Choosing God’s Word

Choosing to Study God’s Word
November 17, 2013, MBC, Sunday School

How would you rate yourself on the following question? “I love God’s Word” 1-10

As we drive in our cars and go about our days, there are many sights and sounds that distract us. Think about the average family car today on a family trip. There are games, music, movies, cell phones, kids yelling, cars honking, billboards all over, etc. It is sometimes a challenge to drive! What about in our quiet time? Can you overcome the “road noise” to spend time alone with God each day? Do you commit time each day to reading, listening, praying, worshiping? We need to overcome the distractions in our day in order to focus on God.

In an interview, Billy Graham was asked this question: “If you had to live your life over again, what would you do differently?” His answer: “One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years, he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up”
Christianity Today, September 12, 1977, p. 19.

Consider these statistics:

Percentage of American households with a Bible: 92 – Twelve percent of all American adults read the Bible every day of the week, while 52 percent do not read it at all. Another 33 percent read the Scriptures at least once during a typical week.
More blacks (70 percent) read the Bible than Hispanics (49 percent) and whites (42 percent). More women (50 percent) read it than men (39 percent). The South can retain its label as the Bible belt: 56 percent of southern adults read the Bible at least weekly. On the other end of the spectrum is the Northeast, where only 30 percent do.
More than one in four (26 percent) evangelicals read the Bible daily; another 50 percent read it weekly or more. But 22 percent of evangelicals report that they never read the Bible outside of church.
Barna Research Group, May 9, 1991. “To Verify,” Leadership.

So, the question is not “do you have a Bible?” but, rather, “how much do you love God’s word?” Are you just reading or are you applying what He is saying to you?

READ James 1:22-25

Most sports teams develop playbooks. A playbook contains offensive and defensive strategies to use against other teams. Teams use these playbooks to give them the greatest chance of success against their opponents. As coaches develop plays for their team, they take into consideration their team’s strengths and weaknesses in light of who their opponent will be. When a new player joins their team, they must learn the playbook.

God has given each of us a playbook that is designed to help us succeed against our opponent in all the situations we face in life. Like a new player, we should strive to not only learn the playbook, but also apply it. Too many underestimate the importance of the application process and that is what our focal verses are about today.

A church member made it a point to meet the pastor after each service and say, “you sure preached to THEM today”. The pastor frequently dreamed of some day hearing this woman take the message personally. He thought he had finally gotten his chance when a severe thunderstorm prevented all but the pastor and this woman from showing up one Sunday. After the message he knew she couldn’t quote her standard remark. Indeed, she didn’t. She said, “Too bad THEY weren’t all here because…you sure preached to THEM today!”

What was the general purpose of the letter from James? He was responding to all those who claimed to be Christians but did not live the Christian life out. The focus of his letter was practice, not precept. Many people believe in God in theory, but not as many believe in Him in reality. James purpose was for us to live out God’s Word, not leave it out.

In James, we see several advantages to reading and studying the Bible. Let me suggest three to you:

1. By reading and studying AND OBEYING, we avoid wasting our life. James warns us about being a casual listener when he says, “Do not merely listen and so deceive yourself”. If I think that attending church services and programs are all I need to grow spiritually mature, I am fooling myself. We must get serious about living out our faith. HOW DO WE GET SERIOUS? In order to avoid wasting our lives we must BELIEVE God’s Word enough to live it out. If you came to me for an exercise prescription and I spent an hour setting you up on a program, but never implemented it, how fit would you become? NOT VERY! If you read God’s Word, but never put it into practice, you will be wasting your life, your time, and deceiving yourself.
2. A second advantage is that we gain freedom when we follow God’ Word. James says that God’s perfect law produces freedom in verse 25. That perfect law is the spiritual, moral and ethical teachings found in the Bible and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. They do not restrict us, but give us greater freedom and joy.

READ John 8:21-22 – the truth will set you free

In the same way a locomotive has the greatest freedom and power when it stays on it’s tracks, we experience freedom when we follow God’s Word. When we get off the tracks, WHAT HAPPENS? A train wreck!

3. A third advantage to reading God’s Word is that we bear spiritual fruit when we stick with it. James describes a person looking intently or seriously studying being blessed. As we continue to do this, we will be blessed. As we are obedient to His commands, we are blessed. We bear spiritual fruit such as faith and love as we stay in His Will.

