The Lesson of the Garden

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.

Hebrews 12:4 (NASB)

For the Hebrews being addressed in this context, persecution was a daily reminder that they were going against the grain of culture. Choosing Jesus meant denying the way of the world around them. It meant living a life set apart. That is difficult, especially when we lose sight of Jesus Himself.

In addressing His disciples in the garden, the night he was to surrender for His execution, Jesus told them to remain in prayer with Him for their flesh was too weak to stand against what was coming. Temptation was around the corner and if they weren’t spiritually connected, then they would succumb to it. As we know, all the disciples did succumb to it. They fled in fear. They denied Jesus. They were weak and faltered because of it. And so have I.

Keep watching and praying, so that you do not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41 (NASB)

Sin seeks to corrupt and pollute. But most of all, sin seeks to separate further those who are already separated. What I mean by that is, if we are not spiritually in tuned, then sin will seep in through the cracks of separation and drive a further wedge. For the disciples, they allowed exhaustion and pride to lead to complacency, which gave way to falling away. It’s no different for us. If our physical life gets in the way of our spiritual life, then it’s only a matter of time before we too crack under temptation.

For those being addressed in the book of Hebrews it was a matter of bending to the pressures of those around them. Choosing the easy path rather than the holy path. Fear is the main driving force whether in the case of the disciples, those in Hebrews, or you and me. We fear not having enough, not being enough, not doing enough, and not being accepted enough. And before we know it, we’ve strayed from the path. We’ve compromised our time, our relationships, and our very hearts for things that mattered little, or even nothing at all.

My brothers and sisters, don’t allow complacency to set it. Don’t be distracted or drawn away from your first love. Are you drained and weary? Are you hungering for more and don’t even know why? Are you on the verge of compromise? Please stop and take stock of your heart. It isn’t too late to be refilled with those things that are lacking. Joy and peace are right around the corner. Hope and healing can happen in an instance.

Most of the disciples returned to Jesus and lived amazing lives of faith. They changed the world. They resisted sin to the point of shedding of blood. They paid the ultimate sacrifice for holiness. Are you willing to do that? Am I? Perhaps we should start with the small things first. Praying first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and all day long in between. We need to retreat to a quiet place often to allow God to restore our souls. And day after day, we need to make the individual choices to not compromise who we are in Christ or the mission we’ve been called to. Resist brothers and sisters. At all costs, resist.

Keep watching and praying brothers and sisters.

Wake Up!

So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus *said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. And Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. But I knew that You always hear Me; nevertheless, because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Out came the man who had died, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:38-44 (NASB)

You’ll notice when reading the verses leading up to this portion in John that Jesus was overcome by emotion. I think we can conclude that Christ also weeps over the dead soul that is yet to be awakened. That Christ weeps over the sinful acts of His children. That Christ feels greatly for those who are in the tomb or return to it. But the question is, do we? Do act as those who looked on to the tomb of Lazarus with such grief over the unsaved soul? So we plead with Christ for those who are dead just as Martha did for her brother? In the book of Ephesians chapter five we see Paul revealing to us how we’re supposed to walk as Christians. We’re told to walk in love, light, and wisdom. Isn’t it safe to say that if we aren’t living that way than Christ is weeping over us? Isn’t it safe to say that this is what Christ died for? In verse 14 of this chapter Paul makes a statement which parallels what Christ has called out to Lazarus.

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:14

Christ weeps for you and me just as He wept for Lazarus. But even so He cries out “watch this!” Jesus says I’m going to show you all something that will astonish you. You will see the Glory of God. When Christ stood outside my spiritual tomb He shouted the same words…”Brook, come forth!” Rise to life because you are mine. Awake from the dead and I will shine on you and others will see the glory of God through your transformed life. Not only did Christ call us out of a spiritual slumber but He also said, “Unbind him/her and let him/her go.” We weren’t saved to remain in our burial clothes. We have been raised to so much more. We’ve been raised to freedom and a new life, and a new hope.

