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Friday, November 30, 2012

John Newton's Hymn

1 Corinthians 15:10 (New International Version)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

I was born in 1725, and I died 1807. The only godly influence in my life, as far back as I can remember, was my mother, whom I had for only seven years. When she left my life through death, I was virtually an orphan.

My father remarried, sent me to a strict military school, where the severity of discipline almost broke my back. I couldn't stand it any longer, and I left in rebellion at the age of ten. One year later, deciding that I would never enter formal education again, I became a seaman apprentice, hoping somehow to step into my father's trade and learn at least the ability to skillfully navigate a ship.

By and by, through a process of time, I slowly gave myself over to the devil. And I determined that I would sin to my fill without restraint, now that the righteous lamp of my life had gone out. I did that until my days in the military service, where again discipline worked hard against me, but I further rebelled.

My spirit would not break, and I became increasingly more and more a rebel. Because of a number of things that I disagreed with in the military, I finally deserted, only to be captured like a common criminal and beaten publicly several times.

After enduring the punishment, I again fled. I entertained thoughts of suicide on my way to Africa, deciding that would be the place I could get farthest from anyone that knew me. And again I made a pact with the devil to live for him.

Somehow, through a process of events, I got in touch with a Portuguese slave trader, and I lived in his home. His wife, who was brimming with hostility, took a lot out on me. She beat me, and I ate like a dog on the floor of the home. If I refused to do that, she would whip me with a lash.

I fled penniless, owning only the clothes on my back, to the shoreline of Africa where I built a fire, hoping to attract a ship that was passing by. The skipper thought that I had gold or slaves or ivory to sell and was surprised because I was a skilled navigator. And it was there that I virtually lived for a long period of time. It was a slave ship.

I went through all sorts of narrow escapes with death only a hairbreadth away on a number of occasions. One time I opened some crates of rum and got everybody on the crew drunk. The skipper, incensed with my actions, beat me, threw me down below, and I lived on stale bread and sour vegetables for an unendurable amount of time. He brought me above to beat me again, and I fell overboard. Because I couldn't swim, he harpooned me to get me back on the ship. And I lived with the scar in my side, big enough for me to put my fist into, until the day of my death.

On board, I was inflamed with fever. I was enraged with the humiliation. A storm broke out, and I wound up again in the hold of the ship, down among the pumps. To keep the ship afloat, I worked along as a servant of the slaves. There, bruised and confused, bleeding, diseased, I was the epitome of the degenerate man. I remembered the words of my mother. I cried out to God, the only way I knew, calling upon His grace and His mercy to deliver me, and upon His son to save me. The only glimmer of light I would find was in a crack in the ship in the floor above me, and I looked up to it and screamed for help. God heard me.

Thirty-one years passed, I married a childhood sweetheart. I entered the ministry. In every place that I served, rooms had to be added to the building to handle the crowds that came to hear the gospel that was presented and the story of God's grace in my life. My tombstone above my head reads, "Born 1725, died 1807. A clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he once long labored to destroy."

I decided before my death to put my life's story in verse. And that verse has become a hymn.

My name?
John Newton.

The hymn?
"Amazing Grace."

Dear Lord we thank You for Your amazing grace. We pray that we would always remember what You have done for us in the good times and the bad times. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are You Judgmental or Focusing On Jesus?

Matthew 27:41-44 (New International Version)
41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

On June 7, 1944, after V-day in Normandy, King Leopold the Third, King of Belgium, was deported to Germany with his family under suspicion of collaboration with the Germans. On September 8, 1944 the Belgian population celebrated the return of their government from London, and twelve days later, that same government appointed Prince Charles, King Leopold's brother, as regent of Belgium.

Six years later, on March 12, 1950, a referendum was held. The subject in question? Whether or not Leopold the Third should be reinstated as King of Belgium. 57.68% of the population voted in favor of his reinstatement, and on July 22, 1950, the king finally returned home.

Not everybody was happy, however. Protests began everywhere with many demanding that the king step down. Although these complainers were in the minority, their criticism was vicious, and a year later, when Boudewijn, Leopold the Third's son, came of age, they got their wish. Leopold the Third stepped down and Boudewijn was appointed king of Belgium.

Why are there so many judgmental people, even among believers?

We have to remind ourselves that even Jesus was not exempt from criticism. He even endured horrible criticism while he hung from the cross!

Jesus Himself gives us a look at such judgmental believers.

