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In step


The Human "Face" of God

"Then, leaving her water jar, the [Samaritan] woman went back to the town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?'"1

In the Australian edition of Encounter magazine, Ivor Bailey wrote how Trinity College in Cambridge, England, has a long-held tradition of sending students to the slums of South London. At the parish of Camberwell the students sleep in the parish hall and spend a week each year working among the parishioners.

Some years ago a student was helping do some home repairs when the occupant, a bed-ridden elderly lady, asked him if anyone had ever told him that he bore a remarkable likeness to Prince Charles. "Spitting image of him you are," she said. The student replied, quite truthfully, that no one had ever told him that before. "Strange," she replied, "even with my poor eyes you look just like him." To her dying day she probably never realized that her drains were being cleaned by the heir to the throne of England [Prince Charles].2

Some 2,000 years ago the King of kings came into the world as a baby and most of the people of his day, including the religious leaders, never recognized him as the long-promised Messiah because he didn't fit the role of what they expected. However, there were those who did see him for who he was. Even the loose-living woman, whom Jesus ministered to at the well in Samaria, was so impressed with the fact that Jesus accepted her that she ran back to her community and shared how this stranger ministered to her and she asked, "Could this be the Christ?"

How sad and how tragic when we don't recognize Jesus for who he is and for the gift of salvation and eternal life he has for all who come to him.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, though I cannot see you with my physical eyes, please open the eyes of my understanding so that I recognize you for who you truly are and always be aware of the leading of your Spirit in every area of my life. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Nearer my God to Thee
For reading & meditation: James 4:1-10
"Come near to God and he will come near to you." (v.8)

The final two verses of Psalm 73 form a conclusion and a resolution. Listen to them once again: "Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds" (vv.27-28). The psalmist has finished his review of the past and is now hammering out a philosophy with which to face the future.

He is resolved that no matter what anyone else may do, he is going to live in close companionship with God. He helps us to see the importance of this resolution by putting it in the form of a contrast: "Those who are far from you will perish ' but as for me, it is good to be near God." Really, when it comes down to it, there are only two positions in life - close to God or far away from Him. I wonder, as the psalmist penned these words was something like this going through his mind: "What caused me so much trouble in recent days and accounted for all my difficulties was the fact that I did not keep close to God. I erroneously believed that the cause of my problems was the prosperity of the ungodly, but having entered into the sanctuary of God I see that this was not the cause of my problems at all.

My problems came because I had chosen not to remain close to Him. For me there is now only one thing that matters - staying close to God." How are things with you at this moment? Do you feel close to God? If you don't, then let me put what I want to say in the words of a wayside pulpit that arrested my attention some years ago: "If you feel that God is far away guess who moved?"

Father, I am grateful for the promise of Your Word to me today that when I draw near to You, You will draw near to me. Help me put those words to the test by moving closer to You than I have ever done before. In Jesus' Name. Amen.


Not on Approval
Psalms 19"The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." (v. 7)

We live in an age which is increasingly contemptuous of laws and moral prohibitions. Not only the moral teaching of the Sermon on the Mount but the Ten Commandments also are mocked with impunity by millions of people. Sadly, with some exceptions, there seems to be little remorse at what is happening.

We Christians must be careful that this attitude does not rub off on us too. We must resist the spirit of the age and refrain from bending the rules, or rationalizing moral or ethical issues, because it suits us to do so. A curious thing happened in a London court some time ago. A man was summoned before the magistrates for not having a television license.

He claimed the TV set was not his and that he had received it from a dealer only "on approval." Until he decided to buy it, he said, he did not feel under an obligation to take out a license. He argued that because of that he was not breaking the law. The magistrate decided to fine him a certain sum and stated: "The law knows nothing about 'approval.' The law is to be obeyed. Pay the fine!" In some minds today, it would seem, the law is binding upon you only if you approve of it. The reasoning appears to be this: if the law is not to your taste, it ceases to have authority over you. Christians should never hold such a view. God did not give us His commands for our approval. He gave them to us to be obeyed.

Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Redeemer, like Peter, when I take my eyes off You I am in danger of sinking -- into the moral morass of the day. Help me keep my eyes always on You. Then I shall see clearly the ethical issues of the passing hour. Amen.


