Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30 - Daily Challenge - Be Still

Psalm 46:10 - "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted among the earth."

This morning I awoke to a quiet house. Due to my love of sleep, this rarely happens, as it is one of my children who normally serves as my alarm clock. As I began to pray over the day, Psalm 46 came to mind.

This is a psalm that illustrates God's sovereign protection over all times of misfortune. The first verse declares the nature of God. He is our strong refuge and helper in trouble. The psalmist describes both destruction caused by natural catastrophes as well as by human wars, the two leading causes for mass casualties. Throughout the psalm, he then describes God's involvement of protection within these different environments. The focus of the psalm is that even though the earth and kingdoms may pass away, the kingdom of God will not fall. Therefore, in light of this knowledge, we should be still and recognize God for who He is. God is present with us and is our Fortress.

Being still is the last thing people want to do in times of chaos. Our survival instincts kick in and unfortunately, we often do not surrender our trust to God. We do not recognize that while He is in ultimate control over this earth, there also awaits for us an unshakable kingdom. As believers, we have nothing to fear. Instead, we rally behind fear and react accordingly. However, our focus should be resolute on the Creator and Sustainer.

Being still does not mean having a laissez-faire attitude and passively giving up the battles that come to life. Rather, it is taking time out in the midst of those battles to gain perspective and as a result maintaining a sense of peace throughout the course, no matter the result. Therefore, we can exalt God, in every circumstance.

The greatest illustration I can give of our tendency to respond verses how we ought to respond comes from the movie "Titanic." After the ship began to sink and everyone knew there were not enough lifeboats, chaos erupted. People were filled with fear, despair, anger, hopelessness, etc. Yet, there is a touching scene of stillness. When most all have either refused to recognize or resigned to their fate, a single violinist begins to play, "Nearer My God to Thee," thus illustrating his resolve. His colleagues join him. Amidst the disorder, rage, and seeming injustice, there is recognition that God is still in control. You can sense the stillness in the recognition of God's sovereignty. Though there are images of death, destruction, and despair, in the background is the sweet music, acknowledging that in that moment, a believer is choosing to draw nearer to God. He is not playing out of resignation, but rather out of comfort and peace.

It does not have to be catastrophic events in which we exercise this practice of stillness. We experience "minor catastrophes" everyday and have the choice how we are going to respond.The children begin to misbehave and we turn to anger rather than grace. Traffic is terrible on the way home and we react in road rage. The car breaks down, the phone rings one too many times, the basement floods, you have one too many deadlines, a storm takes out the car, a person asks one too many favors. The list goes on and on. There are constantly misgivings that tempt us to react to chaos rather than to respond to God.

The Challenge today is to look at what areas are you tempted react to the chaos instead of responding to God by being still and recognizing, in each moment, that He is God. This requires us being intentional about taking the time to be still and using that time to recognize and exalt God for who He is.

To see a video clip of the Titanic scene mentioned above, click here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Daily Challenge: Learning to Be Content Part 4

2 Corinthians 12:10 - For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So far on our journey to contentment, we have discovered several things. First, contentment is learned. Contentment is a commitment of the mind. It is demonstrated through actions and it requires preparation. I was tempted to not write on the topic today in fear that it was getting monotonous, but then I realized, no one has to read this and I am still learning. :)

This particular verse I write on stuck out to me today during my personal Bible study. It struck me, not because Paul states that he is content in such wretched situations. No, what caught my attention was the verb Paul uses in order to state his contentment. He does not declare that he is simply self-sufficient. Rather, he uses the verb that indicates that he is well-pleased that these circumstances are happening. This is the same verb that God uses to refer to Jesus at his baptism when he says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased." (Matt. 3:17)

The reason why I find this so remarkable is because Paul takes contentment to the next level. It is not simply enduring or acting in light of circumstances, but rather it is taking DELIGHT in those circumstances. The reason for this is for the sake of Christ. Never once in Paul's discussion of calamity or contentment does his focus waver from Jesus. That is the reason why Paul has the hope that he has. It is the reason why he has the attitude he has. He realizes that it is through his own weakness that God's power is able to shine through and therefore he triumphs under pressure.

The challenge now is to turn our attitudes and our actions from merely treading water to triumphing where God has placed us. We do this by realizing that God's grace is sufficient and His power is perfect (2 Cor. 12:9). The reason why we do this is for the sake of Christ.

For more information on this passage, please see my post "The Gift of the Thorn and the Gift of Grace."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Daily Post - June 28 - Learning to be Content Part 3

Proverbs 19:21 - Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.

