When the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want for Rest

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Psalm 23:2a

Sheep can be rather stupid animals. Often times like sheep, we do not always know when to rest. For example, when a flock of sheep should be resting in preparation for a difficult journey, something will excite them – the growl of a mountain lion, the bark of a dog, or the cry of a child. This will bother the sheep and cause them to run back and forth across the pasture. The wise shepherd knows the sheep have a need to rest so he moves into the midst of the flock, catches a sheep and gently forces it to lie down and feed quietly on the cool, green grass. He makes his sheep “to lie down in green pastures.”

The last couple of weeks I have been awakened in the middle of the night with my thoughts racing from one worry to the next. Can any of you relate to this? We live in a hectic, hurried, and harassed world in which headache medicine has become the national beverage. Indeed, we have difficulty resting. We take a day off and feel guilty.

When our Good Shepherd steps into this situation, He often forces us to rest. Our “green pastures” may be the coronavirus which is causing us to simplify our lifestyles right now. We have more time at home. More time to spend with our Good Shepherd. More time to listen to His voice as we read His Word and talk to Him in prayer. More time to spend with our loved ones.

God not only provides physical rest, but spiritual rest, too. But because of our unbelief, we may not realize we are in green pastures. We may focus on the dirt instead  of the green grass.

An example of someone who recognized by faith that God was making him to lie down in green pastures during a difficult time, was the apostle Peter. King Herod was harassing some from the church (Acts 12:1). He had just “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:2). When Herod saw that this “pleased the Jews,” he arrested Peter and put him in prison with four squads of Roman soldiers to guard him (Acts 12:3-4). So it looked like Peter would be executed next! But instead of worry keeping Peter awake that night, he slept because he knew his Good Shepherd had led him to green pastures to rest (Acts 12:6).

When we trust the Lord as our Shepherd we will have no want for rest. As you read this article, you may have no rest about where you will be after death. Jesus invites you, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Notice that Jesus did not say, “Come to Me and I will give you more stress…more guilt… more burdens and more worries.”

Many churches or religions can add to our stress rather than relieve it with their legalistic demands. They tell us that we must perform all of these man-made rules and rituals in order to gain peace with God. But Jesus says that when we come to Him just as we are He will give us spiritual rest. The rest Jesus offers here refers to a state of mind that exists when a non-Christian realizes he or she does not have to earn their salvation. This refers to the positional rest of eternal life that is based on trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross (John 19:30).

After we come to faith in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, we can begin to experience His rest as we yoke together with Him to go His direction at His pace (Matthew 11:29-30). And as we learn to trust our Good Shepherd, we will have no want for rest.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for knowing what is best for me. Often times, I do not know when to rest. I allow my fears to quicken my pace instead of turning them over to You. Like a Good Shepherd, You move into my situation to make me lie down in green pastures where I can rest in Your tender loving care. Please help me to recognize by faith the green pastures where You want me to rest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

When I woke up early this morning, I began to reflect upon a favorite Psalm of many people. I am referring to Psalm 23. The imagery of this Psalm is distant from the experiences of modern man. To properly understand this Psalm, we need to look at it from the perspective of a Palestinian shepherd in the time of King David. In our impersonal technological world, we want to cling to the words of this Psalm because they are personal. God takes the same loving and patient care of His people as a shepherd does of his flock.

This Psalm was written by King David. I do not believe this Psalm was penned by David in his early years nor in the middle of his life. I believe these words were written by David in his later years because these are the words of a man who has lived and done much, who has sinned greatly and been forgiven greatly. David was a mature man at the time of this writing who was not only a slayer of Goliath, the devoted friend of Jonathan, a lover of music, and an able king, but he was also a fugitive, an adulterer, and a murderer. As a father he had watched his baby die and had wept when Absalom, his ungrateful son, was slain as he led a rebellion against his father. David has not left us only with beautiful thoughts, but with an honest testimony about God learned as he lived life to the fullest. Even though we are living in complex and calamitous times, the Shepherd of whom David wrote has not changed. Our challenge is that we have become too sophisticated to trust Him.

Many who love this Psalm take the words of verse one to mean, “The Lord is my Savior; and I am glad He is.” As wonderful as it is to know the Lord as our Savior, that is not what this Psalm is about. This Psalm is one of three Psalms that deal with a different aspect of the work of Christ. Psalm 22 deals with the work of Christ as our Savior when He suffered and died on the cross for our sins in the past. Psalm 23 speaks of the work of Christ as our resurrected Shepherd who is now in heaven in the present. And Psalm 24 is about the work of Christ as our Sovereign who shall triumphantly return to earth in the future. Many people who have put their trust in Christ as their Savior do not know the reality of His work as their Shepherd nor do they look forward to His return as Sovereign.

