Thursday, August 1, 2019

A Sufficient Grace

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12.8-9 NKJV)

When my wife and I were missionaries in Germany, we often traveled to different countries to preach. One thing we noticed about the interior of many church buildings was that passages of Scripture were written on the walls. I’ve never thought too much of that being on top of the list for interior design, but it was a common practice there. 

You don’t really see that too much in the States. Emmanuel Faith Community Church, the church we attended for 20+ years, had part of this passage prominently displayed in the lobby: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Over the years I found the words a great comfort. This was especially true when my son and daughter-in-law lost their first child (our first grandchild), who was still born. 

I’ll never forget entering the lobby in preparation for the memorial service, grief-stricken, angry, and confused, head and shoulders slumped in despair. Looking above the sanctuary doors, I saw the answer I needed: “MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR THEE.” The reality of that word from the Lord struck me powerfully. 

Have you labored with this as well? Perhaps you’ve experienced a family crisis, a financial calamity, a prolonged sickness, wayward children, the loss of a loved one, or unanswered prayer, and you are struggling for equilibrium. Oh, dear friend, please hear these tender words from the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” 

In this passage, Paul says that there is something he has deliberately been praying for. In fact, he has prayed for it specifically three times. A lot of ink has been used to describe what this might have been. Some have said it was Judaizers, men who followed him from town to town disrupting his ministry. Some have suggested it was a physical ailment, perhaps poor eyesight. 

The point of this devotion is not to identify the object of his prayer, but rather, to see the answer to it. And of course, the answer comes from God, Whose grace is sufficient for every situation. Let’s take a moment to see what Paul did in his moment of weakness.

First, he sought the Lord. The NKJV and NIV says he “pleaded.” The KJV says he “besought.” The 
NAS says he “implored.” The word used comes from the Greek parakaleo. It is a compound word uniting para, meaning “alongside,” and kaleo, “to call.” The Greek lexicon defines parakaleo“to call or invite near, to beseech, entreat, or pray.” 

In his time of weakness, Paul passionately called out to God to come alongside him and remove the irritant from his life. Rather than the continual struggle, Paul would have preferred to have his problem removed. That’s a normal response. “Dear God, please remove this pain from my life.” 

I don’t know about you, but I have prayed that prayer many times in my 40+ years of serving the Lord. Paul, in essence, prayed, “Lord, make this thing depart from me.” The KJV and NKJV say “depart.” The NAS says “leave.” The NIV says “take it away.” The MESSAGE says “remove.” The word comes from the Greek aphistemi, defined as: to remove, desist, desert, depart, refrain, fall away, or be withdrawn. 

Now, I believe that God could have removed his “thorn in the flesh” instantly. It would have been no problem for God. He does “whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115.3). It just seems to me that if God had removed that particular problem, another one would have eventually come to take its place. I’m not being pessimistic here; neither am I lacking faith. Jesus stated that in this sin-sick world, we are going to have tribulation—you can count on it (John 16:33). In fact, He told us that each day has its own quota of evil. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”(Matthew 6.34 NAS). 

So instead of removing the obstacle, Paul was comforted, as was I, with these tender words—don’t worry about it, keep hanging in there because “My grace is sufficient for thee.” I like the Greek word for “sufficient” here. It’s arkeo, an old word that seems to be a primary verb with the idea to raise a barrier or to ward off. By implication, it means to avail, or to be satisfactory, enough, or sufficient.

“Don’t worry, Paul,” God seems to be saying. “Whatever your difficulty or problem, My grace is satisfactory in warding it off. You have everything you need in My grace for protection and empowerment to deal with this or any other situation. All the help you need is right here.” Why? God told him, “My strength … .” That’s right—God brings His strength into the situation. There is no lack there. 

The Greek word for strength is dunamis, here meaning a force or mighty power, strength, or mighty work. God places at our disposal His dynamic power, which is made “perfect in weakness.” I love the fact that God reminds us that in our weakness, He is there in His mighty power. It reminds me of the first words of an old gospel hymn that says, “I am weak, but Thou art strong!” 