In my last post, we discussed that in order to find contentment, we must first make a commitment to change our attitudes from the old ones we had as unbelievers, which were focused on the things of the world, to a new one which is focused on the plan God has for our life. This is much easier said than done.

Committing to contentment means more than simply proclaiming that we are content. It is more than resigning ourselves to the fact that God has placed us wherever we are at so we might as well make the most of us. Rather, contentment is embracing that God is sovereign and authoritative over our lives and has ultimately placed us where we are for a purpose.

The best biblical illustration of someone who learned contentment was Queen Esther. Esther was the Jewish girl who became queen to the Persian King Xerxes, all while hiding her identity. Due to a plan by the King's right-hand man, Haman, Esther's cousin Mordecai requests that she reveal her identity in hopes to save the Jews. Many regard Esther 4:16 as Esther's declaration of commitment. Mordecai had declared the potential purpose of her placement in verse 14. However, after looking at the text and context, I believe that her reply to him is the desperate plea of an insecure young woman who had been virtually ignored by her royal king rather than a declaration of confidence. She, in essence, has declared her resignation to her fate. I'm sure Esther would have been just fine living in the royal palace, being pampered for the rest of her life, if plans could have gone her way. The realization of her purpose does not comes until AFTER the three days of preparation, where she acts with resolution, by bodly approaching the king, ultimately saving her people.

We can learn several lessons from this young queen. First, we learn that contentment does not consist of merely declaring ourselves to God's initiative, while ultimately feeling the pangs of resignation. It instead involves embracing where God has us and recognizing his purpose for that setting. Second, we can learn that preparation is involved in learning contentment. Esther gathered up her maidens and prepared for her encounter with the king. This consisted of spiritual, emotional, and physical preparations. In the same way, we can prepare for the plans God has for us. We can do this in many ways, including gathering others for support, prayer, etc. Finally, we learn that resolved contentment is shown through action. Queen Esther went boldly before the king and made her request not once, but twice. God honored her obedience.

The Challenge today is to look at where God has placed you (home, job, family, church, etc.). In what ways have you been discontent? What are some of your plans that might be causing discontentment? What are some possible plans God could have for you in those situations? What are some ways in which you can begin to act out your resolved contentment?

Daily Challenge - June 27 - Learning to Be Content Part Two

Ephesians 4:22-24 - You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

It would be so great to have a boat, or a bigger house, or a better car, or a higher paying job, or a more luxurious vacation, or, or, or, or, or, or, or, ...... Why can't my life be more like so and so's?

The quest for contentment can seem laborious, but the first step starts with the mind and the heart.

Since we have been raised with Christ, we are changed. We are a new creation and therefore our thoughts should be transformed as well. Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." I have written on this passage before in my post, "A Matter of Affection and Perspective". This passage also applies to contentment. When we set our minds on the plan of God rather than the things of earth, we begin to see things differently. So how do we do this?

I believe that the first step is to realize that contentment is a learning process and make the decision to begin the process. When we realize this, we are able to recognize each step of our progress. However, as this Ephesians passage states, there is an element of commitment involved. As believers, we are taught to put off our old selves. The Greek word gives the image of laying aside and ridding oneself of something (BDAG). Paul recognizes that the old way in which we used to live is being corrupted by the earthy desires that we have. These desires eat away at us and consume our thoughts, attitudes, and lives. That is why Paul reminds the Ephesians not just to stop thinking about those things, but to throw them aside and make them no longer a part of their lives. We are then to replace our old selves with our newly created selves, redeemed by Christ. The Greek for "to put on" literally has the meaning to put on clothes. Therefore, like putting on a brand new outfit, we are to clothe ourselves with the newness of life that God has created for us, displaying righteousness and holiness. This is a change of attitude and heart. No longer is our affection on what the world has to offer, but rather on displaying the characteristics of God.

The picture I get in my mind is one of an event that occurred while working as a counselor at a Christian camp. It had rained and several of the counselors released some pent up energy through a huge mud fight. By the time it was over, I was covered from head to toe in mud and everything I touched left evidence of my escapade. However, once I got rid of the filthy clothes and put on a new outfit, it was as if I had never been tainted by the mud and was able to continue ministering to students. In the same way, when we have our minds set on the old way of life, which is clouded by earthly desires, discontentment will often stay festered within us. That discontentment leaves a trail of bitterness that affects everyone we encounter. We as believers must make the decision to take off that old way of life, with its accompanying desires and clothe ourselves with our new Christ-centered approach to life.

