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Last Days, Lasting Love

Last Days, Lasting Love

Today is my mom and dad’s 47th wedding anniversary.  Today is also one of my dad’s last days.

In 1967-68 he served a tour of duty as a drafted soldier in Vietnam.  While there he was exposed to Agent Orange.  Almost immediately upon returning home he began having migraine headaches.  These episodes lasted on and off for three decades.  In 1996 he had a seizure which led to the discovery of a brain tumor.  In 2003 he suffered a debilitating stroke.  In 2012 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  For the last 21 years he has gone through a regimen of steadily intensifying neurological treatments.  

There is no way to know for sure, but the prevailing thought is that his issues are linked to his exposure to the world’s most notorious herbicide.  Some men die in war.  Others die from war.  Either way it rings ever true, war is Hell.

When a couple is married they make a vow, for better or worse.  As a family we have seen better days.  We have enjoyed blessed days.

My dad taught me how to ride a bike.  He taught me how to play tennis.  We played a hundred games of football in the hallway with a wad of socks substituting for the pigskin.  I will never forget what it felt like for him to be on his knees, no way to get around him, and to run smack into his chest.  He would pick me up and throw me down.  It was awesome.    

My dad taught me how to suffer as an Atlanta sports fan.  When I yell at the TV it is because he convinced me early on that the idiot refs can hear my protest.  Herschel Walker is my favorite player because of him.  I dance whenever there is a beat because of him.  I try to hit the key of Bee Gee because of him.  I shake my leg when I sit still because of him.

Dad’s leave an indention on the souls of little boys that only grows bigger with age.  The older I get that indention becomes imitation.  

My mom has one solution for every ailment.  If you will get up you will get better.  And if you will not get up, she will get you up.  

As aggravating as her nursing skills can be, it is probably her dogged determination that has helped my dad survive so much and live so long.  They should have sent her to Vietnam.

And now we are in the worse days; dad’s last days.  She can’t get him up.  Today she laid down beside him.  

Dad is to the point that his lips barely move and there are no audible sounds, just breaths where the words used to be.  But he opened his eyes.  She took his hand and she said, “Happy anniversary.”  He touched her face and said, “Happy anniversary.”

Life can be good.  Even still the curse of sin in death eventually comes and is ever cruel.  As a pastor I have walked with many in their final days.  And now, as I watch my father fade, the hope of the gospel does not fail.  It is enough.

I am thankful to have parents who exemplify that marriage can last.  The hell of war, the pain of cancer; not even a daily, progressing, debilitating disease can extinguish committed love.  These are the “worse days” and she is a faithful wife.

Whether you are 4, or now nearly 44, you watch that sort of thing.  It leaves an impression.  Today as I considered the crush of losing my dad, I knelt beside my bed and committed even this unto the Lord.  Tonight, it was as if God said through them, “Watch this.”  And so I am.

I am thankful to have had my dad for as long as I have.  I am thankful to have had a dad like him.  It is as if these last days with him have flipped an “on” switch in my mind that contains reel upon reel of marvelous childhood memories.  It is imperative that we as parents fill our children’s hearts with great memories.

I am thankful to have a doggedly determined mother who has raised a doggedly determined son.  If I don’t have much sympathy for your whining and griping, thank Brenda.  Get up.  You’ll feel better.

I am thankful to be a 43 year old boy still watching his parents love one another just a few more days.              

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Don't Give Up On Your Job

Don't Give Up On Your Job

Most people are dissatisfied with their jobs.  A lot of men get so discouraged that they go from job to job looking for the perfect place to work.  Some men may eventually give up on work all together.  In this 90 Second Sermon learn why work is so hard and how you can make a difference instead of looking for something different.

 

 

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Don't Give Up On Your Marriage

Don't Give Up On Your Marriage

Marriage is hard. Most people start out in romance and end up with wrestling.  There is a reason marriage contains so much tension and the Bible explains it.  In this 90 Second Sermon learn why marriage is hard and why you should not give up on it. 

 

 

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4 Things Men are Prone to Give Up On, #1 Himself

4 Things Men are Prone to Give Up On, #1 Himself

A man can easily get discouraged with life and give up on himself.  Feelings of inferiority and a loss of significance become defeating.  He eventually feels as if he is not good enough for anyone and not good at anything.  

 

God gave Adam significance when he was created and restored his significance after his biggest mistake.  When we seek significance outside of what God gives, it turns to dust.  Watch this 90 second sermon and don't give up on yourself.  

 

  

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The Story of the Bible

The Story of the Bible

The Bible has 66 books, but it is 1 story.  The Bible hosts a multitude of characters, but it only has 1 main character.  By reading the Bible as one cohesive story your understanding of the Scriptures will deepen and you will see God working in the world like never before.

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5 Questions to Keep you From Making a Big Mistake

5 Questions to Keep you From Making a Big Mistake

In 1 Samuel 24 David has an opportunity to take Saul’s life and bring an end to a long, dangerous, abusive episode.  But instead David decides to cut only the corner of his robe.

Small decisions can lead to big mistakes.  David explains the ‘why’ of what he did by saying, “I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it.”  As much rage, anger, and frustration as there must have been in David in that moment, he made a clear headed decision that kept him from committing a personally damaging sin.

Our bodies are full of feelings, our mind filled with fantasy, our ears are filled with condoning voices, our eyes are filled with gratification, our lives are full of passion; all of which make us easy prey for temptation.  But we are not animals, we are living souls that are capable of self-control. If you can question yourself, you can control yourself.  Here are five questions to ask before you make a small decision that may lead to a big mistake.

QUESTION YOURSELF/CONTROL YOURSELF

  1.  Will I hurt or embarrass my family?

In the moment what you feel or think to be harmless may be extremely shameful to your family.  It may be gratifying to you, but it is embarrassing to them.  Sin is never an act of self, it always impacts others.  Think of them before you do for you!

Take it a step further.  In your mind you may be able to justify what you are about to do, but ask this question before you lose control, can I tell my family what I’m about to do?  Before you visit that website, can you tell you wife without it bringing harm to your relationship - probably not.  Before you give yourself to that conversation with that guy, clear it with your husband - no chance.  Before you go to that party - ask your parents!  If you have to hide it, it is harmful!  Good questions help you get control. 

2)  Will I fuel slander and gossip?

There are plenty of people who feed on failure.  Starve them!  For the Christian, the stakes are even higher.  We know the battles that rage within us.  We know we are not perfect.  We know about the struggles, but we are also well aware of the standard - Christ!  Will your decision give people something to talk about that would diminish the glory of Christ?  Would it hurt the witness of your church?  Does it give people more reason to turn away from the gospel?  Be careful before you lose control.

Let’s give them something to think about rather than something to talk about.

3)  What will I have to give up if I get caught?

When David made the decision to spare Saul’s life he did so because he knew what he would gain in the ‘now’ would cost him most ‘later.’  He could have ended Saul’s life and become the king he was anointed to be, but he could have also incited civil war.  This was a way to become the king, but this was not the right way to become the king. 

Temptation promises pleasure now, but it blinds you to the coming chapter of the consequence.  The immediate gain is not worth what you really stand to lose.  It’s not about what you get, but about what you give up.    

4)  What is the clear Biblical teaching?

Mark Twain said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts I do understand that bother me.”  The Bible is more easily understood that we desire for it to be.  Most of the problem we have with the Bible comes down to the fact that we don’t want to do what it says.  

Because the Bible is God’s inspired word, disobeying the Bible is disobeying God.  Temptation would lead us to exile the Bible from our minds and hearts and to place it back on the shelf of forgetfulness.  The Bible gives clear, simple guidance about the goals of Christ-likeness in all things that it draws clear boundaries of morality for those who would dare to love God and live for Him.  

