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In step


Risen... and Exalted
For reading & meditation: Acts 1:1-11
"... he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." (v. 9)

Before we conclude our meditations on the uniqueness of Christianity, we must mention our Lord's ascension. I much prefer the word exaltation to ascension to describe Christ's return to the throne of God, for that is what it really was - an exaltation.

Paul, in some verses in the passage we looked at yesterday (Eph. 1:20-21), points out that following His resurrection our Lord was elevated above all possible rivals: "far [note the word far] above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come."

Jesus has been exalted to the highest place, and it is this "supremacy" which His Father wants Him to enjoy forever. This thrilling truth puts into proper perspective the use of the word superiority which is a word commonly used by Christians when comparing the faith to others. We must be careful how we use the word.

Adopting an air of superiority toward people of other faiths displays nothing more than discourtesy and arrogance. John Stott comments: "It is not 'Christianity' as an empirical institution or system for which Christians should claim superiority. It is Christ, and only Christ. We should not be afraid to affirm without embarrassment that Christ is superior to all other religious leaders, precisely because He alone humbled Himself in love even to the cross and therefore God has raised Him 'above' every other person, rank, or title." If God has given this supreme position to Jesus and so honored Him, then we should give Him the same honor also.

Lord Jesus, I honor You. Oh how I honor You. May Your Church this day and every day give unto You the honor which You so rightly and richly deserve. Blessed be Your wondrous Name forever. Amen.


No Cross without a Crown
For reading & meditation: Ephesians 4:1-16
"He ... ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe." (v. 10)

In his autobiography, A King's Story, the Duke of Windsor told of a strange thing that happened at the funeral of his father, King George V. He described how, as his father's body was being conveyed on a draped gun carriage through the crowded streets of London, a mishap occurred which only those closest to the scene witnessed.

The imperial crown, removed from the Tower of London, had been placed over the Royal Standard and secured to the lid of the coffin. However, the jolting of the vehicle caused the Maltese Cross, which surmounts the crown, to fall. "Suddenly," said the Duke, "out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of light dancing along the pavement. One of the sailors, marching behind the gun carriage, picked it up, took it to his commanding officer, and said, 'This cross fell off, Sir. It must be replaced.'

The officer was a little bewildered by the untoward happening and said: 'Must it be replaced now?' 'Yes Sir,' replied the sailor, 'The crown is never complete without the cross.' " In Christian terms the converse is also true - the cross is not complete without the crown. The ascension inevitably followed the atonement; the coronation the crucifixion. One writer says: "One senses a certain embarrassment in some ministers where the subject of the ascension is concerned. They tend to shy clear of the topic or dismiss it lightly as no more than a graphic myth or triumphalist parable." But if there had been no ascension there would be no gospel. The cross would not be complete without the crown.

O Father, how can I ever sufficiently thank You that the work of salvation is complete. Nothing more needs to be done than has been done. Your Coronation spells it out in the clearest of terms. I am so deeply, deeply grateful. Amen.


Too Ugly to Be Beautiful

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."1

I don't know who the author of today's story is, but it was sent to me by a Daily Encounter subscriber. It was so beautiful I want to share it with you.

When Stephen was five, he wanted a flowerbed of his own. So I helped him lay out the bed and get the ground ready. I asked him what kind of flowers he wanted to plant. His answer was simple, "Beautiful ones."

The next day after work I picked up several different kinds of bulbs. Stephen was so excited about finally planting his flowers. As he opened the packages the disappointment was all over his face. Stephen looked up and said, "Mama, you got the wrong thing, these are not flowers, they are too ugly to be beautiful."

I assured him that if he would plant the bulbs, and take care of them, they would grow and be the beautiful flowers he wanted them to be. Stephen wasn't at all convinced, but he trusted me and was willing to give it a shot. He planted the bulbs and everyday he watered them and watched to see if they would grow. It seems like yesterday, he was standing there in overalls, hands on his hips, staring at his flowerbed waiting to see something beautiful appear out of the dirt.

