When It Feels Like You Are Sinking

Text: Psalm 69:1-18

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” Isaiah 43:2

Have you ever felt like you were going to drown? In the early 90s I was preaching a series of revival meetings in West Virginia. Some fellows from the church decided to take me whitewater rafting on Class 4 rapids, a more advanced level of river rafting. Upon hitting a boulder, four of us were thrown from the raft and into the raging current. I was tossed around under water for several seconds—which seems more like minutes when you are powerless to get to the surface—bouncing off rocks and carving up my flesh.

I thought my life was over.

Then, the wrath of the river had a merciful moment as it spit me back out to the surface. As I gasped for air, I never valued oxygen more than that moment in my life.

It’s a scary feeling having such a powerful force of nature overtake you, leaving you helpless to save yourself. Sometimes the stuff of life can carry that imagery. It did for David as he wrote Psalm 69. “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck,” he cried. “I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.”

David lamented feeling weak and weary—all his energy spent, his throat parched from crying out as he waited for God to rescue him (v.3). Numerous were those who “hated him without cause” and “attacked him with lies” (v.4). Even the drunks at the local pub made their songs about him (v.12). Yet David brought his plea before God. In verses 13-18, he expresses his humble reliance upon God for salvation: “my prayer is to you… answer me… deliver me… let not the flood sweep over me… hide not your face… draw near.”

His prayer appeals to what He already knows about the character of God: “for your steadfast love is good” (v.16). Though David feels like he is drowning in a flood, without a foothold, he still knows he can reach upward and trust what God has scripturally, historically, and consistently revealed about Himself; God abounds in “steadfast love” and “saving faithfulness.” For David, it was a time of rejection with man, but acceptance with God. He was overwhelmed by the temporal frustrations of life, yet overcome by the inexhaustible grace of God.

Centuries later, the Son of David heard the cries of a drowning disciple (Matthew 14:22-33). Peter had zealously stepped out of a boat one stormy night, bidding that Jesus would permit him to walk on water. I love that we never see Jesus rebuking Peter for his bold request to do the impossible! He stepped in faith. Then his vision drifted in fear. When he took his eyes off of Jesus he began to sink. He cried desperately, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Eventually the waves will calm. The winds will cease. The waters will subside. But the one constant will always be the steadfastness of God’s love:

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
This one thing remains

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me

Because on and on and on and on it goes
Yes it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
‘Cause this one thing remains

In death, in life, I’m confident
Covered by the power of your great love
I know my debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
Separate my heart from your great love
(*Bethel Music)

God’s intransient love for us—it can never, will never cease. “Though you have changed a thousand times, He has not changed once,” said Spurgeon. We can surely endure anything by pondering His permanence and fixing our eyes on Him. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.


Heavenly Father, thank you for your enduring faithfulness. Even when we come into deep waters, your steadfast love can still be trusted. Though the rapids may come up to our neck, and the current overwhelms, you will indeed rescue. You will not hide your face. You will always draw near. Always. Thank you for this promise! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When was the last time you felt helpless, or overwhelmed about a situation?
  2. Have you ever grown weary in waiting for God to rescue you from something?
  3. In Psalm 69, we see David shift from focusing on his overwhelming problems to praise in God’s intransient character. What can we learn from this?
  4. How did David demonstrate humility before God? (Psalm 69:5, 10-11)
  5. In what ways can you turn your problems into praise this week?

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Ebenezer: Stones of Remembrance

Text: 1 Samuel 7:1-14

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” —1 Samuel 7:12

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before,” comedian Steven Wright once quipped. The older I get, the more I appreciate the living canvas of memories. I’m often intrigued by the things I remember with great detail versus the things I can only vaguely recall. It’s interesting to me that the Bible seems to encourage selective memory.

There are some things God wants us to let go of in regard to the past.

The Apostle Paul practiced his own rendition of selective amnesia: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” A few verses later, God admitted that even He will not recall certain things: “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:18-19, 25)—this only through Christ’s blood on the cross (Matthew 26:28, 1 John 1:7-9).

Then there are things that Scripture admonishes us to never forget.

