December 24, 2017

December 24, 2017


Focus Verse: See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
1 John 3:1


What a perfect passage for Christmas Eve! As we prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, what better than to look at the love that compelled Jesus to come to earth in the first place! My favorite part about this verse is that, if you read the context around it, it comes out of nowhere. You can almost sense the fact that John is just overcome with this incredible feeling of being loved by his Father in heaven and explodes with this outburst of unquenchable joy.


Let me ask you a question before you head off to your Christmas Eve parties and eat way too much food: do you have that kind of joy? Have you had any moments recently where the love of the Father just takes you out? You’re cruising along and then out of nowhere it just smacks you right upside the head and you find yourself smiling from ear to ear. If you haven’t, why not?


Look at this here. YOU are a child of God! He loves you so much, He didn’t just save you and barely let you in. He saved you, and even though there is no redeeming quality in you, nothing you possess that you could possibly give to God, He has called you His child. Not a servant, not a slave, not a friend. He has given you the kind of access to Himself that only a child gets with his or her Father.


Do you see the implications of this? Once you do, there is nothing that can keep this joy from exploding out of you.


So this Christmas season, remember that you are a child of God. He loves you so very much that He gave up heaven, came down to earth, took on flesh and allowed Himself to be crucified just so He wouldn’t have to live without you. What AMAZING love!


December 23, 2017

December 23, 2017


Focus Verse: But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless
2 Peter 3:13-14


What a promise! After all of the pain, the suffering, the just downright crummy things that happen on this earth, we get this promise of a new heaven and a new earth; one in which righteousness literally dwells. No more corruption. No more injustice. No more inequality. But pure righteousness and peace and love from the One who perfectly embodies all of those qualities.


So we look to the sky and wait for that perfect day. Eyes glazed over; starry eyed if you will.


NO! That’s not what we do at all! Look at what Peter writes here in verse 14: “since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless…” We don’t live out our lives staring up into the heavens waiting for Jesus to come back. We start living that way NOW!


Too many of us are waiting for heaven to get here so that injustice will end and peace will reign, but we do nothing to attempt to get that to happen today. We let the enormity of the problem keep us sitting on our hands and do nothing to fix it. STOP!


I read this quote in a Mark Batterson book once and it rocked me to my core (and forgive me, I’m going to have to do my best to paraphrase because I can’t remember it word for word or which book it came from), we need to stop living this life as if the purpose of it is to arrive safely at death. Get off of your couch and DO SOMETHING! What are you longing for in heaven? Is it the end of injustice that gets you really excited about the next life? Then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT NOW! Is it that God’s presence will be all around you in glory? DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT NOW!


We Christ-followers need to live this life as a window into the next. We need to start showing people what the new heaven and new earth will be like. Unfortunately, if the world were to look through some of our windows, I’m afraid the picture they would see would look more like hell than heaven.


“Well my life is just extremely chaotic right now.” or “You don’t understand, I can’t control the pain and suffering this person is inflicting on me…I’m a victim of my situation.” Then you really need to go back to 1 Peter and figure out how to suffer well so that Christ is glorified. I am always so hesitant to write on stuff like this because I don’t want anyone to think that I’m not being sympathetic. I know that suffering is hard, and your suffering might be far worse than I could ever relate to…but I’m not the one you need to relate to, Jesus is!


Suffering can actually provide an even bigger window into what it looks like to live for the next world than coasting through the easy parts of life. Anyone can look good and Christ-like when things are going well. It’s when things are falling apart at the seams that our true colors show. It’s in those moments that we provide the largest window for others into what the new heavens and new earth will be like. It’s in those moments we show where our hope truly lies.


So look at what your life is communicating to those around you. Are you living to arrive safely at death or are you living to show others a window into what the new heavens and new earth will be like? A place where righteousness and peace and love make their home.

December 22, 2017

December 22, 2017


Focus Verse: but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
1 Peter 3:15-16


If there is one thing that Peter was really trying to get across in his first letter to the church, it was that we can expect to suffer if we follow Jesus. This is just one of many times in which Peter reminds us that we are called to live in such a way that those who would slander us or persecute us would be put to shame.


But let’s be honest, this is impossible! How in the world are we supposed to get walked all over and smile about it? Surely being a Christian doesn’t mean that I need to become a doormat for people to walk all over! Or does it? I used to believe that. That I could be a Christian and stand up for myself. And I need to first say that I don’t think it’s wrong to stand up for yourself. But I think before you do, you need to ask God what He wants you to do in the situation.


