Choose Grace

Grace is loving kindness given with no way to repay, earn, or deserve it. It’s receiving God’s unmerited favor and forgiveness. When perfection reaches down to love helpless sinners. Grace is free and lasts forever. 

What an incredible, beautiful gift of freedom yet somehow, we keep returning to chains. Grace by its definition can’t be combined with works. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And if it is by grace, then it is no longer by works. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). 

He also reminds us, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21).  

Jesus died for us because we could never obtain freedom from sin on our own. We’re powerless apart from Him. 

Scripture teaches, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Three burdens God’s grace frees us from:

The burden of slavery to the law

There are 613 laws in the Old Testament. Jewish leaders added many more leaving people drowning in detailed law. 

Obeying the well-known ten commandments is impossible. Who will never covet another’s belongings or put anything or anyone before God? What about always keeping the Sabbath day holy? 

We might easily avoid murder or adultery but Jesus took it further when He taught, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). He also revealed that hating another person is like committing murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Jesus wanted to make it clear no one can keep the law. He came to set us free from this impossible task.

Some are able to live more righteously than others. One might live an evil life, committing violent acts while another gives their life to serve those in need. The person who demonstrates more kindness might think this earns her a ticket to heaven. The problem is the standard for living in God’s presence in heaven is perfection. Scripture instructs us in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” 

During the Apostle Paul’s ministry to the early church, he continually fought the lie that Gentiles must obey the Jewish law to become a Christian. He explained in Galatians 2:16, “Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

Jesus came to set us free from the law’s immense weight! He promised, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me... for My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The burden of being “good enough”

How good is “good enough?” How do you know if you’ve earned favor with God? 

Sometimes, God uses me to bless someone either through words I write, giving encouragement, or offering help. In those moments, I may fleetingly feel virtuous. But other times ugliness comes out of my heart: jealousy, pride, disdain, deceit, and other offenses. Then I know how weak I am. I can only live a godly life as I rely on Christ in me.

It’s impossible to reach heaven through obedience. We may as well try to fly to the moon in a hot air balloon. The Bible teaches, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). Jesus once stated, “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19). 

On my best day, when I’m seeking Jesus and have spent time praying and yielding my heart to Him, I still struggle with pride, impatience, and selfishness. To overcome these faults, I must rely on His holiness through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus came to earth and lived as a human to understand our struggle against sin and died to break its power. Without Him, we remain enslaved. My best intentions and greatest efforts can’t overcome the seed of sin planted when the first man and woman rebelled against God. By being reborn through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose righteousness. 

In God’s great love, He sent His Son to do what we’re incapable of: live a perfect life and pay the price for disobedience. Since sin deserves death, He suffered and died in our place; being fully God, He conquered death and rose as our eternal Savior. He now offers salvation to anyone who believes in Him. Not because we’re deserving but because of His grace and unfailing love. 

When we trust in Christ and receive His grace, His Spirit dwells in us and enables us to live honorably. When we fail, as we all do, He promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The burden of doubting salvation

The denomination I grew up in taught once you believe in Jesus, you’re His forever. But the underlying disclaimer, live by the rules or you probably never truly believed, caused doubt. Therefore, members frequently made multiple professions of faith. I remember one evangelist who proclaimed, “If you’re not leading people to Jesus, you’re not a Christian!” Fear struck my heart. Being shy and reserved, I lacked such boldness. Seeking to prove my Christianity, I made myself go door to door in my neighborhood. I can’t remember what I said but I probably invited them to the revival.

My struggles with doubt usually resulted in conversations with Jesus. Wrestling in prayer with Him after the incident where I went door-to-door, a light came on as I thought, “I know Him.” Regardless of what anyone might say, His Spirit lives in me and He’s been there for me since the moment I believed in Him. Salvation comes through a relationship. Christianity is knowing Jesus personally and loving Him. Religion is about performance. Yes, He wants us to follow Him and strive to love as He loves but He’ll never leave us. 

