His Pain . . . Our Gain!

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Growing up in the competitive world of athletics and later inside martial arts dojos (schools), I became quite familiar with the saying, “No pain, no gain!” The phrase simply means that training for athletic performance is often difficult and painful, but without that pain, we will never make any significant improvement (gain). The concept makes sense, and it is indeed true. However, when it comes to our salvation, it is only through His pain that we receive our gain. But “His pain” might not actually be the pain you are most likely to think about.

The 2004 movie The Passion of The Christ depicted in graphic, moment-by-moment detail the gruesome, agonizing nature of the crucifixion of Jesus: the beatings, the scourging, the crown of thorns, and the nine-inch nails. It was a terrible way to die, the most dreadful form of torture devised by the sinful mind of man at that time. We get our English word excruciating from the Latin cruciare—to crucify. Victims of crucifixion might hang on the cross for days before succumbing to asphyxiation. And the scourging that preceded crucifixion was so brutal that some died without ever hanging on the cross.

But has it ever struck you as odd that when you read the gospel accounts, there is very little said about the physical pain our Lord endured? The four gospel writers record our Lord’s ordeal rather matter-of-factly:

When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Matthew 27:35)

When they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. (Mark 15:20)

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. (Luke 23:33)

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes. (John 19:23)

I believe there are two primary reasons for the lack of details regarding the physical pain Jesus suffered. First, there were thousands of unfortunates who endured the agony of the crucifixion process during the first century. Remember, Jesus was crucified between two criminals who were suffering similar physical pain. Second, and most importantly, the most painful part of the crucifixion experience for Jesus was not physical, as terrible as that must have been. No, Jesus’ worst suffering was spiritual, which He expressed by His despairing cry, quoting Psalm 22 while He hung on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Jesus uttered these words during the three hours of darkness that covered the land, a picture of the judgment and cosmic abandonment Jesus endured while paying the penalty for our sin. Here is an unimaginable agony that no one has ever experienced: the pain of enduring the wrath of God the Father poured out on God the Son as punishment for the penalty of the sins of all those men, women, and children who have ever and will ever put their trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life.

That was the greatest pain . . . the greatest suffering . . . the greatest torture . . . and it was all for our gain. Remember, Jesus endured all this pain and punishment and terror so that you and I will never have to. His pain . . . is our gain. Let that truth set you free to be all God is calling you to be.

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

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The Greatness In All Of Us

“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

The disciples who walked with Jesus and talked with Jesus and served alongside Jesus often found themselves arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. While walking along the road to Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, and they were embarrassed to answer Him. They knew that what they were arguing about – greatness – was silly, shallow, and shortsighted.

Now, it is not wrong for disciples of Jesus to be ambitious and industrious, as long as it is God who is getting the glory. But what those first-century disciples were missing was where greatness is found. It is not found in accomplishment or achievement or advancement; rather, greatness is only found in service to others. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for others (Matthew 20:28). The disciples wanted position, power, and prestige, when they should have been praying for the privilege of increasing their service in the lives of others.

The key that unlocks the power in today’s verse is to remember who was correcting the disciples’ misguided motivations: our Lord Jesus. The people of God were expecting a conquering king to free them from the oppression of Rome, but Jesus came as the Suffering Servant, who would free them from sin, Satan, and death. On Good Friday, Jesus provided the ultimate act of service for all the world to see as He laid down His life to secure our salvation.

Jesus cared nothing for position, power, or prestige; His passion was to conquer our last enemy: death. And He did exactly that on the morning of the third day after His crucifixion, when He walked out of the grave alive and well as the Savior of the world. That is the picture of greatness. Jesus is the only person who was ever truly great, and all of His greatness shone most brightly through His sacrificial service to save us all from the penalty of our sins.

So . . . have you been demonstrating the greatness that is deep within you through your sacrificial service in the lives of others? Where the world teaches success at the expense of others, the Bible makes it clear that true success comes only in the service of others. Is this the confession of your life today? If it is, then you are great in the Kingdom of heaven! And you will prove that greatness, not by shouting it to the world, but by showing it through your service to others.

