George Mueller: Faith in God’s Providence

Text: Genesis 24:1-67

“The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way.” —Genesis 24:40

What happens when an ordinary person puts all of his or her faith in an extraordinary God? Well, extraordinary things!

The life of George Mueller is a prime example. He has been described as the reformed playboy who became a missionary to the street orphans of 19th century England. The bawdy youngster found himself in prison for stealing when he was 16 years old. After a glorious conversion from a life of sin and selfish ambition, he became a prominent evangelist and philanthropist. He built five large orphan houses and cared for over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime. He provided educational opportunities for them to the point that he was even accused by some of empowering the poor to rise above their accepted status in British life.

Additionally, Mueller established 117 schools that offered Christian education to more than 120,000 young people. He did follow up work for D. L. Moody, preached for Charles Spurgeon, and inspired the missionary faith of Hudson Taylor. Yet perhaps what is most remarkable is the way that he went about his work.

Three weeks after his marriage, he and his wife decided to depend on God alone to supply their needs and to never again approach people about them. Mueller didn’t draw attention to his charity work by asking others to support his life-changing ministry to needy children. Instead he depended solely, and relentlessly, on God’s response to his prayers of faith to supply all things. Rather than petitioning donations from people, he simply took all of those petitions directly to the throne of God—and he saw God provide in the most unorthodox ways.

On one occasion when the housemother of the orphanage informed Mueller that there was no food for them to eat, he asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited, trusting with a confidence that God would provide. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.” Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed so he asked Mueller if he could use some free milk. The man of God smiled as the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just enough for the 300 thirsty children.

Mueller loved to quote Psalm 84:11…

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
     the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
     from those who walk uprightly.

The Mueller life and legacy has proved to the world the truth of Philippians 4:19-20—“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

George Mueller denied that he had the gift of faith but would point others to the grace of faith, saying that God had given him the mercy in “being able to take God by His word and to rely upon it.”

Abraham (the “father of faith”) is considered the poster child for trusting in the promises and relying on the faithfulness of God. In Genesis 24, he sends out his servant on a long journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, giving Eliezer this bold assertion: “The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way” (Genesis 24:40). Not “might” or “could” or “perhaps,” but the Almighty “will” show up. Abraham never doubted that God would lead his servant to the right woman for Isaac. As you read this chapter, try to count the many divine providences that occur—all because Abraham believed.

Mueller once said, “I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down and when I rise up. And the answers are always coming.” Your answers are coming, beloved. They are coming because your God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The Lord, before whom you have walked, will show up. Trust Him!

PRAYER

God, it is so easy to read about men and women of faith and to think of them as great or gifted people. But the truth is that they were just ordinary people who took you at your word and experienced extraordinary outcomes. They believed your promises, trusted your character, and relied on your faithfulness. Help me to do the same. Teach me to be utterly dependent on you for all things in my life. Grace me with the mercy of faith where it is lacking in my heart. I love you Lord. I trust you to show up and to show up big! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Where would you like for God to show up big in your life right now?
  2. Why do you think it was so important to Abraham that his son would marry the right woman?
  3. How did God respond to Abraham’s faith and Eliezer’s prayers? (Genesis 24:15-25)
  4. When was the last time God specifically answered one of your prayers?
  5. For what major decisions will you ask God to give you guidance this week? In what way will you demonstrate trust in His provision?

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God Didn’t Make a Mistake With You

Text: Hebrews 11:1-40

“Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.” —Hebrews 11:16

I once heard a missionary say, “When God called me, I thought for sure He had made His first mistake,” underlining his initial feelings of inadequacy. But if we learn anything from those difference makers in Hebrews 11 who rocked their world, we come to understand they were very flawed people. They certainly weren’t specimens of perfection. In fact, many of them failed often. I imagine they also had feelings of unworthiness.

