Don’t Labor in Vain Day

Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain (Ps. 127:1, HCSB).

Most of us have worked hard to get where we are today. If you’re like my wife and me, you periodically reflect back over your years of laboring. In our case, we can hardly believe it’s been 43 years. I was in my second year of seminary in Scotland.

We had just enough savings between us to squeak through the year. By the time we got back to the States, I had decided not to pursue ministry as a profession but was unclear about what I would do as an alternative. We borrowed money from my mother for the first month’s rent and security deposit on an apartment. No furniture, no job, no prospects, and practically no money — our future was uncertain, but that didn’t seem to matter.

We sat on the floor of the apartment the day we took possession, looked around, and couldn’t have been happier. We were fueled by love, hope, and faith. We knew we’d be fine.

I wonder, if we were faced with the same circumstances today, would we be as confident and hopeful? What might we be thinking, feeling, and saying to each other? Maybe I’d be ashamed that I’d put us in such a position. Perhaps I’d be fearful about how to navigate out of that rut at the age of 67. We wouldn’t want to impose on our children for help. Would the tenderness and partnership between us still be there — enough to see us through? Or would we turn on each other, cast blame, and make matters worse? I’d like to think that enough love, hope, and faith are still there so that we’d be able to face those circumstances together and find our way through it with the Lord.

Thankfully, that’s not our situation. However, this forces some questions: Who has been building the “house” of our lives over the years? Were we? Was the Lord? Did we build it and invite Him in, or did He build it and invite us in? These are tough questions. It’s easy to rationalize that we were trusting Him for direction and outcomes — diligently doing our part to bang the nails with the hammer He gave us. The honest answer for me (my wife was and is better at this) is that there were times, even long stretches, where I “hammered” first and consulted later. There were other times, usually when I hit rough patches, that I asked my Builder-Foreman for assistance. He was always quick to respond, performing for or with me what I couldn’t accomplish on my own.

I suspect that, if you were to take a spiritual photo of the “house” of your life, it would be apparent who was building what at various points in the construction process. The better, more finished looking parts were the Lord’s craftsmanship.

The obvious do-it-yourself parts were your handiwork. Is it perfect? No. Could it have been better? Of course. If we all could retrace our steps and do it over again, knowing what we now know about His faithfulness and effectiveness, would we give Him more control over the building? You bet we would … hindsight. But here’s the thing — the house of our lives is still being built. What about the sagging ceiling in our marriages? The leaking basement in some of our family relationships? The cracked wall in certain friendships? The weakening support beams of health and finances? The broken seals in the windows of our earlier hopes and dreams? None of those are beyond repair or remodeling.

Labor Day commemorates the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. We take a day off from our labors to give tribute to those who have labored before us. I’d like to propose a new holiday. We can celebrate it on the same first Monday in September. We’ll call it “Don’t Labor in Vain Day.” This is when we bring in the Inspector, take that spiritual photo, get the report, and call in the Contractor of Contractors to come in and take care of business. There’s no telling what He’ll be able to do that day. He works wonders.

You may be in a season of life where what you’re facing has required you to recalibrate your game plan, make adjustments, change your expectations, and realign your priorities. Whatever your circumstances, He who numbers every hair of your head is able to do exceedingly more with the rest of your life than what you’ve been able to do under your own labor up to this point. That’s not an idle pipe dream. It’s a promise – His promise. Let’s remember that on this Don’t Labor in Vain Day.

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This article is courtesy of Mature Living.

Steve Silver is a retired business executive, the author of New Man Journey (newmanjourney.com) and the founder of Men’s Golf Fellowship.

Guest Post – Suspicious Kindness

colossians, bible, wordsearch bible, devotionalIn the summer of 1983, between semesters of my seminary days, I was standing behind the counter of my father’s fast food restaurant when a small boy reached his arm up and released a fist full of coins onto the counter.

The smile on his face could melt any Dairy Queen blizzard. Raising his eyes to mine, he simply stated “A vanilla cone please.” Looking at the coins still rolling on the counter, I knew he didn’t have enough. Taking my index finger, I began to count the silver and copper. When there was none left to be counted, the boy’s face grew very solemn. He too knew it wasn’t enough. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a couple more coins and placed them alongside his own.

His response shocked me. With a suspicious look, he again reached forward and began to pull his coins away. I told him it was okay. He now had enough. I tried to match the tone in my voice with that of the kind gesture. With a slight pause as if struggling against his better judgment, his smile returned, and I quickly scooped the coins away and proceeded to make him the LARGEST “small” cone I have ever made, complete with a curly-Q top. That moment impacted me and has never been forgotten.

