Hold on!


"It's cancer."

"Your job is about to be terminated."

"I want out of this marriage!"

"Sir, I'm from the highway patrol. I'm here about your son..."

Life-altering tragedy usually arrives encased in a simple sentence. Crushing heartache doesn't fit into human terminology. How can simple alphabet letters cut like that? But they do.

And it's worse if you've been forwarned. You know it's coming. You brace for it or try to hide from it. Terror stalks your nights as you try to imagine getting through it.

When Jesus spoke to the church at Smyrna, in Revelation 2, He was giving them a heads-up about what had already started and would get worse. He clears away any doubt when he tells them "I know you are suffering and it will get worse." But he doesn't stop there.

"It won't last long and if you hang in there with Me, I will shower you with rewards!"

If you've ever been in labor, you can more easily understand this. As bad as it is, and as long as it may take, there is still hope. You know it won't last forever and when it's over, the joy of holding your child will blot out what you just went through.

We need to look at our troubles that way. At the time, they seem to last forever. In the midst of the pain, we cannot remember peace. While treading murky waters, we cannot remember dry ground. Was there ever a time I didn't feel like this? Will our life ever be normal again?

Jesus offers hope to his precious ones who are suffering for His sake, in what often feels like pointless trauma. It's not pointless. He knows every groan you've muffled, every tear you shed. And He's cheering for you. It's necessary testing. Those who refuse to bear up under it are not His. He is cleaning house, ridding the churches of those hangers-on who only show up for the free food.

And the reward He offers for enduring temporary suffering will so far outshine the pain we won't even remember it. Even death shouldn't scare us because He's waiting on the other side to hold us, wipe our tears away, and shower us with rewards for being faithful.

"Hold on! It won't last long," is His cry from the stands. "You can do it. I did it for you."

So no matter what you're going through right now, no matter how bleak this New Year may appear, and no matter how painful it is at the moment, hang on. Remain faithful to the One who called you.

If you are His, He is yours. And He sent you a message to encourage you: "You can overcome even this. I showed you how. I'm here with you and I reward loyalty."

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Got Resolutions?


Have you started your list yet?

You know, the obligatory list of New Year's resolutions-- which is just another way of saying your motivation for change is so low you've got to pin it on a calendar date.

Or did you give up the whole idea a long time ago? Too frustrating. Too overwhelming. Too much defeat and you don't need another reason to beat yourself up.

But if you were going to make a change this year....just sayin'...you know, playing "what if'?

What would it be?

Did your mind rush straight to the scales? I'll bet losing weight is on nine out of ten resolution lists this year. Why? Why are we so preoccupied with carrying all that extra weight, while continuing the very actions that keep us that way?

I believe the reason you remain in the "hefty" category is because it doesn't really bother you that badly. You just think it should. You've memorized the list of health reasons, heard your mother nag about it until it rings in your ears, and frowned at your widening girth in the mirror...yet you do nothing to change it.

Going up a pants' size is a small price to pay for the comfort of that extra box of cookies. And the thought of cutting back on Big Macs produces a pain greater than heartburn. The fact is, you got yourself this way and it's grown comfortable. Regardless of what you may say to the contrary, you're not ready to give it up.

I won't even mention that gluttony is a sin, because that's not what this post is about.
Fooled you, huh?

No, I'd rather you make the short mental leap with me to the other shady areas of your life where you've grown too comfortable. You've heard the preacher say they're harmful to you, you've felt the pangs of guilt when you indulge, and you've frowned at yourself every time your half-hearted attempt to change fizzles. But the truth is, you don't care that much.
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We do things because they work for us. They may not work well, or for long, but they are meeting some need so we keep at it, even if in the process we are destroying the very peace and joy we long for. Habits, addictions, attitudes, friendships...the list is infinite. There are a million and one ways we can mess up the victorious life God planned for us, and we seem to discover most of them before we've even left our teens.
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The problem is we load ourselves down with so many homemade attempts to satisfy our longings that it quickly becomes too much to carry. We stagger under the bundles we're afraid to let go of. Our souls are more overweight than our bodies. Hearts made of concrete, consciences laden with guilt, and backpacks so stuffed with shame we can barely lift our heads. Yet, we cling to it all as though we were designed to be beasts of burden.
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We skip right over that delicious promise of Jesus in the book of Matthew: "Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
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God knows you're overweight and He offers a reducing plan you won't find anywhere on late-night TV. His solution? "Give it to Me."
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Yep, it's that easy. You were not created to bear those burdens alone and God offers to do it for you. But you have to let go first. You have to accept that those giant bags of trash you're carting around cannot meet your needs. You have to give them to Him. In exchange, he offers you a lightweight carry-on, packed with everything you need for this trip on earth.
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So maybe you DO need a list this New Years. It only needs to include one item:
  • Give junk to God.
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Merry Christmas


The politically correct Baby-in-the-manger grew up to be a politically-incorrect Savior for an undeserving world.


"O Come Let Us Adore Him" the other 364 days of the year.


May your Christmas and the coming year be filled with the joy of knowing Him as Savior!

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Are You Wasted?

What a waste!

A highly-anticipated and heavily funded program that didn't reap the results we anticipated.

The dynamic pastor of a mega church resigns to pastor a mission church in Africa.

Seem like a waste?

We don't like to admit it, but we apply worldly standards of success to God's work as well.

Aren't they the same thing?

Not exactly.

We'd like them to be. In fact, if any one of us had been standing with the disciples that day when Mary broke her expensive vial of perfume and poured it over Jesus, we'd have joined right in with the murmuring. "Why'd she do that? She could've done so much good with it! What a waste of perfectly good money. It should have been put to better use. We need to appoint a committee to address wasteful jar-breaking practices." (Matt. 26)

And most of us thrifty-minded Americans would fully expect Jesus to agree. With kindness, yes, but still agree. He should have thanked Mary, given her a hug, and gently explained that next time she might think more carefully before wasting herself on Him with such extravagance.

But that's not what He did and His answer often leaves the rest of us scratching our heads and feeling embarrassed that we still disagree.

In fact, He drove the point home even more firmly when he told them that everywhere the Gospel was preached, her story would go with it.

