Ephesians 1:11-12 (AMP)
Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the grace of God. Paul spends an enormous amount of the New Testament aiming to convince different groups of their place in eternity. He was up against tough debate in first century Ephesus—specifically, more than fifty gods and goddesses as well as a number of philosophical arguments for spiritual truths.
Yet, he knew what he was talking about when he described what Christians have in the promises of Jesus. And this is timeless truth for you today. You can count on God’s divine providence and amazing grace for your life. This is why it’s all going to be okay. Actually, it’s going to be better than okay; it’s going to be glorious, according to Paul.
“In Him also we have received an inheritance [a destiny—we were claimed by God as His own], having been predestined (chosen, appointed beforehand) according to the purpose of Him who works everything in agreement with the counsel and design of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ [who first put our confidence in Him as our Lord and Savior] would exist to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12, AMP).
Paul was so excited about the potential of the lives of the saints that he opens this debate with a great statement of praise to God’s amazing grace. And this is fuel for when it doesn’t seem like life is going to be okay.
Let’s unpack these two verses that are full of hope and God’s sovereignty.
We have received an inheritance. Unlike human inheritances, we receive God’s gift of grace without any effort or righteousness. We can’t earn it. We can’t purchase it. We can’t manipulate God to extend it to us. It can’t be taken from us by human strength. God decided before we existed that we would receive His Kingdom.
We have been predestined for grace. Isn’t that amazing? God chose His grace for you when He created you. He had His eye on you. He has a design and a purpose for your life.
You are worthy. God saw you as worthy of His gift of grace through His Son’s sacrifice. He loved you so much that He knew you would need the gift of salvation. You are worthy of His grace, even when you don’t feel like it.
You have free will within His providence. God loves us so much that He offers His will as a counsel for our life. He knows our choices, but He lets us make them. He lets us approach Him with our questions and decisions. He’s working out everything for His purpose and you are part of that. You are a valued member of the Kingdom of God.
You have the resources of the Kingdom. Jesus instructed us to seek first the Kingdom of God. But what does that mean? It means that we have the reality, the resources, and the eternity of the Kingdom because of Jesus.
In the Amplified version of Matthew 6:33, we find that seeking the Kingdom brings us resources of “His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God.” That’s powerful stuff when we’re faced with not okay circumstances. It’s going to be okay because when we ask for God’s help through prayer—we receive it. We receive His attitude and His take on a situation that seems impossible in our human weakness.
So, when things aren’t okay, remember, nobody and nothing—not even your own stupidity—can block God’s plan for your life.
Proverbs 19:21 (AMP)
“Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the LORD’s purpose for him that will stand (be carried out).
Do you ever feel like your plans are completely opposite God’s purpose for your life? Do you ever struggle with discerning whether a decision lines up with His will for you? You’re not alone. This is a major tension in the Christian life—my will versus God’s will.
Comedian Woody Allen says, “If you really want to make God laugh, then tell God about your plans.”
Solomon is writing to us to show us that we’re not supposed to be separated from God in our planning. He is clear about His intent. Every believer should know that God’s providence should always govern his or her life.
That may sound heavy-handed at face value, but let’s explore five reasons why God has a place in your planning.
1. God created you to plan. He gave you a piece of Him with your creative brainstorming and imagination. That’s a trait we share with Him. He didn’t create you to be docile or mediocre. He created you to carry His image and His likeness. He’s asking you to join Him in His plans for you.
2. God wants your burden to be light. God didn’t want you to fill your days with your own purposes. He has a specific purpose in mind for you. He didn’t want you to bear the weight of the world on your own shoulders. That’s why He wants an intimate fellowship with you to discuss your hopes and dreams. He didn’t make you to be broken; He made you to live.
3. God doesn’t want you to have regrets. When you talk to him about your plans and seek out the advice of other Christians, you are discerning His plans for you. He wants you to grow to the point where His plans are better than any you could imagine. He has your endgame in mind. He doesn’t want you living your life missing out or regretting that lost opportunity. Trust that He wants only good for you.
My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college. The implied, safe option was to enlist in the military just like my dad. I imagined a life in the Marine Corps because I liked the uniforms. My plan was to go the officer’s training route. My parents were supportive. And in the midst of all that planning, God was laughing, and my aunt was working on His behalf.
My aunt had filled out the paperwork for financial aid and enrolled me in Morgan State. The acceptance letter was mailed to her house. I was informed that I was going to college a day before I was to sign my Marine papers.
Hint: Don’t trust any of your plans you haven’t prayed about.
