Archive for November, 2012

Scripture: Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16 (NKJV)

Observation: James writes a series of instructions to the young Christian church of the first century. His letter is a combination of theological principles (Grace and works), and practical Christianity (prayer for the sick, taking care of the widows and orphans, etc.).
Today’s verse is taken out of a larger section where James deals with prayer for and anointing the sick.

Application: While James’ advice is for members of the church at large, his words apply to the home and to the couple relationship. When we say or do anything that hurts a member of the family, those closest to us, we need to confess directly to them, and do it as soon as possible before the pain caused festers into anger and even hatred.
In the devotional “My Life Today” we can read Ellen White’s words: “ I am instructed to urge upon our people most earnestly the necessity of religion in the home. Among the members of the household there is ever to be a kind, thoughtful consideration. Morning and evening let all hearts be united in reverent worship. At the season of evening worship let every member of the family search well his own heart. Let every wrong that has been committed be made right. If during the day, one has wronged another or spoken unkindly, let the transgressor seek pardon of the one he has injured. Often grievances are cherished in the mind, and misunderstandings and heartaches are created that need not be. If the one who is suspected of wrong be given an opportunity, he might be able to make explanations that would bring relief to other members of the family” (ML 32).
The second part of James’ instruction is to “pray for one another.” While confession should take place when harm has been made, prayer is something that should happen daily. We all need to carve time out of our daily life to pray together as a couple, together as a family, and together with others. We make time to eat, because we are hungry. We make time to rest, because we cannot go non-stop for long periods of time. We make time for reading, to watch TV, to check out Facebook, to talk on the phone, to play, to travel. . . to do anything that we want to do. And yet, it seems as if we can’t find any time to have communion with the One who sustains us, feeds, and provides everything we need for us. At the same time, we don’t seem to want to make time praying together as a couple or as a family, or with others, when prayer strengthens and heals us individually, our family, and our relationships.
Let’s us, then, confess our sins to one another, forgive one another, and pray for each other.

Prayer: Father, thank you that we can talk to You about each other and about those we love and care about. Help us to be humble enough to confess our sins to one another, and help us to make time to pray together and to pray for one another.

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Healing a Broken Relationship

Scripture: Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Acts 3:19 (NKJV)

Observation: Today’s text comes from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. The people gathered there from many nations around the world heard the disciples speak in the languages of these nations, but instead of attributing this miracle to God they said the disciples were drunk. Peter defended or explained what was happening and went on to preach the Good News of salvation to those gathered there.

Application: When mistakes, hurts, or sins enter a marital relationship, the spouses can allow them to fester and infect the entire relationship until an amputation – divorce – seems to be the only way to save them individually. They see no way out, no way to fix it, no way to restore intimacy to their relationship.
Peter’s message is that as much as our relationship with God can be restored when there is repentance, in the same way when there is genuine repentance in our marital relationship there can be forgiveness and full restoration to the intimacy God desires for us to enjoy. This repentance must include full confession and a true recognition that what was done was wrong. There should be no excusing the event, rationalization, or blaming of the other party, but a sincere recognition of what happened and of the pain it caused the other.
The promise from Peter, to those that repent, is that “the times of refreshing” will come. Often I am asked if it is possible to restore a relationship where adultery has taken place. Peter’s words offer encouragement that it is indeed possible. If God can restore our broken relationship with Him, though we fail Him sometimes on a daily basis, He surely can restore our relationship with our spouse. And while the hurt feelings may take a long time to heal, if there is genuine repentance, it will take place and the relationship can be as good, maybe even better than it was before. It was not the adultery which causes the relationship to be better but rather the recognition of wrongdoing and a new appreciation of the spouse and of the relationship they have before God which will turn what could have been a disastrous end into a new beginning with God at the center of the relationship.

Prayer: Father, thank You for restoring our relationship with You and making it even better than before. May that experience be the same in our relationship as spouses and as parents so that when we hurt or fail each other You will restore us and bring us back to the “times of refreshing” You promise.