Finally, he could see the stems, then the little buds, the day two buds opened up was an amazing day. Stephen came running into the house yelling, "Hurry mama you have got to see my beautiful flowers."

As we stood by the flowerbed Stephen said, "I didn't think they would ever grow, but they did. I growed it beautiful right out of the dirt." Then he slipped his little hand into mine and asked, "Mama, how can something so beautiful come from something so ugly"?

I think of our Heavenly Father watching and waiting for us to come to Jesus, then He can take something ugly and stained with sin, clean us up, guard and love us, as we grow. Then I can see Him standing and proudly looking at us and saying look at My beautiful children, I grew them right out of the dirt.2

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank you that you are not only a God of love, justice and mercy, but also a God of infinite beauty. As best I know how, I surrender my heart and life to you and ask that you will make something beautiful out of my life. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


I Needed the Quiet

"Blessed be … the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from God."1

Some time ago when I was going through a time of loss and sorrow, a friend wrote to me saying, "You sent the following poem to me a long time ago when I was in the hospital. I've treasured and kept it in my Bible ever since. I thought you might appreciate it now."

If you are going through a time of sickness or sorrow, I'd like to pass it on to you, too.

I needed the quiet so he drew me aside
Into the shadows where we could confide,
Away from the bustle where all the day long
I hurried and worried when active and strong.

I needed the quiet tho at first I rebelled,
But gently, so gently my cross he upheld,
And whispered so sweetly of spiritual things,
Tho weakened in body, my spirit took wings

To heights never heard of when active and bright,
He loved me so greatly he drew me away.
I needed the quiet, no prison my bed,
But a beautiful valley of blessings instead —

A place to grow richer in Jesus to hide
I needed the quiet so he drew me aside.

– Alice H. Mortenson

And so, my friend, if you are going through a time of loss or sickness, I trust this message will also speak to your heart.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, help me to always learn what you are seeking to teach me in every trial I face, so that I will not only have my life enriched, but also to be used by you to comfort and enrich the lives of others who are facing trials. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Christ - Our Precursor
For reading & meditation: Hebrews 6
"... Jesus, who went before us ..." (v. 20)

Out of all the aspects of truth that surround the fact of our Lord's ascension, one of the greatest is surely this - Christ is our Precursor. A precursor is really a forerunner - an advance runner - and that is precisely the term which our text for today applies to the climactic ministry of our ascended Lord. The NIV translates the word prodromos (forerunner) thus: "who went before us."

That translation, in my opinion, is not nearly as appealing as that found in other versions, where the word forerunner is actually used. "Forerunner" brings to mind a picture of our Lord as a celestial outrider "bringing many sons to glory" (Heb. 2:10), and reminds us of a petition in the great high priestly prayer: Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory ..." (John 17:24).

Henry Longfellow, in his Golden Legend, put it like this: When Christ ascended Triumphantly, from star to star, He left the gates of heaven ajar! Much as I like Longfellow, I have to disagree. Our Lord left the gates of heaven not just "ajar" but wide open. One of the creeds expresses it more effectively: "When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." Whatever the future holds for us, we who are Christ's can be sure of this: our Lord has ascended into heaven. And so, too, shall we.

O Father, I see that not only was there an ascension in the life of Your Son, but there is to be one in mine too. According to Your Word, I am to be "caught up in the clouds" and to be with You forever. Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.


Who Are Your Fellow Conspirators?
For where two or three are gathered in my name,
there am I among them—Matthew 18:20

For many of us men, our default is go-it-alone. We prefer to work alone, make decisions alone, muscle through struggles alone, get credit for our accomplishments alone. Go-it-alone gives us control and allows us to avoid vulnerability. The problem is, our King, Jesus Christ, doesn’t think much of the go-it-alone approach, especially in the service of others. He didn’t go-it-alone during his time of ministry; he doesn’t go-it-alone now (John 10:22-39; 14:7-14). And when he sent followers to preach and do miracles, he sent them in pairs, so they wouldn’t go-it-alone either (Mark 6:7-13; Luke 10:1-12). Clearly this is important. But, why are pairs or groups such better units for service than is one man, on his own?

