What Have You Been Worshipping Lately?

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

God made us for worship; and because we are wired for worship, we all must have something as our object of worship. I am not speaking about the two-hour block on the weekend reserved for church service. Worship is not simply a part of your life; it is your life. David said, “I will praise the Lord at all times; my mouth will continually praise him” (Psalm 34:1 NET). For the Christian, Christ is to be our object of worship, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.The Bible makes it clear that every one of us must live for something, and that “something” will come always under one of two headings: the Creator or some created thing. We run into trouble when we look to a created thing to do for us what only God can do; we lose our way and water down our witness.

As a pastor, I am often confronted by people who think that Jesus has no right to ask for our undivided worship. What they fail to recognize is that everything asks for our undivided worship: our careers . . . our families . . . our possessions . . . our bodies . . . our hobbies. If we are not worshipping our Creator, we will be worshipping some created thing, and that thing cannot and will not support the weight of being our savior. That thing simply cannot meet us in our deepest place of need. It will never satisfy the deepest desires of the heart. Only Jesus can do this, because only Jesus is always loving, always forgiving, always constant, and never changing.

The American essayist David Foster Wallace was right when he insisted that “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” So the question that you and I must ask ourselves is this: What have you been worshipping lately?

Remember, God created us in such a way as to never allow any created thing to satisfy the deepest needs of the heart. Worship money and you will always need more. Worship your body and you will always feel flawed. Worship power and you will be dogged by fear and insecurity. God made sure that every created thing will leave us wanting, and in wanting we should return to the only One who can fill us to overflowing with the meaning, purpose, satisfaction, and happiness we all so deeply desire: Jesus!

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

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Longing For A Place We Have Never Lived

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1)

God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and thus we all long for a place we have never lived: Paradise. Because we are image-bearers of God, we intuitively know that we were made to last forever. When Adam and Eve sinned, death entered into our existence as an alien invader. People say death is only natural, but that’s not true! Death is normal. We all are dying at the rate of 60 minutes an hour. But death is not natural. It is unnatural; it is not what God created us for in the beginning when He made all things “very good” and death was nowhere to be found. We recognize that our current situation is not right, so as we live on this side of the grave, we are all hungering and thirsting for that Paradise that was lost.

Because we know deep down that we were made for Paradise, we have a tendency to try everything in our power to transform our today into the promise of Paradise to come. We seek after earthly treasures that we hope will meet us in our deepest place of need, but that simply will not happen. No created thing can do for us what only our Creator can do. That quest to find fulfillment in the things of this world only makes us desperately driven, which ultimately leads to despair. We seek identity in our professions, and that leaves us wanting. We seek satisfaction in our relationships, and that leaves us weary. We seek meaning in our social status, and that leaves us wiped out.

The key that unlocks the door to living a life that truly matters is to live today in light of eternity. We must remember we are not home yet. This world is not all there is. We have a promised Paradise waiting for us on the other side of the grave. When we remember what has been promised to us through our relationship with Jesus, we can live in the midst of the disappointments, disillusions, and defeats of this life because we know the ultimate end of our story here, a story that will go on forever there.

C. S. Lewis concluded his wonderful “Chronicles of Narnia” series with these words:

All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Lewis was expressing a biblical truth; let that truth both comfort and challenge you to live your life today in view of the place you long to live in: your promised Paradise.    

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

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The Impossibility Of Living Autonomously

Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22)

When we look closely at the account of Adam and Eve’s terrible fall in the Garden of Eden, we see that their number one desire was to live autonomously. They actually wanted to get out from under the rule and reign of God. Instead of obeying God’s revelation, they listened to the insinuation of Satan, who had taken possession of the serpent. Our first parents had been given every imaginable provision and only one prohibition, but the serpent was able to convince them to question the goodness of God.

