Preach the Gospel to Yourself

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” – Romans‬ ‭3:21-25‬

I’ll be transparent: my Bible reading doesn’t always happen first thing in the morning. But when it does, what takes place is glorious. It’s not magical. It doesn’t guarantee everything about my day will be perfect.

It’s glorious because God is made manifest in my morning!

His Word is alive and active. It’s sharper than a double edged sword. It penetrates my soul. (Heb 4:12) We know it is a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path. (Ps 119:105) Our hope is in the Word. (Ps 119:114)

When I worked at Fort Caswell during my college summers, I learned the importance of preaching the Gospel to yourself daily. And while that doesn’t have to take place in the morning, it’s helpful and practical to make it a part of your morning routine. Here’s a few reasons why:

1. God owns the day.

If you’re like me, it’s so easy to forget that every day and every moment and every good gift comes from above. Every breath comes from God. Every blessing is from the Father. And He is sovereign over all things, creatures, events, and circumstances.

“This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

Even on your worst day, God made it for us to rejoice in Him. It’s difficult for our human selves to rejoice in hardship and difficulty. Or even in the mundane. That leads me to point number two:

2. We need His strength.

When we begin our day in the presence of our Savior and Creator, that changes things. We are reminded of our great need for Him and to be filled with His Spirit.

He strengthens. He encourages. He convicts. He gives us boldness. He reminds us of His perfect love. His Son intercedes for us.

When your day starts off this way, you may not automatically conquer everything on your to do list with a smile and have the “best day ever”, but you’ll be prepped to face the day knowing that God’s got you in His righteous right hand. As we say in my family: God’s got this!

3. Others will reap the benefit.

When God works on your heart and your attitude early in the day, those you come in contact with will be grateful. Assuming your encounter with the Lord was transforming and causes you to look to Christ before yourself, you just may be a more Christ-like and Christ-exalting person throughout the day.

If not, keep reading your Bible and spending time with Him. He’s in the business of heart transformation!

As our hearts become more like His heart, we will see and love people the way Jesus sees and loves people. Our lives become less about serving ourselves and shifts to seeking ways to better serve and share Jesus with others. We will extend more grace as we remember the grace that’s been shown to us.

So, if you haven’t spent time with Him yet this morning or you’re not in the habit of doing so regularly, join me in growing that discipline. You won’t regret it!

I Surrender All

For the last few weeks we have not had church services on Sunday night.  In its place we have been encouraged to gather in small groups, or as families, and go through the “Starting Point” material created by the North American Mission Board.  As part of this study we recently looked at Romans 12:1, “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”

This is an odd verse because, in the Old Testament, sacrifices do not survive.  The nature of a sacrifice is that its life is given to cover someone else’s debt.  We know that Christ was the ultimate sacrifice.  That His blood covered our sins fully and that no other sacrifice is needed.

So, what does it mean to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice?

I would like to start by offering a counter verse.  In Malachi 1:10 God tells the Israelites, “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

In Romans we are told to be “living sacrifices”.  In Malachi God basically says He wishes the Israelites would just stop coming to the temple (to offer sacrifices) because they, “kindle a useless fire” (to burn the sacrifices).  Malachi explains that the Israelites see the call to offer sacrifices as a “nuisance”.  In addition, they were offering, “stolen, lame, or sick animals” (Malachi 1:13).  They bring offerings that cost them little or nothing.  It is not a sacrifice unless its cost is felt by the giver.

The Israelites in Malachi were simply going through the motions.  They went to the temple.  They were bringing something to offer to the Lord.  And God was angry with them.  God was ready for them to just stop because what they were doing was useless.

The Israelites in Malachi were missing the truth found in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”  They believed simply going through the routine was enough.  God demands more.

Giving a sacrifice is painful.  It has a cost.  It calls us to lose something we would rather hold onto.  The Israelites in Malachi had abandoned heart-felt worship for comfortable routine.  If this had occurred today they may say things like, “we go to church service every week, we read our Bible, we even give some money.  What more do you want?”

The answer quite simply is that God wants all of us.  Our hearts, our desires, our 5-year plan, our hopes, our dreams, and our goals.  All laid out at his feet.  As a sacrifice, we are never asked for the terms of our surrender.  He wants to be the end of all our effort.  Our lives, poured out to Him to do with as He pleases.  That is what we are called to.

And Romans 12:1 calls us to do this every day of our lives.  An on-going living effort to give all that we have to the God who saves us.  We do this because we love Him with all our heart.  We do this because He has redeemed us and we are His.  We do this because He is worthy of our continual sacrifice.

May we willingly sacrifice all that we have to Him and hold nothing back for ourselves.

Fighting Fatigue

Are you tired? Many of us are, and the reason may surprise you— we’ve been making decisions. For more than a year now people have been forced to make decisions, some big, some small, at a rate and number outside their typical capacity. The pandemic has introduced a deafening cacophony of new choices that demand our attention, and it’s wearing us out (down, thin, etc.!). In fact, many leaders have described themselves as being plagued by decision fatigue. Whether it’s coaching little league, teaching third-graders or running a business, if you’re leading at any level, you’re likely leading on low. 

