An Invitation (2)

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In Luke 18, Jesus was walking with his disciples heading to Jerusalem, teaching them as he went. In the first section of chapter 18, Jesus tells them a parable to teach them about prayer, encouraging them in verse 1 to, “…always pray and not lose heart.”

To pray is like breathing for a Christian, it is essential for our life.  Without prayer, we will lose heart, we will grow spiritually weak.

Unless we are sick with a lung infection or drowning, we rarely think about our breathing; we just do it. Likewise with prayer, it should be the natural habit of our lives, the breath we breathe for our spiritual life.

Prayer is more than saying words, it is a deep relationship with God, our heart is constantly aware of the presence of our Lord.

To illustrate his teaching, Jesus uses what seems to be a confusing parable. Jesus uses the story of a desperate widow and an unrighteous judge to illustrate the need for prayer.

But in order to understand this parable, we must understand that God is not represented by the judge, and in the same way, you and I are not represented by the poor widow. They are both extreme contrasts, Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point.

The circuit judge of the first century would not hear everyone’s case, rather, he would choose who he would hear, and in many cases his decision was precipitated by a bribe of some sort.  

Jesus is stating the contrast between the judge and our Heavenly Father. God is not like this judge. God is loving and generous, and He is intimately aware of our needs before we bring them to Him. God doesn’t need to be persuaded to hear His children’s pleas; He answers prayers because it is for His glory.

But what about the poor widow in the parable?

Widows seldom got justice and were treated poorly by the culture. Jesus was making a contrast between this widow and the position of believers.

Let’s look at five contrasts between our situation and this parable. Our standing and hers.

  • This widow was a stranger, she came before the judge, but he didn’t know her or her situation. In contrast, we are God’s children, and He knows everything about us.
  • This widow had limited access to the judge and had to wait for an audience with him. We, on the other hand, have unlimited access, in fact we are invited into the presence of God every minute of every day (see Ephesians 3:11-12).
  • This woman had no friend and no advocate who would help her in her appeal. In contrast, as Christians, we have an advocate. We have someone who never rests and always advocates for us (see 1 John 2:1 and Hebrews 10:19-22).  
  • This widow had no promise of being heard, but we have the precious promises of the word of God. In addition to the promises of God’s word, we have the Holy Spirit who helps us in our prayers (see Romans 8:26-27).
  • But perhaps the greatest contrast is that this widow came to a court of law trying to get justice. But as God’s children we don’t come to a court of law, we come to the throne of grace (see Hebrews 4:15-16).

The point that Jesus makes so clearly is that if we don’t take advantage of the invitation to pray, spiritually, we will be just like this poor widow. We are invited to the throne of grace in prayer.

In contrast with the unrighteous judge, God is infinitely good and infinitely just (see Luke 18:7).

God chose you, not to abandon you or to ignore you in your time of need, He is always near as He promises in His word.

As Jesus concludes this parable, he makes it clear that it is all about faith. Luke 18:8b reads, “…nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus is asking us the same question today; will he find faith in us?

This is a challenge to us in our twenty-first century environment, do we really have faith? In our world, we are pretty good at solving problems. We have a solution or an answer for almost everything, and if we don’t, we can “google” it.

We are good at engineering God out of the picture. “…Will He find faith on the earth?”

God will use people and natural resources to provide for our needs, but we must ask Him. In fact, we are invited to ask Him.

What is your need today? What are you waiting on God for?

But what do you do when God doesn’t answer your prayer? When the miracle doesn’t happen quickly? These are difficult times, times of testing and growing in faith. When Jesus taught on prayer in Matthew 7:7-8, he said that we need to be continuously asking, seeking, and knocking. The verb tense is one of ongoing action.

Jesus encourages us to persist in prayer, not because he needs to hear the same request dozens of times before he answers. Rather it is in persistently going back to the throne of grace that we grow in our relationship with our Lord. If we immediately received everything we prayed for, God would not be good, and we would treat Him like a vending machine. God is after a relationship and His glory being displayed.

Sometimes God has to say no because He knows what is best for us.

We are invited to pray, what have you stopped praying for?

I encourage you to keep on praying; our Heavenly Father is perfectly good in all His ways.

An Invitation

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In this day, when there is so much attacking the truth and the enemy is ravaging families inside and outside the church, we need to get serious about prayer. It is our primary source of power. It is an invitation from the Lord.

We have an invitation from the Lord to come into His presence. He invites us to bring our praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition before the throne of the Almighty God.

Jesus’s Prayer

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus led the disciples to a familiar place, the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Jesus invited his disciples to pray with him. This was the most significant and powerful time of prayer in all human history.

Jesus knew that he needed to pray. He was about to be arrested and sent to the cross, and he knew that this was the hour for which he came to the earth. This was  the reason God became a man. He also knew that the battle had to be fought in prayer.

Jesus separated the group, leaving eight of the disciples while taking Peter, James, and John with him farther into the garden. Jesus went on even farther, but he didn’t completely separate himself from them. He wanted them to be with him (see Matthew 26:38).  He was about to experience great agony, but he didn’t intend to hide it from them. He invited them because he wanted them to participate with him in what he was about to take placeWe cannot fathom the agony that Jesus endured in that prayer time in the garden.

