Taking Inventory

Have you ever taken inventory? Grocery stores take inventories of their food shelves. Factories take inventories of their stock. In a little twist on the same theme, for those in Alcoholics Anonymous, taking inventory is one of the recovery steps. It’s a self-examination of what’s in their heart, and what’s on their mind.

In Psalm 139, David asks God to take inventory of what is in his heart. He tells him to search the shelves of his heart so that he can test and know the kinds of thoughts that are there. He wants to have a completely transparent and authentic relationship with God.

Most importantly, he wants to know that he is on track to enjoy everlasting life in heaven. Is his heart pointed toward the promised Savior? Are his thoughts focused on God’s grace? Is sin an issue that needs to be dealt with? Have his anxious thoughts been replaced by thoughts of forgiveness and God’s acceptance, of God’s certain love and constant protection?

This is a prayer that every Christian should pray daily. It belongs with every confession of sin. It is a great way to begin reading and studying God’s word. It is a tremendous prayer for before the Lord’s Supper. It is an awesome way to end the day, and ready one’s heart for a peaceful night of rest.

It means that we simply want to have a frank, open, honest, authentic and transparent relationship with our God. And we do not want to hold on to any thoughts or feelings that might block or hold back our relationship to him.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV).

Prayer: Repeat the words above from Psalm 139.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 8, is Zechariah 5:1 – 8:23, Jude 1:1-25 and Psalm 139:17-24.

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Uniquely You

In today’s world, there’s a huge interest in having a unique identity. And our culture’s answer to discovering our identity, and being able to see ourselves as unique and special, is described beautifully in the song “Let it Go.”

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!

In other words to discover our true, unique self is to push the boundaries and declare ourselves free from restrictions. It is to pursue freedom without limits.

Interestingly, the Bible also makes the point that each of us possesses a unique identity. It addresses our yearning to be special, and especially loved. But how that identity is established, how our individual uniqueness and giftedness is to be understood is based on something completely different.

The book of Psalms reveals that we were unique from the word go. God himself presided over our DNA at conception, and subsequent creation in our mother’s womb. He carefully knit each of us together, paying attention to crafting our personalities, gifts, abilities and attributes down to the finest detail.

God’s works are wonderful. And that means you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

More importantly, by the blood of Jesus Christ, you were fearfully and wonderfully redeemed and remade into the image of God’s Son. By grace, you have a solid, secure identity as a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And now, your unique gifts serve to benefit God’s kingdom and bring glory to God.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 7, is Zechariah 1:1 – 4:14, 3 John 1:1-14, and Psalm 139:11-16.

Lord, thank you for your one of a kind love. That love has knit me together into a one of a kind person. Because of how you created me, and how you redeemed me through your Son, Jesus, I can know that I am a truly unique person. My identity is secure. The pressure is off to show how special I am. I can simply be the me you created me to be. What grace you show me!

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God’s Answers to Big Questions

Our identity determines much about how we speak and act. Recognizing who we are is a critical piece of knowing how to respond to the various humbling challenges, mind-bending obstacles, heartaches and heart-breaks that arise in our lives.

This is true about other critical answers to big questions in life, not just the question, “Who am I?”

There’s destiny. Where am I going in life?

There’s purpose. Why am I here?

There’s possibility. What am I capable of?

And there’s community. Who will join me and support me on this journey?

All the answers to these questions can give us greater confidence and hope in our lives. Or the answers we have can demolish us and break our will.

If I’m “nobody” that will inform all my actions. If I believe my life is “going nowhere” that will affect my energy and my drive. If I’m sure that there is no end goal, no real purpose to my life, it can be pretty hard to even get going in the morning. Life becomes just one endless series of meaningless tasks.

If I think I have no gifts or talents, and no promise from a loving God to powerfully be with me, I will easily give up when obstacles arise. If I believe I’m alone is life, with no allies and no friends or family to support me, I will isolate myself and be subject to loneliness, frustration and spiritual attack.

That’s why I’m so grateful that God is clear about his answers to all these big questions. In the love that he has lavished on us, he has responded on our behalf to all five questions. He’s supplied those answers in Jesus Christ, and in the good news of his gospel promises.

Identity? By faith in Christ, we are called children of God, and that is what we are.

Destiny? Jesus is coming, and we know that when he appears, we shall be like him.

Purpose? The world does not know him, but God definitely wants us to let the world know about him! We have a Great Commission given us by Jesus!

