Our Surrendered Savior

three-crosses

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

The definition of the word surrender is “to yield to the power and authority of another,” and we can find no more compelling example of surrender lived out in all of written history than the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus surrendered completely to the will of His Father. Jesus was the co-eternal God, equal to the Father in power and authority, yet He “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7). I can think of no greater surrender than for the perfect, sinless King of kings and Lord of lords to take on human flesh and be born under the Law.

He who knew no sin took on our sinful flesh and experienced every temptation we experience (Hebrews 4:15). Think about it: by taking on our humanity and becoming fully man, Jesus willingly endured the repulsive reminders of our sinful nature, moment by moment, yet He remained utterly without sin. Also, in His humanity, He experienced the life we live: We get thirsty – He got thirsty. We get hungry – He got hungry. We get tired – He got tired. We grieve – He grieved. He never knew those things sitting on His throne of glory in heaven, but He surrendered all of that to come into this world to save sinners . . . of whom I am chief, as Paul would say.

As you embark on another week, take a moment to reflect on the surrender of your Savior and remember that He surrendered to save you. From all eternity, He desired to be in relationship with you—an intimate, personal, loving relationship with you. And so He surrendered to both serve and to save you.

Surely he took up our infirmities

and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered him stricken by God,

smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Let that truth encourage you to do as your Savior did, and willfully and cheerfully surrender to God’s plan and purpose for your life. It may not look like you want it to look, and it may not happen in the time frame you want it to happen, but you can be sure that whatever God delivers to you is ultimately for your good and His glory.

Know this: the degree of joy, freedom, and faithfulness you experience on this side of the grave will always be in direct proportion to the degree you surrender your life to your Savior.

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

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Blessed From Behind

behind

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

We all know that God is in us by way of the Holy Spirit. We also know that God goes before us and is beside us every step of the way as we advance toward the Celestial City. But did you know that God often shows up in tangible ways from behind—providing guidance and direction? Make no mistake; we are indeed blessed from behind!

It may seem strange to think of God being behind you, providing guidance, insight, and blessing, but this is one of God’s way of growing us up in Christ. And these are often the times of the greatest growth.

We are all familiar with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of cloud by night. During the exodus out of Egypt, the Israelites followed the pillar when it moved and they camped when it stopped. Either way, it was always before them. But there are also times when God determines it is best to lead us from behind.

Think about it this way: it was pretty easy for the Israelites to follow God day and night as He went before them in the pillar of cloud and fire. They saw the cloud and followed wherever it led. But when God is leading us from behind, we must become far more sensitive to His leading, because it comes in unexpected ways. We have to be that much more still before our God in order to be able to listen to His leading. Our forward progress is rooted in our ability to listen rather than to look . . . and, with all the voices and messages clamoring for our attention, listening is far more difficult these days.

So . . . when was the last time you heard a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it?” If you have ever studied the ways of one who herds sheep, you will know that there are times when the shepherd moves to the front of the flock and leads, and there are times when he goes to the back of the flock and drives his sheep from there. There are also times when he walks beside them. The shepherd does what is best for the flock, based on the circumstances he and his sheep are currently facing.

This is also true of the Good Shepherd. Our Lord Jesus Christ knows when it is best to lead His sheep from the front, where He is easy to see and follow. And He knows when it is best to drive us from behind. And then there are those times—particularly when we are confronted by the storm winds of life—when our loving Lord walks right beside us. We simply must be sensitive to understand the way in which our Lord is leading us at the time.

Know this: following His guidance from behind stretches our faith. It is far easier to follow a pillar of cloud and fire that is out in front of us and clearly leading the way. God wants us to trust Him in every set of circumstances . . . and that includes those special times when He has chosen to lead us from behind . . . because some blessings will only be received from behind.

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

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Dealing With Discouragement

gods plan not mine

They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Living as fallen, broken, hurting people in a fallen, broken, hurting world, we all have to deal with discouragement from time to time. And here is a truth that may be tough to accept: Discouragement is a sin. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34 ESV) Philippians 4:6 commands us, “Do not be anxious about anything.” When we allow ourselves to become discouraged, we are obeying the direct commands of Scripture.

There are many ways to describe the sin of discouragement, but perhaps the best way is with this phrase:

Discouragement rears its ugly head when I refuse

to accept God’s plan and purpose for my life.

Another way of putting discouragement in its proper place is with the term “unmet expectations.” We all have expectations:

  • Expectations in school
  • Expectations at the office
  • Expectations in our friendships
  • Expectations in our families
  • Expectations for our bodies
  • Expectations in our finances

And when our expectations, whatever they may be, go unmet from our perspective, we have a tendency to drift into discouragement. But when we bow our heads and our hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ and surrender control of our lives to Him, we must keep in mind that this surrender includes our unmet expectations. Why? Because the reason our expectations were unmet is that they were not part of God perfect plan and purpose for our imperfect lives. He has something far better in store for us, so we must turn our discouragement into devotion.

