Among Whom You Shine

Have you ever been in total darkness?  Teresa and I have visited Ruby Falls in Chattanooga a couple of times.  We took an elevator deep into Lookout Mountain and then walked ¼ mile back into the cave to see these beautiful underground water falls.  The trip always includes the lights being turned out.  Now this is total darkness.  It doesn’t matter how long you are there and how much your eyes try to adjust to the darkness, there is nothing to see.

Then after a few moments someone lights a small light.  Everyone’s attention is drawn to the light.  No one continues to look around at the darkness.  The light dispels the darkness.  The darkness doesn’t overcome the light.  The light overcomes the darkness.

Although Martin Luther King was not the first to coin the phrase, he once noted that darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

It is especially true spiritually.  Light dispels the darkness!

There are more than 100 instances in the Bible where light represents good.  Darkness always represents evil.  A survey of the following verses will attest to this fact.  1 Pet 2:9; Eph 5:8; John 1:4, 3:19

In Matt 5:14-16, we find:

You are the light of the world.

Let your light so shine before men,

That they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Our lives and our works are the lights that must shine forth in a dark world.  And we must never forget the purpose we serve, that is to glorify our GOD in heaven!

There is an interesting verse in Philippians 2:15 where a reference is made that we live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  I recall a paraphrase of this that referred to this crooked and perverse generation as a bunch of crooks and perverts.

But finish reading the verse.  What is our responsibility in this darkness?  We are to shine as lights in the world.

If we analyze the phrase “You shine as lights in the world” in the Greek language there are several important lessons for us.  First we note the phrase is present, imperative, and active in the Greek text.  So what does that mean?  The tense is present which means it is happening now, it is on-going.  The imperative mood implies this is not a suggestion.  It is a command!  And finally, the active voice means it is something we as individuals must do personally.  It is not done for us.

So I (personally) am commanded (!) to shine my light (continually) in this darkened world in order to glorify my GOD.

Light dispels darkness.  I am told that in ideal conditions the human eye can see a candle on a dark night from 30 miles away.   The power of light to dispel darkness is amazing.  What a great influence such a small light can have.

Well my actions are so small and insignificant, they can’t make any difference in this dark and hostile world.  Or can they? Oh yes, a small light can have a great effect on casting out the darkness.

Yes we live in a world of darkness.  Are we shining our light for the world to see?

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A Thorn

We all have had a splinter or briar in our hand at some point.  Sometimes it is even so small we can barely see it.  But oh how it can hurt.  And if it is not removed, the area begins to swell and turn red with infection.  Sometimes when we finally get it out we are amazed at how small it is.  Yes, that little thing can cause great pain!

From childhood, I remember the story of the lion with a splinter in his paw.  The little mouse came along and made a great friend of the beast by removing the source of his pain.

The Bible speaks of a thorn in the flesh.  In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul said a thorn in the flesh had been given him.

There has been much speculation as to Paul’s thorn in the flesh.   I have personally read at least 12 different opinions as to what that thorn really was.  Some of these include headaches, epilepsy, fever, faulty eyesight, and even false teachers.

Since the Scriptures do not identify it, it remains just a topic of speculation.  We should spend very little time trying to identify what the thorn in the flesh was for Paul.

Instead of trying to speculate as to what the thorn in the flesh was, let us consider what purpose it served.  Paul says it was given to him to buffet him and prevent him from becoming exalted.  It was a constant reminder of his mortality.

It was given him to keep him humble. It is important to note this immediately follows Paul recounting his being privy to seeing scenes of heaven and hearing things he could not utter.  At least I think Paul was speaking of himself in verses 1 through 4.  Of such a privilege, Paul knew not to boast.  And in this context, to keep him from being exalted, the thorn was given Paul.

The Scriptures say that he sought relief but was told by the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  And just as Christ did in the garden, Paul prayed three times.  His prayer was answered.  But it was not answered in the way he wanted.  The thorn was not removed.  The thorn was given him for a purpose.

