FROM DUTY TO DELIGHT 

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This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)


When you read today’s verse, do you wonder why John added the words “his commands are not burdensome”? I’m sure we all remember times when God’s commands seemed like an incredible burden. Forgiving someone who has wronged us . . . loving someone who is unlovable . . . serving someone who is never satisfied . . . saying “No” to sin when our flesh is urging us to say “Yes” . . . all these things are difficult! They certainly feel “burdensome,” if not impossible.

The reason John could say that the commands of God are not burdensome is provided in the front end of the verse, where John tells us that we are to express our love for God by obedience to Him. When we keep our focus firmly fixed on our love for God, obedience is no longer burdensome. This is how we move from obedience feeling like a duty to becoming a delight.

In the parable of the prodigal son, we see just how odious obedience had become to the elder brother. When his younger brother returned home after squandering his inheritance and their father welcomed him with open arms, the elder brother was furious. “Look!” he fumed at his father. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders” (Luke 15:29). Do you see it? He was perfect in his obedience to his father, but his obedience gave him no sense of satisfaction, much less joy. It was simply a burdensome duty that had descended into drudgery. He was not obeying his father out of love; he was obeying out of self-love and a desire for what he hoped to get from the father.

So let me ask you: Is your obedience to God a delight? Have you found the path of righteousness and holy living to be not burdensome? Are you able to say along with the psalmist, “I delight to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8)? Only to the extent that your heart beats for Jesus will your answer to those questions be a resounding “Yes!”

Our Lord Jesus provided us the most magnificent model of delighted obedience, saying, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Think about it this way: Jesus forgave those who treated Him terribly; He loved those who were unlovable (sinners like you and me); He served those who were never satisfied; and He was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). And He said that obedience was His very sustenance! He delighted in doing good for the glory of His Father in heaven. Obedience is never a burden for those who love God, because one of the primary blessings God gives to His children is a heart that turns the duty of obedience—a duty that we all owe to the One who gives us life and breath and everything else—into an unimaginable delight. May that delight be the confession of all our lives!

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

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REPENT, DON’T REHEARSE 

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Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say . . . “The accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12:10-11)


As a child of the Most High God, it is right and required for us to repent of our sins, but it is wrong to rehearse our sins over and over again. This is one of the great goals of the accuser. Satan wants us to repeatedly rehearse our sins, because when we do, we take our eyes off our Redeemer and fix them on ourselves.

Rehearsing our sins again and again is not of God, who sent His Son into the world so that you and I can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that those sins are freely and fully forgiven. Repentance of our sins is of God; rehearsing our sins is of the devil, who takes perverse pleasure in shifting our focus away from our Savior and onto ourselves. Satan delights in reminding us of our failures; the more he can keep us focused on our failures, the less we stay focused on our Lord, who has redeemed us from all our sins. Life at that dreary level becomes all about us, and that focus on self, as I’ve said here many times before, keeps us from growing into the person God is calling us to be.

I speak with far too many Christians who are locked in a rhythm of rehearsing and revisiting past sins. The malevolent enemy of the saints has convinced them that mulling over past sins and repenting again and again is a sign of maturing in the faith, as if wallowing in the depths of despair over past failures will convince God that we are truly sorry. This, interestingly enough, was once the mindset of the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, who went to extraordinary lengths in castigating himself for his sins, until the day that God opened Luther’s eyes to the glorious truth of Romans 1:17 – “The just shall live by faith.”

The sign of truly maturing in our faith is taking God as His word. He has promised us that He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12); He has hurled all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19); and He has cast all our sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17). Oh, what an encouragement this is to be to all of us! God is plainly saying to you and me, “Why would you continue to rehearse your past sins when I have promised you that I will remember them no more?” (Hebrews 10:17).

Remember, self-condemnation is one of Satan’s sharpest arrows, one designed to weaken our faith and water down our witness in every way. What we must keep in view is another promise from God: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) When we sin, we are to repent and rejoice, because in Christ we have conquered the attacks of the accuser, who has been hurled down for all eternity by the blood of the Lamb.

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

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THANKFUL FOR A HOPE THAT WILL NOT DISAPPOINT – Part II 

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We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and this hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:3-5)


On Monday we looked at the kind of hope that will only disappoint us, because that hope is put in imperfect people and things that are much smaller than God. Today we will plumb the depths of a hope that cannot and will not disappoint, because that hope rests on the only perfect One, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ Himself. And for that truth, we must be eternally thankful.

When the Bible speaks of “hope,” we are to understand it as a calm, confident assurance that our good God is working all things together for our good, no matter what. Scripture does not present the word hope in the way you and I typically use it, meaning that we wish something will or won’t happen (such as, “I hope it won’t rain during the picnic”). Our worldly use of the word “hope” is grounded in uncertainty.

