Category Archives: Weekly Devotion

Got Joy?

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“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13–14

It may be hard to accept this news but joy is a personal choice. I’d much rather think the opposite – to claim that people and circumstances steal my joy. Or to think that joy is accidental and I’m not accident prone! I hate the idea that the reason I don’t have joy sometimes is because I’m simply not choosing it.

I don’t know how full your joy meter is registering right now, but I can tell you on the authority of God’s Word that if the reading is low or the arrow is on empty, you can find joy again in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. You can choose the joy found in following Jesus.

Sometimes people who have known the Lord for a while get bored. They think, “There’s gotta be something more, something better, something different.” Having Jesus in their life doesn’t seem as exciting as it was. And off they go in search of some kind of unbiblical extravagance to satisfy that itch. To that, the apostle Paul posts a big warning sign in Philippians 3:13-14:

(Forget) what lies behind and (strain) forward to what lies ahead… I press on!” Instead of longing for more or better or different, God calls us deeper and stronger. Philippians 3 continues, “hold true to what we have attained” (v.16).

Choosing joy every day involves holding fast to God. Keep depending on Christ. Do you still lean on Him as completely as when you first came to the Cross? Is every step with God one of dependence and faith? What uncertainty lies ahead? What obstacle are you being called to conquer right now? Do you want joy amidst those challenges? Say, “I can’t do it, Lord; only You can do it in me.”

What do you need to do today to regain lost joy? Stop trying so hard in your own strength to be what God wants you to be and move back into that dependent, Christ-centered approach to life. Remember that the same way you came to the Lord is also how you’ll grow in Christ (Colossians 2:6–7).

Want more joy? Get back on the track of desperate dependence on God and abiding faith.

James MacDonald

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“What did Jesus mean when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23)?”

Take-up-your-cross
Let’s begin with what Jesus didn’t mean. Many people interpret “cross” as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness. With self-pitying pride, they say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an interpretation is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop.

Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.

Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross bearing, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25). Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless.

Wherever Jesus went, He drew crowds. Although these multitudes often followed Him as Messiah, their view of who the Messiah really was—and what He would do—was distorted. They thought the Christ would usher in the restored kingdom. They believed He would free them from the oppressive rule of their Roman occupiers. Even Christ’s own inner circle of disciples thought the kingdom was coming soon (Luke 19:11). When Jesus began teaching that He was going to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and their Gentile overlords (Luke 9:22), His popularity sank. Many of the shocked followers rejected Him. Truly, they were not able to put to death their own ideas, plans, and desires, and exchange them for His.

Following Jesus is easy when life runs smoothly; our true commitment to Him is revealed during trials. Jesus assured us that trials will come to His followers (John 16:33). Discipleship demands sacrifice, and Jesus never hid that cost.

In Luke 9:57-62, three people seemed willing to follow Jesus. When Jesus questioned them further, their commitment was half-hearted at best. They failed to count the cost of following Him. None was willing to take up his cross and crucify upon it his own interests.

Therefore, Jesus appeared to dissuade them. How different from the typical Gospel presentation! How many people would respond to an altar call that went, “Come follow Jesus, and you may face the loss of friends, family, reputation, career, and possibly even your life”? The number of false converts would likely decrease! Such a call is what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

If you wonder if you are ready to take up your cross, consider these questions:
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means the loss of your reputation?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your life?

In some places of the world, these consequences are reality. But notice the questions are phrased, “Are you willing?” Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean all these things will happen to you, but are you willing to take up your cross? If there comes a point in your life where you are faced with a choice—Jesus or the comforts of this life—which will you choose?

Commitment to Christ means taking up your cross daily, giving up your hopes, dreams, possessions, even your very life if need be for the cause of Christ. Only if you willingly take up your cross may you be called His disciple (Luke 14:27). The reward is worth the price. Jesus followed His call of death to self (“Take up your cross and follow Me”) with the gift of life in Christ: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25-26).

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Jesus: First in Everything

TheCross“That He might have first place in all things.”  Colossians 1:18b

I’m going to begin with a radical statement:  You will never experience the fullness of joy that you were created to know until Jesus Christ has first place in every area of your life. Again, you will never experience the fullness of joy that you were created to know until Jesus Christ has first place in every area of your life.

Now hang on to that for a minute.  First place.

  • First in my home.
  • First in my choices for entertainment.
  • First in the way I use my money.
  • First in my career.
  • First in my thoughts.
  • First in my decisions.
  • First in my marriage.
  • First in my singleness.
  • First in my relationships.
  • First in my dreams for the future.

