Praise Goes First

Our God is an illustrative God—He doesn’t just tell us things, but instead uses real people and real events to show us who He is and who we are.

Israel was made up of twelve tribes, all named after Jacob’s twelve sons. God used these tribes to illustrate to us how He moves with His people into new places. One of the tribes was called Judah, and Judah represented praise. They would lead whenever Israel set off to a new land, and they would be the first to march out towards a battle. The tribe of Judah camped on the east, because they would be the first to see the sun rise up every morning, and Israel would begin its day with praise going first.

The atmosphere can shift when the hearts of God’s people start to praise Him. Numbers 10:13-14 says, “When the people set out for the first time, following the instructions the Lord had given through Moses, Judah’s troops led the way.” In their history, Israel had hundreds of years of slavery. But God didn’t just promise to bring them out of that slavery—He promised that He would be their God through the entire journey.

Israel didn’t stop praising God after He delivered them from captivity, and neither should we. We all experience spiritual captivity due to our sin, which is missing the mark of God’s standard for our lives. On our own we can’t deliver ourselves from sin, but Jesus came to set us free and take us back into a relationship with God.

Just like praise took the nation of Israel into victory, let your praise take you into the promises God has for your life. Jesus lived a perfect life, died a sinner’s death on the cross, and resurrected to conquer the grave so that we can rest in His freedom. And it doesn’t end there—He stays with us through our entire journey. God dwells among His people now just as He did back in the Old Testament.

God doesn’t want to just bring you out of slavery, out of the darkness—He wants to adopt you into His family and bless you so that you can be a blessing to others. He will do the journey with you; just let your praise go first!

Briars

If you live in the southern United States, you’ve experienced briar patches. They’re sharp, painful thorns that can pop up in your grass overnight. You can’t get out of a briar patch alone, because you’ll just cause more and more damage. Once you get caught up in them, you need help to get out. Like briars, our sin entangles and traps us. There is no way to get ourselves out from under the grip of sin unless someone else comes along and helps us out.

Luke 2:8-12—That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Jesus was born as a real human—He felt and experienced the same senses and emotions that the rest of us do. But He never allowed Himself to get trapped by the briars. He never sinned—missed the mark, the bullseye, of God’s glorious standard.

God created humans to reign over the rest of the world, but the first humans chose to sin, and separated themselves from God. We now live in a fallen world where bad things happen all the time. Briars and thorns are all over the place. All of us have missed the mark. But He didn’t want humanity to stay that way forever, so He provided a way out of the briars—Jesus.

In John 18:37, Jesus said, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” Then, in John 19:1-3, soldiers placed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. They intended to inflict pain on Jesus and mock Him, but Jesus know that He was going to defeat every thorn of sin in the world. He was going to all our sin and turn struggles into blessings.

God is more powerful than any briar and any thorn you will ever come across. Not even the demons in hell can keep you away from His love. He loves us so much that He sent Jesus, the King of the world, out of majesty and into a manger to provide the way for us to get out of the briar patch.

Manger to Majesty

Many people are afraid of reading the book of Revelation, but it’s not there to scare us. Its purpose is to give us hope and blessing. Revelation is like that tiny gift under the Christmas tree—it may not seem like it’s that important, but inside there is a great blessing.

Think about baby Jesus—He was born in a manger, totally dependent on Mary and Joseph to give Him what He needed. But look at the majesty He grew up to take hold of:

Revelation 1:12-19—When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. “Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.

The writer of Revelation, John, got a snapshot of his majestic King. Jesus started out His human life as a little baby, and eventually died on a cross to pay the penalty for all humanity’s sins. But His story doesn’t end there. He resurrected from the grave and is now in heaven as the eternal, living King.

Jesus holds the keys to eternal life in His hands, and He openly offers them to every single human being. Missing the mark of God’s standard separates us from God, but it does not separate God from us. Even though we couldn’t come to Him on our own, He came to us to provide us the pathway we needed to get back to Him. Jesus came as a liberator to set us free, and a leader to help us focus on eternity.

The baby in the manger may seem so small and sweet that He melts your heart, but let the risen King who conquered death magnify your future. No matter what happens in your life, no matter what is going on in the world, remember that when we place our hope in Jesus, the future is bright!

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How to Know God

2 Timothy 3:15-17—You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Jesus is the beginning and the end. Everything we need to know about God is in His Word, the Bible. This is how He has chosen to reveal Himself to us so that we can learn the story of redemption He set into motion at the time of Creation. He shows us who He is and who He created us to be.

Luke 2:41-47—Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.

When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Knowledge is great, but it’s not just about knowing all of the right answers. When Jesus was twelve, He sat in a temple with many religious teachers, asking questions and giving answers. He wasn’t a know-it-all, but was curious and engaged with them on the things they were talking about. Knowledge by itself will puff you up and destroy you, but combine it with love, and it will build up not only you but also those around you.

