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The Word For Today

The Law of Love (1)

A newspaper told the story of a boy with cancer who was going through chemotherapy and losing his hair. To show their love and support, his classmates all shaved their heads so he wouldn't be embarrassed about returning to school. The newspaper carried a picture of them all with their bald heads, accompanied by the caption, 'Everything we do, we do together.'

That's the 'law of love' Jesus was talking about when He said, 'A new command I give you: Love one another.' This must have sounded radical to the people Jesus was addressing, for they lived by two Old Testament laws: (1) The law of revenge. Before Moses came along, the law of the land was the law of the jungle. It said in essence, 'If you hurt me I'll hurt you and then hurt you even more!' Enemies actively sought ways to settle old scores because revenge wasn't just acceptable, it was encouraged. (2) The law of retribution. In Moses' time, revenge was replaced with retribution, which allowed 'an eye for an eye', but no more (Leviticus 24:20). You could do to your enemies only what they had done to you. To us this sounds harsh, but back then it was major progress.

Then Jesus came along and introduced a third law: the law of love. It meant you didn't have to get even; you could choose to forgive. Indeed, if you didn't, your prayers wouldn't be answered. This new commandment demonstrates the unconditional love God shows to us - then calls us to live the same way. So the law of love should govern your life every day.

Soulfood : 1 Sam 24-26, Lk 4:14-30, Ps 110, Prov 17:15-17

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The Danger of Pursuing Power

The first lie Satan told Adam and Eve was a direct appeal to the ego in all of us: '...You will be like God...' (Genesis 3:5 NRS). The crafty old serpent pulled back the curtain to Heaven's throne room and gave our first parents a glimpse of power and glory and they were hooked. And we've been hooked ever since! If you've spent any time in the company of social climbers and 'name droppers', you realise human nature hasn't changed much. It's still about staying on top! And since manners can take you where money alone can't, you can actually take classes that teach you 'power table manners'. Things like never handing your plate to the waiter and never stooping to retrieve dropped cutlery. In fact, to ensure your place on the ladder of upward mobility, a cardinal rule is never to stoop at all! Not even to help meet people's needs, admit your mistakes, or give to those who can't repay you.

The pursuit of power makes you think you're better than others and prevents you from serving them. It makes you susceptible to flattery, resistant to honest counsel and leads to isolation and non-accountability. You see it every day in little things, like never complimenting those under you in case they 'forget their place'; refusing to be loving and courteous to your mate in case you lose your most powerful weapon - control; putting personal ambition ahead of personal integrity; withholding intimacy to punish and manipulate someone.

Such power plays are designed to get you what you want at other people's expense. That's why the Bible warns, 'A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble...retain honour.'

Soulfood : 1 Sam 20:30-23:29, Lk 4:1-13, Ps 102:18-28, Prov 17:11-14

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Forgive, for Your Own Sake!

A lady writes: 'I found my husband with another woman. Although he begged me for forgiveness, I wanted my pound of flesh, so I filed for divorce even though our kids asked me not to. Two years later my husband was still trying to get me back, but I wanted none of it. He'd hurt me and I wanted revenge. Finally he gave up, married a young widow with two children, and rebuilt his life without me. They're all so happy and I'm just a lonely, miserable woman, who let bitterness ruin her life.'

Now there's no question that infidelity is wrong. But without forgiveness, what's left? There's a point at which anger stops being a healthy emotion and becomes a driving force. Like a drug, you need larger and larger doses. Once that happens, you move even further from forgiveness, because without anger you've no energy at all. It's what drives hate groups and extremists. Without bitterness they've no reason to exist. If you take bigotry from the racist, revenge from the zealot and chauvinism from the sexist, what's left? 'Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.'

Bitterness is fatal; it kills your soul. So how can you stop yourself from becoming bitter when you've been hurt? (a) By looking into the face of the person who hurt you and seeing, instead, the face of the One who showed you mercy when nobody else would have given you another chance. (b) By realising that before the day, the week, the month or the year is out, you'll be needing mercy yourself.

