Hearts That Stay, Not Stray

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. (Psalm 57:7)

We who are the sheep of our Great Shepherd all have a tendency to wander. Sheep stray from their Shepherd; that’s why we need a Shepherd to come collect us! But there is a huge difference between straying in our way and straying in our hearts.

When we read through the Bible, we are confronted over and over again with stories of those who strayed in their way. Abraham lied about his wife Sarah being his sister in order to save his own skin. Moses murdered an Egyptian overseer who was beating a Hebrew slave. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband. Martha presumed to rebuke Jesus, demanding that He tell her sister Mary to return to her duties in the kitchen. Peter denied Jesus three times on the night he was betrayed. These are just a few examples of those who strayed from God in their way. But they did not stray in their hearts, and that made all the difference in the world.

We all stray in our way at times. We say things we ought not say. We do things we ought not do. We think things we ought not think. And we desire things we ought not desire. Everything we do in our walk with Jesus is done imperfectly. But this does not mean we have strayed in our heart. The heart that has been changed and now beats for Jesus, by grace through faith, will always beat imperfectly.

The heart that strays is the heart that is unconvinced and unpersuaded by the truths of God’s Word. This is what happened with the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings. The Spirit of God said, “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways” (Hebrews 3:10).

The key to making our heart stay on our Savior is to stay in the Word. The more we are in the Word of God, the more the Word of God will get into us and the more strongly our hearts will beat for Jesus. And remember, when you mess things up and stray in your way, look to the One who is at work within you and who promised to fully complete that work – but not until you are received in glory. Hold tight to His promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

The Best Rest

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

We all need rest. Some need more rest than others, but we all need rest. Our strained eyes, spent bodies, and stressed souls crave it. God established the pattern of work and rest in creation: By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work (Genesis 2:2). Yet here in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was speaking about so much more than just getting a good night’s sleep or taking a day off from work.

Jesus has removed the yoke of sin that weighed us down. He took on all our sin and nailed it to the cross. We are no longer responsible to carry its weight. He has removed the condemnation of sin from us as far as the east is from the west. To be sure, this gives us infinitely and eternally more than mere physical rest from activity.

Now, the devil loves to disturb our rest by making all sorts of accusations. But remember, Christian, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). When the devil reminds you about your past, tell him Jesus has taken care of that, and then remind him about his future in the lake of fire.

The best rest that any of us can get to rest in Jesus. We achieve this rest by living a life that is led by Jesus and a life that leans on Jesus. There is no striving when you are in Christ. He has already finished every aspect of work that needs to be done to make us right with God. All we are to do is to come to Jesus and rest in our redemption, moment by moment, knowing that He who began the good work in us has promised to bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). To be sure, there is much for us to do throughout our lives on this earth. But none of that doing has anything to do with our right standing before God.

Along with the rest Jesus offers comes His peace too. This is the peace that passes all understanding in the face of the stuff of this life that is designed to make us restless and fearful. Keep this in view when it comes to your sin: Debt paid . . . atonement made . . . sinner saved! Do that and you will experience the deep rest your soul aches for.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Incalculable Investment

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? . . . And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you? So do not worry . . . (Matthew 6:25-26, 28-30)

During His magnificent Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us all that worry is a waste of our energy in light of the fact that God has promised to meet all of our needs and so much more. If God cares so well for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, how much more will He care for you, whom He made in His image?

The care God has for you is incalculable! With no need whatsoever to create anything, God, in His infinite wisdom and unfathomable love, chose to create the universe and everything in it . . . including you. And if that isn’t enough to encourage and inspire you to live a life of meaning, significance, and purpose for God’s glory, consider this: After our first parents, Adam and Eve, willfully rebelled against God and then ran and hid from Him, God came after them and promised to save them from sin, Satan, and death.

It was one thing for God to create; it was another thing altogether for God to promise to re-create — at incalculable cost to Himself — everything that we had broken through our sin. The Savior God promised was His Son, who died on a cruel cross to pay the penalty for all our sin. God the Father invested the life of God the Son into us — not just to secure our eternal life, but our everyday life as well. Jesus has promised abundant life, right here, right now, for those who love Him. Jesus has given you His truth, His strength, and His wisdom so you can live a life that truly matters.