But when David sang this song of Christ as his Shepherd, he was praising the living God who enriched his daily life. He writes, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1). The word “Lord” translates the name “YAHWEH.” Jewish people were so much in awe of this name and of the God it represented, they substituted some lesser name for it whenever it occurred in public readings of the Scriptures. When the people thought of YAHWEH, they thought of the One who causes all things to be, the God who brought the nation of Israel into existence. Yet this God who inhabits eternity is the One referred to as a “shepherd.” He is great enough to take care of all the needs of my life.

David did not say that the Lord was “a shepherd.” He said the Lord was “my shepherd.” Many people know that the Lord is a shepherd, but they really don’t know that He is their shepherd.

Who is your shepherd? Whom are you trusting to meet your daily needs? Your spouse? Your children? Your pastor? Your therapist? Your parents? A close friend? As important as these people are, they can never be the Good Shepherd of your life because they are sheep, too. We need someone else just as David did.

When David addressed the Lord as his shepherd, he was saying that he was a defenseless, dependent, dumb/foolish sheep. We also might as well admit that before God, we too, are sheep. Yet our proud hearts say, “No I am not a sheep because I can take care of myself!” But in order to experience the blessings of Psalm 23, we must humble ourselves and admit that we are sheep and we need our Good Shepherd to take care of us.

When I trust in the Lord as my shepherd, “I shall not want.” In other words I shall never be in a state of want when I am relying on the Lord as my shepherd. I will not want for anything I need. This is the key to the whole Psalm. Over the next few days we will look at what wants our Good Shepherd provides for us.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my Good Shepherd, thank You for reminding me that I am much like a defenseless, dependent, and dumb sheep who desperately needs You to take care of me. It can be difficult for me to admit this because I like to be in control. But the more I try to be in control, the less I experience the blessings of Your loving and patient care. Please forgive me for looking to others to be my shepherd in place of You. Thank You for cleansing me of my pride. I am now eager to learn more from You of what it means to trust You as my Shepherd. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Can the coronavirus separate me from God’s love?

38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

The Coronavirus is causing people to be separated or isolated from others, including loved ones. When we go through difficult times such as this, we may wonder if we are separated from God’s love. “After all, if God loves me during the Coronavirus, why do I feel so unloved?” Throughout church history, Christians have asked, “How can a loving God allow so much pain and suffering in the world?” Some believers have turned away from God because they could not reconcile the thought of a God of love permitting so much heartache in the world.

When we are discouraged or feeling hopeless, we may ask, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35a). Please understand that the question is not, “Who shall separate us from our love for Christ?” If you are like me, my love for Christ can fluctuate between hot and cold. My salvation is not dependent upon my love for Christ. Thankfully, my salvation is dependent upon Christ’s love for me. Again, Paul is asking, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35a). He answers this question in verses 35b-39.

He begins with, “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (8:35b).  Hardships like “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” tempt us to think that since God allows these things, He must not love us. But there is no contradiction between God’s love for us and our suffering. Because God loves us, He allows difficulties, like the Coronavirus, in our lives to make us more like Jesus. God uses the good and the bad so we can “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:28-29). We can either allow the Coronavirus to push us closer to the Lord and His love, or we can let it push us farther away from Him.

For example, even though we cannot get together with as many people right now due to social distancing, we can still draw near to the Lord. God is giving us a great opportunity to get to know Him better at this time by simplifying our lives. If you have a family, this is also a great time to lead your family in the worship of God and the study and application of His Word together.

Paul then writes, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (8:37). In the midst of all these hardships, we are “more than conquerors” in the eyes of God through Jesus “who loved us.” Jesus’ love enables us to rise above the pain, the problems, and the perplexities so we can live a life that magnifies Him. In Christ, you are God’s superhero! Take a moment and look in the mirror and say to yourself, “I am God’s superhero.” How does it feel to hear this? Do you believe it!?! It is true whether you believe it or not.  

If you are still not convinced that God loves you during this difficult time, Paul drives his point home in the last two verses. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39).

First of all, Paul says “I am persuaded.” The word “persuaded” (pepeismai) means to be convinced, and is in the perfect tense. The Greek perfect tense refers to a completed action in the past which has continuing results to the present. Paul is saying he was convinced of God’s love in the past and he continues to be just as convinced of His love in the present. Can this be said of us? Or have we let circumstances or feelings diminish God’s love for us? Let’s break these two verses down now to see how impossible it is for a believer in Jesus Christ to be separated from God’s love.  

