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Held Captive by a Church Cliché

  peace

Moses said to [the Lord], “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15)

Perhaps there is no more insidious church cliché that holds Christians captive than this one:

“You will know you are in the center of God’s will when you sense a peace about your decision.”

There may be times when you sense a peace about a decision you are about to make, but make no mistake, the Bible is full of examples of those who did not and yet followed God’s leading into His perfect plan for the “peaceless” path they were to travel.

First, let me clear up the matter of “peace” as it is presented in Scripture. Peace is promised to the people of God, but that peace is rooted in an objective fact, not an emotional feeling. When Paul wrote in Romans 5:1 that “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” he was telling us about an objective fact. The first fruit of justification is peace with God, because we have been brought back into a right relationship with our heavenly Father. This peace is a result of the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus performs in the life of every believer, not a result of making right decisions. So to assume that a decision is right simply because you have a peace about it is wrong.

When God called Moses to be the deliverer of His people, a sense of peace was as far from Moses as the east is from the west. Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)—Moses’ first attempt to dismiss God’s call on his life. After God assured Moses that He Himself would go with him, Moses came up with Objection Number Two: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13). The Sovereign Lord dismissed that excuse with His great declaration that “I Am Who I Am,” but Moses was still troubled. “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” he asked (Exodus 4:1). God dismissed that excuse with the “staff into a snake” and the “hand as white as snow” illustrations. Moses had no other excuse available to him, so he simply asked God to pardon him from his peaceless calling because he was not an eloquent speaker.

At no time did Moses experience any sense of peace about the decision God was calling him to make. It was just the opposite! And remember this, God not only made it crystal clear what He wanted Moses to do through His spoken Word, He accompanied His command with supernatural miracles. Yet none of that gave peace to Moses. God was calling Him to do what he could not justify with a sense of peace about his decision.

What about you? Are you facing any decisions today where God seems to be calling you to walk a peaceless path? You are in good company! Seek godly counsel and continue praying about it, but know that the key to understanding what is God’s calling will often not be found in peace, but rather in His presence—the place to which God ultimately brought Moses. And when Moses sensed God’s presence, he could then say sincerely, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).

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

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Self-Deceived Self-Dependence

vine and branches  

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

There is a comforting challenge contained within our passage of Scripture today. That phrase “comforting challenge” may sound like a contradiction in terms, but when Jesus referred to Himself as the true Vine and to you and me as His branches and then said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” it was the same as saying “Connected to me you can do anything.”

We live in a world that is self-deceived by self-dependence. The truly self-dependent, self-reliant person is a myth who dwells in the world of make-believe. No one ever has and no one ever will live a self-dependent life. Even our Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the King of kings and Lord of lords, did not live a self-dependent life when He came into this world. Rather, He lived in complete dependence upon God the Father through the power of God the Holy Spirit.

To pursue a life of self-dependence is to pursue a life our Savior refused to live. On the night He was to be betrayed, arrested, and ultimately face the terrible wrath of God for all the sins of all those who are His, Jesus told Peter, James, and John that “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” yet his simple prayer was, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:38, 42).

Think about it this way: Every breath you take and every beat of your heart is dependent upon the will of God, for “He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25). Only as God purposes for us do we have life, and that life is totally dependent upon the will of God sustaining it. Every person is God-dependent, whether they acknowledge it or not. When the world speaks of “willpower,” it is speaking in self-deceiving terms because “will” has absolutely no “power” apart from God. Listen, being “god” is not only hard, it is an impossible thing to do. When we attempt it, our hopes that our self-dependence will mask our weaknesses actually accomplishes just the opposite. We end up appearing anxious and afraid (and frequently asinine) to those around us.

Here is the question you and I must ask ourselves today. Am I trying to live a life of self-dependence, as a branch disconnected from the true Vine? If you sense that this is the case in any area of life, simply turn your heart back to God and remember these words from Zechariah 4:6, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” God will grant you the gift of repentance and meet you in your place of need, for all good things come from Him (James 1:17).

Never forget that self-dependence is self-deception. Stay close to Jesus through His Word, your prayers, and consistent connection to His people, and you will live the only kind of life that truly matters: Savior-dependence, which brings glory to God and good to others.

