FS Sunday Sermon Archives

Can the Word of God Really Ease My Pain?

By:Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Some days I wake up crying.

When I do, I often don’t even know why. Perhaps it is the weight of unspoken problems that I’m too afraid to articulate, coupled with a vague dread of what might come next. Or perhaps it’s the growing realization that the pain I’m feeling will only intensify throughout the day.

I had one of those days recently. The day before, my arm had felt useless. I couldn’t pick up my coffee. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t do what I wanted. I felt trapped inside my body, which had become an all-too-familiar feeling. At times, it has almost felt like a living death.

A Cry for Help

As I lay in bed, contemplating what the day might hold, I felt tears welling up inside me.

“Stop, don’t do this,” I told myself. But I couldn’t force the tears to stop, and they started trickling down my face. Before long, my pillow was soaked and I felt hopeless.

Your life is miserable. You’re a burden. You can’t do anything for yourself, were the ugly voices I kept hearing until I forced myself out of bed.

I pulled my robe on slowly and stumbled into my prayer closet. I didn’t want to go but I knew I needed this.

“Please God, help me. Show me your truth,” was my only cry. I could not muster anything more. I just sat in the semidarkness, praying, and then I opened my Bible and started reading.

Do I Trust Him?

Without God’s word, I would start interpreting life on my own. By my experiences. My feelings. My finite perspective.

I knew that his word was the only place to find truth. If I judge life by my despair, my pain, my circumstances, I will always live life skewed. I will judge everything by what I see. But life is so much more than what I can see. There is a reality that goes far beyond my experience.

I turned the pages of Scripture to the first reading for the day, wondering what God had for me. It was Psalm 56, a beloved passage. The one sentence summary read, “In God I trust.” I wondered if I trusted him. Trusting felt harder when life was pressing in. But as I took in the familiar lines, a sense of God’s peace washed over me. A peace that was inexplicable. A peace that surpassed understanding.

When I Am Afraid

Sometimes it requires perseverance to understand what I’m reading, like mining for gems. I need to grapple with the text a while before I discover a diamond. And other times, like that day, God feeds me freely from his hand. I just need to receive it.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

God knew I was afraid. He didn’t condemn me. But he called me to trust him in the middle of my pain. He alone could drive out my fears.

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.

God knew my sleepless nights. All the tears I have cried. All my fears, spoken and unspoken. It was all laid bare before him.

And these words, these words took my breath away: “This I know, that God is for me.”

God Is for Me

God is for me.

Even when life looks like it’s splintering, God is for me. And if God is for me, he is orchestrating everything in my life for my good. I can trust him even when everything looks dark. He tells me not to be afraid. He will take care of me.

God is for me. Those words kept echoing through my mind.

For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

What a fitting end to the psalm. He indeed has delivered my soul from death. He has kept my feet from stumbling. He has empowered me to walk before him in his light. My legs and feet have become increasingly frail, and walking is getting harder. But he who created me knows every detail of my life, and he will keep me from falling.

New Tears

My eyes teared up for the second time that morning. But these were tears of joy. And hope. This was the true reality, not my circumstances. This word from God, penned thousands of years ago, reminded me of the truths I so easily forget.

I smoothed out the pages with my hands and almost hugged the Bible. God’s word had become life to me. It sustains me. It revives me. It comforts me. He comforts me.

I wanted to take the words and eat them, to let them nourish me. I was reminded of Jeremiah who said, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). These words were the delight of my heart. They brought light to my eyes. My view of the world, my life, and my struggles were all changed in the light of Scripture. And in that light, my dark shadows disappeared.

As I left my prayer closet, I was grateful for the way my perspective had changed. I was filled with hope. My circumstances were no different than when I entered, yet my emotions had been strangely transformed. Meeting with God had reframed everything.

Because God is for me, in Christ, I can trust him. I can trust him with my weakness, with my fears, with my pain. And with that knowledge, I can face the day. With that knowledge, I can face anything.

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He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

How to Know God Really Loves You

By: Greg Morse

My university professor began the Christian Love and Marriage class with a “fun little assignment to get the creative juices flowing.”

The task was simple: Draw what you think of when you envision the love of God.

She went around and handed out crayons and blank sheets of paper for our project. We had fifteen minutes.

The first five I just sat there. How could I, who could barely draw straight lines for stickmen, draw the love of God?

As my peers joyfully scribbled away, I grabbed the black crayon. I still recall those next ten minutes of worship.

The alarm rang — time for show and tell. Each of us went around and shared our drawings, explaining why we drew what we did.

The first student unveiled her picture: a collage of lipstick red hearts, shiny bubbles, and a dozen or so smiley faces.

The second student revealed a unicorn galloping over a rainbow.

The third, a meadow with the sun shining down on laughing butterflies.

The fourth, a worn-out teddy bear.

As each explained their picture, one thing became obvious: despite my previous assumption, none was joking. All artists took their work seriously.

“God’s love makes me feel a kind of warmth inside,” explained one girl.

“Yeah, his love is magical, like the best dream you don’t want to wake up from,” added another.

“I just see a big bouquet of butterflies when I think about how God loves all of us.”

“I just feel a sense of home with God’s love, like I do when I remember my childhood teddy bear.”

I revealed my picture. My classmates were first shocked. Then confused. Then disgusted.

“That’s pretty barbaric of you,” said the first.

“I don’t think such a gory event should depict God’s love,” contributed the second.

“This is why some people don’t want to explore Christianity,” scolded the third.

In my drawing, a hill quaked. Lightning flashed. Darkness enveloped. Two dark crosses backdropped the third. My sore hand held up my nearly torn through artwork depicting my Savior dying on the cross for my sins.

“I believe this to be God’s own picture of his love,” I said.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Fact or Feeling?

Notice what happened: When prompted to draw what each envisioned as the love of God, each drew what they felt when considering the love of God.

Instead of looking without themselves, they gazed within. The objective reality of God’s love for sinners was evidenced for them — not in the crushing and torture of the Son of God two thousand years ago — but was displayed in the fluttering sensations in their own hearts. How did they know God loved them? Their feelings told them so.

And their inners did not tell them of the fierce love of God demonstrated in the Son of God being brutally executed as he bore the wrath of God on sinners’ behalf. The fallen human heart is too politically correct, too Hallmark, too civilized to mention that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to be brutally murdered for it.

When God showed his love for sinners, it was rated R.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

If handed a box of crayons and a paper, I would be surprised if many would draw what my nominally Catholic peers did. But I too often share their disposition to look within instead of without to see whether God truly loves me from day to day.

I felt like I counted my family’s interests above my own today: He loves me.

I didn’t experience much joy in the word the past few mornings: He loves me not.

I am happy because I finally shared the gospel with my coworker: He loves me.

I was incredibly angry in my heart towards my spouse last night: He loves me not.

My heart overflowed today in corporate worship: He loves me.

I didn’t feel any warm sensations of his presence during prayer: He loves me not.

This life is utterly exhausting. It may not be legalism, but feelism is just as tyrannical.

Although it is true that if we have absolutely no subjective experience of God’s love ever, we most likely are not a child of God (Romans 5:58:16). But we must not confuse faith’s gaze from the cross to our feelings. The Spirit in Romans 5:5 directs our gaze to the cross in Romans 5:6.

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

The gospel has a far better word for us than our fickle feelings:

The Father sent his only Son into the world so that I might not die in my sins (John 3:16): He loves me.

That Son emptied himself and took on human form to rescue his people (Philippians 2:6–7): He loves me.

Jesus Christ loved his Father and perfectly obeyed on my behalf, even unto death on a cross (Philippians 2:8–11): He loves me.

Jesus stepped forward in Gethsemane (John 18:4), bowing his knee to his Father’s will (Matthew 26:42): He loves me.

He was beaten as to be unrecognizable (Isaiah 52:14). He was whipped, scourged, spit on, mocked, slapped, bloodied, beaten, shamed: He loves me.