I’ve had very cool situations in my life in which God has told me not to defend myself. To let people slander me and drag my reputation through the mud and HE would be my defender. And you know what? He did! And I would have completely missed out on that if I had defended myself. But this is something that He has to tell you.


How do we do this though? How do we suffer well so that Christ is glorified? I think the answer to this is in the first part of today’s focus verses. We have to sanctify, or set apart, Christ as Lord in our hearts. There is no way we can stand up to suffering in this life if we have anything or anyone other than Christ as lord in our hearts. I’ve been talking about this a lot lately (because God’s been talking to me about this a lot lately), but suffering has a way of toppling the idols that we’ve placed too high in our hearts.


That’s one of the enormous benefits to suffering. I know that sounds pretty harsh, but there really is no quicker way to find out what is coming closest to rivaling God in your life than to go through suffering and loss. But when Christ is set apart as the single Lord of your heart, you find out just as quickly that there is nothing that suffering can touch.


How do you suffer well so that Christ is glorified through your suffering? You make Him Lord of your heart so that suffering doesn’t even bother you. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be emotionally affected by suffering…maybe even more so after you become a Christian than you were before. When you are born again in Christ, your heart is softened toward others. I actually makes you hurt and cry more because Christ softens your heart. But at the same time, while suffering draws an emotional response, it can’t possibly touch your eternal reality. You will mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep, but you’ll also have unshakable joy in the midst of the greatest pain you could imagine.


This only comes when Christ is sanctified as Lord of your heart though. So, be brutally honest with yourself (or ask the Holy Spirit to be brutally honest with you), who is Lord of your heart? Is Christ completely set apart or are there rivals who are getting dangerously close to knocking around the throne in your heart that belongs to Him? Ask the Holy Spirit to point these rivals out, and then USE your suffering to burn off the extra junk that God doesn’t want to be hanging around.


Don’t waste your suffering; let God use it for HIS purpose!

December 21, 2017

December 21, 2017


Focus Verse: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
James 4:7-10


I am quite a fan when I hear someone quote this scripture. It’s EXTREMELY RARE that they quote it in its entirety. Most of the time they cut off verse 8 early and end with ”Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…”. But those ellipses tell a whole different story. To understand why I think it’s vital that we look at what James is talking about here.


A few verses before this, in the very beginning of chapter 4, James poses the question, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” He proceeds to tell us that the reason we are so busy fighting is because of our self-centered, pride and ego driven, sinful nature. So these verses here are the answer to the question of how to squash this source. That’s also the reason why these verses that are so often ignored are so necessary to connect all of the dots.


It’s a very hard thing to destroy self-centeredness. Our pride is a natural part of this flesh, but it is the absolute enemy to the Spirit. To destroy it, we really need to anchor ourselves down deep into the Gospel. We need to submit to God and draw near to Him. Now we can conjure up warm fuzzies when we talk about this verse, that when we draw near to God and He will draw near to us, but there’s a reason that James doesn’t stop there. We stop there, because there aren’t any warm fuzzies on the road James leads us down after that, but he does that very deliberately.


If we are drawing near to God and He is drawing near to us, it is absolutely a beautiful thing. It is the most wonderful thing in the world. But James would be irresponsible, and so would any other pastor, preacher or teacher, if he didn’t tell you what was coming next. God loves you so much, and the amazing thing about God is that He loves you right where you are in your sin. But He loves you far too much to leave you there. He loves you, but He hates your pride. Because He knows what your pride will do to you. Jesus Christ came to this earth to make you beautiful, and He knows that pride is seeking to do the exact opposite. Give yourself to Jesus, and He will turn the monster that sin has made you, into a beauty. Give yourself over to pride, and it will turn that monster that sin has made you into something even worse.


God knows what pride turns us into. He watched pride turn His most beautiful angel, Satan, into the most twisted and disgusting creature. And pride will do the same to you. That’s why God needs to obliterate it from our lives. And to do that, the rest of James 4:8-9 is absolutely necessary. We have to go through a very painful process of dying to ourselves. Anyone who has ever walked it before knows how painful it can be. It’s not a devaluing; it’s quite the opposite actually. But it is most assuredly a de-centering. God has to come in and remove us from the throne that belongs to Him. And depending on how big we’ve let our pride become, this can be a painful fall.