The Challenge today is to ask yourself if you have taken off your old self, meaning you have let go of the desires of the world and have instead taken on an attitude that is focused on Christ.
The first step to contentment is a change of attitude and heart. As a believer, Christ has already done a work in you to make you a new creation. Now it is time to make the commitment to make the change of heart needed to be a disciple, useful for displaying his righteousness and holiness. In doing this, you will find the first step to contentment.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Daily Challenge - June 25 - Learning to Be Content

Philippians 4:10b-13 - For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to be in plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Contentment is not something to which we naturally excel. The Best Buy "Buy Back" commercial brilliantly illustrates the point. We cannot be happy with one piece of technology before something else becomes available and then we simply MUST HAVE IT! For those of us who are not technologically savvy, it applies in many other cases: clothes, purses, shoes, houses, jobs, etc. The "dream job" that you once had now seems like a prison. The "prince charming" you married has turned into the repulsive frog. And you wonder, who is doing all of this transforming?!? A lot of the responsibility might belong to you.

The Apostle Paul knew a lot about living in the not most welcome situations. 2 Corinthians 11:23b-28 gives a list of his perils:
1. Has Been in prison
2. Has Been flogged
3. Has Been exposed to death again and again
4. Five times he received the forty lashes minus one (what Christ received before the crucifixion)
5. Three times beaten with rods
6. Once stoned
7. Three times shipwreck, spending one night in the open sea
8. Constantly on the move
9. Danger from rivers
10. Danger from bandits
11. Danger from fellow Jews
12. Danger from Gentiles
13. Danger in the city
14. Danger in the country
15. Danger at sea
16. Danger from false believers
17. Has Labored and Toiled
18. Has Often Gone without Sleep
19. Has known Hunger and Thirst
20. Has Gone without Food
21. Has Been Cold and Naked
22. Pressure of His Concern for the Churches

While these calamities would crush most people, Paul remained steadfast. He recognized that it was through his human weakness that Christ was able to be seen. The word used for "content" was a word used to describe someone who, through personal discipline, did not rely on circumstances for their comfort, but used personal resources in order to survive whatever situations they encountered (Hawthorne, Philippians, 266). However, Paul declares that it is not self-sufficiency that brings him contentment. Verse 13 gives the sources of his resolve. He states, "I am able to accomplish all things through the one who empowers me." (Cortney Standard Version). The means in which Paul is able to endure the bad and stay humble in the good is Christ. Therefore Christ is the source of ability and ultimately the source of contentment.

Throughout the next several posts, we are going to look at contentment. The Challenge today is to look at where you are at as far as being content. Are you relying on your circumstances to feed how comfortable you feel about life, or does your satisfaction depend on your relationship with Christ? Paul stated that he learned to be content, recognizing that it was a process. We will take some time to examine what that process might look like. Begin to pray that God will continue to stretch you as you trust him more.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Daily Challenge June 22 - The Charge of Forgiveness

Colossians 3:13 - Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

In my last post, I discussed the picture of forgiveness, which was Christ requesting forgiveness of his enemies up on the cross. Today, we will discuss the charge of forgiveness.

Colossians 3:12 gives us our status in Christ. We are chosen by God, holy and dearly loved. As a result, we ourselves should take on the characteristics of: compassionate hearts, mercy, humility, kindness, gentleness, and patience. The actions of verse 13 are actually results of what happens in verse 12. Because of our status in Christ, once we have put on His characteristics, the result that follows is that we bear with one another and forgive one another. When looking at the Greek definition of the word "to bear", some the English equivalents are, "to regard with tolerance", "to endure", and "to put up with" (BDAG). The word picture that comes to mind is of a horse that has a fly buzzing all around him and all the horse does is wiggle his ears a little, never swashing the fly with its tail!

I think that sometimes, we as Christians, think that every moment together is to be a campfire "kumbaya" moment. However, the Apostle Paul knew better and warned us for those other times. As the Body of Christ, we are still imperfect people, redeemed by the blood of Christ. We still possess qualities of our sinful nature and we sometimes allow them to get the better of us. However, when others mistreat us, we are first to bear with one another.

