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In step


Are Christians Exempt?
For reading & meditation - Matthew 5:38-48
""... He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."" (v. 45)

We are meditating on the theme, ""Strong at the broken places,"" and we are discovering that although life deals blows to us all, those who meet life with the right responses and the right inner attitudes are those who turn their weaknesses into strengths. I know some Christians who believe that they ought to be exempt from the cruel blows of life.

A young man who was stunned after failing his examination said, ""I cannot understand. I prayed very hard before the examination, and I lived an exemplary life for the Lord. Why, oh why, should He fail me at this important moment?"" Later he confessed to a friend, ""As a result of God letting me down, my faith in Him has been shattered."" I can sympathize with the young man's feelings, of course, but I cannot agree with his conclusions.

Suppose prayer alone could enable us to pass examinations - what would happen? Prior to examination time, classrooms would be deserted, and everyone would flock to the churches for prayer and meditation. Not a bad situation, you might think. But what would happen to the minds of young people if prayer alone brought success?

They would become blunted by lack of study. I suspect the young man I have just referred to was depending more on prayer than on diligent and painstaking study. Now prayer and study make a good combination, but prayer without study never helped anyone pass an examination. Christians are not exempt from the natural laws that govern the universe. We may through prayer be able to overcome them, but we are not able to avoid them.

Father, thank You for reminding me that even though I am a Christian, I am still governed by natural laws that apply equally to everyone. I cannot be exempt, but through You I can overcome. I am so grateful. Amen.


The "Inner-Stances"
For reading & meditation - 2 Corinthians 4
""We are handicapped on all sides ... we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out!"" (vv. 8-9, J. B. Phillips)

Why is it that while the same things can happen to us all, they may not have the same effect upon us all? The same thing happening to two different people may have entirely different effects. Why should this be so? It depends not so much on the circumstances, but on the ""inner-stances"" - or, in other words, our inner attitudes.

As someone has said, ""What life does to us in the long run depends on what life finds in us."" Life's blows can make some people querulous and bitter, others they sweeten and refine; the same events, but with opposite effects. The Gospels tell us that there were three crosses set up on Calvary on the first Good Friday. The same event happened to three different people, but look at the different results.

One thief complained and blamed Jesus for not saving Himself and them; the other thief recognized his own unworthiness, repented of it and found an open door to Paradise. Jesus, of course, saw it as the climax of His earthly achievements and made it the fulcrum on which He moved the world. What counts, therefore, is not so much what happens to us, but what we do with it.

The same sunshine falling on two different plants can cause one to wither and die, while the other will blossom and flourish. And why? It all depends on the response the plants make. Although, of course, they both need water, one plant is more suited to hot sunshine than the other, and therefore responds with more life and growth, while the other shrivels up and dies.

Gracious heavenly Father, write this precept upon my heart so that I shall never forget it: it's not so much what happens to me, but what I do with it that is important. Thank You, Father. Amen


Two Men - Different Reactions
For reading & meditation - 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
""... 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"" (v. 9)

We must spend another day examining this very important issue of why it is that some non-Christians seem to respond better to life's problems than many Christians. Just recently I heard of two different people whose business ventures collapsed.

One was a Christian and the other an agnostic. The agnostic responded to the situation by saying, ""I cannot determine what happens to me, but I can determine what it will do to me. It will make me better and more useful."" He struck out in another direction, and his new venture prospered to such a degree that he won an award.

The Christian responded to the collapse of his business by saying, ""Life is unjust. What's the point of trying? I shall withdraw from the cutthroat world of business and concentrate on my garden."" He had to undergo some in-depth counseling before he was on his feet again, and after six months he felt strong enough to rebuild a new and now prosperous business.

What can explain the different reactions of these two men? We could explain it in terms of temperament, upbringing, and so on, but there is one thing that must not be overlooked - the Christian had access to the grace of God which, if utilized, should have enabled him to view the situation even more positively than the non-Christian.

As a counselor, I understand why people respond wrongly to life's situations. However, my understanding of it does not prevent me from recognizing that the true biblical response to life's problems is to take full advantage of the grace of God and turn every setback into a springboard.

Gracious Father, help me to respond to everything in the way a Christian should. Help me to see that not only do You lift the standard high, but You also supply the strength for me to attain it. For Jesus' sake. Amen.


