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October 18, 2020

Freedom from Performance

“[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

All people yearn to belong and to be known. In the quest for relationship and acceptance, people often seek to please, but who we are pleasing has eternal consequences. Let’s look at some different kinds of “pleasers.”

The People-Pleaser: Some people spend their whole lives trying to please other people. Consider the adult child of a very successful businessman who feels obligated to take over the family business. He may not have the temperament or the natural skills to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he trudges on in an unfulfilled life out of a sense of duty and obligation.

Likewise, many Christians continually look at what others are doing to make sure that they personally measure up to others’ expectations. When the apostle Paul was accused of people-pleasing, he made it clear how incompatible this life was for the Christian. He wrote, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

The Self-Pleaser: We have all watched highly successful businessmen or star athletes ruin their health and families in the process of trying to achieve personal goals. They become obsessed with fulfilling their own expectations or meeting their own needs.

Similarly, many Christians fall prey to serving the god of self. Paul warned in Romans 2:8: “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” Jesus calls us to a better way: “So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).

It is easy to fall into the performance trap whether we are performing for others or ourselves. When we do this, we actually live a life of bondage. Instead of true liberty in Christ, we live like slaves.

Contrast a life lived in the performance trap to the life of another group of people—God-pleasers. They continually ask themselves, What does the Lord want me to do? What is the will of God? Is what I’m doing today glorifying Him or bringing glory to me? God-pleasers live their lives in total dependence on Him. They surrender themselves to Christ daily, knowing that having a relationship with Almighty God brings infinite fulfillment and that God Himself has provided the means for their acceptance into His courts—Jesus Christ.

Are you caught in the performance trap or are you living a life of liberty in Christ?

Prayer: Father, help me to remember that I should be seeking to please You today, not others and not myself. Help me to be a God-pleaser. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

October 11, 2020

True Freedom

“They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them'” (2 Peter 2:19).

Satan will entice you to use your freedom to sin. But true freedom means we are free from sin—free to serve Christ and live holy lives.

Read 2 Peter 2:17-22. One of Satan’s cleverest tactics is to entice us into slavery by giving it a new name: freedom. Schooled in the art of seduction, he will keep at it until he overpowers the voice of the Holy Spirit—if we let him.

In verse 19, Peter warns us that false teachers will promote a false, unbiblical ‘freedom’ that actually gives us license to sin. They will twist the Truth, saying we are free to sin because God’s grace will cover it.

If Christian freedom is not properly understood, it can be easy for us to fall into this trap. But here is the Truth: When the Bible speaks about our freedom in Christ, it is referring to freedom from sin—and freedom to serve Christ. Before Christ came into our lives, we were slaves to sin, but since Christ has saved us, we are free from that merciless slave master (see Romans 6:15-23). By the Spirit, we now have power to say no to our lusts and joyfully serve our Lord Jesus.

Friends, let us not be allured by Satan’s arguments of cheap grace. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). Train yourself each day to reject unrighteousness and experience true freedom in Christ. It’s never too late to serve Him with your whole heart today.

Prayer: Lord, I rejoice in the freedom You have secured for me in Christ—freedom to live in the peace and joy of holiness. Show me how I can serve You today. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

October 4, 2020

Everything We Need

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Power for Christian living does not lie in hard-to-attain experiences. It comes from realizing God has already given us everything we need.

Read 2 Peter 1:3-4. Have you ever been frustrated trying to chase the next spiritual experience? Or felt that something was missing in your life with God? If so, you are not alone. Many of us have been there. Truthfully, our problem is not that we lack what we need—it is that we have not fully appropriated all that He has already given us.

When we first receive Christ, we receive everything we need to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3). We are filled with the Holy Spirit and become recipients of every covenantal promise of God—promises like:

  • “[T]hose who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
  • “[W]hoever believes in [Christ] shall not perish” (John 3:16).
  • “[I]n all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Today, before you search for the next mountaintop experience, remember the promises of God. Before you give in to depression and despair, remember the promises of God. And long before you say, “It’s too late for me,” remember the promises of God. As you allow these precious promises to permeate your mind, you will participate in the “divine nature,” living in the abundance of all that Christ has given you (2 Peter 1:4). He has already given you everything you need; don’t let anything hold you back from living fully for Him.

Prayer: Father, I know Your promises are sure and unchanging. Thank You that my experience of Your presence has no bearing on the Truth that You are with me. Thank You for empowering me with Your Spirit so that I can live abundantly with joy, holiness, and hope. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

September 28, 2020

Run the Race

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3).

