Saturday, October 04, 2003

Looking for an inspiring speaker who tackles many life issues in a compelling, down-to-earth style? Looking for a motivator who can challenge your organization to be its best? Looking for an evangelist to cap your ministry group's outreach efforts? Consider inviting Mark Daniels to fill one of these roles for you. Contact Mark at
This is another inspiration from Pastor Glen VanderKloot of Faith Lutheran Church in Springfield, Illinois. If you'd like to become a regular subscriber to his daily OnLine with Faith, contact him at:


A Thought for the Day

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start,
any one can start from now and make a brand new ending."

- Author Unknown -

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Bible Verse
Lamentations 5:21

Bring us back to you! Give us a fresh start.

Contemporary English Version

Lord, help me to make some new endings by starting fresh now. Amen.
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Friday, October 03, 2003

The Perseverant God
[This is another installment of a column I write for the Community Press newspapers in Cincinnati.]

My family and I recently joined a local gym. Following my workouts each day, it seems that a different body part is sore. The only thing that keeps me going is my goal of being healthier and stronger, taking care of my body as a gift from God.

In the Bible’s New Testament, a man named Paul notes the self-discipline required of athletes and says that as a follower of Jesus Christ, he tries to “run” his life with the same sort of self-control. “I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others [the Good News of an eternally changed life through the crucified and risen Jesus] I myself should not be disqualified,” he says. (First Corinthians 9:27).

Followers of Jesus disqualify themselves from life with God when they tune God out, self-indulgently living only for themselves, refusing to turn back to God for forgiveness and the power to live the high-quality lives God wants to give all people.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” the Bible says. (Romans 8:1) Forgiveness and everlasting life are God’s gifts to all who follow Jesus. But in a world full of little gods vying for our time and our allegiance, it’s easy to wander away from Christ (James 5:19-20). Like athletes who remember their real goal in life, Jesus-followers need perseverant self-control: doing things that help them in their goal of living with God, avoiding things that distract them from that goal.

In commending perseverance to us, God doesn’t ask us to do anything that He isn’t willing to do Himself. In fact, “perseverant” is one of many words that aptly describes God.

God never gives up on us! And God displays incredible discipline, focus, and supreme self-control in pursuing His mission of living forever with the children He’s made in His own image. The whole Bible is the story of how God has focused His attention and energy on winning us back so that we can live with Him forever.

Most incredibly, God became a human being in the Person of Jesus just so He could take our rightful death sentence for sin. Although on the night before His execution on a cross Jesus understandably wished that there could be some other way of accomplishing this mission, He persevered. He went to the cross. As a result, the Bible says, Jesus has “the Name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

When I think of God’s perseverant love for a sinner like me, I’m overwhelmed. I know that whether by thought, word, action, or all three, I have violated every one of God’s commandments. I am a sinner. But God has never given up on me or on you!

The perseverant God we know through Jesus Christ wants a relationship with you. If you’ve never done so before, you can talk to God right now and tell God, “Lord, I want to turn away from sin and everlasting separation from You and receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and God. Because of what Jesus has done for me on the cross, I ask Your forgiveness and I ask You to give me a new life. I also ask You to live inside of me so that I have the power to persevere in following You my whole life and into eternity.” Then to help you persevere in following Jesus–even after you sin–find a church home where you can serve God and others and where you can be encouraged to keep following the God Who loves you completely.

[Mark Daniels is pastor of Friendship Church, 1300 White Oak Road in Pierce Township.]
The following is an e-mailed inspiration that came to me recently from my colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot. His daily OnLine with Faith is something I highly recommend. You can make sure that you receive these inspirational readings every day by contacting Glen at:

A Thought for the Day

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch,
a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment,
or the smallest act of caring,
all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

- Leo Buscaglia -

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Bible Verse
Mark 10:16

Then Jesus took the children in his arms
and blessed them by placing his hands on them.

Contemporary English Version

Lord, help me to touch the lives of others with a simple touch, or smile. Amen.
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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

QUOTE FOR TODAY: "The Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. It was my desire to stay theologically orthodox that led me to avoid being too specific, despite the biblical parallels in the creation story...That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion,' to cults or practices, in the imaginary world...For the religious element is absorbed into the story and into the symbolism." J.R.R. Tolkien, in a 1953 letter to friend, Father Robert Murray, just before book one was published, cited on one of the coolest web sites around,
The Ten Commandments Controversy
[This is my most recent column, written for the Community Press newspapers of suburban Cincinnati]

Recently, news outlets have been full of controversy over the removal of a monument commemorating the Ten Commandments at an Alabama court house. Some Christians, exercised over this event, went to Alabama to protest. They seem to have thought that in doing so, they were being witnesses for their faith in Christ, helping others to know and follow Him. If that was their aim, I believe that they missed their target completely.

In fact, I believe that by their protest, they gave more harm to the cause of Jesus than help.

Those of us who follow Jesus Christ believe that He was not simply a man; Jesus was also God, the same God Who gave the Ten Commandments. And nowhere in the New Testament, which records Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, can you find a place where Jesus demanded that the government under which He lived erect a monument to His particular religious beliefs.

