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Look and Live!

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The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” (Numbers 21:8)

What a Gospel shadow we have been given to both encourage and equip us! The Israelites, who had grumbled against both Moses and God, were judged by God when He sent venomous snakes in their midst as punishment. Moses intervened by praying for the people. In His mercy, God instructed Moses to make a serpent and set it upon a pole so that when the people would look upon it in faith as the only provision for their problem, they would be healed and live.

The same principle holds true today. One who realizes that he or she is a sinner and that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20), need only look to Jesus in faith, and that person shall be raised from death to life. When we look to Christ alone as the source of salvation, not thinking that there is some “antivenom” of good works that we must add to His finished cross work, we will be healed from the deadly bite of the serpent and receive new life in Christ.

But there is more to this promise for the Christian: Every day after that gracious salvation, we are commanded to “Look and live!” Jesus promised to give us the abundant life, but we will only find it by looking to Him. The abundant life will not be found in our jobs . . . or our finances . . . or our possessions . . . or our relationships. The abundant life will only be found in Jesus Christ. If we are to “look and live,” we must be looking to our Lord alone.

If you are dealing with a bite from the serpent, fear not! Look to Jesus and live. You may be filled with the venom of sin running through the veins of your life and believe your condition is beyond hope. Fear not! Look to Jesus and live. The Israelites were utterly beyond hope until God graciously created a provision for their critical condition.

Perhaps you already have, by grace through faith, received new life in Christ. You understand that the serpent on the pole was a shadow; you have the Substance of that shadow in Jesus. So look to Him, regardless of what you are dealing with today, and live! Jesus brings life to miserable marriages, fractured families, derailed dreams, sadness in your singleness, and joyless jobs, just to name a few areas where He can and will bring new life.

One final point: those Israelites who did not look by faith did not live. Perhaps the cure seemed too simple or too silly, and they refused to believe in the promise. Those who did not look died in their sin. If there is anything obstructing your view of your Savior—if you have any doubts about the promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ—ask God to remove that barrier at once. Then look and live!

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

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The Servant of Sickness

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Before I was afflicted I went astray, buy now I obey your word. (Psalm 119:67)

Is our sickness always an attack by the spiritual forces of evil in this world? If we are looking for the root cause, then the answer is a resounding “YES,” taking us all the way back to the encounter between Satan and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

But now that sin and sickness and suffering has entered this world through the fall, we must decide: Is sickness always an attack on us? Are we to assume, as the faith healers tell us, that God wants us to remain healthy every day, all the way into glory? When you put the question into this light, the answer is a resounding “NO!” Sickness is a servant of our Savior.

God put this truth on display in the life of the apostle Paul. Paul was given a “thorn,” and he prayed three times that God might take it away. But Paul’s sickness was his Savior’s servant, keeping Paul from becoming conceited because of the incredible ministry God had given him. Whatever this thorn was, it was not the picture of health in the life of Paul; indeed, Paul said that it caused him torment. God could have taken the thorn away in an instant. God could have prevented it from ever afflicting Paul. But He did not. Instead, God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When we understand this truth, we change our perspective on sickness. Instead of first crying out for healing, we look for God’s purpose in it. It is certainly right and biblical to pray for a restoration of our good health, but we must not miss the deeper truth: that God sends sickness as His servant to draw us closer to Him. Perhaps it was sent because of some sin in our lives (see 1 Corinthians 11:30); or because of Satan (Paul said his thorn was “a messenger of Satan” in 2 Corinthians 12:7); or for some other purpose of God altogether (John 9:3). But regardless of the reason, all sickness becomes a servant in our Savior’s hand. If God allows it to continue, you can be sure it is for His glory and your ultimate good.

Has sickness been testing the outer edges of your health plan lately? Cry out to God, but pay close attention to His response. It may be for you like it was for Paul, that God has a far greater purpose in your life, one better accomplished with this sickness than without it. When this is the case, submitting to the servant of sickness for the glory of our Savior is the pathway to blessing.