In 538 BC, the Persian emperor Cyrus issued a decree that God’s people could return to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. Of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who had been exiled, only 50,000 returned. The rest were still enjoying life in Babylon, caught up in the empty distractions of the pagan lifestyle. Nevertheless, the 50,000 returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their faith.

Once the Jews returned to their homeland and began to rebuild the temple of God, they experienced massive resistance. After spending two years rebuilding the foundation of the temple, opposition from other tribes and nations led them to cease their efforts for another 16 years (see Ezra 4). The faithful remnant of Israel was doing the right work for the right reasons until discouragement brought their work to a halt.

Read Haggai 1-2. God responded to the Israelites’ crisis with an urgent word through the prophet Haggai. These Israelites were tried and true—they had left a life of comfort and ease to dedicate themselves to God. But in the midst of their obedience, discouragement had stifled their momentum. To the faithful Israelites who had momentarily neglected their mission, God’s repeated plea was, “Consider your ways!”

Sometimes it is when we begin to take God seriously and re-center our lives around Him that opposition comes. Satan will always tempt us to quit at the crucial time, but we cannot give up. Like the Israelites, we can choose whether we will be Israel’s faithful remnant or Babylon’s majority.

Jesus chose the hard road over the easy one, and it was not easy for Him to do. Before His arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus’ prayer was, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Filled with anguish for the pain that was to come, Jesus surrendered His will to the Father’s. To Jesus, the glory ahead was far greater than the trials before Him.

No matter what opposition you are facing, do not lose your eternal focus. Is discouragement stifling your spiritual momentum, or are you running the race of faith with endurance? Although there is a long road ahead, our precious Messiah is waiting for all of us at the finish line.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, increase my spiritual endurance. I pray that my faith would become even stronger so that when I face discouragement, I will not give up. I want to serve You with all of my strength. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

September 21, 2020

Confronting the Culture

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The Truth of Christ has not changed since before time began. God is constant and true; He does not change. Yet throughout history, humanity has tried to transform God into its own image. When people do not like something in God’s Word, they try to twist it to fit their own needs and agendas. When people try to understand God through their worldly views instead of through the Holy Spirit’s discernment, they are easily fooled by Satan’s lies.

All around us we see the consequences of our deceitful hearts and judgment errors. We see the Gospel watered down for the sake of appeasing the culture. We see Christians allow the name of Christ to be trampled and ridiculed. We allow false teaching into our churches and homes. But how many of us stand up for God’s Truth? How many of us confront those lies and false doctrines? How many of us defend Christ’s name when we hear it mocked?

We may follow Christ in our hearts. We may boldly profess His name in the company of other believers. We may worship Christ in the security of our church pews. But how do we react when confronted by our worldly culture?

Prayer: God, give me the courage to stand up for You and Your Truth. Help me not to ignore the lies I hear, but to boldly confront them with the Truth in love. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

September 14, 2020

What Is Truth

“[T]he reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus told a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate, “[T]he reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” to which Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38).

Like Pilate, our culture also questions—and outright rejects—the notion of verifiable Truth. This postmodern thinking asserts that any claim to know the Truth is just a product of our social, historical, or political context. Postmodernists contend, “You have your truth, and I have my truth. Who are you to say what is right or wrong for me?” Dismissing the existence of absolute Truth, they do what is right in their own eyes—regardless of whether their “truth” is consistent with reality.

God’s Word says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12, ESV). There are consequences to living by only what we feel is right. When we refuse to submit to God’s design, we abandon a life of beauty for a life of self-inflicted bondage and desolation. Our attempts to be God and define good and evil for ourselves always end in fig leaves and regret (see Genesis 3:1-13).

But it’s not too late to seek Truth and live by it. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). God is the source of reality and thus the source of all Truth, so when we seek Him, we seek Truth. And in His kindness, He has revealed Himself to us through His Son and His Word.

So, when we look to Jesus, who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and believe His testimony with its unparalleled, ancient, historical evidence, we find Truth (John 14:6). That is why we must commit ourselves to passionately seeking His face. God has given us all we need to know the Truth—His Son, His Spirit, His Word—so that we can live godly lives in the midst of this post-Truth world.

Are you ready to stand firm on God’s Word in a world that echoes the disdain of Pilate when he jeered, “What is truth?” Seek Truth—follow Christ—”and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the Truth of Your Word. Thank You for freeing me from the bondage of sin and from the snares of worldly thinking through Your Son. Help me share Your Truth with others, that they might know the love and freedom found only in You, our loving Creator. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

September 7, 2020

Christianity Is Rational

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2).

