Thursday, December 31, 2015

Most Read Posts of 2015: #1 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.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Most Read Posts of 2015: #2 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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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Most Read Posts of 2015: #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 28, 2015

Most Read Posts of 2015: #4 What Will Christians Be Judged For?

By Allen White

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10

Your first thought is probably, “And, good morning to you too.” This passage is a bit of a rude awakening until you realize when and why believers will be judged.

Years ago I read a Chick tract on judgment day (that’s the actual name of the Christian publisher – you can’t make this stuff up). This miniature, not-so-funny comic book showed everyone standing before the judgment seat while movies of their lives were shown for all to see. Immediately I was confused by two things.

First of all, the church that I grew up in taught that going to movies was a sin. If there were movies in Heaven, and there is no sin in Heaven, then maybe movies weren’t so bad. The answer from my folks was still “No.”

Secondly, if God has forgiven all of our sin and doesn’t remember it any more, then what would there be to show? If our sins are as far as the east is from the west, then the tales of our sordid pasts would be erased (Psalm 103:12). It should be nothing but blank film. Maybe the lesson here is getting our theology from the Bible rather than from cartoons.

The Bible speaks of two judgments: the Great White Throne and the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Great White Throne is a judgment based on whether their names were written in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:11-12). If you have trusted in Christ for your salvation (Romans 10:9-10), then your name is written in the Book of Life (Hebrews 12:23Luke 10:20). Believers don’t need to worry about the Great White Throne judgment.

The Judgment Seat of Christ mentioned in today’s passage is a test of the believer’s actions on earth. Non-believers aren’t judged based on their works. They are only judged on their names being in the Book of Life. So, for the folks who are working hard at good works in order to make it into Heaven, unfortunately, they are studying for the wrong test. God will consider our commitment to Christ before He looks at any of our good deeds.

For believers, judgment is not to determine whether we’re good enough for Heaven. We’re not, but our names are written in the Book. The Judgment Seat of Christ is expressly for rewarding us for our good deeds. The prize is to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

Which test do you need to prepare for? Have you committed your heart and life to Christ? If not, then all you need to do is ask: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10).

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Most Read Posts of 2015: #5 Getting What You Deserve

By Allen White 

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Micah 5:2 (NIV) 

God delights in the obscure and the humble. Bethlehem wasn’t the big city. In fact, for Joseph and his family, Bethlehem was a good place to be from. The town was important for Joseph’s ancestral heritage. But, that’s about where Bethlehem’s importance ended for them.

Lowly Bethlehem was much like its most famous resident: King David (Luke 2:4). When Samuel, the prophet, approached Jesse’s family to anoint the new king of Israel, Jesse lined up all of his sons. Well, almost all of them. Jesse presented the top seven of his sons anyway, but “Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has not chosen these.’” (1 Samuel 16:10).

“So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’

“‘There is still the youngest, Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep’" (1 Samuel 16:11).
David wasn’t his father’s choice for king. In fact, David wasn’t even considered a possibility in his father’s mind. David was tending the sheep. Yet, this humble shepherd became the king of Israel and the great, great, great, great…grandfather of the King of kings.

Jesus was born in humble circumstances. Not only was his birthplace in a small town, he was born in a stable in a small town. Jesus was born into a working class family that didn’t have a lot of money. We don’t even know that Jesus received a formal education. From a worldly point of view, Jesus really wasn’t set up for success. These were humble circumstances for the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

God’s power doesn’t need a “leg up” from our social standing, education, wealth or pride. In fact, God’s power is clearly demonstrated in weakness, not in high stature. When we see God use a person who we might not expect Him to use, then we can see God’s hand very clearly. When we humbly submit ourselves to Him, and He allows opportunities or gives insights into situations we wouldn’t have on our own, we know that God is working in us.

How is your heart inclined today? Are you working hard to promote yourself or to humble yourself? A clear indicator is what you feel that you deserve right now. The less deserving we feel, the more humble we are becoming.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Were Shepherds Supposed to be Invited?

