Wednesday, August 30, 2017

No Longer Orphans

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

You are no longer an orphan. That's what Jesus meant when He said, “I will not leave you comfortless…” [John 14.18]. The word translated comfortless means, as orphans. It means that, in Christ, you have been adopted by God. Now, all of the promises to His children are yours. 

I recently read about the Roman custom of adoption, which allowed a slave owner to adopt a slave as an heir of his estate. Once adopted, the new heir could never be made a slave again. The debts of the former slave were dissolved and the newly adopted son became heir of the estate. Though a father could disinherit a biological son, Roman law forbade the estrangement of an adopted son.

Once adopted, you belong to your father forever!

If you are a Christ follower, you haven’t just moved from being an orphan to being an adopted child. You have moved from being a slave to being the rightful heir of your Heavenly Father forever.

You cannot be unadopted, disinherited, or estranged!

The debt of your sin has been cancelled, never to be held against you. You belong to God and now have access to His entire estate. And think about this one: the Father isn’t just legally committed to you, He is also in love with you. His entire being is committed to your welfare. He chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world. You are loved forever.

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.. Ephesians 3.6

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

God is Love

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I read through the book of Ephesians yesterday and I was struck by something that Paul said. As he prayed for the Ephesian Christ followers, he asked God to grant them “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” [Ephesians 3.18-19].

I thought to myself, I’ll write about the love of God. As I began to contemplate the subject, it seems to me that I became overwhelmed with God’s love just thinking about the it. All of a sudden, I realized that I needed strength to comprehend God’s love just as the Ephesians did. I needed strength to comprehend that God’s love is wide and long and high and deep.

It may not be much, but here are my thoughts:

How wide is the love of God? It’s wide enough to incircle anyone who comes to Him, people lost in religion or lost in rebellion. It embraces young and old, black and white (and every color in between!), North Carolinians and North Koreans. God’s love hugs the rich and poor, the educated and illiterate. He loves those who love Him and those who hate Him. Oh, how wide the love of God!

How long is the love of God? It’s so long you can neither get in front of it nor behind it. It’s long enough to cover your past and your future. You can’t abbreviate it. You can’t interrupt it. It is from everlasting to everlasting, pure and perfect. Oh, how long the love of God!

How high is the love of God? It’s higher than the highest building and taller than Mt. Everest. It is taller than your greatest dream and taller than your greatest Goliath. It transcends the heavens. Oh, how high the love of God!

How deep is the love of God? God’s love is deeper than the depths of the ocean, deeper than your darkest hour, deeper than your deepest pit. His love is deeper than the accumulated wisdom of all philosophers. His love is deeper that the deepest well, but better, it never runs dry. Oh, the depths of God’s love!

His love is wider, longer, higher and deeper “than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell.” * 

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4.8

* from The Love of God, Frederick Lehman, 1917

Monday, August 28, 2017

Child of God

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

In his classic work, Knowing God, J.I. Packer wrote, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”

God is your Father. Think about that for a moment. You’re being watched over and prudentially cared for by a Father who knows more than you know, sees more than you see, cares more than you care, and provides in a way only He can.

God is your Father. Think about it again. You are safe and secure in the everlasting arms of God. Now, you can confidently go on your adventure with Him. 

God is your Father. Think about it again. He has a plan whereby you can grow in Christlikeness. And you can do it, not by way of disappointment over what you are missing, but rather, by the assurances He has given.

The essence of Christianity is being in a relationship with God. And it’s your daily interaction with Him that shapes you - transforms you. Your life is forever changed simply by being in relationship with God the Father.

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 1 John 2.12-13

Friday, August 25, 2017

Mercy and Grace

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I don’t pretend to know the deep desires or silent petitions in anyone’s heart. But I think I do know what the human heart needs the most: the mercy and grace of the Lord!

To receive mercy from God is to not receive the punishment that we deserve.

To receive grace from God is to receive blessing that we don’t deserve.

