Monday, November 30, 2015

Winning People to Churchianity?

By Allen White 

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

 “Yes,” they replied.

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. Matthew 13:47-52

Most people don’t write their memoirs at 25 years of age. As epic as their antics might seem to themselves, the rest of the world simply rolls their eyes and cynically waits for the rest of the story. At 25 years of age, most of us don’t know who we are, let alone have much to shout about.

Memoirs are reserved for sages who gaze back over their lives. After all, hindsight is 20/20. From the perspective of their twilight years, they can see the thread woven through their lives. At the beginning of our adult lives, most see many possibilities, but haven’t lived enough to know what life means.

From Jesus’ analogies, we understand the kingdom of God is a living and dynamic enterprise. The potential and actual growth are off the charts. God’s kingdom possesses a huge attractional factor. Both believers and non-believers are drawn to the things of God. The risk is judging who’s who too early.

Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mess of fish. Some are worth keeping. Some are not. When we look around our places of worship, we might feel we could size things up pretty quickly. “Well, I know what that one did last night. So he’s probably out” or “She always has such a pleasant smile. That’s certainly a reflection of the joy of the Lord.” Yet, separating “good” and “bad” is not our job.

The separation takes place at the end of the time. The separators act on higher authority than what we have. The angels are given the task. Why?

This is not the time or the place to judge other’s faith. As long as they have breath in their bodies, God is drawing them to Himself. Some believers specialize in policing the boundaries and making sure everyone behaves themselves in order to protect the church’s reputation. But, are we winning people to Churchianity or to Christ?

Jesus and most of the religious leaders of his time were not bosom buddies by any sense of the word. They were constantly at odds. They challenged each other at every turn. These leaders spent their days with their noses stuck in scrolls when the Truth was standing right in front of them. People who have it all figured out don’t need Jesus.

But, Jesus didn’t give up on them -- just like He doesn’t give up on anyone. In fact, some of the religious leaders became His disciples and joined God’s kingdom. Jesus said they possessed both new treasures as well as old ones.
Who are you ready to cut loose from your life? Who are you tempted to leave in the chum pile? When it comes to the Church are you looking for people who will fit in and keep the party line? Are you hoping others will act more Christianly or are you praying for God to transform their lives?

People outside of God’s Kingdom can’t live lives pleasing to God. It’s humanly impossible. It requires a level of perfection that human beings lack. But, God’s power can take the most self-righteous person and dramatically transform them into a child of God.

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Are You All In?

By Allen White 

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

I don’t gamble. But, once in a while I will watch high stakes poker games on TV. Poker is part strategy, part psychology, and part dumb luck. Not very often, but every once in a while, a player gets a hand that can’t be beat. They go “all in.” They bet the farm, if they own one.

In both of these comparisons, Jesus challenges those who follow Him to go all in. Just like someone who discovered a valuable treasure or pearl would sell everything to purchase such a prize, Jesus calls us to offer all that we have, personally or materially, to follow Him. God’s kingdom is worth betting the farm.

Now, I have to admit I’ve always struggled with the first example. The man finds the treasure, hides the treasure, then purchases the field. Shouldn’t some sort of disclosure be involved?

Jesus Christ didn’t encourage anyone to commit fraud. We must assume the law of the land allowed for this type of transaction. Their culture, obviously, was not nearly as litigious as ours. What’s found in the field stays in the field.

What does it mean to hock everything of value to secure one priceless treasure? Jesus says the treasure is the kingdom of heaven -- something of greater value than Granny’s vase on Antiques Roadshow. But, have we gone “all in” on the kingdom of God?

At this point in my life, I’m worth more dead than alive financially. I’m not complaining. It’s just a fact.

Every month I pay an insurance premium that is only a hundredth of a percent of my policy’s value should I graduate to glory. In that event, my family would be provided for, and I could rest in peace.

All I have to put up to secure my family’s financial future in the event of my passing is a token of the policy’s value. If I paid my premium every month for the full length of the 30 year policy, I will have only paid about 3.5 percent of the policy’s value. In actual dollars, I haven’t invested that much.

It’s a bet. The life insurance company is betting I’ll live beyond the life of my insurance policy. I’m certainly not “all in” with this financially. But, in order for anyone to collect, I would have to go “all in” physically.