Possibility? All who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure. Our sins have been forgiven and  it is now possible for us to live a Christ-centered life to the glory of God.

Community? We have a Father, we are his children, and that means we have — through faith in Jesus Christ — many brothers, sisters and friends!

Don’t let anyone commit “identity theft” on you! Or destiny theft. Or purpose, possibility or community theft either. Make no mistake, that’s what the devil and all his “criminal forces” want to accomplish.

Secure your ID by leaning on gospel promises like this. And hold on tightly to what Jesus has given you!

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your Son, Jesus. Through your gospel promises, help me to hold on tightly to my God-given identity, destiny, purpose, possibility and community. Keep the devil far away, and prevent him from stealing any of these from me. Help me to glorify you in all I do by meeting challenges in my life on the basis of my gospel-given answers to the big questions in life.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 2, is Daniel 8:15 – 9:19, 1 John 2:28 – 3:10 and Proverbs 29:10-18.

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Cross and Crown

Life is filled with trials, tests and crosses to bear. But, while difficult, these don’t have to be the end of us.

Trials, tests and crosses may indeed stretch us, but they don’t need to break us. In fact, the testing of our faith muscles in life can be like the testing of our physical muscles at the gym. Greater strength and endurance will be the result.

That’s why James encourages us to adopt a challenge mindset.

“Consider it pure joy,” he says, when we are tested. And how does one do that? The way to accomplish this is to look past the pain we are currently experiencing to the great end result we will be achieving through the stretching and strengthening of our faith.

No, it’s not fun now. We admit that. And we empathize with the pain you’re going through. But that end result is so beautiful.

The result in this life is that we grow up and become mature. And through our trials, our trust in God and his promises is perfected. We are made more complete people. We become more fully-developed followers of Jesus Christ.

But the best result of all? That’s the one that comes after this life is over. Once we’ve stood the test, once we’ve born the cross, we’ll receive the crown. Eternal life — that beautiful gift of Jesus — will be ours.

Endure and procure. Bear the cross with joy. And you’ll receive the crown with even greater joy.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything… Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:2-4, 12, NIV).

Lord, help me to adopt a challenge mindset toward the trials, tests and crosses in my life. I want to be able to see past the pain to the awesome results that will follow. Help me find joy in knowing that because of you, Jesus, my crosses will all one day be exchanged for a crown.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 17, is Ezekiel 32:1 – 33:20, James 1:1-27 and Psalm 127:1-5.

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Faith-Filled Self Talk

When we’re under pressure, we have to monitor our self-talk. Because the difficulties and challenges we face may well turn our minds onto a negative track. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).

If we fail to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, we’ll find ourselves coping with pressure by blaming others, or getting frustrated and flying off the handle, or putting ourselves down. Thanks to our sinful nature, negativity takes over and we begin to take our pessimistic point of view as reality.

The Hebrew Christians were under a lot of pressure. They were being persecuted from two different sides — the Romans and the Jews. Their friends were leaving Christianity. Their property and possessions were on the line — as were their businesses and employment. Their personal freedom was no longer a given. Their very lives were in danger.

Samuel Johnson once said, “It is more necessary to be reminded than it is to be instructed.” Long before Samuel Johnson, the author of the book of Hebrews seems to intuitively understand this, and he reminds the Hebrew Christians what their self-talk should sound like.

These are the things that we still need to remind ourselves of. And we need to do this frequently. Inside our own minds, we have to make sure that we say true things to ourselves — that we say faith-filled things to ourselves — things that are based fully on God’s gracious words and promises.

What are the things I can tell myself when I’m under pressure? Take a look:

  • The Lord is my helper, so I can put aside anxiety and be fearless.
  • Because the Lord is my strength, and death is already defeated, mere mortals can not really damage me.
  • God has give me leaders here on earth who can coach me and mentor me. In other words, I have allies. I need to remember them. If they’re still around, I can find them and learn more from them. And I need to imitate their successful way of life.
  • Jesus doesn’t change. That means his love for me doesn’t change. His promises don’t change. His forgiveness doesn’t change. His patience doesn’t change. His offer of strength and hope doesn’t change. His gift of eternal life doesn’t change.
  • Jesus doesn’t change, so that also means his teaching doesn’t change. What he taught people in Bible times still applies to my life today. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise or tries to introduce strange new teachings.
  • There is nothing better than God’s grace. That grace is mine. Truly mine. And that is a good thing for straightening and strengthening my heart.

