This Week’s Sermon From The Ranch – Being Wise And Innocent

(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch“)
The Ranch: A Place of Healing and Restoration
 

Being Wise And Innocent

Lesson 37 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
By Eric Elder

 

Once you’ve worked hard to renew your mind, God wants you to keep it renewed.  And one of the best ways to keep it renewed is to be careful of the company you keep.

 

Believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t have your best interests in mind.  They’ll use smooth talk and flattery to try to lead you astray from the teaching you’ve learned-teaching that has helped you in many ways in your life.

 

In the final chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul warns about such people.  Paul says:

 

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:17-19).

 

If you look at this paragraph closely, you’ll find some secrets for how to detect when people are trying to lead you astray for the wrong reason.

 

First, Paul urged the Romans “to watch out for those who those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.”

 

God had taken a great deal of time to teach the Christians in Rome good solid truths about Himself and the Bible, and Paul wanted them to hold onto those truths.  In the same way, God may have taken a great deal of time to teach you some good solid truths about Himself and the Bible, and God wants you to hold onto those truths, too.

 

If someone comes along and tries to teach you about a “new” truth, or “higher” way of looking at God and the Bible, be wise about how you listen to them.  Take what they say back to God and the Bible to see what He says about it in His Word.  While there’s value in keeping an “open mind,” you don’t want keep it so open that all the good teaching you’ve already learned falls out!

 

Be a good student of the Bible, like the people in the city of Berea, who took even what Paul said and examined it carefully according to what they had already learned.  The Bible says:

 

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

 

Second, Paul gave the Romans some simple advice about what to do when they came across people who were teaching them things that were contrary to what they had learned:  “Keep away from them.”

 

Why?  Because the company you keep matters.  If you don’t choose your friends wisely, Satan will be glad to choose some for you.  Satan knows that one of the best ways to lead you astray is to put people in your life who will pull you over to his side.

 

Paul gave a similar warning in his letter to the Corinthians when he said:

 

“Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33b).

 

How can you know who’s “bad company”?  By studying not just what they’re teaching, but by studying their character as well.  Paul alludes to this when he talked about the motives of those who might try to lead the Romans astray.  Paul said:  “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

 

Although it’s not always apparent right away, a little study can go a long way in determining someone’s true motives, whether they’re doing what they’re doing to serve the Lord Christ, or to serve their own appetites.

 

It makes me think of a girl who falls in love with a boy just because he tells her, “You’re beautiful.  I love you.  And I want to do something special to make you happy.”  All his smooth talk and flattery may work in his favor, but it may not work in hers.  If the girl were wise, she would study not only the words that were being spoken, but the motives of the person who is speaking those words.

 

If we’re wise, we’ll do the same: anytime someone tries to speak something into our lives that runs contrary to what we’ve already learned, we need to study not only the words that are being spoken, but the motives of the person who is speaking those words.

 

I think it’s interesting to note that leading up to this warning about “bad characters,” Paul begins the chapter by listing some good ones, people that Paul knew personally in Rome, and what made them noteworthy or admirable. For instance, he said:

 

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe… for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

 

“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them… 

 

“Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.

 

“Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you” (Romans 16:1a,2b,5b,6).

 

The list goes on and on, as Paul commends to them person after person:

 

“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

 

“Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.

 

“Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.

 

“Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ… 

 

“Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord… 

 

“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:7-10a,12a,13).

 

If you want to learn something about a person, a personal recommendation like this goes a long way.

 

In choosing a doctor one time, Lana and I talked with a friend who worked for a doctor.  Our friend told us that when the doctor she worked for needed a doctor, he chose a particular man in town, having seen his practice long enough and knowing his character was strong enough that he trusted this other doctor with his own life.  Now that was a recommendation that was worth following.

 

Contrast this with another doctor we went to visit who, with his smooth talk and flattery, almost convinced us to come to him.  But  when we went home and looked into his life and practice a little more, we found out that his credentials weren’t quite as good as what he made us believe and that the number of complaints against him by others convinced us to go elsewhere.

 

This isn’t to say that we might not be led astray at times by a personal recommendation, too, but many times, if we’ll take the extra effort to study the person as well as what they’re trying to teach us, we can save ourselves from being led astray.

 

Third, Paul concludes his warning with these words: “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”

 

Paul was full of joy over the obedience of the Romans.  Everyone had heard about it, he said, and he didn’t want anyone to take that away from them.  “Be wise about what is good,” he said, “and innocent about what is evil.”

 

Again, these are similar to words he wrote in his letter to the Corinthians:

 

“In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:20b).

 

Paul wanted the Romans, and the Corinthians, to put their minds to work, being wise about what was good.  At the same time, he wanted them to be like children in regards to evil, having nothing to do with it, and being as innocent as possible.

 

What’s the end result of all of this?  As Paul said at the end of his warning:  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

 

With all the work that goes into renewing your mind, be sure to keep it renewed by being wise about what is good, and innocent of evil.  Study the teaching of those around you-and the character of those teaching it-before allowing their teachings into your mind.  As you protect your mind, God will protect you, and keep Satan at bay.

 

Will you pray with me?

 

Father, thank You for reminding us to stay true to what we’ve been taught about You and Your Word.  Help us to study deeply any ideas, and the people behind those ideas, that are presented to us that conflict with what we’ve already heard from You.  Help us be wise and innocent so we can keep our minds pure.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

P.S.  Last week, I mentioned the importance of enlisting others in praying for you.  I wanted to remind you again this week that if you don’t have someone to pray with you, or if you’d just like to get some additional prayers from believers who love to pray, we have a special prayer page set up on our website where you can post your prayer.  Although we’re not able to respond in person to all of the prayer requests that come in, we do have about 275 volunteers who have signed up to receive these prayer requests each day and who are glad to pray for you and your needs.  To post a prayer request, or to read the requests of others and pray for them, too, please visit:
Prayer Requests

 

Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 16:1-20.  What are some of the words that Paul uses to describe those whom he trusts in Rome, compared to the words he uses to describe those who might be trying to deceive their minds?
2. Can you think of some times when you’ve been led astray by smooth talkers who’ve been serving their own selfish interests?
3. Can you think of other times when you’ve been blessed by the wisdom and personal recommendations of true friends?
4. What are some ways this week that you can “be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil”?

 

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,please visit:

The Romans Study

 

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:

The Ranch Giftshop

 

To read Lana’s blog, please visit:
Lana’s Blog

 

To make a donation to our ever-growing ministry, please visit:

Make a Donation

 

To invite Eric or Lana to speak to your group, by Skype or in person, please visit:

Booking Information

 

To find us on Facebook, please visit:
Find us on Facebook

 

If you’d like to invite your friends to join us in receiving these regular messages directly, just forward this email and invite them to sign up at the link below.

Last Sunday’s Sermon From The Ranch – Enlisting Others To Pray For You

***Sorry this is so late!***

(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch“)
The Ranch: A Place of Healing and Restoration
 

Enlisting Others To Pray For You

Lesson 36 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
By Eric Elder

 

Are you struggling with something in your life today?  If so, I’d like to encourage you to do something special:  enlist others to pray for you.

If you think asking for prayer is a sign of weakness, you might want to think again!  Asking for prayer is one of the smartest things you could ever do-and one of the best ways to keep you strong.

 

The Apostle Paul knew this secret and often called on others to pray for him, as he did near the end of his letter to the Romans.  Paul said:

 

“I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed” (Romans 15:30-32).

 

Paul asked for prayer with boldness.  He urged the Romans to pray for him, “by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit.”  And he didn’t just ask for a blanket prayer to cover him in all ways at all times.  He asked them to pray for him specifically, particularly in those areas where he struggled most.  He asked that he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that his service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints there, and that he would be able to come to them in Rome with joy and together with them be refreshed.

 

These struggles were real, as the dangers that faced Paul on his trip to Jerusalem-and then on to Rome-were significant.  If you read about this trip in the book of Acts (chapters 21-28), you’ll see that Paul was captured, imprisoned, and threatened with death on several occasions, not counting the shipwreck that obliterated his ship along the way. Paul needed prayer, and I have no doubt that the prayers of the Christians in Rome helped to sustain him all along the way.

 

But it’s not easy to ask others to pray for you.  I know.  Just last week I was celebrating my 23rd wedding anniversary in New York City with my superb wife, Lana.  We had an awesome time, filled with fun, romance and a wonderful walk through Central Park.  But on the last day of the trip, I got sick-and not just a little sick, but a violent, wrenching sickness like I haven’t experienced in a long time.

 

At one point, Lana asked if she should call a few people and ask them to pray for me.  I said, “No, I’ll be all right.”  I hoped it would just pass quickly, and I didn’t want to worry anyone, as they knew we were on our anniversary trip together.  But as the hours passed, and I was just getting worse and not better, I finally agreed and Lana made a few calls.

 

Although the sickness persisted throughout the night and on into the next few days, I felt different immediately, just knowing that others were praying for me and checking in on me from time to time.  I was also able to see the fact that I was sick in a new way, realizing that my body was doing just what it should do in trying to forcefully expel whatever had maliciously entered into it.

 

It turned out I had the flu and the healing process that God had begun on that first day finally prevailed.  Thankfully, I’m almost back to full strength again.  Unfortunately for Lana, she got what I had a few days later, so you can still pray for her!