Although Jesus knew he would face a painful and slow death, this was not the cause of his greatest agony. He did not fear death; rather he was about to “drink the cup” of the wrath of his Father. Jesus would not only die for us, but he would also actually become sin, bearing our sins in his body (see 1 Peter 2:24 and 2 Corinthians 5:21). This was the unimaginable pain that Jesus endured for us.

I have often thought about the battle that took place between the Passover celebration and the death of our savior on the cross, and I suggest that the victory was won in the garden through prayer. There in the garden, Jesus fought against every attack of Satan that might prevent him from going to the cross.

At any time, Jesus could have turned back and decided not to go through with the cross, but he prayed and submitted to the perfect will of his Father. When Jesus prayed those three times, it was done. He was committed; the final battle over death and sin had been set in motion. There was no going back.

Jesus was not wrestling with God’s will, or resisting God’s will; he was yielding to God’s will. This is the victory we have received, and it was won through the prayer of Jesus.

An Invitation to Pray

Each time Jesus came back to the three disciples, he found them sleeping. In Matthew 26:40 we read, “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?”

What an indictment. Today, Jesus is interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. He is praying for us, and his words might still be, “Could you not watch with me one hour?”

But Jesus didn’t simply say, “could you not stay awake for one hour.” Notice verse 41, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation”. By allowing them to witness his agony as he submitted to the Father through prayer, he was teaching them a valuable lesson about prayer. And he was inviting them to follow his example.

When we struggle with temptation, there are several things we can do, but the most powerful thing that we can do is to pray. We can go before the Lord and ask for help in our time of weakness just as Jesus did in his.

What is Prayer, and Why Pray?

Some say prayer moves the heart of God. Some say prayer changes our heart and aligns our heart with God’s purposes. Some say prayer can make God change His mind.

We can discuss the theology and practice of prayer, but the bottom line is three simple words: Prayer Changes Things (see James 5:16b).

Not many people know how a microwave works, yet we all use one daily. It’s the same with prayer. We will never know this side of heaven how prayer really works, but it is powerful and effective.

Don’t stop praying, because you don’t know how it works or you don’t see results.

Jesus went back three times to pray. In verse 44, we read that Jesus “prayed the same words”. Jesus repeated his prayer.

If the Lord does not answer your prayer immediately, don’t give up; keep praying—even, repeating the same words. God doesn’t tire from hearing His children. Remember, He invites us to His throne of grace.

Before Pentecost, the people would have to go to a priest, and he would speak to God on their behalf. But everything changed when Jesus died. We read in Matthew 27: 50-51 that the veil in the temple was torn by God Himself.

The veil in the temple was a very thick piece of woven material, up to 6” thick, which separated the common man from the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s presence dwelled. This veil is what kept people out.

By tearing the veil, God was declaring that people could now enter into His presence. We can stand before God and present our requests to Him personally, covered by the righteousness of Christ. What an incredible privilege!

And yet, we don’t pray. If we are honest, we treat prayer as if it is an added extra rather than life and breath to our souls as we commune with our God.. 

Why Corporate Prayer?

Why is it important to pray together? The early church was all about corporate prayer (see Acts 2:42, Acts 12:12–17 and Acts 13:1–3).

Every significant move of God throughout history has been precipitated by focused, corporate prayer. There are many records of revivals as a result of prayer throughout the history of the church. There is power in corporate prayer.

Do not hear this as an obligation in which I am saying, “You ought to pray more.” Rather, hear it as an invitation. An invitation to spend time with the one who overcame death in order for us to be able to pray.

Jesus invited his disciples to come and pray with him, and he is still inviting us today. Will you join him?

Intimacy to Impact

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Don’t we all desire to live a life of eternal impact and to finish well for the glory of God?

Ultimately only God defines our impact; as a result, a life of impact for God must come out of a life of intimacy with God.

Sadly, so many people who start out well in life don’t finish well. So how do we finish life well?

The Apostle Peter writes this incredible statement in 2 Peter 1:3,

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

If you have given your life to the Lordship of Jesus, then you have everything you need to live a life of impact.

Why then do we frequently struggle with the same familiar sins? Why don’t we see perfect Christians?

When a baby is born, that baby has all the genetic material of a fully functioning adult, but it is still a baby. It has some growing to do. In the same way, when you were born again, God gave you His presence in the form of the Holy Spirit. You received all of the Holy Spirit, not a small portion, but you have some growing to do.

Just like a baby shares the nature and genetic structure of its parents, so too, as a born-again believer, you and I share the divine nature of our God.

The real reason why we don’t see growth and holiness in our lives as believers is not because God is not in us or has failed to give us what we need. Rather, it is because we hold on to our old sin nature. We refuse to put to death the things of the world. We forget who we are in Christ. It is not the amount of the Holy Spirit in us that is in question. It is how much of us the Holy Spirit controls. As we yield to the prompting and the leadership and lordship of the Spirit over our lives, we access everything God has already given us, and we will live a life of impact. A fruitful life.

