For Freedom Christ Set Us Free!

4th of July

As our nation prepares to celebrate its independence from England, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to live in a country where we are free to live, love, work, and worship. Our hearts are thankful for past and present generations of brave souls who have ensured and protected those freedoms.

In Galatians 5:1 we read, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Because Jesus died on the cross, as believers, we can celebrate our independence every day, having been set free from satan’s dark kingdom into God’s everlasting Kingdom!

Do we stop to consider that while the majority of people living in the U.S. enjoy daily political and cultural freedoms, without Christ, they remain in a form of everlasting bondage? Are we fighting as hard for unbelievers to be set free from the yoke of eternal slavery as we are to protect our personal civil rights?

For starters, why would an unbeliever even want to convert to Christianity? All too often, being a Christian is understood by onlookers as being a bunch of stuffy, judgmental, rules-restricted, hypocritical church-goers. Christians appear to be anything but free with all the rules and rituals.

May the LORD cause us to be His Freedom Ambassadors, fighting to set people free from death and darkness by radiating Jesus’ light and love wherever He sets our feet in this country and to the nations. May our thoughts, words, and actions reflect the realities of God’s Kingdom where there is no hatred, no division, no jealousy, no gossip, no self-promotion, no sickness, and no lack. In their place may we sow seeds of unity, grace, peace, mercy and blessing! And may we have compassion for the captives as we lay down our lives for their freedom in Christ!

Others’ freedom will cost us something. Are we brave enough to fight for them?

Advertisements

Abundantly More

Abundantly More

Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly [infinitely] more than we can ask or imagine by His power working in us. The Message translation says, “far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Verse 21 explains that this truth exists so that God will be glorified throughout all generations.

What is the seemingly impossible thing that you would like to see God do that would give Him much glory? Cause you to love an “enemy?” Restore a decade-long relationship? Unify our nation? Heal a sick child? Move a mountain?

There is a story of a woman who won the lottery. When asked what she would do with her millions, she said she would buy a “double-wide” (mobile home). She could have afforded a mansion, but because she couldn’t comprehend the vastness of her wealth, she only dreamed of a small upgrade to her current circumstances. Are we content to pray “double-wide” prayers? Have we stopped dreaming big dreams because they seem far too impossible, and because dreaming big dreams would mean risking disappointment? Have we robbed God of His glory by the smallness of our faith?

What is our part in ensuring that God is glorified?

First, we need to dream with God. He created the universe. He is a creator, and we are made in His image. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God’s desires become our desires—and His desire is to see His Kingdom come! So as we bring our big dreams before God’s heart, He molds and shapes those dreams in ways that will build His eternal Kingdom and glory. His Kingdom has no end, so our dreams should have no limits! While God is interested in both the small details of our lives as well as the big dreams, it’s red-sea sized testimonies that show the watching world that God is who He says He is.

Second, we need to trust God that His promises are real and true (2 Corinthians 1:20). His Word reminds us that all things are possible with God (Mark 10:27). And Jesus said that He will do whatever we ask in His name so that the Father will be glorified. Because “No word of God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37) May He cause our faith to rise up to His level of promise so that we believe Him for the fulfillment of the big dreams that He puts in our hearts.

And third, we must come to recognize that it is His power in us that accomplishes His magnificent answers. That means it’s our job to access all the dunamis power that is ours when we are in Christ (Ephesians 1:19-20). So how do we move mountains? One key is in Matthew 17:20; we speak to the mountain with faith. And we pray big, bold prayers with confidence according to His will, asking that He not limit the size of His response by the size of our ask.

“May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13) May we hope in nothing less than the power of Almighty God who desires to bless us and glorify the fame of His Name! Let’s unleash opportunities for God to be glorified by asking in faith for the realization of of all that He wishes to accomplish in big and mighty ways!