The men and women we read about in what some describe as this “Hall of Faith” are not there because they were great people; they are there because they had faith in a great God. Consider them and others mentioned in the Bible. Abraham was the father of faith and yet he lied twice about Sarah being his wife because, well, he lacked faith. Their son Isaac did the same thing. Sarah laughed at God’s promise of a child and then denied she laughed. Isaac’s son Jacob lied, connived, and manipulated.

Noah got drunk. Samson was immoral and impulsive. Gideon was timid and afraid. Rahab was a prostitute. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Elijah was depressed and suicidal at one point. Jonah ran from God. The Samaritan woman was divorced more than once. Peter outright denied Christ in public. These people messed up, but God used them despite their flaws and failures—despite their past.

God doesn’t want us getting stuck in a pit of unworthiness; He wants us to get past our past. Past our fears. Past our shame. Past our regrets. Past our complacency. Past our excuses. He offers restoration and redemption for those who are contrite enough to admit their inadequacies, walk in repentance, and put their faith fully in Christ and the sufficiency of His righteousness alone.

Maybe you’ve struggled with feelings of inadequacy, found yourself in a lapse of faith, or felt stuck in the mire of failure. We need to remember that God never gives up on us. The same God who bankrupted heaven in sending His Son into this world to shed His sinless blood on Calvary’s cross for your salvation is the same God who will move any mountain and cross any sea to finish the work He began in you (Philippians 1:6).

God doesn’t make mistakes. He knew what He was doing when He chased you down. He knew what He was getting into with all the drama in your life—and yet He still pursued you. He called you, beloved, and “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29). He will bring your redemption story to completion. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!

PRAYER

God, you have never made a mistake. Your calling on my life is unapologetically without regret. You bankrupted heaven to bring me into your family and you will stop at nothing to ensure that your work is completed in my life. What an awesome avalanche of grace you have initiated! Thank you for loving me withal my fears, flaws, and failures. Help me to rise above them all and serve you fully. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What do you consider the greatest example of faith you have ever seen? Why?
  2. With which characters named in Hebrews 11 would you most like and least like to trade places? Why?
  3. How do you think those individuals commended in this chapter were looked upon by those of their day?
  4. When have you felt trapped by feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness?
  5. This week, how can you shift your focus from your own insufficiency to the all-sufficient God of your life?

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    When the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is a Mess

    Text: Matthew 1:18-25

    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). —Matthew 1:23

    The most wonderful time of the year can be quite a mess. I look around and recognize that there’s not a whole lot of “happy” left in the holidays. Shopping malls are chaotic. Road rage lurks around every bend. I even saw one of Santa’s elves beating up another elf. Tis the season for… stress, and in some instances the loss of our humanity. And this is just the external mess.

    Internally, we may be struggling with our own mess: trying to maintain the illusion of a Christmas-card-perfect December while really feeling wrecked and exhausted inside, struggling with family or relationship tensions, dealing with financial strain, or failing to control our temper in such times of madness. Then we try to sing “Silent Night” while the choir of shame sings a completely different tune in the soul.

    What do we do when the most wonderful time of the year gets so messy? We need to remember that God didn’t send baby Jesus into a warm and fuzzy illusion. He didn’t send the Savior into an insulated bubble of morality. He sent His Son into a stressed out and jacked up world—a very messy one filled with racial and religious hostility, sharp political discord, injustice on the streets, madness on the corners, and hopelessness in the hearts of everyday people.

    To this tumultuous backdrop, the Gospel of Matthew loudly proclaims:

    “’She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’”
    (Matthew 1:21-23)

    God “with us” in the mess? Perhaps we have decorated the Christmas story and sanitized the nativity far too much to remember how incredibly messy was that real scene in Bethlehem. Jesus in the manger is the Mess-iah who entered the mess by divine design, spending his first night sleeping in quite possibly the dirtiest corner of that town. God wants you to know, beloved, that none of the dirt in your life intimidates Him. He is not a God demanding that you get your act together in order to be worthy of His visitation; rather He has demonstrated quite vividly that the mess cannot, and will not keep Him away. He loves you too much to leave you alone in the mess.