We must remember that we are not our own; we have been bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)—that price being the precious blood of the Lamb of God shed for us on Calvary’s cruel cross. God has every right to do with us as He pleases to accomplish His purpose in our lives. He is the Potter; we are His clay. If He has ordained sickness to be His servant in our lives, may we receive it, knowing that His grace is sufficient for us and His power is being made perfect in our weakness. And may we give all glory to our God, knowing that when we get to the other side of the grave, there will be no more sickness, suffering, or sorrow.

And may Paul’s response to God’s message about the thorn encourage you today to rejoice in the Lord always!

I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in him. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 J.B. Phillips)

May you be strong in Him this day, and every day—in sickness and in health.

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

 

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The Currency of Congruency

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He who has seen me has seen the Father.  (John 14:9)

When God raised you from death to life, it was not so that He could simply add another Christian to His family of faith. Rather, He was adding another “congruent Christian” to His family of faith who would put the love and grace and faithfulness of God on display before a watching world. This is what I call the “Currency of Congruency.”

When Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” He was telling us to look at Him to see what the Father was like. Why? Because the life of Christ was completely congruent to the Father. Having taken on human flesh, Jesus lived a life that displayed exactly what His Father in heaven was like. When someone saw Jesus, they saw the Father also, because of the cosmic congruency in which Jesus lived out His life here on earth. As John wrote in the unforgettable introduction to his gospel, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).

Congruency is God’s currency in the Christian life. As it has been said, “You are the only Bible some people will ever read!” When the unbelieving world is watching us, what do they learn about the truths of the Gospel and our God? This was the admonition Paul gave to the Philippian church: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). When we are living incongruent lives, the world has no idea what our God is like. Worse still, the world gets a false impression of what God is like. To fail in our lives to do what we profess with our lips is to paint a distorted picture of the Divine.

Now, I am not suggesting in any way that you and I can live a perfect life of congruency. Only one Man—Jesus Christ—has ever done that. But I am saying that we should desire to live a perfect life of congruency like Jesus lived. Knowing that we will frequently fall short of that goal should in no way keep us from pursuing the kind of life that is pleasing to God, because it puts on display the truths of the Gospel.

I remember being brought up short the first time I was asked, “How attractive do you make God?” I understand that God is already attractive; but the point of the question is, am I living in such a way that others see a reflection of who God truly is and how He relates to us? I’ve said it here many times before, but it bears repeating: You are the only Bible that some people will ever read. Do your attitudes and actions proclaim the love and grace of God to others?

Let me ask you: “How attractive do you make God?” What kind of God do others see when they see you living out your life? Make no mistake, there should be a clear connection between the Gospel we preach and the Gospel we put into practice. Remember, God told us about His Gospel in the Scriptures, but He showed us His Gospel on the hill Golgotha. The Son was the Father’s Currency of Congruency on Calvary, and it is the call of every Christian to live congruent lives. May God help us to do just that!

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

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Renewing Your Vows

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I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. (Psalm 116:14)

If you’re a regular reader here, you may remember that Kim and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on March 6. We renewed our vows, which is a symbolic way of reaffirming the original vows (that is, promises made before God and man) that we made on that wonderful day back in 1993. I’d like to encourage you today to renew the most important vow that you ever made.

Many of us have made many vows to our Lord, but the one that surpasses them all is the vow of life, in which we promise to surrender our lives to Him. The reason I believe this vow surpasses all others that we make to our Lord is because He tests our sincerity and commitment to keeping it so frequently. We promise to walk with our Lord wherever He leads . . . and as long as He is leading us into green pastures and beside still waters, we faithfully follow.

But what about those times when He leads us into a Garden of Gethsemane? Do we, like Peter, pull out our spiritual swords to do battle for the glory of our Lord against His enemies? Or are we more like Judas, who betrayed the Christ with a kiss and then disappeared into the night? It is far easier to make a vow than it is to keep it!

