The Treasure In Trials

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)

Does the title of today’s message seem a little strange to you? You may well be wondering, “What is he talking about? How are we to see treasure in our trials?” We can . . . and we should. The key is to see our trials from God’s perspective, not our own. When we do that, we will see how God is using all our trials for our eternal good and His incomparable glory.

When God sends us trials — and our trials do come from Him, for all things come from Him (Romans 11:36) — He is shaking us free from our shackles to the earthly and the temporal. Make no mistake, God never says, “Oops” when opposition comes our way. God is not sitting on His throne, peering anxiously down at His children and wondering how things will work out. He intends for us to loosen our white-knuckle grip on our earth-bound treasures and reach for things above (Matthew 6:19-21).

The next thing God is doing when He sends us trials is putting His Omnipotent power on display. When trials come against us that we find ourselves powerless to overcome, we must depend totally upon God, who alone will get the glory for our deliverance. The Bible is chock-full of examples of this principle in action. One of my favorites is Gideon. God called Gideon to lead Israel into battle against the Midianite army of 135,000 warriors. When Gideon finally accepted God’s call, God bluntly told him he had too many warriors to take into battle.

That sounds odd . . . kind of like the title of today’s message! I mean, how could you ever have “too many” soldiers? But that’s looking at life through our own perspective. Gideon was badly outnumbered to begin with; he started with an army of 32,000 troops. But God pruned his force down to a company of 300, leaving Israel overwhelmingly outnumbered — about 450 to one. The Lord explained His perspective to Gideon: “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands, lest Israel boast against me that her own strength has saved her” (Judges 7:2).

What God did for Gideon then, He is doing today for you. Regardless of what difficulty has come against you, you are guaranteed victory with God on your side. After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). But you must be willing to depend totally upon Him.

Christian, the greatest opposition you will ever face in this life will never come from outside of you; it will always be the resistance within you. The apostle Paul candidly admitted, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21). Our sin nature has no desire to surrender control and rely totally upon God. But this is how we will find the treasure in any trial we face. From self-dependence to Savior-dependence, this is the treasure in trials that is available to us moment by moment.

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

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Before WWJD Comes LLJL

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Perhaps you are familiar with the letters WWJD, typically seen on bracelets, as well as a variety of other Christian apparel items. They stand for “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s a great concept, which originated in a book written by Charles Sheldon in 1896, titled In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? The book ranks as one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold more than 50,000,000 copies.

But as important as the letters WWJD are, I believe there are four other letters that must come before them: LLJL. Do you know what they stand for? “Live Like Jesus Lived!” There really is no sense asking “What Would Jesus Do?” if we are not willing to Live Like Jesus Lived.

We must be willing to live out the truth declared in Scripture:

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)

We all need a pattern to follow if we are going to live a life that is both pleasing and glorifying to God, and we have been given that pattern in our Lord Jesus Christ. We must look to Him alone as we find Him in the pages of the Gospels in order to understand how we are to live. In looking more closely at Jesus, who is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), we will see what we lost because of that first terrible sin in the Garden of Eden, and what we have been promised in our salvation.

Inasmuch as the Christian life is all of grace, we are responsible to pursue LLJL — a life that is lived like Jesus lived. He lived through diligent effort and dependent discipline upon the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Press into God’s presence each day. Spend time in the Word of God. Pray without ceasing. Look to the One who is the Author and Perfecter of your faith. LLJL must come before WWJD.

One final point: When you mess it up — and you inevitably will on this side of glory — remember that Jesus loves you unconditionally and forgives you completely.

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

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Down, But Not Out

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. (2 Corinthians 1:8)

Did you know that believers get down and depressed? Some Christians mistakenly believe that after their conversion, depression should be as far from them as the east is from the west, as if Jesus had made them immune to depression, despair, and despondency. In today’s passage of Scripture, we read that the great apostle Paul despaired even of life. If Paul got down, it should not surprise us that we too may get down at times. But, just like Paul, in Jesus we have all that we need to deal with our down so that we are never out!

