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The Sacred Portion

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! 1 Chronicles 16:29

Last week we looked at God’s desire to be first in our lives. He deserves first place, beloved. After all, you and I wouldn’t even be here without Him. He gives life and provides every good thing.

I think you’ll find that He will never agree to be second.

And He has established by His Word that those who honor Him first will walk in the bounty of His blessing.

Is He first in your life, dear one? Does your life center around Him and His purpose?

Perhaps you’re wondering how to put God first. It’s simple, really. We put God first when we honor and trust His Word.

When you and I seek to know and understand God’s heart through His Word and choose to live by the principles He reveals, we begin to live by faith. And faith, dear one, opens the door to His marvelous grace.

Today we’ll focus on one particular principle woven throughout scripture: the sacred portion.

Let’s begin by establishing a truth I pray you already know.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1

As the Creator of all things, everything belongs to God. Yet He chose to do something remarkable.

The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. Psalm 115:16

God created a world by the breath of His mouth, and then gave it to the people He formed from the dust of its surface. He handed us authority (Genesis 1:26), allowing us to choose whether we’d walk with Him and live in His promises, or whether we would discover the hardship of life lived apart from Him.

He desperately longs for us to choose fellowship with Him and trust His Word. He wants our believing lives to become evidence of His truth. And one way He ordained that we can honor Him is by returning the sacred portion to Him.

You see, although He has given His creation to man, He has set aside a portion of everything for Himself. He allows us to live on His provision and enjoy it, but He has set apart the first of everything His hand brings forth and marked it as holy.

The sacred portion belongs to Him, dear one.

And He promises that if we will offer Him the first of everything, He will bless all the rest for our use.

Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. Proverbs 3:9-10

God has also claimed the first of everything born.

“You shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb.” Exodus 13:12

Mary and Joseph honored this decree when they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” Luke 2:22-23).

Ezekiel 44:30 reveals the benefit of living by this principle.

And the first of all the firstfruits of all kinds, and every offering of all kinds from all your offerings, shall belong to the priests. You shall also give to the priests the first of your dough, that a blessing may rest on your house.

God promises His people that if we will honor Him by returning to Him the first of all He provides, He will bless the rest.

You may be tempted to argue that these principles were a part of Jewish law that we are no longer bound to. I would challenge that thinking by pointing out that this principle shows up long before Israel or its laws had been established. We only need to venture into the fourth chapter of Genesis to find it.

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. Genesis 4:2-5

I used to wonder why God seemed to regard Cain unfairly. I mean, if Cain worked the ground, isn’t it only right that his offering would come from its fruit?

Then God showed me the principle of the first.

You see, Cain brought an offering of some fruit to God in the course of time. Abel brought from the firstborn and the best portions.

Abel returned to God what was rightfully His, honoring Him with his first and best. Cain took the best for himself and offered to God what was left over. Abel received the blessing of God. Cain did not.

Perhaps we should consider God’s words in Malachi 3:6.

“For I the Lord do not change.”

You might be interested to read the context of that declaration.

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Malachi 3:8-10

God’s challenge is simple. Return to God what is His, and ours will be blessed. Take from what belongs to Him, and He will remove His blessing from what is ours.

You and I are not bound to the law, dear one. But we are bound by the principles God has declared in His Word. And He has declared that the first of everything is sacred and His.

Will you trust God by returning the holy portion, full of faith that He will provide more?

Then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, . . . Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people. Deuteronomy 26:13a, 15a

 

Soiled Garments

Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. Revelation 3:4 ESV

You might be surprised at how many times scripture references clothes. Particularly washed clothes.

We find our opening scripture in Jesus’ address to one of the seven churches in Revelation, penned by the apostle John. John opens the book with a blessing included in no other book of scripture.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Revelation 1:3

I don’t know about you, but I could handle a little blessing. After all, the opposite of blessing is still cursing. And God declared that those who hear and keep His words written in Revelation are blessed.

Are you listening?

Since God has captured my attention with garments, we will focus today on Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis.

He begins His address with some unsettling words.

