The truth and power of this statement hits home through the story that comes before it. But I am not going to tell you the story—Read Blue Like Jazz. You will be glad you did!
"...I will love God because He first loved me. I will obey God because I love God. But if I cannot accept God's love, I cannot love Him in return, and I cannot obey Him. Self-discipline will never make us feel righteous or clean; accepting God's love will. The ability to accept God's unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return." —Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
The truth and power of this statement hits home through the story that comes before it. But I am not going to tell you the story—Read Blue Like Jazz. You will be glad you did!
"He [the Lord] is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer Him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God's rod from me so that His terror would frighten me no more" -- Job (Job 9:32-34).
THANK YOU JESUS, FOR BEING THAT SOMEONE!
Someone to mediate between us...JESUS..."we have a high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin" (Hebrews 4:14-15).
Someone to bring us together...JESUS... "remember that at one time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenant of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:12-13).
Someone to remove God's rod from me...JESUS..."But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him! For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!" (Romans 5:8-10)
Thank You, Jesus, for being our Someone. May I never take for granted Your near presence, the privilege of prayer, or the abundant life I have in You.
Radical by David Platt
How Now Shall We Live by Chuck Colson
Primal by Mark Batterson
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards & Brandon O'Brien
These books vary widely, but there is an underlying pervasive theme across the board:
People of our time need to know absolute truth and have the courage to live by it.
When we hear a message repeated by several Christian leaders, we need to sit up and listen. God is speaking.
God is pointing to the heart of the matter: There is a longing for truth...
People feel like they are lost at sea. Many are miserably seasick. They have no direction toward land and no hope for life past the boat ride. In fact, they believe they will drown in the waves of misery, and they have no idea why they're on this ride in the first place.
Christians know the absolute truth of Jesus, but how often are we tossed at sea like everyone else because we do not have the courage to live by the truth we know? Lighthouses are able to lead others to life because they stand still against the waves. People need the one hope that can anchor their souls but we will not be able to light the way unless we stand firm in the grace, truth & righteousness of Christ.
We must live out our faith or it is no faith at all.
Fran knew she heard God (for one thing, it wasn't what she would have thought!) and she knew she had been obedient, but then her world crumbled. And she prayed, "Did I really hear You right, God? 'cause this doesn't seem to be working out so well." The Spirit whispered back, "Don't doubt Me after you have been obedient. You don't understand what is happening, but that doesn't mean I didn't speak. You know My voice. Trust Me."
Maggie prayed, "God, what do I do—this or that? I have to decide right now." The Spirit spoke, but the circumstances were swirling in her head along with the hurt and Maggie said, "That's not God." She chose not to obey, and things went from bad to worse. The Spirit whispered, "You know My voice. You should have listened. You should have trusted Me even if it didn't make sense to you."
Heddie was in the middle of doing the dishes, her mind somewhere else, when she heard God speak a name and tell her to pray, to call, to reach out right now. She obeyed and then she sat back in wonder when her friend told her how much she needed that right at that moment. The Spirit whispered, "Why are you surprised? You know I see the smallest sparrow fall and I am at work. You know My voice. When You trust Me, I work through you."
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27).
If you know Jesus, you know His voice. What do you do when you hear Him?
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." --- Jesus (Luke 22:31)
Can you grasp the concept of Jesus—the Word through whom all the world was made, the Lord to whom all men will bow—praying for us? His love never ceases to amaze me.
Here, Jesus warns Peter that Satan has asked to sift them as wheat, to put them through trials that would break them down, tear them apart and turn them away from God. Jesus' prayer for Peter is not that he would be spared from the trials, but that through them, his faith wouldn't fail.
But then Jesus says, "when you turn back, strengthen your brothers." Jesus knew Peter's faith would falter, but He looked forward to a better time, a time when Peter would be able to strengthen his brothers. Pater's ability to strengthen his brothers would come only after he had received God's grace and mercy in his weakness.
The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand" (Psalms 37:23-24).
So Peter wrote to strengthen his brothers: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope..." "though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:3a, 1:6-7).
