Unfading Fulfillment

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14)

There are many things in this life that can fill us up: our families . . . our careers . . . our hobbies . . . our recreations . . . our ministries. But if that “thing” is not rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is water that will never slake our thirst. No matter how fulfilling that thing might be, we will always need more and more of it to fill us up. These “good things” become bad things when they become ultimate things, and the joy they offer inevitably fades.

It is only when we rely on Jesus alone for our fulfillment that we will be filled to the overflowing — not just daily, but moment by moment. The only place from where we can draw living water that will satisfy the deepest longings of the soul is from our Savior. We must look to Jesus and listen to His Words. We must lean on Him and learn from Him. The fulfillment we find in Jesus will not fade, even when we are in the midst of difficulty and trials. Our Prince of Peace gives us His peace that passes all human understanding. His peace is like a river that flows to us, and it will never dry up or run out.

Where have you been looking for your fulfillment lately? Has it been in anything smaller than Jesus? Remember, God created us in such a way that nothing in this life will ever be able to satisfy the deep longings of the human heart. We are made by Him and for Him, and only when we find our fulfillment in Him will we have a fulfillment that never fades, no matter what circumstances we face in this life.

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

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Know Your Address!

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

When God saved you and brought you into relationship with Him, He gave you a new address. I am not talking about your physical address, whether that might be in the city or the suburbs . . . whether you live in an apartment or a home; rather, I am talking about the “already” and the “not yet” of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus came into this world, He lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and rose supernaturally from the grave. All of this was done to redeem us from sin, Satan, and death, and to make it possible for us to live in Him and with Him forever. His Kingdom has truly come — Jesus said that “The kingdom of God ha come upon you” (Luke 11:20) — but it has not yet come in all its fullness. In other words, the Kingdom is already here, but it is not yet fully realized in our lives.

All of this means that sin has not yet been fully eradicated from our lives, and we have not yet become all that God’s grace is designed to make us. To be sure, sin no longer reigns in the lives of those who are disciples of Jesus. But make no mistake, it still remains and it will wreak havoc in our lives if we let it. We wake each morning in the crosshairs of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is a war that’s fought on the battlefield of the heart. Sometimes our heart beats strongly for Jesus, and at other times it does not. It is a war of faith against fear . . . trust against temptation . . . dependence against deliverance.

And that is why we must remember our address. We are already in the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom has not yet been fully consummated. We are already fully saved, but God must continue saving us from ourselves — not just daily, but moment by moment. We are already children of the Most-High God, but we will not fully know what that means experientially until we are in glory. The Kingdom has indeed come and will continue coming, either until Jesus returns or brings us home. Until that day, we must remember our address as we fight the good fight of faith with the weapons of spiritual warfare, knowing that He who began a good work will bring it to completion one day soon.

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

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Denial Is Not Deliverance

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Singer and songwriter Bobby McFerrin released one of the most popular songs of all time in 1988 — “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” This song became an unofficial anthem, not just in Jamaica, which was still reeling from the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricane Gilbert, but all over the world. The lyrics include these words:

In every life we have some trouble; When you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy.

If ever there was a tendency to minimize the pain of suffering, we see it in those words. To be sure, we are to give worry to our Lord when we find ourselves battered by the storm winds of life. But we are not to deny the reality of the pain we are experiencing along the way. God is in sovereign control of all things, including the difficulties we face in life, and He is using all of it to conform us into the image and likeness of His Son, Jesus. From the tiniest sparrow to the exact number of hairs on your head, God is caring for all things . . . and that includes you.

Nothing happens to you that does not first pass through His nail-scarred hands. We are never to go looking for suffering in our lives, but we are never to run from it either. We must receive whatever suffering God ordains in our lives and let God use all of it to grow and mature us in our faith. When we say that God is good all the time, we must remember that this includes those times that don’t feel good. God is far more concerned about our character than He is about our comfort, and He will use any and every means necessary in His perfect process of making us more like Jesus.