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Revelation 3:1

Do you know your reputation, dear one? What do those who know you believe about you? Does it match what God sees?

I can’t help thinking of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-28.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Jesus shows great concern that our outward appearance matches our inner reality. That shouldn’t surprise us, really, when we consider that Jesus is the Truth and His enemy deceives.

Yes. Jesus desires authenticity.

I know this from experience, dear one. Several years ago, God used Revelation 3:1 to get me to deal with an area of sin in my own life I’d been trying to ignore.

At the time, God was in the midst of opening doors and expanding my borders in ministry.

Yes. God still uses imperfect people.

And to the outsider looking in, God’s hand was apparent. I had dedicated myself to earnestly living my faith, and God was actively using me to reach people and awaken them to His truth.

But God desires far more from us than our service, dear one. He wants our whole hearts. And He requires us to freely offer them so that He can transform them into the likeness of Jesus. That means holding nothing back.

So one day during my study of scripture, He spoke straight to my heart through His words to the church at Sardis. “I know your works, and I know your reputation. You have a reputation for being alive, but in this area, you are still dead.”

His next words through those verses brought me straight to my knees in repentance.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Revelation 3:2-3

Jesus spoke these words to one of His churches, beloved. And He spoke them to me.

I wonder, dear one. What does He desire of you?

Repentance is the precursor to every blessing available to us in Christ. Without sincere, repentant hearts we will never transform and become His righteousness. And that leaves Jesus unable to use us to pour out His blessing on this desperately needy earth.

Jesus is asking us to trust His Word, dear one. To believe it and live according to it so that He can manifest our faith as righteousness. When we don’t live by what we have received and heard from Him, we soil our garments.

Thankfully, scripture also reveals that what Jesus requires of us is absolutely possible to accomplish, even in our humanity. It’s possible because God Himself provides the power to succeed when we choose to trust Him.

“Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:4-6

What will you choose, dear one? Will you overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of your testimony? God longs to see it, beloved, to make you a living witness to His glorious power.

And consistently throughout His Word, He offers an unbreakable promise. God fights for and rescues the righteous.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands . . . These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. …Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Revelation 7:9, 14, 22:14

Releasing the River

Righteousness will go before Him and make His footsteps a way. Psalm 85:13 (ESV)

It’s that time again. January rolls around each year with an invitation to take stock of our lives. And the same question raises a hopeful challenge. What can I do differently this year that will make my life better?

We have great intentions . . . and usually less than great results.

Not this year. Not for me, anyway. This year I have high expectations, because I’m basing my resolutions on believing God, not on my own works. And faith—real, present, active, living faith—ushers us into the grace and power of God.

Through him [Jesus] 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

I could stand to witness a little glory, couldn’t you?

Last week we looked at God’s promise to pour out water on a thirsty land. My heart leapt to see so many people acknowledge their thirst! We desperately need God to release the river of life.

As we join together to pray for His outpouring, I challenge you to consider another important truth revealed in our opening scripture.

Righteousness will go before Him and make His footsteps a way. Psalm 85:13

It reminds me of Hebrews 12:14 (NIV).

Make every effort . . . to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Whether we desire to embrace it or not, righteousness marks the path of glory. If we want to see God pour out on our thirsty land, we’ve got to get on with the business of letting Him sanctify us.

Perhaps you’ll be a little more excited about it when I show you why. You, dear one, carry the power within you that you long to see poured out.

Consider Jesus’ promises to His followers before He ascended into heaven.

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49 (ESV)

And what about Acts 1:8?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Look at how Jesus described that power.

“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. John 7:38-39

Do you see it, dear one? The very outpouring we desire from God is already here! It dwells within us waiting to be released. And it promises more than we could even think to ask or imagine of God.

Revel in Ephesians 3:20-21, asking God to penetrate your heart with its truth.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Take it in, beloved.

God is able to do far beyond what you could ask or think. He does it according to the power at work within you.

We’re not waiting for an outpouring from on high, dear one. God has already poured it out through the cross. Now we’re waiting to see the river released from within you and me.