The Father crushed his own Son (Isaiah 53:10). He gave him the cup of wrath bearing my name (John 18:11). God did not spare his own Son (Romans 8:32): He loves me.

The Light of the world was snuffed; the Bread of life, broken; the King of kings, executed; the Lamb of God, slain; the Son of Man, tortured; the Son of God, forsaken; the Rock of ages, stricken; the blood of Christ, shed: Oh, how he loves me.

And the Father raised the Son from the dead. The Son reigns over the universe as my great Prophet, Priest, and King. The Spirit has made me new, is sustaining repentance and faith, and has sealed me for the day of Christ. He loves me.

Jesus, our life, is coming back. He will marry us. He will take us into his kingdom to reign with him. The time hastens on. He loves us.

As Christians, we no longer look to the drooping flower of our own love for God, peeling away petal by petal, muttering frantically to ourselves: He loves me, he loves me not.

Instead, we sing,

When Satan tempts us to despair,
Reminding of the lack within,
Upwards we look and see him there,
Who proved his love by conquering sin
.

We spend our lives looking outside of ourselves to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1–2), who has proven God’s love once and for all, and will amaze his people afresh with that love forever.

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In Difficult Times, What Happens In You Is Most Important.

By: Rick Warren

“Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 27:31 NIV).

Life is not fair. You will have problems, difficulties, and hurts that will make you better or bitter. You will either grow up or give up. Either you’ll become who God wants you to be or your heart will become hard. You have to decide how you are going to respond to the tough times in your life. How will you handle it?

When you go through those difficult times, what happens to you is not nearly as important as what happens in you. That’s what you take into eternity — not the circumstances but your character.

In Acts 27, we learn three ways you shouldn’t respond in trials:

1. Don’t drift. “The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along” (Acts 27:15 NIV). The ship carrying Paul and other prisoners to Rome was in the middle of the Mediterranean and hadn’t seen the sun for 14 days, so they couldn’t get any bearings, and they started to drift.

When they face difficulty, some people start drifting through life. They have no goal, purpose, ambition, or dream for their life. Today, we call this “coasting.” The problem with coasting is that you’re headed downhill. Life is not a coast. Life’s tough. Don’t lose your ambition or your dream just because life gets hard.

2. Don’t discard. “We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard” (Acts 27:18 NIV). The men in charge needed to lighten the ship, so they threw the cargo overboard, then the tackle and the food. They were discarding things they needed because the storm was so tough.

When you get in a storm and the stress gets unbearable, you tend to start abandoning values and relationships you would not let go of in better times. You say, “I’m giving up on my marriage. I’m giving up on my dream to go to college.”

God says, “Stay with the ship!” For example, have you done that in your marriage? Have you said, “Divorce is not an option for us; we’re going to make it work”? If you haven’t, you’ll always be tempted to walk out. If you don’t throw away the key, you’ll never develop the character God wants you to have. God can change situations and personalities. He can change you. I’ve learned from personal experience that it is never God’s will to run from a difficult situation. God wants you to learn, grow, and develop, and he is there with you all the time.

3. Don’t despair. “We finally gave up all hope of being saved” (Acts 27:20b NIV). After 14 days in total darkness and after giving up their cargo, tackle, and food, the passengers finally give up hope. But they’d forgotten one thing: Even in a storm, God is in control. He hasn’t left you. You may not feel him, but if you feel far from God, guess who moved?

God is with you in the storm, and he’ll help you through it. He is testing you to see if you’ll trust him.

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Where You Are Weak, He Is Strong

Joyce Meyer

Weak or strong? If you had to pick one of those words to describe yourself, which one would it be? I think most of us would probably say, “weak.” But did you know that we don’t have to remain defeated by our weaknesses?

The only way to overcome your weakness is to rely on God’s strength. To do that, you have to stop focusing on your weaknesses. You cannot look at everything you are not. You must look at everything God is. Focus on His strength and all He is willing to do for you.

The weaknesses of the world are not your inheritance. Jesus did not come to earth, die on the cross, and rise again on the third day for you to be weak and defeated. He went through all that to give you an inheritance—authority in this life—and His strength to rule over your circumstances.

In any area where you stumble, God is ready and willing to provide you with His strength. So the next time you find yourself confronted by your weakness, remember and declare that when you are weak, He is strong!

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Be Patient with Your Slow Growth

By: Jon Bloom

We value speed today far more than we realize, and that makes the painfully slow process of our sanctification and personal transformation confusing and frustrating.

We live in an era of such rapid technological advancement and in a society that so values efficiency, productivity, and immediate results that we can hardly help but assume that the faster things happen, the better. Therefore, we often don’t value the precious benefits of slow growth.

Speed Shapes Us

For most of human history, most people’s lives were mapped on to the relatively slow cyclical rhythms of the seasons. Life was demanding and difficult because it had a primary, and at times ruthless, focus on subsistence, and so was largely dictated by the annual migration patterns of fish and herd animals, plant and fruit cultivation and harvesting, rainy seasons, and available sunlight.

One of the things this did was produce and reinforce in the minds of people, because of sheer necessity, an understanding and valuing of slow, incremental progress toward an aimed-for reward. Food, clothing, and housing were obtained through arduous, sustained effort and care.

In America, this has all but disappeared from living memory. For generations now, a superabundance and wide variety of food has been available and largely affordable a relatively short distance from nearly every home — prepared, packaged, and FDA-approved. We do not have to work nearly as hard, nor do we spend nearly the percentage of our annual income on food, water, and shelter as our ancestors did.

On the whole, these have been immense blessings. But our abundance and increasing conveniences on every level have shaped — and in some ways warped — the way we view time. We now expect that nearly everything should happen fast and with little or no inconvenience.

Slow Grown

But factors that are most beneficial in fueling productivity and economic growth and improved bodily health of individuals and cities are not necessarily factors that are most beneficial in fueling the spiritual growth and health of individual souls or churches.

God created us as organisms, not machines. There are millions of reasons why the fullness of time when God sent forth his Son occurred in the first century (Galatians 4:4). But one reason was so that the Son would frequently use agricultural metaphors to illustrate spiritual truths. Think of the parables of the sower (Matthew 13:1–9), the wheat and weeds (Matthew 13:24–30), and the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32). Think of metaphors of the fruit-bearing trees (Matthew 7:16–18), the vine and branches (John 15:1–8), and the reaping of souls as a harvest (Matthew 9:37–38John 4:35–38). And Jesus’s apostles also used such metaphors, for instance spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22–23) and fields (1 Corinthians 3:6–9).

Something that the original hearers of these parables and metaphors would have intuitively understood, because of their familiarity with agricultural processes, is their gradual, progressive nature. Many of us probably miss the meaning because the processes are so foreign to us. Christians are slow-grown, and fruit-bearing typically comes after an arduous time of maturation.

The same goes for churches. There’s a reason we call the process of starting of new churches “church planting” and not “church manufacturing.” We admire stories of explosive church growth, just like we admire stories of explosive business growth. That’s not wrong, but it is not typical. And even what looks like a sudden harvest is usually due to an unseen, prolonged season of arduous sowing and watering and cultivation (John 4:35–38).

Benefits of Slow Growth

God designed us to develop habits of obedience and holiness slowly and incrementally because the process teaches and trains us to live by faith rather than by our often inaccurate perceptions and emotions. The waiting teaches us to trust more in the truth of what God says than the impulses of what we see or how we feel.

The long-term beneficial effect of slow, incremental transformation through the exercise of habit rather than impulse develops, over time, deeper, richer, more complex and nuanced affections for God, and integrates our beliefs into our whole being. There are things I am just beginning to really grasp now, well into middle age,that I didn’t appreciate when I was younger.

God’s ways with us may not seem efficient to us. We might even think they are needlessly slow and inefficient. But none of God’s ways are needless, and God is not slow; he’s patient (2 Peter 3:9).

