Archive for January, 2011

Wait! Responding wisely to setbacks

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Earlier this week, Chris wrote about his reaction to a major disappointment in his personal life. He talked about his frustration with unfriendly “neighbors” and his efforts to replace that frustration with prayer and love.

Today’s devotional at Lifetime Guarantee Ministries, written by the late Anabel Gillham, deals with a very similar situation. Think about the last time you encountered a serious setback or disappointment in your life. How did you react? Anabel, reflecting on a huge personal disappointment that caught her by surprise, lays out the different ways we can respond in such a situation:

Well, we have options. (1) Go in the bathroom, close the door and cry hard. Wait. (2) Go to your room and collapse on the bed feeling like you’ve just been hit by a truck. Wait. (3) Retaliate and cause bigger problems. Wait. (4) Stuff it and feed your ulcer. Wait. (5) Tell yourself the truths that we’ve learned together and make yourself listen! He is with me. He loves me. He can handle this (I sure can’t!) He is with me. He loves me. He can handle this–one hand tied behind His back. Wait. (6) Get busy. Whistle while you work or sing while you suffer. (I whistle. My singing leaves a lot to be desired.) Wait. (7) Do something nice for someone. All the while fixing your thoughts on those things that are true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely. Dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. Not just one time–over and over and over, etc. Wait. (8) Ask Him to tell you what to do. Ask Him to give you His thoughts on how to handle this unexpected crisis–and listen. Wait. (9) Thank Him for taking care of this crucial episode that burst into your life quite unexpectedly–having one goal–to incapacitate you or destroy you! Wait. (10) Go back to #5 and do it all over again.

I am presuming that you caught the word, “wait?” Spewing out those impulsive, angry, defensive, hurtful words on the tip of your tongue–no! Regurgitating rash, condemning statements to anyone around you–no! God tells us, “Be angry–but sin not. Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still” which means wait (Psalm 4:4).

Obviously, there are many different ways to respond to life crises, and different situations call for different responses. But whatever the response, it’s important that we not sin by acting rashly and emotionally. The next time you’re insulted, disappointed, or provoked, don’t indulge your instinctive reaction. Wait.

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. —Psalm 37:7

Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. —Proverbs 14:29

Today’s Devotional: Prayer in the Face of Frustration

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

I’m going through a a disappointing situation right now. Without getting into the details, a personal situation I was excited for has gone from hopeful to unsalvageable over the past week. To say I’m frustrated would be an understatement.

However, like many frustrating circumstances in life, it has provided daily (often hourly) opportunities to test my commitment to Jesus’ famous words in Matthew 22:37-40:

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

It’s easy to love God when life is full of blessings. Likewise, it’s easy to love your neighbor when everyone is being friendly. But what about when your expectations are dashed and your neighbors are decidedly unfriendly? What I’m re-realizing through this experience is that prayer is incredibly necessary. I’ve been praying for God to take my worry and replace it with His grace and His peace. And, unsurprisingly, whenever I can rise above my own issues enough to lay them before God, He has been faithful in answering that prayer.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. Have you taken time to pray about the situation? What would it take for you to exhibit God’s love to the people involved?

Driving ourselves to distraction

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Text messages. Twitter. Facebook. iPhones, iPads, video games… the list of distractions in our lives goes on and on. These aren’t bad things in and of themselves, of course—but I’ll be the first to admit that with so many opportunities for distraction at hand, I spend a lot of time checking email or catching up on Facebook that I might once have spent doing something more productive.

In this devotional at Delve Into Jesus, Michael Lane admits to the same impulse, and considers the example of a friend who decided to opt out of of these digital distractions entirely:

I can relate. I don’t own an iPad, but I do own an iPhone so I know first hand exactly what [my friend] Peter is talking about. It’s the first thing I reach for in the doctor’s waiting room or while waiting for others to arrive to a meeting. That’s reasonable, I suppose, but lately I’ve found myself reaching for it in the car at long red lights or when I’m watching television with my wife. That’s not reasonable, and it’s gotten me into some hot water.

The point Peter was trying to make is that we’ve lost our respect and desire for quiet, introspective thought. It’s so easy to fill our minds with information or tap into entertainment that there is no longer a need to ever be without it – not in the car, not in our bedrooms, not even when we’re camping or on vacation. Every moment of the day, regardless of where I am, I can check my email, watch a podcast, update Twitter or read the news. The vast majority of the time, there is not a single email, news story or social networking update that comes even close to affecting my life, but I read them all anyway. At the very moment when I sense that I am not listening to something, reading something or doing something, I instinctively reach out for anything that will occupy my mind and keep me from… well from what? Boredom? Silence? My own thoughts? Not being productive? I’m not sure, but I think it’s some combination of these fears.

