Focus on the Family

The Depth of Grace

by Steve Yohn

(Excerpted from 40 Days of Discovery, a devotional series written for Fellowship Community Church in Centennial, Colo.)

The van was old and dirty, and getting dirtier every mile we drove down the dusty road. We were on the edges of our cracked vinyl seats, eyes peeled, looking for the first signs of life. Suddenly, up ahead in the distance we saw movement. We looked at each other with wide grins. As we drew closer, the object grew larger and larger, and when it saw us it began to run—long, loping strides. We both cheered! The giraffe was the first sign of wildlife that we had seen in Namibia (other than the occasional monkey or warthog running along the side of the road.) Bill and I were ecstatic!

After the giraffe, we saw zebras and oryx and kudus and elands and ostriches. Each new species was a cause for awe and wonder. Then we went looking for the more elusive big game—lions, elephants and black rhinos.

Another Large, Flightless Bird

Throughout the first day, we were still excited whenever we saw more of the giraffes and zebras and oryx and kudus and elands and ostriches. But, by the end of the second day, they had become part of the scenery. There were just so many of them, and they were everywhere. It became a joke to us—"Oh, how exciting, another large, flightless bird," we'd say in a deadpan voice. "Oh, wonder of wonders, another striped pony-wannabe." What was once awe-inspiring had become mundane.

In the same way, certain words, over time, lose the power they once had—commitment, sacrifice, sin, morality. "Grace" has become one of these words. We sing by rote about God's "Amazing Grace"—letting fly by the remarkable truth of its being bestowed upon a "wretch like me" ("wretch"—another of those words that just doesn't communicate all it used to). When we see someone committed to a false religion or living a hedonistic lifestyle, we casually throw out a "There but by the grace of God go I" without stopping to ponder the depth of the reality of the statement.

Most Bizarre Concept

Grace, defined as the "free and unmerited favor of God," is one of the most powerful and most bizarre concepts that exists. God, the Supreme Creator and Superintendent of the Universe, wanted so desperately to have a loving relationship with His obnoxious little creations (who spend most of their lives consciously or unconsciously doing the exact things that He asks them not to do) that He devised a system that would allow us into His holy presence. And He did this not by becoming a pitiful little weasel-God who bypasses the necessary rules to get what He wants. Instead, He showed Himself to be a strong, loving, consistent God who was willing to sacrifice Himself in order to maintain the proper ethical system established on the foundation of His character.

All this so we could be near Him…

All this when we still hated His guts…

Assignments

Read Romans 5:6-10. What strikes you about the timing of Christ's sacrifice? What does this say about God?

Read Ephesians 2:1-10. What motivated God to save us? (v. 4)

The word in v. 10 translated "workmanship," is the Greek "poiema," from which we derive the word "poem." You are God's work of art. Michelangelo's David is a world-renowned piece of sculpture, admired by so many for centuries. But you are being crafted by the Master Craftsman, and the Bible promises, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6) What are some of the beautiful changes God has crafted in your life?

Some of God's graces include salvation, spiritual gifts, health, family, finances and friends. We all take these for granted at times. Why not thank God for each grace.

Take some time today to reflect on the statement, "There but by the grace of God go I." Think through what your life would be like if God hadn't reached out to you and given you His free gift of grace. Thank Him for being willing to make the first move.


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Practical Wisdom

When we focus so much on the world's idea of wisdom, we kill off our connection to God's truth.

by Steve Yohn

(Excerpted from 40 Days of Discovery, a devotional series written for Fellowship Community Church in Centennial, Colo.)

My dad gave me a call from Hollywood the other day. He and my mom were on a 24-hour layover on their way back from Hawaii. The connection wasn't that great, so we didn't talk long. But what he did have time to say struck me. "This place is the same as it's always been—a bunch of foolish people thinking they are wise."

What an absolutely perfect description of our culture! People spend their lives following the wisdom of the world, only to succeed in looking like idiots—if not here, then certainly in the afterlife. What is the key pearl of spectacular, eternity-killing wisdom? It's freedom, baby! Independence, self-sufficiency, looking after #1! Because when you call your own shots, then you are truly free—and what's better than that?

Freedom Leading to Bondage

I Corinthians 3:19 tells us, "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight." Nowhere is this truer than in the area of freedom. The world's wisdom that promotes freedom leads to bondage. Just look at the recent plethora of young Hollywood girls who are doing their best to destroy their lives in the name of their own personal freedom. The rehab centers of our country never need to be concerned about a lack of business, as long as our society mainstreams this push-it-to-the-limits personal freedom. Unfortunately, when we focus so much on the world's idea of wisdom, we kill off our connection to God's truth.

