Elisha- Ridiculous Faith

Photo by: Josh Strickland; Baptism at CSM Luau, pictured left to right
Pastor Josh Strickland, Pastor Shane Tarpley, Black Carter, Will Thompson
2 Kings 2:1-18

In 2 Kings 2:1-18 we see that Elisha's ridiculous commitment to God was continual. 

Before Elijah is taken up into Heaven, he is called by God to visit Bethel and asks Elisha to stay behind. Elisha is so committed to God, he refuses Elijah's request and goes with him to visit Bethel. 

This was not a one-time incident as Elisha served God faithfully until the day he died. He was the pure definition of what it means to be completely devoted to God. 

How committed are you to God? Are you fully committed or just committed when it's convenient for you? 

July 20, 2013 is a day that will be etched in my heart and mind for as long as my memory will serve me. The CSM Luau started out as any other youth group luau had organized before. BUSY! I started out early that morning with a huge check list of things I had to either pickup or setup before 5pm. 

As the day progressed, I was ahead of scheduled and feeling very accomplished. The band arrived on time, the food was in order, decorations were going up and things began to tick like clock work. As students and parents began to arrive, we fired up the grill. 

Dreamawake  cranked up the worship around 6:30pm. Wow! It was loud and powerful. The layout of the beach provides for a perfect camping experience- and there were quite a few campers. Anyone within a 5-8 mile radius of the camp could have more than likely heard us. As the worship intensified, a father from a nearby campsite approached us and ask if they could have a few burgers. We were elated to serve them. 

One of our adult leaders noticed that his family seemed a bit bigger than the amount of food he asked for. She and a couple of our students took a bit more food over to them and discovered their true condition. Homeless. They had been living in a makeshift tent for several days and were completely out of food. They invited the family to join us for the worship and fellowship to which they all obliged, except for their 17 year old son "Nick".

Several minutes passed as worship continued. The two students were not quite satisfied with only 3 of the 4 family members joining us. They decided they were continue their persistence. They walked over to "Nick" once more and instead of casually inviting him for food and fun, their intentions this time were bigger. From a distance I watched them at the campsite. Then, what I saw next filled my heart with pride and un-explainable joy. The two students were laying their hands on him and praying for him. As they concluded their prayer, both the students and "Nick" were walking towards the pavilion. 

They introduced me to "Nick" who was now a changed person- "Nicholas". Nicholas received Christ that evening, but it didn't stop their. As they introduced me to Nicholas and explained that he had received Christ, they also explained that Nicholas wanted to be baptized... the same night. 

I quickly recruited Pastor Josh Strickland (middle school youth pastor at Covenant Life) and we waded out into the lake. 

We are still in contact with the family continue to help them get back on their feet. Nicholas' mom is a school teacher looking forward to starting a new teaching year after a year or unexpected double tragedies. 

I was amazed and the persistence of Blake Carter and Will Thompson. Much like Elisha, they refused to back down and didn't let a simple "no thank you" from Nick hinder them from delivering the Gospel and leading a young man to an eternal promise. Wow!! As a student pastor- I still, to this day, have an overwhelming sense of pride and love for the students of Chosen Student Ministries at Covenant Life Church

This night was also a huge milestone in my ministry as a student pastor. In nearly 6 years of ministry- this was the first time I had been given the privilege of baptizing someone.  God is more incredible and amazing than I could ever describe. He continues to open doors and bless me each and every day. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunities to serve Him and the people/ students at Covenant Life Church