By Allen White

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:8-20

Why did the angels proclaim Jesus’ birth to shepherds? The kings from the East, the Magi, were prophesied about (Isaiah 60:3). Shepherds were not foretold. But, the shepherds were symbolic.

Jesus is known as both the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) as well as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). As Shepherd, Jesus led God’s people to places they had never been. While God’s written Word gave the road map, and God’s prophets proclaimed warnings, Jesus, the Shepherd, took them on the journey Himself. He showed us what to do. He showed us how to respond. He showed us how to live. What the cognitive and auditory couldn’t accomplish, the kinesthetic “Word made flesh” (John 1:14) demonstrated brilliantly.

The shepherds weren’t drawn to the manger by a flashy announcement. The shepherds were drawn to the Savior through worship. The angels came praising and proclaiming. Worship points people to the Messiah.

We all worship in different ways. Most obvious is worship through singing. But, people also worship through being in nature, serving, studying and many other ways. If you haven’t identified the way that you worship best, check out Sacred Pathways by my friend, Gary Thomas.

Some things we discover through words. Some things we discover through work. But, we are completely alive and more fully discover through worship.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Quiet Strength of Joseph

By Allen White

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25

The Bible doesn’t have a whole lot to say about Joseph. In fact, Joseph is one of the few people mentioned in the Bible who is never quoted saying anything. He’s sort of an ancillary figure in our nativity scene. But, that’s not really true. This passage reveals two significant decisions Joseph made that led to the credibility of the Messiah.

When Joseph heard of Mary’s pregnancy, his first impulse was to divorce her. The terms of engagement then were much more stringent than today. It was more like the first year of marriage than planning a wedding. Infidelity during an engagement would have brought a great deal of dishonor to Joseph. None of us would want that. He reasoned that his only choice was to divorce Mary quietly. What else could he do? What would we do?

Can you imagine the problems that would have been caused if the parents of the Savior of the world were divorced? Even the Son of God needed an earthly mother and father to give him credibility. Illegitimacy might have voided the message Jesus came to proclaim. Who would have listened to Him? No one would have given Jesus any attention back then.

The angel appeared to Joseph and explained the situation. Divine revelation was the only way that this pregnancy could be understood or accepted. Joseph chose to man-up, take Mary as his wife, and claim Jesus as his own son.

Then Joseph made another remarkable decision. He chose to wed Mary and delay the honeymoon. “But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25). While every bride dreams of the wedding day, every groom dreams of the wedding night. Joseph chose to marry his pregnant fiancĂ©, and then he chose to put off the pleasures of marriage that were rightfully his (1 Corinthians 7:4) in order to guarantee that no one could ever say that Joseph had anything to do with Jesus’ human birth. For a man that didn’t get any words in the Bible, Joseph silently obeyed.

Following God would be easier if we knew that God’s direction would always lead us down an easy path. But, when following God makes things worse rather than better, it takes more than our willfulness to obey. It requires faith.

Regardless of how Joseph felt about Mary, regardless of what Joseph knew he was entitled to, regardless of receiving a life that he had never signed up for, Joseph chose to obey God. He didn’t receive any earthly honor for his obedience. In fact, after the incident of leaving Jesus behind at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:43), we don’t hear anything else about Joseph. How did he influence Jesus? What did he do with his life? When did he die? We don’t know.

Joseph’s reward was investing in the life of someone else. His honor came from putting his own will and feelings aside for someone greater. Like all of us, Joseph’s ultimate reward is in Heaven.

What seems impossible for you these days? Regardless of what you deserve and how you feel, how is God directing you to obey? Are you willing?

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Monday, December 21, 2015

If We Can Do for Ourselves, then Why Do We Need God?

By Allen White

Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.
The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:14-17

No one wants to be perceived as weak. We would rather put our weaknesses aside and attempt to be strong for others. It seems that as long as we can keep busy and look strong, then we don’t feel as weak. After all, no one throws a parade for the weak. Parades are for heroes.

