The Void

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James 1:15

It’s interesting to me how sin works. From how it begins to its devastating outcome in our life. Yet, we continue to fall victim to it over, and over, and over again. Scripture is very clear where sin in our life begins; it’s rooted within the desires of ourself.

When we entertain the desires within us, we open the door for temptation to parade through uninhibited. And when we choose to give into that desire, conception takes place within our hearts and minds, resulting in the birth or action we take, sin.

The picture James paints here is rather graphic. It’s the idea of a pregnancy, which brings joy and pleasure. The anticipation of something great. A sad picture of what sin is. In the moment it might be pleasurable and exciting. We might even be convinced that the outcome is worth while, that we will be happy in the end.

Just like that pregnancy. Waiting for the birth.

But instead, sin is like a stillborn baby. What was once anticipation and excitement, even pleasure in the moment is now heartbreak. It’s devastation that ripples out in our life.

Sin often leaves us in a state of numbness and disconnect; I call it the void.

A place of loneliness, feeling like God’s presence has left and now I’m stuck and numb. Not sure what to do, because after all what I did didn’t bring me the result I was anticipating.

The void is an easy place to find yourself, and an easy place to get stuck in. As a flower of Jesus I’m going to have moments where I fail and give into temptation. Following Jesus does not prevent me from sinning. It also doesn’t grant me a license to sin. What following Jesus does is provide a means of grace and forgiveness when I sin.

That grace, made possible by Jesus dying in my place on a cross and my acceptance of it in faith, provides the avenue for me to escape the void. As a follower of Jesus I am not alone when I fail to obey, and sin.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted

    and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18

Words written by a guy who sinned a lot in his life. Yet, had one of the most profound relationships with God. The words for you and I today as followers of Jesus are just as true as they were for King David. When I mess up I’m not alone, even when I feel like it.

Satan does a great job convincing us of lies. He did it in the garden with Eve, giving a half truth to convince her of a lie. Her and Adam’s response after they sinned is much like we find ourselves in the void. They ran and hid from God, knowing what they had done was sin. They felt alone, ashamed, numb. How could God still love them, care about them after what they did.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-9

While we think in the aftermath of our sin God has deserted us, the reality is what we see with Adam and Eve. We ran from God. We turned away and ran. Finding ourself in the void isn’t because God left. We did. And just like with Adam and Eve, God is calling us. Not because He doesn’t know where we are, but to remind us of where He is.

Are yo stuck in the void of your sin? Do you feel lost, lonely, numb, like God has walked away?

God never turned His back on you. He’s been there the whole time, calling you back to Himself.

The question is, will you get up and go back to Him. Will you repent and humble yourself before Him. Being stuck in the void is your choice.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

The world we live in is filled with opportunities to surrender our integrity. No matter what age, demographic, culture you come from, or upbringing, the reality of temptation is something every person faces. And with every instance of temptation knocking at our door comes the challenge to wrestle with it mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul was no stranger to temptation. Neither were the people he ministered to, who were part of the churches he wrote his letters to. That’s why he reminds us that we are not in this struggle alone. More than that, there is no temptation you or I could face that someone hasn’t faced before. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in that. What I face doesn’t catch God by surprise, and I’m not the only one who has wrestled with it either.

Paul makes an interesting statement next that I think requires us to explore more. There is often times the thought, whether it be conscious or not, that God orchestrates temptation in our life. That when we face temptation it’s because God brought it into our life. The problem is that this thinking contradicts Scripture and God’s very nature. As a Holy God, He cannot commit or cause sin. To do so would be contradictory to who He is. James emphasized this point in his letter when he wrote the following.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

James 1:13-14

Temptation is rooted within ourselves, not God. It is the effect of our own desires, rooted in our flesh. God does not tempt, but rather tests us.

That’s an important distinction to understand. Paul is however indicating that God allows us to be tempted. Allowing something to happen is very different from being the cause, and this is the distinction Paul makes. But even with God allowing temptation to take place, Paul makes it clear that He will never allow it to be stronger than my ability to not give in.

Now, this is an interesting point. It’s common for us as people to find excuses for giving into temptation. And the excuse is always rooted in a lack of escape. Paul however makes it very clear that God always provides a way out. The ability to turn away from the temptation is always there, and thus failure to do so is not because we couldn’t.

We fail to turn from temptation because we choose to give in.

When I give into the temptations I face it’s simply because I decided to give in. The reality and truth is that God never allows me to face a challenge I can’t overcome, He always provides a means of escape and endurance. When I fail in my integrity and allow my character to be jeopardized by giving into temptation, I have no one but myself to blame.

But this reality brings to light another truth. My independence will always lead to giving into the temptations I face! If I continue to try and survive on my own, apart from God, I will fail every time. Paul wasn’t saying I have the strength to escape temptation. The fact that God provides the way means the ability to do so rests in Him alone.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to look at that site.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to steal that item.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to tell that lie.

