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Putting Out Fires

When I was a young boy, I learned how to build a fire. I was so excited that I wanted to show my friend. We went into the woods behind his house, gathered wood up and then I built a magnificent fire. What I didn’t know yet was how to put a fire out. We decided to smother it…with hay. That worked great…for a few seconds. Before too long, the fire was getting out of hand. We ran back into his house, past his mom, to get his brother who was two years older than us. We tried again to put it out, but couldn’t. A neighbor saw the smoke and called the fire department. They showed up and got it under control, but not before about an acre was burned.

I tell you that story because so many times we’ve set fire to things in our lives and things are being consumed by it. Every time we try to put it out, it only makes things worse. From the time we are little, we are taught to be independent, to suck it up and to handle our own business. What we forget is that we have a helper who can put out the fires in our lives, but we’re too busy trying to put them out ourselves. Like scared children, we don’t go to the One who can truly help. We go to others to help us, but they can’t resolve the problems we’re facing. All the while, God is there waiting on us to cry out to Him for help.

Psalm 50:15 says, “Honor me by trusting in me in your day of trouble. Cry aloud to me, and I will be there to rescue you” (TPT). God should not be our last resort when things aren’t going right. He deserves and wants to be our first call. He’s more than able to resolve whatever you’re going through, but you must call out to Him and trust Him. If you’re so caught up in what’s going wrong and you don’t have the strength to pray yourself, call on a friend to pray for you. You don’t have to fight the fires in your life by yourself. You have a Heavenly Father who loves you and wants to rescue you.

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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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Receiving Nutrients

When my son was little, he did what most kids do. He would see flowers in the yard and pick them for his mom. Then he would come to me to get a cup of water to put them in. He would say, “I want them to live forever and be beautiful.” I would always reply, “if you wanted them to live you should have left them in the ground. The moment you took them out, they began to die.” He would want to know why. After explaining it, he would insist that they would keep living because we had them in water. Plants and flowers need more than water though. They need the nutrients that come from the soil in order to continue to bloom and grow. It was a hard concept for him. It’s also a biblical concept that we must remember as well.

In the book of Judges 13, we read the story of Samson. Before he was born, the Lord told his parents that he should be raised as a Nazarite. He could never drink alcohol, eat unclean food or cut his hair. God also said that he would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. His parents obeyed and so did he for a while. He was given super strength as a result. However, instead of delivering the Israelites from the Philistines, he decided to make one of their women his wife. He separated himself from God’s plan for him. Being away from where he was supposed to be, he succumbed to her constant questioning and told her the source of his strength. He did kill many Philistines in his final act, but how much more could he have done if he had followed God’s plan for his life?

In John 15.5, Jesus said, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, for [otherwise] apart from Me [that is, cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing” (AMP). We must choose to remain in Christ if we want to fulfill our purpose. The moment we quit living the way He called us to, we begin to lose our vital nutrients for life. We remain in Him through prayer and reading the Bible as well. The Bible is often referred to as water. There was also a time when the disciples offered Jesus food and He told them that He had food they didn’t know about. That food was found in prayer and doing the will of the Father. We will find spiritual nutrients for our soul by doing the same thing. The good news is that if you haven’t remained in Him, you can be grafted back in to receive all He has for you.

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De-escalating Situations

Several years ago I managed a retail store. While out on the sales floor, I noticed a customer getting in the face of a lady that worked for me. The closer I got, the more upset I got because they were berating her. I walked up and got between them and said, “You need to calm down!” The customer replied, “Or what?” I said, “Or I’m going to ask you to leave.” He said, “You better call 9-1-1! You’re going to need them!” My tone and volume increased and i said, “Get out!” They then grabbed the phone on the counter, dialed 9-1-1 and handed it to me. I told the dispatcher I had an irate customer who refused to leave and was threatening me. The police came and removed them from my store forcibly. After I had time to calm down, I realized I could have handled that differently. I was in the right to defend my employee, but my tone, volume and body language escalated the situation. I could have de-escalated it, but instead I poured gas on a fire.

