The Power of Little Things

By Dick Innes
The Daily Encourager - InJesus.com

"Calling the Twelve to him, he [Jesus] sent them out two by two" (Mark 6:7, niv).

Bridge builder, Charles Eliet, had a contract to build a suspension bridge across the Niagara River. One of the first problems he faced was how to stretch his first cable across the wide expanse of raging waters. If a boat tried to cross the river it would be swept over the falls. Eliet thought of a simple idea. If a kite could be flown to the opposite bank using a light cord, a stronger cord could be attached and pulled across, then a stronger cord pulled across and so on until a cable could be attached and drawn across.

Eliet called for a kite flying contest and a young man named Homan Walsh succeeded on his second attempt. Charles Eliet's simple plan worked and the bridge was built.

In life some of us often feel we don't have a very important role to play. What we do seems so insignificant. It isn't so. Every Christian has an important part to play. It all adds up in the numerous "little things" we are called to do every day.

Jesus started spreading the gospel to the whole world by simply sending his disciples out two by two! So, never underestimate the importance of what God has called you to do. The important thing is to keep at it--day by day!

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank you that you use ordinary people like me to do your work on earth. Help me to realize that my part--no matter how small--is a vital part of the whole picture. Help me always to be faithful and responsible and never let down on doing my part. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


A Harvest Worth The Effort

Author Unknown

Life just isn’t much fun right now. In the last two weeks, there have been some high points, but the lows have been outweighing the highs. I have to remind myself daily that I don’t live by sight, but by faith.

If that’s where you are today, I’m there with you, but more importantly, Jesus is there too. We are in the “process” of life. That may involve a conflict at home, or with someone in leadership in your life. Or you may feel that your talent isn’t being used or appreciated. In my case, the lows are coming from a long-term friendship that is being tested severely.

No matter what the “process” looks like in our lives, it is time to “practice, pray, and persevere.” We put into practice the things we have learned (James 1:22), we pray unceasingly (Philippians 4:6,7), and we persevere and endure until we are perfect and complete (James 1:4).

In spite of my struggles, I am encouraged and challenged as I look into the Word for answers. The highs seem to fall under “exceedingly, abundantly beyond all I could ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). And the lows are covered by “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial that you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12). And, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his earthly father?” (Hebrews 12:7)

In other words, the “process” does include His blessings out of His great storehouse of grace and mercy (Ephesians 3). It also includes persecution from the adversary as we move forward in our walk with the Lord (1 Peter 4), and the discipline and correction of our loving heavenly Father (Hebrews 12).

And, His Word also promises us His presence, the Holy Spirit.

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him. All this I have spoken while still with you, but the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 14:23, 26, 27, John 16:12)

If the “process” is really difficult for you today, you are not alone. The Holy Spirit is there also—teaching, comforting, and guiding us into all Truth. But the “process” requires discipline: responding to His hand of correction AND His hand of direction.

“No discipline is pleasant at the time, but for those who have been trained by it, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.” Hebrews 12:7

No matter what we feel, we can discipline our minds to rejoice and focus on true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy things. (Philippians 4:8). We can also count it joy when we encounter these trials (James 1:2). And, I’m ready to take both of those steps right now.

The “process” may be hard, but if we will practice, pray, and persevere in the midst of His glorious presence, the harvest of righteousness and peace WILL be worth the effort. We have His Word on it.


The "great pillars of human happiness"

By Rebecca Hagelin

In his 1971 song "Imagine," John Lennon asks us to envision a secular utopia. There's no heaven, no hell. Peace and harmony reign, and a global "brotherhood of man" flourishes. Amid this blissful state of affairs, of course, we find "no religion."

Lennon was a talented songwriter, but when it came to theology, he was 180 degrees off. A world free of religion would certainly have no heaven. But there would be plenty of hell -- and right here on earth.

This isn't simply the opinion of a lady who takes her faith seriously. A large and growing body of social science research shows what a huge difference religious faith makes in our everyday lives. It's no overstatement, in fact, to say that religion makes civil society possible. Without it, just about every indicator of human misery would be off the charts.

For a concise yet comprehensive catalog of just how bad things could be, take a look at a startling new paper by Pat Fagan, The Heritage Foundation's premier social-science researcher. In it, he sifts through countless studies that show the remarkable effect of religion on marriage, divorce, childrearing, drug/alcohol abuse, out-of-wedlock births -- even mental and physical health.

Start with an area near and dear to my heart -- family relations. My husband and I have raised our three teenagers in a loving, religious household. Our faith in God has sustained us in good times and bad, and it has been a steady source of inspiration, comfort and encouragement. So I was particularly pleased to read the following in Fagan's paper:

"Compared with mothers who did not consider religion important, those who deemed religion to be very important rated their relationship with their child significantly higher … When mothers and their children share the same level of religious practice, they experience better relationships with one another. For instance, when 18-year-olds attended religious services with approximately the same frequency as their mothers, the mothers reported significantly better relationships with them, even many years later … Moreover, mothers who became more religious throughout the first 18 years of their child's life reported a better relationship with that child, regardless of the level of their religious practice before the child was born."

The same holds true for fathers: "Compared with fathers who had no religious affiliation, those who attended religious services frequently were more likely to monitor their children, praise and hug their children, and spend time with their children. In fact, fathers' frequency of religious attendance was a stronger predictor of paternal involvement in one-on-one activities with children than were employment and income -- the factors most frequently cited in the academic literature on fatherhood."