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

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Ask

prayer

“Ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14)

Prayer is a powerful tool in the hands of the people of God. Why? Because there is infinite power in the name of Jesus Christ. Not only have we been invited to come boldly to the throne of grace, we have been assured that anything we ask for in the name of Jesus will be done.

I must make something clear before we move on: to ask in Jesus’ name is to ask for Jesus’ sake. Our prayers are to be directed at the expansion of Christ’s kingdom, not our own. Make no mistake, when God opened the way for us to come into His presence, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, He was not giving us a blank check to cash for the advancement of our personal affluence and a life of ease. To ask in Jesus’ name is to ask about the things that matter most to Him.

Our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer, recorded in John 17, gives us valuable insight into what matters most to Jesus. He prayed to His Father, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them [His disciples] into the world” (John 17:18 NKJV). As a sent people, we are to be living lives of other-orientation. Jesus has commissioned us to live lives that bring glory to God and good to others . . . all others. We are to meet people in their place of need with the hands and feet of Christ. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray for the advancement of the Gospel; when we pray like this, we can be assured our prayers will be answered with a resounding “YES!”

To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray to fulfill His plans and His purposes in this life. To pray in His name is to lay aside our personal goals, agendas, dreams, and desires. It is to abandon self as we advance in the direction of our Savior. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39 NKJV), He provided us with the model for a prayer life that is rooted in His name.

Finally, when you are praying in Jesus’ name, you are being reminded to rely on His wisdom, His power, His strength, and His guidance. You are taking heed of the word of warning that James, the brother of our Lord, provided to the people of God: “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasure” (James 4:3).

I hope you will be encouraged today to take some time to pray in Jesus’ name, knowing that whatever you ask for in His name, He has promised to do for you.

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

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Searching Savior

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“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” (Ezekiel 34:11)

Notice the amazing truth contained in today’s verse: Our Lord Jesus Christ does not send someone out in His place to search for and look after His sheep. Oh no! The prophet Ezekiel was moved by the Spirit of God to tell us that the Lord Himself is the Sovereign, Seeking, Searching, Shepherd Savior. And He is all that for you. Is that not a word of cosmic comfort to you today, regardless of where this message finds you?

Notice something else contained within this text. Our salvation not only begins because of our Searching Savior, but it continues and is sustained because of our continually Searching Savior. No matter how often or how badly or how foolishly we wander away from our Savior, He chases us down and returns us to His sheepfold. Now, this does not happen when a certain number of His flock wander away. The parable of the Lost Sheep makes it perfectly clear that our Good Shepherd leaves the heard to go off and find one single lost sheep and brings him or her back to the fold. Christian, you matter that much to Jesus!

One final point: To be looked after by our Shepherd is to be locked securely into our salvation. Jesus told the crowd that followed Him, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39). Jesus will not lose a single sheep . . . and that includes you.

Is this not a powerful promise to plead if you realize that you have strayed from the sheepfold and from your Shepherd? It was for Peter. When Peter denied Jesus three times on the night our Lord was betrayed—when the rooster crowed, just as the Lord had said—Peter’s heart was broken for having wandered away from his Savior. But after the resurrection, Jesus restored Peter by asking a simple question—not once, but three times—“Do you truly love me?”

If your answer is the same as Peter’s—“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”—then you can be assured that nothing can ever separate you from your Searching Savior. Let that truth set you free today and every day until you cross the Jordan and enter into your eternal rest.

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

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On Earth As It Is In Heaven

on earth

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. (Revelation 4:4)

There are many ways in which the Christian is to live on earth as it is lived in heaven. Today I want to encourage you by reminding you of your nearness to your Savior. The twenty-four elders described in today’s verse, all seated surrounding our Savior, represent all the saints in heaven, who will see the face of God (Revelation 22:4).

These elders seated in the throne room of God provide us with three biblical truths: their vision is clear, their access is constant, and their fellowship is close. And these qualities have been granted to every saint who has, by grace through faith, trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. While they will not all receive equal rewards for their faithful and fruitful service while on earth, each saint has an equal share of their Savior—resting in His unwavering love, His unending mercy, and His unrelenting grace. All the saints will enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Should we not, as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, imitate on earth what exists in heaven when it comes to the saint’s proximity to the Prince of Peace? Close and constant communion with Him must occupy the center and the circumference of our lives. Let us not allow anything to come between us and our Savior—not temptations to sin nor the trials of Satan nor the business of this life. We are more than conquerors through Jesus, who loved us so much that He took our place on a cross so that we might take our place at His table.

