Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Big Price to Pay!

Ella’s parents were divorced when Ella was in fifth grade. Because Ella blamed God for not answering her prayer to keep the family together, she gave up living like a believer. She began to sneak out at night, skip church, and skip school. At first, the discipline at home and school was moderate: detention, being grounded, a tighter curfew. When Ella rebelled and continued to do whatever she wanted, the discipline was more harsh. She was expelled from school and no one trusted her. Finally she was badly injured in a car accident in which the driver was drunk.

Sometimes we don’t like to think of God as someone who disciplines us when we rebel and go our own way. “That’s not loving!” some people declare. Actually, the opposite is true. God disciplines us because he loves us, just as an earthly father corrects his kids to help them live a better life. If God didn’t love us, he’d let us rebel and do nothing about it. But he knows that the consequences of living a life without him will kill us. The Lord will do what’s necessary to convince you to get back on a path toward life. That’s because he loves you so much.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In the Pits!

Joseph’s father loved him more than his brothers. His father also gave Joseph a beautifully colored robe. Joseph’s brothers were so jealous that they ripped off his robe and threw him into a deep empty well. Later, they sold Joseph as a slave!

Bella also felt other people’s jealousy. She had taken voice lessons for years, and she had the best voice in the seventh grade choir. She was careful not to brag or show off. Although no one was surprised when she won the lead in the spring musical, several girls were angry about it. During one of the rehearsals, a coil of rope was left where Bella would be sure to trip over it. She did—and sprained her ankle so badly that she had to quit the show.

What happened to Bella—and to Joseph—was totally unfair. They may have both asked, “God, why did you let this happen to me?” “Why?” is a question that God often doesn’t answer, at least not right away. He asks us to trust him instead, even when bad things happen. Later we may see the good that came out of the bad situation when we trusted God with it. That happened to Joseph. Being sold into slavery in Egypt put Joseph in a position to later save many lives during a widespread famine—including the lives of his brothers and his beloved father. While you wait for God’s outcome, He always gives you the power to overcome fear and discouragement.

We don’t live in heaven yet. Our world isn’t perfect, and neither are people. Sometimes bad things happen. But through it all, always remember: God loves you, and you can trust him. If you’re patient, he will bring amazingly good things out of any situation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Don't Take that Bait!

Temptations to do something wrong come disguised very well. If you’ve ever tried to catch a fish, you know that the hook must be hidden inside something deliciously tempting to the fish. That worm—the bait—is perfectly suited to the fish. The devil treats you just like you treat that fish. He knows your needs and weaknesses. He chooses the perfect bait to tempt you. Be on your guard! Under every tempting bit of bait is a sharp hook designed to kill.

Friends can tempt us, without even meaning to. Maybe we’ve spent all our allowance, but a friend says, "Come shopping with me. Just put the clothes on your mom’s credit card." Or maybe we’ve decided that all that caffeine and sugar in our sodas makes us too jittery to sleep, so we give decide to give it up. Then we go for a pizza, and our best girlfriend decides to share her super-sized cola with us. It’s mouth-watering tempting! Both situations—shopping and sipping—look like fun. That’s the bait. And what’s underneath the wiggly worm? An invitation to overspend, go deep in debt, and get grounded. Or an invitation to be a nervous wreck, unable to sleep or study.

Some temptations served up by so-called "friends"—pressure to drink or take drugs—are easier to spot. Be strong and boldly say, "No, thanks." But also be on guard for those sneaky temptations, where the shiny bait disguises a hidden hook. Be alert—and don’t take that bait!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Perfect Gifts

We have all been given good things. Jasmine loved her new cocker spaniel. Hannah loved making apple pies with her grandmother. Michelle loved her new baby sister. Kayla loved having a day off without homework. Kelsey was grateful for her new jeans. Melissa loved her best friend’s laugh. Amber loved her dad’s sense of humor. Stephanie was grateful for passing her science test. Alexis loved sitting by the lake on vacation. Each girl was grateful for a different good gift, but each gift came from the same source: God above.

People often think they make their own good things happen. Far from it. “A person can receive only what is given from heaven.” (John 3:27 TNIV) Every day we have so many things to be thankful for, so many good gifts in our lives. Do we deserve any of it? No. In fact, even though we were born sinful, God chose to offer his very best gift to each of us. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 TNIV) When you accept that gift—when Jesus becomes your Savior—it blesses both the giver (God) and the receiver (you)! Every day God showers us with wonderful gifts. What should be our response? “Praise the LORD! Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!” (Psalm 106:1 NKJV)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Building Up

You’re not usually a quitter, but you feel like quitting now. You’ve been sick with a viral infection for a month. The infection is about gone, but you’re overwhelmed by a month’s worth of schoolwork to catch up on. There are two projects to do, whole chapters to read, book reports to write, and tests to take. You can’t even decide where to start. You know you’ll flunk for sure!

