Resident Aliens

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers in this world to abstain from the sensual urges that wage war against the soul. (1 Peter 2:11 AMP)

When I hear the word “alien,” I tend to think of the movie E.T. and images of small, green, extraterrestrial creatures with antennae coming out of their oversized heads, but that’s not what I’m talking about today. Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon authored the book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, which discussed the nature of the church and its relationship to the surrounding culture. The authors made the point that, as followers of Jesus, we live as “resident aliens” in this world, an idea that is entirely consistent with the God-breathed truth presented in Peter’s epistle.

As Christ-followers, we are still living in this world, but we are no longer of this world. We have been transferred from one dominion to another. We have become resident aliens in the surrounding culture. At times, we may feel disoriented and displaced, even though we are still living in the same place we have inhabited for years. That is because we no longer are what we once were. We are new creations in Christ, living for a new Master who has given us marching orders that will, more often than not, direct us to move in the opposite direction from the culture in which we live. In Christ, we have been set free from the bondage to sin, Satan, and death, but we are not yet home. We are living in a land that is not yet ours. We are “aliens and strangers,” as Peter put it.

One day, this land will be ours. When Jesus returns, He will establish the new heavens and the new earth, where we will rule and reign with Him forever and ever. But until then, we must remember that this place is not our home. And yet, at the same time, we Christians have been commanded to make an eternal difference in this world by being eternally different from this world. We are to seek the peace and prosperity of this current culture as we cultivate and care for it, all for the glory of God.

Remember, “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) — not the evil systems of this world, but the beautiful world He created and pronounced to be very good. We are to love the world by holding the inherent goodness of the world God created in tension with the corruption Adam and Eve brought into it by their sinful rebellion. In short, we must live as citizens of two kingdoms. When we are living for the glory of the kingdom of God, we will be living in a way that brings great good to the kingdom of man.

May this be the confession of our lives as aliens and strangers in this fallen world.

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

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Christ Is Not Your Colleague!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee would bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Far too many people have removed Jesus from the throne of their lives. Oh, they love Jesus. Yes, they proclaim the name of Jesus. They pray to Jesus and even serve Jesus. But they see Jesus more as their colleague than the conquering King. They view Him as someone who is pretty much on equal footing with them as they live out their faith. They seem to believe that they can ignore and even criticize some of the demands Jesus makes on those who are His.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Jesus is not our colleague. He is our Christ – the Anointed One who is the Ancient of Days, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End of all things. Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Jesus is my co-pilot.” That may sound nice, but Jesus is not our “co”-anything. He is Jesus Christ the Lord, and we must relate to Him as Lord over every aspect of our lives, even those aspects that are not currently measuring up to our current aspirations.

I’m sure that many readers are thinking, “That’s certainly not me!” Are you sure? You know that you see Jesus more as a “colleague” than the Christ when you confine Him to certain areas of your life and do not invite Him into the entirety of your life. On the other hand, when we surrender all of our lives to Jesus and give Him rule and reign over every area, then Jesus truly is our Christ, not our colleague. And that is where Jesus belongs, seated on the throne of our lives, as we surrender everything we are and everything we have to Him. We give Jesus our time, our talent, and our treasure. We give Him our dreams and our desires. We give Him our goals and our glories. It has been well said that “Unless Jesus is Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.”

So how is it with you? Have you brought every area of your life under the sovereign rule and reign of Jesus? Remember, Jesus will tolerate no rival. There is only room for One to sit upon the throne of your life, and His name is Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the colleague.

One final point: When the issue of “Lordship” is settled in our lives, every other issue is settled too, because we give Jesus the last word regarding everything. For as the great Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

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

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Current Condition Blessing

Looking at his disciples, [Jesus] said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)

As Jesus continued teaching and ministering throughout Judea, in Jerusalem, and along the coast of Tyre and Sidon, the crowds following Him continued to gather and grow. The people had been waiting for the promised Messiah to free them from Roman rule and reestablish them as a nation, and now here was Jesus, standing in their midst. His healing touch and His powerful teaching gave the crowds cause to believe that everything was about to change for them. And change it did . . . but not in the way the people were hoping or expecting.

