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Archive for January, 2012

Bad News

January 24th, 2012

“Hezekiah received the letter . . and spread it before the Lord.” 2 Kings 19:14 NKJV

“Your crisis can become God’s opportunity.”

My thoughts today are about “bad news.”

Bad news can come at anytime to anybody – to rich and poor, young and old, and “the just and unjust, righteous and unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45 NIV. And bad news comes in many forms – unexpected expenses, a lost job, a dreaded diagnosis, or screeching tires. Bad news is not the best thing that happens in your day, but neither does it mean the worst thing is going to happen. Bad news is not the problem; your panic will be. What do you do when you do not know what to do? You can’t choose or control the circumstances that come your way; you must choose what your response will be. God doesn’t react to need; He responds to faith.

Hezekiah, King of Judah, received really bad news. Read 2 Kings 19:1-13 NKJV. The most powerful, notorious Assyrian king, Sennacherib, had ravaged surrounding nations and now approached Judah with 185,000 warriors. The Assyrian king sent his emissary with threatening letters to King Hezekiah. Judah was defenseless against such an army; make no mistake about that. When bad news comes, you will either be tempted to panic while projecting the worst case scenario, or will foolishly try to face and fix the problem yourself. Either would be a serious mistake.

Hezekiah didn’t know what to do about his problem, but he knew where to bring it. He brought it before the Lord. “Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, read it, and went up to the House of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. Then Hezekiah prayed . .” 2 Kings 19:14 NKJV. That’s what you do with bad news. You take it seriously; you face it squarely, but you do not panic or immediately take matters into your own hands. Hezekiah’s strategy was spiritual, not military. 2 Kings 18:1-8 NKJV. I think you can learn three practical strategies for success in a crisis.

(1) Bring your bad news to the Lord first. Where better to turn than to the Lord? It is liberating to bring every care to God. “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NKJV. I think God wants to hear what you think and feel. Feel free to speak your heart in honesty and humility. Be real with God, not religious. God is not impressed with your religion. He is, however, relational. What matters to you, matters to Him.

(2) Don’t waste God’s attention; pray! Prayer is not to provide God information; He already knows “the end from the beginning.” Prayer is your opportunity to give God your personal invitation to intervene in the situation. Doing so puts your problem in God’s hand and your dilemma into proper perspective. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much . . don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything . . if you do this you will experience God’s peace . . guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” James 5:16-18/Philippians 4:6-7 NLT.

(3) Listen until you hear a true word from God. Read 2 Kings 19:20-35 NKJV. Hezekiah sought the counsel of the prophet, Isaiah, who had the word directly from God. Isaiah 37:21-35. Hezekiah and Judah would not be left to their merciless adversary; the ruthless king who troubled them was now at the mercy of their God. 2 Kings 19:36-38. Bad news can be viewed as a crisis; the good news is that in God’s hands, your crisis becomes God’s opportunity. And no one should waste an opportunity like that.

My prayer for you today is that your first thought is to turn God’s direction first.

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Above and Beyond

January 23rd, 2012

“The smell of smoke was not on them.” Daniel 3:27 NKJV

“The minimum you can do is not good enough when the maximum is what you should do.”

My thoughts today are about “above and beyond.”

Some people are content to do the minimum they can get by with, such as when a child is asked to clean their room or a teen is required to make their bed. If people ever grew out of that, it wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, that seems to remain the norm rather than the exception for people of all ages and in many situations. The minimum you can do is just not good enough when the maximum is what you should do. Our God is a wonderful example of that principle, as should you be. Every moment is an opportunity to be your best for Him in thought, word, and deed.

I know I just wrote some thoughts and comments about this verse previously, “After Effects.” (Friday, 1-20-12) From responses, the idea seemed to have connected with readers. Here is another practical way this story speaks to me. Read Daniel 3:1-30 NKJV. This story is of three young men refusing to commit idolatry who are thrown into a deadly furnace by an angry king, then are unimaginably delivered harm-free. At first, it may seem to be a story about the Godly faith and courageous obedience of Daniel’s contemporaries and companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And from one perspective it is, but I suggest it is more about the character and greatness of the God upon whom their faith rested.

God is powerful whose thoughts and ways are above and beyond your own. See Isaiah 55:8-11 NLT.  At least, God could have somehow intervened or prevented such a hurtful circumstance altogether. Instead, an angry man was allowed to do his worst to young men who were trying to do their best to be faithful to God and true to their personal convictions. Their punishment was merely a petulant king vindicating his arrogance, being arbitrary and going beyond anything just or fair. The punishment did not fit the perceived offense.

