What if Jesus likes you more than you think He does? What if He knew you first and liked what He saw? What if the reason you know Jesus at all is that He wanted this relationship so badly, He pursued it before you ever thought about it? What if He has meticulously poured over every single moment of your life, weighing every decision you’ve made, measuring every motivation and seeing right through every stunt you pulled? What if He knows you in and out and understands where you’re coming from? What if His humongous heart was filled with compassion and pity over you and your desperate state without Him? What if the entire plan of salvation was designed because Jesus was determined to do whatever it takes to rescue you? What if He knows you better than your friends know you, better than your family knows you and even better than you know yourself because He planned out your personality, orchestrates the movements of your life and has never missed a single heartbeat this entire time? What if He knows exactly where you’re going because He’s completely and mercifully in control of it all, beautifully making you into the person He’s always had in mind? In the first chapter of John, when Nathanael first met Jesus, our Lord said He knew where Nathanael came from and where he would end up after the end. Every moment and every heart is laid bare to Jesus. He sees and understands everything that makes you the unique you that only you are. He watches your life with compassion and joy. He works in your life with tender and brilliant hands. He knew you first and loves you best.
“You have nothing to fear from death; for Jesus, by dying, has disarmed it of its sting, has perfumed the grave and opened the gates of glory for His believing people. Satan, so far as he is permitted, will assault our peace, but he is a vanquished enemy: our Lord holds him in a chain, and sets him bounds which he cannot pass.”—John Newton, 1775
Have you ever had that one friend who always drags you down into the worst choices and situations? If you know what I’m talking about, then you know it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are or how long you’ve been keeping things straight, because when this friend enters the picture, you’re going to wind up making a mess, wasting some days and racking up some new stories as well as new regrets. This kind of friend always promises an unforgettable, epic adventure, and you can’t resist. The weird thing is, you don’t even really want to resist, right? There is a gravity we can’t repel all around this one friend and it always transforms us into the very worst version of us. This friend is like the full moon to a werewolf, melting our resolve, unraveling our trajectory and even changing our very appetites. You know that friend, right?
Well, in John 8, Jesus says every single one of us has that friend living inside us all the time. He says everyone who sins is a slave to sin. In other words, not only do we do the wrong things, but we can’t stop doing the wrong things. The truth is, we want the wrong things. We are hopelessly magnetized toward the worst and most destructive choices. The problem is that you and I have a sick heart. Your heart is that friend who drags you down. It can’t stop and it won’t stop. Your fallen heart chooses for you. You and I are under the mastery of our own miserably broken selves.
The sad thing is that we think we want to be free to choose everything for ourselves. We think we want to run the show of our own lives, but that kind of freedom is really a slavery that only leads to all that mess, waste and regret. When we are in charge of our own lives, we are actually slaves to that crooked friend who drags us down again and again into the very worst version of us. We don’t choose well and that’s why Jesus came.
Jesus came to set us free from the tyranny of our own fallen hearts. He came to give us a new way to live. When you come face to face with the slavery of sin, you know you need to be rescued. When Jesus sets you free and you get to know His heart, you start to learn that the smartest thing you can do with your new freedom is give it right back to Jesus. If you hand your life over to Him and let Him call the shots, making Him the Master of your life, you will find actual freedom. Jesus came to rescue us from ourselves and give us the joy of being His very own. Giving your rescued life back to Jesus is the most wonderful freedom there is.
Some things are always going to suck. As long as you live here in this world, there will be road blocks, setbacks and dry seasons. If no one told you that, it’s time to hear it. If you haven’t heard it in a while, it’s time to refresh. If you thought walking with Jesus was going to be all sunshine and happy songs, you’re probably extremely disoriented by now. You will experience loss, pain, heartache and disappointment. You will find yourself depressed and afraid. You will sometimes feel as though you are alone and forsaken, even though Jesus promised you’re not. Now, some of these hard times will be due to the fact that you are a fallen person living in this broken, sinful world. In other words, even though you know Jesus, you still wander from Him and do your own thing. But don’t take another step believing that all your suffering is the result of your wrong, because it’s not. There’s something that just about every Christian constantly forgets; and forgetting this thing leads to tons of personal shame and misery. That is, you are in a dog fight for your soul right now. You have a ruthless enemy who hates Jesus and doesn’t give a flip about you. If Jesus didn’t love you so much, this enemy wouldn’t bother with you, but you are so loved he has to fight you all day, every day. Jesus knows you are in a fight for your life. He knows you are sustaining injuries. He understands what you’re up against and He isn’t looking down on you. He knows you’re going to face trouble and opposition; and the best part is, Jesus knows we’re going to win in the end.
