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  Unstoppable Impact
Impact. We all want to have impact, don't we? In the past few weeks, our nation has elected a new President, although the Inauguration won't happen for a few more weeks. If you are on facecbook, you likely have seen 'news clip' after 'news clip' shared by people who tried to make statements for or against a candidate. Unfortunately, many of the stories are so blatantly fabricated, that you really have little way to know if something is true or not. And, that type of convincing tends to only pull out the extremes who will not change their stance anyway. I have had to hide posts from a few political friends, because I didn't want to keep viewing lies on either side. Of course, some of them were truth, but when I have been personally involved with a news story, the truth is seldom published without an obvious bias. Unfortunately, at this time, much of our nation is divided, at least in the thought of where we should be headed and it won't change until some significant changes are made and the honest truth is shown and accepted by all.

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  Unstoppable Opportunities
Make the most of your opportunities. I have followed all kinds of sports at all kinds of levels. Occasionally you have a powerhouse team that could pretty much squash any other team at almost any time. However, in many leagues, teams are evenly matched and it often comes down to which team makes the most of opportunities that are presented. It may be when a call goes their way and they are able to capitalize. Or, it could be the game gets setup to where a play can make all the difference in the world. Berkley and I watched a lot of baseball and one of the most telling statistics is batting average when runners are in scoring position. For example, a player may get a double every time they come to bat, with the exception of when anyone is on base. They may end up with a high average, but do very little to help their team win.

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  Unstoppable Love
There are so many things that a church needs to be and when the emphasis is placed too highly on one thing or the other, the church gets a bit off kilter. Certainly, the primary thing has to be the gospel. Ultimately, the church should share the gospel freely and often. However, there are a few other aspects that are also important, as outlined in this passage.

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  Unstoppable Message
It is the height of our election cycle right now and some may classify this as the height of insanity. It seems from the highest profile elections to many of the lower elections, the focus has seemed to morph to character attacks and mudslinging. In many cases, if pressed about candidates, all that many of us can relate about candidates is the rhetoric that we have heard from commercials that have largely been paid for by special interest groups.

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  Unstoppable Mission
This past weekend, Berkley and I had the privilege of going to the 2016 ALS Clinical Research Learning Institute (CRLI) in Clearwater Beach, Florida. We are now ALS Research Ambassadors and the 'mission' we were given was to help educate people in the importance of being involved with ALS Research. We learned about different types of trials and the need for involvement to find a cure. Sadly, it is doubtful that a cure will be developed in the very near future, but there are hopes that research could lead towards treatment for different types of ALS in the future. I started thinking that it would be great if a cure could be found and ALS could become a disease of the past. That would be awesome and would save many individuals and families from heartbreak and the impact of this insidious disease. However, ALS is not the main problem in our world and if solved, our main problem stares at us. That problem is our separation from God due to our sin. We can have great missions to do great things on earth, but the greatest mission impacts eternity.

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  One Great Focus
Focus can be thought of in many ways. When you think of your eyesight, how important is focus? It is amazing how long we go at times, compensating our eyesight. We seem to learn how to deal with things in a bit of a blur. I remember when I was a child and first got my glasses. When I got them and walked out of the eye doctor's office, everything seemed different. At other times, as my prescription changed or I got lazik, it was amazing how much clearer I could see. As far as our sight goes, isn't it amazing that we don't make that a higher priority. As many know, Brian Regan is my favorite comedian, and here is a bit he did on the eye doctor. Click Here!

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  One Great Commitment
What are things that happen in life that make you want to tell someone else? For many, it involves when children are brought into the family. They want to share the joy with others. For some, it may be a memorable vacation or trip that you want others to know about. Some may want to share details of a new purchase. All of these are somewhat memorable, although some more than others. As I started to list some of these, it occurred to me that these are the basic start to the Donut Rules at my work. That may not make a lot of sense to many, but the group that I have worked with for most of the past 20 years loves donuts. They created a list many years ago called the Donut Rules, in which were outlined the 'offenses' that required a person to bring in donuts. Over time, the list grew to things like having a major storm named after you, like Katrina, or other work related offenses, such as scheduling a meeting over lunch, and even a rule that said you had to bring donuts if you wanted to add a new rule. Some of the rules involved things that people celebrated with you, and others were simply created to provide more donuts.

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  One Great Savior
This lesson continues the series of one great… In the previous lesson, we talked about the one great problem that we all have, and that is sin. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Wouldn't it be tragic if that was the end of the story? Some hear that and do not want to accept that they are sinful and want nothing to do with anyone who says they are. Many religions acknowledge the fallen condition of mankind and religions have been created based upon trying to do certain things to gain acceptance with God. Evan apart from religion, people that understand their own wrong behavior want to know 'what they can do' to fix this problem and make things right.

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  One Great Problem
Have you ever experienced a problem? Of course you have. We all have all sorts of problems every day. Some people seem to be problem solvers and actually enjoy facing a problem. Others seem to fall apart when they come up against problems. This can be especially true for any of us if we encountered one problem after another. However you deal with problems, they will keep coming at you. The problems we face vary in difficulty and outcome.

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  One Great Purpose
One great purpose. Everyone likes to have a purpose, don't they? When you are part of a team or an organization; if your purpose is well defined, you generally feel as more a part of that team. Berkley and I are avid St Louis Cardinal fans, and since we watch most of the games, either at Busch Stadium or on TV, we have gotten familiar with most of the players. Towards the end of the year when the roster expands, there are new players that were in the minor leagues that we don't know as well. On a baseball team, generally the positions are pretty well defined. Pitchers pitch, but seldom play other positions unless a game goes into extra innings and there aren't enough players. Outfielders generally play the outfield and infielders generally play the infield, although we have seen several players play many different positions. I would imagine it would be easier if you knew what position you were going to play, so you could focus on that position and how to respond in a number of scenarios.

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  One Great Creator
This lesson begins a series on Life's Greatest Story. Through these lessons, we will discuss our great Creator (in this lesson), our great purpose, problem, Savior, commitment and focus in the coming lessons. Where would you say that you have been where you had a renewed awareness of the amazing aspect of the creation of our world? Though I have not been all around the world, or even all around the country, I am amazed at the plethora of different landscapes and the beauty all around us. When you are in the mountains, it is amazing to see the height and enormity of those mountains. It is amazing how large and expansive they are. When you the expanse of the oceans, it is amazing to see how they keep going and going, far beyond where you can see.

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  Love Gets Involved
As I sit and write this lesson, I have to say that I have seen love personified in so many ways in the past few months. If you read these lessons regularly, you know that I, Don, was diagnosed with ALS in the Spring of 2015. To say that it rocked mine and Berkley's world is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Over the past few months, specifically, we have been overwhelmed by people who have given of their time and money to help us in very tangible ways. We had our house and patio pressure washed. We have had many people help with landscaping, weeding, tree and shrub trimming and so forth. We have a great neighbor that is mowing our yard all summer. We have other neighbors that have come and helped when we needed help of all kinds. We have had friends that have helped move mattresses around. We have had others who have fixed a table for our needs, and others who helped clean out the garage and help install ceiling support racks in the garage and still others who demolished a wall for us. We have had people that showed up at our house very late on a weeknight to help us move a behemoth lift that others will help install. People have helped with ramps and in so many other ways. The list could go on and on, but we have seen many people get involved and their love has been evident.

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  Earn Money Productively
Given that we need money today, what does it take to make money? For many people, the first question that they ask others is 'What do you do?" In other words, it could be said "Given that money is needed, how do you get yours?" That may not be the question that comes to mind, but is the reason why the original question is asked. There are myriads of ways that people make money. Most people go about the right way, trying to identify some set of skills that they can do and make a living.

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  Make Agreements Cautiously
This lesson continues a series talking about our money. What kind of agreements are made in regards to money? Well, unless you were born with access to a fat back account, you probably know what it means to borrow money. In fact, most people who go to college come out with some sort of student loan that they have to pay back. Then, there are cars and houses and all kinds of other things that we buy. When you buy a house, then you need furnishings. I would imagine that most of us would be amazed if we were able to see how much money we have spent in our lifetimes.

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  View Money Properly
This next series of lessons are primarily taken from the book of Proverbs and the primary context is on money. Is money a problem? I think we would have to agree that money could be the root of many evils. When people have too much money, they often become very protective and can start to feel invincible. When people believe they have too little, some have a tendency to become very desperate. Obviously, money or the lack thereof can lead to a lot of problems. Many people end up thinking that if they had more money, they would have less problems. However, if one's problem is overspending, more money doesn't normally provide the solution, because for many people, more money means more spending. There are a lot of people who have a more reasonable view of money, and are not so focused on getting more and more, but are finding ways to use what they have.

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  Transformed in My Obedience
Are you in or out? This is a question that comes up often, in many different contexts. Most of the in or out questions carry no real consequence. Friends are going to a movie, are you going or not? Others are getting ready to start another game of (basketball, cards, etc), are you going to play or do you need to leave? There are many of these types of questions that come up and other than changing what you will or won't do for a bit, they don't really impact your life. There are other similar questions that come up that will greatly impact your life. Who will you marry? Where will you work? Where do you buy a house? These and other similar circumstances will have a huge impact on your day to day life, and perhaps some role in your quality of life. These situations are much headier than whether you will go to a movie or play a game, but even they are not the most crucial in or out question in life.

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  Transformed in My Opinions
In this lesson on transformation, we now focus on opinions. As has been stated before, we are not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This transformation involves the way that we think and it involves every aspect of our lives. When we give our lives to Christ, there are changes that happen from the inside out. We try to will things to happen, but if it isn't changing you internally, any change on the outside is a ruse. How can you be transformed in your opinions?

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  Transformed in My Plans
This next lesson on Transformation hits upon our plans. Are you a planner? There are different types of plans that people make. Perhaps you have planned a vacation and you are considering what you will do when you are away. Planners tend to have looked at the different possibilities of places to go and have done a fair amount of research prior to going. Non planners usually know where they are going, but will figure out what to do when they get there. Perhaps you plan to retire someday. Financial planning becomes more important to account for things when you reach that point in your life. There are other plans that you might make, based on circumstances you are in. As you know, Berkley and I have been dealing with my ALS diagnosis and its many symptoms, causing us to at least think and act on different medical conditions and home modifications that will need to be made. It can be overwhelming, no, scratch that, it is overwhelming. I am very fortunate and thankful for Berkley in my life, as she tends to be a much better planner in many of these areas, although planning for what you are not looking forward to is another matter altogether.

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  Transformed in My Possessions
If you had access to a Treasure Map, would you use it? As children, we are often enthralled by the idea of treasures. I know I used to think about the bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow (I never found the bucket), although I've seen plenty of rainbows in my life. I guess I assumed a leprechaun was there guarding the pot of gold. The thought of sunken treasures or treasures hidden away someplace is the focal point of many stories. You've probably seen TV shows where investors have spent a lot of money sending divers out to the area where ships had crashed long ago. Everyone wonders what treasure will be brought up. People even look for treasures among other people's trash. You have probably seen different shows on TV where people bring old antiques and other things they find in their attics or basements, hoping that they have a very big find! Others go to yard sales and flea markets, looking for that little nugget that sells for a couple of dollars, but is worth thousands. There is the thought that once we get that big score, we will be set. But, it never truly satisfies.

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  Transformed in My Prayer
In this lesson, I believe that we should all take a personal look at our own prayer lives, and ask ourselves if the term transformation makes sense in relation to our prayers. If you are a believer, I'm sure that prayer is at least somewhat a part of your life, even if it just happened to be ones you heard at church. Take a few minutes and do a personal inventory of your own prayer life over the last week and month. How many prayers have you heard? How many prayers have you spoken? How many prayers were with others? How many prayers did you say on your own? Have you prayed before meals? Have you prayed before you retired or when you got up? Have you found time to pray throughout your day? Have you made time to pray throughout the day? This is one of the key indicators of our spiritual walk and if you've found that you aren't spending time in prayer, perhaps God desires to use this lesson as a reminder of the importance of prayer in your own life.

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  Transformed in My Worship
The next series of lessons deal with transformation. All of the passages for this series are taken from Matthew 6 and Matthew 7. These chapters are the second and third chapters of the Sermon on the Mount. Lessons from Matthew 5 were a couple of series ago and can be found on the Index Page. They all begin with the title "Distinct in My…. ". As you might expect, the Sermon on the Mount packs some very personal words of Jesus to each of us.

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  Seize the Day
Carpe diem! Seize the day! What comes to your mind when you think of that? For many people, it is simply a phrase to make the best out of a day. For some people, it might mean to keep your eyes open for opportunities. For some, it might mean to have a good perspective and look for good things to happen. It would seem that much of our lives becomes routine, with the same things happening each day. Perhaps Saturday and Sunday are different than the other days, but we tend to get in a pattern of what we do, and although we do different things each day, we still seem to conform to the pattern. We get up at a certain time, do whatever we need to do in the morning and then attack the day. There may be different tasks that we do, but we make time for meals and breaks and then the days wind down into perhaps a normal pattern in the evenings too. The events may change with the seasons, as far as indoor or outdoor activities, but it is easy for days, weeks, months and years to pass by and other than getting older, and dealing with things with kids or jobs or whatever, we can easily get caught in a rut of sorts.

