The Real Iron Man

You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. (Psalm 2:9)

There cannot be many people around the world who are not at least aware of the dramatic success of Marvel Comics The Avengers move series. The first film in that series was Iron Man, which grossed more than half a billion dollars internationally. Played by Robert Downey Jr., the Iron Man character can fly, fire off all kinds of fantastic weaponry, and is impervious to bullets. That first movie closed with Downey/Iron Man looking into the camera and saying, “The truth is, I am Iron Man.” I’d like to use today’s verse from the Psalms to introduce you to the real Iron Man — a proven, historical figure who actually lived and performed infinitely greater feats of wonder and power and grace than any fictional movie character.

A number of psalms can be categorized under the heading of “Messianic” because of their prophetic portrayal of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. These sacred songs give us great insight into the meaning and message of His ministry through His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and His ultimate return to earth and eternal reign. When Psalm 2:9 refers to a “rod of iron,” it is speaking of a coming judgment and pointing to the second coming of the real Iron Man, Jesus Christ, who will rule the nations “with an iron rod” (Revelation 19:15) and put all things right forever.

In His first advent as a baby in Bethlehem, Jesus came as our suffering Servant, who died to pay the penalty for our sins. He came meek and lowly, riding on a donkey, to deliver us from the wrath and judgment of Almighty God. But when Jesus comes the second time, He will return as the real Iron Man, riding a white war horse, and He will not only rule and reign, but He will unleash the wrath and judgment of Almighty God, crushing all of His enemies and putting them under His feet.

Now, before any of you send angry messages, I am well aware that Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, indulged in alcohol and immorality, but despite being a rich, arrogant sinner, Iron Man did display a few qualities of a Christ-figure: he demonstrated self-giving love and he ultimately died so that others might live.

The real Iron Man, whose sacrificial love for us took Him to a cruel cross and into the grave, walked out of that tomb alive and well on the third day. The eternally important question is this: Has He walked into your heart? If He has, then you have the only true Hero the world has ever known as your protector and provider. As your protector, Jesus will fight your battles for you and He will triumph in every one of them. As your provider, Jesus will meet you in your deepest place of need always, but not always in your place of want. But you can always be confident that He is working all things — even the really bad, hurtful things — together for your ultimate good.

So regardless of where this message finds you today, look to the real Iron Man, the One who is ready, willing, and able to help you conquer every challenge you face. Remember, greater is the power that is at work in you than any power that can come against you. Listen closely, Christian, and you can hear Jesus say, “The truth is, I am your Iron Man.”

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

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Divine Detours

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. (Exodus 13:17)

Detours are a significant part of God’s plan for our lives; they always have been and always will be. After our Lord had freed His people Israel from their bondage in Egypt, He took them through one of His divine detours. Instead of leading them on the road through the Philistine country, which was the shorter way toward the Promised Land, God brought them to the Red Sea, where the people appeared to be trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s pursuing chariots. But what looked like a dead end that would end in death became a glorious, divine detour leading to their deliverance.

The biblical principle is clear: the road of life cannot and will not always be straight, smooth, and easy. God is in the business of taking us through divine detours. Think back to some of the times when God showed up big in your life, especially when you felt like you were standing in front of your own Red Sea with no way to cross to the other side. But now, as you look back at that divine detour, you can see how God led you to that place in order to lead you through on dry ground to a better place, just as He did for Israel.

And that’s not all! God not only delivered you, He destroyed whatever was chasing you down. Perhaps it was a health concern or a difficulty at the office or a challenge in school or a season of loneliness and disappointment. Whatever it was, God delivered you. He delivered you then and He is delivering you now.

