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A STRAIGHT WAY . . . NOT A SOFT WAY

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He led them by a straight way. (Psalm 107:7)


The promise we have before us today should be a source of tremendous encouragement. Our Lord leads us by a straight way that is designed for our good and His glory. The straight way is the way of security . . . the way of sanctification . . . and the way of supernatural strength. But we must remember this truth: The straight way is not a soft way that leads us into a life of ease and comfort.

Our Lord Jesus knew nothing of the soft way of life. The straight way for Jesus was a way of difficulty and distress . . . sorrow and suffering . . . pain and persecution . . . affliction and abandonment . . . and ultimately death on a cruel Roman cross. The straight way promises to be a hard way for every disciple of Christ. As it was for the Master, so it will be for His followers.

“Remember the words I spoke to you,” Jesus said: “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).They gave our Lord a crown of thorns. Should we expect a crown of glory? May God forbid it!

Our God is loving and good, and He has promised that all things will ultimately work together for our good, so we can trust Him even when we cannot trace Him. Job could not trace the Lord in his life when he lost his health, his wealth, and all ten of his children, but he trusted God in spite of his unexplained and unimaginable circumstances. “Though He slay me,” Job said, “I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

God has assured us that every experience He takes us through is designed to conform us into the likeness of His beloved Son. He has not promised, however, that every experience will be pleasant or that it will be explained. We must remember that God’s ways are not our ways and that God has promised to complete the work He has begun in us. If we could only see what God sees in us today, we would receive every experience with great joy and thanksgiving.

How has the Lord been leading you lately? Remember, the straight way is designed to bring us to the end of ourselves. As John the Baptist said, we must decrease and He must increase. This does not happen when we are living a life of ease and comfort, traveling the soft, sunny path toward the Celestial City. It happens as God fashions us in the furnace of affliction and as we are hammered on the anvil of the Almighty, one strike at a time, as He shapes and conforms us into the perfect resemblance of Jesus.

Let us praise our God this day and every day that He leads us by a straight way, the way that makes us most like our Savior! In truth, we would never choose this way for ourselves.

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

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UNPLUGGED AND UPLIFTED 

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One of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)


We live in a “plugged-in” generation. We are constantly plugged in to our computers, phones, and tablets, whether we are in our cars, at the dinner table, or exercising. We stay plugged in at the movies, at sporting events, on vacation . . . and even when we are in our quiet time of Scripture reading and prayer with our Lord. It seems as if we cannot exist apart from the ever-expanding world of technology that is available to us today. It’s common for people to approach me after a church service and assure me that when they are looking at their phones during the sermon, they are following the Scripture readings on their Bible “app,” not checking their email.

Unfortunately, as plugged in as we are with all of our technology resources, we are often disconnected from the relationships that matter most at the deepest level of the heart. If we would take our eyes off the screen for a moment and look around us, we might see someone who desperately needs our attention. Perhaps we should all conduct a “technology fast” from time to time and reconnect with those vitally important relationships.

I have learned from personal experience that when I am unplugged, I am uplifted. Jesus did not carry a smartphone with Him when walking the streets of Palestine, but He was totally plugged into the world around Him. From giving sight to the blind to making the lame walk to cleansing lepers to bringing the dead back to life to teaching the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, Jesus met the needs of the thousands of people who pushed in around Him. And yet we read that He frequently took time to “unplug” and be uplifted by His Father in heaven.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. (Luke 4:16)

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. (Luke 6:12)

From personal prayer to public worship, Jesus knew the importance of unplugging in order to be uplifted. The question is, Do we? It really is an easy question to answer; simply look at the time you are spending focused on your relationship with the Lord. How consistent is your prayer life? Is corporate worship your weekly habit? Remember this: Not only do the people who matter most to us deserve a little more of our attention . . . so does our Lord!

The more we unplug from the world and plug into the Word, the more uplifted we will be.

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

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THE WITNESS OF THE WALL 

3d rendering of the unzipping wall


They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. (Isaiah 40:31)


I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “Hitting the wall.” Loosely defined, it means reaching a mental block that yammers at you that you cannot go on. Marathon runners say it happens at about the 20-mile mark. In my experience as an athlete, coach, and trainer, I have found that most competitive athletes in all different arenas know the experience of hitting the wall. They say that the pain and fatigue become so great that they feel like they really have run headfirst into a brick wall. Focus is lost and the desire to press on disappears.

As a pastor, I have found that we all hit the wall from time to time in a variety of ways.