So regardless of where this message finds you today, know that Jesus is for you . . . He is with you . . . and He is in you. Jesus wants the absolute best for your life, and that “best” begins with an intimate relationship with Him — not just daily, but moment by moment. Remember, Jesus paid for your life with His precious blood. Let the incalculable investment He has already made in you both comfort you and challenge you to live for the expansion of His kingdom, rather than your own.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Failure Isn’t Final Unless You Fail To Get Up

Then Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. (Matthew 26:40)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus continued to take His disciples everywhere He went after they had failed Him over and over again? Here, in one of His darkest hours, Jesus brought three of His disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane and told them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). When He returned from His time of prayer, His disciples were not keeping watch; they were sleeping. Three times Jesus went back to check on them; all three times they were sound asleep. Jesus woke them the first time; the second time He left them alone.

I don’t think the importance of this story can be overstated when we take an honest look at ourselves and consider the countless ways that we, too, fail our Lord. If all we read in Scripture was stories of devoted disciples who were always on their “A game” in serving the Lord, it would be pretty discouraging! It would be easy to just give up, thinking, “I can never be like those ‘perfect people.'” But the Bible tells us the truth about the spiritual frailty and abject failures of those who spent the most time with Jesus during His earthly ministry; I firmly believe that God intends to encourage us when we find ourselves falling short in our service to Jesus.

We must remember this: Failure isn’t final unless we fail to get up. Remember, when Jesus returned the third time to find His disciples sleeping, they did wake up and they did get up. They continued to follow their Lord, albeit imperfectly; in just a few hours, they would scatter to the four winds, fearing for their lives. Failure did not disqualify the disciples from serving their Lord, and it does not disqualify you or me either. We all fail. We all fall short of God’s intended mark for our lives. God knew we would fail and fall short, but He does not give up on us! He simply keeps encouraging us to get back up and begin again.

None of Jesus’ disciples failed more dramatically than Peter, who would rise from his sleep only to publicly deny that he knew Jesus three times just a few hours later, even calling down curses on himself to keep from being identified as one of Christ’s disciples. This, of course, did not catch our Lord by surprise. He had already told Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). Note well our Lord’s message to Peter: “When you have turned back.” Jesus knew that Peter’s faith would fail, and He told Peter what to do when he got back up again: “Strengthen your brothers.”

Paul echoed the Lord’s instruction in his letter to the believers at Thessalonica when he told Christians to “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Because we all fail from time to time, we are well-equipped to feel compassion for our brothers and sisters when they also fail. We can and should be there to remind them that their failure isn’t final unless they fail to get up. We can encourage them to return, to get back in the race, and to run that race with perseverance.

Remember, regardless of where this message finds you, Jesus has called you to serve Him to the best of your ability. He knows you will do it imperfectly. He knows you will fall short. He knows you will fail time and time again. In knowing this, you know all you need to know to keep getting back up every time you fall. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers and sisters in Christ.

One final point: With Jesus leading the way in your life, every time you fall, you fall forward.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

The Devil Disarmed – Part 3

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)

This week, we are looking at three ways Jesus disarmed the devil and what that means to us today. On Monday we looked at the freedom we have been given through the cross work of Christ; on Wednesday we rejoiced in our forgiveness. Today we will reflect on our . . .

Faith

Once you have been set free from the penalty of sin and received God’s forgiveness of all your sins, you are now ready to live a life of faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ, because “God made you alive with Christ” (Colossians 2:13). We have been raised from death to life through the cross work of Christ. God has given us a new heart, with new desires, and ultimately a new devotion to Jesus. God in Christ crucified our old sinful, rebellious nature and gave us a new, loving nature.

Before Jesus, we had no power to live a life that is pleasing, acceptable, and glorifying to God. But now we have the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from death to life on that first Easter morning coursing through our veins (Romans 8:11). We are no longer slaves to sin; we are now sons of the Most High God and have been given the ability to glorify God in what we think, do, say, and desire. To be sure, we will not do this perfectly until we cross the Jordan and are received into glory. But we will desire to live a life that is pleasing and glorifying to God and to live increasingly more for Jesus and less for ourselves.

Remember, we were once dead in our sins. We were a cold, corrupted, contaminated corpse that could not respond spiritually to God. We were “dead men walking.” But when we trusted in Christ alone, by grace through faith, we were given a new life in Christ, and we are now animated by the power of the Holy Spirit to prefer Him more . . . to prize Him more . . . to please Him more. Having trusted in Jesus, we now treasure Him above all things.  