We are to “not forget the works of God” (Psalm 78:7). We are to “forget none of His benefits” (Psalm 103:2). We are to “remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations” (1 Chronicles 16:15).

In 1 Samuel 7:1-14, during a time when Israel experiences revival under the leadership of Samuel, the nation repents of their sins and begins to seek the Lord. Samuel gathered the people at Mizpah where they confessed their sin, and he offered a sacrifice on their behalf. As they gave their hearts to repentance and renewal, the enemy attacked, but God “thundered” with supernatural help. He threw the enemy into a severe panic and they were routed before the Israelites. Israel’s victory over the Philistines was decisive, and it was a long time before the Philistines thought about invading Israel again!

To commemorate that divine victory, Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, naming it Ebenezer; saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (v. 12). Ebenezer meant “stone of help.” Thereafter, every time an Israelite saw this stone, it would serve as a reminder of God’s power, provision, and protection. This stone marked the spot where the enemy had been routed and God’s promise to bless His repentant people had been honored.

Early in our marriage, my wife took a spice rack and converted it into a “memorial” rack for our very own Ebenezer stone collection. To this day, that rack hangs in our kitchen, lined with many stones representing victories God has given us over the years. Occasionally I pick up some of those stones and remember—at times with a tear and at times with a smile—how God has taken care of us over the years. Those stones make for great testimonies that we are able to share with others.

In Stones of Remembrance, Daniel Amen says: “Memory enables us to bring the joys, dreams and lessons of yesterday into today. As we recall God’s faithfulness, we remain centered and growing, and we move forward with a sense of purpose. Memory allows us to keep our loved ones close, even when they are far away. It assures us that our personal history and experiences matter—that we have something valuable to teach the generations to come. This is the way God designed our minds to work—to remember. It’s been that way from the very beginning.”

What can you erect in your life that will cause you to remember what great things God has done, and to share those testimonies with future generations? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!


Heavenly Father, help us to be a people who forget the things we need to forget, but remember the things we need to remember. Teach us the kind of selective memory that is healthy for our soul, glorifying to you, and edifying to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What do you remember most about your early childhood?
  2. Over the course of your life, what victories has God given you that stand out the most in your memory?
  3. Why do you think God doesn’t want us to forget His works in our lives?
  4. In what ways can you memorialize what God has done in your life?
  5. What can we learn about the importance of repentance and confession from 1 Samuel 7? How does it correlate with victory? Is there a need for this in your life right now?

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The Ugly Dachshund

Text: Ephesians 2:1-10

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” Ephesians 2:10

Growing up, my wife always had an affinity for dachshunds. We adopted a “dachsie” for our one-year anniversary and wiener dogs have been a part of our hearts ever since. One of my favorite classics is the old Disney film, The Ugly Dachshund, about a Great Dane who thinks he’s a dachshund. Because Brutus has grown up in a litter of dachshunds, he struggles to act like the big dog he was designed to be. His owner must take him through a training regimen to help him realize his regal pedigree as a Great Dane—a quite comical unfolding.

A misguided sense of identity leads to all sorts of dysfunction in our lives. It will cause us to make idols of the things we mistakenly find our identity in—favorite sports teams, entertainment icons, social branding, popularity, academic achievement, or career success. We can even mistakenly place our identity in being a religious person or a “good” Christian.

Jesus came not just to forgive us of our sins, but also to restore our lost identity.

He rescues us from the idolatry of making our identity about performances or appearances. He reminds us that our identity does not emanate from the place where we were born. It’s not about what has happened to us along the way. It’s not found in our history of successes or failures.

Our identity, originating out of God’s outrageous love for us, is about being created in His image and shaped for His pleasure. We are His work of art, eliciting boundless joy and unremitting cheer. That’s the ancient root behind the phrase describing how God rejoices in His creation (Psalm 104:31).

In Genesis 1, we not only see God’s order of creation, we also see His response to what He made. Five times God stands back, as it were, and gives an account of His creation. Each time it says, “And God saw that it was good” (vv. 4, 12, 18, 21, 25). Later, after all was finished and man and woman were created in his own image, it says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

You were designed for a unique purpose—a very good purpose. The Bible says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13, 16 NIV).