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The Example of a Godly Father

Scripture: There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. Acts 10:1-2 (NKJV)

Observation: Cornelius was a Roman centurion, in charge of a 100 man company. He was not Jewish, but had come to believe in God. What is interesting is that not only was he a believer, but so did his entire household which included his wife and children, but also other relatives and even his servants as can be found throughout this chapter of Acts. Ellen White writes: “Believing in God as the Creator of heaven and earth, Cornelius revered Him, acknowledged His authority, and sought His counsel in all the affairs of life. He was faithful to Jehovah in his home life and in his official duties. He had erected the altar of God in his home, for he dared not attempt to carry out his plans or to bear his responsibilities without the help of God” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 133).
Because of His generosity and devout spirit, God sent His angel to tell him to send for Peter. At the same time, God sent peter a vision which would teach him that God does not make racial or ethnic distinctions but offers His grace and salvation to all people.
The result of Peter’s visit to Cornelius’ household was that they were all baptized.

Application: The life of Cornelius is a powerful example of the results of the influence of a man in his house. Ellen White describes him as, “a man of wealth and noble birth, and his position was one of trust and honor. A heathen by birth, training, and education, through contact with the Jews he had gained a knowledge of God, and he worshiped Him with a true heart, showing the sincerity of his faith by compassion to the poor. He was known far and near for his beneficence, and his righteous life made him of good repute among both Jews and Gentiles. His influence was a blessing to all with whom he came in contact” (Ibid.) (Emphasis supplied).
Research has now shown how important it is that fathers spend time with their children, reading with and to them. Those children, whose fathers read to them, have better language skills and therefore do better in school.
Fatherless children experience some of the greatest challenges of any children. Here is just a sample of what the statistics show:
• Incarceration Rates. “Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families…those boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of being incarcerated — even when other factors such as race, income, parent education and urban residence were held constant.” (Cynthia Harper of the University of Pennsylvania and Sara S. McLanahan of Princeton University cited in “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.)
• Suicide. 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (Source: What Can the Federal Government Do To Decrease Crime and Revitalize Communities? – see link below)
• Behavioral Disorders. 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (Source: What Can the Federal Government Do To Decrease Crime and Revitalize Communities? – see link below)
• High School Dropouts. 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (Source: What Can the Federal Government Do To Decrease Crime and Revitalize Communities? – see link below)
• Educational Attainment. Kids living in single-parent homes or in step-families report lower educational expectations on the part of their parents, less parental monitoring of school work, and less overall social supervision than children from intact families. (N.M. Astore and S. McLanahan, American Sociological Review, No. 56 (1991)
• Juvenile Detention Rates. 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (Source: What Can the Federal Government Do To Decrease Crime and Revitalize Communities? – see link below)
• Confused Identities. Boys who grow up in father-absent homes are more likely that those in father-present homes to have trouble establishing appropriate sex roles and gender identity.(P.L. Adams, J.R. Milner, and N.A. Schrepf, Fatherless Children, New York, Wiley Press, 1984).
• Aggression. In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households.” (N. Vaden-Kierman, N. Ialongo, J. Pearson, and S. Kellam, “Household Family Structure and Children’s Aggressive Behavior: A Longitudinal Study of Urban Elementary School Children,” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 23, no. 5 (1995).
• Achievement. Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes. (One-Parent Families and Their Children, Charles F. Kettering Foundation, 1990).
• Delinquency. Only 13 percent of juvenile delinquents come from families in which the biological mother and father are married to each other. By contract, 33 percent have parents who are either divorced or separated and 44 percent have parents who were never married. (Wisconsin Dept. of Health and Social Services, April 1994).
• Criminal Activity. The likelihood that a young male will engage in criminal activity doubles if he is raised without a father and triples if he lives in a neighborhood with a high concentration of single-parent families. Source: A. Anne Hill, June O’Neill, Underclass Behaviors in the United States, CUNY, Baruch College. 1993
All these (and there is much more information on fatherless children) should be a sobering reminder to fathers of the important role they play in their children’s lives. But we also need to be reminded of the critical role fathers play in their children’s spiritual life. It is through the life and example of their fathers that children come to know and love God. If the fathers fail to live a godly life, the chances that their children will follow God are greatly reduced and in many cases it may not even happen.

