Courage and Strength

strength_-_courage_-_love_-_handstamped_solid_copper_necklace_with_sw_b6a6f3a8I started today as I do most days–with a cup of coffee and the Psalms.  As I was reading Psalms 31, I stopped to consider the 24th verse: Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
It occurred to me that God’s strength builds you up; His love fills you up; and His arms lift you.
Keep this thought with you today, and you’ll begin to know the power of God’s promise to Paul:  My grace is sufficient.

Are You Among the Wealthy?

wealthThe book of Proverbs is a pithy collection of wisdom that I read so I can benefit from its wise and insightful commentary on life.  As I was reading the 11th chapter this morning, a few verses caught my attention, and one in particular caused me to pause and reflect on its meaning:   One person is generous and yet grows more wealthy, but another withholds more than he should and comes to poverty.

Over the years of my life, I’ve worked with people from all walks and stations of life; some have been known for their wealth, and others have had very little of this life’s goods. It’s been my observation that some of the wealthiest have been the poorest and some of the poorest have been the wealthiest.

The difference between these people, is found in your answer to this question: Do you own your possessions or do they possess you?

Some people are like Abraham, Joseph, and Job; they are people of great wealth, but they are not hoarders.  On the other hand, some people are like King Ahab; they are never satisfied, they always want more, and they are willing to do anything to get what they want.

There’s a third group which seems to be a balance between the first two; these are the people who are content. They are found among the wealthy as well as the poor, and they are content because of the content of their life.

The best way I can explain this is to quote the Apostle Paul: I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing.  I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).

When the content of Paul’s life changed, he learned to be content.  He quit chasing after religious and worldly acclaim and learned the real treasure in life is found in Jesus Christ. This radical shift in his thinking changed his perspective and his deepest longings were satisfied.

You may never be wealthy by the world’s standards, but you can enjoy riches that pay eternal dividends. You can discover true wealth by doing what Paul did: You can invest in the lives of others by:

  • Being generous
  • Showing mercy, with cheerfulness
  • Loving without hypocrisy
  • Rejoicing in hope; being patient in affliction; and being persistent in prayer
  • Sharing with the saints in their needs
  • Pursuing hospitality.

Based on the list above, how wealthy are you?

There’s Something About Those Eyes

Smiling_Eyes

In one of my recent excursions through the pages of the Psalms, I noticed three verses that had a least one word in common. You can read them below, and see the word for yourself:

  • Psalm 119:37: Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way
  • Psalm 119:18: Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law
  • Psalm 19:8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.

When I read these verses, I see the first two as prayers to help us reshape our focus and to gain a fresh perspective on life—to turn away from what’s wrong and to open up to what’s right.  The third verse is a recognition of what’s right, rejoicing, and radiating or enlightening.

There’s a fourth verse that also has the word eyes in it, and it’s one that’s reassuring:

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry (Ps.34:5).

This verse reminds us that God watches over us and that His ears are open to our prayers.  This verse gives confidence that:

  • In times of fear, we can still trust God: The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe (Proverbs 29:25).
  • When our world is crashing down on us, we can be confident that He is still present: Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us (Psalm 62:8).
  • When we can’t seem to shake our worries and anxieties, we can find peace in God: You will keep perfectly peaceful the one whose mind remains focused on you, because he remains in you. “Trust in the Lord forever for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.(Isaiah 26:3-4).
  • When we seem too weak to persevere, God is our refuge and strength: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore, we will not fear (Psalm 46).
  • When life seems full of roadblocks and detours, we can look to God for guidance: Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, For in You do I trust; Let me know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You (Psalm 143:8).

Even though he and his fellow believers were suffering extreme persecution during the reign of the sadistic Nero, Peter said: God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you (I Peter 5:6-7).

Whenever you are tempted to give up, you have two choices: You can either throw-in the towel and quit, or you can toss your cares to God and let Him help carry your load.

Words and Worms at Sunrise

rooster-early-birdIf it’s true that the early bird gets the worm, then the authors of the Psalms must have harvested plenty of them.  Many of these poetic proclamations suggest the writers were early risers: My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up (Psalm 5:3).

Henry Ward Beecher may have been thinking of this verse when he said: The first hour of waking is the rudder that guides the whole day.

Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, I encourage you to set a time to reflect on the four verses below and use them as rudders to help guide your life:

  • Relax in His peace: “In peace, I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Ps. 4:8).”
  • Refresh yourself in His mercies: “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made (Ps. 145:9).”
  • Rejoice in His love: “I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation (Ps. 13:5).”
  • Remain in His presence: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91:1).”

 

I’ll close with this thought that’s worth thinking: Remember that it’s, “Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:2-23).”

Goodbye to the Prince, the Princess, and the Greatest

armedandsexyleia-officialpixAmong the many events that have happened during 2016, the most important to some people was the death of the idol they adored; for some it was a singer named Prince, for others it was the death of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and boxing fans had to bid farewell to The Greatest—Muhammad Ali. There was also the death of an author who was less heralded than these whose obituaries were printed in newspapers from the East coast to the West.

While he was well-known in some circles, Jerry Bridges, the author, did not have the notoriety of the Prince and the Princess, but he did know The Greatest One who is greater than any other; and, Bridges had found what proves to be elusive to some—the secret of peace and contentment.

Bridges was a prolific writer who said: “The Bible is full of God’s promises to provide for us spiritually and materially, to never forsake us, to give us peace in times of difficult circumstances, to cause all circumstances to work together for our good, and finally to bring us safely home to glory. Not one of those promises is dependent upon our performance. They are all dependent on the grace of God given to us through Jesus Christ.”

The words of the Princess are a stark contrast to those of Bridges: “I knew better than I knew anything that what happens with stardom, with fame, is it goes away, and it leaves you in a humiliated space (Carrie Fisher 2006).”

Fisher’s assessment on life, reminds me of Solomon’s wisdom: Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last, but a woman who reveres the Lord should be praised above all others. ~Proverbs 31:30

It’s a simple truth that this world offers nothing akin to genuine contentment.  Your health and wealth can vanish in a moment; fame is fickle; and the bright lights of Hollywood and Broadway fade away.

“Real contentment,” Warren Wiersbe said, “must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.”  The “within” that Wiersbe spoke of is “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, and will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

If you’re restless, and feel as though there is a void in your life, I encourage you to give God’s peace a chance.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

NASCAR: Pit Stop Essentials

NASCAR-at-DaytonaA word that elicits a wide range of emotions is NASCAR . Some people shake their head in bewilderment thinking it is a waste of time to watch grown men drive a car in circles.  Then, there are those who froth at the mouth when they hear the rumble of a finely tuned engine that propels a driver down the straightaways in excess of 200 MPH.

Every second the driver spends on pit road is a second that will determine how he finishes the race. In a matter of about 12 seconds, a good pit crew can change tires, top off the fuel tank, and necessary adjustments to race car.

Pit stops are a vital component of every race—even the race of life.  Paul said, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 1:7).  To finish the race, it helps to keep a few principles in mind:

  • Realize your skill-set is limited and you will always need God:
    • I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God with me. ~I Corinthians 15:10
    • Serve with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. ~I Peter 4:11
  • Remember those who have helped you and show your appreciation: I thank God for you Christians at Philippi whenever I think of you. My constant prayers for you are a real joy, for they bring back to my mind how we have worked together for the Gospel from the earliest days until now. ~Philippians 1:3
  • Plan for the bumps in the road: Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. ~Hebrews 11:25
  • Set a steady pace, so you can win the race: Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air.  Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. ~I Corinthians 9:24-27

I’ll close with this thought: To run fast, you need to know when its time to slow down.

Never Never Land or The Land of Never

never-never-landWhere are you living?  I don’t mean the place where you park your car or the address that your GPS takes you to when you touch the HOME button.  Where do you live in your thoughts, fantasies, worries and wants? Is it Never Never Land or the Land of Never?

Thanks to Peter Pan, most people have some knowledge of the fictional place called Never Never Land. It’s that place that’s fixed within the framework of your imagination where everything is so wonderfully pleasant and perfect that is far beyond the scope of reality.

The Land of Never is also an imaginary place, but it’s one of a harsher existence.  The boundaries of the Land of Never are marked by signs that reflect a contempt for self, others, and the truth:

  • Sign #1: I will never be loved or respected.
  • Sign #2: I will never get a job.
  • Sign #3: I will never be able to go home again.
  • Sign #4: God will never forgive me.
  • Sign #5: My life will never get better.

If you believe the lies of the Land of Never, you will be chained to your past and you’ll never live in the present.  Words like “never” and “always” are usually void of the truth, and they’re lies that limit you.

