God Equips the Called

I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you. (Exodus 31:6)

We have before us a word of eternal encouragement from this section of sacred Scripture, for just as God gave instructions to Moses about the building of the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and all of the priestly garments, He also gives us one of His most important biblical principles:

God Does Not Call the Equipped . . . He Equips the Called

As a pastor, I often have the opportunity to speak with people who are sensing that God is calling them to move into some particular area of service. And all too often I hear them lament that they are not equipped for the job. This simply cannot be true! God is in the business of calling people into His service who have no previous experience in that particular area. Moses was never a prophet to lead God’s people out of bondage until God called him and equipped him for the job. Esther was never a queen to save God’s people from annihilation until God called her and equipped her for the job. The fisherman Peter was never an apostle to preach the Gospel to the people of Israel until God called him and equipped him for the job.

You see the point don’t you? God does not look around until He finds someone who is fully prepared and equipped to serve Him. Rather, He places His call into the hearts of individuals and then equips them for that particular call. I remember when Kim and I were sensing God’s call into the pastorate, which neither of us would have dreamed of in a million years; we wondered how we would ever be able to answer that call. Then a wise mentor pointed us to this portion of Scripture, making it clear that if God truly was calling, He would see to it that we would have everything we needed to answer that call.

Have you been sensing God’s calling in any particular area of life? Have you been hesitant to answer that call for fear that you are ill-equipped for the job? Perhaps you can identify many others whom you believe would be better suited for that service? Those thoughts are just Satan’s means to keep you from becoming the man or woman whom God is calling you to be.

Remember, Christian, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Keep your eyes on Jesus and follow Him wherever He is leading. You can be confident that God will give you the skill you need to do what He has called you to do. And in that way, He will get the glory if you surrender your life to Him . . . and you will experience the joy!This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  (John 14:20)

Never has the tiny, two-letter word “in” brought so much meaning, significance, comfort and encouragement as it does when we see it in the verse set before us today. When was the last time you gave serious thought to this truth about the word in as it relates to your relationship with the Triune God? Let’s pause to consider it today and allow the cosmic comfort of Christ to wash over us.

When Matthew called the Lord Immanuel (“God with us,” Matthew 1:23), he was saying God is with us in every imaginable way. God is not only for us and God is not only with us, as marvelous as those two truths are, but God is in us, and that makes all the difference in the world! The psalmist tells us that our God is “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Our God is not some distant deity who cares little for His creation. He is here; He is in-volved in every aspect of our lives. He is our Shelter and our Strength. He is our Rock and our Redeemer. He is our Help and our Hope. He is “a fortress of salvation for his anointed one” (Psalm 28:8).

Jesus is in-volved in our personal lives. He is in-volved in our professional lives. He is in-volved in our relational lives. When our Lord promised never to leave nor forsake us, He meant what He said! We will never be left as unwanted orphans, for we are His, having been purchased by His precious blood. And we are to know this truth by way of personal experience. We are to be conscious of Christ’s presence as we participate in His life, walking by faith and not by sight, trusting Him even when we cannot trace Him.

Because of what Jesus has done for us, we are now temples of the Holy Spirit. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) . . . and He lives in us! Regardless of where this message finds you today, ponder this for a moment: The God who created the universe created you in order to dwell in you and have a deeply personal relationship with you. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that almost unbelievable?

Sadly, for some Christians, everything I’ve written here is unbelievable, because it is not their experience. They do not sense God’s presence; they do not feel that He is in-volved with them at all. And I’m sure that’s true from their perspective; this intimate relationship with the living Lord does not just “happen.” James tells us, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8 ESV). We must spend time with Him every day in order to sense His in-volvement in our lives. I often remind our congregation that if you feel like God is distant, it was not God who moved away; it was you who moved away from Him.

How is it with you today? Are you inviting Him in . . . to every aspect of your life? When you do that, fully and sincerely and consistently, you will know the peace that passes all understanding of which Scripture speaks, and you will be filled with the inexpressible and glorious joy that is the promise of our Savior’s presence.  This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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No Spoiled Saints

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (Hebrews 12:7-8)

Hardship is an instrument of holy help in the hands of the Almighty. We are to endure hardship as a discipline of divine love from the hand of our loving, heavenly Father, for in God’s economy there shall be no spoiled saints. Christian, read on and be comforted today!

