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In step


True Friendship

"A friend loves at all times"1.

I remember years ago how a friend said that some people are "cursed with the affliction to give advice." I had no idea what he meant. Sure sounded strange to me. Now I understand. He was talking about unsolicited advice; that is, giving advice where it is neither asked for nor wanted.

According to Webster's Dictionary, people "offering unwanted advice or services" are officious. I think that word is close to "obnoxious." Such advice can be thinly veiled criticism.

I'm not talking about going to a lawyer, an accountant, a car mechanic, or whatever when we need professional advice. What I'm talking about is when we share our struggles and feelings with a friend and they have a compulsion to tell us what we should or shouldn't do, or how we should or shouldn't feel. They are in fact putting us down in that they are assuming that they know our needs and understand our situation better than we do ourselves.

Even when some people want advice about a personal issue, it is more effective not to give it to them, but help them come up with their own options and solutions.

A good counselor doesn't tell people what they should or shouldn't do. He helps them see for themselves what they need to do.

What I want from a friend when I am feeling in the pits, is someone to listen to me with their heart, to give me their presence, and accept me as I am, and let me know that they care—not try to fix me—or someone who will weep with me when I weep. Such friends may be rare but they are worth their weight in gold.

In his book, Out of Solitude, Henri Nouwen wrote, "When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to be a true friend and to be there for those who are hurting, not to give them advice or try to fix them or resolve their problems, but to listen to them, accept their feelings, give them my presence, love them, and be as Jesus to them. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. Proverbs 17:17 (NIV).


No Fixed Rate
2 Peter 3
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (v. 18)

We are going to consider the things we need to know and do in order to gain a deeper and more intimate relationship with God. One of the questions put to me most frequently during the years in which I have been a minister and a counselor is this: "Why does one person seem to have a closer relationship with God than another, even though both have been on the Christian way for the same length of time?"

Even the most casual observer of the Christian life cannot help but notice that people do not travel along the road leading to deeper knowledge of God at the same rate. We grow old at the same rate. But progress in spiritual things is not made at a fixed rate. From time to time I meet people who have fewer years of Christian experience than I do, yet they seem to know God more profoundly.

They leave me feeling seriously challenged and humbled. You have come across this yourself, haven't you? Surely you have met people who, though younger than you in terms of discipleship, are able to forgive injuries more readily than you, seem to be free of the nasty censoriousness you sometimes struggle with, and are swift to praise others whom they see doing more effectively the things they want to do themselves. Why? This is the issue which over the coming weeks we must make plain. Lovers of Scripture will have no doubt that God wants to move closer to us. The question we have to decide is: Do we want to move closer to Him?

Father, make this time in my life a time of vision and venture in the things of God. May it become a time of spiritual advancement to a degree I have never before known. I ask all this in Christ's Name. Amen.


A portrait of a saint
Colossians 1:15-29
"... the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (v.27)

The Christian in whom the fruit of the Spirit is fully evident is the best picture of saintliness it is possible to find. How would we go about painting a portrait of a saint? Some sections of the Church say that a saint has to have several qualifications -- faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance -- and all of them in an heroic degree. Others take from Scripture its own catalog of the virtues begotten in the human soul by the Holy Spirit. They see, therefore, in Paul's list an inspired catalogue of the qualities that characterize a saint.

How then does God go about painting a portrait of a saint? His canvas is the Scriptures -- the Word of God. The colors He puts on His palette are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. The absence of any one of these virtues would be serious, for every one is needed if the portrait is to be a masterpiece.

These colors, by the way, are not pastel shades -- every one is deep and rich and vibrant. The model He uses is the peerless example of His own dear Son, in whom every quality is seen to its utmost perfection and wondrously balanced by every other.

Even now, as you read these lines, His brush strokes are at work, gently and lovingly caressing into your nature all the lineaments of your Lord's character. All He asks is that you hold still -- that you stop trying and start trusting. Do this -- and in the truest sense of the word, you will become a saint.

My Father and my God, help me hold still as You go about the task of painting in me the portrait of a saint. Let every brush stroke reflect the beauty and loveliness of Your eternal Son. I ask this in and through His precious Name. Amen.