    As Ann Spangler notes: “When our sins made it impossible for us to come to Him, God took the outrageous step of coming to us, of making Himself susceptible to sorrow, familiar with temptation, and vulnerable to sin’s disruptive power, in order to cancel its claim.” He has not only invaded our mess—He has conquered it!

    A Savior who isn’t intimidated by the mess will rescue you from any and every maddening situation. He will also rescue you from yourself this Christmas. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

    PRAYER

    Lord Jesus, thank you for invading our mess. You are not a distant Messiah, but one who is very near, deeply familiar with our struggle… our pain… and our despair. You are here. You are holy. You are awesome in power. And You are bigger than all of this. You want to rescue us again this Christmas. Save us from those feelings of being left to ourselves in all the madness. Let that revelation bring the joy back into Christmas—the happy back into the holidays. In Your name, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. What kind of madness have you witnessed during the holiday season? Why do people seem to lose it this time of year?
    2. Why do you think people are so stressed to make Christmas perfect?
    3. What is the significance of the name Immanuel? Why do you think God wanted that in the narrative of Christ’s birth?
    4. What is it that makes people feel they need to get it all together before coming to God?
    5. In what ways can God rescue you from yourself this Christmas?

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    Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Advent Is Like a Prison Cell

    Text: Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:46-55

    “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” —Psalm 130:5

    In 1943 German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a letter from Tegel Prison as he prepared to live out the Advent season from a jail cell:

    “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes—and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

    Though the analogy of a prison cell and Advent does deviate from traditional thoughts of glowing candles, melodic choirs, and ceremonious church bells, it does evoke images of desperate waiting—a kind of waiting that Bonhoeffer believed would ultimately prepare us for Christ’s coming. He once described how an Altdorfer Nativity scene “in which one sees the holy family with the manger amidst the rubble of collapsed house… is particularly timely.” Amid worldly chaos, the uncertainty of the future, and the consciousness of our own failings and captivity, “even here one can and ought to celebrate Christmas,” because Christ “is coming to rescue us from the prisons of our existence, from anxiety, from guilt, and from loneliness.”

    Those many months that Mary had to wait for God’s promise to be fulfilled must’ve been agonizing. The teenage mother’s reputation would surely be scandalized with the birth of an illegitimate child. Joseph was prepared to “divorce her,” not buying the whole “angelic” story that what was conceived in her was “from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18-19). Mary must have felt confused and misunderstood. Overwhelmed. Distressed. Physically exhausted. Emotionally fatigued. Shamed. Judged. Powerless. Alone.

    Mary had a season of waiting. This was her advent, necessitating faith, hope, and trust in the goodness of God’s plan, despite her present circumstances. Life has a way of bringing us all to this place at times—a place where we are completely dependent on the fact that our help must come from beyond ourselves. Whether we are stuck in a toxic work environment, out of a job altogether, feeling purposelessness, being misunderstood or falsely characterized, dealing with a difficult relationship, facing financial hardship, fighting an illness, or praying for the return of a prodigal son or daughter, the waiting is indeed the hardest part.

    It’s been said that walking in the will of God might mean waiting as much as it might mean moving forward. Waiting is an exercise of faith that can often reveal something about the condition of our heart. Does the heart trust that God is good and that He is for us, or is it anxious because of unbelief?

    In her season of advent, Mary discovered a song in her heart (Luke 1:46-55). Likewise did King David when he felt trapped in a desperate season of waiting (Psalm 40:1-17). What will be your song, Beloved? Long ago, the prophet Isaiah gave us something to sing about:

    Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
    He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
    He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
    Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
    but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
    they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

    May the Lord increase your strength and give you that personal freedom song as you abide in His word, trust in His plan, and wait patiently for His inevitable return.