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  Redeemed from an Unbelieving Past
In the Christian faith, a testimony is a personal story about how a person came to faith in Jesus Christ. Every testimony is different, although some of them may sound very much the same. Some people have what seem to be amazing testimonies, as if they were going full speed down a highway and turned on a dime to go the other way. I have seen a few people, as adults, that became Christians and the impact on their lives was amazing. However, some of their experiences seem very short lived, as if it was a match that lit quickly and died out. Something happened, but it didn't really seem to be legitimate. Perhaps there was an emotional surge and when that surge died down, they assumed that the 'thrill' is gone - it was as if they tasted the faith, but it didn't really have a life impact. There are other people who grew up around other believers and they more or less seemed to become one by default, because that was what everyone else did. They took the classes just like everyone else did at their church and they 'graduated' as a 'believer'. Some of these people seem to drift away over time and it isn't that important for them later. Perhaps it became an intellectual experience, but didn't really grab their hearts.

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  Redeemed from a Devastating Failure
As much as we don't like losing, I believe most people would rather lose than fail. Losing implies that you lost in a game, while many equate failure with 'end of story'. For example, the St Louis Blues hockey team lost three games to the Dallas Stars, but they ultimately won the series and continue to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not all losses are considered failures. Even if they had lost, there is always next season. A professional team cannot continue to relive bad seasons, if they want to improve. The truth is that we not only need to learn how to lose well, but we also need to learn how to recover from a failure. Not many kids will learn to ride a bike the very first time they hop on. There may be many failures, but if they keep at it, eventually they will figure it out. Those failures are soon forgotten. However, there are other failures that we make that we have a real hard time shaking, and part of that might be because others (Satan included) want to keep reminding us of them.

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  Redeemed from a Crippling Doubt
Crippling doubt. We all will encounter situations that will cause us to wonder what will happen. To most people, there are plenty of things that are far more important than athletics, and when things don't go as planned or expected, life can become very difficult. We will encounter some situations where we have no control of the outcome and when things don't happen according to our schedule, we may begin to doubt that it ever will. We'd all like some process by which we could ensure that we could control every outcome in life, but if you've lived long enough, you'll find that some things go the way you want, and some things don't. There is a problem if we base how we see God on the outcome. If things work out good for us and we feel blessed, we often will say God is good! However, the key is that whether it works out for good for us or not, God is still good. Somehow, it has to be more than just how things work out. As we watch the coming election in 2016, many people are worried, because they are concerned about what might happen. Regardless of the outcome, God is still on the throne.

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  Redeemed from a Critical Spirit
This lesson continues a string of lessons that impact many of us, as they have hit on some common issues that we all face. In the first lesson, we discussed poor choices and then we discussed broken relationships. Now, we talk about a critical spirit. A critical spirit can be very harmful to a relationship and life in general, and I believe that we all encounter problems when we are over critical of others.

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  Redeemed from Broken Relationships
If you're ever been in a relationship, you've probably also been in a broken relationship. Except for any computer that is reading this on its own, we are all humans and we are prone to failure. Where you take two humans that are imperfect and put them together in a relationship, is it any wonder that there are problems? Many relationship issues can be worked through, if both sides are willing to do so, and if both sides are willing to "own" their own issues. Let's stop right there and talk about that - because that is a big IF. How many relationships do you think could have been saved and reconciled if both parties owned the things that they had done and asked forgiveness, and freely forgave each other? What tends to happen, though, is that one or both sides refuse to let a past wrong go, and somehow believe it is 'godly' to hold that over somebody else's head for as long as they live. In a relationship like that, if it is not broken altogether, it is at the very best 'very shaky'.

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  Redeemed from Poor Choices
The next series of lessons is a series of lessons on redemption. We will discuss many areas of our lives where we have failed, and see what God may be saying to us. The particular issues are ones that apply to others and not us, so when you read, you can just see how to counsel others (insert sarcastic laugh here!). We will discuss poor choices, broken relationships, critical spirits, crippling doubts, devastating failures and an unbelieving past. Certainly, each of us, if honest with ourselves, will see how these apply very directly to our lives.

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  Our Need for Purpose
A few years ago, Rick Warren authored a book called "Purpose Driven Life". I don't believe anyone was prepared for the impact that it would have on literally millions of people around the globe. In 2005, a Barna Group poll found that pastors named that book the most influential in their ministry. (I hope that was second to the Bible!). Also, that poll found that nearly one quarter of American adults had read that book by the middle of 2005. Isn't that amazing? What is it that would draw people to a book about purpose?

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  Our Need for Peace
We continue in the session on our needs. Recently, we have looked at contentment, direction, protection and hope. It would appear that we are very needy, wouldn't it? As we think about our need for peace, it seems that in many instances it is beyond attainable. For example, although world peace sounds good, it would require so many changes in everyone's hearts and minds, across many nations and diverse cultures that it doesn't seem possible (and scripture tells us that there won't be world peace until Jesus returns). However, this doesn't mean that we just stop trying to attain a peaceful resolution when possible. Most of us don't live in areas where we would expect suicide bombers or terrorist attacks, but we've all seen how much damage can be done when those things happen here at home. We are thankful for the many people who work daily to protect against threats such as these. Unfortunately, one would have to believe that it is likely only a matter of time before things that have recently happened in Syria, Belgium and France will happen again in America.

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  Our Need for Hope
In answers to a question "what are the top ten things people hope for" on yahoo, some of the common answers were money, love, luck, friends, gifts of all sorts and so forth. One that I found interesting was the ability to make up with lost loved ones. Unfortunately, that is a sad hope that can never be realized in this lifetime. We hear about hopes and dreams of people and we realize that hope is an important part of our life. Often, it is hope that propels us to do things that we may not otherwise do. For example, if you hope to have a successful career, you realize that you need to exert effort towards that goal. In that case, we know that there are things that we can do to help improve the odds of getting what we hoped for.

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  Our Need for Protection
This week's lesson is in regards to our need for protection. We all want to be protected, don't we? I would be willing to bet that most of us do not appreciate driving down the road and seeing flashing police lights in our rear view mirrors. I know, for one, that my stomach drops when I see a police car with its lights on coming up behind me, even if I have done nothing wrong (at least recently!). However, if I were stuck on the side of the road or someplace where I needed help, I would greatly welcome those same lights and feel a sense of protection.

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  Our Need for Direction
We continue the series on our needs. Last week, we talked about our need for contentment. This week's lesson talks about our need for direction. It would appear that the world is going in all sorts of directions. One of my favorite comedy sketches growing up was Monty Python's Silly Olympics. In it, the racers were lined up on the track, ready to run the race. They got on their marks and the gun went off, and they all went in different directions.

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  Our Need for Contentment
This lesson is about contentment. What does that mean to you? Some people would say to be content would mean they had what they wanted. Others (the ones who want to give the 'church' answer) might say that contentment is wanting what they have. We'd like to say that we are fine with that, but there are some, even without any external distractions, are anything but content. It may be that their job is not what they wanted. They may have strained or broken relationships in their life, or some other set of circumstances always has them on edge. We may say that we are fine when we are asked "How are you?", but people rarely give the 'real' answer to that question. (Only a few people would care to hear the real answer!)

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  Distinct in My Love
We all have a thing or two to think about when it comes to loving other believers. When you think of your own experience, I would imagine that there are more than likely one or two (or more) believers that you know that you would say that it is hard to say that you 'love' them. However, as He often does, Jesus challenges us to go beyond loving other believers. He actually tells us to love and pray for our enemies. And, the prayer is not that the fire of heaven would rain down upon them! (Face it, there are times when we'd like to pray that for some people, right?)

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  Distinct in My Reactions
This lesson is about oaths and vengeance. Often these two are related, because when an oath is broken, vengeance seems to take over by default. In our day and age, I am not so much aware of people swearing by this or that, other than in court, where you can see someone put their hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I also know that the President of the United States generally will take his oath with his hand on the Bible. However, of what use is that oath for someone who doesn't believe the Bible to be true, in the courts or for a President?

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  Distinct in My Relationships
These past few lessons have been based on what should make us as believers distinct from the world in which we live in. Unfortunately, for many believers, the only real distinction is that they attend church as opposed to those who never attend. Certainly, being at church can help anyone learn more facts and potentially make changes in life, but church attendance does not make one a believer any more than going to the zoo makes one an animal. This is not to say that there are not millions of believers in our country and even more in the world who do desire to make changes to become distinct, but we all know that we have not done a really good job at being different than the world. In fact, for many, the desire seems to be to 'fit in' more than the desire to be set apart.

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  Distinct in My Approach to Conflict
Conflict. Ugh! For some people, their approach to conflict is easy - turn around and run. For others, they will turn and run towards conflict, because they love to get their adrenalin going. I believe that approaches to conflict are often learned in families and environments that we grow up in. As a child, in my family, we tended to avoid conflict for the most part. I can't think of any of us - my mom or dad, or my brothers that really 'like' conflict. So, I am generally the one who would love for everyone to just get along. However, I have learned that conflict is inevitable and we all can't simply join hands and sing Kum Ba Yah, as if everything is A-OK. There are others whose familial experiences may be much different. In their homes, when something comes up, it gets dealt with pretty quickly, and either gets solved, or escalates. I have seen how this has happened and while it can be quite 'scary' for a few moments, they tend to work through issues and be okay with one another. There are pros and cons to both sides, I would imagine. Perhaps the best approach would be somewhere in the middle.

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  Distinct in My Influence
How important is influence? If you watch TV, you will see movie stars and other celebrities paid large sums of money to be spokespeople for commercials. Why do you think it is those easily recognizable by masses of people that are used for peddling products, as opposed to you and I? It's easy to see that recognition among many is useful in marketing.

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  Distinct in My Characer
What does it mean to be distinguished? When I think of a person being distinguished, I think of somebody that is set apart for some reason or another. At many conferences, the speakers are introduced as 'the distinguished..' In many cases, they are recognized as experts in their field. There are many who pour their lives in order to become distinguished. On the other hand, there are others who are distinguished criminals - made distinct by the way in which they have committed crimes. So, it isn't enough to be distinguished, unless you are distinguished in the right manner.

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  Used in God's Service
In any organization, it is best if you can match the tasks with the people that are most skilled in that area. There always seems to be an issue with mapping people to tasks, whether it is in a work environment or within any other volunteer organization. There are the things that people want to do and the skills that they possess. Then there are the tasks that need to be completed, along with the skill sets that are required. In a work environment, where people are getting paid, there are ways to help accomplish this so that all tasks are accounted for, and all people are utilized (even if it isn't the optimal person for each task).

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  Equipped with God's Gifts
If you are a fan of college football, the end of a calendar year and the start of a new year is a great time for you! One of the commercials that played often in the 2015-2016 Bowl Season was the AllState Mayhem Do It Yourself (DIY) commercial. In it, there are several people that created mayhem in their own projects. Although I am sure others know more about it than I do, the intent was to vote for the 'favorite' and then all of their tools would be taken away. It's quite humorous, in concept. If that were true, I probably wouldn't own any tools, due to the many 'mayhem' moments I've created in my own home projects. Often the problems in these types of projects is the use of the improper tool. In one of the instances, a person had to cut a tree down, so he went to find the biggest chainsaw he could find. Perhaps that was the best tool, but perhaps it wasn't. I've noticed that the good DIY people tend to have the right tool for almost any situation (and they know how to use it - and thankfully they are neighbors). This lesson will discuss some of the tools that we as believers have been given and help us to understand if we realize that we have them, and perhaps how to use them.

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  Strengthened by God's Power
Have you heard of the workout called P90x? Well, a few years ago, I tried it. I had watched the infomercials that were run so often, and I had some time on my hands, so I thought, what the heck. A friend of mine had the disks, so he let me use them. There are several disks in the set, so I figured I would pick one and work on that. It was focused on the arms. It was a tough workout, and I did it every day for a week. Man, did my arms ever hurt! After a couple of days, they hurt. I remember going to bed at night with them aching, yet I kept with it - you know, work through the hurt. As the week went on, they were more or less stuck in a bent position and I felt somewhat like an odd shaped T-Rex (or so I have been told). Brushing my teeth, getting clothes out of the washer and typing on a keyboard were all typical of difficult tasks I faced. I played a lot of basketball at the time, and needless to say, my touch was lost.

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  Saved by God's Son
I have to wonder what some people think when they hear Christians talk about being saved. If they didn't grow up in church, they may think of saving as being the amount of money that they have set aside for some point the future. There are other people who have a sports background, and a save may be made by a goalie. Others may think of leftovers, which got saved from an earlier meal. Still others may think about playing cards and saving their best cards to be played last. Obviously, the word saved is overloaded and may have different meanings to different people.

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  Freed by God's Forgiveness
What does it mean to be freed? Freedom is such a great thing, but it is so hard for many people to handle. Some people would seem to rather have their entire lives governed by someone else. I have heard that there are some who have spent a lot of time in prison that find it harder to live on the outside than on the inside. Have you ever wondered why that is? In some ways, prison life may be what they have gotten comfortable with and have become accustomed to. Doesn't this describe many people today? They may never have set a foot inside of a prison, but they are enslaved to their past, a circumstance in their present or any of a number of things.

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  Adopted into God's Family
During the holiday season, we like to think about family. For many people this time of year is difficult because it often brings to light what is missing in our families. Many families have lost loved ones that have passed away (recently or perhaps years in the past), so there is always the reminder that things are no longer what they once were. Berkley and I (as well as many of you) know of many friends who have lost key members of their families in the past months. We understand that the Christmas season may be very emotionally taxing for many of these families.

