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Daily Grace for the Daily Grind

Daily Grace for the Daily Grind

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Daily Grace for the Daily Grind

Lunghezza:
749 pagine
9 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
May 24, 2010
ISBN:
9781452405803
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Daily Grace for the Daily Grind is a collection of articles originally titled Up Close and Practical written by Larry Briney. They were written for the congregation of Valley Christian Center in Fresno, California. In 1986 Larry joined the staff and began writing for the weekly bulletin. That was over 23 years and more than 1200 articles ago.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
May 24, 2010
ISBN:
9781452405803
Formato:
Libro

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Daily Grace for the Daily Grind - Larry Briney

•••••

Acknowledgements:

Daily Grace for the Daily Grind is a collection of articles originally titled Up Close and Practical. They were written for the congregation of Valley Christian Center in Fresno, California. In 1986 my wife Beth and I joined the staff at the invitation of Senior Pastor, Dr. Roger Whitlow. That was over 18 years and more than 950 articles ago.

I’ve been honored by the trust that Pastor Roger placed in me, and have received constant encouragement from him, and from the congregation to continue. The leadership of the church has released me to compile this work.

I’m grateful to Noriko Warnes, Shannon Davis, and Tessa Eubanks for help in the proofing process. My wife has been most helpful and patient, and has inspired much of what I write.

•••••

Preface

Daily Grace for the Daily Grind is intended to be a daily resource for Christians to deepen their devotional walk with the Lord. It contains a Scripture Index and a Topic Index for those who wish to use it for Bible study; it is also a useful resource for pastors and speakers.

The common theme of the book is a sense of wonder: the wonder of God’s nature, the wonder of His grace, the wonder of His creation, the wonder of words, and the amazing wonder of daily life itself. God is doing something in each one of our days.

I’ve taken Habakkuk 1:5 quite literally. It says, Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days – you would not believe if you were told.

Daily Grace for the Daily Grind follows the calendar with respect to holidays, special days, and seasons. It is submitted with the prayer that it will bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ and give helpful insight into the daily wonder of God’s marvelous grace.

LB

•••••

January 1

An Open Door

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it… (Revelation 3:7, 8)

If January First is anything, it’s an open door. Through it we enter the unknown world of a new year. I like doors. They’re fascinating gateways from one place to another – from one reality to another.

Some doors are automatic. All you have to do to open them is move toward them, and somehow your presence is acknowledged. With others, you must knock and request entry. Still others require a key and not everyone has one.

The door to the New Year is one of those automatic ones. It opened as we approached it at midnight last night without anyone knocking or even asking permission to enter. But it is Jesus Who has the key in His nail-scarred hand to all that God has for us in the New Year. It’s said of Him, He is holy, He is true, and He opens and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens.

The One who opens the door to God’s provision for us this year can be trusted. While the territory inside is unknown to us, it’s not unknown to Him. As a matter of fact, He’s already been there. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:4)

Another thing about the door to this year; I didn’t have a choice about it. I did go through it. The only choice I have is how I will go through it. I can enter fearfully or faithfully; sadly or gladly; pouting or praising, but enter I must!

I took some baggage with me when I went through this door. Some of it I will need, like memories of God’s goodness and the love of friends and family. Other things I should leave behind, like bad habits and sins unforgiven. I didn’t have a choice about passing through this door, but I do have a choice in what I will take with me.

We walked through this door together, you and I, and all those whom God has graciously placed in our lives. God has plans for each of us individually which He will unfold as we walk into the expanse on the other side of the door. But He also has some marvelous designs for us together. Our lives are irreversibly intertwined, since we became part of His forever family.

What does the old song say? I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. That’s good news. Behind the door are many things unknown to me, but not to Him.

One of the things I’m sure of – there will be opportunity to share His grace and see His good hand at work. It will not be boring. So, ready or not, here we go, through the door to a brand new year.

•••••

January 2

Annual Introspection

Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. So says Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in 11:28. Many people are obsessed with introspection. They live in a constant state of self-absorption that makes their lives miserable. Scripture doesn’t advocate such an unhealthy preoccupation with one’s self but rather a holy preoccupation with Jesus.

