Thursday, December 29, 2011

[Best of 2011 #1 Emotions Are So Unreasonable

By Allen White

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Matthew 26:36-38

Death is not a normal thing to volunteer for. Jesus spoke of His mission on this earth over and over with His disciples. Jesus knew that the end of His mission would result in death. But, even for our All-Knowing God, Jesus had never personally experienced sin and death. His Divine mission was confronted with a strong human reaction.

Jesus took Peter, James and John, His inner circle, a little further into the garden. He knew that His betrayal would happen sooner rather than later. He asked them to keep watch while He prepared Himself in prayer.

Jesus was overwhelmed. The Son of God, the Master and Creator of the Universe, the Savior of the world was overwhelmed. And, He should have been.

Emotions are just so unreasonable. Our emotions motivate us toward things that defy our logic. Some of us were even taught that emotions were scary or bad or both. But, emotion is a part of who we are.

No one should feel okay at a loved one’s funeral. We should grieve. Everyone should feel overwhelming joy and excitement on their wedding day. And, there are days when the circumstances of our life are completely overwhelming. There’s only one place to go on those days.

Jesus, being fully human and also fully God, was overwhelmed. With His disciples keeping watch, He chose to go by Himself and to connect with the Father. No person would understand His plight. No amount of ranting and raving would cure what ailed Him that day. Only a connection with the One who completely understood Him and His circumstance would help.

Where do you go when you are overwhelmed? Do you escape into a bad habit? Do you go to bed? Do you go ballistic? There is only One Person in your life that can take what you’re dealing with, and it’s also the only Person who will fully understand – your Heavenly Father.

God is not surprised by your circumstance. God wired you to feel what you feel. When you are completely overwhelmed, He completely understands.

What are you feeling overwhelmed by today? It’s time to get alone with the One who understands.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

[Best of 2011] #2 God Doesn’t Want You to Worry

By Allen White

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27

We can’t add anything to our life by worrying. We might even shorten our lives by worrying.

When we worry about something, we put ourselves through the same physiological state as if the event was actually happening. Our brain knows the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, but our nervous system does not. Worry puts our bodies in a state of emergency – fight or flight.

Our blood pressure goes up. Our heart races. Our palms begin to sweat. Our stomachs produce extra acid to digest what’s there. No wonder worriers end up with ulcers. The body doesn’t know the difference between a real emergency and an imagined one.

Our lives are in God’s hand. The length of our lives is determined by God Himself (Job 14:5). We can’t add to that. God is in control. We are not. So, what do we do when we’re overcome with worry?

The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Since God is in control, there is really no reason to be anxious about anything. But, when we do feel anxious, it means that we’re out of our depth. We are worrying about things that are well into the future and out of our hands. When that warning light pops up on the dashboard of our souls, we must take the next step.

Give our worry to God in prayer. If we’re still worried about it after we’ve prayed, then give it over to God again and again and again. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

God knows the resolution to every one of our problems. God knows what we’ll feel like when our current problem is resolved, so before the problem is even resolved, God gives us something that we don’t deserve. He gives us the peace that we will experience when everything is okay. But, He gives us the peace now, even though the resolution is still in process.

What are you worried about today? Stop and give the situation to God. Even if your prayer is “God, I don’t know what to do. Please take this over and help me.” He will help you.

Then, when you start worrying about it again (and you might), stop and pray again. If that warning light comes on again, stop and pray again.

I share a story in my stress management class about a woman who went to see a psychologist about worrying. The doctor prescribed a biblical remedy. He gave her a card with the word “STOP” on one side and Philippians 4:6-7 on the other side. He told her that every time she started to worry, she should get the card out and read it out loud.

The next week the patient was pleased to report that the first day she had to use the card 20 times, but by the end of the week she only had to use it twice a day.

What are you worried about right now? A worry is something you think about three times a day or more. What are those worries?

God doesn’t want you to worry. He’s got this one (and the next one). Place your worries into God’s hands, and He will give you His peace in return.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

[Best of 2011] #3 What If We Stopped Complaining?

