The Greatest Rescue Mission

On June 23, 2018, twelve young soccer players and their coach set out on what they thought would be an exciting adventure. The group entered into the Thom Luang Cave in Thailand, unaware that the heavy rains outside the cave would soon have them trapped in darkness. It wasn’t long before the boys and their coach realized they were stranded, with no way to save themselves. They needed someone to rescue them.

The world rallied around the efforts to save the lives of the team and their coach. Devising a plan, experienced divers courageously entered the cave. After 18 days, each boy was rescued from the darkness and reunited with his family. The boys were overwhelmed. One boy stated he was so happy, he was moved to tears. The rescue was significant. The news spread all over the world, and people everywhere rejoiced with the boys and their families. A situation that seemed hopeless was now one of the greatest rescue stories of our time—one that will be remembered for generations to come. 

When the Israelites came to the Red Sea, the situation looked hopeless. With over 600,000 people trying to escape, an army of Egyptians seeking their lives, and a body of water in their way, the Israelites were in desperate need of rescue. As Moses lifted his staff over the sea, the Lord parted the waters and the Israelites walked through on dry ground. The Israelites had been rescued from the hand of the Egyptians and were no longer in slavery; they had been set free! They witnessed the might and power of God in a way they had never experienced before. They were overwhelmed that God had delivered them. As Moses shared with his father-in-law, Jethro, Jethro rejoiced when he heard, “…all the good that the LORD had done and that he had delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians.” Jethro was so moved by this that he brought a burnt offering and sacrifice to God. Moses told the people, “This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand (Ex. 13:3, NLT).” This historical rescue is still celebrated by the Jewish population to this day.

Yet we have experienced the greatest and most significant rescue of all time. Colossians 1:13 says, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (ESV).” Christ’s blood released us from bondage. With His blood he purchased us out of the slave market of sin. Colossians 2:14 says, “…canceling the record of debt that stood against us  with its legal demands. This He set aside nailing it to the cross (emphasis added, ESV).” We have been released from the grip of sin. The power of the cross turns arrogance, greed, lust, jealousy, sexual immorality, materialism, gossip, and deceit into kindness, compassion, humility, patience, and forgiveness. 

When the 12 boys and their coach, stranded in a cave, were brought out of darkness, they were moved to tears, understanding the significance of their rescue. When the Israelites were brought out of Egypt, their thankful hearts poured out praise and they could not keep quiet, having been delivered from 430 years of slavery in Egypt. 

What about you? What is your response having received the most significant rescue of all time? Who have you told? What have you sacrificed? How is your life different having been rescued from eternal darkness?

May our lives be lived in full surrender to the One who gave His very life for our deliverance. May our time, treasure, and talents be used in a way that reflects a heart of thankfulness for the greatest Rescuer of all—Jesus Christ. 

Taking Your Faith to New Heights

IMG_8597I recently visited the Royal Gorge in Colorado, where my sister, Sarah, pleaded with me to go with her on the Skycoaster attraction. The Skycoaster is a giant swing that launches you 1,200 feet in the air, face down, over the river gorge. I was intrigued by the thought of it but had no intention of signing up for it! “I can’t Sarah, I really can’t.” She insisted I could and her bribes and pep talks really put the pressure on. I kept telling her I was not going to do it, but she refused to get out of line. I on the other hand, was never in line in the first place! Watching others go made me so scared, I could hardly breathe! “It would be so much more fun if we did it together,” she said. She wanted to do it so badly and this was not an adventure I wanted to leave her to do on her own. So slowly and with much hesitation, I found my place in line.

I began to relax a bit more knowing the decision had been made. We signed, we paid, and we put on the gear. As the time got closer, Sarah did everything she could to reassure me it would be ok and that it would be “so worth it.” I thought I would try and prepare her beforehand for my reaction so I told her, “If I’m really quiet, everything’s fine, I’m just focusing.” The moment finally came. The workers fastened our clips and we were on our way up. My reaction was the exact opposite of what I anticipated. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut the entire time—asking the people below to pray, asking myself why I would ever make this decision, asking when it was over, and vowing this would be the last adventurous thing I’d ever do. As I soared over the canyon, I realized all my complaining was keeping me from enjoying this experience that I wanted to share with my sister. So instead of keeping one eye closed and clinging to Sarah with both hands, I opened my eyes and clung to her with only one hand instead. The initial fear and doubt was crippling, but had I stayed on the ground I would have missed out on an amazing experience and observing God’s creation and power in a very…unique…kind of way. 

