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You don’t gain anything by being punished for some wrong you have done. But God will bless you, if you have to suffer for doing something good. 1 Peter 2:20 (CEV)

Usually when I’ve read this verse I’ve focused on the words ‘punished’ and ‘doing good’ with the idea of persecution for following Jesus, or for being honest when dishonesty would be the ‘norm’ or completely understandable.

Punishment for doing good isn’t always the physically abusive kind of punishment though and it’s not always administered by those intent on hurting us. Sometimes the suffering we endure comes at the hands of unknowing and, if we were honest, unintentional attacks. These are the attacks that don’t leave bruises or scars on the outside, but wreak havoc on the inside.

Random acts of kindness are often lauded as being some super-heroic gesture that brings us lots of joy and fulfillment. But when our acts of kindness and consideration are unnoticed it hurts. The legalist will tell you to suck it up. To look for recognition is nothing more than sinful pride. But I don’t buy that completely. While it’s true that the ‘Christ-like’ things we do should be done regardless of whether they are recognized or not, that doesn’t mean that that it’s some great heinous sin to expect that we get thanked for what we do.

One day Jesus was walking along a path and came upon ten lepers. He told them to go to the priests and show themselves to the priests. As they went they were cleansed of their leprosy! Only one of the ten returned to say thank you and that person was a much hated Samaritan. Jesus response was a very human one. He looked for the other nine!

“Wait a minute…Didn’t I heal ten men? And even though I delivered them from this deadly, stinking, socially repulsive sin, the only one who thought to say thank you was this foreigner? Where are my friends? Where are the ones who should have been first in line, my countrymen?”

It’s been over 2,000 years since that story and nothing has really changed in our human nature. Those who are closest to us are usually the ones that notice our kind actions the least. It’s often strangers that say thank you more often than our spouses, children or closest friends and that hurts!

Two lessons come to mind when I re-read this story. First of all, I want to make sure that I am appreciative of all the things, large and small that people do for me. My prayer is that no act of kindness will go unappreciated.

Secondly, from all appearances, the other nine were healed. Even though they weren’t thankful, Jesus knew that his true reward would come from his Father. The same is true for me. The kind things we do may go unnoticed on earth, but they are never forgotten in heaven.

PRAYER: Father God. There are so many times when the things I’ve done have gone unnoticed. People seem to notice my failures much more than my kindness. Empowered by your Spirit, I resolve to make sure those who are kind are recognized by me. I praise you for remembering even my most insignificant act of kindness to those around me. In Jesus name, Amen.

Then Jesus said to them, “Be careful and guard against all kinds of greed. Life is not measured by how much one owns.” Luke 12:15 (NCV)

Contentment. When you think about it, it just may be the single most important thing we seek during this journey called life. We seek for it in relationships, and when one goes sour we reach out to others who may be able to fill the void. We seek it in our jobs, our marriages, our children, the number of toys in our yard and even in the church we attend. It can become the driving force in every thing we do, every thought we have, and every word we speak.

The lack of contentment can push us to try harder or it can lead us to hang our heads in disgrace and failure. It’s the lack of contentment that causes us to succumb to the addictive patterns in our life. Addiction to drugs, pornography, anger, work-aholism and a whole list of other activities that drain us of our desire to succeed and bring on more discontentment. The negative spiral continues. We want to feel good about ourselves, to be content, so we try new things and fail which brings on more frustration and a stronger desire for contentment.

Jesus says, STOP! You are looking for contentment in all the wrong places. Contentment isn’t found in relationships. Even if those relationships are good relationships with your spouse, your children, your friends, earthly relationships can not completely fill the void in your life that we call contentment.

You won’t fill that void with more or new, friends, a better job, a new car, a bigger house, a vacation home or a new toy. Contentment goes well beyond these things. Contentment comes from inside. It comes from being satisfied with who you are, with believing the fact that you are God’s creation, his number one masterpiece. Contentment comes knowing that the job can fail, you can lose your house, and you can find yourself without a friend in this world. But if you have Jesus, you have the strength to go on and the contentment within yourself that says: “I’m okay. Things are tough right now. But I’m okay because of Jesus.”

