Keep Going

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
(Luke 23:55-56)
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.
(Luke 24:1)

The gap that separates chapter 23 and chapter 24 of Luke speaks volumes to me.  It speaks of a steadfast faith amidst seemingly hopeless circumstances.  On the day of preparation, the women who followed Jesus–who loved Jesus–who trusted Jesus to be the One who would save them–watched Jesus die an excruciating death on the cross.  I won’t even try to speculate the anguish that must have been overwhelming them at the sight of the man they loved and believed to be God’s anointed one dying on a cross alongside common criminals.

Yet they kept going.

They didn’t stay and stare at the empty cross and mourn the loss of the one they loved. They followed Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb to see where Jesus was laid.

Yet they didn’t stay at the tomb. They didn’t sit outside the tomb and wonder why they were alive outside and their beloved Savior was lifeless on the other side.

They kept going.

They returned home and prepared the spices and ointments needed to anoint their savior’s lifeless body.  They chose to honor the one they loved by giving Him the traditional burial He deserved.

Yet here is the amazing part.  After they watched Jesus die.  After they followed Joseph to the tomb.  After they went home to prepare the spices…

They rested according to the commandment.

Wow.  Even in the midst of turmoil.  Even when faced with a lifelong dream being shattered before their eyes, they obeyed. They kept serving.  The women continued to worship God according to the commandment as they were walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  Even though it appeared God had failed them; they obeyed Him still.

They honored the Sabbath.

Then, after resting for a full day and trusting God was still God even when they could not understand His plan…

They kept going.

They went back to the tomb to honor Jesus with a proper burial anointing.  They continued to serve.

And of course we know what they found:  the empty tomb.  Because JESUS IS ALIVE!

I repeat: Jesus is alive!

So I ask you today.  What does your life look like right now?  Is everything falling into place?  Are your dreams coming true?  Is your Savior making His presence known to you in amazing ways? Then praise Jesus!  Keep going. Keep believing. Keep obeying and serving your Savior. Keep thanking Him for all the great things He has done.

Or is your life falling apart?   You lost the job of your dreams.  You lost the love of your life.  You are sick, tired, confused, and wondering what happened. Then I encourage you, my friend….

Keep going!

Keep doing what you know God has called you to do.  Follow Him. Serve Him.  Obey Him.  Rest in Him.  Trust in Him that one day as you are walking the road of obedience, you will walk to the tomb and find it empty.  You won’t find a dead man buried in a tomb.  You will find a living God who never has and never will leave you alone.

God’s got a plan for your life, my friend.  Even though you may not understand it at this moment, you can trust it.  You can trust Him.

Life’s Path
Author Unknown
Who you will love and where you will go, it is all predetermined for you not to know.
God has a plan and at times it will seem on a course of its own and opposed to your dreams.
Have faith in the path and the purpose it holds and when it is painful just know it unfolds.
God has a plan, in the end you will see. It all comes together; it was all meant to be.

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That Your Faith May Not Fail

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
(Luke 22:31-32)

As I read the above passage this morning, I noticed something important within Jesus’ warning to Peter.   Jesus didn’t pray that Simon Peter would not sin.  He didn’t say, “Simon, I have prayed for you that you will make the right choice.”  He didn’t say, “Simon, I have prayed for you that you will not deny me three times before the rooster crows.” No.  Instead He said, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

Jesus did not pray against Peter’s failure; He prayed for Peter’s faith.

What’s the difference? The focus.  To pray against the failure would have placed the focus on Peter’s sin. It would have placed the onus on Peter to make the right choice.  And of course, if you read further, you’ll see Peter did not choose wisely; he chose to deny Jesus.  You will also see that at the realization of his denial, Peter wept bitterly.  The guilt was excruciating for Peter; after all, he himself had just arrogantly proclaimed he would never deny Jesus.

