He is Worth the Cost

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” 
Mark 8:34‭-‬35 NKJV

1544619082004_imageJesus didn’t pull any punches. He didn’t water down His message to attract people. He wanted them to know the cost of following Him was great; but the reward was greater.

In the verse following Jesus asks, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”

The cross represents life to us, because of the resurrection of Christ, but to the crowd Jesus was addressing that day it was a symbol of death. They, like many of our brothers and sisters around the world knew that following Jesus could very well mean death to them. The fact that they were willing to remain faithful to His call in spite of the cost speaks volumes about the radical impact Jesus has on people.

I often wonder what would happen in America if following Christ became a crime punishable by death. While we enjoy the freedom to worship, this is still a reality for Christians in many nations today. The profound truth is that persecution produces purity, and purity births revival. No matter how hard the enemy tries, he cannot silence or defeat the blood of Christ!

We are living in a time predicted in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

While it is the love of God that draws men to repentance, I also believe a time of sifting in coming. We reap what we sow – good or bad – and a time of harvest is inevitable. The sheep will be separated from the goats.

In my lifetime I have seen the acceptance of Christianity in our culture greatly decline. Unfortunately many times the church has responded by shifting from preaching the cost Jesus proclaimed in Mark 8 to a message that focuses on salvation without repentance and transformation. This only results in a powerless church!

Jesus said we would do even greater works than He did. Can you imagine the impact the church (the body of Christ) would have if we sought to minister to the world the way Jesus did? Do we truly believe in the power of God to save the lost, heal the sick, raise the dead, deliver the captive? Are we fervently seeking Him to use US to continue the ministry of Christ?    

I am challenged today by these verses to examine myself and ask, am I truly willing to take up my cross to follow Him? Am I willing to lay down my life; not just in death but in serving God and others? Why do I not see the greater works Jesus spoke of as fruit in my life?

My prayer today is that the resurrection power of Jesus would become so evident through His people that the lost would run to Him like the multitudes that followed Him in His time on Earth, and would be so convinced of the prize of Him that they (we) recognize that He is worth the cost!

 

Temporary Praise or Godly Reward?

“But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that you charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” Matthew 6:3-4 (NKJV)

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Matthew 6:3-4 is an eye-opener for those of us who struggle with the need for approval and validation from others. Generally when I read about charity I think of financial giving; but this morning as I read this verse God reminded me that the motive behind what I do is just as important as the act itself. Who am I trying to please?

I am a people pleaser. I’m getting better at learning to say no, and checking my motives for what I say yes to, but it’s difficult. I want to please God and others. Clearly I cannot do both. Why? Because I have to choose between the approval of man or the reward of God. The approval of man is temporary; the reward of God eternal. It should be a simple choice … but it usually isn’t. 

If I feel the need to boast of my good deeds could it be that I don’t trust God to reward me for what I do in secret? Why settle for a ‘pat on the back’ from people when you can receive an open reward from the Lord Himself?

Motive is the key factor in determining when and what to share. Is my desire to glorify God or myself? Sometimes it isn’t pride that drives us to share our good deeds. Sometimes it is excitement over the fruit produced by that deed, especially when if it had a life changing impact on someone. Sometimes the things we share can be an encouragement to others and even a motivator to spur others to serve. Just be sure to check your motives and be honest with yourself about your intent. The reward of the Lord will far surpass any self gratification we receive from the praise of men.

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Things

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. ~ ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭33:3‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

IMG_1602Many times as I read the attention to detail God spoke to His servants in the Bible, I find myself longing to hear God as clearly as they did. Think about the detail He gave Noah when building the ark in preparation of the flood; or the detail He gave Moses in building the ark of the covenant. These were definitely examples of “hidden” things … great and mighty things they had no foreknowledge of.

Last week I taught a message on hearing God’s voice to the female inmates at the Duval County Jail. One of the things I told them was that God often confirms what He has told us through other people. The next morning my pastor preached a message at church on hearing God’s voice. While some would consider that a coincidence, I see it as God’s confirmation to me that I was on track in sharing this topic with the inmates. I have had this happen to me repeatedly in ministry.

I seem to hear God’s voice with increased clarity when He is preparing me to share His word with others through writing or speaking. Reading Jeremiah 33:3 stirred my heart this morning to seek God’s revelation in my personal life as much as I do in ministry.

Have you ever had news you were excited to share with someone, but quickly realized they didn’t share your enthusiasm? God isn’t hiding from us. He says, “Call to me, and I will answer you.” I believe God delights in revealing His mysteries to us. Asking for His guidance needs to become our first response, not a last resort.