“Neither death nor life” can separate us from God’s love. The two things people fear the most right now – living or dying – cannot separate a Christian from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Life and death are no threat to our eternal life. Whether we live or die, Jesus will never let go of us (John 10:28-29). His grip on us is far greater than the Coronavirus. We have security in Christ Jesus that is a matter of life and death.

Nor angels nor principalities nor powers” are able to separate us from God’s love in Christ. Supernatural beings like God’s angels and Satan’s demons are far stronger than us, but even they cannot separate us from God’s love.

– “Nor things present nor things to come” in the future are able to remove God’s love from us. Nothing in our present experience, including the coronavirus and social distancing, can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Nor can anything in our future (no matter how frequent, intense, or painful) remove us from being the recipients of God’s love. Wow! He accepts me like I am and will never abandon me. He loves me and will never stop loving me.

Nor height nor depth” are capable of separating us from God’s love in Jesus. If we were to travel to the “highest” or “lowest” points in the universe, or anywhere in between, we would never arrive at a place where we could escape Christ’s love for us. No matter how “high” or “low” we may go, we cannot stop being loved by God through Jesus. Just as we can never cease being the children of our earthly parents once we are born, so we cannot cease being children of God once we are born into His family. The moment we believe in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life, at that very moment, we become members of God‘s family forever (John 1:12; 3:16; 6:37).

– “Nor any other created thing” shall be able to stop God from loving us. Are you a created being? Yes, of course you are! So am I. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from God’s love in Christ. No amount of our sin, shame, or pride can keep God’s love away from us. He loves us in the deepest and darkest places of our hearts and He loves us in the highest and closest moments of our relationship with Him. Nothing that we or others might say, think, or do, can separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul answers comprehensively and emphatically, “NO ONE AND NOTHING!!!” You may ask, “Why then, do I feel so alone and unloved?” While it is true that God is for us and always loves us, we don’t feel close to Him when we don’t pursue Him. When we listen to our feelings instead of God’s truth, we get into trouble.

Over the years, the Lord has taught me an important truth about overcoming discouragement: “the truth is just a choice away.” We feel what we focus upon. If I focus on depressing thoughts, I feel depressed. If I focus on unloving thoughts, I feel unloved. Take time today to reflect on these incredible truths about God’s love for you. Read these verses out loud. Draw or find a picture that represents these truths so you can download them into the limbic system of your brain. Replace the lies that say God could never love you with the truth that says no one and nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for revealing just how much you love me! No one and nothing, including the Coronavirus and social distancing, can separate me from Your love for me which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. Help me to stop trying to earn love from You or others. Please calm and quiet my soul in Your loving presence. Use me as a channel of Your love to those who are feeling alone and unloved. And for anyone who does not know for sure that they have everlasting life and a home in heaven, please persuade them right now that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life Who guarantees a future resurrection and never ending life to all who believe in Him (John 11:25-26). In Jesus’ name. Amen.

No one can successfully condemn me

“Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Romans 8:34

Are you living under condemnation? Are you weighed down by guilt and anxiety about your past? Maybe you have done things which would embarrass you if they became public knowledge. You may have committed a terrible and tragic sin that was never traced back to you. You may have a criminal record or a moral charge or a domestic conflict that, to this moment, is private information. You may wrestle with a past that has been fractured and wounded by a mental or emotional breakdown. Futile attempts at suicide may add to the previous scar tissue and increase your fear of being labeled “sick” or “nervous.” It’s possible you live with memories of an immoral relationship, a financial failure, a terrible habit, a divorce or a scandalous involvement. You may be your worst critic of your past.

Or perhaps you are living under the condemnation of another person. Critical comments from a parent, a friend, an employer or a spouse have continued to haunt you. No matter what you do, you cannot seem to live up to their expectations. Nothing you do can seem to please them.  Does that describe you?

Worse yet, you may think that God will condemn you for something you have done in your past. Perhaps you have committed such a heinous sin that you are convinced that there is no possible way God could ever forgive you because He is holy and just. His justice could never overlook what you have done.

Before you surrender your situation as hopeless, please understand that if you have believed in Jesus Christ for His gift of everlasting life, God will not condemn you nor reject you. So there is no need to be paralyzed by your guilt and condemnation any longer. The assurance that no one can successfully condemn you is established in Romans 8:34.

The apostle Paul writes, “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (8:34).

God is saying that no one can successfully condemn you because His Son…

“died” in your place for all your sins, taking the condemnation that you deserved so all your guilt is removed (8:34b).

“is risen” from the dead, satisfying God’s demand to punish your sins (8:34c). Jesus is alive to give life everlasting to all who believe in Him (John 11:25-26).

– “who is even at the right hand of God” defending you against all accusations (8:34).

