Put Aside Your Fear

So many people are selling fear today. Our news programs are filled with fear. Our commercials are filled with fear. There’s a difference between caution and fear. There’s a difference between preparedness and fear. Right now, we’re seeing folks trying to profit off of fear. After all, there’s a lot of money in fear.

The Bible tells us that we aren’t to fear man. We aren’t to fear situations. We are only to fear God. It’s been popular lately to translate where the Bible says to fear God as to have awe of God. We’ve flipped the message from Scripture. We’re teaching to fear each other and not God.

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”  – Isaiah 8:12-15, ESV

Isaiah’s warning from God was clear: fear God and not anything else. If you’re going to dread something, dread being on the wrong side of God. Some would turn this message and accuse God of being evil for saying to fear Him. However, God is the only one deserving of our fear. He is the Creator. He is the Almighty. Yet even as He told Isaiah to fear Him, He also sent a message of hope.

He told Isaiah and tells us to let Him be our sanctuary. He also called Himself a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling. He would be the trap and snare for those who choose sin and iniquity over Him. Fear can cause us to run away. Fear can us to freeze up. Fear can also cause us to fight when we shouldn’t. God’s warning is that none of that’s needed. If action is needed, He will take it. Our best plan is to seek Him.

However, that word sanctuary isn’t just a place of refuge and safety. It is supposed to be a place of holiness. We are to meet Him where He is. It is a command to focus on Him, on our relationship with Him, and what He is doing. Put aside the messages of fear. Fear God, and find a place of refuge in His presence.


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It Starts with Grace

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian. The message of grace is a reminder of who we are, our desperate need, and what our God has done. It can, if we allow it, restore us and refresh us. It proclaims our future regardless of our current condition. It s a present from God of an accomplishment and a status we could never obtain on our own.

We were sinners. We were the enemies of God. We were condemned to death. Yet God saved us. He went to the Cross and redeemed us.

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  – Acts 20:32, ESV

The primary message of the Bible is intended to build us up. God saved us from our sins. God took our punishment upon the Cross. With the punishment dealt with, we have His forgiveness and we are able to come into His presence. With the ability to approach God, we can have confidence that God hears our prayers. We will receive an inheritance He has prepared for us: eternal life.

We are still sinful people. We still make mistakes. We are still disobedient. Yet with grace comes a promise that God will work in us to make us more like Him. Not only that, but He also promises to stand with us, to be there in good times and in bad. It all starts with grace.

As you begin this week, take some time to reflect on God’s grace. How has God changed you? How do you want Him to change you? How has He showed up in your life and in the lives of those you know? The Christian walk starts with grace. Let us start this week with thoughts of and thankfulness for grace.

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Hope Amidst Iniquity

Have you ever been so far down in sin that you wondered if the Lord could or would forgive you? Have you ever wondered if you could ever get past something awful you did in the past? Are you dealing with the consequences of such a sin and you’ve seen those who called your friend or family fall away? Have you ever been this bad?

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

– Isaiah 1:2-3, ESV

The good news is that God’s grace and forgiveness are simply unbelievable. The ox is not known for its intelligence. Neither is the donkey. That’s why God, through Isaiah, compared Judah to the ox and the donkey. God’s people were acting so awful that they made an ox or a donkey look smart by comparison. Most of the rest of chapter 1 of Isaiah is a litany of what Judah had done wrong. It’s bad enough that most of us would say, “I’m bad, but I’m not that bad.”

The truth of the matter is that iniquity, any iniquity, is unacceptable to God. We may call it big or we may call it small, but God calls it sin and that’s not okay by Him. Yet even as He condemned Judah, here’s what He offered:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
– Isaiah 1:18-20, ESV

Simply amazing, isn’t it? Why does Judah deserve a second chance? It didn’t. None of us do. God’s standard is perfection and that was made clear in the Garden. Yet God repeatedly gives us chance after chance after chance. Why? God does it because He has chosen to do so. It’s not because of anything about us. It’s because He has chosen to offer grace.

This offer we see in verses 18-20 was made to the nation of Judah. However, forgiveness is presented to us as individuals time and time again. So while we can’t ascribe all the good things that God offered the nation, we can take the part about our sins being removed from us. Other passages of Scripture make that clear. God removes our iniquity from us and restores our fellowship with Him.

It doesn’t matter how bad your past is. It doesn’t matter what you’re involved in right now. If you’re willing to walk away from that iniquity, if you’re willing to put God first, He will cleanse you. Note the Scripture says, “Let us reason together.” God wants to talk about it. He’s not pushing away; He’s calling home. We don’t deserve it, but still He offers. If there’s something you’re struggling with, something you wonder if it can be forgiven, give God a chance. Answer His call. Come (back) to Him. Let Him restore you. Let Him remove that sin. Let Him present you with that full and abundant life the Son has promised if we would just seek after Him first. Let go, and let Him.

