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Glorious News for Mankind

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In the final analysis, there are really only two “religions” in the world. First, there is the religion of Human Achievement; this is the religion that all mankind was placed into the moment Adam ate from the wrong tree, the tree of good and evil, or the tree of right and wrong. This tree says "Tell me what to do and I will do it. Tell me what not to do and I will not do it." Of course, the huge assumption is that we will be able to pull it off, and of course, there isn't, and never has been, a man who can do that.

Romans 3:23 tells us that, "ALL of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." So the religion of Human Achievement, no matter what emblem it falls under or what name it is known by, emphasizes what man does in order to merit life and acceptance from God. 

There is, however, another “religion” – the religion of Divine Accomplishment. Here the emphasis is not on what man must do for God, but what God “has done” for man – hence the name Divine Accomplishment. God has done it! It is finished! This is the most glorious news available to man! God offers what He has done for man, to man as a gift; the only “requirement” for man is simply to humble himself and open up his arms and receive the gift by faith. A gift given is not necessarily a gift that has been received. That is where faith comes in, and that is in Hebrews it says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God!”

What is your religion? Is your religion the religion of Human Achievement, a religion that is all about you, and all that you have done and are doing in order to try and achieve merit before God? Or have you entered into the religion of Divine Accomplishment, where God loves you so much that He has done it all for you! The choice is yours!

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Receivers Instead of Achievers

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A paradox is defined as something that sounds contradictory but is actually true. We find such a paradox in the first letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. There he told them to make it their ambition, to be zealous and to strive eagerly - but let’s not complete that sentence just yet...

When I see a phrase that calls me to STRIVE or to be AMBITIOUS, I instantly think of the culture of the world we live in, and conclude that I need to "strive" to be a “mover-and-a-shaker,” or have "ambitions" to become an influencer or motivator; a heart charger who yearns for impact in this world. That is what I would expect would follow a call to "strive" or "be ambitious."

Paul, however, had no such conclusion to that phrase. Instead, he said that we should strive to be quiet; that we should be ambitious to mind our own business and take care of our own work. Pretty strange command, isn’t it? Not really though, when you think about it. We are made by God as human beings, called on the first full day of our existence in Genesis 2 to REST! Oh, we went out to work on the 8th day, but we worked from a position of rest. We labored, but not to achieve, because we had already been given everything by God. WONDERFUL!

Man sinned, however, and we bought the lie that we should eat from the tree of right and wrong, and in that instant we went from a human being who received all that they needed from the hand of God, to become human doings, achieving for themselves. This became our new normal, our default mode – to perform. To do.

The glory of the New Covenant placed us back into relationship with God and provided the potential for us to once again become receivers instead of achievers. To rest instead of LABOR. To simply be significant in Christ instead of trying to achieve significance. This is not easy for anyone, because we have been conditioned to achieve instead of receive. That is why the author of Hebrews said, “Labor to enter into the rest.” In other words, it is hard work to rest. And that is why Paul here in Thessalonians said that we should make it our ambition to lead quiet lives.

We have been made some kind of special in God’s eyes. It is time for us to really believe that and let it dramatically influence the way we live.

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Is the Truth on Your Lips Lived Out in Your Life?

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Sometimes I hear people say that they don’t care what others think. Though I agree that it is the Word of God that is to be the main source by which we order our lives, we should lend some consideration to what others think about us – especially the unbelieving world.

The Apostle Paul told the Thessalonian believers that they should be quiet, work hard, and mind their own business; that they should strive to do so. It is pretty clear from what Jesus said that there is more than enough on our plate every day to concern us. In fact, there is so much on our plate, that we should not even worry about tomorrow. This also means that there is so much on our plate each day that we should not have occasion to worry about what is on the plates of others. As it has been well said, “If you are not busy, you are in danger of being a busybody.” A point well taken, and it is this diligent pursuit of our own responsibilities in daily living, that will have such a great influence on what the outside world thinks of us.

Paul told the Thessalonians that when they follow his counsel to work hard, be quiet, and mind their own business, they will not be lacking. What he meant by this, is that we will be working, and barring some calamity, will be able to provide for the needs of our own lives. In other words, we will not have to go on the rolls of some charity in order to meet our needs.

It is at that point that Paul added that this hard-working lifestyle will have a dramatic effect on the unbelieving world, and we will win their respect because of it. The truth is that we are performing on the stage of life, and the unbelieving world is the audience. They are watching to see if the truth that is on our lips is also in our lives.

One anonymous saint put it this way, “Before we tell others about Jesus with our lips, we need to make sure they can see Jesus in our lives!” Perhaps Francis of Assisi said it best, “Preach Christ always, and sometimes use words!” I love that! Don’t you? Let’s preach Jesus with our lives!

