Difficult Times

“You should greatly rejoice in what is waiting for you, even if now for a little while you have to suffer various trials. Suffering tests your faith which is more valuable than gold (remember that gold, although it is perishable, is tested by fire) so that if it is found genuine, you can receive praise, honor, and glory when Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, is revealed at last.” 1 Peter 1:6-7 VOICE

Do you feel that your faith is being tested? If you do, how would you grade yourself?

The other day, I heard a friend say how neat it was, his words not mine, that the whole world is going through this crisis together. He loves to use the hashtag, “#alltogethernow.” For some reason, that whole idea didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t that I thought he was wrong persay, but I felt that there was something else to this crisis.

If you read through the Old Testament of the Bible, and even the New Testament at that, you see God doing crazy things to win His people back. Sometimes, He would allow His people to go through tough times just to wake them up and jostle them out of the wrong path they had taken. As I thought about the fact that this may be the first time that the entire world has been quarantined together. I wonder if God is not putting everyone through the fire to see what their faith is. What if God is preparing our faith for even more difficult times, as the Bible warned about?

I confess, the thought of that frightens me a bit. This quarantine has been uncomfortable, to say the least, and for many it has devastated them financially, or worse, has lead to death. I cringe at the thought that there are worse times ahead. But then I remember that there is something else in my future, something way more encouraging. What a grand thought that this place, as it is currently, is is not my permanent home. My future is secure! Soon He will make all things new!

Do you you believe that? Is it carrying you through these times? Do you believe it so much that it wipes away fear and anxiety and despair? I heard someone say that if you are not longing for Heaven everyday, then you are making too much of a life for yourself here. Does the prospect of more difficult times send you into despair? Maybe you are holding on too tightly to treasures here on Earth where Jesus says “moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”

Maybe it would be good right now to spend some time in prayer and think through these things with the Lord. Ask Him to expose where you are still holding onto things here on Earth too tightly. Then ask Him to help you set your hope in Heaven. Maybe you have a warped view of things to come. Ask Him to give you a new picture of Heaven.

Dear Little Flock…

“Dear Little Flock…
You’re all wandering away from me, like sheep in an open field.
You have always been running away from me. And now you’re lost. You can’t find your way back.

But I can’t stop loving you. I will come to find you. So I am sending you a Shepherd to look after you and love you. To carry you home to me. 

You’ve been stumbling around, like people in a dark room.
But into the darkness, a bright Light will shine! It will chase away all the shadows, like sunshine. A little baby will be born. A Royal Son. His mommy will be a young girl who doesn’t have a husband. His name will be Emmanuel, which means “God has come to live with us.” He is one of King David’s children’s children’s children. The Prince of Peace.

Yes, Someone is going to come and rescue you! But he won’t be who anyone expects. He will be a King! But he won’t live in a palace. And he won’t have lots of money. He will be poor.
And he will be a Servant. But this King will heal the whole world.
He will be a Hero! “He will fight for his people, and rescue them from their enemies. But he won’t have big armies, and he won’t fight with swords. He will make the blind see, he will make the lame leap like deer! He will make everything the way it was always meant to be.

But people will hate him, and they won’t listen to him. He will be like a Lamb – he will suffer and die. It’s the Secret Rescue Plan we made –from before the beginning of the world!
It’s the only way to get you back. But he won’t stay dead – I will make him alive again! And, one day, when he comes back to rule forever, the mountains and trees will dance and sing for joy!
The earth will shout out loud! His fame will fill the whole earth
– as the waters cover the sea! Everything sad will come untrue.
Even death is going to die! And he will wipe away every tear from every eye.

Yes, the Rescuer will come. Look for him. Watch for him. Wait for him. He will come! I promise.” – from the Jesus Storybook Bible, from the book of Isaiah 

Come Lord Jesus…

Life

“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand–new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven––and the future starts now!” 1 Peter 1:3-4 MSG

It is nothing short of amazing that we, with all our sin and constant wandering, have been given the opportunity for new life. God has given us, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the potential of the life we always wanted – the one our hearts long for. 

Yet most of the time we are bent on trying to resurrect ourselves. And we’ll go through pretty extreme measures to do so. We will compromise our values with a women/man just to feel accepted. We go defile ourselves getting drunk just to feel like part of the “in” group or just to feel funny. We’ll obsess over work, so we can be successful and then maybe be accepted by our peers. The same goes with sports, or with our appearance, and the list goes on. All with the idea of being accepted.