    PRAYER

    Heavenly Father, because of your love and faithfulness, we can learn to rejoice in you always even as Paul encouraged the Philippians to do from a cold and lonely prison cell. We don’t have to understand how you will deliver us to already have a song of deliverance in our hearts. Help us to sing that song over and over again as we wait and prepare for your certain coming.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. When do you hate to wait? Why is waiting so hard?
    2. How might you have responded to Mary’s situation?
    3. What picture did David use to describe God’s deliverance in the past? (Psalm 40:1-2)
    4. What specific instructions does this psalm give to God’s people? (Psalm 40:4)
    5. What does God really want from us—especially in seasons of waiting? How can you cultivate more of that (what God wants) this week?

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    Who Are You Imitating?

    Text: Ephesians 4:17-5:1

    “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” —Ephesians 5:1

    Last week I led a mission team to the Dominican Republic. In addition to working with orphans and Haitian migrant children, we facilitated community-wide baseball outreach in the Barahona region. Seeing young Dominican boys and girls play baseball is truly a thing of beauty—especially for those of us who love coaching the game.

    It’s no secret why the Dominican Republic sends more players to MLB than any other country outside of the U.S.—they have a passion (also described as fanaticism) for baseball. That love for the game is not only seen in the way the children train at such young ages to play with the right mechanics and fundamentals, but also in the way the kids study every motion and emulate the very likeness of the professional players they idolize.

    These kids put a tremendous amount of effort in studying and imitating their big league heroes. They work very hard to be like someone they revere. Imagine if every believer had that kind of passion in becoming more like Jesus.

    There’s so much more to being a Christian than just saying, “I’m saved,” or “I’m forgiven,” or “I’m going to heaven.” God’s redemptive purpose in our lives has to do with an ongoing work of transformation that we would become more like Christ in all that we think, say, and do (Romans 8:29). The aim is that Christ would be formed in our hearts (Galatians 4:19). This sanctification process is to make us more “Christ-like,” that our lives would emulate His nature here on earth as it is in heaven. Christlikeness doesn’t happen overnight; it entails an ongoing work of dying to self and giving up our own rights each day.

    Laying down our pride in relationships is critical to becoming more like Jesus (Philippians 2:3-4). It takes humility to be willing to lose the argument so that you might win the person, keep no record of wrongs when you have a legitimate reason to be angry, or serve others without needing anything in return. But too often instead of taking our pride to Christ, we hold on to it. As A.W. Tozer wrote: “Paul was willing to be crucified with Christ, but in our day we want to die a piece at a time, so we can rescue little parts of ourselves from the cross.”

    Dying to self and becoming more like Christ is no easy work; it takes supernatural aid. That’s why God sufficiently graced us with the Holy Spirit as our teacher and divine coach. The Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26-27), guides us to the cross to die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31), and brings to life the kinds of fruit that we could never produce on our own (Galatians 5:22-24). This is a result of God’s continual work in us as we surrender ourselves to His Lordship.

    It takes passion and humility to emulate our risen Hero. For our lives to reveal more of Christ’s DNA on earth as it is in heaven, it will require passion to follow Him wholeheartedly, and humility to lay down our own agenda for something bigger than ourselves. The more we study Him, the more we want to be like Him and the more we strive to emulate Him. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

    PRAYER

    Gracious Father, thank you for loving me when I was unlovable. Christ laid down His life for my sins and paid the price for my ransom, saving me though I was undeserving of that rescue mission. You have given me new life and predestined me to be conformed to the image of Your Son. I yield my heart to the work of the Holy Spirit to continue Your work of transformation in me. Teach me how to emulate Christ-likeness through passionate devotion and humble submission. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. When you were a child, who did you emulate the most?
    2. In what way does God want Christians to change? (Ephesians 4:22-24)
    3. How are Christians to imitate God, and why is that important? (Ephesians 5:1-2)
    4. In what ways does pride keep us from looking like Jesus?
    5. What evidence do you see that the Holy Spirit controls your life?

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    What Is Your Life Pointing To?

    Text: 2 Timothy 2:1-13

    “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” —2 Timothy 2:3

    This past week we lost a dear loved one. To those who affectionately knew him and his twisted sense of humor, he was dubbed “God’s Favorite” or “Ambassador of Awesome.”