An Unseen Battle

Satan does exist—our broken society testifies to his reality. Those who ignore him do so at their own peril. This is also true of Christians, because we are all at war against him. Spiritual warfare is personal; Satan crafts specific attacks for each individual. Though he cannot steal a believer’s spirit from God, he can and does harass us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Every ambush and frontal attack is meant to defeat our witness so we can’t live a victorious Christ-centered life.
Our foe is not omniscient, but he is crafty. He observes our strong and weak points to determine the best areas for attack. As soon as his quarry becomes comfortable and least expects trouble, the Adversary springs a trap. Among his most deceptive tactics is hiding behind familiar faces in order to misguide our fury. For example, he may tempt a husband to make an unwise financial decision that angers the wife and leaves her feeling insecure. But the husband is not her enemy—he needs her love and forgiveness. The enemy is always Satan and his legion of demons.
The first rule of warfare is to know one’s enemy, and thanks to Scripture, we can. The Bible also contains an important assurance: “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
The combined forces of hell cannot equal the supernatural power of a single believer. We have Christ living within us—the same Christ who was triumphant on the cross and whose final victory over Satan is prophesied in Revelation. Through Him, we can conquer Satan and win our unseen battles.


A Tough Command

Some verses—like today’s—are easier to memorize than practice. Giving thanks is easy, but giving thanks in everything is a nearly impossible task. And gratitude at times even seems inappropriate, considering the depth of pain or turmoil we are experiencing. But we have a Comforter who helps us exercise thankfulness in every situation.
The Holy Spirit enables believers to do what God requires, and teaching us a gratitude habit is part of His work. Psalm 92 teaches that since “it is good to give thanks to the Lord,” we should “declare [His] lovingkindness in the morning and . . . faithfulness by night” (vv. 1-2). In other words, we should regularly anticipate and recall His provision. But when believers awaken to painful circumstances that have no logical reason for thankfulness, our Comforter provides the motivation and words.
Expressing thanks during turmoil takes place neither spontaneously nor apart from another spiritual activity—prayer. Today’s passage links the disciplines of rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving: both exultation and gratitude hinge upon regular communication with God. A prayerless man cannot remain thankful for long, because he is too overwhelmed by his problems. Talking with God forces problems to recede so they can be replaced by peace.
Why does the Lord command us to exercise gratitude? Because He knows that when we focus on His work in our life, we’ll discover our spirits lifting and courage strengthening. Then as we watch Him intervene, we rejoice more, pray more fervently, and learn to give thanks in everything.


Surviving our Present Culture

When we are called into a new life with Christ, we will encounter obstacles. One of the biggest barriers is the culture in which we live. We may not ever recognize the danger we are in until we fall. Let’s look honestly at our world.
First, it’s a secular culture, which means it has little interest in religious matters or the Bible. It teaches us to trust in ourselves and in the things we can see rather than in our unseen triune God.
Our world is also materialistic. Its primary focus is on accumulating possessions and gaining wealth, not on caring about others and giving sacrificially. Tragically, many of the things our culture values stand in opposition to the way Jesus calls us to live. When Scripture contradicts what our society believes, it’s not uncommon for people to belittle our lifestyle as narrow-minded and extreme.
In many ways, our society is spiritually rebellious, in that it defies both the laws of God and the laws of man; obedience is considered optional. A large percentage of the population rejects God’s viewpoint on intimacy and marriage in order to please self—as a result, immorality is prevalent. But they have been deceived into thinking that they can violate God’s laws without any consequences.
Unless we’re careful, we can fall prey to the world’s traps. The key to avoiding its snares is God’s Word. When we study Scripture, the Holy Spirit will identify lies we are believing and show how we can apply God’s truth to set us free. Are you immersed in the culture or in God’s truth?