Couples are far more likely to stay together if they're religiously active, Fagan found. Indeed, the risk of divorce more than doubles for couples who stop practicing their religion. Religiously active couples also report greater happiness and satisfaction with their marriages. The incidence of domestic violence drops, too. Men who attended religious services at least weekly were more than 50 percent less likely to commit an act of violence against their partners than were peers who attended only once a year or less.

How about adolescent sexual behavior? Good news here, as well. Fagan notes that traditional values and religious beliefs were among the most common factors teens cite to explain why they are abstaining from sex. And religion affects out-of-wedlock childbearing: Compared with those who consider themselves "very religious," those who were "not at all religious" are two to three times more likely to have a child outside of marriage. In addition, the use of cigarettes, and the abuse of alcohol and drugs, drops significantly among those who are religiously active.

Religious is also a great help to those who never marry or have children. "A review of the research shows that religion significantly affects the level of an individual's happiness and overall sense of well-being," Fagan writes. "In the vast majority of the studies reviewed, an increase in religious practice was associated with having greater hope and a greater sense of purpose in life." In addition, people who are religiously active are at a much lower risk of depression and suicide. They also tend to live longer.

None of this would surprise our Founding Fathers, who knew that no people could be self-governing without religion. In his Farewell Address, George Washington referred to religion and morality as the "great pillars of human happiness" and noted: "Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

As you head to church -- and, I hope, in the weeks that follow -- remember the indispensable role that religion plays in free society. We've been told by the highest authority, after all, that if we seek first the kingdom of God "all these things will be given to you as well." In a way, Jesus was telling us -- almost 2,000 years before John Lennon wrote a single note -- how to achieve a true "brotherhood of man." Imagine.

Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation and author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.


When The Children Cry

By White Lion

Little child
Dry your crying eyes
How can I explain
The fear you feel inside
´cause you were born

Into this evil world
Where man is killing man
and no one knows just why

What have we become
Just look what we have done
All that we destroyed
You must build again

When the children cry
Let them know we tried
´cause when the children sing
The new world begins

Little child
You must show the way
To a better day
For all the young
´cause you were born
For the world to see
That we all can live
In light and peace

No more presidents
And all the wars will end
One united world under God

When the children cry
Let them know we tried
´cause when the children sing
The new world begins

What have we become
Just look what we have done
All that we destroyed
You must build again

No more presidents
And all the wars will end
One united world under god

When the children cry
Let them know we tried
´cause when the children fight
Then we know it ain´t right
When the children break
Let them know we´re awake
´cause when the children sings
The new world begins


What is Your Tarshish?

By Marla Nowak

"Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD."

But I rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD....

But I fled the presence of the LORD to my house. The window sills are full of ladybugs again. The dust bunnies reproduced. You know how bunnies are. The refrigerator has some mysterious spill down the back that necessitates removing every object from the fridge to clean. The closets-- thus the term closetraphobia. The ironing pile is so old that the wrinkles have become permanent. I don't feel good when my house is out of control, which it is about every day or more. And cleaning is a good wifey, mommy, Godly thing to do. Organization and efficiency are gifts of the God of organization. I know there is a spiritual side to keeping a clean house.

But I fled the presence of the LORD in my book pile. When I catch up I'll be a better wife. In fact that's the title of my newest addition to the reading stack, "How to be a Better Wife." I'll be a better mom too. Oh, I know the children want to spend time with me. First I must finish reading, "Spending Time with Your Children." Definitely the "Educating Mom" book could make me a better teacher. It's necessary to read "How to Know God," so I can know God. I really should preview that classic before I let my daughter, otherwise known as Reader Rabbit, at it. It takes me three times longer to read late at night. But I'll stay up and read a bit more, and then I'll do my Bible study.

But I fled the presence of the LORD with sleep. Just the name alarm clock is so RUDE. Who wants to wake up alarmed? No, I want to flee alarm and wake up in a sleepy peace that says good morning Lord. Besides, child number three woke me last night twice. If I sleep more I won't be grouchy. I'll be a better wife too. I'll be a better servant. I can pray with my eyes closed. Yes. I'm drifting off again. Is this resting in the Lord?

But I fled the presence of the LORD with my friends online. Now Lord, you know Beth, I love her so. Sometimes I need her. And she needs me. You brought our kindred spirits together remember! And we "vent" and "giggle" and you know David and Jonathan were friends. Even more, you know how wise and balanced Beth is. She keeps me grounded. You know I don't get out much. You know how dear she is to me. Email is a blessing. You know I love words. Robbin, Maria and I are doing a Bible study together. You want me to check in, so we can discuss things, don't you? And you want me to be their friend. Lord you gave us to each other. They inspire me. They are fun, fabulous and so unfluffy. Lord they are incredible women. And maybe I can encourage them. It's a ministry to be a good friend, online.

But I fled the presence of the LORD with....yes it's true, with a snack. The children were in bed. I could actually taste the food. Cookies and milk taste better when you are alone. Everyone needs a little break. I was going to go upstairs to read and pray, but if I made the cookies then we would have a good snack the next day. I threw in wheat germ and some oat bran. It's important we eat the right things. Besides, I had to take something to that meeting. Store bought? No way. That's for sissies.

But I fled the presence of the LORD with shopping. The children grew, again. Not the mall, please not the dreaded mall. I'm just looking on line to catch all the great overstock and clearance sales. Think how much I am saving in money. Think how much time I am saving. If I had to sew all those clothes it would take forever. Not to mention I don't sew. Sewing lessons, going to the fabric store, sewing, and hiding all those pathetic things I made. That would be a waste. I am being a good steward of time and money, that's what.

