The Runner’s High

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“Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
If you look at me, you will quickly discern that I am not a runner. I am not physically active and it shows. I have a good friend from elementary/high school who does run and she is healthy, fit, and has incredible mental and physical energy.  I get winded walking to the mailbox. 
 
Paul had a lot to say about running, but not for physical health. Paul was running a race. He had a higher purpose in mind that covering miles. He wanted to run well and to especially finish well.  I encourage you to grab your Bible and read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – I’ll wait here for you.  At first glance, this appears to be about running for the “prize” of heaven, but J.D. Walt highlighted in today’s Seedbed Daily Text that the prize is not about something far off that we have to work harder and run faster to reach. It is about a relationship with Jesus – right here and right now.  It is the realization that Jesus is our running companion. He’s not standing at some far-distant finish line but is running right alongside us.  I also believe Paul is talking about endurance.  About putting your foot down one more time and one more time because Christ is your source of strength when your legs are heavy and your breath is labored. He is the voice shouting encouragement in your ears.  I also believe Paul is talking about being purposeful as you run – in letting go of everything that compromises your ability to stay in step with Christ.  I’m seeing more and more that our ideals (especially our American ideals) are weights on our feet.  They are being turned into the enemy of the Gospel as we set them up higher than heaven.  Being a citizen of heaven trumps being a citizen of any earthly nation.
I do think there is a prize waiting for you at the end of the race. It is hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when you and Jesus bust through the tape at the edge of heaven. That’s the “runner’s high.” That’s worth lacing up your running shoes, Beloved.

Remember to Remember

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“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5a).

 

Why, I wondered, with so much Joy in my life, am I so down? Why am I so discouraged? Why do I feel like there’s such a weight over me? I asked the Lord about it this morning and He showed me an image of a heavy, gray blanket over me and my house. “Where did this come from Lord?” From the enemy. He has covered me with a spirit of discouragement. Add to it my own battle with depression and anxiety and that blanket becomes a dead weight over me. What can I do? How can I be free?

The Psalmist that asked the question also provided the answer: “Put your hope in the Lord” (v. 5b). Oh, that sounds really spiritual, doesn’t it? But not very practical. Ah, but he’s not done. He said, “My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you . . .” There’s the answer. Remember God. Remember His promises. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His Son on the Cross bearing that heavy, grey blanket of my sin. Remember the empty tomb. Remember His Spirit in me. Remember His power. Remember His mercy and grace. Remember every time He came through for me. Remember the rainbow in my backyard. Remember that He bends His ear to hear my cries. Remember and be at peace that “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me. Remember that He is “the God of my life” (v. 8).

Have you felt the same heavy weight? It’s understandable given the way this year has gone. Even if everything was peachy-keen in your life, the virus, lockdown, unrest, political turmoil, and sense of fear and hopelessness that has gripped the nation is enough to bring even Pollyanna down. But, Beloved, you have a God in heaven who loves you. So much that He gave His only Son to redeem you and give you eternal life. Remember?

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

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There is a game I play when I need to give my brain a break from theology. It’s a “bubble-popping” game where I shoot colored balls at colored bubbles to free the little birds trapped within. It’s a mindless distraction that gives my brain a rest. I was playing the game last night and I was on a roll – popping bubbles all over the screen. There were strings of balls that would give me a lot of points. Then I saw him. The last little trapped bird – and one hit would set him free. I remembered that the point of the game was to free the birds, not take out all the bubbles. I took my shot, setting the little guy free.
There are many, many things we espouse in the church that are very important to the faith and should be passed on to every generation. We must teach (and model) holiness, righteousness, faithfulness, goodness, generosity, compassion, and obedience. These are the support structures of the Christian life. But there is only one foundation – one central truth above all else that we need to keep front and center: the Gospel. Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Did you catch that: “first importance.” It’s the one message the world needs most to hear. Without the Gospel we’re trying to change mankind without letting Jesus save mankind.
Every other message is secondary to this one great truth: “God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That’s the message. That’s the mission. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

