Monday, October 31, 2016



[Photo of a woman sitting at her desk]

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority
in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
—Matthew 28:18

Within our school system, she had authority. “She” was the Assistant Superintendent and she served at our elementary school as principal for a year during the search for a new principal.

We enjoyed having her as much as she seemed to relish being with us. And, if we needed something—a new piece of equipment or a change in schedule, or a quick response to a question—all we needed to do was prove our need to her and she made it happen! Under her authority, we knew we had special favor.

But, this Assistant Superintendant had an authority over her, who had an authority over him, who had authority over them, and so on.

What would you say about someone who declared that He had authority over everything? Well, Jesus made just such a claim. And, He proved it to those who watched Him and followed Him.

If Jesus spoke peace to a storm, it happened. If He touched a sick man for healing, it happened. If demons tormented a little boy and Jesus cast them out, they were gone!

According to Scripture, Jesus wants all of us who claim His name to know “His incomparably great power to us who believe.” Here’s what Paul said about that powerful authority, as recorded in Ephesians 1:19-21:

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

The Greek word for the English word authority,—exousia—means “privilege, force, capacity, competence, freedom, liberty, jurisdiction, right, or strength.” God gives that kind of authority to us, in Christ, when we come into the covenant of His love.

How do we use that authority? By praying in Jesus’ name and claiming His “all authority.”

Such responsibility should give us great care when we pray and keep us from asking Him for wrong things. When we come to God in prayer and ask that He help us in our prayers, we can be assured that we will ask Him, in accordance to His word and nature, for only those things which we believe He would will to happen.

Even in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for God’s will, as recorded in Mark 14:36:

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Jesus rested in God’s will, and under God’s authority. Let us pray, therefore, and live as those who have the authority of Christ in our lives, so that we can go out as His ambassadors to a world dying in sin that needs the Savior.



Monday, October 24, 2016



[Photo of a tired woman]

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for
you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
—2 Corinthians 12:9a

Have you ever felt so weak in the face of trouble— physically, emotionally, spiritually—that you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt you couldn’t handle the situation in front of you? I have. And, I think God brings through such times, maybe frequently, all whom He intends to sanctify for His purposes He brings through such times.

Young and inexperienced believers often think of themselves as up to anything the Lord asks of them. Confident in their own physical strength and capabilities, they sometimes look trouble in the eye with presumption and think they are exercising faith. “I presume my parents will get me out of any financial jam I can’t deal with.” “I presume the medicine will take care of the problem.” “I presume my talents and gifts will get me through tight spots at work.”

It usually only takes a few times when these presumptions are proven wrong, that we begin to realize how insufficient we are to handle things. And, what does God hope to accomplish by allowing us to swim without a life preserver, or to get sick with a deadly disease? The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9b, after He made the statement in the Scripture at the beginning of this blog post:

Therefore, [because God’s grace is sufficient] I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

He’s saying with a chuckle, “Bring it on! I can’t handle this but You can!” Here’s what beloved preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon said about this verse:

Our weakness should be prized as making room for divine strength. We might never have known the power of grace if we had not felt the weakness of nature…God’s grace enough for me! I should think it is. Is not the sky enough for the bird, and the ocean enough for the fish? The All-Sufficient is sufficient for my largest want.1

Similarly, Joni Eareckson Tada points out that God becomes what we need.

In Isaiah 54 he becomes the Husband to the divorced woman. In Psalm 10 he becomes the Father of the orphaned. In Zechariah 2 he becomes the Wall of Fire to those who need protection. In Isaiah 62 he becomes the Bridegroom to the woman who grieves that she’ll never marry. In Exodus 15 he becomes the Healer to the sick. In Isaiah 9 he is the Wonderful Counselor to the confused and depressed. In John 4 he becomes the Living Water to the thirst. In John 6 he’s the Bread of Life to those who are hungry for more than this world can give.2

I suspect most of us will have the experience of weakness and insufficiency when facing trials of all sorts. God wants to show in us His strength and His sufficiency. Do we willingly face our troubles with a trust that allows Him to work His power through us?

Though we often learn slowly and painfully, He will patiently bring us to a place where He can trust us with such pain. Let us rejoice in His over-abiding presence and His over-abiding love, and His ability to prove His sufficiency through us.


1 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon, Faith’s Checkbook. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980. Entry for November 8th.
2 Tada, Joni Eareckson, More Precious Than Silver. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998. Entry for August 30th.



Monday, October 17, 2016

Unwise Exchange


[Photo of a very discouraged teacher]

“Now you are the body of Christ
and each one of you is a part of it.”
—1 Corinthians 12:27

The principal of our school had an idea. She said, “How about if all the teachers in the building exchanged places with someone else for a day? Wouldn’t that spice up our lives at the end of the school year?”

I don’t remember how the exchanges were assigned, but I do remember “playing” kindergarten teacher all day.

I think we all learned to appreciate each other’s lot in life. And, we also had the opportunity to understand what substitute teachers deal with, as well. In addition, I learned that God had a place where the gifts He had given me worked a lot better than with that Kindergarten classroom of untied-shoelace wearers!

The Scripture found in 1 Corinthians 12:27 above, likens us to members of Christ’s body. We all have a calling and gifting. Once we hear that call, we should not try to exchange it for something that may appear as a better place.

