BROKEN AND BLESSED!

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Ever since Adam and Eve’s ruinous fall in the Garden of Eden, everyone comes into this world in a state of sinful brokenness. But let me share a powerful word of comfort from the Psalms:

[The Lord] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

God had every right to leave broken humanity in their ruined condition, but He did not. In the eternal counsel of the Triune God, even as Adam and Eve crouched trembling before the Lord God in their pathetic fig leaf garments, Jesus was on the way to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up their wounds.

The author of Hebrews exalted “[T]he God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). See that it is an eternal covenant; the Triune God established before time began (2 Timothy 1:9) that He would not leave you in your sin and despair. Jesus was on the way to heal your broken heart and bind up your wounds . . . millennia before you were born!

I cannot imagine anything more comforting than that truth! So many in the world dimly believe that if there even is a God, He is some distant deity who does not care a bit about creation or the people who inhabit it. Today’s verse shows us just how personal our God truly is. He desires to be in an intimate, loving, caring, relationship with you, and through that relationship He heals your broken heart and binds up your wounds. Yes, you were born broken . . . but you are indeed blessed!

How personal does God get with His people? He knows the number of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30). He has your name written on His heart through the blood of the eternal covenant (Ephesians 1:4-5). If God calls each star by name (Psalm 147:4), it is staggering to think just how personal He wants to be with His people . . . and that includes you!

So regardless of where this message finds you today, hold fast to the absolute truth that Jesus is in the business of healing broken hearts and binding up wounds:

  • Marriage wounds
  • Parenting wounds
  • Relationship wounds
  • Friendship wounds
  • Financial wounds
  • Health wounds
  • School wounds

The list of healings that our loving Lord will provide could fill entire volumes. Whatever grief or wound you may be suffering from today, Jesus is the “healing balm of Gilead” (Jeremiah 8:22). He will bind you up and heal you and bless you in ways that only He can.

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

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THE PRINCE . . . HIS PEOPLE . . . AND HIS PARADOXICAL PRONOUNCEMENTS

downloadThe dictionary defines the word paradox as “a statement that seems to contradict itself, but may nonetheless be true.” For example, it is a paradox that standing is more tiring than walking. Our Lord gave us many paradoxical propositions in His teaching about the kingdom of God that dramatically departed from accepted opinion during the time He walked the earth . . . and today as well! Here are just three of these statements, which we might call paradoxical, taken from Mark’s gospel account of our Lord’s earthly ministry.

Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35)

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.  (Mark 9:35)

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. (Mark 10:43)

Jesus turned the world upside-down in every way, including His use of such paradoxical pronouncements. He catches us off guard and teaches deep biblical truth in a way that we simply were not expecting! Who was expecting to read that to live you must die . . . to be great you must serve . . . to gain you must give? For that matter, when was the last time you considered that there is great blessing to be found in mourning, as Matthew 5:4 assures us?

These teachings of Jesus are designed to interrupt our self-focus and to shift it to our Savior. What Jesus is saying with His paradoxical teachings is that His way of living is far better than our way of living. He knows what is best for us, and in teaching us this truth, He is calling on us to totally trust, deeply depend, and radically respond to His call in our lives.

Who better to teach us which way to go than the One who is the Way? Who better to teach us truth than the One who is the Truth? Who better to teach us about life than the One who is the Life? (John 14:6.)

Here is a bit of insight from the prophet Isaiah that can be a source of both comfort and strength for you as you follow wherever Jesus is leading you, especially when it seems like He is leading you in a direction that you can’t understand:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.           (Isaiah 55:8)

The Lord’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways by nature. And that is why we must trust Him, even when we cannot trace Him . . . even when His plan seems paradoxical! We can be utterly sure that He is leading us down the perfect path into His perfect plan for our imperfect lives.

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

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SOME OBSTACLES ARE NOT TO BE OVERCOME!

imagesI have worked as a coach for decades, teaching and training athletes to overcome every obstacle that stood in the way of their peak performance. Preparing for obstacles that may stand in your path is a wise approach to training athletes; however, this is not always God’s approach to training us, and only supernatural wisdom makes us sensitive to this truth.

