before acknowledging your sin. Making yourself miserable doesn’t signify that you deserve forgiveness. That comes by grace, through faith alone. Every second spent in self-condemnation is time stolen from you by Satan. The moment that brings the acknowledgment of sin also brings the cleansing of sin. (4) If you repeat the sin, repeat the confession. ‘Won’t God get tired of me coming to Him?’ you ask. No. God accepted Jesus as a substitute for all your sins for all time, so He will never reject you. Isaiah told God’s people, ‘Return to the Lord, and He will have mercy… and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.’ (Isaiah 55:7 NKJV)

Above all, be patient with yourself. Give the Holy Spirit time to develop in you the strength needed to transcend your old nature and overcome your old sinful habits, and be assured it will happen. (See Philippians 1:6)

The Power of Intercessory Prayer

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‘Moses… stood before [God] in the breach.’ Psalm 106:23 NKJV

Sometimes God moves sovereignly, giving you neither notice nor explanation. Other times He moves only in answer to prayer. The prayers of Rees Howells, ‘the Welsh intercessor’, were so powerful that they’re credited with thwarting the Nazis and influencing certain events in World War II. Thank God for knowledge and ability, but some things only happen when we ‘give ourselves continually to prayer.’ (Acts 6:4 NKJV) The Bible says God would have destroyed Israel ‘had not Moses… stood before Him in the breach, to turn away His wrath.’

Behind some of the greatest spiritual awakenings in history was an unseen, unsung force known as ‘intercessors’. Many of the victories we celebrate in the open are first won by such people in the secret place of prayer. It’s a specialized ministry, and God could be calling you to it. Even though your limbs may not carry you beyond your own front door, through prayer you can limit Satan’s movements and defeat his best-laid plans. Through prayer you can call the forces of Heaven into any situation, anywhere, anytime, for anybody. No wonder Satan downplays the power of intercessory prayer and will do whatever it takes to keep us from giving ourselves to it. There’s no distance in prayer.

God said, ‘Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.’ (Psalm 2:8 NKJV) It’s time to move beyond our ‘bless me’ prayers and start claiming bigger things for God. When what we declare on earth lines up with what God has decreed in Heaven—it will be done!

The Golden Rule (3)

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‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:39 NIV

To make the Golden Rule part of your daily life, you must try to do three things for others:

(1) Trust them. Without trust there can be no real relationship. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson said, ‘The chief lesson I’ve learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is by trusting him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.’ Is it always easy? No, especially when it’s someone you don’t know very well. Nevertheless, that’s Christ’s Golden Rule. As you strive to invest confidence in others just as you’d like it to be invested in you, remember that the person who trusts others will always lose less than the person who distrusts them. (2) Thank them. Human relations expert Donald Laird said, ‘Always help people increase their self-esteem… There’s hardly a higher compliment you can pay an individual than helping him to be useful and to find satisfaction in his usefulness.’ How do you do that? By letting them know you appreciate their efforts. By making a point of praising them in the presence of those closest to them. As Broadway producer Billy Rose observed: ‘It’s hard for a fellow to keep a chip on his shoulder if you allow him to take a bow.’ (3) Value them. Surveys confirm that 70 percent of workers who leave their jobs do so because they don’t feel valued. That’s an indictment of how poorly some leaders treat employees! There isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t want to be appreciated. Don’t you?

So make a habit of practicing the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule (2)

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‘For you will be treated as you treat others.’ Matthew 7:2 NLT

In his book Running with the Giants, John Maxwell tells of a new pastor who shared the following eight rules with his congregation: (1) If you’ve a problem with me, come and see me privately. I’ll do the same for you. (2) If someone else has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. I’ll do the same. (3) If someone won’t come to me, say, ‘Let’s go see him together.’ I’ll do the same. (4) Be careful how you interpret me—I’d rather do that. It’s too easy to misinterpret intentions. I’ll also be careful how I interpret you. (5) If it’s confidential, don’t tell. If you or anyone else comes to me in confidence, I won’t tell, unless they’re going to harm themselves, harm someone else, or a child has been physically or sexually abused. I expect the same from you. (6) I don’t read unsigned letters. (7) I don’t manipulate. I won’t be manipulated. Don’t let others manipulate you. And don’t let others try to manipulate me through you. (8) When in doubt, just say so. If I can answer without misrepresenting something or breaking a confidence, I will.

Those eight rules can be reduced to the one Golden Rule: ‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.’ Good marriages, business relationships and friendships are based on the Golden Rule Jesus gave us.

One final thought: ‘Abstain from every form of evil.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:22 NKJV) If people could construe that you’re taking advantage of them even after you’ve had a chance to explain your motives, you may need to rethink your idea.

The Golden Rule (1)

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‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.’ Matthew 7:12 NLT

Try to slot yourself based on one of these statements: (a) I’m always ethical. (b) I’m mostly ethical. (c) I’m somewhat ethical. (d) I’m seldom ethical. (e) I’m never ethical. Which slot do you fall into?

If we’re truthful, most of us would likely put ourselves in slot (b). Why? Because of personal convenience. Think about it. Paying the price for success is inconvenient. Putting others first is inconvenient. Practicing personal discipline is inconvenient. Risking confrontation is inconvenient. Most of us think being ethical is fine—unless we’re on the losing end of somebody else’s ethical lapse.

But if you’re serious about establishing an ethical standard to live by, you need look no further than the Golden Rule: ‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.’ And: (1) It brings peace and self-worth. When all is said and done, you need to be able to live with yourself because ‘wherever you go you take yourself with you.’ If the only way you can win is by cheating, you lose self-respect, fear being exposed, lack confidence in approaching God, and your successes feel hollow. (2) It results in a win-win. Are you the kind of person who thinks that in order for you to win, somebody else must lose? That philosophy doesn’t work. When you treat other people the way you want to be treated, they win; and when they reciprocate, you win. There are no losers. (3) It’s easy to understand. You simply put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s it! There are no complicated rules and no loopholes.

Don’t Be A Hypocrite

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‘…each of you must put off falsehood.’ Ephesians 4:25 NIV

It’s not your shortcomings that make you a hypocrite; it’s hiding them and pretending you don’t have any! Note two things about hypocrisy: (1) It’s as natural as breathing. It appeals to our ego. We get hooked on it because it looks so impressive, and results in our getting lots of positive strokes. Who doesn’t enjoy that? (2) Dealing with it is hard. It’s easier to train a new Christian than to retrain an old one steeped in religion.

To win the battle with hypocrisy you must first admit you’ve a problem with it. Only then can the Holy Spirit begin a work of deliverance and set you on the path to freedom. But be warned, it’s a long and brutal fight. Our desire to look good in front of others dies slowly—if at all.

Paul writes: ‘So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking… darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they… indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ… You were taught… to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood.’

Don’t Forget To Thank God

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‘When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God.’ Deuteronomy 8:10 NIV

We decided to reprint this story because its message is timeless.

‘They huddled inside the storm door—two children in ragged, oversized coats. “Any old papers, lady?” I was busy. I wanted to say no—until I saw their feet. Little sandals sopped with sleet. “Come in and I’ll make you some hot cocoa.” There was no conversation. Their soggy sandals left marks on the hearthstone. I served them cocoa with toast and jam to fortify them against the chill outside. Then I went back to the kitchen to work on my household budget. The silence in the front room struck through me. I looked in. The little girl held the empty cup in her hands and looked at it. The boy asked, “Lady, are you rich?” I looked at my shabby slipcovers. “Am I rich? Mercy, no!” The girl put the cup in its saucer—carefully. “Your cups match your saucers.” Her voice was old with a hunger not of the stomach. They then left, holding their bundles of paper against the wind. They hadn’t said thank you. They didn’t need to—they’d done more than that. Much more. Plain blue pottery cups and saucers, but they matched. Potatoes in brown gravy; a roof over our heads; my man with a good steady job—these things matched, too. I moved the chairs back from the fire and tidied the living room. The muddy prints of small sandals were still wet on my hearth. I let them be. I want them there in case I ever forget how rich I am!’

The word for you today is: Don’t forget to thank God.

The Virtue of Humility (2)

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‘Humility brings honor.’ Proverbs 29:23 NLT

The story’s told of a young pastor who was widely known to be a gifted preacher. But as his congregation swelled—so did his head! One Sunday after he’d delivered his latest masterpiece, a church member shook his hand and said, ‘You are, without a doubt, one of the greatest preachers of our generation.’ It was all the young minister could do to squeeze his head into the car as he slid behind the steering wheel. And as he and his wife drove home he told her what his parishioner had said. She didn’t respond, so after fishing for affirmation he said, ‘I wonder just how many “great preachers” there are in this generation?’ She replied, ‘One fewer than you think, dear!’

Try to imagine Jesus kneeling with a towel and a basin to wash the dirt from your feet. In those days of unpaved streets, it was a common courtesy. When you visited someone’s home they’d wash your feet as a way of saying, ‘I welcome and honor you.’ When Jesus’ disciples protested, He said to them, ‘I have given you an example to follow: do as I have done to you… That is the path of blessing.’ (John 13:15–17 TLB) Someone once asked Leonard Bernstein, the brilliant New York Philharmonic conductor, what the most difficult position in the orchestra was. He replied, ‘Second fiddle.’

Everybody wants to sit in the first chair. But in God’s Kingdom we’re called to consider others first and ourselves second. When we do, God promises to honor us.

The Virtue of Humility (1)

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‘Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life.’ Proverbs 22:4 NIV

When Benjamin Franklin was 22 he was living in Philadelphia after escaping an oppressive apprenticeship. He was, as they say, ‘trying to find himself.’ One question burned in his heart: ‘What are the greatest priorities of my life?’ In answer, he developed twelve ‘virtues’—values that would govern his life. They were temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility and chastity. Franklin took his list of virtues to an old Quaker friend and asked his opinion. His friend read them and said, ‘Benjamin, you’ve forgotten the most important one.’ Surprised, Franklin asked which one. The old man replied, ‘Humility.’ Franklin immediately added it to his list. He organized his life into repeating thirteen-week cycles, focusing on one of those virtues each week. At seventy-eight years of age, he began reflecting on his life and the qualities he’d built it around. Though he felt pretty good about having achieved most of them, here’s what he said about humility: ‘I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue; but I have had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.’

The Bible says, ‘Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honour and life.’ Humility is an interesting virtue; you’re supposed to show it—but not know it! Jonathan Edwards said, ‘Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility.’

If there’s one thing in this world your ego will neither seek nor strive for, it’s humility. Yet true and lasting success depends on it.

The Double Standard

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‘…the way of the wicked is like total darkness.’ Proverbs 4:19 NLT

The Bible says: ‘The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over.’ (Proverbs 4:18–19 NLT)

In 1966 Dr. Joseph Fletcher published a book which became a best seller. It was called Situation Ethics. In it he said love was the only standard for determining right from wrong. The result was ethical chaos. Why? Because it allowed us to set our own standards, which changed from situation to situation. And to make matters worse, it’s our natural inclination to go easy on ourselves, judging ourselves according to our intentions while holding others to a higher standard and judging them based on their actions. For example, someone who cheats on his taxes or steals office supplies still expects honesty from the company whose stock he buys and the business clients he deals with. That’s what’s known as the double standard. It’s easy to get disgusted with people who fail the ethics test—especially when they’ve wronged us. But it’s a lot harder to make ethical choices in our own lives.

Understand this: when you operate on the edge of honesty, you invariably go over that edge! It may be possible to fool people for a season, but your deeds always catch up with you. Just as someone may appear to profit temporarily from dishonesty, being truthful may sometimes look like a losing proposition. But both your pleasure and profit will be short-lived, because ultimately we’ll all stand in judgment before God—and how will you look then?

Be Prepared

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‘They prepare… in the summer.’ Proverbs 30:25 NKJV

Ants are small, but smart; they ‘store up food all summer.’ (Proverbs 30:25 NLT) Do you remember the story about the ant and the grasshopper? In summertime the ant is busy working, gathering food while the grasshopper plays. Then when winter sets in the ant retires to his home and enjoys life. He paid the price, now he can enjoy the reward. But now it’s time for the grasshopper that played on the front end to pay on the back end. As a result he starves in the cold because he didn’t understand that the only adequate preparation for tomorrow is the wise use of today. Think about it: when you were in school, did you ever prepare so well for an exam that you walked into the classroom with absolute confidence, knowing you’d ace it? Well, you can bring that same confidence to everyday life.

Sadly, many of us don’t lead our lives, we accept them! But life’s not a dress rehearsal. You don’t get a second chance. Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘The secret of success in life is to be ready when the time comes.’ Question: if God gave you everything you’re praying for right now, would you be ready to handle it? Nothing great is created suddenly; success doesn’t occur overnight. And neither does failure. Each is a process. The fact is, every day of your life is preparation for the next.

So the questions are: what are you preparing for, and how are you preparing? Are you grooming yourself for success or failure? Only if you’re willing to work hard on the front end, will you reap the rewards on the back end.

God Knows ‘The Purpose’ Of Your Life

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‘The Lord rewarded me because I did what was right.’ 2 Samuel 22:25 NCV

You can be successful yet still feel empty inside. Solomon’s life proves that. He was the world’s wealthiest man, as well as one of the most famous. Yet amazingly he begins the book of Ecclesiastes with these words: ‘Everything is meaningless.’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NLT)

Solomon discovered that a fulfilling life can only be built on two things: relationships and purpose. And the first and foremost relationship you must establish is with God. Once that happens you discover your life’s purpose. And as you start walking in it your joy and fulfilment knows no bounds. Self-help gurus tell us, ‘Look inside yourself and you’ll find the key!’ But how can you uncover the plot for your life by simply examining your life? You’ll have more luck following ‘the yellow brick road’! No, ‘All things are done according to God’s plan and decision; and God chose us to be His own people in union with Christ because of His own purpose, based on what He had decided from the very beginning. Let us, then, who were the first to hope in Christ, praise God’s glory!’ (Ephesians 1:11–12 GNT)

Your life’s purpose has already been determined by the greatest mind and the kindest heart in the universe: the mind and heart of God. You say, ‘But things aren’t working out too well for me right now.’ We all have times like that. But here’s a promise you can stand on: ‘He makes everything work out according to His plan.’ (Ephesians 1:11 NLT) God knows the purpose of your life. Pray and He will reveal it to you.

When God Sends Someone To Help You

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‘Let the godly smite me! It will be a kindness!’ Psalm 141:5 TLB

The greatest indictment against not knowing is not learning. If you look at it the right way every experience in life is a school, and every new acquaintance is a teacher. So seize every opportunity to learn. Just make sure you pick the right teachers: those who’ve earned the right to come alongside you and, when appropriate, ask the hard questions, bring perspective, and keep you on track. Solomon said, ‘Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket. To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring.’ (Proverbs 25:11–12 NLT)

When God sends someone to help you: (1) Show your appreciation. Never take others for granted and never forget to say thank you. An attitude of ‘I don’t expect appreciation so I don’t give it’ will hurt you and close doors to your future. (2) Pull your weight. Don’t be self-serving and opportunistic. Look for ways to make your presence an asset, not a liability. Life owes you nothing except an opportunity to grow. (3) Understand the boundaries. Other people may know someone well enough to address them by their first name, but that doesn’t mean you should—especially not a potential mentor. If someone says, ‘Hello, my name is Charles,’ don’t come back with, ‘What’s up, Charlie!’ Show respect, and don’t try to change the protocol to suit the environment you’re used to.

Observe boundaries, respect others and listen, and you’ll always have people willing to help you get where you need to go.

Don’t Doubt God’s Word

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‘Faith comes from hearing.’ Romans 10:17 NIV

You may doubt your own ability, but never doubt God’s—or His promises and His willingness to fulfill them. The Psalmist wrote, ‘You have magnified Your word above… Your name.’ (Psalm 138:2 NKJV) The only thing in the universe that God has placed above His name is His Word. So fill your mind with it, speak it daily and don’t ever question it. Doubt often originates from our inclination to portray ourselves as self-confident. Self-confidence is a concept touted by the world; it encourages us to rely on our own skills and abilities. But the Bible says, ‘Those who trust in themselves are fools.’ (Proverbs 28:26 NIV)

Reportedly, the verse at the center of the Bible is: ‘It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.’ (Psalm 118:8 NKJV) So center your confidence around God, not yourself or anybody else. Do you doubt yourself and your own worth? Do you question your ability to pursue your career? Do you doubt your aptitude to form healthy relationships? Despite having lived with Jesus for almost three years and hearing His promise that He’d rise again from the dead, Thomas still said, ‘Unless I can see His wounds and touch Him, I will not believe.’ (See John 20:25) Did Jesus turn His back on Thomas because of his doubts? No, He never rejects a sincere, doubting heart! Jesus showed up in person and resolved all of Thomas’ doubts.

And as you read His word and seek His face, He will alleviate your misgivings and qualms too. When you stop living in the ‘sense’ realm and learn to ‘walk by faith’, your doubts will begin to die. (See 2 Corinthians 5:7)

Try to See People as God Sees Them

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‘You are a letter from Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV

When you consider some of the people Jesus called to be His disciples, the word ‘dysfunctional’ comes to mind. But Jesus wasn’t put off. Like finding treasure in the rubbish, He was able to see their potential, draw it out and develop it. And that’s your story too, isn’t it? Paul writes, ‘You are a letter from Christ… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.’ Other people don’t write your story. Even you don’t. ‘The Spirit of the living God’ is writing it. That means your best days are still ahead!

An old Bible lay on a bargain table along with hundreds of tattered books. A lot of people had picked it up and thumbed through its pages. It wasn’t in very good shape—certainly not worth very much—so it was cast aside. Then a man picked it up, stifled a shout and, rushing to the counter he paid the meager asking price. Turns out it was an original Gutenberg estimated to be worth more than a million dollars! How many times did that old book change hands before it was redeemed? How many times did the world cast it aside, unaware of its value?

The truth is, we were all passed over until Jesus saw value in us. But rather than paying bargain price, He paid the highest price possible. ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8 NIV) So when you’re having a bad day, look in the mirror and remind yourself, ‘God loves me calvary-worth!’ Then go out and try to see others as treasures God couldn’t live without; sinners Christ died to redeem.

Encourage Your Pastor

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‘He…encouraged them for the service of the house of the Lord.’ 2 Chronicles 35:2 NKJV

The Bible says King Josiah ‘set the priests in their duties and encouraged them for the service of the house of the Lord.’ Josiah did two things: he instructed them, and he encouraged them. Why? Because one without the other doesn’t work! How often have you left church feeling lifted, encouraged and inspired by the sermon? Question: have you ever thought of telling your pastor how much it meant to you, or sending them an email to let them know you appreciate their ministry?

Pastors get more kicks than kisses. Some 37 percent quit the ministry because of discouragement. Did you know that? Even the great apostle Paul got discouraged: ‘When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you. When he told us how much you long to see me, and how sorry you are for what happened, and how loyal you are to me, I was filled with joy!’ (2 Corinthians 7:5–7 NLT)

Titus encouraged Paul in two ways: (1) By showing up. ‘We were glad just to see him.’ Like it or not, when you don’t go to church you’re saying, ‘Pastor, you’re not worth coming to hear.’ (2) By offering encouragement. ‘He told us how much you long to see me.’ This week, encourage your pastor.

How to Stay Together

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‘Wives… submit yourselves to your husbands… Husbands, love your wives.’ Colossians 3:18–19 NIV

Picture two little rowing boats setting off across a choppy lake. A man sits in one, and a woman in the other. They have every intention of rowing side by side, yet they begin drifting in opposite directions until they can hardly hear each other above the wind. Soon the man finds himself at one end of the lake and the woman at the other. Neither knows how they drifted apart, or how to reconnect. Now picture two newlyweds. They stand at the altar and pledge to live together in love and harmony. Unfortunately, 50 percent of the time it doesn’t work that way. Unless their relationship is maintained and cultivated, they will grow distant. That is why two romantic little rowboats often drift toward opposite ends of the lake.

So how can husbands and wives stay in love, and stay together for a lifetime? The answer is to row like crazy! Take time for romantic activities. Think about each other through the day. Avoid that which breeds conflict and resentment. Be aware of each other’s needs and desires. These are the keys to harmony and friendship. Yes, it’s difficult to keep two rowboats together, but it can be done if each partner is determined to row. Nothing beats a good marriage, but you have to work at it because the currents of culture and the stresses of life can cause you to drift apart.

Hence the Bible says, ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.’ (Colossians 3:18–19 NIV)

Express Your Love

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‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:39 NLT

When it comes to loving others:

(1) You need to say it. An old fisherman who’d been married for fifty years to his patient, long-suffering wife, rarely took time to express his affection. Finally in frustration one day she said to him, ‘How come you never tell me you love me?’ Without batting an eyelid he announced, ‘I told you I loved you when I married you, and if I ever change my mind I’ll let you know!’ That’s a cute story, but not so cute if it’s a reality. Your husband or wife may know you love them, but they still need to hear you say it. And so do your children, your friends and the people in your circle of influence. The fact is you can never say ‘I love you’ too much! (2) You need to show it. Everybody needs ‘a pat on the back’. Dr. Dolores Krieger, a professor of nursing at New York University who conducted numerous studies on the power of human touch, discovered that both the ‘toucher’ and the ‘touchee’ experience great physiological benefit from human contact. It works like this: red blood cells carry haemoglobin, a substance that transports oxygen to body tissue. And Dr. Krieger found that when one person lays hands on another, the haemoglobin levels in the blood stream of both people increase. And as they rise, body tissue receives increased oxygen, which invigorates you physically and can aid in the healing process. What you’re seeing is the literal power of love in action.

Loving is good for you! There’s nothing as rewarding, satisfying, or encouraging as loving others through your words and actions.

Start Taking Time Off

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‘On the seventh day you shall rest.’ Exodus 34:21 NKJV

One of the best ways to maintain your perspective on what’s truly important is to plan times of rest and recreation. The word recreation means to ‘re-create’: to recharge your batteries physically, spiritually, emotionally and relationally. Rest and recreation restore your creativity, fuel your vision, and bring balance to your world.

The fact is, some of the people we admire most are socially and relationally dysfunctional. For example, if you took the pulpit away from certain preachers and the CEO title away from certain executives, they’d be totally lost. And if you’re honest, you’d conclude that in all likelihood they needed counselling. They’ve only one string on their fiddle—work. Without it they don’t know how to live! The Bible says, ‘God…rested from all His work.’ (Genesis 2:2 NIV) Now, since God doesn’t sleep and never gets tired, clearly He was setting an example for us to follow. Purpose-driven people can become obsessed with work and believe they don’t have time for fun. Some may even consider fun to be ‘carnal’. But Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ (Mark 6:31 NIV)

God, who thought that taking time off was so important that He put it in the Bible, said, ‘…if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord.’ (Isaiah 58:13–14 NIV) So the word for you today is: ‘Start taking time off.’

The Power of One (2)

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‘I set before you today life and prosperity.’ Deuteronomy 30:15 NIV

God told His people: ‘See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you.’ (Deuteronomy 30:15–16 NIV)

One person with the love of God in their heart can start a chain reaction. John Wilkes Booth shocked the world by assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. At the time, Booth’s brother Edwin was considered one of the greatest actors in America. Believing the family name had been shamed forever, he retired from acting and went into seclusion. But his legacy turned out not to be one of death and disappointment, but of life and influence. A year or so before Lincoln’s assassination, Edwin was at a train station in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was standing nearby when a young man lost his footing on the platform and almost fell into the path of a moving train. Without hesitation, Edwin rescued the young man by reaching down and pulling him up by his collar. There was a brief exchange of gratitude, but Edwin never dreamed how significant that moment would become. Some years later he received a letter from then President Ulysses Grant thanking him for his heroic deed. Why? Because the young man he had saved was Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln. Edwin Booth took that letter to his grave; a reminder that we may not be able to change our past but we can certainly change our future.

And by God’s grace you can change yours too!

The Power of One (1)

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‘Go in the strength you have… Am I not sending you?’ Judges 6:14 NIV

Gideon came from a family of idol worshippers, so he didn’t think he had much of a future. But God thought differently. He said to him, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’ And today Gideon is remembered as one of the greatest leaders in the Bible. That’s what’s known as ‘the power of one’.

Do you doubt that one person can make a difference? Winston Churchill convinced England they could survive the Nazi war machine. Lee Iacocca turned Chrysler around and saved the company. Florence Nightingale transformed the care of patients by emphasising sanitary design and hygiene in hospitals, practices that carry over to this day. Rosa Parks, a lone black woman, overturned two centuries of racial discrimination. But you don’t have to be a George Washington, an Abraham Lincoln, or a Mother Teresa to make a difference. Your influence may not be as far-reaching as theirs, but ‘charity begins at home’, which means you can grow and thrive where you’re planted. In A Psalm of Life Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writes, ‘Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime; and departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.’