God’s strength is the means in which I can keep my integrity and character intact.

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Maybe that’s why Paul said these words too. He understood that it was literally in the moments he didn’t have the strength to maintain his integrity that God’s grace and power shined through most. Paul recognized his weakness, and understood where his true strength came from.

Not himself, but God.

What’s your response to temptation when you face it? Do you have a tendency to blame God, especially when you give in? Paul’s words present a challenge to how we view temptation, and calls us to not only see it differently but to act accordingly.

What will you do?

Just To Get To Me

I’ve listened to this song before I don’t know how many times. But today it hits different. It literally makes my spirit ache, in a good way. Maybe it’s my focus lately on God’s Grace.

This series I’ve been preaching about God’s Grace has opened my eyes to a fresh perspective on how good He really is. I’ve been refreshed in my understanding of who I was apart from Jesus, and that it was because of God’s Grace that Jesus took my place on the cross.

Talk about love! God wanted me restored you Him so much He made a way only Jesus could fulfill. There is nothing that can beat that. Nothing that can replace it.

Grace, getting what I don’t deserve because of love.

It cultivates in me gratitude. Thankfulness that I was worth it. I was worth dying for.

I encourage you to carve out some time and worship through this song. Listen to the lyrics, sing them to King Jesus in gratitude for what He did for you. Leave it all at His cross…

Three Words

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””
‭‭Mark‬ ‭4:35-41‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When I’ve read this passage in the past, I’ve always been struck by Jesus’ response to the situation and the Disciples. His calm and power were put on full display. But as I read this today, it was the response of the Disciples after Jesus that struck me.

Scripture says “they were filled with great fear”.

I find it interesting that while they feared for their lives in light of the storm on the sea, Jesus’ display of calm and power resulted in a much deeper fear.

Here they saw evidenced with their own eyes someone exerting real power and authority over nature. Forces that had taken so many lives before them, now ceased at the utterance of three words.

The Disciples’ reality shifted. No longer was their concern and reverence for the forces of nature surrounding them, but for the Son of God.

I think it begs the question of us, what do we fear most? What captivates our reverence most? Is it the circumstances we face, or our Savior?

When the storms in my life seem out of control, there is One person who can bring restoration. On the boat He used three words, “Peace! Be still!”

My prayer is in those moments I would have a greater fear and reverence for my Creator, and not be consumed by fear of the circumstance.

Serve like Jesus

What it means to follow Jesus can become a lengthy answer. Trying to hit all the different ways and attributes that could signify someone follows Jesus can be a task in and of itself.

There is one thing though, that is blatantly clear. Something that Jesus modeled with His own life consistently.

Jesus served.

Service of others was central to Who Jesus was. Serving others was central to His mission of redemption. Service was such an integral part of Who He is and What He is about, it led Him to the cross.

When was the last time serving someone cost you?

Is serving others a part of who you are? Do you meet the opportunity to serve others with frustration or grace?

No matter what Jesus was facing in the moment, He met opportunities to serve others with grace. When He could have turned them away, He drew them near. He taught them, fed them, challenged them.

Let’s serve like Jesus.

We can become really good at saying the “right things”. It sounds good, maybe looks great on paper; it makes us and those who hear or read it feel better about the issue at hand.

But what about when we fail to act in a way that supports what we say? I’ve always been fascinated and saddened at the same time, with large institutions who engage causes they hold high while failing to live out their commitment to them.

This recent debacle with the Women’s NCAA Basketball training room is a great case in point. The NCAA pushes the equality agenda, but by many people’s standards failed miserably at practicing it in this situation.

I think it illustrates though, a deeper truth that Paul was getting to in his letter to the Church in Corinth.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

With the absence of love, what I say and what I do doesn’t really matter. More, they will never line up. I can talk a good game, but my ability to play will be weak. And my true intentions, thoughts, and feelings will shine through.

While Paul was clearly illustrating for us the importance and power of love, I think there is more we can gain from his teaching. When we fail to act in a way that is congruent with what we say, what we say is worthless. James communicates this in a less subtle way.

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:17

To be clear, James isn’t teaching works-righteousness (your good works save you), but is making the point that our faith and claim as a follower of Jesus ought to be supported by our actions. People should be able to identify us as a follower of Jesus by how we live our life.

Paul and James in their own way issue us a challenge through these passages of Scripture, and it’s one I am reminded of hearing the story referenced above.

Does my life, the decisions and behaviors, even the thoughts I have, reflect the commitment to Jesus I claim?

Or am I just a loud gong? Do I just do a good job at saying the right things, and have a faith that’s dead?

Jesus wants more, He expects more. And the beautiful thing is, with Him we can be more.

The Right Approach

This trimester I am leading one of our Life Groups through a series that digs deeper into the Lord’s Prayer as a model for us to approach communication with God. It has honestly been a fascinating and encouraging process for me as I study in preparation. The questions I find myself asking and evaluating, thinking through my own approach to prayer.