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

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Run Your Race!

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

In horse racing, blinders are used to narrow the field of vision for the horses. Blinders keep the horse looking in the direction the rider wants the horse to go and help to keep the animal from drifting off course. A racehorse that veers off course and bumps another horse may be disqualified from the race.

I would submit that we all could use some blinders from time to time. We have a natural tendency to focus more on what is going on around us than what is going on within us. This often causes us to drift off course from the race marked out for us; we may even to start running someone else’s race. When we do this, we always end up in a place we don’t want to be in and frequently have no idea how we got there.

You see, God has set before each of us our own perfect race that He has called us to run. Now, inasmuch as we will all run it imperfectly, we are still called to run our race . . . not the race someone else is running. When it comes to running our own race, God has ordained particular obstacles to overcome and storms to weather. And when we encounter those difficulties, that is when we are most likely to try to run someone else’s race. But God has called us to run with perseverance the race He has marked out for us, because He knows exactly what we need and when we need it in order to grow into the person He is calling us to be.

What we must remember as we are running our race is to stay in our own lane. Your race doesn’t look like my race, and my race doesn’t look like yours. To be sure, we are all running for the same goal: for God’s glory and the good of others. But God has arranged the parts of the body of Christ just as He wished (1 Corinthians 12:1 8), and each part has a different function and purpose. Each part is running a different race!

One final point about running your own race: When you stay focused on the race you are running, you won’t become fixated on some of the others runners who, from your perspective, might be passing you by. They are running their race and you are running yours. Remember, God knew in advance how well you would run your race. He knows all about the times you will stumble and the times you will drift off course. He knows your blind spots and your weaknesses. And through it all, He has been with you every step of the way.  

This is your race. Run it to the best of your ability! Run it when the sky is blue and the clouds are fleecy, and run it when the storms winds are blowing and the waves of challenge are crashing over you. Remember, God has promised you blessings multiplied when you run with perseverance the race He has set before you; so run with Jesus and run with joy!

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

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The Strength Of Surrender

Submit yourselves therefore to God. (James 4:7)

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once said, “The greatness of a man’s power is in the measure of his surrender.” So let me ask you: How surrendered are you to your Savior? What does the confession of your life say about your surrender?

When God chooses someone for His service, He does not choose that person because of their strength. He chooses them because of their surrender, because it is only the surrendered heart into which God pours His strength.

Did you know that everyone lives a surrendered life? You simply cannot live life without surrendering to something. Either you will surrender your life to your Savior or you will surrender your life to yourself. See if any of the following resonate with you. Are you surrendered to . . .

  • The applause of man?
  • The pride of life?
  • The pleasures of the flesh?
  • The expectations of others?

Here is the truth about surrender: You are free to choose what you will surrender your life to, but you are not free from the consequences of that choice. Remember, you are because of God, but you are where you are because of the choices you have made in life. Have you chosen to surrender to Jesus? Or are you surrendered to yourself?

Abraham surrendered to God. Moses surrendered to God. Mary, the mother of Jesus, surrendered to God. Saul of Tarsus, who would become the apostle Paul, surrendered to God. The strength of their surrender was found in the One to whom they surrendered.

Years of walking with Jesus has taught me that there is nothing more powerful than a Savior-surrendered life. The people I encounter who have done the most in and for the Kingdom of God are the ones who are most surrendered to Jesus. They surrender their time, their talent, and their treasure, all to be used by God for His glory and the good of others. And do you know what? They are also some of the happiest people I have ever known.

If you want to live a life that truly matters, your life must be lived surrendered to your Savior — not just in one or two areas, but in every area of your life. By God’s grace, may this be the confession of our lives, regardless of the cost or the circumstance.

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

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The Great Commission, Not A Great Suggestion!

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Everyone wants to live a life of meaning, significance, and purpose. And the only way that will actually happen is when we are living out the plan and purpose God has for our lives. That is why our today’s passage is known as The Great Commission, not a great suggestion. When Jesus saves us, it is for the express purpose of expanding the cause of His Kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven, not for expanding our own kingdom.

