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Video Taping For Online Study Begins Today!

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him. 

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20 NIV 1984

My heart is full today as we prepare to begin video taping sessions for Tested by Fire. I have to admit, I feel a bit like a fish out of water.

But as I read this story of the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, I’m reminded that Jesus doesn’t call us to remain comfortable, or even invite us to stay with what’s familiar. He simply bids us to follow Him.

Yet an astounding truth surfaces in His invitation to follow. If we will, He will use our lives to catch people, gently rescuing them from the raging waters of the world and inviting them to breathe the fresh air of the Spirit.

Amazing.

I wish I could tell you I’m completely prepared for what’s coming. I’d love to announce that all my outlines are finished and I know exactly where we’re headed. But I need to be honest. I can’t. You see, Jesus hasn’t shown me all of it yet.

And that doesn’t necessarily sit well for a girl with a perfectionist personality and maybe a few tendencies toward control.

But my Lord is asking me trust Him. He’s simply saying, “Come, follow me.”

And I’m ready to follow. Because,

. . . I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

2 Timothy 1:12

I needn’t fear, because I know the One I believe. And He is faithful.

Just this morning in my quiet time, I read about Jesus in Isaiah 11:1-3.

 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of power,

the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

That same Spirit that came to rest on Jesus now resides within me. And He brings with Him every blessing He bestowed on Jesus . . .wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and the fear of the LORD.

You and I have nothing to fear when we follow Jesus, dear one. Our faith opens us up to the gifts of the Spirit and allows God to reveal Himself.

And that’s good news. Because none of the people joining me in Bible study need me. They need to encounter Jesus through me.

Will you join me in praying for a fresh revelation of Jesus over the next nine weeks of Bible study? Will you pray that the ladies joining me in class will come to experience Jesus in a whole new way? And will you pray that the men and women joining me online through video will sense God’s presence even through the screen?

Thank you, dear one. God is about to do amazing things among us.

We’d love you to join us. Just click here to register. Do you sense Jesus calling you?

Rising to Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25

I had a good cry with Jesus this morning. A prayer journal I’ve been working through brought me to the streets of Jerusalem to witness His trial and execution. The scene did not evoke peace or comfort. The crowd grew ugly, crying out for blood.

The guards gladly gave it, pounding Jesus with fists and lashes, their mocking lips curled in treacherous smiles as they hailed Him “King of the Jews” and repeatedly beat a crown of thorns into His head. They spit on Him and mocked Him, then made Him carry His own cross, stumbling half dead through the streets to Golgotha. There, they hammered nails into His wrists and ankles, hanging Him between two thieves on splintered beams of wood.

I can barely stand the thought of it. My heart breaks for my Lord and friend when I think of what He suffered. I cannot imagine the searing rejection He felt, the pain He endured. If anyone ever had reason to rage against injustice, it was Jesus. He was innocent, undeserving; yet He suffered unspeakable pain. And at the hands of those He professed to love, many who only the week before had worshiped Him.

Yes, if ever anyone had reason to hold a grudge, it was Jesus. But He didn’t. Instead, He hung gasping for breath, ignored their insults, and uttered the impossible.

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

Unbelievable. The torture wasn’t even over. No one had apologized. In fact, they were still hurling insults at Him. His circumstances hadn’t changed. The people had not repented. Yet Jesus chose—in the midst of His pain—to release forgiveness.

It makes no sense to us. In fact, it’s almost unthinkable. It goes against every thread of instinct woven into our human nature. But that’s the point, actually. Our human nature rings synonymous with our fallen nature, and left unchecked it will destroy us.

Dear one, the part of you that rails against how unfair your circumstances seem—that screams you deserve better and schemes for retribution—that part of you has spent its life enslaved to sin and will always incite you to respond in ways that bring about death.

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. Romans 7:5

Beloved, no good ever comes from following our “natural” instincts, because what feels natural to us comes from our life-long bondage to sin. Whenever we allow our old nature to guide our actions, death of some kind eventually results. Every time. And when we hold a grudge, it won’t be the one we harbor anger toward that experiences that death. No, our bitterness brings death to our own souls.

If you think about it, you’ll probably find you know that to be true. You’ve likely tasted the poison of bitterness and felt its effects.

Have you ever had an “enemy” so preoccupy your thoughts that you can hardly think about anything else? Anger overshadows every other emotion until it’s hard to imagine being capable of another feeling. Unrest steals your peace; anxiety consumes your joy. The very mention of your offender sets your heart racing and your blood boiling. Ugly thoughts linger. And most of the time, you just feel miserable.