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The One-Two Punch

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In boxing, there is what is called a combination; a left and then a right. It's a one-two punch that hopefully delivers a knockout blow and ends the fight. I find such a one-two punch in the book of 1 Thessalonians 2, where it tells us that God has called us into His kingdom and glory.

First of all, let’s take note of the word “called,” which is better translated, “calls” since it is in the present tense. This means God calls you, and calls you, and calls you, and never stops calling you even when you have already answered the call and have come to Him and received Him and the abundant Life He offers. Why is that?

I believe that God is so infinitely good and wonderful that we will never exhaust the glory of His being – hence we are ALWAYS going to be coming to Him to draw from Him. A second thought I had is that we are continually being drawn to things other than God in this world and therefore are ALWAYS in need of being called back to Him as our only true source of Life.

The rest of the passage tells us what He is calling us to, and this is wonderful!

First, He is calling us to His kingdom. He, of course, is the King of this kingdom, but we are not called to be His subjects. Oh no! We are called to be His children (John 1:11-12.) We are called to be the sons and daughters of the King, which of course makes us princes and princesses.

I believe, with all my heart, that this is why He added that the second thing He is calling us to is His glory! We, as His sons and daughters, share in the inheritance of His glory. This is an amazing thought because throughout the Old and New Testaments God is revealed as a jealous God, who has a rightful zeal for that which is His own. He will not allow anyone or anything to rob Him of His glory; but He will, however, freely share His glory with His kids!

What an amazing Father we have been called to. We are very privileged kids!

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“Preach Christ always, and sometimes use words.”

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I read of a man once who was pondering what Paul’s greatest sermon might have been.

Paul gave multiple discourses in the book of Acts; perhaps it was his first sermon in Damascus after his conversion? Or maybe the sermon Paul gave in Athens on Mars Hill, or the one he gave in Antioch in Pisidia? Two of his most powerful messages were when he gave defense before the Jerusalem authorities when he was falsely accused and arrested; were these his greatest?

It's an interesting question to ponder, and I love that in the end, the writer settled on Paul’s greatest sermon being not the message he gave with his lips, but the message he gave with his life.

Though he was always being persecuted, slandered, and ridiculed, Paul continued to pursue the spreading of the Gospel, and personally loving those who would hear his message and even those who sought to thwart his message.

The New Testament declares that Paul continued to be bold in his God.

He could have grown weary, he could have doubted his call from God, or he could have surmised that he had somehow disqualified himself.  He could have watered down his message and made it more palatable to men, or he could have simply ceased his efforts all together and decided to live a quiet life. But instead, Paul continued to love people and to serve his God. He continued to pursue his missionary endeavors, courageously pushing forward and continuing to herald the good news of Christ crucified and resurrected for the sins of man because God loves man so very much.

St. Francis of Assisi said, so many years ago, “Preach Christ always, and sometimes use words.” Paul certainly fulfilled those words with the powerful message of the life he lived. May we likewise so live, that men are caused to stop and take notice of the lives we live.

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The Labor of Rest

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One of the charges frequently brought against me and others who teach the message of grace is that we teach "easy believe-ism” or “cheap grace.” I would like to address those thoughts.

First, let's talk about the thought of "easy believe-ism." When we teach the grace of God, we are heralding to humanity that there is a new economy of living made available through the finished work of Jesus. Yes, it is an "easy" economy to enter. I do not shy away from proclaiming that. If God wants people saved, and He does, why would He make it difficult?

I love that in the third chapter of John when Jesus heralds that eternal life is available through Him, He refers to the little brass serpent that was recorded in the book of Numbers. Remember the story? God sent serpents to deal with the rebellious children of Israel, but He also instructed Moses to make a little brass serpent and put it up on a pole as a remedy for anyone who got bit by the serpents. All they had to do if they got bit, was take a glance of faith to the serpent and they would be healed. Isn’t that glorious?! All it took was a glance of faith, and that is indeed all that God requires for someone to enter life. Glorious!

Living that life, however, is a different story; it requires saying a loud and resounding “No!” to our resources, so that we can instead trust the resources of God and that is no EASY thing to do! It requires hard work, as the writer of Hebrews says, to enter into rest. It is hard work to trust God’s resources instead of our own, especially since all of us were birthed into the lie that we shall be as God and therefore inherently think that we can do just fine apart from Him. So yes, it is easy to believe and find life with God, but it is hard work to experience life with God. We must labor to enter into the rest that Jesus has secured for us.

Oh, and by the way, how did He secure that rest for us? He laid down His life on our behalf. He died so that we could be set free from the law and restored to God instead, and there is nothing cheap about the grace that He secured for us. In fact, if you really understand the economy of grace, how dare anyone call it cheap! It cost Jesus His life, and it requires on our part the laying down of our lives in order for us to find His life.

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A Heart's That Good

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I want to tell you one of my favorite stories.

