Do You Know Who You Are?

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21

My husband and I had an interesting conversation on the way home from church last Sunday. Someone made a statement in his Sunday school class that some of the men found a little unsettling. While discussing the struggle we all have with sin, the familiar comment surfaced that we’re all sinners who fall short of glory.

But one gentleman in the room interrupted to make a very different statement. He insisted he wouldn’t take that label. He wouldn’t call himself a sinner. He’s a redeemed child of God.

Most of the men in the room didn’t quite know how to respond to that. After all, everyone sins. Only Jesus lived a perfect life.

Well, that’s absolutely true. But once we’re saved, what does still calling ourselves sinners say about what Christ accomplished for us on the cross?

Bear with me for a moment here. Let’s pause to look at it from heaven’s perspective.

Every one of us came into this world bound by sin. Ephesians 2:1-3 describes it perfectly.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Our sin nature, bound to the prince of this world, made us children of wrath. None of us could do anything to save ourselves.

Then Jesus became a sacrificial Lamb to do something impossible.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Do you see it, dear one? Jesus made an exchange. In an astounding act of mercy and grace, Jesus became sin so that we could become righteousness. He took our old nature—our sin nature that positioned us for wrath—and exchanged it for His. Now we can celebrate the promise of 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

I’ll be honest. For years, my mind translated that scripture something like, “if anyone is in Christ, one day if they work hard enough, they’ll eventually become a new creation.” Can you relate? But I need you to focus in on the tense of that scripture. It says that if I am in Christ, I am a new creation. Present tense. The old me has already passed away. Let’s look at a few more scriptures that confirm that truth.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:6

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24

Based on these scriptures, beloved, if you are in Christ, should you still call yourself a sinner? God’s Word answers that with a resounding “No.” Christ crucified your sin nature on that cross. Then He gave you His. Now you participate in Christ’s nature.

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, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:3-4

Jesus conquered your flesh and gave you His divine nature in its place. To continue to call yourself a sinner once you’ve been redeemed—though appearing like humility that recognizes your need of Jesus—actually denies what He accomplished for you on that cross. And that unbelief cuts you off from the power He poured out to accomplish it.

It’s time we start believing what God says about us. Faith alone ushers us into His grace. Faith alone transforms us from the inside out. As we receive the implanted word into our hearts by faith, the Spirit within us will water that seed, causing it to sprout fruit. Our faith allows the Spirit to manifest the word we have believed and empower us to live it out.

When something comes against me and I’m tempted to respond from my flesh, I’m learning to tell myself, “That’s not who I am anymore. Jesus crucified my flesh, and I refuse to give it life. Jesus has made me all that He is. I am love. I am purity. I am forgiveness. I am grace. Lord, empower me to live from the nature you have given me.”

That, dear one, is how I believe we live out Ephesians 4:22-24, which challenges us,

…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Renew your mind with the truth of God’s Word, dear one. Your sin nature has passed away. You have been given a new self, recreated in God’s likeness in true righteousness and holiness. Your enemy wants to convince you you’re still just a sinner, giving you the excuse to justify your sin so he can keep you bound by it. Don’t let him win, beloved. He has kept Christ’s church in bondage for far too long with his deceptions. Only the truth will set you free and empower you to live the life God intends.

Put off the sinner, dear one. It’s time we put on the righteousness Christ bought with His blood.

How Scarcity Overflows into Wealth

… in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 2 Corinthians 8:2

I wonder if you feel like your circumstances have left you with nothing to give. Maybe you feel depleted, barely able to hang on. Your scarcity may be financial, relational, or even emotional, but it really doesn’t matter. Your stores are empty. You don’t have what you need, never mind the ability to give to anyone else.

Can you relate, dear one? If so, perhaps that empty place is the perfect place for you to be.

Let’s see if you really pay attention to what you read. In our opening scripture, what did the Macedonian churches’ wealth of generosity flow from?

Yes. You read it right. Extreme poverty.

In the natural world, that sentence doesn’t even make sense. By definition, poverty represents lack. It means want or extreme need. Scarcity, shortage, deficit, and debt are all synonyms.