4. God made a valuable investment in His plan for you. I want you to remember the investment made in you. His sovereignty in your life came at the expense of His Son’s blood. God invested His Son’s life for you and me to accept His purposes for your life.
5. God always has something better in mind. It may not feel like it, but God loves you so much that He will protect you from your own plans. He will fight your will fiercely.
Only execute plans God lets live after God has wrestled with them. If God gives the plan back to you and it’s choked out, let it go.
Here’s a good summary: Write your plans in pencil and give God the eraser.
1 Corinthians 13:4
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Prior to this chapter, Paul’s aim was to describe how we should interact with others, how we should bless the lives of others in the body of Christ. He is ministering to those who, without question, love God. While he is pleased that many have acknowledged and learned to use their spiritual gifts, many have allowed divisions and addictions to lessen their spiritual gifts until they are nothing more than competitors with one another. Paul knows that to live our lives spiritually means to live our lives based on love and kindness, which is where we get today’s scripture.
The Greek word for kind is chrésteuomai. The root word is chrestos, which means fit for usage, or to be useful. This directly manifests what Paul is teaching. It tells your internal voice to say, “I will meet your need despite how you are treating me. I will stay useful to God so that God can keep accomplishing His purposes.”
Now, it’s easy to love who’s loving you back. It’s easy to reciprocate what someone has extended to you. But watch yourself: do not choose to be kind only to kind people. Even when they don’t reciprocate your kindness, even when they won’t say thank you, even when they talk behind your back, even when they take you for granted, you have to not only be okay on the inside, but act like it’s okay on the outside and be kind. You can’t enjoy the fullness of God if you can’t be kind.
It’s not easy. It’s not natural. Paul never said this was the easy way, but he did say it was the more excellent way.
Sometimes, you might want to mistreat those who mistreat you. You want to show them just how sharp your words can be, how menacing the returning dagger. It’s easy to cut someone off, to fight back, to distance yourself from the mistreatment of others and never speak to them again—to treat them how they treat you. But no, you must let love make you useful for God’s purposes. You must let the spirit lead your life and manifest in kindness to others.
We spend so much time concentrating on our response to mistreatment that we miss the Spirit’s provision in our own lives. We forget that while Sally over there misspoke and used cruel words against us, God woke us up, put His hands on us, opened doors for us, defeated enemies for us, sent us blessings, answered our prayers—all day long. Keep your eye on the bigger prize: God and your relationship with Him.
Paul is suggesting that we don’t have to be victorious or even respected, but we do have to be useful. We do have to be kind. God knows that you didn’t make that person cold—you are not the cause of their pain. Why would you take their behavior personally then? A cold heart treats everyone cold; it’s not a you and them connection, it’s a spiritual connection they are lacking. Recognize that you are not responsible for another person’s heart condition, but you are assigned in this season to help thaw it out. Imagine the torment and the fear they feel every day, so much so that they have to sabotage your dreams. That’s a lot of pain. Bend their trajectory back to God. Refuse to attack when attack is the natural response.
Plato once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sure, you can put up walls and barriers and only let in the people who make you feel warm and fuzzy and comfortable and good about yourself. But the risk is that you won’t spiritually mature and neither will those you exclude, attack, and offend when you aren’t partnered with God to help thaw a frozen heart.
Matthew 21:6-11 (AMP)
Then the disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them, and they brought the donkey and the colt, and placed their coats on them; and Jesus sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats on the road [as before a king], while others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of Him, and those that followed Him, were shouting [in praise and adoration], “Hosanna to the Son of David (Messiah); Blessed [praised, glorified] is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest [heaven]!” When He entered Jerusalem, all the city was trembling [with excitement], saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
On one end of the city, we have Jesus entering with humility—as the arriving fulfillment of hope. The crowds have been praying and expecting this Messiah sent from God. Jesus is the visible confirmation of prayers received, of disciples faithfully stewarded. Those people in the crowd waved their palms and when they looked at Jesus they knew they were looking at God. They knew they were seeing their future.
On the other end of the city, Pontius Pilate is entering with pomp and majesty.
While Jesus is the visible fulfillment of humanity’s hope, Pilate represents greed and mistrust. That same change they believed in then as they waved their palms is the same change I believe in now. I know, with deep-seated conviction, that Jesus can change people. This is the driving force behind my prayers and the reason I come to worship and lift my voice with praise. I am in a relationship with Christ who can change conditions. I don’t care how much weight I carry, how much pain I’m suffering through, or how much pressure is squeezing in on me. If I can just get to Jesus, then I know change is on the way.
Matthew 21:6-11 brings a different lens to today’s political climate, does it not? We are living in excessively embarrassing times as our political system threatens to weaken this country’s integrity and splinters this American experiment on diversity, plurality, and inclusion.
