A New Thing

See, I am doing a new thing! (Isaiah 43:19)

When was the last time you ran into someone you knew and asked, “How’s it going?” to which they responded, “Same stuff, different day!” That is a response that the child of God ought never give. It comes from someone who sees life from inside of a rut – which, by the way, is nothing more than a grave with both ends knocked out.

But this is not for you! In our passage for today we have a word of eternal encouragement set before us, regardless of where this message finds you. For many, the past is paralyzing, which is why I often remind our congregation to “Learn from the past, but don’t live there.” When we cannot forget and rise above the former things, we are unable to focus on the new things God intends to do in our lives. We allow ourselves to be trapped in a painful past marked by unforgiveness, bitterness, betrayal, and regret.

Today’s passage provides us the key that unlocks the door that opens to a new thing: focusing on the faithful One who has promised to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). Notice what God went on to say through the prophet Isaiah: “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19). The wasteland in this verse (most English translations render the original Hebrew as wilderness) can represent any desolate and lonely place we have visited in the past – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We all find ourselves wandering in such a place at some point in our lives. But God is telling us something that is designed to change our perspective and ultimately our predicament – “I am doing a new thing!” God is healing our past wounds, breaking down old strongholds, and shining warm light into our cold darkness.

Throughout my years as a pastor, I have seen that perhaps the greatest “new thing” God has done in our lives is to give us a renewed, living hope, even when things seem utterly hopeless. That is the picture of rivers in the desert. God is in the business of doing what is impossible with man.

So, what “new thing” do you need in your life right now? Personally? Professionally? Relationally? Look up and see the heavens open right before your eyes, because your God is about to do a “new thing” in your life today. You have His Word on it.

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

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The Savior’s Self-Separation

For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:19)

When Jesus said, “I sanctify myself,” we are not to understand the word sanctify as it would apply to sinful humanity. Jesus was not talking about personal sanctification — that is, the putting off of the old, sinful self and the putting on of the new, Christlike self — for Jesus had no sin. Rather, Jesus was making it clear that He was setting Himself apart for the work His Father in heaven had sent Him to do.

Read on, and may you be greatly encouraged today!

Jesus consecrated Himself completely to the service of God. He willingly separated Himself from His throne in heaven to take on flesh and dwell among us. He willingly separated Himself from His inherent power as the second member of the Trinity and served completely in the power of the Holy Spirit. And yet, in spite of all this, it is vitally important that we understand that Jesus never separated Himself from the society of sinners. To be sure, Jesus was separate from fallen and sinful human nature, but He never separated Himself from human beings, other than those times when He withdrew alone to pray.

When we read through the gospel accounts regarding the ministry of our Lord, we see that it was the ones society disregarded and discarded that Jesus invested Himself in . . . so much so that the religious leaders continually condemned Him for it.

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

In the religious Jewish society, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law avoided sinful society in the very same way that they avoided lepers. As strict adherents to the Law, they believed that even being physically near sinners would defile them. What they absolutely refused to acknowledge, of course, was their own sin and their need of a Savior. Jesus replied to the Pharisees’ objection that He was eating with sinners by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Our Lord was not saying the religious leaders were in any way righteous, but rather He was pointedly stating that the Pharisees were blind to their own sin because of their religious traditions and their belief that they could attain righteousness through their own efforts.

Is it not a great encouragement to know that Jesus came to save sinners just like you and me? And it is not an even greater encouragement to know that, unlike the Pharisees, Jesus does not require us to change before coming to Him for salvation? You see, Jesus first meets all of us sinners right where we are, refusing to separate Himself from us, and then He graciously leads us to where He is calling us to be.

Jesus expressed it very clearly in our verse for today: “For them I sanctify myself.” Jesus did indeed set Himself apart . . . for us! And He never separated Himself from us. No, the amazing, glorious truth is that while we were still sinners, Christ drew near to us and died for us.

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

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Cosmic Contrasts

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)

On Monday we looked at Ephesians 5:8 and God’s command to live in the light. Today I would like to return to this same verse and show you some of the cosmic contrasts contained in the Word of God. I pray that these contrasts, such as “once darkness . . . now light,” will be a source of great comfort to you. They come from the God who is faithful to finish what He has started.

In the beginning everything was very good. God placed His most special creation, the two who were His image-bearers, in a garden, a perfect paradise, and all was well until that terrible day when Adam and Eve chose to turn away from serving God and started satisfying themselves. In that one dreadful moment, sin stained everything and brought God’s judgment upon all creation.

