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“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

Have you ever found yourself in the position of buying a ‘gift’ for someone under obligation? It’s not that you don’t like the person, or that you have no desire to be kind, it’s just that the gift you are looking for is out of ‘expectation’ rather than passion. Maybe it’s not a gift. Maybe it’s some other act of kindness. Rather than random acts of kindness we often perform random acts of obligation.

There is no joy in obligatory giving. It can leave us feeling violated, taken advantage of or used. We feel controlled and manipulated by the person we are buying the gift for and it’s easy to become bitter, angry and alienated.

Sometimes people see God as an obligatory giver.  We see him as a controlling, manipulative being who is really intent on making our lives miserable and that we live in constant fear of his wrath. We see him as a being that is constantly looking for our sacrifice to prove our allegiance to him. It’s sad to say, but sometimes, organized religion has either intentionally or unintentionally propagated that idea by placing rules and regulations on how we act or making demands on our time and money.

In the middle of Jesus’ teaching on worry he gives us a picture of his Father that we should never forget. Jesus likens the Father’s love and care of us to his watch care over nature. The birds don’t worry about their next meal; the flowers burst forth to show their beauty without worrying about how the wind blows.

Then He says “Don’t be afraid little flock”. Pay attention to that phrase because it is a term of affection, endearment and protection. As the good shepherd Jesus knew that sheep would wander aimlessly into danger without guidance and leadership. While some want to paint God as a being who is, at best, hesitant to bestow his blessings and is angry or begrudging in showing kindness, Jesus says the opposite is true. He tells us God’s actions towards us aren’t based on his power, which he certainly has a right to do, but on his love for us.

The next phrase in this verse is important because it tells us of the very character of God. Don’t be afraid little flock because “your father is pleased’ to give you the kingdom. Did you catch that? The Father, the Creator God of the universe is pleased to give you the kingdom. God doesn’t hold back; He doesn’t give grudgingly. He is pleased, honored and looking forward to bestowing on us his good pleasure.

The problem is, sometimes we seek only the physical blessings of life. We seek the three R’s of riches, relationships and religion. We tell ourselves we are ‘blessed if we have a healthy bank account and retirement plan. We are blessed if we have a strong family relationship. We are blessed if we attend the right church.

While all these things can point to God’s blessings, God’s true blessings come through a healed heart, a contented soul and a hope built on the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. We have a God who takes great pleasure in giving us all the blessings of his kingdom; blessings of forgiveness, hope and peace of heart.

PRAYER: Father God, as I think of that phrase “it is your pleasure to give me your blessings’, I’m in awe. I’m so undeserving of your grace. I fail you daily. I hurt others and ultimately myself by my actions. I forget what is truly important in life. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for taking great pleasure in blessing me with your kingdom through Jesus Christ. Amen.

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:11 (NIV)

Accentuate the positive!

That phrase is a ‘catch word’ of sorts in marketing. It’s a sound principle that encourages those in business of any sort to evaluate what is the most important and valuable thing you have to offer.

Competition in this economy is brutal. Regardless of what industry you are in, there is someone else trying to steal a part of your market. The best strategy to take in this situation is to evaluate your strengths and capitalize on them. This gives you your best chance of success. Do the best you can in your areas of strength. Worry more about what you can do and less about your weaknesses.

The same philosophy is true in our personal lives. It’s easy to get caught up in self-destructive attitudes and, as a result, take yourself ‘out of the game’.

Statements such as, “If I didn’t have so much debt” or “If I hadn’t gotten divorced” or “If he hadn’t hurt me” or “That church destroyed my faith” do little to help your opinion of yourself and shackle you to an attitude of failure.

The books written by the Apostle Peter were really letters written to a group of believers who may have lived in the worst period of oppression and persecution the Church has ever known. They were being beaten, had their homes taken from them, were being portrayed as stupid and evil and were being killed for their faith.

The dangerous conditions must have been devastating and demoralizing for those early believers. Yet in the midst of their agony Peter challenges them to do everything they do in the strength that God provides. That little phrase, “in the strength God provides” is the key to our being able to survive the turmoil life hands us.

