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In step


Look Again, Harder This Time
. . . and they shall call his name Immanuel
. . . God with us—Matthew 1:23

We men often feel alone. Even surrounded by family, friends, work colleagues, we can still feel very much alone. These feelings—not of loneliness, but alone-ness—are most acute, of course, in times of stress or struggle or suffering. You see, it’s when we’re most in need of help and companionship that we’re most apt to be convinced that no one’s going to help or no one’s going to understand . . . maybe not even God. Right? I mean, in those dark moments, it can feel like God’s just not there, or has turned away. In one of his dark moments, King David cried out: “I am cut off from your sight” (Psalm 31:22).

The truth is, God is always there, in every moment, bright and dark. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). God doesn’t abandon us in dark moments, even when our sin causes the darkness. So we must learn to see him, even in those moments. One great way to learn is to look backwards, at dark moments from our pasts, moments when we felt alone, and look for him once more, a bit harder this time.

Spend some time in prayer. Close your eyes. Quiet your mind. Now, drawing upon everything you know about him, get a picture of Jesus. Think about his goodness—and his heart for the weary, the worried, the wicked, the down, the downtrodden. Think about his willingness to go into tough places and tough situations . . . to redeem them. Next, recall a moment from your past. Call to mind a picture of a time when you felt alone. Visualize the details. Remember how it felt. Now, bring the two pictures together and imagine how Jesus might have (actually) been at work in the moment you chose


The First and Last Word
Hosea 14
"... for in you the fatherless find compassion." (v. 3)

Repentance is commonly thought of as simply an acknowledgment and confession of sin. But the repentance God desires of us is not only contrition for particular sins; it is a daily attitude, an ongoing perspective. Martin Luther started the Reformation when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle church at Wittenburg, and the very first of his statements read thus: "When our Lord Jesus Christ said 'repent' He willed that the entire life of believers be one of repentance." Note that -- "the entire life of believers." Repentance is not a one-time act, it is a process -- the process by which we see ourselves day by day as we really are: sinful, needy, dependent people.

It is the process by which we see God as He is: awesome, majestic and holy. Repentance is the ultimate surrender of self. The call to repentance is one of the most consistent themes of the Bible. We must be aware that no matter how radical our repentance at conversion, sinful tendencies remain in varying degrees.

Constantly we need to recognize that our carnal nature may surface at any time to disagree with God. We will never be able in move into a deep relationship with God unless we maintain an attitude of repentance. "Every bit of growth in the Christian life," said one theologian, "is based on the re-enactment of the original redemptive occurrence." By that he meant that the way we came into the Christian life is the way we continue in it -- by repentance. Repentance is the first word of the gospel -- and the last.

Thank You, Father, for spelling out for me the truth that repentance is not merely an act but an attitude. From now on and by Your grace may this forever be the attitude of my soul. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen.


What Is Your Stick?

"Moses answered [God], 'What if they [the Israelites] do not believe me or listen to me and say, "The LORD did not appear to you"?' Then the LORD said to him, 'What is that in your hand?' 'A staff,' he replied. The LORD said, 'Throw it on the ground.' Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, 'Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.' So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand."1

If you know Bible history, you will recall how the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for some 430 years and God was calling Moses to return to Egypt to confront Pharaoh to let God's people go. This was to deliver them from slavery and lead them to the Promised Land—the land that God had promised them many years before through Abraham, the father of the Israeli nation.

Because he wasn't good at speaking, Moses didn't feel that he would be able to take on this seemingly impossible task. So God challenged Moses by saying, "What is that in your hand?" and then performed an unusual miracle with Moses' stick. This was to ensure Moses that God would be with him to convince the Israelites that God had called him, and to assure Moses that God would perform any miracles needed to convince Pharaoh to ultimately let God's people go.

As an aside, last year Joy and I were in Egypt and when visiting the great pyramids, I couldn't help but wonder if the Israeli slaves were used to build or help build these massive structures. I asked our tour guide if this were possible and she didn't know.