 

The reason I bring this up today is to let you know that I understand what it’s like to need prayer, but not want to ask for it-especially at those times when we feel the weakest.  But the truth is, without prayer, we’ll just get weaker and weaker.  With prayer, God can give us the strength we need to go on.

 

I also wanted to tell you this story because prayer not only changes things, it changes the way you look at things.  Even though I still had to walk through the rest of my sickness, I was able to realize that the very thing that was making me feel sick was the very thing that was bringing my healing.  By being able to look at what I was feeling differently, I was able to better endure the rest of what I had to go through.

 

Prayer really can renew your mind, and by enlisting others to pray for you can help you to renew your mind even faster.

 

If there’s an area in your life where you’re struggling today, I want to encourage you to do as Paul did and enlist others to join you in your struggle-through prayer.  As Paul said,

 

“I urge you… to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

 

There are all kinds of struggles you might be facing right now:  whether they’re struggles with lust or secret sins, fear or doubts, real dangers or imaginary dangers, hardships, relationships or bothersome thoughts.  The list is endless.  The beauty of prayer is that it can address every single struggle you could possibly face.

 

One of my friends and mentors says that everyone needs a prayer team.  You don’t have to be in full-time ministry, or going through a particular crisis, to ask people to pray for you on a regular basis.  You could be an expectant mother or a struggling student, a successful architect or an aspiring teacher.  You could be married or single, with kids or without.  You could be needing money or managing your money.  You could be traveling full-time or at home full-time.  Whatever you’re doing or going through, you can benefit by enlisting others to pray for you.

 

Not sure who to ask?  You might ask a friend, or a co-worker, or a neighbor.  You might ask a pastor or a priest.  You might ask someone you don’t even know, like Lana and I did last week in New York.  We were blessed to visit a couple of different churches, and at one church, I sensed the man sitting next to me was a truly “a believer.”  I could tell from his “Amens” that he not only believed in God, he believed in the power of God.  So after the service, I asked if he could pray for us.  He was not only glad to pray, but he invited us to dinner, which we unfortunately had to decline because of our schedule.

 

At another church, we were talking to a man outside the church before the service, and afterward, we connected again.  This time we asked if we could pray for him, and then he returned the favor and prayed for us.

 

For years now, we’ve been asking for and benefiting from the prayers of others.  We’ve asked for prayer from family and friends, small groups and Sunday School classes.  We asked for prayer back when we were single, when we were dating, when we got married, and when we started having children.

 

When Lana was diagnosed with cancer this year, she set up a blog to keep others updated and let them know how they could pray for us.  The effects have been tremendous already, as the prayers of others have given us both an abundance of strength, wisdom, healing and encouragement.

 

If you’re going through a struggle in life, you don’t have to go through it alone.  Enlist others to join you in your struggle by praying to God for you.  (If you’re not sure who to ask for prayer, or just want to get some additional prayers from believers who love to pray, I’ve included a link in the P.S. below where you can post your prayers on our website and enlist others to pray for you.)

 

By the way, the Apostle Paul did eventually make it to Rome, just as he had asked the Romans to pray for him.

 

It may not have been exactly the way he expected, or the timing he expected, but he did get there, through God’s strength-and the prayers of others.  As the last chapter of the book of Acts records:

 

“When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him… For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30-31).

 

Will you pray with me?

 

Father, thank You for showing us the value of enlisting others to pray for us.  Help us to reach out to others when we’re struggling so that we won’t become weaker and weaker, but grow stronger and stronger each day through Your strength.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

P.S.  If you don’t have someone to pray with you, or if you’d just like to get some additional prayers from believers who love to pray, we have a special prayer page set up on our website where you can post your prayer.  Although we’re not able to respond in person to all of the prayer requests that come in, we do have about 275 volunteers who have signed up to receive these prayer requests each day and who are glad to pray for you and your needs.  To post a prayer request, or to read the requests of others and pray for them, too, please visit:
Prayer Requests

 

Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 15:30-33 .  What are some reasons people might be hesitant to ask for prayer?
2. What difference could it make if you enlisted others to pray for you?
3. In what areas are you struggling right now where you could ask others to pray for you?
4. Who are some specific people that might be willing to pray for you?

 

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,please visit:

The Romans Study

 

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:

The Ranch Giftshop

 

To read Lana’s blog, please visit:
Lana’s Blog

 

To make a donation to our ever-growing ministry, please visit:

Make a Donation

 

To invite Eric or Lana to speak to your group, by Skype or in person, please visit:

Booking Information

 

To find us on Facebook, please visit:
Find us on Facebook

 

If you’d like to invite your friends to join us in receiving these regular messages directly, just forward this email and invite them to sign up at the link below.

Yesterday’s Sermon From The Ranch – Instructing One Another

(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch“)
The Ranch: A Place of Healing and Restoration
 

Instructing One Another

Lesson 34 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
By Eric Elder

 

One way to renew your mind is to teach others what you’ve been learning.  It’s a way to both review what you’ve learned, and to bless others at the same time.  So today, I’d like to encourage you to consider taking some time to teach others what you’ve learned in life.

Sometimes we get caught up in the idea that we haven’t learned enough to be able to teach anyone else.  Sometimes we think we need more training, or that others may be more qualified to teach than we are…both of which may be true.  But this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to teach others who could benefit from what we’ve learned so far!

I’ve been praying for a drum teacher for some time now for my two younger sons.  They’ve been wanting to play the drums, and we have a drum set, but they didn’t have anyone to teach them.  A few months ago, I ran across a high schooler who played the drums for a worship team in town.  I asked if he happened to give drum lessons and he said he did.  He pulled out a business card with his name on it.  At the top, it said:

“Drum Lessons For Beginners”

That was just what I needed!  I signed the kids up and they’ve been learning and loving the drums ever since.  What I loved about this high schooler was that he told us up front exactly what he had to offer:  “Drum Lessons For Beginners.”  He made no claims that he was the best drummer in town, or that he’d be teaching them advanced music theory.   But he did have exactly what we needed:  a willingness to teach what he had learned so far.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he told them that he had wanted to come to them many times before, but had so far been hindered from doing so.  I’m sure Paul would have been a great teacher for them, and they could have learned a lot from his time with them.  But Paul pointed out that they already had people to teach them:  they had each other!  Paul said:

“I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14).

Paul was convinced that they were already filled with enough goodness, knowledge and competence to “instruct one another.”  What a boost that must have been to the Roman Christians!  They didn’t have to be like Paul or wait for Paul to benefit from godly teaching about the Lord.  They had what it took to instruct one another!

Paul knew the power of an encounter with Jesus.  He had taken his own advice from the beginning of his ministry.  The book of Acts tells that within days after Paul had his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was already telling others what he had learned.  The Bible says:

“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 9:19b-22).

Even as a brand new Christian, Paul had something to offer.  “Bible Lessons For Beginners,” so to speak.  Yes, he preached to anyone who would listen, including kings and the highest religious leaders in the land.  But his heart always beat for sharing the gospel with those who had never heard about Jesus before.  That is, in fact, why he was so often hindered from going to Rome, where there were already Christians capable of teaching one another.  Paul said:

“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’ This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you” (Romans 15:20-22).

Several years ago, I was shopping for a new Bible.  I like to read the Bible over and over, and sometimes like to read it in different versions, because I learn something new when I do.  But as I was looking for a new Bible, I felt God was saying to me something like this: “You don’t need another Bible, Eric.  You need to be writing to others what you’ve learned from the Bible already.”

I had already begun writing devotional messages like the ones I send out now every week, like this one.  In each message, I simply share a passage from the Bible with others, and share how God has used it to speak into my own life, encouraging others to read their Bibles and let God speak into their lives, too.

I don’t make any claims that I’m better at reading the Bible than anyone else, or that there aren’t other people who may be way more qualified to teach the Bible than I am.  But what I do have, I’m willing to offer to others.  What I’ve learned from God through the Bible has so affected my life that I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

Although it’s good to learn as much as you can, and get as much training as you can, and check and recheck your theology and ideas so that you’re not leading people astray, the truth is that the best prerequisite for teaching others about Jesus is that you’ve been with Jesus yourself.

This is just what the Bible says about the first disciples.  After Peter and John healed a man, thousands of people heard their message and put their faith in Christ.  The rulers and elders of the people were astonished.  The Bible says:

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Peter and John were ordinary and unschooled men, yet they had one thing that many of you reading these words today have:  they had been with Jesus.

If you’ve been with Jesus, spending time with Him, reading His words, praying and interacting and learning from Him, He wants you to share what you’ve learned with others.

As Jesus told His first disciples:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

One of the characteristics of being a disciple is making disciples.  It simply goes with the package!

Don’t let your training or lack of training stand in the way of sharing what you’ve learned with others.

When I first graduated from college, I spent five months in Bangladesh teaching some people at a disease research center how to use a computer program for their work.  I didn’t know much about the computer program myself, but I had a book about it and was able to read enough as I went along to test out the program and teach them what I learned along the way.

I imagine they might have learned more if they had taken a class from a professor in computer programming, or someone who had worked with the software for years already.  But there weren’t any professors in computer programming around, nor anyone else who had worked with the software before either!  But I was willing to go anywhere and work with anyone, so somehow God sent me.  The people I taught were grateful, and I was blessed to be able to use my skills, no matter how limited to help others.