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee (Pastor or Priest in now-a-days term) and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14 NIV)

Clearly the judgmental one had two reasons for his attitude: He was proud that he wasn't like the others, and he delighted in putting himself in the lime light of good works. Legalists (otherwise called those who are judgmental) love to attack other people's character and motives. They consider themselves superior to others, and often rank their churches above others as well. Brotherly love is completely non-existent.

Obviously the one who went home justified is the one who searched for mercy from above. Not the one who was self-satisfied.

Judgmental people generally do not know the true God of love. Although they truly believe they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they falsely see God as being critical and overbearing, ever waiting to jump on them for doing the least little thing wrong. Unfortunately, rather than becoming like the God of love clearly portrayed in the Bible, they become like the false image they have of God! The plank in

let's focus on Jesus and on Him alone. He will lift us up, loving us completely and unconditionally, just the way we are.

Dear Lord we pray today that we would focus our eyes on You in all things. Help us not judge our brothers and sisters but instead show them love in the way we talk and respond to them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stay Away From Gossip.

1 Timothy 5:13 (New International Version)
Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.

In 1861, soon after Lincoln’s inauguration, a large Republican delegation from California visited the White House. Their purpose in meeting with the President was to complain about a friend of Lincoln’s, Senator Edward D. Baker of Oregon. The delegation claimed that Senator Baker was interfering with appointments in California and his attempt, as they claim, to foist corrupt and broken-down politicians of doubtful antecedents upon the administration and the people of the Golden State. Some of the Californians sought to assail both the public and private character of Senator Baker.

This angered Lincoln and he vehemently defended his friend. Lincoln’s wrath on the delegation was in short that he would not permit anyone to gossip about Baker in his presence; and if they intended to persuade Lincoln, they would have to do it without character assassination. The result was that the charges against Senator Baker were summarily withdrawn and the delegation apologized for their accusations.

Gossip is a sin. We need to avoid it all cost. Today when we go to our prayer times let’s confess any sin of gossip and seek to only build up others in Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord we pray today that we will keep our hearts and minds away from gossip. We pray that we would instead find ways that we can build people up so that they can see Your love through us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are You Living Your Life With Intent?

1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (New International Version)
26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Buckminster Fuller once said, "The minute you choose to do what you really want to do it's a different kind of life." And it's not about what you're getting PAID to do! If you want to live abundantly, decide what you really want and figure out a way to do it. Be clear and live with intent.

You may have heard of Fred Lebow. Fred complained to his doctor that he lacked energy. His doctor advised him to take up running in order to increase his stamina. He fell in love with it! He was 39 years old when he entered his first race -- and did horribly. He beat only one other contestant., a 72-year-old man. But he loved it!

Fred decided what he really wanted to do -- and he did it in his spare time. He joined the New York Road Runners Club and organized New York City's first marathon race. But what Fred truly wanted to do, even more than run, was to bring people together. And that is what he did. He believe that anybody should be able to run -- people of all ages, any background, professional or amateur, and of any country. Today, more than 28,000 people of all backgrounds and nationalities compete in the NYC Marathon.

Not everyone in New York was excited about people running through their neighborhoods. Fred was approached by a youth gang that warned him that nobody had better run through their turf. "That's great," Fred enthused. "I need someone to protect the runners in your area, and you look like just the fellows to do it." He gave them each a hat, shirt and jacket and that year, when the marathon went through their neighborhood, these young men proudly guarded the runners along their way.

Fred decided what was truly important to him and he found a way to do it. He lived with intent. That single decision made his life remarkably different.

In 1990, Fred Lebow found he had a brain tumor. In 1992 he ran his final race. He crossed the finish line holding the hand of his friend and Norwegian Olympic medalist, Grete Waitz. A bronze statue was created of Fred in his running clothes, checking his watch. It is now placed at the finish line of every race. Fred died in 1994. But as one sports writer said, "Fate handed him a short race. With his gall, with his love of life, Fred Lebow turned it into a marathon."

Fred would say that it's not about how long you live, but how you run the race of life. Do you run it with intent?

Dear Lord we pray today that we would run with intent. Help us do the very best we can with what You have given each of us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, November 26, 2012

O Wondrous Night

Luke 2:11 (New International Version)
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Last night we took the time to go to Sea World to take in some of the Christmas shows. Wow, I was speechless with a lump in my throat I was so moved as we watched O Wondrous Night - The Greatest Story Never Told.  It was awesome. I have a great deal of respect for a business that doesn't hesitate to share the true meaning of CHRISTmas.

