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stubborn hard heart

The Danger of a Hard Heart

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble. Proverbs 28:14

Sometimes life just gets hard. Particularly when you have to watch people you love suffer. We hurt when they hurt, and we don’t like it. So when people or circumstances inflict pain, our hearts get a little stony toward those responsible. We want to shut them out at best, and at worst, give them a taste of their own medicine.

But something happens when we allow our hearts to harden toward people. They begin to harden toward God.

You see, God loves people. He’s for them. All of them. And He offered up His Son on a cross to rekindle selfless love in the hearts of humanity. So the still, small voice of Jesus will incline our hearts toward mercy. Forgiveness. Love that covers a multitude of sin. Truth.

And when we insist on something else—anger, bitterness, retribution, deception—we harden our hearts to the leadership of our Lord. If we persist in denying Him, we will find ourselves in serious trouble.

Look at how God responds to perpetually hardening our hearts to His voice.

And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim. Jeremiah 7:13-15

When we allow our hearts to harden toward what God is speaking, we harden our hearts toward God. And when we bear His name—claiming a position in His house—He will not tolerate our refusal of Him indefinitely. When we persist in disregarding His Word, eventually His presence withdraws and we relinquish the safety He brings.

That’s not all. God added this astonishing command to Jeremiah in verse 16.

“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.”

Can you imagine how Jeremiah must have felt hearing those words? God commanded him not to pray for these people who bore God’s name.

Judgment had fallen against the people of God. And Jeremiah couldn’t stop it. God told him not to even try.

I wonder if that thought unsettles you like it does me. God instructed Jeremiah not to intercede. He would not hear prayer on the matter. Surely this seems out of God’s character.

But this wasn’t the only time it happened. Here’s another.

For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart…”

 Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. Jeremiah 11:7-11

Did you notice in both passages that God warned them persistently? Over and over, God extended mercy, imploring them to respond. Yet these members of God’s house repeatedly rejected His cries, refusing to acknowledge His desires. Their hardened hearts unleashed consequences that could not be undone.

And again God commanded Jeremiah.

“Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble.  What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds?…” Verses 14-15

Oh, brothers and sisters. Verse 15 brings me to my knees. What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds?

Indeed. What rights can we expect God to honor when we abuse our position in His house? How long will He suffer us to disregard Him when He speaks?

Are you listening, beloved?

It’s easy to feel discouraged by the condition of the church today. In many places, an enemy has misconstrued grace for license. Holiness seems foreign. The people of God resemble the world far more than Jesus. We build our own kingdoms with little regard for Christ’s.

Yet with all of this, something stirs deep within me.

Hope.

You see. God hasn’t commanded me not to pray. Quite the contrary. His Spirit calls me to my knees. And that, beloved, means we have not yet wandered so far that we can’t return.

Do you hear Him calling too?

As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:15

God speaks, beloved. Our future depends on how we respond.

Have You Opened Your Gifts From Jesus?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

I trust by now you’ve had your fill of Thanksgiving leftovers. And now, I’m guessing that ornaments, evergreens, and sparkling lights are quickly replacing any decorative pumpkins and fall leaves. I’m excited to share that my own home has begun its holiday transformation.

December ushers in one of my very favorite seasons. Christmas has filled my heart with wonder for as long as I can remember. When we hung the lights, and holly and evergreens made their way inside our home, the joy that flickered deep within told me that this time of year was special. Christmas simply felt different than the rest of the year.

As a child I looked forward to it with great anticipation. I loved the family gatherings that accompanied Christmas, complete with caroling, special foods, and holiday smells. But nothing inspired quite as much awe as the sight of the gifts spilling out from under the tree.

Lots of extended family gathered in our home for Christmas, and large numbers of people meant a large number of gifts! Packages and ribbons beckoned our exploration, and I joined my brothers to examine the nametags, searching for the owner of each new possession. Joy would ripple through me when I found my name. This one’s for me.

And hope would rise to the surface. Perhaps this is the one I have been waiting for!

Do you remember how it felt to experience Christmas with the heart of a child, dear one? Can you recall the sensation of sugarplums dancing in your belly, a delightful mingling of anticipation and hope?

For many of us, routine has replaced much of the marvel of the holidays. And let’s be honest; the work often overshadows the wonder! Many have even lost the thrill of surprise on Christmas morning, having purchased and wrapped the gifts bearing their name beneath the tree with their own hands.