But I fled the presence of the Lord with the yard. That's right. The yard. It's not like I am a landscaping junkie devoting massive amounts of time and energy. Now that would be a hobby I don't have time for. I just like the grass cut. It needs to be done. And the flowers pinched back. And the weeds in the driveway look bad. It takes the load off hubby when he does not have to do it all. I'm serving him. I'm not neurotic about it. I stopped caring about crab grass years ago. I'm just doing the minimum, even if it is during my quiet time.

But I fled the presence of the LORD with exercise. Now God, I hate the treadmill. I do. It's painful. I see no results. But you want me to be healthy don't you? I need to care for my children. It's supposed to give me energy and relieve stress. I'll do this God, something else for my family. No, I'm not obsessed with it. It's a good habit. Our bodies are temples and my temple is shaking at the foundations. I need to do this.

But I fled the presence of the LORD on that trip. Lord, the relatives....how can I talk about spiritual things with them? How can we do family worship with them? How can I go off upstairs and be spiritual? What a turn off. Is that a witness? I don't want to be weird to them. You said those in your hometown are unlikely to listen. It can be awkward. Of course we listen to teaching tapes in the car on the way. That's pretty good, isn't it?

But I fled the presence of the LORD, playing with the children. It can be very spiritual playing with your children. I talk about You. We are knitting away at our relationship. Last month we played Bible Memory. We made play dough temples once. We demonstrate love and kindness, and I model what a wonderful person looks like... when I'm not being irritated one of them called me a cheater. What kind of message do I send my children when I shut my door, and pray and study and leave them out? That's telling them You are the most important. Oh yeah, You are.

But I fled the presence of the LORD with that movie. It was a good, clean movie. We all need to relax. Nothing wrong with relaxing. It really did not stop me from spending time with you Lord. I meant to spend time with you AFTER the movie. It got so late. Hubby and I needed that time. I worked on schoolwork during part of it. It's not like I wasted my time.

But I fled the presence of the LORD with a grumbling spirit. If not ME, who? Who will solve the problems of the world? Does no one see these things? No one, but me? Who will take care of that issue in the family, at church, with the house? Yes, admittedly I'm a recovering legalist, and yet I long for a fix at times. I don't mean to be reactionary. Hubby is so diplomatic and I am so automatic. It's the way you made me. I just need to work through some concerns.

But I fled the presence of the LORD with school. Lord, technically I got in my quiet time this morn even if it was the abridged version. I never miss Bible with the children. And I do pray during the day when you prompt me. School is important. What should I give up math, reading, history...we don't do a lot of extras. I feel kinda bare minimum some days now. School is a priority. Besides those other children at the homeschool support group know so much.

But I fled the presence of the LORD with daydreams. Oh, wishful thinking. It's not a matter of casting down imaginations. I'm not hanging out in la la land. Lord, I'm just reminiscing in my mind. I'm just imagining nice things. Planning is a better word. Planning how I would paint and enjoying thinking happy thoughts. Okay, that one itty bitty little angry thought about her slipped in. Okay, that pretend conversation with her where I said that profound zinger that took care of her slipped in too. Okay, I thought for ten minutes about what I could say. True, I could have been praying for her. But I want to be prepared with a solution.

But I fled from the presence of the LORD with the news. To be uninformed is negligent, and ignorant. Didn't you say "I would not that you should be ignorant," I don't go on the entertainment pages. It seems I should be able to read for five minutes, but then something always grabs my attention. It's not like I intentionally spend 30 minutes checking out the news. That dog that climbed trees and picked apples was quite a story. I want his pie recipe too.

But I fled from the presence of the LORD with my companion, fatigue. Yes, I stay up too, too late. I stay up doing good things. I can't help it. Cuddling with my Bible and prayer time creates the propensity to be foggy after a late night. I only flee to late nights because everyone else in the house has fled to bed. Not so sure anyway about that stuff that says one hour of sleep before midnight equals two hours of sleep. One hour of housework before midnight does not equal two hours of cleaning. Maybe my bonus hour comes at 7:00 A.M. anyway.

But I fled from the presence of the LORD not because I wanted to say no to you, like Jonah did, but because I'm busy. Our pastor said, "The biggest form of distraction is the distraction of opportunity." I've got so many opportunities, so much to do. Yes, I know Moses, David, Paul....all those guys were busy and they made time. Oh I suppose maybe I'm lazy. Maybe I'm selfish too. It's not that I don't want to spend time with you. It's not that I don't love you. And it's not like I avoid you all the time. But sometimes relationships, even with someone you love, are work. I just get disconnected. I back off a day or two then it's easy to back off more. I just want a little space for me.

"Lord, You are a part of all things I do. Yet, some days you seem far. Even then I hear You calling me. Oh, what are you trying to say? You deserve to have my ear. My heart. Maybe if I had some time to spend with you, you would tell me. Perhaps you are saying spend more time seeking you. Yield activities, desires, thoughts to your Lordship. I'm piecing it together now. I'm so busy for you, that I'm not busy with you."

When the storm came, the mariners' cried to their gods. Not Jonah. He slept. "Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay down and was fast asleep." The shipmaster came to him, screaming I suppose, "What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us that we perish not." How many times do I get busy and "sleep" through the storms around me? What do I need to call upon you for? It's about prioritizing my relationship with you. It's about accepting your invitation with no regrets possible. It's about staying in touch with God my anchor as Hebrews 6:19 proclaims, "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast."

