THE POWER OF GRACE – “AMAZING GRACE!”

EPHESIANS 2:4-7: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: Do I understand the power of grace? Do I take the Lord’s love for granted? How do I look at those who have not received God’s grace? What is the purpose of God’s grace in my life?

Recently I watched an episode of America’s Got Talent. Invariably, each year, someone will decide to audition with the song – “Amazing Grace.” I am always amazed at the judge’s and crowd’s reactions to this famous song. It has become just another familiar song that is sung without any understanding of its meaning. To the one who has truly been saved by God’s amazing grace, it is a song that never loses its meaning!

Paul reminds us of our condition before we received God’s grace.

  • “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:1-3‬ ‭NKJV‬

A familiar phrase that is used in Christian circles is – “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Normally, when this is used it is comparing the plight of a broken life to that of our own. It can be used sincerely, but it also can be used from a position of pride and superiority. From the opening verses of Ephesians, chapter 2, I think we need to rewrite this phrase. We should more correctly say,

There, but for the grace of God, I would remain!

Paul makes it very clear when he says – “…among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, just as the others.” The only difference between a believer and an unbeliever is God’s grace! God’s grace changes us but it never brings us to a level of Pharisaical superiority over others.

Grace always reminds us of our roots!

When I think of God’s grace, His amazing grace, I am reminded that it is amazing because it saved a wretch like me. God did not pick me because I was better than anyone else. I was as wretched and lost as the vilest sinner. My life was destined for wrath and left to myself I was lost for eternity. God looked upon me with His infinite mercy and love and saved me by His grace – despite myself. Paul’s opening words to this chapter are filled with such meaning and praise as he writes,

  • “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

We were saved only because of God’s mercy and grace. We were saved when we were dead in trespasses and sin. We were made alive in Christ solely by God’s grace. We were lifted from our brokenness and sin into a new position and destiny. We were filled with a new hope and purpose, a life filled with promise and eternal blessing in Christ Jesus. No wonder the hymn “Amazing Grace” echoes,

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved,
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

Imagine, from sitting under the wrath of God – to being raised to sit with Christ in heavenly places. From a life controlled by the lusts of our flesh to a life filled with God’s Spirit. And, all of this, every aspect of this new life, is a gift of God’s mercy and grace. We have done nothing to deserve it and we can do nothing to earn its continued blessing and favor. It is God’s grace and His grace alone!

  • “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-9‬ ‭NKJV

Not of works. Not of our goodness. Not of our place or position. Only by grace through faith! The gift of grace is the gift of God. It is offered to all‬, yet it must be received by faith. Faith is putting our full trust in Christ alone to save us. It is His sacrifice, His shed blood, His righteousness alone that saves us.

To trust in anything else, our works, our goodness, our standing, is to miss the grace of God!

Grace comes from God and is received through faith! There is no other way. It is His empowering and saving love freely given through faith. And, it is His power to transform our lives and to give us a new purpose and direction. It delivers us from the tyranny of this world, the enemy of our souls, and our sinful nature. It empowers us to live a life with a new purpose, power, and direction. It is not the freedom to sin and be forgiven.

Grace is the power to live in the fullness of God’s will and purpose!

  • “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

So, is it any wonder why it is called “Amazing Grace?” Is it any wonder why it cannot just be a familiar song to the one who has received it? Is it any wonder why each time we think of it we are humbled realizing what our life was like, and would have continued to be, without it?

It is “Amazing Grace!”

It is the sweetest sound!

It is the only thing that saved a wretch like me!

Lord, thank You for Your great grace. Grant me the grace to live in the fullness of its purpose, power, and calling.

In Jesus’ Name!

Posted in Ephesians | Leave a comment

THE SEARCH FOR PEACE…

ISAIAH 26:3-4: “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, For in YAH, the Lord, is everlasting strength.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: Got Peace? The famous milk commercial shows a plate of cookies and then asks the question – “Got Milk?” This is so effective because a plate of cookies is simply incomplete without an ice-cold glass of milk to dip them in and wash them down. In life, everything is incomplete without peace!

To find peace is the endless quest of man. Countless songs have been written about peace. Yet, none of them have claimed to have found it. John Lennon’s famous song, “Imagine,” echoes this with the chorus that says,

You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one,
I hope someday you will join us,
And the world will live as one.

Yet, the world is more divided now than ever before. Peace is something that sells T-shirts and slogans but remains firmly out of reach. Wars continue, inequality continues, violence increases, racial prejudice revives and raises its ugly head, and the loser in all of this is peace.

Then we read about an even more unattainable peace – PERFECT PEACE. Isaiah writes – “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You…”. I don’t believe the Bible would taunt us with something that we can not experience. When we fall short of the promises of God it is usually because we are looking for it in the wrong place.