Every wonder why? Why THIS story over all the other amazing events that happened wherever he went?

The secret is in the word "wasted." When we apply the world's standards to this incident, the perfume was, in fact, severely wasted. It was wasted money. It was a waste of Mary's future income. Women in those days didn't have access to luxurious treasures like that very often. Once it was gone, it was gone. No chance to put it on Ebay. No garage sales. No Antiques Roadshow host would offer her a shocking fortune for it. It was gone, puddled on the floor, dripping off the hair of the one she considered worthy of such an offering.

The disciples totally missed the point, even after Jesus explained it. But we don't have to.

Jesus told them that this story would be told hand-in-hand with the Gospel--because it IS the Gospel.

Jostling crowds followed this preacher from Nazareth from shore to shore, eager for a front-row seat to the show. They wanted healing, wanted demons cast out, wanted fed, wanted hope. But what did they bring? Who among them brought Jesus anything?

Salvation is a gift to us from God, but it is NOT free. We present the message often as though it was free, as in "free gift with every purchase!" There was a terribly high price to pay for rebellious Man to experience God's forgiveness and Jesus knew he was about to pay it. And at that moment in history, Mary was the only one who caught on.

Her act of emptying her priceless jar perfectly symbolized what Jesus had been telling them all along, but they were too dazzled by the miracles and free food to hear it. "If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me."

God's gift is more than an offering. It's really an exchange. We can't keep what we have and gain what He offers. He offers to exchange his riches in glory for our ragged robes. His righteousness for our sin. His everlasting life for our pathway to destruction. It's not until we are willing to empty ourselves of our own willfulness that we can accept that gift.

Until we are willing to waste ourselves and all we have on Jesus, we aren't worthy of him. And He cannot fill us with himself when we are already filled with ourselves.

Wasted on Jesus. It's not possible. God keeps excellent accounts and nothing is wasted that is given to Him. We cannot know the peace, the joy, the fulfillment that God has for us until, like Mary with her alabaster jar, we have totally wasted ourselves on Him.

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Don't Give Me a Band Aid


Oh, not again!

Why me?

Bad stuff always happens to me!

I'm willing to bet you've said every one of those. We tend to magnify the things that don't go our way and ignore the millions of situations and events that do turn out the way we want them to.


BAD usually gets all the attention.

As Christians, we go a step further. We often try to help matters by overusing a little promise in Romans. We treat the Scripture verse like a topical ointment. And we're right in one sense. When applied correctly, it brings strength and healing. But when slathered on incorrectly, it irritates and causes bitterness. It's best used on yourself, rather than try to treat someone else in the moment of pain.


The verse is found in Romans 8:28 "All things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose."

The grieving mother looks at her dead child. The unemployed man shakes his head at his last paycheck. The pregnant teenager feels her swollen belly and turns her face away.

No drowning victim wants to hear a chirpy Bible verse from someone on dry land. One look at your situation and you know in your heart that there is no way this is good. You may not admit it. You may smile and nod, as though the promise applied to you-- but you know it doesn't. God skipped over you this time.

What is not stressed in that verse is the little word "together."

Ever tasted cocoa straight from the box? What does baking powder taste like? How about dry flour? Good? Hardly. But when mixed together and baked just right, the cake is delicious.

God is telling us in Romans that even though what happened to you may be horrible, it doesn't stand alone in your life. Not all events are good, so we don't have to pretend they are. Pain is pain. Disappointment, heartache, and shock are real and God never intended to slap a happy band aid over your hurt with this verse.

Instead he is promising that if you stick with him through it, He'll stick with you. He'll take those raw ingredients that make up your life and bake them just right. He'll weave purpose through all the seemingly random events and bring a good from it you never considered.

The problem we have is looking at each event as a separate issue, as though not connected to the rest of our lives. God doesn't see it that way. He views you as a work-in-progress, as He did with original creation. As each created entity came into being He said, "It is good." It wasn't finished, but He already saw how good it was going to become.

Our lives are not finished either. As each event unfolds, we have a choice.

We can rant and rave, angry at a God who should have made this turn out better. Or we can be still and listen for the voice that says, "It is good" and trust that it will work together with everything else to bring about the greatest purpose in our lives..
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Royal Wedding


The Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II cordially invite you to attend the royal wedding ceremony of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton.
The Queen invites you to stay at Buckingham Palace for as long as you desire. All accommodations and arrangements for your enjoyment are provided by the royal family.
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Did you get one of those invitations this week?
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You didn't?
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Well, neither did I. But if I had, I would already be shopping for the trip. What do you wear to a royal wedding? And a stay at Buckingham? Whoo-wee...I wouldn't need coaxing, cajoling, or extra incentives to sign on. I recognize a golden opportunity when I see it.
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Most rational people would quickly accept an invitation like that and feel humbled with gratitude to be invited. After all, we're just commoners. We're nothing special. So to be called out, selected for grandeur for no reason at all sounds like a fairy tale.
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Just such an invitation has been sent from the Royal Family of Heaven with your name on it. The invitation alone should be enough to send adrenaline racing through your system. Me? You're kidding! I'm invited? But why? I haven't done anything worthy of that.
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That SHOULD be the response, but oddly enough the same guy who would drop everything to attend Prince William's wedding barely lifts a brow at the invitation to Christ's wedding. And that one lasts for eternity.
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Instead, we find well-meaning preachers of the Gospel peddling those invitations as though they had to meet a quota or be fired. "C'mon, don't you wanna be saved? We'll throw in a pizza party, camp once a year, and a get-out-of-Hell-free card. So whaddya say?"
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The solid gold invitation from God is often reduced by well-meaning evangelists to a plastic-covered trinket, such as the street-hawkers will sell all over London commemorating the royal event for $5.99.
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"Get your party invitations here, folks! Come see what God can do for you! Yes sir, step right up and dial-a-prayer! Watch God turn your dreams into reality right before your eyes. With this little prayer you can have your own god right in your pocket. Take Him with you wherever you go. Brings you luck!"
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Of course you won't hear those exact words from the pulpit. I hope. But sadly, the message is coming through anyway. We no longer consider ourselves "sinners in the hands of an angry God" as Jonathan Edwards proclaimed with such incredible results. We prefer a sermon entitled "pretty good folks shaking hands with a jovial god." And what's sadder still, is that many are signing on having no idea that they've just bought a plastic trinket rather than the real thing.
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Jesus said, "Wide is the road that leads to destruction, but narrow is the path that leads to life and not many will find it." The life Jesus meant was one that requires repentance. A change of direction. A turning away from seeking my way to seeking His face, His righteousness, until He calls me home.
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Mention that to one of the new "converts" and you'll likely get a response like this: "Righteousness? Ooo...no thanks. I didn't know righteousness was part of the bargain. I just wanted the free stuff."
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God has already sent your invitation (see Sidebar). It's enough in itself. No gimmicks. No trinkets. No cheap lures. It requires everything you have in exchange for everything God has. Not a fair trade, but it was His idea.
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And what's more, you won't need to shop or pack. That's provided too!
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Hey, Babe