I’d like to encourage you to consider sharing with others whatever God may have shared with you, whether it’s drum lessons, Bible lessons, or even these lessons on renewing your mind.

If you’ve been with Jesus, through the Spirit and through the Word, and have benefited from your time with Him, you can be sure that others can benefit from what you’ve learned, too!  I am convinced, as Paul was about the Christians in Rome, that you yourselves are “full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”

Take what you’ve learned and share it with others.  You’ll be blessed as you review what you’ve learned, just as you’ll be a blessing to those who may be learning it for the very first time.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for teaching us so much about who You are and how You want us to live our lives.  Help us to share what we’ve learned with others so that we can pass on the blessings that You’ve passed on to us.  Help us to overcome our fears of speaking and writing, teaching and preaching, so that we can be like Paul, boldly going where no man may have gone before, proclaiming the good news about Christ to anyone who will listen.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S.  God wants to raise you up, not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of others here on earth, too.  If you need a bit of a lift this week, I’ve posted a beautiful instrumental version of the song “You Raise Me Up” on my website that you listen to and enjoy.  I’d also be glad to send you a copy of the single on CD, that you can take with you anytime, day or night.  My sister, Marilyn Byrnes, is a gifted pianist, and has recorded this special song to encourage my wife and I as we walk through my wife’s battle with cancer.  Marilyn would be glad to send you a copy on CD as a thank you for your gift of any size to our ministry this month.  Just use the links below to listen to the song online, read the lyrics, or make a donation and get a copy for yourself on CD.
Listen to “You Raise Me Up” online

Make A Donation and Get the song on CD

 

Lyrics for “You Raise Me Up”
(Music by Rolf Løvland, with lyrics by Brendan Graham)

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

  

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up… To more than I can be.

  

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up… To more than I can be.

  

There is no life – no life without its hunger; 

Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

  

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;

You raise me up… To more than I can be.

  

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up… To more than I can be.

  

You raise me up… To more than I can be.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 15:14-24.   What was the message that Paul said he had been preaching everywhere he went?  And to whom had he been preaching that message to?
2. With all of Paul’s learning, training and experience, why do you think he still loved preaching to those who were brand new to the message of Christ?
3. What kinds of things has God taught you from which you have greatly benefited?
4. Can you imagine anyone else who might benefit from learning what you’ve learned?  And if so, would you be willing to be the one to teach them?

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,please visit:

The Romans Study

 

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:

The Ranch Giftshop

 

To read Lana’s blog, please visit:
Lana’s Blog

 

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This Week’s Sermon From The Ranch – Thinking About Sinful Desires

(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch“)
The Ranch: A Place of Healing and Restoration
 

Thinking About Sinful Desires

Lesson 31 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind

 By Eric Elder

 

My kids and I were window shopping in downtown Chicago last week (window shopping is where you look, but don’t buy).  We were looking at all the cool things in the Apple store on Michigan Avenue when my wife came up after finishing a doctor’s appointment.  She said she had seen a man outside in a wheelchair who was asking for money and who wasn’t looking too good.

She didn’t have much to give him, but she gave him what she had, a little pocket change and a prayer.  When she asked if she could pray for him, he said:

“Yes!  Pray that God will give me a girl.  I think about making love (he used another word for it) with a girl all day long and I can’t get the thoughts out of my mind.  I’m just so lonely and I can’t stop thinking about making love with someone.”

After getting her thoughts back together, and refraining from trying to immediately cast something evil out of him, she began to pray for him, asking God to give him what he needed, even if it wasn’t the thing that he was asking for.

What was going on in that man’s mind reminded us of the verse that we’re looking at today in the book of Romans.  The verse says:

“… do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:14b).

Paul knew that even just thinking about gratifying the desires of the sinful nature could lead to doing them eventually.  As the apostle James said in his book:

“… but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

Just as good thoughts can lead to good actions, sinful thoughts can lead to sinful actions.  And sinful actions, when pursued in full, can lead to all kinds of destruction, even death.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think about what could happen if this man in the wheelchair did get a girl and was able to do with her whatever he wanted.  But the truth is, the thoughts that he expressed are not so far removed from the thoughts any of us have from time to time.  And if we don’t keep them in check, all kinds of things could happen if we were to follow-up on our thoughts as well.

I was talking to another man this week who said he was having similar thoughts, although he said them in more palatable words.  He said he was just standing there admiring the beautiful curves of a woman he had seen when he realized what he was doing.  Before he let those thoughts overtake him, he reminded himself that he had died to his old sinful nature when he was baptized into Christ.  He was lonely, too, and longed for a lifetime companion but he knew he couldn’t gratify the desires of his sinful nature in the way that he was thinking.  So he took control of his thoughts, brought them back under the authority of Christ, and was able to walk away with a victory in his mind instead of a defeat.  What a blessing that was for himself, and for others he spared from potential destruction.

What he was doing was “putting on the armor of light” and “clothing himself with the Lord Jesus Christ,” as Paul described in the following words.  Paul said:

“So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in org – – – and drunkenness, not in se – – al immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:12b-14. Note: I’ve deleted a few letters from some of the words in this passage so this whole message won’t get stopped by certain spam filters).

 

It really is possible to take control of your thoughts.  When you do, you’ll be blessed and so will those around you.

And if you look back even further in this passage, you’ll see why Paul was so passionate about helping people get control over their thoughts:

“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:11-12a).

Paul wants us to wake up from our slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  For years, people have been saying that Jesus is coming soon, just as Jesus said Himself almost 2,000 years ago.  And the truth is, His coming is closer now that it’s ever been!  As Paul said, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here!”  What a great thought, and what a great motivator to do what’s right!

Don’t let the darkness overtake you.  Don’t give in to dwelling on thoughts that could lead to your destruction.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that Jesus isn’t coming back soon, because He is.  As Jesus said to the Apostle John:

“Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).  

Jesus wants you to live your life to the fullest, and the best way to do that is to live your life in the light.  This isn’t to say that it’s easy to overcome temptation.  But it is possible, and more than that, God will help you to do it.  As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). 

You may have tried various ways to overcome your temptations.  But Paul mentions something in this passage that we’re looking at today that may give you some extra help as you try to break free.  If you look back just a little further in the passage, you’ll see that Paul says instead of focusing on our sinful desires, we should focus on how we can express God’s love to others instead:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law”

There’s a big difference between lust and love.  Lust, at its core, is all about selfishness and doing whatever you want to others.  Love, at its core, is all about selflessness, and doing for others what you would want them to do for you.  Instead of thinking about how we can gratify our own sinful desires, Paul says we’re to put on the armor of light, and think about how we can express God’s love to others.

I’ve shared before about my aunt who got some great advice from her doctor when she was going through some days filled with dark depression:  he suggested to her that she think about ways she could help other people.  By focusing on blessing others instead of wallowing in her own thoughts of despair, she was able to pull herself out of the darkness by focusing on others.  She began to bake food for friends, bringing them cakes, cookies, pies, or anything she thought they might enjoy.  She was able to get out of the pit she was in, and to this day, she continues to bless those around her, now from a place of victory rather than near defeat.

The same can happen for those who struggle with sinful desires, which can bring on the same kind of darkness.  When tempted to dwell on thoughts that are potentially destructive to yourself or to those around you, you can take those thoughts captive and replace them with other thoughts.  Reach out and put on God’s armor of light, and let the light of Christ shine through you instead.  Replace your selfish thoughts with selfless thoughts, and you’ll see God begin to turn around situations that you may have thought were hopeless.

Take a meal to a friend.  Write a letter to someone who needs some encouragement.  Put a check in the mail to someone who could use a financial boost.  Call a parent or an aunt or an uncle or a brother or a cousin or a friend who you may not have talked to in a long time.  It may seem like hard work at first, but soon you’ll find that the darkness is fleeing and the light of Christ is flooding into your soul.

Clothe yourself with Christ this week.  Let His light shine through you.  Let Him use your hands and feet, your words and actions, to those around you who could use a touch from Him.  Let your mind wander about ways you can love your neighbor as yourself, instead of ways that you can gratify the desires of your sinful nature.  If you need some extra encouragement to do this, just remember the words of Paul, who said:

“And do this, understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now that when we first believed.”

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for promising that You will come for us soon.  Help us to keep that at the forefront of our minds as we consider how to bless those around us instead of how to gratify our own sinful desires. Help us to take our eyes off ourselves and to focus on those things that You want us to do in the world.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What God Says CDP.S. If you struggle with temptation, I’d like to point you to some passages in the Bible that could help.  I’ve listed several below, and I’ve also included a link to a recording on our website where you can listen to each of these scriptures, read by my wife Lana to some beautiful music.  If you’d like to get this recording on a CD, which includes over half an hour of readings from the Bible six other topics as well, I’d be glad to send you the whole CD for a donation of any size to our ministry this month.  Your gifts truly help us get the word out about Christ every week to over 35,000 people around the world, and we’re glad to send you this beautiful recording of God’s Word set to music as our way of saying thanks.  To read these verses for yourself, just click the links below:

– Hebrews 4:13-16
– Matthew 4:1-4 and 11
– 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
– Hebrews 2:18
– Psalm 119:9
– 1 Corinthians 10:13
– Proverbs 1:10
– James 1:13-15
– 1 Corinthians 6:18-20
– Matthew 6:9-13

To listen to Lana’s recording of these verses online, please visit:
What God Says About Temptation (MP3)

To make a donation and get a CD that includes these verses and many others set to beautiful music, please visit:
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To follow Lana’s blog about her own walk of faith during difficult times, please visit:
Lana’s Blog

 

Questions for Reflection

1.  Read Romans 13:8-14.  Why does Paul say that we should let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another?

