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The Power of Gratitude

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

Sometimes gratitude hurts.

Life isn’t always kind, and when we find ourselves struggling over circumstances we wouldn’t choose, we don’t naturally feel grateful. In fact, we tend to get angry. Even bitter.

Yet our opening scripture suggests that God desires for us to give thanks in all circumstances. Every one. That includes the good and the bad.

This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, beloved. Gratitude.

 Why would gratitude be so important to God? Perhaps the next verse offers some insight.

Do not quench the Spirit. Verse 19 

Ingratitude stops the flow of the Spirit, hindering God’s work in our midst. Praise and thanksgiving, on the other hand, release God’s Spirit to move.

Ingratitude stops the flow of the Spirit in our lives. Gratitude releases it. Click To Tweet

You see, thanksgiving carries us into His presence.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! Psalm 100:4

When we choose gratitude—even when we’re hurting or don’t understand our present circumstances—we choose to enter into God’s goodness. That choice—to focus on what is good instead of what’s presently lacking—removes the enemy’s power and invites God in. You see, perspective is everything.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” Matthew 6:22

According to Jesus, how we view something directly relates to what we experience in our body. The light we long for comes from seeing with a healthy perspective. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. When we view things through a faulty lens—the lens of negativity—our body takes on the darkness of our wrong perspective. It actually gives the enemy a position of power in our lives—and permission to torment us.

“But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:23

I wonder, dear one, if you wrestle with the pull of the darkness in your own life. Hopelessness, anxiety, and depression are crippling lives in greater measure than we’ve ever seen, particularly within the body of Christ.

Yet we have this promise about our Savior,

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5  

Do you want to live the overcoming promises of God’s Word, beloved? Do you want to dwell in the power of the light? Choose gratitude. Find something to be thankful for, and dwell on that. Let your lips offer a sacrifice of praise, especially during times of sorrow. You will discover that gratitude ushers you into the presence of God.

I’ve watched this happen in the life of my mother-in-law over the last couple of years.

Pain in her body has kept her from doing many of the things she loves to do. She spends most of her days at home. Hurting. But I have watched a sweet peace fall over her, as she’s chosen not to dwell on what she’s lost, but rather all that she has.

She tells me, “I have so much time, time to think of all the blessings God has given me. My beautiful family. His faithfulness to us.”

And I’ve watched a beautiful miracle unfold through her. You see, the presence of God falls on her and flows through her when she speaks. A friend of mine visited her recently wanting to encourage her. Instead, she was profoundly blessed by the encouragement she received! God’s presence flowed to my friend and lifted her own weary heart.

Why? Because my mother-in-law has spent the last years dwelling in the courts of her King. Her gratitude ushered her through His gates, allowing Him to minister to her soul. And that allows Him to show up without her even trying. Her heart is already engaged with His, and He’s right there, ready to give.

When our hearts stay engaged with God's Spirit, He shows up without our even trying. Click To Tweet

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving season, I wonder if we can go a little deeper. Beyond pumpkins and lovely wooden signs declaring thanks, what if we engaged our hearts? Let’s fill our bodies with light as we look at our lives through the lens of gratitude and declare our thanks to the Giver of every good gift.

As you enter His courts with your praise, He may just surprise you.

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Dangerous Signs and Wonders

How great are His signs, how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion endures from generation to generation. Daniel 4:3

We live in a time of glorious awakening! More and more people have opened their hearts to believe that Christianity is supposed to be much more than doctrines and creeds. Jesus brought heaven to earth, and He wants to teach us to live the promises of His kingdom.

1 Corinthians 4:20 sums it up nicely, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

If our Christianity remains theories and arguments, we’ve missed the mark, dear one. By a lot.

If our Christianity remains theories and arguments, we've missed the mark. Click To Tweet

Our opening Scripture reveals some of what Christ’s kingdom brings. Great signs and mighty wonders! Dominion that never ends. These signs have marked God’s movement through every generation as God brought deliverance to His people, proving His might.

But a problem arises when we set our sights on these great demonstrations of power to prove and assure ourselves that God is in our midst.

Our enemy can also perform them.

Consider Jesus’ warning to His Disciples while preparing them for the last days.

“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Matthew 24:24

Does that surprise you, dear one?

As darkness increases in the last days, people will look to power beyond themselves to survive. They will need to, as hopelessness rises and recognition dawns that this fight is beyond their power to win. And when desperation sends them searching, our enemy stands ready to serve them what they think they need— a counterfeit version to keep them from the real Deliverer who can save them.