Living with Salvation in Mind

Put on salvation as your helmet…

Ephesians 6:17 (NLT)

Would we live our lives differently if we were under the constant knowledge that we are saved and have new life with Christ? Would our struggles be as difficult? Would pain be as severe? Would the little things we worry about fade to the background? Would we be anxious, stressed, angry, or worried like we all get if we lived from a place of redemption, forgiveness, joy, hope, and peace? I have noticed in my own life that when I reflect on the gift God has given me and the person Christ is making me into the trials of this life somehow become much easier to go through. I know I am forgiven, I know I am remade; I know this life is temporary, and I know that God is in control of my entire life. Man, what great joy and contentment there is in knowing these things!

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

I hope you find peace in the One who saved you.

Laboring in Vain

You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.

Haggai 1:6 (NKJV)

In life we can tend to get pretty busy. We often times will strive after things that we want and push ourselves to the point of exhaustion over things that matter little in the grand scheme of things. Have you ever noticed that when we go after things and don’t involve the Lord in it, that it is far more likely to drain us and bear little fruit?

I believe these verses are great reminders that from the moment we rise to the moment we lay our heads on our pillows, we need to involve the Lord in everything we do. Of course God is always with us, but it is the invitation, the recognition, and the reliance on our behalf that makes a huge difference. To see God and want God in all things that we do will transform our thoughts and decisions, and ensure that what we do brings glory to His name.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 2It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Psalm 127:1-2 (ESV)

Not in Vain

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…

1 Corinthians 15:10 (NKJV)

The Apostle Paul was addressing the church at Corinth expressing his unworthiness to even be considered an apostle, considering all he had done to the Church of God prior to his salvation. In applying this to my own life, I have long considered myself unworthy to be a servant of Christ. In the words of John the Baptist (an amazing man of faith) I am not even worthy to stoop over and loose the straps of Christ’s sandals (Mark 1:7). The fact is, I’m not worthy, and none of us are. This makes Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace so much more amazing. There is no one righteous (Romans 3:10, Ecclesiastes 7:20) and God chooses to save us anyway. I say that’s an amazing Savior.

He is a great and awesome God Who saves us and invites us into His work which He has prepared ahead of time for us (Ephesians 2:10). As Paul stated, God’s grace in his life will not be for vain but he will labor all the more, even more than the other apostles. Even though grace is not based on works, it is given so that we may abound in this life and love people more, forgive more quickly, serve more wholeheartedly, and persevere with patient expectations that our God will come through. God has created me and His grace is molding me into the man I am today and will one day be. I don’t want to waste His grace.

Peace in the grace of Christ brothers and sisters.

Imprint

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)

We do not have a choice whether or not we leave an imprint. Just by existing in the day to day, we will impact those around us. We do have a choice, however, in how we want to use our life and the affect we have on others. We can use it to either make a positive imprint or a negative one. The wise person will take every opportunity to be intentional about affecting change, love, truth, peace, and hope where they live and beyond.

Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.

Deuteronomy 4:5-6 (NKJV)

God selected for Himself a nation that He saved from their bondage, trained through the desert, and empowered to conquer the sinful nations occupying the Promised Land. Through Moses, God proclaimed time and time again to be careful to follow His commands so that they would prosper; so that they would leave a positive imprint. If God didn’t have a plan for the redemption of mankind He probably wouldn’t have bothered with the nation of Israel, teaching them, and preserving them. The plan He had for Israel was about far more than just Israel itself. The same goes for you and me. He did not just redeem us for our sakes alone but so that we may now be careful to walk in the light and expel the darkness around us, not partake in it.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (NIV)

This world offers many counterfeits, some of which disguise themselves as being for God, yet contains ungodly practices that go back thousands of years. In Proverbs 23:17 we’re told not to envy sinners (or what they do) but to be zealous for God. We’re told in Romans Chapter 12 to not be conformed to this world yet many still blend right in. Each of us needs to decide whether we are going to water down our Christian walk to be nothing more than a label or if we’re going to love to the fullest, walk in holiness, and observe God’s commands. We need to decide if we’re going to pick and choose what works best for us in scripture and stumble our way through this life or take the Bible as the literal Word of God and live out the powerful force of a Holy Spirit filled life.