And that’s why righteousness remains so important. The outpouring will come as the people of God embrace their new nature in Christ and become “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 NIV).

Every sin we hold onto or habit we justify acts as a dam blocking the flow of God’s power on this earth. It’s time we awaken to our true calling, dear one.

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 5:2

When you and I decide to comply, there’s no telling what God will do. Only one thing is certain. It will be more than we can imagine.

Wielding the Sword of the Spirit

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8

I recently saw something that unsettled my spirit deeply. Some people I love and respect shared a video disparaging several Bible teachers I have also come to respect.

Henry Blackaby was one of them, labeled a false teacher for his Bible study Experiencing God. That Bible study was the very tool God used to lead me to salvation in His beloved Son.

Grief is the only word that aptly describes my response. I literally wept. What tool of the enemy would draw me into intimate, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ?

I can say authentic with deep conviction, because that relationship unleashed the power of grace in my life. I was changed. God tendered my shackled heart and caused it to love in ways that it couldn’t before. His Spirit within me brought forth beautiful fruit.

And yet some would say that teaching didn’t come from God.

It’s amazing how people who profess the same Lord can view things so differently. Passionately clinging to our own interpretation of scripture, we stand on opposing sides, using the same Bible to hurl accusations at one another in a desperate attempt to prove we’re right.

I don’t believe that’s what God had in mind when He placed the sword of the Spirit in our hands. We’re not meant to turn it on one another. We’re meant to unite against the real enemy—God’s enemy—the one whose agenda remains division among the body of believers.

Scripture clearly defines our enemy in Ephesians 6:11-12.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

A scheming devil wages war against the church with his army of evil. 1 Peter 5:8 reveals how he likes to attack.

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

We’re in little danger when the pack unites. Together we’re too strong for him. The gates of hell cannot prevail against a healthy church (Matthew 16:18). He knows he must divide us to have any chance of claiming us for dinner.

Unfortunately, we can be quick to oblige, separating from our brothers and sisters over often petty differences. And sometimes we do more than keep our distance. Sometimes we become the teeth he uses to devour his prey.

You might be interested to read Proverbs 6:16.

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him.

Guess what appears seventh on the list.

. . . one who sows discord among brothers (verse 19).

When we use the sword of the Spirit to cut one another down in the name of defending truth, we become tools in the hand of the evil one to sow discord among brothers. And God couldn’t be clearer about how He feels about it: He hates it.

Dear one, if we continue to fight amongst ourselves, we only advance the kingdom of darkness. Take a few moments to carefully consider Paul’s plea to the church at Ephesus, a plea the Spirit of the Living God still breathes to each of us through the page.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Perhaps it’s time to look past our differences and let Christ’s love unite us. After all, it is men, not God, who have divided the body of Christ into many.

The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Deuteronomy 6:4

Only the Spirit of God can bring about the unity described in God’s Word. Only God Himself can take men and women with different backgrounds, beliefs and teachers and bring them into agreement about the mysteries of truth.

The day is coming, dear one. Christ will unite His church in love, and the world will know that Jesus is everything He says He is (John 17:23). They will come from every denomination, every tribe and tongue, all whose hearts answer His call and humbly seek the truth.

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:14-15

Interesting. Apparently the gospel of peace may require us to move.

Who’s Leading Whom?

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143:8

It wasn’t exactly the morning we’d planned.

Summer had changed things for my prayer partner and me. Life took us in separate directions, and our weekly time of kneeling together at the mercy seat had been relegated to a few catch up phone calls and some prayer texts. We decided to break our summer rut of not seeing one another by meeting at a local park for a walk.

Great plan. Until my friend suggested I bring my dogs.

I knew they could use the exercise and would love the adventure—they love going anywhere in the car or on a leash. I could picture our little Jack happily bounding along with his heart full of wonder on only his second time exploring a trail.

But I also knew having my little darlings along would greatly alter the dynamic of our time together. I wasn’t sure. She said bring them. I brought them.

Excited is a bit too small a word to describe Jack’s mood.