However, the Lord does ask us to periodically examine our hearts as in the regular observance of communion. The point is that if we have regular times of introspection we need not be obsessed with it every day and can get on with the business of loving Jesus and touching the world in His name. That’s what communion is about – let’s check our hearts and get on with it.

As it happens we’re also at the beginning of the New Year. For me, this is an annual inspection, the kind that catches some things a monthly exam may miss. It’s also a time to measure vital signs that may not register in the short term but can be important indicators in the long term.

This is a good time to measure spiritual growth, for instance. I may not be able to tell from week to week or month to month if I’ve grown in the Lord or not, but I should be able to measure it year by year. Do I stand a little taller today than I did this time last year? I’ve been fed lots of good food and given lots of occasion to exercise by serving so chances are I’ve grown, even if I don’t feel a much bigger.

It’s also a time to measure spiritual depth, which is different than spiritual growth. I grow spiritually when I keep feeding on the Word of God and doing what it says. Spiritual depth, however, comes through crisis. For many, last year was difficult, and they’re glad it’s behind them. But if the trial of our faith takes us deeper into the knowledge of the Holy One, then we can count it all joy, as the scripture says. Spiritual depth is like our roots growing down into Him. Spiritual growth is like the branches growing upward to bear fruit. A healthy tree will have both.

Another vital sign worth checking out is one’s spiritual blood pressure. Blood pressure is related to the flow of life through the body for the life of the flesh is in the blood. This speaks to me of worship, the life-flow of my spirit. I’m not satisfied with the reading I get when I check myself at this point. I want to worship better than I do because He is worthy of better worship than I give Him.

It’s time for an annual inspection. May I borrow the words of the psalmist and pray, Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me… (Psalm 139:23, 24)

•••••

January 3

What’s New?

What’s so new about the New Year? That’s a good question. There isn’t even much new about the news these days. It’s the same old story of man’s inhumanity to man and the consequences of unrighteousness.

We’ve been so bombarded by this word new that it hardly has meaning anymore. New is a pitchman’s favorite word. It’s used to sell everything from soap to missiles.

We speak of a new car, but there’s still an awful lot about a new car that’s old stuff. There’ve been lots of improvements but it still has four wheels, an internal combustion engine, a steering wheel, two head lights, and hundreds of parts that are basically the same as they were last year and the year before that, and so on, back to the Model T.

What’s so new about a new car? Not much except that it hasn’t been driven by its owner yet. That’s about all we can say about the New Year. There is very little that is new about it – except that it hasn’t been lived in yet.

If we expected everything to be different after the New Year’s celebrations we’ve set ourselves up for great disappointment. Nothing really changes except a man-made device for marking the passage of time. Life goes on basically unchanged.

I’m beginning to sound like old Solomon who said, there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9) In a sense he was right. Nothing new, or essentially different, can spring from under the sun, the realm of man’s influence.

Man’s ingenuity brings change in form but not change in substance. That’s what science is about – changing the form of things. Newness in substance, the awesome power to create, is the specialty of the One whose throne is far above all principalities and powers. He can and does make all things new.

If anything new is to appear it will be the work of His hand and not man’s. In Isaiah 43:19 He says, Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth!

He said in Ezekiel 11:19, I will put a new spirit within you. The newness that God brings is inside of me and, I am made new – under the Son, Jesus!

The best news: as He watches over my year, from beginning to end – His faithfulness is great – His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22,23)

What’s new about the New Year? His mercy every day – that’s what’s New?

•••••

January 4

The Name

The Name of the Lord in the Scriptures: Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the Name of the Lord his God. (Isaiah 50:10) His name is:

Alpha • Adonai • Almighty • Altogether Lovely • Amen • Ancient of Days • Advocate • Author and Finisher of Our Faith • Beloved • Branch • Bread of Life • Bright Morning Star

Captain of the Lord's Hosts • Captain of Our Salvation • Chief Shepherd • Christ • Consolation of Israel • Chief Cornerstone • Commander • Counselor • Day Spring • Day Star • Deliverer • Desire of Nations • Door

El Elyon • Elohim • El Shaddai • Emmanuel • Eternal Life • Everlasting Father • Faithful Witness • First and Last • First Begotten of the Dead • First-born of Every Creature • Friend of Sinners • God

