Forsake Instant Gratification

Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:34)

How often we are just like Esau? In a single impulsive moment, we settle for far less than God’s best for our lives because we want whatever it is right now to fill up some emptiness inside, rather than fixing our focus on the only One who can and will meet our every need. If you see a little bit of Esau in yourself today, then please read on . . . and be encouraged!

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” . . . Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. (Genesis 25:29-34)

Esau traded the lasting benefits of his birthright for the immediate, momentary pleasure of a meal. Esau wanted to solve the immediate problem of his hunger instantly without ever considering the long-term consequences of his actions. We have all done the same thing at some point (or points) in our lives. We see something we want, and without counting the cost we reach for it. In that moment we believe we are satisfied, but more often than not, fleeting pleasure leads to lasting pain. The lure of instant gratification blinds us to lasting heartache that lurks just around the corner.

We are all very much like Esau in exaggerating what we think we need. Was Esau really “about to die” from starvation? Perhaps he had missed a meal when he was out in the open country, but his desire was inflamed by the smell of food, which extinguished his good sense to shun instant gratification and embrace eternal gain.

We have many examples of making the same mistake in our own lives. Here are just a few:

  • Trading family time for business success
  • Trading the pleasures of food for poor health
  • Trading ease for activity that leads to sickness
  • Trading wants for needs

So how do we keep from making the same mistake Esau made? We forsake instant gratification. The key to doing this is to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) of our actions by comparing the short-term pleasure against the long-term pain.

It is easy to fritter away great portions of our lives chasing after things that don’t really matter—or worse, things that cause great pain and harm. May the testimony of Esau’s life—“He ate and drank and then got up and left”—not be the testimony of our lives. The rest of the story reminds us of the bitter regret Esau felt after he thought through what he had done. A little extra thought and prayer on the front end will save us great pain and regret on the back end when we forsake instant gratification. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Gone Fishing

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them. (John 21:3)

Jesus had been crucified, dead, buried, and then resurrected from the grave on that first Easter morning. He had shown Himself to several of His disciples on a number of occasions, including the one who had denied Him on the night He was betrayed. Even after encountering the resurrected Jesus and seeing the nail prints in his hands and feet and the wound from the spear that had been thrust into His side, we find Peter doing what He had done all his life: fishing.

Peter was returning to his old life, rather than moving ahead into his new life in Christ. To be fair, Peter was undoubtedly still struggling with his recent, cowardly failure, when he had denied even knowing Jesus—not once, but three times. Yes, he wept bitterly immediately after that, a clear indication of his repentance, but I’m sure Peter believed, deep down, that he had “blown it” and that Jesus had no interest in using him anymore. And so Peter returned to what he knew best—fishing. He had no inkling that he was about to be caught in the Master’s net for a time of restoration that would prepare Peter to become a great fisher of men.

What was true for Peter is true for you and me, as well; we all need times of restoration in order to return to the primary call God has placed on our lives. When we fail our Lord, we have a tendency to retreat back to what we are familiar with and avoid God’s best for our lives. We can easily convince ourselves that we will no longer be used by God for the call He has placed on us, so we “go fishing”—we go back to our old lives and tell ourselves that serving the Lord is something that is only done by “good” people. But we must remember what Peter learned: that God is not finished with us! Our loving Lord is in the business of using broken and sinful people . . . because that’s all He has to work with! Scripture promises that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus: (Philippians 1:6). Let that be an encouragement to you today and every day God gives you to live out His perfect plan and purpose for your life.

Have you “gone fishing” recently? May these words that Christ spoke to Peter on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee both comfort you and challenge you every time you stumble to get back up and continue doing what you were created to do: expand the cause of His kingdom.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15).

Christian, you will fail at times, but you will never be a failure. If you’re familiar with this passage of Scripture, you know that Jesus asked Peter the same question—“Do you love me?”—not just once, but three times, just to make sure Peter and the other disciples understood that Peter’s three denials were covered by the blood of the Lamb. And what is true for Peter is true for you and me as well! This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Endurance and Encouragement

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus. (Romans 15:5)

Today we have before us two of the most amazing gifts of grace that our God gives to us each and every day. Read on, and be greatly encouraged to continue to endure, regardless of the circumstances you are currently facing.

I often remind our congregation that we are always in one of three stages of life: either we are in the middle of a storm, we are emerging from a storm, or we are heading into a storm. I don’t know about you, but I often wonder why those storms can’t be spaced a bit further apart throughout life! It seems as if they come one after another after yet another. Yet God has given us everything we need to not only weather those storms, but to worship in them and witness through them. We see in today’s verse that God gives us the endurance to keep on keeping on, and He also provides us the necessary encouragement along the way.