2.  How can loving others help us to overcome sinful thoughts and actions in our lives?

3.  What are some practical that you could show your love to others, instead of dwelling on how you could gratify the desires of your sinful nature?

4. What are some other ways that you might “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”?

 

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,please visit:

The Romans Study

 

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:

The Ranch Giftshop

 

To invite Eric to speak to your group of any size, whether by Skype or in person, please visit:

Booking Information

 

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This Week’s Sermon From The Ranch; Doing What’s Right

(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch“)
The Ranch: A Place of Healing and Restoration
Doing What’s Right

Lesson 30 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind

 By Eric Elder

 

As we continue to look at ways to renew your mind, I’d like to look with you today at the way you view those in authority over you, whether they’re a boss, a parent, or even a government authority.  If you view authority with contempt, distrust, and disrespect, you’ll often find that same contempt, distrust and disrespect coming back to you.  But if you view authority with God‘s perspective, trusting that even ungodly authorities can have a place in God’s plan in the world, then you can have much more peace of mind in the midst of struggles.

 

I remember working for a boss for whom I didn’t have much respect.  He often asked me to do things that seemed pretty pointless.  We were friendly towards each other, but neither of us had much trust or respect for the other.

 

One day he asked me to fill out a survey that the company said was voluntary and anonymous.  But my boss required that each of us that worked for him fill it out, and because I was out of town at the time, I was going to have to fax my survey to him, making it clear that it came from me.  When I voiced these objections to him, he still said he wanted to see my survey by the next morning.  I was furious.  While it may not have seemed like a big deal to him, I was afraid if I gave my honest responses on the survey, it could jeopardize my future standing in the company.  And if I didn’t answer honestly, I was afraid I was jeopardizing my own standards of integrity.  So I was just going to refuse to turn it in.

 

But as the day went on, God began to work on my heart, and the biblical view of authority came to my mind.

 

The Apostle Paul wrote about this to the Christians living in Rome.  And from what I know about the way the Romans treated Christians at the time, I’m sure the Roman Christians had more difficult struggles with their bosses than being asked to fill out inane surveys!  They obviously had it way worse than me, and yet here’s what Paul said:

 

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:1-7).

 

Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to “do what’s right.”  He knew that if Christians could respect those in authority over them, benefits would abound all around, both to those they serve, and to themselves.

 

Any parent knows that when a child is obedient and respectful, the child can often ask for most anything and the parent is happy to oblige.  Yet when a child is disobedient and disrespectful, the parent is often unwilling to give in to any type of request, for fear that the child might abuse whatever is given to them.  When a child shows respect and honor to a parent, that same respect and honor often returns back to them.

 

Going back to my earlier story with my own boss, I remember finally coming to the conclusion that it was more important to respect and honor my boss-even though I disagreed with him-because God had called me to respect and honor those in authority over me.  My boss wasn’t asking me to do anything immoral or illegal.  I just disagreed with him.  After expressing that disagreement, he still persisted in what he wanted me to do, so I knew what I had to do.

 

I filled out the survey honestly and faxed it to him the next morning.  My heart felt at peace for I knew I had done what was right, even if it cost me something down the road. To my amazement, my relationship with my boss changed starting that very day. I don’t know if it was something that changed within me, or something that changed within him-or a combination of the two-but over the few months, he became my biggest supporter and my strongest advocate for every project took on.  He knew he could count on me to do what he asked me to do, and because of this trust, he gave me greater leeway in how I carried out my project than he had ever given me before.

 

Like a horse that was finally broken, I felt I could now be useful to him in all kinds of ways.

 

This doesn’t mean that those in authority over us are always right, just as any parent knows full well!  Any parent can and will make mistakes, and the same goes for bosses and governments.  But just because those in authority over us don’t do the right thing doesn’t mean that we can’t do the right thing.  As Paul said, “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

 

Even men in the Bible like Joseph, Nehemiah and Daniel found ways to serve those in authority over them even though those over them were often ungodly and did the wrong things.

 

Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt, yet he still treated his masters with respect and honor, doing what was right, and earning a place of respect and honor in their households, their prisons, and eventually in service to the king himself, being placed second in command over all the land.

 

Nehemiah was captured and put into the service of an ungodly king, yet he became the king’s cupbearer, a trusted position to ensure that no one poisoned the king’s wine.  When Nehemiah needed time and money to go rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, the king honored his request, because Nehemiah had honored the king.

Daniel was taken as a slave to Babylon, yet he served the king with integrity of heart and attitude, earning the king’s respect and becoming one of his top officials.

 

I’m sure each of these men wanted to rebel against the authorities God had put over them at many points in their lives.  And on some occasions, they did have to disobey the ungodly and immoral commands of those in authority over them, rightly claiming that God had a higher authority in each of those instances.  When Potiphar’s wife asked Joseph to go to bed with her, Joseph refused, and when Nebuchadnezzar’s officials asked Daniel and his friends to bow down and worship the king, they refused. In both cases, Joseph and Daniel paid a significant price for their insubordination, but they were willing to do so because they realized that in some cases, it was more important to submit to the authority of God than the authority of men.  So there do seem to be times when God’s authority trumps earthly authorities.  But those times are much fewer than most of us might like to admit.

The principle remains:  when we submit to those in authority over us, whether it’s the authorities on earth, or the Authority in heaven, we’ll have peace of mind, because we’ll know we’ve done what’s right.

If you’re wrestling in your mind with something that someone in authority has asked you to do, bring it to God.  Ask Him to help you to know what the right thing is to do.  Paul says that those in authority over you will commend you if you do what’s right.

Do what’s right, and God will reward you.  Those in authority over you will commend you, you’ll be freed from fear, and your conscience will be clear.  As Paul concluded:

“…submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:4b-7).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for reminding us of the importance of submitting to those in authority over us.  Lord, give us Your wisdom as we weigh how to do that to the best of our ability, not only to avoid punishment, but because of conscience.  Help us to renew our minds in the way we think about those in authority over us, changing our hearts and minds and even our relationships with others as we do.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 T-ShirtP.S. Our friend Jeanette is still offering T-Shirts for those who would like one as a reminder to pray for my wife Lana, who has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  The T-Shirts have a verse on the front from the book of Joshua that says, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your GOD will be with you wherever you go.”  Jeanette created these shirts as a way to gather prayer and to bless our ministry.   She would be glad to send you one for a donation of any size to our ministry, anywhere in the world.  We sincerely need and appreciate your prayers, and your gifts also help us in a very practical way to continue taking the message of Christ all around the world.  To make a donation and get a T-Shirt, just visit:

Make A Donation

 

You can keep up with Lana’s updates on her blog at:
Lana’s Blog

 

Questions for Reflection

1.  Read Romans 13:1-7.  Why do you think Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to respect those in authority over them?  What possible benefits could result from this type of submission?

2.  In what areas of your life could you benefit from putting Paul’s words into action?

3.  How could changing the way you view those in authority over you bring you more peace of mind?

4. How could changing the way you interact with those in authority over you bring about a change in your relationships with them?

 

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,please visit:

The Romans Study

 

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:

The Ranch Giftshop

 

To invite Eric to speak to your group of any size, whether by Skype or in person, please visit:

Booking Information

To find us on Facebook, please visit:
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If you’d like to invite your friends to join us in receiving these regular messages directly, just forward this email and invite them to sign up at the link below.

This Week’s Sermon From the Ranch – Thinking Of Others

Thinking Of Others

Lesson 29 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind

By Eric Elder

 

The story’s told of two friends who were walking through a desert together when one of the friends slapped the other in the face.  The one who was slapped wrote a note in the sand saying:

 

Today my best friend slapped me in the face.”

 

But as they walked further along, the one who had been slapped fell into a pool of water and began to drown.  This time, his best friend reached down and pulled him out of the water, saving his life.  This time, the friend who was rescued etched a note on a stone saying:

 

“Today my best friend saved my life.”

 

When asked why he wrote one note in the sand and the other note in stone, the one who had been slapped and then later rescued replied:

 

“When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand, where the winds of forgiveness can erase it away.  But when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone, where no wind can ever erase it.”

 

Too often, we get this backwards:  we write people’s offenses in stone rather than sand, perhaps because they’ve hurt us so much, or perhaps to protect ourselves from being hurt again.  Then we write the good deeds that people have done for us in sand, forgetting over time just how significant those good deeds have been in our lives.

But according to the Bible, true love keeps no record of people’s offenses at all.  As Paul said to the Corinthians:

 

“Love… keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5b).

 

Last week, we looked at the importance of thinking of ourselves properly, without falling into the traps of pride or low self-esteem.  This week, we’re looking at the importance of thinking of others properly, without falling into the traps of conceit or comparison.

 

When Paul wrote about love to the Romans, he wrote a simple yet profound statement:

 

“Love must be sincere” (Romans 12:9a).

 

While this may seem obvious-that if we love someone we should love them sincerely-it’s not so easy to do.  For some people, it’s easy to fake love.