When Worship is Misplaced

All Rights Reserved. Via Flickr Photo by: Vladimir Vidanovski

Pastor John preached an amazing message yesterday morning entitled, "You Are What You Worship". Many believers only associate worship with song, dance, skilled musicianship and the raising of hands. However, worship is so much more than a 1 to 2 hr church service with 3o to 45 mins of singing.  
God created us to worship Him. Since we are made for this purpose, we will worship something, even if we choose something other than the Creator. Our lives may be devoted to money, prominence, popularity, immorality, or some other desire or vice that can become a false god. But no matter how many earthly distractions we attempt to worship, none of them can satisfy like the living God—we will still be left with a horrible vacuum of unfulfillment.
In the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul illustrates this point in terms of one particular sin: sexual perversion. You may think you’re okay if that form of iniquity isn't part of your life. But any sinful indulgences—whether actions or attitudes—that take precedence over worshipping the Lord are wrong and destructive. Until we allow Jesus to save us from our self-serving nature, we will spiral downward into depravity.
By acting as if the Lord isn't real and excluding Him from our life, we miss out on the main point of our existence. By ignoring the fact that He wants a personal relationship and daily communion with us, we are rejecting His gracious gift and dishonoring Him. Without His influence, our thinking grows more and more futile, leading us to choose false substitutes as we try to fill the void only God can satisfy.
Denying Christ His rightful place as Lord of our life will ultimately unleash God’s wrath. But the Lord, in His great love for the whole world, does not want anyone to spend eternity without Him 
(2 Peter 3:9). He therefore continues to offer us “the riches of His kindness, tolerance, and patience” in calling us to repentance.


A Time for Courage

Even before the Israelites set out to conquer the Promised Land, the Lord knew everything they would experience—including the unconventional victory at Jericho, the defeat at Ai, and the Gibeonites’ deception (Josh. 6–9). And so He gave a command and a promise to Joshua, His chosen leader of the people. God knows what lies ahead for today’s believers as well, and His words still apply to all who walk with Him.
• The Command: “Be strong and courageous!” (1:6, 7, 9). So many things in this life threaten to overshadow godly hearts and minds. Adversaries assail us in the workplace, our neighborhoods, and sometimes even in our homes. We often have occasion to wonder if we are making a good decision or following the wisest course. Like the Israelites, we face battles, enemies, and trials. And yet God tells us to have courage and strength as we confront what comes.
• The Promise: “I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you” (v. 5). The Lord’s command would be impossible to obey without His promise. We stand not on our own strength and resolve but on the unwavering power of God. The guarantee of His presence and guidance is ours to claim.
The writer of Psalm 118 trusted in God’s command and promise from Joshua 1. He penned, “The Lord is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (v. 6). No one can remove God’s love from us, take our salvation, or make us forfeit our right to faithfully abide with Him forever.


Reasons for Storms of Life

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via Flickr

The Lord is never taken by surprise. He knows everything we’re going through, and He is orchestrating our circumstances for both our benefit and His glory, according to His good will.
One purpose for hardship is to cleanse us. Because of our own “flesh” nature and the self-absorbed world we live in, it is easy to develop me-centered attitudes, mixed-up priorities, and ungodly habits. The pressures bearing down on us from stormy situations are meant to bring these impurities to our attention and direct us to a place of repentance. Our trials are not intended to sink us but rather to purify and guide us back to the way of godliness.
Another reason for adversity is so we’ll bring comfort to others. God’s work in our lives is not meant solely for us. It is designed to reach a world that doesn’t recognize or acknowledge Him. The Lord uses the pressures we face to equip us for serving others. As we endure suffering, we will learn about  God’s sufficiency, His comforting presence, and His provision of strength to help us endure. Our testimony during times of difficulty will be authentic; those to whom we minister will recognize that we know and understand their pain. What credibility would we have with people in crisis if we ourselves never experienced a deep need?
Reflecting on the divine purpose behind our hardships can help us respond to them in a God-honoring way. Take the time to fix your attention on the Lord, and seek to understand what He wants you to learn. His lessons often unfold gradually, but He will be walking by your side the whole way.


