Friends

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends. (John 15:15)

Today’s word of encouragement has nothing to do with the television sitcom that aired for ten seasons from 1994-2004. Rather, “Friends” is about you and how your relationship with God rises to the level of friendship. If have, by grace through faith, placed your trust in Jesus Christ for your eternal salvation, I want you to stop and think about that for just a minute; the sovereign Lord of all the universe—He who simply said “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky” and the blazing furnace that is the sun was instantly formed (Genesis 3:15), the God who commands lightning where and where not to strike (Job 36:32) and commands the seas just how far they may encroach on the land (Job 38:11)—that awesome, infinite, majestic God calls you His friend!

We can classify friendship under two biblical headings: friendship with God or friendship with the unbelieving world. Scripture tells us plainly that we cannot be friends with both. “If anyone loves the world,” John warned, “the love of the father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Our God is a jealous God and He will tolerate no rival . . . nor should He! If we are friends with the world, we simply cannot be friends with God. This is because –

  • The world does not acknowledge His authority.
  • The world does not seek after His will.
  • The world does not worship His perfections.
  • The world does not bow to His Lordship.
  • The world does not love His Word.
  • The world does not confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Jesus described His relationship with the world this way: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). The unbelieving world gave Him no shelter, they gave Him no support, and they gave Him no submission. In the end, they cursed Him, condemned Him, and ultimately crucified Him. They mocked him as He was dying.

But for those whom Jesus calls friends, even in all their imperfections, Jesus loves and protects them, and not one of them is lost, for no one and nothing can snatch His sheep out of His sovereign hand (John 10:28-29). Scripture says of both Abraham and Moses, two men whose flaws are writ large in Scripture, that they were friends of God. The same is said of Jesus’ disciples . . . and Christian, it is also said about you today.

Friendship with God is not a privilege extended only to a select few on the pages of sacred Scripture. No, that friendship belongs to everyone who calls on the name of Jesus and follows Him wherever He leads. You are a friend of Jesus by grace and grace alone. You remain a friend of Jesus by grace and grace alone. And yet, at the same time, the clear and present sign of that friendship is our devotion and dedication to the One who calls us His friend.

What does it mean to you today to know Jesus calls you His friend? What does the confession of your life say? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He did just that for you to make you His friend. May that truth both encourage and equip you to live out your friendship with God while forsaking friendship with the world. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Follower of One

At this, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him (John 6:66)

Did you know that good and godly leadership is about following? Yes, it is about becoming a follower of One . . . and that One is Jesus Christ. I pray that today’s word of encouragement will bless your soul.

Whether you are leading your company, your family, your small group, or just yourself, we are all leading others. Even when we are not in any position of obvious leadership, others are watching us, simply because we have professed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In order for our walk to match our talk and bring the most glory God and lasting good to others, we must commit to becoming a follower of One.

When we are fully and unreservedly following Jesus, we will go wherever He leads us, unlike the many disciples who deserted Him because His teaching was too “hard” (John 6:60). To be sure, there are times when following the Lord can be hard. It is easy to stay in step with Jesus when He is leading us down the smooth path of progress, where the sky is blue, the clouds are fleecy, and the sun is brightly shining. But what about when Jesus leads us down a difficult path that is littered with pitfalls, problems, and even pain? How do we respond when we cannot see the sun and the storm winds begin to blow? Our natural, sinful tendency is to separate ourselves from Jesus, thinking we will create distance from the difficulties we are facing by doing so. But nothing could be further from the truth! Our loving Lord has ordained the difficult path for us to walk, but He has promised to walk it with us every step of the way.

Can you imagine what Levi (Matthew) must have been thinking when Jesus said, “Follow me”? Here is this hated Jewish tax collector, seen as a traitor by his countrymen because of his service to Rome. Levi was making a lot of money at the expense of his own people and was completely protected by the Roman government. This is the last person anyone would think Jesus might be interested in; furthermore, Jesus would be the last person anyone would think a self-serving tax collector would be interested in following, yet “Levi got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). In an instant, Levi abandoned his old life and embarked on a new life in Christ. He gave up his position of power and protection to become a follower of One.

Who have you been following lately? Remember, we cannot judge the direction of our lives based on the difficulties we are facing. Jesus leads us down the difficult path because He is more concerned about our holiness than our happiness. The ultimate purpose, of course, is to conform us into His image. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Held Hostage By Unforgiveness

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

As a pastor I encounter far too many people in the church who are held hostage by seething feelings of unforgiveness. What these folks need to practice is a dose of the Gospel forgiveness Jesus shared with Peter . . . seventy-seven times! Read on and be greatly encouraged today.