In this day and age, people wouldn’t put up all of their assets for a pearl or a hidden treasure. They would take out a loan. They would leverage the potential value. They would make easy monthly payments. The problem is the kingdom of God can’t be acquired on credit, yet some of us are negotiating a layaway plan.

So, what are we supposed to do? Should we sell everything we have and move into a Christian commune that might turn into some sort of reality show? Certainly not. The kingdom of God has more to do with possessing us rather than possessing our assets.

The hard question asks: What is more valuable in our lives than God’s kingdom? Not just the things we write a check for, but where do we devote our time and energy? What causes us to jump out of bed?

God put us on this earth to fulfill His purpose for our lives. Somebody wrote a book about that. God’s purpose for your life is not a mystery. What do you love to do? What bothers you the most? What can you do about it? The answers to these questions will point to your purpose.

When you discover your kingdom purpose, you will easily cash in poor investments and go all in on what God designed you to do. That may be hard to believe, but maybe you have yet to discover the best thing you’ve ever done.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Should We Tolerate Hell?

By Allen White

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. Matthew 13:36-43

Once again, the disciples received the answer, because they asked the question. The crowd heard an entertaining story. They left entertained, but not informed and certainly not transformed. They were weeds standing in the field.

The Kingdom of God is serious business. Everyone’s eternity hinges on one decision made on earth: do I accept Christ as Savior or do I go my own way?

We live in a tolerant world. Well, at least it’s tolerant of everyone except evangelical Christians. But, much of this tolerance has seeped into the church. We assume that people are informed enough about the Gospel to make a decision. If they don’t want to follow Christ, if they don’t want to attend church, well, that’s their decision. We have to respect their decision. Right? Wrong.

If a person decided to kill himself, should we respect his decision? If someone decided to cheat his investors to become rich, should we respect his decision? If someone gets into yet another bad relationship, should we keep our mouths closed?

“Well, they’re adults and they did make their choice.” Seriously, you’re going to cop out like that.

The most powerful tool at your disposal to help others is prayer. They don’t need a sermon. They don’t need a lecture. They don’t need a judgmental attitude. They need the power that raised Jesus from the grave activated in their lives. Your friendship and your prayers will go a long way.

The last thing any of us want is a forced conversation about spiritual things. But, as Rick Warren says, “If the fruit is ripe, you don’t have to yank it.” The very last thing we want to see is folks we care about spend eternity in Hell. For many people, you may be the only person praying for them.

Who in your life needs prayer? Your spouse and kids? Your neighbors? Your terrible boss? Your co-workers? Put their names where you’ll see them and pray for them. Set a reminder on your calendar to pray for them. Then, pray! See what God can do.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

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 24, 2015

Is Your Dream Thriving or Dying?

By Allen White

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

 “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” Matthew 13:31-35

In these parables, Jesus compared the kingdom of God to something small that increases exponentially. A mustard seed is not the smallest seed on earth, but it would have been the smallest one known to His audience. Yeast is also very small. It doesn’t take much yeast to multiply dough.

Faith starts small, but has enormous potential. Just like a tiny mustard seed becomes a plant large enough to support birds or minute yeast rises and expands bread dough, the Kingdom started with One, Jesus Christ, who invited twelve, who gathered 120 in the upper room at Pentecost, who saw 3,000 saved in a day, who spread the Gospel throughout the known world. But, there’s another Kingdom principle here.

The seed of faith that once took root in each of our lives has enormous potential to transform our lives and affect the world around us. While we have an enemy whose mission is to kill, steal and destroy, we have a God who trumps him and intends abundant living for us (John 10:10).

I’m sure you’ve had the experience where you get an idea, get excited about it, then discouragement immediately sets in. “You can’t do that. Who do you think you are? You’ll never amount to anything.” Ever had thoughts like that? Those thoughts don’t come from God. Guess the source?

When God plants a dream in our hearts, the enemy’s goal is to kill that seed before it can even take root. While the enemy can’t physically overpower us, he can certainly mess with our heads enough to squelch the dream. Sometimes he even works through the people around us to discourage.