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  When Opposition Strikes
When Opposition Strikes! - This lesson seems to be so out of place in our society today, doesn't it? We know nothing of opposition, right? Actually, I was talking with a co-worker this week about how messed up our world seems to be getting. We have seen so many allegations of things and protesting and decrying of events that may or may not have happened, and at the same time, we have seen terrorism rise on a global scale. People seem polarized on one side or the other on almost everything. I have friends that are Democrats and others that are Republican, and while the vast majority say little, some spend an inordinate amount of time blaming the world's problems on the other side! In our day to day dealings, we see opposition to all sorts of views on almost every level, and in those cases, people seem to have drawn a black or white line, when in fact, the line might more likely be, pardon the reference, fifty shades of grey.

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  Act Faithfully
If you were able to choose, would you rather that everyone else around you had the same beliefs as you, or would you choose to swim upstream on your own, against the flow? Most of us would likely say that we would like to live in a place where people had the same general beliefs and standards of morality as ours. Perhaps this is why we, as believers, get so frustrated when we see our society moving further and further away from Christian ideals and standards. It would seem that the things that most people value today are further and further from what we know God has called us to do. It wasn't all that long ago when prayer was in school and it was not considered intolerant to share your own beliefs with others. Note that even then, there were still many societal problems. For example, our country used to have many race related issues (and it is not as if they are all solved today). Much progress has been made since the mid 1950s to address some of the larger issues, but it takes a long time to change the thoughts and attitudes of everyone. A century prior, although prayer was in schools and schools were largely Christian based, the issue of slavery was still occurring, even among many believers. We could write pages and pages regarding the issue of racial problems, but the point is that even when some things may have seemed to be more 'godly', there were other issues in how people were treated that was far from what God had ever intended.

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  Confront Sin
Confrontation. Does anybody really like to confront others? It is one thing to work through conflict and other issues, but the thought of confrontation can be very disturbing for many people. There used to be the show called "What Would You Do", where actors would portray situations around unsuspecting bystanders and the point would be to see what different, normal people would do. Most of the time, the actions portrayed did bother people. Some of them would do nothing and others would go out of their way to address the situation. Perhaps much of this has to do with different personality types, and how a person is internally wired. On a side note, wouldn't it be nice if we were all wired the same way, so that you would know what to expect in certain situations from others? Alas, that will never be the case and in many ways, we can be glad.

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  Live Humbly
In this lesson, we will encounter two distinctly different personalities. One of them is King Nebuchadnezzar (Neb) and the other is Daniel. If you have read the previous couple of lessons, you would have seen that Neb is very high strung and others are very aware of his emotional state, whether high or low. We've also seen how he is very focused on his own self, showing little regard for others when he is having problems. On the other hand, we will read about Daniel, who is also known as Belteshazzar (we will call him Daniel - easier to type) and how he continues to seek God and to live in a way that exemplifies humility.

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  Stand Courageously
Have you ever had to take a stand? In the world we live in, if you have any beliefs that are important to you, you will find yourself either taking a stand or caving to the pressures of the world. There are plenty of areas where people are willing to take a stand for one thing or another. I think of different sports fans who root for their teams, even in the midst of opposition. Berkley and I go to a lot of St Louis Cardinals games, and we often see fans from other teams in Busch Stadium in St Louis. Generally, they are treated rather well and are able to cheer on their teams with no recourse, other than an occasional glare when their team wins or hits a homerun. I have heard that in some stadiums, it is more risky to stand up and root for any team other than the home team. Even when there is some amount of abuse for standing up for your team, there is no real risk taken in standing.

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  Pray Fervently
In this lesson, we will read about an absolutely impossible situation and how it was solved. One thing that I have learned through life is that, at any given time, many people are dealing with what seems to be impossible circumstances. Often, as believers, we put on a smiling face and tell everyone else that things are going fine, when we know that there are serious problems in our lives or that we are dealing with other issues that are anything but fine. As you read about this lesson and the situation that Daniel and his friends face, let us be reminded that we all will encounter what seems to be impossible situations. Will we try and face them on our own, or will we turn to our Lord for help in resolving issues, or peace and comfort in whatever we are facing?

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  Develop Conviction
What do you think of when you think of conviction? For some, it can be thought of as a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense. If you watch shows such as Law & Order on TV, you probably have heard of a conviction made by a jury verdict or a judge's decision in a court of law. Conviction can also come into play in this sense when we know we have done something wrong and we find ourselves convicted by our own behavior.

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  God's Promise of A New Home
Have you ever moved? When people find out that my mom still lives in the same house that I grew up in, they are often astonished. However, this was more likely the norm in rural areas when people grew up and stayed in the same place. Today, most people have moved many times (some by choice, job change or out of some other need) and know of the pain in packing, moving and unpacking. Some that have moved multiple times may have yet to unpack some boxes. I know other people that seemed to move every three or four years, so that they could end up in a home they really desired, by making some profit on each transaction. I can't even imagine what that must have been like, to prepare for each move and the unpacking and setting up a home time after time.

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  God's Promise of Victory
What comes to mind when you think of victory provided by God? Ultimately, for believers, we have victory through salvation and eternal life with Him, through our relationship with Jesus Christ. And, there will be times when God is very evidently at work in our lives, in a tangible manner. We'd like to think that would be all the time and that as long as we sought God, life would go as we had hoped, yet we know that we will experience victory and defeat.

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  God's Promise of Answered Prayer
There are several acronyms that can help with prayers. One is ACTS - Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. When we can model our prayers in that manner, it helps us to be focused, so that our prayers do not simply turn into the 'list' that we want to give to God. When we can adore God, we help to put things into perspective and realize that life is all about Him, and less about us. When we confess our sins, we acknowledge that we have strayed from Him and we ask for His forgiveness. When we are thankful, we thank God for the many provisions that He has given us personally and for the many ways we have been blessed. In our supplication, we bring our needs before Him and ask for His divine intervention. By using a model such as this, we will find that our prayers from day to day can be different, as we acknowledge different aspects each day.

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  God's Promise of Provision
I believe we would all agree that God is not about meeting all of our wants and desires, but we should all be able to see how God has tangibly met our needs in the past and how we can rely upon Him in the present and future. There is some responsibility that we play into this as well, as we cannot waste what we have been given and expect to be given more and more and more. Similarly, we cannot necessarily choose our own path in life and expect others to provide for what that entails. This goes against what many expect in this age of self entitlement. Additionally, God's provision does not mean that sickness and death would not enter our world. There will come a time when we all face death and the fact that some lose that fight for life does not mean that God does not provide. Admittedly, this is a difficult pill for us to swallow when death seems to come prematurely.

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  God's Promise of Eternal Life
This series of lessons continues on some of God's promises. In this lesson, we will briefly study God's promise of Eternal Life. There are all sorts of religions in our world today. Some of them are downright wacky and others are so rigid that there is no room for anyone to step out of line. Most religions have some sort of moral code or standard associated with them, and at least some of them require strict adherence to that code (or else). There are things you have to do and things that you cannot do. Or else.

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  God's Promise of Faithfulness
As I think about this lesson, perhaps the key point is for us to understand is what God's faithfulness is and what it is not. God's faithfulness does not imply that life will always go as we might hope and desire. God may indeed grant us tremendous blessings, over and over, throughout life, but His faithfulness is not about those tangible blessings we receive. God's faithfulness means that He will be with us, as we go throughout life. In the midst of successes and failures, He is there. In the midst of perfect or failing health, He is there. We certainly might hope for more, but when we take a step back and are honest with ourselves, if God was as faithful with us as we have been with Him throughout life, would we ever even hope to have morning by morning?

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  How Ordinary People Can Be on Mission
What does it mean to live a life on mission? When we think of a mission in Christian terms, we often are reminded of missionaries that serve in areas around the world. Some of them have been called to specific people groups around the world and when they follow where God leads, they are truly blessed. I have had the honor of working in country with those serving in many different parts of the world, from Canada to Belarus to Thailand to Taiwan and China on various mission trips in the past. While it has been a great experience to help each of these missionaries, I have never felt as if I were being led to pick up and move to another part of the world. Is it only those who are in foreign countries, serving as missionaries, that are on mission?

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  Stay Focused and Committed
Over the last several weeks, we have learned many tangible lessons from the book of Joshua and this message is much the same. This lesson is about staying focused and committed. Do you ever wonder what causes us to lose focus in our lives? Have you ever found yourself struggling to stay focused? When we are busy at work, it is often easier to stay focused, as our minds are occupied. However, when we find that we have a lot of 'free time', we tend to relax. What is it that causes us to lose focus and wane in our level of commitment? It seems that it is pretty easy to stay focused when the task is right at hand and we need to devote significant attention to it. The 'all hands on deck' mentality can help to set a common goal for an immediate need or crisis. Of course, if this is the prevailing way a business is run, it begins to wear on the employees and eventually they begin to make mistakes.

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  Work Through Conflict
Finally! We come across a lesson that none of us can relate to. We can sit back and casually read what this lesson says about conflict, because that is only a problem that others have, right? We may wish this to be true, but this lesson is undoubtedly one of the more applicable lessons that we will have. Conflict is all around us.

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  Move Beyond Failure
Have you ever failed? You may never have failed a test or a class in school, but we all have failures that we have experienced in our lives. When we fail, we let ourselves down and at times, we let others down as well. When we are growing up and are in school, we all have probably seen how the actions of one person may impact a whole class and cause many to miss recess or do extra homework. When we think of issues in our world, we see how the impacts of a few people can even lead a nation to war. If you work at a business, one employee or CEO can have a huge impact on the whole workforce. It is very easy to see how the failures of a person can impact many others.

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  Stick to God's Plan
What do you do when you encounter obstacles that appear to be huge? There are some obstacles that simply impede our progress, but are easily passed with minimal effort. However, there are other obstacles that make us stop in our tracks, with no seeming passage. At times, as believers, we feel certain that God has called us to do things, but when we encounter obstacles, we can easily be deterred. In fact, you will find that most of the time that you are following what God calls you to do; you will encounter problems that are beyond your own capability to manage. God sized tasks are not meant for us to do in our own power, but to rely upon Him. Waiting for an obstacle to shrink to where you can handle it on your own may mean that it never gets handled.

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  Be Confident in God's Power
Have you ever started a task and then found out that you weren't really prepared for what you faced? Since I am not much of a do it yourself around the house type of person, I can say this becomes an issue in almost anything that I start to do. Sure, I can mow the yard, take out the trash, empty the dishwasher and so forth, but when it comes to the 'handyman' stuff, I am certainly beyond unqualified! I remember when I got my Electrical Engineering Degree, my grandmother thought that meant I could rewire the house! Oh, how wrong she was! Even when I have managed to tackle a project on my own, it is obvious that it wasn't done by someone who was more familiar with the problem. Thankfully, God has brought Berkley into my life and between the two of us we have been able to tackle several projects around the house, with the help of youtube videos and advice from Home Depot, Lowes and our other 'handy' friends.

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  Accept God's Call
Have you ever felt like you were called to do something specific? As we go through life, we find that there are things that we are pretty good at and then there are other things that we try to avoid (due to our lack of skill). Many people who are skilled in certain areas and feel comfortable, so they may be content to stay where they are. For example, in most jobs, there are different levels of responsibility and expertise. As a person's career advances, they ultimately will end up in some position in which they feel challenged, perhaps more than they believe that they could handle on their own (at least with their current skill set). For some people, they will choose to stay in the same area for their entire career, seeking to be comfortable, even though it may cost them in the long run. Have you ever felt that you were asked to do something that you didn't believe that you could handle? Are you more apt to try to do something different or would you prefer to stay with what you know?

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  Hold Money Loosely
If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it? I searched online and found a man on the street interview with some 'interesting' people in New York. They were each asked what they would do with a million dollars. There were some that said that they would give to the homeless or would build a homeless shelter. Others spoke about going to the casino or perhaps a trip to Vegas. Many of them said they would buy drugs, and one of them that said that acknowledged that it would cause a lot of problems in his life, due to his lack of control. Others would pay off debt and some would keep a portion and give the rest to others. How might you answer that question?

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  Give Money Generously
Would you classify most people as being givers? Certainly, when there is a need, most people seem to be willing to give, if they are able. I've seen workplaces contribute towards needs of a fellow employee who is going through hard times. I've seen churches and Bible Study classes that are more than willing to provide for needs of others. When there are losses to families, people help provide meals for the family, as well as to do other tasks for them. In fact, when people give of their time for those in need, it is one of the best testimonies of the love of Christ, especially for those who see how that occurs. When someone is recovering from a surgery or when there is an addition to a family, people often will sign up for meals or whatever needs to be done.

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  Spend Money Wisely
You may have heard about some people that have million dollar tastes, but they only have a shoestring budget. There are wide ranges of restaurants and associated costs for a meal. A nice expensive steakhouse may sound good, but going to the grocery store would be much wiser. There are even wide variances between grocery stores, so you must be wise as to where you shop. There are different types of department stores that are more amenable to different budgets. There are different models of cars that are more affordable than others. Obviously, you need to have some income in order to spend anything. And, you should also put some thought into how you spend your money.

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  Save Money Diligently
You've likely heard the phrase "put a shiny penny in your pocket and save it for a rainy day". I was looking to see if that was a song, but my google search kept referring me to "catch a falling star and put it in your pocket', by Perry Como. Have you ever thought about how closely those two are tied for many people? For some, catching a falling star is about likely as saving that shiny penny seems to be!

