Standing Strong (November 25)

November 25

Standing Strong 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 130:1-4 | Dan 1:1-2:23 | 1 Peter 3:8-4:6 | Proverbs 28:14

Today’s Scripture Focus: Daniel 1

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (Daniel 1:8-9 ESV).

Daniel is an example of integrity in the midst of a culture of compromise. His own people, the people of Judah, had drifted from God and were suffering the consequences of being under judgment: Nebuchadnezzar’s armies had taken them into exile. Still, the compromise and iniquity of Judah paled in comparison to the wickedness Daniel found in pagan Babylon. In the midst of this spiritual darkness, the integrity of Daniel and his friends stands as a beacon of light.

The depth of his integrity and unwillingness to compromise is seen already in the first chapter when he refuses the king’s food and wine. Offered the best the King had to offer, Daniel refused to compromise his principles. So he asked to be given vegetables and water.

God granted Daniel favor. His request was granted. His integrity was further rewarded by God’s favor in the good health Daniel and his friends enjoyed. Amazingly, his vegetarian diet was making him “better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food” (15).

God further blessed them with learning, skill and wisdom. Even at their young age and with this limited (though extensive) training, the king found them “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (20).

The world in our day needs men and women like Daniel who will be people of integrity–who will stand up for their beliefs at any cost. They too may expect the blessing of God to do great exploits for God. Daniel 11:32b (KJV): “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”

Heavenly Father, help me to stand strong and demonstrate integrity amidst the struggles and temptations of this world. Make me like Daniel, who refused to compromise and remained strong in his faith despite the pressures of the world around him. Amen.

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Unjust Suffering (Nov 24)

November 24

Unjust Suffering 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 129:1-8 | Ezekiel 47:1 – 48:35 | 1 Peter 2:11-3:17 | Proverbs 28:12-13 

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Peter 2:11 – 3:17

“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you may follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV).

Life isn’t always fair and it isn’t always easy. Suffering and persecution were an everyday reality for the readers of Peter’s letter.  They are a reality for many believers, even today. While the injustices and sufferings we face may pale in comparison with those suffered by Peter’s original readers, we all know the sting of injustice and suffering. But unjust suffering is no excuse for taking revenge, retaliation or cursing our persecutors. It is an opportunity to be a testimony to others of the life of Christ within us.

Jesus, in dealing with the unjust suffering of the cross, set the example for us: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (23). 

As we follow in Christ’s steps, we too can expect suffering (“to this you have been called”). As he was treated unfairly, so we can expect to be treated unfairly. How do we handle it? By drawing from the life we have in Christ. Jesus set the example and they key to getting through these times with our faith and testimony intact is his indwelling power and presence. Leaving the matter in God’s hands to judge justly is another key. He will take care of the injustice–that is his job, not mine.

Life may be difficult; it may be unfair. This should not surprise us.  These are opportunities to grow in our faith and opportunities to be a testimony to the world around us. As they see our Christ-like attitudes in the most difficult of situations, lives are touched by the power of the gospel.

Jesus, thank you for enduring the suffering of the cross. Thank you for showing us how to persevere through the most difficult of times. Help me as I follow in your steps. Amen.

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The Good Scissors (Nov 23)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 23

The Good Scissors 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 128:1-6 | Ezekiel 45:13-46:24 | 1 Pet 1:13-2:10 | Proverbs 28:11

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Peter 1:13-2:10

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written; “Be holy, because I am Holy” (1 Peter 1:15 NIV).

I’m sure every mom has them. My mom did: the good scissors.

One life’s most important early lessons was, “don’t use the good scissors.”  One of the most awkward moments came when you were asked the question, “Did you just use my good scissors?”

The good scissors were not for common use–they were set apart for a special use.  As important as craft projects were to us as children, they did not rank at the level of “good scissor use.”  The good scissors were for cutting cloth and sewing projects only.

In a similar way, God has called us from common use–the life of sin–and set us apart for his special purposes–a life of holiness.

Sin dulls our edges spiritually and keeps us from effective service for God.

Holiness is “being set apart.”  We have been called “out of darkness into his wonderful light” (2:9).  As such we are God’s chosen people, his royal priesthood, a holy nation belonging to God so that we may declare His praises (2:9).  We certainly can dull our edges by going back to darkness–but we are created for something greater.

You are his good scissors.  You are set apart to declare his praises and serve him.  Holy living keeps your edge sharp and effective for His service and praise.

Heavenly Father, I give myself to you as a living sacrifice. Fill me with your Spirit, and help me to walk in a way that pleases you. By your grace, teach me to grow in obedience—becoming more and more like Jesus. Amen.

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Living Hope, Unspeakable Joy (Nov 22)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 22

Living Hope, Unspeakable Joy

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 127:1-5 | Ezekiel 44:1-45:12 | 1 Pet 1:1-12 | Proverbs 28:8-10

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Peter 1:1-12

“He has given us new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV).

Peter’s readers were going through difficult times. In the midst of all that they were going through they held on to a living hope. 

They knew that Christ had been raised from the dead. Hopelessness had turned to hope in the most impossible way. They knew they had an eternal hope and had every reason to find hope even in their present circumstances knowing that God had not deserted them. He was at work bringing good even of their tough times.

