A Bridge of Grace

“Now go and tell His disciples including Peter that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there, just as He told you before He died.”

Mark 16:7 (NLT)

There is something about phrases in the Bible that often leap off the page to me when I’m reading it. This is one of them, “… including Peter ….” It was early Sunday morning when the women went to the tomb to anoint the crucified body of Jesus. When they arrived, to their amazement, the stone had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting down. Mark tells us, “The women were shocked, but the angel said, ‘Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid His body. Now go and tell His disciples, including Peter ….” Why would the angel single out Peter among all the disciples? He was building a bridge of grace! When Peter’s denial of Christ left him with deep regret and sorrow, feeling excluded from Christ and the others, grace reached out to include him! Peter may have disowned Jesus, but Jesus wanted him to know by this special messenger and the witness of the women that He had not disowned Peter! In fact, Jesus would have a special new assignment for Peter to fulfill in establishing the church that had yet to be formed. If you’ve ever felt excluded by sin and failure in your life, be encouraged! Step on the bridge of grace and know that Jesus includes you, too! His grace is active and takes the initiative in reaching out to you! Peter didn’t see the angel or hear his message directly. It was through the witness of the women who relayed the message. Imagine the hope that brought to this defeated disciple. We have that same message to offer others. Let’s build a bridge of grace for them to walk across!

Building New Bridges

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

Ever try to stop an old habit and couldn’t? The harder you try the more you think about that habit until it seems to consume you. Take dieting, for example. If I try to focus on not eating certain foods, those seem to be the only foods I want! Frustrating! What’s the secret to breaking bad habits that only reinforce my character flaws? The Bible says God changes us from the inside out. I can cooperate with that change in a few simple ways that will allow God to build character bridges in my life when I …

  • Come clean with God and others about the issues I’m dealing with. All of us are dealing with some kind of issues that become barriers in our lives. The Bible says, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only deceiving ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” 1 John 1:8-9 (NLT)
  • Avoid the triggers that lead me to old behaviors. Here’s where the Scripture becomes so practical. Romans 13:14 (NKJV) says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Identify those triggers that make you the most vulnerable to yielding to temptation. When we are the most hungry, angry, lonely or tired, we are more at risk to yielding to temptation. Turn these triggers into prayer targets.
  • Be patient and focus on progress, not perfection. Celebrate your victories! Spiritual growth is a process. There’s no such thing as instant maturity. You can’t microwave it. Allow God time to form the character of Christ in you. Philippians 1:6 (NET) says, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” 
  • Fully engage with your church family. God designed us to grow in a community of faith. We need one another, and we belong to one another. We are all part of one body, and each member needs the other. Accountability and support encourage us to grow in Christ and help us overcome the temptations that defeat us when we are alone.

The best way I know to conquer the barriers that often separate us from God and others is to build new bridges of character in our lives through these practical steps.

Fullness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6 NIV)

What do you hunger and thirst for the most? Is it something material, relational or physical, or is it something much deeper that nothing else has ever seemed to satisfy? In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus offers us the next step for restoration. Restoration Step 4:

“I look to Jesus Christ to fulfill my emptiness, putting aside instant gratification. I humbly ask Christ to change me by replacing my character flaws with His character.”

If we are to experience the fullness that Jesus promised, we must get beyond the surface and look deep within for what will really satisfy the longing in our hearts. To do that we must come clean with God and others about the issues in our lives that have become barriers to God’s blessings. These are the destructive habit patterns and character flaws that leave us feeling empty inside and helpless. We are all born with them. The Bible says “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23 (NLT) Those character flaws are part of our DNA as well as our own bad choices. Our culture often seems to encourage them as well. They cause us to drink from the wrong fountain to satisfy our thirst and hunger for things that cannot fulfill us. Jesus said the blessed person is the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. That righteousness can only come from Him. Christ alone can fill the emptiness in our soul and make us right with God. What’s amazing is that God, Himself, activates the spiritual thirst in us so that He can satisfy it! The woman at the well discovered that in John 4:13-14 (NLT) when Jesus told her, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” Just as Jesus restored her life, He can restore yours.

True Worship

“… true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23b-24 NLT)

This weekend we all have an opportunity to experience true worship. It’s not a matter of style, church denomination, tradition or liturgy as much as it is a matter of the heart. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day had substituted their traditions and habits for true worship. When challenged by them, Jesus confronted it squarely. In Mark 7 Jesus replied to them, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” (Mark 7:6-8 NLT) Traditions in worship are not the problem. It’s when we substitute our traditions for the truth of God’s Word and just go through the motions or habits of worship while our hearts are somewhere else. It’s an easy trap to fall into. We begin to worship our traditions or even the habit of worship more than God Himself who should be the object of our worship. As you go to church this weekend, prepare your heart for true worship. Worship God in spirit and truth. “God is Spirit” means that He is present everywhere and can be worshiped anywhere at any time. It’s how we worship that matters. Is it from our hearts? Is it genuine and true? Are we seeking the Holy Spirit’s help in worship? The Bible says the Holy Spirit helps us by praying for us, interceding through us, teaching us the Word of God and affirming our relationship to God. Don’t settle for anything less when you worship. If you are in the Houston area, we would love to have you join us for worship this weekend!

Crossing the Bridge of Surrender

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Matthew 5:5 (NIV)

Jesus said it would take meekness for us to surrender our lives to His control. But, what does that really mean; and how do we practically do it? To effectively cross the bridge of surrender means I am entrusting all that I am and all that I have to God. It means:

  • I trust God’s Son as my Savior and Lord. I quit trying to save myself and simply believe that He can rescue me, forgive me and control my life.
  • I trust God’s Word as my standard to live by. Cultural values change over time. The only standard of truth that will never change is God’s Word. Freedom comes when I align my life to the standard of His Word.
  • I trust God’s will as my strategy for living. The reason the meek are blessed is because they have surrendered their wills to the will of God. In every decision, determine to seek God’s will and follow His direction.
  • I trust God’s power as my strength for life. Because the Christian life is a supernatural life, it takes a supernatural power to live it. Jesus never asked us to imitate His way of life but to yield our lives to Him and permit Him to live His life in and through us. In His power we can face the impossible demands of life with grace and confidence that He will come through. Regardless the circumstances, the Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13 (NKJV)

Have you crossed the bridge of surrender? Take a moment and prayerfully make these confessions to God from your heart as you commit all your life to Christ’s care and control.