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  Earn Money Honestly
This next series of lessons is on money, which is an issue to which all of us can relate. While this lesson is primarily about earning money honestly, there will be additional lessons on saving, wise spending, generosity, how we use our money and on giving thanks. We learn about money at an early age. We may not have a concept of what it means to have a lot or a little, but even as small children, we see how our parents and others make transactions at stores or restaurants. When I grew up, our family primarily used cash, but today debit cards, credit cards and even smart phones are used to pay for goods. If you read this in the future, who knows what it will be?

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  Practice Acceptance
Who do you find it easiest to accept? Most of us gravitate towards people that are more like us. We generally feel more comfortable with those who have similar likes and interests. It is easier to talk about things that we have in common. Berkley and I have really enjoyed watching the St Louis Cardinals and we have been fortunate to go to several games over the past couple of years. Talking about the Cardinals is easy if you are a fan or if you just truly enjoy baseball. However, when we are at the games and the fans for other teams are very boisterous, well, it can be much harder to accept. Acceptance can be based on where you are from, the type of food you like, the places you have traveled and so on. When there is commonality, there is more chance for acceptance.

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  Practice Submission
While the concept of submission is important for the betterment of a society as a whole, it is a crucial aspect of the life of a believer. Believers are called to be the light of the world, or at least to reflect the light of Christ. The world would tell us that believers don't do a very good job at being different. It is easy for us to fall back into our worldly behavior when we are primarily focused on self.

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  Practice Service
In this lesson, we are talking of service, as in serving someone. When you go to a restaurant and have a waiter or waitress, what type of service do you expect? Often, it depends on the type of restaurant, but generally we think of someone who takes our order, brings the food, refills drinks and takes care of other needs we may have while eating. We are often quick to talk about bad service if we don't believe that we were given the type of treatment we expected. In other areas, when we are being served, we have some expectation of how we might be treated. If you have served others, in a restaurant or in some other capacity, have you served them in the same way that you would desire to be treated?

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  Practice Forgiveness
In this series of lessons, we often think of high level meanings of the topics, such as love, encouragement and forgiveness. We need to think about these topics, as they apply to day to day events in life. For example, we may think about forgiveness, as being forgiven by God, but many come up with many excuses as to why they are exempt from having to forgive others. In some cases, people may say that they have forgiven someone who may have wronged them in the past, but their actions belie their words. What is the impact of forgiving others? At times, we may feel like we let someone off of the hook or that we pretend that what they did was okay if we forgive them. We tend to forget that an attitude unwilling to truly forgive ends up hurting the one who is unwilling to forgive more than the one that they refuse to forgive. When you refuse to forgive, resentment sets in. As some have said "Resentment is the poison you feed yourself, hoping someone else will die." What should be different with forgiveness and being a believer and why?

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  Practice Encouragement
When you think back in your life, who is it that has encouraged you? Many people will think back to a teacher or a coach who had an impact on their lives. Some are blessed with the encouragement offered by parents and other family members. I can think of many people who have encouraged me personally - in school, in athletics, in work and in life. Sometimes, encouragement comes from people who have had similar problems in a particular area and by hearing of their stories we can become encouraged to make changes in our own lives. On the other hand, do you believe that there are others who can say that you have been an encouragement to them? Sometimes, we tend to live our lives in such a way that we avoid others, or that we hide where we have had problems. When we do this, we lose a potential area where we can offer encouragement to someone else in need of being encouraged.

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  Practice Love
This next series of lessons will briefly discuss some 'practices' that should be common to believers. From a thousand foot level, they seem to be easy things to do (when it is convenient to do). The practices are love, encouragement, forgiveness, service, submission and acceptance. In certain circumstances, these may seem easy for most, but they become very difficult when life doesn't go as we would have hoped. For example, it may be easy to love when people are lovable in return, but it becomes hard to love when we feel that it is all one sided or when we have been hurt by others. Similarly, it can be easy to encourage, forgive, serve, submit or accept in certain circumstances, but it can seem impossible in other situations. For some, even the high level view of these practices uncovers personal issues and can be very convicting.

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  Exalted Like No Other
The impact of Christ on our lives is amazing, as He can change everything about us. We often get caught up solely on what his life means to us and when we do so, the focus tends to be on us and not on Him. In this lesson, we will remind ourselves of just what we have through Christ, and how He is truly exalted like no other.

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  Taken To Heaven Like No Other
In his first book, the gospel of Luke, Luke wrote about many of the things that Jesus did and taught during his time on earth. Luke was a non Jewish doctor who gave a very detailed account in both the gospel of Luke and his second book, the book of Acts. In Acts, Luke continues the story and tells what was next for Jesus, and ultimately, what was next for the disciples, the early church, as well as you and I. I feel sure that they still had some of their own misconceptions about what was going to come. The disciples had experienced years with Jesus in ministry, as well as enduring the wide range of emotions associated with His capture, His death and then, marvelously, His resurrection.

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  Resurrection Like No Other
In this brief series of lessons, we've seen that Jesus was like no other person to have ever lived. Some people have gone as far as to question whether Jesus really existed, but there are many proofs from many different sources that attest to the reality of His life on this earth. Some will say that the Bible is biased (so they throw that out as a basis), but there are many different classical and Jewish manuscripts that also point to the historical aspect of Jesus Christ. In this lesson, we take a brief look at the central point of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Christ.

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  Death Like No Other
As Easter rolls around, we generally think of the resurrection of Christ, but this lesson focuses on aspects leading to Christ's death. Each of us will have to deal with death, at one time or another. Many have lost loved ones, in a variety of ways and at variety of ages. We can read about people that live to be older than 100 and eventually die of complications associated with old age. There are others who have died prematurely in accidents, or through all types of diseases, as well as some who have been killed by others or who have even taken their own lives. We know that, assuming that the world does not come to an end before we die, that we all will experience death one day.

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  Teaching Like No Other
What would you be willing to give up in following Jesus? As believers, many would make changes in their lives if they thought they could manage with those changes and it didn't cause that big of a ripple in their lives. God might be talking to you even now about something that you know He wants you to do. Perhaps it is to become regular in giving of your finances to the church. Maybe He wants you to become involved in some ministry at church, or maybe He even wants you to step out in your workplace. Perhaps God is asking you to change the way you spend your money, so that you are able to help when others are in need. There are some people that God might be leading to quit their jobs and go into foreign missions. Sometimes, the things God asks us to do seem well within our ability to accomplish, while other times, it may seem to be a stretch. Perhaps if we KNEW that God was asking us to do something, we'd be more likely to do it, as opposed to thinking we are making something up. Or, at least we say it would be easier.

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  Miracles Like No Other
This lesson examines one of the miracles that Jesus did, prompting even His own disciples to extend their faith in Him. In the gospels, there are approximately 37 miracles recorded. If even one of these miracles occurred today, there would be a following, but Jesus performed more than we can even remember and these are the only ones that were captured in Scripture. On a side note, I had often thought of one miracle that occurred often was that Jesus could speak and people could hear. You have likely been in a building for a meeting or conference where people could not hear the speaker without an adequate speaker system.

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  Prophesied Like No Other
In this lesson, we briefly get into the prophecies of Christ. We won't examine them in detail, but you can find lists of over 300 Old Testament prophecies about Christ. Some may question a few, but there are an overwhelming number of prophecies that were clearly fulfilled in the birth, life and death of Christ. No other religious system has been as bold as Christianity to speak of prophesies in their "holy" Scriptures. Many of these religious works exist to point their followers to a simpler, more satisfactory life. Some are records of history and desire for the future, but do not contain prophecy. There are other 'prophets' that people have alluded to at times - Nostradamus is one that has attempted to predict the future. When his writings appear to be consistent with events in the world, you often have to let your thinking take a leap to match his predictions to what has happened. His writings never got specific enough to be "right" or "wrong". In fact, Nostradamus was likely a clever guy, writing his prophecies in such a way for open interpretation. Even when it can be 'assumed' that he got one right, he certainly does not qualify as a prophet according to the Scriptures. In Scripture, a true prophet is consistent with the rest of Scripture, ALL of their prophecies will come to pass and the prophet's prophesies will humble people, as opposed to puff them up. A prophet speaks God's word and not his own words. The aspects of prophets is fascinating to many and would make a good study, however this lesson is not that study.

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  Ready When Sickness Comes to Stay
As we think of this lesson, there are at least a couple of key points. One is for you and/or I as we deal with persistent illness in our own lives. This isn't about a common cold or even the flu. It's not about allergies or other things that we deal with seasonally. We need to consider what our attitude should be when we realize that illness has come upon us and that we cannot shake it. The illness may or may not have a name and it may or may not be terminal. It may not mean that our time on this earth is shortened, but it does mean that we have to deal with something that impacts our physical well being. What type of attitude should we have?

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  Ready When Sex Destroys
This lesson continues a series of lessons dealing with problems in our society. We have talked about injustice, poverty, self control and relationship restoration. In these final two lessons in this study, we will be looking at the issues related to sex and illness. We would like to think that we could live lives that are free of issues, but we all know better. When we encounter issues beyond our control, we need to seek Scripture to see how we should approach God's views. When we handle them to the 'best of our ability' or we react solely based on instinct, as we naturally would, we are often in opposition to what God calls us to do.

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  Ready When Families Are Torn Apart
Do you know anybody that has a family that is totally intact, from the grandparents to the grandchildren, including all aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters? If you find that person, let them know how blessed they are, because nearly every person in this world has had issues with other family members at some point or another. The issues may be with one or two or all of them, but for whatever reason, there are those people that like to hold the things of the past over other family member's head for years, and perhaps even for life, causing huge rifts within the family. Certainly, there are some cases where abuse of all sorts has taken place and it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to forgive and restore relationships in those situations. But more often than naught, it has to do with the fall out that occurs when someone feels animosity towards another family member. The reasons can border on the preposterous - a perceived slight by a sibling towards you or your child. Or perhaps the reason for the divide is caused because a divorce has happened or a loved one has died. (I have seen some of the most outrageous things happen when people have to split an inheritance). Restoration and reconciliation do not necessarily mean that everything goes back to the way things were before the "incident" happened, but at the very least, we should be able to find peace with our past, and with others whom we have had issues with along the way.

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  Ready When Pornography Controls
Pornography. With that one word, some people will want to shut this lesson down and go back to what they were doing. Statistics say that a large percentage of people have been involved in this (in some capacity), even within the church. This is probably one of the reasons why many people would rather not talk about it. It has sadly touched many lives at one point or another, and it always brings shame. You've likely seen one of the videos in which dogs had gotten into a trash can while the owner was away. In one of those videos, the 'human' is questioning the dogs about which one did it. Two dogs just look at the camera, but the third dog, with a large head surrounded by the kitchen trash can lid wants to go hide. I think many of us can relate to this dog, when we have been involved in sin and are found out.

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  Ready to Help the Poor
This may apply more for men than women, but what is the first question that you are likely to ask another adult that you don't know? Typically, it is something along the lines of "What do you do?" or "Where do you work?" Once we hear their occupation (or lack thereof), are we liable to treat them differently? If you ask and someone says that they are the head of neurology at some prestigious hospital, might you treat them differently than the ones who clean the offices at night? Unfortunately, one of the 'bins' that we place people in is how successful they are financially. It would seem that we get drawn towards money and consumerism in some sort of way. If you watch much TV, you may start to believe that everyone 'has to have' what the commercials are trying to sell us.

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  Ready When Injustice Prevails
Have you ever been personally impacted by a tornado or other fierce storm? It is amazing to see the damage that can be done. At times, tornadoes will plow very wide paths, impacting nearly everything in its way. At other times, it seems that a tornado can go from one side of a street to the other, leaving a perfectly intact house in between two homes that were destroyed by the storm. Around our world, there are many natural disasters that occur and in those places, humanity is unable to stand up to the force of nature. It might be tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, cyclones or many other types of disasters. For some of these, we may have some advance warning when they are likely to occur, but other than to seek shelter, we are powerless to alter nature.

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  The Shelter of God's Protection
Have you ever been personally impacted by a tornado or other fierce storm? It is amazing to see the damage that can be done. At times, tornadoes will plow very wide paths, impacting nearly everything in its way. At other times, it seems that a tornado can go from one side of a street to the other, leaving a perfectly intact house in between two homes that were destroyed by the storm. Around our world, there are many natural disasters that occur and in those places, humanity is unable to stand up to the force of nature. It might be tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, cyclones or many other types of disasters. For some of these, we may have some advance warning when they are likely to occur, but other than to seek shelter, we are powerless to alter nature.

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  The Shelter of God's Forgiveness
As believers, we experience many precious aspects of God's shelter. It doesn't matter who you are, there will come a time where you cannot control events in your life, and at that point, where do you turn? We all know of those who have recently experienced loss of loved ones in their lives. Others have been experiencing medical trials in their own lives. There are others with relationship problems, financial strains and many other issues that are beyond their own capacity to handle. We all have experienced situations in our own lives that cannot be solved by a visit to a doctor or hospital; by reading a book or by the assistance of a close friend. It is in those times where we truly internally experience the benefits of being a believer. There is an internal peace that God brings, as the Bible states "a peace that passes understanding". God's presence is with us, which allows us to boldly go forth with confidence even when we feel a lack of confidence on our own.

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  The Shelter of God's Peace
Let there be peace on earth. If you haven't sung it this year, you've likely heard those words in the past few weeks preceding Christmas. We'd love to think that peace is around the corner, but it seems our world is so far from peace that it will never truly happen. We have always known that there will be wars and rumors of wars in different parts of the world. In watching the nightly news, we have seen unrest in many parts of the world. We know that some of these areas of unrest go back hundreds of years. Some might think as the world gets 'closer' as information can be shared very quickly, people would become more educated and able to end some of these wars. However, it seems that this information is often used to further violence, as opposed to curbing it and bringing peace.