The second thing we are to do as a result of the characteristics of Christ we have taken on in our lives is we are to forgive one another freely. The Greek word used here gives the picture of graciously forgiving a wrongdoing (BDAG). In other words, it is not a half-hearted spoken, "I forgive you," but a full extension of grace and love made by the person who had been wronged. This is hard for many because our nature desires to sulk, gossip, and stay wounded. For, in that state, there is attention. However, the attention should not be on us, but on Christ. Therefore, the longer we wallow in unforgiveness, the longer we misrepresent Jesus. Verse 13 ends with the picture of Christ. Just as Jesus willingly and freely forgave you, so you also willingly and freely forgive.

The Challenge today is to examine the characteristics listed in Colossians 3:12-13. What characteristics do you need to "put on?" Ask God to help you in these areas. Also, list the people in your life that you need to bear with and freely forgive. Think about how Jesus forgave you and use that as a stepping stone in your journey.

Daily Challenge- June 23 - The Cycle of Forgiveness

Matthew 6:14-15 - "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

In my last post, I discussed the charge of forgiveness. Today, we will discuss the cycle of forgiveness. These words of Jesus seem a bit harsh, yet show the serious nature of his command. Forgiveness happens as a result of what has been done for you by the Father. Since you have been forgiven, so you have the responsibility to forgive.

The parable of the Unforgiving Servant gives the perfect illustration of how we often respond to God's grace. This story can be found in Matthew 18. The story begins with a king who asks his servant to pay back a debt, which was equal to about 10,000 bags of gold. When the servant declared that he did not have the money, the king ordered that his wife and children be sold in order to repay the debt. The servant begs for mercy and the king had pity on him and thus cancelled the debt in its entirety. As the servant leaves, he sees a fellow servant who owes him 100 silver coins. When he sees his colleague, he grabs him by the neck and threatens, "Give me back what you owe me!" The fellow servant falls on his knees and asks for more time, promising to pay it all back. Instead of showing mercy, the first servant refuses. Instead he goes off and has his colleague thrown in jail for not paying back the little money owed to him. When the other servants saw what happened, they told the king. The king called the servant in and told him he was wicked because he had not shown mercy after he had been given mercy. The servant was then handed over to be tortured until he could pay back his great debt.

Our tendency is to be like the wicked servant. We beg for God's mercy and forgiveness. Then, once we have it, we immediately forget about the great act of love which had been shown to us. Instead of being humbled by His mercy, we think of ourselves as superior. Then, when someone asks forgiveness from us, we, like the wicked servant, we cannot simply cancel the debt, but make them work and strive towards our forgiveness. This is not what Christ asks us to do. He asks us to simply cancel the debt. In essence, we are to make the offense disappear. We are to let it go and to never bring it up again, not to that person nor to anyone else. If we do not do that, we can expect severe consequences from God because we are not living out the forgiveness that He has given us and we are therefore not being genuine disciples of Christ.

The challenge today is to examine yourself. Who have you said to yourself that you have forgiven, but you know in your heart you haven't? Who are you keeping tethered to unforgiveness? Let go and by God's mercy give them the forgiveness they deserve. When we forgive others, we are truly able to enjoy God's forgiveness in our own lives.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Daily Challenge - Picturing Forgiveness

Luke 23:34 - Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

For me, Luke 23:34 is the greatest picture of forgiveness. Jesus is up on the cross. Luke has just described the people doing the following:
1. The crowd accused Jesus of subverting the nation (23:1)
2. The crowd accused Jesus of opposing paying taxes to Caesar (23:1)
3. The crowd twisted Jesus' claim of Messiah to make it sound as a threat against Caesar (23:1)
4. The crowd accused him of being one who stirs up dissension through his teaching (23:5)
5. Herod mockingly questioned Jesus for his own entertainment (23:9)
6. The chief priests and teachers vehemently accused him (23:10)
7. Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him (23:11)
8. Pilate punished him for no reason (23:14-16)
9. Pilate ordered Jesus to be crucified in order to please the crowd (23:23-24)
10. The people crucified Jesus alongside of criminals (23:33)

The sins of the people were numerous and atrocious. In Matthew's account of the crucifixion, the soldiers strip Jesus, place a scarlet robe around him and a crown of thorns upon his head. They then give him a staff and mock him. Afterwards, they spit on him, take the staff and strike him with it. (Matthew 27:27-31). Reading the grievances is hard enough, let alone imagining having them done to you. Yet, Jesus not only endured them without retaliation, but He forgave those who were tormenting him while they were in the midst of their brutality. This exemplifies his lifestyle of forgiveness. One of the most important things to notice is that the sinners did not ask Him for forgiveness before it was granted. He forgave while they were in the midst of their horrific behavior.

