You Can’t Get Any More Secure Than This

castle

Years ago someone shared this truth that has often encouraged me:

Anything that comes to believers must first go through Christ.

Why?  Because those who believe in Jesus are “in” Christ.  He is our dwelling place, our refuge, our eternal home.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms… DT 33:27

The uncreated, eternal, sovereign God is our dwelling place.  This means that anything that comes to us must first go through him. He determines the intensity and length of every challenge we face. Nothing takes him by surprise. No affliction can be an ounce heavier than God says. A trial can’t last one second longer than God has determined. God knows exactly what we need and exactly what we can handle by his grace.

The eternal God is our dwelling place. Satan can’t hurt us. He had to ask God for permission every time he afflicted Job and God set strict limits – “You can do this and this, but NO MORE.” And Satan had to obey. He can only do what God allows and God works all he does for our good.

The eternal God is our dwelling place. We may lose everything in this world, yet in the eternal God we are secure. The eternal God becomes our dwelling place now in this life, the moment we believe in Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we die to enter our eternal dwelling place. This is ultimate security, ultimate peace.

Everything in this world is temporary.

Our physical bodies will get weak and frail and eventually succumb to disease or just wear out. We don’t like to think about it, but we’re regularly reminded that we won’t be here forever. Robin William’s tragic suicide reminds us. A truck accident claimed a life this morning in my hometown. I’ve done three or four funerals in recent months. Last week someone sent me a list of my high school graduating class, and a number of my classmates had “deceased” by their names. Gone. Their lives are over. Mine will be too one of these days. I’m so glad the eternal God is my dwelling place.

Underneath are the everlasting arms.

Therefore God will make sure we make it to the end. He will lift us up when we fall. And he will let nothing separate us from his love in Christ Jesus. Even at the end of our lives, even if we lose our minds, memories and consciousness his everlasting arms will uphold us.

My mother had Alzheimer’s the last 7 years of her life. When she was first diagnosed, she said to us, “I don’t ever want to forget Jesus, and I don’t ever want to forget you,” to which I said, “Mom, even if you forget us, we won’t forget you, and I know this – even if you forget Jesus, he will NEVER forget you.”

Have you fallen? Failed? Blown it? Don’t give up.

Underneath are the everlasting arms.  If you ask him, Jesus will restore you and lift you. He is upholding you and will never let you go.

Remember, anything that comes to believers must first go through Christ.  If you are in Christ praise him and thank him for opening your blind eyes and bringing you into this wonderful love and security. Things may look bleak in this world, but you have an eternal dwelling place and everlasting arms beneath you.  

Jesus Never Leaves The Studio

old-school-record-players

I once heard the news anchor Dan Rather share the following story about himself:

Early in his career he worked for a radio station, and one of the shows featured sermons by a particular preacher. The sermons were recorded on vinyl records that Dan Rather would place on a turntable of a record player. He would position the needle at the beginning of the sermon, then leave the studio and drive to a local diner. One day as he was sitting there sipping some coffee the owner of the diner came over and said there’s a phone call for you. When Dan picked up the phone his boss yelled Get back to the studio! Right now! Dan jumped in his car, turned on the radio and to his horror heard: “Go to hell… Go to hell… Go to hell…”. The needle had gotten stuck and it kept repeating till he got back to the studio. I don’t think he ever left the studio again while a record was playing.

This story reminded me that unlike people, who are often unfaithful, Jesus never “leaves the studio.” He never takes his eyes off of us. He never stops interceding for us.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. PS 121:3-4

Jesus never takes his eyes off those he saves. He never leaves us. Even when we doubt his love. Even when we sin and fail him. He never forsakes us. He ever lives to intercede for us. Even when we aren’t thinking about him, he is thinking about us and watching over us. There’s nowhere we can go where Jesus can’t see us and care for us. As the Psalmist says in PS 139:7-12:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

If you are sad or lonely, don’t forget, there is a Friend who is closer than a brother. It may not seem like Jesus is with you but don’t doubt it for a second – he is there. It might feel like he has gone for coffee, but he is there. And nothing – NOTHING – can separate you from his love.

Powerful Promises For The Discouraged

photo

The couple stood in my office, discouraged and downcast.

They were struggling in their relationship. They were new believers, newly married. The woman had a child from a previous relationship. They had very little money. They had conflicts. Communication problems. Very little income. They didn’t know how they were going to make it. They were frustrated at each other and had little hope.

I wonder what they thought when I urged them, “Don’t give up! Don’t quit! Keep seeking Jesus. Keep reading his word and praying and following him. If you do, I guarantee you Jesus will help you and change you. You may not see drastic changes from day to day, but I promise you that 5 years from now you will say to me you can’t believe how much Jesus has changed you.

They looked at me incredulously.

“Here’s why I’m so confident,” I said. Because I believe after talking with you that you are genuinely born again. That means the Spirit of God has come to dwell in you and he’s given you new hearts and new desires to obey God. And he has begun to transform you into the likeness of Jesus.

“Here’s why I’m so confident.  Because in Philippians 1:6 God says: ‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’ Did you hear that? Paul said ‘I am SURE of this.’ What was he so sure of? That if God BEGAN a good work in the Philippians, he would COMPLETE that work.”

