December 2019 Daily Encouragement
The Word For You Today
This year, get out of your rut! - December 31
“The Lord spake unto me, saying, ‘Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.’” • December 31, 2019 • Bob Gass
A biologist experimented with what he called “processional caterpillars.” He lined up caterpillars on the rim of a pot that held a plant so that the lead caterpillar was head-to-tail with the last caterpillar, with no break in the parade. The tiny creatures walked around the rim of the pot for a full week before they died of exhaustion and starvation. Not once did any of them break out of line and venture over to the plant to eat. Food was only inches away, but their follow-the-crowd instinct was stronger than the drive to eat and survive. The same thing happened to an entire generation of Israelites. They walked in circles in the wilderness for forty years, even though they were only eleven miles from the Promised Land. If you’re in a rut today, ask yourself these three questions: (1) Is this rut of my own making? You choose a rut because it’s comfortable and requires no risk. And getting out of it requires courage and a willingness to make tough choices you follow through on. (2) Who am I following? You adopt certain patterns because someone has taught them to you directly or by example. Instead of mindlessly following the crowd, seek God’s will for your life and commit yourself to doing it. (3) Where am I going? The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). If you want to get out of the rut you’re in today, ask God to give you a vision for your life—He will! And when He does, pour yourself into it.
Taking responsibility and risks (3) - December 30
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received.” 1 Peter 4:10 NIV • December 30, 2019 • Bob Gass
Guess which big company felt like “choking on its own candies” after it elected not to feature one of its products in the 1982 blockbuster film E.T.? If you said M&M’s, you’d be right! How did it happen? Turns out the Mars candy bar company executives decided nothing could be gained from allowing their M&M’s candies to be used in what some of them considered “a silly movie.” Consequently, the little boy Elliott wound up luring the loveable alien E.T. with Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces. That one scene drew millions of customers worldwide into candy stores in quest of Reese’s Pieces! Thanks to this movie mega-hit, Hershey’s sales shot up 65 percent! It’s interesting that the Mars executives who said “No” probably lived in big houses, drove big cars, and earned big salaries. Yep, doubt and fear stalk the rich as well as the poor; you’ll find nay-sayers at the top and bottom of the corporate ladder. Recall these words from the famous poem by John Greenleaf Whittier: “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” Think of all the times opportunity knocked and nobody answered. Are you standing before a door of opportunity today? Are you afraid to walk through it? Don’t be. God is with you. His Word says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” When God gives you a gift, He gives you the grace and grit to use it. So step out in faith, “commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3 NLT).
Taking responsibility and risks (2) - December 29
“Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23 NIV • December 29, 2019 • Bob Gass
In 1975, a low-level Hewlett-Packard engineer called Steve Wozniak, whom nobody had ever heard of, shared a dream with his pal, Steve Jobs. It was about building an easy-to-use personal computer to sell to the masses around the world. The pair worked around the clock to create their compact PC. But when they offered it to Hewlett-Packard, one of the world’s great companies, the powers-that-be failed to see its incredible potential and gave it the thumbs down. So Wozniak and Jobs went off on their own and founded a little company called Apple Computers—and revolutionized the computer industry! There’s no shortage of people who will tell you, “It can’t be done” or “It won’t work.” There’s a name for those people: dream killers—and if you listen to them, you’ll give up before you even begin. Behind every major accomplishment you’ll find ordinary people with dreams who are willing to take responsibility and risks. They are the people who enjoy the rewards! Jesus wrapped up one of His parables with these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” In spite of your failures, your struggles, and your limitations, if you’re willing to disregard the naysayers, step out in faith, and use the gifts God has given you, He will see to it that you succeed.
Taking responsibility and risks (1) - December 28
“The vision is yet for an appointed time…Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come • December 28, 2019 • Bob Gass
One missionary evangelist wrote, “There are times and seasons in God’s will. And we can easily become frustrated if we don’t understand that just as there are times and seasons in nature, there are also times and seasons in the process of fulfilling God’s will for our lives. Years ago a group of senior missionaries came together to discuss life principles they had discovered…their purpose was to share this wealth of experience with succeeding generations…They had all encountered common stages of transition in their ministries, and collectively they identified a five-step cyclical process God had taken them through.” Bottom line: timing is all-important! When executives at Decca Records told the Beatles, “Groups with guitars are on the way out,” they signed up with EMI—and the rest is history! Don’t miss the lesson here. Each of us has been placed on earth as a caretaker of God’s business. And that’s true whether you are a judge or a janitor. You’ve been given an allotment of life and charged with the responsibility of taking care of it, investing it, increasing it, and presenting it back to God. Simply saying, “I was afraid of failing” or “I was worried about being criticized” or “I didn’t think I was good enough” won’t work. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Excuses always replace progress.” God will accept your trials and errors, but He won’t accept your excuses for not having tried. So pray, accept responsibility, and step out in faith. You may fail many times on your way to success, but if you keep trying and trusting God, you will eventually succeed.