"I'm really seeing the link between pride and idolatry. I run to something else because I'm running from you. Some days I want to head to Tarshish. These things I do make me feel good. And they protect my image, God. They become so important. Yes, I know you tell me to "turn away from vanities" but are these things worthless? No, housework is not worthless. Yes, it becomes worthless when it replaces you. Like Jonah who rose up to flee, and went down to Joppa, and down into the ship, I go. I go. You never left Jonah. He could not flee your presence. Psalm 139:7 tells me, "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?" Jonah could not, nor can I. Please don't send a great wind. Not a walking the plank experience. Instead I ask for an obedient heart, a disciplined heart. A heart that comes to you before it hears the pulsating heartbeat of a big fish."

Marla Nowak is the mother to seven children, one adult daughter, four at home, and two with the Lord. Story time is her favorite part of the school day. She is in the tenth year of homeschooling her children, including two with Down Syndrome. She is a contributing writer for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com


The Leader of The Band's Legacy Lives On

By Dave Burchett

Singer and song writer Dan Fogelberg died Sunday. His music impacted my life and I am sad that he is dead after only fifty-six years. Fogelberg is probably best known for the song “Same Old Lang Syne” that details his emotions after running into his old love on Christmas Eve many years later.

And running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out
And I watched her drive away
Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned in to rain...

Having felt a fair amount of pain in high school those lyrics made me melancholy whenever I heard them. But the song that I will remember Dan Fogelberg most for is his song written about his dad called “Leader of the Band”. His father was a musician and he passed that talent down to Dan. Parts of the lyric made me think of my Dad while he was still alive.

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul

My Dad helped define who I have become both good and bad. I am blessed that there was far more good than bad in my father. I remember all that my Dad taught me.

I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don't think I said 'I love you' near enough

My Dad knew how much I loved him. Still I wish I had told him more. But this is the portion of the song that continues to impact me as a son.

My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band

My Dad was a wonderful, kind, loving and flawed man. I have the flawed part down. I hope I am following his legacy of joy, kindness and love that he modeled.

The Psalmist writes that as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. I am so blessed that I had a dad that allowed me to understand how that looks. Not every man does.

I will miss Dan Fogelberg. The timing of his death and this article is odd. Fogelberg died far too young because of advanced prostate cancer. The odd timing is that later today I am enduring my annual physical and the moment of indignity known as the digital exam. I enjoy digital in music and video but not so much in this context. That single moment is why men start sweating whenever they see rubber gloves. But at Fogelberg’s website he begged men to get the blood test and suffer that moment of discomfort to help prevent prostate cancer. His music will surely endure. But I hope that part of the living legacy of Dan Fogelberg will be getting stubborn men to take a moment to love themselves and their families by scheduling regular prostate screening.

Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.


When God Speaks

By Chip Ingram

When was the last time you heard a word from God? When was the last time He communicated to you in a way that you were absolutely certain it was God communicating to you? Has it ever happened? Can it ever happen?

I believe hearing God's voice can be a regular occurrence in your life. Because the Holy Spirit of God lives within us, we can have conversations with God that are as clear as the ones the disciples had with Jesus. Those conversations may be different, but they can be just as clear.

How is that possible? How do we know when we've heard from God? The Bible is the primary way that God speaks to us today, although He certainly confirms His Word to us through His Spirit, our prayers, and the fellowship of other believers. But there's one condition for our hearing: we must come to His Word in earnest.

Unconditional Love, Conditional Guidance

If you've ever tried to make conversation with someone who won't respond, you eventually quit speaking. It isn't that you don't care, but why waste your breath? God also expects a response from us. But when we hear His Word in honesty and respond to what He has told us, we will hear Him more and more frequently-and clearly. It's a solid, Scriptural principle that if you shun the light He gives you, no more comes. But if you respond to the light you have, He'll give more. God is more than willing to reveal Himself and His will if we have ears to hear Him.

God speaks personally, clearly, and specifically if we have met this one condition. It won't be a subjective voice that causes you to wonder where it came from or what it means. He will speak to you about your life, your relationships, your work, your future, His plan for you, and your dreams-if you come prepared to follow His lead.

But the question remains: how does He speak? Exactly how can you have this honest, actual relationship with an invisible Jesus who will communicate with you and let you know His will?

I believe there are three approaches to the Bible that we need to take: (1) come to it as a love letter; (2) come to it as an instruction manual; and (3) come to it as a road map.

The Love Letter

Years ago, my wife and I were going through a difficult time. We had conversation after conversation, and still weren't quite seeing each other's point of view clearly. One day she wrote me a letter that explained how she really felt about the issues in our relationship. I carried it in my briefcase for years.

Why did I do that? Because that letter conveyed her heart. I didn't just want to read it, I wanted to savor it and drink it in. I wanted to understand the motivations behind the things she said, to be touched by every nuance of every sentiment. So I carried it with me to many cities and continents to read over and over again. Whenever I thought about our relationship, I could pull it out and remind myself of what she felt. That letter was more than just words; it was the heart of the woman I married.

If we want to hear God's voice, we need to read His Word like a love letter-not just study it systematically to get through our daily devotions. There may be times when we read the Bible out of obligation, but if you are really seeking the heart behind the words, the sense of obligation vanishes and the joy of relationship begins. You'll recognize His Word as a note of love from a God who wants to draw you closer.

The Instruction Manual

I have a friend who used to let me borrow his mountain home on occasion. With a large window overlooking a beautiful lake, it was the greatest place in the world to get refreshed. The only problem is that the home was built in stages on three or four different levels, and to turn on the water you practically needed a Ph.D.

There was an instruction sheet on the refrigerator for visitors to turn on the water. I normally don't read directions-I don't even like them-but I had to follow these to the letter. If you don't have water, you can't cook, eat, use the bathroom, do the laundry, and a whole lot of other important things. These instructions were not exciting reading, but they were necessary.

