VISION IN THE VALLEY OF ACHOR

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I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. (Hosea 2:15)


In the book of Joshua we read about the sin of Achan and the trouble it brought upon Israel. Achan sinned against the Lord and kept back for himself some of the plunder from Jericho. When he was found out, Achan was taken to the Valley of Achor and stoned to death for his rebellion against the Lord. The expression “Valley of Achor” grew into a proverbial phrase for all that causes calamity. But in our verse for today, we are given the vision of a holy hope from our God that should encourage us, regardless of the Valley of Achor that we may be facing.

All of God’s children find themselves in the Valley of Achor from time to time. Whether it is something we have done that brought us into it, or God has led us there for our good and His glory, the Valley of Achor is part of the Christian life. But the vision we are to have in the valley is not one of despair, but one of hope. To be sure, we sometimes find that God’s ways are severe, but they are always better than the way we would go ourselves. God uses everything, including our Valley of Achor, to strengthen us in our faith and grow us up into Christ.

What is it that you are facing today? Are the dark clouds of disappointment hanging over your head? Are the waves of challenge washing over your witness? Are the falling rains of your own rebellion washing away any sense of God’s loving presence? FEAR NOT! God said, “I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope!” Listen to Him. Look to Him. Lean on Him. God is conforming you into the image and likeness of His beloved Son Jesus, and He will use everything at His disposal to accomplish that . . . including the Valley of Achor . . . which He will turn into a door of holy hope that leads you into His everlasting presence.

Remember, He who began that good work in you has promised to bring that work to completion. We can go weeks without food . . . days without water . . . minutes without air. But we cannot go one moment without hope.

Jesus has promised to set before you a door of hope. But you must make the choice to walk through it. Will you?

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

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A PENETRATING QUESTION FROM THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS

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“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. (Job 1:9)


It was a poor and pitiful question that Satan posed to our God regarding the good and righteous man from the land of Uz. But for many Christians, this question must not only be asked, it must be answered—not with words, but with our witness. There are far too many in the church today who love the good gifts of God far more than they love God Himself. Oh, they say they love God, but they live for the “stuff” He has given to them. How do we know that? Because when the storm winds blow and their stuff is taken away, they walk away from God.

In the Parable of the Sower, these folks are represented by the rocky soil. The Word of God sprang up for a while, but when the time of testing came, they withered and walked away because they had no root (Matthew 13:20-21). They invited Jesus into their kingdom, and as long as the sky was blue, the clouds were fleecy, and the sun was shining, they were filled with great joy. But when dark clouds obscured the sun, the wind began to howl, and they found themselves buffeted by affliction, they rebelled and turned away from God.

Job was not one of these. Job’s witness gave a resounding rebuttal to Satan’s wicked question. In the midst of his season of suffering, Job never wavered in his devotion and love for God. Job did not love God because of the good gifts God had given him—gifts of health, wealth, and family; Job loved God and was completely devoted to Him simply because He is God and fully worthy of our love and devotion.

Can the same be said about you today, right where this finds you? Here is a question to ask yourself: “Is there anything in my life that, if it was to be taken away from me, would cause me to feel like life was no longer worth living?” If there is something, that thing (or person) is more important to you than the One who has given it to you. That thing has become your idol.

Never forget that the Christian is not called to a life of ease and comfort. Rather, it is a life of trial and tribulation; it is a life of storms and suffering; it is a life of experiencing one painful providence after another. This is the promise of our Lord. If we are His, should we not expect to live the kind of life He lived? Why would we expect a crown of glory when our Lord was given a crown of thorns—a crown He wore on our behalf? You see, the purpose in our pain is to purge us from the temporal pleasures of this life and ready us for the eternal pleasures of the next.

The apostle Paul said it beautifully:


Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)


The greatest gift you have been given is the gift of God Himself. He is your prized possession, your first love, and He can never be taken away from you. Fix your eyes on Him.