God's Chosen

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."1

Mike Barnicle, a former columnist for the Boston Globe and more recently with theNew York Daily News, tells about a baby born to Mary Teresa Hickey and her husband in 1945. The parents came from Cork, Ireland. The baby was a Down's Syndrome boy. Mary Teresa held the baby tightly, saying, "He's ours and we love him. He is God's chosen one."

The family lived in the Dorchester section of Boston. Their other boy was Jimmy. The dad died young of a heart attack, and Mary was left to raise the two boys, nine-year-old Jimmy and seven-year-old Danny. To pay the rent she scrubbed floors at a chronic care hospital.

Jimmy took good care of Danny. Dan felt at home with all the kids because no one told him he was different. Then one day, as they were boarding a trackless trolley, some strange kids shouted, "No morons on the bus!" That was the day Jimmy Hickey learned to fight. It was also the day Jimmy decided to be a priest. Little Danny attended the Kennedy school in Brighton and eventually obtained a job.

In 1991, Mary Teresa Hickey died at age ninety-one after showering her sons with unyielding love all their lives. Father Jim Hickey had been a priest for thirty years. In every parish to which he was assigned, Danny went along with him. The people were favored with both men.

In October 1997, Danny was in the hospital. His fifty-two-year-old body was failing. One night when ordinary people were eating supper, watching a ball game or going to a movie, a simple story of brotherly love played itself out at the bedside of a man who never felt sorry for himself or thought he was different.

Father Jim held his brother and asked, "Do you trust me, Danny?"

"I trust you."

"You're going to be OK."

"I be OK."

Eight hundred people stood in line at his wake. Parishioners packed the church for his funeral. They sang and cried and prayed. Later that day, Daniel Jeremiah Hickey was gently laid beside his parents at New Calvary cemetery. The granite headstone bore his name and the inscription: "God's Chosen."2

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank you for your promise that you are preparing a place in Heaven for all who have accepted you as their Lord and Savior and have put their trust in you. All of these are your chosen ones too. Thank you for this blessed hope knowing that when our time on earth is over, we will go to be with you in Heaven and live with you forever. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


How to forgive
For reading & meditation - Proverbs 30:21-33
"' as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife." (v.33)

If difficulties concerning basic trust on a natural level can hinder our ability to trust at a spiritual level, how do we as Christians overcome this? The first thing we must do is demonstrate a willingness to forgive those who hurt us. "That's hard," you might say. My reply is: "Yes, in the case of those who have been badly let down, it is hard - but not impossible."

Here's how you do it. Focus first on how much you have been forgiven. The key to forgiving others is to enter into a realized awareness of how much God has forgiven you. When people say to me during a counselling session, "My problem is that I can't forgive," I usually respond by saying, "No, that's not your problem. Your problem is that you don?t know how much you have been forgiven."

It may be difficult for some to see this, especially those who have gone through deep hurt, but nothing others have done to you is as awful as what you have done to God. If you have difficulty with the last statement, it is because you do not understand the nature of sin. Sin is taking the Creator of the universe and relegating Him to irrelevance; it is saying to the One who made us - "I can run my life on my own terms." Sin is insanity - and you and I have been guilty of that. Yet in Christ God has forgiven us, pardoned us, and bestowed upon us His royal favor. Having been given such forgiveness, can we, dare we, withhold it from anyone who has betrayed our trust, no matter how horrifying that hurt has been?

Father, Your Word is frank and open - help me to respond to it in the same way. Take from me every biting hesitancy, every fear and apprehension, every refusal to accept responsibility. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen.


Amazing Grace

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it isthe gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."1

John Newton (July 24, 1725 – December 21, 1807) is probably best known as the author of many well-known hymns, including, "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," and especially the popular hymn, "Amazing Grace," which is one of the most well-known spiritual songs in the English-speaking world.

Perhaps what many don't know is that in his youthful years Newton lived a rather degenerate lifestyle and, because of his troublesome behavior as a sailor, in his early twenties was sold to a slave-merchant who gave him to his wife, an African duchess, to be one of her slaves. He was rescued in 1748 and, while sailing back to England, in the middle of a storm the ship began filling with water and threatened to sink, so Newton cried out to God to save him. This was the beginning of his conversion to Christianity. However, he didn't totally commit himself to God until a later time when he became seriously ill.