They also knew they had an inheritance “that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you.” This life is only the beginning of the life that is eternal. They will be rewarded for their faithfulness. It will be worth it all.

They also had the hope that God was using their present difficulties to refine their faith and prove it genuine. “These have come so that your faith of greater worth that gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

They had the hope of Christ’s return– a day they longed for–the anticipation of which brought inexpressible and glorious joy.

They had hope because they had an eternal perspective. Looking only to their circumstances might bring only hopelessness, but looking to God and his eternal purposes they found joy and the hope that enabled them to press forward in faith.

Keep your eyes on the goal and press forward in hope. Look to Jesus. He will be with you each step of the way.

Lord, help me to focus on the living hope I have in you. I am tempted to get bogged down in the tough stuff of this life, but so need to keep it all in eternal perspective. Remind me that these light and momentary afflictions are not worth being compared to the glory that will one day be revealed. Amen.

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A Healing Community (Nov 21)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 21

A Healing Community

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 126:4-6 | Ezekiel 42:1-43:27 | James 5:1-20 | Proverbs 28:6-7

Today’s Scripture Focus: James 5:1-20

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. [14] Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:13-14 NIV).

James describes the church as a healing community: A place where the broken and wounded can come to find people filled with faith and love. It is a place where needs are met through prayer; It is a place where “it’s OK” to “not be O.K.”; where people are honest and transparent about their true condition–no need to cover the truth.

It is a place of prayer. “Is any of you in trouble? He should pray” (13); “Pray for each other”(16); “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (16). Whatever the need, whatever the trouble, the praying community takes the need in faith to God.

It is a place of praise and worship. “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (13). God manifests his presence in times of praise and worship. In his presence, needs are met, broken hearts find healing, and lives are changed.

It is a place of healing. Church leaders anoint with oil as the community joins together to pray for the sick. Their prayers are not half-hearted or double-minded. They pray prayers of faith and expect God to bring healing.” And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”

It is a place of honesty and authenticity. People do not cover over their sins or pretend they don’t have problems. The healing community is a place of confession. Often the healing we seek can’t be released until sin is confessed and dealt with. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

A true healing community, as described by James, is a dynamic church that will impact the world they live in. It all begins with people coming in their brokenness and finding Christ to be all they need. Open your heart to Jesus today in a healing community of faith–allow him to meet your deepest needs.

Lord, make us a church that provides a place for the broken and hurting to bring their need. Make us a church that prays, and hopes, and expects God to do amazing things. Make us a church that is a place of grace where we feel safe to share our brokenness and sin without fear of shame and condemnation. Make us a place of joyful praise and thanksgiving. Make us a healing community. Amen.

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Lord, Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise (Nov 20)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 20

Lord Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 126:1-3 | Ezekiel 40:28-41:26 | James 4:1-17 | Proverbs 28:3-5

Today’s Scripture Focus: James 4:1-17

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14 ESV).

I worked for many years with a pastor that had many colorful expressions from his Kentucky upbringing. As I was leaving the church each day, I’d say something like, “See ya.” He’d always reply the same way, “Lord Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise.” I just wrote it off as another one of those expressions that I don’t really get, and thought it was probably not worth the energy to pursue.

I remember not longer after that running into this passage in James, and realizing it probably was one key to understanding the: “Lord willin’” part of the expression.

But my first summer preaching at a camp in Eastern Kentucky brought light to the rest of that expression. I had to drive up a creek bed about 1/4 of a mile in order to get to the campground (a creek bed with water that could rise quickly in a rain storm). Then I understood the “creek risin’” part. Sometimes there are unplanned circumstances that keep us from our planned destination. God opens and closes doors. Sometimes unexpected circumstances become “risin’ creeks” that call for a humble readjustment of our plans.

God’s ways are not our ways, his plans are higher than ours. In all of our planning, we must have the attitude, “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” Our lives sometimes take unexpected twists and turns–all a part of his path.

When we pray and when we seek his will, “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise” is a good attitude for us to have. We humbly bow our knees to Him and his plans for us. After all, his plans for us are good ones–even when he surprises us with an occasional “creek risin’” that signals a change of plans.

Keep looking to him. In humility seek him and his plans. Recognize that even our best laid plans are always subject to God’s readjustments.

Lord, in all I plan to do today, I recognize that you may have other plans. Guide my steps, open doors, and help me to make the most of every opportunity. May even the interruptions prove to be fruitful encounters. Amen.

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Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires (Nov 19)

From Open Up Your Heart by jeff Syverson

November 19

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 125:1-5 | Ezekiel 39:1-40:27 | James 2:18-3:18 | Proverbs 28:2

Today’s Scripture Focus: James 2:18-3:18

“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10 ESV).

The tongue is a powerful force for evil or for good. James encourages us to be people who bless rather than curse with our tongues. He does so by illustrating the power of the tongue.

He describes the tongue like a small bit that can turn and guide a large horse. He says it is like the small rudder of a ship that can turn the whole ship and set its course. It is like a spark that sets a whole forest ablaze.

