A great way to grow closer to the Lord is to read His word, pray, and write down what He is teaching you! Many of the people at Paradise Calvary Chapel do just that and we get to share them with you here!
I volunteered at an obstacle course race for children, where kids had to run two grueling miles with mud pits, hurdling walls, and climbing ropes. I was stationed at a bucket-carrying obstacle, where I had to shout at the runners to make sure they carried their buckets of rocks all the way back to my post. (If they gave up and dropped it in the middle, I would have to get it, and I wasn’t about to carry any more buckets of rocks than necessary of me.) There was one kid in particular who just couldn’t figure out how to pick up the bucket in an efficient way. He’d carry it by the sharp edge of the plastic lid for a few steps before his fingertips would get too sore, and he’d have to stop and set down his bucket while all the other kids passed him with their buckets over their shoulders or in the cradles of their arms. This kid was on my obstacle for a good half hour, clearly frustrated and nearly in tears.
Once my obstacle was cleared of kids that needed to be yelled at, and he was the only runner left, I picked up a bucket, left my post, and went to meet him. I set my bucket down on the ground next to his, and showed him. “Here, tilt it this way, and you can grab it from the bottom. That’s it. Now stand, all the way up.” He still had to set it down and rest a few times, but we walked together all the way back to my post.
I Corinthians 13, the “love chapter,” first describes godly love as being patient. When you face situations that force you to wait, patience is the expression of believing that people around you—whether they are the cause of the wait, or just victims of your hurried irritability—are more important than whatever you’re rushing toward.
I believe there’s more to patience than simply waiting calmly when things are taking too long, though. Another word for patience is “longsuffering.” That word means picking up a bucket of rocks and walking alongside someone. It means teaching them to properly pick it up all over again, no matter how many times they drop it. It’s staying as an accountability partner, even when the addict relapses. It’s talking about Jesus one more time, even when the atheist denies you again. There’s a side of patience that involves saying, “I’m going to keep forgiving you, seventy times seven, until I see you cross the finish line.”
It takes people time to learn lessons, improve their character, or crawl out of difficult seasons. You can’t possibly know what unseen spiritual battle is being waged against them. We are called to suffer for a long time, though, because that is exactly what Jesus does for us (Romans 5:8).
“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (I Timothy 1:16).
$127.10. That’s my typical paycheck. Last Sunday, when my calendar said “T-minus 10 days until takeoff,” and I realized I was still $550 (plus $50 “just in case”) away from going on the summer mission trip, I knew it wouldn’t be enough. There was no way my $127.10 paycheck would amount to the $600 I needed.
In a mad search around my house for something to sell, I found my old coin jar. It wasn’t full, but I decided to break it open. Based on my experience playing “Guess How Many Jelly Beans” at birthday parties, I estimated it’d give me about $50—maybe $70, if there were many quarters.
I took it to a coin-counting machine in the store and prayed for an Ephesians 3:20-21 kind of provision. God, can you milk even $100 out of this? I didn’t want to set up false expectations, so I stopped number crunching and kept pouring. God, provide exceedingly and abundantly. I think the screen read about $325 when curious people from the checkout lines began to gather, saying, “You’ve hit the jackpot!” and “This is the best machine in Vegas!” When the machine finally gobbled up the last of the coins, it reached $400, on the dot.
Then suddenly it went to $401. Then to $402. “What’s happening?” My jar was empty. I had nothing left to give. I could still hear the coins inside the machine, though, torrenting and raining, and they wouldn’t stop. The machine read $472.90 when it finally finished, and that was after the machine’s fee was deducted. Following the math? That $472.90 plus my $127.10 paycheck equaled $600, on the dot.
At church this Sunday, I went to tell the story to Pastor Tim, but before I could, he told me that someone anonymously donated $500 designated for my trip. Well, I laughed like a maniac in my car all the way home. Not only has my trip been paid for, but the extra $50 “just-in-case” money was covered an extra ten times over. Last Sunday, I was $550 short. This Sunday, I have $550 extra.
My debt was paid and my ticket was bought, not by anything I could have possibly earned, but by His miraculous gift. He paid my debt to get me to my end destination, but then also added a blessing onto it. Likewise, He bought me a ticket into heaven, but also wants a relationship with me in this lifetime. He came that people “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). If His present blessing for me is this extensive, then His past forgiveness of me must be even more so. If He gives the kinds of gifts that abundantly exceed our expectations, then I can’t begin to imagine how valuable His greatest gift was. I don’t think I could wrap my mind around the power of the cross. Yet it is in object lessons like these that He expresses Himself so that we may “know the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18-19). He is vast. So is His love for us. So should our hope and our trust in Him be. Point proven, O Provider.
“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (II Corinthians 12:9).
