The Apple Of God’s Eye

The good news is that God not only played favorites with Israel, he holds you as the apple of his eye, too. How so? When you came to Christ trough faith, God took all the love he displayed for Israel, and for his Son, and he placed it on you. Now you are the one he loves.

Enduring Truth // Focus: Psalm 17:8

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Did you know that God has favorites? The Bible tells us that he held the nation of Israel as the apple of his eye. Really—you can read that in Deuteronomy 32:9-11 and Zechariah 2:7-9.

The good news is that God not only played favorites with Israel, he holds you as the apple of his eye, too. How so? Through Christ’s blood shed on the cross for you! You see, when you came to Christ through faith, God took all the love he displayed for Israel, and for his Son, and he placed it on you. Now you are the one he loves.

An inspiring writer by the name of Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who was on a walking tour of his rural parish one day. And there by the roadside he found an old man, a peasant, kneeling in prayer. The priest was quite impressed, so he walked over and interrupted the man: “You must be very close to God.”

The peasant looked up from his prayers, thought for a moment, smiled and said, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.”

This simple man had a simple faith that revealed a profound self-awareness of his true identity—he knew he was loved by God, and that was all that mattered! Manning developed his own personal declaration from that touching story. He would say of himself, “I am the one Jesus loves.”

It sounds a little arrogant, but he’s actually quoting Scripture. Jesus’ closest friend, John, identified himself in his Gospel as, “the one Jesus loved.” If you were to ask John, “What is your primary identity in life?” he wouldn’t reply, ‘I’m one of Jesus’ disciples—actually one of the three in his inner circle!” He wouldn’t say, “I’m one of the twelve apostles.” Nor would he identify himself as “the author of the Gospel that bears my name. As a matter of fact, I wrote the original ‘Left Behind’ book—Revelation.” Rather, John would simply say, “I am the one Jesus loves.”

I hope that you, too, will take to saying that. More importantly, I pray that you will start believing it in your heart, because when you truly grasp how great the Father’s love for you really is, it will change your entire life! Peter Kreeft insightfully wrote, “Sin comes from not realizing God’s love. Sin comes from thinking ourselves only as sinners, while overcoming sin comes from thinking ourselves as overcomers. We act our perceived identities.”

Friend, your identity is the “one Jesus loves”. Now start perceiving it. You are the apple of God’s eye—that is who you are. In fact, your Father is watching over you at this very moment with great delight.

Now go act like that’s true, because it is!

Every day for the next thirty days, declare this truth when you awaken, when you take your lunch break, and before you fall to sleep at night: I am the one Jesus loves. Do it unwaveringly, because it is true!

Thrive: Every day for the next thirty days, declare this truth when you awaken, when you take your lunch break, and before you fall to sleep at night: I am the one Jesus loves. Do it unwaveringly, because it is true!

God, Make Me Ready for the End of Time

52 Simple Prayers for 2018

The Bible is full of promises, —hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, that God has made to his children. Not all of them have been fulfilled, but none of them have been broken. Nor will they ever be. Every promise in scripture will come true—including God’s promise to send to earth his Son a second time. And that promise could be fulfilled today.

A Simple Prayer for End-Time Readiness:

God, make me ready for Christ’s return today. And help me to live each day as if it were my last. Give me a passion for purity, an urgency to share my faith in Jesus, a greater boldness to withstand the pressures of evil, and an unquenchable longing for the return of my Lord and Savior. And yes, on this day, even so, come Lord Jesus.

The Malpractice of Prayer – And How To Avoid It

Getting Real With God

Jesus is calling us out of the legalistic, joyless intimidation of misunderstood and malpracticed prayer and into an authentic, intimate, simple, day-by-day, moment-by-moment practice of the presence of God. This is the kind of prayer that pleases our Father God more than anything. And “when you pray” like that, the Father opens up all of heaven to you!

Enduring Truth // Focus: Matthew 6:5

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.

In Jesus’ day, prayer had been hijacked. The culprits were the religious leaders and the Pharisee—Jesus called them “hypocrites”. They had turned the simple and wonderful practice of talking to God into a ritualized, formalized, mechanized and stylized event. As a result, something meant to connect people with God had turned into an intimidating, joyless experience since few people were eloquent enough to pull off the impressive public prayers demanded by the spiritual elite.

This misuse and abuse of prayer disgusted Jesus, the master of prayer. So in a teaching moment that was both scathing, yet soothing at the same time, he sat the record straight as to what the kind of prayer that truly pleases God really looked like.

First of all, Jesus taught that God-pleasing prayer is authentic. Jesus said in verse 5, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.” The hypocrites—the Pharisees and religious leaders—were pretentious. Their motive for praying was to impress the crowds, but they were anything but real. God wasn’t, and isn’t, impressed by the style or the content of our prayers. He’s moved by our honesty—even if it is not too articulate and especially when it is heartfelt. Jesus is saying that God wants his children to just “get real” before him.

