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THANKFUL FOR A HOPE THAT WILL NOT DISAPPOINT – Part I      

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We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and this hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:3-5)


I would like to help us prepare our hearts to celebrate Thanksgiving with a two-part message rooted in a hope that will not disappoint us . . . not ever!

Because we live in a fallen, broken world as fallen and broken people, there is nothing we have ever been involved in that did not, at some time or another, deal us some kind of disappointment. Whether it was a job we hoped to get, a relationship we deeply desired, or that one thing longed for and maybe even saved to purchase, that hope eventually failed to deliver on the happiness it seemed to promise us. But when we think through this sad reality, we realize that disappointment was the only thing it could deliver. Because all of creation has been marred by sin, everything in it is wildly imperfect and always underperforms.

Take just a cursory glance at the evening news, and virtually any hope we are hanging onto seems to be dashed against the rocks by the unending waves of challenge that keep washing over our world. Virtually every story seems to reinforce the ideas that crime really does pay, honesty is not the best policy, and, as a 1970s song lamented, “The rats keep winning the rat race.” And when all that dust settles, if we are still a bit hopeful, we find enough disappointment within ourselves to last two lifetimes. Speaking personally for a moment, I can testify that far too often, even when I am right about something, I deliver the message the wrong way, feelings are hurt, and the hope people placed in me is doused by disillusionment.

So what is the way forward when life seems to be continually marked by one step forward and two steps back? We must reevaluate where we have placed our hope. When we place our hope in anything of this world, we will inevitably be disappointed. And yet, even in the hope that disappoints us, we still have reason to be thankful, because God is at work through the grace of disappointment. You see, if the things of this life actually could provide a hope that did not disappoint, we would grow into only a fraction of the person God is calling us to be, and we would become cold and distant in our relationship with Him.

The key that unlocks the door leading to a hope that does not disappoint is to place our hope not in something, but in Someone . . . and His name is Jesus Christ. At this exalted level of living, we possess a hope that simply cannot disappoint, because it is rooted in the One who cannot and will not disappoint us in any way.

We’ll take a deeper look at that truth on Wednesday.

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

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ALL PRAYERS ANSWERED 

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)


It’s not uncommon for me to hear people describe how “My/our prayers have been answered.” What they mean is that the thing they had been praying for has come to pass, and so they say, “God answered my prayer!” Now, it’s always a good thing to give glory to God. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has prayed for something, God has brought it to pass, and I completely forgot to give thanks and praise to Him who hears and answers prayer! So I don’t want to sound the least bit critical of those who say, “God answered my prayers.” It is entirely right to do so.

At the same time, however, we must remember this: God answers all prayers. There is never a time when God doesn’t hear or doesn’t respond to our prayers. Let’s spend a moment with this idea, and I pray you will find cosmic comfort in what you read.

As I’ve said here before, all our prayers are answered instantly by God with one of three responses: “Yes” . . . “No” . . . or “Wait.” Now, we all rejoice when God’s response is “Yes,” but what about the other two? You may remember the apostle Paul and his prayer about a thorn. Paul prayed—not once, but three times—that God would remove this thorn, and three times God said “No.”


Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)


Was Paul’s prayer answered? Of course it was! But our Lord’s answer was not what Paul was hoping for. God said “No,” because God had something much better in store for Paul, which was a sufficient amount of grace to help him mature and grow with the thorn, not without it.

Now, as for God’s reply of “Wait,” my personal experience has been that there are times when that response from God is even more difficult to deal with than “No.” I will freely confess that I struggle with impatience, and that’s probably why I struggle with “Wait.” God, in His perfect providence, is at work in our lives, conforming us to the image of His beloved Son through the truth of these words: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Because our God is so loving and gracious to us, making us wait is His way of growing our joy in hopefulness, building our patience in pain, and expanding our faithfulness in prayer.

So regardless of where this message finds you today, let these words bring you cosmic comfort, knowing that your God is at work in your life, regardless of the answer He gives you for any particular prayer. Looking back over your life, I am sure you remember some prayers you fervently wanted God to answer with a “Yes” that you are now fervently grateful that His answer was “No.” And as for those prayers that were answered with “Wait” before God finally answered “Yes”—and it may have been a long wait—can you not see how God had to make you ready to receive the answer you were looking for?

The key to living out the truth of today’s verse is to fully trust the infinite wisdom of God in answering our prayers, even when we, in our finite understanding, cannot trace His answer. Truly, God knows what is best, and He will always deliver it to us for His glory and our ultimate good.