The Bible teaches us the truth about both God and ourselves. It helps us realize that we have missed the mark of His glorious standard, and how we can get back into a right relationship with Him. It shows us that God has designed every human uniquely so that His wisdom can be displayed not just to those of us on Earth, but to all of the spiritual powers as well.

We can’t know Him outside of His Word; let Him be the one to shape you, rather than any of the other influences on your life. When we take the knowledge we can gain from the Bible and apply it to our lives, we allow God to be the one who shapes our soul.

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Depending On God

Jesus spent much of His time teaching on dependency. Our tendency is to lose the humble hearts we had as children, and stop depending and learning. But God wants to reveal more about who He is, and to do this we have to be open and willing to receive this.

Matthew 17:24-27—After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

In these verses in Matthew, Jesus used Peter’s culture to teach him that God is a good king, who doesn’t take from His children, but instead provides for them. We need to ask ourselves if we depend on God, or upon ourselves. But relying on ourselves only leads to pride.

We are in God’s Kingdom to produce, but He doesn’t expect us to just create a harvest on our own! He gives all of us the tools necessary to do what He created each of us to do. But He also expects us to depend on Him instead of trying to do it all on our own.

One of the ways we can demonstrate to ourselves that we trust God as our provider is by tithing—that means giving 10% of what we earn back to God. This isn’t for His benefit, but for our own; God is God—He doesn’t need our help! But He tells us to tithe so that we can see in our own lives the trust and dependency we have in Him like children trust and depend on their parents.

Tithing isn’t about giving because you feel like you have to, or because God might not give you what you want if you don’t. That isn’t dependency or trust—it’s bargaining. God is the provider of all good gifts, and He wants us to humbly trust in Him as our heavenly father.  

It’s only because of God that we have air in our lungs. God doesn’t just see our physical lives, but our eternal lives. He wants us to be fully dependent in our temporary lives here on Earth so that we can fully depend on Him for the next life.

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Be a Contributor

At Christmas time, we always hear that we should be more generous. The holidays are about giving, not receiving. And that attitude comes from Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus displayed incredible generosity while He was here on the Earth. But it’s not just His actions that matter, but the heart He has for all of humanity.

Even before time began, Jesus decided that He would go on a rescue mission for humanity. He knew that humans would sin and that our sin would cause a separation between us and God. None of us deserve the gift of eternal life that He offers us, but Jesus’ heart, His attitude towards us, was one of love and mercy.

Like Jesus, when we give, it shouldn’t be out of compulsion or because we feel like we have to. When we give, it should be out of our heart. It’s who we are. We are excited that we get to give! By taking on the attitude of Jesus and looking upon humanity with love, we will begin to see opportunities to be generous everywhere we go.

There is nothing we can give to God that will equal the gift He gives us. He knew from the beginning that we would never be able to make it up to Him. And as the Church, God’s representatives here on Earth, we should be willing to be generous towards those who won’t give anything in return, or who are unable to give anything back to us.

When we have a heart to see people turn away from their old ways and to the King of kings and the Lord of lords, we will begin to take on the attitude of Christ and give generously in His name. Christmas doesn’t have to be the only season of giving in our lives. We can make every day about giving generously when we take on the attitude that Christ had of contributing rather than taking.

Christ is calling His Church to have a heart that reflects His majesty, and that includes being generous in all ways. Giving like God is not based on status. He gives us amazing, amazing things even though we can never give Him anything of equal value in return; we can’t outgive God! Giving with the same heart as Christ is about giving to people who can only receive, and doing so with a heart to see them come to believe in Christ and enter into His eternal Kingdom.

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No Room Situations

Mark 2:1-12—When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

Our God is a master at taking no room situations and turning them into a way for Him to show the world who He is. In this story in Mark 2, there was no room for this group of friends inside the house. When Israel was fleeing from the Egyptian army, their backs were pressed against the Red Sea. There was nowhere for them to go, but God showed up and provided a way of escape for them. And before Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph tried to stay at an inn, but there was no room for them there.

When people look at our lives, do they see no room situations? If you are a child of God, that means He has influenced you in a powerful, life-changing way. This isn’t something we can do on our own. The friends of the paralyzed man got their friend to the feet of Jesus, but Jesus used the situation to do something physical in order to teach a spiritual truth.

Jesus healed the paralyzed man physically so that he could walk again, and the onlookers were astonished. But when he forgave the man of his sins, they questioned Jesus’ authority. This story isn’t about someone who couldn’t walk being healed; it’s about the man’s faith connecting with Jesus’ forgiveness. Our faith in the forgiveness we receive from Jesus changes the way we walk in our lives.

God doesn’t want us to just be forgiven and then come to heaven one day. He wants to do something in you so that those around you will look at your life and praise your heavenly Father. Your life shouldn’t be riddled with no room situations! The purpose of everything God does is for others to be astonished and understand who He is and what He can do in their lives.

