Saturday, January 28, 2012

New & Improved

(Upward B-ball devotional 01/26/12)

You ever notice how many things in the grocery store are marked as "NEW & IMPROVED"?  Sometimes I buy one of these "new" products, try it, and wonder what exactly the improvement is.  The new improved version seems to be just like the old previous version I had been buying all along.  New & improved doesn't always mean what I think it should.

Sometimes new & improved means new, but not necessarily better.  Like a few years ago when the Coca-Cola company introduced a new & improved version of Coke.  Well, it was new but it definitely wasn't improved.  People hated the new version so much that it quickly disappeared and was replaced by old Coke.

I have figured out that occasionally new & improved has nothing at all to do with the actual product.  What's new is the packaging outside.  The box is different.  It's bigger (or smaller) or a different shape or design.  But while the outside has changed, what's inside is still the same.

But there are times when new & improved means exactly that.  The soap cleans better, the cereal is healthier, the frosting is creamier, or the chips are crunchier.  The product inside the packaging is new, improved and better!  And that is a good thing.

New & improved can also be applied to our lives.  We will try all sorts of things to make our lives new or better.  We buy self-help books, new clothes, new cars.  We try fad diets, expensive vacations, and new friends in an attempt to make our lives better.  But these kind of things just change our outside - inside we are still the same.

Because only God has the power to make our lives truly new & improved.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."

When Christ comes into our lives, he doesn't change our outside appearance.  But he does change us.  He makes us a new creaton on the inside.  He changes our old sinful nature into something brand-new and totally improved.  This changes our whole life - inside and out.  And when God makes us new & improved it is always a change for the better and that is a very, very good thing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

He Lives

Read Exodus 1-2 and Acts 1

Acts 1:11 MSG - This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly - and mysteriously - as he left.

I believe that Christ lived and was crucified for my sins. I believe Christ died on the cross, was buried, and walked out of the tomb days later. I believe Christ ascended into heaven and I believe He will return one day.

This is the faith and the hope that my life is now built upon. My sinful past has been forgiven. I have been redeemed. Darkness has turned to light and my once sad heart is now filled with joy. Christ lives! And because He lives, I also live.

That last line reminds me of the chorus of a song:
"Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives."
(written by Bill & Gloria Gaither)

Saturday, January 21, 2012


(Devotional shared at Upward basketball on January 21st.)

Not too long ago, I reached a certain age and I decided that it was time to start paying better attention to my physical health. Which means that I decided to start exercising and so I started running everyday. I figured this would be an easy, cheap way to stay in shape. Throw on a t-shirt, shorts, a pair of sneakers and hit the road.

I was wrong - about the cheap part. I joined a running group and quickly realized that runners need lots of stuff. I had to buy a new watch so I could keep up with my pace. I needed new clothes to wick away sweat. I needed running shoes specially fitted to me. Then I needed a extra pair of shoes, and headbands, water bottles, an ipod, and other stuff. Add on to that the gym membership so I would not have to run in the rain or the cold. That cheap running habit got expensive very quickly, but I justified the expense because it was after all something good to do for my physical health. And physical health, exercise, staying in shape - these things are important.

But the secret to true health is not found in being merely physically fit. While being physically fit is very good, to be truly fit we also need to pay attention to our spiritual health. And remember all the money I have spent on accessories to improve my physical health? Well, the one thing we need for spiritual fitness is free! Totally free - It's already been paid for. Romans 6:23 tells us that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of God’s grace we are redeemed. We are forgiven. This gift is freely bestowed – freely given to all who believe. That's it! Just believe and it is yours for free.

There is also no long list of accessories that you need to maintain spiritual fitness. But there are a few things that will be useful. These things can also be found for free. God’s word, the Bible, if you have an internet connection you can find a free Bible online. A good church home where you can learn more about God and fellowship with other believers who will support and encourage you – these are also freely available to those who reach out.

So how is your health? Do you have what you need to be physically fit and, more importantly, to be spiritual fit?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Recovery means Changes

Recovery isn’t about just giving up a bad habit or letting go of a hurt. True recovery is life-changing. Recovery is letting go of some things that maybe we have held on to for way too long. Recovery also means recovering the life that God planned for you.

Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

As you start living within the plans that Jeremiah is referring to, you will find happiness, true joy, and peace. Learning to live this way is a process. We may have spent many, many years developing bad habits or bad thought patterns. And changing those will take some time. But change is possible. I have changed and I have seen others change also.


Life is all about changes really. The world around us is in a constant state of change. Seasons change. The weather changes. Day changes to night and then changes back. Caterpillars change into butterflies. Tadpoles change into frogs. And a tiny acorn becomes a mighty oak tree.

As the world around us changes, we also need to do the same. You may have heard it said that people never change. But that is wrong. Truth is we can’t change someone else, but we can most definitely change ourselves.

Here is a true statement – If you want your life to change, you have to change your life.

Do you know what it is called when you keep doing the same things over and over while expecting things to be different? Insanity! If that is insanity, then sanity is found either by doing the same thing repeatedly knowing what the outcome will be OR, even better, by doing that crazy thing differently. If insanity is found by doing the same thing repeatedly, falling into the same ruts, making the same mistakes over and over, then sanity is found in change, doing things differently, trying something new.

One thing is certain, if you use the Bible, God’s Word, as the map for your life, then you will notice that God never expects his people to just stay the same way doing the same old thing day after day. God himself never changes. His power to give a future and hope never changes. His Word never changes. There are several different Bible translations out there – but the message of God’s faithfulness and redemption is always the same and is always true.

God changes people. The Bible is full of people whose lives and circumstances were changed by God. You could say that the Bible is full of people in recovery.

Joseph was a slave and a prisoner who became second in command over all of Egypt. Ruth was a homeless, childless widow who found love again, became a wife and mother, and is listed in the genealogy of Christ. Lazarus actually died and was given new life. David committed adultery and murder and his writings continue today to teach us much about repentance and worship.

Esther was an orphan girl who became a queen and saved her people. Rahab was a prostitute who learned to fear God and live. She is also in the family tree of Christ. Saul was dedicating his life to ending Christianity and became one of the greatest missionaries ever.

God not only uses the most unlikely of people, but He can take our circumstances and change them to something more than we can ever expect. And He still does this today. It is possible to have your life change.

The journey of life-change starts by admitting that you have a problem – that there is something in your life that needs to change. Admitting that I, myself, on my own, could not change my life was a step towards recovery.

To find true recovery, not only do we admit that we can’t do it ourselves but we put our hope in God as we come to believe that the problems we face are God-sized and only He can help.

We take a look at who we have been and who we are now. If we are carrying resentments and grudges, we name them. If we have been hurt, we say so. If we have a bad habit, we admit to it. And just to keep it from being too overly negative, we honestly look at ourselves and find the good things that God has put in our lives.

We stop keeping secrets. We become honest with ourselves. We confess it all to God. We find someone to trust and we share who we are with them.

Once we have looked back, then we begin to look forward. We start replacing the bad things in our lives with good, positive things. This is the point where other people begin to notice changes in us.

Then we let go of long-held resentments and grudges by forgiving. We take responsibility for our own actions by apologizing when needed. We continue to develop positive habits and we learn that there is joy and fulfillment in serving God by helping others.

And, if you will honestly do all that, then I guarantee you that your life will change. You will discover the meaning of happiness and peace.

Now you almost certainly won’t do all that in one day or one week. It is a process often called a journey to recovery. It is a journey that can be difficult and sometimes filled with tears. But it is a journey that is so worth taking.