Well, the reasons are a few—and each is as compelling as the ask-for-helpapproach is counter to our nature. First, and most importantly, Jesus is uniquely present when two or more people join together in his name (Matthew 18:20). Moreover, two or more people, joined together, working together, in friendship and trust, are often more confident and more impactful, than is just one man (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). And, two or more people, joined together, who know one another, who pray together and pray for one another, are more supported and more protected (from sin and from opposition), than is that same man, on his own (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12; Hebrews 3:13).

Do you go-it-alone, brother? Take a moment. Wherever you’re serving now, serving God and serving others—in ways large or small—consider whether it might be advantageous to pair-up with another follower of God. Pray and listen too. If the answer is yes, betray your instincts and your pride and ask God to send the right person. Then, begin to look around.


Common Grace
For reading & meditation: Acts 17:16-34
"For in him we live and move and have our being." (v. 28)

God is active not only in the Church but in the world and in those belonging to other religions also. Christians believe that God has revealed Himself in Jesus in a unique way, as declared in the Scriptures, and has nothing more to reveal than He has revealed. But does that mean God is interested only in Christians? Not at all. One of the statements in the passage before us today proclaims: "He is not far from each one of us" (v. 27). By creation all men and women are God's offspring, and they live and move and have their being in Him.

Christians believe that because Jesus is the Light of the world, and is described by John in the Fourth Gospel as "the true light that gives light to every man" (John 1:9). Truth and beauty are derived from Him, even though people may be unaware of their source. Theologians refer to this as "common grace" - the kindness God shows to all human beings even though they know Him not. This is not to be confused with "saving grace," which is the kindness and mercy He extends to those who humbly receive the sacrificial offering which His Son made for them on the cross.

Clearly, those who belong to other faiths are of deep concern to God, and that same concern ought to be ours. It should show itself in the way we talk to them, deal with them, and pray for them. There is no better way to end a discussion with an adherent of some other faith than to say and mean: "God loves you, and so do I."

O God, can it be that sometimes You are hindered in the process of bringing others to Yourself by those of us who are more interested in winning an argument than winning a soul? Infuse us with Your love - Calvary love. In Jesus' Name we ask it. Amen.


Name It and Claim It "Gospel"

Jesus said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."1

"The message flickered into C.F's living room each night: 'Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches.'"2

And so the TV listener pledged $500 a year to one TV evangelist and wrote checks to a flamboyant faith healer, and another to a local preacher-made-good. Only the promised blessings didn't come. C.F. ended up having to borrow money to buy food. The explanation given on TV implied that she didn't have enough faith. Now she is understandably disillusioned with all TV ministries. Undoubtedly, unlimited numbers have suffered the same fate.

As Michael Palmer, dean of the divinity school at Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson, said, "More and more people are desperate and grasping at straws and want something that will alleviate their pain or financial crisis."3

Sadly, there is no shortage of TV preachers who, primarily for their own gain, are ready to offer these people false promises under the guise of it being a part of the Christian gospel.

One teacher I know fittingly calls the "Name it and claim it gospel" the "blab it and grab it gospel"—which of course, is NOT the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When God promised the ancient Israelites prosperity and good success,4 he was stating that if the entire nation—as a whole—lived in harmony with God's will and obeyed his commandments, then they would be prosperous and have good success. This was a message to the nation—not to individuals. Furthermore, prosperity and success according to God can be totally different to what man thinks prosperity and good success is; which to many, at least here in the U.S. and other Western nations, means material prosperity. Sadly, many of these people may very well be spiritual and emotional paupers.

Furthermore, do these "prosperity gospel" preachers take their message to the starving masses in India and South Africa and to other extremely needy parts of the world? I don't think so.

