“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” Isaiah 1:18
Living in coastal North Carolina, it’s a rare occurrence for the temperature to drop and to see white flakes falling from the sky. For that snow to stick and begin to accumulate is even more out of the ordinary.
But, today, when I opened up the blinds and looked out my window, a fresh blanket of pure white powder greeted me. It was a breathtaking sight – one that brought shrieks of joy to my two girls who pleaded insistently to go outside.
We obliged, bundled up and trekked out into the cold for some winter fun. We played with neighborhood friends, did some sledding (with boogie boards in typical beach lover fashion) and, of course, did the obligatory Instagram photo session.
My favorite photo of the bunch was the one of our house blanketed in snow. Our two cars. COVERED. The girl’s sports equipment. COVERED. The trash can. COVERED. All of the yard tools I forgot to bring in. COVERED.
The reason why this photo caught my attention was due to it be a striking reminder of the power of God’s grace. Today’s passage in Isaiah speaks to this point.
The cross took care of the ugly stain sin left on our lives and our hearts. His sacrifice settled the issue of our struggles once and for all.
Our past regrets. COVERED.
Our present missteps. COVERED.
Our future failures. COVERED.
The power of this truth should influence the way we view ourselves. Instead of looking at our lives and focusing on our struggles and shortcomings, we set our eyes on our new identity in Christ and what He says about us.
His grace should be the only thing we see. Rather than trying to cover our shame, we can rest in the reality of it being covered by His love. And that is a thing of beauty.
- What personal struggles do you doubt God has covered and taken care of through His grace? What makes you resist resting in this reality?
God, I stand amazed by Your love. I’m so undeserving of this affection and attention, yet you extend it to me anyway. You’ve made something beautiful out of my mess, and for this, I am forever grateful. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:2-3
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Ecclesiastes 4:11
I can barely feel my fingers as I type these words. My office could be mistaken for an igloo thanks to the space heater shorting out the circuit breaker. With the number of blankets wrapped around me, I am well on my way to my new life as a Sherpa.
Like most everyone in the nation, I’m trying to survive this great winter cool down. The temperatures have dropped to the point where I find myself googling tips on how to prevent my pipes from freezing. Yes, even miles away I can see my northern readers doing a collective eye roll, but you have to understand the frigid temperatures caught many of us southerners off-guard.
To keep my mind off the cold, I began scrolling through Facebook mindlessly at first, but then a thought struck me. There were people I hadn’t reached out to in forever. Even though based on social media standards we were “friends,” my relationship with them had thawed. Some of those connections, if I’m perfectly honest, were downright frozen.
For whatever reason, just like the frigid temperatures, I’m experiencing right now, my cold heart in these relationships had caught me off-guard. But, this is what happens when we don’t tend to our relationships or when we enable pride, fear, apathy, envy or bitterness to win over love and forgiveness.
Those connections go cold and freeze up altogether. Our hearts become the artic. Days, weeks, months, and years go by, and eventually, you find yourself living in the ice age. Instead of walking on eggshells, a lack of crucial conversations has us tip-toeing on cracked ice. There’s no stability or security in living this way. We wrap ourselves up in our excuses and justifications. When we do this, the only thing that heats up is our anger.
There are some relationships where safe boundaries are needed. For others, reconciliation is off the table. But, for most of these frost-bitten connections, the opportunity for things to thaw is possible, and it starts with allowing the warmth of Christ’s love to guide our words, actions, and attitudes. His love can melt the coldest of hearts.
- In what relationship has your heart grown cold? What is driving this bitterness?
- How can you begin to thaw out this connection point?
God, warm my heart with Your love today. Thaw the places where my heart has gone cold. Open my eyes to the relationships that remain frigid and distant. Give me the courage to seek forgiveness and reconciliation where I am able. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
If it were up to my dad, you wouldn’t be reading this devotional because it wouldn’t exist. Now, before you get the wrong impression let me reassure you that he isn’t anti-religion or faith; he is just that much of a golf fan.
His dream for me was to make the PGA Tour and to spend my days on the links wearing a polo, khaki pants and a visor. There was only one problem: the game of golf and my perfectionist tendencies were a recipe for disaster.