What did God choose to do? He chose to be with them where their obedience and faith placed them. He chose to deliver them in a manner that left no other explanation except that it was the work of an almighty God. God loves doing things like that on behalf of those who love and serve Him. God did not do the minimum to save their lives; God vindicated their righteousness.

God goes well above and far beyond everything expected; He always does. He will do the same for you. God made the inexplicable undeniable, the combustible incombustible, and the destructible indestructible! “These men upon whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of the fire was not on them.” Daniel 3:27 NKJV. They didn’t bow, they didn’t bend; they couldn’t burn. The fire could not burn them, nor even the smell of smoke attach itself to them or their clothing. God could have left them singed and smoky but He did not.

Whatever your circumstance, God will do the most He can do for you, never the least that is asked of Him. This verse is God’s self-description and my favorite understanding of Him: “(God) is able to do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think, [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams] . .” Ephesians 3:20 Amplified Bible. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He promised them, “I have given you authority . . to overcome all the power of the Enemy, and nothing will hurt you.” Luke 10:20 TEV. You may be near to harm, but far from hurt.

My prayer for you today is that you ask and expect nothing less than God’s highest and best.

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After Effects

January 20th, 2012

“The smell of smoke was not on them.” Daniel 3:27 NKJV

“Rejoice in trouble rather than resent it; you’ll make people curious and  the devil frustrated.”

My thoughts today are about “after effects.”

Relationships, actions, circumstances, and experiences are not over when they’re over. There are always lingering after effects to be dealt with. People deal with hurtful things that happened in childhood, or are still defensive over a friendship that didn’t end well, or struggle with words and hurts in a marriage and family. Years later, some still struggle with stuff and people long since gone from their life. The after effects of some experiences endure long after the circumstance itself is past. Good experiences can have pleasant and beneficial after effects. Less pleasant experiences can leave a painful residue of hurt feelings and emotional memories.

God is always found in the middle of your answer. A prideful and rage-filled king, Nebuchadnezzar, ordered three Hebrews bound and forcibly thrown into a terrible inferno for disobeying his command to bow down and worship a grand, golden image of himself. Read Daniel 3:1-23 NLT. Then the strangest thing happened. Instead of being destroyed, they were seen in the midst of the fire still hale and hearty – “unbound, walking around in the fire.” (vs. 24-26).

Writing of this story, someone observed, “Whatever bound them when they went into the fire wasn’t binding them when they came out!” Good for them; disconcerting for Nebuchadnezzar! Something miraculous was happening right before the eyes of the King. God would not permit the fire to touch anything on or about them, except the restraints others had imposed. The after effect of their experience was liberating, not debilitating. See Ephesians 6:16 NKJV. Often people are as bound after the fire as they were during the fire – delivered from the ordeal, but damaged somehow.

Commanding them to come out of the fire, the witnesses to this inexplicable scene observed, “The fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!” Smoke can leave a lingering, even permanent smell, only if you allow it. I admire several dear friends who have gone through unimaginable health challenges for too long, but still express a Godly testimony of the grace and faithfulness of God. I honor them and would hope that could be said of me in such a circumstance. Their lives and conversation do not “smell of smoke.”

Life can be tough and people unkind. Let the ordeal, whatever its nature or origin, change you for good not for harm – a reason to be better, not bitter. Trouble and mistreatment are very real and felt deep within one’s soul. God’s counsel is this, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you; but rejoice . . that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 NKJV. Rejoice in trouble rather than resent it; you’ll make people curious and the devil frustrated. See Ephesians 6:16 NKJV. Seeing your Godly response, they may say as Nebuchadnezzar, “Praise be to God . . there is no other God who can rescue like this!” Daniel 3:29 NLT.

Here’s your Godly goal: “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ and through us manifests the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ . . the aroma of life leading to life.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 NKJV. See also Romans 8:18 NKJV.

My prayer for you today is: let others notice the fragrance of His grace, not the odor of your ordeal.

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Faith-Builders

January 19th, 2012

“Building up yourselves on your most holy faith.” Jude 1:20 NKJV

“Faith is the simple conviction of your heart that God will be true to Who He is.”

My thoughts today are about “faith-builders.”

Life without faith is impossible, really. You express faith in such everyday, ordinary ways that you don’t even realize. You have faith in your bank when you deposit your check, or faith in a company when you order something online. You have faith in a person when you arrive for an appointment. Faith is the simple expectation that what should happen is what will happen. Simple, really.