5)  Can I get permission rather than forgiveness?

It is a humorous quip, “I had rather get forgiveness than permission” but it is a massive mistake.  We would presume that God gives forgiveness for anything, at anytime, to anyone.  That is a mistaken assumption.  The Bible is very clear that you are playing with fire when you commit presumptuous sin.  Presuming on God’s grace is deadly ground.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26–31 (ESV)

Many call that a hard saying of the Bible.  It may be hard to fully explain, but I think it is very easy to understand.  I may not be able to offer you a satisfactory explanation of every nuance of it, but the big picture is plain to see - don’t mess with God’s grace.  I can summarize it like this, don’t go there - it’s bad!

So before you lose control, why not reverse confession?  Confess to God what you are going to do rather than confess to God what you did.  What do I mean?

Many people make a mistake in confession.  They simply say something like, “God forgive me of all my sin.”  That is a statement, that is not a confession.  A confession is an explanation of what one has done.  The essence of the word confession is agreement.  You agree with the authority that what you did was wrong.  

Confession is an ugly conversation with God.  You are naming your sin before holiness.  In true confession sin has a name - fornication, adultery, gluttony, perversion, violence, envy, jealousy, slander, rebellion.  

So before you do what you are about to do, go before a holy God and see how it sounds.  Tell Him what the temptation promises and what is in your heart that entices you to disobey him. That is indeed a sobering moment that may just save you from a tragic mistake.  It is worth the pause to get control!

 

What are the questions you ask yourself that help you make decisions?  How do you establish accountability and control in your life?  Leave a comment, I want to hear from you.

This content was taken from the later part of a sermon I preached entitled Personal Fouls.  Watch it here:

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Making Sense of the Storm (Annual Re-Post)

Making Sense of the Storm (Annual Re-Post)

I pray no storm ahead of me trumps the tragedy of this fateful day now almost 6 years ago.  Yet every year, the first storms of spring always remind me of what was for so many in our area at the time and what could have been for me and for my family.  Storms not only bring destruction, but they also bring questions.  Storms are weather occurrences, but the word also seems to be used often as a metaphorical description of the various trials of life.  So, as it seems we are in for some wind tonight in our area, here is my annual repost of Making Sense of the Storm.  Hopefully it will be a blessing to you whatever your weather.

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On Wednesday afternoon our youth pastor and I took a generator to the home of a family in our church that had been hit by a tornado that morning.  They were scrambling to try repair their home to the point that it would be secure.  We all knew there were more storms coming and they would be worse.  I am not a carpenter.  In moments of urgent carpentry all I am is in the way.  When I go on a missions trip my job is to carry stuff in Jesus’ name.  So we did not stay long and I was home by early afternoon settling in for a long night of wild weatherman radar watching. 

Some people may think tower-cams are cool, I think they are nearly useless.  Anytime there is a storm we get a tower-cam image of a sleepy wet town.  Most of the time you can see little to nothing because the camera is drenched and shaking.  The weather man then discloses what the rest of us didn’t know, that it is windy and raining in Podunk.  Wednesday was different.  On the Tuscaloosa tower-cam entered a dark cloud that reached to the ground.  As it got closer you could tell it was circulating.  In a few moments it revealed itself to be a perfectly formed tornado, grey and sinister.  My wife and I watched in stunned shock knowing that property was being destroyed, lives were changing, people were dying.  As the camera panned to include a shot of Bryant Denny Stadium with a massive tornado in the background the screen went green; disconnect.  I have lived in Alabama long enough to know how these storms track.  I looked at my wife and said, “That thing is headed straight for us.” 

Within the hour we were hunkered down in the basement.  My daughters were crying.  We were praying knowing full well that the words, “It is all going to be O.K.” may not be within the realm of possibility.  I have seen hundreds of disasters on television.  Never have I had one headed for me.  The awful part of it all was that there was no evacuation, nowhere to go, there was no escape.  All you could do is wait and wonder if this would be the last time you would know your home as it is.  You wondered if you may be hurt or if you may die.  I tried to convey none of these ideas to my family, but I didn’t have to.  Though we didn’t verbalize what we felt each of us were easy enough to read.  We prayed and prayed and prayed.  I tweeted, “Praying for all our people.  Serious situation here.  May God be merciful to us.”  After the obvious questions we were left with only one, “Would God answer our prayers?” 

The tornado that destroyed Tuscaloosa and West Jefferson County tracked 180 miles across Alabama.  We live in a span of about the only 30 miles in which it did not touch down.  As it passed our home the air was still, then green, then violent, then black as night, then light as day.  For about 30 minutes before and after it passed roof shingles, sheet metal, splintered wood, insulation, and paper fell from the sky.  My wife found a $6,000 check in our driveway.  The moment was surreal.  I had no doubt that God had done something for us, but as I picked up the pieces of other people’s lives raining down on my yard I wondered, “What had God done for them?”

I know thousands of people across that 180 mile stretch of death prayed as hard as we did and believed just as much as we did.  Some of them are dead.  Some of them lost everything.  Some of them, like us, rejoiced that we were spared.  Situations like this foster questions from both believers and skeptics.  My wife heard a woman on the radio crying asking why God didn’t answer the prayers of the people who died?  As she ripped through her list of questions she rattled off, “Did they not have enough faith?”  Some people call tornados an act of God.  Insurance companies do.  Some people see them as so random and unforgiving that they conclude there cannot possibly be a God. 

How do we make sense of a storm?

For some it may be way too early to read this.  For others it may be too late.  Yet I write this so that you may “Feel my Faith” and perhaps to help those of you who find this on time to sort through what you feel, and perhaps find some Biblical basis for it all.  If the Bible promised us what many preachers have tried, that if you have enough faith, do right, and believe God then all things will be wonderful - then Wednesday would have made me an atheist.  Yet the Bible is more honest about life and its storms than many Bible Belt preachers have been over the last few decades.  The Bible is full of storms and God.  In fact, Jesus used the illustration of a devastating storm as the concluding illustration of what many regard to be His most famous teaching, The Sermon on the Mount. 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”  Matthew 7:24-27

The Bible is honest enough to tell us that there will be storms and we are candidates to be materially devastated no matter what we believe or how much or how little faith we have.  In 180 miles atheists, agnostics, preachers, babies, mothers, Christians, and otherwise all died in the storm.  We live in a world that was devastated by sin long before it was devastated by storms.  These moments are a part of our story.  Because we live so small we fail to realize there is evil everyday.  There are pockets of the world in which people are swept away by the hundreds and we simply sleep, or watch football, or eat burgers.  It could be argued that our daily indifference is evil.  At the very least storms reveal to us that we are unaware and bank too much on what is totally insecure.  Jesus interprets the true power of the storm.  Storms have nothing to do with what buildings are made of.  We have yet to build one strong enough to withstand the storm.  Storms are about what we are made of.  Storms make us question what we believe.  That is what we are doing.  Storms are also a litmus test to tell us whether what we believe is strong enough to help us make sense of reality and survive.

The Bible is honest about the reality of storms.  We live in a sin scarred world.  The Bible is also honest in telling us that none of us have ever suffered from the evil in this planet like God has.  God lost His Son in an incredibly unjust storm.  The storm of the crucifixion had nothing to do with weather, but people.  The wrath of man that Jesus suffered was unpredictable, unrelenting, and unforgiving.  Yet in the midst of the storm, He forgave us (Luke 23:34).  That moment changed everything for us.  Then the meaning of that moment was secured when Jesus rose from the dead.  The honesty of the Bible is that everything about this life and the planet that hosts us has gone wrong due to sin.  There will be storms.  The honesty of the gospel is that there is coming a day when everything will be made right in Jesus.  When this happens, there will never be another storm.  The hope of the gospel is that everything we experience in this life is temporary.  Storms prove that the size of your home is inconsequential.  Yet, the decisions we make, the way we respond, the things we believe are eternally consequential.  The gospel gives us hope that there is eternal life; immune from pandemic, safe from the storm, victorious over death, Hell, and the grave.  What was taken from us on Wednesday, in Christ, can be returned, raised, and redeemed.  If we die in Him, we will live again. 