Here is one way of looking at this profound biblical truth:

Jesus not only calls us to COME to Him; Jesus calls us to GO for Him!

Over and over again, Jesus made it clear to His disciples then, and to you and me today, that we are to be a sent people who share the good news of the Gospel with everyone we come in contact with. Today, it is not uncommon to hear someone say something like, “The Great Commission is for the super-spiritual – pastors, missionaries, and parachurch organizations.” This is simply not true. The Great Commission was given to every child of God, and it is the greatest privilege in the world to know that God does not need us to expand the cause of His kingdom, but He wants us to be part of His kingdom expansion.

And know this, Christian: there are some people in this world whom God has ordained will only get saved through you. Sent in the power of the Almighty, we have been given all we need to do all God is calling us to do. And the best thing about that is that we can calmly, confidently leave the results in His hands. We water and we plant, knowing that God will supply the increase in His precise time and in His perfect way (1 Corinthians 3:6).

What is the greatest gift you have ever given anybody? If you have ever shared the truth about Jesus with someone, you need look no farther than that. Jesus is the greatest gift you could ever give to someone, because Jesus is the solution to every problem, the answer to every question, and the provision of every need.

So let me ask you: Have you received The Great Commission? Or a great suggestion? Remember, the consequence of living out The Great Commission is the only thing you can do in this life that will last forever.

One final point: God has commissioned you right where this message finds you. Regardless of your current calling in life, whether butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, you are to bring Jesus everywhere you go, and share Him with everyone you come in contact with. God will place in your path exactly those people He wants you to share Jesus with.

The only question is this: Will you do it?

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

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 Expressions of Thanks-Living – Part Two

On Monday we looked at how we can utter our expressions of Thanks-Living with our words.  Today we will think about making expressions of Thanks-Living with our works. Both expressions are rooted in Ephesians 5:20 —

Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Expressions With Works

As we express our thanksgiving to God with our words, our words must be matched by our works. In short, our talk has to match our walk. The 16th-century Reformers were fond of saying, “We are saved by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone.” I have stated here many times that God does not in any way need our good works, but everyone around us absolutely does need them. And there is no better way for us to demonstrate that we are His than by our selfless service to others.

The way Paul opened his letter to the Philippians would be well said of all of us:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 1:1)

Could your name be plugged in for Timothy’s?  How would those around you respond to that question as it relates to you? Jesus came to serve, not to be served, and this is to be the confession of the lives of all those who are His.  Remember, Jesus said if we want to be great we must serve (Mark 10:44-45). Service is the key that unlocks the door leading to living a life of significance.

Think about the happiest, most joy-filled people you know. I’d be willing to bet that the reason for their joy is because their lives are marked by service to others.

Here is a verse that we should all keep in view:

How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good . . . (Acts 10:38)

The life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ was marked by service.  He went around doing good — healing the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the brokenhearted, and ultimately, giving His life as a ransom for all those who would believe in Him. When we realize just how blessed we are, we should want to spend the rest of our lives blessing others. Salvation, rightly understood, makes Christian believers so “other-oriented” that what we are by nature — self-absorbed — begins to be exchanged for self-sacrifice.  We begin laying our lives down for others, just as our Lord did.

So . . . is your life marked by going around and doing good? Our calendar tomorrow is marked with the word “Thanksgiving.” But for the Christian, every day is to be a day of “Thanks-Living,” and it is to be expressed to all those we come in contact with, both by our words and our works.

Happy Thanksgiving! May your every day be marked by joyful expressions Of Thanks-Living.

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

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Expressions of Thanks-Living – Part One

We have arrived at Thanksgiving week, and I’d like to share a few thoughts as we move towards a day that has been set aside for giving thanks for our many blessings. Today I’d like to discuss expressing our thanks with words, and on Wednesday we’ll look at expressing thanks with our works. Both these ideas are rooted in Ephesians 5:20 —

Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated who He was by both His words and His works. As His disciples, we must do the same.      