Good Shepherd • Great High Priest • Governor • Head of the Church • Heir of All Things • High Tower • Holy One • Holy One of Israel • Hope of Israel • Horn of Salvation • I Am • Jehovah

Jehovah-Jireh, Lord my Provider • Jehovah-M'Kaddesh, Lord my Sanctifier •Jehovah-Nissi, Lord my Banner • Jehovah-Rapha, Lord my Healer • Jehovah-Roi, Lord my Shepherd • Jehovah-Sabaoth, Lord of Hosts • Jehovah-Shalom, Lord my Peace • Jehovah-Shammah, Lord is Present • Jehovah-Tsidkenu, the Lord our Righteousness

Jesus • Judge of the Living and the Dead • Just One • King • King of the Jews • King of Kings • King of Saints • Law-Giver • Lamb • Lamb of God • Leader • Life • Lifter of My Head • Light of the World

Lily of the Valley • Lion of Judah • Lord • Lord of All • Lord of Glory • Lord God Omnipotent • Lord Jesus Christ • Man of Sorrow • Mediator • Messenger of the Covenant

Messiah • Mighty God • My Song • My Strength • Offspring of David • Omega • Only-Begotten • Passover • Physician • Prince of Life • Prince of Peace • Prince of the Kings of the Earth • Prophet • Ransom • Redeemer

Resting Place • Resurrection and the Life • Rock • Rock of Ages • Rock of My Salvation • Root of David • Root of Jesse • Rose of Sharon • Ruler of Israel • Savior • Servant • Shepherd and Bishop of Our Souls

Shiloh • Son of God • Son of the Highest • Son of David • Son of Man • Sun of Righteousness • Sure Foundation • Surety • True God • True Vine • Truth

Way • Wisdom • Witness • Wonderful • Word • Word of God • Word of Life •

Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

•••••

January 5

Take Care of Yourself

The stewardess stood in the front of the coach section of the 747 giving the preflight safety message. She talked about the oxygen masks dropping down in case of loss of cabin pressure, and she addressed parents with children.

She said, You must first put your oxygen mask over your own face. Then, secure the mask over the face of the child. The message I heard was clear. Before I can take care of my children, or any one else for that matter, I must take care of myself.

This goes against some of the instincts that rage within the heart and mind of those of us who are caregivers. We consider it a virtue to always put others first. But the truth is that by seeing to our own health and safety, we can see to the needs of others more effectively and for a longer period of time.

That’s been a hard lesson for me to learn. I come from a spiritual discipline characterized by a statement from a man I deeply admired in my young ministry days. He said, I’d rather wear out than rust out! And he did. I was a pallbearer at his funeral in 1965. He was a man in his early fifties who didn’t take care of himself. He was my pastor, my mentor, and my role model.

I’ll not forget the day the Lord spoke to me about my attachment to this man. We were serving on the North Coast and had started a Bible study in the town of Ferndale. I looked forward to sharing life with these dear people each week.

I was running late one day for the study, and when I came to the bridge over the Eel River I had a problem. The bridge was narrow and long and just ahead of me was a truck full of dairy cattle. I couldn’t get around the truck so, in my impatience, I got as close as I could to the rear of the truck so I could pull out quickly and pass when the opportunity presented itself.

That was a big mistake. In the back of the cattle truck one of the cows had a gastro-intestinal problem, if you know what I mean. The windshield of my car was covered with an ugly, smelly substance that made me gag. I was forced to stop because I couldn’t see a thing.

While I was cleaning the windshield, God spoke to me in the way I’ve learned to recognize. He said, You’re following too close. I knew instantly that He wasn’t talking about the obvious.

He was talking about my mentor, who had died just a few weeks earlier. I knew that He was telling me that I must not follow him or any one else so closely. And I was not to emulate his lifestyle. I must take care of myself.

My only hero now is Jesus. He didn’t wear out; He didn’t rust out; He was poured out for you and me. I love Him for that!

•••••

January 6

The Waterline

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

(I Corinthians 10:13)

For nearly half of my life I lived by the sea. I learned a lot from watching people and birds and waves and ships. One of my favorite activities was to slip out of my office and drive five minutes to a place from which I could see ships coming and going on Humboldt Bay.