Remember, it is not wrong to love the good gifts God has given to you; just don’t love any of them more than the good God who gave them to you. For, as Job said, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of our Lord!

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

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WHEN NO ANSWER IS THE BEST ANSWER

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I called him but he did not answer.  (Song of Songs 5:6)


That seems like a strange title for a word of encouragement, doesn’t it? How could it possibly be that no answer could ever be the best answer to the cry of our heart? The answer is . . . when that “no answer” comes to us from out of this world!

Here is what we must keep in view: when the Bible says, “Ask and you shall receive” (Matthew 7:7), we must remember that “no answer” may very well be the best possible answer for us to receive, because it means that our Lord has something better for us in the future. When Jesus says “No” or “Wait,” He is not working to frustrate our desires or punish us. Rather, He intends to bless us with something better that we did not ask for . . . perhaps something we did not even imagine!

If it pleases God to set us on the pathway of patience, you can be sure it is for our good and His glory. Our Lord knows the beginning from the end; He wrote every aspect of our story long before we drew our first breath (Psalm 139:16). He knows exactly what we need, when we need it, and how we need it to be delivered. And often what we need is His “no response,” so that we might continue to grow in our trust in Him . . . which is the very best thing we can do!

If God sent His Son to die on a cross for us so that we might have eternal life, what do you think He will deny from the registry of our request? Surely God will not withhold anything that would assist Him in the accomplishment of His purpose and His plan in our lives. When heaven seems silent, we are being sanctified by His mercy. When the golden gate seems to be locked tight when we knock, we are being conformed ever more into the image of Jesus by His grace.

When the cry of the weeping prophet Jeremiah echoes in our own heart—“You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through” (Lamentations 3:44)—we must not let our confidence in our Lord be shaken. How could we, when we know that our Lord Jesus has a bottle in which to collect our every tear? (Psalm 56:8). We have not shed even one tear that has dropped to the ground unnoticed. Every tear we have ever shed has been gently wiped away by His nail-scarred hand. When Jesus said He would never leave us or forsake us, He meant what he said!

Be encouraged today, beloved. Your prayers may seem to return to you with “no answer,” but that is not because they have gone unheard. It is because the One who loved you enough to take your nails, your crown of thorns, and your cross intends to bless you with an answer far better—whether it is presently delivered to you as “No” or “Wait.” When we call to Jesus and believe He has not answered, that is only because we haven’t heard what we wanted to hear. But you can trust that He has heard, and that He fully intends to give you the best answer. As He said to His disciples:

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Keep calling on your loving heavenly Father, Christian, knowing that with every call He is conforming you more and more into the likeness of His Son.

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

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THE WITNESS OF WELL-FED CALVES

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For you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. (Malachi 4:2)


Oh, what a word of encouragement we have before us today! The promise is for all those who revere the name of the Most High God; in response to their reverence, God will shine His light of grace upon them, and they will go forth joyfully, frolicking like well-fed calves released from their stalls after a long winter. The reverence of our Redeemer will bring us multiple rewards of both healing and health that will not only meet us in our deepest place of need but will far surpass anything we could have ever imagined.

Our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, is rightly compared to the sun, for from Him and in Him is the eternal Light of all creation. In fact, the revelation of John from the Isle of Patmos indicates that Christians are “clothed with the sun” (Revelation 12:1). It is Christ’s glorious, righteous robe that adorns us, not only for our justification, but for our sanctification also . . . and ultimately, when we cross the Jordan, for our glorification as well. Being clothed in the robe of His righteousness brings healing to all that is broken in us, and that healing sends us out as happy, healthy, well-fed calves to jubilantly witness for the advancement of His kingdom and His glory.

Those who revere His name are led beside still waters and into green pastures; and when we enter that season when we go forth into the valley of the shadow of death, we shall not fear anything, because the Almighty will be with us every step of the way.