The Bible is an instruction manual on how to live. It isn't always going to give us warm emotions and teary eyes, and there won't always be a special verse jumping out at us. But 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that it is ?useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.? If we want to know what's true and how life works, the Scriptures will teach us. God will show what's right about our life and what needs correcting. He will give us direction and set us on the right path. He will guide us in how to mend that broken relationship or how to make things go right at work. The Bible is the comprehensive equipment for the servant of God, and it equips us fully for all kinds of work.

In order to get the benefit of the instruction manual, we need to read it-to have a plan and be systematic about it. And we should do it over and over, because while the Bible never changes, we do. Different parts of the Word will instruct us over different seasons of our lives. We should read it regularly.

The Road Map

I went to Phoenix to look at a college with one of my sons, and found the city fascinating: All the streets go in one direction and all the avenues in another. It's supposed to be very easy to get around. But my method for getting around is a lot like the way many people approach their Christian life: They go from gas station to gas station asking for directions. Instead of getting the map, they ask one person who happens to be a Christian and then another, until they have all the advice they need to make a decision. The problem is that they are putting their destiny in the hands of other people with different experiences.

There's nothing wrong with good counsel, but it should come in the context of a personal relationship with God and His Word. We need the road map. When I finally bought a road map of Phoenix, everything became clear.

The way to use a map is to study it. We need to come to God's Word and study what He says about forgiveness, about relationships, about work, about parenting or singleness, and about other areas of our lives. When we study the Bible topically, we equip ourselves to understand specific areas in depth.

God will speak to us when we come to Him with open ears and a readiness to follow His will. He will especially speak to us if we approach His Word in these three ways: as a love letter, an instruction manual, and a road map.

If you do this, I am convinced you will look back over the course of your life and see ways that God has specifically led you through difficult circumstances or hard decisions. In your heart, His voice will become real.

What Do You Hear?

Author Unknown

A Native American and his friend were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people.. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, the Native American said, "I hear a cricket."

His friend said, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!"

"No, I'm sure of it," the Native American said, "I heard a cricket." "That's crazy," said the friend.

The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed.

"That's incredible," said his friend. "You must have superhuman ears!"

"No," said the Native American. "My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you're listening for."

"But that can't be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise."

"Yes, it's true," came the reply. "It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you."

He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.

"See what I mean?" asked the Native American. "It all depends on what's important to you."

What's important to you? What do you listen for? Some people say that there is no God, and that He never speaks to us anymore. But perhaps they can't see or hear Him because they aren't listening for Him. They are living for themselves, not for God.

If you are in tune with God, you will be able to notice Him at work in your life and in the world - and you'll be able to hear Him when He speaks.


Release Your Grip

By Charles R. Swindoll

Read Genesis 22:10-14

This isn't a movie. As far as Abraham was concerned, the drama didn't have a surprise ending. The knife goes up in order to bring it down into his son's chest or across his throat, and what will happen next is the death of his boy. This is real! This is faith in the wild where the stakes are incredibly high---life and death!

Suddenly, at the last possible moment, God intervened:

But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." (Genesis 22:11-12)

As the Lord stopped Abraham's hand midplunge, He said, in effect, "You've passed the test, My faithful friend. You've proven to Me who is first, My aging son. You have also proven that your faith has reached full maturity. Your willingness to give up your only son has demonstrated that while you love the gift, you love the Giver more."

Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided." (Genesis 22:13-14)

After this, hundreds of years and ancient sands have covered the site. However, this very mountaintop would one day accommodate a city and a temple. It would become the capital of God's covenant kingdom and His house of worship until, finally, it would be the place where Christ, the King and consummate sacrifice, would die. Moriah, Jerusalem, the place where another Father held His Son loosely, laid Him on an altar, and sacrificed Him for us. On this mountain in the region of Moriah---a place renamed "The Lord will provide"---a ram became Isaac's substitute, and Christ became ours.

Faith Reveals God

By Charles R. Swindoll

Read Genesis 22:1-14

In this fascinating story of faith and sacrifice and trust and surrender, I see the characteristics of a God who asked nothing of Abraham that He didn't demand of Himself. Because it is so significant, I cannot resist sharing with you three powerful truths about our God that I see illustrated here.

God the Father showed us how to live when He released His dear Son to us. Nine months before that wondrous night in Bethlehem, the Father sent His Son. Christ willingly left His seat of absolute power in heaven, set aside the voluntary use of His divine authority, and became a helpless infant. As a human, subject to all the pains and sorrows and limitations that affect us all, He would mature, learn, minister, suffer . . . and die. If the Father was willing to release His own Son to us, what could be so much more precious to us that we would withhold it from Him?

God the Son showed us how to die when He released Himself to the Father. Isaac's quiet obedience to his father illustrates this beautifully. He gave himself over to the will of his father and allowed himself to be placed on an altar without a fight. That's exactly what the Son of God did at Calvary. When our faith is mature, we'll not fear death.

God the Spirit will show us how to live and die as we learn how to release whatever has us in its grip. (That last phrase wasn't a mistake.) As long as we're owned by whatever we're clutching, we'll never be given over completely to the Holy Spirit. This would be an excellent moment for you to do some self-analysis. To what, to whom are you clinging? Let it go. Let them go.

The Lord may be in the process of taking it from you. He'll gently tug on it at first, giving you the opportunity to release your grip. If you resist, He'll eventually have to pry your fingers away, and I can assure you that it will hurt. My advice? Voluntarily release it. Trust the Lord to provide. He has another ram in the thicket. You can't see it right now, but He has it waiting. Only after you have placed your sacrifice on the altar will you be ready to receive God's provision.