For nine years Newton was involved in the slave-trade and himself became a captain of three slave-ships. It was several years after his conversion that he gave up the slave-trade. In 1757 he applied to become a Christian minister, but it wasn't until 1764 that he was accepted as an Anglican priest. He became a very popular minister and people flocked to hear him.2

Because of his profligate life before he became a truly committed follower of Jesus Christ, it is understandable why he could write the following words:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank you for your amazing grace that also saved a sinner like me. May I always live in an attitude of gratitude because of your amazing grace, and please help me to share your grace in some way with every life I touch. And if I have never received your amazing grace, please help me to do that today. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name, amen."


Why God Requires Worship

Psalms 50
"If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it." (v. 12)

During the early days of my Christian experience, I queried why God put so many texts in the Bible that command us to worship Him. It seemed to me that many of these commands bordered on egotism and self-centeredness. We all despise those people who clamor for our attention or commendation, and a picture of a God who needed constant ego strokes threatened to impress itself on my mind. It happened most when I read the Psalms. "Praise Me, worship Me," the Almighty seemed to be saying everywhere.

Then I read C. S. Lewis's Reflections on the Psalms and the whole matter dropped into the right perspective. This is what he said: "The miserable idea that God should in any sense need or crave for our worship like a vain woman wanting compliments or a vain author presenting his new books to people who had never met or heard of him is implicitly answered by the words: 'If I be hungry I will not tell thee' (Ps. 50:12). Even if such an absurd Deity could be conceived He would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures, to gratify His appetite. I don't want my dog to bark at my books."

He went on to point out that in commanding us to worship Him the Almighty is demonstrating far more interest in us than in Himself. Our worship of Him completes us. We perfect our personalities to the degree that we give ourselves to God in worship. In eternity we shall experience full joy because we shall be able to worship Him fully. Meanwhile we are tuning our instruments.

Prayer: O God, I want to worship You in the way You deserve to be worshipped. Help me give You my worship not because I am completed by it but because You are so worthy of it. I worship You, Father, with all my heart. Amen.


What's happening!?
For reading & meditation: 2 Corinthians 4:7-12
"' perplexed, but not in despair '" (v.8)

Today we stay with the thought that half our spiritual perplexities would never arise if we started out by being prepared not to understand immediately the things that God does or allows. We must accept that one of the fundamental principles of the Christian life is the truth that there will be many times when God will work things out in a manner exactly opposite to the way we think He should.

If I had been taught this in the early days of my Christian life, it would have saved me from many spiritual struggles. Most of my perplexities arose because I failed to realise that I was dealing with a mind that is omniscient - that God's mind is not like my mind. The ways of God are inscrutable; His mind is infinite and eternal and His purposes are beyond understanding. When we are dealing with such a great and mighty God it should not surprise us that He allows things to happen which we find perplexing.

If we insist that everything in life should be plain, we shall soon find ourselves in the state in which the psalmist found himself - full of doubt, disillusionment and fear. We should note, however, that perplexity is not necessarily sinful. It only becomes wrong when we allow our perplexity to drive us to despair. The apostle Paul, as our text for today shows us, was perplexed but he was not in despair. Make sure you understand the distinction. It is not foolish or wrong to say: "I don't know what is happening." It is only foolish to say: "God doesn't know what is happening."

O Father, how comforting it is to realise that I can be perplexed and yet not fall into sin. Help me to keep this distinction clear. Drive the truth deep into my spirit today that You always know what is happening. In Jesus' Name I ask it. Amen.


Givers and Takers

The Bible says, "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."1

Some televangelists claim that if you give generously (to their ministry of course), God will greatly bless you with wealth. But is this true? According to today's Scripture if we tithe and give generously and cheerfully to God, this is something that God loves, but the blessing God promises is that our needs will be met—not that we will become wealthy—and as such we will abound in good works; that is, we will become rich in good works.

It is true that God has greatly blessed many capable and generous business people with financial success who have, in turn, given greatly to God's work. The important lesson we all need to learn, however, is that we need to give to God's work in thanksgiving to God and to Jesus for giving his life to die on the cross to pay the penalty for all our sins—not for what we can get—but rather to become rich and abound in good works—good works that will glorify God.