Like Gideon, you may not be able to change your family history or undo your past mistakes. But you can learn from them, grow, and create a legacy that outshines your heritage. Not sure where to start? Commit your life to Christ and start following in His footsteps.

God Says ‘Yes’

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‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV

You will notice that in the Old Testament God’s promises came with conditions that had to be met. In other words, you had to do something. ‘If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land.’ (Isaiah 1:19 NIV) To receive God’s promise there was a price to be paid, conditions to be met, and a performance of certain things on your part. But all that changed at the cross. When Jesus said, ‘It is finished,’ the Greek text could literally be translated ‘paid in full.’ Hence Paul writes, ‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.’

Are you a redeemed child of God? Are you ‘in Christ’? Then God says, ‘Yes, I’ll meet your needs, I’ll do for you what I have promised.’ Just as a bank will tell you, ‘You’re pre-qualified for the credit card,’ as a believer you’re pre-qualified for the promises God has made to you in His Word. Under the Old Testament law God said, ‘If.’ But to those who are in Christ and living under grace, He says, ‘Yes.’

And what should your response be? ‘Amen,’ which means ‘So be it.’ This is a life-changing truth! Now you understand why Paul could confidently write, ‘And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4:19 NKJV) Not only is God able to meet ‘all’ your needs, He’s looking for opportunities to do it.

Who Are Your True Friends?

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‘Some friendships do not last, but some friends are more loyal than brothers.’ Proverbs 18:24 GNT

Who are your true friends? Stop and think about that for a moment. How many of the people you consider friends truly care about you? How many encourage you in your visions and dreams, and are there for you when you hit a wall? If we’re honest, most of us would have to concede that some of our so-called friends and associates aren’t there for us in a pinch. In fact, some of the people we spend time may be time-wasters who drain our energy and trivialise our dreams.

In the Old Testament David and Jonathan were willing to lay down their lives for each other. And Ruth told Naomi, ‘Wherever you go, I will go.’ (Ruth 1:16 NKJV) Do you have friends like that? If not, spend more time cultivating relationships with those who genuinely care about you; who don’t feel threatened by your success and want to see you succeed. You don’t need to be cold or rude to the others. Maintain their friendship, but spend your serious time with friends who believe in you and want you to achieve your God-given potential. Novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard said, ‘Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.’

Here’s a fail-safe principle when it comes to cultivating great friendships: whatever you desire in your own life, you must first give to others. If you want true friends, you must become a true friend. If you want a harvest of blessing in your own life, plant seeds of blessing in the lives of others.

Words (2)

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‘My mouth will speak words of wisdom.’ Psalm 49:3 NIV

The Bible says that you are to be gracious in what you say. That means your goal in conversation should always be to bring out the best in others, not denigrate them or cut them off. Good communication makes good friends, so you need to be clear when it comes to your personal boundaries, beliefs, values and desires. It may well be true that more problems are forgotten than are ever solved, but healthy relationships sometimes call for healthy confrontation. And there’s a right time and a right way to do it.

When you have to deal with a difficult situation, pray and stand on this Scripture: ‘My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the utterance from my heart will give understanding.’ Your words are the vehicle through which your thoughts are conveyed, and your tongue is the driver. So if you don’t want to end up on the wrong road, or end up in a wreck, pray: ‘Lord, give me words of wisdom. Help me to say the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.’

The Holy Spirit is a great driving instructor! He will guide you, instruct you and keep working with you until you get it right. He will help you grow in grace until you reach the place of maturity in your relationships where you’re able to say, ‘My advice is wholesome. There is nothing devious or crooked in it. My words are plain to anyone with understanding, clear to those with knowledge.’ (Proverbs 8:8–9 NLT) When you can say that, you know you’re making progress!

Words (1)

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‘I will… not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue.’ Psalm 39:1 NLT

An unknown poet wrote: ‘A careless word may kindle strife; a cruel word may wreck a life. A bitter word may hate instil; a brutal word may smite and kill. A gracious word may smooth the way; a joyous word may light the day. A timely word may lessen stress; a loving word may heal and bless.’

The Bible says, ‘No man can tame the tongue.’ (James 3:8 NKJV) ‘Well, if it can’t be done,’ you ask, ‘How am I supposed to do it?’ By pausing before you speak, cultivating a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit within you and drawing on His power. By reminding yourself that once a word has left your lips it can never be taken back, and all the ‘I’m sorrys’ in the world won’t alter that. The Psalmist, who’d evidently made the mistake of talking when he should’ve been listening, wrote: ‘I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue.’ (Psalm 39:1 NLT)

In the Bible, abstaining from food for a period of time is called ‘fasting’. It has a spiritually cleansing effect. It draws us closer to God. It strengthens and sharpens us. So here’s an idea for you: How about going on a verbal fast for the next thirty days? At least a partial one. Isaiah said, ‘The Sovereign Lord has given me His words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary.’ (Isaiah 50:4 NLT) Instead of your tongue doing the leading and you doing the following, let your mouth become Spirit-guided.

Move Closer to God and Stay There!

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‘…if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’ 1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV

Writing about mistakes some of God’s people made in the past, the apostle Paul penned these words: ‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ (1 Corinthians 10:11–13 NIV)

Here Paul addresses two kinds of people who are particularly at risk: (1) Those who think they’re incapable of falling. ‘So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.’ (2) Those who believe they’ll never be able to get back up again. ‘God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ Isn’t that great news? God not only understands your struggle, He promises you an exit strategy: a way to get through it.

So the word for you today is: move closer to God and stay there!

Heaven (3)

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‘God… has planted eternity in the human heart.’ Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Why do thousands of children die of starvation each day, while every night the world’s wealthiest nations throw away enough food to feed them? In 3,500 years of recorded civilisation, only 268 years have passed without war raging some place on the globe. Yet during that same period 8,000 peace treaties have been signed. Why is the dash between the dates on a tombstone so small? Something tells us this isn’t right, good, fair. This isn’t home. Who put these thoughts in our heads? The Bible says, ‘God…has planted eternity in the human heart.’ As a redeemed child of God your life on earth is just the beginning. It’s the first letter, of the first sentence, of the first chapter, of the great story God is writing. We’re like homing pigeons; we have an innate home detector. We’re Heaven bound and Heaven hungry.

That doesn’t mean you can be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly use. If you want to hear the ‘well done…good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25:21 NKJV), you’ve got to be a good and faithful servant of God each day on earth. But your mandate is: ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God.’ (Matthew 6:33 NKJV) In His plan, it’s all about the King and His Kingdom. He wrote the script: ‘And this is [God’s] plan: At the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in Heaven and on earth.’ (Ephesians 1:10 NLT)

The Bible ends with these words: ‘He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.’ (Revelation 22:20 NIV) How do you get to Heaven? By putting your trust in Jesus Christ.

Heaven (2)

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‘Set your sights on the realities of Heaven.’ Colossians 3:1 NLT

Five hundred years ago sailors feared the horizon, believing if you sailed too far you could fall off the edge of the world. Today we smile at such an idea. But back then they were deadly serious; so much so that they erected a monument at the Strait of Gibraltar to commemorate the concept. At its narrowest point Spaniards assembled a huge stone marker bearing the Latin inscription Ne plus ultra, which means ‘No more beyond.’ Then in 1492 Christopher Columbus came along and blew their theory out of the water (no pun intended!) The discovery of new worlds and new horizons changed everybody’s mind. Spain even acknowledged this in its coins which came to bear the inscription Plus ultra—‘More beyond.’

Have you limited yourself in your thinking? Do you regret wasting seasons of life on foolish notions and pursuits? Do you feel like your best years are gone by? Not so! You’ll have eternity to make up for lost time in a glorified celestial body that knows no limitations. Your biggest moments lie ahead, on the other side of the grave.

So: ‘Set your sights on the realities of Heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand. Think about the things of Heaven.’ (Colossians 3:1–2 NLT) John the Revelator was a prisoner, surrounded by the sea on the tiny island of Patmos. Everywhere he went, the sea was there. It confined him. It hemmed him in and separated him from those he loved. Then God showed him the glories of Heaven and he wrote, ‘There was no more sea.’ (Revelation 21:1 NKJV) No more limitations—in Heaven you’ll be ‘free at last.’

Heaven (1)

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‘I am going there to prepare a place for you.’ John 14:2 NIV

In this devotional we stress the importance of maximizing each day: enjoying where you are on your way to where you’re going. And that’s good advice. But ultimately, as a redeemed child of God, your greatest longing shouldn’t be for that which is temporal but for that which is eternal—your heavenly home. Jesus described it this way: ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.’

Max Lucado writes: ‘The journey home is nice, but the journey is not the goal. I prepared part of this message on an airplane. As I looked around at fellow passengers, I saw contented people. Thanks to books, pillows and crossword puzzles, they passed the time quite nicely. But suppose this announcement were heard: “Ladies and gentlemen, this flight is your final destination. We’ll never land; your home is this plane, so enjoy the journey.” The passengers would become mutineers. We’d take over the cockpit and seek a landing strip. We wouldn’t settle for such an idea. The journey isn’t the destination. The vessel isn’t the goal. Those who are content with nothing more than the joy of the journey are settling for too little satisfaction.

Our hearts tell us that there’s more to this life than this life. We, like the alien in the movie E.T., lift bent fingers to the sky. We may not know where to point, but we know not to call the airplane our home.’ Jesus said, ‘I am going there to prepare a place for you.’ And there’s no place on earth like it! So live with Heaven in mind.

From the Bottom to the Top

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‘In the prison, the Lord was with him.’ Genesis 39:20–21 NIV

When Potiphar’s wife cried ‘rape’, her husband believed her and had Joseph thrown into prison. Some of us would have said, ‘It’s not fair. I did the right thing. Maybe I should have had some fun, kept my job, and even gotten a promotion.’ Not Joseph! At that point in his life there was no better place for him to be, because he was exactly where God wanted him. It was in prison that he met the royal butler, who in turn introduced him to Pharaoh, who eventually placed him on the throne. Sometimes God takes us to the bottom in order to take us to the top. The hard part is remembering that when you hit the bottom it’s not the end of the trip.

The Bible says of Joseph: ‘Until his word…came true… the word of the Lord tested…him.’ (Psalm 105:19 AMP) Pharaoh was about to have a dream nobody in his kingdom could interpret except Joseph. And as a result Joseph was about to go from a zero to a hero, from prison stripes to Pharaoh’s second-in-command. No one can perform that kind of miracle but God. If most of us were in jail we’d settle for early release, a suit of clothes, and a hundred dollars to get back home. But God had something much better in mind for Joseph.

And He has for you too! He knows where He’s taking you. He knows the lessons you need to learn along the way so that when you get there you can do the job. So look for God’s hand in your situation today.

Free to be Yourself!

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‘If the Son makes you free, then you are unquestionably free.’ John 8:36 AMP

We live in a world of peer pressure. Others set the standard and we wear it, drive it, quote it or do it. In some cases that’s ok, but not when it comes to your life’s direction. Jesus said, ‘If the Son makes you free, then you are unquestionably free.’ (John 8:36AMP) That means you’re free from the pressures others try to put on you; free to be the person God called you to be; free to look to Him for answers instead of always looking to other people. The Bible says, ‘A man can receive nothing… unless it has been granted to him from Heaven.’ (John 3:27 AMP)

When you scratch the surface, you discover that deep down many of us struggle with insecurity. We’re competitive, always comparing ourselves to others. We’re envious of their possessions, abilities and accomplishments. We find ourselves trying to keep up with certain people, or be just like them. And as a result we get frustrated because we’re operating outside of what God called us to be. In other words, we’re not being ourselves!

Understand this: the Christian life is a race, and you must run on your own track. You’ll never enjoy the fullness of God’s blessing until you commit to being the person He created you to be. So look in the mirror today and announce, ‘I am what I am. I can’t be anything other than what God has called me to be. So I’m going to concentrate on being the best me I can be—and celebrate every moment of it.’

“If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”

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‘Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.’ Philippians 2:4 NKJV

When it comes to homemaking, generally speaking women tend to care more than men about the house and everything that’s in it.

Marriage expert Dr. James Dobson shares the following insightful story: ‘A few years ago my wife and I hired a plumber to install a gas barbecue unit in the backyard, and then we left for the day. When we returned, we both observed that the device was mounted about eight inches too high. My wife Shirley and I stood looking at the appliance, and our reactions were quite different. I said, “Yeah, you’re right. The plumber made a mistake. By the way, what are we having for dinner tonight?” But Shirley reacted characteristically. She said, “I don’t think I can stand that thing sticking up in the air like that.” I could have lived the rest of my life without thinking again about the height of the barbecue unit, but to Shirley it was a big deal. Why? Because to a man a home is a place where he can relax, kick off his shoes, and be himself. But to a woman, especially to a homemaker, the house is an extension of her personality. She expresses her individuality and her character through it. That’s why husbands would be wise to recognise this differing perspective, and accommodate the creative interests of their wives. By the way, the plumber was summoned back to our house the next day and asked to fix his mistake. As the saying goes, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”’

Fruit or Just Leaves?

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‘He… found nothing but leaves on it.’ Matthew 21:19 AMP

The Bible says: ‘As Jesus was coming back to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree at the roadside, He went to it and found nothing but leaves on it; and He said to it, “Never again will fruit come from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.’ (Matthew 21:18–19 AMP) Perhaps you’re thinking that’s pretty harsh treatment. After all, it wasn’t the tree’s fault that it didn’t have any figs. So why did Jesus curse it? You’ll find the answer in these words: ‘Seeing that in the fig tree the fruit appears at the same time as the leaves.’ When Jesus saw leaves on the tree, He’d a right to expect fruit. And when there was none, He cursed it for being a phony while giving off the impression that it was the real thing.

There’s an important lesson here for each of us. Be careful that you don’t display an impressive array of leaves without actually bearing fruit. It takes more than a bumper sticker on your car, a Jesus pin in your lapel, and a big Bible under your arm to influence and win others to Christ.

The Bible says, ‘When the Holy Spirit controls our lives He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Galatians 5:22–23 TLB) That’s the kind of fruit people can see, touch, taste and enjoy. And it’s the kind God wants to see manifested in your life today.

Learn to Encourage Yourself!

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‘David strengthened himself in the Lord.’ 1 Samuel 30:6 NKJV

David had just won a string of spectacular military victories. But when he returned from battle and found his home destroyed by the Amalekites and his family taken captive, he was heartsick. He and his men fell to the ground and wept, until they could weep no more. But he didn’t stay down. ‘David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?” And He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.”’ (1 Samuel 30:8 NKJV) And David’s self-encouragement, coupled with God’s guidance, led him to his next victory.

There’s a lesson here. You must learn how to talk to yourself the right way, how to quote God’s promises, and how to pray for yourself. And here’s a promise from the Psalms that you can stand on: ‘Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’ (Psalm 30:5 NLT) Your joy will return. God has promised it! So look in the mirror today and declare, ‘This too shall pass. What doesn’t destroy me makes me stronger. In the meantime I’ll let this situation drive me closer to You, Lord.’ Come on—start encouraging yourself! The biggest battles bring the biggest victories. Your weaknesses can become discovery points for strengths you never knew you had. Recalling the worst time in his life, Joseph said, ‘God turned into good what you meant for evil.’ (Genesis 50:20 TLB) And He still does that!

Other people don’t control your destiny, God does, and He’s not like others. He can turn your pain into gain and your scars into stars! Regroup, refocus and resolve to press on. The word for you today is: learn to encourage yourself.

Test the Waters (2)

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‘But each one must examine his own work…’ Galatians 6:4 NAS

It’s possible to have gifts and talents you know nothing about. And it’s even possible to take hundreds of tests to assess your gifts and abilities—and still remain ignorant. It may be only when you accept the opportunity to actually do something that your God-given talents emerge.

Unless you’re willing to risk getting involved, you’ll never know what you’re good at. Sure you’ll make mistakes—and some of them may be so discouraging you’ll want to give up and not try again. But if you turn your mistakes into learning experiences you’ll not only discover what God has called you to do, you’ll grow and become proficient at it. Paul writes: ‘But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.’ (Galatians 6:4–5 NAS) Then he adds: ‘Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.’ (Galatians 6:9–10 NAS)

Today take a serious look at what’s left of your life and decide to make it count. Some of the saddest words in life are on a tombstone that reads: ‘When I came to die, I discovered I had not lived.’ Don’t let that be said of you!

Test the Waters (1)

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‘We each have different work to do.’ Romans 12:5 TLB

Bob Buford was a successful businessman who felt God calling him to some kind of ministry. He just wasn’t sure what, so he decided to test the waters. He brought together a group of pastors of large churches to see if they could benefit from the kind of organisational expertise he had. The cost of doing this was low enough that, had it been a dead end, he could easily have focused his search elsewhere. If he’d impulsively quit his job as CEO and taken a staff position in a church somewhere, he might have missed his calling and jeopardised his chance to keep searching. As a result, today he has a ministry that literally impacts the world.

Now, you can’t just walk away from your previous commitments. Amos transitioned into the prophecy business while he still had his shepherding job to fall back on. Paul kept his tent-making operation running when he went into church planting. Discerning God’s will requires time and patience, and most of us have bills to pay and families to take care of. So what should you do? Keep your day job—but test the waters! And remember you’re not alone. God’s more committed to your success than you are. When you feel like He’s given you the green light, gently push the accelerator and move forward.

Playwright Arthur Miller said: ‘It’s wrong to remain in a situation you know is a mismatch for you… God didn’t place you on this earth to waste away your years in labour that doesn’t employ His design or purpose for your life, no matter how much you may be getting paid.’

Don’t Quit

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‘We have this treasure in jars of clay.’ 2 Corinthians 4:7 NIV

Paul writes: ‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ ‘Jars of clay’ refers to cups, bowls, pots, etc., and what really matters is what’s in them. A vessel may be chipped and flawed, but once it’s washed and cleaned it can be used again.

So don’t quit because someone discovered you’re a jar of clay with chips and flaws. There’s a cry from the Jericho Road nobody except you may ever hear. Some dying thief will be saved if you’ll just keep preaching through your pain, because the message that saves others is the one that saves us too. Accepting the fallen is the strength—not a weakness—of the Gospel. There’s a world of difference between the coldness of a rebellious heart and the cry of a troubled heart that says, ‘God save me from myself.’ One glimpse of God’s grace brings all of us to our knees confessing and forsaking sin, ‘bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 10:5 KJV) One pastor writes: ‘People listen to our one-sided testimonies of success and become discouraged. They think that while they struggle, we have it all together. That’s because we falsified the records and failed to tell the whole truth. God help us! Our message is we were saved by grace, we are being saved by grace, and we will be saved by grace.’

If need be, go down into the Potter’s house and let Him put you back on the wheel and remake you—but don’t quit! (See Jeremiah 18:1–4)

Integrity

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‘The integrity of the upright guides them.’ Proverbs 11:3 NIV

The word integrity is related to the word integer, a mathematical term for a whole number as opposed to a fraction. So when you walk in integrity, that means you tell the whole truth and not just a fraction of it. That’s why we take an oath in court to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.’

Why do we slant the truth, embellish it, and tell half-truths? Sometimes it’s for financial gain, other times it’s for social advantage. Sometimes it’s to hide our actions, other times it’s to avail ourselves of certain benefits. Jacob, whose name meant ‘trickster’, conspired with his mother and deceived his father into giving him the birthright of the firstborn—twice as much of their father’s inheritance which rightfully belonged to his older brother Esau. And Jacob paid dearly for it. He spent the next twenty years as a fugitive working for his father-in-law, who was an even bigger and better cheat than Jacob. Jacob had forgotten His encounter with God and these promises: ‘I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go… I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ (Genesis 28:15 NIV) As Jacob’s value system changed, the taker became a giver. He told God, ‘Of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’ (Genesis 28:22 NIV) Despite Jacob’s slip-ups, God blessed him beyond his wildest dreams. He eventually became a man of integrity and returned home after many years with a beautiful family, great riches, and a new name: Israel. The truth is, integrity pays dividends every time. Why? Because God guarantees it.

Look for Ways to Serve Others

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‘Share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.’ Hebrews 13:16 NIV

When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, he sometimes slipped out of his office early, telling his administrator Michael Deaver, ‘I’ve a few errands to run.’ Deaver became curious, so he leafed through the ‘to-read’ file on the governor’s desk. On top was a wrinkled letter from a man stationed in Vietnam. The soldier had written to Reagan telling him about his life in Southeast Asia, and how much he missed his wife. That particular day was their wedding anniversary and he wanted her to know how much he loved her and longed to be with her. Although he had already sent her a card, he asked the governor if he’d make a phone call to make sure she was ok and pass on his love in case she didn’t receive the card. The next day Deaver discovered Reagan had done much more than the soldier requested. He’d picked up a dozen red roses and delivered them to the man’s wife. Dale Rowlee, the governor’s driver, told Deaver that Reagan approached the woman with an extremely humble attitude, and offered the flowers on behalf of a loving husband stationed in a jungle hell on the other side of the world. Then he spent over an hour with her, drinking coffee and talking about her family. Reagan’s humility may, in fact, have been one of the secrets to his enduring popularity.

Somebody said, ‘To be humble to superiors is duty; to equals, courtesy; to inferiors, nobility.’ It’s not big deeds, but small acts of kindness that make us great as God counts greatness. ‘With such sacrifices God is pleased.’ (Hebrews 13:16 NIV)

Heed the Warnings

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‘He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.’ Proverbs 29:1 NKJV

In the official magazine of the Naval Institute, Frank Koch reported on a very unusual encounter at sea. A battleship was coming in for manoeuvres in heavy weather. Shortly after the sun went down, the lookout reported a light in the distance, so the captain had the signalman send a message: ‘We’re on a collision course. Advise you change your course twenty degrees.’ Minutes later a signal came back: ‘Advisable for you to change your course.’ The captain angrily ordered that another signal be sent: ‘I am a captain. Change course twenty degrees.’ Again came the reply: ‘I’m a seaman, second class. You’d better change your course.’ Furious by this point, the captain barked a final threat: ‘I’m a battleship! Change your course!’ The signal came back, ‘I’m a lighthouse.’ The captain changed his course!

It’s foolhardy to ignore the beacons that warn you of danger. They take various forms: symptoms of health problems, prolonged marital conflict, rebellious children, excessive debt, soul-destroying habits, stress that ties you in knots. The list goes on. It matters not whether you’re successful, influential, and busy. When God sends you a warning and tells you to change course, if you’re wise you won’t argue. Instead you will do it with haste.

Let’s get personal. Has God been dealing with you over something in your life that’s wrong, but you keep resisting Him? Or putting off dealing with it? Things will go right for you when you turn to Him instead of away from Him.

You can do it!

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‘I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency.’ Philippians 4:13 AMP

One of Satan’s favourite strategies is making you feel incapable of accomplishing anything worthwhile. He’ll remind you of your past mistakes so that even when you do make an effort, your fear of failure will sabotage you. This is commonly referred to as ‘Failure Syndrome’. Satan wants you to feel so bad about yourself that you’ll have no confidence at all.

But the fact is you don’t need confidence in yourself—you need confidence in the God who lives within you! Without that, you’re like a plane without fuel sitting on the runway; you look good but you’ve no power. Hear this: through Christ you have the power to do what you never could on your own. Once you learn this truth, anytime the devil tells you, ‘You can’t do anything right,’ your response will be, ‘Maybe not, but Jesus in me can; and He will because I’m relying on Him and not myself. His Word says I’ll succeed in everything I put my hand to.’ (See Joshua 1:7) When the enemy says to you: ‘You’re not able to do this, so don’t even try! You’ll fail again like you did in the past,’ your response should be: ‘It’s true; without Jesus I’m not able to do a single thing. But with Him, and in Him, I can do all I need to do.’

Read these words, get them down into your heart and stand on them today: ‘I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency.’ (Philippians 4:13 AMP) The word for you today is: YOU CAN DO IT!