Fast forward to today's world in which God has a work for you and me to do in each of the worlds in which we live. Unfortunately, many of us don't feel capable of doing anything significant for God and consequently sit back and virtually waste our lives by not fulfilling God's purpose for it. So God's question to each of us today is: "What is that in your hand?" Or to put it in local talk, "What is your schtick (or 'staff')?"

In other words, what God-given gifts do you have? What do you enjoy doing and do reasonably well? What would you like to be doing if you had the opportunity? These activities usually indicate what your stick is; that is, what gift or gifts that are in your hand. Whatever these are, be sure to put these abilities to good use in serving God, remembering that we serve God by serving people.

If you are a gifted teacher, then perhaps you could teach a Sunday school or Bible class. If you are a gifted speaker or writer, then look for ways to use these gifts to help spread the gospel and message of Jesus Christ. If you are good at encouraging people, then use this gift generously. You can serve through your local church, through local community services, by helping local or overseas missions, by helping with and supporting para-church organizations, by reaching out to a neighbor in need, by being a volunteer with a local service group—or in any of a hundred other productive ways.

Remember, too, that when you stand before Jesus and give an account of your life, be sure that you won't just stand there holding your schtick that appears as if it were just taken out of the gift box. With God's help, I hope that when this time comes for me, my schtick will appear to be almost completely worn out from having put it to productive use.

Suggested prayer: Dear God, thank you for the schtick (gift/s) you have placed in my hand. Help me to get the best training possible so I can make the best use ofmy stick for effective service, and to find ways to use my stick to serve and bring honor to you. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. Exodus 4:1-4 (NIV).


Always More to Follow
James 4
"'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" (v. 6)

Why have some Christians received more grace? If, as we said, grace is undeserved favor, does that mean God has favorites? Is there something capricious about the Almighty's allocation of help to His children? Some secular writers have portrayed God as being like men and women, biased in His affections and having an inexplicable preference for one person and disinterest in another. But surely God does not take "a fancy" to some people and not others.

There is favor to be found in God, but no favoritism. His favor moves to all who are willing and eager to receive it. But to return to our question: Why do some receive more grace than others? I think the main reason must be this -- they know that there is grace to be had. Sometimes I come across Christians who think that God's only concern is to get us on to the pilgrim way and that He then leaves us to our own devices.

You can tell such people by the way they talk about their conversion -- and nothing more. They seem unconcerned about the fact that God's great aim is not simply to bring us into the Christian life but to develop us in it.

He is not content with calling us "saints" but making us saints; not simply cancelling sin but breaking its power over us. Those who use God's grace are those who know He has plenty to give. Of this they are confident, and thus they keep it in mind all the time. When they have used what they have, they know there is always more to follow.

O Father, what a comfort it is to know that however much I draw on Your grace there is always more to follow. I cannot draw heavily on many things but I can draw heavily on You. May this be more than an idea; may it be a fact. In Christ's Name. Amen.


A Throne of Grace
Hebrews 4
"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may ... find grace ..." (v. 16)

We are seeing that one reason some Christians develop a closer relationship with God is because they know how to avail themselves of His grace. They realize it is there to be had and they open themselves to it most eagerly. People who know God intimately view grace as a treasure above all treasures. It is not that they put no value on the things of earth, but they see grace as the most precious thing of all.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had a friend called Fletcher of Madeley -- a deeply spiritual man -- whom Wesley designated as his successor. He died before Wesley, however, and at his funeral Wesley took as his text Psalm 37:37: "Mark the perfect man (KJV)." He told of how on one occasion Fletcher had made a public utterance concerning the government of the day which had greatly impressed its leaders.

Soon after the Lord Chancellor dispatched a representative to Fletcher's home to offer him a promotion. The official was at some pains to hint delicately at his errand and said: "The government would be very happy to ... er ... oblige in any way if ... er ... there was anything Mr. Fletcher wanted ..." "How very kind," was the great man's reply, "but I want nothing ... except more grace." That is the difference between those who know God deeply and those who don't. They look at the values of earth in the light of heaven and see that the only really valuable thing is -- grace. "Let me have that," they say, "and I am content."

