THE #1 FEAR IN LIFE . . . DEATH!

Walk to the light

When you review surveys asking what people fear most in this life, death is often at the top of the list. But this is not true for the Christian. Why? Because our Lord Jesus Christ conquered death, once and for all!


Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

(1 Corinthians 15:54-58)


To be sure, death is a difficult thing to deal with on this side of the grave. And death affects every one of us. We have all lost loved ones, and one day we ourselves shall all die. But we have a promise that provides great comfort to us right now, even as we advance toward the inevitable day when we will take our last breath on this earth. This promise is rooted in the greatest event in the history of mankind: the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because Jesus rose from the dead and His tomb is empty, we are assured that we too will rise from the grave and live with Him for all eternity.

Unbelievers reject the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus. They present with naturalistic explanations to brush off the empty tomb and the eyewitness accounts of a risen Savior. They tell us the body of Jesus was stolen by His disciples (a story first concocted by the Jewish religious leaders, as Matthew 28:13 records). Or they will insist that the women went to the wrong tomb on that first Easter morning . . . a preposterous claim to which I respond, “Everyone in Jerusalem went to the wrong tomb? The women, the Twelve, the religious leaders, the Roman soldiers? No one in Jerusalem was ever able to locate the tomb of Jesus a second time?” Every empty tomb theory is still exactly that: both a theory and empty!

On the third day, a dead man really got up and walked out of His grave. He walked and talked with His disciples; He even ate with His disciples. They touched Him and examined His wounds from the crucifixion.

Jesus conquered death and the same will be true for everyone who has, by grace through faith, trusted in Him for salvation. The foundation upon which we stand could not be more solid or certain; we know that Jesus rose bodily from His grave, and no one has ever offered an even remotely credible rebuttal of that historic event.

Today Jesus Christ is seated in the position of power and authority at the right hand of God the Father. And one day soon, He will come again at the end of the age. When He does, our resurrected bodies will be reunited with our spirits and we will enjoy unbroken and unending fellowship with our God in the new heavens and the new earth.

Do not fear the prospect of death, you beloved of the Lord! For the Christian, to be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord, and there is no greater place in the universe to be than in the presence of the One who has made a way for us to enjoy life eternal.

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

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WITHDRAW TO ADVANCE!

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That seems like a strange title . . . “Withdraw to Advance!” How in the world can we withdraw from something and still be advancing at the same time?

Let’s look at a verse that offers great encouragement to all of us today:


Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

(Luke 5:16)


I’m sure we would all agree that for the brief, three-plus years of earthly ministry in the life of our Lord, He was constantly making forward progress. The ministry of the Almighty was marked by continual advancement in the direction of His intended destination. And this verse offers us some very necessary insight into the process and pattern in the life of the One who withdrew to advance.

Do you remember the Energizer Bunny commercials? That Bunny kept going . . . and going . . . and going! There was no “Off” switch, so there certainly was no “Withdraw” switch either. Sadly, far too many of us are just like the Bunny. We have so much going on in life, we simply keep going . . . and going . . . and going . . . but this certainly is not God’s plan for our lives!

Jesus set the perfect example for all of us to follow. Take another look at Luke 5:16 above; it says Jesus withdrew . . .


OFTEN!


This was not a one-time event in the life of our Lord, nor was it occasional. Jesus often withdrew to commune with His Father in heaven. Can the same be said about you? What would those closest to you say about your “often withdrawing” to spend time alone with Jesus? Make no mistake: this is as important in the life of the Christian as water is to a fish and air to a bird. No man ever had more to do in life than Jesus! Yet He knew when to work and when to withdraw . . . and by doing so He was able to make continual forward progress.

No matter where this message finds you, let me encourage you to withdraw often to be with Jesus. Notice something else that is very important. Jesus withdrew to quiet, “lonely” places. He did not go to the center of Jerusalem, surrounded by people pressing in on Him. He went off by Himself to quiet places where He could simply commune with His Father in heaven. Let me close with a wonderful promise from the prophet Isaiah for those who will discipline themselves to “often withdraw to lonely places and pray.”


Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

(Isaiah 40:30-31)


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

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DO SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!

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No doubt you’ve heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” Well, I have news for you: It’s ALL small stuff. and it is the “small stuff” that ruins the vineyard!


Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.

(Song of Solomon 2:15)


So the question before the house is this: In the Song of Solomon, we read about “little foxes” that ruin the vineyards that are in bloom; what are these little foxes that have so much potential to bring us problems?

I believe those foxes could be just about anything in life that we see as small or insignificant, but has a tendency to mess us up. Perhaps it is years of forgetting to say “Thank you” or “I love you” or “You’re doing a great job” or “I appreciate you.” Or it could be neglecting to care for your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, with sound nutrition, consistent exercise, and adequate rest. For some, it is skipping that yearly check-up . . . for YEARS! Perhaps it is prioritizing your career over your personal life with your family. Or maybe you find yourself in the predicament of those who have too much month left at the end of the money?

What are some of the “little foxes” that are running around in your vineyard right now . . . things which, if left unchecked, will ruin the good grapes? They may be things . . .


  • In your school life
  • In your marriage
  • With your children
  • With your friends
  • At the office
  • In the area of your health
  • In your finances
  • In your personal walk with Jesus
  • In the area of your life vision, hopes, and dreams

Michelangelo, the famous Renaissance artist, was sculpting a figure out of a block of marble as a friend looked on. Later, after a time of absence, the friend returned and remarked, “I can see that you have not been spending time working on your statue Michelangelo!”

“Not true,” Michelangelo responded. “I have been busily working on this statue each day.”

Surprised, his friend objected, “I don’t see how this could be!”

Michelangelo thought for a moment and replied, “I have softened this line here—the hem of this garment there. I have straightened the lip and brought out this muscle more clearly . . . polished this . . . sharpened that.”

“Well,” said his friend, “those are just trifles.”

Michelangelo replied, “Trifles they may be, but you will remember that trifles make perfection; that perfection is no trifle.”

To be sure, “trifles” are the “small stuff” of life. They are the “little foxes” which, if left to their own devices, will wreak havoc in our vineyard and eventually ruin all the good grapes our God has given us. By all means, “sweat the small stuff” . . . and serve our Savior more faithfully for His glory and the good of all those around us.

As my friend and mentor, Dr. D. James Kennedy, always said: “Excellence in all things and all things to God’s glory!”

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

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TO REJOICE IS A CHOICE!

Rejoice

A long time ago I learned we cannot control everything that goes on around us, but we can control what goes on within us as it relates to our attitude. Dr. Charles Swindoll, founder of the “Insight for Living” radio ministry, famously said: “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% what I make of it.” Dr. Swindoll was beautifully confirming a biblical truth, which tells us that to rejoice is a choice!


Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

(Philippians 4:4)


So . . . what have you been choosing lately? Regardless of the circumstances that are going on around us, we really do have a choice to rejoice. But make no mistake, if you have developed habits of “less than rejoicing” over the years, it will take some time to break those habits and replace them with a new habit of rejoicing.

You see, rejoicing is what we call an “inside job.” Rejoicing is rooted in a right relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. And the more deeply the roots go into the soil of our Savior, the less we will be disrupted by the circumstances we face in life.

I can remember as the service at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church was about to begin each Sunday morning, the deep, booming voice of Dr. D. James Kennedy would fill the sanctuary, proclaiming these words from Psalm 118:24:


“This is the day the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”


What a wonderful reminder we heard every week! God has given us the gift of life, and our response to that gift should be to “rejoice and be glad in it,” regardless of the circumstances we might face. We must remember that nothing happens to us that doesn’t first pass through His nail-scared hands; if God has allowed it, we can be certain it was allowed for two reasons: our good and His glory.

Often, when the circumstances of life seem to be stacking up against me, I remind myself that this is the day the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it. To rejoice is indeed a choice, and it is a choice the Christian should make on a daily basis.

