strength

The Solitude of Jesus

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.” – Matthew 14:13 Yesterday, we talked about the importance of having good habits in our lives, and we affirmed that how we use our time determines the course of our future. For the next few days, I want to dive into this topic further and examine three regular disciplines of Jesus that we can apply today. First of all, our Lord had a practice of solitude. Withdrawing to a place of peace and quiet seemed to be a top priority for Him, especially following a public outpouring on His part. After His baptism and commission to ministry, the Holy Spirit led Him to the wilderness where He lived forty days and forty nights without food or water. This was a season of immense

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How Do You Respond to Feedback?

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17 As we seek to have Jesus’ heart in leading others, it’s important to assess how we’re doing. In fact, one of the best and easiest ways to gauge our progress in this area is to ask ourselves a series of questions. That said, for the next few days, I want to offer three self-probing inquiries we can make as we emulate our Savior in both attitude and action. First of all, how do we respond to feedback? If we’re leading from a place of drive and ambition rather than calling, chances are we’ll react defensively to any hint of scrutiny. On the other hand, if we’re secure in what God has asked us to do, we’ll welcome constructive criticism as a gift. Though doing so demands that we lay our pride down on the altar of sacrifice, we

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Cast Down Idols

“When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together.” – Acts 19:28,29 Today, I want to continue looking at the church in Ephesus, which we began discussing yesterday. The first major act of persecution against the Ephesian believers happened at the hand of a silversmith named Demetrius. He made a good living crafting images of the goddess Artemis, and because he saw that Christians posed a threat to his business, he gathered a group of his fellow craftsmen together to incite a riot against the Apostle Paul and his traveling companions. At this, the whole region was thrown into an uproar, and a mob forced the believers into a 25,000-seat Roman theater where they tried

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Stand For What’s Right

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Ephesians 1:1,2 If you’ve listened to me for any length of time, you know that I love history, especially because I believe it completes our understanding of the Scriptures. That said, many of us are familiar with the book of Ephesians — which Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus — but we may not know the story behind it. Ephesus, which was labeled the crown jewel of the Roman Empire, was home to the temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and nature. Considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple was not only elaborate and beautiful, it was also a hub of commerce. It housed offerings

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The Tenacity of Paul

“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” – Acts 19:8 The life of the Apostle Paul always amazes me. When I think about a stubborn and gritty guy, he is at the top of my list. Before meeting Jesus, he was so zealous for religion and the law that he dragged hundreds of Christians from their homes and had them killed. He was passionate for Judaism and sold out for “righteousness,” but it never occurred to him that the Jesus he was persecuting was actually the Messiah…until He appeared to him. Blinded by the light of the Son and humbled before the Lord of All on the road to Damascus, his prideful heart was brought low, and he received a new call. God saw fit to change his course and invited him to use his brilliant mind to reason

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Stubborn in Accomplishment

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13 Yesterday, we talked about how being stubborn in the right areas is a good thing, as long as our hearts remain soft toward people. To this end, one of my favorite childhood stories (which I’m sure I tell from the pulpit at least once a year) involves a fishing trip I went on when I was eleven years old. The day started like any other out on the water, but this time, my dad and my best friend were with me. A while after we set out, I felt a tug on my pole, and I didn’t think anything of it. However, as I began wrestling with whatever was on the other end of the line, I knew it must be huge. Back and forth the creature pulled me, and from one side of the boat

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Joy Isn’t Found in Power

“Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.” – Jeremiah 10:23 Today, I want to sum up our lessons about King Herod by saying that his legacy is proof that wealth and prestige can’t buy happiness. In fact, when I look at his story, I don’t see joy or success, I see narcissism and rage. Even though he had everything that money and power could procure, he was miserable — constantly fighting to maintain his position and worrying about who he had to conquer next to stay on top. As hard as he tried to make his name immortal, like the compounds and shrines he erected for his glory, he himself came to ruin. And while to his contemporaries he had no rivals, his life is evidence that we cannot gain joy from power. Since the fall, our natural

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Meekness Isn’t Weakness

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5 Julius Caesar took to heart the Roman belief that achievements and conquests were everything, so he became determined to take over the world. On one occasion, when his armies were at war with Pompey, his life was saved by a Semitic Edomite named Antipater. The two of them became fast friends, and Caesar awarded Antipater’s heroic actions by making him the chief minister of the Middle East. In that role, his job was to collect taxes and oversee his lord’s government in the region of Syria, which also included Jerusalem. Antipater later appointed his sons — one of whom was Herod — to help him carry out his duties, and Herod was given the responsibility of overseeing the area of Israel. Unfortunately, he was a narcissistic, neurotic, and nervous guy, who, through a series of wars and

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Make Small Things Big

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24 As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that we inherit abundant life when big things become small and small things become big. What I mean is that although society teaches us that fulfillment comes when we attain wealth or find worldly success, the truth is that the seemingly ordinary and less glamorous things in life are actually the fabric of contentment, happiness, and productivity. Though I’ve traveled all over the world, I just love New York City. There’s something about that bustling metropolis that allures me, because it seems to represent the American spirit under a magnifying glass. And while many imagine New Yorkers being stern and mean, I haven’t found that to

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Embrace Joy!

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” – Psalm 16:11 Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a joyful person, and I get told that…a lot. I tend to go around whistling; in fact, someone said that I come with an announcement because I always seem to be chirping a tune. I don’t hear myself doing it, but when I enter a building or a room, people know I’m there. I’m also a smiling and silly person — I enjoy living, and it’s not uncommon to hear comments (sometimes sideways) about my happiness. While some may feel that it’s superficial or “over-the-top,” I can say for certain that it’s not, because I have a reason to be glad! Every day, I wake up overwhelmed by the goodness of God and by what

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