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:6-9a, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to speak faith-filled words to myself. I am sorry when pressures in my life cause me to respond sinfully and with negativity, rather than with faith and hope. Forgive me. And remind me of your words and promises, so that I can remind myself of those same words and promises. I want to take every thought captive and make it obedient to you.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 16, is Ezekiel 30:1 – 31:18, Hebrews 13:1-25 and Proverbs 27:23 – 28:6.

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Endurance

It’s so easy to get tangled up in sin. Walking our way through life is like walking through a thick forest of mesquite trees. The branches and thorns just keep grabbing at us, clinging to our sleeves and holding us back.

Imagine trying to run a race in such a place. You’re trying to make your way through as quickly and directly as you possibly can, but there is always another tree, another bramble, another thorny branch, trying to force you back, or make you go around.

That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews describes the “race” of our life of faith. Greed, pride, lust, despair, depression, anger, hatred, shame and guilt — these grab at our hearts and cling to our thoughts, he says. But we must throw them off and turn the spotlight of our attention away from sin to Jesus.

Recalling the joy with which Jesus ran his race — all the way to the cross! — will inspire us to run with gratitude. Such amazing love and sacrifice will motivate us to be ready to run our race.

Leaning on Jesus will help us be able to dig deeper when necessary, because he is the sole power behind our faith. Jesus is the one who created our faith and he is the one who will bring our faith to a beautiful state of perfection. Faith keeps us going even when times are tough.

Looking to Jesus as a model will instruct us in how a great race is run, so that we can imitate his racing skills and receive our crown. Even now, Jesus sits on his throne in heaven and is fully in control of the world for our benefit. So we do well to consider both his race and his final victory!

We must not grow weary, and we must not lose heart. That’s not easy to do when the briars and the bramble constantly grab hold. But Jesus has already marked out our race for us. He has promised to run ahead and clear a path for us.

The answer to keeping on going despite the challenges and the obstacles is to fix our eyes on Jesus. With the energy he gives us, we will find the endurance to run our race well.

Brush those thorny branches back. And keep on running.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV).

Lord, help me to throw off the spiritual enemies that want to hinder me and the sin that entangles me. I am sorry for listening to the voice of the world, of the devil, and of my own sinful flesh. Help me to focus my eyes on you, and on your forgiveness, love and power. And give me the strength to run my race with perseverance and endurance.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 14, is Ezekiel 26:1 – 27:36, Hebrews 12:1-13 and Psalm 125:1-5.

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Keep Your Head

Keep your head. That’s so much easier said than done.

When emotional situations arise, the easiest thing in the world is instead to abandon self-control. Throw a tantrum. Pitch a fit. Have a cow. Lose it.

And anytime you are involved in ministry — or life — hard situations are going to be thrown at you. When life is going smoothly, it’s easy to keep your cool. It’s when things go south that our self-control really gets tested.

Can we keep our head when others are pushing our buttons? That’s the real question.

Paul, the apostle, is writing from prison. From these dire circumstances, he can see pretty clearly what’s coming. But he remains calm and steady. Whatever might come — discouragement, persecution, or death — Paul knows what Jesus has accomplished on his behalf. He is convinced that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, has him fully covered.

The finish line is coming, and Paul has never been more confident in Christ. He has kept the faith. While he anticipates his heavenly reward, he has words of advice for young Timothy, the pastor who will succeed him and keep advancing the gospel.

Hard situations are going to come, Paul tells him. I’ve been through them. In fact, I’m going through them right now. And you’ll go through them too.

But whatever comes, remain calm. Keep your head. Endure and persevere.

Most of all, don’t ever forget this. Jesus has always had my back. And Jesus will always have your back, too. So no matter what, let’s keep the faith and a crown of righteousness awaits us both at the end of this life. In fact, a crown of righteousness awaits everyone who confidently waits for Jesus.

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:4-8, NIV).

Lord, I can so easily lose my head in tough situations. Fear rules. Anger springs up. I ask for your forgiveness for the times in the past I’ve lost my head. Help me to have the peace and strength you gave Paul. Give me your Spirit and grant me endurance and faith in Jesus that does not end until I receive my crown of righteousness from him.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 25, is Jeremiah 51:15-64, 2 Timothy 4:1-22 and Psalm 119:97-104.

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