Notice that the serpent did not suggest that there is no God. Instead, he convinced Adam and Eve that God, by prohibiting the fruit from just one tree in the Garden, had demonstrated that He did not want the absolute best for their lives. The implication was that God is not good. Adam and Eve swallowed this lie and decided that they could and should live apart from God, independently and autonomously. What a terrible idea!

What Adam and Eve actually did was exchange God for Satan. After their rebellion against God, they did not live autonomous lives; they were now living for Satan. They had become slaves to another master, and that master did not have their best interests in mind. Satan’s ill intent jumps off the page in his words to Eve: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be more like God. That should be the greatest goal of our humanity: to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. What was wrong was the way in which Satan told them to achieve that goal: by disobeying God. They already were like God; they were made in His image! They were made by God and made for God, but by following Satan’s sneering suggestion (“You will not surely die”), they denied their divine design. They certainly were not living autonomously, because that is an impossibility.

You and I are no different from Adam and Eve; we too are designed to live under the rule and reign of Almighty God. We are made to live as slaves to our Lord. He is a good and gracious Master who has our ultimate good in mind all the time. The choice is clear: We can live as slaves to our Lord or we can live as slaves to ourselves and the things of this world. If we are not living for the glory of our Creator, we are living for some created thing, and those things will never satisfy.

There is no such thing as autonomous living. Living for our Lord is the most heart-satisfying, mind-renewing, life-changing, and joy-producing “slavery” in the world. It is only to the extent that we are living in slavery to our Lord Jesus Christ that are we truly free, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). At this level of living, we are fulfilling the reason for our existence: to live in a loving, intimate, and personal relationship with Jesus.

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

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Binoculars For Believers

Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:5)

Binoculars allow us to see people and objects at a distance with great clarity, as if they are close up. The prophet Isaiah was looking through a set of “believers’ binoculars” when he penned his prophetic work. Many theologians call the book of Isaiah the “Fifth Gospel” because of the remarkable clarity with which it describes our Lord Jesus Christ, in spite of the fact that Isaiah wrote his book 700 years before Jesus took on flesh and dwelt among us.

Jesus was centuries away, yet Isaiah saw him clearly. His prophecy points toward the Lord’s —

  • Birth
  • Life
  • Death
  • Resurrection
  • Ascension
  • Second Coming

And if that is not enough to light the fire of your faith and inspire you to read Isaiah over and over again, Isaiah’s prophecy also foretold the ministry of our Lord Jesus and the manner in which He would carry it out.

Today I want to encourage you with the truth that faithfulness is the sash around our Lord’s waist. This means that Jesus is faithful in every way. He can be trusted for everything. Never forget that it is His faithfulness to us, not our faithfulness to Him, that keeps us in relationship with Him. When we are unfaithful — and that happens far more often than we would care to admit — He is always faithful to us.

The entire Bible serves as binoculars for believers. The more time we spend meditating on and marinating in the Word of God, the more clearly we see just how faithful our Lord is to us and how much he loves us. And it is the faithfulness of our Lord that will sustain us all the way into glory. It is His faithfulness that secures our eternal future with Him.  

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

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The Treasure Of Trials

I know, Lord, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (Psalm 119:75)

“The Treasure of Trials” may seem like a crazy title for a word of encouragement, but it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God! And that’s why it is the truth, because God is helping us through every trial we face, and He is turning all our afflictions into a lasting treasure.

Ruth Bell Graham once said, “When the devil attacks us, he often goes too far and drives us deeper into our relationship with the Lord.” What an amazing God we have, who takes the slings and arrows of the evil one, attacks that were meant to destroy us, and uses them to deepen our dependence upon Him. Left to ourselves, we would all live lives of self-sufficiency. But by faithfully afflicting us, God is weaning us from every earthly treasure we chase after that cannot satisfy.

Jesus is redeeming every challenge, every problem, every storm wind that blows our way and converting all of it into a lasting treasure. To be sure, none of us wants to go through trials, but knowing that God is with us and using all of them for our good and His glory strengthens our resolve to receive all of it with thanksgiving.