How near have you been to your Savior lately? Have you been spending time in the Word? Have you been in daily communion with Him through prayer? Has anything come between you and Jesus? If your answer is yes, I urge you to take the necessary steps to remove that obstruction as far as the east is from the west. Jesus will tolerate no rivals, nor should He. Keep close communion with Jesus on earth, as it in heaven, and you will experience the truth of John 15:5—“If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”

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

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Ponder What Is Precious

heart-in-hands

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:17)

To be sure, there are many things in this life that we consider precious. Family is one of them. Friends are another. Health certainly would be high on the list. But there is something far more precious to ponder, and that is the Divine Omniscience that keeps us in His thoughts both day and night. In fact, from eternity past our God has thought about us in His covenant of grace, in which He secured our salvation by the blood of His precious Son.

Now if the Lord thought about us in the past, we can be assured that He is thinking about us in the present and that He will continue thinking about us throughout all eternity. Ponder for a moment today what is truly precious, and you will be greatly encouraged when you realize that God’s thoughts about you . . .

  • Sought you
  • Caught you
  • Bought you
  • Taught you

God sought you in His thoughts before you even existed (Jeremiah 31:3). God caught you when you were on the run from Him, intent on living the life you wanted to live for your own glory (Genesis 3:9). God bought you with the precious blood of His Son, shed on Calvary’s hill (Galatians 3:13). And God taught you the truths of His Gospel, and He continues teaching you those truths each day (John 16:13).

Is it not precious to consider that, regardless of what is going on in your life, God is working all of it for your good and His glory? Is it not precious to consider that God has promised to never leave nor forsake you, no matter how many times you leave and forsake Him? And is it not precious to ponder the truth that nothing—not Satan or your sins—can ever separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus?

Never believe what the world tries to tell us about some impersonal force that exists in the world. Your God is not only deeply personal, He is personally thinking about you, moment by moment. Christian, remember that as the Lord lives, He lives with you on His mind. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered! (Matthew 10:30). Let that truth set you free to be all God has called you to be, regardless of cost or circumstance.

Perhaps today is a good day for you to ponder what is precious.

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

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The Certainty of Suffering

man in black shirt and gray denim pants sitting on gray padded bench

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This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19, 21 ESV)

Suffering is a fact of life after the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden. But there is a special kind of suffering that Peter speaks about in today’s passage. This suffering is not the suffering that naturally results from living in a broken and sin-stained world; rather, the suffering that Peter had in mind comes from being a disciple of Christ and suffering for Christ’s sake.

The darkness hates the light, so we, as children of the light, must expect to suffer when we are living for the Light of the World. When Jesus came into the world as this Light, He suffered greatly, even unto death on a cross. And that is the reality of the relationship between darkness and light . . . evil and good . . . unrighteousness and righteousness. It is certain that to the degree we live out our calling as disciples of Christ, we will experience suffering.

When James said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” he was telling us that this was indeed the pattern of Christ in His suffering in this world, which He endured “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). And what was the joy set before Him? It was you and me and all those who were His. He took the crown of thorns, the nine-inch nails, the agony of the cruel cross, and the utterly inconceivable wrath of God, all for the joy of bringing us into eternal relationship with Him.

After the Sanhedrin flogged the apostles for speaking in the name of Jesus, we read that “The apostles left . . . rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). The more the disciples spoke of Jesus, the more they suffered for it. And the more they suffered, the more they rejoiced, because in their suffering they were like their Savior.

Here is the stark question that confronts you and me: Have I suffered for Christ? As disciples of Jesus, suffering is certain, but only if the darkness knows we are the children of the light. Do those you come in contact with know this truth about you? Remember, whatever sufferings we go through for the glory of God are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us when we cross the Jordan. Let that truth strengthen you for the certainty of suffering, for it is a gracious thing to follow the example of our Lord.

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

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