Satan will offer the anti-Christ to the world as a suitable savior to draw hearts away from Jesus. He will deceive many because he will not be impotent. He comes with power of his own.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10

Believers will have to know the true, beloved, to be able to recognize the deception.

We must know what is true to be able to recognize deception. Click To Tweet

But one type of power can’t be manipulated or copied. It has only one Source and can’t be replicated…nor would our enemy want it to be. And that’s the power Jesus came to reveal above all.

Love’s power to heal and transform the human soul.

Oh, dear one, this is the wonder that we must elevate and applaud in our days! Love expressing itself through redeemed humanity. With the cross of Christ, God’s work turned inward, releasing the enemy’s hold on our hearts and restoring us to God’s own nature. Manifesting that nature in once broken people reveals the authority God carries.

You see, our enemy can duplicate outward signs and wonders. He’s been doing it from the beginning. Even when Moses confronted Pharoah to deliver God’s people from Egypt, he met God’s signs with a powerful demonic response.

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. Exodus 7:10-12a

Pharoah’s sorcerers were able to imitate what God had done. God still had the last word, however, proving His enduring dominion with the rest of verse 12, “But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.”

Demonic power remains as real and tangible today. So does God’s authority over it. They do not possess equal power. God still reigns supreme. And the answer to our victory lies at the very core of who God is. Love.

The miracle this world desperately needs to witness and experience is love.

Jesus told us what distinguishes His true disciples from all the rest.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

Love reveals God at work in our midst, dear one. He is love, and real love has no other source. Love helps. It forgives. It keeps no record of wrongs. It never insists on its own way. It’s patient and kind. It believes, hopes, and endures. It cannot fail.

Love freely expressed within the body will usher in Satan’s defeat. This sign alone will pronounce to our enemy that his end is imminent. Transformed hearts uniting in Kingdom love and purpose will devour him, revealing what he truly is in the face of God’s pure, undefiled love.

Impotent.

It is God's pure and undefiled love that defeats the enemy. Click To Tweet

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Do You Know What You Carry?

“For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:25

I recently shared a little piece of my journey with you. After an amazing encounter with Jesus, I discovered my heart resisted what God showed me about myself. Instead of embracing His beautiful truth, something deep inside kept insisting on a lesser version.

And that’s precisely the result our enemy hopes to achieve, dear one. If he can convince us to continue to live in our brokenness instead of Christ’s provision for us, he can hinder God’s movement through us. Only faith unleashes the power of God’s promises. If you and I want to see God revealed in our midst, we need to know what He says about us.

Only faith unleashes the power of God's promises. #FaithUnleashesPower Click To Tweet

We need to understand what we carry.

I’m reminded of a story involving Peter and John in Acts 3. As they headed into the temple at the hour of prayer, a man who had been lame from birth asked them for money. Peter responded with something the man did not expect.

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”  And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. Acts 3:4-5

I wonder how many times the man had lived this very scene. Verse 2 reveals that he was carried and laid daily at the temple gate to ask for alms. I imagine the monotony of the routine left him with little expectation. How many temple visitors passed by pretending not to see him? Still others may have tossed him a coin without ever actually looking at his face.  

And yet this day, Peter and John looked right at him, asking him to do the same. “Look at us.” Their response got his attention, stirring the lame man’s heart with hopeful expectation. Surely these two would provide him something.

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Acts 3:6-7

I can only imagine what the man must have thought in that life-changing moment. He extended his hand to receive coins from a stranger. Instead, the hand he reached toward raised him to his feet.  And immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

Most of us can’t remember our first steps. This man, lame from birth, would never forget his.

And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:8-10

I think we could use a little wonder and amazement, don’t you? Wouldn’t you love to see Jesus revealing Himself powerfully in our midst? I believe that’s something He longs to give.

You see, Hebrews 13:8 declares simply,

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Jesus hasn’t changed, dear one. If our experience has changed since He first birthed His church, that only leaves one explanation. We’ve changed.

Take a look at Peter’s words when he addressed the crowd to reveal the power behind this miraculous healing.

And His name [Jesus]—by faith in His name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. Acts 3:16

Faith in the name of Jesus gave an invalid perfect health. Legs that had never stood before lifted him to his feet. Muscles that should have atrophied from years without use carried him into the temple. And he didn’t just walk. He leapt! 

