YOU CAN BEGIN AGAIN

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“The Lord is my portion…therefore I hope in Him.” La 3:24 NKJV

When you haven’t accomplished what you’d hoped for, regret can become a major pastime. The computer analyst wishes he’d become an accountant, the accountant wishes he’d become a doctor, etc. Maybe you planned to leave a legacy, but to date all you’ve left is a trail of unfilled aspirations. It’s not too late; you can begin again! You just have to be prepared to pursue your dream and pay the price. “To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best” (1Co 9:25 TLB). Don’t listen to the critics and complainers who’ve settled for less. Your goal shouldn’t just be to live long, but to make a difference in your world and glorify God. Charles Lindbergh said, “I feel I lived on a higher plain than the skeptics on the ground…Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or these misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days?…If I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary lifetime.” Look at Moses. Look at Paul. They both began again. Look at Winston Churchill: instead of retiring after World War II, he went on to win the Nobel Prize in literature. When Heinrich Schliemann retired from business to look for Homer’s legendary city of Troy—he found it. Here’s a Scripture you can stand on: “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion…therefore I hope in Him!’” (La 3:22-24 NKJV). That means you can begin again.

DON’T “DRIFT AWAY”

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“We must give…earnest heed…lest we drift away.” Heb 2:1 NKJV

The Bible says, “We must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away…How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (vv. 1 & 3 NKJV). Note the words “drift” and “neglect.” Those words should set off alarm bells! Samson’s decline was so gradual that he didn’t even realize it was happening. Like flipping a switch, he’d gotten used to drawing on the power of God and overcoming every enemy and obstacle. But sin and self-indulgence became his undoing. When Delilah said, “‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!’…he awoke from his sleep, and said, ‘I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. Then the Philistines took him” (Jdg 16:20-21 NKJV). When you neglect God you begin to “drift away.” Your prayers aren’t as effective. You’re no longer a godly influence on those around you. You slip back into old habit patterns. You refuse to forgive those who’ve offended you. You fail to make amends to those you’ve hurt. You start doing what’s expedient and comfortable instead of what’s right. You harbor attitudes of fear and resentment. You feed your old nature and neglect your new one. These are all signs that you need a spiritual checkup. Ask God today to highlight those attitudes, activities, and relationships that need to be dealt with and start weeding them out. The good news is that when you’re obedient to God’s Word and the Spirit’s leading, you regain your spiritual vitality and God can use you more effectively.

LEARN TO ADAPT

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“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I
might save some.” 1Co 9:22 NIV

Paul’s passion was winning souls to Christ. But he understood that people must be reached in different ways, so he constantly adapted his approach to them. Now apply that same principle to your life, career, or calling. Is your outlook fixed, or is it flexible? General George S. Patton Jr. said, “Successful generals make plans to fit circumstances, but do not try to create circumstances to fit plans.” When you have a clear plan for reaching your destination, there’s a danger of becoming inflexible and trying to stick with it no matter what. Sometimes it’s wiser to explore other options. When you’re having a hard time moving forward, don’t be quick to revise your dream. Revise your plan instead. Peter Drucker said, “The question that faces the strategic decision-maker is not what his organization should do tomorrow. It is, ‘What do we have to do today to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow?’” The best way to face the uncertainty of tomorrow is to put your full faith in God, remain flexible, and consider your options as events unfold. The Psalmist said, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Ps 37:23). Clinton Utterbach said, “The steps and the stops of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Paul’s plan called for going to a certain place,“ButtheSpirit…wouldnotallowthemto”(Ac16:7NIV).Instead,Godopenedupnew territory for him elsewhere. A rigid mindset won’t serve you well when you’re trying to fulfill your God-given assignment. So be open, stay flexible, and learn to adapt.

BE A PEACEMAKER

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“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Mt 5:9 NIV

Jesus spent much of His ministry tearing down barriers and building bridges. He did it through acts of love such as washing the feet of those who would fail and betray Him, eating with a tax collector everybody in town despised, and giving hope to a fallen woman that society condemned. The Bible says, “Peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (Jas 3:18 NLT). Words of peace are like seeds. They don’t produce fruit overnight, but slowly and silently they work their way to the surface, changing hearts, minds, attitudes, and futures. Doctor Robert Oppenheimer, the noted physicist who masterminded the first atomic bomb, was asked by a congressional committee if there was any defense against it. Addressing a hushed audience he replied, “Yes—peace!” Now, if peace can defuse an atomic bomb, think what it can do in the lives of the people you come in contact with! Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” Every day you’ll meet frightened, despairing, lonely, angry people who need a word of peace. Do you have one? Solomon offers us three ways to calm strife, defuse a tense situation, and get a better result: (1) Patience. “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel” (Pr 15:18 NIV). (2) Self-control. “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Pr 16:32 NIV). (3) Wisdom. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Pr 19:11 NIV).

DON’T ACT ON IMPULSE!

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“He that believeth shall not make haste.” Isa 28:16

As twins go, Jacob and Esau were very different. But they quickly learned to negotiate. Have you ever watched children make a deal that favored one over the other? For example, one offers the other a candy bar in exchange for an expensive video game. Well, that same dynamic was at work between Jacob and Esau. Esau had been out hunting and came home exhausted and hungry. Nothing mattered to him except food—and certainly not something as remote as a future inheritance. In a moment of weakness he said, “I am about to die…what is this birthright to me…So…he…sold [it] to Jacob…[for] bread and stew” (Ge 25:32-34 NKJV). It was a decision Esau would live to regret, and couldn’t undo. Recovering addicts are taught the importance of observing their H.A.L.T. sign. When they’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, they’re in danger. And so are you! Acting on impulse will cause you to: (1) buy stuff you don’t need at prices you can’t afford; (2) react before you get all the facts, resulting in a loss of respect, opportunities and good relationships; (3) compromise your character for a few moments of sinful pleasure; (4) quit in the middle of the race, or worse, on the threshold of victory. The Bible says, “He that believeth shall not make haste.” When you make choices based on short-term gratification rather than lifelong convictions and goals, you always lose out in the end. So don’t take the deal; don’t trade your God-given destiny for momentary gratification. Be patient and hold fast. When you do, God will bring your dreams to pass in ways that honor instead of diminishing them.

SIMPLY SERVING (5)

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“Through love serve one another.” Gal 5:13 NKJV

In his book The Pursuit of Excellence, Ted Engstrom writes: “I was cleaning out a desk drawer when I found a flashlight I hadn’t used in over a year. I flipped the switch but wasn’t surprised when it gave no light. I unscrewed it and shook it to get the batteries out but they wouldn’t budge. Finally after some effort they came loose. What a mess! Battery acid had corroded the entire inside of the flashlight. The batteries were new when I put them in and I’d stored them in a safe, warm place. But there was one problem. Those batteries weren’t made to be warm and comfortable. They were designed to be turned on—to be used. And it’s the same with us. We weren’t created to be warm, safe, and comfortable. You and I were made to be turned on.” You must constantly remind yourself that first and foremost you’re called to be God’s servant. That way, interruptions won’t frustrate you. “Whenever we have the opportunity, we have to do what is good” (Gal 6:10 GWT). Be sensitive and spontaneous; otherwise great opportunities to serve God will pass you by. “Never tell your neighbors to wait until tomorrow if you can help them now” (Pr 3:28 GNT). Look for small tasks nobody else wants to do, then do them as if they were great things—because God is recording it all. Make yourself available. Don’t fill your time with other pursuits that limit your availability. Be ready to jump into service at a moment’s notice. Allow God to change your plans without becoming resentful. As a servant, you don’t get to choose where you’ll serve. God does.

SIMPLY SERVING (4)

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“Throw yourselves into the work of the Master.” 1Co 15:58 TM

Paul writes, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?…If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10 NIV). A true servant of God is content to work quietly in the shadows. They know that in heaven God will openly reward people we’ve never even heard of—people who taught emotionally disturbed children, cleaned up after the incontinent, nursed AIDS patients, and gave their lives in a thousand unnoticed ways. “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” During World War II, when England needed to increase its coal production, Winston Churchill called together labor leaders. He asked them to picture in their minds a victory parade which he knew would be held in Piccadilly Circus after the war. First in line would be the sailors who kept the vital sea lanes open. After them would come the soldiers who returned from Dunkirk, then went on to defeat Rommel in Africa. Next would be the pilots who’d driven the Luftwaffe from the skies. Last of all, he said, would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miners’ caps. Someone would shout from the crowd, “And where were you during the critical days of our struggle?” And from ten thousand throats would come the answer, “We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.” Not all jobs are prominent and glamorous. But those who serve God with their “faces to the coal” play a vital role in fulfilling His purposes in the earth.

