An Everlasting Love

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness (Jeremiah 31:3)

One night I came home from work and my wife Joanne met me at the door. “You better go talk to Karl (my son).” She said solemnly. “I think Karl threw his hamster, Johnny, this afternoon.”

I went to Karl and asked him point-blank, “Did you throw Johnny this afternoon?” He denied it firmly. Unfortunately for poor Karl, there was an eyewitness that afternoon. Again I confronted Karl, this time with one of those oversized plastic whiffle bats which make a lot of noise on a child’s behind without inflicting too much damage. “Karl, tell me the truth. Did you throw Johnny?”

“No.” Whack! No matter how much I threatened, Karl wouldn’t confess. I was frustrated. Finally I gave up.

A couple of days later Joanne met me at the door again. ‘You better go talk to Karl. Johnny died.”

I found Karl in the backyard mourning over his little hamster. Karl and I talked about death and dying, then we buried Johnny. “Karl, I think you need to pray now,” I said.

“No, Dad. You pray.”

“Karl, Johnny was your hamster. I think you need to pray.”

Finally he agreed. This was his prayer: “Dear Jesus, help me not to throw my new hamster.” What I couldn’t coax out of him with a plastic bat, God worked out in his heart.

Why did Karl lie to me? He thought if he admitted to throwing his pet, I wouldn’t love him. He was willing to lie in order to hold onto my love and respect, which he feared he would lose if he admitted his misbehavior. I reached down and wrapped my arms around my little son. “Karl, I may not approve of everything you do, but I’m always going to love you.”

What I expressed to Karl that day is a small reflection of the love that God has for you. He says to you, “No matter what you do in life, I’m always going to love you. I may not approve of everything you do, but I’m always going to love you.” (from DAILY IN CHRIST by NEIL T. ANDERSON)

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Renewal And Revival

Do you want a blueprint for joy in your life? Do you want a formula for renewal, revival, and spiritual growth? Do you want to understand the secret of godly contentment and confidence?

Nehemiah reveals all of that and more to us in Nehemiah 7 and 8, giving us powerful life lessons as he leads his people to:

1. Assemble together with other believers. God didn’t design us to be Lone Ranger Christians. When believers assemble together and unite their hearts in prayer and worship, something miraculous takes place. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). When we gather together, we encourage one another, support one another, and challenge one another to a deeper faith experience.

2. Affirm the authority of God’s Word. In order for revival to take place in one life, or in the life of a church, or in the life of a nation, it must begin with a hunger and thirst for the Word of God. The Bible is not just a collection of old stories and inspirational quotations; it is the guidebook to victorious living in Christ — the key that unlocks the door to revival. Until churches boldly proclaim the Word of God and Christians obey it, there will never be revival and healing in our land.

3. Adore the God of grace. When the people stood in the square together at the completion of the walls and listened to the reading of the Book of the Law, they wept, rightly mourning their sin that had led to such shameful circumstances. But once they had repented, it was time to adore God, rejoice in His strength, and celebrate His goodness, mercy, and amazing grace. You cannot experience the authentic joy of the Lord until you have expressed sorrow over your sin.

4. Honor God by surrendering all to Him. When Ezra read from the Book of the Law, the people of Israel heard the Word of God, they honored the Word of God, they heeded the Word of God, and they put God’s Word into action. The people consecrated themselves to God, surrendering completely.

God’s goal for your life and mine is that we would enjoy our faith and experience the joy of a vital relationship with Him. When we surrender everything we are, we gain everything God is. If we truly grasp the practical power of these four principles, we will be renewed and reenergized to impact the world for God in the twenty-first century. (DR MICHAEL YOUSSEF)

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A Gift Mothers Must Give

Mother’s Day is upon us once again, a day to honor the most important person in our lives: the one who gave us birth, brought us through infancy, celebrated each milestone, answered our questions, put up with our misdeeds, and through it all gave us love. My mother did all this for me, and for this I thank her. But as wonderful as these things are, my mother gave me a more wonderful gift still. She raised me to become the person God intended me to be, that I use my life to serve Jesus and my neighbor. And this happened because she let go of me.

I often think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. When Jesus was twelve years old, Joseph and Mary took him up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus stayed behind when they returned home. After searching three days they found Him back in the temple courts in Jerusalem, sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. They were astonished. Upset, Mary asked her Son why He had disobeyed so. Jesus replied, “Why have you been searching for Me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” After returning to Nazareth with His parents, the Gospel of Luke says that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.”

What a marvelous response! Mary “treasured these things in her heart,” just as she did in awe when the shepherds came to worship at the manger, and in pain at the old prophet Simeon’s words: “a sword shall pierce your own soul too.” In her heart she released her Son to do the will of God, even to death on the Cross. This is not only true faith, but the truest love of a mother.

