The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)
God is living among us, with us, and in us. Because of this we have a genuine partnership. God created us for His purposes, for His kingdom, for His will. As Christ said, we must deny ourselves and follow after Him. As tough as that sounds we have been dropped into this story that God is writing and we all have a role to play in it. No one else can fill it for us so we must rise to the occasion or others will pay the price. We must speak into the lives of those around us, live by faith, lead by example, help those in need, bind up the broken, encourage the weary, and cherish those that God has entrusted to us (Isaiah 61:1-3). Through all of this we have an unending source of strength from a God who takes delight in those who serve Him. He also calms our fears with reminders of His love. He is, at this moment, singing a joyful song over us. Ushering us into a life that has power and impact for His glory and a hope and encouragement to those in our lives. God is glad that you are His child and the people around us should know it. We are partners in the greatest story of all time, where He is the main character, love is the story line, and the best happily-ever-after awaits. God doesn’t invite us into this relationship because He has to, but because He wants to. And that is an encouraging thought.
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.
“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)
*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.
From an early age we seem to be drawn to wanting more, or wanting different. We say or think the phrase, “I wish _____”. As kids we wish for a new toy, for something different to eat, to be able to do whatever we want, or even to be someone different. We live a life pursuing an alternate reality. Given Eden, man wants to become God. Our hearts are desperate wanderers. Even in the best of circumstances, we still long for something more or different.
He never promised you the job, the education, the spouse, the marriage, the kids, the church, the city, or the circumstance of your dreams.
Garden City Publishing
I think a lot of us actually feel like God did promise us these things. I say that by how we are all so guilty of taking these things for granted. Myself included. Instead of finding overwhelming gratitude and contentment, we see what we perceive as missing in our lives. The ‘haves’ in life are drowned out by the ‘have nots’, and we’re left reeling for more. The pity party begins rather than the praise party which should be a constant in our lives.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 ESV
Paul was a man who gave his life for the mission of God. A mission that all of God’s children have. And life was by no means easy for him. Prior to speaking these words the man had been beaten, left for dead, ridiculed, shipwrecked, bitten by a serpent, mocked on trials, and yet, with the same breath, he said rejoice always. Not sometimes or in the highs of life. But always. Why? How could he say this? Because there is always something to rejoice about. There is a God Who loves us. A God Who made and designed us for a purpose. A God that has woven value into every single one of us. A God that has pursued us every moment of every day. Even when we didn’t know He was there. And even when we were running away. A God Who paid the ultimate price so that our sins wouldn’t be the final chapter of our story. A God Who has prepared a home for His children to be welcomed into a glorious eternity.
This is so much greater than anything we could wish for. Instead of saying “I wish” let’s start saying “I have”. Dreaming and hoping for things is not a bad thing. But if it wrecks our hearts or sours our souls, then we have lost sight of all that we have so graciously been given already. A heart that requires nothing else is a heart that has found peace. In the midst of Job’s darkest days, he never forgot to praise his maker. Wherever we find ourselves today, in abundance or in trials, let’s make our lives a worship song.
No one should ever underestimate the effects of living a consistent lifestyle. We have to fight for positive godly habits. When we incorporate them into our lives they will produce amazing results.
I know a lot of people that bag on the rituals of the Old Testament, but they served to create a pattern of worship in people’s lives. Of course, there’s always the chance that someone will get fixed on the rituals and lose sight of God, but it isn’t meant to be that way. That’s a heart issue. Just like how the Pharisees and Sadducees were so concerned with the law that they couldn’t even see the law giver walking among them in the person of Jesus. But the pattern of living a life of worship is meant to draw us closer to the One we worship.
I think many Christians lack godly habits of worship that are consistently engrained in their day to day. It has become an all too common practice to just work them in when they’re convenient instead of allowing them to shape our lives in a way that we plan everything else around our worship of God. The result of such a lifestyle is a somewhat empty walk with Jesus and a life that lacks Holy Spirit power.
When Jesus talks about abiding in Hin and then His love that as a reference to a constant state of being. We can’t possibly abide in Christ if our acts of worship and devotion are spotty at best. If our life is too busy to be in a consistent state of worship on an individual basis, with our family, and then a community of believers, then it is simply too busy and out of alignment.
When God said that we need to write His law in our hearts and minds and door posts and meditate on them when we wake and when we lay down and when we go about our way, He never inserted a clause that said when you have time. He obviously meant this to be a consummation of our entire lives. If prayer, meditation, devotional, worship, and serving others aren’t things we do everyday, then we need to pause and reevaluate how we’re spending our time. That’s something that should be done often anyways. I know I have to.
What can you do today to create a more Consistent life of abiding in Jesus?
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:11-12 ESV
The gospel message is pretty clear: Jesus equals life. An eternal life and the life blood of God’s Spirit here and now. But how many of us are actually living like we believe that? How many of us are filled with unmovable hope? Does joy mark our existence or are we weighed down by the worries of this life? More than all of this, what are we doing to get the message out? If we believe Jesus is life, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to let others know that? But many of us keep to our own Christian circles and rarely look for chances to share the gospel with those outside. I guess until we fully realize the magnitude of the offer Jesus has given to us, we can’t fully understand what we are meant to share with the world. Lord please renew in us a full appreciation for your loving grace. Awaken our hearts again to the joy of your salvation.
Pray for me to be bold and I too will pray for you all. Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.
When Jesus said we can have peace through Him, I believe Him. But I will be the first to admit that it’s allusive at times. At least that’s how it seems. The problem is my innate ability for distraction and misplaced priorities make it difficult to maintain a state of peace. I work a lot. I mean a lot. I have a family with three little ones, Bible Study, a business, and a teaching career. I find myself constantly battling the concerns of being a husband, father, teacher, business owner, etc,,,that I don’t often stop to smell the roses. I’m living month to month, instead of minute by minute most of the time. It’s a cycle that deepens as life progresses. But it’s also a cycle that can be broken at any time.