The ultimate disarming of the devil takes place through our new, God-given desire to live for something bigger than the self. You see, once you are in Christ, the devil cannot take you out of His hand. But what Satan will try do is mess up your life along the way into glory. Now that he cannot drag you down into the abyss with him, the devil’s goal is to disrupt your life and distract you from your devotion to Jesus. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we will find that Satan’s torments and temptations will lose much of their power.

Remember, through our freedom, our forgiveness, and our faith, we have received the power to say “Yes” to Jesus and “No” to the self. The devil has been disarmed. May that truth set all of us free to love the Lord our God will all our heart and soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

The Devil Disarmed – Part 2

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)

This week, we are looking at three ways Jesus disarmed the devil and what that means to us today. On Monday we saw the freedom we have been given through the cross work of Christ. Today we will rejoice in our . . .

Forgiveness

Thanks to the cross work of Christ, we have been set free from our bondage to sin, Satan, and death. Because Jesus willingly went to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, we have been set free from the penalty of sin; we have also graciously been given the deepest need of every human heart: forgiveness!

We owed a debt for sin to our holy, righteous, and sinless God, a debt we simply could not possibly pay. We are sinners, both by nature and by habit, but Jesus stepped up in our place, submitted to the will of His Father, and offered Himself as our substitute through His sacrificial death, receiving our just penalty for our sins on Himself. In the courtroom of heaven, God the Father has declared us “Not Guilty!” because of the substitutionary, sacrificial death of God the Son.

Jesus took our sin — all of our sin, past, present, and still to come — and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). God the Father accepted the sacrifice of God the Son and has forgiven us of all our sins. We are washed clean by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. So the next time the devil tries to drag you down by dredging up your sins, remember this: Jesus disarmed the devil through His work on the cross on Calvary’s Hill.

Rejoice, Christian! You have been set free to serve God with a heart filled with love and gratitude, because you have been fully and freely forgiven. We can exult with the apostle Paul: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

The Devil Disarmed – Part 1

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)

On Easter Sunday we celebrated the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over our archenemy, the devil. Jesus defeated and disarmed the devil through His sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection. This week, we are going to look at three ways Jesus disarmed the devil and what that means for us today: we have been given Freedom, Forgiveness, and Faith. Today we will take a close look into the freedom we have received in Christ.

Freedom

Both the devil and death had a hold on us because we were dead in our sins (Colossians 2:13). God appointed Adam to represent all of humanity, so when Adam sinned and was condemned, we, as his offspring, were considered sinners and justly condemned along with Adam. But Jesus has set us free from that “guilty” verdict, “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us” (Colossians 2:14).

This written code that was cancelled is the Law of God. Jesus came into this world to satisfy the demands of the Law through His perfect obedience and sinless life. The Law of God stood in stark opposition to us because of its demand for perfect obedience, which we could never satisfy, and its requirement of a just payment, which we cold never pay. And so God, in His great grace, “made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When Jesus went to the cross and died in our place, our debt to the Law was cancelled. This is called the Great Exchange: His righteousness was exchanged for our sin. On the cross, Jesus got what we deserved – punishment for our sin – and we got what we do not deserve: His righteous record.

The devil has been disarmed because our debt has been cancelled, and we no longer stand condemned in the court of heaven. Because of the cross, we have been set free from the penalty of sin, and there will never again will be any condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).

As one of my good friends likes to say, “How cool is that?!” What glorious good news!!

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Good Friday

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Looking at the crowd gathered on Calvary’s Hill a little more than 2,000 years ago, we see that the only people who were thinking there was any “good” taking place that Friday were the enemies of Jesus. To be sure, the followers of Jesus would never have imagined that anything good could come from what they had witnessed that day:

  • Jesus was falsely accused.
  • Jesus was beaten and spit on.
  • Jesus was sentenced to death.
  • Jesus was scourged.
  • Jesus was given a crown of thorns.
  • Jesus was nailed to a cross.
  • Jesus was mocked and ridiculed while He was dying.
  • Jesus was dead before sundown.

