Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3: 12)
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 4-5)
For a moment, engage in a little fantasy with me that your long-lost wealthy aunt had passed away. You knew that she had died, but what you didn’t realize is that she had left it all to you. The will had been read. All was legally signed and sealed. However, you never stepped forward to claim your inheritance. Either you didn’t recognize what had happened, or you just thought that if is seemed to good to be true, it probably was. Either way, you were living below the standard that could have been yours. Your life could have been very different, had you only grasped it and stepped up and possessed what was you’d inherited from dear departed old Aunt Bertha.
That’s a silly example of the plight of way too many Christians. Jesus Christ went to the cross, paid it all, was resurrected on the third day, ascended into heaven, completed the transaction on the eternal mercy seat, and then handed all He is to us. The inheritance for which He provided is astounding. A few of the terms of that will and testament were prophesied by Isaiah: comfort for griefs and sorrows, forgiveness for the sin condition, help for even your unique habitual tendencies for sin (iniquities), peace no matter what, and physical healing.
I challenge you to go back and ponder the terms of the blood covenant God made with Abraham, which included all of those benefits and more. The scripture says that the New Covenant is even better! Not only did Jesus pay with excruciating suffering and His very life so that you and I might have all the ingredients of the abundant life, He Himself now lives inside every born-again believer! His Spirit is the guarantee of all that He left to you, and it’s yours for the possessing.
Sadly, it’s entirely possible to fail to understand and take hold of what Christ took hold of for you. Don’t let that happen. Study His Word until it sinks deeply into your heart what He has given you. Completely surrender yourself to Him, and allow the Holy Spirit to control and fill your life to overflowing. Recognize the dunamis power in the Name of Jesus, which you’ve been given the authority to use.
Understand that when Jesus “cut covenant” with you, He exchanged all that you are for all that He is. Whatever you’re not, He is. Whatever you need, He is. Christ in you is your Hope. He is the life you’ve longed to have. In Him is the land of abundance of spirit, soul, and body, just waiting for your choice to possess it. Will you?
Oh, Jesus, I want to fully understand and possess all for which You paid so dearly. I don’t want to miss a single thing You’ve provided in my inheritance. I want to walk daily in Your Spirit and to fully live the abundant life You intend for me. Open my eyes, Lord, and prepare my heart to be astounded!
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”He called a little child to Him, and placed the child among them. And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in My Name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in Me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18: 1-6)
What does it mean to be “a great Christian?” Many would answer, “Pray. Read your Bible. Go to church. Do good deeds. Don’t do ___, ___, or ___.” If all of that were true, all a person would need to do is to become a great performer. In other words, just do enough works to impress God, and He will label you as great. Ah, off track here.
You see, that’s not at all what Jesus said when his disciples posed the question about greatness. His answer provides startling insights on what it takes to be great and to grow spiritually in the Kingdom. He likened the required attitude to that of a little child – not a high-achieving, bold, consistently-performing, and self-assured adult. To understand more about what He meant, first you have to do a little time travel into a faraway culture to see how children were viewed and how they acted back in Jesus’ day.
Nowhere in the ancient world would you find the idea that an adult – especially a spiritual leader – would take a child into His arms and show care and concern. Children were placed in the category of (sorry!) women, old people, and slaves. They were not seen as valuable, and they certainly had no rights. In Greece and Rome, it was not uncommon to just abandon unwanted children by the roadside to die. Horrific thought, but getting into the mindset of Jesus’ audience enriches the comprehension of His words.
Jesus broke the mold of His culture about kids. (By the way, He did also about women, old people, and slaves.) As busy and in demand as He was, He always found time for the youngsters. Further, He told His disciples that they had to become like the little children in order to enter heaven. So knowing what we now know about their cultural attitudes and how children must have experienced their lives back in the day, this makes Jesus’ statement even more challenging. So what could He have meant? What were the attitudes and habits of children to which He referred?
- Meek, submissive, and dutiful. In that ancient culture, rebellion was not “a thing” like it is today. Children possessed humility, understanding that they were under authority. They were not in control, and they knew it. (If you miss all the rest, get this one!)
- Wide-eyed wonder, curiosity, and the spirit of discovery. Kids understand that they don’t have it all figured out. They find joy in playfully learning and discovering.