Both mustard seeds and yeast require the right conditions to grow. Seeds need the right light, soil, minerals and moisture to thrive. Yeast requires the right temperature, light and environment to expand. How is your situation encouraging your dream? How is your environment holding you back?

God believes in you. God has great plans for you. God has planted His seed in your heart. Are you letting that seed of faith take over your life? Are you filling your mind with encouraging thoughts or are you listening to the old tapes? Who are you surrounding yourself with? Are they fueling your dream or extinguishing it?

As soon as you can (or sooner), get alone with God and ask Him to clarify the dream. Read His Word. Dream big dreams. Nurture that seed of faith, then watch it grow.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Spiritually in the Weeds

By Allen White

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

 “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Matthew 13:24-30

When we bought our house four years ago, we inherited a small flowerless flower bed. This little patch had more weeds than mulch and a pathetic shrub in the center. We weren’t winning “Yard of the Month” by a long shot. So, I decided to get rid of it.

I pulled out the shrub. I removed the mulch and lots of rocks. I focused on killing weeds and planting new grass. During the first quarter of the growing season, the new grass was in the lead. Then around halftime, crab grass and other culprits started gaining on the grass. By the end season, it was Weeds 100. Grass 0.

The next year I attempted the same strategy. (What’s the definition of insanity?) Sure enough, I achieved the same result. A beautiful green lawn with a patch of weedy, exposed red clay.

Last year, I tried a new approach. I focused on nurturing the healthy Bermuda nearby. The great thing about Bermuda – it takes over. No weed killer. I just gave the Bermuda a head start on the crab grass. At the end of the season, the score was finally Bermuda 100. Weeds 0. After all, the best weed killer is healthy grass.

Life would be easier if wicked people were removed from this world. Of course, that might eliminate a healthy portion of my readers as well as the writer for that matter. None of us has completely abolished our fleshly nature.

Before we pump up our canister of spiritual
Roundup, we need to keep in mind that separating wheat and weeds is not our job. God is the only one who completely understands the thoughts and motives of each person. He’s the only just judge. We are not qualified and not allowed to judge others (read more here). So, can wheat and weeds meaningfully coexist? The short answer is “no.”

But, here’s where the analogy stops – wheat can only ever be wheat, and weeds can only ever be weeds. In nature, there is no metamorphic process that transforms weeds into wheat. But, in the spiritual world, there is a transformation from departing the kingdom of darkness and entering the kingdom of light.

There are many things in this world that good Christian people would rather not associate with. But, if other Christians hadn’t influenced our weedy lives once upon a time, we would still be, well, in the weeds.

We were not placed on this earth merely to create comfortable lives for ourselves. Jesus said we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). If the world isn’t giving you any trouble, then there’s cause for concern. Why are you fitting in so well?

Today, make a list of the weedy people in your life. This is not your Hit List. This is your Prayer List. Pray for these weedy folks.

Then, take a minute and write a Thank You card to someone who helped you out of the weeds. Don’t send an email. Write a note, address it and stick a stamp on it. (The average person gets something personal in the mail only once every seven weeks!)

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Keeping Up with the Joneses or with Jesus

By Allen White

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:18-23

Two different groups of people heard the parable. Only one group got the explanation. The crowd heard the story, and then went home. The disciples stayed around and asked questions about what Jesus meant.

The crowd was made up mostly of the hard soil. The seed of God’s Word was sown, but they didn’t understand it. It was snatched away.

The disciples, however, came out of the crowd to get the meaning. They asked the question and got the answer. They were fertile ground. They were teachable – not distracted, not uninterested, not lacking understanding.

Most of us understand the Parable of the Sower as each person representing a small plot of soil – hard, rocky, thorny or fertile. Hard soil would be atheists. Rocky soil would be people with big problems that keep them away from Jesus. Thorny soil represents people with too many toys or misaligned priorities. Then, there’s fertile soil – church-going, Bible-believing, dynamic, exuberant believers like you and me. Are we?

Most of us are probably more rocky or thorny than we care to admit. Don’t get me wrong. There’s good soil in there. But, we’ve allowed problems, worries, possessions and recreation to get in the way.
What’s getting in the way of you fully embracing the Truth of God’s Word in your life and putting it into action? If reading the Bible has become yada, yada, yada, maybe it’s time to hear things from a different angle.

