FREEDOM

freedom


For freedom Christ has set us free.  (Galatians 5:1)


The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day, is a national holiday celebrating the anniversary of the day in 1776 that the thirteen American colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress formally declared that the American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, a nation that was no longer part of the British Empire.

From backyard barbeques to baseball games, from picnics to parades, from family reunions to fireworks, today is a day for Americans to celebrate our independence from British rule. But before you head off to your Fourth of July celebrations, let me encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the greatest freedom you have experienced as a child of God: freedom from sin, Satan, and death.

After Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, all of humanity was plunged into sin and death. We were all dead in our trespasses and sins and completely unable to do anything about it ourselves. But God in Christ gave us a way out of bondage and into freedom. Because of His crucifixion and resurrection, we have been delivered, by grace through faith, from our slavery to sin and the power of Satan and death. All those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation have become a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), with new dreams, new desires, a new destination—and a new freedom!

What is that new freedom? We are finally free to live a life that is pleasing and glorifying to our Lord Jesus Christ. By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have the ability to do what God wants us to do and to do it with joy and thanksgiving. But here is the irony: only to the extent that we are in bondage to Jesus are we free to live a God-glorifying life—and that, beloved, is a freedom truly worth celebrating, today and every day as we make our way into glory.

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

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DO AS YOU PROMISED

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“Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever.” (2 Samuel 7:25-26)


God made a promise to King David after denying David’s request to build God a temple: the Sovereign Lord promised David that his house and his kingdom would endure forever and his throne would be established throughout all eternity. David would not be the builder of God’s temple, for God had chosen David’s son Solomon to perform this task. But God made a profound promise to His servant David, who pleased His Lord by reminding Him of it. God not only welcomes our reminders, but He wants us to plead His promises daily—not for His benefit, but for ours. Omniscience needs no reminding, but we certainly do!

So . . . when was the last time you said to Jesus, “Do as you promised!” When you are feeling distant from God, plead the promise He made to never leave you nor forsake you . . . and soon you will be back in communion with your God. If you find yourself facing a formidable medical challenge, plead the promise of the peace He said He would give you . . . and soon that peace will pass all understanding. Perhaps you are facing some overwhelming challenge at work or in school; plead the promise that all things work together for your good . . . and soon you will see just how much God is for you. And if you feel like you have really blown it—I mean really messed things up—plead the promise of His unconditional forgiveness . . . and though your sins be as scarlet, they will soon be white as snow.

God receives our reminders and returns to us multiple rewards. We have nothing in ourselves to broker God’s favor except His promise to be favorable to us. Plead the promises He has made to you and prepare yourself for His answers to rain down from heaven above. Remember, God did not free the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt after 400 years just to leave them to die out in the wilderness. He brought them out of Egypt to bring them into a living and loving relationship with Himself. A pillar of cloud led them, manna came down from heaven, water came out from a rock, and quail were supernaturally blown in from the sea, for God had promised to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey.

Regardless of where this finds you today, know that your Father in heaven loves to hear you cry, “Do as you promised!” The problem is that we forget that our God is far more ready to hear our cries than we are to make them. It is to our benefit to remind God of the promises He has made, because in the challenges of daily living, we can easily forget them. And in so doing, we forget the glorious goodness of our Great God, for He will always do as He has promised!

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

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SERVING SERVICE? OR YOUR SAVIOR?

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Mary . . . sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.  (Luke 10:39-40 ESV)


Mary and Martha both loved their Lord. Both were sold-out in their commitment to His service. But there was a huge difference in the two serving sisters: Mary knew when to exchange her service for devotion to the One she was serving . . . Martha did not. Within every child of God is some Mary and some Martha. Which one do you identify with more closely?

It is not uncommon for those who are sold out in service to their Savior to find themselves, at times, serving the service rather than the One they are serving. I must confess that I know this truth from personal experience. The old, sinful self is in a constant struggle against the new, Spirit-led self, even when we are engaged in service of our Lord. When the old self wins, the service becomes the end, rather than the means to the end, which is serving Jesus.

Mary and Martha had both been busily engaged in preparing a wonderful feast for Jesus and His companions. We know Mary was just as involved in the preparations as her sister was because of Martha’s urgent request to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (Luke 10:40). This is the classic example of what it looks like when we slip from serving our Savior to serving our service.

Jesus beautifully and tenderly pointed this out to Martha:

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

How easy it is for us to get caught up in Martha-like service! We can be so absorbed in our service that we completely forget to adore the One we are serving. Mary, on the other hand, knew when it was time to exchange serving her Lord for sitting at His feet. The message is clear: We must never let our devotion to our Savior be exchanged for our duty to serve Him. We must remember that the most important thing we can ever give to our Lord is what flows out of our hearts . . . not what passes through our hands. To be sure, we must never stop serving our Savior, but we must know when it is time to exchange service for sitting at His feet.

