Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I remember as a kid sitting on the church pew leaning against my mother while she joyfully sang the hymns.  One of her favorites that I remember is “Where He Leads I’ll Follow.” 

Sweet are the promises, Kind is the word;

Dearer far than any message man ever heard,

Pure was the mind of Christ, Sinless I see;

He the great example is, and pattern for me

Where…….He Leads I’ll follow,

Fol    –   low all the way.

Where…….He leads I’ll follow,

Follow Jesus ev’ry day. 

As we go through life on this earth, we don’t know exactly where the path of following Jesus will lead us through, but we certainly know where it will ultimately lead us to—

Grace and peace,

Mike

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Before me, even as behind, God is, and all is well. – John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier did not come up with the idea that God goes before us and behind us as our guide and shield.  The Lord spoke to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “For you shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight; for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard” (Isa. 52:12, NKJV).  Isaiah says that we need not fear because the Lord goes before us to clear the way, and He also covers our flanks.  We are hemmed in on every side by the presence of God.  Let us, therefore, affirm in praise today the confidence of David when he wrote, “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?  When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.  Though an army besiege me,  my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident” (Ps. 27:1-3, NIV).

Grace and peace,

Mike

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We learn to play by playing; we learn to live by living; We learn to pray by praying; we learn to give by giving.

Yesterday I was blessed to get to hear Art Williams speak.  He was on the campus of Regent University
to be a guest on the 700 Club and agreed to speak to a small group of students for about an hour who had RSVP’ed ahead of time.  I was one of them.  Art was a high school football coach who won seven straight national championships and then he started his own life insurance company.  Focusing on only one product—term life—within just a few years A. L. Williams was the #1 life insurance company in the world with over $300 billion in assets.  Art Williams is a Christian who is a devoted husband and father, a best-selling author and quite the motivational speaker.  His simple, persistent message is: “Winners do it until it’s done.”  His favorite answer to “How do I…?” questions is “You just do it.” 

So maybe it’s time for us to stop saying, “When this happens, I’ll start doing it,” or “If I could only have this, then I could do that,” or “If I only had more time,” or “I’d like to do this, but…,” and simply commit it to the Lord and with His help and a winner’s spirit, do it!  Hmmm!  That does have kind of a biblical ring doesn’t it?  “I can do all things though Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, NKJV).

Grace and peace,

Mike

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TFT for 7 Nov

“When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan” (Prov. 29:2, NIV).

“While just government protects all their religious rights, true religion affords to government its surest support” –George Washington, October 9, 1789.

“The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue….”  –John Adams, June 21, 1776 

“I do not think I could, myself, be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at religion” –Abraham Lincoln, August 15, 1846.

I encourage you to exercise your right to vote today.  Let your Christian voice be heard.  Vote your conscience.  If you are in Virginia, remember that you have an opportunity to protect the sanctity of marriage as God created it to be by voting “Yes” to Amendment 1.

Grace and peace,

Mike

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We shrink or expand to the size of our vision.

There’s a saying that goes like this, “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

Today’s a new day.  It’s a new week.  Perhaps it is time to seek a new vision from God for your life, for your family, for your church, for your future.  What has God gifted you with and what does He want you to do it?  What activities, what ministry does He want you to plug into and serve?  When is the last time you volunteered at church or in the community, simply out of a desire to serve God by serving others?  When is the last time you spoke to spiritual leader and asked for advice about what God’s will for your life is?  When is the last time that you sincerely prayed to God and asked, “Lord, I want to be part of something bigger than myself.  I want to be used by You.  I want to make a difference in people’s lives.  I don’t want to spin my wheels.  I don’t want to waste time.  I don’t want to strain at gnats and swallow camels.  I don’t want to go through the motions.  God, please give me vision of Your will for my life!  God, please fill my heart with Your desires!”  If you just did, then say “amen” and begin earnestly seeking the opportunities and seize them as the Lord provides.  Focus on the things of God.  Get active in church.  Go to Bible study and worship.  Seek the counsel and prayers of others.  Make yourself available and God will make you productive!  It doesn’t matter if you feel gifted or talented, that’s God’s job to provide.  You simply make yourself available; be willing to open your eyes and expand your vision and God will reveal and give you joy, peace and fulfillment.

What do the Scriptures say in this regard?  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6, NIV). 