Here is one of the things that the Spirit of God wants us to glean from our verse today: Because it is God who has given us the grace gifts of endurance and encouragement in the past, we can count on Him to continue giving them to us as we go through this life.

We know this is true from the testimony of His Word. In the very same chapter of Romans that we are looking at today, Paul was moved by the Spirit of God to write, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Here is the way we can maximize these two great grace gifts that we have received: by marinating in and meditating on the Word of God. The more our reading reminds us about the faithfulness of God in the past, the more we will be encouraged to endure in the present, regardless of the circumstances we are facing. We have been given a hope that simply cannot be extinguished by any flaming arrows of the world, the flesh, or the devil.

How are you doing with these two grace gifts that you have received? Are you encouraged to endure, regardless of whatever you are facing? If you sense that your endurance and encouragement levels are running a bit low, take a few extra minutes with God’s Word today and He will fill you to overflowing. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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From Mess to Mercy

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Oh, what great comfort we can draw from God’s Word today! No matter how badly or how often we mess things up—I don’t know about you, but I mess things up a lot—His mercies are new every morning. And God always acts in mercy to His children—all of His children, and that includes you and me.

The grace and mercy of God are truly amazing. Every bit of God’s grace is undeserved. Every bit of it is unearned and unmerited. Every bit of it is simply a result of God’s loving and gracious nature, which predisposes Him to pour out His mercy on you—not just daily, but moment by moment. And if we are honest with ourselves, we would readily admit that we need His mercy every moment of every day.

Think about the last time you really messed things up. Perhaps it was something you said or something you did, whether it was in your personal or professional life. Was not God merciful to you in the middle of your mess? Of course He was! He loved you just as much after you messed things up as He did before. Because you are in Christ, you are absolutely and eternally loved. You cannot make God love you any more and you cannot cause Him to love you any less. He loves you as He loves His precious Son, Jesus.

Regardless of the messes we make, our God never reacts to us in anger; He simply showers His mercy on us again. And that is because we have been covered by the blood of the Lamb of God, who has taken away our every sin—past, present, and still to come. How else could God respond to us when we are clothed in the rich robes of the righteousness of Christ?

Let me leave you today with a reminder of this wonderful truth:

When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:4-5).

God’s mercy toward us is new every morning, and we can be sure of that because His mercy is not based on anything we do, but flows solely from His kindness, love, and mercy toward us. You have His Word on that!This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Be Still…Not Sit Still

Be still and know that I am God.  (Psalm 46:10)

I cannot tell you how many times my parents and teachers said to me, “Tommy, sit still” when I was growing up. I was always moving some part of my body, whether at the dinner table or at my desk in the classroom. In today’s verse we are commanded by God to “be still,” not “sit still,” and there is a world of difference between the two. Read on and be encouraged today!

When my parents and teachers told me to “Sit still,” it was because I was either being distracting or disruptive. But when God says, “Be still,” He is not rebuking us, but rather He is telling us to “Cease striving” and willingly submit to His sovereign control and course correction in our lives.

To be still is so much more than to merely cease all activity. Obviously, you can sit still and not even come close to being still. That was how I was as a child; I might be outwardly still under the watchful eye of a parent or teacher, but inwardly I was consumed by the need to be in motion again. As adults, we can be totally still on the outside, and still be completely restless on the inside, our minds racing, because we have not yet learned how to be still. We are so often busy being busy, and that is true even when we are sitting still. There is always something we are working on, planning for, or fretting over.

To be still and know that He is God is to surrender to His will even before you are in agreement with it. In fact, you may never be in complete agreement with God’s will, but to be still before the Lord is to trust and follow His will anyway, regardless of where it may lead.

We can only understand the first part of Psalm 46:10 when we understand the last part. To know God is to know the secret of being still. In the beginning of that psalm, the inspired author tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2). To be still is to stop the frantic pace of working in our own strength because we are trusting in the strength of our Savior.

Remember, even if everything around you is coming apart at the seams (mountains falling into the heart of the sea), God is still in complete control of it all. God is orchestrating everything for His glory and your good, but you will never be able to live in that truth if all you do is sit still and do nothing. You must be still by surrendering every aspect of your life to God’s design, which will provide water to your thirsty soul and peace for your restless spirit. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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A Week Without Worry, Part Three

Free woman raising arms to golden sunset summer sky and ocean like praising. Freedom success and hope concept. Girl relaxing and enjoying peace and serenity on beautiful nature.