Now, this doesn’t mean that some bad things won’t happen to us in life. Bad things—sometimes truly dreadful things—do happen and the Bible makes that clear too. Jesus told us that we will have trouble in this life. The Scriptures tell us that all things work together for our good . . . not that all things are good. But in all of it, we choose our response to everything that happens to us.

When circumstances seem to be against you, what is your usual response? Fear? Anger? Disappointment? Depression? Do you have a tendency to retreat? To sulk? Whatever your response, you can change it over time by remembering that to rejoice is a choice—your choice. The power at work within you is greater than any power that comes up against you.

So regardless of what you are currently facing, take it to Jesus and ask Him for the strength to find the pathway to rejoicing. It is a path worth finding and following, wherever it may lead.

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

 

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DEALING WITH DOUBT

leap-of-faith

By nature, we all have a bit of “Thomas” in us. You remember how Thomas doubted the disciples when they told him they had seen the resurrected Lord Jesus? There was a simple reason for his doubt; what Thomas believed in died on the cross, and his heart was absolutely crushed under the weight of losing his Lord. He simply refused to risk having his heart broken even more by believing without seeing.

I think Thomas gets a bad rap when he is remembered as “Doubting Thomas.” Recall that it was Thomas who took the lead when Jesus was leaving for Judea to raise Lazarus from the dead; “Let us also go,” Thomas said to the disciples, “that we may die with [Jesus]” (John 11:16). Also remember that Thomas made one of the greatest professions of faith ever uttered by man:


Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 

(John 20:24-28)


You and I are faced with circumstances that test our faith on a regular basis. Those circumstances confront us with two choices: trust or doubt. Trust and doubt simply cannot coexist. When doubt enters in, faith flees. When faith is firm, doubt disappears.

Satan loves it when we doubt. Doubt is the key that unlocks the doorway leading to all sorts of debilitating emotions, like fear, worry, anger, and apathy. Before long, doubt will carry us to a place we don’t want to be in and don’t even know how we got there. But this is not for you!


Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.

(Romans 4:18)


Make no mistake, Abraham was not perfect in his belief. He obviously doubted God when he tried to pass his wife off as his sister to save his own skin—not once, but twice. You and I are like Abraham: everything we do, we do imperfectly.

 


But here is the critical question: What marks your life most: doubt or trust?


 

Peter doubted Jesus when he denied Him three times on the night Jesus was betrayed. Later, we read in the book of Acts that Peter struggled with doubt again, and was rebuked by Paul when Peter refused to eat with Gentiles for fear of offending Jewish believers (Galatians 2:11-12). But Peter’s life was marked not by doubt, but by trust. Tradition tells us that when he was crucified for proclaiming his Christian faith, he asked his executioners to nail him to the cross upside-down, stating that he was not worthy to die in the same way as his Lord.

So . . . where in your life are you dealing with doubt right now—personally or professionally? Wherever doubt is disrupting your forward progress in life, take it to your Lord in prayer and marinate in His Word. Don’t think anything strange is happening to you when doubt comes knocking on your door; it happens to all of us! The key is to identify doubt and deal with it; don’t let it take root! Use all the means of grace God has given to you—godly friends, church attendance, prayer, daily devotion, service, fasting, etc.—to dispel your doubt and build your belief.

The better view you have of your Lord—like the one Thomas had the night Jesus showed up—the less you will doubt and the more you will trust!

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

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BRUTE BEAST BELIEVER

beastmode

The Bible instructs us to examine ourselves . . . and that is good instruction! Why? Because if we aren’t careful, we can fool ourselves into thinking we are something that we are not. Far better to examine ourselves and see exactly what is going on, just like Asaph in the following verse:


When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel.

(Psalm 73:22-24)


Now that is a serious self-examination, wouldn’t you agree? After taking an honest look inside his heart, Asaph compared himself with a “brute beast” before the face of God. Clearly, Asaph had not succumbed to thinking of himself more highly than he ought (Romans 12:3)! And notice how the comparison he made is rooted in a heart that was beating for something smaller than God. Asaph’s heart was “grieved,” which means his focus was down and in, rather than up and out. Like a brute beast who is always looking down toward the ground, Asaph was consumed with his circumstances rather than his God.