Are you facing a divine detour today? Maybe you are wondering why God would allow this to happen to you and why He would lead you into this “bad” situation. Worry no more! God has brought you to this place in order to put His power, His glory, and His majesty on display in your life. Remember, God is always working everything together for your good, but that doesn’t mean that everything in your life will “feel” good. He will often lead you to a divine detour where you cannot go forward or backward. And that is actually a great place to be! That’s true because at such times the only way out for you is up. Look up to Jesus today, knowing that He is using every divine detour in your life to ultimately bring you to your Promised Land.

One final point regarding today’s passage: God’s divine detour for the Israelites lasted forty years. Here is another biblical principle that springs forth from their story: It was far easier to take the people out of Egypt than it was to take Egypt out of the people. Just as the people then moaned about how they wished they were back in Egypt, we too look back over our shoulder and think about embracing sin, like Lot’s wife turning to look back at Sodom. Therefore our divine detours may last for some time, because it takes a long time for God to bring us to the end of ourselves..

So the next time you feel you are being diverted into a divine detour, look up! And know that your God is looking down at you with love.

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

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Ask And He Will Answer

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. (Mark 10:51)

Passing through Jericho, the popular resort city which had been rebuilt by Herod the Great, Jesus and His disciples encountered a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. It was not uncommon in the ancient world to encounter beggars; there were a variety of different reasons for begging in that day. Any physical disability would have made it difficult to find work, as much of the work was of physical nature in that culture. Bartimaeus was begging due to his blindness, an affliction which many would have believed was God’s curse on this man because of sin in his life. Jesus’ own disciples asked Him if this was the case with the man who had been born blind whom Jesus healed (John 9:2).

When he was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, Bartimaeus called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” — identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah. This blind man asked in faith and Jesus answered. But notice the Lord’s response in our verse for today: “What do you want me to do for you?” It would seem obvious that the man wanted to be able to see, but Jesus asked a clarifying question. What kind of “mercy” did the man desire? Did he want some money? Food? Was he merely looking for another hand-out? In asking the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus was moving the man beyond his broken condition to his blessed cure.

Bartimaeus answered simply, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

It’s important to understand what happened just before this encounter with the blind man. Jesus had asked the very same question of His disciples James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” Their response was a request for positions of honor in heaven, to which Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you are asking” (Mark 10:38). You see, James and John were afflicted with a broken condition called “sin,” which was evidenced by their desire to sit next to Jesus in glory. They too needed Jesus to bring them beyond their broken condition, and that is exactly what His clarifying question was designed to do.

Regardless of where this message finds you today, I’d like you to consider how would you answer Jesus when He asks you, “What do you want me to do for you?” Ask and He will answer. “Ask and it will be given to you,” He has assured us; “seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). But, as it was with James and John who evidenced that they were “truly blind” by asking for the wrong blessing, Jesus will always answer your request with what you need, not necessarily with what you want, because all too often we ask with the wrong motives (James 4:3), just as they did.

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

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Softening The Hard Soil

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path. (Matthew 13:3-4)

The soil of the sanctified life can become a bit hard from time to time. This may happen when we face unexpected challenges. It can happen when we face unmet expectations. It can happen when we encounter unforeseen loss. Life is hard, and there are times when it may harden us. So we must always be on the lookout for any signs of “hard soil” in our hearts and allow God to till it with the truths of the Gospel. Below are two simple steps to take that will help in the process of softening our hearts.

Examination: The first step is to take time for self-reflection. We must sit with the Scriptures and allow the living and active Word of God to search our hearts and uncover any areas that may be growing cold, distant, or unyielding. We must first identify where the hard soil is before we can go to work on softening it.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

When you read that passage in context, you will see that David was asking God to make sure that David’s hatred for his enemies was not man-centered, but God-centered. David was zealous for the justice of God, and he wanted God to point him in the direction of any wrong motives so God could change them.

Excavation: The second step is to let the Lord do His work in softening our hard soil by digging down into the depths of our hearts through the truths of Scripture.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

Here David was asking God to excavate his heart, which had been hardened through his grievous sins against Uriah and Bathsheba. David knew it would take a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to till the hard soil of his heart so God could then begin to plant new and better seeds of both thoughts and desires.