Grace and peace,

Mike

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Humanity is a symphony whose conductor is God.

There are different applications to draw from this thought for today.  One point to make that is in line with yesterday’s TfT is how God values the diversity of instruments and music that each makes.  The conductor looks out over the musicians and waves his wand (all you orchestra people forgive me; I’m sure there’s a more appropriate word than “wand” to use here) back and forth over them all.  It doesn’t matter where they are seated or what chair number they occupy, all have a place and receive their direction from the conductor. 

A second point is that each musician must practice and learn to play and care for his or her instrument properly.  My 13-year old son, Ryan, is taking Clarinet lessons.  As most of you know, he has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and the clarinet is an instrument that is not too physically challenging for him and it is great exercise for his lungs.  He has had four weeks of practices, but he has yet to start playing.  He is still needing to soak the reed in his mouth to get it conditioned.  Last night we heard him hit a G-note for first time with just the reed and the mouthpiece.  And each time he practices, he has to get out his cleaning kit and properly care for his instrument before putting it back in its case.  In a similar way, each of us as God’s instruments must allow ourselves to be conditioned and realize that it takes a lot of discipline and practice to make beautiful music. 

A third point is that for a symphony to make beautiful music, all the musicians must play the same sheet music in harmony.  The sheet music our Conductor has provided for us is the Bible and we will never make beautiful music in our lives unless we learn to read the music composed for us on the pages of the Bible.  That is why it is important for us to spend time together in Sunday school and worship and during the week studying God’s word.  As we do, our instruments stay in tune and we play the right notes.

Grace and peace,

Mike

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A dewdrop does the will of God as much as a thunderstorm.

1 Peter 4:10 instructs us, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  Reflect with me for a moment on this verse of Scripture.  “Each one.”  Peter does not say “Each apostle” or “Each prophet” or “Each evangelist” or “Each teacher” or “Each deacon” or “Each elder.”  He says, “Each one.”  That means every single person in God’s church.  Every Christian is gifted.  God has no ungifted children.

Not only does every Christian have at least one spiritual gift, but “whatever gift he has” can and should be used to serve others for the glory of God.  Peter does not say only the “sign gifts” or “teaching gifts” or “healing gifts” or “prophetic gifts” or “administrative gifts” should be used.  He says “whatever gift” that “each one” has should be used.  Whether you are a dewdrop or a thunderstorm in your role you are to faithfully do what God has gifted and called you to do.  In so doing, we are “administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  God likes diversity and variety.  God appreciates differences—He created them!  God is glorified when we individually serve each other in the way God has equipped us to do. If you are a dewdrop, then don’t envy the thunderstorm.  If you are a thunderstorm, then don’t despise the dewdrop.  Rather praise God for the various administrations of His grace and boast not in what your role is but be humbled by the fact that you have a role at all and use it to glorify God by serving others.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having  gifts  of healing, those able to help others, those with  gifts  of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts (1 Cor. 12:27-31, NIV).   

Grace and peace,

Mike

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In Christ, God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

Do you ever wonder why some people have peace in the midst of severe trials while others seem so miserable even though they are living the “good life”?  Jesus taught us that it is the poor in spirit who are blessed.  He emphasized time and again that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  In a world that is so obsessed with wealth and pleasure, we need to be reminded that wealth is not a blessing in and of itself.  Proverbs 10:22 states, “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.”  The blessing is found in the last half of the verse, not the first.  1 Tim. 6:10 sums up the situation of many chasing the “American dream” today: “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  The comfort of God is the richest blessing we can experience.  Better to have the comfort of God in poverty than the affliction of God in wealth.

Of course, this principle applies to a broader context than our finances.  It can apply to our states of mind, for example.  Do you know that it has been scientifically proven that the more highly educated you are the more likely you are to be duped by some convincing argument?  It’s true.  Because you think you are too intelligent to be fooled you are all the more easily deceived.   Yes, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Prov. 11:2).   Indeed, God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.  The foolishness of God is wiser than men. 

I can’t reflect on this principle without mentioning Philippians 3:6-7, either.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   If we pretend on the outside that we are comfortable when really we aren’t, all we will experience is affliction.  But if we will humble ourselves and confess our need for help, then our affliction will be comforted by God.  David shared about how he learned this principle when he confessed, “  When I kept silent,  my bones wasted away  through my groaning all day long…Then I acknowledged my sin to you  and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess  my transgressions to the LORD”–  and you forgave  the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 32:3, 5). 

