FOCUS FOSTERS FAITHFULNESS

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You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3)


There is an old saying, “What consumes your mind controls your life.” So let me ask you: What has been consuming your mind lately? Has it been Jesus? Or have you been focused on something smaller than Him? Read on and be encouraged today!

In the history of the Christian church, there are countless stories of martyrs who died singing hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord. And their deaths were not easy deaths! Some were brought into the arena, where lions would tear them from limb to limb as the audience cheered the gruesome spectacle. Others were impaled on stakes, covered in pitch, and lit on fire. Still others were nailed to crosses that lined the roads in Rome, dying slowly and in terrible agony as a reminder to all who passed by what would happen to those who claimed Jesus as Lord. How is that possible? How did they give glory to God, even in the midst of the cruelest torture? The answer is that their focus fostered their faithfulness. Their minds were wholly centered on Jesus, and their hearts were beating solely for Him.

I don’t expect that you or I will be thrown to lions or impaled on stakes or nailed to a cross. However, we are all troubled by so many things in this life that cause us to be both fearful and faithless. We have a tendency to focus on our problems rather than our possibilities. We become consumed by our obstacles rather than our opportunities. And what consumes our minds will control our lives.

The key to rising above the challenges of daily living is to live each day in the shadow of the cross. This is where we are reminded of what God in Christ has done for us. This is the place where sin, Satan, and death were conquered on our behalf by our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the place where the eternal destiny of all who will but place their trust in the atoning death of Christ was sealed, and that is how Christian martyrs can die with songs of praise on their lips, because they know that to be absent from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord who died to save them (2 Corinthians 5:8).

With the cross in view, we will not be distracted by the cares of this world. We will be reminded, just as the martyrs were, that the power within us is far greater than any power that comes up against us. Remember, focusing on the cross of Christ keeps us faithful to the Christ of the cross. May this truth comfort and encourage you today to live the life God has called you to live for His glory and the good of others, knowing that your focus will foster faithfulness.

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

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“ON APPROVAL”

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May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God. (Jeremiah 42:5-6)


If you are in the habit of buying online, you are probably familiar with “on approval” purchasing. This is an agreement in which items are provided to a prospective customer for a pre-purchase trial; if the buyer is not totally happy with the product, he or she can return it within a specified time period.

Sadly, many in the church today view God’s will in much the same way. They pray for God’s will in a certain set of circumstances, and when they sense they have received it, they decide whether they want to follow it or not. In other words, they believe God’s will is “on approval,” and if they are not totally happy with God’s plan, they devise their own.

You see this demonstrated in today’s passage. The people of Israel who survived the fall of Jerusalem came to the prophet Jeremiah and asked him to pray and ask the Lord to show them His will, promising to do whatever the Lord revealed whether favorable or unfavorable. But they had already decided in advance to flee to Egypt to escape the Babylonian invaders, and were merely looking to God to endorse their will, rather than reveal His will. When Jeremiah revealed that it was God’s will for His people to stay in the land of Judah rather than running to Egypt, the people received the Word of the Lord “on approval” and ignored it. “They entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord” (Jeremiah 43:7). Deciding to receive God’s will “on approval” proved disastrous for Israel, just as it always proves disastrous for us today as well.

In all my years as a pastor, I do not think there is any prayer more difficult to pray and act on than “Thy will be done!” Have you been wrestling with God in prayer regarding an important decision recently? Perhaps He has already made it clear what He wants you to do, but you have not acted, because you are actually seeking God’s will “on approval” and are waiting until His will meets your approval?

Remember, pray without ceasing, but pray having decided in advance not to follow your predetermined plans, but to follow wherever God is leading you. The true disciple of Christ trusts Him even when he or she cannot trace Him, regardless of the cost or circumstance. May the confession of our lives be that which is commanded in Proverbs 3:5-6 —

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

When we live and pray in this way, we will receive God’s will obediently, not “on approval.”