But even in God’s judgment, we also see His mercy and grace displayed in His promise to redeem sinful rebels on the run. For He is truly righteous and just, and at the same time the One who graciously justifies those who trust in Christ for their redemption (Romans 3:26). With that truth in mind, please look at and rejoice in the cosmic contrasts found in the two books that act as the Bible’s bookends, Genesis and Revelation:

Genesis                                                                                               Revelation

When you eat this, you will die (2:17)                                             No more death (21:4)

You will experience intense pain (3:16)                                           No more pain (21:4)

I have placed a curse on the ground (3:17)                                      No more curse (22:3)

Adam and Eve banished from God’s presence (3:23)                     We will see His face (22:4)

The sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ completely reversed the curse that resulted from sin. Because Jesus has done for us what we could never possibly do for ourselves, everything has changed. The original heavens and earth that God created will be recreated as the new heavens and the new earth. And the most stunning transformation of all is that by trusting in Christ alone for our salvation, we, who were rightly and justly under a sentence of death, are now recipients of the promise of everlasting life. We, whose lives have been marred and distorted by sin, will one day be like Christ!

And if that somehow is not enough to light the fire of your faith, consider this: In the beginning there were just two people who were saved by grace through faith, but in the end there will be a multitude that no one except the Lord can number, all of us rejoicing in the grace of God, and there will be no possibility that our sin can ever separate us from our Savior. For no one and nothing can snatch us out of His nail-scarred hand (John 10:28).

Are these cosmic contrasts not a comfort to you today? “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” But remember, until we cross the Jordan and arrive at the other side, these contrasts will not be experienced in their completed form. In this life we still deal with the effects of the fall in the garden, and that means we will still deal with sin – the sin of others and our own sin – as well as the corruption of the creation itself, which is manifested in destructive storms, fires, droughts, and the like.

Christian, keep these cosmic contrasts in view as you continue fighting the good fight of faith, and be fully confident that He who began the good work will in you and in this world will one day bring it to completion.

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

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Living In The Light

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)

How are we to “live in the light” when we inhabit such a dark world? I pray that the answer to this question will be a source of eternal encouragement to you today.

First, let’s look at the meaning of light from a biblical perspective. Psalm 119 tells us that the Word of God is a lamp and a light, directing our attention to the timeless, immutable wisdom and truth that is found in God alone. In Romans 13 we see light used as a metaphor for moral deeds. Therefore, we are to understand that “living in the light” means living according to the wisdom, truth, and moral standards set forth God’s Word.

But the question still remains: How do we do it?

I’ve said it here before: We are to live out practically what we already are positionally. Reread today’s verse and you will see how this fleshes itself out. We were once darkness; that was our natural condition. But now we are “light in the Lord” — that is, we are in Christ. We are new creations in Christ, and so our dark nature has been transformed to light.

Notice that the Scripture does not say that we were “living in” darkness; rather, we were darkness. This is the nature of every person before Jesus shows up. But when we are raised from death to life, we become children of light because we have been changed from the inside out. Now, for the very first time, we have the ability to live the life God has called us to live . . . by grace through faith.

When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,” He was telling us to walk in His footsteps, to stay on His path, and to follow His plan and purpose for our lives. The closer we follow our Lord, the more we will produce the fruit of the light that Paul speaks of: goodness, righteousness, and truth (Ephesians 5:9).

Are you living in the light? Have you been walking in the footsteps of your Lord? If you would have to honestly answer “No” to those questions, what changes do you need to make in order to better shine His light on all those you come in contact with in this dark world?

“You are the light of the world,” our Lord says to us in His magnificent Sermon on the Mount. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). Living in the light is the same as living for the Light, and when we are operating at that level of living, our lives have meaning, significance, and eternal value.

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

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The True Test of Trusting God

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. (Isaiah 55:8)

Every Christian will say they trust God, but the true test of trusting God comes when the storm winds of life begin to blow and the waves of challenge begin to crash over us. Today I have a word that I hope will provide both comfort and a challenge for you.

For one hour on Sunday morning we will readily say we are trusting in God. But from Monday through Saturday is where the rubber of our redemption meets the road of our reflection. When the sky is blue and the clouds fleecy, it is easy to reflect the character of Christ and demonstrate great trust in our God. But when the dark clouds of doubt, distress, disease, disappointment, and defeat roll in, we have a tendency to shrink back from our Savior and begin trusting in everything other than Jesus. We begin looking to the self instead of the Savior.  

Throughout my years as a pastor, I have found Isaiah 55:8, our verse for today, to be a source of both comfort and challenge, as I hope it will be for you. The text reminds us that life does not always go according to our plan. In fact, often it does not. Why? Because God’s plan is always better than our plan. He knows the end from the beginning; His ways are so much higher than our ways, and His purpose for your life and mine is not to make us comfortable but to make us Christlike. When we receive, understand, and live by this truth, we have a hope that simply cannot disappoint.

The true test of trusting God is only found in the test!