Contentment doesn’t mean we are satisfied to stay where we are. It means we know that whatever we are going through is for a time and that someday, because of Christ, things will be better. Contentment weathers the storms of life with confidence that who we are isn’t dependent on the outcome of our trials.

PRAYER: Father God, things aren’t going so well for me right now. I’m worried about finances, my kids, my marriage and a whole list of other things. Help me to realize that I have all that I need in who I am because of you. Empower me with your Spirit to be content with who and where I am. Give me strength to endure and to make my world a better place. In your name I pray, Amen.

Our faces, then, are not covered. We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NCV)

Old Preacher Story Ahead! Story is told of a little boy from the city who visited Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. As was their custom, Grandma and Grandpa, with child in tow, headed off to church on Sunday morning. On returning home Grandma walked with the little boy to the barn to check on some new lambs that had just been born. In the stall next to the lambs was a stubborn old mule. The little boy looked at the mule for some time and then asked a question. “Grandma, Is that old mule a Christian?” Puzzled by the question, Grandma responded, “Why no son, why to you ask that?” The boy responded, “Well, it has the same sad face most of the people had at church today.”

Look around you at the faces of people in church during the worship service. (Be sure not to stare…that’s creepy.) Now, I’ll admit I have a personal struggle with what we call the ‘worship’ part of our church services. I’d like to think there is worship going on but sometimes there is everything BUT worship happening. The praise team can get sucked into performance mentality; the Pastor can be so focused on what he’ll say that he forgets that his worship is far more important than his sermon notes. To others worship is the time cushion that allows late-comers to get into the chairs before the important stuff happens.

So, take a look around. What do you see? Bill and Sally must have had another fight on the way to church; they look like they are ready to bite each others head off. Grandma Jones, as usual is looking around to see who ISN’T there and you’ll be sure she mentions her findings to everyone she sees. Fred is thinking about the ballgame this afternoon. It’s obvious he’s not in tune with the music. Harry wishes we could go back to the good ole’ hymns. He misses the piano, the organ and those good old, doctrine filled songs of his youth.

Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. None of those examples are real people, but our faces should reflect what we have in Jesus. Whether it be in church, at the office, in the store or on the beach we should reflect our joy with the blessings we have in Christ. Those without Jesus in their lives are burdened with worries, fears, and anxiety. They are looking for an answer to the problems that plague them. They have no hope.

As Christ followers our best testimony to Christ’s love dwelling in us can be the countenance of our faces!  A simple smile or a ‘good morning’ greeting to a stranger may be all they need to make their day brighter.

PRAYER: Father God, I thank you for Jesus. I thank you for the love, the forgiveness, and the promises of your word and a guarantee of eternal life with you. Help me in my worship and in my daily living to reflect the love I have for you. In Jesus name, Amen.

God is strong and can help you not to fall. He can bring you before his glory without any wrong in you and can give you great joy. Jude 1:24 (NCV)

I sat and watched a group of rock climbers one day as they tried to scale a sheer rock cliff. From a distance it seemed impossible for them to be able to make it to the top safely. It was apparent from my observation which climbers were novices and which were the ‘veterans’ of the group. The novices moved very slowly and tentatively. Some got half way up and came back down by the safety ropes to regroup and try again. One by one the group made it from the bottom to the top safely. With each person’s successful climb you could hear a cheer erupt from the onlookers.

Later, I had the opportunity to ask one of the climbers what he thought were the essential ingredients to a successful climb. He told me that, in his opinion, there were three things each successful climber needed to make it to the top. One was faith in your equipment. The climb I watched was pretty minor but especially on the big climbs you needed to have good equipment and trust that equipment to do what it says it would do.

The second ingredient was remaining focused. He referenced the few ‘novice climbers’. Their biggest problem was that they focused so much on the danger and the possibility of falling and getting injured that they lost their grip. On this climb it was okay because there were safety ropes to lower them to the ground. In a real climb one slip can mean death. “Most climbing accidents are the result of improper use of equipment and/or climber error” He told me. Equipment failure is rare.

Lastly, he said, good climbers don’t climb alone. They would prefer to climb in groups because the support of the group helps them, especially during the tough climbs and during inclement weather. Group support is indispensible when it comes to making it to the top.