What had been dead came alive, all because of faith. Sounds like the Gospel message to me.

Faith brings life. #GospelMessage Click To Tweet 

But whose faith, dear one?

This part of the story intrigues me the most. You see, it wasn’t the faith of the lame man that ushered in his miracle. It was Peter’s faith that produced a work of God on his behalf.

I can’t seem to let go of Peter’s words to the lame beggar.

“I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

Peter knew what he had.

He knew exactly who he was and what was available to him in Jesus. And he knew he was free to give it. He didn’t define himself by his mistakes or limit his possibilities by his past. He believed what Jesus said about him, and his belief poured out blessing on a man who had no faith.

I wonder, dear one. Have we limited God’s power on earth because we refuse to see ourselves as the people God says we are? Is Jesus simply waiting for us to embrace what He says we carry?

Perhaps it’s a good time to revisit our opening scripture.

“For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:25 

Jesus repeats those words five times in the four gospels. [See Matthew 13:12, Matthew 25:29, Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18, and Luke 19:26]  I think He may be trying to get our attention.

At first glance Jesus’ words appear confusing. How can God take something from someone with nothing?  

Take a look at His words again. 

From the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

What if Jesus’ words reveal that this man’s problem isn’t really that he didn’t have, but rather that he didn’t acknowledge and use what he had? The consequences are clear. If we don’t use it, we lose it.

You and I need to know what we have, dear one.

Let’s stop allowing unbelief to quench the Spirit of God. It’s not our place to tell God how He should move. He manifests His Spirit through each of us as He chooses (1 Corinthians 12:11). But if He’s going to release His work through you, He will require something of you.

A little faith.

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You’re Not Who You Think You Are

He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

I wept today.

In case you’re picturing gentle tears of joy or wistful tender memories, it wasn’t. Quite the opposite. Wrenching sobs erupted from someplace deep.

You know the kind. Unguarded vulnerability releasing decades of pain that sent the dog hiding under the desk.

I’m not even certain what triggered it, exactly, except that Jesus has invited me to explore the crimson-stained gifts His cross unleashed for us. And for more than a year, He has repeatedly drawn my gaze back to this promise sprinkled over us through His shed blood.

By His wounds you have been healed. 

I hope you noticed the tense encasing that promise. You have been healed. It isn’t something you’re striving toward, dear one. It’s already happened. You received perfect healing as a gift of grace poured out through the blood of your Savior.

Healing is a gift of grace poured out to us through the blood of our Savior. Click To Tweet

That truth prompts me to ask the question: Am I living as one who has been healed? Do I live out the reality of that promise? Because I don’t feel like it a lot of the time. I seem to vacillate between moments of glorious celebration over God’s faithfulness and ravaging self-doubt.

And I’m tired. Aren’t you?

I’m tired of settling for a theoretical version of the Gospel. Jesus came as a flesh and blood man. He felt real pain and endured real suffering. He shed actual blood. And that blood redeems what the enemy has stolen. It unleashed divine power, not doctrinal theory.

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

I think it’s time we learned to live in that power, don’t you? I’d like to invite you to open your heart and step into this truth with me.

Christ’s blood makes impossible things possible.

Are you living out impossible promises, dear one? You should be, and so should I.  

What if the pain surrounding us in these dark days offers an invitation to raise our expectations and believe God for the more we’ve settled for living without? What if He’s simply waiting for us to exercise the faith that ushers in His impossible promises?

Let’s take a moment to contemplate what God sent Jesus to the earth to do.

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. Acts 10:38

Do you see it, dear one? The good that Jesus came to accomplish—what God anointed Him to do—was heal all who were oppressed by the devil. If you’re a human being, you fall under that promise. But don’t miss what enabled Jesus to fulfill His calling. For God was with Him. That detail also allows us full access to God’s promises.

Isaiah 61:1 describes Jesus’ job description with a few more details.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.

Today we celebrate the good news of the Gospel: Jesus came to set captives free! But I need you to notice what precedes experiencing that freedom in this verse. Healing. Jesus must bind up our broken hearts, enabling us to leave our captivity and live free from oppression.

Consider this thought with me, based on my own experiences. How can a woman celebrate God’s work with overwhelming joy and clarity, yet find herself ravaged by doubt and fear in the very same day? How can a person surrounded by loving community find herself feeling completely alone and crushed under the weight of isolation?