So how do we keep the vows we make to our Lord? We must keep in view the vow that He made to us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). You see, our marriage vows to Jesus can never end in divorce. No matter how often we fail to keep our vows to Him, He will never fail to keep His vow to us. We are utterly secure in our marriage relationship with Jesus—not because of our faithfulness to Him, but because of His faithfulness to us, regardless of how faithless we may be.

The key that unlocks the door to keeping our vows is the cross. Knowing how loved we are by Jesus is the driving force that strengthens us in our moments of decision. It is His love to us that helps us say “Yes!” to Him and “No!” to everything else. Being reminded of His crucified life for us—a vow He made to us in eternity past (Hebrews 13:20)—is what strengthens us to live the vow we made to Him to live the crucified life. This is how Paul could say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul lived constantly in the shadow of the cross and was strengthened to fulfill his vows to Jesus.

So, regardless of where this message finds you today, and how many unfulfilled vows litter your past, press on by renewing your vows today. Keep the cross in view, and you will find the strength to fulfill your vows more often than you fail in them. And when you do fall short, remember that you have a God who loves you and forgives you . . . no matter what!

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

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Misery’s Ministry

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In their misery they will earnestly seek me.  (Hosea 5:15)

I don’t know anyone who welcomes misery and misfortune, yet our verse today contains an important biblical truth: Adversity is very often the means our Lord uses to get our attention and return our affections to Him.

No one has ever put a sharper point upon this truth than C. S. Lewis.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

The Great Shepherd knows all too well that His sheep are prone to wander . . . and we do wander! We wander away from prayer. We wander away from His presence. We wander away from His protection. We wander away from His provision. And in doing so, we stumble into a myriad of unforeseen problems and predicaments that deliver painful providences to us. But as Lewis said, it is in this pain that our Great Shepherd shouts to us and draws us back into His fold. Indeed, pain has its purpose, and misery has its ministry in the life of the believer. The key is to receive it and respond to it rightly.

Think back over your life for a moment. Surely you can recall times when misery ministered to you in a profound way. I could cite any number of examples from Scripture, but let’s look at just one: the reluctant prophet Jonah. When God called on Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah wanted no part of it; he ran from God and boarded a ship that was going in the opposite direction.

At that point, wouldn’t it have been so much easier for God to simply call on another prophet? It wasn’t like God’s plan for the great revival at Nineveh could not have been accomplished without Jonah. I mean, if the Lord can make a jackass speak (Numbers 22:28) and Tommy Boland preach, surely He could have sent someone else to preach God’s message of impending judgment to the people of Nineveh. But God loved Jonah far too much to leave him in his self-centered condition. And so the Lord sent a great storm upon the sea and appointed the great fish for Jonah’s good, not God’s.

Have you ever stopped to think what those three days and nights trapped inside the belly of a fish must have been like? Words like “happy” and “comfortable” don’t come into my mind at all. God appointed a ministry of misery—not to punish Jonah, but to teach him about God’s amazing grace and love and to begin to draw Jonah back into right relationship with the Lord.

It’s no different with you and me. God simply loves us too much to let us go our own way. So He intervenes by sending storm winds that will blow us onto the rocks of His righteousness. Yes, it is painful; often the pain seems unbearable. But it is a pain that points us back toward our Savior. Make no mistake, painful providences in the hands of our Prince are sent for the strengthening of our soul and the furthering of our faith. Misery does indeed have its ministry in the life of the believer . . . and that includes you.

So regardless of where this message finds you today and what trials may seem to be overwhelming you, fear not, Christian, and faint not, because your loving, faithful Savior is using it all to accomplish His good purposes in your life. Remember, all of the promises of Jesus are as true today as they were when He spoke them. “In this world you will have trouble,” He said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He has overcome the world, and He will even overcome our reticence, our resistance, and even our outright rebellion when we, like Jonah, stubbornly determine that we are going to strike out in the wrong direction.

