Forgiveness

from Our Daily Bread

I was having lunch with two men who had opened their lives to Christ while they were in prison. The younger man had been discouraged by the fact that the family from whom he had stolen would not forgive him.

“My crime was violent,” the older man said. “It continues to haunt and affect the family to this day. They have not forgiven me, . . . the pain is just too great. At first, I found myself paralyzed by this longing for their forgiveness.” He continued his story: “Then one day I realized I was adding selfishness to my brokenness. It’s a lot to expect that the family forgive me. I was focused on what I felt I needed to heal from my past. It took some time to realize that their forgiveness of me was a matter between them and God.”

“How can you stand it?” the younger man asked.

The older man explained that God did for him what he didn’t deserve and what others simply can’t do: He died for our sins, and He keeps His promise to move our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12) and “will not remember [our] sins” (Isa. 43:25).

In the face of such great love, we honor Him by accepting His forgiveness as sufficient. We must forget what lies behind and keep pressing forward (Phil. 3:13-14).

Fresh Start

Do you need a fresh start with God?

If you do, the opening verse of the gospel of Mark has something for you.

It speaks of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to offer new beginnings to all who seek God’s mercy and strength in a time of need. Mark’s opening words remind us of the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

Mark apparently wanted his readers to remember that God is present and at work in the beginning of all good things. When God created the world, everything was good. But Adam and Eve sinned against God, and things began to go wrong. But that was not the end of the story, for God set out to restore what was lost, and his work centered on the coming of Jesus Christ.

What does this mean for us? Well, we know God loves us and did not turn away from his rebellious creation. God came into the world through Christ Jesus to save us from our sin and its consequences. Because Jesus came to die in our place, paying the price for our sin, all who believe in him are not under sin’s curse anymore. They are given a new beginning, and that is what the gospel (“good news”) is all about.

Have you received a new beginning through Jesus Christ?

Where are You?

The two teenage boys heard the sound of their parents’ car and panicked. How would they explain the mess in the house? Their father’s instructions had been clear that morning before he and their mother drove out of town: no parties, no rowdy friends. But the unruly friends came and the boys allowed them to stay, despite their father’s warning. Now the house was in a jumble and the boys were tipsy and disheveled. In fear, they hid.

That was how Adam and Eve must have felt after they had chosen to disobey God and then heard the sound of Him approaching. In fear, they hid themselves. “Where are you?” God called (Gen. 3:9). Adam responded, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself” (v.10). Sin makes us feel afraid and naked, and we become vulnerable to even more temptation.

God is still calling to people: “Where are you?” Many run away, trying to hide from Him or drown out the sound of His voice. Yet we cannot hide from God; He knows exactly where we are. Rather than hide in fear, we can respond in this way: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you over evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood. —Jones

 

Counting Our Days

from Our Daily Bread

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Psalm 90:12

Last night I stopped at a restaurant for dinner. I was alone and brought my datebook to plan for the next day. After ordering, I gazed at the datebook and realized that this year was almost over. I flipped slowly through the pages of past days and weeks and reviewed the last twelve months.

I was amazed to discover all that can happen in a year: I had accepted a new professional position and moved from Texas to Georgia. Beth and I had witnessed the wedding vows of our first child Drew and welcomed our daughter-in-law Katie Alice into our family. Our son Luke had entered the insurance industry, and our daughter Jodi had graduated from Furman University. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I counseled with dozens of students, preached sermons, conducted funerals and wrote a book. These were just the major events; most of my hours were spent in the routines of living: sleeping, eating, exercise, repairing my car, mowing the lawn, preparing our income tax returns, going to movies, and all the other unremarkable events that fill everyone’s days and nights.

As my food arrived, I realized that the real question confronting me wasn’t, How did I spend last year? But How will I spend the next? How will I use the most precious of God’s gift—life and time?

I can make long lists of things to accomplish and commit myself to New Year’s resolutions. But I really need to do only two things: Love God with all that I am, and love my neighbor as much as I love myself. This is all that really matters.