Doing What Is Right
For reading & meditation - Philippians 2:15-16
""... continue to work out your salvation ... for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."" (vv. 12-13)

We ended yesterday by saying that the biblical response to all of life's problems is to take advantage of the unfailing grace of God, and turn our setbacks into springboards. I know that some will respond to that statement by saying, ""It sounds good in theory, but it's hard to put it into practice. What about the hurts that some people carry inside them, that make it difficult or sometimes impossible for them to make use of God's grace to turn their problems into possibilities?""

I do understand and sympathize with the wounds that people have, which sometimes militate against their desire to respond to life in a biblical way. I know from firsthand experience the arguments that people can put forward to avoid doing what God asks in His Word. However, I must take my stand, and so must you, on the authority of Scripture, and affirm that God never asks us to do what we are incapable of doing.

Much of evangelical Christianity, I am afraid, is man-centered. We need a return to a God-centered position which does exactly what God asks, whether we feel like it or not. I freely confess that there are times when I don't feel like obeying God. I know, however, what is right - that God has redeemed me and that I belong to Him - and I do what He wants me to whether I feel like it or not. What controls you in your Christian life - your feelings or what you know God asks and expects you to do? Your answer will reveal just who is in the driver's seat!

Gracious and loving heavenly Father, teach me the art of responding to life, not with my feelings but with a clear mind and a clear resolve. Help me to do what is right - whether I feel like it or not. For Jesus' sake. Amen


Emerging from Isolation
For where two or three are gathered in my name,
there am I among them—Matthew 18:20

Imagine, for a moment, a man ever isolated, living alone in the mountains, perhaps. Imagine him living a vigorous, adventurous, spiritual life, but lacking community. The knowledge this man would have of God, the knowledge he’d have of himself, would be modest compared to the knowledge he’d have of both, were he to have full access to relationships, friendships, brotherhood.

You see, the isolated man may know about God. But, no matter how much he might read and study, he cannot know God. That takes community. We get to know God by seeing his Holy Spirit moving in others. We encounter God, we experience him, we understand him when he works through the love and sacrifice of other people. In brotherhood, we get to show God to one another. And, the more we’re in community with brothers, the deeper our understanding becomes.

The isolated man may also know about himself—his talents, his likes, his dislikes. But, he cannot know himself. He cannot know the man God intends him to become. That too takes community. It takes others around him, who know his story, who spend time with him, who watch him, to discern and affirm and call forth things true and eternal in him, things God longs for to emerge. It takes brotherhood to call forth the true man.

Though we live in cities and towns, many of us are yet like the man isolated in the mountains. We know about God, but we don’t knowhim. We know the men we’d like to be, but we don’t know the men he created us to be. This message, right now, is another call for brotherhood. It’s a call for you, brother, to get into community with other men. Find some brothers; find your place.


The "harvest of the Spirit"
Galatians 5:13-26
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (vv.22-23)

We begin today a detailed study of the fruit of the Spirit -- the nine ingredients which go to make up Christian character. These nine qualities are the natural outcome of the Holy Spirit's indwelling -- not a manufactured one.

When Paul speaks of the manifestations of the flesh, he describes them as "works," but when speaking of the manifestations of the Spirit, he describes them as "fruit." "Works" suggests something that is an effort: "fruit" suggests something that is effortless. Some translations use the term "harvest of the Spirit" rather than "fruit of the Spirit," pointing to the finished product, the outcome.

Most people, myself included, prefer the word "fruit" to "harvest," but there is a special truth locked up in the word "harvest" that we must not miss. You see, it is what we finally reap as the result of an attitude or course of action that is important. What happens along the way, such as good feelings, are part of the Spirit's purpose but not the greatest part. It is the end result that matters.

And what is that end result? It is a quality of being. Jesus once said: "Love your enemies, do good ... and your reward will be great ... you will be sons of the Highest" (Luke 6:35, NKJV). Note the phrase, "you will be." The reward is more than just having -- it is being. Remember, the goodness or badness of an act is determined, not just by what it does to others but by what it does to you. So having the Holy Spirit within us is not just being the recipient of pleasurable emotions -- it is being a better person.

O God my Father, help me right here at the beginning to get my focus right and yearn, not so much for better feelings, but to be a better person. In Christ's Name I ask it. Amen.


The Shepherd's Voice

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."1

A party of tourists was on its way to Palestine and their guide was describing some of the customs of the East.

He was explaining how in England, for example, a shepherd follows the sheep, but in the East the shepherd leads the way and the sheep follow him for they know his voice.