Lane is concerned about the effect of this boredom and distraction on our prayer lives. Lane isn’t saying you should get rid of your iPhone or stop using Twitter—he specifically notes that he isn’t ditching his phone or blaming the technology. But he does challenge us to use our time deliberately, and to avoid using our fancy tools as simple meaningless distractions. The next time you reach for your phone/game/iPad, ask yourself: are you doing it because it’s important, or simply because it’s a habit and you’re bored? What else could you do that would be more personally—and spiritually—rewarding?

Today’s devotional: Conform to Christ, not other Christians

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Is there a “Christian personality,” a set of personality traits that a Christian should exhibit? Certainly, there is a well-defined set of moral values that should define the Christian life—love, kindness, self-control, and others. But beyond sharing those core values with fellow Christians, should we adopt a specific type of personality as well?

Looking at many of today’s well-known Christian leaders and pastors, you might get the impression that to be an effective Christian means adopting their personalities: outgoing, unrelentingly cheerful, always optimistic. Not so, says Blaine Smith in this devotional—becoming a new person in Christ doesn’t mean sacrificing your individuality:

Ideas abound in so many Christian circles about the “ideal Christian personality,” and this is a major reason for our confusion. While it may not be taught explicitly that one personality type is more godly than another, stereotypes persist nonetheless. Many Christians assume that leaders, and other strong believers whom they admire, are closer to having the perfect Christian personality than they are themselves.

As a new Christian, I simply assumed that the extroverted leaders of our church college group, with their football coach temperaments, were displaying God’s personality standard. I disdained my own personality, which seemed too mild and reflective compared to theirs, and did what I could to emulate the personality style of these leaders whom I esteemed.

Our confusion about individuality also results from certain theological misconceptions about what it means to a have new life in Christ. Scripture teaches that we are new creations as Christians. We’re urged to deny our old nature and die to ourselves, in order to be fully alive in Christ. From there, it’s an easy jump to thinking that we must deny what is unique about our own personality and individual potential, in order to be Christ-like.

Blaine cites Martha (the sister of Mary and Lazarus) as an example of a Christian whose unique personality was evident even after her acceptance of Christ. In fact, our personal quirks and interests can point to unique ways to serve Christ. Christ wants us to conform—but to his image, not to the specific personality traits of other Christians.

Today’s Devotional: Stating Not Arguing

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Perhaps I’m alone in this, but when I encounter someone who disagrees with me my natural inclination is to argue with them. After all, they’re wrong!

A.W. Tozer challenges us in this devotional that when it comes to matters of defending God our only responsibility is to positively declare God’s truth. With that act, we put the burden of persuasion upon God, who is far more capable than you or I:

The answer to the question, “Where did I come from?” can never be better answered than by the Christian mother who tells her child, “God made you!” The great store of knowledge in today’s world cannot improve on that simple answer! The scientist can tell us the secrets of how matter operates, but the origin of matter lies in deep silence, refusing to give an answer to man’s question. … Our chief business is not to argue or to persuade our generation. With our positive declaration of God’s Word and revelation, we make God responsible for the outcome.

Are you in the midst of an on-going argument with someone over issues of God and faith? How would taking Tozer’s advice change your approach to the disagreement?

Today’s Devotional: We’re All Capable

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Have you ever felt like you’re incapable of certain kinds of sins?

I know I have, only to later find myself humbly confessing those very sins. If there’s one thing the Bible is clear about it’s that we’re all capable of great evil, and that despite our attempts to rank sins from bad to really really bad, God views our sin much in the same way. Our pride is direly misplaced.

Our Daily Bread reminds us today that our response to someone else’s sin should be alertness rather than smug pride that we haven’t done the same:

It has become so commonplace to hear of the misconduct of a respected public figure that even though we may be deeply disappointed, we are hardly surprised. But how should we respond to the news of a moral failure, whether by a prominent person or a friend? We might begin by looking at ourselves. A century ago, Oswald Chambers told his students at the Bible Training College in London, “Always remain alert to the fact that where one man has gone back is exactly where anyone may go back . . . . Unguarded strength is double weakness.”

Chambers’ words echo Paul’s warning to be aware of our own vulnerability when we see the sins of others. After reviewing the disobedience of the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-5), Paul urged his readers to learn from those sins so they wouldn’t repeat them (vv.6-11). He focused not on past failings but on present pride when he wrote, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (v.12).

The devotional above reminded me of the parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14 about the Pharisee and the tax collector. In it, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying at the temple. The Pharisee thanks God for everything he’s not, the tax collector merely asks for mercy for his sins. Jesus concludes by saying that the tax collector was justified before God, not the Pharisee.