Prayer: Father, awaken in us as fathers and mothers the importance of living a life worthy of Your calling, knowing that our life and example will determine whether our children will learn to trust You, love you, and follow You. Help us to be faithful to You daily and to lead our children through prayer and the study of Your Word closer to you.

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A Bad Agreement in Marriage

Scripture: Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Acts 5:9 (NKJV)

Observation: Ananias and Sapphira were members of the early Christian Church. The church members were very generous and unselfish. Chapter four of Acts ends with these words describing the church: Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. 36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:32-37 (NKJV)
Ananias and Sapphira might ave started off with good intentions in their heart. They probably did have the desire to sell their property and to give the proceeds to the church. But evidently when they realized how much that would mean, probably more than they had anticipated, they decided to give only part of the proceeds. Ananias came first to present what he thought was a sizeable offering only to be confronted by Peter to tell the truth. When he lied, he died. Sapphira then came and was given the opportunity to tell the truth, but she too chose to lie and also died.
Ellen White describes these events: Ananias and Sapphira grieved the Holy Spirit by yielding to feelings of covetousness. They began to regret their promise and soon lost the sweet influence of the blessing that had warmed their hearts with a desire to do large things in behalf of the cause of Christ. They thought they had been too hasty, that they ought to reconsider their decision. They talked the matter over, and decided not to fulfill their pledge. They saw, however, that those who parted with their possessions to supply the needs of their poorer brethren, were held in high esteem among the believers; and ashamed to have their brethren know that their selfish souls grudged that which they had solemnly dedicated to God, they deliberately decided to sell their property and pretend to give all the proceeds into the general fund, but really to keep a large share for themselves. Thus they would secure their living from the common store and at the same time gain the high esteem of their brethren. (Acts of the Apostles, p. 72)
While the immediate punishment might seem harsh, God needed to protect the early church from going astray. Again, Ellen White writes: Infinite Wisdom saw that this signal manifestation of the wrath of God was necessary to guard the young church from becoming demoralized. Their numbers were rapidly increasing. The church would have been endangered if, in the rapid increase of converts, men and women had been added who, while professing to serve God, were worshiping mammon. This judgment testified that men cannot deceive God, that He detects the hidden sin of the heart, and that He will not be mocked. It was designed as a warning to the church, to lead them to avoid pretense and hypocrisy, and to beware of robbing God. (AA p.73)

Application: The influence of a spouse can serve as a great blessing or a horrible curse. When one spouse takes step in the direction opposite to God’s will, the consequences can have devastating results for the other spouse, to their children, and to many others. Our first allegiance should lways be to God. The first of the ten commandments states it clearly: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 You shall have no other gods before Me” Exodus 20:2-3 (NKJV). Jesus also quoted Old Testament writings to answer the question as to which is the greatest commandment by saying: So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ ” Luke 10:27 (NKJV). Jesus made it clear than in our priority list God should always take first place and then everybody else. Our spouse, our children, our parents, our friends. . .no one should ever take first place before God.
In marriage, then, it is the individual responsibility to have this order of priorities straight and maintain God first in our lives. If or when one spouse takes steps contrary to this order, the other spouse cannot simply agree and go along with the other. One of those areas where couples could fail is similar to that of Ananias and Sapphira. When it comes to returning God’s tithe to Him and presenting offering to the church to further its ministry, many couples have disagreements and in many cases defraud God. Ellen White writes: “The same sin was often repeated in the afterhistory of the church, and it is committed by many in our time; but though not attended with the visible manifestation of God’s displeasure, it is no less heinous in His sight now than in the apostles’ time. The warning has been given, God has clearly manifested His abhorrence of this sin, and all who pursue a similar course of action may be sure that they are destroying their own souls. . . .”(Christian Service, p. 312).
The spouses should agree early in their marriage, in fact before their marriage, what portion of their finances belongs to God and what part they will give to the church, and then both should encourage each other to be faithful to that commitment. If the time comes when one chooses to go back on that commitment, the other should not simply go along but they should remain faithful to God. By doing so, not only are they keeping their individual commitment of generosity and obedience to God, thus protecting their eternal salvation, but they would also be serving as an example to their spouse that they may repent and return to their walk with God. Agreeing in what is wrong could spell out devastation and death not just to one of the spouses but to both, to their marriage and ultimately to their children.