These powerful words of the psalmist — “In faithfulness you have afflicted me” — give us the key that unlocks the door leading to the truth about the treasures of our trials, which is the truth that nothing happens to us that does not first pass through our Lord’s nail-scarred hands. God is in control of all things, and our trials are His faithful servants, used to conform us into the image and likeness of Jesus. There is no greater treasure than that for the child of God.

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

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Divine Distinguishing Of The Dogs

Not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (Exodus 11:7)

Today’s verse is focused on the tenth and final plague that the Sovereign Lord brought against Pharaoh and the Egyptians just prior to the exodus of God’s people out of their bondage in Egypt: the death of all the firstborn sons. At midnight the Lord sent the angel of death throughout Egypt to strike down every firstborn son, but all of the sons of Israel were protected because of the blood of the lamb that was spread over the door frames of their homes. God said there would be loud wailing throughout Egypt – worse than there had ever been or ever will be again – but among the Israelites not a dog would bark. The power of our God is unmatched, controlling even the barking of the dogs to distinguish between the Israelites and the Egyptians.

The distinguishing power of God should be a source of cosmic comfort for us today. He knows who His people are and He knows how to protect them. The Creator and Sustainer of the universe loves His people so much that He will give them a sign pointing to His awesome power, even directing individual animals to do His bidding. With a power like that working for us, with us, and in us, what have we to fear? No matter what comes against us, far greater is the power that is available to us to rise above it.

God is on His throne, and He is ruling all things to accomplish His purposes in this world. He is in control of all things and all things serve Him (Psalm 119:91). Our God knows everything about the challenges we are facing, and He has given us everything we need to turn opposition into opportunities, problems into possibilities, and setbacks into successes. Truly, no weapon formed against us can prevail. Our God is an awesome, distinguishing-of-the-dogs God. May that truth set us free to follow Him wherever He leads.

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

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Grace That Strengthens, Not Shames

Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. … Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19, 21)

The movement of our salvation begins in grace, is completed in grace, and is carried on in grace every step of the way into glory. Grace has brought us out of the darkness into God’s marvelous light. Grace shatters our darkness. Grace sanctifies our darkness. Grace swallows up our darkness. Along the way, grace illuminates the remaining darkness that still looms around our hearts and minds — not to shame us, but to strengthen us. Jesus brings His grace into our lives to deliver us from the darkness that remains in our thoughts, words, deeds, and desires.

In exposing our darkness, it is God’s plan to prompt us and propel us into His glorious presence. Jesus is the light of the world and the light of our world. He is committed to doing everything that is necessary to dispel every bit of remaining darkness in our lives and fill us with His light.

The devil would have us feel shame every time the light of the Lord exposes some dark area in our lives. Shame is one of the sharpest darts that Satan throws our way. It is his goal to cause us to shrink back from our Savior by shaming us into believing that “God could not possibly love someone like me.” But as my friend Steve Brown from Key Life Ministries often says, “That smells like smoke and comes from the pit of hell.”

Because the light of grace has come into our lives, we need not fear any accusation hurled at us by the enemy. As Paul said so well, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” (Romans 8:33-34). There is nothing that is exposed by the Light of our Lord that He did not already know. Not only does Jesus know every remaining area of darkness in us before it gets exposed, He has covered all of it with His precious blood. His grace is sufficient, both for our eternal salvation and for our daily lives.

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

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Happy Reformation Day!

For those of you who were expecting a “Happy Halloween” on October 31st, I’ll say it: Happy Halloween! Neighborhoods all across the United States will be covered with kids in costumes hoping to fill their bags with treats. However, I would like to take a moment to encourage you with a brief history of something far more significant to celebrate on the last day of October: Reformation Day.