If you are frustrated and weary from bearing your thorn in the flesh, or if you are saddened or angry over certain events happening in your life, would you please stop for a moment and let God speak these refreshing words to your heart:My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 

When these words saturate your spirit, it will have an effect on you as it did with Paul. See it there in verse 10? “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Paul came to the right conclusion concerning his “thorn in the flesh” and many difficulties of life. I hope you do the same!

Monday, February 25, 2019

You Can Trust the Bible

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. 2 Corinthians 1:20

H.L. Hastings said, “The Church of God is an anvil that has worn out many hammers. The hammers of the infidels have been pecking away at [the Bible] for ages, but the hammers are worn out, and the anvil still endures.”

The Bible endures. Praise the Lord! It is true, unchanging, and completely trustworthy. Because of that I know:

My sins are forgiven - In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. Ephesians 1.7

I am a child of God - But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. John 1.12

I’ll live with God forever in heaven - In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. John 14.2-3

These things, and so many more, are true for Christ followers — promises of love, joy, and peace in this life and the one to come. Never doubt the truth of God’s Word. It is completely reliable and trustworthy … you can count on it!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Arise, Cross this Jordan

Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant saying, "Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.” Joshua 1:1-2

Moses was dead. The man who went head-on with Pharaoh was dead. The faithful leader of God’s people through the wilderness was dead. The man who, through God, worked many miracles was dead. The man who talked with God face to face was dead. You can almost hear the cry of the people, “Say it isn’t so!"  "What do we do now!?”         

For thirty days the people wept and mourned the death of Moses. Then, God appointed a new leader, Joshua. It was time to get on with life. Moses might have been dead, but not God. Neither were the children of Israel. There was so much to do as the Promised Land lay before them.           

There is little doubt that when Moses died, the people faced a monumental change. Death has a way of doing that. Perhaps you have faced a big change recently; the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a devastating divorce, or deteriorating health.    

What do you do when life changes suddenly, unexpectedly, and without your permission? 

Well, you mourn. That’s normal, the natural thing to do when something or someone is taken from you. That painful emotion is not sinful, it’s human. Jesus mourned the death of both Lazarus and John the Baptizer. 

But at some point, you stop mourning. While it is good, right, and permissible to mourn, don’t get stuck there. We are told only to walk through the valley of the shadow of death; not take up residence there. Life does go on … and so must you.  
One more thing, you must trust God that the best is yet to be. In the case of the children of Israel, they could mourn themselves to death and be buried in the plains of Moab or, they could get up, wipe the tears from their eyes, and enter the Promised Land. Yes, Moses was dead, but they were on the cusp of new and greater blessings — the land flowing with milk and honey. 

Dear friend, the worst is behind you, the best is ahead. Keep rejoicing. Keep praising. Keep trusting God. After your mourning, new opportunities arise. Arise with them and “cross the Jordan!”

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Try, Try, and Try Again

And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  Galatians 6:9

Have there been moments in your life when it seemed that all the effort and energies you were investing in something made no difference? Perhaps you feel this way right now.  Maybe it’s your life, career, finances or marriage that seem to be stuck like a tire in mud.  No matter how hard you press the accelerator, you never get traction — you never make any significant progress.

Times like these are frustrating. They drain our hope and weary our spirit and soul. And if we’re not careful, they can drive us to the point of giving up.

Thomas Alva Edison was credited with inventing the incandescent light bulb in the late 1800s. Amazing! Did he invent it on the first try? Second try? One hundredth try? One thousandth try? Not even close! Over several years, and thousands of attempts, he worked with no success. The World Book Encyclopedia (1993) noted, “Edison himself said, ‘I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work.’” Love the attitude! 

His persistence paid off. Because he did quit or grow weary in "doing good,” the incandescent light bulb was born.   