Wounds are how. Tender places where the enemy has bitten us and left his mark. Painful experiences linger that have allowed the deceiver to whisper messages into our souls that defy God’s truth about us and rob our identity. So just as we start to move forward into God’s promises, the enemy digs into that old pain to draw fresh blood.

But here’s the thing about wounds, dear one. The Physician can’t bind them if we aren’t willing to expose them. Jesus will never heal a wound we pretend not to have.

You and I need to let Jesus lift the veil on our brokenness. Not to shame us, dear one. We need to expose the wounds we carry so He can heal and restore us, freeing us from the enemy’s influence.

Remember the promise we started with in 1 Peter 2:24,

By His wounds you have been healed.”  

The enemy wounds us by whispering messages into our souls that defy God's truth. Jesus' blood brings healing to all wounds. Click To Tweet

You received that gift of healing the moment you put your faith in Jesus. But, if you find yourself perpetually tormented by darkness, that pain reveals areas where you haven’t yet realized your divine identity. Wounds exist that you have not exchanged for the healing Christ has given you.

Lies remain in your belief system, denying the Truth that sets you free.

Deep down, we already know. The lingering ache in our hearts reveals our need. A longing deep within cries out for more. Let’s stop settling for the lie that this is as good as it gets. Don’t waver between the darkness and the Light. Let’s press into Jesus and let Him reveal His healing in our lives. You’re not who the enemy says you are. Fear and doubt have no business oppressing you. Jesus speaks the final Word.

And His blood declares you healed.

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Are You Rooted or Held?

Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:7 NLT

Appearances can be deceiving.

This morning while watering my outdoor plants, I noticed a withering vine. I couldn’t tell anything was wrong with it until I stood right next to it. From a distance, the entire plant appeared to be thriving, the little shoot disappearing into beautiful cascades of green blooming with bright pink flowers. But when I got close, a cluster of withered leaves drew my attention.

They hung there—limp—entwined and hiding among the healthy leaves.

A little investigation uncovered the cause. Strong winds from a recent storm had broken the vine at the top, disconnecting it from its life source. True to their climbing nature, leaves from the healthy shoots had wound around it, holding the broken piece in place, but their grip couldn’t offer the life it needed.

Being held in proximity to the root system is no substitute for being rooted yourself.

As I looked at the little broken piece, my heart began to stir for the church. I saw how the enemy has sent storms, strategically designed to sever our connection to Jesus. He has succeeded in more ways than we have realized.

Hidden within our churches, detached hearts languish and wither. From a distance, they appear to be growing and thriving alongside everyone else, but their prosperity is an illusion.

They are held, not rooted.

Instead of connecting to Jesus themselves, the arms of rooted believers hold them close to Him. They receive some level of strength from the people supporting them, their corporate experience of worship and fellowship offering periodic comfort to their wounded souls.

But it can’t restore them.

So, although they’re held close by loving members of the body, they continue to wither. Without personally connecting to Jesus, they will never thrive, no matter how entwined they are with the people who know Him.  

Unless we are rooted in Jesus ourselves, we forfeit our ability to bloom. Click To Tweet

Jesus said in John 15:4, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

Jesus wants you rooted, dear one. He wants you to personally experience the depth of His great love for you. Only knowing that love becomes an anchor that sustains His life in you, even in difficult times. In Christ’s kingdom, storms shouldn’t destroy and deplete us. When we draw from the Life Giver, they only serve to strengthen us and establish victories over the enemy we didn’t know were possible.

Open your heart to the reality of God’s desires for you, beloved.

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-18

God wants to fill you with the complete expression of who He is. It begins when you personally encounter His love for you and dare to return it. In that place of unbroken fellowship—rooted in His vast love expressed toward you—the Life He brings will begin to revive and restore what pain has left dead and broken in you.

Oh, dear one. Regardless of the condition you presently find yourself in, you can take hold of this miraculous promise. In Christ’ kingdom, broken and detached branches can be grafted back in!

And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. Romans 11:23

Precious one, don’t settle for earthly expressions of divine fellowship. Go to the Source. Dare to surrender your heart to the One who made it. Offer it to Him freely, and He will give you His in return. Confess your unbelief and invite Jesus to lead you.

And experience the love that will leave you overflowing with thankfulness.

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My Journey into Glory, Part 2

Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2

Grace can be a tricky thing.

We toss the word around a lot in Christian circles, but most of us don’t really know how to live in it. We don’t even really understand it, but we want it. Desperately. So, we keep striving to attain what we’ve already been given. Then we end up frustrated, because we never seem to reach the thing we’re striving for.