And Jesus, the One whom we gather to celebrate, is almost forgotten, worked into our festivities with brief mentions and a visit to church on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps we have been missing something.

I’d love for you to entertain this thought with me. What if Christmas still holds something worth anticipating? What if its offer of joy, hope, and wonder extends to more than just children? What if you and I could experience that child-like awe as we unwrap the gifts the Christ-child came to bring?

Consider Jesus’ words to His disciples during His earthly ministry:

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

Do you have a child-like heart, beloved?

Jesus said that unless we approach Him with the heart of a child, we will miss His kingdom. He wasn’t just referring to the eternal kingdom He will establish when He returns. He was also warning us that we can miss the kingdom blessings we’re supposed to experience on this earth until He does.

Jesus came to the earth to draw us to Him in divine relationship and reveal the glory of what’s to come. He came so people like you and me could know Him and experience a foretaste of heaven.

Have you tasted it, dear one? You’re meant to!

What if we tried a new approach this Christmas? What if we choose to see Jesus as the all-surpassing gift scripture claims He is? What if we open our hearts to believe like little children and take a chance on believing God for more?

Let’s invite the wonder of Christmas to return! Gifts bearing your name await your attention under the tree. Jesus invites you to explore them so you can claim them as your own.

This one’s for me.

What gift do you need to open, beloved? Healing. Restoration. Redemption. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Power. Purpose.

And Jesus said to him, “‘… All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23

‘Tis the season for believing, dear one.

Allow your heart to open with the wonder of an expectant child. Approach Jesus with hope and anticipation.

Beloved, Jesus holds the gifts you’ve been searching for all your life.

Feeling Powerless? Drink!

Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country. Proverbs 25:25 ESV

The Gospel is good news.

Literally. That’s what it means.

And it is good news. The cross of Christ changed everything, offering what nothing else can. Forgiveness. Redemption. Identity. Healing. Resurrection life. Restoration. Wholeness. Power. Transformation. Grace.

But for some reason we don’t share the message of the cross like its good news. We act like we don’t want to bother people with it.

Huh? Somehow the enemy has convinced us to fear sharing the hope that will help people. That will quench their thirst. That will heal what’s broken, revive and restore.

Good news is like cold water to a thirsty soul, beloved. So why aren’t we more excited to share it?

I have a theory, based on my own experience.

While we smile and enter our churches all dressed up and ready to worship Jesus, inside we’re not at all sure the gospel offers any real power—at least not while our feet still kick up dust on this earth. Life hasn’t changed much—except that we set an alarm on Sunday—and we don’t want to look bad when the message we share doesn’t live up to their expectations.

Because we ourselves still thirst.

We’re dry. Broken. Bitter. Powerless. Weary. We sing praises to the name of Jesus, but our lives too closely resemble the lost we’re supposed to save.

And so we reason that the promises of scripture are future promises instead of now promises. And we settle for just getting by, with no real zeal for advancing a kingdom that seems to promise much but deliver little.

I get it. I’ve been there. But what if the words Jesus proclaimed to a thirsty woman at a well are actually true for us today?

“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” John 4:14 ESV

Sounds pretty fabulous to me.

Jesus said that in Him it’s possible to never thirst again. Ever. Can you imagine it? To never feel dry and unsatisfied but always filled and refreshed?

Well He said it, dear one. So the question really boils down to whether or not you believe it. And if you say you believe it, will you live trusting the principle, or will you settle for less than what Jesus has promised you?

Jesus claims that the water He provides will become a spring welling up within us until life flows—both in us and from us (John 7:38). Eternal life that doesn’t fade.

Ever present refreshment that won’t permit thirst.

But Jesus also gives a condition to experiencing those promises. We must drink the water.

We can’t just talk about it. It does no good to memorize scriptures about it. We have to drink it. Consistently. Deeply.

But we haven’t drunk deeply, beloved. We’ve sipped of His Spirit on Sunday mornings. And we expect the life of God to manifest in us while we live the majority of our lives ignoring Him.

It doesn’t work that way, dear one. We must drink the water to experience the life it gives. 

We must drink the water to experience the life it gives. Click To Tweet

We have to meet with God and partake. Only then can the water within us well up to produce life.

Then we will be changed.