In His great mercy, we live. In His grace, trials prove the genuineness of our faith to bring glory to Jesus, not because we never stumble but because when we stumble, we have a Lord who lifts us up. His strength, glory and love are revealed in our weakness. When we have received God's grace and mercy, we are able to strengthen others with it.
When I read the verse from Luke this morning, my first thought was how incredible it is to have Jesus pray for us and how desperately I needed Him to pray for me. If there was ever a time I have felt like Satan was trying to sift me, it is now. But as I wrote, the Spirit led me in a way I hadn't expected, I think to remind me...that God is sovereign; that I am never out of His sight or care; that although I will fail Him, He will never fail me; that trials are temporary and have purpose...that I can look forward to a better time, a time when I will be asked to strengthen others with the grace and mercy I have received.
Jesus, please pray for me, that my faith will not fail.
"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
He said, 'In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God or cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with a plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually come and attack me!'
And the Lord said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:1-8).
Several of the passages in Luke end with a line that seems out of place. This one fits after you think about it, but you have to think about it—and that's the point. "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
Jesus was telling this parable specifically to instruct us to pray and not give up because God hears and answers His people. I know without a doubt this is true. The Lord has answered my prayers more times than I can begin to count, sometimes with absolute miracles.
But Jesus was also challenging us. How often do we pray and still worry? or pray and still carry the burdens of anxiety or fear? or pray and try to take matters into our own hands? or pray and give up in the face of difficult circumstances? How often do we just doubt God's love for us?
What I want more than anything is that Jesus finds faith in my heart. He deserves so much more, but in His grace, He accepts faith and counts it as righteousness, a "rightness" with our Lord. By faith in Jesus, we are brought near to the Father; by faith, we receive God's love for us and show God our love for Him. By faith, we are children of God and friends of Christ.
By faith, we learn that God's love is life-giving, unfailing and unfathomable. "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
The Lord is more than worthy to be praised; He is worthy to be trusted. May the Son of Man find faith on the earth—in me, and in you.
Lord Jesus, no matter what today brings or tomorrow holds, I pray You will find faith in my heart.
"We are Marshall" is a movie about the tragic airplane crash of 1970. The plane carried seventy-five people from Marshall University, including the football team, coaching staff, their athletic director and prominent community leaders. The unyielding blow froze the town in grief.
One assistant coach had been sent on a recruiting run; four injured players had remained at home. They were the only survivors of the Marshall football program. No one would blame them if they never picked up a football again, and some would blame them if they would, but one of the four could not let it go. For his fallen teammates, he fought to regain something of what they had lost. The president of the university agreed to bring in a coach; he had given up the search when he got a call from the football coach at the College of Wooster.
This incredible movie speaks so much to our faith—you have to watch the movie. There is no way I can relay it in a few words, but the new coach said something that I want to share. He said, "I used to believe that 'winning is everything,' until I came here. Now, winning isn't everything, it doesn't even matter how we play the game. What matters is that we take the field......Someday, winning will be important again...and we will rise out of the ashes."
In the face of a defeating tragedy, there is a crux time when the future hangs in the balance—when it is decided if we will still trust God, if our children will continue to follow Him, if we will be a part of impacting the world for Christ, if we will still be a part of building His kingdom for eternity. At that moment, what matters is that we take the field. One foot in front of the other, until we can run again.
Stay faithful. Jesus will "provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins..." (Isaiah 61:3-4a).
In the 1970's, Marshall's football team lost far more than they won. In the 1980's, they were 4-time bowl champions. Out of the ashes they rose.
Take the field.
The central story in the book of Ezra is a travesty, sometimes called "The Great Divorce." When the prophet Ezra had led the group of Jewish exiles back to their homeland, it was brought to his attention that several of the Jewish men had married foreign women and had children with them. Clearly this was a sin against God, who had commanded the Israelites to not intermarry with any of the neighboring peoples because of their idolatry and detestable practices. The sin of intermarriage jeopardized the "Remnant" of people God had saved to reestablish Israel. Therefore, Ezra was distraught and began praying.