In Scripture, hope is as certain as the sunrise, and because this hope springs from the heart of God, we can rest assured that it cannot fail, it cannot falter, and it absolutely will not disappoint. This holy hope that springs forth from our Holy God is the message we must preach to ourselves, not just daily, but moment by moment. It is, as the psalmist shows us, a kind of arguing within the soul, what I call preaching to yourself:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God.” (Psalm 42:5 NKJV)

Our sinful nature is continually cast down and daily disquieted, which is why we must be proactive and intentional about keeping our hope in God before us. We must see it, we must speak it, and we must savor it, regardless of the circumstances we are facing in life. We must always see this hope that cannot disappoint like the author of Hebrews, who wrote, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). You see, this hope that is rooted in Jesus is full of faith, and the faith that is rooted in Jesus is full of hope . . . a sure and certain hope that will never disappoint.

So as you ready yourself for Thanksgiving tomorrow, would this not be a good time to prayerfully consider just how thankful you truly are to the One who has given you this hope? Remember, the certainty of this hope that promises the blessings of God comes through the presence of the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). And if this message finds you in a season of storm winds and challenges, remember the ultimate hope: the return of Christ, who will wipe every tear from our eyes and promises us an eternity with no more pain, no more sorrow, and no more death. Oh, what a glorious hope we have that cannot disappoint, because our hope is in Jesus!

I pray that you will have a hope-filled Thanksgiving.

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

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THANKFUL FOR A HOPE THAT WILL NOT DISAPPOINT – Part I      

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We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and this hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:3-5)


I would like to help us prepare our hearts to celebrate Thanksgiving with a two-part message rooted in a hope that will not disappoint us . . . not ever!

Because we live in a fallen, broken world as fallen and broken people, there is nothing we have ever been involved in that did not, at some time or another, deal us some kind of disappointment. Whether it was a job we hoped to get, a relationship we deeply desired, or that one thing longed for and maybe even saved to purchase, that hope eventually failed to deliver on the happiness it seemed to promise us. But when we think through this sad reality, we realize that disappointment was the only thing it could deliver. Because all of creation has been marred by sin, everything in it is wildly imperfect and always underperforms.

Take just a cursory glance at the evening news, and virtually any hope we are hanging onto seems to be dashed against the rocks by the unending waves of challenge that keep washing over our world. Virtually every story seems to reinforce the ideas that crime really does pay, honesty is not the best policy, and, as a 1970s song lamented, “The rats keep winning the rat race.” And when all that dust settles, if we are still a bit hopeful, we find enough disappointment within ourselves to last two lifetimes. Speaking personally for a moment, I can testify that far too often, even when I am right about something, I deliver the message the wrong way, feelings are hurt, and the hope people placed in me is doused by disillusionment.

So what is the way forward when life seems to be continually marked by one step forward and two steps back? We must reevaluate where we have placed our hope. When we place our hope in anything of this world, we will inevitably be disappointed. And yet, even in the hope that disappoints us, we still have reason to be thankful, because God is at work through the grace of disappointment. You see, if the things of this life actually could provide a hope that did not disappoint, we would grow into only a fraction of the person God is calling us to be, and we would become cold and distant in our relationship with Him.

The key that unlocks the door leading to a hope that does not disappoint is to place our hope not in something, but in Someone . . . and His name is Jesus Christ. At this exalted level of living, we possess a hope that simply cannot disappoint, because it is rooted in the One who cannot and will not disappoint us in any way.

We’ll take a deeper look at that truth on Wednesday.

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

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ALL PRAYERS ANSWERED 

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)


It’s not uncommon for me to hear people describe how “My/our prayers have been answered.” What they mean is that the thing they had been praying for has come to pass, and so they say, “God answered my prayer!” Now, it’s always a good thing to give glory to God. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has prayed for something, God has brought it to pass, and I completely forgot to give thanks and praise to Him who hears and answers prayer! So I don’t want to sound the least bit critical of those who say, “God answered my prayers.” It is entirely right to do so.

At the same time, however, we must remember this: God answers all prayers. There is never a time when God doesn’t hear or doesn’t respond to our prayers. Let’s spend a moment with this idea, and I pray you will find cosmic comfort in what you read.

As I’ve said here before, all our prayers are answered instantly by God with one of three responses: “Yes” . . . “No” . . . or “Wait.” Now, we all rejoice when God’s response is “Yes,” but what about the other two? You may remember the apostle Paul and his prayer about a thorn. Paul prayed—not once, but three times—that God would remove this thorn, and three times God said “No.”


Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)


Was Paul’s prayer answered? Of course it was! But our Lord’s answer was not what Paul was hoping for. God said “No,” because God had something much better in store for Paul, which was a sufficient amount of grace to help him mature and grow with the thorn, not without it.

Now, as for God’s reply of “Wait,” my personal experience has been that there are times when that response from God is even more difficult to deal with than “No.” I will freely confess that I struggle with impatience, and that’s probably why I struggle with “Wait.” God, in His perfect providence, is at work in our lives, conforming us to the image of His beloved Son through the truth of these words: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Because our God is so loving and gracious to us, making us wait is His way of growing our joy in hopefulness, building our patience in pain, and expanding our faithfulness in prayer.

