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Practicing Greatness

Who is the greatest person you know personally? Who do you think is the greatest person alive right now? I’m not looking for the Sunday School answer of Jesus either. What makes those people great in your eyes? I’m sure every person reading this would probably have a different answer. Some people are raised with greatness as the goal and standard for living. Others feel it’s not right to seek greatness. I’m of the persuasion that each of us should seek greatness in our lives. One of the first lines in the book “Good to Great” is a quote I remind myself of often. The author, Jim Collins wrote, “Good is the enemy of great.”

One day, as the disciples were all sitting around, a discussion broke out about who was the greatest and who would be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. When they couldn’t resolve it, they asked Jesus. I love that He didn’t rebuke them for wanting to be great. He simply redefined for them what greatness meant. In Matthew 18:3-4 Jesus said, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless you repent [that is, change your inner self—your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (AMP).

Going back to my first question, is the greatest person you know humble? Heaven’s definition of greatness begins with humility and includes trusting God and being able to forgive others. That kind of greatness is something we should all be striving for in our lives. It’s not easy. Being great never is. That why you may have struggled to come up with names at the beginning. There are very few people whom we consider great, yet we need to strive for greatness by God’s definition more than the world’s. You were created with greatness in you. It starts with trusting God’s plan for your life, receiving His grace and forgiving those who have wronged you. Go practice greatness today.

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Seen By God

How do you react when everything seems to be going wrong? Sometimes your fight or flight kicks in. Flight seems to be the first choice for many of us. We just want to get away from everything, crawl under a rock and try to hide from it. A pity party is also a popular choice. There’s nothing like giving up and complaining that life just isn’t fair. Then there’s the “Why, God” approach. We complain to God about how we’re being treated and wonder if He even cares. I can say I’ve been through all these at one time or another. However, there’s also the choice to let hard times push us closer to God. When nothing makes sense, it only makes sense to search for the One who can make sense of it all. He also is an excellent place of refuge.

In Genesis 16, Abram and Sarai had decided to help God fulfill His promise to them of making them parents. Sarai gave her servant Hagar to Abram to have a kid with, then they would take the kid and raise him. Except when Hagar got pregnant, she began to look down on Sarai. SoSarai became vengeful and treated Hagar so harshly that she chose the flight option. While she was away, desperate, broken and in need, God found her and sent His angel. After giving her a promise for her soon to be born son Ishmael, she gained hope. In verse 13 it says, “Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.’ She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?’” NLT

God sees us in our distress. No matter how far we run or how big of a pity party we have, His hope is that we will search for Him and trust His plan. Psalm 9:10 says, “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” God has not abandoned you in your time of need. He’s not left you to fight your battles alone. You may not see it, but going through difficult seasons is often how He builds our faith, course corrects and draws us closer to Him. His desire is that we will search for Him and fully rely on Him. You can trust in Him and in His plan especially when you can’t see the way forward. He is a good God and has a plan you can trust in even when it seems all hope is lost. He sees you in the middle of your storm. You are not forgotten.

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Cultivating God’s Word

If you go back to Genesis and read the account of creation, you’ll notice that God spoke almost everything into existence. However, there were two things He made by hand. One was man and the other was the Garden of Eden. It says that God planted the trees and plants in the garden. Then in Genesis 2:15 it says, “Then the Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it” (GNT). It was man’s responsibility to tend to the things God planted and to guard them well. I believe we still have the responsibility today to cultivate and guard what God plants.

Let’s fast forward to the New Testament. In Luke 8:5-8, Jesus told the parable of the farmer who went out to plant some seeds. So,e seeds fell on the path where it was stepped on and birds ate it. Some fell on rocky ground, but the plants died because there was no moisture. Some fell among the thorns and they choked out what grew. Finally, some fell on good soil and produced a crop. The disciples didn’t really understand the parable, so Jesus explained that the farmer was God and the seed was His Word. Then in verse 15 He said, “The seeds that fell in good soil stand for those who hear the message and retain it in a good and obedient heart, and they persist until they bear fruit.”

God is always trying to plant His Word in our hearts, but it’s up to us to guard it and cultivate it. What was true in the garden is still true today. If we want to see a harvest in our lives, we need to protect what God plants from the enemy who will try to eat it by discrediting it and crushing it. We must remove the rocky parts of our heart to keep the soil fertile so that we continue to hold onto it during hard times. Finally, we need to guard against the cares of this world that will try to take priority over God’s Word. Remember, it’s God who does the planting, but we are the ones who must care for, tend and protect what He plants.