And he wants us to learn patience, too — it’s one of his slow-growing spiritual fruits (Galatians 5:22). Don’t be discouraged with your slow growth or with your church’s. Determine to “dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3 NASB). And bear in mind the broader principle captured in Jesus’s words to Peter: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7).

Examine the forces that shape your expectations. Do not let wrong assumptions fuel your discouragement or disillusionment. Your Christian life and your Christian church is much more like patient, faithful, slow farming than modern, efficient manufacturing. Trust your divine Farmer, your Vinedresser. He has very good reasons for maturing Christians and churches slowly, and not mass-producing them more quickly.

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So Much Hope

Liz Curtis Higgs

This summer I discovered something marvelous about hope: you don’t have to come up with it on your own!

Back in June at the Higgs house, hope was in short supply. The One who is hope itself showed me that He can and will provide an overflowing abundance of hope. No charge, no limits, no kidding.

If you could use a fresh measure of hope right about now, get ready for the best news you’ll read today.

May the God of hope fill you

with all joy and peace
as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

What a feast! Every phrase, every word, is delicious and nutritious, giving your soul the nourishment it needs.

Let’s dive in.

May the God of hope fill youRomans 15:13

Like everything else in His creation, hope “comes from God” (NLV). He’s in charge of hope. He’s our “source of hope” (GNT). Hope is the very definition of who God is. And friend, He is the “God of your hope” (AMPC). Yours, specifically and personally and individually.

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him” (Psalm 62:5). It surely does, and when He pours His hope into you, look what comes along for the ride.

…with all joy and peace… Romans 15:13

Okay, not just hope. He also will “fill you completely” (NLT) with “great joy” and “perfect peace” (NIrV). These aren’t simply nice sentiments on a greeting card; these are solid promises from God’s Word.

Ask people what they want most in life, and it’s usually one of these three: hope, joy, or peace. But we don’t have to choose, beloved. God gives us all of these and more.

The truth? Hope, joy, and peace don’t come from any thing or any person. We may love our homes, our cars, our stuff — but any hope, joy, or peace they give us is temporary at best, easily swept away by fires, floods, or hurricanes (still praying for you, friends).

And we are all too aware that our spouses, our kids, our relatives, our BFFs, our neighbors, our coworkers can be taken from us. But what God gives us can never be snatched from our lives.

So how and when does this huge measure of hope start pouring into our hearts?

…as you trust in him,… Romans 15:13

Ah. So we do play a small part. Knowing “the Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does” (Psalm 145:13) makes it possible for us to put our trust in Him.

We can “believe in Him” (HCSB) because He has proven Himself again and again. Every time a flower blooms, every time the sun rises, every time a baby’s cry pierces the air, God is reminding us of His sovereignty, His creative power, His mighty strength.

When you trust in Him, “your believing lives” (MSG). It beats in your heart and echoes through your mind. The reality of God is undeniable. Wherever there is life, there is God, and He is dishing out hope.

…so that you may overflow with hope… Romans 15:13

What a visual! A fountain of hope, like living water, “bubbling over” (AMPC) and “flowing out of you” (ERV), splashing hope on everyone you meet.

God gives us so much hope, we can’t contain it or control it. And who would want to, when our world desperately needs all the hope it can get?

No need to worry about where all your overflow will go. God is, as always, in charge.

…by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Our verse has come full circle, right back to God, whose “life-giving energy” (MSG) never runs out of steam. It’s His power, not ours, that puts hope in motion.

You might want to write this verse on the tablet of your heart for all those days when your hope is running on empty.

May the God of hope fill you
with all joy and peace
as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Romans 15:13

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Don’t Let Discouragement Choke You

By: Jon Bloom

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. (John 14:1)

Discouragement is a temptation “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And in dealing with it sometimes we need tenderness and other times we need toughness. But either way discouragement is not to be tolerated or wallowed in. It’s to be fought.

If we linger in discouragement it can be costly. Its sense of defeat and hopelessness saps us of energy and vision. It can consume a lot of time. It can keep us from doing what we need to do because we don’t want to face it. And it can even be contagious, weakening others’ faith.

When we feel discouraged we want comfort, which is right to feel. But the comforts we often turn to are ways to avoid our fears rather than ways to muster our courage to face and overcome them. When this happens discouragement simply becomes sinful indulgence in unbelief, no different than indulging in lust or anger or other sins of unbelief.

Jesus does not want us to be discouraged. In fact, he commands us not to be. Listen to what Jesus says to his disciples just before what probably was the most discouraging experience of their lives — his brutal death: “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1, emphasis added).

Note Jesus’s words, “let not.” These are not merely comforting; they are commands. He knew they would be tempted to fear. Things were going to look very bad, like the whole mission was imploding. What were they to do instead of being afraid? Believe! “Believe in God; believe also in me.”

In other words, “Don’t let your hearts be ruled by what you see. Let them be ruled by what I promise you.” And that’s what he’s saying to you and me too.

What’s tempting you to discouragement today? Are you having a hard time believing that God really will work for good what looks so bad to you (Romans 8:28)?

Then it’s time to fight, not pout or shrink. Think of discouragement as your faith being choked. When you’re choking, it’s not the time to plop down in front of the TV with a plate of comfort food to medicate your melancholy. You need to dislodge the obstruction so you can breathe. You need to fight for life. You may need to get someone to give you the Heimlich.

Go get encouragement — faith-fueled courage. Don’t let discouragement choke you. It’s dislodged by believing promises. God gave us the Bible so that “through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). It says amazing things like:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:3537)

Don’t let your heart be ruled by what you see. Let it be ruled by what Jesus promises you.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

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What Does God’s Love

Have to Do With It?

Becca Card

Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Love should always be the centerpiece of everything. Without love, the other Fruits of the Spirit would not be possible. Without love, the bond that we have with one another would not be possible. God is love so it is all about Him.

God never asks anything of us to make Himself look better. The demands He makes on our lives are not for His gain. We cannot make Him any more God than He is, and He would not be less God if we did not believe in Him. He has one major objective in His every urging and exhortation to us. He wants us to experience the pleasure of knowing, serving and sharing Him. It is because He loves us with an everlasting love. He reserves the sovereign right to be sole authority over our lives for our good, for our completion, for the conforming of our lives to that of His Son. This is how the Fruit of the Spirit works. We cannot develop these fruits, they come from Yahshua oozing out from us into the lives of others. Yahshua is the juice of our fruits. Without Him, the fruits of our efforts would be all dried up. Our part is to know Him, love Him, remember Him, and imitate Him. The rest is up to Him.

The same God who willed, spoke, and breathed the universe into existence sends His care and direction to our lives, because He loves us. God’s kind of love is foreign to us. How can we genuinely desire the best for our enemies? How can we love the unlovely? How can we forgive people who are not asking to be forgiven? God’s love through us is the only way. Only love can change us so that we become people who love. Only He can produce the fruit of agape love, “God love,” in our lives.

Yahshua’s entire ministry was characterized by love. The greatest demonstration of love in history was when He sacrificed Himself for us on the cross.  Yahshua sacrificed His heavenly power and glory to become a human being and subject Himself to painful humiliation, suffering and death for the sake of mankind. (Philippians 2:5-11) While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) He loved us when we were unlovely. On the cross, He asked the Father to forgive us.

In John 13, the Bible gives the loving account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Knowing He was facing a painful death on the cross and would soon be leaving the disciples to go to the Father did not deter Him.  He rose from dinner, wrapped a towel around Himself, knelt and washed and dried the feet of the disciples. Then He asked them if they understood what He had done for them. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the One who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13: 14-16) He calls us not only to love Him, but to show love to one another.

Yahshua was the greatest example, and He lived the Fruits of the Spirit every day of His life on earth. Christ was filled with JOY at the prospect of “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). He was called the “Prince of PEACE” (Isaiah 9:6). While suffering a painful death, Jesus showed the PATIENT endurance to pray for those who were tormenting Him. (Luke 23:34) He showed KINDNESS to Malchus, the high priest’s servant, after Peter cut His ear off. Even while being arrested, He healed his ear, making the man whole again (Luke 22:51). He is the GOOD Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep. (John 10:11). He continues today as “a merciful and FAITHFUL High Priest.“ (Hebrews 2:17). He is GENTLE and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:29). In the greatest show of SELF-CONTROL ever exhibited, Yahshua did not call 10,000 angels to destroy the world and set Himself free as He hung bleeding, suffering, humiliated and dying on the cross for you and for me. LOVE HAD EVERYTHING TO DO WITH IT.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

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Purpose

Chuck Swindoll

Monotony and mediocrity mesh like teeth in gears. One spawns the other, leaving us yawning, bored, and adrift. In referring to monotony, I do not have in mind a lack of activity as much as a lack of purpose. We can be busy yet bored, involved yet indifferent. Life becomes tediously repetitious, dull, humdrum, pedestrian. In a word, blah.

Look into the faces of entertainers off the stage. Talk to physicians out of the office and hospital corridors. Those in the political arena are equally susceptible. Show me an individual who once soared, whose life was characterized by enthusiasm and excellence, but who no longer reaches those heights, and I’ll show you a person who has probably become a victim of the blahs.

A blah attack may sound harmless, but it can leave us in an emotional heap, seriously questioning if life is worth it.

Yet even during your drab and seemingly meaningless assignments of life, God is there! He cares! He knows! From your yesterday to your tomorrow—God. From the little involvements to the big ones—God. From the beginning of school to the end of school—God. From the assignments that will never really make the headlines (which seem to be mere busy work) all the way to those things that gain international attention—God. He is there! So the very next time you feel those clammy, cold fingers of the blahs reaching around you, remember, “From yesterday until tomorrow, You, O Lord, are there. You care!”

Even in your drab, seemingly meaningless assignments of life, God is there. He cares.

 

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If You Want to Hear God, Quiet Your Mind

By: Leslie Schmucker

If you are past a certain age, or if you are averse to paying for cable or satellite television, you may be familiar with rabbit ears. They are those metal, V-shaped antennas that, when positioned just so, may or may not allow you to receive a few channels on your TV.

I can remember my father adjusting the ears and, when the desired channel appeared with as much clarity as he could finesse, gingerly letting go of the antenna only to have the static return with frustrating obscurity. Many nights we watched Ed Sullivan through the maddening distortion and sound of static.

“Static muddles and clouds, making us strain to hear the truth.”

Static muddles and clouds. The enemy uses the static of self-talk, cheap advice, societal pressures, social media, and busyness, which all make us strain to hear truth. If we are not careful, the static in our hearts and minds will make it difficult to hear God’s voice, especially since he often speaks in tones that are still and small. If we allow the static to persist, we just might give up and tune in to another channel.

Tormented by Static

Eve, in Genesis 3, experienced static in the garden. The serpent craftily obscured and distorted truth as he asked, “Did God really say . . . ?” And Eve lost satisfaction in her Creator. Cain, in Genesis 4, succumbed to static. Can you picture him, tilling the ground, sweat pouring off his brow, back sore, talking himself out of giving God his best? Then, when God naturally rejected his offering, the static grew louder and culminated in Cain killing his brother out of jealousy and anger. He had stopped revering his Creator.

Job was tormented by the static of his chattering friends and wife, who added more grief to his already sorrowful soul. They made it hard for him to trust his God. King Saul was paralyzed by the static of fear, jealousy, and paranoia, ultimately leading to his dethroning and death. He rejected his Creator. We can fall into strife, despair, and sin too when we allow the static in our minds to tune out the still, true, sure voice of God.

Succumbing to Static

“God’s voice is steady and unwavering. But we must quiet ourselves to hear it.”

God’s voice is steady and unwavering. But we must quiet ourselves to hear it. Too often, we succumb to the crackling, grace-robbing intensity of the static around and within us:

The kids watched way too much TV today.

Look at her children. They are all so clean and perfect. Mine look like they just stepped out of a Dickens novel.

I wonder if her cherubs ate dry Cocoa Puffs off the floor and shared milk with the dog this morning.

Am I good enough?

I can’t serve Christ. I’m not qualified.

Are people really interested in what I have to say?

Am I humble enough? Genuine enough?

They said I did a good job, but I know they were just being polite.

Did I pray that prayer correctly?

Oh man, I fell asleep while reading my Bible, again!

Where did that thought come from? I must be the worst sinner on the planet.

With my past, nobody could possibly love me.

I know God loves people, but does he love me? Does he even like me? How can I know for sure?

Am I really saved?

Scripture Defeats Satan’s Static

Even Jesus encountered static. In the wilderness, Satan tried again and again to warp and contort truth in Christ’s mind. Jesus was hungry, tired, and thirsty, and he was being tested. Satan blasted him with static: “Hey, I can see that you’re really hungry. If you’re truly God’s Son, turn these stones into bread. You and I both know you can. Come on up here. Let me see you jump off this temple. I want to see the angels come and catch you. You and I both know they will. Look, I know you’re tired. Why is your Father testing you this way? Tell you what, just worship me and I’ll make you king over all you see. You and I both know that will be better.”

How did Christ clear this static? Scripture, Scripture, and more Scripture. Jesus did not answer Satan without invoking God’s word. Ultimately, Jesus defeated Satan with the inspired authority of God’s very words.

Don’t think for a moment that Christ’s defense worked just because he is the Son of God. Not only do we have unhindered access to Scripture, but we also have access to the same authority to command Satan. We too can say, with confidence and ascendancy, “Be gone, Satan!” The devil will have no choice but to leave because we have Christ dwelling in us with all the power and authority that implies.

Tune in to the Bible

“The only absolute, static-clearing truth resides in the HD clarity of Scripture.”

Jesus knew that the only absolute, static-clearing truth resides in the high-def clarity of Scripture.

Feeling condemned? Tune in to Romans 8:1 or Psalm 103:12.

Fearing that you’re underqualified? Let 2 Corinthians 1:27 bring truth into focus.

Have a messy past? Allow Hebrews 8:12Philippians 3:13–14, and Psalm 25:7 to sharpen your perspective.

Telling yourself you are worthless and disliked by God? Let him clear that up by meditating on Zephaniah 3:17 and John 3:16.

Wondering if your salvation is a lie? Flip to Philippians 1:6.

When we take our minds off our fears, our doubts, our self, and shift our focus to God, his word, and his promises, we see the picture of our lives with sharp, all-satisfying, God-glorifying clarity.

Your Direct Link

Consistent, daily Bible intake is essential to infusing truth into our sin-worn minds. If we are in Christ, the static is a lie. The truth will never waver and will not shift. The more we saturate ourselves with God’s word, the less distortion our minds will endure.

You have a direct link to the throne of grace — no rabbit ears required.

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If God Loves Me, Why Am I Still Waiting?

By: Ann Swindell

 

What happens when God doesn’t answer your prayer after three, four, or five years? How about when he doesn’t answer it after ten, or fifteen, or even twenty years? Do you still trust him, decades down the line? Do you still ask him — again — for an answer to that same prayer?

I’m walking this road, because I’ve been asking God to answer one prayer — for healing from a medical condition I developed as a child — for over twenty years.

Still, after these long years of waiting, I can tell you two things with complete honesty:

  1. I trust God.
  2. I definitely don’t always understand him.

I trust that God is who he says he is — good, just, and merciful. And I trust that Christ’s death on the cross was his proving once and for all just how much he loves me and all people (Romans 5:8).

Yet I don’t always understand him. It’s hard to square what I read about Jesus in the Bible — his willingness and ability to heal, his miracles, his compassion and tenderness — with what seems like a lack of help and healing in my own life. I know it wouldn’t be hard for him to heal me, but in twenty years, he still hasn’t done it. And if I’m going to be honest, I have to say that if this is his love toward me, it sure doesn’t feel like love.

A Strange Way to Love

Do you remember the story of Lazarus? A family of siblings — Mary, Martha, and Jesus’s close friend Lazarus — is begging Jesus to come and be with them, because Lazarus is seriously ill. He’s on his deathbed, in fact, and Mary and Martha know — they just know — that if Jesus would stop whatever else he was doing and come to their city, he could heal Lazarus.

The problem? Jesus doesn’t come. In fact, knowing their need, the Lord intentionally doesn’t go to them. Imagine for a moment that you don’t know the end of this story, and take this moment for what it was: Mary and Martha needed Jesus’s help, and instead of coming to them in the town of Bethany, a short forty-minute walk from where he was at the time, Jesus waits.

In fact, he waits until Lazarus is dead. Why would Jesus do this? He was only two miles away. He could have easily healed Lazarus, but he didn’t. Instead, he waited. Why? Well, the Bible tells us why: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5–6).

Jesus waited because he loved them. Not because he was too busy, or because he was incapable, or because he was ignoring them. Jesus waited on answering their cry for his help because he loved them.

This blows all my boxes and ruins all my perceptions of love. “That’s not love,” we might say. “Love is when the hero comes in to save the day when the moment is most dire. The hero doesn’t let people die, and he certainly doesn’t hold back when he knows he can help.”

But it seems that Jesus isn’t bent on fulfilling our version of a hero. He’s completely committed to fulfilling the truest role of a hero, an eternal one — and that means doing things on his timeline, not on ours.

When Love Doesn’t Feel Like Love

The truth is that while Jesus eventually went to Bethany and did the miraculous work of raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38–44), he doesn’t always do that. We don’t always see the miracle in this life. People die without a miraculous resurrection, and many of us walk around with bodies that are hurting, with minds and relationships and situations that feel incredibly broken. All of us have prayers that haven’t been answered for years and, for some of us, decades.

But Jesus still loves us. He is waiting on answering our prayers because he loves us. It’s not because he’s incapable or slow or because he’s ignoring us. He’s waiting, more than anything, out of his deep and unfailing love for us.

I know, I know — it doesn’t seem to make sense. Our waiting sometimes feels like his withholding, especially when everyone around us seems to be getting their prayers answered. But I promise you, he is loving you in the middle of your waiting.

It might not feel like love, but that’s because we can’t yet see the resurrection up ahead. We’re still standing by the deathbed with tears in our eyes and despair in our hearts. But there is a day coming when everything dead will be resurrected, when every broken thing will be renewed. I don’t know if that day will come soon for you or if it will finally come on that last day when Jesus will return to right every wrong. But it will come.

A Better Love

And until then, we keep praying. We keep asking and seeking and knocking (Matthew 7:7–11), and we also ask him to help us receive the way he’s loving us, even if it doesn’t feel like love right now.

One day, we will see it as the love that it is. It will feel like the greatest and best love we’ve ever experienced, better than the feeling of love that we would choose now if we could. When it comes, it will feel like the best love we’ve ever known, because it will be.

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You Cannot Handle Your Pain

Looking for God in Lament

By: J.A. Medders

 

Do you know how to lament?

Pain, suffering, sorrow, illness, and grief are unavoidable in this world — but God has given us a way to find hope in the rubble of life. Lament is an underground tunnel to hope.

An entire book of the Bible is an exercise in lamenting before the Lord. We have numerous psalms of lament. So, why don’t we lament more in the church today? Why do we put the noise-cancelling headphones over our hearts, keeping ourselves busy to avoid the pain? Let’s not busy ourselves to avoid lamenting; let’s learn to lament well.

Relearning Our Humanity

Of course, we want to avoid suffering, grief, and trauma, but the reality is we can’t. The rippling effects of Adam and Eve gnashing into that fruit still affects us and the world today.

Everyone we know and love will return to the dust. Family members will hear heavy words from their doctor. Great loss will strike dear friends. We will weep. And pretending like we can manage our sufferings on our own won’t help. We weren’t built to handle them. We need the body of Christ — and we need Christ himself, our sympathetic High Priest, the man of sorrows, the one who shouldered our grief.

When we act like we can handle our suffering on our own, we commit idolatry — acting like we are God, capable in ourselves. Lamenting is relearning our humanity. Lamenting is admitting that we can’t handle it, knowing we need God’s power, mercy, and grace. If we could handle our sufferings, we wouldn’t need Jesus, his cross, his power, and his resurrection. Lamenting is how we grieve as those who have hope.

More Than You Can Handle

You’ve heard people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Wrong. Tucked into this dollar-store saying is a sense of self-reliance: I can make it. I should be able to do this on my own. But Christianity is the abandonment of our self-reliance: “God, I need you!” His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  For all of our I-can’t-evens, there is our God who can and our Savior who did.

Christianity is picking up our cross, dying with Christ, rising with Christ, living with Christ. Every day is more than we can handle. Without Jesus, we can’t do anything (John 15:5), certainly not bear the unbearable in front of us. We will regularly experience more than we can deal with, which is why we need God to be our refuge, our shelter, our dwelling place. Lament teaches us to uncork our hearts and pour them out to God in faith.

We all are either suffering now or know someone who is. Lamenting is incredibly relevant at this moment. Cancer, death, illness, heartache in our families, betrayal, loss, injustice in the world, personal fears — in all of these dark valleys, God gives us a proven pathway to himself in lament.

What Is Lament?

Lamenting is the honest vocalizations of grief to God. And often within earshot of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Open Lamentations and hear Jeremiah’s vocalizations of suffering, pain, and grief. “Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). Jeremiah feels like God isn’t listening to him. Today, we’d say, “When I pray, it feels like my requests don’t make it past the ceiling. I pray and I don’t feel anything.” Honest. Uncomfortable. Real.

Moses laments in Psalm 90:13, “O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” He’s not sure how much longer he can hold up. He’s weary. How long do we have to face this? Today, we’d pray, “Lord, how much longer will my friend have to endure this? Please, Lord, in your kindness, bring their wayward child home.” Lament is personal pleading — vocalized emotions and thoughts.

Jeremiah and Moses show us that we lament not just for the sake of getting things off our chest — but for the sake of getting our eyes back on God.

Lament Leads to the Lord

In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah recalls the yet of God’s mercy. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21–24).

Moses remembers the faithful love of the Lord, knowing he can find supernatural joy — a satisfaction that surpasses all understanding — in the midst of his suffering. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil” (Psalm 90:14–15). We plead with God to satisfy us with himself, the one who gave his only Son for our sins so that by faith in him we might have eternal life.

Biblical laments don’t leave us dangling; they lead us back to the Lord. Satisfaction in the hope of the gospel sustains us in our suffering. We process our pain and recall the steadfast love of the Lord. Remember your crucified and risen Savior. An empty grave serves as a sure tombstone for all your sufferings. One day, in the twinkling of an eye, he will make all things new. The trumpet is being tuned now.

Until then, vocalize your grief to God and rest your hope on him.

 

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We All Need Adversity and Affliction

By: Jon Bloom

 

 

 

My oldest child just celebrated his twenty-first birthday, and it has me thinking about the priceless benefits of adversity, affliction, and deep spiritual wrestling.

I’m thinking about them for two reasons. First, my most beneficial, faith-forging, character-developing, endurance-training, and joy-producing experiences have resulted from my most difficult, painful, fearful, dark, and doubt-inducing experiences. And second, my first real immersion into this reality happened when I was twenty-one.

What I learned was so important, so life shaping, that I long for my son — for all my children, for all who are young (and old) — to receive the same priceless benefits, even though they come through experiences parents often try to shield their children from. I want them to experience real, substantial, deep happiness, and not merely the thin, ephemeral pleasure-buzzes that masquerade as happiness. And like most treasures, such happiness is almost always discovered in the dark places.

Flabby Faith

I grew up in Middle America, spending most of my childhood in the 70s, and coming of age in the mid-80s. Which means my life was easy. Not that it was altogether easy. My working-class family had, like most families, plenty of spiritual, physical, and relational brokenness, sin, and pain. But I had parents who loved me, some really good friends, a solid church, and a decent, if deficient, public education. Above all that, God mercifully brought me to faith in Christ around age eleven. This provided me a spiritual and moral keel as I sailed the volatile waters of adolescence.

But I lived immersed in American affluence, which meant that even at the working-class level, I enjoyed an abundance of discretionary resources and time that had been unprecedented in human history until about a decade before my birth. I watched too much TV, ate too much food, and spent too much time and money on idle entertainment. Which meant I developed very little “grit.”

The summer I turned twenty-one, I felt unsettled. I sensed the softness and selfish orientation of my overall character, and I was troubled that my experiential knowledge of God was much shallower than my theoretical knowledge of God. My experiential understanding of Christian love and faith was much shallower than my creedal understanding of Christian love and faith.

“God, Break Me!”

So, my twenty-first birthday found me praying radical prayers. “God, break through! God, break me!” I really wanted God to transform my authentic, but largely untested, flabby faith into something fibrous, strong, and persevering. I wanted faith that resembled what I saw in the New Testament.

One night, after praying such things with a few friends, one told me that while I was praying, he discerned the Spirit indicating that God was going to answer my prayers, but not in the ways I expected.

This turned out to be very true. A month after my birthday, I was suddenly plunged into a season of trial and affliction on multiple levels — pain I had never known and could never have predicted. It was frightening, it was disorienting, it was depressing, and it was soul-shaking. It tested me on almost every level and pressed me beyond what I thought were my limits. And it was prolonged, lasting a number of years. It was the worst thing I had ever experienced up to that point.

And it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. The work God did in me through this affliction accomplished all I had prayed for, and more than I had asked or thought. It forced theory into practice, abstract creed into concrete deed. It forced me to really live what I professed — to really believe what I truly believed.

Painful Discipline, Peaceful Fruit

In the middle of that dark time, I wanted out of it so badly. But afterwards, when I began to realize what it had produced in me, how much more real God had become, how much more I trusted the reliability of his word, how deep the roots of faith had pushed, how fibrous, thick, and strong the trunk and branches of faith had grown, and how it was starting to bear spiritual fruit in ways that benefited others, that season of affliction became precious beyond measure. Or, in better words,

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

It is no overstatement when I say that this experience of hardship, adversity, depression, affliction, and spiritual oppression, along with other, even more difficult experiences since, have shaped who I am and all I do, even to today. They affect my marriage and ministry, my parenting and pastoring. They season all my writing, teaching, and counseling.

Holy FOMO

That’s why now my counsel to young adults, including (and especially) my children, is this: ask God to discipline you. Ask him! Perhaps ask sounds too polite. Plead for it! Grab hold of God, so to speak, and say, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). For your loving Father’s discipline is a blessing. It’s one of the greatest blessings you’ll receive, since God only “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

If you want to really know God, if you want to really treasure his word, if you really want fibrous faith, if you really want freedom from addiction to empty, ephemeral pleasure-buzzes, you need a holy FOMO: a fear of missing out on the deep pleasures of God that exceeds your fear of the painful discipline it may require. I’m here to tell you it is worth it. The psalmist is telling the truth:

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (Psalm 119:71–72)

I would not exchange any of my discipline-afflictions for anything. In fact, I have made it a habit to keep asking God to discipline me. This isn’t because I love affliction, but because the hope in God I’ve tasted in the promises of God I’ve trusted in the darkest days are the sweetest things my soul has ever known.

 

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Does God Balance Blessings with Hardships?

By: Christina Fox

“The universe always balances things out.”

As I sat there watching the TV, I shook my head. Of course, I don’t expect perfect theology from every TV show I watch, but this line in particular seemed to stick out. It was not a hopeful line.

“Maybe it is hard for you to enjoy the sweet sunshine today because you fear a storm will come tomorrow.”

In fact, it was precisely because things were going well in the character’s life that he sensed trouble was probably right around the corner, that the universe was about to balance his good fortune. It stuck out to me not because it was an especially scandalous or shocking idea — in fact, just the opposite. Though the error rang loudly in my own ears, I knew how commonly people think this way, whether they realize it or not.

But not a week later, the shock did come. I heard an echo of the same sentiment, but this time it wasn’t coming from my TV screen, or from the mouth of a non-Christian friend. This time, it came from me. I was marveling over the blessings God had given me and how he answered longtime prayers in a big way. As I considered these blessings, my first thought was “I wonder what trial lies around the corner?”

When You Anticipate the Worst

It wasn’t exactly the same thinking as the character in that show, but it was similar nonetheless. I assumed that God needed to round out the blessings in my life with something hard, as though there were a limit to how many blessings he gives. As though there were a formula to how God works in my life. As though he were an impersonal God who gives out blessings and trials for no other reason than to keep the scales balanced.

I am an Eeyore by nature. I tend to see the dark side of things and assume the worst. I see the glass as half empty rather than half full. I tend to view God’s interactions with me as an angry father doling out punishment. And so it comes as no surprise that I would barely take the time to enjoy the gifts I’ve been given before I anticipate their being taken away.

But I don’t like living life that way. It sucks the joy right out of me. Not only that, but it’s wrong to think this way. It is inconsistent with who the Bible says God is, who we are to him, and how he works in our lives.

Perhaps you also tend to see the dark side of things. Maybe it is hard for you to enjoy the sweet sunshine today because you fear a storm will come tomorrow. When we find ourselves anticipating the worst, we need to remind ourselves of the truth. We need to transform our thinking through God’s word. Here are four ways the Bible describes how God relates to his children.

“In each and every moment of our lives, God gives us whatever we need to make us more like his Son.”

1. God Is Good

God is good and only does what is good (Psalm 25:8119:68). That is because he is holy, righteous, and just (Exodus 15:11). We can trust that whatever he gives us is not a random balancing of the scales, or a rash response to something we’ve done. He is not an impersonal God who merely works to even out the blessings in our life. Rather, he is the God who gave up every blessing in heaven to take on human flesh and live in this fallen world so that he could endure the worst suffering on our behalf. And by his blood shed for us, he gives us the greatest blessing of all: eternity with him.

2. God Gives Out of Grace

To those who trust in Jesus, everything God gives is an overflow of his grace, whether an answer to a prayer, a hard day, a dream come true, or a difficult trial. In each and every moment of our lives, God gives us whatever we need to make us more like his Son. In both the blessings and the trials, he is refining us and preparing us for eternity. There is a redemptive purpose behind every circumstance we encounter, and all is used for our good and his glory (Romans 5:3–58:28–29James 1:2–4Titus 2:11–12).

3. God Is for Us

God is for us, not against us. He is for our good. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), prepared good works for us to complete (Ephesians 2:10), saved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:810), brought us from death to life through the Spirit (Romans 8:10Ephesians 2:4–5), and enables us to walk in obedience (Philippians 2:13) — all abundant evidence that he is for us. And nothing and no one can stop the good he has for us. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32).

4. God Is Not Out to Punish Us

We don’t have to walk on eggshells or anxiously await inevitable punishment. All God’s wrath was poured out on Christ at the cross. For those who are united to Christ by faith, there is no wrath left (2 Corinthians 5:21Romans 5:9). In fact, for those who are in Christ, God loves us as much as he loves the Son (John 17:23).

“We can’t lump our circumstances into piles of good or bad. In Christ, everything God gives us is ultimately good.”

We are children of God, and as our Father, God gives us just what we need (Matthew 6:25–33). Any hardship or difficulty that might come our way is the discipline of a loving Father to his children for the purpose of training us in righteousness (Hebrews 12:5–11).

The truth is, there is no two-sided scale that must be balanced. We can’t lump our circumstances into a pile of good things or bad things. Because we are in Christ, everything God gives us is ultimately good. So, whether a blessing or a hardship lies ahead in your future, both are a gift of God’s grace and will serve to transform you into the image of his Son. This means, rather than anticipating the worst, we can always anticipate good from our good God.

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God is Good. All the Time

Liz Curtis Higgs

http://go.netatlantic.com/t/27592984/95371632/389665/72/

Years ago, when my family gathered around the dinner table, I was the one who said grace. Not because I knew the Lord, but because I knew this simple prayer:

God is great, God is good,
And we thank Him for our food;
By His hand we all are fed,
Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen.

All through my childhood, I spoke these truths, even before I understood them: God is great. God is good. Indeed, He is a “great God, mighty and awesome” (Deuteronomy 10:17). And He created things that are “pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:9).

But, above all, He is goodness itself.

the Lord is Good

Comforting thoughts, in a world gone bad, gone wild, gone mad:

  • “Whatever happens, His goodness is always present.” —Carolyn
  • “He is so good, and cannot do anything that is not good.” —Lynn
  • “Out of sorrow and tragedy, His goodness shines through.” —Amy

Last week, I saw His goodness on display.

I was waiting to board a plane for home, when a conversation caught my ear. “May I escort my new friend to her seat?” I turned to see a young man with a kind smile bending toward an elderly woman in a wheelchair.

“Sorry, but I’ll need to do that,” the flight attendant explained, as she pointed the wheelchair toward the jet way.

Clearly disappointed, he said good-bye, then watched the older woman head for the plane. “Good talking to you, ma’am!” he called out. A moment later, he reclaimed his seat and said to no one in particular, “Some people are so nice.”

“Like you,” two people said in unison. Smiles were exchanged, and a warm glow settled on those who were close enough to witness the uncommon scene.

When we do good deeds, they’re really God deeds. His goodness, His mercy, His kindness pouring through us. Tempted as I am to take credit whenever I manage to do something right, I know where the prompting — and the power — comes from. He alone deserves the praise.

God truly is good. Yes, all the time.

Some memory verses to remind you of God’s goodness:

  • “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).
  • ”For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
  • “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7).

Heavenly Father, in a world that grows darker by the hour, Your goodness remains a beacon of hope.

http://go.netatlantic.com/t/27592984/95371632/389671/78/

What does the goodness of God mean to you?

www.lizcurtishiggs.com 

Terracotta Togetherness

Liz Curtis Higgs

07182015_LizCurtisHiggs_1Thess5

This journey of faith?

It isn’t meant to be a solo trip.

I didn’t get that at first. I was too excited about my salvation, my Jesus, my new life in Him. It really was all about me (how embarrassing). Then someone (gently) pointed out what people who love Jesus are called to do for one another.

Okay, then. It isn’t about me at all. It’s about God loving others through me — or through anyone He might choose. We’re simply vessels. Clay jars. Terracotta pots with a hole in the bottom, so water can flow through, rather than damage healthy roots.

This is what the Christian life is meant to look like: God pouring His living water not only in us, but also through us.

Right. So, here are some ways we can stop singing in the key of me-me-me and learn to serve the Lord — and others — with gladness.

“Honor one another above ourselves” {Romans 12:10}.

We’re not just talking about showing respect to other believers. We’re talking about putting them first. Above us. Ahead of us.

Easy to say, but often hard to do — at least, for this girl. Any sort of willingness to place others first comes from God. Only by His power can we embrace humility. Only by His strength can we learn how to play second fiddle and enjoy the tune.

“Live in harmony with one another” {Romans 12:16}.

Imagine being of the same mind with the people you do life with. Agreeing with one another. Quickly making amends. Staying in sync. Living together in peace.

A life without drama, without arguments, without slamming doors or raising voices. If we want a harmonious life, we need to care more about being kind than being right.

“Accept one another” {Romans 15:7}.

When you buy an item from the sale table marked “as is,” you know there’s a flaw somewhere, yet agree to overlook it. That’s what it means to accept one another, without judging, comparing, whining, or complaining.

If we could do this in our homes, that would be game-changing enough. If we could also do this in our churches, then every Sunday would be a family reunion, filled with hugs and shining faces and heartfelt good wishes and generous giving.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another” {Ephesians 4:32}.

As lovely as these descriptive words are — also translated “tenderhearted” and “merciful” and “sympathetic” and “understanding” — what it really comes down to is forgiveness.

Seeking or offering forgiveness is more than shared cups of tea and notes tucked in purses. It’s rubber-meets-the-road Christianity.

“Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” {Ephesians 4:32, MSG}

“Encourage one another and build each other up” {1 Thessalonians 5:11}.

Hidden inside encourage is the Greek word for heart. When we encourage one another, we fill each other’s hearts, we build up rather than tear down, we look for ways to brighten rather than diminish.

Thumper’s father taught him, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Our heavenly Father’s advice? “Find something nice to say and say it.”

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” {Hebrews 10:24}.

It’s easy to stay home, to chill out, to seek our own pleasure. But God calls and equips us to do far more. To get out there, to help others, to change our corner of the world.

At the end of the day, it’s loving and serving one another that satisfies our deepest longing to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to be one beautiful terracotta pot among many.

A lawn full of garden pots

www.lizcurtishiggs.com

Your Next Breath

Karen Kingsbury

“Jairus raced through the streets, his robes flying behind him, the cords of his robes tangled at his sides. He ran as if his daughter’s life depended on it. He had to reach Jesus. Please, God! Let me find Jesus in time. He can save my little girl. I believe, Father. I do.

Finally, as he turned a corner, there was Jesus-surrounded by a crowd. Jairus held up his hand as he ran. “Jesus! Jesus, help me!” His shouts gained the attention of everyone in the crowd. “Jesus, please!” he cried out again.

The crowd parted and he was able to get through, straight to the place where Jesus stood. Jairus threw himself at the feet of Jesus. Gasping for breath, Jairus pleaded with Jesus. “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put Your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” Jairus reached out toward Jesus. “Please, Master!”

The calm in the Teacher’s eyes was otherworldly. Jesus reached out His hand and helped Jairus to his feet. “Take Me to her.” Jairus could hardly believe it! Jesus was willing! “Come on, Jesus. Follow me.”

Jairus led the way, but all around them the crowd grew. Hundreds of people called out to Jesus, begging Him for help. They had barely made any progress when Jesus stopped and looked around. “Who touched My clothes?”

Then, a woman came and fell at His feet. Jairus narrowed his eyes. Something about the woman looked familiar. And then as she lifted her eyes to Jesus suddenly Jairus knew. It was the bleeding woman. Jairus had seen her every year for the last twelve years.

Each spring she came to the religious leaders and each time they determined she still had her disorder. And so every spring they turned her away. Cast her out of the Temple, out of the city.

Jairus didn’t even know the woman’s name. He only knew this. No matter what had separated them before, here and now they were on equal ground. Both in dire need of a touch from the Master’s healing hand.”

– Excerpt from The Friends of Jesus by Karen Kingsbury

Are You Desperate for Jesus?

It’s amazing the lengths we will go to get Jesus’ attention when we really need Him. Even someone who doesn’t claim to be a Christ follower will cry out “Jesus” or “God” when they need help, when they are in trouble, or when they are in pain. There’s a panic and a desperation that sets in when someone knows that the only way to get help is through Jesus.

Jairus, a wealthy leader, and the poor woman with the bleeding disease found themselves in the same position, they both needed Jesus. Despite their status, they both had the same need and were crying out to the same man for help. At that moment, nothing else mattered to them. They just needed Jesus.

