The Fragrance of Joy

January 31st, 2018

Your life should express the fragrance of His presence.

 “Thanks be to God, Who through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” 2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV.

My thoughts and comments today are about,

“The Fragrance of Joy.”

Life is not perfect for anyone, and every moment is not filled only with wonderful things. Life changes dramatically, and for the better, when you realize that your circumstances do not determine your experience of life; your attitude does.

I admire people who have faced more struggles and disappointments than most, but who have nevertheless found grace and grown an attitude that reflects who they are, instead of what happened to them. I have met others who have a fairly easy life with few challenges of any consequence, and yet they find little for which to be joyful or thankful. Occasionally, it is a good thing to ask yourself, “Does my life reflect to others what is going on around me, or what is really true inside me?” That significant and substantial difference is the product of the choices you make.

Since a child, I have loved the dramatic Bible stories in the Old Testament, like Samson finally triumphing over the Philistines and himself, or Daniel in the lions’ den whose quiet trust in God humbles an arrogant King, or the three Hebrews delivered from Babylon’s fiery furnace (modern day Iraq). I find a most intriguing comment, easily unnoticed, tucked into this story of the three believers tossed angrily into a furnace intended to destroy them. Read Daniel 3. When the fire could not destroy them nor even harm them, the amazed, befuddled king calls them out of the fire.

The Bible says, “They saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected – not even the smell of smoke was on them.” Daniel 3:27. There was no discernible residue of their frightening experience, no lingering emotional trauma, nor need for healing of memories. Only their new and stirring testimony of God’s greatness and faithfulness persevered.

If you are not careful, you will allow your past or present circumstances to determine your attitudes, dictate your feelings, and dominate your conversation. When your story could be a persuasive testimony that glorifies God, it will be only about you and your problems. Read Daniel 3:28-29. In Daniel’s story, a king’s heart is changed; God is glorified; a nation is impacted. The simple difference is that they were with Jesus, joyfully in His company and safely in His care. See Daniel 3:24-25. Attitude really is crucial, having the power to change everything and anyone, and that all begins with the choice you make.

Paul prayed for these Christians and for you, ”We pray that you will be strengthened with His glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father, Who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God’s holy people, who live in the light.” Colossians 1:11-12 NLT. Whose joy is to fill you? “Always be full of the joy of the Lord!” Like a thermometer, happiness merely measures the surrounding climate and adjusts accordingly. The joy of the Lord resembles a thermostat, regulating and governing the surrounding temperature.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Thanks be to God, Who . . through us spreads everywhere the fragrance  of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved.” Read 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 NIV. Some years ago, I learned to pray, “Let my life express the fragrance of Your presence, not the smell of my problems.”

Today, I pray for your life to be a joyful testimony of God’s grace and sufficiency.

Christian Communications 2018-(807)

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Contentment and Confidence

October 18th, 2018

The important things in life are not things.  

“My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 NKJV

My thoughts and comments today are about, “Contentment and  Confidence.”

Contentment is not found in how much you have, nor in how much of a surplus you enjoy. However much you have will never be enough, apart from God’s generous provision. Contentment is found in your full confidence that God is your ample provider, Jehovah Jireh. The Apostle Paul was assuring, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 NKJV.

Years ago, I was challenged by a quote attributed to Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher. Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.” How much must a person have to be content? That is a sufficiently important question that every person needs to answer honestly and accurately. When is enough enough? Usually, the answer is,  just a little more. Answered correctly, your answer can counteract a latent insecurity and subtle greed that conflicts with your desire for contentment. Insecurity whispers to all of us that we need enough, and then defines enough as more than what is truly adequate.

And even when you acquire what you think are necessary resources and gather more than enough stuff, greed still suggests that you require a little more while falsely reassuring that you deserve the extra you desire. So, a never-ending cycle is created, wanting more while trying to have enough. You work to feel secure, then reward yourself with more than you need. And, the result is a futile search, a never-ending quest for more.

Otherwise, your quest reduces your joy and pleasure for what you have and dampens your gratitude for what you have already received. Striving to accumulate and store more, becomes an insufficient goal for life, ultimately exhausting to the human spirit. Such a limited, material goal misdirects your heart from seeking true wealth which is always spiritual not material. Jesus said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also..” Matthew 6:20-21 NKJV.