 

I know a man who seemed like he was a friend to everyone, describing himself as having “great people skills.”  Yet in private conversations with him, I discovered that he viewed others with various degrees of disdain, resentment and frustration, often thinking of himself as better than those around him.  The love he showed to others was based on keeping up his image in public more so than holding those around him in true esteem.

 

This is just a shallow imitation of what real love looks like.  Real love is sincere.  In Latin, the word “sincere” literally means “without wax,” (sine meaning without, and cera meaning wax).  Apparently, if a craftsman carved a statue in stone and accidentally nicked or chipped the carving along the way, they would fill those spots with wax.  For all appearances, the statue looked pure and faultless.  But after a while in the hot sun, the wax would melt and the truth would be known:  that which appeared pure and faultless at first was in fact quite flawed.

 

When Paul said that love must be sincere, or without wax, he was saying that love shouldn’t be just for show, but for real.

 

In the past, I used to think that the word “sincerely” was just a formal way of signing off on a business letter, as I learned in business school back in college.  But in recent years, and knowing the meaning of the word sincere, I find myself using it more and more often.  When I write a note from the depths of my heart, I sign it, “Sincerely, Eric Elder.”  To me, it’s no longer just a formal closing, but a heartfelt statement saying, “I really mean this from the depths of my heart.”  It’s much closer to meaning “Love, Eric Elder” than I ever would have thought.  And that’s just what Paul said:  Love must be sincere.

 

I find that it’s helpful for me to check how sincere I am in my love for others by substituting the words “true affection” for love.  I might be able to say that I love someone, whether a friend or a co-worker, or even someone with whom I disagree or who I’m tempted to consider an enemy.  But when I ask myself if I have true affection for them, then the flaws in my love for them are revealed.

 

When this happens, I have to regroup my thinking, and try to see them as God sees them:  as beloved children of His, whom He has created for specific plans and purposes here on earth.  When I change my thinking, it changes how I view them, and subsequently how I love and interact with them.  It doesn’t always happen in an instant, but I recognize it much quicker now when I do the “true affection” test!

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he includes more than a dozen statements about what love looks like when it’s sincere.  Here are a few of those statements:

 

– Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
– Honor one another above yourselves.  
– Share with God’s people who are in need.  
– Practice hospitality. 
– Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  
– Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  
– Live in harmony with one another.  
– Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. 
– Do not be conceited. 
– Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  
– Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  
– If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  
– Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath 
– Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

If you reframe each of these as a question, you’ll get some good ideas for what you might do this week, this month, or this year to show more love to those around you.  For instance:

 

– What can you do to show your devotion to another brother or sister in Christ?
– What can you do to honor someone else above yourself?  
– What can you do to share with other Christians who are in need?  
– What can you do to practice hospitality towards someone you know?
– What can you do to bless someone who is persecuting you?  
– What can you do to rejoice with someone as they rejoice, or to mourn with someone as they mourn?
– What can you do to live in harmony with others, rather than provoking continual discord? 
– What can you do to be humble instead of proud, and to associate with people of low position?
– What can you do to avoid being conceited?
– What can you do to refrain from repaying anyone evil for evil?
– What can you do to do what is right in the eyes of everybody?
– What can you do to live at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on you?
– What can you do to not take revenge on someone else, but leave room for God’s wrath?
– What can you do to avoid being overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good? 

 

I know that I want to keep my love for others sincere, without wax, as pure and flawless as possible.  I want to have true affection for others, whether they’re close friends and family or just casual acquaintances or strangers or even enemies.

 

I want to think of others as God thinks of them:  as children of His, created by Him for specific plans and purposes here on earth.

 

I don’t want to be the kind of person who etches in stone those things that others have done wrong.  I don’t even want to write them in sand.  I want to be able to keep no record of wrongs, recalling instead only the good that others have done for me in my life.

 

But I know that to do all of this it will take more than what I can do on my own.  It will take the love of Christ, living in me and working through me, to think of others the way God wants me to think of them.  If you want that, too, I hope you’ll pray with me today.  Pray that God will help you to love others in ways you could never have done on your own.  With His help, you’ll be able to express love to others as the Apostle Paul encouraged the Romans to do, saying:

 

“Love must be sincere.”

 

Will you pray with me?

 

Father, thank You for loving each one of us and giving each one of us a purpose and a plan for our lives.  Help us to think of others in the same way that You think of them.  And help us to treat them with the love and honor that is due them.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Jesus: Lessons In LoveP.S.  If you’d like some more ideas about how to be more loving towards those around you, I’d be glad to send you a copy of a devotional book I’ve written called “Jesus: Lessons In Love.”  The book expands on this theme by looking at the life of Jesus through the gospel of Matthew, seeing how Jesus loved those around Him, even those who were bent on taking His life.  I’d be glad to send you a copy in paperback, anywhere in the world, for a donation of any size to our ministry.  You’re gifts help us to continue sending these messages freely around the world each week, and we’re glad to send you a gift in return.  To make a donation and get a book, just click the link below.
Get A Book!

 

Questions for Reflection
1.  Read Romans 12:9-21.  What would it look like for someone to be devoted to someone else in brotherly love?
2.  How can you honor one another above yourself, truly honoring them for who they are and who God created them to be?
3. What are some ways you could “share with God’s people who are in need,” or “practice hospitality” towards those around you?  How can doing these things express your love in ways that words alone may not express?
4.  What are some reasons God wouldn’t want you to take revenge on someone, but to leave it in His hands instead?  What are some ways you can bless your enemies or those who may be persecuting you, and what might be the result when you do?

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind, please visit:
The Romans Study

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Thinking Of Yourself – This Week’s Sermon From The Ranch

(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch“)
The Ranch: A Place of Healing and Restoration
Thinking Of Yourself

Lesson 28 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind

By Eric Elder

 

The way you think of yourself is often affected by what others say about you.  One of my favorite stories that shows the power that other people’s words can have over us is a true story by a woman named Eddie Ogan.

 

Eddie tells the story about how the pastor at their church challenged everyone in the congregation to prepare for a special offering to be taken up at the end of the month for a poor family.  Eddie, her two sisters and their mother were so excited about what they could do to help that they went home that night and came up with a plan:  if they were to eat only potatoes, turn off the lights, not listen to the radio, get odd jobs and sell what they could, they could help out with this special offering.

 

Eddie says that was one of the best months of their lives.  When the time came for the special offering, they put in all the money they had saved: $70, made up of three crisp twenties and a ten.  They  felt rich.

 

Later that afternoon, the pastor of the church stopped by for a visit.  He left an envelope with their mother.  When they opened it, out fell 3 crisp twenties, a ten, and seventeen one dollar bills.   Their hearts sank as they realized that they werethe poor family.  They never thought of themselves as poor before, but at that moment, they felt they were and felt that everyone else must see them that way, too.

 

The next week, they didn’t want to go back to church again, but their mother made them.  A missionary was speaking about needing $100 to put a roof on a church building in another country.  The pastor asked his congregation if they could take up an offering to help these poor people.  Eddie and her family smiled for the first time in a week.  They put the contents of their envelope back in the offering, and when the money was counted, it was just over $100.  The missionary was surprised and said that the church must have some rich people in it to take up such an offering!

 

When Eddie and her family realized they had put in $87 of that offering, they realized that they were the rich family in the church!  “Hadn’t the missionary said so?”  Eddie says that from that day on, she’s never been poor again.  (It’s worth reading the whole story if you want, at this link.)

 

The way you look at yourself can often be shaped by what others say about you…whether for good or bad.  But God wants you to look at yourself for who you truly are:  a child of His, created to fulfill a purpose here on earth.  He doesn’t want you to think of yourself either too highly, nor too lowly than you really are.  Pride can ensnare you, but low self-esteem can keep you from reaching your fullest potential.

 

How can you think of yourself properly?  Thankfully, the Apostle Paul gives us some perspective in his letter to the Romans.  In chapter 12, Paul says:

 

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:3-8).

 

When you realize that God has created you for a specific purpose, you can better see how you fit into the scheme of things here on earth.  Albert Einstein is quoted as saying:

 

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” 

 

God doesn’t compare you to those around you.  He compares you to the potential that He has put within you.  And that potential is often defined by how you act, or don’t act, “in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

 

If God has created you to prophesy, then prophesy in proportion to your faith.  If God has created you to serve, then serve in accordance with the amount of faith God has given you.  If teaching, teach, if encouraging, encourage, if giving, give generously, if leading, govern diligently, if showing mercy, show it cheerfully.

 

By living your life in this way, it releases you from comparing yourself with others, and from the pitfalls of both pride and low self-esteem.

 

But living this way is easier said than done.

 

I recently finished reading a series of books called The Hunger Games.  It’s a gripping story about what might happen in a post-war America, in which the leaders of the country pit children against one another in a fight to the death for the entertainment of the rest of the country.  As these gruesome games go on year after year, one girl stands up to the games, and finds herself at the center of a revolution.

 

But throughout the book, this girl, Katniss Everdeen, thinks she’s not the right person for the job.  She doesn’t want to be the face of the revolution.  She doesn’t see how she could possibly lead the charge.  Yet everything about her screams out to those around her that she’s exactly the person who can spearhead this effort to make things right again.

 

At one point in the story, she struggles with a decision about a particular strategy they’re considering, so she asks a friend what he thinks.  He says:

 

“I think… you still have no idea.  The effect you can have.”