But because sin had marred that original design, we were dead in our transgressions until redemption made us alive with Christ and raised us up to be seated with him in heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:1-6). Jesus has restored our lost identity! “For we are God’s masterpiece… created anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (v.10).

This is your true identity beloved: You are uniquely handcrafted by God, created for goodness, redeemed from the past, made alive with Christ, regenerated by new birth, sealed by the Holy Spirit, called to a royal kingdom purpose, seated in heavenly places, and destined for eternal glory!

Don’t be a victim of identity theft. Remind yourself, and perhaps your adversary, who you are in Christ Jesus today.


Heavenly Father, all of your works are good. All of your creation is good. May we find our identity in the glorious redemption of Jesus and not in some fleeting worldly substitute. Help us to be reminded of where we have been seated with Christ and to live from that reality. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you found your identity in something other than Christ?
  2. In Ephesians 2, what three characteristics mark the identity of a person without Christ? (2:2-3)
  3. What describes God’s action in restoring what was lost? (2:4-9)
  4. Why do you think Paul spent so much time reminding believers who they were in Christ?
  5. Have you been a victim of spiritual identity theft? Ask the Holy Spirit to identify any areas in your life where this may be true, and to reclaim the “real” you.

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Billy Graham & the Question God Will Never Ask

Text: Matthew 25:14-30

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Matthew 25:21

This past week our world lost a faithful lamp. The Reverend Billy Graham, known as “America’s Pastor,” passed away in his Montreat, North Carolina, home. He was 99-years old.

The Gallup organization, which releases a yearly survey of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World,” named Graham the dominant figure in that poll over the past half century—he was included 42 times, including 35 consecutive years. The famed evangelist appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek, Life, U.S. News and World Report, Parade. In his lifelong ministry, the son of a dairy farmer preached to more than 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories. His book “Peace With God” reached millions in 38 different languages. He had personal audiences with many sitting US presidents from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama. The United States Postal Service has said that Graham was one of the few Americans who could have mail delivered that simply reads his name and the country: “Billy Graham, America.”

In 1996, Graham was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow on a private citizen. Even his adversaries and skeptics have recognized that this country-boy-turned-worldwide-gospel-ambassador lived his life in such a way to only hear the applause of One. An early contemporary and friend of Graham, Charles Templeton, after abandoning the Christian faith said: “There is no feigning in [Billy Graham]: he believes what he believes with an invincible innocence. He is the only mass evangelist I would trust.”

Graham seemed to live his entire life with a laser focus on one day hearing the words I’m sure became more than audible last Wednesday:

“Well done, good and faithful servant!”

There is nothing else worth living for. Success, achievement, ambition, fame—even benevolence and altruism; apart from God’s pleasure is a chasing after the wind. Nothing in the entire world can compare with coming to the end of our days and hearing those words of our Master: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Living for those words gives us an inviolable peace in our hearts, an indomitable love for our enemies and skeptics, certainty in troubled times, and an unadulterated devotion to the ONE we live and breathe to worship.

Oftentimes when one lamp goes out, the world feels a little darker. But we need to remember that God is faithful in every generation. The Lord is never going to ask you: Were you as influential as Billy Graham? He’s not measuring your devotion next to that of anyone else—He’s measuring your devotion by the faithfulness you show in those small things right in front of you (Matthew 25:21). Though you and I may never be mass evangelists, our little lamps matter just as much as Billy’s did—in the way we parent, treat our spouses, love our neighbors, serve the less fortunate, or practice integrity in the workplace. May our labor of love be driven by the anticipation of one day hearing those words of eternal sustenance: Well done, good and faithful servant!

Jesus has some encouraging words for those who live from that center: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23 NIV) Or as one translation rendered it, “Well done… Let’s celebrate together!”