Beloved, extreme poverty means not having enough for yourself. So how can what you don’t have provide what somewhat else needs?

Yet that’s precisely how scripture describes these churches. Extreme poverty overflowed into wealth. Their own lack became generous provision for others. How?

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

Our God of the impossible makes lack overflow into provision. It doesn’t make sense to the natural mind. It seems unbelievable. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Take a moment to ponder Jesus’ words from Luke 6:38.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

You and I need to understand this biblical truth, beloved. If we want to receive from God, He requires us to give.

If you need money, give to someone in need. If you need comfort, comfort someone else. If you need forgiveness, forgive. If you desperately need to feel love, be the one who gives it. And God promises that He will return what you give back to you. With good measure, pressed down and running over, He will put into your own lap the very thing you have given.

Because giving—particularly from lack—requires a little something from us. It requires faith. And faith moves God to pour out grace.

That, dear one, is how lack overflows into wealth. When we trust God by giving what we don’t have, the God of overflow fills the void to provide it.

Let’s look at a few scriptures relating God to overflow.

He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people? Psalm 78:20

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

Beloved, God alone can make your cup overflow, even when enemies threaten to take everything. His presence made water flow from solid rock to provide for His thirsty people in the desert. He longs to show His overflow in your desert places. But He waits for you to exercise a little faith.

Jesus released God’s overflow when He fed five thousand men—plus women and children—with only five loaves and two fish. But do you know when that food multiplied, dear one? When the disciples trusted Jesus by giving the little they had in their hands away.

Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Matthew 14:19-20

Twelve disciples gave from their lack. They each went home with a basket of left overs—pressed down, shaken together and running over.

Oh beloved. Let’s not wait to give from our abundance. Giving from poverty releases God to reveal Himself.

 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4

And she alone experienced God when He gave her more.

Are You a Fan or a Follower?

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:38

This week’s Super Bowl has left the country shaking its head. No one expected the game to play out the way it did. I have to say. I watched it. And I still have trouble believing it.

But I’ll confess. I sure was happy about it.

Yep. Born and raised in New England, I’m a Patriots fan. I hesitate to even share this publicly, knowing the—how should I put it—“strong feelings” most of the country has toward my home team. But I’m not here to argue football with you. I’d rather point your attention toward another unbelievable comeback with much greater implications than a Super Bowl ring.

My cousin Ben posted this message to Facebook after Sunday’s game.

So insanely happy about the Super Bowl win for the Patriots, but driving home I was convicted when I had the thought, “When was the last time I was this excited for Jesus Christ and how he died to save the entire world from sin?” After all, the greatest comeback of all time was not Super Bowl 51, but Jesus Christ coming back from the dead after 3 days.

He has a point. I really can’t think of anything more impressive than conquering death itself. Let’s take a moment to revisit the scene of Jesus’ final breath.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:50-54, emphasis mine

Unbelievable … yet just as real as the Patriots’ staggering comeback from a 25 point deficit. Death could not defeat the King of Kings.

But Jesus wasn’t the only person to come back from the dead. His resurrection also revealed a foretaste of what’s to come. Saints rose from their tombs and walked into Jerusalem! That’s the amazing story of the cross, beloved. This is the Jesus we profess to follow. He conquers death—and raises what death has taken back to life.

Now that’s something to celebrate!

Somehow fireworks and confetti seem much too small to honor it, but even that’s far more attention than we usually give it. So I’ll ask you the question the Spirit stirred in my cousin’s heart after the big game. When was the last time you were this excited for Jesus Christ and how he died to save the entire world from sin?

Are we as passionate about Jesus as we are about our football teams? Do we get as angry over someone disparaging Jesus’ name as we do if they disrespect our quarterback? Do we want to see Christ’s church prevail as much as we care if our team wins?

Sadly, most of the time the honest answer is no. We get pretty fired up about Jesus when we attend a worship event. We may even raise our hands to cheer Him within the safe embrace of other believers. But our passion fades when we return to normal life. And when confronted by people who aren’t fans, we often hide our allegiance.