So it must be with me, and with each of us mothers. God has a plan for each and every child born into this world. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart,” writes the prophet Jeremiah. Isn’t this our task as mothers, together with our husbands, to help our children to discover God’s purpose?

Mothers, our most vital obligation, the most loving deed we can perform, is to let our children go. Our motherly desire to nurture must be submitted to the higher task of surrendering our children to God. Just think how much more effective prayer would be! Granted, this is never easy, but true love never is. Even so, when I pray for my children this not only helps them along life’s way but it brings me the peace and assurance that they are truly in God’s hands. Only by giving over each child to God can our children freely blossom and find faith of their own. Yes, I have to let go again and again. I’m human. However, in doing this, of one thing I am sure: our children will love, honor, and thank us most of all for this one gift.

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Forgiveness From The Heart

How do we learn to develop a forgiving heart? It certainly doesn’t seem to come naturally. Today I will mention three principles from the Scripture about developing a forgiving heart.

First of all, forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. In Matthew 18:35, Jesus tells us, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” He says to forgive from your heart.

In the Jewish mind-set, the heart was not the center of emotion; it was the center of intellect. The bowels were the center of a person’s emotion. If Jesus were teaching that forgiveness is an emotional choice, He would have said, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your bowels.” Jesus is not talking about emotion. He’s talking about the intellect. He’s teaching that forgiveness is a choice we make. We decide to forgive. Isn’t that what the Scripture says? “As he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). Forgiveness is not denying that somebody has wronged you. It’s not rationalizing. It’s not sweeping under the rug. It is a choice.

There are three key words to understand what forgiveness is. First of all, recognition. Forgiveness requires a recognition that indeed you have been wronged. Now, that seems un-Christian to some people. “Well, I’m not supposed to say I’ve been wronged.” But you can never forgive people you’re not first willing to blame. You have to recognize that you’ve been wronged. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers? He said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Forgiveness requires a recognition that we’ve been wronged.

Second, forgiveness involves a realization that a debt exists. Before you can release a debt, you have to acknowledge that a debt exists. In Matthew 18:23-35, when the slave came to the king saying, “Oh, please forgive me of my debt,” the king didn’t say, “Debt? What debt? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” No, the king acknowledged that a debt existed.

In the same way, if we’re going to forgive somebody of what they owe us, we first of all need to calculate what it is that they owe us. When somebody comes to me and wants to go through the forgiveness process, I encourage them to calculate what their offender owes them. How much is that offense worth? What do they deserve to pay? That offender may deserve jail time. They may deserve the ending of a relationship. They may deserve death for what they have done to you. Calculate and realize the debt that exists.

And then third, the word release. Forgiveness is a releasing, a letting go of the debt that somebody owes you—not because the person asked to be forgiven, and not because they deserve to be forgiven. We forgive because of the great forgiveness that God has extended to us. (DR ROBERT JEFFRESS)

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Put On New Clothes

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is
custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.
(Colossians 3:9-10, THE MESSAGE)

Do you ever feel as if your family might win the award for “most dysfunctional dinner gathering”? Every family has a story of a mealtime spoiled by a relational meltdown, featuring lost tempers and stony silences. Welcome to the challenge of sinful people trying to be family to one another—it’s difficult for us broken individuals to live in community!

Our old, selfish, sinful nature gets in the way of healthy relationships, leaving them characterized by selfishness, lies, anger, and resentment. Yet Paul encourages us to set our hearts on things above. He calls us to remove the habits of our old nature that weigh us down and hurt others.

God has a better plan for our lives. We don’t need to meet all the expectations and rules of others. But we do need to show love. We need to let Christ remake and refine us day by day. It is both His gift and command to leave that broken sinful nature in our past and increasingly reflect His giving, loving, acceptance to the broken people in our lives.

Only when we show more of Christ’s love and less of ourselves will we be able to work toward healing in our relationships. The new self gets renewed daily with knowledge of the Creator. We can’t reflect Christ if we don’t know what He looks like. Are you spending time getting to know your Creator day by day?

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Forget The Past And Press On

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

Although Christians are called to be like Christ, we continue to make mistakes.

We have not “arrived” yet. We fail. In fact, we’ll never obtain complete sanctification until we stand before the Lord. But, God uses our imperfections to “grow us” in the faith.

We have a problem to deal with called “the flesh.” Our flesh pulls us toward sin and away from the prize of the upward call. Our flesh keeps us painfully aware of our need to diligently press on toward the goal.