O Wondrous Night – The Greatest Story Never Told is a living nativity show tells the Christmas Story, with more than 30 carols and told through the eyes of the animals that were there.

First up are 14 white-robed singers who prove to be top multitaskers. They sing, dance, operate puppets, move scenery, represent angels and literally act as shepherds in the finale. I even found their footwear to be interesting: all manner of white shoes from cowboy boots to ballet slippers to sneakers. And one guy wore a white baseball cap backward. Perhaps the lesson is that there's diversity of accessories when we get to heaven.

The chief storytellers are puppets — a smart-aleck donkey, a dove and a sheep. They brag about their own roles in the Christmas story.  As we read the New Testament versions of the story of Jesus' birth we don’t see that animals have key roles. But remember, this is a story "never" told.

"O Wondrous Night" is, without doubt, a religious presentation. It's like an ambitious Christmas pageant for a mega church. It isn't thoroughly solemn. The script makes reference to "Charlie's Angels," the donkey uses the oh-so-2001 phrase "epic fail," and the innkeeper suggests that Mary and Joseph try "the Best Middle Eastern" hotel.

O Wondrous Night was one of the very best Christmas shows I have ever seen.  Thank you Sea World for telling the story of Christmas in a beautiful and wonderful way.  I enjoyed every minute of it. 

Dear Lord we thank You for sending Your Son to Earth. We thank You for the creativity You have given us and the ability to share Your great gift through many different means. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Are You Visualizing What God Wants You to Do?

2 Timothy 2:15 (New International Version)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Author Marabel Morgan told how for three long months prior to the birth of her second daughter she was flat on her back in the hospital with no visitors allowed. She was bored out of her mind and longed to have something constructive to do but was too drugged to even read, let alone write.

Eventually her baby was born and she returned home. Her life now was filled with things to do taking care, not only of the new baby, but another daughter, her husband, household chores, and innumerable other responsibilities -- not the time to write a book. But she did!

She said, "Once you set your goal, then picture it done. Without this finished picture in your mind, you'll give up halfway. With it, there's no limit to what you might accomplish."

Somebody else said, "Faith is visualizing what God wants you to do." Good point. Once we see what that is, it is so much easier to start doing it! And as an author writes one page of a book at a time, we can fulfill our responsibilities one "page" and one day at a time!

Dear Lord, thank You for the gifts and talents You have given to us. Please help us to know what they are, to be well trained in the use of them, and use them for being a part of what you are doing in our world today. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Are You seeking God's Plan?

Philippians 3:20 (New International Version)
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we look at life and how things are going are we looking at it from the viewpoint of what I want or from God’s perspective of what is best? Things can change in a twinkle of an eye as is shown in the following story.

One snowy morning, I left church with a simple "to do" list. It included "Go to church, go home, and relax with the family." Nowhere on the list was "fishtail around an icy curve, become airborne, flip my van, barely miss a telephone pole, puncture the gas tank, and crash upside down in a cow pasture." But that’s just what I did.

My plans flew out the shattered windshield, as I peered out at the world upside down. (Does it turn your world upside down when things don’t go as you’d planned?) Amid the odorous cow pies, I observed a herd of hefty Holsteins hot-footing it away from the accordion-shaped vehicle, which had sailed over the barbed wire fence.

This was not my idea of a fun afternoon. There I was, standing on my head, trying to pry open a door that was scrunched into the side of a hill. I smelled gas leaking into the van and I heard my knees knocking. As I pulled glass shards from my head, I envisioned this gas-filled time bomb exploding and blasting me heavenward like a circus clown from a canon. All I could do was tremble and pray. Once again, life had happened while I was making other plans.

While I did not fly to the moon, and my van did not explode, I was rescued by a passing motorist and whisked away in an ambulance to the Emergency Room. As is often the case, my plans changed in the blink of an eye.

When I think I've planned for all the details and I lay out the perfect blueprint for my life, here’s what usually happens: The reality bird comes along and lays an ugly, giant egg in the middle of my agenda!

I've learned that, rather than falling into place, life will more likely fall to pieces. It’s like an ice cream cone. I might think I have it licked; but then it drips all over me.