Even worse, when we believe Jesus has let us down, we become the very voices in the crowd who disparage Him.

Jesus didn’t die to make us fair weather fans, beloved. He died for followers, for those who would risk everything to stand with Him. He even made this astounding statement in Mark 8:38.

“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Are you ashamed of your allegiance to Jesus, beloved? Or do those who meet you know you’re on His team?

Real faith doesn’t fade when circumstances shout defeat or when others don’t believe. Instead, it swells in the moments that seem darkest. It whispers strength into the heart of true followers and empowers them to stand.

Jesus still reigns as the ultimate comeback champion. And when we choose to stand in faith while the world anticipates our defeat, He shows up to stand with us.

Let’s hold tight to the promise of Isaiah 30:20.

And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.

 When we really believe that’s true, we’ll follow.

Is Love Worth the Pain it Brings?

The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23

Love.

It moves us. Compels us.

Sometimes it breaks us.

Recently my heart broke under its weight as we said goodbye to our beloved Annie, our Australian Shepherd puppy-person that melted our hearts from the first day we met her.

Some of you may not understand such a strong attachment to a four-legged creature. But perhaps you’ve never opened your heart to receive the love of one.

You see, our Annie never held her love back like people do. She gave it. Freely.

She always greeted us with enthusiastic kisses—whether we’d been gone for 15 minutes or 15 days—and she loved snuggles more than anyone I know. Her tender heart often reflected our moods. She would share joys and bear burdens, lovingly coming near to lay with me and comfort me when she sensed my heart hurting.

Annie knew how to make a girl feel special. She followed me wherever I went in the house—even if only to run back upstairs to grab something I forgot. But Annie was unconcerned over the reason for going. She simply went. Because nothing gave her greater joy than to be in the presence of the one who loved and took care of her.

Oh, that we would love our God without restraint like Annie loved me!

Over these last ten years, she taught me so much about unconditional love. But recently, as cancer revealed itself in our family again—this time in our furry, precious loved one—a fresh awareness of the cross washed over me. While laying with Annie to comfort her when disease had rapidly taken her strength and she could no longer get up to follow me, an overwhelming desire to release her suffering gripped my heart.

And I realized. That’s precisely how God feels about our suffering. He aches. And He wants to remove everything that hinders our capacity to enjoy one another completely.

God wants to remove everything that hinders our capacity to enjoy one another completely. Click To Tweet

But being God, He’s able to do something about it. And He did. He sent His Son to bear our suffering, so that He could redeem it. And suffering itself became the catalyst for our redemption.

Christ’s love flowed red at Calvary, beloved.

Now the only thing that can keep us from the power of His love is our refusal to receive it. A guarded heart that won’t open to love will never experience its resurrection power.

And so the enemy of our souls keeps us fearing love.

In this fallen world we live in, we’re going to hurt, dear one. Man’s choice to separate from God brought pain—pain the enemy of our souls has convinced us we can escape if we avoid loving freely.

But you and I were created to love. Made in the image of the God of love, we can never experience the joy of abundant life without loving. Love brings life to dead places. It exhilarates. It heals. And yes, sometimes it hurts.

But the beauty of pure love reveals itself in its faithfulness. In love’s embrace, even the hurt will become joy again as love heals.

You and I don’t want to run from love, beloved. We want to run toward it. We want to dive headlong straight into the arms of its Source. So we can become it. And give it. Freely. Because only as we give it can we receive what it gives. Jesus said so in Luke 6:38,

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

But loving takes faith, dear one. We’ve got to trust to love. We must love without fear.

God is love. Love is eternal. Love never fails. Nothing entrusted to love is ever lost, and nothing birthed out of love well ever die. But there are some places that love does not grow; love cannot flourish in the company of its rival, fear. Fear has an end—actually, fear is a dead end. Fear is an ungodly spirit that leads to torment. Fear advises from its seat in the shadow of doubt, while love draws its wisdom from the light of faith. If you heed the counsel of fear for too long, you will fail.