Suspicious kindness is sad, isn’t it? We often are not used to receiving kindness and our first reaction is to pause, question the motive, refuse, worry that there has to be something wrong and wonder what they want in return. Our society has become so “me” oriented that to think then act on behalf of another with goodness takes great concentration, not to mention risk. For some, to be kind is a sign of weakness.

St. Paul speaks directly to the qualities that do not come naturally to us. “Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…” (Col. 3:12). We are not born with them, they are a choice. A day-to-day, moment by moment choice. We slip our arms into the garment and wear it, we wear Him – Jesus.

Kindness is the softer side of creation, God in us speaking through with love and mercy. I see it in the word picture of one walking by a blind man holding a charitable cup for money. The heart sees the man, the heart feels the man, the heart responds with God to the man, filling his cup. Love, kindness, and goodness all go together. Love sees, kindness feels, goodness does. (See also: 1 Cor. 13, Eph. 4:29-31.)

I might also add that in Gal. 5:22-23, Paul shares the fruit of the Spirit, and he admonishes us to walk in the “package deal” of Jesus. Picture if you will, that someone has just delivered a most fabulous fruit basket and sets in in front of you, individual delicious items, but all in the basket as one gift. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” ALL evidence of Jesus.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a leading Jewish Theologian said about kindness, “When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people, as I grow old, I admire kind people.” True godly kindness does not require a return on your investment. It is self-less-ness. We see, we feel, we do.

May we all be challenged to be kind beyond ourselves. Spreading some “Sonshine”, with wonderful bouquets of gentleness. Remembering that we have been bathed in God’s kindness and goodness. Taking an extra moment to listen. Finding more coins in our pockets, opening more doors, whatever is needed at the moment. Like the little boy with ice cream at the counter, he now has enough. God uses US in the “enough” equation.

Pic of DeDe MoravikDeDe Southwick, is the mother of two wonderful sons and lives outside of Portland, Oregon. She has a degree on Theology, leads women’s bible studies, and has served on the leadership team of her local church. She loves studying God’s Word, gardening, and making her sons laugh. You can read her blog here.

Guest Post – Forgiveness, Repentance & Reconciliation

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Please note: The views & opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions & views of LifeWay Christian Resources.

What do you do when you have done something to violate your own values? How do you forgive yourself and reconcile what you have done with who you are?

Forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation are like cousins; they are related, but function independently of each other. You can have any one, two or all three.

The first cousin is forgiveness. It is entirely up to you if you forgive or not. The offender’s repentance can make forgiveness easier, but is not necessary. Forgiveness happens inside of you.

The second cousin is repentance. This is the job of the offender. Repent comes from ‘metanoeo’ which means ‘to think differently or reconsider’. There is also an emotional component (2 Corinthians 7:10). Focusing on repentance should be primary. Forgiveness will be much easier if you acknowledge your own guilt, shame and remorse. Knowing and accepting your vulnerability will enable you to protect against re-occurrence.

The third cousin is reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24). Here reconciled comes form ‘diallasso’ which means ‘to change thoroughly’. It is also translated from ‘katallage’ (Romans 5:11), which means ‘restoration’, and ‘katallaso’ (2 Cor. 5:18) which means ‘to change mutually’. Reconciliation requires BOTH parties. Both have to want to continue the relationship, and do their parts. This is healthy reconciliation; it has both forgiveness AND repentance. The relationship has been mutually changed and restored.

But there’s still the other side. Unhealthy reconciliation is maintaining the relationship without forgiveness or repentance (Acts 7:26). Here reconcile comes from ‘synelavno’ which means to ‘drive together’. We do that sometimes – drive a relationship together when there is no repentance.

The other possible response to repeat offenders is to end the relationship, to not have reconciliation (Matthew 18; Romans 12:18)When you have followed the prescribed course, and the other person refuses to make any changes, it might be time to end the relationship. God is able to bring good from the hurt of a broken relationship (Acts 15: 36-41; Romans 8:28). No one else can decide for you to continue or end the relationship, and no one else has the right to judge your decision. This is between you and God.

It is also possible to have forgiveness and repentance without reconciliation. Each does their part; forgiving and repenting. However, one or both decide to not continue the relationship. If ending is the decision, forgiveness and repentance are important to have healthy relationships with others. If you don’t forgive or repent, you’ll carry that hurt into other relationships, and recreate the same destructive dynamics.