"But," I say to myself, "Life wasn't supposed to be this way!" I don’t know about you, but I planned to stay healthy/wealthy/young/beautiful/married/happy/unwrinkled, stretch mark free, and flabbiness forever. (You can fill in your own blanks.)

Most people think God wants them to have an easy, comfortable life, getting what they want when they want it. While it’s true that God enjoys giving good things to His children, they’re often not physical things. He wants to provide invisible gifts, such as a closer relationship with Him.

God’s ultimate goal is for me to become like Him. That doesn't happen when everything’s rosy.

When my plans change, I tend to forget that God has a higher goal for me than just a life of ease. He wants to work on my heart and build my character. I believe God cares about my struggles and He hurts when I hurt, but what is most important to Him is developing in me faith, patience, goodness, and gentleness. In other words, God wants to make me like Jesus. Though He doesn't cause struggles and hardships, He uses them to accomplish His goals for my life.
This one is just a rehearsal designed to prepare us for the real thing.

When my plans don’t succeed, I ask what God’s plan might be. Could it be that He allowed a certain situation to redirect my focus? Could He be trying to get my tunnel vision off myself? Maybe He wants to lead me toward a closer relationship with Him.

Instead of telling God my plan and making Him laugh, maybe I should seek to know His plan and make Him smile.

Dear Lord we thank you that You are in control even when things look like they are falling apart. We pray that our trust in You would stay strong. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday and Priorities

Philippians 4:8 (New International Version)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

What is America's favorite holiday? Many will immediately think of Easter, while others think of Christmas. Still others might select New Year's Eve, but none of these are even close. How about Thanksgiving? Though one of the favorites it’s still not number one. . If you define "favorite" as the day people show the most passion and excitement, many Americans' favorite holiday is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday gets its name because so much merchandise is sold on that day that retailers literally see their profit and loss statements move from being in the red to being solidly in the black.

To help you understand the passion this holiday inspires, watch what happens when stores open their doors at 5:00 a.m. Watch as a grown man shoves old ladies aside so they can be the first to grab that season's hottest new video game or computer. Notice how on Thanksgiving Day the lines form before the sunsets. See the effort people exert so they can buy the latest form of technology for just a few dollars. This passion may best be realized by what happened in New York one year. Just a few hours after putting down their Thanksgiving forks, 50,000 people stood in the rain overnight waiting for the 5:00 a.m. opening of the mall. Fifty thousand people— in the rain— just to grab some items on sale!

Where are your priorities? There is nothing wrong with want to get a good deal or save money. Just remember where your priorities are.

Dear Lord we thank You for the many things that You have allowed us to have. We pray that we would never let the things take over our priorities. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

Psalm 100:4-5 (New International Version)
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

It is commonly believed that the first Thanksgiving celebration took place in 1621.  This feast was attended by both Pilgrims and Indians who joined together to thank God for their bountiful harvest of the previous year.  This celebration was continued by the first American colonies, and later by the United States, as a time of thanksgiving for the blessings that God had bestowed upon the American people.

The official Thanksgiving Day holiday was started in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln, at the end of the Civil War, asked Americans to set aside the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving to God for the blessings He had shown to America (one of which was an end to the Civil War).

In 1939 FDR moved the holiday to the prior week.  He did this to help businesses by giving them a longer holiday shopping period.  Finally, in 1941 the fourth Thursday in November was declared by Congress to be the official holiday of Thanksgiving.

Clearly, the Thanksgiving holiday began, and was continued, as a time to give thanks to God for the blessings He has bestowed upon our country and its individual citizens.  Most presidents in their Thanksgiving Day proclamation clearly declare that the day is set aside to give thanks to God for the blessings He has given to us. One example of this is George Bush’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation of 1990…

“Now, therefore, I, George Bush, president of the United States of America, do hereby call upon the American people to observe Thursday, November 22, 1990, as a National Day of Thanksgiving and to gather together in homes and places of worship on that day of thanks to affirm by their prayers and their gratitude the many blessings God has bestowed upon us.”

There can be no doubt, historically, Thanksgiving is a day set aside for giving thanks to God Almighty for His many blessings He has given to us.  On this Thanksgiving Day let us be sure that we have a true thankful attitude towards our God for all His manifold gifts of grace He has given to each of us.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you, May we never forget to give thanks to God for all that He has given each one of us.

Dear Lord We give You thanks for all You've done especially for the gift of Jesus, Your Son. We thank You for the beauty of nature, our health, our friends and family. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, Give Thanks.