Heavenly Father, we mourn the loss of a great hero of the faith. As it did in life, may Graham’s legacy in death also inspire many others to fight the good fight, love their enemies, pray for their critics, and live for the pleasure of One. Help us to see the small things in our daily walk as opportunities to practice great faithfulness. Help us to approach the little things with big love. In doing so, our lights will shine brighter than we could’ve ever imagined. Teach us how to live our lives in such a way as to one day hear those words: Well done, good and faithful servant. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. If you were to go away for a long time, who would you entrust to look after your things and why?
  2. How would you define the word “faithfulness”?
  3. In Matthew 25:14-30, why do you think the man in the story entrusted his servants different amounts? What were the master’s expectations of his servants while he was away?
  4. Why was the master so hard on the servant who hid what was entrusted to him? Does this seem harsh to you? Why or why not?
  5. In what way do you think you could better use something that God has given you to further the kingdom of heaven on earth?

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Cultivating the Soil of Your Heart

Text: Luke 8:4-15

“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” – Luke 8:15

Last spring, my 10-year old daughter and I got a variety of seeds and planted them in our yard. Living on such a hilly terrain, it’s kind of tricky getting anything to grow here. But we tried. Well, hardly—we just dug some holes and threw in some seeds.

The results were consistent with those of the past—nothing doing.

With neighbors planting the same kinds of seeds and seeing things sprout all around them, it would be silly for me to blame the seeds; although that would be the easiest thing to do. The truth is, I just didn’t put in the work to cultivate the ground. Though I didn’t do what a savvy gardener would do, I still expected to get the same kind of results. Didn’t happen.

In Luke 8, Jesus teaches about the Parable of the Sower, or perhaps better titled the Parable of the Soils. In this story we see the sower, the seed, and four different soils. What all four had in common was the sower and the seed. What was dissimilar was the condition of the soils.

The seed is likened to the Word of God. That which fell upon the path is like the heart that is hardened by unbelief. It cannot produce anything because the seed never gets under the surface. That which fell upon the rock is where the soil was thin, lying upon a stony shelf (much like the landscape in my yard!). The seed may go in the ground but there’s no real depth. It cannot take root. Jesus likened this to the person who receives God’s Word superficially, but after a time of testing they fall away. Seed that fell among the thorns describes a ground that is fertile, but perhaps too fertile. Thorns grow there as well as grain. The life of the word is choked out “by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”

Then there was the good soil, both fertile and free of weeds. They are those who, hearing the word, “hold it fast in an honest and good heart.” They bear fruit with patience.

Same sower, same seed. The only divergence in fruitfulness had to do with the condition of the soils.

This narrative about farming has been given many scholarly interpretations and explanations. One of the surest inferences is that the heart of the matter is the heart of the matter. The condition of our heart has direct correlation with what our lives produce—whether the issue has to do with true repentance unto salvation, or spiritual fruitfulness in the life of the believer.

God’s Word is still active and alive today. The word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:25). We have the same seed that those early disciples had. Our lives can indeed bear the fruits of spiritual maturity and kingdom growth. And though salvation is solely a matter of what God does for us, the Bible makes it clear that we have a responsibility in tending the soil of our hearts:

Though the Holy Spirit is responsible for producing the fruit in our lives, we are responsible for pulling out the weeds. Weeds of pride, selfishness, greed, lust, and envy will surely destroy any fruit that God wants to produce in us. Thorns of anger, resentment, and unforgiveness are sure to choke out the fruits of the Spirit.

To give God a soil that He can work with, we may have some gardening to do. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.


Heavenly Father, we are well aware of the cares of our lives. We feel the weight of them every day. We ask you to reveal places where we need to do some weeding in order to cultivate our hearts to be a fertile soil you can produce fruit in. Holy Spirit, help us to identify weeds that may be choking life out of us and teach us how to hold fast the word of life in an honest and good heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you planted something fruitful (literally or figuratively)?
  2. In what ways have you seen this parable at play in today’s society?
  3. Do you remember the time in your life when the gospel first began to take root? Explain.
  4. What role does the Holy Spirit serve in helping us to cultivate a fertile soil for God’s fruitfulness in our lives?
  5. Getting weeds out of our hearts may sometimes entail confession and repentance. Is the Holy Spirit revealing to you anything that needs to be dealt with?