A young couple moved into a new neighborhood. The next morning, while eating breakfast, the young woman noted that their neighbor’s laundry, which was hung out to dry, was not very clean and added that the poor woman must not know how to wash clothes properly. Her husband looked on but remained silent.

Every time her neighbor would hang out her clothes to dry, the young woman would make the same comment that her neighbor’s laundry was not very clean and that the poor woman must not know how to wash clothes properly.

One morning, however, the young woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, “Look at those clean clothes next door! Someone must have taught her how to wash clothes. I wonder who got to her?” The husband responded, “Actually, I got up early this morning and washed our windows.”

Unfortunately, this is all too often a very common experience. We as human beings spend so much time thinking negatively about our neighbor, that we fail to see the negative in our own lives. This is something we should especially avoid when thinking of our Christian brethren.

In the first letter to the Thessalonians Paul, who had to leave Thessalonica because of persecution, wrote to them that he wanted to get back to them but was unable to do so. It would have been very easy for the Thessalonians to listen to the negative voice of the enemy and think that Paul did not value them, or did not have the time for them, or perhaps that he was too busy for them.

Timothy, who had been sent to Thessalonica when Paul could not go there, returned with the news that the Thessalonians ALWAYS had good remembrances of them. They knew that Paul had a new heart and a good heart, (Ezekiel 36:25-26) and so they chose to believe that Paul had the best in mind for them always.

If only we would choose to believe the best about other people. How much needless conflict might we be able to avoid if we chose to believe that the heart of a believer is always good, instead of giving in to negative imaginations? Remember, Paul said in 1 Corinthians that love believes and hopes all things!

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The Balance of Love

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The great American entrepreneur John D. Rockefeller stated, “I will pay more for the ability to deal with people than any other ability under the sun.” The most powerful leadership tool available is the ability to get along with other people; to be able to relate to people and not only to understand people but encourage them. The apostle Paul certainly fit this bill.

In the second chapter of the first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul states that he cared for them like a nursing mother gently cares for her own children. There is nothing so dear as the love of a nursing mother. Paul also went on though, to declare that he was like a father to the Thessalonians. In that context, he affirmed that in the role of a father he exhorted the Thessalonians; simply put, he spoke the hard words, the strong words that we all need to hear sometimes.

I love that he chose the word "parakaleo," which literally means to "come alongside." What a great lesson for us to learn! When we have to speak those hard words to the ones we love, those words are best spoken not with a finger in another’s face, but instead with an arm around them, communicating our love and acceptance of them, even if we do not necessarily accept their behavior.

Further, Paul instantly added that he encouraged them. It is not enough to just exhort others. If all we do is exhort people, we will soon have very few friends because they will run when they see us coming. Paul, however, balanced his hard words with loving words; words of encouragement. It is the same word used when Jesus comforted the family of Lazarus. It is the word "hekostan," and it means the "tender, compassionate, restorative empathy given to one who is struggling, burdened, or heartbroken."

Paul knew that in a very harsh world it's easy for someone when they hear a negative word, to become discouraged. He was quick to add words of encouragement, quick to play the role of a cheerleader and stress that he believed in them and anticipated that the best would be expressed by and through them.

Paul is a great example for us in terms of dealing with people. May we love others enough to say the strong words, but care enough for them to speak the encouraging words as well.

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Never Alone

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The worst test I ever went through was when Avery was born, and she fought for life for three and a half months. When we finally got her home, she went right back into ICU and fought for another couple of months until they finally found out what was wrong. They were able to treat it but it depleted things in her body, and some of the meds they were giving her had to be replaced. They gave me her medicine at 6:00 PM on Tuesday night. We were bringing her home the next day. Finally, she was coming home! I gave her the medicine, and instantly she was nauseousness and crying; something was wrong. I complained three times to the nurse saying, "Something’s wrong, something's wrong, something wrong!” They said, “Oh no, everything's fine just the way it's written.” But we knew something was wrong. They said they would give her the next dose and if anything was wrong, they would call us.

We drove home, and I'll never forget my bride; her head hit the pillow, and she said, “I've got a really bad feeling.” It had been a gruesome couple of months it was just raw emotion. We fell asleep.

We woke up an hour later with a call from the hospital. “Mr. Friedmann, get here as fast as you can.” There was no time to talk as they quickly informed us that we might not make it in time. As we're driving, I'll never forget, Janet reached her hand over to mine, and she said, “Is this all the time we get?”

We walk in, and Avery's out, her heart has stopped, and they’re working on her. The doctor came in, and he said, “What's wrong?” I said, “The medicine you gave her, that’s what's wrong!” 

He came back twenty minutes later and let me tell you again, to his credit, this was a man. He walked up to me and said, “It's my fault. I was in a hurry, and I miscalculated the dose, and I gave her five times what she was supposed to have.”