Yet even in his self-described bestial condition, Asaph knew that God was with Him every step of the way. He knew it was God who was upholding him and leading him through the troubled waters of life. Asaph declared his cosmic confidence in the Lord God Omnipotent; Asaph was as confident in God’s presence with him as he was confident in God’s counsel for him.

But notice something very important in the verse above: Asaph declared that “I am always with you!” How could that be possible for someone who admitted that he was in the condition of a brute beast—a creature of instinct (2 Peter 2:12) and not of faith? The answer is simple: it was God who was keeping them together.

Remember, it is not your faithfulness to God that keeps you connected to Him; rather, it is His faithfulness to you. Regardless of your current condition, you can echo Asaph and say, “I am always with you,” because God is the One who never moves. He holds tightly to your hand when you are spiritually sound and when your spirit is embittered Him. You should have no fear in examining your heart each day and admitting to God exactly what you are going through. God is not only for you, He is with you and will never walk away from you . . . even when you are “senseless and ignorant”!

Wherever this finds you today, rest assured that Almighty God loves you; and, as John wrote, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). So lift your eyes toward heaven and focus your mind and heart on Jesus! Don’t fear the results of your self-examination, because regardless of what you discover—even if you see a faithless brute beast staring back at you from the mirror of self-reflection—Jesus is always with you: holding you, guiding you, counseling you, and loving you all the way into glory. How amazing is His grace!

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

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HEAVEN ON EARTH

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When was the last time you thought about heaven? Do you ever wonder what it will be like? Well, the psalmist paints the perfect picture of what heaven will be like then, and what heaven is like right now, right were this finds you.


God, our God!

(Psalm 67:6)


Notice the psalmist doesn’t stop with the single word God, but he continues to exult, “our God!” This is heaven then and this is heaven now. Knowing that God is our God is to know a truth that is as comforting as it is encouraging.

The comfort in “our God” is cosmic in proportion! It is a comfort in seasons of plenty and want . . . in times of health and sickness . . . in moments of joy and anguish. It is to know that were we are, He is! And that is the definition of heaven: being in the presence of our God.

Have you ever stopped to consider the encouragement from knowing this truth? To know God as “our God” is to know that . . .


  • God is strength in your weakness
  • God is calm in your storm
  • God is light in your darkness
  • God is wisdom in your doubt
  • God is peace in your dark night of the soul 

Remember, heaven is heaven only because our God is there. There is a story of an old saint lying on his deathbed; he was asked how he would feel, after decades of talking about Jesus and spending eternity with Him in heaven, if he woke up in hell. He responded with a smile: “My God promised never to leave me nor forsake me. So if I wake up in hell, I know that Jesus will be there and it will be heaven to me!”

Sadly, so few in the church today understand the truth the psalmist knew by way of personal experience. God seems distant and far off to them because they have not appropriated the Almighty.

What does that mean . . . to appropriate the Almighty?


Appropriate: to take to or for oneself; take possession of


Here is how the 19th century prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, framed out what the psalmist is telling us:


It is strange how little use we make of the spiritual blessings which God gives us, but it is stranger still how little use we make of God Himself. Though He is “our own God,” we apply ourselves but little to Him, and ask but little of Him. How seldom do we ask counsel at the hands of the Lord! How often do we go about our business, without seeking His guidance! In our troubles how constantly do we strive to bear our burdens ourselves, instead of casting them upon the Lord, that He may sustain us! This is not because we may not, for the Lord seems to say, “I am yours, come and make use of me as you will; you may freely come to my store, and the oftener the more welcome.”


If heaven is the presence of God, the question that needs to be asked is, “Are you experiencing heaven today?” If not, why not? Appropriate the Almighty in every area of life, and the place you occupy on this earth will be heaven to you!

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

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