Don't misunderstand me; I am not implying that we have to be poor to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. For those of us who live in developed countries we have the opportunity to work hard and be financially prosperous which is wonderful. However, the important issue is: what is our motive for making money and for what purpose are we using it? It does take money to get God's work on earth done—not for TV evangelists to own private jets. Giving is very important. It is one of the major resources for doing God's work on earth—to help the poor, to aid the suffering, and to proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world.

However, in our giving, let us pray for guidance and give to churches and organizations who are truly committed to doing God's work on earth, and not to those who are seeking to build up their own empire and/or ego by offering an easy-believeism, feel-good, non-committed, name it and claim it false prosperity gospel.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please give me the desire to know what your Word teaches, the wisdom to live by it, the discernment to identify all false teachings, and the courage to stand up for truth. And please give me a grateful heart for all your blessings, and a generous spirit to support your work on earth. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Jesus, Yes - Church, No
For reading & meditation: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
"We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." (v. 20)

Now that we have looked at the aspects of our faith which make it unique among all world religions, we must face some other important issues before finally drawing to a close. Being Christians does not mean we therefore have to believe that all other religions are completely wrong. As C. S. Lewis pointed out: "If you are an atheist you have to believe that the main point in all religions is simply one huge mistake.

But if you are a Christian you are free to think that all religions, even the queerest of them, contain at least some hint of truth. Being a Christian, however, does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic there is only one right answer to a sum and all other answers are wrong.

But some wrong answers are much nearer to being right than others." While never budging from what we believe, we must show a loving disposition toward those of other faiths. A group of adherents to the Muslim faith gathered outside a church in one of Britain's northern cities shouting: "Jesus, Yes; the Church, No." Their complaint was based on the fact that the minister and people of that particular church had pushed thousands of leaflets through local mailboxes stating: "Islam is a devilish religion; only the Christian religion is of God." We can be passionate in our faith without being discourteous to people. We may disagree with what someone believes, but we must disagree agreeably. As one old preacher quaintly put it: "To win some we must be winsome."

Father, I see from the text before me today that You want me to implore people to come to You, not intimidate them. Make me a firm but loving witness - one who can disagree without being disagreeable. In Christ's Name I ask it. Amen.


Three Important Facts
For reading & meditation: Acts 10:23-48
"Now we are all here ... to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us." (v. 33)

If, as the Scripture declares, Jesus is the only way, what about people in other faiths? First, we must be clear that there is no such thing as self-salvation. Nobody can achieve salvation by his or her religion, sincerity, or good works. Second, Jesus Christ is the only way to God and the only Savior.

Our Lord Himself said: "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). This effectively ends all argument. Third, we do not know how much knowledge and understanding of the gospel a person needs to have in order to call upon God for mercy and be saved. In the Old Testament, people were justified by faith even though they had little knowledge or expectation of Christ.

I believe that when people become aware that they cannot save themselves and need to throw themselves upon Gods mercy, in some way God reveals Himself to them and brings them through His Son to a saving knowledge of Himself. I have met many people from other faiths who, realizing that they could not save themselves and yearning to find salvation, were amazingly led by God to a book, a leaflet, or an audiotape, that helped them understand how to come to God through Jesus.

Does this mean we don't need to be concerned about presenting the gospel to people? No, it is much easier for people to believe if they have heard. God worked miraculously to bring the gospel to Cornelius. So too He will work for those who are willing to give up all ideas of saving themselves and look to Him alone for salvation.

O Father, what a glimpse this gives me of Your eagerness to save all that will come to You through Your Son. May this inspire me more than ever to do my part in making Your gospel known. In Christ's Name I pray. Amen.


Christianity Is Unique
For reading & meditation: John 14:1-14
"No one comes to the Father except through me." (v. 6)

We make the claim once again - Christianity is unique. It is unique in the sense that it is the divinely appointed way to enter into a relationship with the one true and living God. There is only one way, only one Name, only one God, only one Lord, only one Mediator. Our claim that Christianity is unique comes not from arrogance but from simple empirical fact. W. A. Visser't Hooft, in his book No Other Name, says: "There is no universality if there is no unique event."