She's supposed to be an outside watchdog.
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Clearly, she's not outside and... does this face scare you?
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If the burglars would be so kind as to wear bird suits and pretend to fly, she'd be a force to contend with. Otherwise, she's about as useful as a parka in Tahiti.
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Knowing that our multi-purpose mutt, Spunky, was near permanent retirement, we got Babe to replace him outside. Spunky has been a 15-year barking machine and no criminal with half a brain would challenge his backyard. Living in the country, we feel safer with a barking dog outside at night. Preferably one who could tell the difference between a criminal and a squirrel. But Babe...well, let's just say that intelligence isn't everything. And courage is overrated.
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She gets lonely at night. She's scared of the dark. And anyone approaching the yard might be a potential friend, so she'd hate to offend.
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She slinks around with a guilty look on her face and if we so much as raise our voices in laughter, she rushes to confess her crime. She obviously has emotional issues dating back to puppyhood, with which we were in no way involved. She was 3 years old when we got her, so any neurosis is NOT our fault.
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Things don't always turn out like we plan.
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Spunky is still kicking. Babe lives in the house and only barks to be let in. She worships our two boys with a passion almost eerie, and every stranger is greeted with slobbering devotion. The shedding which I'd carefully avoided with my Maltese is now a regular part of life and we still don't have a replacement watchdog.
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Sometimes we do things for one reason and the result is nothing like we expected. We roll with the punches, make lemonade, or whatever cliche you choose to use. The best part is God's promise that He will make everything turn out for the good, if we love Him. The darkest night, the deepest sorrow, the biggest hurdle---it doesn't matter. When it is God's, He can twist ugly twine into a beautiful bow.
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"What would we do without Babe?" my youngest son asked as he wrapped his arms around her patient neck.
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Before I could start my list, he hugged her tight. "One look at that face, Mom, and you can't stay mad at her no matter what she did."
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I swept more red hair off the floor and watched them, boy and dog, lying together on the floor, content just being side by side. We don't have a watchdog, but my son has a friend. A responsibility. A practice in patience for parenthood some day.
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He's right. What would we do without Babe? And what would we do without all those unexpected twists and turns life hands us? Those valleys that end in mountaintops. Those detours that take us past undiscovered beauty. All those opportunities for God to take our snarled balls of twine and make bows out of them.
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What's the Babe in your world? That situation that didn't turn out like you thought it would. The decision. The detour. The upside-down, out-of-the-blue shock?
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Let God have it. One day you will look back on it and find yourself saying, "What would I do without it?"
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Go For the Gold


Most of us live our lives for the trophies.
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Trophies come in all forms: sometimes nothing more than an affirming word tossed in your direction. But pathetic little hoarders that we are, we snatch the compliment before anyone else can and set it on our "self-worth shelf" to admire the gleam until it fades.
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We dust our trophies, relive the memories, and yearn for more-- all while pretending we don't care what anyone else thinks. It's how we're made. We live for approval, and the more important the bestower, the more we value the prize.
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I came across a tiny phrase in the book of Daniel that I'd never paid much thought to. Three times, an angel visited Daniel and each time he began with the words: "You are highly esteemed."
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Imagine that! Imagine going about your business when suddenly a glowing white man stands before you and announces that he's come from Heaven with a message. He smiles and says, "Get up from the ground. Where I come from, you are highly esteemed."
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Max Lucado calls it the "applause of Heaven." What better trophy exists than an angelic message that begins, "I've come to tell you that God thinks you're awesome"?
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The same message was delivered to Mary. Angels always told people not to be afraid, but rarely bestowed such additional honor. So what does that tell us?
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Clearly, although God loves us all and shows no favoritism in saving and redeeming us, there are those who are more highly regarded than others. After all, God was so impressed with Elijah and Enoch, he swooped right down and whisked them to heaven via chariot, rather than the casket.
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So doesn't it make you wonder what you have do to receive that kind of honor? Other places in Scripture imply that God chooses whom he chooses, but I believe our choices have a lot to do with it as well.
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Although not regarded as a prophet during his time, Daniel kept his life pure from his earliest days, even in the face of terrible circumstances. He served and honored God when it did not appear to benefit him in the least. He didn't expect anything from God, but willingly offered his devotion and steadfast loyalty. How many of us can say that?
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I have to admit that for many years my relationship with God was more like a business deal: "I'll keep your commands and You bless me the way I want You to."
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We don't see any hint of that in Daniel's life, or Mary's either.
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Many people in Scripture were considered righteous and pleasing to God, but to get that special message-- "Where I come from, you are highly esteemed"-- took something extra amazing.
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What if we, as believers, were to live ONLY for the applause of Heaven? Not for the blessings, the protection, the provision, but only for God's pleasure. What if every choice we made, every thought that stayed in our minds, every goal, every desire was to seek and obey the will of God--with no thought for what God would do for us in return?
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If an angel appeared to you tonight, would he greet you that way? "You are highly esteemed."
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What better trophy can Earth produce?
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"In heaven, you are highly esteemed." Let that phrase echo in your soul this week. Let it take root and become your all-consuming goal. How would your life change? Your desires? Your plans? Your expectations?
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So examine your shelf of trophies. Are they dusty? Out of date? No one cares anymore? Or were they silver and bronze to begin with. Symbolic reminders that you were never Number One.
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Scrap them. Go for the only one that matters. Go for the gold.