Jesus' request to the Father is made in the Greek aorist imperative. In essence, this gives the force of the command as a whole and complete action, rather than focusing on duration or repetition (Wallace. Exegetical Syntax, 485). This means that Jesus is asking for complete and total forgiveness of everyone involved in the process of his crucifixion. His request has lasting effects for us as well, for Jesus is the Suffering Servant for all transgressors (Isaiah 53). Therefore, we can enjoy the abiding effects of complete forgiveness that was put into effect on the cross.

In His darkest hours where the entire world had turned against him, Jesus did not respond in bitterness, anger, or hate. Rather he responded with love. Our greatest tendency is to throw up walls of defense when people hurt us. Our desire is to at least guard against further hurt or to allow those who have hurt us to feel a portion of our pain until they cry for mercy. Yet this is not a portrayal of our Savior.

The Challenge for today is to recognize the need for forgiveness. In what areas of you life do you need to be forgiven? In what areas of you life do you need to forgive? Who is on your list?

We will continue the discussion on's a great and freeing lifestyle!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Heavenly Hope

Written on the evening of June 17, 2011: This post is dedicated in honor and memory to Paul Garrison. I love you Papa.

As I sit here right now, I am weary and weak. After a wonderful week of ministry at Vacation Bible School, it has closed with a visit to the pediatrician for my daughter, a fever and migraine for myself, and a long journey of seeing my husband's grandfather prepare to go home to his Heavenly Father for our family. As I take a moment to ponder all that has happened in the day, the Spirit of the Lord whispers to me, "Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:30).

The last three months have been a battle ground for me spiritually and physically. However, I have felt the Spirit of the Lord upon me as He has molded me and has carried me through this time. He has been my shelter and my strength.

I will not analyze this verse, because that is not the intention of this post. However, let me say this: weariness is a part of life. It is a result of living in a fallen world. Yet, we have the choice of hope. We have the choice to hope and in whom to place that hope. We can choose to lose hope and give up the fight of shining our light for Christ, succuming to the patterns of the world. We can also place our hope in false "gods", be it our own efforts, others, substances, habits, false philosophies, etc. However, those who hope in the Lord will unltimately find their renewal. Not because of some hocus pocus power, but because they know that there is more than these present trials. If we persevere, one day we will stand victorious with Christ in glory because He overcame the grave. This truth has given me the strength to endure and to continue to proclaim, "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Daily Challenge - June 15, 2011 - Faith Like a Child

Matthew 18:2-4 - He (Jesus) called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Imagine you were the child who Jesus summoned. Here is this man of whom you had heard your parents speak. You had heard of the wonders he had performed and might of perhaps witnessed one yourself. When you arrive to where he will be teaching, you hope that you might be able to get a glimpse of the great Teacher that some proclaim to be the Messiah. All of a sudden, you hear the sound of a calm baritone voice calling for a child. Before you can realize what is going on you are met face to face with Jesus. He places you in his lap and smiles a gentle smile at you. He then tells the crowd the words of Matthew 18:3-4." You think to yourself, "He is using me as an example, he must be mistaken! No one even acknowledges me. I have no say in decisions. I must trust in my Father's plan for me and follow in obedience." Jesus looked down at you with a warm smile, kisses your forehead and leads you back to your parents. You know your life will never be the same.

Jesus calls us to be like children, in that we are to have the humble attitudes of the heart of a child. A child is utterly dependant upon their caregiver and understands that need. Therefore, they recognize that their greatness is reliant upon someone greater than themselves. Small children innately understand the concept of respect because they are physically smaller and weaker than others, thus making humility an easier concept to grasp.

As we grow into adulthood, we inevitably become more independent. That independence usually leads to pride. Pride is the antithesis to the kingdom of God. To admit we are sinners that need God's grace and forgiveness (that is brought through Christ) takes humility. It takes humility to abandon our own wants and desires of this world and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Yet, when we are able to recognize what our true position is as humans compared to the glorious nature of God, humility can be found.

The challenge today is to evaluate where you are spiritually. While we were created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) and we were able to have a relationship with Him, once sin entered into the world, that relationship was broken (Isa. 59:2). However, because God loved us so much, He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to die for our sins, even while we were still sinning against God (John 3:16, Romans 5:8). Jesus lived a perfect and holy life in order to be a proper sacrifice (Romans 5:12). We must therefore, humbly admit that we are sinners and that we need Jesus to intervene for us and mediate our relationship with God. We must then turn from our life of sin and turn to God. (Luke 13:5) It is by our faith that we are saved. (Ephesians 2:8-9). God guarantees that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

Where are you spiritually? Do you have a personal relationship with God? Christianity is not about going to church or placing money in an offering plate or following a bunch of rules. It is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Once you trust in Christ as Savior, you receive the Holy Spirit as a Helper to guide you in your walk with the Lord. Repenting and believing are the first two steps to a lifestyle of discipleship.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Daily Challenge - June 14, 2011 - Impossible Not to Witness???