Secondly, Jesus taught that God-pleasing prayer is intimate. Verse 6 says, “when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.” The use of the name “Father” isn’t a mistake. Jesus is painting an altogether different picture of what God intended prayer to be than what man had turned it into. Jesus is referring to a childlike quality and posture that payer is to take before the Father. That’s because God-pleasing prayer is really a parent-child exchange. It is simply being with a Father who longs to be close to his kids.

Finally, Jesus taught that God-pleasing prayer is simple. He said in verse 7, “don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” I can’t help but think if Jesus was here today to teach us about prayer, he would instruct us in the KISS method: Keep it simple, sweetheart!

Jesus is calling us out of the legalistic, joyless intimidation of misunderstood and malpracticed prayer and into an authentic, intimate, simple, day-by-day, moment-by-moment practice of the presence of God. This is the kind of prayer that pleases our Father God more than anything. And “when you pray” like that, the Father opens up all of heaven to you!

Thrive: Practice brutally real, child-to-Father, very simple prayers throughout the day. You will please God more than you know!

I Don’t Feel Like Going To Church Today

Big Deal—Do It Anyway

Biblically speaking, going to church is a decree, not an option for when we feel like it. As Eugene Peterson says, “Feelings are important in many areas, but completely unreliable in matters of faith.” The surest way to “feel like it” is by doing the very thing you don’t feel like doing—in this case, going to church to give thanks. When we get up and get going to church to give thanks, by faith and in obedience, the result will be that we will develop the best feelings of all: feelings for God!

Enduring Truth // Focus: Psalm 122:1

When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,” my heart leaped for joy.

The psalmist was talking about going to church, and unlike an increasing number of “Christians” in America, he was excited. Among other things, he was looking forward to gathering with God’s people to “give thanks to the name of God,” according to Psalm 122:5 (MSG). That’s just one of the things, albeit a very important thing, that believers are meant to do.

That is a decree, by the way, not an option for when we feel like it. As Eugene Peterson says, “Feelings are important in many areas, but completely unreliable in matters of faith.” The surest way to “feel like it” is by doing the very thing you don’t feel like doing—in this case, going to church to give thanks. When we get up and get going to church to give thanks, by faith and in obedience, the result will be that we will develop the best feelings of all: feelings for God!

I am told that the average church-goer in the United States now attends their place of worship just a tick under two times per month. Somehow I don’t think that would cut it with the psalmist, who centered his life around the house of God, and I know it doesn’t cut it with God.

God loves it when his family stops by for dinner, and he has so ordered it that we should do that on a regular basis. (Hebrews 10:24-25) One could argue that nowhere does the Bible say that has to be every Sunday, but I would counter that with, first of all, the practice of the church from the beginning, which was gathering for praise, thanks, instruction and encouragement, minimally, every week on the first day. And second of all, those who make that argument have missed the point: Gladness in going to God’s house. If you are finding reasons not to go, and justifying those reasons, it is highly likely that your reservoir of gladness is empty.

If that is the case, I would suggest you go to God and ask him to fill your tank. He is pretty good about doing that. And if you just don’t feel like going to God, or to church, grab your feelings if you have to and drag them with you. When you do, at some point you will make one of the great discoveries in life, a discovery that great people of faith have known for some time: You can act your way into feeling much more quickly than you can feel your way into acting.

Thrive: Put a permanent appointment on your weekly calendar: going to church. And keep that appointment for the rest of your life.

God, Pour Out Special Blessings On All Who Serve You

52 Simple Prayers for 2018

We are enamored with celebrity in our culture—even in the Christian world. We elevate TV preachers; we give special attention to pastors of mega-churches; we idolize Christian singers, entertainers and authors of best-selling books. God doesn’t. He is not all that impressed. He isn’t enamored with celebrity, he does not elevate high profile Christians, he is not drawn to talented and successful believers any more than he is to ordinary ones. God sees the little person—the one who faithfully and diligently serves behind the scenes in his kingdom, doing the things no one notices and rarely appreciates. And he will not forget their sacrificial service. Neither should we.

A Simple Prayer To Bless God’s Servants:

God, I pray for a special blessing on all of the people in your kingdom who faithfully, selflessly and sacrificially serve you by serving the church – your people. They are mostly unsung and unnoticed, except by you. So show them a sign of your favor today. Bless them with your abundance. And on that glorious Day, honor them in your presence above all others.

The Last Supper – For Now

Declare His Death Until He Comes

Whenever you receive communion, you are being reminded of a promise. It is one of God’s best promises to you: the promise of Christ’s return. And he has never broken a promise—not one. Jesus sealed the promise of his return by his death, and he guaranteed it by his resurrection. He will make good on it, perhaps sooner than you expect, maybe even today. Maranatha—even so, come Lord Jesus!