(Lisa Bevere, THE ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IN MY MARRIAGE, Messenger International, http://messengerinternational.org/blog/lisa-devotional/one-thing-change-marriage/)

As I lay holding Annie, my heart in shattered pieces under the heavy weight of loss, I never regretted my decision to love her. My lips offered a sacrifice of praise to my God for the privilege of it. I thanked Him for the cuddles and kisses, the laughter, and the joy. And I know my heart—though broken—will keep beating. My Father’s love will heal and mend it, making it even stronger. Increasing its capacity, and allowing it to give even more.

Beloved, when we love, we bear our Father’s image.

Don’t hold back from love, dear one. Become it. Give it. Feel it.

And live reaping its resurrection power.

Is This What Love Looks Like?

“Choose Love, not Hate.”

I believe it’s an excellent proposition. Everything in me agrees with its message.

But as I watch the behavior of many who presently proclaim that message, I find myself confused.

How does throwing water on people just trying to attend a party demonstrate love? When did hurling insults at strangers—or spitting on them, for that matter—become an expression of love?

Yet people claiming that “Love trumps hate” are doing these very things. In the name of denouncing prejudice and discrimination, they project hatred toward people who have done them no personal offense except to think differently about something.

Isn’t that discrimination, dear one?

What about the right to have an opinion? Isn’t that a human right?

It’s amazing what fear can do unchecked in the human heart. It brings out the very worst in us. And make no mistake. That’s precisely the intent of the one who invokes it.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7

Whenever fear governs us, God does not. Instead we have allowed the deceiver to whisper his vain imaginations into our hearts and received them as truth, giving him control of our thoughts. That control allows him to manipulate our wills. And what he incites us to do will always reflect the ugliness of his nature.

Jesus clearly defined that nature in John 10:10.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

We are seeing these truths played out before us on our streets and video screens. People are randomly destroying property belonging to the very humans they claim to love and fight for—people they don’t know and who have done them no personal harm—out of an irrational fear of the power one man holds. A man the enemy has convinced them to hate.

Now they act from that hate while proclaiming a message of love. And they are blinded to their own hypocrisy.

This, dear one, is why Jesus came. He came to sever the power and influence the deceiver of the world wields over the minds and hearts of man. He came to restore love and prove its power over hate.

I can’t help thinking of Jesus’ words as He hung on the cross, He Himself a victim of the destructive power of a mob incited through fear.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

How is it possible that people can be so deceived about their own actions?

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4

Our unseen enemy deceives and distorts, hindering our ability to see truth clearly. Jesus proclaimed that He came to restore our sight and set us free from the oppressor.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18

You see Jesus became to us wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30). He came to reveal truth, to enable us to see.

James 3:13-18 reveals how we can distinguish between the wisdom that comes from the prince of this world and the wisdom that Christ brings.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (emphasis mine)

Oh, beloved, may we seek God to become a people of true wisdom—wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, impartial and sincere. To receive that wisdom, we need only ask its source, the One who created wisdom before He created the earth.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm 51:6

We have great and precious promises through the Word of God. But we must seek to know true wisdom through Christ, or we will be tossed to and fro. If we aren’t careful, the hatred of the mob will draw us in, and the pure love of Christ within our hearts will grow cold.

Jesus said it will happen to many in the last days.

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:12-13

Oh, beloved. Let’s not follow lawlessness and be counted among the cold.

Love is our answer. Only enduring love can save.

The Power of “What If?”

Sometimes life is just hard. Things happen we don’t understand and can’t explain, although we usually try to. And very often we let our thoughts run away from us, allowing fear to drown us in questions and rob our hope.

Today I’d like to share an article by Dr. Michelle Bengtson that I pray will help you to practically apply faith when fear questions your future. Our thoughts and words carry power. Let’s learn to use them to release life!

Seven Powerful Truths to Remember When You are Tempted to Ask, What If?

by Dr. Michelle Bengtson

I wonder if you’re anything like me.

“I hate to tell you this, but you need to go home and get your affairs in order.”