Let’s break down some of the aspects of this verse. The word translated as “peace” in Hebrew is Shalom. This has become a greeting in the Hebrew culture as one wishes peace upon the other. In Hebrew the word Shalom has these meanings:

Completeness, soundness, welfare, health, prosperity.

Peace is not the absence of something (war, strife, confusion, agitation, etc.), peace is the possession of something. Peace does not come from without. Peace comes from within. Peace is not a journey. Peace is a destination. Peace, perfect peace (Shalom Shalom), has nothing to do with us. Perfect peace is only found in a relationship with the living God!

  • “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.”

There are two important aspects of this verse. The first is the source of peace. The second is the sustainability of peace. How many times have you experienced a peaceful situation that has been runied by someone or something? Yet, real peace, perfect peace, is anchored in and sustained by God Himself. It is not dependent upon our circumstances. It is not governed by our feelings. It is found when we turn our hearts toward God. It is sustained as we maintain our trust in God.

Jesus came to reveal the will and heart of the Father. Jesus came to live among us as Shalom Shalom – Perfect Peace! As He taught His disciples He spoke to them about peace.

  • “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John‬ ‭14:25-27‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This peace is not a feeling or an emotion. It is not simply a state of mind or consciousness. The peace that Jesus spoke of was His very presence living within us through the Holy Spirit. If God is the source of Perfect Peace then the only way we can abide in this peace is to be with God. And, the only way we can live in His presence continually is if He lives within us. So, Jesus reminds His disciples and us,

  • “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” John‬ ‭14:15-18‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

When Jesus walked this earth, He was Perfect Peace incarnate. The disciples touched this peace but it was still not a part of their life. Yet, Jesus promised that when He returned to the Father, He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit. There was a distinction that Jesus made as He spoke to the disciples. He said they know Him (the Holy Spirit) because He dwelt with them (through the life and ministry of Jesus). However, there was a day coming when the Holy Spirit would not only dwell with them – but He would be in them.

Paul understands this important truth as he writes,

  • “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Romans‬ ‭8:5-6‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

We no longer live our lives in the flesh (our old sinful nature). We now live our life according to the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit of God and we now walk with Him each day. He is the one who reveals the Father and the Son to us. He is the one who makes the Word of God come alive. He is the one who sustains us and gives us life and peace. It is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our life that we can keep our minds stayed on Him.

And, so Isaiah closes this thought with these words.

  • “Trust in the Lord forever, For in YAH, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

Only in a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, YAH, the Lord, will we find Shalom Shalom and everlasting strength. Governments cannot create it. Man cannot achieve it. Only God can give it for He is Shalom Shalom, Perfect Peace!

Got Peace?

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and receive His Shalom Shalom!

Lord, help me to both live and walk in the Spirit today. Let my heart and mind be directed fully to You. Let me trust in You alone, wholly and completely. And, as I abide in Your Spirit, let me walk in…

Shalom, Shalom! Perfect Peace!

In Jesus’ Name!

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AM I GOING TO HEAVEN WHEN I DIE?

GALATIANS 2:16-18: “…Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” NKJV

OBSERVATION: Am I going to heaven when I die? This is one of the most important questions I need to answer in my life. It is more important than where will I go to college, what will my career choice be, have I saved enough for my retirement, or what will people think of me when I die.

There is something innate within every human being that hungers for eternity. Some have argued that the concept of eternal life in itself is the strongest argument that it exists. All cultures and religions focus on some sort of afterlife. The Bible speaks of this as eternal life with Christ. Paul put it this way,

  • “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” II Corinthians‬ ‭5:6-10‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

While we are alive, we are absent from the Lord. When we die, if we have walked in faith, we will be present with the Lord. The Bible teaches that the decision of where we will end up when we die is permanent the moment we die. The writer of Hebrews adds to these thoughts when he writes,

  • “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…” Hebrews‬ ‭9:27‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

According to the Bible, there is no second chance, no purgatory, and no reincarnation. When you die – you enter into the eternity that you have chosen. This is why the opening question is one of the most important questions you will ever answer in your life.

“When I die – will I go to heaven?”

Some try to dismiss the reality of a literal heaven and hell. How could a loving God send anyone to hell? The Bible teaches us that hell was never created for man. It was created for Satan and his fallen host of angels. Yet, misery loves company. Satan is working hard to lead men and women astray so that they will miss the gift of eternal life in heaven and spend eternity with him in hell! This is why Jesus came to the earth. This is why He suffered and died. Jesus gave Himself on the cross for our sins so that we could experience eternal life.

  • “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

So, I come back to this most important question.

“When I die – will I go to heaven?”

Can I get to heaven on my good works? I can always find people who are living worse lives than I am. Surely my good life will get me into heaven – right? So many people look at life this way. They think their lives are ok and surely they will go to heaven. Yet, if we choose to get to heaven through our good deeds we are going to be surprised and disappointed. Trying to earn your way to heaven through good works is what the Bible calls the works of the law. And, the reality of trying to earn our way to heaven through the works of the law is…

We must score a 100% in life to make it into heaven! (We will have to obey all of God’s laws perfectly.)

