The War of the Wills

wolves

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Have you ever wondered what the Bible means when you read that there will be no more pain when we get to heaven? At the deepest level, it means that the war of the wills will be over. “Thy will be done” . . . finally and forever. Read on and be blessed today!

Many in the church today have been sold a bill of goods; they were told that when they come to Christ, all their troubles will be gone. In reality, that is the point in life when true trouble begins! Why? Because it is at this point in life when the war of the wills begins! Before you were in Christ, you did as you wanted to do when you wanted to do it. The natural man was seated comfortably on the throne of your life. But after Jesus showed up, living naturally immediately came into conflict with living spiritually, and it is this war of the wills that causes us the greatest pain in this life.

Here is the way the apostle Paul put it.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do . . . For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15, 19)

Paul painted a stark portrait of the daily experience of every blood-bought, born-of-grace child of God. The natural will that is in us from birth wars with the supernatural will that was given to us at the moment of new birth, when we were raised from death to life. And every day after that, until we are received into glory, the war of these two wills rages.

There is an old Indian proverb that goes something like this: There are two dogs inside of my heart that fight against each other every day; the one that always wins is the one I choose to feed! So which “dog” inside of your heart have you been feeding lately? The more you feed the old nature, the more pain you will experience in this life. But the more you choose to feed your new, supernatural nature, the more freedom, joy, and faithfulness you will experience. Remember: God did not save you to make you comfortable; He saved you to make you like Christ—to conform you to His perfect image—and, more often than not, that is a very uncomfortable process!

On the night Jesus was betrayed, He gave us the key to winning the war of the wills when he knelt in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. After asking if the cup of His Father’s wrath could be taken away, He prayed, “Yet, not as I will, but as Thy will!” May that be the confession of our lives: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

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

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Saints in the Shadow of Life

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Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep. (Acts 13:33)

Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “Living in the shadow of death.” The words, of course, are rooted in the words of Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Because of Adam and Eve’s terrible fall in the Garden of Eden, we all die. But for the disciple of Jesus Christ, life is not to be lived in the shadow of death; rather, we are to live in the shadow of life!

Death is not something that is lurking around the corner, like a purse-snatcher hiding in a dark alley, just waiting to jump out and snatch your life away. Death, just like life, is in the hands of the Almighty. There are some who mistakenly believe that the devil has the power to send us to our graves. Not true! The devil only has the power God grants to him. The story of Job makes that crystal clear; twice the Lord God essentially commands Satan, “You may go this far, but no farther” (Job 1:12, 2:6). Satan could only do what God allowed . . . and not one step more.

That truth should be a source of great comfort to you today. Think about it this way: Because God is in control of everything in the universe, including your next breath and beat of your heart, you live—not in the shadow of death, but in the shadow of life. Nothing can touch you and nothing can take you apart from the sovereign will of the One who bought you with His precious blood. No weapon formed can keep you from crossing the finish line of life at the exact moment that God ordained from before the foundation of the world.

This is as true for you as it was for David, as today’s verse reveals. It was not until David had fully “served God’s purpose” that he “fell asleep” and went home to be with his Lord. Death did not sneak up on David and snatch him from this life. Death was delivered to David by God when his work in this world was done. Because you are reading this right now, you can be assured of one thing: God is not finished with you yet! There is more for you to do to expand the cause of His kingdom. And when you have served God’s purpose completely—and not one instant before that is accomplished—then you will enter into your eternal rest.

Remember, you are living in the shadow of life, not death, so live life to its fullest for the good of others and for glory of God. You need not fear, because the One who is in you is infinitely greater than the one who is in this world.

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

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Angelic Attendants

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He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:11-12)

Did you know that God cares so much for you that He has assigned “angelic attendants” to shepherd you on your way to the Celestial City? Now, I am not suggesting that every person has been given an individual “guardian angel” to follow him or her around all day long. The Bible simply does not say that. But what it does say should be a source of unimaginable comfort and encouragement to you today.

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

The writer of Hebrews is telling us that the angels do far more than praise and worship God twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Created by God for God, these heavenly creatures are sent to those who inherit salvation for both protection and provision. Angels are at God’s beck and call as ministering spirits in the life of every believer . . . and that includes you! Angels are spiritual beings, so we cannot see them, but the Word of God makes it clear they are sent to us by God. Aggelos, the New Testament Greek word for angels, literally means “sent ones.”