    Jarrod was one of my best friends over the past two decades. Our youth groups shared many life experiences together when we were both youth pastors in south Florida. He and I jointly organized student rallies and youth camps. He was the brainchild behind the legendary Twinkie Relay, which we still run at our camps today. Together we went to pastor conferences, led youth retreats, and served on mission trips. Jarrod was a co-producer with Breakaway TV, which we aired on the Sky Angel network for many years. Though he will be dearly missed this side of heaven, God’s Favorite has gone home!

    One of the staples of Jarrod’s life was his signature photo pose. In most instances he would be pointing at something away from the camera—something that caught on with others who always tried to mimic that pose when being photographed with him. You never knew what he was pointing at but you curiously knew that he knew. That imagery reminds me that Jarrod’s life was always pointing at something, or better yet, someone. He was a disciple maker, because disciple making is the essence of modeling a way of life that intriguingly points others to God.

    Through a lifetime of heart complications, multiple surgeries, and countless hospital visits, Jarrod never stopped pointing. Every day he lived in such a way that pointed to Jesus.

    Everything in our lives is pointing toward something, which inaudibly says something about who we are and what we are living for. When we raise our hands in worship we are pointing. When we witness to others we are pointing. When we are teaching the Bible we are pointing. But never are we pointing so distinctly than when we are enduring hardship like “a good soldier” of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3).

    Hardships come in a variety of ways: physical illness, broken relationships, financial stress, temptations, job loss, wayward children, or persecution for one’s faith. Christians should not be caught off guard when hardships come. Jesus warned us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33); then He gave the triumphant good news: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

    “I endure everything,” Paul wrote, so that people would know Christ (2 Timothy 2:10). To endure hardship is more than just surviving the pain; enduring is about thriving in grace despite the pain. It means pressing on because everything about you, and everything that happens to you (Philippians 1:12), is pointing to something so much bigger than you. How you respond to hardship in the battle-tested trenches of life points so much more emphatically to Jesus than casual Sunday morning hymns sung while life is on cruise control.

    Jarrod used to say to me, “I have no idea what it’s like to have a normal heart. I just can’t even imagine that.” No, Jarrod, I wish we all knew more about your heart. I wish we all could endure suffering the way that you did—to face adversity in the same Spirit that you did.

    Jarrod, thank you for teaching us how to point.

    You did this in the way you modeled grace-dependence daily. You did it in the way you loved others—especially the marginalized. You did it in the way you never lost the humor—even still playing practical jokes on hospital staff all the way up to the end as your body was breathing its last. You did it in the way you led that nurse to Christ, and your legacy will continue to do it in the lives of those you have impacted.

    Everything in our lives is pointing to something. What would others say your life is pointing to? Think about that, beloved, as you seek to abide in Him this week.

    PRAYER

    Dear God, life is short. For Jarrod it seemed way too short. The world will be different without him. But he is home with you, running, dancing, jumping, perhaps eating his favorite jelly beans—with the kind of flawless heart that we can only imagine. We take comfort in his life graduation ceremony. And now his legacy lives on in us who knew him. Lord, teach us to point the way he pointed. Help our lives to model Christlikeness in all that we say and do—and especially in how we respond to hardship and suffering. Help us to be grace-dependent creatures every day. For Your glory and fame, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. Would you rather live a long life on earth without being known, or live a very short life and have a rich legacy? (*One of Jarrod’s favorite tools for engaging youth was “Would You Rather…” questions.)
    2. What did Paul encourage Timothy to do with what he had been taught, and why was this important? (2 Timothy 2:2)
    3. Why was Paul willing to endure anything? (2 Timothy 2:10)
    4. In this passage, what example do the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer set for us?
    5. This week ask someone close to you what your life points to. Try to go beyond surface cliché answers and find some specific values, even if the truth is uncomfortable (“faithful are the wounds of a friend” Proverbs 27:6). Ask God to help you reorient your life so that it will point others to know Christ, His power, His salvation, and His sufficiency.

