The struggle.


An eternal battle has raged in every heart, through every century.
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It started in the Garden and continues on the front page of every newspaper around the world: my will versus God's will.
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Seems so simple, put like that. Overly simplistic, but that's all it is. One simple conflict that explains every vice, every crime, and every secret shame humanity can create.


Pesky details aside, every psychological, spiritual, or emotional struggle comes down to that simple choice. Adam and Eve made their choice, and we can see what happened. And we each make that choice every day, the consequences lived out every moment thereafter.


"But wait a minute," you say. "It's not that simple. There are things I desperately need! Goals and desires I have that are important to me. Without them, I'll be miserable. Surely God wants me to be happy!"


So, are you happy? Every poll taken illustrates that the most prosperous nation in history is also the most unhappy and unfulfilled. In an age where achieving our every dream is more possible than it has ever been, shouldn't we all be delirious with joy? Shouldn't peace, contentment, and emotional fulfillment captivate us all?


Instead we have a drug and addiction epidemic and suicide rates skyrocketing. Something's amiss, wouldn't you say? If being my own boss brought ultimate fulfillment, we'd all be ecstatic. Clearly, it doesn't.
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God loves opposites. He uses weak things to defeat the strong, foolish things to confound the wise. And he uses the Battle of the Wills to bring us the peace we all crave, but it usually takes most of us a long time to catch on.
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There is no freedom until my will is lost in God's. There is no peace until my desires are His desires. There is no joy until my only joy is in bringing Him pleasure.
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Another paradox, but there it is. Truth. Opposite from what we'd expect, but solid and real. You willl never know victory until you let Him win the battle.
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Where Do You Wanna Dwell?

"The secret place of the Most High."


Don't you love the sound of that?
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Psalm 91 begins with these words: "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, abides in the shadow of the Almighty..."
That is my favorite phrase in the Bible. As I go through my day, I savour it in my mind like an all-day lollipop.
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To think that the Most High, the God of all gods, the King over all the universe has a secret place... and I KNOW WHERE IT IS!
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Not only do I know where it is, but He invites me to live there! Not just visit--LIVE there!
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Some translations use the word "shelter," but I love the sound of "secret place" instead because the abode of God is more than just a shelter, a roof over my head, a shield against danger. To dwell in the secret place of the Most High implies an intimacy, a shared experience that goes beyond mere provision.
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Remember as a kid when you found a "secret hiding place?" You felt so secure, so safe. You were sure no one could find you, no one could sully this sacred spot. You even entertained thoughts of living there, away from everybody, self-sufficient and satisfied in your secret place.
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Sometimes, to your very best-friend-forever, you would spill the secret and then it would be a shared secret place. "Let's meet at our secret place," you would whisper and both giggle with delight and anticipation.
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Hunger pains usually drove you out by dinner time, but that's because it was only YOUR discovery. Your creation.
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The secret place spoken of in Psalm 91 is God's. He created it and invites us to join him there. "Let's meet at our secret place," He whispers.
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And sometimes we meet him there. But quickly anxiety or worldly fascination or fear drives us out and we after a while, we forget where it is.
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But the secret place waits, ever available to those who choose to move in. Notice the verse says "those who dwell." Not those who drop in, or those who race by and wave. To dwell implies a long-term residency. We must pack our bags and move. Leave the world's race, our self-sufficiency, our fear, our pride.
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In the secret place of the Most High, personal opinion drops away. Self-reliance no longer seems trustworthy and you gladly exchange your will for God's. It's not a home you share with anyone else. It's just you and God, content. Satisfied. Safe in His secret place.
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Use Your Brain