The Rewards of Service

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via flickr

Someday you and I are going to stand in the presence of the holy Lord, and our life will be reviewed. At that time, our works will be judged, and we will be rewarded accordingly.
That is going to be a very solemn moment because some will suffer heavy loss, while others will receive great reward. I’m not taking about salvation here, because salvation is never a reward for services rendered—it’s simply a gift offered to everyone who receives Jesus as Savior. But rewards are different. They are tied to service.
In the Bible, Jesus had a lot to say about the rewards that we will receive for serving. He also used some very strong words to describe the man who hid his talent instead of working to invest it. In the parable, his master called him a “wicked, lazy slave” and proceeded to take away what had been given earlier (Matt. 25:26).
The Lord also gave us another warning: He cautioned us not to perform Christian service in such a way that others will be certain to notice. When that happens, He says we lose our reward in heaven(6:1-6). Whatever may have been set aside for our benefit will be lost, and our total gain is nothing more than the recognition of others.
The best way to serve is out of love. The better you know God, the more you’ll love Him and desire to serve Him. And the more you want to serve, the more He will honor your service. This leads to even greater love for Him, and the cycle will continue throughout eternity.


The Requirements of Servanthood

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Jesus washing a disciples foot

Over time believers should become increasingly like Christ. We’re never more like Him than when we are selflessly reaching out to meet somebody else’s needs.
As servants, we need to incorporate the following into our lives:
• Awareness. Jesus stopped under the sycamore tree because He was aware that Zaccheus was up there. How many needy people are “hiding in trees” while you walk by them without looking up?
• Availability. On spotting the tax collector, Jesus didn’t make an appointment to go see him a few weeks later. Being available was such a priority that He dropped whatever agenda He may have had and went right to Zaccheus’s house.
• Acceptance. Jesus did not wait until Zaccheus got cleaned up and straightened out his life. The Lord accepted him just as he was. We must never forget how Jesus embraced us, filthy rags and all.
• Abiding. When we are saved, we become grafted into the vine of Jesus Christ. Abiding in Him is the only way to find the resources to serve other people in the way that they need to be served.
• Abandonment. God calls us to abandon our selfish desires. Only in leaving behind self-seeking ways will we be free to truly serve others.
Jesus came, not as a superstar to be served, but as a servant who would give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). He tells us to go and do likewise. When we’ve received Him as Savior and then yield to Him as Lord, our lives become a living expression of the One who came to be a servant to all.


The Landmine of Fear

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Humans have legitimate reasons to live  in fear—our world has many dangers. But although our environment is frightening, Christians are not to accept fear as a way of life. God’s awesome promises allow us to live peacefully in our surroundings.
For our protection, God has instilled some natural apprehensions in us, like a fear of snakes or deep water. Our instinctive concern teaches us to respect these things until we know how to survive an encounter with them. The Creator also gave us a warning system so we’d react quickly to danger. For instance, if a car speeds toward us, an instant reaction of alarm could save our life.
In other words, some fears protect us. But constant, all-consuming dread is unhealthy. While we may feel afraid if we spot a snake, most of us don’t worry much about having such encounters. Some people anguish over dangers that might occur—instead of entrusting loved ones to God, they anxiously imagine all the ways injury might occur.
As anxiety grows, uncertainty builds up until it hinders our relationship with God. Fears about the welfare of loved ones, financial well-being, or eternal security all result from doubt regarding the Lord’s provision. Then our attention is centered on our concerns rather than on the One who promises to hold us in His hand.
The Lord offers us strength because He understands how fear can torment us. Don’t allow worry to blind you to His promises and thereby deprive you of the help that He always has available. The Bible reminds us: “My God shall supply all your needs” (Phil. 4:19).