Jesus promised, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

God pours out grace on the undeserving. All people rebel against God yet He gives us every day the gifts of sunshine, nature, food, drink, and life. The Bible says He sends rain on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). He gave His Son to offer life to anyone who believes. He welcomes all people. And once we belong to Him, we are held in His embrace of love and grace forever. He blesses us not because we’re good but because He loves us.

Grace Made Clear

One incident in my life made grace real to me. I’ve regularly attended worship service and read my Bible for most of my life but sometime after marriage, my husband and I stopped going to church for a few years. I went days without thinking about God. 

In my late thirties I’d never been pregnant though I wanted a child. But my husband felt reluctant about being a father, to the point he had a vasectomy. I agreed with my head but not my heart. I stuffed my feelings and thought I could manage. Much later I found out he made that choice because he didn’t think he’d be a “good enough” dad.

Eventually I began seeing a counselor who suggested we try alternative conception methods such as artificial insemination. Over time, my husband’s heart had softened and he realized God would give him what he needed to parent well. We decided to take her advice and I went in every month for almost a year. 

After a year of no success, we decided to stop insemination efforts. I remember praying one day and asking God to show me what I should do or to change my desires.

 A few days before Christmas, the doctor we’d been working with called and asked if we’d ever considered adoption. I told him we might though my husband and I hadn’t discussed that option before. His words taught me a lesson in grace: “There’s a baby boy who was born yesterday who’s available if you’re interested.” What?! Twenty-two hours later I held our son in my arms. 

I’d been “doing” the least for God I’d ever done and suffered from a choice we made, yet He gave us a miraculous opportunity to adopt. I felt the full meaning of grace more at that moment than ever before. I realized then and know now, God’s love for me isn’t dependent on my behavior. He simply loves me. Completely, without reservations. No ifs or buts. 
Our son is now grown and married and one of the greatest blessings we’ve experienced. He provides a picture of what God’s grace is like. And my husband has been the best dad anyone could have.  God’s gift to us also brought me back to serve Him but with joy and not because I feel obligated. 

God’s Heart

Grace reveals God’s heart and character. From the moment He decided to create mankind in His own image, He planned to redeem us. He didn’t want children who were programmed to love and serve Him. He wanted us to willingly come to Him in faith trusting His goodness. He also knew that giving us the choice to rebel meant allowing corruption into the world. Sin destroys whatever it touches. We only have to look around us to see the results of disobedience: pain, chaos, suffering, wickedness, and death. God couldn’t allow evil to enter heaven or for sinful mankind to live forever. We faced death and eternal separation from our Father.

But God unfolded His majestic plan. His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, would come to earth as a man, fully God yet fully human, live the perfect life required for salvation, choose to pay the price for our rebellion and as God, overcome death. 

When Jesus rose again, He made it possible for anyone who believes in Him to receive the gift of eternal life. He offers His righteousness in exchange for our sin. 

Grace says anyone who calls on His name will be saved (Romans 10:13). God’s heart cries out to us all: Believe in My Son. Receive My love. Come to Me, My beloved child.

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Every Day is New

Many people make New Year's resolutions, set goals, and hope for change. But too often we soon fall short and feel discouraged. We seem to think change has to come with the new year. But, the truth is:

Every day is a new beginning.
Each morning God offers a fresh start.
God continually invites us to choose life, hope, and peace.

He calls us to forget what is behind and press toward the future. (Philippians 3:13;Isaiah 43:18-19)

His compassions are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

His love never fails. (Psalm 36:7)

Thank You Father for continually cleansing and refreshing my heart.
Thank You that every moment is an opportunity to choose love.

We need not be discouraged when we make mistakes, fall behind, or miss our goals.

His grace is limitless.