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

I trust that the first two blogs of this week have provided some necessary insight into fighting the battle against worry. I have saved the best for last, because in all of sacred Scripture, I simply cannot find a better verse to help in this fight than the one we have before us today.

The apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us we are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) because God is for us . . . and if God is for us, it really doesn’t matter who or what comes up against us. The key that unlocks the door to living a week without worry is keeping our focus on Christ and not on our circumstances.

Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom knew this truth well; she explained it this way, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Worry wrecks our resolve and weakens our response to whatever it is we are facing.

Think about it this way: If the most important and life altering events are no longer a source of worry for you—if you no longer had to give one second of thought to worrying about . . .

  • Being forgiven (1 John 1:9)
  • Being forsaken (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Being forgotten (Isaiah 49:15)

– And if death itself has been overturned by Jesus rising from the grave and becoming the death of death, the there is absolutely nothing in your life that rises to the level of the need for worry! If God is for you, who can be against you? God has got you and God has got this, whatever “this” might be for you.

However, there is a death that is still required, and that is death to the self. The more you die to yourself, the more you can live for your Savior. The apostle Paul wrote that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul trusted completely in Christ, and that trust turned any occasion for worry into an opportunity to witness to the faithfulness of his Lord.

Let me bring you one final point from the pen of the apostle Paul as we close out our week without worry: Make sure you are advancing in life from your knees and not your feet. “Do not be anxious about anything,” Paul wrote, “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).  

If God is for you . . . and you have His Word on it that He is . . . doesn’t it make sense that He would want to hear from you? Like any good father would want to hear from his children, your Heavenly Father wants to hear from you! And when you go to Him in prayer with whatever it is that is beginning to worry you, you have exchanged worry for worship, which is the true mark of the child of God.

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

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A Week Without Worry, Part Two

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you. (Psalms 55:22)

We continue our series of articles on spending a week without worry by beginning with a verse that echoes the words of Peter that we closed with in Monday’s blog. David, who wrote Psalm 55, knew well that God could be trusted. Peter knew God could be trusted. How is it with you and me? Do we know this truth? Do we live it out in our daily lives?

When Jesus instructed us not to worry in His Sermon on the Mount, he did so by arguing from the lesser to the greater. He said that if God cares for the flowers of the field and the birds of the air, how much more will He care for you and me . . . we who are made in the image of God? Scripture tells us that God cares for everything He created, but man is the pinnacle of creation. God’s people will one day judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). You are the apple of God’s eye. In Monday’s blog, we saw that 1 Peter 5:7 instructs us to “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” When we keep His care for us in mind, we should be more than willing to cast our cares on Him.

There is another important point from our Lord’s sermon that we should keep in view. Jesus asked, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27). Worry is a thief. It captures our time and wastes our energy, having no ability to help or change the circumstances we are facing. Worry has no power to prevent anything bad or produce anything good in our lives, no matter how much time we spend engaged in it.

Here are just a few of the damaging effects of worry:

  • Insomnia
  • Daily fatigue
  • Ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Indigestion
  • Heart palpitations

As a pastor, I have learned the sad truth that the epitaph Died of Worry could be etched on far too many tombstones. Worry is having a divided mind, and a divided mind is as destructive as it is deadly.

Can you identify any of your own “worry” triggers? Do any of these resonate with you—feelings of powerlessness . . . feeling vulnerable . . . feeling that life is out of control? When you identify some of your triggers, you can be ready to respond appropriately by casting your cares on your Lord before those cares crush you under the weight of worry.

Remember, worry is a choice. You can choose to worry or you can choose not to worry by trusting in the One who can be trusted and who has proven to be trustworthy in the past. In choosing not to worry, you are not ignoring or suppressing those worrisome thoughts. Rather, you are sharing them with your Lord, who has promised to sustain you and care for you. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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A Week Without Worry, Part One

Therefore I tell you, do not worry . . .  (Matthew 6:25)

This week I am going to present a three-part series of articles that I hope will strengthen you to go through this week without worry. Worry affects us all, which is probably why the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (the phrase was repeated more than 20 times throughout the song) sold millions of copies. The song resonated within the hearts of so many because worry messes with our lives and weighs us down, as Proverbs 12:25 warns us.