“When I am doing pre-marital counseling with couples, I tell them to imagine there is a race between everyone in the world to be their partner’s best friend. Your number one mission everyday is to win that race, even if you have to scrape and claw. That’s what marriage is about.”—
When it comes to dating and marriage, I think most folks imagine this fairy-tale world where you magically find the exact right person, fall head-over-heels for them just like in the movies and then have the kind of wedding that would wind up on everyone’s pinterest boards.
It’s not like that at all, though. In the real world, making a relationship work is difficult stuff which requires an incredible amount of humility and cooperation. Since I’ve worked with young people my entire ministry career, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about dating and marriage. One thing I’ve heard a ton of times from folks throughout the years is “I want what you and Christy have.” When I hear that kind of thing, I always take the conversation down a road that the person probably wasn’t counting on. First of all, I say, “Actually, you definitely do want a relationship like ours because it is awesome. The thing is, though, what you have to do to get a relationship like this one is not easy and may wind up being one of the most difficult and humbling things you ever try to do in your life.” Somehow, I get the feeling that’s not what they wanted to hear.
In order to illustrate this, let’s take a short tangent to talk about geese for a second. You’ve probably seen geese flying through the air in that V-shaped formation and thought they were really pretty amazing for doing something so cool - and let’s be honest, that is both beautiful and amazing; but, have you ever watched geese pull out of that V-formation and come down for a quick landing? How do you think geese land when they need to? In your mind it’s probably some aerodynamic dive like a bird of prey or a graceful circle that lands softly on the ground, but that’s not what they do. No, the fact is, geese do this really strange thing called whiffling, where they awkwardly flip their bodies over in mid air, keep their neck and head turned upright and fly upside down to reduce speed and altitude at the same time. Seriously, they actually fly upside down. Google it. It’s freaky and it ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done.
Good marriages have a whole lot of whiffling. What I mean is, if you think about the ‘perfect couple’ you know that’s so in love, you probably think they just look into each other’s eyes and love just grows while nature itself sings around them; but if you actually watched that couple live their life together, you’d find them disagreeing, hurting each other’s feelings, honestly facing conflict, asking for forgiveness, humbling themselves, and giving each other a lot of grace and forgiveness when they repeatedly screw up. In other words, a real marriage isn’t magic and it isn’t pretty. There’s a whole lot of awkward and difficult maneuvers going on that require maturity, patience, courage and honesty which are all really hard to swallow, but absolutely necessary. It’s hard work and it’s not for immature people. Folks who nurture good relationships know that no matter what it looks like, sometimes flying upside down is the only way to land.
“Toxic people should not have a voice in how you feel about yourself. There is no magic bullet to getting to that point where you don’t care what they think about you, but it starts with telling yourself ‘what God thinks of me is what matters, everyone else can take a number.’ You deserve to have positive, healthy, encouraging relationships.”—
A fresh new worship song for folks who remember how far Jesus has brought them.
Knoxville duo Southern Harmonic bring the hype of a packed arena show by Imagine Dragons and the intimacy of Lumineers folk in this new worship song that reminds us how far Jesus has brought us and how much we mean to Him. Spin, reblog and spin again.
Have you ever had someone tell you about God and what it means to know Him and as a result you felt horrible about yourself? Have you ever heard someone explain a life of faith and what they said just sounded impossibly hard to pull off? Have you ever listened to someone preach about Jesus only to come to the conclusion that Jesus is for other people because He wouldn’t want someone like you? All of these kinds of feelings are the evidence that someone is giving you the exact opposite of the real message of Jesus. The true message is something Jesus called the “Good News” and if the message you’re hearing doesn’t sound like good news, keep looking. When Jesus came into this world and started reaching, loving, healing and calling people, not everyone was pleased. There was an entire class of people who thought coming to God was about being the best, knowing the most and having the cleanest record. They were shocked when Jesus went to a huge party filled with sinners. They asked His disciples why He hung out with losers like these people. Jesus stopped dancing long enough to kick these guys out of the party by saying, “Go figure this out, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” In other words, “I don’t want all that religious perfection. I want to love the people who need love. Do you need love?” The Good News of Jesus is about setting people free and removing obstacles. It’s about unburdening and loving. When you meet the real Jesus, you don’t feel guilty or ashamed, you feel wanted, accepted and loved for who you are. You feel the lightness of heart that only comes with unbounded mercy.