What did God do for us in the storm?  There is no accurate way to use the storm to prove or honestly question whether there is a God, though many will try.  The crucifixion settled the question of theodicy.  We constantly resurrect it.  The news media will continue to flash before us the death toll.  Has anyone taken the time to count the miracles?  Those stories will emerge, but will they be reported?  Yet none of this will help us make sense of the storm.  We will never be able to adequately calculate the ways of God.  So how do we make sense of this?  We realize that sin has devastated the world.  The storm is only symptomatic of a greater problem.  As long as this world continues as it is, we will rebuild, and other storms will come and destroy what we have done.  We will never engineer something eternal and we will never become immortal.  Storms are not about stuff, storms are about people.  They reveal whether we believe in something strong enough to endure, that give us hope beyond the grave, that places our values in something greater than things that can be easily blown away.  Storms teach us that ultimately nothing in this life is secure.

So I stood there praying, looking at my family, wondering if this would be the last time I would see them on this side of the storm.  When I saw the tornado hit Tuscaloosa I knew that no matter who I was, or how I prayed, the reality was that I too was a candidate to suffer great loss.  In that moment all I had was the gospel.  I knew that if we lost everything, our home, our church building . . . that everything would be fine.  I knew that if I lost my family, I would be devastated, but they would be fine.  I knew that if I died, they would be devastated, but they would know that I was fine.  Whether we lived or died, with our lives hanging in the balance we too could say with confidence as Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).”  That is how we made sense of the storm and will continue to do so. 

May the people of God rise up and help one another recover and to make sense of the storm.  And may the days ahead be filled with love, recovery, healing, and the gospel.

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What Your Wife Really Wanted for Valentine's Day

What Your Wife Really Wanted for Valentine's Day

I’ll go ahead and say it.  A male . . . posting about Valentine’s Day . . . on February 15.  Typical.

Like the typical male I do fall short when it comes to Valentine’s Day.  Not only do I get there late, as with this post, but most of the time I fail to see it coming.  On Sunday afternoon my wife and I were walking down the sidewalk and she said something about Valentine’s Day coming up on Tuesday.  My reply, “This Tuesday?”

So late Tuesday afternoon I find myself standing in an all male line being served by an all female staff at our local fruity bouquet store.  I would like to send a consumer complaint to management if I may, that’s not fair!  

The dude coming out of the door as I came in looked beaten down.  His eyes met mine and without saying a word I read his mind, “It’s bad in there . . . like Saving Private Ryan bad.” 

The poor Hispanic man in front of me pointed sheepishly at a giant helium balloon in the store that read, “I love you” and in broken English asked if he could have one attached to his fruity assortment.  The lady behind the counter alerted him that all she had left were balloons in “Ain-glaaaaiiiiis”.  “Isssss ttttthhhhaaaaattttt OOOOO.KKKKKK?”  I think she was also attempting some form of Spanish sign language as she exaggerated every syllable.    

“Si?”  

Hey sis, it’s 5:00 on Valentine’s Day, Desperado will take one in German if that’s all you’ve got.  You’re holding up the line!

So it was my turn.  

“I need . . .”

“Well all we have is a box of 12 chocolate covered strawberries.”

Which was EXACTLY what I wanted!

“Well you’ll have to wait.”  Which in femal-ese translates to, “Go rot in the loser husband line Mr. Last Minute.”

“No problem.”  

Finally she arrived with my box and asked if I needed a card.

“Nope.”

Though verbally holiday assaulted I was unfazed.  She couldn’t believe it.  She had one last shot at me with which she would now take it upon herself to whip me on behalf of my wife.  And so; began the verbal tongue lashing as she punched in the total on the cash register.  “You men always wait until the last minute . . .”

I cut her off as I took my debit card and box of chocolate love.  “Mam, I’m taking my wife on a cruise to Jamaica next week!” 

BAM!

One guy gave me a high five as I headed out the door.  I could hear the distant applause of men all over the strip mall.  I strutted out of the eat your gift store as a Valentine’s Day hero for every man.

So, whereas this post may come too late for this year, allow me to save your skin next year just in case you don’t have a cruise in your back pocket. Here are 5 things your wife and family really wanted from you on Valentine’s Day.

Affirming Words

1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  One of the prominent themes in Scripture is the power of words.  It is with His words that God created the world.  In John 1 Jesus is the Word made flesh.  Throughout Proverbs we read that words have the power to heal and to destroy.  My wife tells me often, “Use your words.”

As excited as my wife is about going on our cruise she also let me know during a conversation on Valentine’s Day that she wants me to cherish her with my words.  She doesn’t just want me to tell her I love her.  She wants to to expand the thought, elaborate, string together some sentences and come up with some paragraphs.

While men aren’t completely non-verbal, we do tend to be low-verbal.  We have to be intentional to speak up and express our love with our words.

Undivided Attention

Philippians 2:3–4 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

When I came home yesterday my youngest daughter was in the after school position.  By after school position I mean recliner, blanket, and TLC.  Somewhere along the lines The LEARNING Channel has deviated from educating us about oddly shaped deep sea creatures with no eyes to counting pounds and kids.  If you have birthed double digits or you weigh nearly 4 digits, TLC will probably give you a show.  

My default move in a time like this is to immediately grab the bike and head outside (and it was an incredible day) or go downstairs and hit the weights.  But it was Valentine’s Day, so I stayed and counted kids on TV with my daughter.  While it was excruciating in some respects, it wasn’t about the Duggars I assure you, it was about her.  

I stayed off my phone.  I stayed off the computer.  I did my best to remove distraction and focus on my family.  We played a game.  We sat around the table at dinner.  The result was a lot of laughs and some meaningful conversations.  

Next year on Valentine’s Day, give them your undivided attention.

Meaningful Touch

I would recommend a timely article by Rob Moll on Christianity Today’s Pastor website entitled The Spiritual Power of Physical Touch.  Moll draws attention to not only our physical need for touch, but to the power of touch throughout the Bible.  The prodigal son was embraced by his father.  The elders of Ephesus weep over Paul as he departs.  The beloved apostle leans on Jesus’ chest at the last supper.  

Moll speaks to the increasing isolation that is caused by social sterilization in our culture.  Because we link all physical contact with sex we have lost the kindness of a simple touch.  

“Touch is an essential human need. When we shake hands or put an arm across a friend’s shoulder, the body releases neurological chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin that feel good, while also inhibiting chemicals that cause stress. But touch doesn’t just feel good; it is vital to being human. When babies and children are deprived of touch, their brain development is permanently impaired, which can destroy the growth of social abilities and result in lower intelligence.”

“When we do touch, it is often marked by awkwardness. A loved one is hurting so we give a ‘side hug,’ reassuring ourselves perhaps that she ‘needs her space.’”

While it is true that we do need to buy a few things on Valentine’s Day, you can’t put a price on hugs and kisses for the wife and kids.

A Helping Hand

The Bible talks often about the Christ-likeness of serving others.  Hebrews 6:6 calls the Lord “my helper.”  Verse 16 in the same passage tells us that doing good to others pleases God.