In Genesis 27, we read about the twins Jacob and Esau. Their father was old and dying and requested a special meal from Esau, the firstborn of the two, so he could bless him. Their mother heard and had Jacob do it instead since their father was blind. When Esau found out his brother stole the blessing, he was so angry all he could think about was killing his brother. So Jacob fled to another country until he cooled down. It was years later when he returned. His brother Esau was coming towards him with 400 men. Jacob quickly sent gifts in groups along the way to appease his brother’s anger. When they got together, Esau tried to refuse them and asked why all the gifts. Jacob replied, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then accept my gift [as a blessing] from my hand, for I see your face as if I had seen the face of God, and you have received me favorably” (AMP). Esau accepted them and invited Jacob to his house to stay.

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft and gentle and thoughtful answer turns away wrath, But harsh and painful and careless words stir up anger.” How we respond in situations matters. Another Proverb tells us that the power of life and death are in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). What we say and how we say it matters. We can escalate or de-escalate situations simply by our tone, body language and volume. We must be thoughtful about what and how we say things in a volatile situation. If we allow our emotions and pride to rule, we will say things that hurt the other person and possibly create irreparable damage. I’ve learned to lower my volume, soften my tone and approach difficult situations more thoughtfully. I think about the long term outcome I want, and then I speak. It’s not easy, but it is possible. It’s also biblical. What you say can pour gas or water on a fire.

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Following Jesus

In Matthew 4, as Jesus was just starting His ministry, He was walking along the Sea of Galilee when he spotted a couple of fishermen. They had just thrown their nets into the water. He called out to the brothers, Simon and Andrew. In verse 19 He said to them, “Follow Me [as My disciples, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher and walking the same path of life that I walk], and I will make you fishers of men” (AMP). They immediately left their nets and began to follow Him. They then came upon James and John who were mending their nets. The same call went out. Verse 22 says, “Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him [becoming His disciples, believing and trusting in Him and following His example].”

In Luke 9, Jesus was toward the end of His ministry when in verse 59 a man calls out to Him saying that he would follow Jesus. Then Jesus asks another person to follow Him, but the man said, “Lord, allow me to go and bury my father.” He wanted to wait until his father died and he got his inheritance first. Then Jesus turned to another and asked him to follow. That person said he would, but first he wanted to go say goodbye to all his friends and family. We don’t know the names of these people because they had other priorities than submitting to discipleship by following Christ. There’s a stark contrast between them and the twelve disciples when Jesus called them. The ones who changed the world left their old life immediately to follow Jesus.

His call to follow Him still goes out to us. In Luke 9:23 says, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].” The call to follow Jesus is one where we give up our interests and way of living for His. Are we giving Him excuses or immediately obeying? It’s not a one time decision to do that. He said we must do it daily. Our desires will always be at war with His. Choose each day to immediately lay down the desires of self and express your willingness to follow Jesus no matter what. The things we lay down and left will constantly call to us too. He leaves the choice up to us whom we will follow.

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Seeking Counsel

When King Solomon died, huisu son Rehoboam became king. There were some older men who had advised his father and gave him counsel that offered their services to the new king. They explained that their father pushed people to their limits and needed a break. The new king had several friends who were young and also counseled him. They told him to reject the counsel of the old men and be even harder on people than his father. He took the advice of the younger men and the people revolted. The kingdom split and his territory shrink significantly because he refused wise counsel. Pride has a way of telling us that we either don’t need counseling or to reject the advice we’re given. Over and over the Bible reminds us of our need to seek and to listen to counsel. Your ability to make an impact on people is tied to your ability to receive good, godly counsel. Seek it out.

Here are some Bible verses on seeking counsel.

1. The way of the [arrogant] fool [who rejects God’s wisdom] is right in his own eyes, But a wise and prudent man is he who listens to counsel.

Proverbs 12:15 AMP

2. Wisdom opens your heart to receive wise counsel, but pride closes your ears to advice and gives birth only to quarrels and strife.