How could that be? We were young, and still considered ourselves newlyweds despite having been married 14 years. We had waited 12 years to have children, until after I had finished all my years of schooling to become a doctor, and then the requisite years of internship and post-doctoral training. Now with a toddler in tow, the oncologist was telling us that cancer was going to rob our son of his father.

Fear and worry assaulted me at my core.

I knew what it was like to grow up without a father. Mine was taken at a young age from a fatal heart attack. I remember the pain from the lack, and I pictured the same for my son.

Fortunately, as a toddler, he was too young to feel the sting of cancer’s razor sharp tear in the fabric of our family’s tapestry. Grandparents descended upon our home to fill in the gap with the caregiving so I could be at doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy treatments.

While doctor’s predictions were for my husband to live but a short couple of years, God had a different plan, and He is, after all, the one who plans our days and orders our steps.

Even after all the treatment, we continued to return every three months, then every six, then eventually once a year for repeat PET scans to monitor for a relapse, each time holding our breath. Each time wondering, “What if?”

“What if the treatment didn’t work?”
“What if the cancer returns?”
“What if he doesn’t defy the odds?”
“What if the scan doesn’t show what’s really there?”
“What if the cancer metastasizes like predicted?”
“What if…?”

Finally, through years of questioning, years of pleading, years of laying down my doubts and fears and concerns at the cross, God asked the most important question.

“What if…you trusted me?”

“What if, you believed that the same God who defied the odds before and healed your husband of cancer the first time could protect him and you in all your tomorrows?”

Wow. Yes, Lord. What if?

You see, He’s been teaching me about the power of two little words: “What if?”

The enemy of my soul uses those two words against me to incite fear and worry and anxiety. Those two words steal my peace from today as I anxiously focus on tomorrow, rather than sitting in His presence in the present.

Fast forward 15 years, we find ourselves in a similar scenario.

The day that we had been looking forward to for years, the day of the release of my first book, “Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression,” we heard the words we hoped we’d never hear again: “Your biopsy results came back positive: you have cancer.”

The doctor revealed that while my husband had been healed of his cancer from years before, the current cancer was considered “a secondary cancer” meaning it was a result of the chemotherapy he received to treat the original cancer.

Immediately our focus shifted from release party festivities, interviews and marketing plans to blood work, PET scans, bone marrow biopsies, port placements, and more doctor visits than we could remember without a calendar. And sadly, what if’s…

“What if the very thing that was used to save his life before is what kills him now?”
“What if the chemotherapy doesn’t work this time?”
“What if we aren’t so ‘lucky’ this time?”
“What if my sons have to grow up without their Dad?”
“What if I become a widow?”
“What if…?”

I immediately jumped into old, familiar ways of coping: doing and staying busy. Alerting family and friends of the news and answering the plethora of questions with what little information I had. Planning freezer meals for the weeks when doctors’ appointments and chemotherapy kept us too busy to shop or cook. Rearranging my schedule at work to accommodate the myriad of new appointments that needed to be worked into the schedule.

In my effort to control the uncontrollable, the busyness overwhelmed me and left me depleted and exhausted until finally one day, I collapsed in a pile on the floor and I wept uncontrollably. How had we gotten here and what were we going to do?

As I cried out to the Lord in my desperation, I heard his familiar question yet again, “What if…you trusted me?”

“What if you believed that this didn’t take me by surprise?”

“What if you believed that I really do work all things together for your good?”

“What if you remembered that I know the plans I have for you, and I have declared that my plans for you are good, and they include a future and a hope!”

“What if you remembered that I am good, my ways are good, and my love for you is everlasting?”

“What if you remembered that I proved myself faithful to you when you went through this before, and knowing that I am the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, believed that I will be faithful through this as well?”

“What if you stopped listening to the father of lies who fills your mind with ‘What ifs?’ and kept your eyes on me and listened only to the voice of your Heavenly Father who speaks truth and love?”

As I dried my tears and finished my prayer time with the Lord, I found a new determination to let go of the anxiety-producing “What ifs?” and take hold of the peace that prevails because of Him.

Do you need to do the same?

Because of Him, #PeacePrevails!