Yet I believe it is the knowledge of the guilt Peter would endure which led Jesus to pray for Peter’s faith.   Jesus knew Peter would fail.  He knew Peter would mess up and deny him three times.  Jesus wasn’t warning Peter not to sin (although I’m sure He hoped Peter wouldn’t); He was warning Peter not to give up.  Jesus knew Peter would be crushed at the thought of betraying Jesus.  He also knew to pray for Peter’s perfection was futile, but to pray for Peter’s faith was vital.   For “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Peter’s perfection was not the key to victory;  Peter’s faith was.

Imagine if Peter had given up?  Imagine if Peter had felt so guilty and ashamed he thought himself useless for God’s kingdom?  Imagine if Peter had kept silent from shame instead of speaking up to strengthen his brothers?  Imagine the Pentecost without Peter’s sermon–a sermon God used to draw about 3000 people to Himself? (see Acts 2) Imagine the early church without outspoken Peter?  Jesus did.  Therefore Jesus prayed.  He prayed that when Peter failed, Peter’s faith wouldn’t.

And in doing so, Jesus effectively took the spotlight off of Peter’s inadequacy and placed it on His all-sufficiency.

Peter’s ability to make good choices didn’t save him; his faith did. Peter’s ability to strengthen his brothers didn’t come from his own righteousness; it came from his faith in Jesus’ righteousness.

We all mess up.  We all fail.  If people could be perfect, then we wouldn’t need Jesus. Yet how many times have we found ourselves with the wrong focus?  We look at ourselves and think things like, “Boy, did I screw up this time”; or “If I really knew Jesus, I wouldn’t do what I just did.” Or more often than we care to admit, we look at someone else and think, “How could she do such a horrible thing and call herself a Christian?”  Yet by thinking such things, we are focusing on the wrong thing.  Yes, sin is wrong.  Yes, Jesus calls us to seek Him and His righteousness. Yes, we will be held accountable. But by focusing on our failures, we are attaching guilt and shame to the already ugly truth of sin.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we could be perfect; He died on the cross because He was perfect.  He came to seek and save the lost.  His focus was on saving the sinner from the penalty of sin.

It’s not our failures and the failures of others we should focus on;  it is faith–faith in Jesus.  It is by grace we have been saved, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Whether or not I make the right choices all the time does not affect my eternal destination.  Being bad doesn’t send me to hell; being good doesn’t get me into heaven.  My faith in Jesus–in His death, burial, and resurrection–is what affects my eternity.

It is what affects yours.

No one is perfect.  No one (Romans 3:10). So we must stop expecting ourselves and others to be perfect.  Instead, we should pray as Jesus did–pray that our faith will not fail–that when we turn back to God, God will in turn use us to strengthen other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Therefore, let me encourage you this evening in this:  Have you messed up?  Did you say something you shouldn’t have said?  Did you do something you shouldn’t have done?  Or maybe you were silent when you should have spoken?

Don’t lose faith!

Learn.  Grow. Seek.  Trust.  Don’t turn away; turn to.  Jesus’ death on the cross was more than enough to cover your sins.  Jesus did not die to make you perfect; He died to cover your imperfections with His robe of righteousness.

Or maybe you are on the receiving end of sin tonight.  Maybe someone hurt you in ways you never expected.  I encourage you in the same way:  don’t lose faith!  Don’t lose faith in God’s ability to draw that person back to Himself.  Instead of wondering why or how events took place, pray.  Pray that you will not lose faith in God’s goodness; pray the one who hurt you will not lose faith in God’s sufficiency–that the one who hurt you will turn back to God so God can in turn use them to strengthen others.

Pray.  Seek.  Surrender.  And don’t lose faith.  The God who called you has also saved you.  He will never let you go.  So don’t let go of Him.

 “…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
(Hebrews 10:22-23)

 

Peace Like A River

For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream… (Isaiah 66:12)

Peace. To the one in the midst of battle, peace is the cessation of fighting. To the one surrounded by screaming children, peace is bedtime. To the one in a difficult relationship, peace is the restoration of harmony.

Yet, while the above instances represent a physical sense of peace affected by physical circumstances, God has been speaking a deeper aspect of peace into my life:  His peace. Unlike physical peace, however, the peace of God is purposeful, active, and unaffected by circumstances.