When the tourist group reached Palestine one of the first sights they saw was a flock of sheep not being led by the shepherd but being driven along by the man. The guide, being perplexed, stopped to talk to the shepherd.

"How is it that you are driving these sheep?" he asked. "I have always been told that the Eastern shepherd leads his sheep."

"You are quite right, sir," replied the man. "The shepherd does lead his sheep. But you see I'm not the shepherd. I'm the butcher."2

With so many religious voices today vying for the hearts and minds of adherents, we need to be certain that we know Jesus, the true Shepherd, recognize his voice and follow him. Remember that there are many false prophets that are nothing but "butchers" in sheep's clothing.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, help me to know for certain that I am committed to Jesus, the true Shepherd. Help me never to stray from him, always know his voice, and follow him. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


The primacy of love
1 Corinthians 13"
... the greatest of these is love." (v.13)

The fruit of the Spirit is just one aspect of the Spirit-filled life.

It is an over-simplification, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian moves in two important directions -- to produce purity and to produce power. The power aspect can be seen in a study of the gifts of the Spirit and the purity aspect in a study of the fruit of the Spirit. Both are of equal importance. So be assured that in emphasising the fruit of the Spirit, I am not intending to divert attention from the gifts of the Spirit and their miraculous nature.

Having the Spirit within results in many things but, as we saw yesterday, one of the most important results is a quality of being -- a quality of being which has nine characteristics. The first of these is "love."

This emphasis on the primacy of love fits in with Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 13 -- "the greatest of these is love." If one examines the chapter in which these words are found, it will be discovered that every fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5 is involved in this supernatural love. Indeed either directly, or by synonyms, each of them is mentioned.

All the fruit depends on the first. Note the connection: love suffers long -- long-suffering. Love is kind. Love does not envy -- goodness. Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up -- meekness or gentleness. Love seeks not its own, is not easily provoked -- self-control. Love rejoices in the truth -- joy. Love bears all things, hopes all things -- faithfulness. Having love, we have all the fruit of the Spirit. Without it we are nothing.

Prayer: Gracious Father, I see that whatever else I possess, if I do not possess love I am nothing. Help me to keep all my channels open to You, so that love -- Your love -- may grow in me. Amen.


A Parent's Influence

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."1

You may have read the following poem, but it is well worth reading again:

I took a piece of plastic clay
And idly fashioned it one day;
And as my fingers pressed it still,
It moved and yielded as my will.

I came again when days were past,
The form I gave it still it bore,
And as my fingers pressed it still,
I could change that form no more.

I took a piece of living clay,
And gently formed it day by day,
And molded with my power and art
A young child's soft and yielding heart.

I came again when days were gone;
It was a man I looked upon,
He still that early impress bore,
And I could change it never more.2

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to be as Christ to my children (and/or to any children that I may have the opportunity to influence) so that they, seeing Jesus in me, will want him in their life as well. Help me to model your love and loving ways so that my life will impact, not only my children so that they will grow up in the ways of God, but in some way every life I touch. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Mature -- only in love
Ephesians 4:7-16
"... speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him ..." (v.15)

We are seeing that love is the first outcome of the Spirit within, and if this is lacking, everything is lacking.

The first indication of the fact that we are growing spiritually is that we are growing in love. If we grow in love, then we grow -- period. Without growing in love, we cannot grow in God, for His essential nature is love.

Our passage today, in the Moffatt translation, tells us that we are to "hold by the truth, and by our love to grow up wholly into Him." There is only one way to grow up wholly into Him, and that is "by our love." We remain immature if we are immature in love. If the love is ingrown and focused on itself then the result is an immature personality. If the love is selectively applied to certain groups, again the result is an immature personality.

We are mature to the extent that we can love. Indeed all other growth, without growth in love, is what someone has described as "sucker love -- growth that bears no fruit." J. B. Phillips' translation of 1 Corinthians 8:1 puts it this way: "While knowledge may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature."

There is a great emphasis on getting knowledge in today's Church. A lecturer in a leading British theological college recently wrote: "Know the facts of the faith and that will redeem you." I know many Christians who are good at giving facts in relation to the faith but not so good at giving love. Knowledge looks big, but it is just big barrenness unless love is behind it.

O Father, I sense that You are bringing me to the very crux of things. Hold me to it, for unless I grow in love then I do not grow in You. Help me, dear Father. Amen.


Trust No One
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts—Psalm 28:7

The Apostle Paul set a challenge before us: “having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). No small thing, that one. We men have such a hard time with transparency, with vulnerability. “I don’t know you guys that well.” “I have a hard time trusting other people.” “I don’t know everyone here.”