You’re Magnetic
Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?—Mark 2:16
God loves us—just as we are, right now. Wow. That’s kind of difficult to accept, isn’t it? I mean, it’s hard to feel worthy of that love, with all our mistakes, our imperfections. Don’t we need to be perfect and holy too, just as he is, before he can love us? No, brother, he loves us—just as we are, right now. If we’re ever going to understand God, if we’re ever going to understand ourselves, in relation to God, we’re going to have to bend our minds toward that truth.

He is perfect and holy; we are not. True. What’s not true is that, because of his perfection, he’s drawn only to more perfection. What’s not true is that, because of his holiness, he demands our holiness before he’ll love us, accept us, want anything to do with us.

God knows our mistakes, every imperfection. Nothing is hidden from him (Hebrews 4:13). And, actually, precisely because he knows, he executed the ultimate act of love: he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to be our King and to save us from our mistakes and imperfections (Romans 5:8). So, the truth is—like a doctor to the sick—he’s actually drawn to imperfection and sin(Mark 2:17). Our relationships with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, begin to work when we accept and welcome that love.
Throughout this week, take these words as God’s promise, just to you. Meditate upon them. Let them sink in deep.

“. . . neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [me] from the love of God in Christ Jesus . . .” (Romans 8:38-39).


As You Think

"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."1

Golfer Arnold Palmer has won hundreds of trophies but he never flaunts these. In his office is only one trophy on display. It is a small cup he received at his first professional win at the Canadian Open in 1955.

On his office wall is this lone framed plaque that reads:

If you think you are beaten, you are. / If you think you dare not, you don't. / If you'd like to win but think you can't, / it's almost certain you won't. Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man, / But sooner or later, the man who wins / is the man who thinks he can.

Life's battles, challenges, successes and/or failures are all fought, won or lost in the mind.

"Keep your heart with all diligence," said Solomon, "for out of it are the issues of life."2 The heart in the Bible refers to the total mind: the intellect, the will, and the emotions. And that's the "mind" we need to guard with all diligence, and daily commit and trust to God.

Be assured, too, that "what the mind dwells on the body acts on." If you don't agree with this, just think how temptation works.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to guard my heart and mind with all diligence … and keep my thoughts focused on things that are 'true, pure, and of good report.' Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name, amen."

1. Proverbs 23:7.
2. Proverbs 4:23.


A Crucial Element
Acts 17:16-34
"... but now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent." (v. 30)

There are, of course, many reasons why some people move along the path of discipleship at a snail's pace, while others appear to cover twice the distance in half the time. It has much to do with the way we enter the Christian life.

Those who have studied the manner in which people become Christians tell us there are two main ways of coming to faith in Christ. One is through a dramatic conversion, whereby a person confronted with the claims of Christ yields to Him in a single moment. The other is when a person moves more slowly into faith, and sometimes cannot even pinpoint the exact moment when he or she made the great surrender. What must be remembered is that both experiences are valid.

The best evidence that we are alive is not our birth certificate but the fact we are going about our daily lives as living, breathing people. I myself find no problem when individuals say they do not know the day or hour when they committed themselves to Christ, providing they show evidence that they belong to Him by such proofs as a desire to be alone with Him in prayer, a longing to know Him better through His Word, and an eagerness to meet and have fellowship with other believers.

But no matter how one enters the Christian life -- suddenly or slowly -- the most essential element is repentance. I have no hesitation in saying that if we do not understand what is involved in living repentant lives, then regardless of how we start the Christian life there will be no successful continuance.

My Father and my God, if repentance is so important -- and I see that it is -- then help me understand it more deeply. I am at Your feet. Teach me, dear Lord. In Jesus' Name I ask it. Amen.


You’re Designed for Extremes
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.
Would that you were either cold or hot—Revelation 3:15

There are three approaches to life with God: All In; All Out; and, in the middle, between those, a third approach. This third approach is actually a range—it encompasses every approach between the two extremes. Many of us take the third approach. I mean, we do believe life is better with God—but, our belief is more theoretical than not. We get busy with careers, families, finances, and rarely think about actually applying the life and truth of our King, Jesus Christ, to our own, complicated lives. And so, they become indistinguishable from the lives of men All Out.

Jesus calls takers of the third approach “lukewarm,” and is particularly frustrated by us: “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). We third-approachers mistakenly presume we’re doing okay faith-wise—not as well as we could maybe, but okay nonetheless. Therefore, Jesus’ words are startling and challenging—and force us to consider All In.