Expressions With Words

The first way we are to express our thanks to God is with the words we speak.  We all must take inventory of our language and see if the words we speak let those who hear us know just how thankful we are to God for all we have been given. It is all too easy to be very thankful for the many good gifts we have received from God without ever expressing our thanks to the One who gave them to us.

Here is an important truth to keep in view:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  (James 1:17)

The apostle Paul asked the Christians in Corinth, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). It’s a great question for you and I to consider with Thanksgiving only three days away; the answer, of course is “Nothing!” Everything we have has been given to us, and the Giver is the Lord God Almighty (Romans 11:36). Our families are a gift from God. Our careers are a gift from God. Our health is a gift from God. Our education is a gift from God. Everything is a gift from God, including our next breath and the next beat of our heart. The words we speak should shout to those around us just how thankful we are to God for the countless good gifts we have been given. 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  (Colossians 3:16)

Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Ephesians 5:18-19)

Did you know that the Bible instructs us to thank our God in song? Yes, that’s right. When you sing praises to God you are being obedient! We are not just invited to sing our praise to God, we are commanded to do so — even those of us who don’t have the “gift” of song! Jonah even sang a song of thanksgiving while he was in the belly of a great fish (Jonah 2:9). 

I am blessed to have musical children; it’s such a joy to hear them singing praises to God, whether with the praise team at the church or around the house. And make no mistake, our God delights in hearing heartfelt praise expressed in words that are both spoken and sung.

On Wednesday, we will take a look at giving expressions of thanks with out works!

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

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God Doesn’t Make Mistakes!

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)

The title of today’s word of encouragement, when understood, will transform your life in a way you cannot imagine. It certainly transformed mine.

As a new believer, when I was first exposed to the biblical truth of the sovereignty of God — the fact that He is in complete control of all things, at all times, and in all places — I struggled to see God working for good in all the chaos that was swirling in my life. At the bare minimum, I supposed, God was either too busy to care about my little, insignificant life, or perhaps He simply made a few mistakes along the way. But when a caring Bible teacher took the time to explain today’s verse to me, the scales began to fall from my eyes and I learned to trust God in every aspect of my life, even the chaos and waves of challenge that were washing over me.

The first thing my teacher explained to me was what this verse does not teach; I frequently remind our congregation that Romans 8:28 is not teaching that all things that happen are good. There is a great deal of bad that happens in this life, things that cause suffering and sorrow. The second thing I learned was that Romans 8:28 is teaching that even the bad stuff that happens is under the complete control and care of God, and He has promised to use all of it for the ultimate good of those who love Him . . . even me! God works in all things to accomplish His ultimate plan and purpose — not just in my little life, but in the entire universe.

Finally, I needed to absorb the truth that God is more focused on my holiness than my happiness, a truth that is emphasized in Romans 8:29 — “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” My teacher explained that if God’s ultimate goal in my life is to conform me to the likeness of His Son — and often that conforming process includes seasons of suffering — then holiness, not happiness, is His primary purpose for my life.

These three truths were foundational to my understanding that God doesn’t make mistakes. What we might think is a “mistake” is actually ministry from the hands of our Maker. God is working all things together to make us more like Jesus. God takes the good, the bad, and the ugly to chisel away what is left of the sinful self in order to reveal more and more of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who dwells within us through His Holy Spirit.

So when you look back on your life and see the chaos, the confusion, and the challenges, remember that God doesn’t make mistakes. His works are perfect, all His ways are just, and He does no wrong (Deuteronomy 32:4). No, in all things, He is working to make you more and more like His Son. And that is a very good thing indeed!

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

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Jesus’ Favorite Book

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me . . . (John 5:39)

Did you know that Jesus had a favorite book? Scripture makes it clear that our Lord certainly did have a favorite book— the Old Testament—as evidenced by the fact that He quoted it so many times throughout His earthly ministry.

I must confess that Jesus’ favorite book was my least favorite book early in my Christian life. When my wife, Kim, and I first came to faith in Christ, the church we were attending gave the Daily Walk One Year Bible to anyone who would commit to reading through it each day for the upcoming year. Kim and I accepted the challenge and began our year-long commitment on January 1. We cruised through Genesis. We read through Exodus. When we got into Leviticus, our eyes began to glaze over. I am not sure how we got through Numbers, but I can tell you that we both began to long for the day when we would finally get to “the good stuff” — that is, the New Testament — and that day would not come until October 1st.