Uniqueness and universality go together. It is because God has exalted Jesus to the highest place in the universe, "far above all rule and authority," and given Him the unique Name of "Lord," that He towers over every other name. That, too, is the reason why every knee must bow to Him. And it is precisely because Jesus Christ is the only Savior that we are under an obligation to proclaim Him to as many as we possibly can. In whatever culture we live, we must endeavor to make Jesus known. We must set our face against the faction in today's church that aims to modernize the gospel and says: "Let us recognize all religions as being authentic before God and seek not to convert people from their religion but encourage them to be better adherents of it."

Have these people no regard for the honor of Jesus Christ? Do they not care when Christ is seen as just one among many Saviors rather than, as God declares, the only Savior. No true Christian can ever worship Christ without minding that others do not.

Father, help me understand that it is not enough to know about the faith into which You have brought me by Your grace: I must seek also to share it. Help me grasp every opportunity that comes to make the way clear to others. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


Footholds for faith
For reading & meditation: Psalms 73
"' I have put my trust in the Lord God '"(v.28, NKJ)

We begin today a verse-by-verse examination of one of the great passages in the Bible - the seventy-third psalm. If you were to ask any group of Christians to name their favourite psalm most would probably reply: "The twenty-third." And it is not difficult to understand why. The simplicity and beauty of its language, together with its comforting content, has endeared it to millions.

Unfortunately the seventy-third psalm is not so well known, but in my opinion it deserves to be. The truths and insights it contains provide us with some of the most steadying and encouraging revelations to be found anywhere in the Word of God. The issue with which the psalmist struggles in this psalm is this: Why do the godly suffer so much when the ungodly, generally speaking, seem to get off scot-free?

So deeply does this question cut into his soul that he is brought to the point of near despair: "My feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold" (v.2). Whilst there, however, he discovers some spiritual principles that bring him step by step to the heights of spiritual assurance. Are you puzzled by the fact that though you are following the Lord, life is extremely difficult?

Do you wonder why those who live in opposition to the Almighty seem to have an easier time than those who are committed to His cause? Take heart. It is possible to find a foothold on this slippery path of doubt. The psalmist found it, and so can you. Follow me day by day through this thrilling psalm and you will discover a few more footholds for your faith.

Gracious and loving heavenly Father, help me as I begin this quest for greater light and illumination on life's problems, for I know that a faith which does not hold my intellect will not hold my heart. I would have both held by You. Amen.


Nothing But Smoke
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy—Matthew 6:19

This world, and everything in it, is characterized by defect and decay (Genesis 3:17; 1 John 2:17). Everything. Nothing is perfect—as much as we’d like to believe some things will be perfectly satisfying. Nothing lasts forever—as much as we’d like to believe some things can be with us always. Whenever we trust a created thing too much it lets us down, eventually.

Whenever we put too much stock into a created thing it breaks our hearts, inevitably. We’ve all experienced this. Maybe we’ve trusted too much the ability of work to give us security. Maybe we’ve trusted too much the ability of achievement to give us meaning. Maybe we’ve trusted too much the ability of sex to give us comfort or adventure. Maybe we’ve trusted too much the abilities of houses or vacations or cars or tools or gear or gadgets to give us joy.

“Smoke, nothing but smoke” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 MSG).

Created things can be gifts from our Father God, of course (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19). Even those, though, cannot deliver everything we need. We’re to enjoy them during their moments, but our enjoyment is meant to be fleeting. If we begin to think the gifts themselves will fill us up, complete our lives, we invite grief. We’re meant to focus our lives, not on the gifts, but on the Giver. We’re meant to focus our lives, not on created things, but on the Creator. Only he is perfect and eternal.