- Trusting. Kiddos look to the adults in their lives for provision, for guidance, and for love. (Tragically, some trust is misplaced.) They know that they cannot make it on their own, and they they trust their caregivers for their needs today and in the future.
- Faith and belief without complication. We adults make it too hard. We try to dig deeply into the theology of it all, compare everything to complex science, and want our every question answered. True enough, as kids grow, that curiosity gives rise to lots of “why’s.” But overall, they take in faith what they are taught as their minds become able to simply grasp it.
- Contentment with the little things. Have you ever seen kids playing in a box, sitting in the dirt moving around sand with a real or imagined little dump truck, or entertaining themselves by playing chase? Oh, sure, unfortunately in our culture we’ve trained them differently. But the children to whom Jesus referred knew how to occupy themselves without someone doting on them all the time.
Pause now and picture the beloved little children with whom you relate – your children, grandchildren, even those wee ones at church or school. Compare yourself with them on the 5 childlike characteristics we’ve just discussed.
“How ya doin’?”
Is it possible that our own ideas about “growing up” are the exact opposite of those of Jesus?
Dear Lord, I’m always trying to figure things out. I sometimes struggle to maintain control. Often I assume I have the answers, and I fail on that “wide-eyed wonder and discovery” part. Gentle Holy Spirit, please teach me to melt into the embrace of Jesus, fulling trusting Him like a little child.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4: 13-17)
This message will end positively, I promise. But first let’s recognize a few realities.
Oh, what a difference a day can make! You think your life is laid out nicely, then wham! Everything screeches to a halt. An accident stops you in your tracks. Your much-loved kid makes a life-altering mistake. The doctor shakes his head and gives you the dreaded diagnosis. You’re handed the pink slip. Someone you trust betrays you. As I said in my book, This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me, one day you can be on top of the world, and the next day the world’s on top of you. By the time you get to be my age, you realize that more years are behind you than in front of you. However, many young lives come to an end long before it humanly seems “their time.”
You just don’t know. As the scripture says, tomorrow is not promised. Don’t assume you have forever to do “it,” whatever you “it” is. Don’t procrastinate on the important, believing that tomorrow will be a more convenient day. You can wait for this hurdle or that milestone or another “I’ll do it when…” Then, at best, one day you wake up and realize that life has insideously passed you by while you’ve been waiting. At worst, life ends with your purpose, your dreams, and your divine assignments unfulfilled.
This totally does not have to be. I don’t know how long either you or I have left on this earth. I’m asking God for many more productive years, but I don’t know. Nor do you.
However, of this I am certain. You and I woke up this morning with breath in our lungs. If we are still inhaling and exhaling, then God’s purpose for us is not complete. No matter how complicated our circumstances, we are still smack dab in the middle of His plans and His working on this earth. Despite the enemy’s lies to the contrary, each of us has a vital part to play in touching God’s beloved people and in living out Kingdom principles right here. Right now. This day.
The past? Well, that’s unchangeable. No need to dwell there.
The future? Unknown. We’re not even guaranteed another day.
Today? Now you’re talking!
This is the day the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!
As I reflected on our focal passage this morning, I was struck by the fact that the often-quoted verse about “to him who knows to do good and doesn’t do it, that’s sin” is presented in the context of “live fully today because tomorrow is not promised.” So that’s the good to which we’re urged. Do what’s right and bold and diligent and loving this day! Hug this 24 hours, and give everything within you to live it fully. Live it as if it were your last.
Seize the day! Carpe diem!
My God, thank you for another day. Help me to see and embrace every opportunity that You place in front of me. May I never take another day for granted and procrastinate on anything important. Holy Spirit, order and empower my steps in You this day.
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9: 1-3)
Have you ever said or thought the title of this devotional? Now, of course, you say logically that you know that bad things can happen to good people, and also good things can happen to bad people. But somewhere underneath, there may be a hidden belief that if you belong to God and live right, everything will turn out just right. You can know that such an erroneous belief is lurking in there somewhere if, when something negative happens, you ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” As the old song goes, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
The scripture reminds us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. We are citizens of a world that was handed over to Satan by our earliest ancestors, who misused their God-given right of choice and said “yes” to the enemy’s temptations. The entrance of sin into God’s creation brought all kinds of havoc, and no one is immune until the end when Jesus will restore it all to its divinely-ruled state. The enemy will be bound and ultimately cast completely out. That’s a long story in a few words, but it reveals the source and nature of the chaos in which we live on this earth. Sickness, accidents, weather disasters, evil in the hearts of men and women – all a part of the destruction that Satan perpetrates at this stage in the world’s history. Bad things do happen to “good people.” This will not always be; thank You, Lord.