I've grown to really admire the humble people in the Bible. I don't mean those that wander around saying, “I am really just the worst!” I mean those that have given a hard look at themselves and were able to say, “This is more than I can handle.”
When Moses was first visited by God, he tried to convince the Lord that He found the wrong guy. Maybe he was afraid of going back to Egypt. Moses knew how many slaves were there. The idea that a clumsy-tongued shepherd would go and free them from a political superpower would have been astonishing.
Moses wasn't the only one who felt incapable of doing the task that God had given him. Jeremiah said he was too young (Jeremiah 1:6); Gideon didn't think he or his family were prominent enough to command Israel's armies (Judges 6:15); Esther didn't know if the king would be in a mood to have her killed (Esther 4:11).
God has a habit of picking people who are not the first choice that we would make, nor the second, nor the third, nor the ones we would think to bring out. Not only does God choose the runners-up, but He chooses them when they recognize they have no business being on the field in the first place.
Self-reflection isn't always a fun thing, but it's vital for our growth. It’s only when we realize the limits of our strength that we understand we can't make it on our own. It's when we know that the road is getting too hard that we recognize we can't keep going unless God helps us. This is to help us grow in Him, and so He can manifest His power. If we only ever faced problems we were capable of handling alone, where would our reliance on God be? God is at the ready. He's watching and waiting for us to get to the point where we admit that we're in over our heads. In fact, that is at the very heart of salvation.
God says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).
When two people get together to do business, they make a contract. Both people make a promise to help each other so that both of them benefit. However, if one of those people breaks his promise, then the other person is allowed to break his promise, too. For example, a waiter at a restaurant promises to give customers food; in turn, the customer promises to pay the waiter money. However, if the customer refuses to pay, then the waiter is not obligated to bring out any food, and vice versa.
Promises that God makes aren't like promises people make, though. Unfortunately, people sometimes break promises, but God never breaks His. God doesn't make contracts like people do. God makes covenants. That's a promise made out of love, an unconditional promise, a one-sided promise. It means that even if one person breaks his promise, the other person will still keep up his end of the deal. It means that even when we disobey and fall to sin and give God every right to hate us, He still doesn't abandon us, because He promised, “I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Whatever we do, good or bad, God is always good. When we are faithless, He is faithful. Even when we mess up and fall short, He can be trusted to remain perfect.
The gospel message is, in and of itself, one of God's promises. In the Old Testament, people had to perform lots of rituals and give up lots of sacrifices in order to pay off their sins. They needed a priest to talk to God for them, because they could not themselves. When God sent Jesus to die on the cross for us, though, He promised that Jesus' sacrifice was enough. He promised we would not have to do anything to try to earn His love. He already loves us so much! Jesus also promised that we would receive the Holy Spirit, so we could have access to God and hear from Him without needing a priest to act as a middle man. No matter how badly we fail, Jesus is enough to forgive us; we just need to turn from our sin and toward Him.
Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” What do we hold fast to, exactly? How do we know what to look forward to or what we can trust in? Where can we find God's promises?
Simple, really. God put it all in one convenient place: the Bible. The words God has spoken are full of His promises! This new rule of not needing animal sacrifices is a new promise from God. It's called the new covenant, or the New Testament. The more we spend time reading the Word and learning from it, the more we'll understand who God is and what He offers.
Not so long ago, I was yelled at by a fellow driver. It was justified; I'd made a turn that I should have waited a little longer to make, but it was a parking lot and I'd expected him to be driving slower. He shouted obscenities and demonstrated his discontentment as clearly as possible, to which I merely waved and shouted, “Sorry!”
I am not the first person to be berated by another driver, and I doubt I will be the last. As I contemplated the exchange, I couldn't help but think, “What kind of person is this man? Is this something out of the ordinary, or is he upset with life?” I more than likely spent too much time thinking about him, but still, I couldn't help but wonder about how we only saw each other for a few seconds, and I'll never know him by anything other than the man who called me names and was missing a front tooth.
Sometimes we're that man. We get caught up in the moment, and when life comes at us, we just want to lash out. It causes me to have an especial appreciation for the apostle Paul. Paul was a man who most certainly deserved to give a tirade or two; when he went by another name, maybe he made such indulgences. Paul was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and ostracized from his community, yet he was content to suffer so that he could serve God.
Paul said, “I am an ambassador in chains; that in it [the gospel] I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:20). Paul was able to consider the situations he found himself in to be a way to serve God and reach the unsaved. Paul never ceased speaking of God's grace when he was in chains, or marooned on an island.
Cutting someone off in a parking lot is a far cry from imprisoning or stoning someone, but the intensity of the reaction is what brings Paul to mind. This was an exchange that had only lasted a few seconds, but may have stayed with the driver for hours—I know it did for me. I cannot help but wonder: what if I were able to impress the grace of God in those moments as sharply as he impressed his anger onto me?