Yet, in God’s economy our perceived strengths often get in the way. If we can do for ourselves, then why do we need God?

Many people have heard of David Ring. He’s been preaching for 37 years in over 6,000 churches and speaks to over 100,000 people every year.

He starts with his classic line, “I have cerebral palsy. What’s your problem?” David asked our audience if they had noticed that he had a speech impediment. Then, in his wry humor, he says, “Oh, I’m in South Carolina. Everyone has a speech impediment in South Carolina.” He’s a character.

David lost his father when he was very young. Then, his mother died when he was 14-years-old. He spent the rest of his growing up years in foster care.

I was struck by David’s attitude about his mother’s death. He said that if his mother hadn’t died, he wouldn’t have been married. He wouldn’t have four children. He wouldn’t be in the ministry. He would be at home tugging on his momma’s apron strings.

David went on to say that if he had the choice of having cerebral palsy or being completely healthy, he would choose cerebral palsy. His reason: “When I am weak, God is strong.” It was a little difficult for any of us to have a pity party that day.

The Apostle Paul said, “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

How do you feel weak today? How can your weakness reveal God’s strength? God doesn’t want to keep you down through weakness. He wants you to see how helpless and limited you really are, so then you can see how He can give you His strength.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Better Than Cash for Gold: Peace for Problems

By Allen White

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling  together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. Isaiah 11:1-10

In these early prophecies of Isaiah, the prophet pronounced judgment on the people of Judah. They had forsaken God. They had turned to false gods. Their country was on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the middle of some very strong words, God gives Isaiah this beautiful vignette of peace and tranquility beyond their imagination.

As you drink in these words from Isaiah 11, think about the turmoil in your own life. Isaiah wasn’t speaking about peace in a peaceful time. Isaiah’s words were meant for people who were confused. These were people who had tried everything that they knew to do, yet couldn’t make things any better. I can relate to those people at times.

Rather than scolding them one more time, God casts a vision for their future (and ours). Life on this earth is not all that there is to life. The problems that we face today are not problems that will last forever. Ultimately, Jesus will usher in an unprecedented time of tranquility. There will be no diplomatic cables appearing on Wikileaks then. There will be no negotiations. The Savior will merely declare it so. Enemies will be vanquished. Tensions will be released. Natural rivalries will be turned into unnatural friendships.

While we haven’t seen these times, those of us who belong to Christ have tasted them. The outward workings of redemption are yet to come. Humanity and all creation long for that day. But, today those who belong to Christ can experience this kind of peace in our hearts.

The Bible tells us “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). We can possess peace that is not rightfully ours, by giving our problems and turmoil over to God.

God knows what we will experience in Heaven. He also knows what we will experience when our problems are resolved. God, in His grace, gives us the peace of a resolved problem, even while He’s still working to resolve things.

What turmoil are you experiencing today? What chaos needs to be brought into order? God is waiting to give you His peace. You just need to give Him your problem.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Shadows

By Allen White

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah,  “Here is your God!”

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:1-11

The prophecies given in the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah are words of judgment. This prophecy from chapter 40 begins words of comfort for the last one third of the book. But, the comfort for Judah was a long way off.

Jerusalem wouldn’t fall for another 100 years, and then God’s people would be exiled for another 70 years. God instructed Isaiah to begin planting seeds of encouragement. The hard, rocky soils of their lives were being tilled through one-coming adversity. As I mentioned a few days ago, the people of Judah were completely surrounded by the Assyrian Empire (LINK). More consequences and punishments were heading their way. But, in the midst of judgment, God directed Isaiah to tell about the comfort ahead.

God’s work in our lives doesn’t culminate in a dead end.  Some of our struggles seem so dark, it’s hard to believe that it’s part of God’s plan. It’s hard to believe that God has anything to do with it. It’s hard to believe that anything will turn out very well. Yet, 170 years before God’s people are released from captivity, God promises His comfort, even though they don’t seem to have a clue about what they are about to face.