So how do you respond in a healthy way to the lack or repentance? Forgive and set strong boundaries (Luke 17:3-4). If you can forgive, and the other person is earnestly trying to repent, you can choose to continue the relationship. To do this, you must be very clear and consistent in identifying and not accepting the hurtful behavior. If you cannot set that boundary, you would be fostering the sin you both have.

Confession IS good for the soul (James 5:16). Confessing to another is essential when you need to repent and forgive yourself. Avoidance comes with secrecy, perpetuating the shame and guilt. Confession illuminates reality, and establishes accountability. It does not have to be a public confession. Do be careful in selecting the hearer of your confession. The goal is healing, not condemnation. Choose someone whom you trust and respect, can keep your confidence, is humble and is full of God’s grace. The hearer of your confession does have the power, through the Holy Spirit, to proclaim God’s forgiveness to you (John 20:23).

How are you working to reconcile your relationships? Share with us!

bill syrcle, guest blog, counselingWilliam L. Syrcle is a therapist and coach at Synago, in MacombIllinois. He has a Master degree in clinical psychology, is a certified Professional Christian Counselor, is licensed by the State of Illinois, and been in private practice since 2002. He also specializes in business, executive and leadership coaching. Learn more about Synago here.

Guest Post – Walk It Out

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Source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/480759328944977375/

Please note: The views & opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions & views of LifeWay Christian Resources.

God our Heavenly Father is truly the everlasting God, King above all, Lord forever. We can completely trust Him because He always stays true to His Word and never changes (James 1:17). We change. Sometimes we get tired of waiting for God and we start trying to work things out ourselves, only to end up getting in the way. We realize it when we see the struggles we cause for ourselves. Then we start wondering why God allowed us to fall into the hole we were so anxious to dig.

I remember times in my life when I felt as if God left me to figure things out on my own, or He wasn’t listening when I prayed. Nothing I would try was the answer, and it seemed as if God was watching me run aimlessly in circles. Then after I had exhausted all my options, I was finally ready to pay attention. That’s when I realized that God actually has everything under control.

Before this realization, I would usually try to determine when and how I believed my situations should be resolved. Yet, all I was actually doing was getting stressed over my plans instead of walking out God’s plan in faith (Jeremiah 29:11). My plans were merely distractions that kept me occupied until I was ready to move forward with God leading the way. It took a while, but I finally learned that God really knows what He is doing. He doesn’t need my input, advice, or permission.

God wants us to successfully complete the journey that He has set before us. That’s why He so graciously provides everything that we need and even some of the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). If ever we feel discouraged and wonder why God seems so distant, all we have to do is trust Him enough to walk out His plan with confidence in knowing that He is with us every step of the way.

Let’s be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).

Revised blogs from Blessings in Blogs: Living Effectively by Genia M. Owens, originally published by Trafford Publishing. © Copyright 2012, www.trafford.com

Genia Owens, author, blog

Genia Owens is an e-book Developer at WORDsearch who loves to inspire others through writing. She also enjoys watching a good movie with popcorn, spending time with family and friends, and going on outings with her husband to take photos for their online photography art business – GREO Galleries Unlimited (http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/greo-galleries-unlimited.html).

Guest Post – You Made God’s List

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Please note: The views & opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions & views of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Remember back when we were in the 4th or 5th grade and out on the playground we would divide up in teams for a ball game? That had to be some of the most frustrating moments of childhood. Nervous thoughts of “Will I be picked?” Or remember when the list was posted for those making the team following tryouts? We stood a slight distance away, just close enough to see if our name was there, but not too close to be faced with complete rejection by our names absence.

Making the list. Go ahead admit it, we all want to be wanted, picked, and deemed valuable. We all have areas of  life that we fall short, lack skill, or just can’t seem to get it right. In these, we begin to see ourselves as less valuable than others. Perhaps we even become resentful of those who do seem to have it all together. Does envy, jealously, bitterness, or even hatred sound familiar?

Ever notice that we may take these perspectives, or may I say insecurities, into our relationship with God? I know I do! Often, we find our head bowed not necessarily in reverence, but out of frustration, and we continue listing all our shortcomings, these becoming our excuses, and, before we know it, we are telling God that He shouldn’t want us.

Instead Beloved, we should consider the “list” that God has compiled. The list of biblical proportion. These folks did stupid things, made BIG mistakes, were not of the flashy type; some were too small, too old, too ugly, too worrisome.