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Peek-a-boo Sun




The sun glows golden in the fall. The warmth we hid from all summer is now welcomed like a long-lost friend.
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On cloudy days, we look eagerly for it as it plays peek-a-boo in the sky and when it bursts forth in all its radiant glory, we pause to bask in it.
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So I ask you, when we don't feel the sun's warmth on our arms and faces, is it gone?
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We say it's gone because we no longer feel it directly impacting our person, but is it really gone? Has the sun actually vanished from the universe? Is it no longer doing its job? Should we start a frantic scramble to find another sun? Create one? Pull one in from another galaxy?
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Of course those suggestions are ridiculous. Anyone knows that whether or not a particular person can feel the sun's rays on any given day has nothing to do with the sun's functioning. The sun is still the sun, doing exactly the job it was created to do both day and night, regardless of whether we see it or feel it.
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But don't we treat God that way?

When things are going great and we feel His pleasure and blessing, we bask in His nearness. We have no doubt that God is on His throne and doing His job.
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But then life grows dark and windy. Storms hit out of the blue. Job loss. Death. Divorce. Relationships shattered. Health deteriorating. We can't see God. Can't feel Him. What happened to the warmth? Where did He go?
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God's tangible presence is a gift equal to no other, the thinnest taste of a glory we cannot comprehend in our mortal state. We long for the thrill of communion with God the way a flower yearns for the sun. But Scripture is clear that we will experience valleys, storms, and darkness when we cannot feel his presence. Regardless of your life choices, the sun won't always shine on you.
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He also promises that He is still there, whether we feel him or not. He's still doing His job, still loving you, still watching over His own, still ready to work everything for your good. That's what walking by faith is all about. Just as the sun is there whether we know it or not, God is still in control no matter how it looks from your vantage point.
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Next time you watch the sun playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, let it remind you that whether you feel the warmth of God's smile at that moment, He is still in control. He knows where you are and He never forgets anyone.


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What's Your Worth?


When was the last time someone said something to you that shook your self-image? Was it an undeserved slight? An overt attack? An accusation?
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We are all at different points on the codependency scale, but for most of us it doesn't take much to impact our opinion of our own worth.
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Codependency can be broadly defined as looking to someone or something to meet a need that can only be met in Christ. We all instantly disqualify ourselves from that, but the truth is we are far more dependent on the opinions of others than we like to admit.
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In the Bible, King Saul was very codependent. He was always conducting popularity polls to find out where he stood with the people. He often made decisions based on how it would make him look to his people, and even to God. When things were going great for his kingdom, he felt great about himself. But when the tides turned, he grew insane with jealousy and his self-worth plummeted.
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On the other hand, Jesus was our perfect example of someone living in an imperfect situation without allowing the choices of those around him to affect his self-worth. He knew that one of his hand-picked followers was eventually going to betray him, yet we have no record of his ever treating Judas any differently than he treated the others. Of all the crowds that flocked to hear him, ate his super-food, and sang his praises, only a handful were left when things got scary.
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Most of us would have reacted quite differently than he did. We would have loudly defended ourselves, decried the disloyal ones, and gotten in the last word. Or on the other hand we might have bent over backward to make them like us better. Maybe we would have made the super-food a weekly occurrence and had Judas sign a loyalty pledge.
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So how do you handle the mistreatment or misbehavior of others in your life?
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Do you allow their problems to affect your worth?
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Do you believe the lies and misperceptions, constantly rechecking your responses to see if the meanies might be right?
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Do you work overtime to clean up their mistakes, cover for them, make excuses, pretending you are doing it for them but all the while knowing your superficial service is done so that you look better?
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God's will for each of us is that we let him meet our basic needs for love, security, self-worth, and significance. When those needs are fulfilled in Him, we don't have to force others to meet them. We're free to let others learn from their mistakes without worrying that their downfall will pull us with them. When we are secure in Christ's love and acceptance, the opinions of man roll off more easily.
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So who gets to decide how valuable you are? The fickle whims of man? Your own fluctuating value system? Or the unchanging standard of God?
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Saul made the wrong choice and he paid the price for it. Jesus knew Who determined his value and because of that, he was able to endure God's agonizing plan without it ever affecting his self-image. He knew who he was. He knew who he wasn't. And no one--even Satan himself-- could shake that confidence.
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Wouldn't it be great if we all followed His example?

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Thankful for What?



This week, it is politically correct to discuss thankfulness.
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What becomes a bit fuzzy is exactly to Whom we are to express that thanks.
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Twice a year, it has become acceptable in American culture to mention God--even going so far as to designate which god we mean by discussing the God that the Pilgrims prayed to.
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In a historical setting, a brief mention of God is fine, say the P.C. Police. Just don't let Him come off the page and into our everyday lives.
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And so we drag out our annual litany of blessings for which we are thankful: food, family, freedom, and friends. Everyone nods and feels spiritual.
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But what happens on Friday? Saturday? Sunday? When life goes back to being stressful. The food is leftovers, the family is fighting, the freedom is costing too much, and the friends stabbed you in the back. Now what?
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True thankfulness does not happen only once a year. The Pilgrims lived hand-to-mouth for many months, relying on God for their very survival. Their feast of thanksgiving was a culmination of the praise and thanks they gave every other day of the year.
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The Apostle Paul encapsulated everyday thankfulness when he described his "thorn in the flesh," which he had begged God to remove and He had not done so.
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Instead, God told him this: "My grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfected in weakness."
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How would you have responded? Most of us would have folded our arms and pouted. "Why not, God?" we would demand. "This is important to me. You must not love me, so I owe you nothing now." We would turn our heads away and withhold our thanks.
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Paul, however, shows us how it's done. He responded, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I glory in my weaknesses, in insults, distresses, persecutions, in difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
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Boast about weakness? Glory in difficulties? What about whining and complaining? What about getting angry with God?
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Thanksgiving is about acknowledging God for who he is and what he has a right to do. A heart of thanksgiving responds to life's ugly situations with humility, recognizing that God is giving me an opportunity to rely on His wisdom and His strength rather than my own.
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So this Thanksgiving, why don't you shock the turkey right off the table by announcing how thankful you are for the worst thing that happened to you this year?
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What follows might be the only moment of silence you hear all day!
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Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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OUCH! That hurts!