Where in your life have you been going through a test? Have you been trusting in your Savior? Or something else? Remember, whatever storm you are facing today, or will face in the future, God sent it for two reasons: your good and His glory. We may not understand all that God is doing when we are in the middle of the storm. In fact, we may never fully understand on this side of the grave. And therein lies the challenge in today’s message: to trust in Him at all times, not just during the “good” times. When we look to the cross, we can and should rest assured that our God is for us, He will never forsake us, and He is in the middle of the storm with us.

Let that truth set you free to trust Jesus, regardless of the test you are facing.

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

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The Positive Production of Pressure

The testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:3)

One of the most important character traits for the people of God is the willingness to persevere under pressure, because the positive production of pressure returns blessings multiplied. Read on, and may you be greatly encouraged today!

The Bible is filled with examples of those who persevered under pressure. Joseph persevered under pressure, having been sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely and maliciously accused of attempted rape and cast into prison, only to rise out of the pit years later to the position of prime minister of Egypt. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego persevered under pressure, submitting to the flames of the fiery furnace rather than bowing before King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue made of gold. Esther persevered under pressure when she chose to approach the king uninvited, which could have resulted in the penalty of death, to save her people Israel. Stephen persevered under pressure right up to his very last breath, preaching the truths of the Gospel and speaking words of forgiveness to the religious leaders, even as those men were stoning him to death.

Of course, there is no greater example of persevering under pressure than the one provided by our Lord Jesus Christ. From his infancy, Jesus was pressured on every side. King Herod sought to kill the newborn King and decreed a death sentence on all male children in Bethlehem aged two and under. Throughout His entire ministry, Jesus was pressured and harassed by the religious leaders, who schemed to kill Him time and time again. And in His hour of greatest need in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was sweating drops of blood as He prayed, His pressure produced perhaps the greatest word of inspired instruction in all recorded history: “Father, if you are willing take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

God’s grace is most magnified when we are navigating the waters during the storms of life. It all comes down to trusting God even when we cannot trace His hand. The positive production of pressure cannot be overstated. It is God’s ordained way of conforming us into the image and likeness of Jesus. Our lives are shaped and hammered out on the anvil of pressure. As Peter wrote —

These [all kinds of trials] have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

Remember, when you squeeze a grapefruit, you get delicious grapefruit juice. So the question is, “What do those around you receive when you are squeezed by the pressures of life?” Those pressures are merely the passageway into producing a deeper intimacy with the One who died to make you His.

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

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No Sprinting Saints

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36)

I have a question for all of you who have ever been involved in running throughout your life, either for exercise or for competition: “What is the longest distance you ever ran?” Only a very few of you could answer that your longest run was 26.2 miles, the distance of a marathon. “Back in the day,” before my knees became so problematic, my favorite distance was a 10K run – 6.2 miles. Frankly, if I had been expected to run another 20 miles, I would have needed my car to finish the race! I’m sure some of you preferred the sprints — all-out speed competitions for relatively short distances of 100 yards or more.

Here is the point: the Christian life would be very easy to live if it were only a sprint and not a marathon. Then we could simply run —

  • A hundred-yard dash of devotion
  • A quarter-mile sprint of service
  • A half-lap of loving our neighbor as ourselves

But in God’s economy, unless He brings you home immediately after your conversion (as He did with the good thief who died next to Jesus), the Christian life has been divinely designed to be a long, grueling marathon, not a short sprint. Noah spent the lion’s share of a century on his boat-building project. Moses spent forty years on the back side of the desert as God was preparing him to deliver the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. David waited years after God had him anointed as king before he took possession of the throne. The list of biblical examples is long, and the lives of all these saints show us that God has called us to live lives marked by endurance, which is a requirement for living a life that is pleasing to God.

One final point about this marathon we are running. It’s never a straight and comfortable course that we travel. Often it is much more like an obstacle course, marked by barriers, steep hills, seemingly unsurpassable roadblocks, and many unexpected twists and turns. Yet we are called to persevere along whatever path God sets before us with a sustained determination until we reach our final destination.

And never forget this: your marathon race is never to be run in your own strength. God has given you and will give you everything you need to do everything He has called you to do (2 Peter 1:3) . . . as long as you determine to persevere in His strength and not your own.

Christian . . . How well have you been running your race? To be sure, it’s a long and frequently difficult road, but God has promised to make sure you have two things with you every step of the way: His power and His presence. Remember that He has promised never to leave you or forsake you! That knowledge makes all the difference in making sure we will cross the finish line filled with the joy of our Lord, which is our great strength.

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

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The Love Chapter

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Since this Sunday is Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be good to focus on love from a biblical perspective as we close out this week together. There is a chapter in the Bible that is often referred to as “The Love Chapter,” but make no mistake, from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a book that is all about love, and that is the most important message its Author wants us to understand. Read on and be encouraged today!  