This is my manifesto. I will choose the moment rather than planning all the upcoming moments. I will soak in Jesus presence as often as I can possibly make time. I will choose to look at the silver lining in all circumstances. I will be the rock my family needs. I will stop allowing the stresses of life to have any hold on my heart. My life is good because I have Jesus. And because I have Jesus, I have salvation, rest for my soul, and peace with God. And it just so happens that God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and three awesome kids.
Money will come, because God will not abandon His own. Life will go on and we will all be under His loving watch. His peace will no longer be allusive in my life. How about yours?
Maybe today is the day for you to write your manifesto. Wherever you’re at, today is a gift. Let’s receive it with joy.
“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 ESV
Why is it the radical faith and obedience to Jesus is criticized so much in the church? The last I checked, we are supposed to die to ourselves and live to Christ. I’m pretty sure the Bible says that we have been crucified in the life we now live we live by faith in the one who died for us. I believe that the Bible also says to be a living daily sacrifice. Doesn’t the scripture also read that we are supposed to keep our minds and hearts set on the things of heaven and not the things of earth? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to go to the ends of the earth spreading the good news? Aren’t we to walk as he walked?
It’s an inescapable fact that Jesus didn’t sugarcoat what it means to follow him. We are supposed to be all in. We all have a cross to pick up and carry daily. Perhaps the reason why that is met with so much criticism is that complacency and comfort have exceeded conviction and our commission in the hearts and minds of so many. I feel it weighing me down so often as well. I have to fight the urge to just go about living my life, as crazy and hectic as it is, and not put the mission of Jesus at the forefront.
The Bible says that Christ is our life, nothing else. When we see people who actually live like that, we should be motivated to do the same. Paul told people in the first century to follow him as he followed Christ. Was he perfect? Not at all. But he lived sold out for the faith. Jesus was the end all for his purpose in life. That’s what being a Christian should look like. All the times I fall drastically short of this, I draw off of the examples of so many extraordinary men and women of the faith, past and present.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4 ESV
Recently I gave a message at the church I attend and I wanted to share it with you all. I hope it is an encouragement to you all. Blessings!
In 2019 a movie came out that would go on to be the highest grossing movie of all time. Any guesses? Avengers Endgame is the culmination of 22 Marvel Universe films over an 11 year period. All of those films built up to one peak moment. The villain, Thanos, was attempting to reset the universe by eliminating a third of all living creatures. His methods weren’t based on merit or the salvation of the righteous but solely on mass destruction to preserve those left behind.
Besides what some of us may think, we don’t live in a superhero universe. But we do have an endgame that all of life is building up to. So what’s the endgame? As believers in Jesus, what is all of this leading up to?Is it heaven? Is it something else? For all of my childhood and much of my adult life, I was under the impression that heaven was the goal. After all, we’re told that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20) and that Jesus went away to prepare a place for us (John 14:2). But none of those things speak of our final destination. You see, heaven is just another temporary stop on our way home. To understand the end, we have to go back to the beginning.
“then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Genesis 2:7-15 ESV
The garden was created as a place for Man and God to coexist. It was a place where heaven and earth overlapped. God and His creation could experience and intimacy unhindered by brokenness and death. It was a place filled with beauty and purpose. The entire salvation narrative is imaged in these few verses. God forms us, He gives us life, and then he takes us to a home prepared for us. But it wasn’t to last for Adam and Eve. After an unknown number of years, they messed up and the result was exile. Refer to Genesis 3:23-24. Ever since we’ve been living in exile with a longing to get back to the garden. Throughout the remainder of the Bible our attention is constantly drawn to the Garden.
The tabernacle and the temple both contained illusions to the garden. The Gold and onyx, the lampstand, the flowers And vines, the olive oil used, etc. It was a place where God’s holiness resided. A place where a certain few could come and meet with Him. The promised land is also a picture of God bringing us back to Eden (Num 13 the fruit that the spies brought back). It was a land flowing with milk and honey. A place between the Great rivers.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:1-5 ESV
Tell me that doesn’t sound like a garden. Earth will be renewed. We are coming back with our Savior King. The Holy City will descend and Heaven and Earth will be one. Intimacy with God will be final and glorious.
Understanding our origins and our destiny helps us to know our purpose here and now.
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19 and 2 Cor 6:16). So what does that mean? We have the garden living inside of us. Our hearts desire new things, eternal things. God resides within us. If the tabernacle and the temple were meant to be sanctuaries of God’s peace and love and truth, then that’s what we’re supposed to be. Christ’s sacrifice opened up a whole new intimate relationship with our God that hadn’t been enjoyed since the Garden. Even the tabernacle and the temple had a veil, but Jesus tore that down. So what does that mean for our purpose?
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”” John 7:38 ESV
Our role is to water the soil of our surroundings and work to bring the kingdom of heaven to our place on earth. We are springs of living water and we are called to help perpetuate new life. Not that we can give life ourselves but that we show people the source of living water within us. The believer is a Gardner. Our homes should be a garden. Our area of the workplace should be a garden. Our relationships should be a gardens. Think of all the words Jesus spoke comparing us to the branches and Him the vine and how we need to remain connected to Him to bear fruit. Or later when Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit that all believers should be hearing. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness should all be growing within us and spring forth into our homes and relationships.
Our words, prayers, and actions can bring about healing, encouragement, and hope. Our life should point others to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. The only way that’s going to happen is if our spring isn’t stopped up. My hope for you and me is that the springs of living water would break free within us.