Philippians 4:19 (New International Version)
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving day let's take a look at the beginnings of Thanksgiving.

Almost 400 years ago in the country of England (on the other side of the ocean) a group of people called Pilgrims wanted to come to America so that they could worship God. They packed up their belongings, left their houses, and boarded a ship called the Mayflower. There were 102 people on that ship, and most of them were children.

It was very crowded and the journey was difficult. Many grown-ups and children got seasick. Others got sick because they didn't have fruits and vegetables to eat and they didn't have fresh water to drink or to wash in. But God didn't give up on them. He kept watching over them and blessing them. There was even a baby born on the Mayflower! Because he was born on the ocean, his parents named him Oceanus!

The voyage took a long, long time. When the Pilgrims finally got to land, their troubles were not over. By then, it was winter. There weren't any houses to live in. There wasn't much food to eat. In fact, on some days, each person got only a few kernels of corn! Because it was so cold and they didn't have much food, many more people got sick. Many even died.

How do you think they felt? I suppose some of them even wanted to quit and go back to England. They might have done that, but they knew God had led them to their new land, and they trusted him.

When spring came, God sent Native Americans to help the Pilgrims. The Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and fertilize it by putting fish in the ground with the corn seeds. The Pilgrims worked hard that summer growing food and building houses. When fall came, God gave them a great harvest. The Pilgrims knew God had helped them, and they were very thankful to him.

To celebrate God’s goodness to them, they had a feast—a thanksgiving feast. They invited their new friends, the Native Americans, to eat with them. It was the first Thanksgiving, and the celebration lasted for three days!

Just like the Pilgrims, we have struggles too. Sometimes people we love get sick. Sometimes we feel sad or lonely. Sometimes we are afraid. No matter what struggles and troubles we face, God keeps on loving us. He always gives us exactly what we need. 

God loves you! He won’t always take your struggles away, but he promises that he will stay with you. He will always help you, no matter what. God loves you so much that he sent his own Son, Jesus, to die for you to take your sins away. That is the best gift ever! And because God loved us enough to give us his very best Gift—Jesus—we know he will give us everything else we need, too.

Dear Lord, we thank you for the many gifts you give to us, thank you for the many ways you help us each day. We thank for the day we have set aside to be thankful. We pray for safety for all those who will be traveling to spend tomorrow with their loved ones. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Goal or The Journey?

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (New International Version)
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

If you have ever been discouraged because of failure, please read on. For often, achieving what you set out to do is not the important thing. 

Two brothers decided to dig a deep hole behind their house. As they were working, a couple of older boys stopped by to watch.

"What are you doing?" asked one of the visitors.

"We plan to dig a hole all the way through the earth!" one of the brothers volunteered excitedly.

The older boys began to laugh, telling the younger ones that digging a hole all the way through the earth was impossible.

After a long silence, one of the diggers picked up a jar full of spiders, worms and a wide assortment of insects. He removed the lid and showed the wonderful contents to the scoffing visitors.

Then he said quietly and confidently, "Even if we don't dig all the way through the earth, look what we found along the way!"

Their goal was far too ambitious, but it did cause them to dig. And that is what a goal is for -- to cause us to move in the direction we have chosen; in other words, to set us to digging!

But not every goal will be fully achieved. Not every job will end successfully. Not every relationship will endure. Not every hope will come to pass. Not every love will last. Not every will be completed. Not every dream will be realized. But when you fall short of your aim, perhaps you can say, "Yes, but look at what I found along the way! Look at the wonderful things which have come into my life because I tried to do something!"

It is in the digging that life is lived. And I believe it is joy in the journey, in the end, that truly matters. Share that joy with those around you today. God has given us so much let’s share it with others.

Dear Lord we thank You for the journey. We pray that we would look at the joys along the way and not be focused on the end. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Will You Let God Use You to Help Others?

Matthew 7:12 (New International Version)
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

If the American dream means starting with nothing and accumulating great wealth and assets, then Millard Fuller's story qualifies. But when Millard's dream turned into a nightmare, he decided it was time to redefine his vision.

By the age of thirty, he had earned a million dollars, had the ambition to make $10 million, and possessed the skills and resources to do it. He had a luxurious home, a cabin on a lake, 2,000 acres of land, speed boats, and luxury cars. He also had chest pains and a wife and two young children who seldom saw him because he was always working. His empire was rising, but his marriage and family were crumbling. It happens to thousands of men and women driven in the pursuit of wealth and power. Millard was the one-in-a-million millionaire who had the courage to make a change.