I went on. “And what is the ‘good work’ God has begun in you guys? The good work of making you into the likeness of Jesus.” Then I shared Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

“It’s a slow process,” I said, “but God never stops working. He began this good work in you and he won’t quit until you are completely conformed to Jesus’ image. Every day, little by little, he chips away here, adds something there, presses in here, squeezes a little there, and gradually we become more and more like Jesus. He won’t finish the work completely until he returns and we get our new resurrection bodies. But in the meantime, if you walk with Jesus, God will make you more and more like him.”

“So if you come back and see me in 5 years, you will say to me, ‘Mark, you won’t believe how much God has changed us. Our marriage is so much stronger today than when we came to see you 5 years ago.'”

I saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes. And after we prayed, they left my office, a little less discouraged.

They kept coming to our church. They kept pursuing Jesus.  And I got to watch God transform them. I saw God keep his promises to make them more and more like Christ. And 5 years after that initial meeting, they had a couple more children and a much stronger marriage and were still changing. Well, it’s been about 25 years now since our meeting. They had more children, moved to a different state, but continued serving Jesus. And they recently posted on Facebook thanks to Jesus for another new grandchild.

I can still see them standing in my office downcast and discouraged. And I still think about my bold promise that if they kept following Jesus he would change them. They did. And he did.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Are you struggling today?  Discouraged about your seeming lack of progress in Christ or slowness to change?  Keep following Jesus.  Keep reading his Word.  Keep praying and fellowshipping with believers.  Keep putting sin to death.  Keep doing good.  5 years from now you will be amazed at what God does in you.

I can’t wait to see that couple that stood in my office years ago, standing in heaven shining with the glory of Jesus. I can’t wait to remind them of that day a long long time ago when someone promised how different they’d be in 5 years if they trusted Jesus.

What You Can Do While You Are Waiting For Light To Dawn

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. PS 112:4

Here’s a wonderful promise for all who are suffering – light dawns in the darkness for the upright. Don’t give up, there is hope. No matter how bleak your situation is, there is  light at the end of the tunnel. It will dawn.

Maybe you are in the throes of deep depression. Maybe your church is going through a terrible trial. Maybe your finances are a train wreck. Maybe one of your children is struggling in their walk with the Lord. Though you are in anguish, keep seeking the Lord. Keep pursuing him. Keep trusting him. Keep asking him for his light to dawn in your darkness.

In the meantime be as gracious and merciful as you can. Do all you can to bless others and give to the less fortunate. If you are able, give a gift to Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse or some other organization that feeds the poor. Bless someone who is down and out in your church. Give something, anything, even a dollar, to that guy in your church who is going to Africa to help an orphanage.

Then cry out to God, “Oh Lord, let your light dawn in my darkness. I have been gracious and merciful to the poor. I know you don’t owe me anything but you promise that your light will dawn in the darkness for those who are gracious, merciful and upright. You didn’t have to make that promise but you did. So please fulfill it!”

If your light doesn’t dawn today keep praying, keep seeking to be gracious, keep crying out, keep being merciful, keep trusting God. Keep waiting. It will dawn. As surely as the sun rises in the morning it will dawn.

Just Keep Sowing, Just Keep Sowing

It…is…so…frustrating! 

You spend hours and hours with a friend, helping them work through the same issues again and again, helping them carry their enormous amount of baggage. You tell your son not to punch his brother for the bajillionth (1 followed by, like, inifinity zeros) time. You desperately pray for the salvation of your parents for five years, ten years, even twenty years. You bust your butt (or “bottom” as we say in my child friendly house) to serve a difficult person in the church.

And yet, in spite of all your efforts, you don’t see any fruit. It appears that your friend is still carrying the same baggage. You son is still throwing blistering haymakers and jabs at his brother. Your parents seem to be even less receptive to the gospel than in previous years. And that difficult person in the church is still being…let’s see, how do we say this?…difficult. You’re doing the work, you’re not a slacker! (see What About Bob?). But you’re not seeing any results.

What is the point of it all? Why should you keep investing yourself in a person when you are seeing zero fruit? Why should you keep working on a relationship that just doesn’t seem to be working?

1 Corinthians 15:58 says:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Paul knows we will be tempted to think our labor is in vain. A waste. Absolutely useless. So Paul reminds us of the truth. Our labor for God is never in vain. Our work for God is never wasted. God promises that he will use our labor and sweat and tears for his purposes, to bring him glory. Even if we don’t see results, we can be assured that God is working. Most of the time we have no idea how God is using our efforts. As Charles Bridges says:

Apparent must not be the measure of the real result…There may be solid work advancing underground, without any sensible excitement; as we observe the see that produces the heaviest grain lies the longest in the earth. We are not always the best judges of the results of our Ministry. (The Christian Ministry, 73)

In other words, our perception of what God is doing in a person is often very different from what God is actually doing in that person. It may appear that nothing is happening in a person, when in reality, God is at work all over the place. We have no idea what God is doing quietly, behind the scenes. We have no idea how he is pressing, convicting, and shaping a person. We have no idea how God is using our labors to draw a person to himself. We usually are not the best judges of the results of our ministry.

So we must be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work God has called us to. Be steadfast in raising, instructing, and training your children, even when it seems like you’re on a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle. Be faithful in helping your baggage-carrying friend, even if it seems like the baggage is actually accumulating! Be abounding in the work of serving others, even when there is no thanks in return.

Why? Because YOUR LABOR IS NOT IN VAIN! God will use it. He will be faithful. Don’t hang all your faith on visible results. We don’t know what God is doing. We do know that our work is never wasted.