One thing that I learned is that you could tell by looking at a ship how full it was even though you couldn’t see its cargo. There’s a thing called a water line on the side of the ship. If the ship’s water line is above the surface of the water, the ship is nearly empty. If the ship’s water line is at or below the surface of the water, the ship is loaded and can’t take on any more.

The placement of the water line on the ship is determined by very specific criteria that are determined when the ship is built. For the life of that ship the water line will remain the same. It represents the load limit of that ship.

When the Bible speaks of temptation, it’s synonymous with testing or trial. The passage above says that God will not put on us more than we are able to bear. Well, who determines what I’m able to bear? I’ve been at my limit many times according to my observations – but I made it through.

God established a water line for me when He made me. In my mother’s womb He knew me and fashioned me to bear a certain load. I have a water line – a load limit, and He promised never to put so much on me that I would sink under the load of it. It is God, my Creator, Who says where the water line is for me – not me.

That can be a bit of a problem if I think I’m about to go under. But since God said what my limit is, He is bound by His own Word to provide a way for me to escape the disaster of over-load.

I’ve often had to bear more than I think I can – but I’ve never had to bear more than Jesus says I can. And underneath me – always – are His everlasting arms.

•••••

January 7

Walls

The Great Wall of China, the walls of Jericho, the Berlin Wall, the Wailing Wall; all of these walls divide somebody from somebody else. That’s what walls do best. That’s why they were built. Make the wall tall enough and thick enough and you could be safe – until somebody found a way to get over, under, around or through it.

Walls are not much good these days as a means of national defense. They never were what they were cracked up to be. But now a nation can be threatened from the sky, and how do you build a wall to deal with that? The thing about walls is that when you build one to defend against threat from any possible direction you’ve just made yourself a prisoner.

One of my favorite walls is the ancient wall around the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was busy minding the king’s business in Susa when he became distressed that the wall protecting his beloved city was in shambles. He spent a good share of the rest of his life supervising the rebuilding of that wall so that the Temple and the city folk could be secure. It was a good wall. Part of that wall exists today and has become a rallying point for the hopes of Jews that Messiah will come and build another temple, and that God Himself will once again dwell there.

A wall I’ve heard a lot about in recent years is the Berlin Wall. It was built by East Germany to protect East Berliners from the ravages of Western values. Many people were killed trying to escape such protection and now the wall has come tumbling down. There’s freedom of sorts in Eastern Europe now but the dissolving of bitterness and the healing of a generation’s wounds will take more than the shattering of a physical barrier.

Ephesians 2:13,14 talks about a wall that divided people from each other and people from God. Now in Christ Jesus you, who formerly were far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall… Jesus brings people together with each other and with God. That’s what He does best.

There’s another wall that’s breaking all the rules about walls; the Vietnam Wall, as it’s called. Its real name is the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington D.C. This wall has had an astonishing effect upon those who spend time reading the names of thousands of men and women who gave their lives in defense of freedom.

Our nation was divided about the war in Vietnam but The Wall is changing some things. Walls are built to keep people apart; this one brings people together. Walls are designed to protect people from threat – this one is disarming with its stark simplicity. Walls are supposed to be barriers – this one has become a bridge!

•••••

January 8

The Duration

I was six years old when World War II began. I don’t remember very much about the war but I can recall how it affected our family. My uncle was in the Army so his family came to live with us. My grandparents also came to live with us. We were one big happy family – we really were!

It was then that I learned the word duration. The government issued special stamps so people could buy limited quantities of gasoline and tires. Food and clothing were rationed and one of my favorite things – professional baseball – was suspended in our area. Even copper pennies were no longer produced because they needed copper for the war. Zinc alloy pennies replaced them. The government said it would be that way for the duration, which I understood to mean, until the end of the war.

World War II was a time of great sacrifice for all Americans. I remember asking how long we would all be together in one house, and how long until we could get enough gas to take a trip to the zoo in St. Louis, and when would the air raid drills be over? My father said we were in this for the duration.

There was something strangely comforting about having a timeframe for our sacrifice, such as it was. It was useless to complain. I wouldn’t get a new tire for my bike; I’d have to do with what I had for the duration. We made do, and we were happy enough. We simply limited our desires, prayed and waited patiently for the end of the war.