We have been assured that life on this side of the grave will be marked by trouble, trials, and tribulations. And that is for good reason! Our God is conforming us into the image and likeness of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3), and who “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). This is why Scripture exhorts us to endure hardship and not to try to avoid it. Our difficulties have been delivered to us from a Father who refuses to spoil us, for that kind of divine indulgence would leave us as only a fraction of the person He intends us to be.

Would you rather that God left you alone? If He did, you would not be one of His children. It was a maxim among the Jewish religious leaders that “The love which is not conjoined with reproof is not genuine.” Indeed, Proverbs 13:24 tells us that “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” As an earthly father to four children, I would not have been a truly loving father if I had allowed our kids to do whatever they pleased. God gave me the tremendous responsibility to train our children up for His use, and that training included necessary correction along the way. So too is it with our heavenly Father.

God always leaves us two options in our response to hardship as discipline. We can grow bitter or we can grow better. To grow bitter is to short-circuit God’s perfect plan for our imperfect lives. But to grow better is to grow in humble submission to the truth that our God is dealing with us as His children, not as spoiled saints. He loves us so much that He sent His only son to suffer and die on our behalf loves us far too much to spoil us! This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Supernatural Sensitivity

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Colossians 3:17)

One of the true marks of the Christian is a supernatural sensitivity to the things that our Savior was sensitive to. He was sensitive to those who were outcasts, like the women at the well (John 4), and he was sensitive to those who were downcast, like the two men walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). He was sensitive to the marginalized and maligned. He was sensitive to sickness of sin and the incredible suffering that it brings upon all humanity. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and also at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus, just before He raised him from the dead.

When someone is saved—raised from death to life by grace through faith—God implants in the heart of the new believer a supernatural sensitivity to what is going on in the world around us. We are to care about the things God cares about, regardless of the cost or circumstance. Knowing that our Lord came to destroy the works of the devil, and that He did it in both word and deed, we now possess the formula for living out our salvation with the supernatural sensitivity that brings honor and glory to God. We are to preach the Gospel with both our lips and our lives . . . in other words, we are to proclaim the Gospel and demonstrate its fruits by our way of life.

As Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and cultural caretakers (Genesis 1:28), we are to make a difference in this world by being different from this world. We are to be doing good everywhere we go, always using those good deeds to point to the only One who is truly good. We certainly don’t need to look too far to see opportunities to serve our God by serving others, but we must be sensitive to see what God wants us to see. To be sure, we believe and proclaim the truth of Romans 1:16, that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation.” Nothing needs to be added to this biblical truth to get people saved. Yet Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38), and we must do the same.

How sensitive are you to the needs of those around you? Because we were saved by God’s mercy, we are to reflect that mercy to all those we come in contact with. We are all familiar with the statement, “Practice what you preach.” We must be practitioners of the kind of sensitivity our Savior demonstrated while He walked this earth, a world which was and is filled with pain and brokenness on every corner. The eyes of faith always see with supernatural sensitivity in such a way that both declares and demonstrates the truth of the Gospel to all people, at all times, and in all places. We must show great love and compassion to those who are hurting, because that is the love that He shows us every day.This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Weapons of War

Put on the full armor of God.  (Ephesians 6:13)

As you know, the Christian life is a battle, from beginning to end. We are at war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Indeed, when we awake from our sleep each morning, we rise to continue the combat we were engaged in the day before. The question is, what weapons we are to be using in order to secure our victory?

In the sixth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul describes a number of defensive weapons of war that we are to have at the ready for our fight. The belt of truth will deflect Satan’s lies; the breastplate of righteousness is the body armor that protects our hearts; supernatural shoes equip us to stand firm as we preach the good news of the Gospel; the shield of faith extinguishes Satan’s fiery arrows of temptations; and the helmet of salvation keeps renewing our minds to the truths of the Gospel.

All these weapons of war are defensive weapons, divinely designed to protect us from spiritual attacks launched by the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). But there is one more weapon that we can and should take up and use for both defense and offense: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. When Paul wrote of a sword, he was undoubtedly thinking of the Roman gladius (you probably recognize the root of the English word “gladiator”), a sword of approximately two feet in length, which was sharpened on both sides to a razor’s edge. This short sword could be easily maneuvered to parry the thrusts of an attacker and also allowed the solider to close with his enemy and attack.