If you’re like me, you may have had a similar experience when it comes to your relationship with the Lord. Maybe you’ve sensed the Lord asking you to do something, but you are certain you can’t.  It’s too much, it’s too overwhelming, and you’re sure you’re just not cut out for it…and then His still, small voice whispers, “You can.” His promises begin pushing back your fears, His presence brings a sense of peace, and His faithfulness assures you that you’re not on your own.

Moses was well-acquainted with this kind of experience when the Lord said to him, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt (Ex. 3:10).” For Moses, this may have seemed more like a death sentence than a significant opportunity. Years prior, Moses’ anger led him to murder an Egyptian and the previous Pharaoh sought to kill him. Now the Lord was giving him a task that he was certain was not for him. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt (Ex. 3:11)?” Despite Moses feeling unworthy before the Lord, the Lord assures him, “I will be with you…(v. 12)” Not only did Moses feel unworthy, he also felt unequipped for such a task. The following paraphrase reflects Moses’ fear and doubt and how the Lord continually provided for Moses despite it. 

“What if they don’t believe me?”
“I will give you signs.”

“But I’m not an eloquent speaker.”
“I will give you the words to speak.”

“Oh, Lord, please send someone else.”
“I will send Aaron to help you.” 

Leading the people out of slavery in Egypt was no small task, but it was a task that allowed Moses to witness the power of God, a task that allowed him to feel the steadfast love of God, a task that drove him to reliance upon God, and a task that allowed him to experience the faithfulness of God. Sometimes the very things we fear are the things that bring the most freedom, the things that allow us to know God in the most intimate way. 

What task is God calling you to? Maybe you feel like you do not deserve such a responsibility from the Lord, maybe you feel like you lack the qualifications, maybe you feel like there’s a number of other people who could do it better than you. Maybe that’s right where God wants you. Maybe you’re in a prime position to experience Christ like never before. Go with Him, despite your fear, and know that He will equip you along the way. It will be “so worth it.”

When God Falls Short of Our Expectations

Every morning we wake up, we wake up with expectations. We envision the future events of the day based on the way we believe things should operate. If our expectations are exceeded, we are happy; if our expectations are met, we are satisfied; and if our expectations have fallen short, we may be frustrated or discouraged. 

As a coach, there are certain expectations I have of my players. I expect them to give their best effort whenever they’re on the floor. I expect them to implement things we’ve worked on in practice. I expect them to respect the officials, no matter the type of call that is made. I hold them to a specific standard, but when these expectations are not met it stirs up frustration, disappointment and discouragement. When my team exceeds the expectations that I set for them, I’m excited and proud of the way they’ve performed and progressed. My response is based on whether or not they’ve met the expectations I’ve laid out for them.

We may have similar expectations when it comes to our job. We expect our boss to hire and fire based on our production, our work ethic, and our character. And if we work hard, put in a few extra hours, and do what the boss tells us to do, we expect that soon enough we will be promoted, make more money, or be given greater opportunities. 

Unfortunately, we may be guilty of viewing our spiritual lives through the same lens. For example, we may think if we live a sexually pure life, God will give us a spouse. If we take our children to church, they will grow up to be godly. If we give to the weekly offering, God will give us a bigger bank account. If we just obey God and follow His commands, He will give us what we want. But this is not the way God intended our spiritual lives to operate. 

Because expectations are always rooted in beliefs, the expectations we have of God are ultimately formed based on our understanding of who He is. If we view God as the boss who is suppose to reward the work we put in, or the genie in a bottle who is suppose to give us the things we want, we will always struggle with broken expectations, thinking that God owes us something more.

If you’re honest, maybe you can identify a moment in your life when broken expectations left you feeling angry or bitter towards God, another person, or a particular situation. If that is the case, you’re not alone! Luke 15:11-30 tells the story of two brothers. The younger brother takes his father’s inheritance, runs off to a far away country, and wastes all his wealth on reckless, wild living. The older brother, however, stays home and dutifully serves his father day after day. When the younger brother comes to his senses, realizing his poor choices, he returns home and the father welcomes him with great joy. But it is the response of the elder brother that teaches us an important lesson on expectations. 

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in (v. 25).”

Why was the older brother angry? Because the younger brother was receiving from the father what the older brother felt he deserved. 

“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him (vv.29-30)!” The heart of the older brother is revealed as he responds to his father. The older brother took pride in his righteous living and was so focused on what he thought he deserved that he missed what had already been given to him. 

The father responds saying, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours (Luke 15:31).” The older brother failed to see that what the father had already given him was much greater than what he thought his father “owed.”