Proverbs 13:10 TPT

3. The godly offer good counsel; they teach right from wrong.

Psalms 37:30 NLT

4. Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:22 ESV

5. Listen to counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction, That you may be wise in the time to come.

Proverbs 19:20 AMP

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No Longer Ignorant

I was in court once fighting a traffic ticket, and I was somewhere way down on the docket. I watched other people get up and pleaded their case. One guy ran a red light because he was too close to the vehicle in front of him and didn’t see it was red. The judge told him that he was guilty because he was following too closely behind a taller vehicle. Another person was fighting theirs and when confronted with the law they broke, they insisted they were innocent because they didn’t know that was a law. The judge got everyone’s attention in the court room and said, “I want all of you to hear this because I don’t want to have to repeat it all day. Ignorance of the law doesn’t make you innocent when you break it.”

I’ve always remembered those words, and haven’t been back to fight a traffic ticket since. I learned a lot that day about driving and the law. There’s not been a time since when I was driving behind an 18 wheeler through town, that I haven’t remembered to slow down so I could see the light. Once we are knowledgeable about laws (God’s and man’s) it should change how we live. We are no longer ignorant of how we should live or of what is right or wrong. To continue living and doing things, knowing the law, is to be willfully breaking it. James 4:17 clearly calls that sin.

Just like that judge ruled that day, God will do the same in Heaven. Our ignorance will not be an excuse. I love how Psalm 86:11 says, “Teach me more about you, how you work and how you move, so that I can walk onward in your truth until everything within me brings honor to your name” (TPT). Our desire, and prayer, should be to know God more and more so that we are no longer ignorant of His ways and laws so that we can live the way He wants us to. He’s given us the Bible to teach us the right way to live, but He’s also invited us into a personal relationship with Him so we can know His heart. God is willing to let you know more about Himself if you’re willing to take the time to know Him more.

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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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Withstanding The Storm

When hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi, the company I worked for sent me in as a first responder to get communications back up. We couldn’t get into New Orleans that morning, so we established a command post in Baton Rouge. Myself and three others made our way to Pensacola, Florida with the goal of getting inventory and cash from all the stores along the coast. When we stopped in Biloxi, Mississippi, we only found a foundation where the store once stood. Everything was gone. Several miles away, the store in Gulfport was still there. As we were loading inventory in the vans, there was a knock on the plywood that covered the front of the store. A line of people gathered who had lost just about everything. They wanted to call family to check on them and let them know they survived. We handed them our phones while we worked. I saw gratefulness like I had never seen and was touched to be able to help.

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus told the story of a similar storm. The rains and wind came with a hurricane force. One person had built his house on a firm foundation, and when the storm came, it was able to withstand the storm. Another person didn’t use a foundation of rock. They had just built their house on the ground. He said that when the storm came there was a great crash as that house fell down and was washed away. Both people He talked about had heard the Word of God. The difference was that one applied it to their life. That person received a firm foundation on which to build their life. Jesus was illustrating that it’s not enough to go to church and hear a sermon each week. It’s not enough to read the Bible. We must apply what we learn and what we read or we won’t be able to withstand the storm of His judgment or from this life.

Proverbs 10:25 says, “The wicked are blown away by every stormy wind. But when a catastrophe comes, the lovers of God have a secure anchor” (TPT). Notice how it doesn’t say, “if a catastrophe comes.” We’re all going to face catastrophe and storms in this life. The Bible says it rains on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). How we’re able to respond and survive depends on what we are anchored to and what kind of foundation we have. When my life was hit with catastrophe, I remember seeing a visual of myself laying on a foundation with boards and debris all around it. In that moment, I remember God reminding me that though everything else had to be rebuilt, I was on a solid foundation. What is your life built on? When catastrophe strikes, what is your anchor attached to? Anything less than the Word of God will not be enough. It’s not too late to change the foundation your life is built on. Study the Bible and live by it. His Word is enough to withstand any storm.

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Lifting Your Hands

In Genesis, Jacob married Leah and Rachel. Through them and their handmaidens, he had 12 sons who became the tribes of Israel. His oldest was named Judah, and was the tribe Jesus was born into. The name Judah means “praise”. However, if you break it down in Hebrew, the first portion of his name is “Yad” which is to lift your hands. There’s a connotation here that Judah means “to praise with your hands” which so many Christians do during worship. When our hands are raised, it’s also a sign of surrender. Were unable to do anything in our strength, so we must rely on His. Also, when our hands are raised, we’re taking our hands off the work that God is trying to do. There are plenty of stories in the Bible where people put their hands on what God was wanting to do and it didn’t turn out great in the short term. There are also stories where people raised their hands and God showed up.