My wife often reminds me of the pressure she feels on holidays.  There’s a great deal of that I can’t remove because she’s mom.  No one can do it like she can.  She is the heart of our home and her influence on special days is irreplaceable.

However, an incredible gift for any day, not just Valentine’s Day is to make your wife feel less like a slave and more like a queen.  

My wife doesn’t mind doing it, but she wants to know I love it.  

Acknowledge the effort.  Tell her it is special.  It is no big deal to her to do it if you will make a big deal about it!

Clean up.  Cook something.  Contribute - don’t just sit there! And by the way, don’t think you have climbed Everest just because you did the dishes once.  They may not throw you a parade, but I promise you a little effort in service is much loved!

A Special Memory

In his epistles Paul often talked about his fond remembrances of the people to which he is writing.  There has been no greater special memory given to a human than when Mary is told she is carrying the Son of God.  The Bible says, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Give your family something for their heart to ponder.  One of my staff members said that it is a tradition for her family to get a heart shaped pizza from the same restaurant every Valentine’s Day.  In times past ours was to cook steak and have a family candlelight dinner . . . until we went through an unfortunate string of Valentine’s Day stomach viruses.  Now we cannot stomach steak in mid-February.

So this year we joined the greasy heart shaped pizza crowd and played a game.  I’m not sure it is our new tradition, but it created a great memory.

Memories and family traditions are important.  They provide anchors for the heart.  They are comforting points of stability for the soul.  

It is good to interrupt life, break the cycles of life to create traditions and make memories.  Give your family something to remember.

Those are five great gifts, affirming words, undivided attention, meaningful touch, a helping hand, and a special memory.  And to the fellows, I know we often use the line, “Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday for card sales. . . yada, yada, yada . . . we ought to show our love everyday, not just Valentine’s Day.”  Bingo!  Those five gifts never get old.  Give them daily

Before you go, what’s your favorite family Valentine’s Day tradition?  Leave it in the comments below.  I would LOVE to hear from you!

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A New Book on the Horizon???

A New Book on the Horizon???

The last book I released was my first book, #TheWalk in 2014.  I had no intentions of it being my one and only, but sometimes life puts you on standby.  I did contribute to a devotional in 2016.  I have been writing, I just haven’t been finishing.

The release of book #1 was exciting but I didn’t anticipate what happened next.  I had heard of it, but never truly experienced it.  Runners call it “the wall.”  Nerds call it “writer’s block.”  

I have never run far enough to make it to the wall.  I give up before I get tired.  Honestly, I just hate running.  Carrying too much fat will keep you out of any danger of going too far.  

I can tell you, writer’s block is a very real thing.  Whatever it is or isn’t, it will serve as my excuse for 2015.  My computer contains the partial manuscripts of now three other books I started and hated.  It also contains numerous blog posts that seemed more like meandering rather than anything of substance with meaning.  Writer’s block is your brain hitting the wall.  I think it is you being trapped in the last thing you did.  I wrote #TheWalk, then I couldn’t leave it.  I found myself writing #TheWalk only using different words and topics; if that makes any sense.

2016 was an emotional, physical, and spiritual drain.  Emotionally I shed a lot of tears.  For the families in our church it seemed like one devastating loss after another.  We buried a lot of very loved people in what seemed to be a dark year.  In some seasons you don’t need to write, you just need to cry with people; and cry we did. 

Physically I was leading a growing church, teaching a class, and serving as chaplain for a football team.  Each of them wonderful experiences, but I just couldn’t keep up.  

Spiritually, 2016 was a walk in the wilderness.  I’ve been there before.  I’m not sure why those jaunts into the dry are necessary, but God does seem have a purpose for you in them.  It’s the place where you’re not quite sure what God is doing because it seems like nothing productive is happening.  You’re just stuck.  I’ve counseled people in that place before so I took my own advice to just keep reading, praying, and doing.  The oasis is out there, somewhere.  Sometimes you find it.  Sometimes it finds you.  

At the very least take courage, four remarkable men in the Bible had long walks in the wilderness: Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul.  You’re in good company. 

In the midst of the emotional, physical, and spiritual; I wanted to write, I just couldn’t.

Good news, I’m back - I think.

With some staff reorganization, emotional rest, spiritual refreshment and some web help (kudos Bridgette!) I have tried to tame life and get back to the place where I can create content.  So here is what I want to do.  

1 - I want to tell you what I’m doing so that you will hold me accountable to finish it.

2 - I want to tell you what I’m doing so that I will feel the internal pressure of getting it done.

3 - I want to see who may be out there willing to help me.

4 - I want to give us all something  to which we can look forward with anticipation and excitement.

The current project is a book about David that is emerging in two, possibly three versions.  In 2005 I had a vision for this book as I preached a series of sermons and was impacted deeply by the content that came of it.  This was one of the few series of sermons we did not publish on audio because I wanted to write it before everyone heard it, but it never happened.

As a monument to intentions without execution, last week my amazing wife produced the cassette tapes of these sermons.  For those of you born later than about 1993, if you ever get your hands on one of those things DO NOT put it in anything until you search YouTube for an instructional video on just what to do with it.

David revisited has come on the occasion of my chaplaincy with the Christian Heritage School football team.  As part of our pre-game I took our team through the life of David and talked about 12 characteristics of a man after God’s own heart.  The first printing of the book will be a personal version I plan to give to the team that is born from those chapel talks.  My goal is to get this printing completed by graduation.

That said, I see a potential version that could be tailored into a devotional for student athletes.  That’s where I need some help.  Perhaps there are some coaches, FCA leaders, or student pastors out there who would like to massage that message into something that would impact some athletes.  If so, let me know, I would love to talk with you.

The final version of the book will be a printing for a more general Christian audience.  I am currently reworking this material as I am preaching through it with Liberty.  I am encouraged by the content that is coming from this and from the comments people are making on Sundays.  Perhaps this version will be ready by early fall.

As that version nears completion I would love to gather a team of people who may be interested in creating discussion material for small groups and sermon guides for pastors.  FeelMyFaith.com needs a few more fingers!

So that’s the update.  Pray.  Encourage.  Help me if you can!  

Before you go, leave me some ideas.  Maybe there are some good things online, perhaps some apps or some services for writers/authors of which I am not aware.  Please share them with me.

I would love it if you would leave a prayer.  My experience with #TheWalk was supernatural as I had a group of people praying for me as I wrote the manuscript.  I penned over 170 pages for the rough draft in 4 days.  It just flowed!  This one is happening more slowly, but the good news is - it is coming and I want the Lord’s guidance as it does.

Perhaps if enough of you leave a prayer in the comments, I would like to include them in an after material type section of the book.  Thanks for reading, supporting, praying and helping!  I look forward to hearing from you.

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Word # 4 in Your Financial Turnaround - GIVE and that = TRUST

Word # 4 in Your Financial Turnaround - GIVE and that = TRUST

This week I am giving you four words that are the keys to your financial turnaround.  So far you have BUDGET, WORK and SAVE. If you want to read those posts, click here for BUDGET, here for WORK, and here for SAVE. Otherwise, here is your final word.

Give - Malachi 3:8-12, 2 Corinthians 6:6-9

Money decisions are not based on amounts, but on affections.  The Bible often uses your willingness to give as a tangible test of your affections.  Jesus stated it plainly, “You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).”  He also stated that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:34). 

We give obediently and generously.  Out of obedience we bring the Lord our tithe, or the first tenth of what we make.  I believe in a practice traditionally known as storehouse tithing as taught in Malachi 3:8-12.  For me, the storehouse is my local church.  I give to the local church because it is a place of regular collection, accountability, and faithful distribution for missions and ministry.  We see this practice in the early church, Acts 2 and Acts 4.    