Let’s not be “older brother Christians” and fall into the same trap.  Let’s not miss the significant inheritance we have been given because we are living with unbiblical expectations of our Father. The moment we begin to think we deserve something from God is the moment we have lost sight of our sin and the grace by which He saved us. The gospel is not based on earning anything from God. It is based solely on what He has already done for us. We deserve nothing, yet he has given us everything. If we are in Christ, we have been forgiven, redeemed, and lavished in His grace. We have been adopted into His family, given a purpose and calling, and been given an inheritance far beyond what we can imagine (Eph. 1:3-14). So next time you are tempted to think that God owes you, don’t forget what He has already given you—Himself—and He alone is more than enough.

A Heart of Sincerity

When is the last time you used the word “sincerely” when concluding a note or a letter? Being that it is a familiar valediction, chances are you probably didn’t think twice about it’s meaning. This closing, however, is designed to ensure the reader that the message is authentic and written with pure intentions. 

The word “sincere” is derived from the Latin word “sincerus”, meaning, “without wax.” Ancient historians have noted the way sculptors would apply wax to hide any flaws in their work. Think of it in the same way that wax is used to minimize the exposure of scratches on a vehicle. The wax not only enhances the appearance by providing a glossy finish, but it also helps protect the vehicle from further defects that could taint its surface.

Sometimes, I wonder if living a Christian life has become for many, a spiritual waxing. I wonder if we, as Christians, use our actions in the same way a sculptor uses wax to hide what is, in reality, tainted. I wonder if the manner in which we live our lives is like a gloss to cover up the defects that lie beneath the surface. While the use of wax may aid in the outside appearance looking more appealing, Jesus is concerned with what can be found on the inside. The truth is, Jesus died so that those defects, those impurities, those flaws could be forgiven and removed, not hidden (Isaiah 43:25). Christ is concerned with our sincerity of heart—what our heart looks like without the spiritual waxing. 

In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus addresses the Jewish crowd in regards to financial giving, prayer, and fasting. In each of these settings, He gives a careful warning regarding the motive behind these acts of worship. He warns the Jewish believers not to be like the Pharisees who do these things in order to be seen because righteousness is not a matter of seeking approval, praise, and admiration from others; righteousness is a matter of the heart. The Greek word for “seen” throughout this passage is the word “phaino” which means “to shine” or “to become evident.” The Pharisees’ actions were motivated by a heart pursuing recognition from the surrounding community. It wasn’t that they wanted Jesus to shine, they wanted themselves to shine. They wanted their religion to shine. They sought the admiration of others based on the length and eloquence of their prayers.They longed for people’s praise as they stood on crowded street corners where others could watch as they gave to the poor. They neglected their appearance when fasting so that others might feel pity for their act of “honorable sacrifice.” The Pharisees were class-act sculptors. They were professionals when it came to applying a glossy finish. 

Jesus’ instructions, however, were quite contrary to the manner in which the religious leaders acted. He instructed the Jewish believers to do these things in such a manner that no one would notice. He desires worship from a heart motivated by His example of humility and loving sacrifice and actions which stem from a sincere and intimate relationship with Him. He repeatedly reminds the Jewish listeners that while their acts of worship may not be noticed by others, they will most assuredly be seen and rewarded by God. 

Jesus is an Artist of another kind. His desire is to not just patch up the areas of our hearts that are ruled by pride; His desire is to completely transform those areas so that they reflect the Creator. So let’s remove the wax and allow the truth of the Gospel to reveal what’s in our hearts. May God’s Word transform the defective places into places that shine Christ from the inside out. When the approval and praise of others vanishes from our pursuits and we chase the heart of God with sincerity, it is then I believe we will hear from the purest of lips, the affirmation for which we truly long, “Well done, my good and faithful servant (Matt.25:21).”

From Fickle to Fearless

How would you describe your faith? Peter, the well-known disciple of Christ, was convinced he was a man of great faith. Though the Lord foretold of his denial, Peter assured Christ he would not fall away but that he would follow Jesus to imprisonment or even death (Matt 26:35). Talk about committment! Could you say the same? Though Peter portrayed great confidence in his faith, there was just one problem.

Peter was deceived by his own heart. He thought his faith was stronger than it was. In reality, when he was confronted by those who associated him with Christ, he was not at a place of even acknowledging that he knew Jesus. Perhaps he was fearful. After all, he had watched from a distance as Jesus went before Caiaphas, the high priest, and was beaten and mocked. Likely he was fearful of experiencing the same harsh treatment that Jesus had experienced. Furthermore, maybe he was not prepared for his faith to cause him any inconvenience or disturb the peace.

  If we’re honest, most of us can probably identify with Peter. I mean, let’s not forget, he did get out of the boat, and he did proclaim his love for the Lord, both of which showed his faith; but when his faith was really stretched, he became crippled by fear. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you were convinced your faith was strong but when really tested, fear crept in. Perhaps you began to doubt God’s promises or even question whether his plans for you were really good. You may have even wondered if He truly is who He claims to be.