Here are three truths to lift you out of the ashes of defeat:

Jesus Is For You

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

Jesus is With You

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Jesus is In You

Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

We are all given over to times of depression, despair, and despondency. The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, referred to by many as “the prince of preachers,” confessed that he had “suffered many times from severe sickness and frightful mental depression seeking almost to despair.” If great men of faith like Spurgeon and Paul struggled with seasons of despair, is it not possible — even likely — that you and I will also?

We are not perfected yet, and we won’t be until we cross the Jordan. Until that day, there will be circumstances in life that will come against us in surprising and upsetting ways. When that happens, we must remember to keep our focus on Christ, not our circumstances. When we do that, we will be reminded that Jesus is for us, with us, and in us. David knew this truth: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” he wrote, “and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

Regardless of what you are facing today, the three truths I have presented here will help you rise above the waves of challenge. And when you find yourself in a season of despondency, remember you are only down; you are never out. As Paul also said, “We are cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9).

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

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Stand Your Ground

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:14-15)

Out on the football field, players wear shoes with cleats on them to help them move faster, change direction abruptly, and stand their ground when engaged with the opposition. When we read through Paul’s writing about putting on the full armor of God in Ephesian 6:11-18, his main charge to the Christian is to “Stand firm.” He says it three times. You and I are in a battle each day against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we must put on the full armor of God in order to stand our ground and gain victory.

Now, we do not head off into our day like a football player, who steps out onto the field of competition wearing cleats, but what we do have stand on is faith in the Gospel. We are to walk in the truths of the Gospel everywhere we go; when we do that, we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to stand our ground. Always remember that we do not fight against flesh and blood, which means we cannot fight in our own natural strength. We must use the spiritual weapons we have received as believers in Jesus.

As you stand your ground in the spiritual battles you face each day, keep these words from the prophet Isaiah in the forefront of your mind: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” (Isaiah 52:7). Not only are we to make sure we are clad in the faithful footwear of the Gospel of peace, we are to take that Gospel into the world and share it with others. What an awesome privilege we have to share the Good News of the Gospel with all those who need God’s forgiveness, redemption, salvation, and His peace that passes all understanding!

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

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The Problem With A Plank Perspective

First, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

In His magnificent Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus used holy hyperbole to make a powerful point. Before you spend time trying to remove a tiny speck of dust from your friend’s eye, Jesus said, take a moment to remove the massive plank from your own eye. In other words, Jesus was telling all of us that we are often blind to our own shortcomings, so instead of focusing on the faults of others, we ought to examine ourselves. When we do that, we will recognize that we fall woefully short of God’s goal for our lives each and every day. There’s plenty of work for us to do internally before we can even think about looking to “fix” someone else!

Jesus made this point in a profound way when the religious leaders brought the woman whom they claimed had been “caught in the act of adultery” to Him. Now, being caught in the act of adultery presupposes two people, but nowhere do we read about them bringing the man too. Scripture tells us that the reason the teachers of the law did this was to establish a basis to accuse Jesus.

How did Jesus respond to their “plank perspective”?

[He] said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 ESV).

Of course, the only person in the group who was without sin was Jesus. Jesus was the only One who had the right to cast judgment upon this woman, and He did. He did not excuse the woman’s adultery, but He did say that He did not condemn her; then He told her, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

Jesus was not telling His people to forsake judgment; He did acknowledge that there will be specks in the eyes of others, for there is no one who does not sin (1 Kings 8:46). We are called to speak the truth in love and to offer help, encouragement, and even rebuke to others . . .  in love. But before we can help anyone, we must first let Jesus help us to come to terms with our own faults, sins, and shortcomings.

Remember, the problem with a plank perspective is that is we simply cannot see clearly. We must honestly face up to the true condition of our hearts, which is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9); then we can, with love in our hearts and in our eyes, look to others to help, heal, and provide hope.

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

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Christ’s Calling Card

You show that you are a letter from Christ . . . (2 Corinthians 3:3)

One of the many dictionary definitions of a “calling card” comes under the heading of “visiting card” – a card used to signify a visit made to a house or a business as an introduction to oneself. The primary difference between the common calling card and the cosmic calling card is this: Where the common calling card introduces oneself, the cosmic calling card introduces one’s Savior.

Every Christian is Christ’s calling card (2 Corinthians 3:3), sent by God to introduce Christ to the world. Everything about us — both our walk and our talk — should point to the One whom we serve. Let’s take a look.