"So," you may ask, "what's the alternative to freedom? Slavery?" Well…uh…yes, actually. You see, while the world's wisdom that touts personal freedom actually leads to bondage, God's wisdom that pushes bondage actually leads to freedom. There is a true peace and satisfaction that comes from being completely submitted to God's will—knowing you are living in the manner He wants you to live. Then you are free to live the joyful life, the complete life, the free life—the life Jesus describes as "more abundant." (John 10:10)

How to Be a Slave

So, why aren't we all experiencing this abundant life? Because we don't have the first clue about how to be a slave. In our leisurely, back-talking, comfort-chasing, TV-watching, hobby-loving, it's–all-about-me culture, the practical "how-to's" of submission are hard to come by. That's why God has given us His word, complete with a promise that if we ask Him for wisdom, He will give it to us—wisdom that will answer our questions very practically and perfectly.

Read James 1:5-6. This is one of the most encouraging passages in the entire Bible. We have an "in" with Wisdom Himself. But James gives an important caveat to the wisdom-asking. Why is it so important to "believe and not doubt" when asking for wisdom (and try to get beyond just the "wave of the sea" answer)?

Doubting God's Wisdom

Who or what in your life and in your culture may be causing you to doubt that God's wisdom is truly wisdom?

The "without fault" is an interesting addition by James. What do you think he is communicating there?

Take some time today to think through how you have bought into the world's wisdom. It could be relationally or financially; it could have to do with your priorities or your rights; it could be anything that goes against the system of loving sacrifice that God has given us in Scripture. Quietly sit and let God bring those things to mind. When He does, confess them and pray for the strength to change that mindset. Then pray sincerely for God's wisdom to permeate your heart and mind. I can guarantee you, that's a prayer He's going to answer.


Mostly Forgiven

Why do we live in this land of "mostly forgiving?" Why do we find it so hard to forgive and truly forget?

by Steve Yohn

(Excerpted from 40 Days of Discovery, a devotional series written for Fellowship Community Church in Centennial, Colo.)

I love that old Garth Brooks lyric, bury the hatchet, but leave the handle sticking out, because it is so stinkin' true. When somebody sins against us, we are naturally angry and hurt. But, we know that forgiving is the Christian thing to do. So (with trumpets sounding the great fanfare) we extend our most benevolent forgiveness to the poor supplicant. The offender is shamed by our grace, and our magnanimity is hailed amongst the surrounding throngs.

But just wait…if they ever even think of doing that again, our hand will be on that hatchet handle like a hawk on a field mouse—and you best take cover, because iron is going to fly!

Why do we live in this land of "mostly forgiving?" Why do we find it so hard to forgive and truly forget—to put the past all the way behind? It's because "mostly forgiving" fits very well with our overall belief of "mostly forgiven." Didn't Jesus say, "As God has mostly forgiven you, so you, too, must mostly forgive others?"

It is so hard to accept God's complete forgiveness. Maybe it's because His gift of mercy rarely comes with a can of Guilt-Be-Gone (believe me, if that stuff was available on the open market, I'd have a pantry full with a constantly rotating stock). So, while it's easy for Him to forgive us, it is extremely difficult for us to forgive ourselves. And, one quick act of unjustified emotional transference later, we find ourselves perceiving a God who just can't get over our checkered past or our spotty present.

However, we are different now that God has forgiven us. What we were then is not what we are now (even if we're just talking a week ago). Every prayer of confession, every act of repentance, brings us closer to the source of our forgiveness. And once we can stop dwelling in our own sinful past, it becomes much easier not to dwell any more on anyone else's sinful past. Once we truly accept that we are completely forgiven, we will finally be able to bury the hatchet with others—handle and all.

You've heard stories about King David: the man after God's own heart, the mighty warrior who took down a giant with a sling and a stone and conquered the impregnable Jebusite city and renamed it "The City of David" (Jerusalem), the great Psalmist who penned many songs of praise to God and the renowned leader who "shepherded his people with integrity of heart; with skillful hands." (Psalm 78:72)

However, David was also a man of human frailty, captured by lust, burdened with the guilt of adultery and murder, and broken to the point of desperation. When he reflected on his life before acknowledging his sin to God, David wrote, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer." (Psalm 32:3-4)

But later, David confessed his sin to God and experienced a dramatic change in his attitude, his emotions and his demeanor. His heart exploded with praise as he scribed the words of Psalm 103.