Acts 4:20 - "For it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard."

These words were spoken by Peter and John to the Jewish rulers, elders, and experts of the law. They had been imprisoned by those in charge because they were proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus and had healed a man in Jesus' name. By Peter and John's testimony, it was evident that they had been with Jesus, though they were ordinary men. This made the Jewish leaders intimidated and they wanted to quiet the disciples. Therefore, they asked them to stop proclaiming the gospel.

Acts 4:20 was the second portion of their response. The Greek uses the double negative for emphasis, literally giving the translation, "For we are not able to not speak about what we have seen and heard." This emphasis implies that their encounter with Christ had welled up enough response within them that they had to act upon it. The message was so compelling it had to be carried out through works. This is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) lived out in real life. As Jesus' disciples continued about their lives, Jesus was their focal point. This was a result of the impact he had made on their lives.

The picture I think of relating to their enthusiasm is a woman who just got engaged. She just cannot help but talk about her new fiance. It glows out of her like the diamond that is on her finger. You cannot ask her fast enough how it happened before she beats you to the story. She does this because she is so in love with her soon to be husband. He has made a great impact on her life. In the same way, as the Bride of Christ, the Church should have that same kind of enthusiasm for the Gospel message. Unfortunately, when looking across the pews it looks like we are at a funeral rather than a wedding. Moreover, for many, one of our biggest fears would be to have to tell a coworker or friend about Jesus because of the fear that they might judge or reject us. Our response to Jesus should come from what we know about Him. If we have the relationship with Him, it should be natural to testify and act accordingly. Peter and John were uneducated and ordinary men (Acts 4:13). It was the power of the Holy Spirit that allowed them to testify about Christ (Acts 4:8). When the time comes for us to stand up for Christ, the same Spirit who empowered Peter will empower us to boldly proclaim who it is that we cannot help but speak about because we have seen and heard about what He has done in our own lives and in the lives of others.

The challenge today is to think of one person with whom you need to be more open about your relationship with Jesus. Begin to pray for the words to say. Ask God to empower you through His Spirit. Begin to pray for that person and that the Spirit will begin to draw him/her.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Daily Challenge - June 13, 2011 - Be Subject to All Authority?

Romans 13:1-2 - Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

For many, these two small verses seem to be hard to swallow. Some of the most politically outspoken people in the United States today are Christians. While this is not and will continue to not be a political blog, for some reason, this was the verse that I felt upon which I need to write.

Paul wrote the book of Romans from Corinth during the close of his third missionary journey. Rome at that time was the capital of the Empire and it was by far the most important city in the world. Though Paul had never been the the Church in Rome, there was already a group of believers established and he wrote to them in order to inform them of correct doctrine and practice.

In chapter 13, Paul bluntly exhorts the Romans to be subject to the human authorities above them. The Greek grammar implies that they should place themselves willfully as subjects under the Roman authority. At the time, Rome was ruled by pagans who were unsympathetic to the cause of Christ. Yet, believers were to place themselves under their authority and abide by the laws made. The reason for this was that God is the ultimate authority who has allowed all those in power to maintain their position. Therefore, if someone resists the authority on earth, they are ultimately rejecting God's sovereign placement and will be judged for their disobedience.

The only exception to this exhortation that can be found in Scripture is when an authority figure asks the subject to do something that is in direct violation to the Word of God (Ex. 1:17; Dan. 3:16-18; 6:7,10; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29). It is in these times you see God's hand of protection around those who disobey the human ruler in order to obey God.

If we are willingly to be subject to those with power over us, how should our attitudes be towards them? If we simply obey the laws, but show no respect for the office or the person, are we truly abiding by Romans 13:1-2? Though we might not always agree with those who have authority over us, we still must willingly place ourselves under their leadership. By doing so, we must learn to be good followers.