Slicing and hooking my opening driver into the woods. SIGH. Hitting a shot in the water. MUTTER UNDER MY BREATH. Ending up in a sand trap. GRUMBLE. Barely missing a makeable putt. THAT’S IT! My dad soon realized his dream wouldn’t become a reality when I wrapped my putter around a tree in frustration (true story).
Over the years, I’ve learned how to handle my mistakes, screw-ups, and failures with a bit more grace. However, coming face-to-face with my shortcomings is never comfortable.
Just like many of you, I had all these intentions that 2018 would mark “a new year, a new me.” This mantra might have meant working on your anger, eating better, sticking to a budget, devoting time to prayer, or being more patient. And just like me, you are probably standing here on January 3rd and are already dealing with not measuring up. Your hope for change was quickly met with typical behavior, not-go-great attitudes and actions that lead to regret.
In golf terms, you stood at the tee post, looked down at your ball and took a swing. Unfortunately, your ball went sailing in the wrong direction.
Just like on the golf course, my drive to do everything correctly the first time causes me to experience a case of the “spiritual yips.” I get in my head and over think things. One wrong move, one poor decision and I feel like there’s no point in playing the game. Things will always be the same. So, I take my club and go home.
I need to remind myself over and over again that change is indeed possible. But, it won’t come easy and will require me to fight. It’s filled with two steps forward and one step back. Adversity, setbacks, and roadblocks are part of the game. And, most importantly, I’ve got to extend myself a bit of grace because the God I worship extends it to me in more ways than I can comprehend.
Christ offers each one of us a mulligan – a second chance. The power of the cross gives us much more hope than just another shot. The old system of religion demands perfection, the new one centered on Christ rests in His grace.
He’s not only the God of second chances; Christ is the one who offers unlimited opportunities to experience grace, forgiveness, and mercy. His mercies are new every morning which means that the mistakes of the past are left there – in the past. Take another shot today.
- Where are you dealing with discouragement and feelings of futility? Why have you lost hope?
- Where do you need to extend yourself a bit of grace and realize that transformation takes time?
God, remind me during those times of struggles and failures that my mistakes aren’t the end of the story. Open my eyes to the abundance of Your grace and mercy. Speak into those places where I’ve lost heart and hope. Give me the courage to try again and rely on Your strength to guide my steps. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
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
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Romans 6:17-18
You never know what you will come across when you read the “In Other News” section found near the back pages of most newspapers. This is the place where tidbits of strange happenings make their home. They often tell of random events that don’t seem to fit anywhere else, but in the place labeled ‘other.’ If you ever find yourself in a bad mood, I’d suggest picking up your daily paper and reading this section. You are always guaranteed to find one story that makes you at the very least chuckle or, at the very most, question what is wrong with humanity.
One of my all-time favorite “In Other News” stories is the one about the fiasco that took place a few years back during Halloween in White Plains, NY. A guy named Oscar was taking his daughter trick-or-treating in a local neighborhood. Both dad and daughter were dressed up in costumes going door to door. You might be wondering what is noteworthy about a little girl who dresses up like a princess or Disney character getting candy. We haven’t got to what Oscar was wearing; his old orange prisoner’s jumpsuit.
Just by chance, or because God has a great sense of humor, a county correction officer was out trick-or-treating with her child and spotted the familiar jumpsuit. Fearing he was an escaped convict, it sent the local jail into lockdown until they could establish no inmates were missing. Meanwhile, cops found Oscar and confiscated the genuine jumpsuit. Oscar was arrested and charged with petty larceny and possession of stolen property, both misdemeanors. You see prisoners are not permitted to take their jumpsuits home when they are released.
The 6th chapter in Romans speaks in great detail about how we were once slaves or prisoners to sin, but since we have accepted what Christ did on the cross, we have been set free. The chains have been taken off and we are able to live life freely. The door to our jail cell has been opened, we’ve been released and all we need to do is hand in our prisoner’s jumpsuit on the way out. We have been set free.