By Allen White

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. Philippians 2:14-16

For some of us, these verses seem impossible. Grumbling and complaining might feel like breathing. Or, if it’s not a complaint, it comes out as sarcasm. Whether our snide remarks are resentful or recreational, they reflect the condition of our hearts.

Grumbling and complaining comes from the simple fact that the world is not as we think it should be. Whether our expectations are realistic or not, when our lives don’t measure up to our expectations, we grumble and complain. When our lives are less than what we think they should be, we grow resentful and sometimes angry.

The problem, according to this passage, is that grumbling and arguing are obstacles to becoming blameless and pure. The ugliness of our attitudes corrupts the purity of our souls. When we are saved, God declares us to be righteous (Romans 4:5) and purifies our hearts (Hebrews 10:21-22). Negative attitudes can pollute what God has purified.

Sometimes we excuse our attitudes, because of the world that we live in and what we have to deal with. The world is an unfair and an unjust place. Just watch the evening news – there’s plenty to be bitter about. Just look at how people treat each other – there’s plenty to resent.

Don’t you find it odd that the first century A.D. was regarded as “warped and crooked”? If that generation was warped and crooked, then what does that make our generation? They didn’t even have Lady Gaga back then.

Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from prison. That wasn’t fair. Why wasn’t Paul bitter? Paul knew, as we know, that neither people nor evil are ultimately in charge of the universe. God is.

One day, every wrong will be righted (Revelation 19:11). One day, justice will prevail and evil will disappear (Revelation 20:10). Until that day, we must choose to trust that God loves us, He has a plan for us, and He knows what we’re dealing with. If we choose to trust rather than complain, then we “shine among them like stars in the sky.” 

What are you known for these days – the light of Christ or grumbling and complaining? Complaining is really just a bad habit. There are times to bring things up. But, if the person that we’re talking to is not part of the problem or part of the solution, then it’s just grumbling and gossip.

It’s our choice to either become blameless, pure and bright or grumbling, complaining and dull. God will help us shine like stars. If we choose the other path, we’re on our own, consequences and all.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

[Best of 2011] #4 Bypass the Freaking Out

By Allen White

Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.

 The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”
Matthew 8:23-27

The disciples didn’t know what they didn’t know. They knew enough about Jesus to leave everything behind and follow Him. But, they didn’t know enough to trust Him implicitly. They believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but they didn’t really understand what that meant.

As the storm began to rage, even the seasoned fishermen on board began to worry. In their heads, they knew that Jesus was the answer. In their hearts, they were freaking out.

The disciples did the right thing by turning to Jesus. They trusted Him to do something. They just weren’t sure what He would do.

Jesus, the Creator (Colossians 1:15-16), took authority over the forces of nature. Just like God had spoken the creation into existence, Jesus said just said the word. The wind and waves obeyed.

The disciples were blown away. “Who is this man?” They followed Jesus because they had never met another man like this. Then, they were astonished at His miracles, because they had never met another man like this.

The voice of fear said the disciples would perish in this storm. The voice of reason didn't disagree. The voice of faith, however, realized the Truth was asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples versus a fierce storm equaled catastrophe. But, Jesus versus the storm meant something completely different.

Now, before we look down on the disciples, think about how we handle things. We know that God can solve any problem. We know that God is greater than anything we face. We face a problem. Then, we try to solve the problem. We get frustrated and freaked out about the problem. Finally, in desperation, we cry out to God for help.

Here’s a little secret – save yourself the frustration – bypass the freaking out. When you feel the first signs of worry, turn the situation over to God (Philippians 4:6-7). The worst thing we can do is keep Jesus on reserve while we fret over our circumstance.