In the time when Jesus walked the earth, Roman soldiers had used the gladius to conquer a vast domain and subdue it to the rule of Rome. The disciple of Christ should use the sword of the Spirit to take the glorious Gospel of the amazing grace of God into every arena where he or she steps foot. We are to use the truth of God’s Word as the greatest weapon we have in our fight against all the enemies of God, whether we are defending our faith or going on offense to expand the kingdom of Christ.

When Jesus was under attack by Satan during His wilderness experience (Matthew 4), what weapon did He use? The sword of the Spirit. He simply quoted Scripture to parry all three of Satan’s temptations and in the end, it was Satan who retreated and our Lord who stood firm.

Every word in the Bible is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and we should see this “breath” of God as life-giving, just as it was in the creation account. God created everything ex nihilo (Latin for “out of nothing”) simply by speaking it into existence, and Isaiah 55:10-11 reminds us that God’s Word never returns to Him empty—that is, having accomplished nothing. The writer of Hebrews also refers to God’s Word as a sword (Hebrews 4:12), which is living and active and sharper than any manmade sword. This supernatural sword in the hands of the saints of God is designed to empower us and equip us for victory against all of our enemies.

This is what it means to be fighting in the strength of the Almighty. When we attempt to fight in our strength, defeat is certain. But when we, like David, find ourselves fighting against any giant, let us always remember his words of victory: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel.”

Press on, embattled believer! The Lord your God has promised to be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9), and He has fully equipped you to stand firm in your faith and advance and grow.This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Amid Covid – Lesson Learned

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Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 ESV)

After living for nearly four months amidst the most unprecedented world events any of us has ever experienced, we are, Lord willing, continuing to make our way out of this pandemic. I am going to discontinue this “Amid Covid” series, which began on March 23, and resume a simple, straightforward word of encouragement here at Grace for the Race. But before I move away from sharing my thoughts on living through all the bizarre events that have taken place since the onset of the coronavirus, I think it’s important to pause and consider some of the lessons we may have learned during this time of such great unrest and uncertainty.

In speaking with members of Cross Community Church, I have received many different responses when I ask them what lessons they have learned during this pandemic. For some, it was a vivid demonstration that we are not in control of our lives, no matter how disciplined and determined we are with our daily routines, weekly schedules, and expected outcomes. For others, the coronavirus issued a grim reminder that life in a fallen world is fragile. Still others have told me that being forced to stay at home caused them to rediscover the importance of regular quiet times with the Lord.

Yet the most common response by far that I have heard from members of our congregation is that recent events have taught them that relationships are more important than anything else this world has to offer. The reason so many of us feel this way, of course, is because of the fact that, as image-bearers of God, we are created for community. As I often say from the pulpit, we were saved individually, to be sure, but we are saved to community.

From eternity past, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have existed in perfect, harmonious community with each other. This is the doctrine of the Trinity, which actually means that God IS community: one God, three persons, living, thinking, and acting together in perfect unity. Regardless of how our personality is hardwired (extrovert, introvert, socially adept or awkward), deep down within the very fiber of our being we long to be in relationship with others, and this strange, unsettling time of social distancing and the general shut-down of society has made this abundantly clear to us.

There is a reason that the Scriptures have so many “one another” statements, ranging from “love one another” (Romans 12:10) to “comfort one another” (2 Corinthians 13:11) to “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) to the command we see in today’s verse: to “bear one another’s burdens.” And that reason is that we are to create a loving, mutually supportive, Christlike community—a reflection of the nature of our God.

Creating community was something we all had to learn how to do from a distance during these past few months. Virtually overnight, we were cut off from a significant measure of interaction when this pandemic swept across the globe. “Community” was abruptly transformed from personal to virtual, as we stayed connected via the Internet and our phones. We saw drive-by birthdays, Zoom meetings, and virtual classrooms. Our kids saw proms and athletic events cancelled; one of life’s greatest experiences, the graduation celebration, was also wiped away by COVID, including the one I was scheduled to participate in on May 15, to receive my Doctorate from Knox Theological Seminary. And, of course, church services were restricted to live-streaming online.

And yet, despite all this separation, I believe we have all grown closer. We are closer to understanding what matters most in life, and it is not what we might have thought it was before this lockdown. Community, as flawed as it will always be because it is made up of broken people, is worth the effort, despite the misunderstanding and heartache—some wag might say heartburn—that inevitably comes with it. Like two porcupines huddled together on a frigid night, the closer we get to each other, the more we get pricked . . . but apart from one another, we will freeze to death. The Lord declared that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18); each of us needs each other!