Can you relate, dear one? I can.

According to Scripture, only two things give us access to God’s grace and manifest the power of His promises: faith (Romans 5:2) and humility (James 4:6). No amount of striving can acquire it, only faith that submits our hearts to believe in what God has already done.

Faith and humility give us access to God's grace. #graceandglory Click To Tweet

But here’s the real root of our struggle. The deceiver tricks us into believing that we’re trusting God, while underneath, hidden from our own awareness, our faith remains firmly established in a lie that he fed us. That lie—anchored to a painful life experience or old wound—serves as a dam, blocking the flow of power that grace provides to manifest God’s promise. And while our hearts still hold onto that lie, we’ll never believe the truth we’re reaching for—and never realize the fulfillment of that promise. Beloved, your heart can’t believe two opposing things at the same time.

We always reject one to make room for the other.

That’s where I got stuck. Thinking I was leaning into the glorious image of myself God had revealed to me (see My Journey into Glory), while actually resisting it. And I couldn’t understand why I felt this growing distance from God.

I began to cry out in prayer, asking Him to reveal the obstacle I felt between us, and again I saw the image He had shown me. Only this time, I saw cracks fracturing the image, like seeing my reflection in a cracked mirror. When I asked Jesus about it, I heard, “You still pass judgment on what I’ve forgiven. Your slate is clean. The image I showed you is true. The cracked glass is a deception.”

I believe that’s a lie that many of us get caught in. We know what Jesus says about us, but we see it as a “someday” promise.

I’ll be that someday…when I get my act together.

I’ll be that someday…when I get past…

Beloved, the truth is, Jesus already did everything that needs to be done. The only thing left for you and me to do is believe He did what He says He did. And He made that pretty clear in 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.

According to Scripture, you and I have already been made new. We are presently new creations in Christ. The old version of us has passed away, and the new one is already here. I knew those Scriptures—and I thought I believed them—but this nagging feeling of separation from God continued to rob me of peace.

Eventually, I attended an intimate weekend retreat to set apart time with the Lord. After dinner the first evening, I discovered that a believer in another state had been praying over my name and had received a word from God for me. I’d never met her or even heard of her, yet God met me profoundly through her as the retreat hostess shared what God had given her for me.

She began by saying, “Welcome to your healing.” Those words alone set my heart beating with fresh hope. She went on to say that when she asked the Lord about me, she saw my hard-working hands bandaged and wrapped. Then she told me the Lord wanted to “heal the scars, swollenness, and open wounds one by one to reveal unblemished hands.”

Tears surfaced as I listened to these words and other encouragements spoken over my life by this precious stranger, relating to many of them. But I didn’t understand it’s full meaning until the following morning in worship when God showed me another vision.

This time I saw Jesus holding my limp body in His arms, my head leaning against His chest. And I saw my bloody hands, red streams trickling down my forearms from the torn flesh of my knuckles. Then the image of my cracked reflection appeared again, and I knew. I had bloodied my own fists smashing the glass, rejecting God’s image of me for a lesser one.

That’s how the enemy works, dear one. He deceives. He binds our hearts with his lies so we can’t believe the truth of what God says, and only truth sets us free. I realized I had been held so long by his lie of rejection that I had become it, pushing away the very thing I believed I was reaching for.

What happened next still astonishes me. Jesus set me down and knelt before me, preparing to dress my wounds. Only before He washed and bandaged my bloodied hands, He took them in His own and did something unthinkable. He kissed them.

Can you imagine it? My Jesus—King of Kings and Lord of Lords—sullied His own lips on the blood of my rejection. He had every right to be impatient with me, to judge my heart for rejecting His provision for me. After all, I’ve been serving in ministry for 11 years, leading others into His promises. I should’ve seen it. Should’ve known.

But He didn’t choose any of that. Instead, He simply loved me. Right where I was. In the mess. In the pain. I didn’t need to clean myself up to receive that love. He was right there, willing to give it. Kissing me in my brokenness, before He ever washed my hands.

Jesus never judges our brokenness. He restores even our self-inflicted wounds. #KnowHisHeart Click To Tweet

That’s the real Jesus, beloved. Kind, merciful, loving, and yours—if you’ll have Him. He is a King with authority to command. He brings victory in His wake. And He loves like no other. But you and I won’t experience that victorious power if we never experience Him.

We need to know Him, dear one. Not just His words, but His heart.