When we withhold forgiveness from others, we hold on to some of the most damaging and deadly emotions we can experience: hurt, anger, blame, and vengefulness. These feelings not only cloud our judgment, but they discolor every aspect of our lives. It has been well said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.

When Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness, he knew that the rabbis taught that forgiveness was to be extended to the wrongdoer . . . up to three times. So Peter, being Peter, supposed that if he went way beyond that and suggested that up to seven times should be sufficient, the Lord would approve. Jesus immediately course-corrected Peter by giving him a dose of Gospel forgiveness, the same kind of forgiveness Peter had been given by God.

In the 2009 film Invictus, actor Morgan Freeman played the part of Nelson Mandala, who was imprisoned for 27 years and subsequently elected President of South Africa to begin the task of unifying a country that was divided by race. In one powerful scene, Mandela vows to the African National Congress, “Forgiveness starts here. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon. The past is the past; we look to the future.”

Have you been held hostage by unforgiveness? I think we all have from time to time. The key to forgiving from the heart is to remember how unconditional God’s forgiveness is for us and to trust Him to give us the strength to offer forgiveness to anyone who has wronged us.

I am not saying this is easy! Some of you have endured unimaginable pain and hurt from others. Forgiveness can only be done in the strength of our Lord. We must keep in view how our Lord offered forgiveness to His enemies as He hung in agony on that cross, bleeding and dying for us. When we do that, we will be given the strength to forgive, even when we would rather not.

20th Century Christian theologian Lewis B. Smedes said it beautifully: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Lesser Loves

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

It is good for all of us to examine our hearts from time to time. Beyond the fact that Scripture commands us to do so, experience has taught me that this practice is absolutely necessary in order to identify those lesser loves that have a tendency to crowd God out of our thoughts and plans. I am not talking about the easy-to-identify stuff of this life; I am talking about good things that can become bad things because they have become ultimate things.  

The cosmic comfort that comes from today’s message is found in the fact that God’s love toward us is not conditional upon our love toward Him. When we chase after lesser loves and forsake the love we had for God at the first, God’s constant, unwavering love is both a great reminder and a gentle rebuke to return to Him and forsake our worldly ways. It is God’s holy and righteous jealousy that moves Him to search our hearts by the light of the Gospel, which ultimately moves us back to where we belong, sitting at the feet of our Master.

I am often reminded about the story of Mary and Martha preparing to receive Jesus and the disciples for a meal. Both worked hard in the process of the preparations, but it became evident that Martha had gone after a lesser love when she became far more focused on doing things for Jesus than spending time with Jesus. Mary knew when to shut down and sit down at the feet of her Master. Jesus gently reminded Martha that Mary had chosen the greater love of spending time with Him, rather than doing things for Him.

Are there any good things you have been doing for God that have kept you from spending time with Him? We all need the truths of the Gospel to convict the performer within us to stop all our doing and pause to ask our loving Lord to renew our mind, recalibrate our heart, and realign our will. Remembering to regularly examine our hearts will keep us on guard against lesser loves that distract us from the Savior Himself, He who is the most important love we are to seek all the days of our lives. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Intimate or Important?

But for me it is good to be near God. (Psalm 73:28)

If you were asked to describe your current relationship with Jesus, how would you respond? There are periods in my own life when I would describe the difference between walking side by side rather than face to face. In other words, my relationship with Jesus is always important (side by side), but it is not always intimate (face to face).

There is relationship when walking side by side. There is agreement and one accord; there is a common purpose that leads in the same direction. Now, without question such a relationship is important, but it is not necessarily intimate. Intimacy is moving from a side-by-side relationship to a face-to-face one. It is the experience of not only deeply knowing, but being deeply known.

Scripture says of Moses that “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11). You and I should desire such a relationship with our living Lord. When God created us in His image, He created us for relationship with Him, one that would not only be important, but intimate as well. Our God wants what we all so desperately need: an intimate personal relationship with Him.

When the psalmist said “It is good to be near God,” I don’t believe he was talking about proximity; he was speaking of intimacy. The psalmist knew that intimacy with God has no competition or contenders in this life. And that is the way God designed it to be! That God-sized hole in each of our hearts was put there by God so that it could only be filled up by Him and nothing else. There is nothing smaller than God that will ever be able to meet us in our deepest place of need, no matter how hard we try to make it so.

Listen, God wants intimacy with you so much that He provided for it as His expense. In sending His precious Son to die on a cross, He paid the price and paved the way for you to experience intimacy at the deepest possible level—to live coram Deo (before the very face of God). Enjoying intimacy with Jesus is knowing that everything we think, do, say, and desire is fully known by Him . . . and that includes all the things we ought not think, do, say, and desire. Through it all, we are fully known and yet completely loved. That truth, when fully understood, takes an important relationship and makes it intimate.