O God, help me look at the values of earth in the light of heaven. Show me the folly of accumulating riches, the absurdity of heaping together the treasures of earth. May I come to recognize what has the highest value of all -- Your matchless grace. Amen.


The Measure of a Man

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…."1

Some years ago the Raleigh, North Carolina, News & Observer published an article entitled: "How Do You Measure Up as a Man?" The article stated that some extensive research had been conducted on the 20th century standards for measuring a man. The criteria were quite interesting to say the least. They were as follows:

1. His ability to make and conserve money; 2. The cost, style and age of his car; 3. (This is my favorite) How much hair he has; 4. His strength and size; 5. The job he holds and how successful he is at it; 6. What sports he likes; 7. How many clubs he belongs to; 8. His aggressiveness and reliability.

Jesus Christ's estimation of the measure of a man (and/or a woman) was in stark contrast. His values are as follows:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."2

Hmm…I wonder how I measure up. Sobering thought!

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to evaluate my life not on the basis of what the world or others think or say, but on what you say in your Word, the Bible. And help me to live and love accordingly. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Effective Service
1 Corinthians 15
"... I worked harder than all of them -- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." (v. 10)

We considered yesterday the story of Fletcher of Madeley who said to a government official: "I want nothing ... except more grace." One wonders what account the official gave when he returned to the Lord Chancellor. "Nothing we can offer seems to attract him. The only thing he wants is more grace!" Dr. W. E. Sangster, in The Pure in Heart, said that all who know God deeply have a high view of grace.

They have learned to look at all the values of earth in the light of heaven. They have seen how absurd it is to put their trust in riches, the meaninglessness of angling for applause, credits and titles, and they have come to the conclusion that the only really valuable thing in life is grace.

Few will argue with the fact that the apostle Paul was one of the greatest Christians who has ever lived, and so it is interesting to note from today's passage that he labored for God not in his own strength but in the strength God gave him.

The grace of God is essential not only to live a holy life but to live a helpful one also. The best way to serve others is to reach out to them in the strength that God gives to us. This is the point the great apostle is making. "I worked harder ... yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." The work of Christ must be done by Christ Himself for no one else can do it. He who lives in us must labor through us.

O God, how foolish I am to try to labor for You in my own strength. In spurning the grace You provide I do myself and others a disservice. And more -- grieve Your heart. Forgive me dear Father and make me a more reliant person. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


God: Our Refuge and Strength

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging."1 "For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings."2

The online video, "The Cougar vs. Bear," a film by Jean-Jacques Annaud, is a powerful and moving illustration of how God knows when his children are in need and is an ever-present help in time of trouble … and of how God takes care of his children when we daily commit and trust our life to him.

To watch this video on your computer go to: http://www.flixxy.com/bear-animal-nature-film.htm or www.flixxy.com/game-of-survival.htm.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank you that you always hear the cry of your children, and are always an 'ever-present help in trouble.' Again today I commit and trust my life and way to you. Please help me never to stray from you and thereby distance myself from your help and protection when needed. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV).
2. Psalm 61:3-4 (NIV


A Christ Not in Us...
Galatians 2:11-21
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (v. 20)

We saw yesterday that the apostle Paul claimed his labors were energized by the grace given to him by God. He says something similar in the text before us today: "I no longer live ... Christ lives in me." The apostle had learned that it was not enough to give all of his strength to the work of Christ, though he certainly did that; he had to receive Christ's strength in order to do His work. I have seen Christians suffer a breakdown as a result of trying to live the Christian life in their own strength.

On one occasion I was present at a dinner given in honor of a certain bishop. During the after-dinner speeches I heard a layman make a terrible blunder when he declared: "Bishop, we are both doing God's work; you in your way, and I in His." Question yourself at this very moment and ask: Am I doing God's work in my own way or in His?