Ever walk with a lump in your shoe?
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It's terrible if you can't stop to get rid of it. Maybe you're on a timed hike, trying to keep up with a group, running late...
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You try to ignore it at first, hoping it might resolve itself. Many steps later, you feel the blister forming, but you keep ignoring it. Now, you're hobbling along, every step painful, but you're determined something as small as a rock or a misplaced shoe part isn't going to make you lose whatever it is you're chasing.
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If you continue wearing those shoes with the lump, eventually you'll create a callus where the blister was. Now it hardly hurts at all and you consider the problem solved. It's not solved, of course. That callus causes problems of its own and sometimes you don't ever connect the new problems with the lump that started the whole thing.
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Unconfessed sin is like that. How many times do we commit a dreadful offense against the Lord or someone else, but pride won't let us admit it? We cover it up, shy away from dealing with it, and sweep it under our mental rug, hoping the Lord will forget about it.
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Years go by. We pretend everything is fine with us spiritually, but deep down we know something rubs wrong. There's a pain we can't identify. Life isn't working like it should. We pray and nothing happens. We force ourselves through religious-looking exercises, trying to alleviate the pain, but it does no good. There's a dead spot inside that should feel better, but it only adds to the emptiness.
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If that sounds painfully familiar, I have a question for you: Looking back on your past, is there a sin in your life that you never took to the cross? It was too horrible, too gross and you turned your head away and hoped that was good enough. Or you renamed it, excused it, and wore yourself out justifying it until you felt that callus form over your spirit. It didn't work, did it.
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God offers a salve for those blistering sins. He's already paid the doctor bill to have it worked on. Relief and victory are so close, but you chose your own way to find them. After all, confessing it to God would require you to admit it was wrong and there's something inside each of us that insists on justifying what God plainly calls sin.
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We have to humble ourselves. Admit we messed up. Admit we can't fix it and ask God to do it for us. Humbling self is hard to do. That callus of pride is so tough by now it takes a pretty sharp knife to slice it off, but God has just the one for it. His Word. When we dare compare our action with God's expectation, we quiver in shame. Yep, it was sin all right.
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As a counselor, I am struck by how many problems started from that unconfessed sin way back in the past. Shame. Hardness of heart. Anger. Depression. When I ask, "Is there a sin in your past you never confessed to God?" I am always surprised that the client knows right away which sin it is.
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Such relief and peace come when they get that taken care of. The rock is no longer in the shoe. It's over. The blister can heal and the callus can come off.
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Do you have a callus on your heart? Is there a stubborn area you've been hiding from God, hoping He'd forget? He hasn't. And neither have you. Take it to him. Lay it on the altar and confess how wrong it was. He's not there to beat you up. He's there with the First Aid kit.
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Haven't you limped long enough?

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Who's Number One?



You shall have no other gods before Me.
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Notice what the first commandment does NOT say. It doesn't say instead of Me. It doesn't say that there are no other gods. The key to understanding what the first commandment means lies in those two last words: before Me.
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When we look at Jewish history, we can clearly see what God meant. The Israelites were continually chasing after the gods of the nations around them, forgetting all Jehovah had done for them, and making sacrifices to all kinds of foreign idols.
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We enlightened Americans almost gloss over this commandment as though it no longer applies to us.
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But take a closer look at those two little words: before Me. God is saying that He must be number one in your heart or He is not your God at all. It is not enough to acknowledge Him or agree that He is God Almighty, the Creator. Satan does the same thing.
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God is reminding us here that He must be our top priority in life. Every moment of every day. When we let something or someone rise to usurp that spot, we are violating the first commandment.
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"Oh, I don't do that," you might say. "I read my Bible and pray faithfully. I go to church every Sunday. I live like a Christian. I'm sure I keep the first commandment."
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Oh, really?
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What are you most passionate about? What was the last thing you were really excited about?
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A sports competition? A raise at work? A shopping spree? A hobby?
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If given some free time, how do you usually want to spend it?
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Watching sports? Going to the movies? Watching TV?
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Now, for the tough one: Who or what occupies the seat of greatest love in your heart?
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Your kids? Your spouse? A romance? Your career? Your ministry?
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None of those things are wrong. We are to love our families, enjoy our work, take some time to relax. But where does your passion lie?
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You can easily identify it by asking yourself this question: What is the one thing in my life I am afraid to give to God because He might take it from me?
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Whatever we cannot offer up to God becomes our god. And that's exactly what He means when he says to have no other gods before Him. We can't hide behind devoted religiosity, either. He can spot a self-righteous phony three galaxies away.
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It's not because He's so picky and needy that he peers over our shoulder, nagging us about our likes and favorites. It is because He knows that until He is number one in our lives in every area, we will get ourselves into trouble. We chase after the wrong things, rely on other people or circumstances to meet needs only He can meet, and end up wasting all the potential He gave us.
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Maybe the first commandment is worth another look. If we could only get that one down, we wouldn't even need the other nine.
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But Why?