How do we become partakers of this divine nature and live a fruitful life of eternal impact? By applying the promises of God that are found in His Word. This Bible is full of hundreds of promises for us to live this impactful life (see 2 Peter 1:4). As we learn to apply them to our lives, we grow and mature as believers.

Verse 5 then begins with a key statement, “for this reason…” Peter is saying: Because you are born again, partakers of the divine nature, this is how you are to live.  He lists seven characteristics, or attributes, that we as Christians must apply to our lives.

These attributes develop and grow in our lives as we grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, as we grow in our intimacy with him.

We must understand one important thing: we cannot do this in our own strength. We cannot change ourselves in these areas. Rather, as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, He transforms us. But we have a part to  play in this cooperation. That’s why Peter writes, “make every effort to supplement your faith with…”2 Peter 1:5.

God changes us as we submit to Him. It is a supernatural work of the grace of God.

Let’s look at each one briefly:

Virtue

Virtue relates to a person or anything in nature that fulfills its designed purpose. The calling and primary purpose of a Christian is to glorify God because we have God’s nature. 

True Christian virtue is not perfecting a set of human qualities; true virtue is the divine qualities that make us more Christ-like.

Knowledge

The Greek word here means knowledge that is growing. It is more than simply knowing things; it is discernment or practical knowledge. It is the ability to process what seems to be happening or what is being said and understand what is actually happening. This knowledge, this spiritual discernment, is only derived from the Holy Spirit.

Self-Control

This is more than simply controlling your emotions; it is being led by the Spirit of God to respond rightly (see Proverbs 16:32; Philippians 3:14).

Steadfastness

This is patience or perseverance, the ability to endure the pressures and the problems of life. It’s the ability to stand firm while all around you there is pressure to quit and go with the flow. This is something we have to embrace and grow in (see James 1:2-3). 

God allows these testing times to grow us and to produce in us a life that gives Him glory.

Godliness

Godliness means “godlikeness”. The Greek word means to “worship well”. To worship God is to value God above all things, putting God first in every decision of life.

Godliness is intensely practical because godliness, lived correctly, affects every decision you make.

Brotherly Affection

There is probably no single attribute that is more visible than this one. This is how we love each other in the church. It’s having sincere care and love for one another even in disagreements. This is sacrificially thinking of others first and putting  one another first (see Romans 12:10 and John 13:35).

Love

This is the supernatural love of God. The sacrificial love that took Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. The love that God shows to those who are not saved, drawing them into repentance. This supernatural love can also be translated as charity, sacrificially caring for one another.

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These seven characteristics are founded on faith, and the culmination of them is love (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Our effectiveness, our impact, is negated by a lack of love.

These seven attributes are crucial in our fruitfulness as believers (see 2 Peter 1:8). These characteristics of the Christian life will keep us from being ineffective and unfruitful. This is true Christian life impact.

There is a glorious promise attached to these Christian attributes. Verse 10 says that “You will never fall…”.

Remember, these character qualities already exist in us because we have the divine nature in us. The reason we often don’t see growth in these attributes is because we are holding on to familiar sins: pride, bitterness, unforgiveness, and the like. These all prevent us from living the life of impact that comes from intimacy with Christ.

But make them part of your life, by means of a developing intimacy with Christ, and you will finish well (See 2 Peter 1:11).

Do you want to live a life of impact?

Intimacy to Impact part 1

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Do you want more of God’s power in your life this year? More fruit, more holiness, more transformation?

The limiting factor is not God’s ability. Most times, our “ask” is too small. So, why do we find it so difficult to ask for big things from our Heavenly Father? 

I believe one of the reasons is lack of intimacy. We don’t trust our Heavenly Father because we don’t know Him. We have access to the throne room of God, but we wander around in the courtyard hoping to get some scraps. 

Our effectiveness as Christians is directly proportional to our relationship with the Lord. As we walk with God, we will have an impact in our community. 

God’s priority for our lives is that we know Him and glorify Him with our lives. Our intimacy with God determines the impact of our lives.

Jesus modeled intimacy with the Father. Then he took twelve men and built an intimate relationship with them before sending them out (see Mark 3:14).  

Fellowship with Jesus is essential if discipleship is to be effective. As believers, we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, enabling us to have a daily relationship with our Lord. The Holy Spirit is never unavailable or busy; we have free and instant access to the Spirit of Jesus. 

There are two aspects to intimacy with Jesus: 

1: Fellowship with Jesus

In his time on the earth, Jesus trained twelve men to go out and train others. He was equipping and sending them.  He started by building a close relationship with them. 

In our busy culture, we wrestle with this. In our minds, busyness equals effectiveness, but that is not the way of the Kingdom of God. Fellowship comes before effectiveness. 

Your effectiveness for God is based on your fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not based on your eloquence, training, finances, or title. 

No one is fit to serve God unless they have learned to fellowship with him. It might sound good to speak for Jesus, but if it is not coming from a place of intimacy, it will have no impact. 