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

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LIVING LARGE 

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My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)


You may be wondering what I’m thinking when I present a title like that, and that is a good thing! If I were using the phrase living large as the common slang term that it is, I would be suggesting living a life marked by extravagant, excessively wealthy, or self-indulgent living. May God forbid that such a message would ever appear in Grace for the Race! I’d like to encourage you today to be “living large” in the biblical sense, and that boils down to understanding which kingdom you are living for—either the little kingdom of the self or the infinitely larger kingdom of the Savior.

The little kingdom of self is not an actual location on some plot of land. Rather, it is the overriding passion and commitment of the heart. It is a heart that beats for earth-bound treasures. It is a heart that aches for the accumulation of the things of this world. It is a heart that pumps blood into the hands that grasp everything with a white-knuckle grip, hands that pinch a quarter so hard that the eagle fairly screams in pain! This is “living little” in the kingdom of one, because everything you want has been turned into a need.

And know this: the more you live in pursuit of meeting your so-called “needs,” the more things in your life come to be defined as needs. If you are not convinced that the little kingdom actually works in this way, consider this: What in your life right now are you in pursuit of that you have defined as a need, but which, after careful consideration, you realize is actually a want? We all have a profound tendency to chase after earthly treasures, and thus we end up living little, rather than living large. I have said it here before, but it bears repeating: Whatever rules your heart shapes your life, and the more you chase after earthly treasures, the more your life atrophies.

The key to living large in the appropriate, scriptural sense is to live for the Lord and His kingdom, rather than for your own. It is the pursuit of the glory of God rather than your own glory. It is trusting in God’s promise to meet all of your needs according to the riches His glory in Christ Jesus, not meeting all of your wants that you have redefined as needs. It is advancing confidently in the direction God is calling you to go, even when you do not understand the direction in which He is leading or what will be the ultimate destination. This is transcendent living, which is the way God has designed us to live. This is living large, because we are living for the Lord, regardless of the cost or the circumstance.

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

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THE DNA OF SIN 

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Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3:16)


The dictionary definition of DNA is “the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.” As it relates to the title of today’s message of encouragement, the DNA of sin—that is, the fundamental characteristic of sin—can be summed up in one word: SELF! There is a great deal of biblical truth to the old adage that the letter “I” appears right in the middle of the word sin. Sin occurs when you and I allow self to assume occupancy on the throne of our lives.

You see this malignant root of sin in many words that begin with self . . .

  • Self-centeredness
  • Self-righteousness
  • Self-absorption
  • Self-rule
  • Self-love

The first thing we must remember about the DNA of sin being rooted in self is this: people who are self-centered are completely unable to please God in any way. Romans 8:8 warns us that “Those controlled by the sinful nature [that is, the self] cannot please God.” When self is in competition with the Savior, we want what we want . . . we want it right away . . . and we want it in precisely in the way we desire.

This sinful striving to satisfy the self began at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden and appears throughout all of sacred Scripture, beginning with Cain murdering his younger brother Abel. We see the DNA of sin in the scheming of Jacob, the larceny of Achan, the adultery of David, the treason of Absalom, the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, the disobedience of Jonah, the denial of Peter, and the murderous hatred of Saul.

But this is not for you! When we review the definition of DNA, we see the words “regarded as unchangeable.” That is a truth we must receive as it relates to the self: we cannot change ourselves. Oh, we can change behaviors for a period of time, and on the surface it may appear that we are a better person. But unless the Lord changes us from the inside out, we have accomplished nothing more than behavior modification. But when Jesus shows up, we are made new, by grace through faith, and behavior does indeed change because the heart has been transformed by an outside agent: the Holy Spirit of God.

Remember, Jesus uses our own self-interest as a grid to gauge our love for others. He has commanded us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). But that will only happen after our selfish heart of stone has been replaced by the selfless heart of Spirit, a heart that now beats for nothing smaller than our Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, there will still be times when the self rears its ugly, sinful head. Yet Jesus has promised that no temptation can overcome us unless we give in to it, because the power of the Holy Spirit in us is greater than any power in the world that comes up against us.

Be encouraged, Christian! Your DNA has been changed by the One who loves you unconditionally. And when you do lapse back into exalting “I” instead of the great “I AM,” He forgives you completely and His eternal love for you is utterly unchanged.

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

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THE POWER OF PRIORITIES 

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


Everyone in the world has the exact same number of hours in a week—168. So how do we explain the difference in the production level of the high achievers? The answer is found in a single word: priorities. It has been well said that “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” What have you been aiming at lately? And is your goal in line with God’s plan and purpose for your life?