You’ve got to understand that at that moment, everything in me wanted to take this guy and put his head through the wall. But... “No test has overtaken you. Every test is common to man. It is showing that you're not up to the demand, but there's Someone who is. Lay hold of that Someone, and you will overcome.” 

Trusting Jesus, I reached out, and I grabbed that man, and I said, “I love you. I forgive you. Forget about us and go do whatever you need to do to make her better.”

She was out for twenty-two minutes in a coma. Five days later she woke up. And this summer, this child, is going to go work in the burn ward in South Africa at the Red Cross hospital and add more gray hair to my head and for that too, He is sufficient. 

I don't know what you're going through, but I know the world we live in, and that means you're either going through it, coming out of going through it, or you're going into it. But you don't have to go into it alone, and that is such good news because you're not up to the demand, but there's Someone who is, and all it takes is faith to say, "Lord, I'm not up to the demand, I need you." And He's there. Isn’t that wonderful friends?!

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The Way of Escape: His Life Inside Us

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But God is faithful! Did you see the words, “But God”? “We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God who is rich in His mercy and grace.” It's all over the New Testament. Whenever you have this horrible negative reality, there’s a “But God,” and this great opportunity on the other side of that available at the moment of faith, praise God!

"He will not permit you to be tested or tempted beyond that which you are able, but with the test or temptation will make a way of escape that you may be able to bear it." And the way of escape my friends is His own life inside you! God will provide, God will provide.

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How Far Will You Go With Your God?

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Nick was just your average ordinary guy in Communist Romania, and then he found the Gospel, and this is what he said to the guy who led him to Christ, “I will serve God, but I can't go into the ministry. God don't push me that far.”

It took only a couple of years, and Nick answered the call to go into the ministry. Nick thought, “Well God, I'll do the ministry, but don't lead me away from my kids. Don't push me that far.” Pretty soon he's travelling around the country. How many of you know that it was dangerous to be a Christian in a communist country? Nick thought, “Oh God, don't let me get arrested. Don't push me that far.” Can you guess what happened? He got arrested, and they said to him, “Stop preaching in Christ or you don't know what we can do to you!” 

“Oh God, don't push me that far,” Nick thought. He continued to travel all over the country and teach Christ. So they arrest him again, and this time they tell him, “Don't you know where you are? Don't you know who we are? We have the power to kill you!” And out of Nick's mouth came these words, “Even if you kill me, my messages are on tapes all over this country. My blood will be sprinkled over those messages, and the power of Christ to transforms lives will magnify!” The Communist officer said, “We are not so stupid as to give you your wish.” Later, one of Nick's friends spoke to him and said, “What happened to “God don't push me that far?” Nick replied with these words, “We need to go all the way with our God.”

My friends, how far will you go with your God? May we all go all the way!

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God is Good and Does Only Good

  What do you do when the path that God has you on doesn't line up with what you know of God?

What do you do when the path that God has you on doesn't line up with what you know of God?

“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, took two of his young men and Isaac, his son, cut the wood for the burnt offering and rose up and went to the place which God had told him.” These are the most puzzling verses in the Word of God. Why are they so puzzling? Because there's absolute silence in these verses in terms of what was going on inside of Abraham. Notice there's no argument from him?

I've gone through near-death experiences with two of my children already. The first words out of my mouth were, “God. No!” Would they be the first words out of your mouth?

But that’s not what the Bible says; “God, you told Noah not to kill. We can't do this. God, you promised posterity for this boy. You can't kill the son of the Prophet.” We don't see any of that. Oh, he must have wrestled. How could a father's heart not wrestle with that kind of command; “Take your boy up on an altar and kill him.” Was Abraham thinking, “This is the one I waited for so long to have, the one I loved through so much. You said through this one would be prosperity. He has to live! He has to live!”?

What do you do, my friends, when the path that God has you on doesn't line up with what you know of God? What do you do? There's only one thing to do. You go back into your history, and you connect the dots of how God has proven faithful to you over the years, right? And then what kind of conclusion do you end up with, that God is wavering and erratic; He promised a son, and now he wants him back. No!  The conclusion you end up with is that God has provided in the past and He will provide in three days. Abraham doesn't know how, but he knows that God is good and big and wise and powerful and holy and he makes a decision based on what he knows about God.

As he connects the dots of the past, reason gives way to faith. Why do I say that? Because everything in a human mind would say, “No,” to what God was asking. Reason gives way to faith, and he makes the decision of a child. It took God one-hundred and twenty years to get that man to childlike faith. I look at my own life, and I think I'm going to have to live to five-hundred to get there! 

He saddles the donkey and cuts the wood. It will be a burnt offering, a worship sacrifice. God is saying, “Offer your boy in worship to me.”