I was in the habit of praying to God from my knees every morning. It was a physical act that reminded me to keep myself humble before the Lord. Fairly recently, I realized that I had gotten away from this habit and needed to get back to it. That next morning I woke up, hit my knees first thing, prayed that God would take His rightful seat over my life, right in the very center, and then went through my Bible reading and prayer. It was a little scary, because from that small act of hitting my knees, I was exhausted! A friend of mine had decided to do the same thing that morning and he sent me a text to tell me that he was experiencing the same thing.


I think sometimes we can let our pride get so big that it takes an enormous effort to get it back where it belongs…on the curb! Our self makes its way into the center, we start feeling sorry for ourselves or that we deserve this or that, and suddenly God is no longer on the throne in the center of our lives that belongs to Him (let’s be clear which throne we are talking about here…God is ALWAYS on His throne over all of creation, but we have a tendency to remove Him from the throne at the center of our lives and put ourselves there instead).


Humbling yourself before God has to become a daily habit. Our “self” is far too powerful, and far too dangerous, to even give an inch. But the great part about this is that when you humble yourself, God will lift you up. That’s why this isn’t a devaluing teaching. In fact, no other teaching will add MORE value to YOU than this. Because your worth isn’t coming from you, it’s coming for the Creator of the heavens and the earth. It’s not coming from your spouse or your job or society, it’s coming from the Lord of lords and King of kings. The ONE of ULTIMATE worth says that YOU are worth it.


But He can only do this if you humble yourself. So which will it be: do you want to keep trying to convince yourself that you’re pretty hot stuff? Or do you want to give up that throne in the center of your life to the Savior of ultimate worth, humble yourself, and let HIM tell you how much you’re really worth?

December 20, 2017

December 20, 2017


Focus Verse: All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
Hebrews 11:13-16


Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the “Hall of Faith”…get it…it’s like the Hall of Fame but for faith. And that’s exactly what it is. So today, I want to talk about an aspect of faith that makes you worthy of the “Hall of Faith”. I’ll warn you though, it’s not very fun.


One of the greatest accomplishments in the world of faith is believing in the promises of God that you will never get to see. For any of you who have wrecked a car that you are still paying off, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re making all of the payments on something that you will never possess. But that’s exactly what these men in Hebrews 11 did. Look at Abraham, look at Jacob, look at Moses. They were all promised the Promised Land, but none of them had the opportunity to possess it. Moses may have had it worst of all; he got to see it, but was told he wasn’t allowed to enter it. But they still believed.


We talked about something very similar to this a few days ago when we talked about the prayers that God answers “no”. It can be extremely hard to deal with as believers. This is the same concept. Very few people enjoy putting blood, sweat, and tears into something that they will never get to possess…especially not here in America where we “earn and deserve everything we have” (please feel free to read some slight sarcasm into the quotes). But the greatest faith is doing exactly that.


The giants of faith pour themselves out for a deferred glory. They are athletes who train and train and train, practice and practice and practice, they eat right, they get enough sleep, and then when the Super Bowl comes, they don’t even play in the game. They step aside and let someone else reap all of their hard work.


But they do this with a hope. They do this with a hope in something far greater than any championship this world could ever offer. They do this with the full knowledge that the “Promised Land” here on earth is just a shadow of the Promised Land they will inherit for eternity.


This hope is the only way that you could ever pour yourself out only to watch others cash in on your promises. But the promises that come to us while we are here on this earth will all fade away. The giants of faith, however, are cashing in on their promises in a land where they will never lose what they’ve stored up.


So where are your promises stored? Here on earth or with God in eternity? Which ones are you living for?

December 20, 2017

December 19, 2017


Focus Verse: But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.
Hebrews 7:7


I got caught off guard by this verse this year. It can be a little easy to gloss right over it in this incredible chapter on Melchizedek’s priesthood in comparison to Christ’s, but God pulled it right off the page and hit me with some incredible truth this morning, so I will hit you with the same!


I should explain first, what God spoke to me is not a straight interpretation of this verse in it’s context, so, to be responsible to the text, let me give the context and meaning, and then tell you what God spoke to me so there is no confusion.


