Friday, May 30, 2014

SOLA FIDE

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God -- not the result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9 NRSV)

The greatest minds in church history have identified this one biblical truth as the foundation of our faith. John Calvin declared it to be "the main hinge" on which the true Christianity swings. They are describing the doctrine of justification by faith alone -- or as the reformers called it, Sola Fide.

Of the importance of this foundational truth Martin Luther wrote: "This doctrine is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot last for one hour." It’s no wonder that Luther called justification by faith alone "the article by which the church stands or falls." Because there are only two kinds of righteousness: a human righteousness based on human effort, and what he called "the passive righteousness" that comes from Christ. There is the righteousness of God and your own righteousness. There is no middle ground; you embrace one or the other.

-- Sola Conference 2009


#3447

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A STEP OF FAITH THAT DOESN'T ADD UP

A couple years ago, Adam Taylor went on one of our annual mission trips to Ethiopia.  While he was there, he knew God was calling him to invest more than one week of his life.  God was calling him to go all in.  The defining moment was when a fifteen-year-old boy named Lilly popped out of a sewer manhole cover.  He didn't have any shoes on, so Adam spontaneously gave him his.  Lilly took Adam on a tour of the sewer where he found an entire community of orphans living under the streets.  In that moment, Adam knew [what he had to do].

The prospect of leaving a six-digit salary didn't add up, but Adam didn't care.  He moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, trusting that God would provide, and he started a ministry called Change Boys, which rescues street kids and gives them a home to live in.  In fact, twenty-two kids live with Adam in a house that God miraculously provided.  Adam signed the lease on the house, not knowing how God would provide.  Meanwhile, we released our annual Christmas catalog that raises money for a variety of mission projects.  Adam didn't know it, but Change Boys was one of those projects.  How appropriate that Adam's spiritual family, National Community Church, would cover the entire year's lease.  When Adam heard the news, he cried.  Then we cried.

Adam's story has inspired others within our church to step out in faith, too.  In fact his name has been turned into a verb.  "Pulling an Adam Taylor" has become synonymous with taking a step of faith that doesn't add up.

-- Mark Batterson in The Circle Maker


#3446

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

STRUCK BY GRACE

"Do we know what it means to be struck by grace?" Tillich asks.  This was a provocative notion to me, an odd metaphor, to describe God's grace as something that strikes, that jars us into a new way of thinking, that collides with our old way of being.  He continues, "We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace."  The first movement toward the new creation, the transformed life, and becoming the person God wants us to be begins when we face the startling reality of God's unconditional love for us.  Receiving the love and forgiveness of God, beginning to comprehend its meaning, and opening ourselves to the new life it brings can be as disrupting as an earthquake, as abrupt as lightening striking across the black night sky.  It means we've been struck by grace.

-- Robert Schnase in Five Practices of Fruitful Living


#3445

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SONGS OF ADORATION

God desires that our relationship with Him isn’t lived out of a sense of duty as much as a sense of devotion. In other words, God longs for us to long for Him. In the beauty of His presence, we can’t help but find our affections set on God, our hearts captivated by His love. Caught up in the delight of God, powerful feelings of gratitude swell within us and our natural response is worship -- words of thanks that roll off the tongue, songs of adoration that spring from the heart, or some other form of praise. When we give back to God, the One who has gifted us with all good things, we reflect His beauty.

-- Margaret Feinberg in Pursuing God’s Beauty


#3444

Monday, May 26, 2014

APPRECIATION FOR SACRIFICE

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13 NRSV)

Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.

-- U.S. President Harry S. Truman


#3443

Friday, May 23, 2014

THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE

As a former Army Ranger, Seattle pastor Tom Allen described a special connection he felt to the characters in the World War II movie "Saving Private Ryan":

I was extremely proud -- until the last minute of the movie. I was proud watching the Rangers take Omaha Beach. Then they receive a mission to go deep into enemy territory to save Private Ryan. They hit skirmish after skirmish, and some of them are killed along the way. They finally get to where Private Ryan is holed up, and they say, "Come with us. We've come to save you."