Our life is our ministry and our ministry is our life. We must choose whether to let this world dictate our theology or let the infallible Word of God dictate the world around us. What better imprint to leave than a godly one? Encourage the weak, love the unlovable, bring peace to the unrest. Speak truth into a confused world, but speak it in grace. Show compassion for the downtrodden, and empathy for the hurting. Be that beacon of hope and let your joy be contagious. Wherever the believers treads, thereto the Savior has walked.

Peace in Christ my brothers and sisters.

Hope is a Necessity

World Challenge

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 (NKJV)

Hope is one of those words that when you say it, it rolls of your tongue and immediately brings a glimmer of light to your heart. Hope is something to cherish and be thankful for. It serves as a platform of strength in those moments that seem perilous or without end. It is something that every single person needs. We can’t do life without it. As the verse above says, hope is accompanied with joy and peace. But only when that hope is in something real and constant.

I’ve heard people say to have hope in hope. To hold on to the “idea” that there is a “possibility” that things can get better. This is mere optimism. I happen to be an optimistic person myself. I like to look on the Brightside and believe that things will be ok. But my optimism is based on Someone, not just an idea or a desire to have good feelings. Hope that is not founded on reality is delusion.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23 (NKJV)

The Someone I have hope in is an unwavering and eternally faithful God. In our darkest moments we can rest assured in the hope that is brought to us by Jesus. He has a proven track record. He’s never failed. He’s shown His love and devotion to humanity regardless of the fact that we don’t deserve any of it. I don’t have hope because I believe things will get better in life. I have hope because Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I have hope because I’m never abandoned by the One who made me. I have hope because He’s been beyond faithful in my life even when I’ve waivered in my faith. My hope is founded on Him, not my circumstances, past, present, or future.

Hope is that light at the end of every tunnel whether we think we see it or not. If you’ve been grasping for just a glimpse of that light, yet feel lost in an endless dark tunnel, look no further than the cross. Look to the Son hanging for our transgressions, touch the scares of His nail-driven hands, and absorb the love that it represents. In times when life is the most difficult, stop and pray. Realize that Christ faced all the hardships that this world can dish out and He has overcome the world. And more importantly, He did it for you. So that you will always have a hope so solid that it can never be broken. Let us not waver but be forever hopeful in the promises God has given us. Let us seek Him out and be renewed in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Let us not give up on Him, for He never gives up on us.

Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD.

Psalm 31:24 (NKJV)

Peace in Christ my brothers and sisters

God’s Focus

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NKJV)

What is God’s focus for our lives? Does God want us to focus on material gain, emotional satisfactions, physical pleasures, or every day comforts? Does God want us to focus on promotions, new jobs, new cars, fancy clothing, nice jewelry, a big television, iPad, or iPhone? Does God want us to pour our hearts into sports teams, movies, or tv shows? Or does God want our focus to be on godliness, faithfulness, loving others, serving, sharing the gospel, and laying our lives aside for Him and others? God is calling us to pour our time and energy into things that bring glory and honor to His name and draw us and others closer to Him. Everything else is fading away with this world but God’s will is eternal (1 John 2:17). As Job said, “naked we came into this world and naked I’ll leave so praise the Lord!” (Job 1:21).

Our focus determines our actions because our focus reflects our hearts (Matt 6:21). If we place a lot of value on the things of this world and the comforts of life then our actions will try to acquire those for ourselves. But if our hearts are for God and the mission He’s called us to, then our actions will reflect the fruits of the Spirit (love, peace, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control). God knows your focus. Others know your focus too. It’s obvious by how we live our lives, the decisions we make, and the impact we’re having. We all owe it to ourselves to take a close look at our lives. Do you need to refocus?

We all have it in us because we have Christ in us. We all have the mission written on our hearts because God did it Himself. We all have what it takes to live the life we were designed for. We were made for more than what most of us will settle for. Let that not be your story.

But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NKJV)

Peace in Christ my brothers and sisters.

Partnership

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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.

Peace in Christ my brothers and sisters.

United in Purpose

Knowing-Jesus.com

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.

Acts 20:17-24

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.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.