“makes intercession for” you so that your faith won’t fail, you won’t give up, and that you can encourage others” (8:34e; cf. Luke 22:32).

How many times have we listened to Satan’s accusations or the accusations of others, all the while forgetting that God knows our sin, and has forgiven us any way!?! Jesus is sitting at God’s right hand right now defending us. When we sin and we are condemned by others, God looks to His Son Who says, “Father, I paid for that sin.”

So many of us live with negative labels. Sometimes they are not our own fault. But so many times they are of our own doing. And thus, we think that our story is one of failure and shame. But you know, it doesn’t have to be that way. Because our story can be a story of grace. For it is grace that fixes broken lives. It is grace that heals broken hearts and restores estranged sinners.

Jesus points us to what we are meant to be. We don’t have to live in our past. We don’t have to live with condemnation. We don’t have to live a life that is powerless in the face of temptation and sin. We are chosen for something more.

You know, none of us deserve to be forgiven. We haven’t earned it. Nor have we paid the price ourselves. Yet, in His grace, when Jesus forgives our sin, He forgets (Heb. 10:17). Our past ended one second ago. Once you have experienced grace, it is now time to show it to others. We are to be gracious with others as Christ has been gracious with us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for removing all grounds for my condemnation through Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession so that I am totally accepted by You. I am so glad that when You forgave me, You forgot what I had done as if I had never sinned. And You are not only willing but pleased to use any vessel – just as long as it is clean today – at this moment. It may be cracked or chipped. It may be worn or it may have never been used before. But I can count on this – because of Your grace – my past ended one second ago. From this point on I can be clean and free from condemnation. Use me for Your glory, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

God has given me absolute security in Him

“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Romans 8:33

Yesterday my wife and I found toilet paper stocked on a shelf in a store for the first time in three weeks. All other stores we have gone to in recent weeks have had bare shelves in the paper products section. Why? Because there is a lack of security in our world today due to the coronavirus. People are stockpiling toilet paper simply because of fear and insecurity.

But I believe there is a much greater lack of security that is commonly found among Christians. We have been taught from the Bible that God loves and accepts all believers in Jesus unconditionally (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 1:6). Yet we struggle with this teaching. Perhaps we have not experienced total love and acceptance in our dealings with people. Rejection has been a common experience in our lives, so it is difficult for us to believe that Someone such as God could love and accept us as we are. We have become skeptical and cynical of this notion of unconditional love and acceptance because we have been hurt so many times.

Some of you may be feeling very beat up by the circumstances of life. You may be feeling hopeless. There may be others of you who are discouraged and depressed by events that have happened just in the last week or two. There may be some of you who have been in the pit of despair and you have even considered taking your life because of the pain.

If this describes you, please know that God wants you to have absolute security in Him. The apostle Paul asks, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” (8:33a). Who can successfully accuse a Christian of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom? Who? Can the devil? Can your ex-spouse? Your competitive neighbor? Your unforgiving boss? Who?

Look at the answer. Paul writes, “It is God who justifies” (8:33b). God is saying, “No one can successfully press charges against you because I have declared you totally righteous on the basis of your faith in My Son.” If God pronounced that you are not guilty, then no one can reverse His verdict. No one can successfully accuse any Christian because God does not even accuse us. He justifies us the moment we believe in Jesus alone (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1).

To be justified means God declares us to be the opposite of what we were before we were saved. So if you were an impatient person before you were saved, He declares you to be patient at the moment of faith. If you tended to be hateful, He declares you to be helpful. If you were promiscuous, He declares you to be pure the instant you believe in Jesus.

Hence, all believers in Jesus Christ are secure forever because Christ paid for every sin they have or will ever commit (cf. Colossians 2:13-14). Before Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). This word translated “finished” (tetelestai), means “paid in full.” Christ did not make a down payment for our sin when He died on the cross so that we must pay the remainder of our sin debt to God. God does not accept us on the basis of our good life, our keeping of His commandments, our water baptism, or the sacraments we have taken. We are accepted by God on the basis of the full payment for our sin debt to God when Jesus Christ died and rose again on our behalf. God was completely and forever satisfied with Jesus’ full payment for our sin. The verb tetelestai is in the perfect tense. This means Christ made the full payment for our sin debt when He died on the cross and it remains paid in full to the present.

Satan’s (or anyone else’s) accusations against us will be thrown out of God’s courtroom because God has declared us not guilty on the basis of our faith in Christ alone. No one can bring an accusation against us that will stand because no one is greater than God. If we could be charged of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom, then the accuser would have to be greater than God. And that is not going to happen!!! No one can reverse the verdict of God. Not even you!!!