So let me ask you: Would you describe your relationship with Jesus as one that is important . . . or intimate? Remember, every aspect of life is to be lived before the face of God. If we desire deep and abiding intimacy, we cannot withhold any part of our lives from Him. We will never experience the intimacy we were made for if we compartmentalize our Christianity.

The importance of our life with Christ is guaranteed; intimacy depends on us. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Forsake Instant Gratification

Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:34)

How often we are just like Esau? In a single impulsive moment, we settle for far less than God’s best for our lives because we want whatever it is right now to fill up some emptiness inside, rather than fixing our focus on the only One who can and will meet our every need. If you see a little bit of Esau in yourself today, then please read on . . . and be encouraged!

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” . . . Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. (Genesis 25:29-34)

Esau traded the lasting benefits of his birthright for the immediate, momentary pleasure of a meal. Esau wanted to solve the immediate problem of his hunger instantly without ever considering the long-term consequences of his actions. We have all done the same thing at some point (or points) in our lives. We see something we want, and without counting the cost we reach for it. In that moment we believe we are satisfied, but more often than not, fleeting pleasure leads to lasting pain. The lure of instant gratification blinds us to lasting heartache that lurks just around the corner.

We are all very much like Esau in exaggerating what we think we need. Was Esau really “about to die” from starvation? Perhaps he had missed a meal when he was out in the open country, but his desire was inflamed by the smell of food, which extinguished his good sense to shun instant gratification and embrace eternal gain.

We have many examples of making the same mistake in our own lives. Here are just a few:

  • Trading family time for business success
  • Trading the pleasures of food for poor health
  • Trading ease for activity that leads to sickness
  • Trading wants for needs

So how do we keep from making the same mistake Esau made? We forsake instant gratification. The key to doing this is to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) of our actions by comparing the short-term pleasure against the long-term pain.

It is easy to fritter away great portions of our lives chasing after things that don’t really matter—or worse, things that cause great pain and harm. May the testimony of Esau’s life—“He ate and drank and then got up and left”—not be the testimony of our lives. The rest of the story reminds us of the bitter regret Esau felt after he thought through what he had done. A little extra thought and prayer on the front end will save us great pain and regret on the back end when we forsake instant gratification. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Gone Fishing

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them. (John 21:3)

Jesus had been crucified, dead, buried, and then resurrected from the grave on that first Easter morning. He had shown Himself to several of His disciples on a number of occasions, including the one who had denied Him on the night He was betrayed. Even after encountering the resurrected Jesus and seeing the nail prints in his hands and feet and the wound from the spear that had been thrust into His side, we find Peter doing what He had done all his life: fishing.

Peter was returning to his old life, rather than moving ahead into his new life in Christ. To be fair, Peter was undoubtedly still struggling with his recent, cowardly failure, when he had denied even knowing Jesus—not once, but three times. Yes, he wept bitterly immediately after that, a clear indication of his repentance, but I’m sure Peter believed, deep down, that he had “blown it” and that Jesus had no interest in using him anymore. And so Peter returned to what he knew best—fishing. He had no inkling that he was about to be caught in the Master’s net for a time of restoration that would prepare Peter to become a great fisher of men.

What was true for Peter is true for you and me, as well; we all need times of restoration in order to return to the primary call God has placed on our lives. When we fail our Lord, we have a tendency to retreat back to what we are familiar with and avoid God’s best for our lives. We can easily convince ourselves that we will no longer be used by God for the call He has placed on us, so we “go fishing”—we go back to our old lives and tell ourselves that serving the Lord is something that is only done by “good” people. But we must remember what Peter learned: that God is not finished with us! Our loving Lord is in the business of using broken and sinful people . . . because that’s all He has to work with! Scripture promises that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus: (Philippians 1:6). Let that be an encouragement to you today and every day God gives you to live out His perfect plan and purpose for your life.

Have you “gone fishing” recently? May these words that Christ spoke to Peter on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee both comfort you and challenge you every time you stumble to get back up and continue doing what you were created to do: expand the cause of His kingdom.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15).

Christian, you will fail at times, but you will never be a failure. If you’re familiar with this passage of Scripture, you know that Jesus asked Peter the same question—“Do you love me?”—not just once, but three times, just to make sure Peter and the other disciples understood that Peter’s three denials were covered by the blood of the Lamb. And what is true for Peter is true for you and me as well! This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Endurance and Encouragement

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus. (Romans 15:5)

Today we have before us two of the most amazing gifts of grace that our God gives to us each and every day. Read on, and be greatly encouraged to continue to endure, regardless of the circumstances you are currently facing.