So, what does All In require? The world tells us, too much. But, that’s wrong. It doesn’t require more than we can give. Brother, we’re designed for All In. Jesus isn’t some out-of-touch “high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). He understands our lives. He knows what he’s asking. All In doesn’t require we be perfect; we couldn’t. It requires a soft heart―a willingness to try, genuinely, to use Jesus’ life as a pattern for our own.

Pray the All In prayer: Set aside a couple minutes today. Quiet your surroundings. Shut the door. Turn off music. Quiet your mind. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart. Now, speak directly to Jesus, your King, and say three plain, simple words, “I’m All In.” That’s it.


A Change of Mind
2 Timothy 1:1-12
"... your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice ..." (v. 5)

Yesterday we said that there are two types of entry into the Christian life -- sudden and gradual. Paul the apostle had one of the most sudden and dramatic conversions in Christian history, yet Paul's disciple Timothy does not seem to have had a similar experience.

We cannot tell for sure, but Timothy's coming to faith, a process apparently greatly influenced by his grandmother and mother, seems to have been much more prolonged. We said also (and some may have found this surprising) that without a clear understanding of repentance, and all that it entails, there can be no successful continuance in the Christian life. So what is repentance and why is it vitally important?

The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means "a change of mind." But a change of mind about what? About where life is found. Prior to coming to Christ our minds are shot through with the idea that life depends on such things as self-sufficiency, self-management, and ego-building.

The Bible confronts this self-centered approach to living and says that for our lives to work the way God designed them, the ego must be marginal and not central. In other words, Christ must be central, and the ego revolves around Him just as the planets revolve around the sun.

This is quite a radical thought for any mind to grapple with, but be sure of this -- if there is no acceptance of it, the soul will not go on to experience a deep and developing relationship with God. No change of mind about where life is to be found -- no spiritual progress. It is as simple as that.

O Father, help me examine my heart and decide just who is central in my life -- You or me. Show me even more clearly how I can be more Christ-centered and less ego-centered. In the Name of Your Son I ask it. Amen.


You, too, Can Impact Your World

"They first gave themselves to the Lord."1

For many years one of my constant prayers that I like to pray every day is, "Lord, I'm available, please help me to be as Christ today in some way to every life I touch."

On one occasion when I was in a church outside of Melbourne, Australia, and was setting up in readiness for a seminar, a lady approached me and said right out of the blue, "I just saw Jesus in you!" I have no idea what she saw but her words blew me away. I've never forgotten what she said and how much her brief sentence reinforced my determination to pray the above prayer every day for the rest of my life. I hope that I so live that many people will "see" Jesus in me and, in so doing, be drawn to him.

Imagine the difference you and I could make and the impact we would have on the world in which we live if every Christian would genuinely pray this prayer every day (and made a commitment to be as Christ in all our doings).

I want to challenge you to pray this prayer every day for the rest of your life and ask you to encourage other Christians to do likewise. (One way you could do this is by sending them a copy of this Daily Encounter.) With God's help we can all do this and make a difference with our life and help change our world—one person at a time.

For today's suggested prayer, let us pray the beautiful prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light, and
Where there is sadness, joy.

"O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much
Seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

"And Lord, I'm available. Please help me to be as Christ in some way to every life I touch today. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. 2 Corinthians 8:5 (NKJV).


How Kind of God
Romans 2
"... not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" (v. 4)

One of the places where Christianity parts company with modern-day psychology is over the matter of our ego. The ego is that part of us which contains our sense of individuality -- our self-esteem. Secular psychology says the stronger our ego and the more central it is, the better equipped we are to handle life and to live it to the full.

Christianity sees the ego as important and does not (as some critics might suggest) seek to demolish it; rather, it puts it in its proper place -- at the feet of Christ. On August 12, 1973, Charles Colson, President Nixon's right-hand man, was feeling deeply disturbed by the events in which he was involved.

He went to see a friend who read to him from C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Later that evening, he began to sob so deeply that he became quite alarmed. He realized that something spiritual was happening to him and cried out to God: "Take me, take me." That night was the beginning of the period during which this strong, ego-centered man found a new focus for his life -- the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is what repentance is all about: it is a change of mind as to where life is to be found -- brought about in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. Real life is not to be found in the pursuit of self-centered goals, but in living out God's will and purposes for one's life. Charles Colson is one of Christ's most powerful modern disciples. He appears to have continued the way he began -- with a mindset that puts Christ first and himself second.