Out of generosity we bring the offering.  An offering is what one brings to the Lord above the tithe.  We obey in the tithe because our God is the Lord and He is right.  But we also bring Him the offering because our God is Savior and He is good.

I also believe that because the Bible teaches that tithing is an act of obedience, that we have yet to give an offering until we have first brought the tithe.   

The Bible talks also about the generous giving of alms, or the gifts we give to others to help meet their daily needs.  Because the Lord has helped us, we look to be helpful to others. 

As good as it sounds to give, it is counterintuitive to our nature to actually let it go.  If we are working hard to budget and save, how can we afford to just give it away?  My answer would be that we can’t afford not to give.  

The Bible is filled with God’s promises of reaping and sowing.  With the measure that we give, it will be measured back to us (Luke 6:38).  This could be said of any of the big 3 matters of our stewardship, TIME, TALENT, and TREASURE.

Why does giving work?  The simple answer is that God blesses it.  There is no way to calculate on paper the blessings of God, but it works.  In Malachi 3 God invites His people to “put me to the test, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

In the same passage God also says that one of the blessings will be that he will “rebuke the devourer for you.”  In an agricultural society the devourer is all the small things that threaten to destroy the harvest.  In the broader application I believe the devourer is all of the little things that add up to major expenses.

Giving works because of God’s blessings, but the practical answer is that giving works because generous people are good stewards of their resources.  They are not wasteful.  They pay attention to what they have and how best to use it and it multiplies to their benefit. 

_____________

Those four words: BUDGET + WORK + SAVE + GIVE are the keys to financial blessing.  The truth of the matter is that none of them are new.  There is nothing here that is profound.  These four words, when it comes to our money, truly are timeless.  The problem is not in the principles, it is in the practice. We do not need anything new, we just need to practice some self-control and discipline and do what works.

Those four words, practiced well, working together, will equate to a financial turnaround 100% of the time, but in actuality these four words BUDGET + WORK + SAVE + GIVE = TRUST.  

The end of the matter in all things is that we must trust and obey the Lord.  The money is not ours, it is His.  We are His stewards and He is a good and benevolent master who seeks to multiply His graces in His people.  He has given us everything we need to know about how to handle the money He gives us in His Word.  Work HIS plan!  God is an an amazing financial advisor with a proven track record.

Before you go, maybe there are other Biblical principles that you have found helpful in handling finances.  Please share them with me.  I am always eager to learn more about what God’s Word says about money.  

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Word #3 in Your Financial Turnaround - SAVE

Word #3 in Your Financial Turnaround - SAVE

This week I am giving you four words that are the keys to your financial turnaround.  I have given you the first two: BUDGET and WORK.  If you want to read those posts, click here for BUDGET and here for WORK.  Otherwise, here is your third word.

Word #3, Save - Proverbs 6:6-8

Once you start budgeting and working you can begin saving.  Maybe you are already budgeting and working, but saving . . . not so much.  Why not?  Probably because the budget is too tight and there is nothing left over to save.  And there’s the problem.  Savings don’t come off the excess, they come off the top.  Saving money must be intentional, not accidental.

Making room for savings is critical.  For one, you never know what a day may hold.  We all need an emergency fund.  An oil change every few months won’t break the bank.  Replacing your AC unit in July will!  Save for it.  Life isn’t perfect.  Things break.  People get sick.  You may miss work.  If you have money set aside for such a time as this, you have immediately eliminated a great deal of worry and stress.

Another important aspect of saving is learning to pay with cash.  In a consumer driven economy it is easy to throw down a piece of plastic and get what you want even if you can’t immediately afford it.  

You may not have the the $1100 for that 4K flat screen you really want for your Super Bowl party, but the retailer has made it easy for you to have it now!  Buy it now - pay later.  $35 a month.  You budgeted for it.  You can afford it.  Why not?

The problem is in what you REALLY pay.  In a standard consumer credit deal at 18% interest, your $1,100 4K TV will actually cost you $1,431!  Stores don’t extend credit to you to make it easy for you to get a TV from them.  They extend credit to you so that they can make it easy for them to get more money out of you.

Saving money, SAVES YOU MONEY!  Saving money eliminates stress!  How much would it ease the burden on your mind to have a few thousand dollars set aside in the bank?  How great would it be to go on vacation in June and not be paying for it until December?  How merry would your Christmas be if you were not paying for it until April?  

If you budget, work, and save - you pay for what you need and truly enjoy what you want!  

 So now you have three of the four words.  BUDGET + WORK + SAVE + _______ = your financial turnaround!  Tomorrow, we will finish the equation.  Until then, share with me; what is your biggest hindrance to saving money?  Do you put away a little money each week for vacation or maybe for Christmas?  What is something that you saved for that gave you great satisfaction when you bought it?

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Brian Branam
My biggest hurdle to saving money was not budgetting every cent and putting realistic deadline to pay my debts. Once I've decided ... Read More
Thursday, 26 January 2017 12:22
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The 2nd Word in Your Turnaround - Work!

The 2nd Word in Your Turnaround - Work!

This week I am giving you four words that are the keys to your financial turnaround.  Yesterday I gave you the first one, BUDGET.  If you want to read that post, click here.  Otherwise, here is your second word.

Word #2, Work - 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Proverbs 13:4

In 2 Thessalonians Paul was addressing a small group of Christians who thought that if Christ was going to return soon, why work?  The problem is that the longer the return of Christ lingered, they became an increasing burden on the church.  They felt as if it was the obligation of the church to provide for them during their time of elective unemployment.  Paul sent them a very clear message, you don’t work, you don’t eat.  Your choice!

There is no way to justify lazy.  People who elect not to work place undue burden on people who do.  Why?  Because everything costs something.

Budgeting works best when there is a healthy income stream.  Cutting wasteful spending is critical, but budgeting also helps you see that with a better cash flow your situation may be able to change quickly.  You may become more motivated to work harder for a promotion.  You may see room to take on a side job or two to help fill the gap.  

Work the plan and plan to work!

Furthermore, there is a dignity to work.  The Bible says that when God created the earth, that he put man in the garden to tend and to keep it (Gen. 2:7ff).  A lot of people misunderstand the creation and fall story in Genesis 1-3.  Work was not the curse.  Man was given work to do before he was cursed in sin.  Harder work, work that doesn’t work, working and it not working - that’s the curse (Gen. 3:18-19)!

The Bible places a dignity on work.  It is right for us to contribute to our society whether it be by making high level decisions about the economy or serving tables in a restaurant, there is dignity in all of it.  There is no dignity in deciding to be dependent if one is able to work.  It is a part of our purpose to be the images of a God who is always at work.  Let’s go to work!  

Now you have the first two words of the equation.  BUDGET + WORK + ________ + ________ = your financial turnaround!  I will give you word #3 tomorrow.  Don’t miss it.

 

Until then, answer me this.  What motivates you in your job?  Do you enjoy what you do?  Why or why not? Please scroll to the bottom of the page and share your thoughts.

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Brian Branam
The asnwer is not glamourous. What motivates me at my job is, in order, the little energy I need to do my job well, the money and ... Read More
Thursday, 26 January 2017 12:12
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The First Word to Your Financial Turnaround

The First Word to Your Financial Turnaround

There are four simple words that are the keys to a financial turnaround in your life.  You need these words and they will work!

A survey of people in 16 countries found that their top source of stress was money.  Anxiety over money can can cause health issues, marital problems, loss of sleep, and an overall miserable life.  The Bible says it like this:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

Are you tired of the pangs of money being your greatest concern?  If so, then this week I am going to give you the four words you need for peace of mind when it comes to your money.  Each day I am going to give you a new word to add to the equation to relieve the stress and make progress towards greater financial success.  _____ + _____ + _____ + _____ = a financial turnaround in your life.  Are you ready?

