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Christian Ambition

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ’s teaching found in Matthew 5-7, we discover the most complete description in the New Testament of genuine Christian culture. In the first half of Matthew 6 (1-18), Jesus taught on the private life of a believer (giving, praying, fasting).  In the second half of Matthew 6 (19-34), He instructs us on the Christians’ public business in the world (questions of money, possessions, food, drink, clothing, and ambition). It is this second half I want to look at more closely.
Ambition simply stated is what we seek after. Christian ambition is best described as seeking after the things that bring glory to God. Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-34, is going to address Christian ambition by sharing four alternatives: two treasures (9-12), two conditions (22-23), two masters (24), and two desires (25-34).
Let’s dig into our passage together, first looking at two treasures found in Matthew 6:9-12. These are the treasures of earth and the treasures in heaven. It is important to note that Jesus is not banning possessions. He is not forbidding saving for the future or a life insurance policy. In fact, the Bible affirms wise investments and planning for the future. We are encouraged in Scripture to enjoy the good things that God has given to us. What Jesus forbids His followers is the selfish accumulation of goods and materialism, which tethers our hearts to earth, pulling believers away from Him. Jesus teaches that your heart follows your treasure; therefore, we need to store up treasure in heaven (Deut 6:5).
Jesus continues in Matthew 6:22-23, presenting two conditions of our heart: full of light or full of darkness. He uses the eye as symbolic of our hearts (Psa 119:6, 10). As our eyes affect our whole body, our ambition determines our direction in life. When your heart is right, your path is clear (Psa 119:105), and you walk in darkness when your heart is wrong (Prov 4:19). Jesus teaches that the condition of your heart determines your path. If our spiritual vision is correctly adjusted to God and His priorities, our lives will be filled with godly purpose and drive.
Then, Jesus declares in Matthew 6:24 that there are two masters we can serve, God or money. We have a choice between God and money, that is, between our Creator or anything else of our own creation (i.e., money). We can’t serve both. No one can serve two masters. Jesus teaches that you have to choose whether you will serve God or money or anything else. If you’re attempting to divide your allegiance between God or money or anything else, you have already chosen money or whatever else you have tried to place alongside God’s “sovereignty” in your life.
Then, Jesus concludes in Matthew 6:25-34 by presenting two desires we can possess, the false ambition of our own material security and the Christian ambition of God’s rule and righteousness. He explains that pursuing a false ambition, our own material security is unnecessary, unworthy, and unproductive as a Christian. Jesus shares what John Stott calls the trinity of cares: food, drink, and clothing. It is important to note that Jesus never denies or despises the needs of the body. After all, He made it and takes care of it. It is worry Christ denounces. It is not forethought Jesus forbids, but anxious thought. Jesus instructs us to seek first [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness; in the Lord’s prayer, we take this supreme quest and make a request that it will indeed be a reality in our lives. We seek God’s kingdom or rule, which only exists where Jesus Christ is consciously acknowledged. To be in God’s kingdom is the same as enjoying His salvation. God’s righteousness includes individual and social righteousness. Because God is righteous, He desires righteousness in every human community, not just every Christian community.
As God’s people, we must understand Christ’s call. Our ambition is to know God and make Him known. Believers are to desire God’s rule in their life and cooperate with the Spirit to see such rule and salvation established in the lives of others. Christians are to desire personal righteousness while cooperating with the Spirit to see the righteousness of God established in the communities where we live. We are to be everyday missionaries in the everyday mission fields of our lives. Jesus teaches that what we desire produces specific fruit. We either pursue Christian ambition leading to peace or a false ambition leading to worry that is unnecessary, unworthy, and unproductive as a Christian.
Here are the simple truths about Christian ambition: Your treasure determines your heart. Your heart determines the course of your life. You cannot divide your heart between two masters. You will either pursue a false ambition leading to worry or Christian ambition leading to peace and heavenly provisions. You must choose whether or not you will serve God, seek His rule and His righteousness. In short, we can be ambitious either for ourselves or for God. There is no third alternative. Above all else, Christian ambition seeks first God’s glory in all things; nothing else comes close. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

How to Talk to God

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The passage we are about to explore is found in The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5-7. This sermon of Christ contains some of His best-known teachings. John Stott offers this description, “It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that Jesus ever uttered, for it is His own description of what He wanted  His followers to be and do.” The sermon describes what life looks like when Jesus is recognized and received as Savior and Lord. It is the most complete description in the New Testament of genuine Christian culture.