It is essential for every believer to have a time set aside each day for the purpose of meditating on the Word of God and prayer. The greatest need in a Christian’s life is intimacy with Jesus. 

2: Fellowship with his church

Fellowship with Jesus is primary, but we also need to prioritize fellowship with one another, the Body of Christ. 

Jesus modeled this. It may seem strange to us, but Jesus needed relationships (see Luke 22:15). Jesus loved his disciples and demonstrated the importance and value of relationship in the body of Christ. 

Sadly, we don’t always value our church community. In fact, many people don’t see the need to gather. Gathering as the church is seen as a convenience or a social construct that is helpful—but only if it is convenient. 

So why don’t we make fellowship a priority? Because we don’t believe that intimacy leads to impact. 

For Jesus and the disciples, the purpose for fellowship was preparation for ministry as we read in Mark 3:14-15, “…and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons”. 

Jesus gave them authority and power from being in his presence. Many people want a shortcut to spiritual authority, but there is no such thing apart from intimacy with Jesus. God won’t give power to someone who by-passes the fellowship with Jesus. 

As we look at the state of Christianity in America today, why are churches dying? I believe it is because we have substituted activity for the one thing that is essential: being quiet before God (see Psalm 46:10 and Matthew 6:33). 

As we serve the Lord in our daily lives, we need His strength and power to accomplish what He calls us to do. However, often we just go ahead and do “things” because we have the natural ability to do them. That can lead to us being ineffective as followers of Jesus. 

We desperately need daily time with the Lord to live the life that He calls us to. You will never meet a person who is effective for God who doesn’t have daily time set aside with God. 

Walking with God must be fueled by being still before God. 

Sitting and being quiet is counter-intuitive, but it is the most effective thing we can do with our time. Everything in the human mind repels this; we feel that we need to do something!!

To the carnal man, sitting and listening is a waste of time. That is why our prayer meetings are so poorly attended. If we are brutally honest, the reason people don’t gather for prayer is that they don’t believe that it accomplishes anything. 

If we realized the power of prayer, our prayer meetings would be filled to capacity each week. But we have misdirected our priorities. 

In Luke 10 we read the account of Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha. Truthfully, we are more like Martha than Mary. We are so busy getting things done. We tell ourselves we will spend time with Jesus after we have all the projects done. But the fruit is irritation because we are doing all the work by our own strength and power, and perhaps not even the work he has called us to! 

If we put fellowship first, we will be less likely to get irritated in our service to others and to the Lord. 

When you get so active that you don’t have time to spend with Jesus, your problem is not your circumstances; it is your priorities. We were created to be in fellowship with Jesus. 

The more we know and love Jesus, the more effective our service will be. The closer we draw to God, the more impact our lives will have. 

At the beginning of the year, I want to challenge you to commit to prioritizing fellowship and intimacy with the Lord. 

Intimacy leads to impact.

What is of First Importance?

As I type this, I am sitting in a small cabin at Shalom retreat center near Mound City, KS. I try to begin the year with a time of prayer and fasting, asking the Lord for refreshing and His wisdom for the year ahead. This has been a particularly good time with the Lord, and I feel excited to jump into the new year. If only I can get home…the snow seems to have blocked all the surrounding roads.

As I was reflecting on what is the most important thing that the Lord wants us to focus on in 2024, I was reminded of two seemingly competing scriptures. Let me explain.

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked by a lawyer, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” To which Jesus responds, ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40.

We understand that this is the Great Commandment and as Jesus says, it is the most important law for us to obey. But in reading 1 Corinthians 15, Paul seems to have a different priority. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

Paul gives the most succinct declaration of the Gospel that we have in the Bible, and he says that it is, “of first importance.”

So, does Paul’s exhortation supersede Jesus’ teaching? Or is the Great Commandment the most important thing for believers?

Almost ten years ago now, the Lord gave our church at Grace Point a picture of four pillars on which the foundation of the church rests. Worship, Word, Mission, and Compassion. You may have seen the slightly faded prints behind the coffee station. If you haven’t already, take some time to read the scriptures and inscriptions below the pictures.

As I was reflecting on the four pillars, I realized that the instructions of Jesus and the letter of Paul are not competing, but rather complimentary.

To Worship is to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).

The Word of God is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

The Mission of the church is to proclaim the Gospel to the lost world around us, and this includes loving our neighbor and sharing what Paul declares is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

The Church is called to acts of Compassion, and we do this by obeying Jesus when he said,  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

As we enter into this New Year, many of us are making new year’s resolutions. We tend to spend time refocusing and committing to things that we value, things that are important to us. I want to challenge us all to prioritize our lives and our commitments around the things that the Bible teaches are of First Importance.

My prayer for this year is that we will grow together in love for God, love for our neighbor, and passion for the Gospel.

God With Us

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The waiting is over! It’s Christmas.

Two thousand years ago, the nation of Israel had been waiting for the Messiah for hundreds of years. The waiting was over, the Messiah was born.