Lord, keep me from seeing my days as something I own but rather as a gift that comes from You.

 

Merry Christmas

Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

List

by Mary Southerland

Every year, I make a Christmas list comprised of every person for whom I am buying a gift.  Beside each name, I put a dollar amount, a limit of how much money I will spend for that gift, vowing not to spend one penny more than the set limit. (Somehow, the amount I actually spend rarely coincides with the amount I intended to spend. Can you relate?) With every purchase, I then draw a beautiful red line through that name. Done!

I carry that list everywhere I go because sometimes I find a gift during a random shopping trip but mainly because I can’t afford to let it out of my sight. There are evil people lurking in my home who will go to any lengths to find that list. You see, I am the Queen of Surprise when it comes to Christmas, so I must guard my list with my life in order to keep my “Queen-ship” status secure. Consequently, the list is hidden in various and unusual places such as a random file on my computer, in my closet, in an old purse, in a sock drawer, in a flower pot – you get the picture. I know where that Christmas list is at all times because it is my gift-giving plan for the holidays.

I wish I were just as concerned about “God’s list” for my life; carrying His life plan for me in my heart and mind as I live each day, constantly making choices and decisions in light of that list, guarding it like the treasure map of eternity that it truly is. Just knowing the plan God has for me does not guarantee success. I must do the plan. That is where the choice to obey comes in. An obedient heart is a “fixed” heart and may very well be the gift God wants from us this holiday season.

Psalm 108:1
“O God, my heart is fixed!”

Psalm 40:8
“I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea thy law is within my heart.”

A “fixed” heart is a determined heart, a steadfast heart that is rightly focused on God and His will, His plan. When we choose to follow God’s plan, the desires of our heart will line up in obedience to that plan. We will find our greatest joy in pleasing God, in doing His will because that is what we were created to do.

Maybe today is a good time to stop, go back over the list, review those life lessons we have learned, checking to see where we really are in our walk with God. Maybe today is the perfect time to revisit the manger to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by giving Him the gift of obedience.

Art

by Julie Ackerman

For 3 weeks every fall season, our city becomes an art gallery. Nearly 2,000 artists from around the world display their creations in galleries, museums, hotels, parks, city streets, parking lots, restaurants, churches, and even in the river.

Among my favorite entries are mosaics made from small pieces of colored glass. The winning entry in 2011 was a 9 x 13-foot stained-glass mosaic of the crucifixion by artist Mia Tavonatti. While viewing the artwork, I heard the artist discuss how many times she had cut herself while shaping the pieces of glass for her mosaic.

As I gazed at the beautiful rendition of what was a horrific event, I saw more than a representation of the crucifixion—I saw a picture of the church, the body of Christ. In each piece of glass I saw an individual believer, beautifully shaped by Christ to fit together into the whole (Eph. 2:16,21). In the artist’s story, I recognized the shedding of Jesus’ blood so that this unity could take place. And in the finished artwork, I saw the act of love required to complete the project despite pain and sacrifice.

We who believe in Christ are a work of art created by God to show the greatness of a Savior who makes something beautiful out of the broken pieces of our lives.

Presence of God

No, by wordless prayer I didn’t mean the practice of the Presence of God. I meant the same mental act as in verbal prayer only without the words. The Practice of the Presence is a much higher activity. I don’t think it matters much whether an absolutely uninterrupted recollection of God’s presence for a whole lifetime is possible or not. A much more frequent and prolonged recollection than we have yet reached certainly is possible. Isn’t that enough to work on? A child learning to walk doesn’t need to know whether it will ever be able to walk 40 miles in a day: the important thing is that it can walk to-morrow a little further and more steadily than it did to-day.

I don’t think we are likely to give too much love and care to those we love. We might put in active care in the form of assistance when it would be better for them to act on their own: i.e., we might be busybodies. Or we might have too much ‘care’ for them in the sense of anxiety. But we never love anyone too much: the trouble is always that we love God, or perhaps some other created being, too little.