But notice the promise for those who revere His name: We will frolic like well-fed calves. Isn’t the picture of that promise particularly encouraging to you today? We will exult in the freedom that comes to us through faith in Jesus. This freedom is not from an earthly stall, but from our bondage to sin, Satan, and death.

The witness of well-fed calves is rooted in the joy of knowing that we have been set free from everything that enslaved us in the past. We have been set free from the stall of the sin that so easily entangles us. We have been cleansed from all unrighteousness by the blood of the Lamb of God, and, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we now have the ability to live a life that is glorifying to God and good for us and all those with whom we come in contact.

Regardless of where this finds you today, rejoice in your redemption, knowing that you have been raised from death to life. Go forth joyfully into God’s perfect plan and purpose for your life, even in all your imperfections, knowing that God has nailed every sin and shortcoming to the cross, freeing you to frolic like a well-fed calf as you witness for the glory and grace of our Savior.

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

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REDEEMED TO BE A RESERVOIR . . . NOT A WELL

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Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)


As a pastor, I encounter far too many Christians who witness for their Lord by sharing the love of Christ like a well, rather than a reservoir. Let me explain the difference; and I hope you will be encouraged to understand that you have been redeemed to be a reservoir.

Imagine that both a well and a reservoir are filled with the life-giving water that is the love of Christ. The difference between the two truly makes all the difference in the world when it comes to the impact we make in our walk with Jesus. With a well, others must go to the time and labor to receive the love of Christ that lies deep within. They must lower the bucket, fill it, and pull it back up to the top in order to be refreshed. But with a reservoir, the love of Christ not only fills the reservoir, it fills it to overflowing and continually gushes into the lives of all those who come near it!

We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and that love should infuse and permeate everyone we meet, with no effort required on their part. Because the love of God in Christ Jesus flows to us, it must also flow through us as a testimony to the truth that we are His. People should not have to labor to discover the love of Christ in us; it should spill out of us into their lives. It should be that others can’t help but experience the love of Christ from us because that love is so much a part of our lives.

We are redeemed to be a reservoir of the Redeemer’s love . . . and not only to those whom we find easy to love. We must always remember that our Lord loved us while we were still His enemies (Colossians 1:21), and that amazing love and grace of Christ must move us to love even those whom we would otherwise prefer to have nothing to do with. What grace is at work when we love only the lovable and those who love us? As Jesus said, do not even unbelievers do that? (Matthew 5:47). It is only when we let our love overflow toward those who are unfriendly and disagreeable and even openly hostile that we know for certain that we are truly new creations in Christ.

So . . . which term best describes you as an ambassador of the Almighty: a reservoir or a well? Does it take a great deal of effort for those around you to experience the love of Christ that lies deep within you? Must they do all the work in order to taste and see that the Lord who lives within you is truly good? Or are all those who come anywhere near you being drenched by the divine love that has filled you to overflowing?

Here is a helpful reminder: Consider all the times you have been less than lovable to your Lord, yet He poured out no less love on you. Perhaps you denied Him like Peter, not just three times, but more times than you can count? Maybe you were like Martha, far too “busy” to sit as His feet and learn from Him? Is it possible that you, like Thomas, found yourself in a season of doubt? Whatever it was that made you unloving and unlovely, far from experiencing less of your Lord’s love, you were filled to overflowing, because His love for you is as unconditional as it is unending.

Remember, there are many tasks you can perform and many professions you can pursue that do not require you to display any signs of love. But you cannot be a Christian without the love of Christ flowing through you; that is because you have been redeemed to be a reservoir of the Redeemer’s love.

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

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DON’T SHRINK YOURSELF!

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I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)


You may remember the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids trilogy, which portrayed the misadventures of inventor Wayne Szalinski and his electromagnetic shrink ray. Whatever the ray pointed at shrank down to microscopic size . . . including people.

Did you know that sin does the very same thing in the life of the believer? Let’s take a look.

When Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s Word in the Garden of Eden, here is what happened: they shrank the size of their lives down to the size of their lives. Our first parents were created by God for God to serve God as His cultural caretakers, and they were commissioned to expand the borders of their lives to the boundaries of God’s kingdom.

Tragically, Adam and Eve chose the way of sin; instead of living for the kingdom of God, they began living for their own kingdom. Sin caused Adam and Eve to shrink their focus from God’s grand plan and purpose for their lives down to their own puny purpose—which was pleasing themselves. Their greatest concern was no longer for the majestic creation God had given them; now their greatest concern was for the tiny course of their lives.

Sin is Satan’s electromagnetic shrink ray. Every time we sin, we shrink in our service to our Savior. There are countless “shrink stories” in the Bible that make it perfectly clear just how destructive sin is in shrinking our lives.

  • Abraham shrank his life when he refused to believe the promise of God and passed off his wife as his sister to save his own skin.
  • Jacob shrank his life when he schemed to acquire the birthright of his brother Esau.
  • Joseph’s brothers shrank their lives when they sold Joseph into slavery because of jealousy.
  • Moses shrank his life when he tried to free his people in his own strength by killing the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave.
  • Peter shrank his life when he denied knowing Jesus three times on the night our Lord was betrayed.

If we pause for a moment, we can think of numerous times when we have shrunk the size of our lives down to the size of our lives and began living for self rather than the Savior. When we do that, we find living in community with others incredibly difficult and living in contentment with ourselves virtually impossible. When self is on the throne of our lives, we have effectively squeezed our Savior out.

So how do we avoid Satan’s shrink ray? We must remember whose we are and what we have been put here to do. As image-bearers of the Most High God, we are His by creation; for those of us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we are twice His by re-creation. We are not our own, we have been bought at the highest price of all: the precious blood of Christ. When we remember whose we are, we will remember what we have been put here to do: to live for the glory of God, not our own selfish pursuits. We will never shrink ourselves when we seek the glory of “our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16).

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

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THE UNDOING OF UNMET EXPECTATIONS

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My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him. (Psalm 62:5 NKJV)


One of the greatest challenges in this life is in dealing with unmet expectations. It affects both our personal and our professional lives. Is there a way forward for the faithful of God to deal with unmet expectations? You bet there is, and it is found in our verse of the day, which offers the key that unlocks the door to undoing our unmet expectations.

We are all faced with two choices in life regarding our expectations: we can root our expectations in “the good life” or we can root our expectations in the godly life. The good life is the life the world promises us. The world tells us we can have it all and we can have it right now. The world promises rewards that can and sometimes do, for a time, give us a sense of satisfaction. The world can deliver many rewards that satisfy the expectations of the flesh. Yet in the end we find them to be as temporal as they are shallow, leaving our expectations utterly unmet. As the wise preacher said, “Meaningless! Meaningless! . . . Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

But this is not for you! The undoing of unmet expectations is found in living the godly life, wherein our expectations are from Him. This does not mean we will get everything we want in life. What it means is we get everything we need—when we need it and how we need to receive it. Our God has promised to meet all of our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19), and never once has God failed to make good on one of His promises. When our expectations are from God, we find ourselves seeking His will for our lives rather than our own will. Like Jesus, we cry out, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”

The undoing of unmet expectations is found in living for nothing smaller than our Lord Jesus Christ. We live to accomplish His plan and purpose for our lives by following the foreordained path He has set before us, regardless of the cost or circumstance. And as we go through this life—with God meeting our every expectation and receiving all that God has promised to give us—we discover yet another expectation that is sure to come to pass: On the day when we take our last breath, we can expect to be present with our Lord. We will enter through His heavenly gates with praise on our lips and a song in our hearts, and we shall see and know Him as He is.

Regardless of where this message finds you today, the way to unlock the door leading to the undoing of unmet expectations is for your expectation to be from Jesus Christ and not from this world. Remember, eye has not seen and ear has not heard the glories that await the saints of God when they hear these words: “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into thy rest.”

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

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