What have you been working at and praying for with no visible answer? Whatever it is, keep believing God for an answer. Don’t quit or throw in the towel. Don’t lose heart. A harvest awaits those who don’t grow weary in doing good. That’s God’s word and you can count on it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Maximize Your Time

And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 1 Peter 1.17-19

I have several books of famous quotes and often, when writing sermons or devotionals like this one, I refer to them for a pithy nugget of truth. Here’s one from Benjamin Franklin referencing how we should conduct our lives: “Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time, for time is the stuff life is made of.”

There is a biblical truth in that statement: God has given each of us a certain number of days to make an impact in the world. Don’t waste a minute of it. I remember watching an old black and white western movie in which a father told his son to do his chores. The boy dawdled for a little bit and the father said, “Get on with it. Time’s awastin’!” Many professing Christ followers squander their time here on earth and do nothing that is of significance for the Kingdom.

The nugget of truth found in today’s passage is that while we are here in the world, what Peter called “exile”, God wants us to maximize our influence among others. 

Today begins a new day. Step into it with a renewed commitment to live it to the fullest for the sake of Christ. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Fill ‘er Up, Please

Some of you may be too young to remember pulling into a gas station and having attendants coming to the car asking what they could do for you. I remember my Dad used to say, “Fill ‘er up.”

I was reminded of those experiences when I read today’s text from 2 Kings. A beautiful miracle was recorded that had to do with emptiness and filling. A poor widow was low on oil and didn’t have the means to purchase any. She was “running on empty.” Elisha instructed her to borrow empty vessels - a lot of them - from her neighbors.  When she closed herself in the house, she began to pour the oil into the empty vessels. She kept pouring and pouring and pouring until all the jars were filled. It was a miracle that continued as long as an empty vessel was available. 

Spurgeon wrote about this passage: “My Lord Jesus does not want your help. Abstain, resolve, repent, advance—do what you will. But do not join these poor things to His great salvation. Give up once and for all depending upon what you have done, even when you have done all—as an unprofitable servant quit all claims of wage and appeal to mercy only. Dismiss the proud notion of containing anything in yourself which comes of your fallen nature and yet can be acceptable with God. … Empty buckets are most fit for the well of grace—these shall be filled while the full ones stand idle at the well’s mouth.”

“Empty buckets are most fit for the well of grace.” I like that! God is drawn to our emptiness. Go to God with your emptiness and just say, “Fill me.” Your emptiness doesn’t disqualify you from God’s blessing; it attracts it.

Dottie Rambo said it so well in a song from 1959:

Fill my cup, Lord;
I lift it up Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole
© 1959 renewed 1988, Word Music

And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” 2 Kings 4.2–4

Friday, February 15, 2019

Just Wait

Don’t you just love waiting? I know I do. NOT! There’s nothing fun about waiting. Most of us detest it. That’s why we have so many instant foods — coffee, pudding, potatoes, oatmeal, grits … instant whatever. It seems like we simply don’t have more than an instant to wait. 

Not long ago, tapping my foot in impatience while left overs were being reheated in the microwave oven, I kept wondering, "when on earth the food would be hot and ready to eat!" As I thought about that incident this morning, it struck me that you can throw out the “microwave idea” when it comes to God. He doesn’t have one. To keep the cooking image going, God most often uses a Crockpot. “Through faith and patience we inherit promises,” so says the author of Hebrews. Haven’t you found that to be true? If we expect to see God work in our lives, we must be patience, waiting on His time, not ours

Waiting on God is one of the hardest things we Christ followers must do, make no mistake about that. We want our “miracle” and we want it now! That waiting period is fertile ground for frustration and disillusionment; thinking that if God really loved us, He’d act now. Listen, the truth is: God is never late. But also, He’s never in a hurry. As the old spiritual said, “He’s always right on time” … with grace to help in time of need.  

