Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanks!

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Happy Thanksgiving! and thanks for reading!

Allen

Thanksgiving Memories

By Allen White

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
Joshua 4:1-3

Thanksgiving has always been a special time of year for me. As a child, my family would travel out to Hayes, Kansas, where we would spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Sally and Cousin Vhonda. This was one of the best things that my family did.

I remember eating plenty of food, putting on musical performances with my sister and my cousin – we had a lot of fun. The evening would usually involve watching The Wizard of Oz and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I still have nightmares of those flying monkeys.

My twelfth birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day. My aunt made a special Happy Birthday pumpkin pie for me that year. That’s still a special memory for me.

Your Thanksgiving may be filled with other things this year. I’m sure there’s food and football. Maybe a little family tension. Maybe a long walk on a cool Autumn day to work off the dinner.

Thanksgiving in November is a uniquely American holiday. Thanksgiving in Canada was last month (they get an extra month of Christmas shopping). In the Bible, thanksgiving is a heart attitude that goes beyond a single holiday.

In Joshua 3-4, we read how the people of Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan River. This was the final boundary into the Promised Land. After the tribes had passed through the river, Joshua instructed one man from each tribe to gather a stone. These twelve stones were placed in the river as a reminder of God’s work on their behalf. The intent was that years later when their children and grandchildren asked about the stones, parents and grandparents would stop and reflect on God’s goodness to them and His power to overcome an overwhelming obstacle.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving, stop for five minutes and think about how God has helped you to overcome obstacles in your life in the past year, five years or even your whole life. If it’s appropriate, share this with the others who are gathered with you.

Thanksgiving brings to mind the faithfulness of God, which gives us the confidence to face the future. Our memories may point us to monumental accomplishments of faith. Our memories may look back on the broken road that led us to Christ. Either way, God’s faithfulness is solid ground to build our futures on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Extra Mile? What About the First Mile?

By Allen White

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matthew 5:41

Jesus is speaking to a common annoyance among the people of His time. Under Roman law, soldiers could commandeer ordinary citizens into carrying their burdens for the distance of one mile. They had no choice. One mile was the obligation. No more. No less.

Jesus challenged His followers to “go the extra mile.” That’s a term that has permeated the vernacular of our culture. “Extra mile service,” Extra Mile books, Extra Mile seminars, and Chevron even has “ExtraMile” stores.

The first mile was out of obligation. There was no choice. The second mile was unexpected. Just when the soldier would expect the citizen to carelessly drop the burden on the ground, the citizen takes the next step into the second mile and continues on. Maybe the soldier thought he had a dumb citizen who couldn’t calculate mileage. Would the soldier just have let this go or would he have reminded the citizen that he didn’t need to carry it further?

What is Mile One in your life? Working an eight-, ten-, twelve-hour day? Maintaining a home? Teaching lessons to a class? Reaching a quota? Writing five devotionals and a small group leaders’ blog? What is that first mile?

Now, where does the extra mile take you? Maybe it’s doubling your efforts. Maybe it’s not. Maybe the extra mile is not just putting in the hours and doing the work. The extra mile is caring about the work as if it was your own, as if you were working for God (Colossians 3:23). Maybe the extra mile is caring about your co-workers and your boss. How are they doing? Where do they need help?

Maybe the extra mile is giving when you have nothing to gain. Jesus’ followers weren’t going to become all buddy-buddy with Roman soldiers. But, Jesus directed them to help people and to expect nothing in return.

If you are completely irritated by this devotional today, then I would challenge you to take Jesus’ words right back to Jesus. “Jesus, You are telling me to go the extra mile when I don’t even feel like going the first mile. Do you know what I have to deal with at work, home, (fill in the blank)? If You want me to develop this extra mile attitude, then You need to do a work in me. I can’t do this on my own and maintain it.” Then, wait and see what happens next.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

The Devil + Moonshine = Trouble

By Allen White

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27

I like to avoid conflict. Sometimes I like to pretend that there is no conflict and just go about life like normal. But, unresolved conflict doesn’t go away. It’s the elephant in the room. It’s the mound of dirt under the rug. It’s the source of passive-aggressive behavior. Avoiding conflict doesn’t make anything any better.

But, when we enter the danger of conflict, chances are that feelings will be hurt, particularly mine. Who wants to volunteer for that?

If you’ve been to Caesar’s Head State Park in South Carolina, then you’ve probably wondered down a small wooden staircase into a narrow passage called “The Devil’s Kitchen.” You walk through a gap that’s only about four feet wide where the granite has split.

 “The story goes that the devil himself used to brew moonshine on top of Caesars Head. He brewed a very potent brand of shine.  It was so potent that he spilled a single drop of the shine on the overlook and it split the rock. So the split became known as the Devil's Kitchen because this is where he cooked the strong brew that split the rock.” (Source: Southcarolinaparks.com http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/park-finder/parksfaq/whatname.aspx)

Now, I’m not sure whether the devil actually brews moonshine, but I can definitely see the connection.

Unresolved anger creates a split in a relationship that gives the devil a foothold. One disagreement might not be as powerful as the drop of moonshine that created the Devil’s Kitchen, but drop by drop relationships are fractured until they eventually split.

The solution is easy, and yet it’s not. Don’t let things go on forever. In fact, don’t let any conflict that happened today, go beyond today. Don’t let the sun go down.