It’s a necessary part of the process - December 27
“I will instruct you.” Psalm 32:8 NKJV • December 27, 2019 • Bob Gass
Why are you still here? When Jesus saved you, why didn’t He simply take you to heaven to be with Him? Because He’s not only interested in your final destination; He wants to do a work in you and through you on the way to it. We get impatient when it comes to God’s will for our lives. We just want to get there! But a great deal of time usually elapses between when God calls us and when we’ve fulfilled His will for our lives. And until we accept that, we’re not ready to go anywhere! We need to understand that the journey is an important process. It matters to God what you become on the way to where you’re going. And following Him in obedience through many unknowns, trials, and difficulties is an integral and indispensable part of your preparation. God uses the journey to teach you faith, refine your character, and equip you for greater challenges that lie ahead. In fact, if you’re in the process of seeking God’s will right now, you’re already fulfilling part of it in your life. God said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you don’t know all you’d like to, you’re not making progress. Something is happening right now. Your faith is being stretched, your patience is being developed, your doubts are being confronted and conquered, and your relationship with God is growing deeper. He always prepares us in advance for what He has planned ahead for us. Yes, the struggle is uncomfortable—but it’s a necessary part of the process.
Trust God’s timing (2) - December 26
“What I have said, that I will bring about.” Isaiah 46:11 NIV • December 26, 2019 • Bob Gass
God has a plan for your life that requires certain things to happen at a particular time. And since He sees the big picture and you’re working with limited information, you must trust Him—even when you don’t see how it will all come together. God can take the loss of a relationship or a job and make it work for your good. The trouble is, while He’s doing all this, you can feel uncomfortable and downright miserable. Seven hundred and eighty-two years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah said that He would be born in Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2). But Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth. So how did God solve the problem? The Roman emperor Augustus decreed that a census should be taken: “All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son” (Luke 2:3-7 NLT). Are you worried about the future? “Don’t be impatient for the Lord to act! Keep traveling steadily along his pathway and in due season he will honor you with every blessing” (Psalm 37:34 TLB). Relax: the God who arranged for His Son to be born into the right family, at the right time, in the right place, is looking out for you today.
Trust God’s timing (1) - December 25
“When the right time came, God sent his Son.” Galatians 4:4 NLT • December 25, 2019 • Bob Gass
God doesn’t consult us to make sure His plans line up with our timetable. God sets the schedule; sometimes we have to run to keep up, and other times we have to slow down in order to get in step with Him. Mary planned to marry Joseph, then have a child, but God had a different plan. The child had to be without inherited sin, so He needed a perfect father; therefore, the Holy Spirit was called on to do the job. Humanly speaking, the timing could not have been worse. Mary became pregnant before she got married, and Joseph wasn’t the father. Besides being ostracized, the law said she could be stoned to death. How did she respond? Amazingly! “Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38 NKJV). God has a set plan, and He is always working toward it. The trouble is, we are only working with limited information, so we become impatient and upset when He doesn’t answer our prayers when we think He should or in the way we think He should. It is said that George Muller, evangelist and founder of the Ashley Down Orphanage in Bristol, England, once waited on the dock for a special chair to be delivered; he had a bad back and needed the chair for his ocean voyage. When departure time came and it still hadn’t arrived, his friends offered to buy him one. But Muller said, “Either God will provide or He will give me the grace to do without.” Then, just like a Hollywood ending, the chair arrived right on time! Trust God—He knows what He’s doing!