Perhaps now, as we begin to regather in whatever communities we belong to, we will be a little bit more patient, more quick to be kind, and more compassionate with one another, knowing now what life looks like without each other. And as we draw closer to one another, let us never forget to draw closer to Jesus Christ, who loved us enough to die for us, who has sustained us throughout this pandemic, and who is even now sustaining all things through the power of His word (Hebrews 1:3).

If this pandemic and the violence and vitriol that have erupted across the nation in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd have rekindled our need to draw near to Christ and present all our requests to Him, it will all have been worth it. Truly God is working all things for the good of those who love Him!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Staying Power

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You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. (Acts 1:8)

When I was growing up, my father would frequently remind our family of the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Now, these words do not come from a passage of sacred Scripture, but they do convey a biblical truth for us as we work our way through this pandemic. Read on and be encouraged today!

“Staying power” comes from our Lord, the greatest model of supernatural staying power the world has ever seen. Jesus never wavered in His commitment to His calling as the Savior of the world. In fact, while hanging on the cross, those who were mocking Him sneered, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:40). And, as I have written here before, He could have done exactly that! Jesus Christ could have come down from that cross in an instant, uttered one word, and twelve legions of angels would have turned the hill Golgotha into a slaughter pen (Matthew 26:53). It wasn’t nails that held Jesus Christ to the cross; it was his amazing, eternal love for you and me.

For many who are confronted with times of great difficulty and unhappiness, like those brought on by this pandemic, the tendency is to falter and faint under the weight of trial. But this is not to be the confession of the Christian, because greater is the power that is in you than any power that can come against you. In our passage today we are assured that we received this power at the moment of our salvation. We are given the same staying and sustaining power that our Lord Jesus had, and it is available to us not just daily, but moment by moment. God in Christ has given us everything we need to do all He has called us to do, regardless of the circumstances we are facing. As the apostle Paul wrote, we can do all things through Him who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).

All the signs seem to point to the fact that we are getting to the other side of this pandemic. To be sure, there have been and undoubtedly will be some bumps in the road to recovery, but more and more businesses are reopening and more and more people are getting out of their homes while adhering to the important recommendations that we hope will protect us from this virus. With masks on we march on, and we do so in the strength of our Savior, who is calling us to never give up and never give in to the impulse of shrinking back from any storm wind that blows our way.

How have you been demonstrating your staying power lately? Remember, keep looking to Jesus, trusting that He will give you the power to stay the course that God has set before you.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Unlimited U-Turns

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They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. (Luke 24:33)

It never seems to fail; when approaching the turnoff from a road I am traveling on and I need to turn around and go in the opposite direction, what sign is staring me in the face? NO U-TURNS. Well, I have a wonderful word of encouragement for you today, because in God’s economy, there is no road we can travel that does not allow for U-turns!

There are countless examples of divinely ordained U-turns throughout the pages of sacred scripture. Perhaps the most famous one in the Old Testament is found in the life of Jonah, God’s reluctant prophet. God commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach the Good News of repentance. But Jonah hated the Assyrians living in Nineveh, who were a wicked people and a remorseless enemy of Israel, and he knew the great mercy and compassion of God, so he boarded a ship that was heading in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah’s disobedience did nothing to thwart God’s plan; the Lord simply appointed a fierce storm and a great fish to cause Jonah’s U-turn.

My favorite biblical U-turn took place on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). On that first Easter afternoon, two of Jesus’ disciples, Cleopas and a companion, were on a seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had heard from the women who went to the tomb that morning that the tomb was empty and that the women had seen a vision of angels who said Jesus was alive. But because there had been no reports of anyone actually seeing Jesus alive, their hopes were dashed and they began to trudge away from the place where the greatest event in the history of the world had just occurred.

However, God had a marvelous U-turn planned for these two disciples. Jesus showed up on their walk and, keeping His identity a secret from them, began to talk to them about all the Scriptures concerning Himself. As they walked and Jesus talked, their hearts began to burn within them as they saw how the promise of the Christ is contained throughout the pages of the Old Testament. Finally, after reaching their destination in Emmaus and sharing a meal together where Jesus made His identity known, we read these words: “They go up and returned at once to Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33).