While it’s easier said than done, we need to man up or woman up and face the conflict head-on, especially if we are the offender. Whatever the issue is nothing is more important than the relationship. If the other person won’t hear you, take someone with you (Matthew 18:16). Preferably take a wiser person or a counselor. This isn’t a matter of proving who’s right and who’s wrong. This is about preserving the relationship and growing.

What relationship do you need to resolve? God doesn’t allow us to just write people off. If they are willing to talk, then listen. If they are willing to reconcile, then consider it.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Learning to Suffer Well

By Allen White

His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" Job 2:9

The difference between Job and us is that Job lost everything all at once: his family, his wealth, his health. You and I will also lose all of these things, but over a longer period of time. (This gets better. Don’t stop reading now.)

Suffering is not a fun topic, but it’s certainly a part of life. In fact, suffering is so costly to us, we need to grow from our suffering rather than just suffer for no good reason at all.

Life is a series of loses. We start out with great expectations, but often we lose some of those dreams. We suffer. We begin life with parents who love us, care for us, and meet our needs. Over time, we care for our parents, and then we lose them. These aren’t happy thoughts, but they are real.

In fact, out of everything that we have and everyone we know there is only one relationship that endures – our relationship with God. God is always with us. God shares in the “fellowship of suffering” (Philippians 3:10).

The Bible tells us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). At this point, you may be thinking that this is not what you signed up for. But, here’s the reality, with Christ or without Christ, everyone suffers. If we can learn to suffer well, then we will develop Christ-like character and a sensitivity to others that we’ve never had before.

This is not a popular message, but it is a necessary message. So often when people suffer, they think that God is mad at them or that they are being punished for something that they’ve done. If you have trusted Christ for your salvation, then all of the punishment for your sin has been erased (Romans 4:7-8). That’s not what suffering is about.

Here’s the big question: If you lost everything except for God, would He be enough? Job had plenty of reasons to curse. He was under an unreasonable amount of pressure. There was little reason to be happy. Maybe there was little reason to trust God at that point. Yet, Job chose to trust. The end result was “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first” (Job 42:12-17). The reward, however, was not only material.

I believe that Job’s greatest blessing was the realization that sometimes things happen without a logical explanation. No one is at fault. There is no one to blame. Forty chapters of the book of Job exhaust every possible explanation. Job concludes, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

How are you suffering today? How is God working to develop your character? How are you learning to trust God more deeply?

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is Your Relationship with Jesus Too Personal?

By Allen White

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 1 John 3:14

We have focused so much on our “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ that I believe we have forgotten that our faith is always in the context of community. There is a place to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus. For people who are caught up in the religion of Christianity or who depend on the church for their salvation, we need to emphasize that following Jesus is not a religion, but a relationship. But, have we made our relationship with Christ too personal?

If I have a personal relationship with Christ, and yet it doesn’t affect the other relationships around me, something is awry. If I am a great Christian in my head, yet others see very little evidence of Christ in me, there is a problem.

According to John’s letter, the evidence of passing from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. That doesn’t mean that we like everything that they do, but that we love them no matter what. Our connection to Christ produces something far deeper than the conditional relationships of this world. When fellow believers hurt us or otherwise misbehave, we must remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

We have an enemy that wants to divide us and pit us against each other. He wants to create as much disunity as he possibly can. And, he will use every means possible, including our own selfishness, to keep us apart.

If you love Jesus, but you can’t stand His followers, then Jesus has a lot more work to do in you. Other people can do some pretty outrageous things in the name of Christ. I don’t like some of those things either. But, what’s going on in them? What’s their story? What do they misunderstand? What do they not know?

What fellow believer are you struggling with right now? I would encourage you to spend some time with them, not to take the issue head-on, but just to get to know them. The monster that you’ve created in your head is not the person who is sitting in front of you.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our Fear of Loneliness

By Allen White

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16

Loneliness is almost a phobia these days. It’s not so much being alone. We do lots of things alone. We must don’t want to feel lonely.

In my single days, I often had dinner with Tom Brokaw. I would sit in my recliner with my TV tray right in front of the television and watch the news as I ate. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely. There was a conversation going on, albeit, one-sided.

There is no end to things that can occupy us. Satellite radio, HD radio and regular radio are sources of constant conversation. Do radio stations play songs anymore? If we don’t get enough talk on the radio, then there’s even more talk on TV. We can just channel surf until we find someone who agrees with us. They talk so much that we don’t even need to think for ourselves. We certainly don’t need to feel lonely.

If we need a little human interaction, then there’s Facebook and Twitter. (Is MySpace even around anymore?) Someone always seems to be online.

We know that our avoidance of boredom and loneliness has reached a peak, when we begin to consider curling as our new Winter hobby or crave cakes decorate with fondant (Is that even edible? Good old butter cream frosting over here, please.) Now, I have you so distracted that loneliness is now a distant thought.

Jesus embraced loneliness. Jesus sought out loneliness. He was not energized by the crowd. He wasn’t tantalized by the miracles. He didn’t relish in the sound of His own voice. Jesus’ strength came from loneliness and prayer.

Some people dream of being alone. But, there are people everywhere: co-workers, neighbors, kids, coaches, small groups, ministries – people, people, people. It seems nearly impossible to be alone.

But, there is a strength that we derive from aloneness with God that we cannot gain anywhere else. There is a part of us that is meant to be disconnected from a screen and interfaced with our Creator.
I would encourage you to take the next commercial break or download time to step away from the screen. Go outside on your patio. Look up at the stars. Sit down for five minutes and be quiet. God has things that He wants to say to you, but He can’t until you are alone.


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