East End Circus is a worship music collective based in Tennessee. Their inaugural BridgeBox track You Took My Place pairs 80s synth-pop with the ancient truth of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice. Dreamy synths and reverbed vocals come together to bring your ears a treat you won’t want to miss.
Have you ever found yourself making it through a really tough time only to learn that a good friend was praying for you the whole time? It makes all the difference in the world, right? Have you ever been right there, still in the middle of a mess, just barely hanging on when someone you love comes in, puts their arm around you and prays for you when you were about to lose your grip? It’s a game-changer. When someone prays for you, suddenly, you know you’re not alone. Suddenly you realize with a fresh fire how real our faith is because someone else believes enough to cry out to God on your behalf. Suddenly you don’t have to be as strong anymore. Instead, you get to ease up and relax in the midst of that friend’s faith. Someone else is helping you stand when your legs were shaking. Someone else is adding their faith to yours when yours was about to give out. If only we had a friend with us all the time, literally praying for us non-stop. What if someone who loves you would give themselves to praying for you even when you can’t pray for yourself? What if that person prayed around the clock? If you had that kind of support in your corner, you could face anything, right? Well, Hebrews 7 says Jesus is doing it. He’s praying for you right now as you read these words. It says, “He always lives to intercede for you.” He’s committed to praying for you. He lives to pray for you. In fact, whenever you find the strength to pray, you’re joining a prayer meeting that’s already been in progress for you.
The other night, my wife and I saw something completely incredible. Thing is, at the time, we didn’t know just how incredible it was. We were out on a date, waiting to be seated at a restaurant and noticed there was a TV in the waiting area playing the World Cup. We hadn’t seen any of the matches at this point, so we decided to watch a few minutes while we waited. As soon as we turned our attention to the screen, a player from Honduras scored a goal. No kidding, this goal happened the very instant we started to watch. Christy and I looked at each other and smiled, thinking, “Wow. That was cool, they scored as soon as we started watching.” The player who scored was more excited than basically anyone has ever been about anything, in the history of the world. His name was Carlo Costly and a few minutes later, we learned from the TV that Honduras hadn’t scored in a FIFA match in over 505 minutes of play. Turned out that as cool as we thought that goal was, it was a way bigger deal than we knew at the time.
Later on, I decided to read some more about that match between Honduras and Ecuador and it turns out that Honduras had not scored a goal in a World Cup match since 1982. (And for those keeping score at home, 1982 was when the movie E.T. came out) That means we witnessed Honduras’ first World Cup goal in 32 years! When my wife and I watched the goal being scored, we were excited. It was cool. But then, the more we found out about it, and the deeper I dug into the story, the cooler and more significant that goal became.
Your walk with Jesus is like that. When you first met the Lord, you were probably glad to be forgiven of your sins and thankful that you had the promise of Heaven, but the longer you live, the importance of knowing Jesus grows. As you keep going through your life, you’ll find out more and more about Jesus and your love for Him will grow deeper and sweeter. You’ll be more dependent on Him and more thankful for Him. The longer you live, the more you’ll find out about your own heart and how desperately you need to be rescued from yourself, which will make you more grateful for the way Jesus has cared about you and saved you. The deeper and farther you go into life, your relationship with Jesus will become more dear and more important to you with every step.
What if you’re not all that cool or important in the eyes of those around you? What if you just sort-of exist on the fringe? In every big group of friends, there are two or three people who make it on to everyone’s short list as the ones everybody really wants to hang with. What if you’re not one of those people? In every group of friends, there’s that one person who always has the memorable thing to say. What if you never really speak up? In every group, there’s the kind of person you always text, call or go pick up whenever anything cool is about to happen because nothing good can really go down without this person there. What if no one really calls you? What if you’re the kind of person people like, but forget to mention or invite? What if you’re the kind of person who just sort of blends in and doesn’t say much? There was a guy just like that in the set of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He wasn’t very vocal. No friends brought him into the group, but he was there, all the same, witnessing the miracles and hearing the words that changed the world. What happened? How did such a quiet, regular dude wind up in the movement that changed everything? Well, Jesus found him. Jesus wanted him. Jesus searched him out, pursued him and then called Phillip to follow Him. If you think you don’t really fit or that no one is really paying attention to your life, Jesus is. Jesus is watching your steps, listening to your quiet heart and longing to walk with you. Jesus wants to find you and make your life into something incredible with Him.
Why We Worship - He Has Sworn To Love Us Like A Groom
We worship Jesus together because He has loved us like no other and made promises to us that will never spoil or fade.