READ John 15:5 – secrets of the vine

When we stay connected in fellowship with our Lord and follow His Truth, our lives will bear abundant spiritual fruit. Consider flowers purchased from a store or even pulled from your garden. How long will they last once they are removed from the soil? No long! We cannot expect to bear fruit without any root! We must remain grounded in God’s Word.

Not only does James give us advantages to remaining in the Word, he gives us at least three ways to effectively use our playbook.

1. He says we should study it carefully. This is the idea of looking intently. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN READING AND LOOKING INTENTLY? It is not just reading over the verses, but it means we should take our time to understand the meaning and background of the verses. We should have access to commentaries, study Bibles, dictionaries, etc. We should make notes in the margins of our Bibles or keep journals.
2. We should also memorize it strategically. James says that we should not forget what we have heard. It is really easy to memorize the things we want to remember. I know my addresses, my phone numbers, and words to songs I like, statistics for various things. It should be no different with memorizing Scripture.

Can you think of three reasons we would want to memorize Scripture?

a. It helps us fight against the sins in which we are most susceptible.
READ Psalm 119:11

In order to be prepared for troubling temptations, we can memorize verses that will encourage us to obey our Lord rather than false promises.

b. It helps us to make wise decisions in life.
READ Psalm 119:105

God’s Word sheds light on decisions we are facing and shows us the right path through life. CAN WE FIND THE ANSWERS TO ALL OF OUR QUESTIONS IN THE BIBLE? I think so. We may not find it the way we might expect, but our playbook HAS all the answers. You sometimes just have to look hard enough to find them!

c. Memorizing Scripture also aids in our ability to share our faith with others.
READ 1 Peter 3:5

Knowing Scriptures that explain the basic truths of the gospel enhance our ability to share the truth about Jesus.

3. The third and most effective way to make sure we effectively use our playbook is to APPLY IT DAILY. There are three steps:
A. We first need to understand what the verse meant to the original hearers.
B. Then we search for the timeless principle held in the passage that holds true for all people, in all places, and at all times.
C. The third step is to ask God how we can personally apply that principle in our lives. Once we do that, we will find wisdom for making the critical decisions we are faced with every day.

Reading the Bible and listening to Bible teaching are much easier than actually acting on the truths presented in the Bible. It takes a great deal of effort to understand this text, and even more to understand how it applies to our lives.

We like to think that when we study the Bible, it’s like getting a shot of spiritual adrenaline. It gives a spiritual high. Studying the Bible is much more like taking vitamins. You gulp down a couple of vitamins in the morning, but no wave of energy flows through your body. You take the vitamins because they build you up. They protect you against the diseases in the environment. In the long pull, they make you strong. — Haddon Robinson, “The Wisdom of Small Creatures,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 93.

So, today, I want to encourage you not to just be a hearer of the Word, but a doer. The difference is expectation and intent. First, do you expect God to speak to you personally through the Bible? Second, do you have a teachable spirit that is eager to obey whatever God tells you through His Word.? Once you have decided to be a doer, here are three suggestions:

1. Take notes when you hear God’s word taught and preached in your church. We tend to lose 95% of what we hear after 72 hours. How can you keep from forgetting what God is saying to you? Write it down!
2. Make a plan for regular reading and studying the Bible. Get a devotional book or Bible, or a one-year Bible, etc. Whatever the material – make a plan!

How much time does it take to read from Genesis to Revelation? If you would read the Bible at standard pulpit speed (slow enough to be heard and understood) the reading time would be seventy-one hours. If you would break that down into minutes and divide it into 365 days you could read the entire Bible, cover to cover, in only twelve minutes a day. Is this really too much time to spend reading about God?

3. Keep a journal to remind you of what God has spoken and how He has answered prayers. This will remind you and encourage you of His love and provision.

A Bible that’s falling apart probably belongs to someone who isn’t. Christian Johnson

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Choosing Godly Counsel

Choosing Godly Counsel
MBC, November 10, 2013

Who do you go to when you need advice?

Most of the time, it’s a lot easier to give advice than to take it. We like to believe we have the wisdom to handle life on our own.

Most professional football players have great individual skills that make them successful at what they do. Although they possess great strength, agility and speed, there’s still one thing the offense does before almost every play – THEY HUDDLE. They get together and hear the upcoming play so they can all be on the same page when the ball is snapped. There is a great lesson for life to be learned by watching the huddle. If players of great skill need to huddle and hear instructions for each play, we also need the benefit of huddling with others to receive wise instructions before following through on the critical decisions in our lives.