Paul is quick to tell us that this is impossible. No one in life scores 100%. There is no batter in baseball that bats 1000%. No basketball player hits every free throw. The very law of God that we think we are keeping is the very thing that condemns us. Through our inability to keep it perfectly, it reveals that we are sinners in need of a Savior. This is why Paul boldly says,

  • “…Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

This may seem like a simple truth from the Bible. You may wonder why I am spending so much time discussing it. While it is a simple truth, it is one of the hardest truths to live out. There is something within us that always reverts to trying to earn our way to heaven and justifying our lives by measuring our lives against others. This is futile and will lead us to a lifetime of disappointment and an eternal future that we would choose for no one.

No one can obey God 100% of the time and earn their way to heaven!

The only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ!

The Bible is clear – “The just (those declared just and forgiven by God’s grace) shall live by faith!” If we begin our journey to heaven by grace through faith, can we finish it any other way? Do we start out in faith and then, like a Boy Scout, start earning merit badges along the way that secure us a place with Jesus? Paul is addressing this very misconception. If we trusted in Jesus Christ, by grace through faith for our salvation, we need to continue trusting Him as we move through life – until we enter into His presence on the day we die.

  • “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”

We need to live our life in Christ through the cross. The cross reminds us that we had to die to our old sinful nature so that we could receive a new nature through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Each day we need to come to the cross anew. We need to remember that we brought nothing to the cross and we cannot add anything to it. If we revert to our old way of life, if we try to earn our way to heaven, we will quickly be reminded that we are sinners wandering away from the only source of salvation and eternal life. Therefore, Paul emphatically confesses,

  • “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” Galatians‬ ‭2:20-21‬ ‭NKJV‬

Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ do not earn eternal life – they receive it!

This is the reality of the one who lives by faith in Christ. Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ do not earn eternal life – they receive it! It is the glorious gift of God’s grace. It is the fruit of the cross in our life. We are crucified with Christ and now Christ lives in us – by faith in the Son of God (his death and resurrection). The believer never really dies. He is not earning his way to heaven. He is merely walking each day by faith until he lays down his earthly house (body) and steps into the gift of eternal life with Christ.

So, will I go to heaven because of all the good works that I have done?

Absolutely not! If I try to work my way to heaven I will be shocked when I receive my final paycheck. Romans 6:23 reminds me – “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus my Lord!” The cross cancels all debts. It ushers me into the life of Christ now and keeps me in His care. It gives me the assurance of eternal life in heaven and the hope of the resurrection. So, the question is not – “Will I go to heaven when I die?” The real question is…

“Will I trust Jesus Christ through faith and receive His gift of eternal life?”

This is the ultimate question of life. We will all have to answer it. Some will answer it through faith unto everlasting life. Others will try to earn their way to heaven and be eternally disappointed when they receive the wages of their sin, which is death, eternal separation from God in hell.

What will your answer be?

In Jesus’ Name!

Posted in Galatians | 1 Comment

WHY DO SOME STRUGGLES PERSIST?

II CORINTHIANS 12:7-10: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: Why do some struggles persist? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where it seemed like your prayers were not being answered and the situation at hand was not changing? Perhaps our disappointment with this is misplaced. Perhaps we are looking at it all wrong? Perhaps God has a greater purpose in allowing the struggle to persist.

Paul gives his personal testimony of struggle in verses 7-10 of II Corinthians chapter 12. His opening statement is really the assessment he learned from this ongoing struggle.

  • “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

I am sure that when Paul began experiencing this ongoing attack of the enemy he did not know why it was happening. As any believer would do, Paul began to pray for victory over this struggle. Paul prayed…it did not come. Paul prayed again…it still evaded him. Paul prayed a third time…and then something happened.

Paul had an encounter with God and with His all-sufficient grace!

I am sure when Paul was praying he was looking for a direct answer. No doubt he was asking the Lord to remove this struggle from his life. When it persisted, Paul persisted. Yet, Paul had learned to hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. When Paul paused after praying the third time, God spoke to him.

  • “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

It was not the answer Paul was looking for. It was not the answer to his specific prayer. Yet, it was the answer that Paul needed in order to walk in the plan and purposes of God. Paul asked for a breakthrough and he received God’s grace. It was grace to endure, grace to learn, and grace to remain humble and teachable before the Spirit of God!

As Paul drew upon the all-sufficient grace of God in his life he discovered one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian faith. We are not strong when we are leaping from one victory to the next. Our true strength comes when we find ourselves without strength and fully reliant upon the grace of God. It is at that moment that we discover the power of God to live victoriously regardless of the circumstance.

Our victory is not in the outcome but in our relationship with Jesus Christ!