The challenge today is to think about who in your life has God place in authority over you, whether it is at home, at work, or in government. How can you better submit yourself to their authority? What can you do today to show them that you respect them and that you are willing to follow their leadership?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Daily Challenge - June 9, 2011 - Love One Another

John 13:34-35 - "A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

In some of Jesus' final teachings to his disciples, he gives them the command of John 13:34-35. The command to love one another was not in and of itself new, for the Old Testament had dictated to love one's neighbor's as themselves. However, the standard had changed. First, the manner by which the disciples are to love one another is with Christ's love. If you look at the way in which Christ loved on earth, you notice a couple of things. First, he loved with humility. His relationships with others did not consist of what he could gain from them or the recognition he could earn, but he rather what he could give. A great example of this is seen when Jesus washes his disciples' feet (John 13:1-20). The second way in which Christ loved is that He loved sacrificially. He placed the needs of others above the needs of himself. Ultimately, he made the greatest sacrifice for mankind by giving his life on the cross.

The second difference between the new command to love and the old is that in the new command, Jesus calls his disciples to a love within the community of believers. Earlier, the command was given to love your neighbors and your enemies. Now, this is a command within the community of believers. It is a call to a lifestyle of love that is unmatched by anything that had been seen before that time. The result of their love for one another is that the world will know that they are Christ's disciples.

The charge is given with a condition. The world will know Christ's disciples if they love one another. While there might be exceptions to the case, this is to be the standard that is likely to happen in the future. This principle seems easy enough to attain. Yet, how often is it that arguments arise within the body of believers? Most often the battles the Church wages are within itself. If we truly loved one another the way Christ loved, the impact on the world could be remarkable.

The challenge for today is that: think about the areas in which you are not loving your fellow disciples the way in which Christ loved. Is there another believer that you have a grudge against and you have let your pride get in the way of the relationship? Is there someone who you are taking advantage of that you could be serving instead? Our testimony comes from our love for each other as the body of believers? How can you better love your fellow disciples and therefore show the world that you are a follower of Christ? What is one step you can take to better love your fellow believer? You may never know the impact of your love.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Daily Challenge - June 8, 2011 - Sovereignty is Strength

Habakkuk 3:19 - The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of the deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.

This is the final verse of the book of Habakkuk. This small book in the Old Testament is about a righteous man wrestling with the unrighteousness in the world. The book is filled with the prophet Habakkuk's struggle with how God was working in the world. At the beginning of the book, the prophet cried out to God because the people of Judah (the southern nation of Israel after they split) were wicked; yet they remain unjudged by the Lord. When God answered that He would send the pagan Chaldeans to judge the nation, Habakkuk still did not understand how God could seemingly bless a nation who were worse than the ones God was judging. However, God explains they will receive their due judgment. The book ends with the prophet realizing that his trust in and worship of the Lord must come, not from the temporal blessings He bestows, but on His character and nature that has been proven throughout the ages.

The Sovereign Lord is our strength. It is His ultimate control over all going on that allows us to continue on when we feel like we have nothing left to go on or give. The Lord operates on a plan that is grander than our own. Our temporal minds cannot comprehend it. Yet, He is just. He is righteous. He is good. He is in control. Once we stop arguing with Him and trust in His sovereignty, it will be our strength. Knowing that the Lord has a plan and purpose for all that is going on will enable us to do things we never thought possible. Habakkuk did not see resolution at the end of the book. Yet, he worshipped God because God was God.

The challenge today is to think about what area of life you are struggling in trusting in the Lord's Sovereignty. Perhaps it is a prolonged illness, something that seems unjust in your eyes, a prayer that you have not received the answer you desired. Ask God to help you see His sovereignty in that situation and help you look at it through a perspective greater than your own. Then ask Him to give you the strength that comes from Him to help you faithfully worship Him daily.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Daily Challenge - June 7, 2011 - Trusting Daily

Matthew 6:11 - Give us today our daily bread.

So many times in our prayer life, we concern ourselves with matters of the future: a future job, relationship, aspiration, wealth, goal, etc. Yet, in Jesus' exemplar prayer, he prays about the concern for the day, on that day. This shows a constant dependency and trust upon God for our provision.

While in the wilderness, God miraculously provided the Israelites with manna, or bread from heaven, for each day. However, if they tried to store it, they would awake to a jar full of maggots (Exodus 16). God did this to show Israel that He could provide for their daily need in a world where all hope seemed lost. However, they had to trust in Him daily. Their lack of trust was shown by their hoarding up His provision for the future.

