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Becoming More Fruitful

In the 90”s, one of the t-shirts that was popular said, “No Pain No Gain”. They were referring to working out, but I believe that’s true in a lot of areas in life. People like complacency and they don’t like pain. Because of that, we often find ourselves in ruts doing the same thing day in and day out. The problem is that the processes in our lives can only produce so much, and many of us have been in a rut so long that we have reached a plateau and we’re coasting. The greatest motivator for change is pain. It’s not until we’re faced with pain of some sort that we change. When you change how you do things, you change the results you’re getting in life. Sometimes we get the choice to make the change, and other times God forces the change in our lives.

Joseph, in the Old Testament, is one of the most intriguing people in the Bible to me. When he was 17 years old, his brothers beat him up and threw him in a pit with the intention of killing him. Instead, they sold him as a slave where he was taken to a foreign land. There he made the most of his situation and became the highest producer in the household. The owner’s wife took a liking to him, but he held to his integrity even though life had dumped on him. He was thrown in jail where he was forgotten, but he continued to persevere in the pain. 17 years after his brother’s sold him, he became a free man, and then became second in command of the nation. He was a man who went through much pain, suffering and affliction, but you never read where he questioned God or doubted Him.

After he was married, he had two sons. Genesis 41:52 says, “He named the second [son] Ephraim (fruitfulness), for ‘God has caused me to be fruitful and very successful in the land of my suffering’” (AMP). God has a plan for our lives that contains suffering, but with that suffering comes the potential of fruitfulness and success. How do you respond to times of pain and suffering? I believe our response is what determines the extent of that fruitfulness. God will do whatever He needs to in our lives to get us to a place where we can be fruitful for Him and His purposes, but along with that comes the potential for greater things. Some of the most successful people you know have endured some of the hardest times. If you’re going through a season of pain and suffering like Joseph, take courage. God is working in your life to produce some amazing fruit. Ask Him for the strength to endure and the wisdom in how to make the most of it.

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Implicitly Trusting God

I remember as a kid when someone would ask, “Do you promise?” I’d quickly give them a “Yeah.” Then, if they asked, “Do you pinkie promise,” I’d have to think carefully before answering that one. It was like I could promise something and possibly go back on my word and everything would be ok. However, if I went back on a pinkie promise, I’d never get their trust again. I guess it was around that time that I learned the importance of trust and keeping your word. I’ve carried that into adulthood. When I talk with someone who is new to a leadership role, I explain the importance of keeping your word. Without trust, you can never lead anyone. Think about it. Name any leader in your life that you will follow anywhere, and think of how much you trust them. The more you trust them, the farther you will follow them.

Abraham was a person who trusted God enough to leave his family to go to a land that God would show him. He trusted God when he was told he would have a son at 100 years old. He kept on trusting God when He told him that through that son, he would become the father of many nations. I think the greatest trust was shown when God hawked him to sacrifice that son. I love in Genesis 22:5 where he tells the servants, “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back” (NLT). Abraham trusted God’s promise enough that even if he sacrificed His Son of Promise, God was able to raise Him up and fulfill it. He knew that no matter what happened on that mountain, they were both coming back.

Romans 4:20 says, “He (Abraham) was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.” Are you fully convinced that God is able to do what He promises? Remember earlier, I said that you can only follow someone as much as you trust them. That applies to your relationship with God as well. Are you trusting in what your situation looks like right now or in God’s promise? God is able to revive dead dreams, irreparable relationships and impossible situations if it means keeping His promise. Number 23:19 says, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” You and I can trust what God says implicitly. When we do, we can go farther than we’ve ever gone and live the life we were created to live.

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Keep Moving Forward

2020 was a difficult year for so many. Resolutions that were made were forgotten. Goals that were set were thrown out the window. People’s worlds were turned upside down with the loss of family members, the loss of jobs and the lack of true human connection. It was a year of loss for so many, but I believe that God has a plan and is able to take a year like that and to make something good out of it. The world sees times like that and it produces fear that prevents them from moving forward. As Christians, even if life hits us in the face, knocks us down or blindsides us, we get back up and move forward because we are driven by God’s purpose and led by His Spirit.

I can’t help but think of Job and all he went through. In one day he lost his fortune, his livestock, his servants and his kids. He took a knock out blow from life, but instead of staying down, he worshipped God and kept moving forward. He was then attacked with a terrible skin disease. His wife told him to curse God and die. His friends told him it was a punishment from God because of hidden sin. Even though he wished he would have never been born, he still worshipped God. In Job 17:19, he told his friends, “The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger” (NLT). He knew that things happening to him were not because of sin, so he kept getting back up and moving forward.

How do you respond to tough times? Do you let it keep you down or do you get back up? The easy choice is to stay down and to submit to it, but that’s not what God calls us to do. Proverbs 24:16 says that the righteous get knocked down seven times, but they get up again. No matter how many times life knocks us down or what it throws at us, we must get back up and move forward. God has the ability to make all things (including 2020) work together for our good. We have the righteousness of Christ around us that helps us to move forward and to grow stronger through adversity. At all times, in all circumstances, find a way to worship God. It will give you the right perspective and the strength to get back up so you can move forward.