You've got it made.
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The world is at your fingertips. Thousands adore you, sing your praises, rush to do your bidding. You have everything you want, including outrageous joy, peace, and harmony with everyone who matters.
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Yet, your heart yearns for something. That dirty beggar on the wrong side of town has captivated you. You spend your days searching for him, calling out for him, investing everything you have to find him. You long for the day you can stroll together and talk. Just enjoy each other's company. You'd do anything for him, but he doesn't understand. And he doesn't seem to care.
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"Why?" your adoring fans ask. "Why on earth? Him? You can't be serious. There are thousands like him, not worth a dirty penny. Why would you...?"
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Don't we struggle with that one when it comes to God? We hear that God desires an intimate, loving relationship with us individually. We profess to believe it, but isn't there a little voice inside that continues to doubt? Why would God want to hear from me?
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That big Why often becomes a stop sign. A hurdle that cannot be vaulted. It halts our progress toward God and sometimes makes us turn around and go back.
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We lap up the stories of Jesus, chant the Bible verses, and grasp the generalities of God. Yet, deep down the big WHY remains and keeps us from pursuing God the way He wants us to. We just cannot fathom why the Creator of the universe--One who could part the Red Sea, bring people to life whenever he felt like it, and stop the sun in its course--would care one bit about an insignificant creature wandering about on one of His planets. It just boggles the mind.
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Once we start asking WHY, we've taken a dangerous detour. It's not wrong to ask; just wrong to demand an answer before continuing on this journey toward God. There are too many whys and not enough answers that will fit inside a finite brain. God's mind is infinite, so it's no wonder we are incapable of comprehending all His WHYS.
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So rather than slam on the brakes when I hit a WHY, viewing it as a stop sign in my pursuit of God, I'd rather see it as a cattle guard. A cattle guard demands that we slow down, proceed carefully, endure a few bumps, but it doesn't have to stop us.
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So why in the world would the Most High, Almighty God, Creator of Time care to walk and talk with me? I have no clue. I'm not worth it. I have nothing to offer. It's a little like me giving business advice to Bill Gates--not necessary.
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But Scripture makes it clear: God does desire it. He pursues me, talks to me, gives me insights, wisdom, peace, and best of all--His presence.
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Satan loves to keep erecting those WHY stop signs to keep us at arm's length from a God who longs to shower us with love and affection. So ignore those WHYS. Treat them like cattle guards and bump right on past, secure in the knowledge that if it was imperative that you understand, God would have explained it to you.
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Spiritual Warfare


"We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against...spiritual wickedness in heavenly places..."
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Ever since The Exorcist, modern society has been intrigued by the prospect of unseen forces wielding power. The eternal fight between Good and Evil.
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But the problem with this fascination is that tends toward the scintillating. Evil is presented as either a dark power with tantalizing possibilities or as a wild force that cannot be contained by anyone. Neither approach is truth.
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The Bible has a great deal to say about the realities of the unseen world and I have dealt personally with it for the past two weeks. Not by choice, but by appointment. And the battle is far from over.
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As the teacher of a Sunday evening spiritual growth class, I felt led by God to delve into the realm of spiritual warfare. I have had frequent dealings with it lately as part of my counseling ministry and am becoming aware of how much demonic forces are involved in holding mankind captive.
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It began the day I decided that the next week I would teach on the person of Satan and how to recognize his tactics. Out of the blue, deep depression hit me like a swarm of bats. For three days I struggled under the weight of thoughts, moods, and suggestions that were not mine. Wave after wave of emotional and psychological darkness flooded me until I could hardly think.
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I'm ashamed to admit that it took me so long to figure out what was going on. Here I was preparing to teach a class on Satan's devices, and I was all but ready to quit my class and the counseling ministry because of one of them. Then the light clicked on.
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"Wait a minute! Wait just one minute..." Clarity hit as forcefully as the depression had done. "I get it! I'm about to teach on spiritual warfare and somebody doesn't like that."
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Once I understood, I knew what to do. By the next morning, it was all gone.
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The next week, things were fine. I wondered if he'd given up until Sunday morning. During services, pain struck my abdomen. An old pain I had not had trouble with in 15 years struck with a force that took my breath away. I was doubled up all day, praying it would leave before 6:00.
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"Lord? Do you want me to cancel class tonight? Is this from you?"
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"No and no."
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"Then, Satan, you're up to your tricks again. God has told me not to postpone the class, so I'm going if I have to prop myself upright. You cannot defeat me. God will be my strength."
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I hurt right up until I stood before the class, then the pain left for the hour and a half that I taught my little flock about spiritual warfare and wearing the Belt of Truth. Three ladies came up to me afterwards to tell how desperately they needed to hear this teaching, as they were struggling with such oppression.
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As I walked to my car after class, the pain hit like a sledgehammer again. All the way home, I debated going to Urgent Care. I took two steps into my house and crumpled to the floor and cried out as twisting pain shot through me. Then it was gone. Completely.
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When I rose, I was fine. Satan had his last kick before taking off.
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When we set our hearts to seek God and serve him, Satan screams with hate. Defensive battle is hard enough, but when we go on the offense, speaking God's truth into the lives of others, he goes crazy. I know for a certainty that there are some in my class who desperately needed this information. Some who are under Satanic oppression and feel helpless to resist. To learn how to stand firm, how to defeat the enemy was like I'd thrown them a life raft. Satan was about to lose them and he was determined to stop it.
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Taking on the enemy can be difficult, painful, and irritating. He is not a gracious loser. How thankful I am to know that "the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but spiritual for the destruction of fortresses."
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The enemy may get a few jabs in, but God always wins. New hearts were freed, more shackles fell off, and victory continues to spread like wildfire. Spiritual warfare is worth it, but don't expect it to be easy.
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Wasting Time?


Water running down the drain...
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The refrigerator left open on a hot day...
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Backdoor standing open while the central air unit tries to churn out enough cold air...

Waste.
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I hate it. I was thrifty, frugal, and waste-conscious before it was politically correct to be so. I got it from my parents, who got it from theirs. My mom was still reusing 20-year-old plastic bags right up until she died. I'm not that bad, but close.
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I also hate wasting time. I like that feeling of accomplishment when I finish something worthwhile. Time well spent, even if it was only for my benefit: furthering my education or just relaxation.
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How the Apostle Paul must have hated being stuck in a Roman jail, wasting precious time. Accused by a bunch of self-righteous bigots who didn't even know their own law, he was forced to bring his exploding ministry to a screeching halt while he waited for them to get their act together. And waited. And waited.
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For nearly 3 years he sat, feeling useless, while the fledgling churches he had planted cried out for help. How he must have physically ached to go to them, straighten out their messes, comfort and chide them as a loving father would. But all he could do was pray for them...and wait.
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And write letters.
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It was during this forced wait that he wrote what became much of our New Testament. Letters to his friends at Ephesus, Colossae, and Phillipi--all written while he "wasted" time.
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Clearly he used even this forced confinement as a time to draw closer to God, lean on His strength, and listen as the Holy Spirit spoke words of truth and wisdom into his heart. Words that Paul would pass on to others and in doing so, change the world.
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What are you facing right now that feels like such a waste?
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Family falling apart? Kids out of control? Job loss? A bad medical report?
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God doesn't view waste the way we do. He promises that nothing in our lives is wasted when given to him to do with as he pleases.