Herein lies a thought for us to consider.  We all have our thorns in the flesh.  We all have issues in life that cause us concern and pain.  If life were all peaks and no valleys why would we need a loving Savior to comfort us?

I have a thorn in the flesh.  And I like Paul know that the grace of my Lord and Savior is sufficient for me.

Life is not all a bed of roses.  There are thorns.  And they sometimes have a purpose.

Paul said he took pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  He realized that strength comes from adversity.  Lord, help me to realize the same and to lean on You.

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Immanuel

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Isa 7:14

Matthew 1:23 makes clear this prophecy was fulfilled with the birth of Christ. Matthew further translates the meaning of this name. Immanuel means GOD with us.

GOD with us.
When Jesus was born His name literally meant GOD is with us. Jesus is GOD! Jesus’ deity may be questioned by some today but make no mistake, He was and is GOD. He is GOD the Son.  He came to be with us. He has identified with His creation. He left heaven and came to earth to live as a man. (Phil 2:5-8) He was 100% man and 100% GOD during that time.

GOD for us.
The Bible also tells us GOD is for us.
What then shall we say to these things? If GOD is for us, who can be against us? Rom 8:31

GOD is on my side! GOD plus one always yields a majority. HE is on my side.  Let me be sure that I am on HIS side.

GOD in us.
…through His Spirit who dwells in you. Rom 8:11
One GOD and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in you all. Eph 4:6

The Spirit of GOD indwells the faithful Christian through the inspired word, the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit comforts (Acts 9:31), strengthens (Eph 3:16), gives us hope (Rom 15:4), transforms us (2 Cor 3:18), and produces fruit within us (Gal 5:22-23).

GOD in us.
And GOD for us.
All because GOD came to be with us.
For that I am most thankful.

 

 

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The Atheist

Recently I read a letter to the editor from a very combative atheist.  When I finished I remember thinking of what I would say to the writer if given the chance.  It is very simply this.

Let us first suppose that when this life is over, he is correct.  When we both die, there is nothing else.  We both face the same fate.  As the old adage goes, we like Rover are dead all over. With no resurrection, there is nothing else.  Our existence ends at the grave.

So with this being our consideration, what difference does it make?  It is not as though he can then say I told you so!

We both have lived our lives and at death there is nothing else.  Consider both cases, his and mine, as to what we have gained or lost.  In this presupposition of no life hereafter, we both have lost nothing. However, I still will have gained because I lived my life with the hope of something else awaiting.  The Hebrew writer calls this hope the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19).  Paul noted that even as our outward man perishes the inward man is renewed day by day because of this hope (1 Corinthians 4:16).

A wise man once said even if there is no resurrection, the Christian life is still worth living if only for the benefits here on earth.  This great hope influences how I see life and it answers the great questions of life.  This hope gives me comfort in the troublesome times of life.  The rewards in the life of a believer are endless not only in eternity but also in the here and now.

Romans 8:6 reads, For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Note the word appearing before life and peace.  It is the verb “is”.  It is not the verb “will be”.  It is clear the reward for a spiritual life is here and now as well as the future.

Yes, I believe there is great gain in the here and now for the believer.  I have yet to see there is any gain in this life by holding the atheistic point of view.

Now let us consider the other scenario.  This is the case for which I am firmly committed.  This is to consider the question, ‘what if I am right’?  What if when this life is over there is a resurrection?  What if the grave is not the end?

Now consider both men in this light.  Very simply put, the believer has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Conversely, the atheist has everything to lose and nothing to gain.  To discover one is wrong on this matter will mean losing one’s soul to an eternity in hell.

We have two choices here.  One has everything to gain and nothing to lose.  The other has everything to lose and nothing to gain.  I’ve never been much of a gambler but this seems like a pretty easy decision to me.

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WWIDWJ

WWJD

What would Jesus do?  This was a very popular saying some time ago.  It is indeed a worthy consideration as we face life’s daily struggles.  If our aim is to be Christ-like then maybe this needs to be more than an acronym on a bracelet.  We would do well to put our daily activities and questions of life through this test.