The Physiology of Success

Balancing Body, Mind, and Spirit
By Armstrong Williams
Crisis Magazine

The philosopher Aesop once related a story about a farmer who discovered among his livestock a goose that had laid an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and soon the farmer found himself a wealthy man. But as he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the goose could give, he killed it and opened it, only to find nothing.

In a sense, we are all our own golden goose. The fruits of our labors enrich us. But in this society of round-the-clock business and nonstop entertainment, few of us take time to replenish ourselves, and in doing so end up damaging the very engine of our success—a healthy body, mind, and spirit.

Nurturing our inner selves begins with having a spiritual base rooted in faith in the Creator and love for all mankind. When I was a child growing up in Marion, South Carolina, my parents instilled in my siblings and me a spiritual regimen that included daily prayer and weekly fellowship at church. I didn’t know it at the time, but the structure of prayer and contemplation would stand me in good stead over the years.

As life’s storms have come—as they do in everyone’s life—I have found refuge in my faith in God and the words of the Bible. As the Scriptures would have it, the principles of my faith kept me tethered to my foundation as the unpredictable winds of change whipped about me, ripping the less steadfast from their moorings and casting them about on the open seas.

Maintaining the Temple

The second foundation after faith is works. All of us must work to excel in this life. It sounds simple, but most of the profound things in life are simple. As a precondition for work, one must have energy. It’s a physical law that one cannot express outwardly what one does not possess internally. Work requires energy, and energy requires good health—both mental and physical.

Physical health is governed by the functions of the body. You cannot work if your body is sick or weak. Therefore, it is critical to make choices that will support your body. For the past 20 years or so I have maintained a daily exercise regimen, often rising early in the morning and going to the local YMCA, where I spend at least an hour jogging, biking, weight training, and stretching. I have found that this practice gives me an abundance of energy, brightens my mood, and prepares me for the rigors of the business day.

Many people work out with a result in mind. They exercise in pursuit of a leaner or more muscular body. But I have found that, while maintaining a healthy physique is a welcome result of exercise, the main benefit is the process itself. Daily exercise represents a victory in the struggle against internal laziness and tests our resolve to get up and go when most people would prefer to get another few minutes of sleep. Even more important, exercise steels the body against the onslaught of disease. We have all heard the phrase, “Your body is a temple,” and it is wise to recognize the critical role that our physical health plays in our ability to be a good citizen and servant of God.

The second component of vibrant health is what we take into our body. Studies conducted on people who died of supposedly “natural” causes have revealed that they actually died of food poisoning. It wasn’t that they consumed rotten food, but that their bodies became less able to process the foods that they had consumed over a lifetime of eating. As we age, our bodies become less adept at breaking down food, and those foods end up staying in our system and wreaking havoc on our internal organs. I was raised on a rich farm diet, consisting of meat, starches, and vegetables. Working on the family farm required us to eat enough food to endure the backbreaking labor of planting and harvesting. Today most of us, including myself, lead a sedentary lifestyle, chained to our desks for most of the day. We do not need to consume copious amounts to survive. When we do so, we merely tax our internal organs and create unneeded waste that will come back to haunt us as we age. As a precaution, I have begun eating less as I grow older.

For people involved in brain work, quality of food should be stressed over quantity. In this society we are blessed with a plethora of options for maintaining a healthy diet. We have organic markets, local grocers where farm-fresh produce is sold in abundance, and a readily available supply of whole grains, lean meats, and clean water. Even most restaurants, including my beloved soul-food spot, the Florida Avenue Grill, have healthy menu options that, if consumed in moderation, will support a healthy lifestyle. My regimen generally consists of a hearty breakfast of whole oats, soy milk, and fruit, followed by a sensible lunch that includes fresh vegetables. Most nights I do not eat dinner, but will have a small snack if besieged by hunger.

As the brain replaces the body as the primary tool of production for most American workers, we should be mindful of poisoning it with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. These substances have an immediate and destructive effect on the brain’s operation and expose it to debilitating conditions such as depression and mental illness. It profits us little if we can lift a thousand pounds but cannot concentrate on the complexities of the modern economy. One cannot arrive at work hungover from a night of partying and expect to be a productive coworker or effective leader. It’s obvious that psychoactive drugs such as marijuana and cocaine have destroyed the inner cities, but what’s more insidious and less talked about is the rampant drug use occurring among the middle class. The effects on mental health, worker productivity, and economic well-being have not been adequately accounted for, but they would be mind-boggling if we could truly see the extent of their consequences.

Instead of damaging our brain with toxic drugs, we should nourish it by reading books that stimulate the spirit and ignite our creativity and imagination. We should keep a written journal, and commit to writing down our thoughts and experiences daily. Not only does this sharpen our basic communication skills, but over time it provides a blueprint of our lives to which we can refer in times of uncertainty or struggle.

In truth, it’s easier to be wealthy than it is to be healthy. The hardest work I have to do every day is the work that I do on myself. What I have found, however, is that when I work on myself, everything around me begins to fall into place. When I become more physically healthy, my outlook becomes healthier, and everything begins to work when I set my hand to it.

A once-famous mantra held that “The clothes don’t make the man.” The truth behind the slogan is that we tend to rely on rich raiment, elegant elocution, or technological wizardry, while the primary engine of our success lies within us. The simple truth is that man is already completed in God’s image. Our souls, bodies, and brains are wonderful gifts endowed by our Creator, and should be nurtured above all else.