This weekend, a dear friend of mine got married. I had the honor of being an officiant of the ceremony, which is one of my favorite jobs in all the world. When I preside over a wedding, my favorite thing to do is watch the groom as the bride approaches. When she’s walking down the aisle, everyone stands and all eyes are on her, except mine. I watch her groom watching her. To me, it’s the best moment. Some grooms grin ear-ear-to-ear, some of them cry and some of them look as though they just found out they won the lottery and in a way, I suppose they have. I like to watch the face of the groom and think about Jesus. It’s hard to believe, but somehow true - this is the way He feels about me.
Jesus calls Himself the Bridegroom. We are His bride. The Scripture actually says that the whole point of marriage is to illustrate this truth - to show us how Jesus feels about us and to show us the kind of relationship He wants with us. When a groom looks into the face of his bride and swears to love her no matter what for the rest of his life, our hearts should swell with gladness because the vows of a groom are the promises Jesus has made to us. He has sworn to love us that way and He will never die, so His promise is eternal. We stand, clap and sing with our whole hearts because the most beautiful and tender heart in the universe has pledged His undying love to us in unbreakable vows. We are loved and that is reason to sing.
Why is it that some people who believe in Jesus make a life with Him look so unappealing? Sometimes Christians are the stuffiest, most bland and lifeless people you will ever meet, but it shouldn’t be that way. Sometimes Christians are the coldest, most judgmental and angriest people, but it should never be that way. Sometimes Christians are the grumpiest, most cynical and joyless people, but it should never be that way. The other day I got some french fries from a fast food drive through that were terrible. The thing is, they should have been awesome. They were piping hot and they were fries, so there’s not really a whole lot to mess up, but as I drove away from the restaurant, I realized what was wrong - they forgot the salt. Salt is amazing. Its culinary super power is not simply to add flavor, but to bring out and enhance the natural flavors in a certain food. If something is good, salt lets you know by putting that goodness out on stage. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said we are supposed to be like salt. Our lives should bring out all the natural flavor of what a life with Jesus is like. And when you read through the Gospels, life with Him was amazing. He was fun and He was kind. He was compassionate and He was patient. He was understanding and He was discerning. He was brilliant and He was hilarious. The love of Jesus is like nothing else in all the universe and life with Him is like the tastiest meal you’ve ever been served. Our job is to show people how good it can be to know and love Him.
A new worship song for folks who want to share Jesus.
You ever wonder how to share your faith without coming off as a jerk? There’s a foolproof way, and it’s super simple. Just tell the story of how God loved you when you didn’t love yourself. That’s what this song is about and it’s what sharing your faith is all about.
Do you want new worship songs to simply appear in your inbox every single month while also supporting ministry? Check out BridgeBox HERE.
“Growing in The Lord isn’t about knowing the most or having it all figured out. It’s about recognizing how deeply you need Jesus and letting Him call the shots. If you want to max out your spiritual growth, just honestly tell Jesus, “I am nothing without you. What do you want this to be, and will you help me get there?” That’s as grown as it gets.”—Lee Younger
Do you ever try to change your life only to find that it isn’t working? Have you ever gritted your teeth, made all the right promises, felt all the right emotions and buckled down for something completely new only to realize that you haven’t made a dent? You’re not the only one. In fact, no one can really change themselves. No one ever has. Even the people who shout the loudest about the need for change are powerless to make any real changes in their lives. This is why we humans don’t need more books, more plans, more rules or more emotional charges to clean up and get our act together. We don’t need a new method or more power. We need Someone else to do what we can’t. That’s why Jesus came. We needed Someone to stand in our place. It’s the very first thing He did as He kicked off His public ministry. John the Baptist was preaching a message of repentance and change to crowds of people who wanted a new kind of life. He was dunking people in the water so they would change, but they wouldn’t be able to. They couldn’t change like that. Jesus got in that line to get dunked in the water by John. He had never sinned, but He did it anyway. Why? He was standing in our place. He was our substitute. He knew we could never change on our own. He made change possible by taking our place. If there’s something in your life you want to change, don’t just grit your teeth and make empty promises. Ask Jesus to take your place and pay for your wrong. Know you’re forgiven and start this moment clean and new.
For folks who need an honest prayer to sing along to.
Nashville songwriter and producer Zach Hughes gets it. You see, folks who know Jesus write one kind of song; and then again, folks who serve Jesus by trying to love difficult people in ministry write a whole different kind of song. Honest hearts are going to love singing along to this acoustic track. For fans of The Civil Wars.