If you are a regular follower of Grace for the Race, you are probably familiar with Paul’s “thorn”—the trial or obstacle that he asked God three times to remove . . . but that God did not remove.  The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you . . .” (2 Corinthians 12:8). Today I’d like to share a less well-known story that also illustrates this truth, which is found in the book of Numbers. It is the remarkable tale of Balaam and his donkey.

The king of Moab sent messengers to summon the prophet Balaam to come and pronounce a curse on the Israelites, even offering Balaam a fee to do so. When Balaam inquired of the Lord, however, he was told not to go. Once again, the king sent more messengers, this time a larger, more prestigious group offering unlimited rewards, who summoned Balaam to come and curse Israel. This time the Lord told Balaam he could go with them, but under the strict condition of doing only what God instructed him. Evidently, Balaam had something else in mind!

Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road.  (Numbers 22:21-23)

Three times Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road to stop them, and she refused to go forward. Three times Balaam beat the donkey, as he was completely unaware of the Lord’s angel blocking his path. It’s ironic that a donkey had eyes to see that which the eyes of a man, who claimed to be a prophet of God, were blind to!

Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” “No,” he said.  (Numbers 22:28-30)

Clearly, God knew Balaam’s heart, and He stopped Balaam’s progress before he could pronounce a curse on the Israelites and collect his rich fee.

Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the LORD asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.” Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”  (Numbers 22:31-34)

By the end of the story, God caused Balaam to do exactly the opposite of what the king of Moab wanted him to do. Instead of cursing God’s people, Balaam pronounced a blessing upon them—three times! The prophetic curses were reserved for Moab and the surrounding nations.

There is much to be gleaned from this story, but what I want to emphasize here is this:

GOD HAS ORDAINED THAT SOME OBSTACLES ARE NOT MEANT TO BE OVERCOME!

There are many reasons why this is true. At times, we are heading in the wrong direction. At other times, we are heading in the right direction, but at the wrong time or with the wrong motives, as was the case with Balaam. Regardless of the reason for the obstacle that is not meant to be overcome, it is ultimately a clear indication of God’s divine protection in our lives. God’s plan for our lives is always exponentially better than our plan! Scripture assures us that “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Despite what we may think, every obstacle put in our path is not an indication that the devil is trying to disrupt our progress.

There are a few keys that will help us unlock the door leading to recognition of what obstacles are not to be overcome. First, we must bathe every situation in prayer. Second, we must marinate in the Word of God, which functions as a light to our path. Finally, we should seek godly counsel from many who just may be that “divine donkey” sent by the Lord to deliver us.

In looking back on my life, I can identify a number of obstacles that were not meant to be overcome; they were placed there because God was moving me in the direction He wanted me to go! God will not always give us what we want; but He will always give to us all that we need to do all He has called us to do.

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

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SUPERNATURAL STRENGTH THROUGH SUFFERING

downloadAre you facing any trials in your life right now? Difficulties at the office? Division at home? Disconnection in a friendship? Disappointment in school? Regardless of the difficulties you are experiencing, the source of the strength to endure them is always the same. And, of course, we’ll find that source through our study of God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Peter is telling us that we will face all kinds of trials in this life that will cause us to suffer grief, but there is also one supreme source of strength by which we can bear up under them: our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Who would have understood this truth better than Peter’s contemporary and co-laborer for Christ, the apostle Paul? Of the 13 letters Paul penned in the New Testament, five were written from prison. He opened his letter to Philemon by calling himself, “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus,” and he wrote to the Ephesian Christians that he was “a prisoner of Christ Jesus for [your] sake” (Ephesians 3:1).

Throughout his ministry, Paul was persecuted, put in prison, and ultimately put to death. Yet, he boasted about his life, a life marked by storms and suffering, because those trials pointed to the One who was giving Paul the necessary strength to get through them. Paul wrote:

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 12:9-10)

Paul delighted in everything that you and I would normally dread . . . “for Christ’s sake.” He knew his weakness was merely a platform that would display the strength and glory of God to all the world. Paul was preaching the Gospel with both his lips and his life. He practiced what he preached and God got all the glory.

Paul lived this life of supernatural strength despite harsh trials—what he called “hardships” and “difficulties”—that you and I can scarcely imagine. Almost every act of service to His Savior brought suffering, as he recounted in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.