When we deny life’s difficulties, we are not delivered from them; we are actually driven deeper into a state of despair. Here’s a thought: Instead of “Don’t worry be happy,” how about, “Don’t worry be honest”? When reading through the psalms, we see the honesty of the psalmists, who told God exactly how they were feeling during difficult circumstances, knowing that God is ready, willing, and able to receive the honest cry of the human heart and respond to it.

If we are going to sing, “Don’t worry be happy,” let us sing with these words of James in mind:

Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)  

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

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Having The Almighty Is Better Than Answers

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)

When life is difficult — when our days feel more like a bitter burning than a balmy blessing — we need the Almighty more than we need answers. When we embrace that truth and simply seek the presence of God more than we are seeking to understand our circumstances, we will be able to rise above life’s inevitable challenges and experience what God is doing both in and through us.

Now, it’s natural for us to ask why questions when we are facing trials and difficult circumstances in life. But information alone is never enough to heal a hurting heart, minister to a maligned mind, or satisfy a searching soul. Rather, we need the One who has promised never to leave us or forsake us, He is working everything together for our ultimate good and His glory. Only in the presence of the Almighty will we be able to become better through our trials, rather than bitter.

There is no better example of this in all of sacred Scripture than the story of Job. When God gave Satan permission to attack Job, taking his health, wealth, and all ten of his children, Job asked question after question of God. In the end, however, instead of answers, Job was given the assurance of God’s presence . . . and that was enough. Job responded humbly to the Lord —

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:4-6)

No matter what you are going through, seeking the presence of the Almighty is better than seeking answers. When we are focused on trying to figure out what is going on and why, we are likely to miss the Who — the One who is with us every step of the way, even in the midst of the most fiery trials. Keep in mind that it was the Almighty who came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ and endured the most horrific storm the world has ever seen, drinking the cup of God’s wrath and judgment while nailed to a cruel cross to pay the penalty for all our sins. He did that so He could be in relationship with us.

Let that truth set you free to press into the presence of the Almighty when you are in the midst of trials, rather than pressing for answers.

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

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Beware The High Cost Of Low Thanks-Living!

They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. (Numbers 21:5-6)

Thanks-Living is not dependent on the circumstances you face in life, no matter how difficult those circumstances might be. If an attitude of gratitude is primarily the product of our environment, there would not be so many ungrateful and unappreciative people who are living in comfortable, desirable, even enviable circumstances. Because Thanks-Living is an inside job, it is impervious to the circumstances going on around us. Thanks-Living is the result of living in a right relationship with Jesus. When you are right with God, everything is right in your world, no matter how upside your world is at the time, and you are thankful for all of it.  

Because we bear God’s image, we were created to live lives marked by thankfulness; without thankfulness, we simply cannot experience the depths of our divine design. The high cost of low Thanks-Living cannot be overstated. The Bible lists unthankfulness alongside some pretty serious sins.

In the last days, people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Notice how “unholy” and “ungrateful” appear side by sinful side. These were the marks of the Israelites when, after having been freed from 450 years of slavery in Egypt, they grumbled against Moses and God. It cost them dearly! The key to Thanks-Living is staying close to Jesus and staying conscious of His glorious presence moment by moment. When we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will have the power to receive everything that He sends our way with thanksgiving. Remember, thankfulness not only affects what is going on inside of you, it affects what is going on around you too. The rising tide of thankfulness makes all boats in the harbor rise.

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

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When Jesus Said, “Give Thanks in all Circumstances,” He was Serious!

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

When our lives are not working out according to our plans and not going the way we expected, we tend to grumble as we rumble, bumble, and stumble through life. That is why we need to take time each day to be alone with Jesus. When we pull back from our Lord during difficult times, our sinful nature grabs for the steering wheel of life, attempting to control what is going on around us, rather than letting Jesus direct our steps and determine our path. When we try to take control of our circumstances, we lose sight of Jesus and His perfect plan and purpose for our imperfect lives. Because Jesus knows what is best for us at all times, we can be sure that nothing is happening in our lives that first doesn’t pass through His nail-scarred hands.