The heart attack hit unexpectedly one day at the office. Not the kind of attack that involves clots and arteries but the kind where grief and regret suddenly flood into your life and your heart metaphorically stands still. It was the day Millard's wife, Linda, announced that she no longer felt she had a husband, that she wasn't sure she loved him anymore, and that she was going to New York City to confer with a minister. Millard was stunned. He had given her everything money could buy. How could Linda not love him?

"The week that followed was the loneliest, most agonizing time in my life," Millard remembered. He began to realize that building his business had cost him everything he truly cared about. This realization was driven home when he watched a movie one night with the line "a planned life can only be endured." A planned life-that's exactly what he was living. But he'd forgotten to include a meaningful purpose in his plan.

He called Linda and begged her to see him. She reluctantly agreed and he immediately caught a plane to meet her in New York. The next few days were filled with tears, an outpouring of their hearts, and a commitment to rebuild their lives cm something that mattered. "We both felt a strong sense of God's presence as we talked about the future," Millard explained. "We felt God was calling us to a new way of living." To prepare for this new life, whatever it was, Linda and Millard felt it necessary to get rid of the very things they had allowed to come between them and God in the first place-their business and their material possessions.

They sold everything-the business, the houses, the boats­and donated the proceeds to churches, colleges, and charities. Millard's friends thought he had gone crazy, but Millard had never felt more sane. He was already feeling better. But what to do next? The answer came during a visit with Clarence Jordan. A theologian in overalls, Clarence had started a Christian community called Koinonia near the small southwest Georgia town of Atnericus, 140 miles south of Atlanta. Clarence showed Millard the dilapidated shacks that lined the dirt roads of the surrounding countryside. These shanties, which often leaked and lacked heat and plumbing, were homes to hundreds of impoverished families, a scene duplicated countless times throughout the United States and beyond, since 25 percent of the world's population, or 1.38 billion people, live in substandard housing or have no homes at all.

As an expression of their Christian faith, Millard, Clarence, and several co-workers began to build houses for these needy people, one or two at first, then more and more. Sadly, Clarence Jordan died suddenly of a heart attack while the first house was under construction. Millard and his co-workers continued building for four and a half more years in Koinonia.

Moved by the powerful impact that simple but decent houses had on the families that received them, Millard wanted to see if the concepts pioneered in south Georgia would be applicable in other parts of the world. Millard and Linda traveled to Zaire, in central Africa, and in partnership with the Regional Organization of the Protestant Church, successfully built homes throughout the country for three years. Convinced that they had a concept that would work worldwide, they returned to Georgia in 1976 and Millard launched Habitat for Humanity International.

Millard once had a goal to make $10 million. Now he had a new goal. Could he dare believe he could build houses for 10 million people? Why not? Why not more? Millard and Linda saw their mission as a basic, universal truth: "Everyone who gets sleepy at night should have at the very least, a simple, decent, affordable place to lay their heads." Millard believes providing homes is "elemental goodness and love in action-the very essence of true religion."

The idea behind Habitat for Humanity is simple. Initial skeptics called the idea unrealistic, even insane. It is based on no-profit, no-­interest loans-something naysayers said was "anti-American and

Would never work." But Habitat does work. It provides individuals who have inadequate housing and modest income an opportunity, for the first time, to purchase homes with payments they can afford.

To build new homes, Habitat for Humanity relies heavily on volunteers, most of whom have no experience in construction. Cash and materials are donated by various organizations, corporations, and churches. People from all walks of life give their time and skills for free. Yet Habitat is not a charity. The families who benefit from the housing also provide hundreds of hours of sweat equity, building their own homes and the homes of their neighbors. When the new homeowners make the payments on their no-­interest, no-profit mortgages, Habitat uses the money to build more homes.

Why have so many people and organizations freely given of themselves to this cause? One reason is that the results are so tangible  So often the world's needs seem too great for one person to make a difference. With Habitat, volunteers work side-by-side with the new homeowners to be. When the house is complete, everyone shares in the pride and joy of the new homeowners.