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We see what we might have accomplished, if only this hadn't happened.
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But God sees the supernatural outcome He plans bring from that loss---once it is His to use.
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Waste is a bad thing, no doubt about it. And nothing is more wasteful than going through life, experiencing all its joys and sorrows, and never giving God free rein to transform your mess into His masterpiece.
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So give it to him. All of it. The bad reputation, the huge mistake, the failure, the sin stronghold. And watch what He does with it. Because God never wastes anything that belongs to Him.

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If You Really Are...


Remember those taunts in the schoolyard at recess? A big bully daring you to prove something you'd said. Those taunts and challenges that sometimes shook your very identity:

If you can run faster than me, prove it!

If you're really NOT adopted, prove it!

If you really can walk that fence, then prove it!
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Jesus faced those same kinds of taunts from his enemy. "If you really are the Son of God, then jump off this building and prove it."
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Ever hear those kinds of taunts echoing inside your heart?

"If you really are a child of God, then you would wouldn't mess up so much."
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"If God really loved you, He wouldn't have allowed this in your life."
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"If there really was a God, wouldn't He....?"
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Just as those schoolyard bullies loved to watch you quake in fear, so does the enemy of your soul. He watches for any sign of weakening, any hole in your fence that he can slip through and attack your identity, your strength, and your future.
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Our only recourse is to follow our example: Jesus. When his very identity as the Son of God was attacked, he didn't take up the argument and try to prove otherwise. He merely responded with the ageless truth of God's Word: "It is written..."
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If you're trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus to pay for your sin, then you are a child of God and nothing the Devil says about it makes a bit of difference. The Creator of the universe knows your name, loves you, and has a plan for your life. No amount of ridicule or taunting from the Enemy will change that--and he knows it.
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If you're finding yourself stuck in the valley, pelted with stones, doubting your identity, respond as Jesus did: "Satan, it is written..."
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"...there is therefore now NO condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus..." (Rom. 8)
"...the Lord has not given me the spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind." (2 Tim. 1)
"...I am a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus..." (Gal. 3)
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Just as those schoolyard bullies fled when the principal showed up, so will your bully leave in the presence of God's living Word. Lies quake in the presence of timeless Truth.
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And as he flees, give him a parting kick in the pants for me, will you?
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Shattered Glass


Smooth and unmarred. That's how we like our lives.
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If we could choose, most of us would have a history that looks like this ball.
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Yet, we want our lives to count for something. To make a difference. To leave our mark on the world.
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It can't be done with a life like this. There's nothing there to catch the light. It may be smooth and unbroken, but it's also dull and makes no impact.
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God specializes in mosaics. He often takes our smooth life and shatters it. Then with the skill of a Master Craftsman, he pieces us back together just the way he wants us.
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No mosaic masterpiece is exactly the same. Each is created from hundreds of broken pieces, pressed together to create beauty--just like our lives. Where we were dull and lifeless, God adds color. Where we were smooth, he adds the thinnest ridge, a slight bump that will catch the light in a unique way.
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The finished product is a life that sparkles. A life filled with vibrant color, intriguing design, and unlike any other. We were designed to reflect His Light. To impact the world. To demonstrate God's creative and restorative abilities.


So your life is filled with mistakes, tragedy, and hurt. You've been broken. Shattered by your circumstances.
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Good. You're about to become a masterpiece. God specializes in mosaics.
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What Is Your Isaac?


Finally!
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He'd waited over a hundred years, but there he was. The fulfillment of the Promise! A son.
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From that moment on, nothing was more precious to Abraham than that little boy. He taught him how to wrap his baby hands around a staff, how to treat the servants, and how to love his mother.
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Thank you, God. Thank you! The praise must have flowed continually from Abraham's heart as he delighted in his wonderful son. The promised son.
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And then the command: Give him to Me.
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Abraham's stomach clenched. Surely he'd misheard. God couldn't mean that, could he? Why would he ask such a thing? Why, after all he'd gone through to get this boy? Anything else, Lord. You can have anything else, but please not that.
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The crossroads.
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Abraham had a choice to make, the same choice we all make. To obey God or to turn away and follow what feels right to us. To say "I'll go this far with you, God, but no farther. I can't go there."
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We know the story, how Abraham took his son to the mountain and prepared to offer him there as a sacrifice to God. But God intervened and did not require it of him after all. But Abraham didn't know that when he went. He had no idea how this would turn out, but he knew he trusted God more than he trusted his own heart.
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What about you? What is your Isaac?
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We all have that little area of life where we're afraid to let go. God might require it of us and we don't know that we could give it up. Anything else, Lord. You can have everything else, but not that. Please, not that.
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So why did God choose Abraham's beloved son as the sacrifice? Abraham was wealthy and famous. There were so many other things God could have requested.
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God knew Abraham's heart. This was the most precious thing in his life and if he could offer Isaac to God, he would withhold nothing. He could be trusted. His faith was secure, his hope unwavering and his love for God was unshaded by anything on earth.
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What about you? What earthly love shadows your devotion to God? Is it your children? Your home? Your career? Your future plans? What is it that you believe deep down that you cannot entrust to God because he might require it of you and you couldn't handle that?
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Anything we withhold from God becomes our god. That precious thing we keep back when offering our hearts will rise up to take a greater place in our hearts than it should. It becomes an idol and God will not tolerate idolatry in any form. Abraham proved to himself that God was the only God in his life and from then on, God could use him to accomplish amazing things.
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What might God want to do through you, if only you would place your Isaac on the altar? What peace and joy might be ready to flood your heart the moment you let go of your idol? What power might flow from God's hand to yours when you unclench your fist and give him what is most precious to you?
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What is your Isaac?