At the End of the Road

Every step Jesus took on earth, every day of His life brought Him closer to the cross. To pain. To beatings. To mocking and ridicule. To misery. To death. But the pain and misery and death brought Him closer to His resurrection. And to heaven. And to His Father. “But,” we say in our pain, “He is God and He has perfect wisdom of every situation He faced. He knew the outcome was glory.”
It’s not that simple for you and me, is it? We are often blindsided by life. By trials and struggles – disease, pain, fear, loss, broken relationships, financial crisis, rejection, unrest. How can we endure these things?. The same way Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “the author and perfector of our faith” looked beyond the cross to “the Joy set before Him.” He endured the cross and its shame because He knew that on the other side of it He would be reunited with His Father.
Please understand that I’m not saying we can only expect misery in this life and the good stuff comes in the next. God is a good Father, and He loves to heal and restore and repair and surprise us with blessings. He knows that when the pressure is on, we want relief now, not in some mystical, ethereal, ever-after place. What I’m trying to say is that every heartache, every struggle, every trial and pain brings us one step closer to the glory of eternal life. We have His Word on it. “I am going to [My Father’s house] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
At the end of it all, there is glory. Beloved, can you hold on just a little longer?

No More Shame

Ever done something that made you feel guilty? Who hasn’t? Guilt can be such a heavy load.  But some add to guilt the weight of shame. That was me. I wasn’t just guilty of my sins I was ashamed of them. And that shame wasn’t only what I’d done, added to that was shame because of what others had done to me. I didn’t just carry shame – shame was my identity.

Until the day that God gave me a vision of sorts. Of Jesus, bleeding and staggering on His way to His crucifixion. As He walked, he reached out into the mass of people that lined the road and picked up their sins and draped them across His shoulders. I was in the crowd and when He came to me, He didn’t pick up my sin. He picked up me and draped me over His shoulder. I stayed there through those agonizing hours. I felt Him struggle to breath. I heard Him cry out to the Father. I felt His body grow still. I had to turn my head when they stabbed the spear into His side. Somehow, I remained on His shoulders as they took His body down and wrapped Him in burial cloths. I lay with Him on the cold stone slab in the tomb. And I rose with Him three days later. The remarkable things was, I rose with no shame. None. It was gone.

Beloved I want you to envision this with me. When Jesus went to the cross, He took all your sin and all your shame with Him. When He was placed in the tomb, be still bore all your sin and all your shame. The He rose to life. And when He walked out of that tomb of death, He left your sin and shame behind. Buried. Done. Forever. If you struggle like I did with shame, you need to know that Jesus left it all in the grave. Hear this loud and clear: you are free of guilt and free of shame. You are a new, beautiful creature in Christ. Now lift your head and walk in it.

Left Out in the Rain

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Twice this week, I’ve been stuck outside in the rain. Sunday morning was my turn to pray during the worship service. Not wanting to be disruptive, I exited the building and walked around to the door nearest the prayer room only to find it locked. I knew the sanctuary doors were also locked. I had no way in. I tried to knock on the door to alert my prayer partner, but she couldn’t hear me. Then the sky let loose a torrent of rain. Thankfully, the awning kept me out of the deluge. When the rain slowed a bit, I walked around and happened upon one of the deacons who – glory be – had keys. I slid in for the last few minutes of prayer.

Yesterday, during a heavy storm at my office, our building took a lightning hit that set off the fire alarm. Which is VERY loud. I quickly called the maintenance supervisor and stepped out onto the patio entrance. There was just enough roof overhang to give me shelter from the downpour until the alarm could be silenced.

Jesus told a parable about five wise virgins and five foolish virgins who were all waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. The wise virgins had filled their lamps and prepared extra oil. The foolish virgins had only what was in their lamps. As they waited all the virgins fell asleep, with all their lamps burning. When the bridegroom finally arrived, the wise virgins refilled their lamps and headed out to the celebration. The foolish virgins had to leave in search of more oil. By the time they arrived at the wedding site, the doors were locked, and they were denied entrance. (Matthew 25:1-13) I had a better understanding of that parable this week.

Jesus is coming back to gather His people – those who are ready through faith in Him as their Savior – and bring them to His wedding feast in heaven. For those who do not know Him there will be no last second scramble for salvation. Nor will they be able to “borrow” from the redeemed. If you do not have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, you will be shut out. But you don’t have to be. The Gospel is this: Jesus is the Son of God. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, died an undeserved death to pay for your sins and mine. He was buried and after three days, was restored to life. He now sits in heaven, awaiting His Father’s command to return and gather every person who believed on Him for eternal life.