What dark thing are you facing today? Whether it was caused by your actions or someone else’s, God can use it to refine your character and demonstrate His comfort and grace in your life.

Joni Erickson Tada has been paralyzed from the neck down for over thirty years. She writes, “The cross is the center of our relationship with Jesus. The cross is where we die. We go there daily. It isn’t easy.

“Normally, we follow Christ anywhere – to a party, as it were, where he changes water into wine, to a sunlit beach where he preaches from a boat. But to the cross? We dig in our heels. The invitation is so frighteningly individual. It’s an invitation to go alone.

“Suffering reduces us to nothing and as Soren Kierkegaard noted, ‘God creates everything out of nothing. And everything which God is to use, he first reduces to nothing.’ To be reduced to nothing is to be dragged to the foot of the cross. It’s a severe mercy.

“When suffering forces us to our knees at the foot of Calvary, we die to self. We cannot kneel there for long without releasing our pride and anger, unclasping our dreams and desires…In exchange, God imparts power and implants new and lasting hope.” From When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Merry Madness

By Allen White 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:16-21

The wisemen gave gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). And, boy, has capitalism capitalized on that. Could it be possible that the holiday shopping season starts after Halloween now? At this rate, we could start seeing “After Christmas Sales” before Thanksgiving.

During the week of Thanksgiving, commercial after commercial announced that stores would open at 3 am on Friday. I thought, “And, the store is also open, right now.” But, I guess it’s not really Christmas unless you are a cold, sleep-deprived Black Friday gladiator fighting for the best deals. Ah, how it warms the heart.

I’m not opposed to gift giving. I enjoy giving gifts and receiving them. I even like fruitcake. Gifts are great. Gift receipts might be even better. Read my lips: I am not anti-presents. I am pro-presents. But, why do we give?

We give some gifts because we should give. These would be gifts for people who share our DNA, people we work with, people we live near, and people who serve us. We like some of these people. But, if we only gave to those we liked, it might be a much shorter list.

We give some gifts because people expect it. If we didn’t give them something, they would be disappointed. They might even retaliate.

We give some gifts because someone gave us something. To not give them something would be like saying “I love you,” but having no “I love you” return. They expect something of equal or greater value in return. So, if I give you a $15 gift, then you give me a $16 gift. We work this back and forth until one of us eventually dies owing someone hundreds of thousands of dollars somehow (or did we just pay ourselves back?).

We give some gifts completely in the dark. A truly thoughtful gift is giving exactly what they wanted without being told what they wanted. This requires some sort of gift giving ESP that most men lack. Ladies: to get what you want for Christmas, your man must be told. If he is left to himself, then don’t be disappointed with a universal remote control and beef jerky in your stocking. It’s his love language.

While Christmas giving has morphed into something surreal compared to the simple scene in the manger, giving is still at the center of Christmas. “God so loved the world that He gave…” We know those words well. Hopefully, they haven’t become “yada, yada, yada” to us. God didn’t give because we deserved it. God didn’t give because we expected Him to. God didn’t give because He needed to reciprocate somehow. God gave because He loves us. No matter who we are or what we’ve done or what we continue to do, God loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. God doesn’t give because it makes Him feel good. He gives because it’s His nature.

You and I are most like God when we are generous. When we faithfully give to God’s work either in the offering plate or online, we are reflecting God’s character and nature. In fact, the antidote to materialism is generosity. Rather than allowing money and things to control our lives, we can enjoy the freedom of giving it away.

Giving also demonstrates our trust in God. If I commit a portion of my income to Kingdom causes, I trust that God will provide for all of my needs. That provision might be increased income or shoes that last for 40 years (Deuteronomy 29:5).

How do you trust God through your giving this Christmas? How are you celebrating this year and remembering why we celebrate?

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