Category Archives: General

Bounce Forward, Not Back

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Trials and tough times have been promised to the disciple of Christ. And we have also been promised the presence of Christ during those difficulties. Today’s word of encouragement can be summarized under the heading of resilience: the ability to adapt to the adversities of life and keep moving forward in faith. The Bible is filled with examples of resilience in action, such as Job in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament, and Scripture also give us many exhortations to keep pressing on, even when we find ourselves in the pressured cooker of challenge. Here are just two of them:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

Because we as Christians are united to Christ, resilience is the only right response to the waves of challenge that will inevitably confront us in this life. The same power that raised Jesus from death to life is the same power that is at work inside every child of God (Ephesians 1:19-20). That resurrection power is not bestowed on us to give us power to return to something — that is, “bouncing back.” Rather, we have been given the power to break through to a better and brighter future. Because we are new creations in Christ, there is nothing to bounce back to; everything is in front of us. Yes, we are to treat the past as a school and take the lessons from it, as I often remind our congregation at Cross Community Church. But bouncing back would keep us living in the past, rather than teaching us how to move forward from the past.

So the next time you are feeling the heat from the fiery furnace of affliction and challenge, or if you are simply dealing with the increasing pace of change in today’s world, know that God has promised to bring you through all of it and cause you to bounce forward, not back. For the child of God, the best is always yet to come, and we are to be moving forward — leaping forward — not looking backward. God is bringing us to the end of ourselves . . . and that only happens while we are moving forward in faith.

May these God-breathed words encourage you to keep bouncing forward, regardless of the circumstances you are facing:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but no in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

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

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Turning A Mountain Into A Molehill

I will go before you and will level the mountains. (Isaiah 45:2)

You’ve probably heard it said that someone is “making a mountain out of a molehill.” The phrase refers to someone overreacting to some challenge in life, making it into much more than the minor issue that it actually is. I must confess that I became quite proficient at doing this over the years, losing much sleep over many insignificant molehills that I had turned into towering mountains. Well, today’s verse tells us that our God is in the business of doing the reverse: He can and will make a molehill out of any “mountain” that stands in our way, including those that are man-made.

When we look upon whatever mountain we believe is blocking our way, we must remember not to cry out to God to tell Him how big the mountain is. Rather, we are to cry out to the mountain and tell it just how big our God is! Jesus told His disciples that they did not need much faith — only faith the size of a mustard seed — to be able to cast mountains into the sea and far out of sight (Matthew 17:20). When we focus on our Master, rather than on whatever mountain that seems to be blocking our way, we can be assured that our God is going before us and is in the process of turning that mountain into level ground that we will stride over as if it had never existed.

Here is another word of encouragement from the prophet Isaiah that will keep us keeping on, no matter what difficult circumstances we are facing in life:

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low” (Isaiah 40:3-4).

What mountains are you facing in your life today . . . personally . . . professionally . . . relationally? Never forget, Christian, that God is in the business of laying low any mountain you may be facing . . . and, in the process, He is making you more and more like Jesus. When David went up against Goliath, the giant looked like an unmovable mountain to all of the Israelites, including King Saul. But to David, who looked up to God rather than out at Goliath, the giant was little more than a molehill that God would level out for His glory and the good of His people. What God did for David, He has promised to do for you. Look to Him, and watch your mountains disappear!  

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

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SPIRITUAL SOWING

Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:8)

I’m sure you are well aware of the agricultural law of sowing and reaping: whatever you sow, that you shall reap. If you sow corn seeds, you will reap corn; if you sow bean seeds, you will reap beans, and so on. If you sow tomato seeds, you will never reap oranges. In our verse for today, we see the biblical truth that Paul shared with the Galatians 2,000 years ago and with you and me today: We reap what we sow in our hearts.

What have you been sowing lately, Christian? And what have you been reaping as a result?

The first thing to remember about the law of sowing and reaping is that this process does not happen in a day, but daily. It takes time to progress from seed to harvest, and we must not grow impatient during that process. Often it looks like very little is happening after the seed has been planted, but we must remember and trust that God is at work. “My Father is always at his work,” Jesus assured us, “and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). To be sure, much of that work takes place well out of plain sight; nonetheless, it is happening.

Here is something else to remember: not everything ripens at the same time. Some seeds ripen sooner and others much later, but all those who are growing in the Lord will ripen, for He has promised –and it is impossible for God to lie — He has promised to bring His work in us to completion (Hebrews 6:18, Philippians 1:6).