"A Christ not in us, imparting His grace to us," said the great preacher William Law, "is the same as a Christ not ours." I don?t know about you but I find those words terribly challenging. Is this why so many of us fail to go as deeply with God as we ought?

We have received Christ but we do not allow Him to diffuse Himself through all our faculties, to animate us with His life and Spirit. Let William Law's words strike deep into your soul: "A Christ not in us, imparting His grace ... is the same as a Christ not ours."

Gracious and loving Father, your challenges are my salvation. You wound in order to win me. Help me to take my medicine without complaining and open myself up to all that You are saying to me in the words I have read today. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


Go Small to Go Big
So then, as we have opportunity,
let us do good to everyone—Galatians 6:10

Once we’ve decided to do something, we men often like to “go big.” We think to ourselves: if we’re going to do this thing, let’s really do it. We can bring this kind of thinking, this “go big” mentality, to all kinds of work, even the work God calls us into—that is, the work of loving and serving others. Great things can result, of course. But the mentality can backfire, too—for example, when we set our ambitions too high, get overwhelmed, and can’t follow through. It’s interesting that, knowing us as he does, our King, Jesus Christ, suggests an opposite approach:

“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice” (Matthew 10:40-42 MSG).

Start small! Why does something rise up in our hearts, against that approach? Well, it’s mostly because by “going big” we hope to grab a little glory for ourselves. We want others to see us and think well of us. And if we don’t “go big,” they might not actually see our accomplishments.

But, Jesus reassures us: “You won’t lose out on a thing” (Matthew 10:42 MSG). We must trust his words and trust that God the Holy Spirit can do amazing things within even our smallest, most ordinary acts of love and service. And that’s plenty big for any of us.

Look around, today and tomorrow, for people in need. People are hurting, people right around you. “Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood” (Matthew 10:5-8 MSG). Pick one person and blow them way with some help.


Grace upon Grace
John 1
"From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another." (v. 16)

The Amplified Bible translates today's verse thus: "For out of His fullness (abundance) we all received -- all had a share and we were all supplied with -- one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift." I love the phrase "one grace after another." The thought contained in the original text is of grace succeeding grace.

Our capacity to receive grace at any level depends on our use of it at the lowest level. Refuse God's grace at one level of your life and you make it difficult to receive it at another level. We must use the present proffered grace to be granted the grace which succeeds it. One preacher said: "I remember when I sat for my first scholarship.

I recall going to my professor and saying: 'What will I do when I have used the paper up?' He laughed. 'You needn't worry about that,' he said. 'When you have used all you have, just ask for more.'

Much relieved I added: 'Will he give me all I want?' 'No,' replied the professor, 'but he will give you all you can use.'" God is eager to give His grace to every one of us, and there is so much of it. Grace is flowing like a river Millions there have been supplied ... But it mustn't be wasted. You can have all you are able to use, but to have more you must use what you have. How good are you at using God's grace?

My Father and my God, show me how to use Your grace -- really use it. Help me to throw myself on You, to be less self-reliant and more God-reliant. I need to understand this even more, dear Lord. Please help me. In Jesus' Name. Amen



"But he [God] said to me [the Apostle Paul], 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."1

"Johnny Fulton was run over by a car at the age of three. He suffered crushed hips, broken ribs, a fractured skull, and compound fractures in his legs. It did not look as if he would live. But he would not give up. In fact, he later ran the half-mile in less than two minutes.

"Walt Davis was totally paralyzed by polio when he was nine years old, but he did not give up. He became the Olympic high jump champion in 1952.

"Shelly Mann was paralyzed by polio when she was five years old, but she would not give up. She eventually claimed eight different swimming records for the U.S. and won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

"Lou Gehrig was such a clumsy ball player that the boys in his neighborhood would not let him play on their team. But he was committed. He did not give up. Eventually, his name was entered into baseball's Hall of Fame.