Notice that Abraham didn't tell Sarah? That would not have gone over well! By the way friends, there's a very important lesson in that. Sometimes even though we're married and we are one, God still works with you individually, and there are some things that God is doing in your life that are just for you and not your spouse. It's a hard thing for a spouse to watch the other one go through something like that because we want to fix them, but you can't fix them. Only God is the fixer.

So, Abraham makes a three-day journey. Man, that must have felt like an eternity, and you’ve got to believe he's pondering the whole way. Now, I don't believe he was wrestling with what to do; he's already made the decision to do it. What I think he's wrestling with is how. He’s thinking, “I know God's going to do something, but what is He going to do? How's He going to do it?” I believe with all my heart that he concluded that although his son must die because God had spoken it, his son must live. Therefore, I believe he concluded that God was going to resurrect Isaac from the dead. I think we can confirm that if we look at Hebrews 11:19; “By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac as a sacrifice. He that had received the promise, offered up his only begotten son of whom it was said, 'In Isaac shall thy seed be called,' accounting that God was able to raise him from the dead."

Accounting is a keyword in the verse. It’s a math term; mathematics is the science that deals with the measurement properties and relationships of quantities. Mathematics is all about proven theory. Mathematics is all about figuring something out. Mathematics is about always getting an answer, and this is the term Abraham chose to use when it comes to God. When he looked at how God had proven himself in his life over the years, he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, it was proven, God would do something, and Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead. What does Psalm 119 say? “God is good and does only good.” In Abraham's mind, he'd concluded; the only possible solution that was in harmony with the God he had come to know was God could not and would not let this boy die without fulfilling his promise concerning this boy. So in verse five, What does he do? He tells his servants, “Stay here.” This blows my mind, Look at the words, “Stay here, the boy and I will go worship (meaning a burnt offering,) and then we will return again to you. Oh my goodness!

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The Pearl of Great Price

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What is it my friends, that God's calling you to surrender in your life? Because it's whatever you are holding on to that is replacing the hand of God. 

You know, as I meditated on this, I was reminded of the words of my good friend Juan Carlos Ortiz. He talked about this in his book, Living With Jesus Today. He said, “Jesus is the pearl of great price.” Do you remember the gospels, the pearl of great price where the merchant, when he finds the pearl and knowing it's value, will sell everything he has in order to get that pearl?

Juan Carlos explains the pearl of great price with this parable:

“Look at this pearl, Juan Carlos,” says God.

“Oh, I must have that pearl. How much does it cost?” 

God answers, “Well, the costs is one thing. It’s very expensive. I don’t know if you want to buy it.” 

“Well, if it's that expensive, who can buy it?”

“Everybody can buy it,” God replies. 

“Well, Father, how can everybody buy it when it's so expensive?” 

And God replies, “It's simple. It simply cost everyone the same price. It costs them everything they have.”

“Oh man, that's a great price!” 

“And that's why it's called the pearl of great price, Juan Carlos.”

“But I must have that pearl!”

“Okay," God says, “what do you have?”

“Well, I've got $100,000 in the bank.”

“Okay, give that to me.” God instructs.

"So the pearl is mine?”

“What else do you have as well?”

“I have a few dollars in my pocket.”

“I said everything,” God reminds.

“Well, I've got to have that pearl, so here’s the money.” God gives the pearl. “Oh, I can't wait to take it home.”

“You didn't say that you had a home. It will cost you your home.” God responds.

“I've got to have the pearl! Okay, you can have my home. I can't wait to show this to my wife!”

“Wife? You have a wife? You didn't mention a wife. It'll cost you her too.” God says.

“Well, what would I say to my kids?”

“Well, you didn't mention that you had kids. It’s going to cost you your kids too. I said everything.” God reiterates.

“But you’ve left me alone on the street!”

“It will cost you your own life too. Here's the thing though. I will give all those things back to you for you to enjoy but when I come calling for one of those things, don't forget to give them to me. Don't become so enamoured with them that you miss Me because the only reason I would call for them is because I want you to have all of Me and something has gotten in the way.”

Is there something you're holding on to instead of the hand of Jesus?

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Taking Hold of God

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Abraham’s long-awaited son is finally born at age one-hundred. Can you imagine the joy, the awe, the wonder of that long-awaited son? Thirty years you wait for that child, and then he shows up; "This is my boy," Abraham would have said, "and it is this boy, and this boy only, through whom God's promise will come."

In Genesis 17, God had reiterated the promise and said that this time Abraham's descendants would be like the sand of the seashore. That's a lot bigger promise! We have to understand that all of Abraham’s spiritual hopes were in this boy. This is the boy through whom the line of the Messiah will come. If anything happens to Isaac, there's no Messiah. If there is no Messiah, Abraham is dead in his sin. If Abraham is dead in his sin, he goes to hell for eternity. There's a lot riding on this. I put it this way, Isaac is a big deal in the promises of God! And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, this hope is tested or more like shattered!

