GROWING

…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. II Peter 3:18

At a teacher training orientation today one of the facilitators said that personal engagement with the Bible, God’s Word, was the single most important thing we can do for spiritual growth. Nothing else even comes close.

When we begin a daily discipline of reading the Bible, we can expect the Holy Spirit to teach us God’s truths, to point out and convict us of sin in our lives, to correct and rebuke us in wrongdoing, and to train us. We can also expect to be guided, to be encouraged, to be comforted, healed emotionally and spiritually and physically, spiritually nourished, instructed in life and relationships, learn business principles, and countless other wonders. And we can expect to grow.

But let’s face it: Bible reading is a discipline. It requires a commitment to take the time, to stop, to be intentional about getting into God’s presence through his Word. There really is no excuse for not reading the Bible. In our country there are 4.4 Bibles in the average household. 57% of Americans polled read the Bible four times a year, and only 26% of that group read the Bible at least four times a week. (American Bible Society) Is it any wonder that Christianity seems to be in decline?

Everyone has the same amount of hours in the day; everyone in our country has access to a Bible; everyone will experience growth by engaging with the Word. We cannot put ourselves in God’s presence without being transformed. Let’s stop making excuses and get regularly into the Word.

Heavenly Father, your Word is a lamp to our feet and light to our path. Where your light comes, darkness disappears. Cause us to hunger and thirst for you and your Word, and strengthen us to discipline ourselves to daily seek you in your Word. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

INTO THE WORLD

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15

I’ve said goodbye to my dear mother whom I will see in heaven along with all our loved ones who kept the faith. And now my work takes me to Uganda to minister with old friends there as we tell the Story in words and deeds. I won’t be posting to my blog for a couple of weeks, but your prayers would be so much appreciated.

A few years ago a friend and I stood with a group of fellow pilgrims in Israel at the site where Jesus is said to have given the Great Commission (above) to his disciples. In the 2000-plus years since that event, countless millions have heard the gospel from the countless disciples who have been obedient to their Lord. My contemporaries and I looked at each other and prayed that we also would be witnesses as we left this “mountain top” experience.

Yet I sometimes wonder about the extent of my personal obedience. How many have I touched as I go into my world? Yes, I try to seize opportunities to share Good News in a needy world, but still I wonder… And then I remember the words of Henri Nouwen: “The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world’s problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.”

And so, as I go to Uganda, I ask God to help me be faithful to preach and live out the gospel at all times and on all occasions.

Heavenly Father, it truly is a marvel that you have entrusted such a treasure to frail humanity. But with your power working through us, we want to share all your goodness and your love. Help us. In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

REJOICING

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4 (NIV)

Are you always rejoicing or do you sometimes find it difficult to follow through on Paul’s instructions? He doesn’t tell the Philippians to rejoice sometimes, but it’s always. And he repeated himself.

The rejoicing Paul speaks about is not emotionally oriented. Like everything else we receive from God, it comes from a much deeper place that knows satisfaction and contentment in Jesus. Dependence on emotions can make us fluctuate up and down with the change of circumstance. Rejoicing in the Lord is something that we can do no matter how we feel.

Just begin with thanksgiving. Think of God’s faithfulness in everyday life. Look around at his creation. Remember all the ways he has rescued you, even when you didn’t know you needed him. Thank him for the prayers he didn’t answer according to your short-sighted vision. Before long, you’ll begin to rejoice.

Father, in your presence is fullness of joy. Cause us to relish companionship with you and give us a heart of rejoicing. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

WORDS

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

Have you ever heard the children’s nursery rhyme that says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” This was first cited in 1862 and was an encouragement to ignore taunts and criticism intended to wound. That may be very well in a rhyme, but the truth is that words can hurt. Poet Will Carleton wrote, “Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead, but God himself can’t kill them when they’re said.”

Our words are expressions of the heart and the mind. As God’s children, we are called to let [our] conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt… We can use words of grace that bless the hearer and season them with salt to avoid corruption and to bring reasoning to the discussion. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we thought before we spoke and if we prayed that whatever came from our mouths would encourage or build up or in some way bless our hearers?

Father, begin with me. I want my tongue to be an instrument of blessing and not cursing. I yield my whole self to you to be your instrument of grace, truth, love, and peace. In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

BEST BOOKS

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. II Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

I had a wise pastor who regularly encouraged us to take advantage of the church library. “You can only read so many books in your lifetime,” he said. “So read the best books.” That set me to thinking. If I read a book a week, I will read 52 books in a year. One a month would be 12 in a year. Multiply that by the number of years in a life, and that really isn’t a lot of books.

Yes, I admit that I sometimes read light fiction for a break from intense living, but it’s not my regular reading fare. Why? I want to read the best books, and I have limited time for reading.

What, you may ask, is the best book? My all-time favorite is God’s Book, the Bible. Some of its stories are stranger than fiction; there’s history; biography; futuristic reading; poetry; and so on. Real people go through the same things we do, and when they turn to God, he rescues. But the Bible doesn’t sugar coat the real life stories of its heroes and heroines. It talks about real consequences to sin and real blessings to obedience. And it reassures us that we always have a Friend to help us in all experiences and who celebrates with us all the joys that life can bring.

Do you have a reading plan? You know the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” There are many Bible reading plans available, and there are so many blessings attached to the reading. Spiritual growth is impossible without an intentional, regular devotion to reading the Word and living out its truths. An added benefit is that the Bible is the only book that guarantees good things following the reading.

Sure, I read other books besides the Bible, but I wouldn’t want to neglect it for any other reading. It’s brought me closer to the One I love most. If you don’t regularly take time to read God’s Word, make time. You’ll be glad you did.

Father, your Word heals, restores, brings lights, directs, encourages, reprimands, strengthens, informs, and the list could go on and on. Thank you for giving us this precious gift. Draw our hearts more and more to you and give us a renewed desire to read and study your Word. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

ASKING

…ye have not, because ye ask not. James 4:2b (KJV)

In good faith, we ordered imprinted notebooks for an upcoming workshop. For some days we didn’t hear from the vendor. We tried calling and e-mailing. And we prayed. Still no word. The materials would be no good to us after the meetings, so we intensified our prayers and our attempts to get a response.
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We’re told that as Christians we shouldn’t be anxious about anything and should pray about everything; that we should pray and not give up (we needed those notebooks); and that he would supply our needs. There were many scripture verses about prayer that we could have leaned on. We figured that if God is concerned about hairs and birds and flowers and grass, he could surely deliver those notebooks in time.

The last possible day they could be delivered before the event, they were brought to my office. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I like Sir William Temple’s reasoning when he says, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.” And so we prayed again—in thanksgiving.

Father, you know our needs, our frailties, and our little faith. Thank you that, in spite of all this, you still shower us with mercy and loving kindness. YES. Amen.

A GRANDMOTHER’S “WORD”

Cause me to hear Thy loving kindness in the morning, for in Thee do I trust. Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, for I lift up my soul unto Thee. Psalm 143:8 (KJV)

I know a businessman who is in process of making a critical decision. He quoted the above scripture to me saying it had guided him for years and that his grandmother had “given” it to him. He is resting in the expectation that God will guide and give him the direction he needs. This man heads up a multimillion dollar corporation, and he still relies on a verse his grandmother spoke to him years ago.

How many of us affirm our children (and grandchildren) with scripture, and how authentic is the spiritual life we live before them so that they value our words—and keep them in their hearts forever? Little things we can do that cost nothing and that bear lifelong fruit in the lives of those we love…

Father, keep me faithful to encourage those you’ve given me, to affirm them in your Word, and to live uprightly before them. In Christ our Lord. Amen.