A Moment of Weakness

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We all face key moments of decision, when our actions can lead to lasting consequences. The issue is, will you be ready when such a time comes?
David wasn’t prepared for the moment of decision that suddenly faced him. At a time when he was restless, lonely, and preoccupied with worries, temptation and sin caught him unprepared. We can guard ourselves against these moments of weakness by remembering one simple word: H-A-L-T.
First, never allow yourself to get too hungry. When the body is weak from lack of food, poor decisions are likely to follow. Respect your body and provide the sustenance it needs.
Second, don’t permit yourself to get too angry. Anger can cloud judgment and lead to regrettable decisions.
A third caution is not to let yourself become too lonely. When you feel isolated, you may find yourself willing to do almost anything to feel accepted or loved.
Fourth, don’t allow yourself to get too tired. Sleep is essential for wise decisions. When you deprive your mind and body of its necessary “down time,” poor choices become probable.
Being wise in these four areas can prevent thoughts of “If only I hadn’t . . .” later on.
Commit now never to make important decisions when you are too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Instead, be honest at those times and admit you’re unprepared to make sound judgments. Then delay the decision until you can approach it with prayer, patience, and godly wisdom. 


How to Pray for a President

1 Timothy 1:2-5

As Christians, we have a responsibility to pray for those in authority over us—fathers, pastors, and leaders. When you talk to God about the President, ask that he will . . .

1. Realize he has been given that position by either God's choice or His permissive will.
2. Recognize his personal inadequacy for the task and look to God for the wisdom, knowledge, and courage to succeed.
3. Reject all counsel that violates spiritual principles and then trust the Lord to validate him.
4. Resist pressure from individuals or special interest groups that would have him act in violation of his conscience or godly principles.
5. Work at reversing destructive trends toward atheism and humanism that try to dethrone God, deify man, and lead to an ungodly society.
6. Be ready to forsake his political career and personal ambition for the best interest of the nation.
7. Rely upon the Word of God as his source of strength and key to success.
8. Bring dignity, honor, trustworthiness, and righteousness to the office of the presidency.
9. Be a good example, especially to the fathers and sons of the nation.
10. Be reminded daily that he is accountable to Almighty God for his attitudes, actions, and motivations while in office.

Leading a country is a very important, demanding job. The President and other elected officials need our prayers. But to be effective, our requests must be more specific than “Lord, bless the President” or “God, help our leaders do a good job.” The above list is a good way to start.


The Determination of God's Will

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Ephesians 1:1-14

Believers who feel frustrated by the Christian life lack two critical pieces of knowledge: an understanding of God’s will and an awareness of the steps to discover His plan for our lives. Over the next couple of days, we will look at the nature of God’s intentions and how to access them.
Let’s begin by taking a look at the “determined will” of God, which includes His unchangeable plans for the world. As the sovereign ruler, He is in total control— no government rises to power and no physical ailment occurs unless He allows it. He is determined to carry out the plan that He developed long before creation.
The Lord reveals very little of His determined will to mankind. We can anticipate only those events He has disclosed, such as Christ’s return and the great white throne judgment. (Rev. 19:11; 20:11-15) Much of the knowledge we have comes from our experience and Bible reading. We know, for example, that the Lord has given us limited free will and that He has a plan for redeeming us from the sin in our life.
The Lord will have His way, whether we believe in His sovereignty or not. His plan is far bigger than we can grasp, and it was designed in a way that will glorify Him while revealing our need for Him.
God’s purpose is His glory. Because our limited human perspective sees only the evil of crime, disease, and war, people wonder how He can allow these. But we know “God causes all things to work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). Just look at the cross—God’s greatest expression of good and glory!


How Do You Listen to God's Word?

Though it contains essential information for every human life, people approach the Bible very differently. Today’s passage identifies four types of listeners:
• Closed mind. This does not exclusively describe unbelievers. Christians, too, can listen passively, without intending to apply what they hear. The seed can’t germinate because the soil’s surface is too hard. Such believers remain shallow until they decide to pay attention to God and obey.
• Clouded mind. Represented by rocky soil, the clouded mind will hear God’s Word and get excited. But then the person doesn’t take time to study, grow roots, and let the truth sink into his heart. With little doctrinal foundation or knowledge of God’s promises, he has difficulty withstanding the harshness of life.
• Cluttered mind. The worries of life are to the Christian heart what briers, thorns, and thickets are to a garden. A preoccupied mind has little or no room for God’s Word to sprout and thrive.
• Committed mind. God can do great things through someone whose mind is like fertile soil. The most intellectual person in the world, if not teachable, will miss the truth of the gospel, whereas even a young child who is willing to listen and learn will be transformed.
All of us would like to have the blessing described in today’s reading—a huge return for what is sown. For that to be true of our life, we need to take an honest look to see if we approach biblical principles with a teachable Spirit. As Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.”