And it came! I remember it well. Bells rang all day long on VE Day (Victory in Europe) and everybody laughed and sang and danced in the streets. The war was over, the boys would be coming home, the sacrifice of a nation had paid off – we won! We had endured the duration! Now we could go to St. Louis.

I’m hearing the phrase again these days in reference to terrorism in our world. Restrictions are placed on travel to certain countries, security is an issue in airports, and good people are dying in defense of freedom. How long will these conditions exist? For the duration – and that may be a while.

The duration mind-set is not a bad thing for the people of God. Jesus spoke of these very days in Matthew 24:6-13. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars… for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… and because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

There are lots of things that I wish were different. It’s good to have faith that God will change our circumstances, but it’s also true that patient endurance in unchanging circumstances is an expression of faith. Longsuffering means to suffer for a long time. But when the war is over, our joy will know no bounds.

Our celebration at the end is in proportion to our endurance until the end. The longer the duration, the greater our joy when He comes!

•••••

January 9

Adoption

A ceremony in ancient times is pictured in the language of Scripture. When a slave was adopted into a family, the adopting father would declare before witnesses, You are my son, this day have I begotten you! The traditional response from the slave was the cry, Abba father!

Adoption today is also a means by which an outsider may become a family member by a means other than birth, but this is not so in the family of God. In fact, there is no way to enter God’s family except by birth – new birth. You must be born again. (John 3:7) We are not adopted into God’s family in lieu of birth – we become His sons and daughters by being born from above.

We have an adopted daughter and she is precious to us. A choice made her ours – our choice, and hers. She was eighteen, old enough to choose, when we both signed the adoption papers. What beautiful word – chosen.

This is a beautiful picture of our relationship with our Heavenly Father. We are His by choice; His choice first – then ours. And in that mutual choosing, we are born again into His forever family. He says, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (I Peter 2:9)

The word adoption means, to place as a son. The term son is contrasted with the term child in Galatians 4:1-7, which indicates that a child is not to be trusted with an inheritance, but a son, suggesting responsibility and maturity, is given his inheritance. Adoption, then, is also the act of the Father making a child into a son, a minor into an adult. After becoming a child of God by new birth, I am immediately advanced to the mature position of son, in the eyes of God if not in my own sight.

An adopted child in God’s family is a responsible, mature son with all of the benefits. And to help us live responsibly, the Word says: Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying out, ‘Abba Father’. Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4:6, 7)

From the beginning of our new birth into His family, Jesus has been living inside of us to help us live, not as babies but as mature sons and daughters of God, and responsible heirs of all that God has promised.

•••••

January 10

Love and Marriage

Today is my wife’s birthday so I dedicate these words to her. As of January 1, 2005, we’ve been married for fifty years. Happy birthday, honey.

Love and marriage, love and marriage; they go together like a horse and carriage; so says the old song. But which comes first? Which is the horse and which is the carriage? In the case of the life-long commitment of two people to each other, is love the horse that pulls the marriage carriage, or is marriage the horse that draws love?

Can two people really love each other enough, in the beginning, to carry them all the way, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death us do part? Or does love grow as a result of facing fears and tears and years together in marriage? If we expect that first love is sufficient to carry us through to the end, we may be like the man who said, I have enough money to last me the rest of my life – if I die next Tuesday!

In our case, we could not carry enough love into our marriage to last a lifetime. We had to pick some up along the way. Young people often come to the marriage altar with fairy-tale idealism, believing that once a person falls in love, he lives happily ever after. Marriages may be made in heaven but they must be lived on earth.

In Psalm 4:1, David expresses the key to an enlarged capacity to love. He said, 0 God... You have enlarged me when I was in distress. The word distress means to be pressed out of shape. The stress is relieved, not by eliminating stress, but by enlarging capacity. In other words, David says: When I get pushed out of shape, my capacity to contain stress is enlarged and I am relieved.

We can react rigidly to stressful situations, refuse to be enlarged, and break under the pressure, or we can be flexible and forgiving and find that we are growing in our capacity to love. There are ample stresses in marriage to break us or to allow for love to grow, but there is no enlarging without pressure to go beyond our limits, and pressure is pain.

