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January 2015
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Life Matter: Mercy Focus

"I lift up my eyes to you,
    to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
    as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till he shows us his mercy" - Psalm 123:1-2.

Today's passage is from the psalms of ascents, those psalms that pilgrims sang or recited as they made their way up to Jerusalem for one of the many religious festivals. The topic of this psalm is focus, for the pilgrims were not focusing on the danger, inconvenience, or rigors of travel, but rather on their time with and need for the Lord during their journey. Your focus should be the same, even though there are many other entities vying for your heart and attention, things like your career, health, church and family. While you need many things from the Lord, you need mercy on a daily basis and one way to get that mercy is to give it, as Jesus taught: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7). Where is your focus these days? Do you see your need for mercy? Are you extending mercy?

Today's reading - Psalms 121-125


Life Matter: Dealing with Fear

"The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?" - Psalm 118:6.

Today's verse indicates that fear is an emotion but one well within your control. The writer spoke the truth of what he knew to combat the fear that was confronting him. First, he restated that the Lord was with him. Then he made a declaration and determination that he would not be afraid. He reinforced that decision by imagining the worst that could happen to him at the hands of his enemies. Once he evaluated that possibility, he rationally decided that the possibility was not worth the journey into fear. Do you see that you have control over the effects of your fear? Do you also see that your self-talk is important, for you will either talk yourself into fear or out of it? Of what or whom are you afraid? Are you prepared to confront and overcome that fear today?

Today's reading - Psalms 116-120


Life Matter: Idolatry

"But their idols are silver and gold,
    made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
    eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
    noses, but cannot smell" - Psalm 115:4-6.

Idolatry is a dehumanizing experience. It causes the worshiper to take on the traits of the object of worship. In today's passage, those traits would be loss of the ability to communicate effectively, or to see or hear accurately - especially spiritual things. The problem you and I have was summarized by John Calvin when he said: "The human heart is a factory of idols," so the idol doesn't have to be statue to which we bow down. Paul expanded our understanding of idolatry when he wrote: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). Ask the Lord today to show you your heart to see if idolatry has crept in to rob you of your spiritual awareness. If it has, don't deny it but repent and allow God to restore you.

Today's reading - Psalms 111-115


Life Matter: Tell Your Story

"Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
    from east and west, from north and south" - Psalm 107:2-3.

Oscar Wilde once said, "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future." You have a past, a story of how God found you, healed you and how He is using you. You have a story of your failures and how God worked good in and through them. You have a story today that is still being written, with chapters yet to be developed and a conclusion yet to be penned. Are you willing to tell this story? If the answer is 'yes,' then how can you tell it? Does God want you to write a book? Make a movie? Give your testimony in person or through some other media? Are you hesitant to do this, not wanting to draw attention to yourself? If you don't do it (whatever the it is), it will deprive people of the encouragement and consolation your story can provide.

Today's reading - Psalms 106-110


Life Matter: Praise Party

"Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s" - Psalm 103:2-5.

In this psalm, David once again engaged in something called self talk: he conversed with himself to keep his soul encouraged and focused. This was not a pep talk about himself, but rather a conversation outlining all God's goodness toward David. Here is a list of all the things that God did for David; forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, and renews. David then ordered his soul to praise the Lord in response to God's many blessings. How many of those things does God also do for you? Do you praise Him for His benefits or are you bogged down in your circumstances that are less than ideal? Remember what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6 and then overcome your anxiety with a praise party every day: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

Today's reading - Psalms 101-105


Life Matter: Justice for the Poor

"The King is mighty, he loves justice—
    you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
    what is just and right" - Psalm 99:4.

God values justice and He desires that His people and especially His leadership be committed to establish and administer justice without bias or prejudice. In the New Testament, James the brother of Jesus wrote about one form of injustice: bias against the poor. Here is what he wrote:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:1-7).

Are you doing what you can to further justice in your world, whether it be in your family, ministry or occupation?

Today's reading - Psalms 96-100


Life Matter: Fruitfulness

"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God" - Psalm 92:12-13.

Flourish is used twice in this passage and the definition of it is "to achieve success, to be in a state of activity or production." Palm trees grow well in hot climates, with moderate to little rainfall. Yet they grow to stately heights and some produce dates and coconuts. This palm image is one that should describe your life as you walk with the Lord in His "house" and "courts." Jesus described this process with these words: "“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). What tangible fruit are you producing in your life as part of the vine? Is your fruit only internal or is it external also? What can you do to produce even more fruit?

Today's reading - Psalms 91-95


Life Matter: Attack of the Enemy

"The enemy will not get the better of him;
    the wicked will not oppress him" - Psalm 89:22.

You can read today's verse and misinterpret what it actually says. You may think the enemy will never try to get the better of you or oppress you. That would be incorrect. The enemy will try and try and try, and sometimes seem like he has the upper hand, but ultimately God will have the victory in and through you. It is important to understand this because when you come under heavy attack, you can think, "I did something wrong" or "God has failed" or "God doesn't love me." This truth is also present in Isaiah 54:17: "'No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,' declares the Lord." Have weapons been formed against you? Have tongues accused you? Are you clear that God will keep them from prevailing, not keep them from coming?

Today's reading - Psalms 86-90


Life Matter: Purpose Pilgrim

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage" - Psalm 84:5.

This verse reminds you that God is your strength. To be more specific, the joy of the Lord is your strength. If you don't have God's joy, therefore, you don't have God's strength. The only substitute for God's strength is your own, and that of course is a poor replacement. Remembering what Nehemiah said, "Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10b), examine yourself to see if you have God's joy. If not, that may mean you are not functioning in your life purpose. Notice that this verse reminds you that you must set your heart on pilgrimage, for purpose is a pursuit and not a destination. Are you prepared to seek God and His purpose for the rest of your days?

Today's reading - Psalms 81-85


Life Matter: Teaching Kids

"My people, hear my teaching;
    listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us" (Psalm 78:1-3).

Every one of us is to be involved in teaching the next generation, imparting the values, attitudes and behaviors consistent with the life of a believer. That teaching may be face-to-face classroom, but it can also occur through social media, broadcasting, or writing and publishing teaching material. With the fragmentation of the modern family, it is more important than ever that you find some role to play in imparting truth to the next generation, remembering the verse in Proverbs; "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it" (22:6 NASB). Do you see that you have an obligation to teach and train? What are you doing? What more can you do? Can you support others who are teaching?

Today's reading - Psalms 76-80