But as I ponder this idea, I would like to tweak the acronym to address a powerful question posed in Scripture.

WWIDWJ

What will I do with Jesus?

All of mankind will answer this question.  It may not be in this lifetime but we will answer in time.

The question is a quote from Pilate in Matthew 27:22.  Here in the trial of Jesus he asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?”

Pilate realized Jesus was innocent but failed to stand up to the angry mob as they demanded Jesus be crucified.  He then symbolically washed his hands of the matter and tried to proclaim his innocence.

What will I do with Jesus?

We all must answer this question.  And my eternal destination depends on how I answer this.

As I ponder this question I am led to yet another question from Scripture.

WWIDWJ

Rather than Pilate’s question of “What will I do with Jesus?”  Let us consider Peter’s question, “What will I do without Him?”  This question is found in the gospel of John following the fact that many of the disciples turned away and no longer followed Him.  Jesus asked those remaining if they were going to turn away also.  And in this context we find John 6:68.

But Simon Peter answered Him, “LORD, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life?” 

In this passage consider the following 4 points.

  1. Lord to whom shall we go? Peter recognized there was no other. John 14:6 notes Jesus is the only way.
  2. You – Jesus was the “you.” He was GOD’S provisional plan from the beginning.  Genesis 3:15 is the first revelation of that plan.  GOD told Satan about the coming Messiah.  Though it took hundreds of years, Peter recognized that Jesus was the Christ.  Jesus was the “You” GOD had promised.
  3. The words – These are the words that signify the plan by which salvation has come. These words were shared with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 leading him to his conversion. It has been said the confession made in verse 37 are the 10 most important words one can utter.
  4. Eternal life – This is the perfect place representing life as opposed to the second death described in Revelation 21:8.

WWIDWJ – What will I do without Jesus?  Very few people deny that the man Jesus lived.  Even those who are not of the Christian persuasion admit He lived.  The history books are filled with this fact.  Our calendars mark the year from His birth.  But many in the world do not submit to His Deity.  Many Jews and Moslems as well as others deny that He is GOD.

What will I do without Jesus?  Peter recognized there was salvation in no other name.

The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 made his confession when he said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of GOD.”

As worthy as WWJD is, I think WWIDWJ is of even greater importance.

What will I do with Jesus?  Yes we all must answer this question.  As the old song goes, what will you do with Jesus, neutral you cannot be!  I must also realize the seriousness of “What will I do without Him.”

Philippians 2:10, 11 tells us there will come a time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.

Let us bow and confess now on this side of the final judgment, so that our fear will not be to await the answer to “what will He do with me?”

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READ

There is an old adage in education stating that by 3rd grade you learn to read and then you spend the rest of your life reading to learn.  You learn to read and then read to learn.  Think about that for a moment and realize the importance of reading.

Recently I visited the school where my two older grandsons attend.  I was honored to see a sign posted that recognized the “readers of the month.”   The younger of the two received the award in 1st grade and the older one represented the 3rd grade.  Ok, so I was a proud Pop.  But it really was because I realize the importance of reading and the impact it will have throughout life.

It really is that important.  My Teresa was a school counselor for many years.  She began in elementary school and then in the later years she moved to high school and worked with seniors.  This gave her a unique opportunity to observe children all the way through their public school years.  She has noted that it was interesting to see the children whom she remembered struggling with reading in the early grades, were usually the ones who struggled later on.  Their struggles often included failing the graduation exam, dropping out of school or developing behavioral issues.  This was not always the case but it was a very good predicter.

Ralph Blackwell was his name.  He was a teacher I had during my high school years.  He frequently encouraged us to be readers and would often tell us to “teach yourselves to think.”

The word “read” is found six times in the book of Matthew and each time it is the LORD chastising the Jews by saying “Have you not read?”  And then following this question, He would note something from the Old Law.  It is noteworthy that He expected them to read.  Let us not be guilty of the same accusation by neglecting to read the law by which we are under, that is, the New Testament.

A most interesting passage is found in Ephesians 3: 3, 4.   Here we read (pun intended), “how that by revelation, He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ).

