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Owning Our Jar-of-Clay-ness

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Lord Jesus, to have you plus nothing, makes us as rich as anybody in the history of the cosmos. To have you plus everything else wouldn’t make us any richer than he who has you alone. You are the treasure all other currencies mimic and counterfeit. Nothing compares to the greatness of knowing you and the wonder of being loved by you.

You inhabit our weakness like a Rembrandt painting in a picture frame of straw; or like the Hope Diamond mounted in a necklace of tin foil and Scotch Tape. You get all the attention and honor, and we get the supreme privilege of simply being used of you. Just as it should be, and just as we want it to be.

8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

Though few of are in a season of intense persecution for our faith (like Paul was), nevertheless, we can relate to his images of being hard pressed and perplexed. The stories, demands, and emotional expenditure of life tax our limits and drive us to you—which is a good thing. None of us is called to be the 4th member of the Trinity. None of us is called to be a Super-Hero. All of us are called to own our limits, rest in your love, and trust in your sovereignty.

10 We always carry around in our …

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Getting Free of Our “Grave Clothes”

     Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:43-44 (NIV)

     Lord Jesus, you spoke the words to a dead Lazarus, “Come out!” and he was raised from the dead. The same thing happened to us when you spoke the gospel to our hearts. We passed from death to life; from condemnation for our sins, to being clothed with your righteousness; from slavery in the kingdom of darkness, unto freedom in the kingdom of God. For your sovereign, irresistible, resurrecting grace, we shout, Hallelujah!

     Yet as surely as Lazarus needed to be freed from his grave clothes, so do we. The vestiges and habits of death still cling to us, bind us, and trip us up. Untie us; heal us; liberate us.

     Jesus, grant us greater freedom from what people think of us. Some people have more functional power over our hearts than the gospel. Their criticism and rejection can devastate us; and their praise and appreciation can “make” us. May your unparalleled love for us, and your great delight in us, shift the center of our relational world.

     We also crave freedom from our self-centered pursuits, our soul-sapping anxieties, and our anger-producing triggers. You have the hearts of all kings in your hand—as well as all of our days and pains, longings and …

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Bringing Our Fears to Jesus

     And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8–12 (NIV)

(As you read through some of my fears, bring yours to Jesus, as well)

Lord Jesus, like bookends of grace, the heart-settling command, “Do not be afraid”, accompanies your birth and resurrection (Luke 2:10; Matt. 28:5). Ever since our first parents sinned, fear and hiding have been part and parcel of life; and I’ve helped keep the family tradition alive. At times, fear has more power over my life than your love; and though I already know myself to be clothed in your righteousness, I still reach into my closet for fig leaves.

I join shepherds in hurrying off to come to you, Jesus, for you alone bring the good news of great joy for which my heart longs every day. You alone can charm our fears and set prisoners more fully free. I’m not really afraid of angelic hosts and I’m not afraid to die. I’m …

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Grace Upon Grace Upon Grace

      Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.1 Peter 1:10-12 (NIV)

Lord Jesus, the season of Advent has just begun, and I am praying it will be a season marked more by hush than rush. If I’m going to be busy with anything, may it be with quieting my heart, focusing my gaze, and setting my affection on things above—especially on you—the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the Source and Lord of my salvation, the Fountain and Fullness of all Grace.

Grant me the same intensity and care the prophets invested in searching out the promises of your coming. May old Scriptures come alive in profoundly new ways during Advent. Humble and gladden my heart with the realization that the prophets were serving me—even me, when they spoke of your coming, your sufferings, and the glories that would follow.

And if angels were on “tiptoes with joy”—as they pondered your coming, so renew my awe …

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Savoring the Lavish Love of God: Psalm 63:1-5

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.

Heavenly Father, you are “my God” only because you adopted me and made me your beloved child in Jesus. I praise, bless, and adore you for so great a privilege, secure a relationship, and so liberating a joy. I earnestly seek you today because you first sought me and found me, and continue to pursue me for rich fellowship.

Every experience of thirst I’ve known in life pales in comparison with the thirst I feel for you. I long for you with the most intense craving—for you made me for yourself and redeemed me for your praise.

2 I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.

Father, my clearest sighting of you comes in the sanctuary of the gospel. There, in the face of Jesus I’ve discovered you to be more glorious than I ever imagined, more grace-full than I ever hoped, and more sovereign than I ever dreamed. You are so merciful and so mighty.

3 Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you!

Father, your love doesn’t just give us a great life; your love is better than life itself. When I’m most alive to your love, my worries and fears shrink. Thank you for lavishing (not dribbling) your lavish love on us in Jesus—a love from which we’ll never be separated, a …

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Basking in God’s Everlasting Love and Unfailing Kindness

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jer. 31:3

Heavenly Father, it’s Monday, and we’d love to live the rest of our workweek in full view and non-stop wonder of this one verse. For your glory, the blessing of our families, and the benefit of our fellow workers and neighbors, fill our hearts to overflowing with the astonishing truth of Jeremiah’s words.

