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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?

 

Encountering Jesus

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

On Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. A throng of people filled our sanctuary, many dressed in pristine Easter finery. Ushers scurried to find seats, busily lining folding chairs along the walls and aisles to accommodate the overflow. It was no ordinary Sunday.

How it must have delighted God’s heart to see the crowds uniting in praise of His Son. Voices rose together in worship, a beautiful melody lifting before the throne of the King. I felt my heart swell with love and gratitude in response to what my Savior chose to suffer for me. My hands rose heavenward involuntarily.

It was a good day.

Today, sadness pricks at the edges of my heart.

You see, I wonder how many of the faithful Easter attendees flooding our churches really know the Savior they came to worship. How many went out of duty for a distant God they hoped to appease by their annual presence on resurrection day? How many others rifle into church each week from that same sense of duty, with no thought of encountering the Living God?

Please hear my heart, dear one. I don’t say this in judgment. I say it because for 26 years I was one of them. I say it because I know the emptiness of being a church attendee who had no fellowship with Jesus. I say it because I want desperately for everyone to experience the transforming power of His unfailing love.

Beloved, do you know Him?

I remember the day I finally met Him.

I wasn’t looking for it when it happened. I was simply trying to finish my homework and get my blanks filled in before our home group met the next time for Bible study.

But my relentless, loving God had plans for this lost and wandering sheep. Four words stared back at me from the page in my workbook, seeking my response: Do you love Jesus?

The question was an easy one, and I lifted my hand to answer “yes” without even thinking. I knew the right answer.

But my hand began to tremble as a fresh revelation dawned. Conviction fell over me as the Spirit of Truth invaded my thoughts and allowed me to see what He saw.

I didn’t love Him.

I had thought I did. I’m sure I’d said it a hundred times in my twenty-six years. After all, I’d grown up in church. And I wasn’t just an Easter worshiper; I worshiped every week. I could quote Scripture and tell you all about Jesus’ life.

But knowing stuff about Jesus isn’t the same as knowing Him.

And that day, the Spirit lifted the veil so I could see the truth about myself. I realized I had been a pretender, living a lie. I couldn’t love Jesus because I didn’t even know Him. But I realized something else that day that was even more important: I wanted to. And so, undone by the Holy Spirit in my living room, I confessed my sin, exited the kingdom of darkness, and gave my life to Jesus.

I have never been the same.

Have you had your encounter with Jesus, dear one? Does your Christianity bear the marks of religious chains, or a transforming work of grace?

If you’re not certain, ask the Lord of Glory to reveal Himself to you. He will never withhold Himself from a seeking heart. In fact, He’s the One stirring you to seek Him. And when you do, He promises,

“I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:14

He will lift the veil for you to see, piercing darkness with glory and disclosing your truth. And then, you have a choice to make. Will you step into the light and head toward Jesus? Or do you prefer the comfortable familiarity of the darkness?

Choose life, beloved. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and you will never see heaven without Him (John 14:6). To spend eternity with Him there, you must know and trust Him here.

He beckons you to life with the same invitation He gave the Twelve, “Follow Me.”

Will you follow?

 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3