First Days

I vividly remember a moment of my first full day of school.  The school I was attending was vastly different from the one I attended my Kindergarten year.  Buses ran different routes, kid’s faces were frightening, and the playground was large and lonely.  I scaled the tallest play apparatus I could find, and planned to ride out the storm of my first day of school alone and scared.  Suddenly, I saw a pair of blue eyes peering at me over the floor of the platform as their owner climbed to the top.  Steve sat next to me and inquired how I was doing.  He knew perfectly well.  I told him of my fear and uncertainty, and he reassured me it would be OK.  His first-grader wisdom was just what I needed to get past my first day.   (Pause for Thought:  “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him’.”—Genesis 2:15&18.  What “first days” do you remember in your life (school, sports, jobs, etc.)?  Whom did God place in your life at that time to be a “suitable helper”?)
Steve and I would continue to cross paths throughout our elementary school years, and our relationship to one another really peaked during our middle school years.  Steve was gregarious, enthusiastic and fearless about everything.  I was completely the opposite.  I relied heavily on my relationship with Christ to “get by”.  Steve noticed that my love of Jesus was everything to me, and he wanted to pursue my passion with his passions.  He wanted to join the church and youth group I attended.  His parents weren’t certain this would be a good idea.  After meeting my church family (which included my mom and dad) and allowing me to be their guide for their first day, Steve’s mom, dad, and middle brother began attending church along with Steve.  Steve’s entire family, including his oldest brother, would eventually surrender their lives to the Lord.   (Pause for Thought:  “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.  Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit’.”—Acts 9:17.  Can you imagine Paul’s (Saul) first day as a follower of Christ?  How difficult would it have been for Paul to go from his anti-Christ attitude to an ambassador of Jesus without Ananias?  How have you struggled and who have you seen struggling with their “first days”?)
 I vividly remember my first day of driver’s education.  Steve and his family moved to South Carolina two-years prior to my summer driving course.  A mutual friend of Steve’s and mine asked if I had heard the news.  Steve was killed in a motorcycle accident a week before.  I cried.  Many years after Steve’s ascension, my church held a reunion, and Steve’s mom and dad travelled to Chelsea, Michigan to celebrate the church’s tenure.  When I saw them, we didn’t know what to say to each other.  The Spirit gave me the words to express how glad I was Steve found me my first day of school, and how it is only fitting Steve would find me to show me around on my first day in Heaven.  (Pause for Thought:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified”—Romans 8:28-30.  What “first days” are heading your way?  How is God calling you to help another in their “first day”?)


The Way

“Which way do you think we should go,” I asked my uncle as we stood tired and shivering in the woods of upper Michigan.  History had taught me as soon as the truck was out of sight, my uncle was officially lost.  “That way,” he said pointing with his finger in the direction he thought we should start walking.  I did an about-face and started walking in the opposite direction.  We arrived at the truck within minutes.   (Pause for Thought:  “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”—Proverbs 14:12.   Have you ever been lost?  How did being lost make you feel?  What thoughts passed through your mind?  Did these emotions and thoughts help or hurt your situation?)
It’s not surprising my uncle becomes befuddled when losing focus on where he’s come from and where he’s going.  His dad, my grandpa, would fail to arrive at our intended destination more than once during our outdoor adventures together.  Many times he would convince me to go with him to an obscure or relatively unknown fishing destination he found on a map.  Unfortunately, the minute he perceived the surroundings (roads, woods, etc.) to be “different” from the map directions; he would declare the map, or worse yet, the compass to be in error.  I can think of three such excursions in which we never arrived at the lake of opportunity.  I have since found all three lakes by trusting the map and compass.  (Pause for Thought: 
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”—John 14:6.  What do you use as a moral compass?  How accurate is it?  Do you trust and walk in the light of Jesus’ statement, “I am THE WAY”?  If not, why?)
Science has proven people can’t physically walk in a straight line unless their eyes are focused on a fixed point.  Spiritually speaking, ever since sin entered the world, we have been prone to wander off course and find it difficult to get and stay on the straight path without our souls being fixed on the Holy Spirit.  I can safely say I’ve had times in my journey with Christ when I didn’t understand the path He and I were walking.  However, the more I’ve learned to trust Him, and enter His word while fixed on His spirit, the pathway in this journey seems clearer.  It reminds me of Henry Frapp’s statement in the movie, The Mountain Men—I paraphrase, “Have I ever been lost?  I’ve been a mite confused for three of four months—but I ain’t never been lost!”   (Pause for Thought:  “I will instruct you and teach you in THE WAY you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”—Psalm 32:8.  How does it feel knowing God is fixed on you and your situations?  How have you listened and obeyed His counsel in the past?  What were the results?  What direction is He instructing you to take right now?  Will you follow?  Why or why not?)