 

 

In The Waiting Room

Waiting Room

In Revelation 1, John wrote a prophetic vision some 2000 years ago about “…what must soon take place . . .because the time is near.”  That was two centuries ago!  How can at least 2000 years mean “soon!!?”  Remember, God sees all time from beginning to end, and in light of eternity, 2000 years is nothing! God’s people eagerly wait for Christ’s return, and in the meantime, we wait for the fulfillment of His promises to us and His abundant answers to our prayers. What is the condition of our hearts when the waiting process (during our finite days on earth) seems to last far longer that we expect it should?

Have you ever had to wait for more than 2 or 3 hours past your scheduled time due to a flight delay or a doctor dealing with an emergency?  What is your emotional response to such a prolonged wait and the resulting inconvenience to your day?  What does the waiting room feel like based on the emotions that the other delayed folks are verbalizing?  Joy isn’t likely at the top of the list.  Rather, grumbling, complaining, irritation, anger, and frustration are the more likely wafts of unhappiness filling the room.

For the saints, our countenance in God’s waiting room should look much different!  After all, He has promised to hear and respond, He is presently in the waiting room with us, and He is teaching us about Himself and us in HIM while we wait!

Here are just a few thoughts about what we can DO while we sit in God’s waiting room in order to protect ourselves from anger, despair, and even offense towards God.

  1. Thank God. Thank Him for the privilege of prayer and worship! Thank Him for the answers that are being crafted in the heavenly realm.  Thank Him for the grace to receive His best answers when they come!
  2. Change your focus. Instead of focusing on your yet unanswered prayer, blessing, or calling, get your eyes off your prayer and onto the One who will transform your heart while you wait, as He builds strength and perseverance in you.
  3. Enter into others’ prayers. Talk to the other folks in the waiting room.  Find out what answers they are waiting for and join with them in contending for their miracle.  Being part of someone else’s breakthrough will strengthen your faith for your own.  And you will witness outbreaks of great joy in the waiting room—joy that transforms the atmosphere of irritation and despair!
  4. Release your expectations of God. Rather than holding God hostage for the breakthrough that you expect, set Him free to culminate your waiting room experience with something that is exceedingly abundantly more that you have asked or imagined—or drastically different from how you believed He would answer. He is God, not a genie or a personal vending machine!
  5. Seek God. There is no place in heaven or on earth where God is not presently present. He is in His waiting room.  Go sit next to Him.  Talk with Him. Find out what He is up to and ask Him what He thinks about your perceived delay.  Get to know Him and His purposes even better so that your trust in Him will not falter. The scriptures tell us that in His presence there is fullness of joy!  Joy is a choice—are we choosing it over fear and despair while in His waiting room?

God’s waiting room is a place in our hearts where we will always find Him, waiting for us to come to Him.  He waits there patiently for us.  Perhaps we can learn to wait like He does, with the enduring confidence that the outcome of the stories is always good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.

 

One Story

Passover

In God’s story from Genesis through Revelation, there is strong emphasis on remembering how God shows His faithfulness to His chosen people, the Israelites, and by adoption to the Gentiles.

Jewish tradition celebrates Passover this April 19th through the 27th to commemorate the events leading up to and including Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 12). Because the Hebrew families each killed a lamb and spread its blood over the door frames of their homes, the Angel of Death spared the firstborn of the Israelites, but took the first born children and livestock in all of Egypt. The Hebrews were spared because of the blood of the lamb! God commanded them to roast the lambs and eat all of the meat. This meal would give them physical strength for their journey.  They left Egypt in haste and thus they carried their bread wrapped in cloths on their backs before yeast had been added. Hence the tradition of eating unleavened bread during Passover.

During the Passover meal—the Seder—each part of the meal is eaten to remember the bitterness of Egyptian slavery, how God spared the Israelites from death, and their passage out of Egypt.  One part of the meal looks forward.  It’s called the “afikomen.”  One of the pieces of unleavened bread is broken, wrapped in a cloth, and placed out of view.  After the Seder, children are sent to look for the afikomen and often receive a prize for finding it.