On-the-job Training

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‘Lord, please send someone else.’ Exodus 4:13 NIV

When God called Moses to go into Pharaoh’s palace and announce, ‘Let my people go,’ he responded by saying, ‘Please, send someone else to do it.’ Is that how you feel today? If so, here’s what God told Moses: ‘Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’ (Exodus 4:12 NIV)

When God calls you He equips you. But He doesn’t necessarily do it in advance. Sometimes your training takes place in the process of doing what God said. And that can be scary. Maybe you’ve been saying to God, ‘I’m afraid to speak in front of people—what do You mean You want me to lead this meeting?’ Or, ‘Why would You want me to apply for this job when I’m not particularly qualified?’ You can’t rely on your own perspective. The only qualifications needed to do any job God asks of you are His strength and His ability. The rest is on-the-job training. You simply have to trust God and act on His urging. That doesn’t mean you’ll never be afraid. You will! But that’s when you must exercise your faith to stretch and grow beyond what you can imagine, and start doing what needs to be done based on what you currently know. That can be humbling. You’ll find yourself more dependent on God than ever. It’s likely you’ll have to ask a lot of questions of those around you—and sometimes more than once. But don’t be afraid to ask, to make mistakes, to seek assistance, or do things differently from your predecessor.

If God called you—you’re the right person for the job. Never lose sight of that!

Be Careful What You Watch

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‘…be sure to put a railing around the edge of the roof.’ Deuteronomy 22:8 GNT

Hundreds of pornography sites are being introduced to the internet. The idea is to have you accidentally exposed to them through clever marketing. This helps explain how children as young as eight become addicted to pornography and to the websites that feed it in the middle of the night when parents are sleeping. But these websites are also visited by teenagers and adults. So protection isn’t just called for on the part of parents, but by all those on the front line in the battle for moral purity. In his book Getting Through the Tough Stuff, Chuck Swindoll writes: ‘One in every two churchgoers is actively involved with internet porn. (Are you shocked?) Nine out of ten children have been exposed to it—most of them accidentally while doing homework online. Thirty-seven percent of pastors say internet porn is a current struggle in their lives. Most are exposed to it through… computer screen pop-ups, unsolicited email, and links to websites with innocent-sounding names. When an enticing image flashes, temptation is hard to overcome, especially for males. The internet has become an integral part of our lives. There’s much that’s good, but there’s just as much that’s deadly. It is therefore our responsibility as Christians to protect ourselves from the dangers that are part of internet usage!’

God commanded the Israelites: ‘…be sure to put a railing around the edge of the roof. Then you will not be responsible if someone falls off and is killed.’ (Deuteronomy 22:8GNT) Even the apostle Paul recognised that he was capable of being ‘disqualified’ as a leader in God’s work (see 1 Corinthians 9:27). So the word for you today is: ‘Be careful what you watch.’

The Bible Formula for Happiness

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‘Time and chance happen to them all.’ Ecclesiastes 9:11 NIV

Are you the kind of person who needs clear answers to everything and can’t tolerate shades of grey? Well, the truth is we don’t have answers for much of what happens in the world. God stamps many of the issues we struggle with: ‘Will explain later!’

Modern science would have us believe that given enough time, everything is concrete, exact, measurable, and provable. But we’ve discovered this isn’t so. For example, why does one family experience tragedy and another doesn’t? Why do the ‘haves’ throw more food into the garbage every night than what it would take to feed the ‘have-nots?’ Why do the young and innocent die? You could drive yourself crazy with these questions and still not find the answers. So what should you do? The Bible says: ‘Eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favours what you do… Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love… Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might… The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.’ (Ecclesiastes 9:7–12 NIV)

Bottom line: Learn to live with unanswered questions, trust God with all your heart, and wring the most out of each day. That’s the Bible formula for happiness.

A Joyful Outlook

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‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Nehemiah 8:10 KJV

You get to choose your outlook each day, so choose wisely and well. Observe: (1) A joyful outlook gives you the winning edge. When world heavyweight champion Joe Louis got knocked down by Tony ‘Two Ton’ Galento in Yankee Stadium, he immediately jumped up and went after his opponent. When his trainer protested, ‘Why didn’t you stay down for nine like I’ve always taught you?’ ‘What?’ growled Louis. ‘And give him all that time to rest?’ Then he went out and won the fight. (2) A joyful outlook determines how others respond to you. When you smile, people tend to smile back. But if you come across as hard-nosed, they’re likely to respond in kind. If you want to enjoy people as you go through your day, think well of them. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s easily forgotten. (3) A joyful outlook brings happiness. English literary figure Samuel Johnson said: ‘He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the grief… he proposes to remove.’ (4) A joyful outlook always brings the best result. Successful people embrace this truth, whether it’s a surgeon going into the operating room, a pastor preparing a sermon or an executive launching a new business venture. Confidence increases your chance of success every time.

So when you approach a task, especially one you don’t relish, fix your mind on God’s promises and not your feelings. It’ll get you back on track every time—guaranteed!

Try to Make Amends

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‘I will pay back four times the amount.’ Luke 19:8 NIV

Zacchaeus had a bad reputation; as a tax collector he got rich by bilking people. And the fact that Jesus spent the night at his house shocked the religious community. We’re not privy to what Jesus told Zacchaeus that night, but it caused him to respond, ‘Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus answered, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’ (Luke 19:9 NIV)

There’s an important lesson here about becoming whole. The basis of true emotional healing rests on your willingness to forgive and, when possible, make amends to those you’ve hurt. If you owe someone a debt, you must try to pay it. If you’ve wounded them, you must apologise and try to restore the relationship. Jesus said: ‘So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.’ (Matthew 5:23–25 ESV)

So, who do you need to make things right with today? Pray for grace—then go take care of it. When you do God will bless you, and you’ll feel better about yourself too!

Praying According to God’s Will

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

Since we sometimes pray outside of God’s will, part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to change our minds—not convince God to give us what we want. That’s why the Spirit ‘searches our hearts’ in prayer. Sometimes words are inadequate; you don’t always know what someone’s really thinking or wants based on what they say. But if you could see inside their heart you’d know exactly how to interpret their words. That’s what the Spirit does when He searches our hearts and interceded for us to the Father.

But if the Holy Spirit is going to intercede for us (appeal to God on our behalf) we’d better learn what God’s will is. And where do we learn that? In His Word. Before we can pray in the will of God two things have to happen. First, we must have a regular intake of Scripture. God’s mind is revealed in His Word, so when you read the Bible you learn how to pray the way you should. Second, if our prayers are going to hit the mark we need to practise meditating on the Scriptures. Just as a good cook allows a stew to simmer in order to bring out all the flavours, we need to ‘marinate’ our minds in Scripture and allow it to become part of us. When that happens we’ll start to see things change in our prayer lives because the Spirit’s intercession is tied to God’s will, which is tied to His Word.

In the final analysis you may think you know what you want, but God knows what you need!

Let it Go

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‘Put your heart right… Reach out to God.’ Job 11:13 GNT

Jesus, ‘the Great Physician’, never covers up an infected sore. He insists it be lanced, drained, cleansed and given time to heal. Maybe you’ve given birth to a child out of wedlock, or had an abortion, or been in prison, or walked through a bitter divorce. Don’t be discouraged. Jesus is not impressed by our virtues, He’s touched with ‘the feeling of our infirmities.’ (Hebrews 4:15 KJV) He understands your struggle. ‘He Himself has… been through suffering and temptation, He knows what it is like… and… is wonderfully able to help us.’ (Hebrews 2:18 TLB)

Maybe you’re wondering if someone with your past problems can be blessed and used by God. Absolutely! The hymn by William Cowper puts it like this: ‘There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.’ The rewards of repentance are awesome! Zophar replies to Job: ‘Prepare your heart and lift up your hands to Him in prayer! Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery; it will be like water flowing away… Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and… rest in safety. You will lie down unafraid, and many will look to you for help.’ (Job 11:13–19 NLT)

Whether it’s guilt over something you’ve done, or the pain of something that was done to you—let it go! Today, step into the river of God’s grace and let it flow over you, setting you free.

Take the Risk!

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‘…give it to the one who has the ten bags.’ Matthew 25:28 NIV

Remember the three stewards who were each given a sum of money to invest? The first two doubled theirs; the third buried his in the ground. The first two were promoted; the third was fired. ‘Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness.’ (Matthew 25:30 NIV)

Could there be a more powerful incentive to taking a risk of faith based on what God promised you? You say, ‘But what if I fail?’ Failure trains you for success! It can show you what you need to change in order to move forward. Think of it this way: as a redeemed child of God you have a security net that allows you to fail safely. But if your reputation and self-worth are all tied up in knots over some failed enterprise, you won’t be motivated to try again. It’s human nature to want to feel good, to succeed, to win the prize, to move forward. But just like a world-class athlete backs up to gain the momentum to run faster, sometimes a few steps backward now will fuel your progress later. And here’s something else to keep in mind: God assesses our accomplishments differently than people. A failure in the eyes of men is often a success in the eyes of God. Remember Noah? Before the flood he looked like a loser; afterward he became the most successful man on earth.

Your most fulfilling reward isn’t human approval—it’s God’s ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (Matthew 25:21 NIV) So take the risk!

Personal Growth (3)

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

When you stop growing, you stop enjoying your co-workers and associates. In most cases it’s another symptom of lack of growth, and it’s directly linked to your lack of influence. When you’re the ‘go-to’ person, everyone seeks you out. They want your advice and expertise on a myriad of issues and concerns. But once you stop growing, the focus shifts to someone else. Personal growth keeps you focused on people, and keeps them focused on you.

So what can you do to stay fresh? Start cross-pollinating. Bees spend their lives moving from flower to flower, carrying pollen from one source to another. And what’s the result? Growth! Because bees continually spread pollen around the garden, more flowers start growing and it becomes a more beautiful environment. In life, cross-pollinating means identifying valuable information from multiple sources and spreading it in various ways to different people. So start looking for answers in unexpected places. Paul writes, ‘Stir up the gift… which is in you’ (2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV), otherwise it’ll lie dormant and you’ll become bored. Dedicate some time every day to personal growth. Discover where you do your best thinking, and go there regularly. Get up earlier, use your lunch break, turn off the TV in the evening. The time and place don’t matter—the important thing is that you stick to it. Eugene S. Wilson said, ‘Only the curious will learn, and only the resolute overcome the obstacles to learning. The Quest Quotient has always interested me more than the Intelligence Quotient.’ Often innate curiosity will tell you more than intelligence.

The point is, you must be committed to personal growth in order to succeed.

Personal Growth (2)

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‘A wise man has great power.’ Proverbs 24:5 NIV

Another indicator of your need for personal growth is—losing interest in your career. Many people think this comes from staying in one job too long or experiencing a midlife crisis. The truth is, most of us lose interest in our job because we lose interest in growing.

Consider those who experience the highest levels of intensity and creativity. Generally speaking, they’re passionate about their job and they’re not nearly as concerned about specifics as they are about ‘the big picture’. While those around them get bogged down in the minutiae of daily routine, growth-oriented people are busy swinging the bat and trying to hit the ball out of the park. These are people who are growing, learning and expanding their experience—people who never lose interest in their work—or in life. Growing peanuts sounds pretty boring, right? Not to George Washington Carver! He studied them, developed them, discovered hundreds of different uses for them, and became so famous he was invited to Washington, D.C. to explain the secret of his success to a congressional committee. Here’s what he told them: ‘God created the peanut. So I just asked Him to tell me what could be done with it, and He showed me!’ It’s that simple.

Spend as much time expanding your knowledge and experience as you spend on the mundane, and see if your interest levels and excitement don’t change for the better. The Bible says, ‘A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength.’ (Proverbs 24:5 NIV)

Personal Growth (1)

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‘Wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.’ Proverbs 2:10 NIV

Personal growth leads to promotion. Stop and look at the people in your church, your company or your circle of friends. Management consultant W. Edwards Deming said, ‘Learning isn’t compulsory… neither is survival.’ In corporate culture, the higher your position, the less ‘doing’ is involved, and the more ‘critical thinking’ comes into play. Consider a corporate conference room during an important meeting. Typically, a cadre of foot soldiers sits around the table with laptops, briefcases and boxes of files, while the president enters the room carrying very little. That’s because he or she wasn’t hired to run computers, maintain schedules and manage files. They were hired for their expertise and the power of their ideas. Organisations want people with the best ideas to be in leadership; consequently, promotions generally go to the self-starters—men and women who exhibit initiative and growth. So start generating some new ideas and see how quickly you get noticed!

Daniel began as a slave in Babylon, on the bottom rung of the ladder. But he was soon promoted to a position in Nebuchadnezzar’s cabinet. That’s because the king was looking for people with the following qualifications: ‘Showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve.’ (Daniel 1:4 NIV) Talk about job security! And what’s more, ‘Daniel remained there.’ (Daniel 1:21 NIV)

So dedicate yourself to personal growth.

Holy! Holy! Holy!

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‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.’ Isaiah 6:3 NIV

When Isaiah saw God he wrote: ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”’ (Isaiah 6:1–8 NIV) Now, this portion of Scripture wasn’t intended to make you indulge in morbid introspection, or doubt your righteous standing before God as His redeemed child. Isaiah was the nation’s leading prophet, and God had an assignment for him. But before he could undertake it, he needed to acknowledge his heart’s condition and let God change him. And today you need to do that too!

He’s Saying the Same to You

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‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”’ John 20:19 NIV

One of the first things Jesus did after His resurrection was to go looking for the disciples who’d failed Him so badly. ‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.”’ (John 20:19–21 NIV)

Among the group was Peter, who’d walked on water, whose hands had distributed miracle food to five thousand hungry people, who’d witnessed Moses and Elijah standing next to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Big, bold, brave Peter who’d said, ‘Even if I have to die with You… I will never deny You!’ (Matthew 26:35 NLT) And he wasn’t the only one. ‘All the other disciples vowed the same.’ (Matthew 26:35 NLT) Yet the record reads, ‘All His disciples deserted Him and ran away.’ (Mark 14:50 NLT)

Saint John, Saint Andrew and Saint James—all guys depicted on the stained glass windows of churches worldwide—abandoned Jesus when He needed them most. Yet when He rose from the dead, He never once brought it up. Instead: ‘He showed them His [wounded] hands.’ (John 20:20 NKJV) Why? To let them know He loved them in spite of their failure. Instead of disowning them, He said, ‘As the Father has sent Me, I also send You.’ (John 20:21 NKJV) And today He’s saying the same to you!

His Timetable

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‘Until the time came to fulfil his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.’ Psalm 105:19 NLT

God works according to His own timetable. And when you accept that, you’ll be able to enjoy where you are right now and get to where He wants you to be. Furthermore, God may not answer all your questions; at least not in the way you’d like Him to. But be assured He is working. And since what He’s working on is often bigger than you can comprehend, He won’t bother you with details you can’t handle.

Think—if God had told you all the things you’d have to go through to get to where you are right now, could you have handled it? He knows how long it’ll take and how hard it’ll be— that’s why He’s silent. If He showed you your whole life in advance you’d faint. Joseph discovered during his time in prison that when God gives you a vision and you commit yourself to it, there’s no ‘opt-out clause.’ So stop projecting into the future. When you live in yesterday you end up with a case of the ‘if onlys’, and when you try to live in tomorrow you get a case of the ‘what ifs’.

Remember the popular hit song: ‘One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking of you. Just give me the strength to do every day what I have to do. Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine. Lord, help me today, show me the way, one day at a time.’ What should you do? Trust God to work things out for you according to His timetable.

Don’t Waste Your Life in Regret!

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‘His mercies begin afresh each morning.’ Lamentations 3:23 NLT

Are you living with regret over the time you’ve wasted, the opportunities you’ve squandered, the sins you’ve committed and the relationships you’ve destroyed? Regret is a waste of time, unless it teaches you wisdom and fuels your resolve to do better next time. And as long as you’re breathing, there will be a ‘next time.’ The Bible describes God this way: ‘Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.’

So how should you handle regret? By doing three things: (1) Recall. Stop and consider the actions, thoughts and emotions that drove you to do what you did. Take an honest inventory of your mistakes. Own them! There’s no solution in excuses. When Adam was confronted with his sin, he hid in the bushes. When David was confronted with his, he said, ‘I’m guilty before God.’ Follow David’s example. (2) Repent. The Bible says, ‘Godly sorrow brings repentance.’ (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV) When you’re caught in a cycle of repeated sin, a glib ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ kind of prayer won’t help you. Sin hurts God, hurts you and hurts others. The idea behind repentance is to get you to where you loathe sin, and decide to renounce and forsake it. (3) Refocus. One of the Bible’s central themes is ‘resurrection.’ That means you can rise again. God said in His Word, ‘But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I’m going to do!’ (Isaiah 43:17–18 TLB)

It’s a new day with a new opportunity to get your life together and move on to greater things. Don’t waste it looking back in regret!

A Prayer for Integrity

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‘Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the [law] of the Lord.’ Psalm 119:1 NLT

If you’d told David that a day was coming when he’d commit adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and then have him murdered to cover it up, he’d probably have said, ‘No way!’ Nevertheless it happened.

Forgiven, restored, and looking back on it, he wrote this prayer: ‘Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the [law] of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey His laws and search for Him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in His paths. You have charged us to keep Your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect Your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with Your commands. As I learn Your righteous [laws], I will thank You by living as I should! I will obey Your decrees. Please don’t give up on me! How can a young person stay pure? By obeying Your word. I have tried hard to find You—don’t let me wander from Your commands. I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You. I praise You, O Lord; teach me Your decrees. I have recited aloud all the [laws] You have given us. I have rejoiced in Your laws as much as in riches. I will study Your commandments and reflect on Your ways. I will delight in Your decrees and not forget Your Word. Be good to Your servant, that I may live and obey Your Word. Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in Your [law].’ (Psalm 119:1–18 NLT)

Today, make that your prayer.

Start with What You’ve Got

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‘What good is that…?’ John 6:9 NLT

Observe what the disciples said to Jesus just before He fed five thousand hungry people: ‘There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?’ End of story? No, ‘Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people… And they all ate as much as they wanted… So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.’ (John 6:11–13 NLT)

God always gives you something to start with. But you have to look for it, recognise it and put it into His hands. The miracle of multiplication happened when a boy took what he had, and made it available to Jesus. The Bible says, ‘Do not despise this small beginning, for the eyes of the Lord rejoice to see the work begin.’ (Zechariah 4:10 TLB) Don’t be afraid to take small steps, just make sure they’re steps of faith and God will work through you. Jesus said, ‘I will build My church.’ (Matthew 16:18 NIV) And what did He build it with? Twelve flawed people just like us! But when He poured Himself into them, the mix was so concentrated that when two of them got together they could turn whole towns upside down (See Acts 17:6).

You say, ‘But I’ve so many shortcomings.’ We all come to the Lord damaged and in need of repair. But the good news is, you can be strong in some areas and struggling in others and God can still use you—as long as you’re willing to start with what you’ve got.

Working with Difficult People

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‘There are… vessels of… honour, and… dishonour.’ 2 Timothy 2:20 KJV

God used a raven, a bird considered ‘unclean’ in Jewish culture, to feed the prophet Elijah during a famine. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with funds provided by a heathen king. The point is: don’t limit God. Sometimes the people we’d normally shun are the very ones He uses to provide what we need, and by shutting them out we forfeit a blessing He has in mind for us. Be careful; your tendency to be ‘picky’ can end up hurting you!

The truth is, you can’t avoid working with difficult people. God planned it that way. Why? Because He wants you to grow in the midst of negativity without getting sucked into it. David developed the ability to work with people who were hard to get along with. It doesn’t get much harder than working for a boss with an evil spirit! At first David enjoyed King Saul’s favour but, after he killed Goliath, Saul sought to kill him. Yet David never changed his strategy. He stayed in Saul’s house because he knew his destiny was there. And because of the wisdom he exhibited, he ended up owning the place! God’s principles are timeless. David didn’t limit himself, and he didn’t limit God. He understood that people fall into two categories: ‘Vessels of honour and vessels of dishonour.’ And God uses both. Getting his eyes off people, and being neither impressed nor depressed by them, afforded David great opportunities because he freed others up to be used by God.

So learn to get along with difficult people; your greatest challenge today may be the person who assists and blesses you tomorrow.

‘Words of Wisdom’

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‘The Sovereign Lord has given me His words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort.’ Isaiah 50:4 NLT

Before the crisis comes, God can prepare you in advance by giving you ‘words of wisdom.’ He did it for Isaiah. You say, ‘But Isaiah was a prophet.’ Yes, but when God first called him, he protested, ‘I am a sinful man.’ (Isaiah 6:5 NLT) That means you can be flawed and still hear from God! Ever been in a room when somebody said something that grabbed your attention? Like a light coming on, your mind was illuminated and you stopped talking. Why? Because what you were hearing were ‘words of wisdom.’

And God won’t just give you insight for your own life, He’ll give you wisdom to share with others. And if you’re humble enough not to dominate every conversation, He’ll also speak to you through them. Think about it: God didn’t create the universe brick by brick—He spoke it into existence with a single sentence. So imagine your possibilities when He gives you ‘words of wisdom’! But first you must learn to recognise His voice, and that takes time. The first few times God spoke to Samuel, he thought it was Eli the high priest talking to him. But he kept listening, and eventually he became God’s voice to the nation. Indeed, he became so good at it that he was able to tell two different kings, ‘This is what the Lord says.’

The point is, you must want to hear, take time to hear from Him and practise listening until you become familiar with His voice.

First Thing in the Morning (2)

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‘Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.’ Psalm 5:3 NLT

Why does God say so often in Scripture that He will speak to us first thing in the morning? After all, He can speak to us any time He chooses.

There are two reasons: (1) He wants to have first place in your life. He wants to be number one on your list of priorities for the day. So before you turn on the TV, or check your computer or iPhone or go galloping off, learn to be still and allow God to give you insight and understanding as to what’s important for your day—and your life. You’ll be amazed at the solutions He gives you: the creative ideas, and the clear sense of guidance. You’ll find the promise really is true: ‘The steps of a good man [and woman] are ordered by the Lord.’ (Psalm 37:23 KJV) In fact, after a few weeks or months of living this way you won’t want to go back to your old routine. (2) He wants a blank page to write on. Ever try talking with someone who’s distracted or preoccupied? You just want to move on. But when that person is really important to you, you try to pick a time of day when you know they’ll really listen. Well, you are important to God and He wants to speak to you! Can you imagine your loss if you fail to hear what He has to say, or to understand what He has in mind for you?

One of the secrets of King David’s strength was this: ‘Each morning I bring my requests to You and wait expectantly.’ (Psalm 5:3 NLT) In order to succeed, you must put hearing from God at the top of your morning routine!

First Thing in the Morning (1)

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‘Morning by morning He wakens me and opens my understanding to His will.’ Isaiah 50:4 NLT

Here’s a wonderful promise from God’s Word: ‘The… Lord has given me His words of wisdom… that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning He wakens me and opens my understanding to His will. The… Lord has spoken to me, and I… listened. I have not rebelled or turned away.’ (Isaiah 50:4–5 NLT) Isaiah said God woke him up every morning and told him what he was supposed to do that day, and what he was to say to others! This wasn’t a ‘one-of-a-kind’ occurrence: It happened ‘morning by morning.’

Can you imagine how differently your day would go if you took the time to hear from God before you got out of bed? Notice the word ‘understanding.’ God can give you understanding about what you should say and do before you get into a given situation. He said, ‘I am the Lord… who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.’ (Isaiah 48:17 NIV) Talk about having a plus in life and an edge on the competition!

And here’s the best part: Even if you’re not listening, or you’re not in the right place spiritually, or you don’t have much experience in this realm, God will work with you ‘morning by morning’ until you learn to recognise and respond to His voice. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be! After all, that’s what good parents do with their children when they want them to grow up, mature and enjoy life’s best.

‘Restless, Irritable and Discontent’

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‘Give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.’ John 4:15 NIV

In Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve-step programme those seeking recovery are taught that when they become ‘restless, irritable and discontent’, they’re in danger of going back to their drug of choice. And that doesn’t work! Why? Because inside each of us there’s a God-shaped blank that only He can fill. Some of us try to fill the blank with human relationships. Jesus met a woman who’d been divorced five times and was now living with her boyfriend. The conversation went like this: ‘Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.”’ (John 4:13–15 NIV)

Your body tells you when it’s hungry and thirsty. So does your soul—and if you’re wise you’ll listen. The only ‘safe’ addiction is total surrender and dependency on God! We all have a tendency to respond to what our flesh craves instead of what our spirit needs. So we turn to things like work, sex and entertainment. Now we’ve added a new one—the internet. Psychologists are actually treating people with ‘internet addiction.’ Honestly!

King David had it all: power, popularity, pleasure and possessions. But it left him empty, so he wrote, ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God.’ (Psalm 42:1 NIV) Learn to recognise when you are ‘restless, irritable, and discontent’ and reach for God.