“I will never experience the fullness of joy that I was created to know until I put Jesus Christ first in every area of my life.”

I think a lot of people would intellectually subscribe to that, but I wonder how many of us would truly embrace that into our behavior?  That doesn’t come easily. So here’s what’s in front of us.  The quintessential passage on the supremacy of Jesus Christ is Colossians 1:15-19. So much of what we believe about Jesus Christ, what we love and celebrate about Him, comes from this passage so it demands our complete attention.  Whenever you think, “Jesus first,” think “Colossians 1.” It’s all here.


Colossians 1:16, “
All things were created through [Christ] and for [Christ].”  Through Him and for Him.  Some people have a hard time with that. They’re like, “I can handle the fact that He created the universe, but I have a hard time with Him creating the universe for Himself.  Who does He think He is?  His glory?  His pleasure?  His purpose?  Is that ever prideful!  How self-centered can you get?!”  Listen.  The amazing thing is not that Jesus Christ created things, including us, for Himself.  The amazing thing is that He could care less.  That’s the amazing thing—that He has chosen in His incredible grace to love us, to dwell with us, to forgive us—the list goes on.  That’s the incredible news.

Think about your life.  Think about His persistent, persistent love.  Think about how faithfully He pursues you in spite of yourself.  The next time you sin or reject or ignore Him, how amazing is it that He just doesn’t walk away and say, “Forget you!”  That’s amazing!  He is not here for us; we are here for him.  We are here to bring Him glory.  We are here to display His splendor.  We are here to make Him known.  He is our purpose and we find our greatest joy when He is at the center of our lives.

Several years ago, Forbes magazine invited scholars from around the world to contribute to its seventy-fifth anniversary issue by answering this question: “Why are we so unhappy?”  And in came the essays from a panorama of perspectives and from supposedly some of the greatest minds of our generation.  Surprisingly, they agreed on this one point.  The primary reason for the unhappiness of mankind, they concluded, was “we have lost our moral and spiritual center.”  Ding! I’m telling you that center is Jesus Christ the Lord.  You will discover your greatest joy and your greatest fulfillment in putting Him in the center of your life.

I have something special that I want to share with you.  It’s an excerpt from a message by S.M. Lockridge, a man of God who is now with his Lord, but who lifted up and exalted the name of Jesus Christ like few preachers I’ve ever heard.  .

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Now—what burden are you carrying that the Lord Jesus couldn’t carry better?

What problem are you facing that you can afford to face without complete continuous dependence upon Him?

What sin have you been struggling with that you wouldn’t renounce for His glory?

What area of defeat have you been circling in that you wouldn’t choose in this moment to move afresh toward His all sufficiency in all things?

Colossians 1: 18b, “That He might have first place in all things.”

Dr. James MacDonald ~ Walk in the Word

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Nothing to Fear

trust

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” John 11:7-10

Surveys tell us that fear is the No. 1 emotional struggle in our country. Let’s face it, everybody is afraid of something. From crime to cancer and from global security to our most private thoughts, fear presses in on us from every angle.

The disciples were no different. Even as they walked with Jesus, fear dogged their steps. When Jesus said, “Let’s go to Judea again” (John11:7), the disciples thought Uh-oh! They had a flashback to the last time they were in Judea. Perhaps Jesus had forgotten, they must have thought, so they reminded him, saying in essence, “Rabbi, have you forgotten that lately the Jews have been trying to stone you in Judea. They tried to kill us there! We’re afraid to go back.”

But Jesus didn’t hide or sneak around, afraid for his life. Look how he answered the disciples: “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble” (John 11:9). Often when you trip and fall, it’s because you’re walking around in the dark. In the next verse, Jesus switches from the physical light outside to the spiritual light inside. “But if one walks in the night he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” Jesus said the people who should fear what happens to them are those that don’t have God’s light in their hearts. He told his disciples, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). If you have Jesus’ light inside you, you have nothing to be afraid of.

Sometimes I’m afraid when I’m in the dark, coming up the stairs from the basement or walking around the back of the house late at night when the moon is hidden. It’s hard not to look over your shoulder. I understand that response from a physical point of view, but we shouldn’t be doing something similar in our spiritual lives. We should be walking straight ahead and into the light of Jesus’ promises regardless of what darkness is threatening our spirit.

This year, live with confidence. Don’t live in fear. Starting today, believe with all your heart that in God’s power you will not stumble.

And if you encounter a fearful situation, just keep your feet moving forward with Jesus–He is the light of the world!

 

Dr. James MacDonald

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