Let’s begin by clarifying the difference between worry and proper care. We are to have the proper care and concern about life and the responsibilities that go with living it. We should anticipate the negative consequences of taking a certain action or failing to respond appropriately when we see trouble ahead. But we are never to be anxious about life because we have lost sight of our sovereign God, who can be trusted in any and every circumstance we face. Proper care produces practical steps for the circumstances of life, but worry paralyzes us.

There are many ways to define worry, but the biblical bottom line is that worry is a lack of trust in God—who He is and what He has promised. Each day presents us with myriad opportunities to worry, from our health to our home life to our finances to our future. Jesus added these specifics to our verse for today: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” And what is the reason why we are not to worry? Because God can be trusted!

After telling His disciples “Do not worry,” Jesus went on to say, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33). When we worry, we are not seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness; rather, we are trapped in the momentary circumstance and our fear is telling us that God is not big enough to handle whatever it is we are going through.

So how do we keep worry from watering down our witness? We must remember and act on these words from the apostle Peter:

Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

The next time anxiety begins to grip you, remember to cast whatever it is on Jesus, because He cares for you and He can handle whatever it is you are going through. I have reminded you of these great words from Charles Spurgeon before: “God is so good and gracious that we can trust His heart even when we cannot trace His hand.” Let that truth set you free from worry. And come back on Wednesday for some more ideas on how to spend this week without worry. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Almighty Advocate

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If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. (1 John 2:1)

An advocate is someone who supports, strengthens and stands in the gap for another. The Bible identifies the Holy Spirit as our Advocate, and it also identifies Jesus in the same capacity. Today I want to encourage you with a word about Jesus Christ, your Almighty Advocate.

First, Jesus is your Advocate at the moment of your salvation when God the Father accepts you as His own, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Here is what I imagine the conversation might sound like between Jesus and His Father:

Father, this one is mine. Yes, this person is guilty as charged. Yes, this person is dead in trespasses and sins, but you decreed in eternity past that My death would pay the penalty for this person’s sins and that My blood has cleansed this person from all unrighteousness. You put your stamp of approval on My work being totally sufficient for this person’s salvation when you raised Me from the dead. Not only now, but forevermore, there is no condemnation for this person because I was condemned in this person’s place.

Second, Jesus remains our Almighty Advocate forever and ever, for God’s Word promises us, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25). We were not only sinners in need of a Savior when we got saved, but we are most definitely sinners in need of a Savior every moment of every day thereafter. We still sin, and when we confess our sins, Jesus is faithful to forgive us, over and over and over again.

And don’t forget this. Because Jesus was fully man as well as fully God, He knows exactly what you have gone through, what you are currently going through, and what you will go through in the future. He knows your temptations and your suffering and your sorrow. He lived it Himself, yet without sin, and He can sympathize with you every step of the way into glory.

Remember, regardless of where this finds you today, your Almighty Advocate is not only for you, He is with you and He is in you. If you have any doubts about this, let me encourage you to pray that God would open the eyes of your heart to this truth, that you may rejoice that Jesus is your Almighty Advocate. He has loved you with an everlasting love, and His love for you and advocacy on your behalf will never waver. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Are You a Refresher?

One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:24-25)

The simplicity in this proverb is supernatural in its impact. Read on and be greatly refreshed today!

What does it mean to refresh? The dictionary uses a variety of words to define the word refresh:

  • Restore
  • Revive
  • Renovate
  • Replenish

Perhaps the best way I can explain the biblical meaning of what it means to be a refresher is to be someone who makes the lives of others better! A refresher is the kind of person other people want to be around. Perhaps the best way to sharpen your understanding of being a refresher is to answer this question: Who in your life right now would you describe as a refresher? Who lifts you up whenever they are around you and shoulders your burdens with you? Who do you know whose glass is always have full, rather than half empty?

Refreshers shine their light into the darkness and help you see the way forward. They are quick to listen, quick to encourage, and always ready to serve. They have a tendency to make your world not only brighter, but better and even bigger. They help to enlarge your vision of yourself and the call God has placed in your life. Their encouragement empowers you to get up every time you fall down and to keep going even when you would rather not.

Does this describe the kind of person you are in the lives of others? If not, what is one change you could and should make today in order to become a refresher?

Don’t forget the promise in this proverb. Those who are refreshers of others are themselves refreshed. That promise will be true for you. You simply cannot refresh others without being refreshed yourself.

Remember, the greatest Refresher the world has ever seen is Jesus. Take a look at the way the Amplified Bible translates Psalm 23:2-3 –

He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures;

He leads me beside the still and restful waters. 

He refreshes and restores my life . . .

The more we refresh others, the more we are like our Lord. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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