If you’ve allowed yourself to trust any created thing too much—money, status, material things, sex, another person—it’s time to confess to God and to others. It’s time to repent. Declare that you want to be reliant on God alone . . . the Giver behind all gifts, the Creator behind all created things.


A lost emphasis
For reading & meditation: Malachi 3:13-18
"Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other '" (v.16)

Although in Psalm 73 the psalmist is beset by doubt, he begins, nevertheless, on a triumphant note: "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart." Preachers usually leave their conclusion until the end of their sermon - but here the psalmist begins with it! It might seem strange to some that the psalmist should begin with a conclusion, but this is often seen in the book of Psalms.

And the reason is this: the psalmist is so convinced of the fact that God is good that he decides to start right there. It is as if he is saying: "I want to tell you how I moved from doubt to faith, but the thing I want you to get right away is this: God is good." Some commentators believe that in the Temple services there was a time of open testimony and worship, similar to that which featured in the old Methodist class meetings, when individuals gave testimonies to their fellow believers of God's dealings with them.

This is one of the most powerful ways of building the spiritual life of the Church, but regrettably it does not seem to be widely practised today. If this psalm was part of the psalmist's testimony during an open time of worship, one can imagine the impact it would have made upon the hearers as he related how he emerged from crippling doubt to renewed confidence in the goodness of God. I know of nothing more motivating in the Christian life than for believers to identify and share the spiritual principles which have enabled them to overcome attacks on their faith. When we ignore this principle we do so at our peril.

O Father, show us clearly how sharing with each other what You are doing in our lives not only inspires and motivates us, but greatly strengthens the Body. Help us restore this lost emphasis wherever it is missing. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


And Jesus Stood Still

"And Jesus stood still."1

Down the long, dusty road on their way from Jericho to Jerusalem, almost two thousand years ago, trod Jesus with his motley band of twelve disciples, followed by a huge crowd.

They were all hot and sweaty. The dust clung to them. They were weary, but Jesus was at the height of his popularity, and the great crowd of people pressed close to him. They were jabbering endlessly. Asking questions. Seeking favors. They could be heard a mile away.

"Hey, what's all the noise?" blind Bartimaeus asked his friend as they sat by the roadside begging.

"I don't know," answered his friend with a puzzled tone in his voice.

"Let's ask someone," they agreed.

"It's Jesus," a passerby informed them.

"You mean Jesus of Nazareth, the fellow they claim can heal the sick and the blind?" Bartimaeus excitedly asked.

"That's the one," the man said, "and I'm on my way to see him. Good-bye."

The crowd came closer and closer. Excitement filled the air. The noise became intense.

"I can't believe it," shouted Bartimaeus to another friend. "This just has to be my lucky day. I've got to get to Jesus; I know he can heal me."

"Hey, Bart, there he is," cried Bartimaeus's friend, "but how will you ever get his attention?"

Dignity was dismissed. "This is it," said Bartimaeus, "I may never see Jesus again and I desperately want to be healed."

So, seeking to drown out the noise of the crowd, Bartimaeus yelled at the top of his voice, "Jesus, have mercy on me! O Lord, son of David, have mercy on me!"

"Cool it, man! Shut up!" retorted some of the crowd. "You're making too much noise. You don't stand a chance of getting to Jesus, so just relax and quit your stupid yelling!"

But Bartimaeus was all the more determined to get to Jesus. He couldn't see, but he could yell. He cried out all the louder. Hear his voice rise above the din of the crowd. It rings out like a great clarion call, "Jesus, O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

And Jesus stood still.

And the crowds stood still.

And a great calm settled down over them all.

The winds and the waves couldn't stop Jesus. Neither could angry mobs. Crowds of people couldn't stop him either. But a lone, blind beggar could—and did.

And Jesus with his great heart of compassion asked for Bartimaeus to be brought to him.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked.

"Lord," Bartimaeus replied, "please give me my sight." And Jesus did!