The blessings Jesus promised in today’s passage, recorded by the good doctor Luke (6:20-23), also known as “Beatitudes,” are promised in their current condition, right then and right now. Jesus told the people that if they were currently poor, currently hungry, currently mourning, currently excluded, currently reviled, and currently rejected, they were blessed beyond measure. And what was the reason for their current blessed condition — a condition that would seem more like a curse than a blessing to the natural man? The reason was the Son of Man.

This is the condition of the Lord’s people. If we are followers of Jesus — if we are really taking up our cross and following Him — we will be forsaken by the world. It comes down to the difference between the values in the kingdom of God and the values in the kingdom of man. On this side of the grave, the greatest blessing for the followers of Jesus Christ is Christ Himself. Jesus suffered during His time on earth, and so will those who are committed to following Him wherever He leads. In the words of the apostle Paul, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). It has been granted to us to suffer in this lifetime . . . but when we do, we are blessed by God in that condition.

Regardless of where this message finds you today, because you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are blessed beyond measure in your current condition. Here is a truth that needs to be fixed in our hearts: Jesus plus nothing equals everything. And when you breathe your last, you will be received into glory, where we have been assured that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

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

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Between Yesterday’s Deliverance And Tomorrow’s Dreams

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Between yesterday’s deliverance and tomorrow’s dreams we will be confronted by the storms of life, which are as inevitable as they are unpredictable. Jesus is the Lord of the storm (Matthew 8:27), and in today’s verse He promises that there will definitely be storms. These storms come to us in many different forms: disappointment and defeat, poverty and pain, sickness and sorrow, alienation and accusation. And more often than not, these storms come when we least expect them. But they do not come to cause us to doubt God’s love; rather, they are sent to drive us into His presence so that we will come to a deeper understanding of the depth of His love.

Storms are God’s servants (Psalm 148:8) that teach us how to surrender more and more of our lives to His control. Many people have a hard time seeing God as loving if He is the One sending the storms. But it is because God is Love that He sends storms to shape the lifelong process of our sanctification – that is, our growth in Christ-likeness.

God sent a storm to retrieve His rebellious, runaway prophet Jonah so that he could come to a deeper understanding of God’s mercy. God sent a storm on the Sea of Galilee when all of Jesus’ disciples were in a boat so that they could personally witness the awesome, omnipotent power of Jesus Christ to calm that storm with a word. God sent a storm of persecution against the early church so that His people would leave their familiar surroundings in Jerusalem and move out into the world to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission. The storms God sends are not designed to disrupt your life; rather, they are designed to deliver you from the disruptions in your life that are distracting you from God’s call on your life.

What storm has God sent into your life today? When you look back over your past, you’ll see that it is marked by one deliverance after another; your future is filled with dreams and desires. During the “in-between,” you will face many storms. You may be tempted to think they have been sent to break you, but when God brings you through to the other side, you will know they were sent to make you . . . to make you more like Jesus.

Here is something I once read that has stuck with me:

I asked God, “Why are you taking me through troubled waters?”

God replied, “Because the enemies chasing you can’t swim.”

May those words inspire us all to find the Lord of the storm in every storm we face, knowing that God has promised to bring us safely to our divine destination. There is a lovely supplication expressed in the magnificent book of Puritan prayers, The Valley of Vision, which beautifully sums up today’s word of encouragement:

“May the gales of thy mercy blow me safely into harbour.”

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

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A Holy Hedge

Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? (Job 1:10)

When Satan came to God, asking permission to tempt His servant Job, Satan complained about “a hedge” that God had placed around Job. Satan knew God had placed a special hedge of protection around His servant Job; in order for Satan to be able to do anything to Job, God would have to grant Satan permission to move inside that “holy hedge.”

Make no mistake, we serve a God of hedges. God is in the business of protecting His children. He installs hedges of protection – that is, spiritual walls, fences, or partitions – around us to protect us. But there is another biblical truth to be gleaned from the story of Job: Sometimes God will allow Satan to gain access inside the hedge He has placed around us in order to grow us and mature us in our faith.

In His infinite wisdom, God allows Satan to tempt us; and just like Job, we often do not know the exact reason why. But we can be sure of this: God is working all things together for our ultimate good and His glory. When God allowed Satan to pass through the hedge around Job, He gave Satan permission to take everything from Job except his life. Job stood up under the test; he never lost his integrity or abandoned his commitment to God.