All his lessons of heeling calmly at my left vanished as though they’d never taken place. I guess he couldn’t make the connection between the sidewalk and the woods.

I found myself severely tempted to take him off the leash. He repeatedly bounded ahead up the trail, darting from one side to the next sniffing everything, often tying Jen and me up with crossed leashes. And there seemed to be some discrepancy between the dogs over who deserved the right to lead. Let’s just say Jen and I didn’t set our pace.

We told ourselves they were just excited and would soon calm down and keep pace with us. It was a good thought.

Little did we know that half way around the loop the trail would narrow to single file, only intensifying their bids for first place. Up and down they pulled us, over fallen limbs and through leaning branches. But that wasn’t the worst part. The spider webs were.

I guess that part of the trail isn’t traveled much. Every few steps I felt thin strands of webbing stretched across the path breaking against my face. I could never see them, but I always felt them.

Through lots of laughter and panting breaths, we managed to share a bit about what God’s been teaching us. I love that He sits at the center of every thing.

But I can’t help thinking how much more enjoyable our time would have been without all the tugging and straining. Not just for us, but for the dogs.

By the time we made it back to the car, the thick, soft fur under their chins was soaked and stringy, coated in drool from excessive panting. Exhaustion had so overtaken Annie that she missed out on one of her ultimate joys: feeling the wind on her face as she rides with her head jutting proudly out the window. Apparently after all that exertion, it was too much effort to sit up and rest her head on the car door. Instead, she lay sprawled on the seat, panting and drooling.

I had a mess to clean up when I got home.

We may chuckle at the silly antics of lesser creatures, but God’s been showing me lately that we humans are a lot like those dogs. We insist on striving and straining for more, always tugging at God, trying to pull Him in the direction we want to go. And we want to get there fast. But all our tugging only pulls us further away from Him.

Funny, isn’t it, how instead of simply receiving and enjoying the blessings God gives us, we toil and strain, even in the midst of them. Instead of reveling in the moment, we dart ahead to see what’s coming around the next corner.

God isn’t holding back from us, dear one. He’s always giving. That’s His nature. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and He loves so deeply that He gives (John 3:16). He’s simply waiting for us to receive. Yet instead of resting in what God is giving, we strive and strain, trying to force our way into grace.

I’ll let Paul ask you the question God’s been asking me.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Galatians 3:2-4

Beloved, no amount of striving on our part will usher us into what faith alone can reach.

While I can know that truth in my head, I still often find myself compelled to want to do something to catch myself in the flow of His grace. Reason suggests: If I … then God will … So I weary myself proclaiming scriptures and asking God for His promises I’m desperate to see lived out in my life.

Yet God’s Word shouts the simplicity of grace freely given, and beckons us to believe it.

Two nights ago something happened that threatened to rob me of peace. Climbing into bed, I settled under the covers, fully aware that I was entering my weakest hour. The enemy loves to attack with raging thoughts when I’m supposed to be at rest.

Normally, I would pray something like, “Lord, help me to rest. Quiet my mind. I need your peace. Please, God, grant me rest tonight.”

That night I offered a different prayer, a simpler one. I simply stated my belief in what God has already given me through Jesus.

“Lord, you have given me peace. I receive your peace. I have the mind of Christ. I receive your thoughts. Thank you, Lord, for the gifts of grace you’ve lavished on me.”

That night I slept like a baby, and I don’t mean the kind who wakes up screaming every hour.

You and I don’t need to keep striving after the things we’ve already been given, dear one. We just need to believe God when He says that we have them and press in close. Exercising that faith ushers us into His abundant grace.

Oh, how I love Jesus.

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.

 

 

Loved and Lavished in Grace

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16 ESV

“There is no one on this planet more blessed than you.”

Beth Moore spoke those words during a recent taping of “Wednesdays in the Word” for Life Today TV. At the time, I joked with a friend who attended with me. “I’ve been telling you this for months. Will you believe it now that you’ve heard it from Beth Moore?”

Somehow it seems impossible to believe. Most days we don’t feel extravagantly blessed.