Could it be that friendship with God is the critical component of such intimate communication with Him? Am I quieting my spirit long enough for Him to speak, or am I simply approaching Him with my requests? What wonderful, hidden treasures have I missed because I was too focused on myself to ask God if He had something to “show” me?

PRAYER:
Lord, Your Word says if I call on You, You will answer me, and show me great and mighty things which I do not know. Thank You for this wonderful promise of intimacy. Forgive me for neglecting to seek You with the purpose of hearing Your heart. I know You are no respecter of persons, (Acts 10:34) therefore I believe You desire to communicate with me with the same level of clarity and detail You spoke to those in the Word. How exciting that You would share Your mysteries with mankind! Help me to quiet the world around me and remove the distractions that would steal my focus off of You. I don’t want to miss a single word You speak to me.

Unfailing Love

“For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭100:5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

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I have been going through a difficult season for many months now. My writing has suffered as a result. Instead of using this God given gift to express my heart before God, I allowed my pain to become an excuse to draw back. I allowed busyness to replace pressing in. It became easier to shift into survival mode than to put on the armor of God and fight.

Every Sunday, inspired by my pastor’s messages, I told myself, enough is enough. It’s time to pull myself out of this hole, one.step.at.a.time. Then, Monday rolled around and each week I slipped right back into existing versus living. Each step I tried to take felt like quicksand.

Every Monday until now! Today I am shifting into warrior mode!
God has called me to be an exhorter. I’m great at encouraging others … but not so good with my self-talk. That’s why I HAVE to turn to God’s Word for strength when I am weak. HE is my source of encouragement.

As I read Psalm 100:5 today, God reminded me …
▪️He is GOOD … even when my circumstances aren’t.
▪️His mercy is EVERLASTING … my problems are not.
▪️His truth ENDURES … His Word WILL prevail.
▪️His love is UNFAILING … and UNENDING.

God has given me a vision and purpose for my life. The wilderness experiences I go through can either break me or make me stronger. Ultimately the choice is mine. I want to choose strength over brokenness. I KNOW God will use every circumstance as an opportunity to grow me AND in turn allow me to encourage others in their journey.

PRAYER: Father, thank You for the breath of life found in Your Word. Thank You for Your unfailing love, everlasting mercy and enduring truth. Regardless of what my circumstances say, I can trust the truth of Your Word. You ARE good, even when life is hard. Help me to run to You, not from You when I am weak and weary. Remind me to cast my cares on You, rather than trying to bare them in my own strength. You are my hiding place in the storm, the rock of my salvation and my shield against the arrows of the enemy. My VICTORY is certain in You.
Amen

 

Addressing Anxiety Disorders Among Christians

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

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In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul tells the Philippians church IF they will replace anxiety with prayer and thankfulness, THEN God’s peace will guard their hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

As someone who suffers from clinical depression and anxiety, my first thought (honestly) as I read these verses were, “if only it were this simple.” Now, before you gasp in shock, allow me to elaborate. The Bible never said faith is simple.

I believe there are two types of anxiety. The first is based on circumstances. The second is a physical/mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Both should be addressed with prayer and Thanksgiving as Paul proclaims, but the prayers are very different.

When anxiety is the result of circumstances our prayers implore God to move on our behalf to resolve the circumstance. Our faith rests in knowing “He will work all things together for good, to those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)

When anxiety is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, our approach is different. In this situation our prayer and supplication is for God’s healing. Our faith rests in His promise(s) of healing. “I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭33:6‬(b) NKJV‬‬

Sadly, I’ve read articles by well meaning Christians who criticize other believers who suffer with mental illness. Brothers and sisters, people who deal with emotional distress do not need judgmental stigma. We, of all people, should provide a place of refuge for the hurting. There is enough stigma in the secular world. Instead, we must become a people who lead them to “Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭3:20‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

If you had a Christian friend who was diagnosed with cancer or heart disease you would earnestly seek God for their healing. Until we treat victims of mental illness the same way we will continue to alienate those who suffer in shame and silence.

You may be surprised to learn that in the United States someone commits suicide every 15 minutes. Equally alarming is the fact that Christians commit suicide at the same rate as non-believers.

I realize this is not your typical message on Philippians 4:6-7, but I pray it will open your eyes to the need among believers to recognize the validity of this issue and the need to respond with compassion and empathy. You could save a life.