The crops we harvest will always be determined by the seeds we have sown. Paul’s words are an exhortation to make sure we are planting good seed by sowing to and sowing by the Spirit of God. When we sow to satisfy the flesh, as many in Galatia were doing when Paul wrote his epistle, we reap from the flesh that which does not glorify God or grow us in Christ. The Galatians were heading down the pathway to destruction, and Paul rebuked them for it, urging them to repent of their self-centered behavior. But when we sow to the Spirit, seeking the glory of God and the good of others, God promises to produce a harvest of delicious fruit that will be attractive to all those who come in contact with us.  

So let me ask you to consider the question again: What kind of harvest have you been reaping? If you are currently reaping something other than God’s best for your life, all you need do is sow new spiritual seed. Sow the seeds that come from the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. When you do that, you can be assured that God will absolutely, positively, supply an increase, in His time and in His perfect way.

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

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UNFINISHED: Progress Versus Perfection

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The ultimate goal of the Christian life is perfection, which will be realized when God’s purpose for the Christian has been completed: To conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). But please never forget that this transformation will take a lifetime and will not be fully realized until God brings us home to our heavenly rest. Until then, we are to focus on progress.

The One who began this good work in us has promised to carry it on to completion, which means He is working in and through everything that is going on in our lives. Is this not a comfort for you right now, right where this finds you? To be sure, you are not what you will one day be, but give heartfelt thanks to God that you are not what you once were. God is at work in you, and He is using everything in your life to accomplish His goal of forming Christ in you. God is using both your victories and your defeats to shape you to the likeness of Christ, and He never leaves any work unfinished . . . including His work in you!

Remember, being in an unfinished condition does not mean you are unloved, unwanted, or unwelcome; you are just unfinished. If God were to leave you in your unfinished condition, that would not advance His glory or your good . . . and that would be unacceptable. God knows exactly what He is doing in your life, and He will not stop short of His gracious design as He brings you into your divine destiny. Now matter what obstacle comes against you, be it the world, the flesh, or the devil, God will let nothing hinder His Holy progress in perfecting you.

So regardless of where this message finds you, rejoice in the fact that God is not finished with you yet! In both your bright days of sunshine and your dark times of storm, know that He is strengthening you in your faith and growing you up in Christ, perfecting His promise given by the pen of the psalmist: “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me” (Psalm 138:8 NKJV).

Pause for a moment to let that truth sink in. God is concerned about everything you are concerned about and He wants you to be sure of the work He is doing both in and through you, work that will one day will be brought to completion. And on that great and glorious day, all the progress God has performed in your life will be brought to perfection. He will perfect that which concerns you. 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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A Test Of Strength: Acknowledging Weakness

When I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I have learned by way of personal experience that the devil loves it when we think we are standing strong, able to withstand any wind of temptation or trial that blows our way. Our remorseless enemy cackles with delight when we believe we are are impervious to temptation or trials, because that’s when we are most likely to find ourselves overwhelmed by them. “If you think you are standing firm,” Scripture warns us, “be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Our verse for today gives us a wonderful reminder from the apostle Paul to frankly acknowledge our weakness, because we all have a tendency to imagine that we are stronger than we really are. We all tend to serve God in our own strength and ability, leaning on our own understanding rather than His. When we do that, we set ourselves up for a pratfall. But when we acknowledge our need for God and embrace our dependence upon Him, He is ready, willing, and abundantly able to fill us with His strength, which empowers us to withstand the slings and arrows of the devil. It is only when we are living in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can be effective in living out the plan and purpose God has for our lives.

The key to understanding how Paul could live out this truth is found in the first part of the same verse, 2 Corinthians 12:10 — “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties.” It was for Christ’s sake that Paul could acknowledge his weakness and depend totally upon the Lord to strengthen him, regardless of the circumstances he was facing in life. Paul could actually find contentment in many difficult situations, because it was for Christ’s sake and the expansion of the cause of His Kingdom.

If you were to take Paul’s test of strength by acknowledging weakness, what grade would you get? We live in a world that abhors weakness. But God takes our weakness and uses it as a witness to His glory. As we learn to trust and depend upon Jesus alone, we enter into the “Hall of Faith” along with some of the great saints of God, “whose weakness was turned into strength” (Hebrews 11:34). Remember, when we pass the test of strength and acknowledge our weakness, God makes us more than conquerors through Christ.    