Your friend Morgan knocks on the door. “I’m here to help,” she says. Sitting down at the table, she makes a “to do” list of each assignment you have to complete. “I know you can do this,” Morgan said, “and I’ll come over every day after school to help. If we tackle three or four things on the list every day, you’ll be caught up in no time.” You smile. With your friend’s encouragement, you feel like you can succeed!

Some people prefer to tear others down, while others build people up. Some have a special gift for encouraging others, but it’s a quality all believers should develop. “Let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:19 NLT) In practical terms, what does it mean to be an encourager? Speak only those things that are helpful. Study a person’s situation. What does that person need? Build them up in that area—and you’ll be blessed at the same time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Calm Down--and Cheer Up!

Taylor didn’t like her life anymore. She didn’t like having a baby brother and complained about his noise at night. She detested their new neighborhood, which was full of old people. She argued with her mom about babysitting and with her dad about going to the mall alone. Taylor resented the household rules her parents made and questioned everything they asked her to do. One thing really puzzled Taylor though. Her new friend, Amanda, had stricter parents and more brothers than Taylor, yet she was always happy and made others smile too. Nothing seemed to bother her. How did she do it?

Amanda had learned to look for the good things in her life: loving parents, a happy home, good books, and good friends. It’s all about attitude (a girl’s beliefs and feelings about life.) You can choose a rebellious attitude, complaining and arguing about everything. This is what the Bible has to say about rebellious people: “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.” (Jude 16 TNIV) Or you can choose to praise God for his wonderful care, and be thankful for your many blessings. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15 TNIV) Choose a thankful attitude—and experience joy and peace.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Making Things Beautiful

It’s your first weekend in the new apartment, and you find it utterly depressing. You know lots of kids go through a divorce, but you had no idea it would be this hard. You haven’t even felt like getting dressed yet, and it’s mid-afternoon. Your hair is stringy, and all your eye make-up is underneath your eyes. You’ve seen more attractive raccoons. Dear God, help me, you pray. Get me out of this pit of depression! You wait for an answer to your prayer, but what you hear surprises you. Wash your hair. Put up posters and pictures of your friends. You groan at the idea of moving off your bed. You just don’t have the energy. On the other hand, staying this way isn’t helping.

You pray for strength and drag yourself to the bathroom. An hour later, after a shower, your hair is squeaky clean, your jeans and shirt are clean, and you’re tackling that dungeon of a bedroom. By suppertime, the multi-colored bedspread and curtains have brightened up the room, posters adorn the walls, and snapshots of your friends encircle your mirror.

We don’t always have control over what happens to us or what situations we find ourselves in. But we can always choose our responses. We can choose to make every place we occupy more beautiful: home, school, after-school job, wherever! You can also make yourself more beautiful no matter what you have to work with. One simple (free and easy) way to instant beauty is to stand up straight and SMILE. Nothing beautifies like a smile.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Life's Storms

You sometimes secretly feel guilty when watching the news and you see the horrible things happening in the world to other people: famine, earthquakes, wars, accidents, attacks, plane crashes… You quickly pray, Help those people! while guiltily glad it didn’t happen to anyone you know. And then came the storm and the boating accident. Four people from your church picnic drowned—including your dad. Even though it’s been a month, it still doesn’t seem real. Your mind won’t accept that he’s truly gone, that he won’t sail through the front door again, home from a business trip with candy in his briefcase for you.

But he is gone, and sometimes when it hits you, you can barely breathe. You know he’s in heaven and you’ll see him again some day. But each morning the loss hits you—and your mom—all over again. You read your Bible often through blurry tears these days. One verse—how Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted—has become something you and your mom cling to. You believe God’s Word is true, even though you don’t feel healed yet. You believe someday the pain will ease, then eventually go away—even though you’ll always miss your dad. In the meantime, the two of you take it on faith. "Thank you, Lord, for starting the healing process, even though we still hurt so much," your mom prays with you. "Jesus, give us strength to go on. Amen."

Today you may not be dealing with a painful loss, but you may know someone who is. Give them your hope. Show them that Jesus came to save them for eternity—but also to heal their wounds now. "He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted." (Luke 4:18 NKJV)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Spread the Love Around

We’re told to love others as we love ourselves, but you may find that loving your neighbor isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve always liked your neighbors, but then one summer the Carlsons move in next door. From the noise blaring from their house, you figure they have at least a dozen kids and six dogs. It turns out to be only five small children and two dogs, but you think it’s still too many. Your bedroom windows overlook the Carlson house, and you hate having your windows open now. You no longer hear the breeze blowing through the pines or meadowlarks chirping. Instead, noise and commotion—kids yelling and dogs barking—blast from the house next door till long after you go to bed. Loving these new neighbors will take a lot of work, you decide.

First, you need a change of heart. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NKJV) Over the next week, you work out a strategy. Twice you offer to baby-sit the kids, you accompany the older ones to the neighborhood pool, and you take them all to your church’s Vacation Bible School for a week. Through these acts of service, you actually grow to enjoy your new neighbors. Do you suppose that was God’s plan all along?