A thin man in a brown suit stood before the class of fourth-graders. Thirty pairs of eager eyes watched his every move.
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"Good morning. I am Mr. Ted, your substitute teacher for the day. Mrs. Armstrong left a worksheet for you, but that won't take long, I'm sure. It's all about the beginnings of the universe, and I'm sure you already know all about that. I thought it might be more interesting to talk about my watch."
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He removed a gold clasp and the heavy timepiece fell into his hand.
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He held it up. "Isn't it nice? It tells the times of four other countries of the world. Has a second hand, a stopwatch, and a compass. You'll never guess where I got it."
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Hands shot up and thirty voices didn't wait to be called upon.
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"Your mom gave it to ya!"
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"You bought it!"
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"Wal-Mart!"
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He smugly shook his head and allowed a hundred more shouted answers to fill the room.
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At last he held up a hand. "Nope. None of you are correct and I'm surprised. This is science class, after all, isn't it? I would think if you'd been doing your homework, you would easily guess where I got this fine watch."
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Now silence filled the room just as the voices had done. Freckled noses wrinkled into frowns as heads turned to look at one another.
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The man pocketed the watch and strolled around the teacher's desk to the chair, shaking his head. "Such a disappointment. And I thought you people were educated."
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He sat down and held the watch up once more. "Isn't it obvious? I found it. Strolling along the beach one day, I found it nestled in a pile of other rocks where it clearly began. Haven't any of you found watches in rock piles along the beach?"
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Heads slowly shook and every eye fastened on the odd stranger who had taken over their class.
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The man shook his head in surprise and studied the watch again with a puzzled look. "It is obvious that this watch sprouted out of the rocks, wouldn't you agree?"
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Laughter and shouts rang out. "That's crazy!"
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"No way, man!"
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"You outta yo' mind?"
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He frowned at them. "What do you mean? After studying the situation carefully, I reasoned that over a great deal of time, apparently one or two of those stones in the pile began to react with the atmosphere and elements which eventually resulted in this watch."
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Shrieks filled the air. Desks scooted as arms and legs flailed boisterously. "You nuts, Mr. Ted!"
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The man allowed a moment of hilarity, then stood and walked around the desk. He perched on the edge and held up the watch, a signal for instant quiet as every eager face waited for the next joke.
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"I suppose I don't understand your laughter. I thought that's what we were teaching in here, scientific reasoning. Can someone please explain the class's reaction?"
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From the third row in the middle, a tiny girl raised her hand.

"What is your name, please?"

"Marta," came the quiet voice.

Mr. Ted nodded and she rose on toothpick legs. Two honey-colored braids fell neatly down the sides of her chest. She licked her lips and cleared her throat. "A rock can't turn into a watch by itself. Somebody made that watch and you just found it there in the rocks." She sank back into her chair in obvious relief.
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Shouts of agreement rippled around the room.

Mr. Ted frowned once more at the watch in his hand, then at the class. "Let me see if I understand you, Marta. You're saying that you can tell by just looking at this fine watch that it couldn't have started in that rock pile? That it is clear it was designed by someone with a lot of knowledge about watches?"

"Yes!" came the shouts. "Finally! You dumb, Mr. Ted."

"Hm. That's interesting, but doesn't sound very scientific. After all, none of us actually saw anyone make this watch. What about if it took millions of years and lots of rain and atmospheric changes. Isn't that what you've been reading in Chapter Four? Couldn't that explain it?"

Groans and eye rolls followed that comment and a pudgy black boy stood. "Mr. Ted, that don't make no sense. You ain't gonna get no watch like that from no rocks, no matter how long you got!"

Mr. Ted nodded thoughtfully. "Well, I was sent here today to help you learn about the origins of the universe, but you clearly don't need my help." He held up the assigned worksheet. "This worksheet is titled "Using Your Brain," and it says here that you are to use scientific reasoning to explain the beginnings of the universe."
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He lifted a brow at them. "I think you just might be ready to do that now. Marta, would you please pass out the papers? I look forward to reading your answers. I'm certain Mrs. Armstrong will enjoy reading them as well. Be sure you follow the instructions on the page and use your brain."
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Fly Away or Stay?


The baby bird was so tiny. So frail and helpless. He scooped it gently in his giant hands and made a nest in an old birdcage. The cage kept it safe from the cat and from flopping onto the floor to be stepped on by careless feet.
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Hourly, he fed it, kept it warm, loved it back to health. In a few weeks, the feathers were fully formed and it flitted about inside the cage.
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He watched with mixed emotions. How beautiful it was! So colorful, so delicate. Its song entertained him in the mornings and lulled him to sleep at night. He had developed quite an affection for the pretty little bird and longed to have it perch on his shoulder as he made his rounds in the garden. Would it love him as he loved it? Would it remember how kind he was? Did it know he would always take care of it?
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But the cage that had kept it safe had become a prison. The bird hurled its tiny body against the wire, frantic to be free. Its happy song had become an angry chirp. He'd love to set it free, but what if it never came back? What if it got too near the cat? What if it didn't love him as he loved it? What if all those patient feedings and loving touches were forgotten? Would it love him if it didn't have to?
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There was only one way to know for sure. He opened the cage door.
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People often ask: Why does God allow Satan to run rampant over the earth, tempting people, luring us away? Wouldn't it be better if God had never put that tree in the garden so Adam couldn't sin?
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What do you think: Would it be better?
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God placed within us His own heart. Our feelings, emotions, passions, and joys are His. And like us, He desires relationships. Loving, intimate, personal friendship. A mutual attraction where both parties desire to be together. He does not want us as captives, with no choice. Like birds in a cage.
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He created the Law to protect us from ourselves and the dangers around us, but that same Law can feel like a prison and we demand to be set free.
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So He does. He gives each of us freedom to choose Him or turn away and we see all around us the consequences of that choice.
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You're not in a cage. God has set you free to choose whether to willingly follow Him or follow your own path. Perched on his shoulder you get His protection, His companionship, His provision, and security. He wants you there, but He won't force you to stay.
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And if you choose to fly away, you will find that friendly sky further than it looks. And not as friendly. Watch out for the hawks perched just above you---and you're on your own with the cat!
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Does God Care About Details?