To put it bluntly: in life there are givers and takers. Givers give cheerfully of whatever they have—even if it is only friendship, encouragement, and service—and always reap a reward and become richer as persons. Takers, who are always on the take to see what they can get for themselves, will always be paupers as persons, no matter how wealthy financially or otherwise they may or may not become.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to be a giver in every area of life, including of what finances I have, and so become rich and abound in good works. May I always give cheerfully as unto you in thanksgiving for all you have done for me. Furthermore, help me to be wise in all that I give and be certain that I am serving you and giving to your work on earth. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name, amen."


Wise Fools
For reading & meditation - Proverbs 4:1-9
"Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you." (v.6)

It is time now to ask ourselves: What exactly is wisdom? How is it to be defined? Some say wisdom is synonymous with knowledge, and use the two words interchangeably. There is, however, a world of difference between knowledge and wisdom, as writers and philosophers down the ages have pointed out.

Knowledge is the capacity to comprehend and retain what one is taught; wisdom is the ability to put that knowledge to best effect. If knowledge is the same thing as wisdom, then, as Paul Larsen points out, "There are many 'wise' men who are fools." Our colleges and universities cram information into the minds of thousands of people, so that they come out knowing a good deal about such things as the solar system, microbiology, bacteriology, psychology, the laws of physics, art and so on, but knowledge by itself does not stop them from making a mess of their lives. In the United States, a second year university or high school student is called a "sophomore," which is the Greek word for "a wise fool." How revealing.

When we get into the higher stages of education, we think that we know it all, but if this attitude is not changed, then we will soon demonstrate what it means to be a fool. A "fool" in Proverbs is not someone who can't pass a simple literacy or numeracy test; he is someone who thinks he knows what life is all about but doesn't. Those whom the world recognizes as "wise" may, from heaven's standpoint, be the biggest fools.

Father, I see now what Paul meant when he said "we are fools for Christ" (1 Cor. 4:10). My Christian lifestyle may appear foolish to those around me, but help me never to forget that from Your perspective it is the highest wisdom. Amen.


Can You Handle the Truth?
. . . woe to him who is alone when he falls
and has not another to lift him up—Ecclesiastes 4:10

Support and encouragement are crucial for friendship, of course. But by themselves, they aren’t enough—not even close. True friendship requires more. The kind of friendship God intends requires that we look deeper, that we try to see things only friends can see. And it requires that we tell the truth (Ephesians 4:15). So, when friends are stuck or struggling with denial or passivity or sin, true friendship requires that we face awkwardness or embarrassment or fear of rejection head-on, and that we name problems honestly (though gently, too) and make every attempt to challenge and push, rescue and restore (Galatians 6:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). True friendship requires that we go “all in.” It requires that we be willing to initiate tough conversations, when tough conversations are needed.

The inverse, of course, is that we need friendship like that too. To lead robust, upright lives, we too need friends who are willing to be honest. To lead robust, upright lives, we too need friends who, like God, love us too much to let us to get stuck or struggle on our own. To lead robust, upright lives, we too need friends who are “all in” and willing to initiate tough conversations. We must be intentional about surrounding ourselves with such men . . . and, as hard as it might be, we must be willing to learn how to hear honest feedback without indignation, defensiveness, or counterattack.

Have you explicitly empowered any man, or group of men, to search you and know you? Have you let any man, or group of men, know your entire story and explicitly empowered him, or them, to speak honestly into your life? If you haven’t, steel your courage and take that step. It’s one most men will never take.


To die - or not to die?
For reading & meditation: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
"' as dying, and behold we live '" (v.9, RSV)

Today we ask: What is the meaning of this strange spiritual paradox that before we can live, we must first be willing to die? The best illustration of this truth can be seen in the passage from John 12 that we read on the first day of our meditations and which we will now look at in greater detail. One day a group of visitors from Greece arrived in Jerusalem, and hearing of the fame of Jesus sought out Philip, one of His disciples, and said to him: "Sir, we would like to see Jesus" (John 12:21).