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    Don’t Fight Naked

    Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

    “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” —Ephesians 6:11

    A woman was struggling with depression and a sense of defeat. She went to bed one night feeling powerless and alone. As she lay on her pillow, a still small voice hinted: You’re not alone, you know? I’m always with you. “I know You live in my heart,” she said, “but I’m such a poor and flawed representative.” Tossing and turning, she remembered a sweet southern drawl from many years ago—it was her friend’s mother as she said: “Well of course you’re feeling defeated, darlin’—you’re goin’ into battle nekked!”

    Do you ever feel that way? Nekked, overwhelmed, and inadequate—overmatched by the enemy?

    That southern drawl was referring to Ephesians 6, where Paul talks about spiritual warfare and putting on the full armor of God.

    “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” —Ephesians 6:10-13

    Paul, writing this while in the custody of Roman soldiers, goes on to describe what that armor looks like from head to toe—the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes made ready by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. This imagery conveys how the word of God and prayer work together to clothe us for every spiritual battle.

    One thing that has always stood out from this passage is that there is no armor listed for the backside. God never intended for his children to run from the battle, only to be rightly equipped to face the tussle.

    As that discouraged woman revisited this passage and walked through it slowly, it urged her to fight the enemy one verse—even one word—at a time. She took a spiritual sword in her hand and began to push back on the enemy by speaking God’s Word over every thought, every emotion, every circumstance, and every minute detail of her life. The battle didn’t end that night, but what did happen is she put on the right armor—she stopped fighting naked!

    When the enemy of your soul picks a fight with you, beloved, don’t go into that confrontation naked. Clothe yourself in the right armor and speak Scripture into those circumstances—even using your best southern drawl if you must. Just remember it’s not the accent that makes the enemy tremble, it’s the authority of God’s Word that brings him to his knees—always.

    PRAYER

    Dear God, it can be quite vulnerable to feel so overmatched at times. Help me to remember that you never intended that I run from the enemy, but for me to be equipped for every spiritual battle. Teach me what it looks like each day to clothe myself in this battle armor and to face the struggle with the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. When was the last time you felt defeated by life or overmatched by the enemy?
    2. Why do you think Paul used the detailed description of a Roman soldier’s armor to explain spiritual warfare?
    3. What does being “dressed for battle” mean to you, or look like in your life?
    4. What can Christians dressed in the full armor of God expect? (Ephesians 6:13)
    5. How can you lean on the Holy Spirit’s help in doing battle for the kingdom of God each day?

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    Thanksgiving Family Devotional

    Text: Luke 17:11-19

    “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” —1 Thessalonians 5:18

    In her autobiography, Corrie ten Boom described a horrific time she and her sister experienced in a Nazi concentration camp during the early 1940s. On one occasion they were forced to take off their clothes during an inspection. Corrie stood in line feeling defiled and forsaken. Suddenly, she remembered that Jesus had hung naked on the cross. Struck with wonder and worship, Corrie whispered to her sister, “Betsie, they took His clothes too.” Betsie gasped and said, “Oh, Corrie, … and I never thanked Him.”

    In Luke 17:11-19, we read a passage that appears to be a simple account of Jesus working a healing miracle. But there is also a contrast with this incident and other miracles that Jesus performed, since the healing itself is not emphasized as much as the reaction to it.

    Lepers of ancient society were rejected and treated as outcasts. They were required to live outside the city in leper camps (Numbers 5:2-3) and were to cry out to warn others to keep away from them as they walked the streets (Leviticus 13:45-46). We can’t even begin to imagine their sense of shame and loss of all dignity… humanity. In utter desperation, these ten lepers cry out to Jesus for mercy. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” he said. As they went they were all healed—all ten of them. Then only one of them—a Samaritan—upon realizing he had been healed, turned back with a loud voice of praise, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and gave him thanks.

    Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

    God’s blessings can be appreciated or underappreciated. One of the signs of a maturing faith is that it continues to react to the wonders of God with praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. As matter of fact, if we ever find that our faith is no longer moved with awe and wonder at the living God then our faith has most likely stagnated. We might be lukewarm, or worse—even backslidden.