I think we all know the truth of those word pictures. Anyone who has been the victim of gossip knows how a story spreads and gets more outrageous as the process goes on. Truly, gossip is a sin with “forest-fire” like qualities. It gets out of control and creates great devastation.

He also describes the tongue as a poison. Many words hurt, some are deadly to the spirit of an individual. This is especially true of the curses we hold on to (words that have wounded us and we can’t seem to ever leave them behind–at least subconsciously). These have a long-lasting negative effect on our lives.

He points out the inconsistency of a Christian who blesses one moment and then curses the next. It’s like a fig tree bearing olives, or a grapevine producing figs, or a spring pouring out both fresh and salt water.

Yet for all the devastation the tongue can bring, the tongue can be a powerful force for good. Use your tongue to encourage, to bless, to pray, to witness and to praise. Allow your tongue to “put out fires” instead of igniting them.

Lord, I present the members of my body to you today, including my tongue, I dedicate them to your use. May my tongue bless, encourage, witness and praise—building up others rather than tearing them down. Enable me to guard my tongue. Let no careless word spark unintended wildfires. Amen.

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Mirror, Mirror (Nov 18)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 18

Mirror, Mirror

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 124:6-8 | Ezekiel 37:1-38:23 | James 1:19-2:17 | Proverbs 28:1

Today’s Scripture Focus: James 1:19-2:17

“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25 NIV).

Did you look in the mirror this morning? What did you see?

Each morning I roll out of bed, and begin my morning ritual. One of the first things that I do is look in a mirror. Usually that is enough to scare me into showering, shaving and getting ready for the day. It’s a daily reminder that I’m not ready to go out into the world yet –-and they certainly aren’t ready for me looking like this.

In a similar way, I need to look into God’s mirror each day. As I look into his word, he shows me areas I need to change, places in need of ongoing transformation. This needed daily ritual gets me ready for the challenges of the day.

Furthermore, James reminds us that we had better apply the Word of God. Imagine looking in a mirror and not changing a thing about your appearance. You see that your hair looks like it has been combed with an eggbeater, but you just don’t quite get around to combing it. To most of us that is unthinkable. Yet we do it all the time. God shows us things in his word and we fail to apply them in our daily lives. James points out to us in this passage how silly that really is.

We need the mirror of the word to rebuke, correct, train and equip us. We need it daily. And we need to remember daily to apply the text to our lives–then we will be blessed in what we do (1:25).

Lord, I open my heart to your word today. Speak to me. Show me the changes I need to make to get ready for this day. Let your word encourage, teach, rebuke, correct and bring transformation. Amen.

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Wisdom (Nov 17)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

November 17

Wisdom 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 124:1-5 | Ezekiel 35:1-36:38 | James 1:1-18 | Proverbs 27:23-27

Today’s Scripture Focus: James 1:5

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5 NIV)

God loves to give us his wisdom. He wants us to ask him for it. He never gets tired of our coming back again and again to ask for it. He never faults us for asking over and over again.

He lays down two conditions. We must ask for it. James tells us in chapter 4: “you do not have because you do not ask.” We often trust our own wisdom and neglect to ask God for his wisdom.

The other condition is faith. “But let him ask in faith, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

God is not going to waste his wisdom on someone who doesn’t have the faith to put it into action. The double-minded person wavers between what he knows in his head he should do, and what he wants to do in his heart. He wavers between the wisdom of God and his own desires. Where there is no willingness to follow God’s wisdom–when there is only instability and wavering–we have not met the condition of faith. We should not expect wisdom from God–or anything else for that matter.

Set your mind fully on knowing and doing the will of God and ask him for it. He promises to give such a person all the wisdom that they need, anytime they need it.

Lord, again I stand in need of your wisdom. Thank you for your willingness to hear my repeated requests and answer with the wisdom I need. Amen.

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Through Us and In Us (Nov 16)

November 16

Through Us and In Us

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 123:1-4 | Ezekiel 33:1-34:31 | Hebrews 13:1-25 | Proverbs 27:21-22

Today’s Scripture Focus: Hebrews 13:1-25

Hebrews 13:20-21 (NIV) May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, [21] equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

As the letter comes to an end, the writer of Hebrews gives a blessing. He first blesses them by asking that God would provide everything they need to do the work he has called them to do– everything they need for doing his will.

What tasks has God given you to do today? Do you believe that God will give you everything you need to do his will in all that he calls you to do today? He is always there to provide everything we need if we rely on him for it: the strength, the initiative, the follow through, the gifting, the wisdom, the love, the joy, the resources.

But the blessing goes further, it is not just a blessing for God to give us everything we need to work “through us,” it is also a blessing for him to work “in us.” “And may he work in us what is pleasing to him.” There are areas in each of our lives that require God’s ongoing work of transformation.

The blessing for God to work “through us” and the blessing for God to work “in us” are not isolated blessings. Most of that which will enable us to do his will and work through us, will be provided by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit “in us”. As he changes us from the inside out, he prepares us for each and everything thing he intends to accomplish “through us.”

May God work “in you” today to equip you for everything he intends to accomplish “through you” today. Amen.

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