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Prophecies Fulfilled By the Birth of Christ

I love displaying my favorite nativity sets and singing about the joy Jesus brought the world at Christmas time. Jesus is the reason we celebrate every December 25th.  But do I stop to contemplate what this means? Too often I’m rushing to decorate, shop, and prepare and forget this powerful truth: The Son of God, holy, all-powerful, fully divine, humbled Himself and took on flesh to become a helpless baby!  How can I comprehend such a mind-blowing miracle? 

Some question if Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the promised Messiah. We’ve all experienced moments of doubt. Do we just accept Him by faith as the Son of God or is there any proof to substantiate His claims?

The prophets proclaimed the coming of a Savior, the Anointed One or Messiah who would rescue His people.

Here are seven prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ’s birth:

1. A descendent of Abraham would bless all people.

18 centuries before Christ’s birth, God told Abram, the father of the Jewish nation, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3b). Jesus fulfilled this promise as shown in Matthew 1:1: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the Son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew then details the genealogy of Christ from Abraham, formerly Abram, to Joseph the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Jesus was a descendant of Abraham and came to earth as the promised Messiah. He showed His glory through miracles, died as an innocent sacrifice for sin, and rose to life conquering death. All people on earth are blessed through Christ who came from Abraham’s line as was prophesied. 

2. The Messiah would come from the house of David and take his throne.

“’The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).

In fulfillment of this prophecy given over 600 years before, the angel Gabriel told Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33).

As was foretold, Jesus was born as a son of David, from his line, and became our eternal King. 

See also: Psalm 89:3-4

3. The Messiah would be born of a virgin.

Around 700 years before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to a son and then she told Joseph, her betrothed. It appears he assumed Mary had been unfaithful and planned to end their relationship until he had a dream: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:20-23).

As was prophesied the virgin Mary conceived from the Holy Spirit and gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This event not only fulfilled prophecy but was a miracle by itself. How could a virgin conceive and give birth? Only as an act of God.

See also: Luke 2:1-7

4. The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. 

Micah, an Old Testament prophet, foretold, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

Before Jesus was born, Caesar Augustus issued a decree demanding a census. This required every citizen to register in the town of their family origin. Scripture tells us, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David...while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 1:1-7). 

Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Micah by being born in Bethlehem.

5. The Messiah would be called out of Egypt.

 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1).

King Herod ruled Palestine when Jesus was born. He felt threatened when he heard of the birth and planned to kill him. An angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and escape to Egypt where they lived for a time. After Herod died, they returned to Nazareth. Matthew records, “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matthew 2:1-15). 

6. The Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

After the death of Herod, Joseph and his family returned to Nazareth and according to Matthew 2:23, “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that He would be called a Nazarene.” 

We know this was a fulfilled prophecy because Matthew recorded it as such though no Old Testament verses specifically mention this. For a more in-depth look at the meaning of this prophecy, refer to this article: The Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

7. There would be a loss of children’s lives. 

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah wrote, “This is what the LORD says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’” (Jeremiah 31:15).

Jeremiah foretold the atrocity that occurred after Herod realized he did not know which baby was the Messiah. He was furious and “he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under...Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled” (Matthew 2:16-18).

Evidence or Faith?

Yes, there is evidence to support the claims of Christ. What is the probability one man would fulfill these 7 prophecies? Mathematics and astronomy professor Peter W. Stoner once calculated the chance of 8 prophecies being fulfilled as 1 in 10 to the 17th power (100,000,000,000,000,000)!  Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies. ( Stoner illustrated the chances this way: Suppose all of Texas were covered with two feet of silver coins with one coin being marked with a red dot. Then a blindfolded man is dropped off and told to walk where he wants but must pick up the right coin at the first try. The chance of him picking up the correct coin would be the same as one man fulfilling just eight of the prophecies Jesus fulfilled.  

The proof that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of God, is overwhelming. Yet, ultimately, we come to Him by faith. I know Jesus fulfilled prophecy but I believe in Him because He loves me and has forgiven me. I have a relationship with Him. It’s a heart awakening more than mental assent. We believe by faith that He loves us and came to rescue us from sin and death. May we trust in His presence and love as we celebrate Christmas this year.