Prayer: Father, help us to remain faithful and true to You first and always, and may we help each other, as spouses, to keep You first in each other’s life for each other’s sake and for the sake of our children and others.

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Scripture: When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. . . 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1, 4 (NKJV)

Observation: Jesus had ascended to heaven and His disciples were now left to continue the work He had started. The first days after Jesus’ departure must have been days of uncertainty and maybe even fear, but expecting His promise to be fulfilled they continued to meet together for prayer and mutual encouragement.
It was on the occasion of the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were gathered, that they received a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit and which resulted in their speaking in other languages.

Application: If God is everywhere, what we call His “Omnipresence,” then the Holy Spirit was already present with the disciples. In fact, His work on each of their hearts is what brought them to be together in one accord. At the same time, the result of being together in a spiritual unity allowed for a greater manifestation of the Holy Spirit which also resulted in greater witness. Once the Holy Spirit was poured on the disciples, they began to speak in the language of the people who had come from many part of the world and had gathered in Jerusalem gathered there for the festival.
The same Holy Spirit is also interested and willing to bring unity to us a s a family or as a couple. Conflict, stress, and the pressures of this world continually threaten to divide us. The divorce rate in the United States, and in every country in the world, attest to the fact that marriages are breaking apart. The witness of these broken marriages leads many to believe that if God can’t keep the marriages of those who believe in Him intact then what’s the point of following Him! On the other hand, when there is unity in a Christian marriage, or in the family, those within it are a living witness to its very members and to those outside the family circle.
Something else caught my attention in today’s text and story. The result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was that the disciples spoke other languages. Gary Chapman has become well known for his books on the Five Languages of Love through which he explains that we need to learn to speak our spouse’s love languages. When the Holy Spirit falls on us, as a result of us being in unity, we then can have the ability to speak our spouse’s love language with more regularity, ease, and comfort. What may be foreign to us, with the aid of the Holy Spirit it will become more natural and therefore our unity, our relationship will be strengthened, so not only does He bring us together but He keeps us together.
Let us submit ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives so He can strengthen our marriage and our family and speak to others through the life we live and through the love languages we speak to one another.

Prayer: Loving Father, pour Your Spirit on us as a couple and as a family that the unity You desire for us may be a daily reality. May Your Spirit enable me to speak the love language he/she understands and which shows him/her my love for him/her.

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The First Mission Field

Scripture: “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:39 (NKJV)

Observation: The man in today’s story had been demon-possessed until Jesus cast the demons out. He had been away from his family, from civilization, living in a cemetery. Everyone was afraid of him because of his violent behavior, probably his foul language, and his horrible appearance.
After Jesus had released Him from the demons who held him captive from inside of him, this man’s immediate reaction of gratitude was to follow Jesus. But Jesus wanted not only his freedom from the captivity of the devil, Jesus also wanted the man’s family, and many others, to come to the freedom from sin Jesus offers. So the man became a missionary to his own family.
One can only imagine the look of surprised on the faces of the people in town and specially his wife and children, when they saw their beloved husband and father, but not as they had seen him the last time, wild and scary, but fully recovered, normal, healthy, peaceful, and joyful. He didn’t have to take them through a whole set of bible studies or preach a series of evangelistic messages. All he had to do was tell them what Jesus had done for him. His physical, emotional, and spiritual restoration was evident to all, and that was the most powerful sermon he could preach and they could hear.