Soulfood : 1 Sam 18:1-20:29, Lk 3:15-38, Ps 102:12-17, Prov 17:7-10

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Do You Want Your Church to Grow? (4)

The fourth, and perhaps the most frustrating challenge we face when it comes to church growth, is to involve others. Why is that? A message on a bulletin board outside a church gives us a clue. The top line says, 'We care about you,' and the line underneath reads: 'Sundays. 10 am only.' A cartoon by Erik Johnson puts it another way: at the top in big bold letters is a sign that reads, 'The challenge of starting a men's ministry.' Standing directly under the sign is a group of bored-looking guys. To the right of the group is the pastor, who quips, 'So far, the only thing we have in common is an aversion to singing, socialising and sharing.'

People can feel lost and lonely in a crowd, even if it's in church. Sitting in a pew looking at the back of somebody's head for an hour and a half doesn't meet anyone's emotional, relational or spiritual needs. As a member of Christ's body, the church, it's your job to take the first step and initiate contact with those around you. Jesus went out of His way to love the fallen, the fraudulent and the faithless - people others wouldn't have anything to do with.

When someone comes into your church and finds Christ, your job has only begun. They are called to serve and you are called to show them how, when and where. 'The new wine is found in the cluster...' Wine speaks of joy. But you can't get it out of a single grape; you've got to have a 'cluster'. Are you getting the idea?

Soulfood : 1 Sam 16-17, Lk 3:1-14, Ps 102:1-11, Prov 17:4-6

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Do You Want Your Church to Grow? (3)

You are called to inspire others. To be inspired is to feel motivated and excited about what you are doing. The story is told of a little boy sitting in church with his mother. On the platform behind the pastor were three flags; the little boy asked her about the first one. 'That's our nation's flag,' she said. Then he wanted to know about the second flag. She whispered, 'That's the Christian flag.' Finally he asked about the third flag. Telling him to be quiet, she whispered, 'That's for those who died in service.' Innocently he asked, 'Which service did they die in, the morning or evening service?'

Yes, your church should be a place of reverence and order, but it should also be alive with the power and presence of God. A sign on a little country store said it all: 'There's no place anywhere near this place, that's anything like this place, so this must be the place!' That's what God wants His church to be. You ask, 'What was church like back in the days of the early apostles?' Distinctive! Dynamic! Demonstrative! 'When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled...was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.' According to the latest opinion poll, nowadays a 'committed' church member is somebody who attends church twice a month. Wow! The New Testament believers went every day. Furthermore, 'They were all (every member) filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness.'

Jesus is many things - but boring isn't one of them. So let's invite people, instruct them and inspire them!

Soulfood : 1 Sam 14-15, Lk 2:36-52, Ps 98, Prov 17:1-3

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Do You Want Your Church to Grow? (2)

You are also called to instruct others. 'Go...make disciples...teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you...' (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV). When your focus is on not only winning people to Jesus but making them disciples of Jesus, He promises, '...I am with you...' (Matthew 28:20 NKJV).

Today we are raising a scripturally unenlightened generation. In a survey conducted in New York City, nine out of ten people couldn't repeat one of the Ten Commandments or name one of the first four books of the New Testament. One man thought Dan and Beersheba were husband and wife! Another thought an epistle was the wife of an apostle! We smile, but it's a deadly serious issue. God said, 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.' Jesus said, '...Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures...' (Mark 12:24 NIV)? Many of the problems we seek counselling for could be resolved and in some cases avoided altogether, if we took time each day to get into God's Word. The reason many of us are spiritually sick is not because the medicine failed, but because we don't take it. Basically, we're all motivated by reward. So read this: 'This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success' (Joshua 1:8 NKJV).

Do you want to be strong spiritually? Get into the Scriptures. Do you want to succeed in life? Get into the Scriptures.

Soulfood : 1 Sam 11-13, Lk 2:16-35, Ps 95, Prov 16:31-33

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Do You Want Your Church to Grow? (1)

God doesn't mind your church having a small congregation. What He objects to is your church having a small vision, for that limits what He can do through you.

The story's told of a tourist visiting a small English village. He asked an old gentleman, 'Is there anything special about this place?' The old man smiled and said, 'Yes, you can start here and go anywhere else on earth.' In Acts 5:28 the New Testament church was accused of '...filling Jerusalem with your doctrine...' And in Acts 17:6, Paul and Silas were accused of '...turning the world upside down...' What impact!

