Saturday, February 24, 2018

THE RIGHT CHOICE

The summer when I was twelve, my father surprised my younger sister and me by
announcing that he had a different plan for our summer holiday. Instead of planning
our vacation, he gave us the money that he had set aside and let us decide what to
do with it. We could save it, spend it as we pleased, or use it for a five-day vacation at
the lake. After some discussion and prayer, my sister and I told Dad that we wanted
to go on the lakeside vacation.
But immediately after making the decision, I felt a cloud of doubt descend. Suppose I
had not made the best choice? Perhaps the money would have been better spent on
something else? Then a series of severe typhoons and family emergencies forced us
to delay our vacation until the next summer, which added fuel to my worries. Maybe
this was all too much hassle?
When I voiced my feelings to Dad, he assured me that while I was free to change my
mind, fears and doubts were a natural part of making decisions. “Just because you
feel uncertain doesn’t mean you’ve made the wrong choice,” he said. Encouraged by
his words, I decided to wait and trust God to work everything out in His time. Sure
enough, a year later we were enjoying the time of our lives at the lake!
But I brought home more than happy memories and mementos; the experience
taught me important lessons that have since helped me many times when I faced
bigger and more important decisions with higher stakes.
I learned that hardly any decision can be made without taking a risk; yet being willing
to take that risk is crucial to arriving at a wise choice. Having difficulty reaching a
decision—and feeling worried or uncertain about it afterwards—is natural, and a wild
storm of emotions is not an indication that I should not have made the voyage or that
my boat will sink. God is both my anchor and my compass. I can trust Him to not only
steady me but to also guide me to His perfect destination, as His Word promises: “In
all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

Friday, February 23, 2018

LIGHTEN UP

The ministry of John the Baptist mostly preceded that of Jesus. John’s message was
one of repentance; he proclaimed the coming of the Savior. Although some of his
followers went on to become disciples of Jesus, others evidently stayed at John’s
side.
John is traditionally recognized as having been a zealous teacher. Perhaps his
strictness could be partly attributed to being a Nazarite from birth, which meant he
was not permitted to drink alcohol or cut his hair, and also had to abide by other
restrictions. Evidently he also expected quite a bit from his followers, as on one
occasion, some of them asked Jesus: “Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously
discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don’t?”
Perhaps they were puzzled—and a little envious—of the more relaxed lifestyle of
Jesus’ disciples. Maybe there was even a bit of self-righteous chiding in this question,
implying that it was high time for Jesus to make His followers shape up. In any case,
Jesus replied: “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is
with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from
them, and then they will fast.” It sounds like He was saying, “Lighten up. Troubles will
come soon enough, so enjoy these moments of peace while you have them.”
We all sometimes make our lives harder than they need to be, by taking on more than
God expects of us. We convolute what could be straightforward. After all, the main
thing He wants is love. The prophet Micah put it this way: “He’s already made it plain
how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple:
Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love,
and don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Sure, there are occasions when our path is rough or there are life-changing decisions
to be made. But when we’re not in the midst of such critical times, maybe we should
avoid getting tied up in knots trying to figure out minor details of life. Otherwise, we
could end up missing out on the fullness of joy and peace that comes with God’s
presence.
Life is not always complicated, and decisions are not always major. Let’s remember
that, and when appropriate, let’s lighten up.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

42 KILOMETERS OF LIFE

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of
faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily
trips us up. 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.
I started walking away from what I knew God was calling me to a few months ago. I
think I just grew tired of striving.
Come to think of it, I didn’t walk away so much as stop walking. In any race, to stop is
to fall behind. I asked myself subconsciously why I had ever chosen to run in the first
place. I forgot the thrill of the chase, and all I could think of was how hot the asphalt
was.
All I did was stop to catch my breath, and now the pack is gone, far into the distance.
It feels like I am so far behind. But I feel a force beside me. It is the voice of my
Trainer, ever close, urging me on in spite of my weak character. Why does He still
care? Can’t He tell that I’m a loser and a quitter? Not only that, but I made empty
promises to Him and others—the other runners, sponsors, fans, friends, family, as
well as to myself.
He tells me that none of that matters; all He is asking me to do is to forget the past,
the grueling last few kilometers, and get up and run again. I tell Him I can’t do it; I
can’t finish this race. Here I am maybe 15 or 20 kilometers in, and I’m already sitting
down! What makes Him think I can do it?
He tells me that He will give me the strength. He gives me a cup of cool water to
drink. It tastes wonderful, and I realize that I had stopped drinking this refreshing
water. I had figured I didn’t have time.
He tells me that He will set the pace to ensure I make it to the end. “But,” I argue, “I
won’t win if I don’t push harder.”
He reminds me that I am running for more than a trophy. I’m not running to beat the
other runners. I’m running for a cause—to carry my flag over the line. I didn’t start this
race to give up.
The cup is empty now, my thirst is quenched, and it’s time to get back on the road.
I’m aware of the time I’ve lost by sitting under the tree, but a part of me is still
screaming to sit back down. It’s a full five degrees hotter on the road! But is that
enough to keep me down? I was born to run!I tell myself. But I still can’t bring myself
to start. I can’t let Him down! I try to convince myself, but still the shade holds me
fast.
That’s when I hear it, carried on the gentle wind that swirls all around me! From just
around the next bend, they beckon me—those champions from races past. No, not
the vacationers sipping cocktails just behind the fence; these voices are much higher
up in the bleachers, in seats reserved for those who have gone before, who deserve
the honor and recognition accorded to those who have paid the price and run the
race to the finish line already.
They are calling me—no, they are yelling my name. “Run with the wind!” they tell me.
Now’s the time! My heart races but I hesitate yet again. Will I make it?“Yes,” my
Trainer promises, “Because I am here with you, and I will guide you all the way. Don’t
focus on the effort; focus on the goal. And most of all, don’t get down on yourself,
because in the end, what matters is to not quit.”
The first step is the hardest, as always, but somehow I manage. I believe this is what
He meant by “running with endurance.” Each step somehow feels lighter than the
last, now that I’ve started running again. I think I can do this. No, I think wecan do this
together.
Someday you will look back on your life and realize that everything worthwhile you’ve
ever accomplished initially challenged you. And that is as it should be, because big
challenges often prepare ordinary people for extraordinary success.
Every struggle arises for a reason—either for experience or as a lesson. A great
journey is never easy, and no dose of adversity along the way is ever a waste of time
if you learn and grow from it.—Angel Chernoff