Filed under Christmas, Jesus

Help When You’re Worried

With daily news about COVID, disasters, and violence, we become overwhelmed with fear.  When we’re afraid, self-preservation kicks in and anxiety rules. Feeling powerless, many of us experience sleepless nights. I’ve worried about my family, the pandemic, division, hatred, increasing violence, and the extreme weather events. I find fear robs me of peace. 

Worry comes naturally. Why resist? Jesus gives us the answer, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest” (Luke 12:25-26).

Jesus says we have nothing to worry about. When we grasp the truth of who God is and trust His plan, we find freedom from anxiety.

Here are 10 reasons why you have nothing to worry about:

1. God reigns supreme. 	

Our all-knowing God controls the universe. He spoke to the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “I am God, and there is no other... there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning... I say, 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please...What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do” (Isaiah 46:9-11).

God’s desires will prevail. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote, “In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

While we have freedom to choose, God will use all events to fulfill His aim to glorify His name.  God’s intentions for the universe can’t be hindered.

2. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. 

Believers in Jesus are secure forever. Writing to encourage early Roman believers, Paul wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or 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 8:35, 38-39).

Jesus taught, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28). We’re guaranteed His love for eternity.

3. Jesus won the victory on the cross.

Moments before Jesus Christ’s death, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). By dying in our place and taking our punishment for sin, He fulfilled His purpose set before the creation of the world to redeem mankind. There’s no other price to be paid. We can rejoice knowing Jesus has won the victory over sin and death. 

4. God turns our weaknesses into strengths.

The Apostle Paul, a man with great faith who’d seen many prayers answered, suffered from an unknown aliment. He begged God three times to take it away. Instead, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then declared, “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 12:7-10). If God can turn Paul’s weakness into strength, then He’ll do the same for you.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a great example of relying on God’s strength. When interviewed by the Christian Post, Joni said, “My weakness, that is, my quadriplegia, is my greatest asset because it forces me into the arms of Christ every single morning when I get up.”  If God allows persistent struggles, we can trust His grace will be sufficient. 

5. God gives us all we need for life and godliness. 

We can face anything knowing He provides what we need to get through it. Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends, wrote, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3a).

God gave us the Holy Spirit who empowers us, His inspired written word in Scripture for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (1 Timothy 3:16), and the privilege to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:12).

6. Our suffering will be overshadowed by the glory to be revealed. 

To reassure early believers in Rome who faced continual persecution, Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Paul endured torture and imprisonment for his faith. Yet, instead of being apprehensive, he focused on heaven. He continued to obey God, trusting the future to Him. 

God gave these encouraging words to the prophet, Isaiah, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). When we enter His glory for eternity, earthly sorrows will fade.

7. We have the most powerful resource available: prayer.  

Anxiety attacks our minds. Controlling our thoughts with prayer loosens worry’s grip.

Paul exhorted, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Turn your concerns into prayers knowing God answers with what is best. Leave the results in His hands, and He’ll provide peace.

8. We walk by faith not by sight.

In Hebrews we learn about the faithful lives of early believers. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth... they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13, 16).

Christians throughout history have remained faithful in the midst of wars, persecutions, poverty, and tragedy. They looked forward to their true home in heaven. 

We can’t walk in faith and worry simultaneously. Worry wants to see.  Faith trusts in the unseen. 

9. We’re never alone.

Pain, trouble, and sorrow are part of life in this fallen world.  But in the beloved 23rd Psalm, King David wrote, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). In His last instructions, Jesus gave this encouragement, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). 

Jesus’s disciples learned about trusting Him while on a lake during a furious storm. Fearing for their lives while Jesus slept, “The disciples went and woke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matthew 8:25-26). When unexpected storms rage, He’s right beside us.