And that change will compel us to offer that water to everyone we care about. Because when we have drunk deeply from the living water, allowing it to do its work—reviving our own souls and restoring our own brokenness—how could we not share the resurrection life we have been given?

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

 God’s Word is true, dear one. Let’s prove it.

Drink.

Then drink more.

And keep drinking until you no longer remember how it feels to thirst.

The Other Prodigal

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 1 John 2:9

You’re probably familiar with the parable of the prodigal son.

Jesus told of a son who demanded his inheritance from his father and journeyed to a far country, only to squander it away with wild living. He found himself starving, “longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16).

That sounds about right. Any time we try to satisfy our needs and desires apart from our heavenly Father, we’ll come up lacking. Empty. Starving.

Yet we keep trying.

And that’s exactly what this young son did. He wanted to trade on the benefits his position as a son afforded him without maintaining his relationship to his father. He didn’t want to stay close. He just wanted the property his father’s name entitled him to.

Does that resonate, dear one?

It does with me. For years I did the same thing.

For a long time, I wanted the benefits that come with Jesus’ name—forgiveness, salvation, the Father’s blessing—but I didn’t really want Jesus. I wanted my Kingdom inheritance, but I had no real desire to draw near to God through Him. I still wanted to live my life my way.

And just like the young prodigal, I soon discovered the futility of that thinking.

You see, what our souls really long for is union with our heavenly Father. He is life, and we access that life through intimacy with Jesus. Jesus is the blessing we seek, dear one. So anything we try to enjoy apart from Him —even the good things that flow from His hand— leave us wanting. His presence gives life to all things.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:4

Thankfully, our young prodigal finally came to his senses, realizing that what he’d been looking for was found in his father all along. But he made the long journey home carrying the weight of some extra baggage.

A singular thought compelled him.

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”Luke 15:18-19

I am no longer worthy.

I can’t tell you how often those words have haunted me. And every time, Jesus responds the same way He did to the young prodigal.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24

I pray you will notice something significant, beloved. The father never judged the young prodigal for his behavior. The only condemnation came from the son himself. His father welcomed him with open arms and simply reminded the repentant son of his true position. He wasn’t a servant and wouldn’t be treated like one. He was a son.

If only his brother shared his father’s mind on the matter. But compassion and joy fell subject to another emotion as he drew near the house filled with music and dancing.

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him. Luke 15:28

I find it interesting that judgment appears in both brothers but never comes from the father who holds the only right to it. Look at how scripture describes him.

His father came out and entreated him.

Do you see it, dear one? The loving father pursued both sons in the same way, going out to greet them while they still approached. Both received the same invitation to feast with him.

But he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Verses 29-30

Jealousy never punishes the object of its rage. It only steals from the one who possesses it.

Jealousy never punishes the object of its rage. It only steals from the one who possesses it. Click To Tweet

In this case, it blinded the older son to his own blessing and made him refuse what his father longed to give.

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Verse 31

What God gives to one never takes from another. It’s we who withdraw ourselves from His table by holding onto the sin that separates. We choose judgment over grace. We insist on fighting for our rights instead of letting God grace us with all that is His.

It’s time we come to the table, beloved. Let’s remove every hindrance and run to the Father’s arms.

No one but you holds the power to stop Him from lavishing blessing upon you. He won’t force you to come to the table. But He waits with open arms for you to choose.

The Facts on Forgiveness

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Psalm 32:1

Last week we watched King David make some very poor choices. The man after God’s own heart distanced himself from God’s presence by neglecting his kingdom purpose. Then he took another man’s wife for himself and committed murder to cover it up.

David.

Beloved. Anointed. Warrior. King.

Thief. Adulterer. Murderer.

So many titles, such differing fruit. How can a man so favored by God fall so far?

When our focus shifts from our kingdom purpose to our own self-interest, we set ourselves up to fall. For a moment, David lost sight of whose he was and why he was here. God anointed him king to bring glory to His name. The moment David forgot that, sin took over.

Thank God for forgiveness. David himself penned the words of our opening scripture. If anyone understood the value of forgiveness, David did. But what does forgiveness really offer you and me?

We have a tendency to believe that the forgiveness Jesus poured out through the cross exempts us from experiencing any negative results.