Within the sermon, in Matthew 6:7-15, Jesus explains how we are to talk to God. We discover in Matthew 6:7-8 that we are to pray thoughtfully, not mechanically. Jesus does not forbid all repetition but verbosity (degrading prayer from an honest and personal approach to God into a mere recitation of words). Jesus forbids prayer that is all lips and no mind or heart.
Jesus then goes on to explain how we are to pray thoughtfully. He offers a model of prayer. In Matthew 6:9, Jesus says, “Pray like this.” He proceeds to lay out a pattern of prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Jesus is not telling us that we need to recite what has become known as The Lord’s Prayer or The Disciples Prayer since He is sharing this prayer with the disciples. However, He is not forbidding us from reciting it. When we are thoughtfully reciting The Lord’s Prayer, it can be quite meaningful.
What does the model Jesus shared with us teach us about praying rightly and thoughtfully? First, we pray rightly and thoughtfully when we approach God as His people. In verse 9, Jesus tells us to address “Our Father in heaven.” What does this teach us about how we are to approach God in prayer? We learn that we are to come to God as His children with childlike trust and with reverence and respect. We are to approach God with the confidence that we are His children, and He is our personal, loving, and all-powerful Father.
Secondly, we pray rightly and thoughtfully when God’s concerns are given priority. We read in verses 9 and 10 that we pray “hallowed be God’s name,” that “His kingdom come,” and “His will be done.” As believers, our top priority is a concern for God’s kingdom and will. We pray for God’s concerns when we pray that God’s rule will overcome the world and for obedience to God’s commands and leading here on earth.
Thirdly, we pray rightly and thoughtfully when we lift up our own needs as well as the needs of others. What needs are we to lift up to God? We are to lift up physical needs asking God to provide (daily bread) what you and others need to sustain life. Keep in mind Jesus meant the necessities rather than the luxuries of life. Next, we pray for forgiveness for the sins we have committed. Note that our sin is likened to debt because it deserves to be punished and, in fact, was, in that Christ paid our penalty on the cross. Jesus assumes that if you have been forgiven, you will forgive others. This does not mean we earn forgiveness by forgiving others. Rather, God forgives the penitent, and a genuine sign of the penitent is a forgiving spirit. Lastly, we pray for deliverance from temptation and Satan’s power. Remember, God never tempts us (Jam 1:13). We ask Him to help us avoid situations where sin becomes hard to resist (Psa 23:3). We all need God’s power to overcome Satan (we can’t make it on our own). The believer who has experienced forgiveness from past sin desires to be delivered from its tyranny in the future.
It is apparent in The Lord’s Prayer that Jesus wants us to be conscious of our day-to-day dependence on God. Some ancient manuscripts (though not the best) end with the doxology, attributing the kingdom and the power and the glory to God to who it belongs. The doxology affirms that God alone rules over creation, has the power to answer our prayers, and is worthy of all the praise and honor. These things will always be true of our God.
Then, Jesus reaffirms, in Matthew 6:14-15, that forgiveness is required of us who follow Jesus. God forgives freely, taking on Himself the loss for our debts (sins). Therefore, it ought not surprise us that He expects those He forgives to demonstrate gratitude for their forgiveness by forgiving others.
Jesus teaches us that the believers’ prayer is God-centered (focused on God’s glory) rather than self-centeredness (preoccupied with one’s own glory). He also instructs us that the believers’ prayer is intelligent (engaging the heart and mind) rather than mechanical (speaking without thinking). When we pray, we are to approach God as His people. We are to pray for God’s concerns as our top priority. We are to pray for our own needs as well as the needs of others. We are to do so affirming to God that His is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. When we allow the Bible to present us with an accurate image of God, trusting in His character and practice His presence, our prayers will be thoughtful and right, like true children of God. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Managing Our Time

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We are now over a week into the new year. It’s hard to believe it’s 2022. Time does fly by. This is why the psalmist prays, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). The songwriter realizes that sin has made our days few in this life. Therefore, we ought to be prudent in how we use them.