Jesus never used the levers of governmental power to gain followers. Coercing others into acquiescence to Him just wasn't His way. Once, Jesus and His closest followers came upon a town whose residents refused to let them in. They didn't like Jesus at all. Jesus' followers had just returned from successful mission trips in which the power of God had worked in their favor. The times after such successes can be spiritually dangerous periods for Christians. That's because we're often prone to thinking that the good we accomplish comes from us rather than from God. That was apparently the problem of two of Jesus' followers, James and John, who had an idea. They asked Jesus, "How'd you like us to call fire down from heaven on this town?" Jesus rejected their offer.

Jesus was too busy loving, preaching, teaching, praying, giving, worshiping, healing, and serving to get caught up in needless controversies or to force Himself on others. He knew that you can't win people's allegiances or their hearts by forcing them to acknowledge your religion. He knew that people can only be truly won to His cause through the power of God's tough and tender love.

Jesus has given all His followers a simple mission. We're to help others come to trust Him with their lives so that through faith in Jesus, they can live forever with God. If a Christian's aim is to fulfill that mission, then forcing our fellow citizens to erect and maintain monuments to our faith is not the way to go.

We only win others to Christ in the same way Jesus won us over. Confident in God's powerful love, we rely on God to use our collective loving, preaching, teaching, praying, giving, worshiping, healing, and serving to work the miracle of faith in people's hearts. Such gentle strategies may not be as flashy as carrying placards or spouting self-righteous slogans that put us on the nightly news.

But in the end, it's those strategies that change hearts, change minds, change lives, and change where people spend eternity.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Purpose Driven Living:
Sanctification, Growing Up to Be Like Christ
Ephesians 4:22-24

(shared with the people of Friendship Church, September 28, 2003)

Our son Philip will be graduating from college this coming spring. Because of that, he’s confronted with the same question all of us have faced on the brink of graduation: Now that I have this education, what’s next? So, Phil has decided to be proactive. He’s taking advantage of the free career counseling services offered by his college. In a real sense, he’s decided to take the next step in the process of growing as a human being.

All followers of Jesus Christ confront a similar issue in their lives. Through Jesus Christ, God has given us new lives. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead so that all who surrender their lives and wills to Jesus can have forgiveness of sin, unshakeable joy, and everlasting life with God. But Jesus followers need to ask ourselves this question: Now that I have this salvation, what’s next?

The answer to that question in the New Testament is answered in many places, in many different phrases. But the New Testament book of Ephesians says that we’re to “grow up in every way into [Christ]” [Ephesians 4:15].

Right now at Friendship, we’re looking at God’s purpose for us as human beings.

The first purpose for all of us to worship God with our whole lives.

The second is to live and grow in loving relationships with our fellow Jesus followers.

The third purpose for us is to submit to the process the Bible calls sanctification. That means to become holy, to be more like Jesus.
Our purpose and our call from God is to keep growing up with Jesus as our model for living.

Sometimes though, I have the feeling that most church folks want just enough of Jesus to avoid going to hell, but not so much of Jesus that it actually changes anything in their lives. These folks seem to view Jesus as eternal fire insurance. What I have learned though, is that followers of Jesus are like diapers: if they don’t get changed regularly, they start to stink. If we’re to fulfill our purpose for living and know the joy that goes with a vital relationship with Christ, we need to grow up.

Growing up in any area of our lives can be a painful, demanding process. So much so that often, people decide that they just will not grow up. I know a man about my age who grew up in a household in which his parents did everything for him. I mean everything. When he got married, he hitched up with a woman who doesn’t mind telling him exactly what he should do and when. She micromanages his calendar, decides what jobs he’ll take, tells him where they’re going to live, has him on a money allowance. At one level, you could say that this guy is doing okay. He and his wife have a decent house. He eats three meals a day. But at nearly age fifty, he is a baby. And this all happened because in some way and at some level of personal consciousness, he made a decision long ago. He decided not to grow up. It was just easier.

The same can be true for us as followers of Christ. We can choose not to grow up. It's easier to make that choice. That's because it’s a daunting thing to say, "With God’s help, I will grow to be more like Jesus."

But today, I want to encourage you not to be afraid of making that commitment! You won’t succeed 100% on this side of your grave. But the struggle to become more like Jesus, to serve Jesus, to move in Jesus’ direction, and according to Jesus’ will is a much better way of living than just going through the motions of life.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the third volume in C.S. Lewis' wonderful Chronicles of Narnia. The whole series is a metaphorical telling of God's salvation of the human race. A lion named Aslan is a Christ-figure who dies for the sins of the people who inhabit an alternative place called Narnia. He's the "son of the Emperor Over the Sea," the emperor being a representation of God the Father.