I think Peter would be able to relate to all those feelings. Having spent much time with Christ, witnessing His miracles, hearing His teachings, watching His interactions, Peter was well acquainted with Jesus. Scripture tells us that upon denying Jesus a third time, Peter went out and wept bitterly. Perhaps in that moment Peter is frustrated by his lack of faith, by his refusal to identify with Jesus in His most difficult moments, and realized how deceived he was by his own heart. Maybe he felt like a failure. Jesus was on His way to the cross and after all Christ had invested in him, Peter may have felt like he had blown it. At this point, although Jesus had previously spoken about His resurrection, maybe Peter grew discouraged thinking this was the end.

While Peter may have felt like a disappointment or a failure, God had other plans for him. Peter was on his way to becoming one of the most bold followers of Christ to date and this was just the beginning. In order for that to happen, Christ not only revealed Peter’s heart, he revealed Himself. In Peter’s discouragement, Christ showed up, quite literally. While Peter had professed Jesus as Lord on multiple occasions, Jesus appeared to Peter after his resurrection and confirmed that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. With that hope and that confidence, Peter’s faith was strengthened.

Given the charge by God to make disciples of all nations, Peter seized every opportunity to make Christ known. While at one time he watched from a distance as Jesus stood before the high priest, accused of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God, now he stood before those same men proclaiming this same truth—proclaiming the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and exclaiming “there is salvation in no one else, for these is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The entire Jewish council recognized the boldness of Peter (Acts 4:13) and wondered how they could stop him from preaching. After being threatened and charged not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, Peter explained that he could not help but “speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Peter had become a changed man. Not only did Peter proclaim Christ despite being opposed by the very ones responsible for Christ’s death, but he, together with the other apostles and believers, prayed earnestly. They prayed not for deliverance, not for God to remove the opposition, but rather for boldness to continue speaking the Word of God in the face of opposition (Acts 4:23-31). What a profound and convicting prayer! 

What is our prayer like when we face hardship and opposition? Do we pray that God will remove the trial? Do we ask him for safety? Do we ask him to make things easier or more comfortable for us? Or do we grab hold of His promises and ask Him for the strength and the boldness to confidently persevere despite the trial we’re facing?

Peter’s faith was no longer hindered by fear. In his moments of doubt, in his moments of failure, God was at work. He was in the process of refining Peter—of showing him his weakness while helping him come to a greater understanding of his calling in Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, God took him from being a man of fickle faith to a man of fearless faith. He was not Peter, the disappointment; he was not Peter, the failure; he was not Peter, the denier, though he may have been tempted to allow those experiences to define him. He was who Christ said he was: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

  God’s purposes for us are so much bigger than our failures or disappointments. When Peter realized the weakness of his faith and relied on the Spirit of God to strengthen his weakness with boldness, he not only underwent a heart transformation, but a faith transformation. He went from being scared to suffer for Christ’s sake to having courage to share in the sufferings of Christ and encouraging others to do the same (I Peter 4:12-19). When our prayers become those for perseverance, those for boldness, those which proclaim the hope and confidence we have in Christ, then, by the power of God, may we become not just a follower of Christ, but a force to be reckoned with. 

Paving the Way

As I recall my first—and only—mountain biking experience, a vivid picture is engraved in my mind. A group of high school students mounted our bikes and the guide provided a few safety tips to prepare us for the experience ahead. While I could appreciate his efforts, no safety tip could have prepared us for the foundation we were about to tread. Rocks and loose gravel disguised in a bed of covered leaves, pockets full of mud, and unexpected tree stumps protruding from the ground caused me to quickly realize I much prefer paved trails as opposed to rugged terrain that could potentially send me flying over the side of a mountain. As we completed the trail, some with bruised and bloodied knees, I questioned the logic of this whole experience knowing a little pavement would have made for a much smoother, more enjoyable ride. I remembered this lesson when I purchased a bike not long ago. Excited to ride on the surrounding trails, I quickly made note of only the ones described as paved! Based on my previous experience, I learned it was important to ride on a foundation I could trust.