The old saying is mostly true, “what we genuinely care about we make time for.” I say mostly true because it takes discipline to be intentional with our time. A well-cared-for schedule is an act of love, but one that is made possible through having the discipline to learn and exercise the executive skills necessary to manage our time. If we don’t manage our time, it will manage us. This is why the psalmists sought the Lord’s wisdom. He knew his weakness and failings and, as a result, asked the Lord for His divine guidance.
The good news is that such wisdom is ours for the asking. James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). So if you are not sure what to do, ask God. James is a book offering a significant amount of practical instruction, and it begins by telling us to pray for spiritual insight. It’s clear from this verse that God is generous in His willingness to answer a prayer for wisdom.
When I see a graveyard, I often wonder how many good intentions are buried there as well. Good intentions don’t get the job done. They’re a good start, but they don’t finish the deal. Once we pray for God’s wisdom on how we ought to use our time, we should also ask for the ability to follow His Spirit’s leading. Wisdom does not just know what to do but wisely does it.
Paul writes, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). After we have committed ourselves to follow Christ by living by the Spirit, we should also let the Spirit direct the way we live. Thus we “keep in step with the Spirit.” The actual word picture presented to us is that of following in His footsteps, like those left in the sand on a beach or in the snow. You choose which seasonal or destination you prefer in the imagery. We are to put our feet in the footprints of the Spirit. In other words, He is leading, and we do the following.
So, we are to be wise in how we use our days. Good intentions are not enough. We need to acquire and exercise the executive skills required to manage our life well. We can do this by asking and receiving wisdom from God. Then, as followers of Christ, we are empowered to follow His Spirit’s lead in our comings and goings.
Again, let me remind us that we are just over a week into the new year. 2022 has arrived. Don’t let time pass you by. Let each of us number our days and live them wisely. God desires to fill our lives with spiritual blessings so that we can bless others. We are privileged to partner with Him as kingdom builders as we pray, “Lord, Your, kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). I pray this year finds you glorifying God, being blessed, and blessing others in your home, neighborhood, school, workplace, and throughout the world in which we live.
There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Yesterday is a cashed check, tomorrow a promissory note, today is the only cash you have, spend it wisely.” I hope 2022 finds us all seeking God’s wisdom and following His Spirit’s lead as we live our lives for His glory, our blessing, and the benefit of others. Sol Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Who Will You Be?

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We are a few days into the new year. I would guess that many of us have set some goals. I came across an interesting list recently. It lists six activities that influence the person you will be in five years.
First, the person you will be in five years depends largely on the books you read. I know that some of you don’t like reading. I get it. But, study after study shows that people who succeed at their goals read. I would add that if you can choose only one book, make it the Bible. No other book has the wisdom needed to become the person God has created us to be.
Second, the person you will be in five years depends largely on the people with whom you spend time. This is an important one. This doesn’t mean we shut ourselves away from the world or shut people out of our life because they can’t help us advance toward our goals. It does mean that we ought to intentionally seek out relationships with people who desire to grow and some who are further along than ourselves. I would encourage you to enter into a 1-1 discipleship relationship or a small group. These offer excellent opportunities to be around people seeking God’s best for their lives.
Third, the person you will be in five years depends largely on the food you eat. This is my least favorite on the list. I guess it’s because I struggle with this one the most. A mantra I consistently speak into my life is “I don’t live to eat, but eat to live.” It’s not that I can’t have some good treats here and there, but good food promotes good thinking. A healthier me is a sharper me. I know this is true. However, I do treat myself to a Big Mac on occasion.
Fourth, the person you will be in five years depends largely on the habits you adopt. If I seek to grow, I will need to drop some habits that don’t benefit my growth journey and adopt others that will. Habits like reading the Bible, prayer, times of reflection, exercise, and, well, you get the picture, are needed if we are to be the people God has created us to be.
Fifth, the person you will be in five years depends largely on the conversations you engage in. I am reminded that the Scriptures teach that I am to “Let no corrupting talk come out of my mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). This is equally true of the words I let enter my ears. A corrupt word tears down relationships. Good speaking builds up both speaker and hearer. If we decide to grow, we ought to be in conversations that help us do so.
Sixth, the person you will be in five years depends largely on the time you invest to achieve your goals. This goes back to what I wrote earlier. Most of us have set some goals for the new year. The question is not our intentions but our commitment. I have learned that setting goals is only as helpful as writing and executing a plan. If it’s to be, I need to invest some time, which is up to me.