In verse one, God comes to Abraham and says, “Abraham!” And Abraham says, “Oh, here am I.” Don't you love that? His response is so innocent, so beautiful, so naive, so responsive; He's totally unaware of what God is about to ask of him. Wait, did you hear the word, “ask”? That's a lie! God was not asking; it's an imperative verb. Doesn’t that make you want to cry for Abraham? God is commanding here; this is the mother of all tests. 

We're going to walk through this slowly; I want you to feel what's going on; I want you IN the passage...

God says, “Take your son.” What must Abraham have thought? God says, “Take your son,” and then look what He does, He keeps going with the superlatives; “Your son, your only son. Isaac, the one that you love.” Is God being mean here? No! He's helping Abraham out. How many of you know that when you go through a difficult time, you want somebody to understand what you're going through? You want somebody to hear you. You can go through it if you know there's somebody that gets it and that's what God is doing here. He's got his arm around Abraham. He's saying, “I get it. I get it. This is your boy. This is the ONLY boy. The only begotten boy, the beloved boy.” How come God gets it? Because a few centuries later, God's going to give his own boy. He’s saying, “I’m in your court Abraham. I know what I'm calling you to, son. I really, really do. I gave him to you, and now I want you to give him back to me.”

One writer says this was a “test of necessity." He has the conviction that Abraham had grown too fond of Isaac, that Isaac had taken the place of God in Abraham’s heart and that it could cause great harm to Abraham's walk of faith because the place reserved for God has been squeezed out by another. We don't know if that's true, but I have to wonder if you wait for a boy that long and that boy finally shows up, he's going to be precious in your heart.

Watchman Nee even commented along the same lines. Listen closely, please my friend, because this is all of us. He said “Isaac represents the many gifts of God's grace. Before God gives them to us our hands are empty, afterwards, they are full. Then sometimes God will reach out His hand to take ours in fellowship. He needs an empty hand to put into His, but when we received His gifts and are nursing them, our hands are full, and when God puts out His hand, we have no empty hand for Him to put His hand into. When that happens, we need to let go of the gift in order to take hold of God Himself.” And then Nee adds these very sobering words. “Isaac can be done without, God cannot.”

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Walking By Faith

  God is good, and He does only good ~   Psalm 119:68

God is good, and He does only good ~ Psalm 119:68

The Mantra I seek to give you is this: He promises to be all that He is to all that we need at the moment of faith. Well, if we're going to walk by faith, we need a definition of faith, and the Bible itself gives us that definition in Hebrews 11. It says that faith is the assurance of things not seen, faith is a confidence. It's a hope so real that when God speaks something we believe that it is true and we are able to walk in the path that He's called us to with absolute assurance. He goes on to further define that faith is the conviction of things not seen. Sometimes God will call us to something that we cannot see and perceive. But if God said it, it's true, even if we can't perceive it. 

I think of Noah; Noah believed God that it was going to rain. If we understand the pages of Genesis correctly, it had never, ever rained. But Noah believed God, to the point that he built a really, really big boat because God said there was going to be so much rain. 

The essence of faith is simply acting on what God has said, and so I trust you see, that by its very nature, faith has to be tested so that it can be proven so that we can continue to trust God for even bigger things. That is what the testing of our faith is all about.

The testing of our faith produces endurance, and the best illustration I can think of is stretchability. For example, take a new rubber band versus an old tested rubber band. When you get a brand new rubber band out of the package, you can only test it and pull it so far. But when you have a rubber band that is old, and it's been pulled and pulled and pulled, it can pull much farther. That's the idea here. Over time, God wants to test our faith so that we can trust Him for bigger things and, trust Him more courageously. That's what Genesis 22 is all about my friends. 

Notice that it says in verse one "after these things did God test Abraham." That's very important to understand! God didn't call Abraham in Genesis 12 and then in chapter 13 tell him that he was to sacrifice his son. No, no, no! There were decades where God continued to test Abraham and stretch him with, for example, Lot, and he had to battle with Chedorlaomer, and he had that long-awaited birth where God said He was going to give him a child, and he had to trust over the years that child would come. Only after all those things did God test in the manner in which He was going to test. 

We need to understand this, my friends, this test originated in the mind of God. This was not the enemy. This was God himself, and it's a test that seems so harsh. So, we first need to remember this life verse; it's a life verse for all of us. Psalm 119:68; “God is good, and He does only good.” Oh my beloved, memorize that verse. If you walk much longer in this world that we're in, you're going to need that verse.

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The One Who Brings Us Through This World

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Let’s take a look at Genesis 22. One writer said that this is one of the high points in the Bible, a mountaintop passage. Another called it “The great climax of the faith life of Abraham.” I would call it, The Supreme Test and the Supreme Victory. This passage dramatizes, maybe better than any passage in the entire Bible, what the life of faith is all about. 