Our response to difficulty isn't something easily controlled, especially when it feels a lot more satisfying to shout obscenities, but how can we give glory to God if we do not at least try?
I remember wearing a heavy coat that came up past my chin, and looking down at my little pink boots as I walked home. My steeply-sloped driveway was covered in a thick sheet of blue-cellophane ice—hard-packed against the ground and glistening with sunlight. Even at that young age, I knew to be careful. That day, though, I still slipped on the ice and fell flat on my back. It happened so quickly. By the time I realized my body was flinging downwards, my stomach had abandoned its post and I’d already heard the hard clap! of the back of my head against the concrete.
I didn’t get up right away. Stunned by the jolt, I watched my breath cloud the air, felt the contrast of hot tears on cold ears. Everything was still and silent. Everything ached and roared. The cold seeped into my coat and my heart throbbed into my skull. I lay on the sidewalk for a long time.
I might not live where there’s ice on the ground, anymore, but I regret to admit that I still do this same thing. I’m walking with Christ, heading home, when suddenly I slip on the ice. I stumble over temptation, disregard caution, lose my footing, get complacent, get cocky, turn astray—it doesn’t matter. The point is, I still fall. I hate to say it, but even though I’m a new creation, I’m still revisited by temptation to go back to my old ways. Even though I’m risen with Christ, I still fall into past sins. Even though I’m saved, I still feel guilt as if I’m not, and when I do, it takes me a long time to get back up. Surges of regret pulse through my head: scoffs from the enemy, disappointment from within, maybe a combination of both—maybe I believe his lies so gullibly, I even tell them to myself.
I’m learning that there’s a difference between conviction of the Holy Spirit and condemnation from Satan, though. Both point out my deficiencies, but conviction brings a sense of yearning that makes me strive after God’s holiness; condemnation brings a sense of irreparability that makes me hesitant to show my face to Him. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Even though I mess up, I know I’m not living in the flesh because I am “in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in [me]” (Romans 8:9). In short, my most profound proof of salvation, my greatest consolation, is this: I have heard His voice. In other words, I might still have flesh, but I’ve got the Spirit. Maybe I’m not perfect yet, but I am saved by He who is. My boyfriend once explained it this way: salvation is the acceptance of eternal security; sanctification is the process of removing all doubts about it. “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). For every look back at our mistakes, taking many looks up at Him is what gives us hope, and hope in Him might be all we need to roll over, claw our little fingernails into the ice, and get back up.
In Matthew chapter 10, immediately after Jesus' disciples were introduced, Jesus sent them out to be apostles. These twelve were technically the first missionaries of the New Testament. Before He dispatched them, He gave them some practical instructions, which unfolded into a basic outline for mission work that can still be followed today.
Speaking practically, Jesus told the twelve not to bring any extra money or clothing for their journey. He also told them that whenever they went into a city, they should stay in the home of someone who already lived there instead of staying at an inn or a tavern, probably since they would be much more effective teaming up with somebody who already knew the area and the condition of the spiritual soil. Jesus wanted to establish the church as being a body, meant to work together, and He wanted the twelve to trust that no matter where they went or what they thought they may need, God would always provide (Matthew 10:9-12).
To establish a mindset of right motive, Jesus said, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Because of how much love God poured into them, they were to pour that love back out onto others. Spiritual gifts were given as tools, to give glory to Him and to give hope to others, and generosity required no compensation (Matthew 10:7-8; I Corinthians 12).
His first instruction to the twelve, though, was to preach to the Jews before preaching to Gentiles. I see logic in this: the Jews already believed in God; if they learned to follow Jesus, then an entire army of evangelists would be going to preach to the Gentiles, which would be much more effective than if the twelve disciples had tried to go preaching all by themselves. Introducing others to Jesus is extremely crucial, but training others to live for Jesus is better in the long run (Matthew 10:5-6).
That's the bit that's important to remember on a daily basis; this manifesto is not limited to those people who pack a bag under fifty pounds and fly out to faraway, foreign countries. The mission field is in your own backyard. You have a circle of influence, right where you stand. Take a look at the people around you: family members who are still living in darkness, church members who are brand new believers, friends who have become lukewarm Christians, or neighbors who are in just as much need as those strangers on the other side of the ocean. Do you see your own church working together as a body? Do you see its members trusting in God's provision? God has poured out His love lavishly into you; what are you doing to pour it back out over those in your own vicinity?
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Jesus is called Wonderful, and anyone who has experienced Jesus at all would know that He is wonderful—amazing and beyond our comprehension. Every facet of Jesus’ character is too good for our understanding, too loving for our reasoning, and too gracious for our often-legalistic liking.