These and objections like them surface naturally in men facing the prospect of being transparent and vulnerable with brothers in community. We’ve all said them, in some version or another. But, this approach, of hesitating and waiting to open up, waiting to tell our brothers what’s really going on, what we’re afraid of, what we’re struggling with, until we have complete trust of the men we’re opening up to, is foolish and based upon misplaced trust.

You see, we can trust no man completely. All “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So, waiting for complete trust means waiting for something that’ll never happen. We’re all broken, capable of wickedness even toward those we love most. God, however . . . God is not.

So, in him and in him only, brother, should we put our trust (Psalm 118:8). He calls us to be transparent, vulnerable with others, so we must. Now, it might not always go well (at least from our perspectives). That’s okay. It’ll go well from God’s perspective—our obedience to him always does. And, he knows better than we.

Next time you meet with a brother or two or three, look around. Which of them do you trust more than God? In that moment, tell yourself: “I trust God. So, I know what I must do” No more lies. No more pretending. No more posturing.


What compels you?
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
"For Christ's love compels us ..." (v.14)

What exactly does Scripture mean when it uses the word "love"? In English, the word "love" has a variety of meanings. It is used for the mighty passion that moves in the heart of God but it is used also to describe such things as the flutterings of the adolescent heart in spring, an extramarital affair, or a homosexual relationship.

The one word "love" has to be spread over a multiplicity of diverse meanings. The Greek language is much richer in this respect. It has four words for love. One is eros, meaning love between the sexes. Another is philia, meaning affectionate human love. Then there is the word storge, meaning family love.

The most powerful word for love, however, is agape, which means unconditional love -- the love that surges in the heart of God. When Paul says, "the fruit of the Spirit is love," the word he uses for love is agape. He means that the love we are expected to experience and demonstrate when we are indwelt by the Spirit is not just love in general, but love of a specific kind -- the love which we see exemplified in Jesus.

In the text before us today, Paul says: "For Christ's love compels us." This cuts deep. It is possible to be compelled by the love of achievement, of success, of a cause, of a fight. What compels you -- the love of a cause or the love of Christ? The enemies of the early Christians complained that "these followers of Jesus love each other even before they are acquainted." They did. They couldn't help it, for the very nature of the faith they had embraced was love.

Father, as I look into my heart in these few moments to see what controls me, help me to come out with the same answer as the apostle Paul -- "the love of Christ." Pour Your love in so that I may pour it out to others. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


The Power of Encouragement

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

The word encourage (en=in+courage) simply means to put courage into another—something we all need to do and receive regularly.

Years ago—when I was a young teenager—one of the men in our church gave me a light manly punch on my arm and gave me a compliment about my football game as I passed by him.

I've never forgotten that compliment which to me was a big encouragement when I needed it. Some years later I recall how in my beginning days of ministry, after speaking to a youth group, one of the members in attendance said to me, "Thank you for being God's messenger to me today." I've never forgotten her words and those of many others along the way either. (Sadly, a cutting word can have the opposite long-term effect.)

Encouragement. So easy to give, costs nothing, and is worth its weight in gold.

As Leo Buscaglia said, "The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parade for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents.

Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It's overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt."

Be sure to encourage—to put courage into—someone today, especially your own loved ones.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank you for all the people who have encouraged me along the way. They are greatly appreciated. And please help me to be an encourager to someone else every single day just as others have encouraged me. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Choose your "cause"
Matthew 6:24-34
"... seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (v.33, NKJV)

Some people attempt to come into the Christian life at the level of self-control rather than at the level of love, and quickly discover that it does not work. I tried to come into Christianity this way. There was a time in my teens when I was greatly attracted to Christianity, but not willing to make the full surrender which it so clearly demands.

Every day I would start out with the thought and purpose that I would do everything in my power to keep myself from sin -- and every night I fell into bed feeling a failure. How could a diseased will heal a diseased soul?Then I surrendered my life to Christ and something wonderful happened -- His love flowed into my heart and as I began to love Him, all lesser loves soon dropped away.

A university professor, writing on the subject of loyalty, says an interesting thing: "There is only one way to be an ethical individual and that is to choose your cause and then to serve it. This central loyalty to a cause puts other loyalties in their place as subordinate.

Then life as a whole is coordinated because all lesser loyalties are subordinated."Translate his thinking into New Testament language and you find an interesting similarity. The "cause" we choose is Christ and His Kingdom, and when we seek them first, then all other things, including self-control, are added to us.