  • He suffered through sleepless nights.
  • He suffered through dangers in the wilderness.
  • He suffered through hunger and thirst.
  • He suffered through severe beatings, so many that he lost count of them all.
  • He suffered through three shipwrecks and once spent a full day adrift on the open sea.
  • He even suffered from his own anxiety due to his care for all the churches.

And yet, through it all, Paul was sustained by the strength of His Savior. You see, Paul knew why he was suffering—for the advancement of the Gospel—and because he kept his focus on the “why” behind what he was doing, he could advance through seasons of suffering.

So . . . what supernatural strength do you need today to get through the trials you are facing? Remember, when you feel most weak, that’s when Jesus shows up strong in your life.

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

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DIVINE DELAY DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN DENIAL!

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Do you ever feel like heaven is silent? You’ve prayed and prayed, yet you see no fruit of your prayer-laden labor. Well, if you are currently in one of those “moments of silence,” I have a word of comfort for you today.

A man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 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.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:1-6)

Imagine how you would have felt if you were Mary or Martha. Their brother was sick unto death, so they send word to Jesus to come for a healing. Yet Jesus deliberately delayed, and did go to His sick friend Lazarus until he had been four days in the grave. When Jesus finally did arrive, a grieving Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But that wasn’t all Martha said! She continued, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21-22).

Martha’s grief was normal and natural; her faith in Jesus was supernatural. And Jesus had a supernatural purpose. He had a far better answer to prayer than to heal a sick Lazarus; He was about to raise him from the dead! Our Lord’s divine delay did not mean denial.

I want you to consider that God’s delay that you are experiencing might not be a denial at all; God is simply planning a greater blessing than you could have ever asked for or imagined. God is in the business of showing up when we least expect Him and giving to us more than we could have imagined.

So . . . what have you been praying for lately? Where in your life are you hoping for a miracle? The years have taught me that waiting on God is time well spent. God uses that time to focus our faith and build our belief. And when God’s delay actually did turn out to be His denial, it was always for my best. God knows exactly what we need and when we need it. His timing is always perfect. We must simply trust in His plan for our lives and acknowledge it as better than our plan. Deep in our hearts, we must realize what Martha knew: that all things are possible with God.

Most of us, when we think of Martha, have a tendency to focus on her frustration with her sister Mary, who chose to sit at the feet of Jesus rather than help Martha prepare the meal. We might be tempted to think of Martha as shallow and unspiritual. Yet, while still in the midst of grief for her brother’s death, Martha professed her great faith in Jesus Christ, declaring, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27).

Seeing Martha in a one-dimensional light is like thinking of Thomas as only “the doubter” or thinking of Peter as the one who sank when trying to walk on the water. It was Thomas, when the other disciples were wavering about accompanying Jesus to Bethany, who urged the group, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). And it was Peter who preached so boldly on the Day of Pentecost that about 3,000 people believed the Gospel message and were baptized.

You and I are very much like Martha, Thomas, and Peter. We all have a mixture of belief and unbelief in our hearts; we waver between faith and fear. During those times of doubt and despair we simply must remember that our blessings are never dependent upon our faithfulness to Jesus; rather, it is His faithfulness to us that causes the blessings! And He is always faithful to answer our prayers . . . in His perfect time. Christian, divine delay does not always mean denial.

Let that truth set you free!

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

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FOLLOW THE LEADER, NOT THE FOLLOWERS!

downloadHave you ever wondered why sacred Scripture likens us to sheep? There are many reasons, of course, but today I’d like to set our focus on who we are following.

In July of 2005, an amazing and terrible thing happened in Istanbul, Turkey. High up on a mountainside, a herd a sheep were peacefully grazing while their shepherds sat nearby eating breakfast. Inexplicably, under no threat from weather or a predator, one of the sheep suddenly jumped over the side of the cliff. What happened next was as awful as it is instructive. One sheep after another followed the first, until almost the entire herd, approximately 1,500 animals, had jumped. About one-third of the sheep that went over the cliff died because they followed the followers and not the shepherd.

There may be no better word picture in all of Scripture than the image of men and women as sheep who are in desperate need of a Shepherd to lead and guide them. The prophet Isaiah put it this way, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). More than 700 years later, the apostle Matthew recalled that Jesus “had compassion” on the crowds of people who came to Him, “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

How often do we wander away from our Good Shepherd! And without His watchful eye and saving hand, we would simply hurl ourselves over cliff after cliff. It is our nature to follow the followers rather than our Leader. The world dangles pretty baubles in front of us, we see our friends and neighbors chasing after them, and we follow, thinking that the world’s enticements will give us the peace we so desperately crave.