"Woodrow Wilson could not read until he was ten years old. But he was a committed person. He became the twenty-eighth President of the United States."2

No matter what handicaps you and I may have, God has a place for us within his Body, the Church, and a work for us to do. Nobody ever said it would be easy. What Jesus did for us wasn't easy either. So whatever it is that God has for you to do, never give up, for God never calls any of us to do anything that—with his help—cannot be done.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please show me what your purpose for my life is and give me the faith, determination, and perseverance to never give up until my work on earth is done. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Moving off the Sandbank
Galatians 5
"You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?" (v. 7)

As you read the words of our text today, do you not sense the disappointment the apostle Paul felt over some of the Galatians? "You were running a good race." You were! Ah, there's the problem. They started well but they had been sidetracked. Might the Savior say as much to you and me? We were keen once. We were responding to grace.

It came in like the waves of the sea -- grace succeeding grace -- and we allowed ourselves to be carried along by it. Then the time came when God led us to some new task or act of surrender, and we sheered away. When we refused the task we refused also the grace. That's when we ran on to the sandbank.

People who started after us have swept past us, not because they are specially favored but because they use all the grace God provides. It's no good putting our lack of keenness down to age or impediments. Before you go to sleep tonight, get alone and be quiet with God.

Review your life in God's light. Ask yourself: Where did I fall out of the race? Invite God to show you the place where you drew back. When He does, repent of your unwillingness to use His grace (there will be grace available for you to face up to this) and tell Him you want to be back in the race again, pacing forward spiritually, along with the most ardent souls you know. It will delight God and make the angels sing. "Look," they will say, "he (or she) is moving again. And with speed. Hallelujah!"

O God, may this day be a turning point in my spiritual progress. Help me take this truth to heart that when I refuse Your challenge I refuse the grace that goes along with it. Today I move off the sandbank. By grace. Amen.


Who Started Christmas Anyhow?

"In the beginning was the Word [Jesus the Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."1

I read the following story about a woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys, and everything else imaginable, and after hours of hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, she finally made it to the elevator with her two kids.

She was feeling what so many of us feel during the Christmas holiday season. Overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, getting the perfect gift for every person on one's shopping list, and making sure no one on the card list and those who sent a card is forgotten.

When the elevator doors opened there was already a crowd in the car. Exasperated, she pushed her way into the car and dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of stuff. When the doors closed she couldn't take it anymore and stated, "Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot."

From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, "Don't worry, we already crucified him." For the rest of the trip down the elevator was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.

Don't forget this year to keep the One who started Christmas in your every thought, deed, purchase, and word. If we all did it, just think of how different this whole world would be.2

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, how can I ever thank you enough for the greatest Christmas gift ever given, your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Help me—not only during the Christmas season, but all year long—to so live that my life will reflect an attitude of gratitude in everything I am and do. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Two Extremes
Psalms 68:11-20
"Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." (v. 19)

The next thing we must do if we are to go deeper with God is to spend time with Him. This means taking time to regularly read His Word, talk to Him in prayer, and cultivate the spiritual sensitivity to listen for His voice speaking directly to our souls. One of the great tragedies of our day is that spiritual leaders fail to emphasize the need for all Christians to regularly spend time with God in this way. In my opinion, this de-emphasis is due to two things in particular. First, it is a reaction to the legalism of past days.

At one time, most Christians were told that the life of discipleship turned on whether or not you established a daily quiet time and never wavered from it. In my youth I heard one Bible teacher say: "If you don't begin every day by reading a chapter of the Bible and spending at least thirty minutes in prayer then you have no right to go into the day expecting God to bless it."

What about those times when circumstances -- such as sleeping late, a family emergency, personal sickness, an unexpected turn of events -- make it impossible to begin the day with the reading of Scripture or a time of prayer? In turning from the legalism of past days many, however, have replaced it with a more casual approach to personal devotions. If they don't feel like it they don't have a quiet time. And that, I suggest, is as harmful as the legalism from which they might have turned away.