Let a book like Radical by David Platt or Crazy Love by Francis Chan give you a new point of view on God’s Word. If you’re focus is on keeping up with the Joneses rather than keeping up with Jesus, it’s time to weed your garden.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Your God Is Too Small

By Allen White

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

   “You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
   you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
   they hardly hear with their ears,
   and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
   hear with their ears,
   understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.”

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. Matthew 13:14-17

Driving a familiar stretch of road doesn’t require much thought. You know every curve and every bend in the road. Mentally, you might even check out and drive it on autopilot. Then, you wonder a few miles later, “How did I get here already?”

Once upon a time, you had to consult a map or GPS to discover this route. Now, you know it like the back of our hand.

Once upon a time, you couldn’t think of anything else but getting together with a special someone in your life. You gave him or her your full attention. You were fascinated at how you could finish each other’s sentences. Now, things are familiar. You know exactly what they’re going to say…do you have to hear it again?

Often familiarity breeds contempt. What was once an exhilarating discovery has now become “Here we go again.” For some of us, sacred things have also become familiar.

I remember a time in my life when I couldn’t get enough of the Word of God. I devoured my Bible. It is so highlighted and marked up that I can’t even use it now. But, after a while the Word of God became familiar. Bible reading can also go on autopilot. What happened?

Danger lurks when we come to believe we have it all figured out. Whether we try to text and drive or neglect our spouses, we’re headed for a wreck.

The religious leaders and others of Jesus’ day believed they had God all figured out. They felt their understanding was so complete, there was nothing else to learn. Their knowledge got in the way of their learning.

For those of us who grew up in church, we have a similar problem. All of those years in Sunday school give a sense that we’ve got it all covered. The old, old story seems sort of old. But, a childhood understanding of the Truth of God’s Word is insufficient to lead our adult lives.

Sure, Noah and the ark hasn’t changed. But, how do you reconcile that with “Noah got drunk”? (Genesis 9:21-27). We didn’t have a flannel graph lesson for that story.

Now that we’ve faced a certain amount of disappointment and unmet expectations, how do we trust God as an adult? We know what we’re supposed to believe, but what do we really believe?

If we think we’ve got the message of the Bible down pat, we might just fall into the category of “hearing but never understanding…ever seeing but never perceiving.” If we can listen to sermon after sermon, Sunday after Sunday and it makes no impact on our lives, it’s not necessarily the preacher’s fault. If the once fertile ground of our hearts has begun to harden, the Truth will just sit on the surface and have no effect.

But, there’s a way to avoid all of this. Rather than just taking in the Word with eyes and ears, the prophet added one more vital sense: our hearts. “They might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Our heads may understand academically, but what do our hearts understand?

When we allow God’s Word to speak deeply into our lives, we gain a new understanding of the things of God. Our life experiences add a richness to our understanding of how God works. When we once thought God would solve all of our problems, we later accept He will be with us no matter what – and that’s good enough.

How does God’s Word affect you lately? Does it inspire you to move ahead? Does it hit you right between the eyes on a failure in your life? Does God’s Word convict you of meaningless distractions and challenge you toward meaningful work?
If God’s Word is in one ear and out the other, the problem doesn’t lie with your ears. It’s a heart condition.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Asking Questions or Skimming the Surface

By Allen White

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. Matthew 13:1-13

Why did the disciples receive the secrets of the kingdom, but not the crowd? The disciples asked. The crowd didn’t.

The crowd heard an interesting story and went home. The disciples stayed and asked. Jesus gave them the kingdom. The crowd didn’t get it. The disciples would end up with abundance. The crowd would be left with scarcity.

The crowd didn’t hear or understand. We might think, “That’s unfair.” Let me remind you, we don’t want fair when it comes to spiritual things. Fair means we are punished for all of our sins. Grace blows fairness off the map. Grace is undeserved. We need what we don’t deserve. We don’t need fair.

The crowd could have heard and understood, if they had stayed. They heard Jesus’ introduction, but they left before the points were made. Maybe they were confused. Maybe they weren’t interested. Maybe they had places to go.