As I left I thought about the application to our spiritual lives. When we first start our walk with Christ we are careful to do the things that will help our growth. We read his Word, we pray, we seek every opportunity to make our way up the slippery slope of life.

As we ‘grow older’ in our faith we may tend to lose our focus on the task before us. We may have more faith in our own ability than to trust the equipment. We may be so intent on looking back to our past that we lose sight of the task before us. We may look towards our goal and wonder how we will ever make it to the top. When we lose our focus we increase the chances of losing our footing and falling.

Along with the focus we need to have in our climb, we need to have faith in our equipment. Climbing equipment rarely fails. The word of God and his presence in our lives NEVER fails. But falling is a possibility when we fail to have faith that our God is strong enough to see us to the top.

Lastly, when climbing the sheer rock wall of life, we need each other. Fellowship with other Christ-followers encourages us on the way, reminds us who we are, and gives us another vantage point to see our way to footholds that help us advance.

Proper equipment (Faith in a living and powerful God); Focus (relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us through the daily tasks of life); Fellowship (surrounding ourselves with people who can help us along the way). Three ingredients to making it up the slippery slope of life.

PRAYER: Father God, there are so many times I’ve lost focus on you or relied on my own power and ability to make it through life’s challenges. Empower me with your Spirit to climb the slippery slope of my life relying on you to conquer to obstacles before me. In Jesus name, Amen.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Mark 8:33

I remember hearing a story about a young couple who lived in a small town in theMidwest. They were high school sweethearts and went away toBibleCollege. One day as they spoke of their future together they both realized they had a desire to go to the foreign mission field. They prayed about it, talked to some close friends and when they were quite certain that this was indeed a ‘calling of the Lord’, went home to tell their parents.

This news was not taken well by the parents. In fact, there was weeping and pleading and even a few threats along the way. ‘How could they abandon their families like this?’ ‘Why go waste your lives overseas when there are plenty of people who need ‘saving’ close to home?’ ‘Why not just teach Sunday School or lead the youth group at church? We’re always looking for good youth leaders.’

Eventually the nagging and pleading and arguments took their toll. The couple abandoned their quest for missions and tried to settle into a life in the quiet town in which they grew up. Life wasn’t easy. There was financial hardship. The life of love they expected didn’t turn out as well as hoped. It seemed like they endured set-back after set-back. Finally, they divorced and went their separate ways.

Now, I’m not saying that the reason for the calamity in this couple’s life was their decision not to go to the mission field, but one has to wonder if that wasn’t the case. A similar situation happens with Jesus and the disciples. After discussing his real identity as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus begins to tell them the next step in the chapter of his life.

Peter, however, would have nothing of that. There was plenty of work for Jesus to do here on earth. He rebuked Jesus for even thinking such a thing! One wonders if there wasn’t the sound of “We won’t let anything happen to you Jesus, count on us!” in Peter’s voice.

Jesus looked at Peter but spoke to the one who always prompts us to go our own way. The enemy, Satan will use every tactic possible to keep us from making an impact in our world for Jesus. He can use jobs, children, spouses, parents and any other tactic to keep us from the work God has for us. In this case, Satan used Peter to try to distract Jesus from his ultimate goal, to glorify God (which is each of our tasks).

There are many ‘good reasons’ not to step out of our comfort zones for Jesus but none of them are will bring fulfillment in our lives. The message is clear. Stay true to your calling. Pursue it at all costs. Don’t allow the pleasures and comforts of this world keep you from the eternal rewards stepping out for Christ will bring.

There is another lesson in this story and it comes to those of us on the other side. Jesus referred to Peter as a stumbling block. Be cautious when someone comes to you with a vision of what God wants them to do, especially if that person is someone you ‘can’t live without’. Don’t allow your personal security to hinder their opportunity to do the work God has for them. Honestly pray with them to determine if this vision of theirs is of God or not. Don’t be a stumbling block.

PRAYER: Father, stepping out into the unknown is hard for me. I like the false security that my life brings to me. Still I want to be open to your leading. Protect me from the arguments the enemy will use to keep me from stepping out for you. Give me wisdom so that I won’t be a stumbling block to others as they seek your will. In Jesus name, Amen.

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June 2011
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