Deceptive Distractions

If they were obvious, I wouldn’t fall for them.  If they produced immediate deadly consequences, I would resist.  However, due to their subtlety, I lose my focus on Christ and become ensnared.  I’m talking about the deceptive distractions used by the world’s false prophets and their teaching.  I often look for them within the church’s walls, but to be honest, I see them more in my home (via TV, computer, radio, etc.), place of employment (i.e. selfish business practitioners), schools (by providing untrue and irrational relational advice/expectations), etc.  Even family members have been used by the enemy to loosen my footing upon the Solid Rock.  No wonder Jesus likens false teachers and prophets to ravenous wolves.  (Pause for Thought:  “Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, they are ferocious wolves.”—Matthew 7:15.  How do the false teachers in your life “come to you”?  How quickly do you determine them to be false?  What do you use to determine the un-truths?  What measures do you take upon discovering the falsehoods?)
Contrary to popular belief, a wolf and its pack will pursue and kill about anything—not just the young, old, or weak.  If conditions are right, and the pack is in accord, wolves will kill a full grown, healthy bull moose—the largest animal in the deer family.  God has given the bull-moose razor sharp hooves and massive antlers, and these divine defensive weapons will more than cause a hurt for the wolf.  Wolves know this and understand, to successfully attack a moose, they must cause it to turn and run.  The alpha female wolf will feign (deceptive distraction) a frontal charge at the moose in hopes of getting it running out of fear.  The pack will pursue the beast nipping and biting its hind quarters to weaken it from exhaustion and loss of blood.  (Pause for Thought:  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”—Matthew 10:16.  What does Jesus mean by being “shrewd as snakes” and “innocent as doves”?  Is something or someone pursuing you and your family right now?  Have you inquired of the Lord in regards to gaining wisdom on how to handle the deceptive and/or distractive situation?)
Once the moose is exhausted, the pack will wait a long time until it becomes convenient and free of harm to kill the moose.  Only when the moose has become completely distracted with fatigue and fear, will the pack kill it by attacking its head and throat.  (Pause for Thought:  “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”—James 1:14-15.  As a father, I’ve noted some of my own rationalizations and statements that tell me I’m being deceived, distracted, and pursued.  I’ve learned to listen and watch for these telling signs in my son and family:  “It’s not fair…”, “I don’t deserve to be…”, “When is it my time/opportunity to…”, “At least I’m better than…”, “But it’s Christmas {substitute any event, holiday, or happening when Christ isn’t the center focus of attention} time…”).
Our enemy, the Devil, is never distracted, however, our Savior and King is never distracted either.  God knew, before he made us, what it would take to turn us around and for us to stand our ground when the Enemy comes to us – Emmanuel – God With Us! “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!—Roman 7:24-25.  Your family and you are worth the Son of God.


Make Room

Read the story of the Shunammite Woman in II Kings 4:8-37; 8:1-6

In a day and age when God’s people had rejected His directions and those who supplied them, a woman maintained the divine order of hospitality by inviting Elisha to eat and relax in her and her husband’s home.  Not only did the Shunammite woman provide meals and conversation, she also made a room within her household for Elisha’s learning and teaching of God’s eternal principles.  This resulted in the blessing of a son–by her increased faith, the loss of her hopes–in the death of her son, and a victory over death, corruption, and sin–by the resurrection of her son and the re-establishment of her faith-filled legacy.  Her faith became surrender as the Lord’s influence through Elisha invaded her home.  (Pause for Thought:  Why did Elisha appreciate the room the Shunammite woman gave him?  What made the Shunammite’s household different from other Israeli homes of the time?  In what ways was the Shunammite’s household blessed by the presence of God’s prophet)\
Israel had stopped hosting the Lord’s servants during Elisha’s time.  Prophets were considered outlaws who had become outdated and unwanted.  As a consequence, the people had become disconnected in their relationship with their Father to the point of killing His ministers and rejecting His decrees (In his pride the wicked does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is NO ROOM for God–Psalm 10:4)
While growing up, my mom and dad would often host missionaries, gospel singers, and preachers and their families as they remained away from home to minister to our church family.  This provided my sister and me an opportunity to have extended or one-on-one conversations with these ministers of the faith resulting in great worship, testimony, and witnessing.  I asked my dad why our family hosted these people so often.  His simple reply has remained in my soul for my entire life—“We sometimes entertain angels without knowing it”.  (Hebrews 13:1-3).  I believe what my father said is true, and I have confirming results.  My marriage is a direct result of my aunt and uncle’s faithful hospitality to my then future wife and mother to my son.  Their generosity connected with my parents’ desire to see their family and family friends come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and savior resulting in Renee’s and my engagement to each other.  I’m a blessed man because of a legacy of hospitality and making room for Christ.  (Pause for Thought:  How has hospitality benefited you as a host?  How has it benefited those you’ve hosted?  How has your hospitality blessed others within your family?)
Faithful hospitality is what Mary and Joseph displayed when they made room for God’s only Son when He left home.  Like the Shunammite woman, Mary and her family would know first-hand the blessing, loss, and victory when providing room for the Lord.  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “May it be to me as you have said.”  Then the angel left her.—Luke 1:38  (Pause for Thought:  How will you and your family be demonstrating hospitality around Christmas this year?  What do you want your children to learn and know through your and their hospitality?  How can and will Christ be the influence as you make room for Him?)


Live It

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Jame 2:22-25
Knowledge is so deceptive.  We can watch, listen and even read about a topic to be knowledgeable.  Yet, when we leave the knowledge acquired on the page without putting it into practice, we have gained little, but we become bloated.  How will you listen and read the Word of God to gain the freedom it can give by living it?  What are small practices that will assist you to remember the truth implanted to put it into practice? 
memorizing it
reflecting on it 
gathering & reading it with others (accountability)
You’re blessed living it. 


Quick to Listen

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” James 1:19-21
James points out that scattered and under persecution may have had the right (in their eyes) to respond with anger, but it did not and would not reflect God’s deposit within them. By reflecting on the words ‘quick to listen’ and ‘slow speak’, what can you do to honor God in your interactions as followers of Jesus today?