For some time I have been convicted with how I approach God in prayer. Growing up I’ve heard numerous ways to reference God. The Big Guy in the Sky, my Homie, Daddy, Father, The Man Upstairs. Some I can get behind, most I can’t. To this point I have been convicted again in the reverence I give God. Do I really see Him as He truly is, as Scripture teaches us?

Do I see Him as loving and gracious but also holy and righteous? What I have found is that often times I can become complacent in my view of God. I can fall victim to just seeing Him as another “person”, and my communication with Him becomes more of a task than a joyful privilege.

Being reminded of Who He is has been a breath of much needed fresh air.

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.

For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

Psalm 33:8-9

He is mighty and powerful, outside of the realm of space and time as the Creator.

Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?

Psalm 77:13

There is a separateness, He is holy and we are not. He is perfect in all He is and does, and there is no one greater than He.

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’.

Revelation 4:8

He is forever worthy of all praise and honor. From beginning to end, God will receive the praise due to Him from all things.

How I approach God is monumental, because it reflects the posture of my heart and mind towards Who He is and what He is capable and worthy of. I needed a reminder of this, and I pose the same questions to you as I did myself.

Do you see God in a biblical light, or is it distorted? Do you allow your experiences and emotions to shape your perception of Who God is, or do you allow the truth of Scripture to guide the development of your understanding?

You have always…

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 9:9-10

It’s easy in life, to get caught up just pushing forward. It’s easy in life, to also get stuck in present circumstances. Especially when what we are in the midst of, or frantically trying to get through, doesn’t meet our standard of “ideal”.

Even as a follower of Jesus I have these moments. I’ve made a mistake, said something stupid, done something hurtful. I still have times where my emotions get the best of me, or I let the situation I’m in dictate my thinking and behavior.

I have moments when I fail to live a life that honors God. I haven’t “arrived”.

I’ve been spending my devotional time working through the Psalms again, and I love the authenticity from David in the ones he authored. You get to experience his rollercoaster of a life in a very raw way. A broken man who made a lot of mistakes, yet God called him a man after His own heart.

As you read his praises, frustrations, even laments, David was able to see God’s hand at work. Whether in the past, present, or future, David understood and more importantly believed that God was with Him, even when he made a mistake and felt alone.

How often do you find yourself feeling you have disappointed God? Thinking you have wandered so far from His grace you can’t ever come back? Do you ever feel so consumed by your emotions and the circumstances around you? My guess is like me, at times you do. Our feelings can blind us from the truth and reality of God’s love and presence in the lives of His children.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:11-12

David knew well the struggle between our feelings and reality. He came to understand through the struggles he faced that God’s grace extends far beyond our mistakes. And when we pause and look, we can find His presence around us. He is always there, always full of love and grace for His children. Song has always been a powerful communicator of truth to my spirit, and a song by Iron Bell Music helped illustrate this truth even more. Notice specifically these lyrics, and I encourage you to worship through the song below.

You have always, always, always loved me
Even at my weakest…
I look back and see You moving towards me
I look back and see You fighting for me

Be Satisfied

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,”

Psalm 63:5

What a vision. Wandering in the wilderness, David continued to keep his heart and mind set on the promises of God.

Despite his current situation, David trusted God to provide. He knew that the end result was God’s full provision, and it would be satisfying like a full meal.

And from this realization came praise. Joy-filled praise. Praise he didn’t just keep inside, quietly to himself. He sang it loud.

Where is our heart and mind fixated? God and His promises, or our current circumstances?
Do we openly and joyfully sing His praises, or wallow in the negative emotions of the moment?

Each moment we face, we have a choice.
Which will it be?

Reliance

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Psalm 62:1-2

Today there are people who find themselves all over the spectrum of emotion and thought. Honestly, I think that’s true for many days before. We either find ourselves excited for the future, afraid, angry, concerned. Maybe just numb.

As a follower of Jesus, it’s in moments like this I find my spirit convicted. Reminded to be cautious where I truly put my faith. And what I mean by “truly”, is what do my emotions and thoughts indicate my faith is in.

Is it really the power and sovereignty of the God I claim to love?

Is it really in the eternal reality I know waits for me when my days here come to an end?

Is it really in Jesus, the One who stands before God on my behalf, restoring my fellowship with my Creator?

Or is it in a person, an organization, a government. Is it in something broken and sinful? Am I putting more faith about my future in something or someone ordained to pass by God?

Here’s the thing, nothing catches God off guard. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing occurred without His knowledge and consent. And it always accomplishes His purposes.

Always.

Even when I don’t agree with it, I don’t understand it, I can’t make sense of it. God does, and that’s what matters.

So I encourage you today, find encouragement in David’s words. When he was being hunted by king Saul, who was determined to kill him, David found peace in the reality of who was really in control. He found rest in the sovereignty of God.

Even when he didn’t understand, he trusted.