He says, "I'm not going. I have to stay here because there's a big battle coming up, and if I leave my men they're all going to die."

What do the Rangers say? "We'll stay here and fight with you." They stay and fight, and it's gory and hard, and almost everyone dies except Private Ryan. At the end, one of the main characters -- played by Tom Hanks -- is sitting on the ground. He's been shot and he's dying. The battle has been won.

Private Ryan leans over to him, and Hanks whispers something to him. Everyone in the theater is crying because Tom Hanks was shot; I was crying because of what he said -- it was so terrible. Ryan bent down and Hanks said, "Earn this."

The reason that made me angry is no Ranger would ever say, "Earn this." Why? Because the Ranger motto for the past 200 years has not been "earn this." The Ranger motto for the past 200 years has been Sua sponte, "I chose this." I volunteered for this.

If Hanks was really a Ranger he would have said, "Sua sponte." In other words, "This is free. You don't pay anything for this. I give up my life for you. That's my job."

And so when you look at the cross and see Jesus hanging there and hear Him say, "I thirst," you do not hear "earn this." You never hear Jesus say, "Earn this." He doesn't say, "I've given up everything for you. Now you need to gut it out for Me." What He says is "I thirst." He says, "Sua sponte. I volunteered for this. You don't have to pay anything for it." 


-- Tom Allen, Seattle, Washington in a sermon from Preaching Today


#3442

Thursday, May 22, 2014

SEVEN DAYS A WEEK

If you do not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him on one day a week. There is no such thing known in heaven as Sunday worship unless it is accompanied by Monday worship and Tuesday worship and so on.

-- A. W. Tozer


#3441

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

SPIRITUAL GROWTH

I read about a guy who catches live exotic fish for aquarium owners.  His top-selling fish is the shark.  He explained that if you catch a small shark and confine it to an aquarium, it would only grow in proportion to its environment.  A shark can be a mere six inches long and still be an adult.  Its growth is stunted by its surroundings.  But if you turn that dwarfed shark loose in the ocean, he'll grow to his normal length of nearly eight feet.

The same thing can happen to Christians.  I've seen some of the cutest little Christians who swim around in a little puddle of self-centeredness.  They stay small and immature in their faith.  But place them into a larger arena -- the vastness of the body of Christ -- and they can reach their full potential and "grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ" (Ephesians 4:15).

-- Lenya Heitzig and Penny Pierce Rose in Pathway to God's Treasure: Ephesians


#3440

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

CREATIVE PERSONAL PRAYER

Since I was already in a stew, I decided to literally make a stew. Upset by some sort of squabble, I was soon chopping, dicing, sniffing, mixing, simmering, stirring my way back to sanity. Losing myself in the colors, aromas, taste, feel, and the chop-chop of the knife became a kind of sensate prayer that brought me to my senses.

Cooking is often a vehicle of prayer for me. As I sort out flavors, adding leftover vegetables from the refrigerator, I try to blend them into some sort of tasty combination, using what I already have. In a surprising alchemy of attention, my thoughts are led to explore how my life can be better blended into balance and harmony, what belongs and what doesn’t belong, what adds spice, what ingredients bring a balance of flavors. The kitchen becomes my place of creative personal prayer. 

-- Linda Douty in Praying in the Messiness of Life: 7 Ways to Renew Your Relationship with God, © 2011 by Linda Douty. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books
 
 
#3439

Monday, May 19, 2014

PURPOSE, MEANING AND DIRECTION

One of the earmarks of any person who has come into a viable and meaningful relationship with God as his heavenly Father is an attitude of quiet contentment with life. Gone are the emptiness and frustration of a pointless existence. In its place there are purpose and meaning and direction in all one does.