In Exodus 17 we find such a story. The Israelites were in the desert on their way to meet God at Mount Sinai after being freed from slavery. Descendants of Jacob’s twin brother Esau showed up to attack the Israelites. Moses sent Joshua and some men to fight them. Moses went up on the mountain side to hold up the staff God had used to free them. Verse 11 says, “As long as Moses held up his arms, the Israelites won, but when he put his arms down, the Amalekites started winning” (GNT). When he was too tired to keep his hands raised, Aaron and Hur sat Moses on a stone and they held his hands up until they defeated their attacker. It was God who gave the victory, but Moses had to keep his hands up in order for them to win. Thankfully he had people around him who recognized the need for uplifted hands and helped.

Psalm 28:1-2 says, “O Lord, my defender, I call to you. Listen to my cry! If you do not answer me, I will be among those who go down to the world of the dead. Hear me when I cry to you for help, when I lift my hands toward your holy Temple.” God is our defender when we’re under attack. Like David in this psalm, we must cry out to God, lift our hands and praise in the battle. Just like the Israelites faced hardships, we will too. God uses those times and situations to help us trust Him and to prepare us to receive the promise. Whether you’re in the wilderness or in a fruitful time, make sure you’re praising God and recognizing His authority over your life. His way is better than ours. Take time each day to hold up your hands in praise and surrender to let Him know you trust in Him and in His plan.

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Keep Looking Ahead

Have you ever tried to lose weight? Most of us who have, or need to, wish there was a pill we could take to do it. That would be nice and easy, but while lots of pills claim to, none work like they claim. Instead, what we have to do, outside of surgery, is to change our diet and exercise habits. If you’re committed to losing weight, you’ll have to endure eating foods you don’t really like. You’ll have to disrupt your schedule to add in time to lift weights and exercise. These can be painful. Most people don’t stick with it because of all the “pains” it is to get the results you want. The people who do stick it out look past these temporary inconveniences to the outcome they desire in order to achieve the results they want.

When David was anointed king, he was just a teenager. Most scholars believe it was about fifteen years before he actually became king. When he was anointed, he didn’t know how long it would take or the pain it would cost him. He was displaced from his family, chased like an outlaw, driven out of his own country and separated from friends in those years. He had the opportunity to kill King Saul a couple of times to take the throne, but that would be the easy way out and not what God intended. Instead, he kept looking forward to the promise of God and endured living in caves with outlaws, living in a foreign land and missing home knowing that his situation was temporary. The hope of God’s promise kept him going until God placed him on the throne.

Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “… And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up” (NLT). When we keep our eyes on the prize, we can endure a lot. If you’re looking at your current situation or the time you’re having to wait, you may grow weary or contemplate giving up. Remember God keeps His promises. Sometimes it takes years to come to fruition. Don’t give up too early because you face hardship. Look ahead to the fulfillment of what God is going to do. The present is temporary, but His promises last a lifetime.

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Under Pressure

How do you react to being under pressure? I tend to get tunnel vision and focus on one thing. I also get a little snappy with people. Pressure is something we all face, but we don’t have to let it crush us. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us when we feel pressure. He can guide us, give us wisdom and develop us. When you’re under pressure, let it drive you to God’s Word and to Him in prayer. He’s probably not going to take the situation away, but He can turn it for your good and help you rise to the challenge. God will use pressure to help us grow our faith and trust in Him. We don’t have to worry about it crushing us, but we do have to let it do it’s work in our lives.

Here are some Bible verses on being under pressure.

1. When peer pressure compels you to go with the crowd and sinners invite you to join in, you must simply say, “No!”

Proverbs 1:10 TPT

2. This hope [this confident assurance] we have as an anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whatever pressure bears upon it]—a safe and steadfast hope that enters within the veil [of the heavenly temple, that most Holy Place in which the very presence of God dwells], where Jesus has entered [in advance] as a forerunner for us, having become a High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:19-20 AMP

3. But that’s not all! Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance.

Romans 5:3 TPT

4. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 HCSB

5. As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.

Psalms 119:143 NLT

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