No one really knows what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. One can speculate but I think this is a pointless journey without a destination. The key was not in what it was. The key was the purpose that God had allowed it to persist in Paul’s life.

  • To keep Paul humble and free from pride.
  • To keep Paul in a place of submission to the will of God.
  • To keep Paul filled with God’s grace.
  • To keep Paul praying.
  • To keep Paul’s heart open to receive continued revelation.

When you think about the upside of Paul’s struggle listed above, is it any wonder why Paul would then say,

  • “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I will never forget a message I heard from Katherine Kuhlman on the cost of the anointing. She said – “It will cost you much. And, if you really want to know it will cost you everything!” She was referring to her willingness to lay down everything at the altar so that she could walk in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. I believe this is what Paul was saying also. Unless we come to the end of ourselves, unless we are in the place where we desperately need the grace of God, we are not positioned to receive the anointing and power of God.

Today I wonder – am I willing to boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me? Do I really count it all joy when I experience various trials and temptations – or do I find myself disappointed and wondering why the victory has not come? Have I paused long enough to hear God’s voice? I think when we have prayed about a thing over and over again, and nothing changes, it is time to stop talking and start listening.

It could mean the difference between walking in grace or failing the only grace that can truly sustain us.

Lord, forgive me for the many times I have grumbled over my present struggles. Help me to be still and know that Your grace is sufficient and that Your power is made perfect through my weakness. May I see the moment of my weakness as a great opportunity to receive Your grace and to hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit!

When the struggle persists – let it always lead me closer to You!

In Jesus’ Name!

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LET’S LEARN HOW TO FIGHT!

II CORINTHIANS 10:3-6: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: We are in a battle! There is a war raging in our culture and the church. We can isolate ourselves and pretend it is not happening or we can enter the battle. Either way, we will be impacted by the war at hand. If we are going to survive, if we are going to turn the tide,

WE HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO FIGHT!

Whenever we hear the word “fight” we think of physical interaction. Images of rioting and protests come to mind. When rioting took place in the streets of Seattle for weeks on end, this is not the type of fighting that Paul is referring to. We see extreme examples on both the right and the left. All of these Paul would condemn.

The believer is in a battle. It is a battle for truth. It is a battle for the Kingdom of God. And, this battle cannot be waged on a physical or psychological level with either force or coercion. It cannot even be won through political parties and their platforms. This battle is spiritual in nature and can only be won with spiritual weapons. This is why Paul emphatically says,

  • “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds…”

The strongholds we are standing against are those things that oppose and exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. This is a battle for truth and there are only two weapons that we have been given to wage this war. These weapons are,

THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT AND PRAYER IN THE SPIRIT!

  • “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—”. Ephesians‬ ‭6:17-18‬ ‭NKJV‬

Every other piece of armor that we have been given is defensive armor. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation – these are all defensive. The two that remain are our offensive weapons – prayer and the Word of God! If we are going to survive and make an impact in the war we face we must learn to use these two weapons wisely!

How can we meet hearts hardened with hatred and strife? How can we loose the bonds of those whom the enemy has enslaved? How can we keep our lives pure in the process?

GOD’S WORD AND PRAYER!

The greatest example of this in practice is Jesus’ warfare with Satan in the wilderness. Jesus had been fasting and praying for 40 days. The enemy took the opportunity to oppose Jesus when he was physically weak. The enemy’s tactics were predictable. He tempted Jesus with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Jesus did not get into a shouting match with Satan. Jesus fought the enemy from the place of prayer and with the sword of the Spirit as He said,

“IT IS WRITTEN…”

Three times the enemy twisted the Scriptures trying to get Jesus to fall. And, three times Jesus, from the place of prayer, used the Scriptures with integrity to overcome the enemy! Paul probably had this in mind when he wrote,

  • “…Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,”

Without prayer, we will move with presumption and begin to lean upon our own understanding, timing, and power. Without the Word, we will not be able to meet the enemy’s lies with the truth of God. Prayer is to be in the Spirit. This means it is to be led by the Holy Spirit and it is to lead us into the very presence of God. In prayer, we surrender as we listen for God’s direction. In prayer, we receive the revelation of God as we abide in His Word. In prayer, we enlist the host of heaven in our spiritual warfare. And, in prayer, we learn to use the sword of the Spirit in love!

WE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO FIGHT!

This war can only be won by soldiers who are speaking the truth in love. We cannot join the host of angry voices waving our fists in the air. We cannot succumb to worldly methods to win spiritual battles. We cannot force or coerce others – but we can meet them with love and truth. As we move in the power of the Holy Spirit, born out of a life of prayer, and rooted in the truth of God’s Word, we can begin to win the battle…

ONE HEART AT A TIME!

Lord, teach me how to fight! Teach me how to pray! Teach me how to love! Teach me how to lay my life down so that when I speak people will not hear another angry voice but they will hear the truth of Your Word…

IN THE POWER OF YOUR LOVE!

