Friday, April 14, 2017

What's So Good About Good Friday?

Today, Christians everywhere are celebrating Good Friday. The story behind this day is familiar to most everyone. It is the story of a king who lived a spotless and pure life. He performed miracles, granted healing to people who had been sick for years, fed the poor and loved everyone he met. Despite all of this, his people turned against him and sentenced him to death. This is the day we call Good Friday, but you may be wondering what exactly is so good about it. 

Let's look at this story through the eyes of the king today. Look beyond the blood, beyond His wounds, beyond the cross and beyond the tomb and we will see that Good Friday is a day to celebrate because the death of Jesus was good indeed. 

Good Friday

We see blood, He sees salvation!

For my Jesus loving heart, it is painful to recount what Jesus went through on the day of His death. He was betrayed by His beloved followers. He was mocked. He was tortured and beaten until He was nearly unrecognizable then He endured an agonizing death on a cross. The Son of God, the only man to ever live a sinless life, wrongfully suffered the brutal punishment of a criminal. 

Right about now you're wondering where the "good" comes in, right? Hebrews 9:22 tells us that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." As Jesus hung there on the cross every evil deed, every selfish thought and every act of rebellion was erased. 

So the good is that the spilling of His blood was the cleansing of our sins. 

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." Ephesians 1:7

We see pierced hands, He sees Healing

As Jesus was nailed to the cross, the sin of the entire world was driven into His hands and there it remains today. Human strength could never bear the burden of sin so it was placed into the hands of the one who has the strength to hold the world.  

When the weight of our sin and shame is too much to bear, His nail scarred hands serve as a reminder that through Christ, we are healed.

"He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on Him and by His wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:5

We see a cross, He sees victory!

With a voice, tired and weakened, Jesus declared "it is finished" as He took His final breath on the cross. 

While our thoughts of the cross may echo death and defeat, Hebrews 12:2 tells us "for the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross." Jesus understood that the glory waiting for Him and for us on the other side of the cross was worth dying for.

The cross is not a symbol of death and defeat. The cross represents victory!

"Death is swallowed up in victory! Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?" 1 Corinthians 15:55

We see a tomb, He sees eternity!

Jesus told His disciples that although He would die, after three days He would rise again, but as the stone was rolled over the door of His tomb, I can imagine they began to doubt His promise. Their beloved mentor and friend had died and was now dwelling in a tightly sealed and guarded tomb. 

To us, death is final. It's the end. All hope is lost. But, Jesus' death was different. There was no tomb sealed tight enough and no guard strong enough to contain him and out of Jesus' death, eternity was born! Because He conquered the grave, we can have confidence that we too will experience the eternal life He has promised us.

"For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16

So today, we celebrate. Celebrate His blood that bought our salvation! Celebrate His wounds that healed our own! Celebrate the victory of the cross! Celebrate His death that lead to eternal life! We celebrate because today is a good, good Friday!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday: 4 Reasons to Praise

4 Reasons to Praise

Today is Palm Sunday. Today we celebrate the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem for His final days on Earth. It marks the beginning of what we call "Holy Week," the week leading up to Easter. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem that day on the back of a donkey, a symbol in that day of peaceful intentions. Palm branches were spread on the ground, a symbol of victory. What I want to talk about though, is the praise of the people who were there when He arrived. 

As Jesus rode in to the city, His people lined the street. They shouted "blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" They celebrated because of all of the amazing things they had seen the Lord do and because they knew He was the messiah and had come to rescue them. 

The Pharisees who were in the crowd did not appreciate the praises of the people so they told Jesus to silence them. Jesus' response to them is so powerful. He says, "I tell you, if these were quiet, the very stones would cry out!." What He is saying is there is nothing that can stop the praise of our God! He is worthy of praise therefore He WILL receive it. 

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad: let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them: let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord.
Psalm 96:11-13

I hope to stir your heart a little today with some reasons to praise God!

Testify of His Goodness

When we praise we are celebrating God for who He is and for everything He has and has not done. When we begin praising our hearts begin to recall, not only His present faithfulness, but His faithfulness throughout our lives. Our praise has the ability to spill over into the lives of people around us. I can remember when I was a new believer and I would watch other people worshiping with such joy and freedom or hear them speak His praises in such an intimate way. I longed for what they had. Praise is contagious. 

So praise to tell of God's faithfulness.

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His faithful love endures forever!" Psalm 136:1

Praise Changes Our Perspective 

Thursday night, on my way to church, I was in an off mood. It was just one of those days when you feel weighed down by nothing in particular and you just seem to have misplaced your joy. I honestly thought about turning the car around and heading home, but I am so glad I didn't.

The minute the worship band started playing something in me changed. The heaviness that I felt was lifted as we belted out "Your Love Never Fails." Taking time to step outside of myself and worship the One who is deserving of all praise is so good for my soul. It can realign my priorities, adjust my opinions and strip me of my selfishness. 

It's not just my own praise that changes my perspective. Sometimes during worship someone else will catch my eye. Sometimes it's someone who I know has been through heartbreaking circumstances, but has their hands lifted. Other times it's a man, who usually looks bored, clapping along. Occasionally it's an unashamed teenager at the altar. Whoever it may be, the praises of other people deeply move me. 

So praise because praise shifts our focus from ourselves and places it on God.

