Birds and cats are not normally best friends. That’s why the video I watched surprised me. A couple had documented the relationship of a crow and a stray kitten for a period of eight months. For several hours each day, the crow and the kitten could be seen playing together. Whenever the kitten began to cross the road, the crow would start squawking at it or hop around, pushing it back toward safety. The crow would also feed the kitten with its own preferred cuisine—a diet of worms and bugs—no doubt saving its life. Now that’s one nice crow and one fortunate kitty!
Watching that video of the two unlikely friends reminded me of God’s promise that one day the lamb would have nothing to fear from the wolf because every creature in the world would reflect God’s peace. It made me think, too, of Paul’s words to the Romans: “We know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering” (8:22-23).
Some of the pain and suffering we endure comes from the strife we experience in relationships, broken and twisted by sin. We find it hard to get along with certain people at home, at work, and at church. Because of what Jesus has done for us and because his Spirit lives in us, nothing is impossible for the God who is able to heal even our most fractured relationships.
Don’t wait for the Second Coming to begin to pray about your own difficult relationships. Ask God for grace and wisdom for yourself and the people you find difficult. Who knows what unlikely friendships you may be able to forge as a result of God’s peace at work within and through you. More
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I am not a computer whiz. In fact, one of the most difficult things about starting my own business was leaving behind the help desk—all those smart people who come to your aid whenever you have a computer problem without making you feel like a fool.
The other day my e-mail suddenly went haywire. When I clicked on the inbox, up popped an entirely different screen than the one I was used to seeing. Messages were not arranged by date but by some kind of helter-skelter system I could not decipher. Suddenly and without warning, my most recent e-mails had vanished.
If you’re better at computers than I am, you probably know that I simply had to click on the “View” menu, select “Arrange By,” “Customize View,” “Reset Current View,” and then click on “OK” when a box popped up asking me, “Are you sure you want to reset the view ‘Messages’ to its original settings?” It only took me about an hour to figure out what a help desk could have fixed in about sixty seconds.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, there may be times when we need to push the reset button. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably realize that it’s possible to get sidetracked when it comes to our faith. We can fall into negative habits that lead us away from faith, like doubting that God loves us. Like eating everything in sight. Like focusing too much on money. Like thinking everything depends on us rather than on God. At such times, pushing the reset button involves repenting and returning to the foundational truths of our faith, truths like John 3:16 or Matthew 22:37-39, where Jesus lays out the two great commandments that should characterize our lives: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the end, pushing the reset button means admitting you’re not a spiritual whiz and then turning to the one who loves you and is able to help you get back on track. More
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You’ve probably heard about “training at threshold,” a practice that helps you get the most possible benefit from whatever exercise you do. Training above or below the threshold will reap positive results, but training regularly at threshold will get you the most bang for your buck. But how do you know what your threshold is? Experts in the field of sports physiology say that the minimum heart rate required to benefit significantly from aerobic training is in the neighborhood of 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate per minute equals 220 beats minus your age in years. So if you are twenty years old, your optimum heart rate while training is 120. If you’re fifty, your optimum rate is 102. If you’re one hundred and still training, forget about your heart rate and report directly to Guinness World Records.
Spiritual disciplines can help us train at threshold in our spiritual lives. Doing so can yield dividends like greater peace and strength as we meet the challenges of daily life. To refresh your memory of some of the classic disciplines that Christians have practiced over the centuries, here’s a short list:
study (spiritual books or Bible study)
Why not take a few moments right now to ask God if there are particular spiritual disciplines that you should begin? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you get started and keep going, giving you the grace to grow stronger as you seek to live for Christ. More
(1) If you want help with the spiritual disciplines, read Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988) or Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1998).
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If we want to bring more peace to our lives and to the lives of others, a good place to begin is by taking an inventory of our hearts. As the Amplified Bible puts it, it’s out of the heart’s overflow that the mouth speaks. Try picturing a bucket of dirty water. Now imagine putting a brick in the bucket and watching as the dirty water overflows. It’s the same with our hearts. Think of the brick as the input we get—the way others treat us, the circumstances we face, the opportunities that present themselves. What comes out of our mouths is strictly a function of what is already in the bucket.
If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit, are in your bucket, your words will bear witness. But if your words are often tinged with anger, self-pity, hostility, jealousy, or complaining, then something is amiss. Chronic negative speech is a symptom of a heart problem, not a speech problem.
Fixing it requires that we admit we have a problem and that we ask God and others for forgiveness. But that’s not all. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians (chapter 5), he says that when their lives are controlled by the Holy Spirit, they will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. If we want our words to produce good things for ourselves and others, we have to learn to yield to God’s Spirit, seeking to put every area of our lives under his control and guidance. All of us are guilty of negative speech at times, but the more we ask God to fill us with his Spirit, the more we will find that our tongues become instruments of blessing rather than of hurt. More
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Oddly, instead of helping us grow in faith, prayer can sometimes become an excuse for allowing anxiety to churn in our hearts. Rather than directing our thoughts to God, we direct them to whatever is troubling us. It’s no surprise, then, that we come away still feeling fearful.
That’s what happened when Pastor Charles Stanley began to pray with a woman whose husband was undergoing surgery. As the woman prayed, Stanley realized that her prayers were becoming more frantic by the second. “Her total focus,” he noted, “was on her husband and the operation—none of her focus was truly on God as the Great Physician. . . . I interrupted her prayer and said, ‘Ma’am. We need to focus on what God can do in that operating room. We need to focus on who He is and what He is capable of doing.’”
So Stanley began to pray. “I praised God,” he says, “for His great love of her husband and of her, of His absolute authority over everything in that hospital, of His wisdom that could manifest itself in every move the surgeon made . . . and when I said ‘amen,’ I saw in her eyes the peace of God, rather than the sheer panic that had been there just minutes before.”(1)
No wonder we need to pray for each other. Often another believer will have the faith we lack. Whether we are praying alone or with others, fear should be an impetus—rather than an obstacle—to prayer. If we let fear take the lead, it will only produce more fear. Instead, we should raise our eyes to God and to his Word, praising and thanking him for his faithfulness, reminding ourselves of who he is and how he loves us. Then we can bring him our requests. More
(1). Charles Stanley, Finding Peace: God’s Promise of a Life Free from Regret, Anxiety, and Fear (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 221–22.
I confess that I have never been in a fight—well, maybe a bit of pushing and pulling in my childhood with my siblings, but nothing along the order of a full-blown brawl. Yet Paul warned the Christians of Ephesus that they would find themselves in the mother of all battles. They would, he assured them, be assailed by the “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world” (Ephesians 6:12). Urging the Ephesians to stand firm in the Lord, Paul told them not once but three times to put on all the armor of God. Of course, the emphasis on this all makes sense because missing even a single item of armor would make them vulnerable to the thrusts and jabs of the enemy.
Hailing from the second-largest city in the Roman Empire, the Ephesians would have been familiar with Roman armor. In addition to speaking of a “belt of truth,” a “shield of faith,” “salvation as your helmet,” and “the sword of the Spirit” in Ephesians 6, Paul also speaks of putting on peace as though it were shoes that will prepare us to spread the gospel of peace. One commentator argues that Paul was talking about the Roman caliga, a leather half-boot that left the toes free, enabling a soldier to move quickly with a firm grip.
Here’s how Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s words in The Message:
“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life” (Ephesians 6:12-17).
Today, let’s thank God for providing us with everything we need to enter into battle. And let’s remember to put on every piece of armor he has so graciously supplied. More
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