In Jesus’ Name!

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MONEY AND THE CHURCH…

II CORINTHIANS 8:16-21: “But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord. And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind, avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us— providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: “The reason I don’t go to church is that all they ever talk about is money!” This is the statement I heard someone make at a movie theatre before the movie started. At that time I was preparing to plant a church and was thinking through what this new church would look like. This statement stuck with me as I prayed and planned.

I NEVER WANTED PEOPLE TO THINK WE WERE FOCUSED ON MONEY!

The ministry is supposed to be about the formation of people. We are called to make disciples. Of course, this takes money. However, how we approach the subject of money in the church will speak volumes to those who are earnestly seeking, when they visit our church. I never wanted to be timid concerning the subject of money but I wanted everyone to know that our focus was on people and not the offering plate.

I think this is what Paul was speaking of when he said,

  • “…Avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us— providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men.”

Paul was stating that he intended to handle the offering to the poor saints in Jerusalem with integrity and transparency. Their offering was being carefully stewarded by chosen men and their handling of this offering was accessible and visible to everyone – “…both in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.”

As a church planting pastor, I determined two things. I wanted to trust God for our finances and I wanted everyone to know how we stewarded these gifts to God. My personal decision was to place an offering basket at the exit of the sanctuary. We would refer to it in our announcements but we made a conscious choice not to pass an offering plate. This was the first decision.

Our second decision was to give full visibility to how we used these offerings in the ministry and life of our church. Each year we would publish a detailed financial statement that was available to anyone in the congregation and that was fully reviewed and open for input during our annual congregational meeting. We also would report the use of special offerings, both how much was received and how we used these offerings.

In over 15 years of ministry, we never had to beg for an offering. I would teach on stewardship, but only as it came up in the text as we were going through a series or book of the Bible. We would publicly thank people for their faithfulness in their tithes and offerings but we would never put pressure on them to give. What we found is that God always moved through His people and supplied all of our needs as we worked at being good stewards of the Gospel and the offerings.

AS WE DID THIS WE DISCOVERED A SPIRIT OF CHEERFULNESS, FAITHFULNESS, AND GENEROSITY IN THE CHURCH TOWARD GIVING!

How many ministries have been damaged by an over-emphasis on offerings or the mismanagement of them? How many churches steward their offerings behind closed doors and do not share any detail of how they are used with the general body? How many people in the process have gained one more reason to avoid going to church?

Paul chose to be a tentmaker rather than receive financial support for his ministry. He did this so that no one could accuse him of proclaiming the Gospel for profit. Yet, it was Paul who taught that a minister of the Gospel should be paid for his laboring in the Gospel. The balance between these two points is stewardship. There is nothing inherently evil with money or receiving a salary for being a pastor or Christian worker. The issue is how our handling of these funds appears to both the Lord and those inside and outside the church.

THE ADMINISTRATION OF MONEY IN THE CHURCH SHOULD BE MARKED BY INTEGRITY AND TRANSPARENCY – TO ALL!

Lord, this morning I pray for all those who are leading a congregation and have the oversight of the ministry and the administration of the offerings of God’s people. I pray that You will give them the wisdom to do both in a way that is pleasing to You and will enable them to maintain a good report both inside the church and without. I pray that You will guard all of our hearts from anything that would tempt us to handle the resources You place in our hands in any way that would not be pleasing to You.

Help us all be good stewards of the resources of Your Kingdom!

In Jesus’ Name!

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AM I A COMPARTMENTALIZED CHRISTIAN?

II CORINTHIANS 6:3-4, 7: “We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses…by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left…” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: Am I a compartmentalized Christian? This is a question that must first be defined in order to be answered. In the sixth chapter of II Corinthians, Paul gives some of the character qualities and life experiences of a minister of God. He is not speaking merely of the Apostles and leaders, but of all men and women who claim to be ministers, servants, and followers of Jesus Christ.

This list is filled with personal qualities and also many of the trials and sufferings that one can expect when they take up their cross and follow Jesus. It would probably be a good list for people to consider before they half-heartedly decide to become a Christian. Yet, as I read this list again, and the verses noted are just a small sampling of this list, the words that struck a chord with me were,

  • “…By the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.”

This brings us to the definition of the opening question. What does it mean to live a life as a compartmentalized Christian? Imagine a football player entering an important playoff game. Half of his clothing was fully equipped with the proper protective gear and shoes, the other half was only a tank top, swim trunks, and flip-flops. Other than looking quite strange it is easy to imagine that this player would not do well in the competition and more than likely would be seriously hurt in the process.

A compartmentalized Christian tries to live with one foot in the world and one foot in the Kingdom. This is the way I grew up as a young believer. We confessed we believed in Jesus Christ, yet our lives were markedly different on Sunday than they were on Monday – Saturday. I surely was not clothed in the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. On Sunday I put on my Christian face and for the rest of the week, I lived like someone who was in the world.