Do you ever look at your walk with Jesus and wonder where it went? You used to feel so excited about knowing Him. You used to have a desire to read the Scriptures and worship but now, your life is just sort of normal life and you don’t know what happened, right? When you’re feeling this way, do you ever look around at other Christians you respect and wonder how they do it? How do they seem to have so much joy all the time? How do they have the friendships and the marriage they have? If you’ve ever gone through a dry season where you find yourself asking those questions, you need to know a couple things that are very important. The first is, those Christians aren’t some kind of super breed of holy people that you could never hope to be. It’s not like watching someone play a sport who is just more athletically gifted than everyone else. You shouldn’t look at that person’s walk and think, “Well, I could never be like that.” The truth is, you can be. The next thing you need to know is that it’s a long, slow process of growing into that kind of person. Jesus said the road to life is narrow and there aren’t many people on it. In other words, walking with Jesus isn’t like taking a bullet train or the transporter from Star Trek. No one just wakes up one day as this awesome Christian. Walking with Jesus is like a day hike. It’s hard, steep and repetitive. You have to put one foot in front of the other over and over again, but the views are amazing. You will find life with Jesus on a footpath.
I bet you’ve heard people say that you’re God’s work of art and He’s making you into something beautiful, right? That’s a really lovely thought and strictly speaking, it’s true. God is certainly at work in your life to make you into something incredible you could have never been on your own. And, at the end of that process, everyone who sees what He has done in your life will stand there amazed at what He has done. The thing is, although this is all true and good, most of us never take any time to think about what it might mean to be one of God’s pieces of artwork. If God is an artist and I’m the thing He’s making, what all will that process entail? Will it be fun? Will it be terrible? Will I like the artistic direction? Does God want my input?
When was the last time you heard of a world-renowned artist asking a bunch of normal folks from a coffee shop or a department store to give them notes and feedback on their artwork? What’s more, when was the last time you heard of an artist asking the artwork itself for an opinion on the thing that had been made? Artists create what they want and they don’t often ask for a lot of feedback. They are the one with the vision, so they decide what will be made. In fact, by the time you get to see a piece of art, it is very often finished and the the window for creative input has been closed.
The Scripture says God is an artist and you are His work. More specifically, it says He is a potter and you are His clay. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a pottery class or watched someone sculpting before, but the process is not fun if you’re the clay. The potter cuts out a big hunk of clay, plops it down on the wheel, slaps it, kneads it, folds it, squishes and rolls it into a ball to get out all the air bubbles. Then the potter starts spinning the wheel. Now, if you’re the clay, you will be dizzy, disoriented and unable to see anything clearly. You will get pinched, pulled, scored and shaped in whatever direction the artist chooses. When the potter is finished forming you, he puts you in a kiln and turns up the heat to unbearable levels in oder to make you strong.
According to the Scripture, being God’s artwork could be a process that involves confusion, pain, pressure and trail by fire. You won’t know what you really are until you’re done and neither will anyone else. People may have opinions about what you are and how you look, but in the end, none of that matters because in the heart of the artist, you are precious. You are an expression of His heart. You are an expression of His own personal joy. You are hand made by the One who made and named the stars. Ephesians 2:10 says you are the poem He’s writing and not only is He proud of you, but He loves you.
Is God mad at you? Are you in trouble? That’s what you really want to know, right? I mean, there are so many questions you probably have about God, this world, the universe He has made and why things go the way they do. If you could get God to answer any question you had, you could probably think of some real whoppers. Maybe you would ask Him whether or not neutrinos have mass or why there is a disease as mean as Alzheimer’s. Maybe you would ask Him about whether or not there really is any life out there on some other planet or maybe you would ask Him why you have had to endure some of the pain you’ve experienced. If you only got one question, though, and this question came out of the very depths of your heart, I bet you would want to know whether or not God is mad at you. Deep down, that’s what is really bothering us. Are we alright? Am I in trouble? Does God accept me? In the very first chapter of the Apostle John’s Gospel, he tells us that no one has ever seen God, but the unique Son, the one from the bosom of the Father, has declared Him. That means that Jesus came to show us things about God that have never been seen. We all know God is mighty and powerful just by looking around us at the world He made, but John says the Son declared God from his bosom, or from His heart. Jesus came to show us how God feels about us. Look at Jesus and then you’ll know how God feels. He loves you. He longs for you. That’s His heart.
We sing praises together for Jesus because He has rewritten history - somehow forgetting everything wrong about us and seeing us through the lens of redemption.