So regardless of where this message finds you today, let these words bring you cosmic comfort, knowing that your God is at work in your life, regardless of the answer He gives you for any particular prayer. Looking back over your life, I am sure you remember some prayers you fervently wanted God to answer with a “Yes” that you are now fervently grateful that His answer was “No.” And as for those prayers that were answered with “Wait” before God finally answered “Yes”—and it may have been a long wait—can you not see how God had to make you ready to receive the answer you were looking for?

The key to living out the truth of today’s verse is to fully trust the infinite wisdom of God in answering our prayers, even when we, in our finite understanding, cannot trace His answer. Truly, God knows what is best, and He will always deliver it to us for His glory and our ultimate good.

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

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LIVING LARGE 

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My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)


You may be wondering what I’m thinking when I present a title like that, and that is a good thing! If I were using the phrase living large as the common slang term that it is, I would be suggesting living a life marked by extravagant, excessively wealthy, or self-indulgent living. May God forbid that such a message would ever appear in Grace for the Race! I’d like to encourage you today to be “living large” in the biblical sense, and that boils down to understanding which kingdom you are living for—either the little kingdom of the self or the infinitely larger kingdom of the Savior.

The little kingdom of self is not an actual location on some plot of land. Rather, it is the overriding passion and commitment of the heart. It is a heart that beats for earth-bound treasures. It is a heart that aches for the accumulation of the things of this world. It is a heart that pumps blood into the hands that grasp everything with a white-knuckle grip, hands that pinch a quarter so hard that the eagle fairly screams in pain! This is “living little” in the kingdom of one, because everything you want has been turned into a need.

And know this: the more you live in pursuit of meeting your so-called “needs,” the more things in your life come to be defined as needs. If you are not convinced that the little kingdom actually works in this way, consider this: What in your life right now are you in pursuit of that you have defined as a need, but which, after careful consideration, you realize is actually a want? We all have a profound tendency to chase after earthly treasures, and thus we end up living little, rather than living large. I have said it here before, but it bears repeating: Whatever rules your heart shapes your life, and the more you chase after earthly treasures, the more your life atrophies.

The key to living large in the appropriate, scriptural sense is to live for the Lord and His kingdom, rather than for your own. It is the pursuit of the glory of God rather than your own glory. It is trusting in God’s promise to meet all of your needs according to the riches His glory in Christ Jesus, not meeting all of your wants that you have redefined as needs. It is advancing confidently in the direction God is calling you to go, even when you do not understand the direction in which He is leading or what will be the ultimate destination. This is transcendent living, which is the way God has designed us to live. This is living large, because we are living for the Lord, regardless of the cost or the circumstance.

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

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THE DNA OF SIN 

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Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3:16)


The dictionary definition of DNA is “the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.” As it relates to the title of today’s message of encouragement, the DNA of sin—that is, the fundamental characteristic of sin—can be summed up in one word: SELF! There is a great deal of biblical truth to the old adage that the letter “I” appears right in the middle of the word sin. Sin occurs when you and I allow self to assume occupancy on the throne of our lives.

You see this malignant root of sin in many words that begin with self . . .

  • Self-centeredness
  • Self-righteousness
  • Self-absorption
  • Self-rule
  • Self-love

The first thing we must remember about the DNA of sin being rooted in self is this: people who are self-centered are completely unable to please God in any way. Romans 8:8 warns us that “Those controlled by the sinful nature [that is, the self] cannot please God.” When self is in competition with the Savior, we want what we want . . . we want it right away . . . and we want it in precisely in the way we desire.

This sinful striving to satisfy the self began at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden and appears throughout all of sacred Scripture, beginning with Cain murdering his younger brother Abel. We see the DNA of sin in the scheming of Jacob, the larceny of Achan, the adultery of David, the treason of Absalom, the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, the disobedience of Jonah, the denial of Peter, and the murderous hatred of Saul.

But this is not for you! When we review the definition of DNA, we see the words “regarded as unchangeable.” That is a truth we must receive as it relates to the self: we cannot change ourselves. Oh, we can change behaviors for a period of time, and on the surface it may appear that we are a better person. But unless the Lord changes us from the inside out, we have accomplished nothing more than behavior modification. But when Jesus shows up, we are made new, by grace through faith, and behavior does indeed change because the heart has been transformed by an outside agent: the Holy Spirit of God.

Remember, Jesus uses our own self-interest as a grid to gauge our love for others. He has commanded us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). But that will only happen after our selfish heart of stone has been replaced by the selfless heart of Spirit, a heart that now beats for nothing smaller than our Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, there will still be times when the self rears its ugly, sinful head. Yet Jesus has promised that no temptation can overcome us unless we give in to it, because the power of the Holy Spirit in us is greater than any power in the world that comes up against us.

Be encouraged, Christian! Your DNA has been changed by the One who loves you unconditionally. And when you do lapse back into exalting “I” instead of the great “I AM,” He forgives you completely and His eternal love for you is utterly unchanged.

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

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