Living in the church age we miss the significance of what it meant to wait for Jesus. For us it is a historical fact.  

But when Jesus did arrive, many people missed him. They missed his coming because they were expecting something grand and earth shaking. Yet the moment God took on flesh was almost anticlimactic, and the nation missed the significance of the incarnation, they missed the Messiah.

Mary was a young mother, poor and desperate. She was not a household name; people didn’t notice her and Joseph walking into Bethlehem that night. They were non-descript poor folk from out of town.

Jesus was born in a stable and placed in an animal feeding trough. The smell of urine and dung was heavy in the air. There was no midwife, no sterile surgery, nor any attendants. The Messiah was born.

The religious leaders of the day, if they were even looking for the birth of the Messiah, would have looked to palace courts and wealthy homes, people of renown, people who would be worthy of raising the Christ Child. But Jesus was born in poverty, the most humble of births.

He was one of us. The God who created the universe by speaking a word, is now one of us.

I want to look at four ways Jesus identified with us.

Born as one of us.

 Jesus was born vulnerable, weak, and dependent on his family (See Luke 2:6-7).

God’s presence in the flesh, presented as simply as a baby in a feeding trough. Raised by the most unlikely couple.

Mary and Joseph were humble, but they both responded to God the same way, when He promised His presence through this miraculous baby, they believed!

Jesus was born, the one called “Immanuel”, which means, “God with us” (See Matthew 1:23).

Jesus was born like us, vulnerable, weak, and dependent on his family. In his perfect humanity, he needed others to care for him. Just like us.

Lived as one of us.

Jesus lived as “God with us”, enjoying life’s pleasures and enduring life’s moments of boredom and pain. The Bible tells us that in Luke 2, that he was strong and filled with wisdom. He had the favor of God on him, and he loved to spend time in the temple questioning the teachers. But he also lived a normal life.

Jesus lived like us, enjoying life’s pleasures, he played games, got bored, and enjoyed a good meal (See Matthew 11:19).

He fasted, he stayed up all night praying and then he also slept when others couldn’t. He spent years learning a blue-collar trade and worked with his hands. He made friends and lost friends, just like us. In fact, Jesus was so normal, that his own family thought he was crazy when he began his ministry and began attracting crowds (See Mark 3:21). They didn’t know at that time; he was God in the flesh.

Suffered as one of us.

Jesus suffered as “God with us”, getting sick, growing tired, losing loved ones, and fighting temptations (See Hebrews 4:15).  Just like us.

Jesus experienced the heartbreak of betrayal. He felt the brokenness of this world and the limits of his own body. Just like us.

Jesus has empathy for us because he suffered like us in this world. He knows the pain and struggles of these earthly bodies. He is not aloof and distant from your suffering. He suffered like us.

Died as one of us.

Then Jesus did something you and I haven’t done. Something very human, but still very foreign to us, he died.

We all will die one day, but we haven’t yet. Jesus has experienced something universally human—but that we living humans haven’t gone through yet. Jesus died as “God with us” (See 1 Peter 3:18).

Because Jesus died and rose again, we can approach our own death with confidence that death is not the end (See 1 Corinthians 15:19–21).

Jesus experienced the full weight of the curse, the loneliness and horror of death, so that we would be able to approach death knowing we are not alone.

Joining Jesus in his death, we will also join him in his resurrection life. Jesus became like us so that we could become like him— alive forever.

Christmas, the birth of Jesus is way more than significant than a baby being born, it is the reality of God himself, becoming like one of us to identify with us, to live, suffer and die as we do, so that we could know that He is real.

There are millions of people who go to church every year, who are attracted to the idea of Jesus, but miss out on the reality of the person Jesus. Do you know the reality of Jesus, the person who lived and died for you?

For everyone of us, we need to have the moment when we are drawn by the holy spirit into the reality of Jesus.

You see, we as church goers and good Christians can get so tied up with the idea of Jesus and the rote spiritual disciplines, all of which are good, but we can connect with the idea of Jesus and never really grow in relationship with Jesus.

You cannot have joy in a relationship with the idea of a person, you need to know the reality of the person (See John 15:11).

No other religion has a god who came down and humbled himself to invite us into a relationship that is life giving and full of Joy.

Every other religion is a series of steps to attain to, to become like their god or to seek approval from a deity. Only the one true God has become like us, to save us.

Are you one of His children?

Waiting on God

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Do you like waiting?

Waiting can often be painful, in fact, some of the greatest pain we face in life is because we are waiting. Waiting for dreams to be fulfilled, waiting for God to break through and answer our prayers.

But God is never in a rush, He is always on time, and we struggle with that.

Maybe you are in a season of waiting, and it seems that God is not hearing your cry.  

Before the birth of Jesus, Israel was waiting. They had been promised a messiah, who would redeem them and set them free. There had been so many prophesies about a messiah who would establish a new kingdom, and they were waiting.  

But as hopeless as the situation was, God was at work. God was orchestrating all human history to this one pivotal moment in time (see Galatians 4:4).