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2021 New Year’s Prayer

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New Beginnings

Author Robert Burns penned the now famous line, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” I can’t tell you how many times in my life the plans I made were detoured. I thought my plan was foolproof, only to find out it wasn’t life proof. Things happen that I don’t foresee and derail my goals and dreams. Often times, in disappointment and frustration, I give up on them and never return to complete them.

Sadly, this is the story for most of us. Life happens and takes away our happily ever after. We either think life has it out for us or God just doesn’t care. The truth is that often we try to build our own plans for our life and never include God’s plan for our life. When all of my plans came crashing down several years ago, I looked at my life and only saw a foundation left. I remember hearing God say, “Now that your plan failed, will you try it my way?”

I agreed that His way was best. I remembered the prophetic words spoken over me shortly after disaster took it all away. God said, “What looks like an ending is only a beginning. Where I am leading you, you will find more joy than you’ve ever known.” As I handed over the reigns of my future to God, I prayed, “God, I trust your future for my life over mine. Do what you want with my life and work out your plan for me.”

God has been faithful to do just that. Psalm 138:8 says, “The Lord will work out his plans for my life” (NLT). If your plan for your life has failed and you’re at what looks like an ending, I recommend handing over the reigns of your life to God. You can trust your future to Him. He will take what looks like an ending, and turn it into a new beginning. Pray that same prayer I did and watch God work on your behalf.

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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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Practicing Solitude

There’s a difference between solitude and loneliness. One can lead to depression and the other to self awareness or spiritual awakening. One of the shows I watched on Hulu this year was “Alone”. They take several people into some of the coldest and remote parts of the world and drop them off miles apart to survive. They are completely alone in the wilderness and the last person standing wins. Many face loneliness pretty quickly and tap out. Others it hits after several weeks. However, there are some who learn to use the solitude as a means of self discovery and start to have epiphanies. It’s incredible to me to watch these things happen as they start to describe their realizations.

I believe solitude is a lost spiritual discipline. In today’s world we are always connected and available to be reached by someone. Our brains have created the fear of missing out (fomo) and have tethered us to constant information sources. If we’re constantly connected to the things of this world, it’s hard to hear the voice of God. Our fear of missing out has been misplaced. We are missing the voice of God and looking to other voices to replace it. We are constantly connected, yet still feel alone. God is calling us to have regular times of solitude in His presence, but we rarely, if ever do it.

We know Psalm 46:10 by heart and can recite, “Be still and know that I am God,” but when are we ever still? Mark 1:35 says, “The next morning, Jesus got up long before daylight, left the house while it was dark, and made his way to a secluded place to give himself to prayer” (TPT). Jesus made it a regular habit to daily find seclusion and solitude to hear the voice of God. He is our example of this discipline that we should follow. I admit, it’s not easy to sit in silence at first. Try doing it for 10 minutes and wait on God. Leave your phone, your smart watch and all other distractions in another room. Practice being still and waiting on God, and you will find that you will know Him more and develop a deeper relationship with Him.

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God’s Got You

There have been times in my life where I’ve felt like I was slipping through God’s fingers. My life was in free fall and nothing was going right. This past year has felt that way for so many. I can think of a few friends who left secure jobs and income to chase dreams they’ve had their entire lives only to have the world shut down shortly after they did. I’ve had friends who received a diagnosis that changed everything. I also know people who have been hit with one thing after another and have been under a complete barrage of bad news and things happening to them. When these things happen, it can feel like you’re sinking or free falling, and you wonder if God has forgotten you. Panic can quickly set in and start making decisions for you. When I see friends going through these times, I usually pray for peace, wisdom and the assurance that God is in control.

I often think of the night that the disciples were told by Jesus to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They heard Him clearly and did what He asked. It didn’t stop the storm from coming. It didn’t stop the boat from taking on water. They were in His will and they were fighting for their lives. I love that in the middle of all that chaos, Peter had the courage to get out of the boat. I also love that he began to sink as he quit looking at Jesus and became distracted by everything going on. Why? Because it gave a great opportunity to show the heart of God. As Peter went into a free fall sinking, Jesus reached out and grabbed him. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I’m pretty sure it was, “Please don’t let go!” Jesus didn’t and they got into the boat.

In Isaiah 41, God was speaking to Israel, but I believe it’s for us as well. Verse 10 says, “Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you” (MSG). If you’re distracted by everything that’s going on all around you and in your life, be like Peter, put your eyes back on Jesus and reach out to Him. He’s saying, “Don’t panic. I’ve got you and I’ve got a firm grip too.” You are not forgotten. God sees through the storm that has been surrounding you and threatens to sink you. He won’t let go no matter how bad things might get. God very often uses devastation to create new life. Just because things aren’t happening the way we think they should, it doesn’t mean He’s let go. He’ll help you and hold you steady through it all. Trust in Him, have peace, make wise choices and know He is in control.