READ Proverbs 20:18

10 years ago, people called Miss Cleo for advice. Even though Miss Cleo is out of business, people are still calling 1-900 numbers to get advice. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t see the commercials. But that is not the only place people go for advice. Some go to internet chat rooms, fortune tellers, palm readers, or even Dear Abby. The problem is that they are looking for wisdom in all the wrong places!

We need to know who to go to for help in making decisions and we need to seek godly counsel.

Four eyes see more than two.

To know the road ahead, ask those coming back. Chinese Proverb

Lisa Owens was facing knee surgery. She was a bit nervous about it, so she asked her boss, the veterinarian at the clinic where she worked if he had any advice for her. He was very comforting and without any hesitation he told her, “Turn your worries into prayers, get plenty of rest and don’t lick your incision.” – Reader’s Digest

Does decision making give you anxiety? Many people get stressed out over some of the decisions they have to make in life. One reason many people get stressed is they have only limited knowledge and experience about something.

While she was enjoying a transatlantic ocean trip, Billie Burke, the famous actress, noticed that a gentleman at the next table was suffering from a bad cold.
She asked him sympathetically, “Are you uncomfortable?” The man nodded.
She said, “I’ll tell you just what to do for it. Go back to your stateroom and drink lots of orange juice. Take two aspirins. Cover yourself with all the blankets you can find. Sweat the cold out. I know just what I’m talking about. I’m Billie Burke from Hollywood.”
The man smiled warmly and introduced himself in return. He said, “Thanks. I’m Dr. Mayo of the Mayo Clinic.” – James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 21.

God has not designed us to make decisions independently or with limited information. Unfortunately, many Christians don’t seek counsel during critical times in their lives.

WHY? There are at least three reasons why some people do not seek counsel.

1. Some think they don’t know anyone who could help them with important decisions.
2. A second reason is pride. Some don’t want to ask for advice because they see it as a sign of weakness. This is especially true of people in leadership roles. A great leader is not one who makes all the decisions themselves. A great leader owns their decisions once it has been made.
3. The third reason is that the person already knows what the advice would be and doesn’t want to hear it.

The folly of human nature is neatly summed up by the case of the middle-aged school teacher who invested her life savings in a business enterprise which had been elaborately explained to her by a swindler.
When her investment disappeared and the wonderful dream was shattered, she went to the office of the Better Business Bureau. “Why on earth,” they asked, “didn’t you come to us first? Didn’t you know about the Better Business Bureau?”
“Oh, yes,” said the lady sadly, “I’ve always known about you. But I didn’t come because I was afraid you’d tell me not to do it.”

READ Proverbs 13:20

We need to see that one benefit believers have is their place in the body of Christ where they can learn from one another and help each other make wise decisions. We can seek the wisdom of godly and wiser people who can help us see what we can’t see from our point of view. One of the primary tools God uses to guide us is the counsel of other believers. So, here are two good reasons to seek godly counsel.

1. We need counsel because we lack objectivity. We tend to look at situations from our own perspective and our own viewpoint. If a situation is close to us, we need the help of others who can see the blind spots we can’t. This is especially true in decisions involving relationships with friends and families, because they tend to involve our emotions and emotions sometimes cloud our vision.
2. When we don’t have enough information, we need counsel. The complexity of the decision may be over our head.

The best way to deal with any problem is to talk it over with three people you can trust absolutely. God, yourself and a friend.

READ 1 Kings 12:1-4

In our passage today, we find Rehoboam being crowned king of Israel. During the coronation festivities, the whole assembly of Israel pleads for him to lighten the burden of taxes and the weight of their labor. They wanted a lightened load. His father’s advisors told him to lighten the load. His friends advised him against it. He listened to his friend’s advice and then the trouble began. He chose the wrong advisors.

How can we know who the right advisors are? Let me suggest 4 characteristics of good advisors:
1. It should be someone who has nothing to lose by telling us the truth. We need to seek out those who are more concerned about telling us the truth than they are about preserving the friendship. Truth must always take precedent over preserving the relationship. Rehoboam sought advice from his friends and associates whose positions could be eliminated if the taxes and labor were lessened.

READ Proverbs 27:5 – better is open rebuke than hidden love

2. It should be someone who is where we want to be in life. We may seek the counsel of those who have experienced success in their marriage, relationships, finances, and spiritual growth. Too many ask people who are no farther down the road than they are.

Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties. – Aesop

Rehoboam should have heeded the advice of his father’s advisors.

READ 2 Kings 12:19

3. It is wise to ask more than one person if possible.

I not only use all the brains I have but all I can borrow. Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

READ Proverbs 15:22 – Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many = success
READ Proverbs 11:14 – In the multitude of counselors there is safety.

Rehoboam did seek two different groups, but only listened to one, and it cost him his kingdom.

4. It is best to choose someone you know and someone you don’t. This will ensure a balance in the information you receive.

Who would make a good counselor? Pastors, parents, spiritually mature believers. The president has cabinet members, a head coach has assistants, and a CEO has board members. Who do you have?

Once you find the right counsel, what are some questions you should ask when making a decision?
1. Are any of the options I’m considering unscriptural? It is easy to try to use Scripture for our own good. We must ask others if we are doing this. We may have missed a verse relating to our decision or we may have used a verse out of context in coming to our conclusion
2. What do you think is the wisest thing for me to do? Not every situation will have a clear right or wrong answer. You need to know all the facts and variables to get solid advice.
3. Am I reasonably prepared to meet the challenge?
4. What is the leading of the Holy Spirit?

WARNING – expect to hear from God when seeking counsel, but be careful not to take everything you hear as God speaking. This is why you need counsel from several sources.

Be open to God speaking to you through the counsel of others.

If the only counsel you ever heed is that which agrees with what you already think, you may not be as open as you should be to God speaking to others.

A man was on the golf practice course, when the club pro, Maury, brought an important-looking man out for a lesson. Maury watched the guy swing several times and started making suggestions for improvement, but each time the pupil interrupted with his own versions of what was wrong and how to correct it. After a few minutes of this interference, Maury began nodding his head in agreement. At the end of the lesson, the man paid Maury, congratulated him on his expertise as a teacher and left in an obviously pleased frame of mind.
The observer was so astonished by the performance that he had to ask, “Why did you go along with him?”
“Son,” the old pro said with a grin as he carefully pocketed his fee, “I learned long ago that it’s a waste of time to sell answers to a man who wants to buy echoes.”
 J.F. Moore, Reader’s Digest.

Choosing to grow through circumstances

Choosing to Grow in Faith – Growth through circumstances
Sunday School, MBC, October 27, 2013

Family reunions can prove to be very interesting events, so I am told. It all depends on who shows up! Today, we are going to look at a family reunion that started in great adversity.

READ Genesis 45:4-11
READ Genesis 50:15-21

Successful sports teams are always aware of the score, important facts about their performance and those of their opponents and the time left in the game. How they respond to the variables in the game may determine whether they win or lose.

In the same way, what will your response to the circumstances of life determine? Whether we win or lose in life. An obvious example of someone who fought through terrible loss and pain was Job. In the midst of tremendous blessing, he lost his family and everything he owned, including his health. At the end of those terrible tragedies, he discovered more blessing and purpose in life than he had ever experienced. WHAT WAS THE KEY? It was Job’s response to his adversity.

READ Job 42:1-6

How did Job discover more blessing and purpose in his life after all that had happened to him? He began to understand God’s sovereignty and he learned to trust God’s heart. Job learned how to trust God in the midst of confusing and difficult circumstances.

The mother eagle teaches her little ones to fly by making their nest so uncomfortable that they are forced to leave it and commit themselves to the unknown world of air outside. And just so does our God to us. He stirs up our comfortable nests, and pushes us over the edge of them, and we are forced to use our wings to save ourselves from fatal falling. Read your trials in this light, and see if you cannot begin to get a glimpse of their meaning. Your wings are being developed. Hannah Whitall Smith

In the same way, God developed the wings of Joseph through his circumstances.

When faced with a difficult circumstance, we can easily lose heart concerning God’s presence and faithfulness in our lives. The way we respond to our circumstances will determine how well we fulfill God’s purposes for our lives. Chuck Swindoll has said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” Some people respond to difficulties with a negative attitude. Some take their lemons and create lemonade.

Consider this illustration: A reward was offered for each wolf captured in a park. Sam and Jed saw dollar signs so they became overnight bounty hunters. They scoured the mountains both day and night in search of their fortune. After several days of unsuccessful hunting, they fell asleep from exhaustion. In the middle of the night, Sam suddenly awoke to see that he and Jed were surrounded by wolves with flaming eyes and bared teeth. He nudged his partner and said, “Jed, wake up! We’re rich!”