Zechariah and Elizabeth were also waiting, waiting for God to bless them with a child, a hope that they had given up on. There is so much in the account of Zechariah and Elizabeth that reminds us of Abraham and Sarah, almost 1800 years earlier. They were both old and beyond childbearing age, they both had angelic visitations and they were both promised a son who would fulfill the promises of God.  

Zechariah and Elizabeth righteous and devout people, blameless before God (see Luke 1:6), and yet they had no children. They had an unfulfilled dream; they were carrying pain. The Bible makes it clear that their pain was not because of some sin they had committed.

Many of us can identify with that kind of pain. Dreams of childless parents, yearning for a child. Dreams of being married when the years seem to be rushing by. Dreams of health when the chronic illness seems to linger on. The temptation is to think that maybe you did something wrong, maybe you disappointed God, maybe you missed what God had planned for you.

Sometimes our pain can be as a result of sin, but often it is not.  So, we stand before God, waiting, sometimes with feelings of bitterness (God, what have you done?), guilt (God, what have I done?), or both. Waiting on God’s presence, we find it hard to hope for good news.

Mostly, our struggle is because we have an expectation in mind, a timeline that we expect God to move in. But God works for His glory, and the greater the miracle, the more God gets the praise.  

Zechariah and Elizabeth were waiting, the nation was waiting. While they were waiting, they continued to be faithful (see Luke 1:10). Even a multitude of people outside the temple were waiting, expectant for God to move in power for them. Zachariah was faithful and even after all the years of silence from God, he was still burning the incense and obeying the law.

As we know, God heard their prayers and at the appointed time, the Savior, the light of the world was revealed, and their hope was fulfilled.

God sent the angel Gabriel, to announce the birth of John the Baptist, the one who would prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah. Finally, the four hundred years of silence was over, God has spoken!

But even with the incredible visitation of Gabriel, Zechariah didn’t believe (see Luke 1:19). In spite of this declaration and display of heavenly presence, Zechariah doubts. He explains to Gabriel that he is simply too old to be a father.

We must remember that Zechariah was a priest, and he would have taught the scriptures telling the account of Abraham and Sarah who were blessed with Isaac, even when Sarah was ninety years old. He knew the history, he believed God could do it, but he didn’t believe it for himself.

This is something we all struggle with. When we hear an amazing testimony of God answering prayer for someone, we doubt that God could do that for me.

There is a difference between knowing God’s promise intellectually and waiting on God’s promise personally.

God delivered on His promise and Elizabeth conceived. Her shame and decades of reproach were removed (See Luke 1:25).

But this was no ordinary child. This was to be John the Baptist, the one prophesied in Isaiah 40:3. And later Jesus would say that John was the greatest man ever born (See Matthew 11:11).

Not only was the promise fulfilled, but it was also way more significant that Zechariah or Elizabeth could have imagined. The waiting was over, the promise was about to be fulfilled.

What are you waiting for from God today?

Does it seem that God is taking too long? Maybe you feel that He is not hearing your cry?

“Be assured that if God waits longer than you could wish. It is only to make the blessing doubly precious. God waited four thousand years, till the fullness of time, ere he sent His son. Our times are in His hands; He will make haste for our help speedily; He will make haste for our help, and not delay one hour too long”. Andrew Murray

God is never late in fulfilling His promises.

Is there an area in your life where you feel “barren,” failing to live up to your own (or someone else’s) expectations?

Why don’t you take that pain to the Lord today, wait on His perfect timing and trust Him for the outcome.

Salvation for Sinners and Sufferers

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As we celebrate this Christmas season, we celebrate our savior who took on flesh to free us from sin. But more than freeing us from the bonds of sin, Jesus also came to bring healing and restoration. Healing for the sick, the broken hearted, and the abused.

God sent His son to provide a way for sinners to be forgiven and for those who have been sinned against to be healed.

During our lives, we find that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and at times we need Jesus to heal our brokenness because of sin.

Have you ever considered that the salvation that Jesus offers is wholeness? Eternal life is glorious and starts when you give your life to Jesus, but there is more that Jesus offers, wholeness, healing, and restoration.

The account of king David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is a story of brokenness and pain because of sin. David tries to cover up his sin and he has Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle. Once Uriah is killed, David takes Bathsheba into his palace as one of his wives (2 Samuel 11:26-27).

David, one of the most celebrated heroes in the Bible, the second king of Israel, a war hero, and author of most of the Psalms, sins terribly.

As the account continues in 2 Samuel 12, we see that the prophet Nathan confronts David about his sin. Showing him that what he thought was hidden, was not hidden from God. David’s repentance is immediate, and it is proposed that the great repentance Psalm, Psalm 51 is penned as David cries out to God for forgiveness.

In response, Nathan declares that God has forgiven him and he will not die, but there will be terrible consequences for his sin. Multiple children died and a long list of pain and suffering followed David’s “private sin”. David realizes that his sin is a personal afront to God and he humbles himself in repentance.

The truth is that there are no secret sins and all sins lead to suffering. There are no private or hidden sins. Even if no-one knows about it, God sees, and it affects the body of Christ. The sins that we commit during the week, even if we think they are concealed, affect the entire church family.