I must confess—and I suspect some of you are feeling this way too—that I live juxtaposed between severe pain and unbelievable excitement. One look at our fragile world today and you’re looking at the source of the pain. On the other hand, my excitement has never been higher because I know that God can change seasons, people, and conditions. Change is painful, but it is not as painful as staying the same. It’s not as hard as letting change pass you by.
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, a famed British painter and sculptor, was one of the most famous painters of the Victorian era. His first showing was at the tender age of 13, and the Royal Family quickly took notice of his talent, commissioning him to complete portraits. He was even recruited to provide Queen Victoria and Prince Albert private drawing lessons.
He was visiting a family in an old mansion in Scotland. One of the servants accidentally spilled a pitcher of soda water on the wall, staining the wall. The family went out for the day, but Landseer stayed behind and observed the mistake on the wall. He picked up some charcoal, and incorporated the stain into the development of a beautiful piece of art. The family came back to an extraordinary drawing of a waterfall with trees and animals. Landseer figured out how to incorporate the stain into a change until an accident became a masterpiece.
We are all here today, like the crowd waving palms, because Jesus stood before us looking at the stain of sin. He took the charcoal of His grace and painted a picture of what salvation looks like. Salvation put the paintbrush into the master’s hands until redemption turned us into a masterpiece. Just look at what God has made out of a stain.
God’s grace provides strength to meet every challenge and to overcome every weakness. He brings proof that spirituality still works. He shows us a crowd of hopeful, liberated people shouting Hosanna as Jesus approaches—a beloved community welcoming social parity, political integrity, and economic prosperity for everybody. On the other side of the city, we have economic exploitation, political oppression, religious manipulation, and social domination.
Which side of the city are you entering in on?
Only a spiritual life can produce the change we want; it’s the only change that makes a difference. You can change anything in your life without changing spiritually, and the change isn’t going to last. But if you change spiritually, then nothing about every other part of your life can stay the same. Spiritual growth means deeper commitment to His Word, deeper discipline in prayer, and increased intimacy in worship.
2 Peter 1:5-8 says, For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We live in a post-Christendom age, where our spirituality has become diluted, eroded, and fragile. Our spiritual maturation determines our human elevation. Don’t neglect your spiritual growth because everything else is connected to it.
Tell me what you need today, and I have a simple answer for you: grow spiritually.
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14, NIV).
The Resurrection is controversial. It’s radical. It’s almost unbelievable, but its power is what builds the foundation of faith. The same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives in all believers.
That power is what fuels an almost unbelievable event in human history. It’s a power that we can either embrace or overlook, but it’s a power that exists and it exists for YOU.
We base our faith on a living Savior, a man that died for us and yet lives in us. It’s a great mystery that we may not understand completely, but when we accept it, it changes our lives. So, the hope for today is that this remarkable Resurrection happened for you.
When we examine the Resurrection, we can find 4 soul-serving truths—truths we can hang onto when life gets rough or when it becomes more than we can bear.
1. The empty tomb means God’s work continues.
When Jesus rose from the grave, time did not end. Death did. Jesus’ sacrifice on that cross defeated Satan and offered a path for every man and woman in creation to enter the eternal Kingdom of God. The power that rose Jesus from the dead brought the Kingdom to each and every person who believes. If God’s work continues, then the work you do continues. The progress you make matters to Him.
2. The empty tomb means you will never be the same.
When you embrace the empty tomb as your gift from God, it changes everything about you. When the man who left the tomb alive and well enters your life, you become a work of God. He shapes your purpose, your choices, your life for His glory. You can’t hide from it.
David writes in Psalm 139:7-10 NIV, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Once you are His, you will never be the same.
3. The empty tomb makes the irrelevants in life irrelevant.
The enemy is greatly concerned with getting you so tangled up in the irrelevant things in life that you take your focus off the relevant work God is doing in you. When your steps have been ordered, the enemy has no power. You have the same power that emptied the tomb. It empowers you to look past the struggles and the pain and to look into the eternal. What’s relevant today is that you are alive, you are a disciple, and God is on His throne.
4. The empty tomb means you have God’s Word.
A man of His word, Jesus Christ fulfilled all the promises God gave you when He went to that cross and walked out of that tomb alive. His Resurrection means you have God’s Word.
God said He would stop death. God said He loved you enough that He sent His one and only Son to die and live again so you don’t have to perish (John 3:16). He loves you with the same intensity He used to raise His Son from death.
Invest your time and attention in that promise and all your mistakes get erased. That’s hope for today.