What are you worried about today? Anything you think about more than three times is a worry. Take a moment to give it over to God. The next time you worry about it, even if it’s three minutes from now, pray about it again. Jesus will calm the turmoil in your heart.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

[Best of 2011] #5 God’s Will for Your Life

By Allen White

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. Proverbs 16:33

When someone refers to their “lot in life,” it usually comes across as a fatalistic acceptance of whatever trouble they are forced to endure. Some people seem to be lucky, while others are not. But, some people make their own luck. They prepare for a situation. They see beyond the immediate circumstance. They recognize that there are no coincidences in a committed life.

Whether we look at our lives as purpose-driven or we look at our lives as a crap shoot, God is the One who is rolling the dice and determining the outcome. This too could seem quite fatalistic, except that we know God is working for our good (Romans 8:28). He has a plan for us (Jeremiah 29:11). He has a purpose for our lives (2 Timothy 1:9). But, beyond all of the details of our lives, bumps and bruises included, God wills one thing for each and every one of us.

Here is God’s will for you and me: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Whether things go our way or go the other way, God’s will for you and me is that we would rejoice, pray and give thanks in all circumstances. I will admit, there are some circumstances that are hard to give thanks for. There are situations that are hard to rejoice over. There are times when it’s hard to pray. But, this is God’s will for us.

It would be much easier if God’s will was for us to be healthy, wealthy and wise. If all of the good things that entered our lives were God’s will, we would know that we were blessed. If bad things came into our lives, we would know that we needed to straighten up and get our lives back on track. But, here’s the deal: “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). When it rains, we all get wet.

So, let’s be honest, when have we grown the most, in good times or in bad? For most of us, the hardships of life have produced far more growth than the easy times. When we face problems, we are more diligent in prayer. We are more careful to remember and recite the goodness of God. Our past victories give us hope for the future. God is far more concerned about our character than our comfort.

What are you depressed about today? What can you rejoice about instead? What are you worried about today? Anything you think about more than three times a day is a worry. Pray about it instead (Philippians 4:6-7). What are you complaining about today? What can you give thanks for instead?

Is your car broken down? Thank God that you have a car. Are your water pipes leaking? Thank God that you have clean, running water. Many people in the world do not. (To get involved, check out the work of Water of Life at

James wrote a sentence that is more than a little challenging to accept: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

That thing that is bothering you just might be the way that God is working in your life today.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

[Best of 2011] #6 Hello, This is Peggy

By Allen White

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. Ephesians 6:7-8

I took my son with me to Stop-A-Minit the other day. I was desperate for a Coke. He needed a treat – an Icee in this case. We also picked up a treat for his big brother.

As we waited in line to check out, the cashier’s attitude caught my attention. She truly enjoyed her work. You could tell that she loved serving other people. She wasn’t being fake friendly. She truly loved what she was doing.

I thought, “Gosh, I couldn’t work a minimum wage job, standing on my feet all day, and keep such a great attitude. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be my attitude in that job.” But, this gal served wholeheartedly. I left thinking, “Gosh, if you’re going to work a job like that, then why not make the best of it and give it what you’ve got.”

Most of us have experienced half-hearted service. Whether it was the restaurant server who filled our glasses when they got around to it or “Peggy” from the credit card company, half-hearted service is not a positive experience for anyone, including the server.

But, what if you work for a terrible boss? What if they don’t pay you enough? What if your co-workers are obnoxious? What if your work environment is not very pleasant? Do circumstances like that deserve our wholehearted service? Yes, they do.

Ultimately, our “boss” is God Himself. He deserves our best. God provides for all of our needs regardless of the size of our paychecks. God loves everyone of our co-workers and wants to use our lives to influence them.

Half-hearted or mediocre service is a poor reflection on God’s children. We make excuses like “if I worked with more Christians, then things would be better…” Don’t count on that either.

You may not be able to control anything around you. The culture and environment of your workplace may be well beyond your influence. You might be overwhelmed with frustration every day. After you’ve answered the question: Why are you working there? The next step is to be obedient to God.

Regardless of how you feel about things, no matter what other people are saying or doing, regardless of the difficulty of your circumstances, your job is to be obedient to God. If you don’t know how, then plead your case to God and ask Him how you’re supposed to do it. He will show you.