In this third book, a particularly loathesome boy named Eustace accompanies two of his cousins, who have been to Narnia before, in traveling to that magic land. For many weeks after his arrival, Eustace is selfish and hurtful and petulant. At one point, he goes off by himself and ends up in the seemingly-abandoned lair of a dragon. There, he covetously ogles jewelry and other treasures. He puts one bracelet on his arm and he is turned into a dragon. In this form, he's lonely and miserable and he begins to realize how horrible he has been toward others. In this state of regret, the lion Aslan comes to him and urges Eustace to rid himself of his dragon skin. Eustace takes off several layers. But he doesn't make much progress, representing the futility of our own efforts to improve ourselves on our own steam. Finally, Eustace submits to allowing the lion to tear away his dragon skin, representing our submission to letting Christ take away our sin. It's painful for Eustace at first. But in the end, he is freed to become his new and better self, precisely the process of forgiveness and growth God wants all of us to undergo through Jesus! When we allow Jesus to help us become more like him, our lives are better.

But there’s another good reason you and I should decide to grow up as followers of Jesus. You’ve heard the story before of the man who came upon a construction site and stuck around to watch some brick masons do their job. He called out to one and asked, “What are you doing?” This guy, nose in the mortar, grunted, “I’m laying this row of bricks.” The man asked the next brick mason the same question, “What are you doing?” This second guy looked up and with a smile on his face, “I’m helping to build a great cathedral! Just think of it, for as long as God wants it to be here, this will be a place where people will come to worship and praise God, get His comfort, enjoy being with other believers, commit their marriages to Christ. It’s so neat!” When we decide to become more like Jesus, you and I are doing more than just laying bricks, we’re building for the future! We’re getting ourselves ready for whatever exciting assignments God may have for us in eternity.

So, what exactly does it mean to grow up into Christ? Our Bible lesson for today seems to say that it consists primarily of three things. First, we’re to put away our old sinful ways. We’re to daily turn away from sin and embrace living God’s way. Second, we’re to let Christ renew our minds, our ways of thinking. We need to change our priorities, moving from our me-centered universe to a Christ-centered life. Third, we’re to clothe ourselves in the new identities God gives to followers of Jesus. We’re to let the forgiveness and morality of Jesus cover every part of our lives.

Fine, we might think. But how do I do all that? Rick Warren, in his book The Purpose Driven Life reminds us that there are three ways God routinely helps those who have decided to grow up as Christians to do just that.

First: God uses His Word, the Bible. Last Sunday afternoon, I went to spend some time with my Aunt Betty and cousin Susie, who are living in Cincinnati for a few months. Susie is a very intelligent person. She’s a neonatal intensive care nurse certified in twenty-eight states and she contracts to work in various hospitals for several months at a time. But in the course of our conversation, she told me that she had just bought a new VCR-DVD combo and couldn’t figure out how to install it. As we pulled out the box, I asked her, “Did you read the instructions?” She laughed and said, “Of course not!” I told her that may have been her first mistake.

God has given us an instruction manual for life. Everything we need to know for living our lives at their optimal levels can be found in the Bible. Let me say this bluntly. If you aren’t taking the time to read God’s Word each and every day, there is no way you will ever grow up as a follower of Jesus. There is no way you’ll be able to rightly interpret the challenges you confront in life. Temptations and tragedies will blindside you.

You may say, “I don’t have the time.” I sometimes say the same thing myself. But you know what that is? It’s an excuse. A young mother in our congregation who also works has a demanding schedule. But she takes the time she has–in the parking lot of her place of employment fifteen minutes before everyone else arrives–to read what God has to say to her that day. God wants to bless you through the Bible and we need to make the time for that to happen!

Second: God uses people to help us grow. Sometimes they confront. Sometimes they comfort. Sometimes they do both. One night in my seminary days, I was really angry at a group of people who I felt had taken advantage of me. My mentor, Pastor Schein, happened to see me in this mood. When he asked me what was wrong, I was at first going to say nothing. But he wouldn’t put up with my evasiveness. “Are you going to let that stuff stay inside you and poison you?” he asked. He pushed me to deal with the issue, to speak with the people who had offended me and hold them accountable, and then to forgive them. God used Pastor Schein to help me grow up as a Christian.

Third: God uses circumstances to help us become more like Jesus. In his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, author Jerry Bridges talks about moving to a new community. While doing his taxes at the end of the year he moved, he discovered that he had neglected to pay the taxes he’d owed in his former community. For a second, he was tempted to just forget about that tax liability. He was sure that the people in his former community wouldn’t find out. But he realized that he had to do the right thing. Christ had always paid his taxes, even though the government of his time was oppressive and dictatorial. So, Bridges calculated what he owed in the old community, wrote a check, and dropped it in the mail. The New Testament book of James reminds us that God is not a monster...God will never tempt us to sin. But God will use the circumstances of our lives to build our characters, to help us become more like Christ.

Every time we read God’s Word, have a perplexing or enjoyable encounter with people, or confront circumstances that demand decisions of us, Rick Warren reminds us that we need to ask some simple questions: What is God trying to teach me here? How is God challenging me to grow? And then, ask God to give you the faith and the character to pursue God’s third purpose for you and me: to grow to become more like Jesus!