Jesus wants His followers to be the ones swimming upstream when the current is flowing strong downstream. Display the hope of an eternity with the Creator to those around you. Change the world by allowing the Spirit of God to purge things out of you and do amazing things in and through you.

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Soak It Up

God’s design for your life is for you to permeate the Earth with His presence by pouring out his love on everyone around you. But, you can’t do that unless you are constantly soaking up who Jesus is.

Hebrews 6:1-3—So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

The author of Hebrews was striving to explain that Jesus is far greater than any angel, that He is greater than their leader Moses, and that He is greater than any of their priests. Many of us today think of Jesus only as our Savior, and while it’s true that He saves us, He does so much more than that.

Until we soak in the fullness of who Christ is, it’s hard to experience all of the blessings that God wants to pour on us. Jesus is not only our Savior, but also the Lord, or leader, over our entire life.

He is our King, who has the authority to give us a significant purpose and call us to fulfill our destiny in Him. Kings are unique because they don’t let you just exist. No, kings will appoint you to an assignment within their kingdom, and that’s exactly what God has done for you. When God created you, He had a special plan in mind just for you; all you have to do is be willing to accept the calling He has placed on your life.

Jesus is also our priest. In the Old Testament, priests were the ones who offered sacrifices and appeared to God on behalf of the rest of the people. Jesus is our advocate, appearing before God as a perfect sacrifice and appealing to Him on our behalf.

When the writer of Hebrews wrote the passage above, he wanted his readers to move past the things they already knew, and start applying those things to their lives. That’s what soaking up who Jesus is means—it’s being able to take what God has said into your life, and utilize it every day. Soak up every aspect of who Jesus is—He’s not only your Savior, but your Lord, King, and Priest.

Watch my full teaching “Stay Sharp”.

Bury Your Shackles

The book of Exodus tells us how the Israelites, the people of God, escaped from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt. God raised up a special leader named Moses, who guided the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, a place of abundant life. Moses talked with Pharaoh, the leader of the nation of Egypt, and it took God sending ten plagues on the land before Pharaoh agreed to let Israel leave.

After they left, Pharaoh changed his mind, and sent down his army to chase the Israelites down. The Israelites were following Moses’ lead as he followed God. Eventually, they ended up facing the waters of the Red Sea on one side, and the Egyptians chasing them on the other. Their backs were against the wall, and it seemed like there was no way out.

But Moses trusted God to rescue them from the Egyptians, and God split the waters in half, so the entire nation of Israel could cross the Red Sea safely. When they were all on the other side, God released the waters, drowning the Egyptians who had followed the Israelites into the water. The ones who had held them captive were swallowed up, and the Israelites, now safe from those who had held them in bondage, praised God.

Today, we have baptism as a way to symbolically show that we are following Christ into His death, and allowing Him to resurrect us into new life. We show that we are dying to the slavery in our past, burying the shackles that have held us back, and that we have been made new in Christ.

Through Christ, the old is behind us and we can live a new life in Him. Imagine the shackles coming off as He rescues you from what has been holding you captive: addictions, unforgiveness, hatred, worry, bitterness, envy…Christ can save you from everything that is keeping you from living the life He intends for you to live. That doesn’t mean your life will be perfect, but that you can have joy no matter the circumstances or obstacles that are thrown at you.

Baptismal waters have no power, but the One who brings you up out of the water has power that can’t be measured. He calls us out of bondage, out of slavery, to a life of abundance. All it takes is us placing our faith and trust in Him to save us from all of our misses and allowing Him to transform us into new creations.

Heart for the House

God should be the most spectacular being in any community. And He wants to use you and the gifts He’s given you so that you can help that happen in your neighborhood, your workplace, your school. At Barefoot Church, we want you to live you, the God-given you. God has put so much into our hands, and we need to use them to the best of our ability to glorify Him throughout the whole Earth.

Know that you are accepted by God where you are right now. He doesn’t expect you to try and get your life all lined up on your own, before coming to Him. You don’t have to prove anything to Him. He already knows everything about you, and He sent His Son, Jesus, to come to Earth and die on the cross so that you can be in a right relationship with Him. When our identity is found in our faith in Jesus, we don’t have to worry about our security.

You are highly valued by your Creator, and He has given you special gifts, talents, and resources to use for His purpose in this world. Nothing about you is insignificant to God. We are made in His image! And He has called all of us to be a part of His unique plan for our lives.

Your job is to allow yourself to be equipped by the Holy Spirit to do those unique things. When you come to Christ, you become a part of His Church, the people of God. The Holy Spirit uses the Church to challenge you to never accept an ordinary life. Don’t allow yourself to be a spectator, always watching the game from the sidelines. Live out who God says you are. He will equip you if you will listen to His discipline. He will help us change to become more like Christ when we are willing. Let Him move some things out of your life so that He can move in your life.

What matters most is the heart with which you do things. Have a heart for God and expanding His Kingdom, and display that heart to the world. Fulfill the calling He has placed on your life with excellence. Live out who He says you are in everything that you do.