In this chapter, the writer of Hebrews is comparing the roles of Jesus and the mysterious Melchizedek figure we see in Genesis 14. Melchizedek was the king of Salem and a priest of the most high God. This kind of comes out of nowhere since we don’t see any other priestly line coming from the order of Melchizedek (except for the one mentioned by the writer of Hebrews in this chapter, that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek) and the Bible never really follows up on what happens with Melchizedek. We won’t chase any of those rabbit trails today though.


Whatever the role of Melchizedek was or where he came from, we do know this, Melchizedek blesses Abraham and Abraham, in turn, gives Melchizedek a tenth of all he has. This tithe is only seen in the Bible when giving to the priest of the Lord (whom the Lord would establish through the tribe of Levi) and this establishes our tithing system of giving to the church.


So in Hebrews 7:7 here, the writer is drawing attention to the elevated position of Melchizedek. Even though we don’t know much about him or how he came to be a priest of the Lord, we do know that he was highly esteemed and great enough to pour out his blessing on the father of all the Nations, Abraham.


But God brought something else to my attention through this verse this morning, and I think it fits really well with what we have been talking about a lot lately. Do you want to be great? Then be a blessing to others. Jesus teaches the same thing when He says, “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). So do you want to be great in God’s Kingdom? Then be a blessing to others. Pour out your blessings on others.


Unlike Abraham and Melchizedek, we are all on equal ground now. At one time, under the old covenant, there was a hierarchy in who could come before God. Certain people were holier than others. Not so anymore though! We all have equal access to the Father through the Son, and we all have the same Holy Spirit living inside of us, empowering us to carry out His will. So now you get to be the greatest! But you don’t do it by hoarding His gifts and His presence. You do it by pouring them out, by being a blessing and blessing others around you!


Go be a blessing to someone today!

December 18, 2017

December 18, 2017


Focus Verse: In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,
Hebrews 5:7-9


There’s a pretty common misconception in Christianity that when God doesn’t answer our prayers, He doesn’t hear us. I don’t know that this is a theology problem as much as it is a feeling issue. I think that deep down, all Christians “know” the answer to this complication, but we don’t always feel like it. When God doesn’t answer our requests, especially the ones that we feel are noble, we feel a little bit like He has forgotten about us.


But God hears every prayer we pray and He answers every single one. How do we know this? Look right here at Hebrews 5:7. God heard the prayers of Jesus. For those of us who have put our faith in Christ, this is great news! The writer of Hebrews tells us that God heard the prayers, supplications, loud crying and tears of Jesus because of His piety – His holiness. The good news for us is that His holiness and piety have been transferred to us because of what Jesus did on the cross! So we are now able to be heard by God just as perfectly as Jesus was!


But here’s where we get into some unpopular waters. Sure, it would be lovely to leave you right here with this warm fuzzy feeling. But it would be irresponsible and I’m afraid there are far too many people who preach this kind of irresponsible Gospel. It’s only half of the truth. The one side is completely true. Because of what Jesus paid, we can come boldly before the throne of God and ask Him for whatever we want with full assurance that He hears us. Our sins no longer shut off His ears to our pleas.


In no way, shape, or form does this mean that He will answer “yes” to anything that He hears from you. We don’t like this because it stings. We don’t like this because it rubs our prosperity Gospel raw. God is not a genie in a bottle and you don’t get to stomp your foot when you don’t get your way.


But there is hope. And the reason for this hope can be found right here in today’s passage. God’s answer was “no” to Jesus’ most heartfelt plea. His most passionate, tear-filled cry to God, found in the Garden of Gethsemane, was shot down. But look at what it led to. Jesus asked to be delivered from the cross and God said no. To take it straight from the horse’s (or Hebrews’) mouth, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” The cross led to perfect obedience. The cross led to the ultimate example for us. But ultimately, the cross led to something far greater: “And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”


What did God’s ‘no’ to Jesus mean for us? ETERNAL SALVATION! And if He can work the most incredible miracle that has ever been written, the forgiveness of sins and the victory over death and hell, through that single no, just think of what incredible story He will be able to tell through His no to your request.


God doesn’t answer no because He is mad at you. He doesn’t answer no because He has forgotten about you or doesn’t see your pain. He answers no because He has a better way. He has something greater for you. And you don’t have to take my word for it, because it’s a promise that He has made in HIS WORD! So take His Word! He will make this current “no” into a glorious future!