  • Witness With Our Talk

In writing to the Ephesians, Paul provided the formula for how we are to witness with our talk: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). In its context, that verse was telling the Ephesians then — and you and me today — that we can grieve the Holy Spirit by the way we communicate with others. If we are going to be a witness for Jesus as His calling card, our language must represent and reflect the One we are speaking for. When we open our mouths to speak, we should be building others up, not tearing them down. In the process, we will be putting the Gospel on display, because what we say will be a benefit to those we speak to.

  • Witness With Our Walk

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). A walk without works shouts to the watching world that our faith is dead. The works in no way save us, but they are evidence that we are actually saved . . . that we truly belong to Him.

As Dr. Kennedy would often say, “When you are saved, God changes your wanter!” As believers, we begin to desire the things of God and desire less and less the stuff of this world. We live for the purpose of God by the power of God. Our desires have changed because our destiny has changed. As the Reformers said, “We are saved by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone.

So how well are you witnessing for your Lord with both your talk and your walk? What kind of “Calling Card Christian” are you? Are you living a life for the glory of God and the good of others? If not, what changes do you need to make? If you don’t make those changes, what will it cost you? The next time you encounter someone, remember, you are Christ’s calling card, and both your talk and your walk will indicate to others the kind of God you serve.

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

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Old Dogs CAN Learn New Tricks!

I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1)

You’ve undoubtedly heard the old saw, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That phrase is little more than an excuse for refusing to make whatever changes are necessary to one’s beliefs or behaviors. And make no mistake, the life of the Christian believer is a life of continual change. As the Scripture says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So there you have it, on the authority of sacred Scripture: Old dogs can learn new tricks when the Teacher is our Lord Jesus Christ. The first step to making positive change in your life is to recognize that a change is actually necessary, whether it is a change in a belief or a behavior or both. Be warned! Sinful pride will do everything in its power to convince you that you are fine just the way you are. To be convinced that you need to change is to acknowledge that something is wrong or deficient; sinful pride will always rise up in hot denial against that admission.

Once you identify that a change is necessary, the second step is to be willing to put in the effort to make the desired change. That effort must always begin on your knees. Take your desired change to the throne of grace. All change begins and ends with God, which is why you must spend time in communion with Him, and that communion must include time in His Word. Come to the Scriptures and read expectantly, trusting that God will reveal the path you must travel in order to reach your new destination.

Finally, you must be willing to walk the path God has shown you, regardless of the cost or circumstance. God has promised to strengthen your resolve so that you will be empowered to do what is necessary to change. But you must be willing to play your part! The process of learning “new tricks” requires your active participation. The gift of God’s grace is available to us without conditions, but we must receive it and respond to it by taking action.

The apostle Paul declared that “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). Paul knew that he had to play a role in his sanctification. Yes, he exulted that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), but he knew that he still must do. In the very same epistle to the Philippians, he wrote that “I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3:14). Change is possible, and it will be accomplished by the power of Christ, but we must participate in it.

Remember, change is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, because the Gospel changes everything, including you!   

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

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On “The Plain of Ono”

When Nehemiah heard the call of God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he stayed focused on the task at hand and did not let any distractions derail him. The opposition, led by Sanbellat and Geshem, did not want the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt and did everything in their power to distract Nehemiah from the work God had set before him.

Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” (Nehemiah 6:2)

A distraction is anything that pulls your attention away from something you are focused on.  In today’s message, I am using “the plain of Ono” as a metaphor for anything that the devil uses to distract God’s people from doing God’s work. The devil uses everything at his disposal to disrupt and derail our devotion to God. We must never forget that our enemy “seeks to kill, to steal, and to destroy” (John 10:10); “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and he will use any and all means at his disposal to destroy our desire and our ability to serve the Lord our God.

So what should be our response?

They were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (Nehemiah 6:2-4)

When the devil sends his distractions our way, we should respond in the same way that Nehemiah did: “Oh no! I will not go down that path!” Perhaps a tweet or a text disrupts your focus; maybe it’s an email or an Instagram post that distracts your attention. Whenever anything comes up that will steal our focus from what God has called us to do, we must respond, “Oh no! I will not go!” What rules the heart shapes the life. We need to keep our focus on Jesus and establish clear guardrails that keep us from being derailed from what are called to do.