Habitat for Humanity's goal is to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness everywhere. "I have found that the boldness of goals stirs people, and each year we are amazed at the miracles that come from such boldness," said Millard. With Millard's bold plan, Habitat has already built more than 60,000 houses around the world, providing over 300,000 people with safe, decent, affordable shelter. Habitat for Humanity International has more than 1,400 local affiliates located in all fifty states and more than 250 international affiliates. Habitat coordinates some 800 building programs in fifty-one foreign countries.

But Habitat for Humanity builds more than houses-it builds families, communities, and hope. "Home ownership is often the first step upward in a family and it can break the cycle of despair and futility," explained Millard. "It's reclaimed neighborhoods from drug dealers and squalor with houses that have withstood hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods."

Habitat for Humanity also brings together people from all economic, religious, social, and racial groups. Almost everyone in the United States has seen pictures of former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter decked out in overalls, hammering nails and sawing lumber in the noonday sun. Millard got their support simply by asking them. "I submitted fifteen proposals to the President, hoping he'd agree to at least one or two," Millard said. "To my delight, President Carter agreed to them all."

The Carters are only two of many eminent figures who have joined the cause, lending time, money, and support to Habitat. Hundreds of thousands of other volunteers, eminent in deed only, spend endless hours clearing rubble, hanging drywall, and painting. By the end of the century, Habitat for Humanity will be the largest home builder in the world in terms of the number of homes built. A11 the mortar and bricks that go into a Habitat house build not just a home, but new lives. It a11 began because one man and one woman were willing to discard their material riches for something better. Millard and Linda now believe they are two of the richest people alive.

Dear Lord we thank You for the gifts and skills You give each one of us. We pray that we would make it part of our life to use those gifts to reach out to other in Your love. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Brings Bliss to Your Life?

Acts 26:16 (New King James Version)
But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.

Author Joseph Campbell often talked about "following your bliss." I heard of a bus driver in Chicago who does just that.

He sings while he drives. That's right . . . SINGS! And I don't mean he sings softly to himself, either. He sings so that the whole bus can hear! All day long he drives and sings.

He was once interviewed on Chicago television. He said that he is not actually a bus driver. "I'm a professional singer," he asserted. "I only drive the bus to get a captive audience every single day."

His "bliss" is not driving a bus, though that may be a source of enjoyment for some people. His bliss is singing. And the supervisors at the Chicago Transit Authority are perfectly happy about the whole arrangement. You see, people line up to ride his bus. They even let other buses pass by so they can ride with the "singing bus driver." They love it!

Here is a man who believes he knows why he was put here on earth. For him, it is to make people happy. And the more he sings, the more people he makes happy! He has found a way to align his purpose in living with his occupation. By following his bliss, he is actually living the kind of life he believes he was meant to live.

Not everybody can identify a purpose in life. But when you do, and when you pursue it, you will be living the kind of life you feel you were meant to live. And chances are . . . you will be happy.

Dear Lord we pray today that we would be able to find the purpose in our life. Help us to be able to use that purpose to bring happiness to those around us and to ourselves. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

You Can't Just Sit There.

Colossians 3:23 (New International Version)
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 

A few years ago 33-year-old truck driver Larry Walters made national news. Larry had a habit of spending his weekends in his Los Angeles backyard, just south of L.A. International Airport, drinking...Pepsi...and eating peanut butter sandwiches. He would sit in his favorite lawn chair staring at the houses around him in the subdivision where he lived. Not a real exciting life.

One day boredom prompted Larry Walters to buy some balloons and a tank of helium. He figured on tying the balloons to his lawn chair, filling them with helium, and floating up for an aerial view of the neighborhood. He judged he’d get no higher than 100 feet, but just in case, he got out his BB gun and loaded it. He planned to regulate his altitude by shooting out a couple of balloons. I’m not sure how many six packs of...Pepsi...he had consumed when he came to that idea, but he decided it was worth a try.

So Larry Walters of Los Angeles went out and bought 45 big weather balloons, a huge tank of helium, and some rope. First he secured his lawn chair to the ground, then he filled the balloons with helium. One by one he tied them to his lawn chair. Before liftoff he went in the house and got another six-pack of...Pepsi, a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and his BB gun. Then he went out and sat in his lawn chair. He had instructed his neighbors to cut the ropes securing the chair when he was ready. “Let’s go!” he yelled, and the ropes were cut.

But he didn't go 100 feet. He went up 11,000 feet! Shot straight up in the air! And the BB gun? It was useless since he was using both hands to hang on to the chair for dear life.

