How Productive Are You?



 

some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”  Mark 4:20

The dying man forced a smile to his sunken lips. “Thank you, nurse, for your help. I prayed for all you girls today.” The nurse smoothed back white strands of hair from her patient’s forehead. “Mr. Banks, you’re such a sweetheart. Ever since you prayed with that pastor, you’ve changed. We all noticed.” He gripped her hand. “I spent 80 years living for money, fame, and lust. I wasted my life, but Jesus saved me last month, and before I join Him, I want to tell everyone what He did for me.”

God’s word had taken root in Mr. Banks’ heart only a short time ago, but it was already producing fruit. Because he wasted most of his life on selfish pursuits, he can’t be as productive as the missionary who spent a lifetime serving God and others. But thankfully, God does not judge us according to what other people have done. He only holds us accountable for what we have done with what He has given us. A Sudanese widow trying to keep her children alive is not held to the same standard as an American evangelist with advanced degrees. The starving widow may actually do more with what she was given than many others who are squandering opportunities. God knows the material, educational, and spiritual blessings he has entrusted to each of us, and by that standard He judges our lives.

How eternally productive are you?  Are you producing thirty sixty, or a hundred times what was sown?

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Shattered Treasure



 
 As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.”  Mark 4:15

It was stunning! Marcy smiled at the exquisite vase she had finished after months of learning the art of pottery, getting the firing just right, and working with glazes and colors. It would be worth it when her mother saw this gift—a close replica of the gift her mother had received from her young groom on their wedding day fifty years ago. Marcy couldn’t take her mother’s cancer away or lessen the grief of her husband’s death, but she could give her this. It would mean more than a thousand diamonds because of what it represented. She boxed her treasure carefully and carried it toward her car, mentally planning the surprise.

Suddenly, a gang of young men surrounded her. One grabbed her purse, another the box, and a third knocked her to the ground as they ran toward the alley. Marcy struggled to her feet at the sound of shattering pottery. The men were gone, but the box with its broken vase lay crumpled against a brick wall. Brightly colored shards spilled from its overturned side. What had once been a treasure was now useless. The gift so lovingly crafted would never benefit anyone.

Satan and his band of demons do the same thing to the word of God. Before it can be accepted as a priceless treasure, Satan shatters it with deception, doubt, or ridicule. He introduces destructive relationships, pride, or addictions that snatch the truth away from hearts before it is fully considered. The treasures of God’s word are useless to us when shattered against brick walls of defiance or skepticism. His word so lovingly crafted cannot benefit anyone who remains imprisoned by satanic ideas.
 
 If the treasures from God’s word rarely make a difference in your life, who or what is shattering them?



Life and Death Obedience


 


Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Ephesians 6:1


Pam and Lisa stood in Lisa’s driveway chatting, unaware that their toddlers were inching nearer the street, chasing a butterfly. Far down the block, a truck careened around the corner and hurtled toward them. Pam whirled to see her son Blake step into the street, followed by Lisa’s daughter, Jenny. “Stop!” both mothers screamed. Lisa leaped to her feet. “Jenny! Come back!” Jenny gave her mother a mischievous grin and continued her butterfly chase. Pam raced down the drive, knowing she would never reach her son in time. “Blake! Stop! Now!” she ordered. Blake froze to the spot and turned toward his mother as the truck roared past. Across the street, Jenny’s tiny body lay in a crumpled heap. One child had learned how to obey; one had not.

Teaching children obedience is not very popular these days. We’re all about self-esteem and reasoning with our two-year olds. We are victims of Satan’s subtle message that children are fragile creatures whose self-worth will shatter at a raised voice or a lowered paddle. The barrage of conflicting information from so-called “experts” is enough to make even the most grounded parent cringe with insecurity. But the God who designed children has given us clear instructions about how to raise them. When we insist that they instantly obey a loving command, we protect them from harm and produce wonderful little people who are a delight to everyone. When children learn to obey their parents, they take a giant step toward learning to obey God.

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Balanced Parenting



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Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; instead, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

The teeter-totter slowed until it was a perfect line, parallel to the ground. Two boys grinned at each other across the space; then Trent jumped off. With a slam, Joe hit the ground. And that was the end of the friendship. When the balance was off, the game was no longer fun and the consequences were painful.


Balance is vital in everything we do, especially parenting. God’s Instruction Book tells us that children need both nurture and admonition. Nurturing is the fun side of this teeter-totter. Some parents excel at nurturing: bedtime stories, playing catch, taking walks together. But they fall short when it comes to admonition. To admonish someone is to firmly reprimand, which usually includes an unpleasant consequence for disobedience. Other parents excel at admonishing but fail to balance that with nurturing. Kids need both. When we neglect admonition, kids don’t know where the boundaries are, so they keep pushing until they find them—sometimes all the way to the county jail. But when we neglect nurturing, our children see life as a series of impossible commands with little reward, and they give up. When we err on either side, we provoke our children to anger.

God parents us with both nurture and admonition. How do you respond to the admonition?

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Marriage By the Book



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Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

Her clothing was filthy and her face was set in hard, angry lines. She bore little resemblance to the beautiful, blushing bride who had rushed joyfully into the arms of her groom such a short time ago. Now she scarcely spoke to him. Instead, she filled her days with friends who had no use for her husband. They sat with her now, at the smoky bar, their seductive counsel flooding her ears: “He’s no fun. You’re better off without him. Come with us and live a little!” She stared into the mirror over the bar and caught her breath as his image materialized through the smoke. He was dressed immaculately as always, his trademark smile in place. But pain was in his eyes. Shame colored her face, but he didn’t seem to notice. He knelt before her, clasping her hands in his. “Come home, sweetheart. I love you. I forgive you.” Only then did she notice the nail holes.