I had miscalculated.

The price I was charging for the books wasn't enough to cover it, and then I'd gone and told everyone that if they couldn't afford the book, to sign up for my class anyway and we'd make it happen.
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It felt like faith at the time. Now I wondered if I'd been impetuous. Irresponsible. Overly enthusiastic.
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It worked. I had asked God for at least 8-10 names on the class list. There were 26. And many of them could not afford to buy a book.
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I'd found several used ones online, but the last two had writing in them. I had exhausted that market. I needed 12 more books. Quickly. Cheaply!
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I called the Christian bookstore. Their cost was more than if I had the books shipped from the publisher.
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"Lord?" I prayed. "I'm not very good at this. I didn't charge enough and you brought a lot of people who couldn't pay anything. I know you want me to do this, but I'm running out of time and I need 10-12 more books. Fast. Cheap! I'll eat the extra cost if You want me to, but somehow I don't think that's what you plan to do. I lay this at your feet. Show me what to do."
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Call the local churches and see if they have extras lying around they would sell you.
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I perked up. Good idea!
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ABC Baptist didn't have any. Neither did DEF Church on the corner. I glanced at my pitiful stack of books that had to be handed out to 26 people. I'd have to order them from the publisher and eat the cost. Maybe I'd learned my lesson to stop being so optimistic before working out the little details. Maybe that's what God was teaching me.
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GHI Church had to call me back and as I waited, a bit disheartnened, I read through the names on my class list and recounted. Yep. 12 books left to buy somewhere and it was going to get expensive.

The phone rang. GHI Church secretary said, "Yes, I have 5 of the older version of the book you need."

"Five!" I thought. Five would help. That was a start.

She wasn't finished. "And I have seven of the newer version, but I can't see there's any change in the book besides the cover. They're all new and I'll just sell them to you at our cost of 8 years ago when we did this study."


I'm not great at math, but it didn't take me long to add 5 and 7! And their cost was close to the used price I'd been paying.

Why does it always take me by surprise when God answers specific prayer? Why do I say I trust Him and then worry anyway? Why am I continually amazed that I serve an awesome, relevant God who cares about the details?

And why doesn't He get tired of me?
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Do the Demons Know Your Name?


There's an interesting little story told in the book of Acts, Chapter 19. It's often overlooked, but vitally important.
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The crowds were quite impressed with the power of Paul and Barnabas to cast out demons, so some young men, sons of a Jewish priest, decided to try it too.
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They said all the right words, spoke the name of Jesus, and waited to see what happened. They were religious, after all. It should work.
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But instead of being cast out as the men expected, the demon replied, "I know Jesus, and I know Paul. But who are you?"
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The man in whom the demon resided leaped upon the men and beat them to a pulp. All seven of them!
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The preacher may know your name--you may BE the preacher! The mayor may know your name. The pillars of the church, the community, the Little League may salute your name. Your name may carry enough weight to get you a good table, a good seat, and a good job.
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But until the demons know your name, you have no real power. When your back is against the wall, your good intentions bulldozed, and your abilities depleted. When pretense is stripped away and your Good Citizen Award no longer matters.
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When the battle you fight is not physical, when the chaos surging through your life is out of control, when you need help like you've never needed it before, the only thing that will matter is: Do the demons know your name?

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The Tunnel


Light behind you vanishes as you squeeze past the boulder and make a sharp left turn. You're in the tunnel.
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Darkness settles around you like a cloak and the only light is five hundred yards away, a bright hole punched in black velvet.
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You take a step, then another and feel the firm earth beneath your feet. Water trickles like music from somewhere on your right.
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You fix your eyes on that circle of light and begin to walk. Pebbles crunch under your shoes and the darkness becomes comfortable, almost pleasant. This isn't so bad after all.
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Were you to hold your arm straight in front of you and try to measure that dot of light, it would be no larger than an inch. But with every step, the light seems to grow larger.

