Heart Drift

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person. (Revelation 3:20)

Here is a biblical truth that is hard for many of us to internalize: Our Lord Jesus, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the Alpha and the Omega, desires intimate communion with each one of His children. And His desire is not just for communion each day, perhaps for 15 minutes in the morning or at the end of the day, but moment by moment. Jesus Christ is consistent, immutable; His desire for us is unchanging. We, on the other hand, are inconsistent and sinful; our hearts drift in and out of close communion with Jesus.

We know that we enjoy eternal union with our Lord Jesus. Once Jesus raised us from death to life, we were His, and nothing can ever separate us from Him — not our sin . . . not Satan . . . nothing can take us from the palm of His hand (Romans 8:38-39, John 10:28). But from time to time — and sometimes the intervals between “time to time” are all too brief — our hearts drift away from our devotion and dedication to Jesus. Often we do not even recognize the drift until we find ourselves far away from the anchor of our soul, much like a careless swimmer may be inexorably pulled away from shore by a rip current. My own experience has been that it is usually the people closest to me who recognize my heart drift before I do, and that is because the way I am relating to Jesus always affects the way I relate to others.

The key to keeping our hearts beating for Jesus is to draw near to Him each and every day. The more time we spend in His presence, the more fixed we will be in our focus on Him. When we are spending consistent time alone with Jesus, we will not hear any other knock on the door of our heart or any voice on the other side, because we will be enveloped completely in the presence of the Lord who loves us. At this level of living, we will experience exactly what we were made to experience in this life: the presence and the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How are things with you these days? Have you been experiencing any heart drift lately? What would the people closest to you say? Pause in His presence today and listen closely; Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart and calling to you. Open the door wide, and receive all the blessings He has in store for you today and every day.

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

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The Worthy Woe

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

We all have a tendency to find shade under the tree of “woe,” which is a poor place to find protection from the withering sun of tribulation.

  • Woe is me! I got cut from the team.
  • Woe is me! I did not get accepted at my college of choice.
  • Woe is me! I did not get the job I wanted.
  • Woe is me! I was passed over for that big promotion.
  • Woe is me! There is too much month left at the end of the money.

We learn to “woe” at an early age, and it can follow us throughout our entire life if we are not careful. Yet there is one “woe” that is worthy to be used in our conversation: the “woe” that comes from the pen of the apostle Paul. So convicted and captured by the Gospel was Paul that he measured his entire existence in terms of the truths of the Gospel flowing through his words, his works, and his witness. For Paul, life was all about Christ — “To me, to live is Christ,” he said (Philippians 1:21) — and Paul’s heart beat for nothing smaller than Jesus after his Damascus Road experience with the risen Savior changed Paul from the inside out.

This is to be the condition of every child of God. Not that we are all called to be vocational preachers of the Gospel; you may be a truck driver, a teacher, or a tax attorney. Yet every disciple of Christ is called to be a channel and a conduit of the love of God in Christ Jesus. The truths of the Gospel are to flow through our thoughts, words, deeds, and desires. We are to preach the Gospel to all those we come in contact with; our lips and our lives should both bear witness to the truth of new life in Christ Jesus. We are to both declare the Gospel and demonstrate it, regardless of the cost or circumstance. When we don’t do these things, we find ourselves in the same condition as Paul, painfully conscious of the worthy “woe” of failing to preach the Gospel.

Have you been sharing Jesus with others lately? Is your life a confession of the truths of the Gospel to all those with whom you come in contact? Are God’s kingdom priorities your priorities in both your personal and professional life?

Let us never utter another “woe.” Let us keep our focus on our King and work to expand His kingdom everywhere we go. May we joyfully declare the truth of salvation through faith in Christ, and may our lives, by grace through faith, demonstrate the power of Jesus Christ to fill our hearts with the fruit of His Spirit.

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

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Don’t Delay!

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”  (Matthew 8:21-22)

Jesus made some startling statements when He was teaching about the cost of following Him, and His words before us today are no exception. We don’t know if this disciple’s father had already died or if the disciple simply wanted to put off following Jesus until the father did die. But what is crystal clear is that Jesus was not about to accept any excuse for delaying in following Him. There is a cost to following Christ, and those who are not willing to pay it cannot be His disciples.