Believe God. Wait patiently on God. Receive from God.

that you do not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:12

Thursday, February 14, 2019

You Are Mine: A Valentine’s Day Devotion

Do you remember those little heart-shaped candies you got in the Valentine Cards you got as a kid in school? There was a word or two on them: “Sweet”, “Cute”, “Hug Me”, “My Valentine”. 

On this Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of a Valentine (of sorts) from God when He said, “You are Mine!” It came through the pen of Isaiah; a message from God to His beloved Israel. It was in a time when they had wandered away and they felt the sting of His discipline. Still, He lovingly told them not to be afraid because He would take care of them. He promised them His presence, His protection, and His provision through it all. 

The Apostle Paul wrote something similar to the Ephesian Christ followers in a rather lengthy passage, 1.3-14. He told them that God created them, redeemed them, and called to them, “You are accepted in the Beloved” [1.6]. In other words, “You are Mine!”

Our loving God cares for His children — day after day, week after week, year after year. He loves you. You are His! Rejoice in His love for you.

But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. Isaiah 43.1

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Gateway of Hope

If you are ever in Boston, Massachusetts, take time to visit the Liberty Hotel. Though now it boasts luxurious accommodations, upscale restaurants, and celebrity clientele, it once served as the Charles Street Jail. In its day, it hosted a much different clientele including: prisoners from a World War II German submarine; the thieves behind the Great Brinks Robbery in 1950; and Frank Abagnale Jr., the con artist portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me If You Can.

It was built in 1851. In 1973, after 120 years, prisoners revolted because of the poor living conditions, after which the jail was declared unfit. It wasn’t until Memorial Day, 1990, that the last prisoners were transferred to the new Suffolk County Jail.  

Years later, the building was purchased by a group of investors and underwent a $150M renovation. When you walk into the “prison” today, you enter an Italian Restaurant where some tables sit next to jail bars and brick walls. The catwalk, where guards once stood to watch over the prisoners, is now an elegant balcony. One former prisoner visited the hotel and exclaimed, "How you could take something that was so horrible and turn it into something of tremendous beauty, I don't know.”

The prophet Hosea talked about a total transformation like this. The valley of Achor [or Trouble] was the place of disgrace and punishment which befell Israel on her first entrance into the Promised Land [see Joshua 7.25-26]. It would later be known as a gateway of hope. The sorrows of the past would be replaced with anticipations of hope. 

Greater still is the transformation God offers by turning opportunities for punishment in our lives into gateways of hope and restoration. God's justice has no place for evil. It will not allow Him to overlook it. Evil will not go unpunished. Yet, in His great love and mercy, God set in place a plan where His justice might become a gateway of grace and hope.

We do the same every time we extend forgiveness to someone who doesn't deserve it. What would our world look like if we allowed our resentment to be transformed into a gateway of hope and grace?

I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. Hosea 2.15

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Anxiety Buster

Philippians 4 is the Bible “anxiety buster!” That’s because when God, through Paul, confronted anxiety, He pulled no punches in diagnosing the problem and prescribing a remedy for it. This is truly important because so many downplay the repercussions of anxiety and worry and choose to think this particular sin is no big deal. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

In Philippians 4.4-8, Paul commanded five things to do when you are worried and/or anxious. Here they are: rejoice, be gentle, remember Christ’s return, pray, and ponder good things. 

Consider this, if your heart is running low on joy, you might be more anxious than you care to admit. Or, if you find it more and more difficult to be gentle with others, then perhaps anxiety has found a home in your heart. Or, if your heart doesn’t regularly find victorious hope in Christ’s return, or if your prayer life is lagging, or if your thoughts don’t consistently settle on honorable, pure, and commendable things, then it may be time to confess the root problem — worry and anxiety. 

The first thing in dealing with any sin is to recognize it. Call its name, identify it. Repent, forsake, and turn from it. Then, prayerfully consider how to employ the five Holy Spirit inspired directives. God will do His part when we do ours. He will grant victory over the destructive sin of worry and anxiety. And, He will “guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” [4.7].

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is coming soon. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. Philippians 4.4-8