As we gather to pursue the presence of God on a Sunday morning, we must come prepared and expectant. If we come in haphazardly or without any thought that we are gathering as the body of Christ to come and worship the Great I AM, not only will we miss out on a blessing, but we will impact the engagement of the church family.

Let us prepare our hearts and minds. Spend time on a Sunday morning in prayer and repentance, with the expectation that we will encounter the living God.

I guess the question is, how seriously do we take the privilege we have of gathering in God’s presence. How grateful are we for the truth of this season? Emmanuel, God with us!

David repents of his sins, and he is forgiven, but what about Bathsheba?

David needed forgiveness. Bathsheba was sinned against; her life was turned upside down. Her husband was killed, and she was taken against her will into the king’s palace as one of his wives. She experienced incredible trauma, and she needed healing.

The salvation that Jesus offers, not only offers forgiveness, but it also offers healing. Jesus came to bring healing and restoration. Healing for the sick, the broken hearted, and the abused.

God sent His son to provide a way for sinners to be forgiven and for those who have been sinned against to be healed. The Gospel is for sinners and sufferers alike.

The apostle Paul used the Greek word, “sozo” 29 times in the New Testament to define salvation. Like most Greek words, it has multiple deeper meanings, and it includes, salvation, saved, to be made well, cured, recover, and restored. “Sozo”, means wholeness.

When we hear the word salvation, we primarily think of forgiveness, but the Gospel also deals with the problem of suffering and restoring to wholeness.

The wholeness of salvation can be hard to measure. When we look at broken items, it is easy to see if they are repaired, put back together. Like a car that was in a wreck or a broken chair that is repaired. But wholeness in a person is much more difficult to measure.

The beauty of Christmas is that Jesus came as a baby, to live a perfect sinless life, he suffered a cruel death on a Roman cross as the spotless sacrifice for our sins, to pay the price that we could never pay. This same Jesus rose from the dead on the 3rd day and now is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, praying for us, interceding for us. Jesus paid the price for us to be reconciled with God and to be made whole. Physical and spiritual wholeness is available to us because of what Jesus has done for us.

When Jesus walked the earth, he experienced suffering, rejection, abuse, and pain. He identifies with our pain when we are called to endure suffering at the hands of others. He is not removed from pain. By identifying with pain, he provided a way for healing. He provides healing for brokenness, for the pain of Bathsheba and for you and me.

What are you dealing with that needs the power of the Gospel to heal today?

We are a People of Hope

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Do you remember a time in your life when God felt distant. A season when you were tempted to wonder if God was even concerned about the things that you were struggling with. Maybe you are there right now.

The Bible frequently deals with the theme of God’s perceived absence. Many times, in the Bible, people wondered if God’s promises to them were still valid. Perhaps God had forgotten them.   

The beauty of the biblical narrative is that the Bible not only acknowledges this soul ache, it also provides an answer. Christmas is one of God’s clearest reminders that He intends to come and live with us. Christmas, the incarnation, is a reminder of God with us, the ultimate longing fulfilled.

Abraham was given an incredible promise by God. Abraham was to have a son and he would be the father of a nation that would bless all the nations of the world (Genesis 12:1-3).  God visited Abraham at least four times and reiterated this promise and Abraham believed God (Genesis 15:6).

But the fruition of the promise took years and even decades. As the years ticked by, doubt may have begun to set in, had God forgotten His promise?

Many of us have felt the same way, when we have received a promise from God, or we have been praying for a miracle, but it seemed that maybe God has forgotten us.

Abraham and Sarah were keenly aware of their age and what seemed to be impossible, could God really deliver on His promise? Had He forgotten them?

Finally, when Abraham was almost 100 years old and Sarah was over 90 years old, God blessed them with a miraculous baby boy, and they named him Isaac. God fulfilled His promise and the family line that would lead to Jesus coming as the Messiah had begun.

Isaac was not only a joy for Abraham and Sarah, he was an integral part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world through Jesus who would be born 2000 years later as a fulfillment of many promises.  When God answers our prayers, we thank the Lord for the blessing, but we don’t always see the greater implications of God’s provision. When God blesses us, it is with a plan to bless others as well through that blessing.

When our daughter was born and miraculously given to us, we rightly thought that she was a blessing to our family, but little did we know how much of a blessing she would be to so many other people. God’s blessings are not for us to keep and hold on to, but they are to be given back to the Lord for His purposes so that others can be blessed.

Isaac, the son of the promise was dedicated to God, and through Isaac God would bless the whole earth. Generations later, through another miraculous son in this line, God would keep another promise. That child, Jesus Christ, would forever and finally prove that however slow God seems, his “slowness” is not a sign of his absence (2 Peter 3:9).

God is not slow; He is patient, and His timing is always perfect. That distinction gives us the ability to be patient too, waiting on him to fulfill his promises.

Sometimes, God will act immediately in answer to our prayers, healing an illness, reconciling a broken relationship, or ending an addiction as an example. But on many occasions, God may ask us to wait. Some people are called to carry the cross of pain and heartache for much longer than they anticipated.  