It’s important to understand that Jesus’ admonition to this disciple did not contradict the biblical mandate to honor your father and mother. What Jesus was teaching is that no relationship is to rise above the relationship we have with Him. Loyalty to Jesus is to take priority over loyalty to anyone and everyone else. The best way I can summarize what Jesus was teaching is to say, Don’t love your family relationship less; simply love Jesus more.

This disciple’s request surely seemed reasonable on the surface. But Jesus never allows His disciples to engage in “surface” living; He demands that all His disciples live at the level of undivided devotion to Him. No earthly care is to become more important than our eternal commitment to Christ. Jesus will tolerate no rival, nor should He! Nothing in this life should eclipse our loyalty to the Lord (Exodus 34:14). Our decision to follow Jesus for the first time must not be delayed, and our decision to continue following Jesus each day after that must not be delayed either!

If you have been putting off following Jesus for any reason, remember that earthly gain is a terrible exchange for eternal glory. There is only room for one person to sit on the throne of your life: it will either be Jesus or you. Choose this day whom you will serve without delay, and may you always serve the One who is worthy of your undivided attention and affection.  

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

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A Banquet For The Broken-Yet-Beloved Bride

Levi held a great banquet for Jesus, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. (Luke 5:29)

If you are a regular reader here at Grace for the Race, you know that tax collectors in ancient Israel were utterly despised because they were Jews who had hired themselves out to work for the Roman government. It was bad enough that the Israelites had to pay taxes to the hated Roman invaders; it was the worst of insults to have those taxes collected by their own countrymen.

To make things even worse, these tax collectors were not paid an actual wage by the Roman government. Instead, they were given a contract to pay a certain amount of money to Rome; any tax monies collected in excess of that contract amount they could pocket for themselves. Many tax collectors flagrantly abused this system, gouging their own countrymen with excessive tax payments in order to line their own pockets. Tax collectors were both rich and reviled by their Jewish brothers and sisters.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law . . . complained to [Jesus’] disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-31).

Levi was one of those despised tax collectors, but Jesus had him invited into relationship. (The name Levi will be unfamiliar to some readers; you know him better as Matthew, who authored the Gospel of Matthew.) Levi left a lucrative business to follow Jesus, and then held a banquet for his fellow tax collectors and other “sinners,” with Jesus as the honored guest. This is a powerful picture of the good news of the Gospel. To eat with someone in the ancient world was an act of friendship, fellowship, and intimate communion. Jesus was visibly demonstrating to these sinners, outcasts from polite society, that He was their friend . . . that He actually wanted them to be with Him!

In this story, there are only two kinds of people: sinners who acknowledge their sin and look to the Savior (the tax collectors and sinners who ate with Jesus), and sinners who refuse to acknowledge their sin and look to themselves for salvation (the Pharisees and teachers of the law). It is only when we acknowledge our own brokenness and look to Jesus to make us whole that we find ourselves with a place at His banquet table. Those of us who recognize our own sin and look to Jesus for cleansing are the broken-yet-beloved bride of Christ.

When that truth seized Levi, he became an instrument of Gospel grace for the glory of Jesus. Levi was so impacted by the love of Christ that he held a banquet for other broken people to meet with his new Master and be mended. Levi went from serving riches to serving his Redeemer.

May this be the confession of all our lives.

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

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The One Thing Worse Than Waiting On God: Wishing You Had!

The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! (Isaiah 30:18)

The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who wished they had waited on the Lord. Abraham and Sarah got impatient and tried to fulfill God’s promise for a son according to their own timetable. Moses got impatient and tried to fulfill God’s promise to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt in his way and in his timing. The entire Israelite nation grew increasingly impatient regarding God’s promise of inheriting the Promised Land, and they rumbled, stumbled, and grumbled through the wilderness for 40 long years. Saul, the first king of Israel, suffered dearly for his impatience and haste, refusing to wait on God’s timing on several occasions. And then, of course, you have the apostle Peter, impetuously impatient by nature, who must have wondered frequently why he hadn’t sought the Lord before he opened his mouth.  

I believe we all can relate to these stories! We are faced with two choices in life every day: We can wait on the Lord in our assigned place . . . or forge ahead at our own pace. The first choice is an example of faithfulness to follow wherever and whenever God leads; the second choice is an example of unbelief. When the plans we have made for the day are disrupted, the unbelief of impatience will push us to respond poorly; if we lapse into this impatience we will either take our eyes off the Lord and abandon the path He has set before us, or we will make impulsive countermoves against the obstacles blocking our way.