Very few words in the English language evoke more emotion than the word freedom. Something inside us feels liberated and joyful whenever it is spoken or experienced firsthand. We picture chains being broken and the weight of the world taken off our shoulders. It is only natural for us to yearn to be free.
Yet, how many of us still have the orange jumpsuit tucked away somewhere deep in our closet or take it out and wear it from time to time? We don’t know what it is, but there is something keeping us from getting rid of our old garb. We are so accustomed to how the prisoner’s jumpsuit feels that we struggle to part with it.
The longer we keep this jumpsuit in our possession the greater the pull we will feel to go back to our old lifestyle. In essence, we are helping put back on the very chains that Christ went to the cross to break for good. The reason we find ourselves dealing with the same old struggles time and time again is that we are suffering from a case of mistaken identity.
This piece of clothing symbolizes our old condition, not our new identity in Christ. Our sin nature might always be a part of us, but we are no longer obligated to sin. Our freedom is found in God’s truth. Rather than living under the constant pressure of trying to reach an unattainable standard (the law), we are instead covered by God’s grace, which looks so much better than that tacky, old orange jumpsuit.
- Why do you keep the orange prisoner’s jumpsuit that symbolizes your old identity still around? What security do you think it provides you? What makes you doubt that you can ever let it go?
- Where is God shaping you right now? What would it look like for you to walk in freedom?
God, today I want to walk in Your freedom. May I see myself the way You see me. Help me to trust that the old is gone and the new has come. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. Psalm 98:1
For a writer, a blank page is both exciting and absolutely frightening. It offers freedom of inspiration as well as potential frustration. Even though there are endless opportunities to create, the possibility of finding yourself stuck is just as real.
Today, on the first day of 2018, we find ourselves holding a journal with 365 blank pages and a pen. Nothing has been written so far.
What are you going to do with your pages? Will you rise to the challenge and fill it with chapters of faith, trust, and courage? Or, will you falter from the pressure and never put pen to paper?
Who will be the main character in your story? Will everything center on you – your wants, your needs, and your desires? Will you make much of yourself? Or will you write stories that speak of humility, encouragement and ensuring others get to play the part of a hero?
How will you allow God to weave His way through the tale you are telling with the pages you’ve been given? As people read your story, will they notice His presence in your life? Will they be awoken to His greatness and worth?
Look at the pen in Your hand. A great story requires you to write. It involves stepping into the unknown and creating. Don’t let fear, complacency, anger or worry keep you from writing your story. Get writing.
- What is your prayer for 2018? Why is this on your heart?
- How is God authoring your story currently and where is He leading you to take a step of faith in this new year?
God, I look forward to the new year that is in front of me. I pray that I would step into 2018 ready to tell a tale with my life that points others to You. I might not know what each chapter holds, but I do trust that each page has a purpose. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.
Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.
See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me!
Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you. Psalm 25:16-21
There are many roads that lead us down the path towards loneliness– the loss of a loved one, living with convictions, relocating to a new town or school, secret sin patterns or being introverted in social settings, just to name a few.
It doesn’t matter if you are in the midst of a sea of people or all by yourself behind closed doors, loneliness knows no bounds. The pain of loneliness is part of the human experience. We’ve all encountered the pain of separation at one time or another.
When those feelings of loneliness begin to make an appearance, we do everything in our power to protect ourselves. We surround ourselves with noise and keep busy to avoid slowing down long enough to listen to the silence. We hide behind our work, we get lost in media and technology and we medicate by indulging in anything that will numb the pain.
We often exchange connection with distraction and community with consumption. In our quest to find wholeness, everyone becomes a commodity.If we don’t understand the deep cause of our loneliness, we will continue to use others. This creates unbelievable pressure and heartbreak in the connections we are trying to make.
When people disappoint or hurt us, we retreat into loneliness. We reason the agony of loneliness is better than the pressure of people so we disengage from others by either becoming self-absorbed or playing the victim card and blaming others for our pain. We do everything in our power to protect ourselves from the pain loneliness brings.
Many of us don’t like being alone because we don’t know what to do with ourselves. The last thing we want to experience is coming face-to-face with our brokenness, loneliness, and insecurities. But, rather than running away from loneliness, we should lean into the pain, because if we do, this is where comfort resides.