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Continue Growing

Every new year we begin to think of new habits we want to adopt in our lives. We’re encouraged to think this way from ads and people. However, let’s think a little differently this year. Don’t just focus on what new habit or goal you want to add. Think of, and identify, things you need to continue doing. There are plants of things you’re doing well right now. Don’t neglect those things or overlook them. Growth happens when we build on a foundation we already have. Be careful not to drop something productive that you’re already doing when you try to introduce something new.

Here are some Bible verses on things we should continue doing.

1. In the same way you received Jesus our Lord and Messiah by faith, continue your journey of faith, progressing further into your union with him!

Colossians 2:6 TPT

2. But as for you, continue in the truths that you were taught and firmly believe.

2 Timothy 3:14 GNT

3. But we will [continue to] devote ourselves [steadfastly] to prayer and to the ministry of the word.

Acts 6:4 AMP

4. Don’t envy sinners, but always continue to fear the Lord.

Proverbs 23:17 NLT

5. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8 NLT

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Spiritual Resolutions

As we close the door on one year and open the door to another, I think it’s good to have a spiritual resolution for the new year as well. I believe Philippians 4:4-8 provides us with some great things we should resolve to do not just in the coming year, but throughout our life. Verse 4 says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (NLT) In 2022, don’t let anything steal your joy. Joy shouldn’t be based on your circumstances, and it’s where you get your strength from. Trust in what God is doing and stay joyful.

Verse 6 says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Refuse to let worry have a foothold in your life. It uses today’s strength for tomorrow’s problems. Turn your worry into prayer. Let the The things you can’t control push you closer to the One who can control them. Prayer changes our perspective and helps us to let go of the burdens that are too heavy for us to bear. Put them in God’s hands and take His burden which is light.

Verse 7 says, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Having peace in your heart, your mind and in your life is a wonderful thing. We were not created to live in turmoil. When we learn to trust a God with our decisions and with the things in our life that we can’t control, we can have God’s peace. Let His peace guide you in the coming year so that you operate in His will for your life.

Finally verse 8 says, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Choose what to think about. Your thoughts are powerful and determine the direction of your life. Don’t dwell on what could be, but focus on what is true. One true thing I focus on is that God is in control, and nothing that happens in my life is a surprise to Him. 2019 is already history to God. Resolve to make it the year that you trust Him completely and you will experience joy, peace and faith.

Thanks to Stefan Kunze for making this photo available freely on http://www.Unsplash.com

Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

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Practice Matters

I can’t hear the word “practice” without thinking of Allen Iverson and his famous meltdown. It was in 2002 in response to a reporters question right after he and the Philadelphia 76ers exited the playoffs in the first round. They were expected to make it to the finals. There had been reports, and even hints from his coach, that he wasn’t committed to being a team player in practice. The rant was the result of not meeting his own expectations, the early exit and the loss of his best friend. In his outburst, he said “practice”22 times. My favorite quote of it was, “We talking about practice. Not a game. Not the game I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game. We talking about practice, man.”

When I was in high school, I played basketball. Each game was four eight minute quarters. We would spend two hours a day in practice five days a week preparing for games. The difference between winning and losing a game came down to how well you practiced. Coach understood that. We practiced shooting, our plays, our press, our passing and scenarios in order to be flawless when it mattered. Yet most people don’t take practice seriously. As believers, our “practice” is often on a Sunday. It’s where we get coached up, learn about God’s way of living and have the opportunity to show love to fellow Christians.

Philippians 4:9 says, “Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things” (TPT). We can’t be like Allen Iverson when it comes to putting into practice godly things. If we can’t show love to each other as believers, how can we show it to the world when we leave? If we can’t worship because we don’t like the songs or the volume, how can we worship during the week? We spend a lot of time complaining about personal preferences on Sunday when we have the greatest opportunity to practice godly traits. We are to be known for our love for one another. Each week we get the opportunity to practice what we preach. Don’t waste your practice time or forsaking the assembling of the brethren. Use each service to put into practice all you’ve learned.

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We Need To Worship

In Job 1. we read one of the most devastating stories a person could ever go through. In one day, Job lost all his possessions, his servants, his shepherds, his livestock and his children. One bad report came right after the other. In under a minute, he had lost everything. His knees buckled and he fell under the weight of everything. Verse 20 says. “Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship” (NLT). I imagine him face down with his hands raised up in surrender. He didn’t understand why everything was happening, but he did understand that God would care for him. The final verse in the first chapter says he didn’t sin by blaming God.