God’s peace is fluid.

In other words, peace in the heart of the Christ follower is not the absence of struggles; it is the existence of God’s Presence flowing through the struggles.

Look at the above passage.  God promises to extend peace like a river.  According to Dictionary.com, a river is “a natural stream of water of fairly large size flowing in a definite course or channel or series of diverging and converging channels.”  A river is large, purposeful, and flowing. A river is not stagnant.  It is not small.  A river moves–and it moves with purpose.

So when God promises peace like a river, He isn’t promising a stagnant quiet dependent upon circumstances; He is promising a purposeful peace flowing through circumstances.  Peace does not mean there are no rocks in your path.  Peace doesn’t mean there are no downed trees reaching over the banks of your life.  Peace means God’s presence flows like a river over, under, around, and through the struggles in your life.

There is a well-known illustration involving rocks, gravel, sand, and water.  The speaker places large rocks in a jar and asks if it is full.  He then adds gravel, then sand, then finally water to make the point that in life we need to make room for the big, important things in life first (like family) before adding the smaller, less important things. (Read more about it here.)  And although that is indeed an important life lesson, God brought that particular illustration to mind this morning for another reason: the types of materials.  God didn’t promise peace like a rock; rocks, after all, are too firm, too large, and too awkward to fit in every place (although they are great for building upon…see Matthew 7:24-29).  God didn’t promise peace like gravel or sand; yes, gravel and sand can fit in many places, but there will always be a little room left over, because gravel and sand are just smaller versions of stone (yet grains of sand are difficult to count and great in number, which describes perfectly God’s thoughts about you…see Psalm 139:17-18).  Rather, God promised peace like a river.   And what is a river comprised of? Water.  What is especially unique about water?  Water is liquid; therefore, water is fluid.  As fluid, water is capable of filling every crack, every crevice, every corner, every hard to reach place.  As fluid, water not only conforms to the shape of its surroundings, but it also has the ability to fill and even overflow its surroundings.

So if we have peace like a river, we have peace flowing and filling every area of our lives. No matter what shape we find our surroundings, God’s peace can fill it. There is no room for worry, for fear, for shame, or for doubt when God’s peace is flowing like a river in our lives. In fact, when He fills us with His peace, He actually fills us to overflowing (Psalm 23:5).

 God’s peace is purposeful, powerful, and it moves.

Yet we as Christ followers must choose it.

How do we choose peace?   How do we choose peace in such turbulent times?  Let me share with you what God has taught me in recent months–months full of uncertainty, unexpected events, and lots of change.

Keep your eyes on God – When Peter took His eyes off Jesus, he became distracted by the waves and began to sink.  It is by keeping your eyes on Jesus that you will be able to walk through the storms victoriously. (See Matthew 14:22-32)  It is by holding on to the God’s promises that you can proceed with peace and hope.

  • “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3)
  • “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)

Spend time in His Presence and His Word.  – Start each day on your knees.   Take time each day to read and meditate on God’s Word.   His Word is where you will find the promises on which you can stand.  Also, the more time you spend with Him, the more you will become like Him.  You will find His peace in His presence-

  • “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
  • I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

Pray  –  Talk to God.  Yes, He knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:8), and yes, He knows every word you will speak before you speak it (Psalm 139:4), but talk to Him anyway.  He wants to hear your voice; He wants to hear your heart.  And if it hurts too much to pray, then do what you can– even if all you can do is cry, moan, or sit in silence.  God promises He hears those prayers as well (Romans 8:26-27). And as you pray, release it all to Him.   Leave your requests, your fears, your heartache, and your burdens at His feet; then trust Him to take care of it all–to take care of you. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

  • “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)
  • For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Remember, my friend, peace is not the absence of strife; it is the presence of God flowing through it–through the storms, through the struggles, through the pain.

So seek Him, trust Him, and rest in Him today. He will direct your paths. He will take care of you. He will give you His peace.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13)