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Our Refuge in The Storm

Text: Psalm 31:1-24

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” Psalm 31:24

As a child growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, I experienced my share of snowstorms. When the snowplows came through the mall parking lots, they would push the snow into piles around the street light poles. We would subsequently shape these frosty mounds into little quinzees. These makeshift fortresses became places of refuge during fierce snowball fights.

Psalm 31 begins with David saying, “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge.” The Hebrew text in this passage carries the meaning of fleeing for protection, to put trust and confidence in a fortress, or to seek a house of defense.

David needed such a place of refuge. This particular psalm was written in a time of great distress and grief. He’s facing a plot against his life. His friends have all abandoned him. He’s drained and weary—at the end of his rope. He’s become a “reproach” to his neighbors and an “object of dread” to his acquaintances (v.11).

David feels… forgotten.

He likens this feeling to “one who is dead.” He’s not just having a bad day. This is a long wintry season of distress. You ever had one of those?

Despite this cold season, David has deep trust in the character and “abundant” goodness of God (v.19). He did not ask God to rescue him because he thought himself to be good, but for Your name’s sake (v.3). He is confident that just as God has been a faithful refuge in the past, so He will be again. Why? Because God will always act for the glory of His name and He will never leave His servants in a pit of shame (v.17). He believes in God’s steadfast love—that God will not let anything—anything—touch him that cannot be redeemed for good (vv.7, 16, 21). This led him to submissively say, “My times are in your hand” (v.15).

David has words of encouragement for us in such seasons of distress (v.24):

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!

God has never changed. He is still faithful today. We can confidently expect Him to act on our behalf as well. Let not the enemy undermine your confidence in the goodness of God’s character and the faithfulness of His steadfast love. This psalm began with a desperate plea but ended with unbridled praise—an unyielding declaration of trust in His God in a severe time of trouble. God wants to be our quinzee in the storms of life. He wants us to find refuge in Him during those times of distress and uncertainty. He meets us in that place where we feel forgotten, and we know that we are not alone. Take courage as you seek to abide in Him, beloved.


Heavenly Father, be our Refuge in those winter storms. Remind us of your faithfulness. How abundant is Your goodness, O Lord, which You have stored up for those who fear You. Let us have great confidence in Your unchanging nature. Help us to be of good courage, to have our hearts strengthened with grace, and to be emboldened by hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What served as a childhood refuge for you?
  2. When have you experienced a season like the one David faced in this psalm?
  3. Have you ever felt forgotten by God or friends?
  4. Why do you think David had courage in such a time of distress?
  5. In what ways can you turn your pleas into praise for God’s unfailing love?

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A Super Bowl Underdog

Text: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Nick Foles will be the man at the helm for the Philadelphia Eagles when they take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. The backup quarterback, who replaced Carson Wentz following a season-ending knee injury, has played an unlikely role in getting to football’s grandest stage.

Foles was drafted in 2012 and burst onto the NFL scene with one of the greatest passing seasons in Eagles history. Then after being traded a couple of times over the next few years, it seemed that his NFL career was going in the wrong direction. In the summer of 2017, Foles spoke about how discouragement nearly led him to give up on the game. “I wanted to retire from the NFL, and I really struggled,” he said. “I couldn’t pick up a football for about eight months. I had no love for the game, and it was tough.”

It was a time of prayer and daily communion with God that reinvigorated his passion for the sport. Foles shared that God was bringing him down to his knees. He felt the Lord was saying, “Just take a step of faith. You’re either going to stop playing the game of football and you’re going to go onto a different area of your life and I’m going to be with you, I’m going to be the most important thing in your life, or you’re going to step back into football and you’re going to continue to play and I’m going to be with you every step of the way and you’re going to play to glorify me.”

It was 2 Corinthians 12:9 that graced him in his decision to return to the NFL:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

After winning the NFC Conference Championship, Foles was interviewed three times: on the field, on the podium while receiving the trophy, and then in a postgame press conference. Each time, he paused and recognized that he would not have been there without his faith: “Words can’t describe what I feel right now. All glory belongs to God. I’m grateful and humbled to be part of this team.”

I imagine it will be a surreal moment when Nick Foles steps onto the field tonight in Minneapolis, knowing that none of this would be a reality had God not granted him the strength to carry on in weakness.