My wife and I have grown in our capacity to love each other, and Jesus, because we have learned to be enlarged by our stresses, and we’ve had some whopper size challenges. To embrace, rather than simply tolerate, the inevitable flaws we all bring to marriage is to be enlarged to love more. To insist on perfection and a flawless union is to become hard and rigid and bitter, ready to crack at the appearance of stress.

Trees and people break because they will not bend. Thanks for bending with my flaws, dear one.

•••••

January 11

Integrity

Honesty is a missing element in much of our society because of a missing element in our character – integrity. Honesty is the effect – integrity is the cause. Honesty is the fruit – integrity is the tree. Integrity is the character trait – honesty is the action that proceeds from it.

To understand this vital quality let’s look at the word integrity. Its origins are revealing. The root of it is the noun integer, meaning the whole of anything. An integer is a whole number. From there we go to the adjective integral; constituting an essential part of the whole. Then to the verb integrate, meaning to make entire, or whole. Finally we come to our noun integrity. Literally, integrity is the state of being whole or entire.

The U. S. Navy uses this word to describe the reliability of its submarines. They speak of the integrity of a vessel; is it whole, are there flaws or cracks that will cause failure under the tremendous pressure of deep-sea dives? If flaws are found, the integrity of the vessel is compromised, and it’s not sea worthy. It can’t sail until repairs are made.

A few years ago, our nation was shocked and grieved by the loss of seven people aboard the space shuttle Challenger. We watched in horror as the vehicle that carried them exploded and fell to earth in thousands of pieces. In fact, the space shuttle failed because it did not have integrity. It had flaws in its character that caused it to fail under pressure.

We fail under the pressure of temptation because we are not whole, we do not have integrity. Wholeness is God’s answer to the allurements of the world. If I am whole, I need nothing else to complete me. But if I’m not whole, the empty spaces in me attract whatever is there.

Integrity is much more than mere honesty. It’s the result of wholeness that God is working in me to fill up the empty places.

The Scripture says a lot about integrity. The integrity of the upright will guard them. (Proverbs 11:3) Let integrity and uprightness preserve me. (Psalm 25:21)

But the best description of integrity comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and it doesn’t even use the word. It says, And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

That is wholeness – that is integrity.

•••••

January 12

Abounding Grace

Let us come boldly before the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

I’m reluctant to speak of grace in a few words because it’s so central to all of God’s dealings with us. It deserves more consideration than one page allows.

One of my favorite expressions about the subject is Grace is not a blue-eyed blond. In other words, grace isn’t a synonym for beauty or poise, like a ballerina or an Olympic skater. We say Michelle Kwan is very graceful on the ice, a picture of smoothness and beauty of movement. But the grace of God is entirely something else; it transcends all else in its beauty.

When God took on human flesh, John 1:14 says He was full of grace and truth. Jesus is grace-full – full of grace. Jesus is truth-full – full of truth.

On the cross His body was penetrated by thorns and nails, and then a spear, but out of Him flowed grace and truth. Father, forgive them, they know not what they do, He said. Under pressure, whatever one is full of comes out like toothpaste from its tube. Every crisis in Jesus’ life was an occasion for grace and truth to pour forth from within Him.

I want to be like that. I’d like to be so full of grace that when I’m squeezed by circumstances, out of me pours grace. What are you full of? You can tell what you’re full of by what comes out of you when the pressure’s on.

God intends that grace be the central core of my relationship with Him. In fact, He intends that grace be as dominant now, as sin was in my life. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

There it is! Grace is to reign, dominate, control, and abound in my life now just as sin reigned, dominated, controlled, and abounded in my life before Jesus came to free me from the law of sin and death.

Grace is God giving Himself to us. It took something more powerful than sin to save us and keep us from falling flat on our faces in utter defeat. Grace is that power, greater than all our sin, and we all know the power of sin.

God says, My grace is sufficient (enough) for you. By the way, this isn’t a promise; it’s a fact – a present reality.

I need not ask Him to make what is!

•••••

January 13

God Sets The Table

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

(Psalm 23)

In this well-known psalm the Lord says that, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, His rod and His staff (His rule and protection) would comfort us. He says further that He has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies and He invites us to come and partake of His gracious provision.