While the Passover celebration is largely a remembrance of how God delivered His chosen people, the afikomen points forward to Christ.  In the Bible, leaven or yeast often symbolizes sin.  Jesus is known as the “bread of life.”  Because He led a perfectly sinless life, representing Him as “unleavened” is a beautiful reminder of His holiness.  Jesus’ body was broken, wrapped in grave clothes, and hidden out of sight.  When He was seen after the resurrection, there was great joy among His disciples.  The afikomen is such a beautiful reminder of the resurrected Jesus!

In Christian tradition, we celebrate Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating in Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  During Holy Week we recall the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and miraculous resurrection.  Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples as the “last supper.” As He served them the bread and wine—components of the Passover meal—He declared the bread to be His body and the wine His blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).  At that moment, Jesus added meaning to the historical understanding of the Passover meal.  1 Corinthians 11:36 tells us that “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” By taking communion, we remember what Jesus did to redeem us from our sins, and we look forward to His return.

This year, Holy Week, April 14-21, overlaps with Passover.  What a beautiful reminder that the stories Jews and Christians celebrate are not separate stories, but rather, components of the same story of our God who SO loves the world!  It’s HIS-story!  By remembering Passover, we see a preview of how the blood of the lamb saves God’s people from physical death. And the afikomen gives us a glimpse ahead to our Savior.  When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, His blood made a way for those who believe in Him to be saved from eternal death. And we look eagerly forward to His return and the redemption of all things.  By remembering what has been accomplished thus far, we can be certain that the best is yet to come!

Checking Your Temperature

dont_waste_your_life

In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper writes, “Remember, you have one life.  That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.”  Piper encourages his readers to find their deepest joy and life’s primary purpose to make others glad to see and know the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

However, for many, being “Christian” has been reduced to attending church on Sundays, trying to be a good person, and trusting that they have earned their eternal “fire insurance.”  These are certainly valuable aspects of our journey. But these characteristics alone fall short of the Lord’s command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).” Worldly efforts to carve out life through career, family, recreation, and other endeavors easily overwhelm our waking hours.  Achieving life’s goals can easily become idols before we realize that they have surpassed our love for Christ in importance.

The key problem with a lifestyle focused on worldly success is what Jesus says in Revelation 3:16, “So because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth!”  Those are difficult words to read, but they should encourage us to seek God’s heart for what it means to live with white-hot faith and passion for Him alone as our first and best love!  And that begins with reconsidering the full ramifications of what it means to be a wholehearted follower of Christ.

The Barna Group, a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture, defines an Evangelical Christian by biblical definition as someone who has made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today, and believe that when they die, they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. And they believe they have a personal responsibility to share their beliefs about Christ with non-Christians.

Inherent in that biblical definition and as encouraged by Piper, is that we who call ourselves Christ-followers were given a directive by the Lord Himself to share the joy of being His disciples (Matthew 28:19).” However, 2018 data from a Barna Group study indicate that of the 35% of Americans who regularly attend church, 51% are actually unfamiliar with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

So, as the first step to ensuring that we not waste the daily Kingdom-building opportunities before us, let’s commit today to rekindling our first love with Jesus Himself. It’s the surest way to increase the temperature of our faith!  He deserves so much more than our lukewarm gestures of allegiance! Then out of the flow from our greatest love, may we boldly demonstrate to the watching world the “greater things” (John 14:12) that are possible in Christ because of His great love.  

Holy & Perfect

Holy & Perfect 

In 1 Peter 1:16, God’s Word encourages us to be holy in all that we do, quoting Leviticus 19:2 saying, “Be holy, because I am holy.”  The call to holiness is on par with Jesus’ call to “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Inherent in the command to be holy is the standard of holiness – to be holy as HE is. The standard for holy and perfect has Almighty God Himself as its measure. Mankind was created in His image, and His heart is determined to see us once again as He is.  He understands the fullness of joy and the infinite blessings available to us when we share His glory and His holiness.

Because we know ourselves all too well, we easily recognize the sheer impossibility of our attaining His perfect holiness. Much like a professional athlete trains for competition, as believers we often try to engage in more Christian work and service in order to attain God’s standard of holiness. We might erroneously believe that we have to train harder, muster up more faith, and act more “religious.”  The truth could not be more contrary.