    It is too easy to slip into cruise control on our spiritual journey; we lose that wide-eyed wonder, take for granted the incessant works of our Lord, and have our hearts become dull. In this state of complacency, God’s works are thought of more in past tense rather than present tense. Yet in Psalm 68:19 we find a worshiper praising God because he understood that God—who daily bears us up—is always working on our behalf. The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as our High Priest who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25).

    Cory Asbury’s lyrics attest, “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” keeps chasing me down. It’s a relentless pursuit that never ceases. The more I am aware of this unfailing love, the more I am filled with awe-struck wonder—worship. Praise. Thanksgiving.

    We can learn much from the reaction of a grateful Samaritan who was healed of his leprosy. Praise comes very naturally when you focus on the living God. And there is no place for mediocrity in a soul that is filled with such praise and thanksgiving. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

    PRAYER

    Dear God, thank you for your goodness and for your blessings over our lives. You are the living God who daily bears us up—always working on our behalf, even behind the scenes when we are unaware. Forgive us for not thanking or praising you enough. If it’s been lost, please restore that wide-eyed wonder of WHO you are and what you are doing in us and around us. Renew our spirits that our cup would overflow with joy and praise this Thanksgiving season and throughout the year. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. For what are you most thankful?
    2. What are some gratitude killers in the routine of our lives?
    3. In what ways do thankfulness or thanklessness correlate with our faith? What might they reflect about our faith?
    4. Where have you lost some wide-eyed wonder in your worship of Him?
    5. How can you cultivate a heart of praise and thanksgiving this week?

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    J.S. Bach: Soli Deo Gloria

    Text: Colossians 3:1-17

    “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:17

    Johann Sebastian Bach is regarded as one of the most brilliant composers of all time. From the Baroque era to present, his works have been revered for their musical complexities and stylistic innovations. Not a bad legacy for the musician who was once critiqued by a town councilor in describing his job candidacy: “Since the best man cannot be obtained we will have to resort to a mediocre one.”

    In 1685, Bach was born into a well-connected musical family from Eisenach, a town in central Germany that was strongly associated with Martin Luther and the German Reformation. As a child he learned violin, harpsichord, and organ. After becoming an orphan at age 10, the youngster lived with his eldest brother for several years while using music to express his innermost thoughts and feelings. His gift was not hidden for long as he landed his first job as a church organist when he was seventeen years old. When Bach played music he felt his soul praising God, once noting that the chief end of all music “should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

    At one church where he worked, the people began to complain about the music he had been composing, saying it was “too showy” and sinful. Their criticisms cut him deeply. Bach was stunned, attesting “my music comes from the heart as a humble offering to God… no matter what musical style I use.” From this season of pruning came a practice that would ultimately mark his legacy for generations to come. Whenever he began a new composition, he bowed his head and prayed:

    “Jesus, help me show your glory through the music I write. May it bring you joy even as it brings joy to your people.”

    Before writing even one note, Bach etched across the top of the page the letters JJ (Jesu juva; Latin for “Jesus, help”) or JH (for the German of the same phrase). Whether he was writing something for the court, for his friend Prince Leopold, or for the church, he would begin his work by petitioning Christ to help him. “I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music,” he believed. And when he was done, he would add the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria)—praying that each piece of music would humbly proclaim “To God Alone be the Glory.”

    As part of Paul’s “Put on the New Self” address to Christ-followers in Colossae (Colossians 3:1-17), believers are urged to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (v.2); to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (v.12); to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (v. 16). The variety here suggests that God delights in creative, spontaneous worship whether in the assembly or in the home. And most importantly—“whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v.17).

