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Through the Year with Jimmy Carter
By Jimmy Carter
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2011 Jimmy Carter
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDECEMBER 17, 1995
Whom Do You Trust?
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. PSALM 146:5
Even our dearest loved ones and most trusted friends can't provide for us a firm foundation throughout our lives, because unpredictable circumstances can always intervene. That is why this psalm urges us to put our hope in God, who is a permanent and all-knowing partner and whose plans never perish. If we're looking for a repository of confidence—someone in whom to put our faith—then we must look to God, the Creator of the universe and the one who gave us life.
Too often, unfortunately, we don't turn to God. Instead, we put our trust in politicians or bankers or business partners or family members. Or we turn to money and say, "If I could just hit the lottery and win five million bucks, then all my troubles would be over." But those are false hopes.
Some of the richest people in America, who make several million dollars a year acting in movies or recording songs or playing sports, often wind up in jail or land on skid row after becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some lose their families or reputation because of misconduct. This should be very sobering to us. We tend to think that money and fame and the adulation of others will make us happy—but we come to realize that those things are not foundations for real success. Material things can always let us down, even (maybe especially) the things that make lavish promises. But God never will.
The Holy Word urges us to turn to God first and place our trust in Christ. For good reason the Bible says, "He remains faithful forever" (Psalm 146:6). Who else can make that staggering claim? Or more to the point, who else has made good on that promise?
O God, help me see more clearly that you truly are my only foundation for hope. When life drags me down and I feel abandoned, give me the firm conviction that you are with me, both now and always. And, Lord, enable me to share this good news with others, that they too may place their hope in you. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
Chapter TwoMARCH 23, 2008
God Keeps His Promises
I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. PSALM 89:34
Even the most powerful people on earth don't always keep their promises. Unfortunately, United States presidents are no exception. Woodrow Wilson, for example, promised that he would not go to war and was elected because of that promise. But later on, several changes prompted Wilson to violate his promise and enter World War I.
President Eisenhower made a public statement to Soviet leaders in 1960 that we did not have surveillance planes flying over Russian missile sites. Shortly after this, one of our U-2 spy planes had been shot down and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was captured. The Soviets provided firm proof that Eisenhower had lied, which deeply embarrassed our nation.
High government officials told many lies to the American people during the Vietnam War. More recently, President George H. W. Bush made a public promise that he would not introduce any new taxes. He boldly stated, "Read my lips: No new taxes." But he ended up approving new taxes, and so lost his reelection bid.
Good and honest people sometimes have to break promises because of changing circumstances or after acquiring new information.
I made every effort to keep the pledge I had made to the American people that I would not lie or make a misleading statement. I also promised that I would try to stay at peace, and even though we had a lot of serious challenges while I was president, we never dropped a bomb, fired a missile, or shot a bullet in combat. Still, I was not able to keep 100 percent of my campaign promises.
God Almighty, our Creator, always keeps his promises. God never lies and always remains in control. The Scripture says, "I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered." Those lips, we can believe. Always.
Dear God, it gives me a deep sense of assurance to know that you always stand by your Word, never recant anything you say, and never forget promises you have made. Help me be a person of my word, so that others can depend on me because I belong to you. Make me a blessing to those around me. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
Chapter ThreeJUNE 5, 1994
An Unchanging Promise
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." NUMBERS 13:30
As an American who has been president of the United States, I would like to say that the values of our country don't change. But they do.
The Supreme Court interprets basic issues in various ways at different times. Authorization for the death penalty comes and goes, and now it is permitted in thirty-five states. The United States has a higher portion of citizens in jail than any other nation, a result of severe prison sentences. (Civil liberties have been restricted since 9/11.) Our rapidly changing times make me glad for the never-changing promises of God, in which Caleb believed.
Out of more than a million Israelites who had fled Egypt and were waiting at the edge of Canaan to inherit their new land, Caleb was one of only two who actually would go in and dwell there. Ten of the spies whom Moses sent into Canaan to survey the land said, "We can't take it because it's inhabited by giants. There's no hope!" But Caleb told the truth. With courage and faith he replied, "With God's support, we can indeed take the promised land." Because Caleb believed God, Moses said to him, "The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly" (Joshua 14:9). That land ended up being Hebron, where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob lived and are buried. Caleb believed God's promise, and so inherited the Promised Land.