So what do you do in the meantime? How can you live in a life that sometimes blindsides you?
Well, first you recognize the Biblically-based facts I’ve just laid out. Do not let the enemy of your soul add a burdensome layer to your troubles by accusing you and persuading you that your real or imagined past mistakes will wreak havoc on your life forever. While natural consequences often for a time do follow poor choices, God’s grace also gives hope, new possibilities, and a future in Him. Satan would love for you to think that when you mess up, you’ve done a permanent job of it.
Second, when (not if) difficulties hit, turn to God, not against Him. If nothing ever went wrong, why would we need to learn to trust God? Demonic temptation to pride would whisper sweet nothings into our self-satisfied ears. We would become complacent and forget about the kind of desperate dependence that causes us to cling to His embrace and His grace. God is ready and willing to saturate your being with an unexplainable peace and to give you tiny step by step through to the other side.
Third, as a Christ-follower, when the trials come – and they will, said Jesus – get rid of the idea of punishment, outside a thankful awareness of what’s already been accomplished. Look, Jesus already took all punishment for your sin. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus already suffered and died on your behalf. Jesus already lived this life perfectly, and when you believed on Him, you received His righteousness in exchange for your own history. In the spiritual realm, His history is your history.
Right now I’m studying the life of Joseph to teach in our Sunday class. If you struggle with the issue we’re discussing today (and even if you don’t), this powerful life account is definitley worth a read. (Genesis 37-50) Joseph was not perfect, but he did grow into diligent performance and faithful trust in God, even though his circumstances sometimes went from bad to worse. He was vindicated in the end, but not in every single circumstance. But I want you to be reminded in Joseph’s saga that God is at work in our lives, no matter how unfair or unseemly the situations in which we find ourselves.
Do not allow Satan, who is called “the Accuser of the Brethren,” to “push you down and put you under” with guilt. If you are a born-again Christian, you’ve been made the righteousness of God in Christ. Never forget that!
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (David, Psalm 51:10)
Every now and then, I go back and read my prayer journals. Recently, I was reminded of a time when I had a business disappointment and setback. As I was praying and journaling about it, I had written, “Oh, well, lessons learned.”
But then I recorded that I felt a nudge inside that said, “Don’t dismiss it and move on with that casual statement. What were the lessons learned? Exactly what will you do differently in a similar situation?”
Well,now, that was an important and thought-provoking question, and one that each of us must answer if we are to extract good from the “bad,” Only then can mistakes be “worth it” in learning and growth. So my journal entry recorded what I would be doing, privately and in consultation with my staff. The specific question was, “What will we do differently next time? What processes will we put in place to address the things that we could and should have done better?”
The scripture is full of examples of people making big mistakes – and then going on to learn from them and become stronger on the other side. Consider David, whose mistakes were those which humans commonly view as “the big ones.” While he suffered some natural consequences, he learned big lessons and went on to possess “a heart like God’s” and to demonstrate faithfulness to the God Who was consistently faithful to him. David messed up big, but he learned some even bigger lessons from it.
Think about you. Because I know that if you’re reading this, you’re living in a human body, I’m willing to wager that you have made “a few” mistakes. Or, you may have found yourself caught in the web of someone else’s weaving.
I don’t encourage people to obsess about their past, ruminating about poor choices over and over and over. However, it’s critical to put on analytical, problem-solving glasses long enough correct your near-sightedness. See the sequence of choices that led to the mistake or the entraptment with an eye toward identifying the early missteps that set your feet on that path. Resolve in the future never to take those first baby steps toward outcomes you don’t want. Become wiser in your interactions. Further, fight the denial in your mind that minimizes the negative possibilities, which tries to convince you that this once won’t hurt, and that insists no one will ever know.
Oddly enough, those lollapaloozas can be turned for your good (Romans 8: 28). Extract specific lessons from your experience by doing 4 things diligently.
- Recognize anew your vulnerability and weakness and your desperate dependence on God for your strength.