‘Turning… Serving… Waiting’

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‘You turned… from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven.’ 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 NKJV

Let’s read what Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers: ‘You became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe… from you the Word of the Lord has sounded forth… in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare… how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven.’ (1 Thessalonians 1:6–10 NKJV)

The lives of these believers could be summed up in three words: ‘Turning… serving… waiting.’ Let’s look at each, and see what we can learn. (1) Turning. Repentance means doing an about-face turn. It calls for renouncing and forsaking your carnal thought patterns and self-indulgent ways. (2) Serving. Try serving others rather than expecting them to serve you. At the end of each day, pray, ‘Lord, how well did I serve You today?’ For it’s in serving others that you serve Him. (3) Waiting. If you knew for sure Jesus was coming back tomorrow, what would you do differently today? Would it change your habits, your words, your attitudes? Some of us live our lives as if Christ had changed His mind about coming back again. Make no mistake—He is! Don’t be caught off guard. Endeavour to live each day in the light of His soon return. Doing that will rearrange your priorities!

Qualifying for Leadership in the Church

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‘If someone aspires to be [a leader]…’ 1 Timothy 3:1 NLT

The Bible outlines specific qualifications for leadership in the church.

‘An elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation… must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot mange his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced… and fall. In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity… They must be committed to the mystery of the now revealed faith and must live with a clear conscience. Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do… Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.’ (1 Timothy 3:1–13 NLT)

Submit to God’s Correction

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‘I … reprove and chasten.’ Revelation 3:19 AMP

God’s correction humbles us in ways we need to be humbled. And when He does it, we have three options: (1) Rebel against Him. (2) Rationalise and make excuses. (3) Receive His correction and get back on track.

But lasting change can’t even begin until you accept that God loves you unconditionally and just as you are. Without that, you’ll keep trying to change yourself in a vain attempt to earn His love and acceptance. The truth is, you already have it—you just don’t know it! Many of us think that by accepting ourselves we’re excusing all the things that are wrong with us. Not so! You can’t properly receive God’s correction until you’ve a clear understanding of how much He loves you. Without that you’ll interpret His correction as rejection, and see His disapproval of your behaviour as disapproval of you. To grow spiritually you must believe that God is committed to you, especially when He deals with you correctively and leads you in ways you don’t understand. During such times you must have an unshakeable trust in His love for you. The apostle Paul was convinced that nothing could separate him from God’s love (See Romans 8:39).

In the third chapter of Revelation, God is speaking to each of us when He says, ‘Those whom I [dearly and tenderly] love, I tell their faults … convict and convince … reprove and chasten.’ (Revelation 3:19 AMP) One of the strongest evidences of God’s love and acceptance is His correction. Indeed, you should be concerned about the absence of it! So if God’s correcting you right now, take heart and rejoice! It means He has good things in store for you.

‘God Is’ (7)

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‘He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied.’ Psalm 104:13 NIV

Have you ever wondered why nowhere else in the universe do we find water in any abundance, except here on earth? To date, all our telescopes and space travellers confirm that.

Water, the amazing solvent, dissolves almost everything upon this earth except those things that are life-sustaining. This amazing liquid we take for granted exists as ice, breaks up rocks and produces soil. As snow, it stores up frozen water in valleys. As rain, it waters and cleanses the earth. As vapour, it provides moisture for much of the arable land on earth. It exists as cloud cover in just the right amount. If it had clouds like Venus, the earth couldn’t support life. But we have around 70 percent of the surface of the earth covered by clouds at any one time, allowing just the right amount of sunlight to filter through. As steam, for centuries water has run some of the most powerful machinery we have. Other than bismuth, it’s the only liquid heavier at four degrees Celsius than it is when it’s a solid. If this were not so, life as we know it could not exist on this planet. Because when water is frozen solid, it’s lighter and it rises. If this wasn’t the case, our lakes and rivers would freeze from the bottom up and kill all the fish; the algae would be destroyed, oxygen supply would cease, and mankind would die.

So when you feel like God doesn’t notice you or care about you, drink a glass of water and say, ‘Thank you, Lord!’

‘God Is’ (6)

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‘You give life to everything.’ Nehemiah 9:6 NIV

Let’s look at another miracle of God’s creative genius: the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen is extremely inert—if it wasn’t we’d all be poisoned by different forms of nitrous combinations. However, because of its inertness, it’s next-to-impossible for us to get nitrogen to combine naturally with other things. But it’s definitely needed for plants in the ground, so what provision does God make for getting it out of the air and into the soil? Lightning! A hundred thousand lightning bolts strike our planet daily, creating a hundred million tons of usable nitrogen plant food in the soil every year.

Between 20 and 30 kilometres up, there’s a thin layer of ozone. If compressed, it would be less than a fingernail’s width in thickness, yet without it life wouldn’t be sustainable. Eight killer rays continually fall on our planet from the sun; without ozone we’d be burned, blinded or boiled. The ultraviolet rays come in two forms: longer rays, which are deadly and are screened out, and shorter rays, which are necessary for life on earth and are administered through the ozone layer. Furthermore, the most deadly of these rays are allowed through the ozone layer in a very limited amount, just enough to kill the green algae which otherwise could grow to fill the lakes, rivers and oceans of the world.

No doubt about it, we are totally dependent on God’s goodness. That’s why the Psalmist said, ‘All look to You to give them their food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things.’ (Psalm 104:27–28 NIV) We have an awesome God!

‘God Is’ (5)

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‘The moon marks off the seasons.’ Psalm 104:19 NIV

Here’s an amazing thing: without the moon it would be impossible for us to live on this planet. And if anyone ever succeeded in deflecting the moon from its orbit, all life would cease. It acts like a maid to clean up the oceans and the shores. Without the tides created by the moon, our harbours and shores would become one big stench pool of garbage and it would be impossible to live anywhere near them. Because of the tides, continuous waves break upon the shores of the ocean, aerating the waters of the planet and providing oxygen for plankton, the very foundation of our food chain. Without plankton there would be no oxygen, and all life would end.

God is a creative genius, isn’t He? He made the moon the right size, and placed it the right distance from the earth to create the exact atmosphere we need. We live within a great ocean of air—78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen. These elements are continually mixed by the tidal effect of the moon upon the atmosphere. This has the same effect it has upon the seas, and always provides the same proportion of oxygen. Though we keep dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it’s absorbed into the ocean and we’re able to continue to live. If the atmosphere wasn’t as thick as it is, we’d be crushed by billions of pieces of cosmic debris and meteorites that fall continually upon our planet.

Who takes good care of you? God! And He’s on the job 24/7! Aren’t you glad?

‘God Is’ (4)

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‘I… made the earth and created mankind upon it.’ Isaiah 45:12 NIV

Ever wonder why we’ve failed to find life on any other planet, yet ours is designed to sustain us and meet our most basic everyday needs? It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Do you think it’s just a coincidence? Not according to the Bible. In it God says, ‘I … made the earth and created mankind upon it.’ (Isaiah 45:12 NIV)

Did you know that if the earth was 10 percent larger or 10 percent smaller, life as we know it wouldn’t be possible? Or that we’re just the right distance from the sun so we receive the right amount of heat and light? If we were any farther away we’d freeze, and if we were closer we wouldn’t be able to survive. Consider for a moment the amazing tilt of the axis of the earth. None of the other planets are tilted like ours at 23 degrees. This angle allows the sun’s rays to touch every part of the earth’s surface over the course of a year, as the earth circles the sun. If there was no tilt to the axis, the poles would accumulate enormous masses of ice, and the centre of the earth would become so hot we couldn’t stand it.

Like an excited parent designing a room for the arrival of their newborn child, God made this earth specifically for us. ‘For this is what the Lord says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited.’ (Isaiah 45:18 NIV) That’s how much God cares for us.

‘God Is’ (3)

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‘The Lord is … the Creator of … the earth.’ Isaiah 40:28 NIV

Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, science and Scripture aren’t necessarily opposed. The ranks of Bible-believing scientists have grown rapidly since the discovery of quantum physics, which demonstrates the amazing symmetry and order that make up the universe. Did you know that one of the most brilliant scientific books of our time was written by no less than sixty notable scientists, including twenty-four Nobel Prize winners? The book’s title is Cosmos, Bios, Theos, which means Universe, Life, and God. And one of the contributing authors, Yale physicist Professor Henry Margenau, concludes, ‘There’s only one convincing answer’ for the intricate laws that exist in nature. And what does this brilliant man think it is? Evolution? Coincidence? Happenstance? No! Margenau believes that ‘creation is by an omnipotent omniscient God.’

So to believe in God is to believe in science… and the infallible Word of God. The Bible says: ‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth… He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ (Isaiah 40:28–31 NIV)

That means through prayer you can tap into the greatest power and most loving care in the universe. Amazing! How you face each day depends on Who you’re looking to. So look to God. Put your trust in Him. ‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.’ (Proverbs 16:3 NIV)

‘God Is’ (2)

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‘Lift your eyes … to the heavens; Who created all these?’ Isaiah 40:26 NIV

Many of the world’s greatest thinkers believe that God not only exists, but that He created the universe and its inhabitants. So the next time someone tells you that only simple, uneducated people believe in God—don’t buy it.

Dr. Robert Jastrow, founder and director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, writes in his blockbuster book, God and the Astronomers: ‘The astronomical evidence supports the Biblical view of the origin of the world… The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and Biblical accounts of Genesis are the same… Science has proved that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment… What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter or energy into the universe? Science cannot answer these questions… and for the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance… is about to conquer the highest peak, and as he pulls himself over the final rock he’s greeted by a band of theologians who’ve been sitting there for centuries.’ Pierre-Simon Laplace, another of the world’s great astronomers, said that the chances of a universe coming into existence without a Creator were like the chances of a set of writing implements being thrown randomly against parchment and producing Homer’s Iliad.

The evidence for God as opposed to the evidence against Him as the creator of this universe approaches infinity to one. It can’t even be measured. So rejoice: ‘God is.’ He’s accessible and available, if you’ll just take time to pray and invite Him into your life.

‘God Is’ (1)

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‘God is… a very present help in trouble.’ Psalm 46:1 NKJV

The Bible says, ‘God is… a very present help in trouble.’ (Psalm 46:1 NKJV) But first you must believe that ‘God is,’ otherwise the best you can hope for is good luck or human help. And how far do you think that’ll get you? When the doctor says he can’t do any more to save you or a loved one, who will you turn to? When you’ve run out of answers and need guidance, where will you go to find them? When you’re guilt-ridden and long for peace and forgiveness, who’ll provide them for you? When you do away with God, you become your own god, because you recognise no greater power in the universe than yourself. You can see why the Bible says, ‘The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”’ (Psalm 14:1 NKJV) How foolish to cut yourself off from the greatest source of help in all the universe!

For the next few days let’s talk about why ‘God is,’ and why you should put your trust in Him.

First, let’s look at astronomy. The Bible says: ‘The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship …night after night they make Him known. They speak without a sound or word… Yet their message has gone throughout the earth.’ (Psalm 19:1–4 NLT) Did you know that 90 percent of the world’s astronomers believe in God? That’s a higher percentage than can be found among butchers, bakers and candlestick makers! The great minds who have thoroughly examined His handiwork, believe that ‘God is’. How about you?

Is it You?

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‘Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”’ Matthew 26:25 NIV

In a sermon about commitment to Christ, the great preacher Charles Spurgeon said: ‘I’ve known some who preached the Gospel with power, but lived to depart from it altogether. I’ve known others who discharged the duties of deaconship and eldership with considerable diligence, who have afterwards given way to their evil passions. I’ve thought some of them to be the holiest of men. While they’ve been praying I’ve been lifted up to the very gates of Heaven; if anyone had said these would one day fall into gross sin, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’d sooner have believed it of myself. Those who seemed stronger than we have fallen, so why not we? Our Lord’s disciples who sat at the table with Him, when they were told that one of them would betray their master, each enquired: “Lord, is it I?” That was a very proper question. There wasn’t one who asked, “Lord, is it Judas?” Probably not one of them suspected him. And it may be that the worst hypocrite in this assembly is the one upon whom there doesn’t rest at this moment a single shade of suspicion. He has learned to play his part so well that his true character hasn’t yet been discovered.’

If those words hit too close for comfort, don’t walk—run—to the foot of the cross today! Run to the One who, with full knowledge of your struggles and temptations, loves you unconditionally; the One whose blood cleanses you from sin, whose grace can lift and sustain you, and whose power can help you live an overcoming life.

How to Improve Your Relationships

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‘Let us not love with words … but with actions.’ 1 John 3:18 NIV

Here are five Scriptural ways to improve the quality of your relationships:

(1) Always show appreciation. Who are the people that really matter in your life? Let them know you love them, and do it often. Practice the ten-to-one rule: ten compliments to every one criticism! Many of us think the best way to help people is to ‘straighten them out’. No, the best way to help others is to look for the best in them. Dr John Maxwell calls this ‘the 101 Percent Principle’. Look for one thing you admire in somebody, then give them 100 percent encouragement for it. That’ll help you to like them, and vice versa. (2) Put others first. ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.’ (Ephesians 6:7 NIV) If you adopt that mindset in your dealings with others, you will go far in life. (3) Serve others gladly. Talking about how difficult it is to hire and train people, an airline executive said, ‘Service is the only thing we have to sell, but it’s the toughest thing to teach because nobody wants to be thought of as a servant.’ (4) Forgive it, resolve it and move beyond it. If someone has hurt you and you need to address it, do it immediately. Then forgive it, resolve it and move beyond it. And if it’s not worth bringing up, forget it and move on. (5) Make time for the people who matter. Don’t give away your time on a first-come-first-served basis. Don’t devote so much energy to ‘the squeaky wheel’ that you short-change the people in your life who matter most.

Prepare Yourself

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‘We rebuilt the wall … for the people worked with all their heart.’ Nehemiah 4:6 NIV

To succeed, Nehemiah needed favour with his boss, the king. So he prayed that this heathen potentate would finance the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. It was a bold prayer, and it wasn’t answered overnight. But Nehemiah didn’t sit around waiting. In the meantime he put together a plan, assembled a team, and scheduled a date to begin the work. That way when the king said yes, he was ready to move.

Some people think if God’s going to do something, why should they do anything? Then there are those who think they don’t need God at all, so they try to do it on their own. But both extremes are wrong. Sometimes God has to balance what He’s doing in your life with what He’s doing in somebody else’s life, so that ‘all things work together for good.’ (Romans 8:28 KJV) In Nehemiah’s case, waiting for a letter of authorisation from the king and funding for the project was like waiting for a government grant—it can take a while. But the Bible says, ‘The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.’ (Proverbs 21:1 NAS) Nehemiah exercised bold confidence in God’s willingness to provide. He also understood that, while he was waiting, it was his responsibility to prepare and set things in place so that when God gave him the green light he was ready to move. He exercised faith—and wisdom. He knew he couldn’t do God’s part, and that God wouldn’t do his part. So the word for you today is: ‘Prepare yourself!’

Enjoy Each Day

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‘…be happy, because that is what God wants you to do.’ Ecclesiastes 9:7 NCV

Solomon writes: ‘So go eat your food and enjoy it; drink your wine and be happy, because that is what God wants you to do. Put on nice clothes and make yourself look good. Enjoy life with the wife you love. Enjoy all the useless days of this useless life God has given you here on earth, because it is all you have. So enjoy the work you do here on earth. Whatever work you do, do your best, because you are going to the grave…’ (Ecclesiastes 9:7–10 NCV) Despite his sarcasm, Solomon has a point. Two chapters later, he gives the bottom line of a happy life: ‘Fear God and keep His commandments.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV) So, what are you waiting for? To graduate? Get married? Have children? Retire? Life is about the journey, not just the destination! Your life is here and now, your family is here and now, your marriage is here and now, your career is here and now. The journey takes place every day, and you can find meaning when you search for a greater purpose. You can find small joys every day if you have eyes of faith. Solomon recognised that ultimately we all end up at the same destination—the grave. The only difference lies in how much we enjoy the journey. Instead of obsessing over the things you can’t control, revere God, keep His commandments and leave the control to Him.

Phil Cooke writes: ‘I have to believe that God’s in control, and for me to always demand answers is to assume His role. I’ve decided to sit back and let Him be God and let me be me.’ That’s a philosophy you would do well to adopt!

Be an Esther

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‘These things happened to them as examples for us.’ 1 Corinthians 10:11 NLT

It’s a mistake to think the great achievers in the Bible were somehow different from us and say, ‘In my situation a life like that isn’t possible.’

Esther’s freedom was taken from her when, because of her beauty, a pagan king made her one of his wives. Talk about feeling out of place! But no place is out of place when you’re in the place God wants you to be! When Haman plotted to have the Jews exterminated, Esther was strategically positioned by God to save them. She discovered her life’s purpose when her uncle Mordecai told her she had ‘come to the kingdom for such a time as this.’ (Esther 4:14 NKJV) And what was her response? ‘I will go to the king [on behalf of my people]…and if I perish, I perish!’ (Esther 4:16 NKJV) But instead of perishing, she prevailed!

So what can we learn from Esther? (1) When you first start out, God won’t give you all the details. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t have a plan. It’s in seeking Him that you discover His plan and draw on His strength. (2) Knowledge is power. Whether you’re a slave or a sovereign, when you know God has called you it enables you to overcome each obstacle as it arises. (3) Knowing God’s in control gives you boldness. When Esther said, ‘If I perish, I perish,’ she was simply putting herself into God’s hands, knowing that even death can be faced with confidence when you trust Him. Not only does God have a place for you here on earth, He has an even better one for you in Heaven. And that puts you in the ultimate win-win situation.

Five All-Important Answers

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‘If God is for us, who can ever be against us?’ Romans 8:31 NLT

Paul asks five all-important questions:

(1) ‘If God is for us, who can ever be against us?’ (Romans 8:31 NLT) The assurance of God’s presence tilts the scales in your favour. So whatever you’re facing today, remind yourself, ‘God is for me.’ (2) ‘Since [God] did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t [God]…give us everything else?’ (Romans 8:32 NLT) Think about it: Would God save your soul, then leave you to fend for yourself? Or address your eternal needs and not your earthly ones? No! (3) ‘Who dares accuse us…? No one—for God Himself has given us right standing with Himself.’ (Romans 8:33 NLT) Every accusing voice, including your own, counts for nothing in the court of Heaven. God’s acceptance trumps everybody else’s rejection—and He accepts you because He sees you ‘in Christ.’ (4) ‘Who then will condemn us?… Christ Jesus died for us… He is sitting in the place of honour at God’s right hand, pleading for us.’ (Romans 8:34 NLT) When your accusers rise up and speak against you, Jesus, your defence attorney, silences them. Why? Because His blood covers you! (5) ‘Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?’ (Romans 8:35 NLT) Paul answers his own question: ‘Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love… nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38–39 NLT)

Knowing these five truths will help you enjoy your day, and sleep better at night!

Staying Power (4)

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‘Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him.’ Genesis 37:5 NIV

Staying power overcomes misunderstanding and rejection. Sometimes the people you count on to support you will actually try to undercut you. When God gives you a vision too big for them to handle, they’ll say, ‘You’re getting too big for your boots,’ and then try to cut you down to size—their size!

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, then went home and told their father he’d been killed by a wild beast. Can you imagine how Joseph felt when someone asked, ‘Tell me about your family’? General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, ‘There are no victories at bargain prices.’ And sadly, betrayal happens as often in church as in secular society. When Charles Spurgeon was in his early twenties, such large crowds came to his church that the building couldn’t accommodate them. So he met with thirty of his church leaders and suggested they build an auditorium that would seat 5,500 people. Allegedly, he told them that if any of them doubted the possibility of accomplishing this, they should leave. And twenty-three did! But Spurgeon held true to the vision God had given him. He had the ‘stickability’ to see it through, and for over thirty-five years crowds packed the Metropolitan Tabernacle morning and night, making it one of the most influential churches in history.

An old Gospel song says, ‘Got any rivers you think are un-crossable? Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through? God specialises in things thought impossible; He can do just what no other can do.’

Staying Power (3)

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‘I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.’ Judges 11:35 KJV

Staying power overcomes family opposition. When Jephthah’s family disowned him and threw him out of the house, he built an army that ultimately delivered Israel from the hands of their enemies. As a result, he ended up becoming the nation’s youngest judge. When faced with the challenge to ‘fold up or hold up,’ David Livingstone demonstrated staying power. His wife, Mary, gave him so much trouble, always complaining and criticising, that she made his life’s work almost impossible. The tension between them became so great that Livingstone sent her home to England for a period of more than twelve years while he suffered, bled and ultimately died in Africa for the cause of Christ.

When Jesus went home to Nazareth to minister to the people He grew up around, some of them tried to throw Him off a cliff. And in spite of His teachings and miracles, His family thought He was mad. Did that hurt Him? Of course. But He didn’t let it stop Him. He said: ‘Anyone who wants to be My follower must love Me far more than he does his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers or sisters—yes, more than his own life—otherwise, he cannot be My disciple. And no one can be My disciple who does not carry his own cross and follow Me… don’t begin until you [first] count the cost.’ (Luke 14:26–28 TLB)

When your family opposes you, love them and pray for them because God can change their hearts. And until He does, keep serving Him.

Staying Power (2)

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‘Here on earth you will have many trials.’ John 16:33 NLT

Two more reasons you need to develop staying power are:

(1) It overcomes prolonged illness. When sickness saps your physical, emotional and mental strength—that’s when you need staying power. The Bible says, ‘The strong spirit of a man [or woman] sustains him in bodily pain or trouble, but a weak and broken spirit who can … bear?’ (Proverbs 18:14 AMP) Charles Spurgeon was known to multitudes as ‘the prince of preachers’. His ministry impacted London and much of the British Isles. Yet he was so sick that he had to spend a lot of his time resting in Southern France. His wife, who became an invalid after the birth of their twin sons, transcended her physical limitations with staying power. Though paralysed, she directed from her bed an unprecedented book distribution effort. And it’s largely because of her staying power that Spurgeon’s books are on the shelves of more people around the world than the books of most other ministers.

(2) It overcomes financial limitations. George Müller, who founded homes for orphans in England, is a prime example of staying power. He saved the lives of thousands of children, and he did it by faith. Many times he didn’t have the money to buy food for their next meal, but he never complained. Instead he prayed. And in response to his faith, money poured in from all over the world, much of it from people he never knew. Müller lived by the Scriptural principle: ‘Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’

Staying Power (1)

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‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.’ 2 Corinthians 4:8 NIV

Here’s a saying that has proven to be true: ‘What doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger.’

And here are four sayings that have proved to be false: (1) ‘When you become a Christian all your problems are over.’ Whoever told you that didn’t get it from Scripture. Paul said, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.’ (2 Corinthians 4:8–9) (2) ‘All the problems you’ll ever encounter are addressed in the Bible.’ God tells us many things in His Word, but He still requires us to ‘walk by faith, not by sight.’ (2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV) That means receiving guidance from His Word, from the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and from the counsel of godly friends. (3) ‘If you’re having problems, you must be unspiritual.’ The opposite is true. Satan’s attack is proof that you haven’t been conquered, that you represent a threat to the kingdom of darkness, and that you’re doing the will of God. And the greater the attack, the greater the level of blessing that awaits you beyond it, so keep going. (4) ‘Being exposed to sound Bible teaching automatically solves every problem.’ It will certainly help you solve your problems, but it won’t solve them for you. You must be a ‘doer’ of the Word and not a ‘hearer only’ (see James 1:23). Paul writes, ‘Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies [and tricks] of the devil.’ (Ephesians 6:10–11 NLT) In other words, you need ‘staying power.’

What it Means to Really Love

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‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4 NKJV

Some of the greatest insights on what it means to love someone come from the pen of the apostle Paul: ‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ (1 Corinthians 13:3–7 NKJV)

John had been married to Mary for fifty years. One night in bed she said, ‘When we were young, you used to hold my hand.’ A little irritated, he slowly reaches out his hand. ‘When we were young, you used to snuggle up to me,’ Mary said. Even more slowly, John’s body creaks and turns, nestling against hers. ‘When we were young, you used to nibble on my ear,’ she whispered. Abruptly he throws back the covers and jumps out of bed. Bewildered, Mary asks, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘To get my teeth!’ he grumbles.

To nibble on an ear when you’re full of romance and bubbling hormones is one thing. To nibble on that same ear years later when it holds a hearing aid, when the scent in the air is Vicks VapoRub, and when you have to get up to get your teeth—that’s love!

Be Joyful!

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‘You shall go out with joy.’ Isaiah 55:12 NKJV

Every morning say, ‘Today, I will go out with joy.’ That’ll set your attitude straight! Generally speaking, there are three kinds of people: (1) Those who feel bad about feeling good. They believe we’re not supposed to be happy, just ‘responsible.’ (2) Those who rain on your parade because your joy bothers them. Often these people have been hurt by life and anger simmers just beneath the surface. (3) Those who lift your spirit and breathe life into you.