It’s not our strength that will see us through. It’s not a perfect, holy past that will grow our faith. It’s not a stable marriage that will give us opportunities to see God work. It’s not a strong financial base that will allow us to do great things for God. Our ability to speak, write, fix things, build relationships or amass a fortune may impress people, but it won’t impress God and it won’t lead us to make eternal differences in our lives.

Our weaknesses won’t thwart us; our strengths won’t give us an advantage, the only thing that will really make a difference in our world is allowing God’s strength to work within us. We aren’t asked to go beyond our ability, we are only asked to live up to it. Our ability and God’s strength. An undefeatable combination.

PRAYER: Lord I thank you for the promise that your power is all I really need to do your work. You have empowered me with many gifts and abilities. Please help my gifts to be open for your power so you can work through them. Amen

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 2 Corinthians 9:12

“The best way to get people to praise God is to bless them. Even works with your enemies!” These were the words of a friend of mine I’ll call Ben. Ben had a casual friend we’ll call Steve several years earlier. This ‘friend’ and Ben had a falling out and, unfortunately, even though both parties were Christ-followers, the relationship was never the same. One day, shortly after the falling out, Ben received some unexpected money.

“I went to bed that night wondering how to spend the money,” Ben told me. “It wasn’t a large amount, but I wanted to spend it wisely. The Lord brought one name to my mind over and over again,” Ben smiled as he told the story. “I just couldn’t get Steve out of mind. I knew he needed some work done on his car. I also knew that if I tried to give him any money it would be rejected or misunderstood. So, I decided to send him an anonymous letter in the mail with the cash I knew would repair his car.”

Ben went on to tell how, several days later Steve was praising God to everyone he saw because of how the Lord had blessed him. “I wanted to come forward so bad!” Ben still smiled to tell the story, “but we were both blessed by the gift and that’s the important thing.”

How do you get people to praise God? By blessing them! It may not be money. It may be shoveling their sidewalk after a snowstorm, or mowing their grass while they are on vacation, or throwing out the guidelines on tipping at the restaurant (even if the service is terrible!).

It’s not always easy to bless someone else with our service. We can be abused or taken advantage of, misunderstood or criticized. It’s especially hard when the ones God calls us to serve are our ‘enemies’ or hate us. During the times when serving others is hard remember that our service to other people is really service to God.

Serving others is a three-fold blessing. We are blessed in our giving, those we serve are blessed by our service and God is blessed by their praise! When you get the opportunity to serve others, remember that your service never affects just one person. Our Heavenly Father loves to hear the praise of His people and serving others always leads to our Father being praised as well.

PRAYER: Awesome Heavenly Father. You have blessed me in so many ways. I have life. I have Jesus. I have the promise of eternity with You. Empower me by your Holy Spirit to reach out to those around me and bless them so that they in turn will give you the praise you so richly deserve. Help me remember that it isn’t my praise I seek but Yours. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8

I love rock and roll even though many people from my generation are somewhat skeptical or even antagonistic towards it. I enjoy the ‘new’ music styles that have infiltrated our churches as well. Our music tells us a lot about our life philosophy and we do ourselves an injustice if we get so closed in that we only like one type of music.

It’s much like deciding that we will only like carrots. So all of our lives we only eat carrots; breakfast, lunch & dinner—carrots! Pretty dull life and not even healthy.

Imagine if all the flowers were green, the grass was green, the sky was green, even the milk you pour on your breakfast cereal was green. Even if you like green you’d have to admit that we’d be tired of green and long for a few other colors.

Life lived to its fullest means that it’s full of a variety of experiences, feelings, gifts, talents abilities, likes and dislikes. Just as there are no two snowflakes that are alike, there are no two people alike. Yet when the snowflakes join together they paint the landscape with beauty and purity.

Peter calls each of us as Christ-followers to be like minded. When I think of what like-minded means I think of harmony in music, especially in a quartet. We don’t hear much harmony in our music these days but if were to listen to a really good quartet or small group in perfect harmony you’d hear some great lessons for life.

Perfect harmony means that it’s hard to distinguish who is singing which part. Each person has their own notes to sing, their own personalities, and their own tone. But the differences blend so well that it sounds like one voice. If one person is off key by only a little, the harmony is completely destroyed.