When Philip informed Jesus that some Greeks wanted to interview Him, this precipitated a spiritual crisis in our Lord's heart: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified ' unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24). Why should the Greeks' simple request precipitate such a crisis in Jesus' heart - a crisis in which dying or not dying seemed to be the vital issue?

Could it have been that He sensed that the Greeks were coming with an invitation for Him to bring His message to Athens - the centre of philosophy and learning - where it might be more readily received? Did He sense that in wanting to interview Him, they were going to say: "Sir, if You go on the way Your face is set, the Jews will kill You. Don't stay here in Jerusalem and die: come to Athens and live"? If this was the situation, then how dramatically it would have underlined the issue that was constantly before Him - to die or not to die.

Blessed Lord Jesus, it is clear that I face a similar issue to the one You faced when here on earth - to die, or not to die. Help me, dear Lord, for I can only face it in Your strength. Amen.


Coaching the Witness

"Instead, we will lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the Head of his body, the church."1

A boy who was a witness to a crime was on the witness stand in court. He was approached by the defense attorney who asked, "Did anyone tell you what to say in the court?"

"Yes, Sir," the boy answered.

"I thought so," said the attorney. "Who was it?"

"My father, Sir," said the boy.

"And what did he tell you?" the attorney asked accusingly.

"He said that the lawyers would try to get me all tangled up, but if I stuck to the truth, everything would be all right."2

Need I say more except to say that one of my constant prayers is that God will help me to be a herald (messenger) of grace and truth—and help me to live it first; and always to be a truth-teller and never a people-pleaser-teller!

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me, no matter what the situation, to always tell the truth so that I will never get tangled up in lies and thereby sacrifice my integrity. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Come to Athens and live
For reading & meditation: John 7:25-39

"' Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?" (v.35)

We ended yesterday by suggesting that the issue which the Greeks might have wanted to talk over with Jesus was that of taking His message to Athens - the centre of philosophy and learning. Were they intent on saying to Him: "Put Your marvellous message of the kingdom of God into the medium of Greek thought, and in no time it will spread throughout the world.

Don't stay in Jerusalem and die; come to Athens and live"? We have no way, of course, of knowing for sure that this was the situation, and I am simply suggesting that this is what may have been in their minds. The idea is not as far-fetched as you might imagine when placed against the verse that is before us today: `"Does he intend to go to the Dispersion ' and teach the Greeks?" (v.35, RSV). Had other nations beyond Israel's boundaries showed interest in His revolutionary approach to life?

Tradition says that the king of Edessa once sent a message to Jesus inviting Him to come to his country and present His message concerning the kingdom of God. Whether or not this was so, one thing is certain - the coming of the Greeks precipitated a crisis in Jesus' soul: "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'?

' Father, glorify your name!" (John 12:27-28). He would not rationalise or compromise; He would face the issue to which He had always been committed. It was not to be a philosopher's chair in Athens, but a grisly cross in Jerusalem. He would fall into the ground and die, and bear a harvest richer than anything the world could offer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to catch something of Your spirit as I face the challenges that lie ahead of me in the coming days. I want to make my life count for the utmost - show me how we can work things out together. Amen.


Heaven's Musical Messenger for Good Friday

"He [Jesus] was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities [sins]: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD [God] laid on him the iniquity [sins] of us all."1

1741 was a very depressing year for George Frederick Handel. His latest opera failed. His Italian opera company in London was disbanded. That same year Queen Caroline passed away and the commissions Handel had received for composing music for royal occasions all but dried up. A stroke experienced several years prior not only affected him physically, but affected his music. It seemed as if he had lost the genius that made his music so popular.

Late that year, Charles Jennens, a poet known by few, sent Handel a manuscript with a request that Handel set it to music. When Handel read the copy, the words gripped him. Suddenly he came alive. Immediately, he began to put the words to music. He labored all through that night and much of the following day. In fact, he worked day and night for 22 more days, barely stopping to eat or sleep.

When his composition was finished he sensed that it would be a true masterpiece. His "Messiah" was performed the following year and was an immediate success.

The words that Jennens wrote that inspired Handel and lifted him out of the pit of despair were about the Savior: "He was despised and rejected of men. He looked for someone to have pity on him, but there was no man. He trusted in God. God did not leave his soul in hell. I know that my Redeemer lives. Rejoice. Hallelujah!"