God wants to use the circumstances that come our way in life in several ways. The first way is to GET OUR ATTENTION. He may do this through the words of another person, unanswered prayers, pain or sickness, blessings, tragedies, financial collapse in the economy, war, disappointment, or anything else He chooses. He will use different methods with different people at different times. In the life of King David, He used Nathan the prophet to grab his attention. When Balaam headed out in the wrong direction, God got his attention by speaking through the donkey Balaam was riding on.

The second way is to GET OUR AFFECTION. God’s faithfulness in adversity draws us to our Father’s side in love and adoration. How does this happen? As we learn to depend on God during trying times, we grow in our love for Him.

Four stages of growth in Christian maturity: Love of self for self’s sake. Love of God for self’s sake. Love of God for God’s sake. Love of self for God’s sake.

How do we grow in our love for God? It is just like starting an exercise program. Start slow, and then get slower! For the first week, the goal is “just to keep moving.” Too many people buy new shoes and a fancy running suit and sprint out the door, eagerly chugging as hard as they can for about three blocks. Then their stomachs begin to ache, their muscles cramp, and their lungs burn. They wind up hitchhiking home exhausted, and gasp, “I will never do that again.” That’s called anaerobic (without oxygen) running. It’s caused by a body using up more oxygen than it takes in. Many people try to run that way, and many people try to love that way. They love with great fervor and self-sacrifice, giving 100 percent but without the resources to continue for a lifetime. Down the road they find themselves in pain, gasping and cramped, saying, “I will never do that again.” Love, like running, must be aerobic. Our output must be matched by our intake. Running requires oxygen. An enduring love requires God’s word, his consolation, his presence. As we love aerobically, we’ll build up our capacity to do more and more. And pretty soon we won’t be huffing and puffing for half a mile; we’ll be running marathons. It is a process, not a product. Roger Thompson, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.

The third way God uses circumstances is to GROW OUR CHARACTER. One author said this, “To God character is far more precious than comfort. He often uses uncomfortable circumstances to change our character. When the circumstances have fulfilled their task, then God may change the circumstances. But if He doesn’t, it will be all right because our character will have been so changed that we will be able to live with uncomfortable circumstances.”

READ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – Did Paul learn contentment from his circumstances?
How does God use circumstances to grow our character?

READ Romans 5:3-4 – suffering produces perseverance; then character

Imagine that I dump 10,000 plastic eggs in your back yard and I assure you that inside one of those hollow eggs is a check for $1 Million dollars with your name on it. Would you get discouraged if you opened the first 100 eggs without finding the check? How about the first 1000 eggs? Of course not! You’d just keep opening those eggs, just waiting for the moment when you’d find the check. St. Paul knew the meaning of the word “suffering.” He had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, starved, and rejected. And yet Paul said that his sufferings were nothing compared to the glory that would come. In other words, Paul had opened a lot of empty eggs, but he never gave up or got discouraged. He believed that something great was in his future – God’s glory revealed in him. Perhaps it feels to you as if your life has been nothing but empty eggs. You’ve already opened 9,900 of them and you’re not sure you’ve got the will to go on. Let me encourage you today. Don’t give up. I don’t want to trivialize the challenges you are facing, but I do want to help you put them into perspective. They are only temporary, and God has something much greater in store for you. Compared to the glory that will be revealed in us one day, our suffering doesn’t merit discouragement. Hang on. Don’t give up. Keep going. One day God will replace your discouragement with incomparable glory! Anonymous

In our passage about Joseph, we discover several principles from Joseph’s life that will help us respond to the difficult circumstances we face in life. Joseph was well acquainted with adversity. His brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous of the attention he was receiving from their father and because they were angry with him over his dreams that depicted them bowing down to him. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of rape. He was thrown into prison and then forgotten by the chief cupbearer whom he had helped. Through God’s favor and Joseph’s commitment to serving the Lord, Joseph was eventually elevated to second in command over all Egypt. In our passage today, we see Joseph revealing his real identity to his brothers.

Joseph could have blamed his brothers for all the troubles in his life, but he didn’t. Instead, he employed at least three successful strategies to deal with difficulties. The first was to refuse to blame others. When things turn out bad, we often want to find a reason outside of ourselves. Joseph knew that placing blame would not improve the situation. Instead, he saw God’s sovereign fingerprints over the unfortunate circumstances that had come his way (vs. 7 – “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant…”). Joseph could have blamed his brothers, but instead, he saw God’s hand in his circumstances.