What is hard for you to accept about your circumstance? Where are you tempted to cut corners? Why do you feel that the situation deserves less than your best?

You and I perform for an audience of One, God Himself. No other opinion matters more than what God thinks of us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

[Best of 2011] #7 Killing Ourselves Over Things that Don’t Matter

By Allen White

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:38-42

Jesus doesn’t perform signs on demand. In fact, the need for signs betrays a lack of faith more than the presence of great faith (read more here). The Pharisees didn’t need a sign from Jesus. They had witnessed plenty of signs firsthand. They certainly weren’t struggling to believe. They just didn’t believe Him.

Jesus pointed to a sign they would understand – Jonah. For those of us who spent years in Sunday school, we remember the high tech flannel graph illustrations of Jonah and the whale or more properly, Jonah and the great fish (Jonah 1-3).

A storm resulted from Jonah’s disobedience of embarking on the wrong boat. To save the crew, Jonah disembarked into the sea. The giant fish provided Jonah’s transportation to God’s intended destination.

Jonah’s disobedience didn’t stem from his dislike for the climate in Nineveh. Jonah didn’t like the Ninevites. He felt they deserved God’s judgment. If he preached repentance, they might repent. Jonah wanted nothing to do with that.

Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for the undeserving people of this world. He died and spent three days in the grave, just as Jonah spent three days “buried” in the great fish. At the end of three days, both Jonah and Jesus were raised in victory to proclaim Good News.

Jonah and Solomon both pointed unrighteous people to God. Jesus’ claim to the Pharisees was to be greater than both. What other signs did they need?

Sometimes we feel like we need a sign. Whether we’re making a big decision or just need assurance we’re headed in the right direction. Sometimes we’re so desperate; we’ll take any scrap of coincidence to validate what we’d like to do. But, we already have all the validation we need.

Believers today have all of God’s Word. Those in Jesus’ time had the Old Testament and Jesus’ live teaching, but they lacked the context and perspective that we enjoy today. By having all of the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian theology, we have a greater understanding of God’s plan than any of God’s people at any other point in history. So, why are we so confused?

We also have far more pressures and distractions than anyone at any other time. The world has dictated to us what we should have to be successful. Social media forces us into almost a daily interaction with every person we’ve ever met. Most of our lifestyles extend well beyond our means, yet we continually want more. We are killing ourselves over things that simply don’t matter. Why?

We lack direction. Often we lack perspective. When was the last time we stepped back and evaluated our lives? When was the last time we stopped doing something that wasn’t getting us anywhere? When was the last time we felt at peace? What was happening then?

You were placed on this earth for a purpose. If you feel frazzled and stressed out, you are not functioning in your purpose. You have too many competing values in your life. If you have children, they are part of God’s purpose in your life. If you’re children have become a bother to you, something has intruded on God’s purpose for you.

What do you worry about? A worry is something you think about at least three times per day. Why are you worried about these things? God’s purpose for your life shouldn’t be a worry to you. It’s what you were made to do.

Maybe it’s time to get alone with God for three hours. Take your Bible and a notepad. Tell God everything that you think and feel – write it, type it, say it outloud (not in public). Then, begin to write down the thoughts and ideas that come into your head. Make a To-Do list. Then, make a Stop-Doing list.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

[Best of 2011] #8 When to Give Up on People

Writer's Note: After reading this devotional, two gracious readers repaired my grandfather clock at their own expense as a gift. I am deeply grateful to this pair for restoring my clock and showing their sincere loving care to me. Allen

By Allen White

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.Galatians 6:1-5

It’s far easier to replace something than to restore it. Several months ago, I received a call about an accident at our house. In trying to retrieve a toy, one of my children had knocked over the grandfather clock that my father had built. Fortunately, no one was injured. But, the clock is toast.

Of course, my child is more important than a piece of furniture. In fact, I drove home in the middle of the day just to give a hug and a reassurance.