Enduring Truth // Focus: Luke 22:15-16

Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

From the moment Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, Christians have regularly celebrated communion in memory of his death. Some church traditions celebrate it every Sunday, others celebrate it monthly—as does my church on the first Sunday of every month—and still others have their own tradition as to the frequency and practice of communion.

When we receive communion, we mostly focus on the Lord’s death and our redemption that was purchased at the moment of his sacrifice. And what a sweet time of remembrance it is. Nothing is more moving than coming to the Lord’s Table.

Yet it is not only about remembering, communion also calls us to look forward. Twice, as Jesus instituted this holy sacrament, he spoke to his disciples of a time in the future where he, himself, would again participate in this celebration. He was referring to his second coming. He was issuing a promise that he would come again, and each time they, and by extension, we, receive Holy Communion, partakers were to be reminded of that promise and rejoice in its future fulfillment.

The next time you receive Holy Communion, I want to challenge you to not only look back in gratitude for the Lord’s death, but look forward in hope to the Lord’s coming. When you eat the bread and drink the wine, you are declaring his death, as the Apostle Paul said, “til he comes.”

Holy Communion means a promise. It is one of God’s best promises to you. And he has never broken a promise—not one. Jesus sealed the promise of his return by his death, and he guaranteed it by his resurrection. He will make good on it—perhaps sooner than you expect. And as you come to the Table, remember, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”(I Corinthians 11:26)

Thrive: The next time you receive communion, deliberately and gratefully remember the promise he made to you of his return.

The Unpardonable Sin

The Steadfast Refusal To Be Forgiven

When we deliberately choose a lie when confronted with God’s Truth, it is not that God then withholds his Truth—or his love and redemption for that matter—but that with each such deliberate choice, we become less able to respond to these graces. The real danger is that at some point we may very well refuse to be forgiven.

Enduring Truth // Focus: Mark 3:28-29

I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequence.

Jesus revealed unlimited forgiveness through his death on the cross. By his atoning sacrifice, God’s great grace covers all our sin—with the exception of one: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That sin has been called unforgivable.

These three words—the unforgivable sin—have caused untold anguish to many who have misunderstood their meaning and thought they had committed this grievous sin of all sins. Maybe they had become angry in a time of bitter disappointment or loss and let their rage fly, cursing God. Perhaps they fell into a sin they had vowed to God never to commit again. Maybe they had toyed with something Satanic, or mocked the work of the Spirit in a church service only then to be hit with the terrifying thought that they had insulted and blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Whatever the case, based on this passage, there are those who wonder if they are hopelessly and eternally damned.

One of the chief problems with this passage, however, is that the wrong people are usually the ones obsessing over it. It is usually those who have a high degree of moral sensitivity and care deeply about their relationship with God, or those who suffer the religious symptoms of an emotional imbalance who live under such guilt and fear. In both cases, a misunderstanding of the passage has created unnecessary pain.

The context of this confrontational encounter gives us a better understanding. Jesus had been performing many outstanding miracles (Mark 3:10-11, see also Matthew 12:22-30 and Luke 11:14-28), plainly evident for all to see. Most of the people were astounded by Jesus’ power over disease, demons and death, but out of sheer jealous and condescending elitism, the religious leaders scorned Jesus’ ministry as the work of the devil. So Jesus’ declaration of this unforgivable sin here is clearly a response to the sin of these few. It is not the sin of blurting out some momentary profanity or sacrilege against the Spirit of God. It’s the much more sinister offense of looking into the very face of Truth and calling it a lie. The teachers of the law were seeing the undeniable healing imprint of God’s Spirit and still deliberately calling it a work of Satan.

We need to understand that these leaders were not simply ignorant or perhaps confused in this matter; they knew exactly what they were doing. It is worth noting that verse 30 doesn’t translate very well from the Greek text in most English versions. An imperfect tense is used which suggests that theirs was a chronic attitude. In other words, they were continually declaring that Jesus had an evil spirit. This was not simply a spur-of-the-moment declaration, but an ongoing fixation.

Why couldn’t they be forgiven? Not because God’s grace was withheld from them, but because with each denial, they became increasingly incapable of responding to the Spirit of Grace.

Now here is the real danger in this—and the message for us who read this sobering text: When we deliberately choose a lie when confronted with God’s Truth, it is not that God then withholds his Truth—or his love and redemption for that matter—but that with each such deliberate choice, we become less able to respond to these graces.

So this brings us to the correct definition of the unforgivable sin: It is the steadfast refusal to be forgiven! The only sin that cannot be forgiven is un-repentance. However, when we bring to God a soft and sorrowful heart, we find as King David did, that “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Thrive: Keep in mind this prayer of the forgivable sinner: “Father, create in me a tender heart. Keep me sensitive to the convicting work of your Spirit and cause me to be quick to repent.”