The second strategy Joseph employed was to resist the grip of bitterness. Joseph brothers were really concerned about this in Genesis 50:15. They knew what they had done wrong and they probably knew how THEY would have responded. Bitterness can destroy us if we are not careful.

During the Revolutionary war, a pastor named John P. Miller learned one of his greatest enemies was to be hanged for his crimes. At once, Miller set out on foot sixty miles to visit General George Washington and intercede for the man’s life. The general, when he heard the request, stated he was sorry, but he could not pardon Miller’s friend.
Miller said, He’s not my friend. That man is my worst enemy.
Washington replied, Well, that puts matters in a whole new light. Seeing the pastor=s forgiveness for his enemy, General Washington signed the pardon. Miller carried the order another 15 miles to the execution site, arriving just as the condemned man was trudging toward the scaffold. Miller’s enemy was set free that day – by the pastor whom he hated the most.

Now I know you are probably asking yourself, Adid the enemy become his friend?@
I don’t know the answer to that question, but when he made that kind of effort to set his enemy free, John P. Miller proved he was the real free man. Bitterness enslaves us.

Joseph saw that God was using his circumstances for a greater good, and he refused to become bitter toward his brothers. He not only reassured them, but he even spoke kindly to them.

The third way Joseph stayed in the will of God was by recognizing that God’s timing is perfect. Our ability to interpret our circumstances is very limited. Genesis 50:20 shows that Joseph knew the context of Romans 8:28 before it was written.

READ Romans 8:28

Throughout his trials, Joseph remained in the center of God’s will, making right decisions in the critical moments of his life. Joseph submitted to God in every area of his life. He was honorable and faithful to God during his years of slavery and imprisonment. Through it all, he never lost hope in God. He learned that God is always at work, even in the darkness.

READ Matthew 5:45

What does this tell us about adversity? Christians are certainly not exempt from experiencing difficulties. It is our response to them that reflects the level of trust and the quality of our relationship with Him.

What are some steps you can take to respond to difficult circumstances?

1. Spend time with those who have grown in their faith through adversity. Life’s best lessons are those that are experienced.

Michelangelo was found by the Cardinal Farnese walking in solitude amid the ruins of the Coliseum, and when he expressed his surprise, the great artist answered, “I go yet to school that I may continue to learn.” We need to learn from everything around us. Every person we encounter is able to teach us something, and we would be very foolish not to be able to learn from him. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)

2. Study the Biblical stories of those who experienced great adversity, yet saw the will of God accomplished in their lives – Moses, David, Paul, Job, Joseph, Jesus.

READ Romans 15:4

From time to time, lobsters have to leave their shells in order to grow. They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart, yet when they grow, the old shell must be abandoned. If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison–and finally their casket. The tricky part for the lobster is the brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and the new one is formed. During that terribly vulnerable period, the transition must be scary to the lobster. Currents gleefully cartwheel them from coral to kelp. Hungry schools of fish are ready to make them a part of their food chain. For awhile at least, that old shell must look pretty good. We are not so different from lobsters. To change and grow, we must sometimes shed our shells–a structure, a framework–we’ve depended on. Discipleship means being so committed to Christ that when he bids us to follow, we will change, risk, grow, and leave our “shells” behind. Brent Mitchell in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.

3. Confess to God any bitterness you have allowed to creep into your life because of the trials you have been through. The trials you face are not meant to build a wall between God and you or other Christians. They are meant to build your character, get your attention, or gain your affection. Bitterness comes from turning your questions and anger inward. It destroys your love and trust in God.

READ Ephesians 4:31 – We can either get bitter or get better!

When we trust God during difficult times, He is faithful to work good from it. That is why Joseph could say about his difficulties, “God intended it for the good”.

Consider this illustration from Joni Erickson Tada:

While lunching at a friend’s house, I had to borrow a spoon and have her bend it so it could be inserted in my hand splint and I could feed myself. Throughout lunch, she glanced at the spoon. Embarrassed, I offered to have my husband straighten it out.
Later I thought, Isn’t that the way God works in our lives? He knows he can accomplish his unique plan when he bends us to suit his will. The metal of our souls may be difficult to bend, but when we allow God the privilege of shaping our lives, we discover new depths of purpose and meaning. We become perfectly suited for his use.
Joni Eareckson Tada, Today’s Christian Woman, “Heart to Heart.”