So . . . who are you most like? Mary or Martha? If your answer is “Neither,” it is time for some self-examination and time to actively engage in service to your Savior. I can assure you that if you approach the leadership team at your church and ask if you can volunteer some of your time, you will be met with open arms! “Many hands make light work.”

On the other hand, if you are a bit like Martha, remember, the greatest service you can offer to your Lord is to do what Mary did: she sat at His feet and worshiped.

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

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THE WITNESS OF WONDER

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All who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:18 ESV)


I encounter far too many believers who have, for a variety of reasons, lost a sense of wonder in their walk with Christ. The shepherds preached the simple message of the Gospel, and “all who heard it wondered.” We should keep that sense of wonder every step of the way into the Celestial City. It is my prayer that these few words will encourage you today to do just that.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the many names of our God; one of them is Wonderful Counselor. Our God is Wonderful, and the witness of wonder must be our daily experience, because holy wonder leads to heartfelt worship. Should we not be in a state of perpetual wonder? God came after rebels on the run—our first parents, who willfully disobeyed His one prohibition in the Garden—to bless them and not to destroy them. Instead of casting them into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and starting all over with a new “first couple,” God cared for them. And if that isn’t enough to keep us in a state of wonder, God the Father sent His beloved Son to pay the penalty for our sins, so that you and I would be brought back into right relationship with Him. Surely this is the wonder of wonders!

I am convinced that wonder wanes when we shift our focus away from Christ and put it on our circumstances. Our thoughts become trapped in the temporal and the earthly, and we miss out on the wonder of the eternal and the heavenly. When this happens, we must journey back to Golgotha, where our Lord hung on a cross and died in our place. The Lord Jesus Christ chose to be forsaken by His Father so that you and I would never experience utter and eternal damnation. And now God says, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). What unimaginable wonder is this, that our God has pledged His fidelity to us for all eternity?

A holy wonder that leads to heartfelt worship will ultimately lend itself to hopeful watching. This will keep us looking up, rather than out and in. When we are looking up at Jesus, we will sense His presence so thickly wherever we go that we may well wonder why we have not taken off our shoes, since we are standing on holy ground. We will cry out with the psalmist, “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us” (Psalm 40:5). The witness of our wonder should never wane when we look back at all God has done for us and look ahead to all God has promised yet to do.

So . . . how would you rate the witness of your holy wonder? If you find it to be a bit less than what it should be, you need only shift your focus away from your circumstances and center it on Christ. If you pause long enough right now, you may even feel the scars on those hands that hold you tightly and will never let you go.

Oh, the wonder of it all!

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

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GOD’S GUARANTEE

guarantee


Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.  (Proverbs 11:25)


God has given His people many guarantees in Scripture. Let this one today both bless and strengthen you for the journey ahead. The principle is crystal clear: In God’s economy, you cannot give without getting.

Whoever refreshes (this is how the NIV translates the Hebrew ravah; many other versions render it “waters”) another has the promise of being refreshed (or watered) by God Himself. In other words, the more we look after and serve others, the more God will look after and serve us. The key is to keep our focus on God and not ourselves. When we lift others, God will lift us. When we comfort others, God will comfort us. When we bless others, God will bless us. This is what I call “divine recompense.” But we must do our part! We must fulfill the condition of proactively refreshing others, knowing that God will fulfill His guarantee to refresh us.

No one ever lived a more “other-oriented” life than our Lord Jesus Christ. He continually put others first. He said plainly that “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It was Jesus who, on the night He was betrayed, took a towel and a basin and washed the feet of His disciples, setting the eternal example of how His followers are to live their lives all the way into glory.

By nature, this is impossible for you and me. Sin has turned us inward. Our first thought in the morning and our last thought at night is usually rooted in self. Even as Christian believers, who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit and given a new nature, we must fight with all our might against sinful self-absorption and self-centeredness. It’s not easy to put others first! It isn’t easy to think of others more highly than we think of ourselves. But this is the call for every child of God, and that call comes with a wonderful guarantee from God Himself: when we take time to water others, our God will water the streams of our souls to new levels of refreshment.

So . . . have you been refreshing others lately? Remember, the simple act of refreshing (serving, blessing, etc.) others is often the refreshment promised in and of itself. Are you not blessed every time you bless someone else and see the light of joy and gratitude in their eyes? You cannot give without getting; the more you give, the more you get. Your supply of giving will never run out because God is filling it to overflowing. So refresh others and prepare for refreshment from your Redeemer. God has guaranteed it!