Many people, both Christians and non-Christians, fail to understand the important role of verified, objective Truth in the Christian life. They have the mistaken notion that faith is belief without any evidence, or even belief contradicted by the evidence. Many people, both Christians and non-Christians, think that science and Christianity are irreconcilable kingdoms of thought.

The late agnostic paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould tried to resolve the conflict between people of science and people of faith by stating that religion and science are “non-overlapping magisteria.” A magisterium is a realm of authority or teaching. Gould was saying, in effect, that the church should stick to matters of faith and leave science to the scientists, and that scientists should stick to science and not get involved in matters of God, spirit, morality, and religion. Dr. Gould meant well, but it’s simply not possible to neatly divide reality into two “non-overlapping” realms of Truth, one factual, the other purely spiritual and moral.

All of reality is one. It is all created by God. There is nothing under the authority of science that is not also under the authority of God the Creator. Our world is a rational world, our faith is a rational faith, our God is a rational God, and we are to approach spiritual reality with the same inquiring, reasoning intelligence that we would bring to a science lab.

God, who created the human mind, tells us we are to use our reasoning ability, as well as our spirits and emotions, when we interact with Him (see Isaiah 1:18). And the apostle Peter tells us that when we share our faith with others, we should always be ready to back up our beliefs with sound reasoning and solid evidence (see 1 Peter 3:15). The Truth of God’s Word can be logically defended. The Bible is not an irrational document. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s Word makes good sense.

Prayer: Lord, You alone are sovereign over all creation. You are the source of Truth. Thank You that our faith is rooted in You—the matchless Creator of order and beauty. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

August 31, 2020

Christianity Is Not ‘Blind Faith’

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Our Western civilization was founded on a belief in the central importance of rational thought, objective Truth, and timeless Biblical principles. For centuries, Christian thinkers—great men of the faith like the apostles, Augustine, Origen, Calvin, Luther, C. S. Lewis, John Stott, Norman Geisler, and William Lane Craig—have taught that the Christian faith is reasonable and based on evidence. The Bible does not tell us to practice “blind faith,” but a faith that is rooted in objective reality. No other religion is based on the objective evidence of history—only Christianity.

Truth is a bedrock concept in the Christian faith. Paul tells us that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And Jesus told a group of new followers, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Jesus also claimed to be the very personification of Truth: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The concept of Truth was as essential to the Old Testament as it is in the New. God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, said, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isaiah 45:19).

You might ask, doesn’t the Bible tell us not to lean on our own human understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6)? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that the just (God’s righteous followers) shall live by faith (Galatians 3:11)? Aren’t we supposed to simply trust God, regardless of whether or not His Word seems to make logical sense?

The Truth is that all faith comes from God, and God imparts faith to us by many means—through the still small voice of the Holy Spirit within us, through the message of God’s Word, through the gracious words of fellow Christians, through the experiences of our daily lives, and, yes, through evidence and reason. God has many ways to draw us to His Truth and many ways to persuade us that we can rely on His Truth.

So we have faith—a faith that is founded on, and grounded in, reason and Truth.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the gift of faith. Thank You for the evidence and reason found in Your Word, which is Truth. You have given me a sure foundation and a certain hope. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

August 24, 2020

Power to Build and to Destroy

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).

Despite all the things we are now able to control through modern science and technology, there is still one thing we have not yet mastered control over—and that’s the power of our tongue.

James uses a few fitting metaphors to illustrate the power of the tongue: “Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, [ships] are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:4-5).

Perhaps the most common forms of sin in the church today are the sins of the tongue. Our words have the power to wound feelings, devastate reputations, shatter self-esteem, and destroy relationships. One simple act of gossip can ruin a witness for Christ—and yet so often we cannot resist the temptation!

Jesus said that the things we speak are actually the overflow of what’s in our hearts (see Matthew 12:34). Is your heart filled with pride, sarcasm, accusation, or bitterness? Or is it filled with Christ’s love, encouragement, wisdom, and power?