Beloved, forgiveness doesn’t mean you won’t suffer consequences for poor choices. God’s forgiveness enables life to emerge in spite of them.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you won’t suffer consequences for poor choices. It enables life to emerge in spite of them. Click To Tweet

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8

Every choice driven by our flesh plants a corrupted seed.

The truth is, dear one, even when we’ve been forgiven, our choice to sin will leave its mark. Once sin has been sown, it always reaps a harvest. And it always devours and destroys.

But here’s the good news, beloved. Through forgiveness, God provides the power to overcome what sin has sown.

Take a look at God’s response when David finally acknowledged and confessed his sin.

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” 2 Samuel 12:13

I wonder how David felt when he heard those words. The Lord has put away your sin.

Our God of grace took the sin that had separated David from Him and put it away, out of His sight and His thoughts. It no longer stood between them. Forgiveness removed it, allowing David to draw near to God again, restoring their relationship.

That restoration brought David another blessing: You shall not die.

You see, beloved. When we receive God’s forgiveness and unite with Him again, the choices we’ve made may still hurt us, but they can’t kill us. In Him, we overcome.

The price of sin hasn’t changed, dear one.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

God covers the payment sin owes through forgiveness. Instead of death, forgiveness offers life. It restores our relationship with God and provides the strength we need to overcome the pain we’ve sown.

No wonder David cried out to the Lord,

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51:1-2

God did exactly as David requested. He forgave his sin and restored his relationship with Him. But David still suffered terrible consequences. What’s more, so did his children.

Take a look at what happened to David as a result of his sin.

  • “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house”. 2 Samuel 12:10
  • “I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” 2 Samuel 12:11-12
  • “The child who is born to you shall die.” 2 Samuel 12:14

Do you see the principles of God’s Word at work, dear one? David brought the very things he did to hurt others into his own life. He reaped his actions upon himself. War and rivalry rose up in David’s household, his own son seeking to kill him and take his throne.

Yet through forgiveness, God remained with David and provided the strength for him to overcome it all. David’s path wasn’t easy, but God was with him, so he overcame.

But that wasn’t all God did for David. After the death of the son conceived in sin, God brought new life from David’s ashes.

Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord. 2 Samuel 12:24-25

Jedediah means beloved of the LORD.

Oh how I love God’s heart! God didn’t need to send Nathan to David again, but He did. And this time he brought a single message. “I love this child.”

God offered David the assurance of His love. The past lay behind, a future of blessings ahead.

Blessings lay ahead of you too, dear one. But you will only realize them when you stay close to Jesus.

Without Him, every time we make choices driven by our flesh, we will reap pain. But with Him we find the power to escape the death sin brings.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve sown, beloved. God loves you and longs to restore you, just like He did for David. Simply repent, receive the forgiveness poured out through the cross, and draw near to the God of grace through His Son.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:24-25

Don’t miss it, dear one. Jesus is able to keep you from stumbling.

Choose life, beloved. Your Savior died so you could really live.

The Now Power of Forgiveness

. . . just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

We’ve talked a lot over the last several weeks about the blessings of God. We’d be remiss if we didn’t zero in on our greatest blessing in Christ: forgiveness.

Sometimes I wonder if the word is tossed around so much it’s lost its potency. It’s so familiar to us in our Christian circles, we hardly appreciate the value of it anymore. We’re grateful for the ticket to heaven and we praise God for His gift to us, but beyond that, its power seems lost on us.

Beloved of God, forgiveness offers so much more than a free pass. It offers power for today.

You and I are carrying burdens we’re not meant to carry. We’ve spent our lives painfully bent under sin’s authority, and we’re still letting it rule us.

Sin still governs our thoughts. It convinces us to take offense, even when none is given. It leads us to make choices that bring us harm and even damage the people we love.

We don’t mean to. We can’t see it at the time. A veil of darkness blinds our view of consequence, dangling before us only the enticing lure of gratification. For the moment.

Then pain quickly follows, swallowing us in a tide of darkness that drags us bit by bit away from those we love.

Dear one, Jesus carried all of that sin to Calvary. He took it all. He didn’t just pay sin’s penalty. He bore the sin itself. And when they pounded the nails in His hands and feet, they nailed it with Him to that cross. It’s gone.

Jesus took our sin upon Himself and conquered its power. Do you know what that means, dear one? You no longer need to bow down to the rule of sin. You can stand in the authority of Jesus’ victory, with the power of that sin securely under your feet.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14

Isn’t that an amazing promise? Grace has set us free from sin’s power over us.