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God Is Not Cool


They were the coolest church in town--most active youth group, best worship team, service projects every week. Everyone knew and loved Friends Church.

They were in the schools, holding fundraisers for good causes, running to camps and retreats every few weeks. Membership rose weekly as word got out and the inferior churches in town pulled in their belts a notch and tried not to be jealous.

One Saturday afternoon, the other pastors got together. "What are they doing over there? Since we've all lost a significant number of attenders to Friends Church, maybe we should we be learning from them? Clearly God is blessing them."

So every week one pastor from a neighboring church visited Friends Church services. Six months later, they met again.

"They're sure booming," said one.

"Wow! What a praise team! Sounded professional."

"They've gone to three services, and still I could hardly get a seat."
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A short, freckled minister cleared his throat. "Gentlemen, I agree they are astounding. But did you all notice it? There was one thing missing."
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The other pastors waited.
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He swallowed hard. "The Holy Spirit never showed up."
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"What do you mean? That music was loud enough to shake the Heavens open!"
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"Yeah, you're just jealous."
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The nervous pastor of Calvary Bible Assembly wiped sweaty palms. "No, I'm not jealous. The sermon was uplifting all right, and the pastor referred to the Bible. But did any of you ever hear the plan of salvation clearly outlined? Did you hear the words sin or repentance ever mentioned? Does any of their literature describe their doctrine or what they really believe?"
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The other ministers looked at each other.
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Emboldened, the red-faced preacher went on. "I talked with J.T., their pastor. He says he believes everything we do, but he's working to build up the membership. Trying not to scare people away with the old-time hellfire and brimstone kind of thing. He wants it to be a place where everyone is comfortable."
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He shifted in his seat and studied the floor. "I'm not their judge, but it seems to me that those people are attracted to a fun God who doesn't exist. They were worshipping a cool Jesus of their own making. The Gospel of Christ has been exchanged for a modern, more palatable version of Christianity that says you can have all this and God too. Isn't that a religious version of the old bait-and-switch?"
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A long moment of silence followed as the other ministers considered his words.
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Then the tall, lanky pastor of Trinity Fellowship stood and smoothed out his slacks. "You know, George, you're right. It's so attractive it nearly fooled us, too. It's the new brand of Christianity that is not Christianity at all. It's a travesty. All those people...well, some of 'em used to be mine..."
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He shook his head. "They've been pulled away from the Truth by a gold-plated lie--all in the name of loving people."
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An older man nodded. "What about taking up your cross daily and following Jesus? What about seeking God's will, not mine? Where's the teaching on suffering for the Gospel's sake? Where's the definition of sin?"
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George stood and the others followed suit. "As for me, I'm gonna start praying for them instead of envying them, because there is nothing there to envy. They're not much more than a civic club with better music. I'd rather have my two hundred members and the Holy Spirit than three thousand without Him."
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He gazed across the parking lot at the flashing neon sign advertising Friends Church. "Sorry, J.T.," he whispered. "But God is not cool."
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Boy meets girl.
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Girl likes boy.
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They go to bed together.
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When did the rules change?
What happened to romance, sharing ideas, talking heart-to-heart, meeting the family...
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Marriage therapy is about to overload me in my ministry as a counselor. And take this statistic however you wish, but to date, 100% of my couples in trouble started their marriage in immorality.
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Whether in their 20's or in their 50's, every single one of them were professing believers in Christ and every single one of them lived openly in sexual sin before deciding to get married. Several were pregnant, some weren't, but none of them repented of it before marrying and for many, the counseling office is the first time they've ever openly admitted it was sin.
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We are producing a nation of moral gutter rats--and reaping the consequences. This post is not a soapbox for a moralizing middle-aged Puritan. It's simply a report of a statistic I find both sad and alarming.
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Marriage is difficult enough under the best of circumstances, but when it's begun under the cloud of disrespect and guilt (whether acknowledged or not), things tend to not get much better.
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Yes, God forgives. God can restore. He's doing just that for many of my clients. But the heartache they have had to endure for so many years was unnecessary and adds a heavy burden to an already strained relationship.
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What are we teaching our next generation?
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Sleep with whomever you wish whenever you wish, just don't get pregnant. And if you do, at least have an abortion so no one knows about it.
Marry if you must, but assume divorce is down the road and prepare for it.
Morality is old-fashioned, for religious zealots, and has nothing to do with your generation.
It has nothing to offer you.
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The sobbing wife in my counseling office may beg to differ. The confused husband is seeing things quite differently, now that it's too late. Now that respect is gone, friendship never was, and the rationalizing has stopped working.
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As usual, God knew what He was talking about when he decreed purity for his children. He knows what good marriages are built upon.
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Maybe He's old-fashioned, too. But He's also very accurate.
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Did I Hear Right?


But it turned out terrible!


This is nothing like I thought would happen!


How could this be right if it was God's will?

I must have misunderstood what God asked me to do!


Have you ever followed what you knew in your spirit was God's direction, and the results were nothing like you expected?

Did it make you question God? Yourself? Your ability to hear God?


The Bible is filled with commands to obey God. It is also filled with examples of people who did or didn't obey. And most of the the time, when someone listened to God and obeyed His voice, things didn't go as they expected them to. God doesn't work within our time frame or necessarily agree with our definition of success.


  • God promised Abraham a son in his old age. But it was 25 years before that promise was fulfilled.


  • God promised to deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian tormentors, but suddenly they stood on the banks of the Red Sea.


  • God promised to send a Messiah to deliver his people. Instead, a Jewish baby was born to a poverty-stricken couple, who had to run for their lives to protect him.


  • God told Noah to build a boat because a great flood was coming. But he had to endure the ridicule of the neighbors for another century before he saw a drop of rain. How he must have wondered: Did I hear right? Am I sure this is what God said?

What has God promised to do in your life if you submit to His will? Are you doubting that promise? Are you second-guessing every decision you made, trying to figure out why it isn't working out like you thought it would? You're in good company.

Remember this: Obedience is not measured in results. The outcome is not yours to predict. The battle is the Lord's.


So, get to it!

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