Love makes all the difference.

 

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Ready to Bloom

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:3

I love spring.

And I have to admit, I’m a little more eager for it this year. We’ve had a very long, very cold, very gray winter. I’m ready to feel the warmth of the sun. I think creation would agree.

Yet even now hope emerges with the promise of new life. Green blades have begun to penetrate the brown blanket of lawn. Beautiful red buds have emerged on my maple trees. What has lain dormant and barren stands ready to bloom in full force.

My heart bursts with anticipation. Change is coming.

I sense the same promise looming on the horizon for the church, dear one. What has appeared dormant and lifeless is about to spring to life, bursting with beauty.

Can you sense it? The Spirit of God calls us to awaken from our slumber and rise to release the new life Jesus loosed on the cross.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Isaiah 60:1-3

I’m ready to see it. Aren’t you? I long to witness the glory of the Lord evident upon His people. Light will penetrate the darkness, and many will be drawn to the brightness of our rising.

But here’s the catch, beloved. You and I can’t penetrate darkness while our hearts remain dark. We too closely resemble the darkness to disperse it.

So what if we determined not to blend in with the fallen world any longer? What if we gave Jesus unrestricted access and invited Him to blossom our hearts with the fruit of His Spirit?

Fruit-bearing marks the path to glory, dear one.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:8

Let’s see how you and I can become beautiful, fruit-bearing branches that reveal the glory of God.

We plant the seed.

God cannot produce fruit without seed, dear one. And Jesus clearly defined the seed for us when He explained the parable of the sower to His disciples in Luke 8:11.

“The seed is the word of God.”

There’s no getting around it, my friend. If you and I want to experience the promises of God and become living testimonies to the power of resurrection life, we must spend time reading the Word. That’s the only way to plant the seed.

1 Peter 1:23 tells us that we have been born again, “not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

God’s Word is the imperishable seed. It can’t die, but it can be snatched away, and weeds can choke it out. That’s why it’s imperative to regularly return to the Word. We have to keep replanting the seed the enemy has snatched up until it takes root.

We water the seed.

Seeds can’t grow without water. Jesus said in John 7:38-39, Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

As we actively believe the implanted Word, living water flows. The Spirit waters the seed of the Word to bring growth. That’s why Jesus declared in John 4:23 that true worshipers would worship in Spirit and Truth. Only a true worshiper will yield godly fruit. The Word will not do its work without the presence of the Spirit.

We must seek the Lord’s presence though prayer and invite the Spirit to bring the Word to life in us.

Understanding provides the light to make it grow.

Psalm 119:130 declares,

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

This is why the work of the Spirit is so necessary, dear one. He gives us understanding of the Word, teaching us all things (John 14:26). Without Him, the words on the pages of scripture are just words. But through Him, the seed takes root and begins to grow the fruit of God’s heart in us.

Seed. Water. Light. Only these essential elements can initiate and sustain growth. Let’s trust Jesus to change our character and grow us up in Him, that we can be filled to the measure with who He is (Ephesians 3:19). We have nothing to fear, only lavish promises to fulfill.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-9

 

You’re Not Who You Think You Are

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

My heart hurts for the body of Christ. We’re going to church and doing our best to put on the joy of Jesus. But the vast majority of believers I encounter aren’t living out the victory God promises in His Word. We feel crushed under the weight of oppression, and sometimes our lives seem more marked by defeat than the lost we’re trying to save.

Something’s wrong with that picture, if you ask me. Very wrong.

You and I are supposed to be living, breathing, shining examples of what the power of God can do in a life. So what’s keeping us from the inheritance scripture claims is ours?

I can offer a guess. I think it’s the same thing that kept the Israelites from theirs.

So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:19

Simple unbelief has sabotaged Christ’s church and kept us in a state of perpetual defeat.

Please don’t misunderstand me. It isn’t that we don’t believe in what Jesus did for us on the cross. The problem is we’ve misunderstood how to apply it to our lives right now. We rejoice over future promises, but we’ve allowed an unseen enemy to convince us that we can’t really expect to see the promises of God’s Word realized in this lifetime.

And that’s where we find ourselves caught, beloved. Stuck in limbo because we believe the wrong words. We’ve allowed the enemy’s whispers to override God’s Word, and we don’t even realize it’s happening.

An idea has penetrated much of the church. It claims we will never be free from the destructive power of our flesh until Christ returns. I’ve heard it often. I’ve even believed it. But I have to ask, dear one. Where did it come from?