Jesus wasn’t being exclusive as much as He was efficient. He taught the interested learners. Jesus didn’t case His pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Just like He instructed the disciples to find the man of peace (read more here), Jesus wasn’t pulling the unripe fruit from the tree.

We have a choice with God and His Church – we can be part of the crowd or we can be disciples. We can take the message at face value or we can dig for its meaning for our lives. We can run out the door or we can stick around and build relationships. Better yet, we can get in a group where we have the time and space in our lives to see how God’s Word applies to us.

If you’re familiar with this chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, you know that in a couple of days we will get to the Jesus’ explanation of the parable. You and I understand what Jesus was talking about in the parable of the sower. We understand because the disciples stuck around to ask the question.
What do you need to ask? What are you just assuming? What do you know? What do you lack? How do you get what you need?

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Whose Opinion Matters to You?

By Allen White

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50

Either Jesus was starting some sort of cult or He was just a hot head who didn’t like to be interrupted. Actually, He was neither.

Unlike a cult, Jesus doesn’t ask His followers to abandon their families to follow Him. He wasn’t brainwashing anybody. In fact, several times in the Bible entire households come to faith together (Acts 18:8).

And, Jesus wasn’t irritated at the unannounced visit by His family. He wasn’t dishonoring his family. Jesus was proving a point.

When He asked the question, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He suddenly had their attention. Jesus took this moment to redefine how the kingdom of God interfaced with families.

There is no more important relationship than a person’s relationship with God. Ahead of marriage, family or extended family, God comes first. Now, it’s a huge plus if family members have also put Christ first in their lives. But, whether they have or not, we give deference to Christ, before we heed the wishes of family. But, this is not license to become a jerk for Jesus.

Ultimately, in Heaven our families of origin will disappear completely. The Bible says we’ll be just like the angels, who aren’t married (Matthew 22:30). Now, according to the account in Heaven is For Real, people will recognize each other. I guess we’ll see.

Our families are important. The Bible has much to say about honoring our spouses (Ephesians 5) and our parents (Deuteronomy 5:16). This is not permission to blow out your marriage while you burn out for Jesus. I’ve seen that happen, and God wasn’t honored in the process.

The question really comes down to influence. Whose opinions matter the most in our lives? Do we follow God or follow our mamma? Do we live to please our Heavenly Father or our earthly father? What are we trying to prove?

If what we’re hearing from God through His Word and through prayer seems to conflict with what we’re getting from our significant other, which way do we go? Our best bet is going back on our knees for more guidance.

Few things in our life will call for us to disappoint our spouse in order to obey God. God works in the whole of our lives to make all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). Even if your spouse is a non-believer, the Bible says to stay in the relationship in hopes of winning your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:14), unless it’s an abusive situation – get out!

How does your faith sometimes conflict with your family relationships? Why? What’s out of line? Is your thinking clear in what you believe God wants you to do? Or is there a selfish part of you that’s getting in the way? Or maybe it’s a fearful part?

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Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Kick the Habit (No Nuns Were Harmed in the Writing of This Devotional)

By Allen White

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
Matthew 12:43-45

I was first introduced to this concept as a child at summer camp. They weren’t messing around. Fortunately, most people will never have this exact experience, but there is a principle here.

I have a friend. We’ll call him “Pat,” because that’s his name. Pat was a three pack a day smoker for 25 years. His wife never let him smoke inside. So in the middle of the night, even during the winter, Pat wondered outside to smoke. Pat decided to quit.

He quit. Cold turkey, he never smoked again. Then, Pat started to gain weight – a lot of weight. After a year or so of not smoking and overeating, he went to see his doctor. The doctor examined him and advised, “Pat, if you don’t stop gaining weight, I’m going to ask you to start smoking again.” Apparently, one road was a slower death than the other.

Most of us have tried diets where we only obsessed over what we couldn’t eat. There was nothing to fill the gap. Our stomachs were swept clean while the Oreo demons lurked nearby.

Stopping a bad habit without a replacement is sort of like jerking our foot off the clutch without giving the engine any gas. You just don’t get anywhere.