O God, may I have this same mindset too-- a mindset that puts Your will ahead of my own. Teach me more of what is involved in the act of repentance for I see that without an understanding of it I can make no real spiritual progress. In Christ's Name. Amen.


A Pernicious Loop
. . . he himself gives to all mankind
life and breath and everything—Acts 17:25

There are few more powerful (and potentially harmful) forces at work in the lives of men than the When/Then lie. It goes like this: when we get that job, that promotion, that house, that “number” in the bank account . . . then everything’ll be great. Things will settle down then. We’ll have peace and joy and security then. The lie wouldn't be so bad, but for the behavior we rationalize and excuse with it, hoping it is true: neglecting people we’re meant to love; disregarding people we’re meant to serve; ignoring people we’re meant to rescue; treating badly and taking advantage of people we are meant to encourage and support.

Our enemy, the “father of lies” (John 8:44), created a clever one with the When/Then lie—it’s an infinite loop. You see, whatever “something” follows When is never as good as we think it’ll be. And so, any given “something,” when it’s achieved, is quickly replaced by a bigger, better one.

There’s freedom available to us, though—freedom to enjoy the abundant blessings we’ve already been given; freedom to access true peace and true joy and true security, right now—if we’re willing to reject the lie and, instead, embrace the promises of our King, Jesus Christ. He’s promised that our Father God will provide everything we need in any given moment (Matthew 6:25-34). His provision just might not look how we think or hope it will (Isaiah 55:8).

Write down the When/Then lies you’ve believed. Be specific with both the Whens and the Thens. Now, with brothers in community or directly to God, pray against any power they’ve held over your life. Then, pray in the opposite: declare your gratitude for how God’s provided for you already—and for how he always will.


Jesus Christ Is Lord
Matthew 4:12-25
"From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'" (v. 17)

There is a strange lack of emphasis on repentance in many parts of the church today. Our text tells us that our Lord's very first sermons in His preaching ministry was "Repent." We see from other passages in the Gospels that He stresses this message again and again.

Peter took up this same theme on the Day of Pentecost, in the first sermon he ever preached (Acts 2:38). Indeed, the word repentance appears in one form or another throughout the whole of the New Testament. Why, then, is repentance such a missing factor (generally speaking) in contemporary Christianity?

Is it because in our anxiety to get more converts we avoid the subject of repentance and prefer the quick sales job of getting people to pray the kind of prayer that requires no radical transformation? Once I heard an evangelist tell his converts: "Pray this prayer after me, and you will have a mansion in heaven ... perhaps even have charge of ten cities when Christ returns to this earth to establish His kingdom."

The prayer he then invited them to pray went something like this: "O God, make me a Christian ... and grant that I might inherit all that is available to me in Christ." What bothered me about the prayer was not that it was invalid but that it was not based on first principles. The primary thing we have to understand on entering the Christian life is that Jesus Christ is Lord. That means we are no longer lord over our lives -- He is. Happy are those who enter the Christian life with this clear understanding.

O God, help me put first things first. I see that successful Christian living depends on You being first and me being second. Am I really ready and willing for this? Help me search my soul. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


Freedom of Religion Vs Freedom of Worship

"We [the High Priest] gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!"1

In his weekly American News Commentary Jerry Beavan wrote, "We pointed out that since November, 2009, Mr. Xxxxx and his people have been using the term "Freedom of Worship," instead of the traditional "Freedom of Religion" as provided in the United States Constitution. In 2009, two clergymen, Dr. Gary Dull and Rev. David Kistler, announced in Washington the formation of The Faith and Freedom Institute (TFFI), to stress the Christian principles which have made America great. . . . TFFI points out that "Freedom of Worship" would force people to practice their faith behind closed doors."2

"Freedom of Worship" can be extremely deceptive in that it can totally eliminate "Freedom of Religion." Freedom of worship means we would be free to worship as we please in the privacy of our own home but not necessarily anywhere else. Furthermore, without freedom of religion preaching against certain behaviors that God's Word condemns and calls sin, could be labeled as hate crimes and, as such, be punishable by law that could include a prison term. Freedom of worship could, in time, prohibit the preaching of the Gospel and Word of God in churches and in any public place or arena throughout the country.