PRAYER:
Lord, I thank You that you ARE able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we could ever ask or think. I pray for my brothers and sisters in the world who suffer with mental illness. Father, I ask You to heal their minds and bless them with an abundance of Your peace, which surpasses all understanding. Help us Lord to renew our minds through the power of Your Word.

Father I also pray for a greater awareness in the body of Christ about how to minister to those dealing with emotional illness. Help us to show the same compassion as we do to those who suffer physical illness. Help us not to trivialize their pain. Thank You for an increase in Godly therapists who are able to address this problem with a faith-based perspective.

Break through the stigma of mental illness so Your children can find freedom to ask for and receive help.

In the mighty name of Jesus. AMEN

Divided Disciples

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (NKJV)

John13.34As Jesus ate his last meal with His disciples he continued to teach them by example. He washed their feet, an act of love and humility, and then commanded them to love one another. He knew they would need each other to survive the life ahead of them. He also knew that unbelievers would be drawn to Him if His disciples truly walked in love toward one another. 

I’ve often heard pastors say things like, “When we get to heaven we won’t be divided by denominations.” I agree, but I’d like to take that a step further and ask, “Why do we allow denominations to divide us now?” What does this say to the world around us? If our love for one another is key to others knowing we are disciples of Christ, what are we teaching them? 

I understand the reason for various denominations. What I don’t understand is that much like politics we allow our differences to divide us, rather than allowing the ’cause of Christ’ to unite us. I don’t have to agree with you to love you. I don’t have to agree with you to treat you with honor and respect. My belief system doesn’t make me spiritually superior to you in any way. 

It breaks my heart when I see Christians criticize other Christians on social media or in general conversation. We (all who follow Christ) are ONE body. In essence when we bicker among ourselves it’s like beating yourself up (self-hatred), and it plays right in to the scheme of Satan to divide and conquer. 

“Love one another.” It’s not optional. The next time you disagree with a brother or sister in Christ, don’t throw them under the bus. Go to the Father and intercede for them. Refuse to allow the enemy to use you to create discord. 

Prayer: Lord, thank You for being a perfect example of love and unity.  Teach me to guard my mouth. Help me to speak life and blessing over others rather than allowing my words to wound. Remind me to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ with the same passion I pray for myself. Forgive my sins and create a clean heart within me. Help me to reflect You in everything I say and do. Let others recognize me as Your disciple by my love for others. Bring restoration to Your body, Lord. Help us to love one another as Christ loves us. There is power in our unity. Break through the walls that divide us. AMEN

True Repentance

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭51:2‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

IMG_1556I love the example of true repentance David portrays in Psalms 51. David had been confronted by Nathan the prophet about his adultery with Bathsheba. I encourage you to go read the entire chapter now. (Click the reference above.)

Three Steps of True Repentance:

  1. Acknowledge the sin: When Nathan confronted David with his sin he didn’t try to make excuses for what he had done. He accepted responsibility and his prayer reflects sincere conviction. Initially he tried to hide his sin by committing yet another sin, the murder of Bathsheba’s husband. I imagine David was already feeling the weight of his guilt long before Nathan ever confronted him.  God used Nathan to help David see we cannot hide from our past. We have to confront it before we can leave it behind.  
  2. Accept the consequences: David’s sin cost him the life of his son. (See: 2 Samuel 12) God will always forgive our sin, but that doesn’t mean we will always escape the consequences of our actions. God’s punishments have purpose. They are not about vengeance. 
  3. Pray for God’s mercy, cleansing and restoration: Most of David’s prayer is spent asking for God’s mercy, cleansing and restoration. As dire as the loss of his son was, David knew he couldn’t live without his fellowship with God. He needed God to do what he was not capable of doing himself. When we do our part (repent), God does His part (restore). God loves us. He longs to forgive us and cleanse us. When my son was a child he hated taking a bath, but once I got him in the tub, he didn’t want to get out. When I think of our reluctance to go to God with a spirit of true repentance I imagine the same scenario . Just dive into the cleansing stream. You won’t want to leave. 

Prayer: Father, thank You for giving me an example of what repentance looks like in David’s prayer. This Psalm has been a favorite of mine for many years because I can relate to David’s desire for inner healing. My heart longs for the purity only You can provide, Lord. I don’t want anything to interfere with my fellowship with You. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Convict me when needed and remind me to dive into Your cleansing stream. Bathe me in the joy of Your salvation. Keep me humble enough Lord to allow my transparency to impact others who need to know You are a God of love and mercy.