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

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GOD KNOWS YOUR SORROWS

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The Lord said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” (Exodus 3:7 NKJV)


The people of Israel were held in bondage for many years down in Egypt, but their sorrows were never out of the sight of their God. And what was true for the people of God more than 3,000 years ago is just as true for the people of God today . . . and Christian, that includes you.

When David was under the fiercest attacks from his enemies, he took comfort in knowing that God not only kept track of his sorrows, but also collected his tears (Psalm 56:8). God is intimately involved in the sorrows of His people, to the extent that not a single tear falls to the ground unnoticed or uncollected. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David said that God records each one of our tears in His book. What an amazing picture! We can rest in the confident assurance that God knows all of our sorrows.

Are you facing any sorrows of Egypt in your personal or professional life today? Remember, it was God who set the time for the deliverance of His people in Egypt. His plan for their exodus out of Egypt was delivered in His time and in His way, and it was delivered to meet them in their deepest place of need. God knows your headaches and your heartaches; He has not left you to fend for yourself. Therefore His Word instructs us to “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

There are many sorrows in this life. When broken people populate a broken world, sorrows are multiplied. Yet our God knows every sorrow we face, and He is always working His perfect plan to lift us out of it . . . in His perfect time and in His way. We must not question the Author of our Salvation, who is working all things for our good, even when the outward appearance seems to suggest that He is not. God did not forget His people in Egypt centuries ago, and He has not forgotten His people in their own “Egypts” today.

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

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THE MIGHT OF MOSES

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By faith he [Moses] forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:27 NKJV)


Reading today’s title might cause you to form mental images of Moses, the great deliverer of God’s people, foretelling the plagues on Egypt, leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, or calling on the earth to swallow up Korah and his fellow rebels. But there is a picture of the might of Moses that is often missed, a picture that should strengthen us in our faith today.

The might of Moses is best demonstrated in the way that he forsook Egypt—the power of Egypt, the prestige of Egypt, the prosperity of Egypt, the pleasures of Egypt, and the protection of Egypt—all while he was still living in the land of Egypt in the palace of Pharaoh. How was it possible for Moses to do such a courageous thing? The answer is that Moses feared the King of heaven far more than he feared the king of Egypt. Moses set his faith and his fear on the only One who is truly worthy of our faith and our fear. Moses that knew there is only one God . . . and He most certainly is not an earthly Egyptian king!

The question we must ask ourselves is this: Are we willing to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin? (Hebrews 11:25). I have learned from painful experience that it is easy to forsake that which is no longer desirable to us for the sake of Christ, but it is far more difficult to forsake what still attracts our attention. Are we willing, as Moses was, to forsake that which pleases us for that which pleases God? Are we willing to walk away from the sinful pleasures of this life for the supernatural promises of the next?

Remember, when Satan tempted our Lord in the wilderness by offering Him the kingdoms of this world without suffering, Jesus chose the way of His Father, a way marked by suffering and sorrow. To be sure, it is difficult to forsake the things of this life, but it must be done if we are to be like our Savior in this life and the next. And it can be done by the power of the Spirit who lives within us.

In closing, let me add these words from the beloved apostle John, who succinctly presented the type of might—the might of Moses—that you and I are to ask God to give us and sustain in us:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2: 15-17)

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

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THE ALMIGHTY’S ARMY

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I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. (Joel 2:25)


There is tremendous encouragement to be found in the lesson of the locusts. God will accomplish His purposes in the lives of His people by any means necessary . . . and along the way, He alone can bring restoration and reversal to all that was lost.

The crops that the swarming locusts had eaten were utterly lost, and they paint a proverbial picture of all the losses that God’s people face. When the children of Israel were released from bondage in Egypt, they were but a few days’ journey away from the Promised Land. But because of their rebellion, they lost 38 years and an entire generation while wandering in the desert. The prodigal son, who rebelled against his father and ran off to the far country, lost his time, his talent, and his treasure by choosing to live a life of rebellion.