While all else may change, God's promises remain firm. The most important was that Jesus would come as the Messiah. And when we build our lives on this bedrock promise, it gives stability and confidence to all our days.
O Lord, laws and customs change so often that sometimes it seems that I wake up to a different country every morning. I am thankful for your Word and for the unchanging promises it contains. Teach me how to build my life on your Word so I can successfully navigate my way through this world, for your glory. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Chapter FourFEBRUARY 14, 1993
At the Core
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." MATTHEW 5:17
What would you identify as the core of your existence? On what foundation do you build your life?
Christ says that he came to fulfill Moses' laws and the words of the prophets, not to change them. Jesus had just shaken up the crowd (and deeply disturbed his own disciples) by speaking what we know as the Beatitudes. But he insisted, "I am not a new Moses." He had not descended from Mount Sinai with a new set of commandments. His life on earth, as the promised Messiah, was a fulfillment of ancient Scriptures—an explanation of their meaning and of the character of God.
The Bible is unchanging and eternally valid, as the apostle Paul recognized. In his far-flung missionary journeys, Paul always tried to convince people that his message fully agreed with the Hebrew Scriptures. Trends and human customs may come and go, but the Word of God endures forever. Until the kingdom of God arrives in its fullness, nothing in Scripture will be changed or forgotten. There's a permanence about it. How important this is as we search out the core meaning of our lives!
We don't want that core to change constantly, but to remain stable, predictable, and secure. We want an unshakable foundation for our existence. And here Christ tells us that we have such a solid foundation—Holy Scripture—on which to build our lives. Nothing can ruin it. War can't alter it. The loss of our loved ones can't devastate it. Failure in business can't demolish it. Bankruptcy can't wipe it out. Not even death can destroy it.
If we want a solid core, a firm foundation, around which to build our lives, then we must choose the Word of God. When everything else falls to the ground, it alone will remain standing.
O Lord, when changing times and shifting circumstances threaten to undo me, help me remember that you have given us your Holy Word to serve as an anchor and an unchanging foundation for my life. Give me the wisdom to search its depths and the courage to act on what it says—as did both Jesus and Paul. In Christ's name I pray. Amen.
Chapter FiveOCTOBER 1, 1995
Awestruck by the Glory of God
When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." JOHN 11:4
It's hard to believe that God let Lazarus die just so Jesus could perform a miracle of resuscitation, or that the Lord made a man blind just so Jesus could heal him (see John 9). But it is certain that these sad cases provided special opportunities for Jesus to demonstrate the power and love of God, the Creator of the universe.
A man had died, and Jesus raised him. A man couldn't see, and Jesus gave him sight. Through these curing miracles, God's glory shone forth, giving us the opportunity to recognize that glory and to accept Jesus as Savior. John explains why he recorded these miracles: "that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). We don't have to know how the miracles were done or explain all that happens in Scripture. We simply must recognize the truths about God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
When Jewish religious leaders questioned the formerly blind man and accused Jesus of being a sinner, the man replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:25). In effect, he was saying, "Hey, I'm no theologian. I don't know how to analyze Scriptures or interpret the prophets. All I know is that a miracle has happened to me."
We too can have faith in Jesus Christ, based on the Bible's simple accounts of his life and ministry. When we read of these miracles, we too can witness the power and glory of God—and respond to the Lord in awe and wonder.
O Lord, despite the familiarity of these stories, help me feel their impact and revel in your glory, as revealed by these amazing miracles. Bring to my heart the unshakable conviction that the same Jesus who raised the dead and gave sight to the blind wants to be present in my heart, bringing full and joyful lives to those around me. I pray in Jesus' glorious name. Amen.
Chapter SixOCTOBER 14, 2007
An Encounter with God
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. GENESIS 28:12
Whenever I got sick as a child, I knew that in addition to my aches and pains, I also would be afflicted with a nightmare. A rabid dog, foaming at the mouth, always chased me. I tried to run, but my feet could hardly move. The dog drew closer and closer, and just as he started to bite, I'd wake up in a cold sweat.