The way we learn to deal with crushing loneliness is found when we give up trying to escape, force, amuse or distract it away. Everyone struggles with loneliness; how we view and deal with it determines the quality of our lives and our relationships.
- When have you experienced loneliness? How did you react in these moments? What did you turn to in hopes of distracting yourself or dealing with these feelings of loneliness? Why did you look to these things to bring you comfort?
- How is the answer to our loneliness found in our willingness to lean into the pain?
God, in the midst of my loneliness, may I trust that I am never truly alone. You are always with me. All too often I want to avoid and run away from the pain. Instead, give me the courage to embrace it so you can mend my heart. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4-5
Today is more than just food, family, and football.
In the midst of the Macy’s Day parade, turkey-induced nap, getting together with loved ones and hopefully my team winning the big game, we have the opportunity to reflect on the many ways we have been blessed.
We pause and give thanks.
The Bible speaks very clearly about this idea of thanksgiving. In Psalm 69:30-31, the author says, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves.”
Why is our gratitude so valuable to God? Our gratitude is something we possess that God desires. The sacrifice of thanksgiving glorifies God more than any effort we can bring to God. Why does it have such great worth in His eyes? Our gratitude magnifies God and is our acknowledgment that God is good in all things.
Gratitude is our best attempt to express the truth of God’s goodness. Even though we will never be able to truly express it, thanksgiving is our human way of magnifying Him and setting Him apart as He is. There is an element of both recognition and expression in our gratitude. A thankful heart shapes and forms us, leading us to express our praise in worship. The purest form of thanksgiving involves valuing God above all else and recognizing His holiness.
But, there is another purpose behind our gratitude. Stability, gratitude, and generosity serve as markers to help us measure our spiritual maturity. When things don’t go our way, how do we respond? Do we question God’s goodness? Are we quick to freak out? Do our hearts drift towards entitlement? Or, in the midst of everything, both the good and the bad, is there a humble stability present in our lives? Gratitude measures the condition of our heart and helps us regulate our lives.
- If gratitude measures the condition of one’s heart, how would you describe the current condition of your heart?
- What are you thankful for today?
God, allow me to praise you in the midst of any situation I face. May my life overflow with gratitude. Help me to realize that You love me and work everything out for my good. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. ROMANS 5:8
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.JOHN 8:36
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one. EZEKIEL 36:26
Mark Allen heads up Refuge, PC3’s addictions ministry. When he shared his story from the stage last Sunday as part of a special message on Wilmington’s opioid epidemic, I was in awe of two things: the depths to which he spiraled during his addiction to heroin, and the tenacity with which God pursued Mark despite his rebellion.
“I couldn’t change my past, but God had a plan to save me from it,” Mark said. That is the Gospel, right there! For everyone has sinned. We all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23) We’ve all messed up. Some in shocking, obvious ways. Others in insidious, hidden ways.
My own journey with addiction took the form of an eating disorder that nobody knew about. From age 18 to 28, I was enslaved to food and a distorted body image. Bulimia didn’t place me around drug dealers or in dangerous situations. But it consumed all my thoughts, kept me from being truly known and smothered me in guilt and shame.
Amazingly, Jesus came to my rescue while I was still a stony-hearted unbeliever who used His name in vain and scoffed at His church. It would be 15 years before I realized Jesus was the One who had resurrected me from the spiritual death of bulimia. But now I have all of eternity to praise His name.
Christ wants to unshackle each of us from whatever bondage we’re in. As Mike Ashcraft shared last Sunday, the Gospel is the power of God to change our identity from death to life. It’s the only power that can truly set us free.
- Is there anything in your life that’s making you feel trapped?
- Have you ever asked Jesus to deliver you from it?
- What would life be like if you were free of this bondage?
Dear Father in Heaven, the enemy tells us we’re unworthy of Your love because of what we’ve done in public or in secret. He also whispers that we should handle our sin by ourselves. But Jesus proved Satan wrong on both counts! He died and rose again so that we can have new life. Remind us that no addiction or life-dominating sin can enslave us when we turn it over to You. In Christ’s holy name we pray. Amen.