Beloved, I pray that includes you.

Becoming Like Jesus

See the source imageI asked God to teach me how to love people as Jesus did. He brought people into my life who were hard to love. I asked Him to help me trust Him and He took away everything else I trusted in. I asked Him for peace and He set me in a storm – then sat with me as it raged. I asked for greater faith and He put mountains in my path. I asked Him for wisdom and He set challenges before me. I asked Him to give me a kind and gentle heart, and he allowed me to face heartbreak and disappointment. I asked Him for joy and – well – He sent Joy!

I thought He would just make my heart grow three sizes, and make trust and faith shoot up like a well-watered plant. I thought He would just infuse me with peace, and give me a shot of wisdom. I thought he would just change my nature from grumpy to kind and gentle. I thought it would be easy.

Maybe it’s been different for you, but God and I have always had to do things the hard way. I don’t think I’ve learned a single life-lesson without some blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Even the Joy in my life came with a struggle.

We love to quote Romans 8:28 in times of trial and trouble: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is His purpose? Read on. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Everything in your life is designed to make you more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that God made Jesus “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Why, Beloved, do you think becoming like Him would be any different?

Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

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There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

The Lord is Near

Some days I’m not feeling very “godly.” Some days I am just tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. Emotionally tired. Some days I don’t want to be wise or thoughtful or inspiring. I just want to hide in a corner until the weight is lifted. I know you understand. Some days we want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over our head until the problem is resolved, the money’s in the bank, the kid gets his act together, the test results are negative, the house is clean, the inbox is empty, the school opens back up, the bills are paid. But that’s not an option. And so we throw back the covers and swing our feet over the side until they touch down on the pile the dog left beside the bed. Great.
The Apostle Paul had some difficult days too. His message was rejected by the people he once counted as his friends. They tried to undermine the work he was doing for God. Then they tried to kill him – they threw stones at him, beat him, and threw him into prison. Yet from his prison cell, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Paul used the words, “joy” and “rejoice” thirteen times in this letter. But he didn’t throw those words out flippantly. He gave a reason to rejoice. “The Lord is near” (v. 5). He knew what he was claiming. In Acts 23, while sitting in a Roman prison, the Scripture says, “The Lord stood near Paul” (V. 11). The Lord came to Paul with a personal word of encouragement. He never forgot about the nearness of Jesus.
Oh, I get how difficult it is some days. I’ve had quite of few of those lately. I started writing this devotional from my own raw feelings. As I got to “The Lord is near,” the weight started to lift, and I know that I can make it through this day because Jesus is with me. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. It just means I don’t face it alone. So clean off your feet Beloved and get the day started. You’re in this together with Jesus.

Jesus is . . .

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Studying in Matthew 13 today and something struck me. Check out Matthew 13:53-58. Jesus is teaching in His hometown – His messages are full of divine wisdom and His miracles display divine power. The people, verse 54 says, “were amazed.” I’m sure I would be too. I love to listen to a good Bible teacher. I love preachers who bring the Word with passion. I think the best Bible communicators are the ones who believe with all their hearts the truth of what they are saying. No wonder the people were amazed at Jesus – He taught with the intimacy of the author. He knew and believe what He was saying because He was the originator of the message. But I digress.

Look back at the passage. The people began to consider who Jesus was – as far as they knew. Mary’s son. James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas’ big brother. Just one of the many kids that grew up in that town. Nobody more special than any of the rest. Just who did he think he was to speak so high-and-mighty? Now, these same people “took offense at Him” (v. 57). From amazement to offense. Why? Because they lost sight of who He was. It reminds me of another time when the people shouted that He was “the King of Isreal who comes in the name of the Lord!” (John 12:13) then rejected Him and shouted, “We have no king but Caesar, crucify him!” (John 19:15).

Humans are fickle. And we’re forgetful. When we forget who Jesus is we miss Him entirely. When we reduce Him to a good teacher and humanitarian, we disregard His message and His saving work. If we do not see Him as the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Savior of the World – we do not see Jesus at all. Oh, Beloved – with all my heart I plead with you – know Jesus in all His divine and saving glory. Know Him and you will know hope. You will know peace. You will know Joy. And You will know eternal life.