We all experience times of weakness—times when it feels like we just can’t go on. The will to overcome appears to be lost. It might even look like our best days are behind us. Our passion fades. Our love for the game of life and its purpose grows faint. Those moments are real to us all, not just NFL quarterbacks.

You might find yourself in one of those seasons right now. Maybe you feel weak or powerless about your circumstances. It might also be tempting to see your weakness as a liability that disqualifies you before God. But the truth is, your weakness is an asset to God. It’s the place where He can display His power and sufficiency in ways that would be impossible to rob Him of His glory—that place where “only-God” breakthroughs happen.

Paul pleaded three times for his weakness to be taken away. Then he learned the spiritual art of letting his life become a canvas for God to magnify Himself through weakness. The display resulted in something Paul described as “perfect.” The Greek word is teleioō, meaning to make complete, to accomplish, to bring to the desired end, or to reach a goal. It refers to the process or action of overcoming an imperfect or incomplete state with a more perfect or complete one.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed, helpless, or utterly inadequate, you are in a great place to hear Jesus say, I am all the grace you need—grace that is unmistakably completing and fulfilling something favorable in you.


Heavenly Father, help me to know that your grace is sufficient in every weakness. This sufficiency doesn’t mean just barely enough, but profusely more than enough for whatever I face. In times of powerlessness, may I come to see the power of Christ resting upon me. In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit may I also say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Why do we love underdog stories? Have you ever played the role of an underdog?
  2. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, what was the focus of Paul’s boasting?
  3. When was the last time you pleaded desperately with God? What was the outcome?
  4. In what ways has Christ’s power been made perfect in your weaknesses?
  5. How can you boast in Christ’s sufficiency this week?

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Wrestling With God: Jacob the Luchador

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Text: Genesis 32:1-32

“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” –Genesis 32:24

It was the 80s. We had hair bands, parachute pants, and breakdancing. We also had Hulk Hogan! On occasion, my brother and I would turn our living room into a makeshift cage match, branding our very own version of WrestleMania. Decked in fluorescent bandanas, cheap sunglasses, and spandex tights, we were sure poised to intimidate. Pandemonium would break loose until out came the woman in the black mask, “Granny The Eliminator,” as we called her, and Grandma would clear the ring of all wannabe luchadores!

Though many consider the 80s to have been the golden age of wrestling, the very first recorded wrestling match actually took place in Genesis 32. Twenty years earlier, Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and cheated him out of their father’s blessing, then ran far away. Now Jacob is returning to his homeland and must face his brother who had sworn to kill him. Would Esau come out in war to exact revenge? Jacob was distressed and very afraid, and rightly so.

He didn’t have the confidence to stand before Esau because, like so many believers today, he was hindered by the guilt of the past. As Shakespeare wrote, “Conscience does make cowards of us all.”

Jacob took all this fear, guilt, and anxiety to the right place. He exuded a sincere prayer, filled with humility and faith, recounting God’s promise and seeking His divine protection. Then, having done the work of prayer, Jacob had to do the more difficult work of confrontation. Known for his effectual prayer life, George Mueller was once asked to elaborate on the most important aspect of prayer. His answer: “The 15 minutes after I have said, ‘Amen.’” The true test of the depth of our prayer will be seen in what we do after the prayer has concluded.

Jacob knows that God has promised him “good” back in the land of his kindred—but the way back to that country must go through a road called Reconciliation, a.k.a. Surrender.

In faith, he bets the house on God’s promise and boldly resolves to risk everything by continuing on to face Esau. It’s dangerous, but necessary. By crossing over the ford of Jabbok, he leaves himself no way for retreat. The way home always involves this crossing—the place of absolute surrender. Behind Jacob is the past: the lying, the manipulating, the deceiving, the stealing and the cheating. Before him is a new way of life: honest repentance, reconciliation, healing, generosity, selflessness, giving.

