Endurance

It’s so easy to get tangled up in sin. Walking our way through life is like walking through a thick forest of mesquite trees. The branches and thorns just keep grabbing at us, clinging to our sleeves and holding us back.

Imagine trying to run a race in such a place. You’re trying to make your way through as quickly and directly as you possibly can, but there is always another tree, another bramble, another thorny branch, trying to force you back, or make you go around.

That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews describes the “race” of our life of faith. Greed, pride, lust, despair, depression, anger, hatred, shame and guilt — these grab at our hearts and cling to our thoughts, he says. But we must throw them off and turn the spotlight of our attention away from sin to Jesus.

Recalling the joy with which Jesus ran his race — all the way to the cross! — will inspire us to run with gratitude. Such amazing love and sacrifice will motivate us to be ready to run our race.

Leaning on Jesus will help us be able to dig deeper when necessary, because he is the sole power behind our faith. Jesus is the one who created our faith and he is the one who will bring our faith to a beautiful state of perfection. Faith keeps us going even when times are tough.

Looking to Jesus as a model will instruct us in how a great race is run, so that we can imitate his racing skills and receive our crown. Even now, Jesus sits on his throne in heaven and is fully in control of the world for our benefit. So we do well to consider both his race and his final victory!

We must not grow weary, and we must not lose heart. That’s not easy to do when the briars and the bramble constantly grab hold. But Jesus has already marked out our race for us. He has promised to run ahead and clear a path for us.

The answer to keeping on going despite the challenges and the obstacles is to fix our eyes on Jesus. With the energy he gives us, we will find the endurance to run our race well.

Brush those thorny branches back. And keep on running.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV).

Lord, help me to throw off the spiritual enemies that want to hinder me and the sin that entangles me. I am sorry for listening to the voice of the world, of the devil, and of my own sinful flesh. Help me to focus my eyes on you, and on your forgiveness, love and power. And give me the strength to run my race with perseverance and endurance.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 14, is Ezekiel 26:1 – 27:36, Hebrews 12:1-13 and Psalm 125:1-5.

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God-Given Disabilities

Paul was one of the most well-educated and brilliant scholars of his day. He had a gift for leading and communicating. He was energetic and hard-working. He was a man with a huge heart and a passion for people.

And he loved God deeply.

So why would God allow him to be imprisoned in a Roman cell, locked up and left to rot? Why would the God he loved disable him that way? Why sideline him?

It’s a great question. And the answer is that our disabilities play an important role in God’s kingdom. Our weaknesses can allow others to step up and grow stronger. Sometimes our being on the sideline can allow someone else to step on to the playing field.

That’s what happened when the apostle Paul was put in prison. Others had to step forward. They had to be strong and confident. As Paul had been doing, they would now need to get past their fear and proclaim the gospel. They had to act daringly, by faith in Jesus.

So yes, God gives us both our abilities and our disabilities.

Because he doesn’t want any of us thinking we’re indispensable to the work of the kingdom, or that we can do it all on our own. Our disabilities persuade us to work together with those whose abilities match our disabilities.

And so the church functions together as one for the glory of God.

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear” (Philippians 1:14, NIV).

Lord, help me to be content with both my abilities and my disabilities. Lead me to see that my disabilities can be part of your plan to include others in the vital work of your kingdom. Lord, thank you that you have built the church in such a way that we all need each other to function.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 29, is Zephaniah 1:1 – 3:20, Philippians 1:1-26 and Proverbs 23:29 – 24:4.

Header image based on "There's an Injured Player Down on the Field" by Ron Cogswell, CC By 2.0

Never Beyond Rescue

Have you ever felt that you were in such a bad situation that you were beyond rescue? Or in such dire straits that you were beyond recovery?

Paul, the apostle, only recognized after the fact how far gone he had been. Like anyone else, before he knew Christ as his Savior, he had been spiritually dead in his sins and transgressions. And that’s how it is sometimes — we’re already dead, and we don’t even realize it.

