Stride Right

One memorable scene in the Oscar-winning movie, Chariots of Fire, finds Eric Liddell explaining to his sister, Jenny, his deep sense of calling: “I believe that God made me for a purpose, for China, but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Liddell would go on to win the 400-meter event in the 1924 Olympics before devoting the rest of his life to mission work in China. As I think about his innermost convictions, I cannot help but feel what must have been his profound sense of freedom. Running a race or proclaiming Jesus’ love, neither was drudgery to Liddell, rather both were sources of joy, for God had “made” him for these, and he pursued each as one liberated and inspired by the truth of God’s forever forgiveness and indwelling presence.

While few of us are (or ever were) gifted track athletes, all of us have been loosed from the stymying weight of trying to be good enough for God in our own power. Jesus, who is righteous by nature, has truly made us one with Himself, and so His righteousness—His right standing before God—becomes our own. He who atoned for our sins lives in us, so we are completely and forever free to run in Him unfettered by our past and with clear direction for our future. “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” said the writer of Hebrews, “and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith …”1

So, too, we stride with purpose. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,”2 wrote the apostle Paul, for Jesus liberated us not for us to return to the crippling ways of sin, but to empower us in liberty along a fresh course of meaning and impact. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free,” he wrote, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”3

God has made each of us for a purpose. So, as we pace life’s course in a precious freedom of the soul, may we, too, feel His pleasure.

Father, you’ve done so much for me; help me to accept your love and grace. Show me my purposes in life and guide me as I pursue them today. Fill me with your Spirit, so that I do what is pleasing to you and helpful to others. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Christ in me is freedom.

1 Hebrews 12:1, 2
2 Galatians 5:1
3 Galatians 5:13, 14

[Read today’s Scripture in Galatians 5:1-6.]

He Showed Us How

John didn’t get it. Who could blame him? As Jesus approached him at the Jordan River, all the Baptizer could muster was a humble inquiry rooted in puzzlement: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” It was necessary, however, for the One who came from God to consecrate Himself to God, so as John baptized Jesus, the Father thundered His approval and the Spirit descended upon the Son. God was there in His fullness; Jesus’ work on Earth had begun.

We know why Jesus came—to redeem a people separated from God by sin. We know what He taught us what to do—love God with all we have and love others as we love ourselves (the entire law is wrapped up in these). But one thing that escaped me all these years is this: Jesus also modeled for us how to live reborn lives. Consider the ways He lived with and in the Holy Spirit of God. As Isaiah foretold, God put His Spirit in this long-promised Messiah,1 and in fact, the Spirit lived in Him.2 Jesus was taught by the “Spirit of wisdom … understanding … [and] knowledge,”3 also as Isaiah prophesied, and the Spirit led Jesus4 while He went about His Father’s work. Astoundingly, it was by the power of the Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead.5 All of this commencing from the baptism at the Jordan, when the Spirit of God alit on the Son of God.

Just before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”6 The Spirit had been Jesus’ friend—a faithful guide—and now Jesus was promising His presence with all who would believe. What then came of this promise? It should sound very familiar. God put His Spirit in us7 and His Spirit lives in us.8 He is to us, also, the Counselor would come and teach us, or “guide us in all truth.”9 The Spirit leads10 all who are children of God through Christ. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”11 All this commencing from the faith into which we are baptized—when the Spirit seals us in the Son, who did the will of the Father.12

How do we love God with all our might, not only in our heart, but also in our words and our actions? How do we love our neighbors in what we think, say and do? Not in our own power, will or wisdom, but by living this life the way Jesus did—going where the Spirit leads us and saying what He tells us to say, not just in the epic, pivotal points in our life, but even more so in every day encounters with people. Jesus showed us how.

Father, I confess that my natural inclination is to place my priorities above yours. Send your Spirit today to lead me, and grace me to recognize His voice and to follow Him, moment by moment. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Christ in me is salvation.

Read today’s Scripture in Matthew 3:13-17.

1 Isaiah 42:1
2 John 3:34
3 Isaiah 11:2
4 Luke 4:1
5 Romans 8:11
6 John 16:7
7 Ezekiel 36:27
8 1 Corinthians 3:16
9 John 16:13
10 Romans 8:14
11 Romans 8:11
12 Ephesians 1:13

The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

My head snapped in a double-take the first time I heard an inmate say this: “Coming to prison was the best thing that ever happened to me.” I’ve heard it several times now, and what always follows is the explanation—“If I hadn’t come to prison, I wouldn’t have faced the things in my life that needed to change,” and “… I would not have come to know Jesus Christ.” God has a way of taking life’s blows and turning them to good. Incarceration is certainly one of the bigger “pause” buttons one could ever encounter, but “hard time” in life is not limited to time behind bars, and no walls can constrain God’s mercy. So here are just a few examples of people I know who have experienced the consequences of their own sin, only for God to deliver them and turn their pain into good.

Ambition. A good friend once related to me the tragic end of his first marriage. “I was so focused on being at the top of my game—the best in the business—that I largely ignored my wife. When she had an affair and left me, my friends indignantly pointed their finger at her in accusation, but I said, ‘No, I essentially drove her away.’ I’ve been remarried for over 30 years now, and I pour my life into my wife and our sons. All of us have a love for Jesus Christ.”

Self-righteousness. Frustrated by his moral failures, which left him short on hope and long on self-pity, a friend realized that no amount of his own goodness would ever be good enough to stand before a holy God and that trying to do so only resulted in more and more frustration. “I finally came to the point where I had to fire that debit/credit god of mine,” he chuckled. He had come to the realization that his only hope for a right relationship with God was through God’s own grace—never a goal to seize through works, but ever a gift to receive in faith.

Duplicity. I know a man who, in the pursuit of approval and with a fear of rejection, preferred not to talk about his faith in some social settings. But when he was rejected by those whose approval he desired the most, God was there to walk him through the pain and to show him true acceptance and love, which can only come from Him. With a greater sense of joy and freedom, that man shares his faith much more freely today, having been released from the desire for the faux, “conditional” acceptance that the world has to offer.

What about you? Have you ever suffered from your bad decisions, only for God to use those consequences to shape you further into His likeness? I’m guessing so, because He is the God of redemption who makes even our pain turn out for our good and His glory. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us. He always will be.

Father, your goodness is beyond comprehension. You turn even our difficulties into good—our good and yours. Thank you. I trust you with my entire life. Take it; it’s yours. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Christ in me is redemption.

Read today’s Scripture in Acts 16:16-40.