10. Jesus destroyed our enemies. 

Great stories often end with an epic battle between good and evil. Evil seems to be winning--until good prevails. These all reflect the true battle except in reality there’s no contest. Teaching how Jesus defeated Satan, our enemy, Paul wrote, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). 

Some worry about the rise of the Anti-Christ yet Paul recorded, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

Final thoughts

These 10 truths can help you deal with anxiety. You’ll still be concerned about the problems you’re facing, but by steadily applying these simple truths you can begin today to worry less and trust God more.

I’ve too often lived in fear wasting time worrying about potential trouble. In 68 years, most of my worries never happened. Corrie Ten Boom who lived a life of peace until her fifties when she suffered atrocities in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in her book Clippings from my Notebook, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength.” 

Instead of plotting how to avoid pain, try serving Him in freedom taking whatever comes with grace and peace. You’re His beloved child. He knows what you need and will take care of you.  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand(Isaiah 41:10).

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Inhale Peace

Be still
I Am God
Breathe deep
Inhale faith
Exhale fear
I Am God
There is no other

My love is unshakable
The Shelter in the storm
The Rock unmovable

Living Hope
Unfailing Love
Unending Grace

Know Me
Almighty God
Full of compassion

With Me
Nothing is impossible.

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Jesus Broke the Barriers

Have you ever entered a church for the first time and sensed you didn’t belong? Maybe you felt unwelcome because of your appearance or speech. Perhaps everyone else seemed put together while your life was full of heaviness and uncertainty. Many refuse to attend worship services because they’ve been harshly judged or rejected by Christians.  

Too often religious groups teach that we have to behave or look a certain way before we can come to Jesus, while He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, NIV). 

Jesus continued with this astounding truth, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Unfortunately, Christians have frequently taught the opposite about following Jesus by adding burdensome expectations. He came to set us free from the law and its consequences yet we keep running back to its impossible demands. 

The Gospel is good news: Jesus loves us completely and became a man like us. He lived the perfect life it’s impossible for us to live. Then He chose to die in our place, paying the price for our sin and breaking its power.  Conquering death, He set us free from the burden of the law. He lovingly invites all who will trust Him to accept His righteousness as ours. We just have to believe in Him and receive His love. 

His grace is so outrageous and hard to believe, that we try to earn His love and require the same of others. The church too often puts barriers between people and Jesus though He wants us to build bridges. 

Here are 7 lies too often taught or implied that keep people from Jesus: 

1. The Christian life is about keeping the rules.

I’ve always been a rule follower. I grew up in a denomination which emphasized expected behaviors: Go to church regularly, don’t drink alcohol, smoke, dance, or have pre-marital sex were favorites. Keeping these made you a “good” Christian. Never mind that some of these directives were man-made.

It’s easy to follow a hand-picked list of laws. I was proud of avoiding the big three: alcohol, cigarettes, and sex.  

Each group often has its own list. Others look at these expectations and say, “I could never be good enough to be a Christian.”

Scripture records, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10, NIV).  In other words, it’s impossible for us to earn favor with God through our behavior. 

Jesus brought good news. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse...Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous live by faith’...Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:10-13, NIV). 

Jesus rescued us from the burden and curse of the law. He fulfilled its demands and offers us grace, forgiveness and undeserved favor. 

Does that mean our behavior doesn’t matter? Of course not. When we believe in Christ, His Spirit lives inside of us and helps us live a righteous life. But no one will do that perfectly. We’re all in continual need of His grace. Once we believe, we’re His forever and our sin will never again separate us from Him.

Truth: The Christian life is about abiding in Jesus and living in relationship with Him realizing we’re helpless in our own strength.

2. You must achieve a victorious Christian life to prove you know Jesus. 

Various groups have their own definition of what a victorious life looks like. For some, it’s having daily devotions, attending services each week, memorizing Scripture, or witnessing to others. Another church might emphasize avoiding worldly behavior and living separated from their culture. You’re expected to be better than others or you don’t know Jesus.