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  Overcoming Obstacles to Worship
This lesson will discuss two primary topics and several sub topics. The primary Christmas story involves the Wise Men and their worship of the newborn king, although there is much discussion about when this event took place and placing the Wise Men at a manger scene is likely in error. The other primary topic involves some thoughts regarding our own relationships and perhaps it can serve each of us a time for a year end self assessment. These may seem to be two totally separate and distinct topics, but there are certainly some truths from the story of the Wise Men that can be applied to our relationships in some manner.

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  The Shelter of God's Encouragement
Have you ever needed to be encouraged? Of course you have, since we all have that need from time to time. Some people act as if they have everything under control, at all times, but we know that is a front, as we all need encouragement. If you read these lessons often, you know that Berkley and I are avid sports fans (actually, probably I am more than her, but we both like to watch games). Have you ever thought about why there is at least a perception of home field advantage in most sports? In reality, the advantage isn't as huge as sports commentators and fans like to think it is, but there is a documented edge to the home team. If two teams had equivalent abilities and played multiple games at both places, you would expect the home team to win more often. This may be due to the impact of the fans on the teams or even the referees and umpires. If you were to play a game, it is often encouraging to have others there to watch you and to support you.

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  The Shelter of God's Salvation
How important is confidence in your life? Whether you are attacking projects at work or at home, the appropriate amount of confidence helps you to feel more comfortable. If you are a student, confidence when taking an exam helps you to relax and generally have a better outcome. An athlete that is confident is more likely to perform his or her task better. Confidence is a key component in how we live our lives, and if we are unsure, we generally want to avoid anything that may be perceived as being difficult.

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  The Shelter of God's Presence
This lesson is based on one of the most familiar passages to believers and many non believers alike. It is the 23rd Psalm. You have likely heard it read during times of grief and death, such as at a funeral. It does talk about the presence of God as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but it also has a lot more to say about life.

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  Ministry in the Face of Mental Illness
How do you feel when you come into contact with others who have mental illness? Given that there are so many instances and types of illnesses or disorders, it would seem that we should learn how to respond in a positive manner. Unfortunately, we often respond in ways that in no way show any concern, as we tend to look at symptoms and misinterpret them through our own lens of life. From a Christian standpoint, some will wrongly say that others are simply failing to trust God and will blame them for their problems, shaming them into silence. Some may wrongly say that others simply need to read the Bible and spend time in prayer. There are times when people legitimately need medical intervention or some form of counseling. While it may help to be able to talk to a friend about one's issues, amateur counseling can be detrimental in many ways. Sometimes we mean well, but we just don't know what to do and can actually make the situation worse.

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  Beyond an Earthly Mindset
Compassion can be thought of as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune. It is more than just a feeling, as it is often accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering (even if in just some small way). I am sure that there are exceptions to this rule, as some people seem to show little to no compassion for others. You may have heard of Compassion International which is a Christian child sponsorship organization dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty around the world. When we see the innocent children that are in the midst of such a situation, our hearts go out to them (and there is a corresponding desire among many to want to help). However, things change when the reports you see or read have an 'innocent' child holding a gun with a shoot to kill intent. We still feel sorry for the situation that they are in, but perhaps our compassion and the willingness to send money, shifts just a bit. Suddenly we find our compassion is challenged.

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  Beyond Bitterness
What causes people to become bitter? Bitterness may be defined as unforgiveness fermented. Holding onto past hurts can rob any of us of joy in many parts of life. There is not a single one of us that will go through life without getting hurt in one manner or another. Even when people don't seem to react to hurts in life, we all will experience it. When we dwell on that hurt, it will impact us even more.

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  Beyond Hard Times
Who do you know that is dealing with hard times today? We all know people that are suffering through all sorts of situations - and for some of us, those hard times are right now. During the Christmas holidays, you will often hear of the 100 neediest cases and the request for assistance in each of them. However, the truth is that there are thousands upon thousands more than 100, especially in larger cities. Some of them may have created their own situation and others are suffering through no fault of their own. There are many who have lost jobs, suffered diseases, lost loved ones or are in various different circumstances in life. People handle difficult situations in many different ways. On extremes, some will only focus on the situation, allowing it to define them. Others may focus on anything but that situation, putting it in the back recesses of their minds, acting as though nothing is wrong. Other people will handle difficult situations in just about every manner in between these extremes.

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  Beyond being Forgotten
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Generations change, but when I was growing up, a boy might want to be a fireman, a professional athlete or a superhero. I would have liked to be a superhero, but thought a professional basketball player was much more attainable. I spent hours upon hours shooting at the goal behind my house and tried to play wherever I could, whenever I could. I remember my dad spending time with me, holding a broom up in front of me, and teaching me to shoot over outstretched arms. However, my coaches (and lack of supreme talent) never quite allowed that dream come true. We all start out with hopes and dreams of a life that will go as we desire. Granted, the dreams we have as a child change as we age. I never really thought about the same dreams (with the exception of a superhero, which I still think would be cool!).

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  Beyond Temptation
We all are tempted in many different ways. It is interesting that some temptations are very difficult for certain people to deal with, while they have little to no impact on others. Sexual temptation is prevalent in today's culture and it is certainly a temptation for a lot of people. I know in watching a ton of baseball games on TV, both Berkley and I have been sickened by the various Hardees commercials that are sexual in nature. That's certainly not the only such explicit commercial that will show up during prime time viewing. While there are no small kids in our house anymore, it would be difficult to watch TV without having to explain some things that would make most parents uncomfortable around their young kids. Of course, it's not just commercials that bring this temptation - all sorts of movies, TV shows and online sites bank on the ability to tempt people. Even the prime time programs that are shown today are full of innuendo that distorts our thinking.

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  Beyond Betrayal
Betrayal. It is the word we don't want to be on either side of. We can think of high profile betrayers that come to mind almost immediately. In the Bible, the name that most often comes to mind is Judas, who betrayed Jesus into the hand of his captors. Of course, you can go back through Scripture and find others examples of betrayal that are much less well known. Betrayal is something that impacts people personally. A synonym is the word traitor, and while closely related, this is when a person's actions has impacted a large group of people that have placed their trust in him or her. In modern United States history, the name that most will say by default is Benedict Arnold. I would imagine that answer would come to your mind, but if you had to say what Benedict Arnold did, many would struggle to tell the story. He defected from being a general in the American forces to becoming a general in the British forces. Of course, the story is much more detailed, but most people know of the name Benedict Arnold, and that he was a traitor. Even when people know nothing of what he actually did, they associated his name with that of a traitor.

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  Connected with Prayer
This is the final lesson in a series on being connected as believers. It is important to identify the ways we are connected, but other than our relationship with Christ, there is truly no more powerful connection than what we have in prayer. What comes to mind when you think of prayer? Some see prayer as a short sentence or two that they say prior to a meal. Others may think of what they say before they go to sleep, or before they begin their day. Some people give very little thought to prayer and don't seem to think a thing about it until a crisis comes up. There are some people that have found prayer to be a very vibrant part of their relationship with God. In just about any church, you can find a wide range of view on prayer. Most of us remember where we were on September 11, 2011 when the acts of terror occurred against the United States. Many people ended up in impromptu church services, praying for our nation, the families who had suffered loss and for God's peace. I remember how incredible it was to see churches packed all over the country, seeking community and seeking God.

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  Connected through Words
Words have power, don't they? You probably remember the saying from younger days which said "Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me" - (uh….yeaaahhh) I would venture to say that we could all easily recall some very painful words that were spoken to us even as young children - so try as we might to loosen the grip those words have on us, we find they are as stuck in our minds as an overcooked egg is on a frying pan.

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  Connected in Growth
This lesson is about being connected in growth. When you see a baby that needs someone to feed them a bottle, you may think it is cute. However, when you see an adult that needs to be fed in the same proverbial way, it is pitiful. As humans, we mature - our bodies grow and at some point, we put aside childish thoughts and become more like 'big kids'. Certainly, there are some people with problems that cause them to never mature intellectually, but the vast majority of people do mature, both physically and mentally. The same should be said about our faith. When we are saved, we are saved from eternal separation from God, but at the same time, we are also saved to change and grow. It is a lifelong process; one that you will never fully mature in, but if you are not on that journey, don't you see that you are missing something? As you read this lesson, consider where you are in your growth. Don't compare yourself to someone else, but ask God to show you areas where you need to take a step in growth.

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  Connected in Unity
There are many reasons why people are involved in a church. Church can help draw us closer to the Lord and to align to the will of God. Church can help believers find purpose and give us avenues to carry out God's purpose for our lives. For many, the church is where people find the closest and most honest relationships, as they share their lives and faith with one another. We can truly learn more about God by hearing how He is at work in the lives of others. As believers, we realize that we need fellowship with other believers, so that we can encourage, support and help reinforce each other as we live out our faith. For many believers, they will find that if they do not attend church for an extended period of time, they will become like a piece of coal that is separated from the fire, losing the heat and glow. The church can provide a lot of things to a lot of different people, but there are some important aspects that help to keep believers connected in unity in and out of church.

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  Connected in Christ
What does it mean to be connected? In business, people often talk about their connections. One popular site for working professionals is LinkedIn, and some people have hundreds of connections. After you've worked someplace for a large company, you tend to get to know many different people. Connections are good when you are looking for a job, as they can serve as references for you and can help make you aware of job possibilities. We see the importance of being connected, as it can open some avenues for us in many areas of life. I've played basketball for several decades and over that time, I have gotten to know many athletes of varying capability. That led to being included on teams in multiple leagues. Although I am still connected to many of these people, I don't seem to get as many requests to play on teams anymore!

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  God Forgives
>Back in 1830 George Wilson was convicted of robbing the United States Mail and was sentenced to be hanged. President Andrew Jackson issued a pardon for Wilson, but he refused to accept it. The matter went to Chief Justice Marshall, who concluded that Wilson would have to be executed. "A pardon is a slip of paper," wrote Marshall, "the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged."

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  Stay Surrendered
What do you think about when you hear surrender? In the context of war, to surrender implies that you are giving up and ceding the victory to the opposing side. Nobody begins a war with the thought of surrendering, but that is ultimately what it takes for a war to end. In ending the Second World War, the Pacific Allied Commander gave terms of unconditional surrender with no qualifications to Tokyo. When surrender occurs, you do not get to select optional areas to hold back. In war, a side doesn't surrender until they see have no other choice. This is the essence of Christianity, as we will surrender to Christ when we see that He can provide for us in a way that we never could.

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  Learn to Sing
There are plenty of reasons that we have to be joyful, but we seem to be easily distracted towards the things that can steal joy from our lives. Certainly there are some people that you and I know that have had to deal with intense circumstances in which it is nearly impossible to have joy. We tend to forget the persecution that the original recipients of this letter were under. In every chapter of 1 Peter, Peter speaks about suffering and persecution of the church. While we may feel some sense of persecution today, it doesn't even come close to what these people dealt with, yet they were encouraged to find joy.

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  Keep a Clear Conscience
We have two dogs, Sarah Sally and Lily Bell. We like to refer to Lily as Guilty Bell, because it is obvious when she has gotten into something that she knows she shouldn't have. We walk into the house after being gone (for five minutes or all day), and you can tell right away when Lily has gotten into something. You may not even know exactly what it is, but her demeanor is evident. She doesn't want to look at you and she tends to go into a corner as to hide. Sarah, on the other hand, doesn't tend to get into as much, or when she does, it doesn't really seem to bother her. In some cases, I think Lily takes the blame for Sarah's deeds at times, although without a camera installed in the kitchen, we may never truly know.

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  Entrust Yourself to God
There is a story I have heard of a guy who moved to a monastery to get closer to God, and in doing so, he took a vow of silence. He could only say two words every seven years. The first time, he went to the head monk (the abbot) and said "Bed hard". Seven years later, he went and said "Food bad". In another seven years, he said "I quit". The abbot said "It doesn't surprise me. All you have done since you got here is complained!" While that is a funny story, it should give us all a little pause on multiple accounts. First, we all tend to complain (even more than this guy!) and second, how is our view of people that we have only encountered a couple of times created? What if I had only seen somebody for a few minutes at a time over 20 years? Their view of me might be based on a very bad day or a very good day (just as my view of them might be). Isn't it strange how we have opinions of people based on a very short exposure to them? Haven't you found people to be quite different once you spend time with them? Have you ever wondered why we create a snap judgment without ever really trying to understand who somebody really is?

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  Walk in Holiness
When you think of walking, as opposed to running, what comes to mind? For one, it is at a slower pace, with the exception of speed walkers and slow joggers. However, to walk implies to be what you do by default. Some people train for races, but even those who are doing marathons will walk from their house to their car and most other places they go. To walk in holiness implies that some form of holiness should be our default behavior and tendency. The next thing we need to consider is what holiness means. For some people, they see anything that is holy as being sapped of any joy or fun. They might think of monks that live in a monastery, apart from the world. However, the truest definition of holiness is to be whole, complete, lacking nothing.