Do you see it, dear one? Death. Is this what we fight to protect by refusing to forgive?

The perfect Son of God made a different choice as He hung from His cross. Why? Because Jesus, unbound by our destructive sin nature, knew that forgiveness was the only way to keep Himself free.

Jesus didn’t only offer forgiveness as a grand act of mercy toward humanity. Jesus had to forgive, dear one. Accepting that sin into His heart would’ve thwarted everything He had come to accomplish.

Think about it. What made Jesus able to conquer death and rise from the grave? He defeated sin and its resulting death by remaining the perfect, sinless, spotless Lamb. If Jesus had allowed bitterness to take root in His heart, even He would’ve missed experiencing the glory of resurrection.

Forgiveness had to take place, beloved, or Jesus would have remained in the grave. Bitterness would have kept our Savior from rising to life.

The same rings true for you, dear one. The power to rise from the dead lies within your own heart. You can trust your old nature and hold onto the resentment you have every right to carry. Or, like Jesus, you can choose to believe that resurrection life lies on the other side of forgiveness.

You may even experience the same miracle Jesus did. He didn’t just rise to glory; the grace that forgiveness unleashed brought about a direct change in His circumstances.

Just look at the thief that hung beside Him. He began that torturous day among Jesus’ accusers.  Matthew 27:44 records, “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”

Amazingly, one of the thieves suddenly switched sides after Jesus’ famous, pardoning words. Luke 23:39-41 records the abrupt change.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Jesus’ forgiveness released the power of grace to transform that thief’s hardened heart. In a powerful moment, Jesus’ opposition became His friend; His enemy became His ally. Transformation occurred because the faith expressed through forgiveness released God to move. And both Jesus and His accuser rose to new life.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Beloved, your faith expressed through obedience opens the door to release God’s grace. Why not give forgiveness a try? You may just see your enemy become your ally.

“Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Mark 9:23

More Than a Story

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord . . .  Judges 2:10-11

I grew up hearing Bible stories. My Sunday school teachers would thrill me with tales of David’s bravery as he faced a giant with only a sling and a stone, or three heroes’ miraculous walk through a fiery furnace. I even had a series of storybooks highlighting biblical adventures, and I loved to read about Daniel and the lions or Joseph and his colorful coat.

As a child, I loved the stories. But as I grew, I began to wonder if that was all they were.

Do you ever wrestle with believing the truth of God’s Word? Do your children know that Jesus is more than a fairytale?

Several years ago I was preparing dinner when my son burst through the door in tears. My eldest reported in anger that his younger brother had just pelted him in the head with a rock.

I guess frustration over consistently feeling inferior had finally taken its toll.

I called him into the house and sent him to his room to consider what had just happened while I finished my task. Then I climbed the stairs to find him on his bed, a tearful mixture of defiance and regret.

He told me he had just been so angry, he picked up the rock and threw it at his brother in a rage. He knew it was wrong, but he just couldn't help it. And he was sorry.

I could see his remorse and I told him I had forgiven him. Then I advised him to ask his brother's forgiveness as well as the Lord's. He took my hands and prayed with me on that bed. I'll never forget what he said.

You see, I expected him to simply bow his head and ask God to forgive him for hurting his brother by throwing the rock. Instead he confessed that he had a problem with anger and asked God to help him with it. His next words caught in my throat and stung my eyes with tears.

"I believe that you can help me with it because my dad had a problem with anger and he prayed to You to help him and You did, so I believe You can help me too."

My 8-year-old son had faith in a redeeming God because he had witnessed firsthand the power of His redemption. He had seen God temper a short fuse that could explode into harsh words, transforming it to increasing patience and gentle replies. He had felt the love of God flowing through to him in the form of a changed father. He had experienced firsthand the transforming power of resurrection life.

So he believed.

And that faith moved him to take action to trust God with the sin in his own heart.

Do people see that Jesus is real through your life, dear one? Do you allow Him to reveal His glorious power in you?

Jesus is more than a story. He is the King of Kings seated at the right hand of God who has taken authority over all sin through the cross. He is the Lord who raises the dead, who transforms, renews and restores.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 1 Corinthians 4:20

Isn’t it time we experienced that power instead of just reading about it? You and I can’t continue to stand in faith on yesterday’s stories. We need fresh works of God to reveal His presence today. A life that doesn’t experience God firsthand will struggle with believing He’s there at all.