On this day, more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a torturous Roman cross to pay the penalty for our sins. But thank God on Easter Sunday Jesus rose from the grave, triumphant over death, giving all who accept him (Jesus) as their Savior the same assurance that Job of old had when he said:

"For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold . . . ."2

Suggested prayer: "Dear Jesus, how can I ever thank you enough for dying on the cross in my place so all my sins could be forgiven and I could be given the gift of eternal life. Indeed, you are the Christ, Son of the Living God, the Great Creator of the entire universe—and I claim you as my Lord, my God, and my Savior. In appreciation for your dying for me, help me to live for you. Always and forever. Gratefully in Jesus' name. Amen."


A blank cheque
For reading & meditation: Luke 22:39-48
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (v. 42)

We have seen over the past two days how Jesus, when faced with the news that some Greeks wanted to interview Him, appeared to be precipitated into a spiritual crisis. Whatever we make of this incident in the life of our Lord, it is fairly obvious that some deep struggle is going on inside Him. And the terms of that struggle are also clear: "What shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'?

No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour" (John 12:27). This passage in John 12 underlines most powerfully the humanity of Jesus. We see Him recoiling for a moment and only for a moment - from the grim ordeal that He was about to face on Calvary, but He comes through to reaffirm His unswerving commitment to His Father's eternal will and purpose. Note once again the truth that seemed to sustain Him in this dark and crucial hour: "I must fall and die like a grain of wheat that falls between the furrows of the earth.

Unless I die I will be alone - a single seed. But my death will produce many new wheat grains - a plentiful harvest of new lives" (John 12:23-24, TLB). He gave a blank cheque to God signed in His own blood. He would fall into the ground and die and bear a rich and bountiful harvest. He aligned Himself with self-giving and not self-saving. The momentous issue with which our Lord struggled in that hour is similar to the one which you and I are being called to face in these meditations - to die or not to die. The way we respond to it will determine our life-direction.

Father, I sense that quietly things are heading toward a moment of crisis in my life - a crisis of commitment. Help me to see these things, not merely as a matter for discussion, but a matter for decision. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen.


Grabbing Some Solitude
. . . he would withdraw to desolate places and pray—Luke 5:16
Why are we men so bad at solitude? Our king did it quite well. As a man, Jesus knew his limitations. He understood his need to connect with his father—to his guidance and power. He knew how good that connection was. He wants us to know too.

If it’s so good, though, why do we struggle? Well, it’s a little because we’re busy. Solitude is hard when you’re working and/or married and/or have kids and/or have friends. And, it’s a little because we’re not well practiced. Our culture trains us for motion and multitasking—not for slowing and simplifying. And it’s a little because, deep down, we know solitude means confrontation.

You see, solitude removes distractions and leaves us, for a few minutes, alone with God the Holy Spirit. Solitude is sometimes defined as being alone, but we aren’t. The Spirit dwells within us (1 Corinthians 3:16). God’s right there. And we never know what might happen when we’re alone with God. He might ask us to stop something we don’t want to stop or start something we don’t want to start. He might. He does that (Hebrews 12:5). But if we avoid his confrontation, we’ll miss his companionship, counsel, comfort, restoration, and rescue. So, we must take courage. We must not worry that we don’t yet do it well. And, we must make solitude a priority, just as Jesus did.

Start small. Find something that works for you. Turn off devices and take a walk at work—at lunchtime or during a break. Get some air in your neighborhood after dinner. Slip outside just before bed and sit quietly in the dark. And, if you’re ready for more, take a half-day or full-day or overnight solo trip into the outdoors.


The deepest law
For reading & meditation: Matthew 10:24-39
"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."(v.39)

Out of this incident of the Greeks seeking an interview with Jesus came these great truths that Jesus uttered. We have already looked at some of our Lord's famous statements in John chapter 12 - here is another: "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25). What does it mean - "The man who loves his life will lose it"?

It means that when you focus on your interests alone, your life will disintegrate. Those who have no one to centre on other than themselves and live only to have their own way finish up bankrupt, beggared and defeated. Dorothy Sayers put the same truth most effectively when she said: "Hell is the enjoyment of having one's own way for ever." But the rest of the verse is just as true: "The man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." In other words, lose your life in the plans and purposes of God and you will find the true meaning of your existence.