Be not deceived, politicians can be extremely gifted in the use of words to deny reality and deceive the masses. The thin end of the wedge for controlling what churches can or cannot preach in the years ahead is already being forged.

Recently I received an email message from a young man in a Muslim country where there is no freedom of religion. This fellow wanted to know how he could pray to Jesus, telling me that if he got caught, he would get his throat slit. For Muslims, praying means praying out loud and often in public. So I told him that he could safely pray to Jesus in the privacy of his own dwelling if he were alone, or just in the quiet of his mind and heart.

With the ever increasing anti-Christian attitude by so many here in North America wanting to get rid of God and every vestige of Christianity from the public arena, if/when we are forbidden to speak out against and/or preach the full council of God's Word, will we, like the disciples of Jesus also say, "We must obey God rather than men" and be willing to pay the consequences?

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, no matter what the future holds, please give me the courage to stay true to you and your Word no matter what the cost may be. So help me God. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. Acts 5:28-29 (NIV).


Flightless Butterflies
Acts 26
"... I preached that they should repent and ... prove their repentance by their deeds." (v. 20)

Some evangelists asked me: "Why don't we see more of the kind of converts coming into today's church that we used to get a few decades ago -- those who from the very start seem 'out and out' for Jesus?" I replied that I thought it had something to do with the way we present the truths of Christianity to potential converts, and I told them the story I heard John White, a Christian psychiatrist, tell.

A butterfly, struggling to get out of its chrysalis, was given a helping hand by a well-meaning observer. As a result, however, the butterfly was unable to fly because it is in the struggle to emerge that it develops the strength to soar. The observer, intent on making it easy for the butterfly to leave the chrysalis, inadvertently contributed to its early demise.

We do something similar when we help people avoid the struggle that radical repentance invariably brings. The modern-day church (with some exceptions) is like an inexpert midwife bringing damaged children into the world -- damaged by lack of attention to basic principles.

To return to the metaphor of the butterfly, in the church today there are many butterflies unable to fly because when they emerged from their spiritual chrysalis someone made it easier for them than they should have. We can do that by wrong statements or incomplete statements or even by a misplaced emphasis. Evangelism is making it easy for men and women to be saved, but we must be careful that we do not make it easier than it should be.

O Father, stir us as Your church to put the emphasis where You put it -- on the lordship of Christ and the need for complete and utter surrender to Him in the very first moments of conversion. In Christ's Name we pray. Amen.


Family Communications

"Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church."1

A friend shared with me saying, "My husband is a good man in many ways. He's given me everything a woman would want: a lovely home, a good car, everything to make my life comfortable, plus freedom to do my own thing."

"You must be really happy then," I said.

"You'd think so," she replied, "but I'm not. I feel that Bill has given me everything but himself. I know that he loves me, but when I try to share my feelings with him, he clams up or changes the subject. So how can I tell him how I feel without making him feel threatened? I just wish that we could really talk."

We men need to realize that closeness and intimacy come from being open and honest, not just with our thoughts, but primarily with our inner self; that is, our emotions/feelings, and open in communicating at this level. So how do we learn to do this?

First, we need to learn how to get in touch with and be connected to our feelings—our inner self—and stop hiding our real self behind defenses such as being a workaholic, a talk-aholic, an intellectual-aholic, or even a religious-aholic, or a perfectionist, and so on. To be close, not only to people, but also to God, it is imperative that we are connected to our inner self. As God's Word states, "Behold, You [God] desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom."2

Second, we need to bring back the wonder that we had as a small child—one of life's richest emotions. To do this, take time to smell the roses. Plant a tree. Pick a flower. Take it to your loved one. Write a poem. Listen to music that touches your heart. Draw or paint a picture with your non-dominant hand (it doesn't even have to be good). Climb a mountain. Let your hair down. Do something a little crazy. Get out of your comfort zone. Have fun. Go see a funny movie. Laugh. Go see a sad movie. Cry. The tragedy is that if we are out of touch with our wonder, we are most likely, instead of loving people and using things, to end up unhappily loving things and using people.