How do you see your life right now?  Are you experiencing God’s comfort or affliction?  Do you think it is possible to experience both at the same time?  Perhaps God is comforting you in one area of your life, but afflicting you in another.  If you feel like you are just completely stressed out or that nothing seems to be working out for you in life, then spend some time in prayer.  Ask God to reveal to you what is preventing you from living in the peace and blessing of His comfort.  He is faithful and he will do it.

Grace and peace,

Mike

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If we serve only for the approval of others, we will lose the approval of God.

The Apostle Paul received a lot of criticism as a preacher of the gospel.  The New Testament indicates that he had critics everywhere he went and in every church he served.  Paul didn’t mind people scrutinizing his message by sifting it through a scriptural filter.  In fact, the Bereans were commended over the Thessalonians for doing just that (Acts 17:11).  But, then, there were those who simply didn’t like Paul because of his methodologies or because they felt he didn’t measure up to Peter and the rest of “The Twelve.”  There were those who considered Paul to have an unimpressive appearance and weak sermon delivery.  There were those who didn’t want to accept the mission and purpose God had given him to be an apostle to the Gentiles.  Prior to Paul, the church was almost exclusively a Jewish enterprise.  Paul was viewed as a change agent who was destroying the church, when in fact he was working as an expert builder building on the foundation laid by Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11).

 What was Paul’s response to all his critics?  He agreed with them that he didn’t deserve to be an apostle and that he was the least among them (1 Cor. 15:9).  He agreed that there were far more eloquent speakers than he (1 Cor. 2:1).  But, more importantly, he didn’t take their criticisms to heart and instead he remained focused on and obedient to God’s calling on his life.  Paul realized there were many who didn’t like him or appreciate his ministry.  To these he affirmed, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10, NIV).  He didn’t concern himself with rank or popularity as an apostle (Gal. 2:6).  Even if the esteemed Peter himself was acting out of line with the gospel, Paul would not shirk back from pointing out the hypocrisy (Gal. 2:14).  Paul remained “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [his] labor [was] not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58, NKJV), despite what appearances and/or his critics might indicate to the contrary.  Paul fought the good fight, he finished the race, and he kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7).  As a result he died having brought thousands of Gentiles (“unchurched”) to the Lord and changed the face of the church throughout much of the world.  While thousands disliked Paul and did not mourn his death, many more thousands appreciated him and owed their salvation to his relentless commitment to preach the gospel as God revealed it to him and not give in to the pressures of his critics.

I pray God will raise up more preachers like Paul in this generation and that more churches would appreciate them and respect their calling and authority in the Lord and work with them to reach those who have never heard instead of worrying over the beloved traditions of those who are already saved.

Grace and peace,

 Mike

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Pride is the only poison that is good for us when swallowed.

Yesterday I was under the stress of meeting a deadline.  I had a research paper on a Christian communicator due for one of my classes.  To complicate matters, Theresa was in Arkansas last Thursday through Monday and I had the new kitchen sink and garbage disposal to hook up over the weekend.  Yeah, I know if I hadn’t waited until the last week, it would have not been so stressful, but that’s often the way it has to be when you are trying to manage family, ministry and full-time course load.  Anyway, I had a lot of my research done and half of the paper written, but come yesterday I still had about twenty articles to read and the other half of the paper to write.  So I worked through lunch and finally at 5:30 p.m. I printed it out and headed for my 6:00 p.m. class.  On the way I passed through a fast food drive through and in less than 60 seconds I think I had scarffed down a 1/3 lb cheese burger with purple onions, a large curly fries and diet coke. 

 You know what, when your empty stomach has already been pumping a lot of acid all day, I don’t advise sending huge chunks of cheeseburgers—especially with purple onions—and fries and carbonated beverage down the hatch.  Needless to say, when I lay down in the bed the piercing pain of heartburn set in.  Fortunately it wasn’t anything that a couple of extra strength antacids couldn’t alleviate.

 Reflecting on the thought for today got me to thinking that swallowing our pride can also cause heartburn.  It is not easy and our flesh doesn’t like it, and it will cause some stabbing chest pain.  But God’s Spirit of grace is more than sufficient to absorb and neutralize the acidic pride that we swallow, don’t you think?

 Grace and peace,

 Mike

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