Read Psalm 103. List the number of the changes you observe in David, compared with Psalm 32.

What was the major cause of David's great change?

If God could "fully" forgive David, an adulterer and murderer, will He not also "fully" forgive you?

Take some time today to thank God for His complete forgiveness. Thank Him for not bringing up forgiven sins over and over again.

Then, ask God to search your heart for any overt or hidden grudges you may have against others—people you may have just "mostly forgiven." Confess those to the God who has fully forgiven you. Earnestly pray through whether there is something you can do to heal the relationship—even if you are the offended party. Ask God to give you the strength to follow through.


Turning the Knob to the Off Position

Our society is designed such that we have to intentionally search for opportunities for stillness.

by Steve Yohn

(Excerpted from 40 Days of Discovery, a devotional series written for Fellowship Community Church in Centennial, Colo.)

You know, I think the Grinch has gotten a bad rap all these years. Sure his actions in Whoville were…how should we say it….slightly less than neighborly. But I can sympathize with his plight. Think about it. What was it that caused the Grinch to pillage the townspeople right down to their last can of Who Hash? In his own words, "One thing I can't stand is the noise, noise, noise, noise!" Grinch was just sitting down to a nice quiet Christmas Eve with his little dog Max when the singing started—and, as he well knew from 53 years of experience, once the singing starts, it's not long before someone breaks out the bamboozlers and the kerflinkers.

Silence is such a rare treasure these days, and noise is its natural enemy. Unfortunately, our society is designed such that we have to intentionally search for opportunities for stillness, while sound is as easy to find as stink on a wet retriever. The worst part is—we like it that way!

We Love Noise

We love noise because we have always had it. We are trained for noise as we grow up, so there is a comfort level with it. Noise is our default mode. Television, radio, CDs, iPods, even books, are all designed for a purpose—to constantly give us sensory stimulation. When that stimulation stops, it feels awkward…uncomfortable.

Noise is also entertaining. Let's see, I can sit in silence tonight or I can watch Kiefer Sutherland save the world, while taking out a few more nasty guys in 24. Not a difficult choice.

When it comes down to it, noise is just easier. Noise is distraction. Noise is escape. Noise lets us keep our lives at snorkel level, rather than having to strap on the tanks and scuba down to the depths. The sad result is that noise causes us to miss God and to miss who He has created us to be.

God and Silence

Mother Teresa said, "We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence." Why is that? Because it is in the times of silence that we can hear His voice.

Okay, okay, that last line just set off the Christianese platitude alert. I understand, but I'm not sure how else to phrase it. To truly listen to people, we need to focus on them and be silent. When we are listening for God, we are seeking an inner voice that cannot be heard if we are distracted by external noises trying to draw our attention away. Also, since we are trying to listen to God's voice, we need to shut our own mouths.

So, we have silence. We are waiting to hear His voice. The $24,000 question is, "What are we listening for?" I've spoken to some people who have told me they've heard an internal voice distinct from their own, but those people are few. Typically what I hear from folks is that God uses their own internal thoughts to speak to them.

Stop Yapping and Listen

That's how it works for me. I often experience this when I am preparing a sermon or writing something. I pray, giving myself and my time over to the Lord and asking Him to guide me with His wisdom. Then I shut my yap and listen. Soon ideas will come into my mind that I hadn't thought before. Illustrations and stories will be formed and processed. That's why I can honestly say that I take no credit for anything that I've ever written—it's not mine! It's really a strange mix of intentionality and passiveness. I find the same thing happens when I bring a problem before the Lord, whether it's a parenting issue, personal finance problem or ministry situation. I wait on the Lord, and He guides me to a solution.

When we give God silence, He will speak. But if you're expecting an audible voice from heaven or an appearance by Michael the Archangel, you might be waiting a long time. When He speaks it's usually much more subtle, but, when we listen, it can be no less life changing.

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)

"…the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him." (Habakkuk 2:20)

"He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul." (Psalm 23:2-3)

Be Cautious

We've seen how God talks to us. Now you have the opportunity to listen for that quiet voice of God's Spirit. However, here are some cautions:

  1. Don't confuse your feelings with the voice of God's Spirit. Feelings are birthed by many things including your surroundings, music you may be listening to, the amount of sleep you got the night before, a dog barking nearby, etc.
  2. Don't conclude that every new thought that enters your mind is a dictation from the Lord. It may be nothing other than a fleeting thought.
  3. Don't confuse some sudden interruption with God's attempting to get your attention.