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

SET SAIL!

My friend Jack lived in a large house in a pleasant, leafy suburb. It was a great place
to raise his family of five, but his children have long since married and moved on.
Around 15 years ago, Jack’s business failed, and although it would have made
financial and practical sense for Jack and his wife to downsize, they loved their home
and always put off the tough decision. They ended up keeping the home by default,
probably hoping things would improve. Instead, as the years passed, their debts
mounted until they absolutely had to sell. Unfortunately, by this time the housing
market had collapsed, and the proceeds of the sale no longer even covered their
debts.
Not making a decision is a decision. Like Jack, I have plenty of my own stories in this
regard, finding it quite difficult to “sign on the dotted line.” I think there are a few
reasons why we sometimes delay our decision-making as long as possible.
Perhaps we hesitate to face an unknown future. After all, as much as we try to
anticipate the results of our choices, there are many factors beyond our insight and
control. We cannot know for sure what will follow.
Future fears didn’t hold back Abraham. He said “yes” to God and left his home in
Haran, not knowing where he was going. Moses showed similar faith, leading the
Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and onwards to the Promised
Land. Jesus’ disciples left their livelihoods to follow Him, which took another kind of
faith.
Who knows whether Abraham foresaw the difficulties he would face—famine, family
troubles, and battles, amongst others. Could Moses possibly have anticipated the
troubled wilderness journey ahead? Jesus’ disciples didn’t always have an easy time
of things either. Yet events showed that all these people made the right decisions,
helping create the foundation for our faith.
Few of us face such dramatic circumstances as these Bible heroes, but we all face
choices, big and small. May God help us to make well-considered decisions.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

TIME TO LAUNCH

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the
shore.
—Andr√© Gide (1869–1951)
Decision is the spark that ignites action. Until a decision is made, nothing happens.
Decision is the courageous facing of issues, knowing that if they are not faced,
problems will remain forever unanswered.
—Wilferd Peterson (1900–1995)
O Lord, may I be directed what to do and what to leave undone.
—Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845)
God always gives his very best to those who leave the choice with him.
—James Hudson Taylor (1832–1905)
Don’t ask God to guide your footsteps unless you are willing to move your feet.
—Author unknown
Men are free to decide their own moral choices, but they are also under the necessity
to account to God for those choices.
—Aiden Tozer (1897–1963)
We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us.
—Frank Boreham (1871–1959)
“Sir, what is the secret of your success?” a reporter asked a bank president.
“Two words.”
“And, sir, what are they?”
“Good decisions.”
“And how do you make good decisions?”
“One word.”
“And sir, what is that?”
“Experience.”
“And how do you get experience?”
“Two words.”
“And, sir, what are they?”
“Bad decisions.”
—Author unknown
The deeper we go down into the valley of decision the higher we must rise … into the
mount of prayer.
—Peter Taylor Forsyth (1848–1921)
Never make a permanent decision based on a temporary storm. No matter how
raging the billows are today, remind yourself, “This too shall pass.”
—T. D. Jakes (b. 1957)
Men must be decided on what they will not do, and then they are able to act with vigor
in what they ought to do.
—Mencius (c. 372–289 BC)
Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is
free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives.
—Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968)
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin.
—Mother Teresa (1910–1997)
Grant me, O Lord, to know what is worth knowing,
To love what is worth loving,
To praise what delights you most,
To value what is precious in your sight,
To hate what is offensive to you.
Do not let me judge by what I see,
Nor pass sentence according to what I hear,
But to judge rightly between things that differ,
And above all to search out and do what pleases you,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
—Thomas √† Kempis (1380–1471)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