The same is true for churches and those who lead them. Pastors live in the swirl. From reopening facilities to relaunching ministries, making the right decisions at the right times and in the right ways can be draining. This past season has kept us on our toes and on our knees. It’s been said of the church, “It’s easier to shut it down than open it up!” Amen and amen. 

How about you? Are you fighting fatigue? Perhaps you (or someone close to you) can relate. Life feels like one never-ending transition. Decisions feel like hungry piranhas, and each one takes a small bite out of your soul. Yikes, that hurts!

I’d like to share six ways I’ve personally fought fatigue over the past year. 

1.Recover the Lord. (Romans 11:33-36)

We have to start here. Doctrine develops disciples, and the sovereignty of God is an awesome doctrine. God rules, and God reigns. Nothing takes him by surprise. He is a God of sovereign decree. He ordains things, and they come to pass. He does not flinch, and he has broad shoulders. Trust the Lord and rest.

2.Restore your body.  (1 Corinthians 3:16)

Increased decision-making equals an increased stress level, and stress is hard on the body. That means you need to take care of yourself with good sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise. Our body is the Lord’s, and we are called to stewardship. 

3.Recruit a team. (Acts 15:6)

I’m fortunate to work among a plurality of highly skilled staff and lay leaders who shoulder responsibilities together. Thankfully no one has to carry the whole load. Get yourself in a like-minded (and hearted) community. You should never walk alone. 

4.Renew your mind. (Philippians 4:8)

Christian meditation is not to empty the mind, but to fill the mind. Therefore, you need to read: your Bible, and books on the Bible. A healthy diet of literature has a way of flushing your mind. You need your mind clear and clean to be useful for the Kingdom. 

5.Redeem the time. (John 9:4)

Fatigue is tough. But fatigue with fruit is much better. Use this time as a season of development. Learn yourself, sharpen your leadership skills and plan for the future. Take time to discover what God is doing in your life. Night is coming. Get to work. 

6.Recharge your soul. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Fatigue is hard on the body and the soul. Take time for soul care through a regular diet of intentional prayer. You must pray, not only to grow in Christ, but to weather the storms and stress of life. Let the Lord do what he does best. 

So, are you tired? You’re not alone, friend. It’s ok. Reach out to someone, tell them how you feel, tell them what’s been going on in your world. Chances are they will be glad to listen and eager to help. You’ll feel better, your spouse will thank you and you’ll be better equipped to serve the Lord.

The Bottom Line

The occasion dictated that I purchase a greeting card for my wife. I read perhaps a dozen cards before selecting one that conveyed my thoughts and sentiments. I waited until close to the time to present the card to sign and add my personalized comments enabling me to be timely and reflect deeply. Each comment was personal and heartfelt, an attempt to express my love and appreciation for who she is and all that she has done.

As I was about to sign my name, I noticed the bottom line, “Happy Birthday!”. That was a problem. It wasn’t her birthday. It was our anniversary.

Now, in my defense, the card was in the anniversary card section, and all the other cards I read (I think) were anniversary cards. But that didn’t make a difference. Time was near and I was committed. I had to give her the wrong card.

Fortunately, after 37 years of marriage, we can laugh about these things. I’ve certainly made many more and much bigger mistakes.

Jesus gives us another bottom line in Mark 12:30-31. As He answers a question about the greatest commandment, He tells us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”

As we consider our love for God, we must consider who He is – Father, Son, and Spirit – and what He has done. He has most completely revealed Himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 1:3 tells us, Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature”.

As we love God, C.H. Spurgeon reminds us to “abide hard by the cross and search the mystery of His wounds”. Thomas à Kempis adds, “If you seek Jesus in all things, you will surely find Jesus. And if you seek yourself, you will surely find yourself, but only to your ruin. For a man who does not seek Jesus does himself greater hurt than the whole world and all his enemies could ever do him.”

As we go through life, we must pay attention to the bottom line. No matter what you may sentimentally say about Jesus, love is a choice. It may have sentiment associated with it, but it remains a choice.

Do you truly love Jesus? Do you give Him your heart and your soul committing your very being to Him? Do you focus your passions, your energy, your desires on Him?

Do you give Him your mind and all your thoughts? The idea of strength in Mark 12 is not simply about muscles; strength implies all the resources, all the possessions, all the manpower that you can muster. Think army. Do you give Him all your strength? Do you love Him enough to love as He loves, loving your neighbor sacrificially?

Don’t miss this. Jesus is not looking for a cheesy card. He’s not looking for a token, scheduled acknowledgment of His sovereignty. And it won’t be funny if you get it wrong. He is looking for all of you – heart, soul, mind, and strength – bottom line.