I often remind our congregation that we are always in one of three stages of life: either we are in the middle of a storm, we are emerging from a storm, or we are heading into a storm. I don’t know about you, but I often wonder why those storms can’t be spaced a bit further apart throughout life! It seems as if they come one after another after yet another. Yet God has given us everything we need to not only weather those storms, but to worship in them and witness through them. We see in today’s verse that God gives us the endurance to keep on keeping on, and He also provides us the necessary encouragement along the way.

Here is one of the things that the Spirit of God wants us to glean from our verse today: Because it is God who has given us the grace gifts of endurance and encouragement in the past, we can count on Him to continue giving them to us as we go through this life.

We know this is true from the testimony of His Word. In the very same chapter of Romans that we are looking at today, Paul was moved by the Spirit of God to write, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Here is the way we can maximize these two great grace gifts that we have received: by marinating in and meditating on the Word of God. The more our reading reminds us about the faithfulness of God in the past, the more we will be encouraged to endure in the present, regardless of the circumstances we are facing. We have been given a hope that simply cannot be extinguished by any flaming arrows of the world, the flesh, or the devil.

How are you doing with these two grace gifts that you have received? Are you encouraged to endure, regardless of whatever you are facing? If you sense that your endurance and encouragement levels are running a bit low, take a few extra minutes with God’s Word today and He will fill you to overflowing. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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From Mess to Mercy

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Oh, what great comfort we can draw from God’s Word today! No matter how badly or how often we mess things up—I don’t know about you, but I mess things up a lot—His mercies are new every morning. And God always acts in mercy to His children—all of His children, and that includes you and me.

The grace and mercy of God are truly amazing. Every bit of God’s grace is undeserved. Every bit of it is unearned and unmerited. Every bit of it is simply a result of God’s loving and gracious nature, which predisposes Him to pour out His mercy on you—not just daily, but moment by moment. And if we are honest with ourselves, we would readily admit that we need His mercy every moment of every day.

Think about the last time you really messed things up. Perhaps it was something you said or something you did, whether it was in your personal or professional life. Was not God merciful to you in the middle of your mess? Of course He was! He loved you just as much after you messed things up as He did before. Because you are in Christ, you are absolutely and eternally loved. You cannot make God love you any more and you cannot cause Him to love you any less. He loves you as He loves His precious Son, Jesus.

Regardless of the messes we make, our God never reacts to us in anger; He simply showers His mercy on us again. And that is because we have been covered by the blood of the Lamb of God, who has taken away our every sin—past, present, and still to come. How else could God respond to us when we are clothed in the rich robes of the righteousness of Christ?

Let me leave you today with a reminder of this wonderful truth:

When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:4-5).

God’s mercy toward us is new every morning, and we can be sure of that because His mercy is not based on anything we do, but flows solely from His kindness, love, and mercy toward us. You have His Word on that!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)

I cannot tell you how many times my parents and teachers said to me, “Tommy, sit still” when I was growing up. I was always moving some part of my body, whether at the dinner table or at my desk in the classroom. In today’s verse we are commanded by God to “be still,” not “sit still,” and there is a world of difference between the two. Read on and be encouraged today!

When my parents and teachers told me to “Sit still,” it was because I was either being distracting or disruptive. But when God says, “Be still,” He is not rebuking us, but rather He is telling us to “Cease striving” and willingly submit to His sovereign control and course correction in our lives.

To be still is so much more than to merely cease all activity. Obviously, you can sit still and not even come close to being still. That was how I was as a child; I might be outwardly still under the watchful eye of a parent or teacher, but inwardly I was consumed by the need to be in motion again. As adults, we can be totally still on the outside, and still be completely restless on the inside, our minds racing, because we have not yet learned how to be still. We are so often busy being busy, and that is true even when we are sitting still. There is always something we are working on, planning for, or fretting over.

To be still and know that He is God is to surrender to His will even before you are in agreement with it. In fact, you may never be in complete agreement with God’s will, but to be still before the Lord is to trust and follow His will anyway, regardless of where it may lead.

We can only understand the first part of Psalm 46:10 when we understand the last part. To know God is to know the secret of being still. In the beginning of that psalm, the inspired author tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2). To be still is to stop the frantic pace of working in our own strength because we are trusting in the strength of our Savior.

Remember, even if everything around you is coming apart at the seams (mountains falling into the heart of the sea), God is still in complete control of it all. God is orchestrating everything for His glory and your good, but you will never be able to live in that truth if all you do is sit still and do nothing. You must be still by surrendering every aspect of your life to God’s design, which will provide water to your thirsty soul and peace for your restless spirit. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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