We know deep down there’s something wrong with us, something missing. We are dead in our sin. And we will spend a lifetime trying to resurrect ourselves from that death.

When will we turn to the Lord for our deepest need – acceptance? Despite our constant bad decisions trying to do everything our own way just to feel that, He has everything we want in abundance. Silly when you think about it. 

What ways are you trying to “resurrect yourself”? Spend some time confessing to the Lord all of the ways you have been trying to find acceptance in other things. Wake up to the reality the you have been given new life in Christ. Now receive the Father’s love over your life and know that you are not only accepted by Him, but you are adored and loved.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10

House of Cards

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” –Jesus Matthew 7:24-27

How is your “house” doing these days? Do you feel like your current circumstances has you sinking in sand or are you unphased by the current events sitting on the rock of your faith?

I confess I have had some “foundation issues” at my “house.” It seems like parts of it were on solid ground, but I’ve discovered a few “sink holes” recently.

I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of these verses, “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Maybe your faith feels more like a house of cards right now. Trouble has rained down in your life, fear and anxiety have flooded in, and despair has begun to rise. Maybe God has shaken up your routine of going to church on Sunday and maybe sprinkling in a Bible study to expose the fact that it means nothing if you don’t put the things you’ve learned into practice. It’s almost like we fill our plates with church activities as an insurance policy for our sinful habits.

If you want your faith to hold firm during tough times then you will need to start building your life on the Rock, that is Jesus Christ. It’s time to begin seeking His kingdom first instead of running after your own desires and interests, storing up treasures in Heaven not here on earth, stop worrying and stop judging others, love your enemies, give to those in need, and be a peacemaker. Jesus said the gate is narrow so you might want to take some time to make sure you are walking in it.

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25 MSG

Anchor

“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,” Hebrews 6:17-19

God’s promises are as good as His divine nature, which is perfect. God gave us His word We can hold on to His promises like an anchor for our souls.

How are you faring during this time? Are you drifting into despair? Are you drifting into anxiety and fear? Have you drifted into frustration or anger over your circumstances? God has made many promises to us as believers. Here are a few you can anchor to today.

God loves you. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

He will never leave you. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you. he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” Dueteronomy 31:8

You are His. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

You can have peace. “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27

His offer is life. “The thief comes only to steal, slaughter, and destroy. I’ve come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” 

Praise

“Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits–

who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalms 103:1-5

You have much to celebrate. God has brought you from death to life. You are secure in Him. You have a home that will never burn down, can never be robbed, and will never deteriorate. You have the best Counselor in all the world walking with you through these times that you don’t have to pay a dime for. The Prince of Peace lives inside your heart.

It’s time to worship the Lord! Sing songs, write poems, dance and shout for He is worthy of all your praise!

How does this devotional sit with you right now? Are you turned off? Does it sound like just another sermon or another bible study or just another person too happy?

I confess, as I write this, my heart is struggling to worship. But I love these verses because David is struggling too and yet he is making a plea to His soul to wake up and praise the Lord. In another Psalm, the writer asks,

“Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.” Psalms 43:5

How is you soul doing? Has this pandemic caused you to lose heart? Have the financial pressures caused you to be depressed? Have you become numb?

It’s time to have a talk with your soul. Tell him to wake up and sing the Lord, give thanks to the Lord, and worship His holy name.

If we don’t worship the Lord, Jesus says, “even the very stones would cry out.”

In the words of my good friend, Kit, “Not even a pandemic can stop Christians from offering praise to the Lord!”

Humility

“Don’t tear down another person with your words. Instead, keep the peace, and be considerate. Be truly humble toward everyone.” Titus 3:2 VOICE

How does one “show true humility”? Humility is a very elusive character trait, yet the Bible regards it as a highly important quality. Jesus referred to himself as “humble and gentle at heart” (Matthew 11:29). In Romans 12:3, Paul wrote the clearest definition of humility apart from Jesus’ own example: “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”

Humility, then, boils down to having an honest assessment of ourselves before God. We show false humility when we project negative worth on our abilities and efforts. We show pride when we inflate ourselves and efforts and look down on others. True humility views our character and accomplishments honestly.

Once you have a good grip on who you truly are, you are less likely to need to inflate yourselves to others. You don’t have to put yourself down either to make yourself look humble. Finding your true identity, which is in Christ, frees you to unapologetically be who you are – no hiding, no masking, no exaggerating the truth. You are infinitely valuable to Christ. Understanding that changes everything. Anything less than that and you’ll be scrambling to compensate. 