Mercy and grace are the basic things we need for the sinful, human heart. Born in sin, we deserve God’s displeasure and judgment. Instead, in Christ, we receive mercy – His forgiveness. Because we sin against the Lord, we certainly don’t deserve His blessing. But, in Christ, we receive grace – His unmerited favor.

Even more amazing, the author of Hebrews declares that we not only can receive from God what we need the most, but we can receive it anytime, especially in the time of need. Since Christ is the “faithful High Priest,” we can come boldly into His presence — His throne room — and receive all the mercy and grace we need; anytime, all the time! 

What we need most is what God most wants to give – His mercy and grace.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4.16

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Grow by Word and Spirit

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Among the last words of Jesus to His disciples, He described the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of Truth” who would guide them “into all truth.” The Spirit and truth cannot be separated — God is Spirit and God is Truth.

Some religious traditions emphasize the Word to the neglect of the Spirit. That can lead to dry dogmatism, or what many call “head knowledge.” Knowing the Bible doesn’t mean knowing God. There is a vast difference between intellectual understanding of God and a transformational experience with God.

Other traditions have emphasized Spirit to the neglect of the Word. That can lead to emotionalism and sensationalism. When the Word is neglected, experiences and feelings become central. A Christ follower who isn’t grounded in the Word can be tossed by any “wind of doctrine” according to his or her changing moods and experiences [Ephesians 4.14].

God never intended a separation between Word and Spirit. God’s Word is full of His Spirit and His Spirit always confirms His Word. One of my Bible College professors was fond of saying, “If you have all Word and no Spirit, you dry up. If you have all Spirit and no Word, you blow up. But when you have Word and Spirit, you grow up!”

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16.13-14

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Faith and Fear

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

There are within biblical texts, profound nuggets, statements that seem simple at first glance but, when contemplated, are rich, full of meaning. Take 1 John 4.18, for example: “Perfect love casts out fear.” Simple, yet profound. 

What I’m about to say may seem strange to you, but I think fear and faith are cut from the same cloth. Or it may better be said, they are opposite sides of the same coin. Fear is faith in a negative direction. Both faith and fear ask, “What if …” but fear expects a negative result: What if I fail? What if I mess up? What if God doesn’t come through? Fear directs our attention towards a negative outcome.

Maybe this illustration from a common situation in basketball will help you see the point. It’s the final three seconds of the game. You’re on the free throw line with the game winning shot in your hands. Just before you attempt to shoot, the opposing team calls a time out. Why? Because they want you to think, “What if I miss this shot?” The more the player thinks about missing the free throw, the more likely he is to miss it.

Faith, on the other hand, moves in the direction of the positive — the Word of God. And, joy of joys, faith grows by hearing the truth. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” [Romans 10.17]. As John pointed out, faith grows as you believe that the perfect love of God is active on your behalf. When you’re in Christ, you can count on these truths: God loves you. You are in Him. He is in you. You belong to God. 

Fear will not lead you to that truth.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. 1 John  4.16-19 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Try A Little Kindness

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

In my “Big Book of Sermon Illustrations,” the following story is under the category of “KINDNESS:” 

Two men going opposite directions on a narrow mountain trail met each other head on. With a steep cliff on one side and sheer rock on the other, they were unable to pass. The harder they tried to squeeze past one another the more frustrated they became. The situation seemed hopeless until one of them, without saying a word, simply laid down on the trail, allowing the other man to walk over him. 

That’s the idea behind biblical kindness. It doesn't mind getting walked on if it is to the benefit of someone else. It’s the very essence of the Greek word translated “kind” in 1 Corinthians 13.4 — “useful,” “serving,” or “gracious.”

Did you know that God has shown kindness to the world? Sure enough! He did so in providing salvation to mankind lost in sin. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” [Titus 3.3-5]. 

When Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you…for [it] is easy,” the word translated “easy” is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 13.4 “…love is kind…”

As a Christ follower, you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. You are saved, washed, renewed by the Holy Spirit. So, be anxious to show kindness to others. We live in a world that desperately needs kind people. Won’t you be one of them!