Jacob spends the night alone in prayer and has his own WrestleMania. That night a man wrestles with him until daybreak. This wrestling match is with none other than God Himself, possibly a Christophany (a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ). God stepped into the ring with Jacob that night because he wanted something from him; He wanted all of Jacob’s self-reliance, his pride, and his carnal scheming. He was there to take it by force if necessary. Jacob wanted God’s blessing. But before he could get it, he had to be delivered from his own self-will and self-reliance. As the Lord wore him down, conquering him little by little, Jacob clung to Him and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

After prevailing with God that night, the Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel. The name “Jacob” meant “Grasper,” and he was no longer to live that way, being shrewd or sneaky enough to conquer life on his own. He was to live from a whole new identity, “Israel”—signifying the rule and reign of God over his life.

What started out as a scary confrontation with the past, ended up being an ageless portrait of redemption and reconciliation. Jacob is reunited with Esau in a most gracious, merciful fashion. God mended a dysfunctional situation and restored a broken family that day, neither of which would be realized without humility, faithful obedience (necessary risk taking), and the struggle to surrender the past to God.

Like Jacob, God will continue to wear us down until we are stripped of all self-sufficiency and come to that place of total surrender. Yet it is in this place of His dominion, and our white flags raised, that we truly overcome the past and live with a freedom like no other.

Whatever you may be wrestling with today, true spiritual victory always goes through the place called surrender. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.


Heavenly Father, you have promised good to me. I also understand that the blessing on the other side will necessitate my willingness to walk in obedience even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or risky. In those times of tension, may I cling to you and always seek to surrender my will in exchange for your dominion over my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

twitter-64Jacob didn’t have the confidence to stand before Esau because, like so many people today, he was hindered by the guilt of the past. Tweet this

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. If you experienced the 80s, what are some things you remember most?
  2. When was the last time you and God wrestled about something?
  3. Why do you think reconciliation was such a big deal to God in Genesis 32, and in our lives today?
  4. Obedience to God often makes us vulnerable. When have you ever experienced this firsthand?
  5. What is a struggle you have right now that needs to be surrendered to God?


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When It Feels Like God Doesn’t See You

Text: Genesis 16:1-16

“You are a God of seeing… Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Genesis 16:13

I was a lost and desperate runaway teenager. Though I spent many a night trying to run from an abusive earthly father, I could never get beyond the reach of the relentless and steadfast love of the heavenly Father. My book 13-Foot Coffins chronicles much of that childhood testimony.

In September of 1987, I found myself confined to a jail cell at the Marion Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Ocala, Florida. As an incarcerated youth, I felt like my life had come to an end. There was nothing left… it seemed. Little did I know, out of these ashes would rise something that would ultimately change the whole course of my life.

God saw me in that desolate and forsaken place, and sent a minister to share the gospel with me. That man, Preacher Woody, not only became a longtime mentor in my life, he became the father figure I never had. Through that encounter I experienced a new birth, and a new beginning in Christ. I knew I had to return to a difficult family situation where God wanted me to show love and forgiveness to my biological father, who had hurt me in so many ways.

God knew exactly what I needed in that desperate hour of my life—all because He is the God who sees.

In Genesis 16, Hagar is in a state of hopelessness. This Egyptian girl was a maid to Abraham’s childless wife, Sarah (then Sarai). And when Sarah and Abraham lost faith in God’s ability to overcome Sarah’s barrenness, things got pretty messy. Sarah forced Hagar to sleep with Abraham to conceive a child for them. After Hagar became pregnant, drama kicked in. Overtaken by jealousy and anger, Sarah treated her so harshly that Hagar fled into the wilderness—pregnant and alone.

Sarah might have rejected Hagar but God hadn’t. While on the run, “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Genesis 16:7). Many scholars believe this to be an actual appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. The angel meets Hagar in a desolate and forsaken place, instructing her to do something very difficult. He commanded her to “return and submit” to her mistress, assuring her that God would take care of her and her offspring forever. As it always does in Scripture, the command to “return” came with the promise of blessing.

In response to how God sought her out in her hopelessness, Hagar declared:

“You are a God of seeing… Truly here I have seen him Who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13).

God desires to draw near to the brokenhearted. He relentlessly pursues those who are beat up by life. In those times when it feels like God has forgotten about us, Hagar reminds us that He is “the God who sees,” and He is watching over us, seeing us, and providing for us in our darkest hour of need. No problem is beyond His reach, big or small. He is keenly aware of every detail, every hurt, and every need we have. It is His will that we surrender in every circumstance, to stop running and turn ourselves around.