But how difficult it is at times to realize God’s total acceptance of us! It’s like the sun – every day – it shines. No one could ever say – the sun isn’t shining! We may say, “I can’t feel it or see it”…but fly high enough and there it is!

Someone may ask, “If no one can accuse me of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom after I come to faith in Christ, then why not live like the devil the rest of my life?” I commend those who ask this question because they do understand the eternal security of the believer in Jesus. Let me answer this question first with an illustration.

In 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA, was completed. It cost over $35 million to build and was completed in two phases: the first slowly and the second quickly. In the first stage, no safety devices were used. As a result, twenty-three men fell to their deaths. Imagine how this must have effected the other workers? They were more cautious and afraid, slowing down the work progress. But for the final part of the project, $100,000 was spent to buy a large safety net to place under the workers.  Once the net was installed production increased by 25%. Why? Because the men were assured of their security and they were free to wholeheartedly finish the project.

Many Christians lack joy and peace because they think going to heaven is based on their works or feelings instead of the finished work of Christ on the cross. They live in constant fear of losing their salvation or conclude that they were never saved to begin with because someone accuses them of some unforgivable sin. So instead of focusing on the Lord and the work He has for them to do, they are stuck in the past, unable to move forward. If you are one of these people, please listen again to what God is saying in this one verse.  

“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (8:33). Does anyone dare to bring a charge against God’s people!?! If they do, they must answer to God because He has already pronounced that His children are totally righteous and acceptable before Him on the basis of their faith alone in Jesus alone. This truth is worth celebrating and living for!  

Prayer: Father God, I praise You that no one can successfully accuse me of wrongdoing in Your courtroom because You have declared me to be totally righteous on the basis of my faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Although Satan has relentlessly accused me throughout my Christian life along with his teachers, I can still rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ Who paid my sin debt in full. Therefore, I do not have to worry about what others say or think, because I am forever secure in Christ. Please lead me to the people who need to hear and believe in Your absolute security through Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can I know God is for me when all this bad stuff is happening?

As conditions worsen with regard to the coronavirus, many people are panicking. In large part, it seems to me that the media is highly responsible for a lot of fear-based decision making. God does not want His children to be driven by fear. He wants us to be driven by faith (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7). With so many negative reports in the news today, it is challenging to maintain a life of faith. We may succumb to this bombardment of sensationalism and begin to doubt if God is really on our side. A lie that the enemy likes to whisper in a Christian’s ear when bad things are happening is, “God is against you.” Do you ever have thoughts like that? I certainly do.

The truth God has given us to combat this lie is found in Romans 8:31 where the apostle Paul writes: ““If God is for us [and He is], who can be against us” (8:31)? When we think someone is against us, God says, “Since I am for you (and no one is greater than Me), no one can successfully oppose you!” This includes the coronavirus, those in authority over us, family, friends, and even the devil and his demonic armies. As a preacher once said, “One plus God is  always a majority.” Does it always feel this way? No. But our feelings do not always tell the truth.

You may respond, “But God, how do I know You are for me?” Paul writes, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things” (8:32)? When we were enemies of God, He gave us His own Son to die in our place (Romans 5:6-8). If God gave us His best when we were at our worst, how much more will He give us now that we are His beloved children!?!

God the Holy Spirit wants to apply these truths beyond our thoughts to the depths of our soul and spirit so that even when bad and painful things happen to us, we will still know deep down inside that God is for us. He is on our side. God is our biggest fan despite what we hear from our antagonists, including our own flesh. Therefore, there is no longer any reason to live in fear.

How do we replace this lie (and others) with God’s truth? Second Corinthians 10:3-5 instructs us. First, we must rely on God’s power, not our own. This battle for our minds is not “according to the flesh” (10:3). Nothing in our own flesh will help us to live victoriously or draw us closer to the Lord. Since the weapons of our warfare are “mighty in God,” then we must rely  upon the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome Satan’s lies (10:4).

Second, recognize the erroneous thought. This battle is located in our minds because it involves “strongholds,” “arguments,” “knowledge,” and “every thought” (10:4-5). The word “strongholds” pictures a fortress with high walls and towers surrounded by a moat. God says these strongholds must be destroyed which means that God did not build them. A “stronghold” then, is a negative, destructive pattern of thinking that Satan has built in our minds through repetition, trauma, or circumstances. Satan does not put thoughts in our minds. He uses other people’s voices to insert thoughts in our mind. Ungodly thoughts come from us. Christ lives inside us and He does not give us these ungodly thoughts (Galatians 2:20). We will not get very far in this battle for our minds until we acknowledge these satanic strongholds.