How are you doing with humility during this time? It seems like it would be easier now that we are not around each other much, but I sure have struggled. My pride manifests itself when I drive, when I feel policed by someone else that I am not social distancing properly, and it certainly comes out at home.

Maybe you are doing better than I am. Maybe you should ask the Lord to reveal where you still have pride in yourself. Confess your pride to Him. Ask him to help you with humility. This can be a dangerous prayer, but that doesnt mean we shouldn’t pray it.

A New Life

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” 1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

Jesus dying on the cross took the penatly of our sins, which is amazing in itself. But coupled with his resurrection, whereby we could be raised to life from our sin-dead lives, is incredible!

Christians do a good job of remembering the great sacrifice of the Cross by displaying it in their homes and in their churches and some wearing it on a necklace or earrings or even a tattoo. But what about the resurrection? As I struggle to find an image to represent that, the Lord hit me with another image. The image was me and us. We are the living representation of His resurrection! We don’t need a symbol to hang on our walls to go alongside the cross. We don’t need jewelry or a tattoo. We have been “tattooed” by the Holy Spirit–given new birth into a “living hope.” We have been brought from death to life!

And even though that is our present reality, it can still be easy to lose our identity. We can still choose to live in our old self. I once heard an illustration of a little worm, who from birth, spent it’s days moving around in the dirt. Then one day the worm eventually began to change until it transformed into a full-fledged butterfly. The problem was it was so used the dirt that it just stayed there. Even though it had been given wings to fly, it continued to wallow around in the dirt.

You have been given new life, born into a living hope. You have been given “wings” to be raised to new life and don’t need to wallow around in the dirt of your old self. You are a living representation of His resurrection. You don’t need to wait until heaven to begin to experience the benefits of the Kingdom. The “future starts now!”

Are you still living in the dirt of your old self? Are you weighed down by the guilt of your sin or being consumed with anxiety that you’ll never change? You have been changed, given new life, and you are no longer slaves to sin.

Spend some time asking the Lord where you are still wallowing around in the dirt of your old self. Confess your sin and be raised to new life!

Time Off

“Don’t fall in love with this corrupt world or worship the things it can offer. Those who love its corrupt ways don’t have the Father’s love living within them. All the things the world can offer to you—the allure of pleasure, the passion to have things, and the pompous sense of superiority—do not come from the Father. These are the rotten fruits of this world. This corrupt world is already wasting away, as are its selfish desires. But the person really doing God’s will— that person will never cease to be.” 1 John 2:15-17 Voice

A lot of times we obsess about trivial things. We can spend our live chasing something that is here today and gone tomorrow. When we don’t get what we want, we cry like a kid at a grocery store when his mom doesn’t buy him candy. What are you chasing after right now? What is keeping you up all night? What can’t you get out of your mind? Is it something that will last or is it something that will not last?

Be careful to set your minds on things that will last, things that matter. There is a battle for your soul and the enemy would like nothing less than to distract you with things of the world (money, popularity, cars, food, etc.) All of those things seem to satisfy but they never do, do they? You always just want more. We were made to be satisfied by our Creator, and nothing is more satisfying that being in a deep relationship with Him. 

Maybe this “time off” has made you rethink your life. Spend some time taking some inventory of your life with the Lord. Are your desires still in line with His? Pray and ask Him to expose the desires that aren’t leading you to life, and ask Him to give you the desires of your heart.

Masterpiece

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 NLT

The Greek work could be translated we are God’s “poem” or His “making” or His “workmanship.” The idea is that it is the work of God, and not by our works, that we have been brought from death to life.

This is not referring to our creation by men (our parents) or but rather our new creation in Christ where the old was replaced with the new. We are now the beautiful work of the Cross, where God took our sin-soaked lives and changed them into Christ-filled lives.

Everyday you should wake up to this reality. You are God’s masterpiece. You have been brought from death to life. The old self is gone; the new self is here. You have been raised to new life, given a new heart. You are no longer a slave to sin. You are no longer a slave to fear or anxiety. You are no longer a product of your own doing; you are God’s work. His poem. His masterpiece. You don’t need to blaze a new trail but simply to follow in the path He has made for you. You have been given all the fruits of the spirit (love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control Galations 5:22-23). You have been given the “riches of Christ.” He will give you everything you need.

Spend some time praying to the Lord and asking Him to purge you of all the lies the world has told you of who you are, including the false things you have believed about yourself. Now, ask Him to speak His truth to you. Sit and listen for a minute. Go ahead. Set a timer.

I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world.Philippians 1:6 VOICE