Perhaps there is no better example of giving thanks in all circumstances than the one Jesus gave us on the night before His crucifixion.

He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

The bread was symbolic for the body of our Lord, who would be beaten and crucified the next day. With the cross in full view, knowing the infinite pain He would have to endure on our behalf by drinking the cup of God’s wrath and judgment to pay the penalty for our sins, Jesus gave thanks! Why? Because by laying down His life for us and taking our judgment, our condemnation, our scourging, our nails, our crown of thorns, and our humiliation, He would raise up our lives in relationship with Him.

Jesus was not giving thanks for the pain itself; He was giving thanks for what that pain would produce: our salvation and our eternity with Him in glory.

In light of this truth, is there any set of circumstances in which we are not able to give thanks? I would submit that those circumstances do not exist! We must keep our focus on our Lord, no matter what we are facing, and remember that we are not facing any of it alone. All of it is being used for our good and God’s glory. May that truth set us free to give thanks in all circumstances.

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

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Fill Your Life With “Thanks” And “Giving”

I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9)

Seeing that this is Thanksgiving week, it seems like a great time to focus on the concepts of “Thanks” and “Giving.” My goal for the devotionals this week is to encourage and strengthen your attitude of gratitude for all that God has done for you.

It is only by staying aware of our constant need for Jesus in our lives that we will we be able to fill our waking moments with a mindset of thanks and giving. When we are distant, distracted, or disconnected from our Source, we tend to try to fill ourselves with the treasures of this earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). But when we are purposefully pressing into the presence of our Lord, we are filling ourselves with treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:20).  

Staying in close communication with Jesus is the key that unlocks the door leading to living a life marked by genuine thanks and generous giving. When we keep Jesus on the throne of our lives, we will be following the model He left for us, one where thanks and giving go hand in hand.

Here is a great practice to incorporate into our daily lives. Say short, simple, straightforward prayers that simply flow out of the details of daily living:

  • “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
  • “I love you, Lord. I love you, Lord. I love you, Lord.”
  • “Your grace is sufficient. Your grace is sufficient. Your grace is sufficient.”

I am sure you can think of many short prayers that will keep you in a thanks and giving frame of mind, not just throughout this week but throughout the entire year. Keep living in the shadow of the cross, and you will have all the strength you need to live a life marked by an attitude of gratitude that will reflect the character of Christ to all those you come in contact with.

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

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More Than Enough

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The sinful nature will always rise up and cry, “Do I have enough?” Enough time? Enough money? Enough strength? Enough determination? Enough intelligence?

Here is the key to keep us from fretting over whether or not we have enough: We must keep our focus on Jesus, who has more than enough, not only to meet our every need but to give us “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Jesus has more than enough of everything we need to do all that God is calling us to do with freedom, joy, and faithfulness to Him. Jesus has more than enough power, strength, wisdom, comfort, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love to give us, and all these are available to us simply for the asking! Jesus has more than enough for you, me, and for the entire universe at all times. As you read these words, He is “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is never diminished, never weakened, never lessened, and never reduced.

The remarkable and miraculous story of the little boy with the five loaves and two fish is a source of great comfort and challenge for us today. With this small amount, Jesus fed the five thousand with plenty left over. And what Jesus did back then, He is doing today in our lives. When the doctor calls us in and gives us an unfavorable report, Jesus is more than enough. When we find ourselves in the “down” part of our company’s downsizing, Jesus is more than enough. When the wheels have come off the track in our family relationships, Jesus is more than enough. Regardless of the difficulties we are facing, if we will bring them to Jesus, we will find He is more than enough. Jesus will fill our emptiness. Jesus will heal our hurts. Jesus will strengthen our weakness. Jesus will calm our fears. Jesus will dismantle our doubts. Jesus is not only more than enough to get us through whatever it is we are going through, He will leave behind more than we had at the beginning!