For the Christian, the truth of Romans 8:28 is to be our travel guide in this life:

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,

who have been called according to his purpose.

Think of the example of Joseph; surely Joseph was not expecting to spend most of his adult life in Egypt! As the favored son of his father Jacob, Joseph expected to go from blessing to blessing. Instead, Joseph went from being thrown down a dry well by his jealous brothers . . . to being a slave in Egypt . . . to being a prisoner in a dungeon. Yet through it all, Joseph kept his focus on God and eventually his unmet expectations were turned into something entirely unexpected: he was made prime minister of all of Egypt and was used by God to accomplish the saving of many lives.

So . . . where in your life have you been dealing with discouragement due to unmet expectations? This is the time to remember to walk by faith, and not by sight, because the God who is walking with you is absolutely, unalterably for you, and He will—in His time and in His perfect way—return to you blessings multiplied. Are you willing to wait upon the Lord?

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

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When Unchanging is Unpredictable

unpredictable

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)

In a constantly changing world—with technology, fashion, political ideologies, even the very language we use changing at a remarkable pace—our God changes not! Theologians use the term immutability (meaning “unable to change”) to describe this attribute of God.

So how is it possible for the unchanging to be unpredictable? I’m glad you asked! Let’s take a look.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was concerned about the first-century Jewish believers who were suffering under great persecution and struggling with the very real temptation to fall away from their faith in Christ and return to Judaism. So the inspired writer of Hebrews reminded these Christians to keep their eye of faith on the One who never changes. Their faith—and yours and mine also—was rooted in the Faithful One who will not, does not, and simply cannot change.

There never will be a time when God does not accomplish His will and His purposes, regardless of the circumstances. In other words, we can take God at His word because it is “forever settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:16-17)

“Tommy, I still don’t get it,” you say. “If God never changes, what can be so unpredictable about our lives?” That’s easy; the answer is: The details of daily living are unpredictable.

If you have placed your trust in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on your behalf, your salvation is never in question. Once saved, always saved; you have God’s Word on that! Our salvation is as certain as our eternal destination. But the path we must walk as pilgrims passing through this life toward the life to come is wrought with uncertainty. Think of it this way: God uses the discipline of uncertainty to draw us closer to Him that we might depend more fully on Him.

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring or even if tomorrow will come for us on this side of heaven. And if we try to put God in our “predictable” box, we lose sight of what He is doing in our lives to grow us and mature us in our faith.

When life becomes too predictable, we have a tendency to turn away from God and toward ourselves. We begin trusting in our strength, our intellect, and our abilities. And that’s when the unchanging One shows up in unpredictable ways! Perhaps Jesus shows up in an unpredicted storm or sickness. Maybe Jesus shows up in an unpredicted career change. Jesus changes not, but our circumstances change constantly, and God has designed it that way so that we will trust in Him and lean not on our own understanding.

So regardless of where this message finds you today, rejoice in knowing that your unchanging God is in the middle of every unpredictable circumstance you are facing. God has ordained the unpredictable path that you must walk; but never forget, He has promised to walk it with you . . . every step of the way into Glory.

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

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Spiritual Sense

center of universe

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 2:5)

There is a huge difference between secular sense and spiritual sense, and it is the duty of the Christian to shift from the first to the second. Before Jesus showed up, we thought as the world thinks, and we reasoned as the world reasons. But after we say, “I believe,” we are to exchange our old way of secular thinking for the new way of spiritual thinking. We are to have the mind of Christ, not the mindset of our culture.

So . . . how different is your thinking today?

Our Lord’s entire life was marked by thinking of others. He came to this earth for others. He lived a sinless life for others. He died on a cross for others. He rose from the dead for others. And He is seated at the right hand of God the Father right now, interceding for others . . . for you and me!

Everything in the secular sense is marked by self-centeredness:

  • What goals do I want to accomplish?
  • What dreams do I want to pursue?
  • What possessions do I want to accumulate?
  • How do I believe others should treat me?

To exchange a secular sense for a spiritual sense is to be marked by other-orientation. The world no longer revolves around me, because I am no longer the center of the universe! Then I begin thinking spiritually. Our thoughts rise above the things of this life as we begin thinking of the life to come. We start living in the light of eternity because we realize that what we do right now will echo there.

All the great saints of the Bible went through this transformation—moving from a secular sense to a spiritual sense. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the author of the letter to the Philippians. Paul went from persecuting Christians to pastoring them. He went from slaying Christians to serving them. Paul began living for Someone infinitely greater than Paul; His name is Jesus Christ. God gave Paul a spiritual sense that set the world on fire for Jesus.