Visit Michelle’s blog for more encouragement and discover how Hope Prevails.

Are You Ready to Change the World?

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3

Our opening scripture holds great promise. Where God is present and unquenched, faith and love will increase.

The next verse reveals the catalyst for that growth: persecutions and afflictions.

I want to suggest to you that this very moment—these days of great affliction and increasing persecutions—offer a backdrop to exponentially expand the faith and love of God’s people.

God has commissioned us to change the world and positioned us to see it done. The question is, are we willing?

I’m going to be honest for us. In most cases, we aren’t. We talk a good talk, but when the time comes to actually fulfill the role God has set before us, we offer all kinds of excuses. We act a bit like Jonah, running from God’s presence rather than boldly stepping up in obedience to our calling.

Then we blame God for not revealing more of His power.

But what if God has a message to speak to us through Jonah’s life, dear one? What if His Spirit stirs even now, daring us to hope for the miraculous? I think all of us can easily relate to Jonah’s stumbling. But what if we could also relate to his triumph?

Imagine it, beloved. Jonah’s story led to one of the greatest revivals recorded in history. A flawed, selfish man finally humbled himself, walked into the great city of Nineveh, and spoke eight words. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).

What happened next defied logic.

And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:5

Did you catch it, dear one? A pagan, rebellious people believed God.

Eight words spoken by a submitted prophet changed the heart of every citizen in Nineveh, from the least to the greatest. Amazing, isn’t it? One man’s obedience unleashed repentance and deliverance for an entire city—a city so big that in Jonah’s time it took three days to journey through it.

But this revival didn’t just touch the people. It transformed its king.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Jonah 3:6-9

A godless king suddenly believed God held the power to destroy and redeem. And that belief brought him to his knees.

God responded precisely the way scripture promises He would.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. Jonah 3:10

Oh, beloved. What if we could see this kind of miraculous transformation in our own nation? Our hearts cry out for revival! But like Jonah, most of us would rather not be the instruments God uses to bring it.

I wonder, dear one. What kind of storm will it take to humble you before God? Whose lives are you willing to risk?

Whether we care to admit it or not, our rebellion allows pain and disaster to increase around us. Our disobedience puts lives in jeopardy.

Just ask Jonah. His defiance stirred up a storm that threatened everyone aboard the ship he fled on—until Jonah finally stopped running and acknowledged his responsibility. Facing peril, his heart changed, and the lives of the men on board became more important than his own. Overcoming the selfishness that sent him running, Jonah offered his life to save them.

He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Jonah 1:12

When they hurled him into the sea, the raging ceased, and they “feared the LORD exceedingly” (verse 16). But Jonah’s story wasn’t over. He spent three days and nights in the belly of a great fish. There he learned the beauty of the fast. And he prayed.

God moved in response to his prayer, causing the great fish to spit him out onto land. And Jonah—humbled, yielded, changed, and anointed—traveled to Nineveh to deliver the message God had given him, saving thousands more.

What circumstance in your life has you in the belly of the fish, beloved? What is God asking you to surrender so that He can move through you in power? What will God unleash through you when you walk in the power of your own anointing?

Jonah’s success had nothing to do with his own talents or eloquence. It came from the presence of God working through him. When he finally denied his own desires in humble submission to God, the Spirit poured forth in power.

And an entire city repented, from the least to the greatest, including their king.

Immense hope looms before us, dear one. The miraculous redemption of our nation is possible if we believe.

But resurrection life first requires death.

So here’s the question before us. Are we willing to put to death our own desires to save those who are drowning?

Beloved, God’s power flowing through your life emerges from death and resurrection.

 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

We must first live the gospel in order to share the gospel. Otherwise, our self-righteous hypocrisy refutes the message. But when we are undone—crucified to the flesh—the Spirit flows in power.

The early church proved that to be true.

 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. Acts 11:21

Let’s stop running and own our responsibility. Let’s descend to the depths with Jesus and rise to new life.

Submitted. Selfless. Holy. Anointed.

Then we will change the world.