The only “never” that really matters is found in Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

If you’re living in the Land of Never, isn’t it time to pack your bag, move out, and start abiding in Christ? Jesus said, “If you continue (abide) in My word, you really are My disciples.  You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).”

As you begin the move, I encourage you to focus on a promise found in the Psalms:

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 9:9-10

The Power of a Good Book

readTwo of my childhood friends were Dick and Jane and their dog Spot.  From the moment I met them, I’ve had a love for reading.  Even when school recessed for the Summer, I rode my bicycle to the library two or three times a week to check out books.

An article in Quartz has identified a love for reading as the common trait that links the world’s most successful people.   According to the article, “Reading is the easiest way to continue the learning process, increase empathy, boost creativity, and even just unwind from a long day. But books can also change the way we think and live.”

Because he had experienced the transformational power of God’s Word, Paul emphasized its role in the life of the believer:

  • He instructed Timothy to, “give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (I Timothy 4:13).”
  • He reminded the church at Rome that, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).”

Perhaps the one verse in the Bible that best defines its awesome power is Hebrews 4:12: “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.” ~The Message

I encourage you to consider your reading habits, and to use Psalm 119:14 as a prayer to guide you: “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!

imageWhen you were a kid your integrity may have been assaulted with a blazing childhood rant: Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!

Lying, however, isn’t in the repertoire of God—He’s the epitome of truthfulness and faithfulness:  God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent (Numbers 23:19).

The Psalms are replete with verses that testify of the faithfulness of God:

  • 15:4: He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.
  • 18:30: The Lord’s promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take shelter in him.
  • 25:30: The Lord always proves faithful and reliable to those who follow the demands of his covenant.
  • 100:5: For the Lord is good. His loyal love endures, and he is faithful through all generations.

God’s faithfulness is more than just the subject of polite conversation, it’s a concept that sustains us in those where-the-rubber-meets-the-road moments of life:

  • The grief-stricken need to know they can trust God when he says: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).”
  • To the lonely and downcast, God promises that, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:2).”
  • The weak are energized by the potential of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me.”
  • The overwhelmed often find comfort in the opening words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd . . .”

God is not wishy-washy, He’s reliable and His, “word is firmly fixed in the heavens, and His faithfulness endures to all generations (Psalm 119:89-90).”

Regardless of your circumstances in life, remember this: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).”

The *At-Risk Asterisk

AsteriskSometime during the day, I usually stop by McDonald’s and grab a cup of coffee.  When I made my caffeine pit stop yesterday, a sign caught my attention.  It was promoting McDonald’s 2016 version of the Monopoly game.  At the bottom of the sign a red circle was emblazoned with the words, 1 in 4 Win*.

I’ve learned that a person can be at-risk, if he doesn’t pay attention to an asterisk.  After a quick search about the significance of the 1 in 4 Win asterisk and the odds of actually winning, I discovered the following:

  • The odds of getting the exact combination to win the $1 Million prize is 1 in 513,591,720.
  • The odds of winning one of the instant cash prizes is 1 in 45,000.
  • The best odds of winning are associated with the food prizes, and they equate with the advertised 1 in 4 Win*.

An asterisk offers essential data about information that has been changed, is missing, or has been updated.  It’s a coach that guides you through the mental gymnastics of comprehension.

When I think of the asterisk in this context, it reminds me of the work of the Holy Spirit who will offer an at-risk warning.  The ministry of the Spirit is multifaceted, and he empowers, guides, and convicts of sin.

Jesus said the coming of Spirit would be a great benefit to His disciples:

The truth is that My departure will be a gift that will serve you well, because if I don’t leave, the great Helper will not come to your aid. When I leave, I will send Him to you. When He arrives, He will uncover the sins of the world, expose unbelief as sin, and allow all to see their sins in the light of righteousness for the first time.  This new awareness of righteousness is important because I am going to the Father and will no longer be present with you.  ~John 16:7-11, The Voice

Whenever you feel an impression to take some action or you hear a small voice within you, it might be the whisper of the Spirit attempting to give you a new awareness of righteousness.

Paul contrasted the new awareness with the old nature in Romans 8, and I think I’ll use it as an * to share some essential information with you concerning the transforming power of God’s Spirit:

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored. ~Roman 8:5-8, The Message