Sometimes we are not the cause of our troubles; they simply come knocking at our door. And then there are those times when our sinful hearts have caused that distress. Either way, the Master’s ministry of misery is always at work, causing us to return to our first love, the One who loved us before the world was ever created and will continue loving us for all eternity: Jesus Christ.

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

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IN SUMMER AND IN WINTER

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On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem . . . in summer and in winter. (Zechariah 14:8)

Oh, what a word of encouragement we have today! Though the seasons change and effect the world we live in, the living waters of our Lord’s love continually flow. The burning heat of the summer cannot dry up His love for us and the frigid cold of the winter cannot cause it to freeze over. Because our God changes not, His love unceasingly flows to us like streams of living water, regardless of the season we find ourselves in.

I don’t know where this message finds you today, but I do know this: Regardless of whether you are in a season of summer, with the oppressive heat of holy trials surrounding you, or in a season of winter, with the frigid winds of challenge blowing over you, God is ready, willing, and able to meet you in your place of deepest need with a flow of living waters that cannot run out. They cannot run out because God’s love for us never ceases.

Knowing this truth keeps us from wandering off and wading in other streams—polluted streams. The world promises us that if we would but sip from its springs, life will be wonderful . . . but these are empty promises that the world simply cannot keep. Those springs have been spoiled by sin. The world can never give us what only God can give. Only God can give us purpose in life. Only God can our lives meaning and significance. God created us in such a way that the things that matter most in this life will only be found in Him. When we drink from the waters of this world, we are left thirsting for what matters most because the waters of this world cannot slake our thirst.

You’ll recall our Lord’s words to the woman at the well:

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) 

The answer to your thirst in any area of life is to sip from the streams of your Savior. They flow to you continually and freely from the Fountain of Life. But remember, you must drink from those streams yourself, because God will not drink for you. An unlimited supply of living water will not serve you if you do not take the time to drink from it.

My prayer is that you will remember these words from our Lord and be encouraged to drink your fill today and every day that God gives you. Remember and accept His gracious invitation:

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

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

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TESTING . . . TESTING . . . TESTING 1 – 2 – 3!

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Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.  (Psalm 26:2)

God is in the business of testing His people. Those tests are as promised as they are promising. Unlike the devil, who tempts us with the intent of tripping us up and turning us away from our Lord, God tests us to strengthen our faith and conform us more and more into the image and likeness of His beloved Son.

Here is a question to ponder today: Do you receive God’s ways as readily as you receive God’s Word?

Every born-again child of God receives His Word with great joy, but there are times when “joy” is not our first response when we are receiving God’s ways! God’s ways are not our ways; we frequently expect God to respond to us in a particular way, and He responds to us in another way altogether. When this happens—and it happens a lot—we must remember this sublime truth, given to in Hosea 14:9 —

The ways of the Lord are right!

The prophet Hosea was telling us that no matter what way God has prepared for us, it is right; it is righteous and fair and just and merciful and absolutely what we needed at that time. You see, God created us for His good purpose, and, as Job said, “He will complete what he appoints for me” (Job 23:14 ESV). He made us for Himself to expand the cause of His kingdom in this world. He knows what is best for us at all times and He knows exactly how to deliver that “best” to us at just the right moment . . . even though that may not be what we expected or wanted at the time.

When we have difficulty receiving God’s ways, it is because we are seeking our will rather than God’s will for our lives. We are pursuing what we want for ourselves rather than what God wants for us. Because God made us, He knows what is best for us. Throw our sinfulness into the mix, and it is plain to see that God must intervene on our behalf by conforming to us His ways if we are ever going to live the life He is calling us to live.

So . . . have you been struggling with God’s ways in your life lately? You are not alone! We all struggle at times with God’s ways. But remember the words of Hosea: the ways of the Lord are always right. God loves us so much that He will cause us to walk in His ways rather than our own, knowing that in the end, it will be ultimately for His glory and our good. When the Lord tests us with His ways, we must trust Him, even when we cannot trace Him. Remember, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7 ESV).  Now that’s a way worth walking in!

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

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