A New Perspective to Unlock the Power of the Gospel

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:3-5

Paul got excited over these Philippian believers.

Look at his words. He thanked God every time he remembered them. And always, every time he prayed for them, he lifted his prayer with joy.

What made these believers such a source of joy and thanksgiving? Their partnership in the gospel.

I’ll be honest. For a long time I looked at those verses and thought that Paul simply rejoiced because they were helping in the work of kingdom building. But recently God took me deeper. He asked me to consider what that word partnership really meant.

So now I invite you to join me on the path He led me down. Let’s start by defining the gospel itself. Paul defines it for us in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

 The gospel that saves hinges on three important truths.

  1. Christ died for our sins
  2. He was buried
  3. He was raised to new life

Here’s the heart of the gospel, beloved. Death. Burial. Resurrection.

And here’s why I believe we witness so little of the gospel’s power in our own lives. We carry the message of the gospel—Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection— without participating in the gospel ourselves.

We want the resurrection power the gospel proclaims. We just don’t like the means to experience it. Beloved, death and burial must precede resurrection life.

And this, I believe, is what made Paul so excited about these Philippian believers. They had partnership in the gospel from the first day they heard it. They themselves participated in the death, burial, and resurrection, experiencing the transforming work of the cross within their own hearts.

You see, the original Greek word translated partnership in Philippians 1:5 is Koinōnia, which means: close association between persons, emphasizing what is common between them; by extension: participation, sharing…fellowship, communion.

These believers shared in Christ’s suffering, choosing fellowship in the death and burial of their flesh nature, so that they could also experience Christ’s resurrection power. And this led to Paul’s often quoted proclamation in Philippians 1:6.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, what if we chose to begin this year with a new way of thinking? What if our partnership in the gospel could be more than just sharing creeds and faith? What if we committed to fellowship with Christ in the power of the gospel instead of just sharing His message?

Oh that Jesus would look upon us with the same joy that Paul felt for those early believers at Philippi! May our lives prove the message of the gospel and proclaim Christ’s kingdom.

For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 1 Corinthians 4:20

Daring to Hope

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5 NIV 1984

I love Christmas. It’s always been my very favorite time of year.

Don’t get me wrong. If we’re talking about weather, summer wins. No question. Warm breezes, cookouts, and sunshine beat the gray winter doldrums any day.

But Christmas to me was never about the weather. It was about the feeling.

Do you know the one I’m talking about? My mother called it sugarplums. Every year the onset of Christmas carols, decorated trees, holiday smells, and overflowing trays of Christmas cookies brought inevitable excitement.

Anticipation built with each opened door on the advent calendar. Finally on the night of December 24th, I would lose the ability to sleep altogether.

Fun times.

I wish I could tell you that my childhood excitement over Christmas was rooted in something spiritual. It wasn’t. Although I marveled at the wonders surrounding Jesus’ Bethlehem story, it would be years before I understood its profound significance and opened the gift God gave me in His Son.

No, my childhood Christmas sugarplums came from the presents.

You see, for the 12 long months from one December 25th to the next, my brothers and I would hear one thing from my parents in response to asking for things we wanted. “Maybe. Put it on your Christmas list.”

So we did.

Then we’d wait. And we’d hope. And as the big day drew near, we’d wonder what treasures might actually appear beneath the Christmas tree.

Do you remember what it feels like to hope, beloved?

At some point, even if only for a few brief moments of childhood abandon, all of us have allowed the glimmer of possibility to stir our hearts.

And that stirring kindled anticipation. Perhaps that hope even inspired a step of faith.

You bought that lottery ticket.

You went after that promotion.

You opened your heart to love.

Then you waited and watched. And hoped. And you didn’t get the outcome you desired.

Unfortunately, in a world with very few guarantees, we often end up disappointed. And many of us have discovered first-hand that Proverbs 13:12 proves true.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

And so stories of a child Savior born in a stable with the power to redeem your life seem a bit farfetched. You can appreciate the sentimental wonder of the story, but you dare not open your heart to really believe Him for His promises.

Or maybe Jesus Himself seems to have disappointed you.