You see, that’s what forgiveness really means, beloved.

Release.

Not just release from sin’s penalty and consequences, but freedom from sin’s control.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2

Do you see the present tense resting in the midst of that promise? Christ has already set us free from the law of sin and death. It’s not something He still has to accomplish. It’s already done.

You, dear one, are free from sin’s authority over you.

You may be wondering why you still struggle with sin. Let me share with you what God’s been speaking to me. You see, it comes down to faith. You and I are still struggling because we still believe we’re the person we used to be. We still view ourselves through the eyes of our old nature, the one that’s been tarnished by sin.

But Scripture is very clear that if we are in Christ, our nature has changed.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

There’s that present tense again. Do you see it, dear one? The new has already come. We don’t need to wait for Christ to make us a new creation. He’s already done it.

Now He’s asking us to believe it.

For years I’ve heard this expression tossed about within the body.

“I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.”

I’ve come to realize that phrase isn’t entirely true. Think it through with me.

If I have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then I’m no longer a sinner. I was a sinner; that’s why I needed a Savior. But now I’m a redeemed child of God who has been set free from the power of sin and walks in the righteousness of Christ’s nature.

What difference does that make, dear one? You and I will always make our decisions based on what we believe.

If I still see myself as a sinner, I’m going to keep on sinning. If that’s what I believe I am, that’s what I’ll do.

But if I truly believe that I have a new nature given to me through Jesus Christ, my faith in choosing to walk that out will access the grace of God and empower me to live differently.

That’s the gift of forgiveness poured out to us through the cross, dear one. We are free. Free from sin’s destructive hold. Free to make different choices that produce life.

Will you see yourself as you are in Christ and let go of the person you used to be?

Unlimited power waits for the one who believes.

Opening the Gift of Joy

. . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

Last week we discovered in scripture that we are abundantly blessed and lavished in grace. In case you missed it, take a moment to revel in the wonder of Ephesians 1:3.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

God the Father has spoken every blessing available to us in Christ over each of our lives. Do you know what that means, dear one? Nobody has a greater blessing than you.

I know what you’re thinking. You see a lot of people with sizeably greater blessings. You have friends who have better jobs. Your neighbor has that great car. There’s that one family at church that always takes those amazing vacations. Your sister has those perfect kids.

You don’t feel equally blessed. Perhaps you even feel forgotten.

I’d like to suggest to you that’s precisely how the enemy wants you to feel. That’s the reason he continually shifts your gaze to worldly blessings. If he can convince you God has not blessed you, you won’t walk empowered by your blessing. Then he can keep you right where he wants you: defeated under his oppressive yoke.

I think this is a perfect opportunity to ask God to help us “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

You see, the blessings available to you in Christ are far greater than the fleeting blessings the world offers. That fabulous car can be smashed to rubble in one terrifying moment of impact. That great job can disappear tomorrow. Truth be told, so can those perfect kids.

And our emotions can spiral in a frenzied plummet from overjoyed to nearly suicidal as what we trusted for our happiness reveals its frailty. What we imagined was so sturdy and certain suddenly cracks and shatters in an instant. Our joy shatters right along with it.

Until Christ returns in perfection and restores this earth to its sinless state, nothing is certain. Nothing, that is, except Jesus.

And He offered up His life on the cross to pour out blessings in your life that are otherwise unattainable. What’s more, they can’t be taken from you. You can only lose them if you deny them or give them away.

Maybe we should take a minute to count some of those blessings.

Salvation, forgiveness, redemption, holiness, love, adoption, purpose, joy, peace, power . . . the list goes on.

Let’s settle on joy for a minute, a blessing we all long for that often remains elusive. Joy is a spiritual blessing spoken over you by God and guaranteed through Jesus. Jesus Himself spoke of His priority for joy in your life in John 15:11.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Beloved, your heavenly Father has blessed you with joy—the fullness of joy. It’s a gift of grace poured out through His Son that He desires to see manifested in your life.

Listen carefully, dear one. No one has been blessed with more joy than you. Joy is not a blessing God gives to some but not others. He didn’t skip over you with that one. His Word tells us He blessed you with every spiritual blessing. Your circumstances don’t dictate it. No matter what is happening in your life, you are meant to experience the fullness of joy.