I would add one final thing to this list. It’s tied to this promise of Christ, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20b). Those of us in Christ are never alone. We never need to operate out of our wisdom or strength alone. Christ is with us, offering His wisdom and infusing us with His strength. So, if we seek to grow this next year, the list of six I have shared will help, but let me encourage us not to forget the One who has invited us to do life with Him. He is our Savior and Lord, and as we focus on Him, He will lead us to appropriate the things on this list and so much more in our pursuit of reaching our full kingdom protentional in Him.  God always provides for what He has called us to do and be. So, go take on this year with Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Lost for Found

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On Christmas, we gather to celebrate Christ. Christmas literally means the celebration of Christ. According to recorded history, the first Christmas celebration on December 25th occurred in 336AD under the rule of the first Christian Roman emperor “Constantine.” However, the first Christmas celebration happened on the night of Christ’s birth when lowly shepherds responded to the spectacular prompting of an angelic herald and choir to go and worship the Christ-child, born in a stable and lying in a manger. For nearly 2,000 years, believers have celebrated the coming of Christ.
I love the Christmas story. We have the young virgin Mary and her faithful husband Joseph (devoted to Mary and the Lord). We have the shepherds, and of course, the angels. We see this scene throughout our homes in our nativity displays. They serve as a reminder of the humility of Jesus and the profound gift offered to us in Christ.
I make a simple spelling error this time of year. I often misspell “manger” with the word “manager.” Only one letter separates the two words, but that one letter makes a big difference. Unfortunately, spellcheck doesn’t catch it because manager is a word. However, I would propose that the Christ-child born in a manger is also the magnificent Manager of life and eternity.
My wife collects manger or nativity sets. She must have around twenty of them. I like having them around the house during the Christmas season. But, I realize that one spectacular reality that no manger scene can convey is the truth that Jesus is God incarnate. Therefore, we must remind ourselves of this great reality when thinking of the Christ-child.
John makes it clear in his Gospel that Jesus is indeed God (Jn 1:1-5). In fact, John affirms three vital truths about the Christ. First, Christ, as God, existed in the beginning. John writes that Jesus “was with God,” which literally means “face-to-face with God.” In His divine nature, Jesus is indeed God. Secondly, all of creation came into being through Christ. Jesus was not part of creation but God’s agent in His creative work. Thirdly, Christ’s life constituted “light,” revealing God’s plan of salvation to us. Christ offers a whole new outlook on sin and righteousness, which comes when we accept eternal life in Him. The good news John shares is that “Christ, the light, shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). Then, John writes in verse 14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
A central truth of the Christian faith is that the divine Christ became a man and “dwelt” temporarily “among us.” The God who dwelt in the Old Testament tabernacle now came as a human being. The apostles and other witnesses “have seen His glory” in the miracles He performed, in His being lifted up on the cross, and in the resurrection. The apostles and other witnesses knew that God was indeed among them.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the baby lying in a manger was more than a cooing infant; He is the heaven-sent Manager who would offer a gift exchange of sorts. Christ offers to exchange our despair for hope, our worry for peace, our sorrow for joy, our detachment for love, and our death for life. Think about it. Managing a universe is one thing, but managing salvation for each of us is quite another. It’s a remarkable truth that the baby lying in a manger did more than manage it; He gave His life to assure it (Jn 3:16).
Jesus knew there would be more than a birthday to commemorate; He knew there would be a resurrection day as well. You see, Christmas without Easter is romance without a kiss, joy without reason, extravagance without purpose. God came in Christ to manage our deliverance, offer an exchange from death to life, and reconcile the world unto Himself (2 Cor 5:19). Here is the simple truth, for us to make the gift exchange of our death for life in Christ, it takes more than a manager; it takes a truly Divine Manager, Savior, and Lord. When we accept God’s offer of a gift exchange with Him, He becomes our Savior and Lord.
On that first Christmas night, the angelic herald proclaimed that the Christ-child was lying in a manger. Here’s a staggering thought. The place where the King of Glory (the Divine Manager) first opened His eyes and uttered His first cry was not in the great halls of a palace or the room of a princess. Our Lord’s first human glimpse of the world as the God-man was in a dark and dingy barn. Manger scenes surely display the loving humility of God’s gift to the world, but not the reality of Christ being the Divine Manager of everything, including our salvation.