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

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Practice, Practice, Practice! Part Three

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. (Philippians 4:9)

Jesus said that “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). I began this series of articles by stating that all that the Christian church can learn and receive from the apostle Paul and from Christ Himself can be summed up in one powerful practice: LOVE. On Wednesday we used Paul’s definition of love, given us in “The Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, to look at the practice of patient love. Today we will dig down into how to practice kind love. The kind of patient love that Paul was telling his audience 2,000 years ago–and is telling you and me today — to practice, practice, practice is the kind of love that is able to endure displeasure for a season and then respond with kindness.

Kind Love

In the Greek language that Paul wrote his epistles in, the word for kind describes the qualities of benevolence, gentleness, tenderness and mercy. In essence, kind love expresses itself by extending good to others, especially those who might be extending some kind of “bad” toward us. This good is not only something that kind love desires; it is something that kind love demonstrates as it patiently endures whatever circumstances life sends its way. In a word, kind love is merciful. When our patience is being tested and tried, kind love displays a merciful attitude toward all involved.

Because life consistently confronts us with challenging circumstances and challenging people, Paul tells us to practice the love of God in Christ Jesus that we have received . . . and that we continue to receive, not just daily, but moment by moment. Without a disciplined approach to putting this love into practice, we tend to respond harshly to ill treatment; we are filled with anger, bitterness, and hostility toward those who mistreat us.

Don’t miss this, Christian: Kind love does not mean we refuse to speak truth to others, truth which might include a gentle rebuke. Paul charged his protege Timothy to “correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). But Paul also made it abundantly clear that our truthful rebukes are always to be delivered in love . . . kind love, which seeks the ultimate good of the other person.

The only way we will ever consistently live out a patient love that finds its expression in kind love is through practice, practice, practice! Remember, both of these loves are fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Actually producing these fruits in our lives is what I call an “inside job,” because these character traits, which are rooted in the nature of Christ, can only be produced by the Holy Spirit working in us. And yet, while these fruits are gracious gifts from our loving God, that does not mean there is nothing for us to do in order to increase the demonstration of them in our lives. And what did Paul telling us to do in order to maximize our fruitfulness? Practice, practice, practice!

So . . . how are you doing in your practice of a patient love that is expressed through kind love? Always remember that perfection will never happen on this side of the grave. Practice will not make you or me or anyone else perfect, no matter what the old saying tells us. The goal is to continue making progress as God grows and matures us in our faith, and as we cling to His promise of perfection when we are received into glory. So until that day comes, practice, practice, practice for the glory of God and the good of others.

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

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Practice, Practice, Practice! Part Two

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. (Philippians 4:9)

Let’s review the passage we used to close out Monday’s blog before we head out into some deep water and let our nets down for a catch.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Context is king in understanding the Scriptures, and the major theme of Paul’s entire first letter to the church at Corinth is unity. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for acting in an unloving way toward each other and admonished them that this behavior needed to stop for the sake of the Gospel. And in his extended definition of what Christian love thinks, feels, and does, Paul gave us a great many things to put into practice; I want to drill down into two of them. Today we will look at the practice of “patient” love, and on Friday we will unpack the practice of “kind” love.

Patient Love

The Greek word that many of our English Bibles render as patient can mean “a state of remaining calm while awaiting an outcome” or “a state of being able to bear up under a difficult set of circumstances.” In essence, patient love is demonstrated as it endures displeasure for a season. Patient love does much more than wait calmly in a long line at your bank or a store; patient love remains calm when people are out of line and it is impacting you personally.  

You read Paul’s statement that love “is not easily angered.” We all have a natural tendency to become angry when our patience is being tried by the waves of challenge that wash over us in life. And that is why we must practice a love that is patient . . . especially when we don’t feel like it!

My own personal experience has taught me that the more we lack in this particular area, the more God will continue to test us as He is working to conform us into the image and likeness of Christ, and His means are not always comfortable for us. A friend once wryly observed, “I asked God to give me patience; His answer has been to keep putting me in the slow-moving checkout line at the grocery store!” God is graciously encouraging my friend to practice, practice, practice!

On Friday we will focus on what flows out of patient love: Kind love.

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

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Practice, Practice, Practice! Part One

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. (Philippians 4:9)

The old phrase “practice makes perfect” expresses the idea that the regular exercise or practice of an activity, skill, or discipline is the way to become increasingly proficient in it until we reach the level of perfection. Of course, no matter how much we practice anything, we never actually perfect it, because there is always room for improvement. So inasmuch as the goal is perfection, the real result we hope to achieve is progress.