Remember, Jesus is for you. Jesus is with you. Jesus is in you. He did not bring you this far not to leave you here. Jesus has promised that the good work He began in you He will bring to completion, and that work requires going through some times when you feel like you don’t have enough to persevere. When you do feel that way, think again! You have Jesus, and His grace is more than enough to sustain you through your weakness.

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

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What Have You Been Worshipping Lately?

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

God made us for worship; and because we are wired for worship, we all must have something as our object of worship. I am not speaking about the two-hour block on the weekend reserved for church service. Worship is not simply a part of your life; it is your life. David said, “I will praise the Lord at all times; my mouth will continually praise him” (Psalm 34:1 NET). For the Christian, Christ is to be our object of worship, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.The Bible makes it clear that every one of us must live for something, and that “something” will come always under one of two headings: the Creator or some created thing. We run into trouble when we look to a created thing to do for us what only God can do; we lose our way and water down our witness.

As a pastor, I am often confronted by people who think that Jesus has no right to ask for our undivided worship. What they fail to recognize is that everything asks for our undivided worship: our careers . . . our families . . . our possessions . . . our bodies . . . our hobbies. If we are not worshipping our Creator, we will be worshipping some created thing, and that thing cannot and will not support the weight of being our savior. That thing simply cannot meet us in our deepest place of need. It will never satisfy the deepest desires of the heart. Only Jesus can do this, because only Jesus is always loving, always forgiving, always constant, and never changing.

The American essayist David Foster Wallace was right when he insisted that “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” So the question that you and I must ask ourselves is this: What have you been worshipping lately?

Remember, God created us in such a way as to never allow any created thing to satisfy the deepest needs of the heart. Worship money and you will always need more. Worship your body and you will always feel flawed. Worship power and you will be dogged by fear and insecurity. God made sure that every created thing will leave us wanting, and in wanting we should return to the only One who can fill us to overflowing with the meaning, purpose, satisfaction, and happiness we all so deeply desire: Jesus!

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

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Longing For A Place We Have Never Lived

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1)

God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and thus we all long for a place we have never lived: Paradise. Because we are image-bearers of God, we intuitively know that we were made to last forever. When Adam and Eve sinned, death entered into our existence as an alien invader. People say death is only natural, but that’s not true! Death is normal. We all are dying at the rate of 60 minutes an hour. But death is not natural. It is unnatural; it is not what God created us for in the beginning when He made all things “very good” and death was nowhere to be found. We recognize that our current situation is not right, so as we live on this side of the grave, we are all hungering and thirsting for that Paradise that was lost.

Because we know deep down that we were made for Paradise, we have a tendency to try everything in our power to transform our today into the promise of Paradise to come. We seek after earthly treasures that we hope will meet us in our deepest place of need, but that simply will not happen. No created thing can do for us what only our Creator can do. That quest to find fulfillment in the things of this world only makes us desperately driven, which ultimately leads to despair. We seek identity in our professions, and that leaves us wanting. We seek satisfaction in our relationships, and that leaves us weary. We seek meaning in our social status, and that leaves us wiped out.

The key that unlocks the door to living a life that truly matters is to live today in light of eternity. We must remember we are not home yet. This world is not all there is. We have a promised Paradise waiting for us on the other side of the grave. When we remember what has been promised to us through our relationship with Jesus, we can live in the midst of the disappointments, disillusions, and defeats of this life because we know the ultimate end of our story here, a story that will go on forever there.

C. S. Lewis concluded his wonderful “Chronicles of Narnia” series with these words:

All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Lewis was expressing a biblical truth; let that truth both comfort and challenge you to live your life today in view of the place you long to live in: your promised Paradise.    

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

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