My daughter left this week for a school trip out of state. I was standing there, staring at this Coach Bus filled with little kids, surrounded by other nervous parents on the edge of breaking down when one of the other parents started talking to me. She was the mother of one of Anna’s classmates and I had seen her around at school functions over the years, but we had never really talked. She said, “Do you remember me from high school?” I lied and said I did. The truth is, I don’t remember very many people from high school. I don’t remember a lot of what happened from high school. It’s not that my memory is shoddy or that I was in a haze through those years, it’s just that I don’t want to remember. I don’t really like who I was in high school, and I would be glad if the whole world would just choose to forget that version of history along with me.
Psalm 103 says that God does not treat us as our sins deserve. It says that no matter who we’ve been, His love for us is as unmeasurable as the heavens are above the earth. It says that He has separated our sins from us as far as the east is from the west, which is just a very poetic way to say we will never meet our sins again. They are gone, wiped out, stricken from the record and no longer apply. As believers in Jesus, we don’t have to remember the dark parts of our own history because God Himself has wiped them out and rewritten our story with His own mercy. The love that pursued us has cleansed us and changed history so that we are not who we were. His love is the reason we sing. His cleansing grace is the reason we clap and shout and celebrate.
The other day I was driving around town with a couple of my kids when my eight year old daughter asked, “Dad, what does Jesus’ name mean?” It was a cool question, especially when you consider that in our culture, names don’t always have meaning. Most people don’t name their kids based on who they want them to become or the qualities they most prize. Rather, they name their kids based on the sound of the name or the feeling they get from that name or the the fact that this particular name has been in the family for ages. In ancient times, names were very important and had very specific meanings. The name Jesus is the Aramaic version of the Hebrew name Joshua. It literally means, “The Salvation of Yahweh.” I told my daughter, “Jesus’ name means that He is God’s Rescuer - the One God has sent into the world to save us all from ourselves.” We all know the world is broken and everyone who is honest has seen the cracks of that brokenness inside themselves. We are part of the problem. We need to be saved. We need to be fixed. We need someone to pay for and clean up our mess. Jesus is the rescue plan. Since Jesus is Almighty God in the form of a man, He is the only one who can pay for the infinite debt of sin with His life. But Jesus isn’t just the only one who could rescue us, He’s the only one who would do it because no one has ever loved us like He does. That is why His name is so precious to all who love Him. Jesus - God’s Rescuer - The only one who saves us.
What if God wants a relationship with you that you’re not interested in having? That probably seems like a really weird question, but for some folks, it makes a lot of sense. You see, if I tell you that the love of God is like the love of a father and you had a great dad who was always there for you, you will probably really connect with that idea. If you and your dad had a great relationship, the concept of God being like your dad helps you understand more about who God is, but what if you never met your dad? What if your dad was hard to please or even cruel? What if your dad was an angry and oppressive man? What if your dad abandoned your family? If you had a terrible relationship with your dad or no relationship with him at all, the idea of God being like your father is not only unhelpful, but it could even keep you from wanting to know God in the first place.
The thing is, the Bible talks about God being our father. It talks about that idea a lot. God talks about Himself that way. He wants us to see Him in that light. The really cool thing is that when the Bible talks about the love of God being like the love of a father, it’s something everyone can relate to and get their heart around, no matter what kind of father they had. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus was teaching about prayer, He said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?”
When you look at those verses closely, you realize that Jesus doesn’t compare God’s love as a Father to the love your father had for you. He compares it to the love you would have for your own children. The thing is, no matter what kind of dad you had, you know what kind of parent you would want to be. No matter how your dad treated you, you know how you would feel about your own child. Jesus says God’s Fatherly love isn’t like the love your dad had for you - it’s like the love you feel toward your own kid. The first time you look into the face of your own child as you hold them in your hands, the depth and meaning of these verses bursts into life. God loves me like I love this precious child? God somehow loves me more than this? Wow.
The cool thing is that it doesn’t stop there because the Scripture says we aren’t just God’s kids, we’re His adopted kids. We were abandoned, poor, on our own and helpless in this world when He saw us, loved us and wanted us. We were outside, but He brought us in at great and even immeasurable personal cost. He has loved us with a pursuant love. He has called us His very own and given us His name, making us heirs of Heaven itself which gives us the amazing and unbelievable privilege and right to call the Almighty King of the Universe our very own “Daddy.”