Every one of us are going to experience hardship that we don’t understand. Every one of us are going to unexpectedly lose things and people that we love with no answer as to why. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that God causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust just like He causes it to rain on both. We are not exempt from pain, disappointment or loss. Instead, we have an anchor to hold on to when all seems lost. We have hope that others do not have. We can still worship in the middle of a storm we don’t understand. We can still trust God’s plan when our plans are torn from us. We can still look ahead when we’re too weak to move.

Hebrews 12:12-13 says, “So be made strong even in your weakness by lifting up your tired hands in prayer and worship. And strengthen your weak knees, for as you keep walking forward on God’s paths all your stumbling ways will be healed!” (TPT) When we are at our lowest, we need to worship. When we are out of options, we need to worship. When all seems lost, we need to worship. When we are too tired and feel like giving up, we need to worship. Worship regains our perspective. Worship renews our strength. Worship gives us hope. Worship keeps us moving forward when we can’t see the path. We don’t have to understand what God is doing, or even why. Like Job, we have to trust that He sees the bigger picture and knows what He’s doing. When nothing makes sense and you can’t do anything else, worship. He inhabits the praises of His people. He will not abandon you in your greatest time of need.

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Seeing Beyond The Horizon

I used to work for a company who wanted to always be forward thinking. They adapted the word horizon into their name as a constant reminder to always be looking ahead. They figured that if they were always looking to the horizon, they would see what’s coming and be able to adapt and change in order to embrace it. The horizon has always represented the edge of man’s vision. Most people on,y look at what’s just in front of them rather than off into the distance. If we could see beyond the horizon, we would know the future. As Christians, faith is trusting God for what’s out of our ability to see.

If you’ve ever read Hebrews 11, you know it’s a list of people in the Bible who had strong faith. I always heard it called “The Hall of Faith” as I was growing up. The people listed are ordinary men and women who simply trusted God for things they couldn’t yet see. They looked beyond their current situation and had faith that what was unseen was greater than what was seen. Verse 13 says, “These heroes all died still clinging to their faith, not even receiving all that had been promised them. But they saw beyond the horizon the fulfillment of their promises and gladly embraced it from afar. They all lived their lives on earth as those who belonged to another realm” (TPT).

How many times do you get frustrated with God because the things He promised have yet to come through? It’s tough to stand in today’s problems knowing that tomorrow’s promises could solve them. However, God knows the best time to make good on His promises. Will you still trust Him even if He doesn’t come through right now when you think it matters most? Faith is seeing beyond your current circumstances, even beyond the horizon, and knowing that God will do what He says. It’s embracing His promises even when it looks like they’re never going to come. God only knows what the future brings. As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

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The Gift Of Restoration

As we celebrate Christmas and follow our family traditions, it’s important to pause and remember that night in Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth was God’s answer to restore a fallen world. Since the Garden of Eden, God had promised that a woman would give birth to a child that would bruise the serpent’s head. This child was sent as a sign of God’s love for us. His goal was not to condemn us or to point out our failures. Rather He came to fulfill the part of our covenant with God that we are unable to keep. This incredible gift of restoration is worth celebrating every day, not just on Christmas.

Here are some Bible verses that show God’s plan for restoration..

1. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3:23 NLT

2. Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: a young woman who is pregnant will have a son and will name him ‘Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 GNT

3. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Matthew 1:21 NLT

4. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 NLT

5. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.

John 3:16-17 GNT

Merry Christmas!

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Protecting Our Relationship With God

I get the opportunity to talk to different people all the time. Inevitably someone wants to ask me relationship questions. I’m not a trained counselor or anything like that, but as I listen to these stories, there’s a constant thread through all of them. The problems they’re experiencing are a result of a lot of little things that have crept in and gone unchecked. Also, they haven’t done things to protect the relationship. When that happens, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back ends up happening and it gets the blame. The truth is it was several small, basic things that added up.

Just like any relationship, we have to make sure that we do the small, basic things in our relationship with Christ. We need to set parameters and protect it. We live in a connected world where everything seems to be vying for your attention. If we allow little things to distract us and keep us from praying or reading our Bible or going to church, it will become difficult to have that relationship that God wants to have with us. We must protect that time. We must make it sacred so that nothing and no one comes between us and God.

I’m reading the Book of Song of Songs (Solomon) in the Passion translation. They’ve taken it and put in red letters the parts that are allegorically from God. Chapter 2:15 says this to us from God, “You must catch the troubling foxes, those sly little foxes that hinder our relationship. For they raid our budding vineyard of love to ruin what I’ve planted within you. Will you catch them and remove them for me? We will do it together” (TPT). God is asking us to protect our relationship with Him. I also love that just like any other relationship, it’s not just one side’s responsibility. We need to work together with God to remove the obstacles in our relationship so it can grow.

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Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

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