    Bach had his own unique way of reminding himself the importance of these words—setting the mind’s affection toward that which is pleasing and glorifying to God in everything, word or deed. How might you be able to mark your days with “all for the glory of God” as the signature of your effort and activity? What could become your initials for asking Jesus’ help as you engage in your daily work? What might your life look like if you covered each piece of your days with that same prayer? What kind of spontaneous worship might that elicit? Imagine the effect of your to-do list with “JJ” at the top and “SDG” at the bottom. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!

    PRAYER

    Lord Jesus, I need your help. Apart from you I can do nothing of any significance or lasting effect. Help me to find my joy in doing everything for your glory alone. Teach me how to practice this in my daily approach to life. In your name and for your honor, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. Where did Paul tell the Colossians to turn their attention? (Colossians 3:1)
    2. How were the Colossian believers called to clothe themselves? (vv.12-17)
    3. What is one principle that ought to guide everything we do? (V.17)
    4. If you consistently set your affection on Christ, how would your life be different?
    5. How can you be mindful to ask for Jesus’ help as you engage in your daily work this week?

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    Guideposts for Wandering Souls

    Text: Jeremiah 31:1-25

    “Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went.” —Jeremiah 31:21

    In ancient times, long before maps and GPS devices, when travelers had to traverse unknown territories they would leave behind some form of markers that would help them find their way back again. These waymarks, often in the form of roughhewn wooden posts or piles of stones, not only helped travelers retrace their steps, but they would also serve as reliable guideposts for those who were to come along after them.

    In Jeremiah 31, Israel had been unfaithful to God and was falling into the hand of their enemies. For this disobedience they would be exiled from the homeland and scattered to other nations. Yet in the midst of this sad saga of defeat, God promised to one day bring the people back to their land. As they were being exiled they were instructed to set up “guideposts” along the way to point the way back home (Jeremiah 31:21).

    This passage reveals the goodness of our heavenly Father—for in the same breath that He speaks punishment for Israel’s transgressions He is also speaking restoration for their future. God’s discipline attests to His love: “For the Lord disciplines those He loves” (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). His discipline always includes a process of correction and restoration.

    In this context God is telling Israel that their punishment for backsliding is not the end of the story. God always has a return plan—even when we’ve been sent to a bitter place of correction. This future return trip—the way back home—was something the tribes were told to “consider well.” Jeremiah pictured a clear road with signposts that would guide Israel back to their first love—a restored relationship with their Covenant God.

    These words are a call to Israel to prepare for their return. No matter how far we have wandered in our backslidings, the kindness of God calls us to prepare our hearts for a return. This is what the Bible refers to as repentance.

    Today guideposts are also used to warn travelers of dangerous terrain, such as mountainous roads with steep drop-offs. They are put there to protect a person from going off the road and getting into danger. As Bible believing Christ-followers, we also have a responsibility to set up guideposts for those around us or those coming along behind us, to help keep them from wandering off the path to God.

    I read a story of a man who came across a swollen, raging river that with great difficulty he was at last able to cross. When he reached the other side another fellow was surprised to see him begin to gather and chop sturdy wood and saw that he was constructing a bridge. The surprised fellow asked him, “Why build a bridge now? You are safely over.” The man replied, “My son will be following along behind me. The bridge is for him.”

    It’s encouraging to remember that God “guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3), and that His discipline always leads to restoration. Additionally, it is no small responsibility on our part to set up guardrails for the next generation and guideposts for our children. Perhaps this weight of responsibility is what prompted the psalmist to declare: “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”

    What guardrails can you set up to keep your heart from wandering away from God? What guideposts can you create to help others make the journey home to God? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

    PRAYER

    God, thank you for guiding me in the paths of your righteousness. Even when my heart has wandered, you have always disciplined me with a restoration in mind. Help me to faithfully set up guideposts in my life that show others the path to Jesus. May these waymarks be a witness to those around me and to the next generation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

    1. What is your favorite story about getting lost?
    2. Why do you think God disciplines those whom He loves?
    3. When has God’s discipline led to reproof and restoration in your life?
    4. What kinds of guideposts have brought you back to God when your heart has wandered?
    5. In what ways can you create guideposts that help others find the path to Jesus?

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