The apostle Paul wanted to know nothing other than Christ crucified. Now that is a spiritual sense that is second to none! This can be the confession of our lives also . . . when we shift our focus from the secular to the spiritual and center all of our thoughts on Christ.

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

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The Believer as a Branch

vine

Jesus said, “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)

I pray that today’s message, which is inspired by this very familiar text, will be a source of great encouragement to you—perhaps in an unfamiliar way!

Most Christians are quite familiar with the concept of the vine and the branches. We understand that Jesus is the life-giving Vine and we are the branches, and we acknowledge the vital importance of staying connected to Him if we are to have any measure of success in living the life God has called us to live.

But it is also important to notice this foundational truth: to remain in Christ is to partake of Christ. Nowhere are we guaranteed that we will partake of the fruit! To be sure, the ox is not to be muzzled while threshing out the grain, thereby taking nourishment from the grain it has threshed (1 Corinthians 9:9), but often the Christian’s reward will be found in our relationship to Jesus Christ . . . not in our results for Him!

Branches are simply the conduits of Christ, bearing fruit to those whom we have been called by God to serve because of our abiding connection to Him. The branch exists for the benefit of others, not for its own benefit. My years in ministry have taught me that the greatest blessing in service to others is simply the service itself. Knowing that we are serving our Savior is the great reward, because we are constantly reminded that our Savior did not come to be served, but to serve others (Matthew 20:28). So when we are serving others, expecting no reward other than the joy of pleasing our Lord, we are most like Him.

It is all too easy to catch ourselves expecting a reward for ourselves in our ministry to others. Our service to God can become a means to an end rather than the end itself. You and I must always check our hearts to see what they are beating for at the time. Are we ministering in order to gain some benefit for self? Or are we truly pouring ourselves out because Christ emptied Himself for others (Philippians 2:7 NASB) and we genuinely want to follow in His steps?

So . . . what has your heart been beating for lately? Have you been living a life that is focused more on you? Or on Jesus? Make no mistake, God is in the business of giving good gifts to His people (James 1:17). But the key to living as our Lord lived is to keep our focus on God and not on any rewards we might hope to receive. The greatest gift is God, and the more we (as branches) stay connected to Him (the Vine), the more we will experience our richest reward: a joyful, vibrant, growing relationship with our Redeemer!

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

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Lesson Learned…Later

 

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7)

Jesus uttered these words as He was washing His disciples’ feet on the night He would be betrayed. When Jesus came to Simon Peter and knelt to wash his feet, Peter was as confused as he was convicted that he was utterly unworthy to have Jesus Christ—the King of kings and Lord of lords—wash his feet. As Jesus said, Peter did not understand in that moment, but later the lesson was learned: In order to be a leader you must first be willing to be a servant.

You may remember the story of Job and how everything except his life was taken from him by the evil one. When Job went before the throne of heaven, heaven was silent for a very long time. God did not enter into a dialogue with Job for many days, and even then, the Lord offered no explanation for what Job had suffered. Job had to learn that we are to trust God even when we cannot trace Him . . . and he had to learn that lesson later.

Take a moment to reflect back on your life and a time when your heart was heavy and heaven was silent. What did you learn from that season of silence? To be sure, at the bare minimum, we learn, as Job did, to trust God’s promise that He causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him. But often we must learn this truth later. Our human nature wants answers and we want them right now. But for the disciple of Christ, answers are often exchanged for the Almighty. Like Job, we remain perplexed, but we are sustained in His presence and we trust that God is working all things for our good and His glory.

“I know that you can do all things,” Job said simply; “no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Job had learned from personal experience the truth that is expressed in the psalms: “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalm 135:6)—and it pleases God to bless His children, even though that blessing may come to us out of a whirlwind.

The Christian must live life by faith and not sight, and receive the silence of heaven with the trusting heart of a child, knowing that our Good God has only good intentions in mind for us. As the psalmist wrote . . .

Why are you depressed, O my soul?

Why are you upset?

Wait for God!

For I will again give thanks

to my God for his saving intervention. (Psalm 42:5 NET)

How many lessons have you learned in life . . . later? You know, answers regarding many things in life may not come until we get to the other side. But some answers do indeed come here. The disciples did understand what Jesus was doing when He washed their feet . . . but not until Pentecost, fifty days after the Lord’s resurrection. They needed to get to the other side of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension; when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they learned the lesson. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Be encouraged today, Christian! God has loved you with an everlasting love; He has promised never to leave you nor forsake you. Keep looking to your Lord, knowing that in His perfect time and in His perfect way, the lesson will come to you, and you will be lifted by what you have learned. You will know, deep down, that your heavenly Father is speaking glorious truth into your life.

Hold fast to these words of heavenly comfort:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

I will counsel you and watch over you.

[T]he Lord’s unfailing love

surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;

sing, all you who are upright in heart! (Psalm 32:8, 10-11)

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

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