If that’s you, you’re not alone. I presented that same truth to the ladies in my Sunday school class a few days ago and asked if they believed it. You should’ve seen the eyes darting from my gaze, heads shaking in disagreement around the room.

I think we believe in a God of blessing. We just have trouble believing those blessings belong to us.

We easily assure others that God loves them desperately and has great things in store. But that same truth doesn’t seem to apply when we look in the mirror. We carefully guard our list of reasons that prove what our thoughts convey: most of God’s blessings aren’t meant for me.

The Apostle Paul begs to differ with you, dear one. So does the God who inspired his words.

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. Ephesians 1:3

Whether or not you feel blessed at this particular moment, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, God’s Word says that you are. According to Ephesians 1:3, you have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing available to you in Christ.

Think about that truth for a minute. The God who speaks things into being has spoken blessings over your life. Already. You’re not going to be blessed someday, dear one. You are already blessed.

I have to ask, beloved. Are you living out that blessing?

I think it’s safe to say that most of us live in the reality of who we’ve always been rather than the blessings of who we’ve become in Christ. We don’t walk as though we’re already blessed. We live still seeking the blessing.

Paul offers the key to unlocking God’s blessings over us in verse 6:

. . . his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Just so we’re clear, Jesus is the Beloved. And what has He blessed us with? Grace. Glorious grace.

That word grace in the original Greek means, “the state of kindness and favor toward someone, often with a focus on benefit given to the object; by extension: gift, benefit . . . blessing.” (Strong’s Concordance, Greek #5485, p.1653)

You, dear one, are blessed with the favor of God—favor that gives benefit. Favor you can’t earn. Favor you already have.

Do you believe God favors you, dear one? Do you know what His favor offers you? Perhaps you should read 2 Corinthians 9:8.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Grace provides whatever we need at whatever time to succeed. And we’re swimming in it.

I’ll be honest with you. I have always struggled a bit with the concept of grace. This logical mind has difficulty grasping the idea that God’s love and favor doesn’t have to be earned. In fact, it can’t be. But the thought doesn’t sit quite right under the umbrella of reason.

And yet, that’s what scripture claims. For God so loves, that He gave (John 3:16). Freely. He poured out grace that provides all sufficiency in all things at all times. And if you are His, nobody has more blessing and favor from God than you.

Whether you believe it yet or not, Christ has lavished the riches of His grace upon you “in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8). That means He didn’t make a mistake speaking it over you. He thought it through. He had insight into who you are, and He chose to favor you anyway.

So how do we learn to live in that favor? How do those blessings spoken over us in the heavenly places become our new reality on this earth?

The answer actually isn’t complicated, although we do our best to make it so. You and I need to return to where we began in Christ at the moment of our salvation.

We believe.

You see, one thing ushers us into the flow of grace poured out on us. Faith.

Through him [Jesus] 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

Dear one, you are loved and lavished in grace. One thing alone can stop the realization of God’s favor in your life. Unbelief.

Will you see yourself as you really are and step into your blessing?

Plagued by Demons

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Colossians 2:15 (NIV)

I imagine many of you shared my surprise over the news of Robin Williams’ death. How sad that one who brought smiles to so many people apparently lived with such sadness in his own heart. Oh, how we need Jesus! We’re desperate for Him. If only we truly realized how much.

Can you relate to that feeling of hopelessness, dear one? Do you imagine that your troubles are far beyond Jesus’ reach? Or perhaps you think you simply have too much to overcome.

Let me introduce you to a man drowning in hopelessness, living among the tombs in the Gerasenes, across the sea from Galilee. A prisoner to his mind, he had suffered a long time, an outcast welcomed only by the dead.

When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. Luke 8:27 ESV

You may have already tuned out at the mention of the word demons. I understand. The word makes us uncomfortable. We’d really rather pretend they don’t exist.

But scripture reveals that much of what we battle results from their oppressive influence over our thoughts.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 ESV

Whether we like the idea or not, evil is real, and its servants seek to exert its power over each of us. Perhaps it would be wise to learn to recognize their handiwork.