Note the progression by placing the following numbers by each word:

1) mystery

2) revelation

3) written

4) read

5) understand.

The first Messianic reference is found in Genesis 3:15.  For hundreds of years and through many prophecies, the full revelation of the Christ would be described as a mystery.  In the Ephesians passage, Paul says what started as a mystery now has been revealed through revelation; Paul as a penman of that revelation (the New Testament) committed it to writing.  But for us to get to number 5 and the understanding requires us to READ.

There is a section of Scripture called the Beatitudes.  Most recognize these to be the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5 – 7.  It is interesting to note there are 7 Beatitudes in the book of Revelation.  The first one is found in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it;”

Let us resolve to read, hear, and keep the words that will determine our eternal destination.

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1517 and 1492

Today is the 500th anniversary of an event which had a tremendous impact on our religious world.  This is the 500th anniversary of the event involving Martin Luther and his protest of the religious environment of his day.  He nailed his 95 protests or theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany on October 31, 1517.

Although there were several other men, in many locations, involved in a similar movement, Martin Luther’s act is best associated with what is known as The Reformation.  There were also men such as John Calvin, John Wesley, John Knox and others.  It is called The Reformation because they each had the mindset of reforming the religious institution of their day. 

Luther’s 95 protests detailed practices of the Church which he viewed as being out of harmony with the Bible.  The protesting movement and the subsequent branches of religion became known as the Protestant Movement.  Every religion or church that is part of the Protestant movement can be traced to a beginning that is less than 500 years old.  It is important to note the one true church of the Bible is not part of the Protestant Movement; it is not a Protestant church.

My objective today is not to discuss that movement in detail.  But I will note, that mindset didn’t just happen overnight; it was years in the making.  And therein lies the focus of our thoughts today.

I want to tie two major historical events together in order to draw a very important conclusion.

For our consideration today I’d like to consider what happened 25 years prior to 1517.  The year 1492 is widely recognized as the year Columbus discovered America.  So what possible connection is there between 1492 and 1517?  Between the discovery of America and Martin Luther’s protest?

Let us consider the events that preceded the 1492 discovery, in particular consider the religious atmosphere of the Old World in the years leading to this event.  Read the book, Foxe’s Christian Martyrs by John Foxe.  Read of the persecution of men such as John Wycliffe and John Huss.  Read about Jerome of Prague being burned at the stake while singing hymns. There was much religious persecution at that time.  Fleeing this religious persecution was no minor reason for relocating to the New World.

Think of the religious freedoms that followed that discovery in 1492.  It may have taken 2 or 3 centuries to develop but this new land afforded opportunities for those wishing to pursue religious freedoms.  Whether we want to admit it or not, the fact is, this country was founded by those pursuing religious freedoms.  And I might add, they were not pursuing a freedom FROM religion, they were pursuing a freedom OF religion.

I firmly believe GOD’S Hand of Providence was at work in the discovery of America and the eventual founding of our country.  Read the accounts of some of the early established colonies and their preservation against all odds.  GOD’S Hand was in their preservation.

Who can read the Declaration of Independence and think it was written by man without the blessing of Divine guidance?  I am not suggesting it was inspired in the same way the Scriptures are inspired but I am suggesting it was the Providence of Almighty GOD that brought those men together to accomplish the founding of this nation.

The early words of that great document makes the following proclamation.  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

What interesting thoughts.  All men are created equal!  Created by a Creator with certain rights!  Our rights do not come from men, government, or even great documents.  Our rights come from GOD!

I pray GOD’S Hand of Providence will continue to be on our country.  I pray our country will remain the great land of the free.  A land in which my grandchildren and their children can live free and serve the LORD.  I further pray they will strive to be part of the church that had its beginning not within the last 500 years but rather on that great day of Pentecost some 2000 years ago.

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Do I really know Him?

We find the following question relative to Jesus, in various forms 5 times in the Scripture.  Who is this?  (Mt 21:10; Lk 5:21; 7:49; 9:9; John 12:34)

Who is this Jesus?  Do you know Him?