Actually, life is a step-by-step journey. I may experience victory one minute and in the next fail miserably. Every day I have a choice. Hopefully my journey is an upward one but it will consist of ups and downs, victories and failures, glory and sorrow. Following Jesus is a state of continual repentance, learning, and growth.  I’ll never reach perpetual victory on earth. 

Truth:  We need to continually seek Jesus and not focus our efforts on becoming a super saint. Our faith is all about Him not us.

3. You must worship like my congregation. 

Most people have a strong opinion about what the worship service should be like. Hymns only or contemporary band. Solemn and respectful or loud and rejoicing. Liturgy or spontaneity. Leather bound Bibles or Scripture on an iPad. Dressing up or down. 

Some services are quiet and traditional while others are loud and modern. International groups may look totally different. Is another group wrong because they don’t look or sound like mine?

I once received a letter judging the way my church worships. Stunned, my first reaction was to become defensive but I held back. As I prayed about how to respond, I realized this person spoke out of fear of making a mistake and losing God’s favor. What they needed was love and grace. 

Is there one right way to do church?

Jesus said, “...True worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23, NIV). Our Savior is looking at our hearts, not the outward trappings. 

Truth: There are multiple ways to conduct a worship service, God is looking for the heart that’s focused on Him. 

4. True Christians should all look alike.

Can we identify who believes in Jesus by their outward appearance? Once, a tattooed, pierced person would’ve been labeled non-Christian. Today, this describes some pastors and ministry leaders. 

The problem with judging by looks is that standards and customs change over time and vary around the world. What’s taboo today may be acceptable in a few years. 

God never intended for us to be identical. He created unique one-of-a-kind individuals. God’s Word doesn’t give detailed directions on what’s acceptable for appearance but we’re given these principles:

• Glorify God in all you do. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV). 

• Don’t lead others to sin. “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32, NIV).

• Seek modesty. The Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety...” (1 Timothy 2:9, NIV). But keep in mind that what’s considered modest changes through the years and is different for each culture. 

Truth: God gives us the freedom to choose how we dress and present ourselves. We’re each responsible to make choices we believe honors God. 

5. Keep searching until you find the formula for maturity. 

I spent a lot of years looking for the way to instant maturity. There are hundreds of books, articles, sermons, seminars, and weekend retreats promising the secret. Many times, I’ve thought, “This is it! These are the steps to becoming a super Christian!” Unfortunately, when all is said and done, I’m still me and there’s no shortcut.

Jesus taught, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NIV). 

Truth: There’s no secret for instant growth.  We have to make the day-by-day journey and will not reach perfection until we see Jesus in heaven. 

6. Only those who understand deep truth and study hard can know God intimately. 

What God makes simple, we often complicate. The Gospel is easy enough for a young child to understand and accept. God's truth is like a pool a child is able to wade in while someone more mature can dive in and never reach the bottom. 

The Bible is supernatural. We can delve into the depths of His teaching and never reach the point we know it all. But knowing God personally is an act of faith available to everyone. We respond to His love and receive all He has to give.

Truth: Knowledge is good but God wants our love most of all. The Apostle Paul wrote, “...knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1, NIV).

7. If you blow it big time, you’ll miss or mess up God’s plans for you.

Some people teach that God has a perfect, beautiful plan for us, and if we commit certain sins, we ruin that plan and have to settle for second best. 

This false teaching puts a heavy burden on the human heart. A person can set out with the intention of keeping the law but when they fail, as we all do, they’re left feeling defeated, discouraged, and will possibly give up. I’ve known those who’ve said, “Well, I’ve blown it so I might as well do what I want now.” 

Following God’s commands is a wise way to live but doesn’t make us better than others or guarantee certain outcomes. I was once trapped in a self-righteous mindset and cringe to think of the pride I placed in my seeming purity. I knew in my heart I wasn’t better than others but I clung to the appearance like a life raft. All the while, Jesus was giving me free grace. The same grace is offered to everyone because no one is capable of being good enough. 