You see, when I look at God’s Word, I can’t find those words. Instead, I find these.

  • Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
  • Galatians 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
  • 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.

It seems to me those promises aren’t written in a future tense. According to these scriptures, the new isn’t something we have to work hard to achieve; it’s already here. My flesh has already been crucified— along with its passions and desires. And I am already more than a conqueror.

And Romans 6:6-7 adds this promise.

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. For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Here’s the truth, dear one. Your old self—your sin nature— was crucified with Jesus on that cross. It died with Him. Once you put your faith in Him, you received the victory Christ gained. Now sin’s power over you is nothing but a lie.

But here’s the problem: We believe the lie. We believe that our flesh still has power, and we continue to live as the people we used to be.

Beloved, our belief in its power gives it life.

What if you and I determined today to simply take God at His Word and believe what He says? What if we chose to trust Jesus when He tells us our flesh is dead because He conquered it?

You see, we give that crucified nature life every time we choose to trust it—every time we simply do what we’ve always done because we believe that’s who we are. After all, history has proved it.

But faith isn’t about basing our beliefs on what we see. It’s about trusting what God’s Word says.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NIV

And God’s Word says that my sin nature was nailed to the cross with Christ. It’s been crucified. That sinner isn’t who I am any more, regardless of what my actions have indicated.

Beloved, God is asking us to take Him at His Word and become who He made us to be. Will you choose today to believe Him?

“… 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.” Ephesians 4:22-24

Only renewing our minds will enable us to become the new creation the cross empowers us to be. God beckons us to believe the truth so that His grace can empower us to live it.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

The Word, the Rock, and the Gates of Hell

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Matthew 16:18 ESV

I’d love to see Christ’s church prevail against the gates of hell. Wouldn’t you?

In days when we see evil advancing—where atrocities set before us in the news turn our stomachs and vulgarities have become commonplace—this promise from Jesus to His eager, bungling disciple offers hope.

But do we actually expect to see it? Do we view this promise as a present hope? Or have we relegated Jesus’ words to a future assurance we won’t see realized until His return?

Beloved, what if you and I could see that prevailing church advancing in our day? What if we really did have the power to set the kingdom of evil on its heels and smash its gates?

Jesus spoke those words to Peter on a pivotal day in history, the day he first proclaimed Jesus to be, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (verse 16).

Well done, Peter. That day, at least, he got it right. Stumbling, precocious Peter boldly proclaimed what he knew in his heart to be true. Jesus was the Promised One heralded in the Old Testament. The Christ had come. The Kingdom had come. And things would change forever.

Indeed, they did, just not exactly in the way they had expected. The army of the Kingdom of God advanced, but not against the reigning Roman government as the people had hoped. Instead, Jesus loosed His army to victoriously trample an unseen spiritual foe, the force behind the present evils they suffered.

Dear one, Jesus offers that same invitation to us today. But like the majority of Jews in Jesus’ day, many of us have set our gaze so firmly on the final earthly kingdom Christ will establish when He returns that we’ve overlooked the current one. We mutter prayers, “Come quickly, Lord,” hiding in our homes and churches, hoping the storms will pass us by.

Beloved, we’re missing the opportunity to participate in the glory of that kingdom now.

What if we chose to believe what Jesus said in Mark 1:15,

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Celebrate with me that the Kingdom of God has come near! It lives within the church (Luke 17:21). And that kingdom, loosed in the body of believers, will do in our day the very thing that Jesus promised Peter, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Wouldn’t you like to witness a little victory? Wouldn’t you like to get your feet wet in the front lines at the turning of the tide?

Jesus’ words in our opening Scripture have led many to believe that God chose Peter to be the rock on whom He would build His church. Although Peter did become a leader and pillar of the early church, I’m not sure that’s what Jesus had in mind with His statement. After all, the church could only be built upon one Rock—Christ Himself. Jesus certainly knew better than to rest the future of the church in the hands of one man.

So what was Jesus saying to Peter that day? Let’s get a little context.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:16-19

One of the most significant parts of this passage often remains overlooked. Let’s read verse 17 again.

For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus’ teaching on the rock comes in direct correlation with that statement, a continuation of the thought. “And I tell you…”

Consider with me for a moment. What if Jesus’ teaching has less to do with who Peter was and more to do with the example he set in that moment? What if the rock Jesus referred to wasn’t Peter himself but rather his ability to discern what the Father was speaking and his desire to believe and live out of what he heard?