One might say, of course I know Him.  But do you really know Him or do you just know about Him?  It is one thing to be a student of the Bible and know about Him.  And that is very important.  To know the Scriptures is necessary.  But I suggest one can know about Jesus and yet not know Jesus.

How well do you know your spouse?  Well, that’s a silly question.  My Teresa knows me better than anyone ever has.  She knows things about me that no one else does.  She knows my fears.  She knows my dreams.  She knows the things that are deepest in my heart and will move me to tears instantly.  Sometimes I think she knows me better than I know myself.  How did we get to this point?  By spending a lifetime together, communicating every day and sharing the ups and downs of life.  She doesn’t just know about me, she knows me.  And the reverse is true.  I don’t just know about her, I know her!

So what is my point?  It should be pretty easy to determine if we know Jesus or we just know about Jesus.  Do we spend time with Him every day?  Do we communicate constantly with Him?  Is He an integral part of my life?  Or is He compartmentalized into a few minutes here and there throughout my week?  If we really know Jesus, then He is an intimate part of our lives.

So do you know Him or do you just know about Him?  Consider the following.

Communicating with Jesus is a two way street.  He communicates to me through the written word.  So how much time do I spend listening to Him through the reading and meditating of His word?  The Psalmist expressed it like this, Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psa 119:97).  Could the same be said of me?  Throughout my day, as things happen to me, do the Scriptures come to mind?

How about my communication to Him?  This of course is through prayer.  Paul said we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).  Would that be an accurate description of my prayer life?  Or does my prayer life consist of a few dry expressions throughout the day, assuming it is even that much?

A wise man once said that when one leads a public prayer, his private prayer life is on display.  I think of that when I hear public prayers offered with empty phrases included such as “guard, guide, and direct us”.  I don’t want to come across as too critical but I’m trying to get us to think about our prayer life, that is, our communicating to our LORD.

Another area worth mentioning is our attitude when praying.  I can’t judge the heart of the one praying but I occasionally hear public prayers offered that cause me to wonder.  These prayers are offered with an air of pride, almost like you would talk to someone at work.

I challenge you to do this as you pray.  Imagine that you, like John in the Revelation, are allowed to enter the Throne room of heaven and stand before GOD the Father as you pray.  I imagine your first thought is “I wouldn’t be standing, I would be prostrate on the floor.”  That is my thought exactly.  I’m not suggesting a prostrate prayer posture but I am suggesting an attitude within the heart similar to that.  I can imagine a genuine humility and honest praise and worship at that time.

If I can grow to the point of a regular, intimate prayer life and a deep love of His word, then I will begin to draw closer to Him.  And I have the following promise in James 4:8, Draw near to GOD and He will draw near to you.

Then maybe I can answer the question in the affirmative.  Not only do I know about Him, I know Him!  LORD, help us to have a more intimate relationship with You.

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The Unnamed Woman

The women listed in the genealogy of Jesus make for an interesting study.  A closer look at the lineage found in the first chapter of Matthew reveals there are four named women including the mother of our LORD.

For our first consideration let us make this observation.  If the Bible were written by man, we would expect the lineage of the Savior to be a line of perfection.  We would not expect the imperfections of man to be found or at least included in the narrative.  Yet 2 of the 4 named women and their Biblical records are connected to harlotry or prostitution.  This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ!  This is a powerful statement for the Inspiration of the Scriptures; it was not written by man.

Matthew 1:3 lists Tamar in the line of Christ. Her story is found in Genesis 38.  Tamar was married to two of Judah’s sons both having died.  In order to bear a child, Tamar tricked Judah into thinking she was a prostitute.  Thus, Judah’s place in the lineage of Christ was bearing a son by his daughter-in-law.  With the deception, Tamar certainly was not innocent.  But neither was Judah considering that he thought he was visiting a harlot.