What a U-turn these two disciples made! But we should not be surprised; our God specializes in U-turns in the lives of His people, and that includes you and me. Remember, the very first U-turn God gave you was your salvation. You had been walking away from God, alienated from Him in your thoughts (Colossians 1:21). But thanks be to God, He had ordained from eternity past that you would, by grace through faith, turn in the opposite direction and began walking toward God and His amazing grace, mercy, and compassion. And He has been doing this in your life ever since then, and for the very same reasons. Can you think back to the last time God caused your heart to burn within you and you made that U-turn away from disobedience and back toward obedience?

God loves us and He wants the best for us; when we are moving in the wrong direction, He will do whatever it takes to cause us to make that U-turn and back toward the safety, security, and salvation of our Savior.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – God’s 911

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Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me. (Psalm 70:1)

We are all familiar with what is called a 911 emergency. The term indicates that someone is in desperate need of immediate help for a variety of reasons. For nearly a decade I responded to such calls when I served on the Hollywood Fire Rescue Department. But did you know there are also many “911 emergency calls” placed throughout Scripture? We see one such call in the inspired plea in today’s verse.

The psalmist was David, who often found himself short on time and long on desperate need; therefore he was in the habit of “dialing 911,” confident that God would always answer. It is evident that in Psalm 70 David was calling upon God with an overwhelming sense of urgency. He cried out to God in verse one and then again in verse five: “You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay.” David’s condition was dismal and his need was dire; and if God did not answer quickly, the end result would be disastrous.

Don’t miss what else David did during his 911 call to God: He added praise to his plea, and that should remind you and me to do the same. In the midst of any prayer we ought to plead with our God and praise Him at the same time. God is on the throne of our lives. He knows what is best for us. He knew what we need and when we need it. And often He puts us in situations where the only way out is to look up.

David was in the habit of looking up. How is it with you? Do you look to God first in times of need or crisis? Remember, David came to God for help, not hoping or wishing that God would come through for him. Rather, he came to God knowing that God would come through; David was filled with the confident assurance that God was for him and with him and would deliver him from his enemies.

Finally, please don’t miss how David saw himself! “I am poor and needy,” he confessed. British commentator George Horne exulted, “With such a Father and such a Friend, poverty becometh rich, and weakness itself is strong.”

We have such a Friend in heaven—a Friend who sticks closer than a brother and who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Whenever you feel a need, Christian, cry out to Him!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Seeing with Eyes of Faith

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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  (Hebrews 12:2)

The Israelites had been in bondage in Egypt for more than 400 years. Throughout their time in captivity, they continued looking to God with eyes of faith, believing that one day He would set them free. Their faith sustained them throughout their slavery and their faith strengthened them to cross the Red Sea on dry ground, with walls of water towering on either side of them and the Egyptian army rapidly approaching from behind.

All was going well for the people of God until it came time to possess the Promised Land of Canaan, where they took their eyes off God and focused instead on their circumstances. The Bible tells us that twelve spies were sent into the land to scope things out. They all returned in agreement that the land did indeed “flow with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), just as God had promised (Exodus 3:8).

However, ten of the twelve took their eyes off of God and reported that the cities were “fortified and very large” and the people looked like giants to them (Numbers 13:28, 33). Only two, Caleb and Joshua, never let their eyes of faith waver from God; they urged the people, “Go up and take possession of the land” (Numbers 13:30). Their Spirit-fueled faith was the same as that of the psalmist, who reasoned, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 117:2).

What was the difference between the ten and the two? They all saw the same land, the same fortified cities, and the same “giant” people. But ten looked away from God and focused on their circumstances, while two did not. And the unbelief of the ten sentenced an entire generation to wander in the wilderness until the faithless had all perished. But Caleb and Joshua survived, and they were rewarded for their trust in God forty years later, when the people of Israel entered the Promised Land.

How is it with you today? What have you been focusing on? Seeing with the eyes of faith means that we fix our hopes and our expectations on the promises of God, not on our circumstances. Remember, when Peter kept his eyes on Christ, he walked on the water; but as soon as he looked away from Jesus and glanced fearfully around him at the wind and the waves, he began to sink (Matthew 14:28-32).

Seeing with the eyes of faith sees potential obstacles as opportunities for God to show Himself faithful . . . and He always does!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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