Crowded Out

flowers violet

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV).

Lately I’ve been praying a simple prayer that goes something like this: “Lord, please fill me with your __________ and crowd out my __________.” Depending on the day, or even the time of day, those two blanks can reveal different things. The first blank is always something positive and the second something negative. “Lord, please fill me with your Spirit and crowd out my fear.” “Lord, please fill me with your joy and crowd out my anxiety.” “Lord, please fill me with your peace and crowd out my anger.” Regardless of what I pray, I know that God hears me and accepts my prayer invitation.

This short prayer, and God’s response to it, has done some amazing things for me. It centers my attention and recalibrates my sense of direction. It helps me focus and calms my anxious thoughts, for I know that where God’s goodness is, there is no longer any room for the negative things of life. Satan cannot reside where God’s Spirit takes up residence. Fear and anger cannot exist within a culture of love. Darkness cannot prevail against the light of God’s peace.

So, entertain my request here. Please respond with the two words or phrases (one positive and one negative) to complete this prayer: “Lord, please fill me with your __________ and crowd out my __________.” And then, of course, pray it! You’ll be amazed at how God answers!

Thorns and Nails

thorns and green leaves

“…‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’…” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

Pastor George Matheson once prayed, “My God… I have thanked you a thousand times for roses, but not once for my thorn.” Matheson’s point was that sometimes God allows us to suffer the prickly and painful things in life. Still, God can use these very things to bring us closer to and make us more reliant on him. God has a way of twisting the tragic into the triumphant. This, I think, is why God doesn’t remove every thorn or calm every storm of life.

The Apostle Paul speaks of a thorn in his flesh. While we aren’t certain what Paul’s particular thorn was, we do know that it did what thorns do. It irritated him. It nagged him. It hurt him in some way. And Paul wanted it gone. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12:8, NIV), Paul states. Still, God did not remove Paul’s thorn. But here’s what God did do and say, “…‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’…” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). God was giving Paul something greater than relief from his thorn. God was offering Paul grace. It’s as if God was saying, “Paul, you have to take this thorn in your flesh, but I took the nails in mine. And because of that I can give you grace.”

The grace of God, purchased by Jesus at the cross, is sufficient for each of us. It covers our sins completely. And while we may fall victim to the thorns that hurt us in this life, we have a certain victory in the next life through the wounds of Jesus. We have eternity in Heaven that awaits us. So, I thank God for the thorns in my flesh, but even more so, I thank God for the nails in his.


mountains sunset

“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:8-12, NIV).

“Repentance” is such a good word to describe Lent, the season leading up to Easter. For some it might sound a little too churchy or conjure up images of a robed, bearded guy on a street corner holding up a sign and yelling, “The end is near!” The meaning of “repentance” is simply this: a turning away from sin and a turning toward God. That’s a pretty easy explanation and a reasonable expectation on the part of God. Right?

Well, for years I feared the concept of repentance, mostly because I didn’t really understand it. In my mind, repentance was one of the many things that I had to do to somehow earn favor with God. And no matter how much I tried, the idea of repentance proved to be a constant sticking point. Turning from my sin was one thing. But turning toward God and just imagining what he thought of me was downright frightening.

Here’s what I didn’t understand back then. God never leaves us. Let me say that again. God never leaves us. Instead, he pursues us, not in a creepy sort of way, but out of love and the heartfelt concern of a Father. Before, I thought that, even if I turned from my sin, I would have to find my way back to God and that this would be quite difficult, because sometimes I had strayed pretty far.

Now, I understand that God is always with me. He is not afraid of the dark places my disobedience and sheer stupidity can take me. God is right there, even in these places. And here’s the really cool thing. When I turn from my sin toward God, I don’t have to somehow find my way back to him. Rather, I practically bump into him. I come face to face with the God of all creation, and he is not ashamed of me. He is not disappointed in me. God doesn’t say, “I told you so,” or “You should have done it this way.” He is simply happy to see me. He greets me with open arms and nail-scarred hands.

I now think of repentance as more of a gift than a command. God loves me, and he loves you, too. He just wants us to come home.


flowers blue sunlit

“For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4, NIV).

I frequently pray for opportunities to worship God. I know that this phrase may seem a little peculiar as God is always available to receive our worship. The issue for me is that I don’t always make myself available to bring my worship to God.