God's Viewpoint about Money

God knew how obsessively the issue of money would occupy our minds, so He placed special emphasis on it in His Word.
Did you know there are some 2,350 verses about money—more than any other topic? And did you realize more than half of Jesus’ parables use money as object lessons? Knowing where our greatest interest and temptations would be, God spelled out what we would need to know in order to handle our resources with His wisdom.
The Lord is personally interested in the details of our life, including our financial security. That is why His Word includes instructions about giving and attitudes He wants us to have. We are to give . . .
• Generously. Most likely, you have what some would view as blessing beyond measure. Many who have abundance succumb to a temptation to hoard. Honor God with your first fruits—right off the top—and then bless others with your abundance.
• Cheerfully. We should put the Lord’s monetary principles into effect joyfully, not under compulsion or guilt. Remember that He knows your heart and motives.
• Confidently.God keeps His promises. Malachi 3:10 tells us that when we give to support the Lord’s work, He will open the windows of heaven and impact every area of your life.
See what Scripture has to say about money and its usage, and put into practice biblical principles for handling treasure. God wants His children to take steps to follow Him. When He sees that you are being faithful in small ways, He will trust you in greater ways.


Look to Jesus and Live

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symbolizing the new birth in Christ
Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus was packed with symbolism. He compared salvation to a second birth and likened the Holy Spirit’s work to the wind. But then the Lord used an Old Testament illustration that might seem odd to modern readers— He said the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as Moses lifted the bronze serpent (Num. 21:1-9).

Nicodemus would have been familiar with the story: en route to the Promised Land, the Israelites once complained about going the long way around enemy territory. God responded by sending poisonous snakes into their midst. A bite victim would die unless he or she looked at the bronze serpent hanging from a pole in the camp. The statue was a symbolic representation of God’s presence among the Israelites as well as a reminder that He was their deliverer.
While we might not mix spiritual birth and a snake on a pole in one testimony, Jesus did so for a good reason.

These metaphors describe related events. The Messiah was explaining that He must be lifted onto the cross as a sacrifice for all of mankind’s wrongs. A new birth is impossible unless somebody pays the price for our sinful condition. Those who look to Jesus and believe will be forgiven, saved, and born again.

Jesus’ message to Nicodemus becomes clear when we understand how the pieces fit together. The Savior is saying that He must die on the cross so that sinful human beings can be born again. Have you looked to Jesus Christ for salvation? He is the only way to new life.


Religious But Lost

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Nicodemus would probably be welcome at any church today. He seems like an ideal member—principled, knowledgeable, morally upstanding, courteous, and humble. However, Nicodemus had two big problems despite all of that outward religious appeal: first, he was blind to the truth, and second, he was spiritually dead.

The man was lost. That is, he did not have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus adhered to strict Jewish codes and laws, so he was certainly religious. But the problem of the lost person is not attitudes, conduct, or even character. We can change and control those things through sheer determination, and many folks do. What people really need is a change of their basic nature. We come into this world with a natural “bent” away from God.
Jesus explained to the observant rabbi that all his outward goodness couldn’t erase, replace, or change his nature. Instead, every person who desires to serve God must be born again. The Lord promised that if Nicodemus received Him as Savior, then he would enter into a brand-new life. His old sinful nature would be transformed so that he could have a real relationship with God. Instead of appearing to be a religious man, Nicodemus would be a true believer.

No one gets into heaven on the strength of good works and kind behavior. When we stand before God, the only thing that will matter is whether our old sin nature has been replaced. We want to show Him the living Spirit we received when Jesus came into our life.