We are that rebellious bride and Jesus loves us like that. So when He tells husbands to love their wives, He has already modeled it for them. His bride is often dressed in filthy rags, with hearts set in hard, angry lines. Our loyalty wanders and we are easily deceived by worldly companions. We are often seduced by the world’s definitions and define love by the latest chick flick or perverted sexual fad. But Jesus demonstrated what real love looks like. He sacrificed His entire being in order to free us from sin. He loves His bride even when we are unlovable and don’t love Him back. Then He asks husbands to do the same.

How have you defined love? Compare it to the love Jesus has modeled for us.

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Can't Shake That Label



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Imagine having your name forever linked with public scandal. Bathsheba knew how that felt. It did not matter how many wonderful things she did after that fateful bubble bath on the roof. It didn’t even matter that she may not have known she was being ogled. Because of one huge mistake, her name became forever known as the woman who got beloved King David into hot water with God.

Maybe you have a label like that plastered across your reputation. You’re no longer that person, but there are pockets of people who will forever think of you that way—and that knowledge brings constant shame. Sometimes the choices we make have lifelong repercussions, but that does not mean that God has turned away from us. It was God who sent Nathan the prophet to confront David about his sin. It was God who brought consequences for that sin—the death of their infant son. Bathsheba had to suffer those consequences, but it was also God who gave them another son named Solomon. This son would one day become the wealthiest, wisest king who ever lived. Psalm 51 is David’s cry of repentance, and it reminds us that God forgives and restores when we turn from our sin. God chose a woman linked with adultery to be a vital part in His plan.

What negative labels have you carried? God is in the restoration business.

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Wait For It...



 
Some people love being single and enjoy the freedom to serve God without a spouse. The apostle Paul even preferred singleness and encouraged others to see it as a way to avoid trouble and follow God without distraction (1 Cor. 7:32-35). But others feel the sting of loneliness and wonder what is taking Miss/Mr. McDreamy so long to show up. Sadly, many of these people get tired of waiting on God and try to meet needs in ungodly ways. 

 Before there was Match.com or eHarmony, the book of Ruth encouraged frustrated singles. Ruth’s husband died and there were no likely prospects on the horizon. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, decided to move back to her home country of Israel. Rather than remain in her native land, Ruth went with her. A widow, a foreigner, and the sole caretaker for an elderly mother-in-law, Ruth could have drowned in self-pity or pursued self-interest. Instead, she gladly devoted herself to helping Naomi. Her beautiful spirit caught the admiration of one of Israel’s most eligible bachelors—the dashing Boaz! Naomi shared some expert flirting tips with her daughter-in-law and after a whirlwind romance, Ruth and Boaz married. Ruth the outsider became the great-grandmother of Israel’s King David. Ruth speaks from the pages of history and encourages women who desire to marry: “Wait for your Boaz!” And Boaz’s counsel is to single men is equally wise: “Look for a Ruth!”


Are you committed to waiting for God’s best in every area of your life? His best requires your full cooperation

From Woman of the Night to Woman of Virtue



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Rahab made her living in the red-light district of Jericho, a pagan city, filled with idol worship and evil of every sort. God commanded Moses’ successor, Joshua, to destroy it. He sent spies in, and they would have been caught and killed if Rahab had not hidden them. She had heard of Israel’s God, and she begged the spies to spare her family when Israel attacked. They agreed, and when Jericho fell, Rahab and her family joined the Israelite community and learned to worship the one true God. Because of her heart change, Rahab was accepted into their company and even married an Israelite man.

God included people like Rahab in the Bible to prove to us that no one is too sinful, too broken, or too late to be used by God. Rahab is a perfect example of the kinds of people Jesus came to save. Her past ceased to matter when she repented and turned toward God. His grace transformed a woman of the night into a woman of virtue. He further honored her by choosing her and her son, Boaz, to be in the line of Christ. The son of a former idol-worshiping prostitute became the great-grandfather of King David. God loves to honor those who honor Him (Prov. 8:17). He blesses those who bless Him. Only God can make a filthy heart clean. And only He can make a tattered past remain in the past.

 Do you fear that you or someone you love is too broken for God to use? Rahab’s story should encourage you

When Bitterness Takes Over



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Tamar had to be wondering what was wrong with her husband-selecting skills. Husband #1 was wicked, so God killed him. She married his brother, but he was a jerk and God killed him too. The bio clock was ticking louder when Tamar and her father-in-law Judah turned inquisitive eyes on the youngest brother. Since he hadn’t even started to grow facial hair, Judah advised Tamar to go back to her father’s household and wait for the little guy to grow up. 

But Tamar’s track record made Judah nervous, so when it came time for little brother to marry, his dad picked a safer bride. When word came through the grapevine that her double-crossing father-in-law had married off little brother and bypassed her altogether, bitterness set in. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah. Only when she revealed she was pregnant with twins did he learn her identity. Tamar got her babies and her revenge, but at great cost to herself and her family.

When bitterness takes over, it closes minds, hardens hearts, and causes us to become people we never imagined we would become. Bitterness is an open door to a staircase leading downward to broken dreams, broken relationships, and broken fellowship with God. But God promises to redeem even our worst mistakes when we trust Him with them. Despite the fact that their son Perez was conceived in prostitution and disgrace, God chose him to be a great-great-granddaddy of Jesus Christ.

What has bitterness cost you? God will redeem it if you let go and trust Him with it.