Third, release the lie. “Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (10:5a). Dismiss the lie and say, This is not true, therefore, it is a lie and I am not going to pay attention to this. I am not going to entertain these thoughts that say God is against me.”

Fourth, reprogram your mind with the truth, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (10:5b). How do we bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ? Jesus told us: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The devil is a liar by nature and he cannot handle the truth (John 6:44). This is why the devil tries to distract us from the truth so that it never gets deep down into the areas where he has a stronghold in our lives.

Persevere in this truth: “God is for me and not against me. The proof? He gave me His best on the cross when I was at my worst.” Review this truth daily. Say it out loud. Find a picture or image that represents this truth and review it throughout the day. This will help download the truth of God’s Word into your right brain where lies are attached to wounds from your past.

Neuroscience teaches us that it takes 2-5 years to develop new neurological pathways in our brain that contain the truth. So keep telling yourself the truth even when you don’t feel like it or see it so you can create and strengthen the new pathway in your brain. Our bodies create new brain cells the more we tell ourselves the truth. The more we tell ourselves the truth, the stronger the pathway becomes between brain cells. When we ignore the lie, the old pathway weakens – those brain cells containing Satan’s lies have less power and strength. You can continue to create new brain cells throughout your life by speaking the truth to yourself. When Paul said, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2), perhaps he not only had a spiritual transformation in mind, but a physiological transformation in mind as well.

Prayer: Father God, by Your Spirit, please heal my soul of the wound that has the lie attached to it that says, “You are against me.” I cannot heal this wound myself. No doctor, pastor, or therapist can heal me. Only You, Lord God, can heal me. I will need Your grace to replace this lie with Your truth that says, “You are for me. And since no one is greater than You, no one can successfully oppose me.” When I doubt that You are for me, please remind me of the cross that says You gave me Your best when I was at my worst. And since You gave Your best to me when I was at my worst, how much more will You give me through Your Son Jesus now that I am Your beloved child through faith in Him!?! Thank You that I no longer need to live in fear. I can awaken each morning expectant of Your best for me through the Lord Jesus Christ. In His name I pray. Amen.

There is hope even if I don’t know how to pray

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

As we face the many challenges presented to us by the coronavirus, we may not know how to pray to God. And we can lose that sense of hope that says things will get better. Maybe you are feeling that way now. Maybe you have an ache in your heart over a loss of some kind. It may be the loss of connections with people through social distancing. Or your loss may revolve around finances… a job… a friendship … your own health… or the loss of a loved one.

Romans 8:26-27 tells us, 26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” These verses are telling us that if you are a Christian, you can have hope through the indwelling Holy Spirit Who “helps us in our weaknesses” (8:26a). When we encounter pain and suffering (Rom. 8:18-25), we may not know exactly how to pray to God, so the Holy Spirit helps us by praying on our behalf (“makes intercession for us”) to God the Father (8:26b).

The word “groanings” expresses feelings of compassion for our weak condition. The Holy Spirit requests the Father’s help for us with deep compassion (cf. Eph. 6:18). However, we should not confuse these “groanings” with praying in tongues. These “groanings … cannot be uttered” by the Hoy Spirit. This is not an audible prayer language to the human ear. Besides, this passage promises all Christians God’s help, not just those who had the gift of tongues. Furthermore, the Scriptures never connect the gift of tongues with intercessory prayer. The main point of verse 26 is that even when “we do not know what we should pray for,” the Holy Spirit prays to God the Father on our behalf, telling Him exactly what is on our hearts (8:26).

Even though we cannot hear the Holy Spirit’s intercession for us, God the Father can hear and understand Him. So not only does the Holy Spirit pray on our behalf, but we have a heavenly Father “who searches” our hearts and “knows what the mind of the Spirit is” (8:27a).The Holy Spirit makes our hearts understandable to the Father. We can be assured that the Holy Spirit’s prayers for us are effective in securing God’s help for us, because the Spirit prays on our behalf “according to the will of God” (8:27b).

For example, when our children were infants, my wife would tune in to each child’s wordless cry. She learned to distinguish a cry for food from a cry for attention, an earache cry from a stomachache cry. To me the sounds were identical, but not to their mother who instinctively discerned the meaning of the helpless child’s cry. The Holy Spirit has resources of sensitivity beyond those of the most discerning mother. The Spirit of God can detect needs we cannot articulate. So as the Spirit prays for us, He gives content and expression to our heavenly Father as to the deep things of our hearts. He makes us understandable to the Father. When we do not know what to pray the Holy Spirit fills in the blanks.