Rahab is the next woman named in verse 5 of Matthew 1.  Her story is found in Joshua 2.  Here we find the account of the spies, sent by Joshua, taking shelter in the house of Rahab.  Verse 1 identifies Rahab as a harlot. Yet because of her actions toward the spies, she and her household were spared.  Rahab becomes the mother-in-law of the next named woman.

Then we come to Ruth.  One of the most beautiful Biblical stories is that of her life found in the book named for her.  Ruth 4:21 along with the Matthew passage identifies Ruth as the daughter-in-law of Rahab and great grandmother of David the king.  Ruth is one of only two women in the Bible to have a book named in her honor.   But an even greater honor is that she is listed in the lineage of the Savior found in verse 5.

The 4th named woman in the lineage of the LORD is of course Mary, the mother of Jesus.

There is also a fifth woman, the unnamed woman, referred to simply as “her” in verse 6.  She is the mother of Solomon. She is Bathsheba.  She is listed in the genealogy of Jesus but significantly she is not named.  Rather, Uriah, her husband, is remembered and immortalized by name.

This sordid account is found in 2 Samuel 11.  It is one of the darkest times in David’s life.  He committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, murdered.  Again we see a heinous sin committed by one of the heroes of the Bible.  And rather than covering it up, the Inspired Word shares all the details of the sinful episode.

David received forgiveness for his sin and was later referred to as a man after GOD’S own heart (Acts 13:22).  David’s penitential Psalm 51 was written afterwards.  Although forgiveness was extended to David, verse 3 of the Psalm makes clear that the sin was never forgotten by David.  David had to live with his mistake the rest of his life.

This brings us to a great spiritual truth.  The simple lesson is this.  Although forgiveness can be obtained, that doesn’t necessarily remove the consequences of sin.  GOD can and will forgive and forget (Hebrews 10:17) but that doesn’t mean the consequences will be removed.  Scripture tells us there is a law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7).  Many faithful Christians still pay for the deeds of their former life.

I am thankful for the lessons contained in the lineage of Christ.  I am thankful to know that the heroes of the Bible were human and made mistakes.  I am encouraged when I read those stories.  But I am most thankful that that lineage produced One Who made no mistakes.  His perfect life and loving sacrifice brings forgiveness for my mistakes.  Yes, for that I am most thankful.

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See a Little

Kevin Elko is a motivational speaker.  Recently he shared the story of when he was asked to go to a speaking engagement. When he got to the airport, his driver never showed so he had to take a taxi. After arriving, he asked, “What happened to my driver?” He was told that the driver’s daughter woke him up in the middle of the night.  At this point, Dr. Elko interrupted and said, “My daughter wakes me up and bothers me constantly to ask me this and that and to tell me she can’t sleep.” The person responded, “No, she wasn’t feeling well so the father gave her Nyquil, not realizing she was diabetic, and she died last night.” Kevin Elko said he has never let his daughter’s waking him up bother him again. It’s all about how you look at it, it’s all about perspective.

If only we could learn to have perspective about life.  Life is made up of the little things that we often overlook or take for granted.

In Zechariah 4:10 we read, For who has despised the day of small things?

Kevin Elko made the following observation.  See a little, see a lot; See a lot, see nothing.  This is looking at the little things with the proper perspective.

Mother Teresa said that when she thought of the masses she did little, but when she thought of one she always acted.  That is perspective.

We have recently witnessed powerful destruction from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Seeing the masses who are suffering loss makes us feel so helpless.  But what if we could reach out and help just one person?  Does that make the task seem less daunting?

Galatians 6:10 encourages us to look for the opportunities to do good.  Much of the time those opportunities present themselves in small ways.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the man walking along a beach in the early morning hours.  He was picking up starfish every once in a while and throwing them back into the water.  On observing this for a few minutes a young man asked him what he was doing.  The older man explained that when the sun came up it would dry the starfish and it would die.  The younger man noted that with the thousands of starfish on the beach it wouldn’t make any difference for him to pick up a few.  But the older man explained as he threw another one back, “It made a difference to that one.”

Pay attention to the small things. Look for opportunities.  See a little.  Strive to make a difference to one person today.

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