Not convinced? Let’s tune our ears to something else Jesus said.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”  Matthew 7:24-25

Hmm… “… and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Sounds like a similar promise to me. A house built on the rock withstands the storm that rages against it. And what’s the rock? Hearing and living out what Jesus speaks.

Dear one, Peter had heard what the Father was speaking into his heart about His Son, and he believed. He lived out that belief by altering his life to come into agreement with what God had revealed to Him. He stood before Jesus and boldly declared Him the Christ at a time when the majority of his fellow Jews did not.

And Jesus said, “Yes Peter. Keep hearing my truth and adjust your life to it, and you become a stone, strengthened and built upon my Rock. This is how I will build my church. Keep that up, Peter, and the gates of hell will not be able to advance.”

Could it really be that simple? Could we really become empowered to overthrow hell’s gates merely by seeking what God says and adjusting our lives to what we discover?

Well, isn’t it worth a try? Consider the alternative.

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:26-28

How far the church has fallen since the day our Lord first spoke those words to Peter. Jesus invites us to return, beloved. His Truth still speaks, and He’s looking for men and women like Peter who will allow their lives to resonate with its sound.

Let’s tune to the voice of our Shepherd, align our lives with what He speaks, and remind the world of 1 Corinthians 4:20,

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

 

 

Shining Like Stars

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”  Matthew 5:14-15

Jesus called you and me the light of the world. It only makes sense, really, since He is the “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9) and now He dwells within us. As His body, saved and redeemed by His blood, He asks us to shine His light. And according to Matthew 5, that light should never remain hidden. Instead, it should light up the sky like a city on a hill.

Do you shine, dear one? Are you giving Jesus what He asked for?

I can’t help thinking of the song I used to sing as a little girl in Sunday school. We’d proudly hold up our hands with fingers pointing toward the heavens and proclaim, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”

But it didn’t shine. I never let it out.

We often make the mistake of trying to act like Jesus. We think we shine His light by imitating what He would do. Only we don’t have the strength to act like Him all the time, so that inner “self” we try to hide through our good behavior reveals itself more often than we’d like it to. And the watching world looks at our version of Christianity and calls it hypocrisy.

Can we really blame them?

You and I aren’t supposed to act like light, dear one. Jesus intends for us to become light.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

… God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

Jesus carried the burden of our sin to the cross so that we could become His righteousness. He gave it to us the moment we put our faith in Him and received His Spirit to dwell within us. Now we need to let Him out. We need to yield to the power of His Spirit within us and let Him take over.

You see, beloved, Jesus shines through a transformed heart.

Have you offered Him your heart to mold and change, dear one? Have you told Him you’re willing to let go of your bitterness? Have you invited Him to circumcise your heart to love with His selfless love?

It’s time we stopped pretending and let Jesus set us ablaze with His light!

Times are changing. Evil seems to show itself in increasing measure. Scripture foretells of astonishing things to come—some of them terrible, some wondrous—but all of them remain certain.

Yet in Christ, we have glorious hope!

But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:1-3

When will these things be fulfilled? God made this astonishing announcement to the prophet Daniel centuries ago.

… When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.” Daniel 12:7

When the power of the holy people has finally been broken? What on earth does that mean?

Consider for a moment the power struggle that rages within you. Each day you must choose whether to bow to your own self-will, or to bow to the leadership of the Spirit. More often than not, your own desires win the battle, quenching the Spirit’s power.

Yet in the last days, the power of the Spirit will rise victorious. Christ’s own will finally learn to overcome and claim the victory Jesus purchased for them through the cross. As in the days following the church’s conception, believers will choose to abandon self-will, leaving its power broken. Christ’s church will rise, yielding to His Spirit in glorious surrender, uniting in the love and unity glimpsed at the birth of the church and restored in time for the return of the King.

Beloved, you and I can hasten His return.

You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. 2 Peter 3:11-12

As we choose to surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives, allowing Christ to sanctify our hearts and renew our minds with His purpose, we move us toward the fulfillment of God’s great plan of redemption.

Like the Disciples who first answered Jesus’ call and paved the way for us, will you choose to live radically for Jesus, abandoning all else to the rise of His glory? I pray that you will, beloved,

. . . so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. Philippians 2:15

Then our eyes will finally gaze upon our Lord and King without a veil. Glory rises, dear one. Will you allow Christ to release it through you?

 

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