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Checking Our Motives

I was born and raised in church. My parents took me to Sunday School each week. Year after year I had heard the same stories taught by different teachers as I grew older, and I had memorized them all. Christianity began to move from my heart to my head. I began to see it as behavior based instead of relationship based. I remember talking to my dad about sin and all the behaviors you could and couldn’t do. I wanted to make sure I didn’t do any of them. I thought if I could memorize them all, I could know which behaviors to avoid so I could go to Heaven. That’s when he said, “Chewing gum can be a sin.” I was confused. He said, “Sin is as much an attitude as it is a behavior. If the rules tell you not to chew gum and you do so in defiance, you are sinning. James 4:17 tells us if we know what’s right, and don’t do it, it’s sin.”

In the Old Testament, King Saul was told to wait for the prophet to show up who would offer a sacrifice. When the prophet didn’t show up at the appointed time, Saul began to panic. His men were afraid and some began to desert him. He decided to offer the sacrifice instead. Just as he finished offering the sacrifice, the prophet showed up. He knew he needed to Lord’s blessing, but didn’t do it the right way. A few chapters later, he was told to kill even the animals as he destroyed a nation. When the prophet showed up, Saul said, “I have carried out the Lord’s command.” The prophet replied, “Then what is this bleating of sheep and goats I hear?” Saul said he was going to sacrifice them to God. In 1 Samuel 15:22, after rebuking Saul, the prophet said, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

Saul was doing the right thing by offering sacrifices, but his attitude was wrong in each case. Jeremiah 17:10 says, “But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve” (NLT). Man looks at behaviors to judge people, but God looks at our heart. He’s interested in our motives. You can do the right thing with the wrong heart, and it can be wrong. We can’t approach Christianity as a list of behaviors of right and wrong, thou shalts and thou shalt nots. It’s not your behaviors that get you into Heaven. It’s the grace of God through the blood of Jesus. God wants a relationship with you, and through that relationship, we’re changed from the inside out. We receive a transforming of our mind (Romans 12:2) as we become a new creation. We are saved by grace, through faith, and not of our behaviors. The Bible does tell us how we should live, but God is also looking at our heart behind the behaviors.

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The Plan For Redemption

Before God spoke the words, “Let there be light,” there was a plan in place for Him to send His one and only son to redeem us. Think about that. The plan didn’t get created after Adam and Eve sinned. God knew from the beginning what was going to happen. That’s what He was able to give the first prophecy of Jesus in Genesis as He cursed the serpent. Then, all throughout history He continued to speak through the prophets of a time when He would send the Messiah Jesus into the world. With the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, God was putting His plan for redemption into place. God took on flesh and blood to become one of us so He could restore the relationship.

As you celebrate Christmas, don’t forget that what we’re really celebrating is how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us so we could one day be with Him forever. The gifts you give and receive are a symbol of the greatest gift we have ever been given. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 KJV). I hope you have a merry Christmas and spend time with your family today, but I also hope that you remember this is but a foreshadowing of a celebration with our family in Heaven that’s coming. Joy to the world for unto you is born a savior which is Christ the Lord!

Here are some Bible verses about Jesus coming into the world.

1. The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all the cattle, And more than any animal of the field; On your belly you shall go, And dust you shall eat All the days of your life. And I will put enmity (open hostility) Between you and the woman, And between your seed (offspring) and her Seed; He shall [fatally] bruise your head, And you shall [only] bruise His heel.”

Genesis 3:14-15 AMP

2. Then a Shoot (the Messiah) will spring from the stock of Jesse [David’s father], And a Branch from his roots will bear fruit.

Isaiah 11:1 AMP

3. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.

Micah 5:2 NLT

4. Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).

Isaiah 7:14 AMP

5. But the angel reassured them, saying, “Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah. You will recognize him by this miracle sign: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!”

Luke 2:10-12 TPT

Merry Christmas! If you’d like to read more verses on the birth of Jesus, click here.

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The Greatest Gift

Since it’s Christmas time, I have a question for you. What’s the best gift you ever received? Some of you might say a ring, or a car, or a bike, or a child. Each of us will have different answers depending on where we are in life, but I’m pretty sure that none of you said that going through difficult times was the greatest gift you ever got. However, looking back on your life, and seeing how that dark time made you into who you are today, you might want to reconsider. Yes, I’m suggesting your darkest days could be the greatest gift you’ve ever received,

Most of us think of those times, and try to put them behind us, or pretend that they never existed. But I believe God uses those times to move us into position for our future, to develop in us the qualities of character necessary for the future He has for us, and to grow our faith in Him. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (MSG).

Those final sentences are tough for us to hear. When we are in a trial or test, we want them to end quickly. We pray and beg God to get us out of them. When we do get out of them early, the work is unfinished that He was trying to do. In Max Lucado’s book “The Anvil”, he writes that of God has you in these times, rejoice. It means He still thinks you’re worth reshaping. He hasn’t discarded you as useless and put you with the other tools the He no longer uses.

If you happen to be going through one of these times right now, I’d like you to look at the next verse in James. It says, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.” God will be there to help you through instead of out of it. Pray for His help, but also pray to ask Him to develop in you what He needs to during this time. Right now it may not seem like a gift, but what God does in us during the hardest times is often one of He greatest gifts He gives.

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