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  Put Your Hope in Jesus
People hope for all sorts of things. Hope may be related to the weather or a sports team, or an outcome of a situation in life. When the lotteries get really high, we read about the lines of people that will form at stores for the slight chance to win a zillion dollars. (They don't seem to have the time when it is merely a few million). Most of the things that we hope for are things that we believe will enhance our situation in one way or another, here and now. It may be that we hope for something a few years in the distance, but most things we hope for are in this life (which is all we know by experience). The one thing that we know about specific situations and hope in life is that our hopes are often dashed. The weather doesn't hold for the big outdoor event. Our favorite sports team loses a heartbreaker. The company we have put our time and effort into for many years, lets people go with little notice. Relationships fail. People do end up with diseases and experience loss.

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  God is Forgiving
Have you ever wished you could go back and change the past? I certainly do. We've all made mistakes in the past that we would never make a second time, and for many, we wish we could go back and undo those decisions because of the pain we caused others. Unfortunately, until a time machine has been developed that allows any of us to do that, we really have no way to go back and change anything about our past. You cannot change where you grew up. You cannot change the family you had as a child. You cannot change the things that you experienced. You cannot change the decisions that you made, whether good or bad. You cannot take away consequences to past actions. You cannot win a game that you lost, or lose a game that you won.

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  God is Just
What does it mean to be just? In our judicial system, we would expect justice to prevail, but we find that is so often not the case. If we were honest with and about ourselves, we would realize that there are times when if justice was truly served, we would all have to face some sort of music. None of us has made it through life without making our own share of mistakes and hurting someone in the process. Certainly, some seem to make more mistakes than others, but none of us is perfect, and if we wanted God to be truly just, none of us would be able to stand before God on our own righteousness. So, before we read this lesson thinking about somebody else, let us consider our own situation.

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  God is Wise
In this series of lessons, we have examined some of the attributes of God. When we think of them and study them, we see that God exhibits these attributes completely and perfectly, while there are aspects of these attributes that we strive for. When this series is complete, the lessons will have examined God's holiness, His love, His faithfulness, His wisdom, His justice and His forgiveness. Some people could care little about holiness, although this should be something that believers strive for. And, it would seem that some people care little about justice, as long as they can get what they want. However, most people want their lives to have some aspect of love, faithfulness, wisdom and forgiveness.

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  God is Faithful
Faithfulness is something that is highly valued, but something we see very little of. In just about every aspect of life, people go from one thing to the next. I like to follow sports, and it is difficult to see a favorite player leave your favorite team and go play for another (Albert Pujols, now an Angel, as one example). I suppose that is part of life now, but it seems more and more common and it is hard to blame a player for making money if the market allows it. We see this in people's jobs, pursuits, relationships and in so many other things. As believers, we want to say that we are always faithful to Christ, but if you've grown up around church, you may remember the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" which clearly stated, "prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the One I love". Unfortunately, we can all relate to this "proneness".

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  God is Loving
What does God's love have to do with our lives? Are we called to love others? For most of us, it is easy for us to love those who are lovable. But, we can all agree that not everybody in our lives is lovable. Still, we are called to love one another. In John 13:35, Jesus states "By this all men will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another." If this is the measuring bar, would anybody think you are a disciple of Christ?

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  God is Holy
What does it mean to be holy and how is it used in our world today? If you think of just about any usage of the word 'holy' in movies and literature, it always has some connotation associated with sacredness and some relationship to God, even for those who don't believe in God. Of course, there are the words that some people might use, such as 'holy smoke!', and that has no connection to God when used as a phrase of surprise. Some people refer to anything that is set apart as being holy, although in most cases, there is some notion of sacredness or being used for religious purposes. In church, we used to sing a song about standing on holy ground. Holy ground implies the presence of God and in His presence we should behave in a way that shows respect. Some people may think of a person that has dedicated or devoted their lives to the service of God or the church, as in a holy man (or woman). As believers, we are called to live holy lives, indicating that we should be devout in what we do and seek to live as godly as possible. There are likely many different ways that people view holiness, both among believers and others. However, what any of us know as holiness is only a hint of holiness. True holiness comes from God, so it is important for us to get some understanding of what it actually means to say that God is Holy.

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  The Resurrection of Christ
There is one thing that we all will experience in life. People say you can't avoid death and taxes. Well, some might find loopholes around paying taxes, but none of us can cheat death. It is a reality that we all age. When we are younger, we want it to hurry up. When we are older, we want it to slow down! People will do almost anything to avoid aging. Many keep staying active as long as possible, knowing that if they stop, it will be much harder to get going again. We see people playing sports in different leagues (non professional) until they are a lot older. I have played basketball for most of my life, but I was most impressed with an elderly man that played with us, Mack. We were in our 30s and 40s - Mack was retired and in his 70s. Sure, he may have lost a step, but it was impressive that he kept going at it. There are others who will go for surgery after surgery in order to try and look as if they are a lot younger.

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  Hope Shared
When do we learn to share? The most common word among small children playing together is 'mine'. One of my favorite comedians is Brian Regan and he talked about growing up as the youngest sibling, in a house where you had to call your things. "I call that chair". He found that wasn't a universally known phrase when he got to school and said "I call that desk". His teacher said, yes, Brian, we all call that desk. At home, he would use it in a negative way, so that he appeared to be happy with what he got. He would call his spot in the car, as the back seat, sitting on the hump, which caused his parents some concern. He shouldn't 'want' the hump, should he? I guess if you learn to like that seat with the hump, being the youngest kid in a family isn't so bad. Isn't it amazing how we take ownership of things (well, at least the good things) and at times, we don't want others to have it? Perhaps it is your favorite food, like Girl Scout Cookies or ice cream or something you really enjoy in a restaurant. Maybe it is your golf clubs or your car or some other possession. When there are things that we truly like, we tend to want to keep them for ourselves, especially as we are younger.

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  Hope Renewed
Failure. We have all experienced it, perhaps in large ways or small. As students, we probably all have failed a test (or two) at one point or another. Either we studied the wrong material or we didn't study at all. If you want to graduate, you learn from that failure and change the way you study in the future. In doing home improvements or assembling a complex device, we have all likely ended up with something left over, or putting something in backwards. Even the professionals can read a blueprint wrong. When I was in college and working summers with a construction group (as the one who had to do the jobs nobody else wanted to do (and didn't require skill!) ), one plumber read the blueprint wrong in a series of apartment buildings that were being constructed and hooked up all the plumbing backwards in one of the buildings. That summer, I learned how to use a concrete saw to dig up what he had done, so that he could do it again. In relationships, we have all failed. We don't always say the right things or do the right things. We know how failure can damage a relationship, if not sever it completely. Some failures are easier to recover from than others. Other failures can have life altering impact.

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  Hope Expressed
Who are some people that you respect? When we are young, we are taught to respect our elders. In school, we are taught to respect our teachers and other authority figures. We tend to respect those whom we esteem and hold in honor. I know that there are many elderly people that I respect, as their lives have been excellent examples to younger folks. There are many words of wisdom that we could hear if we would only allow ourselves to listen. There are other people that we should respect because of their position. Children should respect their parents, even if they disagree with their parents. (This continues as we grow older and have children of our own - that we should show respect to our parents). We should ask ourselves if we are showing respect the people that God has said that we should show respect for.

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  Hope Personified
This continues a series of lessons on hope. We all need hope in some area of our lives, and those of us who are believers have that hope ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In this life, we hope for all sorts of things and we know that Jesus can do all things, but life doesn't always turn out as we might hope. There are some people in situations that have their hopes fulfilled, and others in the same situation suffer loss. One does not have more faith than the other, nor does there appear to be any rhyme or reason why some things happen the way they do. There is no formula for 'getting your desires fulfilled', because if there was, we would be all about following that formula for what we could get out of it.

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  Hope Found
In the previous lesson, we learned how we all need hope. While it is not always the case, we know that there can be and have been things that are beyond our capability to handle. When you are in the midst of those things, don't you just wish others knew what you were dealing with and gave you a break? Sometimes, it seems that others simply pile on when all you would want is for some understanding. What about others you encounter? Have you ever thought about what they wished you knew what they were going through? Have you thought about the times when you may have been short with somebody who didn't respond as you wanted them to, without even thinking about the things that they deal with? Although some people just seem mean by nature, any of us are likely to be on edge when we are dealing with a seemingly hopeless situation.

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  Hope Needed
What do you think of when you think of hope? It can have to do with something desired. Many of us have been hoping for an early spring this year. We have no control over the timing of the seasons. Berkley and I recently watched the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament, and saw the University of Kentucky appear to 'hope' that they could hit their free throws, which allowed the University of Connecticut the opportunity to win (they hit all of theirs in that game). Having no control over the game, all we could do was hope. Certainly, even the best shooter can't ensure they make every free throw, but they should be more than simply hoping that the shot goes in. There are some cases in which we do more than hope, as we have an expectation. For example, when we drive, we expect people to follow the rules of the road - stopping at red lights (okay, maybe we just hope for that), staying in their lanes, going the same direction as the rest of the traffic and so forth. Sometimes, we have expectations in that things will go the way we want and that others will do what we want, and that can lead to manipulation. You can see that there are varying degrees of hope, from no control to having control to assuming you have control.

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  Give Work a Rest
Many of us look forward to resting every night, and recharging. How do you feel when you've had a good night's rest? A good rest will help you function better the next day. If you don't sleep enough, you are likely somewhat cranky and tired. If you sleep too much, you might also feel more tired than you would imagine. Our bodies need a certain amount of rest to operate at peak performance. Granted, it is different for each person, but we all need to get rest. We need rest each day, and if you go hard every day, you will need to take a day off every few days in order to maintain optimal performance.

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  Put Your Money to Work and Work Your Plan
This is a two lesson continuation of the series of lessons on work. In the first part of this lesson, we will talking about how we should use the resources that we have, and how we should be able to help others in need. In the second part of this lesson, we will discuss the importance of having a plan in regards to our resources.

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  What We Work For
Most people don't really like the sermons on money. I know some people that claim that every time that they show up at church, the preacher discusses money. The preacher may talk a lot about money, but if someone thinks it is every week, the real problem is that they don't go to church enough. How much does giving play in the life of a Christian? Or, perhaps, more importantly, how important is giving in your life? Giving to your church is tax deductible, but I wonder how many people would still give if that deduction was taken away? God provides for us, in part, so that we can give to help others, including the church. Our giving should be something that we plan and follow through on. It is from what we have, and not what we have left over. I believe that it is important for us to be reminded from time to time of the importance of giving and that is precisely the point of this passage.

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  Who We Work For
When you are meeting someone for the first time, what is the first question you ask? Perhaps it is not the most universal question, but for many people, the question is "What do you do for a living?" Certainly, not everyone has a job, but it is one of the most common aspects of individuals no matter where they live or what their background is. Perhaps we put too much worth on a person's career or occupation, as the same person could be working at a fast food restaurant or in a large corporation, or any other job. It may depend on the drive of the individual, their financial situation and ability to attend or not attend college, who they know or if they have caught a lucky break.

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  Good Work
How do people view work? Some people are workaholics and find themselves working almost all of the time. Many of them sacrifice things that others consider of more importance for their career. They may see work as the most important aspect of life and may believe others that don't work as hard are slackers. For these people, a career takes on such importance that it occupies the majority of a person's non sleeping time and can have a negative impact on other areas of life. There are other people that only seem to work for the weekend. They put their time in at a job, but they do so in order to be able to afford to do other things that require money. Other people work in order to survive, as they barely scrape by meeting their bills. Other people work to take up their time, regardless of whether they need more money or not. For these people, work might one way to stay busy and connected with other people. There are some people that want to work, but can't find a job. Others have jobs, but don't want to work. And some people give up paying jobs for jobs that require more hours and no paycheck.

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  Courage of Joseph
For some people, courage involves facing fears and trusting that God will get them through it. Some have fear of flying and if they can't get past that, they may miss out on time with family and friends in faraway places. Some have fear of speaking in front of others and if they can't get past that, they may stifle opportunities in a career. Some have fear of conflict at all, and more often than not, not addressing conflict can lead to more conflict. When we face issues in life that are unexpected or that make us uncomfortable, courage may be found in short supply. However, if we do not choose to face our fears and be courageous, we may miss out on other blessings, and we may, in fact, make life much more difficult.

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  If God Is Good, Why Is There Suffering?
In the past few lessons, we've talked briefly about the existence of God and Creation. There are many different ways to point to evidence for both of those, although there are many arguments that people will raise. Truly, when you realize how it all fits together, the arguments pale in comparison. We certainly can't answer every question, which is even acknowledged in Scripture, as we learn that God's ways are not our ways, and God's thoughts are not our thoughts. We would like to be able to answer more questions when people ask, but there are some that pose to be quite difficult. This lesson touches on one of those questions that people will often bring up.

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  How Did We Get Here… and Why?
In February of 2014, there was a debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Ken Ham is the co-founder of Answers in Genesis and founding of the Creation Museum. Bill Nye is more likely known by more people today, due to his Disney/PBS children's science show "Bill Nye the Science Guy", which ran in the mid to late 1990s. The topic of their debate was "Is creation a viable model of origins?". This is obviously not the first time this subject has been debated, and it is not likely that anyone will be won to one side or the other based on the debate. In many debates (political included), there is often disagreement on base points and definitions, so that the debaters often end up talking past one another. In this debate (as in many others that have preceded it), neither side was willing to allow for any evidence to change their mind. This is often true for many people today, as many live in closed intellectual systems, refusing to accept any evidence to the contrary of their own belief.