I want you to try something this Christmas. When you gather around a Christmas tree, I want you to remember something. Remember that the tree used to bring salvation to the world (you and me) wasn’t an evergreen but a cross. If the manger displays the loving humility of God, the cross reveals the loving sacrifice of God as the resurrection His unlimited power to save us. Unfortunately, for too many people, the true gift of Christmas is still under the tree. The tree is the cross, and the gift is abundant eternal life. I invite you to come to the One born in a manger so that He, Christ, can manage your sin with the power of His love and offer you the gift of genuine life, only found in Him. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Detachment for Love

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It’s possible, especially this time of the year, Christmas, to feel alone. On study, I saw reported in Psychology Today noted that 40% of Americans describe themselves as lonely. It’s true that even amidst the get-togethers, crowded malls, Christmas services, one can feel lonely in a crowd. That’s why I am so thankful that God has offered us to exchange our detachment for His love. It’s important to remember that when we exchange gifts with God, He will always give us the grandeur gift, and that’s a good thing.
Let me acknowledge from the beginning that the word detached is an unusual word. It might help by looking at the words meaning. The definition of detached is “not connected” or “separate.” Simply put, detached is being alone. All of us know what it is like to be alone. However, in the same Psychology Today report I referred to earlier, an estimated 20% of Americans deal with chronic loneliness. So detachment is a big deal.
You may ask, “Why is the exchange for detachment love?” To answer this, we must look at one of the words for love in Greek. One of the words for love in Greek is “agape.” Agape love is self-giving love. What is interesting about agape love is that the giving is not determined by what the one loved desires but by what the one who loves deems as needed by the loved.
What does this look like? One of the best-known verses in the Bible, in fact, the one verse that summarizes the Bible, speaks of agape love. Of course, I am speaking of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
We read that “God so loved the world that He gave.” What did He give? God did not provide what people necessarily wanted but what God perceived they needed. God’s love for people is God doing what He thinks is best for us and not what we desire. I would guess that many people believe they know what they need, what’s best for them. They may say, “I need more money.” Or, “I need a spouse.” Even “I need a Big Mac.” I don’t know. Maybe you do. But, they are not your greatest need.
God gave His only Son. God’s gift to the world was not what people believed they needed but what they needed. God’s loving gift was a child. Thus, we discover these words in Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Now, that is a gift.
God gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. What is being spoken of here in John 3:16 and Isaiah 9:6? We discover a great truth and exchange that needs to take place. God created men and women to have a personal relationship with Him. God desires for this relationship to be centered on love. He wants to show His love to each and every one of us and have us show our love for Him.
The problem is that sin (disobeying God’s divine will for us) separates us from God. The good news is that God took care of sin, our sin dilemma, by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life then die on a cross so that a person’s sin could be forgiven, allowing us to exchange our detachment for His love.
How do we exchange our detachment for God’s love? It is not enough to simply know: (1) that God loves you, (2) that your sins keep you from the love of God, and (3) that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross saves you and offers you life as well as eternity in paradise. You must accept the loving gift of life from God. This life-giving relationship is only possible when you believe, trust, have faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. This is what it means to exchange our being detached for love and salvation in Christ. This is what it means to begin a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. John 3:16 declares, “whoever believes:” We must believe to receive.
So, where would you place yourself? Are you detached, or have you received the Love of God? If you are detached from God, do you see anything keeping you from placing your faith in Christ and receiving His love and salvation right now? Accepting God’s loving gift of salvation is like receiving any gift. If I were to offer you a gift right now, when would it become yours? It would become yours not when I offered it, but once you received it. Salvation, a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, is the same. Christ’s loving gift of salvation is yours when you receive it by faith. You don’t have to be detached any longer; exchange it for God’s love. Now that’s a Christmas gift you will never forget. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Sorrow for Joy

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My children and their spouses started a new tradition in recent years. They put all their names in an app and the app divvies up the names. Then, they buy for only one other, but no one knows who has who. Of course, I hear them talk, and using the process of elimination, it’s pretty easy to know who has who. The fun part is seeing them exchange their gifts with one another. There is something wonderful about exchanging gifts. However, it is pretty extraordinary to do so with the Lord. Of course, when we exchange gifts with God, He will always give the grandeur gift, and that’s a good thing.