Have you been comparing your “goodness” to others? What would it take for you to spend some time today humbling yourself before God?

Today’s devotional: who is this God who is present in our lives?

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Christians talk a lot about the nearness of God—we take comfort in the fact that “God is with us;” we talk about feeling God’s presence in our lives. But who exactly is this God who is “near” us? The understanding that God is present among us could be comforting or terrifying, depending on the nature of God and the purpose behind that closeness.

Today’s Slice of Infinity devotional talks about this mysterious “nearness,” and explains why God’s watchful presence is encouraging rather than frightening:

There are many who take comfort in the thought that God is among us, comforting our fears, quieting our cries of distress, standing near those who call, moving in lives and history that we might discover the God who is there. Knowing that Christ is with me in struggle and darkness is one of the only reasons I don’t completely surrender to my fears and stop moving forward….

But what good is it if there is a throne but it is empty, a kingdom without a king, a god who is close but like straw? Who is it who is near us? If god is an impersonal force, or a tyrant, or a distant, semi-interested being, the kingdom is no refuge.

The promise of God’s nearness is one that Christians rightfully utter as encouragement and cling to in joy, in fear, and in sorrow, knowing the face and character of the one who is near. When God promises his presence in Scripture it is more than just a promise of proximity and intimacy. There is a purpose for God’s nearness, the pledge of relationship, the promise of community. It is not an empty or superficial presence, having taken on the things humanity itself to draw intimately near.

How do you discern, on a daily basis, God’s presence in your life? How would your life be different if God did not promise to walk beside us in such an intimate way?

Today’s Devotional: Our Refuge

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Where do you turn in times of trouble?

If you’re like me you’ll try everything but God when life gets difficult: friends, work, church duties. On their own, they’re not bad things, yet compared to what we need they’re mere distractions. The Today devotional reminds us this morning that God is our only true refuge. Until we run to Him we’ll never find rest:

The psalmist names God as our refuge from powers that tear at our peace. We are invited to know him as our rock and fortress, a sheltering presence when we feel overwhelmed by a world full of arrogance and intrigue. It’s a mistake to think shelter happens just by getting cozy with other Christians—although Christian friends certainly are important. Only the Holy One provides security for the frightened soul. We soon discover that the world snared in our own hearts is what terrorizes us most. We need our Maker as our Refuge—and nothing less.

Read the rest of the devotional at thisistoday.com.

Have you been avoiding God in the midst of your troubles?

Today’s Devotional: Beyond the Trifling Things

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Do you make it a habit to thank God for the spiritual blessings He’s given you?

Most of us do a good job of thanking God for our material and relational blessings, but sometimes we forget to thank God for His greatest gift to us: forgiveness. A. W. Tozer draws our attention to the eternal life that God has given us:

We ought to spend more time remembering the blessings and the benefits God is continually giving us while we are alive-before we leave this vale of tears! He gives us forgivenes – so we are to live for Him as forgiven sinners. He gives us eternal life. This is not just a future reality – our life in Him is a present bestowment. He gives us sonship: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God!” In this relationship there are many other gifts we receive from God, and if we do not possess them it is because we are not God’s children in faith! We ask God to help us, to meet some need, to do something for you, and the Lord mercifully does it. I consider these the little and the trifling things, yet we make a great deal of them. But they are really the passing things compared to the great present benefactions of forgiveness, reinstatement in favor with God, sonship and eternal life!

Read the rest of the devotional at cmalliance.org.

Take some time today to thank God for your salvation, every other blessing we’ve been given pales in comparison.

Today’s Devotional: Loving God

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Why do you call yourself a Christian? Is it out of duty to a past decision? Or because you’re still in love with God?

As time passes it can be easy to forget our first passionate declaration of faith. Consequently, we begin to see our relationship with God as one in which we need to appease Him. As our devotional from Our Daily Bread today reminds us, our faith should be informed primarily by an all encompassing love for God and His ways:

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest command in the Law, He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). The questioner wanted to test Jesus, but the Lord answered him with the key element in pleasing God. First and foremost, our relationship with Him is a matter of the heart.

If we see God as a taskmaster and consider obedience to Him as a burden, then we have joined those of whom the Lord said, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).

Would you say that your faith in God is based on love or something else? If it’s based on something else, what would it take for you to remember and pursue the original love commitment that lead you to Him?

Just a quick note on the relaxed posting schedule over the past few weeks. Most of our team was out on vacation, but we’re slowly getting caught up and getting back into the swing of things. We hope you had a wonderful Holiday season!