David’s Twenty-Third Psalm paints a beautiful picture of the faithfulness and trustworthiness of our Good Shepherd:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 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 23:1-6)

We could spend the rest of our lives unpacking the blessing of just the first five words: “The LORD is my shepherd!” That truth conveys as much comfort as it does confidence. Sheep are totally dependent upon the shepherd, and nothing could be more true of the sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd. Our Good Shepherd cares for us, provides for us, restores us, comforts us, heals us, and He has promised never to abandon us!

Now don’t miss the image of the “rod and staff” in the hands of the Good Shepherd. The rod was for fighting off any wild animals that might attack the sheep. And the staff was for gently but firmly guiding the flock in the direction the Shepherd intended.

To make this metaphor meaningful today, we can see our Good Shepherd using the “staff” of Scripture to guide us into His perfect plan and purpose for our lives. We are totally dependent upon our Shepherd, and we acknowledge that dependence by spending time prayerfully considering all He has to say to us in His Word. The best way to keep following the Leader—instead of the followers—is to marinate and meditate in His Word every day.

About 2,000 years before the shocking deaths of hundreds of sheep in Turkey, another large group of sheep gathered on a mountainside in the Middle East . . . but these sheep stayed huddled close to their Shepherd, feasting eagerly on every word that came from the mouth of God. And during that glorious Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded them . . . and us:

“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

The unbelieving world will trumpet that we need cash or cars or clothes or careers to make us content. But seek first the Lamb of God, who died for you to take away your sins. He is the Good Shepherd who lives today to guide, govern, and direct your every step down His paths of righteousness.

May the confession of our lives be one of following our Leader and not the followers!

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

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HERE COMES THE BRIDE!

jkAs a pastor, I have presided over many weddings. In fact, this year opened with a wedding of a dear friend of nearly 20 years (the sister of a young man I had trained in the late 1990s). On January 1, 2015, at 5pm on Fort Lauderdale Beach, I had the privilege of marrying Julie Forrester and Greg Mangus. As Julie’s father, Sam, one of my first Christian mentors, walked Julie down the sandy “aisle,” I was reminded of one striking truth: the bride always steals the show.

On this first day of 2015, this was especially true. Julie was dazzling in her beautiful wedding dress as she walked slowly across the sand, her hair flowing gently in the ocean breeze. But there was something more. There was a radiant glow on her face that could only have come from God. You see, Julie knew it was God who brought her and Greg together in the holy covenant of marriage. After meeting and speaking with Greg, I was convinced this was a man who would love her as Christ loves His church. This is truly a marriage made in heaven!

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7)

I find it remarkable that we, the people of God, are described as His bride. To be sure, there is no more intimate relationship in the world than the one between a husband and wife. So when God describes us as His bride, it is as instructive as it is inspiring. God has chosen us to be in an intimate personal relationship with Him that will go on forever and ever. God sought us, caught us, and bought us with His precious blood.

Regardless of where this finds you as you embark on another year of life, if you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ, you can know that He has made you His bride. You may be facing some storms in your life today; storms of . . .

  • Suffering
  • Sorrow
  • Separation
  • Strongholds
  • Sickness

When I perform a wedding, I am always reminded of the storms of singleness that rage in the lives of so many who desire desperately to find that “special someone” with whom to spend the rest of their lives. Just as it was for Julie and Greg, it is a long and winding road to the altar the Almighty had set before them. Yet every step of the way, this wonderful couple looked to God and trusted in His timing . . . even in those moments when they could not trace Him.

Perhaps you’re in the midst of a storm of singleness; if so, let me offer a new perspective that will prove profitable. Keep your marriage to your Master in view and remember just how loved you truly are! Trust God in this process, just as Julie and Greg did, and look to nothing smaller than Jesus to meet you in your place of need.

And remember this: marriage on this side of the grave is momentary; the marriage to your Master will go on forever and ever! In the words of C. S. Lewis, “Every chapter will be better than the one before.”

As a believer, you are the bride of Christ, and He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you. Let that truth set you free!

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

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