Third, take time to be with your spouse and children or close friends. Hug them often. Tell them that you love them. Take time to talk and even more time to listen to them. Encourage them to tell you what they are feeling. Listen with your heart.Give them your presence; that is, your full attention. And please, as another has said, don't be cursed with the affliction to give advice when your spouse (or anyone else) is sharing her/his feelings with you! Giving advice where it is neither asked for nor wanted is being what Webster's Dictionary calls "officious." It's also being obnoxious!

Fourth, join a good therapy, support, or twelve-step recovery group where it is safe to share your struggles and express your feelings without being criticized or put down, or given unsolicited advice. This is an excellent way to learn by others' example and by practicing it yourself.

Fifth, if you feel closed down, you may need to get into counseling. Sharing feelings is something that is learned. If it weren't learned in childhood, it needs to be learned now. We all need teachers for this.

Finally, pray a prayer such as the following: "Dear God, please help me to see and accept the inner-truth about—and be connected to—my true inner self. And please help me to learn how to communicate openly and honestly with my loved ones and to close friends, and always 'speak the truth in love' so that I will become more and more like Christ in every way. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name, amen."

1. Ephesians 4:15 (NLT).
2. Psalm 51:6 (NKJV).


Agreeing with God
Isaiah 30:12-21
"In repentance and rest is your salvation ..." (v. 15)

A definition of repentance I once heard someone use and which I like very much is this: "Repentance is agreeing with God." When we repent, we adopt the attitude that God is right and we are wrong. When you think about it, there is very little point in disagreeing with God over anything because being God, He is always right.

So many problems people have brought to me during the years I have been involved in Christian counseling were rooted in a difficulty they had in their relationship with God. Time and again I have heard people say things such as: "But God can't really expect that of me." " Isn't God being too hard on me in wanting me to yield to Him on this?" "Sometimes God seems to forget that we are human." What underlies all these statements? A difficulty in believing that God is right in everything He says and does.

This is why whenever I hear such statements I ask people to tell me something about how they entered the Christian life. Almost always I find that they never underwent a radical repentance when they first became Christians.

Because they never knew what it was to agree with God (that is, fully repent) when they first came into the Christian life, subsequently they seemed to want to argue with Him (or at least raise objections) over any issue that appeared to threaten their self-centeredness. Our wills have to capitulate to God's will if we are to develop a deep relationship with the Almighty. And the best moment to understand this is at the moment of conversion.

Father, forgive me if my response to Your challenge is one of resistance and argumentation. If my ego is not at Your feet then help me put it there today. For the sake of Your Son who gave His life for me. In His Name I pray. Amen.


What Is Real?

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment … Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."1

King Duncan of Sermons.com shared how his pastor told about a young female soldier who wrote home to her parents about a young man she was attracted to. "Of course," she said, "since we are not allowed to wear makeup, he has no idea how I really look."


It's incredible, at least in the Western world, how much value we place on physical beauty. But as we all know, outward beauty has little to do with the character of the person or whether they are real or not.

In the wonderful children's story, "The Velveteen Rabbit," by Margery Williams, the Rabbit asked the old Skin Horse the baffling question, "What is real?" To the stuffed rabbit, according to the boasting of the other toys, being real had something to do with being impressive and captivating.

But as the wise Skin Horse answered, "Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real, you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Need I say more?

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to become real and beautiful on the inside, knowing that these are of great worth to you. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV).


Failure to "Feel" Saved
2 Corinthians 7
"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret ..." (v. 10)

Sometimes I am asked: "If a person does not undergo a radical repentance at the time they turn to Christ, does that mean they are not converted and will not go to heaven when they die?"

My answer is usually along this line: "It is better if a person experiences a radical repentance at the time of their initial commitment to Christ, as this sets the tilt of the soul in the direction of agreeing with God. But God will come in and live in a person's life by invitation, even though the repentance is not as complete as it should be."

The advantage of a radical repentance at the time of one's commitment to Christ is, as I have said, that it bends the ego in God's direction and teaches it right from the start that submission is essential.

A major reason for lack of spiritual assurance (people who have committed themselves to Christ not feeling saved) is this issue of incomplete repentance. When repentance is incomplete and there is no "godly sorrow" over sin, the effects of sin (guilt and shame) are not eliminated from the soul.

Radical conversion siphons off these things and leaves the soul feeling free. It ensures there are no regrets, no hankering for former things. To change the metaphor, if the soul is not plowed up by radical repentance, the seeds sown by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will not take deep root. Those who have never fully repented ought to do so now -- without delay. Take time this day to evaluate your spiritual condition. Make Christ Lord.