 Failing to obey His commands never overrides His grace or redemption. 

There are consequences for sin and Scripture teaches we reap what we sow but when we confess our sins and turn to God, He forgives and gives restoration (I John 1:9).  God can redeem anyone and anything.

When a Pharisee criticized Jesus for allowing a sinful woman to wash His feet, He remarked, “...I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47, NIV).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined to the plan of Him, who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11, NIV). We can’t mess up God’s plan. He even uses our mistakes to accomplish His will. Scripture records, “...No purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, NIV).

Truth: We all need redemption. God can redeem anything and anyone. No one can prevent God from reaching His objectives.

Friends and family love us despite knowing our weaknesses. This love is strong but in truth is not even a drop in the ocean compared to the love Jesus has for us. He knows our every weakness and still loves us completely. It’s impossible for Him to love us more!

Jesus came to build a bridge between people and God. He overcame the only barrier making it impossible for us to come to God—our sin. All are invited to believe in Him, receive His love, and accept His gift of salvation. When we do, His grace covers us and gives us all we need to follow Him. He took the burden of the law on Himself so we don’t have to carry that load.

I believed in Jesus at an early age and then allowed myself to be entangled in the false teaching of keeping the law to prove my salvation. Jesus came because we can’t keep the law perfectly. I’ve been learning what grace really means for over thirty years and it still seems new and like a breath of fresh air. 

Grace is an incredible, astounding gift. Underserved. Unearned. And it’s yours for the taking.

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Eternal Joy Will Come

For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

When my dad died years ago, I felt like grief had become my companion. The unwelcome guest who wouldn’t leave. Painful times can feel like that. 

But anytime we're in a stage of sorrow, we can know that in time it will pass. We may mourn for weeks, months, or even years but rejoicing will return and the believer always has joy when we think of our Lord and all He’s done and promises to do. 

On a deeper level, we’re all in a night of weeping on this earth. A time when there’s heartache, pain, death, and tragedy. We feel like it shouldn’t be this way, and we’re right for God didn’t intend for our lives to be corrupted and defeated by sin. From the beginning of time, He knew He would send Jesus to take away our sin and give us the hope of a new day.

One day Jesus will return and make all things new. The eternal morning will come! What rejoicing there will be! 

“See,” God said in Isaiah 65:17, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” 

In the book of Revelation, after God gave John, one of Jesus’s disciples, a vision of our future, he proclaimed, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea...He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” Revelation 21:1, 4

What a day that will be!  As we wait, we cling to the truth that our sorrow is temporary. In Christ, His joy is always in our hearts even during the hard times.
Excerpt from Joy In Chaos, a Wholly Loved Bible Reading plan. Go to Bible.Com to find this plan.

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When Joy Seems Impossible

Joy can seem out of reach, like an impossible dream, especially when we’re surrounded by threats, hatred, and fear. When I focus on what’s happening in the world or spend too much time scrolling on social media, I wonder how I can find joy.

Early Christians often faced persecution. Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was one of the first missionaries. The former persecutor of Christians dedicated his life to preaching salvation. On one of these missionary journeys, he went to Thessalonica. (Acts 9; Acts 17)

As he preached, many believed in Jesus. Filled with jealousy, the local Jewish leaders incited a mob to start a riot thereby driving Paul out of town. The instigators even followed him to other places opposing the Gospel. (Acts 17:5)

Despite the opposition, many Thessalonians trusted in Jesus and held to their belief. Later, Paul wrote encouraging letters to them, celebrating their joy.

Even though they experienced riots, beatings, and persecution, the Thessalonian believers had the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit who fills and empowers every person who trusts in Jesus.

We don’t have to worry about how to produce joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit! (Galatians 5:22) If we’ve lost our joy, we’re probably more focused on the world around us than on our Savior. When we turn to Him and focus on His truth, yielding to the Holy Spirit, then He gives us joy.