But regardless of whether or not we recognize in the moment how desperate our spiritual situation is, or how far beyond rescue we actually are, God wants us to know the reality is that we are never beyond his reach.

He can get to us. He can rescue our hopeless hearts and redeem our sin-wrecked minds. Not even spiritual death can separate us from his powerful love. Because redemption and resurrection are Jesus’ specialties.

And by grace, through faith, he does save us — by hanging on a cross and by rising from the dead!

However bad your situation might be right now, know this! You are never beyond hope or beyond rescue, as long as Jesus is in the picture.

And as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, he is always in the picture!

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 23, is Isaiah 55:1 – 57:13, Ephesians 2:1-22 and Psalm 110:1-7.

Jesus, thank you for your grace. Thank you that you always give me hope, because you are the master of redemption, and resurrection is your specialty. I am a sinner, deserving of your eternal punishment. But because of Jesus, I can now rejoice in the certain hope of everlasting life with you.

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Christian Gladiator Race

He created you in the first place. Then, after you were sold into slavery to sin, he bought you back at the cost of his own life. Finally, he personally summoned you by name to be his own.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit collaborated as one (because they are One!) to make you a child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.

He is your Savior and Redeemer. Now you can be fully confident that you are God’s child. You belong to him. And he will afford you his full protection.

It’s a good thing because life is a lot like one of those “gladiator races” you see on TV.

Life is full of obstacles. Problems and heartaches may threaten to flood you. And you may even get “wet” from those floods.

And life is full of challenges. Adversity and opposition may lick at you like flames of fire. And you might get “hot” from those flames.

Nevertheless, you and I can run that race confident that we are his.

“But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV).

Lord, I know that life is full of obstacles and challenges. Problems and adversity are just part of the deal. Help me to run my race confidently, knowing that I am yours, and that you have promised me your divine, supernatural protection.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 18, is Isaiah 43:1 – 44:23, Galatians 3:26 – 4:20 and Psalm 108:1-5.

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Out of Ideas? Energy Waning?

Sometimes we run out of ideas. And energy. The problems seem too big for us. The obstacles appear to be insurmountable.

Questions arise: “Can this relationship survive the huge mistake I just made? How will I keep my job after blowing it like this?”

Negative thoughts flood our mind: “I’m just so tired… I don’t have the strength to keep on going… That was a huge stumble… I can’t believe it. I’ve fallen yet again.”

Isaiah the prophet understood this line of thinking. After all, he was called to proclaim God’s word and will at a time when God’s people needed a lot of encouragement.

Spiritual rebellion was running rampant amongst God’s people. They were forgetful when it came to God’s power and goodness. They were lacking confidence in regard to God’s love and forgiveness.

They needed a source of renewable energy. They needed to learn how to be resilient. They had to somehow discover their bounce-back-ability.

Isaiah reminded them of something critically important. And I love how he does this: “So… you’re saying that you have no knowledge of who God is? You’re telling me you’ve never heard that he is your loving Creator? You don’t know that he has stores of energy and wisdom that we can not even begin to fathom, much less exhaust?”

By God’s grace, through faith, we have Jesus as our hope. So many blessings result when we simply trust him. Hope is restored when we know the forgiveness, the mercy, the grace of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Our strength will at times fail, and then it will be renewed. We may experience problems and obstacles in life, but Jesus will ultimately help us soar over them. We may at times feel exhausted and want to say, “I’m done!”

But we have a source of renewable energy. Our Lord — in his timing — will renew us. We will run and not grow weary. We will walk and not be faint.

If even death could not hold Jesus down, then Jesus will not allow us to be held down by a simple loss of ideas or energy. He made us. And he will make us resilient as well. He redeemed us. And he will redeem our energy and ideas too.

That’s his promise to you!

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31, NIV)

Lord, when I feel I’ve run out of ideas and energy, help me to be resilient. Send me your Spirit so that I can know your strength, your energy, and your hope in Jesus Christ. I am sorry for the times when I have forgotten to look to you for help in my distress. Help me to trust your promises of renewal and resilience.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 16, is Isaiah 38:1 – 40:31, Galatians 2:11 – 3:9 and Psalm 107:33-43.