I like what the Puritan writer, William Gurnall, wrote on this subject:

We need to stand in the way God has directed us to walk… God will not thank you for doing that which he did not ask you to do… If we love to walk in God’s company, we must abide in our place and calling. Every step from that is a departure from God… We are judged for our own stewardship, and not that of another. God only requires faithfulness in our place. We do not find fault with an apple tree if it is laden with apples and not figs. It is an erratic spirit that carries men out of their place and calling… Man always prospers better in his own soil.1

As you go about your life, as toilsome as it may appear at times and less appealing than that of another, stay focused. Ask God to show you the rewards that you alone, and in your own place, can enjoy. Ask Him to show you how He blesses and uses you with the work He has given you. Then, praise Him for His sovereign wisdom.


1 Gurnall, William, in Voices from the Past. Richard Rushing, editor. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 352.



Monday, October 10, 2016

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect


[Photo of a woman's hands on a piano]

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old
wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.”
—1 Timothy 4:7 NIV

You’ve heard the expression, “Practice Makes Perfect.” From painful personal experience, I’ve learned that more accurately, “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.”

As a life-long pianist—having studied in my youth for nearly 20 years with professional teachers and having taught piano to young students myself—I know, all too well, the results of bad practice. My first teacher, a nurturing, patient woman who forever placed in me the love for playing, knowing her own inadequacies, nevertheless did her best to give me a good foundation.

However, I developed habits of poor technique that followed me into my college years. For example, my pinkies had to learn to stand up and I had to help them develop strength and usefulness as “leads” in the making of sonorous melodies. My college professor gave me humiliatingly boring exercises to break many of my bad habits. But, oh, the results I achieved!

Christians develop wrong habits too. Many of them come with us from our lives as unbelievers: selfish and even unaware of God’s higher standards. We may not have spread “godless myths and old wives’ tales,” as the people in Timothy’s churches. But, we may have learned, for example, to run to friends with juicy tidbits of gossip we hear.

Paul warns the believers in Colossians 3:9:

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

The practice of lying, or stretching the truth, or deceiving another with a skewed report, can be a habit especially hard to break.

I found in playing piano, that often in practice time, my mind would go on “automatic pilot.” My mind would not pay attention what I was playing. So, to break old habits and form new ones, we must first engage our focus. Secondly, we must determine to obey God through His word. Then, the long slow process of practice will need perseverance and patience.

How long before a new habit takes hold? Note this report from an on-line article by Signe Dean:

…according to a 2009 study, the time it takes to form a habit really isn’t that clear-cut. Researchers from University College London examined the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks, and found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days; furthermore, individual times varied from 18 to a whopping 254 days.1

Progress in making a change in our spiritual lives will sometimes go slowly. Mistakes will occur. Yet, to attain a mature Christian life, the practice and re-practice will yield great results.

In speaking about Christian maturity, the author of Hebrews writes about the need for believers to grow up from drinking only milk to eating solid food. In Hebrews 5:14, we read:

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

God expects us as mature, or “perfect,” disciples to give up the old ways and practice the holy disciplines and habits that will result in greater glory for Him through our lives.


1 Dean, Signe. Here’s How Long it Takes to Break a Habit, According to Science., September 24, 2015.



Monday, October 3, 2016

Fruit or Decoration?


[Photo of autumn foliage reflected in a pond]

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the
vinegrower. He removes every branch in me
that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears
fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
—John 15:1-3 RSV

I love the autumn for its crisp and sunny days and its beautiful golden, orange, purple colors. I love the red “burning bush” shrubs and the rich variety of leaves on Maple trees. I need to be reminded that the plants produce these colors as a byproduct of more important purposes the Creator had in mind when He made them.

As Christians, do we spend more time trying to produce an attractive “plant” from our prayers, worship attendance, or service? Do we hope to appear beautiful to others, or even to God?

Jesus warned us in Matthew 6:5 of doing “Christian things” to be seen by men. He knew our temptation to appear religious, or pious, or upstanding.

Some parents appear to enroll their children in youth activities, or confirmation classes, or any number of churchy offerings in order to produce a “well-rounded” young person—as though such experiences rated alongside Boy Scouts, or dance class, or sports teams in achieving that goal.

All of us know adults who join churches merely to have a place to “marry, carry (babies) and bury.” Politicians join organizations because the membership looks good on their résumé. But, Jesus had a different reason for His purposes in us.

In Isaiah 5:1-7, we read about the efforts of a vinegrower. He finds a fertile hillside, digs it, cleans it, and plants it with choice vines. He builds a watchtower, puts a hedge and a wall around it, and then prunes and cultivates it. According to verse 2:

…he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.

Our John 15 passage at the beginning of this blog post agrees. God wants to produce healthy, fruit-producing branches. And, God isn’t afraid to cut and prune in order to achieve that goal. Attractiveness may come as a byproduct, but God has a higher plan.

Eugene Peterson writes:

Jesus is not a decorative shrub, useful for giving an aesthetic religious touch to life. He is not available to be arranged in a bouquet to delight us. He is life itself, its very center—the vine.1

Once in awhile, we need to take inventory of our own lives and see the activities we do in order to appear attractive or holy. How much better for us to examine ourselves and repent of our wrong-headed activities.

The gardener looks us over too, and will create experiences that will prune and cultivate us, if we fail to do it on our own. Only then will the glory of God’s attractiveness show in our lives.


1 Peterson, Eugene H. A Year with Jesus. San Francisco:HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. p. 342