Love is patient, love is kind…  1 Corinthians 13.4

Monday, August 21, 2017

Free Indeed

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

It is a gross misunderstanding to think of freedom as the lack of restraint. The freedom that Christ earned for us isn’t liberty that leads to licentiousness. By no means!

I once had a friend, a pastor’s son, who, as a teenager, was tired of living under the “rules and regulations” of his father’s house. He decided to join the Army. He told me, “I’m not going to keep letting him tell me what to do!” I don’t know what he was thinking, but it seemed to me that the Army wasn’t the place to find the kind of freedom he was looking for.

Or take the student who says, I’m tired of school, especially the teachers telling me what to do and what to study. I’m done, I want to be free. I’m going to quit going to school. It stands to reason that dropping out of school doesn’t make one more free, but actually limits the freedom of choosing a good college or applying for a higher paying job.

Or consider the addict in a 12-Step program who says, I can't stand these people telling me, “Take this step.” “Take that step.” I’ll just stop coming to the meetings. I’ll be better off. I’ll be free.

Freedom isn’t casting off restraint; freedom is the power to choose responsibility. Freedom in Christ isn’t freedom from obedience, but freedom unto obedience. In Christ, you are free from the bondage of sin. You are no longer its slave. You are now free to live an abundant life in Christ, in obedience to His Word. 

So if the Son [God’s Son, Jesus] sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8.38

Friday, August 18, 2017

In God’s Image

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I read an article about DNA the other day and, quite frankly, it was astounding. It’s in a field that I know little about and the details are staggering. Here’s my take away:

Your body consists of over a hundred trillion cells. Inside those cells there is about six feet of tightly interwoven DNA that is directing every cell to be where it was designed to be, and to be the kind of cell it was designed to be. That DNA is formed from a pattern of cohesion of four basic building blocks assisting amino acids in forming proteins. We can’t fathom how those proteins could possibly come together to form something so complicated and spectacular as your human body, aside from knowing that inside every cell there is a machine so complicated it is beyond comprehension.

OK, did you get that?! Let’s go a step further because another wonder of your being is something beyond the physical, your soul. Call it consciousness or your mind, but whatever you call it, evolution cannot account for it.  

There is a theological explanation, however: You are the absolute pinnacle of creation. You are more than a sophisticated, fleshly machine. According to the Bible, you are more than a “being,” you are a “living being,” something not said of the animal world. After His creation of the first “living beings,” God sat back and said, “That’s very good!”

The reason is, we were created in the “imago dei” — the image of God. We are, in some smaller way, an expression of His glory. Sure, we’ve fallen short of that glory because all have sinned [Romans 6.23]. It’s also true that we are marred and fractured by sin, born in sin, the Bible says [Psalm 51.5]. But, we were made in the image of God nonetheless.

It brings no honor to God to malign what He has made in His own image. God celebrates you as His masterpiece. You should do the same. There is no room for pride there. Take an honest look at yourself… what is there to be prideful about? It’s humbling isn’t it, to think that you were made in the image of God? You’re God’s representative on earth!

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1.26-27

Thursday, August 17, 2017

God Speaks in Christ

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

There is a sense in which the opening verses in Hebrews unlocks the entirety of God’s Word. He began with the emphatic statement that, in these last days, God has spoken in a superior way, He has spoken through Jesus, His Son. Please don’t overlook that wonderful truth. God has spoken! The Creator, the final authority in all matters has spoken. Don’t doubt it for a moment. 

When someone with authority speaks, it makes all the difference in the world. I’ve sat with people in hospital waiting rooms while their loved ones are in surgery. You hear the angst in their conversation — it’s duration, the risks, the prognosis of recovery. Hands are wrung. Nerves on edge. Then, the surgeon appears with the good news, “Everything went well.” In a split second, the atmosphere changes. Why? The authority has spoken. When the authority whose opinion has the ultimate say-so has spoken, it trumps every other opinion. 