You see, as children of God, we are eternally protected. Satan can do nothing to keep us out of heaven, but God will allow him to tempt and test us. During those times of testing, we must remember that we have a holy hedge in Jesus. He is our refuge and our fortress, and He has promised to keep us from eternal harm. Whatever storm wind God allows to blow into our lives is there to strengthen our faith and conform us more to the image of Jesus.

Remember, whenever you face trials of any kind, if God does not remove you from the trial, you can be sure that He is refining you through that trial. Look to Jesus! Trust Him, no matter what it is you are facing, and know that you are never facing it alone. Jesus is your holy hedge of protection, and He has promised never to leave you nor forsake you. You are not alone!  

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

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The Gift Of God

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

Today’s passage comes from the divine appointment Jesus had at Jacob’s well with a Samaritan woman. This woman had absolutely no idea who Jesus was. The furthest thing from her mind was that Jesus was the promised “gift of God.” Yet there Jesus was, in a place no respectable Jewish man would never be. This was Samaria, the land of the despised, mixed-race Samaritans, and Jesus was speaking to a woman, no less! This simply was not done in that patriarchal culture.

This woman was an outcast. She had come to draw water at noon, the hottest time of the day, when no one else would be at the well. Jesus identified her as having had five husbands and currently living with a sixth man who was not her husband. On hearing this, the woman believed that Jesus was a prophet; by the end of the conversation, she understood that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. We know this because she ran back into town, to the very people she had been trying to avoid, exclaiming, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29).

The Samaritan woman was completely transformed by the love of Jesus. Her encounter with Jesus gives us a powerful example of one of the deepest Gospel truths: We are fully known and completely loved. Think about it! Jesus knows everything you ever did and He is still for you, with you, and in you. This can be hard for us to comprehend, because love so often comes with conditions in this life. But that’s not the case with Jesus! His love is unwavering even when we are wavering. That is the beauty and the blessing of understanding Jesus as the gift of God.

Are you experiencing the love of God in Christ Jesus today? Do you believe Jesus loves you with no strings attached? Remember, Jesus is the gift of God, and a gift is something that is freely given. By definition, a gift is something you do not earn or pay for. If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ, you have been rescued from your rebellion — not because of anything you have ever done or ever will do, but simply because Jesus loves you.

Now that’s the gift that keeps on giving!

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

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Fruit? Or Nuts?

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

All throughout the Scriptures we see that salvation is of the Lord. The apostle John was given a vision of a great multitude in heaven crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10). We are saved by grace, through faith, not because of anything we are or anything we have done or will do. Yet after we are saved, we are responsible to report for duty, and that duty is to bear fruit, not behave like nuts!

When Jesus raises us from death to life, He renews the mind, recalibrates the heart, and realigns the will. In other words, the grace that saves us is the same grace that sanctifies us and empowers us to live a life that is pleasing and acceptable to the One who has so graciously saved us.

Now, if we see our salvation more as a religion than a relationship, we are likely to become a little nutty. When I say “religion,” I am speaking about empty rituals and ceremonies that come from the imagination of man, not the revelation of God. It is the kind of life many religious leaders were living at the time of Jesus, and their sanctimonious behavior deeply angered and disappointed Him. They kept God at a distance because their religion had replaced their relationship with God. And that, beloved, is nuts!

We bear fruit when we live in a surrendered, submitted relationship with Jesus Christ, living for His glory and for the good of others. As we engage in expanding the cause of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, we are bearing the lasting, eternal fruit we were saved for.

In our verse for today, Jesus used the the metaphor of a vine and its branches to give us a vivid picture of a real and right relationship with our Lord. When we are abiding in Jesus, we are connected to Jesus. We are committed to Jesus. We are controlled by Jesus. As we remain in Him, we soak up His life-giving, supernatural Spirit that causes us to bear fruit that will last.

How would you describe your current walk with Christ? Is it more fruity? Or nutty? Inasmuch as we all have a combination of both in our lives, we will be far more fruitful when we fix our focus on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, regardless of the circumstances we face in life.

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

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Stop Slinging Stones!

