Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Applying Our Hearts

Read Proverbs 2:1-6

If you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding ... then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
-Proverbs 2:12, 5 (NIV)

MY college students sometimes complain about exam questions. I often ask them for answers they won't find word-for-word in their text or notes because I want them to understand the material well enough to apply it to new situations. In fact, when students study the text, accept my help, and participate in class discussions, they usually understand the material so well that they can apply it to a question they haven't seen before.

When faced with difficult life questions such as a complicated social issue or moral dilemma, we sometimes offer the same kind of complaints students offer their teachers. "I don't know what to do; the Bible doesn't specifically address that."

Yet if we study our text, the Bible, as we've been "assigned," if we pray for God's help and make the most of opportunities to talk to other Christians, we may not be so confused when confronted with life's difficult questions. We can understand the "material" so clearly that we will be prepared to respond in ways that please God.

by Susan Harris Howell (Kentucky, USA)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Changed Forever

Read Philippians 2:1-11

The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
-Luke 19:10 (NIV)

MR. Simmons was in his 80s when I was paired with him for our church's evangelism program. Just out of college, I wasn't sure Mr. Simmons and I would work well together. I feared a man his age would have little patience with the questions and concerns of non-believers. We knocked on the first door, and a woman answered reluctantly. After a brief, unproductive conversation, we headed for the car.

What followed changed me forever. Mr. Simmons closed his eyes and prayed, "I talked too much and should have listened. Lord, please send another to reach this woman. Help me to be wiser at the next door, to know when to speak plainly and when to listen."

While I was patting myself on the back for knocking on doors, Mr. Simmons was grieving over a lost opportunity and asking the Lord to transform him into a wiser servant. A 22-year-old who knew everything learned from an 80-year-old what it meant to be like Christ, who emptied himself (Phil. 2:7) for the sake of others.

Mr. Simmons got up every day knowing what he was put on earth to do. Because he walked intimately with the Savior, Mr. Simmons understood the tragedy of life without Jesus. He taught me that all my evangelism training was futile until I developed a heart of compassion.

by Joyce Wallace (Washington, USA)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Grace: Getting the undeserved

Read Luke 15:11-32

The landowner said, "Are you envious because I am generous?"
-Matthew 20:15 (NIV)

GOD'S method of redeeming the world is not about fairness but about grace, and grace is about getting what we do not deserve. Grace meant that Jesus got what he didn't deserve: death on a cross so that we could see the extent of God's love. Grace also means that we get what we don't deserve: life.

Jesus' parable of the prodigal son is a story of this grace, with three main characters. The story wouldn't make sense without the father and the younger son, the prodigal; and the older son reminds us that grace often seems unfair. The story ends as the father pleads with his older son to come and celebrate his brother's return.

We never find out what the older son does after the party because, I think, the older son's response is our response. We are meant to finish the story in our lives. When someone gets credit for what we have done, when we are overlooked for what we have earned, or when living the right way doesn't seem to make a difference, we can accept the offer to celebrate God's grace. Or we can remain outside and refuse to participate in God's grace which is redeeming the world.

by Matthew Browning (Iowa, USA)
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