"Go your way," he said, "your faith has made you whole."2

Friend, what do you want Jesus to do for you? Are you as determined as Bartimaeus was? Am I?

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, have mercy on me a sinner. Hear the cry of my heart. Please save me from sinfulness. Heal my wounded spirit and fill my empty heart with your love, joy and peace. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me too. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."



"They [the early Christians] devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."1

Bruce Larson tells this story in his book, Faith for the Journey. Once there was a successful factory that made drills. One day the owner told his corporate officials that he was going to retire and that he had chosen his son as his successor. At the next board meeting the son asked his four vice presidents, "What are your goals for the company for the next five to ten years?"

One vice-president replied, "Well sir, we're looking at new sizes and shapes for different drills."

The son then dropped his bombshell. "I have news for you—there is no market for drills." One could feel the tension in the air. He continued, "From now on we will not think drills. We will not sell drills. We'll sell holes! People don't want to buy a drill; they want to make a hole!"

As they began to think of other ways to create holes they developed, among other methods, lasers for drilling holes. This attitude change and other innovations keep this company in business while its competitors lost large shares of the market and some even went bankrupt.2

It wasn't aptitude but attitude that made the difference!

Reports by research specialist, George Barna, in recent years have shown that the church and Christians as a whole in the U.S.A. are not making any significant impact on the culture. Also, there is little difference in the manner of living between Christians and non-Christians. Others such as Chuck Colson are saying that in the U.S. we are now living in the post-Christian era. Alarming observations.

So what is wrong? A scary thought is that we could be rapidly heading in the same direction as the church did in Great Britain a century or so ago. Then the great spiritual and missionary endeavors were coming out of their country. But today the church there is but a shadow of what it was. As one British rector (minister) poignantly said about the church in England: "The times changed, the people and their needs changed, but the church remained the same, and little by little it became irrelevant and lost its impact." Instead of looking at itself, the church then blamed the indifference of the people for their leaving in droves.

True, our message never changes but the application of it and our methods of presenting it must apply to the needs of today's generation—not yesterday's. Furthermore, we are NOT in the business of building churches with a little "c". We are in the business of saving people and making disciples.

Like the disciples and early Christians, when we do God's work in God's way for God's glory may it be said of today's Church: "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved"

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, today's world has become so much more complex and the competition for the hearts and minds of today's generation is all but overwhelming. As your children and church members please help us and our leaders understand the needs of our neighbors and communities and apply the gospel to meet the needs of our children, youth, adults and the aged. And perhaps even more importantly help me to so live that people seeing Jesus in me will want what I have. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


How strong convictions come
For reading & meditation: James 1:2-8
"' that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (v.4)

We continue meditating on the first verse of Psalm 73: "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart." The psalmist has gone through an experience of crippling doubt but the great thing is this: he has emerged from it spiritually enriched and with a deeper confidence in the goodness of God. So he starts with that conclusion and then tells us how he got there.

This is one of the great values of the psalms - they reflect and analyse the experiences that we are called upon to face. Ray Steadman says of the psalms: "They are an enactment of what most of us are going through, have gone through or will go through in the walk of faith." Every one of us will be able to understand the psalmist's struggle: we start off with a positive faith in God's goodness and then something happens which causes us to be plagued with doubts. The problem then is how to get back to where we were. This is what the psalmist does in this psalm - he shows us how to return to the place where the soul finds true peace.

We should not forget that the strongest convictions are born in the throes of doubt. The statement "God is good to Israel" is a statement grounded in experience. In a similar vein, Dostoevsky, the famous Russian novelist, could say: "It is not as a child that I believe and confess Christ. My hosannah is 'born of a furnace of doubt.' " Doubts may discourage but they need not demoralise you. It is not what happens to you, but what you make of it that matters.

Gracious and loving Father, I pray that You will do for me what You did for the psalmist and help me turn my strongest doubts into my strongest beliefs. I offer You my willingness - now add to it Your power. In Jesus' Name I ask it. Amen.