The life of faith is like living in a laboratory if you will, where God is perpetually tested and continually demonstrated to be reliable and true. In fact, Hebrews 11, that great heroes of the faith chapter, almost reads like a laboratory report; "By faith, Moses led the people out of Egypt," "By faith, the walls of Jericho came down." It's saying over and over and over again to us; we can put our hand in God’s hand and journey with Him because He is a trustworthy God. He is reliable. He will provide. We need to understand that my friends because we live in a dark and desperate world, but God breaks into that world with the light of His love and strength, and He offers Himself to us as the only one who can bring us through this world victoriously!

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The Bridge

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You know, Pilate asked a question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” The crowds said, crucify Him. Jesus asks that same question of each of us today; What will you do with Jesus? 

I often use this illustration when I'm sharing Christ with someone in my office or on the street; picture a great big, extremely wide river. Let's go down to that river and make a good effort at jumping over it. How far are you going to go, six feet? Eight feet? I'm an ex-athlete, with the emphasis on "x," so I might go ten feet. Does it earn me bragging rights that I jumped ten feet but you only jumped six? No! Why? Because we're both soaking wet, floating down the river! There is no way that we're ever going to be able to jump across that river. There's only one way across, and that's if someone builds a bridge. It's the same way with our relationship with God. Adam plunged us all into sin, and we're now separated from God just like that great big, extremely wide river separates one side of land from the other. We can try all we want with all of our good works to try and get to that other side, but that big old river of sin hinders us and the only way we're ever going to make it across is if someone builds a bridge and that's what Jesus Christ came to do. He came to build that bridge for anyone who will make that choice when the question is asked, what shall I do with Jesus? 

If you're reading this today and haven't made that choice, I pray you would because this is a choice with the greatest consequence you will ever have. To choose Jesus is to have life eternal with Him; forgiveness of sins and to be put into union with God and enjoy Him forever. What a marvellous, marvellous consequence! To not choose Jesus is to choose death, and why would anyone want to choose that?

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All Things Work Together For Good

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1 John 4 says, “God IS love.” It’s a very important verb choice. He didn't say God HAS love. If He HAD love, He might NOT have love. Instead, he uses the verb "is," the state of "is-ness," this is one's state of being,  the part of you that cannot be changed. God IS love, and He made us a promise in Romans 8:28 that “All things will work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purposes.” This is true even for the worst choice ever made by a man in all of history. A choice that's even worse than the one Adam made two-thousand years ago. 

My friends, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He had healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the poor, heralded the Kingdom of God and proclaimed that in Him there would be forgiveness of sins and life eternal. The people hailed Him as the Messiah, but at that point, the Jewish leadership got a little envious. John 11 reveals that they knew this man did miracles. Did you hear that? Unbelieving, rebellious men, admitted that miracles were being done. These were not Jesus’ followers; these were people who hated Him, and they acknowledged that miracles were being done. The problem for them was that if they let Him keep doing what He was doing, all of Israel would believe in Him, and the key is in their next phrase, “We’ll be out of a job.” 

My friends, do you know what really killed Jesus? It was job security. And so they held an illegal trial, trumped up false charges against Him that He was inciting rebellion against Rome and turned Him over to Rome for permission to have Him crucified. The problem was, the Roman Governor found Him innocent of all charges, but the Roman Sanhedrin continued to stir up the people. Pilot was afraid of a riot. If he could not govern well, he'd be out of a job. He realized there was a custom in Israel where they would release one prisoner every year. Coming up with an idea, he made a choice, and the choice was offered to the crowd: Jesus or Barabbas. 

Barabbas, the text says, was an insurrectionist, a murderer and a thief. The choice before them, my friends, was simple; you can have the righteous and innocent Son of God, OR you can have the murderer. What will you do with Jesus? And they chose Barabbas. They chose a murderer over the Messiah, and they screamed for Pilot to have Jesus, who had been declared innocent, crucified. 

I don't know if you've ever thought about the fact that Pilot had already declared Jesus innocent. Jesus not only could have been set free, but He should have been set free. The people CHOSE to have Jesus crucified, and Pilot CHOSE to let it happen. There were so many poor choices made, and those choices had horrible, horrible consequences. 

Pilot washed his hands to try and declare himself innocent; that it was not his choice to crucify Jesus. At that point, the people cried out, “His blood be on us and our children.” They made the most horrible choice that man has ever made, to crucify the Lord of Glory... But God! But God! See my friends; it was a true statement; His blood was on them, it was their choice. But because of God, his blood was FOR them. 

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “I'm coming to give my life as a ransom.” In Matthew 26:28, He said, “This is my blood which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Do you realize my friends, that our incredible God used their choice against Jesus, as a consequence, but not as a consequence against them, but as a consequence for them. It is the greatest fulfillment of Romans 8:28 in all of history, “That all things will work together for good.” The one they killed shed His blood for them that they might be offered a second chance choice to place their faith in Him and secure life eternal and forgiveness.