As I’ve already indicated, the key to waiting on the Lord is to keep our focus on Jesus and to walk by faith and not by sight. To be sure, we will engage in an ongoing battle deep within our hearts to maintain that focus, but it is a battle that can be won if we fight in the strength of the Almighty.

God’s plans are better than our plans. God’s timing is better than our timing. That is why we must stay anchored in the Word of God. The Bible is the weapon of wisdom we must take up if we are to live according to God’s will, rather than our own will.

Regardless of where this message finds you today, never forget that there is indeed something worse than the challenge of waiting on the Lord, as difficult as that can be at times, and that is wishing you had! Keep this encouragement from Isaiah in the forefront of your thoughts: “Blessed are all who wait for him!”

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

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The Secret To Successful Living

From him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

Everyone wants to live a life of success. No one gets out of bed in the morning with the goal of being a failure. So how do we live a successful life? We live for what we were made to live for . . . and His name is Jesus Christ.

I have written here before that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and chose to live for their own glory, rather than the glory of God, they denied their own humanity. Our first parents were made to live for the glory of God, and they would only be fully human when they were living for God’s glory. God created us for the purpose of glorifying His beloved Son, Jesus Christ; the Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. We will lives of meaning, purpose, significance, and success only when we are living for the expansion of the kingdom of God. It is only when we are doing all things for the glory of God with every breath we take and with every beat of our heart that we are doing what we were created and designed by God to do.

This state of being is called transcendence. Transcendent living is living for the One who created you. Each day we find ourselves in the middle of a battle between two kingdoms: the kingdom of the self and the kingdom of the Savior. When we are living our lives for the kingdom of Christ and investing our time, our talent, and our treasure into that end, we are living successful lives.

How is it with you? What have you been living for lately? Is Jesus sitting on the throne of your life? Or have you been taking up residence there? We are never more fully alive than when we are living for the glory of God in all that we think, do, say, and desire. To be sure, we will never do this perfectly on this side of the grave. Throughout this life there will be that ongoing battle deep within our hearts. But when living for the Savior is the deepest desire of our heart, we can be sure that, even when we mess things up, we have found the secret to successful living. It’s worth the fight to get there!

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

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From Dust To Glory

The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

Older readers will remember a cartoon strip that used to appear in daily newspapers titled “Dennis the Menace.” Dennis was one of my favorite characters, because I thought I was a lot like him. So did my mom and our neighbors! Dennis was always getting into mischief. His questions and his antics were a constant thorn in the side of his neighbor, Mr. Wilson. In one episode Dennis held up a handful of flowers and asked Mr. Wilson, “How can anything so pretty and clean come out of dirt?”

All of us could ask the very same thing about mankind. If we are honest, we will readily admit that we have all felt a lot like the man with leprosy who came to Jesus, knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). In our sinful nature, we are all lepers; we are utterly unclean and ugly in the presence of a holy and righteous God. And yet our Lord Jesus is ready, willing, and able to make us clean.

That cleansing starts when we trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, but that is only the beginning of the Lord’s work. For the rest of our lives, God will be cleaning us from the inside out; one day, when we breathe our last, we will be made perfect. We will be like Christ (1 John 3:2).

Unlike the religious leaders in Israel, Jesus did not withdraw from the leper. He did not reject dirty, downcast, and defiled sinners. He did not avoid the marginalized and the vilified. Our Lord loved the outcasts and He ministered to them. Please take note that Jesus could have very easily healed the leper without saying a word or doing a thing, just as he healed the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:13. But here “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’” (Matthew 8:3). The religious leaders could not get far enough away from this unclean man, but Jesus met the leper in his place of deep need with the gentle, healing touch of love.

Just as Dennis the Menace held up flowers and wondered how such beauty could come from dirt, we often wonder how we will ever be conformed into the beautiful image of Christ as we stir up dirt in our lives by what we think, do, say, and desire. Fear not, Christian! Jesus is continuing to work in you, removing the dirt from your life. This will not take place in a day, but rather daily. And Jesus will not stop short of removing every speck of dirt from your life and from your heart. And when that day comes when He takes you into glory, He will complete His work, and you will be made whiter than snow.

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

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Bigger Is Not Always Better

Do not despise these small beginnings. (Zechariah 4:10)

We live in a world that firmly believes that “Bigger is better” — a bigger house . . . a bigger car . . . a bigger boat . . . a bigger bank account . . . an even bigger bank account! The bigger the better. Supersize it all!