The Lord may use all of the above, but not every feeling, new thought or interruption is necessarily from the Lord. The devil is always in process of jamming the signals from heaven in order to confuse you.

Now, take some time to practice what you've just read. Block out a minimum of five minutes (preferably more), and commit to attentive silence before the Lord. Realize that there's a good chance that Satan's going to try to distract you with external and internal noise, but don't give up! Bring up an issue to God, and let His wisdom guide you and comfort you. And if today is a bust—try it again tomorrow!


There Is No 'I' in Prayer

Even though we have permission to be familiar with God, we should never forget to whom we are speaking.

by Steve Yohn

(Excerpted from 40 Days of Discovery, a devotional series written for Fellowship Community Church in Centennial, Colo.)

I went to see a really bad movie recently. It was so bad, in fact, that I am embarrassed to mention what it was. So, it will heretofore be known as "that nameless move" or "TNM."

In TNM, there was a very unpleasant man who set himself up as king, As most real kings do, the pseudo-king had a right-hand man (RHM). And, as is standard for most RHMs, this guy was getting a little too big for his britches. At one point in TNM, the RHM contradicted the king on a decision, and then spoke about what "we" should do with the kingdom. Apparently that made the faux king very unhappy, as evidenced by the quick draw of his sword. "We?" he said. "There is no 'we,' there is only 'me.' Never, ever forget who it is you are talking to!" The king then proceeded to do various swordy things to the RHM that best remain unspoken.

Now, I understand that writing about unspoken acts carried out by anonymous characters in a nameless movie might seem somewhat vague to a few of you. But, believe it or not, there is a point. God wants us to speak to Him, and in a familiar way. Paul even grants us permission to call our Lord "Abba"—Daddy. (Romans 8:15) What a privilege to approach the throne with the confidence of being a kid of the King!

However, even though we have permission to be familiar with God, we should never forget to whom we are speaking. And this is one of the great benefits of incorporating worship into our prayer time. When you start out praising God for His majesty, His creation, His love, His justice and His sovereignty, it's a great reminder that while you may be speaking to your heavenly Father, you are also speaking to the Almighty God.

So, practically speaking, how do you speak words of worship in your times of prayer? One suggestion is what I have just mentioned. Pray through God's attributes. Thank Him for His grace, then take some time to think through what His grace means to you. Thank Him for His mercy, then take time to think through the ramifications of His mercy on our world. Thank Him for His justice, then take time to bask in the encouragement that even though it sometimes seems like the bad guys are winning, God will someday put things to right. That meditation on God's characteristics takes our worship out of the realm of just the mouth and puts it into our hearts.

A second suggestion is to pray Scripture. Bob Sorge in his excellent book Secrets of the Secret Place strongly advocates this method of personal worship. Take a passage of Scripture (the Psalms work great) and slowly read it through, phrase by phrase. After each phrase, stop and think through what you've just read and verbalize to God whatever comes upon your heart. Sorge says that in giving us His Word, God has "given us a way to bypass the self-centered, human-based, pity-filled praying toward which our souls want to gravitate. We can step into His mind, His thoughts, His expressions, His priorities and pray according to His will from His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit." This is the promise of 1 John 5:14-15, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God; that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him."

A good rule of thumb in our quiet times is to begin our prayers with the words "You are" instead of "I am" or "Will You." This will make sure we never forget that it's God we're talking to.

List five qualities of God and thank Him for each one, telling Him what it means to you.

Using the method described above, pray through Psalm 8.

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 5You made Him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned Him with glory and honor. 6You made Him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under His feet: 7all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 9O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"


The Right Tool for the Right Job

We can find one of the best pictures of spiritual gifts way back in the second book of the Bible.

by Steve Yohn

Excerpted from 40 Days of Discovery, a devotional series written for Fellowship Community Church in Centennial, Colo.)

Today I'd like to celebrate two of the lesser-known heroes of the Bible—two guys who just don't get the play they deserve. Seriously, you've got kids all over the place named Joshua, Paul, Timothy, Benjamin and David. You'll even find Moseses, Abrahams, Noahs and Jonahs. But when's the last time you met someone name Bezalel Jones and Oholiab Anderson? Yet, Bezalel and Oholiab were the men behind the creation of the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle—things that thousands of years later, we're still making movies about.