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Review: Advent in Narnia

I get asked all the time about book recommendations, whether I liked this book or that, so I’m adding reviews of Christian books/products. However, I am limiting these to ones I think highly of which I would definitely recommend to friend and family. 

Note: I received a pre-release copy of this book for review.

I love Advent. However, I’ve struggled to find a good Advent study that is meaningful across the range of ages for my family (toddler to 40+). A few years ago I wrote one for my family, but it still didn’t hit the mark. However, I think I have found the Advent study that will work for us. It’s called Advent in Narnia.

AdventInNarniaYes, an Advent study which references the Chronicles of Narnia! Each day references some aspect of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In general, the devotionals are in order with the book, though day 8 refers back to chapters 1-2. The neat thing about this parallel is that we can read the book, which will enamor the smaller children, and then complete the devotional, which will the older children, my wife, and I to think and meditate on the message for the day. Speaking of which, each day’s devotional ends on Questions for Reflection, which are great for further thought and discussion. Therefore, there are three levels with this Advent study and that’s why I think it’ll do a good job covering the entire family. One note: the Advent devotionals only take you through chapter 11 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, meaning there is still some of the book to read if you go that route.

Beyond the devotionals, there is a section for small group study which looks useful, consisting of a leader’s guide and notes for four sessions. The sessions reference the various movies of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in case you would like to use them as part of the small group time. However, the movies aren’t necessary, but nowadays a lot of small group studies consist of some sort of visual aspect as part of the study, so I understand their inclusion.

Finally, there is a section on putting on a Narnia Night for families. This is interesting and has a lot of good ideas which can be scaled down to the family level. However, you can definitely see the author’s work in building this study as something an entire church can do with the Narnia Night as the kick-off, the devotionals as the individual study, and the small group sessions to bring those studies together. It’s all put together nicely.

Therefore, given all of these things, I recommend this book for an Advent study, whether you’re talking about a family or a larger group like a church.

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There’s a Place for You

Have you ever been with a group of people and felt like you didn’t have a place within that group? I have. I’ve felt that way in the midst of a congregation and it’s a lonely, depressing feeling. Talking with others, I know I’m not alone. Of all the places where it would seem there should be a role for each of us is, the Church should definitely be such a place. Doesn’t God want to include us in His work? Why do we feel excluded?

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  – Ephesians 4:11-12, ESV

If you think about the pastoral role in a church, these are all possible names for the pastor or church elder. Paul sums them all up and indicates all the roles serve to equip the saints for the work of ministry. In other words, there is work for all of us. If we are called by Christ, we are given the title saint. We are not saints by the worldly definition, that of a person who is just about perfect, but the Church definition of a sinner who is saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are to be equipped, trained, prepared, and made ready for ministry. We are to be built up. We are to be given what we need to do God’s will, to be part of His family, to take our place and role in the Church. This is God’s intent. This is His desire. You and I have a place. We may not sense it, but there is something for each of us to do. And some people within the Church are called to help other Christians understand that and be prepared for their roles.

I say all this to encourage you if you haven’t found your place in God’s Church. Note that I use Church with a capital C. If you are attending a congregation, there may or may not be a place for you there. If you are currently filling roles in ministry but get a sense that you are misplaced, that most certainly is possible. A lot of folks volunteer for roles in order to be helpful or because it’s easier not to say, “No,” (note I didn’t write say, “Yes”). Then again, you could be in the correct role in the correct church at the correct time. The key thing to remember is if you don’t have a place or if you feel you are in the wrong place, don’t despair. There is a correct spot for each of us.

How do we know when and where and how and what? We’ll look at that shortly. Just remember that if you have been called by Jesus Christ to be His, you belong. You have a place. You are part of the family. You are important. You are necessary. You are needed. So many people in the Church today struggle because they don’t get a sense of community, of belonging, of unity. Trust in God. It is His intent that you are a key part of the one body. Don’t let the loneliness and despair overcome you. God has something for you. Trust Him!