  • In our careers
  • In our marriages
  • In our finances
  • In our health
  • In our service to God

Moses hit the wall after the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush, calling him to lead the children of Israel out of their bondage; Moses tried every excuse in the book to keep from going back to Egypt. Elijah hit the wall after his great victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel; he asked God to take his life because Jezebel had sworn vengeance. Peter hit the wall when he was accused by a servant girl in the courtyard on the night Jesus was betrayed; he denied knowing Jesus three times. Yet, in their “wall-hitting experiences,” each of these heroes of the faith found the Lord to be faithful to renew their strength to keep going.

Regardless of where this message finds you today, keep the promise of today’s verse before you. Whatever “wall” you may be facing, the Lord will renew your strength if you will trust in Him and wait on Him. It really is an issue of trust. If we are trusting in ourselves when we hit the wall, we will ultimately collapse. But if we are trusting in our Savior when we hit the wall, we will be renewed and restored . . . edified and encouraged . . . strengthened and sustained.

Do you remember that Jesus Himself hit the wall in the Garden of Gethsemane? In His darkest hour He cried out to His Father in heaven, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus prayed and waited on His Father in heaven, and He was strengthened to take our nails, our crown of thorns, our cross, and our death. And on that glorious third day, the ground began to shake and the stone was rolled away, and Jesus walked out of the grave and into our hearts.

The witness of the wall is that God is faithful. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us, and He assures us He will meet us at our every point of need.

Have you reached the point where you believe you can’t go on? Remember the witness of the wall, and you can be sure that you will be renewed. Trust in His promise!

God is not a man, that he should lie,

nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Does he speak and then not act?

Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

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

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THE DECISION OF DEPENDENCE 

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By myself I can do nothing. (John 5:30)


If ever there was a life that could have been lived independently from the Father in heaven, it was the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus had all the power of the Godhead within Him. But instead of using His power independently of the Father, Jesus made the decision of dependence . . . and this is the pattern we must choose for our lives too. Read on and be encouraged!

When we read our Lord’s words, “By myself I can do nothing,” it might be easy to picture someone who is utterly helpless or even hopeless. But nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the One who uttered these words! The omnipotent Son of the Most High God made the decision not to live in the prerogative of His power; rather, in the power of the Holy Spirit He chose to submit to the will of His Father in heaven.

Jesus made the decision of dependence. His message and His ministry were performed in utter dependence on the will of the Father. In the same sense that our Lord Jesus lived a life of dependence, you and I must do the same. We must keep these words of Jesus ever before us, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from Him, even the apparent good we may do is nothing more than filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). Apart from Him, we can do nothing that will bring glory to God.

By nature, we all want to live in our own strength and for our own glory. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did when they bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden of Eden. When they chose the way of independence, the consequence of their willful rebellion against God was the utter collapse of all of creation. Ironically, our first parents got what exactly what they sought when they were booted out of the Garden to live east of Eden: a life lived apart from God. But now their lives were marked by confusion and chaos . . . fear and frustration . . . disillusionment and death. Is this not what we all experience when we choose the way of independence?

How have you chosen to live lately? Have you chosen the way of independence or the way of dependence? To be a disciple of Jesus is to be dependent on Him. And to be dependent upon Jesus is to live a life of both faithfulness and fruitfulness.

When Jesus called the disciples to “Follow me,” at the deepest level, He was calling them to follow His pattern of dependence upon the Father in heaven. You and I have received the same calling 2,000 years later. But remember, dependence is always a choice, and that choice is always yours to make. He says to us all –

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life . . .

(Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

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

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SUPERNATURAL SALAD FOR THE SAINTS OF GOD       

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Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)


The 10th chapter of the book of Hebrews has been referred to as “The lettuce chapter,” because in the space of four verses (22-25), you encounter the powerful phrase “Let us . . .” five times. Each rich leaf of “Let-us” is an ingredient in the supernatural salad that is designed to both challenge and comfort you right where this message finds you today.

One of the most important things we should digest from this salad is a truth that I speak from the pulpit on a regular basis: Christians are saved individually, but we are saved to community. The Bible knows nothing of the solitary saint. When God in Christ saved us, He placed a new obligation on us— to love one another (John 13:35) and to engage with the family of faith.

The word us in “Let us” makes it clear that there is a mutual responsibility for members of the body of Christ—each member ministering to the other. Perhaps the best explanation of this idea is found in the “one another” principles put forth in the Scriptures. I’ve included just a few of those here. In addition to the command to love one another, we are to —

  • Spur one another on toward love and good deeds – Hebrews 10:24
  • Encourage one another – Hebrews 10:25
  • Care for one another – Galatians 6:2
  • Accept one another – Romans 15:5
  • Serve one another – Galatians 5:13
  • Confess our sins to one another – James 5:15
  • Submit to one another – Ephesians 5:21
  • Comfort one another – 1 Thessalonians 4:18
  • Carry one another’s burdens – Galatians 6:2

So . . . have you been feasting on the supernatural salad that our Lord has set before you? Remember that Jesus died to make you a member of His family of faith. He wants us to live as a community of believers who incarnate the Gospel—that is, who put the Gospel on display—in such a way that unbelievers begin to ask us, “Why are you so different?”