This does not mean, of course, that once we become Christians we automatically become people of supreme self-control. We have the potential for that, but it becomes a reality only as we continually surrender and submit to Christ's control.

O Father, I am so thankful that when I threw my will on Your side, You threw Your will on my side. I am controlled because I am under control. Amen.


Man, What's the Point?
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked—Psalm 73:3

Do you ever look around, at people who are prosperous and follow God either not much or not at all? Do you ever find yourself envying such people, who embrace the world wholeheartedly and enjoy it’s successes? Do you ever get discouraged? Do you ever wonder, what’s the point? I mean, do you ever just get tired of trying to follow God in the midst of people who aren’t? Are you ever tempted to relent and embrace the world a bit more, too?

A man named Asaph, psalmist in the time of David and Solomon, was tempted to relent. He was surrounded by faithless men who seemed “always at ease” and to continually “increase in riches” (Psalm 73:12). Asaph envied them and his “heart was embittered” (Psalm 73:21). “All in vain,” he cried, “have I kept my heart clean . . .” (Psalm 73:13). We may not admit it as boldly as Asaph, but many of us harbor similar thoughts.

When we face that choice, though, to embrace God or embrace the world, we must remember—we’re part of something much larger, much more important than houses or vacations or titles. We’ve been invited into an ancient and remarkable battle. For “we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). We’re agents of the resistance, behind enemy lines. We cannot allow ourselves, therefore, to be beguiled by our enemy or the world under his power.

Are you ever, like Asaph, nagged by this kind of envy? If so, talk about it. Simply talking about it—with God, a spouse, a friend, with brothers in community—undermines its power. It also allows others to keep you “fueled and aflame” for the battle ahead (Romans 12:11 MSG).


PProverbs 16:20-44
"Better ... a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city."(v.32)

We come now to the last of the nine fruits of the Spirit -- self-control. The King James Version uses the word "temperance" but in most translations the Greek word (enkrateia) is rendered as self-control. Underlying the word is the idea of self-restraint, a fine mastery of one's personality, a controlled and disciplined nature.

It is noteworthy that Paul puts self-control last. Most systems of thought, both ancient and modern, would put it first. Consider the various philosophies that have fascinated man over past centuries, and what do you find? They all seek to produce a happy and contented person through self-control. Some advocate thought control, some breath control, others will-control.

The Christian way is different -- it produces happy and contented people, not primarily by thought control or even will-control, but by Christ-control. The Christian is a self-controlled person, but he becomes that, not by self-effort alone but by the gracious supply of the Holy Spirit who indwells him. You do not gain God, Christ or the Holy Spirit through self-control: you gain self-control through God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.

You see, if you begin with self-control, then you are the center -- you are controlling yourself. But if you begin, as Paul does, with love, then the spring of action is outgoing and you are released from yourself and from self-preoccupation. When you begin with love, you end with self-control. But it is not a nervous, anxious, tied-up self-control; it is a control that is natural and unstrained -- hence beautiful.

Gracious Father, help me grasp the thought that self-control is not really myself in control, but Christ in control of myself. I put You in control and You then put me in control. It is indeed beautiful. Thank You, dear Father. Amen.


The drawing power of humility
Proverbs 18
"Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor" (v.12)

In 1 Peter 3:15 we read: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you ... But do this with gentleness and respect." Real Christian witness always has a gracious gentleness about it which is far more effective than the aggressive approach which tries to ram the Gospel down people's throats.

As someone has put it: "To win some you must be winsome."A final text we explore is James 3:13 -- "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom." The real ornament of life which is precious in the sight of God is a meek and quiet spirit. Those who think they are not gifted by temperament to relate to people in this way need not despair. The Spirit who dwells in you will, if you allow Him, transform your temperament into the image of Christ.

Paul's spiritual progress may be measured by the fact that in 1 Corinthians 15:9, he says: "I am the least of the apostles," and writing later to the Ephesians (3:8), he says he is less than the least -- not now of the apostles -- but "of all God's people." Still later, when writing to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:15), he says that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- "of whom I am the worst." Oh, the wonder of humility. God said through Isaiah: "I dwell ... with him who has a contrite and humble spirit" (57:15, NKJV). James said, "God resists the proud" -- He repels their advances. The haughty He knows only from afar: it is the humble whom the Almighty respects.