I enjoy the holidays, but there is little doubt that they magnify our sorrows and joys. This is true for all of us. I have fond memories of this time of year and enjoy making new ones. However, this means, for instance, that the loss of loved ones can be challenging. My Mom and Dad have both passed. They worked hard to make the Christmas season special for our family growing up and continued to do so for my wife, our children, and me. I really miss them, but especially this time of the year. One of my grandkids will do something, and I think Mom and Dad would get a kick out of that. I miss them, and yes, it brings sorrow, but I am thankful we had a relationship, shared a love, which is counted worthy of missing.
The truth is that sorrow is either the direct or indirect result of sin since we live in a fallen world, and sin is a normal part of life. Psalm 90:10 declares, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Not all sadness is caused by sin we commit. Sometimes it’s just living in a sin-cursed world where death and hurt exist alongside those who cause hurt. A simple truth is that on this side of paradise, we all will deal with sorrow. Since we all will deal with sorrow, how we deal with it is a big deal.
How do we properly deal with sorrow? We bring our sorrow to the Lord and embrace His filling us with joy. God does a remarkable work in us when we acknowledge our sorrows, bringing them to Him. A gift exchange of sorts takes place. His joy for our sorrow. Now that’s a gift.
It’s important to remember that Christ is no stranger to grief and sorrow (see: Isa 53:3-4). Think about it. God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, experienced grief and sorrow. Our Lord knows what it feels like to be rejected, hurt, alone. What is most amazing is that though He was filled with grief and sorrow, they were not His but ours. He bore them for us. Jesus Christ can identify with our grief and sorrow, but because of His salvific work for us is also the only one who can genuinely offer to exchange our sorrow for His joy. For instance, in Isaiah 61, we read of the Messiah announcing everlasting joy. Christ came, in part, to replace our sorrow with joy. We are offered a foretaste of His salvific work today and will experience complete fulfillment when we spend eternity with Him in paradise. Again, remember, when you give God your grief, He gives you His joy.
How does God exchange our sorrow for His joy? In part, God comforts us now by reminding us that He has walked through grief and sorrow and is willing to walk through it with us. But there is more. The good news is that there will be a day when sorrow will be no more. In Revelation 21:4, which addresses paradise, we read, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” So, in part, God comforts us today by reminding us that when we enter into paradise, dwelling unhindered with Him, He will tenderly remove all sorrow and pain just as He promised. Further, He will make all things new. He will do this because His promises are true and faithful.
The Lord turns our sorrow to joy through His finished work on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation, He conquered death and made it possible for us to experience life with Him from today into eternity. The Lord turns our sorrow to joy when we possess the life that comes from receiving Him as Savior of our lives. The finished work of Christ does not automatically make someone right with God. We must receive Him as Savior and Lord. This is more than an intellectual acknowledgment that He is Savior and Lord. We must believe in Him for our salvation and walk with Him (not always perfectly, but following the same). The Lord turns our sorrow into joy by inviting us to take an eternal perspective. We must trust that He will comfort us today and completely heal our brokenness in the future. In Christ, we are healed, being healed, and will one day be healed entirely. Simply put, the risen Lord will turn our sorrow into lasting joy as we look to Him.
No doubt, on this side of paradise, we will experience sorrow. But, Jesus assures His followers that even amidst difficulty and sorrow, we can have joy because He has overcome the world through His death and resurrection and will return to take us to a place where all sorrow will cease, and joy will be constant (see: John 16:33). In fact, Christ triumphant is at the heart of one of our more popular Christmas songs. “Joy to the World” has been recorded and has more versions than perhaps any other Christmas song. It’s unique because this “Christmas” song is not actually speaking of the Lord’s birth, but His Second Coming when all who receive Him as Savior and Lord will share in His ultimate victory and sorrow will be nor more, only eternal joy. Now that’s a gift to cherish today and bring joy-filled hope for the future. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Worry for Peace

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I enjoy giving and receiving gifts. But, I have to say, gift exchanges can be a little stressful. I just want to make sure my gift is as valuable as the gift given to me. Of course, this is not the purpose of a gift exchange, but, all the same, I feel a little pressure. So, let me from the get-and-go make it clear that when we exchange gifts with God, He will always give us the grandeur gift, and that’s a good thing.