Perfect harmony means relationship. In music we call it practice or rehearsal but it’s really the same thing. The performers must build a team spirit among themselves to know when to change key or speed or even how and when to sing the words. If one person sings a word wrong, or the wrong word, or comes in too early or two late, the harmony is ruined. Practice, learning about each other, accepting each others own unique gifts and working within the framework of the music builds perfect harmony in both music and life.

Perfect harmony allows for solos and variations, or side trips. When done in harmony a solo, even though it focuses on one individual, is accentuated by the rest of the group. The soloist is much more effective in a small group when the group is supporting him/her.

Perfect harmony means that each performer is happy with their own part and not jealous of the other voices in the group. They know who they are and are content with that.

Perfect harmony is dependent on the realization that variety is a requirement and not an option. Just as in life, you may not fit into a particular group. That doesn’t mean you are less important or that the group you do find is better or worse than the other. It just means you fit in better there so that you can make beautiful harmony.

Perfect harmony allows for differences without judgment. Sing your life-notes in praise to the one who created the notes! God’s gift to you is music. Your gift to others is to sing!

PRAYER: Father, I praise you for the awesome variety of colors, smells, personalities and around me. My senses proclaim the wonder of your creation and I’m in awe of you. I ask that you would empower me by your spirit to ‘sing my notes’ the best I can. Keep me from feeling inadequate or desiring other people’s notes. May I, with your help, live in harmony with those around me. In Jesus name, Amen.

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13

In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, he reminds his readers that they should never tire of doing good. His words are a good message for each of us in ministry. WAIT! Before you stop reading let me remind you that each of us is a minister. Over  the years we’ve somehow gotten the idea that ‘ministry’ means you are a pastor or some other leader of an organization that proselytizes and/or makes disciples for Jesus.

That simply is NOT true. Because of Jesus we are all believer-priests. In God’s eyes it doesn’t matter if we are a sandwich artist at a local sub shop, a tool and dye maker or the greeter at the local discount center. If you have a pulse and are directly or indirectly involved with other living beings you are a minister!

Since you are now convinced of your status as a minister, let me give you the other news. Ministry is tough business. People can expect more of you that you feel you are able to give. There never seems to be enough time to do all the things you want to do. You can feel unappreciated, unqualified, unenenergetic and unable to go on.

But Paul tells us we are never, ever to grow tired of ministry (doing good for others). So, how can you stay fresh for ministry to those in your family, community, workplace or church? Here are five ideas that may help transform you into a ministry giant..

F  – Focus on who you are and what you are doing. Do the things you do for God, not people. People take advantage of you. People drain you. People critique all you do in order to determine your worth. When you focus your activities as being for God, not people you can rise above the feelings of being taken advantage of or unappreciated. God’s approval is really all we should strive for.

R – Rest. Read through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Notice the number of times he ‘went away’ to the mountains to pray. Jesus knew the value of taking time for himself. Too often, those of us in ministry feel that the success of our ministry rests on our own hard work. Fact of the matter is, God doesn’t need us. He can take care of the world just fine. We are the tools, not the operator. Take time to re-energize your spiritual, emotional and physical batteries.

E – Educate. Times change. Attitudes Change. Methods change, Technology changes. Even though Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, that doesn’t mean we are to keep doing things the way we have always done them. Branch out. Try new stuff. Challenge yourself. The mental exercise will do you good and you’ll be more effective in meeting the needs of other people.

S – STOP! It’s okay to say ‘NO’. The famous 80/20 rule says that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. Usually those people are the ones burning out, and getting extremely tired. It’s easy to get into the mindset of, “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.” For your spiritual and physical health, and the physical and spiritual health of those around you, it may be best to leave things undone. If God needs a job done He’ll raise up those to do it. Don’t let yourself get ‘guilted’ into burnout!

H – Help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength. Strong people are not the ones who do it themselves. Strong people are the ones who gather others around them to help with the ministry.

If you want to avoid being too tired to serve, try these five steps to insure your spiritual and physical health. Tired trees with weak limbs may bear fruit, but their branches break in the process.

PRAYER: Father God. I thank you today for the gifts you have given me. I praise you for the opportunities I have to use those gifts to lift others up and show them your love. I pray that you would give me the strength to take care of myself so I can take care of those you have given me. Empower me with your spirit to be FRESH for ministry. In Jesus name, Amen.

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