It is a paradox, but nevertheless true, that you are never so much your own as when you are most His. Bound to Him, you walk the earth free. Low at His feet, you stand straight before anything or anyone else. You suddenly realise that you have aligned yourself with the creative forces of the universe, so you are free - free to create, free to love, free to be at your best, free to be all that He desires you to be. And this is not just mere acquiescence. It is co-operation with the power that raised Jesus from the dead. No wonder someone called this principle, "the deepest law in the universe".

O God, once again You are boring deep - but You have my permission to keep going. When Your drill strikes hard resistances in me, don't hold back. I want the deep living waters of Your presence and power. Amen.


wo Great Abilities

"Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load."1

Comedian Bill Cosby received a lot of flack because he told his own people to quit blaming anyone else for the problems they have, to act responsibly, and develop and use the abilities they have. This is a message we all need to hear regardless of the color of our skin or the circumstances of our background.

In fact, two of life's greatest abilities are depend-ability and response-ability. Dependability is keeping one's word. It's being there when we say we are going to be there, and doing what we say we are going to do. It's keeping the commitments we make.

Responsibility is realizing that I am totally responsible for what I say, what I want, what I feel, and for what I do or don't do. True, I was not responsible for my background or my upbringing, but I am totally responsible for what I do about overcoming my background if it were less than desirable, for what I become, and for every area of my life. As long as I blame my past, my parents, my background, the government, or anyone else, I will stay in a self-pitying and self-defeating mode going nowhere fast.

Unless some think I am an armchair-theorist coming from a highly privileged background telling others what they should do, they are mistaken. I came from a very dysfunctional family background, was not allowed to attend high school, made to go to work fulltime when I was still 13, and came overseas to get an education without any help from anyone (worked my way through college and worked three jobs at once during the summers). I made up my mind while still a teen that I wanted to fulfill God's will for my life, and for my life to amount to something so I did what I needed to do to make it happen.

What I did have going for me was a firm belief that God had a purpose for my life. I didn't know what it was at the time but I knew that I needed to prepare myself for whatever it might be. Sure there were obstacles to overcome and challenges to meet, but these made me all the stronger. Today it has paid off tremendously. I count it a tremendous privilege to be able to publish the gospel and Christian message and be communicating it around the world to multiplied thousands of people. There is nothing better in life that I could have wanted or wished to do.

The point is, every one of us needs to know that God has a plan and purpose for his or her life, and then employ all of his/her powers for the achievement of that purpose. God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but he will never do for us what we can and need to do for ourselves—otherwise he would be acting irresponsibly by keeping us immature and over-dependent.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, help me to discover what my God-given life purpose is, and with your help, act responsibly to overcome all setbacks, and develop all of my abilities to achieve my life purpose. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


The Rock of Ages
For reading & meditation: Psalms 28
"To you I call, O Lord my Rock ' if you remain silent I shall be like those who have gone down to the pit." (v.1)

Now that the psalmist's faith is no longer conditioned by material factors, and he is confidently resting in God, he makes this interesting statement: "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever" (Psa. 73:26). Some commentators say he is referring here to the time when his flesh will decay through old age, while others say he was experiencing some physical problems at that very time.

Both may be right. When he looks into the future he knows a time will come when he will be an old man when his heart and flesh will fail. He will be unable to look after himself but it will still be all right, says this man, "For whatever may happen, God will still be the strength of my heart." A commentator who feels the psalmist's words have a direct bearing on his physical condition at that time says this: "You cannot pass through a spiritual experience such as this man passed through without your physical body suffering. His nerves would be in a bad state and his heart would have been affected by the strain.

Nevertheless he still affirms that God is his strength." It is generally agreed that the word which is translated "strength" is the word for "rock", and so the verse may justifiably be translated: "God is the rock of my heart and my portion for ever." What a thrilling thought this is - God is my Rock. As one Welsh preacher put it: "There are many occasions when I tremble as I stand upon the Rock, but there are never any occasions when the Rock trembles under me."

O Father, help me this day to go out into life aware that although I may not know much about the ages of the rocks I know much about the Rock of Ages. And everything I know makes me feel deeply, deeply secure. I am so grateful. Amen.