The Apostle Paul was laser-focused on the race, the goal, the finish line. Like an Olympian runner, he would not look back at his failures. Now, remember, Paul was Saul who persecuted the church violently. He played a part in the stoning of Stephen, and he could have let guilt and shame cripple him for that. But Paul forgot the past. He didn’t dwell on his sufferings, beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment. He looked forward resolutely toward the finish line where he would see the face of Jesus Christ.

The author of the Book of Hebrews made a similar statement in Hebrews 12:1-2: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Paul knew that God alone was the source of his salvation as well as the source of his spiritual growth. The closer we get to completion, the more we realize how much further we have to go to become like Christ.

So, be encouraged by Paul’s emphasis here on forgetting the past and straining forward to what lies ahead. Don’t let yesterday’s failures derail you from the goal of your upward call. Press on for the prize until you meet the Lord Jesus at the finish line. (MARY FAIRCHILD)




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Duty Verses Love

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love… (Philemon 8-9)

During the American Civil War a woman sent Abraham Lincoln a letter asking for his autograph. She also requested that he include a sentiment with the autograph, perhaps hoping for something like “Best Wishes” or “Your Faithful Servant.” Lincoln was annoyed by the selfish nature of her request and wrote back: “Dear Madam: When you ask from a stranger that which is of interest only to yourself, always enclose a stamp. There’s your sentiment, and here’s my autograph. A. Lincoln.”

Paul wrote to Philemon also to ask him for a favor, but the apostle’s request was not prompted by self-interest. Paul’s motivation was his concern for Onesimus and for the church. Onesimus had come to faith in Christ while Paul was in prison. It’s possible that Onesimus was himself a prisoner at the time. As a fellow Christian, this would have been reason enough for Philemon to rejoice. But the language Paul uses in describing Onesimus’ conversion is designed to remind Philemon of other things he and his former slave had in common. They both had Paul as their spiritual father. Now Paul was asking for a favor.

Yet Paul did not want Philemon to forgive Onesimus merely out of obligation. It’s true that as Philemon’s spiritual father and as an apostle, Paul had spiritual authority. “I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do.” But Paul wanted Philemon to comply with his request willingly, not under compulsion: “I appeal to you on the basis of love.” Still, the apostle did make it clear that Philemon was also obligated to do what Paul asked.

Philips Brooks said, “Duty makes us do things well; but love makes us do them beautifully.”

What do you have on your agenda today that might qualify as a duty? Do you plan to fulfill it out of a sense of grudging obligation or will you be motivated by your love for Christ and gratitude for all that He has done in your life? Choose at least one task on your “to do” list and consider how being motivated by gratitude will change the way you approach it.

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What Should You Do On The Sabbath?

We all must make a conscious decision to make time for things other than work. If we don’t, we’ll never rest. I make a conscious decision about how many hours I’ll work each week, and I stick to it. I encourage everyone to do the same thing. Otherwise, we’ll quickly burn out.

It’s like a bow and arrow. When a bow is constantly strung tight, it loses its power. It has to be unstrung periodically. You need to force yourself to set realistic hours and then hold yourself accountable — and ask someone to check up on you in the process.

Getting proper rest isn’t pop psychology or just good advice. It’s so important that even God rested on the seventh day when He created everything — not because He was tired but to give us an example of how we should rest. It’s so important to the heart of God that He put it in the Ten Commandments — along with “Do not murder,” “Do not lie,” and “Do not steal.” “Take a day off every seven days” made it on God’s top 10 list of moral behaviors. Shouldn’t it make it on ours too?

The Bible says, “You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to Me” (Exodus 20:9-10). We call this the Sabbath, which simply means a “day of rest.” What do you do on your Sabbath?

1. Rest your body. If you don’t take time off, your body will make you take time off. Your back will go out. You’ll get a headache. You’ll get the flu. God didn’t design our bodies to go without rest. That’s why sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do on your Sabbath is to take a nap!

2. Recharge your emotions. Everyone does this differently. For some recharging happens through quietness. Others rejuvenate through recreation. Still others rejuvenate through relationships. Discover what it takes to recharge your emotions and make it a regular part of your Sabbath.

3. Refocus your spirit. You need to worship on your Sabbath. Take time to focus on God instead of all of your problems. Worship puts everything else in perspective. It shrinks your problems. It reminds you that God is still on His throne. He’ll help you through whatever struggles you’re going through. Suddenly the problem you’ve stressed over all week long won’t be near as big any more.

We all need a Sabbath in our lives. It doesn’t have to be on Sunday. It can be any day of the week, but you need to take one day off a week to rest your body, recharge your emotions, and refocus your spirit.

For Your Reflection:
• What kinds of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical signs do you notice when you aren’t getting enough rest?
• What tends to be your biggest obstacle to taking a weekly Sabbath?
• What’s the best way for you to recharge your emotions? (RICK WARREN)

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