Unlike our paved roads today, most of the roads in Jesus’ day were simply hardened, dirt-packed paths. The more they were traveled upon, the harder they became. So when Jesus told the parable about the sower who scattered some seed along the path, the consequences were clear: “The birds came and ate it [that is, the seed of Gospel truth] up” (Matthew 13:5). Perhaps you have been trampled upon by the difficulties of life. Don’t let the birds steal the seed of your faith in the grace of God! Look to Jesus, and He will soften your soil and the Gospel seed will take root and produce new fruit in your life.

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

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Make Me The Moon

Let your light shine before men. (Matthew 5:16)

The moon is a wonderful picture of the Christian. As you know, the moon generates no light of its own, but rather reflects the light of the sun. Christians also have no light of their own; apart from the Spirit of God, there is no good thing within us (Romans 7:18). Therefore Christian believers are to reflect the light of the Son. Read on and be encouraged today!

We live in a very dark world that desperately needs to see light. To be sure, God has provided natural light to all humanity, which is needed to sustain physical life, but there is also the supernatural light that God gives to all His adopted children, which is needed to sustain eternal life. Jesus is the Light of the world; when we are in Christ, we are given the great privilege and the responsiblity to reflect His light for all the world to see.

But we must beware of two cosmic conditions which could block His light from those who need to see it. Both of these conditions cause a condition I call the Believer’s Blackout. The first condition is a solar eclipse, which occurs when the moon moves between the sun and the earth, blocking the light of the sun. This is the picture of the Christian who gets in the way of God by shouting, “Look at me and all I have done!” This person is building a monument to man’s glory, not God’s glory, and is no longer shining the reflected light of the Son. As the moon is the lesser light, we must remember that we too are the lesser light.

The second condition is the lunar eclipse, which occurs when the world (earth) comes between the sun and the moon, blocking the light of the sun and causing the moon to reflect no light. This is known as worldliness. When the cares of this world capture our hearts and we become bogged down with the things of this world, we no longer reflect the light of the Son.  

If we are going to be “the moon” — the reflectors of light that God intends us to be — and avoid the Believer’s Blackout, we must keep our focus directly on the Son. By fixing our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, we will keep ourselves in position to reflect His light into a dark world that desperately needs Jesus.

Let me offer you a final word of encouragement. Remember that we are all different; we simply need to be the person God intends us to be and not try to be someone else. In being yourself when reflecting the light of Jesus, if you make some waves along the way, don’t worry about it or let that water down your witness. The moon causes waves all the time! Be the moon and reflect the Son, and remember that what the moon is to the physical world, you are to the spiritual world.

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

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The Burden of Busyness

Mary has chosen what is better. (Luke 10:42)

Did you know there is a major difference between busyness and productivity? When my father would remind me that “Idle time is the devil’s workshop,” he was not simply talking about keeping busy. Rather, he was talking about being productive. Let’s look at a few of the differences between “busyness” and productivity:

Busy People                               Productive People

Do hectic work                              Do holy work

Are driven by pleasure                 Are driven by purpose

Focus on action                              Focus on outcome

Speak about results                       Their results speak for themselves

Do many things at once                Prioritize important things

This list could easily be expanded to fill several blogs, but it can also be distilled down to one major distinction: The lives of busy people are marked by burden; the lives of productive people are marked by blessing. It was well said that “He who burns the candle at both ends isn’t as bright as he thinks!” Those of us who are burdened by busyness, as busy Martha was, can hear the Lord calling our name and admonishing us, “You are anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). From a biblical perspective, the burden of busyness robs the child of God in two profound ways:

  • Busyness Robs Relationships – In order to grow in our relationships, we must invest in both quantity and quality time. Busyness robs us of both in the most important relationship we have: our relationship with God.
  • Busyness Robs Restfulness – Without adequate rest and recreation, our health suffers. An overloaded schedule crowds out regular exercise and the time it takes to maintain a healthy diet.