I want you to imagine something that is frankly terrifying but gets better the more you really think about it. Ready? Okay. Imagine you’re standing in a courtroom in which you are on trial. The thing is, this isn’t just any old courtroom, but the Supreme Court of Heaven itself. The officers and bailiffs are angels - those immortal warriors of light who keep a constant vigil over our world and don’t miss a thing, though they normally go unseen. The jury is a host of spiritual giants who have gone before us. These are the folks you’ve read about who’s faith was purest gold and whose race was not run in vain. The prosecuting attorney is Satan - the one Job calls The King of Terrors - the ancient snake who always opposes God’s people. And on the bench, holding the gavel is God Himself, ready to hear the case and render judgment. Satan rails against you, bringing up all your old sins and failures, but God bangs the gavel. Silence falls. God looks you in the eye and says you are free to go. The case is closed and you are innocent. The Judge tells everyone present that Jesus took your place and therefore you are not only forgiven, but have the record of an an impeccable, upstanding citizen. Not only are you not guilty, but you are not even accusable. You are not convictable. In Zechariah 3, a courtroom scene just like this unfolded and Satan’s accusations were shot down by the justice of mercy. Paul says that Jesus has made you guiltless beyond accusation. No one, anywhere can attach blame or shame onto you. The holy God of Heaven has no grounds by which to condemn you. That’s grace.
“I think a lot of people feel like God is just being a killjoy about their sexual desires. What if God wants you to have an awesome sex life just as much as you do? That’s why He wants to give you the real thing that actually satisfies instead of letting you settle for less.”—
We worship Jesus together because we’re almost finished with the strain of this life and can’t wait to enter into eternal joy.
Last week my daughter went to a birthday party at a friend’s house that was really far away from where we live. My wife dropped her off and I was going to pick her up a few hours later. Christy told me the drive would be pretty long, but that after miles of country backroads, when I saw some balloons on a mailbox, I was almost there. I took the other two kids to pick Anna up from this party and we drove for what felt like ages down these country roads. Thankfully we had a good playlist to sing along to and some sour gummi worms for the kids, because Jack was getting pretty tired of the trip near the end. Finally, I saw what I was looking for - balloons on a mailbox with a gravel drive. I instantly got so excited that we had made it and hadn’t gotten lost in the middle of nowhere.
There’s an old hymn that says “The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of Heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes, dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand and glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.” We come together to stand and clap and sing songs to Jesus because we’re almost home. The strain and trial of this life in this world is almost over and we’re so close to the morning we’ve longed for. This hope about what is coming gives us something to sing about and something to be joyful about as we face whatever we have to this coming week.
“The One who made this world didn’t have to make it beautiful. Strictly speaking, beauty isn’t necessary. We could communicate without music. We could be nourished by things that aren’t delicious. We could reproduce without the pleasure of sex. Why do we have all these miracles of sense experience? Why is there beauty and pleasure at all? If we live in a world of unnecessary beauty, it must mean that the heart that beats behind this world is a happy heart. It must mean the One who made us is exceedingly joyful and wants to share His joy with us.”—Lee Younger
What’s overwhelming you right now? What’s taking you out? What in your life is just too big for you to deal with? Have you identified it? Have you taken the time to name that thing, on purpose? What do you do with it? My guess is, you spend most of your time analyzing and problem solving when it comes to this issue in your life. You probably fee lots of anxiety (which is understandable) and you have probably told a bunch of people the same rehearsed speech about this problem over and over (which again, is totally understandable). We’ve all coped with our problems like this. The things that overwhelm us and take us out seem like unscalable mountains that we have to find away across. We don’t know very much about mountain climbing, so we read books about it, gather a bunch of people together to talk about how big the mountain is and sometimes we just start punching the rock face with all we’ve got until we’re tired, sweaty and have busted up, bleeding knuckles. The great thing about knowing Jesus is that most of the time, you don’t really have to know anything else but Him. You don’t have to know how to solve your problems because you can just ask Him to do it for you. You don’t have to have the power to face your trials because you can just beg Him for strength. When Peter was walking on water and then started to sink, he didn’t over-analyze his weight and density, factoring in the barometric pressure and wind speed. He just screamed, “Lord, save me!” Jesus is okay with that. When you just need to be bailed out, call His name.
I want you to think about a time in your life when you gave someone you loved a really awesome gift. Take a minute. Seriously. Now, picture that gift. Get it in your mind.
Before you picked out the gift, you thought about that person - who they are and what they love. You thought about what they need and how much they would love this gift. The gift cost you, but you didn’t care. You gladly paid and in fact, you were excited to be able to give this gift. You wrapped the gift up, you waited for the perfect moment and you handed it over - your heart brimming with love for this person. You watched them open the gift and as their face lit up, you were filled with joy.
Sometimes we think God just sort of tolerates us. We think He’s disappointed in us. We think He technically cares about us because we are technically His responsibility. We think our sin forms a wedge between us and God.
"But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
You are His joy. Receive His love. It’s all yours for the taking.