The same is true for living the Christian life. As the apostle Paul closed out his letter to the Philippians, he exhorted them to “Put it into practice.” He had already instructed his Christian brothers and sisters to follow his example in living the Christian life (Philippians 3:17) . . . whatever they had learned or received or heard from him, or seen in him. What Paul declared with his lips and demonstrated with his life was to serve as a living epistle for the Christians at Philippi . . . and for you and me today. Paul’s words should encourage us to practice, practice, practice in order to live a life that is pleasing to God and beneficial to others.  

What did the the church learn, receive, and hear from Paul, and see in him? I would submit that all Paul learned, received, heard, and saw in Christ through the Holy Spirit can be summed up, just as the Law can be summed up, in a single word: LOVE. The most important and God-glorifying practice in the life of the Christian is the practice of love. The more we put love for God and love for our neighbor into practice, the more we will be like Paul; and the more we are like Paul, the more we will be like Jesus. “Follow my example,” the apostle wrote, “as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11).

And so I’d like to devote the rest of this week to unpacking two pillars of practice that are rooted in 1 Corinthians 13 — the “love chapter,” as it is often called called — which was penned by Paul. I’ll include a portion of that passage here so that you can begin to meditate on it as you prepare to practice . . . practice . . . practice it.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

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

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No Secret Service Saints!

They went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land. (Matthew 9:31)

No doubt you have heard of the US Secret Service. Do you know how it got its name? The agency is a holdover from the Civil War days, when the organization’s primary purpose was to work as “undercover” agents to track down counterfeiters. Over the years, their mission has expanded, most notably to include protecting government officials, but much of their work is still done under cover.

One of the tragic failings of the church today is that there are far too many “secret service saints,” who are serving their Savior “under cover,” so as not to let anyone know Whom they serve. It is one of the strangest paradoxes I know of: the Christian faith begins with a public profession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ for all the world to see, but all too often it is lived out in the most clandestine way. This sort of secret service is exactly what Jesus warned against: light that has been hidden under a bushel and salt that has lost its saltiness.

But this is not for you! What we profess with our lips must be practiced with our lives in such a way that those we come in contact with know who we work for. We must never be satisfied with the profession we make by going to church on Sunday. We must make that same profession at the office, in the gym, on the college campus, and around the neighborhood. We must remember these words of our Lord: “Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). In other words, secret service saints are not allowed!

How well are you making your Lord known to those you come in contact with? May it never be that you and I should be like the person who, after a ten-year friendship, was told, “All these years I’ve known you, and I never knew you were a Christian!”

The best way to make Jesus known is to know Him better, and the best way to know Him better is by reading His Word. When we study the Bible, the Bible studies us; and when the Bible studies us, we will never find ourselves in the “secret service” of our Savior.

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

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Make It Personal!

The Lord is my shepherd . . . (Psalm 23:1)

Psalm 23, one of the most well known and best loved passages in all the Scriptures, begins with the words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This truth is frequently quoted and provides the foundation upon which many funerals and memorials have been built, as well as many sermons intended to encourage and warm hearts. It is one thing to know that God is a shepherd; it is another thing altogether to understand that He is MY shepherd. This is where we rise above the level of a powerful proclamation and make it profoundly personal.

To know that God is my shepherd is to know that my every need will be met. You see, the Shepherd cares for His sheep, protects His sheep, leads His sheep, and guides His sheep . . . and He does all that for me because He is my shepherd. And if you have believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, He is your shepherd too!

The intimacy this one statement describes is as instructive for us as it is inspiring. No one knew this “my shepherd” truth better than King David, who penned the psalm. David had experienced the providential care of his Shepherd, whether he was conquering the giant Goliath or being conquered by his sin with Bathsheba. He experienced refuge with his Shepherd. He experienced refreshment with his Shepherd. He experienced repentance with his Shepherd. He experienced restoration with his Shepherd. When David found himself in his darkest moments, walking through a variety of grim, gloomy valleys, including the valley of the shadow of death, he knew his Shepherd was not only caring for him, He was carrying David most of the way.

I hope you will take a few moments today to meditate on the almost incomprehensible truth that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, He who holds all the planets in their orbits and sustains all life, has committed to being your personal Shepherd. The Good Shepherd who walked on the water is for you. The Good Shepherd who calmed the storm is with you. The Good Shepherd who conquered demons is in you. Jesus spoke of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go in search of the one that was lost. It doesn’t get more personal than that!

To be sure, a shepherd cares for the entire flock of sheep, but the good Shepherd cares for all of His sheep individually. The next time you wander off course, let that truth help you course-correct. You can do that by looking at the glorious promise contained in God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word and making it personal.

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

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