 

When I read that line, I was considering fasting and praying about some situations in my own life, and the lives of some people close to me.  But I was wondering if it would make any difference anyway.  Just then, I felt God was speaking to me and saying, “Eric, I think you still have no idea, either, the effect you can have.”  God was right.  I had no idea.  But I was willing to give it a try.  I stepped up in faith, began fasting and praying, and over the next few days watched as God unfolded the answers to those prayers.

 

I felt like Katniss Everdeen, the girl who had no idea the effect she had on those around her, yet who sparked a revolution to change the course of history.  I felt no pride, and I felt no lack of self-esteem.  I felt like I was simply acting “in accordance with the measure of faith God had given me.”

 

Sometimes we’re unable to see ourselves for who we really are, and it takes others to point it out to us.  But we have to be careful whose judgments we take into account. As Eddie Ogan found out, she had to choose whose words she was going to believe:  the words of the one who said her family was poor, or the words of the one who said her family was rich.  Either statement could have been true, depending on how she looked at it.  In the end, she chose to believe what God said about her:  that her family had acted in faith to help someone else in need, and in doing so, were considered rich.

 

Sometimes we have to let the words of others sink deep into our hearts so that we believe them.  Other times, we have to do as Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes and let them just pass on by:

 

“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you-for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22).

 

Not every word someone says about you is true, nor is it the whole truth.  Only God has that perspective.  Don’t think you’re stupid if you can’t climb a tree if God created you to swim!

 

Renew your mind today in the way you think of yourself.  Take what others say about you with a grain of salt, then take it to God for His perspective.  Let God tell you exactly what He thinks of you, without getting puffed up and without getting down on yourself, but with sober judgment.  Then do what God has created you to do, “in accordance with the measure of faith that He has given you.”

 

Who knows?  Perhaps you’re like Katniss Everdeen, too.  You have no idea…the effect you can have.

 

Will you pray with me?

 

Father, thank You for giving us a purpose for our lives, and thank You for giving us gifts to carry out that purpose.  Help us to put the gifts You’ve given us into use this week to a degree that we may have never used them before-according to the measure of faith that You’ve given us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Get A BookP.S.  If you’ve enjoyed today’s message, and would like to read more like it on a daily basis, I wanted to remind you that many of my past messages and series are online for free, and in paperback for a donation of any size to our ministry, at the links below.  Sometimes a message like this can last all week, but other times I know how helpful it is to get a dose of God’s Word into our lives on a daily basis.  If you’d like to read more, just visit the Messages section of The Ranch website to find several series online.

Or, if you’d like a copy in paperback to carry around with you or to give to a friend, you can request a copy of any of our books simply for a donation of any size to help us offset the costs of printing, and to expand our reach to even more people around the world.  Just use the link below to make a donation and pick a book.

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Questions for Reflection
1.  Read Romans 12:3-8.

How have words spoken to you through others either boosted you up or pulled you down?  Take those words to God and ask Him to give you His perspective on them.

2.  Looking through this short list of gifts in the book of Romans, are there any that stand out that you feel God might have given to you?  Is there a way you could step out in faith and use one or two of those gifts in your life this week, this month, or this year?

3. Paul lists some specific adjectives to describe how we are to use our gifts:  generously, diligently, and cheerfully.  If you were to use those words to measure how well you’re doing in using your gifts, how are you doing?

4.  How could changing the way you think about your gifts change your approach to using them?

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind, please visit:
The Romans Study

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:

 

To make a donation of any size and choose a book as our way of saying thanks, please visit:
Make A Donation/Get A Book!

 

To find us on Facebook, please visit:
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Invite your friends!  We’d love to have them study along with us-and you!  Just forward this email and encourage them to sign up for themselves at the link below.

This Week’s Sermon From The Ranch – Being Transformed – Part 1

(Each Sunday, This Day’s Thought is blessed to share Eric Elder’s sermons from his wonderful ministry, “The Ranch“)
The Ranch: A Place of Healing and Restoration
Being Transformed – Part 1

Lesson 26 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind

 

By Eric Elder
The Ranch
I’d like to give you three practical ideas today for how to transform your life.  These ideas have been passed on to me over the years, and I’m glad to pass them onto you.  They’re based in part on the verse in Romans 12 for which this entire study of the book of Romans is named, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind.  The verse says this:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a).

This verse contains two distinct thoughts for how you can transform your life, like two sides of the same coin.  On one side of the coin, it says:  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…”  And on the other side it says:  “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Two different thoughts, but the same goal.  Don’t conform.  Be transformed.

Today I’d like to focus on the first side of the coin, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.”  Next week, we’ll look at the other side of the coin, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When Paul talks about “the pattern of this world,” he’s talking about what might seem “normal” in the world around us.  But the truth is that what’s normal in the world around us are thoughts and ideas that pull us in the exact opposite direction that God wants for us.  This is why Paul didn’t want the Romans to conform to the world around them, and why God doesn’t want us to conform to the world around us.

But how do you break out of what may seem “normal”?  How do you break out of “the pattern of this world”?

Here are a few ideas that others have passed on to me over the years, and I’m glad to pass them onto you.  These aren’t meant to be legalistic “do’s and don’t’s” for your life, but they’re good ideas that I’ve tested out in my own life and found to be extremely helpful.  So in that light, here are three ideas that might help you to avoid being conformed to the world around you.  And all three have to do with the media that we consume:   the TV shows, movies, and material we read.

I’m not a TV basher, but before my wife and I got married twenty-two years ago, we read a book that encouraged us not to have a TV in our house for the first year of our marriage.  The author suggested that having a TV in your house is like having a third partner in your marriage.  It’s always sitting there, always available for a bit of entertainment or distraction, and could take away significant time from simply enjoying each other’s company during the first year of your marriage.  The author also suggested that the first year of marriage is perhaps the most important, for in the first year couple’s start patterns that can become habits for the rest of their married life.

So we gave it a try.  It was radical idea among the people we knew.  I remember a family that came over one night and the first thing one of the kids did when he walked in the house was to started running around in circles, looking for the TV.  When he couldn’t find one, he started shouting with a bit of desperation in his voice, saying, “This is a house with no TV!  This is a house with no TV!”

But for us, we were so excited about getting married and spending as much time as we could together that it didn’t seem like we were giving up that much.  It was great to just spend our hours talking together, cooking together, and doing dishes together.

When we finally did get a TV again, we were shocked at how much the programming seemed to have changed in the time that we weren’t watching.  Looking back, it’s hard to know if the programming had gotten so much worse, or if we had just been away from it for long enough to realize that the shows on TV were no longer “normal” for us.  It was easy to turn it off and keep it off.

Over the years, we’ve gone through various seasons where we’ve watched more TV than others, but in general, that first year of marriage set a pattern for us that has held for more than two decades.  We’ve recently moved out into the country where we only get three or four channels at most, and those are dependent on the weather.  And for the most part, neither my wife nor I, nor or six kids, seem to miss it too much.  Our family has grown up with TV on the “side burner” of our lives, not at its center, an idea that started for us over twenty-two years ago, and has continued to help us avoid being conformed to the pattern of this world.

“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said.  And by intentionally limiting the amount and type of TV shows that we’ve watched, we’ve been better able to keep God’s view of what’s “normal” in plain sight, rather than the world’s view of life.

The second type of media that people have suggested I limit over the years are the types of movies I watch.  Prior to becoming a Christian, I would watch all kinds of movies, regardless of their ratings.  Someone challenged me, however, on the idea of not watching any movie that was rated R or above, an idea that again seemed radical to me at the time.  I was over 17, after all, and why cut out what might be good movies, just because they contained more adult content?  But I respected the person who told me, and began to look more closely at the movies I watched.

I noticed that whenever I would watch an R-rated movie, the images that stayed in my head the longest seemed to be those images that gave the movie it’s R-rating.  There may have been other redeeming qualities to the movies, but those that stuck with me the most were those that were most questionable, whether violence, or cursing, or strong sensuality.    I began to realize that if the people in Hollywood, whose morals and values were often much more loose than my own, felt that a movie had questionable content for the general public, then perhaps there was a reason for me to stay away from it, too!

A friend of recently told me that he, too, used to watch R-rated movies all the time, not thinking anything about it.  He could handle it, he thought.  It didn’t affect him, he said, to watch women in little or no clothing, or to watch gruesome violence, or to listen to people repeatedly take God’s name in vain.  But then he got married.  And when he brought home a stack of movies to watch with his wife, he saw it through new eyes:  hers.  After trying to watch a few movies together, his wife said, “Why are you watching that?”  She began to wonder what kind of man she had married, who thought that these kinds of shows were normal.  Now he chooses his movies more carefully, not just because of his wife, but because he realized that the movies he watched were affecting his view of life and what he considered to be “normal.”

“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said.  By intentionally putting limits on the types of movies that we watch, whether it’s going by the rating systems that Hollywood has put in place, or checking out movie reviews first by people that we trust, such as “Plugged In”, we’ve found ourselves better able to focus on God’s pattern for our lives and less on the world’s.

The third type of media that I’ve had to take control over are the things I read-the newspapers and magazines, blogs and books.  Words have power, and a writer can steer a person’s emotions and thoughts and viewpoints in ways that can affect us for a lifetime, whether for good or for bad.