O God, if, as Your Word says, You daily bear my burdens, is not this worth a daily response of prayer and praise? I may not be able to spend much time with You every day, but I can spend some time. Help me never to forget this. In Christ's Name. Amen.


Blessed to Bless

Good measure, pressed down, shaken together,
running over, will be put into your lap—Luke 6:38

Have you been blessed? [Pause for a moment to consider.] What’s your reaction to that question? Is it easy to see how and how much you’ve been blessed? Or is it difficult, especially with so many people around who’ve been blessed more? Well, make no mistake; all of us have been blessed(Genesis 1:28). I mean, do you have a job, some money, enough to eat, a safe place to live, family, some friends, a church, or an education? It may be in unique ways and in varying degrees, but we’ve all been blessed . . . abundantly.

So how then should we think about these blessings? I mean, how can we reconcile the fact that we’ve been blessed with so much—so much more than countless men and women alive right now in other parts of this country and around the world?

The only way to think about our blessings, brother, is to view them as means to bless others. And the only way to view ourselves, then, is blessed to bless others. You see, knowing what we do about God and about his intentions for us (Matthew 22:36-39), how could we ever conclude otherwise? How could we ever conclude that we’ve been blessed simply so that we may live in comfort and security and isolation? What kind of story would that be, anyway? No, we must view these blessings as personal invitations into God’s much greater story of blessing other people.

Take a few minutes to note the specific ways you’ve been blessed this year. Focus your mind on seeing the true blessings, especially the ones that you might have gotten used to and begun taking for granted. Write them down and spend some time in prayer, thanking God for what he’s given you.


Our Lord's Two "Customs"
Luke 4:14-30
"... on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom." (v. 16)

One reason there is a casual approach to personal devotions in the Christian church today is a reaction to the legalism of past days. Another reason is the rise of the charismatic movement. In the early days of the charismatic renewal, many of its leaders from the historic denominations who had been fed on a diet of legalism began to emphasize (quite rightly) the joy of knowing Christ's presence through the indwelling Spirit every hour of the day.

People in charismatic services often said: "Now I don't have to have a daily quiet time in order to feel God's presence. Every waking minute is a quiet time." Dangerous stuff. The danger lies not in emphasizing that we are in Christ's presence every hour of the day but the de-emphasis on closeting oneself alone with Him in personal prayer and study of His Word.

Although most leaders of the charismatic renewal did not teach or encourage people to dispense with their personal times of devotion with the Lord, many came to believe they could get through the day simply by speaking in tongues. Nothing must become a substitute for those private and personal moments we spend in prayer and communion with Christ.

Our Lord knew and sensed the presence of God with Him and in Him to a degree we will never fully experience here on this earth, but it is said of Him in Scripture that He had two "customs." One custom was to go regularly to the house of God; the other was to pray regularly. And these must be our customs too.

Lord Jesus, if You needed to spend time closeted with Your Father in personal prayer, then how much more do I need to also. Help me steer a middle course between legalism and casualness. For Your own dear Name's sake. Amen.


Failure is on the Menu

I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships,
persecutions, and calamities—2 Corinthians 12:10

We men are often just wrong about failure. It seems we’ve all decided that if we ever experience failure, we're then failures. It’s not true. Failure is integral to human life, the way God designed it. Look at Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Peter—all experienced failure, because they were mere humans. Mere humans fail every so often . . . and it’s good that we do.

Failure refines us. We mature through failures because we learn from them—much more than from successes. Through failures our character is formed (Romans 5:3-5). No man can become who he’s supposed to become without experiencing some failure in his life. Failure also fuels us . . . or, rather, the potential for failure. While we may not like failure, we like to face its potential. We like to be tested. It’s why we like competition. It’s why we like risk. It’s often the excitement of uncertain outcomes that drives us to learn from failures and improve, in the hope of avoiding more. But the potential for failure must be real. And when it is real, we willsometimes fail.