Whether you find yourself at a wedding between Christian believers or unbelievers, you will likely hear some of the words from 1 Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter. And why not? Never has pen been put to paper with a better description of true love. You see, the challenge we face in this fallen and broken world is that lust gets confused with love. Lust is inner-directed and focused on the self. But love, from a biblical perspective, is outer-directed and focused on others. And that focus, as you know, runs counter to our natural inclinations. However, when God changes our hearts, we can begin to express true, biblical love to the world around us.

But there is something very important that we must keep in view regarding biblical love, and that is the important role it plays in our lives. First, the whole Law is summed up by one word: love (Romans 13:10). Second, love sums up the Christian’s responsibilities in this life (John 15:17). And finally, love is the crowning virtue of all other virtues, as we see in today’s passage. And why should it not be? God Himself is love (1 John 4:8), and if we are to reflect Him in this world, we are to love as He loves — loving everyone unconditionally, selflessly, and completely.

Remember, everything God did and does is an expression of His love, and that includes the great and gracious gift of salvation . . . for God so loved you (John 3:16). God loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and sent His son Jesus to die on a cross to bring you into a right relationship with Him. Now, that is a love that is not only worth dying for, but living for too!

This Valentine’s Day, take some time to share God’s love with someone, because His love is the love that will last throughout eternity. His love changes lives. We love because He first loved us.

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

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What Is This World Coming To?

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

What is this world coming to? The answer can be expressed in one word: Christ. Regardless of how the world may look to us in the here and now, Christian believers have the confident assurance that this world came from our Lord, exists for our Lord, and will return to our Lord when He returns from heaven. Please let today’s message bring you joy unspeakable!

The Bible tells us what we are to expect in a world that has turned its back on God. By nature, no one seeks after God. Take in the truth presented in the passage below, which describes the condition of humanity before God brought the great flood upon the entire earth.

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become,

and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5)

The world does not seem much different today than it was in the days of Noah, does it? And the Bible tells us that before Jesus returns things will get much worse, not better. Jesus Himself warned that, “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). We know these things to be true, but we must not live in despair. Far from it! We are to live filled with the living hope that we have in Christ. The good news of the Gospel is still saving people today, when God in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, enters into human hearts.

Always remember that Jesus is on His throne and that the Gospel will continue to triumph over hard human hearts throughout this fallen and broken world. And when that day comes — when Jesus steps down from His throne for a second time and returns to this earth — He will put every enemy under His feet, and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What is this world coming to? It is coming to Christ, and the question each one of us must ask ourselves and answer is this: Am I playing our role in this profound process? Are we busily engaged in expanding the cause of His kingdom in this world, rather than striving for our own cause? There is no greater joy we can experience than to be involved in expanding the kingdom of Christ, because this is the one thing that will return eternal value and live on forevermore. And so let us receive and act on the words of Paul: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6).

This world is coming to Christ; who are working to bring along with you?

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

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Yield-Sign Saints

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Our lives are marked by yield signs – whether we are yielding right of way in traffic, to yielding right of way to ourselves, to yielding right of way to our Savior. Today I’d like to encourage you with a word about “Yield Sign Saints.” When we yield to Jesus Christ, we grow and mature in our faith; when we yield to ourselves, we stunt our growth. And know this: We are the ones responsible for which yield signs we follow and obey.

To yield is to give up (or surrender) our right of way to another, and how well we yield will determine the consequences that will follow, whether we are out in traffic or inside the truth of God’s Word. In essence, yielding to our Savior means we are surrendering to His will in our lives rather than following our own will. We know that God is all-knowing, and we also know that He has promised to work all things — even the bad and painful things — for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).We can and should rest in this truth and fully trust that His plan and purpose for our lives is far better than any we could ever conceive.

There is no better example of yielding to the will of God than the one we find exhibited throughout the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. He said plainly that “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38), and that is exactly what He did. He lived a life fully surrendered life to God’s will, and God blessed everything He did.

You probably recognized that our verse for today comes from our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Having known from all eternity the horrific extent of the crucifixion experience that was now only hours away — so great was His anguish that Jesus was sweating drops of blood as He prayed — He still yielded completely to the will of His Father in heaven. His prayer is a wonderful example of how Jesus in His humanity was completely committed to living in alignment with the will of God, regardless of the cost or circumstance. And in yielding His will to the Father, Jesus provided the perfect prescription for how we are to think, pray, and live as yield-sign saints: “Not my will, but yours be done!”

May this be the confession of our lives in all things. Because we know that God is for us and working all things together for our ultimate eternal good, our prayers, no matter what we are currently facing, should echo that of Jesus in the garden. Is there any area in your life where you are saying, “No” to God right now? To be a yield-sign saint, we must be willing to say “Yes!” to Him, no matter what He sends our way, because “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). True freedom in this life is only found through fully and cheerfully yielding to our Savior.

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

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