The fate of the Israelite children bares witness to that. When Joshua finally led Israel into the Promised Land to claim their inheritance,

The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.  Judges 2:7

These were the children of the generation God led out of Egypt who had witnessed the mighty miracles of God’s deliverance. They held on in faith to what they had seen, and they remained faithful to the Lord. But they didn’t believe God for fresh works in their midst, so their faith didn’t pass to their own children. They may have shared stories of God’s miraculous provision in the past, but with no fresh work revealing God to them in the present, that’s just what they became. Stories. And,

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.  Judges 2:10

Within one generation of entering the Promised Land, an entire generation of Israelites grew up that didn’t know the Lord. So they wandered from Him into the idolatry of the culture around them.

Oh, how I pray we would break the cycle of unbelief in our generation! Let’s become the generation that returns to the Lord full of faith and experiences the outpouring of His glory.

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  John 11:40

The power of sin is broken. I think it’s time we see Jesus raise the dead.

It Starts With Fear

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

Whether we like the idea or not, Scripture tells us to fear God. The Bible repeatedly links our receipt of His blessings and promises with whether or not we have a heart that fears Him. According to Proverbs 14:27, fearing God propels us toward life:

“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.”

The word “fear” unsettles most of us. When we associate it with how we ought to feel about God, we often want to run from Him, not toward Him. The thought conjures images of an angry tyrant perched on a fiery throne looking to see where He can dole out judgment and wrath.

Yet we also discover in Scripture that God is love (1 John 4:16), and in that love, He offers mercy. Most of us can easily embrace those attributes; those aspects of God’s character hold a bit more appeal.  In light of that, we often choose to disregard Scripture’s warning to fear God altogether, tossing it out in favor of friendship with a very approachable and forgiving God.

Unfortunately, if we don’t begin by acknowledging that God is worthy of our fear, we can’t enter the safety of His love.

 “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; . . . But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him.”  Psalm 103:13, 17

Fear marks the beginning of our journey toward redemption. Do you fear Him?

I confess that for a long time, I didn’t. I heard so much about God’s mercy and grace that I couldn’t wrap my brain around the thought that I should fear Him. It didn’t compute with the image I had been given. I was told God was my friend.

As a result, I had a carefree attitude toward sin. I didn’t think it mattered much. After all, grace covers it, right?

Perhaps this is one reason why much of Christ’s church looks so little like Him today. Salvation doesn’t begin with grace; it ends there. Salvation begins with fear.

Let’s consider an example from Scripture that reveals a biblical response to God. The prophet Isaiah experienced the remarkable privilege of seeing God’s glory revealed.

“ . . .I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Isaiah 6:1

Verse 5 records his reaction to what he saw.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah reflexively offered one singular response to His glimpse of God’s glory: sheer terror. He cowered in God’s presence, acutely aware of his own depravity for the very first time. God’s perfect holiness laid bare his own impurity, washing it in righteous light. He realized this Supreme Being had every right to smite him, and he declared himself ruined.

Praise God the story doesn’t end there. In response to Isaiah’s mournful cry, a seraph circling the Lord in worship took a coal from the altar and approached him.

With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”  Isaiah 6:7

Pardon purchased through the altar of sacrifice has a way of changing things. Isaiah no longer cowered, distraught over his condition. Instead, full of gratitude, he offered to stand boldly for the Lord.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”  Isaiah 6:8

A beautiful transformation took place within Isaiah’s heart, all brought on by his proximity to God’s presence. He saw God as He truly is and responded with:

  • Fear – He recognized his depraved state and saw that he deserved punishment.
  • Faith – He believed God’s promise that he had been pardoned, not by anything he had done to earn it, but by the grace extended to him by God through the altar of sacrifice.
  • Repentance – Gratitude gripped him and he no longer wanted to live for himself, but rather for the Almighty God who had chosen to extend His mercy and save him.

All three responses ushered Isaiah into God’s grace. Jesus extends the same grace to us by His sacrifice on the cross. Like Isaiah, we must believe in its power to receive it, but we can’t fully apprehend God’s grace without first possessing a proper, reverent fear.

Did the fear of the Lord mark the start of your journey? Do you hold an accurate view of God's greatness? Of His holiness? I hope so. Without it, you won’t truly repent, and without repentance, you miss salvation.

Yet the beauty of fearing God is found within this truth: Once we have a proper view of God and receive His grace by faith in sincere repentance, we need never fear anything else. We become His, sealed and tucked under the shelter of His wing. And all His awesome, terrible might no longer stands opposed to us. He exerts it for us.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of . . . Well, everything.