FREE AGENTS

Have you ever been faced with important decisions and needed explicit direction,
only to feel as if God was in silent mode?—Right when you would most like Him to
give a precise answer? I know I have, and during those times, it’s been a spiritual
struggle. Once, while struggling with a decision, I so much wanted God to make the
path clear, but He, in His wisdom, chose not to give a direct answer. Instead, I
needed to forge ahead to do the pick-and-shovel work of investigating options,
seeking godly counsel, weighing the open doors of opportunity before me, praying
desperately, and most of all, committing my ways to Him. I had to trust that He would
direct my path in the manner of His choosing.
As Christians who want to glorify God through our lives, we want to learn to make
decisions and choices based on godly principles. Considering options, weighing
advantages and disadvantages, using our God-given wisdom, and measuring
situations by God’s Word are all part of loving God with all our minds, hearts, and
souls, in obedience to the first and greatest commandment.
Part of the stress and turmoil we often face in times of decision-making is the fear of
failure, the fear of missing God’s will, or the fear of making a decision that will
unforeseeably have a negative impact on ourselves or others. When it comes to
those important decisions that will define the course of our future, or at least our
immediate future, we learn through experience that sometimes, despite our best
intentions and desires, our decisions lead to unexpected negative outcomes and
consequences that we have to live with.
Because God has designed us as agents with free will, we have the capability of
making independent choices, and by the same token, we are personally responsible
for our decisions and their outcomes, and we must take responsibility for how things
play out, even if there are negative repercussions. We also have to trust that God has
promised to work everything together for the good of those who love Him, no matter
how things seem to turn out initially. He can even take our mistakes and the times
when we seem to have messed up our decision-making coordinates, and redirect our
course in ways that will be beneficial and lead us to His ultimate destination.
Unexpected bends in the road and unintended outcomes are part of life, no matter
how wise our decisions. We see throughout the Bible how often things turned out
differently than people expected or planned. When Moses set out for the Promised
Land, he probably didn’t foresee wandering in the desert for 40 years. And yet, he
didn’t waver or lose sight of the final destination; he kept pressing forward despite the
obstacles.
Even when we make right decisions, there is no guarantee of smooth sailing for the
duration of the journey. We will often continue to face pitfalls or setbacks along the
way, and these are part of the human experience and often serve to strengthen our
faith walk. As our heavenly Father, God knows that learning to make decisions and
take responsibility for their outcome—and all the lessons we learn on that journey—
are part of our spiritual growth and development.
As we commit our ways to Him and seek to please Him and do those things that are
pleasing in His sight, we can have confidence in our relationship with Him; we can
know that He will be present with us through all the decisions, small and great, that
face us throughout our lives.
“May the God of peace … equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he
produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing
to him.”

Friday, February 16, 2018

THE BROAD-LEAFED CACTUS

Walking along a narrow path in the tropical forest we often visit for a Sunday walk,
under the radiant early-morning African sun, I notice a magnificent cactus and stop to
take a closer look. The dark-green rubbery leaves are fat and oval and interspersed
with large pointed thorns. In contrast to the feisty exterior, tender blooms emerge
from the tips of some leaves. Shades of yellow and an intricate design make these
lovely flowers dazzle. How like Jesus’ presence after a thorny stretch of life’s journey.
Just like a flower appearing in the most unexpected circumstances, He reassures me
of His love and care.
Rounding the bend, we saw a flame tree stretching its leafy arms high above. Each
branch is crowned with a flaming orange-red flower, and the backdrop of the sky’s
cooling azure blue softens their flaming red. When the fierceness of danger,
sickness, or strife shoots flaming arrows my way, God, like the eternal cool blue sky,
calms each fear. Feelings of distress disappear as His presence shields me.
Then my favorite stretch of the trail passes under the shadow of regal bamboo plants.
Their broad stalks reach far above, forming a green arch over the trail, which
provides shelter from sun and rain. Jesus is my protector and shield, and when I find
myself in a tunnel, He is the light at the end of it.
The winding path now leads down a slope toward a brook. Since there is no bridge,
local farmers have placed two logs over the stream. As we balance along the trunks,
I am reminded that Jesus has provided stepping stones in His Word.
A steep incline leads to the road. Breathless and sweaty, we reach the top. To help
me over the last boulder, my friend reaches down, grabs hold of my hand, and pulls
me up. Jesus is at the other end of each prayer and lends a helping hand through a
friend, a spouse, or even a stranger.
At the top of the hill, a refreshing cool breeze fans our sweaty brows, which energizes
us instantly. A breathtaking view unfolds in front of us, with a range of blue mountains
in the distance. Jesus is a cool breeze that brings respite after each challenge, giving
new hope and strength to carry on.
Jesus is my rock—strong, dependable, unmovable, unchangeable, and eternal.