It is better to have the best of what lasts, than simply more of what is only good for the moment.  More is never enough! My wise and dear friend, Campbell, advised me years ago, The heart cannot desire what the eye has not seen.” Be selective about what holds your gaze too long, lest it fills your vision and captures your desires.

God’s Word is clear, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5-6 NIV. What God provides will always be enough. And what is the personal reward of having enough? Gratitude. Contentment. Sufficiency. Satisfaction. Freedom from the tyranny for more. Appreciating things that money cannot buy.

“Godliness with contentment is a great gain.” Read 1 Timothy 6: 6-11.  I read a sign today that said, “The most important things in life are not things.” That is good to remember. God offers you a greater return, and much more enduring, than the biggest bull market on Wall Street.

“For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content – through Him Who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13. It is never your wealth or possessions that provide true security and contentment. Those are found only in God.

Today I pray for you to trust God, reassured that He is your source of sufficiency.

Christian Communications 2018

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New Faith and a New Nature

October 11th, 2018

Your new faith did not erase your old nature.

“Given to us are exceedingly great and precious promises, that you may be partakers of the divine nature.” 2 Peter 1:4 NIV.

My thoughts and comments today are about, “new faith and a new nature.”

Salvation resolves the problem of your eternal destiny. Salvation does not solve all your problems in this life immediately. That is a process of grace. So, you are a Christ-follower now. Shouldn’t everyday life become easier? Do you ever wonder if you should be further along in your spiritual growth than you are? Should you be winning new battles instead of still fighting so many of the old ones?

Salvation reconciles your history and begins a wonderful new journey, but there is much more that God wants and needs to accomplish in you. God cares about your destiny. Remember when you finally realized that you could not save yourself by your good works? Paul wrote,  He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5 NIV.

Yet it is alarmingly easy to still assume that now you can take it from here. The Bible calls those, dead works. You can no more live your Christian life on your best behavior now, than you could save yourself by your good behavior previously. You know what the problem is? Your new faith did not erase your old nature.

I envision Paul rejoicing as he wrote the words, Because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. Read Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV. You remain vulnerable to the relentless pull of desires incompatible with your confession and spiritual convictions.

And when that happens, feelings of guilt return and doubts cloud your confidence about salvation. You thought that battle was in the past, didn’t you? The Apostle Paul asked and answered the question our hearts ask, Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:23-24 NIV.  Here’s the good news! “Walk in the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16 NAS. I suggest that you cannot consistently and successfully walk in the power of the Holy Spirit until you request, receive, and realize that you have been filled with the Spirit.

By His Spirit, God Himself dwells within you to deliver you from your old nature, much the same as He redeemed you from your sins by Jesus Christ. See Galatians 2:20 NIV. You will be better, do better, and live better when you rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit. I have heard this wonderful progression of spiritual life and growth explained this way.

At salvation, you were saved from the penalty of sin. In the ongoing process of sanctification, you are being saved from the power of sin. And in eternity you will be saved from the presence of sin. The old nature will then be eradicated forever; never again will you contend with its inclination toward sin.

To accomplish this, there is both an indwelling and an infilling of the Spirit. The indwelling is constant and occurs when the Spirit baptizes you into the Body of Christ. Read 1 Corinthians 12:13 NKJV. The infilling occurs at your invitation – anywhere, anytime, every time – as Jesus baptizes you with His Spirit. The Bible says, 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is,18 be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:17-18 NKJV. The Greek word in that verse that is translated, “filled,” describes the influence of something rather than the quantity of something.

Consider this. A sail boat moves under the influence and direction of the wind when its sails become filled with the wind. Similarly, “When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us . .“ Galatians 5:22 NLT. Live full of the Spirit; the Spirit then gives you the power you lack to forgive, be patient in trials, be loving when mistreated, trust and obey when you don’t understand, break habits, and live as your heart for God desires.

As a child of God, the infilling of the Spirit does not give you more of the Spirit than already abides in you. Yielding more of yourself to live within His authority releases the Holy Spirit’s fullness and influence. See Galatians 5:24-25 NIV. Live every day, in and by the power and influence of the Spirit of God.

Today I pray for you to rely every moment on the power of God’s Spirit.

Christian Communications 2018

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Right Things But Wrong Places

October 4th, 2018

Life is a quest for fulfillment.

“I am going there to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 NIV.

My thoughts and comments today are about,

“right things but wrong places.”