The danger, of course, is in getting stuck—in the shame of failures past or the fear of failures future, or maybe both. When we do, failure defeats us: we live dull lives, devoid of daring. But we need not get stuck. We can, instead, reject the shame of failure and learn to deal with it—by acknowledging fault; confessing and repenting (if sin was involved); facing any consequences; allowing God to teach us what we need to learn . . . and then moving on.

What are one or two big risks you’d like to take in the coming weeks and months? Write them down, commit to them, and tell some friends about them—so they can spur you on.


The Profit of Passion
Psalms 34
"I sought the Lord, and he answered me ..." (v. 4)

The more time we spend with our families and friends the better we get to know them. It is the same with God too. Often I am asked to give a plan on how to conduct a quiet time. Here is one I used to give people many years ago. Decide on the amount of time you can spend, preferably in the morning. The morning is best because it tunes your soul for the day. Having fixed the time, stick to it.

Take your Bible and a notebook and read a portion slowly. Let it soak in. Make a note of anything that comes to you. Pray then, mentioning any requests or personal petitions you may have. Then relax and listen to see if God has something to say to you. It is far easier to talk than listen, so don?t worry if for some weeks or months nothing comes. Tuning in to God takes time and practice.

Nowadays I am reluctant to give people that plan without pointing out the danger of depending on a structure rather than the direction of the Holy Spirit. We would all prefer to go into a quiet time with a plan rather than to abandon ourselves to the Holy Spirit and wait upon Him.

Mature Christians should be able to closet themselves alone with God and on occasions simply enjoy His company and presence without even saying a word. The quiet time becomes more effective when we approach it with passion instead of a plan. Good marriages thrive on spontaneity and passion. So does a relationship with the Lord.

Father, help me come to my quiet time with expectancy -- expectancy that my weakness shall become strength, my doubt become faith, and my passion become stronger. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


Don't Let Your Past Determine Your Future

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."1

In his book, Confidence, Alan Loy McGinnis talks about a famous study entitled, "Cradles of Eminence" written by Victor and Mildred Goertzel, in which the family background of 300 highly successful people were studied.

Many of the people in the study were well-known personalities including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, and Gandhi. And Einstein—all of whom were brilliant in their field of expertise.

The results of this study are both surprising and very encouraging for those of us who came from a less than desirable family background and home life. For example:

"Three-quarters of the children were troubled by poverty, a broken home, or by rejecting, over-possessive or dominating parents.

"Seventy-four of the 85 writers of fiction or drama and 10 of the 20 poets came from homes where they saw tense psychological drama played out by their parents.

"Physical handicaps, such as blindness, deafness, or crippled limbs characterized over one-quarter of the sample."

These people may have had more weaknesses and handicaps than many who had a healthy upbringing, but lacked confidence. What made the difference? Perhaps, realizing they had weaknesses, they compensated for these by excelling in other areas.

One man said, "What has influenced my life more than any other single thing has been my stammer. Had I not stammered, I probably would have gone to Cambridge as my brothers did, perhaps have become a tutor, and every now and then published a dreary book about French literature." This man who stammered until his death was W. Somerset Maughan, "a world-renowned author of more than 20 books, 30 plays, and scores of essays and short stories."

It's not what we have or don't have that matters in life, but what we do with what we have. God wants us to acknowledge past hurts and grow through them. In so doing, we don't allow our past to determine our future.

Someone has wisely said, "It may be true that I have been a victim in the past, but if I remain one, I am now a willing volunteer." No matter what our background was, when we trust our lives daily to God, and work through our past hurts to resolution, we can and do have hope for the future. It's up to us what we do about the present. Once we have resolved our past hurts, we can say, as did the Apostle Paul, "One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."2

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, help me to realize, as an adult, that while I wasn't responsible for my background, I am totally responsible for what I do about resolving all past hurts and for becoming, with your help, the person you have envisioned for me to be. Lead me always on the pathway of truth and responsibility. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV).
2. Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV).