From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Psalm 61:2 (NKJV)
Our heart is the most important part of our bodies. It’s no wonder that God tells us in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts above all else because this is where the enemy takes aim at. That is what falls into despair. Our heart carries the load and gets beat down through all the stresses life throw our way. Fortunately, we do not have to rely on our own strength in any situation, no matter how extreme or minor it may be. We have a Rock and a Refuge higher than ourselves. We have a Savior that is greater than all that may come our way. We have the endless peace and joy that comes from knowing Him. We have Someone who wants to build us up and encourage us always. We have Him who is greater than all our problems to call on no matter where we find ourselves. We have strength that is greater than anything we ourselves can muster. We have the protection, strength, and love of the One who molded and made us in our mother’s wombs. He who is the author of your life wants what is best for you and only He knows what that is. I pray that if you are in need of hope at this moment, you find that in His love. You are not alone. You are not too far gone. Let the One who began your life, sustain your life.
On Apostle Paul’s final missionary journey he had been all over the Mediterranean. Towards the end of that journey Paul had been touring Macedonia and Greece for months. Then he spent a week at a place called Troas. Here a man named Eutychus was raised from the dead after falling from a third floor balcony (you know, you’re average trip to Troas). He continued his tour to Miletus on his way to Jerusalem. There he calls the elders from Ephesus to address them one more time before his departure to Jerusalem. He didn’t want to go to Ephesus because he didn’t want to be delayed on his mission to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost. Here he makes a few final statements to the leaders of the church because he feels his time is coming to a close. Included in those closing remarks is the following statements.
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
What kind of message is Paul trying to give? He starts by focusing on the consistency of his manor of living since day one of meeting them. He also emphasizes his boldness in sharing his faith. All along the way he was opposed constantly. But that never caused him to waiver. Paul was also undeterred by the uncertainty that lay before him in Jerusalem and beyond. He concludes his statements by making sure the leaders knew that the mission is more important than even his life, and the life of every believer. Verse 24 is the life statement for what it means to follow Jesus. This is what we are all about.
We label ourselves by a lot of titles, husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, our career titles, or even by the things we enjoy doing. But there is only one label that matters the most: follower of Jesus. All the other labels are good and fine. But only when they don’t derail us from the most important one. We have to stay focused on what matters most. Paul’s statement is exactly that. Your life, and mine, has been redeemed in order to testify to the world of His redemption. We’ve received grace to show grace. We’ve experienced His love in order to pass it on. We need to be true to who we are in the sense that we belong to Jesus. We need to have consistent living, not altering who we are based on who we are around. We can’t waiver or shrink back based on the uncertainty that lies ahead.
Truth is, we have far more differences than we do things in common. We have physical, emotional, political, and even theological differences. We all have different backgrounds and upbringings. We are ethnically and culturally different. And if we allow those things to dominate our view of others then we will never be as strong as we’re meant to be. Now more than ever, we need to be committed to fighting the spiritual war with a common purpose, in a unified effort. Because that which unites us is far greater than all the differences we may have. In the midst of all the divisiveness we have to stay on target. Reaching the world with the gospel. Our lives only matter to the extent we bear the image of God and show His love to the world. Everything else pales in comparison. Let’s spend our time giving it away. To encourage. To bring healing. To bring truth and love.
According to the dictionary, strength means the quality or state of being strong, mental power, vigor, moral power, firmness, or courage.
“He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength.”
Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)
Often times we think of the word strength as meaning physical might, but this word is by no means limited to this definition. Strength is more often needed in terms of mental toughness, courage to follow through or step out, and to maintain moral integrity in a fallen world. As we think about challenges that we face throughout the course of a day, we’ll find that the vast majority of them require a resolute mind, steadfast soul, and the firm knowledge of who God is in our lives. We get bombarded by messages of insecurity and insufficiency. We are told to seek pleasure and to make ourselves and our dreams come true (don’t mind the expense that others pay along the way to get us there). We’re told love is love and to disregard a moral standard that can be defined. We’re told our identity can be whatever we feel like it should be rather than who we were made and intimately crafted to be. We’re told life evolved which discredits any notion of the unique and overwhelming value of each human being. We’re told that one person’s comfort, future, and even health can override another person’s right to exist and be born.
The message of the world is to eat from the forbidden fruit and denounce your allegiance to your maker. Place yourself in the seat of God because you know what is best for your life. Those are the messages that take real courage and strength to stand against. Because the world does not share a message that values life, morality, integrity, and our true identity as being made in the image of God. Weakness goes with the flow and bends to the moral compromises that common culture offers. But there is an endless source of “mental power” and “moral power” offered through Jesus. However, that power comes through devoting our hearts, decisions, words, thoughts, and total lives to Him. Albert Einstein is quoted saying that, “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.”
Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His presence continually!
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live…But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
Deuteronomy 30:6, 14 (NKJV)
As the body of Christ, being among God’s people, we have His law written on our hearts and in our minds. This means we have His love written on our hearts and in our minds so that we may walk in it. Jesus told us that loving our God with all our heart, mind, and soul and loving our neighbor as our own fulfills the law. We are far less likely to break God’s eternal law when we are living from a place of love and constantly focused on Jesus. We are far more likely to make the impact we’re called to make when we love Jesus from the depth of who we are. When it’s genuine, the love of Christ’s church can change to world. He is our God and we are His people. He calls us the light of the world. How brightly are we shining right now? We need more love and more truth from our mouths and from the expression of our lives. The world doesn’t need discord and discouragement. The world doesn’t need legislation or new leadership. The world needs the gospel. It needs Jesus. They will know we belong to him by our love.
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Jeremiah 31:33 (NASB)
Peace in Christ brothers and sisters. Shine brightly.
Our children gathered this evening to listen to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just as many families did nearly 60 years ago. Our children must know what those before us stood up for. He is one of the great symbols of justice and equality and we owe it to the next generation to know all that was fought for. The mantle of peace and love and brotherhood, that the civil rights leaders laid down their lives for, must carry on. May we never forget that all of God’s children are created equal, in His image. We bear the marks of our creator no matter the shade of our skin or the language we speak. Equality must first be realized in our hearts so that it can be a reality in our world. I love you all brothers and sisters. All over the world. Peace in Christ.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (ESV)
Freedom is defined in several ways…First, it is the exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc. In a spiritual sense, that would be the pressures of the world. It is also the power to determine action without restraint. Beyond the physical, that which restrains us is known as the opposer or the satan. Lastly, it is defined as personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery. The Bible would identify that as being free from sin.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 (ESV)
I think at times we forget exactly what it means to be free in Christ. We are free to serve Him without fear of condemnation. We are free from our sins that once held us in bondage. We are free from the judgment of this world. We are free to be filled with love in our hearts rather than anger, malice, discontent, or bitterness. We are free from worry and anxiety because we know we have a God who cares deeply for us, in Whom we may trust with our whole hearts (Phil 4:6). We are free from any of our inabilities because we can do all things for Him and through Him (Phil 4:13). We are free from weariness because we have a God who is an endless source of strength (Isaiah 40:31). We are free from discouragement because we have a God who grants an eternal hope that does not fade (1 Pet 1:4).
Are you walking in that kind of freedom? Anything less is a cheap exchange for what is promised. That kind of freedom requires a choice on our part. A choice to receive it. A choice to let all of the baggage of life go. A choice to belong to Him. A choice to allow Someone greater to be the master of our destinies. Let’s stop settling for the counterfeit and actually walk in this freedom. Then, and only then, will we experience the peace and joy that comes with being a follower of Christ.
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16 (ESV)
A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. Proverbs 16:23 NKJV
We really have to be wise about what we say. If the words that come from our lips aren’t showing Christ’s love then we shouldn’t be saying it. In everything we do Christ is supposed to be magnified. We all know people who choose to curse, complain, and grumble, but the effects of those things can be tragic for those around us. Ungodly speech can spoil a persons day or completely change their attitude. Harsh and careless words can even ruin a life. But the heart that is constantly in a state of thanksgiving, brings cheer and praise wherever they are and no matter the situation.
Even though it’s no longer thanksgiving it’s important to still ask ourselves what what we are thankful for. No matter what, we can all be thankful for Jesus’ death on the cross, for our military putting their lives on the line to protect ours, for people God has put in our lives, and for the ability to share Gods love with whomever we come in contact with. We can all be thankful for the millions of do-overs God gives us, for the grace shown us by others, the simplicity of basic necessities. We all need to take some time to thank God for every situation we have gone through, good and bad this last year and know that God was with us through them all. Hopefully we can see and learn what he was doing in us, through us, and through those around us.
In 2021 we can be a voice of truth and grace and love. We can speak life into our family and friends. We can use our words to encourage and refresh those in our lives. Let’s leave the complaining behind us and shout a song of praise instead.
*Jesus Christ addressing the churches in Revelation (and us). To the one who conquers…
I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Rev 2:7 (ESV)
…will not be hurt by the second death. Rev 2:11 (ESV)
I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Rev 2:17 (ESV)
and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations. Rev 2:26 (ESV)
will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Rev 3:5 (ESV)
I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Rev 3:12 (ESV)
I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Rev 3:21 (ESV)
I don’t know about you, but the idea of conquering some evil enemy inspires great emotion. But what exactly are we conquering? This is not a call to be an oppressive subjugator of peoples. No, this is a call to conquer the the things that bring death and destruction to our lives. We are waging war on depression, anxiety, lies, persecution, trials, and sin.
Man, this sounds like a heavy load to bear. But along with that comes an incredible series of promises to all those who give their lives over to Christ and live a life of obedient faith in Him.
Last year was rough for so many people around the globe. For many, we’re still in the same boat entering 2021. But the struggles and hurts never have to be the end of the story. The great news is, we’re not alone in this endeavor. We cannot conquer this world and the battles of life alone. And we don’t have to. As Paul tells us in Romans, our life circumstances cannot separate us from the Love of Christ. When we live for Him, we are His. We can rejoice in that security and the strength that Christ gives us to be conquerors in His name.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37 (ESV)
Wherever you’re at entering the new year, know that you have the love and power of Jesus to overcome. I pray for you to feel His goodness. I pray for you to experience His healing. I pray for you to have the weight of life lifted from your shoulders. From the depth of my heart, I hope your year is full of His peace.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:2-8 (NKJV)
Christ wants our hearts. He wants us to grow in our knowledge of Him. That knowledge produces the qualities of a follower of Christ. Those qualities show others that our love and faith is real, and in turn, that Jesus is real. It is so critical for us to relfect on our relationship with Him consistantly so that we can know in our hearts that we know Him who has called us out of the darkness into the light (John 8:12). The rewards for knowing Him are so great that we can only begin to scratch the surface. Those who have experienced Him and spend time in His presence can testify of the fullness of life through knowing Him. We have so much to gain. Such as grace, peace, godliness, abundant life (John 10:10), and eternal life (John 3:16) through this endevour of getting to know our Lord and Savior. I pray that nothing holds us back. I pray that we can take hold of the precious promises and the divine nature (spirit nature) that God has called us to. I pray that we will always put forth effort to add to our faith the characteristics listed by Peter. I pray that we will all experience His divine power so that we may not go through this life barren (useless) and unfruitful (unproductive) in our walk with Christ. I hope you are all encouraged by the fact that the One True Almighty God has called you into a relationship with Him and wants you to get to know Him.
Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)
Fear is a painful emotion or passion excited by the expectation of evil, anxiety, or dread. To be hopeless or doubt. That, my friends, should not define a Christian.
As a follower of Christ, and children of God, we are to be anxious about nothing (Philippians 4:6), understanding that hardships will come but that we will overcome because Christ has overcome (John 16:33). In the midst of these trials of life we are to rejoice because we are in a living hope (1 Peter 1:3-7) knowing that our faith is being perfected.
Christ did not intent for us to live in doubt or dread, but instead, He’s calling us to something greater. He’s calling us to live out a life of faith and trust in Him. A life that lifts up those around us and speaks to Who our God is. Be encouraged brothers and sisters, because God is upholding you with His righteous right hand. Lets go out and live in that hope and the strength that comes from this knowledge.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
I pray that your day is empowered. I pray that your day is full of love. God is in your present and God is in your future. Fear can’t cripple the one whom God empowers.