Later, when I became prominent and began making speeches, I had a different bad dream. In this one, I couldn't find anything to wear. I searched high and low, but my clothes were all in rags or covered with oil. Sometimes I could find no clothes at all.
Jacob also had a dream, but it was no nightmare; it was a confrontation with God. In a place called Beersheba, he dreamed about a ladder reaching to heaven, with angels climbing up and down on it. The Lord suddenly appeared to him and said, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac" (Genesis 28:13).
Before this, Jacob had been interested only in himself. But now, in this strange dream, God reaffirmed the covenant made with Abraham. Although Jacob didn't deserve it—after a lifetime of lies and deceit—God reached out to him, loved him, and said, in effect, "I will protect you for the rest of your life."
We all share something of Jacob's position. We all are sinful and looking out for ourselves. Even so, God has reached out to us and told us that if we believe in Christ, we will be saved, and nothing can separate us from God. That is protection. That is security. And that is all ours in Christ.
O God, thank you for including me, through Christ, in the blessing of the covenant made with Abraham and reaffirmed to Jacob. And thank you for reminding me that while I can do nothing to earn your forgiveness and blessing, I still have a responsibility to obey your commandments and to strive to model my life after that of your perfect Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.
CH7[ JUNE 5, 1994
"This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." HEBREWS 8:10
How would we distinguish between a modern-day contract and God's ancient covenant? For one thing, in a contract, two or more human beings come together looking for mutual advantage. They study a situation, negotiate, and finally say, "We've reached an agreement." Contracts usually concern money, property, or ser vices.
I recently bought sixteen acres of land from a fellow church member. It was to her advantage to sell it because she wanted the money and didn't need the land. It was to my advantage to buy it because I wanted to expand my fish farm. Also, my father used to own that land, and I wanted some of it back. So Carol and I drew up a contract, now recorded in the courthouse. I have a deed to the land, while she has my money; a reasonable amount of cash for a reasonable amount of land.
When a dispute occurs or a contract gets violated, lawyers get involved and a court decides the matter. The law levies penalties against a person who breaks a contract.
All this differs markedly from God's covenant. Abraham didn't approach God and say, "Let's negotiate a covenant." No, God came to Abraham and said, "This is what I have to offer you. I see you are loyal and have faith in me, and now I will give you special status and privileges." The covenant depended on God's ability to keep his word, and on Abraham's faith.
With faith, we Christians inherited God's covenant with Abraham and also the final covenant, an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Through it, God has promised us eternal, abundant life. And God does not lie.
O God, I am thankful that through your grace and love you offered to Abraham—and to me—your covenant of forgiveness and reconciliation. Although it is free and I cannot earn this blessing, give me the will to serve you faithfully, with the help of the Holy Spirit. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen. ]CH7
CH8[ OCTOBER 3, 2004
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: "Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" 2 SAMUEL 7:18
David felt stunned. Already God had done so much for him, and now the Lord promised to exalt both him and his family. The Messiah would come as David's descendant and rule forever.
David erupted in praise, awed and humbled by the grace of God. David recognized, as often we do not, that the great things he had accomplished—killing Goliath, defeating the Philistines, uniting Israel—were relatively insignificant in the overall plan of God. Although he was special and had won great honors, he recognized all these as relatively small things compared to this newest honor. David knew that he owed everything to God.
God also has blessed us, through Jesus Christ, in countless ways. Yet how often do we give God the credit? We don't see all our blessings—freedom, good health, security, and prosperity—as coming from the good hand of God. The fact is, no matter what we have done in the name of Christ to further God's kingdom, chances are that we have done nothing that tops the deeds of King David—and David looked upon his life's achievements as relatively insignificant in the big picture. So what does that mean for us?
God has chosen to use us. God gives us strength and judgment and opportunities to serve in our own way. God has done infinitely more for us than we have done for God, so self-congratulation and pride are, quite simply, stupid. If we think God is lucky to have us, then we are deceived. Even though everything we do in life is just a blip on the timeline of history, it can be important in God's kingdom. All of it is made possible by our Creator, who gives us the strength that those good deeds require.
Excerpted from Through the Year with Jimmy Carter by Jimmy Carter Copyright © 2011 by Jimmy Carter. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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