For the Christian, the order of priorities is not something we need to ponder or even pray about. The Scriptures make it perfectly clear what our priorities are to be in life. If you are married, loving your spouse is a high priority. If you are a parent, nurturing your children is a high priority. If you are working, working for the glory of God and the good of others is a high priority. But regardless of our circumstances, we are children of God, first and foremost, and our highest priority in life is Jesus.

We see our Lord’s words in our verse for today, that we are to be seeking God first in life. When we do that, we can rest assured that all the other priorities in life will fall into place . . . but only when God is seated upon the throne of our lives. When we allow anything to displace God from the throne of our lives, we set ourselves up for failure. We may be putting in lots of hours and working with a disciplined effort, but the results will always be less than God’s best for our lives, because we are seeking less than God’s best.

The apostle Paul helps us recognize the importance of making the most of the time God has given to us: “Do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).

Remember this powerful precept: When you spend an hour, you have one less hour to spend . . . so spend it wisely. Who would argue against this truth? The less time there is in life, the more valuable it becomes. As Paul said, we are closer to our salvation than we were when we first believed. We are nearing the Jordan; soon we shall cross it and enter into our Promised Land. But before we do, let us take the time to evaluate our priorities and make sure we have them in the right order: God first and everything else after Him.

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

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FROM CHAOS TO COMFORT 

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Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:12)


It is inevitable that storms will stir up chaos in our lives. As I often say from the pulpit, each one of us is either in the middle of a storm, coming out of a storm, or on the verge of going back into another storm. Chaos is simply a part of life on this side of the grave. Yet we can find great comfort in our seasons of chaos because of the One who is with us in every storm we face.

Our passage today comes from David’s prayer of repentance after having been confronted by the prophet Nathan for his dreadful sins. You will remember that David seduced another man’s wife, got her pregnant, and schemed to cover it up. When that plot failed, David arranged for her husband to be killed on the battlefield. This was a storm that stirred up chaos in David’s life and in the lives of many others, and David was solely responsible for all of it.

This is not always the case, of course. Some storms are a result of our rebellion, but others are simply a result of the brokenness in our world and in each other. But either way, chaos will come, and the only way through it is to cry out to Christ for the comfort only He can bring.

David’s plea for forgiveness was a plea for comfort. David’s plea for mercy was a plea for comfort. David’s plea for cleansing was a plea for comfort. And what was “comfort” for David? It was a restoration of the joy of his salvation. Do you remember when you were first saved? Do you remember the overwhelming joy you experienced? If you were saved as a child and cannot remember a particular experience, surely you can remember a time when you experienced the joy of salvation—the joy of walking closely with God through the details of life.

If you find yourself in a storm of your own making, do as David did and confess your sins. You will be on your way to restoring the joy of your salvation. And if you find yourself in a storm that God has sent for your good and His glory, do as David did and ask that God would grant you a willing spirit to rise above the waves of challenge. No matter the circumstances, Christian, know that your father in heaven delights in giving good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). He will sustain you from chaos to comfort.

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

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INSPIRED INSCRIPTION  

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God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his.” (2 Timothy 2:19)


Oh, the comfort of this inspired inscription from the pen of the apostle Paul: our Lord Jesus Christ knows those who are His! All those who, by grace through faith, have trusted in Christ alone for their salvation can be fully assured that Jesus knows you intimately . . . Jesus knows you savingly . . . Jesus knows you lovingly . . . and Jesus knows you eternally.

God’s solid foundation is built on none other than the chief Cornerstone, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And what is built upon the foundation of the Rock of Ages stands firm forever and ever. Sin cannot shake this foundation. Satan cannot splinter this foundation. Death cannot destroy this foundation. He who became flesh and dwelt among us . . . He who took our sins in His own body nailed to a tree . . . He who walked out of the grave on the third day . . . this is the One who knows all those who are His, for He is their God and they are His people.

If this is your truth today, does it not offer you great encouragement, regardless of where this message finds you? Perhaps you are being buffeted by storm winds; rejoice in the truth that Jesus knows you and is your solid foundation. Perhaps you are facing a very difficult decision; rest in the truth that Jesus knows you and is your solid foundation. Maybe you are being hammered by waves of daily challenge and feel like you are facing them all alone. Rejoice in the truth that Jesus knows you and is your solid foundation.

A final word about being “sealed with this inscription.” In the ancient world, the seal was a distinguishing mark that denoted a number of things, including approval, authenticity, and authority. Within the context of this passage we are to understand the seal as the marking of ownership, and with ownership comes provision and protection. Think about it this way: because the Lord knows you as His, you can be absolutely certain of His continued provision and protection, no matter what you are facing.

Greater is the power that is within you than any power that can come up against you. Let that truth set you free today to do all God is calling you to do and 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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