Word #1 - Budget - 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-21

You either make a decision for a dollar or a dollar will make the decision for you.   Budgeting is making decisions for your dollars.

Budgeting is simple.  Spend less than you make.  

The problem is that most people have some idea of how much they make, but have no idea of how much they spend.  

It is a proven fact that people who budget have better financial success for one simple reason, they know where their money is going.  Because they know where their money goes, they are able to eliminate frivolous spending.  People who budget don’t buy on impulse, they buy on plan.

Impulse buyers spend what they have.  Budget buyers are better able to make controlled decisions because they know what’s in front of them may not be as important as what’s coming next week, or even next month.  

Budgeting helps us practice self-control and learn contentment (Philippians 4:12).

Budgeting will go a long way in helping you to eliminate the stress of always coming up short.

There are many great tools and apps that can help you budget.  I use the Mint money manager (https://www.mint.com/).  If you need motivation, training, and accountability to start budgeting, I would recommend finding a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Class in your area.  The class costs $93 and many people object to paying almost 100 bucks for a class on finances, but I would tell you its worth every penny.  Why?  Because 1)  you won’t do what you don’t invest in.  You do better when it costs you something.  2)  We have hosted the class 3 times at our church and have seen on average a $3,000+ financial turnaround in 90 days with every faithful participant.  Why would you not invest $93 in something that could not only pay for itself, but may help you put $3,000 in your pocket in 90 days - and even more over the course of your life?  DO IT!

So there’s the first word, BUDGET.  Tomorrow I will give you the next word to add to the equation.  BUDGET + ______ + ______ + _______ = your turnaround!

 

Until then, what budgeting tools work for you?  If you’ve budgeted before how did it go.  What works and doesn’t work in your spending plan?  Please scroll to the bottom of the page and leave a comment.  I want to hear from you!

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Brian Branam
Thank you Pastor Brian for this awesome series! I use two tools : an excel sheet that a friend created and the budgetting app th... Read More
Thursday, 26 January 2017 12:04
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Death by Devotional

Death by Devotional

I am about to sell you something that will kill you. I stand at the head of the line of a long list of professionals that should also admit the same. Alongside of me should come Mr. Mayfield ice cream man, the guy who sold you your car, the cashier at your favorite sporting goods store, and a vast number of servers, cooks, and clerks at your favorite restaurants and leisure spots; each of us a testament to the adage “too much of a good thing.”

Ice cream, good. A gallon a day, bad.

Your car, good. Your car going too fast while texting and driving, deadly.

All the stuff you can buy and do at the sporting goods store, fun. Any of it crashing upside your head, concussion.

Food and fun, always good. Living only for food and fun, always bad.

So what is it that I am selling you to death? A devotional!  

A devotional?  

On my website I have listed the Grace, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional. I think it is a fantastic collection of Scripture and applicable stories that would be a blessing to anyone who reads it, but I am warning you not to misuse it. Too many people misunderstand the intent of a devotional book. For them, something that was written to help their spiritual walk has become spiritually crippling.  

So that your devotional reading can be a blessing and not a curse, here is a list of cautions and encouragements when it comes to using devotionals.

A devotional book is not a devoted life.

The word devotion in Scripture is a powerful one. In the New Testament it is often translated from a word that entails three concepts; to beware, to believe, and to apply. This should be a daily expectation of the disciple seeking counsel from God’s Word. We need God’s Word to reveal, redeem, and repair areas of life of which we need to beware and/or be-aware. We need our faith informed so we may more strongly believe. We need God’s Word applied so we may obey.  

A devotional book is purposed to help you with this endeavor in a daily, structured way. But devotional reading is not a devoted life. The word devotion in its strictest sense speaks of what you give yourself to. Devotion is not a something you read, it is something you do. We do not need a Bible reading plan as much as we need a Bible doing plan. Just because you are reading a devotional book does not mean you are giving yourself to the Lord in a devotional life.

A devotional book is a start not a stop.

Many great pastors and Christian thinkers have written devotional material to help shepherd and feed God’s people. There are many notable ones in churchdom, but one of classics is Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. The title reflect a constant theme in Scripture. In the creation week there was evening and morning.  David called for those who were truly devoted to God’s Word to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1). Morning and evening, evening and morning is the the rhythm of creation set in motion by God.

Many people purchase devotional books that they use either first thing in the morning to get them going, or perhaps they use them at night as they seek to still the busy mind. I find no fault with either.  Yet the concept of morning and evening as devotional reading is not meant as a discipline of consideration - as in to make sure you do it daily, but as a discipline of meditation to make sure it guides your thoughts throughout the ENTIRE day; as in starting with the morning and keeping you throughout the evening.

Devotional books are quick reads to get you going, but the deeper call of God is for Bible intake, memorization, and study. I like to use material written by Warren Wiersbe as part of my devotional reading. He is about as meat and potatoes of a Christian author as they come. But he is not my stop, as in, I read it and now I have fulfilled the discipline. Rather, a Wiersbe’s book alongside God’s Word is my start, as in I will ingest it in a way so that I DO NOT stop thinking about it throughout the day - morning and evening!

A devotional book is text, not context.

Devotional books will often give you a verse or a chapter of Scripture to read and give you an immediate application of that passage to life. Awesome idea! In that sense a devotional provides you a text. Where a devotional fails is that it does not provide you the context.

Use a devotional, but read the Bible. Find out where those verses are IN Scripture. A devotional may tell you that this verse came from Ephesians, but what in the world is an Ephesians? Where is it? What is it about? 

Ephesians 2:10 is wonderful. Ephesians 2:10 in context is a masterpiece. 

I am a big advocate for having a paper copy of the Bible. Learn where the books of the Bible are located in the cannon of Scripture. These books form the collective story of God.  

A devotional book is a bloom in a garden. Its intent is to pluck something sweet and fragrant that will inspire you, but the greater glory is the garden from which it came. Sure, the blooms are beautiful, but if you never walk the garden you really won’t smell the roses.  

The Christian life is not meant to be lived verse by verse. We are sovereignly immersed in the story of God. Each text/verse of the Bible exists within the larger context of God’s story. Use your devotional to point you to curious places. Use your Bible to walk the garden paths.

A devotional is application, not exposition.

One of the reasons people enjoy devotionals is because they quickly get to the point. Many people find it challenging to read the Bible, understand it, and know what to do with it. Yep, me too.

Devotionals cut out the leg work. Don’t bog me down with long, arduous explanations of what passages say, just tell me what they mean.

I recently had a conversation with a doctor about feeding tubes. Odd topic, I know, but sometimes a necessary one.  

As many doctors tend to be, he is an eclectic fellow, a highly intelligent man who walks to the beat of a different drum. In demonstrating to me the ease of use of a feeding tube, he demonstrated to me how one can conveniently uncork the tube, pour in a bottle of nutrients, re-cork the tube, chunk the now empty can of nutrients into the trash and go about the day. He said, “It would save me a whole lot of time having to eat.” I assure you, he was laughing when he said it, but I also think he was somewhat serious about the prospects of installing one on himself.

Devotional books are spiritual feeding tubes. They will give you what you need, but wow, what a joy it is to chew!  Feeding tubes may be faster, but there is a flavor in food you will soon miss if you do not have to break it down in your mouth.  

Sometimes a tube is necessary, but insane if we want one merely out of convenience. God gave you a tongue, not a tube!

While it is true that what we need from God’s Word is application, there is a flavor that emerges from the hard work of exposition that helps us taste and see that the Lord is good. The Bible is not a ‘How To’ guide for life. It is a story. It is a poem. It is a command. It is a revelation. It is a multi-course meal robust with the flavor of God. Don’t forget to chew!