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A catholic Church

I am constantly amazed at how we let little things divide us. Rather than coming together over our commonalities, we instead find reason to exclude and push away because of our differences. The most common dividers seem to be race, gender, money, and religion. Unfortunately, we allow these differences to carry over into our churches. This is against Scripture.
When I read the Old Testament, I gain a sense of God’s people being used to reach others, to be a blessing to the people around them who would embrace God and worship Him. We see God including foreigners into the line of Messiah. How else do you explain a prostitute from Jericho (Rahab) or a Moabitess who had lost everything, including her husband (Ruth) as ancestors to King David and therefore to Jesus? Also, there are passages in the Torah (Deuteronomy) about accepting the alien/sojourner and treating him or her well. Fast forward to the New Testament and we see Jesus ministering to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. If that’s not enough, we have powerful words like the following:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith,one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  – Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV
The idea Paul was writing about was a catholic Church. I use the lowercase to differentiate from the denomination we call Catholicism. I mean the universal Church underneath Jesus Christ, the one body Paul wrote of in his letter to the Ephesians. In this passage of three verses there are two important words repeated: one and all. That repetition is intentional. Paul was drawing attention to this idea of unity. Our catholic Church is centered in Jesus Christ. Our faith is placed in Him. We were baptized to identify with Him. He came from the Father. And we are all to tie back through these core beliefs.
We all know that a lot of what goes on in churches today does not follow this idea of unity. There are agendas. People play politics. Power struggles happen too often between deacons and pastors. Business meetings can devolve into contentious affairs. The ideal of one body being led by one Spirit isn’t seen. This has given quite a few people an easy excuse as to why they choose to avoid any and every body of Christ.
The reality is that the folks who act contrary to a catholic Church under Jesus Christ will have to answer for their behavior. If we are among those people, we will have to stand before the Great White Throne and give an accounting for our resistance to what God expected of us. How far better would it be for us to be congratulated by God for trying to live the vision of one body and one Spirit believing in the one hope that we have in Jesus Christ! And we can!
When you were called by God to be part of His family, He gave you the ability to be part of the one body. It wasn’t up to you. It was His task, His responsibility, and He does not fail. Part of seeing that through is giving you Someone who could help you move past your barriers and limits. You see, He gave each of us the one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to guide us. You were designed to be part of a unified body whose headship is Jesus Christ. We’re not talking extended family, but close family, immediate family. This is how God designed you. This is how the Spirit wants to lead you. There’s an important part for you to play within the family that He has established.
This all comes back to where your vision is. Is your vision on those who choose not to participate as members of the one body? Are you letting them discourage you or cause you to believe that you’ll never be part of the family? Or is your vision on what God has set aside for you to do as part of His family? I hope it’s the latter. After all, this is the life God would have you live. This is the calling for every Christian. Let us answer that call. Let us please Him because we love Him. Let us enter into His joy as part of His family.


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Brokenness is Necessary

Do you like being wrong? Do you enjoy knowing you made a mistake? Do you live for disappointing someone you love and cherish? Most of us would answer all three questions with a simple, “No.” Spiritual brokenness means coming to the realization that we’ve done all three. It’s heart rending. We don’t just come to an intellectual understanding that we’ve sinned. We actually hurt over it. Maybe we don’t ache physically, though that’s possible, but we do feel pain emotionally and mentally. We are more than just uncomfortable. We want to reverse the situation, to no longer feel the trauma that is affecting us. 

So why do I say brokenness is necessary? Brokenness is a starting step for true repentance. Without brokenness, there is no turning away from sin. There is no chance at revival. There is no ability to restore our estranged relationship with Jesus. 

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.  – 2 Kings 22:11, ESV


The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  – Jonah 3:6, ESV

Two separate examples from Scripture show us how people react when they are confronted and understand the depth of their sin. In the first case, Josiah heard the Law read after it was rediscovered in the Temple. Upon hearing the truth and realizing just how sinful he and the rest of the kingdom was, he reacted in sorrow and anguish. In the second case, the king of Assyria heard the message from God preached by Jonah. The king realized just how wicked he and the rest of his kingdom was (see a theme?), and he threw off his royal robes, covered himself in harsh sackcloth, and sat down in ashes – a symbol of pain and suffering. 

Then, out of both of these suffering situations came repentance. And then came forgiveness. In Josiah’s case, the kingdom experienced revival. In the Assyrians’ case, that kingdom experienced revival. Those who did not know God came to worship Him and love Him. Those who did know Him found themselves back in fellowship with the King of kings. Relationships were established and/or restored. God moved among His people, whether Jew or Gentile. It all started with their brokenness.

If you’re praying for revival, pray also for brokenness. Pray that brokenness starts within the Church, with the saints. Pray that God reveals to us the depth of our sin, and allows us a glimpse of how He views that sin. While brokenness may be painful, it is necessary. We must undergo it if we are ever to see revival. We must endure that well-deserved suffering if we want to see God move in a mghty way again.

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