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Strength in Weakness

Have you ever been in a position where things were going so well for so long that you might have been tempted to think it was all about you? One win stacked upon another for your team. And mixed in were some pretty impressive individual successes as well.

Your team’s win-loss record was flat-out amazing. And your own stat line was even more so. It was not just a single virtuoso performance. It was an entire all-star season for you!

Then came the nagging injury. And you just didn’t seem to have the edge that you once did. You were a bit off your game. Maybe more than a bit. You certainly no longer felt invincible. Weakness began to creep in. Doubt raised its ugly head.

The apostle Paul would have related. He tells the Corinthians of some amazing experiences he’s had as a Christ-follower. Amazingly, Paul had apparently been shown what heaven looks like (much like the apostle John would one day enjoy a similar vision of heaven’s throne room). And he had heard incredible things there, things that he was ordered not to repeat.

After all that, Paul felt like an all-star! And who wouldn’t? But then came the “nagging injury.” Paul was given what he calls a “thorn in the flesh.” The thorn, whatever it was, humbled Paul. It reminded him, “Despite all those wins and all-star experiences, it’s not about you. It’s about Jesus and his grace.”

For us, the beauty of what Paul is saying here is pure assurance. Our weaknesses humble us too. But this plays directly into God’s strength. When we lack humility and think we are strong (or smart, or brave, or wise, or “together”), we have less and less reason to rely on God.

Because we can just rely on ourselves instead.

But when something in life humbles us and we begin to recognize our weaknesses, ultimately we come to realize our only true option is to rely on God’s strength (for smarts, for courage, for wisdom, or for holding it together).

Paul says that, in reality, it doesn’t get any better than this. Because it’s in our weakness that we discover our true strength — Jesus! Jesus is titanium strong and diamond tough. And it’s his power resting on us that makes us titanium strong and diamond tough.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I have many weaknesses. Please forgive me for my sins. Be my strength. Let your power rest on me. I want to boast with Paul that though I am weak, in you I am strong.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 11, is Isaiah 27:1 – 28:29, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and Psalm 106:40-48.

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The Pain of Abandonment, The Joy of Perfect Connectedness

Every now and then we come across abandoned buildings. Have you ever noticed that sense of loneliness associated with an empty, desolate, deserted building? It’s difficult not to think of it as a place that was once busy and bustling, and filled with people, relationships, purpose and love.

It’s not so very different with people.

Have you ever gotten the feeling that you’ve been abandoned? Have you ever experienced the loneliness of being left behind? Sometimes it’s friends who don’t stick with you through thick and thin, as you expected them to do. Or perhaps you’ve gone through the agony of separation in your marriage, or the geographical (and not infrequently the emotional) distancing that comes with moving away from home. Or maybe you were the one who stayed back and experienced the pain of the “empty nest.”

Separation from the love of our family and friends — whether emotional rejection or geographical distance — is painful. It can lead to inner struggles with our self-confidence and outer struggles with our sleep schedule, amongst other things. The pain of abandonment is very real, and very acute.

But have you also noticed that there seem to be people who are somewhat independent of the hurt that other people can cause them? Not entirely, of course. It almost always hurts to be abandoned by and separated from those we love.

But some seem to be able to rise above this pain. What is about them that allows them to do this?

I contend that they have someone in their life whose love is steady and faithful.

As Paul writes to the Romans, he talks about Someone who is not just any someone. He our Creator, our Sustainer, our Heavenly Father. He is the One who planned and carried out a plan of salvation, a plan that involved the sacrifice of his one and only Son. This One — God — pledges that nothing will be able to separate us from his love. He will never abandon us — no matter what challenges or obstacles we might face in life. He will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter how many others do.

His connection to us is perfect and forever. With him, the outcome is always the same. We will overcome. We will win. We will conquer.

Against all comers. And even despite all leavers.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, July 24, is Hosea 10:1 – 11:11, Romans 8:18-39 and Psalm 89:1-8.

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