In ancient times, the idea of paving the way was a common one. A king’s delegates would go before him to prepare the people of the land to welcome the king. Sometimes this required the forerunners to quite literally clear the roads on which the king would travel to ensure a smooth journey. Throughout the gospels, John the Baptist is described as a forerunner, the one who would, “…make ready for the Lord a people prepared (Luke 1:17).” But John didn’t start by pouring concrete and creating smooth trails. He started by preaching a baptism of repentance. At this point, Jesus’ earthly ministry had not yet begun, but soon enough people would see and hear of his miraculous power and would ultimately know this King was not coming to rule and reign a nation, but to rule and reign in the hearts of repentant sinners. Jesus came not to rescue the people from the brutality of the Roman government but to rescue them from a much deeper issue—the cruelty and depravity of the human heart. John knew if the people were going to welcome the Messiah, they first had to acknowledge their sin and turn from their ways. John baptized those whose conduct was reflective of a transformed heart and a changed mind (Luke 1:7-8). This outward act was an external sign of an inward change, a heart acknowledging the need for forgiveness.

A week from today, churches across the country will fill their seats and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Some will, for the first time, hear of Christ—the Messiah—the One who came to deliver them from their sins and rule and reign in their hearts. They will hear of a King who came to die and be raised to life. The question is, will they be ready? Will they be ready to receive the ministry of Christ Jesus in their lives? To know the freedom of the cross, the eternal hope, the abundant grace, and the overwhelming joy of belonging to the King. And how have our lives prepared others to welcome Christ into theirs? Have they seen a genuine repentance? Have they seen a transformed heart? Is the ministry of Christ evident in our own lives?

Jesus laid for us a firm foundation, a foundation that can be trusted, one on which we can set our hope. His death on the cross paved the way, bridging the gap between the perfect King and sinful humanity. May our relationship with Christ reflect His greatness and prepare the way for others who are still searching and waiting to receive the King.

A Different Kind of Love

Within the human heart lies a familiar love, a love that naturally extends to those who value us, who hold us in high regard, those who treat us with dignity and respect and whose affections envelop us in such a way that we tangibly feel some form of significance. It is with great comfort and ease that we return the same kind of treatment because more often than not, the love we receive determines the love we give.

As part of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives His listeners a seemingly simple command…to love. But the words that follow are what distinguish a familiar love from a love that feels almost foreign; a love that is natural versus a love that is unnatural; a love that is easily extended compared to a love that is downright difficult.

Jesus does not finish the statement by urging His listeners to love those who treat them kindly or those who can benefit them in some way; He does not encourage them to love those with position, wealth, status, or power. The words Jesus spoke were as counter-cultural then as they are today. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45).’” Two statements that stand at odds with one another. In other words, He reminds His audience that what is familiar love from a worldy perspective, stands in stark contrast to the kind of love Christ desires His followers to show. Anyone can easily love those who love them. But Jesus commands His disciples to love those who oppose them, those who mistreat them, and those who are actively hostile towards them. This is hard love. This is a love that keeps no record of wrongs, a love that demands sacrifice, a love that comes with a cost. This is the kind of love perfectly exemplified in the person and work of Christ.

There was Jesus…falsely accused, beaten, spit upon, mocked and betrayed. And as He hung on that torturous cross, out of his mouth He pleads with the Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:24).” The heart of God’s grace and forgiveness was reflected in prayer while He demonstrated the greatest sacrifice and act of love the world has ever known. The very ones who plotted evil against Him, the ones who placed the crown of thorns upon His head, the ones who drove the nails into His hands, these were the very ones for whom He died.

But these men were not the only enemies of Jesus. Romans 3 points to the fact that each one of us carries the same unrighteousness in our own heart. To be an enemy means to be an opponent of or to stand against. Apart from Christ, we were once enemies of the cross, opposed to the laws of God and living for ourselves. But even in our hostility to the things of God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus’ sacrificial love was not based on how it would be received. It was not contingent on how many times we would sin against Him. His love was in no way conditional. It was based on the fact that even when we were enemies of Christ, He valued us and desired to pursue us in such a way that we would not longer be called His enemies, but His friends (John 15:12-15).

So why would Jesus instruct His followers to love their enemies? Christ desires to produce in us a love that is mature and complete, a love that lacks nothing and is void of deficiencies, a love that reflects the very character and nature of God. But this is not something we can accomplish by simply gritting our teeth and mustering up as much will power as we can find. As well-intentioned as that may be, the truth is we cannot accomplish what is unnatural without that which is supernatural. We are in desperate need of an inward transformation if we hope to express Christ-like love as an outward demonstration. We need the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us, if His love is going to flow out of us.

God does not call the Christian to hard love out of spite. Hard love gives us an opportunity to, in a small way, identify with Christ. When hard love costs us our pride, when hard love demands we tear down the wall we thought kept us safe from the enemy’s attack, when hard love causes us to sacrifice our place of comfortably and trade it for vulnerability, let us consider the sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus, and the price He paid in order that we may no longer live as enemies of the cross, but as friends of God.