Application: Ellen White writes: “No sooner is one converted than there is born within him a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus. The saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart” (The Desire of Ages, p. 141). We all have our own stories of what God has done in our lives, and when we have the chance we want to tell others of His miracle-working power. If we were asked to the farthest parts of the earth to tell of God’s love and of His power we would be honored to be chosen to proclaim it all. And yet, we need to remember that our mission does not have to begin in another part of the world but it should begin at home, with our loved ones. Again, Ellen White writes, “Our work for Christ is to begin with the family, in the home. . . . There is no missionary field more important than this. . . . “ (The Adventist Home, p. 35).
When others see what God has done in our lives, when our behavior and our words can testify of Him, not just in flowery language but in kind, gentle words, it is then that others can see the evidence of what God has done in our lives. This does not mean that we are perfect and do not make any mistakes. It is in fact when we make mistakes, recognize them, repent from them, and apologize seeking forgiveness that they can also be drawn to God knowing that if He can accept us with our imperfections He can also accept and love them. So let’s be mindful of how we live that others, particularly our family, may see the God who lives in us.

Prayer: Father, reflect your love through us that others may see, not us, but You shining through us and come to know You, Love You, and serve You too.

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Help for Those who Need it

Scripture: When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Matthew 9:12 (NKJV)

Observation: Jesus spoke the words in today’s text after He was criticized for calling Matthew, the tax collector, to be one of His disciples. It is not as if the rest of the disciples were perfect – far from it. However, in the eyes of the Jewish people of that time, tax collector, or publicans, were among the most hated of all people. These men worked for the Roman government, often exacting more than their due. These were Jewish people exploiting their own people for their own benefit and for the benefit of the occupying rulers, the hateful Romans. No wonder people where shocked that Jesus would call one of them to be His disciples.
Jesus, on the other hand, did not see any distinction between a “heavy sinner” and a “light sinner.” All need His grace and His salvation equally. It is often those who see or recognize their need of a Savior who are in the greatest danger of losing their chance at eternal life.

Application: Often couples don’t seek help for their marital difficulties until it is either too late or almost too late. It is no sin to look for help for your relationship anymore than it is to go to a doctor when we notice symptoms of health problems. Here are nine warning signs your family may not be able to solve its own problems and therefore may need to go for help to a professional:
1. You Go over the Same Issues Again and Again with No Resolution or Closure.
The constant cycle of repeating arguments about the same problems is a clear sign things aren’t working and you need help. The reason issues are repeated is because you aren’t presenting information that is being heard, received, or accepted.

2. Your Networking Is Not Working.
Every attempt at reasonable conversation fails and ends with shouting, disregard, or someone walking out of the room with no-closure or resolution.

3. There Is Physical and/or Emotional Abuse.
There is no way you should allow this behavior to continue without getting help and finding safety. Physical, emotional, and verbal abuse should not be tolerated.

4. You Pretend to Respect a Family Member Whom You Do Not Really Respect.
This is an indication of a serious problem. One dysfunctional family member rules the rest of the family, usually by fear.

5. You’re Afraid to Say Certain Things in Your Family.
When you don’t feel comfortable sharing your feelings and thoughts without being demeaned, criticized, or bullied, something is terribly wrong.

6. You Deny, Excuse, or Choose to Ignore the Signs of Problems Such as Drug or Alcohol Abuse.
Substance abuse is an indication of greater problems than simple emotional distress or fatigue. A key issue is when family members excuse the behavior saying, “They can stop anytime; they’re not addicted.” This is the height of denial, and a key indicator that help is needed.

7. You Have a Recurring Wish That You Were out of Your Family or Had Never Come into it at All.
This kind of negative daydreaming is a result of much deeper problems that need professional help. All of us have occasional wishes we weren’t in a family or marriage, but when it becomes a daily obsession there should be deeper consideration as to its reason and impact.

8. No One Admits a Problem, Yet Everyone Knows it Exists.
Some people think that it is an admission of failure to admit that there’s a problem. This avoidance can be fatal to a marriage or family.

9. You Ignore or Excuse Signs of Bad Behavior in a Family Member.
Bullying, giving orders, pulling rank, verbal abuse, arrogance, and indifference to the feelings of others are signs of this malady.

Prayer: Father, help us to recognize when we need help before it’s to late to save our family or our marriage, but help us to not just recognize we help but to seek it.

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