Angels were sent to Jesus too. After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan. After Jesus overcame all three of the devil’s tests by relying on the power of the Word of God, we read this:

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:11)

Now, Jesus as God did not need angels to minister to Him; but as man, He definitely did; Luke 22:43 tells us an angel also came to strengthen Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. That should be a source of great comfort to you today, regardless of where this message finds you. God has promised to meet you in your place of deepest need, not only daily, but moment by moment. He may not always do it in the way you would like it to be done or expect it to occur, because He knows exactly what you need, when you need it, and how best to deliver it to you. And God’s ministry to us may very well be delivered by angelic attendants.

Reflect on this truth for a moment: your cosmic care includes the care of angels who have been sent by God to serve you. You are under the watchful care of countless angelic attendants who will shepherd you into God’s perfect plan for your life, even as you live it out imperfectly each day. May that truth bless you today and every day on this side of eternity.

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

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Beauty For Ashes

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“. . . To comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning . . .” (Isaiah 61:2-3)

May the Word of the Lord go forth and be a source of unimaginable comfort to you today, regardless of where this message finds you. God takes our messes and turns them into His masterpieces. In another words, God takes all that we have ruined and burned to the ground (turned into ashes) and restores them into things of cosmic beauty. To be sure, God’s ways are not our ways, and we catch a glimpse of this truth “In the beginning . . .”

God sent His Holy Spirit to brood over the cosmic chaos “when the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). And as soon as God spoke by way of the second person of the Trinity (Jesus Christ), our Triune God brought unimaginable beauty out of blackness.

This picture of the physical world provides the backdrop for the way God deals with mankind—we who were spiritually dead in trespass and sins and, by grace through faith, raised to walk in newness of life. Before Jesus shows up, we are by nature formless, empty, and the darkness of unbelief lies over the surface of depths of our hearts. Then God in Christ sends the Holy Spirit, and in an instant we become the entirely undeserving recipients of beauty for blackness.

All of our past lives are littered with God’s divine display of exchanging beauty for ashes. The ashes of defeat come in so many different ways. Yet in all of them, God uses every life experience to grow us and mature us in our faith, and ultimately, those ashes are exchanged for His beauty. The real comfort comes in knowing that what God began in us, He will carry on to completion when He brings us into our eternal glory (Philippians 1:6).

As you look back over your life, can you see the times God bestowed upon you a crown of beauty instead of ashes? Remember, the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever will not and cannot change. What God has done in the past He will do in the present, and God is in the business of exchanging beauty for ashes in the life of the believer. Let that truth set you free to rise above every mistake, error, blunder, shortcoming, oversight, and utter failure. Know that God is working all of it for your ultimate good and His glory.

And if you forget this truth, go back to the hill Calvary and remember how God took the blackest event in the history of mankind—the crucifixion “ashes” of our Lord Jesus Christ—and turned it into the greatest blessing of beauty the world has ever known.

As I sometimes tell our congregation, if that doesn’t light your fire . . . your wood is wet!

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

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Here Today…Gone Tomorrow

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“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

First recorded in John Calvin’s Life and Conversion of a Christian Man (1549), the saying “Here today . . . Gone tomorrow” underscores the brevity of life. You sometimes see this phrase used in advertising to describe an item that will not be available for long. I would like to offer you a word of encouragement today by showing you how to appropriate this phrase for your life.

What is here today—whether good or bad . . . positive or negative . . . blessing or burden . . . up or down—will be gone tomorrow. It is tremendously important to grasp the truth of this proverb! If this message finds you in the midst of storm winds that are blowing, you can be sure brighter days are ahead. There are no permanent storms. They come and they go, and it is wisdom to live in the light of this unchanging truth.

If this message finds you in the midst of a season of great abundance and prosperity, hold on loosely! What is here today may very well be gone tomorrow. No one understood this truth better than Job, the upright and righteous servant of God. Having lost his wealth, health, and all ten of his children, he still worshipped his God because he knew that everything he had was simply a gift from a God who is ultimately and always good. We must receive great blessings from God with the understanding that all of them may be here today and gone tomorrow.

So . . . where does this find you today? If you are buried under the crashing waves of challenge, know that soon you will be riding the crest of one of those waves. God will take your burdens today and turn them into your blessings tomorrow. And if you are standing at the summit where the view is magnificent, you can be sure that the valley looms before you. This pattern in life seems to suggest that God delivers to us exactly what we need in order to live in the balanced way He has called us to.