I’ve been pondering these beautiful words. They mean a lot to me because of a valley that I’ve recently gone through, and there was indeed, a table of provision for me in that dark place.

One question I had was, Why did you prepare a table for me right in the middle of conflict with my enemies surrounding me. Wouldn’t it have been better to put it in a peaceful place? He said, in a way that I’ve come to know His voice, That’s the only place I could put it.

This statement implies one of three things. First, that God was powerless to place the table anywhere but in the presence of my enemies. This would mean that there were forces greater than He that determined where He would set the table. Unthinkable! Jehovah, Almighty God, the Maker of heaven and earth, at the mercy of greater powers that limit His options? Incredible!

Second, God could be saying that I have so many enemies that it’s impossible to set it anywhere without it being in their presence. On the other hand, the real enemies are not flesh and blood, and not even the devil, but they are sin, fear, guilt, bitterness and death. These are always lurking in the shadows. Perhaps this is what He meant.

Third, and this is what it meant to me, God said that His plan for my life required that the table be spread in the presence of my enemies. To set it anyplace else would be less than the best for me. It wasn’t that God was powerless to control its placement. It wasn’t that it was impossible to set it where there wasn’t an enemy. It is that He is committed to His purpose and that conflict and confrontation with my enemies is part of the development of character and the fulfillment of His plan for my life.

So, to assure that I am sustained in the heat of battle, He spreads a feast for me on the field of conflict and invites me to dine as His special guest.

Incidentally, He also gives firm notice to my enemies that I am His!

•••••

January 14

Satisfying Rain

There’s a place in Scripture that relates to a most essential element for life on planet earth – rain. It’s Deuteronomy 11:10-15. Here’s what it says:

For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.

And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. And He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied.

Israel had been in Egypt for 400 years, and now they were on their way to the Promised Land. Egypt wasn’t a bad place; it was the intellectual, scientific, cultural, and financial center of the world at that time. But it was bondage for God’s people. That’s a pretty good picture of life in these United States in the Twentieth-first Century; all the affluence, culture, technology, and education the world can amass is here – but many of God’s chosen are in the grip of its influence and don’t realize that a better land awaits.

According to this passage, there was one big difference between Egypt and the Land of Promise – rain. There’s not much of it in Egypt. Life is huddled close to the banks of the river Nile, and a few miles east or west of the river no vegetable or animal life can be sustained without some unusual provision of water. It says in verse ten of the account that in Egypt you had to sow your seed and water it with your foot…

That’s a strange statement. But when I was in Egypt I saw a device called a shaduf, which is a kind of multiple bucket arrangement on a wheel powered by foot pedals. As the worker pedaled, the buckets were lowered into the river, brought up full and dumped into channels, which carried the water to the crops. It was an ingenious system, necessary because there was no rain.

When God’s people came into their land – a land of hills and valleys (ups and downs) – the labor needed to water the crops was unnecessary. The land, which lay before them drank water from the rain of heaven – a picture of the blessing of the Lord for those who walk in His ways.

I will give you rain in its season… and you shall eat and be satisfied!

It’s beginning to rain – Yes!

•••••

January 15

Putting Jesus First

He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him… (Colossians 1:17-19)

One of the most profound pieces of advice I’ve received is this: Never forget that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The challenge is to decide what the main thing really is.

Actually, the main thing is no thing at all – it’s Jesus, the Head of the church, and the Preeminent One in the entire universe. He is the Center around which everything moves, the Foundation upon which everything rests, and, according to Colossians 1:17, By Him all things are held together. In God’s order of things Jesus is definitely Number One.

But, in practical terms, how do I keep Him in His place of preeminence in my life? There is only so much time in a day, so many hours in a week, and so many heartbeats in a lifetime. With the demands of job, family, school, and church how can I keep the main thing the main thing?

So, if the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, how can I be sure that Jesus is the main thing – Numero Uno – in my life? What does it mean for Him to have first place in my life. It boils down to this:

I choose to give Him –

• The first moments of my day.

• The first portion of my income.

• The first day of my week – Sunday.

• And first consideration in all my decisions.