What is the best way forward when you sense the burden of busyness encroaching on your life? Go back to the encounter between Martha and Jesus and see what our Lord said about Mary, Martha’s sister: “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:40-42). What had Mary chosen that Martha did not? Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Mary had been busy helping Martha prepare the meal for Jesus and His disciples, but Mary knew when to stop the busyness for a priority of far greater productivity: Sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His teaching.

And therein lies the key that unlocks the door to easing the burden of busyness. Draw near to Jesus and He will draw near to you. Then the work we perform will be done for the glory of God and the good of others, not for self-satisfaction. Yes, we will be busy, but we will be busy being a blessing.

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

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Break-Fast

This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)

Because the morning meal is designed to “break the fast” from the night before, it is important to begin each day with whatever “break-fast” will strengthen our bodies for the day ahead. But in addition to what you put into your stomach to fuel your body, you need to be putting God’s Word into your soul to fuel your spirit.

In our verse for today we see our faithful God offering us a full cup of “fresh-brewed mercy” every morning. The glorious, gracious truth for us to absorb is that, regardless of how things went the day before – from storms to sin, God sets new mercies before us each and every day. His grace and mercy are as certain as the sun rising every day, even on those days when we cannot see the sun because clouds are covering it.

Jeremiah, who was inspired by the Spirit of God to write Lamentations, also gave us Jeremiah 32:17, which exults, “Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” You see, God is bigger than any battle we are facing, greater than any giant that is taunting us, and mightier than any mess we might find ourselves mired in.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Tommy, I know in my head that what you’re saying here abut the power of God is true, but in my heart I am feeling awfully weak.” Believe me, I understand! I have days like that myself. And when I am in a space like that, I remember today’s verse: “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” God’s power, which is available to each one of us moment by moment, is made perfect in our weakness. When God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), He meant what He said! And that is why you and I need to break the fast each new morning with the Word of God. It is through that daily intake of His promises that we are strengthened by His grace and power and have true, biblical hope — a confident expectation that our gracious God will show us His grace, power, and love each and every day..

Remember, whether the day before was just a bit burdensome or marked by bitter brokenness, today is a new day and God has new mercies waiting for you in His Word. Experience has taught me that when we break the fast each day with time in God’s Word, we are restored, renewed, recharged, and repurposed to receive whatever the day has to offer.

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

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Dear Fear

Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)

Here is a word of encouragement from the Lord that I am sure will help us all deal with the fears we face from time to time. Now, I should tell you right up front that I am not using the word “Dear” as a term of endearment for fear; rather, I am using it to indicate the life-long, intimate relationship that you and I have with it.

We all feel the presence of fear from time to time; it is one of the enemy’s most potent weapons in his siege against us. That is one of the reasons why we must keep God’s Word hidden in our hearts and remember the countless passages of Scripture that instruct and inspire us to refuse to bow down to the demands of whatever fear we are currently facing. Here are just a handful of those verses:

  • The Lord is my light and salvation – whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)
  • I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)
  • So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” (Mark 5:36)

Christian, fear and faith simply cannot co-exist. And that is why we must read from God’s love letter to the fears that try to weaken our faith: because the perfect love that has been given to us by God in Christ Jesus drives out every fear. I have only shared a very few of the many passages of Scripture that are designed drive fear from our hearts. Take some time to find more of them, which is one of the best ways to face your fears. Meditating on and marinating in the Word of God every day is the surest way to slay our fears.

Are you facing any fears today? Here is a mental note for you to remember when fear rears its ugly head –

Dear Fear,

I will not let you fracture my faith today.

I will not let you slay my strength today.

I will not let you prosecute my peace today.

I will not let you hollow out my hope today.

I will not let you retard my rest today.

Because greater is the power in me than any fearful power that can come against me.