You say, ‘But doesn’t the Bible tell us believers are supposed to be different from nonbelievers?’ Yes, but not negatively different—positively different! And unless you commit yourself to walking in the joy of the Lord, you’ll find negative ways of distinguishing yourself from nonbelievers. Paul writes, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’ (Philippians 4:4 NIV) If you’re thinking, ‘That’s easy for Paul to say; he doesn’t have my problems,’ think again! When Paul wrote those words he was in prison with no chance of getting out. For him joy was a decision, not a reaction to circumstances. You ask, ‘How could Paul be joyful in prison?’ Because he understood that true joy comes from devoting yourself to something bigger than your own interests. The Bible says, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10 KJV)

True joy calls for three things: (a) Making a conscious choice to focus on God’s goodness every single day. (b) Reaching out to bless others every chance you get. (c) Understanding that joy produces strength, which explains why your joy is the devil’s primary target. When you lose your joy you lose your strength, and he wins—so be joyful!

Divine Guidance (3)

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‘We have placed our confidence in Him, and He will continue to rescue us.’ 2 Corinthians 1:10 NLT

Paul writes: ‘We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in…Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed…we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And He did rescue us from mortal danger, and He will rescue us again.’ (2 Corinthians 1:8–10 NLT) For Paul, what looked like the end of the road was just the beginning of a fresh infusion of God’s power and favour into his life. As a result he went on to say that through it all he learned not to trust in himself, but in God ‘who raises the dead.’

It’s when your plans look dead that God’s resurrection power begins to operate in your life in greater measure. As long as you have a loving heavenly Father to call on, a word from the Lord to stand on and faith to activate it, you have every reason to rejoice.

So come on—start calling on God today! And do it in faith—not doubt. Expect Him to release His power on your behalf; then watch as He turns your situation around. Why? Because now you’re starting to trust the One who can really do something about it! Always remember that no matter how strong or successful you are, there’ll never be a time in your life when you don’t need God’s grace and guidance. And the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.

Divine Guidance (2)

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‘God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.’ Philippians 2:13 NLT

Underline these words: ‘God is working in you.’ He does this as you engage your mind, open your mouth, move your feet and use your hands to do what He’s already put into your heart. The moment you say yes to His will, He gives you the ability to perform it.

Notice, He doesn’t reveal His will to you, then call you. He calls you and, as you step out in faith and obey Him, He reveals His will to you step by step, empowering and equipping you as you go.

If you’re thinking you’d like a little more detail before you make a commitment, take note. First: God may make you uncomfortable where you are. ‘Like an eagle that stirs up its nest… the Lord…led him.’ (Deuteronomy 32:11–12 NIV) To teach her children to fly, a mother eagle literally pushes them out of the nest. Talk about being out of your element! Can you imagine what they are thinking? ‘It’s my mother doing this to me.’ But until a baby eagle is forced out of its comfort zone, it doesn’t realise it was born to fly, spread its wings, release its power and take its place in the skies. Is God stirring up your comfort zone today? Second: God’s direction is impossible to follow without His help. He plans it that way. Jesus said, ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5 NKJV) Third: There’s persistence in His leading. Human ideas go away, but God’s direction stays. That means time is on your side—so stay in step with God and don’t get ahead of Him.

Divine Guidance (1)

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‘He shows the proper path to those who go astray.’ Psalm 25:8 NLT

Throughout Scripture God talked to ordinary people, and He’ll talk to you too! He told Abraham when to leave home (see Genesis 12:1), and Jacob when to go back home (see Genesis 31:3). He told Elijah where to find food in the middle of a famine (see 1 Kings 17:1–5). On two different occasions He stopped Paul from walking through what appeared to be a door of opportunity because He had something better in mind for him. The Bible says: ‘The Lord is good and does what is right; He shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them His way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep His covenant and obey His demands.’ (Psalm 25:8–10 NLT)

Nothing is more important in life than being led by God. Other people’s input should confirm and clarify what God’s already telling you. But until you’ve heard from Him, you’ll be tempted to think other people’s ideas are God’s leading—and that can hurt you.

You’re unique, and God has a unique plan and purpose for you. When you’re not sure which way to go, stand on His promise: ‘I will lead My blind people by roads they have never travelled. I will turn their darkness into light and make rough country smooth before them. These are My promises, and I will keep them without fail.’ (Isaiah 42:16GNT) It doesn’t get any better than that!

Bound by a Commitment to Love

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‘Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it.’ Song of Solomon 8:7 NLT

The story’s told of a wedding where the minister said to the groom, ‘Do you take this woman for better or for worse? For richer or for poorer? In sickness and in health?’ And the groom said, ‘Yes, no, yes, no, no, yes.’

We all want the better, richer and healthier parts of marriage, but that’s not the way relationships work. In some modern marriage ceremonies the bride and groom pledge to stay together ‘as long as love shall last.’ Let’s hope they both know a good divorce attorney, because they’re probably going to need one. The truth is that relationships which are based on feelings don’t last. The only real stability in marriage is produced by a firm commitment that holds two people steady when emotions are fluctuating wildly. Can you imagine a parent saying to a child, ‘I’ll care for you as long as I shall love you?’ No, and neither does a wishy-washy expression of love hold much promise for the future of a marriage. Think about it this way: emotion is like the carriage of a train, but commitment is the engine that pulls the relationship through all the ups and downs of everyday living.

Solomon puts it this way: ‘Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth, his offer would be utterly scorned.’ (Song of Solomon 8:7 NLT) And one more thought—the theme of the Bible is resurrection. That means even though your love may feel dead, God can cause it to live again if you’re both willing to let Him work in your heart.

Four Steps to Overcoming Fear

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‘The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.’ Psalm 118:6 NIV

First, be willing to take a risk. Yes, you might be hurt or embarrassed—so what? To overcome insecurity and gain confidence you must allow yourself the freedom to take a chance. Start writing that book, take those music lessons, stand up and speak at the meeting! Feel the fear and do it anyway! ‘Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.’ (Proverbs 29:25 NIV)

Second, learn to laugh at yourself. Get over your obsessive need for approval and acceptance and learn to laugh at your mistakes. We’re all human; stop taking yourself so seriously! When you make a mistake, be the first to see the funny side, and you’ll find people more supportive than you think.

Third, start thinking realistically. It’s time to drop the security blanket and realise it’s not all about you. You are not the centre of the universe, and your little faux pas don’t mean that much in the bigger scheme of things. Besides, mistakes are often better teachers than success.

Fourth, reward yourself for little victories. When you complete a project, reward yourself. When you take advice or correction without retaliating, reward yourself. Often the people we lash out at are those trying the hardest to help us. Get used to the idea that you’re valuable, talented and skilled, and your worth in God’s eyes is inestimable. Stop scrutinising yourself through distorted lenses and start seeing yourself with 20/20 vision. Once you can do that, your fears will be replaced by God honouring confidence in yourself and in your future.

Getting What You Want (3)

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‘You do not have because you do not ask.’ James 4:2 NKJV

Notice: (1) There are benefits you won’t receive unless you ask for them. Plus, ‘asking and receiving’ works wonders for your self-esteem. Imagine the joy these five women felt when their petition was granted. Obviously they were emotionally secure or they wouldn’t have tried it. So, as a redeemed child of God declare, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31 KJV)

(2) Timing is important. ‘A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.’ (Proverbs 27:12 NLT) The daughters of Zelophehad spoke up while they were still in the wilderness; the Promised Land hadn’t yet been conquered. There’s nothing like good planning. You can’t just sit around and assume others are thinking about your welfare. For example, after the raises are announced is not the time to petition your boss for an increase. Zelophehad’s daughters made life better for every other woman in Israel. So by speaking up and confronting the situation not only will you be blessed, others will too.

(3) Strive for a win-win situation. The battle was not yet over. The daughters of Zelophehad had uncles who appealed the new ruling, pointing out that if these women married men outside their tribe then their land holdings would go to other tribes. So God made another ruling; to possess land you must only marry within your own tribe (see Numbers 36:5–11). And when it comes to marriage, spiritually speaking that principle still applies. ‘She is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.’ (1 Corinthians 7:39 NKJV) The same for men.

Getting What You Want (2)

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‘The daughters of Zelophehad…stood before Moses.’ Numbers 27:1–2 NKJV

The daughters of Zelophehad teach us that we must: (1) Be willing to do something about it. Complaining doesn’t change anything; it just makes you more miserable. With millions of people entering the Promised Land, other women were in the same predicament. But nothing changed until these five women became proactive and refused to accept the status quo. That took courage. Going before Moses was like appealing to the Supreme Court. Solutions are found when you decide to face your problems head-on and do something about them.

(2) Be clear about what you want. What do you want to happen, or stop happening? When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there; you must have a clear goal in mind. These women believed they were entitled to the same blessing the male members of their family received, and they refused to settle for less. As a result, God gave it to them. And He will do the same for you. ‘Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.’ (Galatians 6:9 NKJV)

(3) Refuse to be deterred by opinions, policies, and traditions. Under the law of Moses women weren’t even numbered as part of the census (see Numbers 26). Can you imagine the shape the church would be in if we lived by that policy today? Many times in the Scripture God altered ‘the norm’ in response to bold faith, and changed the destiny of those individuals. And what He did for them, He will do for you.

Getting What You Want (1)

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‘Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ Numbers 27:4 NKJV

The five daughters of Zelophehad are a great example of how to get what you want. The Israelites were about to possess the Promised Land. Guidelines had been established for allocating the land among the various tribes. But the law said that only males could inherit land. These five women thought this was unfair since it denied them the ability to inherit their deceased father’s property. So they challenged this law by taking their case to Moses. ‘Our father died in the wilderness… and he had no sons… Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ (Numbers 27:3–4 NKJV) Now, since it was God who gave the law, only He could change it. So Moses took their case before the Lord, and here’s what He said: ‘The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right… you shall…cause the inheritance…to pass to them.’ (Numbers 27:7 NKJV)

These brave women took matters into their own hands. They had no men in their lives to speak up on their behalf—no husbands, no brothers, and no sons. Yes, they had uncles, but it was unlikely that they would support them in their request since they were asking for land that would, under the current plan, default to the uncles.

Here’s what we learn from this story: (1) When something is unfair and unjust, God may be calling you to challenge and change it. (2) All things don’t come to those who wait, but to those who are willing to go and get them. (3) Man may close the door, but when you turn to God He can open it for you.

Groaning in Prayer

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‘The Spirit… intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.’ Romans 8:26 NIV

We usually think of groaning as something negative. But when the Spirit groans in prayer it’s good. ‘The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’ (Romans 8:26–28 NIV)

Sometimes when we’re praying about a certain need, we feel it so deeply that we can’t express ourselves in words. At that point the Holy Spirit enters the picture and helps us with our weakness. But He does more than just feel for us, He takes our pain and deepest longings and presents them before God. What does this tell us about prayer? That the Holy Spirit connects with your prayers when they come from your heart and not just your lips. There are times when you’re unable to articulate a single word in prayer; nevertheless you’re making an important connection.

Ever reach a point where you’re so concerned about something that when you come before God, all you can do is sigh? You’re learning something important about prayer! God allows us to groan; otherwise we’d never truly pray. We’d utter words but never really pray from deep within—where ‘effectual fervent prayer’ has to begin (James 5:16 KJV).

‘The Fear of the Lord’

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‘In the… fear of the Lord there is strong confidence.’ Proverbs 14:26 AMP

When you submit to God, you don’t have to be afraid of anything because He becomes your ‘refuge and strength.’ (Psalm 46:1 NAS) Fearing God doesn’t mean being afraid He’s going to hurt you. He’s a good God! ‘The fear of the Lord’ is about honour and respect—it just means you follow His directions and recognise His authority in all things.

You’ve probably noticed there’s not a lot of respect for authority these days; we’ve developed the kind of mentality that says, ‘Nobody’s going to tell me what to do!’ But the Bible says, ‘In the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord there is strong confidence.’ (Proverbs 14:26 AMP) Why does it say that? Because a reverent and worshipful fear means being respectful and obedient. It means you’ll do what God says to do, and your confidence and trust in Him will continue to grow. And you’ll notice something else that’s important: the more reverential fear and awe you have of God, the more careful and courteous you’ll be in your dealings with others. That’s because you know you’re accountable to God for your actions, and you recognise that other people are just as valuable to Him as you are.

Solomon writes, ‘Here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep His commandments… this is the whole duty of man.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV) Moses told the children of Israel, ‘What does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God… walk in all His ways… love Him… serve the Lord your God with all your heart and…soul.’ (Deuteronomy 10:12 NIV) It’s not complicated!

Start Giving to Others

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‘Give, and it will be given to you.’ Luke 6:38 NKJV

Generosity isn’t just about money. Lots of people say, ‘As soon as I get rich I’ll become more generous.’ But the greatest givers often have the least money. Grandmothers on meagre pensions are sending a few dollars a month to help build orphanages. People barely making it are giving to feed the hungry. Retired employees are mentoring younger workers. Single people with limited resources are spending their evenings working with the homeless or families in need.

No matter where you are financially, you can begin a lifestyle of giving. If you can come up with the money for a nice car, dining out, movie tickets, dating and other leisure activities, chances are you can find something to give if you really want to. Jesus said, ‘Give, and you will receive… The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.’ (Luke 6:38 NLT) Want a bonus? Want a blessing? Start giving your time, treasure and talent to others. Jesus either lied or He told the truth, and you need to find out which. If you believe He told the truth you’d be foolish to withhold instead of giving.

Studies have revealed that, in general, giving makes us happier, is good for our health, promotes gratitude, increases connection and cooperation and is even—sometimes—contagious! So start giving to others and see what happens.

Spend More Time With Your Family

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

Here’s a true saying: ‘The family that prays together, stays together.’ Here’s another true saying: ‘The family that eats together and communicates, raises well-adjusted children.’

When the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre studied five hundred teenagers, here’s what they discovered: children whose parents ate dinner with them five times a week or more were the least likely to be on drugs, to be depressed or to be in trouble with the law. They were also more likely to do well in school, and be surrounded by a supportive circle of friends. Even when families met together at a fast-food restaurant they got the same results. By contrast, the more poorly adjusted teens ate with their parents only three times a week or less. What do these findings mean? (1) You need to make time to be involved with your children on a daily basis, especially during the formative years. (2) When you give your children things, you give them short-term pleasure and excitement, but when you give them time, you give them self-worth. This may call for working fewer hours or eliminating certain activities, but it’s an investment you’ll never regret.

Job was one of the wealthiest men in his generation. But after tragedy struck and all ten of his children died in a single day, he looked back and wrote, ‘The Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me.’ You need to ask yourself: ‘Am I spending enough time with my family?’ If you don’t like the answer, start changing things.

When You’re Not Expecting It (2)

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‘We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] devices.’ 2 Corinthians 2:11 NKJV

On the heels of a spiritual victory it’s tempting to let down your guard, but that’s when you’re most vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. You can’t afford to be ‘ignorant of [Satan’s] devices.’ Even Jesus wasn’t exempt. In a display of supernatural power, He fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. After a miracle like that most of us would have decided it was time to kick back and take it easy for a while. But instead of basking in the afterglow, Jesus ‘departed to the mountain to pray.’ (Mark 6:46 NKJV) It wasn’t apparent at the time, but He was about to face one of the fiercest storms of His ministry (see Mark 6:48).

Henry Blackaby observes: ‘The disciples raced headlong into the tempest unprepared, but… Jesus entered the storm prepared and met the crisis with all the power of God… Stand guard over your high points… when you experience God mightily… go immediately to a place of prayer so the Father can prepare you for what’s to come.’ Times have changed but human nature hasn’t. We’re still our same old predictable selves—and Satan knows it. That’s why he ‘prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.’ (1 Peter 5:8 NLT)

To stop him from gaining an advantage: (1) ‘Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you'(James 4:7 NIV); (2) Surround yourself with godly companions (see Psalm 1:1); (3) Stay connected to God through His Word and prayer. Vern McLellan said, ‘In the morning prayer opens the treasures of God’s mercies and blessings, and in the evening it shuts us up under His protection and safeguard.’ That’s a fail-safe strategy you should adopt.

When You’re Not Expecting It (1)

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‘Then the devil comes.’ Luke 8:12 ESV

Anne Graham Lotz writes: ‘In the course of a week, the hot-water heater broke, water pipes burst… the bathroom showerhead fell off… [and] I was confronted with friction between family members and problems with my ministry staff. I was tempted to lose my temper, to worry instead of trust, and to neglect my prayer life. What looked like ordinary frustration… was something more sinister… Satan attacks our weakened defences in the mundane areas of our lives.’

The Bible says that immediately following the spiritual blessing He received at His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert ‘to be tempted by the devil’ (see Matthew 4:1–11).

There are important lessons here: (1) Don’t rest in success. After the benediction comes the battle. What incredible blessing has God recently given you? Whether it involves your ministry, family, career or your personal walk with God, watch out! Satan targets us when we’re off-guard. (2) Stay in God’s will. Have you ever thought, ‘If it’s this hard it can’t be God’s will,’ and decided to quit? Just because you’re doing the right thing doesn’t mean you’re immune. Jesus was in God’s will when the enemy attacked Him. When things look bleak, don’t ‘lean…on your own understanding’; that’s the time to ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart.’ (Proverbs 3:5 NKJV) (3) Know the Scripture. Every time Jesus was attacked He countered with, ‘It is written.’ God’s Word is called ‘the sword of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:17 NIV) because it’s our primary offensive weapon against evil (see Ephesians 6:16). Jesus used it to defeat Satan, and so must you.

Dad, Treasure Your Children

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‘The children God has graciously given your servant.’ Genesis 33:5 NIV

We live in a day when children have never been given more of the things they want, and less of the things they need. What do they need? You! Not trinkets, treasures and toys, but your love and your time.

Read these unsettling words in a Newsweek column entitled, ‘Dear Dads, Save Your Sons,’ by psychologist Christopher Bacorn. He tells about an anxious mother in her mid-thirties who came to his office with her 15-year-old son. The boy’s dad had left four years before. Since then the teenager had descended into alcohol, gang membership and violence. The mother had nowhere else to turn, and it was obvious the boy was at best a hostile participant. After attempting for thirty minutes to crack the steel vault of this boy’s heart, Dr. Bacorn realised the futility of it all. He wrote these poignant and sad words: ‘I’ve come to believe that most adolescent boys can’t make use of professional counselling… What a boy can use, and all too often doesn’t have, is the fellowship of men—at least one man who pays attention to him, who spends time with him, who admires him. A boy needs a man he can look up to. What he doesn’t need is a shrink… As a nation we’re racked by youth violence, overrun by gangs, guns and drugs. The great majority of youthful offenders are male, most without fathers involved in their lives in any useful way.’

In Genesis we read that Jacob was a successful businessman, but he discovered that his greatest earthly treasure was ‘the children God has graciously given to your servant.’ (Genesis 33:5 NIV) Dad, have you discovered that?

Ministering to Others (2)

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‘Therefore comfort one another with these words.’ 1 Thessalonians 4:18 NKJV

A well known pastor once planned to attend the funeral of an acquaintance and, by mistake, ended up at the wrong funeral parlour. The body of an elderly man was laid out, and his widow was the only mourner there. She seemed so lonely, he stayed for the funeral and then accompanied her to the cemetery. After the committal service, as they were driving away, he confessed that he hadn’t actually known the lady’s husband. ‘I thought so,’ she replied. ‘I didn’t recognise you. But it doesn’t matter. You’ll never, ever, know what this means to me.’

Philip Yancey writes: ‘Simple availability is the most powerful force we can contribute… We rightly disparage Job’s three friends for their insensitive response to his suffering. But read the account again: “When they came, they sat in silence beside Job for seven days before opening their mouths”…those were the most eloquent moments they spent with him. Instinctively I shrink back from people in pain. Who knows if they want to talk about their predicament or not? Do they want to be consoled or cheered up? What good can my presence possibly do? My mind spins out these rationalisations and as a result I end up doing the worst thing possible: I stay away… No one offers the name of a philosopher when I ask, “Who helped you the most?” Most often they describe a quiet, unassuming person… who was there… who listened more than they talked, who didn’t keep glancing down at a watch, who hugged and touched, and cried… someone who was available and came on the sufferer’s terms, not their own.’

That’s how you minister to others.

Ministering to Others (1)

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‘God…comforts us…so that we can comfort [others].’ 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NIV

A century ago a lady visited an American orphanage and asked the matron, ‘Is there a child here nobody has offered to adopt?’ The matron replied, ‘There is. Her name is Mercy Goodfaith. She’s ten years old, not much to look at, and has a hunchback.’ The lady said, ‘That’s the child I want!’ 35 years later the director of the Orphanage Inspection Department in Iowa submitted the following report on a state-run facility: ‘This home is outstanding. It’s clean, the food’s good, the children are well cared-for, and the atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The matron, Mercy Goodfaith, has a soul that oozes love; she has such beautiful eyes I forgot how homely her face was—or that she was a hunchback.’ Because a Good Samaritan had the courage to love and nurture a little girl others overlooked, Mercy Goodfaith went on to share that same love with hundreds of other orphans.

Paul says, ‘God… comforts us… so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we… received.’ (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NIV) And Billy Graham adds: ‘Those who have suffered the most are best able to comfort others …to empathise with [their] afflictions because of what they’ve experienced… Our sufferings may be hard to bear, but our goal should be to learn all we can from what we’re called to endure so we can fulfil a ministry of comfort as Jesus did. “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18 NIV) The sufferer becomes the comforter in the service of the Lord.

Your Personalized Road Map

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‘Who works out everything in conformity with… His will.’ Ephesians 1:11 NIV

The Bible says before you were born: ‘Every day of [your] life was recorded… Every moment… laid out before a single day had passed.’ (Psalm 139:16 NLT) God personalised a road map for your life ‘in conformity with… His will.’ (Ephesians 1:11 NIV) And it’s your job to discover it and walk within its confines.

Terry Nance says: ‘You may know your ultimate destination, but need guidance on how to get there. First and foremost, “God’s Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path.” (Psalm 119:105) He sees the big picture… the shortcuts and pitfalls… Don’t look for external guidance… the Holy Spirit lives inside you, and it’s from within that you’ll get the inside track.’ Meditate on these Scriptures and make them personal prayers: ‘God has made us what we are… to do good works, which [He] planned in advance for us to live our lives doing.’ (Ephesians 2:10 NCV) ‘The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.’ (Psalm 37:23 NLT) ‘You clear the way for me, and now I won’t stumble.’ (Psalm 18:36 CEV) ‘Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.’ (Proverbs 3:6 NLT) ‘Behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or…left.’ (Isaiah 30:21 NLT)

At the end of his life Paul could say, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’ (2 Timothy 4:7).Notice, sometimes Paul had to ‘fight’ to stay on course, but by God’s grace he made it—and so will you!

Growing in Love

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‘Your love for one another is growing.’ 2 Thessalonians 1:3 NLT

When Paul says, ‘Your love for one another is growing,’ it’s not the kind where life’s perfect and everybody accommodates you. God’s intention is to ‘grow’ you into the kind of love that’s not defined by your feelings, but a sacrificial love that says, ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20 NIV) It’s possible to be in love with the idea of a perfect marriage, without actually loving your mate. Or the dream of what your children could become, if only they’d follow your advice. But when it comes to loving a rebellious teen who acts like ‘the other side of the family,’ it’s a growing process that puts your love to the test.

Jesus said, ‘As I have loved you… you must love one another’ (John 13:34 NIV), and He never asks us to do anything without giving us the ability to do it. So are you ready to do a little growing?

Kristin Armstrong says: ‘When we’re hurt it’s common to withdraw. But the worst thing a parent can do is to withhold affection in response to a child’s behaviour. A child’s heart grows when it’s nurtured with unconditional love. Affection doesn’t depend on behaviour, mood or circumstances. Being pleasing does not equate to being lovable. Imagine if Jesus loved us only when we behaved perfectly. We’d never experience His affection, and consequently we’d wither away. And since Jesus is our example, we need to love others with Christlike grace. He loves us according to His capacity, not according to the degree of our merit. We must love others… not by our standards but by His.’