O God, help me not to move beyond this day without clarifying my spiritual commitment. Am I first in my life, or are You? May I know the godly sorrow that leads to deep repentance. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen.


Communications, Communications, Communications.

"Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom."1

It has been wisely said that 80% of life's satisfaction comes from healthy, loving and satisfying relationships. No matter how successful one becomes in the eyes of the secular world, without loving relationships, life can become extremely empty and lonely. Like, who wants to be the richest man in the cemetery when life on earth is over?

The reality is that mankind was created for meaningful and loving relationships—without which one can limp along in the shadows of life instead of fully loving and fully living.

As noted before, God himself is in relationship; that is, via the Holy Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, one of the very first things Jesus did at the beginning of his earthly ministry was to "choose the twelve that they might be with him."2 If Jesus needed to be in relationship with people, how much more do we need to be?

One of the major keys for effective relationships is effective communications at the feeling level. We can converse intellectually at the rational level, but without sharing at the feeling level there cannot be any closeness or emotional intimacy. Couples who don't know how to communicate effectively basically live together alone apart.

Tragically, at least in the Western world, we know how to put a man on the moon and talk to him while he is there, but so many married couples don't know how to talk (communicate) effectively with their partner which involves open, honest, and trustworthy sharing at the feeling level.

Best-selling author, Dr. John Powell, believes that "most of us feel that others will not tolerate emotional honesty in communication. We would rather defend our dishonesty on the grounds that it might hurt others, and, having rationalized our phoniness into nobility, we settle for superficial relationships. Consequently, we ourselves do not grow, nor do we help anyone else to grow. Meanwhile, we have to live with repressed emotions—a dangerous and self-destructive path to follow. Any relationship which is to have the nature of true personal encounter must be based on honest, open, gut-level communication. The alternative is to remain in my prison, to endure inch-by-inch death as a person."3

Just one tip here . . . don't ever tell anyone that they shouldn't feel the way that they feel. We feel what we feel because we are what we are. Feelings in and of themselves are neither right nor wrong. We just need to understand them. Plus, we need to learn how to accept other people's feelings without being judgmental or trying to "fix" them. Watching a TV interview last night with a young girl who was upset and began to cry, the interviewer (a grown man) simply told her not to cry. This made her feel worse and communicated to her that it isn't acceptable to cry when you are hurt or sad. Tears are a God-given gift and are needed to drain the pain of hurt feelings. That is; genuine tears, not crocodile tears that are designed to manipulate or to conceal anger.

For further help in knowing how to communicate openly and honestly, please read the article, "Dare to Be Honest" online at: http://tinyurl.com/dare-to-be-honest.

Dear God, "Thank you that you created mankind for relationships. Please help me learn how to be a more effective communicator so that this will help me to have greatly enriched relationships. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name, amen."


Romans 5:12-21
"... how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace ... reign in life ..." (v. 17)

If we are to go deeper with God, we need to know how to avail ourselves of God's grace. Our text for today talks about "those who receive God's abundant provision of grace." Though God's grace may be abundant, it is only effective in our lives if it is received. But what do we mean by "grace"? Grace is spoken of in both the Old and New Testaments, and the root meaning of the word is that of kindness and favor. In the New Testament it is used chiefly in connection with God's undeserved mercy in redeeming humankind. Grace, as undeserved favor, is a term still used in business -- especially the world of insurance.

Sometimes a representative of a firm will write to a client and say something like this: "In the circumstances you have no claim, we will give you a certain sum as an act of grace." They acknowledge no indebtedness, but out of their kindness (and in hope of business to come) they give the client something to which he has no legal right.

A definition of grace I like very much is this: "Grace is the strength God gives us to obey His commands." Grace is not just a kindly attitude but an impartation of power too. We can be sure that the people who seem to know God in a much deeper way than we do have received more of that power which God imparts "unmerited and free." It is by grace that they leap over all the impediments on their onward way. Grace truly is amazing!

O Father, how can I thank You enough that just as the atmosphere wraps itself around my body so Your grace wraps itself around my soul. May I respond to Your grace as my physical body responds to the atmosphere -- and lives. In Jesus' Name. Amen.