"You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever."
Psalm 30:11-12

4 Reasons to Praise

Praise Makes the Enemy Flee

There are multiple accounts in the Bible when God's people obtain victory over their enemies through praise. 

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in prison. While they are praying and singing hymns, an earthquake shakes open the prison doors and loosens the bonds of the prisoners. After witnessing this miracle the jailer himself receives Christ and sets Paul and Silas free.

Joshua and his people defeat Jericho (Joshua 6) by circling the city wall seven times while praising the Lord. 

In 2 Chronicles 20 we see Jehoshaphat and his army praising God. As they do, their enemies get confused and begin fighting among themselves until they completely destroy each other, leaving Judah victorious.

So praise because our praise defeats the enemy!

"You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you."
Psalm 8:2

He is Worthy

We really don't need any reason to praise other than because Jesus is worthy of our praise. He traded a life in Heaven for a life on earth. He took on human form. Undeserving, He suffered rejection, physical pain, abuse and a humiliating death on a cross. He did it all for us so that we may know Him and have everlasting life with Him in Heaven. 

So praise because our praise belongs to Jesus alone!

"Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure His greatness." 
Psalm 145:3

I want to encourage you to spend this week in a constant state of praise. Keep a list of things to be thankful for each day. Keep your radio turned to worship music. Thank Him just for who He is. Thank Him for what He has done and what He has yet to do. Most importantly, in the spirit of Holy Week, thank Him for the sacrifice He made on the cross!

"Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" Psalm 150:1-6

Friday, April 7, 2017

What You Should Know About Becoming Like Jesus

Becoming Christ-Like

There have been times in my faith walk when I have asked God, "when will I stop struggling with this? I know you have set me free so why am I still falling back into these feelings, these actions, these habits?" Maybe you've felt this way too. Like no matter how much you pray, no matter how much you believe that in Christ you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), you just can't break free from your old ways. Perhaps you're not a follower of Jesus at all. You believe that Jesus won't accept you because of your past, your addiction, your friends etc. Whatever your situation, I want to tell you that it's okay. You don't have to have it all together because we have a God who does. Yes, His desire is for you to become more like Him, but there is freedom in realizing that becoming like Christ is a process that takes time. The Bible calls this process sanctification, which is a fancy word that simply means "to make holy." Despite what you may think, becoming holy doesn't happen immediately when we accept Jesus as our Savior.

Even Jesus' disciples who were with Him every day, witnessed first hand His power and knew His promises to be true struggled in their faith. In Luke 8:22-25, we see them terrified of a storm even though Jesus is with them. A few chapters later (Luke 11:1) we see that they were unsure how to pray. Phillip questioned who Jesus was (John 14:8-11). Peter was ashamed to admit his faith (John 18:17). Judas betrayed Jesus for money (Matthew 26:14-16). Thomas doubted the risen Lord's identity (John 20:24-29). So if Jesus' very disciples were not perfect we can be confident that He does not expect perfection from us either. 

Know that you're accepted, but also know that staying the same isn't acceptable

The great news is that Jesus accepts us just as we are. The Bible says that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Did you catch that? Jesus died for us while we were still stuck in sin. He didn't wait for us to clean ourselves up first. He saw us as we were and He gave up His life for us anyway. Before you even had the opportunity to deny Him, Jesus paid the ultimate price for you. If you think that you're too broken to be loved by Jesus, rest assured, He already loves you, just the way you are. 

When we proclaim to be His followers, however, God calls us to a higher standard. We can't let the fact that Jesus accepts us as we are drive us to complacency. Our purpose as Christians is to make Jesus known and we do that by showing people who He is through our own actions. Ephesians 4:22-24 tells us to "put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; and be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." We come to Him imperfect, we're accepted, but we must strive to change.

Embrace the Process

There's purpose in the process. God doesn't perfect us the moment we receive Him because if He did we would never truly realize His power and our desperate need for Him. It is when we witness Him lift us up out of the pit of sin that we realize both how weak we are and how very strong He is. 

The work that He does in us shapes our testimonies and our testimonies minister to others. This is the joy in the journey.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (James 1:2-3). 

Keep Seeking

You know how when you spend a lot of time with someone you start to act like them? The same is true when we spend time with Jesus. Take an active role in your sanctification process. Study the Bible, spend time in prayer, find a community of believers to do life with and hold you accountable. The more you seek Jesus and saturate your life with Him, the easier it becomes to live a life that honors Him. 

"Plant the good seeds of righteousness and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and shower righteousness upon you." Hosea 10:12

Receive Grace

The process of becoming more like Christ can lead to a lot of frustration. There will be times when you feel you will never change, like the standard is just too high to meet. You'll feel you've made progress, then a situation will arise that will cause you to backslide and leave you feeling hopeless. This happens because, truthfully, the standard is too high to meet. None of us will achieve a completely sinless life. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) because the glory of God is beyond our human ability. This is where grace comes in. God's grace is sufficient, it covers our weaknesses and our failures. Give yourself permission to receive grace, pick yourself up and allow your moments of weakness to shape your future. 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Back to the disciples. Despite their failures, their weaknesses and their spiritual immaturity, Jesus trusted them with the Great Commission (to make disciples) and He trusts us too because He is there to guide us. He is not intimidated by our shortcomings. Following a perfect God does not require us to be perfect, but it should make us better.