Yes, I like giving and receiving gifts. In fact, for many reasons, Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I like the decorations, the music, and most of the gatherings. I love Christmas Eve services. Yet, it can be stressful and worrisome this time of the year. We rush from one event to another. We frantically look for the perfect gift for our loved ones. We may stress about money and time. I have heard it said and believe it to be true that “During the Christmas season, our joys are magnified, but so too are our worries.” This may or may not surprise you; one study found that the holidays stress out 88% of Americans.
Let me give a working definition of worry: Worry is dwelling on the future without an awareness of God’s presence and workings, picturing a potentially negative outcome. Every one of us has wrestled with worry. The good news is that Christ wants us to exchange with us our worry for His peace. In Isaiah 9:6, we read of the coming Messiah (Christ), “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6).
One of the descriptive titles of Christ is Prince of Peace. Jesus brings lasting peace. The use of peace as a title-description of Christ also conveys that His kingdom is characterized by peace. The Hebrew word used here for peace (shalom) indicates not only the absence of war or controversy but a condition of rich, harmonious, and positive well-being. What does this mean for the Christian? In Christ, believers are offered a future peace, as we spend eternity with Him, a challenge to bring His peace into the chaos, as we pray and live “His kingdom come His will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and are provided the opportunity to possess His peace even amidst of all the ups and downs of life. How can we receive such peace? First, we must receive Christ as Lord and Savior, then make a significant exchange with Him.
Paul writes about the exchange of our worry for God’s peace in Philippians 4:4-9. Verses 6-7 read, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” These two verses have much to say about exchanging worry for peace.
To exchange worry for peace, there is something we first must understand. We cannot remove worry until we exchange it with something better. Imagine not worrying about anything. It seems like an impossibility. We all have worries at school, at work, and in our homes. Even the Scriptures instruct us that there is no guarantee against hard times and suffering. But, Paul encourages us to present our worries to God in prayer and turn our thoughts to Him.
We aren’t promised the absence of chaos on this side of paradise. But, we can be confident that God is ultimately in control and that He always hears our prayers and answers them according to what will bring Him glory, bless us, and benefit others. There seems to be a principle here. Worrying less begins with praying more. Think of it this way. Worry or peace is a decision partly made by where we choose to allow our mind to dwell and wherever or whom we place our trust. To exchange worry, we must come to realize that there is a better option found in God, who is all-powerful, faithful, and available to us.
After we come to this understanding, in order to exchange worry for peace, there is something we must do. We need to ask the Lord to exchange our worry with His peace. We need to bring all our concerns to the Lord, no matter how big or small. If it’s on our mind, it’s on God’s heart. If it matters to you, it matters to God. Coming to God in prayer, asking His Spirit to fill you with faith, trusting in the Lord, will mean that God’s peace, not a stoic lack of concern, but a deep peace amidst life’s storms, will keep guard around your heart and mind, like a squadron of soldiers looking after something of profound value.
Christ’s peace is found in the confidence and courage that comes from the believer being indwelt by His Spirit. An essential truth is that even in our trusting, we are dependent on God giving us the strength to believe. John Wesley often prayed, “Lord, evermore give us this peace!”
We can choose to exchange our worry for God’s peace. The gift exchange God offers us is immense. We bring the things we can’t control and are worrying about, and He takes the worry from us and fills us with His peace, knowing He is in control and at work and has already provided for our ultimate victory.
The birth of Christ, prophesized nearly 2,700 years ago by Isaiah, is a reality. Christ has come, provided for our salvation, and is indeed the “Prince of Peace,” offering each of us His peace today and throughout eternity. If you haven’t already, receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. Trust in Him, and discover His peace. As you continue to enjoy this Christmas season, it is my hope that you will exchange your worry for peace, inviting the Prince of Peace to bring you peace everlasting. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Despair for Hope

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We discover in Isaiah this remarkable verse of promise, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). The answer to a world that has turned its back on Him is a child, His own Son. He will be what no king has been, or any other king will ever be. Because He is the mighty God, He can be a true Father to His people. He can bring lasting peace, and He can give truly wonderful counsel. The promise of this child has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Savior.