Put Your Chin Up and Fight

"In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"1

In his book, Life Changes, James Hefley writes about Barry Luppin who was just twenty-six when a rare nerve disease sent him into the world of silence. Unable to pursue the law career he had planned, he drifted aimlessly for eight years bemoaning his deafness.

Then he determined, in his own words, to "put my chin up and fight." He learned to lip read and went into the auto leasing business. The business prospered into a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

Barry never allowed his handicap to keep him from normal work. When a customer calls, his secretary picks up an extension phone. She hears the caller and mouths the words silently to Barry who sits nearby. He replies in normal speech never letting on that he is stone deaf.

"If you have a physical handicap, you can run into a corner and hide," says Barry, "or you can just try harder than the next man and make a success of yourself."

In many ways life is what we make of it. If we choose to live in harmony with God's will and his purpose for our life—no matter what our circumstances—our life can then be an investment not only in this life but also in eternity.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to see what my God-given life purpose is and live in harmony with that and your will. I come to you as I am—warts and all—and trust my life to you. Please make something beautiful of my life. And in the words of the hymn writer, 'Here's my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for your courts above.' Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


A great soul battle
For reading & meditation: Psalms 69:1-12
"I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold." (v.2)

Having shared with us the conviction that God is good, the psalmist now proceeds to tell us what caused him to move away from that belief so that his soul became filled with such desolating doubt: "But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Psa. 73:2-3). Here begins what Spurgeon described as "a great soul battle, a spiritual marathon, a hard and well-fought fight in which the half-defeated became in the end wholly victorious".

The psalmist seems bothered by the apparent contradiction between what he had been taught in the Scriptures - that God is good to those who are pure in heart - and his experience in life. He was envious, he says, of the arrogant and deeply upset over the fact that the wicked appeared to be more prosperous than the godly. He had been told that when you were righteous, then God would take care of you and prosper you. Obviously things had not been going too well for the psalmist and when he compared his situation with that of the ungodly who appeared to be so prosperous, he came close to giving up his faith.

Am I talking to someone who is in a similar situation at this moment? Is your faith so badly shaken by what you see around you that you are tempted to give up? Then this is the word of the Lord to you today: hold on. It is a dark tunnel you find yourself in at this moment, but God will bring you through. He never fails. Never.

Father, thank You for speaking to me today. Help me not to form my conclusions from what I see around - the immediate - but from what I see above, in You, the Ultimate. I wait in quiet confidence for Your word to come to pass. Amen.


Be honest with yourself
For reading & meditation: Psalms 51:1-9
"Surely you desire truth in the inner parts '" (v.6)

Even the most casual reader of Psalm 73 cannot help but be struck by the openness and honesty of the psalmist. He says: "My feet had almost slipped ' for I envied the arrogant" (vv. 2-3). This again is one of the great values of the book of Psalms - it brings home to us the importance of acknowledging what is going on in our hearts when we are caught up in the midst of conflict. I cannot stress enough how spiritually damaging it is to ignore or deny our true feelings.

There is a form of teaching going around in some Christian circles today which holds that one should never admit or acknowledge a negative thought or feeling - not even for a single second. Life must be lived positively, it is said, and that means refusing to consider or even glance at anything negative. What nonsense! The people who advocate this approach to life can never have read the book of Psalms. I am all for a positive approach to life, but positivism first involves facing things realistically no matter how negative they may be.

How can you know what you need to be positive about until you have clearly seen what is troubling you? Once an issue is faced, and faced realistically, then the matter can and must be dealt with in a positive way. But to try and be positive without bringing into clear focus what is wrong is like building a house on sand. No matter how much cement is poured into the foundations, and no matter how well the walls are reinforced, when a storm comes it will sink without trace.

Father, drive this truth deeply into my spirit, for I see that it is not enough to be honest with You and others, I must also be honest with myself. Help me get there and stay there. In Jesus' Name I ask it Amen.