SIMPLY SERVING (3)

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“If you think you are too important to help…you are only fooling yourself.” Gal 6:3 NLT

In his book Swim With the Sharks, leadership expert Harvey Mackay writes about Philip Pillsbury of the famous Pillsbury milling family: “The tips of three of his fingers were missing…the unmistakable mark of a journeyman grain miller, albeit a somewhat less-than-dexterous one. Philip Pillsbury had an international reputation as a connoisseur of fine foods…but to the troops his reputation as a man willing to do a hard, dirty job was the one that mattered…And you can be sure everyone was aware of it.” Following in the footsteps of Jesus calls for being service-oriented, not self-absorbed. Often the reason we don’t volunteer is because we think we can’t do it as well as somebody else. We’ve made the mistake of making excellence an idol by buying into the philosophy, “If I can’t do it right, I won’t do it at all.” The fact is, less-than-perfect service is better than the best of intentions. If you’re not willing to do it imperfectly in the beginning, you’ll never get out of the starting gate. Almost everything we do is done poorly at first. That’s how we learn. God’s plan has always been to involve as many folks as possible, not have everything run by a few experts. The best of people make mistakes; it’s how you gain knowledge and develop character. The Bible says, “If you think you are too important to help…you are only fooling yourself.” Sometimes you’re called to serve upward to those in authority; other times you’re called to serve downward to those in need. Either way, you’re serving God only when you’re willing to do what’s required.

SIMPLY SERVING (2)

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“Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.” Mk 10:43 NKJV

Pilate had an opportunity to acquit Jesus of any wrongdoing, but instead he called for a basin and washed his hands of the entire matter. His attitude was, “I’m not getting involved.” And a lot of people have that same attitude. But not Jesus. The night before His death He called for a basin of water and washed His disciples’ feet. He taught them: “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mk 10:43 NKJV). Peter objected because foot-washing was a duty designated to the lowest servant in Middle Eastern households, and he considered it beneath Christ’s dignity. Catherine Marshall writes: “‘We, the disciples, are to be the servants,’ I want to insist along with Peter. But Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’ (Jn13:8 NKJV). This is a stunning and stupendous thought. Unless I can believe in this much love for me, unless I can and will accept Him by faith as my servant as well as my God, unless I can truly know that it’s my good He seeks…then I cannot have His companionship.” This is so contrary to the world’s philosophy where everybody wants to lead and nobody wants to serve. But to be like Jesus is to be a servant, for that’s what He called Himself. Never have goals so lofty that they blind you to the needs of those around you. Without a servant’s heart, you’ll be tempted to use your gift for personal gain, or to exempt yourself from areas you consider beneath you. The truth is, the only way to serve God is by serving those He loves.

SIMPLY SERVING (1)

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“Through love serve one another.” Gal 5:13 NKJV

Bill Wilson builds Sunday schools in some of New York City’s worst areas. He has been stabbed and shot, and had team members killed. A Puerto Rican lady who could barely speak English said to him one day, “I want to do something for God, please.” Bill said, “Okay, ride a different Sunday school bus every week and just love the kids.” So she rode different buses—Bill has dozens of them—and loved the children. After several months she became attached to one little boy. “I don’t want to change buses any more. I want to stay on this one,” she told Bill. The boy came to Sunday school every week with his sister and sat on the lady’s lap, but never made a sound. She would repeatedly tell him, “I love you, and Jesus loves you.” One day to her amazement, he turned around and stammered, “I…love you too.” Then he gave her a big hug. That was at two-thirty on a Sunday afternoon. At six-thirty that night the boy was found dead in a dumpster under a fire escape. His mother had beaten him to death and thrown his body in the trash. “I love you, and Jesus loves you.” Those were some of the last words that little boy heard in his short life—from the lips of a Puerto Rican woman who could barely speak English. Bill says, “Who among us is qualified to minister? Who among us even knows what to do? Not you; not me. But I ran to an altar once and got some fire and just went. So did this woman who couldn’t speak English. And so can you.”