Overcoming Temptation (4)

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‘Its fruit looked delicious… So she… ate it.’ Genesis 3:6 NLT

Let’s look at the first time in Scripture anyone was tempted and see what we can learn. The Bible says, ‘The serpent was the shrewdest of all the [creatures] the Lord God had made… he asked the woman, “Did God really say…?”’ (Genesis 3:1 NLT) First, Satan will blind you to all the good things God has in store for you. Then he’ll take mood-altering substances like drugs or alcohol, or somebody else’s husband or wife, or internet porn, and tell you it won’t hurt you. Don’t bite! He’s a liar! Don’t believe him! ‘Temptation comes from our own desires… These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.’ (James 1:14–16 NLT)

Any weakness that’s constantly indulged, excused, denied or hidden has the power to enslave you. Failure to identify and target your weakness strengthens it. Ignoring your areas of vulnerability makes defeat inevitable. Satan has assigned certain people to feed your weaknesses. Be discerning. Your weakness will be drawn to any friendship that accepts it, enjoys it and feeds on it. It has an agenda of its own—to take over your life and sabotage God’s plan for you. It’ll always bond with the wrong people and make you uncomfortable in the presence of the right ones. And it can emerge at any time, including your latter years.

So how do you overcome your weakness? Through willpower? No, through God’s power! And it’s available to you today—so reach for it!

Overcoming Temptation (3)

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‘He ran from the house.’ Genesis 39:12 NLT

The Bible says, ‘Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man, and Potiphar’s wife… began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded. But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household… How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible. One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house.’ (Genesis 39:6–12 NLT)

Note the words: ‘She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day.’ Joseph’s temptation kept happening when he was around a certain person: Potiphar’s wife. And it kept happening when he was in a certain place: Potiphar’s house. So he ran. Not because he was weak—but because he was wise! He understood that if you hang around temptation too long you’re playing with fire and setting yourself up to get ‘burned.’

So, what people and what places do you need to avoid? What sources of temptation do you need to remove from your life in order to live victoriously? Remember the old Kenny Rogers song: ‘You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em; know when to walk away and know when to run’? God isn’t dishonoured when you run—you’re dishonoured when you don’t!

Overcoming Temptation (1)

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‘Nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.’ 2 Chronicles 20:12 NKJV

When Jesus told Peter he would soon deny his Lord, Peter virtually boasted, ‘Others may, but not me!’ Yet within a few hours he was swearing and disavowing any knowledge of Jesus. It can happen to any of us. The Bible says, ‘Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own [particular] desires and enticed.’ (James 1:14 NKJV)

We all have areas of vulnerability which, if not disciplined by character and commitment, have the potential to defeat or even destroy us. What can you do? (1) Recognise it. Before you yield to temptation you usually go through certain stages. By neglecting prayer and Bible reading you become indifferent to God, insensitive to danger, and find yourself drawn like a moth to a flame. Then you begin to rationalise your disobedience and think, ‘Nobody knows. What harm will it do?’ And the more you silence the voice of conscience, the stronger your carnal appetites become. Then you surround yourself with people who do the same things, or are at least willing to look the other way. Jesus said, ‘Pray… that you may not enter into temptation.’ (Mark 14:38AMP) Pray for strength before the temptation comes! (2) Reach for help. When Jehoshaphat came up against an enemy too big to handle alone, he prayed, ‘We have no power against this great multitude… nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.’ (2 Chronicles 20:12 NKJV) Jehoshaphat knew he was no match for the enemy, and he knew where to turn for help.

What’s the secret of victory? Lean less on yourself and more on God!

The Ultimate Purpose of Prayer

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‘To be conformed to the likeness of His Son.’ Romans 8:29 NIV

The Bible says, ‘Those God foreknew He… predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.’ (Romans 8:29 NIV) When you read the preceding verses in the chapter you discover God does this through prayer. This should encourage you to pray. Many times we don’t pray because we don’t think anything’s happening. But with God, something’s always happening! We wonder, ‘When is He going to work?’ What we fail to understand is—He’s always working.

When it comes to prayer He’s either answering the way you hoped, or changing your heart through the Spirit’s intercession to bring your prayer into harmony with His will. You say, ‘But I don’t see anything happening.’ When you plant a seed, you don’t come back the next day expecting green shoots and leaves. Does that mean nothing’s happening? No, a host of necessary processes are taking place below the ground where you can’t see them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because you don’t see the evidence that nothing’s happening. It’s just not harvest time yet. One way in which God is making us more like Jesus is by helping us to pray the way Jesus prayed, ‘Not My will, but Thine, be done.’ (Luke 22:42 KJV) That means when your prayer lines up with His will, He’s already working on it even though you can’t see it. And if your prayer isn’t in accordance with His will, He’s working to change your request by changing you.

Unanswered prayer can be as big a blessing as answered prayer, when it keeps us from violating God’s will. And what is God’s will? To make you more like Jesus!

Instead of Judging People, Let’s Love Them

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‘Let us stop passing judgment on one another.’ Romans 14:13 NIV

You can work alongside and pray for someone who’s having an extramarital affair, without having one yourself. Remember, you were a sinner before you were saved by the grace of God, so act with humility and don’t fall into the trap of self-righteousness. As Merv Rosell says, ‘When God forgives, He consigns the offence to everlasting forgetfulness,’ so show grace when you encounter somebody whose lifestyle makes you uncomfortable. Learn as much as possible about them, and allow your interactions to dispel any preconceptions and prejudices. See them as hurting individuals loved by God—people who need the same grace you received.

When you love the unlovely, you’re just doing what God did for you. Just because somebody’s ‘different’, doesn’t mean you should dismiss them or consider them inferior. You don’t want to be judged or demeaned because of your colour, culture or countenance, so don’t do it to others! Because the Bible is clear about not emulating others in their sinful practices, we can be tempted to think we’re better than they are. That’s the sin of pride!

Sometimes we think if we love and accept certain people, we’re condoning their sin. No, the truth lies in remaining respectful, and accepting others the way Jesus did. Whether it was racial differences (Samaritans), lifestyle differences (the five-times-divorced woman at the well), or class differences (Nicodemus), Jesus loved and accepted people as they were, while inspiring them to a higher standard.

Give Yourselves to God

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‘Do not let sin control the way you live.’ Romans 6:12 NLT

When someone says, ‘I can’t help myself; it’s just the way I am,’ they are right, but only partially right! Researchers identified more than a hundred identical twins who had been separated at birth. They were raised in various cultures, religions and locations. By comparing their similarities and their differences it became clear that as much as 70 percent of their personality… was inherited. Their DNA determined such qualities as creativity, wisdom, loving-kindness, vigour, longevity, intelligence, and even the joy of living. Consider the ‘Jim twins’ who were separated until they were 39 years old. Both married women named Linda, owned dogs named Toy, suffered from migraine headaches, had wood-working shops in their garages, drove Chevys and served as sheriff’s deputies. Their personalities and attitudes were virtual carbon copies.

What do these findings mean? Are we puppets on a string, playing out a predetermined course without free will or personal choices? Not at all. Unlike animals, we’re capable of rational thought and independent action. We don’t have to act on every sexual urge, for example, despite our genetic underpinnings. Heredity may nudge us in a particular direction, but our impulses can be brought under control. This is where the new birth comes in. God gives you a new nature, and the power to overcome your old one.

Paul addresses it: ‘Do not let sin control the way you live, do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life.’ (Romans 6:12–13 NLT)

Bless Them

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‘…and especially [be a blessing]…’ Galatians 6:10 AMP

When someone hurts you, you have three options: (1) hurt them back; (2) avoid them altogether; (3) pray for them and look for ways to bless them (see Matthew 5:44–45). Paul says: ‘So then, while we [as individual believers] have the opportunity, let us do good to all people [not only being helpful, but also doing that which promotes their spiritual well-being], and especially [be a blessing]…’ (Galatians 6:10 AMP)

We’re so caught up with how others treat us that we’ve little or no concern about how we treat them. We’re afraid of being taken advantage of, especially if our past experience with someone has been painful. Not only do fear and dread make us supersensitive to everything they say and do, we may misinterpret their motives and see them in a negative light. Without question, it’s difficult not to be concerned that others will treat you badly if they already have a proven track record. That’s why it’s so important not to think about it at all (see Philippians 3:13 and Isaiah 43:18). Does this mean the person won’t have to account for how they treated you? No. The Bible says, ‘Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.’ (Romans 14:12–13 NIV)

Hand the situation over to God—and refuse to take it back. Then, ‘be a blessing’. In other words, occupy your thoughts with ways in which you can be helpful. When you do that you’ll have no time to dwell on personal grievances. Plus, it gives God an opportunity to work on them—and you.

Stay Focused on Your Mission

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‘My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside.’ Job 23:11 NKJV

Many of our endeavours in life fail for one reason—broken focus. We allow ourselves to get distracted. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade; in short, in all management of human affairs.’ Where should you focus your concentration? On your mission! And when you make a mistake, don’t chase after it. Don’t try to defend it. Don’t throw good money after it. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. If you need to, seek forgiveness from God and the person you have hurt. And when possible try to make amends. Once you’ve done these things, refocus your attention on your mission and move on. Keep your eye on what it is you desire to do.

You’ll never meet a person focused on yesterday who had a better tomorrow. John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under President Eisenhower, observed: ‘The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is still the same problem you had last year.’

A problem resolved is a springboard to future success, to bigger and better things. The key is to focus on what you’re learning, not losing. When you do that you open the door to future possibilities. Regardless of how you feel about a problem, you can still thinkabout it with calm assurance. Peace in the most troubled circumstance comes when you ask for God’s help in planning what to do about the problem. And in the end, that’s what matters.

Hidden by Design

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‘In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me.’ Isaiah 49:2 NKJV

When you’re called to serve God in a particular capacity, it’s not unusual to go through a period of anonymity where you feel invisible. Isaiah was called of God ‘from the womb’. (Isaiah 49:1 NKJV) But he experienced a season of being hidden ‘in the shadow’ while God perfected his ministry. When a vision takes a long time to come to fruition, and you’ve sacrificed and worked without recognition or seeing results, it’s easy to feel like you’re wasting your life. Isaiah was human too. He got discouraged and said, ‘I have laboured to no purpose… spent my strength… for nothing.’ (Isaiah 49:4 NIV) But just because you feel that way doesn’t mean it’s true. ‘God… rewards those who earnestly seek Him’ (Hebrews 11:6 NIV), and you’re no exception.

It took thirty years before Jesus started His public ministry. Moses, David, John the Baptist and Paul endured years of obscurity before they were brought to the forefront. In God’s Kingdom there are no overnight sensations or flash-in-the-pan successes. Beth Jones says: ‘Anyone who wants to be used of God will experience hidden years in the backside of the desert. During that time the Lord is polishing, sharpening and preparing us to fit into His bow, so at the right time, like “a polished shaft” He can launch us into fruitful service. The invisible years are years of serving, studying, being faithful in another person’s ministry and doing the behind-the-scenes work.’ The Bible says, ‘God is not unjust; He will not forget your work.’ (Hebrews 6:10 NIV) Be patient; when the time is right He will bring forth the fruit He placed inside you.

Renew Your Mind with God’s Word

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‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Romans 12:2 NKJV

The most important thing you can do every day is—renew your mind with God’s Word. When you get that right, everything else will begin to fall into place. You’ll think and act differently, so you’ll get different results.

Do you remember the old TV series The Beverly Hillbillies? What made the show so interesting is that Jed and his family had been set free from their past—a life of poverty back in the Ozarks. But even after they moved to California’s Beverly Hills, they continued in their ‘hillbilly’ ways. Their location had changed, but their mindset hadn’t. The same was true of the Israelites. They had a slave mentality. Even though they were free and God was providing their every need, the minute a problem came up they wanted to go back to Egypt. They couldn’t enter tomorrow because they were still carrying the baggage of yesterday! Read these words carefully: ‘Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.’ (Hebrews 4:1 NKJV) You ask, ‘But aren’t God’s promises guaranteed?’ Yes, if you do what He says! God promised to bless you—if you sow with a joyful and generous heart. He promised to direct your paths—if you acknowledge Him in all your ways. He promised to forgive you—if you forgive others.

You only ‘prove what is that good… acceptable… perfect will of God’ by continually renewing your mind! So the word for you today is: renew your mind with God’s Word.

‘It is well with my soul’

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‘My peace I give you … Do not let your hearts be troubled and … afraid.’ John 14:27 NIV

The peace Jesus gives brings a sense of assurance that no matter what happens you know ‘it is well with my soul’. He says to us: ‘My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and … afraid.’ The peace Jesus gives doesn’t depend on conditions and circumstances. It comes from knowing you’re God’s child and that your Father controls the universe, loves you and always has your best interests at heart. That’s why people who’ve lost everything will often tell you they wouldn’t trade what they’ve learned, even if it meant recouping all their losses. Joni Erikson Tada discovered a supernatural peace when an accident confined her to a wheelchair, and Corrie Ten Boom found it in a Nazi death camp. Missionary Elisabeth Elliot found it ministering to the Indian tribe who massacred her husband. She wrote, ‘Only in acceptance lies peace … not in resignation.’ There’s a big difference! Author Creath Davis points out that: ‘Resignation is surrender to fate. Acceptance is surrender to God. Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe. Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills that universe with purpose and destiny. Resignation says, “I can’t.” Acceptance says, “God can.” Resignation paralyses the life process. Acceptance releases the process for its greatest creativity. Resignation says, “It’s all over for me.” Acceptance says, “Now that I’m here, what’s next, Lord?” Resignation says, “What a waste.” Acceptance says, “In what redemptive way will you use this mess, Lord?” Resignation says, “I’m alone.” Acceptance says, “I belong to you, Lord.”’

Don’t Be Afraid (3)

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‘Why are you so fearful?’ Mark 4:40 NKJV

Following Jesus invariably means going through storms. When you’re in over your head and sinking fast, you learn things about the Lord you’d never know otherwise. At first you wonder, ‘How’d I get into this mess?’ Then you start to see His hand at work and end up saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!’ (Mark 4:41 NKJV) The disciples finally reached a place where they were willing to follow Jesus—without question. And that’s God’s plan for you.

‘Don’t be afraid’ isn’t a call to naïvety or ignorance. God doesn’t expect us to be oblivious to the challenges life brings. But as long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, the waves couldn’t take him under. So look to God, stand on His Word, and recall His goodness. The Bible says, ‘We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.’ (Hebrews 2:1 NAS) Do whatever it takes to keep your eyes on the Lord. CS Lewis wrote: ‘Moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable… that’s why faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where to get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro with his beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of his digestion. Consequently, one must train the habit of faith.’

So the word for you today is: Don’t be afraid.

Don’t Be Afraid (2)

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‘Oh, that [we] would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness.’ Psalm 107:8 NKJV

When you’ve been through hard times, it can make you want to cut back on trusting God, and start playing it safe. When you’ve been through back-to-back storms, the security of the harbour starts looking good. Now it’s ok to rest and regroup, but don’t settle for safety and miss what God has planned for you.

The Bible says: ‘Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters… see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro… stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness.’ (Psalm 107:23–31 NKJV) Where do we see God’s wonders? In life’s storms!

The most common command Jesus issued was: ‘Don’t be afraid’ or ‘Have courage.’ His second most common commandment is to love God and your neighbour. That means the one statement Jesus made more than any other was ‘Don’t be afraid!’ Why? Because He wants you to trust Him more!

Don’t Be Afraid (1)

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‘Why are you so fearful?’ Mark 4:40 NKJV

Notice how the disciples reacted to the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and see if you recognise any of the same traits in yourself:

(1) Fear makes us doubt God’s care. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Do You not care that we are perishing?’ (Mark 4:38 NKJV) They didn’t ask about His strength: ‘Can you still the storm?’ Or His knowledge: ‘Are you aware of the storm?’ Or His know-how: ‘Do you have any experience with storms?’ Instead they voiced doubts about His character: ‘Do you not care?’ If you let it, fear will erode your confidence in God’s love and make you forget His faithfulness. (2) Fear makes us reach for control. Jesus was asleep, so the disciples woke Him and basically said, ‘Do something, quick!’ Fear comes from a perceived loss of control. When we’re afraid, we grab for a component of life that we can manage—like our diet, or our job, or the neatness of our house, or in many cases—people. The more insecure we feel, the more controlling we tend to become. (3) Fear makes us forgetful. The Bible says, ‘He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick.’ (Matthew 8:16 NKJV) What a résumé! But fear gives us spiritual amnesia; it makes us forget what Jesus has already done and how good He has been to us.

And what was Jesus’ response? ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ Faith doesn’t eliminate fear; it silences it, robs it of its power and draws us closer to God. And when that happens things begin to change for the better.

Spirit-Filled Living

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‘When the Spirit has His way with us.’ Galatians 5:17 TLB

Always remember that no matter how long you walk with God, your carnal nature never improves. It never becomes more like Jesus, even over time. That’s why we’re told to ‘crucify’ it daily (see Galatians 5:24).

Even the apostle Paul struggled with his lower nature: ‘We naturally love to do evil things… opposite from the things that the Holy Spirit tells us to do; and the good things we want to do when the Spirit has His way with us are just the opposite of our natural desires. These two forces within us are constantly fighting… to win control over us, and our wishes are never free from their pressures… But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Galatians 5:1722–23 TLB)

You ask, ‘Is such a lifestyle even possible?’ Yes, but you must do these four things: (1) Remember that Satan never takes a day off. You’re constantly in his crosshairs, so you must protect yourself with God’s Word and prayer. (2) Identify the sin you’re most prone to. The Bible says, ‘Lay aside… the sin which so easily ensnares.’ (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV) Why? Because the area of your greatest weakness is the one in which you’ll constantly be attacked. (3) Keep your spiritual tank full. ‘The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.’ (Romans 8:6 NIV) (4) Walk in God’s strength, not your own. Does the fight ever end? No, but God’s power plus your choice to obey and keep fighting, always lead to clear and lasting victory.

Bible Study: Make It Personal

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‘The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you.’ Mark 4:24 AMP

Martin Luther said studying the Bible was like picking apples. First you shake the trunk, then you shake the limb, then you shake the branch, then you shake the twig, then you look under every leaf. There’s no other book in the world like it. You can read the same Bible verse a dozen times and get a dozen different insights. That’s because it’s ‘God-breathed’. (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV) Here’s what Jesus said about studying God’s Word: ‘[Things are hidden temporarily only as a means to revelation.] For there is nothing hidden except to be revealed, nor is anything [temporarily] kept secret except in order that it may be made known.’ (Mark 4:22 AMP) Then He adds: ‘Be careful what you are hearing. The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you—and more [besides] will be given to you who hear.’

Do you want to grow spiritually? Build better relationships? Succeed in your career? Conquer anxiety and find peace? Break a bad habit? Be healed from the emotional wounds of your past? Then meditate on, ponder, think about, practice mentally and verbalize the Word of God. Instead of living off someone else’s spiritual insight, study God’s Word for yourself and allow the Holy Spirit to bless you with life-transforming insights.

Jesus said, ‘The Spirit takes My message and tells it to you.’ (John 16:15 CEV) And you’ll experience the truth of those words when you personalize the Scripture you’re reading.

Pray for Self-Control

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‘Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.’ Romans 6:12 NIV

Self-control is one of the great keys to success in life. And since God’s Word has a lot to say about it, if you ask Him He will help you to cultivate it. What you struggled with when you were young will be different from the things you struggle with when you’re older, but you’ll face temptation in one form or another as long as you live.

Self-control is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in the Bible (see Galatians 5:22–23). It calls for bringing every aspect of your life under the mastery of the Holy Spirit. It’s a lifestyle characterised by discipline, not impulse. The Greek word for ‘self-control’ comes from a root word meaning ‘to grip.’ It calls for getting a grip on your spending so that you don’t go into debt for things you don’t need and can’t pay for. It calls for getting a grip on your temper and not saying things you’ll later regret: ‘Better… a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.’ (Proverbs 16:32 NIV) It calls for getting a grip on your desires. If Joseph had failed to say no to the repeated advances of his boss’ wife, he’d never have seen his life’s dream fulfilled or have sat on a throne of Egypt. Understand this: Satan has discerned your destiny and he’s out to stop you from reaching it. So pray for self-control, and practice it on a daily basis.

When You Are Criticized

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‘He did not retaliate when He was insulted.’ 1 Peter 2:23 NLT

When it comes to constructive criticism, try to learn from it and grow wiser. When it comes to unjustified criticism, remind yourself that Jesus was criticised too, so you’re in good company. And when you’re tempted to give in to resentment and strike back, read these Scriptures: ‘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)

There’s an interesting story about Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War he signed an order transferring certain regiments. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton refused to execute it, calling the president a fool. When Lincoln heard he replied, ‘If Stanton said I’m a fool then I must be, for he’s nearly always right, and he says what he thinks. I’ll step over and see for myself.’ He did, and when Stanton convinced him the order was in error, Lincoln quietly withdrew it. Part of Lincoln’s greatness lay in his ability to rise above pettiness, ego, and sensitivity to other people’s opinions. He wasn’t easily offended. He welcomed criticism, and in doing so demonstrated one of the strengths of a truly great person: humility.

So, have you been criticized? Make it a time to learn, not lose.

‘Does This Person Belong in my Life?’

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‘Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?’ Amos 3:3 NKJV

A toxic relationship is like a limb with gangrene: unless you amputate it the infection can spread and kill you. Without the courage to cut off what refuses to heal, you’ll end up losing a lot more.

Your personal growth—and in some cases your healing—will only be expedited by establishing relationships with the right people. Maybe you’ve heard the story about the scorpion who asked the frog to carry him across the river because he couldn’t swim. ‘I’m afraid you’ll sting me,’ replied the frog. The scorpion smiled reassuringly and said, ‘Of course I won’t. If I did that we’d both drown!’ So the frog agreed, and the scorpion hopped on his back. Wouldn’t you know it: halfway across the river the scorpion stung him! As they began to sink the frog lamented, ‘You promised you wouldn’t sting me. Why’d you do it?’ The scorpion replied, ‘I can’t help it. It’s my nature!’ Until God changes the other person’s nature, they have the power to affect and infect you. For example, when you feel passionately about something but others don’t, it’s like trying to dance a foxtrot with someone who only knows how to waltz. You picked the wrong dance partner! Don’t get tied up with someone who doesn’t share your values and God-given goals. Some issues can be corrected through counselling, prayer, teaching and leadership. But you can’t teach someone to care! If they don’t care they’ll pollute your environment, kill your productivity and break your rhythm with constant complaints. That’s why it’s important to pray and ask God, ‘Does this person belong in my life?’

Reach for Help

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‘The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.’ Exodus 18:18 NIV

God has placed people within your reach who are willing to help you. If you don’t accept their help, you will be frustrated and they will be unfulfilled because they’re not using their gifts. God hasn’t called you to do everything, for everybody, in every situation. You can’t be all things to all people all the time! You yourself have legitimate needs, and when they are not met you suffer and so do the people around you. There’s nothing wrong with needing help and asking for it; in fact, it’s wrong to need help and be too proud to ask.

Because the children of Israel looked to Moses for everything, he tried to be ‘all things to all people.’ And that’s when he reached a breaking point. So his father-in-law suggested he delegate some of his authority and let others make the less important decisions while he made the more important ones. It worked! Moses did what Jethro suggested and it enabled him to succeed in his assignment. Plus, those under his leadership got to enjoy a sense of accomplishment too. It was a win/win, and the job got done right!

Question: Are you complaining that people are placing too many demands on you, and you’ve too much to do? Are you reluctant to let others help because you don’t think anyone can do the job as well as you? Look out! The Scriptures caution about developing ‘an exaggerated opinion of your [own] importance.’ (Romans 12:3 AMP) Reach for help. You’ll last longer and enjoy life more if you do!

Parenting and the Battle for Control

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‘Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.’ Ephesians 6:4 NLT

If your teenagers don’t like you telling them what to do, relax; they’re normal. And it’s not peculiar to teenagers; it starts much earlier. One psychologist tells about the mother of a tough little four-year-old girl who was demanding her own way. The mother said, ‘I’m your boss, I have the responsibility to lead you, and that’s what I intend to do!’ Little Jenny thought over her mother’s words for a minute, then said, ‘How long does it have to be that way?’ Already, at four years of age she was yearning for the day when nobody could tell her what to do. That’s a God-given instinct.

One of the first things God said to Adam and Eve was, ‘Take control over the earth.’ So the task for you as a parent is to hang on to the reins in the early days, and gradually begin to grant independence as maturity is demonstrated. This is one of the most delicate responsibilities of parenting. Power granted too early produces folly, but power granted too late brings rebellion. Knowing when to let out the rope, and by how much, requires wisdom; and God is the giver of wisdom (see James 1:5). If you pray, observe, and listen carefully, you’ll begin to see the critical milestones in your child’s life.

Paul writes, ‘Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:4 NLT) And as a parent, that’s some of the best advice you’ll ever get.