Think about the areas in your life that are most distracting right now and resolve to minimize them or remove them altogether. This practice will automatically increase your devotion to Jesus and advance your progress in the work He has called you to do.

Here is a question that has helped me greatly over the years, and it may well help to sharpen your focus also: “Is what I am choosing to do right now the absolute best use of my time?” Remember, there is a season for every activity under heaven — a time for devotion and a time for a bit of distraction. The key that unlocks the door leading to living the life God has called you to live is to know when there is too much distraction that is driving you toward “the plain of Ono.”

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

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I Pledge Allegiance

Today is the 4th of July, a time for food, fellowship, and fireworks. But for the American Christian, it is a time for so much more. It is a day to remember and reflect on the fact that we are a nation that was founded on and rooted in Christian principles. Do you doubt it? Let’s ask our founding fathers. 

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. George Washington

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. Jedidiah Morse

The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. John Quincy Adams

These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. United States Supreme Court, “Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States”

Regardless of what we hear politicians, members of the liberal media, or history revisionists saying today, our great nation was founded on Christian principles and the freedom to worship the God who is — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of revelation — not a god of our own imagination. 

Our founding fathers not only pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, they also pledged allegiance to their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. They echoed the inspired and infallible words of the apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Their ultimate allegiance was to the Almighty. They were devoted to Him. They were dedicated to Him.  They were dyed-in-the-wool for Him. Their entire existence was rooted in their right relationship with their Redeemer. And that, beloved, is to be the confession of the lives of all those Christians who pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and every other Christian around the world, regardless of what flag they pledge allegiance to. 

On this day when we in the United States of America commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring our independence from the kingdom of Great Britain, let us meditate on our own declaration of dependence upon our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His sovereign rule in our lives. Jesus is to be our first priority in both life and death. He is to be our safety in the storm. He is to be our peace in times of trouble. He is to be our portion in times of need. He is to be our all in all.     

There is no greater declaration for the Christian to make and honor than the one made to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. When we declare that we are His, we declare that we are no longer our own. We have been bought at a price no man can measure. The very Son of God was crucified and nailed to a dirty tree, hung between two thieves to pay the penalty for every one of our sins — past, present, and still to come. We are His and no other’s, and He will tolerate no rival. 

So as you prepare to enjoy your Fourth of July celebration today, please remember to pause and give thanks to the One who purchased your independence from the kingdom of the prince of this world. Jesus Christ has brought you out of darkness into His wonderful light to remain with Him forever and ever, world without end.

By God’s grace, may we live lives that confess both our pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to our triune God in heaven — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   

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

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Enslaved By Entitlement

Every good and perfect gift is from above. (James 1:17)

A profound sense of entitlement has enslaved our contemporary culture and crippled its ability to rise above the waves of challenge in life. Entitlement is metastasizing like stage four cancer, and it has infected the church, much to the detriment of our spiritual lives. It never ceases to amaze me how many younger adults I speak with who feel entitled to immediately enjoy the same standard of living that their parents took decades to develop and achieve. And the worst thing about this mindset is that when we don’t receive what we believe we have a right to expect, we tend to glare at God, believing He is the One who has withheld it from us.

God has promised to give to us everything we need in order to live the life He has called us to live. We have received every spiritual blessing in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3) and God has promised to meet our every need along the way (Philippians 4:19). The problem arises when we believe we are entitled to more than God has promised.

Here’s the thing: God never promised to meet our every want. Often what we want is the exact opposite of what God wants for us, and for good reason, because what we want is not His best for us. But when we feel entitled to something we want, we become bitter and begin to shrink back from all God is calling us to be in our ministry of service to Him. We must remember that God owes us nothing — absolutely nothing — but He has promised us everything in Jesus.

The Christian life is to be marked by contribution, not consumerism. Only when we remember this truth will we break the chains of enslavement to entitlement. We are to trust in God’s provision for us and receive with thanksgiving whatever He chooses to give to us. Remember, entitlement places self on the throne of life, not the Savior. But by keeping an attitude of gratitude in all circumstances, we will keep Jesus enthroned on our lives, and that will set us free from every sense of entitlement.

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

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