Lord Jesus, I can have too much of many things but I cannot have too much of You. I cannot be too much like You or have too much of Your Spirit. Fill me to overflowing so that I become more and more like You. Amen.


Love Never Fails

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."1

Michael Josephson in Character Counts tells the story about Todd, "a sadly quiet 11-year-old struggling to adjust to the death of his mother. His father left long ago and he was living with an aunt who made it known that she resented the responsibility of caring for him. On several occasions Sheryl, the boy's teacher, heard the aunt tell Todd, 'If it weren't for my generosity you would be a homeless orphan.'

"Sheryl took extra pains to make Todd feel valued and she encouraged his interest in making things. Just before the Christmas break, Todd shyly presented her with a small decorated box he'd made.

"'It's beautiful,' Sheryl gushed.

"Todd replied, 'There's something very special inside that my mom gave to me before she died. She said it's the one thing I can give and still have plenty left. It helps you feel better when you're sad, and safe when you're scared.'

"As Sheryl started to open the box, Todd warned her, 'Oh, you can't see it.'

"'Well, what is it?' Sheryl asked kindly.

"'It's love. And you're the first person since my mom that I love.'

"Sheryl hugged Todd tightly and said, 'I'll treasure this forever. It's the best gift I ever got.'

"She kept it on her desk until she retired and touched it whenever she was sad or scared. It never failed to make her heart smile.

"Years later, Todd sent her the tassel he wore during his graduation from medical school. It's been in the box ever since.

"In truth, it's love, not diamonds, that's the gift that keeps on giving. What's more, love generates itself. The more you give away, the more you have left."2

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to be a more thoughtful, gracious, understanding and loving person. Help me in some way to communicate your love to every life I touch. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Danger areas of life
Proverbs 15
"The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit." (v.4)

What are some of the areas of life in which we need to have self-control? Let me select what I consider to be the three most important. The first is the area of sex. Controlled sex is creative; uncontrolled sex is chaotic. I need hardly say that sex outside of marriage is clearly forbidden by Scripture and those who engage in it will find it leads not to fulfilment but to disintegration of the personality. That disintegration may not come right away, but given time -- come it will.

Within the marriage relationship also there is need for self-control. If one's partner becomes the means of self-gratification, instead of a person to be loved and respected, then again, disintegration sets in. You cannot use another without abusing yourself. Your attitudes toward another become your attitudes toward yourself. If you use another for sex purposes, then sex uses you.

Sex is a dedication or it is a desecration, and when it becomes desecration, it becomes degradation. Another area of life in which we need the self-control which the Spirit provides is that of the tongue. James points out that the tongue is an important indicator of how well we control ourselves (James 3:2).

There are three stages, we are told, in verbal communication -- impulse, consideration, speech. Many omit the second and jump from impulse to speech. The person who has self-control pauses between impulse and speech and gives himself to consideration. The Holy Spirit -- if we let Him -- comes to our aid to help us be sure that what we say is what we want to say.

O God, help me to be a disciplined person in thought, word and deed -- especially in thought. And help me to hold my tongue when I should and speak when I should. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


Bodily indulgence
1 Corinthians 9:19-27
"I beat my body and make it my slave so that ... I myself will not be disqualified ..." (v.27)

A third area of life in which we need self-control is that which has to do with bodily indulgence. The body, by its very nature, is comfort-loving and too much comfort is debilitating to the soul. The mother of John Wesley is reported to have said: "Whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, however innocent it may be in itself -- that thing is sin to you."

David Hill puts it this way: "There is before each one of us an altar of sacrifice, unseen but real and present; and on this altar we are called to offer ourselves. There is some crucifixion of the flesh, some physical self-sacrifice, the abandonment of some bodily indulgence which the spirit of man knows that he is called to make."What are some of the things our bodies clamor for? One is food -- and generally speaking, we eat far more than is good for us. Another thing the body clamors for is sleep.

People differ in the amount of sleep that they need, but we must watch that we do not spend more time in bed than is good for us. How delighted, too, the body becomes with the luxuries of life. It has been said that the luxuries of one generation become the bare necessities of the next.

We must not go too far and see the body as an enemy that has to be continuously afflicted. Self-control helps the Christian to offer to God an obedient personality which is not cloyed by comfort or sluggish from indulgence, but sensitive to guidance and ready for all His perfect will.

O Father, once again I ask that You dwell deep within me by Your Spirit and help me to be free from the clamoring desires that would cancel out my effectiveness. I ask this in and through Your peerless and precious Name. Amen.