It would be easy to jump from this point to talk about all the things a Christian should not do. Paul goes on to exhort us not to be yoked together with unbelievers. However, the more subtle expression of living a compartmentalized Christian life is not simply in what we do or do not do, it is in what we think. How we view life and the issues of life will lead to our actions in life. If our thinking is askew then our actions will follow.

To live a life of compartmentalized faith is to relegate our Christianity to the sacred and never intersect it with the secular.

Two of the key social issues that illustrate this more than any other are the issues of gay marriage and abortion. These are issues that many churches will not even discuss from the pulpit so as to not offend anyone. They are issues that are being force-fed to us through all forms of media. To oppose either is to be a hate monger and a bigot. So, many people today who claim to be Christian hold views that are not Biblical. They have dismissed the Word of God in this area but continue to hold onto it for the areas that fit their lifestyle.

THIS IS THE EPITOME OF COMPARTMENTALIZED CHRISTIANITY!

In a recent survey, George Barna found that only 4% of Evangelical believers hold a Biblical Worldview. Evangelicals are defined as those who profess to believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the final authoritative word in all matters of faith and practice. Yet, when the recent Roe-v-Wade decision was handed down, Facebook was filled with professing Christians on the wrong side of the issue.

Instead of celebrating life, they fell in rank with the conventional wisdom of our day.

What is the answer to this dilemma the church finds itself in today? We need to put on the armor of righteousness, on the right hand and the left. In other words – we need to live ALL of our life through the revelation of God’s Word. The Bible is clear on the two issues stated. Marriage is a sacred institution between one man and one woman. It cannot be redefined by man. And, all life is sacred, from the unborn to the elderly. We cannot treat life in any other way and confess to being a Christian.

I once was a compartmentalized Christian. Then, I surrendered my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and my eyes were opened. Yet, every day there are attacks against my walk of faith. There are moment-by-moment choices that I am compelled to make. The world is pulling at each and every believer to lay down their cross. There is no room for complacency in the days that we are facing. We need to hear the exhortation once again that Paul closes this chapter with.

  • “Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.” II Corinthians‬ ‭6:17-18‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This is not a call to live on a mountaintop away from the world. Neither is it a call to walk in a false sense of superiority as did the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Rather, this is a call to live an authentic life of faith, to take the breastplate of righteousness (in Christ), and live out our faith in sincere authenticity, honesty, and love. It is being willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake as we proclaim the unchanging Word of God.

It is living life with only ONE COMPARTMENT – a heart filled with faith!

Lord, in these ever-changing times, help me to live authentically, honestly, and fully surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the truth of Your Word! Help me to maintain the balance of being separate from the world and engaged with it at the same time – proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who will hear! Wash me, cleanse me, and help me to daily turn my heart and life to You completely!

In Jesus’ Name!

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MIRROR, MIRROR…

II CORINTHIANS 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” NKJV

OBSERVATION: Have you ever stopped to think about how important a mirror is in our daily lives? Think about going through your daily routine without a mirror. Would you be able to get ready in the morning? Would you be able to drive your car safely down the road? When you stop to think about it – mirrors are essential to living a happy, safe, and successful life!

YET, TODAY I COULD NOT GET PAST THE WORD MIRROR…

I have read these verses in II Corinthians all of my life. Yet, today I could not get past the word “mirror.” For some reason, it stood out like a neon sign as I read these familiar verses. Then I read the chapter over again and began to see how it fit into Paul’s closing statement in this chapter. When you are blind you have no need for a mirror. Yet, when you are given the gift of sight a mirror becomes essential in the course of fulfilling God’s call upon your life.

Paul contrasts the Old and New Covenants, the covenants of the law and grace. The former had a glory that was passing away. The latter was a glory that was ever-increasing. The Jews who rejected Christ could not see this glory because a veil hung over their spiritual eyes. They rejected the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and hung unto their adherence to the law as a means of righteousness.

But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament because the veil is taken away in Christ.” ‭‭II Corinthians‬ ‭3:14‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

It is important to remind ourselves that the New Testament, as we know it, was not in existence at this time of writing. The Biblical text that the Jews read was the same one Paul was preaching from. To one it was the source of death and to the other the source of life. The difference was that for Paul and fellow believers in Jesus Christ the veil had been taken away. What proved to be death for one became life for the other!

  • “But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” II Corinthians‬ ‭3:15-16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

GOD’S WORD IS THE MIRROR!

This brings us full circle to the mirror! Unlike the Jews who asked Moses to veil his face to hide the glory of his encounter with God, we welcome the glory of the Lord and we do so with unveiled faces. We no longer approach God’s Word through the letter of the law. Rather, we approach God’s Word in the freedom and anointing of the Spirit. It is the Word of God that is the mirror that we are all looking into. What proved to be death for some because they could not see has become life and transformation for us who behold Christ with unveiled faces.