I remember visiting a church member in his home several years ago after he had battled an illness that made it difficult for him to put his thoughts into words. He told me there would be times with the Lord that he would be unable to finish his prayers and this greatly disturbed him. So I turned to Romans 8:26-27 and explained to him that even when he was unable to finish his prayers, God the Holy Spirit would finish them for him. The Spirit would pray to God the Father on this man’s behalf, telling the Father exactly what was on his heart. The Holy Spirit made him understandable to the Father. And not only that, the Spirit prayed on his behalf according to the will of God. These truths gave this man hope that God truly did understand his deepest longings and needs that he was unable to put into words.

So when we feel uptight about our inability to pray about a particular need or situation, we can rest in the promises found in Romans 8:26-27. We are assured that God will help us in our weaknesses because the Holy Spirit makes our needs and longings known to the Father by praying to Him on our behalf. During difficult times, we need to know that God understands us. Even if we can’t express ourselves well, our compassionate Father in heaven will understand how we feel and what we need because of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. When we feel understood, we really begin to experience hope. Because if God understands our hearts and our needs, then He can do something about them.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, during these uncertain times, it can be difficult for me to find the words that express my deepest longings and needs to the Father in prayer. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for praying to the Father on my behalf according to God’s will even when I do not know what to pray. Knowing that You make my heart’s desires understandable to my compassionate Father in heaven gives me hope in the midst of these difficult times. Because when my heart’s deepest longings and needs are understood by You, then You can do something about them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

I am loved and cherished by the God of the Universe

“When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” Psalm 27:10

The writer of Psalm 27, King David, is facing a difficult circumstance. Some Bible students think he wrote this when he was fleeing from his son, Absalom (cf. 2 Sam. 15:1-37; 17:15-29). Imagine having to run for your life to avoid being killed by your own rebellious adult child? This may have been David’s challenge when he wrote this Psalm.

Instead of choosing to respond with fear, David chose to respond with faith in the One who is the source of his hope (“light”), deliverance (“salvation”), and “strength” (27:1).Notice the personal pronoun “my” in this verse. The Lord was not just “a” source of hope and deliverance to David, He was HIS source of hope and deliverance. David’s relationship with God was personal and dynamic.

It’s possible David was not getting the help he needed at this time, even from those closest to him. But David’s trust was in the Lord to take care of him. “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me” (27:10). The Hebrew word translated “take care of” (asaph) means “to gather or remove.” In this context it refers to gathering an individual into the company of another, in this case, the Lord. Even if his parents abandoned him, David was confident God still loved him and valued him.

If you grew up with parents or guardians who may have failed to love you and care for you as you needed, remember that their parents were imperfect as well. They were doing the best they could with what they possessed. But it is still important for you to face your wounds and recognize that even when others have failed you, God has not. God saw you as a child and He loved you then, and He sees you and loves you now. God wants to take care of you and bring healing to your soul.

Because God see us and values us as a person, we no longer need to work so hard for the approval and love of others. Since God keeps us safe and secure, we no longer need to try hard to protect ourselves. We can present out true selves to the Lord and to those who are safe.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding me that I am not alone and unloved. I am loved and cherished by the God of the universe. And although my parents may have failed to love and protect me as I needed as a child, You have never failed me. Because You always see me and value me as a person, I no longer need to work so hard to gain the approval and love of others. Nor do I need to work so hard to protect myself or hide my vulnerabilities because You will take care of me and meet my deepest needs to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure. Thank You Lord Jesus for Your unlimited love and care for me. In Your name. Amen.

I need to go through Samaria

But He needed to go through Samaria.” John 4:4

One of my favorite evangelistic encounters in the Bible is when Jesus went to Samaria to visit a hurting woman at a well of water (John 4:1-26). Jesus left Judea to avoid trouble with the religious leaders (4:1-3). Instead of going the normal route that Jews take around Samaria by crossing the Jordan River, traveling north, and then crossing the Jordan into Galilee, He went straight north into Samaria (4:4). Such a course was direct and shorter, but Jews did not go that way because they hated Samaritans.

The reason “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” is because they were racially mixed (4:9). When Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom 700 years before Christ, many of the Jews were exported, and many foreigners were imported. The Jews who stayed and the Gentiles who came intermarried. The offspring were half-breeds called Samaritans. The Jews hated them and would have nothing to do with them.

But Jesus “needed to go to Samaria” (4:4). He was compelled to go to Samaria. Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria when the alternate route was available? Because He had a divine appointment with a hurting woman whom God would eventually use to transform an entire community (4:28-30). Christ was willing to cross over the barriers of prejudice to love on her and give her living water the moment she believed in Him (4:10-26). 