Don’t Give Up—Go Through

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‘Pursue … overtake … and … recover all.’ 1 Samuel 30:8 KJV

When King David and his men returned home from battle, they discovered that the Amalekites had burned their homes to the ground and taken their families prisoner. They were devastated. They wept until they’d no tears left. Then God spoke to them and said, ‘Pursue… overtake… and… recover all.’ And with His help they did!

So no matter how bad your situation looks right now, don’t give up. Cry if you have to, then dry your tears and go out in God’s strength and take back what the enemy has stolen from you. If necessary, take it a centimetre at a time, drawing on His strength and not your own. Paul writes: ‘Let us not lose heart and grow weary and faint in acting nobly and doing right, for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap, if we do not loosen and relax our courage and faint.’ (Galatians 6:9 AMP) God won’t quit on you, so don’t quit on Him! He has promised in His Word: ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God.’ (Isaiah 43:2–3 NIV)

Don’t give up—go through! It’s easy to quit, but it takes faith to go through. When your faith honours God, He honours your faith! And with Him on your side you’ll come out stronger than you were when you went in. So the word for you today is: ‘Pursue … overtake … and … recover all.’

Healthy Confrontation (3)

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‘Lord, You have searched me and You know me … You perceive my thoughts.’ Psalm 139:1–2 NIV

Just as a body builder develops a great physique by using the correct weightlifting techniques, you must apply the right techniques to achieve the desired results in resolving your conflict. No athlete attempts to lift heavy weights or engage in intense exercise without first warming up his or her muscles. The warm-up is crucial to the workout, as it minimises the risk of injury and increases overall muscle performance. Similarly, preparing for confrontation is almost as important as the confrontation itself. Confronting someone spontaneously or without preparation can have disastrous results. Preparation allows you to look at the situation more clearly and not in the midst of an emotional moment, and will most likely lead to a more effective encounter. This would be a good time to pray: ‘Lord, You have searched me and You know me… You perceive my thoughts from afar… Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely.’ (Psalm 139:1–4 NIV)

It’s important that you first deal with your negative emotions, such as anger or resentment. While you may deem them justifiable, if you don’t ‘release them’ by the power of the Holy Spirit they will become a roadblock to achieving harmony. And you must also refuse to succumb to the fear of addressing the issue, lest you abandon the entire notion of initiating a confrontation.

God can work on both ends of the line. While you are praying and preparing your heart, He can prepare the other person’s heart. ‘There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace.’ (Proverbs 12:20 NIV)

Healthy Confrontation (2)

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‘A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.’ Ecclesiastes 3:7 NKJV

Confronting at a time when the person is most receptive takes wisdom. Wife, when your husband first comes home from work, give him space before you bombard him with the problems of the day. Husband, don’t wait until you arrive at the event to tell your wife you don’t like the outfit she’s wearing. Tell her when she can do something about it. And you should make every effort to confront a person when he or she is alone, just as Jesus commanded: ‘If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.’ (Matthew 18:15 NAS) Confronting someone in the presence of others can cause them to become defensive in order to save face. Your goal is reconciliation, not embarrassment.

If you have something ‘heavy’ to tell someone, it’s not a good idea to have the confrontation at their house or yours—select a neutral location. That way it will be easier for the person being confronted to leave the scene, if he or she becomes belligerent. And there’s always the possibility that this could happen.

Sometimes you have to temporarily lose people, to win them later. ‘He who rebukes a man will find more favour afterward than he who flatters with his tongue.’ (Proverbs 28:23 NKJV) Note the word ‘afterward’. If you don’t get the immediate response you desire, you can still win—especially if you pray, relying on the Holy Spirit to work in a person’s heart. But you must be willing to take the risk and confront the situation in order to bring about the change you desire. If you don’t, things will remain the same—or get worse.

Healthy Confrontation (1)

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‘When Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face.’ Galatians 2:11 NKJV

When Peter showed partiality to Jews over Gentiles, Paul confronted him over it! Why? To keep unity in the church. Sometimes you’ve no option but to confront someone. The question is, ‘How?’ None of us are born with the innate ability to do this; it’s a skill only learned through practice and patience. And the reason we’re not good at it, is because we avoid it like the plague. As a result, our relationships suffer and our problems don’t get resolved.

The first step in preparing for a confrontation is to establish the right purpose for putting the issue on the table. The focus should be on achieving a better relationship. This can either involve getting someone to stop doing something, or start doing something. At no time should your goal be to tell someone off, or get something off your chest, or lay a guilt trip on them. So it’s important that you first confront yourself. Be honest about why you’ve decided to confront the issue. Do you have an ulterior motive such as resentment or wounded pride, or do you want to see a genuine change in behaviour? You need to ask yourself, ‘When this confrontation is over, what behaviour do I want to see the offender change?’

Remember, in effective confrontation you are looking for a desired outcome and a win-win for both sides. ‘A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.’ (Proverbs 18:19 KJV) If a person knows you truly care about them and are seeking to glorify God in the situation, you’re more apt to get the response you seek.

Trusting God Brings Joy and Peace

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‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.’ Romans 15:13 NIV

Trusting God is so much simpler than not trusting Him. When you doubt God, His Word, and His promises, you’re left to your own devices and reasoning when it comes to working things out. And as a result you get stressed out.

Take a moment and read the following three verses, then think carefully about what they mean: ‘But the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest.’ (Hebrews 4:2–3 NIV) ‘He who has once entered [God’s] rest…has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labours.’ (Hebrews 4:10 AMP) ‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are… overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]’ (Matthew 11:28 AMP)

How are you supposed to approach God? In faith! The Bible says: ‘Without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that… He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out].’ (Hebrews 11:6 AMP) That means when you come to God, you must do the believing. And when you do, you’ll receive His joy and peace. These two things are God’s will for you; they were bought and paid for at the cross. Christ’s work is already finished, and the only thing that remains to be accomplished is for you to believe. When you do that, God will respond and bless you every time!

Start Looking Forward

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‘Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.’ Philippians 3:13 NLT

There are things inside you that must be dealt with before you can move ahead. Every experience you’ve had from birth until the present moment has helped shape who you are. The things that happen to you, good and bad, are instrumental in determining how you’ll act and react for the rest of your life.

Paul talks about ‘forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.’ You ask, ‘What did Paul have to forget?’ A lot! Paul was there, looking on with approval, when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death. Before he met Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul routinely imprisoned and put Christians to death. The fact is, if he hadn’t overcome his past, he would never have written half the New Testament and helped establish a church that would last two millennia. Was Paul perfect? Not even close! That’s why he said: ‘I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be… I am still not all that I should be but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to Heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.’ (Philippians 3:12–14 TLB)

The only place the past can live is in your memory; and the only power it has over you is the power you give it. So the word for you today is: Start looking forward.

Has God Given You a Vision?

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‘Write the vision and make it plain… that he may run who reads it.’ Habakkuk 2:2 NKJV

When God gives you a vision for your life, write it down, keep it before you at all times, and run with it. You say, ‘But I see no way for it to come to pass.’ The Bible records God’s answer to Habakkuk when he posed this question , ‘The vision is yet for an appointed time… wait for it; because it will surely come.’ (Habakkuk 2:3 NKJV) You may not know how to get from where you are right now to where God’s vision will ultimately take you—but God does.

So ask Him to reveal the next step to you. Whether you’re in prison like Joseph, in a soup kitchen in the inner city, or at home taking care of small children, God will fulfil the vision He placed in your heart. The more you see yourself leading in the boardroom, launching your own business, serving in ministry, writing your first book, or helping others through your gifts, the sooner it’ll become a reality. Before a vision becomes clear, God gives us glimpses of it—like a picture developing from a soft hue into sharp resolution.

So take the vision God has given you and run with it. Let it motivate you to perform to the best of your ability in your present position, while staying in communication with the One who knows and loves you best. Today pray: ‘Lord, I know that where I am right now isn’t where You’re taking me. Give me glimpses of Your vision for my future, so that my understanding may grow in accordance with Your timing. Give me patience along the way, and faith to trust that You’re always working for my good. Amen.’

Always Do More Than What’s Expected

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‘But you must always act like your Father in Heaven.’ Matthew 5:48 CEV

Jesus said, ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.’ (Luke 6:38 KJV) Notice, He didn’t say, ‘Only give to those who can give back to you.’ John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, said, ‘You haven’t lived today successfully, unless you’ve done something for someone who can never repay you.’

In the days of Jesus, a Roman soldier could legally force a Jewish civilian to carry his heavy backpack for up to a mile. That was his right, and you refused to do so at your peril. So to walk the first mile was to do only what was required. Then Jesus came along and said, ‘If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.’ (Matthew 5:41 NIV) Why? Because ‘extra-mile service’ gives you an opportunity to impact the lives of others. A person with an extra-mile attitude is someone who cares more than others think is wise, risks more than others think is safe, dreams more than others think is practical, believes more than others think is possible, and gives more than others think is necessary.

Here’s how Jesus bottom-lines it: ‘If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in Heaven.’ (Matthew 5:46–48 CEV) So always do more than is expected.

Reach Out to Those Who Hurt

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‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.’ Luke 19:10 KJV

The first thing you generally notice about someone who’s in trouble is their problem. But if you look beyond their problem, God will help you to see their potential. At each Kentucky Derby the crowd sings ‘My Old Kentucky Home’. But most people don’t know it was written by Stephen Foster, who purportedly died of alcoholism. The police allegedly found him in a New York doss-house with a deep gash in his throat. They rushed him to Bellevue Hospital but it was too late to save him. Among his belongings they found a note with the words written, ‘Dear friends and gentle hearts’. It sounded like the words of another song, but he died before he could write it. Jesus came to ‘seek and to save that which was lost’. There are people around you today who have lost their way, their family, their job, their health, and their hope—people Jesus came to save! And that’s where you come in. You’re called to be His hand extended. Elizabeth Holt Hartford lived and died in a Los Angeles slum. Here were her parting words: ‘You see me as an old lady who’s all broken down with age. But what you don’t understand is that this is me in here. I’m trapped in a body that no longer serves me. It hurts, and it’s wrinkled and diseased. But I haven’t changed. I’m still the person I used to be when this body was young.’ Today ask God to do two things for you: (1) Open your eyes to the needs around you. (2) Activate your heart to meet them.

Set ‘Rules of Life’ for Your Children

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‘What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?’ Judges 13:12 NKJV

When God told Samson’s father Manoah that he would have a son in his old age, he asked, ‘What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?’ He was a wise father. He knew that in order for his son to fulfil his destiny, he must be raised by certain rules. Children feel more secure and tend to flourish when they know what the boundaries are. Imagine driving your car over a bridge that’s suspended hundreds of metres in the air. For first-time travellers, it can be a scary experience. One little fellow was so awed by the view that he said, ‘Wow, Daddy! If you fell off here it would kill you constantly!’ Suppose there were no guardrails on the side of the bridge; where would you steer the car? Right down the middle of the road! Even though you don’t plan to hit those protective railings, you just feel more secure knowing they’re there. And it’s the same with your children. They need to know what the ‘rules of life’ are, and that you’ll enforce them consistently. When the rules are clear at home, children live in safety. As long as he or she stays within those reasonable, well-marked guardrails there’s joy, freedom, and acceptance. Your children may not admit that they want you to be the boss, but they breathe more easily when you are. Bottom line: when God gives you a child, it’s a twenty-one-year project, at a minimum. During that time you train them either for failure or for success. The choice is yours.

Honesty on Three Levels

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‘Each of you must … speak truthfully to your neighbour.’ Ephesians 4:25 NIV

Telling the truth sounds simple, but it takes commitment on three levels: (1) Verbally. When you’re found out in a lie, it undermines the confidence others have in you. For example, when a husband or wife denies blowing the family budget, or covers up a drinking problem, inevitably there’s trouble. But when each knows that the other ‘will hold firmly to the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15 PHPS), the relationship becomes stronger and more likely to weather the storm. (2) Behaviourally. ‘Unless you are honest in small matters, you won’t be in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.’ (Luke 16:10 TLB) Cheryl Richardson says, ‘Integrity is the key to living an authentic life.’ You become known as a person of integrity by keeping your word. So when you make a commitment, follow through—even when it costs you, and even when you get a better offer. (3) In actuality. Why is telling the truth such a big deal? Because every relationship in your life is based on trust. When you don’t deal truthfully: a) You end up losing your influence and the respect of others. b) You live in fear of being found out, which makes you insecure and forces you to live on two levels: public perception and private struggle. c) You have to worry about what you’ve said, and to whom. d) You get to where you can’t trust or believe others because ‘as you live your life, you judge your neighbour’. e) You make yourself feel better by rationalising, ‘Everybody lies.’ The trouble with that line of thinking is—you can’t trust them either!

The Peace Process

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‘Great peace have they who love your [Word], and nothing can make them stumble.’ Psalm 119:165 NIV

One of the last things Jesus told His disciples before leaving this world was, ‘In this world, you will have trouble.’ (John 16:33 NIV) And He was right, wasn’t He? We all experience stress, occupational demands, deadlines, expectations, personal pressures ganging up on us and constantly trying to rob us of the peace we desperately desire. No one is immune to stress, frustration, and the feeling that we’re on the ‘autobahn of life’. What is all this but the absence of peace? And the answer can’t be found in a pill, a possession or a pleasure. All those things wear off or wear out. The Bible talks about three different kinds of peace. Let’s look at them: (1) Peace with others. ‘As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ (Romans 12:18 NIV) This is external peace, and it’s necessary for human relationships to flourish. (2) Peace with yourself. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.’ (Colossians 3:15 NIV) This is internal peace, a rest of mind and soul that escapes most of us. (3) Peace with God. ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1 NIV) This is eternal peace, and it comes from knowing you’ve a right relationship with God. So here’s how it works: when you’re at peace with God you’ll be at peace with yourself, and when you’re at peace with yourself you’ll be at peace with others. That, in a nutshell, is the peace process!

Dealing with Difficult People

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‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’ James 1:19 NIV

The only way to avoid having to deal with difficult people—is to move to another planet. Human beings are a mixture of vices and virtues, and unless you understand that, you won’t be able to work or live with them successfully. The story’s told of a monk who joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. Once a year he was invited to appear before the abbot, and he was permitted to say one thing. After the first year when he was asked what he had to say, he replied, ‘The bed’s too hard!’ At the end of the second year when he was asked, he responded, ‘The room’s too cold.’ At the end of the third year he was asked the same question. He replied, ‘The food’s terrible. I quit.’ At that point the abbot smiled with relief and said, ‘Thank goodness! Because you’ve done nothing but complain since you got here!’ Think about it: even if you joined a monastery you’d still have to deal with difficult people! So what can you do? Learn from the farmer. He plants, pulls weeds, and cultivates, knowing the harvest will eventually come if he patiently keeps doing these things. It’s one of the reasons James writes, ‘My dear brothers, take note of this: 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) There are no shortcuts. The only way to have a good relationship is to work at it and be patient. When you do, God will bless that relationship.

You Need a Vision

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‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.’ James 1:17 NKJV

If your vision in life is to become as rich as possible, hoard every penny you make, and indulge your every whim—your vision is not from God. But if your vision is to succeed, use your success to bless others, and fulfil the purposes of God in the earth, your vision is from God. When God called Abraham, He promised him three things: ‘I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing [to others].’ (Genesis 12:2 NIV) Understand this: every worthy vision comes from God whether or not it’s related to so-called ‘spiritual’ matters, and whether or not the person with the vision realises the source of their vision. The Bible says, ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.’ We tend to compartmentalise our lives, to view God as having influence and relevance when it comes to ‘spiritual’ visions, missions, and goals, but little relationship to ‘secular’ visions, missions, and goals. St Augustine said, ‘Let every Christian understand that wherever truth is found, it belongs to his Master.’ God is the fountain of all truth, and the source of all worthy visions. And since He gave you your vision you must pour yourself into it every day. The psalmist said, ‘Let the Lord be magnified, who has pleasure in the prosperity [success] of His servant.’ (Psalm 35:27 NKJV) With God as your partner you must expect to succeed—and you will!

‘God is for me!’

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‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ Romans 8:31 NIV

The question isn’t simply, ‘Who can be against us?’ That’s an easy one to answer: disease, inflation, corruption, exhaustion, calamities, and fears. The real question is, ‘If God is for us…?’ Let’s read these words slowly, placing emphasis on each of them: (1) God is for you. Your parents may have forgotten you, your teachers may have neglected you, your siblings may be ashamed of you, but within reach of your prayers is the Maker of the oceans: God! (2) God is for you. Not ‘maybe’, or ‘has been’, or ‘would be if’, but ‘is’! God is for you today, at this minute, as you read this sentence. No need to wait in line and come back tomorrow. He’s with you. He couldn’t be closer to you than He is at this second. His loyalty won’t increase if you’re better, nor lessen if you’re worse. He is for you. (3) God is for you. Are you too tired to continue? He’ll carry you. Are you too discouraged to fight? He’ll fight for you. Turn to the sidelines; that’s God cheering you on. Look past the finish line; that’s God applauding your steps. (4) God is for you. When you’re pushed aside, ignored, forgotten, He’s on your case—and He remembers you with delight. We already know He has a scar that says: ‘I have written your name on My hand.’ (Isaiah 49:16 NCV) So when you get up each morning look in the mirror and tell yourself, ‘God is for me!’

Recovering from Divorce (3)

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‘When there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping.’ Romans 4:18 NLT

Let’s examine the last three stages involved in recovering from a divorce. Stage Five is acceptance. Yes, acceptance can and eventually does come! And when it does, sometimes you’ll feel a twinge of guilt for not feeling depressed and sad any more. What’s happening? You’ve stopped fighting. The war within has settled down and you’ve begun to experience peace. And it’s God’s peace that transcends human understanding (see Philippians 4:7). Stage Six is hope. ‘When there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping … In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.’ (Romans 4:18–21 NLT) Something inside you rises up and says, ‘I will live again, and I will love again. My life is not over.’ This is when purpose is rediscovered, new friendships develop, and you start to grow stronger. Emotionally you age fast—and it becomes an advantage. Stage Seven is fulfilment. You say like David: ‘I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the Lord has done.’ (Psalm 118:17 NLT) Whether it’s a new relationship, another career, or a particular achievement, God will see to it that you find fulfilment again. This is the place where complaining is never heard because you no longer need to rehearse old memories of failure or betrayal. The God who said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5 NKJV), is giving you a new future, and you refuse to trade it for the pain of your past.

Recovering from Divorce (2)

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‘I will restore to you the years.’ Joel 2:25 NKJV

Recovering from divorce and learning to live again takes time, so please be patient with yourself. Chances are you’ll go through the recognised stages of grief: (1) Denial. You try to ignore or minimise what has happened in hopes it’ll go away. You fear confrontation and refuse to face it. You won’t go for professional help because you think ‘it’ll all work out in the end’. (2) Anger. When someone rejects you, it affects your self-worth and you react the wrong way. You make wild, unchecked statements born out of emotional chaos—sweeping statements like, ‘Good! I’m glad it’s over! Just you wait! I’ll find someone who really loves and appreciates me!’ (3) Bargaining. Once you realise anger just robs you of joy and drives the wedge deeper, you resort to looking for a solution or a compromise. And when that doesn’t work you progress to the next stage. (4) Depression. It hits you at the most inopportune times like birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. Re-runs of ‘our favourite movie’ on television or restaurants where you made memories together depress you. At two o’clock in the morning you’re wide awake and can’t sleep. This depression is often the result of introspection, because you can’t think wrong and feel right at the same time. So what can you do? Learn to discipline your thoughts. Set new goals for your life. Focus on helping someone else. When Job prayed for his friends, God healed him and restored his fortunes (see Job 42:10). And He will restore yours too, so keep trusting Him and don’t lose heart.

Recovering from Divorce (1)

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‘Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.’ Isaiah 43:18 NAS

Divorce is one of the most painful things the human heart can experience. If it’s happened to you, you know that’s true. If it hasn’t, be grateful and show compassion towards those who’ve been devastated by it. Have you been crushed by someone you trusted? Does loneliness overwhelm you in the midnight hours? Do you feel as though your hands are completely tied? Does it upset you because your friends don’t seem to understand? Don’t despair—your present circumstances will change. You will recover; you will rebuild; you will not stay down. It will take time, and you’ll have to invest some effort. You will experience pages of sadness in your diary of success, but by God’s grace you will learn to live again and love again. As you draw close to God and search His Word, He will reveal to you the secret of inner peace, and how to take back your life. If you are the innocent party, read this Scripture and hide it in your heart: ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ (Psalm 147:3 NIV) If you are the guilty party, remember you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin. So your failures are forgivable and forgettable. God’s promise to you is: ‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.’ (Isaiah 43:25 NIV) Whether you are the innocent or the guilty party, the word for you today is: ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past … I am doing a new thing! … I am making a way.’ (Isaiah 43:25 18–19 NIV)

Pray with the Right Motives

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‘Search me, O God, and know my heart.’ Psalm 139:23 NKJV

Here are two mistakes we make when it comes to praying. (1) We focus on our failures. Therefore we pray without faith and confidence (see 1 John 3:21–22). (2) We fail to examine our motives. The psalmist wrote, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart … see if there is any wicked way in me.’ (Psalm 139:23–24 NKJV) There are prayers God won’t answer for our own good—or at least not right now. Pastor Jerry Sittser writes: ‘Your cause may be right, but you may still be wrong: manifesting pride, gloating in victory, punishing wrongdoers with excessive severity … The great hazard for people on a crusade is … they become blind to their own faults. They fight for civil rights but treat janitors like second class citizens. They uphold standards of Biblical sexuality but show little grace toward their spouse. Unanswered prayer is God’s gift … it protects us from ourselves. If all our prayers were answered we’d abuse the power … use prayer to change the world to our liking, and it would become hell on earth. Like spoiled children with too many toys and too much money, we’d grab for more. We’d pray for victory at the expense of others … intoxicated by power we’d hurt people and exalt ourselves. Isaiah said, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you … therefore He waits.” (Isaiah 30:18NAS) Unanswered prayer protects…breaks…deepens and transforms. Past unanswered prayers which left us hurt and disillusioned, act like a refiner’s fire to prepare us for future answers.’ Bottom line: pray with the right motives!

Brokenness Produces Character

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‘The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.’ Psalm 51:17 NLT

When we submit to God’s dealings in our lives, He empowers us to reach our full potential by gently breaking areas of our stubborn will that need to be submitted to Him. As these areas are broken, His power within us is released and things begin to change for the better. Power and talent without character and direction, have destroyed many a man and woman. You probably know some of them. So be warned; unless your talent is governed by character, you’re headed for trouble. A horse may come from a line of blue-ribbon champions, but until its will has been broken its power endangers itself and those around it. You’ll notice two important things about a thoroughbred champion horse: (1) It hears many voices during the race but it has learned to respond to only one—the voice of its rider. And that’s God’s plan for you. You’ll get a lot of opinions, but to win in life you must be led only by God. And that calls for humility. ‘He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.’ (Psalm 25:9 NIV) (2) Its power is realised and its full potential released only when it can be harnessed and directed. So, is God breaking you in similar fashion? Is He putting His harness on you and saying, ‘You can’t live like that anymore, or do your own thing, because I have plans for you’? The word for you today is: ‘You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God.’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NLT)

Conquering the Fear of Death (2)

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‘He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.’ John 11:25 NKJV

Years ago a best-selling country song said, ‘Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.’ Why? Sometimes it’s because we’re not sure that we’re ready. But you can be. How? (1) You can prepare spiritually and emotionally. Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25–26 NKJV) When you put your trust in Christ, death is not the end of you but the beginning of the best version of you. (2) You can prepare relationally. How? By letting the key people in your life know on a regular basis how much you care about them. You must also forgive anyone who has hurt you, and seek their forgiveness if you hurt them (see Mark 11:25–26). (3) You can prepare financially. One of Christ’s last acts on the cross was to commit the care of His mother to one of His disciples. Good stewardship requires that you leave a valid will with clear instructions concerning your earthly possessions and how you want your funeral to be handled. This may not be a pleasant thought, but it’s your spiritual responsibility. Paul writes, ‘I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.’ (Philippians 1:23 NKJV) Why did Paul say Heaven was ‘far better’? Because God had already given him a glimpse into Heaven. David felt the same way: ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ (Psalm 16:11 NKJV)

Conquering the Fear of Death (1)

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‘Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.’ Psalm 39:4 NLT

Next time you drive through a tunnel and come out on the other side, remind yourself that’s how death will be for every redeemed child of God. You say ‘good night’ on earth, and hear ‘good morning’ in Heaven. Dr Elizabeth Kübler-Ross explained that most of us go through the following stages when we face the prospect of dying: (1) Shock stage: ‘Oh no, God!’ (2) Denial stage: ‘It can’t be true!’ (3) Anger stage: ‘Why me?’ (4) Bargaining stage: ‘Spare me, God, and I will do something for You.’ (5) Depression stage: ‘It’s all over. I have nothing to look forward to.’ (6) Testing stage: ‘What can I do to make my remaining days worthwhile?’ (7) Acceptance stage: ‘It doesn’t make sense to fight the inevitable.’ The truth is, the moment we were born we all began to run out of time. It’s just that in the wonder and excitement of childhood and adolescence, and the busyness and stresses of mid-life, we don’t think about it much. We’re like the hypochondriac who put the words on his tombstone: ‘I expected this, but not just yet!’ But as we age and realise that we’ve less time ahead of us than behind us, we begin to pray with the psalmist: ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ (Psalm 90:12 NKJV) Someone asked Charles Spurgeon, ‘Do you have dying grace?’ He replied, ‘Not today, but I will when I’m dying!’ And the grace that has saved and sustained you thus far will be with you as you transition from your lesser life into your greater one.