Beyond the prophecies about Jesus as the promised Messiah, all we could see in the Old Testament was what seemed like a series of disconnected stories and moralistic messages telling us how to live a life that pleases God, coupled with ominous warnings about what happens to those who fail to do so. Today, by God’s grace, we don’t see it that way anymore. Now Jesus’ favorite book is also our favorite book, and here’s why: The Old Testament is all about Jesus, a fact that Jesus made perfectly clear over and over again. He told the Jewish religious leaders:

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)

When the truth of these words from Jesus began to sink in, we started slowing down in our reading of the Old Testament to search the Scriptures, looking to find Him there. And if that statement from Jesus was not enough, a few verses later He added the following thunderclap:

But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:45-46)

Kim and I knew that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), but we did not understand just how profound these words were from Jesus. Then one day we encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus, just like the two downcast disciples who met Him three days after the crucifixion. There the thunderclap turned into a lightning bolt!

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

These two men were disciples of Jesus, and they had expected Him to redeem Israel from Roman rule. But after Jesus was arrested, sentenced to death, and crucified, all hope was lost. They remembered that Jesus had spoken of a third-day resurrection, but this was the third day, and they had not seen Jesus alive and well. They did hear reports about the empty tomb from some of the female disciples and even from some of the men, but an empty tomb without a resurrected Jesus did not offer much hope. At the end of their walk to Emmaus, they stopped in the village and had a meal together; it was there that the Lord opened their eyes to recognize Him, and what they said next has been our continuing life experience every time we read the Old Testament:

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Today, Kim and I experience this “holy heartburn” whenever we read the Old Testament, seeing Jesus not just in prophecy, but in promise (beginning with God’s first Gospel proclamation in Genesis 3:15), in pattern, in people, in places . . . in short, on every page of Scripture. Jesus’ favorite book is now our favorite book, and it is my prayer that it will be yours also.

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

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The Intersection Of Our Reach And His Rest

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

We live in a fast-paced, burnout inducing culture — always going, going, going, but seemingly never arriving. We are often deprived of both sleep and satisfaction, and we yearn for stillness. So how do we arrive at the intersection of our reach and His rest that has been promised to us, even on this side of the grave?

First, we must keep in mind that we are image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:26); we are to reflect Him through both our reach and our rest. God reached down from the heavens and created everything in the universe, but He did not keep creating non-stop. After six days of creative reaching, God rested on the seventh day. Please note that His rest was rooted in relationship; He walked with Adam and Eve “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). But when sin entered the world through their rebellion, our reach was disconnected from His rest. And herein lies the key to rest: It is not simply a cessation of our labor; it is a connection with our Lord.

When we are not in right relationship with God, we reach and we reach but we cannot find His rest. We toil and we labor, but we find no rest or relief from all of our reaching. Even when we are in a right relationship with God, rest often feels as far away from us as the east is from the west. And that brings us to God’s promise given us in our passage today: When we come before the Lord and we are still in His presence, we will experience His promised rest. You have His Word on that.

It is important to keep the context of today’s verse in mind: Psalm 46 was written during a time of great difficulties and challenges for God’s people, including war. Rather than offering a gentle reminder for “stillness,” God’s word is commanding us to stop struggling and shift our focus from ourselves to our God.

Jesus invites all those who are weary and heavy-laden to receive the rest that He alone offers (Matthew 11:28-30). At the deepest level, this is rest for the soul apart from the yoke of the Law. But Psalm 46 is also reminding us of the rest we need every week to be refreshed in our reaching. There is a special silence and stillness that will only be experienced when we are deeply connected to our Savior. Remember, God is in control of everything, even when it looks like everything is in chaos. When we are reaching within the context of our relationship with God, looking to Him for our guidance and direction and strength, we will experience the promised rest we need for everyday life as we make our way toward our promised rest for eternal life.

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

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