That is the way of the world. But our God is in the business of using small things. God used a small lunch from a small boy on a hillside, and Jesus multiplied it to feed thousands of people. God used five small, smooth stones in the hands of a small shepherd boy to defeat the giant Goliath.  

Did you ever wonder why God uses small things? It is so that “no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:29) When God uses small things, there can be only one reason for victory: it was God who ordained it. Do you remember what God did to Gideon’s army before they went off to fight the Philistines? Facing 135,000 Philistine warriors, God reduced Gideon’s army of 32,000 men all the way down to a band of 300. When Gideon led his 300 troops into battle against the Philistine army and won the day, there was no doubt who was the One responsible for the victory: God!

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

Jesus selected a small group of twelve disciples, trained them, sent them on mission, and they turned the world upside down! Wherever this message finds you today, regardless of what you have — no matter how “small” you may think it is — bring your gifts to Jesus and offer them up in faithful service to Him. Whatever may seem small to you — your knowledge, your possessions, your status, your influence, your finances, your place of service — your seemingly meager gifts can be used by God in a MAJOR way for His glory and the good of others.

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

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Defeating Depression

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

We all encounter storms in this life that can send us swirling into the depths of depression . . . if we allow it to happen. Depression is one of the enemy’s greatest weapons against us. It destroys our joy and disrupts our peace. Depression can cause us to grow weary in our well-doing, taking us to a point where we find ourselves doing very little of anything at all. Once depression has its grip on us, it will cloud our vision and dull our senses in our service of our Lord. Depression will cause us to feel alone and isolated from the rest of the world.

So how do we defeat depression? First, we must not buy into the common misunderstanding that depression is a natural response to the difficulties we face in life. That is the wisdom of the world, not the wisdom of the Word. Jesus told us in no uncertain terms that we will face trials of many kinds in this life, but we are not to get depressed over them. We will be delivered through each trial, because Jesus has already overcome the world. We have been given all we need to defeat depression, because we have the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us. We can win the war over our feelings and defeat depression in the power of the Spirit.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Disappointments will come and go, but we can resist the devil, who wants us to descend into the discouragement that ultimately leads to depression. Never forget, Christian, that the power that is at work within you is greater than any power that will come against you. Resist the devil, who wants to oppress you, and he will not gain a foothold to depress you. Go on the offensive! Be proactive. When the devil comes knocking, do not let him in. Lock the door of your heart.

One final point: As you resist the devil, respond to Jesus, who has promised never to leave or forsake you. Keeping Jesus front and center in your life and counting the blessings He has given you every day are the keys to defeating depression.

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

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From Trial To Treasure

To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)

Jesus has promised trials in the lives of all of His disciples, regardless of the length of time we have been walking with Him. And because we know God does not make mistakes, we can be sure that every single trial we endure will ultimately become a treasure to us. It has been wisely said that “What we lose in the fire, we will gain in the ashes.” Our Lord Jesus is far too wise to ever be wrong and far too faithful to ever be false. He is always at work within us, and He will use every means necessary to conform us more and more into His likeness.

Now, the devil likes to hiss in our ears, “God doesn’t really care for you! If He did, why would He allow you to face such difficulties?” Never forget, Christian, that the devil is a liar and a murderer from the beginning. His desire is to steal, kill, and destroy. Because we live in a fallen and broken world as fallen and broken people interacting with other fallen and broken people, we will face trials of every imaginable kind. This is not a sign that God does not care for us. In fact, it is just the opposite! God does care; if you doubt that, think of God the Father allowing His beloved Son to die on a cruel cross . . . for you. And that same loving God has committed to using trials in our lives for our ultimate good; He will turn all our trials into a treasure.

Regardless of where this message finds you today, never forget that God is at work in your life. As you process the trials and difficulties you are facing, keep the truth of Psalm 119:75 in view: “In faithfulness you have afflicted me.” God sends storms into our lives in faithfulness as a way to bring us to the end of ourselves. Only as we decrease will our Lord Jesus increase in our lives. And experience has taught me that this increase does not take place when the sky is blue, the clouds are fleecy, and the sun is brightly shining. It happens when the sky is dark and the storm winds are blowing.

Praise God for the storms! He is using them to forge our very own crown of beauty.

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

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