Spiritual Gifts and the Old Testament

Most people turn to the New Testament to talk about spiritual gifts, but I think we can find one of the best pictures of these gifts way back in the second book of the Bible. Exodus 35:30-34 tells us:

"Then Moses said the to the Israelites, 'See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others.'"

God had a major project for the Israelites. Rather than saying to Moses, "Git 'er done!" He chose Bezalel and Oholiab from the nation and gave them the gifts and skills needed to carry out the charge. That is a picture of the Church. God has called the Church to be His representative on the Earth—to love and encourage each other, and to reach out to those who need to hear about Him. And, like He did in Moses' day, He has gifted each and every believer, so that he or she can carry out a part of this calling.

Better Than a Utili-Tool

Paul writes, "Now to each one of the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines." (I Corinthians 12:7, 11) I can remember the first time I received a full tool set. It was designed to replace my one-size-fits-all utili-tool—a large, multi-head screwdriver. This little red box full of shiny metal objects was life changing. Biggest eye-opener? Apparently, somewhere along the line, some brilliant engineer devised this tool called a hammer that turns out to be much more effective at driving in nails than the handle of my untili-tool. Amazing!

God has gifted you to be a tool in His toolbox, so that His Church can function effectively. When you or I are not doing our part, the Church ends up driving in nails with screwdrivers. Sure, it may get done, but not with the excellence that comes from gifting and passion.

God Doesn't Lie

Do you know your spiritual gifts? And don't tell me you don't have one, or else I'll have to tell you that by doing so you're making God out to be a liar. If you have never gone through a spiritual gifts assessment, when you are done with this devotion boot up your computer and go to "Free Spiritual Gifts Analysis." This gift test is not foolproof, but they are a good start to discovering how God has wired you. Also, for those of you who have taken one before, let me encourage you to do so again. Awareness of new gifts and passions will sometimes surface as God moves you to different roles in His kingdom.

The two gifts mentioned in the Exodus passage are craftsmanship and teaching. No one would ever accuse me of craftsmanship—I couldn't design, sculpt, draw, paint, embroider or build myself out of a paper bag. But perhaps you fit this gift well. Wonderful! God can use you both in the church as well as outside the church to honor Him and help others.

One of the gifts God has given me is teaching. This includes a passion to study, a desire to clearly understand what I'm communicating to others and the ability to make my subject clear to my readers and listeners. You may be able to identify with this gift, but perhaps you communicate more effectively to children or teenagers. The church always needs godly teachers for all age levels.

But consider the following other gifts presented in Romans 12:6-8.

  1. Prophesying – the ability to speak forth God's Word in a clear and persuasive way.
  2. Serving – the ability to help people, groups, churches and communities with various needs. You may be a Mr. Fixit, a Jack-of-all-trades, a godly woman who is always available to help where there is a need.
  3. Teaching – We've covered this gift above.
  4. Encouraging – You may be a Barnabas-type man or woman whom people love to be around because of your optimistic spirit and the ability to always say the right thing at the right time. You're like a coach who loves to come alongside of someone and help them get to the next level in their life.
  5. Contributing – Though everyone is responsible to God to give generously to His work, you may be one of those special individuals who just loves to give. You may not be wealthy, but you've learned to manage your money well and are willing to live below your means. Your greater pleasure in life is to give so that others may be exposed to God's truth, or to help someone get back on their feet to make a difference in their family and their world of influence.
  6. Leadership – Like Moses, you may have the ability to see the "Big Picture," while others are getting lost in the details or fighting one another. You can't stand to see someone flounder through life or a group of people who are disorganized and going nowhere. You want to step into the situation and cry out, "Hey gang, let's stop squabbling and move forward. I'll show you how to get out of this mess."
  7. Mercy – Perhaps you have that sixth sense of truly feeling the pain of others. You don't settle for mere words when you ask someone how they are doing. You really want to know. You are drawn to the "left-outs," and those that may not "make-the-cut" socially, physically, mentally or spiritually. You truly care about people.

Do any of these descriptions fit you? Take some time to prayerfully read them one more times. Ask the Lord to impress one or more of these descriptions on you. Now, if you are able, complete that Free Spiritual Gifts Analysis. When you are done, take some time to thank God for the way He has wired you, and commit to Him that you will use His gifts to do His work.