A devotional is personal insight, not personal investment.

One of the things I like most about the Faith, Hope, and Love Devotional is that it gives you insight into God’s Word from 52 pastors, teachers, authors, and evangelists. It is an indispensable resource full of wisdom. These people have a journey with God that is curious to me and I love hearing from them.

But wouldn’t you like to hear the voice of God for yourself?

One of the great truths of Scripture is that we have a God who desires to be with His people. The Bible is filled with image rich words that communicate the opportunity we have to be close to God. One of the words we translate as “prayer” in Scripture speaks of intimacy, not merely request.  

Prayer is not shouting aimlessly into the heavens, prayer is communing with God. Prayer is not an announcement over a megaphone, it is a conversation at the table.  

The only way to have a personal experience with God is to make a personal investment in His Word. Use a devotional book, but devote yourself to Bible study.

__________________

It is a worn out metaphor for many things, but the Christian life is not a microwave, it is a crock-pot way of living. We would like to think that a few convenient seconds is all we need to be like Christ. Devotional books ARE NOT intended to be the Bible nuked for you!

There is NO devotional author worth their salt who would ever advocate his or her book as a replacement for the Bible. Their intent, my intent, is not to replace Biblical reading or meditation. Our intent is to inspire you to start somewhere and to help keep you there daily.  

At some point the devotional book should be a gateway into something greater, not an end in itself. We have to simmer on Scripture if we are ever to truly appreciate the flavors of God that are there. There is no shortcut to the good stuff!     

 

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Habit Hoarders, Why the Resolutions we Make are Doomed to Fail

Habit Hoarders, Why the Resolutions we Make are Doomed to Fail

A new year gives us an opportunity to establish new habits.  Statistically, the odds of success are against us.  Studies show that only 8% of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them.  Why do we fail so frequently?

When it comes to habits, we hoard them.  The definition of habit says it all.  A habit is a “settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” 

A&E frequently airs a reality show called Hoarders that spotlights people living homes piled with years of mounting clutter.  Like the rest of us hoarders do life, eat food, buy clothes, and acquire new and needful things.  No issue there.  What is abnormal about them is not in the new they bring in, but it is the old they fail to give up. 

Buying a toaster, perfectly normal.  Having to  add a new toaster to an old pile of broken down toasters and a diesel truck transmission rusting in the corner of the kitchen, completely odd.  And this is why we watch the show! 

The tension of the episode comes when a dumpster is dropped off in the front yard and it comes time for “the hoarder” to start throwing things away.  It is at this point that the dysfunction of the situation becomes most apparent.  As piles of garbage are pulled from cluttered places the hoarder goes into a psychological meltdown as they express an emotional attachment to almost everything.  They have lived with it so long they find it hard to give up.

That’s the problem with habits.  We want to start new ones, but we don’t want to give anything up.  We have done life so long the old way that we have made no room for the new.  As such the tension of adding a new habit on top of an old one creates life clutter.  You soon find that simply adding to life leaves you with no time and no willpower left to accomplish the new goal.  By February you are left only with one more rusting resolution to add to the pile of past failures.

Resolutions fail when we seek only to start new habits.  Resolutions succeed when we replace old habits with new ones.  

So you want to read more, great idea, less Netflix.  You want to lose weight?  Eat this, not that.  You want to quit?  What are you going to start?

In Ephesians 4 the Bible articulates this powerful idea with four simple words, PUT ON, PUT OFF.  New life is not adding to life, new life is replacing life.  Look at how Paul goes on to explain the concept:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  (Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV)  

New habits must replace old habits, but because we have been so long with the old we had rather hoard habits than replace them.  The new habits we so earnestly desire become victims of an already cluttered soul.  We must stop hoarding our habits.  It is time to throw some things away!   

Ultimately new habits come down to motives.  A slimmer waistline is desirable.  A healthy bottomline in the bank account can make life seem more secure, but as ends in themselves these things are empty pursuits.  There are a lot of reasons we do what we do, but for those who follow Christ there is a singular motive, holiness.  Ephesians 4:24 says that our ultimate motive should be to become the person God created us to be.  For that to happen we need redemption in Christ Jesus and a holy pursuit of Him by replacing the old life with new life.

The beauty of the gospel is that it gives us the power to encounter the cluttered places and throw some things away.  It is easy to become bitter, but in Christ we find new joy.  It is easier to take, but it is most fulfilling to work and give.  It is easy to fall into the habit of slanderously tearing people down.  Yet there is an amazing newness of life when we learn to speak kindness and foster a heart that forgives.

May God bless you in this new year.  Out with the old!  In with the new!

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Wannabe Slim? (Video)



">WannaBe Slim (WannaBe Series) from Liberty Baptist Church on Vimeo.


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Charles Finney

When God is pleased with a leader's life, his divine presence is unmistakable.  Charles G. Finney was a nineteenth-century evangelist whose life demonstrated the obvious presence of God.

During a visit to New York Mills in 1826, he visited a cotton manufacturing plant where his brother-in-law was superintendent.  As Finney passed through a spacious room in which many women were working at looms and spinning jennies, he noticed several young women watching him and speaking among themselves.

As Finney approached them, they became more agitated.  When Finney was about ten feet away, one woman sank to the ground and burst into tears.  Soon others were sobbing, overcome with conviction of their sin.  This outpouring of the Spirit spread rapidly throughout the building until the entire factory was singularly aware of God's presence.

The owner, an unbeliever, realized God was at work and temporarily closed the plant.  He asked Finney to preach to his employees and tell them how they might find peace for their souls.  Finney had not spoken to any of the laborers.  He had simply entered the factory.  God's powerful presence in Finney's life had been too overwhelming to ignore.

excerpt from Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby

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6 - RECALCULATE TEMPTATIONS

For us to see the opportunity in adversity we must recalculate our expectations.  What is God doing in prayer?  What do expect Him to do?  Perhaps what you expect of God in the trial is not what He expects of you.
We must also recalculate our situation.  Our situation may change, but God never changes.  The good and the bad of my life circumstances is not indicator for the way God feels about me.  Don’t misinterpret your lack of health or lack of finances as a lack of God’s love.  It doesn’t equate.
Finally, to see the opportunity of adversity we recalculate temptation.    
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  (James 1:12-18 ESV)
In the trial a lot of people get bent out of shape with God.  Why is God doing this to me?  What did I do to deserve this?  In every trial there is a temptation to forsake faith.  And it is here that you see people fall flat.  
There are lots of things that are sinful to which this verse applies.  Some people would say that by God allowing something incredibly hurtful in their lives; some sort of evil abuse that victimized them, that God is evil.  Or, someone may say that because they have a propensity toward a certain kind of sin, that it means God created them that way and so their lifestyle choices shouldn’t be considered sinful.  This verse clearly refutes those ideas by declaring that God is not evil and therefore cannot be blamed for being the source of evil, in any circumstance, in any person’s life. 
But in context, the immediate temptation James encounters is the greatest temptation we face in adversity, giving up on faith.  James is teaching that walking away from faith may be tempting, but it is sinful.  
If your faith falls flat and you walk away, don’t think that is God’s fault, that’s your fault.  God doesn’t allow the trial to come to turn you toward evil.  God allows the trial to come to turn you toward something that is remarkably good.  
The TRIAL IS SOMETHING AROUND YOU.  
The TEMPTATION IS SOMETHING IN YOU.
Trials have a way of exposing our weaknesses.  But what does 2-3 say God’s design is in the trial?  Strength, completeness, to LIFE PROOF you to where you can hold up and stop falling prey to the same junk over and over again.  
This passage gives us a great teaching on temptation.  Sin is much like the conception, incubation, and birth of a child.  If you see someone fall in sin, know this - it wasn’t an overnight change.  They have been dabbling in it for a long time.  It is not a SITUATIONAL PROBLEM IT IS SYSTEMIC PROBLEM.
God allows the trial because He wants to do something good.  Look at verses 16-18.  It teaches us these truths:
  • You have a very special purpose - as the first fruits of his creatures.
  • You have a very faithful God - no shadow due to change, this means we can seek solid truth in our trials.  God gives good things.
Throughout the Book of James we will see the author constantly encounter the failed ends of man’s pursuits with the good things God gives when we trust Him by faith. 
Our temptation may be to walk away, but if we do that is failed faith.  It is not a failure of the faith God gives us, but it is a failure in a version of faith we have manufactured - a faith that cannot remain steadfast and stand up to the trial.