I want to worship my Savior with all that I am, but I am distracted by so many things. A knock at my office door interrupts the prayer I needed to pray or the Bible passage I meant to read. During Sunday service, I find myself more concerned about the impressions of those around me than the desires of the One to whom I am attempting to direct my praise. Then there are the nagging enemies of indifference, laziness, complacency, and pride that so often derail my best attempts to worship the One who created me. The seemingly simple act of worshipping God often proves difficult for me.

The Gospel writer Luke tells a story of Jesus as he visits the house of Mary and Martha. The irony conveyed in this story is that Martha is so concerned about working out all the details of entertaining guests that she fails to worship the very Son of God who is in her presence. By contrast, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and simply worships.

This is the kind of worship that I believe God desires. This is the type of worship I pray for: to fall at the feet of the Savior, to sit with him and listen to his words, to love and to be loved, to be broken and to be healed by his touch. My heart continues to crave such moments. May God bless each of us with ever-increasing opportunities to worship.


butterfly monarch on yellow flowers

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, NIV).

Can I really be sure? That is a question I’ve heard, even asked, many times, concerning salvation. Maybe you are asking it right now. If you are, then read on, because I’ve got some really great news for you!

The answer to this age-old theological question is a definitive “yes”. You see, our salvation is not based upon anything that we do, but rather on the all-sufficient sacrifice that Jesus made on a cross some 2,000 years ago. God’s gracious gift of eternal life is available to all people and made ours through faith. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV). “By grace, through faith!” “A gift!” That is really great news!

Still, so many people find themselves wondering, fearfully doubting if they are truly saved. They take their eyes off Jesus, his cross and empty tomb. Instead, they look at their own sins and shortcomings. And when they do, they become hopeless.

But, God does not want us to be hopeless or to fear. He assures us that Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation. By the power of his Holy Spirit, he gives us faith in Christ’s victory over sin.

So, what do we do now? We do nothing to contribute to what God has already done. We are forgiven. We are saved. We are free. But we can do this. We can follow Jesus with reckless abandon. We can love others and serve them. And we can share the good news with those who so desperately need to hear it. May God bless us abundantly as we do these things!

Favorite Verses – John 3:16

flower white single

“ ‘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, NIV).

John 3:16 has rightly been called “the Gospel in a nutshell”. It is truly the meat of the good news message of what God has done for us in Christ.

We are told here that God loves the world, meaning all the people in the world. Too often we minimize the impact of these words. We can accept that God loves most people. But all people? This means that God loves the vilest of human beings, that God is passionately in love with murderers and sex traffickers, that God loves even those who will never love him back, that God loves someone like you and someone like me. Yes, God loves the world.

Try this exercise. Put your name in place of the word “world” in the verse. Also insert your name where it says “whoever believes in him”. In my case, the verse now reads “For God so loved Chuck that he gave his one and only Son, that Chuck shall not perish but have eternal life. This little exercise personalizes the meaning of this powerful verse.

Don’t ever think that God’s love doesn’t extend to you. God loves you so much that he was willing to give his very best to save you. Jesus faced the cruel agony of the cross so that you could have a crown of life. Believe what John 3:16 says, and share it with someone today!

East From West

ocean sunset“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, NIV).

Let me begin by addressing the word “fear” in this passage. Are we really meant to fear God? Part of this answer, I think, lies in how we understand the word “fear”. God is perfectly holy and just, and, because of our sin, we can never, on our own, live up to the perfect standard he sets. Scripture says that even our most “…righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV).

In Old Testament times, people “feared” God to such an extent that they refused to even speak his name. This is, however, the same God who knows each of us by our name. And what we could not do to earn favor with God, he sent his Son Jesus to earn for us.

By Jesus’ death on the cross, we are forgiven. We are declared righteous, made right, before our Heavenly Father. As followers of Jesus, we do not need to fear God because of what Jesus has done for us through his death at Calvary.

The rest of this passage of Scripture further clarifies our unafraid response to God.

Think of grace like this. A line extends infinitely in opposite directions. By its very definition, a line is without end. This is what I think about when I look at the above passage from the Book of Psalms.

The beginning point of our forgiveness is found at the cross where Jesus died. He took our many sins into his flesh and removed them from us “…as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12, NIV). Our forgiven sins could not be more distant from us than how they are described by the Psalmist.

At the same time, God is with us. By his Spirit, he lives within us. He loves us. He forgives all our wrongs.

Believe that. Live today as someone who is truly forgiven and free. Because you are. Thank God for his grace and kindness.