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Saved From Our Sins

  Our gracious, forgiving, merciful God, will overrule the bad choices that can bring bad consequences. 

Our gracious, forgiving, merciful God, will overrule the bad choices that can bring bad consequences. 

I raised my kids on a mantra; life is all about choices and choices have consequences, so make good choices. Why did I drum that into my kids? Because I wanted them to experience Life. I wanted them to have joy and peace and rest. I didn't want them making choices that would leave a trail of guilt and shame and loss. The same is true for you and me as adults. This mantra is not just for kids. Every one of us in this room is confronted daily, on a moment by moment basis with the need to make good choices and avoid bad choices. 

We were all placed into this predicament by Adam who made a very, very bad choice. He could have chosen God, but instead, he chose the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He could have done what God said, but instead, he chose to do what Satan said. He could have believed what God said, “You shall surely die" but instead he chose to believe what Satan said, “You shall surely NOT die.” That terrible choice, my friends, had very horrible consequences. 

It says in Romans 5 that death spread to all men. To personalize that, death spread to you and I. The world became under a curse, and thus every one of us experiences things now that we were never designed to experience. Having left our state of innocence, we're now confronted daily with the potential to make a wrong choice that will lead us to experience a harmful consequence. Scripture is filled with people who've done this; Cain murdered his brother, a terrible choice that caused him to suffer being cursed from the earth. Hagar gave her handmaid to Abraham and caused family division AND national division, a consequence we still face today; Arab and Jew to this day because of that choice. Noah chose to get drunk and caused his sons to be judged and disciplined. And of course, David chose to have an affair with Bathsheba and brought chaos not only to his family but to the entire nation. 

Galatians 6 says, “Whatever a man sows that shall he reap. Sow to the flesh; you'll reap corruption, sow to the Spirit you'll reap Life everlasting.” What I want to share with you friends is this; that law is NOT a universal law because there is a God who has revealed a place in His New Testament that says, “But God.” 

Ephesians 2 says, “Even though we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and by nature, children of wrath, BUT GOD who is rich in His mercy and His great love with which He loved us, saved us from our sins.” 

God proclaimed His name to Moses in Exodus 34 when Moses said, “What is your name?” God says, “My name is God, the Lord God. Merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” That's a whale of a name, isn't it?! This gracious, forgiving, merciful God, my friends, will overrule the bad choices that can bring bad consequences. 

I think of Jacob; he made a choice to wrestle with God. That's not a good choice! He ended up with a limp for the rest of his life, BUT he also ended up with a changed life. I think of David and his sin with Bathsheba; it had horrible consequences, BUT that union later brought a great gift named Solomon who brought great wonder and mercy to the world because God is who He is. Don't you just love Him?!

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The Life We Need

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One of the misconceptions that I am finding among people who hear us teach grace is that we are against the Law. Nothing could be further from the truth. As true believers, we, like David, love the Law because it comes with a glorious God-given purpose. What is that purpose? Well, it is two-fold.

The first purpose of the Law is found in 2 Corinthians 3:5-9. There we learn that the Law has a purpose, and that is to kill and condemn us. Isn’t that wonderful? In fact, it is even called a “ministry of death and condemnation.” Now, why would God give us a Law that would kill and condemn us? The answer, of course, is to kill and condemn us.

Remember that we as human beings were all birthed under the lie that we shall be as God. Every one of us born on this planet is a god-wannabe. God gave us the Law, which is holy, perfect, and good (Romans 7:12) to keep us from a false hope that one day we just might be able to be like God. The Law came with a demand on our lives but provided no power for us to fulfill that demand. Alas! We are left to our own resources to try and keep the Law, and there is not one of us in and of ourselves who will ever be able to do that – hence the Law kills and condemns us. It pronounces every one of us guilty as sinners before God.

An old proverb went something like this, “Run John, run, the law  demands. But gives him neither feet nor hands.” So the first purpose of the Law is to provide us with a great need for Life, as we are all pronounced dead and condemned by the Law. Wonderful!

The second purpose of the Law is then to lead us to Jesus (Galatians 3:24) because He has the market cornered on Life. He who has the Son has the Life says the New Testament. In John 10, Jesus affirms this when He told the disciples that He came for the express purpose of giving us Life, an abundant Life because the Life He was giving to us was His own Life. Incredible! We have been given the Life of God for us to experience and express, and this wonderful Life came to us because the Law first affirmed our death and then led us to the only true source of Life. Wonderful indeed!

The rest of that proverb goes as follows, “But grace an even greater brings, it bids us fly and gives us wings." The truth is that we would never have found the Life we need without the Law first affirming our need for Life. I love the Law, don’t you? It was the tool that brought us to Jesus.

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