The answer we give them, of course, is that the grace of God saved us and is now in the process of sanctifying us. Without the grace of God, we would still be as selfish and self-centered as we were before God opened our hearts to understand the Gospel. Even after salvation, we must appropriate the grace of God in order to live out the “lettuce” commands.

Living in community is not only God’s desire for every believer, it is the clear and present sign that we are growing in our faith. As we mature in our relationship with Jesus vertically, we are also to be growing in our relationship with others horizontally.

The book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning everything was good . . . except for one thing: It was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). So God created Eve, and the first community in this world was formed.

Christian, you are part of the most important community in the world today—the church. But in order for the church to truly be the church, we must do our part and commit to community with one another.

Children of God, don’t forget to eat your salad!

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

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RESTING IN THE ONE WHO NEVER RESTS 

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There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10)


Here’s a great question: If God is omnipotent, possessing all the power in the universe, how are we to understand what we read in Genesis 2:2—that God rested on the seventh day of creation? Please read on and be greatly encouraged today.

Perhaps the simplest answer to that question is this:

  • God stopped His doing, but He never stopped His displaying.
  • God stopped creating, but He never stopped His sustaining.

God was not “tired,” as if His strength and power had diminished in any way over the previous six days of creation. After six days of work, you and I are tired and need rest, but never our God. Isaiah exulted, “The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary” (Isaiah 40:28), and Jesus declared, “My father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17).

So what does it mean to rest in the One who never rests?

Everyday Rest – The first rest we are to understand is the rest we received when we trusted in Jesus Christ for our salvation. When we are raised from death to life by grace through faith, we are immediately and forevermore given a rest from our self-salvation project because of the finished work of our Lord. We can stop trying to save ourselves because God in Christ has saved us. We no longer have to try to work ourselves into God’s favor because Jesus has already done this for us on our behalf. We are free from the works of the Law because Jesus has obeyed the Law perfectly on our behalf. Our doing is to be exchanged for our devotion as we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) in the strength of the grace that saved us.

But that’s not all . . .

Eternal Rest – The second and final rest we are to understand is the rest that we will receive on the other side of the grave—the life that awaits us in glory when we stand before the face of God. This is the life where all of our rebellion will be removed, our sin slain, and our disobedience turned into divine devotion. We will, for the very first time, be fully resting in the promises of God.

So regardless of where this message finds you today, whether you may be tired or utterly exhausted, cheer up! Look to your Lord and enter into your everyday rest by resting in your redemption—the finished work of Jesus Christ. And when you find yourself up against it—tired, weary, and heavy laden—look beyond the horizon to the promised rest that awaits you in heaven. It won’t be long now, even if you live to be 100.

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

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TRADING STRENGTH 

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The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days.” (Joshua 6:2-3)


There are only two options in this life when it comes to strength: we can live life in our strength or we can live in God’s strength. The choice is always ours! I hope you’ll be encouraged as you read on.

If you were Joshua and received the instructions from the Lord that you’ve just read for conquering the city of Jericho, what might you have thought? This is crazy! . . . This will never work! . . . I don’t believe I’m even considering doing such a thing!

And you’ve only read a portion of the Lord’s instructions to Joshua. Here are the rest:

Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in. (Joshua 6:4-5)

Joshua had witnessed all the miracles that God performed to free the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt and the supernatural care the Lord gave them throughout 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, yet these commands for the assault on Jericho seem to stretch the limits of sensibility. But when Joshua traded his strength for the strength of God, the seemingly impregnable walls of Jericho collapsed (Joshua 6:20).

The battlefield skills Joshua had acquired throughout decades of serving under Moses would not serve him in conquering Jericho. God had a different plan, and that plan required Joshua to trade his strength for the strength of the Sovereign Lord. Instead of using swords, spears, and javelins, Joshua was to take his army on a holy stroll around the walls of Jericho, culminating in a holy shout. When the dust had settled, there was absolutely no confusion as to who was responsible for the victory.

What “walls of Jericho” in your life right now need to come tumbling down? Perhaps there has been a wall building between you and your spouse for years. Maybe there is a wall in your work, your finances, or your health. Make no mistake, none of these walls will ever fall to your strength, for “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” (Romans 11:36).

Only when you trust completely in the Lord will those walls in your life collapse. God has designed the victory to be won in His strength, for He will not share His glory with anyone. So do as Joshua did; set aside your own strength today and trust in the strength of your Savior. That’s when you’ll see those walls come tumbling down, and you and everyone around you will know it was the Lord who has won the victory. To Him be the glory forever!

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

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