This is why I’m a big advocate of Celebrate Recovery. While the evidence of the battle is found in a life-controlling problem, the battleground is in our minds. Sheer resistance can get us a little relief, but long term success involves a shift in our thinking. If we forsake one habit, but don’t change our thinking, we resort to a new habit of some kind. Nothing has changed.

We can even pour ourselves into admirable habits – over-exercising, over-working and even over-volunteering. These imbalances produce great accolades. But, once a junkie…unless you change your thinking.

Where are you stuck? What do you feel is impossible to change? Prayer + Support + Hard Work = Change. But, forsaking a bad habit without changing your thinking will only lead to another habit. It’s your life. What do you want it to be?

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

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.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Have You Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

By Allen White

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:30-37
Words are powerful things. Words can injure. Words can heal. Words can bring success. Words can predict failure.

People often scoff at the power of positive thinking. If you’ve embraced negative thinking, how is that working out for you?

Considering that ultimately we will all be judged for our words, there is certainly a case here for biting our tongues. The condition of our hearts is judged by our words. Sure we can fake it for a while, but when we get squeezed by this world, our words will betray what’s inside of us.

The most troublesome matter regarding our words is this idea of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. It sounds incurable. It sounds daunting. To some, it even sounds like something they might accidentally do and then get locked out for good. What does it mean?

The Holy Spirit came to earth to work on what’s inside of all of us. His mission is this: “When [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8-11). Through each person’s conscience, the Holy Spirit activates an awareness of what’s right and wrong (Romans 9:1).

Over the years, I have heard activists from various persuasions blame evangelical Christians for making sinful people feel bad about themselves. They have a point. It’s not any believer’s job to judge other people, but to extend God’s love to them.

But, if every evangelical Christian in the world shut up (imagine that), people who are slaves to sin would still feel convicted of their sins. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is also working on them. No one can escape it.

While plenty of people use Jesus’ name in vain, we really don’t hear much swearing that involves the Holy Spirit. So what is this blasphemy? I believe blaspheming the Holy Spirit comes down to continually ignoring His voice and refusing to seek forgiveness for our sins.

Every person who dies in sin and hasn’t sought salvation spends eternity separated from God. It’s the unpardonable sin – a pardon was available, but they never requested it.

Who do you know that believes God has given up on them? As long as they have breath in their bodies, the Holy Spirit is still working on them. They may have lost sensitivity to Him years ago, but He’s still right there. Lift them up in prayer. Pray for their sensitivities to God’s Spirit to be heightened. Pray that they get themselves in enough of a mess that they’ll cry out to God.

Now, what about you? What are you telling yourself these days? Are your words positive and uplifting or are they negative and defeating? What are you saying to those around you? As a believer, the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you (Romans 8:9-11). Tap into that and see how your words might change.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Two Religions of the South

By Allen White

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. Matthew 12:22-29

In the South, there are two major religions – Christianity and football. Folks are loyal to their churches and they’re loyal to their teams. In South Carolina that team is either Clemson or USC.

Every once in a while, you will encounter a house divided. Whether the spouses attended the universities or not, one wears orange and purple, while the other wears garnet and black. For some, it’s a joke. For others, it’s downright blasphemy.

I even have a friend who has degrees from both schools. I asked if he has trouble getting along with himself. Now, he is a licensed counselor, so maybe that answers the question.

The ordinary people who witnessed Jesus’ miracles jumped to a conclusion: this was the Son of David, the Messiah. The Pharisees wouldn’t allow that conclusion. They scoffed, “His power must come from the devil.” But, Jesus called them on it.

Let’s say you were running a business called Satan, Inc. (don’t go there). Your job as CEO of Satan, Inc. is to steal, kill and destroy as many folks as possible (John 10:10). Demons, fear and insecurity are in your arsenal. You can easily wreak havoc on the population. Then, one day you get a crazy idea.

You decide to flaunt your power by taking a notoriously demon-possessed person and casting his demons out. While the crowd was amazed, you now freed a man who was once under your control and you have a few demons out of a job. It’s not good for business at Satan, Inc.

If Jesus was Beelzebub, then He would have been in the business of installation, not removal. Demons go in, influence goes up at Satan, Inc. Demons get cast out, influence goes down. Jesus was bad for Satan’s business. But, He was also bad for the Pharisees’ business.