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

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A New Thing

See, I am doing a new thing! (Isaiah 43:19)

When was the last time you ran into someone you knew and asked, “How’s it going?” to which they responded, “Same stuff, different day!” That is a response that the child of God ought never give. It comes from someone who sees life from inside of a rut – which, by the way, is nothing more than a grave with both ends knocked out.

But this is not for you! In our passage for today we have a word of eternal encouragement set before us, regardless of where this message finds you. For many, the past is paralyzing, which is why I often remind our congregation to “Learn from the past, but don’t live there.” When we cannot forget and rise above the former things, we are unable to focus on the new things God intends to do in our lives. We allow ourselves to be trapped in a painful past marked by unforgiveness, bitterness, betrayal, and regret.

Today’s passage provides us the key that unlocks the door that opens to a new thing: focusing on the faithful One who has promised to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). Notice what God went on to say through the prophet Isaiah: “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19). The wasteland in this verse (most English translations render the original Hebrew as wilderness) can represent any desolate and lonely place we have visited in the past – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We all find ourselves wandering in such a place at some point in our lives. But God is telling us something that is designed to change our perspective and ultimately our predicament – “I am doing a new thing!” God is healing our past wounds, breaking down old strongholds, and shining warm light into our cold darkness.

Throughout my years as a pastor, I have seen that perhaps the greatest “new thing” God has done in our lives is to give us a renewed, living hope, even when things seem utterly hopeless. That is the picture of rivers in the desert. God is in the business of doing what is impossible with man.

So, what “new thing” do you need in your life right now? Personally? Professionally? Relationally? Look up and see the heavens open right before your eyes, because your God is about to do a “new thing” in your life today. You have His Word on it.

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

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The Savior’s Self-Separation

For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:19)

When Jesus said, “I sanctify myself,” we are not to understand the word sanctify as it would apply to sinful humanity. Jesus was not talking about personal sanctification — that is, the putting off of the old, sinful self and the putting on of the new, Christlike self — for Jesus had no sin. Rather, Jesus was making it clear that He was setting Himself apart for the work His Father in heaven had sent Him to do.

Read on, and may you be greatly encouraged today!

Jesus consecrated Himself completely to the service of God. He willingly separated Himself from His throne in heaven to take on flesh and dwell among us. He willingly separated Himself from His inherent power as the second member of the Trinity and served completely in the power of the Holy Spirit. And yet, in spite of all this, it is vitally important that we understand that Jesus never separated Himself from the society of sinners. To be sure, Jesus was separate from fallen and sinful human nature, but He never separated Himself from human beings, other than those times when He withdrew alone to pray.

When we read through the gospel accounts regarding the ministry of our Lord, we see that it was the ones society disregarded and discarded that Jesus invested Himself in . . . so much so that the religious leaders continually condemned Him for it.

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

In the religious Jewish society, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law avoided sinful society in the very same way that they avoided lepers. As strict adherents to the Law, they believed that even being physically near sinners would defile them. What they absolutely refused to acknowledge, of course, was their own sin and their need of a Savior. Jesus replied to the Pharisees’ objection that He was eating with sinners by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Our Lord was not saying the religious leaders were in any way righteous, but rather He was pointedly stating that the Pharisees were blind to their own sin because of their religious traditions and their belief that they could attain righteousness through their own efforts.

Is it not a great encouragement to know that Jesus came to save sinners just like you and me? And it is not an even greater encouragement to know that, unlike the Pharisees, Jesus does not require us to change before coming to Him for salvation? You see, Jesus first meets all of us sinners right where we are, refusing to separate Himself from us, and then He graciously leads us to where He is calling us to be.

Jesus expressed it very clearly in our verse for today: “For them I sanctify myself.” Jesus did indeed set Himself apart . . . for us! And He never separated Himself from us. No, the amazing, glorious truth is that while we were still sinners, Christ drew near to us and died for us.

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

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