Not just in the past—but also in this very moment, you love us with an everlasting, irrepressible, unwavering love. We can’t supersize your affection for us, nor can we diminish it, because it’s entirely generated, maintained, and guaranteed by what Jesus has done for us. Oh, the peace and joy, freedom and focus this assurance gives us.

The more secure we are in your love, the less we obsess about what others think about us; the less we look to success and stuff to fill up the God-shaped vacuum inside of us. The more alive we are to your love, the less we worry, and the more we worship; the less we criticize others, and the more we encourage them; the less busy and irritated we get, and the more unrushed and present we are with others.

Father, we also bless you for your perpetual kindness towards us today, and every day. Your kindness first led us to repentance, that we might receive Jesus as our righteousness; and your kindness continues to lead us deeper into your commitment to make us …

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Speak Life, Healing, and Grace

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov. 12:18 (NIV)

Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Prov. 15:4 (NLT)

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. James 1:26 (ESV)

Let your conversation be always full of grace. Col. 4:6 (NIV)

Heavenly Father, as these verses make unmistakably clear, nothing carries more potential for hope and harm, building up and tearing down, giving life and delivering death than our words. Therefore, as this day begins, we choose to take responsibility for how we plan on communicating today.

And since our lips reflect the preoccupation of our hearts, we want to start our day by setting our minds, hearts, and affections on things above, where Jesus is sitting at your right hand. Father, thank you for hiding our lives in Jesus, for he is our guarantee of complete forgiveness, perfect righteousness, and citizenship in heaven.

No matter whatever else is going on in our world, in Christ, you’ve given us riches beyond measure, peace beyond understanding, and life truly abundant. We praise, bless, and adore you. May this good news win the day, seize our hearts, and shape our words.

Like most days, today we’ll experience difficult people and disappointing circumstances; challenging relationships and unplanned for interruptions; personal limitations and repeat offenders.

Father, it’s our desire to respond with mercy and grace, as opposed to reacting out of irritation or indifference, malice or manipulation. So we look to you—rather, we abandon ourselves to you, and the power of the …

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When In a Bit of a “Funk”

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus. 2 Cor. 7:5-6

Gracious Father, the incidental pictures in the Scriptures are often as profound as the extraordinary promises. I’m thankful for this picture of a conflicted, tired and “out-of-kilter” Paul being comforted by a good friend. For I begin today feeling a little on the blahs-and-blues side of things. I’m in a bit of a “funk”.

Thank you for reminding me that even your most faithful servants—those who know you so well, those whose grasp of the gospel is a zillion times better than mine—even these men and women experience restlessness, fear, and weariness.

At times I still labor under the myth of an Omni-competence. If I just prayed enough, believed enough, or was filled with the Spirit enough, I would never get discouraged or downcast. What a groundless lie and grace-less myth. What an unnecessary burden and humorless joke. The gospel frees us to be human, not Superman or Wonder Woman.

Father, thank you for comforting us when we are downcast. You don’t deride us, chide us, or hide from us. You comfort us. You’re “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). And thank you for the comforters you send us. Though you’re quite capable of sending ravens and rainbows, and manna and miracles, more often than not you send a …

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Let Jesus Shepherd Your Heart Today

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.

Dear Lord Jesus, you are my shepherd, my very Good Shepherd. You give me everything I need, and more than I want. All I need in life is you, plus what you choose to give me.

2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.

Even the most difficult places in life are like green meadows as long as you are there; and in the desert seasons of my life, and the drought like conditions of my heart, you quench my thirst and give me a peace I can’t get anywhere else.

3 He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.

By your grace I’ve learned to pretend less and boast in my weaknesses more; for when I come to the end of my strength, wits, and rope, you always meet me there—granting me rest in my weariness, and strength for my tired body and heart. Thank you for marking my path and determining my steps.

4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Jesus, you never promised us a stress-free life or an easy journey “home”; but you have promised never to leave or forsake us—even in the darkest valley. That’s all I really need to know—that you’re close and that you love me, and that you won’t let anything happen to me outside of your perfect plan for my life.

5 You prepare a feast …

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A Grace-Bombardment on Our Unbelief and Small Thoughts of the Gospel

     But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Tit. 3:4-7 (NIV)

     Dear heavenly Father, to meditate on your Word is to submit to a grace-bombardment on our unbelief. This passage from Titus is a perfect example. What an all out assault these verses wage against our inadequate thoughts of you and incomplete view of the gospel.

     You’re so much kinder than we can imagine, and so much more loving than we ever hoped you’d be. Like Abraham, we weren’t seeking you when you found us. Your kindness and love appeared to us out of nowhere—actually, out of heaven. It was entirely an act of measureless mercy and sovereign grace on your part.

     As surely as we had zero part in our first birth, so we contributed “zilch” to our second birth. We didn’t “show promise”; you just kept your irrevocable promise to redeem a family as numerous as stars, sand, and dust (Gen. 12-17). Hallelujah, for the mathematics of mercy!

     And how generous you were, and remain, Father. You didn’t just “dribble” a little Holy Spirit on us; you poured him out on me “liberally through Jesus”—copious amounts of heart washing, soul-engaging, whole-being-satisfying goodness. By your grace, we’ve …

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