Jesus is the Counselor, too, and I love that idea. I try to be transparent with people, but there are only a few that I feel comfortable being counseled by. There is a degree of intimacy in asking for advice and finding a solution together. Jesus calls us into intimacy with Him, always wanting to lead us according to His will.
Jesus is also the Mighty God. Even the wind and the waves obey Him. He has called the lame to walk, the dead to wake, and the lepers to be clean. The human interaction that Jesus gladly engaged in showed the power and heart of Immanuel, God with us.
In calling Him Everlasting Father, we see a confirmation of the triune character of God. Even though Jesus didn’t cling to His divine rights, He was still fully God, and He brought down with Him a kingdom that had been lost since Eden.
Finally, Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. This is my favorite, because in a world of turmoil, chaos, and confusion, we have access to He who reigns in peace.
Jesus brings peace not only because He has a plan for us, but also because He is intimately acquainted with us. The very God of the universe, in whom all things are held together, desires to be with us in every moment and circumstance. He is willing to bear griefs, calm anxieties, and step into endless need.
Since Genesis, we’ve seen that God is present: engaging in the creation process, meeting the needs of Adam, walking in the garden in search of His children after the fall, speaking with Abram, guiding the nation of Israel, and constructing their government in a way that prompted relationship with Him. The history of mankind tells the story of a God who desires to be in the midst of His creation, no matter how far we run.
“Given” is interesting in the verse from Isaiah. God loved the world and He gave His only Son—bestowed, provided, permitted, issued, published, uttered, assigned, granted, and entrusted to us. It was with this heart that God sent the clearest picture of Himself He could give. The reconciliation of the world was not just for the redemption of mankind; it was so that God might once again dwell with His people.
“Maybe I’m going through this for you, for exactly this moment.” I said that to someone who was going through a challenging time with his girlfriend, and it was weighing heavily on his heart. During the conversation, I offered the advice and comfort that most people would have given, but I also talked to him about my own struggles navigating the waters of romance. I hope that I was helpful, but I am confident that I wouldn’t have been able to connect with him to give him the words I did if I had not gone through my own trials in the matter. Lately, I have been referring to my personal experiences, trials, and victories to connect with people and to lend some authenticity to what I’m saying.
A lot of people, including myself, ask, “God, why is this happening?” I think this comes up most when we’re going through a difficult time that we desperately want over. Frequently, after we get through those times, we look back and see how we grew or how the Lord delivered us, and we say, “Oh! I get it now!” Other times, though, we go through troubles not solely for ourselves, but for others.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, was scandalously slandered, and lived in prison for years. I’m sure there were at least a couple times that Joseph was lying in bed, asking why he faced so many hardships, but after being freed and spending seven years managing Egypt, he learned why. He shared with his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:7-8).
Like Joseph, Jesus did not suffer for His own good, but for ours. He knew the reason for His suffering. Sometimes we know why we face our struggles, but oftentimes we are left scratching our heads until eventually we have that “Aha!” moment. Have I had turbulence with dating so that I could be in the position to empathize with a fellow believer who needed encouragement? I like to think so. My struggles do grow me, but maybe there’s an even greater purpose that is yet to reveal itself. Maybe what I face is for someone else.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul!…You are clothed with honor and majesty, who cover Yourself with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:1-2).
Once, all was darkness, and I went about stumbling in the night;
Then You sent forth Your Word, calling me from the void, “Let there be Light!”
You sent it into the dark, to the depths of the shadowy valley,
And on a rugged cross, You hung that Light, so to You we could rally.
What was this new thing? Why does looking at its brilliance blind me?
Then, like scales falling from my eyes, I saw the Lord Almighty.
The host of heaven cried out with joy, after they saw the work of Your hands.
You made heirs to that kingdom, children of light, as numerous as the sands.
Your word guides my paths, and when I am in the night, it goes before my feet.
Let me now carry that light, and be a beacon to all that I might meet.
A lamp without oil goes dry and will not shine, nor light where its housed.
So without the Holy Spirit’s anointing, those who sleep cannot be roused.
Help me be Your vessel, a lampstand to carry and show Your glory;
That I may bring others illumination, when they hear Your story:
How You took off the clothes of the grave, to wrap Yourself in the dawn of the morning.
Then, on that third day, a new hope shined forth, and the forces of darkness took warning.
Though this world can be full of darkness, a darkness that we can feel,
As the sun twinkles in the eye, You shall return, and Your Son reveal.
All will see You, on the day of Your victory, as lightning races across the sky,
All will bow and confess that You alone are worthy, and anything else is a lie!
When all will see Your glory, and the mighty throne from which Your kingdom rules,
In the new Jerusalem, dressed like a bride, and shining like colored jewels!
There will be no more confusion, nor will there be stumbling in the night,
for all eternity, it will bask in Your presence, and in Your Son’s Light!
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).