Walking Away from God

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Like the father of the prodigal son, our heavenly Father will not force us to remain with Him. If we ignore His guiding Holy Spirit and insist on following an ungodly path, He’ll let us go our own way. Examining the parable, we learn what happens if we move outside of God’s plan.

• Our fellowship with the Father is significantly affected. The wayward son was no longer in close contact with his dad; their relationship was not as important to him as it had been. If we wander and make ourselves higher priority than the Lord, we will also experience a disconnect with our heavenly Father. As Christians, we cannot move off God’s chosen path without first closing our mind and heart to His truth and His call on our lives.

• Our resources—time, talent, and treasure—are wasted. The son squandered his money on frivolous things and ended up worse off than the laborers at his father’s house. God has bestowed spiritual gifts and material resources to build His kingdom, and He’s also provided His Spirit to offer guidance. Pursuing our own plan wastes what He has given us.

• Our deepest needs go unmet. Chasing after dreams that are outside of the Lord’s purposes will lead to discontent. Only in Christ can we find true fulfillment.

A great weariness will overtake us if we live apart from God. Poor choices can result in lifelong regrets, but they don’t have to dictate our future. The heavenly Father will welcome us with great joy and love when we repent and turn back to Him. Have you wandered away? He’s waiting for you.


God's Perspective on our Troubles

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James 1:2-4

Today’s passage seems to make an impossible demand: how on earth can we “consider it all joy” when we face terrible hardships? Doesn’t this admonition belittle our honest troubles and concerns?

Scripture never instructs us to ignore situations that cause us heartaches, doubt, fear, or worry. In fact, the Bible is quite honest about what we as Christians can expect from a life devoted to Christ. Jesus proclaimed, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 niv). Because we seek to live by biblical values, the world does not understand our motivation and will therefore often stand against us.

How, then, can we rejoice when we face trouble? It is through our hardships that Christ often makes Himself known in our lives. If we lived trouble-free lives, what need would we have for a Savior? Rather, it is because we live fragile lives that we can see Jesus clearly.

When we face a problem head-on with the certainty that God will provide a solution and the strength to endure, we gain spiritual stamina. It is similar to training our physical bodies. Only through the resistance of an opposing force, such as a barbell, do our muscles grow. Likewise, our faith develops as a result of dealing with spiritual resistance.

Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can find the faith to rejoice in our pain. This is possible because we not only have the assurance that God will provide, but we also can trust that when we walk with Him, we will be better prepared to face the next obstacle.


Overcoming Life's Ups and Downs

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Have you ever heard a testimony from someone who has been through a horrible tragedy? We tend to pay very close attention to such accounts because the person involved has witnessed firsthand God’s faithfulness and power to restore a broken life.

Of all the witnesses to God’s grace in times of trouble, none is more compelling than the apostle Paul. He was certainly no stranger to hardship. Throughout his ministry, he was chased, beaten, stoned, arrested, shipwrecked, and accused of heresy by both the Jewish leaders and the Roman government. This was certainly a stark contrast to his early life, in which he enjoyed the luxuries and opportunities that his Roman citizenship and Jewish education provided.

There were amazing ups and downs in Paul’s life. As a result, he earned the right to make the proclamation found in Philippians 4:12: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity.”
And what was the lesson the apostle came away with as a result of these experiences? He tells us in verse 12: “In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

Paul’s “secret” is really not a secret al all, for he reveals the source of his strength in the following verse: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Faith in Jesus Christ and an increasing reliance on Him will make this limitless power source a reality in your life.


God's Loving Desire

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Taken in Ober-Ottikon, Canton of Zurich
Throughout the New Testament, we see God’s universal call to salvation repeated a number of times (John 1:12; 3:16; 6:40; 2 Peter 3:9). But each of us must make a personal decision about answering Him.