When I was a college freshman at a religious college in Ohio, God crossed over man-made barriers to present His life-giving gospel message to me. I was very discouraged at the time because of a knee injury playing college football a few months earlier. My dream of playing professional football was crushed, and I had no idea what my purpose in life would be without football. But on a Monday in February of 1979, God sent two-time Heisman Trophy winner and professional football player Archie Griffin to our college to share the good news of Jesus with us. His coming was God’s gift to our school. After hearing Archie’s testimony that night, I transferred all my trust onto Jesus’ and His sufficient sacrifice for my sins to receive His gift of everlasting life and forgiveness. My life has never been the same.

The Lord Jesus was willing to cross over social and religious barriers at our school to present His message of eternal life as a free gift to me through His servant. Oh, how I praise Him for needing to go to my school that night! I exalt Him for crossing over man-made barriers to save undeserving sinners like me.

Who represents your Samaria? One way to find out is to ask yourself, “Who do I dislike the most? Who do I try to avoid the most?” Are we willing to do whatever it takes to reach people that no one else wants to reach? That person at work or in our neighborhood that is the subject of jokes and gossip? That person whose values and lifestyle are the opposite of our own? The person who has so many problems and needs that the only thing they can give you is a list of complaints? Ask the Lord to show you who represents your Samaria. Then surrender to His will.

With the coronavirus causing people to be separated or even isolated from others, there are many people like the woman at the well who are hurting and in need of the gracious and loving touch of the Lord Jesus Christ. Are we willing to cross over man-made barriers to share Jesus’ life-giving message with them? You do not have to go to them physically, but you can go to them online through an email, a facebook post, a tweet, a video call, or through a phone call or written letter. Ask the Lord to show you whom He wants you to contact with a message of hope and love through the Lord Jesus Christ. He loves to answer that prayer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for loving me so much that You were willing to cross over man-made barriers to share Your life-giving gospel message with me through Your servant, Archie Griffin. At that moment of faith in You alone, my sins were all forgiven and I received life everlasting! As I grow closer to You, I am seeing people more as You do – as those You love and want to save regardless of their culture, color of skin, or country, or health. I surrender all to You my Lord and Savior. Please lead me to my Samaria – to those people no one else wants to reach with Your gospel message. I pray for Your boldness, clarity, and compassion as I communicate Your life-giving message with those You have prepared to hear and believe. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

I am sheltered by God’s Word from my antagonists

23 Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes. 24 Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” Psalm 119:23-24

This morning I woke up to an onslaught of lies that attacked my character and standing before God. Voices that said, “You are a loser.” “You can’t do anything right.” “You are pathetic.” “You are all alone and unloved.” “You are worthless.” Who needs enemies when you wake up to this kind of self-hatred and self-condemnation?

This has been a pattern throughout much of my life. I know where these lies come from. They have been attached to wounds in my past by the father of lies, Satan himself (John 6:44). Throughout my life I have unconsciously sought approval from men who are unable to accept, affirm, or appreciate me. But God is teaching me to seek out godly and available men who are channels of God’s love and grace towards me.

Instead of obsessing on a barrage of lies this morning, I got out of bed and sat at my new desk to focus on God’s Word. I was drawn to Psalm 119:23-24 where the Psalmist writes, “Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes” (119:23). Instead of focusing on the antagonism of “princes,” the Psalmist “meditates” on God’s “statutes” or “testimonies.” The word “statutes” (choq) refers to boundaries established by God in His Word. And the word “testimonies” (siach) refers to God’s witness or testimony from the Scriptures.

When the Psalmist speaks of God’s Word as his “delight” (shaashuim), he is referring to that which he “desires or bends toward” much like a house plant that bends toward the rays of sunshine coming through a window to receive its nutrients. Instead of leaning toward the life-taking words of his antagonists, he bends toward the life-giving nourishment of God’s Word. God’s Word was also like his “counselors” (etsah) in that it gave him guidance and wisdom he would need as a “servant” of the Lord.  

God reminded me this morning that what I focus on is a choice. I can either focus on the lies of my antagonists which deplete me of life and nourishment, or I can focus on God’s truth which gives me life and love throughout my day. I choose to turn to God’s life-giving Word which defines who I am:

– In Christ I am a winner (Ephes. 2:5-6).

– I am loved and cherished by God (Psalm 27:10).

– In Christ I am good enough (2 Cor. 5:21).

– I am loved by Jesus just as I am (Rom. 5:6, 8).

– I can do what is right through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).

Will you join me in doing this?

Prayer: Precious Lord God, when I am overwhelmed with lies that degrade and shame me, please help me lean towards Your truth and focus on what it says about You, myself, and this broken world in which I live. I am so familiar with lies that degrade and shame me. Please grant me the resolve to become much more intimate with Your truth which comforts, guides, nurtures, and loves me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.