I once asked a room full of high school and college folks to name the animal they would most want to represent themselves, based on its qualities, strengths and reputation. All of the animals they listed were strong, fierce and just really cool. They were choosing predators at the top of their respective food chains, like the lion and the eagle. Some folks even picked mythical animals to represent themselves. More than one person suggested the dragon and the unicorn. I think this little exercise tells us a lot about who we think we are and who we want to be.
We want to be capable. We want to be at the top of the ladder. We want to be self-sufficient and we want to be the one calling the shots. We want to be nothing short of legendary. When it comes down to picking a creature to represent who we want to be, we choose the make-believe ones who have healing powers and can breathe fire. This is who we wish we were. Or maybe it’s who we think we’re supposed to be.
I’m afraid that there’s some bad news on this front. The Bible doesn’t compare us to eagles, lions, dragons or unicorns. It doesn’t compare us to creatures that are great hunters, who are known for being fast and strong. It doesn’t compare us to the animals who are famous for being great survivors. No, the Bible says we are like sheep. The thing is, it doesn’t just say this once or twice. The Bible compares human beings to sheep hundreds of times. The message of the Scriptures is clear: we are stubborn, weak, slow, defenseless, stupid and downright ridiculous. We are the kind of creatures who need to be led or else we won’t survive. We are sheep and we need a shepherd.
Thank God we have one. We have the Good Shepherd - Jesus. Finding out the animal you most resemble is the most clumsy and incapable of just about anything on the planet is a tough pill to swallow until you get to know the Shepherd. The Bible says Jesus is the kind of Shepherd who loves His sheep. He’s the kind of Shepherd who knows our names, provides for us, guides us, defends us, protects us and goes after us when we stray. The Scripture says we have a Shepherd who holds us close to His heart and tenderly cares for us. When you’re honest, you know you’re a sheep. You know you struggle. You know you need to be led and cared for. Knowing you’re a sheep means you don’t have to be strong or clever or amazing because you have the Good Shepherd to be all those things for you. All you have to do is be needy and let Him care for you. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’m best at.
My guess is that when you first started getting know Jesus, you were really bothered by everyone else’s sins. In those early days of your faith, when you saw someone making a mess out of their life, you probably felt a heavy burden to call them out, highlighting the Scriptures they were neglecting and making sure they knew their behavior was wrong. I bet you saw it as your duty to call people to account who claimed to know Jesus but weren’t walking with Him all that consistently. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one like that. The reason I know how you felt is that I felt that way too. We all did. We all start out thinking it’s our job to make sure everyone knows where they stand. We all start out thinking no one is aware of the sinfulness of their sin and that we need to tell them. Thankfully Jesus has been at work in you and in me. The Lord lets us fall and fail enough times to find out that we don’t have what it takes to live a holy life at all. As I get older, I’m not really getting a whole lot less sinful, but I am more thankful for Jesus and I do love Him more. This is how the Lord said it would work. The forgiven folks love more. As you grow, you realize how much you still need grace, which gives you more grace and patience toward everyone else in your life who is struggling. You find out people don’t need to be called out so much as they need tenderness and understanding. The love of Jesus makes you love everyone else as He loved you.
Why does it feel as though there are times you can face any temptation the devil wants to throw at you, no matter how strong the attack is; while at other times, the slightest hint from the enemy has you backsliding at break-neck speed into a great big pile of trouble? Sometimes you feel strong - so strong that temptations aren’t even really all that tempting, and sometimes you feel like you’re dangling over the edge of a cliff, holding onto a tiny branch with sweaty hands over a chasm of the same old wrongs you’ve always done over and over again. Why is that? Why do you go from towering strength to abject weakness? Why can’t you face the same temptations with the same resolve day in and day out? Maybe it’s your attitude or your diet. Maybe you’ve been sleeping badly and then again, maybe it’s Jesus. I know this is going to sound weird, but hear me out. What if the fluctuation in your ability to stand up underneath temptation is Jesus’ fault? There are times when He pours out power to resist right into your mind and heart so that you can face anything. There are also times when Jesus holds Himself back, withdraws His hand and watches you try to face down your demons on your own strength - which usually ends in a very ungraceful face plant. On the night Jesus was betrayed, He told Peter that Satan had asked permission to sift him like wheat. Jesus allowed it. Why? Because this was the only way Peter could learn how much He needed the Lord. Jesus sometimes lets us fail on purpose so that we never forget how dependent we are.
“He sometimes shows us what He can do for us and in us; and at other times how little we can do, and how unable we are to stand without Him.”—John Newton (18th century pastor and author or Amazing Grace)