Jesus wasn’t the knight in shining armor that the Pharisees expected. He didn’t show up on the scene to relieve the Jews from Roman oppression. Besides, if Jesus came to fulfill the Law, then what would the Pharisees hold over people’s heads? Jesus didn’t fit into their system. Their house was divided.

But, how can you divide yourself between godly things and godly things? Weren’t the religious people godly? Then, what was Jesus? Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). What does that make the Pharisees?

You can’t mix different beliefs just to create something that works for you. In the end, you create a house divided. This runs deeper than football allegiances, though football runs pretty deep.

You can’t serve God for salvation, yet resist Him when it comes to obedience. You can’t trust Jesus for Heaven, yet continue to nurture unsurrendered parts of your heart. You can’t just love Jesus for the convenient and the comfortable. He often calls us to inconvenience and sacrifice. Anything less than a full commitment is actually no commitment at all.

Where is your personal house divided? Are you a different person in business than you are in church? How does God affect your life on a daily basis? Do you consult Him? Do you read His Word?

I’m not trying to make you feel bad. If your answers were mostly “no” in that last paragraph, I just want you to understand that you’re missing out on so much of what God has for you. The distractions of this world have put up a dividing wall in your heart. A divided life is a distracted life. It’s a stressful life. It’s a heavy burden. Jesus wants you to be free. What’s keep you from finding your freedom?

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Surviving Other People’s Nonsense

By Allen White

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
   the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
   and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
   no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
   and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
Matthew 12:15-21

After the confrontation with the religious leaders over the Sabbath, Jesus knew they were plotting against Him (Matthew 12:14). Jesus knew that one way or the other, His life would be offered to pay the price of our sins. This was His mission on earth. But, this was not the day for that. He left.

Jesus didn’t fight. Jesus didn’t challenge the Pharisees any further. He just left.

When people run out of reasonable arguments, they often turn angry and emotional. I witnessed a classic example of this a few years back.

Two relatively mature Christian men got into a debate in their Sunday school class over whether or not you could lose your salvation. One was a strong advocate in eternal security – once saved always saved. The other held to, I guess, eternal insecurity and the fear of backsliding.

As they ran out of biblical reasons for their theological positions, the debate turned into a dispute. They maligned each others’ character. They got red in the face. In my opinion, I think they were both on the verge of losing their salvation (just kidding).

What made sense to one was nonsense to the other. Once they had lost their senses, well, it got ugly.

Jesus knew Who He was. In Scripture prophecy clearly laid out who the Son of God was exactly. His mission was precise. Jesus didn’t come merely to win theological arguments. He also didn’t come to die on the wrong day.

Jesus wasn’t obsessed with what the Pharisees were thinking or doing. He focused on His life’s purpose.

We live in a world filled with nonsense. Christians are at odds by majoring in the minors. The devil is perfectly happy with Christians fighting each other. They have no energy left to fight him.

When someone gets in your face, are you confident in who you are? As a child of God, are you aware that you don’t need to win every battle? You don’t need to fight every fight.

Rather than hanging around with the Pharisees and proving He was right, Jesus chose to do good. He chose not to make Himself sick over the Pharisees’ nonsense. Instead He healed the ill. Often it’s better to be good than to be right. This is the way of love.

Who’s getting your goat these days? Who wants to debate merely for the sake of argument? Should you stay in it or walk away? Sometimes the best thing is to do some good.

Years ago, Dr. Carl Menninger was asked in a psychological conference what he would do if a distraught person on the verge of suicide contacted him. The audience expected Dr. Menninger to respond by advising intense psycho-therapy. Instead, he said, “I would tell the person to go to the other side of the tracks, find someone in need, and help them.”

Who needs your help today?

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Take a God-Honoring Break

By Allen White

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Matthew 12:1-14

Nowadays, it seems we have the opposite Sabbath issue. What do we not do on the Sabbath? The religious leaders were concerned about Jesus and His disciples performing “work” on the Sabbath by picking a handful of grain or healing a person. Today, we barely know what a Sabbath even is.