PC3 writer Katy Davis wrote today’s devotional.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-12
Everybody prays when they are freaking out, in a difficult situation or dealing with a tragedy. We naturally lift up our concerns during those times when we face weakness head on. Unfortunately, if one were to look at the prayers of most Christians during these moments, they would see something surprising.
We tend to think that God should strengthen us so we get what WE WANT.
God give me the strength to control my kids, my husband, my finances, etc. God let this situation pass so I can get back to my normal routine. We want God’s power in our life so we can control the situations we don’t think God is doing a good enough job controlling.
We ask God to change our circumstances rather than transform and shape our heart.
Stability, gratitude, and generosity are markers of spiritual maturity. God never promises for a believer’s life to be easy and free of troubles. The purpose of a walk with God is not status quo.
Stability shouldn’t be mistaken for predictability, the absence of difficulty or a life void of weakness. Rather, we can witness if stability is taking root in our character by judging how we react, or in some cases overreact, to the circumstances around us. Do we rely on God’s grace when our strength isn’t enough?
Stability measures the way we walk by faith and not by sight.
The emotions we feel towards the circumstances we face are very important. They can serve as markers towards our growth.
This in no way undermines the legitimate emotions of worry, grief, anger or disappointment, but instead, it helps us measure the condition of our hearts in response to the circumstances that often damage it.
We think self-control happens as a result of sheer will power and is not a fruit of the Spirit. But, today’s Scripture reminds us that sober mindedness and self-control are needed for our prayers. There needs to be a level of endurance in the situations we face. Controlling yourself is critical for surrendering yourself.
- Ask God to open your eyes to areas where you are struggling to exhibit stability, gratitude, and generosity.
God, I want my life to be marked by stability, gratitude, and generosity. Do the work on my heart in order to get me there. Help me to realize I sometimes cannot control my circumstances, but I can take ownership in regards to my response to those circumstances. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” –C.S. Lewis from The Problem of Pain
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:17-18
It’s funny how God brings two complete opposites together. My wife is a morning person. She’s chipper as soon as her feet hit the floor. Not me. Most days I’m like a groggy grizzly bear who has just risen from a month long hibernation.
The slightest noise will wake my wife up. Not me. I’ve slept through hurricanes, fire alarms, thunderstorms, barking dogs and crying babies. Side note to new fathers: never yawn, stretch and say, “What a blessing…our newborn didn’t even make a peep” to your bloodshot eyed wife. This never ends well.
If heavy sleeping were an Olympic sport, I would be a lock for a gold medal. Being a deep sleeper, I’ve devised many tricks to see the light of day at a reasonable time. My iPhone has 5 alarms set. The fallback plan is the radio setup on the opposite side of the room that blares the local rock radio station at full blast.
Those screeching sounds are the only way to shock my system into wake up mode. Without them, I’d still be sleeping and not in front of a keyboard. In some regards, loneliness serves as a similar wake-up call.
When life is going well, we can sleep walk through our days not realizing our desperate need for connection with God and others. The pain of loneliness rouses us from our slumber. It awakens our eyes to see our brokenness and separation.
Colliding with pain forces us to come face-to-face with our deepest spiritual needs. Our natural tendency will be to hit the snooze button, roll over and try to go back to sleep. But, the alarm ringing again is inevitable.
We’ve got to get out of bed and answer the call. But, more importantly, we have to realize there is a beauty and purpose behind the pain. God is not so much concern with changing our circumstances. He is more focused on mending our heart.
God desires to redeem our loneliness. If we lean into the pain, God can use our loneliness to transform our heart and mind as well as bring us in a deeper intimacy with Him. He wants to speak to us through His megaphone of pain.
The alarm is ringing, are you going to answer it?
- How has God used moments of loneliness to shed light on your need for Him?
God, often I struggle to hear Your voice or sense Your presence. Yet, in those lonely moments when I can no longer ignore the pain, I can feel You are with me. During these times when I am all alone, I can sense You shouting to me, reminding me that You will never leave me nor forsake me. Redeem my loneliness. Let the pain bring me closer to Your side. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.