The truth of “Here today . . . Gone tomorrow” should fix our focus on what is unchanging—and His name is Jesus Christ. Our life circumstances are constantly changing as God ordains and wills it to be. The only way to rise above those changing circumstances is to center our lives on the constantly unchanging Christ. If blessing is your lot today, burden is not far away. And if burden is your lot today, blessing in on its way. “Here today . . . Gone tomorrow” is a powerful proverb to keep in view; as we do, we will echo Job in saying, “May the name of the Lord be praised.”

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

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No Nicodemus

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“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?” (John 3:10)

Throughout the Scriptures, we can see that one of the principles of living the Christian life is to make measurable progress in reasonable time. In other words, we are to be growing up in our faith, which is exactly what Nicodemus was not doing in the eyes of Jesus. Here was an expert in the Law who did not grasp the true meaning of what he had been studying all his life! As a serious student of the Scriptures, Nicodemus was not making reasonable progress in reasonable time, and Jesus rebuked him for it.

The apostle Paul offered a similar admonishment to the church at Corinth:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Nicodemus seemed to understand the elementary, earthly things of the Old Testament Scriptures, but not their heavenly, spiritual implications. He had probably memorized much of the Hebrew Bible and so knew the letter of the Law. But Nicodemus could not comprehend the spirit of the Law, because he had never looked below the surface. Even a cursory reading of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount shows us what it means to understand God’s Word at the deepest possible level, a level that raises us far above the letter all the way to the feet of our Lord.

The letter to the Hebrews encourages us to “move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). This is the goal of every disciple of Jesus; we must move beyond milk to meat and grow up into Christ. When Jesus was teaching about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees, He asked His disciples, “Do you still not understand?” Much like Nicodemus, their understanding was rooted in the physical and temporal, not the spiritual and eternal.

To be a Nicodemus is as unacceptable as it is inexcusable. We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, but we cannot and will not be guided if we do not spend time in the Scriptures. To be sure, the Word of God is living and active, but it serves us not if we do not pick it up and spend time in it daily.

Are you growing up in your understanding of your faith? If you are using the means of grace God has given you (Bible study, prayer, worship, communion of the saints), your answer will be a resounding yes. If it is no, you I hope today’s message will encourage you to change . . . and Jesus has given you everything you need to make that change happen.

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

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Conquering Is Not Enough

conqueror

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)

When you read these words from Paul, have you ever considered the true meaning of being “more than a conqueror” through Jesus Christ? I want to encourage you today with what I believe Paul was conveying to us.

I think we can all understand what it means to conquer. We think of military victory or battles won on the field of competition. We all know what it is to conquer a bad habit that may have been dragging us down for years. Perhaps you can relate to the conquering of a particular fear or doubt. But what does it mean to be “more than a conqueror”? Once the conquering has occurred and the victory is won, doesn’t that mean the matter is concluded? In other words, once we’ve conquered . . . aren’t we done?

Those who are more than conquerors not only conquer, but go on to fill that now-empty space with Jesus Christ. Here is a wonderful biblical example.

Israel captured [conquered] all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them. (Numbers 21:25)

The people of God conquered the enemies of God, but they knew that conquering alone was not enough. They occupied the land, which shut down any possibility of the Amorites regrouping and mounting a counterattack. What does that mean to us as we face the struggles of daily living? How does the example of the Israelites apply to us as we battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil?

Once we conquer in any particular area of life, we must occupy—that is, fill the void with Christ—if victory is to be maintained. Look at it this way:

  • Anger cannot truly be conquered unless it is replaced with love.
  • Bitterness cannot truly be conquered unless it is replaced with forgiveness.
  • Lust of the flesh cannot truly be conquered unless it is replaced with new affections.
  • Fear cannot truly be conquered unless it is replaced with trust and faithfulness to Christ.

In the early 1800’s, Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers preached his famous sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Chalmers point was clear: In order to expel [conquer] any particular habit [affection], it must be replaced by another affection [habit]. To merely conquer is to leave a void that will eventually be filled with something undesirable. We must be intentional about refilling that space with a new and better affection. We need to be in the business of both conquering and occupying [filling with Christ]. Only then can we be assured that conquered ground will not be lost to some kind of counterattack.

Jesus taught this very principle to the crowds that followed Him:

When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-26)

Are you more than a conqueror? Let me encourage you to replace your old affections with a renewed focus on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. That is how we can live out the exhortation given us in Hebrews 12:1, to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and . . . run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

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

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