There’s not a day of the week that we can’t work, shop or eat in a restaurant. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to head back to the days of the blue laws where you couldn’t do anything on a Sunday. I’m all in favor of the 24 hour Wal-mart. I’ve been there at 2 am.

In Jesus’ day, the Sabbath was lost in a labyrinth of rules. The one day reserved for relaxation, recreation and relationship became a stressed-out mess of worry over whether a law was being broken. Today, we have the opposite problem.

Think about this – keeping the Sabbath is the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). Out of the Ten Commandments, more verses are devoted to Sabbath-keeping than to any of the other nine. The importance of a Sabbath ranks right up there with murder, adultery, theft and false testimony. The Sabbath is far more important than just an hour on Sunday.

We were created for a six day work week. If after working hard at creating the world over six days, God needed a day off. Are we better than God that we can work 24/7 with no repercussions?

Now, it’s one thing to have a day off from your job. It’s another thing to take a break from the pace of life in order to reconnect with your family and refresh yourself. Your Sabbath might involve a family outing. Your Sabbath might be a lazy day, where you don’t do much of anything. Your Sabbath might be gathering around the family TV and watching football together. Your Sabbath might be taking the battery out of your cell phone.

When do you give yourself some down time? If you can’t do a whole day, then start with half a day. When do you put your focus on your family? When do you get down on the floor and play with your kids? When do you sit on the porch and hold your spouse’s hand for no good reason at all, except that you love them?

We were made to work hard for six days – work, chores, household projects, errands. And, we were made for one day of rest. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath isn’t one more set of rules to follow. A Sabbath rest is God’s gift to us. It’s how we were designed.

As Clayton King recently said, “Refusing to work is laziness. Refusing to rest is disobedience.” What’s the first step you can take toward giving yourself a God-honoring break?

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Is God Pleased with Me?

By Allen White

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30

Trying to live up to God’s standard is a heavy burden. God’s law was never meant to champion success, but to display failure. Even the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who thought they had it all dialed in had to offer animal sacrifices for their sins.

There’s a big difference between a relationship based on conditions and a relationship based on love. In conditional relationships, we constantly wait for the other shoe to drop. The belief is we are only one mistake away from permanent failure. It’s a heavy burden.

Being in a relationship where you feel forced to avoid mistakes is an exhausting burden. It’s one thing to make a relationship work, but it’s another thing to live in the fear and frustration that you’ll never measure up.

But, if you live in a loving relationship, you understand that the other person loves and accepts you just the way you are. Sure, there are things that will make the relationship easier or more difficult, but you know that most things are not catastrophic.

Unconditional love says we are loved no matter what. Despite our circumstances, our past, our failures, our sin, our mistakes, our guilt and our shame, God will never, no not ever, give up on us (John 10:28). That’s a little hard to believe.

Often we feel a need to earn God’s grace. We’ve experienced too many free gifts with strings attached. The “no obligation” offers somehow end up coming with obligations. The promise of rest and an easy burden sounds too good to be true. Yet, this is what God desires for us.

There is a part of all of us that resists needing God as much as we really do. If we can actually do things right, then we don’t have to ask God for forgiveness. We don’t have to feel guilty. After all, we didn’t do anything wrong.

Yet, this kind of thinking and need for control actually misses the point. Right or wrong, good or bad, God loves us, and He always will. While there are certainly consequences for our actions, being rejected by God is not one of them.

Why are we working so hard to please someone who is already pleased with us? Some people work hard to please God so their lives will be problem-free. How well is that working? Problems come to every life no matter how you live it.

So, should we just live our lives any way we want to? Is that what God is leading you to do? Is that what’s truly in your heart? Living outside of God’s will places an equally heavy burden on our lives.

Jesus’ yoke is easy. (For more on yokes and God’s will, click here.) A poorly made yoke will gouge an animal’s neck and make the work excruciating. A life lived apart from God is a poorly made yoke. A legalistic, religious life also places a heavy burden on us. But, a properly made yoke makes the work much easier. Yes, there is work, but it’s meaningful work.

Do you question whether God is pleased with you? Are you doing or not doing things to secure God’s favor in your life? God’s favor is His grace – a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9).

God is pleased with you. Tell yourself that today.

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