Either way, do we trust God for the outcome? Do we praise God in the waiting and the hoping? If we don’t walk in hope and trust in God, the waiting will discourage us, eating at us, destroying us if we lose hope.

The first candle of the Advent wreath is the hope candle. As we focus on the birth of Jesus in this season, we can look back and see hundreds of promises that God has fulfilled. And we can look forward with assurance, that God will fulfill His promises in the future in His perfect timing. We are a people of hope (Ephesians 2:12-13). And as His children, we have the promise of eternal life with Christ, a promise that is secure by the word of God.

But what about today?

This Advent, do you feel like God is moving too slowly, or not moving at all? Maybe you are in a season where God feels distant, He seems far off, and you wonder if God has heard your prayers. Does God really see you?

The promises of God’s word inform us that He does see you. If you have given submitted your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, He is intimately involved in working out the perfect plans that He has for your life.  

And as we trust and wait, we must avoid trying to do what only God can do. Our natural tendency is to run ahead of God and not trust Him in the waiting.

We are a people of hope, and we can trust in the immeasurable power and love of God over our lives.

Be Thankful in all Circumstances

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Several years ago, I read a book that really challenged me regarding experiencing joy in life. According to the author, Andy Andrews, a grateful spirit is a powerful deterrent against self-pity, writing, “the seeds of depression cannot take root in a grateful heart.”

Often, we find ourselves complaining about seemingly mundane aspects of life when we should really be grateful. For instance, instead of complaining about a sink piled high with dishes, we should be thankful for the shared meal with dear friends. Likewise, household chores and the physical strain of a hard day’s work should be seen as reasons for gratitude, acknowledging the privilege of having a home and the ability to work.

When we really think about it, we have much to be thankful for.

This past summer we were able to go to South Africa. And once again I was challenged by the children. I have been to some of the poorest places in the world. Despite having nothing, the children in these places radiate unparalleled joy. It is humbling to see the depth of true joy and gratefulness.

In our society today, thanksgiving is treated as an interfaith holiday or perhaps even a faith-optional holiday. But looking back to the pages of History, we know that the original thanksgiving celebration was dedicated to thanking God for his provision and protection.

Thanksgiving is all about God, and recognizing who he is and all the blessings he has freely given us (see James 1:17)

“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank”.

Dante Rossetti.

Psalm 105 begins with the line, “O Give thanks to the Lord…”

But true gratitude is more than simply thankfulness, it is acknowledging and praising God for His attributes. The Psalmist is not simply thankful for the blessings, he is thankful for the attributes of the Giver Himself. Spending time thanking God should always lead to worship.

Not only does thanksgiving lead to worship, it also leads to making the works of the Lord known as we read in the second parts of verse 1 and 2. If we are thankful to God for what He has done for us, we will be compelled to share the Good news of salvation with those around us. A heart for missions is driven by a heart of gratitude.

Verses 3 and 4 emphasize that thanksgiving will lead to worship and declaring the attributes of God. We as His children can become so wrapped up in what we need from God and we become so focused on the mighty hand of God that we seldom seek the face of God. James 4:3 is a clear reminder that we need to check our motives before coming to God in prayer.

As we seek the face of God, we see his attributes. To be truly thankful, we need to meditate on the nature and character of God.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to remember what the hand of God has provided for us and in so doing we begin to praise him and declare his attributes.

God has made a way through the death and resurrection of Jesus for us to know Him. To have a close relationship with Him. The Psalmist encourages us to seek the Lord.

The Psalm continues in verse 5, with a call to remember the works of God. This is not simply remembering the facts of what happened, but it is a call to meditate on the wonders that God has done. The Psalmist is saying to the people, slow down, stop what you are doing and hit the pause button and dwell on what God has done.

Then in verse 6 the Psalmist reminds the people of their identity, as the chosen people of God. And we are included in this reminder. We as followers of Jesus Christ, sometimes forget who’s we are. We have so much to be thankful for because the creator of the universe calls us his own special possession (see 1 Peter 2:9).  

Everything that we have on this earth, all the many material blessings will one day pass away. Only one blessing from God is infinitely more valuable than any other, the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to suffer and die on the cross, in order that whoever believes in the risen Lord Jesus Christ will have eternal life. That is something we are grateful for today.

But what if you are suffering today? You might be enduring financial, emotional or physical trials.  How do we live with thanksgiving through hardship?

George Matheson was a well-known Scottish preacher in the mid to late 1800’s. He suffered terribly from poor eyesight and eventually total blindness at a young age. He once wrote the following in response to his suffering. “My God, I have never thanked thee for my thorn. I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.”

What thorn do you have in your life today?

To thank God for the thorn takes faith and an eternal perspective. He is making a rainbow out of your tears.

If we as believers are grateful for the suffering Jesus endured on the cross, then we must pray that we would be grateful for the suffering that God allows in our lives, that brings the beauty of the cross to those who watch us endure with thanksgiving.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18