Lives are spent looking for something, often without knowing what that something is or where that could be found. The award-winning musical, West Side Story, has a lovely song, Somewhere, by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, in which the star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, sing, There’s a place for us. Somewhere a place for us, Peace and quiet and open air, Wait for us, somewhere . . somehow, some day, somewhere! Those lyrics voiced a generation’s search, maybe the yearning and quest of every heart.

Some people look for safety in a place free from fear or danger, or for the promise of success with the recognition or independence that provides, or for comfort in a place free from stress or striving. Nobly, others look for meaning through a place of service and contribution where their life could make others’ lives better. Every satisfaction begins with a right relationship with God.

Everyone is looking for something, or someone, to make their life full and satisfying. Purpose and meaning is what gets you up in the morning, motivates you to give your best, and keeps you going when you feel like quitting. Life is a quest, a search for personal fulfillment and completion.

Some squander their lifetime looking for the right things in the wrong places, or looking for the wrong things altogether. Those individuals’ philosophy could be summed up in these words; “There is no place anything like this place anywhere near this place, so this must be the place.” Don’t settle for lesser things. Too many people settle for the next best thing. They finally accept what comes the closest to their search. But is close ever good enough, especially when that involves eternity?

What are you looking for? Everything you do – your goals, choices, relationships, efforts, sacrifices – are ultimately motivated by the object of your search. Wouldn’t it be better to know what that is, or what it should be? I would suggest that this common, lifelong quest is a spiritual longing for where it all began. God created the first man and woman to have a personal, intimate relationship with their Creator, placed them in a perfect Garden, assigned them productive and meaningful service, and provided them with pleasant companionship. See Genesis 2 NKJV. Would you agree with me that everything else pales in comparison with that?

Here is how this relates to you and me. Jesus said that throughout your lifetime He would be busy preparing such a place just for you, but you will never find it here and you will never find it on your own. Such a place is found in Christ alone.

Jesus explicitly promised a place for you, “In My Father’s house are many places; if it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going . . I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” John 14:2-6 NAS. See also John 3:16-21 NLT/ Romans 10:9-10 NLT. That is quite a promise, and a sobering reality, and reliably true. Our lives and future are ever secure in His hands.

Deep in the heart of every man and woman there is an innate sense that the wrong place at the end of life is to be forever separated from God. If that separation is true now, it will remain true then. God put that truth deep in your spirit, so you would not waste your lifetime searching for the wrong things in the wrong places. All you need or will ever desire will only be found in Jesus.

Today I pray for you to find your place in Christ Jesus and be fully at home.

Christian Communications 2018 -10309

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Applause and Acclaim

September 27th, 2018

Appreciation fuels achievement.

Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:21 NIV.

My thoughts and comments today are about, “Applause and Acclaim.”

Few things are more satisfying than compliments for something that you have done, and done well. Hollywood, Broadway, and Nashville give numerous awards for entertainers in movies, television, videos, stage, and most genres of music. Outside of entertainment, there is the Pulitzer Prize for outstanding public service and achievement in American journalism, letters, and music. The prestigious Nobel Peace Prize is awarded for significant political and international  achievement. As children thrive in the acceptance and approval of others, people of any age respond to sincere recognition of their achievements.

Praise and appreciation fuels achievement for one and all, from children to adults. Parents accomplish that with their approving words, proud smiles, and physical hugs that recognition. Bosses do that with awards, plaques, certificates, bonuses, or raises. Any award seems to mean more when the person or group giving recognition means the most to you. A stranger’s compliment may be flattering, but fleeting. A friend’s praise is a joy forever cherished forever in your heart.

I am not sure there would be any little league teams if Mom and Dad were not in the stands cheering and claiming, “that’s my child.” Children don’t yet play for the love of the game; they play for the cheers and congratulations of their parents and coaches. Some years ago, when our children were young, my stepfather, a wise man, gave me great parenting advice. He said, “To be mentally and emotionally healthy, every child needs a generous number of ‘atta boys’ every day.” If your children don’t hear praise and encouragement from you, they will seek encouragement elsewhere and embrace others’ flattery as an acceptable substitute. Flattery is nothing more than sugar-coated deception.

Let me add a small word of caution. The need for sincere applause and public acclaim can become seductive, even addictive, feeding one’s ego and pride rather than inspiring better efforts and greater accomplishments. Your best work and deepest satisfaction comes when you find abiding joy in knowing you offered your best and God is pleased, whether noticed by others or not.