- Examine what happened and how it happened, and gain clarity about the path that led you there.
- Align “your truth” with God’s truth, and reject any mental denial to the contrary.
- Don’t even set your toe on that path again.
Rom Immanuel is not necessarily my hero, but he did issue a challenge that makes sense: “Never waste a crisis.”
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. I want to become more attuned with You in all I choose to do, Lord. You and I know well that I still have plenty of learning and growing to do in my personal life and my business life. May I never be deaf to what You are trying to teach me. I want to always begin again in You, my Lord, but more wisely this time.
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him. If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (James 2: 14-17)
It rolls off our tongues or our social media typing fingers: “I’m praying for you.” Well, don’t get me started on that one. I am very careful not to casually promise what I will forget to deliver. That’s why I often write, “Praying for you right now,” and I do.
But this scripture in James is a challenging one. While it’s great to pray for folks, you or I may be the provision that God is supplying in answer to prayers for that individual. As good as encouraging words can be, many times they aren’t enough. What’s really needed is a helping hand, a sharing of resources, or the facilitating of a connection. Sometimes what people need is very practical, and the most spiritual thing we can do right then is take action to help.
If a person’s belly is growling, trying to stuff spiritual food down them is ill-timed. It’s hard to think about one’s heart when the stomach is shouting for attention. First, feed him some nourishing food, after which the door may be opened to a greater understanding of God’s Love.
When that individual is shivering in the cold without a jacket, the solution is not a big smile and the utterance of a blessing, “Go and be warmed!” For goodness sake, get her a jacket! Give her yours if that’s the only one available at the moment.
We talk a lot. A lot. We have deep discussions about God’s Love and about people who need to know about it. Maybe what we need to do instead is to demonstrate it right before their eyes.
Perhaps we should dig down deep in our spiritual laundry baskets and pull out our work clothes!
Lord, elbow me (don’t just nudge me) when You have assigned me to take action in a situation. Give me wisdom about how and when to do it. I want to be the embodiment of Your Love to people who are craving it but may not recognize the nature of that craving. I’m willing to move into action when You call, my God.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16: 31)
When I was a youngster growing up in the Baptist Church, we had something called the “Bible Drill,” also known as the “Sword Drill.” (Anyone out there remember?) You had to memorize lots of scripture and be able to quickly find it in the Bible. Then there were competitive events to demonstrate what you had learned. I loved the Bible Drill. And boy, now I’m really glad I participated! Those scriptures implanted in a young, agile mind linger even today.
One of my favorite scriptures we had to learn was Acts 16:31. It was short and sweet, and Acts was pretty easy to find. And I liked it, too, because it seemed to be saying it was pretty simple to “get saved.” (It is.)
However, I don’t believe I understood the true meaning of the word “believe.” Many today do not, either. Saving belief goes beyond an intellectual agreement that Jesus lived, died, and even was resurrected (though that’s a start). The scripture says that even the demons believe in God, and it makes them tremble! But you can bet that demons have not received salvation.
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2: 19)
So it must be something more. Let’s dig a little deeper into the Hebrew and Greek word meanings.
The Hebrew root word translated “believe” means, “to trust in and rely upon, commit to the charge of, confide in, have a full persuasion.” In the Greek, the word “believe” signifies “absolute confidence and trust, complete surrender, and heartfelt obedience.”
It’s like the familiar example of the tightrope walker who asked the audience, “Do you believe I can walk across this tightrope with this chair in my hand?” The crowd roared, “Yes!” Then he asked the question that called for a whole different level of belief: “Who is willing to come and sit in this chair while I walk it across?”
Saving belief and faith in Christ involve placing complete trust in Him, surrendering to His will and purpose for your life. It’s not just believing about Him. It’s getting in the chair, placing your fate in His Hands. It’s throwing away all the Plan B’s.
I will testify to you that I have never, ever regretted that decision. God has been faithful, no matter what. I could not have made it through all that life has thrown my way without Him. God has given my life meaning and purpose. I wouldn’t trade that relationship for anything.
I’m so glad I “believed.” Have you?
(If not, I’d be delighted to have a private conversation with you about it. Email me at email@example.com.)
Lord, I believe. I completely trust You, and as far as I know, I completely give myself to You. I pray today for all to come to know You intimately, my God!