It certainly looked like evil had won the day when darkness covered the land and Jesus breathed His last. But three days later, on that first Easter morning, Jesus walked out of the grave alive and well. And all those who loved our Lord began to understand what God had been doing that Friday, and it was indeed good beyond measure! God sent His Son to die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and God put His stamp of approval on His Son’s atoning sacrifice when He raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus walked out of His tomb that third day.

The question is this:

Has Jesus walked into your heart, making you alive and well?

If your answer is “Yes,” then today is a great day of celebration; it is indeed GOOD Friday — the best Friday ever! If your answer is “No,” why not simply surrender your life to Jesus right now? Admit your sin and the fact that you cannot save yourself, no matter how hard you try. Cry out to Jesus for salvation! He has promised to save all those who call upon His name, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Remember, the Good in Good Friday has a name, and His name is Jesus Christ. Call on Him, and know these twin truths: Jesus will never leave nor forsake you . . .  and the good work He has begun in you He has promised to bring to completion. Let those two truths set you free to rejoice in the most wonderful Friday that has ever existed in the history of mankind!

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Follow The Cloud, Not The Crowd

Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

During the time of Israel’s wilderness wandering, God made His presence known through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. When the cloud moved, the people of God were to move with it. When the cloud stopped, they were to stay put. Sadly, the people kept looking away from the cloud and onto the crowd.

The crowd complained about the leadership. The crowd complained about the menu. The crowd even wanted to go back to Egypt, where they had been slaves for 450 years and cried out to God, imploring Him to set them free (Exodus 2:23). Bottom line: These were a people who were rumbling, stumbling, and grumbling all the way to the Promised Land. They sought to satisfy their will rather than the will of God. In losing sight of God’s perfect plan for their imperfect lives, they shifted their focus away from the cloud and where God was leading them, and put it on the crowd, which led to suffering and sorrow.

We face the same challenges today that God’s people faced back then. There are countless crowd voices and noises calling us to walk in the ways of the world. We are bombarded by all manner of media voices enticing us and encouraging us to turn away from God and embrace the ways of this world.

But this is not for you! We can be sure that many of the Israelites were telling Moses what to do, where to go, and how to get there. But Moses stayed faithful to God. In his humility and obedience to God’s instructions, he followed the cloud, no matter where it led.

How is it with you today? Are you following the cloud? Or the crowd? Are you listening to the voice of Jesus or the voices of this world? The more time you spend each day sitting at the feet of Jesus, the better you will be able to follow Him wherever He is leading you.  

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Resident Aliens

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers in this world to abstain from the sensual urges that wage war against the soul. (1 Peter 2:11 AMP)

When I hear the word “alien,” I tend to think of the movie E.T. and images of small, green, extraterrestrial creatures with antennae coming out of their oversized heads, but that’s not what I’m talking about today. Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon authored the book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, which discussed the nature of the church and its relationship to the surrounding culture. The authors made the point that, as followers of Jesus, we live as “resident aliens” in this world, an idea that is entirely consistent with the God-breathed truth presented in Peter’s epistle.

As Christ-followers, we are still living in this world, but we are no longer of this world. We have been transferred from one dominion to another. We have become resident aliens in the surrounding culture. At times, we may feel disoriented and displaced, even though we are still living in the same place we have inhabited for years. That is because we no longer are what we once were. We are new creations in Christ, living for a new Master who has given us marching orders that will, more often than not, direct us to move in the opposite direction from the culture in which we live. In Christ, we have been set free from the bondage to sin, Satan, and death, but we are not yet home. We are living in a land that is not yet ours. We are “aliens and strangers,” as Peter put it.

One day, this land will be ours. When Jesus returns, He will establish the new heavens and the new earth, where we will rule and reign with Him forever and ever. But until then, we must remember that this place is not our home. And yet, at the same time, we Christians have been commanded to make an eternal difference in this world by being eternally different from this world. We are to seek the peace and prosperity of this current culture as we cultivate and care for it, all for the glory of God.

Remember, “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) — not the evil systems of this world, but the beautiful world He created and pronounced to be very good. We are to love the world by holding the inherent goodness of the world God created in tension with the corruption Adam and Eve brought into it by their sinful rebellion. In short, we must live as citizens of two kingdoms. When we are living for the glory of the kingdom of God, we will be living in a way that brings great good to the kingdom of man.

May this be the confession of our lives as aliens and strangers in this fallen world.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under General