Faith is uncomplicated, assumed even, until the conversation turns to your relationship with God. As soon as you hear, “without faith, it is impossible to please God,” (Hebrews 11:6), your mind immediately complicates a simple concept of relationship. Faith is the simple conviction of your heart that God will be true to Who He is, will do what is right, will be consistent with His character and purpose, and will act compassionately and wisely toward those who are His.

Christian faith is forever dynamic, not static, never dormant. Your spiritual life begins with faith, and continues on that same basis. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that (faith) not of yourselves; it is the gift of God . . God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Ephesians 2:8/Romans 12:3 NKJV. Faith is the natural way you relate to God; it is the normal nature of spiritual relationship with your Father, and the means by which your relationship grows and deepens.

Here’s how you keep your faith dynamic. “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 1:20-21 NIV. Faith is an active, vibrant, and dynamic provision from God to you, rather than some power dormant within yourself, held in reserve for emergencies. You are given the spiritual responsibility for the nurture and growth of that faith by attending to your very practical and daily relationship with God.

This requires more from you personally than can be accomplished in church on Sunday or given to you second hand from another. You must not defer your spiritual development as someone else’s task. You are to apply yourself diligently and daily to “build yourself up in your faith . . keep yourself in the love of God . . as you wait . .  for Jesus to bring you to eternal life.” As spiritual life deepens, your assurance and growing faith strengthens.

Along with “praying in the Spirit” (Romans 8:26-28 NKJV), the Bible gives you faith-builders such as, regular reading and thoughtful reflection on God’s Word (Psalm 1:1-3/Romans 10:17/1 Timothy 4:6 NKJV), meaningful fellowship with people of faith (2 Peter 1:1 NLT/Jude 1:3 NKJV), and rehearsing the testimony of God’s past faithfulness in your life and to others (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 NKJV). Faith is like a muscle, requiring resistance and regular exercise for greater strength.

My prayer for you today is that your spiritual life is deepening and increasing daily.

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Belonging and Blessings

January 18th, 2012

“There is no condemnation to those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 NLT

“The emptiness you try to fill with others’ company is a misdirected reach of your heart for God.”

My thoughts today are about “belonging and blessings.”

Everyone wants to belong somewhere and to someone. People were not made for isolation; by our Creator, you were designed for community, with God and with others. People love to belong to groups – book clubs, health clubs, fan clubs, business circles, civic groups, service organizations, charities, Bible studies, churches, and nameless others. Who could count the number of affinity groups worldwide of every stripe and kind, small and large circles of people who share a common interest? A person’s interests are encouraged and reinforced by their common experience and shared enjoyment with others. Who would enjoy sitting in an empty stadium to watch their favorite sports team if there were no others to share their enthusiasm? What team would enjoy playing with no one watching? Some experiences just aren’t the same without someone to share them. Good news never seems the same if you have no one with whom to share your joy.

Man’s history began with God’s pronouncement, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him,” and later the Bible adds, “God sets the solitary in families.” Genesis 2:18/Psalm 68:6 NKJV. That longing to be joined meaningfully with others is really the outward expression of a person’s heart to experience personal fellowship with God. The emptiness of soul you try to fill with others’ company is the misdirected reach of your heart for God.

The problem? As we were, you and I are incompatible with God. Since God does not change, you must if you are to enjoy a meaningful, personal relationship with a holy God. But how does any of us change our nature? God’s solution? The very things that would separate you from God have been removed by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for every wrong and evil thing you’ve ever done. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ, (who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit/NKJV). For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2 NLT. For those belonging to Christ, no condemnation! You can be assured of this, “The Lord knows those who are His.” 2 Timothy 2:19 NIV.

Condemnation is that miserable feeling inside that everything is not right with God; His forgiveness and your faith is the only remedy. “If we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from every sin . . if we confess our sins to him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from every wrong.” 1 John 1:7/9 NLT. Upon the truths of forgiveness and grace, your comfort and confidence as a child of God rests.

With this powerful announcement, the Apostle Paul sums up the guaranteed result of a life that truly belongs to Christ, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life . . nor things present nor things to come . .  nor any other created thing, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NKJV/NLT. Here’s the key to your release into that glorious truth. The certainty of God’s love now and forever rests in the heart that holds the firm conviction of the sufficiency of God’s grace. No condemnation; no separation!

My prayer for you today is that you live in God’s love, ever secure in His grace.

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