WE ARE BEING TRANSFORMED!

As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, through the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we find our lives being transformed – inch by inch, step by step, from one degree of glory to the next. As we look intently into this mirror our focus continues to brighten and we experience a wonderful transformation. We begin to see the very image and nature of Jesus Christ begin to be reflected in us. This is the glorious and wonderful transformation by the Spirit of God in our lives.

Yet, this transformation doesn’t simply take place by standing in front of the mirror. It comes by actively following the prompting of the Spirit, through the Word of God, in willful obedience. This is what James is talking about when he exhorts us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves. Notice how James also uses a mirror in his exhortation!

  • “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” James‬ ‭1:23-25‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

OBEDIENCE IS NEEDED!

Note, James says the one who is a hearer only – “…observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” To look in the mirror of God’s Word and to walk away without obedience, is to miss the leading and transformation power of the Spirit of God in our lives. James goes on to say – “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty (God’s Word through an unveiled face) and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work…

“This one will be blessed in what he does!”

This morning I will take a shower and get ready. I will need to see if my beard needs trimming. I will need to check that there is nothing unpresentable before I walk out the door. And, to do all these things…

I NEED A MIRROR!

If I give so much care to my physical appearance, how much more should I daily prepare my spiritual man? Have I taken the time to look in the mirror of God’s Word with an unveiled face? Have I taken the time to discern the leading of the Spirit for my life? Have I committed to drawing upon the grace of God to be a doer of the Word? Have I allowed the mirror of God’s Word to discern between the soul and the spirit, between the thoughts and intentions of my heart?

Lord, this morning, help me to pause at the mirror of Your Word!

In Jesus’ Name!

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WILL THE REAL PASTOR PLEASE STAND UP…

II CORINTHIANS 1:12: “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: What does a real pastor look like? What character qualities should an undershepherd of God’s flock be known by? Paul saw himself as a servant, a slave of Jesus Christ. He was given a commission to proclaim the Gospel. His ministry as an apostle was not one to flaunt before men. It was a holy calling and with it came great responsibility.

There are many today who are leaders in the church that are more like the Pharisees than like Paul. Many hide behind large titles that separate them from the flock. They boast of their accomplishments and flaunt their worldly possessions as evidence that they are men and women of faith. When the unsaved world looks at these leaders it merely emboldens them to mock Christianity. What the world needs to see today is men and women walking in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul!

Paul was not ashamed to boast. Yet his boasting was not in his accomplishments or his authority. His boasting was in the work of the cross of Jesus Christ in his life.

  • “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” Galatians‬ ‭6:14-15‬ ‭NKJV‬

His boasting before the Corinthian church was boasting of the work of the cross in his life. Paul learned obedience and surrender to Christ through the things that he suffered. Whatever air of superiority he may have flaunted as a Pharisee was nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus when he placed his faith in the risen Lord. Unlike the false teachers of his day, Paul boasted in his weaknesses and transformation – not in his position or power.

Paul contrasted himself to those who boasted in themselves. He leaned not upon what others thought about him but on what God thought about him and what he knew in his heart to be true.

  • “…We conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.”

There was no pretense in his life. He gave his life to the Corinthian believers in simplicity (singleness of purpose) and godly sincerity (purity, authenticity, without hypocrisy). He did not rely on trendy gimmicks or the popular conventional wisdom of the day. Paul relied fully upon the grace of God in his life and his ministry. This is why Paul proclaimed,

  • But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” I Corinthians‬ ‭15:10‬ ‭NKJV‬

There were no hidden motives in Paul’s life. No hidden agendas. No seeking of fame and notoriety. All that he once held as important now paled in comparison to the calling of God on his life and the responsibility he had to minister to the saints. His life was given in service and sacrifice. To Paul the cross was not merely a symbol of the faith – it was the pathway of his life!

  • “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.” ‭‭II Corinthians‬ ‭1:9-11‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

I will never forget the time I visited the Billy Graham Memorial Library. Billy Graham was one of the greatest preachers and evangelists of the 20th Century. I had the privilege of hearing him when they held a crusade in San Antonio, Texas. Although Billy Graham stood before presidents and kings, and although he wrote numerous books and preached to thousands around the world, this is what is written on the headstone of his grave.

Billy Graham. Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!

When I think of these two men, and when I look at the church today, I pray that we will have more leaders like Paul and Billy Graham. I pray that my life can be, in even the smallest way, caught in even the edge of their shadow and testimony. The world may not have agreed with Paul or Billy Graham, but there is no doubt that they had to respect them both. It is time to stop with all the titles and the need for attention. It is time to pick up our crosses and live in simplicity and godly sincerity as we fulfill the call of God in our lives.