Who Tells You the Truth?

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‘Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.’ Proverbs 27:6 NLT

When it comes to seeing ourselves clearly, we all have blind spots. So we need people who’ll tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. When someone really loves you, they’ll feel compelled to point out the shortcomings in your life, the sinfulness and areas that need improvement. You may be tempted to dismiss them, but you need to get beyond the sting of their words and listen for the truth in their message. The writer of Proverbs tells us, ‘Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.’ The truth sometimes hurts. But you must have faith that the encouragers in your life really have your best interests at heart. If you’re ever to experience a sense of accomplishment in this life you need someone you can trust; someone who sees where you are, and where the path you’re on is leading. If you want to really know yourself and how you come across to others, you need a trustworthy mirror committed to reflecting the truth back at you instead of what you want to hear. And if you find yourself resenting the very input you need, think about these Scriptures: ‘The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.’ (Proverbs 12:15 NIV) ‘Pride … breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.’ (Proverbs 13:10 NIV) ‘Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.’ (Proverbs 15:22 NIV) So here’s the question: who tells you the truth? That person’s your real friend!

‘I Wish…’

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‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ John 15:12 NKJV

James Dobson wrote: ‘A sixth grade teacher shared with me the results of a creative writing project assigned to her class. She asked the kids to complete a series of sentences that began with the phrase, “I wish…” The teacher expected her students to write about their desires for bicycles, toys, animals, and trips to theme parks, etc. Instead, twenty of the thirty students made reference to the breakup of their families or conflict at home: “I wish my parents wouldn’t fight.” “I wish my father would come back.” “I wish I could get straight A’s, so my dad would love me.” “I wish my mother didn’t have a boyfriend.” “I wish I had one mum and one dad, so the kids wouldn’t make fun of me. I’ve three mums and three dads, and they botch up my life.” “I wish I had an M-1 rifle so I could shoot those who make fun of me.” It’s hardly front-page news that the family is in trouble today, but it continues to distress me to see little children like these struggling at a time when simply growing up is a major undertaking. Millions of their peers are caught in the same snare. Every aspect of their young lives is influenced by family instability during their developmental years. Without gaining access to professional counselling, many of these kids will drag their problems into future relationships. Then the pattern of disintegration will repeat itself in the next generation. Returning to the responses given by these sixth grade students, I wonder how your children would complete a sentence that began with the words, “I wish…”’

How to Minister to People (2)

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‘They dug through the clay roof above [Jesus’] head.’ Mark 2:4 TLB

When the four people carrying their paralysed friend arrived at the house where Jesus was preaching, the crowd was so big that they couldn’t get to Him. So they’d a choice to make: give up, or persist and find a way through. That’s when they decided to climb up and dig ‘through the clay roof above [Jesus’] head’. When they finally broke through and Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!’ (Mark 2:11 NLT) And what happened next is notable: ‘The man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”’ (Mark 2:12 NLT) Whatever ‘roof’ is separating you or the person you love from Jesus, it must be removed. Tear it off! Don’t let anything stand in your way! Jesus can give anyone healing, a fresh start, a good job, a strong marriage, healthy kids, or an effective ministry—if they are willing to dig for it. These people were radical in their approach. They didn’t just have faith—they had faith in action! They had come to see Jesus and they refused to be denied. As they dug through the clay roof they believed they were only a metre away from a miracle, and they weren’t about to be put off. Knowing that is what kept them going. So no matter what you have to do today, let nothing stop you from getting to Jesus. You’re closer to a breakthrough than you realise, so keep digging and don’t stop until you get there!

How to Minister to People (1)

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‘Four men arrived carrying a paralysed man on a mat.’ Mark 2:3 NLT

It took four people to get this man to Jesus, and fortunately they weren’t the kind who gave up easily. They refused to let the crowd stand in their way. They even ‘raised the roof’ to get him to Jesus. So if you want to minister to people: (1) You must be aware of their need. They may look like they’ve ‘got it all together’, yet inwardly be lying on a stretcher. When they’re alone they cry out, ‘God, unless you help me I’m finished.’ They’re hurting, desperate, and powerless, and they know it. (2) You mustn’t let them down. Committing to bring somebody to Jesus means picking them up, refusing to let them down, and carrying them the whole way. It means comforting, encouraging, and holding them securely until He touches them. (3) You must allow Jesus to do it His way. Often hurting people don’t know what they need—but Jesus does. So once you get them there, back off and let Him work. When we’ve been in church a while we tend to look for outward signs of change. But Jesus recognised that this man’s first need was for forgiveness: ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ (Mark 2:5 NLT) After that He addressed the man’s second need: ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!’ (Mark 2:11 NLT) Don’t dismiss God’s tendency to work in ways that don’t make sense to you. He knows what He’s doing, and He never does anything by half-measures. Once He starts working on somebody, He’ll continue His ‘good work in you [and] will perfect it’(Philippians 1:6 NAS) so Jesus will be glorified.

Ask God for a Vision

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‘Looking unto Jesus…’ Hebrews 12:2 KJV

A vision is a picture of what ‘can be’ rather than ‘what is’. Your vision may be to bring health where there is sickness—like the vision Albert Schweitzer had for Africa. Or of education where there’s ignorance—like the one that motivated Gilbert Tennent to help establish Princeton University. It may be a vision of freedom where there’s oppression—like the one that made William Wilberforce give up a life of privilege to eradicate slavery. Or your vision may be smaller and simpler—like being the first one in your family to graduate from university, or becoming a great parent to your child even though you yourself never had one. Or breaking a bad habit before it breaks you…or overcoming your fear of technology and learning to use an iPad…or spending your retirement years impacting the world around you instead of sitting in a rocking chair waiting to die. Thoreau said, ‘If you’ve built castles in the air…put foundations under them.’ But having a vision isn’t enough; there has to be a commitment to act on it. That’s called a mission—and it requires setting specific, measurable steps to achieve it. Those steps are called goals; they establish a plan for accomplishing your mission and thus fulfilling your vision. You’ll generally have one vision, but many goals. And each goal you reach brings you a step closer to fulfilling your vision. And here’s the really good news: when your vision comes from God and you look to Jesus, He’ll give you the strength, wisdom, connections, relationships, and resources to make it happen.

Don’t Be a Gossip

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‘A talebearer reveals secrets.’ Proverbs 11:13 NKJV

When you gossip you’re like a loose cannon. Stop and try to imagine that. When a cannon is anchored and aimed in the right direction it can win the battle. But when it’s not, it can destroy everything in its path. And that’s what gossip does: ‘A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.’ The word ‘talebearer’ comes from the Hebrew word rakal, which means ‘to go about’; it’s likely derived from an old word meaning ‘merchant’. So a talebearer is someone who goes around peddling gossip! The story is told of a mother who was preparing dinner one evening when her little boy came running into the kitchen. ‘What has Mama’s little darling been doing all day?’ she asked. ‘I’ve been playing mailman,’ he replied. ‘Mailman?’ the mother wondered aloud. ‘How could you do that when you’ve no letters?’ He said, ‘Oh, I had a whole bunch of letters.’ Alarmed, she said, ‘What letters?’ Her son replied, ‘I found them all tied up with ribbon in an old trunk in the attic, and I put one in every mailbox on the street.’ Even when you don’t intend harm, your words can start a chain reaction that devastates people’s lives and drives wedges. That’s why the Bible says, ‘A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.’ (Proverbs 16:28 NKJV) Unless you’re sure that what you’re sharing in confidence will remain in confidence and result in good, don’t share it at all. And if you feel like you must talk to somebody, talk to the One who can do something about it—God!

Soul Prosperity

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‘I pray that … your soul prospers.’ 3 John 1:2 NKJV

John wrote, ‘I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.’ For your soul to prosper you must: (1) Question your doubts and not your faith. We spend too much time dwelling on our misgivings, and experiencing faith as an occasional flash in the pan. God’s promises are for ‘believers’, so start believing what He says. (2) Not be a ‘Lone Ranger’. It’s no coincidence that the Old Testament tells the story of God’s ‘people’, and the Epistles were addressed to ‘congregations’. We grow as we relate—not isolate! (3) Guard your thought life. Practise mind management! When your ‘thinking is controlled by the sinful self, there is death. But if [it’s] controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace.’ (Romans 8:6 NCV) (4) Fall asleep, and wake up, immersed in gratitude. It’ll transform your day. ‘In everything give thanks.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV) (5) Get rid of anything that distracts you from God. Toss the junk reading material, and if need be—throw in the TV! (6) Always err on the side of mercy. Philip Yancey writes, ‘I marvel at the humility of a God who descends to live inside His flawed creatures, but do I show that same attitude toward people of whom I disapprove?’ (7) Be specific, and not revert to generalities when discussing your faith. Paul wasn’t ‘ashamed of the Gospel’ (Romans 1:16 NKJV), and neither should you be. (8) Be gracious to those who irk you. Remember, God chose them too! Sometimes it’s easier to be gracious to nonbelievers than to uptight, judgmental Christians. But that just makes you a different kind of judgmental! (9) Forgive those who hurt you. Harbouring hatred hinders healing; instead, bring your hurts to God.

Choose to ‘Live in Peace’

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‘Live in peace … and the Author and Promoter of peace will be with you.’ 2 Corinthians 13:11 AMP

When Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, He told them to go into each city, find a suitable house in which to stay, and say, ‘Peace be unto you.’ If they were accepted they were to stay there and minister. If not, they were to leave and shake the dust of that place off their feet (see Matthew 10:11–15). Why did Jesus say that? Because instead of staying where you’re tolerated, you need to go where you’re appreciated. You shouldn’t waste your time on people who don’t want to be helped. If you remain where there is strife you can’t be effective. Strife grieves the Holy Spirit. When peace leaves, the Holy Spirit leaves, and He’s the one who does the real work. Question: when you picture Jesus ministering to others, how do you see Him? Certainly not with the stressed-out, hurry-up attitude we often have. Don’t you get an image of Him ministering in a quiet, tranquil peace? That’s a trait you need to develop too. As ambassadors of Christ we need to become more like our Master in dealing with others. Paul writes, ‘Live in peace, and [then] the God of love [Who is the Source of affection, goodwill, love, and benevolence toward men] and the Author and Promoter of peace will be with you.’ When you resort to force, argument, intimidation, anger, and coercion, you’re on your own. But when you demonstrate affection, goodwill, love, and benevolence towards people, God has promised to be with you. So the word for you today is—choose to ‘live in peace’.

Listen to God’s Voice

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‘Your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ Isaiah 30:21 NIV

One of England’s finest preachers decided because of his wife’s failing health not to go to America and speak at an important conference. Although he’d purchased his ticket, the ship sailed without him, and J. Stuart Holden missed a golden opportunity in the prime of his preaching career. A devoted husband, he gave himself to caring for his wife and tried not think of what he was missing on the other side of the Atlantic. The truth is we’re too easily disappointed when our plans fall through; too easily discouraged when ‘great career opportunities’ are missed, and our complaining proves that we don’t know God like we say we do. Delay is often the protective hand of our heavenly Father. It certainly was for Holden, who resolved never again to question God’s timing. Why? Because the unused ticket he held reserved his passage on the new ‘unsinkable’ luxury liner—RMS Titanic. There’s so much talk in the Church today about self-help, that God’s providence and guidance is seldom mentioned. But the bottom line is we don’t decide God’s plan for our lives, we discover it. Much of the time we don’t understand how He leads us, and it’s only in retrospect that we see His hand at work. Paul wrote, ‘When I go to Spain… I hope to visit you.’ (Romans 15:24 NIV) But, as far as we can know for sure, he never made it; instead he ended up in prison. But it was from there that he wrote the Epistles. So here’s the question: if you really believe God is directing your steps—why are you questioning, doubting, and complaining?

You Can Live a Victorious Christian Life

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‘Don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.’ Romans 13:14 NLT

If you’re serious about living a victorious Christian life you must do three things: (1) Burn the bridges to your old lifestyle. Any bridge you refuse to burn gives Satan an invitation and re-entry point into your life. The new believers at Ephesus did something radical; they brought out all their books on witchcraft and pornography and burned them in public. They weren’t namby-pamby or willy-nilly; they were committed! They lived by the words: ‘Don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.’ (2) Establish prayer as a top priority. Prayer puts a shield of divine protection around you; don’t start your day without it. Jesus said, ‘Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.’ (Matthew 26:41 NLT) Unless you acknowledge your vulnerability for sin, you won’t pray against it and you’ll end up experiencing defeat. The most effective weapon the enemy has against you—is you. Your old nature must be crucified daily, and prayer is how you do it. (3) Fill your mind with God’s Word. Jesus said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4 NKJV) Three different times in the wilderness Satan tried to get Jesus to submit to temptation, and each time Jesus responded, ‘It is written.’ (Matthew 4:4;7;10 KJV) After the third attempt Satan gave up and left Him alone. Why? Because he can’t prevail against you when you know God’s Word and stand on it. So have your ‘It is written’ armour ready. Build yourself up on the Word of God before the attack comes.

Be Faithful

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‘She is your companion and your wife by covenant.’ Malachi 2:14 NKJV

As the culture around us becomes more permissive, the idea of faithfulness in marriage is being challenged. The entertainment industry promotes the idea that infidelity is a marvellous game for two. But they don’t tell you the downside. When it has run its course, it brings pain and disillusionment. And not only for the two people involved, but for those who love them, depend on them, and look to them for an example. It’s time for some straight talk about the covenant of marriage. After the thrill of the chase and the cooling of passion, you get back to cooking, cleaning and earning a living. Yes, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but it still has to be mowed. When you’re dating you get to see the best aspects of someone but when you marry them, you get to live with their flaws, frailties, and irritants, much like those in your former husband or wife. And guess what? Married life begins to feel confining. Then what does the individual do when he or she is beginning to feel trapped? Hopscotch from one life to another in a vain search for something indescribable—something they never seem to find. What’s the answer? Instead of looking for the right person, seek to grow and mature and become the right person. Often the qualities you’re looking for in someone new lie undiscovered and unappreciated under the surface in the person you’re married to. These qualities are like seeds: if you water them, nurture and protect them, they will grow into something beautiful you can enjoy.

Choose Christ

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‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.’ John 3:36 NIV

No matter how many bad choices you may have made in the past, you can be redeemed by one good choice—the choice to surrender your life to Christ and follow Him. Max Lucado writes: ‘Ever wonder why there were two crosses next to Christ? Or why Jesus was in the centre? Those two crosses symbolise one of God’s greatest gifts—the gift of choice. The two criminals have much in common: convicted by the same system, condemned to the same death, surrounded by the same crowd, and equally close to the same Christ. In fact, they began with the same sarcasm; each said cruel things to Jesus. But one of them changed. He said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”’ (Luke 23:42–43 NIV) We rejoice that this thief could change, but we dare not forget the one who didn’t. There are times when God sends thunder to scare us. There are times when God sends blessings to lure us. But there are times when God sends nothing but silence, as He honours us with the freedom to choose where we will spend eternity. We have never been given a greater privilege than that of choice. Think about the thief who repented. Though we know little about him, we know this: in the end, all his bad choices were redeemed by a solitary good choice. He chose Christ!’ And you can make that choice today too. ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.’

The Power of Praise

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‘All the prison doors flew open.’ Acts 16:26 NIV

The Bible says: ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were … singing hymns to God … Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken … all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.’ (Acts 16:25–26 NIV) Praise opens doors. Praise breaks chains. Any time you praise God in spite of the circumstances, the forces of Heaven come to your aid. You say, ‘But sometimes I don’t feel like praising God.’ The psalmist wrote, ‘I will bless the Lord at all times.’ (Psalm 34:1 NKJV) Sometimes praise is an emotional response to God’s goodness; other times it’s an act of your will. Anybody can praise God in the good times. But when you have to rise above your feelings and your circumstances, that’s when it really counts. The battle of Jericho teaches us that sometimes you have to shout God’s praise when: (1) You are up against a brick wall. (2) It feels like you’re going in circles. (3) Your circumstances seem to mock you. (4) Your rational mind thinks, ‘This plan doesn’t make any sense.’ (5) It’s the last thing you feel like doing. But when you praise God anyway, you discover the truth of Nehemiah’s words: ‘The joy of the Lord [the joy that comes from knowing He is present with you and has gone before you to work things out in your favour] is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10 AMP) When you’re ruled by circumstances and emotions you live on a rollercoaster. But if you look to the Lord of your circumstances and praise Him, you move from weakness to strength.

Love Your Neighbour

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‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:39 NIV

In The Fine Art of Friendship Ted Engstrom outlines ten ways to love others: (1) Love is unconditional. If it’s not… it’s manipulation. (2) Our natural tendency is toward self-centredness (which isn’t related to a healthy self-esteem); that’s why it takes a conscious effort to love. (3) Each of us is a one-of-a-kind creation. Therefore it takes time—often a long time—to understand one another. (4) Do you really listen and try to understand what people are saying? Or do you listen in order to give an answer; in other words, by letting the other person talk while you mentally formulate your response? One who loves, listens with understanding. (5) Simply being there to care, whether or not you know exactly what to do. Loving your neighbour involves fulfilling, in a visible way, Christ’s promise, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV) (6) Just because God put you in a leadership position doesn’t mean He made you ‘better’ than others. Paul warns the leader ‘not to think of himself more highly than he ought to.’ (Romans 12:3 NKJV) (7) Be generous with your praise and encouragement. Inspiring words build up the self-esteem of others, whereas critical comments kill enthusiasm and love. (8) Make your friends number one: ‘In honour preferring one another.’ (Romans 12:10 KJV) This is another point where we see a clear difference between the leader who loves, and a power-holder who ‘looks out for number one’. (9) Learn to love God with all your heart. Then love your neighbour as yourself. (10) Emphasise other people’s strengths and virtues, not their sins and weaknesses. Why? Because you’ll be needing grace and love yourself before the day’s done!

God Loves You

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‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3:16 NIV

God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to save you. ‘Save me from what?’ you ask: (1) Going through this life lost, directionless, joyless, and unfulfilled. (2) The judgment of God—Spending the next life lost and without the joys of Heaven He wants you to share. That’s how highly God values you. So when you keep putting yourself down, you’re rejecting His opinion of you. And to disagree with God is to make yourself equal with Him, or worse, put your opinion above His. Maybe you never thought about it like that before. Actress/singer Ethel Waters ministered to great crowds in the Billy Graham crusades. She was born black and poor in a segregated society, but when she found Christ she gained true self-esteem. With a smile that would melt your heart, she told her audiences, ‘God made me—and my God don’t make no junk!’ When you refuse to see your worth as a creation of God and as an adopted child of the Father (2 Corinthians 6:18), it’s impossible to love others with a genuine Godly love or accept that they love you. You become skilled at tuning out compliments and picking up on criticism, because it confirms the negative opinion you have of yourself. As a result, you distance yourself from people and end up lonely without ever knowing why. Maybe your parents failed you, or your spouse betrayed you. You may feel like ‘damaged goods’, and seek escape in addictions or affairs or a lifestyle of ritual accomplishment. But it doesn’t work. Only when you accept that God loves you unconditionally, that you are valuable to Him, will you have love to give to others.

The Weakness of Willpower

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‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ John 15:5 NKJV

We think that if we have enough willpower, we can fight off every temptation that comes our way. And sometimes it works. Here’s the problem, however. Willpower is your best friend when things go well, but often the first friend to check out when you get weary. When you don’t want to do something, your carnal mind will give you plenty of reasons why you don’t have to. Your emotions will even join in and say, ‘I agree, because I don’t feel like doing it anyway.’ Your mind, will and emotions would love to run your life, but the Bible says you’re to be led by God’s Spirit. ‘Walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh.’ (Galatians 5:16AMP) Willpower and discipline are necessary to a successful life, but willpower alone won’t be enough. Determination may get you started and keep you going for a while, but it’s never enough to bring you across the finish line. ‘“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts.’ (Zechariah 4:6 NKJV) What happens when instead of turning first to willpower, you turn to God? He releases His power into your willpower and energises it to bring you across the finish line. That way willpower doesn’t get the credit for your success, God does. That’s why Jesus said, ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ This is one of the most important and difficult lessons you must learn if you want to enjoy the life Jesus died to give you.

Knowing What Not to Say

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‘A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.’ Proverbs 29:11 NKJV

Honesty and good communication are the foundation stones for a healthy relationship. This is particularly so in marriage. But any good idea can be misused. For example, it’s honest for a man to tell his wife that he doesn’t care for the way she cooks. It’s honest for a woman to express anger over her husband’s shortcomings. But honesty that does not have the best interest of the other person at heart is cruel, and a form of selfishness. This is especially so when the other person can’t do anything about it. Some couples, in their determination to share every thought and opinion, destroy the sweet spark of romance that drew them together. No longer is there any sense of magic. They’ve unravelled the romantic allure that first attracted them to one another. Your spouse is the person you chose to marry. So if you didn’t do your homework up front, don’t complain when you don’t like the test results. Peter writes, ‘Continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.’ (1 Peter 4:8 NLT) Paul writes: ‘Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.’ (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT) When you practise these virtues, you’re guaranteed a happy marriage.

Overcoming the ‘I Can’t’ Mentality

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‘We saw the giants … and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight.’ Numbers 13:33 NKJV

Wherever you go, you take your mentality with you. After four hundred years as captives in Egypt, the Israelites developed a slave mentality. Because they were dominated for so long, they never learned to be decision makers. They functioned best when other people told them what to do. Consequently when they approached the Promised Land and their leader sent twelve spies in to check it out, ten came back, saying, ‘The inhabitants of the land are giants. We are like grasshoppers compared to them.’ But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, knew God was with them so they reported the opposite about the land: ‘We are well able to overcome it.’ (Numbers 13:30) Joshua and Caleb developed the capacity to see things from God’s vantage point. It spelled the difference between success and failure—and this one secret will change your world. You learn to ‘mount up with wings’ like an eagle (Isaiah 40:31 KJV) and see every situation from a higher viewpoint: through God’s eyes! You stop looking at the devil’s picture of defeat and focus on God’s portrait of success. This is your ticket to the Promised Land! Having consulted with God, start speaking what you desire—not what you dread (see Psalm 107:2). Speak your expectations—not your fears. This isn’t mind-over-matter or pop psychology. It’s standing on God’s Word instead of thoughts that have held you captive. It’s declaring instead: ‘I am what God says I am … I have what God says I have … and I can do what God says I can do!’ (see Philippians 4:13).

Prayer Gives You Access to God

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‘We can come before God … without fear.’ Ephesians 3:12 NCV

Dr James Kennedy said: ‘I read an interesting book by an unbeliever who attempted to “do in” the Christian faith. Despite his lack of belief, I found insightful something he said regarding prayer. He called it “the most incredible conceit in the history of mankind,” arguing that if you worked for General Motors as a lowly employee and wanted to see the boss, you wouldn’t have the remotest chance … Think about it. What would happen if a citizen tried to speak to the President of the United States? I’ve thought about putting in a call just to see … I’d probably speak to a secretary or an assistant to somebody, but not likely the President … “And so,” says my skeptical friend in his book, “What an incredible conceit to suppose that at any moment we can talk to the boss of the whole shebang.” And indeed the concept of prayer would be an incredible conceit … if it weren’t true. But it is … and it’s the most incredible condescension on the part of a gracious God. You could probably never speak to the highly placed people in this world, yet the most highly placed person in the universe—“the boss of the whole shebang”—waits patiently to hear what you have to say. “We can come before God with freedom and without fear … through faith in Christ.” Don’t you find that amazing? This day … You can talk to the boss, tell Him your worries and cares, share with Him your triumphs and joys—and He always has time to listen.’ Prayer gives you access to God!

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!