The joy that comes from the Holy Spirit resides in our hearts and souls. Nothing that happens on the outside can take that from us. Happiness depends on happenings but joy flows from our innermost being; an unquenchable and eternal gift from our Heavenly Father.
Excerpt from Joy In Chaos, a Wholly Loved Bible Reading plan. Go to Bible.Com to find this plan.

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Shout With Joy

Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you” (Isaiah 12:1).

I wish I could cry. I haven’t shed tears easily since I went through menopause years ago. As the world’s problems overwhelm me, I weep inside. Pain, heartbreak, fear, violence, hatred, lies, and discord are sweeping the planet. It’s always been so but seems worse right now. Maybe because no incident goes unnoticed. We’re all expected to bear the weight of worldwide sorrow and distress. 

Isaiah prophesied during a time when God’s people were disobedient and stubborn. They’d turned to idol worship and forgot who they were. Isaiah told them judgment was coming and predicted their captivity by Assyria. They faced a dark and difficult time. He also predicted the coming Messiah would bring salvation and one day would restore all things (Isaiah 11 and 12).

When Jesus returns, He will renew all creation, will erase suffering and pain forever, establish His kingdom, and make all things right. Of course, the people will “shout aloud and sing for joy!” Can you imagine? All things restored! Jesus will defeat suffering and death and all believers will express an unimaginable joy.  

Until then, we celebrate the salvation we have now (Isaiah 12:3) and with faith anticipate His return.  We focus on unseen spiritual reality not circumstances (2 Corinthians 4:18). What a day for rejoicing!

As we wait for that day, how can you focus on joy?

Excerpt from Joy In Chaos, a Wholly Loved Bible Reading plan. Go to Bible.Com to find this plan.

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You Are Loved

I know from a human viewpoint I often don’t measure up to others, and it’s impossible for me to reach God’s perfect standards. These thoughts assail me at times:

“I’ll never achieve what she’s accomplished; God must like her more than me. She’s so competent and productive.” 

“She’s more loving, wise, and obedient than I am. Of course, God favors her.”

How can I respond to this struggle?

I remember the truth:

“But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love...May Your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in You” (Psalm 33:18, 22, NIV).

I hope in God’s Hesed, most often translated as mercy, loving-kindness, or steadfast/unfailing love. This word has such deep meaning, Christian musician Michael Card wrote an entire book, entitled, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness.

God’s abundant care for us is incomprehensible. We receive this truth by faith but its depth is beyond our knowing. If we could understand, we’d never question if He prefers someone over us. He’s loved all His children since before time began. He knew, when He created mankind, we would choose sin. He cherished us so deeply, He planned from the beginning to send Jesus Christ to live a perfect life and then die to pay for our wrongdoing. 

I can’t fathom His merciful kindness which has nothing to do with my performance. Yes, He calls me to obey, but His affection is unconditional, unchanging, and eternal. I show my devotion for Him through my obedience. Whether I succeed or fail doesn’t change how He cherishes me. His love is rock solid, immovable, and always with me. 

He always calls us to seek Jesus, believing in and remaining in Him. We are to walk with Him, talk to Him about everything, listen and obey His teaching. He holds all His children dear and knows how frail we are. 

Do you wonder if God values others more than you?

Find a quiet place and meditate on these verses:

“Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your unfailing love, LORD, supported me” (Psalm 94:18).

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Believe He calls you beloved.  

Thank You, Father, for Your eternal and unchanging love! Help me rest in You, rejoicing in Your grace. When thoughts come, tempting me to compare myself to others, leading me to jealousy or insecurity, please help me bring those thoughts captive and replace them with the truth. Thank You that nothing I do can make You love me more or love me less. Your love is an undeserved gift. Praise Your holy name!

What does God’s unfailing love mean to you?

How does His love change how you view others?

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