Unfortunately, Ezra didn't wait for an answer from God but took advice from the Levite priests. Their suggestion was to cast out the foreign women and children—over one hundred wives and countless children. Marriages ripped apart; families separated; the women and children sent away to what? Without husbands, the women were destitute; without a community, the women and children had no hope of extended care.
In one breath, Ezra was thanking God for His mercy and forgiveness of their sins. In the next breath, Ezra turned and, in self-righteousness, condemned others. Now, granted, he was trying to protect the Remnant, but he had forgotten that in the law, God had provided a way for foreigners to be grafted into Israel. And there were precedents too—Ruth and Rehab, for instance. The foreign wives and children were seen as contaminants rather than people God loved and desired to redeem. Somewhere along the line, Ezra and the Jewish leaders had replaced the goal of being a light to the nations with protecting the Remnant. How much stronger would Israel have been if they had used their energy to redeem those families instead of destroying them?
Sometimes, in the Church we have a shallow sense of what is right. In one breath, we thank God for His grace, then in self-righteousness, we turn and condemn others. We get in a protective mode and begin to see "outsiders" as contaminates rather than as people God loves and wants to redeem. Our energies are refocused to keeping the flock safe instead of being the light to the nations we are called to be. There is nothing wrong with protecting each other—we need to do that, but we must be careful that it doesn't become our goal. Jesus shed His blood for all people to come to salvation—For God so loved the world!
There is another lesson to be learned from this story. The foreign women were married to, in covenantal relationship with the Jewish men, and had children with them. Although they had not been fully accepted, they were a part of the community—a covenantal part recognized by God. God sent His only Son to die so that we might be reconciled to Him, so that we might have fellowship with Him and with one another. Too often, we are willing to break fellowship in covenantal relationships, whether it be marriage or church membership or friendship, when we should be looking to God to redeem those relationships.
Grace is the one word missing in this story. Let's be sure it's not missing from our lives. Extend the grace God has extended to you.
I have found the secret of contentment in any and every situation...I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12a,13).
Lord, You know for us this is easier said than done, but we come boldly to the throne of grace for help in time of need. Bless Your people.
A little girl was waiting in line to get on her bus when a boy twice her size ran by and snatched her hat away. The girl chased him around and around, jumping at the hat he held high above her head. Finally, she realized the futility, and, with tears of frustration in her eyes, she returned to the bus line, resigned to the fact she had lost her hat. The boy stood and watched her for a minute, then just as she was getting on the bus, he loped over and gave her hat back.
Jeremiah speaks a hard word to the nation of Israel—Here is your choice, he said, you can fight the Babylonians and die, or obey the Lord: submit to your invaders, allow them to carry you away from your homeland and serve them as slaves. In other words, Jeremiah tells the people to realize the futility of the fight, return to the Lord and resign to the fact that to live, to make sure Israel would have a future, they had to lose their freedom. The Lord promises if they did not resist, He would restore Israel, bringing a remnant back from exile.
Now the two stories are not nearly the same. The little girl had only lost a hat; Israel was losing their national identity, their homeland, their freedom, and that doesn't even begin to describe the horrors of their loss. One girl vs a whole nation of men, women, sons and daughters. The girl didn't really think she would get her hat back, and in the scope of things, it wasn't all that important. However, the Lord was asking the people of Israel to have faith that He would be their hope while they were in exile. He would secure the nation's future if they hoped in Him, and their faith was imperative to the restoration of God's people.
But here's the kicker: the generation sent into exile would not see the restoration in their lifetime. Neither would the next. It would be 70 years before the Lord freed Israel from their captors and brought them home. The Lord was asking them to have faith, not to be free from pain but through the pain--faith that went beyond their own individual lives for the good of their people. He was asking them to be willing to suffer slavery under the Babylonians, what many would consider a fate worse than death, for the future of their nation. Still, He wasn't asking them to go alone and He would not forsake them.
To resign to the futility of the fight goes against our senses, but remember that our "sense" of things is faulty; obedience to the Spirit is sure. Sometimes standing firm in the faith means surrender. But surrender with hope, and trust in the Lord who will never leave you nor forsake you.