The Truth is we can’t put an end to the gossip, lying, and blaming that create division in our families and our churches—but God can. With His Spirit at work within us, we can learn how to use our words to empower greatly, correct gently, and lead humbly.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me for the times I have used my words to bring destruction instead of encouragement. May my words be vessels of Your love and Truth. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

August 17, 2020

Hope in Times of Trial

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

The Christians at Thessalonica were experiencing tremendous hardship when Paul sent a second letter to them. They were undergoing trials that threatened to break their faith. But despite these pressures, their commitment to Christ remained strong. That’s why Paul could say, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more” (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

These Christians were going through the most unbelievable, most intense persecution, and yet their incredible faith caused the apostle Paul to use a word that he never used anywhere else in all of his letters. It’s a Greek word that means “bound, compelled, obligated.” That’s how strongly the apostle felt about giving thanks to God for the Thessalonians. Paul was saying, in effect, “Your faith has been so incredible in the midst of crushing circumstances that I feel I owe God my gratitude.”

We must be prepared for trials and suffering. After all, Jesus promised us it would be this way: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. . . . I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20).

Now, it’s not the sort of promise that people want to talk about. It’s not the kind of statement that gets turned into a decorative print or written on a coffee cup. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But when it comes, do not despair. Jesus assured His disciples in the very next breath, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

That was the secret to the Thessalonians’ faith, and it’s the secret to deepening your faith. Jesus empowers us to face every trial with faith in His promises, the same ones the Thessalonians had: He is returning soon; He is preparing a place for us—a city with eternal foundations; His victory is sure; no one can snatch you from His hands.

Rooted in these, you can look forward to the end of history and, like the Thessalonians, “[c]onsider it pure joy, . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the example of the Thessalonians’ faith. May I have the kind of faith that considers it pure joy when I face trials. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

August 10, 2020

When Your Faith Is Tested

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Today’s me-centered culture has created a comfortable brand of Christianity that is becoming a hindrance for so many believers in the race of faith. This kind of faith is producing greenhouse Christians—believers who are daily nourished inside the walls of the church building, only to wilt under the heat of tests, trials, and persecution once they leave their protective environments.

The New Testament epistle James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). How is spiritual endurance cultivated? Through the testing of our faith! In order to truly flourish, we must face, rather than avoid, the spiritual challenges that come before us. Instead of allowing trials to turn us away from the Lord, trials can teach us to run to Him.

In a world where we would much rather hear a soft, affirming message than a sermon on suffering or sacrifice, the Word of God challenges us to respond to tests and trials with joy. This kind of joy is not some sort of mask we wear, but a resilient hope we choose to find in Christ no matter the situation. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, choosing to focus on Him rather than our circumstances, we will find that He is strengthening us to face every spiritual battle.

The Bible says that when you are rooted in Christ, it doesn’t matter where you are planted. Like Joseph, you may be planted in Pharaoh’s prison, but you can rise and become the prime minister of Egypt. Like Daniel, you may be planted in the lion’s den, but you can rise and become the advisor to the king of Persia. And like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you may be planted in the fiery furnace, but you can rise and witness to kings because God is with you.

How do you respond to circumstances that test your faith? Do you immediately give up, or do you fix your eyes on Jesus? Don’t let trials turn you away from faith in God. Don’t let the tests make your heart grow cold. Call upon the Lord for help, and rely on His strength. Remember the reward that awaits you in Christ Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, thank You that no matter where I am planted, I can flourish because of Your power working in me. When the next trial comes, help me to respond with utter joy, knowing that You will use the situation to shape and strengthen me. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

July 27, 2020

Offering Forgiveness – Michael Youssef

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

The line in the Lord’s Prayer that reads, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” does not mean that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving other people (Matthew 6:12). If that were true, then salvation would rest on good works, and faith would be unnecessary. Paul says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Our eternal debt was paid on the cross once and for all. Nothing is outstanding. Forgiving others is not a payment toward our own forgiveness: It’s a sign of spiritual life. Once we have received God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts, it follows that we should become more forgiving of people.

There are two sides to forgiving. The first is transforming your attitude toward the person who has offended you, and the second is transforming your relationship with the person who has offended you. Both take courage.

These two aspects to forgiveness take courage because we much prefer to go on clinging to our resentment. That way, we have a scapegoat. When things go wrong, we can say, “Well, that’s because of so-and-so and the awful thing he did to me.” It’s childish, yet we find the habit incredibly hard to break. Most of the time the best we manage is to “forgive but not forget”—which is not really forgiveness at all because refusing to forget means we are reserving the right to bring the matter up again whenever we please. Holding a grudge—keeping that weapon in reserve—stifles the relationship.

Real forgiveness has no memory. It does not shut other people into the locker of their past mistakes. It makes room for a genuine fresh start. Often, this transformation of attitude is all we need to transform the relationship.
Prayer: Father, help me transform my attitude toward those who have offended me and give me the courage to transform my relationship with them as well. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.