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

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A LITTLE OIL IN THE HANDS OF OMNIPOTENCE

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The woman said to Elisha, “Your servant has nothing at all, except a small jar of olive oil.” (2 Kings 4:2)


The woman had suffered the loss of her husband, and now a creditor was coming to take away her two boys as slaves. In desperation, she cried out to the prophet Elisha, who asked how he could help. When she told him she had only a little oil, he instructed her to go and ask her neighbors for empty jars (“Don’t ask for just a few,” Elisha cautioned) and to pour what oil she had into the jars. The woman kept pouring and pouring and pouring . . . until there were no empty jars left. Immediately, the oil stopped flowing. Elisha then told the woman to sell the jars of oil, pay her debts, and assured her that she and her sons could live on what was left.

The biblical principle is clear, and it should be a source of great encouragement to you, regardless of where this message finds you: a little in the hands of our Lord is a lot! Here we see that a little oil in the hands of Omnipotence become more than enough for this widow and her two sons . . . and the same is true for me and you today.

As I read through the Scriptures, it never ceases to amaze me just how incredible our God truly is in meeting us in our deepest places of need. From manna from heaven to water from a rock, Omnipotence sustained the children of Israel in the wilderness for 40 years. Two loaves and five fish in the hands of Omnipotence fed more than 5,000 people, with twelve baskets of leftovers!

The poor widow could not see her abundance, yet it was all around her, and the same can be said of us today. Our God is not impotent; He is not incapable of meeting our needs. In fact, He has promised to meet every single one of our needs (Matthew 6:33), and there is no power in this universe that can hold back His hand.

But we must remember that He will meet our needs in His time and in His way. We need only to trust Him, even when we cannot trace Him. When we find ourselves in lack, we must remember that the lack is never with our God, for He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). God owns everything (Psalm 50:12), and has promised to give to us everything we need when we need it.

The key to living in “times of need and times of abundance,” as Paul said in Philippians 4:12, is to take our eyes off our circumstances and fix them on our Savior. Oh, to have the spiritual eyes to see God’s storehouse of infinite supply! Then we would not shrink back from any storm wind that blows our way. In fact, we would do everything within our power to “nest in the gale,” knowing that our God is in the gale with us, growing us into the person He is calling us to be.

There is no such thing as scarcity with our Savior. There is no such thing as lack with our Lord. We simply need to fix our eyes on things above, and Omnipotence will take care of all things below, right up until that day He calls us home.

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

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SOLD-OUT? OR ONLY “SO FAR”?

sold out


Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far.” (Exodus 8:28)


The world welcomes our faithfulness to God as long as we do not get too carried away with it. Like Pharaoh, they will let us have our religion and our relationship with our Redeemer, as long as we only go so far with it. Pharaoh did not want to let the children of Israel go too far away from his influence, his authority, and his control, and the same is true for the world we live in today. The world will tolerate our Christianity as long as our faith does not contradict its morals or infringe upon its practices. The world cheerfully welcomes the “cultural Christian” who embraces the worldly wisdom of “tolerance” and “compromise.” But it reacts harshly when we go too far and declare that the Bible commands us to live in a certain way.

The world loves truth . . . just as long as it is not absolute. The tragic truth is that many in the church today are in bondage to Pharaoh’s demand that “You must not go very far” in your faithfulness to your God.

But this is not for you! If we are going to be true to our first love, we must walk into the wilderness and separate from the wisdom of this world. The fleshpots of Egypt have nothing of eternal value to offer us and Pharaoh seeks only that which is pleasing and profitable to him. The religion of this world tells us to do whatever seems right in our own eyes; true religion tells us to do whatever is right in the eyes of God. The religion of this world says, “If it feels good, do it.” True religion says, “Regardless of how it feels, if God says it is good, do it!”

We are in this world, but we are not of this world; we are commanded to “Come out from them and be separate” (2 Corinthian 6:17). If we are to make a difference in this world, it will be because we are different from this world.

We are not called by God to separate physically from this world, but we are to separate spiritually in every way. We are to have different dreams, different desires, and ultimately a different destination. We have a new King, and His name is Jesus Christ. He has called us to live a life that is committed to expanding the cause of His kingdom in this world. On the cross, our King not only paid the penalty for our sin, He also paid to remove both its power—and ultimately, its pleasure.

So, where does this message find you today? Have you been seduced by the “Pharaohs” of polite society who demand that you only go so far with your commitment to Christ and your relationship to your Redeemer? If that’s the case with you, remember that His mercies are new every morning. Rise up and renew your commitment to your calling as a child of God. Advance confidently in the direction He is leading, regardless of how far it takes you into the wilderness.

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:24-27)

The choice is yours: Will you live a life that is sold out for your Savior? Do you regard Him to be more precious than the things of this world? Or will you live a life that only goes so far?

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

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