Do you, beloved? Or do you find yourself chasing after it, hoping to attain it with various things? That relationship . . .that house . . . that degree . . . that acclaim . . .

We have allowed the enemy to convince us that we can only have joy if the circumstances in our life cooperate to provide it. We translate the blessing of God to mean we and our family members will remain healthy, and that our financial needs will not only be met for today but also all our tomorrows—in advance.

And when we don’t experience those blessings, we believe the enemy’s whispers that God has forsaken us. We feel crushed under the weight of it, and our misery creeps into every aspect of life. It hurts our relationships. It pulls us from our purpose. Our bitterness empties us.

What if you and I chose to start believing God for the blessings He’s already given? What if we stopped allowing the enemy to rob us of the joy we are equipped for and meant to experience?

How? We shift our gaze from our lack and settle it on the abundance of what we have. Our heritage as believers is to experience the miracle Paul described in our opening scripture.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11

Can you imagine it, dear one? Being content in whatever situation you find yourself in?

Do you know what Paul is describing, beloved? Peace, another one of those great spiritual blessings only available to you in Jesus. A heart at rest whether facing abundance or need. A blessing that God has spoken over your life and is waiting for you to receive.

Don’t let the enemy convince you you’re not blessed, dear one. You are. Abundantly.

You are extravagantly loved, adopted into the family of God and coheir to the inheritance of the King of Kings. You are saved, delivered from the hand of the enemy in this life and the next. You are empowered by God Himself dwelling within your heart by His Spirit. And you are lavished in grace that provides all that you need.

Believe Him.

 

 

Carry Your Cross

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

I’m guessing that’s not one of your favorite scriptures.

I get it. Your flesh cries out in rebellion against such commands. Deny myself? We spend our lives trying to indulge the desires of our “selves.”  That goes against everything in our nature. And carrying a cross doesn’t sound very fun. No one likes a burden. So those first two make the last one seem pretty unpalatable.

Why would I want to follow Jesus if to do so I have to deny myself and carry a cross?

Why, indeed? I’d like to suggest something that perhaps you haven’t considered. What if the fact that we find those commands so unappealing confirms how very important they are to overcoming the enemy and experiencing abundant life?

Here’s the truth of the matter: The enemy of our souls likes keeping us under his thumb. He’s been governing our sin nature since man’s fall at the beginning of time, and he’s not keen on giving up control. He enjoys the chaos and destruction he generates in our lives as he bends our wills to bring about death, all the while convincing us we’re free and making our own choices.

Maybe you didn’t realize that. Yes, dear one. If you don’t choose to submit your will to God, you’re already submitting it to the prince of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2).

Your will is not your own. You only think it is.

In 2 Timothy 2, Paul challenges believers to call on the Lord out of a pure heart. He says this about opponents of truth in verses 25-26,

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

You see, beloved, your sin nature rebels so strongly against self-denial, because the enemy of your soul doesn’t want to lose his grip. He’s convinced you to believe that you’re free to do as you please. Meanwhile, he quietly pulls the strings. The “I” that you think is making your decisions actually has a master.

 “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. “ Romans 7:17

Precious one, allowing sin to continue to govern your “I” eventually brings about death.

For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. Romans 7:5

Because sin governs them, following our own passions and desires will always hurt us eventually. So can you understand, beloved, why the first step in following Jesus to new life must involve denying what your “self” insists you need?

When Jesus asks you to deny yourself, He isn’t trying to take away your right to choose. He wants to restore it to you! He simply wants to set your “I” free from the destructive rule of sin. Then the person He created you to be—your personality, your deep passions and sense of purpose—the real, unfettered you can emerge to step into abundant life. And your soul can soar with the joy that comes with it.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Not so bad, right?

But what about taking up that cross? We know what it meant for Jesus. Death.

Beloved, the only death coming to you through the cross belongs to the sin that binds you. Remember, even for Jesus, the cross became the means to resurrection life. It offers the same promise for you.

That cross represents God’s beautiful will for your life. Yes, Jesus carried an actual cross up a hill to Golgotha, bearing its shame and shedding His blood so that you and I could be free. He lived out God’s will for Him so that we could live redeemed. Now that cross remains a symbol of what God wants to see lived out in each of our lives. “ . . . not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

But we forget what else that cross represents. What became available to us through that cross?