Eve listened to the devil * Rahab was a prostitute *Adam shifted blame*Jeremiah and Timothy were too young *Noah was a drunk *David had an affair and was a murderer *Abraham was too old *Elijah was suicidal *Isaac was a daydreamer *Isaiah preached naked *Jacob was a liar *Jonah ran from God *Leah was ugly *Naomi was a widow *Joseph was abused *Job went bankrupt *Moses stuttered *John the Baptist ate bugs *Aaron watched the idol making *Peter denied Christ *Gideon was afraid *The disciples fell asleep while praying *Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer *Martha worried about everything *The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once *Zaccheus was too small *Paul was too religious *Lazarus was dead!

However, God used ALL of these people! They were part of His plan. They ALL had weaknesses of some sort. Do YOU find yourself among this list? Do you worry, then beat yourself up for lack of faith? Do you fall asleep when you pray, then believe the lie you don’t love God enough?

Have you been divorced, afraid, abused, widowed, bankrupted, drunk? God is God. He compiles the list! You made the list, the list of redeemed mankind. God moved in and through these people’s lives. Do we think of Moses as a stutterer? Do we think of Gideon afraid? What first comes to mind when we think of Peter? A great leader of the church, not Peter the denier! God is the Redeemer, of our soul, life, and yes, mistakes, failures, and shortcomings.

I so admire King David’s longing, through all the junk of his life. He says in the Psalms, “Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You.” He continues with, “Show me… rescue me… teach me… lead me” (Ps. 143).  May we all look forward to the dawn of each new day, trusting in God, allowing Him to show us, rescue us, teach us, and lead us.

YOU my friends are sons & daughters of the Most High God! YOU are valuable! YOU are loved! YOU made the list! HIS list!

Pic of DeDe MoravikDeDe Moravik, soon-to-be Southwick, is the mother of two wonderful sons and lives outside of Portland, Oregon. She has a degree on Theology, leads women’s bible studies, and has served on the leadership team of her local church. She loves studying God’s Word, gardening, and making her sons laugh. You can read her blog here.

Guest Post – Today is the Day

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Please note: The views & opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions & views of LifeWay Christian Resources.

An event took place this past month that stirred nostalgia for many people. The big roller skate, used as a sign at the rollercade across the street from our building, was taken down. The rollercade has sat empty for years now, and hasn’t been used for its intended purpose in years. The skate, however, will be restored to once more run at car shows and parades. The parking lot was packed with work vehicles and cars, and many were on hand to see it removed and taken away. The rollercade is currently being remodeled to serve as a warehouse.

It was nostalgic to watch all this, as these things represent an era that has passed, a time in people’s lives that now exists only in their memories, no longer in reality. I’m sure for those people there to witness the event, they remembered seeing that huge skate being driven in parades in times past. They could recall skating in the rollercade, or taking their children/grandchildren there to skate. They might also feel sad over how this change represents changes in general, that the world they were familiar with is no more, and that so much has changed, they feel abandoned in the world where they now live today.

This experience is something common to humanity no matter the time in which one lives. Even the children of Israel, during the time of wilderness wanderings, amazingly longed for the days they spent as slaves in Egypt. “The Israelites cried again and said, ‘Who will feed us meat? We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!’” (Numbers 11: 4-6) Reading their complaints you can hear the words, “Oh how we long for the good ol’ days!” Incredible as it seems, they preferred the past, where they served under harsh labor as slaves, to the present filled with the promise they now had. They had allowed their romanticizing the past to keep them from having a blessed present, and a wonderful future in the promised land.

Our past experiences help shape who we are, and can provide a strong foundation for present living. The past, however, is the past, where we can’t go back to live or recreate it today. It is an inappropriate place to spend the present. Paul emphasized the importance of living life where we are now when he wrote, “Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:11-12). He also said, “Working together with Him, we also appeal to you, ‘Don’t receive God’s grace in vain.’ For He says: I heard you in an acceptable time, and I helped you in the day of salvation. Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1-2).

Many times the good ol’ days weren’t as good when being lived in than remembering has made them. Even if they were better days, they are gone. We can long for a better future, but that is yet to be. Our living must be in the present. Our value to our family, friends, and others is in how we conduct ourselves today. We are here at this point in time to live for God and know His blessings in doing so. How we spend today can be built upon the past, but will also determine what kind of future we have. Today is important! Are we taking advantage of our opportunities to live for Christ, to serve in His kingdom, and to be an example to others? Today is all we have, and we need to use it wisely, not knowing how many more todays will be available to us. Where do you live? “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:15-17).

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Robert Johnson is a minister in Longview, Texas, where he has been a preacher for over 40 years. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible and Biblical Languages, and a Masters is in Liberal Studies from
the University of Oklahoma. He loves sharing the gospel with others and ministering to people’s needs.