The Bible offers a warning. Jesus cautioned those who, “loved the praise (and approval) from men more than the praise (and approval) from God.” John 12:43 NIV/NAS.  However great the applause and recognition of others might be, you will find no greater satisfaction than at the moment you finally stand before God and hear the Savior’s words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful . . enter into the joy of your Lord.” Matthew 25:21 NKJV. May your entrance be grand and may you be welcomed by the applause of Heaven. At that moment, every earthly tribute and trophy will pale in comparison. Always and only, live on earth with Heaven in mind.

When all else is finally said and done, the sole opinion that will ultimately matter is the Lord’s evaluation. Paul gave Godly counsel in all that you do, Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do.” Ephesians 6:7-8 NIV. Don’t accept any distinction between the sacred and the secular. All you do for the cause and name of Christ is holy in God’s eyes.

Today I pray for you to never require the crowd’s faint applause or fading acclaim.

Christian Communications 2018-9299

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Beware of Temptation

September 19th, 2018

Temptation Is a Doorway to Regrets.

“One who perseveres under temptation will receive the crown of life.” James 1:12 NIV.

My thoughts and comments today are that you, “Beware of Temptation.”

Days earlier, Gayle and I were having a late lunch at an oriental restaurant. I enjoy fortune cookies for their flavor, not so much for their advice. Occasionally, I am amused by a clever insight about life contained inside a fortune cookie. This was one of those times. What I read made me ponder. “Do not mistake temptation for opportunity.” Those few words were worth the cost of the meal. Know this. Temptation parades in the disguise of an irresistible opportunity. How often have we all been misled and tempted, and to our eventual regret, have embraced a temptation that we incorrectly saw as an opportunity.

Be wary of temptation. Temptation lures you to places unprofitable to be, takes you further than you expected to go, and can cost you more than you can afford to pay. Paul was concerned when he wrote about people being led astray, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3 NIV.

Because you are offered something, or want to do something, or can do something doesn’t mean you should. The Bible is filled with examples of those who lacked self-control: Satan himself, Adam and Eve, Samson, Jacob, Esau, Saul, Demas, and a host of others stretching from then to now.

As always, the Bible offers guidance and encouragement when temptation exposes its strength and source. God’s Word is clear. “No temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to man. And God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” I Corinthians 10:12-13. NIV. Yes, God is faithful. Self-control is a virtue, and a fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23.

It is wiser and far better to seek an exit from a temptation in the guise of an opportunity. Don’t look for a way in. Look for the way out.Blessed is the one who perseveres under temptation because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12 NIV.

But there is good news. Others like Joseph, who at the cost of prison, fled from the allure of his master’s wife rather than defile himself and his God. The supreme example is Jesus, who when tempted to circumvent the cross, refused to succumb to such a temptation. Read Matthew 16:21-26 NKJV.

Because you want something, and what you want is available to you, should not be an indication that what you want is best for you. Reflect on that for a few moments. I expect that we have all made that mistake and always to our regret. Know this.”‘ When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.” Read James 1:13-15 NIV.

If we were not commonly vulnerable to temptations due to our fallen nature, there would have been no necessity and priority for Jesus to teach His disciples, as well as us, to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.” Matthew 6:13 NAS. Temptation is always a doorway to regrets.

It appears to me that Jesus’ concern for us was and remains primary, rather than secondary. Temptation is an intruder because our common enemy, the devil, is the Tempter. Wisely, we are cautioned, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!” Matthew 26:41 NLT.

Even Jesus was tempted by Satan, until He commanded that enemy, “Get behind Me, Satan.” From where did Satan, that evil Tempter, come? Read Genesis 3:1-3 NIV. His tragic story of rebellion, disobedience, and deceit began long before the Garden of Eden, when and where the devil tempted Eve to ignore God’s clear instruction, who in turn tempted Adam, to eat of the forbidden fruit.

Adam and Eve were lured by the false promise that, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” See Genesis 3:4-8. Temptation never turns out well. Too late, they both learned more about, “good and evil,” than they ever wanted or needed to know. Obedience is better than curiosity.

Pride exposes you to temptation, while deceiving you to believe that you are invulnerable to it. The Apostle Paul was concerned for the Corinthian Christians, and his concern is relevant to us, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3 NIV.

Here is the great news! “God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” I Corinthians 10:13. NIV.

Today I pray for you to live free of regrets.

Christian Communications 2018

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