How often we are like the Israelites! We hoard up God's provision for the future instead of trusting in Him to supply us with what we need for the day and therefore forfeit living generously for His kingdom. While we should be wise with what God has given us, when we begin to trust in our own means of storing rather than openly laying out all we have before God as a daily offering in order to ask Him to provide for us again the following day, we act in disobedience.

The challenge for to day is to look at your own life and evaluate whether you are truly trusting God to provide for today. Are you going to him daily, asking Him to meet you needs? Are you praying more about future concerns or matters of the present? If we focus our prayer life on how God is going to provide for us in the future, we miss out on how He is presently at work. Today, if you no longer are trusting in Him, how can you get back to the point of reliance?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Amazing Grace Part One: Peace With God

One of the most beloved, most sung hymns of all times is "Amazing Grace." Perhaps it is the simple melody that draws people to the song, but I believe there is more to it. The story behind the song shows the depth of the lyrics. John Newton, the man who penned the humble words to the song, was an abused servant to a slave trader in the 1700s. However, in 1748, he was rescued and ultimately became the captain of his own ship, which ironically, carried on the slave trading business. As a result of his upbringing, he likewise mistreated the slaves he carried. However, one night, during a voyage home, his ship was hit by a formidable storm. In distress, Newton cried out, "God have mercy upon us," though he was not religious prior to his exclamation. However, it was in this moment, he began to realize the depth of God's mercy and grace. He later journaled that it was through the storm that God began to speak to him and began to show grace to him. While he did not immediately give up the slave trading industry, he did begin to treat them humanly. Eventually, Newton surrendered to the ministry where he began preaching and writing hymns. His life was changed because of grace.

Grace is an amazing thing. It is favor undeserved, unmerited, unwarranted. Newton did nothing of His own accord to deserve grace. He simply accepted the gift given and responded with a lifestyle of worship.

Romans 5:1 states, "Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God's glory." It is our faith in the work of Christ that gives us our right standing before God. The result is peace. Often times, Christians do not embrace what it really means to have peace with God. We still believe that God is out to get us or He is looking for us to make a mistake or that we must do something to prove our love for Him and earn His favor. The Greek term for peace indicates a state of relational harmony or reconciliation. As a violinist, the word picture that comes to mind is one of an orchestra playing in perfect tune and timing. The result is music that is stirring to the soul. So it is with our relationship with God: beyond words. Because of the work of Christ, we are able to enjoy a completely harmonious relationship with God the Father, where there is no discord.

So what happens when we go astray? How does this affect our peaceful relationship? Often times, similar to a violinist who gets distracted and loses their place in the music, we falter in our walk with God. What once was a beautiful song now sounds disjunct and out of line. Yet, because of Christ, reconciliation with God is not a work that must be accomplished over and over again. It is a state of being that has already been established when we first believed. Therefore, we can look back up at our Conductor, find our place, and keep moving forward. Yes, there may be missed opportunities and consequences we face because of our disobedient choices and God may discipline us out of love, but make no mistake, the relationship is able to continue.

This concept of being able to keep moving forward is hard to grasp. Therefore, when we "fail God" we sometimes simply give up, lose hope, and continue going down the wrong path, assuming there is no way out. The adversary want you to believe these lies. The truth though is that as a believer, the work of Christ has already made me acceptable to God no matter what! That is grace. Romans 5:2 states that through Christ we obtained access into God's grace in which we now presently stand. We have therefore entered into a new realm of living where grace rules rather than law and condemnation. Thus, we can stand and rejoice in the hope of God's glory. It is because of grace, this unmerited realm of a favorable peaceful relationship with God we have through Christ, that we may one day share in His glory and His likeness (Moo, Romans, 304).

Many times we think that we are on the journey alone and when we fall short of God's glory, we fall alone. But that is not grace. That is not the gospel. That is not Immanuel: God with us. In Immanuel is our hope. In Christ we are alive to God and dead to sin (Rom. 6:11). In Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom. 6:23). In Christ, we are wise (1 Cor. 4:10). In Christ, we are able to stand firm (2 Cor. 1:21). In Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In Christ we are children of God (Gal. 3:26). In Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3).

Unfortunately, we often look at our relationship with God the same way we look at human relationships. We think that what we say or do affects how He feels about us. However, through Christ, we receive grace and our status of peace with God is unchangeable. Though we may falter and stumble, it is not going to alter how He loves us or how He desires a relationship with us. In those times of weakness, instead of giving up on the hope of glory that we already rightfully possess in Christ, we simply need to look back up to God for direction and get back in harmony with His will. When we do, Amazing Grace will never have had such sweet a sound.