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Soon the opening is so clear you can see beyond the tunnel-- a few leafy trees and a pinprick of blue sky. The light becomes so bright that it illuminates part of the tunnel. For the first time you notice the black slime oozing down the walls, a snake curled against a rock, and piles of rubbish here and there.
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Urgency grips you. Your heart speeds up. The tunnel no longer feels pleasant and cool. You see it for what it is and your stomach turns. You only want out. Out through that opening. Out into that warm, golden light where the dark moving shapes will be nothing but harmless memory.
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The faster you walk, the wider the opening appears. It's so much larger than you'd thought, so much more inviting.
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You want nothing this tunnel has to offer. Everything you want is in that light and you break into a jog until at last you burst through the opening into a warm sunny day, brilliant with color you'd almost forgotten existed.
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Seeking God is like that. We begin our Christian walk delighted that we can see the light of God. Yet He seems so far away, so unattainable. He's a small God to us and we're unaware of the many facets of his character, his nature, his power. Slowly we move toward him, growing more comfortable in this walk, scarcely bothered by the darkness around us.
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Yet the closer we draw to God, the bigger He becomes. As our perspective changes, it seems as though He does too. With our eyes on the Light, we press on, marveling as the God we thought we knew continues to amaze us. As our understanding grows, so does our longing to get closer, to know more, to bask in the glory of that Light.
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As the brilliance of that Light spills over us, we begin to notice things that hadn't bothered us before. Sin and worldliness become repulsive. Moral dangers, addiction traps, and deceptive enticements become obvious snares, offensive and distracting from our purpose. We see this world for what it is and a hunger we've never known before consumes us.
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Nothing in the tunnel holds any attraction for us now that we've felt the warmth, sensed the beauty of that Light. Desire for more of it takes over and all attention is focused on that moment when we step from darkness and all we know is Light. And to think, we once thought of it as a pinprick.

If your God still seems like a hole punched in black velvet, keep walking. The light only grows bigger and brighter the closer you come.
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Forwarned



"You're going to need to be more than a counselor to him."
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The words were like cement blocks, sturdy, unmovable, coming to rest in my spirit with the certainty of having been placed there. I knew who they concerned, but what did they mean exactly?

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As I finished my morning routine, I sorted through several options. Inviting him for the holidays? Over for dinner? Nothing seemed to fit.
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"I'm open, Lord, but I don't know what you mean."
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"He longs for a family, a sense of importance, to know someone values him. You can show him how much I value him."
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My youngest client's needs were great, but I had to be careful not to violate boundaries. Stepping outside the client/counselor role was not comfortable. Not even advisable. To approach a relationship outside the counseling room was not a good idea. Maybe God didn't understand that.
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Two hours later, his name was on my caller ID. He had a need I could meet. He had no one else. It was a need a friend would meet. What family should do for each other.

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I smiled into the sky. "I get it. I'll do it. Thanks for the two-hour lead time."
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Isn't it nice when God prepares us ahead of time for a task we might otherwise refuse? Isn't it amazing how He just thinks of everything?


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What's the Point?