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. John’s account explicitly states that they had caught her in the act. So where was the man? Why did they not bring him too? The Law of Moses commanded that the penalty for adultery was death by stoning for both parties in the illicit union (Leviticus 20:10). This gives us a clear indication as to the intent of the religious leaders. They were not looking for justice to be done; the text tells us they were trying to trap Jesus, “in order to have a basis for accusing him” (John 8:6).

So what did Jesus do? He stooped to write something on the ground — not once, but twice during this encounter. The text does not reveal what Jesus wrote, and this is the only place in Scripture where we see Jesus writing anything. But it just might be that Jesus was writing out the names of those holding the stones and their hidden sins, sins known only to our all-seeing, all-knowing God.

After Jesus invited “any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” and wrote on the ground with His finger, “Those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there” (John 8:9). The older ones dropping their stones and leaving first seems to suggest that the wisdom of their age helped them understand the Lord’s message. They recognized that Jesus could have exposed the depths of the depravity lurking in each of their hearts.

Question: Was there anyone without sin in that group? Yes, of course! It was Jesus. Only Jesus had the right to pass ultimate judgment. Every one of us is a sinner in moment-by-moment need of a Savior, and so we are to leave judgment to the One who judges justly. When we judge others, we grieve the Holy Spirit and give the devil a foothold in our lives. We all must stop slinging stones – stones of gossip, slander, judgment, anger, etc. – in our minds, in our words, and in our behavior.

Remember, the greater our devotion to Jesus, the better we become at dropping our stones. So let us draw near to the Lord and love one another, for love comes from God (1 John 4:8).

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

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Free Indeed

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Today’s passage of Scripture is one of the hardest for many of us to take hold of and appropriate to our hearts. It’s certainly difficult for me and my heart. I have no doubt that I am not as free as Jesus intends for me to be in the Gospel freedom He died to purchase for His children.

I often allow the devil to accuse me, in spite of the fact that I know there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). I have a tendency to think that the more obedient I am, the more God will love me, forgetting the fact that I am already completely loved in Christ, no matter what I think, do, or say. I’m sure many of you reading this will readily admit that you succumb to that sort of “stinkin’ thinkin'” also. We all wrestle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and our old sin nature is still very much alive deep within us and is busily engaged in trying to keep us in bondage. One of Satan’s most effective tactics is to dangle before us the deceitful promises of sin, which can deliver on its promises for a moment, but always leave us empty and wanting in the end.

Only when we receive the truth of the Gospel freedom that we have in Jesus will we respond by faith to the emancipation we have received. This emancipation has two facets, thanks to our spiritual union with Jesus: First, we are freed from the penalty, the power, and the pleasures of sin. Second, we have been freed to walk in the newness of life we have received. Because we are new creatures in Christ, we are released from the bondage and burden of sin and freed to the beauty and bounty of a new life in Christ.

May that dual truth set us all free — free indeed — to live the life Jesus has set us free to live, by grace through faith.

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

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“Be Still” . . . Not “Sit Still!”

Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

“Sit STILL,Tommy!” I believe I heard that phrase more than any other during my early elementary school days. I had a difficult time staying in my seat, and even when I was sitting down, I was fidgeting much of the time. So when I first encountered today’s verse, I assumed God was telling me to “Sit still,” not “BE still” . . . and there is a world of Gospel difference between the two.

Today I understand how I drove my teachers a bit crazy, because I was in constant motion throughout the school day. I’m sure there were times when I was a distraction to them and to the other students. But when it comes to my relationship with God, I am never a distraction in His cosmic classroom. I never frustrate Him, and He never grows impatient with me, no matter how much my fidgeting interferes with my focus. But because I am His child, and He sees how distracted I can become, He reminds me to “Be still.”

God was instructing the psalmist then–and you and me today–to rest in the redemption He has provided for us, no matter what is going on around us. Psalm 46:10 is a command to trust God even when we cannot trace Him. To know that God is in complete control of everything that is going on in every aspect of our lives is to “know that I am God.” Because our God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, we can surrender to His plan and purpose for our lives, because He knows exactly what He is doing all the time, and He is working all things for our good, even when we cannot understand any of it.

In some ways, I haven’t changed much from my childhood; I still have trouble sitting still. But I am growing in my ability to be still before the Lord, no matter what is going on in life. Knowing that there is indeed a God — and that I am not Him — has been the key to being still . . . even when I am not sitting still.

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

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