God wants mankind saved for several reasons. First, He loves us (Eph. 2:4). Divine love isn’t based on any worthiness in us; rather, care for His creation is part of God’s nature. Second, the Lord’s grace is made evident through His followers (v. 7). Believers were once rebellious beings, whom God transformed into obedient servants—that’s a change He wants to celebrate for eternity. What’s more, our good works glorify the Lord (Matt. 5:16). Everything we do in His name increases other people’s awareness of Him.

Salvation is possible only through Christ, who reconciles sinful people to holy God. Isaiah 53:6 teaches that every one of us is a sinner, and Romans 6:23 adds, “The wages of sin is death.” Without a divine solution, we’d be indebted and hopeless. But the Savior’s death on the cross paid the penalty for all humanity so anyone who wants a relationship with the Father can have one. Believing Jesus died for our sins and submitting to the Lord’s will are all that’s necessary for us to enter into eternal fellowship with Him.

Our heavenly father loves us and wants to be with us forever. The only thing that can separate us from Him is a decision to reject His invitation. Once we receive His Son as Savior, we are God’s, and no human action or character flaw can sever our eternal relationship with Him.


To Forgive or to Blame

© All rights reserved;  by cesarr terrio on flickr
Showing the weight of blame
"It's not my fault" is a prevalent attitude in our culture. To avoid responsibility for their own actions, people blame others: "I wouldn't yell at my kids so much if my own mother had loved me more" or "I wouldn't speak unkindly about my boss if he showed me some respect." Resentment wells up until the victim is blind to everything except how his life is impacted by someone else's hurtful deeds. Then casting blame is easy. But God has a challenge for believers: Forgive those who wound you.
The Lord’s Prayer mentions several of God’s duties but lists only one for believers: to forgive debtors (Matt. 6:12). The metaphor of debt describes sin well. A wronged person often feels that the responsible party owes something, such as an apology or compensation. But by showing mercy to one who has sinned, you stamp his or her obligation to you “paid in full.” Reparations and retribution are no longer required.
Sometimes our wounds are so deep that forgiveness does not come easily. Remember that Jesus bears the scars of others’ sins, too, and His Holy Spirit enables believers to carry out this difficult task. While your debtor may have done nothing to deserve grace, choose to give it anyway, just as Jesus did for you.
When God forgives, He remembers wrongs no more (Jer. 31:34). This doesn’t mean that transgressions magically ceases to have happened. Instead, the Lord refuses to use past wrongs as a reason to punish His people. He set the pattern of debt cancellation, and we are to follow His example (Matt 6:15).


Praying in Jesus' Name

© All rights reserved; by AndrĂ© M. Photo;
showing access by the key.
Shortly before the crucifixion, Jesus told His followers to pray in His name—in other words, to make requests according to His will. He pointed out that power is attached to prayer offered this way: “The Father will give you whatever you ask in My name” (John 15:16 niv). Supplication in Christ’s name means we’re declaring our . . .

• Association with the Savior. What makes it possible for us to approach God through prayer is our relationship with Jesus. At salvation, we went from being foreigners and aliens to being children of God. (Eph. 2:19) Our Creator has become our heavenly Father. He hears our requests because we have been made family through the redemptive work of His Son. The presence of Christ’s Spirit within us proves we are one of His own.

• Access to the Father. Jesus’ death opened the way for us to have immediate, unhindered admittance to the Father’s presence. When Jesus finished His work in making the final priestly sacrifice (Heb. 7:28), the veil in the temple, which closed off the Holy of Holies from man, was torn in two. (Mark 15:38) This symbolized the spiritual truth that access to God was now open to all who believe. Through the Holy Spirit, we have the right to talk to God directly without a human intermediary (Eph. 2:18).

Jesus Christ fully paid the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross. Accepting His atoning death on our behalf means we are in a new family relationship and we have unhindered access to the Father. Let’s stop right now and give thanks to God for the incredible privilege of prayer!
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