Love … forgiveness… the Holy Spirit… mercy… grace … freedom… sonship… power

Beloved, when Jesus asks you to take up your cross, He invites you to take up all that comes with it. He wants you to take up God’s will for your life, just like He did. He asks you to believe that He intends to prosper you and not harm you, that He means to offer you hope and a beautiful future (Jeremiah 29:11).

He also welcomes you to take up everything He poured out for you through His cross to empower you to step into the abundant life He’s planned for you.

The question is: will you believe? If so, there’s one thing left to do.

Follow.

Embrace Your Everlasting Father

“ . . . And He will be called . . . Everlasting Father . . .” Isaiah 9:6

Happy New Year, dear one! I pray that 2014 brings you closer than ever to Jesus and that you fully experience what He died to give you. I hope to.

We have spent the last couple of weeks peeling away the outer wrappings of some of the gifts God gave us in Jesus. I pray that as you discover afresh the valuable contents, your heart will be drawn to dig even deeper. We have barely scratched the surface! But as you pursue an intimate relationship with the Son of God, His gift of the Wonderful Counselor “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I [Jesus] have said to you” (John 14:26).

One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs as our Counselor is to teach and reveal the deep things of God to each of us. Remember,

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” 1 Corinthians 2:12

God desires for you to know your inheritance, dear one. He never empties; He fills!

Today we peer at the third name of God associated with Jesus’ birth in Isaiah 9:6. Christ opened the way for us to know and experience God as Everlasting Father. Recall the familiar words of John 14:6:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus is our only way to know God as Father. To belong to the Father, we must know and belong to the Son. John 14:7 adds these words, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.”

Beloved, God desires for you to know Him intimately as Father.

Perhaps that thought doesn’t offer you much comfort. The stamp of sin on this broken world leaves many painful relationships in its wake. But regardless of the images the word father may bring to mind, allow yourself to contemplate the ideal dad.

Strong . . . Protector . . . Compassionate . . . Loving . . . Merciful . . .

Dear one, God is the Father you’ve always longed for.

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Scripture paints a picture of God as the Father who will never leave, no matter how bad things get. And unlike our earthly fathers, Mighty God is always strong enough to save us from the messes we’ve made. Nothing, however, thrills my heart like the words of that last sentence. “He will take great delight in you.”

Haven’t you longed to be the object of someone’s delight? To know that you, above all else, are their greatest source of pleasure and joy? That’s exactly what Scripture teaches about your heavenly Father. God takes great delight in you.

Whether or not we can draw the image from our own childhood experience, we can all conjure up a picture of a doting parent cradling a beloved child, quieting restless cries with loving murmurs and whispered songs. Images of a mother flow more freely, yet the sight of a father assuming that role brings a special tenderness to the heart. Strength choosing to display itself through gentleness moves us.

And that’s exactly how your heavenly Father feels about you.

Picture it, dear one. Has it occurred to you that God desires to hold you in His capable hands and rejoice over you with singing? Longing to quiet you with His love, He yearns to gently lift you into His lap to still your restless heart with tender songs.

Yet many of us squirm and pull away from Him like rebellious toddlers, refusing to allow Him the joy of simply being with us. We have stuff to do, after all. Who has time to merely sit and be held?

Indeed. We have become far too busy scampering after our dreams to spend any time with our Father. And wonder of wonders, the God of the universe has given us the freedom to choose.

But our choice comes at a cost. Our refusal to still ourselves in His presence blocks the flow of His grace. We’ve robbed ourselves of the power we desperately need.

Most of us miss the blessing of God’s commandment in Psalm 46:10,

“Be still and know that I am God.”

We get so busy trying to make things happen in our own lives, we forget that God has asked us to be still, believe, and let Him work on our behalf.

What if you and I chose to alter our thinking as we begin 2014? What if we began to believe that God Himself is our true blessing? What if we sought cherished moments of intimacy with our heavenly Father through Jesus instead of merely seeking the gifts that come from His hands?

God intended to make Jesus the “firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). If you have put your faith in Jesus and committed your life to follow Him, you also are a child of God and a recipient of every blessing that comes with it.

Strength… Compassion… Love… Provision… Protection… Mercy… Forgiveness…

Take up your inheritance, dear one. Your Father will fight for you. You need only to be still (Exodus 14:14).