Yet Romans 5:5 makes a bold claim.

And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Beloved, biblical hope does not disappoint. But we must pay careful attention to what scripture links that hope to: love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

You see, we can seek Jesus for His power. We can associate ourselves with His name to try to garner His blessing. But if we pass love by, hope in His name holds no guarantee.

The baby born in Bethlehem wasn’t the means to access God’s gifts. He is the gift.

But we can’t just stand next to Him in church on Sunday. We don’t step into His power by singing songs about Him. We’ll never find healing by owning a Bible we never open.

Love alone releases the blessings of heaven into this broken, troubled world. Love remains the only catalyst to release them in you.

And so the manger offers an incredible hope. Transforming love. Love that must first be encountered, trusted, and received. Love that can then pour out. And change the circumstances of earth.

That’s better than any shiny present under the tree.

Whatever your association with Jesus has been, beloved, will you take a chance on love? Will you open the door to your heart and invite Jesus to reveal Himself? His Spirit wants to write His Word upon your heart and transform you from the inside.

Make sure you open the gift, dear one. It costs you nothing but time and gains everything.

And it’s guaranteed not to disappoint.

Would You Let God Birth a Miracle Through You?

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

We all want to witness miracles.

We want God to wow us with wonder like He did so many times in scripture. And let’s be honest. We really just wish God would show up and prove Himself.

So we cry out for miracles.

Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:2 NIV

Yes, we want the miracles. We just don’t want what God requires of us to release them.

Faith.

I’m not talking about a theory of faith. We’ll grab hold of that easily enough.

No, I’m talking about hitting the pavement with it. Living faith that defies difficulty. That stretches and grows us. Faith that believes an unbelievable promise, then holds onto it no matter what.

Do you have that kind of faith, beloved? Do you take God at His Word, no matter how crazy it sounds? Because that’s the only way you and I will ever witness miracles.

We need to trust God’s Word more than we value our comfort.

We need to trust God’s Word more than we value our comfort. #Heplanstoprosperyou Click To Tweet

I wonder if you’ve thought much about Mary’s response to the angel who had just informed her she would give birth to God’s own son. “Let it be to me according to your word.”

 Really? Is that how you would’ve responded, beloved?

Let’s forget for a moment that we know how it all works out and slip our feet into Mary’s sandals. She was just an ordinary girl, planning a wedding with the man of her dreams.

I wonder how many times she had imagined her wedding day. Would she wear flowers in her hair? Did she help her mother design her dress? I imagine she dreamed of a beautiful gathering with family and friends offering warm smiles and supportive hugs.

Then a messenger appeared with news of a very different dream.

A baby. Before her wedding day.

In this new dream, her husband wouldn’t father her firstborn child. She would face ridicule and judgment. She might even lose the husband her dreams encircled.

Yet when an angel of the Lord appeared to her declaring that God had chosen her to mother the Son of God Himself, she said,

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Amazing. Mary simply believed God, and that was enough for her. She was an ordinary woman who set her heart toward godly purpose. God’s Word became more important than her comfort and ease. More powerful than doubt, ridicule, shame, or loneliness.

She believed God, and trusted that His plan was the very best for her.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Mary’s belief invited God’s seed to create life in her womb. And God would use this ordinary girl as a vessel through whom He would bring about His plan of redemption for the world.

Do you think she found it worth it, beloved? When she finally looked into the face of the miracle she had carried within her for nine long months, do you think she felt regret?

I don’t, dear one. My guess is one emotion consumed her. Love. She gazed into love’s face and held Him in her arms. I imagine she wept with wonder.

But then her miracle asked more of her. More surrender. More sacrifice.

One day hatred would tear her Son from her. The man He would become would hang before her, bloodied and beaten on a wooden cross.

Her child that kings had worshipped with gifts of gold would become the sacrificial Lamb. And Mary would receive her greatest miracle. Eternal life.

Will you trust God to work miracles through your life, beloved? Will you trust even when you don’t understand? Would you believe the blessing overshadows the cost?

Mary believed.

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. Luke 1:45