God has a plan for church growth and you have a part to play. You are called to: invite others. You say, 'Isn't that my pastor's job?' No, your pastor is a shepherd. Shepherds don't give birth to sheep; sheep do that. When was the last time you brought someone to church? If you discovered a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's, wouldn't you share it? Jesus said, 'A certain man gave a great supper and invited many and sent his servant...to say to those who were invited, "Come, for all things are now ready"' (Luke 14:16-17 NKJV). When the invited guests started making excuses as to why they couldn't come, 'The master said to the servant, "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled"' (Luke 14:23 NKJV). Note the words 'compel them to come.' Pick them up in your car, arrange breakfast before church or lunch afterwards. Get creative, but whatever you do, bring them to church!

Soulfood : 1 Sam 8-10, Lk 2:1-15, Ps 64, Prov 16:27-30

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What Will You Leave Behind?

Paul probably didn't leave any money or property when he died, but he did leave a legacy - a superior one! His legacy was a combination of his writings, those he won to Christ, those he mentored and his enduring influence. Every day your life touches other lives in unseen ways. You don't have to know someone personally in order to experience the blessing of their legacy. Like walking into an empty room and catching a whiff of someone's perfume, your impact can continue to be felt long after you're gone. Usually we associate legacies with dying and we don't particularly like the topic. Or we assume that since our legacy won't be revealed for years, we don't need to start investing in it now.

In some cases, we feel like we've little or no control over what we leave behind anyway. Not so: 'A good man leaves an inheritance.' What will yours be? More importantly, what's it going to cost you? Since the best gifts aren't always handed down in your will, why not try for something more meaningful - something that points to who you were. It's one thing to measure success by the money in your bank account, the size of your property holdings and the value of your stocks portfolio. It's entirely another to measure it by intangibles like being a faithful marriage partner, raising great kids, building God's Kingdom and leaving your light burning brightly when you go. All great legacies come with a price tag.

To move beyond mediocrity, you must invest every day in the accounts of those who follow you!

Soulfood : 1 Sam 4-7, Lk 1:67-80, Ps 59:9-17, Prov 16:23-26

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Three Obstacles

In Bible days marathons weren't run on smooth tracks, but over pathways filled with obstacles that could cause a runner to stumble and lose the race. Here are three obstacles you need to look out for as you run your life's race: (1) An unforgiving attitude. '...If you do not forgive, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses' (Mark 11:26 NKJV). When the mention of someone's name triggers resentment, stop and pray, 'Father, I forgive them as You've forgiven me. Whatever I ask for myself in blessing, I ask for them in double measure.' When you retaliate, you deny God the right to show mercy and deal with the situation His way. Don't play God. You've received mercy - pass it on!

(2) An unhealthy relationship. Paul writes, '...Bad company corrupts good character' (1 Corinthians 15:33 NLT). On the journey of life, you get to choose your travelling companions. If you give your time to those who aren't worthy of it, you've no right to complain. Become more selective. Choose your friends from among those who share your values, understand your God-given purpose and strengthen you.

(3) An undecided heart. Paul writes, '...I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize...' (Philippians 3:13-14 TLB). A decided heart is the result of a made-up mind. It's what separates the winners from the losers. Pour your life into something more than self-interest; commit to a purpose that will outlive you!

Soulfood : Mt 5:6, Is 55:1-7, Ps 63:1-5, Jn 4:1-34

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Wait!

When you're praying for something, the last thing you want to hear God say is 'Wait!' But sometimes He does. And in order to walk with Him you must learn to be patient, because He works according to His schedule and not yours. All your praying and pleading won't accelerate the process, it'll just frustrate you. Furthermore, if life has indulged your every want and whim, learning to wait on God will be like going through spiritual rehab. When Abraham was 75, God promised to make him '...a father of many nations' (Genesis 17:4 NKJV). But he had to wait over 24 years before he 'received what was promised'.

Waiting isn't simply something you do in order to get what you want; waiting produces patience, maturity, understanding and character. What God accomplishes in you while you're waiting is often more important than the thing you're waiting for. 'You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised' (Hebrews 10:36 NIV). Now, waiting isn't an excuse for dodging reality, shirking your responsibility, or not doing the right thing. For example, if you're up to your eyeballs in debt due to overspending, don't sit around waiting for God to send you a big cheque. Learn to discipline yourself and adopt sound financial principles like tithing, budgeting and doing without things until you can pay for them.

Above all, waiting means making a decision to trust and obey God when things aren't going the way you planned. It's saying, 'Lord, I'm counting on You and I don't have a backup plan.'

Soulfood : Song 5-8, Lk 1:39-56, Ps 21, Prov 16:16-19

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