The God “Who sees” knows you more intimately than you could ever imagine. He looks after you and still has purposes to fulfill in you, for you, and through you. Rest in that promise as you seek to abide in Him this week.


Heavenly Father, there is nowhere I can run to elude your presence. You know my story from beginning to end; You see it all. Through every hardship and every trial, You remain the same. Help me to recognize You as the God Who sees. Thank you for being everything that I need in every place—no matter how forsaken it may seem. Help me to turn around when you say to turn—to realize Your blessing in difficult obedience. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you found yourself in a seemingly forsaken place?
  2. Have you ever felt beyond the reach of God?
  3. Why do you think God often commands us to return to difficult places rather than take the easy path of least resistance?
  4. In what ways have you experienced God’s blessing through difficult obedience?
  5. What might God be telling you to return to in this season of your life?

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A Picture of Servant Leadership

Text: John 13:1-17

“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:43)

The greatest leaders focus on serving the interests of the people they lead rather than building their own reputation. They don’t need strokes to their personal egos because they find such fulfilling satisfaction in seeing others rise. For them, the win isn’t about getting something from others, it’s about inspiring the best for others.

Two years after JetBlue was founded, the new company was flying high with the top rating in airline quality. It was growing so fast it needed to hire 2,000 new employees. They received an astounding 130,000 applications. One of the factors that helped JetBlue become employer of choice was the leadership of founder and CEO, David Neeleman.

Neeleman spent one day each week flying on his planes serving alongside the crewmembers. He passed out snacks, drinks, and blankets with the flight attendants. He sat in the cockpit and chatted with the pilots. He even helped clean the planes between flights. He set an example of leadership by showing that what he expected of others was not beneath him. “You can’t ask employees to do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself,” he preached.

Great leaders lift others by serving in humility.

In John 13:1-17, Jesus gave us a “flight plan” for servant leadership. He has spent three years teaching his disciples to become world changers. His departure is at hand. In the next 24 hours, he will be hanging on a cross. But before he lays down his life for the sins of the world, he uses this last precious time with his disciples to remind them how to influence the world. He quietly kneels down, and in an unprecedented scene of humility and condescension, does the job of the lowest servant in the household. He begins to wash the feet of his disciples—feet soiled with dirt, grime, and manure—undoubtedly ripe of detestable odor.

This was an unfamiliar and awkward picture for the disciples…perhaps even a bit embarrassing to have Jesus so close to their personal stench. According to Jewish relations and rabbinic traditions, it was absolutely unthinkable that the Teacher would wash His disciple’s feet. Yet Jesus wanted his followers to never forget this imagery; He taught them that though worldly leaders may flaunt their authority and power, it should never be so among His followers; if anyone wants to be a leader, he or she must become a servant (Mark 10:42-43).

Humility is what we are called to imitate in Christ and demonstrate in service to others. Our names are not as important as the mark we leave on others. Or in the words of my 14-year old son, from an essay he wrote this past semester, a “leader is not necessarily someone who is known to the world, but someone who makes God known to the world.”

We make God known to the world by seeking the benefit of others without needing something from them. This is the hallmark of great leadership—humble, selfless servitude. In what ways can you use the towel of servant leadership to inspire the best for others this week?


Heavenly Father, thank you for the example of servant hood we see in Jesus. Help us to see others in a way that doesn’t need something from them, but in all things seeks the best for them. Help us to take on the form of servants, seeking the interests of others. In the power of the Holy Spirit, help us to lead and serve the way Jesus modeled in John 13. In His name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What image comes to mind when you hear the phrase “great leadership”? Why?
  2. When have you seen an example of servant leadership fleshed out in your world?
  3. What does it mean to you to seek the best for others rather than needing something from others?
  4. How do you think you would’ve responded to Christ’s feet washing episode had your dirty feet been in the mix that night? What do you think this experience would’ve produced in you?
  5. In what very practical and personal ways can you humble yourself to serve others this week?

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