I remember a national newspaper that I used to love to read.  The stories were always interesting and educational.  When I read them, I learned so much about topics I never thought about, and I felt like the paper was keeping me “up” with current events, and helping me have the inside scoop on what was going on.  But over time, I realized that whenever the paper wrote about topics that I already knew something about in-depth, I found that the authors were surprisingly one-side in their views, leaving out opposing views or slanting the articles towards conclusions that were the exact opposite of mine.

I continued reading the paper because I was learning so much about other topics, but began to wonder: If the paper could take such a one-sided view of the topics that I did know about in-depth, what other ideas were they skewing in my mind on topics that I knew much less about? As much as I loved the paper-and my company at the time even paid for my subscription-I decided to cancel it.  I didn’t want my worldview to be shaped by an organization that held such different beliefs at their core than my own.

The same has carried over into the books I read and the blogs that I follow.  My goal isn’t just to surround myself with ideas that are only compatible with my own, but to consider carefully what I’m reading and why, rather than just consuming the material because it’s interesting or intriguing.  Books, newspapers, magazines, blogs all come with their own slant, no matter how much they say they are trying to remain neutral.  The important thing to find out is whether that slant is in line with God’s Word or not, and then choosing what we read based on that.

“Don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said.  And by being careful about what I read, making sure it lines up with God’s view of life rather than than the world’s view of life, I find it much easier to resist the pull of the world on my heart and soul.

In all three of these areas-whether it’s TV show you watch, the movies you buy or download or rent, or the newspapers or magazines or books or blogs that you read-God wants you to be careful about what you take into your life.  You don’t have to be a prude, and you don’t have to be legalistic.  Each of these media can have good, useful and redeeming values.  But if you want to see your life transformed, you’ll find that the process will be easier when you take control over the media that you consume.  You’ll begin to get your life back, your time back, and be able to see the world with a set of fresh eyes.

“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul said.  That’s not just good advice from a first-century apostle to the Romans of his day.  It’s good advice for you and me in regards to the world of our day, too.

Next week, I’ll share more about the flip side of this coin, with some practical ideas for how to you can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  In the mean time, I pray that God will use the ideas I’ve shared with you today to spark new ways that you can avoid being conformed to the pattern of this world.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for helping us realize that You don’t want us to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Help us to cut out or limit those things that are harmful to us, causing us to conform to the pattern of the world.  Give us ideas for how we can do this in practical ways in our lives and in our world.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S.  Thanks to those of you who have been praying for us and our ministry.  It means so much.  Your prayers are powerful, and they’re helping us get God’s Word out to so many people around the world.  I’m still adding people to our prayer team who would like to get updates every month or so about our ministry so you can pray for us in specific ways.  If you’d like to join the team,  just send me a note at eric@theranch.org and I’ll keep you updated about our prayer needs on a regular basis.  I know that not only will we be blessed, but many others around the world will be blessed because of your prayers for us.  Thanks so much!

Questions for Reflection
1.  Read Romans 12:1-2.  What relationship is there between offering your body to God as a living sacrifice and not conforming to the pattern of this world?
2. What dangers can you see in your own life that might stem from conforming too much to the pattern of this world?
3. Are there any ideas from today’s message that you might want to put into practice in your own life, or has it sparked any other ideas that you might want to try?
4. At the end of verse 2, Paul say that if you don’t conform and be transformed you’ll be able to “test and approve” what God’s will is for your life.  What does Paul mean by this?
To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,please visit:
The Romans Study

 

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:
The Ranch Giftshop

 

To make a donation of any size and choose a book as our way of saying thanks, please visit:
Make A Donation/Get A Gift!

 

To find us on Facebook, please visit:
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To invite Eric to speak to your group of any size, whether by Skype or in person, please visit:
Booking Information

 

This Week’s Sermon From The Ranch: Correcting Misperceptions

Correcting Misperceptions

Lesson 25 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind

By Eric Elder
The Ranch

The way we perceive things isn’t always the way they are.  Yet those misperceptions can persist for years, causing us to miss the truth of what God might be trying to say to us.  But God has a way of bringing the truth into our lives, if we’re open to it, in a way that can renew our minds and change our perspective on everything.

 

I had an email from a woman who wondered if Jesus could possibly love her–not because of something she had done, but because of who she was:  a Jew.  She had always been told that Jesus doesn’t love Jews.  Yet after reading some of the stories on my website, she was confronted with a new truth.  Was is possible that Jesus might love a Jew?

 

I don’t want to betray her confidence, but I would like to share a portion of her heartfelt letter with you because I feel that her words express something that we all wonder about at times:  whether God really loves us or not, too.  Here’s part of what she said in her letter.  How would you answer her?

 

I was sent your site by accident, and have been reading the stories.  The more I read the more questions I have.  I’ve never seen Jesus portrayed as this site does.  I should tell you that I’m Jewish and I believe in the one true G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

 

I’ve read some the stories on your site and have to wonder how they could be true, but I can’t stop reading them either, something just feels right about them.  My heritage has ingrained in me that Jesus isn’t for my people.  I can’t explain why, but I find some of the stories making me cry and I’m not one that cries easily.  It doesn’t make sense.  I don’t even know why I’m writing.  I’m just really confused.  How can this G-d of yours, be the G-d I’ve grown up with?  Would Jesus love someone who hasn’t been faithfully reading the Torah for a long time? 

 

I’m sorry, I know this doesn’t make any sense, and I’ve always been told that Jesus doesn’t love Jews.  But after reading some of the stories I just don’t know what to believe.  Is it possible he might love a Jew?

 

How would you answer a letter like that?  Could you find enough evidence in the Bible to show that Jesus really did love this woman?  And even if you could, how could you convey it to her in a way that she would believe it?

 

As for me, I shared with her that I could understand why she might wonder if Jesus loved the Jews.  But the truth is that Jesus was a Jew.  His own twelve disciples were Jewish.  And the whole New Testament-which talks about Jesus-was written by Jews.

Jesus Himself never left the land of Israel to go to any other nation, except for a brief time as a child when His parents took Him to Egypt to avoid being killed by King Herod.

 

Does Jesus love the Jews?  Absolutely!  But sometimes it’s hard to see the truth through all of the misperceptions that we’ve been taught or believed for so many years.

 

The Apostle Paul faced similar misperceptions among the people that he ministered to as well.  Some of them believed that God had finally given up on the Jews, because Paul and others were now taking the gospel to the Gentiles.

 

But nothing could have been further from the truth.  In Romans 11, Paul said:

 

“I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah-how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (Romans 11:1-5).

 

God’s heart still beat with love for the Jews, and the Apostle Paul was one of many of them.  Paul  himself regularly preached and ministered in the Jewish synagogues first whenever he arrived at a new town, just as Jesus did (see Matthew 4:26, 9:35, 12:9, 13:54, Acts 14:1, 17:2, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8).

 

But Paul, like Jesus, faced a fair amount of opposition in the synagogues, and when they were thrown out of them, they took their message just as zealously to the Gentiles in those areas.  After several years of this, it seems that some of the Gentiles began to think of themselves more highly than the Jews around them.  But Paul gave them this warning:

 

“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

 

“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either” (Romans 11:13-21).

 

Paul wisely warns the Romans not to be arrogant about God’s love for them, but to remember that they were grafted into the root because of their faith, and to stand firm in that faith to the end.

 

We all have misperceptions at times.  Whether we’re Jewish and questioning God’s love for us, or whether we’re Gentiles and becoming arrogant about His love for us.  In either case, God wants to bring His truth into our lives and clear up any misperceptions we might have.  He wants us to know that He loves us deeply, and to respond to that love in faith.

 

I was talking recently to a father and his college-age son who felt a barrier had grown up between them.  The father seemed to feel the son wasn’t interested in a relationship with him because of some of the things that had passed between them, and the son felt that his father was no longer interested in a relationship with him because of the distance that he felt.

 

During our talk, the father said that not a day went by when he didn’t think about his son, and the son said that he wished he could find ways to spend more meaningful time with his father.  Yet these thoughts had gone unspoken for so long that both of them felt the other no longer loved or cared about the other.  It was only when the Holy Spirit brought out these deep truths through their conversation that they realized that they both eagerly wanted their relationship to be restored, but didn’t know how to express it.  Tears flowed as they prayed together, having come face to face with the truth.  I pray they’re on a new path in their relationship with one another.

 

I also pray for the Jewish woman who wrote to me, that God would continue to speak His truth into her life, and help her to respond to that truth in faith.  I know He can do it, for He has done it for me and for many, many other people throughout history.  I believe He can do it for you, too.

 

At the end of Romans, chapter 11, Paul breaks out into one of the most beautiful doxologies in the Bible-an eruption of praise to God:

 

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! 

   How unsearchable His judgments,  
   and His paths beyond tracing out!  
‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?  
   Or who has been His counselor?’ 
‘Who has ever given to God,  
   that God should repay Him?’ 
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  
   To Him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

 

 

If you need some of God’s deep wisdom and knowledge in your life this week, I’d encourage you to call out to Him and ask Him to reveal more of His truth to you.  Ask Him to correct any misperceptions you may have about Him, or about your relationships with those around you.  Ask Him to guide you and direct you and point you in the direction He wants you to go, trusting that He will always lead you along a path that is absolutely the best for you.

