Independence Day


Tomorrow we celebrate American Independence Day, which memorializes the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. This was the day the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence, having already declared the independence of the Colonists from the authority of the British Crown on July 2, 1776.

Now, as important as this day is in the life of our great nation to recall our independence, I pray that you and I will remember to declare our utter dependence upon God—not only this day, but every day on this side of heaven.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

As a pastor, I am often confronted with Christians who mistakenly believe that our state of dependence began after Adam and Eve sinned against God. NOT TRUE! Before Adam and Eve committed their first awful act of cosmic treason, they were totally dependent upon God for everything. Their divine design was one of utter dependence upon Omnipotence. They were made by God for God and were never to live a single moment independent from God. Self-reliance and self-rule were never part of their divine design . . . no, this quest for autonomous rule was the rancid fruit of their rebellion against their Creator and Sustainer.

The lies the serpent told Adam and Eve in the Garden convinced them to seek their independence from God and to live above and apart from the One who formed them and was sustaining them. But as soon as our first parents sampled the forbidden fruit, they immediately found out just how dependent they were upon God! Only now they were dependent upon God for His mercy and forgiveness, which they undeservedly received through the promise of a Savior.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel . . . And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Genesis 3:15, 21)

God would have been totally justified to strike Adam and Eve dead right on the spot to fulfill His perfect, holy justice, but He did not. What God’s justice required—payment for sin—God’s grace provided in the gift of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Adam and Eve were dependent upon God for life prior to sin, and they were dependent upon God for life after sin . . . through the cross work of Christ.

When was the last time you considered just how dependent you are upon God? Most people immediately reflect back on a season of struggle, suffering, or sorrow and consider how dependent upon God they were to get through it. But what about the times in life when the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the clouds are fleecy? We have a tendency to forget about our dependence upon God in seasons of plenty and prosperity.

Regardless of where this finds you, your next breath is dependent upon God. The next beat of your heart is dependent upon God. Your hearing, eyesight and the circulation of your blood are dependent upon God. If God were not upholding you right now, life as you know it would instantly cease. This is true, not only for every person who has ever lived, but for everything that was ever created. Everything in the cosmos was created by God for God and is totally dependent upon God. As Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossi, “All things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). Everything under the sun originally existing as a holy hymn for God’s glory.

So on this day of Independence, let us all be reminded of our total and utter dependence upon God, “for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

One last thought: the Bible makes it clear that the person who is most aware of his dependence upon God is the one who is most often pursuing God through prayer. The more you feel your need for Him, the more time you spend in prayer to Him. If your prayer life is short or shallow, you can be assured your sense of dependency upon God is short-circuited.

The Bible is full of examples of saints who were sold out in pursuing God through prayer. The model, of course, is our Master, who was in constant communion with His Father in heaven. Here is one of my all-time favorite verses:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.   (Mark 1:35)

John Piper wrote that “Prayer for God’s help is one way that God preserves and manifests the dependence of his people on his grace and power. The necessity of prayer is a constant reminder and display of our dependence on God for everything, so that he gets the glory when we get the help.” Dependence is a good thing when we are depending upon God, and our prayer life is one of the best indicators of just how deeply we sense and show our dependence.

What better time than now, as we American’s celebrate Independence Day, to declare and celebrate our utter dependence upon the righteous, self-sacrificial, and benevolent rule of our gracious God?

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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The dictionary defines the word flourish this way: “To grow well; to be healthy; to be very successful; to do very well; to hold up.”

Would this define the life you are currently living? Here is David’s description of his own life:

I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

(Psalm 52:8)

The significance of the olive tree in biblical times cannot be overstated. From eating to cooking to lighting to medicinal uses, the oil from olives was an important part of life. The key to an olive tree’s vitality is its vast root system, which enables the olive tree to grow in an arid, rocky environment.

David said his life experience was like the flourishing olive tree because of his root system. David was rooted in the unfailing love of His God; this is the key to faithful flourishing!

Now, please don’t misunderstand the word faithful. It does not mean living a perfect life before the face of God. David certainly did not live a perfect life, yet God described David as a man after His own heart. What that really means is that David’s heart beat for God, even though it beat for God imperfectly. David’s life beautifully illustrates this truth:

Flourishing is always mixed with a bit of Floundering!

The faithful followers of God understand that life will never be about perfection on this side of the grave. It is all about direction . . . the direction we are heading in. We will, from time to time, careen from wall to wall along the way to our intended destination; it may be that we will reverse our steps or sit stagnant for a period of time. But we will continue to travel in the direction God is calling us to go.

How is it with you? What direction is your life headed in these days? Toward God . . . or away from Him?

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David could say that he was flourishing like an olive tree in the house of God because he lived his life in the presence of God. He was continually conscious of God’s unfailing love; David trusted in God’s love even when he could not trace it. During those dark days when David was on the run from King Saul, he was presented with many opportunities to take Saul’s life, but David trusted in God’s perfect plan for his imperfect life. He trusted in the sovereign, unfailing love of his God even when those around him were telling him to trust in himself and take matters into his own hands.

So . . . what have you been trusting in lately? When God’s unfailing love rules your heart, it shapes your life and brings you a sense of flourishing that can be found in no other way.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!   