One word we could use to describe the world is despair. Despair is an utter loss of hope. The good news is that an exchange is offered to anyone who receives Christ into their life. In this exchange, we give God our despair, and He replaces it with hope.
A believer’s hope is based on God’s faithfulness. Our day-to-day experiences and hardships are sometimes overwhelming; unless we can see that God’s purpose is to bring about continual growth in us. Without this understanding, we may despair. However, with this understanding, we have a sure hope in Christ. This hope is expressed in Jeremiah 29:11-12, For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” We can retain our hope even while we suffer when we understand that God’s mercy endures forever, and He is always faithful to His people.
A believer’s hope comes from trusting in Christ and remembering all He has done for us. Whenever I face a problem, I remember that a problem is something that can’t be fixed, and God can fix everything. After all, in Christ, we are reconciled with God. Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:1-2). Faith, hope, and love are at the heart of the Christian life (see: 1 Cor 13:13). Our relationship with God begins with faith that helps us realize we have been delivered and offered a new life in Christ. Hope grows as we learn who God is and that in His goodness, His plans are meant for us to flourish in Him. God’s love fills our lives with hope that is so abundant we can share it with others.
A believer’s hope grows as we remember the promise of the resurrection. We read in the Scriptures, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). Because Jesus Christ came back to life, so will all believers. We have the sure promise of living with Him forever. Therefore, we need not despair even at death. Jesus has conquered death, proving He has the power to turn our tragedies into triumphs, our pain to glory, and apparent defeat into actual victory. We need to remind ourselves and encourage others with this great hope.
The world needs today that child born in a stable who died for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation. The world needs to make a great exchange. We all need to exchange despair for hope. God offers this exchange to all who will receive Christ as Lord and Savior. I pray that each of us will come to Christ for salvation and receive the greatest gift of all, life eternal in Jesus Christ (see: John 3:16). This is the great exchange and the greatest gift anyone can receive, salvation and hope in Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On Thanksgiving

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This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving. Many people trace the origins of the modern Thanksgiving Day to the harvest celebration the Pilgrims held in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. Although there is little doubt that this event inspired our current holiday, it did not become an annual holiday in the United States until 1863.
Interestingly, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday – right in the middle of the Civil War. His proclamation requested that all Americans ask God to “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” The intent of setting aside the day is to thank God for the harvest and other blessings of the past year and to seek God’s intervention for those with emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. It reminds us of our dependence on God and the need to show appreciation for His wonderful mercies.
The Bible has much to say about the importance of thankfulness. One passage I find very intriguing is 1 Chronicles 16:4-36. We read in verse 4, “Then he [David] appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.” The ark had been brought back to Jerusalem. There was a great celebration that led David to establish certain Levitical families to be permanently in charge of thanksgiving.
We learn a couple of principles from this passage about the importance of thanksgiving. First, we should always express thankfulness. Certain Levites were appointed to give continual praise to God. We discover that praise and thanksgiving should be a regular part of our daily life. It ought not to be merely reserved for celebrations. When we praise God continually, we discover that we are less likely to take God’s blessings for granted.
Secondly, there are four significant aspects of thankfulness found in a song of David recorded in verses 8-36. (1) We are to remember what God has done, (2) telling others about it, (3) showing God’s glory to others, and (4) offering gifts of self, time, and resources. In a nutshell, if you are genuinely thankful, your life will show it.
There is an old song, “Count Your Many Blessings,” that has a line that goes, “When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings; name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. Count your blessings; name them one by one.” Taking time each day to think about how the Lord has blessed us not just rightly shows appreciation to God for all His marvelous provisions but also serves to encourage us as we align our thinking with the reality of God’s goodness at all times, even amid difficult ones.
Let me challenge us to not only make thanksgiving a priority one day a year but throughout all the days of the year. Also, as we gather at the Thanksgiving table to partake of a meal, especially the delicious stuffing, take some time to share the blessings of God for which you are thankful. It’s an amazing reality how our thankfulness ministers to others and the thanksgiving of others ministers to us.
I hope you have a great Thanksgiving Day. Let’s remember what God has done for us, as well as remember those who are in need emotionally, physically, and spiritually. May we be found to count our blessings, thankful for what the Lord has done. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!