Rather than using self as our starting point to attain holiness, God himself must be our focus and foundation. All of His holiness, perfection, and glory are implicit in His identity. We have zero ability to become holy and perfect. Inherent in God’s call that we be holy and perfect is the power to attain His standard.  But how? Scripture gives us our answer—”The one who calls us is faithful, and he will do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5:24) Romans 4:17 reaffirms that holiness is God’s work, saying, “God gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

So let’s kneel today and receive God’s command to be holy and perfect as His imparted blessing.  Hear Him impart to you, “Be holy because I am holy.  Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect here is intended to mean perfected in the sense of full, complete, finished or accomplished. On the cross, Jesus declared that the work to return us to His standard of righteousness was finished! Only as we receive Christ’s powerful, indwelling presence as His gift to us through salvation can we hope to become holy and perfect.

Our Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have called us to be holy as You are holy. We ask that You reveal Your holiness to us and cause us to make Your holiness our standard. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross so that we could be one with You in Him. Thank you for the gift of Your Holy Spirit in us to establish and maintain our union with Jesus. Impart Your holiness in Christ to us, and may we never be satisfied with anything less as the fruit of our salvation.  Thank you, Jesus, for laying your life down on the cross so that we can be one with Our Father in You.  We yield to Your Spirit to reveal Your holiness to, in, and through us.

May God use what is written to increase in His children the conviction that we must be holy, the knowledge of how we are to be holy, the joy that we may be holy, and the faith that we can be holy.  And may He stir us all to cry day and night to Him for a visitation of the Spirit of Power of Holiness upon all His people….” –A.W. Tozer

May we never settle for any version of salvation that falls short of the fullness of Christ and His perfect holiness in us as our rightful inheritance.

Holy

Living From An Eternal Perspective

Child Boxer

Whether on the school playground or sitting across the boardroom table, the old saying, “choose your battles” resonates often. Implied in that phrase is that some battles are important to win and others aren’t worth the fight.
Remember that God caused His Son, Jesus, to be born into the humblest of circumstances and to die the most humiliating, painful death, because there was indeed a battle worth fighting—a battle for the eternal destination of every person that has ever or will ever be born on earth. God’s motivation for battle was His great love for the likes of you and me (John 3:16)!
The angel declared that Jesus’ birth was “good tidings of great joy! (Luke 2:10)” Why? God’s team was cheering because God had enacted His plan to win the eternal battle! Unfortunately, we have recalibrated our joy barometers to our tally of earthly “wins.” For example–
Jesus prayed that we would all be one (John 17:11), and yet contemporary political wins result in unprecedented division, hatred, blaming, and discontent. Billions of dollars and equal emotional energy are expended yearly to accomplish wins in sporting arenas. Many corporations disregard the downstream effects on their employees in their chief goal of increasing the bottom line.
God’s word calls every earthly desire pride, greed, and lust, reminding us that they will all pass away, but God’s will for eternity will last forever (1 John 2:15-17). The entire Book of Ecclesiastes is a sorrowful reminder of how all of man’s striving for pleasure, power, and wealth will all pass away, and concludes that fearing God and obeying His commands is the whole purpose for man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Eternity is forever! Let’s expend our time, effort, zeal, and resources to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), to pray for those who come against us (Luke 6:28) and to use our words to bless others created in God’s image so that they might know the deep, vast, genuine love of God! May we teach our children that getting that perfect Christmas gift (to experience temporary joy) pales in comparison to the great joy of knowing God’s love and spending eternity in His presence!
What if the measuring rod for choosing our battles was the question, “Will the outcome of this fight matter for eternity?’ What if the goal of every battle we choose to engage in is motivated by our genuine, Christ-like love for others? Perhaps with God’s help, our 2019 resolution might be to put the lens of eternity over our earthly eyes and allow that lens to be the driving force behind how we expend the days God has given us.
May thankfulness rule in our hearts—thankful that God chose to fight for eternity with you and me, with an unfailing battle plan that cost Jesus his very life. That is indeed good news and the unending source of our deepest, most perfect joy!