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You’ve probably heard the country music song titled “You Were Always On My Mind” at some point in your life. The song was performed by many different artists back in the 70’s and 80’s, including Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, who won a Grammy Award with his version.

Country crooners aside . . . did you know that there never was a time when you were not on the Master’s mind?

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

From everlasting to everlasting, you have been on God’s mind. That’s right! The Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe is thinking about you continually. You might very well think that God has enough to be thinking about in running the universe. Yet David rejoiced in Psalm 40:17, “I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.” And this was coming from a man who committed adultery and ordered the death of his paramour’s husband. Indeed, in the very same psalm, David confessed that “My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.” Yet the Lord still took thought of David, to deliver him from his troubles and from his own sin!

The truth in this life is someone can be thinking about you today and forget about you tomorrow. Think about all the people in your life you no longer think about . . . some of whom you loved dearly and many of whom you liked a lot! Staggering isn’t it?

But God is not a man that He should forget you. From before the creation of the world and everything in it, you were on God’s mind and in His heart (Ephesians 1:4-5). From the moment of your first breath and every breath thereafter, God has thought about you, loved you, and drawn you with His loving-kindness.

And God’s lovingkindness doesn’t stop when you take your last breath here! If you have placed your trust in His Son, you will be forever on His mind throughout eternity as you walk with Him and talk with Him and rejoice in Him.

Right now Jesus has you on His mind. Regardless of where this finds you, Jesus is thinking about you at this very second. That thought should absolutely rock your world! Remember that terrible night when Peter denied Jesus; after the third denial, the Lord looked at him across the courtyard (Luke 22:61). Peter must have thought Jesus hated him and would never think of him again . . . but you remember the rest of the story, don’t you? After His resurrection, Jesus reaffirmed Peter and assured him that his sin has not stopped Jesus from thinking about him. In fact, the exchange they had (recorded in John 21:15-22) confirms that Jesus had great plans for Peter to engage in courageous, compelling ministry work.

When we think we have utterly blown it and are convinced God would want nothing more to do with us ever, we discover that the exact opposite is true. God keeps drawing us with His love, even when we deny and desert Him. Remember, Jesus said He will never leave nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), no matter what you do. And that means you will always be on His mind.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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Perhaps you have heard the term “mired in debt,” which means someone is in a troublesome situation regarding their finances. “Mire” is thick, deep mud or slush that makes travel and forward progress difficult, if not impossible.

Does that word “mire” resonate with you? Have you ever thought that you were stuck in the mire of life? If so, I want to offer you great comfort: God can take us from the mire to the choir!

Drink in these words from one of David’s inspired psalms:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)

King David was in a mess, which is the universal life experience for everyone. The fact that we are all broken people living in a broken world means we will all find ourselves bogged down in the mire of life from time to time . . .

  • Trouble at the office
  • Difficulties in marriage
  • Prodigal child
  • Broken relationships
  • Financial reversals
  • Health concerns

The list, of course, could fill this page. We all encounter life experiences that can lead to discouragement, depression, and utter despair. The question is not, “Will we find ourselves in the mire of life?” The question is: “What will we do when we are in it?”

There is Hope . . . and His name is Jesus Christ. He can take us from the mire to the choir. The psalmist said “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Our Lord will lift us out of the mire and put us on a straight path again . . . but that’s not all. His divine rescue gives us a new song of praise to God! “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”

David knew that the way out of the mire to the choir was to keep his focus on God and not the circumstances of life. The king of Israel knew personally what it meant to reach rock bottom, but he also knew that when he reached bottom, he was still standing on the Rock of his salvation.

Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. (Psalm 40:4)

The key to going from the mire to the choir is to continually make Jesus your trust. Whatever pit you find yourself in, remember Jesus is there with you. Keep looking to Him and in His time and in His way, you will be lifted out of the pit and brought into His palace, going from “mire” to choir forevermore.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN! 

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When you think about Jesus, what kind of Savior comes to mind? Do you picture a Savior who is waiting for you to come to Him . . . or do you picture a Savior in hot pursuit of rebels on the run? Consider these inspired words that King David offered in the 23rd Psalm:

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6)

David knew that God is good (Psalm 34:8); that God is love (1 John 4:16); and that He is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31). David’s life experience testified that his Savior is a Pursuing Prince.

Adam knew this by way of personal experience also. After turning his back on God and following the way of the serpent, Adam fled in terror when he heard God walking through the garden; no doubt he assumed that the Lord God was coming to destroy him and start over with some better dust! But to his astonishment, God was not pursuing him to punish; He was running to redeem. It’s a picture almost too hard to believe . . . too good to be true! The Creator and Sustainer of all things—the righteous and holy Judge of all the world—was pursuing two people who had decided to follow their own desires rather than the clear command of God . . . not to crush them, but to care for them.

Francis Thompson penned a poem titled “Hound of Heaven,” which beautifully depicts our God as a “holy hound” who is in hot pursuit of the hare. No matter where the hare runs and tries to hide, the hound will let nothing stop him from catching that rabbit on the run . . . but not to kill it; rather to caress with love! Is this not a wonderful picture of our God? No matter where we run to and try to hide, God will let nothing stop Him from reaching the objects of His desire: US!