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  Why Should I Trust the Bible?
Many of the tenets of Christianity and our beliefs about God are traced back to the Holy Bible, which is God's word. But, many people still question Scripture and its validity. On one hand, there are so many authors, so many different translations and it has been around for so many years - so some people would certainly assume it is fraught with error. Some people see the Bible as a 'great' book, but they are not convinced it is factual. They point to different interpretations of Scripture and point out that if it was really God's book, everyone would agree on the meaning of all passages. Many people will go to great lengths to try and find contradictions, but the amount of evidence for the validity of the Bible is certainly overwhelming.

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  What About People Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?
We've all heard about good news and bad news. A few years ago, I was watching "The Bucket List" and there was a line about the bad news and worse news. It is very important for us to hear the bad news, even when we don't want to. For one reason, it makes us appreciate the good news all the more. Additionally, if you were to go to a doctor and you don't get the bad news, the problem could be misdiagnosed such that the solution wouldn't really work. The doctor who refuses to give out bad news does not help the patient.

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  How Can I Be Sure God Exists?
This lesson asks a very important question - How Can I Be Sure God Exists? There are many people that simply don't believe in God. Perhaps they believe that if God existed, then there would be no evil in the world. Or, if God existed, people wouldn't have terminal illnesses. Some believe that if God existed, He would manipulate them (or more importantly others) to do the right thing, all the time. Some people believe that belief in God is for simpletons and fools. We see the technological advances that have happened in our world and to many, God seems outdated.

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  Is Every Life Sacred?
This lesson is the sanctity of life lesson. There is one lesson each year that is devoted to the sanctity of life. Why do you think that is important? It would appear that there is an assault on human life in our culture. In movies and in video games life is often devalued, killing is depicted commonly, over and over. Many people start to see other humans in the same way. We've seen school shootings on multiple occasions. We've seen many other crimes in which people have been killed for no specific purpose. There is a violent stunt that is growing in popularity among teenagers. It is called "knockout" and it involves assaulting people without any warning and it has claimed multiple lives. The 'victims' are not even known to the assailants and are chosen at random. Defenseless and unsuspecting people are attacked by groups of teens who have one goal in mind: to knock the victim out with one punch. Clearly, these lives are of no value to the people playing the game. We hear about these atrocities and while we feel bad for those who have suffered, you can always see the shock when someone is interviewed and says that they never thought it could happen in their town, neighborhood or school.

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  A Life You Can't Live on Your Own
We tend to think that we can handle whatever comes our way. Many have an attitude of "I've got this", believing that they can truly take care of any situation. We often vastly overestimate our own ability and resources. There are things that we can handle, but there are other situations in life that no manner of money can solve. There are problems that we encounter that no level of intellect can fathom. Human ability can get you so far, but it cannot handle every situation you meet.

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  A Fight You Can't Win By Yourself
During this holiday season, we see many of the standard Christmas movies. Of course, there is "It's a Wonderful Life", "Christmas Vacation" and "A Christmas Story". There are many more that get played, but it seems each year, you can watch "A Christmas Story" on some channels over and over and over. If you've seen the show, you know of the phrase "You'll shoot your eye out!" I often think of the neighborhood bullies in the show, Scut Farkus and his sidekick Grover Dill. These bullies would terrorize the other kids on their way to school. One day, Ralphie, the main character, has had a bad day and Farkus gets in his way. Ralphie snapped and beat up Farkus, with all the kids watching. Nobody thought it could be done.

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  An Identity You Must Embrace
Have you ever wondered why countries in our world that have overthrown dictatorships often fall back into another dictatorship? We applaud the initial changes in these countries, but in many cases, it doesn't seem that it is too long before the former 'bad guy' is replaced with the new 'bad guy - who is often worse than the old one'. Often, this is due to the emphasis on getting rid of the old dictator, with no plan on how to govern without him (or another one). This analogy doesn't just stop with countries. Soon, it will be the start of another new year, and people will be making resolutions (most of which are not kept - sorry to burst your bubble if you think you might be different). We see people that have gone on exercise binges, or have started doing some other thing that they know that they should do (or stopped doing something else they know they shouldn't do). In fact, they really want to change. You and I have been there. We have desired to change - we truly have. Yet, when we focus on getting rid of some behavior, we usually create a void that needs to be filled. Without some other behavior in place, we find that our old habits are very easy to fall back into.

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  The Gift You Can't Give Yourself
In the book of Romans, we learn of the universality of sin. It is something that we all deal with. However, there must be a distinction made between sin and mistakes. For example, this week's lesson was supposed to be last week's lesson, and vice versa. I goofed. I misread the material and made a mistake. However, this isn't a sin to which I am accountable to God. We need to realize that people are human and people will sometimes make a well intentioned mistake. You go to the store and forget to bring home something that you needed. You forget to take out the trash and miss trash day on your street. There are so many things that we do that may infuriate ourselves, but in and of themselves, they are not sin.

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  A Love You Can Experience
None of us are truly deserving of God's love. We still struggle with doing the things we know we should do and yet, God still loves us. Through belief in Jesus Christ, we have been justified. I came across this story a few years ago, and it helps to make that point.

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  A Problem You Can't Solve
This lesson discusses the issue of a problem you can't solve. I like doing Sudoku puzzles, and I have gotten pretty good at them over the years. Sometimes, I can do the extremely difficult ones, but they can take a really long time, and I may have to resort to looking at the answers in the back of the book. Once, on a Southwest airline trip, I was working the 'easy' puzzle in their magazine. As it turned out, it was not easy, and I was stuck. So, I looked around to make sure nobody was looking and turned to the solution in the back of the magazine. (Why I care about others on a flight thinking that I am cheating at Sudoku, I don't know). I found the puzzle and to my dismay, the solution was for the wrong puzzle, so I was stuck. Have you ever found yourself at that point; facing a problem that you thought you knew how to solve, but later found out that you didn't have the right resources?

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  Thank You, Lord
Thanksgiving is coming up soon. What do you have to be thankful for this year? It's great that we have a day that is called out for us to remember to be thankful and I believe that we all should be thankful for many things. Even when life has not been exactly what we had hoped it would be, there are blessings that we have received all around us - we may have to shift our focus to see them, but they are there. Sometimes, people will spend this holiday in 'thanks thinking', instead of thanks giving. Hopefully, this year, you can stop and be thankful for what you have been given, as opposed to being upset because of what you do not have, and take the time to actually say 'thank you' to those around you instead of hoping they know it.

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  The Big Picture
Have you ever tried to put together a puzzle without looking at the box? It might be easy with the large piece puzzles that you had as a preschooler. For most of us, they were wooden ones with a few big pieces, but if you are a teenager today, perhaps you recall an online puzzle (my, how things have changed!). However, when you start thinking about the 1000 (or more) piece puzzles (with small pieces) that have a background that is similar in many places, it is almost impossible to put that puzzle together without the picture on the box.

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  Step In
What do you think of when you hear the words step in? For many parents, they think of the times when they have to step in and break up a fight between their children, or minimally help settle a disagreement. For some people, they think of times when they have had to step in and fill in for somebody else (taking someone else's place to teach a class or give a presentation). People can step in to perform a task for somebody else or to assist others resolving issues they may have. If you follow hockey, you may have seen referees that basically sit and watch two players fight until they are so tired that they almost fall over, so that the referee doesn't get hurt himself. Many people would seem to want to watch these fights and hope that the referee never steps in (or so it seems if you are at a hockey game!).

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  Stand Your Ground
What does it mean to speak up or to stand your ground? There may be times when issues have progressed to the point where you find it necessary to address them with the other person or persons. Often, for people who are hesitant to address conflict (such as myself), this can be a difficult thing to do. When you shrink from conflict, you may find that others may use manipulation and other similar techniques to attempt to control you. The danger in employing this technique of stepping up and standing your ground is that those who have been able to control you in the past will not likely take this change kindly, at least at the onset.

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  Stand Down
Standing down can be a difficult thing for some people to do. It seems that in some ways we've taught our kids that everybody can be a winner. That may create a generation that thinks that they should always get their way. You can find people that are from only children families that seem to think the world should revolve around them, and you can find people that are from large families that have learned to fight for anything that they get. If you want to win every argument and force others to go your way, you'll likely lose some key relationships along the way while doing so.

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  It's Not About Me
It's Not About Me. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what the world will tell you. Burger King used to have the slogan "Have it your way", because they know that is what we want to hear. Many other commercials on TV and radio, as well as the Internet are targeted to 'me' and what 'I' want. On the Internet, your tendencies are often tracked, so you'll find ads that are very much targeted at you. All of this leaves us with the impression that it is okay to put ourselves first.

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  Even Christians Collide
This lesson is about something that we know, but we don't like to say. Even Christians Collide. We'd like to think that our clashes only arise with people who are not following God's plan, however, we know that conflict occurs between all different types of people. In fact, some of the bigger conflicts seem to occur in church and among believers. Could it be because when someone fails (which all of us will from time to time), we don't know how to deal with it? Or, could it be because of unrealized expectations from another person? Or, could it be that we think that everything should revolve around our own point of view? The truth is that conflict can come between anybody, and for just about any reason you could imagine.

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  The Pressure of Retaliaion
There are three different aspects of this lesson from the first eleven verses of James 5. The first part talks about the issues involved with wealth. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself, but it can become a problem when people base their decisions in life on wealth (and themselves) rather than others. The second part of the lesson involves patience. You've likely heard that it isn't wise to pray for patience, because God will give you a situation when you need it. We live in a society where people want what they want now. We need to learn patience and trust that God will provide. The last part of the lesson involves the issues when we complain against one another and when we deal with suffering.

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  The Pressure of Conflict
Conflict is all around us. In fact, right at this point in time, there is probably somebody with whom you are in conflict with. For some people, relationships with neighbors have become something akin to the Hatfields and McCoys. They don't seem to like each other, but it's gone on for so long that they don't really know why - it's just that they know that they are 'supposed' to be in conflict. For others, it is public conflict with other people that have different ideas. You can find many people who want to not only stand for a cause today, but they will fight against anyone who thinks otherwise. Our nation is great in that there is value in the diversity of ideas, but over time, you find that if your ideas are not the same as someone else's, they often resort to name calling. There are many families with all different types of conflict that occurs. The list of potential areas of conflict in life is huge.

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  The Pressure of Words
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Remember when you were a kid and that used to seem to be funny? It only takes living a few years for that phrase to cause a sting in our lives. There are words that people say that may have been intended to help you, but end up causing pain. How many parents have said things that were meant to be an encouragement to their kids, only to realize that they were more problematic than helpful? For example, you have tremendous potential (often implying, "why aren't you achieving it?") There are words that are said but never meant - How many of us have said in response to 'How are you' - fine - when it was not the case. We know that words can be used to lift people up and encourage them, and we also know that words can be used as weapons to destroy others.

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  The Pressure of Partiality
Berkley and I recently watched the movie "42", the story of Jackie Robinson. It was a very good movie and highlighted how some people treat others differently, in this case, because of the color of skin. In one scene, a man and his son were at a ball game. Everything was okay until the father starts yelling racial slurs at Jackie Robinson. The son was confused by it, but in just a few minutes, he joined right along with his dad. The son learned that inappropriate behavior from his dad. What have you learned from others, and perhaps more importantly, what have you taught them unintentionally, in regards to how you treat other people of all different types?

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  The Pressure of Temptation
This lesson is about the pressure of temptation. There is no reason to define temptation here, because we all know what it is. Temptation of different types is something that most of us deal with almost daily. It has been said that opportunity only knocks once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.

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  The Pressure of Trials
There are many different types of trials that we may face. Once trials are over, we often see benefit in them. However, when we are going through different types of trials, it might be hard to convince ourselves of the benefit. There are certainly some trials that are appreciate and looked forward to. For example, an athlete may spend many months training for an event. Their training is done to help make them ready when trials are over. Athletes may be striving for their best personal time and their efforts lead to that.

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  God Completes the Story
Although the story of the Bible is complete, the story of your life goes on and on. Sometimes, I wish that I could fast forward and see what God does in different situations, but I know that in the context of living our story, we learn much and grow closer to God. If it weren't for the bumps and grinds, the successes and failures, there are lessons that we would never learn.

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  Jesus Commissions His Church
Although there may be many different definitions of commission (commission of a crime, commission in sales and so forth), the type of commission referenced in this lesson is most like what you find in the military with a commissioned officer. A commissioned officer is a person who has been granted highly specialized leadership authority in a national military or armed forces troop. In most cases, this authority comes from a country's head of state, usually a president or monarch. Soldiers who receive a commission enjoy different promotion, leadership, and career options than do those who are simply enlisted. Although there is prestige associated with being a commissioned officer, there are also expectations.

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  Jesus Is Crucified and Raised
Throughout history, there have been many people who have died for a cause. They may have had quite an impact on their world at the time, but as time passes, people know less and less about them, until the point where they are all but forgotten. Jesus also died for this 'cause', yet He did not remain in the grave. All of the others may have monuments or tombstones to what they had done. Yet, there is no tombstone for Jesus. He was raised from the dead and He continues to impact history 2000 years later. While I'm sure there were many heroes and martyrs throughout history, only a staunch history major could name one or two that lived in the years 200-500AD? Not only do people know of Jesus, but He continues to impact people's lives.

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  God Sends His Son
There are many things that we might be willing to do for others. If they need help, perhaps we are willing to go and spend time with them, helping them out in a task. Any of us may be willing to contribute towards the needs of another. These are things that require some amount of sacrifice, either in time, physical presence or financial. Many of us spend time each day praying for those in need. We are a pretty giving people, when we put our minds to it. However, there is a limit to our giving for others. If a neighbor needs a tool, we would likely let them borrow ours for a period of time. But, if they required a member of our family for days, weeks, months or years, would we be willing to give them up?