Christmas symbols - December 24
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of Hi • December 24, 2019 • Bob Gass
Today, some people are trying to remove any public mention of Christ at Christmas, while others seem bent on secularizing it completely. So let’s look at the meaning of some of the Christmas symbols. The small holly berries are thought to have originally reminded Christians of the drops of Christ’s blood caused by the crown of thorns He wore on Calvary. The evergreen trees speak of the promise of never-ending life resulting from His resurrection. The Celtic cross has a circle surrounding the intersection of the vertical and horizontal axis of the cross. Some believe it originated with St. Patrick, who, upon seeing a round symbol of the moon goddess, drew a Christian cross over it—changing a Druid symbol into a new symbol for Irish Christianity. In the same way that St. Patrick adopted a pagan circle and gave it a new meaning, so other Christians adopted the evergreen wreath and gave it a new meaning. When early Christians changed the Roman winter celebration of the solstice, the “rebirth” of the sun (December 21), to a celebration of the birth of the Son of righteousness, the evergreen wreath was adopted. Instead of simply being a garland, the round Christmas wreath now speaks of the never-ending unity and fellowship we have with God through Christ. So when you hang a wreath on your door or over your fireplace this Christmas, remind yourself that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39 NKJV).
The Holy Spirit is your Helper - December 23
“The Helper…will teach you all things.” John 14:26 NKJV • December 23, 2019 • Bob Gass
Jesus said, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” So the Holy Spirit has these two functions: (1) He teaches you how to walk with God. (2) He reminds you to do it each day. As redeemed children of God, we constantly need to be taught how to walk with Him and to be reminded of the blessings that await us when we do and the trouble we get into when we don’t. If you have raised kids, you know the routine. They have to be taught their ABCs so they can read and write; then they have to be reminded until they master it. They have to be taught to walk, and falling down hundreds of times is just part of growing up. The Bible says, “A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16 NKJV). Just as you don’t tell your child, “Forget it, you’re never going to learn to walk,” your heavenly Father doesn’t give up on you either. Your child had to be taught personal hygiene and cleanliness. Likewise, the Holy Spirit will remind you of the importance of reading God’s Word each day. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3 NKJV). And the psalmist wrote, “How can a young man [and an older one too] cleanse his way? By taking heed…to Your word” (Psalm 119:9 NKJV). If you’re wise, you’ll start each day by praying, “Holy Spirit, teach me what I need to know, and remind me of it throughout this day.”
Know who is guiding you - December 22
“Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.” Galatians 5:16 NLT • December 22, 2019 • Bob Gass
Dr. Charles Stanley said, “During a photographic trip, my group had been traveling up a trail for almost three hours, and I began to have a funny feeling that we were going in the wrong direction. I asked the guide about it, and he assured me everything was fine. Not wanting to be presumptuous, I kept walking. After a few minutes, I noticed that my sense of uneasiness persisted; in fact, it was growing stronger. I pulled out my compass and looked at the map. Sure enough, we were headed away from our intended destination. It took us close to an hour and a half to return to where we had taken the incorrect turn. Sadly, this meant by the time we got to the site, our window for taking photographs was cut short. The event helped me realize two valuable lessons. First, when we sense an internal witness encouraging us to take a certain course of action, we should listen. Second, when you and I choose people to guide us, we must be certain they know the path ahead better than we do. Have you ever felt something alerting you to pay attention or pulling you in a particular direction? Perhaps you were listening to a sermon and you sensed God telling you to follow Him in obedience. Or maybe you walked into a restaurant and were filled with dread, as if you should leave quickly. If you’re a believer, most likely these feelings were the promptings of the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart, warning you about danger, and encouraging you to submit to God’s purposes.” Today, “Let the Holy Spirit guide [you].”
Finishing strong in ministry (4) - December 21
“Appoint elders [pastors] in every city.” Titus 1:5 NKJV • December 21, 2019 • Bob Gass
The fourth issue you find among pastors who quit the ministry is this: They teach others how to build strong families without necessarily knowing how to build one themselves. Or they’re not willing to pay the price to do it, and eventually it becomes a problem. The greatest sermon you will ever preach is at home! Pastors’ wives can slip into despair and depression because they feel like the ministry robs them of all their husband’s time and attention. Their neglected children get tired of hearing, “I’m doing this for the Lord,” so they rebel against God and the church and act out in ways that embarrass the parent who has no time for them. Your wife and children should always be able to reach you. If the church takes up seven days out of your week, it’s not the church’s fault—it’s yours! You need to start making changes! And if you think this is a phenomenon of living in the twenty-first century, think again. Read the stories of leaders like David and Samuel, and you discover it’s possible to succeed on the job yet fail miserably on the home front. Too many preachers value the approval of their peers more than the love and respect of their families. Bear in mind that you won’t always be the pastor, but you will always be the husband of your wife and the father of your children. So be there when they need you—and they will be there when you need them.