In another psalm, David marveled, Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

To know what David knew is a source of both comfort and courage. What comfort to know that goodness and love will pursue us all the days of our lives! And oh, what courage that truth brings to our hearts to face whatever storms blow our way! The courage to face the challenges of daily living is rooted in knowing that our God loves us and will work everything together for our very best interests. There is no question that some really bad stuff happens in this life. Yet through it all, God will ultimately turn it for our good and His glory.

One final point: Knowing that goodness and love will follow you wherever you go is one thing; to know that you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever is another thing altogether. The sheep are always at home with the shepherd; and if one wanders off, the shepherd will go after him and bring him back home.

All those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for their salvation can enjoy the deepest level of comfort and security and peace, knowing that God’s home is their home for all eternity. And along the way, their daily experience will be that goodness and love is in hot pursuit of them . . . regardless of the paths they travel.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN! 

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When it comes to the life you are currently living . . . when all is said and done . . . what would you like said about all you have done? If you have not considered this question, I encourage you to consider the greeting that the apostle Paul gave to the Christians at Thessalonica:

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

WOW! What a confession of a life well lived coram Deo—before the face of God—for the glory of God and for the good of others!

So . . . what would those who know you best say about the life you are currently living? Would it be anything like the lives described in the verse above? Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Your work produced by faith . . . When it comes to our work, there are only two options: work that is produced by faith or work that is faithless. In other words, we can either work in our own strength to accomplish our own goals to receive our own glory. Or we can work in the strength of our Savior to accomplish His goals for His glory. How would you describe the work you’ve preformed this day?
  2. Your labor prompted by love . . . All of our labors are prompted by love—either the love of self or the love of the Savior. We either work for the applause of man or the applause of our Master. And if we are working to receive the approval of men, we are not serving our Savior (Galatians 1:10). When the love of Christ compels us, our labor is prompted by and produced in a vertical love for God and a horizontal love for others . . . all others.
  3. Your endurance inspired by hope in Jesus . . . You’ve probably heard it said that the race of life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. It is a race that requires endurance, and the only kind of endurance that will carry us through to the finish line is inspired by hope in the only One who will never fail us: Jesus! In an exhausted world, Jesus has given us His inexhaustible hope that never fails, even when things seem absolutely hopeless.

So now I’d encourage you to prayerfully consider the answer to the question I asked you at the beginning of this article. Because you still have breath, you still have time to change the course and direction your life is currently going in. You are more than you have become! The key to change is to see yourself as God sees you. When Jesus met Simon, the brother of Andrew, He changed his name to Peter (meaning the Rock). Jesus saw Simon—not as he was, but as he was going to be. Jesus sees you the very same way today.

Remember, the same power that raised Jesus from death to life is the same power that is at work within you (See Romans 8:11 and Ephesians 1:18-20). And He who began that good work in you has promised to complete it (Philippians 1:6). You need only work by faith, labor by love, and endure by hope in the One who died for you so that you could live for Him.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN! 

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What “booty” (treasure, plunder, spoils) have you been in hot pursuit of lately . . . both personally and professionally? Notice I did not ask “if” you have been in hot pursuit of any kind of booty lately, because the Bible makes it clear we are all pursuing some kind of treasure:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where you treasure is, there you heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

By nature, we are all treasure hunters. The question is not if are we in hot pursuit of some kind of booty, but what kind of booty are we looking for. Jesus told us that we need only to check our hearts to find out what we treasure and value most. If you would have to admit that you’ve been pursuing something smaller than Jesus (which is true of all of us from time to time), I have a word of great comfort and encouragement for you today from the pen of the apostle Paul:

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

Saul the Pharisee pursued everything smaller than Jesus until his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road. And he had collected plenty of booty before Jesus showed up: he was educated at the highest level; he ran in the most elite social circles; he received the applause of man on a regular basis. And then one day Saul sat in Damascus, blinded after being confronted by the glory of the living God. He fasted and prayed for three days, and after a careful examination of his past life, he came to the realization that everything he had pursued and possessed was a loss compared to his relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything was rubbish compared to his right relationship with his Redeemer. At that point God gave Saul his sight back, gave him a new name (Paul), and gave him a new heart that would treasure the glory of God. After catching a glimpse of the surpassing greatness of God in Christ, Paul knew there was nothing smaller than Jesus would ever again satisfy his deepest need.

Can the same be said about you today? Is Jesus your greatest treasure? How are you spending your discretionary time and money? What captures your attention and consumes your focus?

What we all end up learning the hard way is that there is nothing smaller than Jesus that can deliver on its promises. The stuff of this world promises meaning, but that can only be found in our Master. The stuff of this world promises significance, but that can only be found in our Savior. The stuff of this world promises purpose, but that can only be found in our Prince of Peace.

Jesus is the only treasure that makes good on its promise. Temporal treasure can bless us temporarily but it simply cannot meet us in our deepest place of need. Only Jesus can do that and He will do that moment by moment, every step of the way into glory. Jesus is the true believer’s booty!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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