As to the ‘state of the world’ if we have time to hope and fear about it, we certainly have time to pray. I agree it is very hard to keep one’s eyes on God amid all the daily claims and problems. I think it wise, if possible, to move one’s main prayers from the last-thing-at-night position to some earlier time: give them a better chance to infiltrate one’s other thoughts.

From The CS Lewis Collection 

Give Thanks

From Women’s Ministries

A Thanksgiving book titled “Give Thanks – Powerful Prayers for Everyday Blessings.”  Even though we may have things so much easier now than when people lived in days gone by, human nature remains the same ~ we complain!  So, when you get the urge to complain about your daily life full of mundane tasks, I hope these Prayer thoughts will help turn it into gratitude.  Consider the following:

The Bathroom Scale Prayer – “The bathroom scale doesn’t lie Lord, you have blessed me abundantly and it shows.  I am grateful for these few extra pounds – especially when I consider that there are so many less fortunate than me that go hungry every day.  Show me how to provide for others as you have so generously provided for me.”

Or how about this one, a prayer over the never ending piles of laundry ~

“Father, sometimes the laundry seems never ending, but I am glad this means plenty of clean clothes for me and my family.  Thank you for blessing us with a convenient way of washing away the stains of the day and for providing us with clean hearts too.

I am always in a perpetual state of cleaning out our garage.  This thoughtful prayer helps me toss what really doesn’t matter in this life.

“Thank you Lord for all the memories these boxes hold.  As I sift through everything here, help me hang on to my fond memories and let go of the meaningless objects.  I am grateful that you have blessed me with such a full life and rich legacy of loved ones.”

In The Salvation Army ministry, Thanksgiving time signals for many of us long working days as we seek to help meet the needs of the less fortunate.  Reflecting on this prayer gives new insight in our reflection..

“Father it’s hard to work late, but I am thankful I have a job and work to do.  Thank you for an opportunity to work without interruptions and for helping me meet this deadline.”

Sometimes at this time of year we may be tempted or feel pressured to only thank God for the “big things in life” – things that in the worlds eyes, people would consider important.  But God wants our prayers of thanks for the everyday stuff, especially when the daily routines affect our attitudes.  You see,  God wants us to be thankful in everything, even the small and insignificant stuff we do every day.  The “everyday” stuff that our closest and dearest loved ones watch us do.  What better legacy could we leave them than a grateful  heart and attitude in living out the daily routines of life.

I Timothy 6:6 reads: (KJV)

“Godliness with contentment is great gain”

So ladies…  do you want an instant, non surgical face lift???  Charles Dickens said this:

“Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers and are famous preservers of youthful looks”

~ Don’t we all want that, so then, let’s whisper a prayer of thanks for whatever we are doing today and in so doing we give Glory to our God.

Least

Unlike those who think highly of themselves, Jacob knew that he had been ruined by sin (Gen. 32:10). He thought himself a man unworthy of God’s grace. He had cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright (ch.27), and his brother hated him for it. Now, years later, Jacob was going to face Esau again.

“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies,” Jacob prayed, using a word for “least” that suggests the tiniest object. “Deliver me, I pray thee” (32:10-11).

How odd to see those phrases side by side: I am unworthy of Your mercies . . . . Deliver me! Yet Jacob could pray for mercy because his hope lay not in his own worth, but in God’s promise to look with favor on those who throw themselves at His feet. Humility and contrition are the keys that open the heart of God. Someone has said that the best disposition for praying is being stripped of everything. It is crying out of the depths. It comes from the soul that knows its deep depravity.

Such prayers are offered by those who are thoroughly convicted of their sin and shame, but, at the same time, are convinced of God’s grace that goes out to undeserving sinners. God hears best those who cry out: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

Lord, I am like Jacob, in need of Your mercy.
I have failed You, and I bow at Your feet today.
Thank You for being a merciful God, ready
and able to forgive and restore me.