Finishing strong in ministry (3) - December 20
“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock.” Acts 20:28 NKJV • December 20, 2019 • Bob Gass
"Here’s another issue pastors often grapple with: They know how to feed others spiritually but not themselves. Before leaving the church at Ephesus for the last time, Paul gathered its leaders together and said, “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Before you attempt to take care of others, learn to take care of yourself. Before God builds the ministry, He builds the minister; otherwise, you become an easy target for the enemy. When the administrative side of church threatened to rob the apostles of their daily prayer and Bible study time, they called “time out,” saying, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and…the word” (Acts 6:4). Pastor, don’t just focus on preparing your sermon, keep your soul prepared! And don’t just set boundaries for your people, set them for yourself. Believing you can cut corners spiritually opens you to wrong relationships and destructive habits. As a result, you end up living on two levels—public service and private struggle. When that happens, you live with the fear of exposure, feel like a hypocrite, and forfeit the confidence necessary for God to use you (see 1 John 3:21-22). Consequently the church gets robbed spiritually and suffers. So…what do struggling servants of God need? Spiritual fathers! Paul wrote, “You might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers” (1 Corinthians 4:15 NKJV). Find a mature, seasoned friend in ministry and reach for help before your problem gets out of control. This isn’t just a good idea—your survival in ministry may depend on it!
Finishing strong in ministry (2) - December 19
“I face the daily pressure of…all the churches.” 2 Corinthians 11:28 NIV • December 19, 2019 • Bob Gass
Let’s take another look at why over 50 percent of pastors quit the ministry. They love the crowd, but can’t handle the pressure. We like to talk about the power of the New Testament church, but what about its problems? The church is made up of human beings, and human beings have unresolved issues. The New Testament church had: (1) Moral problems. One man was sleeping with his stepmother, and nobody in the church seemed particularly upset about it (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-2). (2) Doctrinal problems. Some Jewish converts thought the Gentile converts needed to be circumcised. The dispute became so heated that it almost split the church down the middle (see Acts 15). (3) Immaturity and “personality-itis” problems. Paul wrote, “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it…For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly?…when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NIV). He goes on to say, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10 NKJV). Then he adds, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil” (2 Timothy 4:14). If you’re a pastor, here’s the bottom line: if you can’t feel the pain, you can’t heal the pain! Hidden in your everyday problems and people pressures, you’ll find the wisdom to minister effectively. So don’t get discouraged—keep going!
Finishing strong in ministry (1) - December 18
“I have finished the race.” 2 Timothy 4:7 NKJV • December 18, 2019 • Bob Gass
Did you know that over half of those who enter the ministry quit before retirement? Why? There are lots of reasons—here is one of them: They discover that great revelation comes with a “thorn.” The apostle Paul, who wrote half the New Testament, said, “To keep me from being conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV). Pastor, there are 168 hours in your week. The hour you spend in the pulpit on Sunday morning showcases you in the areas of your gifting and strength. So your challenge will always be to remember that it is God’s Word and God’s power, not yours, that changes lives and gets the job done. Notice what Paul said: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh.” Paul’s thorn came in the form of “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties.” What’s your thorn? You can only stand strong before people if you discipline yourself to spend time before God in prayer and Bible study. That’s how to stay effective and finish strong in ministry!
Be spiritually sensitive - December 17
“To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Romans 8:6 NKJV • December 17, 2019 • Bob Gass
Paul wrote, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (v. 5 NKJV). Passenger planes are designed to fly in two ways—through the skill of a pilot and through the commands they receive from the control tower. To “live according to the Spirit” means obeying His promptings. You do that by going through your day with an awareness of His presence. Submit, as you feel Him tugging at your heart to take a particular course of action, even if you don’t quite understand why. You may be prompted to drop a particular conversation, turn away quickly from a certain television program, walk away from a questionable environment, or even go “by another way.” (Remember the wise men in Matthew 2:12?) Whatever it is, do it immediately. The Holy Spirit may be warning you about a temptation you’ll be unable to resist unless you obey Him there and then. Perhaps there’s someone who comes to your mind during the day and you know they are going through a difficult time and could use some support. Get in touch with them. God wants to minister to that person through you, and He will bless you when you do it. The Holy Spirit may guide you to do a certain thing or take a risk you never imagined you would take. The wisest thing is always to submit to His plan, regardless of whether or not it makes sense to you. God knows all things, including your future, and His direction is always for your benefit.