If I can do these things consistently, I’m assured that Jesus is in the driver’s seat; He is seated on the throne of my heart… He is indeed, Numero Uno!

•••••

January 16

What’s It To You

One of my favorite stories came from Whittier, Ca. in 1983. Hoodlums broke into a department store there one night. They didn’t steal or destroy anything; they just had a wonderful time – switching price tags. The next morning customers were puzzled and delighted to find fur coats selling for $5. Face cream was priced at $150; a silver service for $1.75; a pair of ladies hose for $390; umbrellas for $1000. Diamond rings were tagged at $2 each.

Is this what has actually happened in our society? Has someone, or something, crept into our hearts and switched price tags so that our values are confused?

I’ve been pondering the value of the church to my family. While it may be difficult, it may be helpful to try to give an actual dollar value to the things I’m about to list.

For instance, what’s it worth that the church is a respected voice for righteousness in this community? What’s it worth to have a well-kept, pleasant place to gather to worship the Lord our God?

What is the value of a year-round Christian education ministry, encouraging principles in our kids that will enrich their lives for time and eternity?

What’s it worth that there is well planned, spiritually sound ministry to pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults being carried on continuously by gifted people who care? What’s it worth to have fellowship with people worth knowing, who are going in the same direction you are?

What’s it worth that, in the church a life-style, free from harmful addictions, is encouraged and modeled which results in many added years of active life for all who choose to so walk? What’s it worth to have consistent, gifted teaching by godly men and women that leads us into the treasures of the knowledge our Lord and His ways?

What is the value of music; music that lifts the spirit, heals the emotions and expresses the deepest longings of the heart; music that effectively cancels the noise of the world; music that you hear and learn and sing here in this place?

What’s it worth to have people with whom to celebrate the passages of life; the birth and dedication of babies, the marriage of sons and daughters, the baptism of new believers, and the joyous home going of loved ones?

All of these things and more have great value, and they come with a price tag. Even the redemption we freely enjoy was not without great price.

Do you have your price tags on the right things?

•••••

January 17

Words Mean Things

Lately, I’ve been pondering the wonder of language. The ability to credibly communicate an idea is an awesome thing. I have great admiration for anyone who can put words together in meaningful sentences. Such skill is a holy thing and gift from God, in whose image we are made.

It’s a sign of our times that movies, books, songs, and conversations are filled, not with carefully thought out dialogue, but with expressions of vulgarity, filth and blasphemy known as expletives. Conversation, a movie, book, or song spiced with expletives is offensive not only because the expressions vainly invoke the Name I love, but the chosen expletives also reveal an inexcusable intellectual laziness.

I grew up learning that certain words should not be spoken. Having one’s mouth washed out with soap implied that there must be dirt in there somewhere. But when parents weren’t listening, kids would often utter the forbidden phrases in rebellion.

This childish fetish survives to adulthood in many whose vocabulary should’ve grown richer with age. Words mean things, and often words DO mean (bad) things to people.

In a curious linguistic twist, there are some words that are acceptable in the pulpit but are frowned upon when uttered in the pew. The words damn and hell never found their way into my vocabulary, but I wondered why my pastor could say them in a sermon without a good soapy mouth washing.

These two words are sprinkled strategically throughout the Scriptures. They’re part of the inspired record of God’s dealings with humankind. They’re not taking the Lord’s Name in vain, nor are they sexually explicit. So what’s so bad about using these words in casual or even angry conversation?

Well, apart from the afore-mentioned intellectual laziness, there are some serious considerations here. The thoughtless use of words that carry such awesome meaning does have consequences worth considering.

There’s the matter of authority. You or I do not have the authority to damn anyone or anything. Such a request misrepresents the nature of God and the mission of Jesus. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

Also, the casual use of words like these trivializes the most serious matters facing mankind – the judgment of God for sin, and the eternal abode of the lost. If I were the devil, I would take great pleasure in people taking hell and damnation with a grain of salt. In fact, I would encourage their misuse – were I the prince of darkness.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

•••••

January 18

Follow Through

It’s a puzzle to me! It’s the same with every game I’ve ever tried to play. They keep telling me that my follow-through needs improving. It was that way in tennis: you’ve got to follow

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