There are many armies that the Almighty commands, and He uses them to correct us when we willfully wander away from Him. But never forget that, whatever form the Almighty’s army may take, it is never sent to crush us, but always to correct us in love. And in the Almighty’s cosmic correction, we find a word of unimaginable comfort: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”

Our great God can reverse the seemingly irreversible and give us great gain in spite of our loss. Jesus is in the business of reversing the seemingly irreversible; as He said, “With man this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

  • He reversed the lost years of Abraham and Sarah without children
  • He reversed the lost years of Moses on the back side of the desert
  • He reversed the lost years of the Samaritan woman at the well
  • He reversed the lost years of Zacchaeus the despised tax collector
  • He reversed the lost years of Saul of Tarsus
  • He reversed the lost years of the paralyzed man at the pool Bethesda

So the question is this: What lost years is our Lord ready to reverse in your life today? The lesson of the locusts should lift our spirits above all that has been lost in our lives, knowing that Jesus is ready, willing, and able to turn every loss into our great gain.

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

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THE PROMISE

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I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. (Isaiah 65:19)


Let these words from our Lord comfort you in your every affliction, because the day is coming when the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard no more forever. A pastor lives in a world marked by weeping and crying, going from one storm to another with the saints God has entrusted to his care. But the day is coming when every storm shall be stilled. That, beloved, is the promise that is designed to propel us forward through every dark night of the soul.

The promise is as profound as it is personal. A day is coming in the not-so-distant future when we will be carried on the wings of eagles into the presence of our Lord . . . or we will watch in awe when He returns to earth on the clouds of heaven. Either way, we will have received the fulfillment of God’s promise of perfection, and there will be nothing to hinder our joy and fulfillment. We will be with our Lord and we will weep no more, because every desire of the heart will be eternally filled. There will be no more sorrow . . . no more suffering . . . no more storm winds blowing our way. Mourning will be exchanged for rejoicing that will go on forevermore.

Perhaps you find yourself today in the midst of sorrow because of some loss in your life—the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the loss of your health, the loss of an opportunity, the loss of a loved one. This is the reality of living in a broken world as broken people. But the time is coming when all that is broken will be made whole. Every tear will be wiped away and every wound healed.

Look to that promise, Christian, and let it strengthen you every step of the way toward the paradise that awaits you. Eye has not seen and ear has not heard the infinite joys that await the saints of God who will one day glory in the eternal presence of Jesus Christ.

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

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EXAMINATION

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The Lord examines the righteous. (Psalm 11:5)


The Lord examines us—not because He wants to hurt us, but because He loves us. We are precious in His sight, so He will refine us in His fires of affliction so that we come out more pure than when we went in. This is true for all God’s children; none escape His examination.

It is out of a heart of eternal love that our God tries and tests us. There is no other way to experience the removal of the self than through the examinations of the Savior. If Jesus did not love us, He would not examine us; and if we knew just how much He loves us, we would echo David’s cry for His continual examinations:

Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind. (Psalm 26:2)

Remember, our Lord does not take us through His examinations so He can gain a deeper understanding of our commitment to Him. Rather, it is so that we will grow in our own awareness of what our hearts beat for and how deep our love is for Him. God knew Abraham’s heart when He asked him to sacrifice Isaac, but Abraham did not fully know his own heart of love for God until he was put to the test. God’s examination ultimately proved to Abraham why he would be known for all eternity as the father of the faith (Romans 4:16).

The examinations we go through are the proving grounds of our faith. It is only when we emerge on the other side of the furnace of affliction that we know how real our faith truly is. We need look no further than the story of Job to see this truth. God allowed Satan to examine Job through unimaginable trials, and what was the result? Job never rejected God’s right to examine him; he trusted God through every trial, even when he could not trace Him in them. And in the end, Job acknowledged that he was a sinner in need of a Savior (Job 42:4-6), and he rejoiced that “My Redeemer lives, and . . . in the end he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25).

Know this: Whatever depth of faith you have today is a result of the examinations you have been given by God in the past. Growth does not happen when we are secure within our zones of comfort. It is when God forces us into those places where we are most uncomfortable that He is conforming us more and more into the image of His beloved Son.

Our Sovereign Lord is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28)—even those things that don’t feel so good at the time.

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

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