Why Rest Is Necessary

Of course, in addition to keeping ourselves physically and spiritually fit, we also need to make time in our lives to take a step back and relax. Some people do this through weekly attendance at church, others through a family dinner every weekend, or with time out with friends on special occasions. There are many different ways to create space in our lives for enjoyment and reflection, but it is important that we recognize the need to do this on a regular basis. Having moments of reflection on the Sabbath, for example, allows us to reconnect to what is truly important. In the same way, making the time for a vacation every year also helps us to recharge, refresh, and reengage with our best selves. Sometimes all it takes is a few days away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives to realize that those things that were causing us stress are really not so important after all.

In my own life I have found that trips away are often helpful. Sometimes it is as simple as returning to the family farm for a weekend. Other times I’ve taken more extensive trips abroad. The important thing is not that we take “luxurious” trips or fancy vacations, but that we make the time to get away and to really enjoy ourselves.

I used to feel that I needed to take work with me while I was on vacation. I never got much work done, but I always managed to make myself feel guilty about not finishing it. So I got the worst of both worlds—I would partly spoil my vacation and be unproductive at the same time. Now, when I go, I try to turn the cell phone off, get away for a while, and spend time with friends and family, giving them my full attention. I find that I enjoy my vacations more, and that I return to the job more refreshed and better able to work.

Friends are another important ingredient in maintaining our equilibrium. Too many of the folks I know don’t spend enough time with their friends. One good friend can sustain us through sorrow, help us to carry our burdens, encourage us to see our full potential, and allow us to become our best selves. When we are in danger of harming ourselves, they can set us on the straight path again. Our friends, in fact, are sometimes our best guardians.

The Bible says that a friend sticketh closer than a brother. I know in my case that my brothers are my good friends, but I also have friends who have enriched my life in ways that I never would have expected. I have friends who have helped me to better enjoy life and to better see my own potential. A good friend can see our problems from a different angle, casting light on our difficulties in a way that makes them seem less glaring and more manageable.

A healthy spiritual life, good food, exercise, friends—all of these things are essential if we aim to preserve and nurture our best selves. Furthermore, these rules of good living apply to us all.

The Call to Work

Now we have to take things one step further. I’ve written at some length about the necessity of taking time to cherish what we have, and to do the necessary work of taking care of ourselves. We need to remember, however, that if we want to create wealth for ourselves, we need to work for it. That wealth might be material, spiritual, physical, or a wealth of friends and good experiences. But let it be clear: Real wealth is the product of real work.

The parable of the goose that lays the golden egg reminds us that we should never become so greedy that we end up killing the very gifts that have enriched us so. Even those who inherit great wealth need to work if they want to enjoy a wealth of friendships, a meaningful spiritual life, or rewarding life experiences.

Let us always remember that the riches we are able to enjoy are the riches that we work for. We have many challenges before us, and many opportunities to do fulfilling work in the world. God has blessed each of us with the ability to take advantage of these opportunities. But in order to make the most of them—and to help those around us—we need to pause, recognize our gifts for what they are, and set to work to build an even more beautiful world.

Armstrong Williams is heard daily from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. on WWRL’s Drive Time Dialogue (www.WWRL1600.com). He is an author, conservative commentator, and syndicated columnist. Visit his Web site at www.armstrongwilliams.com.


Where the Spirit Leads

By Cameron Lawrence

We’re always moving forward, you and me, whether we like it or not. Time, like a strong hand at our back, relentlessly pushes us onward into new and often unexpected terrain. Naturally, we look for a guide. We need someone who knows better than we do what lies ahead—how to navigate through important decisions and confusing, dark or terrifying circumstances.

In our world today, there is no shortage of guides. There’s a different book or spokesperson for every facet of life. But for the Christian, of course, the ultimate guide is God—the Holy Spirit. About this third person of the Trinity, Jesus told His disciples:

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13).

Jesus promised that His followers would have Divine guidance.

But experience and history both suggest that following God is a tricky business. How does a person follow someone he cannot see or hear audibly? Perhaps, like me, you’ve found yourself confused after pursuing an opportunity you thought was God-given, only to find that what seemed like an open door was actually closed, locked shut. Maybe you followed God somewhere, or into something, and it didn’t turn out as you expected. Or still maybe you’ve seen people do evil in the name of God’s will, claiming He had led them to carry out abhorrent, manipulative and abusive actions.

What sense are we to make of all this difficulty in following God? How is it that following Him seems to conclude with such inconsistent results? What do we do when it feels as though following God is like chasing after the wind?

Shifting Winds

Late in September, I was sitting on the beach, pushing my feet into the warm North Carolina sand. The wind was particularly strong that day, blowing swimmers and surfers toward the pier, dozens of yards from their cars. I watched as a kite surfer lifted his sail and waded into the rolling waves, pulled by the wind like a stubborn dog on a leash.

I wondered at the power of wind and how, despite the different things we do to suppress or augment it, the wind cannot be controlled or possessed. We can construct barriers, use it to produce energy or sail around the world, but we are constantly at its mercy.

Wind often shows up in the Bible as the providence of God: the breath of God fills Adam’s lungs, giving him life; Noah, his family and the animals leave the ark after wind causes the flood waters to subside; and wind parts the Red Sea for God’s people to walk from bondage and decay into freedom and blessing.

But in John 3, Jesus speaks of wind in a different way while talking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He uses it as a metaphor to explain the life of the Spirit and His presence on Earth. More than a force for affecting external change, it fills true believers.

Curiously, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night with motives unclear to us. Author and theologian, Eugene Peterson, speculates that he came under the cover of night to avoid being seen by his fellow rabbis.

Nicodemus tries for small talk, but Jesus gets right to the point: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is understandably puzzled. How is it that a man can be born again?