Have you ever been so desperate for Jesus that you were willing to do whatever it took to be with Him? It didn’t matter who was watching, or what people thought of you, you just needed Jesus.

Here’s the point: Our whole lives should be spent this way. We should always be looking for Jesus, desperate for Him. Our desire for Jesus should be the same as our desire for water, or oxygen.

As Christians, we need Jesus in times of dramatic trial or tragedy. But we need Him in times of peace, too. We must desire friendship with Jesus the way we desire our next breath. This is the key to lifelong peace, strength, and joy – in good or bad times. That constant need for the Savior.

Think of Jairus and his desperate need, and consciously realize that you are in the same situation. I am, too. We all are. Let’s seek Him daily, humbly bringing ourselves and our lives to His feet, knowing that He is the only one who brings healing, restoration, and peace.

This week, let’s truly live our lives as if we are desperate for Him. Jesus will never fail us, never leave us. We all need a Friend like that!

Verse for the Week:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God.” – Psalm 42:1

www.karenkingsbury.com

Gentle Shepherd

Liz Curtis Higgs

People may be cruel. Life may be harsh. But Christ? He is gentle.

Paul said, “By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Hard to resist such a tender approach.

The Greek words here point to meekness. Yes, it rhymes with weakness, but it means the exact opposite! Meekness is strength reigned in. It’s yielding without surrendering. It’s power withheld and gentleness released.

Leo Buscaglia once said, “Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” Nothing is stronger than our Jesus.

One of our friends, Matilda, confessed, “Many times I’m sure He could just shake us. But His gentleness prevails.” Yes, it does. Thank you, Lord.

Humility is the behavior He models. Gentleness is the language He speaks. We saw it on Palm Sunday when He entered Jerusalem, “gentle and riding on a donkey” (Matthew 21:5), just as Zechariah had prophesied centuries earlier.

The Lord bids us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

Rest. Could you use some of that? Right now? This minute? Because that’s what He’s offering. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Yes, please.

Janel admits, “When I’ve sinned, I tend to be a hider. He knows how to gently love me past those times.” So right. If we’re hurting, if we have questions, if our souls are uneasy and our hearts are burdened, the only safe place to land is in the arms of our gentle Savior.

Jesus honors those who are gentle, meek, and kind with this astounding promise: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) .

The great and powerful, the mighty and militant? They inherit nothing. The Lord has reserved His Kingdom for those filled with “gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:23), the fruit of His Spirit.

Paul urged the believers at Philippi, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).

He is near. All the time. When He asks us to come to Him, turn to Him, lean on Him, He is not asking us to travel some distance or struggle to reach Him. He is near. He is here.

Laura is grateful to know, “His gentleness brings us through.”

Lord Jesus, our world is anything but gentle. Now, more than ever, we need Your gentleness, Your kindness, Your tenderness to ease our feelings of helplessness, of uselessness, of restlessness. We don’t know what the world is coming to, Lord. Help us rest in the reality that You know.

What does the gentleness of Jesus mean to you today?

www.lizcurtishiggs.com

Stand Still

Liz Curtis Higgs

http://go.netatlantic.com/t/27575985/95371632/387542/72/

You’re right: steadfastness isn’t a word we use every day. Since we’re talking about God, though, it describes Him perfectly.

 Firmly fixed in place. Not subject to change. Immovable.

We can see the world swiftly changing before our eyes. But Almighty God? He never changes, never moves.

He is steadfast.

 A friend wonders, “How impossible would it be to serve a God who changes His mind? He is always the same. He is always good.”

Yes, He is.

“For he is the living God and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.” Daniel 6:26

 Glory be, that’s an amazing truth! Read it aloud, if you can, or whisper it when no one’s watching. This power-charged verse addresses any fears or doubts we might have about His authority or His sovereignty.

 Nothing can change who God is or what God says or what God does.

  <!–[if !vml]–>God is unchanging and everlasting<!–[endif]–>

 Nina believes, “He is a rock in the sea of life.” That bedrock, that cornerstone, cannot be moved, though the storms rage and the waters break against it.

When the ground beneath us is shaking, the Lord “stands firm” (CEB). When we lose people we care about, He is “abiding to the ages” (YLT). While some things last no more than a season, He is “everlasting into worlds” (WYC).

 The Bible is timeless because He is timeless. It’s not an ancient book for an ancient people, it’s a new Word for every generation, including ours.

 Dawn is comforted knowing that “He will always be the same God, with the same statutes, with the same love and grace that are outlined through His word.” So right, Dawn. In our day-to-day world, same can mean boring, been there, big yawn. But in the spiritual realm, same is marvelous, miraculous.

 Our rock-solid assurance is this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

He is the same, beloved. He “who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8), never waivers in His character or wearies in keeping His covenant. If you belong to Him, then He is your God, now and forevermore.

 And get ready for this! When doing research for my Scottish historical novels, I often stumbled across the word fastness, as in, “The Highlanders retreated to their mountain fastness.” I assumed it was a typo; that the writer meant vastness. Turns out, fastness means a secure refuge, remote and secluded, well protected by natural features.

 Our God stands, or steads, in just such a fastness, where He meets us, guards us, and protects us. It’s not a mere concept; His fastness is a real place of safety for us.

If your week has been hard, if the news of late has been too heavy to bear, then run to His fastness and take refuge beneath the shadow of His wings. If an hour can’t be managed, try fifteen minutes of silence and solace. You’ve no need to do or say anything. Only remind yourself of this:

 Our world may be falling apart, but our God never falls apart.

 Heavenly Father, we are running to you. Right now, this minute. The demands of the day can wait. It’s You we need, and You alone.

 http://go.netatlantic.com/t/27575985/95371632/387547/77/

What does the steadfastness of God mean to you?

Grace Is

Liz Curtis Higgs

http://go.netatlantic.com/t/27571660/95371632/387106/72/

Have I mentioned lately how wise you are? Your understanding of life and loss and learning and laughter and loving God comes from a well of experience, made deeper by the hours you’ve spent in His Word and in His presence.

When you share your wisdom on this blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, you bless thousands. No kidding. Thousands.

That’s why this week, four of our sisters will teach us what grace is…in a sentence. Then, I’ll toss in my two cents, and give the Lord the last, best Word.

“His grace is a gift I could never earn or deserve.”—Lynn

Even so, some of us are still laboring to the point of exhaustion, trying to earn His forgiveness. Staying up late, running ourselves ragged, making must-do lists, thinking if we work hard enough for God, He might stamp us “Approved.”

Beloved, it’s time to stop striving and rest in this truth: Grace is a gift. Salvation is a gift. Faith is a gift. And God Himself is the greatest gift of all. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

“Without His grace, I am hopeless and lost!!”—Brenda

We’re all nodding on this one. Me too. Praise the One who solves such problems. With His grace, we have hope. With His grace, we are found.

When things look or feel or seem hopeless, they are not. That’s the adversary, trying to convince you to give up. Stand firm. “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).

Once Christ has found you, you are no longer lost. He has claimed you, forgiven you, and will never lose you. It’s a finished work. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

grace is a gift

“When I make a mess of my life, God continues to love me.”—Mary

That’s grace, all right. Most people avoid mess-makers, but not God. He said to the apostle Paul (and to you and to me), “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And in messiness. And in wretchedness.

“I always need His grace, especially when I don’t think I need it.”—Diane

This is so the truth. Two of the most dangerous phrases in the English language are “I’ve got this” and “I don’t need help.”

In those moments, the Lord quickly points out our pride—often through a humbling experience—then bids us come to Him, certain of His loving-kindness. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Lord, we marvel at Your unimaginable, indescribable gift of grace. We know we can’t purchase Your gift with our works. We can only accept Your grace with empty hands and grateful hearts and lips full of praise.

http://go.netatlantic.com/t/27571660/95371632/387112/78/

How would you finish the sentence, “Grace is…”?

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