He zoomed straight up into the landing pattern at L.A. Airport. The pilot of an approaching Continental DC 10 reported that he had just ~passed a man in a lawn chair, and the control tower told him to report in immediately upon landing. They thought the pilot might have been drinking a little too much...Pepsi. Can you imagine being a passenger in that plane? “Look, mom, out the window. There’s a man in a lawn chair!”

Eventually they sent up helicopters to rescue Larry Walters. They closed the airport and diverted all landings and takeoffs at LAX while they played tag with this fellow in his lawn chair at 11,000 feet. When they finally got him down, he was surrounded by TV crews, the police, fire and rescue squads, and plenty of curious people. It was a major event.

“Were you scared?” asked one of the TV reporters, thrusting a mike in his face.

“No, not really” said Larry.

“Are you going to do it again?” asked another reporter.

“No,” said Larry.

“What in the world made you do it the first time?”

Larry Walters thought about it for a moment and said, “Well, you can’t just sit there.”

Dear Lord we pray today that we wouldn't just sit there but that we would do the things that we know we should do. We pray that our priorities would be centered on You. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

What are Your Eyes focused On?

Proverbs 4:25-27 (New International Version)
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
    keep your foot from evil.

A story is told about a bloodhound who started a hunt chasing a stag. A fox crossed the path, so the hound chased the fox. After a while a rabbit crossed the path, so the hound chased it. Later, a mouse crossed the path and the hound chased the mouse into a hole. The hound began his hunt on the trail of a magnificent stag and ended up watching a mouse hole!

Not that there is anything wrong with spontaneity... some of the most wonderful things may come into our lives by beautiful accident. But there is also something to be said for knowing where we want to go.

Florence Chadwick learned the importance of keeping a goal in mind on July 4, 1952. She waded into the Pacific Ocean off Catalina Island and began swimming toward the California coast 26 miles away. The day was cold and her attendants drove off sharks throughout the journey.

Florence had already swum the English Channel twice and, if she could finish today, she would be the first woman to have swum both. But after 15 hours in the water, for the first and only time in her long-distance swimming career, she gave up and climbed into the escort boat. Others had urged her on, but in the fog they could not tell her how near she was to the coast. She later learned that she was less than a half mile from shore.

When asked by a reporter why she gave up, Florence replied:

"It was the fog. If I could have seen land, I could have finished. But when you can't see your goal, you lose all sense of progress and you begin to give up."

On a warm, sunny day two months later Florence Chadwick swam the Catalina Channel, handily beating the men's record. Only when she kept her eyes on her goal did she eventually arrive there.

Keeping that goal constantly in sight will get you where you want to go.

Dear Lord we pray that we would always keep our eyes focused on You so that we can meet the goal before us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are You Aiming to Low?

Genesis 49:24 (New International Version)
But his bow remained steady,
    his strong arms stayed limber,
because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
    because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.

The place was Camp Kaskitowa and it was a week before the campers would show up. As we got camp ready for the summer one of the jobs was to get the archery range ready. I had never shot a bow before but I figured it couldn't be that hard. As I look back what I remember, it wasn't as easy as I thought. Drawing back the bow took a lot of strength and hitting the target was almost impossible. In fact, if there was an award for ‘missing targets’, I would have been awarded it many times.

As I kept missing the target, my friend told me I was aiming too low. My arrow was lined up for the center of the bulls-eye  but each time I let go the arrow, gravity pulled it down, so I missed the mark. As soon as I started to do what my friend told me, I hit the target.

The blessing that Jacob gives to Joseph is one of strength, focus and determination. Joseph has triumphed over adversity and evil. Jacob wants him to continue to be a leader among his brothers, so he blesses him with the strength of an archer, a hunter, and a warrior. Jacob’s God has preserved his son; now the old man wants Joseph to bestow the gifts of perseverance, grit and determination to the rest of the family.

In our own lives, we often miss the marks of faith that God gives us, simply because we aim too low. We worry about budgets and buildings, programs and projects, ministries and missions, which cause us to look down from where God is, and focus on where we are. Only when we begin to look up, to see what God is doing, and start to aim high, will we be able to reach the marks and achievements, the mountaintops and accomplishments that God wants us to fulfill.

Dear Lord we pray that we would turn our eyes upward, so that we may see what You are doing in our church, community, and country. We pray that You will help us to raise our focus and meet the marks that You would have us achieve for Your Kingdom. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.