-- W. Phillip Keller in SERENITY: Finding God Again For The First Time


#3438

Friday, May 16, 2014

THE CHURCH AND THE FUTURE

When a church realizes it all depends on God, not them, and will together yield their lives fully to Him, God begins to work. It doesn't depend on numbers, status, skills, or even resources. The future depends on God and His people who will hear Him, believe Him, and obey Him.

-- Henry Blackaby in What the Spirit Is Saying to the Churches Bible Study


#3437

Thursday, May 15, 2014

THE BODY OF CHRIST

A church in Strasbourg, Germany, was destroyed during World War II.  After the bombing, the members went to see what was left and found the entire roof caved in.  Much to their surprise, a statue of Christ with outstretched hands was still standing.  It was intact, except a falling beam had sheared off both hands.  The people asked a sculptor if he could replace the hands on the statue.  He was willing, and he even offered to do the work for nothing.  The church officials met to consider the sculptor's proposition but decided not to accept his offer.  Why?  Because they felt that the statue without hands would be the greatest message possible that God's work is done with human hands through His people.

God gives gifts to believers so we can be His hands, His feet, and His mouth, fully equipped "for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ"  (Ephesians 4:12).

-- Lenya Heitzig and Penny Pierce Rose in Pathway to God's Treasure: Ephesians


#3436

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A LOVING PERSONALITY

"As He says also in Hosea:
'I will call them My people, who were not My people,
And her beloved, who was not beloved.'"  (Romans 9:25 NKJV)

A loving Personality dominates the Bible, walking among the trees of the garden and breathing fragrance over every scene.  Always a living Person is present, speaking, pleading, loving, working, and manifesting Himself whenever and wherever His people have the receptivity necessary to receive the manifestation.

-- A. W. Tozer


#3435

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

STANDING AMAZED AT GOD'S HOLINESS AND LOVE

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10 NIV)

What does it mean to "fear" God?  It certainly goes beyond simply being afraid of God.  It is a profound sense of reverential awe toward God.  But really it is even more than that.  The fear of God is better described than defined.  It is displayed in a person's character and conduct.  A person who fears God recognizes God's authority over every area of his life.  He has desire to obey God's clear commands in Scripture.  He recognizes his complete dependence upon God for everything he has and everything he is.  He approaches every aspect of life with an aim to glorify God …

If you want to fear God, you need to know Him.  Knowing Him requires a consistent, comprehensive study of God's Word.  As we regularly encounter God in His Word, and as the Holy Spirit works it into our lives, we see God's majesty and power, His holiness and wisdom, and His love expressed in His grace and mercy to us.  We come to admire His attributes and stand amazed at His Love. 

-- Nancy Guthrie in Holding on to Hope


#3434

Monday, May 12, 2014

OUR FAMILY COVENANT

At the Singletary house, we have a family mission statement we all helped devise engraved on a piece of oak that hangs in the foyer.  Everyone who enters our house can see the sign which reads:

"This is the home of champions.  As Singletarys, we will always strive to do our very best in all we do.  We will strive to be honest and respect each other's feelings, property, and time.  We will always pray for one another, fight for one another, and encourage one another.  For our trust be not in our home, nor our money or status or knowledge, but in each other, and above all, in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

This is the kind of covenant more families could make with each other.  It serves to keep all of us focused on our family goals and reminds us of our relationship with the Lord.

-- Mike Singletary with Russ Pate in Daddy's Home at Last


#3433

Friday, May 9, 2014

MY MOTHER'S LOVE

"Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…"  (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a RSV)

I want to thank the Lord for my mother who was and is always there for me -- wanting my best, praying for my needs, and living as an example of God's steadfast, selfless, unconditional love.  My mother turns 90 next month and she still mothers me, although she no longer buys me underwear. I pray that the Lord will shower her with His love the way she has showered me with hers.

Love you, Mom!

-- Dave Wilkinson


#3432

Thursday, May 8, 2014

RECKLESS OBEDIENCE

Generally we think of getting "reckless" as something to avoid. Mature people, we are taught, just don't act in such childish ways. And we are properly right most of the time; however, not necessarily when serving our Lord. The WordWeb dictionary offers the following definition of reckless, "Marked by unthinking boldness; with defiant disregard for danger or consequences." Following Jesus just might require us to step out boldly for His causes and to cast aside danger or consequence. The world calls this reckless and God calls it obedience.