 

Then, when He reveals His wisdom to you, I pray you’ll respond to it in faith, taking the steps that He wants you to take.  When you do, I hope you’ll find yourself like Paul, erupting in praise and saying:

 

“Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  … To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.”

 

Will you pray with me?

 

Father, thank You for reminding us that we don’t always have the fullness of Your truth, but that if we come to You, You can pour it out on us in abundance.  Lord, reveal Your truth to us this week so we can clear up any misperceptions we have about You and about those around us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

P.S.  I’ve begun a new prayer team for our ministry in recent weeks, and would love for you to join it if you’d like to pray for us on a regular basis.  While it may seem self-serving to ask others to pray for us, it’s actually just the opposite!  By having you pray for us, we’ll be able to reach out farther and do more than ever before!  We all benefit when we pray for each other.  If you’d like to be on our prayer team and receive an update of our prayers and praises every month or so, just send me a note at eric@theranch.org.  Thanks so much!

 

Questions for Reflection
1.  Read Romans 11:1-32.  In verses 13 and 14, what does Paul say is one of the benefits he hopes will result from his ministry to the Gentiles?
2. What would you say to someone who’s Jewish who wonders if Jesus might possibly love them?
3. In verses 17-21, what reason does Paul give for why some branches were broken off, and why others were grafted in?
4. What misperceptions might you have, whether about God’s love for you or about your relationships with others, that God might want to correct?  Call out to Him this week and ask Him to reveal His truth to you.

 

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,please visit:
The Romans Study

 

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:
The Ranch Giftshop

 

To make a donation of any size and choose a book as our way of saying thanks, please visit:
Make A Donation/Get A Gift!

 

To find us on Facebook, please visit:
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To invite Eric to speak to your group of any size, whether by Skype or in person, please visit:
Booking Information

This Week’s Sermon From The Ranch – Trusting The Potter

(This Day’s Thought is pleased to bring you Eric Elder’s new sermon series, “Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind.”)


The Ranch: A Place of Healing and Restoration


Trusting In The Potter

Lesson 21 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind

By Eric Elder
www.theranch.org


Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the three trees, where each one had a glorious dream for their future.  One wanted to be crafted into a beautiful treasure chest, covered with gold and filled with precious jewels.  Another wanted to be turned into boards for a mighty sailing ship, carrying kings and queens across the sea.  The third didn’t want to be cut down at all, but wanted to grow as tall as possible, pointing people towards God as they looked up into its branches.

A day came, however, when each of the trees were cut down and taken away.  The first was turned into a feeding trough, not a treasure chest.  The second was too weak to be used for a mighty ship and was was used for a common fishing boat instead.  The third was deemed too worthless for much of anything, and was cut into pieces and thrown into the scrap pile.

Rather than seeing their dreams fulfilled, each of the trees felt abandoned and without hope.  It’s a tragic story and one that has been repeated many times, in many lives, over the years.  It may even be part of your story.

Maybe you’ve had dreams of getting married, raising a family, and serving God with your whole heart, only to see your dreams dashed by divorce, adultery, and kids who have all but lost their faith.  Maybe you’ve had dreams of being wildly successful in business, giving generously to the poor and needy, only to find yourself being poor and needy instead.  Maybe you’ve stepped out in faith to start a new ministry, or a new job, or a new life in a place where you really felt God had called you to, only to find yourself far from home and wondering why you ever left in the first place.

Rather than seeing your dreams fulfilled, you may feel— like the trees in the story—abandoned and without hope.  

If so, I want to encourage you today to keep putting your faith and trust in God.  Remember that God is the Potter and you are the clay.  Keep trusting that He is molding and shaping you into exactly what He wants you to be.  As the Apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 9:

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why did You make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:20-21).

Sometimes we bristle at the thought that we don’t fully control our own destiny.  None of us wants to be like a puppet on a string, pulled this way or that by some unseen puppet master.  Yet when you put your faith in God and let Him take control of your life, you can trust that He will guide you and direct you in ways that are better than even you could have imagined.  

I had a friend this week who was wondering if she had been shortchanged when God passed out the BLT’s—the Brains, the Looks and the Talents.  She wondered why others seemed to have gotten so much more in some of those areas.  But the truth is, she wasn’t shortchanged at all.  First of all, she had actually been given huge amounts of each, but couldn’t see it for herself.  Secondly, I assured her that God had, in fact, given her everything she needed to fulfill His plan for her life.  As Paul said to the Ephesians:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

If God has prepared good works in advance for you to do, He will give you everything you need for the walk He’s called you to walk.  And He’ll continue to do so, even if it seems like you’re going in a direction you hadn’t planned.  The key is to keep putting your faith and trust in the Potter, remembering that He is FOR you and will work all things together for your good.  When you put your faith in God, you put a smile on His face.  As the writer of Hebrews says:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

God is pleased when you put your faith in Him, and He will reward you when you earnestly seek Him. 

This, after all, is what the whole book of Romans is about.  Paul is continually telling the Christians in Rome that it is their faith that matters most to God, not their righteous acts or their heritage—whether they were born Jewish or Gentile.  In chapter 9, Paul laments the fact that so many Jews have missed the fact that God wants them to come to Him by faith.  Paul begins by saying:

“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 9:2-5).

Paul sees the noble heritage that the Jews had been given because of the faith of Abraham.  Yet Paul also says that just because someone is a descendant of Abraham doesn’t mean they are actually people of faith.   

“For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’  In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (Romans 9:6b-8).

Paul then goes on to describe how God raised up various people for various purposes, whether it was Isaac or Jacob or Moses or Pharaoh.  Some were for noble purposes, and some for common use, but all were for His glory.  

God wants you to keep putting your faith in Him.  And when you do, He’ll reward you!

Remember the story of the three trees?  It would have been tragic if their story had ended when all their dreams were dashed to pieces.  Thankfully, their story doesn’t end there.  Their dreams were eventually fulfilled—but in a way that went beyond all that they could have imagined.  

The first tree didn’t get to become a treasure chest that it had hoped, covered with gold and filled with precious stones.  It became a feeding trough for animals instead.  But one day, it was covered with golden straw and when the most precious treasure of all was laid inside it—the Son of God—the tree realized its dream had been fulfilled.  

The second tree didn’t get to become the mighty sailing ship that it had hoped, carrying kings and queens across the sea.  Instead, it was used for a common fishing boat.  But one day, that boat carried a group of men who were caught in a fierce storm on a lake.  One of the men stood up and said to the wind and the waves, “Be still,” and they obeyed Him.  As soon as the tree realized what had been done, it realized that it was carrying no ordinary man, but the King of all kings, the One who had created the whole universe.  

And the third tree, the one that didn’t want to be cut down at all, but point people to God when they looked up into its branches?  Eventually its boards were pulled from the scrap pile and used as the cross on which our Savior was crucified.  And when Jesus rose from the dead three days later, that tree realized that from then on, whenever anyone thought of the cross, their thoughts would be pointed towards God.

You may feel like your life isn’t working out the way you had dreamed.  You may feel like you’re not in the place that you had hoped to be.  But don’t give up on God—and don’t give up on your dreams.  God has a way of fulfilling them beyond what you could imagine.

I know of families who have weathered the storms of divorce and adultery and have come out on the other side praising God and helping many others along the way.  I know of people who have lost their businesses and homes and things of this world who are now giving away more than anyone else around them, because they’ve learned what it means to give everything to God.  I know of people who have struggled in faith and sometimes wondered if they were doing the right thing, but eventually discovered that God was in it every step of the way.

Don’t give up on your dreams, and don’t get upset if things aren’t working out the way that you had hoped.  Keep trusting in the Potter.  Whether He wants to use your life for noble purposes or common use, it’s all for His glory.  Your Father really does know best.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for reminding us that You are in control, even when our lives seem out of control.  Thank You that You are the potter and we are the clay.  Help us to be moldable and shapable by You today.  Help us to continue to trust in You, that You will reward us when we believe that You exist and earnestly seek You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Tale of Three TreesP.S.  The Tale of Three Trees is a beautiful picture book written by Angela Elwell Hunt. There’s more to the story than what I’ve told you, and if you’d like to get a copy, you can get it from Amazon.com.  While you’re there, you might also want to pick up a few of my devotional books for yourself or your friends for Christmas.  These are inspiring books that will encourage you that God is continually working on your behalf, when you put your full faith and trust in Him.  To read more about these books, take a look at the links below:
The Tale of Three Trees
Eric Elder’s Devotionals

Questions for Reflection
1.  Read Romans 9:1-33.  How do you feel about letting God be the potter, and trusting Him to mold you and shape you as He sees fit?  What might be appealing or unappealing about this idea?
2. What is it that Paul wishes for his Jewish brothers and sisters in this passage?
3. Why does Paul say in verse 6 that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”?  What’s the difference?  Consider verses 30-32 in your response as well.
4. Read Hebrews 11:6.  What does God seem to want from you more than anything else right now, and what can you expect from Him as a result?

To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind, please visit:
The Romans Study

To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:
The Ranch Giftshop

To make a donation of any size and get a CD as our way of saying thanks, please visit:
Get a CD

To find us on Facebook, please visit:
The Ranch on FaceBook

To invite Eric to speak to your group of any size, whether by Skype or in person, please visit:
Booking Information

Invite your friends!  We’d love to have them study along with us—and you!  Just forward this email and encourage them to sign up for themselves at the link below.


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