Our world is filled with hopeless people. Anxiety and depression dominate our lives and many are in desperate search for anything that will relieve the pain. Stop anyone on the street and ask them: What's the point of life?
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Most will toss a flippant answer or tell you honestly that they don't know. Other answers might be: "Just trying to get by" or "Trying to have all the fun I can before I die."
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Even those who've had some exposure to religion in the past fair no better than the atheist. "I tried the church thing, but it didn't work for me."
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Others take a more humanitarian approach and fill their lives with good deeds and generosity, but the motivation is the same: an attempt to quiet the persistent voice inside that asks "What's the point?"
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So what is the point?
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If religion isn't the answer, charity work doesn't satisfy, and addictions only make things worse, what are we supposed to do? Ever take a good long look at your life and ask yourself "Why am I here? If I'm only here to help others, what are THEY here for??"
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Despite its occasional highs, life is filled with tough choices, painful truths, and struggles that don't seem worth the effort. For too many, suicide seems the only option, yet we all cringe at the thought. We may not know why we're here, but we're certain suicide is never the best choice.
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Could it be that we're looking at life completely backward?
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We start our questioning focused on ourselves. "How can I be happy? Why am I here? How can I fulfill all these needs and longings in my life?"
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What if it's not about YOU?
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Imagine you took a pottery class and spent all day molding a bowl, which you intended to fire and glaze as a gift for your best friend. It turned out beautifully and you were very excited about it. You knew right where your friend would set it and you were already blending paint to coordinate with her room's color scheme.
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Now imagine that your unfired bowl rolls itself off the pottery wheel and glares up at you. "I don't want to be a bowl. I preferred being a lump of clay in the pile over there. I don't think I'll enjoy being all prettied up and I'm certain I won't like the ovens! I think I'll just roll back over there on the clay heap." And off it goes.
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That illustration is silly because we all know that clay is just clay. It doesn't have the right or the ability to refuse. It's not about the clay, it's about the potter. No lump of clay is of value by itself. It has no worth at all until it has been molded and beautified in the hands of a skillful potter.
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We are God's creation, lumps of clay that had no value until he breathed His Spirit into us. We only find our purpose as we submit ourselves to His skillful hands. It's not about us. We don't know who we are or what we want any more than a lump of clay does. Our Designer knows the potential He placed in each of us and it is only in a relationship with Him that we can experience it.
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As long as we lumps of clay continue trying to fulfill ourselves by our own initiative, we remain useless and with no sense of purpose. It's not about shaping up, going to church, trying to be a better person. None of that works for long, because it's all done in our own strength and we don't have enough of that.
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It's about surrendering yourself as a lump of clay to the work of the Potter's hands and becoming a beautiful work of art. Who needs empty religion, hopelessness, or addictions when you're on display in God's art gallery?
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Prepare To Die...

(Another rerun. I'll get on the ball soon, I promise!)

The Princess Bride is one of our family's all time favorite movies. My toddlers could quote whole scenes before they could read.

One of the most memorable lines from the movie is when Montoya rehearses what he'll say when he finally finds the six-fingered man. He's lived for this moment and dreams of facing his enemy to tell him "...you killed my father. Prepare to die." He knows that his enemy will have no defense and the outcome is assured.


But how do you prepare to die when a sword is at your throat? It's a little late for preparation. The time is already over for any last-minute words, final farewells, or righting wrongs.


So how does one prepare to die and is it important?


The first half of our lives is usually spent frantically preparing for the second half. We often don't realize that life is already happening while we're getting ready for it. School, work, hobbies, family--so much clamors for our attention we often don't think past getting that promotion, finding a bigger house, getting the bills paid, and raising the kids.


But in truth, those things are the present, not the future. How much of it is going to count when it's all over? How much time have you spent preparing to die?


When my father was diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had only a few months to live. We took a walk the day he sold his treasured farm. Side by side we strolled across the fields he'd spent a lifetime plowing and harvesting. His long legs had always outpaced mine, but this day, I slowed so he could keep up.
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We stopped at the top of a hill and he turned to me, his breath labored and his face pale. The valley below us was bursting with spring color and although neither of us said it, we both knew that this would be his last spring.


"Does it make you sad?" I asked. "You've sold your farm and everything you've spent your life building. For pennies. You love this farm."


He shook his head and leaned against a tree for support. "Nah," he said with his customary ease and spread his arms wide. "Nah, it's just stuff, you know? Just stuff. None of it matters. Mama will be taken care of and that's all that I care about. No, what matters is what I'm leaving behind that will count for all eternity. What makes me sad is that I still had so much to do for the Lord, and now I can't. But he knows best."


I knew in that moment as I looked at his sunken face that he had not only taught me how to live, my father had taught me how to die.


Preparing to die doesn't happen in the moments before you leave earth. It's a lifelong preparation and to do it well, you have to start early. My father had spent most of his adult life preparing to die by the way he lived. His celebration in Heaven is that much more joyous because of what he'd sent on ahead.

How much of your life has been spent preparing to die? If you know Jesus Christ as Savior, you know where you're going. But will it be like going home? Or will you feel like stranger showing up at someone else's house? I've come to believe that our relationship with God on earth has great impact on our future in Heaven.

Montoya's words are a reminder to us that we have the opportunity every day to prepare to die. What will you take with you? What will you leave behind that will continue to count for eternity? Or has your life been a collection of "stuff" that won't matter the moment you take your last breath?

God has the right to look at each of us and say, "You killed my Son. Prepare to die." But He graciously gives us so many chances to prepare ourselves before that final accounting. Is your life bringing Him glory now, or is that for "some day?" Have you learned to seek him now or are you waiting for some vague point in the future when it will be more convenient?


You've been given the opportunity to prepare to die. Don't waste it.


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