Reformation Day is a religious celebration for Protestants all over the world. On October 31, 1517, a Greek monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, an event that marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s document represented a public invitation to academics and theologians of his day to discuss and dispute the church’s practice of selling “indulgences” to secure the forgiveness of sins. Many theologians say that October 31 commemorates a cosmic move of the Holy Spirit reminiscent of the Day of Pentecost.

What follows is a very brief picture of the importance of this day in the history of the Christian church. Martin Luther identified the problems of works-righteousness, merit-based practices, and extra-biblical traditions that were rooted in Roman Catholicism. Luther essentially revived the true Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, as is set forth in sacred Scripture.

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Luther believed that the Word of God should have supremacy as it related to faith and practice. Tradition can certainly play a role in the church, but it must never be elevated to the level of infallibility. In God’s providence, at the time Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, the printing press had been invented and was ready to copy and circulate the Bible that Luther had translated into German in order to put the Word of God into the hands of the common person.  Luther also recaptured the doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” which meant that every person mattered. Luther taught that there was no sacred-secular split; every person, regardless of their occupation, is in full time ministry service to God when what they are doing is done for God’s glory. 

As you might imagine, the Roman Catholic Church was greatly displeased, Luther was brought before the church and told to recant of his position. His response left an indelible mark on the history of the church:

I cannot choose but adhere to the Word of God, which has possession of my conscience, nor can I possibly, nor will I even make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience! Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise, so help me God! Amen.       

The Protestant Reformation exploded out of Germany and spread through Europe. The torch was picked up by other courageous giants in the history of the church: John Calvin in Geneva, Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, and John Knox in Scotland. The Reformation that Luther led sparked the Anabaptist (free church) movement and the English Reformation, which expanded Christianity across the water all the way to America. Make no mistake, Luther’s hammer hit a nerve that vibrated throughout the world, reclaiming the good news of the Gospel, that salvation is by grace, not good works . . . mercy, not merit.

Sometimes we wonder what difference one person can make. Well, the difference Martin Luther made will echo into eternity in the lives of untold millions of Christian believers. 

So, on this Reformation Day, let me encourage you to rest in your redemption, knowing that everything you need has already been given to you by the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, ‘It is finished,” He meant what He said, and He said it to you. Let me also encourage you to do as Luther did by telling others that God so loves them that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). 

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

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Behind The Scenes Savior – Part 3

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4)

On Monday we saw that we have a “Behind the Scenes Savior” who is at work in our lives, even when we cannot see Him or sense His presence. On Wednesday we saw how He worked behind the scenes in the life of Joseph; today we’ll look at another great hero of the Old Testament: Moses.

Moses was born at a time when the Pharaoh of his day had given the order for the Hebrew midwives to kill all the baby boys born to the people of God. When Moses was born, God was at work behind the scenes, and Moses was taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as her own son . . . and as the grandson of Pharaoh. Moses received the finest education and military training that was available; clearly God had placed him in the household of Pharaoh to prepare him for service years later.

God was working in the heart of Moses, who, at age 40, decided to be “mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24). When visiting his people, he saw an Egyptian slave master mistreating a Hebrew slave and he struck down the slave master. Moses thought he was going to deliver his people from bondage in his strength and in his way, but Pharaoh sought to kill Moses for what he had done. Moses was now a condemned murderer on the run. But once again, God was working behind the scenes in the life of Moses, and He sent Moses to the back side of the desert in Midian for the next forty years, preparing Moses to be the deliverer of God’s people.

When Moses eighty years old, God called Moses into service and sent him back to Egypt to deliver God’s people from bondage and slavery. When Moses objected and gave every excuse he could think of to get out of his calling, God said, “I will be with you.” God was with Moses and used him to deliver his people from their slavery in Egypt. For forty years, Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, through the desert, and to the Promised Land. Throughout all 120 years of Moses’ life, God was working behind the scenes.