Jesus continues: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus is confused. And Jesus’ choice of words may have something to do with it. In this passage, John uses the same word, neuma, to refer both to the wind and the Spirit. Peterson explains that,

“Wind, Breath, and Spirit are the same word in the Aramaic that Jesus presumably spoke and also in the Greek that St. John wrote. The necessity in those languages of using the same term for the movement of air caused by a contraction of the lungs, the movement of air caused by a shift in barometric pressure, and the life-giving movement of the living God in us, required an exercise of the imagination every time the word was used: What’s being talked about here, breathing or weather or God?”1

It’s clear in this passage that Jesus means to compare the wind and the Spirit. But what does this suggest for the Christian’s life—for those who trust the Spirit as their guide? Does it mean He will ‘blow’ their lives to and fro, like a feather in the breeze—leaving them perpetually unsure of what’s to come?

For some people, the prospect of such a life is an exciting one. Some Christians have taken this to mean that they should avoid putting down roots, holding a steady job and any earthly responsibilities whatsoever. They claim to be Spirit-led nomads, doing whatever the Spirit leads them to do. Yet for others, the idea of such a free-form existence incites fear and anxiety. They want structure, rhythm--something by which they can set the course of their days.

Throughout the Bible we see elements of both: God leading people away from their homes into unknown lands and circumstances; God meeting people where they are, calling them to be faithful witnesses to their friends and family, jobs and communities. So, how do we rightfully discern God’s guidance? How do we avoid mistaking our own appetites and desires and fears for the Spirit of God?

The Rudder of Faith

One of my favorite things about visiting the ocean is looking at sailboats. I have never been sailing, but I love to imagine what it must be like—the rock and sway of the boat as it cuts through the water, the sails tightening against the thrust of the wind, your hair lively in its gusts. But the truly amazing thing about a sailboat is that, though the winds may change, a small rudder is what keeps the boat on course.

If the Holy Spirit is like the wind, the rudder of the Christian faith is Holy Scripture—God’s Word to humanity. The analogy serves us well, because it’s true: God is far greater than the Bible can express, just as the wind is greater than the rudder. Not evertything we face in life is explicitly addressed in scripture. But the Lord will never act in a way that is contrary to His Word. In this way, the Scriptures guide us into a true understanding of what God wants us to do.

Still, it’s no secret that Christians have had a hard time making sense of the Spirit even with the Bible’s help. Just turn through the pages of history, or your local phone book: Christians have all sorts of interpretations for what the Bible says, and what the Spirit has led them to do. Unfortunately, that’s the byproduct of living in a fallen world. We are bound to make mistakes.

But when we do misinterpret God’s guidance, we need not lose hope. Author J.I. Packer writes in his book, “Knowing God,” that:

“If I found I had driven into a bog, I should know I had missed the road. But this knowledge would not be of much comfort if I then had to stand helpless watching the car sink and vanish: the damage would be done, and that would be that. Is it the same when a Christian wakes up to the fact that he has missed God’s guidance and taken the wrong way? Is the damage irrevocable? Must he now be put off course for life? Thank God, no. Our God is a God who not merely restores, but takes up our mistakes and follies into the wonder of His gracious sovereignty.”2

Packer concludes, “Not merely does God will to guide us in the sense of showing us His way, that we may tread it; He wills also to guide us in the more fundamental sense of ensuring that, whatever happens, whatever mistakes we may make, we shall come safe home. Slippings and strayings there will be, no doubt but the everlasting arms are beneath us; we shall be caught, rescued, restored.”3

Though in following God we may at times find ourselves confused, Christians need not be afraid of failure—we don’t need to worry about missing the boat. The gracious Lord is there, ready to forgive and duly able set our paths aright.

1. Peterson, Eugene. "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places" (p. 15).
2. Packer. J.I. "Knowing God" (p. 271)
3.Ibid (p. 272)


Fewer Teachers; More Coaches

By Dr. Jason R. Edwards
The Center for Vision & Values

From their first day in education school, teachers today are taught to constantly bolster their students’ “self-esteem.” Strangely, I don’t remember my coaches having the same concern. Self-esteem could wait until I had actually accomplished something. Until then, they would be happy to inform me that I didn’t know what I was doing. Typically, these explanations of my short-comings would even arrive in a loud voice and in front of others. Public embarrassment wasn’t abuse; it was an effective spur to succeed.

Modern educational theorists constantly hand wring over “drill and kill” memorization activities. Not my coaches. Learning meant practice and practice meant drill. Whether I “enjoyed” it wasn’t the issue; if I was going to cover our cross-town rival’s wide-receiver I couldn’t be thinking about my footwork Friday night, so I practiced the basics until they became automatic. That is how you gain the ability to really play (automating the basics) and the same holds true for thinking.

Finally, teachers today are taught to abjure competition. Coaches know, however, that if “everyone’s a winner” everyone’s also a loser. Call it a part of fallen human nature if you want, but the fact remains that if nothing is really at stake, if excellence and failure cannot be recognized, effort will disappear. Schools now enjoy their greatest accomplishments on athletic fields, in concert halls, and in theaters because in these venues not everyone gets to start, be first chair, or play the lead. In these arenas, you are granted the opportunity to succeed and, perhaps more importantly, to fail.

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Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

By Dr. Joseph J. Horton
The Center for Vision & Values

"Too often resolutions are difficult or impossible to achieve, leading to the multitude who believe that New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken. Reasonably attainable resolutions start with small goals. Success breeds confidence and a greater likelihood of persistence in the face of adversity. Some might argue that the small changes are insignificant. Yet some change is more significant than no change. Only following success with these small changes are we ready to begin making larger changes."

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