How could I be some calm about the loss of a family heirloom? Because in my father’s house there are many grandfather clocks. In fact, there is another one exactly like my broken clock that my father also built. It’s easier to replace it than to repair it. The broken clock now sits in my garage. My neighbors walk by and think that, yes, I’m just that rich.

But, if that clock was one of a kind or if my father was no longer around to build clocks, the broken clock might have a different future. Not only is a handmade clock a valuable piece of furniture, but it’s also a special memory of my dad carefully handcrafting the clock in his basement shop. It would be hard to part with. It would be repaired at any cost. No expense would be spared.

We are surrounded by broken people. Each is unique. Not one can be replaced. Yet, it seems easier to part with people than to restore them.

The Bible tells us that as believers, we have a responsibility to each other – “carry one another’s burdens.” When someone in our small group has a problem, it’s our job to help with their problem. Provide a listening ear. Pray for them. Encourage them. When a person has sinned, it’s our job to restore them gently and not cut them off at the needs.

Now, bearing someone’s burden does not mean taking over their problem. We bear one another’s burdens, but each one should carry his own load. As John Townsend and Henry Cloud teach inBoundaries, everyone is required to carry his own backpack.

Everyone should take responsibility for himself. When the burden is heavy, then we should help. But, we shouldn’t be carrying what others need to carry for themselves. When we find ourselves carrying an abundance of backpacks so that others don’t have to carry anything, we’ve entered into a co-dependent relationship.

The other caution is that in restoring another, we don’t become overly sympathetic or even informed of their sinful ways. Otherwise, the temptation that pulled on them might begin to pull on us as well. Broken human beings are susceptible to the ugliness of sin.

Who needs your help? Whose burden is too heavy for them these days? What kind of help can you give? What kind of help should you give? Where should you draw the line? Sometimes the best help is to pray for them and then refer them to someone who has greater expertise. If you don’t know when to refer, read this post.

Oh, and if you’re interested in a “slightly used” grandfather clock, give me a call.

Monday, December 19, 2011

[Best of 2011] #9 Is Angry Birds Keeping Me From God?

By Allen White

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.Matthew 6:31-34

Our world is a distracting place. We are inundated by inputs. We can watch movies streamed to our phones. We can’t find many restaurants without giant TVs on the wall. When all else fails, we always have Angry Birds to keep us occupied, except the game needs more levels. I’m just sayin’.

We can fill our lives to the brim and running over with things to keep ourselves occupied. Sometimes we confuse possessions and pleasure with our purpose in life. God created things for us to enjoy. But, these things are not our reason for living.

We will become tired of our wardrobes. We will grow weary of eating the same old thing. But, fortunately, there is an endless variety to choose from. Our worry is not from lacking what we need. Our worry is over the plethora of choices. But, chasing these things is like walking on a treadmill. We expend a lot of energy, but don’t actually get anywhere.

Many Christians, especially those of the glass half full variety, believe that we must give up everything that we like to truly serve God. The implication is that obedience to God only gives us the chewy, cardboard fiber of life. If we think that, then we’ve missed what Jesus said.

Jesus doesn’t want us to live bland and boring lives. He came to give us abundant lives (John 10:10). He’s not asking us to change our likes. Jesus is asking us to change our focus.

When our first desire is for the things of God, then the rest of our desires are satisfied. That doesn’t mean that every item in our closets will bear the Jesus fish or our food will only follow an approved biblical diet. When our focus is enjoying God, we realize that God’s focus is on enjoying us. We receive without having to take, because He freely gives.

How often do you think about God? Hopefully right now, because you’re reading this devotional. But, in the course of your day, how often do you think about God? It’s easy to go through the day and not think about God at all. It’s easy to get distracted by the things of this world.

Try this: the next time you’re sitting in traffic, rather than pulling out your phone to check your email, stop and make a quick connect with God. “Hey God, instead of being frustrated by this traffic, I want to talk to you about a couple of things that I’m worried about today…” You get the idea.