This man overcome by demons in Luke 8 offers a glimpse at what life can look like when evil influences are allowed to have their way. Look at the devastation they cause in verse 27:

  • For a long time he had worn no clothes They rob us of our dignity. The enemy loves to produce destructive behavior in us and then gleefully expose our shame. Then he uses that shame to keep us securely under his thumb.
  • He had not lived in a house but among the tombs. They cut us off from our families and leave us feeling we belong among the dead. Demons love to drive us into isolation. Loneliness and solitude are sure marks of the evil one’s handiwork.

They also make us self-destructive. Verse 29 reveals that when they put him under guard and shackled him to stop his tirades, “he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.” Under the enemy’s influence, we will even fight any measures put in place to protect us from ourselves.

No wonder God wants each of us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). A mind influenced by evil oppressors eventually self-destructs.

Verse 33 provides a clear picture of the enemy’s plans for us when he is left unhindered. Once Jesus commanded the legion of demons to leave the man, they begged His permission to enter a herd of pigs, and Jesus gave it.

Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. Luke 8:33

What does the enemy do when free to exercise his will? He drives us right over a cliff to the death of all that we are. John 10:10 says it plainly:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

That’s a heavy thought if that were the whole truth of it. But praise the Lord, Jesus offers the way for us to escape the enemy’s clutches and live the life God intended for us. He promises in that same verse:

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Beloved, the enemy may destroy, but Jesus saves.

How did that translate in the life of our demon-possessed friend?

Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. Luke 8:35 ESV

Oh that we would come to understand the magnitude of an authentic encounter with Jesus! His transformation was so radical, the people responded with fear! They witnessed a miracle in the life of a hopeless man—once without dignity and out of control, now clothed and sitting at the feet of Jesus; previously out of his mind, now clearly in his right mind.

Jesus carries the power to rescue you from the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13). He longs to remove your shame and restore your dignity, to robe you in His righteousness and cloak you in His power.

Your situation isn’t hopeless. You just need Jesus.

 

The Power of Ingratitude

“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”  Exodus 13:21

Did you ever notice how God becomes just what we need from Him in any given moment?

Perhaps you haven’t noticed. Maybe, like the Israelites, you reap the benefit of His presence without ever giving it much thought. They were often so preoccupied by what they lacked, they didn’t appreciate what they were given. Instead of thanking God for His rich provision, they grumbled.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:2-3

Really? They spent their time in Egypt sitting around pots of meat? Isn’t it amazing how quickly the human mind forgets and distorts. Perhaps you’d like to see what caused God to send Moses to get them out of Egypt in the first place.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Exodus 2:23-25

God added these words when He called Moses from the burning bush.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering . . . I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” Exodus 3:7,9

The memory of their groaning in backbreaking slavery quickly faded to illusions of grand feasts. Why? They were hungry. A desire of their flesh rose up and wasn’t satisfied, and that one thing became the entire focus of their thoughts. They forgot the extent of their suffering, as well as God’s miraculous displays of power on their behalf. And their momentary hunger made them twist His intentions. They threw God’s plan to rescue them back in His face, claiming He meant them harm.

Ever been there? That’s the nature of the unredeemed heart, dear one. It deceives. No wonder Jeremiah 17:9 states,

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

And that deceitful heart left unchecked brings bitterness to the soul.

Perhaps this is why scripture continually points the people of God toward gratitude. Gratitude shifts our gaze and changes the direction of our thinking. Instead of emptying the soul by dwelling on what we lack, it fills it by celebrating what we possess.

Sadly, few consistently choose the path of gratitude. Our own hunger for things we desire clouds our view and overshadows our many blessings. And that’s dangerous. Scripture teaches that refusing to acknowledge God with thanksgiving leads to futile thinking and a hard, dark heart.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:21-22

Ingratitude made the Israelites fools—fools that desired to run right back to the oppressive captivity they had cried out for deliverance from. Amazing.