Moses could never have imagined what God was up to during the first forty years of his life as he grew up in the household of Pharaoh, living a privileged life. Then, as a condemned murderer, he never could have imagined what God was up to during the next forty years of his life as he worked as a shepherd in the desert of Midian. But when God suddenly came out from behind the scenes and appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses began to understand how God had been at work throughout his entire life, preparing him to be the deliverer of God’s people.

It is my prayer that this week’s three-part devotional will be a source of great hope and encouragement in your life. God is at work in your life, even during those dreary and difficult seasons when you cannot sense His presence or understand what He is doing. Remember, Jesus said, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). Just keep looking to Jesus. He has everything under His complete control in your life. Always has, always will. You have His Word on that!  

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

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Behind The Scenes Savior – Part 2

Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)

On Monday we saw that we have a “Behind the Scenes Savior” who is at work in our lives, even when we cannot see Him or sense His presence. God is working everything together — even the difficult and the painful — for our ultimate good. Today and Friday we’ll look at two examples of just how He does that.

Joseph was the favored son of Jacob, and his brothers hated him for it. Jacob gave Joseph a special coat of many colors; that visible symbol of their father’s affection inflamed the brothers’ hatred even more. God was with Joseph and gave him the supernatural gift of understanding divine dreams. But when Joseph shared these dreams with his brothers, they hated him with a deadly intensity.

So when Joseph was 17, his brothers decided to get rid of him. Here is an overview of the next 13 years of Joseph’s life:

  • The brothers decided to kill Joseph by throwing him into a pit (Genesis 37:24).
  • Then, not wanting his blood on their hands, the brothers decided to sell Joseph to slave traders, who took him down to Egypt (Genesis 37:28).
  • Joseph was sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials (Genesis 37:36).
  • Joseph prospered in the house of his Egyptian master because God was with him (Genesis 39:2).
  • Joseph was entrusted to care for everything Potiphar owned (Genesis 39:4).
  • Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph; when he refused her advances, she falsely accused him of trying to rape her (Genesis 39:14).
  • Potiphar believed his wife and had Joseph thrown in prison (Genesis 39:20).
  • But the Lord was still with Joseph in prison and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden, who put Joseph in charge of all that was done there (Genesis 39:21).
  • Joseph interpreted the dreams of the king’s cupbearer and chief baker (Genesis 40:8).
  • After Joseph spent two more years in the prison, word of his gift eventually reached Pharaoh, who had two dreams that Joseph interpreted, warning of seven years of famine in Egypt (Genesis 41:16).
  • Pharaoh took Joseph out of the prison and brought him into the palace, making Joseph second-in-command over all Egypt (Genesis 41:40).
  • While Joseph was serving as Egypt’s prime minister, Pharaoh gave him one of his daughters in marriage. Joseph was now 30 years old (Genesis 41:46).
  • During the famine years, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt looking for food and were ultimately reunited with Joseph. It was then that Joseph uttered the words recorded in our verse for today (Genesis 50:19-20).

When Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, he surely did not understand what God was up to, but God was working behind the scenes. When Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison, he surely did not understand what God was up to; Joseph was punished for doing the right thing! But God was working behind the scenes. When Joseph more than two years in prison, he did not understand what God was up to, but God was working behind the scenes. When Joseph was raised up to the position of prime minister of Egypt, he still could not understand what God was up to, but God was working behind the scenes. Eventually, however, looking back over his 13 years as a slave in Egypt, Joseph finally faced his brothers once again, and his words of grace to them revealed his understanding of just how God had been working behind the scenes in Joseph’s life:

“God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” (Genesis 45:7-8)

This account of how God worked behind the scenes in the life of Joseph should be a source of great hope and encouragement for all of us. No matter what we are facing, God has not abandoned us; He is at work in every area of our lives, even when we cannot see or understand what He is doing. Scripture assures us that God is working all things together for the ultimate good of all those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Trust Him, even when you cannot trace Him, knowing that He who began the good work in you will one day bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).

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

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