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  God Promises the Messiah
Throughout these lessons that highlight some of God's story for humanity in the Bible, we have seen how God is patient with humans. While He has clearly given His standard for humanity, all of humanity has failed God. God's purpose was to establish a relationship with His children and to do so, He would have to find the way. From the beginning of Scripture throughout, God had promised the Messiah.

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  God Restores His People
When something is in need of restoration, there has been some breakdown or problem. What do you think of when hear about restoration? A house in need of restoration may be damaged due to a storm, or perhaps by years of neglect. A car that needs to be restored may have been driven for years with no maintenance or perhaps has had the effects of weather. A person that needs to be restored is one that is experiencing issues or has had problems in the past. Those problems or issues may be directly due to their own actions or due to the actions of others.

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  God Disciplines His People
What do you think of when you think of discipline? Most people do not like that word as it can conjure up some unpleasant thoughts. On the other hand, there are some people that seem to enjoy discipline. Athletes, for example, discipline their bodies to achieve their highest potential. There are some who choose short cuts and different types of drugs or medication to succeed in athletics, but the one who is disciplined can know that they have done it the right way.

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  God Establishes a Kingdom for His People
What does God want to do for you? We often are sidetracked by the things that we have to deal with and begin to think that God does not see our circumstances. Sometimes those things are difficult and it seems that we have been left to fend for ourselves. Sometimes those things are pleasing to us, but in our time of prosperity, people lose sight of God's role in their lives.

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  God Dwells Among His People
What do you think of when you think of the word dwell? For some, it is a condition or state that they stay in (to dwell in happiness). For others, it is to emphasize or ponder upon (to dwell on a particular subject). For this lesson, the word dwell is meant to stay as a permanent resident or to reside.

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  God Instructs His People
Instructions. We all know about the importance of instructions. If you play any game or sport, it is important that you understand the way that the game is to be played. Until you can understand the rules, you can't really play the game. I went to China with a group of college students in 2009. We went to a Chinese University and spent some time with a class that was learning English. We thought we would teach them kickball. That turned out to be quite humorous instruction. The two 'instructors' really hadn't worked it out (assuming that everyone knows how to play kickball), got to the board and all of a sudden realized that it was not a trivial task to instruct students from another country in a game that they didn't know.

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  God Delivers His People
What comes to mind when you think of delivery? For many of us today, delivery may be associated to something you get - a newspaper, pizza or a package from UPS. In childbirth, delivery refers to the birth of a new child. The mailman delivers letters and bills to most of our homes. You may think of delivery in terms of how someone delivers a great speech, or how a pitcher delivers a great fast ball in baseball. In short, delivery involves handing over from one entity to another.

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  God Chooses a People
When you were growing up and in school and your class went out for recess, how did you feel when they started choosing teams? It would seem that there were some kids that always got chosen to be captains, as they were the star athletes (of that age). Some kids were chosen early based on their ability or friendship with the captain, while other kids were always at the very end. Some of the choice was based on ability and other pieces were based on relationships with the chooser. I don’t know where you were in the whole scheme of being chosen, but I would imagine if you were chosen first, you might have a bit of an attitude, and if you were chosen last, you might be very self conscious.

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Recent Studies


  God Begins The Story
The Bible is a huge book. In the Bible there are 66 books. There are 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. In each of the books, there are countless stories. In my 40 plus years as a believer, I’ve read through the Bible on more than occasion. However, I always seem to come across something that I missed or didn’t remember. I can only imagine how daunting of a task it would be for someone who had no experience with the Bible to even begin to start tackling it on their own.

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  Giving Others What They Really Need
Have you ever heard somebody say that they wanted to give somebody else a piece of their mind? When you hear that, do you think that they have the other person’s best interest in mind? Or, do you think they just want to blow steam off in the direction of someone who has perhaps made bad choices or in some way had hurt them? Generally, giving someone else a piece of your mind is being able to tell them whatever you want to tell them with no regard for how it comes across. For some, that it what it means to give them what they need! It is as if, somehow, by saying those things, you will feel much better and the other person will get what’s coming to them. However, it often backfires. In doing this, we often say much more than we would have wanted to say and instead of helping a situation, we damage it further.

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  Becoming a Person Others Need
Do you like to feel needed? Everyone wants to be part of something bigger and to participate in something beyond their own lives. In most sports, there are many more people on the team than are actually playing at a time. Some of them have special positions. In baseball, while 9 people play at a time, there are usually a few pitchers that are kept in the bullpen and only brought in late in the game when the team needs them. Other position players are in the dugout and need to be ready to back up the regular players, at a moment’s notice or in case of an injury. It is important that these other players keep themselves in physical shape and continue to practice, as if they were playing each day. They may not play in every game, but their ability to play is appreciated when they get the opportunity, and certainly more appreciated if they are ready to get a full effort.

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  Building the Home I Need
One of the key roles in a family is that of a wife and mother. As you are reading this, you may be single and think that it doesn’t matter to you. However, if you are male and one day will be married, there are certain characteristics that you should look for in a wife. Similarly, if you are female, it is important to know what God intends. Others of you are married already and think you have a handle on what needs to be done. Even for you it is worthwhile to look and see what God says in His word.

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  Getting My Most Important Relationship Right
Throughout life, it seems that there are people that are vying for our attention. As I look back at my times in high school and college, I look at things that I did to fit in with others. Fortunately, none of those things were really bad, but that group of friends did influence some decisions. There are people that will do anything to fit in, because of a deep desire to feel as part of a group. However, after school is done and the graduation ceremonies are over, there are many people that you will never see again in your life. Isn’t it terrible to think that someone would make a life altering decision to please someone else that won’t even be part of their life in the future? As believers, we have a relationship with God that is consistent. Whether you are 10 years old or 90 years old, God is the same. Wouldn’t we do better to intentionally make that relationship with God as the most important one so that over the course of our lives, we are pleasing the same person?

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  Blessings of Holiness
Have you ever gone to the store to buy matching paint? One of the hardest colors to match is white. You can look at many different shades of whites and when you get them to your house, with your lighting, the color is often far from the shade you were looking for. Sometimes, people think that their holiness is a shade of white as compared to a solid white (as the holiness of God). However, if we were talking colors, our colors would be much darker you can imagine. When we compare how ‘good’ we are with others, we may seem pretty ‘good’. However, we are on a totally separate level than the level of God. Instead of comparing with bright white (as God), we argue about shades of grey (as others, believers included).

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  Living in Holiness
Have you ever gone to the store to buy matching paint? One of the hardest colors to match is white. You can look at many different shades of whites and when you get them to your house, with your lighting, the color is often far from the shade you were looking for. Sometimes, people think that their holiness is a shade of white as compared to a solid white (as the holiness of God). However, if we were talking colors, our colors would be much darker you can imagine. When we compare how ‘good’ we are with others, we may seem pretty ‘good’. However, we are on a totally separate level than the level of God. Instead of comparing with bright white (as God), we argue about shades of grey (as others, believers included).

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  Seeing or Recognizing?
Have you ever had the experience of seeing something, but not really seeing it? Sometimes, we are so preoccupied with other thoughts that we miss something that might otherwise be very clear. For example, if you have ever really driven long distances on a highway, you probably know all about just realizing that you don’t really remember the last 30 minutes or so. Or it could be that we don’t really expect to see someone, so we put the possibility of seeing them out of our minds. Perhaps you’ve moved far away from the place that you grew up. Most likely, you wouldn’t expect to see someone you went to school with in a local store.

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  Being Served or Serving?
This lesson focuses on the aspect of serving. Different forms of the word “serve” may have different meanings. In tennis and volleyball, a point is begun with a serve. In legal practice, some people are ‘served’ with papers. We hear that some people are in the service, protecting our country. Church meetings are often called worship services. When you go out to eat, there are people that serve your food. In the context of this lesson, however, we are examining the aspect of serving others or being served, as part of our daily lives.

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  Indifference or Compassionate Action?
How many times have you come across a situation where somebody might need the help of someone who is not a part of the "issue"? If you are a student, you certainly know of bullying. Have you ever noticed how most people will stand by and watch? It may be that you know of people that are treated wrongly at work or in your neighborhood. Do you help? There is the other type of wrong that is done to others through the usage of words. Sometimes, it could be that malicious things are being said about someone else and other times reputations are damaged through gossip. Do you sit and listen - maybe even contributing? And, in any of these situations, what if you were the person being bullied or treated wrongly by others, or the one who was the focus of other's gossip and character assassination? Wouldn't you want someone to help?

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  Half Hearted Interest or Total Commitment?
We see multiple levels of commitment today. I follow a lot of different sports, but there are really none that I follow religiously. I do like to see as much of March Madness (the NCAA Basketball tournament) as I can, although I don't set aside all of my time to watch it. There are certain games that I care about more than others, but even then, other priorities can trump watching a game. I do know many sports fans that are committed. They may have season tickets to their favorite team and they attend almost every game. This requires them to sacrifice other things that may rival for their attention. We see these same levels of commitment to people's jobs. Some people are mostly interested most of the time, but they aren't always engaged in what they should be doing. We also see this in churches. Most people that attend churches have some level of commitment, but you can probably take a look at other areas of their lives to see if the commitment goes beyond most Sunday mornings.

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  Tradition or God's Words
How important is tradition in our world today? I would imagine that it would depend on the situation. There are many colleges that carry traditions forward over decades. Families often go back and relive traditions during holidays. There are many places where tradition still is important. The church is often very steeped in tradition. People were raised doing things a certain way and when any of that changes, many people are not happy. Traditions can be a good thing in helping us to remember things that are important and they also provide a way to carry important pieces of family history to the next generation.

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  The Reward of Endurance
Have you ever been to the Everglades in southern Florida? It is the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River. It truly is a beautiful place, visited by an average of one million people each year. While it is beautiful, it is also home to many protected species, including the American crocodile. Although there are shows similar to "Crocodile Hunter", most of us would never want to cross the Everglades on foot or by swimming, because of the crocodile.

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  The Practice of Godliness
There are synonyms to godliness, such as saintly, holy, righteous and religious. We may think of a religious person as one that goes to church each Sunday and appears to do the things that God calls them to do on a consistent basis. As believers, we are called to be holy and righteous. We can only truly achieve this through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, Christians are often called saints because of the relationship with Christ. However, in our day to day lives, there are things that we can avoid and other things that we can do that will help us to practice godliness.

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  The Challenge of Leadership
This lesson has to do with the challenge of leadership. It takes a certain kind of person to be a good leader. There are many people who are leaders today, but there are many aspects that make a person a good leader. Some people seem to be predisposed to being leaders, because of natural leadership qualities such as talents and outgoing personalities. However, it takes more than the talent to be a leader and it takes much more than an outgoing personality. A good leader is someone that believes in the cause that they are leading and is not easily distracted.

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  The Truth of the Gospel
There are things today that we know to be true. We learn many of them in school and we know others by experience. When you drop something, it will always fall down because of gravity. In our world, this is always true. And, in school you likely learned that when you add the same two numbers together, you always get the same result. There is one right answer, even if someone wants to claim that they get another one. Two plus two is always four. There are things that we learn and commit them to memory. When I was in college studying Engineering, I had to take many classes that explained why certain things were true. For example, we learned the proofs behind different equations that we used. Over time, I just used the equations in problems, without having to go back and prove the equations each time, because I came to the realization that they were true.

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  A Message of God's Hopr
How important is hope and perhaps more importantly, what happens when you've lost hope? We've heard phrases like "Keep Hope Alive". With hope, there is always the possibility of change - when we've lost hope, it seems like we are stuck forever. People hope in lots of things. Some people buy a lottery ticket and hope that they win. Some people are hoping that they get picked for a job opening. Other people look at relationships and simply hope that they get better. People hope that it snows on Christmas day. Other people hope that it DOESN'T snow on Christmas, depending on where they live. In athletics, people hope that their favorite team wins the game.

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  A Message of God's Justice
What do you think of when you think of the word justice? Our Pledge of Allegiance has the words "liberty and justice for all". Typically, we think of fair treatment - in that people are treated the same and one is not favored over another. We may also think of justice as a fair reward or punishment for some deed that has been done.

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  A Message of Faith
The presence of evil in our world will make some to believe that God is not involved in day to day life nor does he care. For those who are engaged in sin, this may cause them to continue. We've all made choices that we know to be wrong, but when nothing noticeable happened, some people continue headlong into more bad choices. There are other people who do fear God and strive to do the right things. However, when they notice others who appear to be successful by using underhanded practices, they may perceive little benefit in doing the right thing.

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  A Message of God's Judgment
What comes into your mind when you think about judgment? In our legal system, we want to see justice served, so that those who commit crimes and other misdeeds are held responsible. What do you think of when you think of God's judgment? Once again, some people automatically think of the evil people that have existed in our world and how they will one day be judged by God. It may be a previous world leader that has committed atrocities against other people, or it may be someone you know. However, there is another thought about judgment that can make us somewhat uncomfortable. In our own hearts, we know that we have failed God and others. It is important for us to realize that God is just, but it is also important for us as believers to realize what God has done on our behalf through Jesus Christ. We know that we cannot appear righteous before God, even if others may view us as righteous. So, as you read this lesson, don't just look at the historical context, but ask yourself what God is saying to you and what He is asking you to do, to stop doing or what attitudes have been revealed to you that need to be changed.. This lesson, like all other Bible Study lessons, are less about what someone else needs to hear and more about what we need to hear and apply to our lives.

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