Before we start casting stones at the house of Israel, it might be wise to shift our gaze to the nearest mirror. Is your heart content in the journey God has you on, dear one? Do your lips offer praise for the Light that marks your path, or are you preoccupied with an area that remains in shadow? Are you hungering for something so ferociously that all that God has already poured into your life feels empty?

God wants to see your heart at peace, beloved. He longs to satisfy your soul with a contentedness only He can bring. You see, dear one, only God Himself can satisfy.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14

Do you want a little joy and gladness that carries you all your days? It comes as the result of a choice. Choose to look at what God has done, not what He has yet to do. Offer Him praise and gratitude. You may just find that you encounter God Himself.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

Praise and gratitude usher us into the presence and power of God. Thanksgiving allows us to enter His gates. Praise carries us into His court. And when we encounter Him, we discover just what we needed. Emptiness fades. Our hearts fill with His very presence.

And we are satisfied.

Redeeming Love

Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” John 13:7 ESV

I need to be honest with you. The last few weeks have been hard. People I love are hurting. Amid the usual struggles of life’s joys and hardships, loss and heartache have descended in a torrent.

A friend and sister servant in ministry at my church received a call recently that shattered her world. Her beautiful 23-year-old daughter had gone to sleep the night before like she did every other night. Only this time, she never woke up—at least not here. She closed her eyes to the blackness of this earth and opened them to the splendor of heaven and the beautiful face of Jesus.

Unimaginably wonderful for her. Devastatingly sorrowful for those left to grieve her.

Two other families close to me have lost loved ones to the ravages of cancer. And I recently received word that the disease has come calling on one of my dear family members for a second time.

Our human nature begs the answer to a desperate question: Why? Why must the body of Christ endure such pain? How do we reconcile God’s love with so much suffering?

I don’t have an answer, dear one, at least not one that will satisfy. If I did not know my God so well, I might be tempted to question Him myself.

But I do know Him well. I know the tenderness of His love. I know His comfort in my own brokenness. I know He is faithful, and I know His Word remains true.

I also know He wastes nothing and intends to bring a good work from every pain.

I recently read this quote from Christian philosopher Dallas Willard:

“Winter comes, but nothing irredeemable can happen to you. Nothing beyond the redemption of God can happen to you.”

Do you believe in the power of a God who redeems?

Beloved, God didn’t choose for this world to become ravaged by the evils of sin. Man chose it. Adam, chasing after a desire whispered into his heart by the deceiver, chose to disobey God and step out from under the safe covering of His protection. And now this world still reaps the consequence of that choice.

You see, that’s the nature of sin, dear one. It grows. It becomes stronger. Eventually it ends in death.

…desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:15

And now in this world so decayed and corrupted by sin, pain abounds. It leaves its mark on both guilty and innocent. But God never intended this pain for us; Satan did. Why? Because Satan hates what God loves, and God loves people.

Maybe we should take a moment to ponder the enormity of John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Love led God to give His Son so you and I could live. Really live. Sin and death were never His choice for us. He created us in life and chose to offer it again, poured out on a cross in love to redeem man’s mistake. Jesus suffered death Himself so He could rescue us from it. Unbelievable.

We have trouble grasping love that gives like that. We can’t wrap our mind around such utter selflessness. So we hesitate to trust it.

But you can trust it, dear one. God loves perfectly—even when we can’t see or understand what He’s doing at the time. And He will never allow a heartache that He can’t redeem and bring something beautiful from. Never.

My heart remains full of hope because I know that God isn’t working evil in this world. He’s redeeming it. We’re still dealing with the consequences of our choice, but He remains faithful.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Jesus has overcome what we cannot. Beloved, as long as we live on this corrupted earth, we will experience suffering. But in Christ we have glorious hope! Whether we experience His healing touch here or when we see Him face to face, we win. Hope abounds. Love overcomes. Life triumphs.

And for those of us left suffering in this broken world, Jesus offers the means to overcome. When we run to Him in our pain instead of from Him, He redeems it. He exchanges our ashes for beauty, our mourning for gladness, our despair for praise (Isaiah 61:3).

What the enemy intends for evil, God desires to rescue and redeem. Will you let Him, dear one?