-- Rev. Gary Stone


#3431

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

WORKING TOGETHER

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

Harry Artinian, formerly president of corporate quality for the Colgate-Palmolive Company, once said, "I like to tell the story about the entrepreneur who wanted to build the perfect car.  He rented a warehouse and filled it with the 150 best cars ever built.  Then he told his engineers to find the best part in each car he had bought.

"So they took the best engine from the Mercedes, the best door handle from the Buick, the best transmission from the Toyota, the best rack-and-pinion steering from the Ford, and so on and so on.  When he was done, he had a car assembled out of 15,000 best parts that human minds could engineer.  Unfortunately, the car didn't function because the parts didn't work together."  Artinian's point is clear: In order for synergy and teamwork to take place, the people on the team have to function as a team, not just a collection of individuals.

-- Pat Williams in The Magic of Teamwork


#3430

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

RECEIVING COMFORT IN COMMUNITY

Community is not simply a place for the suffering to find comfort but for the comforted to be comforters. 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT) says, "God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."

-- Rev. David T. Wilkinson


#3429

Monday, May 5, 2014

IDENTIFYING WITH OUR SUFFERING

Christ's sufferings allow us to realize something amazing: that God suffers with us.

When we feel like we've been humiliated in the presence of those around us, Christ has "already been there, done that."

When we feel like all our friends have fled, and we wonder whom we can trust, Christ has "already been there, done that."

When we experience great physical pain in our lives, and wonder when it will mercifully end, Christ has "already been there, done that."

And if we or someone we know, for some unthinkable reason, experiences an untimely, or unexpected death, Christ has "already been there, done that."

In short, there is no human suffering -- self inflicted, world inflicted, caused by blind luck or fate -- that Christ cannot understand and identify with. That is why we can say, with the famous Psalm-writer, "Even if I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me..."

In precisely those worst times of life, God is with us. God understands us. God is not just some out-of-touch purveyor of psycho-babble, challenging us to "be positive." God realizes that some days it's hard to find anything positive. And that's OK. And part of why it's OK is that God will be there in our sufferings, anytime we stop to notice.

-- Copyright Eric Folkerth 2001. All Rights Reserved. (Used with Permission)


#3428

Friday, May 2, 2014

THE STRENGTH I NEED

Iris Bammert walked slower than most to the podium.  Her face reflected a quiet confidence that no matter how long it took, she would reach her goal.  At last, she reached the microphone and spoke with gentle strength.  "God has let me know that in this life we have tribulation, but be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world."

Iris had suffered a debilitation stroke in the prime of her life.  Her whole world changed in a moment -- from self-sufficiency to complete dependency.  She can't drive a car anymore; instead she's driven to her knees in prayer, seeking a strength that is not her own.  She can barely speak, but God enabled her to remind the women in our Bible study, "This life is not so important.  Don't forget the Lord is the One who does everything in and through us."

God does not ask you to walk in your own strength -- He knows that is impossible.  However, He does promise to give you the strength you need to walk in a way that is pleasing to Him.  Philippians 4:13 reminds us, "I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need" (NLT).

-- Lenya Heitzig and Penny Pierce Rose in Pathway to God's Treasure: Ephesians


#3427

Thursday, May 1, 2014

HOW CLOSE HAS GOD COME?

Frederick Buechner writes, "There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not… because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

How close has God come?  So close that, as Thomas a Kempis put it, "every creature will be to you a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine."  So close that, in the words of Jean Pierre de Caussade, "each moment is a revelation from God."  So close that He can flow in the through your life from one moment to the next like a river.  So close that your heart will be beating with life because Someone is walking around in there.  God is closer than you think.

-- John Ortberg in God Is Closer Than You Think


#3426