God has spoken. No one made Him speak. He didn’t have to speak. He could have sat in cosmic silence if He had wanted to. But He spoke, and in many ways. But ultimately, or may I say, once and for all, He spoke in Christ. Everything that God wanted to express, He said in His Son — about redemption, holy living, and hope for the future. 

The take home is this: if you had nothing else but Jesus, you have everything you need! God has expressed Himself fully in Christ Jesus.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. Hebrews 1.1-2

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sabbath Rest

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

It was the last day — the seventh day — the final day of creation and nothing was created. That’s because God had finished His creative work on the sixth day. The seventh day, God took a break. He didn’t have to. He wasn’t tired from the work, you know. Let’s say, He celebrated His completed work; He blessed it and called it the Sabbath. 

Adam and Eve were actually the last thing God created. That was the sixth day; so their very first full day of engagement with the world was on the Sabbath. It was that first seventh day that God released Adam and Eve to their vocation. They could not begin their work until God had finished His work. 

The same is true of Christ followers. Your greatest work will flow from resting in the finished work of Christ on Calvary’s cross. The more you rest in Him — trust His promises, surrender to His sovereign grace, obey His Word, rely on His strength — the more you will accomplish for Him. 

The Sabbath was to foreshadow the fullness of God’s redemptive work through Christ so that we could work for Him not for love, but from love, worry-free of condemnation. With wide-eyed amazement at the goodness of all He has created, we can fearlessly represent Him here on earth. 

Here is your assignment today, dear Christ follower: Be immersed in Sabbath consciousness. Christ is our Sabbath and has ended the need to strive for God’s acceptance. As with Adam and Eve and God’s finished work, Christ’s finished work is the beginning of our new life in Him. All productivity in the Christian life flows from resting in Christ’s finished work.

Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. Genesis 2.1-3

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rest Up

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I find it interesting that the author of Hebrews calls the Promised Land a place of “rest.” Once they crossed the Jordan River, it seems to me the Children of Israel were constantly in a battle with their enemies. The Land flowing with milk and honey was also flowing with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Gergashites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

Rest? You’ve got to be kidding! The Promised Land was more like a battlefield. How could it possibly be a place of rest? The answer lies in the biblical notion of rest. Biblical rest is not inactivity. You can be filled with worry while lying on a hammock in paradise and have no rest. You can be at peace in the middle of a challenging task and be completely at rest. 

Here’s the Good News the author of Hebrews wanted you to know: REST is available in Christ. When you trusted the finished work of Christ, you were accepted by God. Nothing more is needed for your salvation and wholeness. 

Where there is Good News, there is rest. To keep experiencing real rest in Jesus, keep your heart full of Good News. Jesus died for your sins so that you don’t have to. In Christ, you have every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies [Ephesians 1.3]. That’s the Gospel truth!

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Hebrews 4.9-10

Monday, August 14, 2017

God, Our Father

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

J.I. Packer penned these dramatic words in his classic work, Knowing God: “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God for his Father.” What a stunning declaration!

I don’t know if you ever thought this way about it, but God was Father before He was Creator. The only way we can understand God is by His self-revelation in Scripture, a revelation in terms of relationship. He is, within His Triune nature, relational: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — long before He created anything.  

Some say that man has foisted fatherhood on God after reflecting on the earthly version of fatherhood. But Scripture says the exact opposite: earthly fathers are made in the image of the Heavenly Father. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every father in heaven and on earth is named” [Ephesians 4.14-15]. 

Now to the punchline. If God is your Father, He is both your authority and advocate. He is superior to you, but utterly for you at every point. He is superior in wisdom, power, and resources and is more than willing to help you. That’s what a good father will do. 

Sure, God could altogether crush you, shame you, or abandon you, but He has chosen, instead, to link Himself eternally to you through Christ. Now, you can enjoy abundant life [John 10.10], and the full inheritance of His riches in Christ [Ephesians 1.3].

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Matthew 6.9