In times of trial, don’t rush to anger or to blame God.  Recalculate the temptation.  God has not required us to believe in something that is doomed to fail.  He has given us a faith that is good - one that when tested will mature and strengthen our lives.
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5 - Recalculate Your Situation

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.  (James 1:9-11 ESV)
To help us see the opportunity of adversity we must not only recalculate our expectation (namely for how God answers prayer), but we must also recalculate our situation.
A lot of times we gauge God’s opinion of us based on the stuff we have in our lives.  
I am healthy.  I am blessed.
I am sick.  I am cursed.
I was promoted at work.  God loves me.
I lost my job.  God hates me.
A situational faith is fickle.
James chooses wealth to expose our miscalculation of the situation.  The wealthy person believes that he or she must be doing something right because they have so much.  A false pride and sense of security develops.  
The poor person believes that he or she must be doing something wrong because they have so little.  A false humility and a misguided spirituality develops.  
You can’t gauge God’s love based on your stuff.  According to James 1:9-11, we need to realize that situations quickly change.  
James teaches that the lowly brother doesn’t need to focus on his lack, but on the lift.  
He says that the rich brother doesn’t need to focus on his provision, but on his pursuit.  
What does this mean?  Whether we are healthy or sick.  Whether we are rich or poor.  Whether we are in good times or in hard times - it is all a trial of faith.  
There are lots of people with lots of money and God is displeased in the way they are handling it, why, because they are pursuing the wrong thing.  One day, life will drop, they may lose it all and in the meantime they lose their faith.  Why, because their faith was equal to their wealth - which is never enough.
A faith that is based on the blessings of wealth is far from life proof.  When the account dries up, that form of faith will also go bankrupt.
On the flip-side, there are lots of people with little money and God is equally as displeased in the way they are handling it.  Why?  God is displeased because we are so prone to believe in our moment of lack that our greatest need is money.  They think that it is money that will lift them up, but it isn’t.  It is God.  Until your pursuit becomes more about God than money, you will never have a LIFE PROOF faith.

A life proof faith remains steadfast in abundance as well as in lack.  The Word of God determines the truth about faith, not your situation.  Our health and bank accounts are volatile and vulnerable.  God never changes.  Our situations should not make determinations about our faith, instead a life proof faith make a determination in any situation to trust the Lord.  

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4 - The Opportunity of Adversity - Recalculated Expectations

If we know God is working even when the situation is unwelcome, and we know that we are most changed when we are most challenged, then we must conclude that adversity is not a drudgery; adversity is an opportunity.  This is why James calls for us to “count it all joy (1:2).”

Easier said than done, right?  Why can’t we count it all joy?  Why is it so hard to see the opportunity of adversity?  
MISCALCULATION
The reason we can’t see the opportunity of adversity is because we “can’t count” we miscalculate.
From 1:5-18 James calls for us to make some recalculations.  We need to recalculate three aspects of adversity: expectations, situations, and temptations.
Recalculate Expectations
One thing I can say with a fair amount of certainty, when times get tough, people pray.  When we pray, we do so with a fair amount of expectations.  Those expectations, unmet, often lead to frustration.
Why isn’t God answering my prayer?  
Expectations go unmet.  We feel as if faith has failed.  Once again, we hit hard times and we are shattered.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  (James 1:5-8 ESV)
This paragraph talks about something God wants to generously give us in our trials.  What is it?
While it is true that we serve a miracle working God who can change any situation, notice what the verse doesn’t say.  
God heals, but the verse doesn’t say God generously heals.
God provides, but the verse doesn’t say God generously gives us a bunch of money.
God opens doors of opportunity for His people, but the verse doesn’t say God generously gives us a new job.
God is sovereign over the nations, but the verse doesn’t even say God generously stopped the persecution that James’ readers were going through so they could go back home.
The verse says that God generously gives wisdom.  Wisdom is the the ability to know God’s will.  Wisdom is making the right choice.  Wisdom the ability to foresee the bad consequences of foolish choices because you know what God says.  
Wisdom is the ability to not make a bad situation worse.  
The Bible says God gives it generously.  This is an interesting word in that in one sense means exactly what you think it means, yet in another sense it doesn’t at all mean what you think it means.  
Generosity is the word used to describe the guy at the ice cream counter who doesn’t just give you one “technical” scoop; generosity means that he keeps digging down in the barrel and he pushes the ice cream down on the cone, he packs it on, and then goes in one more time to make sure you have a huge ball of ice cream up on top of that cone!  Generosity means he is going to give you more than the cone can hold!  Technically, one scoop can be 4 ounces.  Generously one scoop is the size of a basketball!  That’s generosity.  That’s the obvious meaning. 
God gives His people big scoops of wisdom.
However, generosity also means that God is also no arbitrary.  He is not wasteful.  He is purposeful.  There is a sense in the word in which it also means single-minded or focused.  And it is this meaning, single minded focus, that we don’t often associate with generosity.  
Have you ever seen the footage of the rich guy who goes to the mall at Christmas and dumps a basket of $100 bills over the rail?  The people below go crazy in the scramble to scoop up the money.  The rich man is celebrated as generous.  He may be generous, but is that kind of generosity effective?
In my experience I have found that a person who truly needs $100 is not at the mall.  Where will the basket full of money end up?  Will it accomplish anything truly good or has the rich man just given the people below $100 license to be greedy and wasteful?  There is no way to know.  
God is not the guy who dumps a bunch of money over the rail of the mall at Christmas time to see people go crazy over it - that’s not generosity, that’s publicity.
God is the guy who often goes unnamed, who finds a need, seeks to solve a problem, and makes a generous but calculated investment into something that is going to truly make a difference.
God has generous focus. 
Notice who He is generous toward, single minded, focused people.  Not the double-minded man, who is devoted to doing God’s will one day, but not the next.  He is not generous to the one who shows up all pious and religious when he’s in a mess.  He’s not generous to those who want only to change their situation but are not interesting in changing their life.  He is not generous to those who want prayer answered but are not interested at all about strengthening their faith.
God is interested in giving generous amounts of wisdom to people who are interested in knowing and doing what God wants them to do.
When you are in adversity what do you ask God for and why?  What’s your expectation?  Are you concerned about THINGS changing or are you concerned about your LIFE being changed?  
A lifeproof faith is concerned about encasing us in a generous amount of God given wisdom.  The expectation is guidance, insight, information for navigation; not necessarily escape.  When we recalculate our expectations, we see the opportunity of adversity clearly.  Wisdom helps us to learn things about God and about life that will contribute to our steadfastness; that will help us to hold up the next time life drops.  Wisdom makes a generous, calculated contribution to making us, like 1:4 says, “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” 

If you want a Lifeproof faith that sees adversity as an opportunity, recalculate your expectations for answered prayer.  Ask for wisdom - God gives it generously to God focused people.
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