Lord, this morning I am challenged and humbled as I read the testimony of these two giants in the faith. I pray that you would draw me to the cross, help me to empty myself of everything other than Christ, and give me the grace to finish well the course that You have given me in my life. Grant me the grace to live each day of my life in simplicity and godly sincerity.

In Jesus’ Name!

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HOW DO I APPROACH GOD? (A reflection on worship)

I CHRONICLES 13:9-14: “And when they came to Chidon’s threshing floor, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzza; therefore that place is called Perez Uzza to this day. David was afraid of God that day, saying, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?” So David would not move the ark with him into the City of David, but took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house three months. And the Lord blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that he had.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: How do I approach God? This is the question that rushes to my heart as I read this account of the death of Uzza. David and Israel’s celebration of bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem was shockingly interrupted. Uzza died as he reached out to steady the Ark as the cart moved because the oxen that were pulling it stumbled.

David was both angry and afraid to go on with his endeavor. He said, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?” What had gone wrong? Why was the Lord so angry? David simply could not understand it. So the entire procession stopped at the house of Obed-Edom. David returned to Jerusalem with a lot of questions. The text does not reveal it but I do not doubt that David began to pour over the Scriptures seeking God’s wisdom and understanding. (See I Chronicles 15:1-13)

I think this event is not only a historical account of a worship service gone bad, but it is also a reminder to the New Testament church. We cannot simply approach God in any way we want to. We must approach God in spirit and in truth. Worship is a matter of both the heart and obedience to the Word of God. When our worship is not based on the Word of God then it is not acceptable to the Lord. We merely become sounding brass and clanging cymbals.

This is evident in Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians. They had reveled in the gifts of the spirit and their worship celebrations had become a mixture of spiritual and emotional imbalance and excess. Their celebration of the Lord’s Supper had become a time of sectarianism and drunkenness. Paul rebukes them strongly when he writes,

  • “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” I Corinthians‬ ‭11:29-30‬ ‭NKJV‬

God is holy and we must approach Him as such. The Ark of the Covenant was the symbol of God’s very presence among the children of Israel. It was kept in the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and was not to be handled by anyone other than the Levites. David had erroneously placed it on a cart. This was not in accordance with the instructions God gave to Moses. The Ark was to be carried by poles upon the shoulders of the Levites.

The celebration of Communion, the Lord’s Supper, is the symbol of the holiest event in the life of a Christian. It is a remembrance and a proclamation of the victory over sin and death through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is not something to be neglected, nor is it something to be treated lightly. The Corinthians had turned it into a drunken party. They had not discerned the holiness of the moment. And, like Uzza, many of them bore the result of their actions.

What application does this have to the modern church? Is God just waiting to punish us if we do not follow some strict code of practice? If we are tempted to think this we miss the whole point of these two examples. It was not God who was at fault in both instances, it was Israel and the church. When the Ark was left at the home of Obed-Edom for three months, God blessed Obed-Edom and his entire household. God is always desiring to bless His children but we must never forget that He is Holy!

Much of today’s worship is man-centric. It focuses on the blessings that God has given us and neglects to worship His nature and holiness. Jesus becomes our friend, our buddy, and we forget that He is our Sovereign and Holy Lord. We picture Him walking barefoot on the beach and forget to see Him as He revealed Himself to John in the book of Revelation.

  • “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” Revelation‬ ‭1:14-18‬ ‭NKJV‬

The wonder of John’s revelation is that it combines both the holiness of God and the love and mercy of God. When we forget these two balancing truths our worship becomes imbalanced and man-centered. Jesus is no longer walking on the beach. Jesus is the risen Lord, the Holy One, the all-powerful victor over sin and death. And, the wonder of this is that when John fell to His feet in humility and worship, Jesus laid His hand upon John and said – “Do not be afraid!”

When we learn to approach God in spirit and truth we encounter both the holiness of God and the love of God. We are laid before Him in humble adoration and we are lifted by Him in grace and mercy. Our eyes are turned from earth toward heaven. Our desires are transformed from self to others. We see the Kingdom of God and we begin to live in its provision. We cannot simply sing – “I am a friend of God…”, we must also sing Holy, Holy, Holy!

As we begin to approach the Lord in spirit and in truth we will enter into the blessings that He so freely wants to give us as His children. When God corrected Uzza it was not to punish Israel. It was to keep Israel from a pathway that would ultimately lead them away from true worship. When God corrected the Corinthians it was to keep them from leaving the only source of true life – the cross of Jesus Christ. And, when God corrects us it is so we can enter into the blessings of life that He desires to give us in Jesus Christ.

Lord, help me to approach You in spirit and in truth. Keep me from legalism where I try to control my worship and from excesses of emotional and imbalanced expressions where I miss Your holiness. Give me a heart that desires to worship You in the spirit of holiness and truth. May I come boldly to Your throne of Grace – but never forget that the only reason I can do so is because of the holy sacrifice of Jesus Christ my Lord.

In Jesus’ Name!

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